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Commonwealth, by Billy Roper


By Billy Roper

Illustrations by Michael Sheehan

Imagine an America where slavery never happened.

Where we are free of that indelible besmirchment on our national character.

Oh, and we’re still British.

Welcome to the Commonwealth.

Copyright 2017

Prologue: If you are just in it for the novel, and don’t care how this alternate universe, with a history similar to but oh so different from our own came to be, just skip forward to Chapter One. If, on the other hand, you’re something of a history buff and want the detailed, scholarly, precise explanation of how it got to be this way, read on, and see if you can spot the breaking points where paths diverged, and why.

One more drink changes the world…

In May of 1609, The Sea Venture, the new flag ship of the Third Supply Fleet being sent to James Fort by the Virginia Company, received its caulking in Plymouth, England. The Admiral of the Company, Sir George Somers, was hung over on the Friday morning he was supposed to officially inspect the ship, and ordered the shipbuilders to let it cure for another Sabbath.

Sir Preston and your Captain found whilst ravaging Caracas that Papists slow down no whit for a leke.”

This delay caused the Third Supply Fleet to miss the worst of the hurricane which separated and damaged it in our timeline, and all five-hundred and thirteen colonists arrived safely in James Fort, including Sarah Hacker Rolfe, wife of Virginia colonist John Rolfe, who soon gave birth to their daughter, Nicotiana. With the additional colonists and supplies, the colony thrived. The local Paspahegh Indian tribe was completely annihilated in skirmishes over the next few years, but conflict with the larger Powhaten Confederacy continued until 1618, when the Chief’s death led to all out warfare with the English under the leadership of Powhaten’s brother.

While the settlement expanded northwards up the peninsula, during raids by the hostile tribes the James River served as a natural defensive line on the west, bulwarked by the cannons of company ships anchored at Point Comfort. Admiral Sir George Somers ordered that one man-o-war should remain anchored there as a deterrent at all times, and forbade Virginia Company ships or crew from abandoning their posts or risking the company’s ships, and therefore the security of the besieged colony, in pursuit of private gain.

Late in the summer of 1619, English Captain Jope, commanding a 160 ton Dutch man-o-war, The White Lion, attacked the Portuguese slave ship, San Juan Bautista, which was delivering a cargo of fifty African slaves from Luanda, Angola, to Vera Cruz, Mexico. Jope was sailing with a letters of marque issued by the Protestant Dutch Prince Maurice, son of William of Orange. A letters of marque legally permitted The White Lion to sail as a privateer attacking any Spanish or Portuguese ships it encountered. Sailing alongside Jope as consort was The Treasurer, a man-o-war owned by Virginia deputy governor Samuel Argall, Lord de la Warr, and the Earl of Warwick, Robert Rich. Sir Somers’ cautionary edicts made The Treasurer hold off closing in on the San Juan Bautista, creating confusion on the Portuguese ship as to the two ships’ intent. During the delay to the encounter, the African slaves revolted onboard the San Juan Bautista, killing many of the crew on deck. In horror, The White Lion and The Treasurer withdrew, instead of taking the slaves on as cargo and delivering them to Jamestown as the first black slaves in North America, as happened in our timeline.

The English pilot of The White Lion, named Marmaduke, reported the encounter to Admiral Sir George Somers, who decided that Jamestown had enough problem with the “savagies here alraed, nae to bring more”. Privateers and Virginia Company ships alike are forbidden to bring any African slaves to Jamestown, or anywhere else in the Virginia Colony. The next year, when the Pilgrims founded the Plymouth Colony, they instituted a similar law, based on news from the Virginia Colony arriving before their embarkation from Delfs Haven, Holland, where Dutch ships received the warning. Thus, a ban on the importation of African servants became part of the Mayflower Compact.

From 1620 to 1642, nearly six hundred indentured servants, primarily from Ireland but also from elsewhere in the British Isles, came to the Virginia Colony to work for seven years on the prosperous tobacco plantations in exchange for their passage. By the time they had earned their freedom and acquired land of their own, another wave had arrived, doubling the size of the colony overall within a generation, and leading to the extinction of the Powhaten Confederacy in several battles which freed up the west bank of the James River for homesteading, beginning with the failed Indian uprising of 1622. During this time, three hundred vagrant children from the streets of London were also forcibly colonized to the settlements, making Virginia by far the most populous English colony in the New World.

The English Civil Wars and conflicts in Ireland led to a decline in voluntary immigrants, so growing numbers of prisoners of war, political prisoners, felons, and other "undesirables" were sent to labor in the colonies against their will. Due to the success of Virginia’s economy and its growing population, it had become the dumping ground of unwanted Britons, rather than Barbados. After the Siege of Drogheda in 1649, Cromwell ordered most of the military prisoners who surrendered shipped to Virginia. His attempts to pacify Ireland led to thousands being sent to both destinations throughout the 1650’s, moreover. England's American colonies in this period consisted of the New England Confederation, the Providence Plantation, the Virginia Colony, and the Maryland Colony.

Although the newer, Puritan colonies, most notably Massachusetts, were dominated by Parliamentarians, the older colonies sided with the Crown during the English Civil War. The Virginia Colony, Antigua, and Barbados were conspicuous in their loyalty to the Crown, and were singled out by the Rump Parliament in An Act for prohibiting Trade Barabadas, Virginia, Bermuda, and Antego in October, 1650. This dictated that “due punishment [be] inflicted upon the said Delinquents, do Declare all and every the said persons in Barbada’s Antego, Bermuda's and Virginia, that have contrived, abetted, aided or assisted those horrid Rebellions, or have since willingly joyned with them, to be notorious Robbers and Traitors, and such as by the Law of Nations are not to be permitted any maner of Commerce or Traffique with any people whatsoever; and do forbid to all maner of persons, Foreiners, and others, all maner of Commerce, Traffique and Correspondency whatsoever, to be used or held with the said Rebels in the Barbada's, Bermuda's, Virginia and Antego, or either of them.”

The Act also authorized parliamentary privateers to act against English vessels trading with the rebellious colonies: "All Ships that Trade with the Rebels may be surprized. Goods and tackle of such ships not to be embezeled, till judgement in the Admiralty; Two or three of the Officers of every ship to be examined upon oath."

Instead of profiting off of the African slave trade to North America, Dutch Jews made their riches by importing and distributing wine from France to northern Europe. In 1655, Menasseh ben Israel, a leader of the Jewish community in Amsterdam, became sick after drinking too much of his own stock before going to bed. This forestalled his planned trip to England to make a deal with the Lord Protector. Rather than invite the Jews back into England to help finance his Protectorate, Cromwell was not persuaded that the return of the Jews was necessary to bring about the Apocalypse and Second Coming, based on a re-reading of Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 while awaiting ben Israel’s arrival. Thus, there was no readmission of the Jewish people to Great Britain, as occurred in our timeline. Virginia's population swelled with Cavaliers during and after the English Civil War. Despite the resistance of the Virginia Cavaliers, Virginian Puritan Richard Bennett was made Governor answering to Cromwell in 1652, followed by two more nominal "Commonwealth Governors". Nonetheless, the colony was rewarded for its loyalty to the Crown by Charles the II following the Restoration when he dubbed it ‘The Old Dominion’.

With the Restoration in 1660 the Governorship returned to its previous holder, Sir William Berkeley.

Those forced Royalist prisoner immigrants who had served for more than a seven year indenture were granted their freedoms in the Virginia Colony, and the remainder were soon manumitted.

When Charles II granted land to eight Lords Proprietors in 1663, Virginia's southern border was once again defined at 36 degrees of latitude. In 1664, the English conquered the Dutch colony of New Netherlands. As Virginia and Maryland Colony laws forbade their entry into their expanding territories, the African slaves there were shipped to British Barbados for the sugar plantations. In 1665, the border was moved north a half-degree to 36 degrees, 30 minutes, giving the Carolina proprietors full control over the navigable parts of Albemarle Sound - plus land along the shoreline, whose settlers wanted to ship tobacco and lumber to England without paying export taxes to the Virginia colony. Although the founders of Carolina attempted to establish a plantation system between Virginia and Spanish Florida similar to the system in place in Barbados, they did not include African slaves in that institution, relying instead on indentured Irish and Scots servants for labor. The next year, the Great London Fire encouraged many of the newly homeless to the western frontiers of the southern colonies, where the falling tobacco prices had begun to diversify the economy more towards new crops, including cotton.

For the next decade, the large plantation systems began to decline in importance, in favor of subsistence farming, as a land rush spread Celtic immigrants from the Shenandoah Valley, where they met Germans moving south from Pennsylvania, and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the Appalachian barrier.

In 1676, Bacon's Rebellion challenged the political order of the Virginia colony. While a military failure, its handling did result in Governor Berkeley being recalled to England. The crown did not heed the warning sign, however. Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, while Jewish-owned slave ships continue to bring African slaves to Spanish Mexico, as well as Spanish and Portuguese South America, none came to North America, except for a small number arriving in French Colonial Louisiana in 1719. Meanwhile, two generations of Irish and Scots-Irish, freed from their servitude but bearing a lasting grudge against British royal power, multiplied and moved north for work once land became more scarce in the southern colonies. They carried their animosities with them into New England, infecting the population there with a growing resentment towards the King and Parliament.

Those who stayed behind took out their frustrations on the native peoples in a series of Southern Tribal Wars, conflicts which served them as good experience in the successive fights to come. Despite royal decrees of peace and several attempted treaties, in 1712 and 1713 the Tuscaroras were wiped out, as were the Muscogee Creek in 1716, and most of the Cherokee in a bitter campaign lasting from 1725 to 1730, after White frontier settlements came under attack by the beleaguered tribal confederation, which had lost much of its hunting grounds.

Owing largely to the earlier forced and voluntary Irish and Scots immigration and their descendants, by 1730 the population of British North America consisted of over a million people. (As opposed to 635,083, in our timeline.) In 1732, King George II approved the charter for Georgia, a colony which was designed to serve as a new home to debtors and the poor of England, who were to be shipped there as a buffer between the southern colonies and Spanish Florida. The last of the Cherokee died out in a smallpox epidemic in 1738, freeing up White expansion into their former territories.

In the northern British colonies, more closely bordering populated sections of New France, competition had grown heated between the two European powers and their proxies. Massachusetts clung to its Puritan roots against royal pressure, as Cotton Mather and his successors criticized royal governance. New York was most interested in absorbing and replacing Francophone territory to its north. Connecticut was the most diverse, consisting of French, Dutch, English, German, and Scots-Irish immigrants. It was through this opening that the descendants of indenture migrated, influencing their new communities against the Crown.

Before the end of 1744 the Iroquois signed the Treaty of Lancaster with the British, which ceded Iroquois claims in Maryland and Virginia.  While the Iroquois assumed that this meant the Shenandoah Valley and land already within settled colonial boundaries, the British interpreted it as the entire area of English claim.  Virginia’s charter specified that its western boundary was the Pacific Ocean. By 1745, the Virginia House of Burgesses began granting western land to Virginia-based land companies. The French saw this as a threat to their territorial claims, which were based on early exploration and settlement. 

By 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker, traveling on behalf of the Loyal Land Company of Virginia, discovered the Cumberland Gap. That same year, the owners of the Ohio Company commissioned Christopher Gist to explore their western lands; after traveling down the Ohio River, Gist explored eastern Kentucky and crossed the mountains into the Carolinas.

Two years later, France sent the Marquis de Duquesne to be the governor-general of Canada and to command French forces in North America. English settlers moving into the Ohio River valley come into contact with French pioneers there. The French were there primarily to trade with the Indians, while the English saw them both as adversaries. Still, an informal treaty was agreed to between them, but without royal authority, the British government did not recognize it. In 1753 the French began to erect a chain of forts from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Major George Washington spent the greater part of that year visiting and spying on French positions throughout the region, before reporting to Robert Dinwiddie, the Lt. Governor of Virginia, on the expansions. Drawn into the global war between France and Great Britain, the North American colonies raised 25,000 troops, despite their reluctance to fight for the King (20% more than were raised in our timeline), primarily due to depredations suffered from Indian allies of the French along the frontier.

On May 28th, 1754, Major Washington executed a group of Indian guides serving under his command who had begun killing and scalping wounded French prisoners following the Battle of Jumonville Glen, Pennsylvania, the first battle of what would come to be called the French and Indian War. Without any prior experience with African slaves, he had not been desensitized to human depravity and barbarism, and their actions shocked him into the disciplinary action. Retreating to Fort Necessity after the skirmish, Washington was besieged by French and Canadian forces from Fort Duquesne, who compelled his surrender. They had also initially demanded that he state in writing that the death of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, the French commander of the massacred detachment, had been an ambassadorial assassination. Surviving French prisoner’s accounts of Washington executing Tanacharison and the other Mingo warriors involved in the massacre and mutilations made him an honorable hero to the French, though, while driving the Mingos to revolt. He and all of his men were allowed to return to Virginia unharmed. (In our timeline, Washington was forced to surrender Captain Robert Stobo to the French as a hostage. He was taken from Fort Necessity to Fort Duquesne to Quebec City, where he was held prisoner, but allowed freedom to walk around, unescorted. By the time he escaped in the spring of 1759, he knew the terrain inside and out, and was able to advise British General Wolf of a secret path up and over the cliffs protecting the city.)

The next year, Brigadier General Edward Braddock was killed trying to take Fort Duquesne, and his army of regular British soldiers soundly defeated. Dinwiddie gave command to Washington. Washington wrote of a local mob that freed several men from jail who had been drafted and were being held until they could be attached to a regiment.  This was not an isolated act. Settlers also threatened, “to blow out my [Washington’s] brains” when the army tried to impress needed supplies. Washington was challenged in fulfilling his duty by the lack of support among the people he was fighting for and by the Virginia government’s lukewarm support. In November of 1755, Washington witnessed, under the command of General John Forbes, the fall of Fort Duquesne to the British. He then married, resigned from the army as a Colonel, and was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, a gentleman farmer using free (Irish) labor.

After the disastrous 1757 British campaigns (resulting in a failed expedition against Louisbourg and the Siege of Fort William Henry, which was followed by Indian torture and massacres of British victims), the British government in London fell. British regular army units sent by the new leader, William Pitt, replaced colonial militia, who were increasingly uninterested in fighting alongside either the redcoats or their Indian allies. Many deserted and went home, while others went rogue, regardless of orders or treaties.

As revenge for the kidnapping of Mary Jemison and the killing of her family on the Western Pennsylvania frontier in 1758, several regiments of Scots-Irish volunteers were raised. Within weeks they had brought the girl home, then turned their attentions on destroying the Delaware Indian nation, and capturing Fort Duquesne from the British, who had tried to protect some of the local Indians behind their walls. They blamed the regular army for not protecting the frontier, and for shielding the Delaware from what they saw as their due rough justice.

The British inability to control their colonial militia, or limit the slaughter of whole villages of Indians, led to the abandonment of their alliance by the Iroquois Confederation and the Mohawks, who made peace with the Algonquin and joined the French side, in response to the genocide of the Delaware. This severely weakened British positions in the north, especially, and forced them to release their native scouts and auxiliaries out of a well-earned mistrust. The colonials were sent home to guard their frontiers, and leave the French-fighting to the professionals.

In 1758, a third invasion was stopped with the improbable French victory in the Battle of Carillon, in which 3,600 Frenchmen famously and decisively defeated Gen. Abercrombie's force of 12,000 British regulars outside the fort the French called Carillon and the British called Ticonderoga. In Europe and on the high seas, Britain was faring better, especially on the continent, but in one piece of good fortune, some French supply ships managed to depart France, eluding the British blockade of the French coast.

All throughout 1759, both powers focused much of their energies in the New World on control of Quebec City. This culminated in a siege and climactic battle in September of 1759 which failed to find a way around the natural defenses of the cliffs, without Robert Stobo’s help. Gen. Wolfe reluctantly withdrew from the siege due to growing sickness among his ranks, including himself. The French had lost elsewhere, but would retain control of Quebec. Despite the Royal Navy having destroyed the French fleet, and reserves not coming as expected, the city would not fall.

After Quebec, many British troops from North America were reassigned to participate in further British actions in the West Indies, including the bombardment of Spanish Havana when Spain belatedly entered the conflict on the side of France, and a British expedition against French Martinique in 1762, led by (the now) Major General Robert Monckton. Perhaps that’s why the local garrisons were taken by surprise when the colonial volunteer regiments, barely suppressing Gaelic war cries, surrounded their stockades and demanded their surrender. It was an edgy standoff. The Irish Regiments crushed Pontiac’s rebellion in 1763, and almost completely annihilated the entire Ottowa Indians in the Great Lakes region, securing territory which neither the French nor the British regulars had been able to hold. The French seized St. John's, Newfoundland, early that fall. British naval power allowed them to hold on to the most profitable six 'sugar' colonies in the Caribbean; Jamaica, Barbados, the Leeward Islands, Grenada and Tobago, St. Vincent, and Dominica.

With so much of their North American colonies in or at the edge of open revolt, and her armies stretched thin, Britain quietly withdrew most of her forces from North America’s mainland, without acknowledging their independence, or indeed, any revolution at all. Redcoat garrisons were left at minimal skeleton crews. Local militias patrolled the streets of the cities in Boston, New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia, keeping order of their own and intimidating British government officials.

Benjamin Franklin, who had just returned from England where he had been acting as an agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly, began contacting his counterparts in the other colonial legislatures. One by one, he was able to calm them into listening to reason. Up until this point, the uprising had been spontaneous and disjointed, with no head of the snake to be stricken at. Was the crown too deep in debt from her wars to afford a blind swipe? Would they let things quieten down without a direct confrontation with the rebellious colonists? Not wishing to provoke a full break they might not control, parliament never passed the Townshend Duties, the Stamp Act, the Quartering Act, or the Sugar Act. That was what its detractors, the revolutionaries, feared the most…and that is exactly what happened. British Parliament did not interfere in the government of the colonies, and America existed in relative political isolation until passions had cooled. During this several year interval, colonists took advantage of the laissez faire period to cross the Appalachians and fill in the disputed region between the mountains and the Mississippi.

In the long run, the policies of Salutary Dismissal and Benign Neglect preserved British North America for the British Empire. Eventually the English colonies, often referred to as B.N., for “British North America”, achieved grudging Commonwealth status, and the Royal Governor was replaced by a Governor General. While he was appointed through Parliament, the legislature, a unicameral house consisting of a single representative from each provincial state, was elected, and voted on approving the judiciary, whose members the Governor General nominated. Internal debate continued over just how much responsibility was owed to the overseas Commonwealth by the Queen, and what duties were owed to her in turn by the former colonies.

This was not the controversy foremost on the mind of a young man enjoying a beachfront vacation with his eye on a sun-drenched young lady some two centuries later, however.

Chapter One

Ben left the O’Grady brothers far behind, enjoying the feeling of wet sand squishing beneath his loping feet and the sun burning down on his bare back. This section of beach was private, so he could run all that he wanted. All the way to the steps leading up to the Biloxi boardwalk, if he got there first. The trilingual high tide sign grew closer with every long-legged step. There were girls up there, leaning over the banister, watching the race. One of them waved. Ben ran a little faster.

This was their last weekend at the ocean before graduation, maybe their last time off together, forever. Even though they were friends, they’d been selected for different destinies. Tom O’Grady was tracked for vocational apprenticeship, Upstairs, for dirigible maintenance. This time next year, he’d be looking down on the coastline from the clouds. His brother Sam hadn’t made the cut, and would be stationed Downstairs, maybe offshore naval, the exact MOS hadn’t come through yet. Ben had scored high enough for the Royal Officer Candidate School. He tried not to rub it in the brother’s faces. He was enough of the odd man out, being the best friend of two twins, as it was. A real third wing knew when not to flap. Unlike the red-haired and freckle-faced O’Grady’s, Benjamin Franklin Arnold was blonde. That made him exotic, all over southern British America, but especially in Vandalia. The summer vacationing girls seemed to like that, too. His parents over in Clark City expected a trumpet call every night, like he was still a kid. Little did they know.

The pub menu was as thick as the waterproof makeup his latest challenge had layered on, with everything listed in Spanish and French, as well as English. He knew what he wanted, anyway, and not just from the moon-eyed Looey with her musical accent. Next week they’d be in training, on a restricted diet, as national service required. Tonight, though, they’d all binge on sweet frozen custards and chocolate fizzes. The six of them crowded around a table, the young men ordering for the girls after a quick consultation. Luckily, there’d been more than enough debutantes to go around. Ben wasn’t in the mood to fight over women. He was feeling nostalgic and a little bittersweet. It didn’t occur to him to wonder why there’d been just the right number of girls. He took it for granted like always: God was on his side.

Her name was Simone. She was seventeen, a few months younger than he, and had been born and raised up in Vincennes. He normally didn’t like city girls, but he’d visited the bustling Nouveau France cultural center once on a family vacation. His dad had darted across the Ohio River border crossing using his diplomatic credentials, getting them back over into Vandalia before dark. All he remembered was a fur-trapping museum and his little sister crying in the back of the wag because she was tired or cranky or hungry, or something. The thought of her, dead from the pox three years ago, saddened him momentarily. At least it gave them something to talk about. She was spoiled bourgeoisie, he could tell. Somebody in her family tree had killed every beaver in Wabash, probably. Simone had brown eyes that were a little too big for her face, and hair to match, but a sweet smile and an attractive interest in anything he had to say. He didn’t really ask what had brought her all the way from the other side of Oglethorpe, besides the ocean. From the pub they retired, stomachs full and blood sugar soaring, to a small concert hall, each couple taking separate coupes, since they could afford it. Before long the O’Grady’s and their dates had evaporated off onto their own, and she taught him how to dance a new style of fastwaltz popular in Canada. He never did get a chance to make the required call home, that night. It simply slipped his mind.

The next morning, he rolled over and stretched out from under the sheets, remembering the night before with a smile. Ben looked around for her. Water was running in the loo, but stopped for a moment of his anticipation before Simone emerged, blinking. Her face was splotchy without the makeup, but the adoration in her eyes more than made up for the imperfections. She was wrapped in a hotel towel that wasn’t quite big enough. He wanted breakfast, but not immediately.

The other two couples met them in the downstairs dining room after a flurry of trumpet calls back and forth between the girls. Over poached eggs and bangers, the embarrassed smirks melted away while their bellies filled. Most of the morning was already gone, and before long they would all be leaving. Gentle kisses and soft promises on the beach ended with an exchange of familial trumpet numbers and addresses. Simone was pleased that he gave her his home address, instead of the ambassadorial residence. She was dutifully impressed by his status. Of course, not every New French looey could swing a travel visa, either, he knew. Simone must be somebody special’s daughter, but she wasn’t telling. Maybe they could see each other over their next break, for Christmas. Maybe, but no promises. The autocoupe ride home was long enough for each of the boys to share their exaggerated stories of conquest, but Ben was unusually reserved. He had a lot on his mind, the twins knew. He always did.

Moms can never hide their tears when it’s time for their babies to leave the nest. His father was as gruff as usual, but shook his hand and told him that the diplomatic corps would be happy to have him once he’d earned his commission. Olivia Arnold hugged him tightly, and had to be dragged away before the red lorry left without him. It was a better parting than he’d expected, after the night before. His graduation speech had spoken of duty and honor and destiny, just like the counselor had made him rewrite it. The original, questioning the need for the monarchy, would never be heard or even read again, but a note had been left in his permanent file. The counselor had also made the painful but required trumpet call:

Ambassador Arnold, this is Mr. Kelly, Ben’s counselor at Finian Prep. Yes, Sir. Fine, Sir, thank you, Sir, except, I do find I need to trouble you on one small matter…”Yes, that’s right, Sir, in essence, the young Squire wrote that Cromwell could have rebuilt England without a King, no less, by re-admitting the Jews, he thinks. Well, of course not, Sir, he never did, and even had he, you and I both know their evil finances could not have prevailed against the Divine Right….but that’s not the point, I’m afraid, Sir….No, Sir, it’s a bit of a sticky wicket. If I fail to make a note, my position in all of this could come into question. So you see, Sir, I’m afraid that I must….”

In a brief moment alone that evening, Ben’s dad had pulled him aside and told him that he had taken what would have been one of the proudest days of his father’s life, and ruined it. Before more could be said, his mother called them both back to their guests, relatives who had travelled from all over Vandalia, and Transylvania, and Oglethorpe, and a couple even from Virginia, for the graduation. At least he was summa cum laude, the elder Mr. Arnold had offered, under his breath, awkwardly patting Ben on the shoulder before turning back to the parlor. Ben wondered how he had ever become a diplomat. Maybe the French who crossed the languid Ohio into Clark City didn’t hold a grudge for very long, or maybe they just didn’t require much finesse. They were more used to coming and going as they pleased, after all, without a monarchy. That thought just made him feel even more righteous indignation, but he tucked it in and smiled for their guests. At least his father had taught him how to do that well.

Later, all the presents opened, the pound notes counted, and proper appreciation expressed, Ben had quietly made his excuses and retired for the evening, then climbed out his bedroom window as he’d done so often. Tom, the older of the O’Grady brothers by two minutes, was behind the steering rudder of the cabriolet when it eased up the brick lane. He’d drawn the short straw to come and fetch Ben, and was surly about it when Ben hopped in. “You, Ben, are a sycophant. Do you know what a sycophant is?”

Ben, still stinging from his father’s disappointment and his speech’s castration, felt the blood rushing into his face. He looked out the window. “Yes,” he growled, not looking at the steerer.

“It’s someone who lives off of the glory of others, Ben. Like you do through moi et Sam.” The statement sounded more like a legal accusation, a judgement, with the French thrown in. Ben opened his mouth in rebuttal. In reflection, he wished that he had pointed out that it was always he who had paid for everything the three of them did, including their just-ended vacation, with his families’ money, and it was his father’s diplomatic connections which had gotten them out of trouble last year when they’d all been caught stealing wine from the livery office, and it was his house they were always coming over to, watching the lookie and eating up his rarebits. The mental list ended with a snap as his right fist connected with Tom’s mouth, and he flew into him in a silent rage that spoke for itself quite eloquently. The cabriolet served hard, the rudder caught between them, then turned around in a slow circle as the steam valve disengaged. Tom pulled open the door and fell out the opposite side, landing on the running board, which drug him along the bricks until he could pull free and fall. Ben leaned out, looking at him, considering kicking him in the head or going out on top of him for more, but the bloody face looking up at him was smiling nervously.

“Holy Father, Ben, I was just riddling! Can’t you take a jest?” Now, he looked like the victim, to anyone watching. Normally, Ben would have admired Tom’s cunning, but right now, it just looked like cowardice. As he brought the vehicle to a full stop in the middle of the lane some twenty feet away, he thought of how a beaten cur will roll over and show its belly to a larger dog. It was something he decided to acknowledge and accept. After helping Tom up and brushing him off, Ben steered them on to the graduation party while his passenger dabbed good rum onto a kerchief and wiped most of the blood off his chin. Noone at the party seemed to notice his discomfiture, and Tom was too abashed to tell them about the punch, not even his own brother. After laughing at the story he told of tripping off the running board and hitting his face, a tale Ben let him repeat without correction once Tom made eye contact with him for permission to continue after he’d began, they joined the festivities. He danced with three girls, at least two of whom he could have done more with, if he’d wanted, but he kept wondering what they did for fun in Vincennes. He didn’t want to drink. He didn’t want to eat. All the talk about the good old times that he hadn’t thought were so good bored him, so he left early, walking home in the dusk. None of them were even worth a good-bye.

So, there he found himself, stepping towards the enclosed red lorry headed off to Royal Officer Candidate School all the way up in Philadelphia. He had walked his hound one last time that morning, feeding him a meaty bone. His dad waved a hand, promising himself inwardly to get that Counselor, that Kelly person, transferred to the backwaters of Nova Scotia, and to get his son’s file redacted, too. He wasn’t about to let some youthful indiscretion hold his only heir back. He put his arm tightly around his wife as she sobbed quietly under her stylishly floppy bonnet. It was just the two of them, finally. Ben had a long bus ride ahead of him to think about and repent of his errors. Now, he was a man, but his father’s duty would never be done.

The Royal Colonial Officer Candidate School, their welcome lecture informed them, had been established by an Act of Parliament and signed by official decree of King George III in 1778, on the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin. The revered statesman, whom everybody had always reminded Ben was his namesake, had only some few months earlier been appointed the first Royal Governor of British North America following the Act of Unification. Of course like every young man of his class, Ben had learned the preamble of the Unification Act by heart in school.

In satisfaction of the current state of abeyance in parliamentary and royal authority throughout the North American colonies, this owing to His majesties attention having been temporarily distracted elsewhere in defense of His realm, this Act doth hereby unite and conjoin those separate colonies into one sacred union, and an end thereby marked to the heretofore Salutary Neglect. Be it established, henceforth, that Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, New Foundland, Nova Scotia, Vandalia, and Transylvania shall share one common capitol at Philadelphia, under the administration of a Royal Governor appointed by His Royal Majesty and approved by parliament. This Royal Governor shall, under the supervision of the parliament, oversee the daily affairs of British North America, excepting all matters dealing with external commerce, treaties, and alliances…”

Ben had been severely disciplined twice because of that damned Act, once when he’d asked a lecturer why it had included New Foundland if the island was still occupied by the French at the time it was written, and another when he’d asked why British North America didn’t have a parliament of their own, since they were bigger than all of England. The answer to the latter question, given after the discipline, had been that each province, including the later-added West Florida and Oglethorpe, had their own legislatures for internal governance, and the wisdom of the King (now Queen) and parliament for everything else. That compromise seemed to satisfy the modern day Ben Franklin a lot less than it had the original, but at least the setup was fair. The Cook Islands, the Indian and Cantonese protectorates, and South Africa all lacked their own parliaments, too. The other British Commonwealth countries got along alright, so he guessed it was okay, most of the time. Sometimes, though, it just felt like the old bat in St. James Palace was holding them back. Thus, for example, when it came to implementing new dirigible technology. Ben felt strongly that an enclosed dirigible could go above the atmosphere, if compressed air was provided to the steerers Upstairs. He’d shared the theory with Tom, since his friend would be living and working on one of the floating forts. The Crown didn’t like progress, though. The barely perceptible change from Colonial to Commonwealth status for B.N., accompanied by a transfer of the title of the Chief Executive from Royal Governor to Governor General, had taken a literal act of Parliament. At least they didn’t have to call it a “Colonial” training school any longer. That acronym would have been too embarrassing.

The quarters at R.O.C.S. were better than he’d expected, or at least more private than he had feared. They’d just seen the lines of graduating Senior Cadets gather up their gear and assemble to march to the dining hall. They would be getting ready for their part in their final ceremony here, before leaving for their duty assignments. Once they were clear, the incoming seniors took over the downstairs, then the new juniors were let in, every class by seniority. Each cadet had their own small room, big enough for a bed, a writing table with lookie port, and private loo, though showers were shared, at the end of the hall. It was a six story building, twenty rooms, ten to a side, on each floor, and that was just for the first year cadets. Senior second year cadets, who supervised them, lived in the basement, as many as eighty of them of them. It varied from year to year, depending on how many had gotten cut the previous year. That was how sharp the expulsion rate was, even for those born privileged enough and academically proficient enough to get there. Two out of six, then, would not make it through their first year. A third. Ben hoped not to be among them.

His first act as a junior cadet, once he found an empty room, was dressing and reporting back outside while everybody yelled at him to stand in line for the graduation speech by the Major. A Sergeant who yelled that his name was Linton pushed them into line and clucked at them while they stood sweating and watching the seniors strut by. Half of those would be sent home before finishing their second year and graduating. After he got to know them better that first week, Ben hoped that one of those would be the tall Dutch senior cadet from New York assigned to his end of the hall, Stuyvesant. It was creepy how he watched them in the showers. More than duty required, it seemed.

Every morning, they were awakened by drum and fife for a run up and down all six flights of stairs, up one side and down the other, then ten laps around the building, before breakfast. The food in Philadelphia, or at least in Her Royal Majesty’s Armed Forces, wasn’t anything like his mom’s, or even the domestic staff of the ambassadorial residence’s, but he got used to it. It seemed to lean towards meat and cheese, mainly beef, and a lot of breads. Of course there was no alcohol, but the tea service was proper, as was to be expected. After eating, classes began. These were taught by aging and battle-scarred commissioned officers, many on the cusp of retirement. An hour of geometry and calculus, artillery projections and calculations, and quartermastering arithmetic. An hour of psychology and leadership training. An hour of military history, then, his favorite. It was taught by Major Harrison. Ben admired Caesar, for his conquest of the Gauls, and Scipio Africanus, and Octavian, but it was his secret thrill to study Napoleon, the empire’s rival who had boxed them in from further expansion by fighting the British and their allies to a standstill both here and in Europe. They had gotten New Foundland, in reality, and the western half of Florida out of it, but not much else, and that had cost them dearly. At least, to Ben the price had seemed dear, since he’d grown up hearing stories of his distant ancestor, General Benedict Arnold, making his heroic ride from Mobile to capture Fort Charlotte before dropping dead, his seventy-five year old heart stopping within sight of the ocean. Truthfully, that was why Ben had wanted to go there for his last free trip. He wanted to see if the sight stolen from the Spanish allies of the French enemies had been worth it. Then he had met Simone, and forgotten all about his dead ancestor. Hopefully, the old general didn’t feel too betrayed, wherever he was.

After military history class, a light luncheon and tea was served in their quarters rather than the dining hall building, followed by another run up and down the stairs, and an hour of armaments training, before evening chores and hygiene. Sgt. Linton was very strict in class, but taught them a lot that no officer ever could. The rest of the instructors were all Leftenants, except for the Major, it seemed. They fed and watered and cared for the animals on the farm adjacent to the training grounds which provided meat and cheese for their meals, but while they did the slaughtering themselves to steel them to the sight and smell of blood and viscera, others handled the cheese-making and preparation of the food. Following their showers, and the evening meal, they enjoyed an hour of free time before the lights out drums sounded. Ben spent his writing letters to Simone, which were never answered, and to his parents, which were, by his mother. Other times he tried to get to know his neighbors, but the other cadets knew that they were rivals, and that most of them were doomed from the start. Friendship was a weakness they couldn’t afford.

The first loss was suffered by a broken ankle running down a flight of stairs. Then three within a week resigned, feigning illness, but really just being homesick. That was fine, their instructors assured them, most soldiers weren’t cut out to be officers. The real officers who did come by for inspection once or twice a day shook their heads in disgust, and made sure that the empty rooms were locked securely, before leaving the training of the junior cadets to their seniors. Each Sunday they were awakened as usual, but for church service in the chapel, attendance to which was mandatory. C.of E. service, naturally. The Church of England was a blessing to Ben, as it gave him a day of rest to pursue his real passion, drawing. He was normally too tired to sketch, throughout the week, but the representations he created in pencil of the chapel and the statues of the fallen heroes and former commandants of the R.O.C.S. around the grounds soon caught the attention of the others, who reported him. Senior Cadet Stuyvesant ordered him to cease, implying that his drawings could be suspicioned of espionage, but the visiting Major countermanded that, liking one particular sketch of a bird perched on Colonel Bobby Lee’s saber. Ben gladly gave it to him in thanks. The confrontation had won him his right, but earned him both an enemy and an ally.

During the second month, competition grew fiercer as the sun grew hotter, and the summer melted away one junior cadet after another. Most cracked under the pressure, a few failed their exams, and two were discharged for fighting. Nothing was less liked in the ranks than a soldier who had failed R.O.C.S., so they rarely quit easily, at that point. One had to be carried away, crying, begging to stay, despite his grades. Major Harrison had found his knowledge of medieval siege techniques deficient, though, and he got no second chance. None of them did.

Ben didn’t really care for the slaughtering, he liked the animals more than most people, including his fellow cadets. That was true for all creatures, but especially his dog back at home, Garm. He did like feeding and watering the livestock, though. His legs grew stronger from the running, and his arms from the chores, as his knowledge grew. He found it less necessary to write home more than once a week, and stopped writing Simone at all. The mail censors probably didn’t let them cross the border into a rival nation, anyway, he knew. The math was his least favorite subject, taught by a Lieutenant O’Rourke, with only his left arm, but Ben did see the practical application of it, so he studied hard and won good marks. Senior Cadet Stuyvesant inspected his room more thoroughly than the rest and demanded his equipment be cleaner, but that just made Junior Cadet Arnold a superior soldier.

Back at home, Olivia Arnold had been dutifully surrendering the letters her son continued to write faithfully to her, to her husband. Over the course of the fall, rumors began to spread in the higher levels of New York society that a certain ancient and venerable family, long established, had been found to have far back in their dim past some converso ancestry. The tale elaborated that a Spanish Jew, hidden in identity by being baptized, had settled in the Netherlands when it had been ruled from Madrid, and the family in part descended from him. True or not, this scandal let to an accusation at a Thanksgiving pageant, that accusation to a duel which the challenger lost, and that duel to the widowing of the lady of the Stuyvesant house. The ambassador’s reach was long, and his love for his son, however hidden, ran deep.

Fall arrived, and not long after he returned from a weekend’s pass home for Thanksgiving, Ben’s class took in the last of the harvest and stripped bare the gardens. The chickens were molting, so they had fewer eggs with which to break their fast. It wouldn’t be long before they might have snow, this far north. Things had been strained back at home, or at least quieter than usual, if still cordial. His mother always mourned her daughter more at holidays, and her somber mood infected the household. The ambassador joined them for the traditional meal, but otherwise was busy with diplomatic duties at the office. The Czar and New Spain were squabbling over fishing rights off Russian America, and B.N.’s neutrality had to be assured to both sides. He did remark favorably on how strong and healthy his son looked. After dinner, Ben wandered the house, which seemed too large after his room at R.O.C.S., and trumpeted the O’Grady’s, but the brothers were busy with family, and couldn’t come over. They were glad to hear from him, though, and hoped to see him for Christmas. He didn’t bother Tom with his idea about compressed air, the call was so short. They didn’t care too much about what he had been doing, and he found himself having to feign interest in their lives, now, also. Their destinies had taken different roads. There was a certain degree of relief involved in getting back on the lorry and returning to his studies.

It was a few minutes before lights out when the mail call came by, delivering a letter Ben had given up on ever receiving. It had been delivered by dirigible mail through Quebec City, and had obviously been read and re-read by the censors of both nations. He read it once through himself, quickly, then folded it back up to re-read the next day. Ben had just been engrossed in a quandary which he shouldn’t have been thinking about before his name was called, a calculation of how quickly Comonwealth born officers would be removed from service in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces through simple attrition if only ten to twenty new ones graduated each year. Somehow, he found that he couldn’t get his mind to return to wondering if that reflected a renewed lack of trust in non-Britannic officers, or to drift off to sleep, either one. He must have eventually found peace enough before dawn, because when the drums began they startled him awake, as always.

To keep from obsessing over the single sheet of paper in his room, and because he was genuinely curious, Ben asked Major Harrison about the ratio of Commonwealth to Britannic officers in the service, right in the middle of a discussion of the battle of Gaugamela and Alexander’s use of deception with his own officers prior to the conflict. Diodorus, recording that Alexander had hidden a letter from Darius offering a treaty from his men, opened the door for him. Major Harrison, flatly stating that Commonwealth cadets not focused on their studies were often the cause for such disparities, shut it again.

Simone had written as if hers was the latest of many letters, all forlornly hoping he would reply. Ben resented the apparent denial of her previous notes from him by the censors. What could she possibly have said that would be sensitive? He knew what he had written to her, and none of it touched on anything threatening the Empire or the Crown. Those thoughts, he reserved solely for himself. Now they came more often, but he was sure none of his feelings had seeped through into his letters, had they? Ben tried to remember specifically if he’d ever slipped. Surely if he had, he would be suspect. Even an ambassador’s son could not survive a suspicion of disloyalty to the Queen. No, they must have been withheld for different reasons, or an unknown purpose. To keep from distracting him from his studies, most likely. He certainly couldn’t think of anything besides her, now, so they might have been in the right, at that. That didn’t make him like it any more.

In the letter, she spoke of her finishing school, and how boring it was to learn how to be a debutante. There was some coquettish flirtation insinuated in the way she described behaving in a ladylike manner, since Ben had seen her in the most un-ladylike of situations, they both knew. Apparently her maidservant was not just a poor person, but a chattel servant, an Indian girl. That surprised him. Of course everyone knew that there were plenty of Indians left in New France, and even some that were still wild and free enough to have their own tribal lands, way out west. It was surprising to think about there being any left so close, though. Barely across the border. He’d never seen one, except on the lookie, and didn’t know anyone who had.

She missed him, and thought about him, and the ocean, every day. Simone had signed it “Amor”. That left him with a silly grin that Stuyvesant couldn’t help noticing, and scowling at. He’d been scowling for weeks, anyway, so that was nothing new. Let him scowl a little deeper, Ben didn’t care. He worded his response carefully, speaking in only the vaguest terms of his routine, but more clearly of how he remembered her smell and taste, and the sound of her silky laughter. That might titillate the censors, but at least it could get through. He reminded himself of Alexander.

Three of the junior cadets, despite the stain it made on their record, did not return from Thanksgiving break. Ben considered that it might not be entirely the fault of Her Majesty that there were fewer and fewer native Commonwealth officers in the armed forces. Too many of Her royal subjects in B.N. were lazy and indolent, addicted to human comforts, and simply spoiled rich boys. For once, he was glad of the discipline his father had instilled in him. It made him stronger and more resilient than most of the others. A couple of them seemed good enough to be his peers. One, Liam O’Neil, was also not from the north, so the two discovered they shared that in common when both of them found themselves isolated at their end of the hall after their neighboring rooms were emptied and locked. They took to leaving their doors open for their final hour, usually, and talking until the drums silenced them. Liam was fascinated by his ideas for the dirigibles, and agreed that it sounded feasible. He also had ideas of his own, leaning towards the use of armor-plated lorries against infantry. Ben politely listened. It was good to have someone outside of his head to talk with.

With the first hard frost, their outdoor exercises increased, rather than shortening as Ben had expected. The obstacle course, half sand and spike wire, half frozen mud, became their dread. It was out in a field beyond the cattle barns, where the milkers labored. Up an unsupported stone wall on a rope, over the top, jump down, run, throw yourself down, crawl, crawl, in between the ice and dirt and ripping spikes. The first week of that they lost four more. For week two, they were assigned buddies. Volunteers were asked for first. Ben and Liam raised their hands together.

Liam was shorter and lighter, so it was easier for Ben to haul him up and over the wall than it was to be hauled up by him, but Liam was faster through the pits and under the wire. They made a good team. There were eighty-one junior cadets left out of the original one-hundred and twenty, which was an odd number, so there were forty teams of two competing that first day, and the weakest link on the slowest team was sent home to even things up. He wasn’t either of them, by a long shot.

One night, their conversation turned to the senior cadets, complaining about which of them were the most unreasonable. Ben stated that Stuyvesant was more cruel than Baker, or Flannery, or Hagan. Liam didn’t agree or disagree, he just became quiet. Ben knew what that meant. He had an ally, as well as a friend. The psychology of positive and negative reinforcement in noncommissioned ranks turned out to be even less interesting than it sounded, but Ben did pick up a trick or two in how to manage people. People who were useful, at least. Some people he couldn’t imagine any use for. Most, in fact.

In the dining hall it was always barely controlled chaos, a rigid shoving match for the first and largest portions and the choice picks of fruit and rarebits, when they made an appearance. The senior cadets were supposed to keep order, but usually they just stood back and laughed as the pecking order dictated who got what. Ben promised himself that next year things would be different. He would make sure of it. For now, when Stuyvesant walked by and tripped a junior or took an apple off their plate it just had to be marked down in his mind, for future retribution. Liam had already determined to make it through, as well, and they pledged to work together to make things different. The other young man might be small, but he had a big heart, Ben figured.

On a particularly excited evening, from the back of the dining hall, a hard roll flew up in an arc, demonstrating a lecture point discussed earlier that day in class about the reverse parabolic effect of fused mortar rounds. This violation, not serious enough to warrant expulsion, did assign the malefactor to the duty of cleaning up the tables after dinner, and thus forfeiting much of his personal time. After a week of this, the dining hall was spotless. The junior cadets, at Ben and Liam’s urging, had begun policing their own tables, and leaving no trash and garbage behind. The senior cadet cadre led by Stuyvesant considered this seditious, but Major Harrison just laughed, stated that it demonstrated good leadership abilities, and made another note.

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