In the large, open room on the second floor of Gates’s residence, a dozen men, many in uniform, occupy the banquet table. I hasten to clear away all the empty platters and the plates and silver from the first course, while the tavern maid goes behind me setting out fresh ones before we serve the lighter fare of fruit tarts, cheeses, jellies, and creams.
The quantity of empty bottles on the sideboard and the floor indicate the men have been drinking quite a lot, though they do not behave in the rowdy manner I’ve witnessed in my travels. Everyone here is holding something in check, strategizing, waiting for others to reveal their intentions. I recognize both Gates and Lafayette, at opposite ends of the table. The serving girl was right. The slender young Frenchman has heavy-lidded eyes and an aristocratic profile. His high, sloping forehead and long nose would make him appear haughty even if his countenance did not reflect his displeasure.
Gates, red-faced and corpulent, has his cronies gathered around him at the foot of the table, in the host’s place. Conway must have left Valley Forge before we did, for he occupies a seat near Gates. I wonder which is Mifflin and wish I could take his food and leave him hungry, as he has done to my loved ones.
Someone raises a toast to the Canadian expedition. After it is drunk, Lafayette, in the guest of honor’s place, remains on his feet. He is used to commanding men much older than he is and as the room falls silent, I also pause and listen.
“Gentlemen, there is one you have forgotten. I propose a toast to our commander in chief General Washington. May he remain at the head of the army until we win independence.”
The men raise their glasses, but I can tell most of them do it out of obligation. Some murmur Washington’s name and take small sips. Others lower their glasses without partaking and drop their eyes to avoid Lafayette’s stare, which he now directs at Gates
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