Hero/Traitor | Teen Ink


April 14, 2022
By Anonymous

Author's note:

I have always enjoyed writing, as well as history; more specifically, colonial/ Revolutionary American history.  However, for some strange reason, the " bad guys" of the American Revolution- redcoats, loyalists, even King George III himself- have always interested me more, and Benedict Arnold is no different.  There's so many possibilities and character to explore with Arnold, so this piece was rather fun to write.

A sharp pain sliced through Benedict’s leg as he roughly pushed himself off the creaky cot.  Caught off guard, a strangled cry escaped his mouth, tearing at his dry throat.  

“You need to stay in bed,” came the curt voice of the soldier stationed in his tent.  Feeling the familiar rise of anger in his chest, Benedict gripped the thin sheets strewn about his cot.  

 The soldier had sprawled himself across the chair of the small desk by his cot and began writing something on some paper.  Clean, high quality paper only men of importance can get now, Benedict couldn’t help but note.  As the young man continued to write, he occasionally snuck glances at Benedict, forcefully bedbound, a snooty expression across his face.  Benedict felt his jaw clench as he realized this young man was not a simple footsoldier; no, the rich blue coat decorated with glinting bronze buttons and finely woven gold epaulets adorning his thin shoulders spoke quite the opposite.  A colonel, he thought disparagingly.  Yet he still wears clean, crisp linen while hundreds of men out there have had their clothes dyed with the blood of their friends.  An even more enraging thought emerged.  He’s possibly even part of the General’s staff.  

“What is wrong with you?” the soldier’s voice sharply cut through Benedict’s thoughts.  He was peering at the older man with an expression so unashamedly judgemental yet pitying that it was almost laughable.  “You have looked pained since I walked in here.”  The young man stiffened, as if he had just realized something himself.  “You do not intend to disobey my orders, I hope.  They come from Washington himself.”

At these last words, Benedict felt his anger come to a head.  Not only was this… boy disrespecting him, objectively his superior, but to refer to the General simply as “Washington”? Had the boy no shame, no humility? Despite something in him telling him to hold back on the young man- he’s just yet another proud young man- Benedict was tired.  Tired of disrespect, tired from pain, tired of being pushed around as if he was not sacrificing more than those in his same position.  It was all enough to make Benedict snap. 

“Sir,” Benedict said through gritted teeth. 

The soldier looked back at him, a look of confusion across his face.  “Pardon me?”

Benedict took a deep breath.  Summoning all his strength, he swiftly pushed himself up, using his ever-present sword as a support.  “I said ‘sir’,” Benedict continued, slowly making his way towards the other man, the wooden block that encased his injured leg dully tapping against the hard dirt ground.  “You must refer to me as ‘sir’, in the rare cases you find yourself needing to talk to me.”  

The soldier clumsily stumbled away, obviously taken aback by how close the older man was coming towards him.  Benedict finally stopped when the young man had stepped back so far that he was sure he’d fall out of the tent any second.  A small smirk began to spread across Benedict’s face, in spite of his irritation.  He’s nothing but a little greenhorn, he thought, noting the light smattering of freckles decorating the much shorter man’s terrified face.  Fancy uniforms aren’t the same as experience, boy. 

“I also accept ‘General’, Colonel” whispered Benedict, refusing to break eye contact with the younger soldier.  

“Y-yes, sir!” the young man blurted out, his face wild with panic.  “Please forgive me for my insolence, General!”

Benedict’s smirk bloomed into a mischievous grin.  He gave one last look at the soldier, then began limping back to his cot.  “‘General…?” he called back.

“G-general Arnold, sir.”

Ignoring the soldiers’ shouts, Benedict pushed through the entrance of the tent, the cloth flapping wildly behind him from the force.  

“Sir, I cannot tolerate this!” he shouted, tossing a heavily wrinkled pile of paper down at the desk, causing more than a few papers already there to fly about the tent.  “Did you hear?”

The grave expression of the man at the desk remained unchanged as he looked up at Benedict, carefully placing the quill he held back in its inkpot.  He said nothing but inclined his head ever-so-slightly, prompting Benedict to provide the much needed context( although it was clear the incensed man would’ve shared it anyways with or without this reaction).

“That bastar- devil Gates has been claiming the victory at Saratoga as his own!” Benedict hissed, drawing particular attention to the last two words.  “His.  Own.”  Without waiting for any reaction from the other man, Benedict sighed in utter disgust and exasperation, backing away from the desk, a sort of defeated defiance about him.

There was no noise in the tent but Benedict’s heavy breaths.  Finally, the man at the desk took a deep breath and stood to meet Benedict.  

“General Arnold,” he started, in his usual measured and grave voice, “I understand how you feel.”

“Then do something!” Benedict said, desperation beginning to edge into his voice.  

“And what would you define ‘something’ as?” 

“I…” Benedict rubbed his forehead, feeling a headache coming on.  “I don’t know.  But you have more presence and respect in the army than I do.”  Realizing that what he said sounded a little presumptous, Benedict added in a sheepish voice, “not that it’s strange you do.  You are our Commander-In-Chief, General Washington.”

Washington gave a small chuckle.  “What is it you have in mind?”

Benedict looked at his superior, an unflinching expression on his face.  “Promote me.”

Immediately, Washington paused.  He began walking back to his desk.  “General Arnold, you know I cannot do that.”

“Why not?” Benedict shot back, following Washington.  “If you promote me, or give me higher control, or even let me back on the field, it would put to rest all of Gates’s lies.”

“Or people will begin to question why you were promoted, and the trust between us all will be weakened,” Washington said, sitting back down.  “People may even think it is pity that moves my hand, and think less of you.”

There was a certain, hard-to-place look on the General’s face, but Benedict immediately knew what it was.  He feels sorry for me, he thought bitterly.  Like a father looking after a naughty child. 

 He never was very fond of his own father.  Benedict remembered all those nights of having to drag his father back home from the tavern, feeling the eyes of those that passed him, the whispers that flew around town the next day.  It was not the same as the taunts he bore from the rest of the boys; they shut up easily with a well- aimed knock to the nob.  No, it was the pity that was handed to him, as if it was the only thing he was worthy of now.  As if he was not capable of taking care of what was left of his family.  As if the words “that poor boy” were to be forever connected to the Arnold name. 

The thought of being pitied by not only every person he met growing up, but a man he regarded as an equal made Benedict’s blood surge again.

“People do not like me anyways!” he blustered, turning on his heel to leave the tent.  “You only care for your own reputation.”  

A small sigh, barely audible, stopped Benedict in his tracks.  He swallowed uncomfortably; Washington wasn’t his enemy.  Not now, not ever.  He turned back to the General, wishing to apologize, but his words stuck in his throat.  

All the two men could do was lightly bow at each other.

It was a typical busy afternoon in Philadelphia.  Large crowds of people, horses, and carriages flooded the narrow streets, all dressed in the finest fashions.  Fashions no patriot can wear now, Benedict couldn’t help but think as he stared out the tall window.  As soon as the thought came, Benedict laughed it off, if a bit bitterly.  And yet here I am.  

A small sound like tinkling bells made Benedict turn.  Standing in the doorway was his wife- I still cannot believe her father allowed our marriage-, a rich blond ringlet wound around a delicate finger as she stared past Benedict and through the window.

Benedict continued to smile at her, hoping she’d return the look, but she remained utterly enthralled by the people walking past.  There cannot be anything that interesting about a bunch of old rich people.  He cleared his throat, finally catching her attention.

“Oh, Benedict,” she quickly said, rapidly blinking her large blue eyes like a caught doe.  “I hadn’t even noticed you.”

Benedict chuckled, not ignoring the obvious sense of distractedness still about her.  “Didn’t notice me, Peggy?” He walked towards her, the limp making it a slower process that he wished it to be.  “I guess we are meant to fit in with Philadelphia society now.”  Taking her small hands in his large, rough ones, he peered down at her, trying to look into her true feelings.

“I like being the odd piece in Philadelphia,” Peggy said, a sly smile decorating her features.  “Less rude people to deal with.”

“I’m sure your father would be happy to hear it,” Benedict teased, kissing her hands.  “Come now,” he said softly.  “I can tell you aren’t quite right.”

A flicker of emotions passed through Peggy’s face in a split second, but she soon recovered.  “Please, don’t worry, Benedict,” she said, her bright smile back on her face.  “It isn’t something to get caught up about.”

“But you’re obviously caught up about it,” Benedict continued to press, his dark brows furrowing.  “Peggy, I don’t want to invoke our vows, but…”

Peggy paused, as if she was considering whether or not to do something, then looked back up at her husband, as if she decided to do it.  A new smile appeared on her face, a sly, almost conspiratorial one; Benedict would never admit it, not even to Peggy herself, but he almost always liked what came after that look.  

“Alright then, come here, then.”  Peggy led him to the large chestnut desk in the corner of the room.  “You always seem to be complaining about one thing or another about the Continental Army, or Congress, or even Washington.”

“Er… yes, I suppose,” Benedict said slowly, not sure what Peggy was getting at.  

Peggy pulled a small envelope from one of the desk drawers.  She waved it in front of her husband, who quickly snatched it up( perhaps out of habit).  “It came last night,” she said, pulling more already-opened letters out of the drawers.

Benedict paused, his thumb hovering over the red wax seal.  “And?”

“You must promise not to get angry.”

“Of course.”

“Well, you know how the British occupied Philadelphia before you came, right?” 

Benedict nodded.

“Yes, well, one particular soldier stayed at my father’s house,” Peggy said.  “His name was Major John Andre.  We became close friends-”

“Is that so?” Benedict asked, a threatening note in his voice.  Peggy simply gave him a look that said You promised not to get angry.  Benedict sighed and waved her on.

“Indeed, we became close friends, and I found out a few things about him.  He is as tired of the war as you are, and was looking for a way to end it as quickly and cleanly as possible.  And that letter-” Peggy gestured to the envelope Benedict was currently holding- “may be the answer you are looking for.”

Benedict raised an eyebrow at his wife, speechless for once, and tore open the envelope.  As he read it, his grip slowly tightened on the paper.  Finally he tossed the letter down.

“‘The answer I am looking for’?” he hissed at Peggy, who had shrunk behind the desk in surprise.  “You think that I- that I would-” he could hardly finish the sentence.  

“Benedict, dear…”

“No, don’t ‘Benedict, dear’ me!” Benedict stalked back to the window, a mix of anger, shock, and fear on his face.  “Throw that thing away, now! And cease writing to that- that villain!”

Peggy muttered something, and Benedict heard the crumple of paper, then the gentle shut of the heavy wooden door.

The general brooded at the window for a few moments, still fuming.  I may be dissatisfied with the way General Washington is handling things right now, but… I could never.  I would never forgive myself.  He remembered the thought from the meeting with Washington about the battle at Saratoga, all those years ago.  Washington is not my enemy.  Not now.  Not ever.  

Benedict sighed, then began to walk towards the door, to apologize to Peggy for his behavior.  However, he noticed the crumpled letter still on the desk.  Benedict paused, biting at his lip in thought.  Without knowing exactly why( or perhaps not wanting to admit why), he grabbed the letter and tucked it into his pocket.  

I will make my name known through the ages.  

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