ALL HALLOWS EVE by Marla F. Fair
A Young Rebels Ghost Story
Jeremy sucked his raw knuckle and then began pounding on the door of the apothecary shop again. Henry had to be in. He could see the glow of a lamp in the back room through the frosted window. It was not yet midnight and often, after the shop closed, Henry remained within compounding mixtures and tinkering with his tinctures and other potions. Jeremy shivered as the wind that had arisen whipped his blond hair about his face chilling him – even as the knowledge of what the coming day would bring chilled him. Defeat for the Americans. A severe blow for the Cause. The first test for the young General Lafayette and the Frenchman’s close brush with death and capture.
A fate avoided only by the intervention of the Yankee Doodle Society.
A Society that, in this reality, did not exist.
Hammering again, Jeremy shouted. “Henry Abington! Open this door! I know you are within. Henry!”
Just as Jeremy’s frustration gave way to anger and he contemplated kicking in the door, the pale glow from the back room moved and advanced through the shop indicating that someone was coming. He heard the sound of a key being turned, and then a latch being lifted. The heavy door opened a crack and Henry’s owlish face appeared.
“Let me in, Henry,” Jeremy demanded.
“Sir. The shop is closed,” came the expected response.
“I know. I need to speak with you. It is vitally important.”
Henry lowered his glasses to the tip of his nose and squinted over them. “Do I know you, sir?”
Jeremy removed his hat. “Richard. Richard Weaver,” he said. When that provoked no response, he added, “A friend of Robert Larkin, and a believer in the Cause.”
“Who is it, Henry?” a rich voice asked softly from behind.
“You must be mistaken, sir,” Henry insisted, his voice shaking. “This is a simple apothecary shop. My purpose is to tend to the sick – ”
“And your pride to wreck havoc on the British?” Jeremy grinned. “Is that Isak with you?” He could not believe his luck. Finding the two of them – together!
“Henry, step aside,” the black man said.
As Henry did what he was told, a rich brown hand took hold of the door and opened it wide. Seconds later Isak Poole’s well-muscled form filled the doorway, effectively blocking any entrance to the shop. “Just what is it you want with our town’s finest apothecary, Mr. Weaver?” Isak asked.
“The same thing I want with you,” Jeremy answered. “War is upon us. We cannot stand idly by.” His fingers clenched into a fist. “We must do something!”
Isak stared at him for a minute and then turned to Henry who remained cloaked in shadow. “Henry?”
“You got somethin’ in that bag of yours for a man gone clean out of his mind?” Isak spoke in his usual long, slow drawl – a trick that masked the intelligence behind those pitch black eyes. “This one shore needs somethin’ fast.”
“Opium, perhaps,” Henry suggested with just a hint of menace. “A large dose?”
Jeremy knew they feared he was a Loyalist or British spy. What could he say that would change their minds? What would be the same here? Could the knowledge in his head do him any good? Or would it prove useless in this reality?
“You know I am a friend of Robert Larkin?” he said at last.
Isak looked at Henry who nodded.
“I have just been with him. Robert told me the Army meets this night at Chadd’s Ford. Would I know that if I were from the enemy?”
Henry moved into the light. His face was ashen. “I would certainly hope not. It would not bode well for the morrow.”
Jeremy bit his tongue. Nothing would bode well for the morrow and he longed to tell them that, but he had no way of knowing how such prior knowledge would affect the world he found himself in. The news might win the day at Brandywine for the Americans, but bring about some slight change that would cause them to lose another, more decisive battle at a later date. Philadelphia might not fall. Someone important might not live –
Or they might.
No, he had to let this play out in their reality. Still, he was not willing to sit idly by. No, he would move Henry and Isak to the action he knew they must take.
Everything had to occur as it had before.
“What do you two intend to do?” Jeremy asked.
“Do?” Henry squeaked.
“To help!” He pushed past Isak and moved into the darkened interior of the shop. As Jeremy turned to look at Henry, the black man closed the shop door and locked it. “Well? Tell me, Henry. What?”
Henry was still frowning. “Who exactly are you? Who has sent you? Was it Robert?”
“In a way. It is hard to explain.” Jeremy paused, thinking furiously. “I have watched you, Henry. I know that you burn with a passion for liberty that rivals Dr. Franklin’s, but that you feel inadequate to strike out on your own. That you fear your science – if not your nerve will fail you.”
“And you, Isak,” he said, turning to the black man, “the love of freedom is the very *air* you breathe. You risk your life for it daily, do you not? In secret, where no one knows? But at the same time, like Henry, you feel there is more you could do – if only you were not alone.”
Isak and Henry exchanged glances, and then Henry turned and led them into the back room. As Isak closed the door behind them, cutting off the outside world, Henry placed the lamp on his work table. “There, that is better. We can speak more freely here.”
Jeremy leaned heavily on the familiar table. “What was your errand tonight, Henry?” he asked. “To prepare medicines for the soldiers who will lie wounded and dying on the field tomorrow? Or to construct a weapon?” He spun and looked at the black man. “Isak, did you come to fetch him? Did General Lafayette send you?”
Isak looked puzzled. “You know the General, sir? And know I work for him in secret?”
Jeremy smiled. He had not known, but the guess had come easily enough. “Yes, I know Lafayette. That is why I came to seek you out. The General will need our help tomorrow.”
“*Our* help?” Henry asked.
“There is only so much an army can do. There must be others working behind the scenes, watching, ready to lend a hand. Men who have their own skills which can be employed in a less…obvious fashion.” Jeremy took his hand and with it removed a linen covering from a neat row of glass containers, revealing the jars and their shining copper lids. “Men who can work outside of the regular rules of combat.”
Henry sputtered as he reached for the cloth. “Why, I – I don’t know what you mean, sir!”
Jeremy laughed. “Oh, don’t you? And what might these be?” He indicated the jars. “A new way of preserving fruits? Perhaps a revolutionary way to make tea?”
As Henry tossed the cloth over the explosive devices, Isak demanded, “If they are, what’s it to you? This is our business, friend. Not yours.”
So, even without him, Isak and Henry would have chosen the dangerous path they walked. Here they were, working to aid the Rebels, and the Jeremy Larkin of their reality was no where in sight.
He found that fact immensely freeing.
“But it is my business,” Jeremy responded. “You are here to find out if Henry has succeeded in creating a working explosive, aren’t you, Isak? So that it might be employed on the morrow – if necessary?”
Another glance between the pair seemed to cement their acceptance of him as Isak nodded and Henry lifted the cloth from the glass containers and placed a hand on one of the copper tops.
“Alas, I have not succeeded,” Henry announced, his face grim.
Jeremy thought he must have heard him wrong. “What?” he asked.
Henry shrugged. “It does not work.”
“No, that cannot be!” Jeremy stared at the familiar device and then at the two of them. “It worked before.”
“Pray tell, sir,” Henry scoffed, “and when was that? I must have been out of the country.”
Isak’s black brows rose skeptically. “Maybe I should 'a asked you instead, Henry, if you had any potions to cure a man’s madness….”
“I am not mad!” Jeremy countered. Then, to cover his lapse, he added more quietly, “I have seen this kind of thing before. Perhaps the mixture is not of the right measure. Or the copper impure….”
“I have tried everything,” Henry answered with a sigh and a shake of his head. “No. The experiment is a failure. There will be nothing to stop the Redcoats crossing the river and attacking the army’s rear. Nothing.”
Jeremy stared at the glass containers for several heartbeats and then brought his hand down on the table so hard he made both them and his companions jump. “Nothing but our determination! Now think, gentlemen! What other resources do you have to hand? There must be something!”
“I am out of ideas,” Henry admitted. “And chemicals. Richard, there is nothing we can do unless, like a sorcerer, you can pull a willing hare out of a tricorn hat.”
“I refuse to accept that,” he said plainly. There must be….” Jeremy snapped his fingers. “Isak, the naval cannons! You still have them?”
“How do you know about that?” the black man asked, amazed.
“Never mind. You have them?” As Isak nodded, Jeremy took him by the arm and headed for the door. “Go to your shop. Prepare one. Henry, you have enough powder to fire it?”
Henry nodded. “Aye. In my hiding place.”
They were in the storefront now, headed for the door. “While Isak mends the cannon, you and I will fetch a wagon and something to disguise it.”
“You want only one?” the black man asked as he opened the door.
Jeremy nodded as he slapped Isak on the back.
“There will be need later for the others.”
It felt good to be back to himself, to be working with Henry and Isak toward a noble cause. But as Jeremy labored to unload the single cannon they had concealed in the wagon, he wondered why he was still here in this altered reality. He had realized through his contact with his other self, with his father and brother and friends, that the choice he had made to become Captain Yankee Doodle had been the right one. If he had given in to his feelings of inadequacy and guilt and chosen a different path, the pain and grief his family felt would have been the same – if not worse – and many, many others would have suffered. He knew now that he could not have prevented his mother’s death. That it had been a natural thing. He knew as well that Henry and Isak would have made the choice to aid the Rebel Cause without him, and that he was in no way responsible for their actions – and if the worst should happen, neither would he be responsible for their deaths. He realized that in choosing to lead, one had to accept the simple truth that some who followed would not survive, but that in leading, others would be saved.
As they would save Lafayette now.
Jeremy nodded to Isak as the powerful black man wedged the cannon’s butt into the hillside and pointed it at the place where the Redcoats would soon emerge from the trees. They had brought five or six cannon balls, figuring that would be enough to create a distraction and send the British horses flying. Jeremy rose to his feet and turned toward the stream, shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare with his hand, and looked for the two men who should, even now, be coming into view.
He found them.
But there was only one.
As Jeremy frowned, Henry cried out, “Here they come! Isak, are you ready?”
“Aye!” Isak shouted as he dropped the first of the balls into the cannon and rammed it home.
“No,” Jeremy pivoted to face the pair. “Isak! Henry! This is not right. There’s only one.”
“One?” Henry followed his gaze. “Richard, what do you mean? Only one *what?*”
Jeremy gripped the arm of his brown jacket and pointed. “There! That man. By the stream. There should be two – General Lafayette and his aide.”
“Lafayette? The General, here?” Henry laughed but sobered quickly as shouts of ‘Forward!’ and ‘After them men!’ rang from the far side of the stream. He shook himself free of Jeremy’s grip. “It appears the rising sun has addled your brains, Richard. Isak! Fire the cannon. Now! The Redcoats are in the water!”
Jeremy was shaking his head. “No! I tell you. Something is not right here. I’m going to see!” As he slipped down the side of the slope Henry grabbed for him, but came up with nothing but air. Ignoring his friend’s shouts, Jeremy headed for the spot where – in another life – he had found Lafayette and pulled the Frenchman and his aide from the line of fire. As bullets whizzed overhead and Isak’s cannon boomed, startling both horses and men, Jeremy found it. And found himself as well adrift in a sea of white smoke.
“Sir?” he called as he drew to a halt. “General Lafayette? Sergeant Evans? Sir, are you here? Sir!”
“They are not, Jeremy.”
The voice was Robert’s. As the sound of screams and musket-fire faded to nothing his brother’s tall form appeared, emerging ghostlike from the pale white wall to confront him.
“Robert? What are you doing – ?” Jeremy shook his head. “No. It is you. The guide who brought me to this place. Why are you here now?” His voice broke with emotion. “Why am I here? I understand now. Send me back! Send me back to the life I know!”
“Yes. I have come to terms with my mother’s death. I know now that the course I chose was the right one. I can lead. I am willing to bear that responsibility. I have come to grips with my demons.”
The spirit of his brother regarded him soberly.
“No,” he said. “There is one more.”
Suddenly he was on his knees, cradling his brother’s dying form in his arms.
Though he had not lived it, Jeremy knew that in this reality – as in his own –
Lafayette had been saved and that he, as Richard Weaver, had joined with Isak and Henry and together they had decided upon the same course – to offer their services to the general to help him rescue the stolen American cannons and stop the Redcoats at the Springfield tunnel. Henry’s explosive device had been perfected overnight as was ordained and been put into place. His brother, Robert, had been chosen to lead. And even though this reality’s Jeremy Larkin still lay abed, nursing a sore head and sick stomach, even though the British major had not taken up residence in their home or threatened him and his father, Robert had put himself in danger and taken a bullet to his side. And even though there was no Yankee Doodle –
He was there nevertheless and responsible for it all.
One more demon.
Tears streamed down Jeremy’s face as he felt his brother shudder, as Robert’s lifeblood washed over his hands, staining his breeches on its journey to the sparse green grass of the hillside. He felt afresh the wretched heartache of the choice he had made – to become involved, to involve others, to take command – even as he realized that he would make the same choice again and again no matter how many times the opportunity to avoid it was presented.
Robert was dying. He could not bear the loss.
But he could accept it – and the fact that it was not his fault.
“Dear God…” Jeremy whispered as he looked at his brother’s golden head, leaning on his breast. “Dear God, this is too hard.”
Within the circle of his arms, Robert stirred. That had not happened before. Jeremy waited as his brother’s eyes opened. He met his gaze, fully expecting to find his guide newly returned for some fresh purpose known only to him and the one who sent him. But the moment he met his brother’s clear blue eyes, Jeremy knew he was wrong. It was him – Robert. Still alive.
If only for a moment.
“You remember…what…I told you…little…brother,” Robert breathed as he lifted his hand.
Jeremy nodded as he clenched it tightly. “Fortunes of war.”
Robert’s face lit with a wistful smile – a pale puny thing, a bare shadow of what it had been before. Just as his brother was soon to be. “I am…proud…of you, little brother,” he said.
“And I of you,” Jeremy choked out. “Robert….”
“Don’t…despair. We’ll…meet again. On…the other side.” Robert coughed and his voice lost some of it’s strength. “Do…not…blame yourself, Jeremy. Not…your… fault…. Fortunes of….”
The strength left his fingers and Robert’s arm fell limp. Jeremy drew his body close and held him for some time. Then he stirred and, parting the wave of golden curls that spilled onto his brother’s forehead, he leaned down and kissed it.
“Now, do you understand?” a quiet voice asked.
Lifting his head, Jeremy found his spirit guide watching. It was Robert – proud and tall, free.
Safe at last.
Jeremy laid his brother’s body down and rose to his feet. He nodded.
“Take me home.”