ALL HALLOWS EVE by Marla F. Fair

           A Young Rebels Ghost Story

            Chapter Four

 

            “So you finally decided to come home, boy,” the old man by the hearth remarked as Jeremy stepped inside the Larkin’s home – his home.  As Samuel Larkin turned, surprise registered on his face and then a sort of resignation.  “Oh, Richard, it is you.  Come in.  Come in.  Robert is not home.”

            Jeremy removed his hat and hung it on the familiar peg by the door.  “I know, sir.  Robert has been detained.  He sent me to check on you, though he thought Jeremy would be home by now.  Robert sent him here more than an hour ago.”

            Samuel Larkin had been bending over the hearth using tongs to add another log to the fire.  He finished and placed them back in their brass holder and then moved to sit in his chair.  “My youngest’s feet are often detoured.  The tavern, you know, lies along the path home.”

            “Would you like me to seek him out, sir?” Jeremy asked.

            “No.  No.”  His father’s voice was resigned.  “Come here, Richard.  Sit with me a while.  Keep a lonely old man company.”

            “Gladly, sir.”  Jeremy crossed to the hearth and took the seat opposite his father.  The older man’s face wore a bemused smile.  “What is it, sir?”

            “I thought I told you long ago to address me as ‘Samuel’, young man.”

            “Did you?  Oh.  Yes, I suppose you did.”  Calling his father by his first name was going to prove nearly as much of a challenge as remembering he had to respond to ‘Richard’.  “Samuel, it is then.  Sir.”

            His father laughed.  “You’re a good boy, Richard.  Like my Robert.”  The old man’s face sobered and altered with pain.  “Poor Jeremy.  He’s a good boy too.  He’s just lost his way.  I fear it is my fault.”

            “Your fault, sir…Samuel.  No.  How can you think such a thing?”

            “I was not there for Jeremy when his mother died.  My own grief was too deep.  I fear my youngest erected a wall then against being hurt, a wall that is complete now and  stands between us.  I can no longer reach him.”  The old man rested his head in his hands.  “He might as well be dead.”

            “Surely it is not so bad.”  Jeremy felt curiously detached as though, in a way, he was not talking about himself.  “I have recently spoken with him.  There is passion there and concern – ”

            “Concern for his own welfare, and a passion for the bottle and the brothel!” Samuel Larkin snapped.  Then he shook his head.  “I have myself to blame for smiling at his indulgences for so long.  I thought it would pass.  That he was just a boy.”  The older man rose to his feet.  “But Jeremy is a man now and if anything has changed, it has been for the worst.  But I am remiss, let me get you some tea.”

            “No.  Sit down.  I will fetch it,” Jeremy responded, rising as well.

            “I am the host, Richard.  It is my duty to serve.”

            “You are my elder.  It is my duty to serve as well.  Please.  Return to your seat.”

            Samuel Larkin smiled as he lowered his body into the chair with a weary ‘oomph’.  “You will have to go to the back,” he said, pulling a handkerchief from his vest pocket to wipe his eyes.  “Do you remember where the tea is in the larder?”

            Jeremy smiled.  “Certainly.  Make yourself comfortable.  I will return in a moment.”  At the door of the drawing room, he paused.  “Do you still keep the shortbread in the tin on the second shelf?”

            Samuel laughed.  “Your memory serves you well.  Bring some of the cakes as well if you like, though they are not so good as the ones my dear wife Anne made.”

            Jeremy nodded and stepped into the next room.

            While he bustled about the pantry, gathering the tea and cakes and searching for the sugar castor, he heard the door open.  Glancing out the open door, he saw a familiar figure enter – his own figure.

            Jeremy Larkin, ne’er-do-well.  Wastrel.  Wrecker of lives.

            The man he might have been.

            “And where have you been gadding, young man?” he heard his father demand.

            “I’m going to bed,” came the sullen reply.

            Anger entered Samuel Larkin’s usually level tone.  “You will turn and answer me properly, young man!  You are not so old that I will not lift my hand to you.”

            “Go ahead and hit me.  Do you think I care?”  His twin’s voice was strained.  His words slurred.  It was evident this other Jeremy had been drinking.  “Do you think I care about anything, old man?”

            “Do not be disrespectful – ”

            “I will do what I want!  And you can’t stop me.”

            Fearing the exchange between father and son could quickly escalate into a dangerous confrontation, Jeremy grabbed the tea and cakes and headed for the drawing room.  As he entered, Samuel Larkin spoke again.

            “And what is it you want to do?  Prowl the streets like some animal in heat?  Waste your life in riotous living, ending your days in some gutter numbed by drink beyond caring?”

            “Why would I want to care?” his twin shouted back.  “Dear God….  I can’t.  I can’t care.  I don’t want to feel.  There is nothing I can do.  Nothing I could….  I just don’t want to think about it! ”

            Jeremy halted as his doppelganger spoke.  He stood still, holding the tea, framed by the doorjamb and backlit by the wash of light spilling in the dining room windows.  He remembered those words – they were his.  Words he had spoken shortly after his mother, Anne’s, untimely death from a wasting disease that had all but eaten her away.  In the rush to bury his pain, he had all but forgotten he had ever felt that way – just as he had forgotten the child’s need for understanding, for explanation.

            For purpose.

            “Jeremy,” his father’s voice broke as he pleaded with his angry twin.

            “Leave me alone!” the other Jeremy shouted as he bounded up the stairs.  “Just leave me alone!”

            Jeremy watched until his doppelganger disappeared and then turned back to his father.  Samuel Larkin was trembling, his skin grown pale as a winding sheet.  Crossing to him, he took the older man by the arm and led him back to his chair.  “Sit, sir.  Samuel.  I will bring you that tea.”

            His father nodded absently as Jeremy went about the business of removing the kettle from the fire, carrying it to the sideboard, adding an infusion of tea, and filling a pair of china cups with water.  As the rich aroma of the tea steeping filled the room, he carried the steaming cups and a small stack of shortbread cakes on a tray over to a tilt-top table that rested before the hearth.  Then he retook his seat.  Finally, he held out one of the cups to the older man.

Samuel Larkin shook his head, refusing it.

            “It will do you good, sir,” Jeremy said softly.

            “I have no appetite.”

            With that, the two men fell silent.  Three, perhaps four minutes passed during which Jeremy fought to find the words to express what he was thinking.  In the end he said, “I would ask you, Samuel, not to despair.”

            “No?” Samuel Larkin looked at him.  “Why, Master Richard?  Do you see some ray of light here that is naked to this old man’s eyes?”

            “I think I do.”  Jeremy shifted and reached for his own tea.  “If your son did not feel things deeply, he would not act so.  Jeremy…is wounded.  He is seeking an opiate – something to take away his pain.  When he is drunk, or in a wench’s arms, he does not have to think – or feel.  He is numb.”  A slight smile lifted the corner of his lip.  “It is a tempting thought.”

            “To be useless?  To take and give nothing?”  Samuel was surprised.  “I would not have believed it of you, Richard.  No more than I would of Robert.”

            “Robert is strong,” he countered quickly.  “But more than that, he is certain.  I do not think a doubt has ever clouded his mind.  I imagine, Samuel, if I may be so bold, that your late lady-wife was of a like temperament?”

            Samuel Larkin’s aged face lit with a wistful smile.  “Aye.  So she was.”

            “And you, sir?”

            Samuel was silent a moment.  Then he nodded.  “When I was a lad, I took everything to heart.  Wounds went deep and were long to heal.”

            “And so it is with your youngest son.”

            The older man nodded, but then brought his hand down on the arm of the chair with some passion. “But I did not choose to become a wastrel!”

            “No, sir,” Jeremy answered quietly.  “And I don’t believe it is what Jeremy chose, either.  I imagine it just…happened.”

            As he spoke the door opened and, along with a chill autumn breeze, Robert Larkin blew in.  Robert glanced at the two of them and then to the stair.  “Jeremy?” he asked with a nod toward it.

            “A-bed,” his father answered, rising, “as this old man should be.  Sit down, Robert.  Take my tea.  Your friend, Richard, has prepared it.  He has been patiently waiting for you.” 

As Samuel Larkin rose to his feet, Jeremy moved to do the same.  “Please, sir….”

The older man pressed his shoulder and held him to his seat.  “No, lad.  You stay.”

            “But I would like to help you.”

            Samuel Larkin smiled.  “You already have, son.  You already have.”

            Jeremy rose anyway and together he and Robert watched the older man ascend the stairs and disappear around the bend.  As soon as he vanished, Jeremy sunk back into his chair.  Leaning his elbow on its arm, he placed his chin on his hand and fell to staring at the fire.  Robert muttered something and as his brother began to move about the room, putting out the oil lamps and candles and closing the shutters, Jeremy took advantage of the moment and – for the first time in many years – thought about his mother’s death.  He had been a child then, of no more than ten summers, with a child’s understanding.  His mother’s illness was long and hard, though the end came quickly enough.  For months and months, with his father often away caring for their land and holdings and Robert at school, he had tended her, bathing her sweat-streaked face with water, cleansing her of vomit and blood, holding her hand.

Praying.

He had done everything he could.  He had done his best and still she died. 

            Just like Robert.

            The death of the child Jeremy’s mother had left him with a child’s guilt.  If he had given her less trouble, she might not have grown fatigued.  If he had spent more time at her side – taken better care of her – he might have been able to heal her.  If he had been better boy…

            Robert’s death had resurrected this guilt and all that went with it – his feelings of inadequacy.  Of failure. 

            Of the fear to try again.

            The path was there.  He could have chosen it.  He could easily have ended up an inebriated wastrel like the twin who lay senseless in his bed in the upstairs of the Larkin home. 

            Why hadn’t he?

What had saved him?

            “Richard?”  Robert’s voice broke into his reverie.  “Will you stay with us tonight?  The hour is late.  There has been a change in the wind.  Winter is on its way.”

            Jeremy roused himself and rose to his feet.  “No.  I thank you, Robert, but there is something I must do.”

            “Yet tonight?  At this late hour?”

            Jeremy nodded.  “Henry Abington.  Do you know him?”

            “Abington?  Oh.  The apothecary?” Robert shrugged.  “In passing.”

            “Can you tell me where I might find him?”

            “In bed, I would imagine,” his brother laughed.

            “Yes.  Yes.  You’re right, of course.  Still, I think I will go and see.  Henry often stays up late mixing remedies.”

“And you would know that…because?”

Jeremy grinned.  “In another life, we are best friends.  Robert, do you believe in spirits?”

“I like an ale now and then….” 

There it was again.  That smile.  How he missed it.

“You are hopeless,” Jeremy tossed over his shoulder as he walked to the door and reached for his hat.  Pausing just a moment to master the emotions welling within him, he placed it on his head and turned back.  The Robert who had been his guide was enigmatic at best and cryptic at worst – a spirit with a mission.  This was his elder brother as he remembered and loved him.  Jeremy swallowed hard at the sight and then asked quietly, “Will you be here tomorrow?”

            Robert shifted uneasily.  He glanced toward the door and then shook his head.  “War is afoot.  Our spies report that Howe landed several days ago with some seventeen thousand men or more.  The Redcoats are advancing on Philadelphia with a mind to take it.  His Excellency’s troops are on the move.  I am called to go with them.  We meet this night at Chadd’s Ford.”

             A chill ran the length of Jeremy’s spine. 

            Brandywine.