ALL HALLOWS EVE by Marla F. Fair

            A Young Rebels Ghost Story

 

 

            Jeremy Larkin stirred in his chair before the hearth.  He glanced at the fire and realized it had gone out.  The clock on the mantle showed it was just past midnight. 

            Apparently he had fallen asleep.

            His father was late returning home from the evening church service being held in commemoration of All Hallows Eve.  Jeremy would have been there if not for the fact that he was nursing a badly sprained ankle – and a guilty conscience.  Both were the result of a failed raid on a British encampment the night before.  It had been his choice as Captain Yankee Doodle whether to proceed or call the foray off.  In the end he had decided to chance it, even though there was a rumor that the British knew of their intentions.  Sadly rumor proved fact, and even as they set their plan into motion his band of rebels was met with a spread of musket fire that sent them scurrying through the trees and over a sharp embankment.  He turned his ankle in the fall.  Fortunately, Isak had been there to save him, picking him up and bodily removing him from the scene.

            The soldier from Lafayette’s camp who accompanied him – Lieutenant Abel Collins – had not been so lucky.  A ball took Abel in the forehead, killing him instantly. 

            When they returned to the general’s camp the next morning, Jeremy took upon himself the sad duty of informing the lieutenant’s brother, Josiah, of his death.  When he had, it had been like looking in a mirror.  Abel was Josiah’s senior by some five years – just as Robert had been his.  The younger Collins brother did not take the news well.  It had been hard, but Jeremy managed to withstand the tidal wave of anger and accusation that poured out of the young man –

            It was Josiah’s inconsolable grief over the loss of his elder brother, so close to his own, that shook him to the core.

            Upon returning home later that day Jeremy told his father the usual lie: the injury was the result of yet another angry farmer pursuing him in defense of his daughter’s honor.  The prevarication pained him almost as much as his sprained and swollen ankle, but not half so much as the look of disappointment on his aged father’s face. 

            Jeremy’s hand balled into a fist and he struck the wooden arm of the chair he occupied.  One day he would be able to tell him!  One day Samuel Larkin would be proud of him and not ashamed.  One day….  And yet, Jeremy wondered, when that day of honesty finally came, would pride be the only emotion his father felt?  Like Abel Collins death, it had been his action – his choice to be a Rebel leader and to put Country and Cause before his own safety and the safety of his family – that had gotten Robert killed.

Would the unbearable wound of his brother’s death not rise to stand between them? 

Jeremy gripped the blanket his father had tossed about his shoulders before departing for the church tightly about his throat.  He was chilled to the bone.  The common room of the house he and his father shared had grown cold as his aching heart with the absence of the fire.  He stood and limped slowly to the window and looked out.  Beyond the solid door, the plate of food his father had placed there to attract the dead on this hallowed night remained untouched.  Samuel Larkin was a good Christian man, but he honored the old ways of his English childhood.  It was with a chagrinned smile that he had bid his son a ‘good’ e’en’ and gone to pay penance for such pagan thoughts at the local church.  Jeremy smiled wanly as one of their neighbors bustled past the frosted windowpanes, her wrinkled face partially obscured by a wintry mask.  If questioned Goodwife Taylor would no doubt say the mask was to chase the cold away –  and not to keep the spirits of the dead from recognizing her, as was the old belief. 

As he watched the other inhabitants of Chester, old and young alike, mingle, sharing the joy of a simple holiday, a sudden fatigue took him, leaving him weak in the knees.  Jeremy knew it had nothing to do with his injury.  The choice he had made to be Captain Yankee Doodle set him apart.  As leader of the rebels he was responsible for the ones who followed him.  How many lives did he hold in his hands?  How many deaths had he already been responsible for?  Josiah Collins angry face floated before him, condemning him for failing to save his brother – just as his own face condemned him every time he looked in a mirror, for failing to save Robert.  Could he continue to lead men, knowing there must be another death, and another, and another…. 

Could he ask men to follow him when he no longer knew where he was going?

Bone-weary, Jeremy leaned his forehead against one of the windowpanes.  Outside the snow fall was heavy.  It white-washed the land.  The icy breath of winter chilled the air, crystallizing into a rainbow hue that crowned the iron heads of the streetlamps and made the avenue that ran before them into a path fit for fairies.

Or ghosts.  Jeremy laughed wearily.  Maybe some restive spirit would step up and take advantage of the tasty plate his father had put out, feeling he had been invited to dine. 

Turning around so the back of his blond head rested on the window’s wooden crossbeam, Jeremy looked into the house and recalled another wintry evening when his mother and brother had still been with them.  He could see the whole family before the hearth – his younger self included – laughing as they ate roasted apples and drank cider mulled with great handfuls of expensive spices from pewter cups.  His mother’s hair was drawn back and topped with a proper linen cap, but her golden curls – like Robert’s – rebelled, fighting their way free to dangle before her face and gleam in the fire’s light.  With a sigh, Jeremy took a step forward.  His imagination had painted the scene so real he felt that, if he moved swiftly enough, he might catch hold of her – or of his brother.  His mother’s death had been hard, but he had been a child then with a child’s ability to move on.  Robert’s death was a knife-thrust so fresh the wound had not yet begun to bleed – let alone heal.  For him there would be no cleansing.  No forgiveness.  The pain of his loss and his part in it, would be with him forever.  Even though Robert had forgiven him….

He could not forgive himself.

Jeremy closed his eyes against the pain.  When he opened them again, he saw – for just an instant – his brother Robert as he had been, standing before him tall and self-assured, wearing the blue and buff uniform of which he was so proud; his tousled blond curls gleaming and his noble face lit by a smile.

For just an instant.

All too soon the vision faded to be replaced by the memory of a dead hand in his and his brother’s pale form, already decaying, laying in a wooden box.

Jeremy drew a sharp breath and denied his tears.  As Captain Yankee Doodle he was not permitted to be weak.  As leader of the Yankee Doodle Society he had to be smart, fast, and always right.  He could not despair, no matter how ill the battle went, no matter how many died.  He had to put on a brave face so others would not lose hope.  He could not permit anyone, even his closest friends, to know the truth – that he did despair.  That this particular hurt – the loss of his beloved brother – had wounded him beyond recovery. 

That he could not go on. 

Feeling guilt for wallowing in self-pity, Jeremy shook off the thought and roused himself.  Outside he heard someone bid ‘good night’, and in the distance his father’s merry voice answering.  The service must have ended.  Jeremy glanced at the hearth.  A fresh fire was needed and a kettle of hot water.  The old man’s bones would be aching from the long walk home in the cold.  Leaving the window Jeremy took a step and then halted, surprised.

He was not alone.

A man stood before the hearth, his lean figure cast into shadow by the light reaching in through the side-lights that flanked the front door.  About his head was a rainbow-hued halo like the ones ringing the streetlamps outside. 

“Sir!” Jeremy exclaimed as he took another step.  “Explain yourself!  How do you come to be in our home?”

“I have come for you,” the stranger answered, his voice soft as the fall of snow outside.

“For me, sir?  Pray tell, what does that mean?”

“Come here and I will tell you.”

A shiver snaked along Jeremy’s spine, setting his teeth to chattering.  “No.  I will not,” he answered, pulling the blanket closer about his shoulders.  “Who are you?  How did you come to be in here?”

“I am…a friend.  And as to how I come to be here,” the man gestured toward the door, “I was invited.  But there is no time for this.  Please.  Come here.”

Jeremy planted his feet and shook his head.  “I have no reason to do as you request, and every reason to suppose you mean to do me some harm.”

“There are those who would harm you.  I am not one of them.  I have been permitted to come here to warn you.”  The stranger’s tone darkened.  “Jeremy, you must trust me, leave the door and come to my side.”

“How is it you know my name?  Who are you?”  When the man nothing, he demanded, “Reveal yourself, sir!”

The stranger hesitated.  Then he sighed.  “You were not to see me.  But if it is the only way.”  As the man stepped into a pool of moonlight, it washed over him revealing a tall erect figure clothed in the uniform of a Continental officer – a figure whose head was capped by a mass of golden curls.  “Stop being so stubborn, little brother.  Come away from the window now!

Jeremy gasped.  “Robert?”

At that moment there was a flash – like lightning – outside the window, and as Jeremy turned toward it two things happened: he heard a sound like the breaking of glass and felt a sudden rush of air, and a violent pain drove him to his knees as fire struck his shoulder and pain exploded behind his eyes.  Then the floor rushed up to meet him and struck him with a resounding thud. 

A hand cold as pond ice gripped his and he heard his brother’s exasperated words.  “You never would listen.  See where that stubbornness has brought you now?  If you had listened to me, Jeremy, the ball would have missed you.” 

He caught the icy fingers weakly in his own.  Through pain and nausea he asked, “Robert, how?  You’re…dead.”

Robert nodded as he reached out and touched his forehead, brushing hair matted with blood away.  “Yes, I am.  I was sent to prevent this.  It should not have happened.”

“It’s all right,” Jeremy whispered as a numbing warmth spread through his cold frame.  “I’ll be with you.  Be at peace….”

“No!  It is not your time.  Jeremy!  There is much yet for you to do.”  Robert’s grip grew tighter.  “Hold on, little brother!  Stay with me!”

Hold on. 

Stay.

Why?

“I can’t…” Jeremy apologized.  “Robert, I’m so tired….  Let me go.  I want to be with you.”

His brother’s strong hands closed over his, their flesh growing warm.  “If you will not remain here, then you must come with me as you desire.   Sleep, little brother, and you will see when you awake that your journey is not ended, but only begun.”

Jeremy shuddered and sighed.  He felt the pain and tension leave him.  The room and all within it quickly faded until the only thing that remained was Robert’s face.

            And then his heart stopped.