ALL Hallows EVE by Marla F. Fair

            A Young Rebels Ghost Story

             Chapter Three

 

            Jeremy blinked and opened his eyes.  He reached up and placed a hand to his forehead, and then sat up abruptly.  As he returned his hand to his side and felt the soft, green grass beneath it, he blinked again and frowned, and then rose to his feet and looked about. 

            Hadn’t it been snowing?

            The hillside where he awakened was lush with the warm rich sights and scents of early autumn.  A brown rabbit sat staring at him, its white whiskers twitching as it munched a mouthful of sweet clover.  Overhead crows were wheeling in the sky, seeking a tasty lunch.  Close by a lazy hawk shrieked, frightening its smaller companion sparrows, but too content to give them chase.  Puzzled, Jeremy stumbled over to the edge of a stream running close by and, amidst a display of pink and purple wildflowers, knelt to toss cold water onto his face. 

And froze.

            The face looking back at him was not his own.  It was a young man, with dark blond hair, but one who bore little resemblance to the gaunt tormented creature that had haunted him from the mirror over the last few weeks since Robert’s death.

            It was the face of a stranger.

            Jumping to his feet, he pivoted and looked for his brother who had, up until this moment, been his guide on this strange journey.  Robert was nowhere in sight.  With measured steps Jeremy began to follow the stream, recognizing it at least – it was the one that led into the town of Chester, the one that passed under the bridge close by his home.  As he walked, he called out his brother’s name.

            “Robert!  Robert?  Where are you?”  With a frown, Jeremy continued on, passing a tall stand of cattails and then a clump of waist-high grass.  “Robert!  Rob–”

            Strong fingers caught his wrist and pulled hard, throwing him off balance so he fell sideways into the tall grasses.  Before he could strike the marsh’s soggy floor, arms – equally as strong –  steadied him and drew him down behind the thick green shield.

            “What is the matter with you?” a fierce whisper demanded.  “Have you lost your mind?”

            Jeremy turned and was surprised to find the object of his quest crouched thigh deep in muddy water.  “Robert!  I was looking for you….”

            “I know.  In fact, the whole of Pennsylvania knows!  What were you *thinking*?  Good God!  Richard, have you lost your mind?”

            Richard?

            Jeremy blinked.  “What?”

            Robert’s hand clamped tightly over his mouth.  In spite of his muffled protest, his brother would not release him.  “The sun must have addled your wits!  Hold still.  Quiet!”  His brother nodded toward the path he had just abandoned.  “Unless you want to be invited to join their party….” 

            Jeremy’s eyes followed Robert’s nod.  He stiffened within his grasp and stopped struggling as a small contingent of ramrod-straight Redcoats came into view.  Holding perfectly still, Jeremy watched as the soldiers marched in formation past the place of their concealment, heading for the town of Chester. 

            When they were out of sight, Robert released him.  Then his brother gripped his shoulders and shook him.  “Explain yourself!” he demanded.

            Not knowing exactly who Robert thought he was, Jeremy stuttered, “I….  Well…I….  What exactly did you call me?”

            Robert scowled.  “Richard.  Richard Weaver.  Do you not know who you are, then?”

            Jeremy sat back, sinking into the marshy water.  “Apparently not.  You are Robert Larkin?”

            His brother pursed his lips and then smiled that smile – the one that had the charm to chase storm clouds away.  “The one and only,” he answered.  Then, suddenly, Robert’s smile flipped upside down, becoming a concerned frown.  “Richard, seriously, do you mean to say you don’t remember who you are?”

Jeremy’s smile echoed his brother’s earlier one, but was laced with chagrin.  “I remember that well enough.  A rebel.”

“Aye!”  Robert clapped a hand on his shoulder.  “Aye.  But do you remember why we are here?  And how we parted?”

He shook his head.  “No.  Nothing.”

“Were you injured while in Marcus Hook?  I can see no sign.”

Jeremy shrugged.  He thought a moment and then said quietly, “I remember something striking my head….”

Robert nodded even as he shifted to his knees and peered through the tall grasses, checking the path again.  “That would explain it.  Such a thing can drive the thoughts from a man’s mind for a time.  Be at leisure, Richard.  I am sure you will….”  Robert paused and then breathed in a sigh, “Good God!  What is he doing here?”

            “He?”  Jeremy shifted forward.  Through the screen of grass he could see someone moving along the path –  a slender form with dark blond hair.  “Who?”

As Robert rose to his feet and left their hiding place behind, he answered, “My indolent brother.”

Brother?

Jeremy quickly followed.  He stopped several paces behind Robert and watched as the figure approached.  The young man moved at leisure as if he had all the time in the world – and not a care in it.  Between his fingers he rolled a stalk of wheat, and he was whistling a jaunty tune.  When he saw Robert he halted briefly, and then continued on, a determined look quickly replacing the feckless one on his face.

Jeremy couldn’t believe it.  It was him.  Maybe a year – perhaps two younger.  But it was him.

Jeremy Larkin.

“And where might you be off to?” Robert demanded.

“What?”  The young man feigned surprise.  “Oh, Robert, it’s you.” 

“Are you just coming home?”

His younger self shrugged.  “That’s none of your business.”

“Who was it this time?  Farmer Carter’s girl?  Or maybe John Coate’s niece?”  Robert’s head shook and his blond curls danced in the waning sunlight.  “You are a disgrace – to yourself and to your family.”

“Look who’s talking,” the other Jeremy snarled.  “Up to your belt in muck, sneaking about and spying!  What would father say if he saw you, Robert, and knew what you were doing?”

“I might ask you the same thing!” Robert snapped.

“I’m looking out for myself – and father.  You don’t care, Robert.  You don’t care if we are all branded as rebels and shot at sunrise!  You don’t care if our name is disgraced, so how dare you accuse me of doing the same thing?  My actions harm no one but myself.  Can you say that?”  His younger self paused.  When the other Jeremy spoke again, there was a hint of concern in his voice.  “What if the British catch you?”

Robert’s look was hard.  His words quiet and stern.   “Jeremy, there are some things worth dying for.”

“Nothing is worth dying for!” the stranger who was him shouted.  Nothing!  Stay out of it, Robert.  Please….”

Jeremy watched as Robert went toe to toe with his younger self.  “Jeremy, join me!  Join us.  Repent of this idle life that benefits no one, not even you, and choose to make your life count for something.”

“Count for something?  For what?  You fight for a hopeless cause, Robert.  The Redcoats cannot lose.  They are superior in every way to you and your rebel ‘friends’.  Isn’t that right, Richard?”  The younger Jeremy swung to look at him.  It was the first time their eyes had met.  The contact was electrifying and sent shivers down Jeremy’s spine.  “Richard.  Talk to him!  You know you are both throwing your lives away.  And for what?”

“For freedom,” Jeremy answered quietly.

“Freedom?”  His younger self laughed unexpectedly.  “Why, I am free now – free to do as I please.  If I was a rebel, I would not be free.  I would be like you.”  The youth swung back to face Robert.  “And like you!  Beholding to some uppity French fop who has come here to claim glory and make a name for himself.”

Robert moved like greased lightning.  Within seconds he had the other Jeremy’s collar gripped tightly in a shaking fist.  “You take that back, you little pickerel!” he shouted. 

“The truth hurts, doesn’t it?” the stranger wearing his face countered sharply.

Robert fought for control and then thrust the other Jeremy to the ground without striking him.  “You disgust me.  You have no thought for anyone but yourself.  There are times I am ashamed to call you my brother.  Go home.  Hug the safety of your bed.  Take care of father.  You can do that, at least, can you not?”

The Jeremy Larkin who lay in the dust snorted.  “Better than you.  Where will father be, Robert, when a bullet strikes you and you die for your precious general?”

Robert shook his head sadly.  “Where will he be?  Grieving for the loss of someone who cared enough to make a difference.  Where will you be, Jeremy?”

His other self rose to his feet and dusted off his pants.  “Where will I be when?” he asked.

“When you fall in your cups, unable to remember the last wench you bedded, murdered by some villain you have cheated at cards.  Where will you be when father dies of a broken heart, grieving the loss of all that could have been?”  Robert turned on his heel and walked a few paces and then turned back.  “Are you coming, Richard?”

It took Jeremy a moment to realize he meant him.  He was reeling.  If Robert currently served with Lafayette, then this was not a younger version of himself he was seeing, but the man he was now – at the same age.  The man he would have been had the path he chose been a different one.  Immature.  A self-indulgent wastrel with no feelings for anyone but himself.

“Richard?” Robert called again.  “Are you coming or not?”

Jeremy glanced back.  “In a minute.  What is your heading?”

“The general’s camp.  Don’t you remember?”

He nodded.  “I do now.  I know the way.”

Robert came to stand by him.  He inclined his head toward the other Jeremy.  “Save your breath, my friend.  Nothing you say to my little brother will make a whit of difference.”

“I know.  I will meet you there,” Jeremy replied.

Robert glanced one last time at his other self and then pivoted on his heels and followed the trail into the trees.

Jeremy waited a moment and then turned to confront his twin.  He remembered stories his mother had told him, tales learned at her grandmother’s knee; tales of malevolent creatures – evil doubles, created by magick – who walked the earth seeking to destroy their original and to take their place.  Creatures called ‘doppelgangers’. 

Jeremy Larkin, the wastrel – his doppelganger – was eying him suspiciously.  “Do you mean to lecture me like Robert?” he pouted.

“No.  I am just curious.  I thought – I had been told that you and your brother were close.”

His double kicked a stone with the toe of his shoe.  “We were.  Until this war.”

“How came you to be so different?  Are you what you seem to be…Jeremy…or are you making a pretense?”

“You mean, am I some secret rebel leader in hiding?”  His doppelganger snorted.  “Hardly.  This stupid Rebellion will be crushed in short order.  The only sensible thing to do is to look out for myself until it is.”  As his twin brushed past him, he tossed a question over his shoulder.  “How about you, Richard?  Are you what you seem?”

Jeremy watched as the stranger that was him took the opposite fork from his brother, heading for Chester and their home.  He hesitated, wondering which of the two to follow and then, on impulse, turned away from both and headed instead for John Coates’ farm. 

 

                                                   ###

 

            As he approached the Coates’ farm, Jeremy slowed his pace.  John Coates was standing at the end of the lane, leaning over the fence, talking to a British soldier in a scarlet coat.  The soldier nodded once and then pressed his heels to his mounts’ sides and sprinted away.  The older man looked after him a moment and then turned back toward his house, heading for the door.  At the last moment Elizabeth’s uncle seemed to sense his presence and turned to look.  The expression on the older man’s face was not exactly welcoming – but Richard Weaver’s reception was definitely more friendly than the one Jeremy Larkin usually received.

            “What do you want, Richard?” John Coates demanded.

            Jeremy hesitated.  Whoever he was supposed to be, would he have any reason to converse with Elizabeth? 

            “I came to ask if I might have a word with your niece, Mr. Coates.”

            “Elizabeth is in the barn, working.  What might you want to be bothering her for?”

            “I…  Well, I….”  Jeremy stumbled.  What could he say?

            “That’s what I thought!”  The older man dismissed him with a wave of his hand.  “Just what all the other young scallywags want!  Go away.  Leave my niece and me alone!”  Turning his back on him, John Coates walked toward the house.  As he did, he continued to grumble.  “I’m too old to deal with this.  Too old a man to be raising a young girl.  How dare her mother go and die and leave me with all this trouble….”

            The front door of the Coates’ farm slammed hard and Jeremy was left outside.  He stared after the old man for a moment and then turned around and started to walk away.  As he reached the end of the property a movement near the back of the barn caught his eye.  He frowned, and then turned and pursued a shadow that was moving quickly toward the trees.

            “Elizabeth?” he called, uncertain it was she that he had seen, but thinking it was.  “Elizabeth!  Wait!”

            The slender figure cloaked in shadows hesitated.  As it turned toward him, he saw that it was indeed Elizabeth.  She was wearing a winter cape drawn close.  Its deep green color practically made her one with the leaves.  In her right hand was a satchel and in the left, a basket filled with food stuffs and a bottle of wine.

            Jeremy ran to catch up to her before she disappeared.  “Elizabeth,” he said with a nod as he halted beside her. 

            She frowned at him as if she did not recognize him, and then smiled sadly.  “Richard.  You’re Robert Larkin’s friend, aren’t you?”

            He nodded.  “Where are you going?”

            “I don’t think that is any of your business, sir.”

            He caught her arm as she started to move away and held it in spite of her protest.  “Your uncle said you were in the barn.  Shall I fetch him and tell him he was wrong?”

            Elizabeth started and then began to tremble.  “Oh, no, sir!  Don’t tell him.  I beg you!”  She looked toward the ground.  Her voice was small as a child’s.  “I am leaving.”

            “Leaving?  Why?  Where would you go?  And who will go with you?”

            As she pulled away, she lifted her head with pride.  “I go alone.  And as to where….”  Elizabeth glanced down the path that led to the town.  “Anywhere that isn’t here.  Do not concern yourself, Mr. Weaver.  I have a place to go.”

            He heard anger in her tone.  Why are you leaving?”

            “You are most personal, sir, for someone nearly a stranger.  Why would you care?”

            Jeremy thought furiously.  “Robert.  He has told me of your love for his brother, Jeremy.  How can you go and leave him behind?”

            “It is because of him I leave!” Elizabeth all but shouted.  “Go away, Mr. Weaver!  Leave me be.”  Tears streamed down her cheeks.  “Please.  I cannot stay.  If my uncle ever found out….”

            “Found out?  Found out what?” Jeremy asked.  “Tell me.  You can tell me.  I want to help.”

            Elizabeth pulled her hood closely about her cheeks and lowered her eyes so they were masked.  “No one can help.  No one but Jeremy and he will not.  I thought….”  Her voice broke.   She drew a deep breath and then raised her head.  “It matters not what I thought.  I made the choice and I will have to bear the consequences.  But I will not do it here.  Not so my uncle can be the first to pin a scarlet letter on my chest.”

            Jeremy was stunned.   “Dear God!  Elizabeth, no.”

            She touched his hand briefly.  “If you see my uncle again, tell him I have gone to the market.  Tell him I am visiting a friend.  Tell him anything but the truth.  And if you see Jeremy Larkin….”  Elizabeth hesitated.  “Tell him I will be fine, but that his son or daughter will never hear his name from these lips, and that I will die cursing it.”

            Jeremy was so affected he could do nothing to stop her.  She was gone before he recovered enough to speak.  He had thought that by choosing to be the wastrel he only pretended to be, he would spare those he loved from pain, but it seemed the opposite was true.  He and Robert were at odds.  Elizabeth, well –

Elizabeth was ruined.

“Robert!” Jeremy called out, spinning in a circle.  “I have seen enough.  I understand now.  End this!  Please, I beg of you.  Robert!"

The early autumn wind howled, rushing about him, tossing his thick blond hair across his forehead to trouble his eyes.  He shoved it back and waited, but there was no reply.

Apparently there was more yet for him to see.

            Thrusting his hands into his pockets, Jeremy turned toward Chester and headed for his home.