The Beast by Marla F. Fair

         Chapter Thirteen

           

            So in the end it came down to what he had always suspected it would.

            Him.

            And the Beast.

            As a little boy Lafayette had thought to slay it.  Now, it looked as if the Beast would slay him instead.  He knew, as Jean Paul Devereux knew, that they would never make it to Philadelphia alive.  Too much territory – and too many who hunted the hunter – lay between them and that goal.  Most likely they both would die, killed by the men who stalked the Beast; men who could not –  and did not care –  to tell them apart.  Still, Jemima and Israel Boone were safe. 

And that was all that mattered.

            Devereux had halted near the rocky cave where all of this had begun so long ago, near the place where he and Israel had plummeted over the cliff edge.  With vicious strength he had taken hold of him and lifted his hands over his head and bound them to a thick tree branch.  Leaving him dangling, Devereux had gone into the cave.  After perhaps a half hours’ absence the villain emerged, his face and throat wet, with several full canteens hanging from his belt.  Placing them in his pack, he secured them and then returned to Lafayette’s side.  Jean Paul studied him for a moment and then struck him so hard across the face he drew blood.

            “Lord of the village!” Devereux said, and then spat on the ground.

            The blow left Lafayette’s head spinning.  “What?”

            “Oh, I remember you, even if you do not remember me.  I, too, was a young boy in Auvergne when men sought to kill the beast.  I saw you, riding on your fine white horse.  Looking down on all of us.”

            “No.  I never – 

            Jean Paul struck him again.  “Shut up!  It is because of men like you, privileged men of a privileged class, aware of no one but yourselves, that the French are hated so.  There was nowhere safe.  Nowhere to go.”  Devereux gripped the lapel of his coat and drew him forward.  “It is because of you and yours that we have suffered so at the hands of the English!”

            Lafayette licked blood from his lip.  “Why do you hate the English?”

            “Because they hate me.  Because they killed my family.”  Jean Paul’s fingers curled into a fist drawing him close as he sneered.  “And because there is nothing so sweet as dancing in the blood of your enemy.”

            The man was mad.  He could see it now.  “Am I your enemy?” Lafayette asked.

            “You are nothing!  You are a means to an end.  I meant to kill you before.  I could kill you now.”  Jean Paul drew his gun.  He pressed the barrel between Lafayette’s ribs and cocked the hammer.  “See how easily?” he whispered.  “But I won’t.  I need you to get me out of this place alive.”  Devereux’s dark eyes crackled with a demented glee.  “I imagine the British would let even la Bete go free to get their hands on Lord Cornwallis’ boy’s throat.”

            Lafayette sighed.  He imagined Jean Paul was right about that. 

            Devereux released the hammer on his pistol and tucked it back in his coat.  Then he drew a knife and used it to cut the ropes that bound Lafayette to the tree.  As his feet struck the ground, he came to a decision.

One could not break a bargain made with an insane man.

Drawing a deep breath, Lafayette gathered his strength and lurched to the side, striking Devereux in the legs.  Pain shot through him at the action, but he ignored it.  Rising up, he balled his hands and drove both fists into Jean Paul’s abdomen.

            Devereux roared as he stumbled back.  He struck out with the knife, catching Lafayette across the cheek. 

            Lafayette rolled, barely missing the thrust which would have taken him between the shoulder-blades.  He staggered to his feet, breathing hard.  Stars burst before his eyes, blinding him.  He blinked and then tossed his head, clearing the sweat and fatigue from his away and refocused just in time to see a dark shape, howling with rage, bearing down on him.

“You are a dead man!” Jean Paul screamed as he lunged.

            “No, Jean Paul,” a quiet voice pronounced from somewhere close by.  “It is you who are dead.”

            Lafayette gasped as hands gripped him, pulling him back.  When he was released, he fell to the ground amidst a wave of living blackness that enveloped him.  Lifting his head he caught a glimpse of a slender figure with dark blond hair running toward the edge of the cliff.

There was a scream. 

And then silence. 

 

                                                                        ###

             

            Jeremy Larkin hesitated, crouching in the brown bushes beside the well worn path. From his calculations, he should be a little more than a mile from the Boone cabin.  As he contemplated his next move, he heard a soft sound –  like someone crying.  With a frown, he took to the path and followed in into trees.  At its end he found Jemima and Israel Boone, huddled together, a large caramel colored wolf laying at their feet.  The wolf rose to defend them, but thankfully they had met before and Renee recognized his scent.  As he stroked the anima’s fur coat, Jeremy questioned the pair.  Their news was startling.  Jean Paul Devereux had Lafayette.

And the general had gone willingly!

            Jeremy removed his jacket and placed it about Jemima’s shoulders.  Then he told her to conceal herself and her brother, and to await his return.  He knew he need have little worry for their safety.  Renee remained with them.  With that accomplished Jeremy took off running for all he was worth, following the trail the general had taken –  along with the madman who had him in his control.

            A quarter of an hour later a horrific scream stopped him dead in his tracks.  Jeremy waited, breathless – listening – but it was not repeated.  Cautiously, uncertain who was the victor and who the vanquished, he began to move forward calling softly, “General?  General Lafayette?  Sir?  Are you there?”

            At first there was nothing.  Then, as he scaled the side of a steep slope, he heard a weak reply.  “Jeremy?”

            Thank God!  Jeremy threw caution to the wind and began to run.  “Sir, where are you?  Are you all right?” 

            “Here.  I am here, mon ami.”

            As he broke through the trees he found him, a lone figure kneeling in the middle of a small clearing before a cave.  When Lafayette saw him he rose to his feet.  For a moment.  Almost as quickly the general stumbled and fell back to the ground.  Jeremy ran to his side and knelt.  He placed a hand on his shoulder to steady him.

It was then he saw the blood.

“Sir!  You’re hurt!”

            “It is nothing.”  Lafayette spat blood from his mouth and then wiped his broken lip with his sleeve.  He indicated the nearby cliff edge with a nod.  “Help me, Jeremy.  Help me over there.”

            “Sir?  Are you sure?  Perhaps you should rest – ”

            “Now, Captain!” his general snapped.  “That is an order!”

            “Yes, sir.”  Jeremy knew that tone, and knew there was no use in arguing.  He placed his arm about Lafayette’s waist and helped the Frenchman to rise.  Together they crossed to the edge of the hill and looked down. 

            “Un dieu compatissant!  It is over,” the Frenchman breathed as he lowered his head.

            Jeremy felt the strength go out of him.  He lowered the general to the ground, but continued to support him as he too looked over the edge.  On the rocks below lay a bloody form, broken and mauled almost beyond recognition. 

            Almost.

            It was Jean Paul Devereux.

            Lafayette roused himself.  He looked at him.

            “La Bete is dead.”

 

                                                                ###

 

            Jeremy limped back with the general to where he had left Jemima and Israel, and then the four of them returned to the Boone family cabin.  Somewhere along the way Renee left them, disappearing without a sound into the trees.  Upon their arrival they found Henry had returned and was half out of his mind with worry.  He had come back and found the cabin empty, with no sign or notice of where everyone had gone.  As Jemima apologized and began to explain why she had felt a note unnecessary, Jeremy left them.  Still supporting Lafayette, he crossed the room and helped the general into a chair nudged up against the cold hearth.  Lafayette smiled weakly, and then leaned his head back and immediately fell asleep.  As Jeremy turned back into the room, he heard Henry telling Jemima that no apology was necessary.  Jemima smiled sweetly at him and then excused herself and, taking her brother by the hand, led Israel up the ladder to the loft room they shared.  During her absence, Jeremy found a warm woolen blanket and dropped it over Lafayette’s sleeping form.  Then he kindled a fire.  Nearly an hour later when Jemima had still not returned, he went to check on her.  He found the pair of them fast asleep, wrapped in each other’s arms.

            Descending the ladder, Jeremy crossed to the kitchen table where Henry sat compounding a mixture.  At the sound of his footsteps, his friend looked up and adjusted the wire-rimmed glasses on his nose.  “Jemima told me the Beast is dead.  So it is over at last,” Henry remarked softly.

            Jeremy nodded.  “It appears to be.  Devereux is dead.  But there are still the Redcoats, Henry, and there is still our journey home.  Daniel Boone has not yet returned.  Nor Sergeant Boggs and Mingo.”

            “At least we know Mrs. Boone is well.  I left her at the fort, safe with Isak.”  Henry cleared his throat as he reached for a steaming cup of water.  “Safe –  if not quite content.”

            Jeremy laughed.  Having witnessed it, he could just see Henry – withering under Rebecca Boone’s pointed questions.  “I am sure she would rather be home,” he said, growing sober.  “But with her there, that is one less worry.”

            Henry nodded.  As he added the mixture to the cup of steaming water, a pungent odor filled the air.  At Jeremy’s look, the apothecary smiled.  “It is for strength.”

            “For the General?” Jeremy asked, glancing at the sleeping Frenchman.

            Henry startled him by catching hold of his hand.  As he turned back, he placed the china cup in it.  “For you.  You look terrible.”

            “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Jeremy muttered as he sniffed it.  Then he sneezed.  “What is it?”

            “A cure for everything but the common cold!  Now, do as your physician says and drink it.”

            Jeremy held the cup out.  “Physician, cure thyself!”

At that moment there was a knock at the door.  It startled Jeremy so he almost dropped the cup.  As he placed it on the table, he and Henry exchanged a quick worried glance.  Then he went to the window and looked out.  It was late afternoon and so even the shadows had shadows.  He could see nothing.

            “Can you tell who it is?” Henry asked.

            Jeremy shook his head.  Before shifting to the door, he glanced at Lafayette.  If it was trouble, the general was in no shape for a fight.  And there were the two sleeping children above to think about.  If luck was with them, it was only a caring neighbor come to call.

            But he didn’t think so.

            “Who is it?” Jeremy called, placing his hand on the bar.

            A strong male voice used to command answered.  “Colonel Reginald Featherstone Maxwell.  In the name of his Majesty, George the Third, I command you to open this door – or suffer the consequences!”

           

                                                                  ### 

 

Mingo pursed his lips and glanced at his companion.  When they parted company earlier, taking off in opposite directions, he would never have guessed that he and Daniel Boggs would have been reunited by nightfall and traveling together as the new day dawned.  Their ruse had not worked.  Unfortunately, his old school mate was not as thick as he had hoped.  Within a half hour of their escape, Reggie had recalled his men and ordered them to make a quick march toward the Boone cabin. 

           Beside him Sergeant Boggs shifted nervously.  Mingo shook his head.  They were not in a position to make a move until they knew precisely who was in the cabin and what their condition was.  One of Reggie’s junior officers was pounding on the door. 

“…or suffer the consequences!” Reggie proclaimed.  “Do you hear me?  Come out with your hands above your heads or I will instruct my men to put the place to the torch!”

“And why is that, sir?” a male voice answered from inside.  Mingo recognized it as Jeremy Larkin.  “What have we done to merit death?”

Reggie nodded to two of his men who ran around the side of the cabin.  Two others positioned themselves beneath the front windows.  “I have reason to suspect, sir, that you are harboring a sworn enemy of the King.  The Marquis de Lafayette!  You will surrender the Frenchman now, or all within the cabin will die along with him.”

“There are innocents here.  A girl and a young boy.”

“All the more reason, then, to send him out.”  Reggie reached into his coat and drew out a pocket watch.  “You have one minute from…now!”  Waving his hand, he instructed his torchbearers to approach the wooden structure.  Smoke billowed in the cold wintry air.  “If the Marquis does not appear by the end of it, I will have my men set fire to the cabin.” 

For several pounding heartbeats nothing happened.  Then the cabin door opened and Jeremy Larkin appeared.  He raised his hands high above his head as a dozen muskets were trained on him.  “I have your word, sir, that Jemima and Israel Boone will not be harmed?”

Reggie met Jeremy’s gaze.  He nodded.  “Yes.  You have my word.”

A flick of Reggie’s finger sent a soldier to Jeremy’s side.  As he grabbed him and set about binding his wrists, Henry Abington appeared followed by a bedraggled and exhausted looking man with a blanket tossed over his shoulders.  Mingo heard Sergeant Boggs in-taken breath and saw his knuckles go white where they gripped his rifle.

It was only then he recognized the man as Lafayette. 

“Daniel,” Mingo said, turning toward him, “Do not despair.  All is not lost yet.”

Sergeant Boggs had gone white.  He started to rise.  “They’ll shoot him on sight!” he declared.

“No, they will not.”  Mingo caught the barrel of Bogg’s rifle in his hand and forced it to the ground.  “Trust me.  I was raised by an Englishman.  If Lafayette does nothing threatening, the soldiers will do no more than secure him.  As an American officer and a member of the French aristocracy, he will be taken back to London for trial in order that he –  and his King – may be humiliated.  After that he will be executed.”  Mingo’s smile was grim.  “But that is a long time away.”

 Mingo watched as Lafayette left the cabin and descended the porch stairs, and then came to rest before Reggie.  The Frenchman paused to gather his strength and then lifted his head and met the colonel’s stare.  “This then is the difference between us, Colonel,” Lafayette said quietly.  “You would kill children to get to me, and I would die to save them.”

Reggie stiffened, though whether it was because he had been insulted or because he knew what Lafayette said was true, Mingo did not know.  “Bind him!” he commanded.  “Make certain he cannot escape!.”  As several soldiers moved to comply, Reggie crossed to stand before Jeremy Larkin.  He stared at him long enough that it made Mingo uncomfortable. 

“And who have we here?” Reggie asked.

“Jeremy Larkin,” the young man from Chester answered.

Reggie’s eyes went from Jeremy to Henry, and then back.  “Hmm.  I have heard of a group of young scoundrels aiding this French menace.  I wonder if, once we return to the east, we will not find that we have more chicks in hand then we first supposed.”

“Never count ‘em before they’re hatched, Colonel,” a familiar voice proclaimed.  Mingo grinned from ear to ear as a lanky, familiar form emerged from the cover of the trees with at least two dozen armed men following close behind.  “I’d be dropping those muskets if I was you, gentlemen.”  Daniel Boone pointed Ticklicker’s barrel at Reginald Featherstone Maxwell’s scarlet red breast.  “Don’t you English fellas know, it ain’t polite to come callin’ at a man’s home armed to the teeth.”

 

                                                    ###

 

Later that day Becky Boone returned to her home and was reunited with her children.  Isak accompanied her, and he and Henry and Jeremy joined the Boones for supper.  When Sergeant Boggs and Mingo arrived, Boggs took command of his errant and exhausted general and actually ordered Lafayette to bed.  Sheepishly, the Frenchman complied.  Sergeant Boggs placed himself beside his commander’s bedside and watched over him, until he too fell asleep.

So he wasn’t aware when, several hours later, Lafayette rose and went outside.

The ex-patriot Frenchman, now a major general in the American army, barely more than a boy and yet a seasoned commander of men, sat on the Boone’s porch, staring at the sunset.  Mingo and Daniel Boone sat close by his side.  Lafayette drew a deep breath and then admitted, somewhat chagrinned, “I am afraid my selfish desires brought you much grief, Daniel.  You, and your family.  And for that, I apologize.”

“Selfish, General?” Dan asked.

Lafayette nodded.  “My desire to see you and your Kentucky.  If I had not come….”

The frontiersman shook his head.  “Like I told Jeremy, Devereux was already here.  The Redcoats too.  I can’t see how your joinin’ them made matters worse.”  He shifted and sipped a little of the warm cider in his cup.  “Just might have improved them.”

“That is kind of you, Daniel.  But I hardly think – ”

Dan put the cup down.  “Son, you just gotta get over thinkin’ you’re so important.”

Lafayette’s black brows peaked.  “Je pardon moi?”

“Reggie was here to capture the Beast,” Mingo answered.  “His stumbling upon your presence was sheer chance.  If not for your willingness to put your life at risk, General, Jean Paul would have escaped.”

Lafayette smiled weakly.  “I did little more than stumble in his way.”

 “Don’t matter how a man’s tripped, it only matters that he falls,” Daniel Boone pronounced.

“And falls hard!” Mingo added, raising his own mug in a toast.

Lafayette sighed.  The vision of Jean Paul Devereux’s ravaged body laying, broken on the rocks still haunted him.  “Any sign of Merle?” he asked.  The woman who ran with the wolves had not been seen since she succeeded in taking her revenge.

“Nope,” Dan replied.  “Mima said Merle looked like a wild thing the last time she saw her.  Maybe she’s gone back to her own.”

“General?” a voice spoke softly.

Lafayette turned and looked back toward the cabin.  Jeremy Larkin’s tall figure was framed by the open door.  “Oui?” he asked.

“Sir.  It might not be my place, but – don’t you think you should be resting?  We’ve a long journey ahead of us.”

Lafayette stood and drew himself up to his full height.  He raised his head and put on a stern look.  “Captain Larkin, there is a breach in protocol we need to address.”

Jeremy gulped.  “Sir?”

“I seem to remember a certain incident, where you chose to ignore what you knew would be my wishes.”

Jeremy’s eyes flew to Daniel Boone and Mingo for support.  He didn’t get any.  Both of them failed miserably at concealing their smiles.

“Er, what ‘incident’ would that be?”

“I seem to remember you leaving me behind.  Sneaking out without my permission.”

Jeremy cleared his throat.  “Well, general, I knew….”

“You knew what?” Lafayette snapped.

            “I knew that nothing could stop you from placing yourself in danger.”  The words came quickly.  “And that if I didn’t go, you would –  and you would end up getting yourself killed.  Sir!”

Lafayette cocked his head, enjoying Jeremy’s momentary discomfort.  He glanced at Daniel Boone.  Private Yankee Doodle.  It has a nice ring.  No?”

Dan swallowed his smile.  “I think I’d give the boy another chance, General.”

“Mingo?” Lafayette prompted.

“Well….  Considering Jeremy’s actions, along with everyone else’s, ended the murderous reign of the Beast, and handed the Continental Army two dozen British hostages who can be exchanged for American prisoners….  I think you might go easy on him.”

Lafayette went to stand before Jeremy.  “And what do you think, my friend?  Should I go easy on you?”

“I think, sir, that being a private might have its moments,” Jeremy answered quietly.

Lafayette placed a hand on his shoulder.  He knew what he meant.  Jeremy was too young to bear such responsibility.

They all were.

“Come along, Captain Larkin,” Lafayette said, placing an arm about his shoulders.  “Let us go wake Sergeant Boggs, and he can scold us both.”

 

                                                    ###

 

Three days later, as Jeremy Larkin, Isak Poole, Henry Abington, Sergeant Boggs and Major General Lafayette bid goodbye to the Boones and set out on their return journey, a lone figure stood watching from the crest of a hill.  The cold wind of the wintry morning whipped through Merle’s honey blond hair, lifting it from her shoulders and tossing it about her face.  At her feet a dozen shadows –  black and gray, caramel and pearl –  milled, snarling, sniffing, whining.  Seeking her caress.

As she bent and stroked the head of the largest among them, Merle turned and looked at Boone cabin where it lay nestled in a hollow.  Pale gray smoke was rising from its chimney.  Outside Jemima was hanging laundry.  Israel was attacking imaginary Redcoats.  And Daniel and Rebecca Boone were sharing a caress. 

They were safe now, those who had been kind to her.  As were the men who had come from Chester.  As were her wolfen kin.

As was she.

“Come, Yvonne.  Our task is done,” she whispered.

Yvonne howled in agreement and together they, along with the others, disappeared in to the wood.

                                               

                                                                                                - END -