The Beast by Marla F. Fair
So in the end it came down to what he had always suspected it would.
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
“Lord of the village!” Devereux said, and then spat on the ground.
The blow left Lafayette’s head spinning.
“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
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
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
“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
Are you there?”
At first there was nothing. Then,
as he scaled the side of a steep slope, he heard a weak reply.
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
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
“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.
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
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
“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
“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,
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
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
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
“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.
Dan swallowed his smile. “I
think I’d give the boy another chance, General.”
“Mingo?” Lafayette prompted.
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
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
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.
howled in agreement and together they, along with the others, disappeared in to