The Beast by Marla F. Fair

          Chapter Twelve           

            Jemima had been awakened just after dawn by the sounds of Henry Abington bustling about the cabin.  Since his fever had broken and General Lafayette was improving, it had been decided that Henry would go to the fort to replenish some much needed stores and to see if there was any news of the Redcoats movements in the area.  She had packed some bread and cheese for him and seen him off, and then gone to the back of the cabin to fetch the freshly laundered linens she had hung out the night before.  As she came around the corner of her home with a basket full of petticoats and other inexpressibles, Jemima was startled to find her brother and General Lafayette walking out the door. 

            Placing the basket on the ground, she asked, “And just where do you two think you are going?”

            Israel stopped dead.  He scrunched up his nose and his shoulders at the same time and declared with angelic innocence, “Fishin’!  We thought we’d catch somethin’ for breakfast.”

            Jemima anchored her hands on her hips.  “Really?  So where’s your fishing pole?”

            “We’re ain’t gonna use poles.  We was gonna make spears.  Ain’t that right, General?”

            Lafayette was staring off into the distance, a faraway expression on his face.  Israel’s question brought him back to the present.  “Oui.  When I was a boy, my friends and I used to carve the ends of branches and use them to spear the fish.”  He shrugged as he limped forward and balanced on the edge of the porch.  “I thought it would give us something to do.”

            “You’re not planning on running away, are you?” Jemima asked.  “Of going after the Beast again?”

            Lafayette descended the steps and came to her side.  He stood, towering over her, his deep brown eyes wide and earnest and locked on hers.  When he spoke, his tones were soft like the velvet cover of her mother’s Bible – the one their Ma’s friend, Abigail, had painted back east in Pennsylvania.  He placed a hand over his heart and said, “Mademoiselle Boone, you have my word as an officer and a gentleman that there wais no deception planned.  Your family’s cabin, while charming and a welcome safe haven, has grown stifling after so many days trapped inside.  I am restored enough to feel a need of fresh air.  You are more than welcome to join us.”

            Jemima’s heart was pounding.  She started to speak, but had to clear her throat before she could do so.  “I have chores to do….”

            “Oui.  There are always chores.  And they must be done.  But it does not hurt now and then to set them aside for an hour.”  Lafayette smiled, displaying his dimples.  “Actually, we were coming to find you when you discovered us.”

            “Really?” she asked.

            He nodded.  “Really.”

            “What in tarnation are the two of you talkin’ about?”  Israel stomped down the steps and joined them.  He looked up at Lafayette.  “Are we goin’ or ain’t we?”

            “Jemima?” the general asked.

            For about two seconds she held the Frenchman’s intent gaze – and two seconds were about all she could bear.  Looking down at her toes, she answered shyly, “I guess so.”

            “You guess so, what?” Israel demanded.

            Lafayette turned to him.  “Private Boone, your sister Jemima has graciously consented to join our expedition.”

            “Criminetly!  But General, fishin’ ain’t women’s work!  She’ll probably get scared and scream and frighten all of ‘em away!”

            Jemima scowled at him and wagged a finger in warning.  “You just rile me enough, Israel Boone, and we’ll see who gets scared!”       Lafayette reached out and caught her hand.  She started but did not pull it away as he spoke, “If you are to accompany us, Jemima, you should get a shawl.”

            She eyed both of them suspiciously.  “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

            The tall Frenchman shook his head.  “No.  Remember?  You have my word.”

            Jemima knew all about the Marquis de Lafayette and what an honorable man everyone said he was.  There were stories in the eastern newspapers her Pa’s friends sent to them and even though they were years old, she had read every one.  Her favorite was the one about the battle of Brandywine, even though it mistakenly reported that Lafayette had been killed in battle.  She still couldn’t believe he was here, in her house.

And holding her hand!

Jemima nodded.  “All right.  I’ll get my shawl and, while I’m in there, some of the bread and cheese I fixed for Henry.  And some cider.”  Her eyes flicked to her brother as her lips turned up with a knowing smile.  “Just in case you mighty hunters come up empty handed.”

            As Israel scowled and rolled his eyes, Lafayette leaned forward and kissed her hand.  Then he released it.  “Merci beaucoup, Jemima.  You are most gracious.”

             She could have melted right there and then. 

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Jemima squeaked.  Then she turned and bolted for the cabin.

“We will be here,” he said softly.

Jemima rushed, gathering her shawl and hat as well as the food she had mentioned.  She thought about leaving a note for Henry, but decided it was unnecessary.  They would only be gone an hour or two.  When she returned outside, true to his word, General Lafayette was sitting with her brother on the fence waiting for her.  He insisted on carrying the basket of food she had packed.  As she surrendered it, Lafayette extended his other arm and she took it and, together, they followed her brother as he snorted and then took off running into the trees.

 

                                                    ###

 

            Jeremy stood on the crest of a low hill, scanning the emerald green ocean that surrounded them.  Along with Daniel Boone, he had followed Jean Paul Devereux’s tracks forward from the point where Rebecca Boone had made her break for freedom.  It was evident that, just as her husband feared, the man known as the Beast was making a beeline back to the Boone cabin.  Jeremy and the tall frontiersman had literally run through the day and into the night in an attempt to overtake Devereux before he could accomplish his villainous goal.  For not only were the Boone children in danger but Henry as well.  And  General Lafayette. 

Now, as the sun rose in the sky, they paused on the crest of the hill to draw their breath and seek fresh signs.  Daniel Boone was kneeling, searching the ground.  A few minutes before he had informed him that they were about three or four miles away from his cabin.  Now they had to decide on a course of action – should they make a frontal assault, hoping to arrive before Devereux?  Or take the more cautious route of circling around the cabin and approaching it from the rear, hoping for an element of surprise.  The time lost would probably amount to half to three quarters of an hour. 

Still, any delay might mean the difference between life and death for someone within.

Jeremy ran a hand through his dark blond hair, brushing it back from his face, and looked at his companion.  Daniel knelt on the edge of the hill, a raised hand shielding his eyes.  As he watched the frontiersman’s lean form went rigid.

“What is it, Daniel?” he asked.

Dan hesitated a moment.  Then he signaled for him to come to his side and get down.  Jeremy complied, kneeling in the soft grass that covered the side of the hill as the other man replied, “Only thing I know for certain, Jeremy, is that its not good.”

“Is it Devereux?” he asked.

Dan shook his head.  “Nope.  No sight of him.  This is a group of men.  They’re headed this way and are between us and the cabin.”  He pointed.  “There.  You can see the smoke from their torches.”

Jeremy squinted, but was unable to see what the other man saw.  Taking him at his word, he asked, “Who are they?”

“Probably the town folk Becky mentioned.”

Men from Boonesborough them.  “McFadden, wasn’t it?” Jeremy asked.

“Will McFadden,” Dan answered as he rocked back on his heels.  “He’s a trouble maker, plain and simple.  Always stirring up others when there’s no need.”

“Becky said he was after Merle, didn’t she?”

Dan pursed his lips and nodded.  “Yep.  Son, it looks like we got ourselves a dilemma.”

Jeremy understood.  Will McFadden and his men were between them and their quarry, Jean Paul Devereux.  And somewhere in-between was Merle with her pack of wolves.  At the least that meant they had to seek out the men of Boonesborough and convince them that they were after the wrong person.  At the most, it meant they had to stop McFadden and his men from killing Merle.

Or Merle from killing them.

“Do you think we should split up?” Jeremy asked, his tone revealing what he thought about the idea.

Dan considered it and then nodded.  “Don’t think there’s anythin’ else we can do.  You’ll have to be the one to go to the cabin, Jeremy.  Will won’t listen to anyone but me.”

He could see in the tall frontiersman’s face what that admission cost him.  After all, Daniel Boone had a personal score to settle with Jean Paul Devereux for the treatment of his wife.

“Well, then, I’ll be on my way,” Jeremy said.

As he rose to his feet, his companion reached out and caught his arm.  “Watch yourself, son.  Devereux is out there.  And Merle.  They got quite a grudge against each other.  I wouldn’t want to see you caught between them.”

“A sentiment I heartily endorse,” Jeremy answered with a grim smile.  “Trust me, Daniel, my goal is to get to your cabin and make certain your children and my friends are safe.  If I see Merle and that villain along the way, I will give them a wide berth.  And let nature take its course.”

Daniel Boone rose as well.  He gripped his rifle in one hand and saluted smartly with the other.  “See you then, Captain Larkin, when this is over.”  With that, the lanky frontiersman turned and sprinted down the hill.

Jeremy watched until his companion’s  form was swallowed by the cast shadows of the trees, and then he turned in the opposite direction and began his journey to the Boone home.

 

                                                   ###

 

Mingo and Sergeant Boggs were walking slightly ahead of the body of Redcoats they traveled with.  For some time now the guard on them had been lax.  Reggie was giving them a long leash, almost as if he wanted them to attempt an escape.  Mingo frowned as he knelt to examine the ground for tracks.  It made him wonder if the focus of Reginald Maxwell’s hunt had not shifted from the Beast to the boy.   If Reggie suspected that Sergeant Bogg’s Frenchman, Michel Chavaniac, was in truth the Marquis de Lafayette, then he knew the prestige and honor of capturing the Beast would be as nothing compared to the accolades that would be laid upon him for securing and delivering to the English King the young Frenchman who had outfoxed Cornwallis, and who had become a constant stinging nettle in his majesty’s flesh.  Mingo glanced at Sergeant Boggs as he came to his side.  He could see the same thoughts written on the frontiersman’s face.  Boggs knelt and then indicated Reggie and his men with a nod of his head.  Mingo agreed. 

So long as they remained in the Redcoats’ hands, there was really little they could do about it.

“Mingo?” Daniel Boggs said softly as he leaned forward and traced a print with his finger.  “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Mingo rose and answered as he dusted off his knees.  “I believe so.  The Redcoats’ s quarry may have once been the Beast, but it is no longer.”

Boggs glanced over his shoulder.  “We go, then?”

Mingo followed his gaze.  Reggie and his fellow officers, as well as several of the enlisted men, had gathered together in a tight circle.  They were talking.  He nodded.  “Yes.  But not together.”

The sergeant’s smile was grim.  “I agree.”

“Do you know the land about here well enough to lose them?  And to save yourself?” Mingo asked.

“Well enough for the first part.  Providence will decide the second.  Where do we meet?”

Mingo thought about it.  “Not the Boone cabin, that is too risky for all.”

“Chota, then?”

Menewa would grant them asylum, but such an action might call the wrath of the British army down upon his people.  “No.  But near Chota my people have an ancient burial ground.  Raised spears guard the entrance.  Do not enter!  But wait for me there if you arrive before I do.”

“What are you two up to?” Reggie called from close by.  They looked and found he had left the other soldiers behind to approach them. 

“We are in disagreement as to which direction to take,” Mingo answered with a wink at Boggs.

“The woman’s footprints clearly lead to the south,” Boggs grunted, playing along.

“But such a creature would be wily,” Mingo countered.  “No doubt the prints were left to throw us off her scent.”

“If she thinks like an animal, that’s unlikely.”

Reggie frowned as he looked down at the prints.  “So what do you propose we do?”

Mingo met Sergeant Boggs’s expectant gaze.  He nodded, giving him a signal.  “The only thing we can do – take both!” 

Before he took off, Mingo gave his old school mate a shove.  “Sorry, Reggie.  Still in a hurry!”

As the British officer fell to the ground, Mingo saluted Sergeant Boggs and the two of them plunged into the trees –  headed in opposite directions.

 

                                                   ###

 

“This looks like a good spot.”  Jemima’s spirits had been restored by their walk and, though she was worried about her Ma and Pa, she smiled cheerfully as they came upon a small plot of pale green grass guarded by an overhanging cliff that had somehow survived the onslaught of the snow.  The month had been curious – one day as warm as spring, and the next, cold as the backside of winter.  Today she could see her breath, but her shawl and hat were enough to keep her warm.

That and her gallant company.

General Lafayette had sent Israel ahead in search of suitable branches for making spears – after giving him strict orders not to travel outside of the range of a good shout.  She found she could almost forget the danger they were in – almost.  It came back to her as Lafayette bent over to spread a blanket on the green grass.  When his coat fell open, she saw the elegant flintlock pistol he had tucked at his waist.  No matter how pleasant the outing – or the company –  somewhere in this wood was Jean Paul Devereux.  Maybe still holding her Ma, though she didn’t really think so.  By now her Pa would have found him.  Maybe killed him….

Jemima sighed and wrapped her arms about her knees.  Each and every night she fell asleep praying the good Lord would send her a man like her Pa to marry – someone who would care for her and protect her.  Someone who would love her as fiercely as he did his own life – maybe even more.  As the handsome French marquis took a seat on the blanket beside her and began to rummage about in his kit, Jemima rested her chin on her hands and stared at him.  Her Ma had told her Lafayette had a wife, and children.

He seemed so young.

“General Lafayette,” she began.

He looked up at her.  “Gilbert, please.”

She smiled.  “Jhil-bear.  That’s nice.  Is that what your wife calls you?”  When he looked startled, she apologized.  “I’m sorry.  That was personal.  Ma always tells me I need to stifle my curiosity and learn to mind my mouth.”

“No.  It is all right,” he answered as he drew a small knife from his kit and then laid the leather satchel aside.  “Oui.  That is what Adrienne calls me – among other things,” he added with a wry smile.

“She wasn’t happy when you left.  Was she?”

“Happy?  No.”  He paused and then went on.  “May I ask you a personal question, Jemima?”

She shrugged.  “Sure.”

“How old are you?”

“I’ll be sixteen this year.  Why?”

“You remind me of Adrienne at times.  Young.  Lovely.  Intelligent and strong.  She is barely eighteen.”

Jemima blushed at his compliment.  “You must miss her something fierce,” she said.  “Have you been married long?”

“We were children when we engaged,” he said as he took a cloth and wiped the knife’s blade.  “I was fourteen and Adrienne, twelve.  We married two years later.”

“Twelve!  Gosh.  Is that legal?”  Jemima’s hand went to her mouth.  She winced.  “There I go again.”

He laughed.  “We lived as brother and sister for a time.  Her mother’s reaction was not unlike yours.”   Lafayette sobered.  “It was a match of families and fortunes.  Love was never meant to be a part of it.”

“But you do love her, I can tell,” she said softly.

“Oui.  Very much.  She is my life.”  He put the cloth down.  “And what of you, Jemima?  Is there someone spécial in your life?”

“Me?”  Her cheeks were burning now.  “Well, if you ask Jericho Jones, he might say ‘yes’.  But no.  There’s no one.”

Lafayette leaned forward and touched her hand.  “There will be.”

“Now isn’t this a charming sight – the simple country maiden and the conniving French aristocrat?”  A harsh voice spoke, startling them both.  As Lafayette leapt to his feet and reached for his pistol at his waist, a man’s form appeared in silhouette against the trees.  He was holding someone smaller who was struggling.  “I would remove that weapon and drop it if I were you.  Unless you would like to see a sizeable hole in this young man’s forehead.”

“Israel!”

She could see her brother’s white hair, shining in the rising light.  The man who held him wore a dark brown suit, torn and stained with mud. 

It was Jean Paul Devereux. 

“Release the boy, you villain!” Lafayette demanded as he inserted himself between her and the man who could have been his twin. 

“Oh, I’ll trade him, all right, ” Devereux replied, a lewd grin lighting his dirt and sweat soaked face.  “For her.”

Lafayette shook his head.  “Never!”

“You act like you have a choice, Gilbert.  Ah, the arrogance of the wealthy and well bred.”  Devereux cocked the hammer of his pistol.  “Come here, girl!  Or your brother dies.”

Jemima swallowed hard.  She started to comply, but Lafayette held her back.  “What are you doing?” she demanded.  “Let me go!”

“No.”  The general was breathing hard.  Though he was some recovered, the weeks of fever and sickness had taken their toll.  Still, he was strong enough to prevent her moving.  “I will not surrender you, Jemima, to the likes of him.”

“But, Israel….”

Lafayette looked at her.  “He will not be harmed.”

Jean Paul Devereux snorted.  “He will if she is not at my side by the count of ten.  Nine.  Eight….”

“Stay put, Jemima,” the general ordered.  Then he took a step forward.  “Let the boy go, Jean Paul.”  Unexpectedly he turned his pistol butt first and held it out to the other man.  I will go with you.”

Jean Paul laughed.  “And what would I want with you?  What good would you be to me?  Is Mama at home to pay your ransom?”

“I can buy you safe passage from here to Philadelphia, where you can board a ship and leave this country and those who hunt you behind.”

“Gilbert, no!” Jemima gasped as she realized what he was planning.  “No!”

Devereux grew sober.  He sensed Lafayette was in earnest.  Taking the proffered weapon, he asked, “Who exactly are you?”

            The general locked his hands behind his back.  “Gilbert du Motier.  Je m'appelle Lafayette.”

“Lafayette?”  Jean Paul seemed stunned.  Then he laughed.  The Lafayette?”

“Oui.”  The marquis’s tone was dark.  “Now let the child go.”

Jean Paul held Israel tightly as he studied him.  “I have your word.  You will not try to escape – or to betray me?”

Lafayette nodded.  “Oui.  You have my word.  If you let both the boy and his sister go.”

Jemima heard the hammer of the gun fall back into place.  Then Devereux released her brother.  As Israel ran into her arms she waited for Lafayette to jump the other man, to roll and knock his feet out from under him. 

Something.

Instead he stepped forward and offered his wrists.  As Jean Paul Devereux bound them she knew the general truly was a man of his word.

Even to the death.

            Devereux marched him to the edge of the trees.  From there Lafayette called back, “Jemima.”

“Yes?” she answered, holding her brother close.

“Write Adrienne.  Tell her what I said.”

Even as she nodded, Jean Paul Devereux took hold of the Marquis’s arm and propelled him into the trees, leaving them alone.

            Jemima’s knees buckled as he disappeared and she fell to the ground.  Israel stooped and clutched her tightly.  The two of them sat there on the small plot of green grass, holding each other, tears streaming down their cheeks.  Minutes passed.  Then the shadows that had swallowed Lafayette began to stir.  As if they walked on silent feet, they circled them, drawing closer and closer until she could see that they were not shadows –  but powerful black forms.

Wolves.

Merle’s wolves.

Someone whistled and they stopped.  Above their dark backs a light face appeared, feral but familiar.  Merle’s eyes had grown golden as her hair, and wild with the promise of the kill.  Her lips curled, flashing ivory teeth honed razor sharp, and then they parted and she barked a command.  At her word one wolf, large, caramel in color, separated from the pack to come to their side.

“Renee will remain with you.  He will keep you safe,” Merle told her.  “Do not try to follow.  I cannot promise you safety.”

As she turned away, Jemima cried out, “What of Lafayette?”

The wolf woman did not answer.  She lifted her head to the sky and howled.

            And was gone.