THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY

Chapter Eight

 

James T. Kirk shouldered a heavy sack of flour and turned toward the gangboard that led up onto the Beagle’s deck.  He couldn’t help but feel a sort of thrill as his foot struck the planks.  As a child, one of his heroes had been Captain Horatio Hornblower.  The tall tales of Hornblower’s tall ship and its adventures had kindled the first spark of wanderlust in his youthful heart.  Now, here he was, setting foot on one!  If not for his worry about Spock, and his concern for McCoy, he would have loved to allow himself a few moments to explore her – maybe even to set sail so he could feel the sea spray on his face and hear the canvas sails snap in the wind. 

As usual there was no time for the captain to play, and that was a pity.

Glancing over his shoulder, Kirk made certain that Isak Poole and Paul were following close on his heels.  He didn’t want to get too far apart.  Both men seemed more than capable of taking care of themselves, but this was his command and he wasn’t about to surrender any more hostages to fate – or chance having a man from the past die on his watch.  He had no way of knowing if either of these men were important, but as they had learned with Captain Christopher, it didn’t have to be them.  It might be their child or grandchild, or great grandchild who contributed something the future could not exist without.

The Frenchman still bothered him.  There was something familiar about him, but the image wouldn’t come into focus.  And even now, he simply did not have time to think about it.  Events were moving too fast.  Kirk’s grin was grim.  It was true – time and tide waited for no man.

As his gaze fell on the black man, Isak nodded.  They had decided they would get on board and once they had assessed the situation, take action.  Their posture as conveyors of cargo would get them into the innermost recesses of the sea-going vessel.  If Spock was here, it was probable he was being held in one of the many cramped spaces located low in the hull.  These old ships, for the most part, followed a certain predictable pattern.

As Kirk stepped onto the deck, he paused to shift the flour bag from one shoulder to the other, as though seeking balance.  While he did, his keen gaze took in the mob of seamen, passengers, wagoneers and dock workers.  The ship was a hive of activity, with people shouting and running to and fro.  He started to turn to make a comment to Isak who was coming up behind him.  As he did, the starship captain realized something was wrong.  Several seamen were standing on the starboard rail, looking down into the water.  Kirk jumped as two shots rang out and gun smoke filled the air.

“What is happening?” Paul asked as he too joined them.

 Kirk shook his head as he moved into the crowd that was forming around the seamen.  “Stay here!” he ordered.

The seamen were walking on the rail with practiced ease.  When he drew closer, Kirk saw that each held a pistol and that both weapons were smoking.  What were they shooting at, he wondered?  Certainly not fish.

“Did you get ‘im?” the one man asked.

“Think so.  Can’t be certain though.  Tis too damn dark!”

“Was that a woman with him?  Cheeky thing,” the first remarked as he swung down onto the deck.  “Serves her right for thwartin’ King George’s justice if she drowns.”

James T. Kirk swallowed hard over a lump of fear.  Someone had escaped.  He didn’t need his Vulcan friend to quote the odds on just who it had been….

“Get out o’ here!” the seaman shouted as he waved his flintlock at the crowd of gawkers.  “Ain’t nothin’ to see.  Show’s over!”

“You tell them, Barnes,” the other sailor said as he squatted on the rail.  “Ain’t nothin’ to see here either.  No heads bobbing up for air.  They’ve bid fair to disappear.”

“Bid fair to drown’s more like it,” Seaman Barnes snarled.  And again he repeated, “Serves them right.”

The crowd had parted around him and begun to dissipate.  Kirk held his ground.  He approached the men and waited until Barnes turned and met his gaze.  Then he demanded, as if he had the authority to, “What happened here?”

Barnes hesitated and then straightened up, as if recognizing the command accent in his tone.  “Prisoners escaped, Guv.  Orders were to shoot to kill.”

“Did you?  Kill them, I mean?  And who were they?”

Barnes scowled, as if unsure he should answer.  “Look here, who are you to be askin’?”

“Captain James Kirk,” he answered, letting his rank explain it for him.  “Now tell me, who they were.”

The other sailor stepped down from the rail and approached him.  “We don’t know who the woman was, only that she freed the man.  He was a…special passenger.  Captain’s prerogative.”  The man cocked his head and examined Kirk.  “Just what ship are you captain of, mate?”

“The Enterprise,” he snapped. 

The seaman’s eyebrows stood at attention.  “The HMS Enterprise?”

Kirk didn’t answer.  “The man.  Did you know a name?”

“What business is it of yours, stranger?” a cultured voice, smooth as honey and hard as the stick that stirred it, asked.

The starship captain whirled to find himself confronting an 18th century version of himself.  Captain Brighton was about his height and weight, and tough and tanned as the planks beneath his feet.  He looked fifty, but might have been ten years younger, it was hard to tell.  The naval officer wore a long wig such as Kirk had seen in paintings of the period, mostly on barristers and judges, and held himself with a casual but prepossessing air.  Abel Brighton was king of his dominion and he knew it. 

Kirk shrugged.  “It’s not often a man finds sailors fishing with bullets.  I was just curious.”

“Said he was a captain, Captain,” Barnes growled.

Brighton’s eyes were the pale gray of morning fog and cold as that mist in November.  “Did he?  And just what ship might you be captain of, Master….”

“He said it was the Enterprise.”

Brighton’s brows didn’t head skyward, but they waggled with interest.  “Did he now?”

Kirk shrugged.  “I might have exaggerated.”

The captain of the Beagle examined him closely.  “I…think not.”  Brighton’s paper thin lips pursed.  Then he snapped his fingers.  “Take this man.  He is a spy!”

As the two seamen came forward and took him by the arms, Kirk protested.  “Captain Brighton, no.  I’m just a simple tradesman come aboard to deliver supplies.”

Brighton shook his head.  “There is nothing ‘simple’ about you.  I’ll wager you came on board to free your friend.  What was he?  First mate to you?”  The British captain sneered.  “Impressment is a poor reward for such loyalty, but in the place of the merchandise I have lost, you will do.”

 “Impressment is illegal,” Kirk reminded him.

Abel Brighton’s sneer matured into a wicked smile.  “Only on land.  On this ship, my word is law.”

Capitaine Brighton!” a strong voice called.

Kirk winced.  The accent was French.  He turned with the English commander to see Paul’s ramrod straight figure standing ten feet away.  The pistol in his hand was leveled at Brighton.  A few feet behind him, a very nervous looking Isak Poole was running interference, his own weapon drawn.

“You will release him,” the Frenchman commanded.

Brighton stepped deliberately into Paul’s line of fire.  “No.  Now kill me, if you have the bullocks, you French frog.”

“I do not wish to kill you,” the young man replied, though his tone belied the truth of the statement.

Captain Brighton was silent for a moment.  When he spoke again, his outrage had ripened into open hatred.  I do not wish to permit you to live,” he replied, his voice quiet and deadly.  “We do not always get what we want.”

Kirk heard it.  There was something in the Beagle’s captain’s tone.  That image concerning the Frenchman he had been trying to bring into focus; Brighton had it.  The Englishman knew who Paul was.
     “You would not remember me,” Brighton went on, taking a step toward the young man.  “I am sure a hundred packets come and go in a day in George Town’s harbor.  But I remember you.  I was there when you departed to the cheers of those traitorous crowds.  The French fop, coming to bless America with his presence.”  Brighton moved even closer, as if he knew no fear.  “Who could have supposed you would come to be an inspiration – a  force that must be stopped?”

Kirk’s mind was whirling.  Georgetown, with a harbor.   South Carolina, then?   A French fop, but not so.  A man of action.  The starship captain’s eyes flicked to the Frenchman.  Neither Paul’s nerve or his aim wavered.  And so young.  So very young.  A boy, really.  A boy.

The boy.

Good God!  Paul was the Marquis de Lafayette!

And he had just led him onto a British ship and straight into danger.

Good God indeed….

 

Jeremy Larkin paced the path outside the town hall.  It was well after midnight and the British solders who guarded it had not been happy when he had awakened them with his incessant knocking.  Neither had they been pleased when he insisted on seeing his father and brother and refused to leave until he did.  There had been a moment where he thought they would simply knock him over the head and throw him in with the rest of his family, but it had passed when an older soldier, a sergeant, stepped outside and asked the pair what was happening.  The man stared at him and then, after telling the guards to wait, retired inside.

That had been a quarter of an hour ago.

Jeremy glanced back toward his home.  Henry had gone there to keep watch, to make certain Major Tarleton did not order Doctor McCoy moved.  Though he still knew little of the strangers who had come to their town, they had more than proven their worth.  If not for McCoy, Robert might well have been dead.  It was the least he could do to take precautions to protect the older man.  The rebel leader smiled.  From what he had observed, the navy physician held all life sacred and would fight to preserve it – even at the cost of his own.

As the town clock struck three in the morning, Jeremy returned to the door.  Before the soldiers on guard could stop him, he raised his hand and struck it again.  As if in answer, the British sergeant reappeared. 

“Permission’s been granted,” he grunted.  “Follow me.”

Jeremy hesitated only a second.  Though it was what he desired, once inside he would be at their mercy.  Still, he had to see Robert and his father, had to learn what had happened and why they had been taken.

“Thank you, sergeant,” he said at last, and then followed the soldier inside.

The town hall had been converted to a headquarters for the British troops stationed in Chester while the town was under martial law.  It’s ground level rooms were being used as prison cells.  The British sergeant led him through the building to a room on the back side.  He drew a ring of keys from his coat pocket and inserted one into the chamber door’s lock.  Drawing his pistol with his other hand, the soldier aimed it Jeremy as he turned the key and opened the door.

“Inside!” he ordered.

Jeremy nodded and did as he was told.

The room was dark.  Only one candle burned on a low table thrust haphazardly against an inner wall.  A nest of blankets had been hastily arranged on the floor.  One man lay on them.  Another knelt beside him.  As the door opened, that one rose to his feet.  Jeremy heard his audible intake of breath upon seeing him.

“Good God!  Jeremy, no!” his father exclaimed, his voice trembling with fear and outrage.  “They have not taken you as well.”  

“No, Father,” he hastened to assure him.  “Major Tarleton was…kind enough to permit me to visit you.”  He took a step forward.  “How is Robert?”

His father shook his head.  “Failing.”

Jeremy started to move, but then turned and looked at the sergeant.  He hid the disgust in his voice.  “May I go to my brother’s side?”

In the pale moonlight that streamed in the window, the sergeant’s face was unreadable.  “The major said to give you all the time you wanted.  I’ll be outside.”  With that the soldier turned on his heel and exited the door.  In the corridor he stopped.  Right outside the door,” he added, and then he closed it leaving them alone.

Jeremy scowled, deeply suspicious.  Then he realized his father was watching him, and he turned it into a look of distress.  It was not much of an act.  Robert was pale as fog and his breathing was quick and shallow.  When he touched his brother’s hand, he realized by its heat that some mortification had set in.

 “Robert,” he asked gently, “how are you?”

Robert moaned.  He stirred slowly and his eyes opened with little focus.  “Jeremy?”

“Aye, it is me.”

“What are…you…doing here?”

“They let me come to see you.”

Robert was silent for a moment.  “Must have…a…reason.”

“I wanted to see you – ”

His brother gripped his hand.  “No.  Tarleton.”  Suddenly Robert’s blue eyes were clear as a mountain stream.  “You cannot trust him.”

“The man is evil, Jeremy,” his father echoed.  “Pure evil.”

“Why are you here, Robert?  And why Father?  Does Tarleton know you are of Washington’s army?”

“Aye.”  Robert drew a steadying breath.  “Tarleton overheard me...speaking to McCoy.  He knows I…meant to warn them.”

“Dear God!”

“But there is more!  Robert’s grip tightened on his sleeve.  “I have…failed in a…sacred trust.”  His brother’s feverish eyes flicked to the closed door, and then to the window nearby.  He shifted his hand to Jeremy’s collar and forced him to lean in closer so he could lower his voice.  Where is Paul?  Is he safe?”

He did not wish to burden his brother.  “Aye.  He is with Isak and McCoy’s captain.”

Robert frowned, as if unsure of that answer.  “You must keep him so.  Promise me you will!” 

“Certainly, I – ”

“Jeremy, war is…a harsh master.  It leaves no...time for a man to…be a boy.”  Robert’s breathing was growing more labored.  His body trembled as if with a mighty wind.  “You must set aside all…foolishness and nonsense.  The very hope of the Cause may depend…on you.”

“Robert, I don’t understand.”  And then he did.  Like a strike of lightning it hit him, searing into his soul the truth of his brother’s words.  “You mean Paul is La – ”

Robert shook his head violently, as if to put it into words would compound the danger.  Struck with the truth, Jeremy rocked back on his heels.  He had heard the marquis was impulsive, but this underscored the word. 

“It doesn’t…matter what happens…to me, Jeremy.”  Robert’s blue gaze settled on their father who was standing nearby them, lost in his own thoughts.  “To…either of us.  Paul must be protected…and returned to where he belongs.  And soon.  Do you…understand?”

“Aye.”  Jeremy rose to his feet as his brother fell back to the blankets, exhausted.  “And I will keep the trust.”

“What is that?” their father asked as he came alongside him.  The older man’s eyes were bleary with pain and concern.  “What has your brother asked of you?  Not some foolishness having to do with this war.  I will not lose two sons to the Continental Congress’ madness!”

“You will not lose either, sir,” Jeremy assured him, his voice uncharacteristically harsh.  “Not if I have anything to say about it.” 

“I do not like the look in your eyes, Jeremiah….”

“Sir, I – ”

The door behind them opened suddenly, startling them into silence.  The British sergeant stepped in, his pistol raised.  He pointed it at Jeremy and ordered.,

“You, sir, are to come with me!”

His father stepped before him.  “You will leave my youngest out of this.”

A shadow stirred in the corridor and another man appeared – a British officer with gold braid on his shoulders and sleeves.  His insufferable arrogance proceeded him into the room.

“I am afraid, old man, that he is already in the thick of it,” Major Tarleton remarked.  “Still, I am an open-minded man.  Perhaps the apple can fall somewhat far a field of the tree.  From what I am told of this one, the Larkin backbone seems to be missing.  I think, in order to save his scrawny neck from the noose – as well as your own – that Master Jeremiah will tell me all I wish to know.

“Bring him!” 

 

Kirk’s hazel eyes darted to the starboard rail.  For a moment, he considered joining Spock with the fishes.  But that would do nothing to save the two men who were with him and he knew now that, whatever it took, he certainly had to save them.

Lafayette!  What was the young major general doing in an occupied town?

The Frenchman had not moved.  A frown creased his brow.  “You know me, Capitaine Brighton.  Should I know you?”

“I’m English, Frenchman, that’s all you need to know.”

The enmity between the two men’s countries was centuries old.  Kirk had studied all the battles.  Captain Abel Brighton looked like he meant to relive them all right here, right now.  Kirk loosed himself from the seaman’s grip and moved to Paul – to the marquis’ side. 

“We should go.  Now!” he said sharply.

Lafayette glanced at him.  “What about your friend?”

“He’s gone.  Over the side.  We have to get you out of here now.”

Every inch of the man was aristocratic.  So was the cool, calm look he directed his way.  Kirk cursed himself for a fool for not seeing it before.  The Frenchman’s upper lip curled with a fierce smile.  “I have not yet begun to fight.”

“ ‘Those that fly may fight again, which he can never do that’s slain’,” Kirk quoted as he caught the other man’s arm and pulled him back.  Then he shouted, “Isak, cover the captain until I have the – until we’re clear.”

A thin row of angry seamen watched them closely, but none were willing to risk their captain’s life.  Brighton had not named the Frenchman and that might have bought them a little time.  If they knew….  Well, it might be the Englishman sleeping with the fishes instead of him.

Or Spock.

God, he hoped the Vulcan had survived.

Lafayette had begun to back away, but unwillingly, as if it were not in him to retreat – even in the face of insurmountable odds. 

“Sir,” Kirk said, acknowledging the other man’s superior rank.  “You will not serve General Washington by dying in obscurity on the deck of a small packet ship in Chester harbor.  There are greater things in store for you.”

The Frenchman’s brown eyes darted to his face.  Certainment?”

He put every bit of his future knowledge into the word.  “Yes.”

They had reached Isak.  The black man moved in front of them as they continued to retreat toward the gangboard.  Kirk didn’t know if the blacksmith knew who the Frenchman was, but it didn’t seem to matter.  Isak Poole was willing to die to clear their way.

These were good men.

Kirk glanced at the wharf.  Fortunately the British patrol had moved away.  With any luck, the soldiers were at the other end of the pier.  The wooden walkway beside the water was crowded with people.  It wouldn’t be too hard to disappear.  Catching Lafayette’s arm, he propelled him down the nearly perpendicular plank.  Just as they reached the dock, there was a loud noise – something like an explosion.  Shouts of alarm and the cry of ‘fire’ rent the air. 

A moment later, a grinning Isak Poole appeared at their side.

“What was that?” Kirk asked him as the stench of sulfur and other combustible materials filled the shipyard’s air.

“One of Henry’s special recipes,” the black man grinned.  “A shame….  I don’t think Captain Brighton much likes American cuisine.”