THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY:

 

Chapter One

  

Our time is a very shadow that passeth away.  Solomon

  

The young Frenchman, Gilbert du Motier, also known as the Marquis de Lafayette and a newly christened major general in the Continental army of the United states, leaned against the wall in his general’s quarters listening to the debate.  It was heated to say the least.  Though he felt he had much to add, he remained silent.  It would not do for him to impose his thoughts on such great and experienced men – they would be neither welcomed nor heeded.  After all, he was barely twenty years old.  Armstrong.  Wayne. Greene.  Sullivan.  These were names and men he was just coming to know.  All carried considerable credentials against which his time in a military academy and service as what amounted to King Louis’s bodyguard quickly paled.  He noted with great attention to detail the efforts of the last few weeks, all of which had proved ineffective.  Due to the British army’s rapid deployment from the area between Elk’s Head and Philadelphia – it was impossible to believe thousands of men could move so fast! – General Washington had not been able to adequately gauge the strength of the opposing forces.  After the skirmish at Cooch’s Bridge, His Excellency had ordered camp to be set up where they were now – on Red Clay Creek.  The left of the army was on the Christiana, the right in the direction of Chadd’s Ford near the Brandywine. 

It was the morning of September the 7th, and they had just received word that the British army under Howe might be on the move.  In spite of the fact that the Continentals had dug in, building redoubts and entrenchments, it looked as if they would be forced to flee.  That meant moving the cannon that were placed on the rise as thick as they could stand, as well as thousands of men – practically under Howe’s long nose!   At the moment the discussion centered on where and how.  Apparently there were three fords that were of paramount importance: Pyle’s, Wistar’s, and Chadd’s.  Pyle’s was to the south, Wistar’s to the north, and Chadd’s Ford had been chosen as the high ground where they would meet the British – if they could goad them into attacking when and where they wanted.

The older generals were quite vocal in their support and disagreement.  General Washington sat at the table, his long form leaning back in his chair, his fingers interlocked and laying on the buff-colored waistcoat of his military uniform.  His crystal clear blue eyes were narrowed.  If one had not known, they might have thought him asleep.  But, like General Wayne, Washington rarely slept – and even when he did, there was some sixth sense that seemed to guide him.  He was listening and learning, allowing his men to do the debating for him.  As Lafayette watched, the older man shifted slightly.  Those stabbing blue eyes opened and they fixed on him.  The young Frenchman straightened up.  Even a glance was enough to make him feel like an unkempt, undisciplined child.  As panic registered on his young face, the great man smiled. 

The effect was electric.  General Wayne who had been talking – well, shouting – ceased, as did all the others.  All eyes moved to the Virginia planter turned soldier.

“Sir?” Wayne asked.  “Something?”

Washington shifted forward to lean his hands on the table.  “We have not heard from the youngest member of the family,” he said, the smile widening.  “Gilbert, your opinion?”

Moi?” Lafayette gulped, forgetting to translate his thoughts.

The general’s smile was tight, but it was there.  Vous.”

The young man cleared his throat.  Near a dozen eyes had turned and fastened on him.  “It would seem to me, mon general, that intelligence would be of paramount importance at this juncture.  We cannot make a move unless we know where it is safe to move.”

“We have all the intelligence we need!” Anthony Wayne barked.  “We’ve got it running out of our damn drawers!  What we need is action!”

Oui.  Reasonable action based on knowledge.”  Lafayette swallowed over his awe of the other man.  “Without it, we are dead men.”

“If you can call yourself a ‘man’,” the Frenchman heard someone remark sotto voce.

Washington heard it as well.  “If that comment bared repeating,” the great man said as he rose from his chair, “I would order it.  I will have you gentlemen remember that Alexander the Great crushed the Maedi insurgence at the tender age of  sixteen.  Length of life is no indication of ability, and sometimes it is the cause of caution that leads to disaster.”  Washington straightened his coat, and then locked his arms behind his back.  “For all we know, the marquis could take on General Howe and win, leaving all of us old men in the dust!”

Lafayette prayed he was not blushing.  Merci, mon general,” he breathed softly.

“We have already seen our Congress make this young man, with his zeal for our cause, feel most unwelcome.”  The ice blue eyes shot around the table.  “I will not have the brutish ill manners of seasoned officers added to that.”

There were murmurs of ‘yes’ and ‘aye, General’. 

Washington continued to hold their gazes for several heartbeats, then he moved toward the door.  “Debate is ended.  I shall consider all that has been said and let you know when I have come to my decision.”  His eyes flicked to Lafayette, where he stood by the wall.  “Walk with me, Gilbert.”

They passed outside and into the encampment.  It had been hastily erected in preparation for war.  It was expected that here was where they would make their stand against General Howe and King George’s men.  It amazed Lafayette still that he was here.  Mention of Alexander had taken him back – only a few years – to his days in the classroom.  War on the written page would prove very different from its reality, as he was certain he was soon to find out.   As they walked, the young Frenchman became aware that his general had a specific destination in mind.  Washington’s long stride propelled them forward.  They passed several redoubts and encroachments before stopping before a tent.  The men on guard outside it fell back even as their mouths fell open and their trembling hands were raised in a salute. 

“Gen…General Washington,” one of them stammered.  “What can we do for you?”

“I’m looking for Captain Larkin.  Is he within?”

“Aye, sir!” the soldier snapped.  “Shall I – ”

“Did I hear my name?” a handsome man with a crown of unruly golden curls asked as he stepped outside the tent.  The instant he saw the general he was all attention.  “Your Excellency!” he snapped as sharply as his heels.  “Command me, I am at your service.”

“At ease, Robert,” the general said.  Lafayette was surprised to hear genuine affection in the older man’s voice.  “How goes it with you?”

“Well, sir.  Though it would be better if I had made a few of the coats the British wear even redder.”  The captain’s smile was disarming.

“You shall have more than ample opportunity soon.  Robert,” Washington gestured toward Lafayette, “have you met our youngest general yet?”

Robert smiled.  “His reputation proceeds him.”

“Oh?” Lafayette stifled a frown.  Bon, I hope.”

“Better than ‘bon’.”  Captain Larkin laughed.  “Humble.  Eager to learn and to serve.  What more could one ask?”

“Humble?”  Lafayette hoped he did not seem too amazed.  “My wife’s father would beg to differ.  As would King Louis.”

“‘I came to learn, not to teach.’  I believe those are your words, General.”

When he said nothing, Washington replied.  “Robert, I would like you to operate as aide to General Lafayette for the duration of this crisis.”

The blond man pursed his lips in surprise, but then bowed in acceptance.  “Gladly, sir.”

Lafayette wondered what this was all about.  He already had several aides, including Sergeant Evans.  For some reason – in spite of Washington’s words of confidence in his abilities back in the command room – he had the suspicion that he had just been assigned one more nursemaid.

Mon general…” he began in protest.

George Washington looked at him.  A second later the great man reached out and placed his hands on the young Frenchman’s shoulders.  “Gilbert, I know your desire is to fight and I promise, before this is over, you will have your wish.  But for now, humor an old man who cares for you.  Captain Larkin is one of my finest men.  The time is critical.  We may have needs to move with expedience and stealth.  I need to know that you are safe.”

It wouldn’t do to have his lower lip tremble.  That would only prove him le enfant.  Lafayette stiffened his spine and took his punishment.  Oui.  I mean, aye, mon general.”  He hesitated and then added with respect.  “But is there nothing I can do?”

The great man hesitated.  He pursed his lips and pulled at his beardless chin for a moment.  “You mentioned gathering intelligence in the briefing.  Do you really feel this is vital?”

Très vital.”

“As do I, sir.  We need more civilians moving among the citizens of the towns, and the British ranks,” Robert chimed in.  “Rumors run swift as the Delaware.  Each one might hold a vital piece of truth.”

Washington was studying them.  “Then I have an assignment for you two.  You will leave immediately.”

Lafayette brightened immensely.  Mon general!” he snapped.

“See the sutler for suitable clothes.  I want you to take Gilbert with you into Chester, Robert.  He is not known there as of yet.”  Washington’s eyes turned to the younger of the two men.  “You will have to mind your tongue.  If there are soldiers about, let Robert do the speaking. Though it is not unheard of for Frenchman to be in the area, these days, your nationality will put you under suspicion.”

Oui,” he readily agreed.

“I need to know what the current of the town is.  Are they for us or against us?  If retreat becomes necessary, may we look for help and succor there?  Or, if forced to flee, will the inhabitants turn us in?”  Washington paused.  “How goes the battle with your father, Robert?”

“Deadlocked, sir.”  Robert shook his golden head.  “He cannot see the necessity of the Cause.”

“A shame.  And your brother, Jeremy?”

Lafayette watched as several emotions flickered through Robert’s deep blue eyes:  affection, anger, acceptance.  “Still drinking and sporting, I am afraid.  No help, but no hindrance to us either.”

“Then it can do no harm to make contact with them.  Take the day that is now dawning to reconnoiter the village.  Return at nightfall.”  For the first time the great man looked worried.  “If something changes, I will get word to you through Philip.”

“Have you word on the movements of Howe’s army?” Robert asked.

Washington shook his head.  “Nothing as of yet, but I am ill at ease.”  He continued to frown for a moment, but as his eyes returned to the young Frenchman standing before him, he smiled.  “Gilbert, it is fare well for now.  Bring me important news.”  The general reached out and brushed Lafayette’s sleeve with his arm, then he turned and walked away.

Leaving the Frenchman alone with Robert Larkin.

“He truly cares for you,” the blond man remarked without rancor.

Lafayette blinked.  “How do you know that?”

Robert’s smile was infectious.  “Because he treats you as a child.  No parent wants to put their child in harm’s way.  In fact, they would die first.  I imagine about now he is regretting Congress making you a major general.”

The Frenchman was stunned.  Such a thing was impossible!

“Don’t take me wrong.  I have no doubt General Washington believes you capable of leading men into battle, of fighting – and dying.”  The blond man shrugged his shoulders.  “It is that last one that he fears.”

“And so he sends me off to safety, like an unweaned babe.”  He heard the pout in his voice and regretted it.

“Safety?”  Robert turned and caught his tricorn hat from the table outside the door of his tent.  “Good God!  He’s sent you off to meet my father.

“He must think you formidable indeed.”

 

 

Near the bridge that led over the river running through Chester, in an alley still darkened by shadows as yet untouched by the rising sun, three figures popped into existence.  They quickly sought those shadows, melting into, and becoming one with them.  Fortunately the alley was deserted with the single exception of a vendor with a cart stationed just at its end, some sixty feet from them.  The pungent odor of  dead fish assaulted James Kirk’s nostrils as they flared, taking in the olfactory reality of the new world they had landed in.

“Where’s the cesspool?” McCoy groused.

“Center of the street most likely, Doctor,” Spock replied rapid fire.  “A common practice for the day.  As was dumping excrement from windows.”  The Vulcan’s eyes flicked to the opening above their heads.  “If I remember correctly, Mr. Scott informed me that the term indicating one should mind one’s head was ‘gardyloo’.”

“And just what conversation were you having when that little gem of information came up?”

Did Kirk see a flicker of amusement in those dark eyes?  Without missing a beat, Spock replied, “Plumbing.”

“What?” McCoy sputtered.

“Gentlemen, I think we have more pressing matters to turn our attention to.”  As he spoke, the man with the fish cart turned and looked their way.  After a moment, Kirk shook his head and turned back to the street.  “Starfleet issued clothing is not exactly the dress of the day.”

“We didn’t have time for preparation, Jim,” McCoy argued.  “What do you expect us to do?  We don’t have any money, or anything the Prime Directive will allow us to trade.”

“Well,” Kirk rubbed his hands together.  “We can always do what Spock and I did back on 1930s Earth.  We…borrowed…some clothes.”

If the Vulcan could look nonplussed, he did.  “Captain, while you are an excellent commander and strategist, I feel compelled to remind you of the outcome of that particular command decision.  I believe in this century that such an action would attract the attention of what is known as a sheriff.  The local constabulary would, no doubt, feel compelled to punish or jail us.”  Spock shifted his tricorder forward and opened the hood.  “I, for one, have no intellectual curiosity concerning the stocks.”

Bones looked confused, as usual.  “Stocks?  You mean they already have the stock market?”

The long-suffering look returned.  The stocks, Doctor, are similar to the pillory and the pranger.  Each consists of a set of large hinged wooden boards.  When a person is placed in the stocks, their feet are locked in place, sometimes their hands or head.  Or they may be chained.”

Bones snapped his fingers.  “That’s right.  It was a form of public humiliation.”  The surgeon put his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels, a sure sign that a baiting phrase was forthcoming.  “Didn’t they also nail people’s ears to the boards?  You better watch out, Spock.”

Spock didn’t rise to it.  “I always endeavor to do so, Doctor.”  The Vulcan looked up.  His face wore a hint of a frown.  “The tricorder is working mechanically, but its’ data function is not accessible, Captain.”

“In a completely pre-technological society, that’s not surprising, Mr. Spock.  Most likely only the mechanical items – our phasers, the tricorder screen but not its draw on the ship’s computers – will work.”  Kirk frowned as he turned toward his first officer.  “You, as usual, my Vulcan friend are going to pose a challenge.”

“I keep telling him he should let me bob his ears,” McCoy muttered.  “Or let his hair grow.  You know, Spock, the women would really go for you if you adopted that scruffy sort of highway robber look.”

Kirk grinned broadly.  “Bones, you’re a genius!”

“Never doubted it,” the surgeon agreed.  “How come?”

“This is the late 18th century.  Most men, at least those of some means, wear wigs.  All we have to do is find a wigmaker and…appropriate one.”

“Captain,” Spock warned.  “I find myself forced once again to remind you– ”

“Tut, tut, Spock,” Kirk dismissed him with a wave of his fingers.  “Larceny is in every ship’s captain’s blood.”

“I see,” Spock remarked, closing the useless tricorder’s hood.  “Just as artifice and chicanery are the tools of the medical man.  I am heartened to find that you two will have no difficulty fitting into this primitive, racially charged, Caucasian dominated, ignorant and uncultured society which has not even begun to approach stone knives and bearskins.”

 “I think we’ve just been insulted, Jim,” McCoy snorted.

Jim gave the expected reply.  “I know we have.  Okay, now we need a plan.”

“I would suggest, Captain, that you step one point two three meters to your right,” Spock remarked in his usual unperturbed way as he followed his own orders.

“Why is that?  What’s – ”

The warning came five point three five seconds too late.  Kirk heard something stir above him.  He looked up, and then he heard it.

Gardyloo.

Beside him, McCoy pinched his nose.  “Larceny is looking – and smelling – pretty damn good right now.”

 

Jeremy Larkin was lazing in the sun, eating an apple; his back propped against one of the tall iron lamp poles that illuminated Chester’s main street.  For a September day it was dawning warm enough.  The chill of winter had not yet set in.  He was enjoying the view, watching the daughters of various houses going to market.  Not a few of them threw looks – and a couple – kisses his way as they passed.

His role-playing as a ne’er-do-well and inamorato did have its advantages.

“Jeremy Larkin, you wipe that smile off your face,” a light voice scolded.

Caught off guard, Jeremy bit his cheek instead of the apple.  Smarting, he turned eyes brimming with tears on the source of the voice, which happened to be a lovely and moderately incensed Elizabeth Coates.  Her hands were anchored on her hips and she had her dark head cocked to the left in that way that effected him.  Swallowing over a lump of fruit, he greeted her.  “I thought you were in the city.”

“We’ve just returned.  Uncle has a wagonload of goods.  China, pipes, tankards and mugs, new clothes for himself and the hired hands, and a dozen other things he means to sell.  He sold that back pasture and I guess now he thinks he should live as a king.  He talks of going back soon.”  She slipped her arm into his.  “I don’t want to go away again.  I missed you.”

Jeremy wasn’t quite certain what to say.  He and Elizabeth flirted from time to time.  He knew it was more serious for her than for him.  Women were that way.  “I missed you too,” he said at last, tossing the apple away so he could place his hand over hers.

“You did not.  There are plenty of others more than willing to take my place.  You don’t have me fooled, Mr. Larkin.”

“Bess, they don’t mean anything.”  He lowered his voice.  “You know I have to keep up appearances.”

She reached up and touched his cheek.  Her tone was half in jest.  “But you don’t have to enjoy it.”

“Master Larkin, you take your hands off of my niece or you will surely end in prison!”

“Oh no,” Elizabeth sighed.  “Uncle John.”

“Sir,” Jeremy began, spinning to look at the older man, “I assure you I meant no disrespect.  Elizabeth was just helping me.  I had something in my eye – ”

“Aye, you did!  The vision of my niece!”  John Coates snatched Elizabeth’s wrist and pulled her hand away.  Then, without another word, he proceeded to haul her across the street.  As she waved a pitiful goodbye, Jeremy felt his jaw tense.  The older man came close at times to making him lose his temper.  He wondered just how many of Coates’ objections were rooted in fear for Bess, and how many in his own need to control everything his niece did.  Maybe some day he would take her away from it all….

But this was no time to speculate on that.  There was work to do.

After kicking the remainder of the apple into the street for a tethered horse to chomp on, Jeremy started across the street.  He watched out of the corner of his eye as John Coates dragged Elizabeth into the ale house.  So much for her reputation!  Then it dawned on him that the older man considered the disorderly patrons of the tavern more respectable company for Elizabeth than him, and he started to laugh.  He had done a superb job of creating a persona believed by everyone.  Even his brother, Robert.  Jeremy sobered quickly.  There, he wished he had not been so successful.

His admiration for Robert knew no bounds.  His brother had been away for a while, obtaining an education, and had come back in time for all the troubles to begin.  Early on Robert had walked out of the house – against their father’s wishes – to join Washington’s army.  He was a captain now with men and responsibilities of his own.  Jeremy envied them.  They knew Robert and he, in turn, knew them.  They were bound together by purpose and ideal, by that bond that made them brothers in a way he and Robert could never be.

At least not until he was honest with him.

That day would come, he kept telling himself, but until then – to protect their families and themselves – their Society must remain secret.

He was due to meet Henry and Isak in the alley by the bridge and then the three of them meant to retire to the apothecary shop.   They had received word that Washington’s army was encamped at Red Clay Creek and it looked as if there might be a confrontation with the British yet tonight.  They meant to make certain the army’s rear was covered in case anything went wrong.  Henry was in the midst of fashioning a series of canisters, the contents of which he assured them could blast the redcoats all the way back to the United Kingdom.  The three of them had come to town seeking additional supplies. 

They had not expected to need the weapons so soon.

It had not been prudent for them to seek the materials needed – gunpowder, wire and such – in one town, lest they arouse suspicion.  So Henry had gone to Marcus Hook, while Isak traveled to Darby.  Their rendezvous was set for half past ten, which was about….

Now.

As he reached the other side of the street, aimed for the alley, Jeremy saw Elizabeth and her uncle exit the tavern and head for their wagon.  As usual, Coates let Bess climb in by herself.  Halting, Jeremy admired the way the dawn’s light caught fire in her long, loose hair, turning the near black waves to a deep coppery brown.  He noticed the curve of her neck and the straight posture created by the stays beneath her gown.  A hint of one of the cords that held them in place peeked enticingly through where she had missed a few inches of the calico fabric when pinning it closed.  Distracted by thoughts he shouldn’t be thinking, Jeremy pulled his eyes away and headed for the alley.

Almost mowing down a blond haired man whose arms were laden with partially opened packages wrapped in paper and string. 

“Pardon me, sir,” Jeremy said, excusing himself.          

The man’s hazel eyes met his and he nodded before turning into the alley and fading from view.

At the same moment a cry went up from the street calculated to raise the dead.

“Robbed!  I’ve been robbed!  Call the constable!  Alert the mayor!  I want the villains found and my goods returned!”

It was, of course, John Coates.  Jeremy stifled a grin.  It wasn’t Christian of him to enjoy another man’s suffering.  But enjoy it he did anyway.

Sidling over to the wagon he glanced at Elizabeth who was trying her best to calm her uncle down.  The older man would have none of it.  He continued to rant until he drew the attention of a pair of British soldiers patrolling the street.  Jeremy had no reason to fear them – no more, that was, than any other citizen of Chester – but their presence raised the hackles on his neck.  The soldiers looked slightly bemused as they listened to Coates rant.  Still, no matter what he thought of the older man, a crime had apparently been committed.  Several items were missing from the wagon, among them were food and a half-dozen pieces of men’s clothing.       

Jeremy had been about to ask Elizabeth’s uncle if there was anything he could do to help when he remembered the blond man beating a hasty retreat with his arms laden with bundles.  He knew now where he had seen the paper wrappings before – at a fine tailor’s shop in Philadelphia that his brother, Robert, patronized while in school.  Puzzled, Jeremy nodded to Elizabeth that he was going.  Her pitiful look almost made him stay, but he signaled that he needed to go.  And then he did.

As he reached the alley, Jeremy stepped back to allow a trio of men to pass.  The tallest of them had an unflapped tricorn hat pulled low to cover his face.  He was lean as a racehorse and moved with a measured grace.  He wore black breeches over black boots, the cut of which Jeremy was unfamiliar with, along with an open-necked white linen shirt and charcoal gray frock coat.  The second man was several inches shorter and of a more medium build.  He was dressed in a brown suit, much like the ones Elizabeth’s uncle often wore.  A long cravat had been wound about his neck.  When he saw Jeremy watching, he tipped his hat and smiled.  The third of their party was proceeded by a stale odor as if he sorely needed a bath.  He had blond hair that rolled in golden waves across his head, and was attired all in blue.  Jeremy looked down as they passed.  This stranger had the same odd looking boots.

He watched for a moment to see what way they were headed, which seemed to be northwest and out of town.  Then he turned into the alley and walked its length.  Not surprisingly, Jeremy found a pile of pale blue paper stuffed into a window well.

As he pondered the meaning of what had transpired, a friendly voice hailed him from the far end of the alley.

It was Isak.  “Ho, Jeremy!” the black man called as he drew alongside him.  Henry Abington puffed, perhaps, ten seconds behind him.  Isak stopped and followed his friend’s stare, which led to nothing and nowhere.  “What troubles you?”

Those men did.  He didn’t know why.  He didn’t know what for, but one thing he knew – he was going to find out.