THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY

Chapter Ten

 

Henry Abington was cold.  And he was alone, which he didn’t like very much.  Having left Isak at the wharf, and having seen Jeremy off to beard the British lions in their den, he felt quite deserted.  He had been cast in the role of watchman and was jolly well attempting to make the best of it, but he was tired and hungry and there was the most delicious smell coming out of Jeremy’s home.  Mutton, roasted and larded, with just the hint of chicory.  Henry drew it in like ambrosia. 

He raised his arm and wiped his chin with the lace on the edge of his sleeve.  It was very undignified to drool.

Before they parted on the dock, Jeremy had made him swear to keep a watch on his house.  As Captain Yankee Doodle, the determined blond man wanted to know every time Major Tarleton sneezed, and just where the British officer kept his handkerchief afterward.  As the youngest son of a violated household, Jeremy wanted to exact some form of payment for the injustice done to his brother and father.  As a man who owed a debt, the rebel leader insisted on knowing that the kind stranger who had tended his brother was protected.  The man was a doctor and so, doubly important to them.  First, for their honor.  And secondly, should they be able to free Robert, a true medical man – one who had completed at least two years’ course of studies and, at the age Leonard McCoy appeared to be, had a lifetime more experience than this humble apothecary – could do much to save him.   

And so, here he sat.  Cold.  Lonely.  Hungry. 

No.  Not hungry.  Starved.

Henry drew a deep breath and released it slowly, once again toying with an idea that had sprung to mind as he watched Major Tartleton exit the home a quarter of an hour earlier, leaving only a small contingent of soldiers behind – and a very young contingent at that.  Younger than him, in fact.  There were three remaining; all with faces to rival the cherubim seated at the feet of the Almighty.  The oldest could have been no more than eighteen.  Apparently the good doctor was not deemed much of a threat.  But then most men of medicine were men of peace.  Or at least, so it seemed.  Henry knew he was – for the most part – unless pressed into action to defend what he held dear.  He imagined Dr. McCoy was the same. 

Hopefully the good doctor was also a perceptive man, and one who could follow a lead….

Henry stood up.  He loosened his cravat and unwound it until it hung halfway down to his knees.  He retied the black ribbon that held it, leaving it akimbo.  He loosed his hair so it fell about his shoulders and then effected a distracted look.  Glancing at the shop window near him, he assessed his condition.  Good, but not grand.  Dipping to the ground, Henry palmed a handful of dusty dirt that he applied to his breeches and boots, so it looked as if he had been some time on the road.  Finally satisfied, he walked a crooked line across the street, heading directly for the young private who kept watch outside the Larkin’s door.

“I say!” Henry called, his voice strained with mock fatigue and care.  “I say!  Young sir, is Doctor McCoy within this house?”

The soldier raised his weapon.  “This house is under martial law.  You will turn and walk away.”

“But I have to see Dr. McCoy!  My wife’s time has come.  Sir!  Sir, please!”  Henry stumbled forward as if exhausted.  As he spoke, he raised his voice until it was near hysterical.  “He is her attending physician.  The babe is turned!  She could die!”

“I can’t do anything about that – ”

“Good God, sir!  Do you want my wife to die?” Henry shouted.

“Of course not.”  The young man flushed with anger and embarrassment.  “But Major Tarleton said no one should approach this house.  I have my – ”

“Private Dukes!  What is all this ruckus?” a new voice demanded.  Another of the soldiers poked his head out of the door of Jeremy’s home.  He looked about two days older than the first, but had managed to make it to lieutenant.

“Sir.  Are you in command here?” Henry asked, his voice trembling.

“I am Lieutenant Lightfoot, and I am in command until the major’s return,” the man replied, drawing up to his full but rather limited height.  “What is this all about?”

“My wife, sir.  Dr. McCoy is her physician.  He must come.  She is at her time and the babe is turned and – ”

Lightfoot scowled.  “A man to deliver a child?  Is this some strange colonial notion?  Where is your midwife, sir?”

Henry thought fast.  “My wife is delicate.  She is an English flower, sir, a veritable child.  Her father is kin to old gentleman Johnny.  Dr. McCoy was retained as a man midwife to see that she does not lose this babe as she has the others – ”

“Your wife is kin to General Burgoyne?” the lieutenant asked as the color drained out of his face.

Henry looked stricken.  “She would chastise me severally, sir, if she knew I had mentioned it.  But I am distraught.  If you cannot allow the doctor to leave, will you at least permit me to speak to him?  Perhaps there is some advice or some remedy he can give me.” 

Lightfoot frowned.  “I…don’t…know….”

“Sir, examine me.”  Henry flung his arms wide.  “Search me for weapons, I have none!  I have nothing but a heart close to breaking and the minutest hope that you gentlemen will exercise Christian charity and allow me to consult with my wife’s physician.”

“But he’s a Yank.  What would Burgoyne have to do with a – ”

“Dr. McCoy is graduated from Oxford, Lt. Lightfoot, and a dear friend of the family,”  Henry sniffed with indignation.  He drew a handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose.  “The doctor may have a few radical ideas, but that is often the case with medical men.  Life is sacred to them above all else.  Now, if it please you, sir.  May I see Dr. McCoy?”

The lieutenant gazed at him a moment longer as if uncertain.  Then he drew his pistol and waved him in with it.

Henry thanked him profusely. 

Now on to step two.

 

Leonard McCoy looked up from his untouched plate of food to find a blubbering, chubby auburn-haired man being admitted to the house.  He was thankful for the distraction.  He and the two soldiers had been sitting in stony silence while the English men ate the Larkin’s food and drank their wine.  As the surgeon rose from his chair and rounded the table, the auburn-haired man caught his eye, burst into an incoherent babble of words – which included the terms ‘my dear friend’ and ‘wife’s man midwife’ – and then rushed over to him.  McCoy stiffened as the man embraced him and kissed him on first one cheek and then the other.

Somewhere in-between the newcomer whispered, “My name is Henry Abington.  For God’s sake, sir, play along!”

He didn’t have to be told twice.  “Henry!” McCoy beamed, and then grew suddenly serious.  “Has her time come?  Is that why you are here?”

“Yes!  And the babe is turned.”  Henry dabbed his forehead with a clean part of the handkerchief.  “I fear for dear Kate.  If only you could be by her side.”

McCoy cast an angry glance at the lieutenant who was watching them closely.  “I am the guest of King George and his army and, as such, cannot go anywhere.”

“I know.  I know.  These gentlemen,” with a nod of his head Henry indicated the lieutenant and the private who had followed him inside, “have kindly consented to allow me to speak to you.  Perhaps there is some remedy, some medicinal herb you can give me?  Something to ease her pain and the babe’s entrance into the world?  Have you anything in your bag?”

McCoy stiffened.  The question was as loaded as the lieutenant’s pistol.  He wondered if the auburn-haired man somehow knew what he carried.  Besides the phaser power pack, he had enough charges for the hypospray to put the entire British army to sleep.  If Jim knew, he would have been furious.  But caution be damned, he had not been about to step back into the 18th century unprepared!

“I think I might have something to ease her pain.”  McCoy glared at the lieutenant.  “May I go upstairs and get my bag?”

“He stays here,” Lightfoot retorted.

Henry bowed.  “Of course.”

McCoy took the steps two at a time.  Upstairs was the remaining soldier.  He nodded at the young man who was keeping watch out a second story window.  “Getting my bag,” he said as he entered the room he occupied.  The soldier glanced at him, but went back to his duty without a word.  The surgeon crossed the room quickly and picked up the black cloth bag.  He glanced behind to make certain he was not being watched, and then palmed one of the hyposprays as well as an extra vial of the drug it held.  As he exited the room, he paused at the young man’s side.

“Seen any pretty girls out there, son?” he asked conversationally.

The man gave him a look that would have made Spock proud. 

A second later McCoy was lowering him to the floor.

Returning the hypospray to his bag, the surgeon pulled the soldiers’ unconscious form into one of the upstairs rooms and closed the door.  Then, just as he heard Lt. Lightfoot call his name, he skipped down the stairs, bag in hand.

“Sorry.  I’d misplaced it.  Left it under the bed.  Hadn’t had a need for it until now,” he said, holding the black bag aloft.

  As he placed it on a table and undid the clasp, McCoy heard the click of a flintlock rifle.  “Remember, Doctor.  I have you covered,” Lightfoot said.

“I’m a doctor not a damned rebel,” he cursed softly.  “Henry, come here.”

The auburn haired man did as he was asked.  “Yes?”

McCoy handed him the vial, hoping the Lucite container would not seem too out of place.  “Now, son, you put one or two drops of this in your wife’s tea and it will help her rest.  Three or four, if she needs to sleep.”  The surgeon’s crisp blue eyes flicked first to the soldiers, and then to the table where their unfinished meal awaited their return.  “It has no taste.  She won’t know it’s there.  But it will bring her relief.”

McCoy waited to see if the young man understood what he was suggesting.  For a moment it seemed he did not.  Then, a light entered his eyes and he nodded eagerly, “Yes, yes, I see.  Dr. McCoy, I am most grateful.  I….”  Henry staggered.  He placed a hand to his head and then looked up sharply.  “Oh dear, I feel I might faint….”

The starship surgeon caught him.  “You!” he snapped at Lightfoot.  “Help him to a seat at the table.”  The lieutenant responded to the command tone and did as he was told, and then scowled angrily as McCoy knelt before Henry.  “How long since you have eaten, son?”

“I don’t know.  This morning?”

“Well, you will do your wife no good if you faint on the way home.  Here, you can have my supper.”  McCoy glanced at Lightfoot.  “I have no appetite.”

“Doctor, this is most improper!” the British officer protested.

“What are you, some inhuman monster?” the surgeon exclaimed, seeming to grow hot.  As he raised his voice, he moved to block the lieutenant’s view of Henry and the table.  “Lt. Lightfoot, you are a disgrace to both King George and that uniform!”

Hot was definitely what Lt. Lightfoot grew.  McCoy saw it coming, but failed on purpose to step out of the way.  As the butt of the lieutenant’s pistol contacted his chin and drove him to the floor, he saw – out of the corner of his eye – Henry emptying the contents of the vial into the two soldiers’ wine glasses.

“I have killed men for less!” Lightfoot snarled.  “If you were not a physician….”

McCoy was massaging his jaw.  “Lieutenant,” he began, employing a chagrinned tone, “forgive me.  When God made me, he must have mixed in a portion of ass.  I’m afraid I just don’t know when to stop.”

Lightfoot looked barely mollified.  “I don’t know….”

McCoy slowly climbed to his feet.  He held out his hand.  “I ask for your forgiveness.  No hard feelings?”

The officer glared at him, but he seemed satisfied.  “Take a seat at the table, Doctor.  You need not eat, but I consider it prudent to keep you in my sight.”

He shrugged.  “No problem.  Actually, I’ll take some wine.”

As McCoy slid into one of the chairs, he glanced at Henry.  The auburn-haired man was poker faced.  Henry reached out and took hold of the wine glass before him and sipped it.  Then he dove into the plate of food with relish.

The surgeon tried not to look, but it was damned difficult.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw the private take a sip of his wine.  Lightfoot ate hearty of his mutton and washed it down with the whole glass.  As he prompted the private to do the same, the British officer rose to get another bottle.

“But Sir, I am on duty,” the young man protested.

“Spoils of war, Dukes.  Might as well enjoy yourself tonight.”  Lightfoot’s gaze flicked to his captive guests.  “Tomorrow will test our mettle.”

Dukes nodded.  “Aye, sir.”  And then he finished his wine.

Two minutes later both men were laying with their heads on the table, snoring.

Henry finished his meal and wiped his lips.  Then he grinned broadly.  “Dr. McCoy,” he said rising, “allow me to formally introduce myself.  Henry Abington, Chester’s apothecary.  This was brilliant, sir!”  He indicated the two unconscious soldiers.  “Simply brilliant!  You must tell me how you did it.”

McCoy cleared his throat.  Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid wouldn’t be discovered or used for legitimate purposes for centuries.  What could he say? 

The surgeon paused and then he grinned broadly as he waggled his fingers.

“Magic!”

 

“So, young sir,” Major Tarleton said as he rounded his desk and stopped directly before Jeremy.  “Tell me what is on your mind.”

The rebel leader effected a lazy stance that suggested he was bored, but his mind was racing with possibilities.  What did Tarleton want with him?  What game was the major playing? 

“My mind, sir?  Why, concern for my brother and father.”

“And yourself?”

He shrugged.  “A little.”

“Only a little?”  Tarleton’s eyes were fixed on him, as if he would read the matter behind them.

“I have done nothing wrong, sir.”

“Except be born into a family of traitors!” the major snapped.

Jeremy’s jaw tightened.  He turned it to his advantage.  “I am no traitor, sir.”

“What?  You do not subscribe to your father and brother’s treachery?”

“My father, sir, loves my brother.  That is his only crime.  When it comes to this war, he takes no side.  As for Robert,” he paused and added a note of pain, “he is misguided, but he is my brother and I love him.”

“Ah.  You are not a member of Washington’s army then?”

“Good God!  No, sir.  Ask anyone about the town.”  The blond man grinned.  “All they will say of Jeremy Larkin is that he is not a member of anything, unless it be the club of social scandal.”

“It is true,” Tarleton said, pulling at his chin with his long fingers.  “You are a wastrel and a profligate from all accounts.  As such, would you be interested in undertaking an assignment that would bring you some capital, as well as freeing your father?”

“What about Robert?”

“He is an enemy soldier and a traitor to his kind.”  The major thought a moment.  “I can promise to attempt to send him to a prison camp instead of executing him, but that is the best I can do.”

Jeremy appeared to think it over.  “Will it be dangerous?” he asked at last, as if fearing it might be so.

Tarleton looked disgusted.  “I doubt it.”

“What is it you want me to do?”

The British officer moved back to his desk and took a seat behind it.  “Did you meet the man your brother brought to town?  The…university student?”

“The Frenchman, you mean?  Aye, sir.”  Where was this leading, Jeremy wondered?  Did Tarleton suspect that Paul was Lafayette?

“He is a known enemy to the king. I want him.”  Tarleton leaned back in his chair.  “You will bring him to me.”

“Me, sir?  How?”

“Offer to buy him a drink, for God’s sake.  Find him a whore or whatever else would interest a frog who is barely more than a boy.”  Tarleton sneered.  “Whatever would interest you, boy.”

“If I find him, where would I bring him?  Here?”

“No.  No, not here.  This place is no doubt known and watched.  No, we’ll set a rendezvous outside of town.”  Tarleton looked sly.  “Say, the footbridge near Chadd’s Ford.”

What was happening, or about to happen at the ford, Jeremy wondered?  Could this have to do with Robert’s fear that a battle was imminent?

“I know it, sir.”

“Good.”  Tarleton rose and came to face him.  “You will find this Frenchman and deliver him to the Ford before sunrise if you want your father and brother to live.  And boy,” the major caught his arm and pressed his flesh hard, “if you betray me they will die instantly – and most unpleasantly.  And then you will be next.  Do I make myself clear?”

Jeremy swallowed hard, mostly, but not entirely in pretense.  Tarleton was cruelty itself, wrapped up in crimson cloth.  “Aye, sir.”

“Good.”  The major snapped his fingers and the door to his office opened.  Six British soldiers stepped smartly inside.  “These men will accompany you.  They will watch your every move, young Larkin.  If there is the slightest hint of duplicity….”  Tarleton left the sentence unfinished.

He didn’t need to finish it.  Jeremy understood all too well.

What he didn’t know, was how he was going to save both General Lafayette and his kin.

 

“Henry!  Step back!”  McCoy whispered it fiercely.  They had just arrived at the town hall where the British soldiers were holding Jeremy Larkin’s family when the door opened and two guards stepped outside.  They were quickly followed by four more and a young blond man who seemed not to be under arrest, but a part of the group.

He heard the apothecary’s sharp intact of breath.

“That’s Larkin, isn’t it?” McCoy asked.

Henry nodded.  “Aye.”

The surgeon watched the advancing men a moment.  They were laughing and joking – Jeremy Larkin included.  “He seems awfully chummy with the British,” he remarked.

“It is an act, sir,” Henry protested, though McCoy thought he could sense a note of uncertainty in his voice.

He thought of Jim and Spock.  If they were being held – on threat of death – what would he not be capable of?  And this was a young man, unseasoned.  Still, he said nothing more. 

“So what do we do now?  Go after Jeremy, or try to free his father and brother?” McCoy asked.

Henry thought a moment.  “The latter I would say.  If we free Samuel and Robert, there will be no more need for Jeremy’s charade.”

It made sense.  “All right.  I’m in.  How?”

“Let us see if we can find Isak,” the apothecary answered, his eyes still pursuing his friend.  “If fortune shines on us, with his help, I think we can drive the rats from their hole.”