THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY

 

Chapter two

 

Robert Larkin entered the village of Chester with his exceptional charge in tow.  The town was awake and filled with vendors, noisy neighbors and, unfortunately, British troops.  Chester had lately been placed under martial law and a curfew enforced.  There was rumor that British soldiers were soon to be quartered there, but so far there had been no sign of the implementation of that final and most heinous violation of rights.  Robert cast a sideways glance at his companion.  He wished the marquis knew better how to slouch.  The young Frenchman’s aristocratic bearing was a dead giveaway that he was more than a common worker or tradesman.  Robert had thought about it on the ride to town and had decided to pass him off as a friend and student from the University of Pennsylvania.  There were a good many foreigners matriculating in Philadelphia, including Frenchmen who usually came from upper-class families.  As such the young major general’s elegant manners and upper-class speech would not seem out of place.

At least, he hoped they wouldn’t.

Before they did anything else, he intended to take the general to his home.  Once he had Lafayette safely behind closed doors, he would be able to breathe – and think.  He did not fear his father or Jeremy’s reaction to this unusual stranger.  For good or ill, they trusted him – and he, them.  They had few secrets among them but, if they did, then the need for such caution was respected.  After that, he and the Frenchman would spend a day on the town, mingling and listening. 

That was, if he could convince the general of his plan.  Lafayette did, after all, outrank him by a bit.

They were standing in the shade of a great oak tree.  Lafayette’s deep brown eyes were fixed on a group of British soldiers who were standing outside Morris’ Tavern.  It was a place of ill repute and Robert very much wished to avoid it.  Neither the redcoats nor the tavern’s reputation seemed to bother the Frenchman, but they certainly did him. 

“Sir, I think we should be on our way,” Robert suggested.

Lafayette turned toward him.  “Why go to your home, Captain?  Why not begin the chase right now?”

He lifted a hand to brush a cascading wave of golden curls from his forehead.  The wind had risen and promised a chill night.  “Sir,” Robert insisted, his voice pitched low, “I think it best to devise a plan of attack – which buildings we wish to visit, what are the best times to do so, and so on.  It would be…rash to begin without doing so first.”

He saw the word strike Lafayette as he had intended.  One of the complaints of the older generals was that the young Frenchman was too impetuous.

Unfortunately, it only seemed to make him more determined.

“Half the day is gone already.  We leave before the curfew falls, which I presume is at sunset.”

Robert nodded.

“That gives us less than six hours to explore the village and gather intelligence.”  The young major general’s eyes returned to the tavern.  The redcoats had gone inside.  “It seems to me that we could find a better place to…devise a plan of attack.”

Robert knew of the Frenchman’s hatred of the British.  It was common knowledge in the camps that part of what had brought Lafayette to America had been a desire to see his father’s death at Minden avenged.  Could he trust him to remain calm in the presence of English troops?  Could he trust the English soldiers to remain calm if they caught scent of a Frenchman?

What had General Washington been thinking?

Lafayette grinned at his exaggerated sigh.  “His Excellency often does that,” he said, straight-faced.

The blond man’s blue eyes narrowed.  “Do tell.  Sir, I….”

“Must I make it an order, Captain?

Robert had heard the jokes – the French fop, some of the men called him; a popinjay dressed in silks and lace.  A coxcomb who sprang from the lap of French luxury, soft and suited only for frivolities.  They had never met the man who stood before him or looked into his eyes.  There was steel there, and a fiery resolution to do what must be done and see it through to the end.

“General Washington’s order would supersede yours, sir,” he said softly.

“And did His Excellency give you any orders specific to our task?  Did he forbid me entering a tavern and taking a drink?”

He’d had to try.  “No, sir.”

“Well, then.  Shall we go?”

Robert reached out and caught the Frenchman’s arm.  “Will you at least allow me to do the speaking, sir?  There is no need to draw undue attention.”

Lafayette looked nonplussed.  His voice the tone of innocence itself, he asked, “But we will learn more if we cause a commotion, will we not?”

The blond man blinked, stunned.  “Sir!”

The Frenchman continued to stare for a moment.  Then he laughed.  “You are far too serious, mon ami.   Come,” he slapped Robert on the back and then started forward, “you may order my drink, but flirting with the barmaid is a privilege of rank.”

Robert ran a hand over his face and then he turned his eyes heavenward.

What had he done to deserve such a fate?

 

“Spock, drink something,” Bones growled.  “Someone will mistake you for an undercover constable if you just sit there staring.”

James Kirk’s hazel eyes flicked from McCoy to their Vulcan friend.  They had chosen a table in the corner and Spock occupied its shadows.  Still, a sconce anchored to the wall above his head cast a hellish light, revealing the angular planes of his face.  The Vulcan’s near-black eyes moved with a predator’s surety, watching and calculating, weighing and assessing the movements of all of the inn’s two dozen or so patrons.  They had ordered him an ale, but it sat on the table untouched.  Spock wasn’t one to drink, though Kirk had known him to partake on occasion – when logic dictated it was necessary.

“At least pretend to be enjoying yourself!” the surgeon growled.

Spock didn’t dignify the request with an answer, but he did slip his long fingers into the pewter cup’s handle.

It was interesting.  McCoy’s earlier jibe about Spock attracting more women if he adopted a rakish air seemed to be proven true by how often the barmaid had come to check and see if he needed anything.  It made Kirk smile.  The Vulcan was completely oblivious.  By trading some of the extra clothes they had borrowed, they had managed to obtain a wig for him.  The current style – parted in the middle and nearly shoulder length, with the locks of hair pulled back by a ribbon into a tail – had necessitated that he shift the ever-present martial row of black hair back from his forehead.  The result rendered him somehow less alien, but more exotic.  In his charcoal gray coat with the collar turned up, and the black tricorn hat tipped low casting shadows that partially concealed his almond-shaped eyes and winged brows, Spock looked like a robber baron or pirate.   

Kirk watched as McCoy leaned forward and the surgeon’s fingers snaked out to tap the side of the pewter mug.  “At least pick it up and pretend.”

“Bones,” the starship captain said, changing the subject, “give me a rundown on Happer Clayworth’s medical condition, with a special emphasis on why I was not notified of it before he was assigned to the Enterprise to replace Lt. McGivers.”

McCoy straightened up instantly. “You know how it is, Jim,” the surgeon said without apology, “Happer’s got relatives in high places.”

“His uncle is Vice Admiral Fitzpatrick,” Spock remarked coolly.

“That doesn’t explain why a serious medical condition goes without note – ”

“You have to understand, Jim,” the surgeon insisted.  “On the planet where Happer grew up, the condition that we term bipolar is regarded as a gift from the gods.  It isn’t seen as a medical condition.  It’s not so different from the time we are in now.  Among the American Indians there was a belief that a person who had a developmental disibility was special and chosen by God for great things.”  Warming to his subject, McCoy leaned forward.  “The depressive episodes Happer experiences are regarded as times of communion and meditation.  The manic moments, bursts of genius.”

“There is some validity to both claims.”  Spock shifted his eyes to Kirk’s face.  “Inward searching often produces profound wisdom, and madmen frequently possess a touch of genius.”

“You ought to know,” McCoy muttered under his breath.

“But such a condition would not have let Happer function outside of his birth society,” Kirk protested.  “It wouldn’t have gotten him through the academy.  How…”

“Medication.”  The surgeon picked up his tankard and took a sip.  “It’s been around for centuries.  Allows people like Clayworth to function in other societies.”

“Then what happened?  Did he stop taking it?”

The surgeon nodded.

“The side effects of such treatments are understandably distressing, Captain,” Spock remarked.  “Agitation.  Anxiety.  Loss of libido and inability to have an – ”

Kirk held up his hand.  “I get the point, Spock.  So how long do you think he’s been off them?”

McCoy shook his head.  “Hard to say.  No one noticed any odd behavior – other than the usual.”

Lt. Cmdr. Happer Clayworth was quite a case.  Historians on the whole were not Kirk’s favorite people, and he saw no reason for a starship to have one.  They had a tendency to wander off into romantic fantasies – as was proven by Lt. Marla McGivers when the ideal of her 19th century man was realized in Kahn Noonien Singh.  She betrayed both her ship and shipmates for him, and chose to go off with the would-be conqueror not so gently into that good night.  If Kirk had it his way, when they found Clayworth and returned to the future, he would ban all historians from his ship – forever.

“So what do you think set him off?”

McCoy shrugged. 

“I would suggest, Captain, that it was the chance to have access to the Guardian,” Spock replied.  “For a man of Clayworth’s temperament – with his obvious cultural bias based on his fascination and idolization of his English ancestors – the temptation to venture into the past and, perhaps, effect some change would be insuperable indeed.”

Kirk leaned back in his chair and ran a hand over his chin.  First it had been O’Reilly with his belief that he descended of Irish kings, and then Checkov, who claimed Russians had invented everything from sliced bread to nuclear fission.  Still, their claims were mostly crafted to get a rise out of their fellow crewmates.  There was something different about Happer.  He actually could trace his line back through several English kings, and he never failed to let you know it.  He was a smart man – even Spock said so – but Happer had struck him as extremely jingoistic from the start.  His nationalistic pride was chauvinistic and seemed, to him, slightly paranoid.  Kirk had hesitated to assign him to the landing party, but had been overruled after Happer complained to the Starfleet Brass.

You’d think by the 23rd century nepotism would have gone the way of the plasma television and cell phone.

“So, somehow, Happer overcame the tight security and entered the Guardian, choosing late 18th century Earth as his destination.  Why?”

“The catalyst of change offered by your American Revolution,” Spock said simply.

“Why here in particular?”

One of the Vulcan’s inky brows peaked.  “You are asking, I assume, a rhetorical question?”

Was there a slight hint of a smile to those tight, greenish-tinged lips?  Kirk laughed.  “I do admit to something of a passion about the period.”

“Obsession is more like it,” McCoy grumbled.

How often had he subjected Bones to dissertations on his admiration for the men, especially the generals, who had forged their country?  How many times had he walked him through the battles of the revolution, step by step?  How often dreamed of being with Washington at the Delaware, or at Monmouth Courthouse, or Saratoga?

“Would you care to enlighten us, Captain?” Spock prompted like the good friend he was.

“It’s September of 1777,” Kirk began, “a tumultuous time for the rebels.  Though there had been some victories, the arrival of 15,000 troops under General Howe in July – added to those already under Burgoyne and others – changed everything.  By September George Washington was on the run, retreating with his army from the battle of Cooch’s Bridge to Red Clay Creek near Newport, and then to the Brandywine.  At the Battle of Brandywine, the Continental Army failed to prevent the British incursion that eventually led to the occupation of the capital city of Philadelphia.”  The captain shook his head.  “The Congress ran like frightened rabbits.”

“What day was the battle?” Bones asked.

Kirk thought a moment.  “September 11th.  And today is the 7th.”

“So somewhere in the next four days, Happer’s actions will change history.  So what now?”  The surgeon tipped his cup and noticed it was empty.  He raised a hand to signal the barmaid.  She had been head to head with a rather shady-looking character who scooted out the door as she answered their hail.  A second later Spock sighed.

So the Vulcan wasn’t oblivious after all.

“Oh, come on Spock.  The woman will die of desire if you keep her exiled much longer.”  Bones’ grin was broad.  “Just give her a little smack on the rump and you’ll make her year.”

Kirk glanced at the bar.  It wasn’t often a women treated him as if he didn’t exist.  And the barmaid was quite a woman – tall, slender, with coppery hair and a pair of blue eyes to challenge the vault of Heaven.  The woman seemed slightly out of place in a local village tavern.   He watched as she wended her way through the smoke-filled room, ignoring other raised hands, deliberately making for their table.  When she got there, she smiled at the doctor, but she had eyes only for Spock.

“Can I get you gentlemen something?” she asked.  Her voice was Irish and husky.  Her walk sultry.  And it was all lost on the stoic Vulcan who was intensely studying the grain of the battered table’s surface just to the left of his untouched mug of ale.

“A refill, if you will, Mistress….”  Bones waggled his eyebrows, inviting an answer.

“Maeve,” she smiled.  “Maeve McGinnis.”

Kirk struggled not to laugh.  He knew the name.  It meant ‘intoxicating’.  Maybe she’d have better luck thawing the Vulcan than the ale.

“And you, sir,” Maeve said, addressing Spock in a lilting Irish tone, “is there something wrong with your drink?  Would you like me to fetch you another?”

The Vulcan didn’t squirm well.  “No, thank you, Mistress.  I find I am not thirsty after all.”

“Are you hungry then?  I might be able to find something to satisfy,” she said, her meaning obvious.

Kirk stomped on McCoy’s foot as the surgeon snickered.

“I require no sustenance,” Spock replied flatly.

Maeve, whose chemise was laced so tightly her ample assets defined the term ‘in your face’, leaned in close and whispered something near the Vulcan’s ear.  Then she whirled and, catching McCoy’s tankard in her hand, headed for the bar.

“So, what did she say?  Spock?”  McCoy’s need to know had the surgeon panting like a dog.  “What?”

The Vulcan turned and met the other man’s anxious stare.  “A gentleman never tells,” he remarked deadpan as he scooted back his chair.  “Captain, I find I am in need of fresh air.  If you will excuse me.”

The two men watched him depart, Kirk grinning, and the doctor, open-mouthed.  Seconds after Spock exited the tavern a woman brought McCoy’s drink – it wasn’t Maeve. 

The buxom beauty had followed the Vulcan out the door.

McCoy slapped the table.  “Why that sly old green-blooded devil!”

 “Bones, keep your voice down.”  Kirk twisted to look at the door.  What was Spock up to?  Somehow he doubted it was an immoral assignation in spite of the surgeon’s hopes. 

“Are you just going to let him disappear like that?  Don’t you want to know?” Bones demanded.

Kirk scowled.  “Well, with Spock, I can only assume there is a…logical reason.”

McCoy picked up his ale and took a swig.  He sat it down with gusto.  “Well, the birds and the bees may not be Vulcan, but Spock can’t deny that half of him is a man.  Who knows what traveling through time can do to a man’s psyche?  God didn’t mean for that to happen anymore than He invented the transporter.”

 The captain’s frown deepened.  Maybe he’d better go check.  Maybe something had happened to Spock when they stepped through the Guardian. 

As he rose from his seat McCoy whispered, his tone laced with innuendo, “Whatever you do, knock first.”

Kirk shot his friend a killing look and then headed for the door.  As he drew near, it opened.  At first he thought it was Spock returning, but then he realized the man actually looked nothing like his first officer and was far too young.  It was just the clothes.  Whoever it was, he was tall and lean with brown hair and eyes, and wore a charcoal gray coat with black breeches and boots, and a black tricorn hat.  Behind him came another similarly dressed man, almost as tall, with a pleasant face and a tousled head of honey colored curls.  Kirk could tell instantly that the second man was military by the way he held himself, and by the way his eyes canvassed the interior of the tavern, eventually settling with apprehension on the party of British soldiers seated near its rear.  If he had to guess, he would have taken the first for a person of some importance, and the other man for his bodyguard.

Shifting out of the way, the starship captain let them pass.  The older man took the elbow of the other and began to steer him to the far side of the room.  With a grin, the younger broke free.  He leaned in close and whispered something that did not please the blond man, and then deliberately sat at a table barely eight feet away from the soldiers.  Kirk’s eyes flicked to the older man’s face and he recognized in it a kinship of exasperation.

Thinking of that, Kirk walked to the door and opened it, and stepped out into the night seeking his own recalcitrant.

 

 

“Sir, this is most unwise,” Robert breathed close to Lafayette’s ear as he sat two tankards down in front of the Frenchman. 

The young man raised his to his lips.  “Where better to learn something?” he answered, careful to keep his voice pitched barely above a whisper.

Robert slipped into his chair.  “Anywhere but here.  What if they discern that you are French?”

 Lafayette shrugged.  “There is no law against a Frenchman being in Chester.”

He did his best not to stare.  “Redcoats need no law.  They believe themselves to be the law.”

“Then we will give them no cause for alarm.  We came to learn,” he added with a mischievous grin, “not to teach.” 

“Good God!” Robert sighed and downed a third of his ale.

They sat for some time, listening to the conversation of the nearby soldiers.  Robert ordered two newspapers for them, so it would not seem odd that they were not talking.  The tavern kept a stock from the Philadelphia press as well as the local sheet.  At first, there was nothing to hear.  The soldiers had fought at the Battle of Bennington and were still stinging from the defeat.  They wanted nothing more than a chance to seek revenge against General Washington’s army.  After a series of epithets and a long discourse about the dubious nature of His Excellency’s lineage that included a few barnyard animals, the talk turned to why the soldiers were in Chester.  Apparently they were part of Howe’s men, on a course to rendezvous with the general and his army at Kennett Square.  This confirmed the previous intelligence that General Washington had received; that the British intended to make a stand in the near future at Chadd’s Ford.  It wasn’t news, but it was important.  At least they would have something to take back to camp for their day in town.

Hoping this tidbit had satisfied the Frenchman’s need to get something on the British, Robert leaned in and said, “We should take this news back to camp.”

Lafayette was frowning.  Behind his newspaper, he raised a finger to his lips. 

Robert tuned his ears toward the soldiers again, and caught the end of it.  “…tonight, at Red Clay Creek.  With Howe headed for the square, that leaves Lord Cornwallis the field.  Those rebels will be begging for mercy by morning.”

Lafayette amazed him.  The Frenchman was cool and calm.  Every muscle in Robert’s long frame had gone rigid.  His chair scuffed back on the floor.  They had to alert General Washington!

“Be at peace, mon ami.  Eyes are watching.”

A second later a rough callused hand, followed by a crimson coat sleeve decorated with a row of gold braid, steadied itself on the back of Robert’s chair.  Looking up, he noticed the man it belonged to was just as tough.  The British soldier looked to be in his forties and had weathered many a campaign.  He had grizzled brown hair and deeply tanned skin.  His face was scarred and one eye puckered, as if the skin below it had been sewn at one time.  A cruel mouth quirked at one corner as though inflicting pain was his delight.  “Must be something bloody interestin’ on that sheet,” the soldier growled with menace.  “You been lookin’ at it for nigh onto an hour.”

His remark was directed toward Lafayette.

That was not good.

“Sir,” Robert began, clearing his throat, “my friend is not from around here, and as such he doesn’t –”

“I noticed.”  The soldier swung around the table until he stood at the marquis’ side.  Looking down at him, he cursed.  “You’re a bleedin’ frog.  Ain’t you, moan-ah-mee?”

Robert swallowed hard as several more soldiers circled the table like vultures waiting to dine.  The local patrons began to desert the tavern in anticipation of their feast.

“He’s a friend of mine from university – ”

The soldier snatched the paper away, leaving Lafayette’s hands in the air.  “Ain’t your friend got a tongue?”

He shot the general a look, but the ball missed. 

Oui.  I have a tongue,” the Frenchman answered.  “Robert and I attended the University of Pennsylvania together.  I have come for a visit.”

“A town under martial British law ain’t a safe place for a Frenchman, is it, Sergeant Barnes?” one of the other soldiers asked.

“Ain’t no place safe for a Frenchman,” another laughed.

Lafayette, all innocence, asked politely, “Have I done something to offend you gentlemen?”

“Gentlemen?”  Barnes barked a laugh.  Gentlemen!  You got us confused with someone else.  We ain’t gentlemen.”  The sergeant’s pudgy fingers played with the handle of the pistol tucked behind his belt.  “What we are is men what lost their brothers, sons and friends to too many goddamned frogs in the last war.”

“Obviously,” the twenty year old countered, “I could not have fought in that war.”

“I bet your father did.  I bet he did his damnedest to kill every Englishman that crossed his path.”  Barnes lowered his voice.  “Or did the frog turn tail and run and get shot in the back?”

  Robert could sense it.  The rage boiling up in the younger man.  “Paul,” he warned, using the name they had agreed on.  “No….”

Lafayette’s fingers were tense where they clutched the edge of the table; his knuckles bare bone white.  “You will take that back,” he said, biting off every word.

Barnes grinned, showing a missing tooth.  “Must of hit a nerve.  The truth hurts, don’t it?”

Balling his fingers into fists, the Frenchman rose from his chair, knocking it back and away from the table.  “I will show you what hurts,” he warned, raising them before him.

“Paul!  No.  They’re not worth – ”

At that moment, a most curious thing happened.  A man – a complete stranger to him – stepped up to the table and caught up the paper lying on its top.  He paused and then smiled at all of them as though they were engaged in nothing more than a friendly game of whist on a lazy evening in May.  

“Pardon me, am I disturbing something?” the man asked, his accent slightly southern.

There was an air about him of disheveled charm.  His voice like his face was craggy, but softened by thinly veiled amusement.  He had brown hair and was dressed like a lawyer or apothecary, and had the clearest, cleanest blue eyes Robert had ever seen.  The man was probably in his forties as there were traces of gray at his temples.

The sergeant was staring at the stranger open-mouthed.  “Who are you?” he demanded.

“Me?”  The man took the paper and placed it under his arm and then extended his hand.  “Name’s Leonard McCoy.  And you might be?”

“Never mind the bleedin’ hell who I am!” Barnes snarled.  “What do you think you’re doin’?”

McCoy blinked, guileless.  “Getting the paper?”

“I should have you thrown out on your ear!” the sergeant continued to rage. 

The doctor’s blue eyes flicked from one soldier to the other.  “Is this official military business then?  Have these men done something wrong?”

The question seemed to take a little of the wind out of Barnes’ sails.  “Well, no…..”

“Other than being born,” another sniped so low it was barely heard.

“Well, then.”  The man turned to Robert.  “Perhaps you two gentlemen would care to join me at my table.  I would be most happy for some company.  My friends and I are new to town and I find myself rather at a loss.”  He turned to Lafayette.  “What is your course of study at the university?”

Robert held his breath.

“The law,” the general answered without missing a beat.

“Excellent.  When my friend returns you and he can debate legalities until the cows come home.”

Robert kept his eye on Barnes.  The British soldier seemed to have lost his desire to drive the general into the ground like a peg.  Stifling a sigh of relief, he thanked McCoy with both his eyes and words.  “Thank you, Master McCoy.  A most gracious offer.  We would be most pleased to join you.  Wouldn’t we, Paul?”

Lafayette’s eyes sparked with devilry.  Oui.”

He had to use French.

“If you will excuse us, Sergeant Barnes.”  Robert nodded to the soldiers as he rounded the table to again take Lafayette by the elbow.  “Gentlemen.”

Barnes remained silent as they moved away, pressing through the now empty tables toward the back of the room.  Then Robert heard a growl.

“I’ll excuse your frog to Hell!” the sergeant shouted.

As Robert pivoted on his heel, he caught a sense of movement – something dark and pointed flying across the room.  Without a thought, he leapt in front of Lafayette who had moved ahead and had his back turned toward the British soldier. 

And took the knife intended for the marquis.