Just a short two chapter story. Hope you like it. If so, be so kind as to leave a review.
It was a delicate balance to achieve. Henry fumbled with the flask of bubbling liquid. As he started to pour the contents into the heated vial, a tremor set his hand to shaking. He had done it before, but he couldn't remember the number of drops. Just as the green liquid begin to tip out of the flask, a loud banging at his door interrupted his concentration. Blast! Henry drew back and took a deep breath. The banging continued. "Just a moment please. I'm coming!" He put the flask carefully on the table, tugged at his vest, and straightened the spectacles on his nose. Turning about abruptly, he marched to the door, unlocked it and swung it open. Henry stood with his eyes wide, his mouth ajar.
"Well, will you invite me in Henry or must I arrange an appointment to see my little brother?"
"Yes, it is I."
Henry swallowed hard and contemplated his professional older brother he had not seen in over two years. He was dressed well in a dark wool suit with a smoke gray silk full-length vest. A manner of dress Henry attempted to mimic, but with not nearly the success as his tall thin brother.
"This must be quite a shock for you, Henry. You are not accustomed to receiving visitors? Perhaps I should have written first."
Henry stammered a moment but managed to utter a coherent sentence. "No. Yes. It is a pleasant shock. Come in Abel, please."
Abel Abington removed his gray fox hat and stepped inside. His hawk-like blue eyes bounced off the shelves of bottled concoctions and elixirs then settled on the steaming bubbling apparatus at the back of the room.
A self-conscious imp whispered in Henry's ear, your shop is disheveled to any eyes but your own. "Have you not seen an apothecary shop before?"
"Yes, but this is the first time I have seen my little brother's apothecary shop. It fits you Henry. Just as I remember you."
Henry felt himself blush. "Right. Where are your bags?"
"At the livery. I wasn't sure you would want me in your home…"
"Not want you? Abel, my dear brother, you are always welcome. I will send for your bags later. Follow me to my humble living quarters upstairs. I will fix you some tea."
"Ah, tea. A welcomed respite."
Abel fondled his teacup with his long delicate fingers. He stared into the caramel brew as if it held a secret.
"You must be weary from your journey," Henry said. The young working chemist cleared an armload of manuscripts and journals from his frumpy high backed wing chair and sat with a thump. His focus was then drawn to the frayed Persian rug on the floor beneath his brother's fine polished leather shoes. Henry sighed. He had intended to upgrade his furnishings, but he hadn't found the time. His own shoes were scuffed and dusty. He tucked them under the frayed brocade ottoman before him. "Where have you been living?"
"Living?" Abel looked up with a distant look in his blue eyes. "Oh, yes. I am sorry, Henry. My fatigue has rendered me a wretched guest. I reside in New Haven, Connecticut. I established an office there a few years back."
Henry's cat made a stealthy entrance, went straight to Abel's leg, and began to purr and rub against his gray silk stocking. Abel reached down and pushed the gregarious animal away.
"I'm sorry, Abel. Let me just—" Henry arose quickly and grabbed his feline companion. The cat complained with a guttural meow when tossed unceremoniously out on the stair landing.
"An office?" Henry asked as he returned to his seat. "A law office? Are you practicing again?"
"Yes. I have been engaged in small work--settling estates, land transactions and the like. Nothing exciting, but it puts food on the table."
Henry remembered his brother as an accomplished respected lawyer in Boston until the tragic events of 1775. "No one has known your whereabouts for two years. What happened to you?"
"This war happened to me, Henry. You know the story."
"I had to leave the city. You didn't expect me to stay in Boston did you after--"
"No. I guess not. I just didn't expect you to disappear from your family without so much as a letter. Everyone was worried."
"Really? Even father?"
Henry felt very uncomfortable. His mouth was galloping ahead of his thoughts. He hadn't intended to air all of the family laundry.
"I apologize," Abel said. "You have every right to demand an explanation from me." The lawyer took a deep breath and exhaled. "That night the mob attacked I rode out of town on my horse alone intending to cool off and gather my wits about me, but I just kept riding to the next town and the next. I wanted to sever all memory of Boston…yet that one special night is still fresh, like it just happened yesterday…" His voice cracked.
"Abel, please…it is not for me to judge."
Abel flipped his hand up momentarily and smiled. "God, I have missed you Henry. You have not changed a bit. Do you still recite Ben Franklin's 'Wit and Wisdom'? You used to drive father mad with that." Abel grinned with tears in his eyes.
"I am guilty as charged," Henry answered. "I'm afraid I now drive my friends mad."
"Your friends? Is there a young lady, too?"
"Nay. I cannot seem to find time for the young ladies. Have you not remarried?"
The elder Abington dropped his head. He sported the fashionable curled sidelocks. His sand-colored hair was plaited and tied with black ribbon. The lawyer would make a fine confident impression in a courtroom. "No. Charlotte is still too near in my mind…"
"I would love to meet your friends, Henry, but please do not allow me to interrupt your life. I will only stay a couple of days. I really just wanted to see you again, my dear brother." Abel smiled stiffly and Henry saw the older brother he once knew bemused and tolerant of a studious precocious younger sibling.
"I have a previous engagement this evening," Henry said. "I must deliver chemicals to a farm in the country. Perhaps you can rest in my absence. Let me show you to your room. It is small but comfortable. I'm sure you are accustomed to much nicer accommodations." Henry rose and stepped towards the guest bedroom, which was little more than a closet.
"A key to the shop doors hangs near the stair. If you go out in my absence, please lock up behind you. An apothecary shop is very tempting to the local thieves."
Abel put the tea down, which he had barely sampled. He stood and clasped Henry's shoulder. "My dear brother. I have missed you so." Abel wrapped his arms around Henry and pulled him into a tight embrace.
Henry walked his red roan horse out of town into a cool breezy twilight and met up with his fellow saboteurs and amateur nuisances, Jeremy Larkin and Isak Poole. The threesome continued in silence along the dark country road. The creak of their saddles and the ratchet of the crickets serenaded them. The horses snorted as if they were annoyed at the imposition of a night ride. Henry usually entertained his friends with his bubbling chatter. His silence drew their concern.
"Henry, do you have misgivings about our mission tonight?" Jeremy asked. He was the recognized leader of the small group of homegrown spies and generally took it upon himself to assess the readiness of his fellows.
"Blowing up a British supply depot?" Henry asked. "Phsst. A piece of cake."
"A piece of cake?" Isak said. "That explosion you have concocted--are you worried about it?"
"Then what has you so quiet?" Jeremy asked.
"I have an unexpected guest. I suppose it has turned my thoughts inward to remembrances of things past."
Jeremy yanked his reins to stop his horse. His friends stopped with him. "Is your guest expecting you back tonight?"
"Not till morning. He will sleep the whole time I am gone. It is my brother, Abel. He traveled from New Haven to visit with me."
"What side of this war does your brother favor?" Jeremy asked.
"I don't really know. I have not seen him in years. He is a lawyer. The last time I saw him, he was a Tory in Boston being run out of town by a gang of ruffians."
"A Tory you say?" Isak said with unmasked alarm.
"He isn't actively involved in the conflict, Isak. You see he helped John Adams defend the soldier's that opened fire on the citizens in Boston."
"The Boston Massacre?" Jeremy said.
"That is a matter of opinion."
Jeremy sighed. "Perhaps we should call off the mission this evening."
"Why?" Henry asked.
"You could be compromised Henry if something doesn't go as planned."
"Life goes on," Henry said. "People will come and go from our lives. My brother's presence in Chester is hardly a threat to our mission."
Jeremy and Isak remained quiet.
"General Lafayette is counting on us to take out that supply depot," Henry said.
"Yes he is Henry," Jeremy said, "but we can't risk our very existence. I think we should wait until your brother leaves."
The feathery clouds passed over the new moon that peeked through the trees. The trio sat quietly on their horses hindered by their disagreement. Jeremy was more the benevolent democratic leader than an autocratic dictator so he sometimes vacillated when faced with an impasse.
Henry couldn't see Jeremy's face but he knew the expression without seeing it and it made his nerves tense. "So I am to be the cause of a failed mission again? Am I an albatross about your neck, Jeremy Larkin? It is all well and good for you to sneak out of your father's home, deceiving him as to your purpose, but you don't think I can handle a little deception with my brother?"
"I'm not questioning your abilities at espionage, Henry."
"Then what are you doing besides wasting time, pray tell? Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve."
Jeremy and Isak chuckled. Isak said, "He has the words for every occasion."
"All right, Henry, we shall go with your resolve tonight." Jeremy nudged his horse forward and his friends followed.
The three young rebels made their rendezvous with the British supply depot. Henry's explosives proved effective. The British ammunition blew a crater in the earth and sent debris sky high. Some of it landed on the capable explosives expert knocking him unconscious.
Jeremy and Isak managed to lift their insensible friend to the back of his horse but the horse spooked and took off at a mad gallop. At least it was taking Henry away from the scene of destruction but it was the opposite way from Chester. The remaining duo had no choice but to follow.
Henry's trail led into a dark forest untouched by the moonlight. The searching friends were going by sound. Henry's horse had stopped its gallop but apparently had wandered off the road into the heavy brush. A distant whiney gave them direction.
"Isn't this a fine way to spend the evening?" Isak said.
"It got us clear of the British," Jeremy said.
"Aye, but now we are at least twelve miles from home and it will be dawn soon. That was not in the plan."
"There is nothing we can do about it. My only concern now is getting Henry back to his brother before he becomes suspicious."
"Of course," Isak grumbled, "but the whole town is gonna be suspicious when we come dragging in at noon with a bludgeoned bruised mild-mannered pharmacist."
"Henry's horse must have found a stream," Jeremy said. "The road probably leads to it. Why don't we ride a little further?"
The two men rode another two miles and came upon a shallow stream. They rode back along the stream and found Henry and his horse just as the dawn light was filtering through the thick old forest. Henry lay sprawled on the animal's back. The horse was helping himself to the cool fresh water.
Jeremy reached down, gathered some of the cold water in his hands, and splashed it on Henry's face. The scientist sputtered and fluttered his eyes. His glasses were ajar on his face.
"Henry, wake up!" Isak yelled.
The explosives expert tried to clean up at Isak's blacksmith shop before returning home. His horse needed a bath as well. He and it were covered with dust that had turned to caked black mud where doused with the water from the stream. Henry wrinkled his nose at the acrid smell of gunpowder upon his person. The chemist observed himself in Isak's looking glass and winced. "I closely resemble a chimney sweep. I shall simply have to explain to Abel I fell from my horse into a muddy stream. Hence, my tardiness and state of dishevel."
Isak and Jeremy frowned at their friend but nodded agreement.
As he walked home down the bustling Chester cobbled streets, Henry rehearsed a foolproof story. He was ready to deliver it as sure as Patrick Henry at a podium, but he grew nervous as he approached the door of his shop. It was something akin to stage fright. Abel was a trained lawyer. One accustomed to ferreting out the truth from a bundle of lies.
He grabbed the doorknob and found it locked fast. While he fumbled for his key in his vest pocket, he looked about to see if he was being observed. He froze when he saw his brother walking toward him from the livery.
Abel had mud on his gray stockings and dark britches. The sun bounced off metal with a sharp glint. It was a gun handle protruding from Abel's vest.
Henry quickly unlocked the door realizing his brother had not seen him. He relocked the door behind him and made his way upstairs. He was busy changing his clothes when he heard the key in the door lock below. Henry thought Abel must have gone in search of his missing younger brother. The nervous saboteur swallowed down his rising fear. Although it was touching that there was someone to fret over his unplanned absence, it vexed him. Had he compromised the Yankee Doodle Society?
Henry set about making tea. He heard Abel's strides up the stair and the door open at his back.
"Brother? You are home and well." Abel announced.
Henry spun about knocking a teacup to the floor. It shattered. "Aye. I apologize, dear brother, for my extreme tardiness. I was detained and could not see my way to come home so late. It appears I made you anxious and caused you to look for me." The mild-mannered scientist turned back around to conceal the wince on his face. His well-crafted story was lost to nerves and confusion.
"That mud on your shoes? The perils of a country chemist?"
Henry looked down and cringed at the sight of black mud on his shoes, stockings and britches. "I'm afraid it is true, Abel. Then I never was the dandy you were when it came to cleanliness and dress." Henry glanced over his shoulder sheepishly. His eyes traveled to his brother's shoes and stockings.
Abel laughed. "True. I am guilty of worrying about you. I took a jaunt in the country to partake of the fine Pennsylvania air and perhaps see if you were in some sort of difficulty. It was a gallant thought, but it seems I am a bit unpracticed in my horsemanship. The borrowed horse threw me."
"I hope you were not injured?"
"No. Only sore. Might we have dinner here rather than at the tavern?"
"Certainly. I have a bachelor's fare—some cold ham and cheese. I'll set a pot of peas to boiling. Theoretically, that should make them edible."
Henry's eyes went to the pistol. The handle had a fine tortoise shell inlay. Abel grabbed the handle with a brawny hand and pulled the pistol from his belt. "I carry it when I ride. Highwaymen you know?"
"Quite sensible, indeed." The observant chemist could not help noticing the powder burns on his brother's right hand that held the pistol. The gun had been fired.
Jeremy was exhausted with no sleep. Thankful that he found his father gone when he returned home, he went straight to his room and flopped on his back on the bed. The soft counterpane and the minty smell of fresh teaberry in the room quickly lulled him into a stupor. He only needed a couple hours sleep--
A knock on his closed door intruded on his plans. "Master Jeremy, a letter packet was delivered for you."
It was his father's valet. "Yes, thank you Virgil. Please slip it under the door. I wish to rest for a couple of hours. Might you assist me--"
"Yes, of course, sir."
Jeremy heard the slide of the paper on the floor. He quickly arose and grabbed it up, tore it open and read.
"Your assistance is needed." That was all that was written. It was signed Boggs.
A summons to Lafayette's camp. He would go alone but inform Isak. He would leave Henry to his brother for now.
The leader of the Yankee Doodle Society galloped toward the American camp. When he turned his horse upon the rough trail that led off the main road, two sentries jumped from the bushes making the horse rise up and throw its rider.
"Sorry, Captain Larkin, we didn't mean to--"
Jeremy scrambled to his feet and brushed debris from his linsey-woolsey britches. "You would think I would be used to that by now. I was summoned by Boggs."
"Aye. He is expecting you."
Still accompanied by the sentries, Jeremy led his horse into the clearing edged with officer's tents. Blue-coated soldiers were loading wagons with supplies and barrels of gunpowder—breaking down the camp.
Then the captain saw something dreadful that made him gasp. Two bodies lay side by side wrapped in sheets. The sleeve of a blue coat and a gold epaulet were clearly visible protruding from one of the bundles. Jeremy dropped his reins and ran to the general's tent, only to be stopped by a guard who threatened the young partisan with his bayonet.
"I-I'm C-Captain Larkin--"
The dusty tent flap jerked opened to reveal Sergeant Boggs. "Come in."
Jeremy ducked under the flap to follow Boggs into the dark tent. The sight of General Lafayette sitting at the table flooded him with relief. "Those dead bodies outside, sir, what--"
"Two aides were killed defending the general in an attempted assassination early this morning before dawn," the sergeant said. "We are preparing to bury them."
The captain felt deflated. The work his group had done the night before seemed superfluous if the British could simply walk into this camp and kill officers.
"I trust your assignment went well last night, Jeremy?" the general asked as he nervously tapped the table with a penknife. The young Frenchman's expression was broody, dark and distant.
Jeremy had to catch his breath. "Who was killed, sir?"
"Captain Smythe and Lieutenant Wells," Lafayette answered. "You know Smythe I believe. He was a friend of your brother's."
"Aye. May I sit down gentlemen? I suddenly feel queasy. Lack of sleep I suppose."
The sergeant led Jeremy to a chair across from the general then poured the shaken captain a tankard of water.
"Your assignment?" Lafayette asked again.
"It went well but..."
The general stopped tapping and stuck the penknife into the table. He leaned forward.
"But what, Captain," the sergeant asked impatiently.
"Henry's explosives were much stronger than anticipated. He was knocked unconscious and his horse carried him far away. It took all night to find him."
Lafayette exchanged a glance with his sergeant. "At least you were not compromised by that," the sergeant said.
"No. We got clean away. Why are you breaking up camp, sir?"
"We were not so lucky here, Jeremy," the general said. "We have been discovered. The man that attempted the assassination escaped our grasp."
"Do you want the Yankee Doodle Society to pursue him, sir?"
"No. I want you and your friends to keep a low profile for a month or so."
"But why, sir?"
"That man was followed to Chester," the sergeant said. "We believe he took a horse from the livery there. It was daylight and our men could not follow him further. He is probably just a British soldier in disguise and will report immediately to his superiors."
"Do you think the British followed me here, sir?"
"We don't know, Jeremy, but just to be safe, we are moving the camp."
"Don't you want to catch that man, sir?" Jeremy could not get his mind off the dead men lying outside.
"Jeremy," the general said, "if he is just a British soldier acting under his commanding officer's orders as we suspect, there is no point. We can't very well take on the entire Chester garrison with the few men we have."
"Our hope is they just got lucky in finding us," the sergeant added.
"How will we find you sir, if we need--"
"The sergeant will show you on a map."
Jeremy returned to Chester slowly keeping his horse at a trot. All his thoughts were on young Captain Smythe and his family. Smythe was from Kennett Square. He knew him well. It was a blow not unlike the loss of Robert Larkin, his brother.
On his return to town, Jeremy met up with Isak at the tavern. "No sign of Henry?" he asked the blacksmith.
"I hate this."
"Aye, but Henry's right about people comin' and goin' from our lives," Isak said.
"Our single and detached state draws suspicion."
"It certainly does, deary," a barmaid said as she plopped down two ales on the table. "The two o' you are right hot for the griddle. It's not proper for either o' you to be sittin' here with no girl in your lap. Seein' that I'm a bondswoman, I'm not available for marryin' but I'm willin' to give you honeydews some practice--"
Jeremy and Isak's eyebrows rose in unison.
"…nah, not that! Practice with your bussin'." You know--your pucker. The comely girl puckered her lips in imitation of a fish. She turned about then gave them a coy wink over her shoulder as she walked away.
The two single friends grinned at each other. "Well, I have my reputation with the wenches," Jeremy said. "Maybe having a visiting brother helps Henry appear to be living a normal life. It's just that I had a bit of bad news to share and wanted him here."
Isak frowned and lowered his tankard of ale.
Jeremy leaned towards his friend and lowered his voice. "Captain Smythe was killed early this morning about the time we were returning into Chester. He and a lieutenant."
"Anything to do with our work last night?"
"Nay. It was an assassination attempt on the general that cost the two aides their lives. They believe it was a British soldier from this garrison. They followed him back to town."
"He wore a uniform?"
"Nay. They said he returned to the livery. I guess they didn't recognize him as a resident of Chester so they assumed him a soldier. The camp was on edge. They are relocating as a precaution."
Isak was quiet for a long spell. He sipped his ale and licked the froth from his lips. "Jeremy, are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"
The captain shook his head. "Isak, I don't want to think that."
"But should we let Henry's brother leave town, when he's a suspect?"
Jeremy frowned and slunk down in his chair. "I don't dare go knock on Henry's door just to get a good look at his brother."
Henry swept his shop floor and tidied up in hopes that Abel would not think him a total slob. His brother was upstairs reading. The shop door opened with a tinkle of the bell and in walked dark haired Elizabeth Coates with a basket on her arm.
"Good day, Henry," she said with a smile.
"Why Miss Coates, what a pleasant surprise. What brings you to my humble home?"
"I brought you a pie."
Henry couldn't hide his excitement at the mention of a gloriously succulent desert prepared by Elizabeth Coates whom, in her simple way, was a culinary prodigy. He lifted the checkered cover from the prize and saw that it was a bright red cherry pie. The warmth of the pie rose up to fog his glasses eliciting a giggle from the pastry chef.
"This is perfect, Elizabeth. I've been wondering how I could prepare something equal to my brother Abel's discriminating palate and you have so kindly and timely provided it. I could kiss you."
"Aye. Would you like to meet him?"
Elizabeth followed Henry up the stairs to his rooms. "Abel, I have a friend that wishes to meet you. She has bribed me with a cherry pie."
The older brother put down his book and smiled charmingly. He rose and approached. Elizabeth offered her hand demurely. The tall Abington took the offered hand and bent to press his lips gently upon her fingers. "Enchanted, my dear Miss Coates. It is a pleasure to meet such a charming young Pennsylvania woman, pie or no pie."
Elizabeth curtsied. "I am pleased to meet you, sir. I had no idea Henry had a brother."
"Yes, well, I have not been very social these last few years. I intend to correct that. Now, if we can talk Henry into retrieving some dishes and forks, I believe we shall be the luckiest people in Chester this moment."
As the threesome sunk their forks into Elizabeth's flakey golden piecrust, Elizabeth asked, "Where are you from, Abel?"
"Hartford, Connecticut. I have a law practice."
"A lawyer? Henry is your entire family made up of such intelligent people?"
"Have you met more of our relations?" Abel asked.
"Only cousin Edward," Henry said. "He came for a visit a few months back." Henry could barely swallow his pie. Edward was not a topic he wanted to venture on with Abel.
"Ah, yes. Edward the scholar. I wonder what he is doing since the British closed Harvard?"
"Getting along, unhappily I'm afraid," Henry answered.
"Still unmarried like you I presume," Abel asked with a smirk.
"Yes. We Abington's are an acquired taste."
Elizabeth's brown eyes were lively. They darted impishly between Henry and his brother. Henry knew that look. She was spying.
The teen licked her lips to remove the crumbs of her piecrust. Henry tried to shake his head to stop whatever line of thought she was pursuing.
"Abel, pray tell," Elizabeth said, "Lawyers are smart. I'm trying to decide where I should stand in regards to this war. Edward was a Patriot, what side do you support?"
Henry cringed inwardly but smiled innocently at his brother.
The older Abington hesitated and furrowed his brow. "Edward a Patriot? That is news. I am a Tory. I see only mayhem and destruction behind this rebel uprising."
"My uncle would concur with you," Elizabeth said. "Sadly, many families are split over this debate with England."
"You should follow your uncle's lead my dear," Abel said. "If the debate were only between our own families--the English and the colonists--"
"What do you mean?" Elizabeth asked.
"It seems our little dispute has drawn the interest of foreign nationals who wish to profit from our unrest. The French for instance. That is what guiles me like a hot smithy iron in my side." Abel narrowed his eyes at Henry. "My my, Edward a Patriot, and you Henry…"
"Are you married, Abel?" Elizabeth said apparently attempting to change the subject.
"No, my dear. I lost my wife just two years ago."
"Please pardon my forwardness." Elizabeth turned her radiant eyes downward demurely. "I'm afraid my precocious questioning has dampened our cheer."
"Quite all right," Abel said. "I thank you for your candor. It is not common these days."
The three sat quietly as they finished their pie. Elizabeth sighed. She dabbed her mouth with her napkin and sat her plate on the small side table. "I have enjoyed the visit, but I need to return home. I'll be missed."
Abel nodded. "Should one of us gents accompany you?"
"Oh, no. I travel to and from the farm regularly. It is quite safe." Elizabeth stood and the two brothers did the same. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Abel."
"Likewise, Miss Coates. I hope to have the pleasure again soon."
Henry showed Elizabeth out. At the door to the street, she turned to her friend and said, "Someone tried to kill Lafayette early this morning. Captain Smythe is dead. The man that did it fled to Chester. To the livery."
The chemist swallowed and nodded. He instinctively glanced behind him to confirm that the door to his rooms was closed. "Thank you, Elizabeth. I know Captain Smythe was a close friend of the general's. I will try to see Jeremy this evening at the tavern.
After Elizabeth left, Henry sank down in the nearest chair and buried his head in his hands. He had seen his brother coming from the livery with mud on his clothes. He had seen the gun and the powder burn marks on his brother's right hand.