An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 148

   

Denny’s face twitched, and Rachel thought he could not make up his own mind whether to laugh, cry, or cover his beloved with her cloak again. Not liking to see the lovely thing lie disregarded on the floor, Rachel bent and picked it up herself.

“Thee—Dorothea,” he said again, helpless. “Is thee sure of this? I think thee knows nothing of Friends.”

“Certainly I do. You—thee, I mean—see God in all men, seek peace in God, abjure violence, and wear dull clothes so as not to distract your minds with the vain things of the world. Is that not right?” Dorothea inquired anxiously. Lady Dorothea, Rachel corrected herself. William had said his uncle was a duke.

“Well… more or less, yes,” Denny said, his lips twitching as he looked her up and down. “Did thee… make that garment?”

“Yes, of course. Is something wrong with it?”

“Oh, no,” he said, sounding somewhat strangled. Dorothea looked sharply at him, then at Rachel, suddenly seeming to notice her.

“What’s wrong with it?” she appealed to Rachel, and Rachel saw the pulse beating in her round white throat.

“Nothing,” she said, fighting her own urge to laugh. “Friends are allowed to wear clothes that fit, though. Thee need not purposefully uglify thyself, I mean.”

“Oh, I see.” Lady Dorothea gazed thoughtfully at Rachel’s tidy skirt and jacket, which might be of butternut homespun but most assuredly fit well, and became her, too, if she did say so.

“Well, that’s good, then,” Lady Dorothea said. “I’ll just take it in a bit here and there.” Dismissing this, she stepped forward again and took Denny’s hands in her own.

“Denny,” she said softly. “Oh, Denny. I thought I should never see you again.”

“I thought so, too,” he said, and Rachel saw a new struggle taking place in his face—one between duty and desire, and her heart ached for him. “Dorothea … thee cannot stay here. Thy uncle—”

“He doesn’t know I’ve gone out. I’ll go back,” Dorothea assured him. “Once we’ve settled things between us.”

“Settled things,” he repeated, and, with a noticeable effort, withdrew his hands from hers. “Thee means—”

“Will thee take a little wine?” Rachel broke in, reaching for the decanter the servant had left for them.

“Yes, thank you. He’ll have some, too,” Dorothea said, smiling at Rachel.

“I expect he will need it,” Rachel murmured, with a glance at her brother.

“Dorothea …” Denny said helplessly, running a hand through his hair. “I know what thee means. But it is not only a matter of thee becoming a Friend—always assuming that to be … to be… possible.”

She drew herself up, proud as a duchess.

“Do you doubt my conviction, Denzell Hunter?”

“Er… not exactly. I just think that perhaps thee has not given the matter sufficient thought.”

“That’s what you think!” A flush rose in Lady Dorothea’s cheeks, and she glared at Denny. “I’ll have you—thee, I mean—know that I’ve done nothing but think, ever since you left London. How the devil do you—thee—think I bloody got here?”

“Thee conspired to have thy brother shot in the abdomen?” Denny inquired. “That seems somewhat ruthless, and perhaps not certain of success.”

Lady Dorothea drew two or three long breaths in through her nose, eyeing him.

“Now, you see,” she said, in a reasonable tone of voice, “was I not quite the perfect Quaker, I would strike you. Thee. But I have not, have I? Thank you, my dear,” she said to Rachel, taking a glass of wine. “You are his sister, I collect?”

“Thee has not,” Denny admitted warily, ignoring Rachel. “But even allowing, for the sake of argument,” he added, with a glimmer of his usual self, “that God has indeed spoken to thee and said that thee must join us, that still leaves the small matter of thy family.”

“There is nothing in your principles of faith that requires me to have my father’s permission to marry,” she snapped. “I asked.”

Denny blinked.

“Who?”

“Priscilla Unwin. She’s a Quaker I know in London. You know her, too, I think; she said you’d—thee’d? That can’t be right—that you’d lanced a boil on her little brother’s bum.”

At this point, Denny became aware—perhaps because his eyes were sticking out of his head looking at Lady Dorothea, Rachel thought, not altogether amused—that his spectacles were missing. He put out a finger to push them up the bridge of his nose, then stopped and looked about, squinting. With a sigh, Rachel stepped forward and settled them onto his nose. Then she picked up the second glass of wine and handed it to him.

“She’s right,” she told him. “Thee needs it.”

“PLAINLY,” LADY DOROTHEA said, “we are getting nowhere.” She did not look like a woman accustomed to getting nowhere, Rachel thought, but was keeping a fair grip on her temper. On the other hand, she was not even close to giving in to Denny’s urging that she must go back to her uncle’s house.

“I’m not going back,” she said, in a reasonable tone of voice, “because if I do, you’ll sneak off to the Continental army in Valley Forge, where you think I won’t follow you.”

“Thee would not, surely?” Denny said, and Rachel thought she divined a thread of hope in the question, but she wasn’t sure what kind of hope it was.

Lady Dorothea fixed him with a wide blue stare.

“I have followed thee across an entire bloody ocean. You—thee—think a damned army can stop me?”

Denny rubbed a knuckle down the bridge of his nose.

“No,” he admitted. “I don’t. That is why I have not left. I do not wish thee to follow me.”

Lady Dorothea swallowed audibly but bravely kept her chin up.

“Why?” she said, and her voice shook only a little. “Why do you not wish me to follow you?”

“Dorothea,” he said, as gently as possible. “Putting aside the fact that thy going with me would put thee in rebellion and in conflict with thy family—it is an army. Moreover, it is a very poor army, and one lacking every conceivable comfort, including clothing, bedding, shoes, and food. Beyond that, it is an army on the verge of disaster and defeat. It is no fit place for you.”

“And it is a fit place for your sister?”

“Indeed it is not,” he said. “But—” He stopped short, obviously realizing that he was on the verge of stepping into a trap.

“But thee can’t stop me coming with thee.” Rachel sprang it for him, sweetly. She was not quite sure she should help this strange woman, but she did admire the Lady Dorothea’s spirit.

“And you can’t stop me, either,” Dorothea said firmly.

Denny rubbed three fingers hard between his brows, closing his eyes as though in pain.

“Dorothea,” he said, dropping his hand and drawing himself up. “I am called to do what I do, and it is the Lord’s business and mine. Rachel comes with me not only because she is pigheaded but also because she is my responsibility; she has no other place to go.”

“I do, too!” Rachel said hotly. “Thee said thee would find me a place of safety with Friends, if I wanted. I didn’t, and I don’t.”

Before Denny could come back with anything else, Lady Dorothea held out her hand in a dramatic gesture of command, stopping him dead.

“I have an idea,” she said.

“I greatly fear to ask what it is,” Denny said, sounding entirely sincere.

“I don’t,” Rachel said. “What?”

Dorothea looked from one to the other. “I have been to a Quaker meeting. Two, in fact. I know how it’s done. Let us hold a meeting and ask the Lord to guide us.”

Denny’s mouth fell open, greatly entertaining Rachel, who was seldom able to dumbfound her brother but was beginning to enjoy seeing Dorothea do it.

“That—” he began, sounding stunned.

“Is an excellent idea,” Rachel said, already dragging another chair near to the fire.

Denny could hardly argue. Looking remarkably discombobulated, he sat, though Rachel noticed that he put her between Dorothea and himself. She wasn’t sure whether he was afraid to be too close to Dorothea, lest the power of her presence overwhelm him, or whether it was only that sitting across the hearth from her gave him the best view.

They all settled slowly, shifting a bit for comfort, and lapsed into silence. Rachel closed her eyes, seeing the warm redness of the fire inside her lids, feeling the comfort of it on her hands and feet. She gave silent thanks for it, remembering the constant griping of cold in the camp, the nails of her fingers and toes on fire with it, and the continual shivering that lessened but did not stop when she huddled into her blankets at night and left her muscles fatigued and sore. It was no wonder Denny didn’t want Dorothea to go with them. She didn’t want to go back, would give almost anything not to go—anything but Denny’s well-being. She hated being cold and hungry, but it would be much worse to be warm and well-fed and know that he suffered alone.

Did Lady Dorothea have any idea what it would be like? she wondered, and opened her eyes. Dorothea sat quiet but upright, graceful hands folded in her lap. She supposed Denny was imagining, as Rachel was, those hands reddened and marred by chilblains, that lovely face gaunt with hunger and blotched with dirt and cold.

Dorothea’s eyes were shadowed by her lids, but Rachel was sure she was looking at Denny. This was a considerable gamble on Dorothea’s part, she thought. For what if the Lord spoke to Denny and said it was impossible, that he must send her away? What if the Lord spoke to Dorothea now, she thought suddenly, or what if He had already? Rachel was quite taken back at the thought. It wasn’t that Friends thought that the Lord spoke only to them; it was only that they weren’t sure other folk listened very often.

Had she been listening herself? In all honesty, she was forced to admit that she had not. And she knew why: out of a disinclination to hear what she was afraid she must—that she must turn away from Ian Murray and abandon the thoughts of him that warmed her body and heated her dreams in the freezing forest, so she woke sometimes sure that if she put out her hand to the falling snow, it would hiss and vanish from her palm.

She swallowed hard and closed her eyes, trying to open herself to the truth but trembling in fear of hearing it.

All she heard, though, was a steady panting noise, and an instant later Rollo’s wet nose nudged her hand. Disconcerted, she scratched his ears. Surely it wasn’t seemly to be doing that in meeting, but he would keep nudging her until she complied, she knew. He half-closed his yellow eyes in pleasure and rested his heavy head upon her knee.

The dog loves him, she thought, rubbing gently through the thick, coarse fur. Can he be a bad man, if that is so? It wasn’t God she heard in reply but her brother, who would certainly say, “While dogs are worthy creatures, I think they are perhaps no judge of character.”

But I am, she thought to herself. I know what he is—and I know him for what he might be, too. She looked at Dorothea, motionless in her gray bag of a dress. Lady Dorothea Grey was prepared to abandon her former life, and very likely her family, to become a Friend, for Denny’s sake. Might it not be, she wondered, that Ian Murray could turn from violence for hers?

Well, there is a proud thought, she scolded herself. What sort of power does thee think thee has, Rachel Mary Hunter? No one has that sort of power, save the Lord.

But the Lord did have it. And if the Lord should be so inclined, anything was possible. Rollo’s tail moved gently, thumping thrice upon the floor.

Denzell Hunter straightened a little on his stool. It was the slightest movement, but coming as it did out of utter stillness, it surprised both the women, who lifted their heads like startled birds.

“I love thee, Dorothea,” he said. He spoke very quietly, but his soft eyes burned behind his spectacles, and Rachel felt her chest ache. “Will thee marry me?”

SEVERANCE AND REUNION

April 20, 1778

AS TRANSATLANTIC VOYAGES went—and after our ad-ventures with Captains Roberts, Hickman, and Stebbings, I considered myself something of a connoisseur of seagoing disaster—the trip to America was quite dull. We did have a slight brush with an English man-of-war but fortunately outran her, did run into two squalls and a major storm but luckily didn’t sink, and while the food was execrable, I was much too distracted to do more than knock weevils out of the biscuit before eating it.

Half my mind was on the future: Marsali and Fergus’s precarious situation, the danger of Henri-Christian’s condition, and the logistics of dealing with it. The other half—well, to be fair, seven-eighths—was still at Lallybroch with Jamie.

I felt raw and bruised. Severed in some vital part, as always when parted from Jamie for very long, but also as though I had been violently ejected from my home, like a barnacle ripped from its rock and heedlessly tossed into boiling surf.

The greater part of that, I thought, was Ian’s impending death. Ian was so much a part of Lallybroch, his presence there so much a constant and a comfort to Jamie all these years, that the sense of his loss was in a way the loss of Lallybroch itself. Oddly enough, Jenny’s words, hurtful as they might have been, didn’t really trouble me; I knew only too well the frantic grief, the desperation that one turned to rage because it was the only way to stay alive. And in truth, I understood her feelings, too, because I shared them: irrational or not, I felt that I should have been able to help Ian. What good was all my knowledge, all my skill, if I couldn’t help when help was truly vital?

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