The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 51

   

Your ob’t. servant,

William Tryon

The room was quiet, save for the soft rumbling of the cauldron over the coals in the hearth. Outside, I could hear the women talking in short bursts, interspersed with grunts of effort, and the smell of lye soap drifted through the open window, mingling with the scents of stew and rising bread.

Jamie looked up at Husband.

“Ye ken what this says?”

The Quaker nodded, the lines of his face sagging in sudden fatigue.

“The messenger told me. The Governor has no wish to keep his intent secret, after all.”

Jamie gave a small grunt of agreement, and glanced at me. No, the Governor wouldn’t want to keep it secret. So far as Tryon was concerned, the more people who knew that Waddell was heading for Salisbury with a large militia troop, the better. Hence also the setting of a specific date. Any wise soldier would prefer to intimidate an enemy rather than fight him—and given that Tryon had no official troops, discretion was certainly the better part of valor.

“What about the Regulators?” I asked Husband. “What are they planning to do?”

He looked mildly startled.

“Do?”

“If your people are assembling, it is presumably to some purpose,” Jamie pointed out, a slightly sardonic tone to his voice. Husband heard it, but didn’t take exception.

“Certainly there is purpose,” he said, drawing himself up with some dignity. “Though thee is mistaken to say these men are mine, in any way save that of brethren, as are all men. But as to purpose, it is only to protest the abuses of power as are all too common these days—the imposition of illegal taxes, the unwarranted seizure of—”

Jamie made an impatient gesture, cutting him off.

“Aye, Hermon, I’ve heard it. Worse, I’ve read your writings about it. And if that is the Regulators’ purpose, what is yours?”

The Quaker stared at him, thick brows raised and mouth half open in question.

“Tryon has no wish to keep his intentions secret,” Jamie elaborated, “but you might. It doesna serve the Regulators’ interest that those intentions be carried out, after all.” He stared at Husband, rubbing a finger slowly up and down the long, straight bridge of his nose.

Husband raised a hand and scratched at his chin.

“Thee mean why did I bring that”—he nodded toward the letter, which lay open on the table—“when I might have suppressed it?”

Jamie nodded patiently.

“I do.”

Husband heaved a deep sigh, and stretched himself, joints cracking audibly. Small white puffs of dust rose from his coat, dissipating like smoke. He settled back into himself then, blinking and looking more comfortable.

“Putting aside any consideration of the honesty of such conduct, friend James . . . I did say that it was thy friendship that would be of most use to me.”

“So ye did.” The hint of a smile touched the corner of Jamie’s mouth.

“Say for the sake of argument that General Waddell does march upon a group of Regulators,” Husband suggested. “Is it to the benefit of the Regulators to face men who do not know them, and are inimical to them—or to face neighbors, who know them and are perhaps in some sympathy with their cause?”

“Better the Devil ye ken than the Devil ye don’t, eh?” Jamie suggested. “And I’m the Devil ye ken. I see.”

A slow smile blossomed on Husband’s face, matching the one on Jamie’s.

“One of them, friend James. I have been a-horse these ten days past, selling my stock and visiting in one house and another, across the western part of the colony. The Regulation makes no threat, seeks no destruction of property; we wish only that our complaints be heard, and addressed; it is to draw attention to the widespread nature and the justness of these complaints that those most offended are assembling at Salisbury. But I cannot well expect sympathy from those who lack information of the offense, after all.”

The smile faded from Jamie’s face.

“Ye may have my sympathy, Hermon, and welcome. But if it comes to it . . . I am Colonel of militia. I will have a duty to be carried out, whether that duty is to my liking or no.”

Husband flapped a hand, dismissing this.

“I would not ask thee to forsake duty—if it comes. I pray it does not.” He leaned forward a little, across the table. “I would ask something of thee, though. My wife, my children . . . if I must leave hurriedly . . .”

“Send them here. They will be safe.”

Husband sat back then, shoulders slumping. He closed his eyes and breathed once, deeply, then opened them and set his hands on the table, as though to rise.

“I thank thee. As to the mare—keep her. If my family should have need of her, someone will come. If not—I should greatly prefer that thee have the use of her, rather than some corrupt sheriff.”

I felt Jamie move, wanting to protest, and laid a hand on his leg to stop him. Hermon Husband needed reassurance, much more than he needed a horse he could not keep.

“We’ll take good care of her,” I said, smiling into his eyes. “And of your family, if the need comes. Tell me, what is her name?”

“The mare?” Hermon rose to his feet, and a sudden smile split his face, lightening it amazingly. “Her name is Jerusha, but my wife calls her Mistress Piggy; I am afraid she does possess a great appetite,” he added apologetically to Jamie, who had stiffened perceptibly at the word “pig.”

“No matter,” Jamie said, dismissing pigs from his mind with an obvious effort. He rose, glancing at the window, where the rays of the afternoon sun were turning the polished pinewood of the sills and floors to molten gold. “It grows late, Hermon. Will ye not sup with us, and stop the night?”

Husband shook his head, and stooped to retrieve his shoulder bag.

“Nay, friend James, I thank thee. I have many places still to go.”

I insisted that he wait, though, while I made up a parcel of food for him, and he went with Jamie to saddle his mule while I did so. I heard them talking quietly together as they came back from the paddock, voices so low-pitched that I couldn’t make out the words. As I came out onto the back porch with the package of sandwiches and beer, though, I heard Jamie say to him, with a sort of urgency, “Are ye sure, Hermon, that what ye do is wise—or necessary?”

Husband didn’t answer immediately, but took the parcel from me with a nod of thanks. Then he turned to Jamie, the mule’s bridle in his other hand.

“I am minded,” he said, glancing from Jamie to me, “of James Nayler. Thee will have heard of him?”

Jamie looked as blank as I did, and Hermon smiled in his beard.

“He was an early member of the Society of Friends, one of those who joined George Fox, who began the Society in England. James Nayler was a man of forceful conviction, though he was . . . individual in his expression of it. Upon one famous occasion, he walked nak*d through the snow, whilst shouting doom to the city of Bristol. George Fox inquired of him then, ‘Is thee sure the Lord told thee to do this?’ ”

The smile widened, and he put his hat carefully back on his head.

“He said that he was. And so am I, friend James. God keep thee and thy family.”

20

SHOOTING LESSONS

BRIANNA GLANCED BACK over her shoulder, feeling guilty. The house below had disappeared beneath a yellow sea of chestnut leaves, but the cries of her child still rang in her ears.

Roger saw her look back down the mountainside, and frowned a little, though his voice was light when he spoke.

“He’ll be fine, hen. You know your mother and Lizzie will take good care of him.”

“Lizzie will spoil him rotten,” she agreed, but with a queer tug at her heart at the admission. She could easily see Lizzie carrying Jemmy to and fro all day, playing with him, making faces at him, feeding him rice pudding with molasses . . . Jemmy would love the attention, once he got over the distress of her leaving. She felt a sudden surge of territorial feeling regarding Jemmy’s small pink toes; she hated the very idea of Lizzie playing Ten Wee Piggies with him.

She hated leaving him, period. His shrieks of panic as she pried his grip from her shirt and handed him over to her mother echoed in her mind, magnified by imagination, and his tearstained look of outraged betrayal lingered in her mind.

At the same time, her need to escape was urgent. She couldn’t wait to peel Jem’s sticky, clutching hands off her skin and speed away into the morning, free as one of the homing geese that honked their way south through the mountain passes.

She supposed, reluctantly, that she wouldn’t feel nearly so guilty about leaving Jemmy, had she not secretly been so eager to do it.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” she reassured herself, more than Roger. “It’s just . . . I’ve never really left him for very long before.”

“Mmphm.” Roger made a noncommittal noise that might have been interpreted as sympathy. His expression, however, made it clear that he personally thought it well past time that she had left the baby.

A momentary spurt of anger warmed her face, but she bit her tongue. He hadn’t said anything, after all—had clearly made an effort not to say anything, in fact. She could make an effort, too—and she supposed that it was perhaps not fair to quarrel with someone on the basis of what you thought they were thinking.

She choked off the acrimonious remark she’d had in mind, and instead smiled at him.

“Nice day, isn’t it?”

The wary look faded from his face, and he smiled, too, his eyes warming to a green as deep and fresh as the moss that lay in thick beds at the shaded feet of the trees they passed.

“Great day,” he said. “Feels good to be out of the house, aye?”

She shot a quick look at him, but it seemed to be a simple statement of fact, with no ulterior motives behind it.

She didn’t answer, but nodded in agreement, lifting her face to the errant breeze that wandered through the spruce and fir around them. A swirl of rusty aspen leaves blew down, clinging momentarily to the homespun of their breeches and the light wool of their stockings.

“Wait a minute.”

On impulse, she stopped and pulled off her leather buskins and stockings, pushing them carelessly into the rucksack on her shoulder. She stood still, eyes closed in ecstasy, wiggling long bare toes in a patch of damp moss.

“Oh, Roger, try it! This is wonderful!”

He lifted one eyebrow, but obligingly set down the gun—he had taken it, when they left the house, and she had let him, despite a proprietorial urge to carry it herself—undid his own footgear, and cautiously slid one long-boned foot into the moss beside hers. His eyes closed involuntarily, and his mouth rounded into a soundless “ooh.”

Moved by impulse, she leaned over and kissed him. His eyes flew open in startlement, but he had fast reflexes. He wrapped a long arm around her waist and kissed her back, thoroughly. It was an unusually warm day for late autumn, and he wore no coat, only a hunting shirt. His chest felt startlingly immediate through the woolen cloth of his shirt; she could feel the tiny bump of his nipple rising under the palm of her hand.

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