“What’s wrong with her?” he demanded, turning to Fanny. The younger girl eyed him dubiously, lips pressed together, but then gave a little shrug.
“She thinks you might give her to a conthable or a magith-trate,” she said, struggling a bit with “magistrate.” “Or maybe to the army. It was a tholdier she killed.”
William rubbed a hand over his face. In fact, the thought of delivering Jane to justice had flitted through his mind, in the wake of the shock of learning of her crime. The thought hadn’t outlasted its birth, though.
“I wouldn’t do that,” he said to Fanny, striving to sound reasonable. She looked at him skeptically, under level dark brows.
“Why wouldn’ you?”
“Excellent question,” he said dryly. “And I haven’t got an answer. But I suppose I don’t need one.”
He lifted a brow at her, and she gave a small snort of a laugh. Jane was edging along the far side of the clearing, glancing back toward Fanny every few seconds; her intent was clear—but she wouldn’t go without her sister. He was sure of that much.
“Since you’re here with me,” he observed, “and not over there with your sister . . . you don’t want to run, and you know she won’t go without you. Ergo, I conclude that you don’t think I’d give her up to justice.”
She shook her head, slow and solemn as an owl.
“Jane says I don’ know anyting about men yed, but I do.”
“God help me, Frances, you do.”
THERE WAS NO further conversation until Rachel returned a few minutes later.
“I can’t lift him,” she said directly to William, ignoring the girls for the moment. “Will thee help me?”
He rose at once, relieved by the prospect of physical action, but glanced over his shoulder at Jane, still hovering by the far side of the clearing like a hummingbird.
“We’ll be heah,” Fanny said quietly. He gave her a nod, and went.
He found Murray lying by the side of the road, near the wagon. The man wasn’t unconscious, but the influence of the fever upon him was clear; his gaze was bleared and his speech slurring.
“I c’n walk.”
“Like hell you can,” William said briefly. “Hold on to my arm.”
He got the man sitting upright and had a look for himself at the wounded shoulder. The wound itself wasn’t that bad; it was apparent no bones were broken and it hadn’t bled a lot. On the other hand, the flesh was red and swollen and starting to suppurate. He leaned close and took an unobtrusive sniff—not unobtrusive enough: Rachel noticed.
“There’s no gangrene,” she said. “I think there will not—I think things will be well, so long as we can get him to a doctor soon. What does thee mean to do about thy girls?” she added abruptly.
He didn’t bother telling her again that they weren’t his. Evidently they were, at least in terms of immediate responsibilities.
“I don’t know,” he admitted, rising to his feet. He glanced into the woods, but the clearing was far enough in that there was no flicker of garment or movement visible.
“They can’t go to Philadelphia, and I can’t take them back to the army. The best I can think of just now is to find them some place of refuge in one of the little villages hereabouts and cache them there until I can make some provision to get them to . . . to someplace safer.” Wherever the hell that might be. Canada? he wondered wildly.
Rachel shook her head decidedly.
“Thee has no notion how people talk in small places—or how quickly news and rumor spread.” She glanced down at Murray, who was still sitting upright but swaying, his eyes half closed.
“They have no other profession,” she said. “And it would be quickly apparent to anyone what that profession is. They require not only refuge but refuge with people who will not cast them out once that becomes known.”
She was brown with the sun—her blue calico bonnet had fallen off in the struggle with Jane and hung back over her shoulders—but her face paled when she looked at Murray. She clenched her fists, closed her eyes for an instant, then opened them, straightening to her full height, and looked William in the eye.
“There is a small settlement of Friends, perhaps two hours’ travel from here. No more than three or four farms. I know of it from one of the women who came to Valley Forge with her husband. The girls could be kept safe there, for a while, at least.”
“No!” Murray said. “Ye canna be . . .” He paused, eyes going out of focus, and braced himself on his sound arm, still swaying. He swallowed thickly. “No,” he repeated. “Not . . . safe.”
“It isn’t,” William agreed. “Three young women on the road, alone? And without even a pistol to defend yourselves?”
“If I had a pistol I would not use it,” Rachel pointed out with some asperity. “Nor a cannon, come to that.”
Murray laughed—or at least made a noise that might pass for amusement.
“Aye,” he managed, and stopped to breathe before getting the next words out. “You take them,” he said to William. “I’ll . . . do here, fine.”
“Thee bloody won’t,” Rachel said fiercely. She grabbed William’s arm and pulled him closer to Murray. “Look at him! Tell him, since he professes not to believe me.”
William looked, reluctantly, glancing at Murray’s face, pale as suet and slick with an unhealthy sweat. Flies clustered thick on Murray’s shoulder; he lacked the strength to brush them away.
“Merde,” William muttered under his breath. Then louder, though still with reluctance, “She’s right. You need a doctor, if you’re to have a chance of keeping your arm.”
That thought evidently hadn’t struck Murray; death, yes—amputation, no. He turned his head and frowned at the wound.
“Bloody hell,” William said, and turned to Rachel.
“All right,” he said. “Tell me where this settlement is. I’ll take them.”
She grimaced, fists balling up at her sides. “Even Friends may not take well to the sudden appearance of a stranger who asks them to give indefinite sanctuary to a murderess. I am not a stranger and can plead the girl’s case better than thee can.” She drew a breath that swelled her bosom noticeably and looked at Murray, then turned her head to give William a piercing look.
“If I do this, thee must see him safe.”
“Rachel!” Murray said hoarsely, but she ignored him.
“Yes. We’ll have to take the wagon, the girls and I.”
William drew a breath of his own, but he could see that she was right. He could also see just what the decision to save Jane was costing her.
“All right,” he said tersely. He reached up and took the gorget from his neck and handed it to her. “Give Jane this. She may need it, if they find themselves on their own.” Oddly, the removal of the gorget seemed a weight off his mind, as well. Even the possibility of being arrested if anyone in Philadelphia recognized him didn’t trouble him overmuch.
He was about to remove his incriminating coat and waistcoat—he’d have to hide those somewhere—when Rachel stepped close to him and laid a hand on his arm.
“This man is my heart and my soul,” she said simply, looking up into his face. “And he is thy own blood, whatever thee may presently feel about the fact. I trust thee to see him safe, for all our sakes.”
William gave her a long look, thought of several possible replies, and made none of them, but gave a curt nod.
“Where should I take him?” he asked. “To my—to Lady J—I mean, to Mrs. F—I mean, God damn it,” he amended, feeling the blood rise in his cheeks, “to his aunt?”
Rachel looked at him, startled.
“Thee doesn’t know? Of course thee doesn’t, how could thee?” She waved off her own denseness, impatient. “His aunt was shot in the course of the battle, outside Tennent Church, where she was tending the wounded.”
William’s annoyance was doused at once, as though ice water had been poured on his head, flooding his veins.
“Is she dead?”
“By the grace of our Lord, no,” she said, and he felt the tightness in his chest relax a little. “Or at least she wasn’t yesterday,” she amended with a frown. “Though very badly hurt.” The tightness returned.
“She is in the Macken house in the village of Freehold—about six miles in that direction.” She nodded down the road. “My brother is likely there, as well, or nearby; there are still wounded from the battle there. He can deal with I-Ian’s wound.” For the first time, her voice lost its steadiness as her eyes went to her betrothed.
Murray’s eyes were sunken and glazed with fever, but he had sufficient command of himself to reach out his good hand to her. The movement put weight on the bad arm and he grimaced, but Rachel was kneeling beside him in an instant, arms around him.
William coughed and turned discreetly away to leave them a moment’s privacy in which to make their farewells. Whatever his own feelings, they deserved that. He’d seen many wounds go bad, and reckoned Murray’s chances as no better than even. On the other hand, the man was apparently both a bloody Scot and a Mohawk, and both races were notoriously hard to kill.
He had walked away from the road, and his eye now caught the flutter of pink fabric behind a bush.
“Jane!” he called. “Is that you?”
“Yes,” she said. She stepped out into the open, folded her arms, and pointed her chin at him. “What do you mean to do? With me, I mean.”
“Miss Hunter is going to take you and Fanny to a safe place,” he said, as gently as he could. In spite of her brave façade, she reminded him of a fawn, dappled light coming through the trees mottling her face and gown, making her seem shy and insubstantial, as though she might fade into the forest in the next breath. “I’ll send word to you there when I’ve made some . . . suitable arrangement.”
“Her?” Jane shot a surprised glance toward the road. “Why? Why can’t you take us? Doesn’t she want to stay with her—the Indian?”
“Miss Hunter will have time to explain everything to you on the way.” He hesitated, unsure what else to say to her. From the road, he heard the distant murmur of voices, Rachel and Ian Murray. He couldn’t make out the words, but it didn’t matter; what they were saying to each other was plain. He felt a small, sharp pain under his third waistcoat button and coughed, trying to dislodge it.
“Thank you, thir,” said a soft voice behind him, and he turned to find Fanny at his elbow. She took his hand, turned it palm upward, and planted a small, warm kiss in the center.
“I—you’re most welcome, Miss Fanny,” he said, smiling at her in spite of everything. She nodded to him, very dignified, and walked out to the road, leaving him with Jane.
For a moment, they stood staring at each other.
“I offered you a lot more than a kiss,” she said quietly. “You didn’t want it. I haven’t got anything else to give you in thanks.”
“Jane,” he said. “It’s not—I didn’t—” And then stopped, desperately sorry but helpless to think of anything he could possibly say in reply. “Safe travels, Jane,” he said at last, his throat tight. “Goodbye.”
IT’S A WISE CHILD WHO KNOWS HIS FATHER
IT WAS APPARENT that, while sound, Rachel’s mule wasn’t up to the weight of two men the size of William and Ian Murray. No matter; they couldn’t go any faster than a walk in any case; Murray could ride, and William would walk alongside to make sure the bastard didn’t fall off.
Murray managed to get up into the saddle, in spite of having only one functional hand; Rachel had roughly bandaged his wounded arm and put it into a sling torn from her underpetticoat. William didn’t offer him assistance, feeling reasonably sure that such an offer would be neither welcomed nor accepted.
Watching the laborious process, though, William was interested to note that while the fabric of the sling was much-laundered and faded, it had been embroidered with small blue and yellow sunbursts along one edge. Did Quaker women commonly wear attractive undergarments beneath their sober gowns?
As they set off at a cautious walk, the sound of the wagon was still audible, though fading into the rush of trees.
“Are ye armed?” Murray asked suddenly.
“Slightly.” He still had the knife Jane had pushed into his hand, now wrapped in a handkerchief and tucked in his pocket, as he had no sheath for it. He fingered the wooden handle, wondering whether it was the same knife that she . . . Well, of course it was.
“I’m not. Will ye find me a club?”
“You don’t trust me to see you safe?” William asked sarcastically.
Murray’s shoulders were slumped and his head thrust forward, nodding a little with the mule’s gait, but he turned and gave William a look that was heavy-eyed with fever, but still surprisingly alert.
“Oh, I trust ye fine. It’s men like the ones ye just fought I dinna trust.”
This was a fair point; the roads were far from safe, and the knowledge gave William a severe pang of conscience on behalf of the women he’d just dispatched, unarmed and unprotected, to drive miles over those very roads with a valuable mule and cart. I should have gone with them, insisted we all go together . . .
“My mam always says there’s no one more stubborn than my uncle Jamie,” Murray observed mildly, “but a Quaker lass wi’ her mind made up could give Uncle Jamie a run for his money, I’ll tell ye. I couldna have stopped her—and neither could you.”
William wasn’t in a mood to discuss any of the persons mentioned, nor yet engage in philosophical discussions of relative stubbornness. He put a hand on the bridle and pulled the mule to a halt.