Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 107

   

THE SENSE OF THE MEETING

THE METHODIST CHURCH was a modest wooden building with plain glass windows, and, while it did have an altar, might otherwise easily have passed as a Quaker meetinghouse, bar three framed cross-stitched samplers bearing Bible verses that hung on one wall. I heard Rachel let out her breath as she stopped just inside, looking around.

“No flowers?” Mrs. Figg had said the day before, scandalized. “I understand plain, but God made flowers!”

“A Friends’ meetinghouse would not have flowers,” Rachel had said, smiling. “We think them somewhat pagan, and a distraction to worship. But we are thy guests, and surely a guest must not tell his host how to keep his own house.”

Mrs. Figg blinked at the word “pagan,” but then made a low humming noise and settled back into benignity.

“Well and good, then,” she said. “His lordship has three good rosebushes, and there’s sunflowers in every yard in town. Lot of honeysuckle, too,” she added thoughtfully. There was; everyone planted honeysuckle by the privy.

As a nod to the Quakers’ sensibilities, though, there was only one vase of flowers—a very plain glass vase—between the two wooden benches that had been set at the front of the room, and the faint perfume of honeysuckle and pink cabbage roses mingled with the turpentine smell of hot pine boards and the pungent scents of fairly clean but very hot people.

Rachel and I stepped outside again, joining the rest of what I supposed might be called the wedding party, in the shade under a big lime tree. People were still arriving in ones and twos, and I caught a good many curious looks directed at us—though these were not aimed at the two brides.

“You are being married in . . . that?” Hal said, eyeing Dottie’s Sunday-best gown of soft gray muslin with a white fichu and a bow at the back of the waist. Dottie raised one smooth blond brow at him.

“Ha,” she said. “Mummy told me what she wore when you married her in a tavern in Amsterdam. And what your first wedding was like. Diamonds and white lace and St. James’s Church didn’t help all that much, did they?”

“Dorothea,” Denzell said mildly. “Don’t savage thy father. He has enough to bear.”

Hal, who had flushed at Dottie’s remarks, went somewhat redder at Denny’s and breathed in a menacing rasp, but didn’t say anything further. Hal and John were both wearing full dress uniform and far outshone the two brides in splendor. I thought it rather a pity that Hal wouldn’t get to walk Dottie down the aisle, but he had merely inhaled deeply when the form of the marriage was outlined to him and said—after being elbowed sharply in the ribs by his brother—that he was honored to witness the event.

Jamie, by contrast, did not wear uniform, but his appearance in full Highland dress made Mrs. Figg’s eyes bulge—and not only hers.

“Sweet Shepherd of Judea,” she muttered to me. “Is that man wearing a woolen petticoat? And what sort of pattern is that cloth? Enough to burn the eyes out your head.”

“They call it a Fèileadh beag,” I told her. “In the native language. In English, it’s usually called a kilt. And the pattern is his family tartan.”

She eyed him for a long moment, the color rising slowly in her cheeks. She turned to me with her mouth open to ask a question, then thought better and shut it firmly.

“No,” I said, laughing. “He isn’t.”

She snorted. “Either way, he’s like to die of the heat,” she predicted, “and so are those two gamecocks.” She nodded at John and Hal, glorious and sweating in crimson and gold lace. Henry had also come in uniform, wearing his more modest lieutenant’s apparel. He squired Mercy Woodcock on his arm and gave his father a stare daring him to say anything.

“Poor Hal,” I murmured to Jamie. “His children are rather a trial to him.”

“Aye, whose aren’t?” he replied. “All right, Sassenach? Ye look pale. Had ye not best go in and sit down?”

“No, I’m quite all right,” I assured him. “I just am pale, after a month indoors. It’s good to be in the fresh air.” I had a stick, as well as Jamie, to lean on but was feeling quite well, bar a slight stitch in my side, and was enjoying the sensations of mobility, if not the sensation of wearing stays and petticoats in hot weather again. It was going to be even hotter, sitting packed together once the meeting began; the Reverend Mr. Figg’s congregation was there, of course, it being their church, and the benches were filled with bodies.

The church had no bell, but a few blocks away the bell of St. Peter’s began to toll the hour. It was time, and Jamie, I, and the Grey brothers made our way inside and found our places. The air hummed with murmured conversation and curiosity—the more so at the British uniforms and Jamie’s plaid, though both he and the Greys had left their swords at home, in deference to the Friends’ meeting.

Both curiosity and conversation rose to a much higher pitch when Ian walked in. He wore a new shirt, white calico printed with blue and purple tulips, his buckskins and breechclout, moccasins—and an armlet made of blue and white wampum shells, which I was reasonably sure that his Mohawk wife, Works With Her Hands, had made for him.

“And here, of course, is the best man,” I heard John whisper to Hal. Rollo stalked in at Ian’s heel, disregarding the further stir he caused. Ian sat down quietly on one of the two benches that had been set at the front of the church, facing the congregation, and Rollo sat at his feet, scratched himself idly, then collapsed and lay panting gently, surveying the crowd with a yellow stare of lazy estimation, as though judging them for eventual edibility.

Denzell came in, looking a little pale, but walked up and sat down on the bench beside Ian. He smiled at the congregation, most of whom murmured and smiled back. Denny wore his best suit—he owned two—a decent navy broadcloth with pewter buttons, and while he was both shorter and less ornamental than Ian, did not by any means disappear beside his outlandish brother-in-law-to-be.

“You’re no going to be sick, lass?” Jamie said to Rachel. She and Dottie had come in, but hovered near the wall. Rachel’s hands were clenched in the fabric of her skirt. She was white as a sheet, but her eyes glowed. They were fastened on Ian, who was looking at no one but her, his own heart in his eyes.

“No,” she whispered. “Come with me, Dottie.” She held out a hand, and the two girls walked together to the other bench and sat down. Dottie’s color was high, and so was her head. Rachel folded her hands in her lap and resumed looking at Ian. I felt Jamie sigh a little and relax. On Jamie’s far side, Jenny craned to see round him, then smiled with gratification.

She’d made Rachel’s dress herself, for after the exigencies of recent months, Rachel owned nothing that wasn’t near rags. And while Jenny was generally in favor of modesty in dress, she knew her way around a bustline. The dress was a pale-green chintz with a small pattern of dark-green curling vines, and fitted like a glove. With her dark-brown hair shining loose on her shoulders and hazel eyes huge in her face, Rachel looked like some denizen of the forest—perhaps a tree nymph.

I was about to share this fancy with Jamie when the Reverend Mr. Figg walked up to the front of the church, turned, and smiled at the congregation.

“Blessings to you all this day, brothers and sisters!” he said, and was answered by a genial rumble of “Blessings to you, brother!” and discreet “Amens.”

“Well, now.” He glanced from Ian and Denny to the girls, then back to the congregation. “We’re gathered here for a wedding today. But the ladies and gentlemen being married belong to the Society of Friends, so it will be a Quaker wedding—and that’s maybe a little different from ones you’ve seen before, so I take the liberty of telling you how it goes.”

A little hum of interest and speculation, which he quieted with one hand. Mr. Figg was small and dapper in black suit and high white stock, but had immense presence, and every ear was tuned attentively to his explanations.

“We have the honor to host this meeting—for that’s what the Friends call their worship. And for them, a wedding is just a normal part of meeting. There’s no priest or minister involved; the lady and the gentleman just . . . marry each other, when they feel like it’s the right time.”

That caused a ripple of surprise, perhaps a little disapproval, and I could see the color rise in Dottie’s cheeks. Mr. Figg turned to smile at the girls, then back to his congregation.

“I think perhaps one of our Quaker friends might tell us a little bit about their notion of meeting, as I’m sure they know more about it than I do.” He turned expectantly toward Denzell Hunter—but it was Rachel who rose to her feet. Mr. Figg didn’t see her and started with surprise when she spoke behind him, making everyone laugh.

“Good morning,” she said, soft-spoken but clear, when the laughter had died down. “I thank you all for your presence here. For Christ said, ‘Wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there am I.’ And that is all the essence of a meeting of Friends: that Christ may make His presence known among us—and within us.” She spread her hands a little. “So we gather, and we listen—both to one another and to the light within us. When a person is moved of the spirit to speak, he or she does speak.”

“Or sing, if thee likes,” Dottie put in, dimpling at John.

“Or sing,” Rachel agreed, smiling. “But we do not fear silence, for often God speaks loudest in the quiet of our hearts.” And with that, she sat down again, composed.

A moment of shuffling and blinking among the crowd was succeeded in fact by an expectant silence—this broken by Denny, who rose deliberately and said, “I am moved to tell you how grateful I am for your gracious use of us. For I was put out of meeting, and my sister with me, for my stated intent to join the Continental army. And for the same reason, we are not welcome as members of Philadelphia meeting.” He glanced at Rachel, light glinting from his spectacles.

“This is a grievous thing to a Friend,” he said quietly. “For our meeting is where our lives and souls abide, and when Friends marry, the whole of their meeting must approve and witness the marriage, for the community itself will support the marriage. I have deprived my sister of this approval and support, and I beg she will forgive me.”

Rachel gave an unladylike snort. “Thee followed thy conscience, and if I hadn’t thought thee right, I would have said so.”

“It was my responsibility to take care of thee!”

“Thee has taken care of me!” Rachel said. “Do I look malnourished? Am I naked?”

A ripple of amusement ran through the congregation, but neither of the Hunters was noticing.

“I took thee from thy home and from the meeting that cared for thee and obliged thee to follow me into violence, into an army full of violent men.”

“That would be me, I expect,” Ian interrupted, clearing his throat. He looked at Mr. Figg, who seemed somewhat stunned, then at the rapt assemblage on the benches. “I’m no a Friend myself, ye ken. I’m a Highlander and a Mohawk, and they dinna come much more violent than that. By rights, I shouldna wed Rachel, and her brother shouldna let me.”

“I should like to see him stop me!” said Rachel, sitting bolt upright with her fists curled on her knees. “Or thee, either, Ian Murray!”

Dottie appeared to be finding the conversation amusing; I could see her struggling not to laugh—and, glancing sideways along the bench in front of me, I could see precisely the same expression on her father’s face.

“Well, it’s on my account that ye couldna be wed in a proper Quaker meeting,” Ian protested.

“No more than on mine,” Denny said, grimacing.

“Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” Jamie murmured in my ear. “D’ye think I should say it’s all my fault, for leaving Ian wi’ the Indians and bein’ a bad example to him?”

“Only if the spirit moves you,” I said, not taking my eyes off the show. “Personally, I’d advise you and the spirit to stay out of it.”

Mrs. Figg was not disposed to stay out of it. She cleared her throat loudly.

“Now, pardon me for interrupting, but from what I understand, you Friends think a woman’s equal to a man, is that right?”

“It is,” Rachel and Dottie said firmly together, and everyone laughed.

Mrs. Figg flushed like a ripe black plum, but kept her composure. “Well, then,” she said. “If these ladies want to marry with you gentlemen, why do you think you got any business trying to talk them out of it? Have you maybe got your own reservations about the matter?”

A distinctly feminine murmur of approval came from the congregation, and Denny, who was still standing, seemed to be struggling for his own composure.

“Does he have a cock?” came a French-accented whisper from behind me and an unhinged giggle from Marsali in response. “You can’t get married without a cock.”

This reminiscence of Fergus and Marsali’s unorthodox wedding on a Caribbean beach made me stuff my lace handkerchief into my mouth. Jamie shook with suppressed laughter.

“I do have reservations,” Denzell said, taking a deep breath. “Though not,” he added hastily, with a glance at Dottie, “regarding my desire to wed Dorothea or the honor of my intentions toward her. My reservations—and perhaps Friend Ian’s, though I must not speak for him—lie entirely the other way. That is, I—we, perhaps—feel that we must lay bare our failings and limitations as . . . as husbands—” And for the first time, he, too, blushed. “That Dorothea and Rachel may . . . may come to a proper—er . . .”

“That they know what they may be getting into?” Mrs. Figg finished for him. “Well, that’s a fine sentiment, Dr. Hunter—”

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