Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 108

   

“Friend,” he murmured.

“Friend Hunter,” she said, with a minimal roll of the eyes. “But I tell you two things. One, your young lady probably knows more about you than you do.” More laughter. “And two—speaking as a woman with some experience—I can tell you that nobody knows what being married’s going to be like until you find yourself in the midst of it.” She sat down with an air of finality, to a hum of approbation.

There was a certain amount of glancing to and fro and a sense of movement on the left side of the church, where several men sat together. I had seen them come in, with women who were plainly their wives; the women had separated, though, and gone to sit on the right side of the church, which made me think that they might be Quakers, though there was nothing in their dress that differentiated them from the other workmen and merchants in the congregation. I could see them come to some sort of silent consensus now, and one of them rose.

“I am William Sprockett,” he said formally, and cleared his throat. “We have come to speak in support of Friend Hunter. For we also are Friends who have followed the dictates of our conscience to involvement with rebellion and other matters that a Friend would normally seek to avoid. And in consequence . . . have been read out of meeting.”

He paused, brow furrowed, evidently not sure how to go on. A small woman in yellow rose on the other side and spoke clearly.

“What my husband seeks to say, friends, is that a man who would not do as his inner light tells him to is no man. And that while a man of conscience can be mighty inconvenient at times, it don’t make him a bad husband.” She smiled at Mr. Sprockett and sat down.

“Yes,” said Mr. Sprockett gratefully. “As my wife is kind enough to say, going to fight don’t unfit us for marriage. So we’ve all come”—he swept a broad hand around him, indicating his companions and the wives across the aisle—“to approve and witness thy marriage, Friend Hunter.”

“And we will support thy marriage, Dorothea,” Mrs. Sprockett put in, with a bob of her head. “And thine, Rachel.”

Denny Hunter had remained standing while all this colloquy was going on.

“I . . . thank you, Friends,” he said, and sat down abruptly, followed more slowly by the Sprocketts.

A hush fell upon the room, and for a little while there was no sound but the remote noise of the streets outside. Here and there a cough, the clearing of a throat, but, overall, silence. Jamie laid a hand on mine, and my fingers turned to intertwine with his. I could feel his pulse in my own fingertips, the solid bones of knuckle and phalanges. His right hand, battered and marked with the scars of sacrifice and labor. Marked also with the signs of my love, the crude repairs done in pain and desperation.

Blood of my blood, bone of my bone . . .

I wondered whether people who are unhappily married think of their own nuptials when they witness a wedding; I thought that those who are happy always do. Jenny’s head was bowed, her face calm and inward but peaceful; did she think now of Ian and her wedding day? She did; her head turned a little to one side, she laid a hand lightly on the bench and smiled at the ghost who sat by her side.

Hal and John sat on the bench in front of us, a little to the side, so I could catch glimpses of their faces, so much alike and yet so different. Both of them had been married twice.

It was a slight shock, in fact, to recall that John’s second marriage had been to me, for he felt entirely separate from me now, our brief partnership seeming so removed in time as almost to be unreal. And then . . . there was Frank.

Frank. John. Jamie. Sincerity of intention wasn’t always enough, I thought, looking at the young people on the benches at the front of the church, none of them now looking at one another but staring at their folded hands, the floor, or sitting with closed eyes. Perhaps realizing that, as Mrs. Figg had said, a marriage is made not in ritual or in words but in the living of it.

A movement pulled me out of my thoughts; Denny had risen to his feet and held out a hand to Dottie, who rose as though mesmerized and, reaching out, clasped both his hands in hers, hanging on for dear life.

“Does thee feel the sense of the meeting clear, Dorothea?” he asked softly, and at her nod, spoke:

“In the presence of the Lord, and before these our Friends, I take thee, Dorothea, to be my wife, promising, with divine assistance, to be unto thee a loving and faithful husband so long as we both shall live.”

Her voice was low but clearly audible as, face shining, she replied:

“In the presence of the Lord, and before these our Friends, I take thee, Denzell, to be my husband, promising, with divine assistance, to be unto thee a loving and faithful wife so long as we both shall live.”

I heard Hal catch his breath, in what sounded like a sob, and then the church burst into applause. Denny looked startled at this but then broke into a brilliant smile and led Dottie, beaming on his arm, out through the congregation to the back of the church, where they sat close together on the last bench.

People murmured and sighed, smiling, and the church gradually quieted—but not to its former sense of contemplation. There was now a vibrant sense of expectation, tinged perhaps with a little anxiety, as attention focused on Ian and Rachel—no longer looking at each other but down at the floor.

Ian took a breath audible to the back benches, raised his head, and, taking the knife from his belt, laid it on the bench beside him.

“Aye, well . . . Rachel kens I was once married, to a woman of the Wolf clan of the Kahnyen’kehaka. And the Mohawk way of marriage is maybe none so different from the way Friends do it. We sat beside each other before the people, and our parents—they’d adopted me, ken—spoke for us, sayin’ what they kent of us and that we were of good character. So far as they knew,” he added apologetically, and there was a breath of laughter.

“The lass I was to wed had a basket on her lap, filled wi’ fruit and vegetables and other bits o’ food, and she said to me that she promised to feed me from her fields and care for me. And I—” He swallowed and, reaching out, laid a hand on his knife. “I had a knife, and a bow, and the skins of some otters I’d taken. And I promised to hunt for her and keep her warm wi’ my furs. And the people all agreed that we should be married, and so . . . we were.”

He stopped, biting his lip, then cleared his throat and went on.

“But the Mohawk dinna take each other for as long as they live—but only for as long as the woman wishes. My wife chose to part wi’ me—not because I hurt or mistreated her, but for . . . for other reasons.” He cleared his throat again, and his hand went to the wampum armlet round his biceps.

“My wife was called Wakyo’teyehsnonhsa, which means ‘Works With Her Hands,’ and she made this for me, as a love token.” Long brown fingers fumbled with the strings, and the strip of woven shells came loose, slithering into his hand. “Now I lay it down, as witness that I come here a free man, that my life and my heart are once more mine to give. And I hope I may be allowed now to give them forever.”

The blue and white shells made a soft clicking noise as he laid them on the bench. He let his fingers rest on them for a moment, then took his hand away.

I could hear Hal’s breathing, steady now but with a faint rasp. And Jamie’s, thick in his throat.

I could feel all sorts of things moving like wraiths in the thick, still air of the church. Sentiment, sympathy, doubt, apprehension . . . Rollo growled very softly in his throat and fell silent, yellow-eyed and watchful at his master’s feet.

We waited. Jamie’s hand twitched in mine, and I looked up at him. He was looking at Ian, intent, his lips pressed tight, and I knew he was wondering whether to stand up and speak on Ian’s behalf, to assure the congregation—and Rachel—of Ian’s character and virtue. He caught my glance, though, shook his head very slightly, and nodded toward the front. It was Rachel’s part to speak, if she would.

Rachel sat still as stone, face bleached as bone and her eyes on Ian, burning. But she said nothing.

Neither did she move, but something moved in her; I could see the knowledge of it cross her face, and somehow her body changed, straightening and settling. She was listening.

We all listened with her. And the silence kindled slowly into light.

There was a faint throb in the air then, not quite a sound, and people began to look up, called from the silence. A blur appeared between the benches at the front, and a hummingbird materialized, drawn through the open window, a tiny blur of green and scarlet hovering beside the coral trumpets of the native honeysuckle.

A sigh came from the heart of the church, and the sense of the meeting was made clear.

Ian rose, and Rachel came to meet him.

A CODA IN THREE-TWO TIME

DENZELL AND DOROTHEA

IT WAS THE BEST party that Dorothea Jacqueline Benedicta Grey had ever attended. She had danced with earls and viscounts in the most beautiful ballrooms in London, eaten everything from gilded peacock to trout stuffed with shrimp and riding on an artful sea of aspic with a Triton carved of ice brandishing his spear over all. And she’d done these things in gowns so splendid that men blinked when she hove into view.

Her new husband didn’t blink. He stared at her so intently through his steel-rimmed spectacles that she thought she could feel his gaze on her skin, from across the room and right through her dove-gray dress, and she thought she might burst with happiness, exploding in bits all over the taproom of the White Camel tavern. Not that anyone would notice if she did; there were so many people crammed into the room, drinking, talking, drinking, singing, and drinking, that a spare gallbladder or kidney underfoot would pass without notice.

Just possibly, she thought, one or two whole people might pass without notice, too—right out of this lovely party.

She reached Denzell with some difficulty, there being a great many well-wishers between them, but as she approached him, he stretched out a hand and seized hers, and an instant later they were outside in the night air, laughing like loons and kissing each other in the shadows of the Anabaptist Meeting House that stood next door to the tavern.

“Will thee come home now, Dorothea?” Denny said, pausing for a momentary breath. “Is thee . . . ready?”

She didn’t let go of him but moved closer, dislodging his glasses and enjoying the scent of his shaving soap and the starch in his linen—and the scent of him underneath.

“Are we truly married now?” she whispered. “I am thy wife?”

“We are. Thee is,” he said, his voice slightly husky. “And I am thy husband.”

She thought he’d meant to speak solemnly, but such an uncontainable smile of joy spread across his face at the speaking that she laughed out loud.

“We didn’t say ‘one flesh’ in our vows,” she said, stepping back but keeping hold of his hand. “But does thee think that principle obtains? Generally speaking?”

He settled his glasses more firmly on his nose and looked at her with intense concentration and shining eyes. And, with one finger of his free hand, touched her breast.

“I’m counting on it, Dorothea.”

SHE’D BEEN IN his rooms before. But first as a guest, and then as an assistant, coming up to pack a basket with bandages and ointments before accompanying him to some professional call. It was quite different now.

He’d opened all the windows earlier and left them so, careless of flying insects and the butcher’s shop down the street. The second floor of the building would have been suffocating after the day’s heat—but with the gentle night breeze coming through, the air was like warm milk, soft and liquid on the skin, and the meaty smells of the butcher’s shop were now overborne by the night perfume of the gardens at Bingham House, two streets over.

All trace of his profession had been cleared away, and the light of the candle he lit shone serenely on a plainly furnished but comfortable room. Two small wing chairs sat beside the hearth, a single book on the table between them. And, through the open door, a bed fresh-made with a smooth counterpane and plump white pillows beckoned enticingly.

The blood still thrummed through her body like wine, though she’d had very little to drink. Still, she felt unaccountably shy and stood for a moment just inside the door, as though waiting to be invited in. Denny lit two more candles and, turning, saw her standing there.

“Come,” he said softly, stretching out a hand to her, and she did. They kissed lingeringly, hands roaming slowly, clothes beginning to loosen. Her hand drifted casually down and touched him through his breeches. He drew breath and would have said something, but wasn’t quick enough.

“One flesh,” she reminded him, smiling, and cupped her hand. “I want to see thy half of it.”

“THEE HAS SEEN such things before,” Denny said. “I know thee has. Thee has brothers, for one thing. And—and in the course of . . . of treating wounded men . . .” He was lying naked on the bed, and so was she, fondling the object in question, which seemed to be enjoying the attention immensely. His fingers were sliding through her hair, playing with her earlobes.

“I hope thee doesn’t think I ever did this to any of my brothers,” she said, sniffing him with pleasure. “And those of wounded men aren’t generally in a condition to be appreciated at all.”

Denny cleared his throat and stretched himself a little, not quite squirming.

“I think thee should allow me to appreciate thy own flesh for a bit,” he said. “If thee expects me to be able to make thee a wife tonight.”

“Oh.” She looked down at his c**k and then at herself, surprised. “What do—does thee—mean? Why wouldn’t thee be able to?”

“Ah.” He looked pleased and eager—he was so young without his glasses—and bounced off the bed, going into the outer room, his bottom pale and tidy in the candlelight. To Dottie’s astonishment, he came back with the book she’d noticed on the table and handed it to her. It was bristling with bookmarks, and as she took it, it fell open in her hands, displaying several drawings of a naked man in cross section, his private parts in various stages of operation.

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