Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 25

   

“How shall we be wed, d’ye think?” Ian, who had been walking in front of her to push branches out of her way, paused and turned to let her come alongside, the path here being wide enough to walk abreast for a little.

“I don’t know,” she told him frankly. “I think I cannot in good conscience be baptized Catholic, no more than you in good conscience could live as a Friend.”

“Do Friends marry only other Friends, then?” One side of his mouth curled. “I’d think the choice might be a bit sparse. Or d’ye all end up marrying your cousins?”

“They marry other Friends or they get put out of meeting,” she told him, ignoring the gibe about cousins. “With rare exceptions. A marriage between a Friend and a non-Friend might be allowed in case of dire circumstance—after a committee on clearness had conferred with both bride and groom—but it’s rare. I fear that even Dorothea may have difficulty, in spite of her very evident sincerity of conversion.”

Ian laughed at thought of Denny’s fiancée. Lady Dorothea Jacqueline Benedicta Grey was no one’s notion of a demure Quaker—though, for that matter, Rachel thought that anyone who supposed female Friends to be demure had never met one.

“Have ye asked Denny what they mean to do?”

“I haven’t,” she admitted. “To tell the truth, I am somewhat afraid to ask.”

Ian’s feathery brows shot up.

“Afraid? Why?”

“Both on his account and ours. You know we were put out of our meeting in Virginia—or, rather, he was, and I went with him. It affected him very much, and I know he wishes above all things to marry Dottie properly, before the witness of a meeting to which they both belong.”

Ian shot her a quick glance, and she knew he was about to ask if she felt likewise. She hurried on, to forestall him.

“There are other Friends in his same case, though: men who cannot abide the thought of capitulation to the King and who feel obliged to assist the Continental army. ‘Fighting Quakers,’ they call themselves.” She couldn’t help smiling at the name; it conjured such incongruous images.

“Some such held meeting now and then at Valley Forge, but they aren’t accepted by Philadelphia yearly meeting. Denny has to do with them but hasn’t joined them as yet.”

“Aye?” The trail had narrowed again and Ian moved ahead, turning his head to speak over his shoulder so she would know he attended. She was somewhat distracted herself; the buckskin was drying slowly, molding itself damply to Ian’s long, sinewy shanks, and reminding her of his breechclout.

“Yes,” she said, recovering her train of thought. “The thing is—is thee familiar with religious disputation, Ian?”

That made him laugh again.

“I thought not,” she said dryly. “I am. And the thing is, when a group of . . . of . . . persons who disagree with a central teaching of—”

“Heretics?” he offered helpfully. “Quakers wouldna burn folk, would they?”

“Those who are led of the spirit to follow a different path, let us say,” she said, a little tersely. “And, no, they wouldn’t. But the point I am making is that when such a group breaks away over some point of doctrine, they are inclined to cling even more rigorously to the rest of their beliefs and be more fierce even than the original group.”

Ian’s head lifted; so did Rollo’s. Both hunters turned to and fro, nostrils flaring, but then shook themselves slightly and resumed walking. “Aye, so?” Ian said, reminding her of her point.

“So even if Denny should become convinced that he should belong to a meeting of Fighting Quakers, they might be that much more reluctant to accept a member such as Dottie. Though, on the other hand, should they be willing to do so, that might mean that they would at least consider our marriage. . . .” She tried to sound hopeful about that prospect but in truth thought pigs might fly before any meeting of Friends accepted Ian Murray—or vice versa. “Is thee attending, Ian?” she asked a little sharply, for man and dog were still moving but with a new wariness. Rollo’s ears cocked alertly and Ian shifted his rifle from shoulder to hand. Within a few steps, she heard what they had heard—the distant sounds of wagon wheels and marching feet. An army on the move, and the thought made the fine hairs prickle on her arms, in spite of the heat.

“What?” Ian turned a blank face toward her, then came to himself and smiled. “Well, no. I was wondering what a dire circumstance might be. To Friends.”

Rachel had wondered that herself, if only briefly. “Well . . .” she began dubiously. In truth, she had no idea what sort of dire circumstance would make such a marriage thinkable, let alone acceptable.

“I was only thinking,” he went on, before she could think of anything. “Uncle Jamie told me how it was when his parents wed. His father stole his mother away from her brothers, and they were obliged to hide where they could, for the MacKenzies of Leoch werena anything ye’d want to face, when roused.”

His face was animated, telling the story.

“They couldna be marrit in kirk, for the banns couldna be called, and they’d be discovered the moment they came out of hiding to speak to a priest. So they stayed hidden until Ellen—that would be my grannie, aye?—was big wi’ child, and then came out. Her brothers couldna object to the marriage at that point, and so they were wed.” He shrugged. “So I was only wondering: would Friends think a coming child a dire circumstance?”

Rachel stared at him.

“If thee thinks that I will lie with thee without marriage, Ian Murray,” she said, in measured tones, “thee has no notion just how dire thy own circumstances might become.”

BY THE TIME they reached the main road that led to Philadelphia, the sound had grown amazingly—and so had the traffic making it. Normally a busy road, carrying travelers and wagons full of produce to and from the nearby countryside, it was all but choked now, mules braying, children shrieking, harried parents calling out for their offspring, pushing handcarts and barrows full of possessions along the road, often with a resentful pig towed alongside by a rope round its neck or a basket of chickens wobbling atop the pile.

And in, around, and through the struggling knots of civilians fleeing at footpace was the army. Marching columns, two by two, leather straps and gaiters creaking as they sweated through their coats, faces more crimson in the heat than their fading uniforms. Small platoons of cavalry, still fine on their horses, knots of green-clad Hessians, and, here and there, companies of infantry stationed at the side of the road, providing support for officers who were stopping wagons, sometimes commandeering them, sometimes waving them on.

Ian paused in the shadow of the trees, judging the situation. The sun was nearly overhead—plenty of time. And they had nothing that the army would want; no one would stop them.

He was aware of the militia companies, too. They had met several, passing through the woods. These for the most part stayed off the road, making their way carefully through the verges in ones and twos and threes, not hiding, but not drawing attention to themselves, either.

“Look!” Rachel exclaimed, her hand tightening on his arm. “It’s William!” She pointed at a tall officer on the far side of the road and looked up at Ian, her face bright as sun on water. “We must speak to him!”

Ian’s hand had tightened on her shoulder in response, and he felt the urgency of her flesh—but also the terrible fragility of the bones under it.

“Not you,” he said, and lifted his chin toward the plodding ranks of disgruntled troops, sweating and dust-stained. “I dinna want ye anywhere in sight o’ them.”

Her eyes narrowed just a trifle—but Ian had been married once and took his hand off her shoulder promptly.

“I mean,” he said hastily, “I’ll go and talk to William. I’ll bring him here to ye.”

Rachel opened her mouth to reply, but he snooved his way hastily through the screening bushes before she could speak.

“Stay,” he said sternly to Rollo, turning back for an instant. The dog, who had not stirred from his comfortable spot at Rachel’s feet, twitched one ear.

William was standing by the roadside, looking hot, tired, disheveled, and thoroughly unhappy. As well he might, Ian thought with some sympathy. He kent William had surrendered at Saratoga; he was likely bound for England—if he was lucky—or for a long parole in some rough lodging somewhere far to the north. In either case, his active role as a soldier was over for some time.

His face changed abruptly at sight of Ian. Surprise, the beginnings of indignation, then a quick glance round, decision clamping down upon his features. Ian was surprised for a moment that he could read William’s face so easily but then remembered why. Uncle Jamie guarded his own expression in company—but not with Ian. Ian’s own face didn’t show his knowledge, though, any more than William’s now showed more than an irritable acknowledgment.

“Scout,” William said, with the briefest of nods. The corporal to whom he had been talking gave Ian a brief, incurious look, then saluted William and plunged back into the trudging stream.

“What the bloody hell do you want?” William drew a grubby sleeve across his sweating face. Ian was mildly surprised at this evident hostility; they’d parted on good terms the last time they had seen each other—though there had been little conversation at the time, William having just put a pistol ball through the brain of a madman trying to kill Rachel, Ian, or both, with an ax. Ian’s left arm had healed enough to dispense with a sling, but it was still stiff.

“There’s a lady who’d like to speak with ye,” he said, ignoring William’s narrowed eyes. The eyes relaxed a little.

“Miss Hunter?” A small gleam of pleasure lit William’s eyes, and Ian’s own narrowed slightly. Aye, well, he thought, let her tell him, then.

William waved to another corporal down the line, who waved back, then he stepped off the road after Ian. A few soldiers glanced at Ian, but he was unremarkable, the double line of dotted tattooing on his cheeks, his buckskin breeches, and his sun-browned skin marking him as an Indian scout—a good many of these had deserted the British army, but there were still a good many left, mostly Loyalists like Joseph Brant, who held land in Pennsylvania and New York; there were also still some ranging parties from the Iroquois nations who had come down to fight at Saratoga.

“William!” Rachel flew across the little clearing and clasped the tall captain’s hands, beaming up at him with such joy that he smiled back at her, all irritability vanished. Ian hung back a bit, to give her time. There hadn’t been any, really, what with Rollo roaring and tearing at Arch Bug’s miserable auld carcass, Rachel sprawled on the floor, frozen with horror, himself lying on the floor pouring blood, and half the street outside screaming bloody murder.

William had pulled Rachel to her feet and thrust her into the arms of the first woman available, who, as it happened, was Marsali.

“Get her out of here!” William had snapped. But Rachel, Ian’s nut-brown maiden—her brownness much splattered with blood—had pulled herself together in an instant and, gritting her teeth—Ian had seen her do it, bemused by shock as he lay on the floor, watching things happen as though in a dream—had stepped over auld Arch’s body, fallen to her knees in the mess of brains and blood, wrapped her apron tight about Ian’s wounded arm and tied it with her kerchief, and then, with Marsali, had dragged him bodily out of the printshop and into the street, where he’d promptly passed out, waking only when Auntie Claire began stitching his arm.

Ian hadn’t had time to thank William, even had he been able to speak, and he meant to convey his own thanks as soon as he might. But clearly Rachel wanted to talk to him first, and he waited, thinking how beautiful she looked, her eyes the clouded hazel of thicket and greenbrier, face clever and quick as flame.

“But thee is tired, William, and thin,” she was saying, drawing a finger disapprovingly down the side of his face. “Do they not feed thee? I’d thought it was only the Continentals who went short of rations.”

“Oh. I—I haven’t had time of late.” The happiness that had lit William’s face while he talked with Rachel faded noticeably. “We—well, you see.” He waved an arm toward the invisible road, where the hoarse chants of the sergeants rang like the calling of disgruntled crows above the shuffle of feet.

“I do see. Where is thee going?”

William rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth and glanced at Ian.

“I suppose he oughtn’t to say,” Ian said, coming across and touching Rachel’s arm, smiling at William in apology. “We’re the enemy, mo nighean donn.”

William looked sharply at Ian, catching the tone of his voice, then back at Rachel, whose hand he was still holding.

“We are betrothed, William—Ian and I,” she said, gently pulling her hand out of his and putting it on Ian’s.

William’s face changed abruptly, losing its look of happiness altogether. He eyed Ian with something remarkably close to dislike.

“Are you,” he said flatly. “I suppose I must wish you every happiness, then. Good day.” He turned on his heel, and Ian, surprised, reached out to pull him back.

“Wait—” he said, and then William turned and hit him in the mouth.

He was lying on his back in the leaves, blinking in disbelief, as Rollo hurtled over him and sank his teeth into some soft part of William, judging by the yelp and the brief cry of startlement from Rachel.

“Rollo! Bad dog—and thee is a bad dog, too, William Ransom! What the devil does thee mean by this?”

Ian sat up, tenderly fingering his lip, which was bleeding. Rollo had retreated a little under Rachel’s scolding but kept a yellow eye fixed on William and a curled lip raised over bared teeth, the faintest rumble of a growl coming from his huge chest.

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