Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 57

   

“What do they do in there?” he asked, curious. “Is it a great meetinghouse?”

“It is,” she said. “But there is also business to be done, thee knows. The yearly meetings deal with matters of . . . I suppose thee would call it principle. We call it Faith and Practice; there are books, rewritten every so often, to reflect the present sense of the meeting. And queries.” She smiled suddenly, and his heart gave a small extra thump. “I think thee would recognize the queries—they’re much like thee has described the examination of conscience before thy confession.”

“Och, aye,” he said agreeably, but declined to pursue the subject. He hadn’t been to confession in some years and didn’t feel sufficiently wicked at present to trouble about it. “This Faith and Practice—is that where they say ye mustn’t join the Continental army, even if ye dinna take up arms?”

He was immediately sorry he’d asked; the question dimmed the light in her eyes, but only momentarily. She drew a deep breath through her nose and looked up at him.

“No, that would be an opinion—a formal opinion. Friends talk over every possible point of consideration before they give an opinion—whether it’s a positive one or not.” There was the barest hesitation before “not,” but he heard it and, reaching out, pulled out her hatpin, gently straightened her straw hat, which had slid a little askew, and pushed the pin back in.

“And if in the end it’s not, and we canna find a meeting that will have us, lass—what will we do?”

Her lips pressed together, but she met his eyes straight on.

“Friends are not married by their meeting. Or by priest or preacher. They marry each other. And we will marry each other.” She swallowed. “Somehow.”

The small bubbles of misgiving that had been rising through his wame all morning began to pop, and he put a hand over his mouth to stifle a belch. Being nervous took him in the innards; he’d not been able to eat breakfast. He turned a little away, from politeness, and spied two figures coming round the far corner. “Och! There’s your brother now, and lookin’ gey fine for a Quaker, too.”

Denzell was dressed in the uniform of a Continental soldier and looked self-conscious as a hunting dog with a bow tied round its neck. Ian suppressed his amusement, though, merely nodding as his future brother-in-law drew to a stop before them. Denny’s betrothed had no such compunctions.

“Is he not beautiful?” Dottie crowed, standing back a little to admire him. Denzell coughed and pushed his spectacles up his nose. He was a tidy man, not over-tall, but broad in the shoulder and strong in the forearm. He did look fine in the uniform, Ian thought, and said so.

“I will try not to let my appearance engorge my vanity,” Denzell said dryly. “Is thee not also to be a soldier, Ian?”

Ian shook his head, smiling.

“Nay, Denny. I shouldna be any kind of soldier—but I’m a decent scout.” He saw Denzell’s eyes fix on his face, tracing the double line of tattooed dots that looped across both cheekbones.

“I expect thee would be.” A certain tenseness in Denny’s shoulders relaxed. “Scouts are not required to kill the enemy, are they?”

“No, we’ve our choice about it,” Ian assured him, straight-faced. “We can kill them if we like—but just for the fun of it, ken. It doesna really count.”

Denzell blinked for an instant at that, but Rachel and Dottie both laughed, and he reluctantly smiled.

“Thee is late, Denny,” Rachel said, as the public clock struck ten. “Was Henry in difficulty?” For Denzell and Dottie had gone to take farewell of Dottie’s brother, Henry, still convalescent from the surgery Denny and Ian’s auntie Claire had done.

“Thee might say so,” Dottie said, “but not from any physical ill.” The look of amusement faded from her face, though a faint gleam still lingered in her eyes. “He is in love with Mercy Woodcock.”

“His landlady? Love’s no usually a fatal condition, is it?” Ian asked, raising one brow.

“Not if thy name is neither Montague nor Capulet,” Denny said. “The difficulty is that while Mercy loves him in return, she may or may not still have a husband living.”

“And until she finds out he’s dead . . .” Dottie added, lifting one slim shoulder.

“Or alive,” Denny said, giving her a look. “There is always the possibility.”

“Not much of one,” Dottie replied bluntly. “Auntie—I mean Friend—Claire doctored a man called Walter Woodcock who’d been badly wounded at Ticonderoga, and she said he was near death then and taken p-prisoner.” She stumbled slightly on the last word, and Ian was reminded suddenly that her eldest brother, Benjamin, was a prisoner of war.

Denzell saw the cloud cross her face and gently took her hand in his.

“Both thy brothers will survive their trials,” he said, and warmth touched his eyes behind the glass. “So will we, Dorothea. Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them—but not for love.”

“Hmph!” said Dottie, but gave him a small, grudging smile. “All right, then—go ahead. There’s such a lot to do before we go.”

To Ian’s surprise, Denzell nodded, took a folded sheaf of papers from his bosom, and, turning, went up the step to the door of the meetinghouse.

Ian had supposed the place was only a convenient spot to meet—he would be catching up his uncle and Auntie Claire on the road to Coryell’s Ferry but had lingered to help with the loading, for Denny, Dottie, and Rachel were driving a wagon filled with medical supplies—but evidently Denny had business with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

Was he seeking advice in how to be married as a Quaker even while flouting their . . . what would you call it, edict—no, Rachel had said it was an opinion, but a “weighty” opinion—regarding support of the rebellion?

“He’s giving them his witness—his testimony,” Dottie said matter-of-factly, seeing the puzzlement in Ian’s face. “He wrote it all out. Why he thinks it’s right to do what he’s doing. He’s going to give it to the clerk of the yearly meeting and request that his views be mentioned and discussed.”

“D’ye think they will?”

“Oh, yes,” Rachel said. “They may disagree with him, but they won’t stifle him. And good luck to them if they thought to try,” she added, half under her breath. She pulled a handkerchief out of her bosom, very white against the soft brown of her skin, and patted tiny droplets of sweat away from her temples.

Ian felt a sudden and profound longing for her and glanced involuntarily toward the clock tower. He’d need to be on the road soon and hoped there’d be time for a precious hour alone with Rachel first.

Dorothea’s eyes were still fixed on the door through which Denny had passed.

“He is so lovely,” she said softly, as though to herself. Then glanced self-consciously at Rachel. “He felt badly for wearing his uniform to see Henry,” she said, a tone of apology in her voice. “But the time was so short . . .”

“Was thy brother upset?” Rachel asked sympathetically. Dottie’s brows drew down.

“Well, he didn’t like it,” she said frankly. “But it’s not as though he didn’t know that we’re Rebels; I told him some time ago.” Her expression relaxed a little. “And he is my brother. He won’t disown me.”

Ian wondered whether the same was true of her father, but didn’t ask. She hadn’t mentioned the duke. He wasn’t really attending to Dottie’s family concerns, though—his mind was busy with thought of the coming battle and all that needed to be done immediately. Ian caught Rachel’s eye and smiled, and she smiled back, all worry melting from her face as she met his gaze.

He had concerns himself, certainly, annoyances and worries. At the bottom of his soul, though, was the solid weight of Rachel’s love and what she had said, the words gleaming like a gold coin at the bottom of a murky well. “We will marry each other.”

UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE

AS JAMIE EXPLAINED to me on the way out of Philadelphia, the problem lay not in finding the British but in catching up to them with enough men and matériel to do some good.

“They left with several hundred wagons and a verra large number of Loyalists who didna feel quite safe in Philadelphia. Clinton canna be protecting them and fighting at the same time. He must make all the speed he can—which means he must travel by the most direct road.”

“I suppose he can’t very well be legging it cross-country,” I agreed. “Have you—meaning General Washington—got any idea how big a force he has?”

He lifted one shoulder and waved off a large horsefly with his hat.

“Maybe ten thousand men. Maybe more. Fergus and Germain watched them assemble to march out, but ye ken it’s not easy to judge numbers when they’re crawlin’ out of the side streets and all.”

“Mmm. And . . . um . . . how many men do we have?” Saying “we” gave me an odd sensation that rippled through my lower body. Something between tail-curling apprehension and an excitement that was startlingly close to sexual.

It wasn’t that I’d never felt the strange euphoria of war before. But it had been a very long time; I’d forgotten.

“Fewer than the British,” Jamie said, matter-of-fact. “But we willna ken how many until the militia have gathered—and pray it’s not too late when we do.”

He glanced aside at me, and I could see him wondering whether to say something further. He didn’t speak, though, just gave a little shrug and settled himself in the saddle, putting on his hat again.

“What?” I said, tilting my head to peer up at him from under the brim of my own broad straw. “You were about to ask me something.”

“Mmphm. Aye, well . . . I was, but then I realized that if ye did know anything about . . . what might happen in the next few days, ye’d surely have told me.”

“I would.” In fact, I didn’t know whether to regret my lack of knowledge or not. Looking back at those instances where I’d thought I knew the future, I hadn’t known nearly enough. Out of nowhere, I thought of Frank . . . and Black Jack Randall, and my hands gripped the reins so strongly that my mare jerked her head with a startled snort.

Jamie looked round, startled, too, but I waved a hand and leaned forward to pat the horse’s neck in apology.

“Horsefly,” I said, in explanation. My heart was thumping noticeably against the placket of my stays, but I took several deep breaths to quiet it. I wasn’t about to mention my sudden thought to Jamie, but it hadn’t left me.

I’d thought I knew that Jack Randall was Frank’s five-times-great-grandfather. His name was right there, on the genealogical chart that Frank had shown me many times. And, in fact, he was Frank’s ancestor—on paper. It was Jack’s younger brother, though, who had sired Frank’s bloodline but then had died before being able to marry his pregnant lover. Jack had married Mary Hawkins at his brother’s request and thus given his name and legitimacy to her child.

So many gory details didn’t show up on those tidy genealogical charts, I thought. Brianna was Frank’s daughter, on paper—and by love. But the long, knife-blade nose and glowing hair of the man beside me showed whose blood ran through her veins.

But I’d thought I knew. And because of that false knowledge, I’d prevented Jamie killing Jack Randall in Paris, fearing that if he did, Frank might never be born. What if he had killed Randall then? I wondered, looking at Jamie sidelong. He sat tall, straight in the saddle, deep in thought, but with an air now of anticipation; the dread of the morning that had gripped us both had gone.

Anything might have happened; a number of things might not. Randall wouldn’t have abused Fergus; Jamie wouldn’t have fought a duel with him in the Bois de Boulogne . . . perhaps I would not have miscarried our first child, our daughter Faith. Likely I would have—miscarriage was usually physiological in basis, not emotional, however romantic novels painted it. But the memory of loss was forever linked to that duel in the Bois de Boulogne.

I shoved the memories firmly aside, turning my mind away from the half-known past to the complete mystery of the waiting future. But just before the images blinked out, I caught the edge of a flying thought.

What about the child? The child born to Mary Hawkins and Alexander Randall—Frank’s true ancestor. He was, in all probability, alive now. Right now.

The ripple I’d experienced before came back, this time running from my tailbone up my spine. Denys. The name floated up from the parchment of a genealogical chart, calligraphic letters that purported to capture a fact, while hiding nearly everything.

I knew his name was Denys—and he was, so far as I knew, actually Frank’s four-times great-grandfather. And that was all I knew—likely all I ever would know. I fervently hoped so. I wished Denys Randall silently well and turned my mind to other things.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

TWELVE. BLOODY. MILES! The train of baggage wagons stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction and raised a cloud of dust that nearly obscured the mules negotiating a bend in the road a half mile away. The people trudging beside the wagons on either side were coated with the fine brown stuff—and so was William, though he kept as much distance as he could from the slow-moving cavalcade.

It was mid-afternoon of a hot day, and they’d been on the march since before dawn.

He paused to slap dust from the skirts of his coat and take a mouthful of tin-tasting water from his canteen. Hundreds of refugees, thousands of camp followers, all with packs and bundles and handcarts, with here and there a laden horse or mule that had somehow escaped the army teamsters’ rapacity, were strung over the twelve miles between the two main bodies of the army. They spread out in a straggling mass that reminded him of the plague of locusts from the Bible. Was that the book of Exodus? Couldn’t recall, but it seemed apposite.

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