An: wow 30 chapters now, I had never thought I'd get this far. Even with me putting this story on standby from time to time. I think there will be a lot of chapters yet to come. This story is far from being finished ^^
Return To Camden
Alice waddled out from behind the dripping wet sheet she had just slapped over the line and gave Jo as much of a hug as her enormous girth would allow.
"Lily, look, our Caroline's come back!"
Lily abandoned the pole she was using to stir the murky stew of linens simmering in the black cauldron.
"Well now, we didn't think you would be comin' home so soon." She gave Jo a hug. "Did your brother's wife not want you to stay and help with the new baby?"
"She went to be with her parents in Virginia," she explained stiffly, disconcerted by the women's unexpected show of affection. "Since she and the children didn't seem to need me, we went our separate ways and I decided I could be of more use here. So, I came back."
Lily lifted a skeptical eyebrow. "And I suppose missin' Colonel Powell had nothing to do with your return," she teased.
"No…Not at all." Jo retorted.
"I think maybe he's missin' you," Alice said. "My Jamie said Colonel Powell had a terrible temper the day you left. Of course, it doesn't help that so many men in the camp are down with fever or recoverin' from their wounds."
Jo knit her brows together. "So, where is Colonel Powell now?"
"He left nearly a week ago with part of his Scarlet Legion," Alice told her. "General Cornwallis sent them on a mission to track down a band of rebels, leaving Colonel Richmond in charge of the remainder of his legion. My Jamie went with him." She sighed and rubbed her hand over the round expanse of her stomach. "I was hopin' he would be able to stay close, with the baby comin' any day now."
"Never you mind, Alice," said Lily brightly. "Now that Caroline is back, were both here to help you when your time comes. Besides James will be back soon and like most men, he'll just be gettin' in the way. Isn't that right Caroline?"
Jo nodded blankly. She was relieved Damien wasn't there. It would make her stay, far less complicated. Why then did she feel this twinge of disappointment.
"How is Tommy?"
"He is healin' well enough." Alice replied. "I change his bandage every day and Dr. Howard has checked it a few times to make sure infection isn't setting in. Of course it hurts somethin' awful, but Tommy's a brave lad and he doesn't complain much." She sighed. "It's his spirit that worries me."
Jo couldn't help feeling concerned. "What do you mean?"
"The boy doesn't think he can do anything," Lily explained. "When he was able to play his drum, he felt like an important part of the army. He hoped he someday would be trained to fight and then travel the world with the British army." She shrugged her shoulders. "With that dream gone, there's nothing left for him to do."
"That is pure foolishness!" Jo said vehemently. "There are all kinds of things he can learn to do."
"I've tried telling him that, but he just won't listen. "Alice shook her head. "He's just a boy, really. Maybe it's too soon to expect him to accept his injury and get on livin'."
"I'll talk to him, after I've had a chance to rest a while." Jo picked up the two cloth bags she had deposited on the ground. Her necklace caught the shimmer of the sunlight as she bent down.
"Oh my, wherever have you got a necklace like that!" Lily burst out pointing at her neck.
Jo looked down and grasped the pearl between her fingers. "It belonged to my mother. I found it in one of the drawers not long after I had returned home. I had forgotten about it for a long time since my mothers passing, so I decided to take it with me. It's the last thing I have of her." She explained.
"That is some beautiful necklace, that is. Must have cost a fortune!" Lily said ecstatic.
"Lily! It's a family heirloom. There is no price on that." Alice scolded and then she turned to Jo. "You must take good care of it then. It suits you beautifully."
"Thank you." Jo genuinely smiled back. She wondered where she would be staying now that she had returned. She supposed she could always go back to Damien's tent, but then a thought occurred to her that Damien could have brought his tent with him on his mission.
"Did Colonel Powell take his tent with him when he left?" Jo asked.
"No," Lily said. "It's where it was before we marched out of here."
The idea that Damien's tent was in exactly the same place it had been before was strangely comforting.
"Then, I'm going to unpack and have a rest. I'll find Tommy and talk with him after. And tomorrow," she added, casting her gaze at the enormous piles of filthy linens heaped upon the ground. "I'll be back to help with the laundry. It looks like you could use some assistance."
Alice gave her arm an affectionate squeeze. "It's ever so good to have you back Caroline. Things just weren't the same after you left."
Jo looked down at Alice's hand resting on her sleeve. The knuckles were swollen and her skin was cracking from dryness caused by handling rough fabric washed in harsh soap. She knew these hands were an indication of how exhausted the poor girl must be.
"Thank you, Alice," she murmured. She cleared her throat. "And as of tomorrow, you will no longer be helping with the laundry. If you insist on working, we'll find you something to do where you can sit in the shade. Perhaps some of the officers' uniforms require mending. Regardless, you will not be standing on your feet all day in the blazing sun."
Alice stared at her in surprise. For a moment it seemed she intended to protest. Then her mouth curved into a radiant smile.
"Thank you, Caroline. I must admit, with the baby almost here, I'm findin' it a bit hard to do everythin' I used to do. You're a dear friend to be concerned."
Her words made Jo feel guilty. She awkwardly mumbled something in return, then began to make her way across the camp toward Damien's tent. To her surprise, many of the soldiers she passed greeted enthusiastically and told her it was good to see her again. She supposed it wasn't unusual for the men to readily accept her presence. After all she was Colonel Powell's mistress. But the way the men smiled and earnestly welcomed her back suggested something more than simple courtesy toward an officer's mistress. Perhaps the story of her working in the surgical tent had spread amongst the soldiers. Or maybe Damien's temper really had been far worse after she left. Whatever the reason, no one seemed to be the least concerned that she had disappeared for two weeks and was now moving back into Colonel Powell's quarters while he was away.
On entering the tent, Jo found Damien's bed, desk, washstand and chest arranged in the same positions they had occupied before. Everything was perfectly neat, reflecting Damiens predilection for order. The result was a calming sense of familiarity, almost as if she had come home and found everything exactly as it should be.
She went to put her bag on the bed and lifted the heavy lid of Damien's trunk, thinking to put a few of her things inside.
A spicy puff of fragrance floated into the air, so clean and masculine and so like Damien she couldn't help but lift one of his clean shirts up to her nose and inhale deeply as she closed her eyes. Somehow the scent of him was reassuring, making her feel a little less alone. She opened her eyes and reached into her bag to unpack her things. She was about to lay a clean gown over his clothes when she stopped and stared in confusion at the folded garment resting on the top layer of the chest.
She recognized her faded, much-mended dress immediately. This was the gown she had abandoned on that terrible morning after the battle. It had been horribly stained with blood at the time. Someone had washed it, but a hint of the stains remained. Why on earth would Damien want to keep this? She wondered. The garment was barely fit to be ripped apart for rags. Yet Damien had evidently ordered it washed, then carefully folded it and placed it in his chest. As her fingers wandered over the threadbare cotton, she could only think of one explanation why he would keep it.
It was all he had to remind him of her.
She swallowed, struggling to suppress the emotions threatening to erupt within her. She folded his shirt and put it back in place, then placed her own things on top, as she tried to calm her beating heart. Now was not the time to have clouded feelings. She had an assignment to carry out, no matter how horrifying it was to do. But it would be the absolute last assignment she would perform as a spy, she had decided. She hoped to have the assignment completed as soon as possible and preferably before Damien returned, so much the better. It would be easier to stay focused on this already impossible task without him around. When it was completed she would get out of here, out of this war and home to her family. They needed her. She took solace in the fact that the assassination on such a high profiled officer would mean that the war might be that closer to an end.
Desperate times called for desperate measures she supposed.
She rose from the ground and threw herself on the bed, stretching out. Once she had rested, she would go in search for Tommy and have a long talk with him. She would make him see there was far more to life than becoming a soldier and traveling the world in search of people to slaughter. In a strange way, the fact that he had lost his hand might become a good thing, she mused. It might free him to reevaluate his strengths and his goals and choose a different path in life than he would have before his injury.
She didn't know how long she would have to wait before killing General Cornwallis. First she had to find out if he was in Camden and where he was located. Once she knew that, she would send a message to her contact so Captain Lee could arrange for her escape. Then she would deliver a note to General Cornwallis, asking him to meet her. She wouldn't think about the actual act of killing him.
Although it was for the good of the cause, she hadn't yet reconciled herself to the deed. She forced the subject from her mind, afraid if she thought about it too much she might lose her resolve. She yawned and turned on her side, feeling herself drift towards the comfort of sleep. Tomorrow she reflected hazily, was soon enough to initiate her plan for the general's assassination
"CAROLINE! CAROLINE! COME QUICK!"
Jo turned and buried her head farther into the pillow, wondering sleepily who Caroline was. The tent flap tore open and Tommy burst into the soft gray light.
"Caroline," he called, his voice sharp with panic, "Wake up!"
Her mind instantly cleared. "What is it, Tommy?" She sat bolt upright. "Are you hurt?"
"It's Alice," he panted. "You've got to come right away!"
Jo needed no further information. She leapt off the bed and followed Tommy. Together they rushed through the maze of tents and low-burning campfires on which the soldiers were cooking their suppers.
Although Jo had never been to Alice's tent, she knew they were getting close when she heard a woman's scream shattering the air. Jo gathered her skirts in her hands and began to run faster. She wrenched open the tent flaps and went inside. The tent was much smaller than Damien's and the low ceiling prevented Jo from standing straight. There was no furniture inside, except a small wooden chest which served as a table for three thick candles. Alice lay on the ground writhing atop a straw sleeping mat that was covered with a few blankets. She was screaming hysterically. Lily was kneeling beside her, vainly trying to calm her.
"What's wrong?" Jo demanded. "What has happened to her?"
Lily abandoned her position at Alice's side. "James has been killed," she explained, her voice low and anguished.
Jo was stunned. "How do you know? Has the Scarlet Legion returned?"
Lily shook her head. "A few men in the legion were wounded in a skirmish today. Colonel Powell sent them back to the camp so they wouldn't slow the rest of them down. Two of them came to Alice to tell her James had been killed. She became crazed and her birthin' pains began soon after."
"My darlin' Jamie, how could you leave me!?" Alice wailed pitifully. "Bring him back, please God, bring him back!" She dissolved into another fit of tears, flailing her arms around.
Jo moved to her and knelt down. "Listen to me, Alice." She grabbed hold of a wrist and tried to get the distraught girl to look at her. "You must try to calm yourself. You've a baby to birth and you must think about the life you're about to bring into the world. Please Alice"
Alice's dark eyes were wild and flooded with tears. "I don't care," she cried. "I don't care about anything…Oh my darlin' Jamie, don't leave me here all alone, please God, let me die with him, please all of you, JUST LET ME DIIEE!" She let out a scream, born half of pain and half of grief.
"I am going to fetch Dr. Howard. Everything is going to be fine, Alice" she stood as much as the tent allowed and faced Lily. "Try to get her out of her clothes and cover her with a sheet. See if you can calm her. I'll be back with the doctor in a few minutes."
Jo and Tommy raced across the camp to where the surgical tents had been erected.
"Do you need me to go in there with you?" Tommy asked, his voice betraying his fear.
"No. You stay out here. I won't be long."
When she entered the tent she was assaulted by the fetid stench of raw flesh and warm blood. She swallowed thickly, trying to control the revulsion rising in her throat. All the tables and beds crowding the tent were filled with miserable-looking soldiers. Some had their bandages unwrapped and were waiting for one of the surgeons to look at them. Others were shivering and rolling their heads from side to side, obviously suffering from fever. One gaunt young man was in the process of being bled. His arm was positioned against a small brass basin, which was rapidly filling with crimson liquid from a neat gash in his wrist.
Dismay washed through her, undermining her resolve not to care about the suffering of these men. More than two weeks had passed since the battle, yet the injuries sustained there and the subsequent illness those injuries caused were keeping the surgical tents full. Finally she saw Dr. Howard, standing by a table inspecting the blackened foot of a young soldier.
"Dr. Howard!" She called frantically. "I need your help!"
Dr. Howard looked at her in surprise. "Miss Armstrong," he murmured, "I heard you had left us."
"I came back." Jo began to thread her way through the tables of injured soldiers to get to him. "Alice Clarke is having her baby. You must come help us deliver it."
He wearily shook his head. "I am afraid I cannot do that, Miss Armstrong," he turned his attention back to the soldier with the black foot. "This will have to come off immediately. You have left it too long as it is."
The soldier's face became ashen.
"But, you don't have to come right this minute," Jo qualified, trying to control her panic. "I am not sure, but I don't think she will have the child for a while. You can finish your work here and then come."
Dr. Howard signaled for another surgeon in the tent to come and assist him. "I mean I cannot come at all, Miss Armstrong." He said. He eased the young man back against the table. "Soldier's wives and children are not entitled to medical attention by army medical staff. Only the soldiers are. The army is extremely stringent on this rule and I would be severely disciplined were I to disregard it."
Jo stared at him incredulously. "So…you will not come?"
"I cannot, these men need me here. I cannot risk being relieved of my duties, which is precisely what would happen if anyone discovered I abandoned these soldiers to help a woman. But birthing a baby is usually not difficult," he added, seeking to reassure her. "Have you ever witnessed a birth before?"
Jo looked at him helplessly. "Only when I was with my mother when she had my baby sister," she said. "But I was only twelve at the time. I didn't actually do anything. There were other women there to do it."
Dr. Howard nodded, as if this experience more than qualified her for the task ahead. "All you need to do is keep Mrs. Clarke comfortable as possible. Don't let her panic. When the baby comes, hold it upside down and wipe any fluid off its nose and mouth. If it doesn't cry, give it a little slap on its bottom to get it started. Then tie off the cord, cut it and wrap the child up. The afterbirth should follow soon after. If Mrs. Clarke bleeds, put pressure on the tear, the same as you would any other wound. If she needs stitches…Well, you know what to do."
He wiped his hands on his apron and picked up his saw, evidently finished with his instructions.
"But I…I cannot do it," Jo stammered, overwhelmed. "Something could happen, something unforeseen, I need you to come."
Holding his saw in midair, Dr. Howard scowled at her. "For god's sake, look around you, Miss Armstrong," he blazed impatiently." I have men dying all around me, day after day! If they aren't shot and torn wide open in battle, then they come to me burning with smallpox, malaria, dysentery or putrid fever. We have no medicine, no clean bandages, no equipment. Not even any decent food to help them recover their strength. The battle they fought is over, but for weeks afterward I am forced to fight a losing battle to save them. Can you not see these men require my attention more urgently than one woman having a baby!?"
Of course she could see it. She even felt guilty at the fact that she knew it was because a supply train had been taken by the rebels, something she would be overjoyed to know, but now. she felt so confused as to how she should feel about it all. But it didn't matter, not at this moment. Alice was more important. She was her friend and she couldn't allow her to die. But his tone resolute, she realized there was nothing she could say or do to change his mind. Shaken and afraid, Jo turned to go back to Alice.
"It is a natural act, giving birth to a child," he assured her, his voice milder. "Whether or not the mother or child survives is often entirely up to God. Unlike this," he growled, gesturing with his saw at the misery around them. "War is the work of man. Creating life is the work of God."
Jo considered his words a moment. And then she shook her head. "You're wrong," she informed him tautly.
"Creating life is the work of a woman."
An: btw thank you for all your reviews, I love to read your perspectives on the story and what you might think the outcome would be of Jo's actions in the end. At this point in the story, Jo is becoming confused as to which is right or wrong. She wants to hate the english because she feels she is required to do so because of the deaths of her father and brother, but living with the enemy and getting to know them as people, Damien, Lily, Tommy and Alice. she has both her feelings and morals clouded.