A/N: Thank you to everyone who has reviewed! I really appreciate it!
She remained at Rowling's park for three days. Hugh left mid-morning after the party. When he had come down to meet them for breakfast, he walked up and placed an emphatic kiss to Jane's cheek, drained a cup of hot coffee in a single, assuredly painful, gulp, and made his farewells. The two women sat stunned and confused but said their goodbyes. Jane knew why he was so happy, but she had not expected such a reaction. She was proud and she suddenly realized just how important those details of the McTavish homestead were.
She remained with Mary to recover from the long night of drinking and to spend some time with her dear friend. She would not be much good to the cause if she went back home now anyway, as she would likely sleep for the next two days. She also assumed that was what the Major would do. At least, it was what he should do. He had not looked particularly well when the ball had ended, though it was just as likely that was due to the interaction in the garden as it was to his exhaustion. She was mildly concerned he would be angry with her, but she was the wronged party. In truth, her biggest concern was that he would be unwilling to attempt such liberties in the future without a level of prodding that would make him suspicious. It was why on the morning of the third day, Jane asked Mr. Alnor to have a carriage readied for her. Mary was distressed, but Jane promised to visit very soon.
"Ah, I see it already. Replaced by a handsome man in a red coat..." she wallowed the rest of the morning and Jane only laughed at her. When she returned she had a light lunch and went to see her father and mother. Her father was pleased she had returned and took a short break from his work to have tea with her and hear any fun stories she had to tell from the ball. On her way to her mother's bedroom she slowed. The Major's door was open and voices came from within. She paused to peer inside from the middle of the hallway. He and another man were hunched over his desk. Reynolds was drawing his finger down the map slowly, speaking of his concern for the thickness of the surrounding brush.
He glanced upward. His eyes returned to the map and then he immediately looked back up at her. He remained hunched over the desk, face angled downward, eyes raised toward her, lips parted and ready to speak. She hurried out of sight and into her mother's rooms.
"My host's daughter," she heard Reynolds explain. She slipped into her mother's room. She was sitting in her chair by the open window, enjoying the breeze. She turned her head and smiled weakly. Her hair was wrapped in a pretty lilac scarf. Her shift was white and freshly laundered. Her maid was in the corner sewing a new head for her, looking particularly downtrodden. Indeed, as Jane came closer, she saw dark circles around her mother's eyes. Her eyes were puffy and had a strained, painful look on her face as she tried to smile.
"Jane," she said softly. She extended a hand. When Jane arrived to take hold of it, her mother was already out of breath from the exertion.
"Should a doctor be called?" Jane asked, taking her seat beside her mother.
"Oh, no, Jane, I am well," her mother said. The maid in the corner's eyes darted upward and then dropped back to her sewing. "How was the ball?"
"It was lovely," she said. She told her mother all about, excluding some important details. Her mother listened happily.
A few times, her mother closed her eyes. She gave little nods to convey she was still listening. Jane paused when she would grimace. A small, frail hand, a hand too old to be on a woman of her age, went to her temple. Jane watched. She tried to ignore the gentle nagging in her chest.
When Jane was sixteen she went to her father and asked him if her mother was going to die. She was not nearly as sick then as she was now. Then, she would rise for breakfast, go for walks, hosted parties and dinner functions. But Jane had been frightened and she went to her gather for comfort. Her father flew into a rage. Jane had never seen him so angry before and had not since.
After a few ours alone in her room, crying on her bed, certain her mother was going to die. Her father had knocked on the door. She yelled at him to leave her be. He had come in and sat on the bed beside her. He rubbed her back until she had run out of tears and then sat her down on the edge of the bed. He promised her that her mother would live for years. She would see Jane marry, she would hold her children. She would have a long and happy life.
"She will hold your sons and daughters," he had vowed. "She will kiss them and hold them and she will watch your children grow into dashing gentleman and charming ladies."
She believed him for a long time. He did not lie to her knowingly. He could not bare the thought of losing her. He could not even entertain the possibility. Jane could only hope that one day she would meet a man that loved her so deeply. She thought of Hugh's charming smile, his bright blue eyes, twinkling with thoughtful amusement. She next thought of John. Handsome and strong, steady, sure, intelligent.
"Continue, Jane," her mother said.
"Are you not well, mama?" she asked her.
"I have a headache, sweetheart, it is no worry."
"You are certain?"
"Tell me of Major Reynolds," her mother smiled at her, eyes fluttering open. There were bags under her eyes. She had a sickly tint to her skin. "How well did he dance?"
"Well enough," Jane laughed. "He is stiff, but he knows the steps and he carries himself gracefully for a man of his height."
"So tall, is he not?" her mother said. "Could have stepped out of a medieval story."
"He is very tall," Jane agreed. "He does not like Hugh."
"And why should he? Handsome and charming, Hugh Raleigh is. Major Reynolds is a shy man."
"I do not think he is shy. I think he is just reserved."
"He is a gentle soul and he has sad eyes. Be gentle with him Jane."
"Should you not be warning him to be gentle with me?" Jane said with amusement.
"I have no concern about you, Jane. You're a good girl with a good head on your shoulders. Oh, you will have a happy life," she smiled at her. Jane felt queasy. She had tears in her eyes and nodded.
"I have to go see John. I have not yet seen him since returning. Tomorrow morning, shall I read with you?"
"Please," she answered. She held up her fragile hand. Jane took it in hers. Her skin was cold. She placed a kiss to her mother's cheek. "Love you, Mama."
"Love you, my sweet Jane," her mother whispered. Jane rose and went to the door. She paused in the doorway and looked back at her mother. Her nurse was hunching over her, pressing a cold cloth to her forehead. Jane went into her room to collect herself before going in search of the Major.
The room was warm. Her face was flushed. She did not let herself cry. She knew if she did she would not stop. She passed his bedroom door. The door was closed and she knocked lightly. She heard no voices on the other side of the door. She waited a few minutes before moving on down the stairs. She checked each room. Boswell was looking over some papers with an officer she did not know. He glanced up as she entered the room but she moved away before he could acknowledge her.
She walked into the library just after four, hands behind her back. He was at the desk in the alcove writing his letters and had a more than usual grimness about him. He looked up at her and paused. Not a muscle in his face changed and he said nothing. Both waited for the other to speak. She was put at ease by the look in his eyes. Though his face was blank and shoulders were straight, she could see his anxiety. The obstacle now in her way would not be his anger, but his good nature.
"Good afternoon," she greeted. Her voice was soft and shy.
"Good afternoon," he answered. She walked into the room a bit and glanced over her shoulder. She had left the door open. He asked as she brought her gaze back toward his, "Was your journey back agreeable?"
"Yes, yes, it was very pleasant," she answered. A pause. Then they both spoke at once.
"You were not in your room – "
"Allow me to apologize – "
They both stopped with sheepish smiles. He cleared his throat and stood. He walked with slow, steady thuds of his boots and paused in front of her. He thought a moment, carefully constructing whatever it was he was to say next.
"May I shut the door?" he murmured. She nodded. He disappeared and she heard the door shut. She listened to his boots walk back down the hall. He came in. She waited for him to speak. His eyes were off to the side and his chin was lifted a bit. She could see him trying to string the right words together in his head. She found she enjoyed his anxiety and was in no rush to soothe it.
"My behavior the night of the party was egregious. Reprehensible. I find myself utterly ashamed. I confess, I have not slept well since we parted, fearing I might have ruined your opinion of me. I am under the impression that prior to the events that transpired at the ball, it had been quite high. I never should have put my hands on you. Neither initially nor to prevent your flight. I only ask that you believe my regret is sincere and that you find it in your heart to forgive me."
He paused and waited for her verdict.
"I am not angry with you," she said after relishing a few more moments. She came closer to him and looked up earnestly.
"I promise you, you never have to fear I will attempt to take such liberties again," he vowed.
"No! but," she began earnestly and then paused. She examined her nails, held close to her torso and looked back up. "I mean only that, I am not... averse to... such liberties. If they would please you."
His hesitation was only brief, but she saw the flicker of arousal and an excited parting of his lips.
"My affection is not predicated upon such favors," he assured her instead. "Never in my life would I touch a woman that made such allowances based on undue influence."
His reaction touched her and she disliked him more than she had before.
"I am not a woman of low moral virtue, but I ... I've never felt so strongly for a man," she paused. Her eyes were downward and she played with a ring on her finger anxiously. She stepped a bit closer, timidly chancing glances at him. "I just mean... I would not be... undesirous if maybe, some lesser liberties continued to be taken."
She was afraid offer anything further quite so blatantly. Men, she knew, felt confident in a woman they could trick into bed with sweet words and promises of marriage, but a woman that would offer such a thing of their own free will to them, would do so for another, and with his obvious concerns about the presence of Hugh Raleigh, she thought better of it.
His hand went underneath her chin and turned her face upward.
"You were quite distraught when you left the gardens," he reminded her gently.
"I... my reason for stopping you from continuing was... well, sir, it is due to a problem purely female in nature, and I greatly feared the humiliation that might arise if you had continued."
"I don't... ah," he said suddenly, the frown of confusion disappearing from his face as he was hit full in the face with her meaning. His face flushed red. "Yes, I suppose had my hand reached its destination..."
He looked at her and then gave an embarrassed laugh.
"You are not angry?" he asked.
"No," she smiled. She reached with her pinky and hooked it beneath the cuff of his coat. He smiled down at her.
"I suppose then... I could kiss you now," he mused. She gave a flirtatious tilt of the head and bit her bottom lip. She nodded silently and he bent down to kiss her. He was chaste a moment, but soon his hands were on her waist and he tugged her a step closer. When he broke the kiss he kept his hands on her.
"Will you stay while I write my letters?"
"Of course," she answered. His fingers pressed into her sides with gentle firmness.
"Tomorrow, will you join me for a walk in the gardens?"
"I'd love to."
Reluctantly he released her and sat back down at his desk. She opened a window and then sat down in the corner with a book. She watched him as he got back to work. He seemed lighter. There was no longer that surliness about him she had felt when she walked into the library. She was very much relieved herself. The excuse, she had come up with during her brief stay at Rowlings Park when Mary expressed the first stages of a few days of agony. It had hit her in the face and she was amazed with how perfect it was. Her biggest obstacle was getting up the courage to say the words. Luckily, he was not as hopeless as many men would have been faced with such a topic. Still, her face burned a bit at the unspeakable topic having been spoken, and she looked back down at her book.
He collected his things quarter after five. She was slightly amazed at his internal clock until she saw him collect the open watch from the table and put it back into his pocket. He stopped before her and put a kiss to her lips with a boyish smile before they left the library. He smiled at her, kissed her again, and then motioned for her to follow with such a movement of his head. She had no doubt that at the very least, she would be enduring his stolen kisses a few times every day. She could think of far worse fates.
"Did you enjoy the party?" she asked him as they rounded the staircase. Boswell, Ainsworth and Darling were in the drawing room with her father. She saw the red from the corner of her eye and quickened her stride to get passed quickly. John seemed in no such hurry, clearly unfazed by the presence of his subordinates.
"I did. Though -"
"Jane?" she heard her father call. The Major paused beside her. Jane fought down a roll of the eyes and waited as well. She was a little annoyed at him for not moving more quickly. "Where are we off to?" He came out of the drawing room with a smile on his face.
"John is putting his belongings away before dinner," she answered.
"I think the Major can do so alone. Come, join us in the living room."
Jane glanced at John but then made her way slowly down the stairs. The Major continued on to stow his belongings away. She entered the living room and greeted the gentlemen all with a small smile. Boswell's eyes glimmered at her as she took her seat.
"Welcome back, Miss Whitmore," Boswell greeted. He had an amused tone of voice and she didn't like it. She gave him a tight smile of acknowledgment. "I am certain our darling Major will be in a far more agreeable mood now that you've returned. He's been a true misery since you've been away."
They were all still sharing stories of the party. Boswell conveniently left out his time with the married woman from New York in the pantry or is plans to see her again. Jane was suddenly aware, as she looked at him from across the room, that he had no intentions of ever seeing her again. She swallowed down her disgust. Perhaps it was why he pursued married women. No pretty young virgin left in the lurch after his desires were gratified and no father returning with a shotgun to demand a proper marriage. For Jane's part, she made no mention of the Alnor gardens. Major Reynolds entered the room not long after he went up stairs. He took his seat on the opposite side of the room as Jane.
"When will you be returning to Philadelphia?" Mr. Whitmore asked. Jane met the Major's gaze a moment.
"A week," he answered. "On the fifteenth." He looked back at Jane and said, "I am unaware when I will return."
Jane's face did change with anger and disappointment, but it was not at being separated from him, but instead the lack of information she would have at her fingertips. She said nothing and examined her palm.
"I do not foresee it taking more than a month myself," Boswell answered.
"It is the worst-case scenario assuming all goes well," Reynolds countered. "If things do not go well... I might be kept until late August."
Jane's throat constricted. She glanced around the room to make sure she was not being examined too closely. Her reaction was being observed, but all were respectfully subtle about it. Only Boswell had a little smile playing across his lips, but he was looking at the Major.
"What is the purpose of the trip?" she asked the room, all of whom were aware of this journey but her.
"The evacuation," Ainsworth said simply.
"Evacuation?" she asked. Her father shifted uncomfortably.
"I try not to bother Jane with such matters. It will only serve to excite her nerves."
"You are abandoning Philadelphia?" she asked. Indeed, there was taut excitement in her voice, but it was misread by the men in the room.
"It's an untenable position now that the French have entered the war," Reynolds explained. After Howe's... farewell parade, Clinton received the order to abandon the city. The preparations have been made, the city is in an upheaval, most of the loyal subjects on the rebels' execution lists have fled. Now all that remains is the actual movement of the army."
"And Washington's army will not be far behind. Already he is beginning to shadow," Boswell added. "It will quite a month, that is for certain."
Jane's heart was pounding. Her surprise must have come across as distress.
"Our position in Philadelphia is not worth worrying yourself over. It was a place of comfort for the winter months but not a position of particular tactical importance," John assured her.
"It is no New York," Ainsworth agreed. Jane nodded thoughtfully.
"Well, I trust our officers' finer military minds than mine," she answered. "I think only of the propaganda to come of this. Philadelphia is an important city to the rebels."
"Indeed, it is, but it is a move that must be made," Darling joined the conversation.
Reynolds stood, pocket in his hand.
"It is five thirty," he announced to the room. All rose for dinner and filed into the dining room. Jane waited and she and John walked in behind the others.
"A month?" she asked him quietly.
"I doubt it will take so long. It slipped my mind earlier or I would have told you. It is very routine."
"The evacuation of the rebel capital is routine?" she asked.
"I mean only the actual transportation. There is limited risk in my job."
They entered the room and took their seats. Talk of the journey and preparations continued, but it was all very mundane. If a movement this large was taking place, Washington was already well aware of it. She was more focused on how long the Major would be away, and what that meant for her mission. A month or more of idle uselessness, back to drawing and paintings and talking about clothing.
After dinner, they retired into the drawing room. Major Reynolds joined them and just as Jane was to sit down beside them, her father requested that she play the piano and sing some songs. It was nothing Jane had not done on many occasions with other guests. It was not nerves that diminished her desire to play now, but her desire to instead sit with Major Reynolds.
"I promised the gentlemen you would play for them when you returned," her father explained.
"I would be delighted," Jane said with a smile, though she was anything but. "But you mustn't judge me too harshly. I am sure I have but half the skill of a lady from New York or London."
"My girl is too modest," her father said with a proud smile. Touched by his confidence, Jane played to her very best, but as she ran her fingers of the keys with flawless execution, and sang every song to perfect tune, she was keenly aware, and more than a little annoyed, of Major Reynolds and Captain Boswell speaking to each other quietly in the corner.
Boswell sat down beside him on the couch and John fought down his burst of annoyance. John was aware that Boswell knew something had happened the night of the ball. He had made more than one comment that indicated as much. He also knew that of all his staff living in the Whitmore House, he was the most amused with his courtship of Jane. John did not know whether or not Boswell was aware of his true parentage, or that Mr. Whitmore believed him to be an heir to a massive fortune he would never in fact see, but he would not be surprised if Boswell was aware of it. Boswell, for all his womanizing and drinking, was a sharp minded man of well above average intelligence and not much escaped his attention. He was not what John would describe as a bad man, simply a man with questionable morals and little self-control.
"It is very pleasant to have Miss Whitmore back at that house," Boswell mused.
"It is," John agreed curtly. She had a lovely singing voice. It brought a small smile to his lips as he gazed at her.
"I am pleased to see the two of you have reacquainted."
"My relationship with Miss Whitmore is none of your concern." He shifted his legs and glanced toward Mr. Whitmore. He was focused entirely on his beautiful daughter, pride glowing in his ruddy face.
"I would be remiss if I did not look out for her well-being," Boswell countered. "She is our generous host's daughter. I would hate to see her done poorly."
"You think I will do her poorly?"
"Not intentionally so, certainly not. Despite your youth, Major, your miraculously even tempered and wise beyond your years, however, you are a young man in love, and one often loses their heads in such matters. As you are without family, I thought you might like some guidance from a source with knowledge on such matters."
"If I have any questions on whore houses I will be certain to come to you first, sir," he answered with a harsh whisper. Boswell chuckled softly. He himself looked to Mr. Whitmore.
"I was married once," he told him suddenly. "A beautiful girl. Dumb as a pile of rocks. I never meant to do wrong by her, but I never intended to marry her either. It was a shock when she came to me in tears, her father and three brothers standing behind her, a pistol and a rifle a piece. I'm still not so certain it was mine. It was easy enough getting her legs spread. Doesn't look a thing like me. But I married her. She died giving birth to the child. Saved me a lot of trouble. The child is now with her uncle and aunt. I send them a portion of my earnings and I receive occasional updates on her well-being."
"I certainly wish her the best then," John replied, unsure what the devil this had to do with him and Jane.
"It would be unwise to engage in any sort of behavior that might result in a similar outcome," Boswell explained.
"I would never do her the dishonor," John snapped, though it was not entirely true.
"You two look at each other like any love sick young couple I have ever seen and young people, when left to their own devices, do not make sound decisions."
"The fact that it is you counselling me on sound decisions regarding a lady's honor is more than mildly amusing," he replied. Boswell smiled.
"I agree. I would not be doing so if I did not have faith in your good nature. I saw her in the kitchens afterward. I know not what occurred, but seeing the young miss huddled in a corner, red and swollen, and crying, touched the one paternal thread I have in my being, and I do not wish to see her distressed."
"Your counsel is duly noted," John replied. They paused long enough to clap and congratulate her on her skill. She thanked them all and turned toward John. He gave a nod to her and raised his hands as he clapped. She smiled proudly, blushed prettily, and readied herself to make another song.
"And not quite finished," Boswell ventured. "I will tell you, if I thought I could get her into bed with me with as little ease as you, I would be a mess of tension. No man is strong enough willed to fight off a temptation such as Miss Whitmore."
"If we were alone, I might strike you on the nose," he said venomously.
"I have no doubt I shall pay for it in the coming weeks with my work load," Boswell acknowledged the overstepping of his boundaries with a smile. He had in deed waited for an ideal time to broach the subject, as John was a captive audience. Boswell retrieved a small piece of paper from his inner pocket and handed it to John. John unfolded it. Quickly he refolded it and tried to hand it back. Boswell would not take it and, in fear of drawing attention or having it discovered, he shoved it into his pocket and out of sight.
"I abhor such places," John reminded him.
"As well you should," Boswell said disingenuously. "She is young and clean, more expensive than I can afford, but since you do not make it a habit, I am certain you could afford a night. My final word to you, is that Miss Eloise is a beautiful young woman, with blond hair and green eyes, with a resemblance nearly identical to our sweet Miss Whitmore."
John's face flushed. He did not like such a comparison. Jane was unlike any other, and certainly nothing like any tarted up whore in an expensive brothel. The comparison was insulting. Into his mind entered the image of this young whore flat on her back in his bed, mewing and panting underneath him. He felt a dim glow of arousal as his blood flow increased. Quite against his will, the image morphed, and in her place was the beautiful woman seated at the piano. He wondered what color her nipples were. He wondered how large they were. Was the hair between her legs blond? Or was it dark. He lowered his head and scratched his forehead.
He recrossed his legs and thought about India. The putrefied smell of dead bodies. Puss leaking out open wounds, red, fatty flesh, like rotten meat on the floor of a butcher's shop, decaying off still living bone.
He straightened himself and took a calming breath. His finger tips had only just brushed along her inner thigh but he could still feel the soft flesh beneath his fingertips. He did not hear a single word she sang. He heard her voice. It was beautiful, soft and soothing, and no matter how hard he tried to focus on putrid rotting flesh, sweat, blood and horse shit, the image of her sprawled out naked on his bed could not escape him.
I mean only that, I am not averse to such liberties if they would please you.
They would please him. They would please him very much. It would not be difficult. She was willing enough to please him. All he need to do was tell her how much he would miss her when he left, and how happy it would make her if she came to his room, and if only she'd let him take off her bodice and petticoat, and if only she'd let him put his hand beneath her shift, and if only she'd let him but his lips on her collarbone, and if only she'd just lie down, and if only she'd just part her legs and let him put himself inside of her, she would make him so very, very happy.
And if he did, all his problems were solved. Better for it if he put her in a delicate condition. Then no matter his inheritance, no matter her feelings come the end of summer, no matter her father's feelings come the end of the summer, he would have her as his wife.
She finished another song. Another clapping of the hands, compliments all around. She asked if she should continue. John was the first to say yes. The longer she played, the later he had to retire and the more time he had to collect himself, and with all of his confusion he was certain of something; there was one thing he could not presently do, and that was stand up.
A/N: Please let me know what you're thinking!