Sorry for the long wait. I hope you enjoy the chapter! Let me know what you think!
Chapter Twenty Three:
She spent the morning in the library with him, though they did not converse much. It was clear she was still angry, but she did not perseverate. She sat quietly, reading her book and left only once without any word to her whereabouts. He thought to ask, as he was curious, but thought better of it.
He felt marginally guilty. He should have told her he was planning to have her room searched and what his suspicions were, but in truth he had not truly known what they were until he had her belongings on his desk. He saw the declaration almost immediately and yet it was her correspondence that interested him most. He cast the declaration aside to be dealt with later and immediately began his search. He was surprised she would possess such material, but it did not truly alarm him, given her interest in the newspaper clippings he had provided her.
The letters she saved from her cousins were very much what one would expect. Reserved affection and interest in the others life, though there was a significant more romantic undertone to the letters she received from Hank. They referenced the books, the books being the sinful little copies the soldier searching had been unwilling to touch out of fear of damnation. John went in to see which ones she had.
He was pleased to see she had the maturity and grace not to bring their private disagreement out into public. After the debacle in New Jersey, she very well could have destroyed his career with a hysterical showing. What good was a man without a well-behaved spouse? He was not happy she was still angry with him, but he felt justified in his actions, and she would recover. He was almost certain now of her love.
It was just past two, after they ate lunch separately (she went to eat with her mother), that she rose from her chair and stood behind his chair, draping an arm over his shoulders to review his work. He wrapped his arm around her middle with his right hand and continued his letter with his left.
"Tomorrow might we go for a walk? Just the two of us? We've hardly been alone at all since you've returned."
"We've been alone all morning."
"You're working, it does not count."
"I will make certain I have time for a walk with you tomorrow," he vowed. He asked more softly, pausing his writing and looking up at her. "Will you come see me tonight?"
She responded by trailing her fingers over his epaulette. She played with the fringe thoughtfully.
"I missed you last night," she admitted begrudgingly, voice soft.
"I missed you more than I thought possible," he answered earnestly. She blushed and continued with the epaulettes. She looked up and nodded. He took her hand and brought it to his lips.
"Were you agreeable? To what we did yesterday?" he asked softly.
"Yes... I was still angry but... yes."
"Perhaps we may try again?" he asked hopefully. "Among other things."
She blushed beautifully and laughed softly. She looked down at her fingers on his shoulder.
"We can do whatever you wish to," she murmured. He took hold of her hand again.
"And what you wish to," he clarified. "I don't want you to do something just to please me."
"That I do not believe," she answered with a smile. "You are a man, after all."
"Jane," he said sadly. She tilted her head.
He did not want to say what he had to say. It would lay bare his soul to her, and he despite his concrete belief in her love, he was not ready to make himself so vulnerable. He just smiled and said, "Back to John then?"
"For now," she mused coyly. "Tomorrow, our walk will consist of only us two?"
"And I will come see you tonight," she said. He smiled and she slid into his lap. "I hoped to have a happier reunion."
She ran her fingers soothingly over his face, gently caressing with her nubby finger nails.
"I regret your cousins' demise, for your sake only," he clarified. She looked very pensive and she took to rearranging his neckstock.
"I suppose... what angered me most was that..." she paused and then looked up and smiled. "It is not important."
"It is," he insisted. "Tell me."
"You could have just asked me. I would give you anything," she said, eyes tearing up slightly. He cupped her cheek protectively and smiled, caressing her flushed cheek with the pad of his thumb.
"I never knew myself to be a jealous man," he admitted. "I was not thinking clearly."
"Was it truly that?" she asked with a creased brow. "How could you think I would I put anything to paper that might bring you harm. Look at my hands."
She held them out, palms down, and he examined the slender fingers with there chewed down nails. The skin had taken a nibbling as well. It looked painful. He smiled.
"I was tired and angry and confused. Jealous," he said, lifting his brow. "I was foolish. Jane," he said with feeling, knowing his stubborn little colonial would not be satiated until she had a heartfelt apology. It was not a lie. He was truly sorry she was so cross, though the fact she felt she had such an absolute right to privacy in her bedroom was baffling. "I am sorry."
"Was that so hard?" she asked with a tiny smile.
"I missed you," he said softly, hoping it was the end of the topic.
"I missed you," she murmured, putting her arms around his neck. "You visited no brothels, I trust."
"Jane – " he began severely.
"One's mind wanders when they receive no letters for weeks."
"I've not touched a woman since last we were together."
"I believe you, sir, since that was last night."
He tilted his head and gave a sour smile.
"You know my meaning. It is my intention to marry you, Jane, you know that."
"That means very little to very many men."
"Not I," he said solemnly. "That is a vow I would never break."
"Are there any vows you would break?" she teased.
"No, not many," he answered. "Allow meto finish up here, then my evening is yours."
"And night?" she asked, biting her lip.
"And night," he smirked and ventured a hand upward to grope a breast. She giggled and squirmed from his lap. "Will you stay here whilst I work."
She had not return to her seat.
"I will return briefly. I must write a note to Mary and I do not wish to bring down my stationary."
"You may use mine," he said hopefully. She smiled and came closer, feigned excitement on her face.
"Proper military stationary? For little old me?"
"The military does not provide stationary, we purchase our own," he informed her dryly. She looked at him, a tiny smile on her face and then she just gave a shake of her head. "That is to say, if it was military stationary I would certainly allow you use of it..."
"Finish your work, Major. You will never make Colonel fooling around like this, and i have no interest in marrying a lowly Major."
Before he could realize she was joking, he asked hopefully, "you will accept my proposal when I make Colonel, then?"
Her little smile brought a blush to his cheeks. He forgot he was an heir to massive estate, and not a fifth son with a good name and just his military career to recommend him.
"I did not think you proposed."
"I have not," he recovered some. "I hope to only make such a proposal once in my life. Before I make it I must know your answer is yes."
"Hmmm... I will take it under advisement," she smiled at him and then with a giggle floated out of the room. She returned not long after and was content to read in the corner.
"Jane?" He asked once he'd finished his work.
"Major?" she asked, closing her book.
"There is time before dinner," he started hopefully. "Perhaps we might go upstairs."
"And tire yourself out for tonight?" she teased.
"I am a young man with perfect stamina."
She giggled and came to his in his lap again. His hand reached to pull up the bottom of a petticoat. "Major! You're fresh today," she giggled as his hands wandered.
"I cannot keep my hands off of you," he murmured and pressed his face to her chest. He breached in deeply along her collar bone. He gently placed kisses to her skin.
"We will wait until after dinner," she admonished gently. He pulled back with a sigh.
"If you insist."
"I do," she said, imitating a pouting child.
"That is not what I sound like."
"No?" she asked, touching his cheeks.
"No," he said sternly.
"No?" she said again, squeezing his cheeks and putting a kiss to his mouth. "We may retire to the red room. You can tell me of your trip."
"Will you help me carry up my stationary?" he asked.
"I will not," she answered and his brow lifted with surprise. "I follow you upstairs I'll surely be ravished. You will carry it up yourself and meet me shortly."
She slid off his lap and once again floated from the room. He had a small smile on his face as he collected his belongs. When he entered the red room, Jane was sitting on the settee, draped across it elegantly, and his body became enflamed once again. She beckoned him closer and he made to lay his body atop of hers. She put her finger to his lips and shook her head.
"You mean to torment me," he lamented and slowly withdrew. He sat down beside her. She took hold of his shoulders and lowered him down so his back to her and his head in her lap.
"You are a delicate, man, you know."
He bristled, but bit back his retort when she slid her fingertips beneath his wig and gently massaged his scalp.
"I have missed you," he said in his defense instead.
"I missed you," she said again. She ran her fingers over his brow. "Some of your letters struck fear so deeply into my heart, I hardly knew how to function."
"I did not intend to disturb you. I only wished you to know of my day. It made me feel closer to you. Next time I will refrain from such detail."
"No, please no. I want to know."
He examined his palms and wondered what Mr. Whitmore might do if he walked in in that moment. He was surprised to discover he didn't care. If he knew what he'd done with his daughter to date, he'd get down on his hands and knees to beg John to marry her.
"It was an exhausting journey. I've never felt so much hatred. Perhaps in Ireland. Though they disguise it better. It is a lonely feeling."
Her fingers caressed his hair and he closed his eyes. He wished he had returned without such terrible news. Their reunion could have been this sweet from the beginning.
"Did you deal often with rebels? Tell me," she pleaded.
"In passing mostly. We have no quarrel with this those who refuse to fight. But they show no gratitude. They resent us for being here. As though we aren't fighting as much for them as our King. Our," he said, whipping a finger around in a circle, "King."
"Talk me through a day. What was it like."
The back of her hand slowly moved down the side of his face. He just enjoyed the feeling for a moment before he began to tell her. He left out some of the more grotesque details. Latrines, sicknesses, camp whores, but otherwise was as honest and detailed as possible.
She was very interested in the horrible ordeal of the wagon in the forest. Her hands stilled halfway through the story. The cool, gently touch began again once finished. He tilted his head and rolled his eyes back to try and get a look at her, and with a smile, told her all was well and he was in control of the situation the entire time.
"My nights, they were spent with thoughts of you," he told her. He ceased her hand and kissed it gently.
"You were never gone from my thoughts. These past weeks were utter torment. "
"I can see," he observed her fingernails. "Look at what you've done."
"I might have chewed my fingers right off had you delayed longer. You were quite cruel to me."
"Yes, very cruel."
"I do regret not at least writing to inform you of my wellbeing. Though Porter was quite delighted to receive an unsolicited letter from my sweetheart."
"I'm sorry," she blushed. "I know it was entirely improper, but I was desperate."
Though awkward he moved so he could face her.
"I will be more thoughtful in future."
She cupped his cheek and smiled.
"Mr. Whitmore!" Porter's voice greeted loudly from the hallway. They separated quickly and John moved to stand by the card table. He was examining the deck closely when her father stepped in.
"Good day to you, Major Porter, have you seen my daughter?"
"Just in that delightful little red room I believe."
"Thank you kindly, Sir."
He stepped on with a flushed face and wild eyes. He did not look in Jane's direction.
"A favor from you, Major?" he asked with a frenzied smile. John's face hardened and he nodded slowly.
"My office, please, if you will."
John gave her a comforting smile and exited the room. She had an inquisitive frown on her face as her eyes followed them. He came into the office and took his seat behind the desk. Mr. Whitmore took his seat and shuffled through some papers.
"I must leave for New York tonight. To fetch – to fetch... will you write me emergency papers?"
"The purpose?" he asked leaning forward. He would write the papers, he decided that already, for Jane's sake, but he would need to know why.
"My dearest wife says there is no need for a doctor, but I feel it best to go to one. She's fallen again, quite silly that woman. always falling, even when young. It is no big matter but we must be safe, yes?"
"Of course," John said rising. "I must fetch my seal and I will write your travel papers."
"God bless you. And best not to tell sweet Jane. Women fuss about such matters and its best not to upset her."
"Perhaps Jane should be told," John suggested. "It might better prepare her –"
"Prepare her for what, Major?" Mr. Whitmore asked with such venom that he actually fell silent. It was moments like these that John remembered this bumbling colonial had built himself quite a mercantile empire. "She is still my daughter and decisions regarding her wellbeing are still mine to make."
"Forgive me, of course, my affection has caused me to overstep," he bowed with humility he did not really possess and exited the room. Jane was waiting for him on the hallway.
"What is the matter?" Jane asked, collecting her skirts to follow his long, purposeful strides.
"A business deal that might fall through. Your father must leave for the city. I do not like using my position in the military to grant such trivial favors, but I am rather fond of his daughter, you see."
She was a bit too sharp to believe him fully but she did not press. She followed him into his room but kept the door open. He let her pull over a chair and sit beside him as he wrote.
"I do not know how you make sense of this," she mused, picking up a map.
"That's old," he told her and plucked it from her hands. He put it in the discard pile as to not mistake it and handed her a stack wrapped in yellow twine. "Those are up to date."
She went through them slowly.
"The rebels are this close?" she asked. He glanced over with elevated eyebrows.
"You've deciphered my key so quickly?" he asked. "Perhaps I am not the mastermind they believe me to be."
"You showed me your key and I've a good memory."
"That you do," he agreed. "Light a candle for me?"
She did and set up the wax without further prompting. By the time he was finished, the wax was ready. He poured it onto the paper and imprinted his seal.
"Your seal is very tidy."
"I've never understood those that use such an excess of wax," he answered. "A waste it is."
She followed him out of the room and waited for him to lock the door. Mr. Whitmore was waiting at the bottom of the steps, pacing back and forth in a coat far to think for him.
"Who is it that has meant to cheat you, papa? Mable, Henderson, Parkly?"
She straightened out the hat on his head affectionately.
"What? Oh! Parkly. The damned dog. I'm off to give him a piece of my mind," he said jovially, wagging a finger at his daughter.
"Well good luck to you, papa," she said and gave him a kiss.
"Your mother wants a reading companion. Rebecca was sent off to find you. I should have known I only need tell her to find the Major."
Jane smiled. Mr. Whitmore took her hands and kissed them. "My sweet child, I love you."
"I love you, papa, safe journeys."
He was off without another word. He was scurrying down to meet the carriage halfway down the drive.
"He will be gone a day at least," she smiled at John.
"Well, I hope to take advantage of that," he smiled and kissed her mouth. "Perhaps we might take dinner in our rooms?"
She giggled when he kissed her again.
"I'm off to see mother then. Come read with us?" She reached out to grab his hand but he hesitated.
"I actually have some business to see to at the stables. I think it best you go up and spend time with her alone."
She acquiesced, albeit reluctantly. Only a few steps up the stairs, and with his hand on the front door knob, she turned and stopped him.
"John? For what reason is my father going to New York?"
His lips parted and he gave only a moment's hesitation, but it was enough.
"For the reasons I stated."
She gave a smile, but it was sad and joyless. She nodded and continued up the stairs, unwilling to press, and hear the truth she was very much aware of, spoken allowed.
Jane ended up taking dinner in her mother's rooms upon her mother's request. John had dinner with Porter, Boswell, and Darling in the breakfast room and then returned to the drawing room for some tobacco and scotch. John partook in neither, but pretended to nurse a drink. Jane joined them just after seven with news her mother was resting. She placed herself on the other side of the settee John sat on. Porter offered her some scotch, but she opted for a glass of wine instead.
"I forget you were raised a proper lady," he apologized and raised his glass. A servant poured her wine and sipped at it delicately.
She graciously returned them to their previous conversation and was quite content to listen. They spoke a bit more of their most recent trip. Four of their prisoners had taken the pardon offered and went to their farms. Darling was to make sure they did so the following day. If not, their lands would be seized.
Jane retired after an hour or so. John had hoped to retire far sooner, but he did not feel comfortable leaving her alone in the room with Darling with Porter. He had no doubt they would no her no harm, but when alcohol was consumed, men said things they might know otherwise were not to be said, and he did feel particularly comfortable with her knowing he had executed an injured and unarmed rebel without trial. She said her good nights to all three men and John waited an additional hour to make certain neither man could say a word when he left. She was seated by his fire when he entered his room and voiced her pleasure he had left the door unlocked for her.
He removed his wig and tossed it on a nearby chair. He joined her with a tired smile. "I was hoping you'd be in here."
"I told Rebecca she could sleep in tomorrow," Jane said, her fingers resting on his lips.
He smiled and, after a kiss to her finger tips, put his hand to her cheek. "Jane? May I be abominable and request we speak very little tonight."
Her lips curved upward and she nodded without a word. She put her lips to his.
She was a consummate means of comfort. She would make a good soldier's wife. She was still timid but when he took her wrist and slid her hand down his breeches, she stroked him as he had earlier instructed. He did not want to push her too hard. He seized her gently and guided her to the bed. She did not resist him.
Her hands were beckoning. They kept him close to her. Her legs spread with the gentlest of touches. His blood burned at the simplest of actions. He felt a violent rush of ownership and possessiveness. He took it to be a byproduct of love. The daunting and agonizing terror of loss and the euphoric and exhilarating passion brought upon by the possession of the woman you've become so enamored with. Every man had felt it for a single woman before. Many men did not have the blessing of ever possessing her the way he wanted to. He had been blessed with it and it made his head spin.
"Jane," he breathed. They fumbled with each other's clothing. She was as anxious to undress him as he was of her. It fueled his desire. Her body was warm and soft beneath his hands and she moaned softly. "I dreamed of this every night," he breathed between kisses to her mouth. "When we marry, you'll travel with me," he told her. She put her hands in his hair and brought him back to her. She bit onto his lower lip. He got himself free with a soft groan. "And I'll have you every night."
"John, stop talking," she breathed and brought him back to her mouth. His hands groped at her. He loved the feel of her beneath his hands. He understood why men went to brothels, but he doubted any of them had experienced this type of pleasure from some random whore. He couldn't get close enough to her. He couldn't squeeze hard enough. She kept her lips pressed together as she moaned with each thrust. He wanted to get her to cry out. He thrust harder, but when her lips opened, she made no noise. He put his mouth to her neck and breathed in deeply. His body burned.
He rolled off of her with a deep sigh. His chest heaved and he smiled up at the canopy. "I'll never tire of that," he smiled at her. She turned her head to look at him, a smile on her face, hair a mess, damp and sweaty, cheeks flushed. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
"Never?" she asked. She reached out a naked leg and dragged her toe up a sweaty calf.
"I will have quite a busy life then."
"You will." He teased, "You are doing a great service to the British army, my love." He took her hand and kissed it. Her toe continued to stroke his calf.
"It is far easier than expected," she teased in return. "I had thought you bragged to me this morning about your stamina."
He rolled onto his side to better look at her in the candlelight. He caressed a breast. "I did and I do," he answered.
"Oh?" she asked coquettishly, but with a timid flicker of her eyes and a blush rising to her cheeks she chanced her eyes downward. She flickered back up.
"Oh?" he repeated back to her. He leaned over her and she erupted into a fit of giggles. He cut them off with a hard kiss to her mouth and her arms tightened around his neck.
She lay draped over him, her face to his chest, hand gently tracing a small bruise on his chest. A candle burned on the nightstand beside them. He ran his hand along her arm, smiling up at the ceiling. His other arm was securely around her naked middle beneath the blankets. There was not a time in his existence he remembered being happier. He turned his gaze from the ceiling to look down at her peaceful face. It was odd. Each day he spent with her, the greater his guilt for deceiving her grew, and yet, for the same causes that saw his guilt manifest, he was more resolved than ever not to reveal the truth.
He only hoped that when the time came her affection for him would win the day and she would come to see he could provide for her very well and there would not be a single change to standard of living. If anything, once back in England, it would improve. He wiped a hand back on her sweaty brow and she lifted her face upward with a tired smile.
"Yes?" she murmured softly.
"I love you," he murmured softly to her.
"Hmm, I love you," she murmured back and put her head back down to sleep. It did not matter that she would only say it in the dead of night, illuminated only by a dark candle, and in still under the influence of her dreams. The words brought joy to his heart. He tightened his hold on her. She groaned softly in protest. He loosened his arms with a smile.
"My apologies, my love," he told her, kissing the top of her head. She grumbled and fell back to sleep. He was content to lay there in the moonlight, a small smile on his lips.
Jane understood she was foolish if she believed John would remain reserved after submitting herself to his desires before he left for his mission. He might be reserved and awkward, but with the last of the boundaries coming crumbling down, he now took it as a right, and not a favor she was granting him. It was his attitude toward it and not his closeness that annoyed her, but in honesty, when she awoke to shifting on top of her, his mouth on her breasts and his hands gripping her thighs firmly, she was not all that displeased. And now that he was so keen on marriage, she wondered how bad it would truly be to marry the man. He was handsome and fit, kind and attentive, arrogant, entitled, self-centered, a monarchist…
She groaned loudly as he shifted her and thrust more deeply. His breath was hot against her neck. His mouth was wet.
"Don't leave a mark," she panted breathlessly.
"I want to," he panted back, but he moved his mouth.
"Lower, where I can cover it."
He moved his mouth to the top of her breast. It was not ideal, there would be many dresses she could not wear until it faded, but it was far easier to conceal than her neck.
Once finished, he remained on top of her a few minutes, softly kissing her neck and catching his breath. "God morning," he murmured against her skin. She smiled up at him sleepily. "Good morning."
"We should get out of bed," he suggested. "The maids may begin looking for you."
She sighed, but nodded. He kissed her one more time and then removed himself from the bed. She collected her clothing and dressed as best she could, but there was no real reason to put herself together. She was going to return to her room and undress immediately, only to call for a servant and ask to be dressed again. She left the bedroom and found John almost dressed, standing behind his desk.
"I am not so sure our walk will occur today," he said, tying his neck stock and gazing out of the window. She came before him and took charge of tying the fabric around his throat.
"And why is that?"
"The weather. It is to storm today," he observed. She laughed at him.
"The weather is trifling here. This is not England. It will pass."
"I do not believe it will," he answered sternly. A rush of annoyance swelled within her. He was so unadventurous, so boring.
"We will see when the time comes?" she pressed.
"I think perhaps it best we postpone. I will focus on my work today and you might spend time with your mother?"
"One might think you simply do not desire the walk."
"Not so," he answered. She removed the wig from its stand, mindful of the fresh powder, and placed it on his head.
"Then why not agree to wait and see?"
He smiled tightly and tilted his head to the side. "We shall wait and see."
"You are not as excited as I at the thought of papa gone from the house," she said with a teasing grin. She put her arms around his middle. It was an easy game to play, one she was easily lost in. He was warm and strong, tall and fit.
"Oh I mean to take advantage," he replied with a grin of his own. "But I must work and the weather is dreadful. Best for me to focus on work so we may enjoy the finer days together."
She sighed. "If you insist. I will leave you to work now, Major." She took his hat and put it on his head, despite there being no need for it. "You will make a very handsome Colonel."
She kissed his mouth and set off from the room. She walked out rather brazenly. She felt as though nothing could stop her now. John was very trusting, despite his search of her rooms, and she believed it was truly caused by jealously and not suspicion of espionage. Now, he seemed keen to make it up to her by allowing her free reign to his belongings.
She called in Jenny to help dress her and thought nothing of the judgmental pinch to her lips. Her aid to the cause was well worth it.
She did spend the morning with her mother, who seemed in good spirits, and it did away with any concern she had about her father's sudden departure to New York.
Jane left her mother's room around 2 o'clock, rather smug that no rain had come. She entered John's room. He was writing intensely and so she did not disturb him. She simply walked over to sit in the chair before his desk. When he finally tossed the pen down with a sigh, she spoke.
"It appears you were wrong, sir, and the time for our walk has come. Shall we?" She asked with a teasing smile. He cast her a rather sour look.
"It still might rain."
Her smile dropped.
"And so we do not go."
"That seems a bit overly cautious. Getting caught in a summer rainstorm can be quite fun."
"No. It cannot be and I am done discussing it. Return to your mother, I will see you at dinner."
He was surprisingly curt and cold. She stared at him.
"Is this what marriage will be like? Am I to be sent away until my company is convenient to you?"
"Don't be a child, Jane, I am too preoccupied to deal with one of your tantrums right now."
"One of my - excuse me?"
"Jane. It is going to rain. We are not going. I am busy. Please leave."
Her face felt as though it might erupt into flames. It was hot and red, her chest covered in blotches and she trembled internally. To prevent herself from falling prey to the trap of working her way into a tantrum, she rose from her chair and left the room without another word. She did not have the strength to refrain from slamming the door behind her, however.
She entered her rooms, collected her umbrella, switched into her boots, collected the papers she had stuffed into her mattress and left through the library door into the back garden. She circled around the house and down the southern path to stables. It was the path the soldiers did not, or should not, know about. The air was warm and sticky, there was some water on the leaves and the ground was soft, but it was no different than it had been a thousand walks before.
She came out on the far side of the stables. Jonathan was standing there speaking to some redcoats. She waited inside, checking on Constantine and she fed him some apples. She also gave some to Alexander. Jonathan came in a few moments later and entered her stall.
"I am sorry," he said softly. "Hank was a good friend and a better man. The world is worse off for losing him."
"It is," she agreed. She removed the papers from her bodice. Jonathan held his hands up and stepped back, eyes widened.
"No, no, I said no."
"Hank died for this, Jonathan you can't pass on some paper?" she asked sharply. Jonathan looked at the papers. She saw shame on his face. And good. He should be ashamed.
He reached out and grabbed it from her. He shoved it into his breeches. "I never agreed to this," he fired back. "It's not fair you do this to me."
He turned and left the stall. She followed after him. "When this is all over don't you want to be able to say you did something. That you played a roll? You didn't just sit there and watch?"
"No," he snapped back. "Because no Virginian planter gives a damn about me! No more than fat George in London. No matter what happens, my life stays the same. I'm not dying for that."
"How can you say that? They're fighting so we can be free."
"Look, Jane," Jonathan said and turned to face her. He put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed affectionately. "I'm sympathetic to the cause. I am, you know that. The only good Englishman is a dead Englishman. But I'm not risking my life to make sure we kill as many Englishman as possible, and I'm not dying to make sure my life stays exactly the same as it does now."
"But it won't stay the same!" Her voice was kept low but was impassioned. "We'll be free of tyranny."
"Jane, I'm poor. Do you understand that? In my life, nothing changes."
"Would you be such a coward of you had a chance to fight for Ireland?" she asked. His face drained of color and he raised a shaky hand. He jabbed a finger in her face. The color quickly returned to his face. It was now a dark red. A vein pulsed above his right eye.
"You know damn well your father wouldn't employ an Irisher. So you keep your mouth shut unless you want to see me out of a job. I got mouths to feed... spouting off nonsense like that can get people killed around these parts. And don't try to compare here to there. There's no comparison."
He turned and stalked away. She set her jaw to the side and watched him go outside. She followed him and stood beside him before he could begin chopping wood. He brought the axe up, saw how close she was, and slowly lowered it with a sigh.
"Will you see it to Alex?" she asked quietly. He glared at her a moment before nodding. She gave a nod on thanks and left him there to let out his anger on the wood. She returned to the gardens and strolled lazily.
They would have had plenty of time for a walk. Stodgy old man, not at all what a young, fit, 28 year old soldier should be. What was so bad about getting caught in the rain? Why deny yourself the fun? She's been caught in the rain a number of times in her life. She remembered one particular event. Alex, Hank, Mary and she been on a walk, all the way into the Caffey lands. The skies had opened up and let down a torrent. They had run out into the fields, arms spread wide, swirling in circles as the rain beat down on their warm flesh. She could hear Hank's laughter above all else as the memory circled through her brain. A small smile came to her lips and she promised Hank his death would not be for nothing.
She sat down at the bench by the dunk pond, waiting for the skies to open. There was not a rumble of thunder, no flashes of lightning. She thought of the Major sitting at his desk, writing dutifully to secure the Empires supplies.
She thought her sacrifice poetic. The queasy feeling she felt in the pit of her stomach every time she thought of him, the inexplicable pain and terror she felt at the thought of never seeing him again, of earning his hatred. She'd rather detest him. Even after the search of her belongings she found she could not. He angered her, he infuriated her, but he inspired no hatred. Hers was an emotional sacrifice, not the type she'd hoped for, not the type she valued; but a sacrifice none the less.
A raindrop hit her face. She looked up to the sky with a smile. Another hit her face. She had a sudden wish the rain would drown her. Swallow her up whole and then she wouldn't have to worry about anything. She wouldn't have to worry about the cause, or John, or her cousins. She could just be swallowed up by the rain and she'd forever live in the field of the Caffey estate, twirling in circles in a summer rain, the laughter of those she loved most forever echoing in her brain.
She let herself get soaked to the bone, the umbrella lying unused beside her. She rose when she felt a small chill slowly make its way up her spine and she walked the short distance to the gazebo. The rain came over the edges in a violent downpour and she could hardly see the duck pond from her spot on the bench she chose to occupy. She began to hear the crackle of thunder and flashes of lightning. It did not frighten her. Even as a little girl, she had loved summer thunder storms.
She heard the sound of horse hooves over the crash of rain and turned to find red seeping in through the blurry mist. A small smile came to her lips, but she was taken aback when he rode the horse directly into the gazebo before jumping off.
The look of relief on his face quickly turned to that of fury. The smile dropped from her face.
"I told you to stay inside!"
"I am no soldier in your army, sir, you don't tell me what to do."
"Why don't you just listen! Good women listen!"
Her blood ran cold and her entire person steeled. "Then I am no good woman, sir, nor will I ever be."
He let out a cry of exasperation and turned. He threw out a fist at a gazebo wall, but it was far too sturdy, and only resulted in bloody knuckles. She was disturbed by the violent outburst and stepped backward. When he turned to face her, he calmed some, but only just.
"I would never put a hand on you, if you think otherwise you have no understanding of my person at all."
"I know you wouldn't," she admitted. She did too. She did not doubt it. "I've walked in the rain a thousand times. A walk in the rain never hurt anybody."
"Your ignorance is astounding."
"If you've come to berate me, you may leave," she snapped. He turned with another sigh. Alexander stomped angrily. John ignored him. He removed his hat and flicked it at the ground, letting the water roll off of it with a loud splat.
"At least I am not an unadventurous boring coward," she spat.
"A coward?" He whirled around. She was not sure if there was more"Boring? Unadventurous?"
"Those are the words I used, yes. If the military does not work out for you, you may find a marvelous career as someone's pet parrot."
"My mother went for a little walk in the rain, Jane!" He shouted, voice straining. "We went for a nice little stroll in the rain, I wake up two weeks later and she's dead. Dead. From a little walk in the rain!"
She had nothing to say to that and it was for the best, as he was not finished.
"And you go gallivanting across the country side in a downpour when I told you to stay inside!"
He plopped himself down on a bench with a thud. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and shook his head. "I can't lose you, Jane. I simply couldn't bear it."
She walked over to him and put her hand to his shoulder.
"Nothing is going to happen to me," she comforted. "I'm not going anywhere."
He examined his swollen knuckles. She sat down beside him and took his hand into her lap. She removed the scarf from her neck and gently wrapped the cracked skin.
"If you had told me why you were so adamant about not going for a walk, I would have stayed inside for you," she told him. "You do not communicate. Order me around and I will not fall in line."
"I am beginning to understand that."
"I did not know about your mother," she said. "I knew it was a fever but..."
"I was eleven. We walked daily, after my morning studies. I begged her to go, despite the drizzle. It was cold but we bundled up. She had me in mittens and a scarf, like it were winter..." he chuckled sadly. "I begged and begged and she relented. We ran home when it began to pour, laughing happily. I fell ill that night and was taken with a fever. The last thing I remember her saying to me was that if she got a chill it would be my fault."
"That was a tease," she said. "She was teasing you. Her death is not your fault."
"Isn't it though?" he asked with a small smile. "If I hadn't been so insistent..."
"You were a little boy," she cut him off. "That is not your fault."
"My father would disagree with you," he chuckled.
"Well, I do not think your father is a particularly nice man," she dismissed.
"He is not," he agreed. He looked out at the rain. He said bitterly, "I'm a coward."
"I did not mean it," she said. He shook his head.
"Yes, you did. I'm an administrative officer. There's little honor in that. I am not charming nor am I outgoing. I am regimented. I like order and consistency. I am a boring, unadventurous, coward."
"John," she said, feeling the brunt of her remorse full force.
"Those qualities might not make a desirous man, but they do make a fine husband," he assured her with a pained smile. He added with a bitter, mirthless grin, "and a massive fortune." She took his face and turned it towards hers. He had to straighten so she could.
"I care nothing for your money. If I cared for that I would have married long ago." She stroked the scabbed over gash on his cheek. "And you are no coward. And when the time comes, and my father grants his permission, and a proposal is made, I will be honored to accept."
His eyes lifted up to hers. "Do not say so to placate me."
"I promise you I am not," she answered. "You braved a typhoon for me."
"Now you mock me further."
"Have you ever been told you are far too sensitive."
"Often," he answered. "And nothing infuriates me more."
"If I promised to make it up to you tonight?" she asked coyly enough.
"I might be less wounded by it," he all but pouted. She smiled at him, touched by how profoundly the loss of his mother had affected him. It made her think of her own sick mother, lying in a mess of sweaty blankets, unable to stay warm.
"I will apologize if you apologize," she offered.
"I have nothing to apologize for," he answered gruffly.
"We will have no kind of marriage at all then." He just turned his face to look at her. "Do you think I would have come out if you had explained your reasons to me?"
"Probably. You are stubborn."
"I would not have and you know it," she argued. She moved closer and wrapped her arms around one of his. "You cannot keep treating me like some soldier you can just order about on a whim. I will be dutiful to you, but I deserve an explanation. When I marry a man, I want to know he'll respect me enough to talk to me and trust that together we can come to a rational decision. I am beginning to think you do not share the same view of marriage."
"All the friends I've ever had are military," he explained. "I've never had a relationship where my authority did not play a role."
"If I may, you have one now."
His eyes softened as he looked at her and he gave a small sideways smile. "Yes, I… I suppose that is right. I will attempt to be more… forthcoming with my reasoning for my decisions."
"I will hold you to it," she smiled and stroked the gash on his cheek again. He nodded silently. He looked off toward the duck pond. It was still hard to see it through the rain, but it had let up some. She looked at him a few moments. She appreciated the strength of his jaw, the curve of his nose, the introspective nature of his dark brown eyes. She wrapped her arms more tightly around his and leaned her face to his shoulder. She was content to sit there with him like that until the rain stopped and they could return to the house.
"Jane, you look more beautiful than you did even this morning," her mother greeted her from her lounging chair by the window. She held out her hand with a smile. Jane came toward her, warm and dry from her earlier excursion.
"That is because I look more like you every moment that passes," Jane smiled and joined her mother on the chair. She rested her face on her chest and closed her eyes. Her mother embraced her with as much strength as she could possess. She laughed weakly and stroked Jane's cheek.
"What trouble did you get into today, my love?"
"The Major and I went for that walk in the gardens and got caught in the rain."
"Oh… how romantic," she breathed. Jane smiled and played with a button on her mother's gown.
"Very," she lied happily. "It has not been easy to enjoy his return with the terrible news of Hank."
Her mother reached for the letter on the side table. Jane had not yet read hers. It rested on her night side table. Every time she picked it up to read, she could not bring herself to do it.
Dear Aunt Peggy, it began. Jane tilted her face into her mother's chest and closed her eyes. "He was always a good boy. Lost and confused. He would have come the right way round. You must not hold any anger in your heart for him, Jane. Nor Alexander."
"I don't," she murmured. Her mother's hand gently stroked her hair.
"Jane, would you help me with a bath today?"
"Of course," she answered, sitting up. "Shall I call now?" she was already reaching for the bell.
"If you would," she said softly. "And then be a dear and pour me some laudanum."
Jane did as instructed. Her mother took the laudanum and then asked for a little more.
"Are you in pain, mama?"
"Only a little," her mother smiled. The water was brought up by a number of different servants, the bath basin placed in the center of the room. Jane helped her mother out of the chair. She was shaky on her feet. Her body trembled with each step across the floor, and a few times Jane had to keep her from falling.
"Mama?" she asked, an arm around her middle.
"I'm well, love, let's continue."
She removed her mother's thick outer robe and ordered that it be washed. Her mother stepped into the water and a sigh of ecstasy escaped her. A smile came to Jane's face as she held her mother up. "Lower me down."
It was not easy and Jane's muscles strained, but her mother was a slight woman, and she was able to lower her down without incident. Her nightgown floated up to the surface. Jane pushed the white fabric below the water until it sank downward. Her mother rested her head on the back of the basin with closed eyes and a smile.
"I'm so tired, Jane," she whispered. "I'm so very tired."
"Then sleep, mama," Jane said. "I'll hold you up."
Her mother's eyes fluttered open. The whites of her eyes were yellow. The green of her eyes was dull. The color of her skin not quite what it should be. The circles under her eyes were dark.
"Do you remember the book I read to you as a child. The one you would have me read over and over again?"
"With the chicken and the duck," she smiled.
"Fetch it for me? It is just over there," she ordered, lifting a weak hand to point to the side table of her lounging chair. Jane released her gently. Her mother floated above the water. Jane did not move until she was certain her mother could hold herself up. She found the little book and hurried back to her mother's side. "Read it to me?"
Jane obeyed. Her mother has a small smile on her face as it was read. She was asleep by the time Jane got only halfway through. Jane read it through anyway, blinking back tears as she neared the end. She looked down at her mother, holding her up by the back of the neck. The water rippled as Jane took the scarf from her head. Her hair was gray, thin and brittle. Her lips trembled as she looked at her. How did she get so old, when she was still so young?
She brushed her hair with her fingers. She wet her fingertips and let cool drops fall to her forehead. She stayed there as her mother slept, until her arms began to ache and her muscles burned.
"Mama?" she asked. It was getting dark outside and she would need to light a candle soon. She did not want to call in the nurse until she could get the scarf back on her mother's head, but nor could she simply release her, as she would certainly sink to the bottom of the basin. "Mama?"
She shook her gently. She did not move. "Mama?" she asked, more insistently. She shook her a bit harder. Nothing. "Mama!"
She shook her again. Her mother's eyes opened and she bristled in pain. "I'm sorry, mama, I'm sorry, you scared me."
Her mother looked around, somewhat confused.
"I fell asleep," her mother laughed. "Here, go, light a candle and call the maid."
Jane nodded, but first got the scarf back on her head. Next, she lit a fire, to get the room warm before her mother got out of the water. The maids assisted, but Jane took the lead. She helped change her mother into a fresh gown. A new, heavy robe was draped over her shoulders, and she was put into bed.
"Go on now, Jane, I must sleep," her mother smiled. Jane did not want to leave. She reached for her mother's hand and held it closely.
"I'll stay a bit longer," Jane smiled. "Until you go to sleep."
A maid was bringing her some laudanum.
"No, sweet Jane. There is no reason for that. "Go on now."
"But mama –"
"Be a good girl, Jane," her mother said sternly. Jane relented and released her mother's hand. She kissed her forehead gently. "I'll come read to you, tomorrow."
"Please do, my sweet."
Jane lingered in the doorway. She had no wish to leave her mother, but she did not want to upset her with a fight. Her maid helped her up. It took some doing. She reached for the small glass of opium with a trembling hand. She was lowered back to the bed with a sigh.
"The lights, Enid, my eyes hurt."
Enid bent over and blew out the candles. Jane turned and exited the room. She closed the door softly as she stepped out into the hall. She pressed her forehead to the door and listened to the murmurs from within.
She turned. John was standing by his door. Porter was with him.
"Is all well?"
"All is well," she lied with a smile. She believed it herself. She walked toward, a tired grin on her lips. She bid Porter goodnight and he escaped to his room graciously. Jane turned to look up at John. He ran a thumb over her cheek and asked again, softly, "Jane, is all well?"
Jane said nothing. She wrapped her arms around his middle and put her face to his chest. His arms encircled her and he unlocked his door, keeping her in his embrace. The door opened and he gently pushed her inside. He asked her again if all was well, but she did not want to hear the question again. She just smiled at him and wrapped her arms around his neck.