We had a wonderful talk today about George Washington. I think one of the saddest and strangest thing about the Washingtons, is that we see George as the hero on horseback, the man who won the Revolution for the Americans. A great rider, dancer… all around hero, married to a an old lady in a mop cap, although if you look, it is a pretty cap.
Some time ago it occurred to the historians at Mt. Vernon, the Washington home in Virginia, that they had no youthful portrait of Martha. Only the ones painted after her death from sketches. So, with the help of the forensics experts from the FBI, hair color from her daughter and the description of a dark blue gown in a letter and her over the top beautiful wedding shoes, an artist constructed this wonderful portrait. They wanted to rescue her from old-ladyhood, and they have.
It’s summer and it’s hot. For reasons having to do with 110.3 official inches of snow in Boston this last winter, and unrelenting cold until late May 2015, I have not put the air-conditioners into the windows. So far my refusal to do so is sticking and sticky. I cope with the heat by recalling our visits to Atlanta every summer. I loved it there, and it was hot in my grandparents’ house, therefore heat makes he happy — or some such nonsense.
Summer also reminds me of music. Most of the family are musical, some fully express their art through their music, others only partly, but it is there. Kate was a pianist and music teacher all her life. She also wrote about making music.
The Schubert Quartet
We fought with music –
we the four –
our bows like battle sabers,
glassanding down to nothingness;
with static of our faces – tense as frozen flowers,
omnipotent as love.
When morning came
with gray and empty sky,
we sought again the oracle.
But eyes were drooped with apathy,
and notes and dotted spaces
vague as angel tracts.
And we forgot antiphonies of tone
can reunite like stars among the billows,
astonishing with light.
Reminiscent of Bach
The ivy presumes ten thousand years
In shaping her fugue to the chapel wall
And makes indelible the tone
Of her green music,
Resonant with stone.
New vine ascends, but only to repeat
The ancient theme,
The polyphonic form –
Star, star, and star, and still more leafy stars
Through cadence, clef and chord –
An also universe
Whose pattern is the Lord.
It’s June again and that means it is wedding season, and that means dancing. In New England a wedding was a secular affair, more often performed by a justice of the peace or the town magistrate than a minister. That changed over the eighteenth century, as did dancing at weddings.
Alex followed the sound of a fiddle toward the front parlor. Furniture had been pushed against the walls, and all the larger pieces had been removed. The tall windows facing the flower garden were open, and the smell of roses wafted into the room on the slight breeze. Guests were just beginning to take their first hesitant steps as the musicians began to play. Dancing at the Parker house was a surprise, even though it had been hinted at. As with the cardroom, he could see that tradition was fading, and old prohibitions were falling away. Still, he was happy to see a reel danced, and a fiddle and pipes played. Someone grabbed his hand and he was pulled into a line.
He bowed to his right, his left, and his partner in the opposite line. His feet barely needed his brain to remember these steps. The simple reel allowed his mind to wander, so he watched the dancers. Most were having to concentrate very hard not to fall over their own, or their partner’s, feet. A general sigh of relief was given when the dancers began their promenade up the line and around. As the dance steps began their repeat, a woman giggled. The others caught the enthusiasm and laughed at their own seriousness. The second set was far more lighthearted.
In a few minutes they had gathered an audience. Some looked on, shocked and surprised at what the younger generation had gotten up to. Others tapped a foot in time to the music, captured by the beat, maybe looking for a chance or the courage to join the dancers. Alex realized with some surprise that he was having a good time. He liked the shocked look on some of the faces, and the admiration on others. The reel concluded, and the dancers reformed into groups of four. Alex took a moment to catch his breath. He stretched his back and looked around, taking a minute to make sure he hadn’t done anything terrible to his leg. He turned, and there was Nina, standing by the window as if she had only just walked through. She was one of those tapping her foot to the opening bars of the next set. He reached out to pull her into the dance.
“You know I have no idea how to do this.” Nina felt ridiculous as Alex held her hands and led her around the small dance floor.
“No one does. This is Newton. How many dance classes have any of the young ladies here attended? How many dance masters have set up shop nearby?” Alex was glad to make her laugh. It was a side of herself she had not fully shown, only hinted at with those smiles.“You are brave to attempt it, keep going and follow my lead. I may step on your feet, but in general, I know where we are to go next.”
It’s June again. The piles of snow left from last winter are finally gone, and the roses, (which did not mind the snow mounded on their roots) are in full bloom again. These luscious blooms were the motivation for a scene in Beside Turning Water when Nina rests in the rose garden at the end of a beautiful summer day.
Nina slipped back out of the long windows toward the rose garden. She found a bench in the flowers and gratefully sat. Her legs felt weak, she felt flushed and her heart was beating in a most uncomfortable manner. She blamed the dancing, but sitting there in the warm summer afternoon, she grudgingly admitted to herself that Alex, her intrepid rescuer, was the culprit. She had sworn off men so many years ago, vowing never to marry again. She assured herself that her short marriage inoculated her, had left her safe from the risk of future discomforts – physical and emotional – that being married would bring her. It was as well she would leave, and he would go back to Cambridge. This time, truly, she would never see him again.
She concentrated on the beautiful roses. In the warm dry weather of the last week, the flowers had bloomed early and now waited, suspended in glorious splendor, their petals open so far they nearly drooped. A few had already stopped trying to hold on, and masses of color littered the nearby ground. It was clear from some empty stems that the flowers that had been fresh and pretty this morning had been cut for the ceremony, or for the party here at the house. She scooped a handful of pale purple and yellow petals into her hands. She inhaled the heady scent.
Alex, too, had enough of dancing and polite pints of ale, good as it was. He had had enough too, of wondering where his Nina, the mysterious blonde, had gone. He found Wythe at the card table and wearily told him that after he picked up a book, he could be found somewhere between Angier’s Corner and the encampment in a dark tavern, getting very drunk on what would probably turn out to be very bad ale. He expected to drink beer that had been sitting too long in a leaky keg. He discovered he felt uneasy and incomplete. He did not know why. It would seem to be a strange reaction to a lovely country wedding.
He whistled for Thorne, and synched his saddle into place. He gazed over the paddock. The two Suffolk Punches were still there. That was odd – he hadn’t seen a workman or a delivery fellow. He didn’t think the Parkers farmed their own land or if they did, he didn’t think they would stable the work horses at the house. Well, curious as it was, it was not his mystery. He led Thorne around to the side so as not to trample on the flowers.
He stopped. Staying out of sight of the lady on the bench, he watched her drink in the scent of spent roses. He allowed himself a daydream. In it, he walked up to her, took her in his arms, and lay her back in the grass, so warm and open in the summer sun. Sweet and willing like those voluptuous roses, she would stare at him with the same rapt expression he saw on her lovely face.
Alex shook himself. He shouldn’t think such thoughts about her, jealous as he was of those rose petals. She might be married. After all, she wore a small ring, and she had a name different from the one Wyeth told him. However, if she were well wedded, where was her elusive husband, and why had his name not come up? No, she would not be married. A woman that lovely, if she were wed . . . she would have the air of satisfaction, the roundness of a child or two. She had none of that. She would, though, if she were his wife. Not having a clue where or why such a thought arose, he shook himself again. It must be the smell of the roses.
History is not for the squeamish. The same goes for genealogy, and it’s too bad no one told Ben Afleck or Deborah Nathan that. Let me explain. The other day, as reported in the DailyMail and then all over Facebook, it became known that Ben wanted the fact that one his ancestors owned slaves, censored from the genetic tracing show ‘Finding your Roots’. The PBS show is hosted by Henry Louis Gates, a man not afraid to confront the history of slavery in the American south, but for some reason, he let his friend fudge the past. The request to alter his genes came from Ben himself through Sony Pictures, and PBS agreed. (The fictional show aired on October 14, 2014.)
Deborah Nathan, commentator and public comedienne, recently discovered that her Texan forbears owned a few domestic slaves in the 1850s. She delved deep to prove it wasn’t so. Jews owning slaves, was that possible? But of course it was. It was Texas in the 1850s and if her ancestor wanted help in the store or house, he owned the labor. It wasn’t as if he could drive by the HomeDepot and pick up a few workers.
It should not come as any sort of shock to Ben or Deborah, that people of means in the south owned slaves. The reality of labor in the southern states, was that labor was in short supply. Owning land was cheap. That meant there were few workers available for hire, slave-holding was the only option, and of course it was legal.
Careful before you gag with superiority, you northern moralists.
Labor is the north – after around 1800 give or take a few Rhode Islands and Connecticuts, which slowly and gradually abolished slavery between the years 1784 and 1848. Those states finally abolished slavery completley just fifteen years before the Federal ban, (known as the Emancipation Proclamation, signed in 1863) – was in short supply too, but keeping slaves in large numbers in the north, was more costly than hiring day laborers. Let me explain.
Think about what an owner owes his slaves. Remember these are expensive commodities, whatever we may feel about the institution itself, no one wanted his slaves killed or made unable to work. So except for a few famous cases (only unusually terrible situations made it into the court system to be transcribed) most slaves were housed and fed tolerably well. For the owner this required space to house his workers, and food to feed them.
I know you want to complain that the food was bad and the space was mean. I agree. (nolo contendere)
But the basic requirement for land and food didn’t work in the north. Families were large, and children supplied plenty of cheap, unskilled labor. Land was poor and rocky so there was little extra, and most farms remained small. Interestingly, those few places with abundantly fertile land, were those few places in the north where slavery held on into the nineteenth century. And by the first decades of the that century, immigration brought new, cheap labor to northern cities, making slavery even more expensive. It is simply cheaper to pay a laborer a few coins, and not care about where he sleeps or what he eats. With freedom comes the right to starve.
Deborah Nathan and her family were able to “come to grips with the past”, a concept I find laughable, because the past just sits there whether or not we can grip it. Also, I’m sorry that Ben feels ashamed of his people. They were within their legal, and historical right. He really shouldn’t have the right to disown ancestors, even if he disapproves of them. As I said, history is not for the squeamish, man up Ben.
For the record, many of my ancestors owned slaves in the south. My great-grandfather and his brothers fought for Georgia in the Civil War, and my father and mother fought for fair housing and jobs for Black Americans in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. I am no more “shamed” by my ancestors, that I take “credit” for their successes and discoveries. (Picture above is of my grandmother and her sister, Mt Airy, Georgia about 1907.)
Well it has done nothing but snow here in Boston these past three weeks. In fact we are up to about 70″, a new record for snow in one month. Of course such things makes me start thinking about the importance of various storms during the past. One of the most important was the storm that took place in March of 1776 and was significant as part of the Battle of Dorchester Heights. That battle was famous for convincing the British to evacuate Boston after General Howe looked up at the Heights on the morning of 3/6/1776 to see the Americans dug into the hill in a howling blizzard. From the description of the storm it becomes clear that it was what we would call a ‘nor’easter,’ so that was how I wrote it in Beside Turning Water, which will be out later this month.
Excerpt of Beside Turning Water, Battle of Dorchester Heights.
Like so many battles in history, the Americans were helped, by the atrocious weather. The storm probably came across North America from the west, hitting the cold moisture of the Mid-Atlantic coast, it pushed north toward cold Atlantic waters, gaining strength and moisture as it moved. By the time it hit New England, the north-easterly swirl of the winds caused it to be caught in the bays and harbors, blocking itself from moving quickly eastward or north and away. For hours, it battered the town and harbor reducing visibility to inches, and turning roads and fields to ice and mud.
In Boston, it started in late morning as rain. By afternoon, the rain had turned to an icy mix, slowly turning to snow, sleet and rain in competing sheets. It battered the workers on the eastern slope with raging, incessant ocean gales, broken by stronger gusts, and icy rain. At the coast it brought high seas mixed with the abominably high tides of the March full moon, assuring that the British Marines headquartered just below Dorchester Heights, would be unable to make landfall without risking a watery, rocky death. The roar of the wind was such, that for the first time in days the cannonading from Phips Farm on the Cambridge side was muffled.
Look for Beside Turning Water at Amazon, Barnes & Nobel or at the buy the book link on this page.
The Sainsbury Chocolate Christmas ad has the romantic feel of being far away from home during Christmas time, that I have tried to portray in the three stories I’ve posted in the last three weeks. I want to wish everyone a safe and joyous season, and meaningful peace in the New Year.
Christmas during wartime had become a habit he had never grown used to. No matter where one was, there were always parties and dancing with officer’s wives and the daughters of magistrates and potentates. He would love to spend the season decorating with green boughs and attending church at midnight as he did growing up. But army life did not allow for personal extravagances such as those.
Simm made sure he was away from the farm most evenings, busy with meetings or social affairs. When he was at home it was almost never at regular hours, so he had not seen Rebecca for more than a moment in days. The few minutes he grabbed at the farm were precious. He loved the pleasant, homemade decorations and greens. He pretended Rebecca was doing the decorating for him, and that she was missing him as he was her. He also prayed that her anger would dissipate if he were gone.
Where Rebecca’s home seemed to get warmer, with the pine boughs and holly on tabletops and mantles. Amalia had transformed hers completely. Even from the top floors it was hard to miss the beautiful greens being brought in to decorate the house for Christmas. Simm supposed that even with farms completely surrounding the City, there was still enough woodland to satisfy Amalia’s demands for ivy and mistletoe, and in a few days’ time, Amalia’s main rooms were transformed from sheer elegance into Christmas magnificence.
Christmas morning foretold a chilly rainy day. Rebecca left the household asleep as she finished the morning chores, changed her gown, and walked in the constant drizzle down the familiar path to her family church. As always she was torn between her father’s tradition of a joyous day with gifts and too much feasting, and her mother’s. A solemn approach to the day. Bostonians had banned special worship on Christmas during her mother’s childhood, Cotton Mather wrote that every day belonged to Christ, not the one day called his birthday. Still, even her mother had enjoyed the happiness and the decorations in the houses of her husband’s family.
Memories of her parents, and her childhood swirled in her head as she trod through the muddy road toward the Presbyterian Church. Happy and wet people rushed in from carriages and on foot, shaking water onto the floor, and shaking hands and hugging. Rebecca felt peaceful as she entered the empty family pew. That solitude was broken seconds later as she was surrounded by nieces and nephews, brothers, and sisters- in-law.
Simm’s eyes followed Rebecca as she walked forward in the plain white church. He had risen early to find some solace and solitude in the day. This year, more than others, he wanted more from Christmas than a series of fancy parties given out of meaningless duty, thousands of miles from home. The empty church was already illuminated and welcoming as he found a seat in the far back, away from the central aisle. The clear windows glowed with flickering candlelight against the wet, gray morning sky.
The white clapboard church with its high box pews brought back memories of Christmas in Boston. Although he recalled that the Puritans had banned the holiday, it had become a day of fasting and feast by the time of the occupation. The soldiers quartered in the town had gathered what greens they could find to decorate their barracks, and the day was spent with song and food. As Simm sat in the little church, watching the rain against the windows. He thought of another occupation of a very different sort of American town.
He recalled the High Anglican Mass they had celebrated at King’s Chapel with the other officers and wealthy loyalists, who had migrated into the protected town. The beautiful stone church near the top of Queen Street, had stayed alive. This was in sharp contrast with the Old South Church, the Third Meetinghouse, that the first group of soldiers sent into Boston in 1774 had turned into a riding stable to punish the town for destroying the tea. He looked around this Meeting House, holy with Christmas and joyous families, and mourned the destruction of the other.
He watched Rebecca enter the empty a box near the front of the church and sit. In seconds he heard giggling and saw little feet flying down the aisle. Two small girls, the first no more than two years, and the other around four, ran down the center aisle, effectively dodging between the legs of the more sedate church goers singing “Bay-Ca, Bey- Ca.” A song he could only assume meant Rebecca. The small girls were trailed by a number of adults and various older children, all of whom crowded into the box where Rebecca sat. He was glad to see his lonely beauty surrounded by her family.
The service was lovely, and perhaps not long enough for a man so far from home; he sat in the pew lost in thought as the congregation moved out into the rain behind him.
“John?” He heard Rebecca’s voice through the happy voices of the crowd.
“Miss Willent,” he answered “A lovely service wasn’t it?”
“Yes, Major, it was. Well, uh excuse me.” Rebecca turned to her family who were watching her conversation with the strange man.
“Well Becky, aren’t you going to introduce us?” That from someone who must be her older brother.
“Oh, don’t bother,” A woman not much older than Rebecca spoke up. “I’m Jane, the kids are Abby and Mary, the baby is Hackett, but he doesn’t answer to anything yet.” She pointed to a very small bundle currently being held by the larger Hackett. The rest of the herd just left, but if you’re a friend of Becky’s why don’t you follow us to our farm for some dinner? It’s just family, we’ll be eating around two o’clock.”
“ Jane, Hackett, family,” Rebecca jumped in to try to stem the tide before more family was introduced, may I present Major John FitzSimmon, one of the men who has been quartered at the farm. It’s lovely to see you, Major, yes do come for dinner, Jane’s mother stayed home to cook. That is unless you have other dinner plans?” Rebecca almost added, ‘other than the cold ham, bread and Christmas biscuits I left on the side board’?
To have shown reluctance, Rebecca felt, would have revealed too much to her family, and would have been outright rude to Simm. She had been that too often.
He noticed her squirm at Jane’s invitation. He smiled encouragement that only she would notice, and made silently promised that he would not stay past dinner. “No Mistress Willent, no particular plans, but I did promise the men I’d be back in the late afternoon.” He answered both Jane and Rebecca.
Simm liked Jane Willent. She was a woman who did not let life’s larger issues get in the way of raising her family. She continued the informal introductions, while trying to grab the hands of her daughters and push them into their cloaks. She kept up the commentary as they moved toward the exit, partially to marshal her large group out of the church and out into the rain, and Simm was sure, to keep him from feeling left out.
They found the carriage and crowded into it. Simm was pushed in with the crowd, and ended up sitting between Jane and her daughters. Abby clambered over one adult after another trying out laps. Finally she turned and settled onto Simm, finding the thick wool of his cloak and the velvet of his fine suit just right. Soon the child was sleep on his shoulder. Jane made to reach for her sleeping daughter, but Simm waved her off. He adored his nieces and nephews and missed them terribly. It felt very nice having such a trusting fellow human resting in the crook of his shoulder. The child smelled of fresh soap and that special sweet scent that children have.
Nat followed the family to Hackett’s farm on Comet. He laughed, enjoying the fact that the haughty FitzSimmon was stuck in the crowded coach with the babies. Simm and Nat had recognized each other immediately as the family gathered in the vestibule. They had both been involved in military negotiations. The project was a private enterprise between the Continental Congress and Parliament, secret even from their own battalions. It was impossible to explain to the family that they had met before, many times.
The first meeting had been two years before during 1775, before Charlestown and Saratoga, before it became clear that war would need to be fought through to its ultimate finish. Nat found Simm efficient and organized. The Englishman always seemed to know what was expected of each meeting; as though he could see the outcome before the negotiations began. To the less experienced and worldly Nat Willent, all that efficiency was a form of British aristocratic arrogance. He did not understand that experience and careful observation made Simm able to the see the outcome, as each meeting unfolded.
Nat rode the bay into the barn, as his brother, walking the team which was now harnessed to an empty coach, followed. “That FitzSimmon put up a fuss about being crowded in with a bunch of babies?”
“Nope, seemed to settle right in. Carried Abby into the house just now. Like as not, good with kids. Likes ‘em, far as I can tell. You have some sort of problem with him being here? Nat, it’s Christmas.” Hackett half reprimanded and pleaded with his younger brother to stay and behave like one of the family. “We are lucky that you are so close you can get leave to come for dinner. Nat, don’t make me ask ‘the stranger’ to leave the table – at Christmas.” With that said, and the horses cared for, Hackett turned and went out the barn door into the rain, pulling the collar of his great coat over his head.
Nat contemplated leaving, but decided a warm kitchen and good food outweighed any personal animus he felt for John FitzSimmon.
Simm hadn’t been at a family Christmas celebration since he left for the army when he was sixteen. He had visited his family many times, but had been away at the holidays. Now he sat at the roaring fire waiting for a roast goose to be served. He could smell dinner cooking three rooms away. He sat nearly motionless, enjoying the family chaos, but feeling very alone in an alien world.
Soon the children were seated in the kitchen, and mulled wines and ciders were served to the adults. People moved to the table to eat. The five course dinner was an extravagant one for farmers in wartime, of that he was sure, and he tried to eat sparingly so the family would enjoy more days of the wonderful, well cooked meal.
Not feeling comfortable enough to enter into natural conversation, Simm watched the family interact. They were happy to be together, even Jasper Willent was not the angry patriarch he’d been when he visited Rebecca. Nat, home on leave from his unit at Valley Forge, glared at Simm, and ate as much of the good food as he could fit. Simm could not help noting the twist of fate that had him living in Nat’s house, eating well each day, while Nat’s army, the opposing army, was nearly starving not thirty miles away.
Hackett and Jane were devoted to home, family and each other. It was nice to be around such pleasant people, but he wanted to move to the children’s table in the kitchen. He puzzled that, and realized that the last Christmas dinner he had attended had been spent at the children’s table. Again he decided, he needed to leave as soon as it would be polite to do so.
Rebecca, the youngest adult in the family and the only unmarried woman, was busy serving and helping the children in the kitchen as often as she sat down. It was she who allowed Jane and her mother, to enjoy their dinners without hopping up to get the succeeding courses. He wanted to help her, but that would have seen as bizarre, he let the feeling pass. He thought about his brother’s advice and started to consider how he could connect with her so as to prevent himself from falling into some form of insanity.
After dinner, drinks and desserts were served in the parlor so the table could be cleared. Simm sat for a minute, excused himself to go to the privy, then made his thanks and good-byes to his generous host and hostess. The steady rain of the afternoon had turned, with dusk, to sleet. It made the road slick with bouncing ice balls, dancing as they hit the quickly freezing ground. Simm chose the less slippery path, and made his way over the brown fields instead of the rutted road, back to the stone farmhouse. Off the main road, his collar and hood over his head against the weather, he watched others riding and walking to and from their Christmas’ dinners. It all seemed so normal, calm and healthy.
These thoughts were dragging him away from the tight focus he tried so hard to maintain. Maudlin thinking had no place anywhere near a battlefield. Maybe seeing Nat Willent had brought it home, he felt done with the whole project. The months with hard-line Clinton in New York wouldn’t make it better, but it might prove distracting.
Politically he was coming to agree with his brothers’, Robert and Stephen’s, support of the American cause, and was finding it harder to accept the majority position of Parliament. This was perhaps what comes of living too close to real Philadelphians, or maybe because he also had read Mr. Paine’s Common Sense. On top those thoughts, Simm could not get the image of Rebecca laughing with her nieces and nephews, out of his mind. The sight of her holding tiny Hackett in her arms as she politely said good-bye and Merry Christmas at the door, nearly had him breathless with desire. He could not want to destroy any of that, but too often war tore families apart.
The distance to the farm was short and Simm was in the empty, cold kitchen too soon. The other men were out, the fires long cold. Simm set the kitchen fire and coaxed it back to life, then he put a kettle over the flames, to boil water for tea. He sat, alone on a hard wooden chair, eating wondrous shortbread and thinking of soft skin and silky hair. So sweet, so beautiful. His Rebecca was Nat Willent’s baby sister. Had Nat not been told that Simm was one of the men living in her house? He couldn’t like that. If it had been legal, he was sure the young lieutenant would have challenged him to a duel just for being at his family’s Christmas dinner. Honestly, if either Anne or Janet had a strange man, known only as a military adversary, home for Christmas dinner, he might challenge him as well.
He finished his tea and another shortbread upstairs in his room. Then he replenished the wood and kindling in his and Rebecca’s rooms. In time a few of the other soldiers came back and sat in the parlor telling sad stories and drinking brandy. Simm was tempted to go down and join the self pity of soldiers far from their homes on Christmas evening. Instead, his thoughts fell to the future. Something hopeful he could only dream of. Lying on his back staring at the ceiling, he built a dream of a beautiful, caring, wife with blond hair, and smokey blue eyes, his Becky. And children, their children, happy bright haired children. All of them living away from here. Far away from war and the things that would drag them back into war.
Simm had gotten a glimpse of his future in the front pews of the church. He could do something to achieve it, or let it lie fallow and die. He went down to say happy Christmas to the men, but excused himself after a few minutes, and went back upstairs to write letters to his mother and father.
“Simm!” Ellerby called from the front room, “when will ‘Becca get home tonight?” His voice was slightly slurred and it was clear the men had not finished drinking.
“Not till late, Ellerby, I told her I’d do the milking and fires,” John lied, but considered that doing Rebecca’s chores would be a Christmas gift.
“Ish too bad, I have a preshent for her.”
“Lets all do Christmas gifts tomorrow at dinner, Ellerby, when we’re not in our cups.”
“Dash a good idea.”
“Happy Christmas Ellerby.”
“Happ’ Chrishmas, FitzShimmon. Ellerby went back to the others. Simm went to the barn to see if he remembered what the milkmaid said when she taught him how to milk a cow.
Later, while the women were drying the last of the dishes, Jane gave Rebecca a look that said it was time to talk. “Becky, what’s wrong, you are so tightly wound I fear you will break? I’ve never seen you rush around so at a dinner. You know we all share the chores. There was no reason for such.”
“Jane, dear, I know you’re right, I am sorry. Nat and FitzSimmon were making me nervous, or rather, Nat was. He sat there so stiff.”
“He’s still here, Becky, why don’t you ask him why. Maybe it was sharing bread with his enemy. You know we are used to it here, having the soldiers all over the place, it might be harder for him?”
Rebecca thought over Jane’s words. She suspected it was deeper than that, but it would be interesting to hear what Nat had to say. She headed to the parlor, but stopped at the door to listen to the men talking. She learned that Nat had been involved with political missions. Ones that he was glad had failed. That barely answered her questions, unless he and Simm had known each other through those negotiations. As unlikely as another coincidence would be – it would explain why they seemed to know one another. She spent some time reading with the little girls. When at last they were ready for sleep she said her good-byes.
“Beck- you need someone to walk with you. It’s very dark and late.” Her brother Nat asked as she grabbed her cloak from the peg in the hall.
“Nat, you’re as likely to land face down in the ice as not. I know you need to get a good night’s sleep when you have a chance. Besides, you don’t want to see the men at the farm. I’ll find my way home, and I’ll be fine, see the moon is out.” And indeed the storm had cleared to an icy clean night, with a nimbus moon.
Rebecca walked through the barn on her way into the house to see what chores she could put off till morning. She found the cows milked, sheep penned and chickens fed. Pleased and surprised, she walked into the kitchen to find the kitchen fire banked and the floors swept. She peeked into the parlor and sitting room and found most of the men contentedly drowsy or asleep beside a dying fire. Quietly, she put a thick log on the coals, knowing that when house got too cold, the men would find their beds. Carrying her shoes, she tiptoed through the dining room back through the kitchen. She climbed the stairs to the first landing. Simm’s door was ajar and a lanthorn was lit. She could just make out that he was sitting at his desk working. Rebecca continued up to the attic. She lit a candle and covered it with the glass, carefully placing the light on the floor. She went to the large chest that took up most of the wall under the window. It was where she stored her things, since her removal to the attic.
She lifted the lid and rummaged inside the wooden chest until she found a package wrapped in flax homespun in a pile of cedar shavings. She pulled off the wrapping and examined the contents. Inside was a bolt of fabric, about the size of a small blanket. She had woven it a year ago during the fall and into the winter. Everything had felt different then, for although the war was on and her world was upside down, there had still been time to dye and spin. A year ago, there had been space to assemble her loom and sit and weave the tartan she would never look at again, certainly never give away.
Rebecca refolded the soft wool, pushed her feet into a pair of warm shearling leather slippers and went down one flight. “Knock, knock,” Rebecca called hesitantly into the open door. “Major, may I disturb you a minute?”
“Yes, Miss Willent,” Simm jumped at the unexpected and welcome interruption. “Yes. Of course, can I help you?” He looked up, Rebecca was holding a blue and green piece of wool fabric.
“No, I don’t need help. I’m sorry. I won’t interrupt your work.” She made as if to turn.
Simm felt desperate to stop her from leaving, short of screaming. He simply barked an order. He tried to do it quietly.“Stop, please. You’re not bothering me. Let me start over. Miss Willent, to what do I owe this unexpected visit?”
“I’m afraid this,” she held out the limp wool. “It isn’t what I would have chosen – this year, I didn’t make it recently. I didn’t have time or I would have made something more… more formal, a fine linen cravat or something.” Suddenly feeling like she did want to run away and abandon this effort, she made herself finish a bit defiantly.
“You had mentioned that your mother was a Douglass.”
“Yes, her mother’s father was a Scottish Douglass, the clan is dissolved now.”
“You see,” Rebecca took a deep breath and steeled herself to tell her story. “I started this that fall, you remember?” She let that memory hang in the air. “I didn’t have a reason. I never thought to give it to you, I suppose I made it for myself, to remember you while I wove it. Now, I think you should have it.” Embarrassed, Rebecca turned away.
“Becky?” John spoke softly. She turned back to the room and handed John the soft wool weaving. He took it in his right hand, while with his left he reached behind him to grab something on a shelf. He handed her a four inch by four inch by four inch wooden box that rattled as he moved it. “Similarly, I had no reason to write my mother about a girl that I had met. A girl who explained the entire geopolitical industrial history of colonial America by explaining the lack of hairpins, but I did. Mother sent this last year. Jason brought it. I remember writing her about my trip through America. I tried to keep my stories bland, informational. I think I might not have been bland. Mother and my niece, another Elizabeth, went hunting for pins throughout London and Paris. She told Jason to give me this box, that you would want it. I assume, Mother was right?”
Rebecca reached for the box as Simm reached for the cloth. She sat on the floor in front of his warm fire and slid open the lid of the little wooden box. Inside, there were long thick straight pins for closing heavy coats and capes, long thin ones for hats, there were curved decorative pins with dulled ends for hair, even a large set to be used for utilitarian things such as sewing and diapers.
Simm fingered the soft wool. He’d penned these very sheep. He imagined Rebecca shearing, carding, spinning and dying the yarns before she wove the lovely tartan. He ached for her as he imagined those happy, bright haired children sleeping in their cradles, covered with this warm soft cloth.
He thanked her. She nodded and went back to her attic room.
As I said last week, there are very few romances that take place at Christmas. This is Alex in 1775, alone in Boston, acting as eyes for George Washington in the British occupied town. On top of that he has decided to read Seneca.
Early in the day Alex had accompanied his friends, the young sons of families with connections to the previous governor, and officers who had the bad luck to be stuck in Boston on Christmas Day, to church. Although the soldiers and residents might have wanted to celebrate the birth of the lord, the town did not have a festive feel. Not only was it warm enough for snow to turn to mud, few homes had bothered to so much as hang a pine bough in the window.
Before the occupation and naval blockade, the townspeople of Boston had begun to enjoy the celebrations around December the twenty-fifth, but it was always complicated for them. First the Puritan edicts ran contrary to celebrating just one day for the birth of Christ. Cotton Mather, called one of the great lights of Puritan thought, had said that every day was cause for the celebration of Christ, not one day a year.
Further complicating the holiday in the minds of New Englanders, was the Saturnalia. The Roman celebration of the new year. It was traditionally Pagan and raucous. Some traditionalists argued that any celebration around the winter solstice was Popery or even paganism. Others understood that it was important to celebrate the birth of Christ, even if the day had not been a significant holiday in the previous century. Everyone it seemed, had begun to realize that it was unkind, in this cold, dark place, not to have some celebration at the end of the year.
Now however, the occupied town was dreary and sad on the best days. Roads had not been groomed or cleaned, wooden walks had not been repaired, and lights that were scheduled to be hung near the market, had either already broken or had never been set up.
Alex spent as much time as he could, in forced jollity with these men. If he could have attended a service at the nearby New South Meetinghouse, the day would have had some meaning, but to have gone to New South would have attracted attention, the wrong kind of attention. He had worked very hard to be the man everyone liked, but nobody noticed. It wouldn’t do to have notice made of him now.
Ruefully, he acknowledged that this life was exhausting him. He lied so often about who he was and what he was doing, that he had lost his energy. His life had no zest. Every night he dressed and went to whichever club was next was on his list, living the charade of the well heeled Tory looking to entertain himself until his army won back the colonies. He played this role so well, that he had been invited by the young officers to spend time at the Province House drinking with them and their superiors, officers of highest ranks. Lots of inadvertent information had started coming his way. Now was not a good time to be noticed in any capacity, certainly not for the stupid mistake of going to the wrong church.
Christmas morning he had left his fellows’ company as early as was polite, and gone home. Once he was as warm and comfortable as possible, he set a bottle fine cognac next to him on the table and began pouring the warm wine into a crystal glass. He had a copy of Seneca open on his lap, but the wine was more interesting than Stoicism. It was not that the Stoics weren’t compelling, it just seemed redundant to him when what he needed was to get very drunk.
He remembered Christmas a year ago. It had been his first in America after being in Italy the winter before. Music ringing from the churches and halls echoed in his memory. He never expected his New England homeland to celebrate with the elegance of Florence or the abandon of Rome, or even the bells of London, but he had put holly and mistletoe in his parlor, and a candle in his window. Now there was nothing.
Alex looked at his glass and realized that it, and the bottle on the table were empty. He had been making up for an afternoon of staying judiciously sober. He tried to stand, to find another bottle of wine, but he sat back hard when he heard footsteps on the stairs. Pushing himself up, and trying to throw off his despond before the door opened and he was asked to go out to a another boring evening. He had just grabbed a second bottle and sat back down, when the visitor retreated, steps echoing in the hall as they moved down the stairs.
He heard some rustling outside his door, and almost went to look, but the effort did not seem worth it. A minute later, he heard footfalls again. He had no interest in leaving his cognac or his chair, and hoped there was no one there who needed anything from him. The steps came up a third time and knocked on the door. He had achieved the perfect state of inebriation and did not want to alter it, he grunted “enter.”
The door opened and boxes of firewood and food were pushed from the hallway through the door by a lady’s foot in dark burgundy boots. Even in boots, she had a lovely ankle. Very pretty legs from what he could see. Alex sat back, if this was a drunken hallucination, or a fabulous dream. He would do nothing to change it. Ladies with nice legs who brought food and firewood, could only exist in dreams.
Alex smelled the food. The lady was surely a hallucination. She unpacked roast turkey and cranberries, Indian bread and pumpkin pie. Food that shouldn’t be here, he swallowed deeply from his glass. The lady with the pretty burgundy boots, threw off a matching cloak and revealed a green gown with a purple striped petticoat. The gown was silk and low cut. It revealed more than it should have to a man as drunk as he. He reached for his glass to prolong the hallucination.
In this dream, Nina was putting wood on his tiny fire, building it to real warmth. Other boxes of firewood were lined up near the door. She moved nearer, and leaned over. He blinked at a lovely neckline, and the tops of full breasts. He did not move or speak, careful not to wake himself or shake the apparition away.
Nina knew when a man was drunk. She took her tin camp kettle and unpacked it on a small table near the fire, setting up a plate of turkey, stuffing and cranberries. She put it on the small table next to his wine, and sat on the floor at his feet. Nina handed Alex a piece of turkey on a fork. “You need food, eat.” He blinked at the plate of good food at his elbow and the fork. Obediently he took the fork and ate the food. When the plate was nearly empty he blinked again. He reached for his wine. Nina replaced the glass in his hand with a tankard of ale.
“It doesn’t seem right to eat. I have made a policy of not eating.” Alex sat back in his chair, he took a long drink of Nina’s ale. He could feel his head shrink and mind clear.
“Why don’t you eat? You are very thin.” All sorts of panicked worries began swimming around Nina’s head. Terrible things happened to people when they began to starve. She wished she could drag Alex home to care for him, but he would not want that.
“There is little food. Most townspeople are here because they have nowhere to go, the redcoats are only holding warehouse goods here, not people, they are free to leave. I don’t mean the Tories, the refugees, as they call themselves. But the locals. Food is smuggled in for them. I don’t deserve their food. I eat with the Tories, but I can’t eat much.”
It was nonsense, and yet Nina understood. She would never fault Alex for a lack of discipline, or of lacking clear sense, of doing what he believed. It would foolish to try to change his mind on such matters. “Seneca?” She picked up his book from where he had dropped it. “Don’t you think this ascetic life is punishment enough?”
“Punishment? I am not being punished. I am performing a necessary task.”
“Yes, I know.” She turned through the pages of the book.
Alex relaxed back into his drunk. The food was nice, and it was very good to be warm. Having Nina, or her apparition, here was good. He would wake in the morning, cold, hungry and with a terrible hangover. But it was nice, this dream.
It was odd to have the taste of ale in his mouth. He wasn’t sure he could conjure up the taste of Nina’s ale. It had been a long time since he had drunk good ale. The false Alex Peele had completely stopped drinking beer. His apparition was talking to him. He fought to focus.
“Deborah Revere said I should come to town. No, that’s not the truth.” Nina fumbled, trying to find words that would not embarrass.
Alex poured some cognac into his empty tankard and handed Nina a glass of the wine. He rested his other hand in her hair as she sat close to him, still on the rug near the fire. “Start at the beginning. Nina, I’m afraid I can’t focus, but I will try.” His slight laugh gave her courage.
“It was the night of that dinner party. I tried to tell you – after – when we were on Thorne.”
Alex remembered being afraid for Nina’s life, afraid there would be no reason to carry on with his own life. Was there a way to explain all that? “I remember a terrible need to shoot the bastard who held you hostage in the road. I recall you trying to tell me something. I know that gunshots interfered.”
“Yes they did.” Nina took a deep breath. Sitting very straight, she put her hands in her lap. “The next week I made a confession at meeting. They voted. I’m a member of the First Church now.”
“Yes, congratulations. I know your family must be relieved. But, I am sorry. What does that have to do with – what you need to tell me?”
“My confession was that I had stayed angry with Johnny for ten years. I confessed that I had never forgiven him for hurting me, leaving me, and dying before we could make a marriage. Then I told the elders that someone had come into my life. And that I had asked God to help me forgive Johnny. I needed to make room in my heart to love this person.”
Alex held his breath. He had been present at many confessions. Some people had begun to take them lightly, but Nina wouldn’t. Such public confessions were required in the Old Light tradition for church membership. Dr. Tyrie was strictly Old Light. Confessing a sexual love was unusual, but nothing was unheard of.
She looked at her hands and continued. “It happened on the way to the dinner party. I had been screaming – howling even louder than the wind – at the unfairness of my life, at Johnny. I guess I was screaming at God. Suddenly, I felt all my anger leave me. I cried for a while, and then I wasn’t scared anymore.
“When I finished my story, the ladies in the Congregation started to cry, their husbands looked a little uncomfortable. But the wives all ran to hug me. Alex I am not afraid anymore. It may be wrong to say, but after that night I feel reborn.”
Alex pulled himself out of his chair and walked the few short step to the window. He pushed his head against the cold glass and looked at the growing dark of the late afternoon. Clouds blocked the moon making the evening as dreary as the day had been, until now. He thanked the gracious God for bringing Nina here, bringing her, just for a moment, into his complicated life.
But he couldn’t, wouldn’t do it. The false Alex Peele could not be here with this newly reborn and wonderful Nina. He put he head against the cold window. There was only one way he could refuse her generous offer where she would not feel rejected. Dishonestly was his middle name, he would be a sloppy drunk.
“Darling,” he carefully slurred his words, “you may be sure. But I am afraid that you find me in a bit of incapacitation.” He that was a hard one, and he made the most of it. His gait wobbled as he sat next to Nina on the warm rug. He didn’t need to fake that, or his swooning head. Her kiss was very sweet, his mouth must take like cognac. He took a minute and closed his eyes.
Nina stood up and away from him. She began to explore the room. Just behind where they sat, was a short corridor to Alex’s bedroom. She went in. The room was very cold. It was likely he had never had a fire here, she knelt and set a fire. Again she wanted nothing so much as to drag Alex back to the Wheel and Hammer, feed him well, and let him rest. She could see the weariness in his eyes. Even the fact he was long in his cups couldn’t hide the profound tired.
It felt good to have Nina here. Good to have that recurring nightmare over. The one in which watched Nina dragged away and held at gunpoint, while he, so afraid to expose his identity, did nothing to save her. He hated himself in those dreams. If there were any way he could give up this false world, he would. That simple kiss in Nina’s kitchen had nearly cost Washington his eyes in Boston. Only saved by Jack walking in the kitchen door. For all he knew, young Jack saved the American cause that morning.
He had lost his heart that morning, though it had taken some time to acknowledge it. Lost, just as Carlotta had seen in the strange way of hers, to a woman with aquamarine eyes. He remembered when she had given him the bezel and told him to give it to the lady whose eyes matched the stone. The one who would own his heart. Carlotta should be hanged as a witch.
He could see Nina through the door. She had shed her shawl and looked magnificent in the green and violet gown, the colors complimenting each other, and her. Like a spring tulip. He summoned energy to bank the fire, and put the screen in front of the hearth. He half crawled into his room and climbed onto the bed. He let his head fall back into the soft pillows, his eyes closed. These pillows were the one extravagance he had allowed himself in this strange, false life. It was his one delicious moment per day, letting his head sink into softness. The room was warm, which was a pleasant shock. Through his drunken haze he watched his Nina taking off her boots and socks in front of the fire.
The simple act was breathtaking. He had seen the veil dancers in Istanbul, and sat in the salons of courtesans in Paris. Nothing he had seen on his travels compared to watching Nina step out of thick boots, warm socks and thick, quilted petticoats. He swallowed. He willed his body to be hopelessly drunk, as inebriated as he needed it to be.
Nina fiddled with the strings and hooks of her gown. Her heart pounded in her ears. She wished it was with excitement, but she knew that she was afraid. She hated to retreat. She was afraid of hurting Alex’s feelings, more than of anything else. She told herself it would be perfect, she would not curl into a frightened little ball. Her heavy quilted petticoats fell to her feet. She stepped out of them, and turned to the bed.
Alex was soundly asleep, his head deep in the nest of pillows a smile on his lips. She had felt him watching her until just a minute before. Quietly Nina tiptoed around the two rooms. She pulled the blankets over him, making sure he was comfortable. She snuffed the candles and checked hearths, banking coals so that they would be alive in the morning. She washed her teeth in some clean water and braided her hair. Then she pulled back the covers on Alex’s warm soft bed and climbed in next to him, snuggling close against his hard back. She put her arms around him and drew him to her, breathing his scent deep into her lungs. It felt familiar, at the same time she felt a warm, a tingly sensation that had nothing to do with the temperature in the room. She had not expected to feel so physically connected although she had realized that what she felt for him must be love. Nina sighed with contentment, Alex slept deeply and seemed oblivious to all.
Before dawn Alex woke to Nina, as she gently, almost silently climbed out of bed. He remembered just enough of the night, what had happened, and what had not happened. And why. He got up and Alex fixed the fire in his parlor and set water on the hearth, while Nina dressed in the other room. He ran out to the privy, only slightly surprised to see Nina’s Suffolks, already harnessed and ready to leave. He greeted the horses and wished them a good new year, then he pushed a leather pouch under the wagon bench and went back into the house. He climbed back into his warm bed, his head splitting.
“I have to leave.” Nina, dressed in a warm wool gown, leaned over to kiss him good-bye. Alex pulled her down and into his arms. He rolled her beneath him and covered her mouth with his. Deepening the kiss when he felt Nina fingers dig into his back and run through his hair.
Nina opened her lips as Alex demanded. Lost in the whirlwind of sensation, his fabulous hair loose in her fingers. He feet struck the floor as clock struck its second charm. Alex let her go, picking up her fingers and kissing them one by one, and letting them go, letting her go.
Weakly, he waved good-bye.
Recently, on a romance blog, someone asked about romance at Christmas. There are actually very few romance novels set at Christmas, but all three of mine include an important Christmas scene. Beginning tonight, I will be posting one of those a week. This is the first from Cardinal Points. Christmas in 1773 occurred one week after the men dumped the tea in the harbor, but I bet everyone wanted to pretend life would go on as normal.
Oona sat in a public pew in the small wooden church. Her mind wandered from the minister’s words, and she stared out the clear windows at the clear winter light. It always served to clear whatever confusion she suffered in her life. But this morning her mind was full of other things. Oona shivered against the cold, glad of hot coals in her small foot warmer.
She continued her prayers begun the evening before, asking for guidance on the new path she would have to follow. As the minister talked of things that meant little to her, she found her mind wandering and she began to think about Jason FitzSimmon. Not all her musings were pleasant, and she kept asking herself why Jason, son of a duke, with a title and a family that would catch any American heiress, would waste his time with a maid who had nothing. Of course he wouldn’t. She had nothing to offer, no dowry, no family name, no family. What would he want from her but what every man wanted, and that she would not give him, even if that was what she wanted too.
She stopped her wandering thoughts, and pulled her mind back to the service just as it ended. She pulled on her cloak and grabbed her small brazier. Many people would return to the meeting house after lunch for an afternoon of prayer and instruction, but ministers understood that servants had obligations to their earthly mistresses and masters. So when the minister wished them a good meal, Oona thanked him and made her way back over the hill. New South’s service was longer than the Goodiel’s at King’s Chapel, so she hurried home and went right to work in the kitchen helping Mrs. Prince knead pastry dough for the fancy dinner that evening.
That was where Anne found her an hour later. “Oona, when you are done here, could you mind the girls? They need to dress for the party and so do you. Nanny has the night off. Suzie and Darcie are here, so don’t worry about being needed to serve. I think you should wear the red. I haven’t seen it, but if you’ve finished it – I believe the color should suit you.” The woman rushed on, not leaving Oona space to agree, comment, or disagree. Anne Goodiel called back at her “…and Oona? I need you to come to church with us next weekend. It’s Christmas and I think the household should be seen together.”
Finally given a chance to speak, Oona muttered a “yes, Ma’am.” She went up to the girls’ room, where she found nurse putting on her cloak and hood, getting ready to leave. The children curtseyed to her as she left.
Oona dressed Mary and Willie and sent them off to help Darcie, and to tell Suzie to come upstairs to help her dress. She went up to her room to find the red gown Anne Goodiel had requested she wear. Originally it had been a deep red augmented with the rust-colored trim that would bring out Anne Goodiels red highlights. It was a lovely, light wool, made in a split skirt and split sleeves with the dark rust silk used for the petticoat and undersleeves. Oona’s re-creation of it was more daring. She had closed the split skirt and removed the silk in the sleeve, replacing it with a white, ethereal lace. She had changed the neckline too. Lowering it and changing the bodice so that with the proper stays, her breasts were pushed right to the edge of the top of the bodice, waiting to spill over. She was tempted to hide her neckline under a warm shawl or fichu, but she knew that was just cowardice, and she had vowed to be brave on her new path.
Jason approached the well-lit house with some anxiety. He had gone to church at the Christ Church in the North End that morning. It was a church whose architecture appealed to seamen since it was built by shipwrights as an upside down ship. He liked its tall steeple and the clear windows that let in the cold early winter light. It was generally expected that everyone would go to one church or another on a Sunday morning, but that seriousness ended at lunch and he’d spent the early afternoon with friends eating good food and listening to tales.
Although he had gone to sea before his fifteenth birthday, spending another Christmas away from his family left Jason feeling very far from home. He would like nothing more than to find a way to create a home, somewhere in the world, but an evening spent among Boston’s elite merchant class, did not feel like the best way to realize his dream.
A knock with the fox-head brought immediate attention, with little Willie doing the honors, overseen by her sister Mary. The little girls looked up at Jason, and not recognizing him, ran for their mother. Anne Goodiel returned a moment later with her small daughters in tow and took his coat to hang. She offered the rest room, a small room off the main hall he had noticed on an earlier visit. There were guests in there – fixing their clothing and applying powder to hair and face. But, since he had traveled no more than three blocks from his home to the Goodiel’s dinner party, he thanked her and shook his head no.
Anne chased her daughters toward the young maid who came to collect them, and showed him into the great room. There were tables covered with cheeses, fruits, and bowls of various flavors of punch, and everywhere boughs and hangings of pine and fir. Jason thanked his hostess, and helped himself to food and drink.
He realized that he was the stranger in the midst of merchants, captains, their wives and their families. These men and women had known each other their whole lives, grown up together, married into each other’s families and gone into business together. He thought he might know a few of the men who sailed for Matthew Goodiel on other ships, but they were probably at sea, or home with their own families.
The crowd was relaxed, even boisterous. Talk often veered to the tea’s destruction only a few days before. Curiosity, but not real worry as to what Parliament’s reaction would be, ran high. Jason assumed by the talk that most of the Goodiel’s guests were loyalists, with the caveat that they be left alone to earn their fortunes. Jason sympathized with that attitude, it was one he had always harbored toward his aristocratic and autocratic family, and secretly, toward the monarchy as well.
There were people dancing. Jason watched a set and realized that although he had not set foot at any sort of assembly or party for many years, he remembered most of the dances. He turned to a group of young ladies waiting to be asked to dance. He had seen these same girls with their parents only minutes before. Now they had coalesced into a giggling group, leaving their mamas and papas on the other side of the room, but it was obvious they were the daughters of merchant and ship owning families. Jason asked one young lady to dance. She smiled a polite yes, and he escorted her into their place in line. The dance was a reel, and although some couples danced far better, and some far worse, Jason enjoyed moving around the floor with his partner.
He tried to push the thoughts of Oona away, the day they had spent pouring over charts in these very rooms, but he could not help looking to see if she were serving punch or dancing with one of the men. It was toward the end of the first set that he noticed a group of young children dancing and patiently being instructed by Oona and one of the other girls. The children were doing a good job of keeping up with their teachers, and the whole group was obviously having fun. He could not help but be envious of the children who had the undivided attention of the pretty maid. But it was not his place to abandon the young ladies who expected Goodiel’s new mate to partner them in the coming dances.
Oona lifted her head from teaching little Jimmy Russell the steps to a gavotte. As she looked across the hall she recognized many of the guests, and felt comfortable. She had spent the day rehearsing her new outlook. It was good, she thought, to understand the world in which she lived. Even if one did not quite fit in, yet.
Scanning the small crowd, she spotted Jason. He was dancing with a very pretty girl. Cordelia Bonnel, a rich captain’s daughter. Oona knew her and their household. She was precisely the sort of young woman Jason should marry. Her father had the connections that would aid Jason in his work, and her dowry would propel him forward. In no time he would be the captain of a fine vessel himself. She swallowed her sorrow, and worked at being delighted for him.
She turned back to her small charges, but after the next dance they were ushered off to an early dinner, then games and sleep in the nursery while their parents ate and danced. Anne Goodiel had asked Oona to attend the party as a member of the household, so as much as she might want to, she could not go off and hide with the children. She got herself something to eat and drink and set to watching the dancers for a while. She didn’t know if she was delighted for herself or disappointed for Jason as he walked away from the charming Cordelia. The girl made no effort to tie him into another dance. In fact, she barely looked back and walked away not looking at all smitten or wistful. She watched as he next asked Natalie Rowe to dance. Her cousins were the powerful merchant Rowes. Her father was a lawyer. Another good match for him. Natalie was pretty and lively. She smiled and flirted with Jason as they danced. The reel was not one in which partners spent a great time together, and both Jason and Natalie seemed to smile and flirt with all their partners equally. Oona fixed the girl with Jason in her imagination, she remembered that she was a skilled artist and a good musician. She would make a fine wife; her connections and money would help Jason in untold ways. Oona scolded herself that Jason would be happy with these girls or others just like them.
She watched as he took his farewell from Natalie just as he had Cordelia. He kissed the girl’s knuckles very politely, and he smiled pleasantly but blandly into his partner’s eyes. Oona watched Jason’s eyes as he moved from one dance partner to the other. Yes, he’d gazed appreciatively, and smiled gently into their eyes. His eyes lacked intensity. She was sure she would have noticed that yellow eyed glow his eyes had when he looked at her. The gleam that she could only describe as wolfish. She smiled a self-satisfied smile, and hummed silently as the small orchestra began their next piece.
Oona was asked to dance by a merchant’s son, nephew of Dr. Church. Peter Church was a well known dandy and man about town. He was also a fantastic dancer. They spun around the floor, always ending where they should, Peter’s skill making her feel lovely and light. Oona smiled her thanks as Peter leaned over to kiss her hand. He stared into her eyes just a second too long. Oona felt uncomfortable and turned away to stifle a nervous giggle. There was something odd about the man. On the dance floor he was tremendously skilled, but off, he was like a fish out of water. Maybe, Oona held up a linen handkerchief to her hide her smiling lips, his natural domain was the dance floor, just as a fish’s was the ocean. In seconds another young man asked her to dance. And she left Peter Church and images of his floundering on dry land, behind.
Jason watched Oona laughing and swirling with the eligible young men of Boston. These really were the men she should hope for. As the Goodiels seemed to be sponsoring her, maybe this evening was her entre of sorts. He fisted his hands in frustration, knowing he would never be considered eligible. Certainly he had his youth and lack of funds working against him. He stood in the shadows and watched Oona fly around the floor. As the set ended, he saw Anne Goodiel hurry over to speak to her young charge.
Oona thanked her latest partner and leaned against a tall chair for support as she caught her breath. She was having a very good time. She was surprised that Mrs. Goodiel had asked her to attend. She had the thought that maybe now, with her indenture nearly ended, her mistress wanted to secure her entre into local society. Oona hadn’t considered that she ever would, but this evening was an unexpected treat.
“Oona! Could you see to a small problem we have at the punch bowl?”
“A problem at the punch bowl? She followed Anne’s gaze to the other side of the room and a large puddle of punch spreading on the floor.
“Yes, Ma’am.” Oona muttered dutifully her lovely bubble bursting, just as she was so enjoying the evening.
She had stashed a bucket and rags behind the cloth that covered the punch table. She had also pointed out the location of the cleaning supplies to the staff who were hired to work the party, so it had not been necessary to ask her to deal with the sticky floor. Oona understood Anne’s message very clearly, as she got on her hands and knees in her fine red wool gown to mop up the spill. She just didn’t understand why the woman wanted her at the party after the children had left. Oona wished she could wipe so hard a hole would open in the wooden floor and she could fall into it.
Jason was shocked and disgusted as he watched Anne Goodiel send Oona to mop up a spill at the punch table. He hastened over to that table, striking up conversations with the gentlemen and ladies in the area. He hoped to be so distracting they did not notice the dark-haired girl in the beautiful red gown mopping the floor. As he heard her shove the bucket and rags back under the table, he turned to offer his hand and help her rise.
“Miss Oona, may I have this next dance.” Jason spoke in his most elegant tones, thinking his oldest brother, the duke in training, had nothing on him at this moment.
“Oh yes, that would be lovely.” Oona was only barely aware of Anne Goodiel glaring at her from nearby, as she put her cold, slightly damp hand into Jason’s warm, safe one. She looked into those brown, wolfish eyes with their intense light. She felt a tingle of something more than simple pleasure as he tightened his grip ever so slightly, and lifted her up – as if out of a deep court curtsey.
Time stopped. Jason whirled her into the dance. Oona paid no attention to her feet which instinctively followed Jason’s every step, instead she looked into his deep brown eyes. Those canine streaks that had been lacking as he danced with the merchants’ daughters, had reappeared, and her heartbeat sped up more than the jig’s speed required. She recognized the signals of a man’s interest, but Jason’s fascination exceeded that. She understood that she was being hunted. She also knew that she should drop her gaze coquettishly as other girls would. She couldn’t, instead she continued to accept his direct gaze. She held her chin high as that same gaze moved approvingly over her body and gown.
As the dance ended, she curtseyed to him as he bowed. She watched the dancers move off to the dinner room – no one bothered looking in her direction. She took a moment to catch her breath before politely thanking Jason and moving away. He made no move to leave her side, instead he seemed to be scanning the room, seeking something. He turned back to her and smiled, and she smiled back, in what she hoped was appropriately genteel way. She took a step away, as if to do something elsewhere. Jason touched her arm to stop her going. They stood together, each looking out into the room as though they were each looking to move on. Oona felt Jason’s hand on her back. He moved his fingers slowly and teasingly up back to play with the soft hairs at the base of her neck. He had angled them so that his arm and her back were successfully out of the view of anyone still in the room.
Before that dance with Oona, Jason’d had enough of the Goodiel’s party. He could not leave early – his new post on Goodiel’s ship, and a long ingrained politeness, prevented him from grabbing his coat and storming out of the house, but he could not dance with any more town lovelies. It was just as well Mrs. Goodiel had tried to humiliate her pretty maid before the crowd, it distracted him, given him something to do.
He whispered something in her ear, then he moved off toward the dinner room with the rest of the stragglers. Oona walked the room, looking for broken glass and tipping candlesticks. She kept busy with the normal mess left behind by a successful party. The bayberry candles she had helped Mary and Willie put around the room, had burned to stubs, and many were already out. The dancing was over and the musicians had gone home, so there was no need to find replacements. Oona cleaned up the stubs, putting them aside for the candlemaker to reuse. Then she gazed over the room simply enjoying the quiet and privacy of the darkened, empty room.
In a few minutes she stepped behind the heavy winter drapes into the cold, bowed window. She summoned her courage, telling herself that this was a necessary step in becoming her new self, but a part of her knew that she was simply giving into delightful temptation. Footsteps sounded in the empty room and came toward her hiding place. She felt the shiver of something she barely recognized as excitement, from her toes to her chin. She moved back into the darkest shadows of the alcove and looked down. Black shiny boots stood still, just on the other side of the heavy drapes. In one step they were through.
Oona stared at the shiny leather, and then slowly moved her eyes from the fine boots up to the face of the man who had suggested their meeting. As her eyes found Jason’s, she didn’t know if she was delighted to see her new friend, or frightened by the look of conquest in his eyes. She was just realizing that the smart thing would be to push herself away from him. Flee upstairs to the lonely safety of her cold room on the third floor. But instead she pushed herself closer to him. Almost without movement he gently compelled them into the deepest shadows of the alcove and out of the direct draft of the cold glass. He leaned into her, pulling her to him at the same time. He very gently brushed her lips with one hand, while the other wound escaped tendrils of soft dark hair around his fingers at the back of her neck. As he feathered her lips, he traced her delicious neckline slowly with one finger, not upsetting the elegant gown or its wearer.
He kissed her gently, deepening it and holding her close but not intimately, while waiting for her response – positive or negative.