Keep Reading: Part II of "Lighting a Dark December."
Jane entered the kitchen the next morning to find Carrie in a furious rant.
“I knew it,” she blustered. “I knew that Master Nathan and Miss Sarah and all those people working against the king would come to no good. They’re ending up just like my first master, Mr. Lawrence. He was blown to high heaven! And now Master Hale is hung. And that silly, willful Miss Sarah. I bet she’s gonna hang too.”
She sputtered as she cut up leeks for the afternoon meal. Jane jumped as Carrie slammed the knife down on the wood cutting block.
“If you keep doing that, Carrie, you’re going to cut your finger off.”
She stood for a moment, taking a deep breath. She glared at Jane. “You look like you ain’t seen a lick of sleep.”
“I was seeing to Gilbert. He was ill most of the night.”
“I know, I heard. He was heavin’ from all that whiskey he drunk.” Carrie pointed to the table. “There is tea and toast over there.”
Jane poured her tea, then spread jam on some bread.
“I take it you heard about Nathan and Sarah,” said Jane between bites.
She ignored Jane. “Foolishness. And foolishness always leads down a bad road. That Master Hale, he was always trouble for Miss Sarah. She almost committed the worst sin of all because of him.”
“It’s not the worst sin, Carrie. Not if two people love each other.”
She turned to Jane, eyes like massive black buttons. “I ain’t talking ‘bout fornication. Do you remember when we had that terrible blizzard two winters ago?”
“Yes,” Jane replied. “Of course. It was one of the worst winters we’ve ever had.”
“Miss Sarah tried to jump off the pier in that storm. She tried to kill herself when Master Hale jilted her. Mr. Dudley, he saved her. If not for him, she would be fish food at the bottom of the Sound.” She picked up the knife again, continuing her slicing. “And why was she with Master Hale again? Wasn’t she going to marry Mr. Dudley?” She grabbed an onion, slamming the knife into it. It fell into two perfect halves. “It’s all a waste, I tell ya.”
Jane lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry, I did not know about her trying to harm herself.”
Toby, the butler, and the other former slave of the Lawrence’s had been sitting in the corner, peeling potatoes with his thin and shaky fingers. He was nearing his 90th year now. Crippled and frail, he couldn’t do much, but he was a part of the Saltonstall family and a companion to Mrs. Saltonstall and friend to everyone in the house. Until now, he hadn’t said a word. Suddenly he shook his white head. “Poor Miss Sarah. She loved that Master Hale. She loved Mr. Dudley too. And they loved her. What a girl she was.”
Carrie turned to him. “Oh, hush your mouth, you old coot. You don’t remember nothing. None of it has come to any good. Just death. It all started with Mr. and Mrs. Thompson hiding all that gunpowder from the Redcoats.”
“Mrs. Thompson didn’t hide a thing,” said Toby. “She was a Tory. A horrible woman. She tried to kidnap Miss Sarah and her daughter Clarise and take them back to England. She wanted to turn Sarah over to the King.”
“Now Master Hale is hung, and Miss Sarah is in prison,” Carrie continued. “Nothing but waste. And have we rid ourselves of the King? We have not. Are we free of England? We are not. Nothing has changed. Just more dying.”
Jane couldn’t argue with Carrie there. Things were looking dire for the rebels. After a summer and fall of many battles, the British had taken back York City and were heading toward Philadelphia. Mr. Saltonstall heard that the Continental Congress had fled Philadelphia for Baltimore for this reason. Washington was now asking Congress to create a professional army since the militia had not been enough to hold back the Redcoats. If Congress did not approve the new army, the chances of conquering the British and starting this new country many dreamed of were very bleak.
Jane sat by the fire with her breakfast. “We must not give up. We must keep fighting.”
“And you, girl,” Carrie bellowed. “Are you and Mr. Gilbert gonna do the right thing before that babe you’re carryin’ comes?”
Jane stared at her, her face coloring.
“Oh, yes. I know. You’re getting’ as fat as a house. And don’t tell me it’s my cookin’ ‘cuse you eat like a bird.”
“Please, Carrie, lower your voice. I’m sure Toby doesn’t want to hear about this.”
“Him? He already knows.”
“That’s right, Miss Jane. I alreadys know. You are a good girl. That Mr. Gilbert, he can be a rascal. You need to make him do right by you.”
“I will, Toby,” Jane replied. “And thank you. But how does everybody know? Do Gilbert’s parents know too?”
Carrie stared at her. “Have you told the boy yet? Lordy, girl, you ran out in the snow last night with nothing on but a thin cloak, and you mean to say you still didn’t tell him?”
‘I was going to. But with the terrible news about Nathan, well, I never got around to it.”
“Never got around to what, Jane?”
Gilbert entered. He grabbed a piece of onion from Carrie’s block, biting into it. “Um, Carrie, these onions are strong. That soup will be savory and delicious. Just how I like it.”
She pushed his hands away. “It won’t be no good if you keep takin’ what’s goin’ in it. You’ll be getting’ your fingers cut off. I’ll be cookin’ those in the pot.” She turned and glared at him. “How are ya feelin this morning? Must not be good after getting sick on all that liquor.”
“That liquor will be the death of ya, Mr. Gilbert,” said Toby, now struggling to pop beans from their pods with his arthritic fingers. “I know many a man lost it all to that demon drink.”
“You tell ‘ , Toby,” said Carrie. “One of these days he might listen.”
“Yes, thank you, Toby, Carrie. Last night I got terrible news. I promise I will watch my drinking for now on.”
He went over to Jane. “So….. what is the big secret you two are sharing?”
Jane and Carrie exchanged a glance. “Nothing,” Jane replied. “Just talking gossip.” Carrie turned away, frowning and shaking her head.
Gilbert grabbed her hand. “Come, let us get our cloaks and go for a ride. The sun is beautiful on the snow. I have the horses and the carriage all set. I have a surprise for you.”
“Did you forget, Toby?” Carrie said, looking at Gilbert.
Toby thought for a moment. “Oh, my goodness. I did almost forget. Mr. Gilbert, someone come with the package for you this morning.” Toby stood very slowly. The sound of his back cracking was audible. “Ouch,” he cried, grabbing his cane.
“Sit back down, Toby,” said Gilbert. “Don’t exert yourself. Just tell me where it is.”
“It’s right out the door here, on your mama’s desk.”
Gilbert opened the door and grabbed the package. His scratched his forehead as he read the envelope.
“What is it, Gilbert?” Jane asked.
“I know not. It’s from York City. Dated mid-October.”
“Are you going to open it?”
He smiled at her, putting the envelope in his pocket. “No, not now. Come, we have other things to do. I want to show you my surprise.”
As they went through the door, Carrie stared at Jane with wide eyes.
“She has one for you too,” Carrie muttered.
Jane glared at her as Gilbert took her hand, leading her out of the kitchen.
Jane sat close to Gilbert, her head on his shoulder as the sleigh slid along the path. The trees were shrouded in sparkling blankets of white. Daylight pushed through the dappled trees, nearly blinding them as it burst through the weighted branches. She bowed her head, hiding her face from the light in the wool of Gilbert’s coat.
The wind picked up, blowing the wet snow down upon them from above like a chilly dust. Jane squealed with glee as it came down, tickling her skin. Gilbert laughed, putting his arm around her. He slapped with reins, the horse trotting faster. As the sleigh picked up speed, the sharp air burnished their faces.
They emerged into a clearing. Snow covered cornfields surrounded them on all sides. Just beyond the fields, there was a small, crude little building. As they got closer, Jane saw it was a rundown old barn. The roof was half off, and the boards on the sides were pulled up, as if someone had ripped them from the frame.
Gilbert stopped. “Do you remember this place?” he asked.
Jane thought for a moment. “Yes,” she said, “I do. Isn’t that Amos’ place? Wasn’t this where the Redcoats attacked that meeting of the Correspondence Committee two years ago?
He got out of the sleigh. “It is. But it’s not Amo’s anymore. It’s mine.”
“Yours? Why would you want this place? So many died here.”
“True. But it was mostly Redcoats. Besides, I wasn’t there when the attack happened.”
“Yes, I know,” she replied. “You were in the woods with my sister.”
He turned, wrinkling his nose. “That’s an incident I would really like to forget about.”
As Nathan and Sarah ran away from the Redcoat’s attack on the Correspondence Committee meeting, they discovered Emma and Gilbert, naked together in the woods. Several other men had seen them as well, and a scandal erupted, making Emma’s bad reputation much worse. After that, their father forbade Emma from seeing Gilbert ever again.
“I wish I could forget it too,” she said under her breath.
She followed him out of the sleigh to the barn.
“I can still smell the smoke from the fire,” said Jane. “I’m surprised the Redcoats didn’t burn it down.”
“They tried,” Gilbert replied as he entered the broken-down structure, looking up at the ceiling. “Amos did fix some of the burnt sections, but he was never able to finish because he answered the Lexington alarm. He’s in Boston now. He wrote Father and said he wasn’t returning and wanted to sell the property. I sent him the money for it just yesterday.”
“And your father approves?” she asked, looking out a large hole in the wall.
“He does. He wants me to make my own way; even though I’m set to inherit everything he has. And look at all this,” Gilbert gestured toward the fields. “Amos did very well. All this gave him a good living. I hope to do the same. It will give me a place to begin my life when this war is won.”
Gilbert walked out of the barn. He pointed to a clearing in the trees. “And there’s the Thames River just over there. Lots of moisture will make good for all kinds of growing.”
She knew it was impertinent to ask, but considering the situation, she knew she must. “Is this why you brought me out here? Is this the surprise? Are you telling me this to be my home too?”
He hesitated, turning his gaze from her. He shuffled his feet on the icy ground. “Well, maybe someday. When the war is over. Right now the most important thing is winning this war.”
She stared at him, shaking her head. “You’re never going to marry me, are you? You are going to abandon me like you did Emma.”
She walked toward the river. He came after her. “Please, Jane. We’ve talked about this before. You know I don’t feel I can be the husband you need right now.”
She turned back to him abruptly. “Did you ever love Emma, Gilbert?”
“What does it matter now?”
“It matters to me.”
He sighed. “I don’t know, Jane. Emma was different than anyone I’ve ever met. There was no other girl like her. She was vivacious and fun. She made me very happy. But when I found out about all her other lovers, I just couldn’t be with her anymore. I’m sorry.”
“If you’d really loved her, that would not have mattered.”
“It does matter. I wanted a woman that would be mine alone.” He came up behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Emma has nothing to do with why I don’t want to marry you right now. I have never truly loved anyone but you, Jane. And when I marry, if you will still have me, it will be you that I want. That will not change. But I will not leave you a widow. It isn’t fair to you.”
“What makes you so sure you will make me a widow, Gilbert? You’re just privateering. That is quite safe, isn’t it?”
“It’s safer than soldiering. But it’s still risky.” He backed away from her. “Besides, all that has changed now.”
“Meaning what?” she asked. He didn’t reply, looking down at his feet again.
“Why are you looking like someone shot your dog?” she asked.
“Because I have something to tell you that I know will not please you. My privateering days are over. Washington has given me a naval commission, and my ship will become part of the newly established Continental Navy. All my shipmen are going with me. He is summoning us to the coast of Jersey. We leave in two days.”
"That is the most dangerous place right now in the war," she replied. "That is where the king has all those Hessian troops. You father said they fight like savages. They make the redcoats look tame.'
"Yes, I've heard that. That is why we are needed there."
She felt her heart pounding in her ears. “Why do this? Didn’t you say Washington was pleased with your privateering successes? Why must you put yourself in harm’s way?”
"Washington is pleased. But he wants me to do more, and I can do more. Our friends are all doing more, not just riding along the waters, waiting for something to happen. They are engaging the enemy. Hell, some have even given their lives. Look at Nathan..."
“So that is what this about? You want to be a hero like Nathan, Gilbert? Nathan is dead. That isn’t a hero, it’s a martyr.”
He put his face inches from hers. “Do you know what they say he said before he died? He said he wished he had more than one life to give for his country. I want to do more, Jane. I want to honor the best friend I ever had by giving everything I can, just as he did. Please try and understand.”
She sighed. “I do understand you wish to make an important contribution. I just wish there was a safer way. Please be careful, Gilbert.
“We are at war. Nothing is safe. I will be as careful as I can be.”
She leaned against a smooth, white birch tree, running her hands over the bark. She looked out at the frozen river that not long ago roared with life. A red cardinal flew by, bringing a violent burst of color in the white world around them.
“But I would be much happier if when you left we could be man and wife. I love you,” she said. She grabbed his collar, pulling her to him. “Kiss me.”
She pushed open his mouth with her tongue, their teeth knocking together. He groaned, pushing his body against hers. “Oh, Jane, I have missed you. Tell me you will come to my bed tonight.”
“I will,” she whispered as she bit his ear. “And we will be free to do everything to one another. Will can throw away all precaution.”
He broke the kiss, backing away. He moaned. “Um, that would be delicious. But isn’t that a bit dangerous?”
She stared into his eyes. “The danger is gone, my darling, because the danger is already here.”