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Chapter 2 (Part 2): As freedom-minded as most of us are in Princeton, unlike certain other parts of New Jersey filled with yellow-bellied crown sympathizers, we’re not so stupid as to turn down help when we’re in such obvious want of it. Because if he’s right about the dangers outside, then he’s also right about us needing him. We’re in a bind: two women by ourselves with so many responsibilities to handle.
It would actually be selfish of us to turn down his offer, even if it pains us to take him up on it. Garrett needs supplies. It’s as simple as that.
“No need to ask forgiveness, Sergeant,” Elizabeth assures with a heavy sigh. “If anything, I should be doing as much.”
I notice she doesn’t though, and Slasen politely doesn’t point it out.
“It’s just that the last twenty-four hours have been quite trying, and we’re still attempting to wrap our heads around the changes we face. If you were sincere in your warnings and your offer to bring some breakfast to my brother-in-law, then we won’t spurn your kindness.”
The truth is that I still want to tell him to go away. Not to spite Slasen so much as to get to see Garrett myself. He might be an irritating presence in my life more often than not, but I do love him dearly regardless of our quarrels and spats.
That’s why I set my pride and anger aside, and make myself address the enemy in our midst. “If I write a quick letter, would you be able to deliver that as well?”
He sends a small but sincere bow at me, what would be a gallant gesture in any other setting. “Of course, Miss Carpenter. It would be my pleasure.”
I nod back, my movement a shade or two less than cordial even now. “Thank you, Sergeant.”
I think he wants to say more, but he takes his leave after only one more hesitation. Truth be told, he’s better off keeping whatever it was to himself anyway, as there’s no chance in heaven or earth that I’m going to let him court me.
I’m not a simpleton. I know he fancies me. It’s obvious, as it usually is in such cases. Even the best of men like to think themselves so far above the softer emotions. They might laud grace and beauty and gentleness in women, but they would much rather deem themselves stoic and logical.
It’s all rubbish. Complete rot when they feel as deeply as we do. Otherwise, how did I get all of those ridiculous sonnets written to me? I can say with absolute certainty that they weren’t for my benefit, as they were quite poorly put together. Not to speak ill of the dead.
Poor Richard Token.
“Well, someone’s smitten,” Elizabeth notes almost under her breath, a reflection of my own thoughts. “Might not be such a bad thing, I suppose.”
“Oh?” I ask, right back to a snippety state of mind.
“Don’t be dense, Abigail,” she tells me with a knowing look. “And get back to chopping those apples. The oatmeal is almost ready.”
I do as I’m told, my knife slicing through the red skin into the soft, white flesh beneath it. Where the British supply chiefs got so many apples at this time of year, I have no idea. But we have a whole entire bushel of them to prepare for Sneeder and company.
“If it’s really as bad as the sergeant seems to think it out there, having a British soldier for an escort can’t hurt,” Elizabeth continues. “And don’t tell me otherwise. You know it to be true just as much as I.”
I sigh. “He may have shot at Father and Richard, for all we know.” I’ve used her husband’s name on purpose to gain sympathy points.
Since she’s not a simpleton any more than I am, she knows it for the trick it is and turns around to give me another reproachful stare. “He may well have. You’re right. But that doesn’t make me wrong.”
I pitch my voice lower even though we’re already practically whispering. “So you’re saying I should make friends with him?”
“I’m saying it wouldn’t hurt to smile instead of glower so fearfully. Just at our young sergeant though. Not the rest of them.”
Our sergeant: The familiar applied to the fairly undesirable. I wrinkle my nose.
Elizabeth shakes her head. “Pleasant, Abigail. Be pleasant. For my sake if not for your own. What would I tell your father if anything happened to you?”
I say something quite grudging in reply. I’m going to take her advice. I know I am. But considering that she keeps me cooped up in the kitchen yet again while she serves the men, I don’t have to try too hard at finding a pleasant place in my head right away. Besides, it’s a difficult attitude to develop when she’s not in any small amount of risk herself. I can’t help but worry about her while she delivers the assorted bowls out to the dining room.
Elizabeth is quite pretty, with dark blond hair and brown eyes and positive proportions. Married or not, with her husband gone from home and everyone in the house knowing it, she makes very nearly as easy a mark as I do. In some ways, even more so since she has a slight limp and can’t run as fast as I can. Most people can’t tell this when she walks, but she gets severe pains in her left calf whenever she picks up the pace.
Then there is the fact that me staying out of sight didn’t do any of us any good the night before. I keep glancing toward the kitchen doors, both the one outside and into the hallway, constantly wondering whether there’s a Hessian or other lowlife lurking around the corner.
Nothing happens for that meal though. No sharp surprises, no broken bowls, no new arrests. Everything goes well enough that I even have time to pen a brief letter to Garrett in between feeding my niece and nephew. The dears interrupt me repeatedly with questions about our home’s new occupants, their little voices filled with innocent curiosity.
I answer some of them as best as I can, remembering to “be pleasant” in the words I choose and the tone I use in saying those words. Best to start now after all, I suppose. Practice makes perfect. Besides, I don’t want to alarm the children.
The one surprise is when Elizabeth comes back in after serving up a second portion for Captain Sneeder, telling me to put my letter to the side somewhere it isn’t in plain sight. When I ask why, she tells me I’m just going to have to trust her. And so I do.
Her exact scheme becomes apparent a half hour later, when we’re cleaning up the dishes. That’s when Sergeant Slasen shows up again to inquire about the items he’s promised to bring over to Garrett.
Elizabeth immediately turns into a fragile female on him. It’s a ploy every woman I know of utilizes from time to time, since it can be so affective in reaching one’s goals. Not so much with brothers, of course. But Slasen is most definitely not a brother.
“Sergeant.” Elizabeth stops scrubbing at the pot in front of her, which she insisted on handling for reasons unbeknownst to me before. I know she dislikes washing dishes the same way I despise doing laundry. “I’m afraid we weren’t able to write out that note to my brother-in-law. What with all of this added housework, time ran away from us.”
I shoot her a sharp glance, which she ignores.
Slasen is all sympathy. “I’m so sorry for the trouble, Missus Carpenter. Take your time. I can be ready whenever you are.”
“Oh no,” she assures. “We wouldn’t want to take up your day any further than you’ve already been so kind to offer. What if you simply bring Miss Carpenter with you instead? I can’t imagine she’d be in any danger with you at her side, would she?”
I roll my eyes since I know neither of them can see me when their attention is so heavily on each other, hers with a cunning projection of helpless innocence and his with guileless gravity. Something about the scene makes me think about a baby deer about to become venison.
“Of course I would see that nothing happened to her,” he assures. “Though I can’t say how we’ll find her brother. It might not be suitable for delicate sensibilities.”
His expression, however, practically begs for a protest that will have me walking side by side with him.
I suppose I can’t blame him for thinking me so slight on fortitude considering my behavior the night before. But that’s not my normal personality. I can’t say I’m the bravest person in the world, and there have been plenty of times Garrett would call me “yellow” in the past. But I’ve never fainted before in my life, and I don’t intend on ever doing it in the future either. Swooning is for silly ninnies, as I’m sure Slasen is accustomed to where he comes from.
In the spirit of pleasantness, I keep my mouth shut.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is busy feeding Slasen the lines I’m sure he wants to hear. “Nassau Hall can’t have been turned into a prison more than fifteen hours ago. I can’t imagine such a grand place could be made too dangerous in such a short space of time. Though of course, I leave it to your good judgment, Sergeant.”
For a minute, I think he’s going to consider my “delicate sensibilities” over his desire for my company. But his selfish side wins out, just as Elizabeth figured it would.
When he admits as much, though in far less unflattering terminology, she smiles gratefully at him. I can, however, still detect a gleam of triumph in her dark brown eyes.
Slasen, I’m certain, remains clueless to how neatly he’s just been handled. If only King George could be so compliant, we wouldn’t have to worry about such awkwardness in the first place.
During this whole discussion, little James and Rebekah have been busy gawking at the sergeant in their midst. And now that the adults are quiet, Rebekah speaks up from her place at the unadorned kitchen table, stained over and over again from so many prepared meals. I’ve wiped it off from this morning’s efforts, but there are still new marks from where I was cutting apples an hour ago.
“Are you a soldier?” My niece queries in her adorable three-year-old voice. I’ve already told her as much, but it would seem she thinks she has some cause to doubt me.
Slasen’s attention turns toward her, his hazel eyes lighting up at being addressed by such a sweet little miss with her light brown hair falling around her shoulders. I suppose he wasn’t lying about his sister’s children then. Only the most clever charlatan could fake the kind of response he’s giving.
“Yes, I am,” he informs her with a smile. “Aren’t you the bright one.”
Not to be outdone, my nephew pipes up as well. “What rank do you hold?”
Perhaps children their age shouldn’t know to ask such questions, but these are unusual times, and they’ve heard enough “Colonel” this and “General Washington” that over the last year.
I send a silent prayer upward that they don’t say anything too patriotic. Not that I think Slasen will punish them if they do, but better safe than sorry.
“I’m a sergeant,” he replies, leaving out the “in His Majesty’s Army” I’m sure he would otherwise add, so as not to set the little conversationalists before him up for what I’m worrying about.
This forces me to consider that perhaps he’s not so simple as I’ve assumed.
“Is that better than a captain?” Rebekah wants to know.
“Oh no,” he assures her with purposeful solemnity, a mere hint of a grin on one corner of his mouth. “A captain outranks me.”
“Do you fight with my father?” James chimes in. Richard is, after all, his hero.
And there it is. Exactly what I was fearing. I stiffen, as does Elizabeth, but the sergeant plays along just as nicely as you please.
“I’m afraid not, though I’m sure he must be a fine man if he has a son as smart as you and a daughter this charming.”
Both babies light up at the compliments.
Elizabeth and I both relax, though she takes a step further to finish the conversation before anything more unfortunate is said.
“I’ll send Miss Carpenter out with the blankets and such in a minute, Sergeant. And again, we appreciate your charity.”
When he’s out of the room, Elizabeth turns to me, completely ignoring the bundle she’s already put together for Garrett. Contrary to what she said about us not having the time to do anything, she’s already long since set me to fetching everything we want to send. We’re even giving my brother some of the officers’ leftover oatmeal, wrapped up in a wooden bowl with a cheesecloth tied around it.
“Whatever you do, don’t leave his side, Abigail. Understand?”
She’s talking to me like I’m one of her children, which puts me into a slight snit. I love Richard’s wife, but having four older brothers has left me fiercely independent and thereby defensive to any attempts of patronization.
Elizabeth knows that very well, because she grips my shoulders. “I’m serious. This is hopefully as close to a life or death situation as you’ll ever get. I do not want to see any harm come to you.”
I mutter a “yes, ma’am,” which is still slightly barbed. But I do intend on taking her directions nonetheless.
I know the consequences of throwing caution to the wind could be dire.
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