He held Mrs. Teasel’s letter, but his eyes were on Thaxter’s, who had read it over his shoulder. Their faces were grave.
“What is it?”
John put down the folded, much-crossed sheet. “The body of Mary Teasel’s husband was found in the kitchen of his house—
house”—he turned the sheet to look at the date—“Tuesday evening. I’ll have to go. Pray the weather holds—” He crossed to her, put his hand on her waist to kiss her on his way to the hall, the stair, the bedroom to pack—
“I won’t,” she said softly. “I can’t.”
His round blue eyes widened at this—if the weather didn’t hold it meant thirty miles in cold and sleety gale, and undoubtedly finishing the journey in the dark—and then he remembered. He said softly, “Ah.”
If the icy good weather remained, the
would sail for Halifax within days, with Harry in chains onboard. And once he’d been tried by the Navy Court—and, given the feelings of the British military since the dumping of the King’s tea, convicted—Abigail suspected that nothing would prevent the young man from turning King’s Evidence against Sam, against Dr. Warren, against John and dozens of others, to keep his own neck out of a noose.
y dark the wind had risen. Ironing John’s shirts by the blaze of the kitchen hearth, Abigail heard it moaning in the chimney and quoted the Book of Kings: “
Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand
And John, sorting through the papers he would need to take with him in the morning, grumbled the next verse, “
Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not
.” It was a long way to Haverhill.
The post had also brought a note from Paul Revere, reporting a complete lack of result in his search for either
a tallish dark-haired thin gentleman, blue or green eyes, seen in the vicinity of the Man-o’-War on Ship Street and going possibly by the name of Elkins
a slender gentleman a little under middle height, dark hair, blue eyes, a dimple in his chin, gentlemanly speech and bearing; possibly wearing a yellow waistcoat embroidered with violets
. . . which was discouraging but not altogether surprising. Toby Elkins had come out and told his landlord that he would often be away from town—who knew what that meant? And put an actor in a sailor’s slops or a footman’s livery and Androcles Palmer would vanish as if he had never been. What actor drew breath who could not assume the bearing of a footman or a lord—or a lady, for that matter—at will? The descriptions were no more informative than the portraits on Hannah Fluckner’s drawing-room wall.
Frozen sleet had begun to hammer the window-shutters when someone pounded on the back door, and Pattie came back into the kitchen a moment later with the same young footman who’d brought Abigail Lucy’s note a week before. Abigail gave him a silver bit, because it was raining so hard, and after she’d read the note, she wished she’d given him two.
This evening we have had music at the Gardiners’ and I have only just got home, after gossiping with Fanny Gardiner and Belinda Sumner, who wish nothing better than to speak ill of the Dead which I encouraged them to do. It is perfeckly true what Lt C said of Sir J, that he seduc’d a young lady of good family who hanged herself, and Margaret, tho she did not know Sir J was the man in questn, tells me that this girl’s sister so griev’d the loss she too died at her own hand. I askt was there a brother or a father, and some say no and some say yes, but the sister had a lover, whose name was Tredgold, and Fanny Gardiner (who is from London) says, t’was on this Tredgold’s account that Sir J had himself sent first to Spain, then to Barbados.
This was in 1766. Would Mr. Fenton know of this, and be able to tell us, what this Mr. Tredgold looked like?
“Eight years is a long time,” murmured Abigail, when John had read the note over her shoulder. “
a man pursue across the ocean the one who brought his sweetheart to death from grief? Would you?”
Abigail knew any number of men who would fall over themselves with gallant affirmatives: ungallant, untactful, and truthful as a cudgel, John stood for a time in thought, turning over in his mind what he would
Like Don John in the play
, thought Abigail, with an inner smile—because it clearly didn’t even cross John’s mind that he needed to profess his love or his loyalty, when that wasn’t the question.
Another man who eats when he has stomach and asks no man’s leave . . . laughs when he is merry, sleeps when he is drowsy . . . and lives his truth though it bring the world to ruin about his ears.
“I think a great deal would depend on who this bereft suitor was,” said John at length. “Was he a gentleman of independent means? Or did he have to work for the money it would cost him to take ship—a consideration that I notice rarely vexes the heroes of novels.” He gathered up the shirts and bore them upstairs, where his portmanteau lay unfolded upon the bed surrounded by four times as many books as could possibly fit into its volume. Abigail followed. By the dim tallow candles that flickered odiferously in the draught, he packed the books first, then folded each shirt carefully into the smallest possible packet and attempted to ram the packets by main force into the corners.
“I suppose ’tis one reason the great epics are all written about kings and noblemen,” reflected Abigail. “One cannot quest far on foot with a few shillings in one’s pocket. Even Don Quixote was of noble blood.”
“I think the point of
,” returned John grimly, “at least in this instance, is that behavior that is considered acceptable, if eccentric, in a nobleman is ludicrous—or criminal—in the Sancho Panzas of this world . . . Like seducing girls and abandoning them. Would your Lieutenant Coldstone know more about those involved?”
“I shall certainly write him first thing in the morning to ask.”
After seeing John off in the wild bluster of morning light, Abigail wrote a brief note to the Lieutenant and carried it down to Oliver’s Wharf at the foot of King Street, whence it was usually possible to find someone going from the town out to Castle Island at most hours of the day even in weather like this. Ascending the slope of the street again, it crossed her mind as she approached Customhouse Square that only a short walk along Cornhill would bring her to the Governor’s house, where Mr. Buttrick might tell her how Mr. Fenton fared.
She could not, she knew, despite what Lucy had written, put him to further question on the matter of his master’s behavior and death. Her own heart clenched with anger at the thought that he might have been poisoned solely as a ploy, a means to be sure that Jonathan Cottrell would be alone when he stepped off the
on his return. Yet he had helped her, and she felt a kind of sad protectiveness toward him, lying in that dim attic room listening to the wind howl around the eaves.
What would it be to know one was dying, surrounded by strangers in a town on the other side of the ocean from one’s native land?
Yet as she crossed the square, she heard the far-off clamoring of voices down Cornhill in the direction of the Common and saw a small squadron of constables hastening along the street in that direction, trailed by a crowd of apprentices and boys.
Some trouble somewhere
, she thought.
Thank heaven Nabby and Johnny will have reached the school by this time . . .
“Mr. Thaxter heard shouting in the street and has gone to see,” provided Pattie, the moment Abigail came into the kitchen. “Shim Walton”—she named Thomas Butler’s apprentice next door—“says a man was shot.” She sprang to the hearth in time to catch Tommy before the child could precipitate himself into the fire.
“A Tory,” provided Charley, who had not the slightest means of knowing this piece of information. “Bang!”
“Bang indeed,” murmured Abigail, and fetched out her pastry-board. The thought crossed her mind that if news
arrived about Parliament’s reaction to the Tea-Party at last—and if there was genuine trouble over it—Thaxter could be sent galloping after John. Heaven only knew how that news—and whatever mob reaction was triggered in Boston in response—would affect Harry’s verdict. Perhaps there was some way the
could be disabled in port . . . Though with spring advancing, another ship was sure to arrive soon.
She dropped lard into her flour, two knives deftly flashing as she cut it smaller and smaller. The wreckers themselves might well be caught, too, multiplying the number of frightened men apt to turn King’s Evidence . . .
The shouting in the street was definitely coming up Queen Street. Her eyes met Pattie’s: “Get them upstairs.” Charley had already put aside the battle royal he’d been conducting between two walnuts and stood by the table, listening with widened eyes. Johnny, Abigail reflected, would hear the tumult with that strange eagerness, that readiness to fight, shining in his face . . .
Charley was scared.
Pattie scooped Tommy up and took Charley by the hand, just as someone knocked sharply at the front door.
Abigail said, “Go.” She dropped a towel over the flour, dried her hands on her apron as she strode down the hall. Just as she opened the door Thaxter—panting—slipped out of the mob and into the hall at her side.
Two constables were immediately behind him, and a man whose blue military cloak didn’t quite conceal the uniform of Major of Artilleryman from the shore battery. It was one of the constables who spoke.
“I am she.”
He held up a folded square of paper. “Did you send a message across to Lieutenant Coldstone of the King’s Sixty-Fourth Foot, at Castle Island, bidding him to meet you?”
What on earth—?
“He was ambushed and shot in the Common. You’re not under arrest by any means, m’am—” That was for the benefit of the growing crowd of men behind them. “But we’ve been asked to bring you before the magistrate of the ward, to explain why your summons was in his hand at the time.”
s he alive?” For the moment it was all that she could think of: that cold-blooded, oddly compassionate young man dead, far from the family that he cared for.
I’ll have to write to them
, she thought . . . Then the constable’s words sank in: “In his
? I only gave that note to—” Her mind stalled on the name of the fisherman she’d handed it to . . . Geller? Gilson? One of John Hancock’s part-time smugglers . . . “I only sent that note across to the island an hour ago.”
“Do you deny that this is the note that you sent?”
A shocking piece of information has come to me that I do not know what to do with. Meet me beneath the Great Tree on the Common at nine tomorrow morning.
Abigail blinked, trying to shake herself free of the sense of being in a dream. The handwriting was so similar to her own that for a moment she wondered,
COULD I have written that and not been aware of it
. . . ?
Don’t be silly, Abigail. This is not a romance.
“When had he this?” she asked. “I do deny it—”
“Do you deny that it is in your hand?”
“The hand is very similar to Mrs. Adams’s.” With John’s best courtroom manner, young Thaxter took the note from Abigail’s fingers. “Yet it is not her own.” The stolid young clerk held the paper to the light for a moment, then handed it back to the constable. “I’ve already sent for Mr. Adams—”
Abigail regarded him in surprise—as far as she’d known, Thaxter had been at the jail interviewing another of John’s clients—but his eyes met hers and he nodded.
“He’ll be on the Salem Road—I sent a man after him. He should be back within the hour, sir. You could return, or—”