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Queen of swords, p.9
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       Queen of Swords, p.9

           Sara Donati
 

  Savard leaned back in his chair. “You are thinking that a doctor with a Quaker wife is no match for Poiterin with revenge on his mind.”

  Luke inclined his head. “Something like that.”

  “You’re forgetting my brother,” Savard said. “But let me assure you—Poiterin won’t forget Jean-Benoît.”

  Julia was studying her folded hands, her cheeks flushed with anger or discomfort, her jaw set hard. Luke tried to make sense of what he had stumbled across. A family argument with deep roots, and none of his business, except insofar as his own actions might cause any of these people difficulty.

  “I don’t want any part of this plan if Julia cannot endorse all of it,” he said. “I’d rather we took our chances in the city than cause you any more trouble.”

  “You would gamble with your son’s life?” Julia asked him. And: “Of course you would not. I admit that some elements of this plan concern me, but those are matters between my brother-in-law and his conscience.”

  “So you think we should do this thing?” Luke asked her.

  She nodded. “I think it is the best chance you have. If Jennet approves, we will call on the Livingstons this evening, the four of us. Might I—” She hesitated. “Might I go to her now and tell her about all of this? I think I can present it in the best light.”

  It was as close as she would come to telling Luke he would make a mess of it.

  He said, “I’d be thankful.”

  Ben Savard came into the parlor while they were waiting for Jennet and Julia. When Paul nodded at him, Luke understood that he had had a part in putting the plan together, but had stayed away while it was being explained. He would have tried to acknowledge the debt he owed the Savards, but Jennet came flying into the parlor flushed with color, her eyes and expression as bright as Luke had ever seen them.

  She came to him directly, her hands held out before her for him to take. Her eyes were wet, but this time she seemed to have been weeping not out of fear and frustration, but joy.

  “You like the plan?”

  “I do,” she said. “It is a very good plan, I think.” She glanced around the room. “Where is Hannah? What does she say to all this?”

  Luke said, “We haven’t talked to her about it yet.” And to Savard: “Is she still down in the little clinic?”

  “Hannah isn’t here,” Paul said. “She was called out to the Maison Verde, late this afternoon.”

  Jennet’s expression clouded over immediately. “Hannah is gone to the Bayou St. John? By herself? Why would you allow such a thing?”

  Savard’s head tilted to one side, as if he were imagining what it would mean to deny Hannah Bonner some task she had set herself.

  Jennet said, “It’s not safe. We have to go after her.”

  Just that simply her high spirits and hopefulness were gone, replaced by something very like terror.

  “I don’t like this at all,” she said. “Honoré is behind it, I’m sure of it. Luke, you’ll have to go after her if nobody else will.” She threw Ben Savard a look that was plain in its meaning.

  He met her gaze with a steady one of his own. “I’ll go. I’m on my way out to the old Spanish fort tonight to join my company.”

  “You’ll look in on her?” Jennet said. “You’ll bring her back here safely?”

  “I will make sure she gets back safely,” Ben Savard said. “You can count on me.”

  Suddenly presented with the solution to the problems that worried her so deeply, Jennet was filled with new energy. Her hands trembled as she got ready to leave the house on rue Dauphine in the company of her husband and friends. They continued to tremble while she let Rachel fix her hair and she got her son ready. Nathaniel was uneasy, too; he flexed and turned in her arms, as if he wanted to swim away through the air. Julia had a rare talent for quieting unsettled infants, but it took her an unusually long time to convince him that all was well and that it was safe to leave the business at hand to the adults.

  Setting out for the short walk to the Livingstons’, Jennet was struck with the absurdity of the situation. She had what she wanted, and she was terrified.

  If only, she told herself, there had been some time to sit quietly with Luke and talk it all through. If only Hannah were here. Jennet felt that absence with every forward step, but just as strongly she felt the responsibility that had been given to her. When Hannah came back to the rue Dauphine, Jennet hoped she would find that their situation had much improved. It would be a gift to her, and Jennet was willing to suffer this hour of uncertainty and fear to that end. Others had been bearing the burden long enough.

  But it was strange to walk the street with Luke on one side and Paul Savard on the other, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary for them to be going to pay a call. As if there were no chance of Honoré Poiterin coming around a corner. The image of him leaning against a wall, his legs crossed at the ankles, was easily conjured. Any one of the people they passed on the street might recognize her and, remembering the reward, shout out to the world who she was: a madwoman, unfit to care for her own child.

  When they finally stood in front of the Livingstons’ fine house—carved wooden lintels and gleaming brass, beveled glass in tall windows aglow with candlelight, so that the whole gleamed like a treasure box—Jennet stopped to catch her breath.

  Luke waited patiently beside her. He looked at ease, though she knew he was not; he had that knack, of hiding his feelings. She wished she had more of it. The borrowed clothes might not fit him exactly as they should, but no one would take note of that. They would see the blond hair smoothed back to a queue, and the strong nose and jaw and high brow, his suntanned face solemn above the stark white linen at his throat.

  He smiled back, scar high on his cheekbone. It was small and white and curved like a quarter-moon.

  The inconstant moon.

  Jennet shook her head to dislodge that unwelcome echo. This was her husband, who would protect her and their son with his life. She squeezed his arm, and gave him a sincere smile.

  He said, “All will be well, girl. I promise you that. Can you trust me?”

  Jennet remembered, quite suddenly but very clearly, the day she had realized she loved him. She had been fifteen and furious because he had refused to let her ride out with the men.

  When will you stop seeing a little girl when you look at me? she had asked him, and he had paused at the door and glanced at her over his shoulder. The look in his eyes had given her a very clear answer: He did see her as she wished to be seen.

  He knows me, she had thought. And he loves me for who I am. It had been that simple.

  “Let them do their worst,” Jennet said now. “I’m not afraid so long as we’re together.”

  Chapter 33

  Louisiana Gazette

  News reached us late yesterday evening of a short-lived slave uprising in Whitehall County, Mississippi. We report the verified details of this horrible event to forestall rumors and panic.

  Cedar Grove Plantation has been burned to the ground. The violence began when the slaves who were at work in the sugarhouse rose up and overpowered an overseer. Cedar Grove’s owner, M. Christophe Jardin, died when fire spread to his mansion. M. Jardin was an unmarried man, and to our certain knowledge he and his three overseers were the only casualties of this savagery. No other innocents died in the conflagration.

  Some two dozen slaves escaped before neighbors and officials could gain control of the situation. It is our understanding that most of those runaways have already been caught, and those responsible for the uprising summarily executed, as justice demands.

  Our local officials take great pains to point out that the rebellion at Cedar Grove is in no way part of a larger, more sinister plot. In this case, rumors that the uprising was incited by British spies are simply false. Officials in Whitehall County have satisfied themselves that what happened at Cedar Grove had other causes, specifically an owner who was too liberal with his slaves, and an overseer who was too trusting.
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br />   We are reminded of our responsibilities to those lesser creations who depend on us to instill in them the discipline, self-control, and Christian principles which are foreign to their natures.

  Chapter 34

  “It will be light in an hour,” Ben said into the dark. He sounded as sleepy as Hannah felt.

  She said, “Do you have to go?”

  He turned on his side. “I have to go. Do you have to stay?”

  “No, I’m going back to the city.” She yawned. “I’ll walk out with you.”

  But neither of them moved. Finally Hannah said, “I have this feeling that everything is changing. The whole world is changing around me, and it’s going to be hard to hold on.”

  “It’s the war,” Ben said. “And me.”

  She snorted a surprised laugh. “Such modesty.”

  “Go on,” he said. “Deny it.” His voice was low and sure. And then: “I unsettle you. Have you figured out why?”

  “Why don’t you tell me,” Hannah said, and wished she could snatch back the words.

  “Because we fit,” he said. “And you can’t pretend we don’t.”

  “Are you talking about the fact that we’re both half white?”

  He pushed himself up on an elbow. “That’s only part of it.”

  It was odd, wanting to disagree and unable to find any flaw in his reasoning.

  “We fit in some ways,” she said. “But not in the most important ones. You belong here, and I don’t.”

  Ben traced a finger along her hairline. He seemed to be picking his words, but then he only shook his head. His smile sometimes made him look almost boyish. He said, “Come. Walk out with me.”

  The freezing rain of last night might have been a dream, if it weren’t for the fact that Hannah’s clothes were still vaguely damp. The air was sweet and much warmer than she had expected. By the time they had finished saddling their horses and walked them out to the shell path the sky was full light.

  Hannah glanced toward the kitchen and wondered if Tibère was still there with Caspar. He would be buried today, no doubt in secret. To announce to the world that a slave who had run away so many years ago had come back to die would bring a lot of unwanted attention. It would bring Honoré Poiterin, almost certainly, to make sure that his bad habits didn’t become public knowledge.

  Ben was so quiet that Hannah thought he must be thinking about Caspar, too, or about Honoré.

  She said, “How long will your company be stationed here?”

  He turned as if he could see through the trees as far as the old Spanish fort, which stood on high ground at the point where the bayou met Lake Pontchartrain.

  “I’ve been assigned to Major Hughes, so I’ll be here as long as he has command, or until they figure out which direction the British are going to invade from,” he said. He glanced down at her, the color of his eyes particularly strong and strange in the first light. Then he turned his head toward the north, and at that moment Hannah heard it, too: the sound of men on horseback. A lot of them, moving at a fast clip.

  Ben took both horses by the bridle and pulled them into the trees that led down to the water. Hannah followed, more curious than alarmed. They stood while the horses thundered by, shoulder to shoulder. Ben leaned over and spoke into her ear so that gooseflesh moved in a wave down her back.

  “Hughes and the men. I’ll have to catch up.”

  Hannah said, her voice oddly high and far away: “Try not to get yourself killed, will you?”

  The smile he turned on her was so wicked that Hannah should have been alarmed. Before she could step away he bent his head and kissed her as if it were the most natural thing in this strange world, as if she belonged with him and nowhere else. She kissed him back anyway.

  He was still holding the reins, and he turned to loop them around a low branch.

  Hannah said, “You have to catch up.”

  “I won’t have far to go,” Ben said. “They’re stopping at the Kilty-Smith place. You could see them if you went down to the water’s edge.”

  There were many good reasons to refuse, but none came out when Hannah opened her mouth to protest. Instead she let him pull her deeper into the trees. She went with him because she was intrigued and flushed and couldn’t think of an excuse not to go, at least not an excuse that wouldn’t make him laugh at her outright. So she let herself be pressed up against the trunk of a tree—a cypress, she noted with some part of her mind—and be kissed. And she kissed him back, glad of the chance, glad of the feel of him. Things were changing, that was true, but Hannah realized that she didn’t want Ben Savard to be one of those things.

  One large hand was lifting her skirt and moving up her thigh with a touch as light as feathers.

  “Really, Ben—” She shuddered as Ben’s tongue traced from the hollow of her throat to the jut of a collarbone.

  Against her ear he said, “Send me off to war with a smile on my face.”

  “You’ve been smiling for hours,” she said, her voice wobbling.

  There was no more talking for a while, though Hannah could not make her mind stop working, couldn’t stop the words tumbling and then disappearing into the long kisses that shifted and deepened and broke only long enough for Ben to lift her, her skirts caught up around her waist, her legs wound around him.

  “You see?” he said. “We fit.”

  She saw, yes. She saw him, the truth of him and of herself. She wanted this. Ben Savard so deep inside her and still it wasn’t enough, couldn’t ever be enough. With one part of her mind she heard more horses on the shell road, and men on foot marching in formation, and then that sound was gone, too, lost in the shudder and shift, the heat and commotion and push and pull and the final plunge, like falling from a great height, heart pounding, to be caught up again in the tangled web of the world.

  “What is going on?” Hannah asked, when she had her breath back and was trying to put her clothes back in order. “A hundred men must have gone by here in the last fifteen minutes.”

  “Major General Jackson,” Ben said. He retrieved the slouch hat he had dropped from the ground and settled it on his head. “Come to rescue us from the presumptuous enemy.” He leaned down to kiss Hannah, a hard stamp of his mouth. “Get back to the rue Dauphine,” he said. “You may not see me for a week or more. Sleep in my bed while I’m gone.”

  Chapter 35

  The ride out to the Bayou St. John was unexpectedly pleasant, though Luke had got little sleep and less rest. Jennet, relieved beyond words at this change in their fortunes, had climbed up onto the great bed in the large, almost opulent chamber they had been given for their use, and fallen asleep while the baby was still nursing. Luke had untangled him and was considering whether or not he should wake Jennet when a maidservant scratched at the door. It turned out to be the Livingstons’ wet nurse, who had the care of their young daughter and who had been instructed to take on Nathaniel’s needs as well.

  And so Jennet had slept on, undisturbed, and Luke had lain next to her, not quite asleep, while the evening’s conversation drifted in and out of his mind. He was deeply uneasy for a dozen reasons, and also oddly resigned. They had taken a great risk in approaching Livingston, but it seemed as though the Savards’ intuition had been correct.

  In the morning, things moved so quickly that there was no time to reconsider. A manservant—a slave, no doubt—appeared with clothes suitable for Livingston’s secretary, the jacket a little small, the linen a little large, the boots, thankfully, the right size and well broken in. Then he had been given a bowl of coffee and milk and a roll of soft white bread, and before first light they had ridden out of the city.

  The first day of December. In Montreal there would be snow and cold, but here the skies were clear, and the temperature was no more than chilly. Another thing to be thankful for: Luke found he wasn’t expected to make any kind of conversation. They were in a larger party of men, among them the mayor and the governor.

  Luke was surprised at Claiborne’s youth
the man looked to be no more than thirty-five, though he had been appointed to his post by Jefferson some years ago. Worse than his relative youth was the fact—Luke couldn’t overlook it after even ten minutes in the man’s company—that he was severely limited in terms of intelligence, excessively prideful, and completely unaware of the way he presented himself to the world.

  After so many years in business dealing with politicians, Luke knew a bad one when he came across him. A man in Claiborne’s high position needed a few basic skills, including the ability to hide his true feelings in the company of rivals, but Claiborne’s dislike of the lawyer was palpable. And still he spent the entire seven-mile ride arguing with Livingston about the Baratarian pirates who had volunteered to fight for the American cause. Or better put, Claiborne argued a dozen different reasons that Lafitte’s offer be turned emphatically down. Livingston rebutted all of them shortly, almost carelessly, and as each argument failed, Claiborne’s mood worsened. He had a face as long and oval and pale as a poached egg, and there were flecks of red on his cheeks and neck, evidence of his irritation with Livingston or of the cold, or both.

  It was no less than Luke had been led to expect from talks with the Savards and from the newspapers. The American governor was so far out of his depth that the Creole legislature ignored him with impunity. The whole of the city seemed to take particular pleasure in Claiborne’s crusade to shut down Lafitte’s well-organized company of thieves, pirates, and slave runners. Clearly the governor’s obsession with Lafitte had passed into the realm of the ridiculous, something not entirely unexpected from an American, but nonetheless regrettable. When Claiborne announced a reward of five hundred dollars for the capture of Lafitte, Lafitte retaliated by offering a reward of his own: a thousand dollars for the capture of the governor.

 
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