Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 30

 Chapter 30

As normal, the entry bell rang as I stepped inside the dairy. My first sight was Henry, who I hadn’t seen in years, and he was tossing the baby into the air, clearly enamored with a daughter that, to him, was new. His breeches were a little dirty, but his ponytail was brushed and clean - Betty’s working, likely - and a light shadow of stubble graced his face. Far as I understood, the soldiers weren’t allowed to grow beards, so he was probably trying to grow his back now that he’d shed those rules.

At the sound of the bell, Henry scooped Sally back into his arms and turned to greet me. “Lucy,” he smiled, pleasantly surprised I’d known Henry as long as I’d known Sam, because the four of us had become a cohort all at once, so he was as much a face from the past as the man whom I’d bid goodbye just days ago.

“Good to see you back, Henry,” I smiled, leaning in to embrace him and kiss Sally on the forehead. “She’s grown enormously, hasn’t she?”

He pulled her close, smiling fondly. “I can’t believe how much I’ve missed.”

“She learned to say your name.” I leaned close. “Say Papa.”

She babbled the word, and Henry grinned. He’d probably already seen this trick. “Betty’s upstairs sleeping in. She said she hasn’t slept in fourteen months, so I’ve been giving her an extra hour whenever I can.”

I rolled my eyes. It was probably true, that she hadn’t had a full night of sleep in over a year, but I imagined that as a soldier Henry hadn’t been sleeping like a king, either. But he spoiled his wife, so he would let her have the sleep even if it might be unfair. Besides, he was probably eager to spend time with the baby anyhow. “Any great stories of army life?”

He shrugged. “It was cold and wet and lonely. But we won, and that’s all that really matters.”

Is it? Was there not more to the story than that?

Sally squirmed out of her father’s arms and began to run back and forth across the room. We stood there, both of us, and stared at her.

The sound of footsteps behind us, and Betty appeared to kiss her daughter on the forehead. She kissed Henry, and while still in his arms she said, “You don’t mind watching her while we’re gone?”

Grinning infectiously, he shook his head. “Take as long as you’d like. I’ll make sure she doesn’t eat any dirt.”

Betty rolled her eyes. “Aye, good luck with that.”

We stepped out the door, the two of us, and immediately I was uncertain. I had left the Daughters for a reason, and now I was slinking right back to them. But it was different now: with the war over, the meetings were about the future. We, as wives and mothers, had to decide how we would shape our nation’s future. Men could govern, but the Continental Congress would not last another generation without good mothers to raise smart, engaged men. This was our task. Even I, with my empty womb, had a part to play.

As we lifted our skirts to face the dirt and grime of the street, I turned to Betty. “You told him, didn’t you?”

She licked her lips. “Sorry, what do you mean?”

“Sam. I asked you to tell him I was done spying, not to reveal what happened to me.”

She looked down. “You know Sam. He wouldn’t let me leave his questions unanswered.”

“Well, he murdered Charles. Left him near the sewers behind The Red Pearl for me to find.”

Her eyes went wide, but she laughed. “That does sound like him.”

Not three paces away, a cart raced by, the driver crowing at his limp horse as he laid the whip. “This is serious, Betty. I didn’t want Charles dead.”

As we passed, the horse finally picked up its pace, and the driver’s voice grew quieter. The cart bumbled by, trays of vegetables shaking with the movement of the cart, and a few carrots spilled onto the ground. “Well, he can’t hurt you now, can he? Doesn’t it ease your fears to know that he is no longer a threat?”

A gentle sea breeze fluttered by, and I pulled my cloak closer. “No, it doesn’t.” Nothing could.

A pause. “Well, then,” she said, and did not finish the sentence. She was sorry in part, I knew, but she wasn’t one to apologize - not often, anyhow. She showed her remorse in ways other than words.

We approached the shop, and as usual, the shoemaker tipped his hat as we passed. “To the future,” he smiled.

In unison, Betty and I curtsied. “To the future.”

When we opened the door to the meeting-room, we were still grinning, just a little.