Goal for today: Don’t feel guilty. At least not for eating a proper meal.
“Almost there,” the lieutenant said with a smile.
Cecilia gave him a nod. New York was such a strange place. According to the woman who’d run her boardinghouse, there were more than twenty thousand people crowded into what was not a very large area at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. Cecilia wasn’t sure what the population had been before the war, but she’d been told that numbers had surged once the British had taken over the city as their headquarters. Scarlet-clad soldiers were everywhere, and every available building had been pressed into service to house them. Supporters of the Continental Congress had long since left town, but they had been replaced and more by a rush of Loyalist refugees who’d fled neighboring colonies in search of British protection.
But the strangest sight—to Cecilia, at least—were the Negroes. She had never seen people with such dark skin before, and she’d been startled by how many of them there were in the bustling port town.
“Escaped slaves,” the lieutenant said, following Cecilia’s gaze to the dark-skinned man coming out of the blacksmith’s shop across the street.
“I beg your pardon?”
“They’ve been coming up here by the hundreds,” the lieutenant said with a shrug. “General Clinton freed them all last month, but no one in Patriot territories is obeying the order, so their slaves have been running away to us.” He frowned. “Not sure we’ve got room for them, to be honest. But you can’t blame a man for wanting to be free.”
“No,” Cecilia murmured, glancing back over her shoulder. When she turned back to the lieutenant, he was already at the entrance to the Devil’s Head Inn.
“Here we are,” he said, holding the door for her.
“Thank you.” She stepped in and then out of his way so that he might locate the innkeeper. Clutching her meager valise in front of her, Cecilia took in the main room of the inn and public house. It looked very much like its British counterparts—dimly lit, a bit too crowded, and with sticky bits on the floor that Cecilia chose to believe were ale. A buxom young woman moved swiftly between the tables, deftly setting down mugs with one hand as she cleared dishes with the other. Behind the bar a man with a bushy mustache fiddled with the tap on a barrel, cursing when it seemed to jam up.
It would have felt like home had not almost every seat been filled with scarlet-clad soldiers.
There were a few ladies among their ranks, and from their clothing and demeanor Cecilia assumed they were respectable. Officers’ wives, maybe? She’d heard that some women had accompanied their husbands to the New World. She supposed she was one of them now, for at least one more day.
Startled, Cecilia turned toward a table in the middle of the room. One of the soldiers—a man of middling years with thinning brown hair—was rising to his feet. “Miss Harcourt,” he repeated. “It is a surprise to see you here.”
Her lips parted. She knew this man. She detested this man. He was the first person she’d sought out in her quest to find Thomas, and he’d been the most condescending and unhelpful of the bunch.
“Major Wilkins,” she said, bobbing a polite curtsy even as her mind was whirring with unease. More lies. She needed to come up with more lies, and quickly.
“Are you well?” he asked in his customary brusque voice.
“I am.” She glanced over at the lieutenant, who was now conferring with another soldier. “Thank you for asking.”
“I had assumed you would be planning your return to England.”
She gave him a little smile and a shrug in lieu of a reply. Truly, she did not wish to speak with him. And she had never given him any indication that she planned to leave New York.
“Mrs. Rokesby! Ah, there you are.”
Saved by the young lieutenant, Cecilia thought gratefully. He was making his way back to her side, a large brass key in his hand.
“I spoke to the innkeeper,” he said, “and to—”
“Mrs. Rokesby?” Major Wilkins interjected.
The lieutenant snapped to attention when he saw the major. “Sir,” he said.
Wilkins brushed him off. “Did he call you Mrs. Rokesby?”
“Is that not your name?” the lieutenant asked.
Cecilia fought against the fist that seemed to be closing around her heart. “I—”
The major turned back to her with a frown. “I thought you to be unmarried.”
“I was,” she blurted out. “I mean—” Damn it, that wasn’t going to hold water. She couldn’t have got herself married in the last three days. “I was. Some time ago. I was unmarried. We all were. I mean, if one is married now, one once was un—”
She didn’t even bother to finish. Good God, she sounded the worst sort of ninny. She was giving women everywhere a bad name.
“Mrs. Rokesby is married to Captain Rokesby,” the lieutenant said helpfully.
Major Wilkins turned to her with a thunderous expression. “Captain Edward Rokesby?”
Cecilia nodded. As far as she knew, there was no other Captain Rokesby, but as she was already tripping over her falsehoods, she deemed it best not to try to score a point with a snide comment.
“Why the h—” He cleared his throat. “I beg your pardon. Why did you not say so?”
Cecilia recalled her conversation with Edward. Stick to the same lies, she reminded herself. “I was inquiring about my brother,” she explained. “It seemed the more important relationship.”
The major looked at her as if she’d lost her mind. Cecilia knew very well what he was thinking. Edward Rokesby was the son of an earl. She’d have to be an idiot not to press that connection.
There was a heavy beat of silence while the major blinked his expression back into something approaching respectful, then he cleared his throat and said, “I was very glad to hear that your husband had returned to New York.” His brows drew together with some suspicion. “He was missing for some time, was he not?”
The implication being: Why hadn’t she been searching for her husband?
Cecilia injected a bit of steel into her spine. “I was already aware of his safe return when I came to you about Thomas.” It wasn’t true, but he didn’t need to know that.
“I see.” He had the grace to look at least a little ashamed. “I beg your pardon.”
Cecilia gave him a regal nod, the sort, she thought, that might be employed by a countess. Or a countess’s daughter-in-law.
Major Wilkins cleared his throat, then said, “I will make further inquiries about your brother’s whereabouts.”
“Further?” Cecilia echoed. She had not been under the impression that he had made any inquiries thus far.
He flushed. “Will your husband be out of hospital soon?”
“Tomorrow, you say?”
“Yes,” she said slowly, just barely resisting the urge to add, “As I just said.”
“And will you be staying here at the Devil’s Head?”
“Captain and Mrs. Rokesby are taking over Captain Montby’s room,” the lieutenant supplied helpfully.
“Ah, good of him. Good man, good man.”
“I do hope we are not inconveniencing him,” Cecilia said. She glanced toward the tables, wondering if the displaced Captain Montby was seated at one. “I should like to thank him if possible.”
“He’s happy to do it,” Major Wilkins declared, even though there was no way he could have known this for certain.
“Well,” Cecilia said, trying not to gaze longingly at the stairs she assumed led up to her bedchamber. “It was very nice to see you, but I have had a very long day.”
“Of course,” the major said. He bowed crisply. “I shall report back tomorrow.”
“Report . . . back?”
“With news of your brother. Or if not that, then at least an accounting of our inquiries.”
“Thank you,” Cecilia said, startled by his newfound solicitude.
Major Wilkins turned to the lieutenant. “What time do you expect Captain Rokesby tomorrow?”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com