1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 40
Oranjestad, St. Eustatia
Anne Cathrine, daughter of King Christian IV by morganatic marriage (and so, not a princess) yawned, stretched, fended off the sunlight that eked in through the slight gap in the hurricane shutters. They were just slightly ajar, held there by an adjustable hook-and-eye that had been set just so.
She smiled into the morning light. That had been done by her wonderful, kind, thoughtful, Eddie. Her war-hero, ducal, up-time machine-wizard Eddie. Her adoring, innocent, and — because of that — so very, very alluring Eddie.
She sighed, let herself fall back on the same bed that had been theirs on Intrepid. She stretched her full length upon it, happy in her body, in the softness of the layers beneath her, and buried her face in the pillows which smelt faintly of sandalwood. She exhaled, inhaled, considered her great good fortune to be with Eddie, to be in this warm and beautiful place, and began sobbing uncontrollably.
* * *
An hour later, Anne Cathrine was striding purposefully from the door of their house. She was moving so quickly that Cuthbert Pudsey, the guard that Eddie had firmly insisted accompany her everywhere, had to grab the separate bits of his breakfast, weapon, helmet in order to scramble after her. “Where to, Lady Anne?”
Just as Eddie called her Cat — no; mustn’t think of that pet name, of him, of our bed — the much-displaced Pudsey was the only one to call her “Anne.” Not because of a special bond between them, although that was certainly present, now, but because the Englishman seemed incapable of remembering her full title. It wasn’t his regard or respect that was wanting. If anything, that could easily be adjusted a notch or two lower, given his unwonted proclivity for bows and hat-doffings. It was simply that Cuthbert Pudsey was what Eddie called a “total yeoman.” Loyal, respectful, practical, big-hearted, fundamentally guileless, and as incapable of recalling protocol and honorifics as he was of running to the sun and back before dinner. Occasionally, Eddie referred to him as Sam or Samwise, but she had yet to discover why.
“I say, Lady Anne, is it to the Gov’ment House we’d be going?”
“Not immediately, Cuthbert. I am meeting my sister at Dr. Brandão’s.”
“Ah,” he said as he drew alongside. He glanced at her attire. “If you’ll pardon me sayin’, m’um, you’re not in your volunteering clothes, an’ this isn’t your volunteering day. ‘Asides, you’ve the party to prepare for, eh?”
She smiled up at him; he smiled back, missing a few teeth but as cheery a face as imagination might paint. “There is no fooling you, is there? You are right; I am going to observe a medical case.”
Cuthbert grew a bit pale. He was a redoubtable fighter — he’d proven that beyond any doubt during last year’s attack by the Kalinago and the French — but was not enamored of doctors, or “chirurgeons,” as he still called them. As he once explained it, it wasn’t the blood or gore that bothered him; it was the “fiddly messing about in one’s flesh” that made him feel like he might lose the lunch he had not yet eaten.
Pale as he might have grown, he straightened up a bit and put back his great, if rather curved, shoulders. “Right, then: to the cutter’s!”
Anne Cathrine managed not to reveal her dismay by putting one fine tooth on one equally fine lip. She had counted on Cuthbert’s aversion to Dr. Brandão’s infirmary as the means whereby she would shed his constant oversight. So what could she–? Ah! “Mr. Pudsey . . . I . . .”
“Why . . . yes, Lady Anne?” He knew that when she called him Mr. Pudsey, she was about to say something Very Serious Indeed.
“I . . . I must ask a favor of you.”
“Why, fer you, anything. Anything at all!”
“I must ask your discretion.”
He frowned. “My . . . my discretion? In what way, m’um?”
She affected being unable to meet his eyes. “I will require privacy. When we reach the doctor’s.”
“You’ll . . . ?” Then he leaned far back from his concerned forward hunch. “Ah! Now I see it.” He nodded, leaned in, floated a sotto voce question. “A lady’s matter, izzit?”
“It is,” Anne Cathrine answered in a hushed voice, not lying but using her reticence to inveigle him into making some very erroneous assumptions.
He was frowning, however. “Given that the little doctor is the finest I’ve ever seen — though I see as few as I may — I’m surprised that he’s, ah, tending to, er, the fairer sex.”
Anne Cathrine managed not to roll her eyes or punch his beefy shoulder. While she still viewed many of the up-timers’, well, more relaxed relations between the sexes with some reserve, there were two areas in which she was a complete and vociferous convert: the rights of women and the elimination of segregated medical treatment. She found the latter particularly infuriating, and particularly here and now in the New World. Granted, it was rather uncomfortable to be disrobed in front of and examined by a male, but if their expertise was superior, then that was who she wanted administering her care.
Fortunately, she only had to play-act with Cuthbert, not argue for sweeping changes in social attitudes toward the practice of medicine. “I did not say that Dr. Brandão would be there, just that the matter will be addressed at his infirmary.”
“Ah, well, I should have realized!” Pudsey smote his flat forehead with his equally flat palm. “Apologies for assumin’, m’um.”
“No apology required. However, I will require privacy.”
“Well, of course you will. Where shall I wait for ye?”
“At the western pavilion that has been erected alongside Government House. I should not be very long, but do remain there, even if I am detained.”
Pudsey smiled and frowned at the same time. He was obviously glad to be of service but didn’t want to agree to staying put if her absence was so extended that he became unsure of her safety. “Well, as you say, m’um. And here we are.”
“Keep walking, Pudsey; I do not wish to enter through the front door.”
“Ah. Right, then. No need to feed the gossip-mongers, eh?”
“My thoughts exactly. Now, I shall slip in through the smaller door in the rear, just there. Remember, wait for me at the western pavilion.”
Pudsey frowned, but waved and kept walking toward the canvas wing protruding from one side of Government House where preparations for tonight’s fete were in full swing.
She watched him go, then slipped in the door.
Anne Cathrine started, whirled, fist coming back — and saw Leonora staring wide-eyed at her. She dropped her arm, and managed not to utter several of Eddie’s extremely tepid curses. “Sister, do not startle me so.”
“Who were you expecting? A pirate?”
“I was expecting to be able to see you plainly if you were here before me, not hidden in the shadows.”
“Anne Cathrine,” Leonora said in a voice that would have been quite appropriate in a governess twice her age, “if the objective is for us to remain unobserved, it would be rather foolish of me to arrive here and then stand in the middle of this sunlit room, would it not?”
Anne Catharine silently admitted she had a point but was also silently resolved not to admit it to her fourteen- year-old sister. “Is Sophie here yet?”
“And is he?”
“No, but it is still early.”
“Then lead on.”
“You got here first, and you know the best hidden vantage point, do you not?”
“Dr. Brandão keeps the bolt thrown on the doors to both the supply room and the surgery. The latter has an ill-fitting door, made of driftwood. We should be able to see and hear even while leaving it locked.”
“Perfect.” Anne Cathrine waited. “Well?”
Leonora did, and Anne Cathrine was fairly sure she was supposed to overhear her annoyed mutter, “Why do I have to do everything?”
* * *
They saw the increase in sunlight in the infirmary’s front room, heard faint, polite voices: Sophie’s as she arrived and Dr. Brandão’s as he left.
Crouched beneath her taller sister so they could both see through the crack between the door and the jamb that had started out as a hatch coaming, Leonora released a long, muffled sigh.
“What now?” Anne Cathrine whispered.
“This is ridiculous,” hissed Leonora.
“It is not,” Anne Cathrine hissed back.
“Either we should enter and be known, or we should leave. I do not understand why you would –“
“Let us just stop at that statement: that you do not understand. We shall remedy that later. But for now, let us watch and listen.”
“But why? If, as you suspect, Sophie’s feelings are greater than she admits, then is it not –?”
“Leonora,” Anne Cathrine muttered sternly, “Sophie Caisdatter Rantzau may be the most intelligent woman I know beside yourself. And she seems equally limited in her understanding of things — things of a personal nature. We are here to observe so that we might help.”