1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 74:



            Victoria came into the kitchen, her brother Andrew just behind her.


            “Sit, girl.” Hamilton pointed to the chair across from his at the small work table in a corner. “I’ve a question.”


            “What is it?” she asked, uncertainly, pulling out the chair. There being no other in the room, her brother just stood to one side, his arms crossed over his chest.


            “Your swain, the McCarthy lad. He hasn’t come through the window, has he?”


            She was startled. Then, flushing, started to glance nervously over her shoulder, toward her brother.




            “I want the truth, Victoria. Whatever it is. I won’t care—and neither will Andrew. You’re betrothed, now, so what does it matter?”


            After a moment, she swallowed. “No. He hasn’t.”


            “It’s upset you.”


            Her nervousness at being asked such questions in the presence of her brother suddenly vanished, replaced by simple hurt. Her green eyes seemed a bit watery. “Yes. It makes me wonder…”


            Hamilton chuckled. He glanced at Andrew and saw that the girl’s brother was trying to suppress a smile.


            “Oh, I shouldn’t worry about that, Victoria,” Hamilton said. “Whatever Darryl’s reasons, lack of ardency is hardly the answer.”


            The look she gave him belonged more on the face of an eight year old girl, than one who’d just passed her twentieth birthday. “You’re certain, Uncle?”


            He had to suppress a smile himself, now. Victoria’s brother wasn’t bothering to do so, any longer, since he’d sidled over a bit and was now standing behind his sister where she couldn’t see him. Hamilton and Andrew had made jokes to each other, often enough, about the way Darryl McCarthy looked at Victoria when he thought no one was observing. Jokes about tongues hanging down to belt buckles and enough drool to drown an ox.


            “Oh, yes, I’m quite certain.”


            “Then, why—”


            Suddenly, she gave Hamilton a hard look. Almost an angry one.


            “It’s because he’s afraid of you,” she pronounced. “It’s your fault. Uncle, you shouldn’t scare people that much.”


            Hamilton knew that wasn’t the reason either. Darryl McCarthy was wary of him, true enough. All men were, once they got to know Stephen Hamilton—if they had the sort of background that enabled them to gauge him in the first place.


            That same background, however, was the key. Hamilton had always understood Darryl McCarthy, from the first day the young man had spent some hours in their quarters. Not too different from Hamilton himself, really—or from Andrew, rather. A tough young man from a tough background, who wasn’t a fool but wasn’t afraid of men, either.


            Hamilton had understood McCarthy, yes—but he’d still underestimated him, and badly. So much was now clear.


            “No, I don’t think that’s it,” he said calmly. “I think the reason he hasn’t come through the window is simply because he’s afraid of getting you pregnant.”


            She almost crossed her eyes. “But—but—”


            Her confusion was understandable. Once a couple was betrothed, the girl’s family relaxed. By law and custom both, a betrothal was as good as wedding vows. Young couples often had to postpone the marriage, sometimes for years, until they could put together what they needed to set up their own household. It would be stupid, not to mention cruel, to force them into unnatural abstinence in the meantime. If the girl got pregnant, so be it. She’d hardly be the first one to waddle up to the altar. Likely enough, her mother and half her sisters and aunts had done the same.


            But it was time to end this, before the girl’s suspicions became aroused. Hamilton shook his head. “No, it’s simply that I think the Americans have different customs.”


            He gave Andrew a quick, meaningful glance.


            “I’m sure that’s the reason, too,” her brother said reassuringly. “I inquired with Lady Mailey, you know. They were a wealthy enough people that they got married quite young. Not like us. So they’d wait—were supposed to, at least, and Darryl’s a good lad—until they were actually married.”


            That was twaddle, of course. Not the generalities—Hamilton had inquired himself, not from Lady Mailey but Captain Simpson—but its application to Darryl. Simpson hadn’t come right out and labeled McCarthy a tomcat, but he’d said enough in the way of warning that Hamilton had made sure the girl was watched carefully until McCarthy finally betrothed her. Ironically, his only concern thereafter had been that the American might view his betrothal casually. Hamilton knew their customs were different there, also.


            Ironic, indeed, in light of what he now understood.


            “You really think that’s all it is?” Victoria asked. She seemed aggrieved and mollified at the same time.


            “Oh, yes. But now I need to talk privately with Andrew, Victoria.”


            She rose from the table and left immediately. More slowly, Andrew came over and took the chair she’d vacated.


            He started to say something. But then, seeing the distant expression on the Warder captain’s face, fell silent.




            Stephen Hamilton was distant, indeed, for a time. Not dwelling on his past—it was not one he liked to think about, except for those few years after he met Jane—but simply letting its essence saturate him. He’d passed through a hell that had left nothing much of the tough young man from a tough background who’d begun the journey. Just a cold, hard predator who’d luckily managed to find a pack of his own. That was his only lifeline to humanity, any longer.


            And even that was conditional. Stephen Hamilton would accept duty, well enough. Not because he cared about leashes but simply because he found a certain personal comfort in restraints. That comfort removed, his view of the world was very stark and very simple.


            There were two sorts of people. Two, and only two.


            His, and everyone else.


            “Good God!” Andrew suddenly exclaimed, pulling Hamilton back into the kitchen. From the look on the Warder’s face, he’d finally worked his way through the puzzle.


            “He’s planning an escape, Stephen. That’s why he’s afraid to get Victoria pregnant.”


            Hamilton shook his head. “Not exactly. Yes to the second, no to the first. Yes, that why he’s restrained himself. But, no, he’s not planning an escape. He’s expecting one.”


            Andrew’s head turned, in the direction of St. Thomas’ Tower. Hamilton had no difficulty following his thoughts. Who knew what devices the Americans had with them? Wentworth had never ordered a search of their quarters. Who knew if they’d been able to stay in touch with their people back on the continent? And if they had, who knew what might be coming to the Tower? Hamilton and Andrew had not only heard the accounts, they’d spoken to veterans returned from the continent. Yes, it was true that Wallenstein had been struck down from a range that was not known for certain—but it was certainly longer than the Thames was wide.


            “What do you want to want to do?” asked Andrew. He gave his older kin a look that was quite hard itself.


            “Can’t see where it’s any of our business, any longer,” said Hamilton. “Seeing as how our superiors have not seen fit to trust us.”


            Andrew nodded. “The way I see it too.” His gaze went back to the wall of the kitchen that faced St. Thomas’ Tower. And, after a moment, softened a great deal.


            “This speaks well of my future brother-in-law, I’m thinking.”


            Hamilton could feel the latch closing, and knew that he’d come to his decision. Somewhere in that bleak and savage wasteland within the Warder captain that other men would call a soul, a young American had just completed a journey. He’d passed over from one of them to one of mine.


            “Oh, yes,” said Hamilton softly. “It speaks very well of him indeed.”