Friday, July 15, 2011

Chapter 28

Catherine composed the dreaded letter to her husband several times before finally settling on the finished product. It was late October when she gave it to a supply ship bound for Charleston. The duke rendered a monetary bribe to the ship's master to ensure delivery to Ashley Loche. Two months passed with no answer. The duke's fracture was manageable and he awaited departure from Port Royal upon the arrival of an English vessel. Finally, when a supply ship was anchored in the harbor, he hesitated to make passage.
"Your husband's stubborn pride prevents him from answering your letter. Yet, it is December and the storms upon the seas are unpredictable. Also, there is word of pirates lurking off the Carolina coast. He must not procrastinate much longer."
The duke hobbled on his cane to the pier and chatted with the dock hands while observing that the English vessel was weighing anchor. He removed a letter from his pocket which he had written to the countess and gave it to the first mate. Then holding onto to Catherine's elbow for support, he told her "I cannot leave you alone, my dear. You are assured of my protection."
The duke's loyalty was reassuring, yet she counted on her fingers four remaining months before her child was to be born. She was discouraged. If was difficult to believe that Angus would come for her after all these months. Her spirits were low.
"Do you believe that you will ever find happiness?" She heard herself asking the duke. "Your temperament is such that I wonder if being the earl of Abergavenny will satisfy you."
"Perhaps not....perhaps the hour hath passed on," he answered as he considered his predictament, the years he'd patiently waited for his wife to inherit, his miserable existence on Barbadoes and the ultimate disgrace of being a traitor. Fearful that a list of traitors might be posted at the port, he'd given his name as George Man, Esquire. A cold rush of wind stirred in the street and blew dirt particles into his eyes and he stopped walking momentarily to rub it awa.
"Are you ill?" She asked. "Perhaps a bowl of ho tbroth would be refreshing."
They crossed the street and seated themselves inside the tavern where the duke was content to drink a tankard of ale while the innkeeper added more water to the broth pot hanging precariously on an iron hook over the hearth. It was a sundry mix of onions, rice and mutton from several days past. "This will be the last of it," he murmured before emptying it into two bowls.
The broth had a rotten odor and Catherine sipped it cautiously. After a few sips her stomach was queasy and she went to her room. The duke imbibed too heavily that evening and some questionable characters attempted to steal his purse. But it was tied to his cummerbund and he grabbed the hand that reached for it. "You dastardly dog, be it worth cross swords!" He asked raising a surly brow, then realizing his current limitations, turned away. The robber disappeared. As the evening progressed he was left to himself. The hour grew late and he swilled down the ale he dosed off in his chair. After awhile he awoke to observe a familiar face entering the tavern and turned his back to the door that he might not be recognized. But the gentleman crossed the room and sat at his table. The duke raised his surly brows and squinted his eyes. "It is you!" He said in a low breath which whistled between his teeth.
"Aye, tis the devil himself," Angus said slowly while smelling the stinking ale on the duke's clothes.
"If you are come to fight, here am I," he said grabbing his sword.
"Never mind that," Angus said, pushing the duke's hand away from the hilt.
"What hath caused the long delay in your arrival, sir?"
"Why does that concern you, sir?"
"You can learn the answer should you chose to ascend the stairs and cast your chary eyes on Catherine."
Angus stood up. "Aye. Which room?"
"There is only one room, sir."
Angus climbed the stairs two by two and knocked on the door. Catherine was asleep in her bed, but awoke to the loud knocking. Standing in the light of the one candle her thin nightgown revealed her belly. His eyes rolled large with guilt and self-incrimination.
"Catherine, Catherine, forgive me," he said contritely.
She opened the door for him to enter and slipped into a robe. While she did so, he stoked the embers of a smoltering fire in the fireplace. "I did not realize that you this," he said. Tears were surfacing in the corners of his pleading eyes.
"Leastwise you are here, although you suffered me to wait two long months."
"When are you due?"
"In April."
Counting the months, Angus was relieved. The duke could not possibly be the father.
"Is that the duke's bed?" He asked pointing to one of the beds.
"If you are interested, he was bedridden until recently."
"I am interested."
"He would have died on Alligator pond had I not taken care of the poor soul. Now that he is able to walk with his cane, he spends his evenings in the tavern, drinking and sleeping, waiting to take his voyage to Abergavenny."
"Once I asked you if you still loved him. I apologize now for being so unfair. I suppose that my jealousy is the root of all this trouble. "
"I am ready to go home," Catherine said.
"What will happen to the duke?"
"He will wait for a vessel to England."
"Then that be the end of the duke."
"May I rest here in the chair until daylight?" He asked easing himself into a chair and closing his eyes. When daylight finally streamed into the room, he took Catherine aboard "the Belle."

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