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St. Johns Settlement, East Florida Colony May 1775
Through the window of her father's store, Rachel watched the Englishmen ride their handsome steeds up the sandy street of St. Johns Settlement. Their well-cut coats and haughty bearingas if they owned the worldmade their identities unmistakable.
"Make them pass by, Lord," she whispered, "for surely I'll not be able to speak a Christian word to them if they come in here." She glanced over her shoulder at Papa to see if he had heard her, but he was focusing his attention on a newly opened crate of goods.
Rachel turned back to the window. To her dismay, the two young men dismounted right in front of the store. One snapped his fingers at a small black boy and motioned for him to care for the horses.
Her dismay turned to anger. How did they know the boy could take time to do the task? Did they care that the child might be beaten by his owner if he lingered in town?
"What draws yer scrutiny, daughter?" Papa approached to look out the window. "Aha. Just as I hoped. From the cut of his clothes, that's Mr. Moberly, no mistake. Make haste, child. Go behind the counter and set out those fine tins of snuff and the brass buckles. Oh, and the wig powder and whalebone combs. Mayhap these gentlemen have wives who long for such luxuries here in the wilderness."
The delight in his voice brought back Rachel's dismay, even as she hurried to obey. Until six months ago, Papa had been a man of great dignity, a respected whaler who commanded his own ship. Why should he make obeisance to these wretches? These popinjays?
When the two men entered, the jangling bells on the front door grated against her nerves, inciting angeronce more. But for Papa's sake, she would attempt to control it.
"What did I tell you, Oliver? Isn't this superb?" The taller of the two men glanced about the room. "Look at all these wares."
Rachel noticed the slight lift of his eyebrows when he saw her, but he turned his attention to Papa.
"Mr. Folger, I presume?"
"Aye, milord, I am he. How may I serve ye, sir?"
The young man chuckled. "First of all, I am not 'milord.'"
"Not yet." His companion held his nose high, as if something smelled bad. "But soon."
The taller man shrugged. "Perhaps when the plantation proves as successful as Lord Egmount's." He reached out to Papa. "I'm Frederick Moberly, sir, His Majesty's magistrate for St. Johns Settlement and manager of Bennington Plantation. This is my friend and business associate, Oliver Corwin."
For the briefest moment, Papa seemed uncertain, but then he gripped the gentleman's hand and shook it with enthusiasm. "How do ye, my good sirs? I'm pleased to meet ye both."
"And I'm pleased to see your fine store ready for business."
Moberly surveyed the shelves and counters. And again his glance stopped at Rachel.
Papa cleared his throat. "My daughter, Miss Folger."
Moberly swept off his brimmed hat and bent forward in a courtly bow, revealing black hair pulled back in a long queue. "How do you do, Miss Folger?"
She forced herself to curtsy but did not speak. The very idea, a gentleman giving a shopkeeper's daughter such honors. No doubt the man was a flatterer. The one named Corwin made no such gesture, but his intense stare brought heat to her face. Rachel could not decide which man would require her to be more vigilant.
Moberly's gaze lingered on her for another instant before he turned back to Papa. "Your store and the village's other new ones are what I've been hoping for. If St. Johns Settlement is to succeed as a colonial outpost, we must have every convenience to offer our settlers. Tell me, Folger, do you have any concerns about your shipments? With all that nonsense going on in the northern colonies, do you expect any delay in delivery of your goods?"
"Well, sir, I had no difficulty sailing down here from Boston. I expect all those troubles to be behind us soon. The rebels simply haven't the resources. I'll wager wiser heads will prevail. I'm from Nantucket, ye see, and we're loyal to the Crown."
Corwin snorted, and Moberly glanced his way with a frown.
"Ah, yes, Nantucket." The magistrate appeared interested. "From whence whalers set out to harvest the world's finest lamp oil. Will you be receiving goods from there?"
"Perhaps some, sir. My own ship will sail to and from London until things are settled."
"Good, good." Moberly nodded. "And are you a Quaker, as I've heard most Nantucketers are?"
"I was reared in the Society of Friends," Papa said. "But I don't mind wearing a brass button or a buckle."
"We don't need any dissenters here." Corwin's eyes narrowed.
"Now, Oliver, the man said he wasn't a zealot." Moberly gave Papa a genial look. "Moderation in all things, would you not agree?"
"Precisely my sentiments, sir."
Rachel inhaled deeply. She must not display her feelings. This was not Nantucket, where women spoke their minds. Nor was it Boston, where patriotsboth men and women clamored for separation from England. Until she got the lay of the land here in East Florida Colony, she must not risk harming Papa's enterprise.
"Miss Folger." Moberly approached the wide oak counter which she stood behind. "What do you think of our little settlement?"
She caught a glimpse of Papa's warning look and stifled a curt reply. "I am certain it is everything King George could wish for." She ventured a direct look and discovered his eyes to be dark gray. His tanned, clean-shaven cheeks had a youthful yet strong contour. Young, handsome, self-assured. Like the English officers who ordered the shooting of the patriots at Lexington and Concord just over a month ago.
Her reply seemed to please him, for his eyes twinkled, and Rachel's traitorous pulse beat faster. Belay that, foolish heart. These are not your kind.
"Indeed, I do hope His Majesty approves of my work here." A winsome expression crossed his face. "As you may know, in England, younger sons must earn their fortunes. But if we are clever and the Fates favor us, we too can gain society's interest and perhaps even its approval."
Rachel returned a tight smile. "In America, every man has the opportunity to earn his fortune and his place in society." With the help of God, not fate.
He grinned. "Then I've come to the right place, have I not?"
The man had not comprehended her insult in the least. How she longed to tell him exactly what she thought of his King George and all greedy Englishmen.
Papa emitted a nervous cough. "Indeed ye have, my good sir. And so have we." Again, his frown scolded her. "Now, sir, is there anything in particular we can help ye with?"
"Hmm." The magistrate effected a thoughtful pose, with arms crossed and a finger resting on his chin. "My Mrs. Winthrop requested tea, if you have some." He tapped his temple. "And something else. Oliver, can you recall the other items she mentioned?"
"Flour and coffee." Corwin's languid tone revealed boredom, perhaps even annoyance. "She wanted a list of his spices, and of course she'll want to know about those fabrics." He waved toward the crates Papa had opened.
At Papa's instruction, Rachel wrote down the items they had imported from Boston, things an English housekeeper might want. She snipped small samples of the linen, muslin and other fabrics, and wrapped them in brown paper. All the while, she felt the stares of the two men. Despite the summer heat, a shiver ran down her back while a blush warmed her cheeks.
None too soon, they made their purchases and left, but not before Mr. Moberly once again bowed to her. Why did he engage in such courtesy? Neither in England nor in Boston would he thus have honored her, nor even have acknowledged her existence.
"Well, daughter, what think ye?" Papa held up the gold guineas they had given him. "His lordship didn't even ask for credit."
"Papa, will you listen to yourself?" Rachel leaned her elbows on the counter and rested her chin on her fists. "You were raised a Quaker, yet hear how you go on about 'milord' and 'his lordship.'"
Papa harrumphed. "I suppose ye'll be after me to take up my 'thees' and 'thous' again. Ye, who abandoned the Friends yerself, going off to that other church with yer sister and her husband." He lumbered on his wounded leg toward the back room. "I should never have sent ye to Boston to live with Susanna."
He disappeared behind the burlap curtain, and soon Rachel heard crates being shoved roughly across the hard tabby floor. Sorrow cut into her. Had he not been injured on his last whaling voyage, Papa could still captain his own ship, and she would still be in Boston helping the patriots' noble cause. Instead, here she was in East Florida helping him.
He must feel as cross as she did about their differences of opinion, both about the revolution and the Englishmen. But she had not chosen to flee Massachusetts Colony to avoid the war against the Crown. How could he expect her to treat the English oppressors with civility?
"Pleasant fellow, that Folger." Frederick flipped a farthing to the Negro boy who held their horses. "Good job, lad. If you get into trouble, tell your master Mr. Moberly required your services."
"Pleasant fellow, indeed." Oliver grasped his horse's reins and swung into the saddle. "'Tis the little chit you found pleasant."
"And you did not?" Frederick mounted Essex and reined the stallion toward the plantation road. "I saw you watching her as if she were a plump partridge and you a starving man."
Oliver drew up beside him. "Of course I was watching her. Your father sent me along to this forsaken place to make sure no provincial lass sets her cap for you. And if she does, I'm to nip the budding romance."
Frederick swallowed the bitter retort. Oliver's reminder ruined the agreeable feeling that had settled in his chest the moment he set eyes on the fair-haired maiden. Here he was at twenty-three, and the old earl still treated him as if he were a boy sitting in an Eton classroom. As for the girl, she was no chit, but fully a woman, possessing a diminutive but elegant figure. Spirited, too, from the liveliness he had noticed in her fine dark eyes. But he would not say so, for Oliver would only misunderstand his generous opinion of her.
"Have no care on that account. I've no plans to pursue American women." He glanced at the rolling landscape with its sandy soil and countless varieties of vegetation. While the weather could inflict heat, lightning and hurricanes upon inhabitants, he found East Florida a pleasant paradise, as satisfying as any place for building his future.
"You cannot fool me," Oliver said. "Need I remind you that if you fail here, Lord Bennington will ship you off to His Majesty's Royal Navy? You'll end up wearing the indigo instead of growing it."
Frederick glared at him. "Fail? My father sent me to rescue the plantation from Bartleby's mismanagement, and that's exactly what I have accomplished. He will not be quick to snatch me home."
"You know as well as I it's moral failure he's concerned about."
Frederick gritted his teeth. How long would he have to pay for the sins of his older brothers? "Rest easy on that account. I'll not risk my business association with Mr. Folger by dallying with his daughter. However, if you will recall, we're supposed to be building a settlement here. Before we can bring English ladies to this wilderness, we must provide necessary services. This man Folger may have friends up north who want no part in the rebellion. We must court him, if you will, to lure other worthies to East Florida Colony, even if it means socializing with the merchant class."
Oliver regarded him with a skeptical frown. "Just be certain you don't socialize with the little Nantucket wench while you await those English ladies."
"Enough of this." Frederick slapped his riding crop against Essex's flanks and urged him into a gallop.
The steed easily outdistanced Oliver's mare, and Frederick arrived home far ahead of his companion. At the front porch, he jumped down and tossed the reins to the waiting groom.
"Give him a cooldown and brushing, Ben. He's had a good run in this heat."
"Yessuh, Mister Moberly." The slender black man led the stallion away.
Three black-and-white spaniels bounded around the corner of the house to greet Frederick. He ruffled their necks and patted their heads. "Down, boy. Down, girls. I'm on a mission."
He took the four front steps two at a time and crossed the wide porch with long strides. The door opened, and the little Negro girl who tended it curtsied.
"Welcome home, Mr. Frederick."
"Thank you, Caddy." He pulled a confection from his coat pocket, handed it to her and patted her scarf-covered head.
Inside, he strode across the entry toward the front staircase. "Cousin Lydie, I'm home." He listened for his cousin's response. Soon the soft rush of feet sounded above him.
"Dear me." Cousin Lydie hastened downstairs, shadowed by Betty, the housemaid. "I expected you to be in the village much longer. Dinner is not yet prepared."
"Don't fret. I only announced my homecoming because I have this for you." He pulled the fabric samples fromhis pocket and handed them to her. "Oliver has the other items, but I wanted to give you these myself. Be quick to order the dress lengths you desire, or the vicar's wife will beat you to it." He winked at her.
"Why, sir." Cousin Lydie's gray eyes exuded gratitude as she spoke. "You're too kind."
Frederick noticed the longing in Betty's expression. The once cheerful maid had become a sad little shadow after an alligator caught her skirt and almost dragged her into the river. If Oliver hadn't shot the beast, Frederick would have had a bitter letter to write home to Father's groom to report the loss of his daughter.
"And be certain to choose something for Betty, too. Something to mark her status in the house." He felt tempted to pat the girl on the head as he had the child at the front door, but thought better of it. Such innocent contact with serving girls had been the beginning of troubles for his older brothers.
"Thank you, sir." Betty curtsied, and her pale face brightened.
"Think nothing of it."
"Mr. Moberly." Cousin Lydie insisted on addressing him formally in front of the servants. "A flatboat arrived bringing mail. Summerlin put several letters on your desk."
"Ah, very good." Frederick proceeded down the hallway to his study and sat at his large oak desk. Trepidation filled him as he lifted the top letter and broke Father's red wax seal.
As expected, he could almost hear Father's ponderous voice in the missive. The earl always seemed to find something wrong in Frederick's correspondence and scolded him about nonexistent offenses. Yet the abundant shipments of produce and the financial reports sent by Corwin confirmed everything Frederick claimed about the plantation's success.