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May 24, 1784 New York
Margaret McGowan watched the distance between the ship and the pier widen into a watery chasm. Swamped by an overwhelming sense of loneliness, she clenched her teeth and scolded herself for being such a ninny. She had the opportunity to go to England. She would visit Broadcraft Hall, the ancestral home where her mother was born and her grandfather had died. In all her eighteen years, she had seldom traveled far from Leedsville, New Jersey, until now.
A grand adventure awaited her.
Despite reasoning with herself on the importance of this enterprise, a renegade tear rolled down her cheek as she leaned on the rail. She loved her family, but they barely scraped by after losing the house and the livestock during the war. The doling out of a hundred acres for every soldier in the Continental army had been an empty promise. Worst of all, though Uncle Fitz had returned from his service, her father never did. He died on a prison ship.
She offered a heartfelt prayer for her dear ones. In truth, this journey was for them too.
Calmer, she opened her eyes and took in a ragged breath. The harbor blended into the line of hills in the distance, and she turned away from the rail. She pulled the shawl tighter about her body and set her jaw. This trip was essential. In his last will and testament, her grandfather, the Earl of Broadcraft, stipulated that either Margaret or her sister must be present for the reading of the will. The solicitor explained much concerning the entail in a long letter. Since her mother had married a commoner, neither Margaret nor her sister would inherit the estate or, as women, the title.
Therefore, the entail and title belonged to Lord Isaac Whittington, the earl's first cousin, once removed. Yet everyone assumed Margaret and her sister would receive something of value. Otherwise, why should one of them be present when the will was read?
Margaret hoped for a portrait of her mother, whom she had never known, and perhaps even a portrait of the earl himself. In the past six years, they had corresponded by letters. She would value a likeness of her grandfather as a true treasure.
Her gaze swept the deck, and a shiver of apprehension moved through her. Though the ship was far larger than the McGowan's barn, the vast ocean surrounding it made it appear quite small. What if it sank?
She shoved the frightening idea to the back of her mind and watched the other passengers strolling on the deck. In the front of the ship, she spied the two women who were to share a tiny cabin with her and her companion. Cecelia Cavendish, who was blind, and her cousin, Louisa Boulton, were young, probably near to Margaret's own age of eighteen. Cecelia intended to go to Paris to meet Franz Mesmer, who claimed his treatment cured blindness. Margaret never heard of Franz Mesmer. Furthermore, she doubted his method. Only the Lord performed the miracle of giving sight to the blind.
Louisa's behavior disturbed her. Shying away from everyone, Louisa muttered to herself. She sat tucked between a mast and a barrel, staring at her fancy shoes. It seemed apparent the two women with their silk gowns came from wealthy families. Cecelia wore dark glasses but possessed fine features. She sang in a sweet voice, entertaining the sailors as they went about their chores.
Margaret glanced down at her plain brown frock which she wore to church on Sundays. The midwife had given it to her three years ago in exchange for her baked goods. Cecilia and Louisa came aboard with two large trunks each, while Margaret's necessities fit into a single small one. Still, the cousins must travel farther, for the ship would be going on to France after it stopped in London. Cecelia claimed she and her cousin spoke fluent French.
Margaret did not know French. She'd acquired several German words from Hobart, her family's hired man, and some Latin from her brother-in-law, but few Frenchmen stopped for any length of time in the small town of Leedsville.
She rubbed the top of each shoe on her stockings to remove the dust. Despite her common clothing, she was the granddaughter of an earl. With her head held high, she decided upon a promenade around the deck. However, walking became difficult when the ship reached open water. Monstrous waves soon stymied her plans.
She stumbled twice, holding onto railings as the ship went up and down. Out of nowhere, something hit her in the face. Unprepared for the force of the blow, she lost her balance and fell backwards. Two strong arms caught her, which prevented her from crashing on the wooden deck in an ungracious heap.
"Are you hurt?" The deep male voice came from behind her as he set her on her feet.
She stared at the rather elaborate hat on the deck in front of her and touched the welt swelling on her forehead. "No. Startled, though. I didn't realize I needed to watch out for flying hats. Thank you for catching me."
"My pleasure." He steadied her as she straightened her skirts. "If I may introduce myself, I am Derrick Fortune, of Philadelphia."
He carried an unmistakable note of pride in his tone. Did he think she had heard of him? Well, she had not.
"Miss Margaret McGowan, of Leedsville, a small town in New Jersey." She fussed with one flounce before she stepped away, turned, and glanced upward. He stood rather tall, forcing her to tilt her head back. His clothing, though somber, was fashioned from fine cloth and showed the lines of impeccable tailoring. She would not call him handsome, for his sunken cheeks gave him a gaunt appearance. A disturbing thought heightened her anxiety. Did he suffer from consumption — the same disease which had taken the life of her dear Frances?
"Is Leedsville near a more notable city?" he asked.
She frowned. "We have no cities nearby, but there are larger towns like Monmouth Courthouse. That's where the Battle of Monmouth was fought."
A pained expression crossed his features. "Yes. I know of it." The look in his soulful dark eyes caught her, and a curious sensation swept over her, leaving her somewhat bewildered. Perhaps the excitement of the journey affected her more than she thought at first, or the wretched movement of the ship unsettled her.
The owner of the hat, dressed in an exquisite brocade jacket from which frothy, white lace spilled in abundant profusion, rushed over and lifted his plumed headpiece from the deck near Margaret's feet. "Why didn't you catch it when it came your way? Look at this dent." He caressed the soft felt with his hand. "What's this white stuff on the brim?"
"It's called dust," Margaret stated with asperity in her tone. "How do you do? I am Miss Margaret McGowan."
The dandy did not respond in kind. "The plumes will never stand up straight again. They're bent." He took out a spotless linen handkerchief trimmed with delicate tatting and wiped away the offending dust.
"I believe it is proper to introduce yourself to a lady on such an occasion." Derrick's voice carried a sharp edge. "And to apologize."
The fop pressed the damaged hat over his elaborate wig. Holding it with one hand, he kept his eyes narrowed. "Anthony Everett, of Elizabethtowne. I had no idea the wind would be so fierce."
"That is not an apology." Derrick's words held a threat.
"It's not my fault," Anthony protested. "The wind did it."
"If your hat hadn't hit me in the face, it would have fallen into the ocean and drowned instead of acquiring some dust and a dent." Margaret wished another strong gust of wind would tear the hat from his hand, but her conscience pricked her for thinking such an uncharitable thought.
"I will stay below if it's always like this." Indignant, he stamped away.
A ripple of mirth threatened to escape Margaret's lips. She struggled to hold it in. "Yes, I do hope he stays below in his cabin. Then we'll all be safe from flying hats."
Her soulful-eyed rescuer peered at her forehead. "The hat raised a welt. I am a surgeon currently lending my aid on this voyage as the ship's doctor. Perhaps you would allow me to —"
A chill went through her and the painful memories threatened to swamp her with emotion.
"No, thank you." Recalling the touch of Frances' cold hand in hers sent a deep wave of sorrow washing over her. "I brought suitable remedies with me and will care for it myself."
She hurried away without bidding him good day. Though aware her manners were sadly lacking, she did not possess the strength to deal with her old grief at the moment.
She blundered along the passageway as the ship rocked in the waves. Once she reached her small apartment, the gloom awaiting her in the dark cabin made her soul cringe. A month in this cave would be a trial. With no window for light, she stubbed her toe and let out a yelp. She remembered her trunk sat on the right side of the room against the wooden panel which abutted the captain's quarters. She fumbled around and found it while her eyes adjusted to the dimness.
"The wages of sin is death!" The stentorian voice rang out in the dim interior of the cabin.
Margaret stifled a gasp of surprise. Mrs. Ulery, who was to be her companion, sat in a chair to her left.
How would she endure a month aboard this ship such a self-righteous woman?
"Since you are a member of the church my brother-in-law guides, I've no doubt you heard his sermon concerning the two simple commandants handed to us by the Lord, both of them speak of love — not death." She pressed her lips together. If Edwin knew she wanted someone's hat to fly into the ocean, he would remind her she must forgive the man. She sighed.
"The world abounds in drunkards, thieves, and those who worship idols, but we can rely on the Lord for He will smite them!" Mrs. Hannah Ulery's voice held a note of triumph.
Margaret simply nodded. Arguing with Mrs. Ulery was pointless, since many scripture verses backed up her point of view. Searching in the dark shadows of her trunk, Margaret pulled out a small bottle of witch hazel. She poured a little of the solution onto a soft cloth, closed the lid, sat on the top, and dabbed at the bruise.
"What happened to you?" A quick snap sounded as Mrs. Ulery closed the devotional clutched in her hand.
"I'm sorry to disturb your devotions." Margaret apologized. "Please, continue reading."
The older woman chuckled. "I open my little volume whenever I want to snooze at bit. I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I settled into this cabin."
"I thought you had memorized the passages, since it is much too dark to read in here."
"Yes, we are packed into quite a dismal little closet." Mrs. Ulery sighed. "Still, it's temporary, and I shall visit my brother and England again. I never dreamed I might return. I am grateful you granted me this opportunity. I promised your aunt and your sister to watch over you, but now you've gotten hurt while I was napping."
"It's nothing. Another passenger's hat blew off his head and hit me." She winced, for the witch hazel stung a bit. She thought again of the doctor's soulful eyes. Though she did not want him to touch her, she had no call to be rude.
"Why didn't he hold onto it?" Hannah Ulery questioned in the same tone of voice she used when she spoke of death. "I have witnessed an appalling lack of good manners in young people today."
Margaret shrugged. Mrs. Ulery seemed rather quick to make assumptions. Margaret knew little about the widow who had moved into Leedsville less than a year ago. She and Aunt Sally had become fast friends. "The owner of the hat is Anthony Everett —"
"Him!" The widow exclaimed. "I met him on the gangplank. What a macaroni. I'm sure you've heard the talk about his kind, even in Leedsville."
Aside from the warnings issued by her brother-in-law from the pulpit, Margaret never listened to gossip. She rarely had time for idle chatter. "The men in Leedsville never don anything other than serviceable clothing. Mr. Everett dresses in a grand style, but I am hardly one to judge fashion."
She poured a few more drops of witch hazel on the soft cloth. If the doctor had not caught her, she would be attempting to sooth a sore bottom. She vowed to make amends and offer her thanks in a more courteous manner the next time she saw Doctor Fortune.
A strong draught of briny air whistled through the incommodious cabin. The widow fussed with her shawl, pulling it close. "Quite chilly for this time of year. I do hope the wind subsides."
Margaret gave a wry twist to her mouth. "I do not think we ever endured a winter as bitter as this one past. The depth of the snow in Leedsville nearly smothered us all." Her eyes misted as she thought of her poor pet pig, old Jonas. He'd become ill so quickly, and nothing had helped in easing the animal's agony.
Mrs. Ulery tucked the small devotional into her pocket. "The winter of 1779 and 1780 is the one I'll always remember, when I still lived in the town of Bergen. People from New York were able to walk across the Hudson River. They begged for firewood, but we had little for ourselves." The woman's voice grew softer. "My husband's illness came on suddenly, and I did not realize the severity of it. If I had kept the house warmer, perhaps he might have survived, but I feared using up our meager supply of wood." She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. "As it was, the physician scolded me for not calling him to attend my husband sooner."
Her sorrow touched Margaret's heart. She harbored a suspicion that the physician had bled the poor woman's husband to death. She did not trust doctors, for she'd watched in horror as a physician drew out every drop of Frances's blood.
Forcing herself to quash the memory, she went on, "At least, in Leedsville, we need never concern ourselves over a lack of firewood."
"Yes. My cousin reminded me of that when she tried to convince me to move in with her, though I didn't need much convincing. Once my husband was gone, I took in boarders and I did not find it to my liking. Some people don't believe they ought to pay for a room."
"Some think I should give away my baked goods for nothing." Margaret took infinite care with her dough. She blended love into every loaf.
"Humph. As the Lord said, 'The wages of sin is death.'" Mrs. Ulery sounded quite convinced about the Lord's retribution.
Margaret lifted the lid and tucked the witch-hazel into a safe spot in the trunk. The darkness and her companion's conversation weighed on her. She needed light. Even if the wind persisted on deck, the sun would cheer her. "I'd enjoy reading, and it's far too dark in here. Perhaps I can find a quiet space on the deck." She pulled out the small book of Phillip Freneau's verse, which Frances gave her long ago. She resolved to commit it to memory on this trip. She wished for some time to mull over her thoughts in private and pray, too. Surely, if she settled herself into a cozy corner on the deck, part of the ship would shield her from the wind.
"Since I've had my nap, a walk is in order. I promise I'll protect you from any flying hats. If Mr. Everett's hat hits me, I will hold it for ransom." Mrs. Ulery gave a light laugh and stood just as the ship lurched. "Oh my, this is not going to be a smooth journey."
Margaret held onto a bed rail as the vessel bucked like an angry horse. "Will we get seasick?"
"Not me," the widow declared. "My constitution is made of iron." She opened the door of the tiny cabin, but as she stepped forward, the ship pitched downward. Thrown to the side, she stumbled on her skirts, screamed as she lost her balance, and fell with a resounding thump.
Margaret sprang to help, but was too late to prevent the damage.
"My arm!" Mrs. Ulery called out.
Margaret shuddered as she knelt beside the older woman whose limb bent at an unnatural angle. Anxiety churned in her stomach and her mouth grew as dry as dust. Mrs. Ulery was to travel all the way to Broadcraft Hall with her. This terrible turn of events might ruin everything.
"Please, someone, help us!" Margaret shouted.
Several people came out of their cabins and crowded the narrow passageway.
"Stand back!" Doctor Fortune's tall figure wended through the crowd. He bent to examine the moaning woman.
"Her arm is broken," Margaret informed him. Though her voice trembled, she decided she must be forthright for Mrs. Ulery's sake. "You may set it, but do not bleed her."
His eyes narrowed as he peered at Margaret. "I am the doctor. You are a passenger." His tone infuriated her.
"I don't know any of your patients or how they've fared in your care," she challenged.
He lowered his eyes but not before she caught the bitter affliction in his expression. His skin appeared pale, though the poor lighting in the vessel might be to blame. Still, she suspected her words hit a mark and apprehension chilled her.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Patriot's Pride"
Copyright © 2015 Penelope Marzec.
Excerpted by permission of Pelican Ventures, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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