Henry went on in all seriousness. “Except it’s mostly about who bought a new hat and who’s invited where and who’s in love—”
“Henry,” Rachel said, in strangled tones.
“And your mama?” Hannah asked, amused.
“Mama knows everything about everything,” Henry said. “Without Mama, Papa couldn’t have saved your life.”
“Yes,” Hannah said. “That’s true.”
“Now that we are clear on our various areas of expertise,” said Paul, “perhaps we should get on with it. My brother and my stepdaughter are both here because between them, as Henry put it so astutely, they know everything about the city.”
Jean-Benoît Savard said, “If you will tell me your story, I will do what I can.” His voice was raw, as though he had once strained his vocal cords beyond endurance and they had never recovered. His language was just as unusual, English that was native in the way the words were strung together, but nevertheless had to find its way through a thicket of other languages, French first among them.
Julia said, “Run along now, Henry. Clémentine is waiting for you. Time for your bath and bed.”
Henry launched himself at the uncle he so clearly adored. Jean-Benoît leaned over and put a hand on the back of the boy’s head. He spoke to Henry but smiled at his sister-in-law.
“Henry, no good will ever come from disobeying a
woman, especially your mother. She is always right.”
When the boy was gone, it seemed as though he took some of the light and air from the room. Weariness washed over Hannah as the sound of his footsteps receded. Julia came to sit beside the bed and put a hand on her forehead, and Rachel poured water from a beaker into a glass and handed it to her.
“Her fever is coming up again,” Rachel said to her stepfather.
“No, it is not,” Hannah said. “I am recovered, and I must talk.”
Because she had been so ill, because she was weary beyond reckoning, and most of all because it was not often Hannah allowed herself the luxury of memory, the words came from her reluctantly. She cast her mind back to the previous summer, to the garrison on Île aux Noix and the day Jennet had been abducted by the false priest. She told the Savards about Luke, about their uneasy alliance with the British Crown through Kit Wyndham, about their year-long pursuit of Anselme Dégre, about the rescue at L’Île de Lamantins. By that time the story had taken on a life of its own and flowed through her like icy water.
Now and then one of the women drew in a sharp breath, but the men’s expressions never changed from polite attentiveness, and would never change, no matter what they were feeling about the story she told. Very little could shock Paul Savard after his years in the hospital wards of
the Manhattan almshouse; Jean-Benoît Savard was unknown to her, but Hannah had the idea that he was a man who never gave away what he might be thinking unless it suited him to do so.
There was a small silence when she finished. Then Dr. Savard made a deep sound in his throat, gruff acknowledgment and something of sympathy, but not too much, lest it distract them from their purpose. The sound a physician makes when unwrapping a festering wound.
“You’ve had a run of bad luck,” he said. “Enough bad luck for a lifetime.”
“And now Agnès Poiterin on top of all that,” said Rachel. She shuddered.
“It’s Jennet I’m worried about,” Hannah said. “And the boy.”
Jean-Benoît had listened without asking questions, but he spoke up now and got right to the heart of the matter. “Tell me the things you believe.”
It was a strange formulation, but Hannah understood him. With some effort she calmed her thoughts, and then she began.
“I don’t understand why Titine never came back to see to me. She knew I was ill. I fear she must be locked up someplace, or dead.”
“Or worse,” said Rachel. “Slave traders sometimes snatch up free people of color.”
Hannah closed her eyes and let a wave of nausea pass
“Or worse,” she echoed.
“We mustn’t assume the worst,” said Julia.
“Go on,” said Jean-Benoît, calmly.
“I believe that my pack and everything in it—the money, the letters of introduction, the letter Jennet wrote to Luke—is gone. Maybe Jennet has it. I hope she does. Otherwise thieves took it from Titine or the Poiterins intercepted it. If that is the case, Jennet has been in a difficult and possibly dangerous situation for two weeks. She must be frantic for some word of us, unless Luke has found some way to contact her. I know my brother will be searching for me, though he can only do so indirectly if our plan is to work. Unless he is dead, too.”
Her head had begun to ache again, and she closed her eyes so she did not see, could not imagine Jean-Benoît’s expression.
She heard him say, “Look for me tomorrow in the late afternoon. I will find out what there is to know, and then plans can be made.”
Then a large, hard hand covered her own hands where they lay, fingers cramped together, on the covers. It was a fleeting touch, but firm and resolute and comforting.
When Jean-Benoît had gone, Rachel sat down beside Hannah. She said, “You can sleep peacefully now.”
“Yes,” said Julia. “Ben has made your concern his own, and you could not have hoped for more.”
Hannah said, “He is a Quaker?” The surprise in her voice couldn’t be hidden.
“He takes what he likes of my religion,” said Julia. “And of any other he comes across.” She sounded more resigned than anything else.
“Ben will do what he can,” said Dr. Savard, more soberly.
There was some comfort in the idea that Hannah was no longer alone, but not enough to dispel the dread that lay on her tongue, its taste as bitter and distinct as cinchona bark.