Orphan Ch. 05-08byFrederick Carol©
Well, no-one has actually come out and said they hate this little opus, so I'm taking that as encouragement. The fact that some of the readers have actually favorited the story is also encouraging, as is the voting. So, I'm taking a chance and submitting another part. I really didn't want to take up origami, anyway.
As always, feedback is welcome, very welcome.
It was about a half-hour further riding to reach St. Clair, and the few people they encountered, although obviously curious, did nothing else but greet them. The inn, a modest affair on the outskirts of St. Clair, was quiet, and their request for a room was met with smiles.
"Your best room, if you please," said Gilroy. "We have been married but a few days, and a little luxury for my lady is a pleasant treat before we must resume our labours."
"Indeed, and perhaps a meal, before you retire for the night?"
"Excellent," said Gilroy. Roxane glanced at the clock on the wall, a rare sight in rural France, perhaps less so here in a small town. Scarce six of the clock, she thought, and fought both blush and giggle. He must think we seek our bed in an unseemly rush. But first, before the meal, a wash, perhaps. The ride had been but short, yet she felt a little travel-stained.
"Cher Henri," she murmured, "might we refresh ourselves a little first, before we eat?" She had spoken quietly, ostensibly to Gilroy, but she knew the innkeeper had heard. He gestured towards the stairway.
"Permit me to show you to your room, and I shall have my wife bring hot water for you."
The room was medium-size, dominated by the large bed. Roxane avoided Gilroy's eye, certain that she would flush if she caught it. The innkeeper was hovering anxiously.
"The room? It is satisfactory?"
"It is. We'll take it. My dear, you rest here, while I fetch our bags."
Alone, Roxane kicked off her boots, discarded her riding jacket, and lay on the bed, fully clothed. Hmm, quite comfortable. She looked around the room. A dresser, some hooks for clothes, but nowhere obvious for Gilroy to sleep. We must share the bed, Roxane thought, it is the only way he'll get any sleep. She flushed. But what if he touches me during the night? How do I respond? Part of her, a wicked side she hadn't allowed to surface before, said, touch him in return, but her modest, normal self, said, ignore it, unless it is deliberate. And if it is, then what? There was a knock at the door.
"Madame? I have the hot water for you."
"A moment." In stockinged feet, Roxane opened the door. The innkeeper's wife, she assumed, smiled at her, and held up a large stone jug.
"Hot water. Let me put it on the dresser for you."
A moment later, Gilroy came in with their bags. The innkeeper's wife gave him a measuring look, then glanced at Roxane, who could almost read the woman's mind. No, she thought, he won't. She startled herself with the sudden regret she felt. Composing herself, she smiled at Gilroy.
"Thank you, Henri. We have hot water, and I must refresh myself."
"If you will excuse me," said the woman, "I have your meal to finish preparing. Perhaps twenty minutes? Is that sufficient?"
Gilroy looked at Roxane. "My dear?"
"It is, madame. Quite sufficient."
The woman nodded and went out, and Gilroy closed the door, looking around. He turned back to Roxane.
"A little smaller than I'd hoped. I might find it awkward to make a place to sleep."
"Not a problem. You must sleep in the bed, it is the only way you can be sure of a decent night's sleep, and you must be fresh if we are to try to find your contact tomorrow."
Gilroy regarded her gravely. "Are you sure, my dear Lucille?"
"Quite certain." A smile quirked Roxane's lips for a moment. "I shall borrow your dirk and if I find you doing something you ought not, why then I will prick you with it to remind you."
Gilroy laughed, reaching to his boot where the dirk hilt showed. He withdrew it, flipped it to hold the blade, and offered it to Roxane hilt first.
"An excellent idea. Please, take this. I'll feel safer if you have it."
"You will feel safer?"
"Perhaps easier would have been a better choice of word. But know this, dear Lucille, do not hesitate to prick me with it if I trespass."
"Thank you, I will," said Roxane, taking the dirk, and laying it on the dresser. "But now, as we have the water, I must wash."
"Do you wish me to wait downstairs for you?"
"Not so. I shall be but a moment. Only my face and hands."
The meal was simple, sustaining, and they made short work of it, and the surprisingly tasty rough, red wine that accompanied it. Finished, they did not tarry but returned to their room.
"We leave early tomorrow, I'm afraid. So best we retire early, too."
Roxane smiled. "As we are supposed to be newly-weds, I think some below were surprised we came for a meal."
"Aye, and weren't lacking with a comment or two as we came upstairs."
Roxane flushed. "A little too blunt, some of them."
"Take no notice."
"Easier said, than done, I think. But you're right, I shall endeavour to ignore them."
Gilroy turned to the door and locked it. He gestured, embarrassed. "I fear we must share this chamber pot if we feel the need. The privy is outside, beside the stable, and I do not want you out there alone at night."
Roxane shuddered. "Indeed not. Fear not, Henri. If we need it, it is natural, and no embarrassment is needed." She grimaced. "I ask only your discretion."
"You have it." Gilroy gestured. "You wish to change?"
"Yes." She smiled. "My nightdress is not designed to titillate, but to envelop. Once I am wearing it, you may look."
"I'll turn my back while you change."
"Thank you. Now?"
Gilroy nodded, and turned his back. "Tomorrow?"
"What about tomorrow?" asked Roxane as she began to remove her skirt.
"My contact lives a half-day's ride or so away. Make sure you leave nothing behind that might identify you as Roxane Harrison."
"Of course." Roxane was down to her shift now, and wriggled to let the top fall, so that she could don her nightdress. Breasts bare, she fought a giggle. If Gilroy should see me like this! Or touch me, she thought, feeling her nipples harden until they almost hurt her, surprising herself by almost wishing it was so. No! She thought, that cannot be. Quickly she donned her nightdress, and let the shift fall, picking it up and folding it neatly onto her pile of discarded clothes.
"Henri? You may turn now. I am decently covered." She moved across to the bed and sat, pulling her feet up and making sure that her nightgown safely covered everything except her toes.
Gilroy turned, smiling at her. "You look very fetching, my dear Lucille."
"Thank you, husband. Will you join me in our bed?" She flushed, and gave him a wry smile.
"Most urgently, dear wife. I fear that I do not have a nightshirt, but I think my shirt and drawers will cover me sufficiently to retain my modesty." Roxane fought another giggle, and this time lost. Gilroy gave her an amused glance. "Time for you to turn away, dear Lucille."
"Oh, of course." Roxane adjusted her seat so that her back was to him, hearing the sound of cloth against skin, against other cloth. She felt the bed move, and he was beside her.
"Into the bed, my dear. Once you're settled I'll douse the lamp."
Roxane quickly wriggled into the bed, pulling the blankets up to her chin. Gilroy blew out the lamp, then settled down beside her. They lay silent for a while, then Gilroy spoke, his voice pitched low.
"Goodnight, dear Roxane."
They settled down, and Roxane fought a giggle. Here she was, unmarried, and sharing a bed with a man. Heavens! Whatever next?
It was the faint light of dawn that woke her, that, and an unaccustomed arm around her. In his sleep, Gilroy had moved closer; she could feel his breath tickling the hairs on her neck. She wondered, should she move his arm? No, she decided, somehow I feel safer that way. She closed her eyes again and lay, content, drifting into sleep again.
A hand on her shoulder shook her gently. She opened her eyes. Gilroy, dressed, save for his jacket.
"Good morning, wife. I'm going to go down and see if I can get some hot water for your wash. Lock the door behind me."
She nodded, and sat up, wriggling around to swing her legs out of bed. Her nightgown had ridden up a little during the night and she was conscious of the flash of bare leg that Gilroy might see, but he affected not to notice, and she let the nightgown slide down as she rose.
"I should only be a minute or two," he said.
"Very well." She stood by the door while he went out, then locked it behind him. Turning, she caught sight of the chamber pot. Best I use it, she thought. She'd only just finished when there was a tap at the door.
"Just me," Gilroy's voice called. He'd brought a large jug of hot water. She took it, and poured some into the basin on the dresser. She glanced back at Gilroy. He smiled.
"I'll turn my back," he said, and did so.
Quickly, she washed between her legs, and then her face and hands. A quick glance over her shoulder showed Gilroy still facing away, and she quickly stripped off her nightgown and donned her shift, then her blouse, drawers and riding-skirt. Her stockings were the work of moments and she quickly tied the garters above her knees.
"It's safe to look now," she murmured, and Gilroy relaxed, turning, smiling at her.
"I suspect I missed a lovely sight."
"Henri! How could you say such a thing?" She laughed, arching her brow, smiling. "Yes, you did."
His laughter warmed her. Captain Alexander Gilroy was without any doubt a very attractive man. He reached out and took her hand, squeezing her fingers. "Are you ready to break your fast, dear wife?"
"I am, husband."
"You have your pistol?"
"In my saddle-bag, yes."
Gilroy nodded. "We must devise a way for you to carry it on your person."
"You think so?"
He grimaced. "I fear the necessity, but yes, I would feel safer if you had something, some weapon, with which you might defend yourself." He shrugged. "For now, we but go to break our fast. I think it safe enough."
They were the only two breaking their fast. Simple fare again, with a rough cider to drink. They didn't linger over the meal, and within the hour, the modest bill paid, they were on their way again.
"We should make contact with our agent today, Lucille. His last known location is in St. Pierre, and we should reach there shortly after noon, if we do not tarry. However, I think we must pause somewhere and see if we can devise something to allow you to carry the pistol."
"I have an idea, although I do not know if it is feasible."
"And your idea?"
"My travelling cloak is lined, to the waist. I believe it might be possible to stitch a pocket into that lining, one just big enough for the pistol. That would put the pistol at just above waist height, and should make it easily accessible. For balance, if we were to include a matching pocket at the other side, and perhaps weight it with a stone? That way, the cloak would not be unbalanced. What think you?"
"I think, dear Lucille, that your intelligence manifests itself again. Save only one thing, we do not have the means to accomplish this task."
Roxane laughed. "Oh, but we do! I have needed to make simple repairs many a time in the past, so that I have begun to carry a small pouch with scissors, needle and thread, whenever I am away from home overnight. Find us somewhere to bide a while, and I feel sure I can contrive the necessary pockets."
"When we near our nooning, we shall search for a place of concealment." Gilroy smiled. "Pray that you do not need the pistol before then."
"Indeed so, Henri."
* * * * *
They rode easily, for there was no urgency this day, and Roxane found herself enjoying a comfortable rapport with Alexander Gilroy. She discovered that he was a little younger than she'd thought, twenty-seven years old to her own nineteen. She found, too, that she was attracted to him as a man, although she was careful to conceal the fact. Time enough when this mission is concluded, for we want nothing to divert our attention, she reasoned.
Shortly after noon, they were following the road across heathland, uncultivated, and Gilroy drew her attention to an outcrop of rocks, some hundred paces or so from the road.
"See there, Lucille? That outcrop? Perhaps if we rest there while you weave your magic with your needle? Anyone seeing us will think we rest, or perhaps share a modest repast."
Roxane nodded. "Lead the way!"
They found that they were not the only ones to have used the outcrop as a resting place, for there were some hoof marks, some boot marks and traces of a fire, but nothing that seemed recent. A toppled boulder made a convenient seat and Roxane was able to work on her cloak in comfort. They had picketed the horses, which grazed contentedly on the heathland grass. There was enough material in the lining of her cloak to form the two pockets, and the task was soon accomplished.
She took the pistol case from her saddlebag, and opened it. Gilroy leaned forward, curious. He gave a startled gasp.
"Roxane, may I examine your pistol, please?" He took it from her, examined it and uttered an expression of delight.
"Lucille, I am astonished. The bore is bigger than I'd expected."
"Uncle Silas told me it had been modified to take a larger ball, yes."
"Not just that, my dear wife, but it has been modified to take the new-fangled percussion cap. It is scarce five or six years since it was invented. I had worried about how you might keep the priming from falling out while you rode, but you do not have that problem with the percussion cap. Whoever modified this pistol knew what he was about."
"This is good?"
Gilroy grinned. "Very! How many spare caps do you have?"
"A moment, while I check. Um, I seem to have another eight or ten."
"Excellent, although let us pray that you do not even need one."
"Amen to that!" Roxane gave Gilroy a wry smile. "I do not look forward to the possibility that I may need to fire at a fellow human being."
"Indeed not. Now, put it in the pocket, with your cloak on your shoulders, and see how accessible it is. I think you'll find that the stone there - yes, that one - will be an adequate balance weight."
A minute or two later, Roxane stood with her cloak on her shoulders, assessing the extra weight. Noticeable but not excessive, she thought.
"Try to get the pistol out. Concentrate on smoothly, rather than quickly." Gilroy smiled. "The drape of the cloak looks fine, no difference obvious to the eye."
"I feel a difference," said Roxane, with a quick smile for him. "Very well, here goes." Being right-handed, she'd sewn the pistol pocket on the left, and she reached in. She'd sewn the pocket so that the butt of the pistol protruded, and it was close-fitting enough that the pistol wasn't likely to move. She grasped the butt and drew the pistol easily from its impromptu holster. She levelled it, carefully not pointing it at Gilroy. "Bang!" she said, and laughed.
Gilroy grinned. "Fast enough, I think. Now, is it loaded?"
"Very well. Fit a percussion cap, and return it to the the pocket. Then draw it out, cock it, and pull the trigger. The cap should be detonated, although of course as it is not loaded, it will not fire."
He smiled. "I think so, yes."
Roxane fitted a cap and returned the pistol to the pocket, drew, cocked and fired. The percussion cap made a satisfactory noise, and Gilroy smiled.
"Now, load it. I won't ask you to fire it, as you only have a finite number of caps."
She frowned. "I sincerely trust that that was the only cap I use on this mission."
"As do I. Now, I have some bread and cheese, and some of that cider in my saddlebag. Luncheon, madam?"
"Why, thank you, sir. I should be delighted."
They rode on after a relaxing hour. Gilroy was a good raconteur and entertained Roxane about his exploits in earlier days, making her laugh several times. He was also good at drawing responses and she found herself telling him about the horror and despair of losing her parents in the shipyard fire. When she'd finished he reached out and took her hand in his as they rode.
"Roxane, my dear, I owe you an apology. At your uncle's house, before dinner, when I brought up the subject of the fire, when I knew it distressed you, well, that was unforgivable. I can only beg that you do not think too ill of me."
She shook her head, wiping tears from her eyes. "No, Captain Gilroy, I do not. I am slowly appreciating the risks you take venturing into France, when Napoleon's armies would destroy you as soon as they could. I only hope that I do not hinder you."
"Not so, Roxane. Do you not remember, last night, at the inn? We will be remembered, yes, but as the couple who had not long been married and could not wait to leave the table after dinner to get to their room, and their bed."
Roxane giggled. "Perhaps we should have tried harder to make the bed squeak."
Gilroy laughed. "Perhaps we should. Tonight?"
"What about tonight?"
"If I manage to make contact with our agent, we may not get to a bed at all, but instead we may have to ride, and ride hard, to get back to where we can rendezvous with Le Bon." Gilroy grimaced. "It depends on what news he has."
"If we have to ride, then we ride," said Roxane.
"Indeed. Now, see ahead, there? The cottage next the road?"
"I see it. What of it?"
"I should be able to get news of our agent there." Gilroy looked around. "It might be better if I seem to be alone. See yonder copse of trees?"
"Wait there for me."
Roxane frowned. "Must I? I'd feel safer with you."
Gilroy frowned, pondering, then brightened. "If you hold the horses, out of clear sight. Not hiding, as such, just not easily visible. You can do that?"
Roxane smiled. "I can do that, yes."
"And check that your pistol is ready, that the percussion cap hasn't fallen off."
Roxane nodded. "A moment, then. Um, yes, all is well."
"Good, then let us be off. Be vigilant, Roxane. For what, I do not know, I just feel uneasy at this stage."
It was only a two or three minute ride to the cottage, and Gilroy drew up out of sight of its windows, dismounting and handing the reins of his mount to Roxane.
"Stay mounted, Roxane. That mare of yours stands her ground well, and while she doesn't move, my bay seems content to stay close. I shall be as quick as I can." He gave her a tight smile and moved towards the cottage. No sign of life, but a trickle of smoke from its chimney.
Roxane watched anxiously as Gilroy moved cautiously towards the cottage, pausing for a moment, looking around, then knocking at the door, a coded signal, three, pause, two, pause, three. The door opened a crack and there was a hurried conversation with someone inside, out of sight.
Roxane looked around, checking the road in both directions. A hint of dust to the north caught her attention, and she strained her eyes to see, wishing that she had a telescope. She could almost swear that she saw the glint of metal, but it was too far to be certain. One thing she was sure of, there were several riders. Gilroy needed to know.
She almost smiled, for what she was about to do was most unladylike. She put two fingers between her lips and whistled, remembering childhood games with Mickey Killane, the son of one of her father's craftsman, and of the patient way he had taught Roxane to whistle.
At the sound, Gilroy's head came up and he looked towards Roxane. She pointed north, and held up both hands, fingers spread. He looked, and nodded, spoke quickly to whoever was in the cottage and hurried back to Roxane, mounting, and pointing west.