Sixteen

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Chapter Sixteen

 

August, 1815

The quiet country life was not as lonely or boring as Phoebe had feared. In fact it was quite refreshing. She stayed in a charming cottage with Mrs. Condon—who’d refused to leave her side—and Elizabeth, her more than trustworthy maid. Together the three of them enjoyed a relaxed, companionable existence. They laughed and read, knitted and hemmed, and Phoebe’s spirits lifted by the day.

Her grief and feelings of shame had not completely ebbed, but little by little her positive nature was taking over. At night she still had dreams of James. Some memories of the times they’d spent together, others nightmares of him ravaged in battle. In her current condition it was impossible to put him from her mind. It was so difficult to accept that he was dead given that a piece of him grew daily inside her. Repeatedly she reminded herself not to pine and weep for him. He’d rejected her long before his death, and never once written or expressed a moment’s regret. He’d known the risk of bedding her and simply hadn’t cared.

That logic never failed to steel her emotions.

Gathering up her basket of paint supplies and a brimmed straw hat, Phoebe moved toward the front door. “Elizabeth,” she called into the next room, “I’m going to take a walk down by the field. There are some lovely wildflowers I want to paint.”

“That sounds lovely, my lady,” her maid returned. “Dinner will be on the table at six-thirty sharp.”

“I’ll be back,” Phoebe promised, slipping out the front door. She settled the hat on her head and tilted her face into the sunshine. What a beautiful day. Bushy green leaves rustled in the treetops while birds twittered and squirrels chattered. Before long Phoebe found herself humming a simple hymn. Over the last couple weeks the profound nausea and exhaustion consuming her had waned, and today she felt energetic, and more like herself than she had in months.

She quickly located the spot she’d picked for painting and set to work. Before long a big yellow dog lumbered across the field, tail wagging. The animal often joined her for walks. She had no idea where he actually lived or who he belonged to, but he was friendly and well fed and she was always glad for the company.

“Well, hello, boy!” She scratched behind his ears and he flopped beside her in the grass to watch her work. Every so often she’d share a bite of the bread and cheese she’d packed as a snack with the dog.

Suddenly the dog’s ears pricked and he barked once.

Surprised, Phoebe set the brush aside and glanced around. “What is it, boy?”

As if on cue, the dog jumped up and barked again. He then loped toward the edge of the field, tail wagging as it always did. An ill-mannered bone didn’t seem to exist in the mutt’s body.

Phoebe too stood. Someone must be coming. Pulling the brim of her hat down to better shield the bright sun, she looked past the dog to the narrow path alongside the field. A flash of red clothing flickered between the trees. The figure of a man soon became visible as he weaved into the trees, heading toward the field and the dog. A moment later a uniformed soldier stepped into the field, grinning down at the dog.

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