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She sat, unobtrusive in the shadows. Head bent, the soft shush of her charcoal lost in the clearing of throats, the rustle of clothing. But she watched them, in ones and twos and threes, as they ducked under the open tent flap and came to the general’s side. There each man paused to look on his face, calm in the candlelight, and she caught what she could of the drifting currents that crossed their own faces: shadows of grief and sorrow, eyes sometimes dark with fear, or blank with shock and tiredness.
Often, they wept.
William and John Cinnamon flanked her, standing just behind on either side, silent and respectful. General [ ]‘s orderly had offered them stools, but they had courteously refused, and she found their buttressing presences oddly comforting.
The soldiers came by companies, the uniforms (in some cases, only militia badges) changing. John Cinnamon shifted his weight now and then, and occasionally took a deep breath or cleared his throat. William didn’t.
What was he doing? she wondered. Counting the soldiers? Assessing the condition of the American troops? They were shabby; dirty and unkempt, and in spite of their respectful demeanor, few of the companies seemed to have much notion of order.
For the first time, it occurred to her to wonder just what William’s motive in coming had been. She’d been so happy at meeting him that she’d accepted his statement that he wouldn’t let his sister go unaccompanied into a military camp at face value. Was it true, though? From the little Lord John had said, she knew that William had resigned his army commission—but that didn’t mean he’d changed sides. Or that he had no interest in the state of the American siege, or that he didn’t intend to pass on any information he gained during this visit. Clearly he still knew people in the British army.
The skin on her shoulders prickled at the thought, and she wanted to turn round and look up at him. A moment’s hesitation and she did just that. His face was grave, but he was looking at her.
“All right?” he asked in a whisper.
“Yes,” she said, comforted by his voice. “I just wondered whether you’d fallen asleep standing up.”
She smiled, and opened her mouth to say something, apologize for keeping him and his friend out all night. He stopped her with a small twitch of fingers.
“It’s all right,” he said softly. “You do what you came to do. We’ll stay with you, and take you home in the morning. I meant it; I won’t leave you alone.”
“Taking Leave” was posted on same official Facebook page on July 23, 2017 at 12:08 a.m. This excerpt was also posted on my Blog on July 25, 2017.