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what he was. "And I had the devil of a time explaining to
them both why it shocked me so. You see..." Josh's mouth
thinned further but his shoulders straightened. He raised his
head, and Peter found himself on the end of a glare
threatening as a cocked pistol. There was a glow in those
dark eyes like the muzzle-flash of a cannon, and Peter was
forcibly reminded that he was no longer facing an inferior in
rank or in anything else.
"You see, sir, he would have been proud to have such a
wife. Their people the Anishinabe people would have
honored him for it, because they think men like me are holy.
Different, yes. But not abominable."
His voice shook with disappointment and anger. Launching
himself to his feet, he strode out into the dark. Peter's heart
lurched with loss, and he was half way out of his seat in
pursuit when Josh returned, braced himself belligerently
against the grotto and said, "They think we're holy. A bridge
between man and woman, man and God. Here's an
outrageous thing: They think that God made us like this
because God wants us like this! And I thought ... I thought
perhaps they were right.
"Maybe I don't have to bring you eternal torment as a
price for my love. Maybe I'm not a poison I have to protect
you from. What if I, too, could be a blessing? What if I could
make you happy? I'm sorry, sir..." His nostrils flared and he
gave Peter a withering look of contempt that made Peter's
breath catch in his throat. "I'm sorry that you find the idea so
very funny."
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For a moment all Peter could feel was relief that Josh had
come back, that he was still there, not exactly shouting, but
doing as good an impression of it as was possible without
raising one's voice. Relief gave way to astonishment, to a
warm burst of something bright in his heart and his belly as
he began to understand that this tirade was a declaration of
love. It was only when these two pleasures had ebbed a little
that he had space to realize he hadn't yet tried to apologize.
"Josh..."
But Josh was in no mood to listen. "No!" he said, cutting
off the explanation with a sweep of his hand. "You're going to
hear me out. I waited 'til we were here to tell you. I wanted
dancing, fireworks, darkness, I thought it would be romantic.
Don't laugh! And you royally fucked that up, sir, but I'm going
to say it anyway. You want to marry? So do I. And you might
be a total bastard at times, but I love you. So marry me."
Oh! Peter thought. Oh God! And there was a pause, like
the pause infinitesimal and yet so very long between the
order to fire and the first broadside of a full fleet action. "I'm
sorry?"
"With all due respect, sir," said Josh, close examination
revealing, behind the threat of his expression, a thrumming of
nervous hope, "you heard me the first time. Peter Kenyon,
will you marry me?"
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Chapter 24
A pause.
Peter thought, aghast, that it was no wonder Josh had
defeated a French ship of the line. His head for unorthodox
tactics was frightening. "If we went to church and asked the
priest to marry us, we would end up being hanged in one
noose," he said, feeling both affronted at being put in the
woman's place in this, and yet dimly, shamefully relieved. "So
you cannot be suggesting that. I am not assuming again that
I know what you mean. Elaborate."
"Yes, sir." Josh snapped to attention, faintly ridiculous
given the circumstances. "As I see it, there are three options.
One, I persuade a captain I know, of my persuasion, to marry
us under our own names at sea. Two, we travel to Giniw's
country and marry by their rite." He flashed an aggressive
smile daring Peter to laugh. "I'd consider that pretty
unfeeling towards my rescuers, frankly."
"And three," the smile softened and warmed, "and this is
my favored option, you give me your word before God to
forsake all others, to cleave to me until we die, and I swear
the same by you, and that's enough for me."
Peter rubbed the bridge of his nose. This was not
something to be treated lightly. He no longer had the excuse
of simply not having thought about the issues. It would not
be a youth's rash impulse throwing his life away upon a
whim. It would be a man's decision, fully thought out and
acceded to by body, mind, and soul. A frightening thought.
"What would you do if I said no?"
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"With respect, sir, you do not need to take that into
consideration. The issue is what you want. If you do not think
the game is worth the candle, it is enough to say so. The
consequences to me are not your concern."
"Humor me."
Josh turned away, bowing his head slightly; slumped
shoulder and rounded cheek in shadow. "I would grieve. Of
course. But then I'd go back and marry someone who did
want me."
Peter laughed, concealing how uneasy that remark had
made him feel. It hadn't occurred to him before tonight that
Josh might have other options than merely to wait for his
pleasure. He supposed he had been relying on Josh to be
there a certainty held in reserve. The thought of having to
turn his back on that, of ruling a line under this affair and
meaning it this time, was as frightening as the thought of
rejecting the laws of God and man to embrace it.
He remembered that it had been Josh's voice which
startled him out of despair during the duel, gave him strength
to fight for his honor and win. Where would he find that
strength if Josh deserted him? "But we could still be friends?"
"I don't know," Josh said unexpectedly and came back to
sit by Peter's side once more, putting his head in his hands.
"What would it mean to be friends, if I was there and you
were here? Opichi and Giniw ... they're good people. I
wouldn't mess them about. So I think ... I think it's this or
goodbye. I can't carry on being what I was, not now I know
there's something better."
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This, too, was an intolerable thought. Peter had grown
used to Josh simply being there; as little to be remarked
upon, as indispensable and, he had supposed, as inseparable
as his own soul. Turning to reassure himself that Josh was in
fact still there, he found the younger man with his fingers
underneath his wig, clutching at his hair.
"So, that's a 'No, let's just be friends' then, sir. Is it?"
It should be. Peter knew it should be. How would he ever
be able to look himself in the eye again, knowing now how
the world would condemn his sordid secret, if they knew it?
Better not to have a sordid secret. Perhaps among savages
such things might happen, but that didn't make them possible
for gentlemen. He must say no.
Opening his mouth, a white star of panic burst beneath his
breastbone at the thought and rose to choke off the word
unsaid. He could not physically force it out.
Peter did not like being dictated to by his feelings. Making
a tactical retreat, so that he could consider, approach the
problem from a different angle, he shook his head to dislodge [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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