“I would be glad to have Benjamin home for good. Visions of the disasters that could befall us keep me up at night. Knowing what happened to Baylis only increases my worry for the rest of you.”
He helped me rise. “Ben knows how to take care of himself, and his faith and patriotic fervor will sustain him through the hardships. He and your brothers will watch out for each other.” He tilted up my chin, brushing his lips across my cheek. “I’m sure he’d want me to deliver that to you.”
Tears stung my eyes again at the thought of a kiss carried across hundreds of miles and I blinked so they wouldn’t fall. “Please send my love to Betsy. I miss living next door to you all.”
“What? You’re not happy to be back in this grand house?” This time a smile accompanied the jest.
He appreciated the humor in my situation more than I ever could. “They’re my family, but we don’t share the same convictions. It’s hardly been a fortnight since we feasted for the day of national thanksgiving decreed by Congress, and my aunt insisted on having another party. It seems disrespectful of our soldiers.”
He chuckled. “Come on, Anna. Don’t begrudge your aunt a party or two.”
“It’s not just the parties. I don’t want Rhoda to expect slaves to attend to her every need. I want her to believe as we do—it’s wrong for one person to own another.”
“All right. I admit I’d feel the same if I had to live here and endure your uncle’s constant barbs. There’s no way I could stay quiet about the immorality of profiting from the forced labor of others. I’m fighting for liberty for all of us, not just those who already had some before the war started.”
As he opened the door, I swiped at my cheeks to make sure there was no trace of tears. We were halfway to the entry when King appeared with Thomas’s wraps. He thanked the butler, settled his hat on his head and said to me, “Betsy bid me tell you to come visit anytime.”
“I will indeed. Good night.”
Reluctant to lose his company, I lingered at the window while Manso brought out Thomas’s horse. The candles burned low. I whispered a prayer for Baylis’s eternal soul, blew them out, and inhaled the bayberry incense, hoping it would sanctify my prayer.
I returned to the party in time to watch Mollie, Nancy, and Rhoda parade figures of the three kings through the house and add them to the tableaux of Aunt Jean’s Nativity. Nineteen-year-old Mollie, who found the bean in her cake, was proclaimed Queen. Bless her, when she noticed Rhoda’s wistful look, she abdicated and bestowed the gold-paper crown and ribbon-bedecked scepter on her little cousin.
It was after midnight when the family retired, leaving Phillis, Lynn, and King to take down the remaining Yuletide decorations and set the parlor to rights. And so, Twelfth Night ended.
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