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Authors: Sara Donati

Fire Along the Sky

BOOK: Fire Along the Sky
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For Penny and Suzanne

We've been through a lot together
And most of it was my fault

Primary Characters

In Paradise

Elizabeth Middleton Bonner, a schoolteacher

Nathaniel Bonner, a hunter and trapper; Elizabeth's husband

The Bonner children, in order of
age:

• Luke Scott Bonner, Nathaniel's
son by an early alliance, resident
in Montreal. A merchant, importer, and fur trader; general manager of the Carryck holdings

• Hannah (also known as Walks-Ahead or Walking-Woman) Nathaniel's daughter by his first wife

• the twins Mathilde (or Lily) and Daniel

• Gabriel

Jennet Scott Huntar, a widow, sister of the Earl of Carryck and a distant cousin to the Bonners

Iona Fraser, Luke Bonner's maternal grandmother. Born in Scotland, resident in Montreal

Simon Ballentyne, originally of Carryck, Luke Bonner's business partner, resident in Montreal

Many-Doves, a Mohawk woman who lives at Lake in the Clouds; she is Nathaniel's sister-in-law by his first marriage

Runs-from-Bears, of the Kahnyen'kehàka Turtle clan; the husband of Many-Doves; their children:

• Blue-Jay, their eldest son

• Annie (also called Kenenstasi), their youngest daughter

• Kateri, married and living in Canada

• Sawatis, their youngest son, living in Canada

Ethan Middleton, Elizabeth's nephew, Richard Todd's stepson and apprentice

Richard Todd, physician and landowner, widower

Cornelius Bump, a tinker

Curiosity Freeman, a freed slave, housekeeper for the Todds

Daisy Hench, Curiosity's adult daughter, a free woman of color

Joshua Hench, blacksmith, a freed slave; Daisy's husband; their children still resident in Paradise:

• Emmanuel, apprenticed to his father in the smithy

• Sally and Lucy Hench, servants in the Todds' household

• Leo, the youngest, Elizabeth's student

Jemima Southern Kuick, widow, resident at the mill house

Martha, Jemima's daughter

The Widow Kuick, Jemima's invalid mother-in-law

Charlie LeBlanc, miller, and his wife Becca Kaes LeBlanc; six sons by his first wife, five daughters by Becca

Jan Kaes, Becca's father, a widower; Michael, his adult son

Nicholas (Claes) Wilde, farmer and orchard keeper, and his wife Dolly, an invalid

Callie, their daughter

Cookie Fiddler, a freed slave and the Wildes' housekeeper and servant

Levi Fiddler, a freed slave, farm worker at the Wildes', and Cookie's son

Horace Greber, trapper, hunter, and his son Hardwork

Martin and Georgia Ratz, Martin's mother Addie, sons Jem, Henry, and Harry, Elizabeth's students. Adult daughter Lydia, unmarried

Jock and Laura Hindle; Jock's mother and father

Goody Cunningham and her grown son Praise-Be, his wife Jane (McGarrity), adult daughter Dora, unmarried

Missy (Margaret) Parker, unemployed housekeeper; her daughter Theodosia is married to Jonas Littlejohn, post rider

Anna and Jed McGarrity, owners of the trading post; Jed is also the constable

Peter Dubonnet, his wife Nettie, his widowed father Claude

Benjamin, Obediah, and Elijah Cameron

At Nut Island

Colonel Marcel Caudebec, commander of the garrison

Adam O'Neill, a Catholic priest

Major Christian Wyndham, King's Rangers

Major Percy Watson, Forty-ninth Regiment, Canadian Fencibles

Captain James MacDonald, Indian Department

Lieutenant Fitzwilliam Hughes, Thirty-ninth Foot, Lower Canadain Select Embodied
Militia

Major Jacques-René Boucher de la Bruére, Second Battalion LCSEM

Captain David Le Couteur of the Canadian Chasseurs (Light Infantry), Fifth Battalion
LCSEM

The voltigeurs: Kester MacLeod, Uz Brodie, Drew Clarke

Liam Kirby (called Red Crow by the Mohawk), gun captain on board the USS
Ferret

Jim Booke, militia captain

Prologue: Jennet

Late Spring, 1812
Carryckcastle, Annandale, Scotland

Set free by the death of a husband she had not wanted nor ever learned to love, Jennet Scott Huntar of Carryckcastle left home for the new world on her twenty-eighth birthday.

Jennet told everyone that she had chosen Montreal for practical reasons, and she ticked them off on her fingers: the family's extensive holdings, the many friends and business associates to look after her, and the fact that Montreal was the closest city to the Bonner cousins in New-York State. These reasons, so rationally presented, fooled no one, not even herself: in a clan of men and women to whom reserve and restraint were as natural as breathing, Jennet was an oddity, unable to hide what she was feeling or even to try.

It was true that she was eager to see the cousins who lived deep in the wilderness of the endless forests in the state of New-York, but the first and most important truth was this: Jennet went to Montreal in pursuit of Luke Bonner, a distant cousin and the man she should have married instead of good-hearted, predictable Ewan Huntar.

It was true that Jennet had not seen Luke Bonner in ten years, but there was another truth, a more important one: in all those years he had never married. A handsome young man from a well-respected family, with a quick laugh and a considerable fortune, all of his own making; he could have married fifty times over, and yet he had not. It was both an invitation and a challenge that Jennet could not ignore.

For a month Jennet did what was expected of her as a widow, shutting herself away in her chamber not in sorrow but because she could not hide her relief. When she announced to her family that she would sail on the
Isis
it came as no great surprise; her mother only held her gaze for a long moment and then looked away, in resignation or perhaps, Jennet reasoned to herself, understanding.

As it turned out, Jennet got away at the last possible moment; the
Isis
—a merchantman in her brother's fleet—was barely out of the Solway Firth when they passed a packet on her way in with the unsettling news of a new war. The army of the fledgling and upstart United States had attempted and failed to invade British Canada near Fort Detroit. Jennet found herself headed for the very heart of the conflict. The packet captain waited while she scribbled her first letter to her family.

So was it meant to be,
she wrote. And:
Send no one after me, for I have no intention of turning back. I can, I will look after myself.

On that same afternoon she learned of the war that waited for her, Jennet met the other passengers.

         

At first report they seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary: a merchant who traveled with an eye on a hold filled with cognac and armagnac and exotic wines and spirits far too valuable to leave to the care of an agent or factor. He was more than fifty, with gray-blue eyes that slanted at the corners, an elaborate mustache that curled at the ends, and the striking Italian name Alfonso del Giglio. In addition to two old servants who seemed to be completely mute, Signore del Giglio had with him a small and very attentive dog who answered to the name Pip, and a wife, Camille Maria de Rojas Santiago del Giglio. At dinner the captain introduced the ladies.

Everything about the merchant's wife was as odd and beautiful as her name: she wore a silk gown the color of singed corn silk with tiny crystals sewn to the sleeves and hem; around her shoulders was a heavy silk shawl embroidered with symbols Jennet did not recognize. On a fine chain she wore her only jewelry: a dull red stone the size of an acorn, caught in a web of silver filigree.

From the beginning it seemed to Jennet that Camille del Giglio must be half-fey, just as one-half of her hair was a deep blue-black and the other shot with white, just as one side of her face seemed to be almost asleep while the other was always alive with motion. The del Giglios were seldom at rest in any way; they spoke to each other or to Pip as if they were alone in the room, slipping from Spanish to Italian to English to French in the same sentence. Jennet listened, at first confused and then, mustering those three of the four languages that she had studied, intrigued.

When they had finished dining, while captain and merchant talked of maps and winds and war, the merchant's wife leaned across the table and took Jennet's hand in her own. Her fingers were firm and cool and bare of rings, but a tattoo circled her wrist, as delicate as a spider's web. Jennet had never seen a woman with a tattoo, not even her cousin Hannah who was half-Mohawk, but she managed to restrain her curiosity and her gaze.

“You and I must talk,” said Camille del Giglio in a voice like that of any other well-bred Continental lady who had learned English from a governess.

“Certainly,” Jennet said, flustered and excited and barely able to control the trembling in her hand. “About what should we talk, madame?”

“About your destination. Tomorrow morning at ten, you will come to my cabin and we will begin.”

Jennet blinked. “But my destination is Montreal.”

“Tomorrow at ten,” said Camille del Giglio. “That is soon enough.”

         

Because the
Isis
belonged to Jennet's younger brother, the fourth Earl of Carryck, she had been given the Great Cabin for her sole use. Along with it came a whole squadron of cabin boys—some of them the same age as her brother the earl—to see to her needs. They wore flat caps with the name of the ship embroidered in scarlet along the rim and fearful expressions. Because, of course, they were all Annandale lads born and raised and they knew of her as she knew each of them, their mothers and fathers and their grandparents.

When she was finally alone in the suite of rooms, Jennet ignored the sleeping chamber with its carved bed and fine linen. Instead she curled up on the enclosed bench beneath the transom windows and pulled the heavy draperies closed to make a cave. It was too dark to see land but she imagined it there, slipping away moment by moment. She might never see Scotland again.

The ship groaned like a woman in travail. She had not been able to imagine the noise, the creaking and moaning and the scream of the wind. Sure that she would never be able to close her eyes, Jennet fell into a deep and satisfied sleep.

         

At ten o'clock, so nervous that her hands shook, Jennet found her way to the cabin just below her own. At her knock a cabin boy opened the door and jumped at the sight of her, coloring from the first pale hairs that peeked out from under his cap to the tight circle of the scarf knotted around his neck.

“Pardon, my lady.” He ducked his head and shoulders, and slipped past her into the gloom of the passageway.

“Jamie,” Jennet called after him and it seemed to her that for one moment he might pretend not to hear her. Then he turned.

“Aye, my lady?”

“It's nae sin tae smile, lad.”

He bobbed his head again and ran off as if she had declared her intention to shoot him.

“Such a shy boy.” Madame del Giglio's voice drifted to Jennet from the far corner of the stateroom, where she sat at a small table in an isle of morning sunlight. Against the backdrop of damask drapery the color of port wine she looked like a painting. One hand was spread flat on the table in front of her. With the other hand she was stroking Pip, who sat up at attention and wagged his fringed tail.

“Jamie comes from Carryckton.” Jennet closed the door behind herself. “Where my brother is laird. And he's very young, no more than ten.”

“And why should he be afraid to speak to me, then?”

The merchant's wife gestured to a chair opposite herself, and Jennet took it.

“I can think of two reasons,” she said. “The simplest is just that the boy has no English and he's been forbidden to speak Scots to passengers.”

“But you spoke Scots to him.” Camille del Giglio had the darkest eyes Jennet had ever seen in a white woman; she found it hard to look away.

“Aye,” Jennet said. “It is my mother tongue and the one I am most comfortable speaking, madame. When I was Jamie's age, I swore I'd never speak English.”

“A vow you could not keep.”

Jennet inclined her head. “In those days I never thought to live anywhere else. I could not have imagined leaving Annandale, much less Scotland.”

“And now you cannot imagine going back again.”

Jennet flushed with surprise and a fluttering of something she must call panic.

“Do you divine the future, madame?”

“No,” said the merchant's wife. “But I have eyes in my head, and I have raised three daughters. You are very much like one of them, the eldest.”

Sunlight rocked on the wall where Carryck's coat of arms hung: a white elk, a lion, a shield and crown.
In tenebris lux:
light in the darkness. Jennet swallowed and forced herself to look away.

“You were telling me about Jamie,” the lady prompted.

Jennet said, “His mother and I were good friends when we were little. We disgraced ourselves by smuggling ginger nuts into kirk on a Sunday, and that was the least of it. To speak English with Jamie MacDuff would be as unnatural as addressing him in Greek. Or you in Scots, madame.”

The lady smiled at that, her odd one-sided smile that made it seem as though she were at war with herself.

“And the second reason?”

Jennet folded her hands in her lap. “Why, he's afraid. He's never seen anyone quite like you.”

Madame del Giglio murmured a word to Pip, who left her lap with a bounce and settled himself at her feet. In that same moment she produced a deck of cards—it seemed to Jennet out of thin air—and began to lay them out on the gleaming tabletop. In her surprise Jennet said nothing at all, but only watched.

“Do you play at cards?”

“A little,” said Jennet, and felt the lady's evaluating gaze.

“Very good,” she said finally.

“Madame?”

“You are either modest, or you have learned to keep your own council. Both are to be commended.”

“The cards we play with look nothing like yours,” Jennet said, and the lady laughed.

“And you know something of the art of misdirection. Excellent.” Her hands stilled for a moment and then began to shift cards once more. They were worn at the edges and soft with handling; the figures were block printed, almost crude in execution, and the colors faded. She dealt three.

“This was my mother's deck,” said Madame del Giglio. “And her mother's before her.” She was quiet as she studied the cards she had laid out in a line, and then she touched them, one after the other, with a light finger.

“The two of cups, the star, the hanged man.” She raised her face and gave Jennet her odd half-smile. “When I first saw you coming on board I suspected as much.”

“A hanged man?” Jennet leaned forward to study the figure, who seemed so unconcerned about his fate that he had crossed one leg over the other. “Can that be a good card?”

Madame tapped the figure. “Very good indeed. This card promises an awakening.”

“Awakening,” Jennet echoed. She wondered at herself, that she should be so calm. A strange woman sat before her divining the future from cards. What she should do—what she was taught to do—was to walk away from such godlessness and spend the rest of the day on her knees saying a rosary for the lady's endangered soul.

And even as these thoughts went through her head Jennet saw that they were no secret from Madame del Giglio, who was waiting patiently for curiosity to win out over doctrine.

She is the spider; will you be the fly?

Jennet imagined her mother sitting between them, her brow creased in disapproval. She answered:
It is a way to pass the time, nothing more.

“And that one, the two of cups. What does that tell you, madame?”

“A new friendship,” said the lady. “One from which both parties will learn.”

“I see.” She paused. “And what can I learn from the cards?”

The lady tilted her head to one side. “You will learn to look inside yourself. Most of what you want to know is within you. The cards only open the door.”

You see?
Jennet said to her mother.
There is nothing of the devil in this.

Her mother replied:
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.
And then:
Ask her about Luke and see the temptations she spreads out before you
.

“There is a man,” Jennet said, her voice coming hoarse and soft. “In Montreal.”

Madame del Giglio touched the table. “There is still another card.”

“The star, you called it? What does it tell you?”

“Montreal is only one stop on your journey, Lady Jennet. The first of many.”

It was not what Jennet was expecting to hear, and it sent a small shock up her spine, a spark of something strange and familiar all at once. She felt perspiration gathering on her brow and in the hollow of her throat.

“My mother would not approve of this, madame. Are you—I think you must be Catholic?”

As I am.
She did not add those words; the Carrycks might follow the church of Rome but they did so in strict secrecy. To admit such a thing in Protestant Scotland would bring repercussions that had been drummed into her since she was old enough to talk.

The dark eyes studied her for a moment. “My mother was the daughter and granddaughter of Catholic priests.” She said this as she might have said,
I am the granddaughter of a carpenter
or,
My father was a lawyer.

The three cards were gone, swept away.

“The door is open to you if you care to step through, Lady Jennet. That is a decision that only you can make. But I can tell you this: there is nothing evil in the cards of the tarot.”

Awakening, friendship, a journey. But no word of Luke. Not yet.

“How do I begin?” she asked.

With a smooth movement Madame del Giglio spread the deck across the table in an arc: a rainbow, a bridge, the blade of a scythe.

She said, “We have already begun.”

BOOK: Fire Along the Sky
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