Authors: Jane Godman
The Rebel's Promise
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A Front Porch Romance Book
The Rebels' Promise
Copyright © 2013
Edited by Liana Markel
Cover Design: Charisma Knight
Formatting: D&D Publishing
First Copyright e-Publication February 2013
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Front Porch Romance
'This book is dedicated to my husband, Stewart. He is more Freddie Standen than Fitzwilliam Darcy, but he's still my perfect hero. Thank you also to the rest of my family and to Madison Connors and my other new found friends at Front Porch Romance for all their support and encouragement.'
The Rebel's Promise
Mr Delacourt lowered his newspaper and observed his daughter, who was nibbling a sweet biscuit and anxiously awaiting his response.
“Faith, Rosie …” her expressive face fell at his forbidding tone. “My dear, do … I beg you, believe me when I say that there are compelling reasons why you should
venture into town at this time.”
“But, Papa!” her voice was sweetly coaxing, “If you are talking of the shocking – but also prodigiously
events in Derby, Mrs Glover assures me that the rebels are now fully retreated back across the border.”
“That may be so, my dear, but we do not know how many of the desperate ruffians are still dispersed throughout the county. I cannot agree that it is yet safe for you to venture abroad. Besides,” glancing out of the window, he looked pointedly at the laden skies, “It looks likely to snow.”
He raised his newspaper again with what he hoped was finality. A tiny, forlorn sigh assailed his ears. The newspaper descended once more,
“What is so important that you must needs make the journey today, child?”
Rosie’s eyes sparkled expressively, “Morley’s has taken a delivery of the prettiest chintzes, Papa, and the lavender ribbon I ordered for my new bonnet
have arrived by now!”
“You are a minx, my dear,” he informed her fondly and Rosie nodded, a dimple dancing mischievously at the corner of her mouth.
“And you are the kindest of fathers,” the cajoling note was back, “I promise I will be there and back before dinner.”
Mr Delacourt could not hold out for long against the pleading look in those sparkling eyes, “Very well … on condition you take Joseph with you.”
Rosie’s mouth pouted briefly, “Oh, but he will frown and say I am taking too long and quite spoil my enjoyment.”
But Mr Delacourt would brook no argument. “Give him a few pence, and tell him to await you in The Crown,” he advised her, “They serve a splendid rum punch in the taproom, and I warrant he’ll not complain at that arrangement.”
With that Rosie had to be content. Dancing around the table to plant a kiss on her father’s cheek, she was about to go and make ready when her brother burst into the breakfast parlour, with his devoted retriever, Beau, close on his heels. Mr Harry Delacourt had recently attained his twelfth summer and was a sturdy, athletic young gentleman who had something of his sister’s countenance, but none of her grace. The recent incursion by Jacobite troops into the county had fired his imagination and he wore a wooden sword and an expression of importance.
“What’s all this?” he asked, eyeing Rosie’s excitement with suspicion while stuffing apples into his pockets.
“Papa has given me permission to ride into town,” Rosie ruffled his curls affectionately.
Harry’s eyes lit up, “I will accompany you!” he exclaimed delightedly, brandishing his sword with enthusiasm. “You will need a guard to protect you from brigands …”
“Joseph is to accompany me and he is protection enough,” Rosie told him firmly and he shrugged. He decided, on balance, that a visit to the haberdashery would be less interesting than hiding out in the woods to watch for marauding rebels.
“Why on earth do you need all those apples?” Rosie asked, eyeing him with astonishment.
“Sustenance,” he said cryptically and went out, his swagger only slightly impaired by his bulging pockets. His faithful hound threw a longing look in the direction of the breakfast table before reluctantly trailing behind him.
At first he had driven the stolen horse hard, but now, after a long, gruelling ride, the animal was flagging and refusing to respond. Wounded, cold and desperately tired, it took every ounce of his remaining strength to nudge the reluctant steed onwards.
Deliberately skirting the major roads and slouching low in the saddle, he rode along a broad farm track which bordered the dense forest. There was a dusting of snow on the ground and the bruised sky threatened more to come.
His vision blurred abruptly and, desperately afraid of blacking out, he tried to sit up. Piercing agony from the wound in his shoulder throbbed unmercifully through his whole body as he moved. Although barely conscious, he was acutely aware that he had lost copious amounts of blood. Without immediate treatment, his injury might yet prove fatal. With no idea of where he was, he tried to focus on finding safety, whatever form it might take, knowing all the while that he dare not risk the open roads.
As the horse, its bony flanks heaving, lurched wearily, a thunderbolt of pain shot through him, causing the reins to slip from his hands. No longer able to stop himself, he slid from the saddle, crying out briefly before slipping into blessed unconsciousness and hitting the rock hard ground, a dead weight. The exhausted horse stood still for a minute then, with a toss of its head, wandered off into the woodland.
As Mr Delacourt could have foretold, Rosie’s errands in town took much longer than she had anticipated. The brocades and ribbons that were newly arrived from London were delightful and she spent a happy hour examining them before indulging in several purchases. By the time she made her way guiltily back to The Crown, she was anticipating a thundering scold from Joseph. That faithful retainer had, however, imbibed rather too freely of the famous rum punch – a speciality lovingly prepared by the landlord himself – and was, by the time Rosie arrived, unusually sociable and in no fit state to ride home. Rosie, regarding him with consternation, was debating whether to abandon him to his fate when, by a stroke of good fortune, Tom Drury, her father’s estate manager, walked into the taproom. Taking in the situation at a glance, he gave a short laugh,
“Get yourself up on Cleo’s back, Miss Rosie and ride for home. I’ll tether Joseph’s horse to the gig and take him up beside me. We’ll not be far behind you.”
Gratefully, Rosie followed his advice, hurrying the little mare along the desperate tracks which skirted the forest. It was horribly cold and the December sky had grown ominously dark. The thought of a warm fireside and her dinner spurred her on. She was concentrating so hard on the task of manoeuvring her mount that she did not notice anything untoward until Cleo whinnied nervously and then stopped abruptly. Glancing around to see what had startled her, Rosie realised in shock that a man was slumped against a tree stump at the side of the track. He did not appear to be conscious and she bit her lip nervously, wondering what to do next. Her father had warned her to stop for no-one when out alone. There were some unscrupulous rogues about who employed a variety of devious strategies to ambush the unsuspecting. The impetuousness which her father regularly deplored soon conquered this momentary caution and, casting the reins aside while abjuring Cleo to hold still, Rosie dismounted and tiptoed carefully over to the prone figure.
She noticed immediately that he was young and very handsome, with dark blonde hair worn long and confined at the nape of his neck by a black velvet ribbon. The neatly manicured nails of his strong hands confirmed his status as a gentleman and his clothing, although stained with the dust of travel, was very fine. The left shoulder of his coat was black with dried blood and there was an ominous hole in the expensive cloth, which was charred at the edges.
As she studied him, his eyes fluttered open and she thought – a trifle incongruously in the circumstances – that she had never seen eyes so clear or startlingly blue. He raised a hand to her and Rosie, her soft heart touched, dropped on her knees beside him, clasping his hand in both of her own.
“Please, sir, do not try to move but tell me, if you can, how I may help you?” she hoped her tone was reassuring.
His voice was faint so that she was forced lean in close to hear him.
“Bless you, sweetheart. Musket ball in my shoulder ... Swarkestone ... took a horse and lost them ... don’t let them find me …” he closed his eyes again.
Rosie sat back on her heels, her mind awhirl. The whole county had been in uproar over the last few days when thousands of Jacobite rebels, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie and bent on reclaiming the crown for the Stuarts, had marched into Derby. They were pursued by a Hanoverian army from the North and it was rumoured that redcoats were advancing on them from the South. Although no major battle had ensued, and the prince had reluctantly headed back across the Scottish border, there had been an advance guard of highlanders. They were sent to secure Swarkestone Bridge and prevent King George’s troops from crossing. This loyal company, unaware that the prince had already begun his retreat, had bravely defended the bridge.
From his words, it was clear that the wounded man was a fugitive. If he was captured by soldiers loyal to the King, he would either be killed outright or stand trial for treason.
Mr Delacourt, himself a staunch Jacobite, scorned the Hanoverian claim to the throne and denounced the king as a usurper. His daughter was not sure, however, if his loyalties to ‘the true king’ ran deep enough for him to risk giving shelter to a wanted man. Her indecision lasted less than a minute before – knowing she could not leave the wounded rebel to die at the road side or at the hand of an executioner – she began to formulate plans to get him to safety.
Her thoughts were interrupted as help arrived in the unlikely form of the farm gig. Tom’s grim face suggested he was a captive, but unappreciative, audience to Joseph’s tuneless singing. He reined in short, “Is he dead, Miss Rosie?” he asked, handing the reins to Joseph and springing down. He cast a critical eye over the man on the ground.
Rosie shook her head, “Not yet, Tom,” she sighed. “But he needs care urgently and ...” she broke off, eyeing him thoughtfully while considering how much of her suspicions to share.
Tom gave a short bark of laughter,
“No need to hush up on my account, miss! This here gentleman will have been with the young
, like as not. And now there’ll be a hefty price on his fine head. We must get him safe away before Elector George’s men find him and string him up.”