Monday, December 26, 2016

A Scandalous Secret

August 1813 - English Channel

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Lady Hannah Campbell leaned against the rail of a roiling frigate. She sighed as her hair blew in the sea breeze, and she pulled the blue and green Campbell tartan closer about her shoulders. England was barely on the horizon, a land she hadn’t laid eyes on in more than a dozen years.
Hannah frowned, plagued once again with the same worry that had haunted her since she and her boys had left Spain. How would the three of them get along in England? After so many years following the drum, she wasn’t sure she knew how to function in polite society anymore. 
“Mama?” a tiny voice called from her side as a small hand tugged on her scratchy, wool traveling dress.
With a start, Hannah looked down into the expectant face of her seven-year-old son, Ewan. What was the lad doing up on deck? She’d left the poor little fellow sleeping in bed after another bout of seasickness. “What are ye doin’ out of the cabin, my love?”
A tear formed in Ewan’s dark eyes and his lip trembled as he spoke. “Alasdair says I smell like a chamber pot.”
Hannah pursed her lips. She should have guessed Alasdair was responsible for his brother’s fretful state. After all, her oldest son was definitely having the hardest time adjusting to their new situation. She pulled Ewan into her arms, smoothed his tears away, and kissed his swollen little cheeks. “Oh, sweetheart, ye doona smell like a chamber pot.”
Someone snorted behind them, and Hannah knew without a doubt that Alasdair had followed his brother on deck. “Alasdair Murdoch Campbell—” she didn’t even glance over her shoulder to face her oldest son— “how many times have I asked ye ta be kind ta yer wee brother?” 
When he didn’t respond, Hannah turned her head and met his bitter and brooding green eyes. Alasdair shrugged his shoulders, a hardened look on his twelve-year-old face. “Soldiers doona cry and run ta their mothers, Ewan.”
Hannah narrowed her eyes on her oldest boy, but he met her glare with an icy one of his own. When had Alasdair become this petulant child? Not that he didn’t have a reason or a right to be angry. They all did. But all they had left was each other now. “Wheesht! Alasdair! Ye have seen just as many soldiers cry as I have, and I will no’ let ye chastise Ewan. Do ye understand?”
Alasdair stared at her for quite some time before he let out a deep sigh and finally nodded. “Aye, Mama.”
Hannah smiled with more cheerfulness than she felt. “Good, then come over here so ye can see England.” She had both boys’ instant attention and she pointed to the land just barely visible in the distance. “Right there. Do ye see it? We’ll be home today.”
Home. She’d never thought to lay eyes on England again. Not England, not Chet… Havers! Where had that thought come from? 
“Tell us again, Mama.” Ewan’s tiny voice broke her from her reverie. “What’s London like?”
It had been a lifetime ago. Thinking back on it now, she’d been just a naïve lass at seventeen when she’d arrived in London. “It’s a grand city, Ewan. With parks, theatres, museums, and—”
“And cousins?” Ewan asked anxiously.
Hannah couldn’t help but smile at his exuberance, and she tousled his dark hair. “And cousins,” she agreed.
“And we’re stayin’ with them?” he asked, doubt seeping into his words.
“Aye, we will be stayin’ with yer Uncle James, yer Aunt Bethany, and all five of yer cousins,” she assured him for what seemed like the hundredth time. But she could understand his reluctance to believe such a thing; neither Ewan nor Alasdair had enjoyed the same address for an extended period of time. Neither boy had ever set foot on English soil or the Scottish homeland of their ancestors, for that matter. Both of her brave little soldiers had been born on the continent while she followed Malcolm’s regiment from one camp to another. 
But those days had abruptly come to an end on the battlefield outside Vitoria when Malcolm had taken a ball in the chest. If God had been merciful, Major Campbell would have died on the field that day, but there was very rarely mercy in war. Malcolm had somehow managed to drag his battered body back to camp. Though the surgeons were able to extricate the bullet and stop his bleeding, infection was an entirely different matter. He stubbornly held on to life for more than a week, but in the end Major Malcolm Campbell lost his final battle. 
Hannah tried to be grateful for Malcolm’s last days. At least the boys had been able to say their goodbyes to their father. But that didn’t make his passing any easier on any of them. They’d followed Malcolm for so long, she wasn’t sure they knew how to live on their own without him. 

The only comforting thought in the back of Hannah’s mind was that her brother James would see to her wellbeing. She and the boys were sure to be a burden on James, but her brother would make certain they were well cared for. Hannah heaved a sigh as the first bit of sun peeked over the horizon and her heart lightened a bit. Of course James would take care of them. He always had, after all.

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