July 31, 1769
The crack of musket fire resounded through the clouded sky. Hailstones, the size of goose eggs, pelted the cobbled thoroughfare as people ran for shelter. Thunder clapped and an onslaught of shouts and shrieks echoed nature’s vehement warning. Honour Metcalf sank to her knees in a puddle of quilted petticoats and toile—her mitted hands encased her head, vying for protection against the artillery of hail and confusion.
“Miss Metcalf, Miss Metcalf . . .”
A muffled voice reached her ears and she dared peek at the one towering over her. Blue eyes—those eyes—flashed concern, then vanished as a dark cloak enveloped her. Strong arms scooped her up, pressing her against the firm chest of her rescuer.
Honour could scarcely make out the blur of damaged brick and clapboard as Joshua Sutton’s long strides carried her away in haste. Glazed windows popped and shards of glass flew as hail continued to wreak havoc on shops and offices. Fallen birds littered the street amidst the frozen ammunition. Lightning flashed and Honour squeezed her eyes shut, willing away the shrill neighs of horses and the cracking of the icy brimstone beneath carriage wheels.
The pair made their way through a heavy wooden door and into a dimly lit foyer. Mr. Sutton rested Honour upon a long bench and stooped beside her. With trembling hands, she pushed back her taffeta calash. The boned collapsible bonnet provided some measure of protection from the torrent, but what would protect her from him?
“How do you fare, Miss Metcalf?” Mr. Sutton asked.
Honour’s heart pounded, much the same as Mr. Sutton’s
had, as she hovered against his chest. Her eyes darted around the room before her frightened gaze locked on his. Darkened and dampened by the storm, his hair spread wildly about his shoulders, his ocean blue eyes awaiting her answer.
“Miss Metcalf. I asked if you are well.”
The edge in his voice lifted her out of the fog and she rubbed her temple. “Mr. Sutton? Aye, I am well enough. Where . . . why are we here?” Honour glanced at the small leaded glass window, a piece of golden glass missing from a corner and other sections cracked.
“I found you in the street getting pummeled by hailstones. We took shelter here in the meeting house.” Thunder rolled again and Mr. Sutton’s eyes shot toward the door.
“How long will it last?” Her young sister was safe at the dame school, or so she hoped.
“That, only the Almighty knows.” He surveyed her as if assessing a length of cloth. “Are you certain you are uninjured, Miss Metcalf?”
“I am . . . I must go.” She attempted to rise, but a wave of dizziness overcame her.
“Please rest for a moment. You cannot go back out there.” His mouth drew into a line. “Perhaps we should pray.”
“Surely I did, as you carried me here.” A warm blush rose on her neck.
“I prayed, as well. Then we shall trust the good Lord for the outcome, shall we? After all, we have found refuge in His house.” The corners of Mr. Sutton’s eyes crinkled with reassurance.
Honour replied with a simple nod and regarded his kind face. “It is you who are injured, Mr. Sutton.” She extended her hand toward his bruised cheek, and retreated.
He instinctively found the bruise on his cheekbone, and felt his temple. A trickle of blood mixed with rainwater streamed down the side of his face. He looked at the blood on his hand and shrugged. “’Tis nothing. Perhaps some feverfew tea will help.”
“You might as well have been lambasted by rocks thrown by town delinquents. If your head hurts, as mine is beginning to, it will take more than tea, I fear.”
“The tea would warm me more. It hurts little.” The corner of his mouth curved.
“This is no time for mirth, Mr. Sutton.” Honour said, search- ing about for her satchel. “I would offer you a handkerchief, but I’ve none in my pocket and cannot find my workbag. I must have dropped it in the road.”
Mr. Sutton gestured toward her cloak pocket. “May I?”
Only then did Honour notice his greatcoat draped awkwardly around her shoulders, her short chintz cape beneath, which she’d hastily donned, perchance it rained. He must have covered her when he whisked her away from the harsh elements—including British officers. When they came rush- ing toward her, she had crumbled to the ground, and her legs turned to porridge despite her urge to flee. But the dark sky and giant balls of ice caused her to succumb to nature’s assault.
Like the fire and brimstone punishment of the ancients, God had thrown water and ice to execute judgment upon her.
She attempted to remove the coat, but he stayed her hand with his. Though cold, his firm, yet gentle clasp exuded the warmth of one who cared. Or was it her mere imagination? Her heart dared not hope.
“No. You need it for warmth. One would scarcely know ’tis a summer day.” He retrieved a handkerchief from his coat and wiped at his cut. He refolded the linen cloth and placed it inside a pocket of his damp-about-the-shoulders waistcoat. “Now tell me about this satchel of yours. Is it of great importance?”
She worried her lip and nodded.
“Perhaps we can yet find it. If not, you might obtain a new one from my father’s store, if you’d allow me to replace it.”
Honour wrinkled her brow. “Though I do appreciate your offer, Mr. Sutton, it must be found. ’Tis not only my workbag, but of special value to me. It was a gift from my late mother.”
“Let us hope, then, it may be retrieved . . . once the storm has passed.” He glanced upward to the vestibule’s high ceiling, and her gaze followed—the hail continuing to pound the slate roof of the church in an unnerving staccato.
“Yes, I do hope. My mother taught me to quilt and the embroidered bag once belonged to her. It is dear to me, indeed, as far as material things. Though I do hope you do not think me selfish to speak of such a small matter whilst people may yet be out there in the storm, injured and dealing with the damage.” She rubbed the base of her skull, the dull ache inten- sifying, yet she wished not to concern Mr. Sutton.
The man grinned, and a darling crease appeared by his mouth. “I do not think there is one thimbleful of selfishness inside you, Miss Metcalf.”
“Then you do not know me well enough, Mr. Sutton.” Honour smiled shyly and lowered her gaze, her heavy lids beckoning her to succumb to the drowsy feeling tugging at her.
“Perhaps we may remedy that.”
“Mmm.” Her eyes grew leaden as an aura of slumber descended upon her.
Honour’s head bobbed up. “Yes?” She felt as though she were floating in the ocean—submerging one moment, and above a wave another.
Joshua Sutton still knelt before her, his eyes stayed on hers, as if he could hold her up by sheer will. Then he peered down at her quilted outer petticoat. Aye, she’d worn her favorite blue silk quilt today, with her blue and yellow toile polonaise gown. Did he find her attractive? She felt her damp skirt. Mercy, how could he? She must look like a shipwreck.
“Your quilt, Miss Metcalf. It is sublime. Is it your own handiwork?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you,” she whispered, trying to remain alert. “I learned from my mother. There was never a finer quilter than she.”
“I have heard you are an adept quilter, but I have never seen evidence of it until now. Your mother taught you well. Perhaps my father can make use of your services for men’s banyan robes and waistcoats, since we are no longer able to obtain quilted cloth from England.”
Honour stared through him, her vision blurring him into two.
“Dare I say, it is a pity your hem got wet . . . Miss Metcalf, are you listening?”
Honour leaned over to inspect the hemline of her petticoat. But instead of seeing the quilted cloth, she found darkness, as the sound of hail and Mr. Sutton’s smooth voice faded into nothingness.
“Who goes there?”
Joshua recognized the deep baritone voice at once. He looked up as the parson entered through the vestry doors, only to greet him with Miss Metcalf slumped against his chest. “Reverend Cooper, we have come to seek shelter, though the lady has just now has swooned.”
Lantern in hand, the reverend’s eyes widened as he came near. “Good heavens . . .”
“Please help me lay her on the bench. She was battered by the hailstorm and it seems to have done her in.”
“Why, of course.” The parson set the lantern on a small table and shuffled over to help.
After laying her down, Joshua stood and faced the minister. “Thank you, sir.” Joshua had never seen this man of the cloth in such disarray—without his powdered bob wig and crisp black suit. Instead, he wore breeches and a plain linsey-woolsey waistcoat.
Reverend Cooper became aware of his disheveled state. “You must forgive my appearance. When there was a short reprieve from the storm, I went out to assess the damage, as the sexton is away, then it started up again and soaked me through.”
Reverend Cooper swiped an errant lock of hair into place over his balding head, and replaced his cap. “Now what happened to the young lady? Who is she, pray tell?”
“I found her collapsed in the street being accosted by the hail. A few British officers were about to give her aid, then I arrived. I told them that I recognized her as Miss Honour
Metcalf, an employee of Mrs. Wadsworth, the mantua maker. Before I could say more the officers fled to help others.”
“Mmmph.” Reverend Cooper’s brow wrinkled with concern. He pursed his lips and signaled Joshua to continue.
“Most of the shopkeepers locked their doors in the chaos and we were far from our own. I was greatly relieved to find refuge here,” Joshua said.
Reverend Cooper clamped his index finger across his jaw. “Rather fitting, I say, to find a safe haven in the the Lord’s house when mysterious elements from heaven descend.”
Joshua released a slow breath. “Indeed it is.”
The reverend’s wiry eyebrows twitched. “Though I suspect you are not entirely comfortable here.”
“Not entirely, sir.”
The minister nodded, “You are Joshua Sutton, the tailor’s son, are you not?”
“Yes, I am.”
“How well do you know this young lady?”
“I am briefly acquainted with her, as Sutton’s Clothiers and Wadsworth’s Mantua Shop have occasion to do business with one another. But we are not attached, if that is what you are asking.” An embarrassed grin formed on Joshua’s lips and he shook his head in denial. He had no interest in an attachment even to one as lovely as Miss Metcalf.
The man cocked his head and arched an eyebrow. “You might consider it.”
Was the reverend jesting or accusing? Joshua swallowed. “Pardon me, sir, but I am uncertain of your implication. I assure you it is as I said. My intent was for her well-being. Would you have me marry her simply because you found me here alone with her? I assure you it is entirely innocent.”
The man issued a sardonic grin. “It is why some young couples seek me out mid-week. In fact, I wed a young couple this morning at Widow Lankton’s home. Her niece, you know. I understand you are acquainted.”
“Pardon me, son. I should have refrained from mentioning it. But I thought it would be of particular interest to you. You must be relieved to see her settled.”
Joshua clenched his jaw and stared at the stone floor. It should have been he who wed Emily Guilfold. But now, his name was marred, and her reputation sullied, despite her attempt to “settle.” Though she did not confess any sin, some assumed. Why else would she marry Leach so soon after she’d broken off their own attachment? Because of it, some said Joshua had been inappropriately engaged with her. He hoped the gossip would abate until matters could be set straight. He’d refrain from going to taverns for a while—and mayhap Sunday meeting. Though Mother would tan his hide if he was absent from their family pew.
“Yes, Miss Guilfold informed me she was to marry by spe- cial license. Though I did not know the marriage was to occur this day.”
“Mistress Leach, now,” the minister said. “By all appear- ances the couple wed in haste, but you may put yourself at ease. Widow Lankton assured me it was for the best, though I am not at liberty to discuss it in detail.”
Why must the old man ramble on so? Joshua’s character was blemished; he did not need to dwell on it. Nor did he wish to hear about “Mrs. Leach.”
A soft groan came from Miss Metcalf and the two pivoted in her direction. Joshua would deal with his irreverent thoughts later.
“Does she need an apothecary? A physician perhaps?” Reverend Cooper asked.
“I suppose that she does.” Joshua went to the door and pushed it ajar against the pressure of the wind. Ice pellets con- tinued to descend, now mixed with rain. He hoped it would subside soon. “I should go for Dr. Westcott.”
“I have seen storms as this in my lifetime. You should not go out again until the torrent ceases. I fear it may continue for some time,” the clergyman said.
Joshua shut the door. “But what of Miss Metcalf? I tried to keep her awake by talking, as I feared she might’ve obtained a concussion.” Joshua glanced at her still form. “Perhaps we should wake her.”
“Sleep might be best for now, son. At least, until the storm has passed.”
Miss Metcalf murmured unintelligible words. The men shifted their attention toward her, and then the reverend bowed his head. While Reverend Cooper entreated the Lord in silence, Joshua knelt by her side. He cast aside his own misery, as a strong desire to stroke her deep auburn locks and calm away her fears emerged from some place deep within.
He brushed a loose tendril from her pallid face. “Hush now, all is well.”
Reverend Cooper cleared his throat following a quiet “Amen.”
Joshua withdrew his hand. He would not allow himself to succumb to such feelings.
Yet, as the beauty slipped into unconsciousness once more, it occurred to him that she’d called him by his Christian name, Joshua. Worse yet, he addressed her in kind. Honour. Sweet, talented, and lovely Honour. Everything the beguiling Miss Guil—Mrs. Leach—was not.