In the Face of Death (Madelaine de Montalia #2)

Chapter 7

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"And I am bound to you, Tecumseh," she said.

With sudden emotion, he pulled her close against him, his long fingers tangled in her hair. "What have you done to me?"

"Touched you," she answered, "And you me."

As he rose, gooseflesh on his pale skin, he brushed the arch of her lip with his fingers. "We will have to be very careful, very discreet. They know, the women here, that a man has appetites, but they will not look upon you with the same understanding."

"Yes," she agreed. "I know," and turned her head to kiss the palm of his hand.

He gathered up his clothes with care and dressed quickly, listening for sounds in the street. "I don't want anyone to know I've come here," he told her, his manner stern. "For both our sakes."

She got out of bed and pulled on a heavy silken peignoir. "I am not about to cry it to the world."

He paused in the door, regarding her steadily. "No, you are not," he conceded with a curious mixture of relief and exasperation. "It isn't in you to do that." Then he smiled, and the harshness left his face. He held his arms open, and she ran into them.

San Francisco, 1 July,

Yesterday I met Tecumseh's two children, though he tells me he has a third child, Minnie, living with her grandparents, an arrangement that does not entirely please him. The children currently living with him were at a puppet show presented near the old Mission San Francisco de Assisi. I came with the Kents…

He is clearly fond of both children, but takes the keenest delight in his son, Willy, who is still a baby; the boy has hair almost as red as his father's, and is quick and amiable. It is no wonder his father dotes on him…

Most of my notes are prepared and ready and I am about to set to work in earnest…

Sherman read the first three pages in growing disbelief. "Indians," he said to her at last. "Indians! What in infernal damnation do you mean with this?'

Madelaine watched him as he began to pace her front parlor, ignoring the raised, cautioning finger Baron deStoeckl of-fered him. "It is the subject of my studies." She was in a deep-green afternoon dress, and her hair was neatly arranged, as suited any woman prepared to receive guests; the filmy light from her curtained windows gave the whole room a soft, pale glow.

Sherman would not be stilled. "Indians! What is the matter with you? How can you be such a romantic fool, to go among savages?" He was dusty from riding and made no excuse for it as he prowled his way about the room, refusing to look directly at her, for fear he might give himself away. "What do you know about Indians?"

"Enough not to call them savages. I have been studying them," said Madelaine, determined not to argue uselessly.

"Studying! A nice word for adventuring! But what do you know about them?" He put down the pages in triumph.

"Not nearly enough," she answered steadily. "That is why I study them, to end my ignorance."

"But you do not know what they are like; you prove that by what you're saying now," Sherman persisted. "You are one of the dreamers, thinking you have come upon discarded wisdom or neglected perceptions. You haven't a notion what kind of superstitious, bloody barbarians they are."

"Some might say the same of me," Madelaine interjected in an undervoice, then spoke up. "I have already spent time among the Osage, the Kiowa, the Pawnee, the Arapaho, the Cheyenne, the Ute, the Shoshone, and the Miwok, without anything untoward happening to me. I am working from my journals and other records I have made. For my book."

Sherman stared at her, aghast. "Is that what you are doing in America? Living with Indians!"

"For the most part, yes," said Madelaine, her face betraying no emotion.

"Don't you know how dangerous that is?" Sherman insisted, this time looking directly at her. "You think that they are noble, but they are not. I have fought Indian skirmishers, while I was mapping in the South for the army. I know what they can be. I do not need a pitched battle to show me the cruelty they embody."

"They did me no harm, and I do not think they would ever do me any," said Madelaine. "Once they realized what I wanted to know, and were convinced of my sincerity, they were most cooperative. They pennitted me to study them. As I expected they would do, since they are reasonable peoples." It was not quite the truth. "Most of them," she appended, aware of Sherman's keen gaze.

"You were luckier than you had any right to be," said Sherman brusquely, breaking away from the spell of her violet eyes.

"How can you say that?" Madelaine asked, unable to keep from responding to his challenge, though she realized he was deliberately provoking her. "What danger is one European woman to them?"

'1 was referring to the danger one European woman was in from them, little as she is willing to acknowledge it," said Sherman dryly. "I have some experience of Indians, remember. I have seen Seminole, Madame, and I know to my cost what implacable enemies they can be. They killed troopers who were doing them no harm whatsoever. They would ambush a few men and pick them off with arrows and blowguns. Indians are dangerous. And if the European woman is not willing to heed me, then be it on her head."

Baron deStoeckl cleared his throat. "Perhaps each of you has a point? In your own ways," he suggested in French. "I do not mean to increase dissension, but it seems to me that there is good reason to concede as much to each other."

Sherman rounded on him, his brows drawn down, his mouth a thin line. "I do not want any misfortune to befall her."

"And I do not want any misfortune to befall my Indian friends, since they have endured so much already, although they do not complain of it," said Madelaine, sensing that Sherman might understand this better then he admitted. "You know that many of them have been forced to change their way of life since the Europeans arrived here."

"As Europeans were forced to change their way of life when they came to the American wilderness." Sherman sighed once, his breathing strained. "It was not like visiting another European country, coming to this one. It still isn't, though we have cities and a few of the amenities of life. Not as we do in the East, of course, but this is not the frontier, as it was when I was here eight years ago. Then there were only a dozen streets in the whole of San Francisco." He sat down abruptly, his face draining of color as the severity of his asthma attack increased.

Madelaine recognized the symptoms; she asked Baron deStoeckl to tend to Sherman for a moment so that she could fetch something that would ease his labored breathing.

"Certainly," said Baron deStoeckl.

"No need," wheezed Sherman.

"Because it offends your pride to be helped?" Madelaine suggested, then excused herself .and hurried toward the back of the house, calling to Olga to assist her. "I have a number of large stoneware jars in the cellar. Will you please bring me the one with the green seal. At once."

By the time Olga returned, Madelaine had made a hot brandy toddy, and as she peeled off the seal with a knife, she explained, "This is a very old remedy. I obtained it while traveling in Egypt." She poured some of the contents into the toddy. "If you will seal the jar again and put it back where you found it?" As Olga obeyed, Madelaine took the toddy and hurried back to the parlor where she could hear Sherman trying not to cough as he labored to breathe.

Baron deStoeckl was patting Sherman on the back and frowning when Madelaine moved him aside and held out the cup and saucer to her stricken guest.

"What's this?" Sherman demanded with difficulty.

"A toddy. It will make you better directly," she promised. "Drink it before it is too cool to help ease your trouble."

Sherman glowered at her, but took the proffered cup and winced as he sipped. "It's hot." When the cup's contents were half gone, he was noticeably improved, his breathing more regular and less labored. "Thank you, Madame," he said as soon as he was sitting straight once again.

"Finish the toddy, Mr. Sherman. You are better but not yet restored." Madelaine watched him sternly as he drank the rest and set the cup and saucer aside on the rosewood end table beside his chair. "Very good."

"I am pleased you think so, Madame," said Sherman with a wry smile. "What a stern taskmistress you are."

"I am concerned with your well-being, Mr. Sherman. Who else would handle my affairs as well as you have done?" This was intended to return their conversation to more formal tones, but it did not succeed.

"What other banker would care enough to ignore the impropriety of your studies?" Sherman countered with a gesture of capitulation that made the sharp-eyed Baron deStoeckl raise his brows in surprise.

"I doubt you will do that, Mr. Sherman. I suspect you will adopt a flanking strategy and try to wear down my resolve through a series of skirmishes, like the Seminole." Madelaine did her best to make this a teasing suggestion, one that could not be taken seriously by either man.

Sherman grinned. "Yes, a series of skirmishes along your flanks would be most… rewarding."

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