* * *
Early winter dawn. Annie knocks at the door in Soho Square. Again there is no answer. She sits back down to shiver on the step, where she has been since the doctor arrived with Sawneyford and his patient.
Hours pass. A weak sun is a stain in the grey sky. It cannot warm her. By now, The Maidenhead has set sail. But what does it matter, if Alathea is not on it? There will be other ships for them, if only Alathea lives.
Annie had remained crouched over Alathea after rushing to her side, forgotten in the bustle of hustling Cantabile out of the saloon. Long enough to see that Alathea still drew breath, however faint; long enough for Annie to remove the diamond choker from Alathea's neck – she hardly knew why, except that they would need it in their future life together. First she had doubted Alathea, then she had doubted the power of Herr Bach's holy work. She would never doubt again. Alathea would live.
Now the door opens and the doctor emerges, nearly tripping over Annie. He looks down at her, his face haggard from the long night of probing, stanching, bathing and suturing. In response to her question, he glares at her, as if trying to pierce the shadow cast by her veil.
"And you are?" he demands.
"I'm the one who jogged Mr. Sawneyford. But...."
"Ah, yes. A most surprising and unlikely result. They're calling you a witch now."
"No, I'm…" she pauses. "I'm Alathea's friend."
"Well," the doctor considers. "You certainly couldn't have aimed that ball to strike Miss Sawneyford if you had tried. Your friend will live, for a time, but only if she remains absolutely still. The ball is lodged so close to her heart that any movement could kill her."
"Can nothing be done?"
"The surgery to remove the ball is too risky. There's only the slimmest likelihood she would survive."
"But there is a chance you could save her?"
"No, not I. She'll need a naval surgeon, someone who has experience with this type of wound."
"And you know such a surgeon?"
"I do. But her father seems content to have her remain as she is."
"And Alathea? Is she content?"
"For that, you would have to ask her. She is asleep, and will remain so as long as her father keeps dosing her with laudanum."
The doctor goes away. Annie discovers that the door has been left unlocked. She goes straight up the stairs to Alathea's room. Sawneyford is there, sitting on the edge of the bed, his face buried in his hands. Alathea lies there, sleeping peacefully.
The old man looks up as she enters. "You! What do you want?"
"The same as when I leapt at you from behind."
"That ball was meant for me. And now look at my Alathea!"
Annie cannot help but look at her, with her pale face outlined by her short, dark hair, her pale hands folded across the covers. She could be a marble sculpture atop a tomb, save that her breast rises and falls slowly to her breathing. If only she would wake, then Annie would know what to do.
"I will stay here until she can speak," she tells Sawneyford and sits on the edge of the bed opposite him. Boldly she takes Alathea's hand and holds it in her own.
Sawneyford stares at her. He should shoot her after what she has done. Then Alathea gives a sigh, the first sound she has made since falling from the piano bench. He imagines a smile on her lips.
He knows he is beaten, just as he knew he was beaten as he held the gun to his chin. Alathea has flown free of him. He rises from his seat and scuttles off to another part of the house, not to return.
* * *
Some hours later, Alathea opens her eyes.
"No, don't move," Annie says. "It could kill you."
Alathea looks at her with the same astonishment she had when the ball pierced her breast.
"I know," Annie says, squeezing Alathea's hand. "I doubted you and I doubted the music. But now I mean to make it up to you, if you will let me." She repeats what the doctor had said about the risks of the surgery. "Are you afraid?"
Of course Alathea is afraid. Hating fearful people, however, she gives the slightest shake of her head.
"Then you agree to the surgery?" When Alathea doesn't respond, Annie clutches her hand to her breast. "You were wrong, Alathea," she says. "Attachment is the only thing that matters." She kisses her hand and struggles not to cry.
By way of answer, Alathea pulls Annie down for a kiss on the mouth.
* * *
The surgeon arrives, newly from H.M.S. Victory, hardened from thirty years in his majesty's service. His assistant trails behind. "And who will pay for my services?" he asks Annie as they ascend the stairs. Sawneyford is still nowhere about.
"I will," she replies. To his arched brow she responds by pulling out the choker. "I thought one of these diamonds would do."
"Yes, that should more than suffice," he says with a smile.
His face turns grave when he sees Alathea and begins to examine her. "It is as the doctor described: the ball is lodged against her heart. Any attempt at removal will likely be fatal. However," – and now he addresses Alathea directly – "you don't have long if it's left in place. Do you understand and wish to continue?"
As the surgeon and his assistant begin setting out their instruments, Annie squeezes Alathea's hand, then leaves the room. She goes to the ballroom and opens the pianoforte. Despite Alathea's fears, Sawneyford has not touched it.
She stares at the instrument for some time before beginning. Then her fingers light on the keys: G G A. The Clavier Übung, of course. Annie plays it as if trying to correct everything that went wrong that evening. She plays the aria slowly, as Alathea had done. The music fills the house, drifting up the stairway to the bedroom.
The surgeon has never heard anything like the sound of that pianoforte, so sonorous and languid, echoing from below. It sounds like the music of heaven – a place in which the surgeon no longer fully believes. He hears the love in Annie's playing, a testament of her love for the girl lying opened before him. The scalpel pauses in its movements, the surgeon catches his breath. Such a love must be as chaste and holy as the music itself. Surely this love must be preserved! After witnessing the barbarity and depravity of men, after healing countless wretches only to return them to the horrors of war, this love seems the only thing worthy of his skill.
He redoubles his efforts. His hands take on all the precision of Herr Bach's counterpoint as he reveals the ball in its hiding place, removing it ever so delicately with the forceps. His fingers fly with the dexterity of the player's own as he ties off a bleeding vessel. His assistant's hands cross over his in an intricate duet, never colliding, never missing a note. Finally, near the end of Annie's second time through the thirty variations, he is done.
He appears in the doorway of the ballroom, his smock specked with Alathea's blood.
"Well?" Annie asks, not stopping.
"If no rot sets in, she will make a full recovery." For the life of him, he can't think why his eyes are leaking water.
Annie smiles and continues playing.
* * *
On a sunny day in May, two girls, one wearing a veil, disembark from The Lucky Maiden onto the quay in New York. They find the New World nothing like the Pantisocratics imagined it. The place is filled instead with men exactly like those of the V & B. Happily, like those men, many are glad to pay for their daughters' lessons on the newly popular pianoforte. The Misses Sawneyford and Cantabile School of Music soon becomes the most popular music academy in the city. The attachment between Annie and Alathea lasts them to the end of their days.