It was all Uncle Anthony's doing from the beginning. And when it came down to it, who could blame him? He'd never intended to have children of his own, to say nothing of raising his brother's child. And certainly he would never have chosen a child as head-strong, as indolent and as contrary as myself.
"Patience, Patience," said he, "why must you insist on trying that of everyone you meet?"
"Why Uncle, you would think that I was the one to break it off, rather than the spurned party."
He had just returned to the parlour after seeing out a certain gentleman, Uncle Anthony's hand-picked prospective husband, after an afternoon that I had considered diverting, even amusing. It had, however, seen the gentleman in question grow gradually more and more irritated, pushing the limits of self restraint in his attempt to defer to my Uncle's station. By the time the last cake had been eaten, it had become obvious to everyone in the room how strained his temperament was becoming.
It was almost as if he didn't like having a woman disagree with him. All I had been doing was gently and civilly pointing out the errors in his argument about Benjamin Franklin's latest publication.
Not being one of the gentlemen involved in the decision, I had not been in the room when he told my uncle that the engagement was not to be, but I was able to infer as much from Anthony's stony face when he returned.
"You are far too clever, Patience," he growled. "Too clever and too sure of your cleverness. You will never find a husband if you keep this up. No man wants to hear a woman tell him his faults."
Uncle Anthony certainly never did.
I sat back in my chair, letting my dry tea cup dangle idly by the handle between my fingers right up until Mary took it from me.
"What would you have me do, Uncle?" I asked him demurely, "say 'la, sir!' and giggle and flutter my fan?" I was not even carrying a fan that day. It was October and I saw no need for it.
"I expect you to marry," he replied gruffly, "and be gone from here. Lord knows I will not be responsible for you when you age into an old maid."
"When there is a match for me, I am sure I will," I told him lazily. "But if no man will have me, what am I to do?"
Nevertheless, Anthony wanted me out of the house, and Sherwoods, as a family trait, tend to get what we want. It was his idea to have me bind and suit up and ship out to protect the King's interests overseas. Peaceable was his idea, printed onto the commission papers with nary a word to me. It had first belonged to my grandfather, his father, and it was already unfashionable enough to serve as a suitably humiliating punishment for me.
Though we never discussed it fully, then or in the years that followed, I imagine that he expected me never to follow his orders, that he was playing some kind of elaborate game with his poor niece, determined that she would back down, hang her head and beg for her uncle's forgiveness. But then, Anthony did know me better than that.
I no more wanted to stay in his house under his rule than I desired to live under the rule of a husband, and I am a Sherwood as much as he ever was. Anthony played his trick, and it was a good trick, but I showed that I held trumps when I kissed him on the cheek, donned my red coat and rode off to meet the ship.
His last act of revenge was to extend his influence one more time and see that I was to be given the dirtiest job his influence could extend to land me with.
I had the voyage to the Americas, two and a half months, to develop Peaceable and perfect my performance. I am sure there was not a man aboard who was not wise to my act by the end of it, but whether it was due to their charitable nature, fear of my uncle, or the sheer unpleasantness of the subject, not a one saw fit to raise. For a week near the beginning of the voyage, I had my eye set on young Morgan, convinced he might be a comrade, until I caught sight of his john thomas when he used it to relieve himself off the port side.
I saw several members after that. After a while I developed quite the immunity to them.
Alone as I was, I often found myself being told to 'act like a man, old boy,' and was regularly made aware, with various levels of subtlety, how I might fix my demeanour to better fill the role. There was I, a young officer shipping out for war, under the personal tutelage of a ship full of soldiers and sailors, teaching me by turns how to be a man. By the time I reached America I daresay I was the perfect English gentleman. I had never been much of a lady before.
After that voyage, keeping my secret on shore proved very little challenge. I was an officer, after all, and officers receive their privacy. And what was more, an Englishman commanding a uniquely disparate unit of enlisted Englishmen and American Loyalists, whom I found more willing than I expected to dismiss my peculiar modesty as the queerness of the English nobility. The irony that Peaceable Sherwood should have to keep his red coat on, so never to hang as a spy by pretending to be other than he was – that was lost, I am sorry to say, on all but myself.
I did quite well, if I say so myself, even facing my second most dangerous enemy eye to eye at Duck's Head Lake, without so much as a suspicion crossing his mind that I might be keeping any secrets other than the matters of my business. But even Richard Grahame's sharp mind was a dull thing compared to the knife-edge wits of his sister.
Of course I could not leave her there in the storm that Christmas morning. I could not leave anyone there to die, man or woman, and this had not a thing to do with womanly weakness or gentlemanly chivalry and everything to do with basic human compassion. Had any one of my men found her on his own, he would have rescued her too. As it happened, we found her together and they were able to argue for safety while I took her back to Rest-and-be-thankful, risking everything in the process.
(But what risk? What threat could a mere woman pose to the mind of Peaceable Sherwood? I confess a dangerous, even deluded, level of self confidence at the time, but remember, I had Richard safe. I was winning this tiny part of the war.)
I had never expected that Christmas meal to change, not just the course of my battle, but the very orientation of my heart. Barbara was witty, intelligent, and had a sense of humour so perfectly in line with my own that I found myself laughing despite myself, my lazy, careless act suddenly not an act at all as she broke down my defences completely. When I told her that my Uncle had shipped me off to the war because I refused to marry – to 'take a wife' – she paused, an eyebrow raised, and I allowed myself the indulgence of imagining she was thinking of my bachelor state as something to be rectified.
She surprised me once when she tricked me into drinking her poison.
She surprised me even more so when, as I swayed under the sleeping potion, she informed me: “of course, I was told seven drops would fell a strong man, so I used six, to compensate for your womanly frailty.”
I must have stared in shock, because she laughed lightly in my face. “Oh, don't be so surprised. Dick has no idea. Neither do any of your men, I am sure, unless you have told them. You might be quite the soldier, Captain Sherwood, and a gentleman to rescue a woman in need. But you said it yourself – your men are unskilled in passing the butter. And you, my dear, you handle your soup spoon like a lady.”
It was all I could do to fight the buckling of my knees and stand, facing her down.
“You,” I managed, keeping my voice as level as possible, “are the first person to see through Peaceable to the woman underneath, and that alone makes you remarkable. But you should know that my resolve is unchanged. I still intend to marry you, you see. And I usually get what I want, Miss Grahame.”
After that, of course, I remember very little.
Waking up in jail, I thought I was done for, but at first the reputation of that dangerous criminal Peaceable Sherwood proved to be as thick an armour as my red Captain's coat. No one came close enough to notice any oddities, and when finally someone saw fit to comment on my slow beard growth, I had replaced that reputation with that of the meek, harmless prisoner of war who no doubt just was not strong enough to grow himself a beard. I scratched myself with the straw of my bed, made a show of trying to shave with a broken pebble, and they just laughed at the man that had come of the notorious outlaw Peaceable Sherwood. For six months, I was safe, if confined and miserable, until my fortuitous escape at the beginning of July.
Turning towards Rest-and-be-thankful on my way out to New York was reckless, of course. Finally shedding the coat that both shielded my figure and protected me from the noose was nearly suicidal, but I knew perfectly well that it had been the right thing to do when Barbara went out of her way and against her country's interests to cover my escape, hurrying me in my maid's garb to the footman's pantry. I knew why I had come, why I had bothered to escape at all.
“Why did you make your poor brother waste half his winter in those perfectly ridiculous attempts to get me released?” I pressed her even as she rose to the task of securing my escape. “Why did you stop to gaze at the jail whenever you went to Goshen?”
“Miss Sherwood, please!”
“Captain,” I corrected her firmly. “The Commission bought and paid for under his majesty's command.”
“Captain Sherwood,” she allowed. “You know perfectly well why we cannot be married.”
“Nonsense. Peaceable Sherwood is a respectable officer in the English Army, known to many of his fellow soldiers. Any church would be honoured to marry him to the woman he chose.”
“And Miss Sherwood?”
“Miss Patience Sherwood,” I said, and saw the light in her eyes when she heard my name, the smile as she absorbed it into her for safe keeping. “Why, she is barely any different from Peaceable Sherwood. She always gets what she wants.”
I did so wish I felt as sure of myself – as sure of Barbara as I said those words.
“Patience, please! We cannot have this discussion now! Later – when the war's over?”
“Who always gets what she wants, Barbara?”
We took each other's hands in that moment, and made each other a promise: “when the war is over.”
Three years from then, the third of September, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed. At the time I was in London: my ordeal as a Prisoner of War entitled me to a removal from the front line. Of course it was insisted that I see a doctor before shipping back to England and that might have ended my entire military career, had Dr. Barry not had a particular sympathy to my predicament. He oversaw my recovery and approved me for travel back home. There I discovered that the success of my organization, while not picked up for use elsewhere, had bolstered my reputation as a bit of a tactical thinker, and I found myself being frequently summoned to Whitehall. It pains me to add that rarely were my stratagems actually put into action – Uncle Anthony at work, I suspect. It was, however, in my best personal interests to end the war as quickly as possible, regardless of who was named the victor, so perhaps my advice was sometimes not strictly in the interests of the Empire.
So I spent the time, working alongside my superiors during daylight and playing the poor injured captain to their simpering wives in the evening. I do believe I quite improved my gentlemanly manners in society.
Never had passage across the Atlantic been secured so quickly, so joyously, as my own, on hearing the news from Paris. No matter how firm my purpose, I could not will the journey any shorter, so I reminded myself that these weeks should be nothing to a three year wait, and I made a boat full of friends among the crew and passengers.
Still, I was not looking forward to the journey from New York to New Jerusalem, until on disembarking the boat, I heard the name of “Captain Sherwood!” ring out across the pier. The voice as familiar to me as my own Uncle's, despite my having heard it only three times in my life.
“Why, Colonel Grahame,” said I, dipping into a bow for my former nemesis, “what a coincidence, meeting you here.”
“I'd say!” he said. “I was just here looking for confirmation of the news – the peace treaty signed?
“Indeed, old boy. Just a few days before I left London.”
“So here you are! Well, I can't say I'm surprised in the least. Here to claim your spoils of war?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Barbara, of course. My sister. You must know that she has not yet married?”
“Indeed,” I said, trying hard not to laugh, “I know nothing of the sort. You must imagine we have been keeping up a secret correspondence all these years.”
“I would put it beyond neither her obstinacy nor your sharp mind, Captain Sherwood. Or, I must call you Peaceable now, must I not? If you are to be my brother?”
All this time, as we walked through Manhattan, I was looking for some clue, some idea that Barbara had let her brother in on my greatest secret. I knew Richard was intelligent enough to keep from mentioning it in company, and cunning enough to lead me along believing in his ignorance, but I saw nothing. Either he believed me a man, and a preferred suitor for his sister, or he knew me not to be and his preferences remained the same.
I trusted Barbara enough to settle on the former.
Our conversation moved quickly from polite to lively and before I had a chance to refuse, Richard Grahame had two horses saddled and was making arrangements for my belongings to be carried to Rest-and-be-thankful.
“You will of course, want to see her right away,” he said, “and imagine how she will adore me when I bring her home a husband. See if this doesn't make me her favourite brother.”
“You have no other siblings, I think, Colonel?”
“Oh no, just myself and Barbara. But of course she cannot stand the sight of me, you see.”
Had there been a jot of truth in that claim, I would have understood why he insisted I hide in the house's “treasure room” and wait to ambush my beloved, rather than meet her on arrival. But the one thing I have never achieved, no matter how hard the wishing, is the complete understanding of the Grahame humour.
It was not the first time the Sherwoods and the Grahames had laid ambush for each other, and I daresay it will not be the last. But I was waiting there when she entered, and then there was no need to wait any more. We simply picked up our delightful conversation as if we had not dropped it all those years ago.
“But I must know, dearest,” said she after nearly an hour of this. “Who am I to marry? Patience or Peaceable? It doesn't matter to me, you understand, as long as I am standing beside you.”
“Of course,” I said, “Peaceable must stand beside you at the altar. But, my dear Barbara, I do not think I could stand if he were to follow me home. The name protected me like a red coat for so many years... but I think it might suffocate me if I wore it to sleep.”
“Then you shall be my Patience, when we are married,” she said. “And we will take Peaceable out for company.”
So she held out her hands to me, and I pulled Peaceable back over my shoulders and went to meet her father.