His heart had been fractured before he asked the question. After, with an absence of an answer from Anna, his heart was in pieces.
Not being able to sit there any longer, Edmund removed himself from the conversation and retreated back to his own lodgings, not looking back. He couldn't look back at her, he wouldn't allow himself to. He closed the door to his room behind him when he entered and stood there.
He should have known- Anna revealing she was really a spy didn't come as much of a surprise as it should have. For the longest time he'd suspected something like it and it was heart-wrenching to have his fears confirmed. However, the worst part wasn't learning that she was a spy, but to know he'd been used. That's why Anna gave no answer, because there was none to give to something that wasn't true. He'd been played for a fool.
His hand curled into a fist and he hit it once against the door he had just closed.
Others around Edmund probably heard, but he didn't care. His hand throbbed in pain from where he hit it against the door but that was the furthest thing from his mind. A sob painfully coiled in his chest, desperate to break free, and Edmund put his aching hand hand over his mouth to stifle it. He walked over to his bed and sat down, putting his head in his hands.
He shouldn't have let her come, but he had wanted to know the truth, and a traitorous part of him had wanted to see her again. Truth he did get, but maybe it was better left untouched. It had only burned him more. He wanted so badly to believe this was just a horrible dream, but he knew now it was over, what he thought he had with Anna.
It was all too much.
Edmund had said to Anna that he had to quit her, and the sentence had stung like poison when he said it. He didn't want to but she left him no choice, and he'd known it was the only thing he could do. He was tired of it all and knew he had to move on. But to that end... he wasn't sure if he could erase her from his memories even if he wanted to.
Because there would still be a hole in his heart where Anna had been.
The sleep was dreamless, and he wakes feeling like he barely slept. He feels as though last night's conversation never happened. He's been in the city for over a month now following the disastrous wedding, waiting for passage back home, and each day seemed the blur into the next, sleep only a brief interlude. However, there's a slight ache in his hand and he recalls hitting it against the door after-
The conversation with Anna had been real.
Edmund ran his hands through his hair, growing longer since the days of his capture last winter. All that had happened didn't feel real, but it was the true reality, and he had to accept that.
He mulled over his breakfast in silence, pushing his food around on his plate and the noise of people around him becoming nothing more than white noise. The conversation with Anna still weighed heavily on him...
“Did you not sleep well?” A voice asked as something was set down in front of him.
Edmund looked up. It was only Robert Townsend, a young man he'd become acquainted with here in the city.
“You could say that.” He replied, setting his silverware down. “I've had a rough couple of months lately.”
“I can relate to that.” Robert poured some water from a pitcher into a cup. “Here.”
Edmund took the cup. “Thank you. You have been truly kind to me since my arrival in the city.”
Robert gave him a smile. “It's no trouble. This gloomy mood of yours wouldn't happen to be about that woman I saw you with last night, is it?”
“Observant as always, my friend.” Edmund sadly replied. “She... she was my fiancee; we were engaged.”
A brief look of surprise came over Robert, but then he spoke again. “How unfortunate. I'm sorry to hear that. If I may ask, what happened?”
He didn't feel like talking about it, but still, he answered, “It didn't work out. A former friend opposed the marriage and then, well, things only got worse from there.” He paused and took a sip of water from the cup. “I loved her... but maybe it wasn't meant to be.”
“I can't say I know the pain, but you never know if that's true. Maybe there were outside circumstances.”
'There was.' Edmund bitterly thought, but didn't say.
“Who knows.” He said instead of his thoughts, giving a shrug. “All I know is that she is likely far away from here by now. I have only myself to blamed for foolishly allowing my heart to go unguarded.”
“Do not blame yourself.” Robert insisted. “We cannot predict the future. Now eat up; you need your strength to get through the day.”
“Good to hear it.”
Edmund watched his friend leave the table before he looked back down at his food. He made an attempt to eat some of it.
Later that morning he received word that the ship sailing back to England would be departing within the next couple of days. For Edmund, that couldn't come soon enough. But when he got that news, he had a thought that had been lingering on him for far too long. There was a certain fact of evidence that there was no use hiding anymore, and this would be his last chance to do anything with it.
That was why he requested to meet with John Andre, who he knew was in the city.
This would be his last act as a solider of the British army.
Abigail was the one who greeted him at the door. Edmund recognized her from when she used to live in Setauket... when Anna still held residency over Strong Manor. Anna watched over Abigail's son for a time as well, before they sent the boy off to be with his mother. It had been part of a plan Anna had suggested to Edmund.
It seemed like it happened so long ago now. He felt so far away from Anna, like they were back to being strangers again. How quickly things had changed in the fall.
Abigail brought him to Andre- Edmund had never met the well known Major before. He had tried to communicate his concerns about Simcoe to Andre through letters, but all had fallen on deaf ears. Of course, who would ever listen to the Oyster Major? Edmund had been staying in the city for over a month, and his presence had gone unrecognized by Andre, not once extending an invitation, and he ignored everything Edmund tried to communicate about Simcoe.
Andre said he was leaving, and Edmund shared those sentiments, though he felt like once again he was being brushed aside. They would only have this brief meeting, and hat was fine by Edmund, as he was only here for one reason.
Edmund expressed his concerns about Simcoe one last time, even though he knew it was useless. Once Again, Andre ignored that, and once again that made a knot of unease settle in Edmund's chest. That fact that the other man was still allowing Simcoe to go about his 'mission', doing whatever he pleased, pulled at Edmund. Eventually he came to his real purpose, and only then did Andre seem to care for anything he had to say.
“You've been in the city for over a month- why are you only communicating this information now?”
'He only cares if I have information.' Edmund noted. 'He doesn't care about anything else I have to say.'
So Edmund continued to speak, giving his own complex explanation, afterward finishing his drink he had taken when he sat down at the small table. It was bitter tasting, but he didn't care. He just wanted to tell Andre who the real spy was. It was the last thing he could do. There was nothing left for him here and soon he would be gone from this land. He knew Abe was a spy and he had no reason to keep this information any more.
Anna once again came back into his mind. She was also a spy, working with Abe all along. The answer he had suspected had been right in front of him, but he had refused to accept the truth. Edmund was going to hand over Abe's name- the farmer had done enough damage- and he knew he should give up Anna's name as well.
But the thought of it made his heart ache.
Despite what had transpired between them, he didn't know if he could do it. The image of her face, the emotion painted on it, came to his mind and he felt those familiar feelings stir again. When she looked so upset like she had, all he wanted to do was protect Anna from all that dared hurt her. There was something in her face then, something he hadn't recognized at first, that kept her name back. He knew, thinking of that expression, that he wasn't going to be able to give up her name.
He wouldn't do that to the woman he loved.
Edmund set down the glass and stood, making eye contact with Andre. “Culper is a cabbage farmer named Abraham Woodhull. If I'm not mistaken, he attended one of your exclusive dinner parties.” He gestured to the table in the other room. “Right here.”
And with that he took his leave, passing Abigail by on the way out.
He didn't exactly know why he didn't hand over her name. Revealing Abe's role as a spy was like nothing, but he couldn't bring Anna's name forward.
Again their previous conversation came back up to mind. It kept coming back no matter how many times he didn't want to think about it. Still, he found himself coming back to it. He thought on the words they had both said; what she said and what he said.
Edmund had known what Anna had done at their wedding was an attempt to save him, and the method was by humiliating him and pushing him away. It worked. Edmund had been wrong in why he assumed she had done that though. She had been saving him from Abe, because Abe wanted to kill him. And then she had told him the terrible truth.
She was a spy.
'But at least she gave me the truth.' He reasoned.
Truth... That was the thing...
Anna told him that she was a rebel spy. She had told him that in a tavern full of people wearing the same color as his uniform. She was in, what was to her, enemy territory and she had told him that. Edmund had felt used and assumed she was sent here to gather info out of him, and if that was the case he didn't know why she had told him in a tavern full of regulars....
“I cannot lie to a man who never lied to me!”
The words hadn't sunk in on that night, but now Hewlett paused in his steps. There were tears in his eyes in that moment, and now the full weight of her words was finally hitting him.
That night, he had given her nothing but truth.
That's why he couldn't hand over her name.
That's why he still felt love in his heart for her, though she obviously didn't feel the same.
Later on Edmund found out there was a sudden delay on his passage back to England for some foolish reason, and the new departure date was moved to next week. In that time he thought more and more about Anna, sketched her in his book.
His initial anger had simmered down, though not completely. He was reflecting on his relationship with Anna and about everything that happened, trying to make sense of it all.
Edmund did admit to himself that perhaps he had been a bit harsh with her, considering what he now knew, something he hadn't stopped to think about. He knew she had told the truth that night, and that in itself was a risky move on her part. The fact still remained that everything else could have been false, what they had been, reinforced by the one thing that went unanswered when he asked, twice. Her actions that night, however, pointed to that not maybe all was false.
Edmund wanted to believe that, but he couldn't stay. Anna was likely long gone by now, back to the rebels, wherever they were hiding. He wouldn't ever see her again, even if he wanted to.
Despite trying to forget her, he could not. He found himself missing her.
A few days later, Edmund made his way to the harbor to sketch some of the boats in an attempt to distract himself from other thoughts. Though he still had to wait until the new departure date, he was ready to go home. There was nothing left for him here, not any more.
However, when he got to the harbor, a feeling of hesitation came upon him.
'Am I really ready to go home?' He asked himself.
Edmund looked back at the city behind him, with this question on his mind. This war had worn on him, and he'd done all that he could, served the army faithfully. Yet he hesitated.
“When I suggested that we leave for Scotland... I meant that.”
Anna's words came back to him, and he sighed and turned his gaze back toward the boats in the harbor. Maybe she had meant it, but she was no longer here.
'If only we could...'
He continued to watch the boats as they floated about in the harbor, and just when he was about to move again, something stopped him.
A voice so hauntingly familiar, one he knew very well.
Almost on impulse, he turned, and there he saw her, standing some feet away from him. She looked as if she had run all the way here. Edmund looked anywhere but her, not wanting to meet her eyes.
“I've caught you in time then.” She said, sounding a bit out of breath and deciding to step a bit closer. “The man at Rivington's I spoke to said you might be leaving today.”
He still didn't look at her, but managed to speak. “No, there was a delay. What are you doing here, Mrs. Strong?” He said, quietly and plainly, his heart quickening in his chest. “How did you-”
“I have friends here. I had to- I need to talk with you, alone. That is if you'll indulge me one last time.”
“Should I?” It came out a bit harsher than he intended.
He didn't see her reaction, nor did she immediately reply. He heard an anxious shuffling of feet though.
“It's important.” Was her hushed reply. “Something's happened.”
Despite his better judgment, he finally brought his gaze to meets hers at those words. Her brown eyes showed a hint of desperation, and her lips were settled into a frown. There had been something about how she spoke those words, the tone of it, that caught his attention. He supposed he could hear her out.
Anna pulled him aside to a portion of the harbor void of people, presumably to be out of ear shot. Edmund didn't know what Anna could possibly have to say to him, but in honesty he didn't expect to see her again at all. He had thought, after their dreadful conversation, that they would part ways for good. How it had pained him to walk away from her, but at the time he was still reeling from the truth he had long suspected and the evasion of his question. He couldn’t take it anymore in that moment and left.
And yet here was Anna standing before him once more.
“What is it you wish to discuss?” Edmund asked. “What has happened?”
“Has the news reached you yet? I thought it would by now.”
Now Edmund was intrigued. “What news?”
“That... That Major Andre has been captured. He's been charged with espionage and he will be sentenced to death by hanging.”
Edmund froze. The last time he had seen Andre was a few days ago when he handed over the identity of Culper. Andre said he had been preparing to leave on business, eager to make their conversation as short as possible.
“Are you sure?” He asked Anna.
“Unfortunately. It comes directly from camp.”
By 'camp', he assumed she meant the Continentals; the rebels. “Dear God... But why would you come all this way to tell me this?”
“Because you're sure to be called back before you leave due to his capture, and because there's someone who could pose a threat.”
“To your spy friends-”
“No, to you possibly as well.”
“Me?” He questioned.
She nodded. “There's a man by the name of Benedict Arnold who has been turned to the British forces. One of my friends knew him, and from what I understand, this man is just as cunning and determined as Simcoe. The concern is that he may try to seek out spies to as a way to prove himself to the British, and if he does I'm worried you could be implicated because you know about Abe, and you now know about me. I'm worried if that happens you'll be put in danger again.”
It occurred to Edmund she was trying to warn him about this Arnold fellow. It took Edmund back to when Anna pleaded with him that they elope to Scotland, even when he said they should stay in Setauket, that decision provoked by comments Richard had made. When he began to think it all over again, with the new knowledge from their previous conversation, he had realized Anna's pleas had been a warning. She admitted she'd been trying to protect him from Abe, because Abe was out to silence him, which is why she did what she did at the wedding.
She'd tried so hard to protect him, done everything she could, and now she was doing it again. This was a warning put out for him alone.
It reminded Edmund just what it was he saw in Anna, spy she may be.
He took a deep breath, trying to keep composure. “I appreciate the word of caution. Is that all you wanted to say?”
“That's not all.” Anna replied. “We need to talk.”
Something told him to proceed with caution. “Aren't we already talking?”
Her tone turned. “You told Andre that Abe is Culper; you sold him out.” She hissed.
Edmund bristled, seeing a flash of anger in her eyes. “How do you know about-”
“Because I've seen the correspondence first hand. At least it was never sent.”
“Never sent? But he said-” He stopped, realizing that someone would have stopped it from getting sent. “Abigail. She was there at his residence.”
Anna didn't answer, and that's all he needed to know. That was not his main concern, however.
“It was the last thing I could do as a solider. And why should I have contained that information?”
“You made an agreement-”
“Breaking an agreement didn't seem to bother Abraham, who you told me, wanted me dead.”
Anna pursed her lips. “I'm surprised you did this, and I am a bit mad about it, because that is not like you. And it's not because of Abe- you know I am not speaking to him right now- but because I saw it as a risk to who I work for. Luckily the threat extinguished. However...” She seemed to calm down a bit. “I do understand. I know he broke your agreement; he had no intention to keep it in the first place. I also know he was the one who told Richard that... that my divorce papers were forged. He's been careless and he's changed. In a way he did bring this upon himself.”
Now Edmund was confused. It sounded like any anger wasn't because he told Andre about Abe, but rather assessing it as a whole as a possible risk should it have actually been sent. But if she understood why Edmund did it, then what was she trying to get at?
“Then why do I get the sense there's something else to what you're saying?” He dared to ask.
Again, Anna was silent, looking like she was trying to find the right words.
“…You never gave him my name.” She said at last. “Why didn’t you give him my name?”
Ah. That's what it was. That's why. Saying she knew about the correspondence was just a way to bring up what she really wanted to say.
“Anna...” Her name slipped freely from his lips.
“I expected to see my name when I learned what it was, but it was not there. I don't know why you didn't- I thought after the last time we saw each other, after our failed wedding... I thought you certainly hated me.”
'That's... That's not true.' He thought. Despite what she had done, after the initial shock, his initial anger, he did not in fact hate Anna. He couldn't bring himself to hate her.
Oh, if only he could.
If only he could make these feelings he knew he still held for her vanish, erase them from his being completely and be numb to them. However, Edmund knew that wasn’t possible. By this time, he had a while to think; mostly about Anna. He'd analyzed her words and her actions, searching for meaning. When she had asked that question though, it all came full circle.
Why? Why indeed.
He’d asked himself the same thing after he'd seen Andre. Edmund had no problem with giving up Abe’s name, not after all he had done. But with Anna… He could not do that. He spent a while thinking about this, all while looking down into wine in a glass. The conclusion he came to was that, while she had wounded him greatly, she had done all she could to protect him and that everything she said in their conversation was truth. That night she had done a very brave thing by admitting every secret in a place where such words were deadly.
He’d recalled the tears in her eyes and knew that was why.
Edmund smiled ruefully at her. “I wish I could hate you.”
Anna averted her eyes. “You should, just like you should have given him my name.”
“Yes, you’re right. But… I cannot.” And before he knew it the words were tumbling out of his mouth. “You have to understand, I have felt… so hurt and betrayed. Your actions at the altar and what you revealed to me have each hurt greatly. I can’t forget what you’ve done, but… I have had time to think. I am still not fully calm about these revelations, but what you did, with all those people around us- that was brave. I knew you could not be lying, because if you were, you wouldn’t have said what you did. To point, yes, I wish I could hate you, but I can’t.”
He took a breath and willed himself to step forward closer to her.
“My foolish heart won’t let me.”
Anna slowly turned her gaze back up to him, daring to meet his eyes. “You said… you said you needed to quit me.”
“I did say that, but I don’t know what to think of that statement now that you are here again. Logic is telling me to run, but I think it is far too late for that.”
“Maybe that’s true for both of us.” She replied. She was quiet for a moment, but then she spoke. “I knew I was in over my head when I… I started to fall for you. It was when Abe wanted to kill you- the thought made me sick. I knew then that I felt something for you that was deeper than anything else. I don’t expect forgiveness, but know that at least.”
“Well, one might not in this situation-”
“I wouldn’t…not if I were you. I hurt you and I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. It has never been easy for me, but I never wanted to hurt you-”
“Anna; calm.” Reflexively, he reached forward and grabbed her hands. Edmund realized this and looked down at their hands, entangled. He knew he should let go, but he did not. “My reactions may have been a little… harsh, given I suspected your true involvement. I can’t set aside what you’ve done, but… just as well I can not forget the things you have done for me, or what you claim to have done for my sake.”
“I never gave you an answer that night. I didn't know how to answer, but... I do now. It was always for your sake, Edmund. It was for the sake of a man that… that I know I love.”
Love. The word struck through Edmund like an arrow. He'd assumed that the way she avoided it meant that the answer was in the negative, but he was wrong. It was merely an assumption he'd conjured up, maybe because he wanted to desperately believe that she would answer 'yes'. Or maybe because he had learned that she was a spy. He wasn’t sure what to think anymore, now that he had heard her say the words he had so longed to hear.
Then again, Anna had never had an easy life, that much he knew from his time with her. Yet she stood tall through the storm, and once again she was here. The hurt she inflicted was still raw, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t heal. That didn’t mean there was no more love left for Anna now that he had a chance to think it over. That didn’t mean he couldn’t forgive her.
Edmund sighed and leaned his forehead against hers. “I can forgive you, Anna.”
She squeezed his hands. “Then… then where do we go from here?”
“I suggest we go someplace where we can be alone that's not semi-out in the open like this, and talk. We have much to discuss and I know you’re in the city for some reason other than just to make amends with me. Best to discuss it away from prying eyes.”
“I’d like that, Edmund.”