Katherine Hawley’s skin raised in goose bumps despite the heat of the day. Fear and fascination warred in her as the battle wore on. A sheltered young woman, she perceived war as an abstraction, heard its cacophony almost as something musical, a symphony writ large. The deep booming bass registers of the cannons played under the high counterpoint of the small arms fire that rippled and rushed like the skirling of flutes. She heard an operatic chorus as throngs of men shouted and swore and died. Horrible though she knew it to be, the scene filled her with wonder.
The drama of it so reminded her of the opera house in Baltimore to which her father had taken her only two months ago, on her seventeenth birthday. She hugged her arms around her prim breasts and oscillated back and forth with excitement. Her emerald eyes drank in the spectacle of so many tiny figures streaming across the serried ridges, near and far.
“Katherine, come down from there. This instant.” Her mother’s strident voice echoed up the stairwell.
Katherine scurried down the kitchen stairs to the basement where her father, mother, and the servant, Emily, sat around a long trestle table in polished oak chairs that looked incongruous on the hard-packed dirt. The only light that trickled into the gloomy cavern came from two tiny windows set at street level in the foundation wall above their heads.
Seeing the scowl on George Hawley’s heavy features, Katherine took the initiative. “Now, father, I was quick. I was only gone a minute.” Before him she set a pewter tankard of cool water that she had taken from the pump in the kitchen.
“Can you run faster than a bullet?” But his gruff voice grew less severe as he hefted the tankard.
Three times she had contrived to go upstairs. Now she settled into a corner on a wooden box and, listening intently, tried to interpret the sounds that reached them.
“Oh, George, should we have gone to the river with the others?” Katherine’s mother pleaded.
George Hawley’s thick upper lip twisted. “I’ll not sit in those river caves with rats gnawing at our toes.” His meaty right hand patted one of the two ivory-handled dueling pistols that gleamed against the dark wood of the table.
The afternoon wore on and even fear abated. George Hawley snored softly from the crook of his arm where his head had dropped an hour earlier. Elizabeth Hawley dragged her chair against a wall and leaned her head against the cool stone to lessen the heat of the day. She drifted off and snored quietly. Only the servant girl, Emily, seemed alert, her wide dark eyes darting back and forth as strange new sounds ricocheted up the street. In the distance, muskets chuffed and cannons roared in the syncopated rhythm of death.
Katherine stood and straightened her skirts and shook her copper curls. “Emily, I’ll return presently.”
The older woman darted her eyes toward Mr. Hawley. “Missy, please, I’ll go,” she hissed. “What do you need?”
Katherine pressed her hand to her lips and said, “It is not something you can help me with, Emmy. I need the chamber pot.”
Emily blanched as Katherine scurried up the stairs. Katherine cleared the basement, her long legs took the servant stairs at the rear of the kitchen two-by-two. She bypassed the second floor and emerged on the third where she ran to the window of Emily’s room. Through the rippled glass, she stared down the hill to where blue and white smoke rose above a field. As this gun-curtain lifted, the late afternoon sun transformed the smoke into a veil of pink lace. Through it Katherine watched bursts of yellow light as thick as fireflies on a summer night.
With a sound oddly reminiscent of the cracking pond ice she had fallen through as a little girl, the window before her broke into three pieces and fell inward. Katherine found herself suddenly sitting on the floor. She blinked her eyes and then looked down where a patch of red stained the yellow of her dress. She watched transfixed as the scarlet and the yellow mixed much like red peppers and scrambled eggs. The yellow and the red swirled in her head and she fell back onto the oak floor.
Her last thought was that the curse had come two weeks early this month.