1633 David Weber and Eric Flint

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Chapter 39

"Melissa says we should stay put here," Alex said softly, leaning over his wife's shoulder. "I just got her message on the radio. Nothing we can do anyway."

Julie was silent, sitting on a chair next to the bed in their sleeping chamber. Alex was not sure she'd even heard him. The young American woman's face, normally full-cheeked and rosy, was pale and drawn. Her eyes, showing the tension of someone trying not to cry, were fixed on the little figure of their daughter, bundled up and lying on the bed. Alexi was not wailing any longer. The disease had already carried the infant past that point.

He laid a hand on Julie's shoulder, giving it a little reassuring squeeze. At least, he hoped it would be taken as reassurance. Alex had no great expectations himself, although he'd never said so to his wife. He was one of nine children his father had sired, legitimately or otherwise. Only three of his siblings were still alive. Four of them had not made it past the age of five, and three of those had died in their first year. Their little bodies were interred not far away, in the Mackay family's portion of a nearby graveyard.

"I'll never forgive myself if she dies," Julie whispered. "Never." The words sounded hollow. As hollow as the little coffin Alex's father had already ordered his cabinetmaker to construct.

Julie didn't know about that coffin. Neither Alex nor his father had seen any point in mentioning it to her. In this, as in so many things, Julie's history worked against her. She would see the coffin as a prediction, a lack of faith. Where, in fact, it was quite the opposite. It was simply acceptance; practicality in this world, and deep faith in a better afterlife.

Americans, thought Alex. They still think, deep in their souls, that their new world is not quite real.

It was not a sarcastic thought. That same semi-fantastical view of things was much of what he admired about them—even treasured. None more so than the young American woman he'd married. Still, it often disarmed them.

A strange folk, Americans. Bold in so many ways, timid in others. Daring to go where no sane man would, yet flinching from perils which any sane man accepted as given. Like sculpture, Alex sometimes thought, remembering statues he'd seen years earlier on his tour of northern Italy. Beautiful beyond flesh, serene, confident as only marble can be. Even hard as stone, in some respects. But, like marble, also brittle and easily chipped.

"I'll never forgive myself," she repeated, the tears beginning to leak. "I should have listened to you, and stayed behind. Or at least left her behind."

He'd often had that thought himself. Hotly, even, when he realized that Alexi had been stricken by one of the diseases—which one? God only knows, take your pick—which periodically swept through Edinburgh. As that same sickle swept through every part of the world.

But he'd restrained his temper then, and felt none of it any longer. Such was the nature of things. There was all of human wisdom, if not science. It was not his province, to heap a husband's wrath atop a mother's grief.

He stooped, folded his arms around her and held her close.

"Don't be a fool, love," he whispered into her ear. "She could have been struck down in Grantville also. 'Tis the way of things, that's all. If she dies, we'll have another child. Never forgetting her, of course, and the joy she brought us. But not letting that memory blacken itself either."

Julie started to cry. Slow, quiet sobs. Alex kissed the tears.

"Please, Julie. You have given me so much, this past year, from your future world. Now let me give you some of Scotland. 'Tis God's will, that's all, whatever it be. The child's soul is in no peril, only her mortal sheath. The loss will be ours, not hers. If God chooses to bring her early, 'tis only because He could not bear to wait Himself for the joy of her company."

She turned her head into his shoulder. The tears flowed still, but the sobs ebbed away.

"You think so?" she asked softly.

"Of course," he replied. There was no need to fake assurance now. However much he might have changed in many ways, in this matter Alex Mackay was still a son of Scotland.

"Let me give you some of my world now, beloved wife. For the world we are creating will need that also."

"Yes," she whispered. "Yes, it will. Me, most of all."

When Darryl McCarthy entered the prisoner's cell, bearing the spray gun, the prisoner did not flinch. He did not even give him a stony gaze. Simply watched, seeming more curious than anything else.

Darryl waited until he heard the door being barred behind him, then moved quickly over. He reached into a pocket of his poncho and pulled out some batteries.

"Gimme the walkie-talkie," he muttered. "Quick. We haven't got all that much time. I talked the Warders into thinking these cells need regular spraying, but . . ."

He fell silent, while he switched the batteries. They'd recharge the old ones in their suite in St. Thomas' Tower, using the same pedal-operated generator that powered the radio. The batteries in the walkie-talkie were probably still good, but Darryl had no way of knowing how often the English would allow him back into the cell.

"Tell me, if you would," the prisoner said softly, "the nature of your grievance."

Darryl scowled. He made no reply, at first. But then, as he sprayed the cell, began a recitation of the reasons for his anger. By the time he finished, even Darryl was wondering how coherent the explanation was.

"So," mused the prisoner. "Killed half the Irish, did I? Odd, that. Are you familiar with the island? In this day and age, I mean."

Darryl said nothing. His scowl deepened.

The prisoner nodded. "I thought not. I've never been there myself, you understand. But 'tis a well-known place. Full of hills and rocks and little valleys—and precious little in the way of roads. So I am wondering, a bit, how I managed such a fearsome slaughter. How many years did I spend at the task, hunting down all those Irish that I might slay the half of them? And what, exactly, was my purpose in doing so? I've not much use for the Irish, mind you. I'll not claim I love that priest-ridden folk. But I've no fierce animosity against them, either. And it does seem like a great deal of effort for no conceivable good end."

Finished with the cell, Darryl moved over to the prisoner and squatted next to him. "I dunno. I'll find out. Now lift your arms and stretch out your legs. This stuff ought to be sprayed under your clothes, too. Especially wool like you're wearing. Keep your mouth and eyes closed and hold your breath."

He started to continue with an assurance that the DDT wouldn't actually poison the man, but the prisoner followed his orders with no hesitation. Darryl found the man's calmness unsettling. It rattled him some.

After he returned to their suite in St. Thomas' Tower, and put away the spraying equipment, Darryl handed the used batteries to Gayle. Then, he studied Melissa for a moment. As usual, Melissa was sitting on one of the couches reading a book. If nothing else, their imprisonment had given her the opportunity to study texts which would have turned any historian of her time green with envy. The earl of Strafford had been gracious on the matter of giving her access to his own considerable library. Not directly, of course. But he always brought some books on his periodic brief visits.

Darryl did not appreciate the man's courtesy. Not in the least littlest bit. "Black Tom Tyrant," damnation, was not supposed to be gracious.

He dismissed, with almost no thought at all, the notion of asking Melissa. She'd inevitably accompany the facts with a lecture. Darryl was in a bad enough mood already.

His eyes ranged down the room, falling on Tom Simpson. The big army captain was standing by one of the windows overlooking the Thames. He was alone. Rita was probably taking a nap, as she often did in the early afternoon.

Darryl made his decision and walked over to stand next to him.

"Weather's clearing," Tom grunted.

Darryl wasn't interested in the weather. Not the world's, anyway. He was preoccupied with the storm front moving through his own heart.

"How long was the son-of-a-bitch in Ireland?" he demanded. "I know you've been reading about him."

Tom swiveled his head and looked down at Darryl. A little smile came to his face.

"What's the matter, Darryl? The real world not matching your blueprint?"

Darryl glared at the river. The sun was out, now, so the Thames had no difficulty at all in glaring back.

"He was in Ireland for nine months," said Tom. "Landed near Dublin in August of 1649. Less than a month later, he took the town of Drogheda and ordered most of the garrison massacred after they refused to surrender once the walls had been breached. That's the incident that's most notorious during his campaign. But—cut the crap, Darryl, you've been living in the seventeenth century for two years now; you know how it works—by the standards of the time that was no war crime."

Darryl kept glaring, but said nothing. By now—long since, in fact—Darryl understood the realities of 17th-century combat. The tradition went back well into medieval times. Once the walls of a fortified town were breached, the garrison was expected to surrender. Further fighting was pointless, after all, since a besieging army which could manage a breach could certainly take the town. The garrison had now proven its courage, well enough, and any further bloodshed would be on their hands.

If the garrison did surrender, quarter was given. If they didn't . . .

Tom had read to him, once, the passage in Shakespeare's Henry V where the consequences of refusing to surrender after the breach were spelled out. In very graphic detail, by King Henry V to the defenders of Harfleur. Darryl could still remember the phrase naked infants spitted upon pikes.

Harfleur had surrendered.

"The truth is, Darryl," said Tom softly, "by the standards of the time, Cromwell was actually considered to be a merciful soldier. The garrison was put to the sword, yeah, but the civilians were spared. You know damn well that, more often than not, a full-bore massacre follows. In fact—how's this for a little irony?—the only actual Irish in Drogheda lived in a ghetto, which Cromwell's men didn't touch. The garrison he massacred was made up of English Catholics. Settlers, most of them, who'd been grabbing land from the Irish themselves."

Darryl's lips tightened. Another precious little certainty gone. Damnation.

Tom's great shoulders moved in a little shrug. "Drogheda's still an atrocity by our standards, of course. But you really can't judge one period of history by the standards of another. And, however savage it was, Drogheda didn't hold a candle to Magdeburg. Which, you might remember, was a massacre carried out by Catholic soldiers.

"And for that matter," he continued remorselessly, "you might also want to remember that when the Irish rebellion started in 1641, the rebels slaughtered thousands of Protestants."

"They shouldn't have been there in the first place!" snapped Darryl.

Tom eyed him for a moment. "Yeah, maybe not. But you might want to consider the fact, Darryl—if, just once in your life, you can tear yourself away from self-righteousness—that any American Indian can say exactly the same thing about the whites they massacred from time to time in America. But if that ever stopped your ancestors from grabbing the Indians' land, it's news to me. It sure as hell didn't stop mine."

Darryl was back to his silent glaring at the river. The Thames didn't seem to care much. He was starting to regret having asked Tom the question.

The regret deepened, as Tom pressed on.

"Oh, yeah. God, there's nothing in the world like a self-righteous hypocrite. Let me ask you something, Darryl. You know this much history. What do people call George Washington? Huh?"

" 'Father of Our Country,' " mumbled Darryl. He dredged up another loose fact. " 'First in peace, first in war, first in the hearts of his countrymen.' "

"Well, not quite. Yeah, that's what we call him. But do you know what the Iroquois call him?"

Darryl's eyes widened. The thought of what the Iroquois might call George Washington had never once crossed his mind, in his entire life.

Tom chuckled. "About what I figured. Well, Darryl-me-lad, the Iroquois call him 'the Town Burner.' That's because, during the American Revolution, the Iroquois were allied to the British. Can't blame 'em, really. They knew if the colonists won, they'd be pouring onto Indian land even worse than ever. So good old George Washington threw another coin across the river. He ordered an army under the command of General Sullivan to march into Iroquois territory and crush them. Washington's orders were just that explicit, Darryl. 'The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements.' I remember the exact words, 'cause I was struck by them when I read the history as a teenager. I admired George Washington. And I still do, by the way. But I've also got no use for people who try to sugarcoat stuff like this, when it's done by the 'good guys.' The difference between the good guys and the bad guys isn't always that easy to separate, especially when you look at things in isolation. And it depends a lot which angle you look at it from."

He paused, considering the tight-faced young man standing next to him. "It's a pretty close parallel, actually, as these things go in history. Washington was leading a revolution against the English crown, and he needed to secure his rear. So he did, the way the man did things. Decisively, effectively, and ruthlessly. It worked, too. Sullivan pretty well destroyed the Iroquois as a nation, and drove most of them out of New York. And that's basically what Cromwell did in Ireland. The Irish were King Charles' 'reservoir,' if you will. That's the role they played in those days—these days—for the English monarchy. If the English commons get uppity, just bring over an Irish army to squelch 'em. That was the threat posed to the English revolution—and Cromwell ended it."

"It's not the same thing!" protested Darryl. "Those were Injuns! Wild savages!"

The moment the words went out of his mouth, Darryl regretted them. Not least of all, seeing the way Tom's huge shoulders bunched. But he was relieved to see the man's hands remained clasped behind his back. He'd seen those same hands bend horseshoes, on a bet.

"Don't piss me off, Darryl," growled Tom. The huge captain was now glaring at the river himself. "This much I'll say for my old man—my mother, too. They never tolerated racist shit. That much of their upbringing I don't regret at all."

"I didn't mean it that way," mumbled Darryl. "Hell, Tom, you know I'm not—"

"Oh, shut up, will you?" Tom's glare faded, and he sighed. "Darryl, I know you're not a racist. Although, I swear, sometimes you can do a damn good imitation. But, since we've descended into this little pit, I'm not going to let you off lightly."

He jerked his head toward the east. "What in the hell do you think your precious Irish are, in this day and age? Huh? You think Ireland in 1633 is the land of poetry? James Connolly giving socialist speeches before he leads the Easter Uprising?"

Darryl said nothing. Tom's chuckle was dry as a bone. "Fat chance. We're a long ways off from William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, Darryl. Much less James Connolly and his Irish Socialist Republicans. Today—right now—the Irish are every bit as much 'wild savages'—your words, not mine—as any American Indian."

Mercilessly: "It's an island full of superstitious illiterates—sorry, Darryl, but they are 'priest-ridden'—whose main export is probably mercenary soldiers. Who have a particularly bad reputation, by the way, for savagery. Ruled over—wherever the English haven't grabbed the land—by the sorriest pack of mangy clan chiefs you'll ever find. Frankly, comparing them to the Iroquois is an insult to the Iroquois. The Iroquois managed to pull together a real confederacy. More than your precious Irish have done! Every one of those so-called 'kings'—and you've got hundreds of them—isn't anything more than a sheep-stealing bandit with delusions of grandeur. The reason the English rolled right over them for centuries is because they could always find one Irish so-called 'king' eager and willing to sell out any other at the drop of a hat."

He stopped, challenging Darryl to contradict him.

But Darryl didn't even try. His romanticism about Ireland was deep, but . . .

That, too, after all, was part of the nationalist tradition he'd been brought up in. "Such a parcel of rogues in a nation," he half-muttered, half-sang.

Tom smiled. "That's actually from a Scot tune, but it's appropriate enough. The Scots in this day and age aren't much better than the Irish. Which, of course, is why the English have usually been able to run them ragged too."

Darryl sighed, and wiped his face.

"For Pete's sake," said Tom, "you don't have to look as if I'm asking for your family heirlooms. I'm not asking you to give it all up, Darryl. There's no need to. It's not as if I'm any fan of England's policies in Ireland over the centuries. And if we were in the days of the Men of '98, we'd be playing in a whole different ball game. But we're not. Wolfe Tone won't even be born for another century. At least. So . . . are you willing to listen, for a change? To me, at least, if not Melissa?"

"Yeah. Shoot."

Tom paused, marshaling his thoughts. "What Cromwell did in Ireland, for those nine months, was crush a rebellion allied to King Charles that threatened the revolution he was leading. He carried out the campaign the way the man did everything. I told you once before, he was one of the greatest generals of his day. And he didn't have any time to waste, because he needed to get back to England as soon as possible. So, he went through Ireland like a thunderbolt. Mostly, it was a string of sieges. None of the Irish rebels—who were mostly English Catholic settlers, by the way, not Irishmen the way you mean the term—wanted to face him in the field. Don't blame 'em. Nobody did, after Marston Moor and Naseby, except maybe Prince Rupert.

"Speaking of whom . . ." Tom's eyes moved back to the Thames and grew a bit unfocused. "Hm. I wonder what'll wind up happening to him, now? Hell of a guy, Prince Rupert. He's King Charles' nephew, by the way. Thirteen or fourteen years old, right at the moment, if I remember right."

" 'Bout Cromwell," gruffed Darryl.

"Yeah. Well, anyway, it was all over within nine months. There was another bad massacre at Wexford in October. About two thousand people died. Some of them were civilians, including women and children fleeing the town, who drowned when the boats they were in capsized. But it doesn't seem that Cromwell himself ordered that massacre, the way he did at Drogheda. From what the historians can figure out, his troops ran into resistance inside the town after the garrison was supposed to have given up, and ran wild. On the other hand, there's also no evidence that Cromwell tried to stop it, or gave much of a damn afterward. He was a hard man, no doubt about it, even if he wasn't deliberately cruel. And he had good reason to be, frankly, because if the royalists had won they would have been a lot more savage than he was. Don't ever believe any of this crap about the sweet English aristocracy, Darryl. Take a look at what the English did to the Scot Highlanders after Culloden, you don't believe me."

Darryl snorted. As if he'd be likely to have fond thoughts about English kings and noblemen!

Tom grinned. "Coal to Newcastle, I guess, saying that to you. And the 'harrowing of the glens' after Culloden happened in the eighteenth century, during the so-called Enlightenment. So you can just imagine what this century's royalist revenge would have been like. As it was—ha!—after the Restoration, the silly buggers dug up Cromwell's body and beheaded his corpse."

Darryl made a face. "You're kidding."

"Nope. That's a big part of Cromwell's reputation, of course. The English establishment had their own big grudge against the guy, over the next few centuries, so they were hardly likely to object about what the Irish nationalists did to blacken his name."

Tom thought for a moment. "Other than that, from what I can determine, all the legends about Cromwell's 'butchery' are just that. Legends. The truth is, Darryl, that Cromwell was known to be merciful, as they count such things in this day and age. He generally offered good terms to towns which surrendered—and kept his word. His soldiers, in Ireland as they had been in England itself, were the best-disciplined troops in these islands. Probably anywhere in Europe, in fact, except for maybe Gustav's Swedes. Like Gustav, Cromwell would hang a man for plunder or rape or murder."

The thick shoulders made that somewhat awesome movement that did Tom for a shrug. "I'm not trying to pretty him up, Darryl. He was a hard man, like I said. And 'merciful' by the standards of the seventeenth century isn't all that merciful. You know that as well as I do. He'd execute the officers of a garrison that fought too long, for instance. Did that more than once. But I can't see anywhere in the books I read where he did it out of any ingrained viciousness. He had a revolution to fight and win, and he was damn well going to do it. If that meant shooting or hanging some royalist officers to encourage those in the next town to surrender faster, he'd do it. And . . . just as with Sullivan's campaign up the Hudson, it worked. Nine months and it was all over. He took ship for England and never came back to Ireland for the rest of his life.

"He traumatized the Irish, sure enough. But it was mainly just because his campaign was so decisive and effective. And I think as the years went by—the centuries, actually—the Irish read back into the memory of that frightening military campaign everything that happened later. But . . . come on, Darryl. Fair's fair. Blaming Cromwell for the Irish potato famine and the cold-blooded shooting of James Connolly and Bloody Sunday and the men behind the wire and all the rest of it makes as much sense as blaming George Washington for the massacre at Wounded Knee."

Darryl wasn't going to let go that easily. "Well, yeah, sure. But don't tell me there isn't any connection."

"Of course there's a connection. If Cromwell hadn't crushed the Irish rebellion in 1650, maybe the potato famine wouldn't have happened. Then again, maybe it would have. Hard to say for sure. But cause and effect isn't that simple, Darryl. I can't remember the terms any longer—been some time since the course on philosophy I took in college—but there's a difference between a direct cause and something that sets up the conditions for it.

"And why am I telling you this?" Tom snorted. "Darryl, cut the bullshit. You may not have studied philosophy in college, but I know you've rebuilt plenty of engines. So don't pretend you don't understand the difference."

Darryl didn't argue the point. He did understand the difference. Any good car mechanic understood it. The reason your piece-a-junk car's not running is such-and-such. The reason your car's a piece-a-junk in the first place is because you're a sorry goofball who never bothered to change the oil.

"Aw, hell," he sighed. "I just don't know what to think any more."

Tom smiled. "Well, you're hardly alone in that. Neither do I, most of the time. But . . ." He paused, breathing in and out for a few seconds. Then, continued in slow and soft words.

"Here's what I think about all this, Darryl. I think we ought to avoid making the mistake all these goofy kings and cardinals are making. I don't think we can 'read history' any better than anybody else."

He gave Darryl a glance. "You with me so far?"

"Yeah, sure. I agree." And he did, too. That much he could say firmly.

"Then why don't we start by forgetting all about some guy named 'Oliver Cromwell'? Who lived in another universe, and did this-and-that when he was a man in his forties and fifties, under the conditions of another world. Why don't we concentrate instead on the man we know, a little bit, at least—in this world that we've been busy as bees trying to change. The man who's squatting in a cell not far from here. How's that grab you?"

Darryl thought about it, for a moment. "Okay. I'll buy that."

"Then let's consider that man. A man in his early thirties, who's done nothing so far in his life except irritate his king in a parliament a while back, raise a family—raise 'em well, too, not even his enemies ever tried to claim Cromwell wasn't a good family man—and led some dirt-poor fenmen in their fight against a bunch of land-grabbing rich gentry in his part of England. Who now finds himself in a dungeon because a genuinely foul and treacherous and stinking-rotten king of England is scared of what he might do years from now. Filled with grief because his wife and son were murdered before his very eyes. You got a problem with that man, hillbilly?"

The clarity came with relief. "Hell, no. My kinda guy."

"Yeah, that's what I figured. Mine too. To hell with 'predestination,' Darryl. A man is what a man does—what he does. And there's an end to it."

"I'm with you on that. All the way."

Darryl stuck out his hand. Tom's big one closed over it. For a moment, a son of Appalachian coal miners made the power salute with a scion of one of Appalachia's wealthiest families. But Darryl missed the irony of it completely. Tom Simpson, too, had long since become his kinda guy. And Darryl, whatever his other faults, was one of those country boys who didn't look back.

"So. We gonna spring him, then? For real?"

"That's the plan." Tom shrugged. "Whenever we decide to spring ourselves, anyway. Won't be for quite a while, though, if ever. Mike told us to stay put till we hear otherwise. If nothing else, we're a source of valuable information. Besides, winter's coming. I don't know about you, but speaking for myself—"

Tom grinned wryly, and gestured with his head toward the fireplace which dominated the room. It was a big fireplace. A king-sized one, actually. In real and actual fact, not the fancies of Madison Avenue. Three hundred and fifty years earlier, King Edward I had warmed his bones before its flames.

Darryl made a little thumbs-up. "I'm with you there, too. Screw winter. Spring's when a young man's fancy turns to wine, women and taking it on the lam."

Tom smiled and clapped Darryl on the shoulder. Fortunately, he didn't put much into it. "So. Any other questions?"

Darryl's brow wrinkled. "Well, yeah, now that you mention it. I mean—I'm not objecting, you understand—but, uh, given what you just said, why are we planning to spring the guy? It's a bit risky, and if he's nobody in this universe—" Darryl's lips tightened. "Not that I'm worried about the risk. Piss on these sorry English bastards. But . . ."

Tom's smile was now serene. "I said I didn't believe in predestination, Darryl. I do, on the other hand, believe in personal character. So does Melissa." He gestured with his thumb toward the Chapel Tower, where Cromwell was immured. "And that man has character coming out of his ears, don't think he doesn't."

The smile faded. "Here's what I do know about the man called Oliver Cromwell, Darryl. His deeds are one thing, the man who could do them, another. And in that other world, he wasn't just a great general. He was also a devoted husband and father. A man who, by the standards of his time, was tolerant on matters of religion. It's not an accident, you know, that Cromwell was the first ruler of England in centuries who considered removing the ban on Jews. Who, once he became dictator of England—more because of circumstance than because of any lust for power—ruled as much as possible with the consent of others." A brief flash of teeth. "Well . . . some others. He gave royalists short shrift. Still, he was no autocrat, Darryl. Ruthless he might be, when he felt it necessary. But he was never given to tyranny for its own sake."

Tom paused, studying Darryl. Not for the first time, Darryl was struck by the big man's eyes. An odd shade of gray, they were, pale rather than slate. He'd inherited them from his mother, Darryl knew. Darryl had never cared—not in the least—for the supercilious look he'd always thought he detected in the mother's eyes. Icy, her eyes were. But in the son, the color was simply very clear. Darryl trusted those eyes.

"He rattled you, didn't he?" Tom asked. "Shook you some."

Darryl swallowed. "Yeah, he did. He just . . . I dunno. Hard to explain. He just always seemed so calm, like. No matter what I said or did to him."

Tom nodded. "Part of that's his faith. Most of it's just him." He turned his head and studied the slowly moving Thames, now gleaming. The sunshine was back. Autumn sunshine, to be sure, but sunshine nonetheless.

"Any world I can think of, Darryl, I think that man will rattle it. Shake the bars of its cage the same way he did those of another world. So, push comes to shove, I think I'd much rather have him on my side than anywhere else."

He gave Darryl a sidelong glance. "Hell, who knows? He might wind up in Ireland yet. Would you rather he went there with or without you?"

Darryl pondered the same river. "No contest," he pronounced firmly. "Just gotta make him a good hillbilly first."

When Darryl told Gayle he'd decided to give up his feud with Cromwell, she smiled.

"Oh, good. That'll save us some hassles. I think I'm starting to get sweet on him."


* * *

At the same window, another decision was made. As soon as Rita came up to him, risen from her nap, Tom gave her a smile. It was the same serene smile he'd given Darryl earlier, and he silently thanked the young Irish-American for that serenity. Thrashing through another man's confusion had enabled him to resolve his own.

"You're right. We'll do it the way you wanted."

Rita blew out her breath. "Thank God. For a while there, I was afraid you were gonna turn all fucking upper-crust on me."

Tom chuckled. "You do realize, don't you, that you will have to watch your language around her? The 'gonnas' won't cut it, much less the four-letter words."

Rita's grin was as broad and sun-filled as the river, and Tom fell in love all over again. He did that about four times a day, and hoped he would for the rest of his life.

"Sure. So fucking what? My language could use a lot of improvement. I don't mind at all—wouldn't have then, either—if she'll just be nice about it."

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