Emma Green sounded like a lark, trilling merrily through the contraband camp, "Oh, Miss Jenkins! I've the most wonderful news!" Charlotte hadn't expected to like the young woman, formerly the belle of Alexandria, so much but she had a winning way about her and didn't shirk any task she was given. Charlotte was careful, of course, to save for Emma the most appealing chores, letting her see to the younger children in the schoolroom, but she'd found her gravely offering an elderly man a cup of water and changing the dressings on Lije's back without a grimace.
"Well, then, you're bound to share it, Miss Green. We've a mighty need for some good news," Charlotte said, continuing to sort linens and keeping an eye on old Saul's labored breathing. Some cheer would go a long way but hard work went longer.
"She's coming back—Nurse Mary! She's written, not very much but in her own hand, and she's coming back to Alexandria she says. Oh, Dr. Foster must be that pleased with himself!" Emma exclaimed.
"He would be, wouldn't he?" Charlotte laughed. It was good news, the return of the Baroness who had brought her to Mansion House, who had welcomed her and assisted her, never once standing on any ceremony, not waiting to be asked to undertake the most menial work. And not letting Dr. Jedediah Foster forget his Christian duty based on his humble application to care for the contraband as he had the men and boys within the hospital's walls.
"He's been in a pucker since she left and Heaven knows how he likes to be right," Emma remarked. Charlotte smiled at the truth of it and the forthright way Emma expressed herself. She suspected Emma would not have said it quite that way in her family's old, elegant hotel, but she liked her for it—the sentiment and the delivery.
"You'll have more you want to tell, I believe. If you've the time later, I think Lula and Keturah want to show you what they've learned," Charlotte said. Emma smiled brightly, her old belle's smile that must have broken hearts, and nodded. She'd be back and before the little ones said their prayers.
Emma Green sounded like a thrush, the kind that liked the cozy green harbor of a tree in full leaf, Bridget Brannan thought. The girl, with her woman's eyes, made a melody of her words, suiting them to the ward's tenor.
"Matron Brannan, I've the very best news—I can't bear to keep it to myself," Emma sang out and Bridget saw Anne Hastings's ears prick up, the Englishwoman straightening nearly imperceptibly at the prospect of some choice gossip.
"The best news—that's been thin on the ground. You mean to tell me, don't you?" Bridget said. She was a dear one, was Miss Emma, and she thanked God for her coming when Declan was taken with his brothers. She found it hard to spare a thought for Emma's true mother, who'd not bothered to come seeking her girl. Bridget would have walked the Sahara to retrieve Declan or Martin or little Jack and Mrs. Green hadn't crossed the blessed street!
"Of course! I'd never keep this a secret—Nurse Mary is coming back to us. She'd written me herself, not a very long letter and I think, she's still weaker than she wants us to know, but she never breaks a promise and she said, she said she's coming back with Dr. Foster, very soon. Isn't that splendid?" Emma cried. Her chaplain would fall in love with her all over again if he could see her now, Bridget thought, if he'd let himself.
"Aye, splendid and not before time. We've needed her steady hand round here, that way she has of finding whatever problems want to hide their faces and putting them to rights," Bridget said. She didn't say what she thought, how she wondered how exactly Mary was coming back with Jed Foster, who had post waiting for him from California, and whether Mary would be the Head Nurse again or something else, even more necessary.
"When you write her, tell her we're still keeping her in our prayers. She'll like that, I expect," Bridget said. It was good news, Mary well enough to travel back, when Bridget had feared the ship alone would kill the dear woman and Jed Foster with her. She ached for her boys, did Bridget Brannan, but it would do her good to have her girls back with her, even if she'd never say it aloud. Mary would know and would take her hand.
Emma Green sounded like a dove. Her voice was low and deliciously sweet and it was all Henry Hopkins could do to keep from kissing her whenever she was near. They were growing closer again, wordlessly, a glance here and a lingering touch there, and she was more beautiful every time he saw her. The man's face was receding, the man he'd murdered, and if he could not bear to consider their embrace while he was awake, Henry found his sleeping mind was ready to return to that moment, to the taste of Emma's parted lips, the entrancing feeling of her pliant body against his, the carnal impulse she had seen and seeing, welcomed, adored.
"Am I intruding?" she called out softly. He sat at his desk to try and compose this week's sermon. Since Ayres' farm, he'd been a poor minister to his flock, words coming to him slowly if at all. He knew his lessons had been poor things, barely enough to keep soul alive. He felt God's grace with the ease of finding a text, the appearance of the next sentence like a ripe, ruddy fruit.
"Never. You sound…joyful, Emma. Shall you tell me why?" he asked. Oh, she was beautiful! He felt his flesh yearning for hers, his spirit ready to fly—and he sat still in his chair, willing himself to the simplicity of the wood, his boots on the floorboards.
"I've had a letter. From Mary, Nurse Mary. She writes—oh, Henry, she says she is coming back. She's coming home with Dr. Foster!" Emma said, her cheeks rosy and her lips curved in a smile that teased and enticed in its innocent affection.
"He will be so glad," Henry said, imagining Jed Foster's dark eyes bright again, his arm around Mary's waist, ready to catch her if she stumbled. How he had suffered without her! Henry was happy—for his friend, for his friend Mary, a woman he had esteemed and admired and frankly delighted in, a fellow Abolitionist, a Yankee after his own heart, familiar with what winter held and why freedom mattered most of all. Henry was happiest to see Emma's reaction to her letter, her friend and mentor returned, the sister she needed.
"You think of him first?"
"Only in that his need of her was greatest—and I understand that, as his minister and his friend. And as a man who knows what it is to love a woman…to the exclusion of anything, everything else," Henry said, looking at her directly, watching how she dropped her lashes and collected herself before she spoke.
"I see. It will be good for the boys…to have him less distracted, to know she is here whenever he could want her. And do you know, I think she must feel the same. For she mentioned him not at all in that first letter and now, he is the only one she writes of," Emma replied, playing with the lace at her throat, where he had once fumbled buttons free, to stroke the delicate skin.
"She wrote to you, Emma," he pointed out. "She wished you to know she would rejoin us."
"Perhaps because she thought I am a terrible gossip and would run about announcing it to everyone…exactly as I have," she said, beginning in jest and finishing with a doubtful tone. This was never Mary's intention; he could hear her voice, quite crisp "Mr. Hopkins, you must set this right!" He stood and walked the step it took to get to Emma's side, reached out his hand to take hers. It was slender, as he remembered, but it fit more perfectly than he had recalled.
"You've done nothing wrong. You've only given everyone some happiness, long overdue. Thank you for being our angel, spreading the good news," he said. My angel he meant and thought perhaps she had heard it thus. She was quiet, the way a dove could be, waiting for the dawn.