But then, after nearly a week of getting nowhere, Cecilia overheard one soldier telling another that a man had been brought to hospital a few days earlier. He' d had a blow to the head and was unconscious. His name was Rokesby.
Edward Rokesby. It had to be.
Cecilia had never actually laid eyes on the man, but he was her brother's closest friend, and she felt like she knew him. She knew, for example, that he was from Kent, that he was the second son of the Earl of Manston, and that he had a younger brother in the navy and another at Eton. His sister was married, but she had no children, and the thing he missed most of all from home was his cook's gooseberry fool.
His older brother was called George, and she had been surprised when Edward had admitted that he did not envy him his position as heir. With an earldom came an appalling lack of freedom, he'd once written, and he knew that his place was in the army, fighting for King and Country.
Cecilia supposed that an outsider might have been shocked at the level of intimacy in their correspondence, but she'd learned that war made philosophers of men. And maybe it was for that reason that Edward Rokesby had begun adding little notes of his own at the end of Thomas's letters to her. There was something comforting about sharing one's thoughts with a stranger. It was easy to be brave with someone one would never face across a dining table or in a drawing room.
Or at least this was Cecilia's hypothesis. Maybe he was writing all the same things to his family and friends back in Kent. She'd heard from her brother that he was "practically engaged" to his neighbor. Surely Edward was penning letters to her, too.
And it wasn't as if Edward was actually writing to Cecilia. It had started with little snippets from Thomas: Edward says such-and-such or I am compelled by Captain Rokesby to point out...
The first few had been terribly amusing, and Cecilia, stuck at Marswell with mounting bills and a disinterested father, had welcomed the unexpected smile his words brought to her face. So she replied in kind, adding little bits and pieces to her own missives: Please tell Captain Rokesby... and later: I cannot help but think that Captain Rokesby would enjoy...
Then one day she saw that her brother's latest missive included a paragraph written by another hand. It was a short greeting, containing little more than a description of wildflowers, but it was from Edward. He'd signed it
Capt. Edward Rokesby
A silly smile had erupted across her face, and then she'd felt the veriest fool. She was mooning over a man she'd never even met.
A man she probably never would meet.
But she couldn't help it. It didn't matter if the summer sun was shining brightly across the lakes —with her brother gone, life in Derbyshire always seemed so gray. Her days rolled from one to the next, with almost no variation. She took care of the house, checked the budget, and tended to her father, not that he ever noticed. There was the occasional local assembly, but over half the men her age had bought commissions or enlisted, and the dance floor always contained twice the number of ladies as gentlemen.
So when the son of an earl wrote to her of wildflowers...
Her heart did a little flip.
Honestly, it was the closest she'd got to a flirtation in years.
But when she had made the decision to travel to New York, it had been her brother, and not Edward Rokesby, that she had been thinking about. When that messenger had arrived with news from Thomas's commanding officer...
It had been the worst day of her life.
The letter had been addressed to her father, of course. Cecilia had thanked the messenger and made sure he was given something to eat, never once mentioning that Walter Harcourt had died unexpectedly three days earlier. She'd taken the folded envelope to her room, closed and locked the door, and then stared at it for a long, shaky minute before summoning the courage to slide her finger under the wax seal.
Her first emotion had been one of relief. She'd been so sure it was going to tell her that Thomas was dead, that there was no one left in the world she truly loved. An injury seemed almost a blessing at that point.
But then Cousin Horace had arrived.
Cecilia hadn't been surprised that he had shown up for her father's funeral. It was what one did, after all, even if one didn't enjoy particularly close friendships with one's relations. But then Horace had stayed. And by God, he was annoying. He did not speak so much as pontificate, and Cecilia couldn't take two steps without him sidling up behind her, expressing his deep worry for her well-being.
Worse, he kept making comments about Thomas, and how dangerous it was for a soldier in the colonies. Wouldn't they all be so relieved when he returned to his rightful place as owner of Marswell.
The unspoken message being, of course, that if he didn't return, Horace would inherit it all.