An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 123

   

“Mmphm.” The man made a pleased sound in his throat and sat back a little, nodding.

“I kent ye for a sensible gentleman. I’m a modest man, sir—shall we say a hundred dollars? To show your good faith,” he added, with a grin that displayed snaggled teeth discolored by snuff. “And to save ye the trouble of protest, I’ll just mention that I ken ye’ve got it in your pocket. I happened to speak wi’ the gentleman ye won it from this afternoon, aye?”

I blinked at that; evidently Jamie had had an extraordinary run of luck. At cards, at least.

“To show good faith,” Jamie repeated. He looked at the cup in his hand, then at the Lowlander’s grinning face, but evidently decided that the distance was too great to throw it at him. “And to be going on with… ?”

“Ah, well. We can be discussing that later. I hear ye’re a man of considerable substance, Colonel Fraser.”

“And ye propose to batten on me like a leech, do ye?”

“Why, a bit of leeching does a man good, Colonel. Keeps the humors in balance.” He leered at me. “I’m sure your good wife kens the wisdom of it.”

“And what do you mean by that, you slimy little worm?” I said, standing up. Jamie might have decided against throwing a cup of coffee at him, but I was willing to have a try with the pot.

“Manners, woman,” he said, giving me a censorious glance before shifting his gaze back to Jamie. “Do ye not beat her, man?”

I could see the tautness in Jamie’s body subtly shifting; the bow was being drawn.

“Don’t—” I began, turning to Jamie, but never got to finish. I saw the expression change on Jamie’s face, saw him leap toward the man—and whirled just in time to see Ian materialize out of the darkness behind the blackmailer and put a sinewy arm round his throat.

I didn’t see the knife. I didn’t have to; I saw Ian’s face, so intent as almost to be expressionless—and I saw the ex-overseer’s face. His jaw dropped and the whites of his eyes showed, his back arching up in a futile attempt at escape.

Then Ian let go, and Jamie caught the man as he began to fall, his body gone suddenly and horribly limp.

“Jesus God!”

The exclamation came from directly behind me, and I whirled again, this time to see Colonel Martin and two of his aides, as drop-jawed as Mr. X had been a moment before.

Jamie glanced up at them, startled. Then in the next breath, he turned and said quietly over his shoulder, “Ruith.” Run.

“Hi! Murder!” one of the aides shouted, springing forward. “Stop, villain!”

Ian had lost no time in taking Jamie’s advice; I could see him darting toward the edge of the distant wood, but there was enough light from the many campfires to reveal his flight, and the shouts of Martin and his aides were rousing everyone in hearing; people were jumping up from their firesides, peering into the dark, shouting questions. Jamie dropped the overseer’s body by the fire and ran after Ian.

The younger of the aides hurtled past me, legs churning in furious pursuit. Colonel Martin dashed after him, and I managed to stick out a foot and trip him. He went sprawling through the fire, sending a fountain of sparks and ashes into the night.

Leaving the second aide to beat out the flames, I picked up my shift and ran as fast as I could in the direction Ian and Jamie had taken.

The encampment looked like something from Dante’s Inferno, black figures shouting against the glow of flames, pushing one another amid smoke and confusion, shouts of “Murder! Murder!” ringing from different directions as more people heard and took it up.

I had a stitch in my side but kept running, stumbling over rocks and hollows and trampled ground. Louder shouts from the left—I paused, panting, hand to my side, and saw Jamie’s tall form jerking free of a couple of pursuers. He must mean to draw pursuit away from Ian—which meant… I turned and ran the other way.

Sure enough, I saw Ian, who had sensibly stopped running as soon as he saw Jamie take off, now walking at a good clip toward the wood.

“Murderer!” a voice shrieked behind me. It was Martin, blast him, somewhat scorched but undaunted. “Stop, Murray! Stop, I say!”

Hearing his name shouted, Ian began to run again, zigzagging around a campfire. As he passed in front of it, I saw the shadow at his heels—Rollo was with him.

Colonel Martin had drawn up even with me, and I saw with alarm that he had his pistol in hand.

“St—” I began, but before the word was out, I crashed headlong into someone and fell flat with them.

It was Rachel Hunter, wide-eyed and openmouthed. She scrambled to her feet and ran toward Ian, who had frozen when he saw her. Colonel Martin cocked his pistol and pointed it at Ian, and a second later Rollo leapt through the air and seized the colonel’s arm in his jaws.

The pandemonium grew worse. There were bangs from two or three pistols, and Rollo dropped writhing to the ground with a yelp. Colonel Martin jerked back, cursing and clutching his injured wrist, and Jamie drew back and punched him in the belly. Ian was already rushing toward Rollo; Jamie grabbed the dog by two legs, and, between them, they made off into the darkness, followed by Rachel and me.

We made it to the edge of the wood, heaving and gasping, and I fell at once to my knees beside Rollo, feeling frantically over the huge shaggy body, hunting for the wound, for damage.

“He’s not dead,” I panted. “Shoulder … broken.”

“Oh, God,” Ian said, and I felt him turn to glance in the direction from which pursuit was surely headed. “Oh, Jesus.” I heard tears in his voice, and he reached to his belt for his knife.

“What are you doing?!” I exclaimed. “He can be healed!”

“They’ll kill him,” he said, savage. “If I’m no there to stop them, they’ll kill him! Better I do it.”

“I—” Jamie began, but Rachel Hunter forestalled him, falling to her knees and grabbing Rollo by the scruff.

“I’ll mind thy dog for thee,” she said, breathless but certain. “Run!”

He took one last despairing look at her, then at Rollo. And he ran.

TERMS OF SURRENDER

WHEN THE MESSAGE came from General Gates in the morning, Jamie knew what it must be about. Ian had got clean away, and little surprise. He’d be in the wood or perhaps in an Indian camp; either way, no one would find him until he wished to be found.

The lad had been right, too; they did want to kill the dog, particularly Colonel Martin, and it had taken not only all Jamie’s resources but the young Quaker lass’s prostrating herself upon the hound’s hairy carcass and declaring that they must kill her first.

That had taken Martin back a bit, but there was still considerable public opinion in favor of dragging her away and doing the dog in. Jamie had prepared himself to step in—but then Rachel’s brother had come out of the dark like an avenging angel. Denny stood in front of her and denounced the crowd as cowards, recreants, and inhuman monsters who would seek to revenge themselves upon an innocent animal, to say nothing of their damnable injustice—yes, he’d really said “damnable,” with the greatest spirit, and the memory of it made Jamie smile, even in the face of the upcoming interview—in driving a young man to exile and perdition out of their own suspicion and iniquity, and could they not seek to find within their own bowels the slightest spark of the divine compassion that was the God-given life of every man…

Jamie’s arrival at Gates’s headquarters cut short these enjoyable reminiscences, and he straightened himself, assuming the grim demeanor suitable to trying occasions.

Gates looked as though he had been severely tried himself—which he had, in all justice. The bland, round face never looked as though it had any bones, but now it sagged like a soft-boiled egg, and the small eyes behind the wire-rimmed spectacles were huge and bloodshot when they looked at Jamie.

“Sit down, Colonel,” Gates said, and pushed a glass and decanter toward him.

Jamie was dumbfounded. He’d had enough grim interviews with high-ranking officers to know that you didn’t start them out with a cordial dram. He accepted the drink, though, and sipped it cautiously.

Gates drained his own, much less cautiously, set it down, and sighed heavily.

“I require a favor of you, Colonel.”

“I shall be pleased, sir,” he replied, with still more caution. What could the fat bugger possibly want of him? If it was Ian’s whereabouts or an explanation of the murder, he could whistle for that and must know it. If not…

“The surrender negotiations are almost complete.” Gates gave a bleak glance to a thick stack of handwritten papers, perhaps drafts of the thing.

“Burgoyne’s troops are to march out of camp with the honors of war and ground arms at the bank of the Hudson at the command of their own officers. All officers will retain their swords and equipment, the soldiers, their knapsacks. The army is to march to Boston, where they will be properly fed and sheltered before embarking for England. The only condition imposed is that they are not to serve in North America again during the present war. Generous terms, I think you will agree, Colonel?”

“Verra generous, indeed, sir.” Surprisingly so. What had made a general who undeniably held the whip hand to the extent that Gates did offer such extraordinary terms?

Gates smiled sourly.

“I see you are surprised, Colonel. Perhaps you will be less so if I tell you that Sir Henry Clinton is heading north.” And Gates was in a rush to conclude the surrender and get rid of Burgoyne in order to have time to prepare for an attack from the south.

“Aye, sir, I see.”

“Yes, well.” Gates closed his eyes for an instant and sighed again, seeming exhausted. “There is one additional request from Burgoyne before he will aceept this arrangement.”

“Yes, sir?”

Gates’s eyes were open again and passed slowly over him.

“They tell me you are a cousin to Brigadier General Simon Fraser.”

“I am.”

“Good. Then I am sure you will have no objection to performing a small service for your country.”

A small service pertaining to Simon? Surely…

“He had at one time expressed a desire to several of his aides that, should he die abroad, they might bury him at once—which they did, in fact; they buried him in the Great Redoubt—but that when convenient, he wished to be taken back to Scotland, that he might lie at peace there.”

“Ye want me to take his body to Scotland?” Jamie blurted. He could not have been more astonished had Gates suddenly got up and danced a hornpipe on his desk. The general nodded, his amiability increasing.

“You are very quick, Colonel. Yes. That is Burgoyne’s final request. He says that the brigadier was much beloved by his men and that knowing his wish is fulfilled will reconcile them to marching away, as they will not feel they are abandoning his grave.”

This sounded thoroughly romantic, and quite like something Burgoyne might do, Jamie reflected. He had a reputation for dramatic gesture. And he was probably not wrong in his estimation of the feelings of the men who had served under Simon—he was a good fellow, Simon.

Only belatedly did it dawn on him that the final result of this request…

“Is… there some provision to be made for my reaching Scotland with the body, sir?” he asked delicately. “There is a blockade.”

“You will be transported—with your wife and servants, if you like—on one of His Majesty’s ships, and a sum will be provided you for transporting the coffin once it has come ashore in Scotland. Have I your agreement, Colonel Fraser?”

He was so stunned, he scarcely knew what he said in response, but evidently it was sufficient, for Gates smiled tiredly and dismissed him. He made his way back to his tent with his head in a whirl, wondering whether he could disguise Young Ian as his wife’s maid, in the manner of Charles Stuart.

OCTOBER 17, like all the days that had gone before it, dawned dark and foggy. In his tent, General Burgoyne dressed with particular care, in a gorgeous scarlet coat with gold braid and a hat decorated with plumes. William saw him, when he went with the other officers to Burgoyne’s tent for their last, anguished meeting.

Baron von Riedesel spoke to them, too; he took all the regimental flags. He would give them to his wife, he said, to be sewn inside a pillow and taken secretly back to Brunswick.

William cared for none of this. He was conscious of deep sorrow, for he had never before left comrades on a battlefield and marched away. Some shame, but not much—the general was right in saying that they could not have mounted another attack without losing most of the army, so wretched was their condition.

They looked wretched now, lining up in silence, and yet when fife and drum began to play, each regiment in its turn followed the flying colors, heads high in their tattered uniforms—or whatever clothing they could find. The enemy had withdrawn on Gates’s order, the general said. That was delicate, William thought numbly; the Americans would not be present to witness their humiliation.

Redcoats first, and then the German regiments: dragoons and grenadiers in blue, the green-clad infantry and artillery from Hesse-Cassel.

On the river flats, scores of horses lay dead, the stench adding to the somber horror of the occasion. The artillery parked their cannon here, and the infantry, rank by rank by unending rank, poured out their cartridge boxes and stacked their muskets. Some men were sufficiently furious as to smash the butts of their guns before throwing them on the piles; William saw a drummer put his foot through his drum before turning away. He was not furious, or horrified.

All he wanted now was to see his father again.

THE CONTINENTAL troops and the militia marched to the meetinghouse at Saratoga and from there lined up along both sides of the river road. Some women came, watching from a distance. I could have stayed in camp, to see the historic ceremony of surrender between the two generals, but I followed the troops instead.

Loading...