An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 124

   

The sun had risen and the fog had fled, just as it had done every day for the last few weeks. There was a smell of smoke in the air, and the sky was the infinite deep blue of October.

Artillery and infantry stood along the road, evenly spaced, but that spacing was the only uniform thing about them. There was no common dress, and each man’s equipment was distinctively his own, in form and how he held it—but each man held his musket, or his rifle, or stood beside his cannon.

They were a motley crew in every sense of the word, festooned with powder horns and shot bags, some wearing outlandish old-fashioned wigs. And they stood in grave silence, each man with his right foot forward, right hands on their guns, to watch the enemy march out, with the honors of war.

I stood in the wood, a little way behind Jamie, and I saw his shoulders stiffen a little. William walked past, tall and straight, his face the face of a man who is not really there. Jamie didn’t dip his head or make any effort not to be seen—but I saw his head turn just slightly, following William out of sight in the company of his men. And then his shoulders dropped just a little, as though a burden dropped from them.

Safe, that gesture said, though he still stood straight as the rifle beside him. Thank God. He is safe.

SANCTUARY

Lallybroch

ROGER COULD NOT have said quite what impelled him to do it, other than the sense of peace that hung about the place, but he had begun to rebuild the old chapel. By hand, and alone, one stone upon another.

He’d tried to explain it to Bree; she’d asked.

“It’s them,” he said at last, helpless. “It’s a sort of… I feel as though I need to connect with them, back there.”

She took one of his hands in her own, spreading his fingers, and ran the ball of her thumb gently over his knuckles, down the length of his fingers, touching the scabs and grazes, the blackened nail where a stone had slipped and bruised it.

“Them,” she repeated carefully. “You mean my parents.”

“Yes, among other things.” Not only with Jamie and Claire but with the life their family had built. With his own sense of himself as a man—protector, provider. And yet it was his bone-deep urge to protect that had led him to abandon all his Christian principles—on the eve of ordination, no less—and set out in pursuit of Stephen Bonnet.

“I suppose I’m hoping I can make sense of… things,” he’d said, with a wry smile. “How to reconcile what I thought I knew then with what I think I am now.”

“It’s not Christian to want to save your wife from being raped and sold into slavery?” she inquired, a distinct edge in her voice. “Because if it’s not, I’m taking the kids and converting to Judaism or Shinto or something.”

His smile had grown more genuine.

“I found something there.” He fumbled for words.

“You lost a few things, too,” she whispered. Not taking her eyes from his, she reached out, the tips of her fingers cool on his throat. The rope scar had faded somewhat but was still darkly visible; he made no effort to hide it. Sometimes when he spoke with people, he could see their eyes fix on it; given his height, it was not unusual for men to seem to be speaking directly to the scar, rather than to himself.

Found a sense of himself as a man, found what he thought was his calling. And that, he supposed, was what he was looking for under those piles of fallen stone, under the eyes of a blind saint.

Was God opening a door, showing him that he should be a teacher now? Was this, the Gaelic thing, what he was meant to do? He had plenty of room to ask questions, room and time and silence. Answers were scarce. He’d been at it most of the aftenoon; he was hot, exhausted, and ready for a beer.

Now his eye caught the edge of a shadow in the doorway, and he turned—Jem or maybe Brianna, come to fetch him home to tea. It was neither of them.

For a moment, he stared at the newcomer, searching his memory. Ragged jeans and sweatshirt, dirty-blond hair hacked off and tousled. Surely he knew the man; the broad-boned, handsome face was familiar, even under a thick layer of light-brown stubble.

“Can I help you?” Roger asked, taking a grip on the shovel he’d been using. The man wasn’t threatening but was roughly dressed and dirty—a tramp, perhaps—and there was something indefinable about him that made Roger uneasy.

“It’s a church, aye?” the man said, and grinned, though no hint of warmth touched his eyes. “Suppose I’ve come to claim sanctuary, then.” He moved suddenly into the light, and Roger saw his eyes more clearly. Cold, and a deep, striking green.

“Sanctuary,” William Buccleigh MacKenzie repeated. “And then, Minister dear, I want ye to tell me who ye are, who I am—and what in the name of God almighty are we?”

PART SIX

Coming Home

A STATE OF CONFLICT

September 10, 1777

JOHN GREY FOUND himself wondering how many horns a dilemma could have. Two, he believed, was the standard number, but supposed that it was theoretically possible to encounter a more exotic form of dilemma—something like the four-horned sheep he had once seen in Spain.

The most pressing of the horns arrayed under him at present concerned Henry.

He’d written to Jamie Fraser, explaining Henry’s state and asking whether Mrs. Fraser might see her way to come. He had, as delicately as possible, assured her of his willingness to bear all expenses of the journey, to expedite her travel in both directions by ship (with protection from the exigencies of warfare insofar as the royal navy could provide it), and to provide her with whatever materials and instruments she might require. Had even gone so far as to procure a quantity of vitriol, which he recalled her needing for the composition of her ether.

He had spent a good deal of time with quill suspended over the page, wondering whether to add anything regarding Fergus Fraser, the printer, and the incredible story Percy had told him. On the one hand, this might bring Jamie Fraser belting up from North Carolina to look into the matter, thus improving the chances of Mrs. Fraser coming, as well. On the other… he was more than reluctant to expose any matter having to do with Percy Beauchamp to Jamie Fraser, for assorted reasons, both personal and professional. In the end, he had said nothing of it and made his appeal solely on behalf of Henry.

Grey had waited through an anxious month, watching his nephew suffer from heat and inanition. At the end of the month, the courier he had sent to take his letter to North Carolina returned, sweat-soaked, caked with mud, and with two bullet holes in his coat, to report that the Frasers had left Fraser’s Ridge with the declared intent of removing to Scotland, though adding helpfully that this removal was presumed to be only in the nature of a visit, rather than a permanent emigration.

He had fetched a physician to visit Henry, of course, not waiting for Mrs. Fraser’s reply. He had succeeded in introducing himself to Benjamin Rush and had that gentleman examine his nephew. Dr. Rush had been grave but encouraging, saying that he believed one of the musket balls, at least, had created scarring, this partially obstructing Henry’s intestines and encouraging a localized pocket of sepsis, which caused his persistent fever. He had bled Henry and prescribed a febrifuge, but made the strongest representations to Grey that the situation was delicate and might worsen abruptly; only surgical intervention might effect a cure.

At the same time, he said that he did believe Henry to be strong enough to survive such surgery—though there was, of course, no certainty of a happy outcome. Grey had thanked Dr. Rush but had chosen to wait just a little while, in hopes of hearing from Mrs. Fraser.

He looked out the window of his rented house on Chestnut Street, watching brown and yellow leaves scour to and fro among the cobbles, driven by a random wind.

It was mid-September. The last ships would depart for England at the end of October, just ahead of the Atlantic gales. Ought he to try to get Henry on one of them?

He had made the acquaintance of the local American officer in charge of prisoners of war billeted in Philadelphia and made an application for parole. This had been granted without difficulty; captured officers were normally paroled, save there was something unusual or dangerous about them, and Henry plainly was unlikely to attempt escape, foment rebellion, or support insurrection in his present state.

But he had not yet managed to arrange to have Henry exchanged, which status would permit Grey to move him back to England. Always assuming that Henry’s health would stand the journey, and that Henry himself would be willing to go. Which it likely wouldn’t, and Henry wasn’t, he being so much attached to Mrs. Woodcock. Grey was quite willing to take her to England, too, but she wouldn’t consider leaving, as she had heard that her husband had been taken prisoner in New York.

Grey rubbed two fingers between his brows, sighing. Could he force Henry aboard a naval vessel against his will—drugged, perhaps?—thus breaking his parole, ruining his career, and endangering his life, on the supposition that Grey could find a surgeon in England more capable than Dr. Rush of dealing with the situation? The best that could be hoped from such a course of action was that Henry would survive the journey long enough to say goodbye to his parents.

But if he did not undertake this drastic step, he was left with the choice of forcing Henry to submit to a horrifying surgery that he feared desperately and which was very likely to kill him—or watching the boy die by inches. Because he was dying; Grey saw it plainly. Sheer stubbornness and Mrs. Woodcock’s nursing were all that was keeping him alive.

The thought of having to write to Hal and Minnie and tell them… No. He stood up abruptly, unable to bear more indecision. He would call upon Dr. Rush at once and make arrangements—

The front door slammed open, admitting a blast of wind, dead leaves, and his niece, pale-faced and round-eyed.

“Dottie!” His first, heart-stopping fear was that she had rushed home to tell him that Henry had died, for she had gone to visit her brother as she usually did every afternoon.

“Soldiers!” she gasped, clutching him by the arm. “There are soldiers in the street. Riders. Someone said Howe’s army is coming! Advancing on Philadelphia!”

HOWE MET Washington’s army at Brandywine Creek on September 11, some distance south of the city. Washington’s troops were driven back, but rallied to make a stand a few days later. A tremendous rainstorm arose in the midst of the battle, though, putting an end to hostilities and allowing Washington’s army to escape to Reading Furnace, leaving a small force behind under General Anthony Wayne at Paoli.

One of Howe’s commanders, Major General Lord Charles Grey—a distant cousin of Grey’s—attacked the Americans at Paoli at night, with orders to his troops to remove the flints from their muskets. This prevented discovery from the accidental discharge of a weapon, but also obliged the men to use bayonets. A number of Americans were bayoneted in their beds, their tents burned, a hundred or so made captive—and Howe marched into the city of Philadelphia, triumphant, on September 21.

Grey watched them, rank upon rank of redcoats, marching to drum music, from the porch of Mrs. Woodcock’s house. Dottie had feared that the rebels, forced to abandon the city, might fire the houses or kill their British prisoners outright.

“Nonsense,” Grey had said to this. “They are rebel Englishmen, not barbarians.” Nonetheless, he had put on his own uniform and his sword, tucked two pistols into his belt, and spent twenty-four hours sitting on the porch of Mrs. Woodcock’s house—with a lantern by night—coming down now and then to speak to any officer he knew who passed by, both to glean news of the situation and to ensure that the house remained unmolested.

The next day he returned to his own house, through streets of shuttered windows. Philadelphia was hostile, and so was the surrounding countryside. Still, the occupation of the city was peaceful—or as peaceful as a military occupation well can be. Congress had fled as Howe approached, and so had many of the more prominent rebels, including Dr. Benjamin Rush.

So had Percy Beauchamp.

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

Lallybroch

October 20, 1980

BRIANNA PRESSED THE letter to her nose and inhaled deeply. So long after, she was sure it was imagination rather than odor, but still she sensed the faint aromas of smoke in the pages. Maybe it was memory as much as imagination; she knew what the air was like in an ordinary, full of the scents of hearthfire, roasting meat, and tobacco, with a mellow smell of beer beneath it all.

She felt silly smelling the letters in front of Roger but had developed the habit of sniffing them privately, when she read them over by herself. They’d opened this one the night before and had read it several times together, discussing it—but she’d got it out again now, wanting just to hold it privately and be alone with her parents for a bit.

Maybe the scent was really there. She’d noticed that you don’t actually remember smells, not the same way you remember something you’ve seen. It’s just that when you smell that smell again, you know what it is—and often it brings back a lot of other memories with it. And she was sitting here on a fall day, surrounded by the ripeness of apples and heather, the dust of ancient wood paneling, and the hollow smell of wet stone—Annie MacDonald had just mopped the hall—but she was seeing the front room of an eighteenth-century ordinary, and smelling smoke.

November 1, 1777

New York

Dear Bree, et al—

Do you remember the high school field trip when your economics class went to Wall Street? I am at the moment sitting in an ordinary at the foot of Wall Street, and neither a bull nor a bear to be seen, let alone a ticker-tape machine. No wall, either. A few goats, though, and a small cluster of men under a big leafless buttonwood tree, smoking pipes and conferring head-to-head. I can’t tell whether they’re Loyalists complaining, rebels plotting in public (which is, by the way, very much safer than doing it in private, though I do hope you won’t need to make use of that bit of special knowledge), or simply merchants and traders—business is being done, I can tell that; hands shaken, bits of paper scribbled and exchanged. It’s amazing how business thrives in wartime; I think it’s because the normal rules—whatever they normally are—are suspended.

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