An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 152

   

Rachel gave a little gasp at that, making William look sideways at her in surprise.

“What?” he said. “Do you know where Murray is?”

“No,” she said sharply. “I have not seen him since the autumn, at Saratoga, and I have no notion where he is. Does thee know this man’s name?” she added, frowning. The man had disappeared now, walking off down a side street. “For that matter, is thee sure he is the same?”

“No,” William admitted. “But I think so. He had a staff with him, and so did this man. And there’s something about the way he stands—a little stooped. The man I met in New Jersey was very old, and this one walks the same way.” He didn’t mention the missing fingers; no need to remind Dottie of violence and mutilation just this minute, and he couldn’t see the man’s hand at this distance anyway.

Rollo had left off growling and settled himself with a brief grunt, but his yellow eyes were still watchful.

“When do you mean to be married, Dottie?” William asked, wishing to keep her mind occupied. A strange smell was coming from the window above them; the dog was wrinkling his nose, shaking his head in a confused sort of way, and William didn’t blame him. It was a nasty, sickly kind of thing—but he could distinctly smell blood, as well, and the faint stink of shit. It was a battlefield smell, and it made his insides shift uneasily.

“I want to be married before the fighting starts again in earnest,” his cousin answered seriously, turning to face him, “so that I can go with Denny—and Rachel,” she added, taking her prospective sister-in-law’s hand with a smile.

Rachel returned the smile, but briefly.

“What a strange thing,” she said to both of them, but her hazel eyes were fixed on William, soft and troubled. “In only a little while we shall be enemies again.”

“I have never felt myself your enemy, Miss Hunter,” he replied, just as softly. “And I shall always be your friend.”

A smile touched her lips, but the trouble stayed in her eyes.

“Thee knows what I mean.” Her eyes slid from William to Dottie, on her other side, and it occurred to William with a jolt that his cousin was about to wed a rebel—to become one herself, in fact. That he must in fact soon be directly at war with a part of his own family. The fact that Denny Hunter would not take up arms would not protect him—or Dottie. Or Rachel. All three of them were guilty of treason. Any of them might be killed, captured, imprisoned. What would he do, he thought suddenly, appalled, if he had to see Denny hanged one day? Or even Dottie?

“I know what you mean,” he said quietly. But he took Rachel’s hand, and she gave it him, and the three of them sat in silence, linked, awaiting the verdict of the future.

INK-STAINED WRETCH

I MADE MY WAY TO the printshop, dead tired and in that state of mind in which one feels drunk—euphoric and uncoordinated. I was in truth somewhat physically drunk, too; Lord John had insisted upon plying both Denzell Hunter and myself with his best brandy, seeing how done up we both were in the wake of the surgery. I hadn’t said no.

It was one of the most hair-raising pieces of surgery I’d done in the eighteenth century. I’d done only two other abdominal surgeries: the successful removal of Aidan McCallum’s appendix, under the influence of ether—and the very unsuccessful cesarean I’d performed with a garden knife upon the murdered body of Malva Christie. The thought of that gave me the usual pang of sadness and regret, but it was oddly tempered. What I remembered now, walking home in the cool evening, was the feeling of the life I’d held in my hands—so brief, so fleeting—but there, unmistakable and intoxicant, a brief blue flame.

I’d held Henry Grey’s life in my hands two hours before and felt that blaze again. Once more I’d willed all my strength into the burning of that flame—but this time had felt it steady and rise in my palms, like a candle taking hold.

The bullet had entered his intestine but had not encysted. Instead, it remained embedded but mobile, not able to leave the body but moving enough to irritate the lining of the intestine, which was badly ulcerated. After a quick discussion with Denzell Hunter—who was so fascinated with the novelty of examining a person’s working insides while they lay unconscious that he could barely keep his mind on the business at hand, exclaiming in awe at the vivid colors and pulsating throb of live organs—I had decided that the ulceration was too extensive. To excise it would narrow the small intestine dramatically and risk scarring—constricting it further and perhaps obstructing it altogether.

We’d done a modest resection instead, and I felt a twinge of something between laughter and dismay at the recollection of Lord John’s face when I severed the ulcerated segment of intestine and dropped it with a splat on the floor at his feet. I hadn’t done it on purpose; I’d simply needed both my hands and Denzell’s to control the bleeding, and we’d lacked a nurse to help.

The boy wasn’t out of the woods, not by a long chalk. I didn’t know whether my penicillin would be effective, or whether he might develop some hideous infection despite it. But he was awake, and his vital signs were surprisingly strong—perhaps, I thought, because of Mrs. Woodcock, who had gripped his hand and stroked his face, urging him to wake with a fierce tenderness that left her feelings for him in no doubt whatever.

I did wonder briefly what the future held for her. Struck by her unusual name, I’d inquired cautiously about her husband and was sure that it was he whose amputated leg I’d tended on the retreat from Ticonderoga. I thought it very likely he was dead; if so, what might happen between Mercy Woodcock and Henry Grey? She was a free woman, not a slave. Marriage wasn’t unthinkable—not even as unthinkable as such a relationship would be in the United States two hundred years in the future: marriages involving black and mulatto women of good family to white men were, if not common in the Indies, not a matter of public scandal, either. Philadelphia was not the Indies, though, and from what Dottie had told me of her father…

I was simply too tired to think about it, and I needn’t—Denny Hunter had volunteered to stay with Henry through the night. I dismissed that particular pair from my mind as I wandered down the street, weaving slightly. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, and it was nearly dark; the brandy had sunk directly through the walls of my empty stomach and entered my bloodstream, and I hummed gently to myself as I walked. It was the twilight hour, when things float on the air, when curved cobblestones seem insubstantial and the leaves of trees hang heavy as emeralds, glowing with a green whose fragrance enters the blood.

I should walk faster; there was a curfew. Still, who would arrest me? I was too old for patrolling soldiers to molest me, as they would a young girl, and of the wrong sex to be suspicious. Should I meet a patrol, they wouldn’t do more than abuse me and tell me to go home—which I was doing, in any case.

It struck me quite suddenly that I could move the things Marsali described circumspectly as “Mr. Smith’s job”: the written letters circulated by the Sons of Liberty that passed between villages, between towns, that whirled through the colonies like leaves driven by a spring storm, were copied and sent on, sometimes printed and distributed within the towns, if a bold printer could be found to do the work.

There was a loose network through which these things moved, but it was always prone to discovery, with people arrested and imprisoned frequently. Germain carried such papers often, and my heart was in my throat when I thought of it. An agile boy was less noticeable than a young man or a tradesman going about his business—but the British were not fools and would certainly stop him if he looked at all suspicious. Whereas I…

Turning the possibilities over in my mind, I reached the shop and went in, to the smell of a savory supper, the greetings of excited children, and something that drove all thought of my potential new career as a spy from my mind: two letters from Jamie.

20 March, A.D. 1778

Lallybroch

My dearest Claire;

Ian is dead. It has been ten days since the Event, and I thought I should now be able to write calmly. Yet to see those Words written on the Page just now smote me with the most unexpected Grief; Tears are running down the sides of my Nose, and I was forced to stop to mop my Face with a Handkerchief before continuing. It was not an easy Death and I should be relieved that Ian is now at Peace, and glad for his Translation into Heaven. So I am. But I am also desolate, in a Way that I have never been before. Only the Thought of being able to confide in you, my Soul, gives me Comfort.

Young Jamie has the Estate, as he should; Ian’s Will has been read out, and Mr. Gowan will see it executed. There is not much beyond the Land and Buildings; only the smallest Bequests to the other Children, these largely of personal Items. My Sister he has confided to my Care (he having inquired before his Death whether I was willing. I told him he knew better than to ask. He said he did, but thought to inquire whether I felt myself also equal to the Task, and laughed like a Loon. Dear God, I shall miss him).

There were some trifling Debts to be paid; I have discharged them, as we agreed I should.

Jenny worries me. I know she grieves Ian with all her Heart, but she does not weep much, but only sits for long Periods, looking at Something that only she sees. There is a Calmness about her that is almost eerie, as though her Soul has flown with Ian, leaving only the Shell of her Body behind. Though since I mention Shells, it occurs to me that perhaps she is like a Chambered Nautilus, like the one that Lawrence Sterne showed us in the Indies. A large, beautiful Shell, made of many Chambers, but all empty, save the innermost one, in which the small Animal hides itself in safety.

Since I speak of her, though—she bids me tell you of her Remorse regarding Things said to you. I told her we had spoken of it between us, and that your Compassion would not hold it against her, realizing the desperate Circumstances in which she spoke.

On the Morning of Ian’s Death, she spoke to me with apparent Rationality, and said she thought she would leave Lallybroch, that with his Death, nothing holds her here. I was, as you may suppose, much astonished to hear this, but did not try to question or dissuade her, assuming this to be only the Counsel of a Mind deranged by Sleeplessness and Grief.

She has since repeated this Sentiment to me, though, with firm Assurance that she is indeed in her right Mind. I am going to France for a short Time—both to accomplish some private Transactions that I will not write of here, and to assure myself before departing for America that both Michael and Joan are settled, they having left together, the Day following Ian’s Burial. I said to Jenny that she must think carefully whilst I am absent—but that if she is in Fact convinced that this is what she wants, I will bring her to America. Not to stay with us (I smile, imagining your Face, which is transparent, even in my Mind).

She would have a Place, though, with Fergus and Marsali, where she would be of Use, and yet would not be reminded daily of her Loss—and where she would be in a Position to help and support Young Ian, should he require such Help (or at least to know how he does, if he does not).

(It also occurs to me—as it surely has to her—that Young Jamie’s Wife will now be the Lady of Lallybroch, and that there is not Room for Two such. She is wise enough to know what the Difficulties of such a Situation would be, and kind enough to wish to avoid them, for the Sake of her Son and his Wife.)

In any Case, I propose to depart for America by the End of this Month, or as near to that as Passage may be obtained. The Prospect of being Reunited with you lightens my Heart and I remain forever

Your Devoted Husband,

Jamie

Paris

1 April

My dearest Wife;

I am returned very late to my new Lodging in Paris tonight. In fact, I found the Door bolted against me on my Return, and was obliged to shout for the Landlady, who was somewhat ill-tempered at being roused from her Bed. I was the more ill-tempered in my Turn, at finding no Fire laid, no Supper kept, and Nothing upon the Bedframe save a moldy Tick and threadbare Blanket which would not serve to shelter the meanest Beggar.

Further Shouts earned me Nothing save Abuse (from behind a safely lock’d Door), and my Pride would not suffer me to offer Bribes even would my Purse do so. I remain thus in my barren Garret, frozen and starving (this pitiful Picture is here drawn for the craven Purpose of soliciting your Sympathy, and to convince you of how poorly I Fare without you).

I am determined to depart this Place as soon as it be Light, and seek whether better Lodging can be found without excessive Damage to my Purse. Meanwhile, I shall endeavor to forget both Cold and Hunger in pleasant Converse with you, hoping that the Effort of writing will summon your Image before me and lend me the Illusion of your Company.

(I have possessed myself of adequate Light by stealing Downstairs in my Stockings and snatching two silver Candlesticks from the front Parlor, whose deceitful Grandeur seduced me into assuming Residence here. I shall return the Candlesticks tomorrow—when Madame returns the extortionate Fee for this miserable Accommodation.)

To more pleasant Subjects: I have seen Joan, now secure in her Convent, and apparently content (why, no, since you ask; I did not attend the Wedding of her Mother to Joseph Murray—who is, it turns out, a second Cousin to Ian. I sent a handsome Present and my good Wishes, which are sincere). I will visit Michael tomorrow; I look forward to seeing Jared again and will give him your kindest Regards.

In the Meantime, I sought Sustenance this Morning in a Coffeehouse in Montmartre, and was there fortunate to encounter Mr. Lyle, whom I had met in Edinburgh. He greeted me most kindly, inquired after my Fortunes, and after some small Conversation of a personal Nature, invited me to attend the Meeting of a certain Society, whose Members include Voltaire, Diderot, and others whose Opinions are heard in the Circles I seek to influence.

I went thus by Appointment at two o’clock to a House, where I was admitted and found all within most grandly appointed, it being the Paris Residence of Monsieur Beaumarchais.

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