An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 158

   

But maybe Mr. Cameron would come back when it got morning, too. Jem moved a little away from the door, thinking that. He didn’t think Mr. Cameron wanted to hurt him, exactly—he said he didn’t, at least—but he might try to take him back up to the rocks and Jem wasn’t going there, not for anything.

Thinking about the rocks hurt. Not as much as when Mr. Cameron pushed him against one and it … started, but it hurt. There was a scrape on his elbow where he banged it, fighting back, and he rubbed at it now, because it was lots better to feel that than to think about the rocks. No, he told himself, Mr. Cameron wouldn’t hurt him, because he’d pulled him back out of the rock when it tried to … He swallowed hard, and tried to think about something else.

He sort of thought he knew where he was, only because he remembered Mam telling Da about the joke Mr. Cameron played on her, locking her in the tunnel, and she said the wheels that locked the doors sounded like bones being chewed, and that’s just what it sounded like when Mr. Cameron shoved him in here and shut the doors.

He was kind of shaking. It was cold in here, even with his jacket on. Not as cold as when he and Grandda got up before dawn and waited in the snow for the deer to come down and drink, but still pretty cold.

The air felt weird. He sniffed, trying to smell what was going on, like Grandda and Uncle Ian could. He could smell rock—but it was just plain old rock, not … them. Metal, too, and an oily sort of smell, kind of like a gas station. A hot kind of smell he thought was electricity. There was something in the air that wasn’t a smell at all, but a kind of hum. That was power, he recognized that. Not quite the same as the big chamber Mam had showed him and Jimmy Glasscock, where the turbines lived, but sort of the same. Machines, then. He felt a little better. Machines felt friendly to him.

Thinking about machines reminded him that Mam said there was a train in here, a little train, and that made him feel lots better. If there was a train in here, it wasn’t all just empty dark space. That hum maybe belonged to the train.

He put out his hands and shuffled along until he bumped into a wall. Then he felt around and walked along with one hand on the wall, found out he was going the wrong way when he walked face first into the doors and said, “Ow!”

His own voice made him laugh, but the laughter sounded funny in the big space and he quit and turned around to walk the other way, with his other hand on the wall to steer by.

Where was Mr. Cameron now? He hadn’t said where he was going. Just told Jem to wait and he’d come back with some food.

His hand touched something round and smooth, and he jerked it back. It didn’t move, though, and he put his hand on it. Power cables, running along the wall. Big ones. He could feel a little hum in them, same as he could when Da turned on the car’s motor. It made him think of Mandy. She had that kind of quiet hum when she was sleeping, and a louder one when she was awake.

He wondered suddenly whether Mr. Cameron might have gone to take Mandy, and the thought made him feel scared. Mr. Cameron wanted to know how you got through the stones, and Jem couldn’t tell him—but Mandy for sure couldn’t be telling him, she was only a baby. The thought made him feel hollow, though, and he reached out, panicked.

There she was, though. Something like a little warm light in his head, and he took a breath. Mandy was OK, then. He was interested to find he could tell that with her far away. He’d never thought to try before, usually she was just right there, being a pain in the arse, and when him and his friends went off without her, he wasn’t thinking about her.

His foot struck something and he stopped, reaching out with one hand. He didn’t find anything and after a minute got up his nerve to let go of the wall and reach out further, then to edge out into the dark. His heart thumped and he started to sweat, even though he was still cold. His fingers stubbed metal and his heart leaped in his chest. The train!

He found the opening, and felt his way in on his hands and knees, and cracked his head on the thing where the controls were, standing up. That made him see colored stars and he said “Ifrinn!” out loud. It sounded funny, not so echoey now he was inside the train, and he giggled.

He felt around over the controls. They were like Mam said, just a switch and a little lever, and he pushed the switch. A red light popped into life, and made him jump. It made him feel lots better, though, just to see it. He could feel the electricity coming through the train, and that made him feel better, too. He pushed the lever, just a little, and was thrilled to feel the train move.

Where did it go? He pushed the lever a little more, and air moved past his face. He sniffed at it, but it didn’t tell him anything. He was going away from the big doors, though—away from Mr. Cameron.

Maybe Mr. Cameron would go and try to find out about the stones from Mam or Da? Jem hoped he would. Da would settle Mr. Cameron’s hash, he kent that for sure, and the thought warmed him. Then they’d come and find him and it would be OK. He wondered if Mandy could tell them where he was. She kent him the same way he kent her, and he looked at the little red light on the train. It glowed like Mandy, steady and warm-looking, and he felt good looking at it. He pushed the lever a little farther, and the train went faster into the dark.

NEXUS

RACHEL POKED SUSPICIOUSLY at the end of a loaf. The bread-seller, catching sight, turned on her with a growl.

“Here, don’t you be touching that! You want it, it’s a penny. You don’t, go away.”

“How old is this bread?” Rachel said, ignoring the young woman’s glower. “It smells stale, and if it is as stale as it looks, I would not give thee more than half a penny for a loaf.”

“It’s no more than a day old!” The young woman pulled back the tray of loaves, indignant. “There’ll be no fresh bread ’til Wednesday; my master can’t get flour ’til then. Now, d’you want bread or not?”

“Hmm,” said Rachel, feigning skepticism. Denny would have fits if he thought she was trying to cheat the woman, but there was a difference between paying a fair price and being robbed, and it was no more fair to allow the woman to cheat her than it was the other way about.

Were those crumbs on the tray? And were those tooth marks in the end of that loaf? She bent close, frowning, and Rollo whined suddenly.

“Does thee think the mice have been at these, dog?” she said to him. “So do I.”

Rollo wasn’t interested in mice, though. Ignoring both Rachel’s question and the bread-seller’s indignant reply, he was sniffing the ground with great industry, making an odd, high-pitched noise in his throat.

“Whatever ails thee, dog?” Rachel said, staring at this performance in consternation. She put a hand on his ruff and was startled at the vibration running through the great hairy frame.

Rollo ignored her touch as well as her voice. He was moving—almost running—in small circles, whining, nose to the ground.

“That dog’s not gone mad, has he?” the baker’s assistant asked, watching this.

“Of course not,” Rachel said absently. “Rollo … Rollo!”

The dog had suddenly shot out of the shop, nose to the ground, and was heading down the street, half-trotting in his eagerness.

Muttering under her breath, Rachel seized her marketing basket and went after him.

To her alarm, he was already at the next street and vanished round the corner as she watched. She ran, calling after him, the basket bumping against her leg as she went and threatening to spill out the goods she’d already bought.

What was the matter with him? He’d never acted thus before. She ran faster, trying to keep him in sight.

“Wicked dog,” she panted. “Serve thee right if I let thee go!” And yet she ran after him, calling. It was one thing for Rollo to leave the inn on his own hunting expeditions—he always returned. But she was well away from the inn and feared his being lost.

“Though if thy sense of smell is so acute as it seems, doubtless you could follow me back!” she panted, and then stopped dead, struck by a thought.

He was following a scent, so much was clear. But what kind of scent would make the dog do that? Surely no cat, no squirrel…

“Ian,” she whispered to herself. “Ian.”

She picked up her skirts and ran flat out in pursuit of the dog, heart hammering in her ears, even as she tried to restrain the wild hope she felt. The dog was still in sight, nose to the ground and tail held low, intent on his trail. He went into a narrow alley and she followed without hesitation, hopping and lurching in an effort to avoid stepping on the various squashy, nasty things in her path.

Any of these would normally have fascinated any dog, including Rollo—and yet he ignored them all, following his trail.

Seeing this, she realized suddenly what “dogged” really meant, and smiled to herself at the thought.

Could it be Ian? It was surely folly to think so; her hope would be dashed, and yet she could not conquer the conviction that had sprung up in her breast with the possibility. Rollo’s tail flicked round the corner, and she dashed after, breathless.

If it was Ian, what could he be doing? The trail was leading them toward the edge of the town—not along the main road but quite out of the settled, prosperous part of the city, into an area of ramshackle houses and the informal camps of the British camp followers. A flock of chickens squawked and scattered at Rollo’s approach, but he didn’t pause. Now he was circling back, coming round the far side of a shed and out into a narrow street of packed dirt, curling like a tongue between rows of close-packed, ill-built houses.

She had a pain in her side and sweat was pouring down her face, but she, too, knew the meaning of “dogged” and kept on. The dog was drawing away from her, though; she would lose sight of him at any moment—her right shoe had rubbed the skin from her heel, and she felt as though her shoe was filling with blood, though likely this was imagination. She’d seen men with shoes filled with blood…

Rollo vanished at the end of the street, and she dashed madly after him, her stockings falling down and her petticoat drooping so she stepped on the hem and tore it. If she did find Ian, she’d have a thing to say to him, she thought. If she could speak by then.

There was no sign of the dog at the end of the street. She looked round wildly. She was at the back of a tavern; she could smell the hops from the brew tubs, and the stink of the midden, and voices came from the street on the other side of the building. Soldiers’ voices—there was no mistaking the way soldiers talked, even if she couldn’t make out the words—and she halted, heart in her throat.

But they hadn’t caught someone; it was only the usual way men talked, casual, getting ready to do something. She caught the clink and jingle of equipment, the sound of boots on the pavement—

A hand seized her arm, and she swallowed the shriek before it could tear out of her throat, terrified of giving Ian away. But it wasn’t Ian who had grabbed her. Hard fingers dug into her upper arm, and a tall, white-haired old man looked down at her with burning eyes.

IAN WAS FAMISHED. He had not eaten in more than twenty-four hours, unwilling to take time either to hunt or to find a farmhouse that might give him food. He had covered the twenty miles from Valley Forge in a daze, hardly noticing the distance.

Rachel was here. By some miracle, here, in Philadelphia. It had taken him some time to overcome the suspicion of Washington’s soldiers, but at last a rather stout German officer with a big nose and a peering, friendly way had come along and expressed curiosity regarding Ian’s bow. A brief demonstration of archery and a conversation in French—for the German officer had only the most rudimentary English—and he was at last able to inquire as to the whereabouts of a surgeon named Hunter.

This at first produced only blank looks, but von Steuben had taken a liking to Ian and sent someone to ask while he found a little bread. At long last, the someone had come back and said that there was a surgeon named Hunter, who was usually in camp, but who went now and then to Philadelphia to tend a private patient. Hunter’s sister? The someone had shrugged.

But Ian knew the Hunters: where Denzell was, Rachel was. Granted, no one knew where in Philadelphia Dr. Hunter’s private patient might be—there was some reserve about it, some hostility that Ian didn’t understand but was much too impatient to unravel—but they were at least in Philadelphia.

And now so was Ian. He’d crept into the city just before dawn, threading his way silently through the camps that ringed the city, past the sleeping, blanket-wrapped forms and smothered, reeking campfires.

There was food in the city, food in abundance, and he paused for a moment of anticipatory bliss on the edge of the market square, deciding between fish fried in batter or a Cornish pasty. He had just stepped forward, money in hand, to the pasty-seller’s stall, when he saw the woman look over his shoulder and her face change to a look of horror.

He whirled round and was knocked flat. There were screams and shouts, but these were lost in the mad slobber of Rollo’s tongue licking every inch of his face, including the inside of his nose.

He whooped at that and half-sat up, fending off the ecstatic dog.

“A cú!” he said, and hugged the huge, wriggling creature in delight. He seized the dog’s ruff in both hands then, laughing at the lolling tongue.

“Aye, I’m glad to see ye, too,” he told Rollo. “But what have ye done wi’ Rachel?”

FERGUS’S MISSING HAND itched. It hadn’t done that for some time, and he wished it didn’t now. He was wearing a bran-stuffed glove pinned to his sleeve rather than his useful hook—he was much too memorable with that—and it was impossible to rub his stump for relief.

Seeking distraction, he came out of the barn where he’d been sleeping and slouched casually toward a nearby campfire. Mrs. Hempstead nodded at him and picked up a tin mug, into which she ladled thin porridge and passed it over. Aye, well, he thought, there was some advantage to the glove, after all—he couldn’t grasp the mug with it but could use it to cradle the hot cup against his chest without burning himself. And, he was pleased to discover, the heat killed the itch.

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