An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 16

   

While I have not yet lost the Faculties of Sight or Hearing, nor even Control of my Bowels, I am not a young Man. I have a Sword, and a Rifle, and can use them both—but I also have a printing Press, and can use that to much greater Effect; it does not escape me that one can wield Sword or Musket only upon one Enemy at a time, while Words may be employed upon any Number.

Your Mother—doubtless contemplating the Prospect of my being seasick for several Weeks in her immediate Vicinity—suggests that I might enter Business with Fergus, making use of L’Oignon’s Press, rather than travel to Scotland to retrieve my own.

I considered this, but I cannot in Conscience expose Fergus and his Family to Danger by making use of their Press for such Purposes as I intend. Theirs is one of only a few Presses in operation between Charleston and Norfolk; even were I to do my Printing with the utmost Secrecy, Suspicion would focus upon them in short order—New Bern is a Hotbed of Loyalist Sentiment, and the Origins of my pamphleteering would become known almost immediately.

Beyond Consideration for Fergus and his Family, I think there may be some Benefit in visiting Edinburgh in order to retrieve my own Press. I had a varied Acquaintance there; some may have escaped Prison or the Noose.

The second—and most important—Consideration that compels me to Scotland, though, is your Cousin Ian. Years ago, I swore to his Mother—upon the Memory of our own Mother—that I would bring him Home to her, and this I mean to do, though the Man I bring back to Lallybroch is not the Lad who left there. God alone knows what they will make of each other, Ian and Lallybroch—and God has a most peculiar Sense of Humor. But if he is to go back at all, it must be now.

The Snow is melting; Water drips from the Eaves all Day, and Icicles reach from the Roof of the Cabin nearly to the Ground by Morning. Within a few Weeks, the Roads will be clear enough for Travel. It seems strange to ask that you pray for the Safety of a Voyage which will have been long completed by the Time you learn of it—-for good or ill—but I ask it, nonetheless. Tell Roger Mac that I think God takes no account of Time. And kiss the Children for me.

Your most affectionate Father,

JF

Roger sat back a little, eyebrows raised, and glanced at her.

“The French Connection, you think?”

“The what?” She frowned over his shoulder, saw where his finger marked the text. “Where he’s talking about his friends in Edinburgh?”

“Aye. Were not a good many of his Edinburgh acquaintances smugglers?”

“That’s what Mama said.”

“Hence the remark about nooses. And where were they smuggling things from, mostly?”

Her stomach gave a small hop.

“Oh, you’re kidding. You think he’s planning to mess with French smugglers?”

“Well, not smugglers, necessarily; he apparently knew a good many seditionists, thieves, and prostitutes, too.” Roger smiled briefly, but then grew serious again.

“But I told him as much as I knew about the shape of the Revolution—admittedly, not a lot of detail, it not being my period—and I certainly told him how important France would be to the Americans. I’m just thinking”—he paused, a little awkwardly, then looked up at her—“he isn’t going to Scotland to avoid the fighting; he’s pretty clear about that.”

“So you think he might be looking for political connections?” she asked slowly. “Not just grabbing his printing press, dropping Ian off at Lallybroch, and beating it back to America?”

She found the idea something of a relief. The notion of her parents intriguing in Edinburgh and Paris was much less hair-raising than her visions of them in the midst of explosions and battlefields. And it would be both of them, she realized. Where her father went, her mother would be, too.

Roger shrugged.

“That offhand remark about being what God made him. Ye ken what he means by that?”

“A bloody man,” she said softly, and moved closer to Roger, putting a hand on his shoulder as though to ensure that he wouldn’t suddenly vanish. “He told me he was a bloody man. That he’d seldom chosen to fight, but knew he was born to do it.”

“Aye, that,” Roger said, just as softly. “But he’s no longer the young laird who took up his sword and led thirty crofters to a doomed battle—and took them home again. He knows a lot more now, about what one man can do. I think he means to do it.”

“I think so, too.” Her throat felt tight, but as much with pride as fear.

Roger reached up and put his hand over hers, squeezing.

“I remember …” he said slowly. “A thing your mother said, telling us about—about when she came back, and how she became a doctor. A thing your—Frank—that he said to her. Something about it being bloody inconvenient to the people round her, but a great blessing that she knew what it was she was meant to be. He was right about that, I think. And Jamie does know.”

She nodded. She probably shouldn’t say it, she thought. But she couldn’t hold the words back any longer.

“Do you know?”

He was silent for a long time, looking at the pages on the table, but at last shook his head, the motion so small that she felt rather than saw it.

“I used to,” he said quietly, and let go of her hand.

HER FIRST IMPULSE WAS to punch him in the back of the neck; her second was to seize him by the shoulders, bend down with her eyeballs an inch from his, and say—calmly, but distinctly—“What the hell do you mean by that?”

She refrained from doing either, only because both were likely to lead to a prolonged conversation of a sort deeply inappropriate for children, and both the kids were in the hall a few feet from the study door; she could hear them talking.

“See that?” Jemmy was saying.

“Un-huh.”

“Bad people came here, a long time ago, looking for Grandda. Bad English people. They did that.”

Roger’s head turned as he caught what Jemmy was saying, and he caught Brianna’s eye, with a half smile.

“Bad Engwish!” Mandy repeated obligingly. “Make ’em cwean it up!”

In spite of her annoyance, Brianna couldn’t help sharing Roger’s smile, though she felt a small shimmer in the pit of her stomach, recalling her uncle Ian—so calm, so kind a man—showing her the saber slashes in the wooden paneling of the hall and telling her, “We keep it so, to show the children—and tell them, this is what the English are.” There had been steel in his voice—and hearing a faint, absurdly childish echo of it in Jemmy’s voice, she had her first doubts regarding the wisdom of keeping this particular family tradition.

“Did you tell him about it?” she asked Roger, as the children’s voices moved away toward the kitchen. “I didn’t.”

“Annie’d told him part of it; I thought I’d best tell him the rest.” He raised his eyebrows. “Should I have told him to ask you?”

“Oh. No. No,” she repeated, dubiously. “But—should we be teaching him to hate English people?”

Roger smiled at that.

“ ‘Hate’ might be pitching it a bit strong. And he did say bad English people. They were bad English people who did that. Besides, if he’s going to grow up in the Highlands, he’ll likely hear a few barbed remarks regarding Sassenachs—he’ll balance those against his memories of your mother; your da always called her ‘Sassenach,’ after all.”

He glanced at the letter on the table, caught a glimpse of the wall clock, and rose abruptly.

“Christ, I’m late. I’ll stop at the bank whilst I’m in town—need anything from the Farm and Household?”

“Yes,” she said dryly, “a new pump for the milk separator.”

“Right,” he said, and kissing her hastily, went out, one arm already into his jacket.

She opened her mouth to call after him that she’d been joking, but on second thought closed it. The Farm and Household Stores just might have a pump for a milk separator. A large, bewilderingly crowded building on the edge of Inverness, the Farm and Household supplied just about anything a farm might need, including pitchforks, rubber fire buckets, baling wire, and washing machines, as well as crockery, jars for canning, and not a few mysterious implements whose use she could only guess at.

She stuck her head into the corridor, but the kids were in the kitchen with Annie MacDonald, the hired girl; laughter and the wire clong! of the ancient toaster—it had come with the house—floated past the ratty green baize door, along with the enticing scent of hot buttered toast. The smell and the laughter drew her like a magnet, and the warmth of home flowed over her, golden as honey.

She paused to fold up the letter, though, before going to join them, and the memory of Roger’s last remark tightened her mouth.

“I used to.”

Snorting ferociously, she tucked the letter back into the box and went out into the hall, only to be arrested by sight of a large envelope on the table near the door, where the daily mail—and the contents of Roger’s and Jemmy’s pockets—were daily unloaded. She grabbed the envelope out of the pile of circulars, pebbles, pencil stubs, links of bicycle chain, and … was that a dead mouse? It was; flattened and dried, but adorned with a stiff loop of pink tail. She picked it up gingerly and, with the envelope clasped against her breast, made her way toward tea and toast.

In all honesty, she thought, Roger wasn’t the only one keeping things to himself. The difference was, she planned to tell him what she was thinking—once it was settled.

SPRING THAW

Fraser’s Ridge, colony of North Carolina

March 1777

ONE THING ABOUT a devastating fire, I reflected. It did make packing easier. At present, I owned one gown, one shift, three petticoats—one woolen, two muslin—two pairs of stockings (I’d been wearing one pair when the house burned; the other had been carelessly left drying on a bush a few weeks before the fire and was discovered later, weathered but still wearable), a shawl, and a pair of shoes. Jamie had procured a horrible cloak for me somewhere—I didn’t know where, and didn’t want to ask. Made of thick wool the color of leprosy, it smelled as though someone had died in it and lain undiscovered for a couple of days. I’d boiled it with lye soap, but the ghost of its previous occupant lingered.

Still, I wouldn’t freeze.

My medical kit was nearly as simple to pack. With a regretful sigh for the ashes of my beautiful apothecary’s chest, with its elegant tools and numerous bottles, I turned over the pile of salvaged remnants from my surgery. The dented barrel of my microscope. Three singed ceramic jars, one missing its lid, one cracked. A large tin of goose grease mixed with camphor—now nearly empty after a winter of catarrhs and coughs. A handful of singed pages, ripped from the casebook started by Daniel Rawlings and continued by myself—though my spirits were lifted a bit by the discovery that the salvaged pages included one bearing Dr. Rawlings’s special receipt for Bowel-Bind.

It was the only one of his receipts I’d found effective, and while I’d long since committed the actual formula to memory, having it to hand kept my sense of him alive. I’d never met Daniel Rawlings in life, but he’d been my friend since the day Jamie gave me his chest and casebook. I folded the paper carefully and tucked it into my pocket.

Most of my herbs and compounded medications had perished in the flames, along with the earthenware jars, the glass vials, the large bowls in which I incubated penicillin broth, and my surgical saws. I still had one scalpel and the darkened blade of a small amputation saw; the handle had been charred, but Jamie could make me a new one.

The residents of the Ridge had been generous—as generous as people who had virtually nothing themselves could be at the tail end of winter. We had food for the journey, and many of the women had brought me bits of their household simples; I had small jars of lavender, rosemary, comfrey, and mustard seed, two precious steel needles, a small skein of silk thread to use for sutures and dental floss (though I didn’t mention that last use to the ladies, who would have been deeply affronted by the notion), and a very small stock of bandages and gauze for dressings.

One thing I had in abundance, though, was alcohol. The corncrib had been spared from the flames, and so had the still. Since there was more than enough grain for both animals and household, Jamie had thriftily transformed the rest into a very raw—but potent—liquor, which we would take along to trade for necessary goods along the way. One small cask had been kept for my especial use, though; I’d carefully painted the legend Sauerkraut on the side, to discourage theft on the road.

“And what if we should be set upon by illiterate banditti?” Jamie had asked, amused by this.

“Thought of that,” I informed him, displaying a small corked bottle full of cloudy liquid. “Eau de sauerkraut. I’ll pour it on the cask at first sight of anyone suspicious.”

“I suppose we’d best hope they’re not German bandits, then.”

“Have you ever met a German bandit?” I asked. With the exception of the occasional drunkard or wife-beater, almost all the Germans we knew were honest, hardworking, and virtuous to a fault. Not all that surprising, given that so many of them had come to the colony as part of a religious movement.

“Not as such,” he admitted. “But ye mind the Muellers, aye? And what they did to your friends. They wouldna have called themselves bandits, but the Tuscarora likely didna make the same distinction.”

That was no more than the truth, and a cold thumb pressed the base of my skull. The Muellers, German neighbors, had had a beloved daughter and her newborn child die of measles, and had blamed the nearby Indians for the infection. Deranged by grief, old Herr Mueller had led a party of his sons and sons-in-law to take revenge—and scalps. My viscera still remembered the shock of seeing my friend Nayawenne’s white-streaked hair spill out of a bundle into my lap.

Loading...