An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 37

   

These peculiar gyrations continued for a few seconds longer and then came to an end, Beauchamp now standing still, but waving his arms in expostulation, while Germain seemed to be groveling in front of the man. The boy stood up, though, tucking something into his shirt, and after a few moments’ conversation, Beauchamp laughed and put out his hand. They exchanged a brief bow and handshake, and Germain came down the street toward the Whinbush while Beauchamp continued on his course.

Germain came in and, spotting them, slid onto the bench beside his father, looking pleased with himself.

“I’ve met that man,” he said without preamble. “The man who wants Papa.”

“Aye, we saw,” Jamie said, brows raised. “What the devil were ye doing with him?”

“Well, I saw him coming, but I did not think he would stop and talk to me if I only shouted at him. So I tossed Simon and Peter into his path.”

“Who—” Jamie began, but Germain was already groping within the depths of his shirt. Before Jamie could finish the sentence, the boy had produced two sizable frogs, one green and one a sort of vile yellow color, who huddled together on the bare boards of the table, goggling in a nervous manner.

Fergus cuffed Germain round the ear.

“Take those accursed creatures off the table, before we are thrown out of here. No wonder you are covered in warts, consorting with les grenouilles!”

“Grandmère told me to,” Germain protested, nonetheless scooping up his pets and returning them to captivity.

“She did?” Jamie was not usually startled anymore by his wife’s cures, but this seemed odd, even by her standards.

“Well, she said there was nothing to do for the wart on my elbow except rub it with a dead frog and bury it—the frog, I mean—at a crossroads at midnight.”

“Oh. I think she might possibly have been being facetious. What did the Frenchman say to ye, then?”

Germain looked up, wide-eyed and interested.

“Oh, he’s not a Frenchman, Grandpère.”

A brief pulse of astonishment went through him.

“He’s not? Ye’re sure?”

“Oh, aye. He cursed most blasphemous when Simon landed on his shoe—but not the way Papa does.” Germain aimed a bland look at his father, who looked disposed to cuff him again, but desisted at Jamie’s gesture. “He is an Englishman. I’m sure.”

“He cursed in English?” Jamie asked. It was true; Frenchmen often invoked vegetables when cursing, not infrequently mingled with sacred references. English cursing generally had nothing to do with saints, sacraments, or cucumbers, but dealt with God, whores, or excrement.

“He did. But I cannot say what he said, or Papa will be offended. He has very pure ears, Papa,” Germain added, with a smirk at his father.

“Leave off deviling your father and tell me what else the man said.”

“Aye, well,” Germain said obligingly. “When he saw it was no but a pair o’ wee froggies, he laughed and asked me was I taking them home for my dinner. I said no, they were my pets, and asked him was it his ship out there, because everyone said so and it was a bonny thing, no? I was making out to be simple, aye?” he explained, in case his grandfather might not have grasped the stratagem.

Jamie suppressed a smile.

“Verra clever,” he said dryly. “What else?”

“He said no, the ship is not his but belongs to a great nobleman in France. And I of course said, oh, who was that? And he said it is the Baron Amandine.”

Jamie exchanged looks with Fergus, who looked surprised and raised one shoulder in a shrug.

“I asked then how long he might remain, for I should like to bring my brother down to see the ship. And he says he will sail tomorrow on the evening tide, and asked me—but he was joking, I could tell—if I wished to come and be a cabin boy on the voyage. I told him no, my frogs suffer from seasickness—like my grandfather.” He turned the smirk on Jamie, who eyed him severely.

“Has your father taught ye ‘Ne petez pas plus haute que votre cul’?”

“Mama will wash your mouth out with soap if you say things like that,” Germain informed him virtuously. “Do you want me to pick his pocket? I saw him go into the inn on Cherry Street. I could—”

“You could not,” Fergus said hastily. “And do not say such things where people can hear. Your mother will assassinate both of us.”

Jamie felt a cold prickle at the back of his neck, and glanced hastily round to make sure that no one had heard.

“Ye’ve been teaching him to—”

Fergus looked mildly shifty.

“I thought it a pity that the skills should be lost. It is a family legacy, you might say. I do not let him steal things, of course. We put them back.”

“We’ll have a word in private later, I think,” Jamie said, giving the pair of them a look full of menace. Christ, if Germain had been caught at it … He’d best put the fear of God into the two of them before they both ended up pilloried, if not hanged from a tree outright for theft.

“What about the man you were actually sent to find?” Fergus asked his son, seizing the chance of deflecting Jamie’s ire.

“I found him,” Germain said, and nodded toward the door. “There he is.”

DELANCEY HALL WAS a small, neat man, with the quiet, nose-twitching manner of a church mouse. Anything less like a smuggler to look at could scarcely have been imagined—which, Jamie thought, was likely a valuable attribute in that line of business.

“A shipper of dry goods” was the way Hall discreetly described his business. “I facilitate the finding of ships for specific cargoes. Which is no easy matter these days, gentlemen, as you may well suppose.”

“I do indeed.” Jamie smiled at the man. “I have nay cargo to ship, but I am in hopes that ye might know of a situation that would suit. Myself, my wife, and my nephew seek passage to Edinburgh.” His hand was under the table, in his sporran. He had taken some of the gold spheres and flattened them with a hammer, into irregular disks. He took three of these and, moving only slightly, placed them on Hall’s lap.

The man didn’t change expression in the slightest, but Jamie felt the hand dart out and seize the disks, weigh them for an instant, and then vanish into his pocket.

“I think that might be possible,” he said blandly. “I know a captain departing from Wilmington in about two weeks’ time, who might be induced to carry passengers—for a consideration.”

Sometime later, they walked back toward the printshop, Jamie and Fergus together, discussing the probabilities of Hall’s being able to produce a ship. Germain wandered dreamily in front of them, zigzagging to and fro in response to whatever was going on inside his remarkably fertile brain.

Jamie’s own brain was more than occupied. Baron Amandine. He knew the name, but had no face to go with it, nor did he recall the context in which he knew it. Only that he had encountered it at some point, in Paris. But when? When he had attended the université there … or later, when he and Claire—yes. That was it; he’d heard the name at court. But no matter how he cudgeled his brain, it would give up no further information.

“D’ye want me to speak to this Beauchamp?” Jamie asked abruptly. “I could perhaps find out what he means toward you.”

Fergus’s mouth drew in a bit, then relaxed as he shook his head.

“No,” he said. “I said I had heard this man had made inquiries concerning me in Edenton?”

“Ye’re sure it is you?” Not that the ground in North Carolina crawled with Claudels, but still …

“I think so, yes.” Fergus spoke very softly, with an eye on Germain, who had started emitting soft croaks, evidently conversing with the frogs in his shirt. “The person who told me of this said that man had not only a name, but a small information, of sorts. That the Claudel Fraser he sought had been taken from Paris by a tall red-haired Scotsman. Named James Fraser. So I think you cannot speak to him, no.”

“Not without exciting his attention, no,” Jamie agreed. “But … we dinna ken what his purpose is, but it may be something of great advantage to ye, aye? How likely is it that someone in France would go to the trouble and expense of sending someone like him to do ye harm, when they could be content just to leave ye be in America?” He hesitated. “Perhaps … the Baron Amandine is some relation to ye?”

The notion seemed the stuff of romances, and likely the sheerest moonshine. But at the same time, Jamie was at a loss to think of some sensible reason for a French nobleman to be hunting a brothel-born bastard across two continents.

Fergus nodded, but didn’t reply at once. He was wearing his hook today, rather than the bran-stuffed glove he wore for formal occasions, and delicately scratched his nose with the tip before answering.

“For a long time,” he said at last, “when I was small, I pretended to myself that I was the bastard of some great man. All orphans do this, I think,” he added dispassionately. “It makes life easier to bear, to pretend that it will not always be as it is, that someone will come and restore you to your rightful place in the world.”

He shrugged.

“Then I grew older, and knew this was not true. No one would come to rescue me. But then—” He turned his head and gave Jamie a smile of surpassing sweetness.

“Then I grew older still, and discovered that, after all, it was true. I am the son of a great man.”

The hook touched Jamie’s hand, hard and capable.

“I wish for nothing more.”

AE FOND KISS

Wilmington, colony of North Carolina

April 18, 1777

THE HEADQUARTERS of the Wilmington Gazette were easy to find. The embers had cooled, but the all-too-familiar reek of burning was still thick in the air. A roughly dressed gentleman in a slouch hat was poking through the charred timbers in a dubious way, but left off at Jamie’s hailing him and made his way out of the wreckage, lifting his feet high in ginger avoidance.

“Are ye the proprietor of the newspaper, sir?” Jamie asked, extending a hand to help him over a pile of half-burnt books that sprawled over the threshold. “My sympathies, if so.”

“Oh, no,” the man replied, wiping smudges of soot from his fingers onto a large, filthy handkerchief, which he then passed to Jamie. “Amos Crupp, he’d be the printer. He’s gone, though—lit out when they burnt the shop. I’m Herbert Longfield; I own the land. Did own the shop,” he added, with a rueful glance behind him. “You wouldn’t be a salvor, would you? Got a nice lump of iron, there.”

Fergus and Marsali’s printing press was now evidently the sole press in operation between Charleston and Newport. The Gazette’s press stood twisted and blackened amid the wreckage: still recognizable, but beyond salvage as anything save scrap.

“How long ago did it happen?” I asked.

“Night before last. Just after midnight. It was well a-gone before the bucket brigade could get started.”

“An accident with the furnace?” Jamie asked. He bent and picked up one of the scattered pamphlets.

Longfield laughed cynically.

“Not from around here, are you? You said you were looking for Amos?” He glanced warily from Jamie to me and back again. He wasn’t likely to confide anything to strangers of unknown political affiliations.

“James Fraser,” Jamie said, reaching out to shake his hand firmly. “My wife, Claire. Who was it? The Sons of Liberty?”

Longfield’s eyebrows arched high.

“You really aren’t from around here.” He smiled, but not happily. “Amos was with the Sons. Not quite one of ’em, maybe, but of their mind. I told him to walk a narrow road with what he wrote and what he printed in the paper, and he mostly tried. But these days, it doesn’t take much. A whisper of treason, and a man’s beaten half to death in the street, tarred and feathered, burnt out—killed, even.”

He eyed Jamie consideringly.

“So you didn’t know Amos. May I ask what your business with him was?”

“I had a question regarding a bit of news that was published in the Gazette. Ye say Crupp’s gone. D’ye ken where I might find him? I mean him nay ill,” he added.

Mr. Longfield glanced thoughtfully at me, apparently gauging the prospects that a man bound on political violence would bring his wife along. I smiled, trying to look as respectably charming as possible, and he smiled uncertainly back. He had a long upper lip that gave him the aspect of a rather worried camel, this being substantially enhanced by his eccentric dentition.

“No, I don’t,” he said, turning back to Jamie with the air of a man making up his mind. “He did have a business partner, though, and a devil. Might be that one of them would know what you’re looking for?”

Now it was Jamie’s turn to size up Longfield. He made his own mind up in an instant, and handed the pamphlet to me.

“It might be. A small item of news regarding a house fire in the mountains was published last year. I wish to discover who might have given that item to the newspaper.”

Longfield frowned, puzzled, and scratched at his long upper lip, leaving a smudge of soot.

“I don’t recall that, myself. But then—well, I tell you what, sir. I was bound to see George Humphries—that’s Amos’s business partner—after looking over the premises …” He looked over his shoulder, grimacing. “Why don’t you come along with me and ask your question?”

“That’s most obliging of ye, sir.” Jamie flicked an eyebrow at me, as a signal that I was no longer required for window dressing and thus might go about my own business. I wished Mr. Longfield good day, accordingly, and went to forage in the fleshpots of Wilmington.

Business here was somewhat better than it was in New Bern. Wilmington had a deepwater harbor, and while the English blockade had of necessity affected importing and exporting, local boats and coastal packets still came into the port. Wilmington also was substantially larger and still boasted a thriving market in the town square, where I spent a pleasant hour collecting herbs and picking up local gossip, before acquiring a cheese roll for my lunch, whereupon I wandered down to the harbor to eat it.

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