Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 27

   

I could feel his body curled behind mine, in its paradoxical morning state of sleep and arousal. He made a drowsy noise and moved against me in inquiry, his hand fumbling at the hem of my rumpled shift.

“Stop,” I said under my breath, batting his hand away. “Remember where we are, for God’s sake!”

I could hear the shouts and barking of Ian and Rollo, galumphing to and fro on the shore, and small stirrings in the cabin, featuring hawking and spitting noises, indicating the imminent emergence of Captain Freeman.

“Oh,” said Jamie, coming to the surface of consciousness. “Oh, aye. A pity, that.” He reached up, squeezed my br**sts with both hands, and stretched his body with voluptuous slowness against me, giving me a detailed idea of what I was missing.

“Ah, well,” he said, relaxing reluctantly, but not yet letting go. “Foeda est in coitu, um?”

“It what?”

“ ‘Foeda est in coitu et breois voluptas’ ” he recited obligingly. “ ‘Et taedat Veneiis statim peractae. Doing, a filthy pleasure is—and short. And done, we straight repent us of the sport.’ ”

I glanced down at the stained boards under us. “Well, perhaps ‘filthy’ isn’t altogether the wrong word,” I began, “but—”

“It’s not the filthiness that troubles me, Sassenach,” he interrupted, scowling at Ian, who was hanging over the side of the boat, shouting encouragement to Rollo as he swam. “It’s the short.”

He glanced at me, scowl changing to a look of approval as he took in my state of dishevelment. “I mean to take my time about it, aye?”

This classical start to the day seemed to have had some lasting influence on Jamie’s mind. I could hear them at it as I sat in the afternoon sun, thumbing through Daniel Rawlings’s casebook—at once entertained, enlightened, and appalled at the things recorded there.

I could hear Jamie’s voice in the ordered rise and fall of ancient Greek. I had heard that bit before— a passage from the Odyssey. He paused, with an expectant rise.

“Ah…” said Ian.

“What comes next, Ian?”

“Er…”

“Once more,” said Jamie, with a slight edge to his voice. “Pay attention, man. I’m no talkin’ for the pleasure of hearin’ myself, aye?” He began again, the elegant, formal verse warming to life as he spoke.

He might not take pleasure in hearing himself, but I did. I had no Greek myself, but the rise and fall of syllables in that soft, deep voice was as soothing as the lap of water against the hull.

Reluctantly accepting his nephew’s continued presence, Jamie took his guardianship of Ian with due seriousness, and had been tutoring the lad as we traveled, seizing odd moments of leisure to teach—or attempt to teach—the lad the rudiments of Greek and Latin grammar, and to improve his mathematics and conversational French.

Fortunately, Ian had the same quick grasp of mathematical principles as his uncle; the side of the small cabin beside me was covered with elegant Euclidean proofs, carried out in burnt stick. When the subject turned to languages, though, they found less common ground.

Jamie was a natural polygogue; he acquired languages and dialects with no visible effort, picking up idioms as a dog picks up foxtails in a romp through the fields. In addition, he had been schooled in the Classics at the Université in Paris, and—while disagreeing now and then with some of the Roman philosophers—regarded both Homer and Virgil as personal friends.

Ian spoke the Gaelic and English with which he had been raised, and a sort of low French patois acquired from Fergus, and felt this quite sufficient to his needs. True, he had an impressive repertoire of swear words in six or seven other languages—acquired from exposure to a number of disreputable influences in the recent past, not least of these being his uncle—but he had no more than a vague apprehension of the mysteries of Latin conjugation.

Still less did he have an appreciation for the necessity of learning languages that to him were not only dead, but—he clearly thought—long decayed beyond any possibility of usefulness. Homer couldn’t compete with the excitement of this new country, adventure reaching out from both shores with beckoning green hands.

Jamie finished his Greek passage, and with a sigh clearly audible to me where I sat, directed Ian to take out the Latin book he had borrowed from Governor Tryon’s library. With no recitation to distract me, I returned to my perusal of Dr. Rawlings’s casebook.

Like myself, the Doctor had plainly had some Latin, but preferred English for the bulk of his notes, dropping into Latin only for an occasional formal entry.

Bled Mr. Beddoes of a pt. Note distinct lessening of the bilious humor, his complexion much improved of the yellowness and pustules which have afflicted him. Administered black draught to assist purifying of the blood.

“Ass,” I muttered—not for the first time. “Can’t you see the man’s got liver disease?” Probably a mild cirrhosis; Rawlings had noted a slight enlargement and hardening of the liver—though he attributed this to excessive production of bile. Most likely alcohol poisoning; the pustules on face and chest were characteristic of a nutritional deficiency that I saw commonly associated with excessive alcohol consumption—and God knew, that was epidemic.

Beddoes, if he were still alive—a prospect I considered doubtful—was likely drinking anything up to a quart of mixed spirit daily and hadn’t so much as smelled a green vegetable in months. The pustules on whose disappearance Rawlings was congratulating himself had likely diminished because he had used turnip leaves as a coloring agent in his special receipt for “black draught.”

Absorbed in my reading, I half heard Ian’s stumbling rendition of Plautus’s Vertue from the other side of the cabin, interrupted in every other line by Jamie’s deeper voice, prompting and correcting.

“ ‘Virtus praemium est optimus…’ ”

“Optimum.”

“ ‘…est optimum. Virtus omnibus rebus’ and…ah…and…”

“Anteit.”

“Thank ye, Uncle. ‘Virtus omnibus rebus anteit…profectus’?”

“Profecto.”

“Oh, aye, profecto. Um…‘Virtus’?”

“Libertas. ‘Libertas salus vita res et parentes, patria et prognati…’ d’ye recall what is meant by ‘vita,’ Ian?”

“Life,” came Ian’s voice, seizing gratefully on this buoyant object in a flounderous sea.

“Aye, that’s good, but it’s more than life. In Latin, it means not only being alive but it’s also a man’s substance, what he’s made of. See, then it goes on, ‘…libertas salus vita res et parentes, patria et prognati tutantur, servantur; virtus omnia in sese habet, omnia adsunt bona quem penest virtus.’ Now, what is he sayin’ there, d’ye think?”

“Ah…virtue is a good thing?” Ian ventured.

There was a momentary silence, during which I could almost hear Jamie’s blood pressure rising. A hiss of indrawn breath, then, as he thought better of whatever he had been about to say, a long-suffering exhalation.

“Mmphm. Look ye, Ian. ‘Tutantur, servantur.’ What does he mean by using those two together, instead of putting it as…” My attention faded, drawn back to the book, wherein Dr. Rawlings now gave account of a duel and its consequences.

May 15. Was called from my bed at dawn to attend a gentleman staying at the Red Dog. Found him in sad case, with a wound to his hand, occasioned by the misfire of a pistol, the thumb and index fingers of the hand being blown off altogether by the explosion, the middle finger badly mangled and two-thirds of the hand so lacerated that it was scarce recognizable as a human appendage.

Determining that only prompt amputation would serve, I sent for the landlord and requested a pannikin of brandy, linen for bandages, and the help of two strong men. These being rapidly provided and the patient suitably restrained, I proceeded to take the hand—it was the right, to the misfortune of the patient—off just above the wrist. Successfully ligated two arteries, but the anterior interosseus escaped me, being retracted into the flesh after I sawed through the bones. Was forced to loosen the tourniquet in order to find it, so bleeding was considerable—a fortunate accident, as the copious outpouring of blood rendered the patient insensible and thus put an end for the moment to his agony, as well as to his struggles, which were greatly hampering my work.

The amputation being successfully concluded, the gentleman was put to bed, but I stayed near at hand, lest he regain consciousness abruptly and in random movement do hurt to my stitching.

This fascinating narrative was interrupted by a sudden outburst from Jamie, who had evidently reached the end of his patience.

“Ian, your Latin would disgrace a dog! And as for the rest, ye havena got enough understanding of Greek to tell the difference between water and wine!”

“If they’re drinkin’ it, it’s not water,” Ian muttered, sounding rebellious.

I closed the book and got hastily to my feet. It sounded rather as though the services of a referee might shortly be called for. Ian was making small Scottish noises of discontent as I rounded the cabin.

“Aye, mphm, but I dinna care so much—”

“Aye, ye don’t care! That’s the true pity of it—that ye havena the grace even to feel shame for your ignorance!”

There was a charged silence after this, broken only by the soft splash of Troklus’s pole in the bow. I peeked around the corner, to see Jamie glaring at his nephew, who looked abashed. Ian glanced at me, coughed and cleared his throat.

“Well, I’ll tell ye, Uncle Jamie, if I thought shame would help, I wouldna scruple to blush.”

He looked so apologetically hangdog that I couldn’t help laughing. Jamie turned, hearing me, and his scowl faded slightly.

“Ye’re not a bit of help, Sassenach,” he said. “You’ve the Latin, have ye not? Being a physician, ye must. Perhaps I should leave his Latin schooling to you, aye?”

I shook my head. While it was more or less true that I could read Latin—badly and laboriously—I didn’t fancy trying to cram the ragbag remnants of my education into Ian’s head.

“All I remember is Arma virumque cano.” I glanced at Ian and translated, grinning. “My arm got bit off by a dog.”

Ian burst into giggles, and Jamie gave me a look of profound disillusion.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. While Jamie and Ian didn’t resemble each other in any physical respect beyond height, both had thick hair and the habit of running a hand through it when agitated or thoughtful. It looked to have been a stressful lesson—both of them looked as though they’d been pulled backward through a hedgerow.

Jamie smiled wryly at me, then turned back to Ian, shaking his head.

“Ah, well. I’m sorry to bark at ye, Ian, truly. But ye’ve a fine mind, and I shouldna like to see ye waste it. God, man, at your age, I was in Paris, already starting in to study at the Université!”

Loading...