The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 101

   

His eyes were watering ferociously, and his hands were clamped in a death grip on the basin, but he had neither moved nor made a sound. I hadn’t expected that he would, after what I had seen when Jamie removed the brand from his thumb. Lizzie was still gripping his shoulders, her eyes tight shut. Jamie reached up and tapped her on the elbow, and her eyes sprang open.

“Here, a muirninn, he’s done. Take him and put him to his bed, aye?”

Josiah declined to go, though. Mute as his brother, he shook his head violently, and sat down upon a stool, where he sat swaying and white-faced. He gave his brother a ghastly grin, his teeth outlined in blood.

Lizzie hovered between the two boys, looking back and forth between them. Jo caught her eye, and pointed firmly at Keziah, who had assumed the patient’s stool with an outward show of fortitude, chin upraised. She patted Jo gently on the head, and went at once to take hold of Keziah’s shoulders. He turned his head and gave her a smile of remarkable sweetness, then bent his head and kissed her hand. Then he turned to me, shutting his eyes and opening his mouth; he looked just like a nestling begging for worms.

This operation was somewhat more complicated; his tonsils and adenoids were terribly enlarged, and badly scarred from chronic infection. It was a bloody business; both the towel and my apron were heavily splattered before I had done. I finished the cautery and looked closely at my patient, who was white as the snow outside, and completely glassy-eyed.

“Are you all right?” I asked. He couldn’t hear me, but my concerned expression was clear enough. His mouth twitched in what I thought was a gallant effort to smile. He began to nod; then his eyes rolled up and he slid off the stool, ending with a crash at my feet. Jamie caught the basin, rather neatly.

I thought Lizzie might faint as well; there was blood everywhere. She did totter a little, but went obediently to sit down beside Josiah when I told her to. Josiah sat looking on, squeezing Lizzie’s hand fiercely while Jamie and I picked up the pieces.

Jamie gathered Keziah up in his arms; the boy lay limp and bloodstained, looking like a murdered child. Josiah rose to his feet, his eyes resting anxiously on his brother’s unconscious body.

“It will be all right,” Jamie said to him, in tones of complete confidence. “I told ye, my wife is a great healer.” They all turned then, and looked at me, smiling: Jamie, Lizzie, and Josiah. I felt as though I ought to take a bow, but contented myself with smiling, too.

“It will be all right,” I said, echoing Jamie. “Go and rest now.”

The small procession left the room, more quietly than they had come in, leaving me to put away my instruments and tidy up.

I felt very happy, glowing with the calm sort of satisfaction that attends successful work. I had not done this sort of thing for a long time; the exigencies and limitations of the eighteenth century precluded most surgeries save those done in emergency. Without anesthesia and antibiotic, elective surgery was simply too difficult and too dangerous.

But now I had penicillin, at least. And it would be all right, I thought, humming to myself as I extinguished the flame of my alcohol lamp. I had felt it in their flesh, touching the boys as I worked. No germ would threaten them, no infection mar the cleanliness of my work. There was always luck in the practice of medicine—but the odds had shifted today, in my favor.

“All shall be well,” I quoted to Adso, who had silently materialized on the counter, where he was industriously licking one of the empty bowls, “and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

The big black casebook lay open on the counter where Jamie had left it. I turned to the back pages, where I had been recording the progress of my experiments, and took up my quill. Later, after supper, I would write down the details of the surgery. For the moment . . . I paused, then wrote Eureka! at the bottom of the page.

37

MAIL CALL

FERGUS UNDERTOOK his bimonthly trip to Cross Creek in mid-February, returning with salt, needles, indigo, a few more miscellaneous necessities, and a bag full of mail. He arrived in mid-afternoon, so anxious to get back to Marsali that he stayed only long enough for a quick mug of beer, leaving Brianna and me to sort through the parcels, gloating over the bounty.

There was a thick stack of newspapers from Wilmington and New Bern; a few from Philadelphia and Boston as well, sent by friends in the north to Jocasta Cameron, and thence forwarded on to us. I flipped through these; the most recent was dated three months prior. No matter; newspapers were as good as novels, in a place where reading material was almost literally scarcer than gold.

Jocasta had also sent two issues of Brigham’s Lady’s Book for Brianna, this being a periodical featuring drawings of fashionable London costumes, and articles of interest to women of such tastes.

“How to Clean Gold Lace,” Brianna read, arching one eyebrow as she opened one of these at random. “That’s something everybody ought to know how to do, for sure.”

“Look in the back,” I advised her. “That’s where they publish the articles about how to avoid catching gonorrhea and what to do about your husband’s piles.”

The other brow went up, making her look just like Jamie, presented with some highly questionable proposition.

“If my husband gave me gonorrhea, I think he could just worry about his own piles.” She turned several pages, and the eyebrows arched higher. “A Spur to Venus. This being a List of infallible Remedys for Fatigue of the Male Member.”

I peered over her arm, my own eyebrows rising.

“Goodness. A Dozen of Oysters, soaked overnight in a Mixture of Wine and Milk, to be baked in a Tart with Crushed Almonds and Lobstermeat, and served with Spiced Peppers. I don’t know what it would do for the male member, but it would probably give the gentleman attached to it violent indigestion. Of course, we haven’t got any oysters here anyway.”

“No loss,” she assured me, frowning at the page in concentration. “Oysters remind me of big plugs of snot.”

“That’s only the raw ones; they’re more or less edible when cooked. Speaking of snot, though—where’s Jemmy?”

“Asleep, or at least I hope so.” She cast a suspicious eye toward the ceiling, but no untoward noises manifested themselves, and she returned to the page.

“Here’s one we could do. The Testicles of a Male Animal—like you’d get them from a female animal—taken with six large Mushrooms and boyled in Sour Ale until tender, then both Testicles and Mushrooms to be sliced thin, well-pepper’d and seasoned with Salt, then sprinkl’d with Vinegar and brown’d before the Fire until crusty. Da hasn’t gotten around to castrating Gideon yet, has he?”

“No. I’m sure he’d be happy to give you the objects in question, if you want to try.”

She went very pink in the face, and cleared her throat with a noise that reminded me even more of her father. “I—um—don’t think we need that just yet.”

I laughed and left her to her fascinated perusal, turning back to the mail.

There was a wrapped object addressed to Jamie that I knew must be a book, sent from a bookseller in Philadelphia, but with Lord John Grey’s seal affixed—a daub of blue wax whimsically marked with a smiling half-moon and a single star. Half our library came from John Grey, who insisted that he sent us books primarily for his own satisfaction, as he knew no one in the Colonies other than Jamie who was capable of carrying on a decent discussion of literature.

There were several letters addressed to Jamie, too; I looked these over carefully, in hopes of seeing his sister’s characteristic spiky script, but no such luck. There was a letter from Ian, who wrote faithfully once a month, but nothing from Jenny; there had been no word from her in the past six months; not since Jamie had written reluctantly to tell her of the fate of her youngest son.

I frowned, setting the letters in a small stack at the edge of the desk for Jamie’s later attention. I could scarcely blame Jenny, under the circumstances—but I’d been there, after all. It hadn’t been Jamie’s fault, even though he’d accepted the blame for it. Young Ian had chosen to stay with the Mohawk. He was a man, if a young one, and the decision was his to make. But then, I reflected, he had been still a lad when he left his parents, and likely still was, so far as Jenny was concerned.

I knew that her silence hurt Jamie deeply, though. He continued to write to her, as he always had, stubbornly putting down a few paragraphs most evenings, putting by the pages until someone should be going down from the mountain, to Cross Creek or Wilmington. He was never obvious about it, but I saw the way his eyes flicked across each batch of letters, looking for her writing, and the almost-invisible tightening at the corner of his mouth when he didn’t find it.

“Drat you, Jenny Murray,” I murmured under my breath. “Forgive him and have done with it!”

“Hmm?” Brianna had put down the periodical and was examining a square letter, frowning as she did so.

“Nothing. What’s that you have there?” I put down the letters I had been sorting and came to look.

“It’s from Lieutenant Hayes. What do you think he’s writing about?”

A tiny spurt of adrenaline tightened my belly. It must also have shown on my unwary face, for Brianna put down the letter and looked at me, brow furrowed.

“What?” she demanded.

“Nothing,” I said, but it was too late. She stood looking at me, a fist doubled on her hip, and raised one brow.

“You are the most terrible liar, Mama,” she said tolerantly. Without hesitation, she broke the seal.

“That’s addressed to your father,” I said, though my protest lacked strength.

“Um-hm. So was the other one,” she said, head bent over the unfolded sheet of paper.

“What?” But I had come to her side, and was reading over her arm, even as I spoke.

Lieutenant Archibald Hayes

Portsmouth, Virginia

Mr. James Fraser

Fraser’s Ridge, North Carolina

January 18, 1771

Sir—

I write to inform you that we are at present in Portsmouth, and like to remain here until Spring. If you are acquainted with any Sea Captains willing to grant Passage to Perth for forty Men, on promise of Recompense from the Army once Port is reached, I should be glad to hear of it at your earliest Convenience.

In the Meantime, we have put our Hands to various Labors, that we might sustain ourselves through the Winter Months. Several of my Men have obtained Work in the Repair of Boats, which are plentiful here. I myself am employed as Cook in a local Tavern, but make shift to visit my Men regularly in the assorted Quarters where they are lodged, to make myself acquainted with their State.

I called upon one such Lodging two Evenings ago. In course of Conversation, one of the Men—a Private Ogilvie, whom I think you will know—mentioned to me a Conversation which he had overheard in the Shipyard. As this pertained to one Stephen Bonnet, who I recollect is of Interest to you, I pass on herewith the Intelligence of the Matter.

Bonnet appears by Report to be a Smuggler, scarce an uncommon Occupation in the Area. Howsoever, he seems to deal in a higher Quality—and Quantity—of Contraband than is the usual, and in Consequence, the Nature of his Connexions appears also unusual. Which is to say that certain Warehouses on the Carolina Coast periodically contain Goods of a Nature not generally to be found therein, and that such Visitations coincide with Sightings of Stephen Bonnet in the Taverns and “Holes” nearby.

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