The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 16

   

“Do sit down, sir,” I said, “and tell me where it hurts.”

The gentleman was a Mr. Goodwin of Hillsborough, whose chief complaint, it seemed, was a pain in his arm. This was not his only trouble, I saw; a freshly healed scar zigzagged down the side of his face, the livid weal drawing down the corner of his eye and giving him a most ferocious squint. A faint discoloration over the cheek showed where some heavy object had hit him square above the jaw, as well, and his features had the blunt and swollen look of someone who had been badly beaten in the not-so-distant past.

Gentlemen were as likely to engage in brawls as anyone, given sufficient provocation, but this one seemed of rather advanced years for such entertainments, looking to be in his middle fifties, with a prosperous paunch pressing against the silver-buttoned waistcoat. Perhaps he had been set upon somewhere and robbed, I thought. Not on his way to the Gathering, though; these injuries were weeks old.

I felt my way carefully over his arm and shoulder, making him lift and move the arm slightly, asking brief questions as I palpated the limb. The trouble was obvious enough; he had dislocated the elbow, and while the dislocation had fortunately reduced itself, I thought he had torn a tendon, which was now caught between the olecranon process and the head of the ulna, the injury being thus aggravated by movement of the arm.

Not that that was all; palpating my way carefully down his arm, I discovered no fewer than three half-healed simple fractures to the bones of his forearm. The damage was not all internal; I could see the fading remnants of two large bruises on the forearm above the sites of fracture, each an irregular blotch of yellow-green with the darker red-black of deep hemorrhage at the center. Self-defense injuries, I thought, or I was a Chinaman.

“Bree, find me a decent splint, will you?” I asked. Bree nodded silently and vanished, leaving me to anoint Mr. Goodwin’s lesser contusions with cajeput ointment.

“How did you come by these injuries, Mr. Goodwin?” I asked casually, sorting out a length of linen bandage. “You look as though you’ve been in quite a fight. I hope at least the other fellow looks worse!”

Mr. Goodwin smiled faintly at my attempted witticism.

“’Twas a battle, indeed, Mrs. Fraser,” he replied, “and yet no fight of my own. A matter of misfortune, rather—being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as you might say. Still . . .” He closed the squinting eye in reflex as I touched the scar. An artless job by whoever had stitched it, but cleanly healed.

“Really?” I said. “Whatever happened?”

He grunted, but seemed not displeased at the necessity of telling me.

“You heard the officer this morning, surely, ma’am—reading out the Governor’s words regarding the atrocious behavior of the rioters?”

“I shouldn’t think the Governor’s words escaped anyone’s attention,” I murmured, pulling gently on the skin with my fingertips. “So you were at Hillsborough, is that what you’re telling me?”

“Indeed it is.” He sighed, but relaxed a little, finding that I wasn’t hurting him with my probings. “I live within the town of Hillsborough, in point of fact. And if I had remained quietly at home—as my good wife begged me to do”—he gave a rueful half-smile—“doubtless I should have escaped.”

“They do say that curiosity killed the cat.” I had spotted something when he smiled, and pressed gently with my thumb over the discolored area on his cheek. “Someone struck you across the face here, with some force. Did they break any teeth?”

He looked mildly startled.

“Aye, ma’am. But it’s nothing you can mend.” He pulled up his upper lip, revealing a gap where two teeth were missing. One premolar had been knocked out clean, but the other had broken off at the root; I could see a jagged line of yellowed enamel, gleaming against the dark red of his gum.

Brianna, arriving at this juncture with the splint, made a slight gagging noise. Mr. Goodwin’s other teeth, while essentially whole, were heavily crusted with yellow calculus, and quite brown with the stains of tobacco chewing.

“Oh, I think I can help a bit there,” I assured him, ignoring Bree. “It’s painful to bite there, isn’t it? I can’t mend it, but I can draw the remnants of the broken tooth, and treat the gum to prevent infection. Who hit you, though?”

He shrugged slightly, watching with a slightly apprehensive interest as I laid out the shiny pliers and straight-bladed scalpel for dentistry.

“To tell the truth, ma’am, I scarcely know. I had but ventured into the town to visit the courthouse. I am bringing suit against a party in Edenton,” he explained, a frown forming on his face at the thought of it, “and I am required to file documents in support of this action. However, I was unable to transact my business, as I found the street before the courthouse quite choked with men, many armed with cudgels, whips, and rough implements of that sort.”

Seeing the mob, he had thought to leave, but just then, someone threw a rock through a window of the courthouse. The crash of glass acted on the mob like a signal, and they had surged forward, breaking down the doors and shouting threats.

“I became concerned for my friend, Mr. Fanning, whom I knew to be within.”

“Fanning . . . that would be Edmund Fanning?” I was only listening with half an ear, as I decided how best to approach the extraction, but I did recognize that name. Farquard Campbell had mentioned Fanning, while telling Jamie the gory details of the riots following in the wake of the Stamp Act a few years previous. Fanning had been appointed postmaster for the colony, a lucrative position that had likely cost him a pretty penny to acquire, and had cost him still more dearly when he had been obliged to resign it under force. Evidently, his unpopularity had escalated in the five years since.

Mr. Goodwin compressed his lips, tightening them to a seam of disapproval.

“Yes, ma’am, that is the gentleman. And whatever scandal folk do spread about him, he has ever been a friend to me and mine—so when I heard such grievous sentiments expressed, to the threat of his life, I determined that I must go to his aid.”

In this gallant endeavor, Mr. Goodwin had been less than successful.

“I tried to force a path through the crowd,” he said, his eyes fixed on my hands as I laid his arm along the splint and arranged the linen bandage beneath it. “I could not make much way, though, and had barely gained the foot of the steps, when there came a great shout from within, and the crowd fell back, carrying me with it.”

Struggling to keep his feet, Mr. Goodwin had been horrified to see Edmund Fanning dragged bodily through the courthouse door, knocked down, and then pulled feet first down the steps, his head striking each one in turn.

“Such a noise as it made,” he said, shuddering. “I could hear it above the shouting, thumping like a melon being rolled downstairs.”

“Dear me,” I murmured. “But he wasn’t killed, was he? I hadn’t heard of any deaths at Hillsborough. Relax your arm, please, and take a deep breath.”

Mr. Goodwin took a deep breath, but only in order to utter a loud snort. This was succeeded by a much deeper gasp, as I turned the arm, freeing the trapped tendon and bringing the joint into good alignment. He went quite pale, and a sheen of sweat broke out on his pendulous cheeks, but he blinked a few times, and recovered nobly.

“And if he wasn’t, it was by no mercy of the rioters,” he said. “’Twas only that they thought to have better sport with the Chief Justice, and so left Fanning insensible in the dust, as they rushed inside the courthouse. Another friend and I made shift to raise the poor man, and sought to make off with him to a place of shelter nearby, when comes the halloo in our rear, and we were beset all at once by the mob. That was how I came by this”—he raised his freshly splinted arm—“and these.” He touched the weal by his eye, and the shattered tooth.

He frowned at me, heavy brows drawn down.

“Believe me, ma’am, I hope some folk here are moved to give up the names of the rioters, that they may be justly punished for such barbarous work—but were I to see here the fellow who struck me, I shouldn’t be inclined to surrender him to the Governor’s justice. Indeed I should not!”

His fists closed slowly, and he glowered at me as though suspecting that I had the miscreant in question hidden under my table. Brianna shifted uneasily behind me. No doubt she was thinking, as I was, of Hobson and Fowles. Abel MacLennan I was inclined to consider an innocent bystander, no matter what he might have done in Hillsborough.

I murmured something sympathetically noncommittal, and brought out the bottle of raw whisky I used for disinfection and crude anesthesia. The sight of it seemed to hearten Mr. Goodwin considerably.

“Just a bit of this to . . . er . . . fortify your spirits,” I suggested, pouring him out a healthy cupful. And disinfect the nasty environs of his mouth, too. “Hold it in your mouth for a moment before you swallow—it will help to numb your tooth.”

I turned to Bree, as Mr. Goodwin obediently took a large gulp of the liquor and sat with his mouth full, cheeks puffed like a frog about to burst into song. She seemed a little pale, though I wasn’t sure whether it was Mr. Goodwin’s story or the view of his teeth that had affected her.

“I don’t think I’ll need you any longer this morning, darling,” I said, patting her arm in reassurance. “Why don’t you go and see whether Jocasta is ready for the weddings tonight?”

“You’re sure, Mama?” Even as she asked, she was untying her blood-spotted apron and rolling it into a ball. Seeing her glance toward the trailhead, I looked in that direction and saw Roger lurking behind a bush, his eyes fixed on her. I saw his face light when she turned toward him, and felt a small warm glow at sight of it. Yes, they would be all right.

“Now then, Mr. Goodwin. Just you take a drop more of that, and we’ll finish dealing with this little matter.” I turned back to my patient, smiling, and picked up the pliers.

6

FOR AULD LANG SYNE

ROGER WAITED AT THE EDGE of the clearing, watching Brianna as she stood by Claire’s side, pounding herbs, measuring off liquids into small bottles, and tearing bandages. She had rolled up her sleeves, in spite of the chill, and the effort of ripping the tough linen made the muscles of her bare arms flex and swell beneath the freckled skin.

Strong in the wrists, he thought, with a faintly disturbing memory of Estella in Dickens’s Great Expectations. Noticeably strong all over; the wind flattened her skirt against the solid slope of h*ps and a long thigh pressed briefly against the fabric as she turned, smooth and round as an alder trunk.

He wasn’t the only one noticing. Half the people waiting for the attention of the two physicians were watching Brianna; some—mostly women—with faint and puzzled frowns, some—all men—with a covert admiration tinged with earthy speculation that gave Roger an urge to step into the clearing and assert his rights to her on the spot.

Well, let them look, he thought, quelling the urge. It only matters if she’s looking back, aye?

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