The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 164

   

Tryon’s jaw muscles bulged, and his limbs trembled, but he kept his temper in check. He breathed deeply through his nose, in and out, before he spoke.

“Mr. Fraser. I will tell you something that is known to a few, but is not yet public knowledge.”

Jamie didn’t reply, but raised one brow, glinting red in the light. His eyes were cold, dark and unblinking.

“I am made Governor of the colony of New York,” Tryon said. “The letter of appointment arrived more than a month past. I shall leave by July to take up the new appointment; Josiah Martin is made Governor here in my room.” He glanced from Jamie to me, and back. “So you see. I had no personal stake in this; no need to glorify my exploits, as you put it.” His throat moved as he swallowed, but fear had been replaced now by a coldness equal to Jamie’s own.

“I have done what I have done as a matter of duty. I would not leave this colony in a state of disorder and rebellion, for my successor to deal with—though I might rightfully have done so.”

He took a deep breath, and stepped back, forcing his hands to relax from the fists into which they had been clenched.

“You have experience of war, Mr. Fraser, and of duty. And if you are an honest man, you will know that mistakes are made—and made often—in both realms. It cannot be otherwise.”

He met Jamie’s eyes straight on, and they stood in silence, looking at each other.

My attention was jerked away from this confrontation quite suddenly, by the distant sound of a baby crying. I turned, head up, just as Brianna emerged from the tent-flap behind me, in a rustle of agitated skirts.

“Jem,” she said. “That’s Jemmy!”

It was, too. A disturbance of voices at the far side of the camp came closer, resolving itself into the round, flounced shape of Phoebe Sherston, looking frightened but determined, followed by two slaves: a man carrying two huge baskets, and a woman, with a wrapped and squirming bundle in her arms that was making a terrible racket.

Brianna made for the bundle like a compass needle swinging north, and the racket ceased as Jemmy emerged from his blankets, hair sticking up in red tufts and feet churning in paroxysms of joyous relief. Mother and child disappeared promptly into the shadows under the trees, and a certain amount of confusion ensued, with Mrs. Sherston explaining disjointedly to a gathering crowd of interested onlookers that she had just become so distraught, hearing reports of the battle, so terrible, and she feared . . . but Mr. Rutherford’s slave had come to say all was well . . . and she thought perhaps . . . and so . . . and the child would not give over shrieking . . . so . . .

Jamie and the Governor, shaken out of their nose to nose confrontation, had also retired to the shadows; I could see them, two stiff shadows, one tall and one shorter, standing close together. The element of danger had gone out of their tête-à-tête, though; I could see Jamie’s head bent slightly toward Tryon’s shadow, listening.

“. . . brought food,” Phoebe Sherston was telling me, her round face pink with excited self-importance. “Fresh bread, and butter, and some blackberry jam and cold chicken and . . .”

“Food!” I said, abruptly reminded of the parcel I held under my arm. “Do pardon me!” I gave her a quick, bright smile, and ducked away, leaving her open-mouthed in front of the tent.

Abel MacLennan was where I had left him, waiting patiently under the stars. He brushed aside my apologies, thanking me for the food and jug of beer.

“Is there anything—?” I began, then broke off. What else could I possibly do for him?

And yet it seemed there was something.

“Young Hugh Fowles,” he said, tidily tucking the parcel beneath the wagon’s seat. “They said he was taken prisoner. Would—would your husband maybe speak for him, d’ye think? As he did for me?”

“I expect he would. I’ll ask him.”

It was quiet here, far enough from the camp that the sounds of conversation didn’t carry above the song of frogs and crickets, and the rushing of the creek.

“Mr. MacLennan,” I said, moved by impulse, “where will you go? After you’ve taken Joe Hobson back, I mean.”

He took off his hat and scratched his balding head, quite unself-consciously, though the gesture was not one of puzzlement, but merely of one preparing to state something already settled in his mind.

“Och,” he said. “I dinna mean to go anywhere. There are the women there, aye? And the weans. They’ve no man, with Joe dead and Hugh prisoner. I shall stay.”

He bowed to me then, and put on his hat. I shook his hand—surprising him—and then he climbed aboard his wagon and clicked his tongue to the horse. He lifted his hand to me in farewell, and I waved back, realizing the difference in him as I did so.

There was still grief in his voice, and sorrow on his shoulders; and yet he sat upright on his errand, the starlight shining on his dusty hat. His voice was firm, and his hand likewise. If Joe Hobson had left for the land of the dead, Abel MacLennan had come back from there.

Things had settled somewhat by the time I came back to the tent. The Governor and Mrs. Sherston were gone, with her slaves. Isaiah Morton slept, moaning now and then, but without fever. Roger lay still as a tomb-figure, face and hands black with bruises, the faint whistle of his breathing tube a counterpoint to Brianna’s murmured song as she rocked Jemmy.

The little boy’s face was slack, mouth pinkly open in the utter abandonment of sleep. With sudden inspiration, I held out my arms, and Bree, looking surprised, let me take him. Very carefully, I laid the limp, heavy little body on Roger’s chest. Bree made a small movement, as though to catch the baby and stop him sliding off—but Roger’s arm moved up, stiff and slow, and folded across the sleeping child. Tinder, I thought, satisfied.

Jamie was outside the tent, leaning against the hickory tree. When I had made sure of things inside, I came out to join him in the shadows. He raised his arms without speaking, and I came inside them.

We stood together in the shadows, listening to the crackle of campfires and the crickets’ songs.

Breathing.

Great Alamance Camp

Friday 17th May 1771

Parole - Granville

Countersign - Oxford

The Governor impressed with the most affectionate sense of Gratitude gives Thanks to both Officers and Soldiers of the Army for the Vigorous and Generous support they afforded Him Yesterday in the Battle near Alamance, it was to their Valour and steady Conduct that he owed under the Providence of Almighty God, the signal Victory obtained over obstinate and infatuated Rebels,—His Excellency simpathises with the Loyalists for the brave Men that fell and suffered in the Action, but when he reflects that the fate of Constitution depended on the success of the Day, and the important Services thereby rendered to their King and Country, He considers this Loss (though at present the Cause of Affliction to their Relations and Friends) as a Monument of lasting Glory and Honor to themselves and Families.

The Dead to be interred at five OClock this Evening in the Front of the Park of Artillery, Funeral Service to be performed with Military Honors to the deceased—after the Ceremony, Prayers and Thanksgiving for the signal Victory it has pleased Divine Providence Yesterday to Grant the Army over the Insurgents.

PART SEVEN

Alarms of Struggle and Flight

73

A WHITER SHADE OF PALE

MRS. SHERSTON, with an unexpected generosity, offered us her hospitality. I moved to the Sherstons’ large house in Hillsborough with Brianna, Jemmy, and my two patients; Jamie divided his time between Hillsborough and the militia camp, which remained in place at Alamance Creek while Tryon satisfied himself that the Regulation had indeed been decisively crushed.

While I couldn’t reach the bullet lodged in Morton’s lung with my forceps, it didn’t appear to be troubling him greatly, and the wound had begun to seal itself in a satisfactory fashion. There was no telling exactly where the bullet was, but plainly it hadn’t pierced any major vessels; as long as it didn’t move further, it was quite possible for him simply to live with the bullet embedded in his body; I had known a good many war veterans who had—Archie Hayes among them.

I was not at all sure how stable my small stock of penicillin might prove to be, but it seemed to work; there was a little redness and seepage at the wound site, but no infection, and very little fever. Beyond penicillin, the appearance a few days after the battle of Alicia Brown, now enormously pregnant, was the most important boost to Morton’s recovery. Within an hour of her arrival, he was sitting up in his cot, pale but jubilant, hair sticking up on end and his hand lovingly pressed against the writhing bulges of his unborn child.

Roger was another matter. He was not badly injured, beyond the crushing of his throat—though that was bad enough. The fractures to his fingers were simple; I had set them with splints and they should heal with no trouble. The bruising faded fairly quickly from livid reds and blues into a spectacular array of purple, green, and yellow that made him look as though he had just been exhumed after having been dead for a week or so. His vital signs were excellent. His vitality was not.

He slept a great deal, which should have been good. His slumber wasn’t restful, though; it had about it something unsettling, as though he sought unconsciousness with a fierce desire, and once achieved, clung to it with a stubbornness that bothered me more than I wanted to admit.

Brianna, who possessed her own brand of stubbornness, had the job of forcing him back to wakefulness every few hours, to take some nourishment and have the tube and its incision cleansed and tended. During these procedures, he would fix his eyes on the middle distance, and stare darkly at nothing, making the barest acknowledgment of remarks addressed to him. Once finished, his eyes would close again, and he would lie back on his pillow, bandaged hands folded across his chest like a tomb-figure, with no sound save the soft, breathy whistle from the tube in his neck.

Two days after the battle of Alamance, Jamie arrived at the Sherstons’ house in Hillsborough just before supper, tired from long riding, and covered with reddish dust.

“I had a wee talk wi’ the Governor today,” he said, taking the cup of water I had brought out to him in the yard. He drained it in a gulp and sighed, wiping sweat from his face with a coat-sleeve. “He was fashed about wi’ all the to-do, and of no mind to think about what happened after the battle—but I was of no mind to let it be.”

“I don’t imagine it was much of a contest,” I murmured, helping him to peel off the dusty coat. “William Tryon’s not even Scots, let alone a Fraser.”

That got me a reluctant half-smile. “Stubborn as rocks,” was the succinct description of the Fraser clan I had been given years before—and nothing in the intervening time period had given me cause to think it inaccurate in any way.

“Aye, well.” He shrugged and stretched luxuriously, his vertebrae cracking from the long ride. “Oh, Christ. I’m starved; is there food?” He relaxed and lifted his long nose, sniffing the air hopefully.

“Baked ham and sweet potato pie,” I told him, unnecessarily, since the honey-soaked fragrances of both were thick on the humid air. “So what did the Governor say, once you’d got him properly browbeaten?”

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