The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 165

   

His teeth showed briefly at that description of his interview with Tryon, but I gathered from his faint air of satisfaction that it wasn’t totally incorrect.

“Oh, a number of things. But to begin with, I insisted he recall to me the circumstances when Roger Mac was taken; who gave him up, and what was said. I mean to get to the bottom of it.” He pulled the thong from his hair and shook out the damp locks, dark with sweat.

“Did he remember anything when you pressed him?”

“Aye, a bit more. Tryon says there were three men who had Roger Mac captive; one of them had a badge for Fraser’s Company, so of course he thought the man was one of mine. He says,” he added, with irony.

That would have been a reasonable assumption for the Governor to make, I thought—but Jamie was plainly in no mood to be reasonable.

“It must have been Roger’s badge that the man had,” I said. “The rest of your company came back with you—all except the Browns, and it wouldn’t have been them.” The two Browns had vanished, seizing the opportunity of the confusion of battle to take their vengeance on Isaiah Morton and then to escape before anyone discovered the crime. They wouldn’t have hung about to frame Roger, even had they some motive for doing so.

He nodded, dismissing the conclusion with a brief gesture.

“Aye. But why? He said Roger Mac was bound and gagged—a dishonorable way to treat a prisoner of war, as I said to him.”

“And what did he say to that?” Tryon might be slightly less stubborn than Jamie; he wasn’t any more amenable to insult.

“He said it wasna war; it was treasonable insurrection, and he was justified in taking summary measures. But to seize and hang a man, without allowing him to speak a word in his own behalf—” The color was rising dangerously in his face. “I swear to ye, Claire, if Roger Mac had died at the end of yon rope, I would have snapped Tryon’s neck and left him for the crows!”

I hadn’t the slightest doubt that he meant it; I could still see his hand, fitting itself so slowly, so gently, about the Governor’s neck above the silver gorget. I wondered whether William Tryon had had the slightest notion of the danger in which he had stood, that night after the battle.

“He didn’t die, and he isn’t going to.” I hoped I was right, but spoke as firmly as I could, laying a hand on his arm. The muscles in his forearm bulged and shifted with the restrained desire to hit someone, but stilled under my touch, as he looked down at me. He took a deep breath, then another, drummed his stiff fingers twice against his thigh, then got his anger under control once more.

“Well, so. He said the man identified Roger Mac as James MacQuiston, one of the ring-leaders of the Regulation. I have been asking after MacQuiston,” he added, with another glance at me. He was growing slightly calmer, talking. “Would it surprise ye, Sassenach, to discover that no one kens MacQuiston, by his face?”

It would, and I said so. He nodded, the high color receding slightly from his cheeks.

“So it did me. But it’s so; the man’s words are there in the papers for all to see—but no one has ever seen the man. Not auld Ninian, not Hermon Husband—no one of the Regulators that I could find to speak to—though the most of them are lying low, to be sure,” he added.

“I even found the printer who set one of MacQuiston’s speeches in type; he said the script of it was left upon his doorstep one morning, with a brick of cheese and two certificates of proclamation money to pay for the printing.”

“Well, that is interesting,” I said. I took my hand gingerly off his arm, but he seemed under control now. “So you think ‘James MacQuiston’ is likely an assumed name.”

“Verra likely indeed.”

Pursuing the implications of that line of thought, I had a sudden idea.

“Do you think that perhaps the man who identified Roger to the Governor as MacQuiston might have been MacQuiston himself?”

Jamie’s brows went up, and he nodded slowly.

“And he sought to shield himself, by having Roger Mac hanged in his place? Being dead is an excellent protection against arrest. Aye, that’s a bonnie idea—if a trifle vicious,” he added judiciously.

“Oh, just a trifle.”

He seemed less angry with the vicious and fictitious MacQuiston than with the Governor—but then, there was no doubt as to what Tryon had done.

We had moved across the yard to the well. There was a half-filled bucket sitting on the coping, warm and brackish from the day’s heat. He rolled up his sleeves, cupped his hands, and dashed water from the bucket up into his face, then shook his head violently, spattering droplets into Mrs. Sherston’s hydrangeas.

“Did the Governor recall what any of these men who had Roger looked like?” I asked, handing him a crumpled linen towel from the well-coping. He took it and wiped his face, shaking his head.

“Only the one. The one who had the badge, who did most of the talking. He said it was a fair-haired fellow, verra tall and well set up. Green-eyed, he thought. Tryon wasna taking careful note of his appearance, of course, bein’ exercised in his mind at the time. But he recalled that much.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I said, struck by a thought. “Tall, fair-haired, and green-eyed. Do you think it could have been Stephen Bonnet?”

His eyes opened wide and he stared at me over the towel for a moment, face blank with astonishment.

“Jesus,” he said, and set the towel down absentmindedly. “I never thought of such a thing.”

Neither had I. What I knew of Bonnet didn’t seem to fit the picture of a Regulator; most of them were poor and desperate men, like Joe Hobson, Hugh Fowles, and Abel MacLennan. A few were outraged idealists, like Husband and Hamilton. Stephen Bonnet might occasionally have been poor and desperate—but I was reasonably sure that the notion of seeking redress from the government by protest wasn’t one that would have occurred to him. Take it by force, certainly. Kill a judge or sheriff in vengeance for some offense, quite possibly. But—no, it was ridiculous. If I was certain of anything regarding Stephen Bonnet, it was that he didn’t pay taxes.

“No.” Jamie shook his head, having evidently come to the same conclusions. He wiped a lingering droplet off the end of his nose. “There’s nay money anywhere in this affair. Even Tryon had to appeal to the Earl of Hillsborough for funds to pay his militia. And the Regulators—” He waved a hand, dismissing the thought of the Regulators paying anyone for anything. “I dinna ken everything about Stephen Bonnet, but from what I’ve seen of the man, I think that only gold or the promise of it would bring him to a battlefield.”

“True.” The clink of china and chime of silver came faintly through the open window, accompanying the soft voices of slaves; the table was being set for dinner. “I don’t suppose there’s any way Bonnet could be James MacQuiston, is there?”

He laughed at that, his face relaxing for the first time.

“No, Sassenach. That I can be sure of. Stephen Bonnet canna read, nor write much more than his name.”

I stared at him.

“How do you know that?”

“Samuel Cornell told me so. He hasna met Bonnet himself, but he said that Walter Priestly came to him once, to borrow money urgently. He was surprised, for Priestly’s a wealthy man—but Priestly told him that he had a shipment coming that must be paid for in gold—for the man bringing it would not take warehouse receipts, proclamation money, or even bank-drafts. He didna trust words on paper that he couldna read himself, nor would he trust anyone to read them to him. Only gold would do.”

“Yes, that does sound like Bonnet.” I had been holding his coat, folded over one arm. Now I shook it out, and began to beat the red dust from its skirts, averting my face from the resultant clouds. “What you said about gold . . . do you think Bonnet could have been at Alamance by accident? On his way to River Run, perhaps?”

He considered that one for a moment, but then shook his head, rolling down the cuffs of his shirt.

“It wasna a great war, Sassenach—not the sort of thing where a man might be caught up unawares and carried along. The armies faced each other for more than two days, and the sentry lines had holes like a fishing seine; anyone could have left Alamance, or ridden round it. And Alamance is nowhere near River Run. No, whoever it was that tried to kill wee Roger, it was someone who was there on his own account.”

“So we’re back to the mysterious Mr. MacQuiston—whoever he might be.”

“Perhaps,” he said dubiously.

“But who else could it be?” I protested. “Surely no one among the Regulators could have had anything personal against Roger!”

“Ye wouldna think so,” Jamie admitted. “But we’re no going to know until the lad can tell us, aye?”

AFTER SUPPER—during which there was naturally no mention of MacQuiston, Stephen Bonnet, or anything else of an upsetting nature—I went up to check on Roger. Jamie came with me, and quietly dismissed the slave woman who sat by the window, mending. Someone had to stay with Roger at all times, to make sure the tube in his throat didn’t become clogged or dislodged, as it was still his only means of breathing. It would be several days yet before the swelling of the mangled tissues in his throat subsided enough for me to risk removing it.

Jamie waited until I had checked Roger’s pulse and breathing, then at my nod, sat down by his bedside.

“Do ye ken the names of the men who denounced ye?” he asked without preliminaries. Roger looked up at him, frowning, dark brows drawn together. Then he nodded slowly, and held up one finger.

“One of them. How many were there?”

Three fingers. That agreed with Tryon’s recollection, then.

“They were Regulators?”

A nod.

Jamie glanced at me, then back at Roger.

“It wasna Stephen Bonnet?”

Roger sat up bolt upright, mouth open. He clutched at the tube in his throat, struggling vainly to speak, and shaking his head violently.

I grabbed for his shoulder, one hand reaching for the tube; the violence of his movement had jerked it nearly out of the incision, and a trickle of blood ran down his neck where the wound had reopened. Roger himself seemed oblivious; his eyes were fixed on Jamie’s and his mouth was working urgently, asking silent questions.

“No, no. If ye didna see him, then he wasna there.” Jamie took him firmly by the other shoulder, helping me to ease him back on the pillow. “It was only that Tryon described the man who betrayed ye as a tall, fair-haired fellow. Green-eyed, maybe. We thought perhaps . . .”

Roger’s face relaxed at that. He shook his head again and sank back, mouth twisted a little. Jamie pressed on.

“Ye kent the man, though; ye’d met him before?” Roger glanced away, nodded, then shrugged. He looked both irritated and helpless; I could hear his breathing quicken, whistling through the amber tube. I cleared my throat signficantly, frowning at Jamie. Roger was out of immediate danger; that didn’t mean he was well, or anywhere near it.

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