The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 216


For a time, I had hoped that Jenny’s letter had simply been mis-sent, misplaced, lost somewhere in transit. But it had been too long, and I had stopped hoping. Jamie hadn’t.

“I thought perhaps I should send her this.” He shuffled through the stack of papers at the side of the desk, and withdrew a small sheet, stained and grubby, ragged along one edge where it had been torn from a book.

It was a message from Ian; the only concrete evidence we had that the boy was still alive and well. It had reached us at the Gathering in November, through the agency of John Quincy Myers, a mountain man who roamed the wilderness, as much at home with Indian as with settler, and more at home with deer and possum than with anyone who lived in a house.

Written in clumsy Latin as a joke, the note assured us that Ian was well, and happy. Married to a girl “in the Mohawk fashion” (meaning, I thought, that he had decided to share her house, bed, and hearth, and she had decided to let him), he expected to become a father himself “in the spring.” And that was all. Spring had come and gone, with no further word. Ian wasn’t dead, but the next thing to it. The chances of us ever seeing him again were remote, and Jamie knew it; the wilderness had swallowed him.

Jamie touched the ratty paper gently, tracing the round, still-childish letters. He’d told Jenny what the note said, I knew—but I also knew why he hadn’t sent the original before. It was the only physical link with Ian; to give it up was in some final way to relinquish him to the Mohawk.

“Ave!” said the note, in Ian’s half-formed writing. “Ian salutat avunculus Jacobus.” Ian salutes his uncle James.

Ian was more to Jamie than one of his nephews. Much as he loved all of Jenny’s children, Ian was special—a foster-son, like Fergus; but unlike Fergus, a son of Jamie’s blood, replacement in a way for the son he had lost. That son wasn’t dead, either, but could not ever be claimed. The world seemed suddenly full of lost children.

“Yes,” I said, my throat tight. “I think you should send it. Jenny should have it, even if . . .” I coughed, reminded suddenly by the note of the casebook. I reached for it, hoping it would distract him.

“Um. Speaking of Latin . . . there’s an odd bit in here. Could you have a look at it, perhaps?”

“Aye, of course.” He set Ian’s note aside and took the book from me, moving it so the last of the afternoon sun fell across the page. He frowned slightly, a finger tracing the lines of writing.

“Christ, the man’s no more grasp of Latin grammar than ye have yourself, Sassenach.”

“Oh, thanks. We can’t all be scholars now, can we?” I moved closer, peering over his shoulder as he read. I’d been right, then; Rawlings didn’t drop casually into Latin for the fun of it, or merely to show off his erudition.

“An oddity . . .” Jamie said, translating slowly as his finger moved across the page. “I am awake—no, he means ‘I was wakened,’ I think—by sounds in the chamber adjoining that where I lay. I am thinking—‘I thought’—that my patient went to make water, and am risen to follow . . . Why should he do that, I wonder?”

“The patient—it’s Hector Cameron, by the way—had a problem with his bladder. Rawlings would have wanted to watch him urinate, to see what sort of difficulty he had, whether he had pain, or blood in the urine, that sort of thing.”

Jamie gave me a side-long glance, one brow raised, then shook his head and returned to the casebook, murmuring something about the peculiar tastes of physicians.

“Homo procediente . . . the man proceeds . . . Why does he call him ‘the man,’ rather than his name?”

“He was writing in Latin to be secret,” I said, impatient to hear what came next. “If Cameron saw his name in the book, he’d be curious, I expect. What happened?”

“The man goes out—outdoors, does he mean, or only out of his chamber?—outdoors, it must be . . . goes out, and I follow. He walks steadily, quickly . . . Why should he not? Oh, here—I am puzzled. I give—have given—the man twelve grains of laudanum . . .”

“Twelve grains? Are you sure that’s what he says?” I leaned over Jamie’s arm, peering, but sure enough—he pointed to the entry, inscribed in clear black and white. “But that’s enough laudanum to fell a horse!”

“Aye, ‘twelve grains of laudanum to assist sleep,’ he says. No wonder the doctor was puzzled, then, to see Cameron scampering about the lawn in the middle of the night.”

I nudged him with an elbow.

“Get on!”

“Mmphm. Well, he says he went to the necessary house—no doubt thinking to find Cameron—but no one was there, and there wasna any smell of . . . er . . . he didna think anyone had been there recently.”

“You needn’t be delicate on my account,” I said.

“I know,” he said, grinning. “But my own sensibilities are no quite coarsened yet, in spite of my long association with you, Sassenach. Ow!” He jerked away, rubbing his arm where I had pinched him. I lowered my brows and gave him a stare, though inwardly pleased to have lightened the mood for both of us.

“Less about your sensibilities, if you please,” I said, tapping my foot. “Besides, you haven’t got any in the first place, or you’d never have married me. Where was Cameron, then?”

He scanned the page, lips silently forming words.

“He doesna ken. He prowled about the place until the butler popped out of his wee hole, thinking him a marauder of some sort, and threatened him wi’ a bottle of whisky.”

“A formidable weapon, that,” I observed, smiling at the thought of a nightcapped Ulysses, brandishing his implement of destruction. “How do you say ‘bottle of whisky’ in Latin?”

Jamie gave the page a glance.

“He says ‘aqua vitae,’ which is doubtless as close as he could manage. It must have been whisky, though; he says the butler gave him a dram to cure the shock.”

“So he never found Cameron?”

“Aye, he did, after he left Ulysses. Tucked up in his wee white bed, snoring. Next morning, he asked, but Cameron didna recall getting up in the night.” He flipped the page over with one finger and glanced at me. “Would the laudanum keep him from remembering?”

“It could do,” I said, frowning. “Easily. But it’s simply incredible that anyone with that much laudanum in him could have been up marching round in the first place . . . unless . . .” I cocked a brow at him, recalling Jocasta’s remarks during our discussion at River Run. “Any chance your Uncle Hector was an opium-eater or the like? Someone who took a great deal of laudanum by habit would have a tolerance for it, and might not be really affected by Rawlings’ dose.”

Never one to be shocked by any intimation of depravity among his relatives, Jamie considered the suggestion, but finally shook his head.

“If so, I’ve heard naught of it. But then,” he added logically, “there’s no reason anyone would tell me so.”

That was true enough. If Hector Cameron had had the means to indulge in imported narcotics—and he certainly had, River Run being one of the most prosperous plantations in the area—then it would have been no one’s business save his own. Still, I did think someone might have mentioned it.

Jamie’s mind was running on other lines.

“Why would a man leave his house in dead of night to piss, Sassenach?” he asked. “I know Hector Cameron had a chamber pot; I’ve used it myself. It had his name and the Cameron badge painted on the bottom.”

“Excellent question.” I stared down at the page of cryptic scratchings. “If Hector Cameron was having great pain or difficulty—passing a kidney stone, for example—I suppose he might have gone out, to avoid waking the house.”

“I havena heard my uncle was an opium-eater, but I havena heard he was ower-mindful of his wife or servants’ convenience, either,” Jamie observed, rather cynically. “From all accounts, Hector Cameron was a bit of a bastard.”

I laughed.

“No doubt that’s why your aunt finds Duncan so congenial.”

Adso wandered in, the remains of the dragonfly in his mouth, and sat down at my feet so I could admire his prize.

“Fine,” I told him, with a cursory pat. “Don’t spoil your appetite, though; there are a lot of cockroaches in the pantry that I want you to deal with.”

“Ecce homo,” Jamie murmured thoughtfully, tapping a finger on the casebook. “A French homo, do you think?”

“A what?” I stared at him.

“Does it not occur to ye, Sassenach, that perhaps it wasna Cameron that the doctor followed outside?”

“Not ’til this minute, no.” I leaned forward and peered at the page. “Why ought it to be anyone else, though, let alone a Frenchman?”

Jamie pointed to the edge of the page, where there were a few small drawings; doodles, I’d thought. The one under his finger was a fleur-de-lis.

“Ecce homo,” he said again, tapping it. “The doctor wasna easy in his mind about the man he followed—that’s why he didna call him by name. If Cameron were drugged, then it was someone else who left the house that night—yet he doesna speak of anyone else who was present.”

“But he might not mention it, unless he’d examined whoever it was,” I argued. “He does put in personal notes, but most of this is strictly his case histories; his observations of his patients and the treatments he was administering. But still . . .” I frowned at the page. “A fleur-de-lis scribbled in the margin doesn’t necessarily mean anything at all, let alone that there was a Frenchman there.” Save Fergus, Frenchmen were not at all common in North Carolina. There were some French settlements south of Savannah, I knew—but that was hundreds of miles away.

The fleur-de-lis could be nothing more than a random doodle—and yet, Rawlings hadn’t made such scribbles anywhere else in his book that I recalled. When he added drawings, they were careful and to the point, intended as a reminder to himself, or as a guide to any physician who should come after him.

Above the fleur-de-lis was a figure that looked rather like a triangle with a small circle at the apex and a curved base; below it was a sequence of letters. Au et Aq.

“A . . . u,” I said slowly, looking at that. “Aurum.”

“Gold?” Jamie glanced up at me, surprised. I nodded.

“It’s the scientific abbreviation for gold, yes. ‘Aurum et aqua.’ Gold and water—I suppose he means goldwasser, bits of gold flake suspended in an aqueous solution. It’s a remedy for arthritis—oddly enough, it often works, though no one knows why.”

“Expensive,” Jamie observed. “Though I suppose Cameron could afford it—perhaps he saved an ounce or two of his gold bars, eh?”

“He did say Cameron suffered from arthritis.” I frowned at the page and its cryptic marginalia. “Maybe he meant to advise the use of goldwasser for the condition. But I don’t know about the fleur-de-lis or that other thing—” I pointed at it. “It’s not the symbol for any medical treatment I know of.”