Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 80

   

“What else is there?” I tilted up my face to his, touching his lips softly with my own. He smelled of smoke and sweat.

“What a man most often does, when he’s soul-sick wi’ killing, is to find a woman, Sassenach,” he answered softly. “His own, if he can; another, if he must. For she can do what he cannot—and heal him.”

My fingers found the lacing of his fly; it came loose with a tug.

“That’s why you let him go with the second Mary?”

He shrugged, and stepping back a pace, pushed the breeches down and off. “I couldna stop him. And I think perhaps I was right to let him, young as he is.” He smiled crookedly at me. “At least he’ll not be fashing and fretting himself over that seaman tonight.”

“I don’t imagine so. And what about you?” I pulled the chemise off over my head.

“Me?” He stared down at me, eyebrows raised, the grimy linen shirt hanging loose upon his shoulders.

I glanced behind him at the bed.

“Yes. You haven’t killed anyone, but do you want to…mmphm?” I met his gaze, raising my own brows in question.

The smile broadened across his face, and any resemblance to Michael, stern guardian of virtue, vanished. He lifted one shoulder, then the other, and let them fall, and the shirt slid down his arms to the floor.

“I expect I do,” he said. “But you’ll be gentle wi’ me, aye?”

29

CULLODEN’S LAST VICTIM

In the morning, I saw Jamie and Ian off on their pious errand, and then set off myself, stopping to purchase a large wicker basket from a vendor in the street. It was time I began to equip myself again, with whatever I could find in the way of medical supplies. After the events of the preceding day, I was beginning to fear I would have need of them before long.

Haugh’s apothecary shop hadn’t changed at all, through English occupation, Scottish Rising, and the Stuart’s fall, and my heart rose in delight as I stepped through the door into the rich, familiar smells of hartshorn, peppermint, almond oil, and anise.

The man behind the counter was Haugh, but a much younger Haugh than the middle-aged man I had dealt with twenty years before, when I had patronized this shop for tidbits of military intelligence, as well as for nostrums and herbs.

The younger Haugh did not know me, of course, but went courteously about the business of finding the herbs I wanted, among the neatly ranged jars on his shelves. A good many were common—rosemary, tansy, marigold—but a few on my list made the young Haugh’s ginger eyebrows rise, and his lips purse in thoughtfulness as he looked over the jars.

There was another customer in the shop, hovering near the counter, where tonics were dispensed and compounds ground to order. He strode back and forth, hands clasped behind his back, obviously impatient. After a moment, he came up to the counter.

“How long?” he snapped at Mr. Haugh’s back.

“I canna just say, Reverend,” the apothecary’s voice was apologetic. “Louisa did say as ’twould need to be boiled.”

The only reply to this was a snort, and the man, tall and narrow-shouldered in black, resumed his pacing, glancing from time to time at the doorway to the back room, where the invisible Louisa was presumably at work. The man looked slightly familiar, but I had no time to think where I had seen him before.

Mr. Haugh was squinting dubiously at the list I had given him. “Aconite, now,” he muttered. “Aconite. And what might that be, I wonder?”

“Well, it’s poison, for one thing,” I said. Mr. Haugh’s mouth dropped open momentarily.

“It’s a medicine, too,” I assured him. “But you have to be careful in the use of it. Externally, it’s good for rheumatism, but a very tiny amount taken by mouth will lower the rate of the pulse. Good for some kinds of heart trouble.”

“Really,” Mr. Haugh said, blinking. He turned to his shelves, looking rather helpless. “Er, do ye ken what it smells like, maybe?”

Taking this for invitation, I came round the counter and began to sort through the jars. They were all carefully labeled, but the labels of some were clearly old, the ink faded, and the paper peeling at the edges.

“I’m afraid I’m none so canny wi’ the medicines as my Da yet,” young Mr. Haugh was saying at my elbow. “He’d taught me a good bit, but then he passed on a year ago, and there’s things here as I dinna ken the use of, I’m afraid.”

“Well, that one’s good for cough,” I said, taking down a jar of elecampane with a glance at the impatient Reverend, who had taken out a handkerchief and was wheezing asthmatically into it. “Particularly sticky-sounding coughs.”

I frowned at the crowded shelves. Everything was dusted and immaculate, but evidently not filed according either to alphabetical or botanical order. Had old Mr. Haugh merely remembered where things were, or had he a system of some kind? I closed my eyes and tried to remember the last time I had been in the shop.

To my surprise, the image came back easily. I had come for foxglove then, to make the infusions for Alex Randall, younger brother of Black Jack Randall—and Frank’s six-times great-grandfather. Poor boy, he had been dead now twenty years, though he had lived long enough to sire a son. I felt a twinge of curiosity at the thought of that son, and of his mother, who had been my friend, but I forced my mind away from them, back to the image of Mr. Haugh, standing on tiptoe to reach up to his shelves, over near the right-hand side…

“There.” Sure enough, my hand rested near the jar labeled FOXGLOVE. To one side of it was a jar labeled HORSETAIL, to the other, LILY OF THE VALLEY ROOT. I hesitated, looking at them, running over in my mind the possible uses of those herbs. Cardiac herbs, all of them. If aconite was to be found, it would be close by, then.

It was. I found it quickly, in a jar labeled AULD WIVES HUID.

“Be careful with it.” I handed the jar gingerly to Mr. Haugh. “Even a bit of it will make your skin go numb. Perhaps I’d better have a glass bottle for it.” Most of the herbs I’d bought had been wrapped up in squares of gauze or twisted in screws of paper, but the young Mr. Haugh nodded and carried the jar of aconite into the back room, held at arm’s length, as though he expected it to explode in his face.

“Ye’d seem to know a good deal more about the medicines than the lad,” said a deep, hoarse voice behind me.

“Well, I’ve somewhat more experience than he has, likely.” I turned to find the minister leaning on the counter, watching me under thick brows with pale blue eyes. I realized with a start where I had seen him; in Moubray’s, the day before. He gave no sign of recognizing me; perhaps because my cloak covered Daphne’s dress. I had noticed that many men took relatively little notice of the face of a woman en décolletage, though it seemed a regrettable habit in a clergyman. He cleared his throat.

“Mmphm. And d’ye ken what to do for a nervous complaint, then?”

“What sort of nervous complaint?”

He pursed his lips and frowned, as though unsure whether to trust me. The upper lip came to a slight point, like an owl’s beak, but the lower was thick and pendulous.

“Well…’tis a complicated case. But to speak generally, now”—he eyed me carefully—“what would ye give for a sort of…fit?”

“Epileptic seizure? Where the person falls down and twitches?”

He shook his head, showing a reddened band about his neck, where the high white stock had chafed it.

“No, a different kind of fit. Screaming and staring.”

“Screaming and staring?”

“Not at once, ye ken,” he added hastily. “First the one, and then the other—or rather, roundabout. First she’ll do naught but stare for days on end, not speaking, and then of a sudden, she’ll scream fit to wake the deid.”

“That sounds very trying.” It did; if he had a wife so afflicted, it could easily explain the deep lines of strain that bracketed his mouth and eyes, and the blue circles of exhaustion beneath his eyes.

I tapped a finger on the counter, considering. “I don’t know; I’d have to see the patient.”

The minister’s tongue touched his lower lip. “Perhaps…would ye be willing maybe, to come and see her? It isn’t far,” he added, rather stiffly. Pleading didn’t come naturally to him, but the urgency of his request communicated itself despite the stiffness of his figure.

“I can’t, just now,” I told him. “I have to meet my husband. But perhaps this afternoon—”

“Two o’clock,” he said promptly. “Henderson’s, in Carrubber’s Close. Campbell is the name, the Reverend Archibald Campbell.”

Before I could say yes or no, the curtain between the front room and the back twitched aside, and Mr. Haugh appeared with two bottles, one of which he handed to each of us.

The Reverend eyed his with suspicion, as he groped in his pocket for a coin.

“Weel, and there’s your price,” he said ungraciously, slapping it on the counter. “And we’ll hope as you’ve given me the right one, and no the lady’s poison.”

The curtain rustled again and a woman looked out after the departing form of the minister.

“Good riddance,” she remarked. “Happence for an hour’s work, and insult on the top of it! The Lord might ha’ chosen better, is all I can say!”

“Do you know him?” I asked, curious whether Louisa might have any helpful information about the afflicted wife.

“Not to say I ken him weel, no,” Louisa said, staring at me in frank curiosity. “He’s one o’ they Free Church meenisters, as is always rantin’ on the corner by the Market Cross, tellin’ folk as their behavior’s of nay consequence at all, and all that’s needful for salvation is that they shall ‘come to grips wi’ Jesus’—like as if Our Lord was to be a fair-day wrestler!” She sniffed disdainfully at this heretical viewpoint, crossing herself against contamination.

“I’m surprised the likes of the Reverend Campbell should come in our shop, hearin’ what he thinks o’ Papists by and large.” Her eyes sharpened at me.

“But you’ll maybe be Free Church yoursel’, ma’am; meanin’ no offense to ye, if so.”

“No, I’m a Catholic—er, a Papist, too,” I assured her. “I was only wondering whether you knew anything about the Reverend’s wife, and her condition.”

Louisa shook her head, turning to deal with a new customer.

“Nay, I’ve ne’er seen the lady. But whatever’s the matter with her,” she added, frowning after the departed Reverend, “I’m sure that livin’ wi’ him doesna improve it any!”

The weather was chill but clear, and only a faint hint of smoke lingered in the Rectory garden as a reminder of the fire. Jamie and I sat on a bench against the wall, absorbing the pale winter sunshine as we waited for Young Ian to finish his confession.

“Did you tell Ian that load of rubbish he gave Young Ian yesterday? About where I’d been all this time?”

Loading...