Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 10

   

I did in fact take my hand off his chest, though, and, rising, I went out into the hall before he could find breath to say anything. Jenny had taken up a stand by the open doorway, looking up and down the street.

“What’s going on out there?” I asked.

“I dinna ken,” she said, not taking her eyes off a couple of rough-looking men who were lounging down the other side of the street. “But I dinna like the feel of it a bit. D’ye think he’s right?”

“That the British army is leaving? Yes. They are. And very likely half the Loyalists in the city with them.” I knew exactly what she meant by not liking the feel of things. The air was hot and thick, buzzing with cicadas, and the leaves of the chestnut trees along the street hung limp as dishrags. But something was moving in the atmosphere. Excitement? Panic? Fear? All three, I thought.

“Had I best go to the printshop, d’ye think?” she asked, turning to me with a slight frown. “Would Marsali and the weans be safer if I fetched them here, I mean? If there was to be a riot or the like?”

I shook my head.

“I don’t think so. They’re well-known Patriots. It’s the Loyalists who will be in danger, if the British army is leaving. They won’t have any protection, and the Rebels may well . . . do things to them. And”—a very unpleasant feeling snaked down my backbone, like a cold, slimy finger—“this is a Loyalist household.” “Without even a door to shut and bolt,” I might have added, but didn’t.

There was a loud thump from the parlor, as of a body hitting the floor, but Jenny didn’t turn a hair, nor did I. We’d both had a lot of experience with stubborn men. I could hear him panting; if he started wheezing again, I’d go in.

“Will it put ye in danger, then, to have him here?” she asked, sotto voce, with a tilt of her head toward the parlor. “Maybe ye’d best come to the printshop.”

I grimaced, trying to evaluate the possibilities. The notes I’d sent with Germain would delay inquiries, and I could put off anyone who did come. But that also meant I could expect no immediate help from the army, if help was needed. And it might be; someone in that hostile crowd on Fourth Street might well have heard where I’d told the chairmen to come. That hostility now showed itself in a different light.

If the Rebels in the city were about to rise and turn upon the defenseless Loyalists—and the currents I sensed beginning to swirl through the streets were dark ones—

“Someone might just show up on your porch wi’ a keg of tar and a bag o’ feathers,” Jenny observed, preempting my thought in a most unnerving way.

“Well, that wouldn’t help His Grace’s asthma a bit,” I said, and she laughed.

“Had ye maybe better give him back to General Clinton?” she suggested. “I’ve had soldiers search my house, wi’ a wanted man hidin’ in the bottom o’ my wardrobe and my newborn bairn in his arms. I dinna think it would be a great deal easier on the nerves to have the Sons o’ Liberty come in here after His Grace, if half what Marsali told me about them is true.”

“It probably is.” A gunshot smacked through the heavy air, flat and dull, from somewhere near the river, and we both tensed. It wasn’t repeated, though, and after a moment I drew breath again.

“The thing is, he’s not stable. I can’t risk taking him through streets filled with dust and tree pollen and then leaving him in the care of an army surgeon, or even that quack Hebdy. Were he to have another attack and no one able to get him through it . . .”

Jenny grimaced.

“Aye, ye’re right,” she said reluctantly. “And ye canna leave him here and go yourself, for the same reason.”

“That’s right.” And Jamie would be coming here, to find me. I wouldn’t leave.

“Ken, if Jamie came and didna find ye here, he’d go to the printshop next thing,” Jenny observed, making the hair prickle on the back of my neck.

“Will you stop doing that!?”

“What?” she said, startled.

“Reading my mind!”

“Oh, that.” She grinned at me, blue eyes creasing into triangles. “Everything ye think shows on your face, Claire. Surely Jamie’s told ye that?”

A deep flush burned upward from my low-cut décolletage, and only then did I recall that I was still wearing the amber-colored silk, which was now soaked with sweat, rimed with dust, and altogether rather the worse for wear. And which had very tight stays. I rather hoped that everything I was thinking didn’t show on my face, because there was quite a bit of information I didn’t mean to share with Jenny just yet.

“Well, I canna tell everything ye think,” she admitted—doing it again, dammit!—“but it’s easy to tell when ye’re thinking about Jamie.”

I decided that I really didn’t want to hear what I looked like when thinking about Jamie and was about to excuse myself to look in on the duke, who I could hear coughing and swearing breathlessly to himself in German, when my attention was distracted by a boy sprinting down the street as though the devil were after him, his coat on inside out and shirttails streaming.

“Colenso!” I exclaimed.

“What?” Jenny said, startled.

“Not what. Who. Him,” I said, pointing at the grubby little creature panting up the walk. “Colenso Baragwanath. William’s groom.”

Colenso, who always looked as though he should be squatting atop a toadstool, came hurtling toward the door with such violence that Jenny and I both leapt out of the way. Colenso tripped on the doorsill and fell flat on his face.

“Ye look as though Auld Hornie himself was after ye, lad,” Jenny said, bending down to hoick him to his feet. “And whatever’s become of your breeks?”

Sure enough, the boy was barefoot and wearing only his shirt beneath his coat.

“They took ’em,” he blurted, gasping for breath.

“Who?” I said, pulling his coat off and turning it right side out again.

“Them,” he said, gesturing hopelessly toward Locust Street. “I put me head into the ordinary, to see was Lord Ellesmere there—he is, sometimes—and there was a knot o’ men all buzzin’ like a hive o’ bees together. They was big lads with ’em, and one of ’em as knew me saw me and raises up a great cry, shoutin’ as I’m a-spyin’ on ’em and mean to take word back to the army, and then they grabbed me and they called me a turncoat and put me coat on backward and the one man said he’d beat me and teach me not to do such as that and pulled off me breeches and . . . and . . . anyway, I squirmed out of his hand and fell down on the floor and crawled out under the tables and took off a-runnin’.” He wiped a sleeve under his runny nose. “His lordship here, ma’am?”

“No,” I said. “Why do you want him?”

“Oh, I don’t, ma’am,” he assured me, with evident sincerity. “Major Findlay wants him. Now.”

“Hmm. Well . . . wherever he is at the moment, he’ll likely go back to his regular billet this evening. You know where that is, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am, but I’m not a-goin’ back in the street ’thout my breeches!” He looked both horrified and indignant, and Jenny laughed.

“Dinna blame ye a bit, lad,” she said. “Tell ye what, though—my eldest grandson’s likely got an old pair of breeches he could spare. I’ll step round to the printshop,” she said to me, “fetch the breeches, and tell Marsali what’s ado.”

“All right,” I said, a little reluctant to see her go. “But hurry back. And tell her not to print any of this in the newspaper!”

THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST UPON A RELUCTANT DISCIPLE

DAN MORGAN’S “IT” WAS nearby: a ramshackle cabin set in a little elm grove, down a short dirt lane off the main road. There was a big gray gelding hobbled and cropping grass nearby, his tack resting on the porch; he looked up briefly and whinnied at the newcomers.

Jamie ducked under the lintel after Dan and found himself in a dark, shabby room that smelled of cabbage water, grime, and the sharp reek of urine. There was one window, its shutters left open for air, and the sunlight coming in silhouetted the long-skulled head of a large man sitting at the table, who raised his head at the opening of the door.

“Colonel Morgan,” he said, in a soft voice touched with the drawl of Virginia. “Have you brought me good news?”

“That’s just what I brought you, General,” auld Dan said, and shoved Jamie ahead of him toward the table. “I found this rascal on the road and bade him come along. This’ll be Colonel Fraser, who I’ve told you of before. Just come back from Scotland, and the very man to take command of Taylor’s troops.”

The big man had risen from the table and put out a hand, smiling—though he smiled with his lips pressed tight together, as though afraid something might escape. The man was as tall as Jamie himself, and Jamie found himself looking straight into sharp gray-blue eyes that took his measure in the instant it took to shake hands.

“George Washington,” the man said. “Your servant, sir.”

“James Fraser,” Jamie said, feeling mildly stunned. “Your . . . most obedient. Sir.”

“Sit with me, Colonel Fraser.” The big Virginian gestured toward one of the rough benches at the table. “My horse pulled up lame, and my slave’s gone to find another. No notion how long it may take him, as I require a good sturdy beast to bear my weight, and those are thin on the ground these days.” He looked Jamie up and down with frank appraisal; they were much of a size. “I don’t suppose you have a decent horse with you, sir?”

“Aye, I do.” It was clear what Washington expected, and Jamie yielded gracefully. “Will ye do me the honor to take him, General?”

Auld Dan made a disgruntled noise and shifted from foot to foot, clearly wanting to object, but Jamie gave him a brief shake of the head. It wasn’t that far to Philadelphia; he could walk.

Washington looked pleased and thanked Jamie with grace in turn, saying that the horse should be returned to him as soon as another suitable mount might be procured.

“But it is somewhat necessary that I be nimble at present, Colonel,” Washington remarked, with an air of apology. “You’re aware, are you, that Clinton is withdrawing from Philadelphia?”

A shock went through Jamie like a hot penny dropped on butter.

“It—he—no, sir. I was not aware.”

“I was just about to get to that,” Dan said tetchily. “No one lets me get one word in edgewise, I tell you.”

“Well, now you’ve got one,” Washington said, amused. “You might get another, if you’re quick enough to speak before Lee gets here. Sit down, gentlemen, if you will. I’m expecting—ah, there they are.” Sounds from the dooryard indicated a number of horsemen arriving, and within a few moments the cabin was crowded with Continental officers.

They were a creased and weathered lot, for the most part, dressed in motley bits of uniform, these coupled uneasily with hunting shirts or homespun breeches. Even the complete suits of clothes were mud-spattered and worn, and the smell of men who’d been living rough quite overcame the gentler domestic reeks of the cabin.

Among the shuffling and excited greetings, Jamie spotted the source of the urinous smell, though: a thin-faced woman stood with her back pressed into a corner of the room, holding an infant wrapped in a ratty shawl against her bosom, her eyes darting to and fro among the intruders. A dark wet patch showed on the shawl, but it was plain the woman was afraid to move from her place to change the wean and instead shifted mechanically from foot to foot, patting the child to soothe it.

“Colonel Fraser! Well met! Well met!” The voice jerked his attention away, and, to his astonishment, he found his hand being pumped with enthusiasm by Anthony Wayne—known quite openly by now as “Mad Anthony”—whom he had last seen a few weeks before the fall of Ticonderoga.

“Is your wife well, sir, and your Indian nephew?” Wayne was asking, beaming up into Jamie’s face. Anthony was short and stocky, with the full cheeks of a chipmunk, but also equipped with a sharp, poking sort of nose over which his eyes did now and then seem to glow with fire. At the moment, Jamie was relieved to see them merely alight with friendly interest.

“All well, sir, I thank ye. And—”

“Tell me, is your wife near at hand?” Wayne moved a little closer and lowered his voice a bit. “I’ve been having the most damnable time with my gouty foot, and she did wonders with the abscess at the base of my spine while we were at Ti—”

“Colonel Fraser, allow me to make you acquainted with Major General Charles Lee and with General Nathanael Greene.” George Washington’s voice drove a smooth Virginia wedge between himself and the base of Mad Anthony’s spine, to Jamie’s relief.

Besides Washington himself, Charles Lee was the best equipped of the lot, wearing complete uniform from gorget to polished boots. Jamie hadn’t met him before but could have picked him out of a crowd as a professional soldier, no matter how he was dressed. An Englishman of the sort who seemed always to be smelling something dubious, but he shook hands cordially enough, with a clipped “Your servant, sir.” Jamie knew exactly two things about Charles Lee, both told to him by Young Ian: to wit, that the man had a Mohawk wife—and that the Mohawk called him “Ounewaterika.” Ian said it meant “Boiling Water.”

Between Mad Anthony and Boiling Water, Jamie was beginning to feel that he should have spurred up and run for it when he met Dan Morgan on the road, but too late for regrets.

“Sit, gentlemen, we have no time to waste.” Washington turned to the woman in the corner. “Have you anything to drink, Mrs. Hardman?”

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