Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 106

   

“Since you are here—Uncle John, could we possibly use your house? For the wedding, I mean. Please, please?”

“The wedding?” Hal disengaged himself gently and cleared his throat. “Your wedding?”

“Of course I mean my wedding, Papa. Don’t be silly.” She beamed at her uncle, placing a coquettish hand on his sleeve. “May we, Uncle John? We cannot be married in a meetinghouse, but we must have witnesses for a proper marriage of Friends, and, really, I’m sure Papa wouldn’t want to see me married in the public room of a tavern. Would you?” she appealed, turning to Hal, whose expression had reverted to its earlier guardedness.

“Well, certainly you may, my dear,” John said, glancing round his parlor. “Assuming that I retain possession of this place long enough for the marriage to take place. When is the ceremony to be, and how many witnesses will we need to accommodate?”

She hesitated, tapping a fingernail against her teeth.

“I’m not really sure. There will be some of the conscientious Friends who, like Denny, have been put out of meeting for joining the Continental army. And some friends—friends in the lowercase, meaning no disrespect—if any are left in Philadelphia. And . . . family?” She hesitated again, looking at her father sideways, from under her lashes. John suppressed a smile.

Hal closed his eyes and sighed deeply.

“Yes, I’ll come to your wedding,” he said, opening them with resignation. “And so will Henry, if I have to drag him by the scruff of the neck. I suppose Mrs. Woodcock must be invited, too,” he added, with a marked lack of enthusiasm. “But of course Adam . . . and—and Ben—”

John thought for a moment that he must tell her now, but his brother’s lips closed, firmed with determination. He didn’t look at John, but John caught the “Not now, for God’s sake. Let her be happy for a bit longer,” as clearly as if it had been spoken aloud.

“No, that’s too bad,” Dottie said with regret, and met her father’s eyes directly. “I’m sorry about Mama. I did write to her, though.”

“Did you, sweetheart?” Hal said, sounding almost normal. “That was thoughtful.” He tilted his head at her, though, eyes narrowing a bit. “What else?”

“Oh.” Her color, which had returned to normal, rose again, and she began absently pleating her apron with one hand. “Well. Did you know that Rachel—Denzell’s sister—is affianced to Ian Murray? That’s Mr. James—no, no, we don’t use ‘Mister,’ sorry—he’s the nephew of James Fraser. You know—”

“I do know,” Hal said, in a tone cutting off further amendation. “Who he is, I mean. What are you saying, Dottie? Without embroidery, if you please.”

She sniffed at him but didn’t appear to be discomposed in the least.

“Well, then. Rachel and Ian wish to be married as soon as they can, and so do Denny and I. As all the witnesses will be present, why not have both marriages at the same time?”

This time, Hal did look at John. Who returned the look, somewhat taken aback.

“Ah . . . well. I suppose that would mean additional guests? Including the aforementioned Mr. Fraser? I’m sure you will excuse my using his title, my dear; I’m accustomed to such social excesses.”

“Well, yes. Rachel says that Mrs. Fraser is enough recovered that they will return to Philadelphia tomorrow or next day. And then of course there’s Fergus and his wife, Marsali, and perhaps the children, and I don’t know if there are other friends who—I don’t think Ian has any Mohawk relations nearby, but—”

“One, two, three, four, five . . .” John turned and began counting the small gilt chairs that stood rigidly to attention beneath the wainscoting. “I think we shall be somewhat cramped, Dottie, but if—”

Mrs. Figg cleared her throat. The sound was sufficiently impressive that everyone else stopped talking and looked at her.

“Beg pardon, gentlemen,” she said, and a faint flush was visible on her round face. “I don’t mean to be forward or presuming . . . but so happens that I mentioned to the Reverend Figg about Miss Dottie and Friend Denzell needing a place to be married in.”

She cleared her throat, the blush growing deeper beneath her dark skin, so that she bore a surprising resemblance to a just-fired cannonball, Grey thought, charmed by the notion.

“And . . . well, the long and the short of it, ma’am and gentlemen, is that the reverend and his congregation would be pleased was you to consider being married in the new church building, you having been so kind as to contribute to it. ’Tain’t anyways fancy, mind, but—”

“Mrs. Figg, you are a marvel.” Grey clasped her hands in his, an attention that flustered her to the point of speechlessness. Seeing this, he let go, though this allowed Dottie to swoop in and kiss the housekeeper, exclaiming in gratitude. That was all right, but when Hal took Mrs. Figg by the hand and kissed it, the poor lady was reduced nearly to the point of suffocation and, snatching back her hand, retreated in haste, muttering disjointedly about tea and narrowly avoiding tripping on a marrow.

“Is it all right to be married in a church?” Hal asked Dottie, once Mrs. Figg had retired to a safe distance. “It’s not like Jews, is it? We needn’t be circumcised in order to attend? Because if so, I think your guest list may be substantially reduced.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s not . . .” Dottie began rather vaguely, but her attention was distracted by something seen through the front window. “Goodness, is that . . . ?”

Not bothering to complete her thought, she flew to the unbolted door and yanked it open, revealing a startled William on the stoop.

“Dottie!” he said. “What—” And then caught sight of John and Hal. William’s face underwent a lightning shift that made a frisson run straight down John’s back to his tailbone. He’d seen that exact expression on Jamie Fraser’s face a hundred times, at least—but had never before seen it on William’s.

It was the look of a man who doesn’t like his immediate prospects one bit—but who feels himself entirely capable of dealing with them. William stepped inside, repelling by force of will Dottie’s abortive attempt to embrace him. He removed his hat and bowed to Dottie, then, punctiliously, to John and Hal.

“Your servant, ma’am. Sirs.”

Hal snorted, looking his nephew over from head to toe. William was dressed much as John and Hal were, in ordinary clothes—though clothes of good cut and quality, John observed; clearly his own.

“And where the devil have you been for the last three days, may I ask?”

“No, you mayn’t,” William replied briefly. “Why are you here?”

“Looking for you, for one thing,” John replied equably, before Hal could stick his oar in again. He’d put the fowling piece on the mantel, easily within Hal’s reach, but was reasonably sure it wasn’t loaded. “And for Captain Richardson, for another. Have you seen him recently?”

William’s expression of surprise made John heave an internal sigh of relief. “No, I haven’t.” William glanced shrewdly from one man to the other. “Is that what you were doing at Arnold’s headquarters? Looking for Richardson?”

“Yes,” John answered, surprised. “How did you—oh. You were watching the place.” He smiled. “I did wonder how you happened to appear here so fortuitously. You followed us from General Arnold’s.”

William nodded and, stretching out a long arm, drew out one of the chairs from the wall. “I did. Sit down. Things need to be said.”

“That sounds rather ominous,” Dottie murmured. “Perhaps I’d best fetch the brandy.”

“Please do, Dottie,” John said. “Tell Mrs. Figg we want the ’57, if you would. If it isn’t buried, I mean.”

“I think everything of an alcoholic nature is in the well, actually. I’ll fetch it.”

Mrs. Figg herself arrived at this point with a rattling tea tray, apologizing for the lowly earthenware pot in which the beverage was brewing, and within a few moments, everyone was provided with a steaming cup and a small glass of the ’57.

“Thank you, sweetheart,” Hal said, accepting a glass from Dottie, then adding pointedly, “You needn’t stay.”

“I’d rather you did, Dottie,” William said quietly, but with an overt stare at Hal. “There are things you ought to know, I think.”

With no more than a brief glance at her father, Dottie, who had been picking up the scattered squash, sat down on the ottoman, opposite her cousin.

“Tell me, then,” she said simply.

“Nothing out of the way,” he assured her, with an assumption of casualness. “I’ve recently discovered that I am the natural son of one James Fraser, who—”

“Oh,” she said, and looked at him with renewed interest. “I did think General Fraser reminded me of someone! Of course, that’s it! Goodness, Willie, you do look like him!”

William looked flabbergasted, but quickly pulled himself together.

“He’s a general?” he asked Hal.

“He was,” Hal said. “He’s resigned his commission.”

William made a small, humorless noise. “Has he? Well, so have I.”

After a long silent moment, John placed his cup carefully on its saucer with a small clink.

“Why?” he asked mildly, at the same moment that Hal, frowning, said, “Can you do such a thing while technically a prisoner of war?”

“I don’t know,” William said tersely, and evidently in answer to both questions. “But I’ve done it. Now, as to Captain Richardson . . .” and he recounted his astonishing encounter with Denys Randall-Isaacs on the road.

“Or, rather, Denys Randall, as he now calls himself. Evidently his stepfather’s a Jew, and he wishes to avoid the association.”

“Sensible,” Hal said briefly. “I don’t know him. What else do you know about him, William? What’s his connection with Richardson?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” William said, and, draining his cup, reached for the pot and poured another. “There is one, obviously, and prior to this, I would have assumed that Randall perhaps worked with, or for, Richardson.”

“Perhaps he still does,” John suggested, a slight edge in his voice. He’d been a spy himself for some years and was disinclined to take things said by known intelligencers at face value.

That seemed to take William aback for a moment, but he nodded reluctantly.

“All right,” he conceded. “But tell me—why the devil are you two interested in Richardson?”

They told him.

At the conclusion, Hal was perched anxiously on the ottoman beside Dottie, an arm round her shaking shoulders. She was weeping silently, and he was dabbing at her face with his handkerchief, this now a grubby rag following its service as a flag of truce.

“I don’t believe it,” he was repeating doggedly, for the sixth or seventh time. “Do you hear me, darling, I do not believe it, and I won’t have you believe it, either.”

“N-no,” she said obediently. “No . . . I won’t. Oh, Ben!”

In some hopes of distracting her, John turned back to William.

“And what business brought you to Philadelphia, may I ask? You can’t have come in search of Captain Richardson, because when you left camp, you didn’t know he’d disappeared.”

“I came on a personal matter,” William said, in a tone suggesting that the matter was still personal and was going to remain that way. “But also . . .” He pressed his lips together for a moment, and again John had that odd sense of dislocation, seeing Jamie Fraser. “I was going to leave this here for you, in case you came back to the city. Or ask Mrs. Figg to send it to New York, if . . .” His voice trailed away, as he pulled a letter from the breast of his dark-blue coat.

“But I needn’t now,” he concluded firmly, and put it away again. “It’s only saying what I’ve already told you.” A slight flush touched his cheekbones, though, and he avoided John’s eye, turning instead to Hal.

“I’ll go and find out about Ben,” he said simply. “I’m not a soldier any longer; there’s no danger of my being taken up as a spy. And I can travel much more easily than you can.”

“Oh, William!” Dottie took the handkerchief from her father and blew her nose with a small, ladylike honk. She looked at him with brimming eyes. “Will you, really? Oh, thank you!”

That was not, of course, the end of it. But it was no revelation to Grey that William possessed a stubbornness so obviously derived from his natural father that no one but Hal would even have thought of arguing with him. And even Hal didn’t argue long.

In due course, William rose to go.

“Give Mrs. Figg my love, please,” he said to John, and, with a small bow to Dottie, “Goodbye, cousin.”

John followed him to the door to let him out, but at the threshold put a hand on his sleeve.

“Willie,” he said softly. “Give me the letter.”

For the first time, William looked a little less than certain. He put his hand to his breast, but left it there, hesitant.

“I won’t read it—unless you don’t come back. But if you don’t . . . I want it. To keep.”

William drew breath, nodded, and, reaching into his coat, removed a sealed cover and handed it over. Grey saw that it had been sealed with a thick daub of candle wax and that William hadn’t used his signet, preferring instead to stamp it with his thumbprint, firm in the hot wax.

“Thank you,” he said through the lump in his throat. “Godspeed. Son.”

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