Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 125

   

“I wish Grandda was here,” she said. “He could tell me a story.” The note of comparative accusation was clear in her voice.

“Spell ‘hordeolum’ for me and I’ll tell you the one about the water horse’s wife,” I suggested. That made her unaffected eye fly open with interest.

“What’s a hordeolum?”

“That’s the scientific name for a sty.”

“Oh.” She seemed unimpressed by this, but her forehead creased a little in concentration, and I could see her lips move as she sounded out the syllables. Both Joanie and Félicité were good spellers; they’d been playing with discarded lead type since they were toddlers and loved stumping each other with new words.

That was a thought; maybe I could get her to spell unusual words for me during the compress treatments. The sty was a big, nasty one; her entire eyelid had been red and swollen in the beginning, the eye no more than a gleaming, resentful slit. Now the sty itself had shrunk to the size of a pea, and at least three-quarters of the eye was visible.

“H,” she said, watching me to see if that was right, and I nodded. “O, R, D . . .” I nodded again, and saw her lips move silently. “Hor-de-o-lum,” I repeated helpfully, and she nodded, more confident. “E, O, L, U, M!”

“Excellent!” I said, beaming at her. “How about . . .” I cast about for another good one, long but strictly phonetic. “Hepatitis?”

“What’s that?”

“Viral infection of the liver. Do you know where your liver is?” I was looking through my medicine chest, but appeared to be out of aloe salve. I should ride over to Bartram’s Garden tomorrow, I thought, weather permitting. I was out of almost everything, in the wake of the battle. The usual small twinge came in my side at thought of it, but I pushed it firmly away. It would fade, and so would the thoughts.

Marsali appeared suddenly in the kitchen door, as Joanie was carefully spelling “acanthocytosis,” and I looked up from my grinding. She was holding a letter in her hand and looked worried.

“Is it the Indian they call Joseph Brant that Young Ian kens?” she asked.

“I expect he knows quite a few of them,” I replied, setting down my pestle. “But I’ve heard him mention Joseph Brant, yes. The man’s Mohawk name starts with a ‘T,’ I think, but that’s as much as I feel sure of. Why?” I felt a slight uneasiness at the name. Ian’s Mohawk wife, Emily, had been living in a settlement in New York founded by Brant; Ian had mentioned it, very briefly, when he’d gone up there to visit her last year.

He hadn’t said what the purpose of his visit was, and neither Jamie nor I had asked, but I assumed it to have had something to do with his fear that he couldn’t sire children, as all his babies with Emily had either been stillborn or miscarried. He’d asked me about the matter, and I’d told him what I could, offering what reassurance I could that he might be able to have children with another woman.

I offered up a quick prayer for Rachel’s chances, then returned abruptly to what Marsali was saying.

“They did what?”

“This gentleman”—she tapped the letter—“says that Brant and his men fell upon a wee place called Andrustown. No but seven families living there.” Her lips pressed tight, and she glanced at Joanie, who was listening with her ears flapping. “They plundered and burnt the place, he says, and massa—er . . . did awa wi’ a number of the folk who lived there.”

“What’s that word, Mam?” Joanie asked brightly. “The one that means ‘did awa’ with?”

“‘Massacred,’” I told her, saving her mother the embarrassment. “It means indiscriminate and brutal slaughter. Here.” I handed her the fresh compress, which she applied without protest, frowning in thought.

“Is that different than just killin’ someone?”

“Well,” I said judiciously, “it depends. You might kill someone by accident, for instance, and that wouldn’t be a massacre, though it would certainly be lamentable. You might kill someone who was trying to kill you, and that would be self-defense.”

“Rachel says ye oughtn’t do that,” Joanie observed, but merely for the sake of thoroughness. “What about if ye’re with an army and have to kill the soldiers on the other side?”

Marsali made a low Scottish noise of disapproval but answered tersely.

“If a man’s gone to the army, then killin’ is his job,” she said. “He does it—mostly—” she added fairly, with a raised brow to me, “to protect his ain family and property. So that’s more like self-defense, aye?”

Joanie glanced from her mother to me, still frowning.

“I ken what ‘bru-tal’ is,” she said. “That’s bein’ mean when ye havena got to. But what’s ‘in-dis-crim-in-ate’?” She sounded it out carefully, as though about to spell it.

“Without choosing,” I said, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. “It means you do something without taking much notice who you do it to and probably without much reason to do it to that particular person.”

“Did Cousin Ian’s Indian friend have nay reason for burning yon place and killing the folk, then?”

Marsali and I exchanged a glance.

“We dinna ken that,” Marsali said. “But it’s no a good thing, whatever he meant by it. Now, ye’re done. Go along and find Félicité and start in fillin’ up the washtub.” She took the compress from Joanie and shooed her out.

She stood watching until Joanie had gone out through the back door, then turned to me and handed me the letter.

It was from a Mr. Johansen, apparently one of Fergus’s regular correspondents, and the contents were as Marsali had said, though adding a few gruesome details that she hadn’t mentioned in Joanie’s hearing. It was fairly factual, with only the barest of eighteenth-century ornaments, and the more hair-raising—literally, I thought; some of the Andrustown residents had been scalped, by report—for that.

Marsali nodded as I looked up from the letter.

“Aye,” she said. “Fergus wants to publish the account, but I’m nay so sure he ought to. Because of Young Ian, ken?”

“What’s because of Young Ian?” said a Scottish voice from the printshop doorway, and Jenny came through, a marketing basket over one arm. Her eyes went to the letter in my hand, and her sharp dark brows rose.

“Has he told ye much about her?” Marsali asked, having explained the letter. “The Indian lass he wed?”

Jenny shook her head and began taking things out of her basket.

“Nay a word, save for his telling Jamie to say he wouldna forget us.” A shadow crossed her face at the memory, and I wondered for a moment how it must have been for her and Ian, receiving Jamie’s account of the circumstances in which Ian had become a Mohawk. I knew the agony with which he’d written that letter, and doubted that the reading of it had been done with less.

She laid down an apple and beckoned to me for the letter. Having read it through in silence, she looked at me. “D’ye think he’s got feelings for her still?”

“I think he does,” I answered reluctantly. “But nothing like his feelings for Rachel, surely.” I did recall him, though, standing with me in the twilight on the demilune battery at Fort Ticonderoga, when he’d told me about his children—and Emily, his wife.

“He feels guilty about her, does he?” Jenny asked, shrewdly watching my face. I gave her a look, but nodded. She compressed her lips, but then handed the letter back to Marsali.

“Well, we dinna ken whether his wife has anything to do wi’ this Brant or his doings, and it’s no her that’s been massacred. I’d say let Fergus print it, but”—and she glanced at me—“show the letter to Jamie and have him talk to wee Ian about it. He’ll listen.” Her expression lightened a little then, and a slight smile emerged. “He’s got a good wife now, and I think Rachel will keep him to home.”

MAIL WAS DELIVERED to the printshop at all hours of the day—and, not infrequently, the night—and by all manner of messengers. Philadelphia gloried in the best postal system in the colonies, this having been established by Benjamin Franklin only three years before; post riders rode regularly between New York and Philadelphia and over thirty other routes through the colonies.

Given the nature of Fergus’s business and the nature of the times, though, almost as much mail arrived by older routes: passed along by travelers, merchants, Indians, and soldiers, and shoved under the door in the night watches. Or handed to a member of the family in the street. It was exchanges of that sort during the British occupation of the city that had compelled me to marry John Grey in order to avoid arrest for sedition and spying.

John’s own letter, though, arrived sedately in the pouch of a postal rider, properly stamped, and sealed with a blob of yellow wax imprinted with his signet in the shape of a smiling half-moon.

To Mrs. James Fraser, Fraser’s Printshop, Philadelphia

From Lord John Grey, Wilbury House, New York

My dear,

I am with my brother and his regiment in New York, and am like to remain here for some time. That being so, I thought I would mention that the Lease of my house on Chestnut Street will run until the End of the Year, and as the Thought of it being left empty to be vandalized or left to ruin distresses me, I conceived the Notion of offering it to you once again.

Not, I hasten to add (lest your intransigent Husband be reading this), as a Domicile but rather as Premises for a Surgery. Acquainted as I am with your peculiar Habit of attracting Persons suffering from Disease, Deformity, or hideous Injury, and being also well acquainted with the Number of Persons presently inhabiting the younger Mr. Fraser’s printing Establishment, I believe you may find your medical Adventures more easily accommodated in Chestnut Street than between a Printing Press and a towering Stack of sixpenny Bibles bound in buckram.

As I do not expect you to spend your valuable Time in domestic Labor, I have arranged for Mrs. Figg and a Servant of her choice to remain in my employment for so long as you require them, being paid through my Bank. You will greatly oblige me, my dear, by accepting this Proposition, as it will put my mind at ease regarding the Property. And the Thought of you at work, earnestly administering a Clyster to General Arnold, will greatly enliven the Tedium of my present Condition.

Your most obedient Servant,

John

“What are ye smiling at, Mother Claire?” Marsali inquired, observing me with the letter in hand. She smiled, teasing. “Has someone sent ye a billet-doux?”

“Oh, something of the sort,” I said, folding it up. “You wouldn’t know where Jamie is just now, would you?”

She closed one eye to assist thought, keeping the other on Henri-Christian, who was industriously blacking his father’s best boots—and a good deal of himself in the process.

“He said he was going wi’ Young Ian to see a man about a horse,” she said, “and then to the docks.”

“The docks?” I said in surprise. “Did he say why?”

She shook her head. “I could maybe guess, though. That’ll do, Henri! A Dhia, the state of you! Go find one o’ your sisters and tell her to wash your hands for ye, aye?”

Henri looked at his hands, as though astonished to find them completely black.

“Oui, Maman,” he said, and, cheerfully wiping them on his breeches, scampered out into the kitchen, bellowing, “Félicité! Come wash me!” at the top of his lungs.

“Why?” I asked, moving closer and lowering my voice slightly—for obviously she’d got rid of Henri-Christian on the little pitchers–big ears principle.

“He’s been talking wi’ Fergus about going with ye, when ye go back to North Carolina,” she said. “If I had to guess, I’d say he’s gone to find out what it might cost to move everything”—she made a sweeping gesture, encompassing everything from printing press to loft—“by ship.”

“Hmm,” I said, as noncommittally as possible, though my heart had leapt—at both the thought of imminent departure for the Ridge and the thought that Fergus and Marsali might come with us. “Do you . . . want to?” I asked cautiously, seeing the line between her brows. She was still a lovely woman, fair and fine-boned, but she was too thin, and the lines of strain sharpened her features.

She shook her head, but in indecision rather than negation.

“I really dinna ken,” she admitted. “It’s a good bit easier now, wi’ the British gone—but they’re no so far away, are they? They could come back, and then what?” She glanced uneasily over her shoulder, though the print-shop was empty for the moment. Fergus had had to leave home and live furtively on the outskirts of the city, during the last months of the British occupation.

I opened my mouth to tell her that I doubted this. Hal Grey had told me, under the influence of ganja, that the new British strategy was to sever the southern colonies from the North and suppress the rebellion there, thus starving the North into submission. But I closed it without speaking. Best not to mention that until I found out whether Jamie had told Fergus.

Why didn’t I bloody know what was going to happen? I asked myself in frustration—and not for the first time. Why hadn’t I thought to brush up on American history when I had the chance?

Well, because I hadn’t expected to end up in America, was the answer. Just went to show, I supposed. Pointless to spend too much time in planning, anyway, given the propensity of life to make sudden left-hand turns without warning.

“It would be wonderful, if you were to come,” I said, as mildly as possible, adding craftily, “so nice to have the children nearby.”

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