Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 130

   

“I can dress myself, you know,” John said mildly. “As for the uniform—” He glanced down and shrugged. “Bit of a brush-off, clean shirt, spare stockings . . . it’s not as though I mean to be calling on General Washington.”

“We can only hope.” Hal’s lips pressed together. He’d already expressed his reservations—if anything so violently explicit could be described in such terms—regarding Grey’s intent to travel as himself, in uniform.

“I’ve had quite enough of being arrested as a spy, thank you,” John replied. “Beyond the risk of being hanged out-of-hand, the Americans’ sense of hospitality . . . though come to think, I’d meant to ask: do you know a Watson Smith? Used to be a captain in the Twenty-second, I think.”

Hal frowned in concentration, but his brow cleared almost immediately.

“I do,” he said. “A very good officer; did well at Crefeld and Zorndorf.” He cocked his head to one side, brows raised. “Why?”

“He’s turned his coat; he’s now a colonel in the Continental army. I was his involuntary guest for a short time. Nice fellow,” Grey added fairly. “Got me drunk on applejack.”

“Doubtless with the intent of extracting intelligence from you?” Hal’s expression made it clear that he doubted there had been much in that line for Smith to extract.

“No,” Grey said thoughtfully. “I don’t think so. We just got drunk together. Nice fellow,” he repeated. “I was going to express the hope that I wouldn’t meet him again—shouldn’t like to have to kill him, I mean—but I suppose it isn’t beyond belief that I might run into him somewhere.” The thought gave him a small, pleasant clench low down in the belly that rather surprised him.

“Anyway,” he added, “I’m going in uniform, even if grubby uniform. It won’t necessarily keep me from arrest, imprisonment, starvation, and torture, but it will save me from being hanged.”

“Torture?” Hal gave him a look.

“I had in mind waking up after the applejack,” John told him. “And the singing. Have you any idea how many verses the Americans have for ‘Yankee Doodle’?”

Hal grunted in response to this and took out a leather folder, from which he extracted a thin sheaf of documents.

“Here are your bona fides,” he said, handing them over. “They may help—assuming firstly that you’re captured or detained, rather than shot on sight, and secondly that your captors take the time to read them.”

Grey didn’t trouble to reply to this, being occupied in thumbing through the documents. A copy of his warrant of commission; a note from Hal as Colonel of the Regiment, detaching Lieutenant Colonel John Grey temporarily from service and desiring him to undertake the task of locating and assisting one Mrs. Benjamin Grey (née Amaranthus Cowden), widow of Captain Benjamin Grey, late of the Thirty-fourth Foot; a “To Whom It May Concern” letter from Clinton, formally recognizing Grey’s mission and requesting that every courtesy and assistance be provided him in consequence thereof; several bills of exchange drawn on Coutts’ bank in New York (“Just in case,” Hal told him. “In case of what?” “In case you get knocked over and relieved of your gold, halfwit.” “Oh.”); and . . . Benedict Arnold’s note, granting the Duke of Pardloe and his brother, Lord John Grey, permission to abide temporarily in Philadelphia for the purpose of searching for the duke’s nephew.

“Really?” Grey said, raising his brows at this last. “Under what circumstances do you think this might be helpful?”

Hal shrugged and straightened his waistcoat. “The fact that you and I are known to General Arnold is worth something. The note doesn’t give his opinion of us, after all.”

Grey gave the note a critical eye, but, in fact, Arnold had refrained from personalities and had not codified his threats regarding rails and tar and feathers.

“All right.” He closed the folder and put it down, laying his hat on it to ensure against walking off without it. “That’s that, then. What’s for supper?”

JOHN GREY WAS enjoying a confused but pleasant dream involving spring rain, his dachshund Roscoe, Colonel Watson Smith, and a great deal of mud, when he gradually became aware that the raindrops on his face were real.

He opened his eyes, blinking, to discover his niece, Dottie, holding his pitcher in one hand and sprinkling water from her fingertips onto his face.

“Good morning, Uncle John,” she said cheerily. “Rise and shine!”

“The last person injudicious enough to say that to me in the morning came to a most unpleasant end,” he said, struggling upright and rubbing the sleeve of his nightshirt across his face.

“Really? What happened to him? Or was it a him?” She dimpled at him and set down the pitcher, wiping her wet fingers on her skirt.

“What an improper question,” he said, eyeing her.

“Well, I am a married woman now, you know,” she said, sitting down with an air of extreme self-possession. “I am allowed to know that men and women occasionally share a bed, even outwith the bonds of matrimony.”

“Outwith? Where did you pick up that barbarous construction? Have you been speaking to Scotchmen?”

“Constantly,” she said. “But what happened to the unfortunate person who tried to roust you from your slumbers?”

“Oh, him.” He rubbed a hand over his head, still surprised at feeling the hair so short, though it had at least grown enough to fall over and lie somewhat flat, rather than sticking straight up like a shaving brush. “He was scalped by red Indians.”

She blinked.

“Well, that will teach him, to be sure,” she murmured.

Grey swung his legs out of bed and gave her a pointed look.

“I don’t care how married you are, Dottie, you are not allowed to help me dress. What the devil are you doing here, anyway?”

“I’m going with you to find B-Ben’s widow,” she said, and all of a sudden her bright façade collapsed like papier-mâché in the rain. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she clamped a hand hard over her mouth to prevent them falling.

“Oh,” Grey said. “Oh, my dear . . .” And pausing only to fling on his banyan—even in emergency, there were limits—he knelt beside her and gathered her into his arms.

“It’s all right,” he said softly to her, rubbing her back. “Ben may not be dead, after all. We think he’s not—your father and I.” We certainly hope he’s not, he thought, but opted for the most positive view of the situation.

“You don’t?” She choked, sniffed, and sat up a bit, looking up at him with drowned-cornflower eyes.

“Certainly not,” he said firmly, and dug in the pocket of his banyan for a handkerchief.

“But why not?” She accepted the proffered linen—somewhat crumpled but not indecently so—and dabbed at her face. “How could he not be?”

Grey sighed, caught between Scylla and Charybdis, as usual when enmeshed in one of Hal’s situations.

“Does your father know you’re here?” he asked, as a delaying tactic.

“Don’t—I mean, no,” she said, clearing her throat and sitting up straighter. “I went to his quarters, but he was out, so I came on here to find you.”

“How is it that you’re sure Ben’s died?” Grey stood up and, tying the belt of his banyan, began looking about for his slippers. He knew that Hal hadn’t yet written to Minnie about Ben—wouldn’t do so unless forced by dreadful certainty—and even if he had, there was no way in which word could have come back to Dottie so soon. And Hal would not have told his daughter the news until he was sure, no more than he would have told his wife.

“Henry told me,” she said. She poured a little water onto the handkerchief and commenced repairs to her complexion. “I went to visit him and Mercy, and he’d just had a letter from Adam, telling him . . . you’re sure he isn’t dead?” she asked anxiously, lowering the handkerchief to gaze at him. “Adam’s letter said he’d heard it from someone on General Clinton’s staff, telling him for sure that Ben had died at a military camp in New Jersey—Middlebrook, I think he said it was called.”

“No, we’re not sure,” he admitted. “But we have reasonable grounds for doubt, and until those have been completely explored, we will proceed on the assumption that he’s not. I do have to find his wife, though,” he added. “And child.”

Dottie’s eyes flew wide.

“A child? Ben has a baby?”

“Well, the woman who claims to be his wife has a son, or so she says—and she did say that Ben is the father of her offspring.” Seeing that there was little alternative, he apprised her of the letter from Amaranthus Cowden that Hal had received in Philadelphia, and its contents.

“Now, as Ben didn’t happen to mention this woman to Hal, one of the duties I’m to carry out for your father is the determination as to whether she’s telling the truth. And if she is, then of course I will bring her back with me, and the family will take care of her and the child.”

“What if she’s not telling the truth?” Dottie’s distress was rapidly being subsumed by a combination of hope and curiosity.

“God knows,” Grey said frankly. “Would you like to go and ask Marks to see about breakfast for us, Dottie? I may be out of bed, but I’m in no way equipped to conduct hypothetical conversations before I’ve had a cup of tea.”

“Oh. Yes, of course.” She rose, though slowly, plainly still thinking about the revelations, and went toward the door, but paused on the threshold and looked back at him.

“I am coming with you,” she said firmly. “We can talk about it on the way.”

HAL WALKED IN as the kippers and mixed grill were being laid out. He halted for a split second as he saw Dottie, but then came on, more slowly, eyeing her.

“Good morning, Papa,” she said briskly, rising and coming to kiss his cheek. “Sit down and have a kipper.”

He did sit down, still eyeing her, then switched his gaze to John.

“I had nothing to do with it,” Grey assured his brother. “She arrived—how did you get here, Dottie?”

“On a horse,” she replied patiently, taking a slice of toast.

“And where is your husband?” Hal asked mildly. “Does he know where you are?”

“Denzell is where his duty takes him,” she said, rather tersely. “With the Continental army. Mine takes me here. And of course he knows.”

“And he had no objection to your traveling alone from Pennsylvania to New York, over roads infested by—”

“I wasn’t alone.” She took a delicate bite of her toast, chewed, and swallowed. “Ian and some of his Mohawk friends brought me. The Mohawks were traveling to someplace north of here.”

“Ian—is that by chance Ian Murray?” Grey asked, but then answered himself. “I suppose it must be; how many Mohawks can there be named Ian? I take it that he survived his wound, then; I’m pleased to hear it. How did you come to—”

“Dorothea,” said Hal, in measured tones, staring at Dottie. “Why are you here?”

Dottie returned his stare, her jaw visibly clenched.

“B-because of Ben,” she said, unable to keep her voice entirely steady. “Are you—Papa, are you sure he’s not dead?”

Hal took an audible breath and nodded.

“I’m sure,” he said in his best command voice. But John could see his knuckles whiten as he clutched a teaspoon, and felt the knot in his own stomach tighten in response.

Dottie clearly had her own doubts, judging from her glance at her father, but she obligingly nodded. Being Dottie, of course, she didn’t stop there.

“How?” she said. “How do you know? Adam and Henry both think . . . the worst.”

Hal’s mouth opened a fraction of an inch, but nothing came out.

John thought that Hal ought really to have been prepared for this, but, after all, his brother had been having a difficult time. And, in all justice, it was hard to be prepared for something like Dottie.

“I suppose you’d better tell her,” John said. “If you don’t, she’ll likely write to Minnie.”

Hal shot him a glance full of venom, fully aware that this helpful suggestion had been made with the intent of forcing him to divulge his reasoning to Dottie—but there wasn’t much of a choice, and he did so with as much grace as he could.

“But this Captain Richardson hadn’t done anything to Willie?” Dottie said, frowning a little. “I thought—”

“Not on this occasion,” John said briefly, “but given his earlier behavior over the Dismal Swamp and Quebec, we’re somewhat suspicious.”

“And the man apparently has deserted,” Hal pointed out.

“You don’t know that. He might have been killed by someone and his body concealed,” Dottie pointed out logically.

“He was seen leaving the camp,” John said patiently. “Alone. And given what we know and surmise about him, I think we have grounds to consider the possibility that he might be an American agent.” He was himself fairly well convinced of it, viewing all his experience of Richardson now with the clarity of hindsight. He’d been an intelligencer himself for some years, and every instinct he possessed was presently shouting Stinking fish! with regard to Ezekiel Richardson.

“I blame myself extremely,” he said apologetically to Hal. “I should have been on to him much sooner. But I was . . . distracted at the time.” Distracted. Blown sideways and more than half obliterated by the news of Jamie Fraser’s death. Even the memory of it was enough to close his stomach. He put down the forkful of kipper, untasted.

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