Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 140

   

There hadn’t been any discussion as to the burial. After the wake, Ian had simply stood up and said, “I know where he must rest.”

It was a long way, perhaps two hours’ walk outside the city. The heat had broken at last, though, and the air moved gently over us, with the first cool touch of autumn. There was no ceremony to our procession; no Gaelic laments for a life cut short, no professional wailing. Only a small family, walking together for the last time.

We left the road at Ian’s signal. Jamie unhitched Clarence and hobbled him to graze, then he and Fergus lifted the coffin and followed Ian into the whisper of the trees, along a small and hidden path made by the hooves of deer, and so upward to a small clearing in the forest.

There were two large cairns there, knee-high. And a smaller one, at the edge of the clearing, under the branches of a red cedar. A flat stone lay against it, the word ROLLO scratched into it.

Fergus and Jamie set down the little coffin, gently. Joanie and Félicité had stopped crying during the long walk, but seeing it there, so small and forlorn, facing the thought of walking away . . . they began to weep silently, clinging hard to each other, and at the sight of them, grief rose in me like a fountain.

Germain was holding hard to his mother’s hand, mute and jaw-set, tearless. Not seeking support, giving it, though the agony showed clear in his eyes as they rested on his brother’s coffin.

Ian touched Marsali’s arm gently.

“This place is hallowed by my sweat and my tears, cousin,” he said softly. “Let us hallow it also by our blood and let our wee lad rest here safe in his family. If he canna go with us, we will abide with him.”

He took the sgian dubh from his stocking and drew it across his wrist, lightly, then held his arm above Henri-Christian’s coffin, letting a few drops fall on the wood. I could hear the sound of it, like the beginning of rain.

Marsali drew a shattered breath, stood straight, and took the knife from his hand.

PART EIGHT

Search and Rescue

QUOD SCRIPSI, SCRIPSI

From Mrs. Abigail Bell, Savannah, the Royal Colony of Georgia

To Mr. James Fraser, Philadelphia, Colony of Pennsylvania

Dear Mr. Fraser,

I write in response to yours of the 17th inst., apprising my Husband of your return to America, which was forwarded to him by a Friend in Wilmington.

As you will see from the Direction of this Letter, we have removed from Wilmington to Savannah, the political Climate of North Carolina having become increasingly dangerous to Loyalists, particularly to my Husband, given his History and Profession.

I wish to assure you that your Press has been preserved in excellent condition but is not presently in use. My husband contracted a serious Ague soon after our arrival here, and it became evident that his Illness was of the periodic, or relapsing, Kind. He does somewhat better these days but is unable to sustain the difficult Labor of the printing Trade. (I will add, should you think of establishing a Business here, that while the Politics of the Place are a great deal more congenial to those of the Loyalist Persuasion than those of the northern Colonies, a Printer is exposed to much Unpleasantness, whatever his personal Beliefs.)

Your Press is presently stored in the Barn of a Farmer named Simpson, who lives a short Distance outside the City. I have seen it and assured myself that the Instrument is Clean, Dry (it is packed in Straw), and sheltered from the Weather. Please apprise me of your Desires, should you wish me to sell the Press and forward the Money to you, or should you wish to come and fetch it.

We are most appreciative of your Help and Kindness, and the Girls pray for you and your Family every Day.

Yours most Sincerely,

Abigail Bell

William Ransom, to His Grace Harold, Duke of Pardloe

September 24, 1778

Dear Uncle Hal,

You will be gratified to know that your paternal Instinct was correct. I am very pleased to tell you that Ben probably isn’t dead.

On the other hand, I haven’t the slightest Idea where the devil he is or why he’s there.

I was shown a Grave at Middlebrook Encampment in New Jersey, purported to be Ben’s, but the Body therein is not Ben. (It’s probably better if you don’t know how that bit of information was ascertained.)

Clearly someone in the Continental army must know something of his whereabouts, but most of Washington’s troops who were at the Encampment when he was captured have gone. There is one Man who might possibly yield some Information, but beyond that, the only possible Connection would seem to be the Captain with whom we are acquainted.

I propose therefore to hunt the Gentleman in question and extract what Information he may possess when I find him.

Your most obedient nephew,

William

Lord John Grey, to Harold, Duke of Pardloe

Charleston, South Carolina

September 28, 1778

Dear Hal,

We arrived in Charleston by ship two days ago, having encountered a Storm off the Chesapeake that blew us out to Sea, delaying us for several days. I’m sure you will not be surprised in the least to learn that Dottie is a much better Sailor than I am.

She also shows Promise as an inquiry Agent. First thing this morning, she discovered the Whereabouts of Amaranthus Cowden by the simple Expedient of stopping a well-dressed Lady on the Street, admiring her Gown, and then asking for the names of the better Dressmakers in the City, on the Assumption (as she later explained to me) that Ben would not have married either a plain Woman or one with no Interest in Fashion.

The third Shop we visited did indeed boast that Miss Cowden (she was calling herself Mrs. Grey, they said, but they knew her Maiden Name, as she was residing with an Aunt named Cowden) was a Customer, and they were able to describe her to me as a slight young Woman of middle Height, with an excellent Complexion, large brown Eyes, and abundant Hair of a dark-blond Hue. They could not, however, give me her Address, as the Lady had recently decamped to winter with Friends in Savannah. (The Aunt has annoyingly died, I find.)

Interestingly, she styles herself as a Widow, so apparently she was informed—and by whom? I should like to know—of Ben’s presumed Death, sometime after the Date of her Letter to you, as otherwise she would certainly have mentioned it.

I also find it interesting that she should be able to afford the Services of Madame Eulalie—and these to no little Extent; I succeeded in inducing Madame to show me her recent Bills—when her Letter to you professed her to be in financial Difficulties owing to Ben’s Capture.

If Ben is indeed dead and both the Death and the Marriage proved, then presumably she would inherit some Property—or at least the Child would. But she can’t possibly have taken such Legal Steps in the Time between her Letter to you and the Present; it could easily take that long merely to send a Letter to London—assuming that she had any Idea to whom it should be sent. And assuming also that whoever received it would not immediately have informed you.

Oh—she does possess an Infant, a Boy, and the Child is hers; Madame made her two Gowns and a set of Stays to accommodate the Pregnancy. Naturally, there’s no telling whether Benjamin is the child’s Father. She clearly has at least met Ben—or possibly Adam; she could have got “Wattiswade” from anyone in the Family—but that’s not Proof of either Marriage or Paternity.

All in all, an interesting Woman, your putative Daughter-in-law. Plainly our Path lies now toward Savannah, though this may require somewhat more investigative Effort, as we don’t know the Name of the Friends with whom she’s taken Refuge, and if she is indeed poverty-stricken, she won’t be buying new Gowns.

I hope to convince Dottie that she need not accompany me. She’s most determined, but I can see that she pines for her Quaker Physician. And if our Quest should be greatly prolonged . . . I will not allow her to be placed in Danger, I assure you.

Your most affectionate Brother,

John

General Sir Henry Clinton, Commander in Chief for North

America, to Colonel His Grace Duke of Pardloe, 46th Foot

Sir,

You are hereby ordered and directed to assemble and re-fit your Troops in whatever manner you deem necessary, and then to make Junction with Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, to march upon the City of Savannah in the colony of Georgia, and take possession of it in His Majesty’s name.

H. Clinton

HAROLD, DUKE OF Pardloe, felt his chest tightening and rang for his orderly.

“Coffee, please,” he said to the man. “Brewed very strong, and quickly. And bring the brandy while you’re at it.”

BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE LETTERS Q, E, AND D

IT WAS, OF COURSE, unthinkable that we should sell Clarence.

“Do you think he weighs as much as a printing press?” I asked, looking at him dubiously. His tiny stable next to the shop had survived the fire, and while he wrinkled his nose and sneezed when the wind raised a whiff of ash from the charred remains of the printshop, he didn’t seem much affected.

“Substantially more, I think.” Jamie scratched his forehead and ran a hand up the length of one long ear. “D’ye think mules suffer from seasickness?”

“Can they vomit?” I tried to recall whether I’d ever seen a horse or mule regurgitate—as opposed to dropping slobbery mouthfuls of whatever they were eating—but couldn’t call an instance to mind.

“I couldna say if they can,” Jamie said, picking up a stiff brush and beating clouds of dust from Clarence’s broad gray back, “but they don’t, no.”

“Then how would you know if a mule was seasick?” Jamie himself got violently seasick, and I did wonder how he was going to manage if we did go by ship; the acupuncture needles I used to quell his nausea had perished in the fire—with so much else.

Jamie gave me a jaundiced look over Clarence’s back.

“Can ye no tell if I’m seasick, even when I’m not puking?”

“Well, yes,” I said mildly, “but you aren’t covered with hair, and you can talk. You turn green and pour with sweat and lie about, groaning and begging to be shot.”

“Aye. Well, bar the turning green, a mule can tell ye verra well if he’s feeling peely-wally. And he can certainly make ye want to shoot him.”

He ran a hand down Clarence’s leg to pick up the mule’s left front hoof. Clarence picked it up and set it down again very solidly, exactly where Jamie’s own foot had been an instant before. His ears twitched.

“On the other hand,” Jamie said to him, “I could make ye walk all the way to Savannah, pullin’ a cart behind ye. Think about that, aye?” He came out of the stall and closed the gate, shaking it to be sure it was securely latched.

“Mr. Fraser!” A shout from the end of the alley drew his attention. It was Jonas Phillips, presumably on his way home to a midday dinner from the assembly room, where the Continental Congress was still locked in struggle. Jamie waved back and, with a nod to me, walked down the alley. While I waited for him, I turned my attention to the jumble of items occupying the other half of the stable.

What little room there was besides Clarence’s stall was filled with the things the neighbors had managed to salvage from the remains of the print-shop. All of it had the sour reek of ash about it, but a few of the items might be salvaged or sold, I supposed.

Mrs. Bell’s letter had caused a certain reevaluation of our immediate prospects. Fergus’s press had definitely perished in the flames; the derelict carcass was still there, the metal parts twisted in a way suggesting uncomfortably that the thing had died in agony. Fergus hadn’t wept; after Henri-Christian, I didn’t think anything could ever make him weep again. But he did avert his eyes whenever he came near the ruins.

On the one hand, the loss of the press was terrible—but, on the other, it did save us the problem of hauling it to . . .

Well, that was another problem. Where were we going?

Jamie had assured me that we were going home—back to the Ridge. But it was late September, and even if we found the money to pay the passage for so many people—and Clarence—and were fortunate enough not to be sunk or captured by an English cutter . . . we would part company with Fergus and Marsali in Wilmington, then go up the Cape Fear River into the North Carolina backcountry, leaving Marsali, Fergus, and the children to go on alone to Savannah. I knew that Jamie didn’t want to do that. In all honesty, neither did I.

The little family was surviving, but there was no doubt that Henri-Christian’s death and the fire had left them all badly wounded. Especially Germain.

You could see it in his face, even in the way he walked, no longer jaunty and bright-eyed, eager for adventure. He walked with his shoulders hunched, as though expecting a blow to come out of nowhere. And while sometimes he would forget for a few moments and revert to his normal swagger and talk, you could see it when the blow of memory did come out of nowhere to send him reeling.

Ian and Rachel had taken it upon themselves to be sure that he didn’t slink away by himself; one or the other was always calling on him to come and help carry the marketing or go out to the forest to look for the proper wood for an ax handle or a new bow. That helped.

If Fergus went to Savannah to retrieve Bonnie, Jamie’s original press, Marsali would be hampered and preoccupied by advancing pregnancy and the difficulties both of travel with a family and then of establishing a new home, Fergus needing to devote himself to setting up the new business and dealing with whatever the local politics might be. Germain could so easily slip through the cracks in his family and be lost.

I wondered whether Jenny would go with them—or with Ian and Rachel. Marsali could certainly use her help, but I remembered what Marsali had said, and thought she was right: “Ian’s her youngest. . . . And she’s had too little of him.” She had; Ian had essentially been lost to her at the age of fourteen, and she hadn’t seen him again until he was a grown man—and a Mohawk. I’d seen her now and then, gazing at him as he talked and ate, with a small inward glow on her face.

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