Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 145

   

Howe’s color faded noticeably. Still, he had grit; he kept his dignity.

“Whatever the odds, sir,” he said, “it is my duty to fight and to protect the city entrusted to my care.”

“I respect your devotion to your duty, General,” Jamie said, quite seriously. “And may God be with ye. But I won’t.”

“We could physically compel you,” Richardson pointed out.

“Ye could,” Jamie agreed, unruffled. “But to what end? Ye canna make me command men if I refuse to do it, and what good is an unwilling soldier?”

“This is craven cowardice, sir!” Howe said, but it was clear that this was bluster, and poorly acted bluster, at that.

“Dia eadarainn ’s an t-olc,” Jamie said quietly, and nodded toward the door. “God between us an evil,” he said. “Go with God, gentlemen, but leave my house.”

“THEE DID WELL, Jamie,” Rachel said quietly, after the sound of the soldiers’ footsteps had faded from the stairwell. “No Friend could have spoken more wisely.”

He glanced at her, mouth quirking.

“Thank ye, lass,” he said. “But I think ye ken I wasna speaking from the same reasons a Friend might have.”

“Oh, I do,” she said, smiling. “But the effect is the same, and Friends are grateful for whatever they can get. Will thee have the last frog leg?”

A small ripple of laughter ran through the adults, and the children, who had been sitting rigid and white-faced during the soldiers’ visit, relaxed as though they were balloons that someone had let the air out of and began zooming around the room in relief. Fearing for the tub of crayfish, Jenny and Marsali marshaled them into some sort of order and marched them off home to bed, Marsali pausing to kiss Fergus and adjuring him to be careful walking home alone.

“The British are not in the city yet, mon chou,” he said, kissing her back.

“Aye, well—it never hurts to keep in practice,” she said tartly. “Come along, ye wee rattans.”

The rest of us sat for a time discussing the immediate future and what little might be done. Jamie was right about the advantages of poverty in such a situation—but at the same time . . .

“They’ll take whatever food they find,” I said. “At least at first.” I gave the shelf behind me a quick glance; it was our pantry and held the sum total of the household’s stores: a small crock of lard, cloth bags of oatmeal, flour, rice, beans, and parched corn, a braid of onions and a few dried apples, half a wheel of cheese, a little box of salt and a pepper pot, and the remains of a loaf of sugar. Plus our small stock of candles.

“Aye.” Jamie nodded, got up, and fetched his purse, which he turned out on the table. “Fourteen shillings, about. Ian? Fergus?” Ian and Rachel’s resources amounted to another nine shillings, Fergus’s one guinea, two shillings, and a handful of pennies.

“See what ye can get at the tavern tomorrow, lass,” he said, pushing a small pile of coins toward Rachel. “I think I can put aside a cask of salt fish from the warehouse. And you, Sassenach—if ye’re quick at the market in the morning, ye might manage to get more rice and beans, maybe a flitch of bacon?” Bits of copper and silver winked on the table before me, the King’s stolid countenance chiseled in profile.

“There’s no good hiding place in our room,” Ian observed, looking around. “Nor here. Auntie’s wee surgery, d’ye think?”

“Aye, that’s what I was thinking. It’s a board floor, and the building’s got a good foundation. I’ll maybe make a wee hidey-hole tomorrow. I shouldna think there’s much in your surgery that soldiers would want?” This last was said questioningly to me.

“Only the medicines that are made with alcohol,” I said. I took a deep breath. “Speaking of soldiers—I have to tell you something. It may not be important—but then again . . .” And I told them about Ezekiel Richardson.

“Ye’re quite sure of it, Sassenach?” Jamie frowned a little, red brows sparking in the candlelight. “Yon man’s got a face that might belong to anyone.”

“He’s not what you’d call memorable, at all,” I admitted. “But, yes, I am sure. He has that mole on the side of his chin; I remember that. It’s more the way he was looking at me, though. He recognized me, I’m positive.”

Jamie drew breath and blew it out slowly, considering. Then he put his hands flat on the table and looked at Ian.

“Your auntie met my son, William, in the city the other day—by accident,” he said, his voice carefully neutral. “Tell them what he said of Richardson, Sassenach, will ye?”

I did, keeping an eye on the pulse in Ian’s throat. So was Rachel; she put a hand quietly on his, which he was clenching in a fist on the table. He glanced at her, smiled briefly, and reluctantly unclenched it, lacing his fingers with hers.

“And what’s William doing here, then?” Ian asked, obviously working to keep any hint of hostility out of his voice.

“He was looking for Richardson, in fact, but he’s also searching for his cousin’s wife, a woman named Amaranthus Grey—or perhaps Cowden,” I added. “She might be going by her maiden name. I’d meant to ask if either of you had heard any mention of her.”

Both Ian and Rachel shook their heads.

“Thee would remember a name like that,” Rachel said. “But thee thinks William doesn’t know that Richardson is here?”

“I’m sure he doesn’t,” I said. “Nor that Richardson has gone over to the Rebels. Apparently.”

There was silence for a moment. I could hear the faint clicking of the crayfish in the tub behind me and the slight pop as a fault in the candlewick made the flame bob and dance.

“This man Richardson may simply have changed his allegiance,” Rachel suggested. “I know of many who have, over the last two years.”

“He might,” I said slowly, “but the thing is—John thought he was an intelligencer—a spy or secret agent of some sort. And when someone of that stripe turns his coat . . . you have to ask whether he’s turned it once or twice. Or not at all. Don’t you?”

Jamie laid a hand on the table, thinking.

“Aye, well,” he said at last, and, sitting up straight, stretched himself with a sigh. “If there’s aught fishy about the man, we’ll ken it soon enough.”

“We will?” I asked. He gave me a wry smile.

“Aye, Sassenach. He’ll come looking for you. Keep your wee knife close to hand, aye?”

INVASION

December 29

WE HEARD THE GUNS soon after dawn. Jamie paused in the act of shaving to listen. It was a distant thunder, irregular, muffled by distance. But I had heard artillery close at hand and felt the sound as an echo in my bones, urging instant flight. Jamie had heard artillery at a much closer range than I and set down his razor, planting his hands flat on the washstand. To keep them from trembling, I thought.

“They’re firing cannon from the ships in the river,” he said quietly. “And regular artillery from the south. God help Howe and his men.” He crossed himself and picked up the razor.

“How far away do you think they are?” I had paused in the act of putting on my stockings and now drew one up, slowly fastening my garter. Jamie shook his head.

“No telling from in here. I’ll go out in a bit, though, and then I’ll see how the wind lies.”

“You’re going out?” I asked, uneasy at the prospect. “Surely you’re not going to work today.” Fadler’s warehouse, where he worked as a supervisor and senior clerk, was on the river.

“I am not,” he said briefly. “But I thought I’d go and fetch the bairns and Marsali and my sister. Fergus will be gone to see what’s happening, and I dinna want them left alone without a man.” His mouth thinned. “Especially not if the soldiers come into the city.”

I nodded, at once unable to speak. The thought of the things that happened—could happen—during an invasion . . . I had, thank God, never lived through such an event but had seen too many newsreels and photographs to be under any illusions as to the possibilities. And there had already been reports of a British company come up from Florida under an officer named Major Prevost, raiding the countryside around Sunbury, running off cattle, and burning barns and farmhouses. Sunbury was not nearly far enough away for comfort.

When Jamie left, I rattled around for a few minutes, undecided what to do first, but then pulled myself together and decided to make a quick visit to my surgery. It would be a good idea to take away my more-valuable instruments—not that any of them had great value; there was no black market in amputation saws (at least not yet . . .)—and such drugs and supplies as might be needed if—

I cut that “if” off sharply and looked around our modest room. I had been keeping only a few staples, like flour and butter, and the more perishable items of food here; anything that could be stored for a while was now hidden under the floor of my surgery. If we were about to have Marsali, Jenny, and the children to stay for an indefinite time, though, I’d best bring back a few more things.

I took my biggest basket and knocked at Rachel’s door downstairs. She answered at once, already dressed to go out.

“Ian has gone with Fergus,” she said, before I could ask. “He says he will not fight with the militia but that Fergus is his brother and it is his duty to see him safe. I can’t complain about that.”

“I could,” I said frankly. “I’d complain like billy-o if I thought it would do any good. Waste of breath, though. Will you come with me down to the surgery? Jamie’s gone to get Jenny and Marsali and the children, so I thought I’d best bring back something for them to eat.”

“Let me get my basket.”

The streets were full of people—most of them in some process of leaving the city, fetching goods, or drawing carts through the streets, though some were clearly bent on looting. I saw two men break a window and crawl through it into a large house off Ellis Square.

We reached the surgery without incident, though, and found two whores standing outside. They were women I knew, and I introduced them to Rachel, who was much less discomposed by the introduction than they were.

“We’re wanting to buy pox cures, missus,” said Molly, a sturdy Irish girl. “So many as ye might have to hand and be willin’ to part with.”

“Are you, um, expecting a—er—rash of the pox? So to speak?” I was unlocking the door as we spoke, calculating whether the current crop of penicillin was likely to be sufficiently potent as to make any difference.

“It don’t matter that much whether it works or not, ma’am,” said Iris, who was very tall, very thin, and very black. “We’uns plan to sell ’em to the soldiers.”

“I see,” I said, rather blankly. “Well, then . . .”

I gave them what penicillin I had in liquid form, declining to charge them. I kept the powdered mold and the remnants of Roquefort cheese, though, in case the family might have need of them—and suffered a bolt of vivid fear at the thought of Fergus and Ian, doing God knew what. The artillery had stopped —or the wind had changed—but it started up again as we made our way home, holding our baskets under our cloaks to prevent snatch-and-grab attacks.

Jamie had brought back Marsali and Jenny and the children, all of them carrying what they could in the way of clothes, food, and bedding. There was a long period of total chaos, while things were organized, but at last we sat down to a sort of rough tea, at around three o’clock. Jamie, declining to be involved in the domestic engineering, had exercised his male prerogative of disappearing on vaguely unspecified “business” but, with unerring instinct, reappeared just as the cake was being set out, bearing a large gunnysack full of clams, a barrel of flour, and a modicum of news.

“The fighting’s over,” he said, looking for someplace to set the clams down.

“I noticed the guns had stopped some time ago. Do you know what’s happened?” I took the bag and decanted the clams with a loud clatter into the empty cauldron, then poured a bucket of water over them. They’d keep until supper.

“Exactly what I told General Howe would happen,” he said, though not with any sense of pleasure at being right. “Campbell—that’s the British Lieutenant Colonel, Archibald Campbell—circled Howe and his men and bagged them up like fish in a net. I dinna ken what he’s done wi’ them, but I expect there will be troops in the city before nightfall.”

The women all looked at one another and relaxed visibly. This was actually good news. What with one thing and another, the British army was quite good at occupying cities. And while the citizenry might justifiably resent the billeting of troops and the requisitioning of supplies, the underlying fact was that there’s nothing for keeping public order like having an army living with you.

“Will we be safe, then, with the soldiers here?” Joanie asked. She was bright-eyed with the adventure, like her siblings, and had been following the adult conversation closely.

“Aye, mostly,” Jamie said, but his eye met Marsali’s, and she grimaced. We probably would be safe enough, though food might be short for a while, until the army quartermasters got things straightened out. Fergus and Bonnie, though, were another matter.

“Luckily, we hadna started up L’Oignon yet,” she said, answering Jamie’s look. “It’s only been printing up handbills and broadsheets and the odd religious tract. I think it will be all right,” she said bravely, but she reached to touch Félicité’s dark head, as though to reassure herself.

We had the clams made into chowder—rather a watery chowder, as we had very little milk, but we thickened it with crumbled biscuit, and there was enough butter—and were setting the table for supper when Fergus and Ian came clattering up the stairs, flushed with excitement and full of news.

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