Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 146

   

“It was a black slave who made the difference,” Fergus said, cramming a piece of bread into his mouth. “Mon Dieu, I’m famished! We haven’t eaten all day. This man wandered into the British camp soon after the fighting began and offered to show them a secret path through the swamp. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell sent a regiment of Highlanders—we could hear the pipes; it reminded me of Prestonpans.” He grinned at Jamie, and I could see the scrawny ten-year-old French orphan he’d been, riding on a captured cannon. He swallowed and washed the bite down with water, that being all we had at the moment.

“Highlanders,” he continued, “and some other infantry, and they followed the slave through the swamp and got well round General Howe’s men, who were all clumped together, for of course they didn’t know from which direction the fight might come.”

Campbell had then sent another infantry company to Howe’s left, “to make some demonstrations,” Fergus said, waving an airy hand and scattering crumbs. “They turned, of course, to meet this, and then the Highlanders fell on them from the other side, and voilà!” He snapped his fingers.

“I doubt Howe feels any gratitude to that slave,” Ian put in, scooping his bowl into the cauldron of chowder. “But he ought. He didna lose more than thirty or forty men—and had they stood and fought, they’d likely all have been killed, if they hadn’t the sense to surrender. And he didna strike me as a man o’ sense,” he added thoughtfully.

“How long d’ye think they’ll stay, the army?” Jenny was slicing bread and handing out the pieces round the table but paused to wipe a forearm across her brow. It was winter, but with the fire going in the small room and so many people crowded in, the temperature was quickly approaching Turkish-bath levels.

All the men exchanged glances. Then Jamie spoke, reluctantly.

“A long time, a piuthar.”

A SOVEREIGN CURE

IT HAD TO BE done, and it had to be done now. Between Jamie’s uneasiness and my own misgivings, I’d put off the question of making ether. But now we were up against it: I simply couldn’t do what needed to be done for Sophronia without a dependable general anesthetic.

I’d already decided that I could do the manufacture in the tiny toolshed in Mrs. Landrum’s huge kitchen garden. It was outside the city limits, with an acre of open space on every side, this occupied only by winter kale and hibernating carrots. If I blew myself to kingdom come, I wouldn’t take anyone else with me.

I doubted that this observation would reassure Jamie to any great extent, though, so I put off mentioning my plans. I’d assemble what I needed and tell him only at the last minute, thus saving him worry. And, after all, if I couldn’t obtain the necessary ingredients . . . but I was sure that I could. Savannah was a sizable city, and a shipping port. There were at least three apothecaries in town, as well as several warehouses that imported specialty items from England. Someone was bound to have sulfuric acid, otherwise known as oil of vitriol.

The weather was cool but sunny, and seeing a number of red-coated soldiers in the street, I wondered idly whether climatic considerations had had anything to do with the British deciding to switch their theater of operations to the South.

The elder Mr. Jameson—a sprightly gentleman in his seventies—greeted me pleasantly when I entered Jameson’s Apothecary. I’d had occasion to make small purchases of herbs from him before, and we got on well. I presented him with my list and browsed among the jars on his shelves while he pottered to and fro in search of my requests. There were three young soldiers on the other side of the shop, gathered in furtive conversation with the younger Mr. Jameson over something he was showing them under his counter. Pox cures, I assumed—or—giving them the benefit of the doubt regarding foresight—possibly condoms.

They concluded their surreptitious purchases and scuttled out, heads down and rather red in the face. The younger Mr. Jameson, who was the grandson of the owner and about the same age as the just-departed soldiers, was also rather pink but greeted me with aplomb, bowing.

“Your servant, Mrs. Fraser! Might I be of assistance?”

“Oh, thank you, Nigel,” I said. “Your grandfather has my list. But”—a thought had occurred to me, perhaps jogged by the soldiers—“I wonder whether you might know of a Mrs. Grey. Amaranthus Grey is her name, and I believe her maiden name was . . . oh, what was it? Cowden! Amaranthus Cowden Grey. Have you ever heard that name?”

He wrinkled his very smooth brow in thought.

“What an odd name. Er—meaning no offense, ma’am,” he hastily assured me. “I meant . . . rather exotic. Quite unusual.”

“Yes, it is. I don’t know her,” I said, “but a friend of mine said that she lived in Savannah and had urged me to . . . er . . . make her acquaintance.”

“Yes, of course.” Nigel hmm’d for a bit but shook his head. “No, I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered an Amaranthus Cowden.”

“Cowden?” said Mr. Jameson, emerging suddenly from his back room with several bottles in his hands. “Of course we have, boy. Or, rather, not encountered; she’s never come in the shop. But we had a request brought by mail, only two or three weeks ago, asking for . . . oh, what was it, my mind is a sieve, Mrs. Fraser, an absolute sieve, I assure you—don’t get old, that’s my advice—oh, yes. Gould’s complexion cream, Villette’s gripe water, a box of pastilles to sweeten the breath, and a dozen bars of Savon D’Artagnan French soap. That was it.” He beamed at me over his spectacles. “She lives in Saperville,” he added, as an afterthought.

“You’re a wonder, Granddad,” Nigel murmured dutifully, and reached for the bottles his grandfather was holding. “Shall I wrap these, or are we mixing something for the lady?”

“Oh.” Mr. Jameson looked down at the bottles in his hands, as though wondering how they’d got there. “Oh, yes! I wanted to ask you, Mrs. Fraser, what it was you had in mind to do with oil of vitriol. It’s amazingly dangerous, you know.”

“Um, yes, I do.” I eyed him consideringly; some men would be quite capable of refusing to sell a woman something they thought inappropriate or dangerous, but Mr. Jameson seemed a worldly sort—and he did at least know that I knew the use of medicinal herbs.

“I have it in mind to make ether,” I said. The substance was known, I knew—someone or other had discovered it back in the eighth century, or so I was told in medical school—but its use as an anesthetic wouldn’t be developed ’til somewhere in the nineteenth century. I wondered idly whether anyone in the intervening eleven hundred years had noticed that the stuff put people to sleep, but had inadvertently killed them and thus abandoned further experimentation.

Both Mr. Jamesons looked surprised.

“Ether?” said Nigel, openly puzzled. “Why would you make it yourself?”

“Why would I—what, do you mean that you have the stuff already made up?” I asked, astonished.

Both of them nodded, pleased to be of service.

“Oh, yes,” Mr. Jameson said. “We don’t always stock it, of course, but with the . . . er . . . army”—he waved a hand, encompassing the recent invasion and occupation—“there are the troop transports, and there will be a great increase of shipping, now that the blockade is not in effect.”

“What does the increase of shipping have to do with the sale of ether?” I asked, wondering whether Mr. Jameson might just possibly be right about the effects of advancing age on the brain.

“Why, ma’am,” said Nigel. “It’s a sovereign cure for the seasickness. Did you not know?”

A BORN GAMBLER

ICOUNTED MY INSTRUMENTS for the third time and, finding that none of them had escaped since the last count, covered them with a clean linen cloth and patted it lightly in reassurance—whether of the scalpels or myself, I wasn’t sure. Silk sutures, gut sutures, needles—the finest embroidery needles obtainable in Savannah. Pledgets, swabs, dressings, rolled bandages. A six-inch willow twig, carefully cleaned of its pith, sanded smooth, and boiled slowly—so as not to crack the wood—to be used as a catheter to stabilize the urethra and bladder and keep urine out of the surgical field. I’d thought of using a larger one for the bowel, but decided that I’d be better using my fingers to manipulate the slippery tissues there—so long as I managed neither to cut nor puncture myself in the process.

Rachel was coming to assist with the surgery, and I’d go through all the instruments and procedures again with her. I’d come down an hour early, though, wanting both to make my final preparations and to spend a little time alone, settling my mind and spirit to the job ahead.

I felt surprisingly calm, considering the complexity and risks of the operation ahead. It could be argued that even if I failed, the poor child couldn’t possibly be worse off than she was—but of course she could die as a result of the surgery, from shock, infection, or even accidental hemorrhage. Abdominal surgery was much more serious than trying a transvaginal correction—but given what I had at hand, I thought the chances of achieving a cure were much better that way. And then there was the matter of the curettage that had removed the dead infant; I had no idea what kind of damage that might have inflicted, but if there was any, I might be able to correct it.

I glanced automatically at the shelf where my penicillin factory was working—or at least I hoped it was working, billions of little spores excreting their helpful substance. I hadn’t had time in Savannah to establish a good process and test the resultant product; there was, as was so often the case, no guarantee whatever that I had usable penicillin in my broth. But I did have a small chunk of very ripe French cheese, acquired at extravagant cost and stirred into a little boiled milk to make a paste; the thick scent of it fought for ascendancy with the pungent smell of ether.

I could hear the early-morning sounds of the city outside, soothing in their ordinariness: the whisk of a broom on pavement, the clop of horse-drawn wagons, a tantalizing smell of hot bread as the baker’s boy’s quick footsteps passed by. The simple demands of life quickly made routine out of any sort of chaos, and as invasions went, the occupation of Savannah had been reasonably bloodless.

My sense of well-being and calm detachment was interrupted a moment later by the opening of the surgery door.

“May I help—” I began, turning. Then I saw my visitor and altered my remark to a fairly hostile “What do you want?”

Captain—no, he was a colonel now; the wages of treason, I supposed—Richardson smiled charmingly at me, then turned and bolted the door. I pulled out a drawer and removed my small amputation saw; it was small enough to handle quickly, and the serrated edge would take his nose off, if my aim was good.

The charming smile broadened into a grin as he saw what I was about, and he bowed. He wasn’t wearing a uniform—and no wonder—but was clothed in a decent, rather sober suit, with unpowdered hair tied simply back. No one would have looked at him twice.

“Your most humble servant, ma’am. Have no alarm; I merely wished to make sure we weren’t interrupted.”

“Yes, that’s what I’m alarmed about,” I said, taking a firm grip on the saw. “Unbolt that bloody door this minute.”

He looked at me for a moment, one eye narrowed in calculation, but then uttered a short laugh and, turning, pulled the bolt. Folding his arms, he leaned against the door.

“Better?”

“Much.” I let go the saw but didn’t move my hand far from it. “I repeat—what do you want?”

“Well, I thought perhaps the time had come to lay my cards upon your table, Mrs. Fraser—and see whether you might want to play a hand or two.”

“The only thing I might be inclined to play with you, Colonel, is mumblety-peg,” I said, tapping my fingers on the handle of the saw. “But if you want to show me your cards, go right ahead. You want to be quick about it, though—I have an operation to conduct in less than an hour.”

“It shouldn’t take that long. May I?” Raising his brows, he gestured at one of the stools. I nodded, and he sat down, looking quite relaxed.

“The essence of the matter, ma’am, is that I am a Rebel—and always have been.”

“You—what?”

“I am presently a colonel in the Continental army—but when you first knew me, I was working as an American agent in the guise of a captain in His Majesty’s army in Philadelphia.”

“I don’t understand.” I grasped what he was telling me but couldn’t grasp why the hell he should be telling me.

“You are a Rebel yourself, are you not?” One sparse brow lifted in inquiry. He really was the most ordinary-looking man, I thought. If he was a spy, he was physically well suited for it.

“I am,” I said guardedly. “What about it?”

“Then we’re on the same side,” he said patiently. “When I cozened Lord John Grey into marrying you, I—”

“You what?”

“Surely he told you that I had threatened to have you arrested for distributing seditious materials? At which you’re very clumsy, I might add,” he added dispassionately. “His lordship assured me that he had no personal interest in you whatever and then most obligingly married you the next day. His lordship is a very gallant man—particularly in view of his own preferences.”

He cocked his head, smiling in a conspiratorial manner, and a spear of ice shot through my belly.

“Oh, you do know, then,” he observed, watching my face. “I thought you would. He’s extremely discreet, but I think you a very perceptive woman, particularly in sexual matters.”

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