Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 149

   

“I’ll go and see what I can find out. Do you have friends here—someone to stay with?” He motioned at the mass of the encampment, where small fires were beginning to glow amidst the oncoming shades of night. She nodded, pressing her lips together to keep them from trembling.

“All right. Go and find them. I’ll come in the morning—at first light. Meet me where I found you, all right?”

“Awright,” she whispered, and laid a small white hand on his chest, just over his heart. “Sank you, Wiyum.”

HIS ONLY CHANCE was to talk to Campbell. Fanny had told him the house where Jenkins had taken Jane was the big gray house north of Reynolds Square; that was the likeliest place to start.

He paused on the street to brush the worst of the dried mud and bits of vegetation off his cloak. He was only too well aware that he looked like exactly what he’d been pretending to be for the last three months: an unemployed laborer. On the other hand—

As he’d resigned his commission, he was no longer under Campbell’s authority. And no matter how he personally felt about the matter of his title, it was still his, by law. The Ninth Earl of Ellesmere drew himself up to his full height, squared his shoulders, and went to war.

Manner and speech got him past the sentries at the door. The servant who came to take his cloak stared at him in unmitigated dismay, but was afraid to throw him out, and vanished to find someone who would take the responsibility of dealing with him.

There was a dinner party going on; he could hear the clink of silver and china, the glugging of bottles being poured, and the muted rumble of conversation, punctuated by bursts of polite laughter. His hands were sweating; he wiped them unobtrusively on his breeches.

What the devil was he going to say? He’d tried to formulate some line of reasonable argument on his way, but everything seemed to fall to pieces the moment he thought of it. He’d have to say something, though. . . .

Then he heard a voice, raised in question, that made his heart skip a beat. Uncle Hal! He couldn’t be mistaken; his uncle and his father both had light but penetrating voices, clear as cut crystal—and sharp as good Toledo steel when they wanted to be.

“Here, you!” He strode down the hall and grabbed a servitor coming out of the dining room with a platter of crab shells in his hands. “Give me that,” he ordered, taking the platter from the man’s hands, “go back in there, and tell the Duke of Pardloe his nephew would like a word.”

The man goggled at him, mouth open, but didn’t move. William repeated his request, adding “Please,” but also adding a stare meant to indicate that, in the case of resistance, his next step would be to bash the man over the head with the platter. This worked, and the man turned like an automaton and marched back into the dining room—from which, in very short order, his uncle emerged, polished in dress and manner but clearly excited in countenance.

“William! What the devil are you doing with that?” He took the platter from William and shoved it carelessly under one of the gilt chairs ranged along the wall of the foyer. “What’s happened? Have you found Ben?”

Christ, he hadn’t thought of that. Naturally, Uncle Hal would assume . . . With a grimace, he shook his head.

“I haven’t, Uncle, I’m sorry. I think I do know where his wife is, but—”

Hal’s face underwent a couple of lightning shifts, from excitement to disappointment to outward calm.

“Good. Where are you staying? John and I will come and—”

“Papa’s here, too?” William blurted, feeling like a fool. If he hadn’t been so sensitive about his position and thus avoided anyone from the army, he would have learned that the 46th was part of Campbell’s force in short order.

“Naturally,” Hal said, with a touch of impatience. “Where else would he be?”

“With Dottie, looking for Ben’s wife,” William riposted smartly. “Is she here, too?”

“No.” His uncle looked displeased, but not altogether displeased. “She discovered that she was with child, so John very properly brought her back to New York—and less properly consigned her to the care of her husband. She’s presumably wherever Washington’s troops are at the moment, unless that bloody Quaker’s had the common sense to—”

“Oh, Pardloe.” A stout officer in a lieutenant colonel’s uniform and an ornate double-curled wig stood in the doorway, looking mildly surprised. “Thought you’d been taken ill, the way you dashed out.” Despite the mild tone, there was an undercurrent in the man’s voice that drove a two-penny nail into William’s spine. This was Archibald Campbell, and from the visible frostiness with which he and Uncle Hal were viewing each other, Uncle Hal’s value as a negotiator might not be what his nephew could hope.

Still, Uncle Hal could—and did—introduce William to Campbell, thus relieving him of the worry of producing adequate bona fides.

“Your servant, my lord,” Campbell said, eyeing him suspiciously. He glanced over his shoulder, moving out of the way of a pair of servants carrying a massive wine cooler. “I fear that dinner has nearly concluded, but if you’d like, I’ll have the servants provide a small supper for you in the office.”

“No, sir, I thank you,” William said, bowing—though the smell of food made his stomach gurgle. “I took the liberty of coming to speak with you about a . . . um . . . an urgent matter.”

“Indeed.” Campbell looked displeased and wasn’t troubling to hide it. “It can’t wait until the morning?”

“I don’t know that it can, sir.” He’d had a look at the big oak on the edge of town, which he thought must be the one Fanny meant. As Jane’s corpse wasn’t hanging from it, he assumed she was still being held prisoner in the house nearby. But that was no assurance that they didn’t mean to execute her at dawn. The army was rather fond of executing prisoners at dawn; start the day off in the right frame of mind . . .

He got hold of his racing thoughts and bowed again.

“It concerns a young woman, sir, who I understand was arrested earlier today, upon suspicion of—of assault. I—”

“Assault?” Campbell’s beetling brows shot up toward the furbelows of his wig. “She stabbed a man twenty-six times, then cut his throat in cold blood. If that’s your notion of assault, I should hate to see—”

“Who is this young woman, my lord?” Uncle Hal put in, his tone formal and his face impassive.

“Her name is Jane,” William began, and stopped, having no idea what her last name might be. “Uh . . . Jane . . .”

“Pocock, she says,” put in Campbell. “She’s a whore.”

“A—” Hal cut his exclamation off one syllable too late. He narrowed his eyes at William.

“She is . . . under my protection,” William said, as firmly as he could.

“Really?” drawled Campbell. He gave Uncle Hal a look of amused contempt, and Uncle Hal went white with suppressed fury—most of which was not suppressed at all in the look he turned on William.

“Yes. Really,” said William, aware that this was not brilliant but unable to think of anything better. “I wish to speak on her behalf. Provide her with a solicitor,” he added, rather wildly. “I’m sure she isn’t guilty of the crime of which she’s accused.”

Campbell actually laughed, and William felt his ears burning with hot blood. He might have said something imprudent had Lord John not appeared at this juncture, as impeccably uniformed as his brother and looking mildly inquisitive.

“Ah, William,” he said, as though he’d quite expected to see his son here. His eyes flicked rapidly from face to face, obviously drawing conclusions about the tenor of the conversation, if not its subject. With scarcely a pause, he stepped forward and embraced William warmly.

“You’re here! I’m delighted to see you,” he said, smiling up at William. “I have remarkable news! Will you excuse us for a moment, sir?” he said to Campbell, and, not waiting for an answer, gripped William by the elbow, yanked open the front door, towed him out onto the wide veranda, and closed the door firmly behind them.

“All right. Tell me what’s going on,” Lord John said, low-voiced. “And do it fast.

“Jesus,” he said, when William had blurted out an only slightly confused account of the situation. He rubbed a hand slowly over his face, thinking, and repeated, “Jesus.”

“Yes,” William said, still upset but feeling some comfort at his father’s presence. “I’d thought to talk to Campbell, but then when Uncle Hal was here, I hoped . . . but he and Campbell seem to be—”

“Yes, their relationship could best be described as one of cordial hatred,” Lord John agreed. “Archibald Campbell is highly unlikely to do Hal any sort of favor, unless it was to escort him personally into the next southbound coach for hell.” He blew out his breath and shook his head, as though to clear it of wine fumes.

“I don’t know, William, I really don’t. The girl—she is a whore?”

“Yes.”

“Did she do it?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, God.” He looked helplessly at William for a moment, then squared his shoulders. “All right. I’ll do what I can, but I don’t promise anything. There’s a tavern on the square, called Tudy’s. Go there and wait—I rather think your presence will not be helpful in this discussion.”

IT SEEMED FOREVER but must have been less than an hour when Lord John appeared at Tudy’s. One look at his face told William that he hadn’t been successful.

“I’m sorry,” he said without preliminary, and sat down opposite William. He’d come out without his hat and brushed at the raindrops caught in his hair. “The girl—”

“Her name is Jane,” William interrupted. It seemed important that he insist on that, not let everyone just dismiss her as “the whore.”

“Miss Jane Eleanora Pocock,” his father agreed, with a brief nod. “Apparently she not only committed the crime but has confessed to it. A signed confession, no less. I read it.” He rubbed a hand tiredly over his face. “Her only objection was to the statement that she stabbed Harkness twenty-six times and cut his throat. According to her, she only stabbed him once before cutting his throat. People will exaggerate these things.”

“That’s what she told me.” William’s throat felt tight. His father darted a glance at him but chose not to say anything in response to this. What he thought was all too clear, though.

“She was trying to save her young sister from being defiled by the man,” he said, urgently defensive. “And Harkness was a depraved sod who’d used her—Jane, I mean—abominably! I heard him talk about it. It would have turned your stomach to hear him.”

“I daresay,” Lord John agreed. “Dangerous clients are one of the hazards of that profession. But was there no recourse available to her other than a carving knife? Most brothels that cater to soldiers have some means of rescuing the whores from . . . excessive importunity. And Miss Pocock, from what Colonel Campbell tells me, is a—er—an—”

“Expensive piece. She is. Was.”

William reached out blindly for the mug of beer he’d been ignoring, took a huge gulp, and coughed convulsively. His father watched with some sympathy.

William at last drew breath and sat, staring at his fists, clenched on the table.

“She hated him,” he said at last, low-voiced. “And the madam wouldn’t have kept her sister from him; he’d paid for her maidenhead.”

Lord John sighed and covered one of William’s fists with his hand, squeezing.

“Do you love the young woman, William?” he asked, very quietly. The tavern wasn’t busy, but there were enough men drinking there that no one was noticing them.

William shook his head, helpless.

“I—tried to protect her. To save her from Harkness. I—I bought her for the night. I didn’t stop to think that he’d come back—but of course he would,” he finished bitterly. “I likely made things worse for her.”

“There wouldn’t have been a way of making them better, save marrying the girl or killing Harkness yourself,” Lord John said dryly. “And I don’t recommend murder as a way of settling difficult situations. It tends to lead to complications—but not nearly as many as marriage.” He got up and went to the bar, returning with two steaming cups of hot rum punch.

“Drink that,” he said, pushing one in front of William. “You look chilled through.”

He was; he’d taken a table in a far corner, nowhere near the fire, and a fine, uncontrollable shiver was running through him, enough to ripple the surface of the punch when he wrapped his hand round the pewter cup. The punch was good, though made with preserved lemon peel, sweet, strong, and hot and made with good brandy as well as rum. He hadn’t eaten anything in hours, and it warmed his stomach immediately.

They drank in silence—what was there to say? There was no way of saving Jane, bar some sort of physical assault, and he couldn’t ask his father or uncle to join or support him in that sort of desperate caper. He didn’t think they’d do it, for one thing. He believed in their considerable affection for him but knew quite well that they’d see it as their duty to prevent him committing folly that could well prove fatal.

“It won’t have been entirely in vain, you know,” Lord John said quietly. “She did save her sister.”

William nodded, unable to speak. The thought of seeing Fanny in the morning, only to tell her—and then what? Must he stand beside her and watch Jane be hanged?

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