Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 152

   

He spoke very simply and honestly, and Fanny’s eyes welled up with tears.

“Can I have huh?” she said softly. “Pwease?”

Heedless of his immaculate breeches, he knelt on the ground in front of her and took her hand in his.

“Yes, sweetheart,” he said, just as softly. “Of course you can.” He patted her hand. “Will you wait here, just for a moment, while I speak with Mrs. Fraser?” He stood and, as an afterthought, pulled a large snowy handkerchief out of his sleeve and handed it to her with another small bow.

“Poor child,” he said, taking my hand and tucking it into the curve of his elbow. “Or children—the other girl can’t have been more than seventeen.” We walked for a few paces, down a small brick walk between empty flower beds, until we were safely out of earshot of both street and house. “I take it that William sought Jamie’s help. I thought he might, though I hoped he wouldn’t, for both their sakes.”

His face was shadowed, and there were blue smudges under his eyes; evidently he’d had a disturbed night, too.

“Where is William, do you know?” I asked.

“I don’t. He said he had an errand outside the city but would return tonight.” He glanced over his shoulder at the house. “I’ve arranged for . . . Jane . . . to be appropriately tended. She cannot be buried in a churchyard, of course—”

“Of course,” I murmured, angry at the thought. He noticed but cleared his throat and went on.

“I know a family with a small private cemetery. I believe I can make arrangement for a quiet burial. Quickly, of course; tomorrow, very early?”

I nodded, getting a grip on myself. It wasn’t his fault.

“You’ve been very good,” I said. Worry and the lack of sleep were catching up with me; things seemed oddly non-dimensional, as though trees and people and garden furniture were merely pasted onto a painted backdrop. I shook my head to clear it, though; there were important things to be said.

“I have to tell you something,” I said. “I wish I didn’t, but there it is. Ezekiel Richardson came to my surgery the other day.”

“The devil he did.” John had stiffened at the name. “He’s not with the army here, surely? I would have—”

“Yes, but not with your army.” I told him, as briefly as I could, what Richardson now was—or, rather, was revealed to be; God only knew how long he’d been a Rebel spy—and what his intentions were toward Hal and the Grey family in general.

John listened, his face quietly intent, though the corner of his mouth twitched when I described Richardson’s plan to influence Hal’s political actions.

“Yes, I know,” I said dryly, seeing that. “I don’t suppose he’s ever actually met Hal. But the important thing . . .” I hesitated, but he had to know.

“He knows about you,” I said. “What you . . . are. I mean that you—”

“What I am,” he repeated, expressionless. His eyes had been fastened on my face to this point; now he looked away. “I see.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

John was a distinguished soldier and an honorable gentleman, member of an ancient noble family. He was also a homosexual, in a time when that particular attribute was a capital offense. For that knowledge to be in the hands of a man who meant ill to him and his family . . . I wasn’t under any illusions about what I’d just done—with three words, I’d shown him that he was standing on a very narrow tightrope over a very deep pit, with Richardson holding the end of the rope.

“I’m sorry, John,” I said, very softly. I touched his arm, and he laid his hand briefly over mine, squeezed it gently, and smiled.

“Thank you.” He stared at the brick paving under his feet for a moment, then looked up. “Do you know how he came by the—information?” He spoke calmly, but a nerve was jumping just under his injured eye, a tiny twitch. I wanted to put my finger on it, still it. But there was nothing I could do.

“No.” I looked back at the distant bench. Fanny was still there, a small, desolate figure, head bent. I turned my gaze back to John; his brow was creased, thinking.

“One last thing. Hal’s daughter-in-law, the young woman with the odd name—”

“Amaranthus,” he interrupted, and smiled wryly. “Yes, what about her? Don’t tell me that Ezekiel Richardson invented her for his own purposes.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him, but probably not.” I told him what I’d learned from Mr. Jameson.

“I told William day before yesterday,” I said. “But what with everything”—I waved a hand, encompassing Fanny, Jane, Colonel Campbell, and a few other things—“I doubt he’s had time to go to Saperville to look for her. You don’t suppose that’s the errand he spoke of, do you?” I asked, struck by the thought.

“God knows.” He rubbed a hand over his face, then straightened. “I must go. I’ll have to tell Hal a few things. Not . . . that, I don’t think,” he said, seeing my face. “But obviously there are things he needs to know, and know quickly. God bless you, my dear. I’ll send word about tomorrow.” He took my hand, kissed it very gently, and let go.

I watched him walk away, his back very straight, the scarlet of his coat bright as blood against the grays and faded greens of the winter garden.

WE BURIED JANE on the morning of a dull, cold day. The sky was sodden with low gray clouds, and a raw wind blew in from the sea. It was a small private burying ground, belonging to a large house that stood outside the city.

All of us came with Fanny: Rachel and Ian, Jenny, Fergus and Marsali—even the girls and Germain. I worried a bit; they couldn’t help but feel the echoes of Henri-Christian’s death. But death was a fact of life and a common one, and while they stood solemn and pale amongst the adults, they were composed. Fanny was not so much composed as completely numb, I thought; she’d wept all the tears her small body could hold and was white and stiff as a bleached stick.

John came, dressed in his uniform (in case anyone became inquisitive and tried to disturb us, he explained to me in an undertone). The coffin-maker had had only adult coffins to hand; Jane’s shrouded body looked so like a chrysalis, I half-expected to hear a dry rattling sound when the men picked it up. Fanny had declined to look upon her sister’s face one last time, and I thought that was as well.

There was no priest or minister; she was a suicide, and this was ground hallowed only by respect. When the last of the dirt had been shoveled in, we stood quiet, waiting, the harsh wind flurrying our hair and garments.

Jamie took a deep breath and a step to the head of the grave. He spoke the Gaelic prayer called the Death Dirge, but in English, for the sake of Fanny and Lord John.

Thou goest home this night to thy home of winter,

To thy home of autumn, of spring, and of summer;

Thou goest home this night to thy perpetual home,

To thine eternal bed, to thine eternal slumber.

Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,

Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,

Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,

Sleep, thou beloved, in the Rock of the fold.

The shade of death lies upon thy face, beloved,

But the Jesus of grace has His hand round about thee;

In nearness to the Trinity farewell to thy pains,

Christ stands before thee and peace is in His mind.

Jenny, Ian, Fergus, and Marsali joined in, murmuring the final verse with him.

Sleep, O sleep in the calm of all calm,

Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of guidance,

Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves,

Sleep, O beloved, in the Lord of life,

Sleep, O beloved, in the God of life!

It wasn’t until we turned to go that I saw William. He was standing just outside the wrought-iron fence that enclosed the burying ground, tall and somber in a dark cloak, the wind stirring the dark tail of his hair. He was holding the reins of a very large mare with a back as broad as a barn door. As I came out of the burying ground, holding Fanny’s hand, he came toward us, the horse obligingly following him.

“This is Miranda,” he said to Fanny. His face was white and carved with grief, but his voice was steady. “She’s yours now. You’ll need her.” He took Fanny’s limp hand, put the reins into it, and closed her fingers over them. Then he looked at me, wisps of hair blowing across his face. “Will you look after her, Mother Claire?”

“Of course we will,” I said, my throat tight. “Where are you going, William?”

He smiled then, very faintly.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, and walked away.

Fanny was staring up at Miranda in complete incomprehension. I gently took the reins from her, patted the horse’s jaw, and turned to find Jamie. He was just inside the fence, talking with Marsali; the others had come out already and were standing in a cold little cluster, Ian and Fergus talking with Lord John, while Jenny shepherded the children—all of whom were staring at Fanny.

Jamie was frowning a little, but at last he nodded and, bending forward, kissed Marsali on the forehead and came out. He raised one eyebrow when he saw Miranda, and I explained.

“Aye, well,” he said, with a glance at Fanny. “What’s one more?” There was an odd tone to his voice, and I looked at him in inquiry.

“Marsali asked me if we’d take Germain,” he said, drawing Fanny in against him in a sheltering hug, as if this were a common thing.

“Really?” I glanced over my shoulder at the rest of the family. “Why?” We had all discussed the matter at some length the night before and concluded that we wouldn’t wait until spring to leave Savannah. With the city occupied, there was no chance of Fergus and Marsali resuming publication of their newspaper, and with Colonel Richardson lurking behind the scenes, the place was beginning to seem distinctly dangerous.

We would all travel together to Charleston, get Fergus and Marsali established there, and then the rest of us would go on north to Wilmington, where we would begin to equip ourselves for the trip into the mountains when the snows began to melt in March.

“Ye told them, Sassenach,” Jamie said, scratching Miranda’s forelock with his free hand. “What the war would be, and how long it would last. Germain’s of an age when he’ll be out and in the thick o’ things. Marsali’s worrit that he’ll come to harm, loose in a city where the sorts of things happen that do happen in wartime. God knows the mountains may be no safer”—he grimaced, obviously recalling a few incidents that had taken place there—“but on the whole, he’s likely better off not being in a place where he could be conscripted by the militia or pressed into the British navy.”

I looked down the gravel path that led to the house; Germain had drifted away from his mother, grandmother, Rachel, and his sisters and joined Ian and Fergus in conversation with Lord John.

“Aye, he kens he’s a man,” Jamie said dryly, following the direction of my gaze. “Come along, a leannan,” he said to Fanny. “It’s time we all had breakfast.”

AMARANTHUS

Saperville

January 15, 1779

SAPERVILLE WAS DIFFICULT to find but, once found, small enough that it was a matter of only three inquiries to discover the residence of a widow named Grey.

“Over there.” Hal reined up, nodding toward a house that stood a hundred yards back from the road in the shade of an enormous magnolia tree. He was being casual, but John could see the muscle twitching in his brother’s jaw.

“Well . . . I suppose we just go up and knock, then.” He turned his own horse’s head in at the rutted lane, taking stock of the place as they walked toward it. It was a rather shabby house, the front veranda sagging at one corner where its foundation had given way, and half its few windows boarded over. Still, the place was occupied; the chimney was smoking fitfully, in a way suggesting that it hadn’t been recently swept.

The door was opened to them by a slattern. A white woman, but one clothed in a stained wrapper and felt slippers, with wary eyes and a sourly downturned mouth whose corners showed the stains of tobacco chewing.

“Is Mrs. Grey at home?” Hal inquired politely.

“Nobody o’ that name here,” the woman said, and made to shut the door, this action being prevented by Hal’s boot.

“We were directed to this address, madam,” Hal said, the politeness diminishing markedly. “Be so good as to inform Mrs. Grey that she has visitors, please.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed.

“And who in tarnation are you, Mr. Fancy Pants?”

John’s estimation of the woman’s nerve rose considerably at this, but he thought he ought to intervene before Hal started wheezing.

“This is His Grace the Duke of Pardloe, madam,” he said, with maximum politeness. Her face altered at once, though not for the better. Her jaw hardened, but a predatory gleam came into her eye.

“Elle connaît votre nom,” he said to Hal. She knows your name.

“I know that,” his brother snapped. “Madam—”

Whatever he would have said was interrupted by the sudden shrieking of a baby, somewhere upstairs.

“I beg your pardon, madam,” Lord John said politely to the slattern, and, seizing her by the elbows, walked her backward into the house, whirled her round, and pushed her into the kitchen. There was a pantry, and he shoved her into this cubbyhole, slammed the door upon her, and, grabbing a bread knife from the table, thrust it through the hasp of the latch as a makeshift bolt.

Hal had meanwhile disappeared upstairs, making enough noise for a company of cavalry. John galloped after him, and by the time he reached the head of the stair, his brother was busily engaged in trying to break down the door of a room from which came the siren shrieks of a baby and the even louder cries of what was probably the baby’s mother.

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