Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 17

   

“I think I had best vomit first.”

Hunter snatched the pot out from under the cot just in time. By the time he had administered water—“Drink slowly, Friend, if thee wishes to keep it”—and eased Grey back down on the cot, Colonel Smith was looming up behind him.

“What do you say, Doctor?” Smith was frowning and seemed worried. “Is he in his right mind? He was singing last night, now he’s been moaning and saying odd things, and the look of him . . .” Smith grimaced in a fashion that made Grey wonder what the devil he did look like.

“He’s badly fevered,” Hunter said, with a piercing look through his spectacles as he bent to take hold of Grey’s wrist. “And thee sees the condition of his eye. It would be dangerous to move him. A further extravasation of blood into the brain . . .”

Smith made a discontented noise and compressed his lips. He nudged Hunter aside and bent over Grey.

“Can you hear me, Colonel?” he asked, speaking in the slow, distinct manner one used with idiots and foreigners.

“Ich bin ein Fisch . . .” Grey murmured beatifically, and closed his eyes.

“His pulse is much disordered,” Hunter said warningly, his thumb pressing Grey’s wrist. His hand was cool and firm; Grey found the touch comforting. “I really cannot answer for the consequences should he be moved abruptly.”

“I see.” Smith stood still for a moment; Grey could hear his heavy breathing but forbore opening his eyes. “Very well, then.” He gave a short, humorless laugh. “If Mohammed cannot go to the mountain, then the mountain will jolly well have to come here. I’ll send a note to General Wayne. Do what you can, please, to see that he’s coherent, Doctor?”

HE COULD SEE Denzell Hunter out of his damaged eye; that was reassuring: he wasn’t blind. Yet. Hunter had removed his spectacles in order to peer more closely into the injured organ; he had very nice eyes himself, Grey thought—the iris just the light-brown color of the flesh of a ripe olive, with tiny streaks of deep green.

“Look up, please,” Hunter murmured.

Grey tried to oblige.

“Ow!”

“No? Look down.” This attempt was no more successful, nor could he move the eye to the right or left. It seemed to have solidified in its socket, like a hard-boiled egg. He put this theory to Hunter, who smiled, though in a rather worried way.

“There is a great deal of swelling, to be sure. Whatever struck thee did so with a good deal of force.” Hunter’s fingers moved gently over Grey’s face, prodding here and there in a questioning manner. “Does this—”

“Yes, he did. Don’t keep asking if it hurts; everything from my scalp to my chin hurts, including my left ear. What you said regarding extravasation of blood into the brain—did you mean it?”

“It’s possible.” Hunter did smile at that, though. “But since thee has shown no disposition to seizure or unconsciousness—save that due to alcohol—and thee apparently walked for several hours following the injury, I think perhaps the probability is lower. There is bleeding beneath the sclera, though.” His cool fingertips brushed the puffy lid. “Thy eyeball is crimson, as is the lining of thy eyelid. It’s rather . . . dramatic.” There was a distinct tone of amusement in this, which Grey found reassuring.

“Oh, good,” he said dryly. “How long will it take to go away?”

That made the Quaker grimace and shake his head.

“The blood will take a week to a month to clear; it’s essentially the same as mere bruising—the bursting of small blood vessels under the skin. What worries me is thy inability to move the eye. I think thee has a fracture of the bony orbit, which is somehow trapping the orbicularis muscle. I do wish thy wife was here; she has a much greater—”

“My wife,” Grey said blankly. “Oh!” Memory and realization collided, and he felt a sudden leap of spirit. “She isn’t my wife! Not anymore,” he added, and found himself grinning. He leaned forward to whisper into Hunter’s astonished ear, “Jamie Fraser isn’t dead!”

Hunter stared at him, blinked, put his spectacles back on, and resumed staring, obviously rethinking his appraisal of Grey’s brain.

“He’s the one who hit me,” Grey said helpfully. “It’s all right,” he added at Hunter’s frown. “I was asking for it.”

“God be praised,” Hunter whispered, breaking into a huge smile—apparently at the news of Fraser’s survival rather than Grey’s assurance of the morality of his actions. “Ian will be—” He broke off with a gesture indicating his inability to describe Ian Murray’s probable emotions.

“And Friend Claire!” he exclaimed, eyes huge behind his spectacles. “Does she know?”

“Yes, but—” Approaching footsteps made Grey hurl himself back onto the cot, with a completely authentic exclamation of pain. He shut his eyes and rolled his head to one side, groaning.

“The mountain seems to be with General Washington,” Smith said, plainly disedified. Grey felt him come to a stop by the cot, bumping it with his legs. “Do what you can to see that he’s capable of travel by tomorrow, Doctor—we’ll load him into one of the wagons, if necessary.”

Number 17 Chestnut Street

HIS GRACE WOKE up in the morning red-eyed as a ferret and in roughly the same temper as a rabid badger. Had I a tranquilizing dart, I would have shot him with it without an instant’s hesitation. As it was, I prescribed a large slug of brandy to be added to his breakfast coffee and—after a brief struggle with my Hippocratic conscience—added a very small amount of laudanum to it.

I couldn’t give him much; it depressed the respiration, among other things. Still, I reasoned, counting the aromatic reddish-brown drops as they plinked into the brandy, it was a more humane way of dealing with him than crowning him with the chamber pot or calling Mrs. Figg to sit on him whilst I tied him to the bedstead and gagged him.

And I did require him to be both immobile and quiet for a short period. Mr. Figg, a preacher of the Methodist Society, was bringing round two young men of the society who were carpenters, to rehang the front door and nail boards over the shutters of the downstairs windows, in case of roving mobs. I’d told Mrs. Figg that of course she might confide our circumstances to her husband—I couldn’t very well stop her—but that perhaps he might be persuaded not to mention His Grace’s presence, in the interests of protecting Lord John’s safety and property—to say nothing of His Grace, who was, after all, Lord John’s presumably beloved brother.

Mrs. Figg would cheerfully have handed the duke over to be tarred and feathered, but an appeal on Lord John’s behalf would always carry weight with her, and she nodded in sober agreement. So long as His Grace didn’t draw attention to himself by shouting out of the upstairs window or hurling things at the workmen, she thought his presence could be concealed.

“What you mean to do with him, though, Lady John?” she asked, glancing warily toward the ceiling. We were standing in the back parlor, conferring in lowered voices while Jenny administered Hal’s breakfast and made sure all the brandy-laced coffee was drunk. “And what if the army sends someone round to ask after him?”

I made a helpless gesture.

“I have no idea,” I confessed. “I just need to keep him here until either Lord John or my—er, Mr. Fraser—comes. They’ll know what to do with him. As for the army, if anyone comes asking after His Grace, I’ll . . . um . . . speak to them.”

She gave me a look indicating that she’d heard better plans, but nodded reluctantly and went off to fetch her marketing basket. The first thing that happens in a newly occupied city is a shortage of food, and with the Continental army poised to descend on Philadelphia like a plague of locusts, the wagons that normally brought in produce from the countryside would likely be sparse. If either army was on the road already, they’d be seizing anything that came along.

At the door, though, Mrs. Figg paused and turned around.

“What about William?” she demanded. “If he comes back . . .” She was obviously torn between hope that he would come back—she was worried for him—and consternation at what might happen if he encountered his uncle in captivity.

“I’ll speak to him,” I repeated firmly, and waved a hand toward the door.

Running upstairs, I found Hal yawning over a nearly empty breakfast tray and Jenny fastidiously wiping egg yolk off the corner of his mouth. She’d spent the night at the printshop but had come back to help, bringing with her a battered portmanteau filled with possibly useful items.

“His Grace made a good breakfast,” she reported, stepping back to examine her work critically. “And he’s moved his bowels. I made him do that afore he drank his coffee, just in case. Wasna sure how quick it might be.”

Hal frowned at her, though whether in puzzlement or offense, I couldn’t tell. His pupils were already noticeably constricted, which gave him a slightly staring look. He blinked at me and shook his head, as though trying to clear it.

“Let me have a quick check of your vital signs, Your Grace,” I said, smiling and feeling like Judas. He was my patient—but Jamie was my husband, and I hardened my resolve.

His pulse was slow and quite regular, which reassured me. I took out my stethoscope, unbuttoned his nightshirt, and had a listen: a nice, steady heartbeat, no palpitations, but the lungs were gurgling like a leaky cistern, and his breathing was interrupted by small gasps.

“He’d best have some of the Ephedra tincture,” I said, straightening up. It was a stimulant and would antagonize the opiate in his system, but I couldn’t risk his stopping breathing while asleep. “I’ll stay with him; will you go down and get a cup—don’t bother heating it, cold will do.” I wasn’t sure he’d stay conscious long enough to have a cup heated.

“I really must go to see General Clinton this morning,” Pardloe said, with surprising firmness, considering his foggy mental state. He cleared his throat and coughed. “There are arrangements to make. . . . My regiment . . .”

“Ah. Er . . . where is your regiment just now?” I asked cautiously. If they were in Philadelphia, Hal’s adjutant would be starting to look for him in earnest at any minute. He might reasonably have spent the night with a son or daughter, but by now . . . and I didn’t know precisely how much distraction value my forged notes might have had.

“New York,” he replied. “Or at least I sincerely hope so.” He closed his eyes, swayed slightly, then straightened his back with a jerk. “Landed there. I came down to Philadelphia . . . to see Henry . . . Dottie.” His face twisted with pain. “Mean . . . to go back with Clinton.”

“Of course,” I said soothingly, trying to think. When, exactly, would Clinton and his troops leave? Assuming Pardloe to be sufficiently recovered that he wouldn’t actually die without my attendance, I could give him back as soon as the exodus was under way. At that point, he’d have no way of starting a major search for John and endangering Jamie. But surely Jamie—with or without John—would come back at any moment?

Who did come back was Jenny, with the Ephedra tincture—and a hammer in the pocket of her apron and three stout laths under her arm. She handed me the cup without comment and proceeded to nail the laths over the window, in a surprisingly brisk and competent manner.

Hal sipped his Ephedra slowly, watching Jenny with bemusement.

“Why is she doing that?” he asked, though not as if he cared particularly what the answer was.

“Hurricanes, Your Grace,” she said with a straight face, and zipped out to return the hammer to the carpenters, whose cheerful banging sounded like a battalion of woodpeckers attacking the house.

“Oh,” Hal said. He was glancing vaguely round the room, possibly in search of his breeches, which Mrs. Figg had thoughtfully taken away and hidden in the cookhouse. His eye rested on the small pile of Willie’s books I had moved to the top of the dressing table. Evidently he recognized one or more, because he said, “Oh. William. Where is William?”

“I’m sure Willie’s very busy today,” I said, and picked up his wrist again. “Perhaps we’ll see him later.” His heartbeat was slow but still strong. Just as his grip loosened, I caught the empty cup and set it on the table. His head drooped, and I eased him carefully back on the pillow, propped for easier breathing.

“If he comes back . . .” Mrs. Figg had said of Willie, with the obvious implication, “what then?”

What indeed?

Colenso had not returned, so presumably he had found William; that was reassuring. But what William was doing—or thinking . . .

INCIPIENT THUNDER

“AN ASSIGNMENT BEFITTING your peculiar situation,” Major Findlay had said. Findlay didn’t know the half of it, William reflected bitterly. Not that his situation wasn’t “peculiar,” even without his recent discoveries.

He had surrendered at Saratoga, with the rest of Burgoyne’s army, in October of ’77. The British soldiers and their German allies had been obliged to yield their weapons but were not to be held prisoner; the Convention of Saratoga, signed by Burgoyne and by the Continental general, Gates, had stated that all troops would be allowed to return to Europe, once they had given their parole not to take up arms again in the American conflict.

But ships could not sail during the winter storms, and something had to be done with the captured soldiers. Referred to as the Convention army, they had been marched en masse to Cambridge, Massachusetts, there to await spring and repatriation. All but William and a few like him, who had either connections in America with influence, or connections with Sir Henry, who had succeeded Howe as commander in chief of the American campaign.

Loading...