Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 19

   

Richardson was squinting at him, probably trying to determine whether he was telling the truth.

“I haven’t seen either of them,” William said flatly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Captain . . .” There was a tremendous splash from the direction of the dock and a loud chorus of shock and dismay from the crowd. “Excuse me,” William repeated, and turned away.

Richardson seized him by the arm and made an effort to fix William with his gaze. William looked deliberately in the direction of his neglected duty.

“When you see either one of them, Captain Ransom, be so good as to send word to me. It would be a great help—to many people.”

William jerked his arm free and stalked off without reply. Richardson had used his family name instead of his title—did that mean anything beyond mere rudeness? At the moment, he didn’t care. He couldn’t fight, he couldn’t help anyone, he couldn’t tell the truth, and he wouldn’t live a lie. God damn it, he was stuck like a hog, mired to the hocks.

He wiped the sweat from his face on his sleeve, squared his shoulders, and strode back into the fray. All there was to do was his duty.

AN ARMY ON THE MOVE

WE WERE JUST IN time. No sooner had I closed the bedroom door on Pardloe’s gentle snore than a knock came on the newly hung front door below. I hurried downstairs to find Jenny face-to-face with a British soldier, this time a lieutenant. General Clinton was escalating his inquiries.

“Why, no, lad,” she was saying, in a tone of mild surprise, “the colonel isn’t here. He took tea with Lady John yesterday, but then he went off to look for his brother. His lordship hasn’t come back, and”—I saw her lean closer, her voice lowered dramatically—“her ladyship’s that worried. Ye’ll not have news of him, I suppose?”

This was my cue, and I came down from the landing, rather surprised to find that I was indeed “that worried.” Tending Hal had distracted me from the situation temporarily, but by now there was no denying that something had gone seriously wrong.

“Lady John. Lieutenant Roswell, your servant, ma’am.” The lieutenant bowed, with a professional smile that didn’t hide the slight furrowing of his brow. The army was getting worried, too, and that was bloody dangerous. “Your servant, mum. Have you in fact had no word from Lord John or Lord Melton—oh, I beg your pardon, my lady, I mean from His Grace?”

“D’ye think I’m a liar, lad?” Jenny said tartly.

“Oh! No, mum, not at all,” he said, flushing. “But the general will want to know that I spoke with her ladyship.”

“Of course,” I said soothingly, though my heart was pittering in my throat. “Tell the general that I haven’t heard from my husband”—either of them—“at all. I’m most disturbed.” I wasn’t a good liar, but I wasn’t lying now.

He grimaced.

“The thing is, mum, the army has begun withdrawing from Philadelphia, and all Loyalists remaining in the city are being advised that they may wish to . . . er . . . make preparations.” His lips compressed for a moment as he glanced at the stairwell, with its ruined banister and bloody fist marks. “I . . . see that you have already experienced some . . . difficulty?”

“Och, no,” Jenny said, and with a deprecating glance at me, stepped nearer the lieutenant and put her hand on his arm, pushing him gently toward the door. He automatically moved away with her, and I heard her murmur, “. . . no but a wee family quarrel . . . his lordship . . .”

The lieutenant shot me a swift glance, in which surprise mingled with a certain sympathy. But the lines in his forehead eased. He had an explanation to take back to Clinton.

Blood flamed in my cheeks at his look—as though there truly had been a family row, during which Lord John had stamped out, leaving wreckage in his wake and a wife at the mercy of the Rebels. True, it was a family row, but the circumstances were more through-the-looking-glass than a matter of mere common scandal.

The White Rabbit shut our new door firmly on Lieutenant Roswell and turned to me, back pressed against it.

“Lord Melton?” she asked, one black eyebrow raised.

“It’s one of the duke’s titles, one he used before he became Duke of Pardloe. Lieutenant Roswell must have known him some years ago,” I explained.

“Oh, aye. Well, lord or duke, how long can we keep him asleep?” she asked.

“The laudanum will keep him out for two or three hours,” I replied, glancing at the gilt carriage clock on the mantel, which had somehow escaped the carnage. “But he had a very hard day yesterday and a rather disturbed night; he may well go straight off into a natural sleep as the drug wears off. If no one comes along to knock the house down round our ears,” I added, wincing at sounds of a violent altercation somewhere nearby.

Jenny nodded. “Aye. I’d best go along to the printshop now, then, to see what the news in the city is. And perhaps Jamie will ha’ gone there,” she added hopefully. “Not thinking it safe to come here, I mean, wi’ the streets full of soldiers.”

A spark of hope at the suggestion flared up like a lit match. Though even as I envisioned the possibility, I knew that if Jamie was in the city at all, he’d be standing before me right now. Possibly enraged, possibly disturbed, but before me.

With the army already beginning its withdrawal, and the concomitant public disturbances, no one would have time or inclination to notice—let alone arrest—a tall Scotsman suspected of nothing more than passing suspicious documents. It wasn’t as though there was an all points bulletin out on him—or at least I hoped not. William was the only soldier who knew that Jamie had taken Lord John hostage, and from his manner in leaving, I rather thought that the last thing William would have done was give a full report of the situation to his superiors.

I said as much to Jenny, though agreed that she ought to go back to the printshop, to check on the welfare of Fergus and Marsali’s family, as well as to find out what was going on amongst the Rebels in the city.

“Will you be safe in the streets?” I asked, unfolding her cloak and holding it up for her to put on.

“Oh, I expect so,” she said briskly. “No one much thinks to look at an auld woman. But I suppose I’d best put away my wee bawbee.” The bawbee in question was a small silver chiming watch, with a delicately filigreed cover, which she wore pinned to the bosom of her dress.

“Jamie bought it for me in Brest,” she explained, seeing me looking at it as she unpinned it. “I told him it was foolery; I didna need such a thing to ken the time, nay more than he did himself. But he said, no, I must have it, that knowing what o’clock it is gives ye the illusion that ye have some control over your circumstances. Ye ken how he is,” she added, putting the watch carefully away in her pocket, “always explaining ye to yourself. Though I will say as he’s no often wrong.

“Now, then,” she added, turning to me as she opened the door. “I’ll come back before him upstairs wakes up, unless I can’t, and if I can’t, I’ll send Germain to say so.”

“Why should you not be able to?” I asked, in some surprise.

“Young Ian,” she said, equally surprised that I should not have thought of this. “Wi’ the army leaving, he may have come back from Valley Forge by now—and ye ken, the poor lad thinks I’m dead.”

ROOM FOR SECRETS

In the forest,

five miles from Valley Forge

“DO QUAKERS BELIEVE in heaven?” Ian Murray asked.

“Some do,” Rachel Hunter replied, pausing to turn over a large toadstool with the toe of her shoe. “No, dog, don’t touch that one. See the color of its gills?” Rollo, who had come to sniff at the fungus, dismissed it with a perfunctory sneeze and lifted his snout to the wind in hopes of more promising prey.

“Auntie Claire says dogs canna see colors,” Ian remarked. “And what d’ye mean, ‘Some do’? Is there a difference of opinion on the matter?” Quaker beliefs puzzled him beyond measure, but he found Rachel’s explanations invariably entertaining.

“Perhaps they smell them instead. The dogs, I mean. But to return to thy question, we consider our life here on earth to be a sacrament, lived in the light of Christ. There may be an afterlife, but as no one has come back to say so, it’s a matter of speculation, left to each person individually.”

They had paused in the shade of a small walnut grove, and the soft green sun that fell flickering through the leaves gave Rachel herself an unearthly glow that any angel might have envied.

“Well, I havena been there, either, so I’ll no just say that’s wrong,” he said, and bent to kiss her just above the ear. A faint rush of tiny gooseflesh stippled her temple for an instant, and the sight touched his heart.

“Why does thee think of heaven?” she asked curiously. “Does thee think there will be fighting in the city? I haven’t known thee overly fearful for thy life before.” Valley Forge had been hoaching like a grain sack full of weevils when they left it an hour before, the soldiers salvaging what they could from the camp, molding fresh musket balls and packing cartridges, preparing to march on Philadelphia when the word was given that Clinton’s men had withdrawn.

“Och, no. There’ll be nay fighting in the city. Washington will try to catch Clinton’s men in retreat.” He took her hand, small and brown and work-roughened but the fingers reassuringly strong as they turned and clasped his. “Nay, I was thinking of my mam—that I should ha’ liked to show her places like this.” He gestured toward the little clearing in which they stood, a tiny spring of an improbably deep blue welling up from the rock under their feet, overhung by a yellow wild-rose brier, humming with summer bees. “She had a big yellow rose brier growin’ up the wall at Lallybroch; my grandmother planted it.” He swallowed a small lump in his throat. “But then I thought, may be as she’s happier in heaven with my da than she would be here without him.”

Rachel’s hand squeezed his, hard.

“She would be with him always, in life or in death,” she whispered, and stood a-tiptoe to kiss him back. “And you will take me someday to see your grandmother’s rose in Scotland.”

They stood in silence for a bit, and Ian felt his heart, clenched with a sudden grief at the thought of his mother, ease in Rachel’s sympathetic company. He hadn’t said it, but what he most regretted was not his inability to show his mother the beauties of America but the fact that he couldn’t show her Rachel.

“She’d have liked ye,” he blurted. “My mam.”

“I hope that she would,” Rachel said, though with a tinge of dubiousness. “Did thee tell her about me, in Scotland? That I am a Friend, I mean. Some Catholics find us scandalous.”

Ian tried to remember whether he had mentioned that to his mother, but couldn’t. It made no difference, in any case, and he shrugged, dismissing it.

“I told her I loved ye. That seemed to be enough. Come to think, though—my da asked all kinds of questions about ye; he wanted to know everything he could. He kent ye were a Quaker, so that means she kent it, too.” He took her elbow to help her down from the rock.

She nodded, thoughtful, but as she followed him out of the clearing, he heard her ask behind him, “Does thee think a married couple should be completely in each other’s confidence—share not only their histories, I mean, but every thought?”

That sent a qualm skittering down his backbone like a mouse with cold feet, and he took a deep breath. He loved Rachel with every fiber of his being, but he found her apparent ability to read him like a book—if not to actually hear his thoughts, and sometimes he thought for sure she did that, too—unsettling.

He had in fact suggested that they walk together to Matson’s Ford and meet Denzell with the wagon there, rather than ride with him from Valley Forge, so that Ian might have sufficient time and solitude in which to share a few necessary things with her. He’d rather be tortured by Abenakis than tell her some of those things, but it was right she should know them, no matter what the result might be.

“Aye. I mean . . . well, so far as one can, I think they maybe should. Not every thought, I dinna mean, but important things. Ahh . . . history, like ye said. Here, come sit for a wee while.” There was a big fallen log, half rotted and covered with moss and fuzzy gray lichens, and he led her to it, sitting down beside her in the fragrant shade of a big red cedar.

She didn’t say anything, but lifted a brow in question.

“Well.” He drew a deep breath, feeling that there wasn’t enough air in the whole forest for this. “Did ye ken . . . I’ve been marrit before?”

Her face flickered, surprise overcome by determination so fast that he’d have missed it if he hadn’t been watching so close.

“I did not,” she said, and began to pleat the folds of her skirt, one-handed, clear hazel eyes fixed intently on his face. “Thee did say been married. Thee isn’t now, I suppose?”

He shook his head, feeling a little easier—and very grateful to her. Not every young woman would have taken it so calmly.

“No. I wouldna have spoken to ye—asked ye to marry me, I mean—otherwise.”

She pursed her lips a little and her eyes narrowed.

“In point of fact,” she said thoughtfully, “thee never has asked me to marry thee.”

“I didn’t?” he said, staggered. “Are ye sure?”

“I would have noticed,” she assured him gravely. “No, thee didn’t. Though I recall a few very moving declarations, there was no suggestion of marriage among them.”

“But—well.” Heat had risen in his cheeks. “I—but you . . . ye said . . .” Maybe she was right. She had said . . . or had she? “Did ye not say ye loved me?”

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