Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 28

   

The general set me down at the ferry; Kingsessing was on the other side of the Schuylkill. He got out himself to hand me down from the carriage, in spite of his bad leg, and pressed my hand in parting.

“Shall I send the carriage to retrieve you, Mrs. Fraser?” he asked, glancing up at the hazy white sky. “The sky looks untrustworthy.”

“Oh, no,” I assured him. “I shouldn’t be much longer than an hour or two about my business; it won’t rain before four o’clock—it never does at this time of year. Or so my son assures me.”

“Your son? Do I know your son?” His brow wrinkled; he prided himself on his memory, Jamie had said.

“I don’t think you would. Fergus Fraser, he’s called; he’s my husband’s adopted son, really. He and his wife own the printshop on Market Street.”

“Indeed?” His face lighted with interest, and he smiled. “A newspaper called . . . The Onion? I heard it mentioned in the ordinary where I breakfasted this morning. A Patriot periodical, I gather, and somewhat given to satire?”

“L’Oignon,” I agreed, laughing. “Fergus is a Frenchman, and his wife has a sense of humor. They do print other things, though. And they sell books, of course.”

“I shall call upon them,” Arnold declared. “I’m quite without books, having left such belongings as I possess to follow after me. But really, my dear, how will you get back to Philadelphia?”

“I’m sure I can borrow some form of transportation from the Bartrams,” I assured him. “I’ve been to their gardens several times; they know me.” In fact, I intended to walk—I was in no hurry to return to the Chestnut Street house and my cantankerous prisoner (what the devil was I going to do with him? Particularly now that the British had left . . .), and it was no more than an hour on foot—but knew better than to tell him that, and we parted with mutual expressions of esteem.

It was only a quarter hour’s walk from the ferry to Bartram’s Garden, but I took my time about it, as much because my mind was still on General Arnold as because of the heat.

When? I wondered uneasily. When would it begin to happen? Not yet; I was almost sure of that. What was it, what would it be, that turned this gallant, honorable man from patriot to traitor? Who would he talk to, what would plant the deadly seed?

Lord, I thought in a moment of sudden, horrified prayer, please! Don’t let it be something I said to him!

The very idea made me shudder, in spite of the oppressive heat. The more I saw of how things worked, the less I knew. Roger worried a lot about it, I knew: the why of it. Why were a few people able to do this? What effect—conscious or unconscious—did travelers have? And what ought they to do about it if they—we—did?

Knowing what would happen to Charles Stuart and the Rising hadn’t stopped him, and it hadn’t stopped our being dragged into the tragedy, either. But it had—maybe—saved the lives of a number of men whom Jamie had led from Culloden before the battle. It had saved Frank’s life, or so I thought. Would I have told Jamie, though, if I’d known what the cost would be to him and me? And if I hadn’t told him, would we have been dragged into it anyway?

Well, there weren’t any bloody answers, no more than there had been the hundreds of other times I’d asked those bloody questions, and I heaved a sigh of relief as the gate to Bartram’s Garden came in sight. An hour in the midst of acres of cool greenery was just what I needed.

IN WHICH MRS. FIGG TAKES A HAND

JAMIE’S BREATH CAME SHORT, and he found that he was clenching and unclenching his fists as he turned in to Chestnut Street. Not as a means of controlling his temper—he had it well leashed and it would stay that way—but only to let out more of the energy inside him.

He was trembling with it, with the need to see her, touch her, have her tight against him. Nothing else mattered. There’d be words, there needed to be words—but those could wait. Everything could wait.

He’d left Rachel and Ian at the corner of Market and Second, to go on to the printshop to find Jenny, and he spared an instant’s quick prayer that his sister and the wee Quaker might get on well together, but this vanished like smoke.

There was a burning just under his ribs that spread through his chest and throbbed in his restless fingers. The city smelled like burning, too; smoke hung under a lowering sky. He noted automatically the signs of looting and violence—a half-burnt wall, the smudge of soot like a giant thumbprint on the plaster, broken windows, a woman’s cap snagged on a bush and left to hang limp in the heavy air—and the streets around him were full of people, but not those going about their business. Mostly men, many of them armed, half of them walking warily, glancing about, the rest standing in loose knots of excited conversation.

He didn’t care what was happening, providing only that it wasn’t happening to Claire.

There it was, Number 17; the neat brick three-story house that he’d rushed into—and out of—three days ago. The sight of it hit him in the pit of the stomach. He’d been in there perhaps five minutes and recalled every second. Claire’s hair, half brushed and clouding up around his face as he bent to her, smelling of bergamot, vanilla, and her own green scent. Her warmth and solidness in his arms, his hands; he’d grabbed her by the arse, her lovely round arse so warm and firm under the thin shift, and his palms tingled with the memory of instant lust. And no more than an instant later . . .

He pushed the vision of William out of his mind. William could wait, too.

His knock at the door was answered by the rotund black woman he’d seen on his first arrival, and he greeted her in much the same way, though with not quite the same words.

“Good day to ye, madam. I’ve come for my wife.” He stepped inside, past her open mouth and raised brows, and paused, blinking at the damage.

“What happened?” he demanded, rounding on the housekeeper. “Is she all right?”

“I expect she is, if you’re meaning Lady John,” the woman said, with a heavy emphasis on the name. “As to all this”—she rotated smoothly on her axis, gesturing toward the gouged, blood-smeared wall, the broken banister, and the iron skeleton of a chandelier, lying drunkenly in a corner of the foyer—“that would be Captain Lord Ellesmere. Lord John’s son.” She narrowed her eyes and glared at Jamie in a way that made it apparent to him that she knew damned well what had happened in the hallway above when he’d come face-to-face with William—and she was not at all pleased.

He hadn’t time to worry about her feelings and pushed past her as politely as possible, heading up the stairs as quickly as his twitching back muscles would allow.

As he reached the top of the stair, he heard a woman’s voice—but not Claire’s. To his astonishment, it was his sister’s voice, and he approached the farthest bedroom to see her back blocking the doorway. And over her shoulder . . .

He’d felt unreal ever since his conversation with William at the roadside. Now he was convinced that he was hallucinating, because what he thought he saw was the Duke of Pardloe, face contorted in annoyance, rising from a chair, clad in nothing but a nightshirt.

“Sit down.” The words were spoken quietly, but their effect on Pardloe was instantaneous. He froze, and everything in his face save his eyes went blank.

Leaning forward, Jamie peered over Jenny’s shoulder to see a large Highland dag in her hand, its eighteen-inch barrel trained steady on the duke’s chest. What he could see of her face was white and set like marble. “Ye heard me,” she said, her voice little more than a whisper.

Very slowly, Pardloe—yes, it really was him, Jamie’s eyes informed his dazed mind—took two steps backward and lowered himself into the chair. Jamie could smell the gunpowder in the priming pan and thought the duke very likely could, too.

“Lord Melton,” Jenny said, moving slightly so as to have him silhouetted against the dim light that filtered through the shutters. “My good-sister said that you’re Lord Melton—or were. Is that so?”

“Yes,” Pardloe said. He wasn’t moving, but Jamie saw that he had sat down with his legs flexed under him; he could be out of the chair in one lunge, if he chose. Very quietly, Jamie edged to the side. He was close enough that Jenny should have sensed him behind her, but he could see why she didn’t; her shoulder blades were pressed together in concentration, sharp-edged under the cloth as a pair of hawk’s wings.

“It was your men who came to my house,” she said, her voice low. “Came more than once, to loot and destroy, to take the food from our mouths. Who took my husband away”—for an instant, the barrel trembled, but then steadied again—“away to the prison where he took the ill that killed him. Move one inch, my lord, and I’ll shoot ye in the guts. Ye’ll die quicker than he did, but I daresay ye willna think it fast enough.”

Pardloe didn’t say a word but moved his head a fraction of an inch to indicate that he’d understood her. His hands, which had been clutching the arms of the chair, relaxed. His eyes left the pistol—and saw Jamie. His mouth fell open, his eyes sprang wide, and Jenny’s finger whitened on the trigger.

Jamie got a hand under the gun just as it went off in a puff of black smoke, the crack of the firing simultaneous with the explosion of a china figure on the mantelpiece.

Pardloe sat frozen for an instant, then—very carefully—reached up and removed a large shard of porcelain from his hair.

“Mr. Fraser,” he said, in a voice that was almost steady. “Your servant, sir.”

“Your most obedient, Your Grace,” Jamie replied, suffering an insane urge to laugh, and kept from it only by the sure knowledge that his sister would immediately reload and shoot him at point-blank range if he did. “I see ye’re acquainted with my sister, Mrs. Murray.”

“Your—dear lord, she is.” Pardloe’s eyes had flicked back and forth between their faces, and he now drew a long, slow breath. “Is your entire family given to irascibility?”

“We are, Your Grace, and I thank ye for the compliment,” Jamie said, and laid a hand on Jenny’s back. He could feel her heart going like a trip-hammer, and her breath was coming in shallow pants. Putting the pistol aside, he took her hand in both of his. It was cold as ice in spite of the temperature in the room, which was slightly hotter than Hades, with the window shuttered and boarded over.

“Would ye be so amiable as to pour out a dram of whatever’s in that decanter, Your Grace?”

Pardloe did and approached warily, holding out the glass—it was brandy; Jamie could smell the hot fumes.

“Don’t let him out,” Jenny said, getting hold of herself. She glared at Pardloe and took the brandy, then glared at Jamie. “And where in the name of St. Mary Magdalene have you been these three days past?”

Before he could answer, heavy footsteps came hastily down the hallway and the black housekeeper appeared in the doorway, breathing audibly and holding a silver-inlaid fowling piece in a manner suggesting that she knew what to do with it.

“The two of you can just sit yourselves down this minute,” she said, moving the barrel of the gun back and forth between Pardloe and Jamie in a businesslike fashion. “If you think you’re going to take that man out of here, you—”

“I told you—I beg your pardon, madam, but would ye honor me with your name?”

“You—what?” The housekeeper blinked, disconcerted. “I—Mrs. Mortimer Figg, if it’s any of your business, and I doubt that.”

“So do I,” Jamie assured her, not sitting down. The duke, he saw, had. “Mrs. Figg, as I said to ye downstairs, I’ve come for my wife and nothing more. If ye’ll tell me where she is, I’ll leave ye to your business. Whatever that may be,” he added, with a glance at Pardloe.

“Your wife,” Mrs. Figg repeated, and the barrel swiveled toward him. “Well, now. I’m thinking that perhaps you ought just to sit down and wait until his lordship comes and we see what he has to say about all this.”

“Dinna be daft, Jerusha,” said Jenny, rather impatiently. “Ye ken Claire’s my brother’s wife; she told ye that herself.”

“Claire?” exclaimed Pardloe, standing up again. He had been drinking from the decanter and still held it carelessly in one hand. “My brother’s wife?”

“She’s no such thing,” Jamie said crossly. “She’s mine, and I’ll thank someone to tell me where the devil she is.”

“She’s gone to a place called Kingsessing,” Jenny said promptly. “To pick herbs and the like. We’ve been doctoring this mac na galladh—” She scowled at Pardloe. “Had I kent who ye were, a mh’ic an diabhail, I’d ha’ put ground glass in your food.”

“I daresay,” Pardloe murmured, and took another gulp from the decanter. He turned his attention to Jamie. “I don’t suppose that you know where my brother is at the moment?”

Jamie stared at him, a sudden feeling of unease tickling the back of his neck. “Is he not here?”

Pardloe made a wide gesture round the room, wordlessly inviting Jamie to look. Jamie ignored him and turned to the housekeeper. “When did ye see him last, madam?”

“Just before he and you skedaddled out the attic window,” she replied shortly, and prodded him in the ribs with the barrel of the fowling piece. “What have you done with him, fils de salope?”

Jamie edged the barrel gingerly aside with one finger. The fowling piece was primed but not yet cocked.

“I left him in the woods outside the city, two days ago,” he said, a sudden feeling of disquiet tightening the muscles at the base of his spine. He backed against the wall, discreetly pressing his arse into it to ease his back. “I expected to find him here—with my wife. Might I inquire how you come to be here, Your Grace?”

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