Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 29

   

“Claire kidnapped him,” Jenny said, before Pardloe could speak. The duke’s eyes bulged slightly, though whether at the remark or at the fact that Jenny was reloading her pistol, Jamie couldn’t tell.

“Oh, aye? What did she want him for, did she say?”

His sister gave him a look.

“She was afraid he’d turn the city upside down looking for his brother and you’d be taken up in the kerfuffle.”

“Aye, well, I think I’m safe enough now,” he assured Jenny. “Ought ye to turn him loose, d’ye think?”

“No,” she said promptly, pounding home her ball and patch. She reached into her apron and came out with a tiny powder horn. “We canna do that; he might die.”

“Oh.” He considered this for a moment, watching the duke, whose face had assumed a slight purple tinge. “Why is that?”

“He canna breathe properly, and she was afraid if she let him loose before he was quite over it, he’d die in the street, and her conscience wouldna let her do that.”

“I see.” The urge to laugh was back, but he controlled it manfully. “So ye were about to shoot him in the house, in order to keep him from dyin’ in the street.”

Her dark-blue eyes narrowed, though she kept her gaze fixed on the powder she was pouring into the priming pan.

“I wouldna really have shot him in the guts,” she said, though from the press of her lips it was apparent that she’d have liked nothing more. “I’d just have winged him in the leg. Or maybe shot off a couple o’ toes.”

Pardloe made a sound that might have been outrage, but, knowing the man as he did, Jamie recognized it as smothered laughter. He hoped his sister wouldn’t. He opened his mouth to ask just how long Pardloe had been held captive, but before he could speak, there was a knock at the door below. He glanced at Mrs. Figg, but the housekeeper was still regarding him with narrowed eyes and made no move either to lower the fowling piece or to go downstairs and answer the door.

“Come in!” Jamie shouted, sticking his head out into the hall, then jerking back into the room before Mrs. Figg should take it into her head that he was attempting to escape and discharge a load of buckshot into his backside.

The door opened, closed, and there was a pause as the caller apparently looked around the devastated entry, then light, quick steps came up the stairs.

“Lord John!” breathed Mrs. Figg, her stern face lightening.

“In here!” called the duke, as the steps reached the landing. An instant later, the slight, bespectacled form of Denzell Hunter appeared in the doorway.

“Merde!” said Mrs. Figg, bringing her shotgun to bear on the newcomer. “I mean, Shepherd of Judea! Who in the name of the Holy Trinity are you?”

HUNTER WAS NEARLY as pale as Jenny, Jamie thought. Nonetheless, he didn’t blink or pause but walked up to Pardloe and said, “I am Denzell Hunter, Friend Grey. I am a physician, come at the request of Claire Fraser to attend thee.”

The duke dropped the decanter, which fell over and disgorged the few drops it still contained onto the braided hearth rug.

“You!” he said, drawing himself abruptly to his full height. He was in fact no taller than Hunter, but it was obvious that he had the habit of command. “You are the skulking fellow who has had the temerity to seduce my daughter, and you dare come here and offer to physic me? Get out of my sight, before I—” At this point, it dawned on Pardloe that he was in his nightshirt and unarmed. Nothing daunted, he seized the decanter from the floor and swung it at Denzell’s head.

Denzell ducked, and Jamie got hold of Pardloe’s wrist before he could try again. Denny straightened up, fire glinting behind his spectacles.

“I take issue both with thy description of my behavior and thy slur upon thy daughter’s reputation,” he said sharply. “I can only conceive that the order of thy mind is deranged by illness or drugs, for surely the man who sired and reared such a person as Dorothea could not speak so meanly of her or have so little faith in her strength of character and her virtue as to think that anyone might seduce her.”

“I’m sure His Grace didna mean physical seduction,” Jamie said hastily, twisting Pardloe’s wrist to make him let go of the decanter.

“Is it the act of a gentleman, sir, to induce a young woman to run away with him? Ow! Let go, damn you!” he said, dropping the decanter as Jamie jerked his arm up behind his back. It fell to the hearth and burst in a shower of glass, but the duke disregarded this entirely.

“A gentleman would have sought the approval of the young lady’s father, sir, before ever venturing to speak to her!”

“I did,” Denzell said more mildly. “Or, rather, I did write to thee at once, apologizing for having been unable to speak with thee in person beforehand, and explaining that Dorothea and I wished to become betrothed and sought thy blessing upon our desire. I doubt thee received my letter before embarking for America, though.”

“Oh, thee did, did thee? Your desire?” Pardloe snorted, tossing a hank of loosened hair out of his face. “Will you let go of me, you bloody Scotchman! What do you think I’m going to do, strangle him with his own neckcloth?”

“Ye might,” Jamie said, easing his grip but keeping hold of Pardloe’s wrist. “Jenny, would ye put that pistol somewhere out of His Grace’s reach?”

Jenny promptly handed the freshly loaded pistol to Denzell, who took it by reflex, then regarded the thing in his hand in astonishment. “You need it more than I do,” she said, and looked grimly at the duke. “If ye shoot him, we’ll all swear it was self-defense.”

“We will not,” said Mrs. Figg indignantly. “If you think I’m going to tell his lordship I let his brother be murdered in cold blood—”

“Friend Jamie,” Denny interrupted, holding out the pistol. “I should feel much happier was thee to release Dorothea’s father and take charge of this. I think that might increase the civility of our conversation.”

“It might,” Jamie said dubiously, but let go of Pardloe and took the pistol.

Denny approached the duke, edging glass shards out of the way, and looked carefully into his face.

“I will be pleased to speak and counsel with thee, Friend, and offer any reassurances that lie within my power regarding thy daughter. But thy breathing alarms me, and I would examine thee first.”

The duke was in fact making a faint wheezing noise, and Jamie noted that the purple tinge to his face had become more pronounced. At Denzell’s remark, this was augmented by a wash of dull red.

“You don’t touch me, you qu . . . quack-salver!”

Denzell glanced round and seized upon Jenny as the most likely source of information.

“What did Friend Claire say regarding him, in terms of ailment and treatment?”

“Asthma, and joint fir brewed in coffee. She calls it Ephedra.” Jenny replied promptly, turning to add to Pardloe, “Ye ken, I didna have to tell him that. I might ha’ let ye strangle, but I suppose that’s no a Christian way to carry on. Are Quakers Christians, by the by?” she asked Denny curiously.

“Yes,” he replied, advancing cautiously on Pardloe, whom Jamie had forced to sit down by pressing on his shoulder. “We believe the light of Christ is present in all men—though in some cases, perceiving it is somewhat difficult,” he added, under his breath but loud enough for Jamie—and the duke—to hear.

Pardloe appeared to be trying to whistle, blowing with pursed lips, meanwhile glaring at Denzell. He gasped in air and managed a few more words.

“I will . . . not be doctored . . . by you, sir.” Another pause for blowing and gasping. Jamie noticed Mrs. Figg stir uneasily and take a step toward the door. “I will not . . . leave my . . . daughter in your . . . clutches—” Blow. Gasp. “If you kill me.” Blow. Gasp. “Nor risk . . . you sav . . . ing my life . . . and putting . . . me in . . . your . . . debt.” The effort involved in getting that one out turned him a ghastly gray, and Jamie was seriously alarmed.

“Has he medicine, Jenny?” he asked urgently. His sister compressed her lips but nodded, and, with a final glare at the duke, scurried out of the room.

With the ginger air of one embracing a crocodile, Denzell Hunter crouched, took hold of the duke’s wrist, and peered closely into his eyes, these organs repaying his inspection by narrowing in the most threatening fashion manageable by a man dying of suffocation. Not for the first time, Jamie suffered a reluctant admiration for Pardloe’s strength of character—though he was likewise obliged to admit that Hunter’s nearly matched it.

His concentration on the tableau before him was broken by the sound of an excited fist hammering the front door below. The door opened, and he heard his nephew Ian exclaim, “Mam!” in a hoarse voice, concurrent with his sister’s astonished “Ian!” Jamie stepped out of the room and, reaching the shattered banister in a few steps, saw his sister engulfed and all but obliterated by her tall son’s embrace.

Ian’s eyes were closed and his cheeks wet, arms wrapped tight round his small mother, and Jamie felt a sudden lump in his own throat. What would he not give to embrace his daughter that way once more?

A slight motion drew his eye, and he saw Rachel Hunter standing shyly back, smiling at mother and son, her own eyes filled with tears. She dabbed at her nose with a handkerchief, then, happening to glance up, saw Jamie above and blinked.

“Miss Rachel,” he said, smiling down at her. He pointed at a jug standing on the occasional table by the door, which he assumed was Pardloe’s medicine. “Might ye bring that wee jug up here? Quickly?” He could hear Pardloe’s heavy breathing from the room behind him; it didn’t seem to be getting worse but was still worrying.

The gasping was momentarily drowned out by the footsteps of Mrs. Figg, appearing behind him with her fowling piece. She peered over the banister at the touching scene below, then at Rachel Hunter, trotting up the stairs, jug in hand.

“And who is this?” she demanded of Jamie, not quite brandishing her weapon under his nose.

“Dr. Hunter’s sister,” he told her, interposing his body between Rachel, who looked taken aback, and the agitated housekeeper. “Your brother wants the stuff in the jug, Miss Rachel.”

Mrs. Figg made a low rumbling noise but stepped back and allowed Rachel to pass. With a bleak look down at Jenny and Ian, who had now separated enough to speak and were waving their hands and interrupting each other in excited Gàidhlig, she vanished back into the bedroom on Rachel’s heels. Jamie hesitated, wanting to rush out the front door and head for Kingsessing, but a sense of morbid responsibility obliged him to follow her.

Denny had pulled up the stool from the dressing table and was still holding Pardloe’s wrist, addressing him in calm tones.

“Thee is in no immediate danger, as thee likely knows. Thy pulse is strong and regular, and while thy breathing is clearly compromised, I think—ah, is this the tincture the Scotswoman mentioned? I thank thee, Rachel; will thee pour—” But Rachel, long accustomed to medical situations, was already decanting into the brandy glass some blackish-brown stuff that looked like the contents of a spittoon.

“Shall I—” Denzell’s attempt to hold the glass for the duke was preempted by Pardloe’s seizing the glass for himself and taking a gulp that all but choked him on the spot. Hunter calmly observed the coughing and spluttering, then handed him a handkerchief.

“I have heard it theorized that such cataclysms of breath as thee is experiencing may be precipitated by violent exercise, a rapid change of temperature, exposure to smoke or dust, or, in some cases, by a surge of violent emotion. In the present instance, I believe I may possibly have caused thy crisis by my appearance, and if so, I ask thy pardon.” Denny took the handkerchief and handed Pardloe back the glass, wise enough not to tell him to sip the stuff.

“Perhaps I may make some recompense for this injury, though,” he said. “I gather thy brother is not at home, since I can’t suppose that he would remain absent from this gathering unless he were dead in the cellar, and I should hope that’s not the case. Has thee seen him recently?”

“I have—not.” Pardloe’s breathing was in fact growing smoother and his face a more normal color, though the expression on it was still feral. “Have you?”

Hunter took off his spectacles and smiled, and Jamie was struck by the kindness of his eyes. He glanced at Rachel; her eyes were hazel, rather than her brother’s soft olive brown, and, while good-natured, were much warier. Jamie thought wariness a good thing in a woman.

“I have, Friend. Thy daughter and I discovered him in a militia camp some distance from the city. He had been taken prisoner, and—” Pardloe’s exclamation collided with Jamie’s, and Hunter patted the air with his hand, begging attention. “We were able to assist his escape, and, since he’d been injured during his capture, I treated him; his injuries were not intrinsically serious.”

“When?” Jamie asked. “When did ye see him?” His heart had given a small, disquietingly happy lurch at the news that John Grey was not dead.

“Last night,” Denny told him. “We heard of his escape this morning and heard nothing of his recapture as we made our way back to Philadelphia, though I asked each group of regulars or militia we encountered. He will have needed to go with care, both woods and roads being alive with men, but I imagine he’ll be with you soon.”

Pardloe drew a long, deep breath.

“Oh, God,” he said, and closed his eyes.

WELCOME COOLNESS IN THE HEAT, COMFORT IN THE MIDST OF WOE

THERE WAS PLENTY OF cool greenery available; the gardens covered the best part of a hundred acres, with trees, bushes, shrubs, vines, and flowers of all descriptions—and the odd exotic fungus thrown in here and there for variety. John Bartram had spent the greater part of a long life combing the Americas for botanical specimens, most of which he had hauled home and induced to grow. I regretted not having met the old gentleman; he had died a year before, leaving his famous garden in the capable hands of his children.

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