Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 6

   

“You’re a very bad liar,” he remarked with interest. “What are you lying about, though, I wonder?”

“I do it better with a little warning,” I snapped. “Though, as it happens, I’m not lying at the moment.”

That made him laugh. He leaned closer, examining my face at close range. His eyes were pale blue, like John’s, but the darkness of his brows and lashes gave them a particularly piercing quality.

“Perhaps not,” he said, still looking amused. “But if you aren’t lying, you aren’t telling me everything you know, either.”

“I’m not obliged to tell you anything I know,” I said with dignity, trying to retrieve my arm. “Let go.”

He did let go, reluctantly.

“I beg your pardon, Lady John.”

“Certainly,” I said shortly, and made to go round him. He moved smartly in front of me, blocking my way.

“I want to know where my brother is,” he said.

“I should like to know that myself,” I replied, trying to sidle past him.

“Where are you going, may I ask?”

“Home.” It gave me an odd feeling, still, to call Lord John’s house “home”—and yet I had no other. Yes, you do, a small, clear voice said in my heart. You have Jamie.

“Why are you smiling?” asked Pardloe, sounding startled.

“At the thought of getting home and taking off these shoes,” I said, hastily erasing the smile. “They’re killing me.”

His mouth twitched a little.

“Allow me to offer you the use of my chair, Lady John.”

“Oh, no, I really don’t—” But he had taken a wooden whistle from his pocket and uttered a piercing blast on it that brought two squat, muscular men—who had to be brothers, such was their resemblance to each other—trotting round the corner, a sedan chair suspended on poles between them.

“No, no, this isn’t necessary at all,” I protested. “Besides, John says you suffer from the gout; you’ll need the chair yourself.”

He didn’t like that; his eyes narrowed and his lips compressed.

“I’ll manage, madam,” he said shortly, and, seizing me by the arm again, dragged me to the chair and pushed me inside, knocking my hat over my eyes as he did so. “The lady is under my protection. Take her to the King’s Arms,” he instructed Tweedledum and Tweedledee, shutting the door. And before I could say, “Off with his head!” we were jolting down the High Street at a terrific pace.

I seized the door handle, intending to leap out, even at the cost of cuts and bruises, but the bastard had put the locking pin through the outside handle, and I couldn’t reach it from the inside. I shouted at the chairmen to stop, but they ignored me completely, pounding along the cobbles as though bringing the news from Aix to Ghent.

I sat back, panting and furious, and jerked the hat off. What did Pardloe think he was doing? From what John had said, and from other remarks made by the duke’s children about their father, it was clear to me that he was used to getting his own way.

“Well, we’ll bloody see about that,” I muttered, stabbing the long, pearl-headed hatpin through the hat brim. The snood that had contained my hair had come off with the hat; I crammed it inside and shook my loose hair out over my shoulders.

We turned in to Fourth Street, which was paved with brick rather than cobbles, and the jolting grew less. I was able to let go my grip on the seat and fumbled with the window. If I could get it open, I might be able to reach the locking pin, and even if the door flew open and decanted me into the street, it would put a stop to the duke’s machinations.

The window worked on a sliding-panel arrangement but had no sort of latch by which to get a grip on it; the only way of opening it was by inserting the fingertips into a shallow groove at one side and pushing. I was grimly attempting to do this, in spite of the chair’s renewed bucketing, when I heard the duke’s voice choke and stop in the midst of some shouted direction to the chairmen.

“St . . . stop. I . . . can’t . . .” His words trailed off, the chairmen faltered to a halt, and I pressed my face against the suddenly motionless window. The duke was standing in the middle of the street, a fist pressed into his waistcoat, struggling to breathe. His face was deeply flushed, but his lips were tinged with blue.

“Put me down and open this bloody door this instant!” I bellowed through the glass to one of the chairmen, who was glancing back over his shoulder, a look of concern on his face. They did, and I emerged from the chair in an explosion of skirts, stabbing the hatpin down into the placket of my stays as I did so. I might need it yet.

“Bloody sit down,” I said, reaching Pardloe. He shook his head but let me lead him to the chair, where I forced him to sit, my feeling of satisfaction at this reversal of position somewhat tempered by the fear that he might just possibly be about to die.

My first thought—that he was having a heart attack—had vanished the moment I heard him breathe—or try to. The wheezing gasp of someone in the throes of an asthmatic attack was unmistakable, but I seized his wrist and checked his pulse just in case. Hammering but steady, and while he was sweating, it was the normal warm perspiration caused by hot weather rather than the sudden clammy exudation that often accompanied a myocardial infarction.

I touched his fist, still embedded in his midsection.

“Do you have pain here?”

He shook his head, coughed hard, and took his hand away.

“Need . . . pill . . . b . . .” he managed, and I saw that there was a small pocket in the waistcoat that he had been trying to reach into. I put in two fingers and pulled out a small enameled box, which proved to contain a tiny corked vial.

“What—never mind.” I pulled the cork, sniffed, and wheezed myself as the sudden fumes of ammonia shot up my nose.

“No,” I said definitely, putting the cork back in and shoving vial and box into my pocket. “That won’t help. Purse your lips and blow out.” His eyes bulged a bit, but he did it; I could feel the slight movement of air on my own perspiring face.

“Right. Now, relax, don’t gasp for air, just let it come. Blow out, to the count of four. One . . . two . . . three . . . four. In for a count of two, same rhythm . . . yes. Blow out, count of four . . . let it come in, count of two . . . yes, good. Now, don’t worry; you aren’t going to suffocate, you can keep doing that all day.” I smiled encouragingly at him, and he managed to nod. I straightened up and looked round; we were near Locust Street, and Peterman’s ordinary was no more than a block away.

“You,” I said to one of the chairmen, “run to the ordinary and fetch back a jug of strong coffee. He’ll pay for it,” I added, with a flip of the hand toward the duke.

We were beginning to draw a crowd. I kept a wary eye out; we were near enough to Dr. Hebdy’s surgery that he might come out to see the trouble, and the very last thing I needed was that charlatan to materialize, fleam at the ready.

“You have asthma,” I said, returning my attention to the duke. I knelt so that I could see into his face while I monitored his pulse. It was better, noticeably slower, but I thought I could feel the odd condition called “paradoxical pulse,” a phenomenon you sometimes saw in asthmatics, wherein the heart rate speeded up during exhalation and dropped during inhalation. Not that I had been in any doubt. “Did you know that?”

He nodded, still pursing his lips and blowing.

“Yes,” he managed briefly, before breathing in again.

“Do you see a doctor for it?” A nod. “And did he actually recommend sal volatile for it?” I gestured toward the vial in my pocket. He shook his head.

“For fain . . . ting,” he managed. “All I . . . had.”

“Right.” I put a hand under his chin and tilted his head back, examining his pupils, which were quite normal. I could feel the spasm easing, and so could he; his shoulders were beginning to drop, and the blue tinge had faded from his lips. “You don’t want to use it when you’re having an asthma attack; the coughing and tearing will make matters worse by producing phlegm.”

“Whatever are the idle lot of you doing, standing about? Go run and fetch the doctor, lad!” I heard a woman’s sharp voice say in the crowd behind me. I grimaced, and the duke saw it; he raised his brows in question.

“You don’t want that doctor, believe me.” I stood up and faced the crowd, thinking.

“No, we don’t need a doctor, thank you very much,” I said, as charmingly as possible. “He’s just been overtaken by the indigestion—something he ate. He’s quite all right now.”

“He don’t look that good to me, ma’am,” said another voice, doubtful. “I think we best fetch the doctor.”

“Let him die!” came a shout from the back of the gathering crowd. “Fucking lobster!”

An odd sort of shimmer ran through the crowd at this, and I felt a knot of dread form in my stomach. They hadn’t been thinking of him as a British soldier, merely as a spectacle. But now . . .

“I’ll get the doctor, Lady John!” To my horror, Mr. Caulfield, a prominent Tory, had forced his way to the front, being tolerably free with his gold-headed walking stick. “Get away, you lice!”

He bent to peer into the sedan chair, lifting his hat to Hal.

“Your servant, sir. Help will be here presently, be assured of that!”

I seized him by the sleeve. The crowd was, thank God, divided. While there were catcalls and insults directed at Pardloe and at me, there were dissenting voices, too, those of Loyalists (or perhaps merely the saner sorts who didn’t think attacking a sick man in the street part of their political philosophy) chiming in, with reason, protests—and not a few loud insults of their own.

“No, no!” I said. “Let someone else go for the doctor, please. We daren’t leave His Grace here without protection!”

“His Grace?” Caulfield blinked, and carefully unfolding his gold-rimmed pince-nez from a little case, put them on his nose and bent to peer into the chair at Pardloe, who gave him a small, dignified nod, though he kept on assiduously with his breathing exercise.

“The Duke of Pardloe,” I said hastily, still keeping a grip of Mr. Caulfield’s sleeve. “Your Grace, may I present Mr. Phineas Graham Caulfield?” I waved a vague hand between them, then, spotting the chairman coming back at the gallop with a jug, I sprinted toward him, hoping to reach him before he got within earshot of the crowd.

“Thank you,” I said, panting as I snatched the jug from him. “We’ve got to get him away before the crowd turns nasty—nastier,” I amended, hearing a sharp crack! as a thrown pebble bounced off the roof of the sedan chair. Mr. Caulfield ducked.

“Oy!” shouted the chairman, infuriated at this attack upon his livelihood. “Back off, you lot!” He started for the crowd, fists clenched, and I seized him by the coattails with my free hand.

“Get him—and your chair—away!” I said, as forcefully as possible. “Take him to—to—” Not the King’s Arms; it was a known Loyalist stronghold and would merely inflame anyone who followed us. Neither did I want to be at the duke’s mercy, once inside the place.

“Take us to Number Seventeen Chestnut Street!” I said hurriedly, and, digging one-handed in my pocket, grabbed a coin and thrust it into his hand. “Now!” He didn’t pause for thought but took the coin and headed for the chair at the run, fists still clenched, and I trotted after him as fast as my red morocco heels would take me, clutching the coffee. His number was stitched into a band round his sleeve: THIRTY-NINE.

A shower of pebbles was rattling off the sedan chair’s sides, and the second chairman—Number Forty—was batting at them as though they were a swarm of bees, shouting, “Fuck OFF!” at the crowd, in a businesslike if repetitious fashion. Mr. Caulfield was backing him up in more genteel fashion, shouting, “Away with you!” and “Leave off at once!” punctuated with pokes of his cane at the more daring children, who were darting forward to see the fun.

“Here,” I gasped, leaning into the chair. Hal was still alive, still breathing. He raised one brow at me and nodded toward the crowd outside. I shook my head and thrust the coffee into his hands.

“Drink . . . that,” I managed, “and keep breathing.” Slamming the door of the chair, I dropped the locking pin into its slot with an instant’s satisfaction and straightened up to find Fergus’s eldest son, Germain, standing by my side.

“Have ye got a bit of trouble started again, Grand-mère?” he asked, unperturbed by the stones—now augmented with clumps of fresh manure—whizzing past our heads.

“You might say so, yes,” I said. “Don’t—”

But before I could speak further, he turned round and bellowed at the crowd, in a surprisingly loud voice, “THIS’S MY GRANNIE. You touch ONE HAIR on her head and—” Several people in the crowd laughed at this, and I put up a hand to my head. I’d completely forgotten the loss of my hat, and my hair was standing out in a mushroom-like cloud round my head—what wasn’t sticking to my sweating face and neck. “And I’ll do you BROWN!” Germain yelled. “Aye, I mean YOU, Shecky Loew! And you, too, Joe Grume!”

Two half-grown boys hesitated, clumps of filth in hand. Evidently they knew Germain.

“And my grannie’ll tell your da what you’ve been a-doing, too!” That decided the boys, who stepped back a pace, dropping their clods of dirt and trying to look as though they had no idea where they had come from.

“Come on, Grand-mère,” Germain said, grabbing my hand. The chairmen, no slouches on the uptake, had already seized their poles and hoisted the chair. I’d never manage to keep up with them in the high-heeled shoes. As I was kicking them off, I saw plump Dr. Hebdy puffing down the street, in the wake of the hectoring woman who had suggested calling him and who was now sailing toward us on the breeze of her heroism, face set in triumph.

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