Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 62

   

“Jealous? Of whom?” Not Jamie, I hoped.

“Of Washington,” he answered matter-of-factly, surprising me. “He thought he should have command o’ the Continental army and doesna like playin’ second fiddle.”

“Really?” I’d never once heard of General Charles Lee, which seemed odd, if he had such prominence as to have made that a reasonable expectation. “Why does he think that, do you know?”

“I do. He feels he has a good deal more in the way of military experience than Washington—and that’s maybe true: he was in the British army for some time and fought a number of successful campaigns. Still—” He lifted one shoulder and dropped it, dismissing General Lee for the moment. “I wouldna have agreed to do this, had it been Lee who asked me.”

“I thought you didn’t want to do it, regardless.”

“Mmphm.” He considered for a moment. “It’s true I didna want to do this—I don’t now.” He looked at me, apologetic. “And I truly dinna want you to be here.”

“I’m going to be where you are for the rest of our lives,” I said firmly. “If that’s a week or another forty years.”

“Longer,” he said, and smiled.

We rode for a time in silence, but deeply aware of each other. We had been, since that conversation in the gardens at Kingsessing.

“I will love ye forever. It doesna matter if ye sleep with the whole English army—well, no, it would matter, but it wouldna stop me loving you.”

“I’ve taken ye to bed a thousand times at least, Sassenach. Did ye think I wasna paying attention?”

“There couldna be anyone like you.”

I hadn’t forgotten a word we’d said—and neither had he, though neither one of us had spoken of it again. We weren’t walking on tiptoe with each other, but we were feeling our way . . . finding our way into each other, as we’d done twice before. Once, when I’d returned to find him in Edinburgh—and at the beginning, when we’d found ourselves wed by force and joined by circumstance. Only later, by choice.

“What would you have wanted to be?” I asked, on impulse. “If you hadn’t been born the laird of Lallybroch?”

“I wasn’t. If my elder brother hadna died, ye mean,” he said. A small shadow of regret crossed his face, but didn’t linger. He still mourned the boy who had died at eleven, leaving a small brother to pick up the burden of leadership and struggle to grow into it—but he had been accustomed to that burden for a very long time.

“Maybe that,” I said. “But what if you’d been born elsewhere, maybe to a different family?”

“Well, I wouldna be who I am, then, would I?” he said logically, and smiled at me. “I may quibble wi’ what the Lord’s called me to do now and then, Sassenach—but I’ve nay argument wi’ how he made me.”

I looked at what he was—the strong, straight body and capable hands, the face so full of everything he was—and had no argument, either.

“Besides,” he said, and tilted his head consideringly, “if it had been different, I wouldna have you, would I? Or have had Brianna and her weans?”

If it had been different . . . I didn’t ask whether he thought his life as it was had been worth the cost.

He leaned over and touched my cheek.

“It’s worth it, Sassenach,” he said. “For me.”

I cleared my throat.

“For me, too.”

IAN AND ROLLO caught us up a few miles from Coryell’s Ferry. Darkness had fallen, but the glow of the camp was faintly visible against the sky, and we made our way cautiously in, being stopped every quarter mile or so by sentries who popped unnervingly out of the dark, muskets at the ready.

“Friend or foe?” the sixth of these demanded dramatically, peering at us in the beam of a dark lantern held high.

“General Fraser and his lady,” Jamie said, shielding his eyes with his hand and glaring down at the sentry. “Is that friendly enough for ye?”

I muffled a smile in my shawl; he’d refused to stop to find food along the way, and I’d refused to let him consume uncooked bacon, no matter how well smoked. Jenny’s four apples hadn’t gone far, we’d found no food since the night before, and he was starving. An empty stomach generally woke the fiend that slept within, and this was clearly in evidence at the moment.

“Er . . . yes, sir, General, I only—” The lantern’s beam of light shifted to rest on Rollo, catching him full in the face and turning his eyes to an eerie green flash. The sentry made a strangled noise, and Ian leaned down from his horse, his own face—Mohawk tattoos and all—appearing suddenly in the beam.

“Dinna mind us,” he said genially to the sentry. “We’re friendly, too.”

TO MY SURPRISE, there was actually a good-sized settlement at the Ferry, with several inns and substantial houses perched on the bank of the Delaware.

“I suppose that’s why Washington chose this as the rendezvous point?” I asked Jamie. “Good staging, I mean, and some supply.”

“Aye, there’s that,” he said, though he spoke abstractedly. He’d risen a little in his stirrups, looking over the scene. Every window in every house was lit, but a large American flag, with its circle of stars, flapped above the door of the largest inn. Washington’s headquarters, then.

My chief concern was to get some food into Jamie before he met with General Lee, if the aforementioned indeed had a reputation for arrogance and short temper. I didn’t know what it was about red hair, but many years’ experience with Jamie, Brianna, and Jemmy had taught me that while most people became irritable when hungry, a redheaded person with an empty stomach was a walking time bomb.

I sent Ian and Rollo with Jamie to find the quartermaster, discover what we might have in the way of accommodation, and unload the pack mule, then followed my nose toward the nearest scent of food.

The dug-in camp kitchens would long since have banked their fires, but I’d been in many army camps and knew how they worked; small kettles would be simmering all night, filled with stew and porridge for the morning—the more so as the army was in hot pursuit of General Clinton. Amazing to think that I had met him socially only a few days before—

I’d been so focused on my quest that I hadn’t seen a man come out of the half dark and nearly ran into him. He seized me by the arms and we waltzed a dizzy half-turn before coming to rest.

“Pardon, madame! I am afraid I have stepped upon your foot!” said a young French voice, very concerned, and I looked straight into the very concerned face of a very young man. He was in shirtsleeves and breeches, but I could see that his shirtsleeves sported deep, lace-trimmed cuffs. An officer, then, in spite of his youth.

“Well, yes, you have,” I said mildly, “but don’t worry about it. I’m not damaged.”

“Je suis tellement désolé, je suis un navet!” he exclaimed, striking himself in the forehead. He wore no wig, and I saw that despite his age, his hair was receding at a rapid pace. What was left of it was red and inclined to stand on end—possibly owing to his apparent habit of thrusting his fingers through it, which he was now doing.

“Nonsense,” I said in French, laughing. “You aren’t a turnip at all.”

“Oh, yes,” he said, switching to English. He smiled charmingly at me. “I once stepped on the foot of the Queen of France. She was much less gracious, sa Majesté,” he added ruefully. “She called me a turnip. Still, if it hadn’t happened—I was obliged to leave the court, you know—perhaps I would never have come to America, so we cannot bemoan my clumsiness altogether, n’est-ce pas?”

He was exceedingly cheerful and smelled of wine—not that that was in any way unusual. But given his exceeding Frenchness, his evident wealth, and his tender age, I was beginning to think—

“Have I the, um, honor of addressing—” Bloody hell, what was his actual title? Assuming that he really was—

“Pardon, madame!” he exclaimed, and, seizing my hand, bowed low over it and kissed it. “Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, a votre service!”

I managed to pick “La Fayette” out of this torrent of Gallic syllables and felt the odd little thump of excitement that happened whenever I met someone I knew of from historical accounts—though cold sober realism told me that these people were usually no more remarkable than the people who were cautious or lucky enough not to end up decorating historical accounts with their blood and entrails.

I gathered sufficient composure to inform him that I was Madame General Fraser and that I was sure my husband would shortly be along to pay his respects, directly I had located some supper.

“But you must come and dine with me, madame!” he said, and, having not let go of my hand, was in a position to tuck it cozily into his elbow and tow me off toward a large building that looked like an inn of some sort. An inn was precisely what it was, but an inn that had been commandeered by the Rebel forces and was now General Washington’s headquarters—as I discovered when le marquis led me under a fluttering banner, through the taproom, and into a large back room where a number of officers were sitting at table, presided over by a large man who did not look precisely like the image on a dollar bill, but close enough.

“Mon Général,” the marquis said, bowing to Washington and then gesturing to me. “I have the honor to present to you Madame General Fraser, the personification of grace and loveliness!”

The table rose as one, with a screeching of wooden benches, and the men—in fact, there were only six of them—rose and bowed to me in turn, murmuring, “Your servant,” and “Your most obedient, ma’am.” Washington himself stood up at the head of the table—My God, he’s as tall as Jamie, I thought—and gave me a very graceful bow, hand on his bosom.

“I am honored by your presence, Mrs. Fraser,” he said, in a soft Virginia drawl. “Dare I hope that your husband accompanies you?”

I had a moment’s insane impulse to reply, “No, he sent me to fight instead,” but managed not to say it.

“He does,” I replied instead. “He’s . . . er . . .” I gestured helplessly toward the doorway, where—with remarkably good timing—Jamie himself now appeared, brushing pine needles off his sleeve and saying something to Young Ian, behind him.

“There ye are!” he exclaimed, spotting me. “Someone told me ye’d gone off with a strange Frenchman. What—” He stopped abruptly, having suddenly realized that I wasn’t merely in the company of a strange Frenchman.

The table fell about laughing, and La Fayette rushed up to Jamie and seized his hand, beaming.

“Mon frère d’armes!” He clicked his heels together, doubtless by reflex, and bowed. “I must apologize for having stolen your lovely wife, sir. Allow me, please, to make recompense by inviting you to dinner!”

I’d met Anthony Wayne before, at Ticonderoga, and was pleased to see him again. I was also delighted to see Dan Morgan, who gave me a hearty buss on both cheeks, and I admitted to a certain thrill at having my hand kissed by George Washington, though noticing the halitosis that accompanied his notorious dental problems. I wondered how I might make an opportunity to inspect his teeth, but gave such speculations up immediately with the arrival of a procession of servants with trays of fried fish, roast chicken, buttermilk biscuits with honey, and an amazing selection of ripe cheeses, these having been—he told me—brought by the marquis himself from France.

“Try this one,” he urged me, cutting a slab of an extremely fragrant Roquefort, green-veined and crumbly. Nathanael Greene, who sat on the other side of the marquis, pinched his nose unobtrusively and gave me a small private smile. I smiled back—but in fact I quite liked strong cheese.

I wasn’t the only one. Rollo, who had come in—naturally—with Young Ian and was sitting behind him, across the table from me, lifted his head and poked a long, hairy snout between Ian and General Lee, sniffing interestedly at the cheese.

“Good Christ!” Lee apparently hadn’t noticed the dog before this and flung himself to one side, nearly ending in Jamie’s lap. This action distracted Rollo, who turned to Lee, sniffing him with close attention.

I didn’t blame the dog. Charles Lee was a tall, thin man with a long, thin nose and the most revolting eating habits I’d seen since Jemmy had learned to feed himself with a spoon. He not only talked while he ate and chewed with his mouth open, but was given to wild gestures while holding things in his hand, with the result that the front of his uniform was streaked with egg, soup, jelly, and a number of less identifiable substances.

Despite this, he was an amusing, witty man—and the others seemed to give him a certain deference. I wondered why; unlike some of the gentlemen at the table, Charles Lee never attained renown as a Revolutionary figure. He treated them with a certain . . . well, it wasn’t scorn, certainly—condescension, perhaps?

I was taken up in conversation—mostly with the marquis, who was putting himself out to be charming to me, telling me how much he missed his wife (Good Lord, how old was he? I wondered. He didn’t look more than twenty, if that), who had been responsible for the cheese. No, no, not making it herself, but it came from their estate at Chavaniac, which his wife ran most ably in his absence—but now and then caught a glimpse of Jamie. He took part in the conversation, but I could see his eyes flick round the table, appraising, judging. And they rested most often on General Lee, beside him.

Of course, he knew Wayne and Morgan quite well—and he knew what I’d been able to tell him about Washington and La Fayette. God, I hoped what I thought I knew about them was halfway accurate—but we’d find out soon enough if it wasn’t.

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