Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 69

   

“Right, then,” he said, as matter-of-factly as he could. He stooped and pried the guinea out of the soft earth, realizing as he did so that he’d been a fool to offer it to her. Not because of what she’d told him but because someone like her—or Colenso—would never have such a sum. They’d be suspected of stealing it and very likely would be relieved of it by the first person to see it.

“Just look after the boys, will you?” he said to Jane. “And the both of you keep clear of the soldiers until I can find you simple clothes. Dressed like that”—he gestured at their dust-smudged, sweat-stained finery—“you’ll be taken for whores, and soldiers don’t take no for an answer.”

“I am a whore,” Jane said, in a strange, dry voice.

“No,” he said, and felt his own voice as oddly separate from himself but very firm. “You’re not. You travel under my protection. I’m not a pimp—so you’re not a whore. Not until we reach New York.”

A DISCOVERY IN THE RANKS

THE 16TH PENNSYLVANIA militia company, Captain the Reverend Peleg Woodsworth in command, marched into camp in good order, having paused just outside to tidy themselves, clean their weapons, and wash their faces. Lord John knew no one would take notice but approved of the preparations on grounds of good military discipline, as he explained to Germain.

“Slovenly troops make bad fighters,” he said, critically examining a large rent in the sleeve of his filthy black coat. “And soldiers must be in the habit of obeying orders, no matter what those orders are.”

Germain nodded. “Aye, that’s what my mam says. Doesn’t matter whether ye see the point or not, ye do as ye’re told, or else.”

“Your mother would make an admirable sergeant,” Grey assured his orderly. He’d encountered Marsali Fraser once or twice, at her printshop. “Splendid grasp of the essence of command. Speaking of ‘or else,’ though—what, exactly, do you expect to happen when you go home?”

It was evident that Germain hadn’t given much thought to the prospect, but after a moment he uncreased his brow.

“Likely it’ll depend how long I’ve been gone,” he said, with a shrug. “If I went back tomorrow, I’d get my ears blistered and my arse, too. But I think if I was to be gone longer than a week, she’d be pleased I wasna deid.”

“Ah. Have you heard the story of the Prodigal Son, by chance?”

“No, me lo—er . . . Bert.” Germain coughed. “How does it go?”

“It’s—” he began automatically, but then stopped dead, feeling as though a stake had been driven through his chest. The company had already begun to fray and straggle; the few men behind him merely skirted him and went past. Germain twisted round to see what he was looking at.

“It’s that man who pretends to be a Frenchman. My father doesn’t like him.”

Grey stared at the gentleman in the suit of very fashionable blue and gray-striped silk, who was likewise staring at Grey, mouth slightly open, ignoring the small knot of Continental officers accompanying him.

“I know a lot of Frenchmen,” Grey said, recovering his breath. “But you’re right; that’s not one of them.” He turned his back on the man, mind awhirl, and gripped Germain by the arm.

“Your grandfather has to be in this moil somewhere,” he said, forcing resolution into his voice. “Do you see the building over there, with the flag?” He nodded at the limp banner, on the far side of the sprawling camp, but clearly visible. “Go there. That will be the commander in chief’s headquarters. Tell one of the officers who you’re looking for; they’ll find him for you among the militia.”

“Oh, they won’t have to,” Germain assured him. “Grand-père will be there.”

“Where?”

“With General Washington,” Germain said, with the exaggerated patience of those forced to consort with dunces. “He’s a general, too; did ye not know that?” Before Grey could respond to this piece of flabbergasting intelligence, Germain had scampered away in the direction of the distant banner.

Grey risked a glance over his shoulder, but Perseverance Wainwright had disappeared, as had the Continental officers, leaving only a couple of lieutenants in conversation.

He thought several blasphemous things in a row, alternating between Jamie Fraser and Percy Wainwright as the recipients of assorted violent assaults of a personal nature. What the f**king hell was either of them doing here? His fingers twitched, wanting to strangle someone, but he fought back this useless impulse in favor of deciding what the devil to do now.

He began to walk hastily, with no clear notion where he was going. Percy had seen him, he knew that much. Jamie hadn’t, but might at any moment. A general? What the—no time to worry about that just now. What might either one of them do about it?

He hadn’t seen Percy—ex-lover, ex-brother, French spy, and all-around shit—since their last conversation in Philadelphia, some months before. When Percy had first reappeared in Grey’s life, it had been with a last attempt at seduction—political rather than physical, though Grey had an idea that he wouldn’t have balked at the physical, either. . . . It was an offer for the British government: the return to France of the valuable Northwest Territory, in return for the promise of Percy’s “interests” to keep the French government from making an alliance with the American colonies.

He had—as a matter of duty—conveyed the offer discreetly to Lord North and then expunged it—and Percy—from his mind. He had no idea what, if anything, the First Minister had made of it.

Too late now in any case, he thought. France had signed a treaty with the rebellious colonies in April. It remained to be seen, though, whether that treaty would result in anything tangible in the way of support. The French were notoriously unreliable.

So now what? His instinct toward self-preservation urged him to fade quietly through the camp and disappear as quickly as possible. Germain wouldn’t tell Jamie he was here; they’d agreed that much in advance. Two considerations held him back, though: first, the minor matter that he didn’t yet know where the British army was or how far away. And second . . . a sense of curiosity about Percy that he himself recognized as dangerously reckless.

He’d kept moving, since to stand still was to be knocked over and trampled, and now found himself walking beside the Reverend Woodsworth. The tall minister’s face was suffused with an excitement that kept breaking through the man’s normal mien of calm dignity, and Grey couldn’t help smiling at it.

“God has brought us safe thus far, Bert,” Woodsworth said, looking about him with shining eyes. “And He will grant us victory, I know it!”

“Ah.” Grey groped for some reply, and finding—to his surprise—that he was incapable of agreeing with this statement, settled for, “I suppose we cannot presume to divine the Almighty’s intent, but I do trust He will preserve us, in His mercy.”

“Very well said, Bert, very well said.” And Woodsworth clapped him resoundingly on the back.

QUAKERS AND QUARTERMASTERS

JAMIE FOUND NATHANAEL Greene in his tent and still in shirtsleeves, the remains of breakfast on a table before him, frowning at a letter in his hand. He put this down at once upon seeing Jamie and rose to his feet.

“Come in, sir, do! Have you et anything yet today? I’ve a spare egg going to waste.” He smiled, but briefly; whatever had troubled him about the letter still lurked in the creases of his brow. Jamie glanced at it from the corner of his eye; from the blots and ragged edge, it looked a piece of domestic correspondence, rather than an official note.

“I have, I thank ye, sir,” Jamie said, with a slight bow of acknowledgment toward the egg, which sat neglected in a little wooden cup with a flowered heart painted on it. “I only wondered, if ye meant to ride out today, might I come with ye?”

“Of course!” Greene looked surprised but pleased. “I should welcome your advice, General.”

“Perhaps we might trade wisdom, then,” Jamie suggested. “For I should value your own advice, though perhaps on a different matter.”

Greene paused, coat half-pulled on.

“Really? Advice on what sort of matter?”

“Marriage.”

Greene’s face struggled between astonishment, a courteous attempt to suppress the astonishment, and something else. He glanced behind him at the letter lying on the table and settled his coat on his shoulders.

“I could use sound advice on that matter myself, General Fraser,” he said, with a wry twist of the lips. “Let’s be off, then.”

They rode out of camp north by northwest—Greene was equipped with a battered compass, and Jamie wished for a moment that he still possessed the gold-plated astrolabe that William had sent from London at the behest of Lord John. That had perished when the Big House burned, though the spurt of dark feeling that went through him now had more to do with the thought of John Grey than with the fire and its aftermath.

Conversation at first dealt only with the business at hand: the location of supply dumps along the probable line of march—and, if necessary, retreat, though no one spoke of that possibility. There was no particular doubt as to where the British army was headed; a body that large, with an enormous baggage train and outlying flocks of camp followers, was limited in its choice of roads.

“Aye, that would do,” Jamie said, nodding in agreement at Greene’s suggestion of an abandoned farmstead. “D’ye think the well’s good?”

“I’m minded to find out,” Greene said, turning his horse’s head toward the farm. “It’s hot as Hades already. Scorch our ears off by noon, I reckon.”

It was hot; they’d left off their stocks and waistcoats and were riding in shirtsleeves, coats across their saddlebows, but Jamie felt the linen of his shirt sticking to his back and sweat trickling over his ribs and down his face. Fortunately, the well was still good; water glimmered visibly below, and a stone dropped in gave back a satisfactory plunk!

“I confess I’m surprised to find you in want of advice regarding marriage, General,” Greene said, having first drunk his fill and then upended a bucketful of water luxuriously over his head. He blinked water off his lashes, shook himself like a dog, and handed the bucket to Jamie, who nodded thanks. “I should have thought your own union most harmonious.”

“Aye, well, it’s not my own marriage I’m worrit for,” Jamie said, grunting a little as he pulled up a fresh full bucket—hand over hand, for the windlass had rotted away and he’d been obliged to fetch a rope from his saddlebag. “Will ye ken a young scout named Ian Murray? He’s my nephew.”

“Murray. Murray . . .” Greene looked blank for a moment, but then comprehension dawned. “Oh, him! Yes, drat him. Your nephew, you say? Thought he was an Indian. Cost me a guinea on that race. My wife won’t be happy about that at all. Not that she’s happy at the moment, regardless,” he added with a sigh. Evidently the letter had been domestic.

“Well, I might persuade him to give it ye back,” Jamie said, suppressing a smile, “if ye might be able to help him to wed.”

He raised the bucket overhead and gave himself over to a moment of joy as the drench of water quenched the heat. He drew one deep, grateful breath of coolness, tasting of the dank stones at the bottom of the well, and likewise shook himself.

“He means to marry a Quaker lass,” he said, opening his eyes. “I kent that ye were a Friend yourself, havin’ heard ye speak to Mrs. Hardman when we met. So I wondered, maybe, if ye could tell me just what’s needed in the way of requirement for such a marriage?”

If Greene had been surprised to find that Ian was Jamie’s nephew, this news seemed to knock him speechless. He stood for a moment, pushing his lips in and out, as though they might suck up a word he could spit back out, and at last found one.

“Well,” he said. He paused for a bit, considering, and Jamie waited patiently. Greene was a man of fairly strong opinions, but he didn’t give them hastily. Jamie did wonder what there was to consider in his question, though—were Quakers even stranger in their customs than he thought?

“Well,” Greene said again, and exhaled, settling his shoulders. “I must tell you, General, that I no longer consider myself a Friend, though I was indeed raised in that sect.” He shot Jamie a sharp look. “And I must also tell you that the cause of my departure was a mislike of their narrow-minded, superstitious ways. If your nephew means to turn Quaker, sir, I’d recommend you do your best to dissuade him.”

“Och. Well, that’s part of the difficulty, I gather,” Jamie replied equably. “He doesna mean to turn Quaker himself. And I think that a wise decision; he isna suited for it at all.”

Greene relaxed a little at that and went so far as to smile, if wryly.

“I’m glad to hear it. But he has no objection to his wife remaining a Friend?”

“I think he’s better sense than to suggest otherwise.”

That made Greene laugh. “Perhaps he’ll manage marriage well enough, then.”

“Oh, he’ll make a bonny husband for the lass, I’ve nay doubt. It’s the getting them wed that seems a difficulty.”

“Ah. Yes.” Greene glanced round the homestead, wiping his wet face with a wadded handkerchief. “That might in fact be very difficult, if the young woman . . . well. Let me think for a moment. In the meantime . . . the well’s good, but we can’t store powder here; there’s not much roof left, and I’m told this weather often presages thunderstorms.”

“There’s likely a root cellar at the back,” Jamie suggested.

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