Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 7

   

“Thank you, Mr. Caulfield,” I said hurriedly, and, snatching up the shoes in one hand, followed the chair, unable to keep my skirts up off the grubby cobbles but not terribly concerned about that. Germain fell back a little, making threatening gestures to discourage pursuit, but I could tell from the sound of the crowd that their momentary hostility had turned to amusement, and though further catcalls followed us, no missiles came in their wake.

The chairmen slowed a little once we’d turned the corner, and I was able to make headway on the flat brick of Chestnut Street, coming up beside the chair. Hal was peering through the side window, looking considerably better. The coffee jug was on the seat beside him, evidently empty.

“Where are we . . . going, madam?” he shouted through the window when he saw me. So far as I could tell over the steady thump of the chairmen’s shoes and through the glass of the window, he sounded much better, too.

“Don’t worry, Your Grace,” I shouted back, jogging along. “You’re under my protection!”

THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF ILL-CONSIDERED ACTIONS

JAMIE SHOVED THROUGH the brush, heedless of ripping brambles and slapping branches. Anything that got in his way could get out of it or be trampled.

He hesitated for no more than an instant when he reached the two horses, hobbled and grazing. He untied them both and, slapping the mare, sent her snorting into the brush. Even if no one made off with the extra horse before the militia let John Grey go, Jamie didn’t mean to make it easy for the man to get back to Philadelphia. Whatever must be dealt with there would be done much more easily without the complications of his lordship’s presence.

And what would be done? he wondered, nudging his heels into his horse’s sides and reining its head round toward the road. He noticed with some surprise that his hands were shaking, and squeezed hard on the leather to make it stop.

The knuckles of his right hand throbbed, and a white stab of pain where his missing finger had been ran through his hand, making him hiss through his teeth.

“What the devil did ye tell me for, ye wee idiot?” he said under his breath, urging his horse up into a gallop. “What did ye think I’d do?”

Just what ye damn well did was the answer. John hadn’t resisted, hadn’t fought back. “Go ahead and kill me,” the wee bugger had said. A fresh spurt of rage curled Jamie’s hands as he imagined all too well doing just that. Would he have gone ahead and done it, if that pissant Woodbine and his militia hadn’t turned up?

No. No, he wouldn’t. Even as he longed momentarily to go back and choke the life out of Grey, he was beginning to answer his own question, reason fighting its way through the haze of fury. Why had Grey told him? There was the obvious—the reason he’d hit the man by sheer reflex, the reason he was shaking now. Because Grey had told him the truth.

“We were both f**king you.” He breathed hard and deep, fast enough to make him giddy, but it stopped the shaking and he slowed a little; his horse’s ears were laid back, twitching in agitation.

“It’s all right, a bhalaich,” he said, still breathing hard but slower now. “It’s all right.”

He thought for a moment that he might vomit, but managed not to, and settled back in the saddle, steadier.

He could still touch it, that raw place Jack Randall had left on his soul. He’d thought it so well scarred over that he was safe now, but, no, bloody John Grey had torn it open with five words. “We were both f**king you.” And he couldn’t blame him for it—oughtn’t to, anyway, he thought, reason doggedly fighting back the fury, though he knew only too well how weak a weapon reason was against that specter. Grey couldn’t have known what those words had done to him.

Reason had its uses, though. It was reason that reminded him of the second blow. The first had been blind reflex; the second wasn’t. Thought of it brought anger, too, and pain, but of a different sort.

“I have had carnal knowledge of your wife.”

“You bugger,” he whispered, clutching the reins with a reflexive violence that made the horse jerk its head, startled. “Why? Why did ye tell me that, ye bugger!”

And the second answer came belatedly, but as clearly as the first: Because she’d tell me, the minute she had a chance. And he kent that fine. He thought if I’d do violence when I heard, best I do it to him.

Aye, she would have told him. He swallowed. And she will tell me. What might he say—or do—when she did?

He was trembling again and had slowed inadvertently, so the horse was nearly at a walk, head turning from side to side as it snuffed the air.

It’s nay her fault. I know that. It’s nay her fault. They’d thought him dead. He knew what that abyss looked like; he’d lived there for a long while. And he understood what desperation and strong drink could do. But the vision—or the lack of one . . . How did it happen? Where? Knowing it had happened was bad enough; not knowing the how and the why of it from her was almost unbearable.

The horse had stopped; the reins hung slack. Jamie was sitting in the middle of the road, eyes closed, just breathing, trying not to imagine, trying to pray.

Reason had limits; prayer didn’t. It took a little while for his mind to relax its grip, its wicked curiosity, its lust to know. But, after a bit, he felt he could go on and gathered up the reins again.

All that could wait. But he needed to see Claire before he did anything else. Just now he had no idea what he would say—or do—when he saw her, but he needed to see her, with the same sort of need that a man might feel who’d been cast away at sea, marooned without food or water for weeks on end.

JOHN GREY’S BLOOD was thrumming in his ears so loudly that he barely heard the discussion among his captors, who—having taken the elementary precautions of searching him and tying his hands together in front of him—had gathered into a knot a few yards away and were heatedly hissing at one another like geese in a barnyard, casting occasional hostile glares in his direction.

He didn’t care. He couldn’t see out of his left eye and he was by now quite certain that his liver was ruptured, but he didn’t care about that, either. He’d told Jamie Fraser the truth—the whole bloody truth—and felt the same fierce constellation of feelings that attends victory in battle: the bone-deep relief of being alive, the giddy surge of emotion that carries you on a wave much like drunkenness, then ebbs and leaves you staggering light-headed on the beach—and an absolute inability to count the cost ’til later.

His knees experienced much the same post-battle sensations and gave way. He sat down unceremoniously in the leaves and closed his good eye.

After a short interval in which he was aware of nothing much beyond the gradual slowing of his heart, the thrumming noise in his ears began to abate, and he noticed that someone was calling his name.

“Lord Grey!” the voice said again, louder, and close enough that he felt a warmly fetid gust of tobacco-laden breath on his face.

“My name is not Lord Grey,” he said, rather crossly, opening his eye. “I told you.”

“You said you were Lord John Grey,” his interlocutor said, frowning through a mat of grizzled facial hair. It was the large man in the filthy hunting shirt who had first discovered him with Fraser.

“I am. If you bloody have to talk to me, call me ‘my lord,’ or just ‘sir,’ if you like. What do you want?”

The man reared back a little, looking indignant.

“Well, since you ask . . . sir, first off, we want to know if this elder brother of yours is Major General Charles Grey.”

“No.”

“No?” The man’s unkempt eyebrows drew together. “Do you know Major General Charles Grey? Is he kin to you?”

“Yes, he is. He’s . . .” Grey tried to calculate the precise degree, but gave it up and flapped a hand. “Cousin of some sort.”

There was a satisfied rumble from the faces now peering down at him. The man called Woodbine squatted down next to him, a square of folded paper in his hand.

“Lord John,” he said, more or less politely. “You said that you don’t hold an active commission in His Majesty’s army at present?”

“That’s correct.” Grey fought back a sudden unexpected urge to yawn. The excitement in his blood had died away now and he wanted to lie down.

“Then would you care to explain these documents, my lord? We found them in your breeches.” He unfolded the papers carefully and held them under Grey’s nose.

John peered at them with his working eye. The note on top was from General Clinton’s adjutant: a brief request for Grey to attend upon the general at his earliest convenience. Yes, he’d seen that, though he’d barely glanced at it before the cataclysmic arrival of Jamie Fraser, risen from the dead, had driven it from his mind. Despite what had occurred in the meantime, he couldn’t help smiling. Alive. The bloody man was alive!

Then Woodbine took the note away, revealing the paper beneath: the document that had come attached to Clinton’s note. It was a small piece of paper, bearing a red wax seal and instantly identifiable; it was an officer’s warrant, his proof of commission, to be carried on his person at all times. Grey blinked at it in simple disbelief, the spidery clerk’s writing wavering before his eyes. But written at the bottom, below the King’s signature, was another, this one executed in a bold, black, all-too-recognizable scrawl.

“Hal!” he exclaimed. “You bastard!”

“TOLD YOU HE was a soldier,” the small man with the cracked spectacles said, eyeing Grey from under the edge of his knitted KILL! hat with an avidity that Grey found very objectionable. “Not just a soldier, neither; he’s a spy! Why, we could hang him out o’ hand, this very minute!”

There was an outburst of noticeable enthusiasm for this course of action, quelled with some difficulty by Corporal Woodbine, who stood up and shouted louder than the proponents of immediate execution, until those espousing it reluctantly fell back, muttering. Grey sat clutching the commission crumpled in his bound hands, heart hammering.

They bloody could hang him. Howe had done just that to a Continental captain named Hale, not two years before, when Hale was caught gathering intelligence while dressed as a civilian, and the Rebels would like nothing better than a chance to retaliate. William had been present, both at Hale’s arrest and his execution, and had given Grey a brief account of the matter, shocking in its starkness.

William. Jesus, William! Caught up in the immediacy of the situation, Grey had had barely a thought to spare for his son. He and Fraser had absquatulated onto the roof and down a drainpipe, leaving William, clearly reeling with the shock of revelation, alone in the upstairs hallway.

No. No, not alone. Claire had been there, and the thought of her steadied him a bit. She would have been able to talk to Willie, calm him, explain . . . well, possibly not explain, and possibly not calm, either—but at least if Grey was hanged in the next few minutes, William wouldn’t be left to face things entirely alone.

“We’re taking him back to camp,” Woodbine was saying doggedly, not for the first time. “What good would it do to hang him here?”

“One less redcoat? Seems like a good thing to me!” riposted the burly thug in the hunting shirt.

“Now, Gershon, I’m not saying as how we shouldn’t hang him. I said, not here and now.” Woodbine, musket held in both hands, looked slowly round the circle of men, fixing each one with his gaze. “Not here, not now,” he repeated. Grey admired Woodbine’s force of character and narrowly kept himself from nodding agreement.

“We’re taking him back to camp. You all heard what he said; Major General Charles Grey’s kin to him. Might be as Colonel Smith will want to hang him in camp—or might even be as he’ll want to send this man to General Wayne. Remember Paoli!”

“Remember Paoli!” Ragged cries echoed the call, and Grey rubbed at his swollen eye with his sleeve—tears were leaking from it and irritating his face. Paoli? What the devil was Paoli? And what had it to do with whether, when, or how he should be hanged? He decided not to ask at just this moment and, when they hauled him to his feet, went along with them without complaint.

HOMO EST OBLIGAMUS AEROBE (“MAN IS AN OBLIGATE AEROBE”)—HIPPOCRATES

THE DUKE’S FACE WAS dangerously flushed when Number Thirty-Nine ceremoniously opened the sedan chair’s door, and not, I thought, from the heat.

“You wanted to see your brother, did you not?” I inquired, before he could gather enough breath to say any of the things on his mind. I gestured toward the house. “This is his house.” The fact that John was not presently in the house could wait.

He gave me a marked look, but he was still short of breath and wisely saved it, irritably waving off Number Forty’s helping hand as he struggled out of the sedan chair. He did pay the chairmen—rather fortunate, as I hadn’t any more money with me—and, wheezing, bowed and offered me his arm. I took it, not wanting him to fall on his face in the front garden. Germain, who had kept up with the chair without noticeable effort, followed at a tactful distance.

Mrs. Figg was standing in the front doorway, watching our approach with interest. The broken door was now lying on a pair of trestles next to a camellia bush, having been removed from its hinges, and was presumably awaiting some sort of professional attention.

“May I present Mrs. Mortimer Figg, Your Grace?” I said politely, with a nod in her direction. “Mrs. Figg is his lordship’s cook and housekeeper. Mrs. Figg, this is His Grace, the Duke of Pardloe. Lord John’s brother.”

I saw her lips form the words “Merde on toast,” but fortunately without sound. She moved nimbly down the steps despite her bulk and took Hal by the other arm, shoring him up, as he was beginning to turn blue again.

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