Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 72

   

“Bloody, bloody-minded, effing Scot,” I said, straightening up.

“Not his fault,” said John. “I provoked him.” He sounded excessively cheerful, and I turned a cold look on him.

“I’m not any more pleased with you,” I informed him. “You aren’t going to like this, and it will serve you right. How in heaven’s name did you—no, don’t tell me now. I’m busy.”

He folded his hands across his stomach, looking meek. Germain sniggered, but desisted when I gave him a glare of his own.

Tight-lipped, I filled a syringe—Dr. Fentiman’s penis syringe, as it happened; how appropriate—with saline solution for irrigation and found my small pair of needle-nosed forceps. I had another peek at the site with my makeshift spatula and prepared a tiny, curved needle with a wet catgut suture, cut very fine. I might manage without needing to stitch the inferior rectus—it depended whether the edge of the muscle had frayed very badly, by reason of its long entrapment, and how it survived being dislodged—but best to have the suture handy, in case of need. I hoped the need wouldn’t occur; there was so much swelling . . . but I couldn’t wait several days for it to subside.

What was troubling me was not so much the immediate reduction of the fracture and freeing of the muscle but the longer-term possibility of adhesion. The eye should be kept fairly immobile, to aid healing, but doing that might cause the muscle to adhere to the orbit, literally freezing the eye permanently. I needed something slippery with which to dress the site, something biologically inert and non-irritating—in my own time, sterile glycerin drops would have been instantly available, but here . . .

Egg white, perhaps? Probably not, I thought; body heat might coddle it, and then what?

“John!”

A shocked voice behind me made me turn, needle in hand. A very dapper-looking gentleman in a stylish wig and a gray-blue velvet suit was standing just inside the tent flap, staring aghast at my patient.

“What’s happened to him?” Percy Beauchamp demanded, spotting me in the background.

“Nothing serious,” I said. “Are you—”

“Leave,” said John, in a voice I’d never heard him use before. He sat up, fixing the newcomer with as steely a look as could be managed with one badly watering crimson eye. “Now.”

“What in God’s name are you doing here?” Beauchamp demanded. His accent was English, but English faintly tinged with French. He took a step nearer and lowered his voice. “Surely you have not become a Rebel?”

“No, I bloody haven’t! Leave, I said.”

“Dear God, you mean you—what the devil happened to you?” He’d come close enough now to behold the complete picture: filthy cropped hair, filthy disheveled clothes, filthy stockinged feet with holes in toe and heel, and a distorted visage now directing a glare of bloodshot venom at him.

“Now, look here—” I began, turning on Percy with determined firmness, but Germain stopped me.

“He’s the man who was looking for Papa in New Bern last year,” Germain said. He’d put down the looking glass and was watching the evolving scene with interest. “Grand-père thinks he’s a villain.”

Percy cast Germain a startled look, but recovered his composure with remarkable speed.

“Ah. The proprietor of distinguished frogs,” he said, with a smile. “I recall. Peter and Simon were their names? One yellow and one green.”

Germain bowed respectfully.

“Monsieur has an excellent memory,” he said, with exquisite politeness. “What do you want with my papa?”

“An excellent question,” said John, putting one hand over his injured eye, the better to glare at Monsieur Beauchamp.

“Yes, that is a good question,” I said mildly. “Do sit down, Mr. Beauchamp—and bloody explain yourself. And, you,” I added, taking John firmly by both shoulders, “lie down.”

“That can wait,” John said shortly, resisting my attempt to flatten him. He swung his legs over the side of the cot. “What are you doing here, Percy?”

“Oh, you know him, do you?” I said, beginning to be provoked.

“Certainly. He’s my brother—or was.”

“What?” Germain and I exclaimed as one. He looked at me and giggled.

“I thought Hal was your only brother,” I said, recovering. I glanced back and forth between John and Percy. There was no resemblance at all between them, whereas John’s resemblance to Hal was as marked as if they’d been stamped from the same mold.

“Stepbrother,” John said, still more shortly. He got his feet under him, preparing to rise. “Come with me, Percy.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” I said, raising my voice slightly.

“How do you propose to stop me?” John was on his feet, staggering a little as he tried to focus his eyes. Before I could answer, Mr. Beauchamp had lunged forward and grabbed his arm, to keep him from falling. John jerked violently away from him, nearly falling again as he stumbled backward into the cot. He caught his balance and stood glowering at Beauchamp, his fists half clenched.

Beauchamp’s gaze was locked with his, and the air between them was . . . electric. Oh, I thought, glancing from one to the other, suddenly enlightened. Oh.

I must have made some small movement, because Beauchamp’s gaze flicked suddenly toward my face. He looked startled at whatever he saw there, then, recovering himself, smiled wryly and bowed.

“Madame,” he said. Then, in perfect, accentless English, “He is really my stepbrother, though we haven’t spoken in . . . some time. I am here as the guest of the Marquis de La Fayette—amongst other things. Do allow me to take his lordship to meet the marquis. I promise to bring him back in one piece.” He smiled at me, warm-eyed and sure of his charm, which was considerable.

“His lordship is a prisoner of war,” said a very dry Scottish voice from behind Beauchamp. “And my responsibility. I regret that he must remain here, sir.”

Percy Beauchamp whirled round, gaping at Jamie, who was filling the tent flap in a most implacable fashion.

“I still want to know what he wants with Papa,” Germain said, small blond brows drawn down in a suspicious glower.

“I should like to know that, too, monsieur,” Jamie said. He came into the tent, ducking, and nodded toward the stool I had been using. “Pray be seated, sir.”

Percy Beauchamp glanced from Jamie to Lord John and back again. His face had gone smooth and blank, though the lively dark eyes were full of calculation.

“Alas,” he said, the slight French accent back. “I am engaged to le marquis—and General Washington—just now. You will excuse me, I am sure. Bonjour, Mon Général.” He marched to the tent flap, head held high, turning at the last moment to smile at John. “Au revoir, mon frère.”

“Not if I bloody see you first.”

NOBODY MOVED FOR the space of nine heartbeats—I counted them—following Percy Beauchamp’s dignified exit. Finally, John sat down abruptly on the cot, exhaling audibly. Jamie caught my eye and, with a slight nod, sat down on the stool. Nobody spoke.

“You mustn’t hit him again, Grand-père,” Germain said earnestly, breaking the silence. “He’s a very good man, and I’m sure he won’t take Grannie to bed anymore, now that you’re home to do it.”

Jamie gave Germain a quelling look, but his mouth twitched. From my position behind the cot, I could see the back of John’s neck flush a deep pink.

“I’m much obliged to his lordship for his care of your grannie,” Jamie told Germain. “But if ye think makin’ impertinent remarks regarding your elders is going to save your arse—think again.”

Germain shifted uneasily, but rolled his eyes at Lord John in a “worth a try” sort of way.

“I’m obliged to you for your good opinion, sir,” John told him. “And I reciprocate the compliment—but I trust you are aware that good intent alone does not absolve one from the consequences of rash conduct.”

Jamie was beginning to flush as deeply as John.

“Germain,” I said. “Do go away. Oh—see if you can find me some honey, would you?”

All three of them looked at me, startled at this apparent non sequitur.

“It’s viscous,” I said, with a slight shrug. “And antibacterial.”

“Of course it is,” John said under his breath in a hopeless sort of way.

“What does ‘viscous’ mean?” Germain asked, interested.

“Germain,” said his grandfather, in a menacing tone, and he hastily disappeared without waiting for enlightenment.

Everyone took a deep breath.

“Lie down now,” I said to John, before anything regrettable might be said. “Have you got a moment, Jamie? I need someone to hold the mirror while I fix his eye.”

With no more than an instant’s hesitation, they both obeyed, not looking at each other. I was nearly ready; when I’d got Jamie positioned and the ray of light focused on the eye, I once more irrigated the eye and socket gently with saline solution, then rinsed my fingers thoroughly with the same stuff.

“I need you both to hold completely still,” I said. “I’m sorry, John, but there’s no other way to do this, and if we’re lucky, it will be quick.”

“Aye, I’ve heard that one before,” Jamie muttered, but desisted when I shot a sideways look at him.

I was afraid to use the forceps, for fear of puncturing his eyeball. So I spread the lids of John’s affected eye with the fingers of my left hand, wedged the fingertips of my right as deeply into the eye socket as I could, and squeezed.

He made a shocked, strangled sort of noise, and Jamie gasped but didn’t drop the mirror.

There are not many things in the world slipperier than a wet eyeball. I tried to squeeze as lightly as I could, but there was no help for it; a light pressure merely allowed the eyeball to pop out of my fingers like an oiled grape. I clenched my teeth and tried again, gripping harder.

On the fourth try, I managed to get a sufficient grip as to allow me to try to rotate the eyeball in its socket. I didn’t quite manage it, but at least got a better idea of how it might go.

Five minutes later, John was trembling like a blancmange, hands clenched tight on the rails of the cot, Jamie was praying under his breath in Gaelic, and all three of us were drenched with sweat.

“Once more,” I said, drawing breath and wiping sweat from my chin with the back of my hand. I rinsed my fingers again. “If I can’t get it this time, we’ll have a rest and try again later.”

“Oh, God,” said John. He closed both eyes briefly, swallowed hard, and opened them as wide as he could. Both eyes were watering badly, and tears washed down his temples.

I felt Jamie move slightly next to me. He refocused the mirror—but I saw that he had also moved nearer to the cot, so that his leg pressed against the rail, just next to John’s gripping fingers. I wiggled my wet fingers in preparation, said a brief prayer to St. Claire, patron of sore eyes, and thrust my fingers as deeply into the socket as I could manage.

By this time, I had a very clear mental image of the fracture, a dark line beneath the torn conjunctiva, and the line of the inferior rectus muscle wedged into it. I twisted, a short, sharp jerk, before my fingers slipped—and felt the muscle pop free. John shuddered the full length of his body and gave a little moan.

“Glory be,” I said, and laughed from sheer relief. There was a little blood—not much—on my fingers, and I wiped them on my apron. Jamie flinched and looked away.

“Now what?” he asked, carefully not looking at John.

“Now what—Oh.” I considered that one for a moment, then shook my head.

“He has to lie down for several hours with the eye covered—a day or two, ideally. If Germain finds me some honey, I’ll lubricate the eye socket with a bit of it, to prevent adhesion.”

“I mean,” Jamie said patiently, “does he require to be kept under a doctor’s care?”

“Not all the time,” I said, surveying John critically. “Someone—me, I mean—needs to check the eye every so often, but there’s really nothing else to be done for it; the swelling and bruises will take care of themselves. Why? What were you planning to do with him?”

Jamie made a small gesture of frustration.

“I would hand him over to Washington’s staff for interrogation,” he said. “But—”

“But I surrendered to you personally,” John said helpfully. He glanced at me out of his working eye. “That means I’m his responsibility.”

“Aye, thank ye for that,” Jamie muttered, giving him an irritable look.

“Well, you aren’t going to tell him anything useful, either, are you?” I asked, putting a hand on John’s forehead. Slightly warm, but no gross fever. “Such as the nature of the relations between yourself and the recent Mr. Beauchamp?”

Jamie gave a brief snort.

“I ken fine what his relations are wi’ that wee sodomite,” he said bluntly. He gave John a piercing stare. “Ye dinna mean to tell me what he’s doing here, do ye?”

“No,” John said cheerfully. “Though it almost certainly wouldn’t help you if I did.”

Jamie nodded, having evidently expected nothing better, and rose with an air of decision.

“Well, then. I’ve work to do, and so have you, Sassenach. Wait here for Germain, if ye will, and when ye’ve finished with the honey, tell Germain he’s to be in charge of his lordship. He’s no to leave his lordship under any circumstances, save you or I tell him he may—and should Monsieur Beauchamp pay another call, Germain is to be present at any conversation. He speaks French verra fluently,” he advised John. “And should ye think of attempting to subvert my grandson’s loyalty—”

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