Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 79

   

He swiveled his good eye in my direction, wincing slightly as the movement pulled on the bad one.

“Are you accusing me of causing the imbroglio that resulted in my injury, madam? Because I distinctly recall your playing some minor role in its origins.” He sounded rather cross.

“I had nothing whatever to do with your ending up here,” I said firmly, though I could feel my cheeks flush. “Germain, have you found the lint?”

“Will the honey not draw flies, Grannie?” Germain handed me the requested lint but stood by the cot, frowning down at its occupant. “Ken what they say, aye? Ye catch more flies wi’ honey than ye do wi’ vinegar. Ye couldna pour vinegar on him, I suppose?”

“Hmmm.” He had a point. We were no great distance from the teamsters; I could hear mules snorting and braying, and newly wakened flies, still heavy with sleep, had been buzzing round my ears even as I unwrapped the old bandage. “Right. Not vinegar, but mint might help. Find the tin with the fleur-de-lis, then, and rub ointment on his lordship’s face and hands—don’t get it in his eyes. Then bring the small box—”

“I am certainly capable of rubbing ointment on myself,” John interrupted, and extended a hand to Germain. “Here, give it to me.”

“Lie still,” I said, rather cross myself. “As for what you’re capable of, I shudder to think.” I had set a small dish of honey to warm near the lantern; I filled my syringe and injected the honey around his bad eye, made a small pad of lint, thumbed it gently into his eye socket, and bound a clean length of gauze round his head to hold it in place, thinking as I did so.

“Germain . . . go and fill the canteen, will you?” It was half full already, but he obligingly took it and went, leaving me alone with John.

“Shall I leave Germain with you?” I asked, stuffing the last few items into my first-aid kit. “And Fergus?” I added hesitantly.

“No,” he said, slightly startled. “What for?”

“Well . . . protection. In case Monsieur Beauchamp should come back, I mean.” I didn’t trust Percy in the slightest. I was also dubious about putting Fergus in close proximity to him, but it had occurred to me that perhaps John might be some protection to him.

“Ah.” He closed his good eye for a moment, then opened it again. “Now, that imbroglio is indeed of my own making,” he said ruefully. “But while Germain is admittedly a formidable presence, I shan’t need a bodyguard. I rather doubt that Percy intends either to assault or to kidnap me.”

“Do you . . . care for him?” I asked curiously.

“Is it your business if I do?” he replied evenly.

I flushed more deeply, but took a few breaths before answering.

“Yes,” I said at last. “Yes, I rather think it is. Whatever my role in the origins of this . . . this . . . er . . .”

“Folie à trois?” he suggested, and I laughed. I’d told him what a folie à deux was, with reference to Mrs. Figg’s and the laundress’s shared obsession with starched drawers.

“That will do. But, yes, it is my business—on Jamie’s behalf, if not yours.” But it was on his behalf, as well. The shock and rush of recent events had prevented my thinking through the situation, but I was quite sure that Jamie had. And now that I was thoroughly awake and undistracted by my own affairs, my thoughts were catching up with uncomfortable rapidity.

“Do you recall a Captain André?” I asked abruptly. “John André. He was at the Mischianza.”

“I may have lost a few things over the course of the last few days,” he said, with some acerbity, “but neither my memory nor my wits. Yet,” he added, in a marked manner. “Of course I know him. A very sociable and artistic young man; he was invited everywhere in Philadelphia. He’s on General Clinton’s staff.”

“Did you know that he’s also a spy?” My heart was thumping in my ears, and my stays felt suddenly too tight. Was I about to do something hideously irrevocable?

He blinked, obviously startled.

“No. Why on earth should you think that?” And, a half second later, “And why the devil would you tell me about it, if you do think so?”

“Because,” I said, as evenly as I could, “he’ll be caught doing it, in another year or two. He’ll be found behind the American lines, in civilian clothes, with incriminating documents on his person. And the Americans will hang him.”

The words hung in the air between us, visible as though they were written in black smoke. John opened his mouth, then shut it again, clearly nonplussed.

I could hear all the sounds of the camp around us: talk, occasional shouting, and the sounds of horses and mules, the beat of a drum in the distance, summoning men to . . . what? Someone at close range practicing a fife, the shrill note breaking in the same place each time. The constant rumble and shriek of the grinding wheel, frenziedly sharpening metal for the last time. And the increasing buzz of flies.

They were drifting into the tent in small clouds of carnivory; two of them landed on John’s forehead, to be irritably brushed away. The tin of bug repellent lay on the cot where Germain had put it down; I reached for it.

“No,” he said, rather sharply, and took it from my hand. “I can—I—don’t touch me, if you please.” His hand trembled, and he had a moment’s difficulty in getting the lid off, but I didn’t help him. I’d gone cold to the fingertips, in spite of the stifling atmosphere in the tent.

He’d surrendered to Jamie personally, given his parole. It would be Jamie who would eventually have to hand him over to General Washington. Would have to; too many people had seen the incident, knew where John was—and, by this time, what he was.

John didn’t sit up, but managed to thumb a glob of the mentholated grease from the tin and rub it on his face and neck.

“You didn’t have anything in your clothes,” I ventured, with a faint hope. “No incriminating documents, I mean.”

“I had my warrant of commission in my pocket when the Rebel militia took me, outside Philadelphia,” he said, but spoke in an abstract tone, as though it didn’t really matter. He rubbed ointment briskly over his hands and wrists. “Not proof of spying in itself—but certainly proof that I was a British officer, out of uniform and arguably behind the American lines at the time. Don’t talk anymore, my dear; it’s very dangerous.”

He snapped the lid onto the tin and held it out to me.

“You’d better go,” he said, looking me in the eye and speaking in a low voice. “You must not be found alone with me.”

“Grannie?” Germain pushed back the tent flap, red as a beet under his shaggy bangs. “Grannie! Come quick! Papa says Grand-père wants you!”

He disappeared and I hastily snatched up my equipment, bedizening myself with bags and boxes. I made for the tent flap, but paused for an instant, turning to John.

“I should have asked—does he care for you?” I said.

He shut his good eye and his lips compressed for a moment.

“I hope not,” he said.

I HURRIED AFTER Germain with my medical satchel full of gurgling bottles slung over my shoulder, a small box of extra instruments and sutures under my arm, Clarence’s reins in hand, and a mind so agitated I could hardly see where I was going.

I realized now that I hadn’t been telling John anything he didn’t know. Well . . . bar the account of Captain André’s future fate, and while that was chilling enough, it wasn’t of direct importance at the moment.

He’d stopped me speaking, because he’d already known how much danger he stood in—and what the effects were likely to be on Jamie, and on me. “You must not be found alone with me.”

Because I’d been at one point his wife, he meant. That’s what he’d been thinking but hadn’t wanted to tell me, until I forced the issue.

If anything happened—well, be blunt about it: if he broke his parole and escaped—I’d very likely be suspected of having a hand in it, but the suspicion would be a great deal more pronounced if anyone could testify to having seen us in private conversation. And Jamie would be suspected of complicity at worst, or, at best, of having a wife who was disloyal both to him and to the cause of independence. . . . I could easily end up in a military prison. So might Jamie.

But if John didn’t escape . . . or escaped and was recaptured . . .

But the road lay before me, and Jamie was there on his horse, holding the reins of my mare. And it was Jamie with whom I’d cross the Rubicon today—not John.

THE MARQUIS de La Fayette was waiting for them at the rendezvous, face flushed and eyes bright with anticipation. Jamie couldn’t help smiling at sight of the young Frenchman, got up regardless in a glorious uniform with red silk facings. He wasn’t inexperienced, though, despite his youth and his very obvious Frenchness. He’d told Jamie about the battle at Brandywine Creek a year before, where he’d been wounded in the leg, and how Washington had insisted that he lie beside him and wrapped him in his own cloak. Gilbert idolized Washington, who had no sons of his own, and who clearly felt a deep affection for the wee marquis.

Jamie glanced at Claire, to see if she was appreciating La Fayette’s stylish toilette, but her gaze was fixed—with a small frown—on a group of men in the far distance, beyond the Continental regulars drawn up in orderly formations. She wasn’t wearing her spectacles; he could see easily at a distance and half-stood in his stirrups to look.

“General Washington and Charles Lee,” he told her, sitting back in the saddle. La Fayette, spotting them, as well, swung himself into his own saddle and rode toward the senior officers. “I suppose I’d best go join them. D’ye see Denzell Hunter yet?” He had it in mind to confide Claire to Hunter’s care; he didn’t mean her to be wandering the battlefield—if there was one—on her own, no matter how helpful she might be there, and was wary of leaving her alone.

Hunter was driving his wagon, though, and that couldn’t keep up with the marching men. Clouds of dust rose in the air, stirred by thousands of eager feet; it tickled in his chest, and he coughed.

“No,” she said. “Don’t worry.” And she smiled at him, brave, though her face was pale despite the heat, and he could feel the flutter of her fear in his own wame. “Are you all right?” She always looked at him in that searching way when he set out to a fight, as though committing his face to memory in case he was killed. He kent why she did it, but it made him feel strange—and he was already unsettled this morning.

“Aye, fine,” he said, and taking her hand, kissed it. He should have spurred up and gone, but lingered for a moment, loath to let go.

“Did you—” she began, and then stopped abruptly.

“Put on clean drawers? Aye, though it’s like to be wasted effort, ken, when the guns start firin’.” It was a feeble enough jest, but she laughed, and he felt better.

“Did I what?” he prompted, but she shook her head.

“Never mind. You don’t need anything else to think of now. Just—be careful, will you?” She swallowed visibly, and his heart turned over.

“I will,” he said, and took up the reins but looked back over his shoulder, in case Young Ian should be coming. She was safe enough, in the midst of the forming companies, but he’d still be happier with someone to look after her. And if he told her that, she’d likely—

“There’s Ian!” she exclaimed, squinting to see. “What’s the matter with his horse, I wonder?”

He looked where she was looking and saw the cause at once. His nephew was afoot, leading the halting horse, and both of them were looking crankit.

“Lame,” he said. “And badly lamed, too. What’s amiss, Ian?” he called.

“Stepped on summat sharp, coming up the bank, and cracked his hoof, right down into the quick.” Ian ran a hand down the horse’s leg and the animal all but leaned on him, picking up its unshod hoof at once. Sure enough, the crack was visible, and deep enough to make Jamie wince in sympathy. Like having a toenail torn off, he supposed, and having to walk a distance with it.

“Take my horse, Ian,” Claire said, and slid off in a flurry of petticoats. “I can ride Clarence. No need for me to be fast, after all.”

“Aye, all right,” Jamie said, though a bit reluctant. Her mare was a good one, and Ian had to have a mount. “Shift the saddles, then, and, Ian, watch out for Dr. Hunter. Dinna leave your auntie ’til he comes, aye? Goodbye, Sassenach; I’ll see ye later in the day.” He could wait no longer, and nudged his horse away into the crowd.

Other officers had gathered around Washington; he’d barely be in time. But it wasn’t the risk of being conspicuously late that cramped his bowels. It was guilt.

He ought to have reported John Grey’s arrest at once. He kent that fine, but had delayed, hoping . . . hoping what? That the ridiculous situation would somehow evaporate? If he had reported it, Washington would have had Grey taken into custody and locked up somewhere—or hanged him out of hand, as an example. He didn’t think that likely, but the possibility had been enough to keep him from saying anything, counting on the chaos of the impending exodus to keep anyone from noticing.

But what was eating at his insides now was not guilt over duty deferred, or even over exposing Claire to danger by keeping the wee sodomite in his own tent instead of turning him over. It was the fact that he had not thought to revoke Grey’s parole this morning when he left. If he had, Grey might easily have escaped in the confusion of leaving, and even if there had been trouble later over it . . . John Grey would be safe.

But it was too late, and with a brief prayer for the soul of Lord John Grey, he reined up beside the Marquis de La Fayette and bowed to General Washington.

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