Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 8

   

“Purse your lips and blow,” I said shortly. “Now!” He made an ugly choking noise but did start blowing, though making evil grimaces in my direction.

“What in the name of the everlasting Holy Ghost did you do to him?” Mrs. Figg asked me accusingly. “Sounds like he’s about to die.”

“Saved his life, to start with,” I snapped. “Ups-a-daisy, Your Grace!” and between us we hoicked him up the steps. “Then I saved him from being stoned and beaten by a mob—with Germain’s invaluable help,” I added, glancing back at Germain, who grinned hugely. I was also in the act of abducting him, but I thought we needn’t go into that.

“And I’m about to save his life again, I think,” I said, pausing on the porch to pant for a moment myself. “Have we a bedroom we can put him in? William’s, perhaps?”

“Will—” the duke began, but then started to cough spasmodically, going a nasty shade of puce. “Wh—wh—”

“Oh, I was forgetting,” I said. “Of course, William’s your nephew, isn’t he? He’s not here just now.” I looked narrowly at Mrs. Figg, who snorted briefly but said nothing. “Blow, Your Grace.”

Inside, I saw that some progress had been made toward restoring order. The debris had been swept into a neat pile by the open doorway, and Jenny Murray was sitting on an ottoman beside it, picking unbroken crystals from the fallen chandelier out of the rubbish and dropping them into a bowl. She lifted an eyebrow at me but rose unhurriedly to her feet, putting the bowl aside.

“What d’ye need, Claire?” she said.

“Boiling water,” I said, grunting slightly as we maneuvered Pardloe—he was lean and fine-boned, like John, but a solid man, nonetheless—into a wing chair. “Mrs. Figg? Cups, several cups, and, Jenny, my medicine chest. Don’t lose your rhythm, Your Grace—blow . . . two . . . three . . . four—don’t gasp. Sip the air—you’ll get enough, I promise.” Hal’s face was twitching, shining with sweat, and while he still had control over himself, I could see panic creasing the lines around his eyes as his airways closed.

I fought down a similar sense of panic; it wouldn’t serve either of us. The fact was that he could die. He was having a severe asthmatic attack, and even with access to epinephrine injections and the facilities of a major hospital, people did die in such circumstances, whether of a heart attack brought on by stress and lack of oxygen or from simple suffocation.

His hands were clenched on his knees, the moleskin breeches crumpled and dark with sweat, and the cords of his neck stood out with strain. With some difficulty, I pried one of his hands loose and grasped it strongly in mine; I had to distract him from the panic darkening his mind, if he was to have any chance at all.

“Look at me,” I said, leaning close and looking straight into his eyes. “It’s going to be all right. Do you hear me? Nod if you can hear me.”

He managed a short nod. He was blowing, but too fast; no more than a wisp of air touched my cheek. I squeezed his hand.

“Slower,” I said, my voice as calm as I could make it. “Breathe with me, now. Purse your lips . . . blow . . .” I tapped out a regular count of four on his knee with my free hand, as slow as I dared. He ran out of air between two and three but kept his lips pursed, straining.

“Slow!” I said sharply as his mouth opened, gasping, starving for air. “Let it come by itself; one . . . two . . . blow!” I could hear Jenny hurrying down the stairs with my medicine chest. Mrs. Figg had departed like a great rushing wind in the direction of the cookhouse, where she kept a cauldron boiling—yes, here she came, three teacups looped over the fingers of one hand, a can of hot water wrapped in a towel clutched to her bosom with the other.

“. . . three . . . four—joint fir, Jenny—one . . . two . . . blow out, two . . . three . . . four—a good handful in each cup—two, yes, that’s it . . . blow . . .” Still holding his gaze, willing him to blow—it was all that was keeping his airways open. If he lost his rhythm, he’d lose what little air pressure he had, the airways would collapse, and then—I shoved the thought aside, squeezing his hand as hard as I could, and gave disjoint directions between chanting the rhythm. Joint fir . . . what the bloody hell else did I have?

Not much, was the answer. Bowman’s root, jimsonweed—much too dangerously toxic, and not fast enough. “Spikenard, Jenny,” I said abruptly. “The root—grind it.” I pointed at the second cup, then the third. “. . . two . . . three . . . four . . .” A large handful of crumbled joint fir (aptly named; it looked like a pile of miniature sticks) had been placed in each cup and was already steeping. I’d give him the first as soon as it had cooled enough to drink, but it took a good half hour of steeping to get a truly effective concentration. “More cups, please, Mrs. Figg—in, one . . . two . . . that’s good . . .”

The hand in mine was slick with sweat, but he was gripping me with all the strength he had; I could feel my bones grind, and twisted my hand a bit to ease them. He saw and released the pressure a little. I leaned in, cradling his hand in both of mine—not incidentally taking the opportunity to get my fingers on his pulse.

“You aren’t going to die,” I said to him, quietly but as forcefully as I could. “I won’t let you.” The flicker of something much too faint to be a smile passed behind those winter-sharp blue eyes, but he hadn’t enough breath even to think of speaking. His lips were still blue and his face paper-white, in spite of the temperature.

The first cup of joint-fir tea helped briefly, the heat and moisture doing as much as the herb; joint fir did contain epinephrine and was the only really good treatment for asthma I had available—but there wasn’t enough of the active principle in a cup of the stuff after only ten minutes’ brewing. Even the momentary sense of relief steadied him, though. His hand turned, fingers linking with mine, and he squeezed back.

A fighter. I knew one when I saw one and smiled involuntarily.

“Start three more cups, please, Jenny?” If he drank them slowly—and he couldn’t do more than sip briefly between gasps—and continuously, we should have got a decent amount of stimulant into him by the end of the sixth, most-concentrated cup. “And, Mrs. Figg, if you would boil three handfuls of the joint fir and half that of spikenard in a pint of coffee for a quarter hour, then let it steep?” If he wasn’t going to die, I wanted a concentrated tincture of Ephedra easily on hand; this obviously wasn’t his first attack, and—if it wasn’t his last—there’d be another sometime. And quite possibly sometime soon.

The back of my mind had been ticking through diagnostic possibilities, and now that I was fairly sure he was going to survive the moment, I could spare time to think about them consciously.

Sweat was pouring down the fine-cut bones of his face; I’d got his coat, waistcoat, and leather stock off first thing, and his shirtfront was pasted to his chest, his breeches black-wet in the creases of his groin. No wonder, though, between the heat of the day, his exertions, and the hot tea. The blue tinge was fading from his lips, and there was no sign of edema in face or hands . . . no distention of the blood vessels in his neck, in spite of his effort.

I could hear the crackling rales in his lungs easily without a stethoscope, but he showed no thoracic enlargement; his torso was as trim as John’s, a bit narrower through the chest. Probably not a chronic obstructive pulmonary condition, then . . . and I didn’t think he had congestive heart failure. His color when I met him had been good, and his pulse was presently thumping against my fingers very steadily, fast, but no flutters, no arrhythmia . . .

I became aware of Germain hovering by my elbow, staring interestedly at the duke, who was now sufficiently himself as to lift an eyebrow in the boy’s direction, though still unable to speak.

“Mmm?” I said, before resuming my now-automatic counting of breaths.

“I’m only thinking, Grand-mère, as how himself there”—Germain nodded at Pardloe—“might be missed. Had I maybe best carry a message to someone, so as they aren’t sending out soldiers after him? The chairmen will talk, will they not?”

“Ah.” That was a thought, all right. General Clinton, for one, certainly knew that Pardloe was in my company when last seen. I had no idea with whom Pardloe might be traveling or whether he was in command of his regiment. If he was, people would be looking for him right now; an officer couldn’t be gone from his place for long without someone noticing.

And Germain—an observant lad, if ever there was one—was right about the chairmen. Their numbers meant they were registered with the central chairmen’s agency in Philadelphia; it would be the work of a moment for the general’s staff to locate numbers Thirty-Nine and Forty and find out where they’d delivered the Duke of Pardloe.

Jenny, who had been tending the array of teacups, stepped in now with the next and knelt by Pardloe, nodding to me that she would see to his breathing while I talked to Germain.

“He told the chairmen to bring me to the King’s Arms,” I said to Germain, taking him out onto the porch, where we could confer unheard. “And I met him at General Clinton’s office in the—”

“I ken where it is, Grand-mère.”

“I daresay you do. Have you something in mind?”

“Well, I’m thinkin’—” He glanced into the house, then back at me, eyes narrowed in thought. “How long d’ye mean to keep him prisoner, Grand-mère?”

So my motives hadn’t escaped Germain. I wasn’t surprised; he undoubtedly had heard all about the day’s excitements from Mrs. Figg—and, knowing as he did who Jamie was, had probably deduced even more. I wondered if he’d seen William. If so, he likely knew everything. If he didn’t, though, there was no need to reveal that little complication until it was necessary.

“Until your grandfather comes back,” I said. “Or possibly Lord John,” I added as an afterthought. I hoped with all my being that Jamie would come back shortly. But it might be that he would find it necessary to stay outside the city and send John in to bring me news. “The minute I let the duke go, he’ll be turning the city upside down in search of his brother. Always assuming for the sake of argument that he doesn’t drop dead in the process.” And the very last thing I wanted was to instigate a dragnet in which Jamie might be snared.

Germain rubbed his chin thoughtfully—a peculiar gesture in a child too young for whiskers, but his father to the life, and I smiled.

“That’s maybe not too long,” he said. “Grand-père will come back directly; he was wild to see ye last night.” He grinned at me, then looked through the open doorway, pursing his lips.

“As to himself, ye canna hide where he is,” he said. “But if ye were to send a note to the general, and maybe another to the King’s Arms, saying as how His Grace was staying with Lord John, they wouldna start searching for him right away. And even if someone was to come here later and inquire, I suppose ye might give him a wee dram that would keep him quiet so ye could tell them he was gone. Or maybe lock him in a closet? Tied up wi’ a gag if it should be he’s got his voice back by then,” he added. Germain was a very logical, thorough-minded sort of person; he got it from Marsali.

“Excellent thought,” I said, forbearing to comment on the relative merits of the options for keeping Pardloe incommunicado. “Let me do that now.”

Pausing for a quick look at Pardloe, who was doing better though still wheezing strongly, I whipped upstairs and flipped open John’s writing desk. It was the work of a moment to mix the ink powder and write the notes. I hesitated briefly over the signature but then caught sight of John’s signet on the dressing table; he hadn’t had time to put it on.

The thought gave me a slight pang; in the overwhelming joy of seeing Jamie alive, and then the shock of William’s advent, Jamie’s taking John hostage, and the violence of William’s exit—dear Lord, where was William now?—I had pushed John to the back of my mind.

Still, I told myself, he was quite safe. Jamie wouldn’t let any harm come to him, and directly he came back into Philadelphia—the chiming of the carriage clock on the mantelpiece interrupted me, and I glanced at it: four o’clock.

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” I murmured to myself, and, scribbling a reasonable facsimile of John’s signature, I lit the candle from the embers in the hearth, dripped wax on the folded notes, and stamped them with the smiling half-moon ring. Maybe John would be back before the notes were even delivered. And Jamie, surely, would be with me as soon as darkness made it safe.

A TIDE IN THE AFFAIRS OF MEN

JAMIE WASN’T ALONE on the road. He’d been dimly aware of horses passing by, heard the distant talk of men on foot, but now that he’d come out of his red haze, he was startled to see how many there were. He saw what was plainly a militia company—not marching, but on the move as a body, knots and clumps of men, solitary riders—and a few wagons coming from the city, piled with goods, women and children afoot beside them.

He’d seen a few folk leaving Philadelphia when he’d come in the day before—God, was it only yesterday?—and thought to ask Fergus about it, but in the excitement of arrival and the later complications had quite forgotten.

His sense of disturbance increased and he kicked up his horse to a faster pace. It was no more than ten miles to the city; he’d be there long before nightfall.

Maybe just as well if it’s dark, he thought grimly. Easier to have things out with Claire alone and undisturbed—and whether the having-out led to beating or bed, he wanted no interference.

Loading...