Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 81

   

He’d known that William would of course have left Philadelphia when Clinton withdrew the army—perhaps as a non-fighting aide-de-camp to a senior officer. But he hadn’t thought about that supposition in conjunction with the apparent present fact that General Washington was now in hot pursuit of Clinton and might just possibly catch up with him. In which case, William . . .

These thoughts had distracted him from the ongoing tête-à-tête, and he was jerked out of them by a question directed to him by Germain.

“Me? Oh . . . sixteen. I might have gone to the army earlier,” John added apologetically, “had my brother’s regiment been formed, but he only raised it during the Jacobite Rising.” He looked at Fergus with new interest. “You were at Prestonpans, were you?” That should have been his own first battle, too—and would have been, save for his happening to meet one Red Jamie Fraser, notorious Jacobite, in a mountain pass two nights before.

“Did you kill anybody?” Germain demanded.

“Not at Prestonpans. Later, at Culloden. I wish I hadn’t.” He stretched out a hand for the flask. It was nearly empty, and he drained it.

A moment later, he was glad of his celerity; had he not drained the flask already, he might have choked. The tent flap folded back, and Percy Wainwright/Beauchamp stuck his head in, then froze in surprise, dark eyes darting from one to another of the tent’s inhabitants. John had an impulse to throw the empty flask at him, but thought better of it, instead saying coldly, “I beg your pardon, sir; I am engaged.”

“So I see.” Percy didn’t look at John “Mr. Fergus Fraser,” he said softly, coming into the tent, hand outstretched. “Your servant, sir. Comment ça va?”

Fergus, unable to avoid him, shook his hand with reserve and bowed slightly but said nothing. Germain made a small growling noise in his throat, but desisted when his father gave him a sharp glance.

“I am so pleased finally to have encountered you in private, Monsieur Fraser,” Percy said, still speaking French. He smiled as charmingly as possible. “Monsieur—do you know who you are?”

Fergus regarded him thoughtfully.

“Few men know themselves, monsieur,” he said. “For my part, I am entirely content to leave such knowledge to God. He can deal with it far better than I could. And having come to this conclusion, I believe that is all I have to say to you. Pardonnez-moi.” With that, he shouldered past Percy, taking him off-guard and knocking him off-balance. Germain turned at the tent flap and stuck out his tongue.

“Damned frog!” he said, then disappeared with a small yelp as his father jerked him through the flap.

Percy had lost one of his silver-buckled shoes in trying to stay upright. He brushed dirt and vegetable matter from the bottom of his stocking and screwed his foot back into the shoe, lips compressed and a rather attractive flush showing across his cheekbones.

“Oughtn’t you to be with the army?” John inquired. “Surely you want to be there, if Washington does meet Clinton. I imagine your ‘interests’ would want a full report by an eyewitness, wouldn’t they?”

“Shut up, John,” Percy said briefly, “and listen. I haven’t got much time.” He sat down on the stool with a thump, folded his hands on his knee, and looked intently at John, as though evaluating his intelligence. “Do you know a man—a British officer—called Richardson?”

FERGUS MADE HIS way through the shambles left by the exodus of the army, holding Germain firmly by the hand. The camp followers and such men as had been left behind as unfit were setting to the work of salvage, and no one gave the Frasers more than a glance. He could only hope that the horse was where he had left it. He touched the pistol tucked under his shirt, just in case.

“Frog?” he said to Germain, not bothering to keep amusement out of his voice. “Damned frog, you said?”

“Well, he is, Papa.” Germain stopped walking suddenly, pulling his hand free. “Papa, I need to go back.”

“Why? Have you forgotten something?” Fergus glanced over his shoulder at the tent, feeling an uneasiness between his shoulder blades. Beauchamp couldn’t force him to listen, let alone to do anything he didn’t wish to, and yet he had a strong aversion to the man. Well, call it fear; he seldom bothered lying to himself. Though why he should fear a man such as that . . .

“No, but . . .” Germain struggled to choose among several thoughts that were plainly all trying to emerge into speech at once. “Grand-père told me I must stay with his lordship and if Monsieur Beauchamp should come, I must listen to anything they said.”

“Really? Did he say why?”

“No. But he said it. And, also, I was—I am—his lordship’s servant, his orderly. I have a duty to attend him.” Germain’s face was touchingly earnest, and Fergus felt his heart squeeze a little. Still . . .

Fergus had never mastered the Scottish way of making crude but eloquent noises in the throat—he rather envied them—but was not bad with similar communications made via the nose.

“According to what the soldiers said, he is a prisoner of war. Do you mean to accompany him to whatever dungeon or hulk they put him in? Because I think Maman would come and hoick you out of it by the scruff of your neck. Come along, she’s very worried and waiting to hear that you’re safe.”

Mention of Marsali had the hoped-for effect; Germain cast down his eyes and bit his lip.

“No, I don’t—I mean, I’m not . . . well, but, Papa! I have to just go and be sure that Monsieur Beauchamp isn’t doing anything bad to him. And maybe see that he has some food before we leave,” he added. “You wouldna have him starve, would you?”

“Milord looked reasonably well nourished,” Fergus said, but the urgency on Germain’s face drew him a reluctant step back toward the tent. Germain at once glowed with relief and excitement, seizing his father’s hand again.

“Why do you think Monsieur Beauchamp means his lordship harm?” Fergus asked, holding Germain back for a moment.

“Because his lordship doesna like him, and neither does Grand-père,” the boy said briefly. “Come on, Papa! His lordship is unarmed, and who knows what that sodomite has in his pocket?”

“Sodomite?” Fergus stopped dead in his tracks.

“Oui, Grand-père says he’s a sodomite. Come on!” Germain was nearly frantic now and drew his father on by sheer willpower.

Sodomite? Well, that was interesting. Fergus, observant and very much experienced in the ways of the world and of sex, had some time ago drawn his own conclusions regarding milord Grey’s preferences but had naturally not mentioned these to Jamie, as the English lord was his father’s good friend. Did he know? Regardless, that might make his lordship’s relationship with this Beauchamp a good deal more complex, and he approached the tent with a heightened sense of both curiosity and wariness.

He was prepared to clap his hand over Germain’s eyes and drag him away, should anything untoward be going on in that tent, but before they came close enough to see through the flap, he saw the canvas quiver in a very odd way, and pulled Germain to a halt.

“Arrête,” he said softly. He couldn’t conceive of even the most depraved sexual practices causing a tent to behave in that way and, gesturing to Germain to stay put, moved soft-footed to one side, keeping a little distance among the camp debris.

Sure enough, Lord John was wriggling out under the back edge of the tent, cursing quietly in German. Eyes on this peculiar exhibition, Fergus didn’t notice that Beauchamp had emerged from the front of the tent until he heard Germain’s exclamation and turned to find the boy behind him. He was impressed at Germain’s ability to move quietly, but this was not the time for praise. He motioned to his son and withdrew a little farther, taking cover behind a pile of spiled barrels.

Beauchamp, with a high color in his face, walked off briskly, dusting chaff from the elegant skirts of his coat. Lord John, scrambling to his feet, made off in the other direction, toward the woods, not bothering about his own costume, and no wonder. What on earth had the man been doing, dressed in such a way?

“What shall we do, Papa?” Germain whispered.

Fergus hesitated only a moment, glancing after Beauchamp. The man was heading toward a large inn, likely General Washington’s erstwhile center of command. If Beauchamp were remaining with the Continental army, he could be found again—if that proved necessary.

“Shall we follow Lord John, Papa?” Germain was vibrating with anxiety, and Fergus put his hand on the boy’s shoulder to calm him.

“No,” he said, firmly but with some regret—he himself was more than curious. “Clearly his business is urgent, and our presence would be more likely to cause him danger than to help.” He didn’t add that Lord John was almost certainly headed for the battlefield—if there should be one. Such an observation would only make Germain more eager.

“But—” Germain had his mother’s sense of Scottish stubbornness, and Fergus suppressed a smile at seeing his small blond brows draw down in Marsali’s exact expression.

“He will be looking either for your grand-père or for his compatriots,” Fergus pointed out. “Either will take care of him, and in neither case would our presence be useful to him. And your mother will assassinate both of us if we don’t return to Philadelphia within the week.”

He also didn’t mention that the thought of Marsali and the other children alone in the printshop caused him a great uneasiness. The exodus of the British army and a horde of Loyalists hadn’t rendered Philadelphia safe, by any means. There were a good many looters and lawless men who had moved in to pick over the leavings of those who had fled—and there were plenty still left with Loyalist sympathies who didn’t admit them openly but might easily act upon them under cover of darkness.

“Come,” he said more gently, and took Germain by the hand. “We’ll need to find some food to eat along the way.”

JOHN GREY MADE his way through the wood, stumbling now and then by reason of having only one working eye; the ground wasn’t always where he thought it was.

Once away from the campsite, he made no effort to keep out of sight; Claire had packed his eye with cotton lint and wrapped his head in a most professional manner with a gauze bandage to keep the lint in place. It would protect the bad eye while allowing air to dry the skin around it, she said. He supposed it was working—his eyelids weren’t as raw and sore as they had been, only rather sticky—but at the moment was only grateful that he looked like a wounded man who’d been left behind by the rushing American army. No one would stop or question him.

Well, no one save his erstwhile comrades of the 16th Pennsylvania, should he have the misfortune to encounter them. God only knew what they’d thought when he surrendered to Jamie. He felt badly about them—they’d been very kind to him and must feel their kindness betrayed by the revelation of his identity, but there hadn’t been much bloody choice about it.

There wasn’t much choice about this, either.

“They mean to take your son.” It was probably the one thing Percy could have said that would have made him attend.

“They who?” he’d said sharply, sitting up. “Take him where? And what for?”

“The Americans. As to what for—you and your brother.” Percy had looked him over, shaking his head. “Do you have the slightest notion of your value, John?”

“Value to whom?” He’d stood up then, swaying perilously, and Percy had grabbed his hand to steady him. The touch was warm and firm and startlingly familiar. He withdrew his hand.

“I’m told I have considerable value as a scapegoat, should the Americans decide to hang me.” Where was that bloody note from Hal . . . who had it now? Watson Smith? General Wayne?

“Well, that won’t do at all, will it?” Percy appeared undisturbed at thought of Grey’s imminent demise. “Don’t worry. I’ll have a word.”

“With whom?” he asked, curious.

“General La Fayette,” Percy said, adding with a slight bow, “to whom I have the honor of being an adviser.”

“Thank you,” Grey said dryly. “I am not concerned with the possibility of being hanged—at least not right this minute—but I want to know what the devil you mean about my son, William.”

“This would be much easier over a bottle of port,” Percy said, with a sigh, “but time doesn’t permit, alas. Sit down, at least. You look as though you’re going to fall on your face.”

Grey sat, with as much dignity as he could muster, and glared up at Percy.

“To put it as simply as possible—and it’s not simple, I assure you—there is a British officer named Richardson—”

“I know him,” Grey interrupted. “He—”

“I know you do. Be quiet.” Percy flapped a hand at him. “He’s an American spy.”

“He—what?” For an instant, he thought he might really fall on his face, despite the fact of sitting down, and grasped the cot’s frame with both hands to prevent this. “He told me that he proposed to arrest Mrs. Fraser for distributing seditious materials. That was what caused me to marry her. I—”

“You?” Percy goggled at him. “You married?”

“Certainly,” Grey said crossly. “So did you, or so you told me. Go on about bloody Richardson. How long has he been spying for the Americans?”

Percy snorted but obliged.

“I don’t know. I became aware of him in the spring of last year, but he may well have been at it before that. Active fellow, I’ll give him that. And not content with merely gathering information and passing it on, either. He’s what one might call a provocateur.”

Loading...