Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 82

   

“He’s not the only one who’s provoking,” Grey muttered, resisting the urge to rub his bad eye. “What’s he got to do with William?” He was beginning to have an unpleasant feeling in his abdomen. He had given William permission to undertake small intelligence-gathering missions for Captain Richardson, who—

“Put as bluntly as possible, he’s tried more than once to lure your son into a position where he might appear to have sympathies with the Rebels. I gather that last year he sent him into the Great Dismal in Virginia, with the intention that he should be captured by a nest of Rebels who have a bastion there—presumably they would let it be known that he had deserted and joined their forces, while actually holding him prisoner.”

“What for?” Grey demanded. “Will you bloody sit down? Looking up at you is giving me a headache.”

Percy snorted again and sat—not on the conveniently placed stool, but beside Grey on the camp bed, hands on his knees.

“Presumably to discredit your family—Pardloe was making rather inflammatory speeches in the House of Lords at the time, about the conduct of the war.” He made a small, impatient gesture that John recognized, a quick flutter of the fingers. “I don’t know everything—yet—but what I do know is that he’s arranged to have your son taken, during the journey to New York. He’s not bothering with indirection or politics; things have changed, now that France has come into the war. This is simple abduction, with the intent of demanding your—and Pardloe’s—cooperation in the matter of the Northwest Territory—and possibly something else—as the price of the boy’s life.”

Grey closed his good eye, in an effort to stop his head spinning. Two years before, Percy had abruptly reentered his life, bearing a proposal from certain French “interests”—to wit, that these interests wanted the return of the valuable Northwest Territory, presently held by England, and in return for assistance in achieving that goal would offer their influence to keep France from entering the war on the side of the Americans.

“Things have changed,” he repeated, with an edge.

Percy inhaled strongly through his nose.

“Admiral d’Estaing sailed from Toulon with a fleet, in April. If he’s not already off New York, he will be shortly. General Clinton may or may not know that.”

“Jesus!” He clenched his fists on the bedframe, hard enough to leave marks from the nailheads. So the bloody French had now officially entered the war. They’d signed a Treaty of Alliance with America in February, and declared war on England in March, but talk was cheap. Ships and cannon and men cost money.

Suddenly he grasped Percy’s arm, squeezing hard.

“And where do you come into this?” he said, voice level and cold. “Why are you telling me all this?”

Percy drew breath, but didn’t jerk away. He returned Grey’s stare, brown eyes clear and direct.

“Where I come into it doesn’t matter,” he said. “And there isn’t time. You need to find your son quickly. As to why I tell you . . .”

John saw it coming and didn’t pull away. Percy smelled of bergamot and petitgrain and the red wine on his breath. John’s grip on Percy’s arm loosened.

“Pour vos beaux yeux,” Percy had whispered against his lips—and laughed, damn him.

THE SORT OF THING THAT WILL MAKE A MAN SWEAT AND TREMBLE

WE FOLLOWED IN the wake of the army. Because of the speed of march, the soldiers had been instructed to jettison their nonessential equipment, and I had had to abandon many of my supplies, as well. Still, I was mounted and thus would be able to keep up, even loaded with what I managed to keep. After all, I reasoned, it would do me no good to catch up with the army if I had nothing with which to treat wounds when I did.

I had Clarence packed with as much as he could reasonably be expected to carry. As he was a large mule, this was a substantial amount, including my small tent, a folding camp bed for surgery, and all I could cram in, in terms of bandages, lint, and disinfectant—I had both a small cask of purified saline solution and a couple of bottles of straight ethyl alcohol (these disguised as poison, with large skull-and-crossbones labels painted on). Also a jug of sweet oil for burns, my medicine chest, and bundles of raw herbs, large jars of prepared ointment, and dozens of small bottles and vials of tinctures and infusions. My surgical instruments, stitching needles, and sutures were in their own small box, this in a haversack with extra bandage rolls, to be carried on my person.

I left Clarence tied and went to find out where the hospital tents were to be set up. The camp was milling with non-combatants and support personnel, but I was finally able to locate Denny Hunter, who told me that on the basis of General Greene’s reports, the surgeons were to be dispatched to the village of Freehold, where there was a large church that could be used as a hospital.

“The last thing I’ve heard is that Lee has taken command of the force attacking the British rear and means to encircle the British,” he said, polishing his spectacles on the tail of his shirt.

“Lee? But I thought he didn’t think it an important command and wouldn’t take it.” I wouldn’t care one way or the other—save that Jamie and his companies would be engaged in that mission, and I had my own doubts about General Lee.

Denzell shrugged, putting his spectacles back on and tucking in his shirttail.

“Apparently Washington decided that a thousand men were insufficient to his purpose and raised the number to five thousand, which Lee considered more appropriate to his . . . sense of his own importance.” Denny’s mouth twisted a little at this. He looked at my face, though, and touched my arm gently.

“We can but put our trust in God—and hope that the Lord has his eye upon Charles Lee. Will thee come with the girls and me, Claire? Thy mule will bide with us willingly.”

I hesitated for no more than a moment. If I rode Clarence, I could take only a fraction of the equipment and supplies he could otherwise carry. And while Jamie had said he wanted me with him, I knew quite well that what he really meant was that he wanted to be assured of where I was, and that I was near at hand if he needed me.

“Thy husband does trust me with thy welfare,” Denny said, smiling, having plainly divined what I was thinking.

“Et tu, Brute?” I said rather curtly, and, when he blinked, added more civilly, “I mean—does everyone know what I’m thinking, all of the time?”

“Oh, I doubt it,” he said, and grinned at me. “If they did, I expect a number of them would take a deal more care in what they said to thee.”

I rode in Denny’s wagon with Dottie and Rachel, Clarence pacing stolidly along behind, tied to the tailboard. Dottie was flushed with heat and excitement; she had never been near a battle before. Neither had Rachel, but she had helped her brother during a very bad winter at Valley Forge and had much more idea of what the day might hold.

“Does thee think perhaps thee should write to thy mother?” I heard Rachel ask seriously. The girls were behind Denny and me, sitting in the bed of the wagon and keeping things from bouncing out when we hit ruts and mud bogs.

“No. Why?” Dottie’s tone was wary—not quite hostile, but very reserved. I knew she had written to tell her mother that she intended to wed Denzell Hunter, but she hadn’t received a reply. Given the difficulties of correspondence with England, though, there was no assurance that Minerva Grey had ever read the letter.

It occurred to me, with a sudden qualm, that I hadn’t written a letter to Brianna in several months. I hadn’t been able to bear to write about Jamie’s death, and there hadn’t been time since his return even to think about it.

“It is a war, Dottie,” Rachel said. “Unexpected things may happen. And thee would not wish thy mother to . . . well . . . to discover that thee had perished without some assurance that she was in thy heart.”

“Hmm!” said Dottie, clearly taken aback. Beside me, I felt Denzell shift his weight, bending a little forward as he took a fresh grip on the reins. He glanced aside at me, and his mouth turned up in an expression that was as much grimace as smile, acknowledging that he’d been listening to the girls’ talk, too.

“She worries for me,” he said very quietly. “Never for herself.” He let go the reins with one hand to rub a knuckle under his nose. “She has as much courage as her father and brothers.”

“As much pigheadedness, you mean,” I said under my breath, and he grinned, despite himself.

“Yes,” he said. He glanced over his shoulder and so did I, but the girls had moved to the tailboard and were talking over it to Clarence, brushing flies off his face with the needles of a long pine twig. “Does thee think it a familial lack of imagination? For in the case of the men of her family, it cannot be ignorance of the possibilities.”

“No, it certainly can’t,” I agreed, with a note of ruefulness. I sighed and stretched my legs a little. “Jamie is the same way, and he certainly doesn’t lack for imagination. I think it’s . . .” I made a small helpless gesture. “Perhaps ‘acceptance’ is the word.”

“Acceptance of the fact of mortality?” He was interested and pushed his spectacles back into place. “We have discussed that—Dorothea and I.” He nodded back toward the girls. “Friends live in the certain knowledge that this world is temporary and there is nothing to fear in death.”

“Some of that, perhaps.” In fact, almost everyone in this time had a very matter-of-fact acceptance of mortality; death was a constant presence at everyone’s elbow, though they regarded that presence in a variety of ways. “But they—those men—what they do is something different, I think. It’s more an acceptance of what they think God made them.”

“Really?” He seemed slightly startled by that, and his brows drew together in consideration. “What does thee mean by that? That they believe God has created them deliberately to—”

“To be responsible for other people, I think,” I said. “I couldn’t say whether it’s the notion of noblesse oblige—Jamie was a laird, you know, in Scotland—or just the idea that . . . that’s what a man does,” I ended, rather lamely. Because “that” was plainly not what Denzell Hunter thought a man should do. Though I did wonder a bit. Plainly the question troubled him a little.

As well it might, given his position. I could see that the prospect of battle excited him and that the fact that it did troubled him a great deal.

“You’re a very brave man,” I said quietly, and touched his sleeve. “I saw that. When you played Jamie’s deserter game, after Ticonderoga.”

“It wasn’t courage, I assure thee,” he said, with a short, humorless laugh. “I didn’t seek to be brave; I only wanted to prove that I was.”

I made a rather disrespectful noise—I wasn’t in either Jamie’s or Ian’s class, but I had picked up a few pointers—and he glanced at me in surprise.

“I do appreciate the distinction,” I told him. “But I’ve known a lot of brave men in my time.”

“But how can thee know what lies—”

“Be quiet.” I waved my fingers at him. “ ‘Brave’ covers everything from complete insanity and bloody disregard of other people’s lives—generals tend to go in for that sort—to drunkenness, foolhardiness, and outright idiocy—to the sort of thing that will make a man sweat and tremble and throw up . . . and go and do what he thinks he has to do anyway.

“Which,” I said, pausing for breath and folding my hands neatly in my lap, “is exactly the sort of bravery you share with Jamie.”

“Thy husband does not sweat and tremble,” he said dryly. “I’ve seen him. Or, rather, I have not seen him do such things.”

“He does the sweating and trembling on the inside, mostly,” I replied. “Though he really does often vomit before—or during—a battle.”

Denzell blinked, once, and didn’t speak for a bit, absorbed—apparently—in steering his way past a large hay wagon whose oxen had suddenly decided they didn’t want to go any farther and stopped dead in the middle of the road.

At last he took a breath and let it out explosively.

“I am not afraid to die,” he said. “That isn’t my difficulty.”

“What is?” I asked, curious. “Are you afraid of being maimed and left helpless? I certainly would be.”

“No.” His throat moved as he swallowed. “It’s Dorothea and Rachel. I’m afraid I would lack the courage to see them die without trying to save them, even if that meant killing someone.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say to this, and we jolted on in silence.

LEE’S TROOPS LEFT Englishtown at about 6 A.M., heading east toward Monmouth Courthouse. Lee arrived at the courthouse at about nine-thirty, to find that the bulk of the British army had left—presumably moving toward Middletown, as that was where the road went.

Lee was prevented from following, though, by the presence of a small but very belligerent rear guard under the command of General Clinton himself. Or so Ian told Jamie, having got close enough to see Clinton’s regimental banners. Jamie had communicated this information to Lee, but saw no evidence that it affected either that gentleman’s plan of action (always assuming that he had one) or his disinclination to send out more scouts to reconnoiter.

“Go round this lot and see can ye find out where Cornwallis is,” Jamie told Ian. “The grenadiers ye saw are likely Hessians, so they’ll be close to von Knyphausen.”

Ian nodded and took the full canteen Jamie offered him.

“Shall I tell General Lee, if I do? He didna seem much interested in what I had to say.”

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