Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 97

   

“I don’t know. But I do know he’s deeply involved with French interests, and—”

“Wainwright’s never been involved with any interests other than his own,” Hal interrupted brusquely. He gave John a sharp look. “You’d do well to remember that.”

“I doubt I shall ever see the fellow again,” John replied, overlooking the implication that his brother considered him gullible—or worse. He was entirely aware that while Hal was treating Richardson’s news of Ben with scorn, and was very likely right to do so, neither of them could completely ignore the possibility that the man had been telling the truth.

Hal verified this assumption by smacking his fist down on the campaign chest, making the pewter cups jump and fall over. He stood abruptly.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered. “Stay here!”

“Where are you going?”

Hal paused at the tent flap for an instant. His face was still haggard, but John recognized the battle light in his eyes.

“To arrest Richardson.”

“You can’t arrest him yourself, for God’s sake!” Grey was on his feet, too, reaching for Hal’s sleeve.

“Which regiment does he belong to?”

“The Fifth, but he’s detached. I told you he was an intelligencer, did I not?” The word “intelligencer” dripped with contempt.

“All right—I’ll speak to Sir Henry first.”

John had got a grip on Hal’s arm and tightened his hold at this. “I should have thought you’d had enough of scandal by now,” he said, trying for calmness. “Take a breath and imagine what will likely happen if you do that. Assuming that Sir Henry would take the time to consider your request. Today, for God’s sake?” He could hear the army moving outside; there was no danger of pursuit from Washington’s troops, but Clinton was not going to hang about. His division, with its baggage and refugees under its wing, would be on the road within the hour.

Hal’s arm was hard as marble under John’s hand and stayed that way. But he did stop, breathing with a slow, deep regularity. At last he turned his head and looked into his brother’s eyes. A beam of sunlight threw every line in his face into stark relief.

“Name one thing you think I wouldn’t do,” he said quietly, “in order not to have to tell Minnie that Ben is dead.”

Grey drew one long, deep breath of his own and nodded, letting go.

“Point taken. Whatever you mean to do, I’ll help. But first I have to find William. What Percy said—”

“Ah.” Hal blinked and his face relaxed a fraction. “Yes, of course. Meet you here in half an hour.”

WILLIAM HAD BARELY finished dressing before the message he’d been halfway expecting arrived from Sir Henry, delivered by Lieutenant Foster, whom he knew slightly. Foster grimaced sympathetically when handing it over.

William observed Sir Henry Clinton’s personal seal: not a good sign. On the other hand, if he was to be arrested for being absent without leave the previous day, Harry Foster would have brought an armed escort and taken him off without a by-your-leave. That was mildly heartening, and he broke the seal without hesitation.

In the event, it was a terse note advising him that he was relieved of duty until further notice—but that was all. He exhaled, only then realizing that he’d been holding his breath.

But of course Sir Henry wouldn’t imprison him—how and where, with the army on the move? Short of putting him in irons and transporting him by wagon . . . Realistically, Clinton couldn’t even confine him to quarters; the quarters in question were beginning to shake overhead as his uncle’s orderly set to dismantling the tent.

All right, then. He stuffed the note into his pocket, stuffed his feet into his boots, seized up his hat, and went out, feeling not that bad, all things considered. He had a headache, but it was bearable, and he’d managed to eat what breakfast Tarleton had left.

When things settled down and Sir Henry got round to taking official notice of his disobedience of orders, William could fish up Captain André and have him explain about going to find Tarleton, and all would be well. Meanwhile, he’d go down to the camp followers’ area and find Jane.

There was a strong bitter smell of fresh cabbage floating over the sprawl of makeshift shelters and human detritus, and a scatter of farm wagons drawn up along the road, with women crowding round them. The army cooks fed the refugees, but rations were sparse—and had doubtless been disrupted by the battle.

He walked along the road, keeping an eye out for Jane or Fanny, but didn’t spot either one. His eye attuned for a young girl, though, he did see Peggy Endicott, trudging down the road with a bucket in either hand.

“Miss Peggy! May I offer my assistance, ma’am?” He smiled down at her and was warmed to see her own face—somewhat anxious before—bloom into delight under her cap.

“Captain!” she cried, nearly dropping her buckets in her excitement. “Oh, I’m so happy to see you! We were all so worried for you, you know, in the battle, and we all said a prayer for your safety, but Papa told us you would surely prevail over the wicked Rebels and God would see you safe.”

“Your lovely prayers were to great effect,” he assured her gravely, taking the buckets. One was full of water and the other of turnips, their green tops wilting over the rim. “Are your mama and papa well, then, and your sisters?”

They walked along together, Peggy dancing on her toes and chattering like an affable small parrot. William kept an eye peeled for Jane or Fanny among the laundresses; it was safer near those redoubtable ladies than in some other parts of the camp. There were no kettles boiling this morning, of course, but the scent of lye soap floated on the humid air like scum on a cauldron full of dirty clothes.

There was no sign of Jane and Fanny by the time he’d reached the Endicotts’ wagon—still on all four wheels, he was glad to see. He was greeted warmly by all the Endicotts, though the girls and Mrs. Endicott made a great fuss of the lump on his head when he took his hat off to help with the loading of their wagon.

“Nothing, ma’am, the merest bruise,” he assured Mrs. Endicott for the ninth time, when she urged him to sit down in the shade and drink some water with the tiniest bit of brandy in it, for they still had some, thank goodness. . . .

Anne, who had maneuvered herself close to him, passing him items to be loaded, leaned in with a tea chest and let her hand brush his—deliberately, he was sure.

“Will you stay in New York, do you think?” she asked, stooping to pick up a portmanteau. “Or perhaps—you must excuse my prying, but people will talk—go back to England? Miss Jernigan said that you might.”

“Miss . . . oh, of course.” He recalled Mary Jernigan, a very flirtatious blond piece with whom he’d danced at a ball in Philadelphia. He glanced over the throng of Loyalist refugees. “Is she here?”

“Yes,” Anne replied, a little tersely. “Dr. Jernigan has a brother in New York; they will stay with him for a time.” She collected herself—he could see that she was regretting having recalled his attention to Mary Jernigan—and smiled at him, deeply enough as to invoke the dimple in her left cheek. “You needn’t take refuge with reluctant relatives, though, need you? Miss Jernigan said that you have a great vast estate awaiting you in England.”

“Mmm,” he said noncommittally. His father had warned him early on about marriage-minded young women with an eye to his fortune, and he’d met quite a few of them. Still, he liked Anne Endicott and her family and was inclined to think they had a real regard for him, as well, despite his position and the pragmatical considerations that must now afflict Anne and her sisters, with their father’s affairs so precarious.

“I don’t know,” he said, taking the portmanteau from her. “I truly have no idea what’s to become of me. Who does, in wartime?” He smiled, a little ruefully, and she seemed to feel his sense of uncertainty, for she impulsively laid a hand on his sleeve.

“Well, be assured that you have friends, at least, who care what becomes of you,” she said softly.

“Thank you,” he said, and turned his face toward the cart, lest she see how much that touched him.

In turning, though, his eye caught a purposeful movement, someone threading toward him through the crowd, and Anne Endicott’s soft dark eyes disappeared abruptly from his mind.

“Sir!” It was his groom Colenso Baragwanath, gasping from the effort of running. “Sir, have you—”

“There you are, Baragwanath! What the devil are you doing here, and where have you left Madras? Good news, though: Goth’s come back. Colonel Tarleton has him and—what, for God’s sake?” For Colenso was squirming as though he had a snake in his breeches, his square Cornish face contorted with information.

“Jane and Fanny’re gone, sir!”

“Gone? Gone where?”

“Dunno, sir. But they’ve gone. I came back to get my jacket and the shelter was still up, but their things were gone and I couldn’t find ’em and when I asked the folk who camps near us, they said as the girls had rolled up their bundles and sneaked off!”

William didn’t waste time inquiring how one could possibly sneak out of an open camp of several thousand people, let alone why that should be necessary.

“Which way did they go?”

“That way, sir!” Colenso pointed down the road.

William rubbed a hand over his face and stopped abruptly when he inadvertently touched the bruised swelling on his left temple.

“Ouch. Well, bloody hell—oh, I beg your pardon, Miss Endicott.” For at this point he became aware of Anne Endicott at his elbow, eyes round with curiosity.

“Who are Jane and Fanny?” she asked.

“Ahh . . . two young ladies who are traveling under my protection,” he said, knowing exactly what effect that information was likely to have, but there wasn’t much help for it. “Very young ladies,” he added, in the vain hope of improving things. “Daughters of a . . . um, distant cousin.”

“Oh,” she said, looking distinctly unconvinced. “But they’ve run off? Whyever should they do such a thing?”

“Damned if I—er, beg pardon, ma’am. I don’t know, but I must go and find out. Will you make my excuses to your parents and sisters?”

“I—of course.” She made a small, abortive gesture toward him, putting out her hand and then withdrawing it. She looked both startled and slightly affronted. He regretted it, but there wasn’t time to do anything about it.

“Your servant, ma’am,” he said, and, bowing, left her.

IN THE END, it was half a day, rather than half an hour, before John saw Hal again. He found his brother, quite by chance, standing by the road that led northward, watching the marching columns go past. Most of the camp had already left; only the cook wagons and laundry kettles were trundling past now, the disorderly sprawl of camp followers spreading out behind them like the plague of lice over the land of Egypt.

“William’s gone,” he said to Hal without preamble.

Hal nodded, face somber. “So is Richardson.”

“Bloody hell.”

Hal’s groom was standing by, holding two horses. Hal jerked his head at a dark-bay mare and took the reins of his own horse, a light-bay gelding with a blaze and one white stocking.

“Where do you think we’re going?” John inquired, seeing his brother turn the gelding’s head south.

“Philadelphia,” Hal replied, tight-lipped. “Where else?”

Grey could himself think of any number of alternatives, but recognized a rhetorical question when he heard one and contented himself with asking, “Have you got a clean handkerchief?”

Hal gave him a blank look, then rummaged in his sleeve, pulling out a crumpled but unused linen square.

“Apparently. Why?”

“I expect we’re going to need a flag of truce at some point. The Continental army lying presently between us and Philadelphia, I mean.”

“Oh, that.” Hal stuffed the handkerchief back up his sleeve and said no more until they had negotiated their way past the last trailing remnants of the horde of refugees and found themselves more or less alone on the road leading south.

“No one could be sure, in the confusion,” he said, as though he’d last spoken ten seconds before. “But it looks very much as though Captain Richardson has deserted.”

“What?!”

“Not a bad moment to choose, really,” Hal said reflectively. “No one would have noticed he was gone for days, had I not come looking for him. He was in camp last night, though, and unless he’s disguised himself as a teamster or a laundress, he’s not here any longer.”

“The contingency seems remote,” Grey said. “William was here this morning—both your orderly and his young grooms saw him, and so did a Colonel Tarleton of the British Legion, who breakfasted with him.”

“Who? Oh, him.” Hal waved off Tarleton as a distraction. “Clinton values him, but I never trust a man with lips like a girl’s.”

“Regardless, he seems to have had nothing to do with William’s disappearance. The groom Baragwanath thinks that William went off to see about a couple of . . . young women among the camp followers.”

Hal glanced at him, one brow raised.

“What sort of young women?”

“Probably the sort you’re thinking,” John replied, a little tersely.

“At that hour of the morning, after being bashed on the head the night before? And young women, plural? The boy’s got stamina, I’ll say that for him.”

Grey could have said a number of other things about William at this point, but didn’t. “So you think Richardson’s deserted.” That would explain Hal’s focus on Philadelphia; if Percy was right and Richardson was in fact an American agent, where else might he go at this point?

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