Written in my own hearts.., p.10
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       Written in My Own Heart's Blood, p.10

         Part #8 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
 

  obliged to share his narrow cot with Grey, in the interests of keeping his prisoner secure.

  In the end, though, a corporal came in, carrying a rusty set of fetters that looked as though they had last seen use during the Spanish Inquisition, and took Grey to the edge of camp, where a soldier who had been a blacksmith in private life banged them into place with a stout hammer, using a flattish rock as an anvil.

  He felt the oddest sensations, kneeling on the ground in the twilight, an interested group of militiamen gathered round in a circle to watch. He was forced to lean forward in a crouching posture, hands laid before him, as though he were about to be beheaded, and the hammer blows echoed through the metal, into the bones of his wrists and arms.

  He kept his eyes on the hammer, and not only from fear that the smith would miss his aim in the growing dusk and smash one of his hands. Under the influence of intoxication and a growing, deeper fear that he didn’t want to acknowledge, he sensed the mingled curiosity and animus surrounding him and felt it as he would a nearby thunderstorm, electricity crawling over his skin, the threat of lightning annihilation so close he could smell its sharp odor, mixed with gunpowder and the heavy tang of the sweat of men.

  Ozone. His mind seized on the word, a small escape into rationality. That’s what Claire called the smell of lightning. He’d told her he thought it was from the Greek ozon, the neuter present participle of ozein, meaning “to smell.”

  He began to work his way methodically through the complete conjugation; by the time he’d finished, surely they would be done with it. Ozein, to smell. I smell …

  He could smell his own sweat, sharp and sweet. In the old days, it was considered a better death, beheading. To be hanged was shameful, a commoner’s death, a criminal’s death. Slower. He knew that for a fact.

  A final reverberating blow, and a visceral sound of satisfaction from the watching men. He was made prisoner.

  THERE BEING NO shelter other than the brushy wigwams and scraps of canvas the militiamen rigged near their fires, he was escorted back to Smith’s big, threadbare tent, given supper—which he forced down, not much noticing what he ate—and then tethered to the tent pole with a long, thin rope run through the chain of his irons, with sufficient play as to allow him to lie down or use the utensil.

  At Smith’s insistence, he took the cot and did lie down with a slight groan of relief. His temples throbbed with each heartbeat, and so did the entire left side of his face, which was now radiating small jolts down into his upper teeth, very unpleasant. The pain in his side had dulled to a deep ache, almost negligible by comparison. Luckily, he was so tired that sleep swamped all discomfort, and he fell into it with a sense of profound gratitude.

  He woke in the full dark sometime later, slicked with sweat, heart hammering from some desperate dream. He raised a hand to push the soaked hair off his face and felt the heavy, chafing weight of the fetters, which he’d forgotten about. They clanked, and the dark figure of a sentry silhouetted in the fire glow at the entrance of the tent turned sharply toward him, but then relaxed as he turned over on the cot, clanking further.

  Bugger, he thought, still groggy with sleep. Couldn’t even masturbate if I wanted to. The thought made him laugh, though fortunately it came out as a mere breath of sound.

  Another body turned over, rustling, shifting heavily near him. Smith, he supposed, sleeping on a canvas bed sack stuffed with grass; Grey could smell the meadow scent of dry hay, faintly musty in the humid air. The bed sack was standard issue to the British army; Smith must have kept it, along with his tent and other equipment, changing only his uniform.

  Why had he turned his coat? Grey wondered vaguely, peering at Smith’s humped shape, just visible against the pale canvas. Advancement? Starved as they were for professional soldiers, the Continentals offered rank as inducement; a captain in any European army might become anything from a major to a general in the blink of an eye, whereas the only means of achieving higher rank in England was to find the money to purchase it.

  What was rank without pay, though? Grey was no longer a spy, but he had been one, once—and still knew men who labored in those dark fields. From what he’d heard, the American Congress had no money at all and depended upon loans—these unpredictable in amount and erratic in occurrence. Some from French or Spanish sources, though the French wouldn’t admit to it, of course. Some from Jewish moneylenders, said one of his correspondents. Salomon, Solomon … some name like that.

  These random musings were interrupted by a sound that made him stiffen. A woman’s laughter.

  There were women in the camp, wives who had come along to war with their husbands. He’d seen a few when they took him across the campground, and one had brought his supper, glancing suspiciously up at him from under her cap. But he thought he knew that laugh—deep, gurgling, and totally unself-conscious.

  “Jesus,” he whispered under his breath. “Dottie?”

  It wasn’t impossible. He swallowed, trying to clear his left ear, to listen through the multitude of small sounds outside. Denzell Hunter was a Continental surgeon, and Dottie had—to her brother’s, cousin’s, and uncle’s horror—joined the camp followers at Valley Forge in order to help her fiancé, though she rode into Philadelphia regularly to visit her brother Henry. If Washington’s forces were moving—and very plainly they were—it was entirely possible that a surgeon might be anywhere among them.

  A high, clear voice, raised in question. An English voice, and not common. He strained to hear but couldn’t make out the words. He wished she’d laugh again.

  If it was Dottie … he breathed deep, trying to think. He couldn’t call out to her; he’d felt the avid hostility directed at him from every man in camp—letting the relationship be known would be dangerous for her and Denzell, both, and certainly wouldn’t help Grey. And yet he had to risk it—they’d move him in the morning.

  Out of sheer inability to think of anything better, he sat up on the cot and began to sing “Die Sommernacht.” Quietly at first, but gathering strength and volume. As he hit “In den Kulungen wehn” at the top of his very resonant tenor voice, Smith sat up like a jack-in-the-box and said, “What?” in tones of utter amazement.

  “So umschatten mich Gedanken an das Grab

  Meiner Geliebten, und ich seh’ im Walde

  Nur es dämmern, und es weht mir

  Von der Blüte nicht her.”

  Grey went on, reducing his volume somewhat. He didn’t want Dottie—if it was Dottie—coming to look, only to let her know he was here. He’d taught her this lied when she was fourteen; she sang it often at musicales.

  “Ich genoß einst, o ihr Toten, es mit euch!

  Wie umwehten uns der Duft und die Kühlung,

  Wie verschönt warst von dem Monde,

  Du, o schöne Natur!”

  He stopped, coughed a little, and spoke into the marked silence before him, slurring his words a bit, as though still drunk. In fact, he discovered, he was.

  “Might I have some water, Colonel?”

  “Will you sing anymore if I give it to you?” Smith asked, deeply suspicious.

  “No, I think I’m finished now,” Grey assured him. “Couldn’ sleep, you know—too much to drink—but I find a song settles the mind rem-remarkably.”

  “Oh, does it?” Smith breathed heavily for a moment, but clambered to his feet and fetched the ewer from his basin. Grey could feel him repressing an urge to douse his prisoner with the contents, but Smith was a man of strong character and merely held the pitcher for him to drink, then put it back and resumed his own bed with no more than a few irritable snorts.

  The lied had caused some comment in the camp, and a few musical souls took it as inspiration and began singing everything from “Greensleeves”—a very poignant and tender rendition—to “Chester.” Grey quite enjoyed the singing, though it was only by exercise of his own strong character that he refrained from shaking his fetters at the end of:

  “Let tyrants shake their iron rods. An
d slavery clank her galling chains.”

  They were still singing when he fell asleep again, to dream in anxious fragments, the fumes of applejack drifting through the hollow spaces of his head.

  Number 17 Chestnut Street

  THE BELL OF the Presbyterian church struck midnight, but the city wasn’t sleeping. The sounds were more furtive now, muffled by darkness, but the streets were still alive with hurrying feet and the sound of moving wagons—and, in the far distance, I heard a faint cry of “Fire!” being raised.

  I stood by the open window, sniffing the air for smoke and watching out for any sign of flames that might spread in our direction. I wasn’t aware of Philadelphia having ever burned to the ground like London or Chicago, but a fire that merely engulfed the neighborhood would be just as bad from my point of view.

  There was no wind at all; that was something. The summer air hung heavy, damp as a sponge. I waited for a bit, but the cries stopped, and I saw no red glimmer of flames against the half-clouded sky. No trace of fire save the cool green sparks of fireflies, drifting among the shadowed leaves in the front garden.

  I stood for a bit, letting my shoulders slump, letting go of my half-formed plans for emergency evacuation. I was exhausted but unable to sleep. Beyond the need to keep an eye on my unsettled patient, and the unsettled atmosphere beyond the quiet room, I was most unsettled in myself. I’d been listening all day, constantly on the alert for a familiar footstep, the sound of Jamie’s voice. But he hadn’t come.

  What if he had learned from John that I had shared his bed on that one drunken evening? Would the shock of that, given without preparation or suitable explanation, be enough to have made him run away—for good?

  I felt sudden tears come to my eyes and shut them, hard, to stem the flow, gripping the sill with both hands.

  Don’t be ridiculous. He’ll come as soon as he can, no matter what. You know he will. I did know. But the shocked joy of seeing him alive had wakened nerves that had been numb for a long time, and while I might seem calm externally, on the inside my emotions were at a rolling boil. The steam was building up, and I had no way to release the pressure—save pointless tears, and I wouldn’t give way to those.

  For one thing, I might not be able to stop. I pressed the sleeve of my dressing gown briefly to my eyes, then turned back resolutely into the darkness of the room.

  A small brazier burned near the bed under a tented wet cloth, casting a flickering red glow on Pardloe’s sharp-cut features. He was breathing with an audible rasp and I could hear his lungs rattle with each exhalation, but it was a deep breathing, and regular. It occurred to me that I might not have been able to smell the smoke of a fire outside, had there been one: the atmosphere in the room was thick with oil of peppermint, eucalyptus … and cannabis. Despite the wet cloth, enough smoke had escaped the brazier to form a hanging cloud of purling wisps, moving pale as ghosts in the darkened air.

  I sprinkled more water on the muslin tent and sat down in the small armchair beside the bed, breathing the saturated atmosphere in cautiously but with an agreeable small sense of illicit pleasure. Hal had told me that he was in the habit of smoking hemp to relax his lungs and that it seemed to be effective. He’d said “hemp,” and that was undoubtedly what he’d been smoking; the psychoactive form of the plant didn’t grow in England and wasn’t commonly imported.

  I hadn’t any hemp leaves in my medical supply but did have a good bit of ganja, which John had acquired from a Philadelphia merchant who had two Indiamen. It was useful in the treatment of glaucoma, as I’d learned when treating Jamie’s aunt Jocasta, it relieved nausea and anxiety—and it had occasional non-medicinal uses, as John had informed me, to my private amusement.

  Thought of John gave me a small internal qualm, to add to my anxiety over Jamie, and I took a deep, deliberate breath of the sweet, spicy air. Where was he? What had Jamie done with him?

  “Do you ever make bargains with God?” Hal’s voice came quietly out of the half dark.

  I must subconsciously have known he wasn’t sleeping, for I wasn’t startled.

  “Everyone does,” I said. “Even people who don’t believe in God. Do you?”

  There was the breath of a laugh, followed by coughing, but it stopped quickly. Perhaps the smoke was helping.

  “Have you got such a bargain in mind?” I asked, as much from real curiosity as to make conversation. “You aren’t going to die, you know. I won’t let you.”

  “Yes, you said that,” he replied dryly. After a moment’s hesitation, he turned on his side to face me. “I do believe you,” he said rather formally. “And … I thank you.”

  “You’re quite welcome. I can’t let you die in John’s house, you know; he’d be upset.”

  He smiled at that, his face visible in the brazier’s glow. We didn’t speak for a bit but sat looking at each other, with no particular sense of self-consciousness, both of us calmed by the smoke and the sleepy chirping of crickets outside. The sound of wagon wheels had ceased, but there were still people passing by. Surely I would know Jamie’s step, be able to distinguish his, even among so many.…

  “You’re worried about him, aren’t you?” he asked. “John.”

  “No,” I said quickly, but I saw one dark brow rise and remembered that he already knew me for a bad liar. “That is … I’m sure he’s quite all right. But I would have expected him home by now. And with so much commotion in the city …” I waved a hand toward the window. “You don’t know what might happen, do you?”

  I heard him draw breath, his chest rattling faintly, and clear his throat.

  “And you still decline to tell me where he is.”

  I lifted one shoulder and let it fall; it seemed pointless to repeat that I didn’t know, even though that was the truth. Instead, I took up a comb from the table and began to deal slowly with my hair, untangling and smoothing the unruly mass, enjoying the cool feel of it in my hands. After we had bathed Hal and got him put to bed, I’d taken a quarter hour for a somewhat more leisurely wash of my own and had rinsed the sweat and dust from my hair, despite knowing it would take hours to dry in the humid air.

  “The bargain I had in mind was not for my own life,” he said after a bit. “As such.”

  “I’m sure John isn’t going to die, either, if that’s what you—”

  “Not John. My son. My daughter. And my grandson. You have grandchildren, I collect? I believe I heard that rather stalwart young man call you ‘Grannie’ this afternoon, did I not?” His voice held a trace of amusement.

  “You did, and I do. You mean Dorothea? Is something the matter with her?” A stab of alarm made me set down the comb. I’d seen Dottie only a few days before, at the house where her brother Henry was staying.

  “Aside from the fact that she appears to be on the verge of marrying a Rebel and declares her intent to accompany the man onto battlefields and to live with him under the most insalubrious conditions imaginable?”

  He sat up in bed and spoke with evident passion, but I couldn’t help smiling at his mode of expression; evidently the Grey brothers shared the same habit of speech. I coughed to hide this, though, and replied as tactfully as possible.

  “Um … you’ve seen Dottie, then?”

  “Yes, I have,” he said shortly. “She was with Henry when I arrived yesterday, and wearing the most extraordinary garment. Evidently the man to whom she considers herself affianced is a Quaker, and she declares that she has become one, as well!”

  “So I understand,” I murmured. “You … er … hadn’t heard about it?”

  “No, I had not! And I have a few things to say to John regarding both his cowardice in not telling me about it and his son’s unpardonable machi … machinations …” The choler in this speech literally choked him, and he had to stop and cough, wrapping his arms round his knees to steady himself against the racking spasms.

  I took up the fan I’d left on the table earlier and wafted a bit of smoke from the brazier into his face. He gasped, coughed harde
r for a moment, and then subsided, wheezing.

  “I’d tell you not to excite yourself, if I thought there was the slightest chance of you listening,” I remarked, handing him a cup of the boiled tincture of Ephedra in coffee. “Drink that. Slowly.

  “As for John,” I went on, watching him make faces over the bitter taste, “he considered writing to you when he found out what Dottie intended. He didn’t, because at the time he thought it might be nothing more than a passing whim and that once she’d seen the reality of Denny’s—er, that’s her fiancé, Dr. Hunter—of his life, she might think better of it. And if she did, there was no need to alarm you and your wife. He never expected you to turn up here.”

  Hal coughed once, then drew breath in a tentative fashion.

  “I didn’t, either,” he said, and, putting the cup aside, coughed again and lay back against the heaped pillows. “The War Office decided to send my regiment to support Clinton when the new strategy was decided upon; there wasn’t time to write.”

  “Which new strategy is this?” I asked, only mildly interested.

  “To sever the southern colonies from the north, suppress the rebellion there, and thus starve the north into submission. Keep the bloody French out of the West Indies, too,” he added as an afterthought. “You think Dottie might change her mind?” He sounded dubious but hopeful.

  “Actually, no,” I said. I stretched and ran my fingers through my damp hair, which had settled softly on my neck and shoulders, curling light and tickling round my face. “I wondered whether it was you or your wife she took after in terms of willfulness, but the instant I met you, it was clear.”

  He gave me a narrow look but had the grace to smile.

  “She does,” he admitted. “So does Benjamin—my eldest son. Henry and Adam are both like my wife in terms of temperament. Which does not mean that they aren’t capable of seeking their own way,” he added thoughtfully. “Only that they’re rather more diplomatic about it.”

  “I’d like to meet your wife,” I said, smiling, too. “Her name is Minnie, John said?”

  “Minerva,” he said, his smile growing more genuine. “Minerva Cunnegunda, to be exact. Couldn’t call her ‘Cunny,’ could I?”

  “Probably not in public, no.”

  “Wouldn’t try it in private, either,” he assured me. “She’s very demure—to look at.”

  I laughed, and darted a glance at the brazier. I hadn’t thought the active principle in ganja would be very strong, burned as an atmospheric rather than smoked directly. Still, it was obviously having a beneficial effect on Hal’s mood as well as his asthma, and I was conscious of a slight feeling of well-being beginning to creep into my own outlook. I was still worried about Jamie—and John—but the worry had lifted from my shoulders and seemed to be floating a little way above my head: still visible, and a dull purple-gray in color, but floating. Like a lead balloon, I thought, and gave a small, amused snort.

  Hal was lying back, eyes half lidded, watching me with a sort of detached interest.

  “You’re a beautiful woman,” he said, sounding faintly surprised. “Not demure, though,” he added, and made a low chuckling noise. “What could John have been thinking?”

  I knew what John had been thinking but didn’t want to talk about it—for assorted reasons.

  “What did you mean earlier,” I asked curiously, “about making bargains with God?”

  “Ah.” His eyelids closed slowly. “When I arrived at General Clinton’s office this morning—God, was that only this morning?—he had rather bad news for me—and a letter. Sent some weeks ago from New Jersey, forwarded eventually to him through the army post.

  “My eldest son, Benjamin, was captured by the Rebels at the Brandywine,” he said, almost dispassionately. Almost; there was enough light for me to see the bulge of his jaw muscle. “There is at present no agreement with the Americans involving the exchange of prisoners, so he remains in captivity.”

  “Where?” I asked, disturbed at the news.

  “I don’t know that,” he said shortly. “Yet. But I shall discover his whereabouts as quickly as possible.”

  “Godspeed,” I said sincerely. “Was the letter from Benjamin?”

  “No.” His jaw tightened a little further.

  The letter had been from a young woman named Amaranthus Cowden, who informed His Grace the Duke of Pardloe that she was the wife of his son Benjamin—and the mother of Benjamin’s son, Trevor Wattiswade Grey, aged three months. Born after Benjamin was captured, I thought, and wondered whether Benjamin knew about the baby.

  The young Mrs. Grey found herself in difficult circumstances, she wrote, owing to her husband’s sad absence, and therefore proposed to go to her relatives in Charleston. She felt some delicacy in approaching His Grace for assistance, but her state was such that she felt she had little choice in the matter and hoped that he would forgive her forwardness and look kindly upon her plea. She enclosed a lock of her son’s hair, feeling that His Grace might like to have such a keepsake of his grandson.

  “Dear me,” I said. I hesitated for a moment, but the same thought must surely have occurred to him. “Do you think she’s telling the truth?”

  He sighed, a mixture of anxiety and aggravation.

  “Almost certainly she is. My wife’s maiden name was Wattiswade, but no one outside the family would know that.” He nodded toward the wardrobe where Mrs. Figg had hung his uniform. “The letter is in my coat, should you wish to read it.”

  I waved a hand in polite dismissal.

  “I see what you meant about making bargains with God. You want to live to see your grandchild—and your son, of course.”

  He sighed again, his lean body seeming to diminish slightly. Mrs. Figg had undone his queue—much against his will—brushed out his hair, and tied it in a loose tail that now fell over his shoulder, a soft dark brown shot with streaks of white that glinted red and gold in the fire glow.

  “Not precisely. I do want that, of course, but—” He groped for words, quite unlike his earlier elegant loquacity. “You’d die for them, happily. Your family. But at the same time you think, Christ, I can’t die! What might happen to them if I weren’t here?” He gave me a wry and rueful smile. “And you know bloody well that you mostly can’t help them anyway; they’ve got to do it—or not—themselves.”

  “Unfortunately, yes.” A draft of air moved the muslin curtains and stirred the hanging pall of smoke. “Not the grandchildren, though. You can help them.” And I suddenly missed Henri-Christian’s soft weight, his solid head against my shoulder; I’d saved his life by removing his tonsils and adenoids, and I thanked
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