Written in my own hearts.., p.36
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       Written in My Own Heart's Blood, p.36

         Part #8 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
 

  “Went where?” I asked. His hair was more heavily traced with silver than it had been. I didn’t mind that; I minded that I hadn’t been there to see it slowly change, day by day.

  “Ian didna ask him. But he said Mrs. Figg told the duke the names of some friends of Lord John’s—Loyalists that might be still in the city. And his son’s staying in a house here, no? Dinna be worrit on his account, Sassenach.” He turned his head to smile sideways at me. “His Grace is a man who’s hard to kill.”

  “I suppose it takes one to know one,” I said tartly. I didn’t ask why Jamie had gone to Chestnut Street; Hal, Jenny, and all other concerns notwithstanding, I knew he wanted to know whether John had reappeared. Apparently not, and a small chill frosted my heart.

  I was groping in my pocket for a ribbon with which to club his queue, when a fresh draft swept through the loft, lifting the oilcloth and fluttering the papers beneath. I turned to see the source of the breeze and beheld Germain, swinging off the pulley rope to come in by the shuttered doors through which bales and kegs could be lowered from the loft to wagons below.

  “Bonjour, Grand-père,” he said, wiping a cobweb off his face as he landed and bowing to Jamie with great formality. He turned and bowed to me, as well. “Comment ça va, Grand-mère?”

  “Fi—” I began automatically, but was interrupted by Jamie.

  “No,” he said definitely. “Ye’re not coming.”

  “Please, Grandda!” Germain’s formality disappeared in an instant, replaced by pleading. “I could be a help to ye!”

  “I know,” Jamie said dryly. “And your parents would never forgive me if ye were. I dinna even want to know what your notion of help involves, but—”

  “I could carry messages! I can ride, ye ken that, ye taught me yourself! And I’m nearly twelve!”

  “Ye ken how dangerous that is? If a British sharpshooter didna take ye out of the saddle, someone from the militia would club ye over the head to steal the horse. And I can count, ken? Ye’re no even eleven yet, so dinna be tryin’ it on with me.”

  Obviously, danger held no fears whatever for Germain. He shrugged, impatient.

  “Well, I could be an orderly, then. I can find food anywhere,” he added, cunning. He was in fact a very accomplished scrounger, and I looked at him thoughtfully. Jamie intercepted my glance and glowered at me.

  “Dinna even think about it, Sassenach. He’d be taken up for theft and hanged or flogged within an inch of his life, and I couldna do a thing to stop it.”

  “Nobody’s ever caught me!” Germain said, his professional pride outraged. “Not once!”

  “And they’re not going to,” his grandfather assured him, fixing him with a steely eye. “When ye’re sixteen, maybe—”

  “Oh, aye? Grannie Janet says ye were eight when ye first went raiding with your da!”

  “Lifting cattle’s no the same as war, and I wasna anywhere near the fighting,” Jamie said. “And your Grannie Janet should keep her mouth shut.”

  “Aye, I’ll tell her ye said so,” Germain retorted, disgruntled. “She says ye got bashed on the head with a sword.”

  “I did. And with luck ye’ll live to be an auld man with your brains unscrambled, unlike your grandsire. Leave us, lad, your grannie needs to put her stockings on.” He stood up and, lifting the ladder, slid it down from the loft and pushed Germain firmly onto it.

  He stood looking sternly down until Germain had reached the floor below, marking his displeasure by skipping the last few rungs and landing with a loud thud.

  Jamie sighed, straightened up, and stretched himself gingerly, groaning a little.

  “God knows where we’ll sleep tonight, Sassenach,” he remarked, glancing at our rude couch as he sat down for me to finish clubbing his hair. “For the sake of my back, I hope it’s a bit softer than this.” He grinned at me suddenly. “Did ye sleep well?”

  “Never better,” I assured him, smoothing out the ribbon. In fact, I ached in almost every place it was possible to ache, save perhaps the top of my head. For that matter, I’d barely slept, and neither had he; we’d passed the hours of darkness in slow and wordless exploration, finding again each other’s body … and, toward dawn, had touched each other’s soul again. I touched the back of his neck now, gently, and his hand rose to mine. I felt simultaneously wonderful and wretched, and didn’t know from moment to moment which feeling was uppermost.

  “When will we leave?”

  “As soon as ye put your stockings on, Sassenach. And tidy your hair. And do up your buttons,” he added, turning and catching sight of my excessive décolletage. “Here, I’ll do that.”

  “I’ll need my medicine box,” I said, going cross-eyed as I watched his nimble fingers flicking down my chest.

  “I brought it,” he assured me, and frowned a bit, eyes intent on a recalcitrant button. “It’s a bonny bit of furniture. I expect his lordship bought it for ye?”

  “He did.” I hesitated a moment, rather wishing he had said “John” rather than “his lordship.” I also wished I knew where John was—and that he was all right. But this didn’t seem the moment to say any of those things.

  Jamie leaned forward and kissed the top of my breast, his breath warm on my skin.

  “I dinna ken whether I’ll have a bed at all tonight,” he said, straightening up. “But whether it’s feathers or straw, promise ye’ll share it with me?”

  “Always,” I said, and, picking up my cloak, shook it out, swirled it round my shoulders, and smiled bravely at him. “Let’s go, then.”

  JENNY HAD SENT my medicine chest from Chestnut Street and with it the large parcel of herbs from Kingsessing, which had been delivered there the night before. With the forethought of a Scottish housewife, she’d also included a pound of oatmeal, a twist of salt, a package of bacon, four apples, and six clean handkerchiefs. Also a neat roll of fabric with a brief note, which read:

  Dear Sister Claire,

  You appear to own nothing suitable in which to go to war. I suggest you borrow Marsali’s printing apron for the time being, and here are two of my flannel petticoats and the simplest things Mrs. Figg could find amongst your wardrobe.

  Take care of my brother, and tell him his stockings need darning, because he won’t notice until he’s worn holes in the heel and given himself blisters.

  Your Good-sister,

  Janet Murray

  “And just how is it that you own something suitable in which to go to war?” I asked, eyeing Jamie in his indigo splendor. His uniform appeared to be complete, from coat with epaulets and a brigadier general’s insignia to buff waistcoat and cream silk stockings. Tall and straight, with auburn hair neatly clubbed and ribboned in black, he distinctly drew the eye.

  He drew his chin back and looked down his nose at himself.

  “Well, the sark and smallclothes were mine already; I had them when I came from Scotland. But when I came back to Philadelphia to find ye yesterday, I found Jenny first, and I told her about General Washington and asked her would she see to it. So she took my measurements and found a tailor and his son who do uniforms and browbeat them into working all night to make the coat and waistcoat—poor wretches,” he added, gingerly pulling a loose thread from the edge of his cuff. “How is it that ye don’t, Sassenach? Did his lordship think it unseemly for ye to doctor folk and make ye burn your working clothes?”

  This was said with the sort of jesting tone that’s meant to suggest perfect innocence on the part of the speaker while making it perfectly apparent that malice is intended. “I don’t say that I’ll no make a fuss about it later.” I looked pointedly at the medical chest John had given me, then back at him, narrowing my eyes ever so slightly.

  “No,” I said, with great casualness. “I spilled vitriol on them, making—making ether.” The memory made my hands shake slightly, and I had to set down the cup of nettle tea I was drinking.

  “Jesus, Sassenach.” Jamie spoke under his breath—Félicité and Joan were kneeling at his feet, arguing w
ith each other as they busily burnished his brass shoe buckles—but he met my eyes over their heads, appalled. “Tell me ye werena doing that drunk.”

  I took a deep breath, at once reliving the experience and trying not to. Standing in the hot, semi-dark shed behind the house, the rounded glass slick in my sweating hands … then the flying liquid—it had barely missed my face—and the sickly smell and magically widening, smoking holes that burned straight through my heavy canvas apron and the skirt beneath. I hadn’t really cared at the time whether I lived or died—until it looked as though I was going to die in the next few seconds. That made rather a difference. It hadn’t convinced me not to commit suicide—but the shock of the near accident did make me think more carefully about how. Slitting one’s wrists was one thing; dying in slow, disfiguring agony was another.

  “No, I wasn’t,” I said, and, taking up the cup, managed a deliberate mouthful. “I—it was a hot day. My hands were sweating, and the flask slipped.”

  He closed his eyes briefly, all too clearly envisioning the scene himself, then reached across Félicité’s sleek dark head to cup my cheek.

  “Dinna be doing that again, aye?” he said softly. “Don’t make it anymore.”

  To be honest, the thought of making ether again made my palms sweat. It wasn’t chemically difficult, but it was terribly dangerous. One wrong move, a little too much vitriol, a few degrees of heat too much … And Jamie knew as well as I did just how explosive the stuff was. I could see the memory of flames in his eyes, the Big House going up around us. I swallowed.

  “I don’t want to,” I said honestly. “But—without it, Jamie, I can’t do things that I can do with it. If I hadn’t had it, Aidan would be dead—so would John’s nephew Henry.”

  He compressed his lips and looked as though he considered that Henry Grey might be disposable—but he was fond of little Aidan McCallum Higgins, whose appendix I’d removed on the Ridge with the assistance of my first batch of ether.

  “Grannie has to help people feel better, Grand-père,” Joanie said reproachfully, rising from her spot at Jamie’s feet and frowning up at him. “It’s her callin’, Mam says. She can’t just not.”

  “I ken that fine,” he assured her. “But she needna blow herself to kingdom come doing it. After all, who’s going to look after all the sick folk, if your grannie’s lying about in pieces?”

  Félicité and Joanie both thought that image hilarious; I was less amused, but didn’t say anything further until they’d taken their rags and vinegar back to the kitchen. We were left in the sleeping part of the living quarters, assembling our bags and bundles for departure, and momentarily alone.

  “You said you were afraid,” I said quietly, eyes on the spools of coarse thread and twists of silk floss I was stowing in a wooden box with several suture needles. “But that won’t stop you doing what you think you have to do, will it? I’m afraid for you—and that certainly won’t stop you, either.” I was careful to speak without bitterness, but he was as sensitive to tones of voice this morning as I was.

  He paused for a moment, regarding his shining shoe buckles, then lifted his head and looked at me straight.

  “Do ye think that because ye’ve told me the Rebels will win, I am free to walk away?”

  “I—no.” I slid the box lid shut with a snick, not looking at it. I couldn’t look away from him. His face was still, but his eyes held mine, intent. “I know you have to. I know it’s part of what you are. You can’t stand aside and still be what you are. That was more or less my point, about—”

  He interrupted me, stepping forward and seizing me by the wrist.

  “And what is it that ye think I am, Sassenach?”

  “A bloody man, that’s what!” I pulled loose and turned away, but he put a hand on my shoulder and turned me back to face him.

  “Aye, I am a bloody man,” he said, and the faintest trace of rue touched his mouth, but his eyes were blue and steady.

  “Ye’ve made your peace with what I am, ye think—but I think ye dinna ken what that means. To be what I am doesna mean only that I’ll spill my own blood when I must. It means I must sacrifice other men to the ends of my own cause—not only those I kill as enemies, but those I hold as friends … or as kin.”

  His hand dropped away, and the tension left his shoulders. He turned toward the door, saying, “Come when ye’re ready, Sassenach.”

  I STOOD THERE for an instant, blinking, then ran after him, leaving my half-packed bag behind.

  “Jamie!” He was standing in the printshop, Henri-Christian in his arms, bidding goodbye to the girls and Marsali. Germain was nowhere in sight, doubtless sulking. Jamie looked up, startled, then smiled at me.

  “I wasna going to leave ye behind, Sassenach. And I didna mean to hurry ye, either. Do ye—”

  “I know. I just—I have to tell you something.”

  All the little heads turned toward me like a nestful of baby birds, soft pink mouths open in curiosity. It occurred to me that I might better have waited until we were on the road, but it had seemed urgent that I tell him now—not only to relieve his anxieties, but to make him know I did understand.

  “It’s William,” I blurted, and Jamie’s face clouded for an instant, like a breathed-on mirror. Yes, I had understood.

  “Come to me, a bhalaich,” Marsali said, taking Henri-Christian from Jamie and setting him on the floor. “Oof! Ye weigh more than I do, wee man! Come away now, lassies, Grandda isn’t going just yet. Help me fetch out Grannie’s things.”

  The children obediently scampered off behind her, though still looking back at us in frustrated curiosity. Children hate secrets, unless they’re the ones keeping them. I glanced after them, then turned back to Jamie.

  “I didn’t know if they knew about William. I suppose Marsali and Fergus do, since—”

  “Since Jenny told them. Aye, they do.” He rolled his eyes in brief resignation, then fixed them on my face. “What is it, Sassenach?”

  “He can’t fight,” I said, letting out a half-held breath. “It doesn’t matter what the British army is about to do. William was paroled after Saratoga—he’s a conventioner. You know about the Convention army?”

  “I do.” He took my hand and squeezed it. “Ye mean he’s not allowed to take up arms unless he’s been exchanged—and he hasn’t been, is that it?”

  “That’s it. Nobody can be exchanged, until the King and the Congress come to some agreement about it.”

  His face was suddenly vivid with relief, and I was relieved to see it.

  “John’s been trying to have him exchanged for months, but there isn’t any way of doing it.” I dismissed Congress and the King with a wave of my free hand and smiled up at him. “You won’t have to face him on a battlefield.”

  “Taing do Dhia,” he said, closing his eyes for an instant. “I’ve been thinking for days—when I wasna fretting about you, Sassenach—” he added, opening his eyes and looking down his nose at me, “—the third time’s the charm. And that would be an evil charm indeed.”

  “Third time?” I said. “What do you—would you let go my fingers? They’ve gone numb.”

  “Oh,” he said. He kissed them gently and let go. “Aye, sorry, Sassenach. I meant—I’ve shot at the lad twice in his life so far and missed him by no more than an inch each time. If it should happen again—ye canna always tell, in battle, and accidents do happen. I was dreaming, during the night, and … och, nay matter.” He waved off the dreams and turned away, but I put a hand on his arm to stop him. I knew his dreams—and I’d heard him moan the night before, fighting them.

  “Culloden?” I said softly. “Has it come back again?” I actually hoped it was Culloden—and not Wentworth. He woke from the Wentworth dreams sweating and rigid and couldn’t bear to be touched. Last night, he hadn’t waked, but had jerked and moaned until I’d got my arms around him and he quieted, trembling in his sleep, head butted hard into my chest.

  He shrugged a little and touched my face.

&nb
sp; “It’s never left, Sassenach,” he said, just as softly. “It never will. But I sleep easier by your side.”

  JUST FOR THE FUN OF IT

  IT WAS A PERFECTLY ordinary red-brick building. Modest—no pediments, no carved stone lintels—but solid. Ian looked at it warily. The home of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the weightiest meeting of the Society of Friends in the Americas. Aye, very solid.

  “Will this be like the Vatican?” he asked Rachel. “Or more like an archbishop’s palace?”

  She snorted.

  “Does it look like any sort of palace to thee?” She spoke normally, but he could see the pulse beat quick in the soft spot just beneath her ear.

  “It looks like a bank,” he said, and that made her laugh. She cut it short, though, glancing over her shoulder as though afraid someone might come out and scold her for it.

  “What do they do in there?” he asked, curious. “Is it a great meetinghouse?”

  “It is,” she said. “But there is also business to be done, thee knows. The yearly meetings deal with matters of … I suppose thee would call it principle. We call it Faith and Practice; there are books, rewritten every so often, to reflect the present sense of the meeting. And queries.” She smiled suddenly, and his heart gave a small extra thump. “I think thee would recognize the queries—they’re much like thee has described the examination of conscience before thy confession.”

  “Och, aye,” he said agreeably, but declined to pursue the subject. He hadn’t been to confession in some years and didn’t feel sufficiently wicked at present to trouble about it. “This Faith and Practice—is that where they say ye mustn’t join the Continental army, even if ye dinna take up arms?”

  He was immediately sorry he’d asked; the question dimmed the light in her eyes, but only momentarily. She drew a deep breath through her nose and looked up at him.

  “No, that would be an opinion—a formal opinion. Friends talk over every possible point of consideration before they give an opinion—whether it’s a positive one or not.” There was the barest hesitation before “not,” but he heard it and, reaching out, pulled out her hatpin, gently straightened her straw hat, which had slid a little askew, and pushed the pin back in.

  “And if in the end it’s not, and we canna find a meeting that will have us, lass—what will we do?”

  Her lips pressed together, but she met his eyes straight on.

  “Friends are not married by their meeting. Or by priest or preacher. They marry each other. And we will marry each other.” She swallowed. “Somehow.”

  The small bubbles of misgiving that had been rising through his wame all morning began to pop, and he put a hand over his mouth to stifle a belch. Being nervous took him in the innards; he’d not been able to eat breakfast. He turned a little away, from politeness, and spied two figures coming round the far corner. “Och! There’s your brother now, and lookin’ gey fine for a Quaker, too.”

  Denzell was dressed in the uniform of a Continental soldier and looked self-conscious as a hunting dog with a bow tied round its neck. Ian suppressed his amusement, though, merely nodding as his future brother-in-law drew to a stop before them. Denny’s betrothed had no such compunctions.

  “Is he not beautiful?” Dottie crowed, standing back a little to admire him. Denzell coughed and pushed his spectacles up his nose. He was a tidy man, not over-tall, but broad in the shoulder and strong in the forearm. He did look fine in the uniform, Ian thought, and said so.

  “I will try not to let my appearance engorge my vanity,” Denzell said dryly. “Is thee not also to be a soldier, Ian?”

  Ian shook his head, smiling.

  “Nay, Denny. I shouldna be any kind of soldier—but I’m a decent scout.” He saw Denzell’s eyes fix on his face, tracing the double line of tattooed dots that looped across both cheekbones.

  “I expect thee would be.” A certain tenseness in Denny’s shoulders relaxed. “Scouts are not required to kill the enemy, are they?”

  “No, we’ve our choice about it,” Ian assured him, straight-faced. “We can kill them if we like—but just for the fun of it, ken. It doesna really count.”

  Denzell blinked for an instant at that, but Rachel and Dottie both laughed, and he reluctantly smiled.

  “Thee is late, Denny,” Rachel said, as the public clock struck ten. “Was Henry in difficulty?” For Denzell and Dottie had gone to take farewell of Dottie’s brother, Henry, still convalescent from the surgery Denny and Ian’s auntie Claire had done.

  “Thee might say so,” Dottie said, “but not from any physical ill.” The look of amusement faded from her face, though a faint gleam still lingered in her eyes. “He is in love with Mercy Woodcock.”

  “His landlady? Love’s no usually a fatal condition, is it?” Ian asked, raising one brow.

  “Not if thy name is neither Montague nor Capulet,” Denny said. “The difficulty is that while Mercy loves him in return, she may or may not still have a husband living.”

  “And until she finds out he’s dead …” Dottie added, lifting one slim shoulder.

  “Or alive,” Denny said, giving her a look. “There is always the possibility.”

  “Not much of one,” Dottie replied bluntly. “Auntie—I mean Friend—Claire doctored a man called Walter Woodcock who’d been badly wounded at Ticonderoga, and she said he was near death then and taken p-prisoner.” She stumbled slightly on the last word, and Ian was reminded suddenly that her eldest brother, Benjamin, was a prisoner of war.

  Denzell saw the cloud cross her face and gently took her hand in his.

  “Both thy brothers will survive their trials,” he said, and warmth touched
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