Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone (9 page)

BOOK: Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone
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“She walked the floor with him half the night,” Rachel said apologetically to me. “I told her I would take him, but she said, ‘Pish, and what’s a grannie for, then?’ ” She squatted and picked up Oggy before he could escalate to his imitation of an air-raid siren. “What does thee think of Marmaduke, Claire?”

“Of…oh, as a name for Oggy, you mean?” I hastily rearranged my face, but it was too late. Rachel laughed.

“That’s what Jenny said. Still,” she added, removing the end of her dark plait from her son’s grasping fingers, “Marmaduke Stephenson was one of the Boston Martyrs: a very weighty Friend. It would be a fine name.”

“Well, I grant ye, he wouldna easily be mistaken for someone else, if ye call him Marmaduke,” Jamie said, trying to be tactful. “And he’d learn to fight early on. But if ye mean him to be a Quaker…”

“Aye,” said Ian to Rachel. “And we’re no calling him Fear the Lord, either, lass. Maybe Fortitude, though; that’s a decent manly name.”

“Hmm,” she said, looking down her nose at her offspring. “What does thee think of Wisdom? Wisdom Murray? Wisdom Ian Murray?”

Ian laughed. “Aye, and what if the laddie should turn out to be a fool? Borrowing trouble, are ye no?”

Jamie tilted his head and squinted at Oggy, considering, then glanced at Ian, then at Rachel, and shook his head.

“Given his parents, I dinna think that’s likely. Still…have ye thought perhaps to honor your own da, Rachel? What was your father’s name?”

“Mordecai,” she said. “Possibly not as a
first
name…”

I glanced at the fire, a wavering reddish transparency in the daylight. “Ian, would you build up the fire a bit? I’m going to cook the doves in the ashes, and then…hmmm…” I glanced back down the hill, counting heads as they came up. The Higgins children had peeled off and gone to their own cabin for supper, so that left us with—I counted quickly on my fingers—seven adults, four children—and I had a big pot of lentils with herbs and a hambone that had been bubbling since midday. Bree had skinned and cleaned the squirrels she’d brought back—perhaps I’d best cut them up and add them to the pot. And then—

“We brought thee a small addition to thy supper, Claire.” Rachel nodded toward the basket over her arm. “No, Oggy, thee mustn’t pull thy mother’s hair. I might be startled and drop thee into the fire, and that would be a dreadful shame, wouldn’t it?”

I laughed at this very Quaker threat, but Oggy let go—mostly—the end of his mother’s braid and stuffed his fist into his mouth instead, regarding me with a thoughtful stare.

“Come on,” I said, reaching for him. “You’ve got cousins to meet, young Oglethorpe.”

JAMIE’S LEG DIDN’T
hurt a great deal, but it was bruised and tender, and he was happy to sit on the big stump near Claire’s makeshift surgery and let his bones rest as he watched his family, busy with making dinner.

Brianna was dealing with the shattered deer, still wearing the hunting clothes he’d lent her. He watched her sure hand with the knife and the power of her shoulders working, proud of her. Did she take that skill from himself, he wondered—or from her mother? It wasn’t only the hands, nor yet the simple knowledge of how to go about it…it was a toughness of mind, he thought approvingly. The recognition of a job to do and no need to question it.

He glanced at Roger, who was splitting wood, stripped to the waist and sweating. That lad
did
have questions, and likely always would. Jamie thought he maybe sensed a new determination in him, though; he’d need it.

Claire said he meant to go on with being a minister. That was good; folk needed someone to do for their souls, and Roger plainly needed something worth doing. Claire said he’d told her he’d thought about it and made up his mind.

Brianna, though…what might the shape of her life be here, now? She’d taught a bit in their wee school, when she was here on the Ridge before. He hadn’t thought she really liked the teaching, though; he thought she wouldn’t miss it. She rose to her feet as he watched, and stretched, arms reaching for the sky.
Christ, she’s a braw lass…

Maybe she’ll have more children.
He was almost afraid to think that. He didn’t want to risk her. And Jem and Mandy needed her.
Still and all…
The thought was a small green hope in his chest and he smiled, watching the knot of children bringing up firewood, dropping it on the ground, and running off to join the game of whatever they were playing. Hide-and-seek, perhaps…there was wee Frances, coming along with a bundle of sticks and a handful of flowers.

She’d lost her cap and her dark curls had come down on one side, straggling over one shoulder. Her face was pink with the exercise and she was smiling; he was happy to see it.

Something tickled his leg, breaking into his thoughts. There was a green thing that looked like a tiny spade sitting on his upraised knee.

He moved a hand cautiously toward it, but it wasn’t afraid of him and didn’t fly off or retaliate by trying to crawl into his ears or nose as flies did. It let him touch its backside, merely twitching its antennae in mild annoyance, but when he attempted to stroke its back, it sprang off his knee, sudden as a grasshopper, and landed on the edge of Claire’s medicine box, where it seemed to pause to take stock of its circumstances.

“Don’t do it,” he advised the insect, in Gaelic. “You’ll end up as a tonic, or ground to powder.” He couldn’t tell whether it was looking at him, but it seemed to consider, then gave another startling hop and vanished.

Fanny had brought Claire a plant of some kind, and Claire was turning over the leaves, her face bright with interest, explaining what it was good for. Fanny glowed, a tiny smile of pleasure at being useful on her face.

The sight of her warmed his heart. She’d been so frightened when Willie brought her to them—and nay wonder, poor wee lass. There was a colder place in his heart where her sister, Jane, lived.

He said a small prayer for the repose of Jane’s soul—and, after an instant’s hesitation, another for Willie. Whenever he thought of Jane, he saw her in his mind, alone and abandoned in black night, her face stark white, dead by the light of her only candle. Dead by her own hand, and the church said thus damned, but he stubbornly prayed for her soul anyway. They couldn’t stop him.

Dinna fash, a leannan,
he thought toward her, tenderly.
I’ll see Frances safe for ye, and maybe I’ll see ye in Heaven one day. Dinna be afraid.

He hoped someone would see William safe for him. Dreadful as the memory of that night was, he kept it, recalled it deliberately. William had come to him for help, and he treasured that. The sense of the two of them, pursuing a lost cause through a rainy, dangerous night, standing together in desolation by the light of that candle, too late. It was a dreadful memory, but one he didn’t want to forget.

Mammaidh,
he thought, his mother coming suddenly to mind.
Look after my bonnie lad, will ye?

DEAD OR ALIVE

WILLIAM, NINTH EARL OF
Ellesmere, Viscount Ashness, Baron Derwent, leaned against an oak tree, taking stock of his resources. At the moment, these consisted of a fairly good horse—a nice dark bay with a white nose who (William had been informed by the horse’s prior owner) went by the name of Bartholomew—along with a canvas sack containing a discouragingly small amount of food and half a bottle of stale beer, a decent knife, and a musket that might, in a pinch, be used to club someone, because attempting to fire it would undoubtedly blow off William’s hand, face, or both.

He did have three pounds, seven shillings, twopence, and a handful of small coins and fragments of metal that might once have
been
coins—a beneficent side effect of a scraping acquaintance with an American militia unit he’d encountered at a roadside tavern. They had, they said, served with the Continental troops at Monmouth and had been with General Washington six months earlier, at Middlebrook Encampment—the last known place that William’s cousin Benjamin had been seen alive.

Whether Benjamin was
still
alive was a matter of considerable speculation, but William was determined to proceed on that assumption until and unless he found proof to the contrary.

His encounter with the New Jersey militiamen had yielded no information whatever in that regard, but it had produced a number of men eager to play at cards, who grew wilder in their wagers as the night wore on and the drink ran low.

William hoped he’d find someplace tonight where the money he’d won might buy him supper and a bed; at the moment, it seemed much more likely to get him killed. He’d discovered that dawn was often a time for regrets, and apparently the Americans shared that sentiment today. They’d woken bellicose rather than nauseated, though, and had shortly thereafter accused William of cheating at cards, thus causing him to take his leave abruptly.

He peered cautiously out through the drooping canopy of a white oak. The road ran by a furlong or so from his hiding place, and while it was blessedly vacant at the moment, the muddy track was clearly well traveled, pocked and churned by the recent passage of horses.

He’d heard them coming, thank God, in time to get Bart off the road and hidden in a tangle of saplings and vines. He’d crept close to the road just in time to see some of the men from whom he’d won money the night before, now halfway recovered from their sodden sleep and of a mind to get it back, judging from their incoherent shouts as they passed.

He glanced up at the flickering green light that came down through the leaves; it was no more than midmorning. Too bad. He didn’t think it wise to go back to the tavern, where the other militiamen were doubtless stirring, and he had no idea how far it might be to the next hamlet. He shifted his weight and sighed; he didn’t fancy hanging about under a tree—which, it struck him, was the perfect size and shape from which
to
hang a man—until the lot pursuing him got tired and went back the other way. Or nightfall, whichever came first.

What came next was the sound of horses, but fewer of them. Three men, riding slowly.

Cloaca obscaena.
He didn’t say it aloud, but the words rang clear in his head. One of the men was the gentleman from whom he’d purchased Bart, two days before, and the others were from the militia unit.

The other thing that was clear to him was the vision of Bart’s right fore, on which the shoe was missing a large triangular chunk.

He didn’t wait to see whether the ex-owner could pick Bart’s track out of the morass in the road. He dodged round the oak and made his way as fast as he could through the brush, devil take the noise.

Bart, whom he’d left nosing about for edibles, was standing with his head up, ears pricked, and nostrils flared with interest.

“No!” William said in a frantic whisper. “Don’t—”

The horse neighed loudly.

William snatched loose the reins and swung up into the saddle, gathering both reins into one hand and reaching for the musket with the other.

“Go!” he shouted, kicking Bart smartly, and they broke through the screen of brush and slewed onto the road in a shower of leaves and mud.

The three riders had gathered at the edge of the road, one man squatting in the mud, looking at the mass of overlapping tracks. All of them turned to gape at William, who bellowed something incoherent at them and brandished his musket as he turned sharply to the left and charged back in the direction of the tavern, bent low over his horse’s neck.

He could hear shouted curses behind him, but he had a good lead. He might make it.

As to what might happen if he did…it didn’t matter. There wasn’t anything else he could do. Being trapped between two groups of hostile horsemen didn’t appeal to him.

Bart stumbled. Slipped in the mud and went down, William shooting off over his head and landing flat on his back with a splat that knocked the breath out of him and the musket out of his hand.

They were on him before he could remember how to breathe. His head swam and everything was a blur of moving shapes. Two of the men dragged him up and he hung between them, blood roaring in his ears, helplessly vibrating with fury and fear, mouth opening and closing like a goldfish.

They didn’t waste time in threats. Bart’s ex-owner punched him in the face and the others let go, dropping him back into the mud. Hands rifled his pockets, snatched the knife from his belt. He heard Bart whuffling nearby, stamping a bit as one of the men pulled at the saddle.

“Oy, you let that alone!” shouted Bart’s owner, standing up. “That’s my horse and my saddle, damn your eyes!”

“No, ’tisn’t,” said a determined voice. “You’d not’ve caught this rascal without us! I’m having the saddle.”

“Leave it, Lowell! Let him have his horse, we’ll share out the money.” The third man evidently belted Lowell to emphasize his opinion, for there was a meaty smack and a yelp of outrage. William suddenly remembered how to breathe, and the dark mist cleared from his vision. Panting shallowly, he rolled over and started trying to get his feet under him.

One of the men cast him a brief glance but clearly thought him no threat.
I’m probably not,
he thought muzzily, but he wasn’t used to losing fights and the thought of simply slinking off like a whipped dog wasn’t on, either.

His musket had fallen into the thick flowering grass along the road. He wiped blood out of one eye, stood up, picked up the gun, and clubbed Bart’s ex-owner in the back of the head with it. The man had been in the act of mounting, and his foot stuck in the stirrup as he fell. The horse shied and backed with a shrill whinny of protest, and the men who’d been engaged in dividing William’s substance jerked round in alarm.

One leapt back and the other lunged forward, grabbing the musket’s barrel, and there were a few seconds of panting confusion, interrupted by the sound of shouts and galloping horses.

Distracted, William glanced round to see the larger group of gamblers from last night bearing down on them, hell-for-leather. He let go of the musket and dived for the grassy verge.

He would have made it had Bart, frightened by the onrush and the insensible weight still dangling from his stirrup, not chosen the same moment and the same goal. Nine hundred pounds of panicked horseflesh sent William flying down the road, where he landed on his face. The ground shook round him, and he could do nothing more than cover his head and pray.

There was a great deal of splashing, shouting, and impact. William suffered a passing kick in the ribs and a jarring thump to the left buttock as the fight—
Why are they fighting?
he thought dizzily—raged over and past him.

Then the shooting started.

His position couldn’t easily be improved. He went on lying in the road, arms covering his head, as men shouted and cursed in alarm, more horses came galloping toward him, and the rolling fire of muskets crashed over said head.

Rolling fire?
he thought suddenly. Because that’s what it bloody was, and he rolled over and sat up in amazement to see a company of British infantry, some efficiently rounding up persons attempting to flee the scene, others efficiently reloading their muskets, and two officers on horseback, surveying the scene with an attitude of fierce interest.

He palmed mud away from his eyes and stared hard at the officers. Reasonably sure he didn’t know either of them, he relaxed slightly. He wasn’t injured, but the impact of Bart’s collision had left him shaken and bruised. He went on sitting in the middle of the road, breathing and letting his brain begin to restore its relations with his body.

The altercation, such as it was, had died down. The soldiers had rounded up most of the men he’d been gambling with and prodded them with bayonets into a small group, where a young cornet was efficiently tying their hands behind them.

“You,” said a voice behind him, and a boot nudged him roughly in the ribs. “Get up.”

He turned his head to see that he was being addressed by a private, an older man with a good deal of assurance about him. Quite suddenly, it occurred to him that the infantrymen might suppose him to be a participant in the recent fracas, rather than its victim. He scrambled to his feet and stared down at the much shorter private, who took a step back and flushed red.

“Put your hands behind you!”

“No,” William said briefly, and, turning his back on the man, took a step toward the mounted officers. The private, affronted, lunged at him and seized him by the arm.

“Take your hands off me,” William said, and—the private ignoring this civil request—shoved the man away and sent him staggering.

“Stand still, damn your eyes! Stand, or I’ll shoot!” William turned again, to find another private, hot-faced and sweating, pointing a musket at him. The musket was primed and loaded—and it was William’s musket. His mouth dried.

“Don’t…don’t shoot,” he managed. “That gun—it’s not—”

The first private stepped up behind him and punched him solidly in the kidney. His insides clenched as though he’d been stabbed in the stomach, and his vision went white. He gave at the knees but didn’t quite fall down, instead curling up on himself like a dead leaf.

“That one,” said an educated English voice, penetrating the buzzing white fog. “That one, that one, and—this one, the tall fellow. Stand him up.”

Hands seized William’s shoulders and yanked them back. He could scarcely breathe, but he made a strangled noise. Through a haze of tears and mud, he saw one of the officers, still on horseback, looking down at him critically.

“Yes,” the officer said. “Hang that one, too.”

WILLIAM EXAMINED HIS
handkerchief critically. There wasn’t much left of it; they’d tried to bind his wrists with it and he’d ripped it to shreds, getting it off. Still…He blew his nose on it, very gently. Still bloody, and he dabbed the seepage gingerly. Footsteps were coming up the tavern’s stairs toward the room where he sat, guarded by two wary privates.

“He says he’s
who
?” said an annoyed voice outside the room. Someone said something in reply, but it was lost in the scraping of the door across the uneven floor as it opened. He rose slowly to his feet and drew himself up to his full height, facing the officer—a major of dragoons—who had just come in. The major stopped abruptly, forcing the two men behind him to stop as well.

“He says he’s the fucking ninth Earl of Ellesmere,” William said in a hoarse, menacing tone, fixing the major with the eye that he could still open.

“Actually, he is,” said a lighter voice, sounding both amused—and familiar. William blinked at the man who now stepped into the room, a slender, dark-haired figure in the uniform of a captain of infantry. “
Captain
Lord Ellesmere, in fact. Hallo, William.”

“I’ve resigned my commission,” William said flatly. “Hallo, Denys.”

“But not your title.” Denys Randall looked him up and down but forbore to comment on his appearance.

“Resigned your commission, have you?” The major, a youngish, thickset fellow who looked as though his breeches were too tight, gave William an unpleasant look. “In order to turn your coat and join the rebels, I take it?”

BOOK: Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone
3.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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