Dragonfly in Amber (Page 45)

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2)(45)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

"H-h-h…" I couldn’t even get the word out, and started over. "You mean…" Goose bumps rippled up my arms, raising the fine hairs like pins in a cushion.

"Er, aye. Rendered fat from hanged criminals." He spoke cheerfully, regaining his composure as quickly as I was losing mine. "Verra good for the rheumatism and joint-ill, they say."

I recalled the tidy way in which Monsieur Forez had gathered up the results of his operations in L’Hôpital des Anges, and the odd look on Jamie’s face when he had seen the tall chirurgien escort me home. My knees were watery, and I felt my stomach flip like a pancake.

"Jamie! Who in bloody f**king hell is Monsieur Forez?" I nearly screamed.

Amusement was definitely getting the upper hand in his expression.

"He’s the public hangman for the Fifth Arondissement, Sassenach. I thought ye knew."

Jamie returned damp and chilled from the stableyard, where he had gone to scrub himself, the required ablutions being on a scale greater than the bedroom basin could provide.

"Don’t worry, it’s all off," he assured me, skinning out of his shirt and sliding nak*d beneath the covers. His flesh was rough and chilly with gooseflesh, and he shivered briefly as he took me in his arms.

"What is it, Sassenach? I don’t still smell of it, do I?" he asked, as I huddled stiff under the bedclothes, hugging myself with my arms.

"No," I said. "I’m scared. Jamie, I’m bleeding."

"Jesus," he said softly. I could feel the sudden thrill of fear that ran through him at my words, identical to the one that ran through me. He held me close to him, smoothing my hair and stroking my back, but both of us felt the awful helplessness in the face of physical disaster that made his actions futile. Strong as he was, he couldn’t protect me; willing he might be, but he couldn’t help. For the first time, I wasn’t safe in his arms, and the knowledge terrified both of us.

"D’ye think—" he began, then broke off and swallowed. I could feel the tremor run down his throat and hear the gulp as he swallowed his fear. "Is it bad, Sassenach? Can ye tell?"

"No," I said. I held him tighter, trying to find an anchorage. "I don’t know. It isn’t heavy bleeding; not yet, anyway."

The candle was still alight. He looked down at me, eyes dark with worry.

"Had I better fetch someone to ye, Claire? A healer, one of the women from the Hôpital?"

I shook my head and licked dry lips.

"No. I don’t…I don’t think there’s anything they could do." It was the last thing I wanted to say; more than anything, I wanted there to be someone we could find who knew how to make it all right. But I remembered my early nurse’s training, the few days I had spent on the obstetrical ward, and the words of one of the doctors, shrugging as he left the bed of a patient who’d had a miscarriage. "There’s really nothing you can do," he’d said. "If they’re going to lose a child, they generally do, no matter what you try. Bed rest is really the only thing, and even that often won’t do it."

"It may be nothing," I said, trying to hearten both of us. "It isn’t unusual for women to have slight bleeding sometimes during pregnancy." It wasn’t unusual—during the first three months. I was more than five months along, and this was by no means usual. Still, there were many things that could cause bleeding, and not all of them were serious.

"It may be all right," I said. I laid a hand on my stomach, pressing gently. I felt an immediate response from the occupant, a lazy, stretching push that at once made me feel better. I felt a rush of passionate gratitude that made tears come to my eyes.

"Sassenach, what can I do?" Jamie whispered. His hand came around me and lay over mine, cupping my threatened abdomen.

I put my other hand on top of his, and held on.

"Just pray," I said. "Pray for us, Jamie."

23

THE BEST-LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN…

The bleeding had stopped by the morning. I rose very cautiously, but all remained well. Still, it was obvious that the time had come for me to stop working at L’Hôpital des Anges, and I sent Fergus with a note of explanation and apology to Mother Hildegarde. He returned with her prayers and good wishes, and a bottle of a brownish elixir much esteemed—according to the accompanying note—by les maîtresses sage-femme for the prevention of miscarriage. After Monsieur Forez’s salve, I was more than a little dubious about using any medication I hadn’t prepared myself, but a careful sniff reassured me that at least the ingredients were purely botanical.

After considerable hesitation, I drank a spoonful. The liquid was bitter and left a nasty taste in my mouth, but the simple act of doing something—even something I thought likely to be useless—made me feel better. I spent the greater part of each day now lying on the chaise longue in my room, reading, dozing, sewing, or simply staring into space with my hands over my belly.

When I was alone, that is. When he was home, Jamie spent most of his time with me, talking over the day’s business, or discussing the most recent Jacobite letters. King James had apparently been told of his son’s proposed investment in port wine, and approved it wholeheartedly as "…a very sounde scheme, which I cannot but feel will go a great way in providing for you as I should wish to see you established in France."

"So James thinks the money’s intended merely to establish Charles as a gentleman, and give him some position here," I said. "Do you think that could be all he has in mind? Louise was here this afternoon; she says Charles came to see her last week—insisted on seeing her, though she refused to receive him at first. She says he was very excited and puffed up about something, but he wouldn’t tell her what; just kept hinting mysteriously about something great he was about to do. ‘A great adventure’ is what she says he said. That doesn’t sound like a simple investment in port, does it?"

"It doesn’t." Jamie looked grim at the thought.

"Hm," I said. "Well, all things taken together, it seems a good bet that Charles isn’t meaning just to settle down upon the profits of his venture and become an upstanding Paris merchant."

"If I were a wagering man, I’d lay my last garter on it," Jamie said. "The question now is, how do we stop him?"

The answer came several days later, after any amount of discussion and useless suggestions. Murtagh was with us in my bedroom, having brought up several bolts of cloth from the docks for me.

"They say there’s been an outbreak of pox in Portugal," he observed, dumping the expensive watered silk on the bed as though it were a load of used burlap. "There was a ship carrying iron from Lisbon came in this morning, and the harbor master was over it with a toothcomb, him and three assistants. Found naught, though." Spotting the brandy bottle on my table, he poured a tumbler half-full and drank it like water, in large, healthy swallows. I watched this performance openmouthed, pulled from the spectacle only by Jamie’s exclamation.

"Pox?"

"Aye," said Murtagh, pausing between swallows. "Smallpox." He lifted the glass again and resumed his systematic refreshment.

"Pox," Jamie muttered to himself. "Pox."

Slowly, the frown left his face and the vertical crease between his eyebrows disappeared. A deeply contemplative look came over him, and he lay back in his chair, hands linked behind his neck, staring fixedly at Murtagh. The hint of a smile twitched his wide mouth sideways.

Murtagh observed this process with considerable skeptical resignation. He drained his cup and sat stolidly hunched on his stool as Jamie sprang to his feet and began circling the little clansman, whistling tunelessly through his teeth.

"I take it you have an idea?" I said.

"Oh, aye," he said, and began to laugh softly to himself. "Oh, aye, that I have."

He turned to me, eyes alight with mischief and inspiration.

"Have ye anything in your box of medicines that would make a man feverish? Or give him flux? Or spots?"

"Well, yes," I said slowly, thinking. "There’s rosemary. Or cayenne. And cascara, of course, for diarrhea. Why?"

He looked at Murtagh, grinning widely, then, overcome with his idea, cackled and ruffled his kinsman’s hair, so it stuck up in black spikes. Murtagh glared at him, exhibiting a strong resemblance to Louise’s pet monkey.

"Listen," Jamie said, bending toward us conspiratorially. "What if the Comte St. Germain’s ship comes back from Portugal wi’ pox aboard?"

I stared at him. "Have you lost your mind?" I inquired politely. "What if it did?"

"If it did," Murtagh interrupted, "they’d lose the cargo. It would be burnt or dumped in the harbor, by law." A gleam of interest showed in the small black eyes. "And how d’ye mean to manage that, lad?"

Jamie’s exhilaration dropped slightly, though the light in his eyes remained.

"Well," he admitted, "I havena got it thought out all the way as yet, but for a start…"

The plan took several days of discussion and research to refine, but was at last settled. Cascara to cause flux had been rejected as being too debilitating in action. However, I’d found some good substitutes in one of the herbals Master Raymond had lent me.

Murtagh, armed with a pouch full of rosemary essence, nettle juice, and madder root, would set out at the end of the week for Lisbon, where he would gossip among the sailors’ taverns, find out the ship chartered by the Comte St. Germain, and arrange to take passage on it, meanwhile sending back word of the ship’s name and sailing date to Paris.

"No, that’s common," said Jamie, in answer to my question as to whether the captain might not find this behavior fishy. "Almost all cargo ships carry a few passengers; however many they can squeeze between decks. And Murtagh will have enough money to make him a welcome addition, even if they have to give him the captain’s cabin." He wagged an admonitory finger at Murtagh.

"And get a cabin, d’ye hear? I don’t care what it costs; ye’ll need privacy for taking the herbs, and we dinna want the chance of someone seeing ye, if you’ve naught but a hammock slung in the bilges." He surveyed his godfather with a critical eye. "Have ye a decent coat? If you go aboard looking like a beggar, they’re like to hurl ye off into the harbor before they find out what ye’ve got in your sporran."

"Mmphm," said Murtagh. The little clansman usually contributed little to the discussion, but what he did say was cogent and to the point. "And when do I take the stuff?" he asked.

I pulled out the sheet of paper on which I had written the instructions and dosages.

"Two spoonfuls of the rose madder—that’s this one"—I tapped the small clear-glass bottle, filled with a dark pinkish fluid—"to be taken four hours before you plan to demonstrate your symptoms. Take another spoonful every two hours after the first dose—we don’t know how long you’ll have to keep it up."

I handed him the second bottle, this one of green glass filled with a purplish-black liquor. "This is concentrated essence of rosemary leaves. This one acts faster. Drink about one-quarter of the bottle half an hour before you mean to show yourself; you should start flushing within half an hour. It wears off quickly, so you’ll need to take more when you can manage inconspicuously." I took another, smaller vial from my medicine box. "And once you’re well advanced with the ‘fever,’ then you can rub the nettle juice on your arms and face, to raise blisters. Do you want to keep these instructions?"

He shook his head decidedly. "Nay, I’ll remember. There’s more risk to being found wi’ the paper than there is to forgetting how much to take." He turned to Jamie.

"And you’ll meet the ship at Orvieto, lad?"

Jamie nodded. "Aye. She’s bound to make port there; all the wine haulers do, to take on fresh water. If by chance she doesna do so, then—" He shrugged. "I shall hire a boat and try to catch her up. So long as I board her before we reach Le Havre, it should be all right, but best if we can do it while we’re still close off the coast of Spain. I dinna mean to spend longer at sea than I must." He pointed with his chin at the bottle in Murtagh’s hand.

"Ye’d best wait to take the stuff ’til ye see me come on board. With no witnesses, the captain might take the easy way out and just put ye astern in the night."

Murtagh grunted. "Aye, he might try." He touched the hilt of his dirk, and there was the faintest ironic emphasis on the word "try."

Jamie frowned at him. "Dinna forget yourself. You’re meant to be suffering from the pox. With luck, they’ll be afraid to touch ye, but just in case…wait ’til I’m within call and we’re well offshore."

"Mmphm."

I looked from one to the other of the two men. Farfetched as it was, it might conceivably work. If the captain of the ship could be convinced that one of his passengers was infected with smallpox, he would under no circumstances take his ship into the harbor at Le Havre, where the French health restrictions would require its destruction. And, faced with the necessity of sailing back with his cargo to Lisbon and losing all profit on the voyage, or losing two weeks at Orvieto while word was sent to Paris, he might very well instead consent to sell the cargo to the wealthy Scottish merchant who had just come aboard.

The impersonation of a smallpox victim was the crucial role in this masquerade. Jamie had volunteered to be the guinea pig for testing the herbs, and they had worked magnificently on him. His fair skin had flushed dark red within minutes, and the nettle juice raised immediate blisters that could easily be mistaken for those of pox by a ship’s doctor or a panicked captain. And should any doubt remain, the madder-stained urine gave an absolutely perfect illusion of a man pissing blood as the smallpox attacked his kidneys.

"Christ!" Jamie had exclaimed, startled despite himself at the first demonstration of the herb’s efficacy.

"Oh, jolly good!" I said, peering over his shoulder at the white porcelain chamber pot and its crimson contents. "That’s better than I expected."

"Oh, aye? How long does it take to wear off, then?" Jamie had asked, looking down rather nervously.

"A few hours, I think," I told him. "Why? Does it feel odd?"

"Not odd, exactly," he said, rubbing. "It itches a bit."

"That’s no the herb," Murtagh interjected dourly. "It’s just the natural condition for a lad of your age."

Jamie grinned at his godfather. "Remember back that far, do ye?"

"Farther back than you were born or thought of, laddie," Murtagh had said, shaking his head.

The little clansman now stowed the vials in his sporran, methodically wrapping each one in a bit of soft leather to prevent breakage.

"I’ll send word of the ship and her sailing so soon as I may. And I’ll see ye within the month off Spain. You’ll have the money before then?"

Jamie nodded. "Oh, aye. By next week, I imagine." Jared’s business had prospered under Jamie’s stewardship, but the cash reserves were not sufficient to purchase entire shiploads of port, while still fulfilling the other commitments of the House of Fraser. The chess games had borne fruit in more than one regard, though, and Monsieur Duverney the younger, a prominent banker, had willingly guaranteed a sizable loan for his father’s friend.

"It’s a pity we can’t bring the stuff into Paris," Jamie had remarked during the planning, "but St. Germain would be sure to find out. I expect we’ll do best to sell it through a broker in Spain—I know a good man in Bilbao. The profit will be much smaller than it would be in France, and the taxes are higher, but ye canna have everything, can ye?"

"I’ll settle for paying back Duverney’s loan," I said. "And speaking of loans, what’s Signore Manzetti going to do about the money he’s loaned Charles Stuart?"

"Whistle for it, I expect," said Jamie cheerfully. "And ruin the Stuarts’ reputation with every banker on the Continent while he’s about it."

"Seems a bit hard on poor old Manzetti," I observed.

"Aye well. Ye canna make an omelet wi’out breakin’ eggs, as my auld grannie says."

"You haven’t got an auld grannie," I pointed out.

"No," he admitted, "but if I had, that’s what she’d say." He had dropped the playfulness then, momentarily. "It’s no verra fair to the Stuarts, forbye. In fact, should any of the Jacobite lords come to know what I’ve been doing, I expect they’d call it treason, and they’d be right." He rubbed a hand over his brow, and shook his head, and I saw the deadly seriousness that his playfulness covered.

"It canna be helped, Sassenach. If you’re right—and I’ve staked my life so far on it—then it’s a choice between the aspirations of Charles Stuart and the lives of a hell of a lot of Scotsmen. I’ve no love for King Geordie—me, wi’ a price on my head?—but I dinna see that I can do otherwise."

He frowned, running a hand through his hair, as he always did when thinking or upset. "If there were a chance of Charles succeeding…aye, well, that might be different. To take a risk in an honorable cause—but your history says he willna succeed, and I must say, all I know of the man makes it seem likely that you’re right. They’re my folk and my family at stake, and if the cost of their lives is a banker’s gold…well, it doesna seem more a sacrifice than that of my own honor."

He shrugged in half-humorous despair. "So now I’ve gone from stealing His Highness’s mail to bank robbery and piracy on the high seas, and it seems there’s nay help for it."

He was silent for a moment, looking down at his hands, clenched together on the desk. Then he turned his head to me and smiled.

"I always wanted to be a pirate, when I was a bairn," he said. "Pity I canna wear a cutlass."

I lay in bed, head and shoulders propped on pillows, hands clasped lightly over my stomach, thinking. Since the first alarm, there had been very little bleeding, and I felt well. Still, any sort of bleeding at this stage was cause for alarm. I wondered privately what would happen if any emergency arose while Jamie was gone to Spain, but there was little to be gained by worrying. He had to go; there was too much riding on that particular shipload of wine for any private concerns to intrude. And if everything went all right, he should be back well before the baby was due.

As it was, all personal concerns would have to be put aside, danger or no. Charles, unable to contain his own excitement, had confided to Jamie that he would shortly require two ships—possibly more—and had asked his advice on hull design and the mounting of deck cannon. His father’s most recent letters from Rome had betrayed a slight tone of questioning—with his acute Bourbon nose for politics, James Stuart smelled a rat, but plainly hadn’t yet been informed of what his son was up to. Jamie, hip-deep in decoded letters, thought it likely that Philip of Spain had not yet mentioned Charles’s overtures or the Pope’s interest, but James Stuart had his spies, as well.