Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade

Page 45

Tom, unaccustomed to having Grey accept his medical suggestions, looked stunned for a moment, but then lighted up.

“Right away, me lord!” He hastily stuffed the shirt he had been mending back in the chest, and shrugged into his coat, but paused at the door to offer further advice.

“If you feel as though the blood might burst from your nose before the doctor comes, the thing to do is put a key at the back of your neck, me lord.”

“A key? What for?”

Tom shrugged.

“I don’t know, but it’s what my mam would do for a nosebleed.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” Grey said. “Go!”

He stood in the middle of the tent after Tom’s departure, wanting to do something violent, but was forestalled by the lack of anything breakable within reach save his shaving mirror, which he was loath to part with.

He wasn’t sure how much of his anger was due to this further evidence of Percy’s perfidy in keeping the information from him, and how much to the discoveries that Percy had made. There was no doubt that the blood was pounding through his head, though. He went so far as to feel his nose surreptitiously, but perceived no evidence that it was about to spurt blood.

“What are you doing?” Hal stood in the tent, flap in one hand, eyeing him in puzzlement.

“Nothing. Read that.” He thrust the letter at his brother.

Hal read it twice; Grey was grimly interested to see Hal’s color rise and a vein begin to throb in his forehead.

“That little shit!” Hal flung the pages down. “Does he know the surgeon’s name?”

“I don’t know. Possibly not. You can go and ask him if you like; I won’t.”

Hal grunted, and glanced at the pages again.

“Do you think there’s anything to it?”

“Oh, yes,” Grey said grimly. “He might withhold the name, but I see no reason for him to invent the story. What would be the profit to himself in that?”

Hal frowned, thinking.

“Only to cause us to come to him, I suppose—that he might appeal for our help directly, in hopes that a personal appeal would be more efficacious than a letter.”

“There’s no help we can offer—is there?” Grey was not sure that he wished to know, if there was—but could not deny the small flicker of hope that rose in him with the question.

“Not much.” Hal rubbed a knuckle under his lip. “If he is condemned, I think it might be possible to exert some influence in order to get his sentence commuted to imprisonment or transportation. Might, I say. I would try,” he added, with a brief glance at Grey. “For his stepfather’s sake.”

“If he is condemned,” Grey echoed. “Do you honestly think there is any chance that he will not be?”

“Not the chance of a snowflake in hell,” Hal said bluntly. “We must be prepared for—who’s this?”

It was Tom, returning with Dr. Protheroe, the regimental surgeon, who put down his bag and glanced from Melton to Grey and back again.

“Ahh…your man here says you are bilious?” The question was put dubiously. Protheroe was small-boned, dark, and handsome; a skillful surgeon, but quite young, and rather in awe of Hal.

“Well, not precisely,” Grey began, with a glance at the letter on the desk, but Hal cut him swiftly off.

“Yes, my brother is feeling a trifle indisposed. Perhaps you would not mind examining him?” He gave Grey a minatory stare, forbidding him to contradict, and before he could think of some suitable excuse, Grey found himself seated on a stool, being obliged to put out his tongue, have the whites of his eyes peered at, his liver prodded, and answer various humiliating questions regarding the more intimate processes of his body.

Meanwhile, Hal engaged Protheroe in apparently careless conversation regarding his experience in Prussia, what he thought of the food, how the men did…Grey glared at his brother over Protheroe’s head, which was pressed to his chest, mouthing, “Get on with it!” at him.

“Do you have much to do with your fellows?” Hal inquired at last, pleasantly. “The other regimental surgeons?”

“Oh, yes.” Protheroe was fishing in his bag. Grey grimaced; he was about to be bled, he knew it. “One or two of the German fellows are quite knowledgeable—and the duke has an Italian surgeon, who has the most marvelous instruments. He showed me them once—never seen anything like them!”

“Quite,” Hal said. He glanced again at the letter. “How many English surgeons are there, do you know?”

Protheroe continued to rustle through his bag.

“Oh, five or six,” he said vaguely. “Now, Lord John, I think—”

“Do you know their names?” Grey asked rudely. Protheroe blinked and Hal rolled his eyes in exasperation.

“Why, yes…of course. Simmonds—he’s with the Fourteenth. I do believe, my lord, that leeches will be the best thing. Your man says you’ve been troubled by headache of late—”

“That’s certainly true,” Grey said, eyeing the lidded jar the doctor had removed from his bag. “But I really—”

“Simmonds,” Hal interrupted. “Who else?”

“Oh.” Protheroe scratched reflectively at his jaw. “Entwidge—good man, Entwidge,” he added magnanimously. “Though a trifle young.” Protheroe could not be twenty-four himself, Grey thought.

“And there’s Danner…” A twist of the lips dismissed Danner as a charlatan. “Have you any milk to hand, my lord?”

“Just here, sir!” Tom, who had been hovering in obvious anticipation of this request, sprang forward, milk jug in hand. “You’d best take your shirt off, me lord,” he said importantly to Grey. “You won’t want to go about smelling of sour milk, should any of it drip.”

“Indeed I won’t,” Grey said, with a foul look at his brother, who appeared to be finding something funny in the situation. Resigned, he stripped off his shirt and allowed the medico to anoint the skin of his neck and temples generously with milk.

“The milk encourages them to bite with so much more enthusiasm,” Protheroe explained, dabbing busily.

“I know,” Grey said through his teeth. He closed his eyes involuntarily as Protheroe scooped a dark blob out of his jar. The bite of a horseleech did not really hurt, he knew that. The creatures carried some element in their saliva that numbed the sensation. But the clammy, heavy feel of the thing against his skin revolted him, and the knowledge that the leech was slowly and pleasurably filling itself with his blood made him light-headed with disgust.

He knew it was harmless, even beneficial. His stomach, however, was ignorant of any sense of scientific detachment, and curled up in agitation.

Protheroe and Tom were arguing as to how many of the vile creatures might be the optimum, the doctor thinking a half dozen sufficient, but urged on by Tom, who was of the opinion that if half a spoon of something was good, three were better, when it came to medicine.

“That’s quite enough, sir, I thank you.” Grey straightened himself on the stool, chin lifted to avoid any more contact than necessary with the leeches now festooned round his neck like a ruff, sucking away. A film of sweat came out on his brow, to be wiped away by the doctor, seeking a good roosting spot on his temple for another of the obnoxious things.

“That will do capitally,” Protheroe exclaimed in satisfaction, drawing back to study Grey as though he were some work of art. “Excellent. Now, my lord, if you will just remain still while the leeches do their work, all will be well. I am sure you will obtain relief almost at once.”

Grey’s only relief was the observation that Hal had gone green around the gills, and was clearly trying not to look in Grey’s direction. That was some slight comfort, Grey thought. At least he himself couldn’t see the bloody things.

“I’ll go out with you, sir,” Hal said hurriedly, seeing Protheroe close up his bag and make ready to depart. Grey shot him an evil look, but Hal gestured briefly at the letter and went out in the doctor’s wake.

Tom tenderly draped a towel about his shoulders: “Lest as you might take a chill, me lord.” It was midday and sweltering, but Grey was too busy trying to ignore the morbid fancy that he was being quite drained of blood to register a protest.

“Fetch me some brandy, will you, Tom?”

Tom looked dubious.

“I think you oughtn’t to drink brandy whilst being leeched, me lord. Might be as the little fellows would get squiffy and fall off afore they’ve quite done.”

“What an excellent idea. Get me brandy, Tom, and get a lot of it. Now.”

Tom’s disposition to argue was interrupted by the reappearance of Hal, who looked at Grey, shuddered, and pulled the snuffbox containing his smelling salts from his pocket. Grey was touched at this evidence of solicitude for his distress, but uttered a cry of indignation at seeing Hal put the vial to his own nose.

“Give me that! I need it more than you do.”

“No, you don’t.” Hal drew in a deep breath, choked, and went into a coughing fit. “Protheroe remembered another surgeon’s name,” he wheezed, eyes watering.

“What? Who?”

“Longstreet,” Hal said, coughed again, and handed over the salts. “Arthur Longstreet. He’s here with the Prussians.”

Grey pulled the cork and lifted the vial to his nose.

“Brandy, Tom,” he said briefly. “Bring the damned bottle.”

Beyond the interesting scientific discovery that brandy did indeed appear to intoxicate leeches, the effect of Mr. Protheroe’s visit was indecisive.

“With the Prussians,” Grey repeated, pulling on his shirt with a sense of profound relief. “Where with the Prussians?”

“Protheroe didn’t know,” Hal replied, bending over the table to peer at a leech, which was extending itself in an eccentric and voluptuous manner. “He just happened to meet Longstreet a week ago, and saw that he was wearing a Prussian uniform. But he naturally didn’t take any notice of which regiment. Do you think that one’s dead?”

Grey prodded the insensible animal in question, then gingerly picked it up betwixt his thumb and forefinger.

“I think it’s just passed out.” He dropped it into the jar and wiped his fingers fastidiously on his breeches. “It shouldn’t be impossible to find him.”

“No,” Hal said thoughtfully. “But we must be careful. If he does mean you—or me—harm, it wouldn’t do to alert him to the fact that we know about him.”

“I should think that would be the best way of insuring that he doesn’t attempt to do us harm.”

“Forewarned is forearmed, and I have every faith in your ability to defend yourself from a mere surgeon,” Hal said, with a rare smile. “No, we don’t want to alert him beforehand, because we want to talk to him. Privately.”

Chapter 28


He had reproached Percy for reckless stupidity. At the same time, he was painfully aware that he had often been as reckless and stupid himself. He had been luckier, that was all. Once, no more than a few seconds had saved him from precisely the sort of disaster that had now befallen Percy. The memory of that instance was enough to bring him out in a cold sweat—all the colder for his exact knowledge now of what could so easily have happened.

The immediate shock and the hurt of betrayal had faded, leaving in their wake a sort of dull wretchedness. He kept this wrapped round himself like a sheet of canvas against a storm, knowing that to let it go was to suffer instead piercing gusts of sorrow and terror.

The army had moved on, leaving Percy in his cell with the sausages. Tonight, they camped near the village of Crefeld—“crowfield,” it meant in English, a very literal place-name; the fields teemed with the black birds by day, and flocks of crows burst cawing from the furrowed fields as the army passed.

But the army had settled now, and night rose gently from the fields near Crefeld. The air was still, and the smoke of watch fires mingled with the natural haze that always hung above the fields; a dark mist seemed to rise slowly about his horse’s hooves as he rode.

Grey passed from company to company as the summer night came slowly on, dismounting at each fire long enough to share a swallow of beer, a bite of bread or sausage as he talked with the captains, the lieutenants, the corporals. Passed through each camp, nodding, smiling, exchanging words with men he recognized, assessing mood, readiness, equipment with seeming casualness. Hearing with one ear the concerns and talk of his officers, the other listening to the sounds of the encroaching night. Waiting for any interruption in the cricket song of the gathering dark between camps, any note of alarm in the muffled talk and laughter of the troops settling to supper and their rest. Somewhere nearby was the enemy.

“A day’s march still, I heard, before we catch the Frenchies up,” offered Tarleton, one of the two ensigns who always trailed him in the field, ready to relay messages, carry dispatches, execute orders, find food, and be generally available dogsbodies.

“Where’d you hear that?” Brett, the younger, asked with interest. “From the Hessians, I mean, or one of ours?” He sounded excited; this was his first campaign, and he thirsted for battle.

“Uh…quartermaster’s lieutenant,” Tarleton confessed. “He’d got it from one of the Germans, but didn’t say who. Do you think he’s right, though, sir?” he called to Grey. “Are we getting close?”

Tarleton was perhaps eighteen, to Brett’s fifteen, and affected great sophistication. His voice had broken late, though, and still had a tendency to crack in moments of stress. The word “close” soared perilously upward, but Brett was wise enough not to laugh, and the fading light hid Grey’s own smile.

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