Home > Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander #8)(8)

Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander #8)(8)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

“She’s a very good girl,” I assured Jenny. “Extremely sensible, very capable—and plainly in love with Ian, though I don’t think she’s told him so, either.”

“Ah. D’ye ken her parents?”

“No, they both died when she was a child. She was mostly raised by a Quaker widow and then came to keep house for her brother when she was sixteen or so.”

“That the little Quaker girl?” Mrs. Figg had come in with a vase of summer roses, smelling of myrrh and sugar. Jenny inhaled strongly and sat up straight. “Mercy Woodcock thinks the world of her. She comes by Mercy’s house every time she’s in town, to visit that young man.”

“Young man?” Jenny asked, dark brows drawing together.

“William’s cousin Henry,” I hastened to explain. “Denzell and I carried out a very serious operation on him during the winter. Rachel knows both William and Henry and is very kind about visiting to see how Henry is. Mrs. Woodcock is his landlady.”

It occurred to me that I had meant to go check on Henry today myself. There were rumors of a British withdrawal from the city, and I needed to see whether he was fit enough yet to travel. He was doing well when I’d stopped by a week before but at that point had been able to walk only a few steps, leaning on Mercy Woodcock’s arm.

And what about Mercy Woodcock? I wondered, with a small jolt at the pit of the stomach. It was clear to me, as it was to John, that there was a serious—and deepening—affection between the free black woman and her aristocratic young lodger. I had met Mercy’s husband, very badly wounded, during the exodus from Fort Ticonderoga a year before—and, lacking any communication from or about him, thought it very likely that he had died after being taken prisoner by the British.

Still, the possibility of Walter Woodcock returning miraculously from the dead—people did, after all, and a fresh bubble of joy rose under my heart at the thought—was the least of the matter. I couldn’t imagine that John’s brother, the very firm-minded Duke of Pardloe, would be delighted at hearing that his youngest son meant to marry the widow of a carpenter, whatever her color.

And then there was his daughter, Dottie, speaking of Quakers: she was betrothed to Denzell Hunter, and I did wonder what the duke would think of that. John, who liked a wager, had given me no better than even odds between Dottie and her father.

I shook my head, dismissing the dozen things I could do nothing about. During this minor reverie, Jenny and Mrs. Figg appeared to have been discussing William and his abrupt departure from the scene.

“Where would he go to, I wonder?” Mrs. Figg looked worriedly toward the wall of the stairwell, pocked with blood-smeared dents left by William’s fist.

“Gone to find a bottle, a fight, or a woman,” said Jenny, with the authority of a wife, a sister, and the mother of sons. “Maybe all three.”

Elfreth’s Alley

IT WAS PAST midday, and the only voices in the house were the distant chitterings of women. No one was visible in the parlor as they passed, and no one appeared as the girl led William up a foot-marked staircase to her room. It gave him an odd feeling, as though he might be invisible. He found the notion a comfort; he couldn’t bear himself.

She went in before him and threw open the shutters. He wanted to tell her to close them; he felt wretchedly exposed in the flood of sunlight. But it was summer; the room was hot and airless, and he was already sweating heavily. Air swirled in, heavy with the odor of tree sap and recent rain, and the sun glowed briefly on the smooth top of her head, like the gloss on a fresh conker. She turned and smiled at him.

“First things first,” she announced briskly. “Throw off your coat and waistcoat before you suffocate.” Not waiting to see whether he would take this suggestion, she turned to reach for the basin and ewer. She filled the basin and stepped back, motioning him toward the washstand, where a towel and a much-used sliver of soap stood on worn wood.

“I’ll fetch us a drink, shall I?” And with that, she was gone, bare feet pattering busily down the stairs.

Mechanically, he began to undress. He blinked stupidly at the basin but then recalled that, in the better sort of house, sometimes a man was required to wash his parts first. He’d encountered the custom once before, but on that occasion the whore had performed the ablution for him—plying the soap to such effect that the first encounter had ended right there in the washbasin.

The memory made the blood flame up in his face again, and he ripped at his flies, popping off a button. He was still throbbing all over, but the sensation was becoming more centralized.

His hands were unsteady, and he cursed under his breath, reminded by the broken skin on his knuckles of his unceremonious exit from his father’s—no, not his bloody father’s house. Lord John’s.

“You bloody bastard!” he said under his breath. “You knew, you knew all along!” That infuriated him almost more than the horrifying revelation of his own paternity. His stepfather, whom he’d loved, whom he’d trusted more than anyone on earth—Lord John bloody Grey—had lied to him his whole life!

Everyone had lied to him.


He felt suddenly as though he’d broken through a crust of frozen snow and plunged straight down into an unsuspected river beneath. Swept away into black breathlessness beneath the ice, helpless, voiceless, a feral chill clawing at his heart.

There was a small sound behind him and he whirled by instinct, aware only when he saw the young whore’s appalled face that he was weeping savagely, tears running down his own face, and his wet, half-hard c**k flopping out of his breeches.

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