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By mid-afternoon, I’d made great progress with my medicaments, treated three cases of poison ivy rash, a dislocated toe (caused by kicking a mule in a fit of temper), and a raccoon bite (non-rabid; the hunter had knocked the coon out of a tree and went to pick it up, only to discover that it wasn’t dead. It was mad, but not in any infectious sense.).
Jamie, though, had done much better. People had come up to the house-site all day, in a steady trickle of neighborliness and curiosity. The women had stayed to chat with me about the MacKenzies and the men had wandered off through the house-site with Jamie, returning with promises to come and lend a day’s labor here and there.
“If Roger Mac and Ian can help me move lumber tomorrow, the Leslies will come next day and give me a hand wi’ the floor joists. We’ll lay the hearth-stone and bless it on Wednesday, Sean McHugh and a couple of his lads will lay the floor with me on Friday, and we’ll get the framing started next day; Tom MacLeod says he can spare me a half-day, and Hiram Crombie’s son Joe says he and his half-brother can help wi’ that as well.” He smiled at me. “If the whisky holds out, ye’ll have a roof over your head in two weeks, Sassenach.”
I looked dubiously from the stone foundation to the cloud-flecked sky overhead.
“Aye, well, a sheet of canvas, most likely,” he admitted. “Still.” He stood and stretched, grimacing slightly.
“Why don’t you sit down for a bit?” I suggested, eyeing his leg. He was limping noticeably and the leg was a vivid patchwork of red and purple, demarcated by the black stitches of my repair job. “Amy’s left us a jug of beer.”
“Perhaps a wee bit later,” he said. “What’s that ye’re making, Sassenach?”
“I’m going to make up some gall berry ointment for Lizzie Beardsley, and then some gripe-water for her little new one—do you know if he has a name yet?”
“Hubertus,” he repeated, smiling. “Or so Kezzie told me, the day before yesterday. It’s in compliment to Monika’s late brother, he says.”
“Oh.” Lizzie’s father, Joseph Wemyss, had taken a kind German lady of a certain age as his second wife, and Monika, having no children of her own, had become a stalwart grandmother to the Beardsleys’ growing brood. “Perhaps they can call him Bertie, for short.”
“Are ye out of the Jesuit Bark, Sassenach?” He lifted his chin in the direction of the open medicine chest I’d set on the ground near him. “Do ye not use that for Lizzie’s tonic?”
“I do,” I said, rather surprised that he’d noticed. “I used the last of it three weeks ago, though, and haven’’ heard of anyone going to Wilmington or New Bern who might get me more.”
“Did ye mention it to Roger Mac?”
“No. Why him?” I asked, puzzled.
Jamie leaned back against the cornerstone, wearing one of those overtly patient expressions that’s meant to indicate that the person addressed is not particularly bright. I snorted and flicked a gallberry at him. He caught it and examined it critically.
“Is it edible?”
“Amy says bees like the flowers,” I said dubiously, pouring a large handful of the dark purple berries into my mortar. “But there’s very likely a reason why they’re called gall berries.”
“Ah.” He tossed it back at me, and I dodged. “Ye told me yourself, Sassenach, that Roger Mac said to ye yesterday that he meant to come back to the ministering. So,” he went on patiently, seeing no hint of enlightenment on my face, “what would ye do first, if that was your aim?”
I scooped a large glob of pale yellow bear grease from its pot into the mortar, part of my mind debating whether to add a decoction of willow bark, while the rest considered Jamie’s question.
“Ah,” I said in turn, and pointed my pestle at him. “I’d go round to all the people who’d been part of my congregation, so to speak, and let them know that Mack the Knife is back in town.”
He gave me a concerned look, but then shook his head, dislodging whatever image I’d just given him.
“Ye would,” he said. “And maybe introduce yourself to the folk who’ve come to the Ridge since ye left.”
“And within a couple of days, everyone on the Ridge—and probably half the brethren’s choir in Salem—would know about it.”
He nodded amiably. “Aye. And they’d all ken that ye need Jesuit bark, and ye’d likely get it within the month.”
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I first posted this excerpt (Daily Lines) on my official Facebook page on February 5, 2019.
And thank you to Elisa Applebaum, for the lovely bumblebee in foxglove!
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This BEES excerpt was last updated on Friday, March 30, 2018, at 8:05 p.m. (PT) by Diana’s Webmistress.