It was going on three in the morning when Benjamin January, heart in his throat, answered the banging on the jalousies at the front of his house on the Rue Esplanade to find a constable of the New Orleans City Guards he vaguely recognized—Boechter, he thought—as one of Shaw's men barely supporting said near-six-and-a-half feet of dripping wet, bleeding, unconscious Kaintuck scarecrow. Rose, who had followed him to the door, gasped and ran for his kit, calling for Gabriel to set some water on to boil. "You're Benjamin January?" Boechter asked, and when he affirmed that he was, "I thought you was a piano player. You're a surgeon?"
"I was six years in the Hôtel Dieu in Paris," January said as he took the smaller man's burden from him.
"Hell, I'll take it, too," the swarthy little Bavarian said. "I was going to send for Barnard," Boechter explained, following Ben and his patient into the dining room, where Zizi-Marie in her nightdress was clearing the table, "but he said to get you before he passed out. Said that if he was gonna bleed to death he'd rather do it natural, the way God intended."
"Why is he wet?" Ben asked, already fearing the answer, and Boechter grimaced.
"Fell in the canal when he got shot."
Yes, that was the answer he had feared. Ben cursed in Arabic and considered his options. "Zizi-Marie, once you get the candles in, you go get dressed, and this man's going to escort you over to your mother's. Tell her I need whatever she's got to keep infection out of a wound." He turned to Boechter and asked, "That is, if you don't mind, sir?"
"Not at all," Boechter said. "Falling in that water seems right unwholesome without a hole in him, and the girl doesn't need to be running about this time of night alone."
Rose came running back with his kit and a stack of Baby Alexander's clean clouts, and immediately started helping Zizi-Marie round up and light every candle in the house as Ben cut Shaw's miserable excuse for a shirt off him and applied one of the clouts and a hell of a lot of pressure to the hole in his side, and waited for Gabriel with the water.
He tried to sit up and immediately regretted every one of his choices that had led him to this moment.
"You have two broken ribs," Benjamin January said, and Shaw turned his head, or rather let it flop to the side, to see him sitting beside the bed. His initial suspicion was correct: he was in Ben's bedroom, the one that in a Creole household served double duty as an office and was therefore considered a public space. Shaw had spent quite a bit of time in this very room, although usually not in the bed. "One of them badly so. I had to do some cutting to remove some fragments that were too close to your lung. You lost a lot of blood. And you're very lucky that's the worst of it. The bone may not heal true; I'm sorry about that."
"Maestro," Shaw said, and then, after pausing to catch his breath, "Sure you did your best." He was also sure he'd take Ben on a bad day over anyone else in the city on a good one, but he couldn't quite say that. He tried again to sit up; this time Ben's big, steady hands caught him and helped him up, rearranging the pillows to support him even as his mouth thinned in disapproval. "Can't stay here."
"Of course you can."
"You're my patient. You can't be left alone just yet and I've seen where you live—for one thing it's up what I will very generously deem a flight of stairs, and for another--"
"Someone just tried to kill me," he snapped, and regretted his enthusiasm. He'd had worse than this, he knew, but ribs were always a son of a bitch.
"Someone tries to kill you every other week or so," Ben pointed out. He wasn't wrong.
"Not like this," Shaw said grimly. "Not--" He had to pause to catch his breath. "Not on purpose." The shot had come out of nowhere, from a side alley. An assassination attempt. LaBranche had run off after the shooter; Boechter had dragged Shaw out of the canal. When he apprised Ben of this, he looked blank at the mention of LaBranche, which was an ominous sign. "You've got the children in the house." One of whom, Shaw thought of as a godson, even though he had the audacity to be a heretic Protestant so of course the little professor would never be his godson in truth. Mrs. January he didn't bother to mention; that lady could look after herself.
Said lady entered the room then, carrying a fresh pitcher of water. "Well, look who's awake," she said, sounding genuinely pleased to see it.
"He says he needs to leave," Ben told her, and Rose made a curious sound. "He says someone's trying to kill him."
"Well, obviously," Rose agreed. "But if you leave now, Mr. Shaw, and I have no doubt whatsoever you could drag yourself out of here under your own power if you set your mind to it, I must tell you, an infection will do their work for them." She pushed her spectacles up her nose with her free hand, set the pitcher down firmly, and said, "And anyway, Gabriel's making a blancmange."
Oh, well, Shaw thought. If Gabriel was making a blancmange. "This is a school," he pointed out, feeling the futility of it even as the words left his mouth.
"And the girls' parents were all aware that Ben is a surgeon and might need to tend to patients from time to time when they sent them here."
"It isn't proper," he tried.
"I suppose we could put you in the garçonnière with Gabriel," Rose allowed, or maybe 'sniffed' was the better verb for what she did there, "but you'd only fall down the stairs trying to leave in the night and break your neck."
Before he could protest that he would do no such thing, Ben said, "I can't fix a broken neck."
Rose nodded as if that settled that. "Now, just you rest, Lieutenant Shaw, and Selina will be in to read to you in a few minutes." Before he could protest that he didn't need a prison guard, let alone a prison guard who was Selina Bellinger, Rose added, "She is behind in her Latin."
So they meant to put him to sleep, then.
Selina Bellinger's stumbling attempts at Latin did, as predicted, put Shaw to sleep. Not that it mattered that the girl was behind in the language, as he couldn't understand a word of it. He had thought, once or twice, that perhaps he ought to try to learn—not that he would ever admit to it, but it put his back up a bit when Ben and Hannibal Sefton spoke Latin and Greek like their own private code and he was left, like the rest of the ignorant world, with no clue what was going on or what they were going on about, but hell, he struggled enough reading English and trying to speak French. There was no use trying to add dead languages to his problems.
Sometimes he wanted to ask them if they thought they were the only two people in the whole of the state of Louisiana with a bit of classical learning, but as thus far they had proved mostly correct on that score, he kept his damned mouth shut.
When he woke up, there was the blancmange, and some broth, and then he slept again.
When he woke again, it was dark, and the household was quiet. It was as good a time as any to take himself out of here, and to take the target off these good people's backs. The clothes he had been wearing the night before were nowhere to be found, and he was clad only in a nightrail, but his boots were there in the corner so at least he wouldn't be fleeing the house barefoot. He had managed to get himself up and retrieve said boots, and was perched on a chair, in the middle of the laborious process of putting them on, when a scandalized voice exclaimed, "Monsieur Shaw!" and he looked up, guilty more at letting himself be caught than at being caught, to find Zizi-Marie had just come in from, he assumed, allowing herself to be courted by that tailor of hers.
"Mademoiselle Corbier," he managed after what felt like an incredibly lengthy pause. He thought of pointing out that it had to be well past curfew, but for one thing it would be wildly hypocritical of him to start pretending he cared about the curfew on people of color now, and for another it would be wildly foolish of him to think courting youths cared about the curfew any more than fish cared about carriages.
"What do you think you are doing, sir?"
He could no more claim that he had gotten up to use the chamber pot than he could tell her he was sneaking out of her uncle's house in the dead of night, and besides, he definitely would not have needed his boots for the chamber pot. "I don't think there's any need to trouble your uncle about this," he finally said, which he was fully aware was not an answer.
A spark flared in the girl's eye that reminded him she was Olympia Snakebones' daughter as she whirled off toward the Januaries' bedroom, calling, "Uncle Ben! Uncle Ben! Monsieur Shaw is trying to escape!"
He put his hands over his face and stayed that way until he heard Ben come into the room. Shaw looked up at him, unreadable in the dark, and said nothing. He had nothing to say in his own defense; he had said it all earlier and been roundly ignored. Ben said kindly, "Your first mistake was taking the time to put on your boots."
"I wouldn't have gotten far without them."
"You wouldn't have gotten very far without trousers, either."
"That was a problem for later," he allowed. "Where are my clothes?"
There was a delicate sort of pause, and then Ben said, "I believe Rose may have burned them."
Goddammit. "They were perfectly good."
"Uh-huh," Ben said in tones of deepest doubt, and then, as if trying to console him, "I'm sure they were before they were covered in blood." Blood washed out, and he could have sewed up the bullet hole, but there was no use arguing about it now. "Wound feel all right?" Ben asked. Probably he would liked to have checked it, but it had not escaped Shaw's notice that he hadn't lit a candle to come in here. He imagined every candle in the house had been used up the night before, on his behalf.
"It's fine," he said.
Ben looked at him for another long moment, clearly deciding whether to believe him, and then he nodded once and said, "I'll help you back to bed."
"I don't need help," he said irritably. "I can do for myself."
"Just because you can doesn't mean you have to," Ben said, sounding annoyingly reasonable, and he proceeded to confiscate Shaw's boots before helping him back across the room to his sickbed.
"This is false imprisonment," Shaw complained, but he didn't really mean it.
"You'll swear out a complaint as soon as you can walk to the Cabildo to do it, I'm sure," Ben said in the humoring tones of one who knew damned well Shaw was going to do no such thing. It should have been annoying, but somehow was not.
"Any word of LaBranche?" he asked as he settled back against the pillows once more.
"Not that I've heard," Ben said. "Get some rest."
"I've done nothing but rest all day."
"It's the best thing for it right now," Ben said, and left him alone once more. This time, he took his boots with him.
Rose ignored his query and asked, "Did you sleep well last night, Mr. Shaw?" with the pointed look of a woman who knew perfectly well he had tried to sneak out of her house with two busted ribs and a hole in his side.
"Tell me he at least has Sefton with him," he tried, rather than acknowledging her own question. He could have said something about the rather sizable rats she seemed to have in her cellar, from what he'd heard in the night, but he thought it was better if they both just ignored that as thoroughly as everyone was ignoring Shaw's wishes at present.
"I'm sure he does," Rose assured him, "Since Hannibal was supposed to teach my students a Greek lesson an hour ago and I've had to do that myself. Now." She pushed her glasses up her nose again. "I have my marching orders. You are to rest so that you can recover and go back to teaching evildoers the error of their wicked ways."
"She's going to read at me in Latin some more, isn't she?"
"It helps to build her confidence," Rose said primly.
"You know I don't understand a word of it, don't you?"
"Yes, but that has nothing at all to do with Selina's confidence. In fact, it may be of more help to her that way."
Shaw resigned himself to his fate. It seemed he could do nothing more. He had nothing to do but sleep and think all the day, such that when Ben returned home late in the afternoon to inspect his wound, he told him, "I'm going to teach your boys to shoot."
His proposal was, of course, strictly illegal, but neither of them gave that any more consideration than it deserved, which was to say: none.
Benjamin did say, however, "They're a bit young for it."
"Well, you've got to start 'em young, if you want 'em to be any good at it." Shaw considered the general size of the January children, who had spent part of the afternoon playing on the floor under the watchful eye of Zizi-Marie, who had been multitasking mending laundry, babysitting, and being Shaw's jailer, and he conceded, "Maybe not quite that young." They had to get big enough to hold the gun, at least. Maybe he should start them with knives first.
"You should be able to move around a bit more, as long as you're reasonable about it," Ben said.
"Does that mean I can go home?"
"We'll talk about it tomorrow."
"Do I at least get my pants back?"
"I don't know. I'll think about it." Ben sat back and told him, "We'll want to keep a close watch for infection. You fell in the canal and that can't have been good for it." He wasn't wrong. "Do you have any idea who might want to kill you?" Shaw looked at him, exasperated, and he amended that to, "In particular, right about now?"
"I've been tryin' to figure it out, and I can't think of anyone," he admitted. He filled Ben in on the broad strokes of his current cases, both the ones he had suspects in and the ones he was at a loss for. None of them seemed likely to be attempting to kill him in the middle of the night—and to have almost managed it, at that.
"Anyone you put away headed for the gallows soon?" Ben asked, clearly agreeing with Shaw's assessment, which was nice to know. When Shaw shook his head, Ben asked, "What about the men who were with you, Boechter and LaBranche?"
Shaw considered it. "That was a hell of a shot," he said slowly. "Based on where it would have had to come from."
"And in the dark, too," Ben agreed. "I wouldn't have tried it." Shaw would have, and he could see Ben thinking it, too, the amusement drawing creases around his eyes before he said, "You would have made it at twice the distance, I think."
"You're very kind," Shaw said.
"I'm also not wrong." Shaw shrugged, and immediately regretted it. "You'd think you'd never broken a rib before," Ben tsked, "when I know for a fact you have. No one's seen LaBranche since he took off after the shooter night before last, so I don't expect I'll be able to find him to question him, either." He didn't say what they were both thinking: that likely they'd be fishing him out of one of the canals with his face gone from the crawfish any day now. There was nothing for it now but to find who'd done it and give him justice. "As far as I know nobody's taken another shot at Boechter." Which meant it was likely something to do with LaBranche...who had, Shaw remembered, been investigating something to do with slave-stealing.
Shaw leaned back against the pillows and thought about it for a long moment. "Well, now," he said slowly. "That just might make sense." He didn't know the particulars of LaBranche's case. With any luck, there would be some sort of documentation in his desk at the Cabildo, or someone would know who he had been talking to, at least. It wouldn't be Shaw's case, at any rate. He did know some of his own limits.
He wrote out a note for Ben to take to Boechter over at the Cabildo, and sitting upright for that long was enough to put his entire left side into pure agony, so maybe Ben did have a point about how unfit for being left to his own devices he was at the moment. Maybe he could be persuaded to stay here a little longer as he recovered. It would be good for Selina Bellinger's Latin, if nothing else.