And thus a mighty deed was done by Jenny's valiant hand,Black Prelacy and Popery she drove from Scottish land;King Charles he was a shuffling knave, priest Laud a meddling fool,But Jenny was a woman wise, who beat them with a stool!
The column of soldiers advanced down High Street from Edinburgh castle. They parted the market-day crowd like a trout swimming upstream. Young boys ran up and down the column of soldiers, reveling in the novelty of having a troop of King Charles' men marching through their market.
Ahead of the boys flew the rumors. By the time the squad of soldiers and their officer reached the corner of St. Giles Street and High Street, where the greengrocers and fishmongers were selling their wares in the shadow of St. Giles Cathedral, the rumors had raced ahead of them like wildfire.
Jenny Geddes, the greengrocer in the second stand from the end, had one eye on the soldiers and the other on the vegetables in her cart. When there was a distraction in the street, someone, usually one of the street urchins, would dart up and try to run off with a carrot or two. Not today. She had been doing this for over twenty years, taking the stand over from her father when he died. And if her two daughters were lucky, maybe one of them could do the same.
The officer bellowed out his halt order, and the soldiers stopped in front of the cathedral.
Jenny took a moment and sucked on her pipe, put her hand on her hip and glared at the soldiers. Ever since Charles, she thought, that dirty papist-leaning king with a Catholic wife, arrested a whole lot of young lords over talk of a rebellion, things have been unsettled.
But there was nothing that required this sort of armed display down the middle of High Street. She shook her head at the nonsense, and went back to keeping one eye on her stand and one eye on the troops in the street. Besides, that mess was over weeks ago; they were past this sort of thing. Bad for business, it is.
The troops stopped at the other end of the square, and she could hear the murmur of the crowd around them. She grabbed her little three-legged stool and stood on it to get a better view, still keeping one eye on the cart. She thought she heard her name and raised her hand to shield her eyes from the glare of the sun. She shifted her pipe to the other side of her mouth. It fit well on both sides, as she had teeth missing on the right and left. She squinted against the sunlight with her not-so-perfect thirty-five-year-old eyes, and listened again.
"They be a looking fer Jenny?" someone said. "Jenny Geddes?"
"What on earth has she done?" said another.
An old man spit on the ground. "These are t'king's men. Why would they be looking fer Jenny Geddes? That makes not a wit o' sense."
Heads and eyes began to swivel toward Jenny. She stepped off the stool as inconspicuously as possible, and knocked the fire out of her pipe on the heel of her shoe. The pipe went into her pocket. She could see the soldiers advancing through the crowd to her left and to her right. They were surrounding her.
She had a decision to make. Stay or flee. In all of her years in Edinburgh, she had never seen anyone who was arrested in this manner live to tell the tale. She thought of her daughters, her small plots of land outside the city gates, and made her decision. It was a simple and practical decision. There would be certain torture or death in the hands of the king's men. She had done nothing wrong—at least nothing wrong enough to send more than the sheriff after her. Whatever the reason that they were coming for her—guilty, innocent, mistaken identity—it was a sure thing that no good would come of it.
She'd had a talent for evading pursuit since she was a girl. The twists and turns and dead ends of the medieval streets of Edinburgh were a playground to her as a child. She knew she could evade them, but then what?
Jenny scooped up the few coins she had made this morning, moved back from the oncoming soldiers, and headed for the church courtyard directly behind her. There was a small passage that led to Candlemaker's way, and then to Cowpath Street. She took Cowpath Street into town every morning at dawn. It was one of the few streets on the south side of the town that had its own gate, one of only a handful into the walled city. She'd make for that gate.
Troops were hollering for her to stop, and she sprinted to a narrow opening in the corner of the courtyard. She wasn't quite as skinny as she had been as a girl, but she still fit. Her tattered clothing caught on the bricks, but she kept moving.
The opening became a long passageway between two buildings, with just enough room to slip sideways between them. The bright sunlight abruptly changed to shadow as she shuffled sideways into the musty passageway. It smelled of urine. She tried not to think about what was happening to her shoes.
She glanced behind her and could see the soldiers gathering at the opening. She kept shuffling as fast as she could.
"Where does this come out?" growled the officer. "You four stay here, you two follow her in the passage, the rest of you come with me."
She glanced back again, and saw two men begin to squeeze into the passage. She knew her pursuers would have to work their way back through the dense market-day crowd still clustered in the church courtyard. They would then have to backtrack up the hill to another street that cut through, and then race back. By then, she should be long gone.
"If I wasn't so afraid, this would almost be funny," she muttered when she popped out of the passageway a moment later. Her pair of pursuers had gotten stuck.
"Cowpath Road is where I need t'be," she thought. "If I can get there, I'll go home and get the bairns, and then I'll . . . ." The thought trailed off as she continued to walk quickly through the maze of the city. Then what? She had no savings, no money, and no immediate family. Since her husband had died five years ago, she had been just holding on. There was some help from the church, but charity always irritated her. "One thing at a time, Jenny me girl, one thing at a time."
The terrain turned dramatically downhill as she continued to slip between buildings, and she knew she was close to the road. Just a few more yards and she would be in view of the gate. She slowed to a walk and caught her breath. Soldiers were nowhere in sight, far behind and limited to the streets.
"Attract no attention to yerself, lass" she thought, "just walk around this corner and be calm. Say g'day just like always."
She peered out from around the corner, looking straight at Cowgate. She took a moment and looked carefully. Everything seemed normal. She waited, and watched. She was about to step around the corner when a young woman carrying a basket approached the gate to leave the city. As the girl reached the open gate, soldiers appeared from outside the gate. With their swords drawn.
"Well, now. That's a bit odd." Jenny kept watching. The soldiers questioned the girl, inspecting her basket carefully. They then started leering, and grabbed at her. She complained and pulled away. McNulty, the regular gatekeeper and toll collector, stepped in and spoke to the men. McNulty was over fifty years old, and in no shape to take on two soldiers. But his commanding demeanor, roughly honed by three decades at Cowgate, convinced the men to let the girl through the gate without further molestation. He continued to talk to them after she had gone on her way. He then began to talk very animatedly to the men, who responded in kind. The argument continued. McNulty was one of the few honest gatekeepers in the city, and he had known Jenny all of her life. He was the gatekeeper when her father had his stand.
Jenny leaned back against the wall, out of sight of the gate and tried to think. Were they searching for her at the gate? She had to find out before she tried to go through. She frantically tried to think of a way to find out what was going on; how could she get home without being discovered?
"Dear Lord Jesus, please give me a way t'git home wi' me bairns," she whispered softly with her hands folded. "Take me if ye needs, but leave them be, please." She would need to act quickly; the other soldiers would be coming soon.
She heard footsteps approach from the direction of the gate. She eased further away from the street and pressed against the building. She watched McNulty pass on his way up the street. He was muttering to himself, still upset from his encounter with the soldiers.
Jenny took a sharp breath as he walked past her, and made another quick decision. "Oy. McNulty. It's me, Jenny Geddes. What be happening? Are they looking for me?"
McNulty stopped suddenly, and did not respond. He casually eased toward the corner where Jenny was hiding, and leaned his back to the wall facing the street. He did not look at her. He looked up and down the street, and then spoke quietly over his shoulder. "Jenny Geddes, wa' in Gods name did ye do, lass? They got the king's men out after ye. I ain't seen the likes of this fer many a year." He paused and pulled his cap down lower on his face. "Aye, they be looking fer ye. They got orders to kill ye. W'a di' ye do, lass?"
"Nothing. I swear it on my mother's grave, McNulty. Ye knows me, knows I go t'kirk always. I don't cheat folks. I am a god-fearing woman and I have a business. I didn't do nothing." She paused to think. "I don't like the papists, ye know that. But who does?"
"Then why are they looking fer ye, lass?"
Finally the frustration welled up in her, as the adrenaline melted away. She began to cry. "I swear that I hae done nothing! I just want to get back to me bairns and hug 'em and make sure they are well." She sniffed, and regained control. No time to cry. "I hae got to get home, McNulty. Wa' cannae do?"
"They will be a waiting fer ye at home, Jenny. You got to hide. All the gates be manned like this one, with English soldiers. You got to hide."
"But me bairns . . . " The tears welled up again.
"Have you heard of the 'Committees of Correspondence'?"
"Aye." She sniffed. "The ones with the speeches and the place on Little's Close" She sniffed again.
"Go there. Ask for the German. His name is Otto. He will be able to help ye. I will send word through him aboot the bairns. Go and stay outta sight. If they catch you, they will kill you. That much I do know from these lads at me gate. Ye may want to hide until it's dark; there will be just a sliver of moon tonight. I will find out about the bairns." He glanced toward the gate. "Get away from here. The bloody English lads at the gate are starting to notice me here. So git."
"There will be more soldiers coming soon. They will be looking fer me."
"Lord, girl. What could they want with you? Now git on w'ye, before they get suspicious."
"God bless ye, McNulty."
Otto Artmann sat in the back room of the tiny CoC building in near perfect darkness and listened. He could hear the rats moving in the dark alley behind. Most of Edinburgh had gone home for the night. Soldiers had stopped patrolling the streets looking for Jenny.
Carefully, so as not to make any noise, he shifted positions in his chair. He had been sitting for two hours, waiting, and his leg was falling asleep. He had caught a bad pike wound in his calf while fighting in the Germanies four years ago. After his capture by the Americans, he was released into a new world. A world he was determined to make better. He had spent a lot of his life making the world worse. He pushed the old thoughts out of his head, and focused on listening again. He was rewarded with a new sound. Silence. The rats had stopped moving in the alley. Silently, as he rose from the chair, he slid his dagger out of the sheath in his boot, and moved to the back door. It was so quiet that he could hear someone breathing and the movement of fabric from behind the door.
"Otto? Are ye there? Otto?" The voice was low, quiet, tense.
He paused before answering. "Aye. Who is this? Who sent you?"
"McNulty. I'm Jenny. Jenny Geddes."
"I'm going to open the door. Jenny, please step forward and I'll close it behind you."
Still in darkness, he opened the door and allowed the person to walk in. "Step in and stop."
The dim light that came in from the alley gave him a silhouette, nothing more, but he thought she fit the description.
She whispered, "Are you Otto? You sound German."
"I'm Otto," he said and closed the door. "Wait and I'll uncover a candle."
He looked at her when he uncovered the candle. Her face was plain, he decided. Worn, tired. She had a large frame for a Scot, tall, sturdy. Her nose had been broken once or twice. She was dirty from her ordeal and her clothing was soiled and dank. When she smiled back at him, he could see that she was missing teeth. He had lost a few teeth over the years himself, so who was he to judge?
"I'm a bit of boggin, I am." She looked away. "Thank ye. I'm no' used to charity, an I don't know if I kin repay ye the kindness." She straightened, as if realizing what she said, and looked him in the face. "I'm no' a girl who would be repaying ye wit, well, ye knows." She looked down at her body and smoothed her dirty dress. "I don't do that, nere will. Ye ken that?"
"I understand, Jenny. I don't expect anything in return, at least not now. And when I do, it will not be that sort of thing. Do you want something to drink or eat?"
"Aye. Both please."
Otto handed her a mug of beer, turned and began to prepare her food. "What do you know of the Committees, Jenny?"
"No' a lot. Ye just do braw for people. Guilds nae like ye. Ye have something to with the strange people from Germany. S'posed to be from the future. That's all."
"Aye, thems the ones." She paused and looked up at him. "What de ye hear 'bout me bairns? Are they safe? Do ye know? I ha' been worried to death. I dunno what I'd do if something happened—"
"They are safe with some people who are with the Committee. The soldiers came to your home looking for you, and the girls hid. We found them later in the afternoon when they went to the Dunnes. They are safe."
He watched as she bowed her head, and prayed a quiet thanks. She looked up at him. "The Dunnes be good people. When can I see them?"
"We need to get you safe first. Do you have any idea why they are trying to hurt you?"
"No. I have been thinking on that all night; I cannae come up with an answer. I don't know what I have done. Ye think they have me mixed with another Jenny of some sort?"
"We don't know. But we are trying to find out. We think the order may have come from London. The timing is right. You were wise to run away when you did. Damn that King Charles."
"I not like words like that if it's not in the kirk." She grinned mischievously. "But I did run, didn't I?" She smiled again. Otto liked the way her face lit up when it smiled, even with the missing teeth.
"Your food is ready. It's not warm, I don't want to risk a cooking fire and draw attention to us. This room has no windows, and we fixed it so there is no danger of someone seeing the light from the candle."
"I see." She bowed her head and offered a short prayer over the food, and then she wolfed the small meal down.
"We don't understand what is happening, Jenny. But something tells me that you're part of it. Or will be in the future. We'll have to find out which part you play. Or will play. You can stay upstairs here, and out of sight till tomorrow. Then we will move you to a safe house, and possibly out of the city in a few days when things settle down a little."
"And me bairns?"
"After we move you, we will get you together with your children."
She nodded and smiled. As he watched, he saw the energy drain out of her. The tension of not knowing about her children must have been a huge strain. And now that she knows they are safe, she probably wants to sleep. He picked up the candle.
"Take this, Jenny. There's a loft above this room; the ladder is over there. There is some clean bedding; we will get you some clean clothes tomorrow. And don't worry, I will be down here all night."
He watched her slowly climb the ladder to the loft. When the candle went out, he sat back down in his chair and listened for the rats to return outside.
"What do you mean, they failed to capture her?" John Lauder was not a happy man, and his high-pitched voice squeaked higher than usual. He coughed to bring it under control. "I wanted her head, dammit."
Lieutenant William Hignall shifted his weight from foot to foot. He was clearly uncomfortable. Lauder liked him to be uncomfortable. "Sir, the troop and I did exactly as ye requested. We thought we had her trapped in the churchyard during the market, but she escaped down a passageway we couldn't follow."
"Is she still in the city?"
"We don't know for sure." Lauder shot his best glare at the man, and watched him with satisfaction as he carefully considered the rest of his answer. "But . . . we believe she is. Her children have also disappeared. She is hiding somewhere—"
"You have a keen grasp of the obvious for one in your position, Lieutenant," snapped Lauder.
Hignall inhaled, exhaled, and tried to relax. "Sir, she is probably in one of the tenements somewhere in town. She has no family to speak of, although she is well thought of with the lower class of people in the city. She sits at church as a placeholder on the Sabbath for some of the more devout families. I am certain we will find her."
Lauder stood up. "That is what I am paying you and your men for, Lieutenant. To find her. If she is hiding, then let it be known that there is a reward." He crossed his arms and looked coldy at the Lieutenant. “This reward is an investment for me, Hignall. A substantial investment, in my future. Go now and do your duty as I have requested. In the kings name, of course.”
Lauder watched as the Lieutenant retreated through the door of his study. He smiled. John Lauder knew something that not many men could say. He knew the future. He repeated it to himself. The phrase seemed so unnatural.
He knew what had happened to him in that other future, and he was going to improve it. In his old future, he had achieved one of the goals of his life. Peerage. Nobility.
He was a merchant. Wildly successful, and rich. Richer than most of the so-called nobility. He huffed at the irony. He was a commoner, who could buy and sell many of them.
In that other future, he achieved only the lowest ranks of nobility. He smiled coldly as he looked at the papers in front of him. The conclusion to be drawn from them was obvious, even if it was not written as such. During the war with Scotland, which now might not be fought, he had supported King Charles. That much was clear. He was rewarded with lands taken from those who opposed the king. Which increased his vast fortune even further. He was given the opportunity to buy a baronetcy, the lowest of the ranks of the noble class.