An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 154

   

And so Brianna gave each of them a chunk of silver studded with small diamonds and two peanut butter sandwiches. “For the road,” she said, with a ghastly attempt at humor. Warm clothes and stout shoes. She gave Roger her Swiss army knife; Buccleigh took a stainless-steel steak knife from the kitchen, admiring its serrated edge. There wasn’t time for much more.

The sun was still high when the blue Mustang bumped along the dirt road that led near the base of Craigh na Dun; she had to be back before Mandy came home. Rob Cameron’s blue truck was still there; a shudder went through her at the sight of it.

“Go ahead,” Roger said roughly to Buccleigh when she stopped. “I’ll be along directly.”

William Buccleigh had given Brianna a quick look, direct and disconcerting, with those eyes, so like Roger’s, touched her hand briefly, and got out. Roger didn’t hesitate; he’d had time on the way to decide what to say—and there was only one thing to say, in any case.

“I love you,” he said softly, and took her by the shoulders, holding her together long enough to say the rest. “I’ll bring him back. Believe me, Bree—I’ll see you again. In this world.”

“I love you,” she’d said, or tried to. It came out as a soundless whisper against his mouth, but he took it, along with her breath, smiled, gripped her shoulders so hard that she would find bruises there later—and opened the door.

She’d watched them—she couldn’t help watching them—as they climbed toward the top of the hill, toward the invisible stones, until they disappeared, out of her sight. Perhaps it was imagination; perhaps she really could hear the stones up there: a weird buzzing song that lived in her bones, a memory that would live there forever. Trembling and tear-blinded, she drove home. Carefully, carefully. Because now she was all that Mandy had.

FOOTSTEPS

LATE THAT NIGHT, she made her way to Roger’s study. She felt dull and heavy, the horror of the day blunted by fatigue. She sat at his desk, trying to feel his presence, but the room was empty.

Mandy was asleep, surprisingly unworried by the chaos of her parents’ feelings. Of course, she was used to Roger’s occasional absences, gone to London or to Oxford, lodge nights in Inverness. Would she remember him if he never came back? Brianna thought with a pang.

Unable to bear that thought, she got up and prowled restlessly round the office, seeking the unfindable. She hadn’t been able to eat anything and was feeling light-headed and friable.

She took up the little snake, finding a minimal comfort in its smooth sinuosity, its pleasant face. She glanced up at the box, wondering whether she should seek solace in her parents’ company—but the thought of reading letters that Roger might never read with her… She put the snake down and stared blindly at the books on the lower shelves.

Beside the books on the American Revolution that Roger had ordered were her father’s books, the ones from his old office. Franklin W. Randall, the neat spines said, and she took one out and sat down, holding it to her chest.

She’d asked him once before for help—to look after Ian’s lost daughter. Surely he would look after Jem.

She thumbed the pages, feeling a little soothed by the friction of the paper.

Daddy, she thought, finding no words beyond that, and needing no more. The folded sheet of paper tucked among the leaves came as no surprise at all.

The letter was a draft—she could see that at once from the crossings-out, the marginal additions, words circled with question marks. And being a draft, it had neither date nor salutation but was plainly intended for her.

You’ve just left me, dearest deadeye, after our wonderful afternoon at Sherman’s (the clay pigeon place—will she remember the name?). My ears are still ringing. Whenever we shoot, I’m torn between immense pride in your ability, envy of it, and fear. I don’t know quite when you will read this, or if you will. Maybe I’ll have the courage to tell you before I die (or I’ll do something so unforgivable that your mother will—no, she won’t. I’ve never met anyone so honorable as Claire, notwithstanding. She’ll keep her word).

What a queer feeling it is, writing this. I know that you’ll eventually learn who—and perhaps what—you are. But I have no idea how you’ll come to that knowledge. Am I about to reveal you to yourself, or will this be old news when you find it? I can only hope that I’ve succeeded in saving your life, either way. And that you will find it, sooner or later.

I’m sorry, sweetheart, that’s terribly melodramatic. And the last thing I want to do is alarm you. I have all the confidence in the world in you. But I am your father and thus prey to the fears that afflict all parents—that something dreadful and unpreventable will happen to your child, and you powerless to protect them. And the truth is that through no fault of your own, you are…

Here he had changed his mind several times, writing a dangerous person, amending that to always in some danger, then crossing that out in turn, adding in a dangerous position, crossing that out, and circling a dangerous person, though with a question mark.

“I get the point, Daddy,” she muttered. “What are you talking about? I—”

A sound froze the words in her throat. Footsteps were coming down the hall. Slow, confident steps. A man’s. Every hair on her body rose.

The light was on in the hall; it darkened briefly as a shape took form in the door to the study.

She stared at him, dumbfounded.

“What are you doing here?” Even as she spoke, she was rising from the chair, groping for something that might be used as a weapon, her mind lagging far behind her body, not yet able to penetrate the fog of horror that gripped her.

“I came for you, hen,” he said, smiling. “And for the gold.” He laid something on the desk: her parents’ first letter. “Tell Jem the Spaniard guards it,” Rob Cameron quoted, tapping it. “I thought maybe it’s best you tell Jem that. And tell him to show me where this Spaniard is. If ye’d like to keep him alive, I mean. Up to you, though.” The smile widened. “Boss.”

INDEPENDENCE DAY, II

Brest

SEEING JENNY DEAL with it all was disturbing his own presence of mind considerably. He could see her heart in her throat the first time she spoke French to a real Frenchman; her pulse fluttered in the hollow of her neck like a trapped hummingbird. But the boulanger understood her—Brest was full of foreigners, and her peculiar accent roused no particular interest—and the sheer delight on her face when the man took her penny and handed her a baguette filled with cheese and olives made Jamie want to laugh and cry at the same time.

“He understood me!” she said, clutching him by the arm as they left. “Jamie, he understood me! I spoke French to him, and he kent what I said, clear as day!”

“Much more clearly than he would have had ye spoken to him in the Gaididhlig,” he assured her. He smiled at her excitement, patting her hand. “Well done, a nighean.”

She was not listening. Her head turned to and fro, taking in the vast array of shops and vendors that filled the crooked street, assessing the possibilities now open to her. Butter, cheese, beans, sausage, cloth, shoes, buttons … Her fingers dug into his arm.

“Jamie! I can buy anything! By myself!”

He couldn’t help sharing her joy at thus rediscovering her independence, even though it gave him a small twinge. He’d been enjoying the novel sensation of having her rely on him.

“Well, so ye can,” he agreed, taking the baguette from her. “Best not to buy a trained squirrel or a longcase clock, though. Be difficult to manage on the ship.”

“Ship,” she repeated, and swallowed. The pulse in her throat, which had subsided momentarily, resumed its fluttering. “When will we … go on the ship?”

“Not yet, a nighean,” he said gently. “We’ll go and ha’ a bite to eat first, aye?”

THE EUTERPE WAS meant to sail on the evening tide, and they went down to the docks in mid-afternoon to go aboard and settle their things. But the slip at the dock where the Euterpe had floated the day before was empty.

“Where the devil is the ship that was here yesterday?” he demanded, seizing a passing boy by one arm.

“What, the Euterpe?” The boy looked casually where he was pointing, and shrugged. “Sailed, I suppose.”

“You suppose?” His tone alarmed the boy, who pulled his arm free and backed off, defensive.

“How would I know, Monsieur?” Seeing Jamie’s face, he hastily added, “Her master went into the district a few hours ago; probably he is still there.”

Jamie saw his sister’s chin dimple slightly and realized that she was near to panic. He wasn’t so far off it himself, he thought.

“Oh, is he?” he said, very calm. “Aye, well, I’ll just be going to fetch him, then. Which house does he go to?”

The boy shrugged helplessly. “All of them, Monsieur.”

Leaving Jenny on the dock to guard their baggage, he went back into the streets that adjoined the quay. A broad copper halfpenny secured him the services of one of the urchins who hung about the stalls, hoping for a half-rotten apple or an unguarded purse, and he followed his guide grimly into the filthy alleys, one hand on his purse, the other on the hilt of his dirk.

Brest was a port city, and a bustling port, at that. Which meant, he calculated, that roughly one in three of its female citizenry was a prostitute. Several of the independent sort hailed him as he passed.

It took three hours and several shillings, but he found the master of the Euterpe at last, dead drunk. He pushed the whore sleeping with him unceremoniously aside and roused the man roughly, slapping him into semiconsciousness.

“The ship?” The man stared at him blearily, wiping a hand across his stubbled face. “Fuck. Who cares?”

“I do,” Jamie said between clenched teeth. “And so will you, ye wee arse-wipe. Where is she, and why are ye not on her?”

“The captain threw me off,” the man said sullenly. “We had a disagreement. Where is she? On her way to Boston, I suppose.” He grinned unpleasantly. “If you swim fast enough, maybe you can catch her.”

IT TOOK THE last of his gold and a well-calculated mixture of threats and persuasion, but he found another ship. This one was headed south, to Charleston, but at the moment he would settle for being on the right continent. Once in America, he’d think again.

His sense of grim fury began finally to abate as the Philomene reached the open sea. Jenny stood beside him, small and silent, hands braced on the rail.

“What, a pìuthar?” He put his hand in the small of her back, rubbing gently with his knuckles. “You’re grieving Ian?”

She closed her eyes for a moment, pressing back into his touch, then opened them and turned her face up to him, frowning.

“No, I’m troubled, thinkin’ of your wife. She’ll be peeved wi’ me—about Laoghaire.”

He couldn’t help a wry smile at thought of Laoghaire.

“Laoghaire? Why?”

“What I did—when ye brought Claire home again to Lallybroch, from Edinburgh. I’ve never said sorry to ye for that,” she added, looking up earnestly into his face.

He laughed.

“I’ve never said sorry to you, have I? For bringing Claire home and being coward enough not to tell her about Laoghaire before we got there.”

The frown between her brows eased, and a flicker of light came back into her eyes.

“Well, no,” she said. “Ye haven’t told me sorry. So we’re square, are we?”

He hadn’t heard her say that to him since he’d left home at fourteen to foster at Leoch.

“We’re square,” he said. He put an arm round her shoulders and she slipped her own around his waist, and they stood close together, watching the last of France sink into the sea.

A SERIES OF SHORT, SHARP SHOCKS

I WAS IN MARSALI’S kitchen, plaiting Félicité’s hair while keeping one eye on the porridge over the fire, when the bell over the printshop door rang. I whipped a ribbon round the end of the plait and, with a quick admonition to the girls to watch the porridge, went out to attend to the customer.

To my surprise, it was Lord John. But a Lord John I had never seen before. He was not so much disheveled as shattered, everything in order save his face.

“What?” I said, deeply alarmed. “What’s happened? Is Henry—”

“Not Henry,” he said hoarsely. He put a hand flat on the counter, as though to steady himself. “I have—bad news.”

“I can see that,” I said, a little tartly. “Sit down, for God’s sake, before you fall down.”

He shook his head like a horse shaking off flies and looked at me. His face was ghastly, shocked and white, and the rims of his eyes showed red. But if it wasn’t Henry…

“Oh, God,” I said, a fist clenching deep in my chest. “Dottie. What’s happened to her?”

“Euterpe,” he blurted, and I stopped dead, jarred to the backbone.

“What?” I whispered. “What?”

“Lost,” he said, in a voice that wasn’t his own. “Lost. With all hands.”

“No,” I said, trying for reason. “No, it’s not.”

He looked at me directly then, for the first time, and seized me by the forearm.

“Listen to me,” he said, and the pressure of his fingers terrified me. I tried to jerk away but couldn’t.

“Listen,” he said again. “I heard it this morning from a naval captain I know. I met him at the coffeehouse, and he was recounting the tragedy. He saw it.” His voice trembled, and he stopped for a moment, firming his jaw. “A storm. He had been chasing the ship, meaning to stop and board her, when the storm came upon them both. His own ship survived and limped in, badly damaged, but he saw the Euterpe swamped by a broaching wave, he said—I have no notion what that is—” He waved away his own digression, annoyed. “She went down before his eyes. The Roberts—his ship—hung about in hopes of picking up survivors.” He swallowed. “There were none.”

Loading...