Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 193

   

“You can’t really tell yet,” I said drowsily. I’d counted his toes, and I’d thought of it. “He’s sort of reddish-purple, and he’s still got the vernix—the white stuff—all over him. It will probably be a day or two before his skin fades into a natural color. He’s got just a bit of dark hair, but it’s the sort that rubs off soon after birth.” I stretched, enjoying the pleasant ache in legs and back; labor was hard work, even for the midwife. “It wouldn’t prove anything, even if he were fair, since Brianna is; he could be, either way.”

“Aye…but if he were dark, we’d know for sure.”

“Maybe not. Your father was dark; so was mine. He could have recessive genes and come out dark even if—”

“He could have what?”

I tried without success to think whether Gregor Mendel had yet started messing about with his pea plants, but gave up the effort, too sleepy to concentrate. Whether he had or not, Jamie evidently hadn’t heard of him.

“He could be any color, and we wouldn’t know for sure,” I said. I yawned widely. “We won’t know until he gets old enough to start resembling…somebody. And even then…” I trailed off. Did it matter a great deal who his father had been, if he wasn’t going to have one?

Jamie rolled toward me and scooped me into a spooned embrace. We slept nak*d, and the hair on his body brushed against my skin. He kissed me softly on the back of the neck and sighed, his breath warm and tickling on my ear.

I hovered on the edge of sleep, too happy to fall completely over into dreams. Somewhere nearby, I heard a small stifled squawk, and the murmur of voices.

“Aye, well,” Jamie’s voice roused me, some moments later. He sounded defiant. “If I dinna ken his father, at least I’m sure who his grandsire is.”

I reached back and patted his leg.

“So am I—Grandpa. Hush up and go to sleep. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ ”

He snorted, but his arms relaxed around me, hand curved on my breast, and in moments, he was asleep.

I lay wide-eyed, watching stars through the open window. Why had I said that? It was Frank’s favorite quotation, one he always used to soothe Brianna or me when we worried over things: Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The air in the room was live; a light breeze stirred the curtains, and coolness touched my cheek.

“Do you know?” I whispered, soundless. “Do you know she has a son?”

There was no answer, but peace came gradually over me in the quiet of the night, and I fell at last over the edge of dreams.

65

RETURN TO FRASER’S RIDGE

Jocasta was loath to part with her newest relative, but the spring planting was already very late, and the homestead sadly neglected; we needed to return to the Ridge without delay, and Brianna would not hear of staying behind. Which was a good thing, as it would have taken dyn**ite to separate Jamie from his grandson.

Lord John was well enough to travel; he came with us as far as the Great Buffalo Trail Road, where he kissed Brianna and the baby, embraced Jamie and—to my shock—me, before turning north toward Virginia and Willie.

“I’ll trust you to take care of them,” he said quietly to me, with a nod toward the wagon, where two bright heads bent together in mutual absorption over the bundle in Brianna’s lap.

“You may,” I said, and pressed his hand. “I’ll trust you, too.” He lifted my hand to his lips, briefly, smiled at me, and rode away without looking back.

A week later, we bumped over the grass-choked ruts to the ridge where the wild strawberries grew, green and white and red together, constancy and courage, sweetness and bitterness mingled in the shadows of the trees.

The cabin was dirty and uncared for, its sheds empty and full of dead leaves. The garden was a tangle of old dried stalks and random shoots, the paddock an empty shell. The framework of the new house stood black and skeletal, reproachful on the Ridge. The place looked barely habitable, a ruin.

I had never felt such joy in any homecoming, ever.

Name, I wrote, and paused. God knew, I thought. His last name was open to question; his Christian name not yet even considered.

I called him “sweetie” or “darling,” Lizzie called him “dear lad,” Jamie addressed him with Gaelic formality either as “grandson” or “a Ruaidh,” the Red One—his dark infant fuzz and dusky skin having given way to a blazing fair ruddiness that made it clear to the most casual observer just who his grandsire was—whoever his father might have been.

Brianna found no need to call him anything; she kept him always with her, guarding him with a fierce absorption that went beyond words. She would not give him a formal name, she said. Not yet.

“When?” Lizzie had asked, but Brianna didn’t answer. I knew when; when Roger came.

“And if he doesna come,” said Jamie privately to me, “I expect the poor wee lad will go to his grave wi’ no name at all. Christ, that lass is stubborn!”

“She trusts Roger,” I said evenly. “You might try to do the same.”

He gave me a sharp look.

“There is a difference between trust and hope, Sassenach, and ye ken that as well as I do.”

“Well, have a stab at hope, then, why don’t you?” I snapped, and turned my back on him, dipping my quill and shaking it elaborately. Little Query Mark had a rash on his bottom, that had kept him—and everyone else in the house—awake all night. I was grainy—eyed and cross, and not inclined to tolerate any show of bad faith.

Jamie walked deliberately around the table and sat down opposite me, resting his chin on his folded arms, so that I was forced to look at him.

“I would,” he said, a shadow of humor in his eyes. “If I could decide whether to hope he comes or hope he does not.”

I smiled, then reached across and ran the feathered tip of my quill down the bridge of his nose in token of forgiveness, before returning to my work. He wrinkled his nose and sneezed, then sat up straight, peering at the paper.

“What’s that you’re doing, Sassenach?”

“Making out little Gizmo’s birth certificate—so far as I can,” I added.

“Gizmo?” he said doubtfully. “That will be a saint’s name?”

“I shouldn’t think so, though you never know, what with people named Pantaleon and Onuphrius. Or Ferreolus.”

“Ferreolus? I dinna think I ken that one.” He leaned back, hands linked over his knee.

“One of my favorites,” I told him, carefully filling in the birthdate and time of birth—even that was an estimate, poor thing. There were precisely two bits of unequivocal information on this birth certificate—the date and the name of the doctor who’d delivered him.

“Ferreolus,” I went on with some enjoyment, “is the patron saint of sick poultry. Christian martyr. He was a Roman tribune and a secret Christian. Having been found out, he was chained up in the prison cesspool to await trial—I suppose the cells must have been full. Sounds rather a daredevil; he slipped his chains and escaped through the sewer. They caught up with him, though, dragged him back and beheaded him.”

Jamie looked blank.

“What has that got to do wi’ chickens?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea. Take it up with the Vatican,” I advised him.

“Mmphm. Aye, well, I’ve always been fond of Saint Guignole, myself.” I could see the glint in his eye, but couldn’t resist.

“And what’s he the patron of?”

“He’s invoked against impotence.” The glint got stronger. “I saw a statue of him in Brest once; they did say it had been there for a thousand years. ’Twas a miraculous statue—it had a c*ck like a gun muzzle, and—”

“A what?”

“Well, the size wasna the miraculous bit,” he said, waving me to silence. “Or not quite. The townsfolk say that for a thousand years, folk have whittled away bits of it as holy relics, and yet the c*ck is still as big as ever.” He grinned at me. “They do say that a man wi’ a bit of St. Guignole in his pocket can last a night and a day without tiring.”

“Not with the same woman, I don’t imagine,” I said dryly. “It does rather make you wonder what he did to merit sainthood, though, doesn’t it?”

He laughed.

“Any man who’s had his prayer answered could tell ye that, Sassenach.” He swiveled on his stool, looking out the open door. Brianna and Lizzie sat on the grass, skirts blooming around them, watching the baby, who lay nak*d on an old shawl on his stomach, red-arsed as a baboon.

Brianna Ellen, I wrote neatly, then paused.

“Brianna Ellen Randall, do you think?” I asked. “Or Fraser? Or both?”

He didn’t turn around, but his shoulder moved in the faintest of shrugs.

“Does it matter?”

“It might.” I blew across the page, watching the shiny black letters go dull as the ink dried. “If Roger comes back—whether he stays or not—if he chooses to acknowledge little Anonymous, I suppose his name will be MacKenzie. If he doesn’t or won’t, then I imagine the baby takes his mother’s name.”

He was silent for a moment, watching the two girls. They had washed their hair in the creek that morning; Lizzie was combing out Brianna’s mane, the long strands shimmering like red silk in the summer sun.

“She calls herself Fraser,” he said softly. “Or she did.”

I put down my quill and reached across the table to lay a hand on his arm.

“She’s forgiven you,” I said. “You know she has.”

His shoulders moved; not quite a shrug, but the unconscious attempt to ease some inner tightness.

“For now,” he said. “But if the man doesna come?”

I hesitated. He was quite right; Brianna had forgiven him for his original mistake. Still, if Roger did not appear soon, she would be bound to blame Jamie for it—not without reason, I was forced to admit.

“Use both,” he said abruptly. “Let her choose.” I didn’t think he meant last names.

“He’ll come,” I said firmly, “and it will be all right.”

I picked up the quill, and added, not quite under my breath. “I hope.”

He stooped to drink, the water splashing over dark green rock. It was a warm day; spring now, not autumn, but the moss was still emerald-green underfoot.

The memory of a razor was far behind him; his beard was thick and his hair hung past his shoulders. He’d bathed in a creek the night before, and done his best to wash himself and his clothes, but he had no illusions about his appearance. Neither did he care, he told himself. What he looked like didn’t matter.

He turned toward the path where he had left his horse, limping. His foot ached, but that didn’t matter either.

He rode slowly through the clearing where he had first met Jamie Fraser. The leaves were new and green, and in the distance he could hear the raucous calling of the ravens. Nothing stirred among the trees but the wild grasses. He breathed deep and felt a stab of memory, a broken remnant from a past life, a shard sharp as glass.

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