The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 212

   

Take a few staunch Calvinists, convinced that if they didn’t tuck their blankets tight, the Pope would nip down the chimney and bite their toes, and bang them up in a prison cheek-by-jowl with men who prayed out loud to the Virgin Mary . . . aye, he could see it. Football riots would be nothing to it, numbers being equal.

“How did he come to be in Ardsmuir, then—Christie, I mean?”

Kenny looked surprised.

“Och, he was a Jacobite—arrested wi’ the rest after Culloden, tried and imprisoned.”

“A Protestant Jacobite?” It wasn’t impossible, or even farfetched—politics made stranger bedfellows than that, and always had. It was unusual, though.

Kenny heaved a sigh, glancing toward the horizon, where the sun was slowly sinking into the pines.

“Come along inside then, MacKenzie. If Tom Christie’s come to the Ridge, I suppose it’s best someone tells ye all about it. If I hurry myself, ye’ll be in time for your supper.”

Rosamund was not at home, but the buttermilk was cool in the well, as advertised. Stools fetched and the buttermilk poured, Kenny Lindsay was good as his word, and started in in businesslike fashion. Christie was a Lowlander, Kenny said; MacKenzie would have gathered as much. From Edinburgh. At the time of the Rising, Christie had been a merchant in the city, with a good business, newly inherited from a hard-working father. Tom Christie was far from lazy, himself, and determined to set up for a gentleman.

With this in mind, and Prince Tearlach’s army occupying the city, Christie had put on his best suit of clothes and gone calling on O’Sullivan, the Irishman who had charge of the army commissary. “Naebody kens what passed between them, other than words—but when Christie came out, he had a contract to victual the Highland Army, and an invitation to dance at Holyrood that night.” Kenny took a long drink of sweet buttermilk and set down the cup, his mustache thickly coated with white. He nodded wisely at Roger.

“We heard what they were like, those balls at the Palace. Mac Dubh told us of them, time and again. The Great Gallery, wi’ the portraits of all the kings o’ Scotland, and the hearths of blue Dutch tile, big enough to roast an ox. The Prince, and all the great folk who’d come to see him, dressed in silks and laces. And the food! Sweet Jesus, such food as he’d tell about.” Kenny’s eyes grew round and dreamy, remembering descriptions heard on an empty stomach. His tongue came out and absently licked the buttermilk from his upper lip.

Then he shook himself back to the present.

“Well, so,” he said, matter-of-factly. “When the Army left Edinburgh, Christie cam’ along. Whether it was to mind his investment, or that he meant to keep himself in the Prince’s eye, I canna say.”

Roger noted privately that the notion of Christie having acted from patriotic motives wasn’t on Kenny Lindsay’s list of possibilities. Whether from prudence or ambition, whatever his reasons, Christie had stayed—and stayed too long. He had left the Army at Nairn, the day before Culloden, and started back toward Edinburgh, driving one of the commissary wagons.

“If he’d left the wagon and ridden one o’ the horses, he might ha’ made it,” Kenny said cynically. “But no; he ran smack into a sackful o’ Campbells. Government troops, aye?”

Roger nodded.

“I heard tell as he tried to pass himself off as a peddler, but he’d taken a load of corn from a farmhouse on that road, and the farmer swore himself purple that Christie’d been in his yard no more than three days before, wi’ a white cockade on his breest. So they took him, and that was that.”

Christie had gone first to Berwick Prison, and then—for reasons known only to the Crown—to Ardsmuir, where he had arrived a year before Jamie Fraser.

“I came at the same time.” Kenny peered into his empty mug, then reached for the pitcher. “It was an old prison—half-falling down—but they’d not used it for some years. When the Crown decided to reopen it, they brought men from here and from there; maybe a hundred and fifty men, all told. Mostly convicted Jacobites—the odd thief, and a murderer or two.” Kenny grinned suddenly, and Roger couldn’t help smiling in response.

Kenny was no great storyteller, but he spoke with such simple vividness that Roger had no trouble seeing the scene he described: the soot-streaked stones and the ragged men. Men from all over Scotland, ripped from home, deprived of kin and companions, thrown like bits of rubbish into a heap of compost, where filth, starvation, and close quarters generated a heat of rot that broke down both sensibility and civilness.

Small groups had formed, for protection or for the comfort of society, and there was constant conflict between one group and another. They banged to and fro like pebbles in the surf, bruising each other and now and then crushing some hapless individual who got in between.

“It’s food and warmth, aye?” Kenny said dispassionately. “There’s naught else to care for, in a place like that.”

Among the groups had been a small obdurate knot of Calvinists, headed by Thomas Christie. Mindful of their own, they shared food and blankets, defended each other—and behaved with a dour self-righteousness that roused the Catholics to fury.

“If one of us was to catch afire—and now and then, someone would, bein’ pushed into the hearth whilst sleepin’—they wouldna piss on him to put it out,” Kenny said, shaking his head. “They wouldna be stealing food, to be sure, but they would stand in the corner and pray out loud, rattlin’ on and on about whore-mongers and usurers and idolaters and the lot—and makin’ damn sure we kent who was meant by it!”

“And then came Mac Dubh.” The late autumn sun was sinking; Kenny’s stubbled face was blurred with shadow, but Roger could see the slight softening that came across it, relaxing the grimness of expression that accompanied Lindsay’s reminiscence.

“Something like the Second Coming, was it?” Roger said. He spoke half under his breath, and was surprised when Kenny laughed.

“Only if ye mean some of us kent Sheumais ruaidh already. No, man, they’d brought him by boat. Ye’ll ken Jamie Roy doesna take to boats, aye?”

“I’d heard something of the sort,” Roger answered dryly.

“Whatever ye heard, it’s true,” Kenny assured him, grinning. “He staggered into the cell green as a lass, vomited in the corner, then crawled under a bench and stayed there for the next day or two.”

Upon his emergence, Fraser had kept quiet for a time, watching to see who was who and what was what. But he was a gentleman born, and had been both a laird and a fierce warrior; a man much respected among the Highlanders. The men deferred to him naturally, seeking his opinion, asking his judgment, and the weaker sheltering in his presence.

“And that griped Tom Christie’s arse like a saddle-gall,” Kenny said, nodding wisely. “See, he’d got to thinking as how he was the biggest frog in the pond, aye?” Kenny ducked his chin and puffed his throat, popping his eyes in illustration, and Roger burst out laughing.

“Aye, I see. And he didn’t care for the competition, was that it?”

Kenny nodded, off-hand.

“It wouldna have been so bad, maybe, save that half his wee band of salvationers started creepin’ off from their prayers to hear Mac Dubh tell stories. But the main thing was the new governor.”

Bogle, the prison’s original governor, had left, replaced by Colonel Harry Quarry. Quarry was a relatively young man, but an experienced soldier, who had fought at Falkirk and at Culloden. Unlike his predecessor, he viewed the prisoners under his command with a certain respect—and he knew Jamie Fraser by repute, regarding him as an honorable, if defeated, foe.

“Quarry had Mac Dubh brought up to see him, soon after he took command at Ardsmuir. I couldna say what happened between them, but soon it was a matter of course; once a week, the guards would come and take Mac Dubh off to shave and wash himself, and he would go take a bit of supper with Quarry, and speak to him of whatever was needed.”

“And Tom Christie didn’t like that, either,” Roger guessed. He was forming a comprehensive picture of Christie; ambitious, intelligent—and envious. Competent himself, but lacking Fraser’s fortunate birth and skill at warfare—advantages that a self-made merchant with social aspirations might well have resented, even before the catastrophe of Culloden. Roger felt a certain sneaking sympathy for Christie; Jamie Fraser was stiff competition for the merely mortal.

Kenny shook his head, and tilted back to drain his cup. He set it down with a sigh of repletion, raising his brows with a gesture toward the jug. Roger waved a hand, dismissing it.

“No, no more, thanks. But the Freemasons . . . how did that happen? You said it was to do with Christie?” The light was nearly gone. He would have to walk home in the dark—but that was no matter; his curiosity wouldn’t let him leave without learning what had happened.

Kenny grunted, rearranging his kilt over his thighs. Hospitality was all very well, but he had chores to do as well. Still, courtesy was courtesy, and he liked the Thrush for himself, not only that he was Mac Dubh’s good son.

“Aye, well.” He shrugged, resigning himself. “No, Christie didna like it a bit, that Mac Dubh should be the great one, when he felt it his own place by right.” He cast a shrewd glance at Roger, assessing. “I dinna think he kent what it might cost to be chief in a place like that—not ’til later. But that’s naught to do with it.” He flapped a hand, waving off irrelevancy.

“The thing was, Christie was a chief himself; only not just so good at it as was Mac Dubh. But there were those who listened to him, and not only the God-naggers.”

If Roger was a trifle taken aback at hearing this characterization of his co-religionists, he disregarded it in his eagerness to hear more.

“Aye, so?”

“There was trouble again.” Kenny shrugged again. “Small things, aye, but ye could see it happening.”

Shifts and schisms, the small faults and fractures that result when two land masses come together, straining and shoving until either mountains rise between them or one is subsumed by the other, in a breaking of earth and a shattering of stone.

“We could see Mac Dubh thinking,” Kenny said. “But he’s no the man to be telling anyone what’s in his mind, aye?”

Almost no one, Roger thought suddenly, with the memory of Fraser’s voice, so low as barely to be heard beneath the whining autumn wind. He told me. The thought was a small sudden warmth in his chest, but he pushed it aside, not to be distracted.

“So one evening Mac Dubh came back to us, quite late,” Kenny said. “But instead of lying down to his rest, he came and summoned us—me and my brothers, Gavin Hayes, Ronnie Sinclair . . . and Tom Christie.”

Fraser had roused the six men quietly from their sleep, and brought them to one of the cell’s few windows, where the light of the night sky might shine upon his face. The men had gathered round him, heavy-eyed and aching from the day’s labors, wondering what this might mean. Since the last small clash—a fight between two men over a meaningless insult—Christie and Fraser had not exchanged a word, but had kept each man to himself.

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