The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 4

   

“Ye dinna want to know,” he said, grinning. He covered my hand with one large, callused palm. “Let’s go; I’m starved for my breakfast.”

“Wait,” I said, detaching myself. Jemmy was indisposed to share his mother’s embrace with the newcomer, and howled and squirmed in protest, his small round face going red with annoyance under a blue knitted cap. I reached out and took him from Brianna, as he wriggled and fussed in his wrappings.

“Thanks, Mama.” Brianna smiled briefly, boosting tiny Joan into a more secure position against her shoulder. “Are you sure you want that one, though? This one’s quieter—and weighs half as much.”

“No, he’s all right. Hush, sweetie, come see Grannie.” I smiled as I said it, with the still-new feeling of mingled surprise and delight that I could actually be someone’s grandmother. Recognizing me, Jemmy abandoned his fuss and went promptly into his mussel-clinging-to-a-rock routine, chubby fists gripped tight in my hair. Disentangling his fingers, I peered over his head, but things below seemed under control.

Fergus, breeches and stockings soaking wet, Jamie’s cloak draped round his shoulders, was wringing out his shirtfront one-handed, saying something to the soldier who had rescued Germain. Marsali had whipped off her arisaid and wrapped the little boy in it, her loosened blond hair flying out from under her kerch like cobwebs in the wind.

Lieutenant Hayes, attracted by the noise, was peering out from the flap of his tent like a whelk from its shell. He looked up, and caught my eye; I waved briefly, then turned to follow my own family back to our campsite.

Jamie was saying something to Brianna in Gaelic, as he helped her over a rocky patch in the trail ahead of me.

“Yes, I’m ready,” she said, replying in English. “Where’s your coat, Da?”

“I lent it to your husband,” he said. “We dinna want him to look a beggar at your wedding, aye?”

Bree laughed, wiping a flying strand of red hair out of her mouth with her free hand.

“Better a beggar than an attempted suicide.”

“A what?” I caught up with them as we emerged from the shelter of the rocks. The wind barreled across the open space, pelting us with sleet and bits of stinging gravel, and I pulled the knitted cap further down over Jemmy’s ears, then pulled the blanket up over his head.

“Whoof!” Brianna hunched over the swaddled baby girl she carried, sheltering her from the blast. “Roger was shaving when the drums started up; he nearly cut his throat. The front of his coat is covered with bloodstains.” She glanced at Jamie, eyes watering with the wind. “So you’ve seen him this morning. Where is he now, do you know?”

“The lad’s in one piece,” he assured her. “I told him to go and talk wi’ Father Donahue, while Hayes was about his business.” He gave her a sharp look. “Ye might have told me the lad was no a Catholic.”

“I might,” she said, unperturbed. “But I didn’t. It’s no big deal to me.”

“If ye mean by that peculiar expression, that it’s of no consequence—” Jamie began with a distinct edge in his voice, but was interrupted by the appearance of Roger himself, resplendent in a kilt of green-and-white MacKenzie tartan, with the matching plaid draped over Jamie’s good coat and waistcoat. The coat fit decently—both men were of a size, long-limbed and broad-shouldered, though Jamie was an inch or two the taller—and the gray wool was quite as becoming to Roger’s dark hair and olive skin as it was to Jamie’s burnished auburn coloring.

“You look very nice, Roger,” I said. “Where did you cut yourself?” His face was pink, with the raw look common to just-shaved skin, but otherwise unmarked.

Roger was carrying Jamie’s plaid under his arm, a bundle of red and black tartan. He handed it over and tilted his head to one side, showing me the deep gash just under his jawbone.

“Just there. Not so bad, but it bled like the dickens. They don’t call them cutthroat razors for nothing, aye?”

The gash had already crusted into a neat dark line, a cut some three inches long, angled down from the corner of his jaw across the side of his throat. I touched the skin near it briefly. Not bad; the blade of the razor had cut straight in, no flap of skin needing suture. No wonder it had bled a lot, though; it did look as though he had tried to cut his throat.

“A bit nervous this morning?” I teased. “Not having second thoughts, are you?”

“A little late for that,” Brianna said dryly, coming up beside me. “Got a kid who needs a name, after all.”

“He’ll have more names than he knows what to do with,” Roger assured her. “So will you—Mrs. MacKenzie.”

A small flush lit Brianna’s face at the name, and she smiled at him. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, taking the cocooned baby from her as he did so. A look of sudden shock crossed his face as he felt the weight of the bundle in his arms, and he gawked down at it.

“That’s not ours,” Bree said, grinning at his look of consternation. “It’s Marsali’s Joan. Mama has Jemmy.”

“Thank God,” he said, holding the bundle with a good deal more caution. “I thought he’d evaporated or something.” He lifted the blanket slightly, exposing tiny Joan’s sleeping face, and smiled—as people always did—at sight of her comical quiff of brown hair, which came to a point like a Kewpie doll’s.

“Not a chance,” I said, grunting as I hoisted a well-nourished Jemmy, now peacefully comatose in his own wrappings, into a more comfortable position. “I think he’s gained a pound or two on the way uphill.” I was flushed from exertion, and held the baby a little away from myself, as a sudden wave of heat flushed my cheeks and perspiration broke out under the waves of my disheveled hair.

Jamie took Jemmy from me, and tucked him expertly under one arm like a football, one hand cupping the baby’s head.

“Ye’ve spoken wi’ the priest, then?” he said, eyeing Roger skeptically.

“I have,” Roger said dryly, answering the look as much as the question. “He’s satisfied I’m no the Anti-Christ. So long as I’m willing the lad should be baptized Catholic, there’s no bar to the wedding. I’ve said I’m willing.”

Jamie grunted in reply, and I repressed a smile. While Jamie had no great religious prejudices—he had dealt with, fought with, and commanded far too many men, of every possible background—the revelation that his son-in-law was a Presbyterian—and had no intention of converting—had occasioned some small comment.

Bree caught my eye and gave me a sidelong smile, her own eyes creasing into blue triangles of catlike amusement.

“Very wise of you not to mention religion ahead of time,” I murmured, careful not to speak loudly enough for Jamie to hear me. Both men were walking ahead of us, still rather stiff in their attitudes, though the formality of their demeanor was rather impaired by the trailing draperies of the babies they carried.

Jemmy let out a sudden squawk, but his grandfather swung him up without breaking stride, and he subsided, round eyes fixed on us over Jamie’s shoulder, sheltered under the hooding of his blanket. I made a face at him, and he broke into a huge, gummy smile.

“Roger wanted to say something, but I told him to keep quiet.” Bree stuck out her tongue and wiggled it at Jemmy, then fixed a wifely look on Roger’s back. “I knew Da wouldn’t make a stramash about it, if we waited ’til just before the wedding.”

I noted both her astute evaluation of her father’s behavior, and her easy use of Scots. She resembled Jamie in a good deal more than the obvious matter of looks and coloring; she had his talent for human judgment and his glibness with language. Still, there was something niggling at my mind, something to do with Roger and religion . . .

We had come up close enough behind the men to hear their conversation.

“. . . about Hillsborough,” Jamie was saying, leaning toward Roger so as to be heard over the wind. “Calling for information about the rioters.”

“Oh, aye?” Roger sounded both interested and wary. “Duncan Innes will be interested to hear that. He was in Hillsborough during the troubles, did you know?”

“No.” Jamie sounded more than interested. “I’ve barely seen Duncan to speak to this week. I’ll ask him, maybe, after the wedding—if he lives through it.” Duncan was to marry Jamie’s aunt, Jocasta Cameron, in the evening, and was nervous to the point of prostration over the prospect.

Roger turned, shielding Joan from the wind with his body as he spoke to Brianna.

“Your aunt’s told Father Donahue he can hold the weddings in her tent. That’ll be a help.”

“Brrrr!” Bree hunched her shoulders, shivering. “Thank goodness. It’s no day to be getting married under the greenwood tree.”

A huge chestnut overhead sent down a damp shower of yellow leaves, as though in agreement. Roger looked a little uneasy.

“I don’t imagine it’s quite the wedding you maybe thought of,” he said. “When ye were a wee girl.”

Brianna looked up at Roger and a slow, wide smile spread across her face. “Neither was the first one,” she said. “But I liked it fine.”

Roger’s complexion wasn’t given to blushing, and his ears were red with cold in any case. He opened his mouth as though to reply, caught Jamie’s gimlet eye, and shut it again, looking embarrassed but undeniably pleased.

“Mr. Fraser!”

I turned to see one of the soldiers making his way up the hill toward us, his eyes fixed on Jamie.

“Corporal MacNair, your servant, sir,” he said, breathing hard as he reached us. He gave a sharp inclination of the head. “The Lieutenant’s compliments, and would ye be so good as to attend him in his tent?” He caught sight of me, and bowed again, less abruptly. “Mrs. Fraser. My compliments, ma’am.”

“Your servant, sir.” Jamie returned the Corporal’s bow. “My apologies to the Lieutenant, but I have duties that require my attendance elsewhere.” He spoke politely, but the Corporal glanced sharply up at him. MacNair was young, but not callow; a quick look of understanding crossed his lean, dark face. The last thing any man would want was to be seen going into Hayes’s tent by himself, immediately following that Proclamation.

“The Lieutenant bids me request the attendance upon him of Mr. Farquard Campbell, Mr. Andrew MacNeill, Mr. Gerald Forbes, Mr. Duncan Innes, and Mr. Randall Lillywhite, as well as yourself, sir.”

A certain amount of tension left Jamie’s shoulders.

“Does he,” he said dryly. So Hayes meant to consult the powerful men of the area: Farquard Campbell and Andrew MacNeill were large landowners and local magistrates; Gerald Forbes a prominent solicitor from Cross Creek, and a justice of the peace; Lillywhite a magistrate of the circuit court. And Duncan Innes was about to become the largest plantation owner in the western half of the colony, by virtue of his impending marriage to Jamie’s widowed aunt. Jamie himself was neither rich nor an official of the Crown—but he was the proprietor of a large, if still largely vacant, land grant in the backcountry.

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