The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 55

   

“What a thing,” he said. He held it at arm’s length to drain, admiring the vivid reds and blues of the bare, warty head and dangling wattle. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, save roasted on a platter, with chestnut dressing and roast potatoes.”

He looked from the turkey to her with great respect, and nodded at the gun.

“That’s great shooting, Bree.”

She felt her cheeks flush with pleasure, and restrained the urge to say, “Aw, shucks, it warn’t nothin’,” settling instead for a simple, “Thanks.”

They turned again toward home, Roger still carrying the dripping carcass, held slightly out from his body.

“You haven’t been shooting all that long, either,” Roger was saying, still impressed. “What’s it been, six months?”

She didn’t want to lower his estimation of her prowess, but laughed, shrugged, and told the truth anyway.

“More like six years. Really more like ten.”

“Eh?”

“Daddy—Frank—taught me to shoot when I was eleven or twelve. He gave me a twenty-two when I was thirteen, and by the time I was fifteen, he was taking me to shoot clay pigeons at ranges, or to hunt doves and quail on weekends in the fall.”

Roger glanced at her in interest.

“I thought Jamie’d taught you; I’d no idea Frank Randall was such a sportsman.”

“Well,” she said slowly. “I don’t know that he was.”

One black brow went up in inquiry.

“Oh, he knew how to shoot,” she assured him. “He’d been in the Army during World War Two. But he never shot much himself; he’d just show me, and then watch. In fact, he never even owned a gun.”

“That’s odd.”

“Isn’t it?” She moved deliberately closer to him, nudging his shoulder so that their shadows merged again; now it looked like a two-headed ogre, carrying a gun over one shoulder, and a third head held bloodily in its hand. “I wondered about that,” she said, with attempted casualness. “After you told me—about his letter and all that, at the Gathering.”

He shot her a sharp look.

“Wondered what?”

She took a deep breath, feeling the linen strips bite into her br**sts.

“I wondered why a man who didn’t ride or shoot should take such pains to see that his daughter could do both those things. I mean, it wasn’t like it was common for girls to do that.” She tried to laugh. “Not in Boston, anyway.”

There was no sound for a moment but the shuffling of their feet through dry leaves.

“Christ,” Roger said softly, at last. “He looked for Jamie Fraser. He said so, in his letter.”

“And he found a Jamie Fraser. He said that, too. We just don’t know whether it was the right one or not.” She kept her eyes on her boots, wary of snakes. There were copperheads in the wood, and timber rattlers; she saw them now and then, basking on rocks or sunny logs.

Roger took a deep breath, lifting his head.

“Aye. And so you’re wondering now—what else might he have found?”

She nodded, not looking up.

“Maybe he found me,” she said softly. Her throat felt tight. “Maybe he knew I’d go back, through the stones. But if he did—he didn’t tell me.”

He stopped walking, and put a hand on her arm to turn her toward him.

“And perhaps he didn’t know that at all,” he said firmly. “He may only have thought ye might try it, if you ever found out about Fraser. And if you did find out, and did go . . . then he wanted you to be safe. I’d say no matter what he knew, that’s what he wanted; you to be safe.” He smiled, a little crookedly. “Like you want me to be safe. Aye?”

She heaved a deep sigh, feeling comfort descend on her with his words. She’d never doubted that Frank Randall had loved her, all the years of her growing up. She didn’t want to doubt it now.

“Aye,” she said, and tilted up an inch on her toes to kiss him.

“Fine, then,” he said, and gently touched her breast, where the buckskin of her shirt showed a small wet patch. “Jem’ll be hungry. Come on; it’s time we were home.”

They turned again and went down the mountain, into the golden sea of chestnut leaves, watching their shadows go before them as they walked, embracing.

“Do you think—” she began, and hesitated. One shadow head dipped toward the other, listening.

“Do you think Ian’s happy?”

“I hope so,” he replied, and his arm tightened round her. “If he has a wife like mine—then I’m sure he is.”

21

TWENTY-TWENTY

NOW, HOLD THIS over your left eye, and read the smallest line you can see clearly.”

With a long-suffering air, Roger held the wooden spoon over his right eye and narrowed his left, concentrating on the sheet of paper I had pinned to the kitchen door. He was standing in the front hall, just inside the door, as the length of the corridor was the only stretch of floor within the house approaching twenty feet.

“Et tu Brute?” he read. He lowered the spoon and looked at me, one dark eyebrow raised. “I’ve never seen a literate eye chart before.”

“Well, I always did think the ‘f, e, 5, z, t, d’ things on the regular charts rather boring,” I said, unpinning the paper and flipping it over. “Other eye, please. What’s the smallest line you can read easily?”

He reversed the spoon, squinted at the five lines of hand-printing—done in such even decrements of size as I could manage—and read the third one, slowly.

“Eat no onions. What’s that from?”

“Shakespeare, of course,” I said, making a note. “Eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath. That’s the smallest you can read, is it?”

I saw Jamie’s expression alter subtly. He and Brianna were standing just behind Roger, out on the porch, watching the proceedings with great interest. Brianna was leaning slightly toward Roger, a faintly anxious expression on her face, as though willing him to see the letters.

Jamie’s expression, though, showed slight surprise, faint pity—and an undeniable glint of satisfaction. He, evidently, could read the fifth line without trouble. I honor him. One from Julius Caesar: As he was valiant, I honor him; as he was ambitious, I slew him.

He felt my gaze on him, and the expression vanished, his face instantly resuming its usual look of good-humored inscrutability. I narrowed my eyes at him, with a “You’re not fooling me” sort of look, and he looked away, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly.

“You can’t make out any of the next line?” Bree had moved close to Roger, as though drawn by osmosis. She stared intently at the paper, then at him, with an encouraging look. Obviously she could see the last two lines without difficulty, too.

“No,” Roger said, rather shortly. He’d agreed to let me check his eyes at her request, but he obviously wasn’t happy about it. He slapped the palm of his hand lightly with the spoon, impatient to be done with this. “Anything else?”

“Just a few small exercises,” I said, as soothingly as possible. “Come in here, where the light is better.” I put a hand on his arm and drew him toward my surgery, giving Jamie and Bree a hard look as I did so. “Brianna, why don’t you go and lay the table for supper? We won’t be long.”

She hesitated for a moment, but Jamie touched her arm and said something to her in a low voice. She nodded, glanced once more at Roger with a small, anxious frown, and went. Jamie gave me an apologetic shrug, and followed her.

Roger was standing among the litter in my surgery, looking like a bear that hears barking hounds in the distance—simultaneously annoyed and wary.

“There’s no need for this,” he said, as I closed the door. “I see fine. I just don’t shoot very well yet. There’s nothing the matter with my eyes.” Still, he made no move to escape, and I picked up the hint of doubt in his voice.

“Shouldn’t think there is,” I said lightly. “Let me have just a quick look, though . . . just curiosity on my part, really. . . .” I got him sat down, however reluctantly, and for lack of the standard small flashlight, lit a candle.

I brought it close to check the dilation of his pupils. His eyes were the most lovely color, I thought; not hazel at all, but a very clear dark green. Dark enough to look almost black in shadow, but a startling color—almost emerald—when seen directly in bright light. A disconcerting sight, to one who had known Geilie Duncan and seen her mad humor laugh out of those clear green depths. I did hope Roger hadn’t inherited anything but the eyes from her.

He blinked once, involuntarily, long black lashes sweeping down over them, and the memory disappeared. These eyes were beautiful—but calm, and above all, sane. I smiled at him, and he smiled back in reflex, not understanding.

I passed the candle before his face, up, down, right, left, asking him to keep looking at the flame, watching the changes as his eyes moved to and fro. Since no answers were required in this exercise, he began to relax a bit, his fists gradually uncurling on his thighs.

“Very nice,” I said, keeping my voice low and soothing. “Yes, that’s good . . . can you look up, please? Yes, now look down, toward the corner by the window. Mm-hm, yes . . . Now, look at me again. You see my finger? Good, now close your left eye and tell me if the finger moves. Mm-hmmm . . .”

Finally, I blew out the candle, and straightened up, stretching my back with a small groan.

“So,” Roger said lightly, “what’s the verdict, Doctor? Shall I go and be making myself a white cane?” He waved away the drifting wisps of smoke from the blown-out candle, making a good attempt at casualness—belied only by the slight tension in his shoulders.

I laughed.

“No, you won’t need a Seeing Eye dog for some time yet, nor even spectacles. Though speaking of that—you said you’d never seen a literate eye chart before. But you have seen eye charts, I take it. Did you ever wear glasses as a child?”

He frowned, casting his mind back.

“Aye, I did,” he said slowly. “Or rather”—a faint grin showed on his face—“I had a pair of specs. Or two or three. When I was seven or eight, I think. They were a nuisance, and gave me a headache. So I was inclined to leave them on the public bus, or at school, or on the rocks by the river . . . I can’t recall actually wearing them for more than an hour at a time, and after I’d lost the third pair, my father gave up.” He shrugged.

“I’ve never felt as though I needed spectacles, to be honest.”

“Well, you don’t—now.”

He caught the tone of my voice and looked down at me, puzzled.

“What?”

“You’re a bit shortsighted in the left eye, but not by enough to cause you any real difficulty.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose, as though feeling the pinch of spectacles myself. “Let me guess—you were good at hockey and football when you were at school, but not at tennis.”

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