The fire in the hearth had burned down to a bed of glowing embers. I rolled over again and lay watching them for a few minutes, trying to empty my mind of everything.
“When Frank and I were married,” I said, “we went to be counseled by a priest. He advised us to begin our married life by saying the rosary together in bed each night. Frank said he wasn’t sure whether this was meant to be devotion, an aid to sleep, or only a Church-sanctioned method of birth control.”
Jamie’s chest vibrated with silent laughter behind me.
“Well, we could try if ye like, Sassenach,” he said. “Though ye’ll have to keep count of the Hail Marys; you’re lyin’ on my left hand and my fingers have gone numb.”
I shifted slightly to allow him to pull his hand out from under my hip.
“Not that, I don’t think,” I said. “But perhaps a prayer. Do you know any good going-to-bed prayers?”
“Aye, lots,” he said, holding up his hand and flexing his fingers slowly as the blood returned to them. Dark in the dimness of the room, the slow movement reminded me of the way in which he lured trout from under rocks. “Let me think a bit.”
The house below was silent now, save for the usual creaks and groans of settling timbers. I thought I heard a voice outside, raised in distant argument, but it might have been no more than the rattle of tree branches in the wind.
“Here’s one,” Jamie said at last. “I’d nearly forgotten it. My father taught it to me, not so long before he died. He said he thought I might one day find it useful.”
He settled himself comfortably, head bent so his chin rested on my shoulder, and began to speak, low and warm-voiced, in my ear.
“Bless to me, O God, the moon that is above me,
Bless to me, O God, the earth that is beneath me,
Bless to me, O God, my wife and my children,
And bless, O God, myself who have care of them;
Bless to me my wife and my children,
And bless, O God, myself who have care of them.”
He had begun with a certain self-consciousness, hesitating now and then to find a word, but that had faded with the speaking. Now he spoke soft and sure, and no longer to me, though his hand lay warm on the curve of my waist.
“Bless, O God, the thing on which mine eye doth rest,
Bless, O God, the thing on which my hope doth rest,
Bless, O God, my reason and my purpose,
Bless, O bless Thou them, Thou God of life;
Bless, O God, my reason and my purpose,
Bless, O bless Thou them, Thou God of life.”
His hand smoothed the curve of my hip, lifted to stroke my hair.
“Bless to me the bed companion of my love,
Bless to me the handling of my hands,
Bless, O bless Thou to me, O God, the fencing of my defense,
And bless, O bless to me the angeling of my rest;
Bless, O bless Thou to me, O God, the fencing of my defense,
And bless, O bless to me the angeling of my rest.”
His hand lay still, curled under my chin. I wrapped my own hand round his, and sighed deeply.
“Oh, I like that. Especially ‘the angeling of my rest.’ When Bree was small, we’d put her to bed with an angel prayer—‘May Michael be at my right, Gabriel at my left, Uriel behind me, Rafael before me—and above my head, the Presence of the Lord.’ ”
He didn’t answer, but squeezed my fingers in reply. An ember in the hearth fell apart with a soft whuff, and sparks floated for an instant in the dimness of the room.
Sometime later, I returned briefly to consciousness, feeling him slide out of bed.
“Wha—?” I said sleepily.
“Nothing,” he whispered. “Just a wee note I’d meant to write. Sleep, a nighean donn. I’ll wake beside ye.”
Fraser’s Ridge, 1 December, 1770
James Fraser, Esq., to Lord John Grey,
Mount Josiah Plantation
I write in hopes that all continues well with your Establishment and its Inhabitants; my particular Regard to your Son.
All are well in my House and—so far as I am aware—at River Run, as well. The Nuptials planned for my Daughter and my Aunt, of which I wrote you, were unexpectedly interfered with by Circumstance (principally a Circumstance by the name of Mr. Randall Lillywhite, whose Name I mention in case it may one Day pass your Cognizance), but my Grandchildren were fortunately christened, and while my Aunt’s Wedding has been postponed to a later Season, my Daughter’s Union with Mr. MacKenzie was solemnized by the Courtesy of the Reverend Mr. Caldwell, a worthy Gentleman, though Presbyterian.
Young Jeremiah Alexander Ian Fraser MacKenzie (the name “Ian” is of course the Scottish variant of “John”—my Daughter’s Compliment to a Friend, as well as her Cousin) survived both the Occasion of his Baptism and the Journey home in good Spirit. His Mother bids me tell you that your Namesake now possesses no fewer than four Teeth, a fearsome Accomplishment which renders him exceeding dangerous to those unwary Souls charmed by his apparent Innocence, who surrender their Digits all unknowing to his pernicious Grasp. The Child bites like a Crocodile.
Our Population here exhibits a gratifying Growth of late, with the addition of some twenty Families since last I wrote. God has prospered our Efforts during the Summer, blessing us with an Abundance of Corn and wild Hay, and an Abundance of Beasts to consume them. I estimate the Hogs running at large in my Wood to number no fewer than forty at present, two Cows have borne Calves, and I have bought a new Horse. This Animal’s Character lies in grave Doubt, but his Wind does not.
Thus, my good News.
And so to the bad. I am made Colonel of Militia, ordered to muster and deliver so many Men as I can to the Service of the Governor, by mid-month, this Service to be of Aid in the Suppression of local Hostilities.
You may have heard, during your visit to North Carolina, of a Group of Men who style themselves “Regulators”—or you may not, as other Matters compelled your Attention on that Occasion (my Wife is pleased to hear good Report of your own Health, and sends with this a Parcel of Medicines, with Instructions for their Administration should you still be plagued with Headache).
These Regulators are no more than Rabble, less disciplined in their Actions even than the Rioters whom we hear have hanged Gov. Richardson in Effigy in Boston. I do not say there is no Substance to their Complaint, but the Means of its Expression seems unlikely to result in Redress by the Crown—rather, to provoke both Sides to further Excess, which cannot fail to end in Injury.
There was a serious outbreak of Violence in Hillsborough on 24 September, in which much Property was wantonly destroyed and Violence done—some justly, some not—to officials of the Crown. One Man, a Justice, was grievously Wounded; many of the Regulation were arrested. Since then, we have heard little more than Murmurs; Winter damps down Discontent, which smolders by the Hearths of Cottages and Pothouses, but once let out with the Spring Airing, it will flee abroad like the foul Odors from a sealed House, staining the Air.
Tryon is an able Man, but not a Farmer. If he were, he would scarce think of seeking to make War in Winter. Still, it may be that he hopes by making Show of Force now—when he is likely sure it will not be needed—so to intimidate the Rapscallions as to obviate its Necessity later. He is a Soldier.
Such remarks bring me to the true Point of this Missive. I expect no evil Outcome of the present Enterprise, and yet—you are a Soldier, too, even as I am. You know the Unpredictability of Evil, and what Catastrophe may spring from trivial Beginnings.
No man can know the Particulars of his own End—save that he will have one. Thus, I have made such Provision as I can, for the Welfare of my Family.
I enumerate them here, as you will not know them all: Claire Fraser, my beloved Wife; my Daughter Brianna and her Husband, Roger MacKenzie, and their Child, Jeremiah MacKenzie. Also my Daughter Marsali and her Husband, Fergus Fraser (who is my adopted Son)—they have now two young ones, Germain and Joan by Name. Wee Joan is named for Marsali’s sister, known as Joan MacKenzie, presently abiding still in Scotland. I have not the leisure to acquaint you with the History of the Situation, but I am disposed for good Reason to regard this young Woman likewise as a Daughter, and I hold myself similarly obligated for her Welfare, and that of her Mother, one Laoghaire MacKenzie.
I pray you for the Sake of our long Friendship and for the Sake of your Regard for my Wife and Daughter, that if Mischance should befall me in this Enterprise, you will do what you can to see them safe.
I depart upon the Morrow’s Dawn, which is now not far off.
Your most humble and obedient Servant,
James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser
Postscriptum: My Thanks for the Intelligence you provide in answer to my earlier Query regarding Stephen Bonnet. I note your accompanying Advice with the greatest Appreciation and Gratitude for its kind Intent—though as you suspect, it will not sway me.
Post-Postscriptum: Copies of my Will and Testament, and of the Papers pertaining to my Property and Affairs here and in Scotland, will be found with Farquard Campbell, of Greenoaks, near Cross Creek.
THE MILITIA RISES
THE WEATHER FAVORED US, keeping cold but clear. With the Muellers and the men from the nearby homesteads, we set out from Fraser’s Ridge with a party of nearly forty men—and me.
Fergus would not serve with the militia, but had come with us to raise men, he being the most familiar with the nearby settlements and homesteads. As we approached the Treaty Line, and the farthest point of our peripatetic muster, we formed a respectable company in number, if not in expertise. Some of the men had been soldiers once, if not trained infantrymen; either in Scotland, or in the French and Indian Wars. Many had not, and each evening saw Jamie conducting military drills and practice, though of a most unorthodox sort.
“We havena got time to drill them properly,” he’d told Roger over the first evening’s fire. “It takes weeks, ken, to shape men so they willna run under fire.”
Roger merely nodded at that, though I thought a faint look of uneasiness flickered across his face. I supposed he might be having doubts regarding his own lack of experience, and exactly how he himself would respond under fire. I’d known a lot of young soldiers in my time.
I was kneeling by the fire, cooking corn dodgers on an iron griddle set in the ashes. I glanced up at Jamie, to find him looking at me, a slight smile hidden in the corner of his mouth. He’d not only known young soldiers; he’d been one. He coughed, and bent forward to stir the coals with a stick, looking for more of the quails I’d set to bake, wrapped in clay.
“It’s the natural thing, to run from danger, aye? The point of drilling troops is to accustom them to an officer’s voice, so they’ll hear, even over the roar of guns, and obey without thinkin’ of the danger.”
“Aye, like ye train a horse not to bolt at noises,” Roger interrupted, sardonically.
“Aye, like that,” Jamie agreed, quite seriously. “The difference being that ye need to make a horse believe ye ken better than he does; an officer only needs to be louder.” Roger laughed, and Jamie went on, half-smiling.