The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 7

   

“Ah, I expect he’ll be that busy,” Hayes said comfortably. “A great deal to do for a man like himself, and this the last day of the Gathering.”

“Yes. I expect . . . er . . . yes.”

The conversation died, and I was left in a state of increasing discomfort, wondering how on earth I was to escape without inviting the Lieutenant to breakfast. Even an Englishwoman couldn’t get away with the rudeness of not offering food without exciting remark.

“Er . . . Corporal MacNair said you wanted to see Farquard Campbell as well,” I said, seizing the bull by the horns. “Perhaps Jamie’s gone to talk with him. Mr. Campbell, I mean.” I waved helpfully toward the Campbells’ family campsite, which lay on the far side of the slope, nearly a quarter mile from Jocasta’s.

Hayes blinked, drops running from his lashes down his cheeks.

“Aye,” he said. “Perhaps that’s so.” He stood a moment longer, then tipped his cap to me. “Good day to ye, mum.” He turned away up the path—toward Jocasta’s tent. I stood watching him go, all sense of peace destroyed.

“Damn,” I said under my breath, and set off to see about breakfast.

2

LOAVES AND FISHES

WE HAD CHOSEN A SITE well off the main path, but situated in a small, rocky clearing with a good view of the wide creekbank below. Glancing downward through a scrim of holly bushes, I could see the flash of green-and-black tartans as the last of the soldiers dispersed; Archie Hayes encouraged his men to mingle with the people at the Gathering, and most were only too glad to obey.

I wasn’t sure whether this policy of Archie’s was dictated by guile, penury, or simply humanitarianism. Many of his soldiers were young, separated from home and family; they were glad of the chance to hear Scottish voices again, to be welcomed at a homely fireside, offered brose and parritch, and to bask in the momentary warmth of familiarity.

As I came out of the trees, I saw that Marsali and Lizzie were making a small fuss of the bashful young soldier who had fished Germain out of the creek. Fergus stood close to the fire, wisps of steam rising from his wet garments, muttering in French as he rubbed Germain’s head briskly with a towel, one-handed. His hook was braced against the little boy’s shoulder to keep him steady, and the blond head wobbled back and forth, Germain’s face quite tranquil, in complete disregard of his father’s scolding.

Neither Roger nor Brianna were anywhere in sight, but I was rather alarmed to see Abel MacLennan sitting on the far side of the clearing, nibbling a bit of toasted bread on a stick. Jamie was already back with the borrowed supplies, which he was unpacking on the ground next to the fire. He was frowning to himself, but the frown melted into a smile at sight of me.

“There ye are, Sassenach!” he said, rising to his feet. “What kept ye?”

“Oh . . . I met an acquaintance on the trail,” I said, with a significant look toward the young soldier. It was evidently not significant enough, since Jamie knitted his brows in puzzlement.

“The Lieutenant is looking for you,” I hissed, leaning close to him.

“Well, I kent that, Sassenach,” he said, in a normal tone of voice. “He’ll find me soon enough.”

“Yes, but . . . ahem.” I cleared my throat and raised my brows, glancing pointedly from Abel MacLennan to the young soldier. Jamie’s notions of hospitality wouldn’t countenance having his guests dragged away from under his rooftree, and I would have supposed that the same principle applied to his campfire as well. The young soldier might find it awkward to arrest MacLennan, but I was sure the Lieutenant would have no such hesitation.

Jamie looked rather amused. Raising his own brows, he took my arm, and led me over to the young man.

“My dear,” he said formally, “may I present Private Andrew Ogilvie, late of the village of Kilburnie? Private Ogilvie, my wife.”

Private Ogilvie, a ruddy-faced boy with dark curly hair, blushed and bowed.

“Your servant, mum!”

Jamie squeezed my arm lightly.

“Private Ogilvie was just telling me that the regiment is bound for Portsmouth, in Virginia—there to take ship for Scotland. Ye’ll be glad to see home, I expect, lad?”

“Oh, aye, sir!” the lad said fervently. “The regiment will disband in Aberdeen, and then I’m off home, so fast as my legs will carry me!”

“The regiment is disbanding?” Fergus asked, coming to join the conversation, a towel draped round his neck and Germain in his arms.

“Aye, sir. With the Frenchies settled—er, beggin’ your pardon, sir—and the Indians safe, there’s naught for us to do here, and the Crown willna pay us to sit at home,” the lad said ruefully. “Peace may be a guid thing, all in all, and I’m glad of it, surely. But there’s no denying as it’s hard on a soldier.”

“Almost as hard as war, aye?” Jamie said dryly. The boy flushed darkly; young as he was, he couldn’t have seen much in the way of actual fighting. The Seven Years War had been over for nearly ten years—at which time Private Ogilvie would likely still have been a barefoot lad in Kilburnie.

Ignoring the boy’s embarrassment, Jamie turned to me.

“The lad tells me,” he added, “that the Sixty-seventh is the last regiment left in the Colonies.”

“The last Highland regiment?” I asked.

“No, mum, the last of the Crown’s regular troops. There are the garrisons here and there, I suppose, but all of the standing regiments have been recalled to England or Scotland. We’re the last—and behind our time, too. We meant to sail from Charleston, but things went agley there, and so we’re bound for Portsmouth now, so fast as we can make speed. It’s late in the year, but the Lieutenant’s had word of a ship that may risk passage to take us. If not—” He shrugged, glumly philosophic. “Then we shall winter in Portsmouth, I suppose, and make shift as we can.”

“So England means to leave us unprotected?” Marsali looked rather shocked at the thought.

“Oh, I shouldna think there’s any great danger, mum,” Private Ogilvie assured her. “We’ve dealt wi’ the Frenchies for good and all, and the Indians willna be up to much without the frogs to stir them up. Everything’s been quite peaceful for a good time now, and doubtless it’ll stay so.” I made a small noise in the back of my throat, and Jamie squeezed my elbow lightly.

“Have ye not thought perhaps to stay, then?” Lizzie had been peeling and grating potatoes while listening to this; she put down the bowl of glistening white shreds by the fire and began to smear grease on the griddle. “Stay in the Colonies, I mean. There’s plenty of land still to be had, to the west.”

“Oh.” Private Ogilvie glanced down at her, her white kerch modestly bent over her work, and his color deepened again. “Well, I will say I’ve heard worse prospects, miss. But I am bound to go wi’ my regiment, I’m afraid.”

Lizzie picked up two eggs and cracked them neatly against the side of the bowl. Her own face, usually pale as whey, bore a faint pink echo of the Private’s rich blush.

“Ah. Well, it’s a great pity that ye should go awa so soon,” she said. Her pale blond lashes swept down against her cheeks. “Still, we’ll not send ye away on an empty stomach.”

Private Ogilvie went slightly pinker round the ears.

“That’s . . . verra kind of ye, miss. Verra kind indeed.”

Lizzie glanced up shyly, and blushed more deeply.

Jamie coughed gently and excused himself, leading me away from the fire.

“Christ,” he said in an undertone, bending down so I could hear him. “And she’s been a woman less than a full day, too! Have ye been givin’ her lessons, Sassenach, or are women just born wi’ it?”

“Natural talent, I expect,” I said circumspectly.

The unexpected advent of Lizzie’s menarche after supper last night had in fact been the straw that broke the camel’s back, with regard to clean clouts, and the precipitating event that had caused me to sacrifice my petticoat. Lizzie naturally had no menstrual cloths with her, and I didn’t want to oblige her to share the children’s diapers.

“Mmphm. I suppose I’d best begin looking for a husband for her, then,” Jamie said in resignation.

“A husband! Why, she’s scarcely fifteen!”

“Aye, so?” He glanced at Marsali, who was rubbing Fergus’s dark hair dry with the towel, and then back at Lizzie and her soldier, and raised a cynical brow at me.

“Aye, so, yourself,” I said, a little crossly. All right, Marsali had been only fifteen when she married Fergus. That didn’t mean—

“The point being,” Jamie went on, dismissing Lizzie for the moment, “that the regiment leaves for Portsmouth tomorrow; they havena got either time nor disposition to trouble with this business in Hillsborough—that’s Tryon’s concern.”

“But what Hayes said—”

“Oh, if anyone tells him anything, I’m sure he’ll send the depositions along to New Bern—but as for himself, I imagine he’d not much care if the Regulators set fire to the Governor’s Palace, so long as it doesna delay his sailing.”

I heaved a deep sigh, reassured. If Jamie was right, the last thing Hayes would do was take prisoners, no matter what the evidence to hand. MacLennan was safe, then.

“But what do you suppose Hayes wants with you and the others, then?” I asked, bending to rummage in one of the wicker hampers for another loaf of bread. “He is hunting you—in person.”

Jamie glanced back over his shoulder, as though expecting the Lieutenant to appear at any moment through the holly bushes. As the screen of prickly green remained intact, he turned back to me, frowning slightly.

“I dinna ken,” he said, shaking his head, “but it’s naught to do with this business of Tryon’s. If it was that, he might have told me last night—for that matter, if he cared himself about the matter, he would have told me last night,” he added. “No, Sassenach, depend upon it, the rioters are no more than a matter of duty to wee Archie Hayes.

“As for what he wants wi’ me—” He leaned over my shoulder to swipe a finger round the top of the honey pot. “I dinna mean to trouble about it until I must. I’ve three kegs of whisky left, and I mean to turn them into a plowshare, a scythe blade, three ax-heids, ten pound of sugar, a horse, and an astrolabe before this evening. Which is a conjuring trick that might take some attention, aye?” He drew the sticky tip of his finger gently across my lips, then turned my head toward him and bent to kiss me.

“An astrolabe?” I said, tasting honey. I kissed him back. “Whatever for?”

“And then I want to go home,” he whispered, ignoring the question. His forehead was pressed against mine, and his eyes very blue.

“I want to take ye to bed—in my bed. And I mean to spend the rest of the day thinking what to do to ye once I’ve got ye there. So wee Archie can just go and play at marbles with his ballocks, aye?”

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