Author: P Hana

Page 104


“It’s a thought,” she said, teeth flashing in a brief, reluctant smile. “If I could drag your stubborn carcass that far, I’d club ye myself.” She shook her head and sighed.

“All right, Jamie, ye’ll have it your way. But ye’ll try not to make a mess on my good Turkey carpet, aye?”

He looked up at her, long mouth curling up on one side.

“It’s a promise, Jenny,” he said. “Nay bloodshed in the parlor.”

She snorted. “Clot,” she said, but without rancor. “I’ll send Janet wi’ your parritch.” And she was gone, in a swirl of skirts and petticoats.

“Did she say Donas?” I asked, looking after her in bemusement. “Surely it isn’t the same horse you took from Leoch!”

“Och, no.” Jamie tilted his head back, smiling up at me. “This is Donas’s grandson—or one of them. We give the name to the sorrel colts in his honor.”

I leaned over the back of the sofa, gently feeling down the length of the injured arm from the shoulder.

“Sore?” I asked, seeing him wince as I pressed a few inches above the wound. It was better; the day before, the area of soreness had started higher.

“Not bad,” he said. He removed the sling and tried gingerly extending the arm, grimacing. “I dinna think I’ll turn handsprings awhile yet, though.”

I laughed.

“No, I don’t suppose so.” I hesitated. “Jamie—this Hobart. You really don’t think—”

“I don’t,” he said firmly. “And if I did, I’d still want my breakfast first. I dinna mean to be killed on an empty stomach.”

I laughed again, somewhat reassured.

“I’ll go and get it for you,” I promised.

As I stepped out into the hall, though, I caught sight of a flutter through one of the windows, and stopped to look. It was Jenny, cloaked and hooded against the cold, headed up the slope to the barn. Seized by a sudden impulse, I snatched a cloak from the hall tree and darted out after her. I had things to say to Jenny Murray, and this might be the best chance of catching her alone.

I caught up with her just outside the barn; she heard my step behind her and turned, startled. She glanced about quickly, but saw we were alone. Realizing that there was no way of putting off a confrontation, she squared her shoulders under the woolen cloak and lifted her head, meeting my eyes straight on.

“I thought I’d best tell Young Ian to unsaddle the horse,” she said. “Then I’m going to the root cellar to fetch up some onions for a tart. Will ye come with me?”

“I will.” Pulling my cloak tight around me against the winter wind, I followed her into the barn.

It was warm inside, at least by contrast with the chill outdoors, dark, and filled with the pleasant scent of horses, hay, and manure. I paused a moment to let my eyes adapt to the dimness, but Jenny walked directly down the central aisle, footsteps light on the stone floor.

Young Ian was sprawled at length on a pile of fresh straw; he sat up, blinking at the sound.

Jenny glanced from her son to the stall, where a soft-eyed sorrel was peacefully munching hay from its manger, unburdened by saddle or bridle.

“Did I not tell ye to ready Donas?” she asked the boy, her voice sharp.

Young Ian scratched his head, looking a little sheepish, and stood up.

“Aye, mam, ye did,” he said. “But I didna think it worth the time to saddle him, only to have to unsaddle him again.”

Jenny stared up at him.

“Oh, aye?” she said. “And what made ye so certain he wouldna be needed?”

Young Ian shrugged, and smiled down at her.

“Mam, ye ken as well as I do that Uncle Jamie wouldna run away from anything, let alone Uncle Hobart. Don’t ye?” he added, gently.

Jenny looked up at her son and sighed. Then a reluctant smile lighted her face and she reached up, smoothing the thick, untidy hair away from his face.

“Aye, wee Ian. I do.” Her hand lingered along his ruddy cheek, then dropped away.

“Go along to the house, then, and have second breakfast wi’ your uncle,” she said. “Your auntie and I are goin’ to the root cellar. But ye come and fetch me smartly, if Mr. Hobart MacKenzie should come, aye?”

“Right away, Mam,” he promised, and shot for the house, impelled by the thought of food.

Jenny watched him go, moving with the clumsy grace of a young whooping crane, and shook her head, the smile still on her lips.

“Sweet laddie,” she murmured. Then, recalled to the present circumstances, she turned to me with decision.

“Come along, then,” she said. “I expect ye want to talk to me, aye?”

Neither of us said anything until we reached the quiet sanctuary of the root cellar. It was a small room dug under the house, pungent with the scent of the long braided strings of onions and garlic that hung from the rafters, the sweet, spicy scent of dried apples, and the moist, earthy smell of potatoes, spread in lumpy brown blankets over the shelves that lined the cellar.

“D’ye remember telling me to plant potatoes?” Jenny asked, passing a hand lightly over the clustered tubers. “That was a lucky thing; ’twas the potato crop kept us alive, more than one winter after Culloden.”

I remembered, all right. I had told her as we stood together on a cold autumn night, about to part—she to return to a newborn baby, I to hunt for Jamie, an outlaw in the Highlands, under sentence of death. I had found him, and saved him—and Lallybroch, evidently. And she had tried to give them both to Laoghaire.

“Why?” I said softly, at last. I spoke to the top of her head, bent over her task. Her hand went out with the regularity of clockwork, pulling an onion from the long hanging braid, breaking the tough, withered stems from the plait and tossing it into the basket she carried.

“Why did you do it?” I said. I broke off an onion from another braid, but instead of putting it in the basket, held it in my hands, rolling it back and forth like a baseball, hearing the papery skin rustle between my palms.

“Why did I do what?” Her voice was perfectly controlled again; only someone who knew her well could have heard the note of strain in it. I knew her well—or had, at one time.

“Why did I make the match between my brother and Laoghaire, d’ye mean?” She glanced up quickly, smooth black brows raised in question, but then bent back to the braid of onions. “You’re right; he wouldna have done it, without I made him.”

“So you did make him do it,” I said. The wind rattled the door of the root cellar, sending a small sifting of dirt down upon the cut-stone steps.

“He was lonely,” she said, softly. “So lonely. I couldna bear to see him so. He was wretched for so long, ye ken, mourning for you.”

“I thought he was dead,” I said quietly, answering the unspoken accusation.

“He might as well have been,” she said, sharply, then raised her head and sighed, pushing back a lock of dark hair.

“Aye, maybe ye truly didna ken he’d lived; there were a great many who didn’t, after Culloden—and it’s sure he thought you were dead and gone then. But he was sair wounded, and not only his leg. And when he came home from England—” She shook her head, and reached for another onion. “He was whole enough to look at, but not—” She gave me a look, straight on, with those slanted blue eyes, so disturbingly like her brother’s. “He’s no the sort of man should sleep alone, aye?”

“Granted,” I said shortly. “But we did live, the both of us. Why did you send for Laoghaire when we came back with Young Ian?”

Jenny didn’t answer at first, but only went on reaching for onions, breaking, reaching, breaking, reaching.

“I liked you,” she said at last, so low I could barely hear her. “Loved ye, maybe, when ye lived here with Jamie, before.”

“I liked you, too,” I said, just as softly. “Then why?”

Her hands stilled at last and she looked up at me, fists balled at her sides.

“When Ian told me ye’d come back,” she said slowly, eyes fastened on the onions, “ye could have knocked me flat wi’ a down-feather. At first, I was excited, wanting to see ye—wanting to know where ye’d been—” she added, arching her brows slightly in inquiry. I didn’t answer, and she went on.

“But then I was afraid,” she said softly. Her eyes slid away, shadowed by their thick fringe of black lashes.

“I saw ye, ye ken,” she said, still looking off into some unseeable distance. “When he wed Laoghaire, and them standing by the altar—ye were there wi’ them, standing at his left hand, betwixt him and Laoghaire. And I kent that meant ye would take him back.”

The hair prickled slightly on the nape of my neck. She shook her head slowly, and I saw she had gone pale with the memory. She sat down on a barrel, the cloak spreading out around her like a flower.

“I’m not one of those born wi’ the Sight, nor one who has it regular. I’ve never had it before, and hope never to have it again. But I saw ye there, as clear as I see ye now, and it scairt me so that I had to leave the room, right in the midst o’ the vows.” She swallowed, looking at me directly.

“I dinna ken who ye are,” she said softly. “Or…or…what. We didna ken your people, or your place. I never asked ye, did I? Jamie chose ye, that was enough. But then ye were gone, and after so long—I thought he might have forgot ye enough to wed again, and be happy.”

“He wasn’t, though,” I said, hoping for confirmation from Jenny.

She gave it, shaking her head.

“No,” she said quietly. “But Jamie’s a faithful man, aye? No matter how it was between the two of them, him and Laoghaire, if he’d sworn to be her man, he wouldna leave her altogether. It didna matter that he spent most of his time in Edinburgh; I kent he’d always come back here—he’d be bound here, to the Highlands. But then you came back.”

Her hands lay still in her lap, a rare sight. They were still finely shaped, long-fingered and deft, but the knuckles were red and rough with years of work, and the veins stood out blue beneath the thin white skin.

“D’ye ken,” she said, looking into her lap, “I have never been further than ten miles from Lallybroch, in all my life?”

“No,” I said, slightly startled. She shook her head slowly, then looked up at me.

“You have, though,” she said. “You’ve traveled a great deal, I expect.” Her gaze searched my face, looking for clues.

“I have.”

She nodded, as though thinking to herself.

“You’ll go again,” she said, nearly whispering. “I kent ye would go again. You’re not bound here, not like Laoghaire—not like me. And he would go with ye. And I should never see him again.” She closed her eyes briefly, then opened them, looking at me under her fine dark brows.

“That’s why,” she said. “I thought if ye kent about Laoghaire, ye’d go again at once—you did—” she added, with a faint grimace, “and Jamie would stay. But ye came back.” Her shoulders rose in a faint, helpless shrug. “And I see it’s no good; he’s bound to ye, for good or ill. It’s you that’s his wife. And if ye leave again, he will go with ye.”