Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 106

   

Ned Gowan inclined his head ceremoniously.

“Weel, ye must understand,” he began, “that a successful suit brought under the charges as described might result in Miss MacKenzie and her brother mulcting ye in substantial damages—verra substantial indeed,” he added, with a faint lawyerly gloating at the prospect.

“After all, Miss MacKenzie has not only been subject to public humiliation and ridicule leading to acute distress of mind, but is also threatened with loss of her chief means of support—”

“She isna threatened wi’ any such thing,” Jamie interrupted heatedly. “I told her I should go on supporting her and the two lassies! What does she think I am?”

Ned exchanged a glance with Hobart, who shook his head.

“Ye dinna want to know what she thinks ye are,” Hobart assured Jamie. “I wouldna have thought she kent such words, myself. But ye do mean to pay?”

Jamie nodded impatiently, rubbing his good hand through his hair.

“Aye, I will.”

“Only until she’s marrit again, though.” Everyone’s head turned in surprise toward Jenny, who nodded firmly to Ned Gowan.

“If Jamie’s married to Claire, the marriage between him and Laoghaire wasna valid, aye?”

The lawyer bowed.

“That is true, Mrs. Murray.”

“Well, then,” Jenny said, in a decided manner. “She’s free to marry again at once, is she no? And once she does, my brother shouldna be providing for her household.”

“An excellent point, Mrs. Murray.” Ned Gowan took up his quill and scratched industriously. “Well, we make progress,” he declared, laying it down again and beaming at the company. “Now, the next point to be covered…”

An hour later, the decanter of whisky was empty, the sheets of foolscap on the table were filled with Ned Gowan’s chicken-scratchings, and everyone lay limp and exhausted—except Ned himself, spry and bright-eyed as ever.

“Excellent, excellent,” he declared again, gathering up the sheets and tapping them neatly into order. “So—the main provisions of the settlement are as follows: Mr. Fraser agrees to pay to Miss MacKenzie the sum of five hundred pounds in compensation for distress, inconvenience, and the loss of his conjugal services”—Jamie snorted slightly at this, but Ned affected not to hear him, continuing his synopsis—“and in addition, agrees to maintain her household at the rate of one hundred pounds per annum, until such time as the aforesaid Miss MacKenzie may marry again, at which time such payment shall cease. Mr. Fraser agrees also to provide a bride-portion for each of Miss MacKenzie’s daughters, of an additional three hundred pounds, and as a final provision, agrees not to pursue a prosecution against Miss MacKenzie for assault with intent to commit murder. In return, Miss MacKenzie acquits Mr. Fraser of any and all other claims. This is in accordance with your understanding and consent, Mr. Fraser?” He quirked a brow at Jamie.

“Aye, it is,” Jamie said. He was pale from sitting up too long, and there was a fine dew of sweat at his hairline, but he sat straight and tall, the child still asleep in his lap, thumb firmly embedded in her mouth.

“Excellent,” Ned said again. He rose, beaming, and bowed to the company. “As our friend Dr. John Arbuthnot says, ‘Law is a bottomless pit.’ But not more so at the moment than my stomach. Is that delectable aroma indicative of a saddle of mutton in our vicinity, Mrs. Jenny?”

At table, I sat to one side of Jamie, Hobart MacKenzie to the other, now looking pink and relaxed. Mary MacNab brought in the joint, and by ancient custom, set it down in front of Jamie. Her gaze lingered on him a moment too long. He picked up the long, wicked carving knife with his good hand and offered it politely to Hobart.

“Will ye have a go at it, Hobart?” he said.

“Och, no,” Hobart said, waving it away. “Better let your wife carve it. I’m no hand wi’ a knife—likely cut my finger off instead. You know me, Jamie,” he said comfortably.

Jamie gave his erstwhile brother-in-law a long look over the saltcellar.

“Once I would ha’ thought, so, Hobart,” he said. “Pass me the whisky, aye?”

“The thing to do is to get her married at once,” Jenny declared. The children and grandchildren had all retired, and Ned and Hobart had departed for Kinwallis, leaving the four of us to take stock over brandy and cream cakes in the laird’s study.

Jamie turned to his sister. “The matchmaking’s more in your line, aye?” he said, with a noticeable edge to his voice. “I expect you can think of a suitable man or two for the job, if ye put your mind to it?”

“I expect I can,” she said, matching his edge with one of her own. She was embroidering; the needle stabbed through the linen fabric, flashing in the lamplight. It had begun to sleet heavily outside, but the study was cozy, with a small fire on the hearth and the pool of lamplight spilling warmth over the battered desk and its burden of books and ledgers.

“There’s the one thing about it,” she said, eyes on her work. “Where d’ye mean to get twelve hundred pounds, Jamie?”

I had been wondering that myself. The insurance settlement on the printshop had fallen far short of that amount, and I doubted that Jamie’s share of the smuggling proceeds amounted to anything near that magnitude. Certainly Lallybroch itself could not supply the money; survival in the Highlands was a chancy business, and even several good years in a row would provide only the barest surplus.

“Well, there’s only the one place, isn’t there?” Ian looked from his sister to his brother-in-law and back. After a short silence, Jamie nodded.

“I suppose so,” he said reluctantly. He glanced at the window, where the rain was slashing across the glass in slanting streaks. “A vicious time of year for it, though.”

Ian shrugged, and sat forward a bit in his chair. “The spring tide will be in a week.”

Jamie frowned, looking troubled.

“Aye, that’s so, but…”

“There’s no one has a better right to it, Jamie,” Ian said. He reached out and squeezed his friend’s good arm, smiling. “It was meant for Prince Charles’ followers, aye? And ye were one of those, whether ye wanted to be or no.”

Jamie gave him back a rueful half-smile.

“Aye, I suppose that’s true.” He sighed. “In any case, it’s the only thing I can see to do.” He glanced back and forth between Ian and Jenny, evidently debating whether to add something else. His sister knew him even better than I did. She lifted her head from her work and looked at him sharply.

“What is it, Jamie?” she said.

He took a deep breath.

“I want to take Young Ian,” he said.

“No,” she said instantly. The needle had stopped, stuck halfway through a brilliant red bud in the pattern, the color of blood against the white smock.

“He’s old enough, Jenny,” Jamie said quietly.

“He’s not!” she objected. “He’s but barely fifteen; Michael and Jamie were both sixteen at least, and better grown.”

“Aye, but wee Ian’s a better swimmer than either of his brothers,” Ian said judiciously. His forehead was furrowed with thought. “It will have to be one of the lads, after all,” he pointed out to Jenny. He jerked his head toward Jamie, cradling his arm in its sling. “Jamie canna very well be swimming himself, in his present condition. Or Claire, for that matter,” he added, with a smile at me.

“Swim?” I said, utterly bewildered. “Swim where?”

Ian looked taken aback for a moment; then he glanced at Jamie, brows lifted.

“Oh. Ye hadna told her?”

Jamie shook his head. “I had, but not all of it.” He turned to me. “It’s the treasure, Sassenach—the seals’ gold.”

Unable to take the treasure with him, he had concealed it in its place and returned to Ardsmuir.

“I didna ken what best to do about it,” he explained. “Duncan Kerr gave the care of it to me, but I had no notion who it belonged to, or who put it there, or what I was to do with it. ‘The white witch’ was all Duncan said, and that meant nothing to me but you, Sassenach.”

Reluctant to make use of the treasure himself, and yet feeling that someone should know about it, lest he die in prison, he had sent a carefully coded letter to Jenny and Ian at Lallybroch, giving the location of the cache, and the use for which it had—presumably—been meant.

Times had been hard for Jacobites then, sometimes even more so for those who had escaped to France—leaving lands and fortunes behind—than for those who remained to face English persecution in the Highlands. At about the same time, Lallybroch had experienced two bad crops in a row, and letters had reached them from France, asking for any help possible to succor erstwhile companions there, in danger of starvation.

“We had nothing to send; in fact, we were damn close to starving here,” Ian explained. “I sent word to Jamie, and he said as he thought perhaps it wouldna be wrong to use a small bit of the treasure to help feed Prince Tearlach’s followers.”

“It seemed likely it was put there by one of the Stuarts’ supporters,” Jamie chimed in. He cocked a ruddy brow at me, and his mouth quirked up at one corner. “I thought I wouldna send it to Prince Charles, though.”

“Good thinking,” I said dryly. Any money given to Charles Stuart would have been wasted, squandered within weeks, and anyone who had known Charles intimately, as Jamie had, would know that very well.

Ian had taken his eldest son, Jamie, and made his way across Scotland to the seals’ cove near Coigach. Fearful of any word of the treasure getting out, they had not sought a fisherman’s boat, but instead Young Jamie had swum to the seals’ rock as his uncle had several years before. He had found the treasure in its place, abstracted two gold coins and three of the smaller gemstones, and secreting these in a bag tied securely round his neck, had replaced the rest of the treasure and made his way back through the surf, arriving exhausted.

They had made their way to Inverness then, and taken ship to France, where their cousin Jared Fraser, a successful expatriate wine merchant, had helped them to change the coins and jewels discreetly into cash, and taken the responsibility of distributing it among the Jacobites in need.

Three times since, Ian had made the laborious trip to the coast with one of his sons, each time to abstract a small part of the hidden fortune to supply a need. Twice the money had gone to friends in need in France; once it had been needed to purchase fresh planting-stock for Lallybroch and provide the food to see its tenants through a long winter when the potato crop failed.

Only Jenny, Ian, and the two elder boys, Jamie and Michael, knew of the treasure. Ian’s wooden leg prevented his swimming to the seals’ island, so one of his sons must always make the trip with him. I gathered that it had been something of a rite of passage for both Young Jamie and Michael, entrusted with such a great secret. Now it might be Young Ian’s turn.

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