Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 111

   

“I believe he’s gone to sleep in the stable.” Jamie yawned, and stretched himself luxuriously. “Mathilde said she wasna accustomed to have heathens in the house and didna mean to start now. She was sprinkling the kitchen wi’ holy water after he ate supper there.” Glancing up, he caught sight of the heart I had traced on the windowpane, black against the misted glass, and smiled.

“What’s that?”

“Just silliness,” I said.

He reached up and took my right hand, the ball of his thumb caressing the small scar at the base of my own thumb, the letter “J” he had made with the point of his knife, just before I left him, before Culloden.

“I didna ask,” he said, “whether ye wished to come with me. I could leave ye here; Jared would have ye stay wi’ him and welcome, here or in Paris. Or ye could go back to Lallybroch, if ye wished.”

“No, you didn’t ask,” I said. “Because you knew bloody well what the answer would be.”

We looked at each other and smiled. The lines of heartsickness and weariness had lifted from his face. The candlelight glowed softly on the burnished crown of his head as he bent and gently kissed the palm of my hand.

The wind still whistled in the chimney, and the rain ran down the glass like tears outside, but it no longer mattered. Now I could sleep.

The sky had cleared by morning. A brisk, cold breeze rattled the windowpanes of Jared’s study, but couldn’t penetrate to the cozy room inside. The house at Le Havre was much smaller than his lavish Paris residence, but still boasted three stories of solid, half-timbered comfort.

I pushed my feet farther toward the crackling fire, and dipped my quill into the inkwell. I was making up a list of all the things I thought might be needed in the medical way for a two-month voyage. Distilled alcohol was both the most important and the easiest to obtain; Jared had promised to get me a cask in Paris.

“We’d best label it something else, though,” he’d told me. “Or the sailors will have drunk it before you’ve left port.”

Purified lard, I wrote slowly, St.-John’s-wort; garlic, ten pounds; yarrow. I wrote borage, then shook my head and crossed it out, replacing it with the older name by which it was more likely known now, bugloss.

It was slow work. At one time, I had known the medicinal uses of all the common herbs, and not a few uncommon ones. I had had to; they were all that was available.

At that, many of them were surprisingly effective. Despite the skepticism—and outspoken horror—of my supervisors and colleagues at the hospital in Boston, I had used them occasionally on my modern patients to good effect. (“Did you see what Dr. Randall did?” a shocked intern’s cry echoed in memory, making me smile as I wrote. “She fed the stomach in 134B boiled flowers!”)

The fact remained that one wouldn’t use yarrow and comfrey on a wound if iodine were available, nor treat a systemic infection with bladderwort in preference to penicillin.

I had forgotten a lot, but as I wrote the names of the herbs, the look and the smell of each one began to come back to me—the dark, bituminous look and pleasant light smell of birch oil, the sharp tang of the mint family, the dusty sweet smell of chamomile and the astringency of bistort.

Across the table, Jamie was struggling with his own lists. A poor penman, he wrote laboriously with his crippled right hand, pausing now and then to rub the healing wound above his left elbow and mutter curses under his breath.

“Have ye lime juice on your list, Sassenach?” he inquired, looking up.

“No. Ought I to have?”

He brushed a strand of hair out of his face and frowned at the sheet of paper in front of him.

“It depends. Customarily, it would be the ship’s surgeon who provides the lime juice, but in a ship the size of the Artemis, there generally isn’t a surgeon, and the provision of foodstuffs falls to the purser. But there isn’t a purser, either; there’s no time to find a dependable man, so I shall fill that office, too.”

“Well, if you’ll be purser and supercargo, I expect I’ll be the closest thing to a ship’s surgeon,” I said, smiling slightly. “I’ll get the lime juice.”

“All right.” We returned to a companionable scratching, unbroken until the entrance of Josephine, the parlormaid, to announce the arrival of a person. Her long nose wrinkled in unconscious disapproval at the information.

“He waits upon the doorstep. The butler tried to send him away, but he insists that he has an appointment with you, Monsieur James?” The questioning tone of this last implied that nothing could seem more unlikely, but duty compelled her to relay the improbable suggestion.

Jamie’s eyebrows rose. “A person? What sort of person?” Josephine’s lips primmed together as though she really could not bring herself to say. I was becoming curious to see this person, and ventured over to the window. Sticking my head far out, I could see the top of a very dusty black slouch hat on the doorstep, and not much more.

“He looks like a peddler; he’s got a bundle of some kind on his back,” I reported, craning out still farther, hands on the sill. Jamie clutched me by the waist and drew me back, thrusting his own head out in turn.

“Och, it’s the coin dealer Jared mentioned!” he exclaimed. “Bring him up, then.”

With an eloquent expression on her narrow face, Josephine departed, returning in short order with a tall, gangling youth of perhaps twenty, dressed in a badly outmoded style of coat, wide unbuckled breeches that flapped limply about his skinny shanks, drooping stockings and the cheapest of wooden sabots.

The filthy black hat, courteously removed indoors, revealed a thin face with an intelligent expression, adorned with a vigorous, if scanty, brown beard. Since virtually no one in Le Havre other than a few seamen wore a beard, it hardly needed the small shiny black skullcap on the newcomer’s head to tell me he was a Jew.

The boy bowed awkwardly to me, then to Jamie, struggling with the straps of his peddler’s pack.

“Madame,” he said, with a bob that made his curly sidelocks dance, “Monsieur. It is most good of you to receive me.” He spoke French oddly, with a singsong intonation that made him hard to follow.

While I entirely understood Josephine’s reservations about this…person, still, he had wide, guileless blue eyes that made me smile at him despite his generally unprepossessing appearance.

“It’s we who should be grateful to you,” Jamie was saying. “I had not expected you to come so promptly. My cousin tells me your name is Mayer?”

The coin dealer nodded, a shy smile breaking out amid the sprigs of his youthful beard.

“Yes, Mayer. It is no trouble; I was in the city already.”

“Yet you come from Frankfort, no? A long way,” Jamie said politely. He smiled as he looked over Mayer’s costume, which looked as though he had retrieved it from a rubbish tip.“And a dusty one, too, I expect,” he added. “Will you take wine?”

Mayer looked flustered at this offer, but after opening and closing his mouth a few times, finally settled on a silent nod of acceptance.

His shyness vanished, though, once the pack was opened. Though from the outside the shapeless bundle looked as though it might contain, at best, a change of ragged linen and Mayer’s midday meal, once opened it revealed several small wooden racks, cleverly fitted into a framework inside the pack, each rack packed carefully with tiny leather bags, cuddling together like eggs in a nest.

Mayer removed a folded square of fabric from beneath the racks, whipped it open, and spread it with something of a flourish on Jamie’s desk. Then one by one, Mayer opened the bags and drew out the contents, placing each gleaming round reverently on the deep blue velvet of the cloth.

“An Aquilia Severa aureus,” he said, touching one small coin that glowed with the deep mellowness of ancient gold from the velvet. “And here, a Sestercius of the Calpurnia family.” His voice was soft and his hands sure, stroking the edge of a silver coin only slightly worn, or cradling one in his palm to demonstrate the weight of it.

He looked up from the coins, eyes bright with the reflections of the precious metal.

“Monsieur Fraser tells me that you desire to inspect as many of the Greek and Roman rarities as possible. I have not my whole stock with me, of course, but I have quite a few—and I could send to Frankfort for others, if you desire.”

Jamie smiled, shaking his head. “I’m afraid we haven’t time, Mr. Mayer. We—”

“Just Mayer, Monsieur Fraser,” the young man interrupted, perfectly polite, but with a slight edge in his voice.

“Indeed.” Jamie bowed slightly. “I hope my cousin shall not have misled you. I shall be most happy to pay the cost of your journey, and something for your time, but I am not wishful to purchase any of your stock myself…Mayer.”

The young man’s eyebrows rose in inquiry, along with one shoulder.

“What I wish,” Jamie said slowly, leaning forward to look closely at the coins on display, “is to compare your stock with my recollection of several ancient coins I have seen, and then—should I see any that are similar—to inquire whether you—or your family, I should say, for I expect you are too young yourself—should be familiar with anyone who might have purchased such coins twenty years ago.”

He glanced up at the young Jew, who was looking justifiably astonished, and smiled.

“That may be asking a bit much of you, I know. But my cousin tells me that your family is one of the few who deals in such matters, and is by far the most knowledgeable. If you can acquaint me likewise with any persons in the West Indies with interests in this area, I should be deeply obliged to you.”

Mayer sat looking at him for a moment, then inclined his head, the sunlight winking from the border of small jet beads that adorned his skullcap. It was plain that he was intensely curious, but he merely touched his pack and said, “My father or my uncle would have sold such coins, not me; but I have here the catalogue and record of every coin that has passed through our hands in thirty years. I will tell you what I can.”

He drew the velvet cloth toward Jamie and sat back.

“Do you see anything here like the coins you remember?”

Jamie studied the rows of coins with close attention, then gently nudged a silver piece, about the size of an American quarter. Three leaping porpoises circled its edge, surrounding a charioteer in the center.

“This one,” he said. “There were several like it—small differences, but several with these porpoises.” He looked again, picked out a worn gold disc with an indistinct profile, then a silver one, somewhat larger and in better condition, with a man’s head shown both full-face and in profile.

“These,” he said. “Fourteen of the gold ones, and ten of the ones with two heads.”

“Ten!” Mayer’s bright eyes popped wide with astonishment. “I should not have thought there were so many in Europe.”

Jamie nodded. “I’m quite certain—I saw them closely; handled them, even.”

“These are the twin heads of Alexander,” Mayer said, touching the coin with reverence. “Very rare indeed. It is a tetradrachm, struck to commemorate the battle fought at Amphipolos, and the founding of a city on the site of the battlefield.”

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