Author: P Hana

Page 113


Mr. Willoughby, who did not speak French, was peering with marked contempt at a porcelain jar painted with pheasants, done in an Oriental style.

“Thank you,” I said, “but I think not. I’ll try Krasner.”

Mr. Willoughby had attracted relatively little attention in Le Havre, a port city teeming with foreigners of every description. On the streets of Paris, wearing a padded jacket over his blue-silk pajamas, and with his queue wrapped several times around his head for convenience, he caused considerable comment. He did, however, prove surprisingly knowledgeable about herbs and medicinal substances.

“Bai jei ai,” he told me, picking up a pinch of mustard seed from an open box in Krasner’s emporium. “Good for shen-yen—kidneys.”

“Yes, it is,” I said, surprised. “How did you know?”

He allowed his head to roll slightly from side to side, as I had learned was his habit when pleased at being able to astonish someone.

“I know healers one time,” was all he said, though, before turning to point at a basket containing what looked like balls of dried mud.

“Shan-yü,” he said authoritatively. “Good—very good—cleanse blood, liver he work good, no dry skin, help see. You buy.”

I stepped closer to examine the objects in question and found them to be a particularly homely sort of dried eel, rolled into balls and liberally coated with mud. The price was quite reasonable, though, so to please him, I added two of the nasty things to the basket over my arm.

The weather was mild for early December, and we walked back toward Jared’s house in the Rue Tremoulins. The streets were bright with winter sunshine, and lively with vendors, beggars, prostitutes, shopgirls, and the other denizens of the poorer part of Paris, all taking advantage of the temporary thaw.

At the corner of the Rue du Nord and the Allée des Canards, though, I saw something quite out of the ordinary; a tall, slope-shouldered figure in black frock coat and a round black hat.

“Reverend Campbell!” I exclaimed.

He whirled about at being so addressed, then, recognizing me, bowed and removed his hat.

“Mistress Malcolm!” he said. “How most agreeable to see you again.” His eye fell on Mr. Willoughby, and he blinked, features hardening in a stare of disapproval.

“Er…this is Mr. Willoughby,” I introduced him. “He’s an…associate of my husband’s. Mr. Willoughby, the Reverend Archibald Campbell.”

“Indeed.” The Reverend Campbell normally looked quite austere, but contrived now to look as though he had breakfasted on barbed wire, and found it untasty.

“I thought that you were sailing from Edinburgh to the West Indies,” I said, in hopes of taking his gelid eye off the Chinaman. It worked; his gaze shifted to me, and thawed slightly.

“I thank you for your kind inquiries, Madame,” he said. “I still harbor such intentions. However, I had urgent business to transact first in France. I shall be departing from Edinburgh on Thursday week.”

“And how is your sister?” I asked. He glanced at Mr. Willoughby with dislike, then taking a step to one side so as to be out of the Chinaman’s direct sight, lowered his voice.

“She is somewhat improved, I thank you. The draughts you prescribed have been most helpful. She is much calmer, and sleeps quite regularly now. I must thank you again for your kind attentions.”

“That’s quite all right,” I said. “I hope the voyage will agree with her.” We parted with the usual expressions of good will, and Mr. Willoughby and I walked down the Rue du Nord, back toward Jared’s house.

“Reverend meaning most holy fella, not true?” Mr. Willoughby said, after a short silence. He had the usual Oriental difficulty in pronouncing the letter “r,” which made the word “Reverend” more than slightly picturesque, but I gathered his meaning well enough.

“True,” I said, glancing down at him curiously. He pursed his lips and pushed them in and out, then grunted in a distinctly amused manner.

“Not so holy, that Reverend fella,” he said.

“What makes you say so?”

He gave me a bright-eyed glance, full of shrewdness.

“I see him one time, Madame Jeanne’s. Not loud talking then. Very quiet then, Reverend fella.”

“Oh, really?” I turned to look back, but the Reverend’s tall figure had disappeared into the crowd.

“Stinking whores,” Mr. Willoughby amplified, making an extremely rude gesture in the vicinity of his crotch in illustration.

“Yes, I gathered,” I said. “Well, I suppose the flesh is weak now and then, even for Scottish Free Church ministers.”

At dinner that night, I mentioned seeing the Reverend, though without adding Mr. Willoughby’s remarks about the Reverend’s extracurricular activities.

“I ought to have asked him where in the West Indies he was going,” I said. “Not that he’s a particularly scintillating companion, but it might be useful to know someone there.”

Jared, who was consuming veal patties in a businesslike way, paused to swallow, then said, “Dinna trouble yourself about that, my dear. I’ve made up a list for you of useful acquaintances. I’ve written letters for ye to carry to several friends there, who will certainly lend ye assistance.”

He cut another sizable chunk of veal, wiped it through a puddle of wine sauce, and chewed it, while looking thoughtfully at Jamie.

Having evidently come to a decision of some kind, he swallowed, took a sip of wine, and said in a conversational voice, “We met on the level, Cousin.”

I stared at him in bewilderment, but Jamie, after a moment’s pause, replied, “And we parted on the square.”

Jared’s narrow face broke into a wide smile.

“Ah, that’s a help!” he said. “I wasna just sure, aye? but I thought it worth the trial. Where were ye made?”

“In prison,” Jamie replied briefly. “It will be the Inverness lodge, though.”

Jared nodded in satisfaction. “Aye, well enough. There are lodges on Jamaica and Barbados—I’ll have letters for ye to the Masters there. But the largest lodge is on Trinidad—better than two thousand members there. If ye should need great help in finding the lad, that’s where ye must ask. Word of everything that happens in the islands comes through that lodge, sooner or later.”

“Would you care to tell me what you’re talking about?” I interrupted.

Jamie glanced at me and smiled.

“Freemasons, Sassenach.”

“You’re a Mason?” I blurted. “You didn’t tell me that!”

“He’s not meant to,” Jared said, a bit sharply. “The rites of Freemasonry are secret, known only to the members. I wouldna have been able to give Jamie an introduction to the Trinidad lodge, had he not been one of us already.”

The conversation became general again, as Jamie and Jared fell to discussing the provisioning of the Artemis, but I was quiet, concentrating on my own veal. The incident, small as it was, had reminded me of all the things I didn’t know about Jamie. At one time, I should have said I knew him as well as one person can know another.

Now, there would be moments, talking intimately together, falling asleep in the curve of his shoulder, holding him close in the act of love, when I felt I knew him still, his mind and heart as clear to me as the lead crystal of the wineglasses on Jared’s table.

And others, like now, when I would stumble suddenly over some unsuspected bit of his past, or see him standing still, eyes shrouded with recollections I didn’t share. I felt suddenly unsure and alone, hesitating on the brink of the gap between us.

Jamie’s foot pressed against mine under the table, and he looked across at me with a smile hidden in his eyes. He raised his glass a little, in a silent toast, and I smiled back, feeling obscurely comforted. The gesture brought back a sudden memory of our wedding night, when we had sat beside each other sipping wine, strangers frightened of each other, with nothing between us but a marriage contract—and the promise of honesty.

There are things ye maybe canna tell me, he had said. I willna ask ye, or force ye. But when ye do tell me something, let it be the truth. There is nothing between us now but respect, and respect has room for secrets, I think—but not for lies.

I drank deeply from my own glass, feeling the strong bouquet of the wine billow up inside my head, and a warm flush heat my cheeks. Jamie’s eyes were still fixed on me, ignoring Jared’s soliloquy about ship’s biscuit and candles. His foot nudged mine in silent inquiry, and I pressed back in answer.

“Aye, I’ll see to it in the morning,” he said, in reply to a question from Jared. “But for now, Cousin, I think I shall retire. It’s been a long day.” He pushed back his chair, stood up, and held out his arm to me.

“Will ye join me, Claire?”

I stood up, the wine rushing through my limbs, making me feel warm all over and slightly giddy. Our eyes met with a perfect understanding. There was more than respect between us now, and room for all our secrets to be known, in good time.

In the morning, Jamie and Mr. Willoughby went with Jared, to complete their errands. I had another errand of my own—one that I preferred to do alone. Twenty years ago, there had been two people in Paris whom I cared for deeply. Master Raymond was gone; dead or disappeared. The chances that the other might still be living were slim, but still, I had to see, before I left Europe for what might be the last time. With my heart beating erratically, I stepped into Jared’s coach, and told the coachman to drive to the Hôpital des Anges.

The grave was set in the small cemetery reserved for the convent, under the buttresses of the nearby cathedral. Even though the air from the Seine was damp and cold, and the day cloudy, the walled cemetery held a soft light, reflected from the blocks of pale limestone that sheltered the small plot from wind. In the winter, there were no shrubs or flowers growing, but leafless aspens and larches spread a delicate tracery against the sky, and a deep green moss cradled the stones, thriving despite the cold.

It was a small stone, made of a soft white marble. A pair of cherub’s wings spread out across the top, sheltering the single word that was the stone’s only other decoration. “Faith,” it read.

I stood looking down at it until my vision blurred. I had brought a flower; a pink tulip—not the easiest thing to find in Paris in December, but Jared kept a conservatory. I knelt down and laid it on the stone, stroking the soft curve of the petal with a finger, as though it were a baby’s cheek.

“I thought I wouldn’t cry,” I said a little later.

I felt the weight of Mother Hildegarde’s hand on my head.

“Le Bon Dieu orders things as He thinks best,” she said softly. “But He seldom tells us why.”

I took a deep breath and wiped my cheeks with a corner of my cloak. “It was a long time ago, though.” I rose slowly to my feet and turned to find Mother Hildegarde watching me with an expression of deep sympathy and interest.

“I have noticed,” she said slowly, “that time does not really exist for mothers, with regard to their children. It does not matter greatly how old the child is—in the blink of an eye, the mother can see the child again as it was when it was born, when it learned to walk, as it was at any age—at any time, even when the child is fully grown and a parent itself.”