Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 123

   

“Oh, ’twas the blood poison,” he said, casually. “I tore a small hole in my hand wi’ a nail one day, and it festered.”

I stared at the sleeve, empty from the shoulder.

“I suppose it did,” I said faintly.

“Oh, aye. It was a lucky thing, though; it was that stopped me bein’ transported wi’ the rest.”

“The rest of whom?”

He looked at me, surprised. “Why, the other prisoners from Ardsmuir. Did Mac Dubh not tell ye about that? When they stopped the fortress from being a prison, they sent off all of the Scottish prisoners to be indenture men in the Colonies—all but Mac Dubh, for he was a great man, and they didna want him out o’ their sight, and me, for I’d lost the arm, and was no good for hard labor. So Mac Dubh was taken somewhere else, and I was let go—pardoned and set free. So ye see, it was a most fortunate accident, save only for the pain that comes on sometimes at night.” He grimaced, and made as though to rub the nonexistent arm, stopping and shrugging at me in illustration of the problem.

“I see. So you were with Jamie in prison. I didn’t know that.” I was turning through the contents of my medicine chest, wondering whether a general pain reliever like willow-bark tea or horehound with fennel would work on a phantom pain.

“Oh, aye.” Innes was losing his shyness, and beginning to speak more freely. “I should have been dead of starvation by now, had Mac Dubh not come to find me, when he was released himself.”

“He went looking for you?” Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a flash of blue, and beckoned to Mr. Willoughby, who was passing by.

“Aye. When he was released from his parole, he came to inquire, to see whether he could trace any of the men who’d been taken to America—to see whether any might have returned.” He shrugged, the missing arm exaggerating the gesture. “But there were none in Scotland, save me.”

“I see. Mr. Willoughby, have you a notion what might be done about this?” Motioning to the Chinese to come and look, I explained the problem, and was pleased to hear that he did indeed have a notion. We stripped Innes of his shirt once again, and I watched, taking careful notes, as Mr. Willoughby pressed hard with his fingers at certain spots on the neck and torso, explaining as best he might what he was doing.

“Arm is in the ghost world,” he explained. “Body not; here in upper world. Arm tries to come back, for it does not like to be away from body. This— An-mo—press-press—this stops pain. But also we tell arm not come back.”

“And how d’ye do that?” Innes was becoming interested in the procedure. Most of the crew would not let Mr. Willoughby touch them, regarding him as heathen, unclean, and a pervert to boot, but Innes had known and worked with the Chinese for the last two years.

Mr. Willoughby shook his head, lacking words, and burrowed in my medicine box. He came up with the bottle of dried hot peppers, and shaking out a careful handful, put it into a small dish.

“Have fire?” he inquired. I had a flint and steel, and with these he succeeded in kindling a spark to ignite the dried herb. The pungent smell filled the cabin, and we all watched as a small plume of white rose up from the dish and formed a small, hovering cloud over the dish.

“Send smoke of fan jiao messenger to ghost world, speak arm,” Mr. Willoughby explained. Inflating his lungs and puffing out his cheeks like a blowfish, he blew lustily at the cloud, dispersing it. Then, without pausing, he turned and spat copiously on Innes’s stump.

“Why, ye heathen bugger!” Innes cried, eyes bulging with fury. “D’ye dare spit on me?”

“Spit on ghost,” Mr. Willoughby explained, taking three quick steps backward, toward the door. “Ghost afraid spittle. Not come back now right away.”

I laid a restraining hand on Innes’s remaining arm.

“Does your missing arm hurt now?” I asked.

The rage began to fade from his face as he thought about it.

“Well…no,” he admitted. Then he scowled at Mr. Willoughby. “But that doesna mean I’ll have ye spit on me whenever the fancy takes ye, ye wee poutworm!”

“Oh, no,” Mr. Willoughby said, quite cool. “I not spit. You spit now. Scare you own ghost.”

Innes scratched his head, not sure whether to be angry or amused.

“Well, I will be damned,” he said finally. He shook his head, and picking up his shirt, pulled it on. “Still,” he said, “I think perhaps next time, I’ll try your tea, Mistress Fraser.”

44

FORCES OF NATURE

“I,” said Jamie, “am a fool.” He spoke broodingly, watching Fergus and Marsali, who were absorbed in close conversation by the rail on the opposite side of the ship.

“What makes you think so?” I asked, though I had a reasonably good idea. The fact that all four of the married persons aboard were living in unwilling celibacy had given rise to a certain air of suppressed amusement among the members of the crew, whose celibacy was involuntary.

“I have spent twenty years longing to have ye in my bed,” he said, verifying my assumption, “and within a month of having ye back again, I’ve arranged matters so that I canna even kiss ye without sneakin’ behind a hatch cover, and even then, half the time I look round to find Fergus looking cross-eyed down his nose at me, the little bastard! And no one to blame for it but my own foolishness. What did I think I was doing?” he demanded rhetorically, glaring at the pair across the way, who were nuzzling each other with open affection.

“Well, Marsali is only fifteen,” I said mildly. “I expect you thought you were being fatherly—or stepfatherly.”

“Aye, I did.” He looked down at me with a grudging smile. “The reward for my tender concern being that I canna even touch my own wife!”

“Oh, you can touch me,” I said. I took one of his hands, caressing the palm gently with my thumb. “You just can’t engage in acts of unbridled carnality.”

We had had a few abortive attempts along those lines, all frustrated by either the inopportune arrival of a crew member or the sheer uncongeniality of any nook aboard the Artemis sufficiently secluded as to be private. One late-night foray into the after hold had ended abruptly when a large rat had leapt from a stack of hides onto Jamie’s bare shoulder, sending me into hysterics and depriving Jamie abruptly of any desire to continue what he was doing.

He glanced down at our linked hands, where my thumb continued to make secret love to his palm, and narrowed his eyes at me, but let me continue. He closed his fingers gently round my hand, his own thumb feather-light on my pulse. The simple fact was that we couldn’t keep our hands off each other—no more than Fergus and Marsali could—despite the fact that we knew very well such behavior would lead only to greater frustration.

“Aye, well, in my own defense, I meant well,” he said ruefully, smiling down into my eyes.

“Well, you know what they say about good intentions.”

“What do they say?” His thumb was stroking gently up and down my wrist, sending small fluttering sensations through the pit of my stomach. I thought it must be true what Mr. Willoughby said, about sensations on one part of the body affecting another.

“They pave the road to Hell.” I gave his hand a squeeze, and tried to take mine away, but he wouldn’t let go.

“Mmphm.” His eyes were on Fergus, who was teasing Marsali with an albatross’s feather, holding her by one arm and tickling her beneath the chin as she struggled ineffectually to get away.

“Verra true,” he said. “I meant to make sure the lass had a chance to think what she was about before the matter was too late for mending. The end result of my interference being that I lie awake half the night trying not to think about you, and listening to Fergus lust across the cabin, and come up in the morning to find the crew all grinning in their beards whenever they see me.” He aimed a vicious glare at Maitland, who was passing by. The beardless cabin boy looked startled, and edged carefully away, glancing nervously back over his shoulder.

“How do you hear someone lust?” I asked, fascinated.

He glanced down at me, looking mildly flustered.

“Oh! Well…it’s only…”

He paused for a moment, then rubbed the bridge of his nose, which was beginning to redden in the sharp breeze.

“Have ye any idea what men in a prison do, Sassenach, having no women for a verra long time?”

“I could guess,” I said, thinking that perhaps I didn’t really want to hear, firsthand. He hadn’t spoken to me before about his time in Ardsmuir.

“I imagine ye could,” he said dryly. “And ye’d be right, too. There’s the three choices; use each other, go a bit mad, or deal with the matter by yourself, aye?”

He turned to look out to sea, and bent his head slightly to look down at me, a slight smile visible on his lips. “D’ye think me mad, Sassenach?”

“Not most of the time,” I replied honestly, turning round beside him. He laughed and shook his head ruefully.

“No, I dinna seem able to manage it. I now and then wished I could go mad”—he said thoughtfully “—it seemed a great deal easier than having always to think what to do next—but it doesna seem to come natural to me. Nor does buggery,” he added, with a wry twist of his mouth.

“No, I shouldn’t think so.” Men who might in the ordinary way recoil in horror from the thought of using another man could still bring themselves to the act, out of desperate need. Not Jamie. Knowing what I did of his experiences at the hands of Jack Randall, I suspected that he very likely would have gone mad before seeking such resort himself.

He shrugged slightly, and stood silent, looking out to sea. Then he glanced down at his hands, spread before him, clutching the rail.

“I fought them—the soldiers who took me. I’d promised Jenny I wouldn’t—she thought they’d hurt me—but when the time came, I couldna seem to help it.” He shrugged again, and slowly opened and closed his right hand. It was his crippled hand, the third finger marked by a thick scar that ran the length of the first two joints, the fourth finger’s second joint fused into stiffness, so that the finger stuck out awkwardly, even when he made a fist.

“I broke this again then, against a dragoon’s jaw,” he said ruefully, waggling the finger slightly. “That was the third time; the second was at Culloden. I didna mind it much. But they put me in chains, and I minded that a great deal.”

“I’d think you would.” It was hard—not difficult, but surprisingly painful—to think of that lithe, powerful body subdued by metal, bound and humbled.

“There’s nay privacy in prison,” he said. “I minded that more than the fetters, I think. Day and night, always in sight of someone, wi’ no guard for your thoughts but to feign sleep. As for the other…” He snorted briefly, and shoved the loose hair back behind his ear. “Well, ye wait for the light to go, for the only modesty there is, is darkness.”

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