“All right. What’s happened to this Arabella, though? Has one of the crew debauched her?”
“I suppose you might say that.” I drew breath to explain further, but before I could speak, another knock sounded on the door.
“Can a man not dress in peace?” Jamie demanded irritably. “Come, then!”
The door swung open, revealing Marsali, who blinked at the sight of her nude stepfather. Jamie hastily swathed his midsection in the shirt he was holding, and nodded to her, sangfroid only slightly impaired.
“Marsali, lass. I’m glad to see ye unhurt. Did ye require something?”
The girl edged into the room, taking up a position between the table and a sea chest.
“Aye, I do,” she said. She was sunburned, and her nose was peeling, but I thought she seemed pale nonetheless. Her fists were clenched at her sides, and her chin lifted as for battle.
“I require ye to keep your promise,” she said.
“Aye?” Jamie looked wary.
“Your promise to let me and Fergus be married, so soon as we came to the Indies.” A small wrinkle appeared between her fair eyebrows. “Hispaniola is in the Indies, no? The Jew said so.”
Jamie scratched at his beard, looking reluctant.
“It is,” he said. “And aye, I suppose if I…well, aye. I did promise. But—you’re still sure of yourselves, the two of ye?” She lifted her chin higher, jaw set firmly.
Jamie lifted one eyebrow.
“Helping stow the cargo. I kent we’d be under way soon, so I thought I’d best come and ask now.”
“Aye. Well.” Jamie frowned, then sighed with resignation. “Aye, I said. But I did say as ye must be blessed by a priest, did I no? There’s no priest closer than Bayamo, and that’s three days’ ride. But perhaps in Jamaica…”
“Nay, you’re forgetting!” Marsali said triumphantly. “We’ve a priest right here. Father Fogden can marry us.”
I felt my jaw drop, and hastily closed it. Jamie was scowling at her.
“We sail first thing in the morning!”
“It won’t take long,” she said. “It’s only a few words, after all. We’re already married, by law; it’s only to be blessed by the Church, aye?” Her hand flattened on her abdomen where her marriage contract presumably resided beneath her stays.
“But your mother…” Jamie glanced helplessly at me for reinforcement. I shrugged, equally helpless. The task of trying either to explain Father Fogden to Jamie or to dissuade Marsali was well beyond me.
“He likely won’t do it, though.” Jamie came up with this objection with a palpable air of relief. “The crew have been trifling with one of his parishioners named Arabella. He willna want anything to do wi’ us, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, he will! He’ll do it for me—he likes me!” Marsali was almost dancing on her toes with eagerness.
Jamie looked at her for a long moment, eyes fixed on hers, reading her face. She was very young.
“You’re sure, then, lassie?” he said at last, very gently. “Ye want this?”
She took a deep breath, a glow spreading over her face.
“I am, Da. I truly am. I want Fergus! I love him!”
Jamie hesitated a moment, then rubbed a hand through his hair and nodded.
“Aye, then. Go and send Mr. Stern to me, then fetch Fergus and tell him to make ready.”
“Oh, Da! Thank you, thank you!” Marsali flung herself at him and kissed him. He held her with one arm, clutching the shirt about his middle with the other. Then he kissed her on the forehead and pushed her gently away.
“Take care,” he said, smiling. “Ye dinna want to go to your bridal covered wi’ lice.”
“Oh!” This seemed to remind her of something. She glanced at me and blushed, putting up a hand to her own pale locks, which were matted with sweat and straggling down her neck from a careless knot.
“Mother Claire,” she said shyly, “I wonder—would ye—could ye lend me a bit of the special soap ye make wi’ the chamomile? I—if there’s time—” she added, with a hasty glance at Jamie, “I should like to wash my hair.”
“Of course,” I said, and smiled at her. “Come along and we’ll make you pretty for your wedding.” I looked her over appraisingly, from glowing round face to dirty bare feet. The crumpled muslin of her sea-shrunk gown stretched tight over her bosom, slight as it was, and the grubby hem hovered several inches above her sandy ankles.
A thought struck me, and I turned to Jamie. “She should have a nice dress to be married in,” I said.
“Sassenach,” he said, with obviously waning patience, “we havena—”
“No, but the priest does,” I interrupted. “Tell Lawrence to ask Father Fogden whether we might borrow one of his gowns; Ermenegilda’s, I mean. I think they’re almost the right size.”
Jamie’s face went blank with surprise above his beard.
“Ermenegilda?” he said. “Arabella? Gowns?” He narrowed his eyes at me. “What sort of priest is this man, Sassenach?”
I paused in the doorway, Marsali hovering impatiently in the passage beyond.
“Well,” I said, “he drinks a bit. And he’s rather fond of sheep. But he might remember the words to the wedding ceremony.”
It was one of the more unusual weddings I had attended. The sun had long since sunk into the sea by the time all arrangements were made. To the disgruntlement of Mr. Warren, the ship’s master, Jamie had declared that we would not leave until the next day, so as to allow the newlyweds one night of privacy ashore.
“Damned if I’d care to consummate a marriage in one of those godforsaken pesthole berths,” he told me privately. “If they got coupled in there to start wi’, we’d never pry them out. And the thought of takin’ a maidenhead in a hammock—”
“Quite,” I said. I poured more vinegar on his head, smiling to myself. “Very thoughtful of you.”
Now Jamie stood by me on the beach, smelling rather strongly of vinegar, but handsome and dignified in blue coat, clean stock and linen, and gray serge breeks, with his hair clubbed back and ribboned. The wild red beard was a bit incongruous above his otherwise sober garb, but it had been neatly trimmed and fine-combed with vinegar, and stockinged feet notwithstanding, he made a fine picture as father of the bride.
Murphy, as one chief witness, and Maitland, as the other, were somewhat less prepossessing, though Murphy had washed his hands and Maitland his face. Fergus would have preferred Lawrence Stern as a witness, and Marsali had asked for me, but both were dissuaded; first on grounds that Stern was not a Christian, let alone a Catholic, and then, by consideration that while I was religiously qualified, that fact was unlikely to weigh heavily with Laoghaire, once she found out about it.
“I’ve told Marsali she must write to her mother to say she’s wed,” Jamie murmured to me as we watched the preparations on the beach go forward. “But perhaps I shall suggest she doesna say much more about it than that.”
I saw his point; Laoghaire was not going to be pleased at hearing that her eldest daughter had eloped with a one-handed ex-pickpocket twice her age. Her maternal feelings were unlikely to be assuaged by hearing that the marriage had been performed in the middle of the night on a West Indian beach by a disgraced—if not actually defrocked—priest, witnessed by twenty-five seamen, ten French horses, a small flock of sheep—all gaily beribboned in honor of the occasion—and a King Charles spaniel, who added to the generally festive feeling by attempting to copulate with Murphy’s wooden leg at every opportunity. The only thing that could make things worse, in Laoghaire’s view, would be to hear that I had participated in the ceremony.
Several torches were lit, bound to stakes pounded into the sand, and the flames streamed seaward in tails of red and orange, bright against the black velvet night. The brilliant stars of the Caribbean shone overhead like the lights of heaven. While it was not a church, few brides had had a more beautiful setting for their nuptials.
I didn’t know what prodigies of persuasion had been required on Lawrence’s part, but Father Fogden was there, frail and insubstantial as a ghost, the blue sparks of his eyes the only real signs of life. His skin was gray as his robe, and his hands trembled on the worn leather of his prayer book.
Jamie glanced sharply at him, and appeared to be about to say something, but then merely muttered under his breath in Gaelic and pressed his lips tightly together. The spicy scent of sangria wafted from Father Fogden’s vicinity, but at least he had reached the beach under his own power. He stood swaying between two torches, laboriously trying to turn the pages of his book as the light offshore wind jerked them fluttering from his fingers.
At last he gave up, and dropped the book on the sand with a little plop!
“Um,” he said, and belched. He looked about and gave us a small, saint-like smile. “Dearly beloved of God.”
It was several moments before the throng of shuffling, murmuring spectators realized that the ceremony had started, and began to poke each other and straighten to attention.
“Wilt thou take this woman?” Father Fogden demanded, suddenly rounding ferociously on Murphy.
“No!” said the cook, startled. “I don’t hold wi’ women. Messy things.”
“You don’t?” Father Fogden closed one eye, the remaining orb bright and accusing. He looked at Maitland.
“Do you take this woman?”
“Not me, sir, no. Not that anyone wouldn’t be pleased,” he added hastily. “Him, please.” Maitland pointed at Fergus, who stood next to the cabin boy, glowering at the priest.
“Him? You’re sure? He hasn’t a hand,” Father Fogden said doubtfully. “Won’t she mind?”
“I will not!” Marsali, imperious in one of Ermenegilda’s gowns, blue silk encrusted with gold embroidery along the low, square neckline and puffed sleeves, stood beside Fergus. She looked lovely, with her hair clean and bright as fresh straw, brushed to a gloss and floating loose round her shoulders, as became a maiden. She also looked angry.
“Go on!” She stamped her foot, which made no noise on the sand, but seemed to startle the priest.
“Oh, yes,” he said nervously, taking one step back. “Well, I don’t suppose it’s an impt—impeddy—impediment, after all. Not as though he’d lost his cock, I mean. He hasn’t, has he?” the priest inquired anxiously, as the possibility occurred to him. “I can’t marry you if he has. It’s not allowed.”
Marsali’s face was already bathed in red by torchlight. The expression on it at this point reminded me strongly of how her mother had looked upon finding me at Lallybroch. A visible tremor ran through Fergus’s shoulders, whether of rage or laughter, I couldn’t tell.
Jamie quelled the incipient riot by striding firmly into the middle of the wedding and placing a hand on the shoulders of Fergus and Marsali.