“I dinna believe something only because someone’s set words down in a book—for God’s sake, I print the damn things! I ken verra well just what charlatans and fools some writers are—I see them! And surely I ken the difference between a romance and a fact set down in cold blood!”
“All right,” I said. “Though I’m not sure it’s all that easy to tell the difference between romance and fact in print. But even if it’s dead true about the Iroquois, the whole continent isn’t swarming with bloodthirsty savages. I do know that much. It’s a very big place, you know,” I added, gently.
“Mmphm,” he said, plainly unconvinced. Still, he bent his attention to the orange, and began to divide it into segments.
“This is very funny,” I said ruefully. “When I made up my mind to come back, I read everything I could find about England and Scotland and France about this time, so I’d know as much as I could about what to expect. And here we end up in a place I know nothing about, because it never dawned on me we’d cross the ocean, with you being so seasick.”
That made him laugh, a little grudgingly.
“Aye, well, ye never ken what ye can do ’til ye have to. Believe me, Sassenach, once I’ve got Ian safely back, I shall never set foot on a filthy, godforsaken floating plank in my life again—except to go home to Scotland, when it’s safe,” he added, as an afterthought. He offered me an orange segment and I took it, token of a peace offering.
“Speaking of Scotland, you still have your printing press there, safe in Edinburgh,” I said. “We could have it sent over, maybe—if we settled in one of the larger American cities.”
He looked up at that, startled.
“D’ye think it would be possible to earn a living, printing? There are that many people? It takes a fair-sized city, ye ken, to need a printer or bookseller.”
“I’m sure you could. Boston, Philadelphia…not New York yet, I don’t think. Williamsburg, maybe? I don’t know which ones, but there are several places big enough to need printing—the shipping ports, certainly.” I remembered the flapping posters, advertising dates of embarkation and arrival, sales of goods and recruitment of seamen, that decorated the walls of every seaside tavern in Le Havre.
“Mmphm.” This one was a thoughtful noise. “Aye, well, if we might do that…”
He poked a piece of fruit into his mouth and ate it slowly.
“What about you?” he said abruptly.
I glanced at him, startled.
“What about me?”
His eyes were fixed intently on me, reading my face.
“Would it suit ye to go to such a place?” He looked down then, carefully separating the other half of the fruit. “I mean—you’ve your work to do as well, aye?” He looked up and smiled, wryly.
“I learned in Paris that I couldna stop ye doing it. And ye said yourself, ye might not have come, had Menzies’s death not stopped you, where ye were. Can ye be a healer in the Colonies, d’ye think?”
“I expect I can,” I said slowly. “There are people sick and injured, almost anywhere you go, after all.” I looked at him, curious.
“You’re a very odd man, Jamie Fraser.”
He laughed at that, and swallowed the rest of his orange.
“Oh, I am, aye? And what d’ye mean by that?”
“Frank loved me,” I said slowly. “But there were…pieces of me, that he didn’t know what to do with. Things about me that he didn’t understand, or maybe that frightened him.” I glanced at Jamie. “Not you.”
His head was bent over a second orange, hands moving swiftly as he scored it with his dirk, but I could see the faint smile in the corner of his mouth.
“No, Sassenach, ye dinna frighten me. Or rather ye do, but only when I think ye may kill yourself from carelessness.”
I snorted briefly.
“You scare me, for the same reason, but I don’t suppose there’s anything I can do about it.”
His chuckle was deep and easy.
“And ye think I canna do anything about it, either, so I shouldna be worrit?”
“I didn’t say you shouldn’t worry—do you think I don’t worry? But no, you probably can’t do anything about me.”
I saw him opening his mouth to disagree. Then he changed his mind, and laughed again. He reached out and popped an orange segment into my mouth.
“Well, maybe no, Sassenach, and maybe so. But I’ve lived a long enough time now to think it maybe doesna matter so much—so long as I can love you.”
Speechless with orange juice, I stared at him in surprise.
“And I do,” he said softly. He leaned into the berth and kissed me, his mouth warm and sweet. Then he drew back, and gently touched my cheek.
“Rest now,” he said firmly. “I’ll bring ye some broth, in a bit.”
I slept for several hours, and woke up still feverish, but hungry. Jamie brought me some of Murphy’s broth—a rich green concoction, swimming in butter and reeking with sherry—and insisted, despite my protests, on feeding it to me with a spoon.
“I have a perfectly good hand,” I said crossly.
“Aye, and I’ve seen ye use it, too,” he replied, deftly gagging me with the spoon. “If ye’re clumsy with a spoon as wi’ that needle, you’ll have this all spilt down your bosom and wasted, and Murphy will brain me wi’ the ladle. Here, open up.”
I did, my resentment gradually melting into a sort of warm and glowing stupor as I ate. I hadn’t taken anything for the pain in my arm, but as my empty stomach expanded in grateful relief, I more or less quit noticing it.
“Will ye have another bowl?” Jamie asked, as I swallowed the last spoonful. “Ye’ll need your strength kept up.” Not waiting for an answer, he uncovered the small tureen Murphy had sent, and refilled the bowl.
“Where’s Ishmael?” I asked, during the brief hiatus.
“On the after deck. He didna seem comfortable belowdecks—and I canna say I blame him, having seen the slavers at Bridgetown. I had Maitland sling him a hammock.”
“Do you think it’s safe to leave him loose like that? What kind of soup is this?” The last spoonful had left a delightful, lingering taste on my tongue; the next revived the full flavor.
“Turtle; Stern took a big hawksbill last night. He sent word he’s saving ye the shell to make combs of, for your hair.” Jamie frowned slightly, whether at the thought of Lawrence Stern’s gallantry or Ishmael’s presence, I couldn’t tell. “As for the black, he’s not loose—Fergus is watching him.”
“Fergus is on his honeymoon,” I protested. “You shouldn’t make him do it. Is this really turtle soup? I’ve never had it before. It’s marvelous.”
Jamie was unmoved by contemplation of Fergus’s tender state.
“Aye, well, he’ll be wed a long time,” he said callously. “Do him no harm to keep his breeches on for one night. And they do say that abstinence makes the heart grow firmer, no?”
“Absence,” I said, dodging the spoon for a moment. “And fonder. If anything’s growing firmer from abstinence, it wouldn’t be his heart.”
“That’s verra bawdy talk for a respectable marrit woman,” Jamie said reprovingly, sticking the spoon in my mouth. “And inconsiderate, forbye.”
I swallowed. “Inconsiderate?”
“I’m a wee bit firm myself at the moment,” he replied evenly, dipping and spooning. “What wi’ you sitting there wi’ your hair loose and your ni**les starin’ me in the eye, the size of cherries.”
I glanced down involuntarily, and the next spoonful bumped my nose. Jamie clicked his tongue, and picking up a cloth, briskly blotted my bosom with it. It was quite true that my shift was made of thin cotton, and even when dry, reasonably easy to see through.
“It’s not as though you haven’t seen them before,” I said, amused.
He laid down the cloth and raised his brows.
“I have drunk water every day since I was weaned,” he pointed out. “It doesna mean I canna be thirsty, still.” He picked up the spoon. “You’ll have a wee bit more?”
“No, thanks,” I said, dodging the oncoming spoon. “I want to hear more about this firmness of yours.”
“No, ye don’t; you’re ill.”
“I feel much better,” I assured him. “Shall I have a look at it?” He was wearing the loose petticoat breeches the sailors wore, in which he could easily have concealed three or four dead mullet, let alone a fugitive firmness.
“You shall not,” he said, looking slightly shocked. “Someone might come in. And I canna think your looking at it would help a bit.”
“Well, you can’t tell that until I have looked at it, can you?” I said. “Besides, you can bolt the door.”
“Bolt the door? What d’ye think I’m going to do? Do I look the sort of man would take advantage of a woman who’s not only wounded and boiling wi’ fever, but drunk as well?” he demanded. He stood up, nonetheless.
“I am not drunk,” I said indignantly. “You can’t get drunk on turtle soup!” Nonetheless, I was conscious that the glowing warmth in my stomach seemed to have migrated somewhat lower, taking up residence between my thighs, and there was undeniably a slight lightness of head not strictly attributable to fever.
“You can if ye’ve been drinking turtle soup as made by Aloysius O’Shaughnessy Murphy,” he said. “By the smell of it, he’s put at least a full bottle o’ the sherry in it. A verra intemperate race, the Irish.”
“Well, I’m still not drunk.” I straightened up against the pillows as best I could. “You told me once that if you could still stand up, you weren’t drunk.”
“You aren’t standing up,” he pointed out.
“You are. And I could if I wanted to. Stop trying to change the subject. We were talking about your firmness.”
“Well, ye can just stop talking about it, because—” He broke off with a small yelp, as I made a fortunate grab with my left hand.
“Clumsy, am I?” I said, with considerable satisfaction. “Oh, my. Heavens, you do have a problem, don’t you?”
“Will ye leave go of me?” he hissed, looking frantically over his shoulder at the door. “Someone could come in any moment!”
“I told you you should have bolted the door,” I said, not letting go. Far from being a dead mullet, the object in my hand was exhibiting considerable liveliness.
He eyed me narrowly, breathing through his nose.
“I wouldna use force on a sick woman,” he said through his teeth, “but you’ve a damn healthy grip for someone with a fever, Sassenach. If you—”
“I told you I felt better,” I interrupted, “but I’ll make you a bargain; you bolt the door and I’ll prove I’m not drunk.” I rather regretfully let go, to indicate good faith. He stood staring at me for a moment, absentmindedly rubbing the site of my recent assault on his virtue. Then he lifted one ruddy eyebrow, turned, and went to bolt the door.