“The cow licked it all off last time she milked me,” he said between his teeth. “For God’s sake, Sassenach!”
I laughed, and returned to my work. At last I stopped and raised myself on my elbows.
“I think you’ve had enough,” I said, brushing hair out of my eyes. “You haven’t said anything but ‘Jesus Christ’ over and over again for the last few minutes.”
Given the cue, he surged upward, and flipped me onto my back, pinning me with the solid weight of his body.
“You’re going to live to regret this, Sassenach,” he said with a grim satisfaction.
I grinned at him, unrepentant.
He looked down at me, eyes narrowed. “Take my time, was it? You’ll beg for it, before I’ve done wi’ ye.”
I tugged experimentally at my wrists, held tight in his grasp, and wriggled slightly under him with anticipation.
“Ooh, mercy,” I said. “You beast.”
He snorted briefly, and bent his head to the curve of my breast, white as pearl in the dim green water-light.
I closed my eyes and lay back against the pillows.
“Pater noster, qui es in coelis…” I whispered.
We were very late to supper.
Jamie lost no time over supper in asking about Mrs. Abernathy of Rose Hall.
“Abernathy?” MacIver frowned, tapping his knife on the table to assist thought. “Aye, seems I’ve heard the name, though I canna just charge my memory.”
“Och, ye ken Abernathy’s fine,” his wife interrupted, pausing in her instructions to a servant for the preparation of the hot pudding. “It’s that place up the Yallahs River, in the mountains. Cane, mostly, but a wee bit of coffee, too.”
“Oh, aye, to be sure!” her husband exclaimed. “What a memory ye’ve got, Rosie!” He beamed fondly at his wife.
“Well, I might not ha’ brought it to mind mysel’,” she said modestly, “only as how that minister over to New Grace kirk last week was askin’ after Mrs. Abernathy, too.”
“What minister is this, ma’am?” Jamie asked, taking a split roast chicken from the huge platter presented to him by a black servant.
“Such a fine braw appetite as ye have, Mr. Fraser!” Mrs. MacIver exclaimed admiringly, seeing his loaded plate. “It’s the island air does it, I expect.”
The tips of Jamie’s ears turned pink.
“I expect it is,” he said, carefully not looking at me. “This minister…?”
“Och, aye. Campbell, his name was, Archie Campbell.” I started, and she glanced quizzically at me. “You’ll know him?”
I shook my head, swallowing a pickled mushroom. “I’ve met him once, in Edinburgh.”
“Oh. Well, he’s come to be a missionary, and bring the heathen blacks to the salvation of Our Lord Jesus.” She spoke with admiration, and glared at her husband when he snorted. “Now, ye’ll no be makin’ your Papist remarks, Kenny! The Reverend Campbell’s a fine holy man, and a great scholar, forbye. I’m Free Church myself,” she said, leaning toward me confidingly. “My parents disowned me when I wed Kenny, but I told them I was sure he’d come to see the light sooner or later.”
“A lot later,” her husband remarked, spooning jam onto his plate. He grinned at his wife, who sniffed and returned to her story.
“So, ’twas on account of the Reverend’s bein’ a great scholar that Mrs. Abernathy had written him, whilst he was still in Edinburgh, to ask him questions. And now that he’s come here, he had it in mind to go and see her. Though after all Myra Dalrymple and the Reverend Davis telt him, I should be surprised he’d set foot on her place,” she added primly.
Kenny MacIver grunted, motioning to a servant in the doorway with another huge platter.
“I wouldna put a great deal of stock in anything the Reverend Davis says, myself,” he said. “The man’s too godly to shit. But Myra Dalrymple’s a sensible woman. Ouch!” He snatched back the fingers his wife had just cracked with a spoon, and sucked them.
“What did Miss Dalrymple have to say of Mrs. Abernathy?” Jamie inquired, hastily intervening before full-scale marital warfare could break out.
Mrs. MacIver’s color was high, but she smoothed the frown from her brow as she turned to answer him.
“Well, a great deal of it was no more than ill-natured gossip,” she admitted. “The sorts of things folk will always say about a woman as lives alone. That she’s owerfond of the company of her men-slaves, aye?”
“But there was the talk when her husband died,” Kenny interrupted. He slid several small, rainbow-striped fish off the platter the stooping servant held for him. “I mind it well, now I come to think on the name.”
Barnabas Abernathy had come from Scotland, and had purchased Rose Hall five years before. He had run the place decently, turning a small profit in sugar and coffee, causing no comment among his neighbors. Then, two years ago, he had married a woman no one knew, bringing her home from a trip to Guadeloupe.
“And six months later, he was dead,” Mrs. MacIver concluded with grim relish.
“And the talk is that Mrs. Abernathy had something to do with it?” Having some idea of the plethora of tropical parasites and diseases that attacked Europeans in the West Indies, I was inclined to doubt it, myself. Barnabas Abernathy could easily have died of anything from malaria to elephantiasis, but Rosie MacIver was right—folk were partial to ill-natured gossip.
“Poison,” Rosie said, low-voiced, with a quick glance at the door to the kitchen. “The doctor who saw him said so. Mind, it could ha’ been the slave-women. There was talk about Barnabas and his female slaves, and it’s more common than folk like to say for a plantation cook-girl to be slipping something into the stew, but—” She broke off as another servant came in, carrying a cut-glass relish pot. Everyone was silent as the woman placed it on the table and left, curtsying to her mistress.
“You needn’t worry,” Mrs. MacIver said reassuringly, seeing me look after the woman. “We’ve a boy who tastes everything, before it’s served. It’s all quite safe.”
I swallowed the mouthful of fish I had taken, with some difficulty.
“Did the Reverend Campbell go to see Mrs. Abernathy, then?” Jamie put in.
Rosie took the distraction gratefully. She shook her head, agitating the lace ruffles on her cap.
“No, I’m sure not, for ’twas the very next day there was the stramash about his sister.”
In the excitement of tracking Ian and the Bruja, I had nearly forgotten Margaret Jane Campbell.
“What happened to his sister?” I asked, curious.
“Why, she’s disappeared!” Mrs. MacIver’s blue eyes went wide with importance. Blue Mountain House was remote, some ten miles out of Kingston by land, and our presence provided an unparalleled opportunity for gossip.
“What?” Fergus had been addressing himself to his plate with singleminded devotion, but now looked up, blinking. “Disappeared? Where?”
“The whole island’s talking of it,” Kenny put in, snatching the conversational ball from his wife. “Seems the Reverend had a woman engaged as abigail to his sister, but the woman died of a fever on the voyage.”
“Oh, that’s too bad!” I felt a real pang for Nellie Cowden, with her broad, pleasant face.
“Aye.” Kenny nodded offhandedly. “Well, and so the Reverend found a place for his sister to lodge. Feebleminded, I understand?” He lifted a brow at me.
“Something like that.”
“Aye, well, the lass seemed quiet and biddable, and Mrs. Forrest, who had the house where she lodged, would take her to sit on the veranda in the cool part of the day. So Tuesday last, a boy comes to say as Mrs. Forrest is wanted quicklike to come to her sister, who’s having a child. And Mrs. Forrest got flustered and went straight off, forgetting Miss Campbell on the veranda. And when she thought of it, and sent someone back to see—why Miss Campbell was gone. And not a smell of her since, in spite of the Reverend raising heaven and earth, ye might say.” MacIver rocked back on his chair, puffing out his sun-mottled cheeks.
Mrs. MacIver wagged her head, tsking mournfully.
“Myra Dalrymple told the Reverend as how he should go to the Governor for help to find her,” she said. “But the Governor’s scarce settled, and not yet ready to receive anyone. He’s having a great reception this coming Thursday, for to meet all the important folk o’ the island. Myra said as the Reverend must go, and speak to the Governor there, but he’s no of a mind to do that, it bein’ such a worldly occasion, aye?”
“A reception?” Jamie set down his spoon, looking at Mrs. MacIver with interest. “Is it by invitation, d’ye know?”
“Oh, no,” she said, shaking her head. “Anyone may come as likes to, or so I’ve heard.”
“Is that so?” Jamie glanced at me, smiling. “What d’ye think, Sassenach—would ye care to step out wi’ me at the Governor’s Residence?”
I stared at him in astonishment. I should have thought that the last thing he would wish to do was show himself in public. I was also surprised that he would let anything at all stop his visiting Rose Hall at the earliest opportunity.
“It’s a good opportunity to ask about Ian, no?” he explained. “After all, he might not be at Rose Hall, but someplace else on the island.”
“Well, aside from the fact that I’ve nothing to wear…” I temporized, trying to figure out what he was really up to.
“Och, that’s no trouble,” Rosie MacIver assured me. “I’ve one of the cleverest sempstresses on the island; she’ll have ye tricked out in no time.”
Jamie was nodding thoughtfully. He smiled, eyes slanting as he looked at me over the candle flame.
“Violet silk, I think,” he said. He plucked the bones delicately from his fish and set them aside. “And as for the other—dinna fash, Sassenach. I’ve something in mind. You’ll see.”
MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
“Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they’re taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.”
Jamie put down the wig in his hand and raised one eyebrow at me in the mirror. I grinned at him and went on, declaiming with gestures:
“’Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time ’twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn’t bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair!”
“Did ye not tell me ye’d studied for a doctor, Sassenach?” he inquired. “Or was it a poet, after all?”
“Not me,” I assured him, coming to straighten his stock. “Those sentiments are by one A. E. Housman.”