Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 171

   

“Come see,” he whispered.

There was a small herd of manatees in the lagoon, big gray bodies gliding under the dark crystal water, rising gleaming like smooth, wet rocks. Birds were beginning to call in the trees near the house; besides this, the only sound was the frequent whoosh of the manatees’ breath as they rose for air, and now and then an eerie sound like a hollow, distant wail, as they called to each other.

We watched them in silence, side by side. The lagoon began to turn green as the first rays of sun touched its surface. In that state of extreme fatigue where every sense is preternaturally heightened, I was as aware of Jamie as though I were touching him.

John Grey’s revelations had relieved me of most of my fears and doubts—and yet there remained the fact that Jamie had not told me about his son. Of course he had reasons—and good ones—for his secrecy, but did he not think he could trust me to keep his secret? It occurred to me suddenly that perhaps he had kept quiet because of the boy’s mother. Perhaps he had loved her, in spite of Grey’s impressions.

She was dead; could it matter if he had? The answer was that it did. I had thought Jamie dead for twenty years, and it had made no difference at all in what I felt for him. What if he had loved this young English girl in such a way? I swallowed a small lump in my throat, trying to find the courage to ask him.

His face was abstracted, a small frown creasing his forehead, despite the dawning beauty of the lagoon.

“What are you thinking?” I asked at last, unable to ask for reassurance, fearing to ask for the truth.

“It’s only that I had a thought,” he answered, still staring out at the manatees. “About Willoughby, aye?”

The events of the night seemed far away and unimportant. Yet murder had been done.

“What was that?”

“Well, I couldna think at first that Willoughby could do such a thing—how could any man?” He paused, drawing a finger through the light mist of condensation that formed on the windowpanes as the sun rose. “And yet…” He turned to face me.

“Perhaps I can see.” His face was troubled. “He was alone—verra much alone.”

“A stranger, in a strange land,” I said quietly, remembering the poems, painted in the open secrecy of bold black ink, sent flying toward a long-lost home, committed to the sea on wings of white paper.

“Aye, that’s it.” He stopped to think, rubbing a hand slowly through his hair, gleaming copper in the new daylight. “And when a man is alone that way—well, it’s maybe no decent to say it, but making love to a woman is maybe the only thing will make him forget it for a time.”

He looked down, turning his hands over, stroking the length of his scarred middle finger with the index finger of his left hand.

“That’s what made me wed Laoghaire,” he said quietly. “Not Jenny’s nagging. Not pity for her or the wee lassies. Not even a pair of aching balls.” His mouth turned up briefly at one corner, then relaxed. “Only needing to forget I was alone,” he finished softly.

He turned restlessly, back to the window.

“So I am thinking that if the Chinee came to her, wanting that—needing that—and she wouldna take him…” He shrugged, staring out across the cool green of the lagoon. “Aye, maybe he could have done it,” he said.

I stood beside him. Out in the center of the lagoon, a single manatee drifted lazily to the surface, turning on her back to hold the infant on her chest toward the sunlight.

He was silent for several minutes, and I was as well, not knowing how to take the conversation back to what I had seen and heard at Government House.

I felt rather than saw him swallow, and he turned from the window to face me. There were lines of tiredness in his face, but his expression was filled with a sort of determination—the sort of look he wore facing battle.

“Claire,” he said, and at once I stiffened. He called me by my name only when he was most serious. “Claire, I must tell ye something.”

“What?” I had been trying to think how to ask, but suddenly I didn’t want to hear. I took half a step back, away from him, but he grabbed my arm.

He had something hidden in his fist. He took my unresisting hand and put the object into it. Without looking, I knew what it was; I could feel the carving of the delicate oval frame and the slight roughness of the painted surface.

“Claire.” I could see the slight tremor at the side of his throat as he swallowed. “Claire—I must tell ye. I have a son.”

I didn’t say anything, but opened my hand. There it was; the same face I had seen in Grey’s office, a childish, cocky version of the man before me.

“I should ha’ told ye before.” He was searching my face for some clue to my feelings, but for once, my giveaway countenance must have been perfectly blank. “I would have—only—” He took a deep breath for strength to go on.

“I havena ever told anyone about him,” he said. “Not even Jenny.”

That startled me enough to speak.

“Jenny doesn’t know?”

He shook his head, and turned away to watch the manatees. Alarmed by our voices, they had retreated a short distance, but then had settled down again, feeding on the water weed at the edge of the lagoon.

“It was in England. It’s—he’s—I couldna say he was mine. He’s a bastard, aye?” It might have been the rising sun that flushed his cheeks. He bit his lip and went on.

“I havena seen him since he was a wee lad. I never will see him again—except it might be in a wee painting like this.” He took the small picture from me, cradling it in the palm of his hand like a baby’s head. He blinked, head bent over it.

“I was afraid to tell ye,” he said, low-voiced. “For fear ye would think that perhaps I’d gone about spawning a dozen bastards…for fear ye’d think that I wouldna care for Brianna so much, if ye kent I had another child. But I do care, Claire—a great deal more than I can tell ye.” He lifted his head and looked directly at me.

“Will ye forgive me?”

“Did you—” The words almost choked me, but I had to say them. “Did you love her?”

An extraordinary expression of sadness crossed his face, but he didn’t look away.

“No,” he said softly. “She…wanted me. I should have found a way—should have stopped her, but I could not. She wished me to lie wi’ her. And I did, and…she died of it.” He did look down then, long lashes hiding his eyes. “I am guilty of her death, before God; perhaps the more guilty—because I did not love her.”

I didn’t say anything, but put up a hand to touch his cheek. He pressed his own hand over it, hard, and closed his eyes. There was a gecko on the wall beside us, nearly the same color as the yellow plaster behind it, beginning to glow in the gathering daylight.

“What is he like?” I asked softly. “Your son?”

He smiled slightly, without opening his eyes.

“He’s spoilt and stubborn,” he said softly. “Ill-mannered. Loud. Wi’ a wicked temper.” He swallowed. “And braw and bonny and canty and strong,” he said, so softly I could barely hear him.

“And yours,” I said. His hand tightened on mine, holding it against the soft stubble of his cheek.

“And mine,” he said. He took a deep breath, and I could see the glitter of tears under his closed lids.

“You should have trusted me,” I said at last. He nodded, slowly, then opened his eyes, still holding my hand.

“Perhaps I should,” he said quietly. “And yet I kept thinking—how should I tell ye everything, about Geneva, and Willie, and John—will ye know about John?” He frowned slightly, then relaxed as I nodded.

“He told me. About everything.” His brows rose, but he went on.

“Especially after ye found out about Laoghaire. How could I tell ye, and expect ye to know the difference?”

“What difference?”

“Geneva—Willie’s mother—she wanted my body,” he said softly, watching the gecko’s pulsing sides. “Laoghaire needed my name, and the work of my hands to keep her and her bairns.” He turned his head then, dark blue eyes fixed on mine. “John—well.” He lifted his shoulders and let them drop. “I couldna give him what he wanted—and he is friend enough not to ask it.

“But how shall I tell ye all these things,” he said, the line of his mouth twisting. “And then say to you—it is only you I have ever loved? How should you believe me?”

The question hung in the air between us, shimmering like the reflection from the water below.

“If you say it,” I said, “I’ll believe you.”

“You will?” He sounded faintly astonished. “Why?”

“Because you’re an honest man, Jamie Fraser,” I said, smiling so that I wouldn’t cry. “And may the Lord have mercy on you for it.”

“Only you,” he said, so softly I could barely hear him. “To worship ye with my body, give ye all the service of my hands. To give ye my name, and all my heart and soul with it. Only you. Because ye will not let me lie—and yet ye love me.”

I did touch him then.

“Jamie,” I said softly, and laid my hand on his arm. “You aren’t alone anymore.”

He turned then and took me by the arms, searching my face.

“I swore to you,” I said. “When we married. I didn’t mean it then, but I swore—and now I mean it.” I turned his hand over in both mine, feeling the thin, smooth skin at the base of his wrist, where the pulse beat under my fingers, where the blade of his dirk had cut his flesh once, and spilled his blood to mingle with mine forever.

I pressed my own wrist against his, pulse to pulse, heartbeat to heartbeat.

“Blood of my blood…” I whispered.

“Bone of my bone.” His whisper was deep and husky. He knelt quite suddenly before me, and put his folded hands in mine; the gesture a Highlander makes when swearing loyalty to his chieftain.

“I give ye my spirit,” he said, head bent over our hands.

“’Til our life shall be done,” I said softly. “But it isn’t done yet, Jamie, is it?”

Then he rose and took the shift from me, and I lay back on the narrow bed naked, pulled him down to me through the soft yellow light, and took him home, and home, and home again, and we were neither one of us alone.

60

THE SCENT OF GEMSTONES

Rose Hall was ten miles out of Kingston, up a steep and winding road of reddish dust that led into blue mountains. The road was overgrown, so narrow that we must ride in single file most of the way. I followed Jamie through the dark, sweet-scented caverns of cedar boughs, under trees nearly a hundred feet high. Huge ferns grew in the shade below, the fiddleheads nearly the size of real violin necks.

Everything was quiet, save for the calling of birds in the shrubbery—and even that fell silent as we passed. Jamie’s horse stopped dead, once, and backed up, snorting; we waited as a tiny green snake wriggled across the path and into the undergrowth. I looked after it, but could see no farther than ten feet from the edge of the road; everything beyond was cool green shadow. I half-hoped that Mr. Willoughby had come this way—no one would ever find him, in a place like this.

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