Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 178

   

“Well, and I’m obliged to ye, Mr. Fraser. Can I not offer ye some refreshment after your labor?” Her hand hovered over the row of bells, but Jamie shook his head, picking up his coat from the sofa.

“I thank ye, mistress, but I fear we must take our leave. It’s quite some way back to Kingston, and we must be on our way, if we mean to reach it before dark.” His face went suddenly blank, and I knew he must have felt the pocket of his coat and realized that the photographs were missing.

He glanced quickly at me, and I gave him a brief nod, touching the side of my skirt where they lay.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” I said, snatching up my hat, and moving toward the door with alacrity. Now that Jamie was back, I wanted nothing so much as to get quickly away from Rose Hall and its owner. Jamie hung back a moment, though.

“I wondered, Mistress Abernathy—since ye mentioned having lived in Paris for a time—whether ye might have been acquainted there wi’ a gentleman of my own acquaintance. Did ye by chance ken the Duke of Sandringham?”

She cocked her cream-blond head at him inquisitively, but as he said no more, she nodded.

“Aye, I kent him. Why?”

Jamie gave her his most charming smile. “No particular reason, mistress; only a curiosity, ye might say.”

The sky was completely overcast by the time we passed the gate, and it was clear that we weren’t going to make it back to Kingston without getting soaked. Under the circumstances, I didn’t care.

“Ye’ve got Brianna’s pictures?” was the first thing Jamie asked, reining up for a moment.

“Right here.” I patted my pocket. “Did you find any sign of Ian?”

He glanced back over his shoulder, as though fearing we might be pursued.

“I couldna get anything out of the overseer or any o’ the slaves—they’re bone-scairt of that woman, and I canna say I blame them a bit. But I know where he is.” He spoke with considerable satisfaction.

“Where? Can we sneak back and get him?” I rose slightly in my saddle, looking back; the slates of Rose Hall were all that was visible through the treetops. I would have been most reluctant to set foot on the place again for any reason—except for Ian.

“Not now.” Jamie caught at my bridle, turning the horse’s head back to the trail. “I’ll need help.”

Under the pretext of finding material to repair the damaged sugar press, Jamie had managed to see most of the plantation within a quarter-mile of the house, including a cluster of slave huts, the stables, a disused drying shed for tobacco, and the building that housed the sugar refinery. Everyplace he went, he suffered no interference beyond curious or hostile glances—except near the refinery.

“That big black bugger who came up onto the porch was sitting on the ground outside,” he said. “When I got too close to him, it made the overseer verra nervous indeed; he kept calling me away, warning me not to get too close to the fellow.”

“That sounds like a really excellent idea,” I said, shuddering slightly. “Not getting close to him, I mean. But you think he has something to do with Ian?”

“He was sitting in front of a wee door fixed into the ground, Sassenach.” Jamie guided his horse adroitly around a fallen log in the path. “It must lead to a cellar beneath the refinery.” The man had not moved an inch, in all the time that Jamie contrived to spend around the refinery. “If Ian’s there, that’s where he is.”

“I’m fairly sure he’s there, all right.” I told him quickly the details of my visit, including my brief conversation with the kitchenmaids. “But what are we going to do?” I concluded. “We can’t just leave him there! After all, we don’t know what Geillis wants with him, but it can’t be innocent, if she wouldn’t admit he was there, can it?”

“Not innocent at all,” he agreed, grim-faced. “The overseer wouldna speak to me of Ian, but he told me other things that would curl your hair, if it wasna already curled up like sheep’s wool.” He glanced at me, and a half-smile lit his face, in spite of his obvious perturbation.

“Judging by the state of your hair, Sassenach, I should say that it’s going to rain verra soon now.”

“How observant of you,” I said sarcastically, vainly trying to tuck in the curls and tendrils that were escaping from under my hat. “The fact that the sky’s black as pitch and the air smells like lightning wouldn’t have a thing to do with your conclusions, of course.”

The leaves of the trees all round us were fluttering like tethered butterflies, as the edge of the storm rose toward us up the slope of the mountain. From the small rise where we stood, I could see the storm clouds sweep in across the bay below, with a dark curtain of rain hanging beneath it like a veil.

Jamie rose in his saddle, looking over the terrain. To my unpracticed eye, our surroundings looked like solid, impenetrable jungle, but other possibilities were visible to a man who had lived in the heather for seven years.

“We’d best find a bit of shelter while we can, Sassenach,” he said. “Follow me.”

On foot, leading the horses, we left the narrow path and pressed into the forest, following what Jamie said was a wild pigs’ trail. Within a few moments, he had found what he was looking for; a small stream that cut deep through the forest floor, with a steep bank, overgrown with ferns and dark, glossy bushes, interspersed with stands of slender saplings.

He set me to gathering ferns, each frond the length of my arm, and by the time I had returned with as many as I could carry, he had the framework of a tidy snug, formed by the arch of the bent saplings, tied to a fallen log, and covered over with branches cut from the nearby bushes. Hastily roofed with the spread ferns, it was not quite waterproof, but a great deal better than being caught in the open. Ten minutes later, we were safe inside.

There was a moment of absolute quiet as the wind on the edge of the storm passed by us. No birds chattered, no insects sang; they were as well equipped as we were to predict the rain. A few large drops fell, splattering on the foliage with an explosive sound like snapping twigs. Then the storm broke.

Caribbean rainstorms are abrupt and vigorous. None of the misty mousing about of an Edinburgh drizzle. The heavens blacken and split, dropping gallons of water within a minute. For as long as the rain lasts, speech is impossible, and a light fog rises from the ground like steam, vapor raised by the force of the raindrops striking the ground.

The rain pelted the ferns above us, and a faint mist filled the green shadows of our shelter. Between the clatter of the rain and the constant thunder that boomed among the hills, it was impossible to talk.

It wasn’t cold, but there was a leak overhead, which dripped steadily on my neck. There was no room to move away; Jamie took off his coat and wrapped it around me, then put his arm around me to wait out the storm. In spite of the terrible racket outside, I felt suddenly safe, and peaceful, relieved of the strain of the last few hours, the last few days. Ian was as good as found, and nothing could touch us, here.

I squeezed his free hand; he smiled at me, then bent and kissed me gently. He smelled fresh and earthy, scented with the sap of the branches he had cut and the smell of his own healthy sweat.

It was nearly over, I thought. We had found Ian, and God willing, would get him back safely, very soon. And then what? We would have to leave Jamaica, but there were other places, and the world was wide. There were the French colonies of Martinique and Grenada, the Dutch-held island of Eleuthera; perhaps we would even venture as far as the continent—cannibals notwithstanding. So long as I had Jamie, I was not afraid of anything.

The rain ceased as abruptly as it had started. Drops fell singly from the shrubs and trees, with a pit-a-pat drip that echoed the ringing left in my ears by the storm’s roar. A soft, fresh breeze came up the stream bed, carrying away humidity, lifting the damp curls from my neck with delicious coolness. The birds and the insects began again, quietly, and then in full voice, and the air itself seemed to dance with green life.

I stirred and sighed, pushing myself upright and shrugging off Jamie’s coat.

“You know, Geilie showed me a special stone, a black diamond called an adamant,” I said. “She said it’s a stone the alchemists used; it gives a knowledge of the joy in all things. I think there might be one under this spot.”

Jamie smiled at me.

“I shouldna be surprised at all, Sassenach,” he said. “Here, ye’ve water all down your face.”

He reached into his coat for a handkerchief, then stopped.

“Brianna’s pictures,” he said suddenly.

“Oh, I forgot.” I dug in my pocket, and handed him back the pictures. He took them and thumbed rapidly through them, stopped, then went through them again, more slowly.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, suddenly alarmed.

“One of them’s gone,” he said quietly. I felt an inexpressible feeling of dread begin to grow in the pit of my stomach, and the joy of a moment before began to ebb away.

“Are you sure?”

“I know them as well as I know your face, Sassenach,” he said. “Aye, I’m sure. It’s the one of her by the fire.”

I remembered the picture in question well; it showed Brianna as an adult, sitting on a rock, outdoors by a campfire. Her knees were drawn up, her elbows resting on them, and she was looking directly into the camera, but with no knowledge of its presence, her face filled with firelit dreams, her hair blown back away from her face.

“Geilie must have taken it. She found the pictures in your coat while I was in the kitchen, and I took them away from her. She must have stolen it then.”

“Damn the woman!” Jamie turned sharply to look toward the road, eyes dark with anger. His hand was tight on the remaining photographs. “What does she want with it?”

“Perhaps it’s only curiosity,” I said, but the feeling of dread would not go away. “What could she do with it, after all? She isn’t likely to show it to anyone—who would come here?”

As though in answer to this question, Jamie’s head lifted suddenly, and he grasped my arm in adjuration to be still. Some distance below, a loop of the road was visible through the overgrowth, a thin ribbon of yellowish mud. Along this ribbon came a plodding figure on horseback, a man dressed in black, small and dark as an ant at this distance.

Then I remembered what Geilie had said. I’m expecting a visitor. And later, That parson said he’d come at four o’clock.

“It’s a parson, a minister of some kind,” I said. “She said she was expecting him.”

“It’s Archie Campbell, is who it is,” Jamie said, with some grimness. “What the devil—or perhaps I shouldna use that particular expression, wi’ respect to Mistress Duncan.”

“Perhaps he’s come to exorcise her,” I suggested, with a nervous laugh.

“He’s his work cut out for him, if so.” The angular figure disappeared into the trees, but it was several minutes before Jamie deemed him safely past us.

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