Author: P Hana

Page 180


“Look,” I said, trying to extract myself from his grasp, “you’re quite wrong about Jamie. He had nothing to do with your sister, he told me. He—”

“You’ve spoken to him about Margaret?” His grip tightened. I gave a small grunt of discomfort and yanked a bit harder.

“Yes. He says that it wasn’t him—he wasn’t the man she went to Culloden to see. It was a friend of his, Ewan Cameron.”

“Ye’re lying,” he said flatly. “Or he is. It makes little difference. Where is he?” He gave me a small shake, and I jerked hard, managing to detach my arm from his grip.

“I tell you, he had nothing to do with what happened to your sister!” I was backing away, wondering how to get away from him without setting him loose to blunder about the grounds in search of Jamie, making noise and drawing unwelcome attention to the rescue effort. Eight men were enough to overcome the pillars of Hercules, but not enough to withstand a hundred roused slaves.

“Where?” The Reverend was advancing on me, eyes boring into mine.

“He’s in Kingston!” I said. I glanced to one side; I was near a pair of French doors opening onto the veranda. I thought I could get out without his catching me, but then what? Having him chase me through the grounds would be worse than keeping him talking in here.

I looked back at the Reverend, who was scowling at me in disbelief, and then what I had seen on the terrace registered in my mind’s eye, and I jerked my head back around, staring.

I had seen it. There was a large white pelican perched on the veranda railing, head turned back, beak buried comfortably in its feathers. Ping An’s plumage glinted silver against the night in the dim light from the doorway.

“What is it?” Reverend Campbell demanded. “Who is it? Who’s out there?”

“Just a bird,” I said, turning back to him. My heart was beating in a jerky rhythm. Mr. Willoughby must surely be nearby. Pelicans were common, near the mouths of rivers, near the shore, but I had never seen one so far inland. But if Mr. Willoughby was in fact lurking nearby, what ought I to do about it?

“I doubt very much that your husband is in Kingston,” the Reverend was saying, narrowed eyes fixed on me with suspicion. “However, if he is, he will presumably be coming here, to retrieve you.”

“Oh, no!” I said.

“No,” I repeated, with as much assurance as I could manage. “Jamie isn’t coming here. I came by myself, to visit Geillis—Mrs. Abernathy. My husband isn’t expecting me back until next month.”

He didn’t believe me, but there was nothing he could do about it, either. His mouth pursed up in a tiny rosette, then unpuckered enough to ask, “So you are staying here?”

“Yes,” I said, pleased that I knew enough about the geography of the place to pretend to be a guest. If the servants were gone, there was no one to say I wasn’t, after all.

He stood still, regarding me narrowly for a long moment. Then his jaw tightened and he nodded grudgingly.

“Indeed. Then I suppose ye’ll have some notion as to where our hostess has taken herself, and when she proposes to return?”

I was beginning to have a rather unsettling notion of where—if not exactly when—Geillis Abernathy might have gone, but the Reverend Campbell didn’t seem the proper person with whom to share it.

“No, I’m afraid not,” I said. “I…ah, I’ve been out visiting since yesterday, at the neighboring plantation. Just came back this minute.”

The Reverend eyed me closely, but I was in fact wearing a riding habit—because it was the only decent set of clothes I owned, besides the violet ball dress and two wash-muslin gowns—and my story passed unchallenged.

“I see,” he said. “Mmphm. Well, then.” He fidgeted restlessly, his big bony hands clenching and unclenching themselves, as though he were not certain what to do with them.

“Don’t let me disturb you,” I said, with a charming smile and a nod at the desk. “I’m sure you must have important work to do.”

He pursed his lips again, in that objectionable way that made him look like an owl contemplating a juicy mouse. “The work has been completed. I was only preparing copies of some documents that Mrs. Abernathy had requested.”

“How interesting,” I said automatically, thinking that with luck, after a few moments’ small talk, I could escape under the pretext of retiring to my theoretical room—all the first-floor rooms opened onto the veranda, and it would be a simple matter to slip off into the night to meet Jamie.

“Perhaps you share our hostess’s—and my own—interest in Scottish history and scholarship?” His gaze had sharpened, and with a sinking heart I recognized the fanatical gleam of the passionate researcher in his eyes. I knew it well.

“Well, it’s very interesting, I’m sure,” I said, edging toward the door, “but I must say, I really don’t know very much about—” I caught sight of the top sheet on his pile of documents, and stopped dead.

It was a genealogy chart. I had seen plenty of those, living with Frank, but I recognized this particular one. It was a chart of the Fraser family—the bloody thing was even headed “Fraser of Lovat”—beginning somewhere around the 1400s, so far as I could see, and running down to the present. I could see Simon, the late—and not so lamented, in some quarters—Jacobite lord, who had been executed for his part in Charles Stuart’s Rising, and his descendants, whose names I recognized. And down in one corner, with the sort of notation indicating illegitimacy, was Brian Fraser—Jamie’s father. And beneath him, written in a precise black hand, James A. Fraser.

I felt a chill ripple up my back. The Reverend had noticed my reaction, and was watching with a sort of dry amusement.

“Yes, it is interesting that it should be the Frasers, isn’t it?”

“That…what should be the Frasers?” I said. Despite myself, I moved slowly toward the desk.

“The subject of the prophecy, of course,” he said, looking faintly surprised. “Do ye not know of it? But perhaps, your husband being an illegitimate descendant…”

“I don’t know of it, no.”

“Ah.” The Reverend was beginning to enjoy himself, seizing the opportunity to inform me. “I thought perhaps Mrs. Abernathy had spoken of it to you; she being so interested as to have written to me in Edinburgh regarding the matter.” He thumbed through the stack, extracting one paper that appeared to be written in Gaelic.

“This is the original language of the prophecy,” he said, shoving Exhibit A under my nose. “By the Brahan Seer; you’ll have heard of the Brahan Seer, surely?” His tone held out little hope, but in fact, I had heard of the Brahan Seer, a sixteenth-century prophet along the lines of a Scottish Nostradamus.

“I have. It’s a prophecy concerning the Frasers?”

“The Frasers of Lovat, aye. The language is poetic, as I pointed out to Mistress Abernathy, but the meaning is clear enough.” He was gathering enthusiasm as he went along, notwithstanding his suspicions of me. “The prophecy states that a new ruler of Scotland will spring from Lovat’s lineage. This is to come to pass following the eclipse of ‘the kings of the white rose’—a clear reference to the Papist Stuarts, of course.” He nodded at the white roses woven into the carpet. “There are somewhat more cryptic references included in the prophecy, of course; the time in which this ruler will appear, and whether it is to be a king or a queen—there is some difficulty in interpretation, owing to mishandling of the original…”

He went on, but I wasn’t listening. If I had had any doubt about where Geilie had gone, it was fast disappearing. Obsessed with the rulers of Scotland, she had spent the better part of ten years in working for the restoration of a Stuart Throne. That attempt had failed most definitively at Culloden, and she had then expressed nothing but contempt for all extant Stuarts. And little wonder, if she thought she knew what was coming next.

But where would she go? Back to Scotland, perhaps, to involve herself with Lovat’s heir? No, she was thinking of making the leap through time again; that much was clear from her conversation with me. She was preparing herself, gathering her resources—retrieving the treasure from the silkies’ isle—and completing her researches.

I stared at the paper in a kind of fascinated horror. The genealogy, of course, was only recorded to the present. Did Geilie know who Lovat’s descendants would be, in the future?

I looked up to ask the Reverend Campbell a question, but the words froze on my lips. Standing in the door to the veranda was Mr. Willoughby.

The little Chinese had evidently been having a rough time; his silk pajamas were torn and stained, and his round face was beginning to show the hollows of hunger and fatigue. His eyes passed over me with only a remote flicker of acknowledgment; all his attention was for the Reverend Campbell.

“Most holy fella,” he said, and his voice held a tone I had never heard in him before; an ugly taunting note.

The Reverend whirled, so quickly that his elbow knocked against a vase; water and yellow roses cascaded over the rosewood desk, soaking the papers. The Reverend gave a cry of rage, and snatched the papers from the flood, shaking them frantically to remove the water before the ink should run.

“See what ye’ve done, ye wicked, murdering heathen!”

Mr. Willoughby laughed. Not his usual high giggle, but a low chuckle. It didn’t sound at all amused.

“I murdering?” He shook his head slowly back and forth, eyes fixed on the Reverend. “Not me, holy fella. Is you, murderer.”

“Begone, fellow,” Campbell said coldly. “You should know better than to enter a lady’s house.”

“I know you.” The Chinaman’s voice was low and even, his gaze unwavering. “I see you. See you in red room, with the woman who laughs. See you too with stinking whores, in Scotland.” Very slowly, he lifted his hand to his throat and drew it across, precise as a blade. “You kill pretty often, holy fella, I think.”

The Reverend Campbell had gone pale, whether from shock or rage, I couldn’t tell. I was pale, too—from fear. I wet my dry lips and forced myself to speak.

“Mr. Willoughby—”

“Not Willoughby.” He didn’t look at me; the correction was almost indifferent. “I am Yi Tien Cho.”

Seeking escape from the present situation, my mind wondered absurdly whether the proper form of address would be Mr. Yi, or Mr. Cho?

“Get out at once!” The Reverend’s paleness came from rage. He advanced on the little Chinese, massive fists clenched. Mr. Willoughby didn’t move, seemingly indifferent to the looming minister.

“Better you leave, First Wife,” he said, softly. “Holy fella liking women—not with cock. With knife.”

I wasn’t wearing a corset, but felt as though I were. I couldn’t get enough breath to form words.

“Nonsense!” the Reverend said sharply. “I tell you again—get out! Or I shall—”