Ian had been taken into the kitchen, where he was stripped, bathed, dressed in a clean shirt—but nothing else—and taken to the main house.
“It was just at night,” he said wistfully, “and all the windows lighted. It looked verra much like Lallybroch, when ye come down from the hills just at dark, and Mam’s just lit the lamps—it almost broke my heart to see it, and think of home.”
He had had little opportunity to feel homesick, though. Hercules—or Atlas—had marched him up the stairs into what was obviously Mistress Abernathy’s bedroom. Mrs. Abernathy was waiting for him, dressed in a soft, loose sort of gown with odd-looking figures embroidered round the hem of it in red and silver thread.
She had been cordial and welcoming, and had offered him a drink. It smelled strange, but not nasty, and as he had little choice in the matter, he had drunk it.
There were two comfortable chairs in the room, on either side of a long, low table, and a great bed at one side, swagged and canopied like a king’s. He had sat in one chair, Mrs. Abernathy in the other, and she had asked him questions.
“What sorts of questions?” Jamie asked, prompting as Ian seemed hesitant.
“Well, all about my home, and my family—she asked the names of all my sisters and brothers, and my aunts and uncles”—I jerked a bit. So that was why Geilie had betrayed no surprise at our appearance!—“and all sorts of things, Uncle. Then she—she asked me had I—had I ever lain wi’ a lassie. Just as though she were asking did I have parritch to my breakfast!” Ian sounded shocked at the memory.
“I didna want to answer her, but I couldna seem to help myself. I felt verra warm, like I was fevered, and I couldna seem to move easy. But I answered all her questions, and her just sitting there, pleasant as might be, watching me close wi’ those big green eyes.”
“So ye told her the truth?”
“Aye. Aye, I did.” Ian spoke slowly, reliving the scene. “I said I had, and I told her about—about Edinburgh, and the printshop, and the seaman, and the brothel, and Mary, and—everything.”
For the first time, Geilie had seemed displeased with one of his answers. Her face had grown hard and her eyes narrowed, and for a moment, Ian was seriously afraid. He would have run, then, but for the heaviness in his limbs, and the presence of the giant who stood against the door, unmoving.
“She got up and stamped about a bit, and said I was ruined, then, as I wasna a virgin, and what business did a bittie wee lad like me have, to be goin’ wi’ the lassies and spoiling myself?”
Then she had stopped her ranting, poured a glass of wine and drank it off, and her temper had seemed to cool.
“She laughed then, and looked at me careful, and said as how I might not be such a loss, after all. If I was no good for what she had in mind, perhaps I might have other uses.” Ian’s voice sounded faintly constricted, as though his collar were too tight. Jamie made a soothing interrogatory sound, though, and he took a deep breath, determined to go on.
“Well, she—she took my hand and made me stand up. Then she took off the shirt I was wearing, and she—I swear it’s true, Uncle!—she knelt on the floor in front of me, and took my c**k into her mouth!”
Jamie’s hand tightened on my shoulder, but his voice betrayed no more than a mild interest.
“Aye, I believe ye, Ian. She made love to ye, then?”
“Love?” Ian sounded dazed. “No—I mean, I dinna ken. It—she—well, she got my c**k to stand up, and then she made me come to the bed and lie down and she did things. But it wasna at all like it was with wee Mary!”
“No, I shouldna suppose it was,” his uncle said dryly.
“God, it felt queer!” I could sense Ian’s shudder from the tone of his voice. “I looked up in the middle, and there was the black man, standing right by the bed, holding a candlestick. She told him to lift it higher, so that she could see better.” He paused, and I heard a small glugging noise as he drank from one of the bottles. He let out a long, quivering breath.
“Uncle. Have ye ever—lain wi’ a woman, when ye didna want to do it?”
Jamie hesitated a moment, his hand tight on my shoulder, but then he said quietly, “Aye, Ian. I have.”
“Oh.” The boy was quiet, and I heard him scratch his head. “D’ye ken how it can be, Uncle? How ye can do it, and not want to a bit, and hate doing it, and—and still it—it feels good?”
Jamie gave a small, dry laugh.
“Well, what it comes to, Ian, is that your c**k hasna got a conscience, and you have.” His hand left my shoulder as he turned toward his nephew. “Dinna trouble yourself, Ian,” he said. “Ye couldna help it, and it’s likely that it saved your life for ye. The other lads—the ones who didna come back to the cellar—d’ye ken if they were virgins?”
“Well—a few I know were for sure—for we had a great deal of time to talk, aye? and after a time we kent a lot about one another. Some o’ the lads boasted of havin’ gone wi’ a lassie, but I thought—from what they said about it, ye ken—that they hadna done it, really.” He paused for a moment, as though reluctant to ask what he knew he must.
“Uncle—d’ye ken what happened to them? The rest of the lads with me?”
“No, Ian,” Jamie said, evenly. “I’ve no notion.” He leaned back against the tree, sighing deeply. “D’ye think ye can sleep, wee Ian? If ye can, ye should, for it will be a weary walk to the shore tomorrow.”
“Oh, I can sleep, Uncle,” Ian assured him. “But should I not keep watch? It’s you should be resting, after bein’ shot and all that.” He paused and then added, rather shyly, “I didna say thank ye, Uncle Jamie.”
Jamie laughed, freely this time.
“You’re verra welcome, Ian,” he said, the smile still in his voice. “Lay your head and sleep, laddie. I’ll wake ye if there’s need.”
Ian obligingly curled up and within moments, was breathing heavily. Jamie sighed and leaned back against the tree.
“Do you want to sleep too, Jamie?” I pushed myself up to sit beside him. “I’m awake; I can keep an eye out.”
His eyes were closed, the dying firelight dancing on the lids. He smiled without opening them and groped for my hand.
“No. If ye dinna mind sitting with me for a bit, though, you can watch. The headache’s better if I close my eyes.”
We sat in contented silence for some time, hand in hand. An occasional odd noise or far-off scream from some jungle animal came from the dark, but nothing seemed threatening now.
“Will we go back to Jamaica?” I asked at last. “For Fergus and Marsali?”
Jamie started to shake his head, then stopped, with a stifled groan.
“No,” he said, “I think we shall sail for Eleuthera. That’s Dutch-owned, and neutral. We can send Innes back wi’ John’s boatie, and he can take a message to Fergus to come and join us. I would as soon not set foot on Jamaica again, all things considered.”
“No, I suppose not.” I was quiet for a moment, then said, “I wonder how Mr. Willoughby—Yi Tien Cho, I mean—will manage. I don’t suppose anyone will find him, if he stays in the mountains, but—”
“Oh, he may manage brawly,” Jamie interrupted. “He’s the pelican to fish for him, after all.” One side of his mouth turned up in a smile. “For that matter, if he’s canny, he’ll find a way south, to Martinique. There’s a small colony there of Chinese traders. I’d told him of it; said I’d take him there, once our business on Jamaica was finished.”
“You aren’t angry at him now?” I looked at him curiously, but his face was smooth and peaceful, almost unlined in the firelight.
This time he was careful not to move his head, but lifted one shoulder in a shrug, and grimaced.
“Och, no.” He sighed and settled himself more comfortably. “I dinna suppose he had much thought for what he did, or understood at all what might be the end of it. And it would be foolish to hate a man for not giving ye something he hasna got in the first place.” He opened his eyes then, with a faint smile, and I knew he was thinking of John Grey.
Ian twitched in his sleep, snorted loudly, and rolled over onto his back, arms flung wide. Jamie glanced at his nephew, and the smile grew wider.
“Thank God,” he said. “He goes back to his mother by the first ship headed for Scotland.”
“I don’t know,” I said, smiling. “He might not want to go back to Lallybroch, after all this adventure.”
“I dinna care whether he wants to or not,” Jamie said firmly. “He’s going, if I must pack him up in a crate. Are ye looking for something, Sassenach?” he added, seeing me groping in the dark.
“I’ve got it,” I said, pulling the flat hypodermic case out of my pocket. I flipped it open to check the contents, squinting to see by the waning light. “Oh, good; there’s enough left for one whopping dose.”
Jamie sat up a little straighter.
“I’m not fevered a bit,” he said, eyeing me warily. “And if ye have it in mind to shove that filthy spike into my head, ye can just think again, Sassenach!”
“Not you,” I said. “Ian. Unless you mean to send him home to Jenny riddled with syphilis and other interesting forms of the clap.”
Jamie’s eyebrows rose toward his hairline, and he winced at the resultant sensation.
“Ow. Syphilis? Ye think so?”
“I shouldn’t be a bit surprised. Pronounced dementia is one of the symptoms of the advanced disease—though I must say it would be hard to tell in her case. Still, better safe than sorry, hm?”
Jamie snorted briefly with amusement.
“Well, that may teach Young Ian the price o’ dalliance. I’d best distract Stern while ye take the lad behind a bush for his penance, though; Lawrence is a bonny man for a Jew, but he’s curious. I dinna want ye burnt at the stake in Kingston, after all.”
“I expect that would be awkward for the Governor,” I said dryly. “Much as he might enjoy it, personally.”
“I shouldna think he would, Sassenach.” His dryness matched my own. “Is my coat within reach?”
“Yes.” I found the garment folded on the ground near me, and handed it to him. “Are you cold?”
“No.” He leaned back, the coat laid across his knees. “It’s only that I wanted to feel the bairns all close to me while I sleep.” He smiled at me, folded his hands gently atop the coat and its pictures, and closed his eyes again. “Good night, Sassenach.”
OUT OF THE DEPTHS
In the morning, buoyed by rest and a breakfast of biscuit and plantain, we pressed on toward the shore in good heart—even Ian, who ceased to limp ostentatiously after the first quarter-mile. As we came down the defile that led onto the beach, though, a remarkable sight met our eyes.
“Jesus God, it’s them!” Ian blurted. “The pirates!” He turned, ready to flee back into the hills, but Jamie grasped him by the arm.