Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 29

   

“Since you are so well informed as to my connections, Major,” he said evenly, “I must suppose that you also are aware that my home lies well over a hundred miles from Ardsmuir. Perhaps you will explain how I might have traveled that distance twice within the space of three days?”

Grey’s eyes stayed on the chess piece, rolling idly from hand to hand. It was a pawn, a cone-headed little warrior with a fierce face, carved from a cylinder of walrus ivory.

“You might have met someone upon the moor who would have borne word of the gold—or borne the gold itself—to your family.”

Fraser snorted briefly.

“On Ardsmuir? How likely is it, Major, that I should by happenstance encounter a person known to me on that moor? Much less that it should be a person whom I would trust to convey a message such as you suggest?” He set down his glass with finality. “I met no one on the moor, Major.”

“And should I trust your word to that effect, Mr. Fraser?” Grey allowed considerable skepticism to show in his voice. He glanced up, brows raised. Fraser’s high cheekbones flushed slightly.

“No one has ever had cause to doubt my word, Major,” he said stiffly.

“Have they not, indeed?” Grey was not altogether feigning his anger. “I believe you gave me your word, upon the occasion of my ordering your irons stricken off!”

“And I kept it!”

“Did you?” The two men sat upright, glaring at each other over the table.

“You asked three things of me, Major, and I have kept that bargain in every particular!”

Grey gave a contemptuous snort.

“Indeed, Mr. Fraser? And if that is so, pray what was it caused you suddenly to despise the company of your fellows and seek congress with the coneys on the moor? Since you assure me that you met no one else—you give me your word that it is so.” This last was spoken with an audible sneer that brought the color surging into Fraser’s face.

One of the big hands curled slowly into a fist.

“Aye, Major,” he said softly. “I give ye my word that that is so.” He seemed to realize at this point that his fist was clenched; very slowly, he unfolded it, laying his hand flat on the table.

“And as to your escape?”

“And as to my escape, Major, I have told you that I will say nothing.” Fraser exhaled slowly and sat back in his chair, eyes fixed on Grey under thick, ruddy brows.

Grey paused for a moment, then sat back himself, setting the chess piece on the table.

“Let me speak plainly, Mr. Fraser. I do you the honor of assuming you to be a sensible man.”

“I am deeply sensible of the honor, Major, I do assure you.”

Grey heard the irony, but did not respond; he held the upper hand now.

“The fact is, Mr. Fraser, that it is of no consequence whether you did in fact communicate with your family regarding the matter of the gold. You might have done so. That possibility alone is sufficient to warrant my sending a party of dragoons to search the premises of Lallybroch—thoroughly—and to arrest and interrogate the members of your family.”

He reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a piece of paper. Unfolding it, he read the list of names.

“Ian Murray—your brother-in-law, I collect? His wife, Janet. That would be your sister, of course. Their children, James—named for his uncle, perhaps?”—he glanced up briefly, long enough to catch a glimpse of Fraser’s face, than returned to his list—“Margaret, Katherine, Janet, Michael, and Ian. Quite a brood,” he said, in a tone of dismissal that equated the six younger Murrays with a litter of piglets. He laid the list on the table beside the chess piece.

“The three eldest children are old enough to be arrested and interrogated with their parents, you know. Such interrogations are frequently ungentle, Mr. Fraser.”

In this, he spoke no less than the truth, and Fraser knew it. All color had faded from the prisoner’s face, leaving the strong bones stark under the skin. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them.

Grey had a brief memory of Quarry’s voice, saying “If you dine alone with the man, don’t turn your back on him.” The hair rose briefly on the back of his neck, but he controlled himself, returning Fraser’s blue stare.

“What do you want of me?” The voice was low, and hoarse with fury, but the Scot sat motionless, a figure carved in cinnabar, gilded by the flame.

Grey took a deep breath.

“I want the truth,” he said softly.

There was no sound in the chamber save the pop and hiss of the peats in the grate. There was a flicker of movement from Fraser, no more than the twitch of his fingers against his leg, and then nothing. The Scot sat, head turned, staring into the fire as though he sought an answer there.

Grey sat quietly, waiting. He could afford to wait. At last, Fraser turned back to face him.

“The truth, then.” He took a deep breath; Grey could see the breast of his linen shirt swell with it—he had no waistcoat.

“I kept my word, Major. I told ye faithfully all that the man said to me that night. What I didna tell ye was that some of what he said had meaning to me.”

“Indeed.” Grey held himself still, scarcely daring to move. “And what meaning was that?”

Fraser’s wide mouth compressed to a thin line.

“I—spoke to you of my wife,” he said, forcing the words out as though they hurt him.

“Yes, you said that she was dead.”

“I said that she was gone, Major,” Fraser corrected softly. His eyes were fixed on the pawn. “It is likely she is dead, but—” He stopped and swallowed, then went on more firmly.

“My wife was a healer. What they call in the Highlands a charmer, but more than that. She was a white lady—a wisewoman.” He glanced up briefly. “The word in Gaelic is ban-druidh; it also means witch.”

“The white witch.” Grey also spoke softly, but excitement was thrumming through his blood. “So the man’s words referred to your wife?”

“I thought they might. And if so—” The wide shoulders stirred in a slight shrug. “I had to go,” he said simply. “To see.”

“How did you know where to go? Was that also something you gleaned from the vagrant’s words?” Grey leaned forward slightly, curious. Fraser nodded, eyes still fixed on the ivory chess piece.

“There is a spot I knew of, not too far distant from this place, where there is a shrine to St. Bride. St. Bride was also called ‘the white lady,’” he explained, looking up. “Though the shrine has been there a verra long time—since long before St. Bride came to Scotland.”

“I see. And so you assumed that the man’s words referred to this spot, as well as to your wife?”

Again the shrug.

“I did not know,” Fraser repeated. “I couldna say whether he meant anything to do with my wife, or whether ‘the white witch’ only meant St. Bride—was only meant to direct me to the place—or perhaps neither. But I felt I must go.”

He described the place in question, and at Grey’s prodding, gave directions for reaching it.

“The shrine itself is a small stone in the shape of an ancient cross, so weathered that the markings scarce show on it. It stands above a small pool, half-buried in the heather. Ye can find small white stones in the pool, tangled among the roots of the heather that grows on the bank. The stones are thought to have great powers, Major,” he explained, seeing the other’s blank look. “But only when used by a white lady.”

“I see. And your wife…?” Grey paused delicately.

Fraser shook his head briefly.

“There was nothing there to do with her,” he said softly. “She is truly gone.” His voice was low and controlled, but Grey could hear the undertone of desolation.

Fraser’s face was normally calm and unreadable; he did not change expression now, but the marks of grief were clear, etched in the lines beside mouth and eyes, thrown into darkness by the flickering fire. It seemed an intrusion to break in upon such a depth of feeling, unstated though it was, but Grey had his duty.

“And the gold, Mr. Fraser?” he asked quietly. “What of that?”

Fraser heaved a deep sigh.

“It was there,” he said flatly.

“What!” Grey sat bolt upright in his chair, staring at the Scot. “You found it?”

Fraser glanced up at him then, and his mouth twisted wryly.

“I found it.”

“Was it indeed the French gold that Louis sent for Charles Stuart?” Excitement was racing through Grey’s bloodstream, with visions of himself delivering great chests of gold louis d’or to his superiors in London.

“Louis never sent gold to the Stuarts,” Fraser said, with certainty. “No, Major, what I found at the saint’s pool was gold, but not French coin.”

What he had found was a small box, containing a few gold and silver coins, and a small leather pouch, filled with jewels.

“Jewels?” Grey blurted. “Where the devil did they come from?”

Fraser cast him a glance of mild exasperation.

“I havena the slightest notion, Major,” he said. “How should I know?”

“No, of course not,” Grey said, coughing to cover his flusterment. “Certainly. But this treasure—where is it now?”

“I threw it into the sea.”

Grey stared blankly at him.

“You—what?”

“I threw it into the sea,” Fraser repeated patiently. The slanted blue eyes met Grey’s steadily. “Ye’ll maybe have heard of a place called the Devil’s Cauldron, Major? It’s no more than half a mile from the saint’s pool.”

“Why? Why would you have done such a thing?” Grey demanded. “It isn’t sense, man!”

“I wasna much concerned with sense at the time, Major,” Fraser said softly. “I had gone there hoping—and with that hope gone, the treasure seemed no more to me than a wee box of stones and bits of tarnished metal. I had no use for it.” He looked up, one brow slightly raised in irony. “But I didna see the ‘sense’ in giving it to King Geordie, either. So I flung it into the sea.”

Grey sat back in his chair and mechanically poured out another cup of sherry, hardly noticing what he was doing. His thoughts were in turmoil.

Fraser sat, head turned away and chin propped on his fist, gazing into the fire, his face gone back to its usual impassivity. The light glowed behind him, lighting the long, straight line of his nose and the soft curve of his lip, shadowing jaw and brow with sternness.

Grey took a good-sized swallow of his drink and steadied himself.

“It is a moving story, Mr. Fraser,” he said levelly. “Most dramatic. And yet there is no evidence that it is the truth.”

Fraser stirred, turning his head to look at Grey. Jamie’s slanted eyes narrowed, in what might have been amusement.

“Aye, there is, Major,” he said. He reached under the waistband of his ragged breeches, fumbled for a moment, and held out his hand above the tabletop, waiting.

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