Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 43

   

“I shouldna wonder,” Jamie said dryly.

“I want to do it!” The small, clear features were set in determination. “I won’t tell Grannie or Auntie Isobel; I won’t tell anybody. Please, Mac! Please let me! I want to be like you!”

Jamie hesitated, both touched by the boy’s earnestness, and suddenly wanting to leave his son with something more than the carved wooden horse he had made to leave as a farewell present. He tried to remember what Father McMurtry had taught them in the schoolroom about baptism. It was all right for a lay person to do it, he thought, provided that the situation was an emergency, and no priest was to hand.

It might be stretching a point to call the present situation an emergency, but…a sudden impulse made him reach down the jug of water that he kept on the sill.

The eyes that were like his watched, wide and solemn, as he carefully brushed the soft brown hair back from the high brow. He dipped three fingers into the water and carefully traced a cross on the lad’s forehead.

“I baptize thee William James,” he said softly, “in the name o’ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Willie blinked, crossing his eyes as a drop of water rolled down his nose. He stuck out his tongue to catch it, and Jamie laughed, despite himself.

“Why did you call me William James?” Willie asked curiously. “My other names are Clarence Henry George.” He made a face; Clarence wasn’t his idea of a good name.

Jamie hid a smile. “Ye get a new name when you’re baptized; James is your special Papist name. It’s mine, too.”

“It is?” Willie was delighted. “I’m a stinking Papist now, like you?”

“Aye, as much as I can manage, at least.” He smiled down at Willie, then, struck by another impulse, reached into the neck of his shirt.

“Here. Keep this, too, to remember me by.” He laid the beechwood rosary gently over Willie’s head. “Ye canna let anyone see that, though,” he warned. “And for God’s sake, dinna tell anyone you’re a Papist.”

“I won’t,” Willie promised. “Not a soul.” He tucked the rosary into his shirt, patting carefully to be sure that it was hidden.

“Good.” Jamie reached out and ruffled Willie’s hair in dismissal. “It’s almost time for your tea; ye’d best go on up to the house now.”

Willie started for the door, but stopped halfway, suddenly distressed again, with a hand pressed flat to his chest.

“You said to keep this to remember you. But I haven’t got anything for you to remember me by!”

Jamie smiled slightly. His heart was squeezed so tight, he thought he could not draw breath to speak, but he forced the words out.

“Dinna fret yourself,” he said. “I’ll remember ye.”

17

MONSTERS RISING

Loch Ness

August 1968

Brianna blinked, brushing back a bright web of hair caught by the wind. “I’d almost forgotten what the sun looks like,” she said, squinting at the object in question, shining with unaccustomed ferocity on the dark waters of Loch Ness.

Her mother stretched luxuriously, enjoying the light wind. “To say nothing of what fresh air is like. I feel like a toadstool that’s been growing in the dark for weeks—all pale and squashy.”

“Fine scholars the two of you would make,” Roger said, but grinned. All three of them were in high spirits. After the arduous slog through the prison records to narrow the search to Ardsmuir, they had had a run of luck. The records for Ardsmuir were complete, in one spot, and—in comparison to most others—remarkably clear. Ardsmuir had been a prison for only fifteen years; following its renovation by Jacobite prison-labor, it had been converted into a small permanent garrison, and the prison population dispersed—mostly transported to the American Colonies.

“I still can’t imagine why Fraser wasn’t sent along to America with the rest,” Roger said. He had had a moment’s panic there, going over and over the list of transported convicts from Ardsmuir, searching the names one by one, nearly letter by letter, and still finding no Frasers. He had been certain that Jamie Fraser had died in prison, and had been in a cold sweat of fear over the thought of telling the Randall women—until the flip of a page had showed him Fraser’s parole to a place named Helwater.

“I don’t know,” Claire said, “but it’s a bloody good thing he wasn’t. He’s—he was—” she caught herself quickly, but not quickly enough to stop Roger noticing the slip—“terribly, terribly seasick.” She gestured at the surface of the loch before them, dancing with tiny waves. “Even going out on something like that would turn him green in minutes.”

Roger glanced at Brianna with interest. “Are you seasick?”

She shook her head, bright hair lifting in the wind. “Nah.” She patted her bare midriff smugly. “Cast-iron.”

Roger laughed. “Want to go out, then? It’s your holiday, after all.”

“Really? Could we? Can you fish in there?” Brianna shaded her eyes, looking eagerly out over the dark water.

“Certainly. I’ve caught salmon and eels many a time in Loch Ness,” Roger assured her. “Come along; we’ll rent a wee boat at the dock in Drumnadrochit.”

The drive to Drumnadrochit was a delight. The day was one of those clear, bright summer days that cause tourists from the South to stampede into Scotland in droves during August and September. With one of Fiona’s larger breakfasts inside him, one of her lunches stowed in a basket in the boot, and Brianna Randall, long hair blowing in the wind, seated beside him, Roger was strongly disposed to consider that all was right with the world.

He allowed himself to dwell with satisfaction on the results of their researches. It had meant taking additional leave from his college for the summer term, but it had been worth it.

After finding the record of James Fraser’s parole, it had taken another two weeks of slog and inquiry—even a quick weekend trip by Roger and Bree to the Lake District, another by all three of them to London—and then the sight that had made Brianna whoop out loud in the middle of the British Museum’s sacrosanct Reading Room, causing their hasty departure amid waves of icy disapproval. The sight of the Royal Warrant of Pardon, stamped with the seal of George III, Rex Angleterre, dated 1764, bearing the name of “James Alexdrl M’Kensie Frazier.”

“We’re getting close,” Roger had said, gloating over the photocopy of the Warrant of Pardon. “Bloody close!”

“Close?” Brianna had said, but then had been distracted by the sight of their bus approaching, and had not pursued the matter. Roger had caught Claire’s eye on him, though; she knew very well what he meant.

She would, of course, have been thinking of it; he wondered whether Brianna had. Claire had disappeared into the past in 1945, vanishing through the circle of standing stones on Craigh na Dun and reappearing in 1743. She had lived with Jamie Fraser for nearly three years, then returned through the stones. And she had come back nearly three years past the time of her original disappearance, in April of 1948.

All of which meant—just possibly—that if she were disposed to try the trip back through the stones once more, she would likely arrive twenty years past the time she had left—in 1766. And 1766 was only two years past the latest known date at which Jamie Fraser had been located, alive and well. If he had survived another two years, and if Roger could find him…

“There it is!” Brianna said suddenly. “‘Boats for Rent.’” She pointed at the sign in the window of the dockside pub, and Roger nosed the car into a parking slot outside, with no further thought of Jamie Fraser.

“I wonder why short men are so often enamored of very tall women?” Claire’s voice behind him echoed Roger’s thoughts with an uncanny accuracy—and not for the first time.

“Moth and flame syndrome, perhaps?” Roger suggested, frowning at the diminutive barman’s evident fascination with Brianna. He and Claire were standing before the counter for rentals, waiting for the clerk to write up the receipt while Brianna bought bottles of Coca-Cola and brown ale to augment their lunch.

The young barman, who came up approximately to Brianna’s armpit, was hopping to and fro, offering pickled eggs and slices of smoked tongue, eyes worshipfully upturned to the yellow-haltered goddess before him. From her laughter, Brianna appeared to think the man “cute.”

“I always told Bree not to get involved with short men,” Claire observed, watching this.

“Did you?” Roger said dryly. “Somehow I didn’t envision you being all that much in the motherly advice line.”

She laughed, disregarding his momentary sourness. “Well, I’m not, all that much. When you notice an important principle like that, though, it seems one’s motherly duty to pass it along.”

“Something wrong with short men, is there?” Roger inquired.

“They tend to turn mean if they don’t get their way,” Claire answered. “Like small yapping dogs. Cute and fluffy, but cross them and you’re likely to get a nasty nip in the ankle.”

Roger laughed. “This observation is the result of years of experience, I take it?”

“Oh, yes.” She nodded, glancing up at him. “I’ve never met an orchestra conductor over five feet tall. Vicious specimens, practically all of them. But tall men”—her lips curved slightly as she surveyed his six-feet-three-inch frame—“tall men are almost always very sweet and gentle.”

“Sweet, eh?” said Roger, with a cynical glance at the barman, who was cutting up a jellied eel for Brianna. Her face expressed a wary distaste, but she leaned forward, wrinkling her nose as she took the bite offered on a fork.

“With women,” Claire amplified. “I’ve always thought it’s because they realize that they don’t have anything to prove; when it’s perfectly obvious that they can do anything they like whether you want them to or not, they don’t need to try to prove it.”

“While a short man—” Roger prompted.

“While a short one knows he can’t do anything unless you let him, and the knowledge drives him mad, so he’s always trying something on, just to prove he can.”

“Mmphm.” Roger made a Scottish noise in the back of his throat, meant to convey both appreciation of Claire’s acuity, and general suspicion of what the barman might be wanting to prove to Brianna.

“Thanks,” he said to the clerk, who shoved the receipt across the counter to him. “Ready, Bree?” he asked.

The loch was calm and the fishing slow, but it was pleasant on the water, with the August sun warm on their backs and the scent of raspberry canes and sun-warmed pine trees wafting from the nearby shore. Full of lunch, they all grew drowsy, and before long, Brianna was curled up in the bow, asleep with her head pillowed on Roger’s jacket. Claire sat in the stern, blinking, but still awake.

“What about short and tall women?” Roger asked, resuming their earlier conversation as he sculled slowly across the loch. He glanced over his shoulder at the amazing length of Brianna’s legs, awkwardly curled under her. “Same thing? The little ones nasty?”

Loading...