“Oh,” Horace Thompson murmured. “Well. I’ll have to think—I mean—it was very kind of you to look at her for me. Er, thank you,” he added, with an awkward little bow. We silently watched him bundle his bones back into the PICT-SWEET box, and then he was gone, pausing at the door to give us both another brief bob of the head.
Joe gave a short laugh as the door closed behind him. “Want to bet he takes her down to Rutgers for a second opinion?”
“Academics don’t give up theories easily,” I said, shrugging. “I lived with one long enough to know that.”
Joe snorted again. “So you did. Well, now that we’ve got Mr. Thompson and his dead white lady sorted out, what can I do for you, L. J.?”
I took a deep breath and turned to face him.
“I need an honest opinion, from somebody I can depend on to be objective. No,” I amended, “I take that back. I need an opinion and then—depending on the opinion—maybe a favor.”
“No problem,” Joe assured me. “Especially the opinion. My specialty, opinions.” He rocked back in his chair, unfolded his gold-rimmed glasses and set them firmly atop his broad nose. Then he folded his hands across his chest, fingers steepled, and nodded at me. “Shoot.”
“Am I sexually attractive?” I demanded. His eyes always reminded me of coffee drops, with their warm golden-brown color. Now they went completely round, enhancing the resemblance.
Then they narrowed, but he didn’t answer immediately. He looked me over carefully, head to toe.
“It’s a trick question, right?” he said. “I give you an answer and one of those women’s libbers jumps out from behind the door, yells ‘Sexist pig!’ And hits me over the head with a sign that says ‘Castrate Male Chauvinists.’ Huh?”
“No,” I assured him. “A sexist male chauvinist answer is basically what I want.”
“Oh, okay. As long as we’re straight, then.” He resumed his perusal, squinting closely as I stood up straight.
“Skinny white broad with too much hair, but a great ass,” he said at last. “Nice tits, too,” he added, with a cordial nod. “That what you want to know?”
“Yes,” I said, relaxing my rigid posture. “That’s exactly what I wanted to know. It isn’t the sort of question you can ask just anybody.”
He pursed his lips in a silent whistle, then threw back his head and roared with delight.
“Lady Jane! You’ve got you a man!”
I felt the blood rising in my cheeks, but tried to keep my dignity. “I don’t know. Maybe. Just maybe.”
“Maybe, hell! Jesus Christ on a piece of toast, L. J., it’s about time!”
“Kindly quit cackling,” I said, lowering myself into his visitor’s chair. “It doesn’t become a man of your years and station.”
“My years? Oho,” he said, peering shrewdly at me through the glasses. “He’s younger than you? That’s what you’re worried about?”
“Not a lot,” I said, the blush beginning to recede. “But I haven’t seen him in twenty years. You’re the only person I know who’s known me for a long time; have I changed terribly since we met?” I looked at him straight on, demanding honesty.
He looked at me, took off his glasses and squinted, then replaced them.
“No,” he said. “You wouldn’t, though, unless you got fat.”
“Nah. Ever been to your high school reunion?”
“I didn’t go to a high school.”
His sketchy brows flicked upward. “No? Well, I have. And I tell you what, L.J.; you see all these people you haven’t seen for twenty years, and there’s this split second when you meet somebody you used to know, when you think, ‘My God, he’s changed!,’ and then all of a sudden, he hasn’t—it’s just like the twenty years weren’t there. I mean”—he rubbed his head vigorously, struggling for meaning—“you see they’ve got some gray, and some lines, and maybe they aren’t just the same as they were, but two minutes past that shock, and you don’t see it anymore. They’re just the same people they always were, and you have to make yourself stand back a ways to see that they aren’t eighteen anymore.
“Now, if people get fat,” he said meditatively, “they change some. It’s harder to see who they were, because the faces change. But you”—he squinted at me again—“you’re never going to be fat; you don’t have the genes for it.”
“I suppose not,” I said. I looked down at my hands, clasped together in my lap. Slender wristbones; at least I wasn’t fat yet. My rings gleamed in the autumn sun from the window.
“Is it Bree’s daddy?” he asked softly.
I jerked my head up and stared at him. “How the hell did you know that?” I said.
He smiled slightly. “I’ve known Bree how long? Ten years, at least.” He shook his head. “She’s got a lot of you in her, L. J., but I’ve never seen anything of Frank. Daddy’s got red hair, huh?” he asked. “And he’s one big son of a bitch, or everything I learned in Genetics 101 was a damn lie.”
“Yes,” I said, and felt a kind of delirious excitement at that simple admission. Until I had told Bree herself and Roger about Jamie, I had said nothing about him for twenty years. The joy of suddenly being able to talk freely about him was intoxicating.
“Yes, he’s big and red-haired, and he’s Scottish,” I said, making Joe’s eyes go round once more.
“And Bree’s in Scotland now?”
I nodded. “Bree is where the favor comes in.”
Two hours later, I left the hospital for the last time, leaving behind me a letter of resignation, addressed to the Hospital Board, all the necessary documents for the handling of my property until Brianna should be of age, and another one, to be executed at that time, turning everything over to her. As I drove out of the parking lot, I experienced a feeling of mingled panic, regret, and elation. I was on my way.
October 5, 1968
“I found the deed of sasine.” Roger’s face was flushed with excitement. He had hardly been able to contain himself, waiting with open impatience at the train station in Inverness while Brianna hugged me and my bags were retrieved. He had barely got us stuffed into his tiny Morris and the car’s ignition started before blurting out his news.
“What, for Lallybroch?” I leaned over the seat back between him and Brianna, in order to hear him over the noise of the motor.
“Yes, the one Jamie—your Jamie—wrote, deeding the property to his nephew, the younger Jamie.”
“It’s at the manse,” Brianna put in, twisting to look at me. “We were afraid to bring it with us; Roger had to sign his name in blood to get it out of the SPA collection.” Her fair skin was pinkened by excitement and the chilly day, raindrops in her ruddy hair. It was always a shock to me to see her again after an absence—mothers always think their children beautiful, but Bree really was.
I smiled at her, glowing with affection tinged with panic. Could I really be thinking of leaving her? Mistaking the smile for one of pleasure in the news, she went on, gripping the back of the seat in excitement.
“And you’ll never guess what else we found!”
“What you found,” Roger corrected, squeezing her knee with one hand as he negotiated the tiny orange car through a roundabout. She gave him a quick glance and a reciprocal touch with an air of intimacy about it that set off my maternal alarm bells on the spot. Like that already, was it?
I seemed to feel Frank’s shade glaring accusingly over my shoulder. Well, at least Roger wasn’t black. I coughed and said, “Really? What is it?”
They exchanged a glance and grinned widely at each other.
“Wait and see, Mama,” said Bree, with irritating smugness.
“See?” she said, twenty minutes later, as I bent over the desk in the manse’s study. On the battered surface of the late Reverend Wakefield’s desk lay a sheaf of yellowed papers, foxed and browned at the edges. They were carefully enclosed in protective plastic covers now, but obviously had been carelessly used at one time; the edges were tattered, one sheet was torn roughly in half, and all the sheets had notes and annotations scribbled in the margins and inserted in the text. This was obviously someone’s rough draft—of something.
“It’s the text of an article,” Roger told me, shuffling through a pile of huge folio volumes that lay on the sofa. “It was published in a sort of journal called Forrester’s, put out by a printer called Alexander Malcolm, in Edinburgh, in 1765.”
I swallowed, my shirtwaist dress feeling suddenly too tight under the arms; 1765 was almost twenty years past the time when I had left Jamie.
I stared at the scrawling letters, browned with age. They were written by someone of difficult penmanship, here cramped and there sprawling, with exaggerated loops on “g” and “y.” Perhaps the writing of a left-handed man, who wrote most painfully with his right hand.
“See, here’s the published version.” Roger brought the opened folio to the desk and laid it before me, pointing. “See the date? It’s 1765, and it matches this handwritten manuscript almost exactly; only a few of the marginal notes aren’t included.”
“Yes,” I said. “And the deed of sasine…”
“Here it is.” Brianna fumbled hastily in the top drawer and pulled out a much crumpled paper, likewise encased in protective plastic. Protection here was even more after the fact than with the manuscript; the paper was rain-spattered, filthy and torn, many of the words blurred beyond recognition. But the three signatures at the bottom still showed plainly.
By my hand, read the difficult writing, here executed with such care that only the exaggerated loop of the “y” showed its kinship with the careless manuscript, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. And below, the two lines where the witnesses had signed. In a thin, fine script, Murtagh FitzGibbons Fraser, and, below that, in my own large, round hand, Claire Beauchamp Fraser.
I sat down quite suddenly, putting my hand over the document instinctively, as though to deny its reality.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” said Roger quietly. His outward composure was belied by his hands, trembling slightly as he lifted the stack of manuscript pages to set them next to the deed. “You signed it. Proof positive—if we needed it,” he added, with a quick glance at Bree.
She shook her head, letting her hair fall down to hide her face. They didn’t need it, either of them. The vanishing of Geilie Duncan through the stones five months before had been all the evidence anyone could need as to the truth of my story.
Still, having it all laid out in black and white was rather staggering. I took my hand away and looked again at the deed, and then at the handwritten manuscript.
“Is it the same, Mama?” Bree bent anxiously over the pages, her hair brushing softly against my hand. “The article wasn’t signed—or it was, but with a pseudonym.” She smiled briefly. “The author signed himself ‘Q.E.D.’ It looked the same to us, but we aren’t either of us handwriting experts and we didn’t want to give these to an expert until you’d seen them.”