Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 77

   

Presumably this stop was for respite, rather than information, for the seaman was sitting at his ease, drinking beer. Young Ian had darted behind a hogshead in the yard, and remained there, watching, until at length the man rose, paid his score, and made his leisurely way outside.

“He didna go to any more taverns,” the boy reported, wiping a stray drop of milk off his chin. “He went straight to Carfax Close, to the printshop.”

Jamie said something in Gaelic under his breath. “Did he? And what then?”

“Well, he found the shop shut up, of course. When he saw the door was locked, he looked careful like, up at the windows, as though he was maybe thinking of breaking in. But then I saw him look about, at all the folk coming and going—it was a busy time of day, wi’ all the folk coming to the chocolate shop. So he stood on the stoop a moment, thinking, and then he set off back up the close—I had to duck into the tailor’s shop on the corner so as not to be seen.”

The man had paused at the entrance of the close, then, making up his mind, had turned to the right, gone down a few paces, and disappeared into a small alley.

“I kent as how the alley led up to the court at the back of the close,” Young Ian explained. “So I saw at once what he meant to be doing.”

“There’s a wee court at the back of the close,” Jamie explained, seeing my puzzled look. “It’s for rubbish and deliveries and such—but there’s a back door out of the printshop opens onto it.”

Young Ian nodded, putting down his empty bowl. “Aye. I thought it must be that he meant to get into the place. And I thought of the new pamphlets.”

“Jesus,” Jamie said. He looked a little pale.

“Pamphlets?” Ian raised his brows at Jamie. “What kind of pamphlets?”

“The new printing for Mr. Gage,” Young Ian explained.

Ian still looked as blank as I felt.

“Politics,” Jamie said bluntly. “An argument for repeal of the last Stamp Act—with an exhortation to civil opposition—by violence, if necessary. Five thousand of them, fresh-printed, stacked in the back room. Gage was to come round and get them in the morning, tomorrow.”

“Jesus,” Ian said. He had gone even paler than Jamie, at whom he stared in a sort of mingled horror and awe. “Have ye gone straight out o’ your mind?” he inquired. “You, wi’ not an inch on your back unscarred? Wi’ the ink scarce dry on your pardon for treason? You’re mixed up wi’ Tom Gage and his seditious society, and got my son involved as well?”

His voice had been rising throughout, and now he sprang to his feet, fists clenched.

“How could ye do such a thing, Jamie—how? Have we not suffered enough for your actions, Jenny and me? All through the war and after—Christ, I’d think you’d have your fill of prisons and blood and violence!”

“I have,” Jamie said shortly. “I’m no part of Gage’s group. But my business is printing, aye? He paid for those pamphlets.”

Ian threw up his hands in a gesture of vast irritation. “Oh, aye! And that will mean a great deal when the Crown’s agents arrest ye and take ye to London to be hangit! If those things were to be found on your premises—” Struck by a sudden thought, he stopped and turned to his son.

“Oh, that was it?” he asked. “Ye kent what those pamphlets were—that’s why ye set them on fire?”

Young Ian nodded, solemn as a young owl.

“I couldna move them in time,” he said. “Not five thousand. The man—the seaman—he’d broke out the back window, and he was reachin’ in for the doorlatch.”

Ian whirled back to face Jamie.

“Damn you!” he said violently. “Damn ye for a reckless, harebrained fool, Jamie Fraser! First the Jacobites, and now this!”

Jamie had flushed up at once at Ian’s words, and his face grew darker at this.

“Am I to blame for Charles Stuart?” he said. His eyes flashed angrily and he set his teacup down with a thump that sloshed tea and whisky over the polished tabletop. “Did I not try all I could to stop the wee fool? Did I not give up everything in that fight—everything, Ian! My land, my freedom, my wife—to try to save us all?” He glanced at me briefly as he spoke, and I caught one very small quick glimpse of just what the last twenty years had cost him.

He turned back to Ian, his brows lowering as he went on, voice growing hard.

“And as for what I’ve cost your family—what have ye profited, Ian? Lallybroch belongs to wee James now, no? To your son, not mine!”

Ian flinched at that. “I never asked—” he began.

“No, ye didn’t. I’m no accusing ye, for God’s sake! But the fact’s there—Lallybroch’s no mine anymore, is it? My father left it to me, and I cared for it as best I could—took care o’ the land and the tenants—and ye helped me, Ian.” His voice softened a bit. “I couldna have managed without you and Jenny. I dinna begrudge deeding it to Young Jamie—it had to be done. But still…” He turned away for a moment, head bowed, broad shoulders knotted tight beneath the linen of his shirt.

I was afraid to move or speak, but I caught Young Ian’s eye, filled with infinite distress. I put a hand on his skinny shoulder for mutual reassurance, and felt the steady pounding of the pulse in the tender flesh above his collarbone. He set his big, bony paw on my hand and held on tight.

Jamie turned back to his brother-in-law, struggling to keep his voice and temper under control. “I swear to ye, Ian, I didna let the lad be put in danger. I kept him out of the way so much as I possibly could—didna let the shoremen see him, or let him go out on the boats wi’ Fergus, hard as he begged me.” He glanced at Young Ian and his expression changed, to an odd mixture of affection and irritation.

“I didna ask him to come to me, Ian, and I told him he must go home again.”

“Ye didna make him go, though, did you?” The angry color was fading from Ian’s face, but his soft brown eyes were still narrow and bright with fury. “And ye didna send word, either. For God’s sake, Jamie, Jenny hasna slept at night anytime this month!”

Jamie’s lips pressed tight. “No,” he said, letting the words escape one at a time. “No. I didn’t. I—” He glanced at the boy again, and shrugged uncomfortably, as though his shirt had grown suddenly too tight.

“No,” he said again. “I meant to take him home myself.”

“He’s old enough to travel by himself,” Ian said shortly. “He got here alone, no?”

“Aye. It wasna that.” Jamie turned aside restlessly, picking up a teacup and rolling it to and fro between his palms. “No, I meant to take him, so that I could ask your permission—yours and Jenny’s—for the lad to come live wi’ me for a time.”

Ian uttered a short, sarcastic laugh. “Oh, aye! Give our permission for him to be hangit or transported alongside you, eh?”

The anger flashed across Jamie’s features again as he looked up from the cup in his hands.

“Ye know I wouldna let any harm come to him,” he said. “For Christ’s sake, Ian, I care for the lad as though he were my own son, and well ye ken it, too!”

Ian’s breath was coming fast; I could hear it from my place behind the sofa. “Oh, I ken it well enough,” he said, staring hard into Jamie’s face. “But he’s not your son, aye? He’s mine.”

Jamie stared back for a long moment, then reached out and gently set the teacup back on the table. “Aye,” he said quietly. “He is.”

Ian stood for a moment, breathing hard, then wiped a hand carelessly across his forehead, pushing back the thick dark hair.

“Well, then,” he said. He took one or two deep breaths, and turned to his son.

“Come along, then,” he said. “I’ve a room at Halliday’s.”

Young Ian’s bony fingers tightened on mine. His throat worked, but he didn’t move to rise from his seat.

“No, Da,” he said. His voice quivered, and he blinked hard, not to cry. “I’m no going wi’ ye.”

Ian’s face went quite pale, with a deep red patch over the angular cheekbones, as though someone had slapped him hard on both cheeks.

“Is that so?” he said.

Young Ian nodded, swallowing. “I—I’ll go wi’ ye in the morning, Da; I’ll go home wi’ ye. But not now.”

Ian looked at his son for a long moment without speaking. Then his shoulders slumped, and all the tension went out of his body.

“I see,” he said quietly. “Well, then. Well.”

Without another word, he turned and left, closing the door very carefully behind him. I could hear the awkward thump of his wooden leg on each step, as he made his way down the stair. There was a brief sound of shuffling as he reached the bottom, then Bruno’s voice in farewell, and the thud of the main door shutting. And then there was no sound in the room but the hiss of the hearthfire behind me.

The boy’s shoulder was shaking under my hand, and he was holding tighter than ever to my fingers, crying without making a sound.

Jamie came slowly to sit beside him, his face full of troubled helplessness.

“Ian, oh, wee Ian,” he said. “Christ, laddie, ye shouldna have done that.”

“I had to.” Ian gasped and gave a sudden snuffle, and I realized that he had been holding his breath. He turned a scorched countenance on his uncle, raw features contorted in anguish.

“I didna want to hurt Da,” he said. “I didn’t!”

Jamie patted his knee absently. “I know, laddie,” he said, “but to say such a thing to him—”

“I couldna tell him, though, and I had to tell you, Uncle Jamie!”

Jamie glanced up, suddenly alert at his nephew’s tone.

“Tell me? Tell me what?”

“The man. The man wi’ the pigtail.”

“What about him?”

Young Ian licked his lips, steeling himself.

“I think I kilt him,” he whispered.

Startled, Jamie glanced at me, then back at Young Ian.

“How?” he asked.

“Well…I lied a bit,” Ian began, voice trembling. The tears were still welling in his eyes, but he brushed them aside. “When I went into the printshop—I had the key ye gave me—the man was already inside.”

The seaman had been in the backmost room of the shop, where the stacks of newly printed orders were kept, along with the stocks of fresh ink, the blotting papers used to clean the press, and the small forge where worn slugs were melted down and recast into fresh type.

“He was taking some o’ the pamphlets from the stack, and putting them inside his jacket,” Ian said, gulping. “When I saw him, I screeched at him to put them back, and he whirled round at me wi’ a pistol in his hand.”

The pistol had discharged, scaring Young Ian badly, but the ball had gone wild. Little daunted, the seaman had rushed at the boy, raising the pistol to club him instead.

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