“In any case, as I say, I’m none so concerned at havin’ someone look for Jamie Roy at a tavern.” He lifted his wineglass and passed it under his own nose by reflex, made a slight, unconscious face, and drank. “No,” he said, lowering the glass, “what worries me is that the man should have found his way to the printshop. For I’ve taken considerable pains to make sure that the folk who see Jamie Roy on the docks at Burntisland are not the same ones who pass the time o’ day in the High Street with Mr. Alec Malcolm, the printer.”
I knitted my brows, trying to work it out.
“But Sir Percival called you Malcolm, and he knows you’re a smuggler,” I protested.
Jamie nodded patiently. “Half the men in the ports near Edinburgh are smugglers, Sassenach,” he said. “Aye, Sir Percival kens fine I’m a smuggler, but he doesna ken I’m Jamie Roy—let alone James Fraser. He thinks I bring in bolts of undeclared silk and velvet from Holland—because that’s what I pay him in.” He smiled wryly. “I trade brandy for them, to the tailor on the corner. Sir Percival’s an eye for fine cloth, and his lady even more. But he doesna ken I’ve to do wi’ the liquor—let alone how much—or he’d be wanting a great deal more than the odd bit of lace and yardage, I’ll tell ye.”
“Could one of the tavern owners have told the seaman about you? Surely they’ve seen you.”
He ruffled a hand through his hair, as he did when thinking, making a few short hairs on the crown stand up in a whorl of tiny spikes.
“Aye, they’ve seen me,” he said slowly, “but only as a customer. Fergus handles the business dealings wi’ the taverns—and Fergus is careful never to go near the printshop. He always meets me here, in private.” He gave me a crooked grin. “No one questions a man’s reasons for visiting a brothel, aye?”
“Could that be it?” I asked, struck by a sudden thought. “Any man can come here without question. Could the seaman Young Ian followed have seen you here—you and Fergus? Or heard your description from one of the girls? After all, you’re not the most inconspicuous man I’ve ever seen.” He wasn’t, either. While there might be any number of redheaded men in Edinburgh, few of them towered to Jamie’s height, and fewer still strode the streets with the unconscious arrogance of a disarmed warrior.
“That’s a verra useful thought, Sassenach,” he said, giving me a nod. “It will be easy enough to find out whether a pigtailed seaman with one eye has been here recently; I’ll have Jeanne ask among her lassies.”
He stood up, and stretched rackingly, his hands nearly touching the wooden rafters.
“And then, Sassenach, perhaps we’ll go to bed, aye?” He lowered his arms and blinked at me with a smile. “What wi’ one thing and another, it’s been the bloody hell of a day, no?”
“It has, rather,” I said, smiling back.
Jeanne, summoned for instructions, arrived together with Fergus, who opened the door for the madam with the easy familiarity of a brother or cousin. Little wonder if he felt at home, I supposed; he had been born in a Paris brothel, and spent the first ten years of his life there, sleeping in a cupboard beneath the stairs, when not making a living by picking pockets on the street.
“The brandy is gone,” he reported to Jamie. “I have sold it to MacAlpine—at a small sacrifice in price, I regret, milord. I thought a quick sale the best.”
“Better to have it off the premises,” Jamie said, nodding. “What have ye done wi’ the body?”
Fergus smiled briefly, his lean face and dark forelock lending him a distinctly piratical air.
“Our intruder also has gone to MacAlpine’s tavern, milord—suitably disguised.”
“As what?” I demanded.
The pirate’s grin turned on me; Fergus had turned out a very handsome man, the disfigurement of his hook notwithstanding.
“As a cask of crème de menthe, milady,” he said.
“I do not suppose anyone has drunk crème de menthe in Edinburgh any time in the last hundred years,” observed Madame Jeanne. “The heathen Scots are not accustomed to the use of civilized liqueurs; I have never seen a customer here take anything beyond whisky, beer, or brandywine.”
“Exactly, Madame,” Fergus said, nodding. “We do not want Mr. MacAlpine’s tapmen broaching the cask, do we?”
“Surely somebody’s going to look in that cask sooner or later,” I said. “Not to be indelicate, but—”
“Exactly, milady,” Fergus said, with a respectful bow to me. “Though crème de menthe has a very high content of alcohol. The tavern’s cellar is but a temporary resting place on our unknown friend’s journey to his eternal rest. He goes to the docks tomorrow, and thence to somewhere quite far away. It is only that I did not want him cluttering up Madame Jeanne’s premises in the meantime.”
Jeanne addressed a remark in French to St. Agnes that I didn’t quite catch, but then shrugged and turned to go.
“I will make inquiries of les filles concerning this seaman tomorrow, Monsieur, when they are at leisure. For now—”
“For now, speaking of leisure,” Fergus interrupted, “might Mademoiselle Sophie find herself unemployed this evening?”
The madam favored him with a look of ironic amusement. “Since she saw you come in, mon petit saucisse, I expect that she has kept herself available.” She glanced at Young Ian, slouched against the cushions like a scarecrow from which all the straw stuffing has been removed. “And will I find a place for the young gentleman to sleep?”
“Oh, aye.” Jamie looked consideringly at his nephew. “I suppose ye can lay a pallet in my room.”
“Oh, no!” Young Ian blurted. “You’ll want to be alone wi’ your wife, will ye not, Uncle?”
“What?” Jamie stared at him uncomprehendingly.
“Well, I mean…” Young Ian hesitated, glancing at me, and then hastily away. “I mean, nay doubt you’ll be wanting to…er…mmphm?” A Highlander born, he managed to infuse this last noise with an amazing wealth of implied indelicacy.
Jamie rubbed his knuckles hard across his upper lip.
“Well, that’s verra thoughtful of ye, Ian,” he said. His voice quivered slightly with the effort of not laughing. “And I’m flattered that ye have such a high opinion of my virility as to think I’m capable of anything but sleeping in bed after a day like this. But I think perhaps I can forgo the satisfaction of my carnal desires for one night—fond as I am of your auntie,” he added, giving me a faint grin.
“But Bruno tells me the establishment is not busy tonight,” Fergus put in, glancing round in some bewilderment. “Why does the boy not—”
“Because he’s no but fourteen, for God’s sake!” Jamie said, scandalized.
“Almost fifteen!” Young Ian corrected, sitting up and looking interested.
“Well, that is certainly sufficient,” Fergus said, with a glance at Madame Jeanne for confirmation. “Your brothers were no older when I first brought them here, and they acquitted themselves honorably.”
“You what?” Jamie goggled at his protégé.
“Well, someone had to,” Fergus said, with slight impatience. “Normally, a boy’s father—but of course, le Monsieur is not—meaning no disrespect to your esteemed father, of course,” he added, with a nod to Young Ian, who nodded back like a mechanical toy, “but it is a matter for experienced judgment, you understand?”
“Now”—he turned to Madame Jeanne, with the air of a gourmand consulting the wine steward—“Dorcas, do you think, or Penelope?”
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head decidedly, “it should be the second Mary, absolutely. The small one.”
“Oh, with the yellow hair? Yes, I think you are right,” Fergus said approvingly. “Fetch her, then.”
Jeanne was off before Jamie could manage more than a strangled croak in protest.
“But—but—the lad canna—” he began.
“Yes, I can,” Young Ian said. “At least, I think I can.” It wasn’t possible for his face to grow any redder, but his ears were crimson with excitement, the traumatic events of the day completely forgotten.
“But it’s—that is to say—I canna be letting ye—” Jamie broke off and stood glaring at his nephew for a long moment. Finally, he threw his hands up in the air in exasperated defeat.
“And what am I to say to your mother?” he demanded, as the door opened behind him.
Framed in the door stood a very short young girl, plump and soft as a partridge in her blue silk chemise, her round sweet face beaming beneath a loose cloud of yellow hair. At the sight of her, Young Ian froze, scarcely breathing.
When at last he must draw breath or die, he drew it, and turned to Jamie. With a smile of surpassing sweetness, he said, “Well, Uncle Jamie, if I were you”—his voice soared up in a sudden alarming soprano, and he stopped, clearing his throat before resuming in a respectable baritone—“I wouldna tell her. Good night to ye, Auntie,” he said, and walked purposefully forward.
“I canna decide whether I must kill Fergus or thank him.” Jamie was sitting on the bed in our attic room, slowly unbuttoning his shirt.
I laid the damp dress over the stool and knelt down in front of him to unbuckle the knee buckles of his breeches.
“I suppose he was trying to do his best for Young Ian.”
“Aye—in his bloody immoral French way.” Jamie reached back to untie the lace that held his hair back. He had not plaited it again when we left Moubray’s, and it fell soft and loose on his shoulders, framing the broad cheekbones and long straight nose, so that he looked like one of the fiercer Italian angels of the Renaissance.
“Was it the Archangel Michael who drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden?” I asked, stripping off his stockings.
He gave a slight chuckle. “Do I strike ye so—as the guardian o’ virtue? And Fergus as the wicked serpent?” His hands came under my elbows as he bent to lift me up. “Get up, Sassenach; ye shouldna be on your knees, serving me.”
“You’ve had rather a time of it today yourself,” I answered, making him stand up with me. “Even if you didn’t have to kill anyone.” There were large blisters on his hands, and while he had wiped away most of the soot, there was still a streak down the side of his jaw.
“Mm.” My hands went around his waist to help with the waistband of his breeches, but he held them there, resting his cheek for a moment against the top of my head.
“I wasna quite honest wi’ the lad, ye ken,” he said.
“No? I thought you did wonderfully with him. He felt better after he talked to you, at least.”
“Aye, I hope so. And may be the prayers and such will help—they canna hurt him, at least. But I didna tell him everything.”