She looked up from the paper, raising her eyebrows at her daughter.
“Why this one? We know—or we think we know,” she corrected, with a wry nod toward Roger, “that Jamie escaped from Culloden, but so did a lot of other people. What makes you think this laird might have been Jamie?”
“Because of the Dunbonnet bit, of course,” Brianna answered, as though surprised that she should ask.
“What?” Roger looked at her, puzzled. “What about the Dunbonnet?”
In answer, Brianna picked up a hank of her thick red hair and waggled it under his nose.
“Dunbonnet!” she said impatiently. “A dull brown bonnet, right? He wore a hat all the time, because he had hair that could be recognized! Didn’t you say the English called him ‘Red Jamie’? They knew he had red hair—he had to hide it!”
Roger stared at her, speechless. The hair floated loose on her shoulders, alive with fiery light.
“You could be right,” Claire said. Excitement made her eyes bright as she looked at her daughter. “It was like yours—Jamie’s hair was just like yours, Bree.” She reached up and softly stroked Brianna’s hair. The girl’s face softened as she looked down at her mother.
“I know,” she said. “I was thinking about that while I was reading—trying to see him, you know?” She stopped and cleared her throat, as though something might be caught in it. “I could see him, out in the heather, hiding, and the sun shining off his hair. You said he’d been an outlaw; I just—I just thought he must have known pretty well…how to hide. If people were trying to kill him,” she finished softly.
“Right.” Roger spoke briskly, to dispel the shadow in Brianna’s eyes. “That’s a marvelous job of guesswork, but maybe we can tell for sure, with a little more work. If we can find Leap O’ the Cask on a map—”
“What kind of dummy do you think I am?” Brianna said scornfully. “I thought of that.” The shadow disappeared, replaced by an expression of smugness. “That’s why I was so late; I made the clerk drag out every map of the Highlands they had.” She withdrew another photocopied sheet from the stack and poked a finger triumphantly near the upper edge.
“See? It’s so tiny, it doesn’t show up on most maps, but this one had it. Right there; there’s the village of Broch Mordha, which Mama says is near the Lallybroch estate, and there”—her finger moved a quarter-inch, pointing to a line of microscopic print. “See?” she repeated. “He went back to his estate—Lallybroch—and that’s where he hid.”
“Not having a magnifying glass to hand, I’ll take your word for it that that says ‘Leap O’ the Cask,’” Roger said, straightening up. He grinned at Brianna. “Congratulations, then,” he said. “I think you’ve found him—that far, at least.”
Brianna smiled, her eyes suspiciously bright. “Yeah,” she said softly. She touched the two sheets of paper with a gentle finger. “My father.”
Claire squeezed her daughter’s hand. “If you have your father’s hair, it’s nice to see you have your mother’s brains,” she said, smiling. “Let’s go and celebrate your discovery with Fiona’s dinner.”
“Good job,” Roger said to Brianna, as they followed Claire toward the dining room. His hand rested lightly on her waist. “You should be proud of yourself.”
“Thanks,” she said, with a brief smile, but the pensive expression returned almost at once to the curve of her mouth.
“What is it?” Roger asked softly, stopping in the hall. “Is something the matter?”
“No, not really.” She turned to face him, a small line visible between the ruddy brows. “It’s only—I was just thinking, trying to imagine—what do you think it was like for him? Living in a cave for seven years? And what happened to him then?”
Moved by an impulse, Roger leaned forward and kissed her lightly between the brows.
“I don’t know, darlin’,” he said. “But maybe we’ll find out.”
He came down to the house once a month to shave, when one of the boys brought him word it was safe. Always at night, moving soft-footed as a fox through the dark. It seemed necessary, somehow, a small gesture toward the concept of civilization.
He would slip like a shadow through the kitchen door, to be met with Ian’s smile or his sister’s kiss, and would feel the transformation begin. The basin of hot water, the freshly stropped razor would be laid ready for him on the table, with whatever there was for shaving soap. Now and then it was real soap, if Cousin Jared had sent some from France; more often just half-rendered tallow, eye-stinging with lye.
He could feel the change begin with the first scent of the kitchen—so strong and rich, after the wind-thin smells of loch and moor and wood—but it wasn’t until he had finished the ritual of shaving that he felt himself altogether human once more.
They had learned not to expect him to talk until he had shaved; words came hard after a month’s solitude. Not that he could think of nothing to say; it was more that the words inside formed a logjam in his throat, battling each other to get out in the short time he had. He needed those few minutes of careful grooming to pick and choose, what he would say first and to whom.
There was news to hear and to ask about—of English patrols in the district, of politics, of arrests and trials in London and Edinburgh. That he could wait for. Better to talk to Ian about the estate, to Jenny about the children. If it seemed safe, the children would be brought down to say hello to their uncle, to give him sleepy hugs and damp kisses before stumbling back to their beds.
“He’ll be getting a man soon” had been his first choice of conversation when he came in September, with a nod toward Jenny’s eldest child, his namesake. The ten-year-old sat at the table with a certain constraint, immensely conscious of the dignity of his temporary position as man of the house.
“Aye, all I need’s another of the creatures to worry over,” his sister replied tartly, but she touched her son’s shoulder in passing, with a pride that belied her words.
“Have ye word from Ian, then?” His brother-in-law had been arrested—for the fourth time—three weeks before, and taken to Inverness under suspicion of being a Jacobite sympathizer.
Jenny shook her head, bringing a covered dish to set before him. The thick warm smell of partridge pie drifted up from the pricked crust, and made his mouth water so heavily, he had to swallow before he could speak.
“It’s naught to fret for,” Jenny said, spooning out the pie onto his plate. Her voice was calm, but the small vertical line between her brows deepened. “I’ve sent Fergus to show them the deed of sasine, and Ian’s discharge from his regiment. They’ll send him home again, so soon as they realize he isna the laird of Lallybroch, and there’s naught to be gained by deviling him.” With a glance at her son, she reached for the ale jug. “Precious chance they have of provin’ a wee bairn to be a traitor.”
Her voice was grim, but held a note of satisfaction at the thought of the English court’s confusion. The rain-spattered deed of sasine that proved transfer of the title of Lallybroch from the elder James to the younger had made its appearance in court before, each time foiling the Crown’s attempt to seize the estate as the property of a Jacobite traitor.
He would feel it begin to slip away when he left—that thin veneer of humanity—more of it gone with each step away from the farmhouse. Sometimes he would keep the illusion of warmth and family all the way to the cave where he hid; other times it would disappear almost at once, torn away by a chill wind, rank and acrid with the scent of burning.
The English had burned three crofts, beyond the high field. Pulled Hugh Kirby and Geoff Murray from their firesides and shot them by their own doorsteps, with no question or word of formal accusation. Young Joe Fraser had escaped, warned by his wife, who had seen the English coming, and had lived three weeks with Jamie in the cave, until the soldiers were well away from the district—and Ian with them.
In October, it had been the older lads he spoke to; Fergus, the French boy he had taken from a Paris brothel, and Rabbie MacNab, the kitchenmaid’s son, Fergus’s best friend.
He had drawn the razor slowly down one cheek and round the angle of his jaw, then wiped the lathered blade against the edge of the basin. From the corner of one eye, he caught a faint glimpse of fascinated envy on the face of Rabbie MacNab. Turning slightly, he saw that the three boys—Rabbie, Fergus, and Young Jamie—were all watching him intently, mouths slightly open.
“Have ye no seen a man shave before?” he asked, cocking one brow.
Rabbie and Fergus glanced at each other, but left it to Young Jamie, as titular owner of the estate, to answer.
“Oh, well…aye, Uncle,” he said, blushing. “But…I m-mean”—he stammered slightly and blushed even harder—“with my Da gone, and even when he’s home, we dinna see him shave himself always, and well, you’ve just such a lot of hair on your face, Uncle, after a whole month, and it’s only we’re so glad to see you again, and…”
It dawned on Jamie quite suddenly that to the boys he must seem a most romantic figure. Living alone in a cave, emerging at dark to hunt, coming down out of the mist in the night, filthy and wild-haired, beard all in a fierce red sprout—yes, at their age, it likely seemed a glamorous adventure to be an outlaw and live hidden in the heather, in a dank, cramped cave. At fifteen and sixteen and ten, they had no notion of guilt or bitter loneliness, of the weight of a responsibility that could not be relieved by action.
They might understand fear, of a sort. Fear of capture, fear of death. Not the fear of solitude, of his own nature, fear of madness. Not the constant, chronic fear of what his presence might do to them—if they thought about that risk at all, they dismissed it, with the casual assumption of immortality that was the right of boys.
“Aye, well,” he had said, turning casually back to the looking glass as Young Jamie stuttered to a halt. “Man is born to sorrow and whiskers. One of the plagues of Adam.”
“Of Adam?” Fergus looked openly puzzled, while the others tried to pretend they had the slightest idea what Jamie was talking about. Fergus, as a Frenchie, was not expected to know everything.
“Oh, aye.” Jamie pulled his upper lip down over his teeth and scraped delicately beneath his nose. “In the beginning, when God made man, Adam’s chin was as hairless as Eve’s. And their bodies both smooth as a newborn child’s,” he added, seeing Young Jamie’s eyes dart toward Rabbie’s crotch. Beardless Rabbie still was, but the faint dark down on his upper lip bespoke new sproutings elsewhere.
“But when the angel wi’ the flaming sword drove them out of Eden, no sooner had they passed the gate of the garden, when the hair began to sprout and itch on Adam’s chin, and ever since, man has been cursed with shaving.” He finished his own chin with a final flourish, and bowed theatrically to his audience.