Outlander, p.52
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       Outlander, p.52
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         Part #1 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

  Feeling that he might be in need of some moral support at this point, I moved to Jamie’s side, and touched his arm. His sister’s eyes lingered on me speculatively, but she said nothing. Jamie looked around and seemed startled to find me there, as though he had forgotten my existence. And no wonder if he had, I thought. But he seemed relieved by the interruption, at least, and put out a hand to draw me forward.

  “My wife,” he said, rather abruptly. He nodded toward Jenny and Ian. “My sister, and, her, ah…” he trailed off, as Ian and I exchanged polite smiles.

  Jenny was not to be distracted by social niceties.

  “What d’ye mean, it’s kind of him to take me?” she demanded, ignoring the introductions. “As if I didna ken!” Ian looked inquiringly at her, and she waved a disdainful hand at Jamie. “He means it was kind of ye to wed me in my soiled condition!” She gave a snort that would have done credit to someone twice her size. “Bletherer!”

  “Soiled condition?” Ian looked startled, and Jamie suddenly leaned forward and grasped his sister hard about the upper arm.

  “Did ye not tell him about Randall?” He sounded truly shocked. “Jenny, how could ye do such a thing?”

  Only Ian’s hand on Jenny’s other arm restrained her from flying at her brother’s throat. Ian drew her firmly behind him, and turning, set small Jamie in her arms, so that she was forced to grasp the child to save him falling. Then Ian put an arm about Jamie’s shoulders and tactfully steered him a safe distance away.

  “It’s hardly a matter for the drawing room,” he said, low-voiced and deprecating, “but ye might be interested to know that your sister was virgin on her wedding night. I was, after all, in a position to say.”

  Jenny’s wrath was now more or less evenly divided between brother and husband.

  “How dare ye to say such things in my presence, Ian Murray!?” she flamed. “Or out of it, either! My wedding night’s no one’s business but mine and yours—sure it’s not his! Next you’ll be showing him the sheets from my bridal bed!”

  “Weel, if I did now, it would shut him up, no?” said Ian soothingly. “Come now, mi dhu, ye shouldna worrit yourself, it’s bad for the babe. And the shouting troubles wee Jamie too.” He reached out for his son, who was whimpering, not sure yet whether the situation required tears. Ian jerked his head at me and rolled an eye in Jamie’s direction.

  Taking my cue, I grabbed Jamie by the arm and dragged him to an armchair in a neutral corner. Ian had Jenny likewise installed on the loveseat, a firm arm across her shoulders to keep her in place.

  “Now, then.” In spite of his unassuming manner, Ian Murray had an undeniable authority. I had my hand on Jamie’s shoulder, and could feel the tension begin to go out of it.

  I thought that the room looked a bit like the ring of a boxing match, with the fighters twitching restlessly in the corners, each awaiting the signal for action under the soothing hand of a manager.

  Ian nodded at his brother-in-law, smiling. “Jamie. It’s good to see ye, man. We’re pleased you’re home, and your wife with ye. Are we not, mi dhu?” he demanded of Jenny, his fingers tightening perceptibly on her shoulder.

  She was not one to be forced into anything. Her lips compressed into a thin tight line, as though forming a seal, then opened reluctantly to let one word escape.

  “Depends,” she said, and shut them tight again.

  Jamie rubbed a hand over his face, then raised his head, ready for a fresh round.

  “I saw ye go into the house with Randall,” he said stubbornly. “And from things he said to me later—how comes he to know you’ve a mole on your breast, then?”

  She snorted violently. “Do ye remember all that went on that day, or did the Captain beat it out of ye wi’ his saber?”

  “Of course I remember! I’m no likely to forget it!”

  “Then perhaps you’ll remember that I gave the Captain a fair jolt in the crutch wi’ my knee at one point in the proceedings?”

  Jamie hunched his shoulders, wary. “Aye, I remember.”

  Jenny smiled in a superior manner.

  “Weel then, if your wife here—ye could tell me her name at least, Jamie, I swear you’ve no manners at all—anyway, if she was to give ye similar treatment—and richly you deserve it, I might add—d’ye think you’d be able to perform your husbandly duties a few minutes later?”

  Jamie, who had been opening his mouth to speak, suddenly shut it. He stared at his sister for a long moment, then one corner of his mouth twitched slightly.

  “Depends,” he said. The mouth twitched again. He had been sitting hunched forward in his chair, but sat back now, looking at her with the half-skeptical expression of a younger brother listening to a sister’s fairy tales, feeling himself too old to be amazed, but half-believing still against his will.

  “Really?” he said.

  Jenny turned to Ian. “Go and fetch the sheets, Ian,” she ordered.

  Jamie raised both hands in surrender. “No. No, I believe ye. It’s just, the way he acted after…”

  Jenny sat back, relaxed in the curve of Ian’s arm, her son cuddling as close as the bulk of her belly would permit, gracious in victory.

  “Weel, after all he’d said outside, he could hardly admit in front of his own men to being incapable, now could he? He’d have to seem as though he’d done as he promised, no? And,” she admitted, “I’ll have to say the man was verra unpleasant about it all; he did strike me and tear my gown. In fact, he knocked me half-senseless trying, and by the time I’d come to myself and got decently covered again, the English had gone, taking you along with them.”

  Jamie gave a long sigh and closed his eyes briefly. His broad hands rested on his knees, and I covered one of them with a gentle squeeze. He took my hand and opened his eyes, giving me a faint smile of acknowledgment before turning back to his sister.

  “All right,” he said. “But I want to know, Jenny; did ye know when ye went with him that he’d not harm you?”

  She was silent for a moment, but her gaze was steady on her brother’s face, and at last she shook her head, a slight smile on her lips.

  She put out a hand to stop Jamie’s protest, and the gull-winged brows rose in a graceful arc of inquiry. “And if your life is a suitable exchange for my honor, tell me why my honor is not a suitable exchange for your life?” The brows drew together in a scowl, the twin of the one adorning her brother’s face. “Or are you telling me that I may not love you as much as you love me? Because if ye are, Jamie Fraser, I’ll tell ye right now, it’s not true!”

  Opening his mouth to reply before she was finished, Jamie was taken suddenly at a loss by this conclusion. He closed his mouth abruptly as his sister pressed her advantage.

  “Because I do love ye, for all you’re a thick-headed, slack-witted, lack-brained gomerel. And I’ll no have ye dead in the road at my feet just because you’re too stubborn to keep your mouth shut for the once in your life!”

  Blue eyes glared into blue eyes, shooting sparks in all directions. Swallowing the insults with difficulty, Jamie struggled for a rational reply. He seemed to be making up his mind to something. Finally he squared his shoulders, resigned to it.

  “All right, then, I’m sorry,” he said. “I was wrong, and I’ll beg your pardon.”

  He and his sister sat staring at each other for a long moment, but whatever pardon he was expecting from her was not forthcoming. She examined him closely, biting her lip, but said nothing. Finally he grew impatient.

  “I’ve said I’m sorry! What more d’ye want of me?” he demanded. “Do ye want me to go on my knees to ye? I’ll do it if I must, but tell me!”

  She shook her head slowly, lip still caught between her teeth.

  “No,” she said at last, “I’ll not have ye on your knees in your own house. Stand up, though.”

  Jamie stood, and she set the child down on the loveseat and crossed the room to stand in front of him.

  “Take off your shirt,” she ordered.

 
I’ll not!”

  She jerked the shirttail out of his kilt and reached for the buttons. Short of forcible resistance, clearly he was going to obey or submit to being undressed. Retaining as much dignity as he could, he backed away from her, and tightlipped, removed the disputed garment.

  She circled behind him and surveyed his back, her face displaying the same carefully blank expression I had seen Jamie adopt when concealing some strong emotion. She nodded, as though confirming something long suspected.

  “Weel, and if you’ve been a fool, Jamie, it seems you’ve paid for it.” She laid her hand gently on his back, covering the worst of the scars.

  “It looks as though it hurt.”

  “It did.”

  “Did you cry?”

  His fists clenched involuntarily at his sides. “Yes!”

  Jenny walked back around to face him, pointed chin lifted and slanted eyes wide and bright. “So did I,” she said softly. “Every day since they took ye away.”

  The broad-cheeked faces were once more mirrors of each other, but the expression that they wore was such that I rose and stepped quietly through the kitchen door to leave them alone. As the door swung to behind me, I saw Jamie catch hold of his sister’s hands and say something huskily in Gaelic. She stepped into his embrace, and the rough bright head bent to the dark.

  27

  THE LAST REASON

  We ate like wolves at dinner, retired to a large, airy bedroom, and slept like logs. The sun would have been high by the time we rose in the morning, save that the sky was covered in clouds. I could tell it was late by the bustling feel of the house, as of people going cheerfully about their business, and by the tempting aromas that drifted up the stairs.

  After breakfast the men prepared to go out, visiting tenants, inspecting fences, mending wagons, and generally enjoying themselves. As they paused in the hall to don their coats, Ian spotted Jenny’s large basket resting on the table beneath the hall mirror.

  “Shall I fetch home some apples from the orchard, Jenny? ’Twould save ye walking so far.”

  “Good idea,” said Jamie, casting an appraising eye at his sister’s expansive frontage. “We dinna want her to drop it in the road.”

  “I’ll drop you where ye stand, Jamie Fraser,” she retorted, calmly holding up the coat for Ian to shrug into. “Be useful for the once, and take this wee fiend outside wi’ ye. Mrs. Crook’s in the washhouse; ye can leave him there.” She moved her foot, dislodging small Jamie, who was clinging to her skirts, chanting “up, up” monotonously.

  His uncle obediently grabbed the wee fiend around the middle and swept him out the door, upside down and shrieking with delight. “Ah,” Jenny sighed contentedly, bending to inspect her appearance in the gold-framed mirror. She wet a finger and smoothed her brows, then finished doing up the buttons at her throat. “Nice to finish dressing wi’out someone clinging to your skirts or wrapped round your knees. Some days I can scarce go to the privy alone, or speak a single sentence wi’out being interrupted.”

  Her cheeks were slightly flushed, and her dark hair gleamed against the blue silk of her dress. Ian smiled at her, warm brown eyes glowing at the blooming picture she presented.

  “Weel, you’ll have time to talk wi’ Claire, perhaps,” he suggested. He cocked one eyebrow in my direction. “I expect she’s mannerly enough to listen, but for God’s sake, dinna tell her any of your poems, or she’ll be on the next coach to London before Jamie and I get back.”

  Jenny snapped her fingers under his nose, unperturbed by the teasing.

  “I’m none too worried, man. There’s no coach going before next April, and I reckon she’ll be used to us by that time. Get on wi’ ye; Jamie’s waiting.”

  While the men went about their business, Jenny and I spent the day in the parlor, she stitching, I winding up stray bits of yarn and sorting the colored silks.

  Outwardly friendly, we circled each other cautiously in conversation, watching each other from the corners of our eyes. Jamie’s sister, Jamie’s wife; Jamie was the central point, unspoken, about which our thoughts revolved.

  Their shared childhood linked them forever, like the warp and the weft of a single fabric, but the patterns of their weave had been loosened, by absence and suspicion, then by marriage. Ian’s thread had been present in their weaving since the beginning, mine was a new one. How would the tensions pull in this new pattern, one thread against another?

  Our conversation ran on casual lines, but with the words unspoken clearly heard beneath.

  “You’ve run the house here alone since your mother died?”

  “Oh, aye. Since I was ten.”

  I had the nurturing and the loving of him as a boy. What will you do with the man I helped make?

  “Jamie says as you’re a rare fine healer.”

  “I mended his shoulder for him when we first met.”

  Yes, I am capable, and kind. I will care for him.

  “I hear ye married very quickly.”

  Did you wed my brother for his land and money?

  “Yes, it was quick. I didn’t even know Jamie’s true surname until just before the ceremony.”

  I didn’t know he was laird of this place; I can only have married him for himself.

  And so it went through the morning, a light luncheon, and into the hours of the afternoon, as we exchanged small talk, tidbits of information, opinions, small and hesitant jokes, taking each other’s measure. A woman who had run a large household since the age of ten, who had managed the estate since her father’s death and her brother’s disappearance, was not a person to be lightly esteemed. I did wonder what she thought of me, but she seemed as capable as her brother of hiding her thoughts when she chose to.

  As the clock on the mantelpiece began to strike five, Jenny yawned and stretched, and the garment she had been mending slid down the rounded slope of her belly onto the floor.

  She began clumsily to reach for it, but I dropped to my knees beside her.

  “No, I’ll get it.”

  “Thank ye…Claire.” Her first use of my name was accompanied by a shy smile, and I returned it.

  Before we could return to our conversation, we were interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Crook, the housekeeper, who poked a long nose into the parlor and inquired worriedly whether we had seen wee Master Jamie.

  Jenny laid aside her sewing with a sigh.

  Jenny laid aside her sewing with a sigh.

  “Got away again, has he? Nay worry, Lizzie. He’s likely gone wi’ his Da or his uncle. We’ll go and see, shall we, Claire? I could use a breath of air before supper.”

  She rose heavily to her feet and pressed her hands against the small of her back. She groaned and gave me a wry smile.

  “Three weeks, about. I canna wait.”

  We walked slowly through the grounds outside, Jenny pointing out the brewhouse and the chapel, explaining the history of the estate, and when the different bits had been built.

  As we approached the corner of the dovecote, we heard voices in the arbor.

  “There he is, the wee rascal!” Jenny exclaimed. “Wait ’til I lay hands on him!”

  “Wait a minute.” I laid a hand on her arm, recognizing the deeper voice that underlaid the little boy’s.

  “Dinna worrit yourself, man,” said Jamie’s voice. “You’ll learn. It’s a bit difficult, isn’t it, when your cock doesna stick out any further than your belly button?”

  I stuck my head around the corner, to find him seated on a chopping block, engaged in converse with his namesake, who was struggling manfully with the folds of his smock.

  “What are you doing with the child?” I inquired cautiously.

  “I’m teachin’ young James here the fine art of not pissing on his feet,” he explained. “Seems the least his uncle could do for him.”

  I raised one eyebrow. “Talk is cheap. Seems the least his uncle could do is show him.”

  He grinned. “Well, we’ve had a few practical demonstrations. Had a wee acciden
t last time, though.” He exchanged accusatory looks with his nephew. “Dinna look at me,” he said to the boy. “It was all your fault. I told ye to keep still.”

  “Ahem,” said Jenny dryly, with a look at her brother and a matching one at her son. The smaller Jamie responded by pulling the front of his smock up over his head, but the larger one, unabashed, grinned cheerfully and rose from his seat, brushing dirt from his breeks. He set a hand on his nephew’s swathed head, and turned the little boy toward the house.

  “ ‘To everything there is a season,’ ” he quoted, “ ‘and a time for every purpose under heaven.’ First we work, wee James, and then we wash. And then—thank God—it’s time for supper.”

  The most pressing matters of business attended to, Jamie took time the next afternoon to show me over the house. Built in 1702, it was indeed modern for its time, with such innovations as porcelain stoves for heating, and a great brick oven built into the kitchen wall, so that bread was no longer baked in the ashes of the hearth. The ground floor hallway, the stairwell, and the drawing room walls were lined with pictures. Here and there was a pastoral landscape, or an animal study, but most were of the family and their connections.

  I paused before a picture of Jenny as a young girl. She sat on the garden wall, a red-leaved vine behind her. Lined up in front of her along the top of the wall was a row of birds; sparrows, a thrush, a lark, and even a pheasant, all jostling and sidling for position before their laughing mistress. It was quite unlike most of the formally posed pictures, in which one ancestor or another glared out of their frames as though their collars were choking them.

  “My mother painted that,” Jamie said, noting my interest. “She did quite a few of the ones in the stairwell, but there are only two of hers in here. She always liked that one best herself.” A large, blunt finger touched the surface of the canvas gently, tracing the line of the red-leaved vine. “Those were Jenny’s tame birds. Anytime there was a bird found wi’ a lame leg or a broken wing, whoever found it would bring it along, and in days she’d have it healed, and eatin’ from her hand. That one always reminded me of Ian.” The finger tapped above the pheasant, wings spread to keep its balance, gazing at its mistress with dark, adoring eyes.

  “You’re awful, Jamie,” I said, laughing. “Is there one of you?”

  “Oh, aye.” He led me to the opposite wall, near the window.

  Two red-haired, tartan-clad little boys stared solemnly out of the frame, seated with an enormous staghound. That must be Nairn, Bran’s grandfather, Jamie, and his older brother Willie, who had died of the smallpox at eleven. Jamie could not have been more than two when it was painted, I thought; he stood between his elder brother’s knees, one hand resting on the dog’s head.

  Jamie had told me about Willie during our journey from Leoch, one night by the fire at the bottom of a lonely glen. I remembered the small snake, carved of cherrywood, that he had drawn from his sporran to show me.

  “Willie gave it me for my fifth birthday,” he had said, finger gently stroking the sinuous curves. It was a comical little snake, body writhing artistically, and its head turned back to peer over what would have been its shoulder, if snakes had shoulders.

  Jamie handed me the little wooden object, and I turned it over curiously.

  “What’s this scratched on the underside? S-a-w-n-y. Sawny?”

  “That’s me,” Jamie said, ducking his head as though mildly embarrassed. “It’s a pet name, like, a play on my second name, Alexander. It’s what Willie used to call me.”

  The faces in the picture were very much alike; all the Fraser children had that forthright look that dared you to take them at less than their own valuation of themselves. In this portrait, though, Jamie’s cheeks were rounded and his nose still snubbed with babyhood, while his brother’s strong bones had begun to show the promise of the man within, a promise never kept.

  “Were you very fond of him?” I asked softly, laying a hand on his arm. He nodded, looking away into the flames on the hearth.

  “Oh, aye,” he said with a faint smile. “He was five years older than I, and I thought he was God, or at least Christ. Used to follow him everywhere; or everywhere he’d let me, at least.”

  He turned away and wandered toward the bookshelves. Wanting to give him a moment alone, I stayed, looking out of the window.

  From this side of the house I could see dimly through the rain the outline of a rocky, grass-topped hill in the distance. It reminded me of the fairies’ dun where I had stepped through a rock and emerged from a rabbit hole. Only six months. But it seemed like a very long time ago.

  Jamie had come to stand beside me at the window. Staring absently out at the driving rain, he said, “There was another reason. The main one.”

  “Reason?” I said stupidly.

  “Why I married you.”

 
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