Outlander, p.53
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       Outlander, p.53
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         Part #1 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

  “Which was?” I don’t know what I expected him to say, perhaps some further revelation of his family’s contorted affairs. What he did say was more of a shock, in its way.

  “Because I wanted you.” He turned from the window to face me. “More than I ever wanted anything in my life,” he added softly.

  I continued staring at him, dumbstruck. Whatever I had been expecting, it wasn’t this. Seeing my openmouthed expression, he continued lightly. “When I asked my Da how ye knew which was the right woman, he told me when the time came, I’d have no doubt. And I didn’t. When I woke in the dark under that tree on the road to Leoch, with you sitting on my chest, cursing me for bleeding to death, I said to myself, ‘Jamie Fraser, for all ye canna see what she looks like, and for all she weighs as much as a good draft horse, this is the woman.’ ”

  I started toward him, and he backed away, talking rapidly. “I said to myself, ‘She’s mended ye twice in as many hours, me lad; life amongst the MacKenzies being what it is, it might be as well to wed a woman as can stanch a wound and set broken bones.’ And I said to myself, ‘Jamie, lad, if her touch feels so bonny on your collarbone, imagine what it might feel like lower down…’ ”

  He dodged around a chair. “Of course, I thought it might ha’ just been the effects of spending four months in a monastery, without benefit of female companionship, but then that ride through the dark together”—he paused to sigh theatrically, neatly evading my grab at his sleeve—“with that lovely broad arse wedged between my thighs”—he ducked a blow aimed at his left ear and sidestepped, getting a low table between us—“and that rock-solid head thumping me in the chest”—a small metal ornament bounced off his own head and went clanging to the floor—“I said to myself…”

  He was laughing so hard at this point that he had to gasp for breath between phrases. “Jamie…I said…for all she’s a Sassenach bitch…with a tongue like an adder’s…with a bum like that…what does it matter if she’s a f-face like a sh-sh-sheep?”

  I tripped him neatly and landed on his stomach with both knees as he hit the floor with a crash that shook the house.

  “You mean to tell me that you married me out of love?” I demanded. He raised his eyebrows, struggling to draw in breath.

  “Have I not…just been…saying so?”

  Grabbing me round the shoulders with one arm, he wormed the other hand under my skirt and proceeded to inflict a series of merciless pinches on that part of my anatomy he had just been praising.

  Returning to pick up her embroidery basket, Jenny sailed in at this point and stood eyeing her brother with some amusement. “And what are you up to, young Jamie me lad?” she inquired, one eyebrow up.

  “I’m makin’ love to my wife,” he panted, breathless between giggling and fighting.

  “Well, ye could find a more suitable place for it,” she said, raising the other eyebrow. “That floor’ll give ye splinters in your arse.”

  * * *

  If Lallybroch was a peaceful place, it was also a busy one. Everyone in it seemed to stir into immediate life at cockcrow, and the farm then spun and whirred like a complicated bit of clockwork until after sunset, when one by one the cogs and wheels that made it run began to fall away, rolling off into the dark to seek supper and bed, only to reappear like magic in their proper places in the morning.

  So essential did every last man, woman, and child seem to the running of the place that I could not imagine how it had fared these last few years, lacking its master. Now not only Jamie’s hands, but mine as well, were pressed into full employment. For the first time, I understood the stern Scotch strictures against idleness that had seemed like mere quaintness before—or after, as the case might be. Idleness would have seemed not only a sign of moral decay, but an affront to the natural order of things.

  There were moments, of course. Those small spaces of time, too soon gone, when everything seems to stand still, and existence is balanced on a perfect point, like the moment of change between the dark and the light, when both and neither surround you.

  I was enjoying such a moment on the evening of the second or third day following our arrival at the farmhouse. Sitting on the fence behind the house, I could see tawny fields to the edge of the cliff past the broch, and the mesh of trees on the far side of the pass, dimming to black before the pearly glow of the sky. Objects near and far away seemed to be at the same distance, as their long shadows melted into the dusk.

  The air was chilly with a hint of the coming frost, and I thought I must go in soon, though I was reluctant to leave the still beauty of the place. I wasn’t aware of Jamie approaching until he slid the heavy folds of a cloak around my shoulders. I hadn’t realized quite how cold it was until I felt the contrasting warmth of the thick wool.

  Jamie’s arms came around me with the cloak, and I nestled back against him, shivering slightly.

  “I could see ye shivering from the house,” he said, taking my hands in his. “Catch a chill, if you’re not careful.”

  “And what about you?” I twisted about to look at him. Despite the increasing bite of the air, he looked completely comfortable in nothing but shirt and kilt, with no more than a slight reddening of the nose to show it was not the balmiest of spring evenings.

  “Ah, well, I’m used to it. Scotsmen are none so thin-blooded as ye bluenosed Southrons.” He tilted my chin up and kissed my nose, smiling. I took him by the ears and adjusted his aim downward.

  It lasted long enough for our temperatures to have equalized by the time he released me, and the warm blood sang in my ears as I leaned back, balancing on the fence rail. The breeze blew from behind me, fluttering strands of hair across my face. He brushed them off my shoulders, spreading the ruffled locks out with his fingers, so the setting sun shone through the strands.

  “You look like you’ve a halo, with the light behind ye that way,” he said, softly. “An angel crowned with gold.”

  “And you,” I answered softly, tracing the edge of his jaw where the amber light sparked from his sprouting beard. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

  He knew what I meant. One eyebrow went up, and he smiled, half his face lit by the glowing sun, the other half in shadow.

  “Well, I knew ye didna want to wed me. I’d no wish to burden you or make myself foolish by telling you then, when it was plain you’d lie with me only to honor vows you’d rather not have made.” He grinned, teeth white in the shadow, forestalling my protest. “The first time, at least. I’ve my pride, woman.”

  I reached out and drew him to me, pulling him close, so that he stood between my legs as I sat on the fence. Feeling the faint chill of his skin, I wrapped my legs around his hips and enfolded him with the wings of my cloak. Under the sheltering fabric, his arms came tight around me, pressing my cheek against the smudged cambric of his shirt.

  “My love,” he whispered. “Oh, my love. I do want ye so.”

  “Not the same thing, is it?” I said. “Loving and wanting, I mean.”

  He laughed, a little huskily. “Damn close, Sassenach, for me, at least.” I could feel the strength of his wanting, hard and urgent. He stepped back suddenly, and stooping, lifted me from the fence.

  “Where are we going?” We were headed away from the house, toward the cluster of sheds in the shadow of the elm grove.

  “To find a haystack.”

  28

  KISSES AND DRAWERS

  I gradually found my own place in the running of the estate. As Jenny could no longer manage the long walk to the tenants’ cottages, I took to visiting them myself, accompanied sometimes by a stable lad, sometimes by Jamie or Ian. I took food and medicines with me, treated the sick as best I could, and made suggestions as to the improvement of health and hygiene, which were received with varying degrees of grace.

  At Lallybroch itself, I poked about the house and grounds, making myself useful wherever I could, mostly in the gardens. Besides the lovely little ornamental garden, the manor had a small herb garden and an immense
kitchen garden or kailyard that supplied turnips, cabbages, and vegetable marrows.

  Jamie was everywhere; in the study with the account books, in the fields with the tenants, in the horse barn with Ian, making up for lost time. There was something more than duty or interest in it, too, I thought. We would have to leave soon; he wanted to set things running in a path that would continue while he was gone, until he—until we—could return for good.

  I knew we would have to leave, yet surrounded by the peaceful house and grounds of Lallybroch and the cheerful company of Jenny, Ian, and small Jamie, I felt as though I had come home at last.

  After breakfast one morning, Jamie rose from the table, announcing that he thought he would go as far as the head of the valley, to see a horse that Martin Mack had for sale.

  Jenny turned from the sideboard, brows drawn together.

  “D’ye think it safe, Jamie? There’s been English patrols all through the district the last month or so.”

  He shrugged, taking his coat from the chair where he had laid it.

  “I’ll be careful.”

  “Oh, Jamie,” said Ian, coming in with an armful of firewood for the hearth. “I meant to ask—can ye gang up to the mill this morning? Jock was up yestere’en to say something’s gone amiss wi’ the wheel. I had a quick look, but he and I together couldna shift it. I think there’s a bit o’ rubbish stuck in the works outside, but it’s well under the water.”

  He stamped his wooden leg lightly, smiling at me.

  “I can still walk, thank God, and ride as well, but I canna swim. I just thrash about, and gang in circles like a doodle-bug.”

  Jamie laid the coat back on the chair with a smile at his brother-in-law’s description.

  “None so bad, Ian, if it keeps ye from havin’ to spend the morning in a freezing millpond. Aye, I’ll go.” He turned to me.

  “Care to walk up wi’ me, Sassenach? It’s a fine morning, and ye can bring your wee basket.” He cocked an ironic eye at the enormous withy basket I used for gathering. “I’ll go and change my sark. Be wi’ ye in a moment.” He headed for the staircase and bounded athletically up the steps, three at a time.

  Ian and I exchanged smiles. If there was any regret that such feats were now beyond him, it was hidden beneath his pleasure in seeing Jamie’s exuberance.

  “It’s good to have him back,” he said.

  “I only wish we could stay,” I said, with regret.

  The soft brown eyes filled with alarm. “Ye’ll no be going at once, surely?”

  I shook my head. “No, not at once. But we’ll need to leave well before the snow comes.” Jamie had decided that our best course was to go to Beauly, seat of clan Fraser. Perhaps his grandfather, Lord Lovat, could be of help; if not, he might at least arrange us passage to France.

  Ian nodded, reassured. “Oh, aye. But you’ve a few weeks yet.”

  * * *

  It was a beautiful bright autumn day, with air like cider and a sky so blue you could drown in it. We walked slowly so that I could keep an eye out for late-blooming eglantine and teasel heads, chatting casually.

  “It’s Quarter Day next week,” Jamie remarked. “Will your new gown be ready then?”

  “I expect so. Why, is it an occasion?”

  He smiled down at me, taking the basket while I stooped to pull up a stalk of tansy.

  “Oh, in a way. Nothing like Colum’s great affairs, to be sure, but all the Lallybroch tenants will come to pay their rents—and their respects to the new Lady Lallybroch.”

  “I expect they’ll be surprised you’ve married an Englishwoman.”

  “I reckon there are a few fathers might be disappointed at that; I’d courted a lass or two hereabouts before I got arrested and taken to Fort William.”

  “Sorry you didn’t wed a local girl?” I asked coquettishly.

  “If ye think I’m going to say ‘yes,’ and you standin’ there holding a pruning knife,” he remarked, “you’ve less opinion of my good sense than I thought.”

  I dropped the pruning knife, which I’d taken to dig with, stretched my arms out, and stood waiting. When he released me at last, I stooped to pick up the knife again, saying teasingly, “I always wondered how it was you stayed a virgin so long. Are the girls in Lallybroch all plain, then?”

  “No,” he said, squinting up into the morning sun. “It was mostly my father was responsible for that. We’d stroll over the fields in the evenings, sometimes, he and I, and talk about things. And once I got old enough for such a thing to be a possibility, he told me that a man must be responsible for any seed he sows, for it’s his duty to take care of a woman and protect her. And if I wasna prepared to do that, then I’d no right to burden a woman with the consequences of my own actions.”

  He glanced behind us, toward the house. And toward the small family graveyard, near the foot of the broch, where his parents were buried.

  “He said the greatest thing in a man’s life is to lie wi’ a woman he loves,” he said softly. He smiled at me, eyes blue as the sky overhead. “He was right.”

  I touched his face lightly, tracing the broad sweep downward from cheek to jaw.

  “Rather hard on you, though, if he expected you to wait so long to marry,” I said.

  Jamie grinned, kilt flapping round his knees in the brisk autumn breeze.

  “Well, the Church does teach that self-abuse is a sin, but my father said he thought that if it came to a choice between abusin’ yourself or some poor woman, a decent man might choose to make the sacrifice.”

  When I stopped laughing, I shook my head and said, “No. No, I won’t ask. You did stay a virgin, though.”

  “Strictly by the grace of God and my father, Sassenach. I dinna think I thought much about anything but the lasses, once I turned fourteen or so. But that was when I was sent to foster wi’ Dougal at Beannachd.”

  “No girls there?” I asked. “I thought Dougal had daughters.”

  “Aye, he has. Four. The two younger are no much to look at, but the eldest was a verra handsome lassie. A year or two older than me, Molly was. And not much flattered by my attention, I dinna think. I used to stare at her across the supper table, and she’d look down her nose at me and ask did I have the catarrh? Because if so, I should go to bed, and if not, she would be much obliged if I’d close my mouth, as she didna care to look at my tonsils while she was eating.”

  “I begin to see how you stayed a virgin,” I said, hiking my skirts to climb a stile. “But they can’t all have been like that.”

  “No,” he said reflectively, giving me a hand over the stile. “No, they weren’t. Molly’s younger sister, Tabitha, was a bit friendlier.” He smiled reminiscently.

  “Tibby was the first girl I kissed. Or perhaps I should say the first girl who kissed me. I was carrying two pails of milk for her, from the barn to the dairy, plotting all the way how I’d get her behind the door, where there wasna room to get away, and kiss her there. But my hands were full, and she had to open the door for me to go through. So it was me ended up behind the door, and Tib who walked up to me, took me by both ears and kissed me. Spilled the milk, too,” he added.

  “Sounds a memorable first experience,” I said, laughing.

  “I doubt I was her first,” he said, grinning. “She knew a lot more about it than I did. But we didna get much practice; a day or two later, her mother caught us in the pantry. She didna do more than give me a sharpish look and tell Tibby to go and set the table for dinner, but she must have told Dougal about it.”

  If Dougal MacKenzie had been quick to resent an insult to his sister’s honor, I could only imagine what he might have done in defense of his daughter’s.

  “I shudder to think,” I said, grinning.

  “So do I,” said Jamie, shuddering. He shot me a sidelong glance, looking shy.

  “You’ll know that young men in the morning, sometimes they wake up with…well, with—” He was blushing.

  “Yes, I know,” I said. “So do old men of twenty-three.
You think I don’t notice? You’ve brought it to my attention often enough.”

  “Mmmphm. Well, the morning after Tib’s mother caught us, I woke up just at dawn. I’d been dreaming about her—Tib, I mean, not her mother—and I wasna surprised to feel a hand on my cock. What was surprising was that it wasn’t mine.”

  “Surely it wasn’t Tibby’s?”

  “Well, no, it wasna. It was her father’s.”

  “Dougal?! Whatever—?”

  “Well, I opened my eyes wide and he smiled down at me, verra pleasant. And then he sat on the bed and we had a nice little chat, uncle and nephew, foster-father to foster-son. He said how much he was enjoying my being there, him not having a son of his own, and all that. And how his family was all so fond of me, and all. And how he would hate to think that there might be any advantage taken of such fine, innocent feelings as his daughters might have toward me, but how of course he was so pleased that he could trust me as he would his own son.”

  “And all the time he was talking and me lying there, he had his one hand on his dirk, and the other resting on my fine young balls. So I said yes, Uncle, and no, Uncle, and when he left, I rolled myself up in the quilt and dreamed about pigs. And I didna kiss a girl again until I was sixteen, and went to Leoch.”

  He looked over at me, smiling. His hair was laced back with a leather thong, but the shorter ends were sticking up at the crown as usual, glimmering red and gold in the brisk, clear air. His skin had darkened to a golden bronze during our journey from Leoch and Craigh na Dun, and he looked like an autumn leaf, swirling joyfully wind-borne.

  “And what of you, my bonny Sassenach?” he asked, grinning. “Did ye have the wee laddies panting at your heels, or were ye shy and maidenly?”

  “A bit less than you,” I said circumspectly. “I was eight.”

  “Jezebel. Who was the lucky lad?”

  “The dragoman’s son. That was in Egypt. He was nine.”

  “Och, well, you’re no to blame then. Led astray by an older man. And a bloody heathen, no less.”

  The mill came into sight below, picture-pretty, with a deep-red vine glowing up the side of the yellow plaster wall, and shutters standing open to the daylight, tidy in spite of the worn green paint. The water gushed happily down the sluice under the idle water-wheel into the millpond. There were even ducks on the pond, teal and goldeneye paused for a rest on their southern flight.

  “Look,” I said, pausing at the top of the hill, putting a hand on Jamie’s arm to stop him. “Isn’t it lovely?”

  “Be a sight more lovely if the water-wheel were turnin’,” he said practically. Then he glanced down at me and smiled.

  “Aye, Sassenach. It’s a bonny place. I used to swim here when I was a lad—there’s a wide pool round the bend of the stream.”

  A little further down the hill, the pool became visible through the screen of willows. So did the boys. There were four of them, sporting and splashing and yelling, all naked as jays.

  “Brrr,” I said, watching them. The weather was fine for autumn, but there was enough of a nip in the air to make me glad of the shawl I’d brought. “It makes my blood run cold, just to see them.”

  “Och?” Jamie said. “Well, let me warm it for ye then.”

  With a glance down at the boys in the stream, he stepped back into the shade of a big horse chestnut tree. He put his hands about my waist and drew me into the shadow after him.

  “Ye werena the first lass I kissed,” he said softly. “But I swear you’ll be the last.” And he bent his head to my upturned face.

  * * *

  Once the miller had emerged from his lair, and hasty introductions were made, I retired to the bank of the millpond, while Jamie spent several minutes listening to an explanation of the problem. As the miller went back into the millhouse, to try turning the stone from within, Jamie stood a moment, staring into the dark, weedy depths of the millpond. Finally, with a shrug of resignation, he began to strip off his clothes.

  “No help for it,” he remarked to me. “Ian’s right; there’s something stuck in the wheel under the sluice. I’ll have to go down and—” Stopped by my gasp, he turned around to where I sat on the bank with my basket.

  “And what’s amiss wi’ you?” he demanded. “Have ye no seen a man in his drawers before?”

  “Not…not like…that!” I managed to get out, between sputters. Anticipating possible submergence, he had donned beneath his kilt a short garment of incredible elderliness, originally of red flannel, now patched with a dazzling array of colors and textures. Obviously, this pair of drawers had originally belonged to someone who measured several inches more around the middle than Jamie. They hung precariously from his hipbones, the folds drooping in V’s over his flat belly.

  “Your grandfather’s?” I guessed, making a highly unsuccessful effort to
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