Outlander, p.68
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       Outlander, p.68
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         Part #1 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

  “Looks like a fair, steady wind,” I said hopefully, holding a wet finger aloft.

  Murtagh gloomily scanned the clouds, hanging black-bellied over the harbor, their freight of snow wastefully melting into the frigid waves. “Aye, well. We’ll hope for a smooth crossing. If not, we’ll likely get there wi’ a corpse on our hands.”

  Half an hour later, launched on the choppy waters of the English Channel, I discovered what he had meant by this remark.

  “Seasick?” I said incredulously. “Scotsmen aren’t seasick!”

  Murtagh was testy. “Then mayhap he’s a red-heided Hottentot. All I know is he’s green as a rotten fish and pukin’ his guts out. Are ye goin’ to come down and help me stop him puttin’ his ribs out through his chest?”

  “Damn it,” I said to Murtagh, as we hung over the rail for fresh air during a brief hiatus in the unpleasantness belowdecks, “if he knows he’s seasick, why in the name of God did he insist on a boat?”

  The basilisk stare was unwinking. “Because he knows bluidy well we’d never make it overland wi’ him in the state he’s in, and he’d no stay at Eldridge for fear o’ bringin’ the English down on MacRannoch.”

  “So he’s going to kill himself quietly at sea, instead,” I said bitterly.

  “Aye. He figures this way he’ll only kill himself, and no take anyone else along wi’ him. Unselfish, see. Nothin’ quiet about it, though,” added Murtagh, heading for the companionway in response to unmistakable sounds from below.

  “Congratulations,” I said to Jamie an hour or two later, pushing dank wisps away from my cheeks and forehead. “I believe you’re going to make medical history by being the only documented person ever actually to die of seasickness.”

  “Oh, good,” he mumbled into the wreck of pillows and blankets, “I’d hate to think it was all a waste.” He heaved himself suddenly to one side. “God, here it comes again.” Murtagh and I sprang once more to our stations. The job of holding a large man immobile while he succumbs to merciless spasms of retching is not one for the weak.

  Afterward, I took his pulse yet again, and rested a hand briefly on the clammy forehead. Murtagh read my face, and followed me unspeaking up the gangway to the top deck. “He’s no doin’ verra weel, is he?” he said quietly.

  “I don’t know,” I said helplessly, shaking out my sweat-drenched hair in the sharp wind. “I’ve honestly never heard of anyone dying of seasickness, but he’s bringing up blood now.” The little man’s hands tightened on the rail, knuckles knifing through the sun-speckled skin. “I don’t know if he’s damaged himself internally with the sharp rib ends, or if it’s just that his stomach is raw with the vomiting. Either way, it’s not a good sign. And his pulse is much weaker, and irregular. It’s a strain on his heart, you know.”

  “He’s a heart like a lion.” It was quietly said, and I wasn’t sure I’d heard it at first. It might only have been the salt wind making the tears stand in his eyes. He turned abruptly to me. “And a heid like an ox. Have ye any o’ that laudanum left that Lady Annabelle gave ye?”

  “Yes, all of it. He wouldn’t take it; doesn’t want to sleep, he said.”

  “Aye, well. For most folk, what they want and what they get are no the same thing; I dinna see why he should be any different. Come on.”

  I followed him anxiously back belowdecks. “I don’t think he can keep it down.”

  “Leave that to me. Get the bottle and help me sit him up.”

  Jamie was half-unconscious as it was, an unwieldy burden who protested being manhandled upright against the bulkhead. “I’m going to die,” he said weakly but precisely, “and the sooner the better. Go away and let me do it in peace.”

  Taking firm hold of Jamie’s blazing hair, Murtagh forced his head up and applied the flask to his lips. “Swallow this, me bonny wee dormouse, or I’ll break yer neck. And forbye ye’ll keep it down, too. I’m goin’ to hold shut yer nose and yer mouth; if ye bring it up, it comes out yer ears.”

  By the concerted force of our wills, we transferred the contents of the flask slowly but inexorably into the young laird of Lallybroch. Choking and gagging, Jamie manfully drank as much as he could manage before subsiding, green-faced and gasping, against the bulkhead. Murtagh forestalled each threatened explosion of nausea by vicious nose-pinching, an expedient not uniformly successful, but one which allowed a gradual accumulation of the opiate in the patient’s bloodstream. At length we laid him slack on the bed, the vivid flames of hair, brows, and lashes the only color on the pillow.

  Murtagh came up beside me on deck a bit later. “Look,” I said pointing. The dim light of sunset, shining in fugitive rays beneath the clouds, gilded the rocks of the French coast ahead. “The master says we’ll be ashore in three or four hours.”

  “And not before time,” said my companion, wiping lank brown hair out of his eyes. He turned to me, and gave me the closest thing I had ever seen to a smile on his dour countenance.

  And so at length, following the prostrate body of our charge, laid on a board between two stout monks, we passed through the looming gates of the Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré.

  38

  THE ABBEY

  The abbey was an enormous twelfth-century edifice, walled to resist both the smashing of sea storms and the onslaughts of land-based invaders. Now, in more peaceful times, its gates stood open to allow easy traffic with the nearby village, and the small stone cells of its guest wing had been softened by the addition of tapestries and comfortable furniture.

  I rose from the padded chair in my own chamber, not sure exactly how one greeted an abbot; did one kneel and kiss his ring, or was that only for Popes? I settled for a respectful curtsy.

  Jamie’s slanted cat-eyes did come from the Fraser side. Likewise the solid jaw, though the one facing me was somewhat obscured by black beard.

  Abbot Alexander had his nephew’s wide mouth as well, though he looked as though he smiled somewhat less with it. The slanted blue eyes remained cool and speculative as he greeted me with a pleasant, warm smile. He was a good deal shorter than Jamie, about my height, and stocky. He wore the robe of a priest, but walked with a warrior’s stride. I thought it likely he had been both in his time.

  “You are welcome, ma nièce,” he said, inclining his head. I was a little startled at the greeting, but bowed back.

  “I’m grateful for your hospitality,” I said, meaning it. “Have—have you seen Jamie?” The monks had taken Jamie away to be bathed, a process in which I thought I had better not assist.

  The Abbot nodded. “Oh, aye,” he said, a faint Scots accent showing through the cultured English. “I’ve seen him. I’ve set Brother Ambrose to tend his wounds.” I must have looked dubious at this, for he said, a bit dryly, “Do not worry, Madame; Brother Ambrose is most competent.” He looked me over with an air of frank appraisal disturbingly like that of his nephew.

  “Murtagh said that you are an accomplished physician yourself.”

  “I am,” I said bluntly.

  This provoked a real smile. “I see that you do not suffer from the sin of false modesty,” he observed.

  “I have others,” I said, smiling back.

  “So do we all,” he said. “Brother Ambrose will be eager to converse with you, I’m sure.”

  “Has Murtagh told you…what happened?” I asked hesitantly.

  The wide mouth tightened. “He has. So far as he knows what happened.” He waited, as though expecting further contributions from me, but I stayed silent.

  It was clear that he would have liked to ask questions, but he was kind enough not to press me. Instead, he raised his hand in a gesture of benediction and dismissal.

  “You are welcome,” he said once more. “I will send a serving brother to bring you some food.” He looked me over once more. “And some facilities for washing.” He made the sign of the Cross over me, in farewell or possibly as an exorcism of filth, and left in a swirl of brown skirts.

  Suddenly realizing how tired I was, I san
k down on the bed, wondering whether I could stay awake long enough to both eat and wash. I was still wondering when my head hit the pillow.

  * * *

  I was having a dreadful nightmare. Jamie was on the other side of a solid stone wall without a door. I could hear him screaming, over and over, but couldn’t reach him. I pounded desperately on the wall, only to see my hands sink into the stone as if it were water.

  “Ouch!” I sat up in the narrow cot, clutching the hand I had smashed against the unyielding wall next to my bed. I rocked back and forth, squeezing the throbbing hand between my thighs, then realized that the screaming was still going on.

  It stopped abruptly as I ran into the hall. The door to Jamie’s room was open, flickering lamplight flooding the corridor.

  A monk I had not seen before was with Jamie, holding him tightly. A seepage of fresh blood stained the bandages on Jamie’s back, and his shoulders shook as though with chill.

  “A nightmare,” the monk said in explanation, seeing me in the doorway. He relinquished Jamie into my arms, and went to the table for a cloth and the water jug.

  Jamie was still trembling, and his face was glossy with sweat. His eyes were closed, and he breathed heavily, with a hoarse, gasping sound. The monk sat down beside me and began to swab his face with a gentle hand, smoothing the heavy, wet hair away from his temples.

  “You would be his wife, of course,” he said to me. “I think he’ll be better presently.”

  The trembling did begin to ease within a minute or two, and Jamie opened his eyes with a sigh.

  “I’m all right,” he said. “Claire, I’m all right, now. But for God’s sake, get rid of that stink!”

  It was only then that I consciously noticed the scent in the room—a light, spicy, floral smell, so common a perfume that I had thought nothing of it. Lavender. A scent for soaps and toilet waters. I had last smelled it in the dungeons of Wentworth Prison, where it anointed the linen or the person of Captain Jonathan Randall.

  The source of the scent was a small metal cup filled with herb-scented oil, suspended from a heavy, rose-bossed iron base and hung over a candle flame.

  Meant to soothe the mind, its effects were plainly not as intended. Jamie was breathing more easily, sitting up by himself and holding the cup of water the monk had given him. But his face was still white, and the corner of his mouth twitched uneasily.

  I nodded at the Franciscan to do as he said, and the monk quickly muffled the hot cup of oil in a folded towel, then carried it away down the hall.

  Jamie heaved a long sigh of relief, then winced, ribs hurting.

  “You’ve opened up your back a bit,” I said, turning him slightly to get at the bandages. “Not bad, though.”

  “I know. I must have rolled onto my back in my sleep.” The thick wedge of folded blanket meant to keep him propped on one side had slipped to the floor. I retrieved it and laid it on the bed beside him.

  “That’s what made me dream, I think. I dreamt of being flogged.” He shuddered, took a sip of the water, then handed me the cup. “I need something a bit stronger, if it’s handy.”

  As though on cue, our helpful visitor came through the door with a jug of wine in one hand and a small flask of poppy syrup in the other.

  “Alcohol or opium?” he asked Jamie with a smile, holding up the two flasks. “You may have your choice of oblivions.”

  “I’ll have the wine, if ye please. I’ve had enough of dreams for one night,” Jamie said, with a lopsided answering smile. He drank the wine slowly, as the Franciscan helped me to change the stained bandages, smoothing fresh marigold ointment over the wounds. Not until I had resettled Jamie for sleep, back firmly propped and coverlet drawn up, did the visitor turn to go.

  Passing the bed, he bent over Jamie and sketched the sign of the Cross above his head. “Rest well,” he said.

  “Thank ye, Father.” Jamie answered drowsily, clearly half-asleep already. Seeing that Jamie would likely not need me now until morning, I touched him on the shoulder in farewell and followed the visitor out into the corridor.

  “Thank you,” I said. “I’m most grateful for your help.”

  The monk waved a graceful hand, dismissing my thanks.

  “I was pleased to be able to assist you,” he said, and I noticed that he spoke excellent English, though with a faint French accent. “I was passing through the guest wing on my way to the chapel of St. Giles when I heard the screaming.”

  I winced at the memory of that screaming, hoarse and dreadful, and hoped I would not hear it again. Glancing at the window at the end of the corridor, I saw no sign of dawn behind the shutter.

  “To the chapel?” I said, surprised. “But I thought Matins were sung in the main church. And it’s surely a bit early, in any case.”

  The Franciscan smiled. He was fairly young, perhaps in his early thirties, but his silky brown hair was threaded with grey. It was short and neatly tonsured and he had a brown beard, finely trimmed to a point that just skimmed the deep rolled collar of his habit.

  “Very early, for Matins,” he agreed. “I was on my way to the chapel because it is my turn for the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at this hour.” He glanced back into Jamie’s room, where a clock candle marked the time as half past two.

  “I’m very late,” he said. “Brother Bartolome will be wanting his bed.” Raising his hand, he quickly blessed me, turned on a sandaled heel, and was through the swinging door at the end of the corridor before I could muster wits enough to ask his name.

  I stepped into the room and bent to check Jamie. He was asleep again, breathing lightly, with a slight frown creasing his brow. Experimentally, I ran my hand lightly over his hair. The frown eased a bit, and then resumed. I sighed and tucked the blankets more securely around him.

  * * *

  I felt much better in the morning, but Jamie was hollow-eyed and queasy after the broken night. He emphatically rejected any suggestion of caudle or broth for breakfast, and snapped irritably at me when I tried to check the dressings on his hand.

  “For Christ’s sake, Claire, will ye no leave me alone! I dinna want to be poked at any more!”

  He yanked his hand away, scowling. I turned away without speaking and went to busy myself with tidying the small pots and packets of medicines on the side table. I arranged them into small groups, sorted by function: marigold ointment and poplar balm for soothing, willowbark, cherry bark and chamomile for teas, St. John’s wort, garlic, and yarrow for disinfection.

  “Claire.” I turned back, to find him sitting on the bed, looking at me with a shamefaced smile.

  “I’m sorry, Sassenach. My bowels are griping, and I’ve a damn evil temper this morning. But I’ve no call to snarl at ye. D’ye forgive me?”

  I crossed to him swiftly and hugged him lightly.

  “You know there’s nothing to forgive. But what do you mean, your bowels are griping?” Not for the first time, I reflected that intimacy and romance are not synonymous.

  He grimaced, bending forward slightly and folding his arms over his abdomen. “It means,” he said, “that I’d like ye to leave me to myself for a bit. If ye dinna mind?” I hastily complied with his request, and went to find my own breakfast.

  Returning from the refectory a bit later, I spotted a trim figure in the black robes of a Franciscan, crossing the courtyard toward the cloister. I hurried to catch up with him.

  “Father!” I called, and he turned, smiling when he saw me.

  “Good morning,” he said. “Madame Fraser; is that the name? And how is your husband this morning?”

  “Better,” I said, hoping it was true. “I wanted to thank you again for last night. You left before I could even ask your name.”

  Clear hazel eyes sparkled as he bowed to me, hand over his heart. “François Anselm Mericoeur d’Armagnac, Madame,” he said. “Or so I was born. Known now only as Father Anselm.”

  “Anselm of the Merry Heart?” I asked, smiling. He shrugged, a completely Gallic
gesture, unchanged for centuries.

  “One tries,” he said, with an ironic twist of the mouth.

  “I don’t wish to keep you,” I said, glancing toward the cloister. “I only wanted to thank you for your help.”

  “You do not detain me in the least, Madame. I was delaying going to my work, in fact; indulging most sinfully in idleness.”

  “What is your work?” I asked, intrigued. Plainly this man was a visitor to the monastery, his black Franciscan robes conspicuous as an inkblot among the brown of the Benedictines. There were several such visitors, or so Brother Polydore, one of the serving brothers, had told me. Most of them were scholars, here to consult the works stored in the abbey’s renowned library. Anselm, it seemed, was one of these. He was, as he had been for several months, engaged in the translation of several works by Herodotus.

  “Have you seen the library?” he asked. “Come, then,” he said, seeing me shake my head. “It is really most impressive, and I am sure the Abbot your uncle would have no objection.”

  I was both curious to see the library, and reluctant to go back at once to the isolation of the guest wing, so I followed him without hesitation.

  The library was beautiful, high-roofed, with soaring Gothic columns that joined in ogives in the multichambered roof. Full-length windows filled the spaces between columns, letting an abundance of light into the library. Most were of clear glass, but some had deceptively simple-looking stained-glass parables. Tiptoeing past the bent forms of studying monks, I paused to admire one of the Flight into Egypt.

  Some of the bookshelves looked like those I was used to, the books nestling side by side. Other shelves held the books laid flat, to protect the ancient covers. There was even one glass-fronted bookshelf holding a number of rolled parchments. Overall, the library held a hushed exultation, as though the cherished volumes were all singing soundlessly within their covers. I left the library feeling soothed, and strolled slowly across the main courtyard with Father Anselm.

  I tried again to thank him for his help the night before, but he shrugged off my thanks.

  “Think nothing of it, my child. I hope that your husband is better today?”

  “So do I,” I said. Not wanting to dwell on that subject, I asked, “What exactly is perpetual adoration? You said that was where you were going last night.”

  “You are not a Catholic?” he asked in surprise. “Ah, but I forgot, you are English. So of course, I suppose you would be Protestant.”

  “I’m not sure that I’m either one, in terms of belief,” I said. “But technically, at least, I suppose I am a Catholic.”

  “Technically?” The smooth eyebrows shot up in astonishment. I hesitated, cautious after my experiences with Father Bain, but this man did not seem the sort to start waving crucifixes in my face.

  “Well,” I said, bending to pull a small weed from between the paving stones, “I was baptized as a Catholic. But my parents died when I was five, and I went to live with an uncle. Uncle Lambert was…” I paused, recalling Uncle Lambert’s voracious appetite for knowledge, and that cheerfully objective cynicism that regarded all religion merely as one of the earmarks by which a culture could be cataloged. “Well, he was everything and nothing, I suppose, in terms of faith,” I concluded. “Knew them all, believed in none. So nothing further was ever done about my religious training. And my…first husband was Catholic, but not very observant, I’m afraid. So I suppose I’m really rather a heathen.”

  I eyed him warily, but rather than being shocked by this revelation, he laughed heartily.

  “Everything and nothing,” he said, savoring the phrase. “I like that very much. But as for you, I am afraid not. Once a member of Holy Mother Church, you are eternally marked as her child. However little you know about your faith, you are as much a Catholic as our Holy Father the Pope.” He glanced at the sky. It was cloudy, but the leaves of the alder bushes near the church hung still.

  “The wind has dropped. I was going for a short stroll to clear my brain in the fresh air. Why do you not accompany me? You need air and exercise, and I can perhaps make the occasion spiritually beneficial as well, by enlightening you as to the ritual of Perpetual Adoration as we go.”

  “Three birds with one stone, eh?” I said dryly. But the prospect of air, if not light, was enticing, and I went to fetch my cloak without demur.

  With a glance at the form within, head bent in prayer, Anselm led me past the quiet darkness of the chapel entrance and down the cloister, out to the edge of the garden.

  Beyond the possibility of disturbing the monks within the chapel, he said, “It’s a very simple idea. You recall the Bible, and the story of Gethsemane, where Our Lord waited out the hours before his trial and crucifixion, and his friends, who should have borne him company, all fell fast asleep?”

  “Oh,” I said, understanding all at once. “And he said ‘Can you not watch with me one hour?’ So that’s what you’re doing—watching with him for that hour—to make up for it.” I liked the idea, and the darkness of the chapel suddenly seemed inhabited and comforting.

 
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