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 c*ck 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 accident 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.”
“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 h*ps 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.”
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.