Mount Helicon The Royal Colony of North Carolina Late October, 1770 2 страница

I eyed his stocky form, mentally estimating his possible consumption of eggs, parritch, and toasted bread against the dwindling supplies in our hampers. Not that simple shortage of food would stop any Highlander from offering hospitality—certainly not Jamie, who was inviting MacLennan to join us, even as I mentally divided eighteen eggs by nine people instead of eight. Not fried, then; made into fritters with grated potatoes, and I’d best borrow more coffee from Jocasta’s campsite on the way up the mountain.

We turned to go, and Jamie’s hand slid suddenly downward over my backside. I made an undignified sound, and Abel MacLennan turned round to gawk at me. I smiled brightly at him, resisting the urge to kick Jamie again, less discreetly.

MacLennan turned away, and scrambled up the slope in front of us with alacrity, coattails bouncing in anticipation over worn breeks. Jamie put a hand under my elbow to help me over the rocks, bending down as he did so to mutter in my ear.

“Why the devil are ye not wearing a petticoat, Sassenach?” he hissed. “Ye’ve nothing at all on under your skirt—you’ll catch your death of cold!”

“You’re not wrong there,” I said, shivering in spite of my cloak. I did in fact have on a linen shift under my gown, but it was a thin, ragged thing, suitable for rough camping-out in summertime, but quite insufficient to stem the wintry blasts that blew through my skirt as though it were cheesecloth.

“Ye had a fine woolen petticoat yesterday. What’s become of it?”

“You don’t want to know,” I assured him.

His eyebrows went up at this, but before he could ask further questions, a scream rang out behind us.

“Germain!”

I turned to see a small blond head, hair flying as the owner streaked down the slope below the rocks. Two-year-old Germain had taken advantage of his mother’s preoccupation with his newborn sister to escape custody and make a dash for the row of soldiers. Eluding capture, he charged headlong down the slope, picking up speed like a rolling stone.

“Fergus!” Marsali screamed. Germain’s father, hearing his name, turned round from his conversation, just in time to see his son trip over a rock and fly headlong. A born acrobat, the little boy made no move to save himself, but collapsed gracefully, rolling into a ball like a hedgehog as he struck the grassy slope on one shoulder. He rolled like a cannonball through the ranks of soldiers, shot off the edge of a rocky shelf, and plopped with a splash into the creek.

There was a general gasp of consternation, and a number of people ran down the hill to help, but one of the soldiers had already hurried to the bank. Kneeling, he thrust the tip of his bayonet through the child’s floating clothes and towed the soggy bundle to the shore.

Fergus charged into the icy shallows, reaching out to clasp his waterlogged son.

“Merci, mon ami, mille merci beaucoup,” he said to the young soldier. “Et toi, toto,” he said, addressing his spluttering offspring with a small shake. “Comment ça va, ye wee chowderheid?”

The soldier looked startled, but I couldn’t tell whether the cause was Fergus’s unique patois, or the sight of the gleaming hook he wore in place of his missing left hand.

“That’s all right then, sir,” he said, with a shy smile. “He’ll no be damaged, I think.”

Brianna appeared suddenly from behind a chinkapin tree, six-month-old Jemmy on one shoulder, and scooped baby Joan neatly out of Marsali’s arms.

“Here, give Joanie to me,” she said. “You go take care of Germain.”

Jamie swung the heavy cloak from his shoulders and laid it in Marsali’s arms in place of the baby.

“Aye, and tell the soldier laddie who saved him to come and share our fire,” he told her. “We can feed another, Sassenach?”

“Of course,” I said, swiftly readjusting my mental calculations. Eighteen eggs, four loaves of stale bread for toast—no, I should keep back one for the trip home tomorrow—three dozen oatcakes if Jamie and Roger hadn’t eaten them already, half a jar of honey . . .

Marsali’s thin face lighted with a rueful smile, shared among the three of us, then she was gone, hastening to the aid of her drenched and shivering menfolk.

Jamie looked after her with a sigh of resignation, as the wind caught the full sleeves of his shirt and belled them out with a muffled whoomp. He crossed his arms across his chest, hunching his shoulders against the wind, and smiled down at me, sidelong.

“Ah, well. I suppose we shall both freeze together, Sassenach. That’s all right, though. I wouldna want to live without ye, anyway.”

“Ha,” I said amiably. “You could live naked on an ice floe, Jamie Fraser, and melt it. What have you done with your coat and plaid?” He wore nothing besides his kilt and sark save shoes and stockings, and his high cheekbones were reddened with cold, like the tips of his ears. When I slipped a hand back inside the crook of his arm, though, he was warm as ever.

“Ye dinna want to know,” he said, grinning. He covered my hand with one large, callused palm. “Let’s go; I’m starved for my breakfast.”

“Wait,” I said, detaching myself. Jemmy was indisposed to share his mother’s embrace with the newcomer, and howled and squirmed in protest, his small round face going red with annoyance under a blue knitted cap. I reached out and took him from Brianna, as he wriggled and fussed in his wrappings.

“Thanks, Mama.” Brianna smiled briefly, boosting tiny Joan into a more secure position against her shoulder. “Are you sure you want that one, though? This one’s quieter—and weighs half as much.”

“No, he’s all right. Hush, sweetie, come see Grannie.” I smiled as I said it, with the still-new feeling of mingled surprise and delight that I could actually be someone’s grandmother. Recognizing me, Jemmy abandoned his fuss and went promptly into his mussel-clinging-to-a-rock routine, chubby fists gripped tight in my hair. Disentangling his fingers, I peered over his head, but things below seemed under control.

Fergus, breeches and stockings soaking wet, Jamie’s cloak draped round his shoulders, was wringing out his shirtfront one-handed, saying something to the soldier who had rescued Germain. Marsali had whipped off her arisaid and wrapped the little boy in it, her loosened blond hair flying out from under her kerch like cobwebs in the wind.

Lieutenant Hayes, attracted by the noise, was peering out from the flap of his tent like a whelk from its shell. He looked up, and caught my eye; I waved briefly, then turned to follow my own family back to our campsite.

Jamie was saying something to Brianna in Gaelic, as he helped her over a rocky patch in the trail ahead of me.

“Yes, I’m ready,” she said, replying in English. “Where’s your coat, Da?”

“I lent it to your husband,” he said. “We dinna want him to look a beggar at your wedding, aye?”

Bree laughed, wiping a flying strand of red hair out of her mouth with her free hand.

“Better a beggar than an attempted suicide.”

“A what?” I caught up with them as we emerged from the shelter of the rocks. The wind barreled across the open space, pelting us with sleet and bits of stinging gravel, and I pulled the knitted cap further down over Jemmy’s ears, then pulled the blanket up over his head.

“Whoof!” Brianna hunched over the swaddled baby girl she carried, sheltering her from the blast. “Roger was shaving when the drums started up; he nearly cut his throat. The front of his coat is covered with bloodstains.” She glanced at Jamie, eyes watering with the wind. “So you’ve seen him this morning. Where is he now, do you know?”

“The lad’s in one piece,” he assured her. “I told him to go and talk wi’ Father Donahue, while Hayes was about his business.” He gave her a sharp look. “Ye might have told me the lad was no a Catholic.”

“I might,” she said, unperturbed. “But I didn’t. It’s no big deal to me.”

“If ye mean by that peculiar expression, that it’s of no consequence—” Jamie began with a distinct edge in his voice, but was interrupted by the appearance of Roger himself, resplendent in a kilt of green-and-white MacKenzie tartan, with the matching plaid draped over Jamie’s good coat and waistcoat. The coat fit decently—both men were of a size, long-limbed and broad-shouldered, though Jamie was an inch or two the taller—and the gray wool was quite as becoming to Roger’s dark hair and olive skin as it was to Jamie’s burnished auburn coloring.

“You look very nice, Roger,” I said. “Where did you cut yourself?” His face was pink, with the raw look common to just-shaved skin, but otherwise unmarked.

Roger was carrying Jamie’s plaid under his arm, a bundle of red and black tartan. He handed it over and tilted his head to one side, showing me the deep gash just under his jawbone.

“Just there. Not so bad, but it bled like the dickens. They don’t call them cutthroat razors for nothing, aye?”

The gash had already crusted into a neat dark line, a cut some three inches long, angled down from the corner of his jaw across the side of his throat. I touched the skin near it briefly. Not bad; the blade of the razor had cut straight in, no flap of skin needing suture. No wonder it had bled a lot, though; it did look as though he had tried to cut his throat.

“A bit nervous this morning?” I teased. “Not having second thoughts, are you?”

“A little late for that,” Brianna said dryly, coming up beside me. “Got a kid who needs a name, after all.”

“He’ll have more names than he knows what to do with,” Roger assured her. “So will you—Mrs. MacKenzie.”

A small flush lit Brianna’s face at the name, and she smiled at him. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, taking the cocooned baby from her as he did so. A look of sudden shock crossed his face as he felt the weight of the bundle in his arms, and he gawked down at it.

“That’s not ours,” Bree said, grinning at his look of consternation. “It’s Marsali’s Joan. Mama has Jemmy.”

“Thank God,” he said, holding the bundle with a good deal more caution. “I thought he’d evaporated or something.” He lifted the blanket slightly, exposing tiny Joan’s sleeping face, and smiled—as people always did—at sight of her comical quiff of brown hair, which came to a point like a Kewpie doll’s.

“Not a chance,” I said, grunting as I hoisted a well-nourished Jemmy, now peacefully comatose in his own wrappings, into a more comfortable position. “I think he’s gained a pound or two on the way uphill.” I was flushed from exertion, and held the baby a little away from myself, as a sudden wave of heat flushed my cheeks and perspiration broke out under the waves of my disheveled hair.

Jamie took Jemmy from me, and tucked him expertly under one arm like a football, one hand cupping the baby’s head.

“Ye’ve spoken wi’ the priest, then?” he said, eyeing Roger skeptically.

“I have,” Roger said dryly, answering the look as much as the question. “He’s satisfied I’m no the Anti-Christ. So long as I’m willing the lad should be baptized Catholic, there’s no bar to the wedding. I’ve said I’m willing.”

Jamie grunted in reply, and I repressed a smile. While Jamie had no great religious prejudices—he had dealt with, fought with, and commanded far too many men, of every possible background—the revelation that his son-in-law was a Presbyterian—and had no intention of converting—had occasioned some small comment.

Bree caught my eye and gave me a sidelong smile, her own eyes creasing into blue triangles of catlike amusement.

“Very wise of you not to mention religion ahead of time,” I murmured, careful not to speak loudly enough for Jamie to hear me. Both men were walking ahead of us, still rather stiff in their attitudes, though the formality of their demeanor was rather impaired by the trailing draperies of the babies they carried.

Jemmy let out a sudden squawk, but his grandfather swung him up without breaking stride, and he subsided, round eyes fixed on us over Jamie’s shoulder, sheltered under the hooding of his blanket. I made a face at him, and he broke into a huge, gummy smile.

“Roger wanted to say something, but I told him to keep quiet.” Bree stuck out her tongue and wiggled it at Jemmy, then fixed a wifely look on Roger’s back. “I knew Da wouldn’t make a stramash about it, if we waited ’til just before the wedding.”

I noted both her astute evaluation of her father’s behavior, and her easy use of Scots. She resembled Jamie in a good deal more than the obvious matter of looks and coloring; she had his talent for human judgment and his glibness with language. Still, there was something niggling at my mind, something to do with Roger and religion . . .

We had come up close enough behind the men to hear their conversation.

“. . . about Hillsborough,” Jamie was saying, leaning toward Roger so as to be heard over the wind. “Calling for information about the rioters.”

“Oh, aye?” Roger sounded both interested and wary. “Duncan Innes will be interested to hear that. He was in Hillsborough during the troubles, did you know?”

“No.” Jamie sounded more than interested. “I’ve barely seen Duncan to speak to this week. I’ll ask him, maybe, after the wedding—if he lives through it.” Duncan was to marry Jamie’s aunt, Jocasta Cameron, in the evening, and was nervous to the point of prostration over the prospect.

Roger turned, shielding Joan from the wind with his body as he spoke to Brianna.

“Your aunt’s told Father Donahue he can hold the weddings in her tent. That’ll be a help.”

“Brrrr!” Bree hunched her shoulders, shivering. “Thank goodness. It’s no day to be getting married under the greenwood tree.”

A huge chestnut overhead sent down a damp shower of yellow leaves, as though in agreement. Roger looked a little uneasy.

“I don’t imagine it’s quite the wedding you maybe thought of,” he said. “When ye were a wee girl.”

Brianna looked up at Roger and a slow, wide smile spread across her face. “Neither was the first one,” she said. “But I liked it fine.”

Roger’s complexion wasn’t given to blushing, and his ears were red with cold in any case. He opened his mouth as though to reply, caught Jamie’s gimlet eye, and shut it again, looking embarrassed but undeniably pleased.

“Mr. Fraser!”

I turned to see one of the soldiers making his way up the hill toward us, his eyes fixed on Jamie.

“Corporal MacNair, your servant, sir,” he said, breathing hard as he reached us. He gave a sharp inclination of the head. “The Lieutenant’s compliments, and would ye be so good as to attend him in his tent?” He caught sight of me, and bowed again, less abruptly. “Mrs. Fraser. My compliments, ma’am.”

“Your servant, sir.” Jamie returned the Corporal’s bow. “My apologies to the Lieutenant, but I have duties that require my attendance elsewhere.” He spoke politely, but the Corporal glanced sharply up at him. MacNair was young, but not callow; a quick look of understanding crossed his lean, dark face. The last thing any man would want was to be seen going into Hayes’s tent by himself, immediately following that Proclamation.

“The Lieutenant bids me request the attendance upon him of Mr. Farquard Campbell, Mr. Andrew MacNeill, Mr. Gerald Forbes, Mr. Duncan Innes, and Mr. Randall Lillywhite, as well as yourself, sir.”

A certain amount of tension left Jamie’s shoulders.

“Does he,” he said dryly. So Hayes meant to consult the powerful men of the area: Farquard Campbell and Andrew MacNeill were large landowners and local magistrates; Gerald Forbes a prominent solicitor from Cross Creek, and a justice of the peace; Lillywhite a magistrate of the circuit court. And Duncan Innes was about to become the largest plantation owner in the western half of the colony, by virtue of his impending marriage to Jamie’s widowed aunt. Jamie himself was neither rich nor an official of the Crown—but he was the proprietor of a large, if still largely vacant, land grant in the backcountry.

He gave a slight shrug and shifted the baby to his other shoulder, settling himself.

“Aye. Well, then. Tell the Lieutenant I shall attend him as soon as may be convenient.”

Nothing daunted, MacNair bowed and went off, presumably in search of the other gentlemen on his list.

“And what’s all that about?” I asked Jamie. “Oops.” I reached up and skimmed a glistening strand of saliva from Jemmy’s chin before it could reach Jamie’s shirt. “Starting a new tooth, are we?”

“I’ve plenty of teeth,” Jamie assured me, “and so have you, so far as I can see. As to what Hayes may want with me, I canna say for sure. And I dinna mean to find out before I must, either.” He cocked one ruddy eyebrow at me, and I laughed.

“Oh, a certain flexibility in that word ‘convenient,’ is there?”

“I didna say it would be convenient for him,” Jamie pointed out. “Now, about your petticoat, Sassenach, and why you’re scampering about the forest bare-arsed—Duncan, a charaid!” The wry look on his face melted into genuine pleasure at sight of Duncan Innes, making his way toward us through a small growth of bare-limbed dogwood.

Duncan clambered over a fallen log, the process made rather awkward by his missing left arm, and arrived on the path beside us, shaking water droplets from his hair. He was already dressed for his wedding, in a clean ruffled shirt and starched linen stock above his kilt, and a coat of scarlet broadcloth trimmed in gold lace, the empty sleeve pinned up with a brooch. I had never seen Duncan look so elegant, and said so.

“Och, well,” he said diffidently. “Miss Jo did wish it.” He shrugged off the compliment along with the rain, carefully brushing away dead needles and bits of bark that had adhered to his coat in the passage through the pines.

“Brrr! A gruesome day, Mac Dubh, and no mistake.” He looked up at the sky and shook his head. “Happy the bride the sun shines on; happy the corpse the rain falls on.”

“I do wonder just how delighted you can expect the average corpse to be,” I said, “whatever the meteorological conditions. But I’m sure Jocasta will be quite happy regardless,” I added hastily, seeing a look of bewilderment spread itself across Duncan’s features. “And you too, of course!”

“Oh . . . aye,” he said, a little uncertainly. “Aye, of course. I thank ye, ma’am.”

“When I saw ye coming through the wood, I thought perhaps Corporal MacNair was nippin’ at your heels,” Jamie said. “You’re no on your way to see Archie Hayes, are you?”

Duncan looked quite startled.

“Hayes? No, what would the Lieutenant want wi’ me?”

“You were in Hillsborough in September, aye? Here, Sassenach, take this wee squirrel away.” Jamie interrupted himself to hand me Jemmy, who had decided to take a more active interest in the proceedings and was attempting to climb his grandfather’s torso, digging in his toes and making loud grunting noises. The sudden activity, however, was not Jamie’s chief motive for relieving himself of the burden, as I discovered when I accepted Jemmy.

“Thanks a lot,” I said, wrinkling my nose. Jamie grinned at me, and turned Duncan up the path, resuming their conversation.

“Hmm,” I said, sniffing cautiously. “Finished, are you? No, I thought not.” Jemmy closed his eyes, went bright red, and emitted a popping noise like muffled machine-gun fire. I undid his wrappings sufficiently to peek down his back.

“Whoops,” I said, and hastily unwound the blanket, just in time. “What has your mother been feeding you?”

Thrilled to have escaped his swaddling bands, Jemmy churned his legs like a windmill, causing a noxious yellowish substance to ooze from the baggy legs of his diaper.

“Pew,” I said succinctly, and holding him at arm’s length, headed off the path toward one of the tiny rivulets that meandered down the mountainside, thinking that while I could perhaps do without such amenities as indoor plumbing and motorcars, there were times when I sincerely missed things like rubber pants with elasticated legs. To say nothing of toilet rolls.

I found a good spot on the edge of the little stream, with a thick coating of dead leaves. I knelt, laid out a fold of my cloak, and parked Jemmy on it on his hands and knees, pulling the soggy clout off without bothering to unpin it.

“Weee!” he said, sounding surprised as the cold air struck him. He clenched his fat little buttocks and hunched like a small pink toad.

“Ha,” I told him. “If you think a cold wind up the bum is bad, just wait.” I scooped up a handful of damp yellow-brown leaves, and cleaned him off briskly. A fairly stoic child, he wiggled and squirmed, but didn’t screech, instead making high-pitched “Eeeeee” noises as I excavated his crevices.

I flipped him over, and with a hand held prophylactically over the danger zone, administered a similar treatment to his private parts, this eliciting a wide, gummy grin.

“Oh, you are a Hieland man, aren’t you?” I said, smiling back.

“And just what d’ye mean by that remark, Sassenach?” I looked up to find Jamie leaning against a tree on the other side of the streamlet. The bold colors of his dress tartan and white linen sark stood out bright against the faded autumn foliage; face and hair, though, made him look like some denizen of the wood, all bronze and auburn, with the wind stirring his hair so the free ends danced like the scarlet maple leaves above.

“Well, he’s apparently impervious to cold and damp,” I said, concluding my labors and discarding the final handful of soiled leaves. “Beyond that . . . well, I’ve not had much to do with male infants before, but isn’t this rather precocious?”

One corner of Jamie’s mouth curled up, as he peered at the prospect revealed under my hand. The tiny appendage stood up stiff as my thumb, and roughly the same size.

“Ah, no,” he said. “I’ve seen a many wee lads in the raw. They all do that now and again.” He shrugged, and the smile grew wider. “Now, whether it’s only Scottish lads, I couldna be saying . . .”

“A talent that improves with age, I daresay,” I said dryly. I tossed the dirty clout across the streamlet, where it landed at his feet with a splat. “Get the pins and rinse that out, will you?”

His long, straight nose wrinkled slightly, but he knelt without demur and picked the filthy thing up gingerly between two fingers.

“Oh, so that’s what ye’ve done wi’ your petticoat,” he said. I had opened the large pocket I wore slung at my waist and extracted a clean, folded rectangle of cloth. Not the unbleached linen of the clout he held, but a thick, soft, often-washed wool flannel, dyed a pale red with the juice of currants.

I shrugged, checked Jemmy for the prospect of fresh explosions, and popped him onto the new diaper.

“With three babies all in clouts, and the weather too damp to dry anything properly, we were rather short of clean bits.” The bushes around the clearing where we had made our family camp were all festooned with flapping laundry, most of it still wet, owing to the inopportune weather.

“Here.” Jamie stretched across the foot-wide span of rock-strewn water to hand me the pins extracted from the old diaper. I took them, careful not to drop them in the stream. My fingers were stiff and chilly, but the pins were valuable; Bree had made them of heated wire, and Roger had carved the capped heads from wood, in accordance with her drawings. Honest-to-goodness safety pins, if a bit larger and cruder than the modern version. The only real defect was the glue used to hold the wooden heads to the wire; made from boiled milk and hoof parings, it was not entirely waterproof, and the heads had to be reglued periodically.

I folded the diaper snugly about Jemmy’s loins and thrust a pin through the cloth, smiling at sight of the wooden cap. Bree had taken one set and carved a small, comical frog—each with a wide, toothless grin—onto each one.

“All right, Froggie, here you go, then.” Diaper securely fastened, I sat down and boosted him into my lap, smoothing down his smock and attempting to rewrap his blanket.

“Where did Duncan go?” I asked. “Down to see the Lieutenant?”

Jamie shook his head, bent over his task.

“I told him not to go yet. He was in Hillsborough during the troubles there. Best he should wait a bit; then if Hayes should ask, he can swear honestly there’s no man here who took part in the riots.” He looked up and smiled, without humor. “There won’t be, come nightfall.”

I watched his hands, large and capable, wringing out the rinsed clout. The scars on his right hand were usually almost invisible, but they stood out now, ragged white lines against his cold-reddened skin. The whole business made me mildly uneasy, though there seemed no direct connection with us.

For the most part, I could think of Governor Tryon with no more than a faint sense of edginess; he was, after all, safely tucked away in his nice new palace in New Bern, separated from our tiny settlement on Fraser’s Ridge by three hundred miles of coastal towns, inland plantations, pine forest, piedmont, trackless mountains, and sheer howling wilderness. With all the other things he had to worry about, such as the self-styled “Regulators” who had terrorized Hillsborough, and the corrupt sheriffs and judges who had provoked the terror, I hardly thought he would have time to spare a thought for us. I hoped not.

The uncomfortable fact remained that Jamie held title to a large grant of land in the North Carolina mountains as the gift of Governor Tryon—and Tryon in turn held one small but important fact tucked away in his vest pocket: Jamie was a Catholic. And Royal grants of land could be made only to Protestants, by law.

Given the tiny number of Catholics in the colony, and the lack of organization among them, the question of religion was rarely an issue. There were no Catholic churches, no resident Catholic priests; Father Donahue had made the arduous journey down from Baltimore, at Jocasta’s request. Jamie’s aunt Jocasta and her late husband, Hector Cameron, had been influential among the Scottish community here for so long that no one would have thought of questioning their religious background, and I thought it likely that few of the Scots with whom we had been celebrating all week knew that we were Papists.

They were, however, likely to notice quite soon. Bree and Roger, who had been handfasted for a year, were to be married by the priest this evening, along with two other Catholic couples from Bremerton—and with Jocasta and Duncan Innes.

“Archie Hayes,” I said suddenly. “Is he a Catholic?”

Jamie hung the wet clout from a nearby branch and shook water from his hands.

“I havena asked him,” he said, “but I shouldna think so. That is, his father was not; I should be surprised if he was—and him an officer.”

“True.” The disadvantages of Scottish birth, poverty, and being an ex-Jacobite were sufficiently staggering; amazing enough that Hayes had overcome these to rise to his present position, without the additional burden of the taint of Papistry.

What was troubling me, though, was not the thought of Lieutenant Hayes and his men; it was Jamie. Outwardly, he was calm and assured as ever, with that faint smile always hiding in the corner of his mouth. But I knew him very well; I had seen the two stiff fingers of his right hand—maimed in an English prison—twitch against the side of his leg as he traded jokes and stories with Hayes the night before. Even now, I could see the thin line that formed between his brows when he was troubled, and it wasn’t concern over what he was doing.

Was it simply worry over the Proclamation? I couldn’t see why that should be, given that none of our folk had been involved in the Hillsborough riots.

“. . . a Presbyterian,” he was saying. He glanced over at me with a wry smile. “Like wee Roger.”

The memory that had niggled at me earlier dropped suddenly into place.

“You knew that,” I said. “You knew Roger wasn’t a Catholic. You saw him baptize that child in Snaketown, when we . . . took him from the Indians.” Too late, I saw the shadow cross his face, and bit my tongue. When we took Roger—and left in his place Jamie’s dearly loved nephew Ian.

A shadow crossed his face momentarily, but he smiled, pushing away the thought of Ian.

“Aye, I did,” he said.

“But Bree—”

“She’d marry the lad if he were a Hottentot,” Jamie interrupted. “Anyone can see that. And I canna say I’d object overmuch to wee Roger if he were a Hottentot,” he added, rather to my surprise.

“You wouldn’t?”

Jamie shrugged, and stepped over the tiny creek to my side, wiping wet hands on the end of his plaid.

“He’s a braw lad, and he’s kind. He’s taken the wean as his own and said no word to the lass about it. It’s no more than a man should do—but not every man would.”

I glanced down involuntarily at Jemmy, curled up cozily in my arms. I tried not to think of it myself, but could not help now and then searching his bluntly amiable features for any trace that might reveal his true paternity.

Brianna had been handfast with Roger, lain with him for one night—and then been raped two days later, by Stephen Bonnet. There was no way to tell for sure who the father had been, and so far Jemmy gave no indication of resembling either man in the slightest. He was gnawing his fist at the moment, with a ferocious scowl of concentration, and with his soft fuzz of red-gold plush, he looked like no one so much as Jamie himself.


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