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Authors: Diana Gabaldon

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BOOK: Drums of Autumn
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He’d got them going with “The Road to the Isles,” a quick and lively clap-along song with a rousing chorus, and when they’d subsided from that, kept them going with “The Gallowa’ Hills,” and a sweet slide into “The Lewis Bridal Song,” with a lovely, lilting chorus in Gaelic.

He let the last note die away on “Vhair Me Oh,” and smiled, directly at her, she thought.

“And here’s one from the ’45,” he said. “This one is from the famous battle of Prestonpans, at which the Highland Army of Charles Stuart routed a much greater English force, under the command of General Jonathan Cope.”

There was an appreciative murmur from the crowd, for many of whom the song was plainly an old favorite, quickly shushed as Roger’s fingers plucked out the marching line.

“Cope sent a challenge from Dunbar
Sayin’ ‘Charlie, meet me, and ye daur
An’ I’ll learn ye the art o’ war
If ye’ll meet me in the mornin’.’ ”

He bent his head over the strings, nodding to the crowd to join in the jeering chorus.

“Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye walkin’ yet?
And are your drums a-beatin’ yet?
If ye were walkin’, I would wait
Tae gang tae the coals in the mornin’!”

Brianna felt a sudden prickle at the roots of her hair that had nothing to do with singer or crowd, but with the song itself.

“When Charlie looked the letter upon,
He drew his sword the scabbard from,
Come, follow me, my merry men,
And we’ll meet Johnnie Cope in the morning!”

“No,” she whispered, her fingers cold on the smooth brown envelope.
Come follow me, my merry men
…They’d been there—both her parents. It was her father who had charged the field at Preston, his broadsword and his targe in his hands.

“…For it will be a bluidie morning!”
“Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye walkin’ yet?
And are your drums a-beatin’ yet?…”

The voices rose around her in a roar of approbation as they joined in the chorus. She had a moment of rising panic, when she would have fled away like Johnnie Cope, but it passed, leaving her buffeted by emotion as much as by the music.

“In faith, quo Johnnie, I got sic flegs,
Wi’ their claymores an’ philabegs,
Gin I face them again, de’il brak my legs,
So I wish you a’ good morning!
Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye walkin’ yet?…”

Yes, he was. And he would be, as long as that song lasted. Some people tried to preserve the past; others, to escape it. And that was by far the greatest gulf between herself and Roger. Why hadn’t she seen it before?

She didn’t know whether Roger had seen her momentary distress, but he abandoned the dangerous territory of the Jacobites and went into “MacPherson’s Lament,” sung with no more than an occasional touch of the strings. The woman next to Brianna let out a long sigh and looked doe-eyed at the stage.

“Sae rantingly, sae wantonly, sae dauntingly gaed he,
He played a tune and he danced it roond…alow the gallows tree!”

She picked up the envelope, weighing it on her fingers. She ought to wait, maybe, until she got home. But curiosity was warring with reluctance. Roger hadn’t been sure he should give it to her; she’d seen that in his eyes.

“…a bodhran,” Roger was saying. The drum was no more than a wooden hoop, a few inches wide, with a skin head stretched over it, some eighteen inches across. He held the drum balanced on the fingers of one hand, a small double-headed stick in the other. “One of the oldest known instruments, this is the drum with which the Celtic tribes scared the bejesus out of Julius Caesar’s troops in 52 BC.” The audience tittered, and he touched the wide drumhead with the stick, back and forth in a soft, quick rhythm like a heartbeat.

“And here’s ‘The Sheriffmuir Fight,’ from the first Jacobite Rising, in 1715.”

The drumhead shifted and the beat dropped in pitch, became martial in tone, a thundering behind the words. The audience was still well-behaved, but now sat up and leaned forward, hanging on the chant that described the battle of Sheriffmuir, and all the clans who had fought in it.

“…then on they rushed, and blood out-gushed, and many a puke did fall, man…

They hacked and hashed, while broadswords clashed…”

As the song ended she put her fingers inside the envelope and pulled out a set of photographs. Old snapshots, black-and-white faded to tones of brown. Her parents. Frank and Claire Randall, both looking absurdly young—and terribly happy.

They were in a garden somewhere; there were lawn chairs, and a table with drinks in a background dappled with the scattered light of tree leaves. The faces showed clearly, though—laughing, faces alight with youth, eyes only for each other.

Posing formally, arm in arm, mocking their own formality. Laughing, Claire half bent over with hilarity at something Frank had said, holding down a wide skirt flying in the wind, her curly hair suffering no such restraint. Frank handing Claire a cup, she looking up into his face as she took it, with such a look of hope and trust that Brianna’s heart squeezed tight to see it.

Then she looked at the last of the pictures, and realized what she was looking at. The two of them stood by the table, hands together on a knife, laughing as they cut into an obviously homemade cake. A wedding cake.

“And for the last, an old favorite that you’ll know. This song is said to have been sent by a Jacobite prisoner, on his way to London to be hanged, to his wife in the Highlands…”

She spread her hands out flat on top of the pictures, as though to keep anyone from seeing them. An icy shock went through her. Wedding pictures. Snapshots of their wedding day. Of course; they’d been married in Scotland. The Reverend Wakefield wouldn’t have done the ceremony, not being a Catholic priest, but he was one of her father’s oldest friends; the reception must have been held at the manse.

Yes. Peeking through her fingers, she could make out familiar bits of the old house in the background. Then, reluctantly sliding her hand aside, she looked again at her mother’s young face.

Eighteen. Claire had married Frank Randall at eighteen—perhaps that explained it. How could anyone know their mind so young?

“By yon bonnie banks, and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond,
Where me and my true love were ever wont to gae…”

But Claire had been sure—or she’d thought so. The broad clear brow and delicate mouth admitted of no doubt; the big, luminous eyes were fixed on her new husband with no sign of reservation or misgiving. And yet—

“But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

Oblivious of the toes she stepped on, Brianna blundered out of the row and fled, before anyone should see the tears.

“I can stay with you through part of the calling of the clans,” Roger said, “but I’ve a bit to do at the end of it, so I’ll have to leave you. Will you be all right?”

“Yes, of course,” she said firmly. “I’m fine. Don’t worry.”

He looked at her a little anxiously, but let it pass. Neither of them had mentioned her precipitous departure earlier; by the time he had made his way through the congratulatory well-wishers and gone to find her, she had had time to find a Ladies’ and get herself under control with cold water.

They had spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the festival, shopping a bit, going outside to watch the pipe-bands’ competition, coming in half deafened to see a young man dance between two swords crossed on the ground. The photographs stayed safely out of sight in her handbag.

It was nearly dark now; people were leaving the eating area and heading for the open stands outside, at the foot of the mountain.

She had thought the families with young children would leave, and some did, but there were small bodies and sleepy heads drooping among the older people in the stands. A tiny girl lay limp, sound asleep on her father’s shoulder as they made their way into one of the upper rows of the stands. There was a clear, flat space in front of the bleachers, in which a huge heap of wood had been piled.

“What’s the calling of the clans?” she heard a woman ask her companion in the row ahead. The companion shrugged, and Brianna looked at Roger for enlightenment, but he only smiled.

“You’ll see,” he said.

It was full dark, and the moon not risen; the bulk of the mountainside rose up as a darker black against the star-flecked sky. There was an exclamation from somewhere in the crowd, a scattering of more, and then the notes of a single bagpipe came faintly through the air, silencing everything else.

A pinpoint of light appeared near the top of the mountain. As they watched, it moved down, and another sprang up behind it. The music grew stronger, and another light came over the top of the mountain. For nearly ten minutes, the anticipation grew, as the music grew louder, and the string of lights grew longer, a blazing chain down the mountainside.

Near the bottom of the slope, a trail came out from the trees above; she had seen it during her earlier exploration. Now a man stepped out of the trees into sight, holding a blazing torch above his head. Behind him was the piper, and the sound now was strong enough to drown even the oohs and ahhs of the crowd.

As the two moved down the trail and toward the cleared space in front of the bleachers, Brianna could see that there were more men behind them; a long line of men, each with a torch, all dressed in the finery of the Highland chieftains. They were barbarous and splendid, decked in grouse feathers, the silver of swords and dirks gleaming red by the torchlight, picked out amid the folds of tartan cloth.

The pipes stopped abruptly, and the first of the men strode into the clearing and stopped before the stands. He raised his torch above his head and shouted, “The Camerons are here!”

Loud whoops of delight rang out from the stands, and he threw the torch into the kerosene-soaked wood, which went up with a roar, in a pillar of fire ten feet high.

Against the blinding sheet of flame, another man stepped out, and called, “The MacDonalds are here!”

Screams and yelps from those in the crowd that claimed kinship with clan MacDonald, and then—

“The MacLachlans are here!”

“The MacGillivrays are here!”

She was so entranced by the spectacle that she was only dimly aware of Roger. Then another man stepped out and cried, “The MacKenzies are here!”

“Tulach Ard!”
bellowed Roger, making her jump.

“What was
” she asked.

“That,” he said, grinning, “is the war cry of clan MacKenzie.”

“Sounded like it.”

“The Campbells are here!” There must have been a lot of Campbells; the response shook the bleachers. As though that was the signal he had been waiting for, Roger stood up and flung his plaid over his shoulder.

“I’ll meet you afterward by the dressing rooms, all right?” She nodded, and he bent suddenly and kissed her.

“Just in case,” he said. “The Frasers’ cry is
Caisteal Dhuni

She watched him go, climbing down the bleachers like a mountain goat. The smell of woodsmoke filled the night air, mixing with the smaller fragrance of tobacco from cigarettes in the crowd.

“The MacKays are here!”

“The MacLeods are here!”

“The Farquarsons are here!”

Her chest felt tight, from the smoke and from emotion. The clans had died at Culloden—or had they? Yes, they had; this was no more than memory, than the calling up of ghosts; none of the people shouting so enthusiastically owed kinship to each other, none of them lived any longer by the claims of laird and land, but…

“The Frasers are here!”

Sheer panic gripped her, and her hand closed tight on the clasp of her bag.

she thought.
Oh, no. I’m not

Then the moment passed, and she could breathe again, but jolts of adrenaline still thrilled through her blood.

“The Grahams are here!”

“The Inneses are here!”

The Ogilvys, the Lindsays, the Gordons…and then finally, the echoes of the last shout died. Brianna held the bag on her lap, gripped tight, as though to keep its contents from escaping like the jinn from a lamp.

How could she?
she thought, and then, seeing Roger come into the light, fire on his head and his bodhran in his hand, thought again,
How could she help it?



ou didn’t wear your kilt!” Gayle’s mouth turned down in disappointment.

“Wrong century,” Roger said, smiling down at her. “Drafty for a moonwalk.”

“You have to teach me to do that.” She bounced on her toes, leaning toward him.

“Do what?”

“Roll your r’s like that.” She puckered her brows and made an earnest attempt, sounding like a motorboat in low gear.

“Verra nice,” he said, trying not to laugh. “Keep it up. Prractice makes perfect.”

“Well, did you bring your guitar, at least?” She stood on tiptoes, trying to look behind him. “Or that groovy drum?”

“It’s in the car,” Brianna said, putting away her keys as she came up beside Roger. “We’re going to the airport from here.”

“Oh, too bad; I thought we could hang around and have a hootenanny afterward, to celebrate. Do you know ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ Roger? Or are you more into protest songs? But I guess you wouldn’t be, since you’re English—oops, I mean Scotch. You guys don’t have anything to protest about, do you?”

Brianna gave her friend a look of mild exasperation. “Where’s Uncle Joe?”

“In the living room, kicking the TV,” Gayle said. “Shall I entertain Roger while you find him?” She linked one arm cosily through Roger’s, batting her eyelashes.

“We got half the doggone MIT College of Engineering here, and nobody who can fix a doggone
” Dr. Joseph Abernathy glared accusingly at the clusters of young people scattered around his living room.

engineering, Pop,” his son told him loftily. “We’re all mechanical engineers. Ask a mechanical engineer to fix your color TV, that’s like asking an Ob-Gyn to look at the sore on your di—ow!”

“Oh, sorry,” said his father, peering blandly over gold-rimmed glasses. “That your foot, Lenny?”

Lenny hopped storklike around the room to general laughter, clutching one large sneaker-clad foot in exaggerated agony.

“Bree, honey!” The doctor spotted her and abandoned the television, beaming. He hugged her enthusiastically, disregarding the fact that she topped him by four inches or so, then let go and looked at Roger, his features rearranged in a look of wary cordiality.

“This the boyfriend?”

“This is Roger Wakefield,” Brianna said, narrowing her eyes slightly at the doctor. “Roger, Joe Abernathy.”

“Dr. Abernathy.”

“Call me Joe.”

They shook hands in mutual assessment. The doctor looked him over with quick brown eyes, no less shrewd for their warmth.

“Bree, honey, you want to go lay hands on that piece of junk, see can you bring it back to life?” He jerked a thumb at the twenty-four-inch RCA sitting in mute defiance on its wire stand. “It was working fine last night, then today…pffft!”

Brianna looked dubiously at the big color TV, and groped in the pocket of her jeans, coming out with a Swiss Army knife.

“Well, I can check the connections, I guess.” She flicked out the screwdriver blade. “How much time do we have?”

“Half hour, maybe,” called a crew-cut student from the kitchen doorway. He glanced at the crowd clustered around the small black-and-white set on the table. “We’re still with Mission Control in Houston—ETA thirty-four minutes.” The muted excitement of the TV commentator came in bursts through the more vivid excitement of the spectators.

“Good, good,” said Dr. Abernathy. He laid a hand on Roger’s shoulder. “Plenty of time for a drink, then. You a Scotch man, Mr. Wakefield?”

“Call me Roger.”

Abernathy poured a generous measure of amber nectar and handed it over.

“Don’t imagine you take water, do you, Roger?”

“No.” It was Lagavulin; astonishing to find it in Boston. He sipped appreciatively, and the doctor smiled.

“Claire gave it to me—Bree’s mama. Now, there was a woman with a taste for fine whisky.” He shook his head nostalgically, and raised his glass in tribute.

Roger said quietly, and tipped his own glass before drinking.

Abernathy closed his eyes in silent appreciation—whether of the whisky or the woman, Roger couldn’t tell.

“Water of life, huh? I do believe that particular stuff could raise the dead.” He set the bottle back in the liquor cabinet with reverent hands.

How much had Claire told Abernathy? Enough, Roger supposed. The doctor picked up his tumbler and gave him a long look of assessment.

“Since Bree’s daddy is dead, I guess I get to do the honors. Reckon we got time for the third degree before they land, or shall we keep it short?”

Roger raised one eyebrow.

“Your intentions,” the doctor elaborated.

“Oh. Strictly honorable.”

“Yeah? I called Bree last night, to see if she was coming tonight. No answer.”

“We’d gone to a Celtic festival, up in the mountains.”

“Uh-huh. I called again, eleven p.m. And midnight. No answer.” The doctor’s eyes were still shrewd, but a good deal less warm. He set his glass down with a small click.

“Bree’s alone,” he said. “And she’s lonely. And she’s lovely. I wouldn’t like to see anybody take advantage of that, Mr. Wakefield.”

“Neither would I—Dr. Abernathy.” Roger drained his glass and set it down hard. Warmth burned in his cheeks, and it wasn’t due to the Lagavulin. “If you think that I—”


The inhabitants of the kitchen came pouring out, waving Coke bottles and cheering. Brianna, flushed with her labors, was laughing and brushing off their congratulations as she put away her knife. Abernathy put a hand on Roger’s arm, to keep him.

“Mind me, Mr. Wakefield,” Abernathy said, his voice low enough not to be heard over the crowd. “I don’t want to hear that you’ve made that girl unhappy. Ever.”

Roger carefully released his arm from the other’s grip.

“D’ye think she looks unhappy?” he asked, as politely as he could.

“No-oo,” said Abernathy, rocking back on his heels and squinting hard at him. “On the contrary. It’s the way she looks tonight that makes me think I should maybe punch you in the nose, on her daddy’s behalf.”

Roger couldn’t help turning to look at her himself; it was true. She had dark circles under her eyes, wisps of hair were coming down from her ponytail, and her skin was glowing like the wax of a lighted candle. She looked like a woman who’d had a long night—and enjoyed it.

As though by radar, her head turned and her eyes fixed on him, over Gayle’s head. She went on talking to Gayle, but her eyes spoke straight to him.

The doctor cleared his throat loudly. Roger jerked his attention away from her, to find Abernathy looking up at him, his expression thoughtful.

“Oh,” the doctor said, in a changed tone. “Like that, is it?”

Roger’s collar was unbuttoned, but he felt as though he were wearing a tie tied too tight. He met the doctor’s eyes straight on.

“Yeah,” he said. “Like that.”

Dr. Abernathy reached for the bottle of Lagavulin, and filled both glasses.

“Claire did say she liked you,” he said in resignation. He lifted one glass. “Okay.

“Turn it the other way—Walter Cronkite’s orange!” Lenny Abernathy obligingly twirled the knob, turning the commentator green. Unaffected by his sudden change of complexion, Cronkite went on talking.

“In approximately two minutes, Commander Neil Armstrong and the crew of the Apollo 11 will make history in the first manned landing on the moon…”

The living room was darkened and packed with people, everyone’s attention riveted on the big TV as the footage shifted to a replay of the Apollo’s launch.

“I’m impressed,” Roger said in Brianna’s ear. “How did you fix it?” He leaned against the end of a bookshelf, and pulled her snug against him, his hands on the swell of her hips, his chin on her shoulder.

Her eyes were on the television, but he felt her cheek move against his own.

“Somebody kicked the plug out of the wall,” she said. “I just plugged it back in.”

He laughed and kissed the side of her neck. It was hot in the room, even with the air conditioner humming, and her skin tasted moist and salty.

“You’ve got the roundest arse in the world,” he whispered. She didn’t answer, but deliberately nestled her bottom against him.

A buzz of voices from the screen and pictures of the flag the astronauts would plant on the moon.

He glanced across the room, but Joe Abernathy was as hypnotized as any of them, face rapt in the glow of the television screen. Safe in the darkness, he wrapped his arms around Brianna, and felt the soft weight of her breasts on his forearm. She sighed deeply and relaxed against him, putting her hand over his and squeezing tight.

They would both be less bold if there were any danger to it. But he was leaving in two hours; there was no chance of it going further. The night before, they had known they were playing with dynamite, and been more cautious. He wondered if Abernathy would actually have punched him, had he admitted that Brianna had spent the night in his bed?

He had driven them down the mountain, torn between trying to stay on the right side of the road, and the excitement of Brianna’s soft weight, pressed against him. They’d stopped for coffee, talked long past midnight, touching constantly, hands, thighs, heads close together. Driven on to Boston in the wee hours, the conversation dying, Brianna’s head heavy on his shoulder.

Unable to keep awake long enough to find his way through the maze of unfamiliar streets to her apartment, he had driven to his hotel, smuggled her upstairs, and laid her on his bed, where she had fallen asleep in seconds.

He had himself spent the rest of the night on the chaste hardness of the floor, Brianna’s woolly cardigan across his shoulders for warmth. With the dawn, he’d got up and sat in the chair, wrapped in her scent, silently watching the light spread across her sleeping face.

Yeah, it was like that.

“Tranquility Base…the Eagle has landed.”
The silence in the room was broken by a deep collective sigh, and Roger felt the hair rise on the back of his neck.

“One…small…step for man,”
said the tinny voice,
“one giant leap…for mankind.”
The picture was fuzzy, but not through any fault of the television. Heads strained forward, avid to see the bulky figure making its ginger way down the ladder, setting foot for the first time on the lunar soil. Tears gleamed on one girl’s cheeks, silver in the glow.

Even Brianna had forgotten everything else; her hand had fallen from his arm and she was leaning forward, caught up in the moment.

It was a fine day to be an American.

He had a momentary qualm, seeing them all so fiercely intent, so fervently proud, and she so much a part of it. It
a different century, two hundred years from yesterday.

Might there be common ground for them, a historian and an engineer? He facing backward to the mysteries of the past, she to the future and its dazzling gleam?

Then the room relaxed in cheers and babbling, and she turned in his arms to kiss him hard and cling to him, and he thought perhaps it didn’t matter that they faced in opposite directions—so long as they faced each other.

BOOK: Drums of Autumn
12.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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