Authors: Diana Gabaldon
“I am a minister,” Roger said, making her a deep bow. “Your servant, madam.”
“Mmphm. And what sect might ye be, sir?” the woman demanded.
“I am a Presbyterian, ma’am,” Roger said, “but—”
“And you?” the woman demanded, fixing Bree with a sharp blue eye. “D’ye share your husband’s beliefs?”
“I’m Roman Catholic,” Brianna said, as mildly as possible. It wasn’t the first time, and wouldn’t be the last, but they’d decided early on how to handle such questions. “Like my father—Jamie Fraser.”
That reply normally took the questioner aback and provided enough space for Roger to take control. The non-Catholic tenants’ respect for her father—whether based on personal esteem or merely the fact that he was their landlord—usually made them at least amenable to polite conversation, regardless of their general opinion of Catholics.
The woman—Mrs. Cunningham?—snorted and looked Bree up and down in a way indicating that she’d seen any number of disreputable women in her day and was comparing Brianna unfavorably to the lot of them.
“Phut,” she said. “Popery! We’ve nay truck wi’ such things in
“Mother,” said the captain, moving toward her. “I think that—”
“Ma’am,” said Roger, stepping in front of Bree in order to intercept the eye of the basilisk being aimed in her direction. “I assure ye, we’ve come neither to proselytize nor to convert ye. I—”
“Presbyterian, ye say?” The eye fixed on him, coldly accusing. “
a minister? How is it, then, that you cannot keep your own wife in order? What sort of minister can ye be, if you let your woman be a disciple of the Pope and roam about sowing and watering the seeds of wickedness and disorder amongst your neighbors?”
“Mother!” Captain Cunningham said sharply. She didn’t flinch, but turned her stern face toward her son.
“You know it’s true,” she informed him. “This lass”—she nodded at Brianna—“says that Jamie Fraser is her sire. That will mean”—she looked directly at Bree—“that your mother is Claire Fraser, aye?”
Bree took a deep breath of her own; the cabin was neat as a pin but quite small, and the supply of air in it seemed to be shrinking by the second.
“She is,” she said evenly. “And she asked me to convey her regards to you, and to say that should any member of your family be ill or have an injury, she would be happy to come and attend them. She’s a healer, and—”
“Phut!” repeated Mrs. Cunningham. “Aye, I daresay she would, but she’ll not get the chance, I assure ye, girl. The instant I heard about the woman, I planted chamomile and holly round the door. Nay witch will set foot in our house, I can tell you!”
Bree felt Roger’s hand on her arm and gave him a cold side-eye. She wasn’t about to lose her temper with this woman. His mouth twitched briefly and he let go, turning not to Mrs. Cunningham but to the captain.
“As I said,” he said, pleasantly, “I’ve not come to proselytize. I’m a respecter of sincere belief. I am curious, though—one of my neighbors mentioned the term ‘Blue Light,’ in reference to you and your family, Captain. I wonder if ye’d be willing to tell me the meaning?”
“Ah,” said the captain, sounding cautiously pleased to be asked something that his mother couldn’t take issue with. “Well, sir, as you ask—it’s the term by which such naval captains as promote the theology of evangelization upon their ships are known. ‘Blue Lights,’ they call us.” He spoke modestly, but his head was proudly raised, as was his chin. His eyes—a paler version of his mother’s—were wary, wondering how Roger might take this.
Roger smiled. “Are ye a theologian of sorts yourself, then, sir?”
“Oh,” said the captain, preening slightly. “I wouldn’t put it so high, but I
written the occasional piece—just my own thoughts on the matter, d’ye see…”
“Are any of them published, sir? I should be most interested to read your views.”
“Oh, well…two or three…just small things…of no great merit, I daresay…were published by Bell and Coxham, in Edinburgh. I’m afraid I’ve no copies with me here”—he glanced at a small, rough table in the corner that bore a small stack of paper along with an inkwell, sander, and jar of quills—“but I
at work upon an endeavor of somewhat larger scale…”
“A book, then?”
Roger sounded honestly interested—probably he actually was, Bree thought—but Mrs. Cunningham was plainly growing impatient with this amiability and meant to nip the conversation in the bud before Roger could seduce the captain into blasphemy or worse.
“The fact remains, Captain, that this gentleman’s good-mother is widely kent to be a witch, and likely his wife is one as well. Send them on their way. We’ve nay interest in their pretensions.”
Roger swung round to face her and drew himself up to his full height, which meant his head nearly brushed the rooftree.
“Mrs. Cunningham,” he said, still polite but letting a bit of steel show through. “I beg ye’ll consider that I
a minister of God. My wife’s beliefs—and her parents’—are as virtuous and moral as those of any good Christian, and I’ll swear to as much with my hand on your own Bible, if ye like.” He nodded at the tiny shelf over the desk, where a Bible took pride of place in a row of smaller books.
“Mmphm,” said the captain with a narrow-eyed glance at his mother. “I’m just away to call my two lads down from the field, sir—lieutenants from my last ship, who chose to come with me when I came ashore. I’ll walk you and your lady to the head of the path, if you’ll bear me company that far?”
“Thank you, Captain.” Bree seized the chance of getting a word in sideways and curtsied deeply to the captain and again—with as much face as she could manage—to Mrs. Cunningham. “Do please remember that my mother will come at once, ma’am, if you have any sort of…emergency.”
Mrs. Cunningham seemed to expand in several directions at once.
“Do ye dare threaten me, girl?”
“D’ye see what ye’ve let in the house, Captain?” Mrs. Cunningham ignored Brianna and glowered at her son. “The lass means to ill-wish us!”
“We have a few more calls to make,” Roger interjected hastily. “Will ye allow me to bless your house with a wee prayer before we leave, sir?”
“Why—” The captain glanced at his mother, then drew himself up, chin set. “Yes, sir. We should be most obliged to you.”
Brianna saw Mrs. Cunningham’s lips shaped to say “Phut!” again, but Roger hastily forestalled her, raising his hands slightly and bowing his head in benediction.
“May God bless the dwelling,
Each stone, and beam, and stave,
All food, and drink, and clothing.
May health of men be always here.”
“Good day to ye, sir, madam,” he added quickly, and, bowing, grabbed Brianna’s hand. She hadn’t time to say anything—
just as well,
she thought—but smiled and nodded to the basilisk as they backed out of the door.
“So now we know what Blue Light means,” she said, casting a ginger glance behind them as they reached the end of the path. “As Mama says…Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!”
“Apt,” Roger said, laughing.
“Was that a Hogmanay prayer?” she asked. “It sounded kind of familiar, but I wasn’t sure…”
“It is—and a house-blessing. Ye’ve heard your da say it a few times, but he does it in the Gaelic. The Cunninghams are educated Lowlanders, from their accent; if I’d tried the Gaelic version, Mrs. C. might well have thought I was trying to put a spell on them.”
“Weren’t you?” She said it lightly, but he turned his head to her, surprised.
“Well…in a way, I suppose so,” he said slowly, but then smiled. “Highland charms and prayers often aren’t distinguishable from each other. But I think if you address God directly, then it’s probably a prayer, rather than witchcraft.”
She glanced over her shoulder once more, with the feeling that Mrs. Cunningham’s eyes were burning a hole through the door of the cabin, watching their retreat.
“Do Presbyterians believe in exorcism?” she asked.
“No, we don’t,” he said, though he also looked back. “My father—the Reverend, I mean—did tell me, though, that when you go visiting, you should never leave a house without offering a blessing of some kind.” He held back a springy oak branch so she could duck beneath it. “He did add that it might keep things from following you home—but I
he was joking.”
I WAS WORKING
my way down the creek bank, collecting leeches, watercress, and anything else that looked either edible or useful, when I heard a distant sound of wagon wheels.
Thinking that this might be the tinker Jo Beardsley had mentioned to Germain, I hastily shook down my skirts, shoved my feet back into my sandals, and hurried toward the wagon trace, where the rumbling of wheels had been suddenly replaced by a good deal of bad language.
This proved to be coming from a very large man, who was excoriating his mules, the wagon, and the wheel that had just hit a rock and sprung its iron tyre. He lacked Jamie’s creativity in cursing but was making up for it in volume.
“May I help you, sir?” I asked, seizing a moment when he’d paused for breath.
He swung round, astonished.
“Where the devil did
come from?” he asked.
I gestured toward the trees behind me, and repeated, “Do you need help?” Closer to the wagon, it was apparent that he wasn’t the tinker. The wagon—drawn by two very large mules—held a variety of things, but not iron pans and hair ribbons. There were half a dozen muskets lying in the wagon bed, together with a small collection of swords, scythes, and staves. A few small barrels that
be salt fish or pork—and one that was most certainly gunpowder, both from its markings and from the faint scent of charcoal tinged with sulfur and urine.
My insides contracted.
“Is this Fraser’s Ridge?” the man demanded, looking at the woods around us. We were some way below the clearing where the Higginses’ cabin stood, and there was no sign of habitation other than the wagon trace, which was quite overgrown.
“It is,” I said, there being no point in lying. “Do you have business here?”
He looked sharply at me, and focused on me for the first time.
“My business is my own,” he said, though not impolitely. “I’m looking for Jamie Fraser.”
“I’m Mrs. Fraser,” I said, folding my arms. “His business is mine.”
His face flushed and he glowered at me, as though thinking I was practicing upon him, but I gave him stare for stare and after a moment, he gave a sort of barking laugh and relaxed.
“Will you fetch your husband, then, or will I come and find him?”
“Whom shall I say is calling?” I asked, not moving.
“Benjamin Cleveland,” he said, swelling a bit with a sense of his own importance. “He’ll know the name.”
JAMIE LAID THE
last brick in the course and trimmed the mortar with a small feeling of satisfaction—mingled with a mild dismay at the realization that tomorrow’s work on the chimney would need to be done with a ladder; this was as high as he could reach, without. His shoulders were complaining; the thought of his knees joining in made him stretch his back and sigh.
Aye, well, maybe my bonnie lass can help wi’ that.
Brianna had said something to him the first night they’d come. She’d followed him through the building site, the two of them stumbling over rocks and strings and laughing as though they were drunk, bumping shoulders and grasping elbows to keep their balance in the dark. Each fleeting touch a spark that warmed him.
“I can make a movable frame with a pulley.”
That’s what she’d said, putting a hand on the half-built chimney.
“We can hoist up a bucket of bricks you can reach from the ladder.”
“We,” he said softly, smiling to himself. Then looked over his shoulder, self-conscious, lest the men carrying logs should have heard him. But they’d laid down the last one and paused for refreshment—Amy Higgins and Fanny had brought beer, and he dropped the trowel in a bucket of water and went to join them. Just before he reached the edge of the foundation, though, his eye caught a flicker of movement at the head of the wagon road, and the next instant Claire came into sight, dwarfed by the man who walked beside her.