Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone (86 page)

BOOK: Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone
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MORE ENTERTAINING THAN LAUNDRY

BRIANNA PULLED THE LEVER—
Da had been right; it did take a good bit of force—and watched the paper flatten on the inked type. She realized she was holding her breath, and let it out deliberately as she pushed the bar back. Marsali raised the frame and smiled at the page with its clear black letters.

“There ye are,” she said, with a nod to Brianna. “Never a smudge. Ye’re a natural.”

“Oh, I bet you say that to all the printer’s devils.” Notwithstanding, Brianna felt a faint glow of accomplishment. “This is fun.”

“Well, it is,” Marsali agreed, peeling the paper off and carrying it carefully to the cords that crisscrossed one side of the room, where fresh sheets were hung for drying. “The first hundred times or so. After that…” She was already laying a fresh sheet of paper in place. “It’s still more entertaining than laundry, I’ll say that much.”

“And you with a nearly grown son
and
a husband who’s an ex-pickpocket. I’ve seen some entertaining laundry, turning out men’s pockets…Jem had a dead mouse in his, just day before yesterday. He
said
it was dead when he picked it up,” she added darkly, pulling the bar again. “Speaking of laundry—do you know where Roger and Fergus have gone? I’ve just brushed and sponged Roger’s black suit so he can wear it this afternoon, to talk to the elders, but he needs to be back in time to change.”

Marsali shook her head.

“I heard Fergus say something about ‘milord’s guns’ to Roger Mac, but nothin’ about where he meant to find them.”

Bree’s heart gave a quick bump at the word
“guns.”

“I hope Fergus doesn’t get Roger defrocked before he’s even ordained,” she said lightly, hoping it sounded as though she were joking.

“Dinna fash,” Marsali said comfortably, stretching up to hang another freshly printed sheet. “Protestant ministers dinna wear frocks to start with.” They both laughed, and the fresh sheet, caught by a breeze from the door, suddenly wavered, came loose, and doubled on itself, just as Bree pulled the lever.

“Horsefeathers!” she said.

Marsali leaned over and plucked the crumpled damp sheet out of its frame with two fingers.

“There’s one for the kindling,” she remarked, dropping it into a large basket, half full of ruined sheets. “Does it ever seem strange to ye, to be marrit to a priest?”

“Well…yes. I mean, I sort of didn’t expect that. Not that I
mind,
” she added hastily. “I mean, it’s not as though he was going to be a—a—”

“Thief?” Marsali suggested, and her smile widened. “I kent what Fergus was from the start—he told me—and it didna matter a bit. I’d have had him if he’d said he was a highwayman and murdered folk on the road for their coin.”

Brianna thought her mother had mentioned that Fergus
had
been a highwayman at one point, but it seemed more tactful not to say so. After all, he wasn’t doing that now—so far as she knew.

“Mind,” Marsali said, drawing a new sheet of paper from its quire and sliding it into the press, “I was no but fifteen at the time, and besides, he was helpin’ Da, and I didna mind
him
bein’ whatever he was. Ken, now I know what the two o’ them were doing in Edinburgh, I’m no sure it wouldna be safer for him to have kept on smuggling liquor, instead of carryin’ on with the printing. Though I suppose either one can get a man hanged, these days.”

The press was a solid thing, but the satisfying thump when she pulled the lever sent a vibration through metal and wood and straight down her backbone.

“We call that the devil’s tail, did ye ken that?” Marsali said, nodding at the lever. A peep from the twins’ big cradle by the hearth made both women glance at it, suspending their motions for an instant, but no further noise came, and they resumed the rhythm of their work.

Marsali smiled when Félicité ran in from the backyard, apron strings flying and full of giggles, closely pursued by a red-faced Joanie, shouting things in a mix of French and Gaelic, and Mandy, screeching happily as she brought up the rear. They disappeared through the front door into the street, and Marsali shook her head.

“Dinna ask questions ye dinna want to hear the answer to,” she said in reply to Brianna’s unspoken look. “Nobody’s bleedin’ and I dinna think the house is afire. Yet.”

“Da told me the ink pads are made of dog skin,” Brianna said, obligingly changing the subject. “Is that true?”

“It is, aye. Ken dogs dinna sweat?”

“Yes. Lucky dogs.” She was sweating freely, as was Marsali. Even though it was September, the air was thick as a sodden blanket, and her shift clung to her like glue.

“Well, so. Ye’ve got wee pores in your skin, what the sweat comes out of, and since dogs dinna sweat, they havena got those, so the skin is finer and smoother, so better for puttin’ the ink on.”

Brianna turned one of the big ink-stained buffing pads over to look, though having never seen an implement made of human skin, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to tell the difference. The thought made a ripple of gooseflesh break out on her forearms, though.

“It’s important?” Marsali asked, fixing the fresh page in place. “This meeting Roger’s going to? I mean—he’s been ministering to folk for some time now, on the Ridge—surely they wouldna make him stop?”

“Well, I do hope not,” Brianna said dubiously. “The thing is, though, last time they just made him a Minister of the Word, and that means he was supposed to be able to christen babies and bury people—and he’s certainly been doing that. He was all set to be ordained, but then…things happened. Technically, he probably shouldn’t have been marrying people, but he did it—I mean, there was no one else to do it, and if he didn’t, they—the people who wanted to be married—would just be…er…living in sin. So he did.

“But they
had
sort of passed him, last time; he
did
qualify to be a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. It’s just that he missed being properly ordained because Stephen Bonnet kidnapped me. And he, um…” She felt an unpleasant feeling rising under her skin, something hot and cold together. Roger had told her—once—about the man he’d killed, but had never mentioned it again. Nor had she.

“I remember,” Marsali said, with sympathy. “But I dinna see how helping catch a villain like that would make Roger Mac no fit to be a minister.”

“Well, I’m sure they’ll see it that way, too.”
They’d better,
she thought fiercely. She had a lurking fear that a Catholic wife might prove to be a bigger impediment to Roger’s ordination than Stephen Bonnet’s affair had been. On the other hand, Roger
had
told the first presbytery about her, and while they’d hemmed and hawed quite a bit, they’d finally decided that being married to a Catholic was not
quite
as bad as having a wife who was a known murderess or a working prostitute. She smiled a little at the thought.

Their eventual acceptance had been accomplished by the persuasion of Davy Campbell, who had a certain fondness for her and Roger, he having married them, and then having taught Roger at his famous “log college,” to fill in the gaps in his classical education. But Davy was
at
his college in North Carolina, and thus of little use in the present situation beyond the letter of support he’d sent.

If she was honest, though, she was less worried about the elders than about her own ability to be a good wife for a minister. So far, it had been mostly all right; she could keep Roger fed, clothed, and with a roof over his head, but beyond that…what kind of help could she give him?

“Ye can stop now,
a nighean.

“What?” Absorbed in her thoughts, she’d been working the press like an automaton. Looking up, she saw the lines overhead thick with fresh pages, and Marsali smiling as she reached across the bed of the press to pull out the sticks of type.

“We’re done wi’ the first page. Why don’t ye go and see if the weans have killed each other, while I set the next one? And bring me some beer while ye’re at it, aye?”

A SWORD IN MY HAND

ROGER RETURNED TO THE
printshop to find both his wife and Marsali covered with ink and enmeshed in a cobweb of drying pages hung from the crisscrossing lines strung across the back of the shop. Brianna made to remove her inky apron in order to come and help him dress, but he waved her back and climbed the ladder to the loft, where he found his suit—somewhat worn at the edges and with the corner of the pocket darned, but definitely black—and a clean, starched, brand-new white neckcloth hanging from a hook under the owl-slits.

He dressed slowly and carefully, listening to the women’s talk and laughter down below, and the high-pitched echo of the three little girls, who were playing in the kitchen whilst keeping an eye on their baby brothers. It gave him a sense of warmth and tenderness, and a sudden longing for a home of their own.
When we get back to the Ridge,
he thought,
maybe…

It had suited everyone’s convenience to live together in the New House after their return, and it was a lot easier to take care of kids when there were older children and other adults around to help—but maybe once he
was
ordained…And at the thought, he superstitiously crossed his fingers, then laughed to himself.

But it might be best. A large part of what he’d be doing would be talking to people, and while he still meant to go round house-visiting on the Ridge, he should have a place, maybe, with a wee room for a study, where he could talk to folk in private, and where he could keep records of births and marriages and deaths…

Thinking about the distant future lessened his apprehension of the more immediate future, and he came down the ladder briskly, just as the bell of a nearby church struck two.

“You’re early,” Brianna observed, pausing to wipe sweat from her forehead. “You look great, though!”

“Aye, ye do,” Marsali chimed in. “Just like a minister—only better-looking. All the Presbyterian ministers I know are auld and crabbit and smell like camphor.”

“They do?” Roger asked, amused. “How many do you know?”

“Well, one,” she admitted. “And he’s ninety-seven. But still—”

“Don’t get too close. You don’t have another clean shirt.” But Brianna still came within touching distance, and hands safely crossed behind her back, leaned far out to kiss him.

“Good luck,” she said, and smiled into his eyes. “It will be fine.”

“Aye. Thanks,” he said, meaning it, and smiled back. “I—think I’ll just sit outside for a bit. Gather my thoughts.”

“That’s good,” Marsali said approvingly. “If ye went walkin’ about for an hour, ye’d be wringing wet by the time ye got there.”

HE’D BEEN SITTING
on one of the two benches outside—the one under the patchy shade of a palmetto—for a quarter of an hour, trying hard
not
to think too much, when Jem came wandering along the street, idly poking at things with the stick in his hand.

When he saw his father, though, he dropped the stick and came to sit beside him, swinging his feet. They sat together for a bit, just listening to the buzz of cicadas and the shouts of fishmongers from a distant pier.

“Dad,” Jem said, diffident.

“Aye?”

“Will you be different? After you get ordained?” Jem looked up at this, worry pinching the corners of his wide, soft mouth.
God, he looks like Bree.

“No, mate,” Roger said. “I’ll always be your dad, no matter what. And I’ll still be just me,” he added, as an afterthought.

“Oh. Well, I didn’t think ye’d
stop,
exactly…” A smile touched Jem’s face like a stray sunbeam. “It’s only…what’s different? Because if
nothing’s
different—why do you want to do it? Why is it important?”

“Ah.” Roger leaned back a little, hands on his knees. The truth was that he rather expected to
be
different in some indefinable way, even though he also knew with certainty that he’d be the same.

“Well,” he said slowly, “part of it is that it’s formal. You ken Mairi and Archie MacLean back home at the Ridge, aye?”

“Aye.” Jem was eyeing him dubiously, wondering if this was going to make sense. Roger wondered that, too, but it was a legitimate question—and one that he thought might need answering more than once.

“Well, see, we had their wedding at Easter, but they came to it with their wee son, who was born in the autumn of last year. So they’d been living as man and wife for more than a year, even though they weren’t married.”

“Were they no handfast?” Jem’s brow wrinkled, trying to recollect.

“Aye, they were. That’s sort of my point. They made a contract with each other when they became handfast. Ye understand contracts?”

“Oh, aye. Grandda showed me the land deed the old governor gave him for the Ridge, and he explained why that was a contract. Two…er…parties? I think that’s what he said. The parties promise each other something and sign their names to it.”

“Ye’ve got it.” Roger smiled and was happy to get a smile back in return. “So then. Mairi and Archie had that contract, though it wasn’t written down, and what it said—have ye seen anyone get handfast? No? Well, when two people are handfast, they promise to live together as man and wife for a year and a day, and to—do the things a man and wife do, in the way of taking care of each other. And that’s a contract between them.
But…
when the year and a day are up, then they can decide if they want to go on living as man and wife or if they can’t abide each other and want to go their separate ways.

“So if they want to stay with each other…they do, but if there’s a minister at hand to marry them, they do that, and it’s the same sort of contract, but more…detailed…and it’s permanent. They promise to
stay
married.”

“Oh, is that what that means, ‘ ’til death us do part’?”

“Exactly.”

Jem was silent for a moment, turning this over in his mind. In the distance, a church bell rang twice and then was silent: the half-hour bell.

“So ye’ve been handfast to the Presbyterians and now ye’re going to marry them?” Jem asked, frowning a little. “Will Mam not mind?”

“No, she doesn’t,” Roger assured him, hoping it was true.

Another example occurred to him.

“Ye’ve seen your grandda ride out with his men now and then, aye?”

“Oh, aye!” Jem’s eyes grew bright at the recollection. “He says I can go with them when I’m thirteen!”

Roger swallowed his automatic
“the hell you will,”
and cleared his throat instead. Jamie Fraser had gone on his first cattle raid at the age of eight; in his view of life, as long as the boy’s feet reached the stirrups, why shouldn’t a thirteen-year-old be capable of keeping public order, socializing with Indians, and facing down Loyalist militias?

He’s got to learn sometime,
he could hear Jamie saying, with that mild tone that belied the stubborn conviction behind the words.
Better early than too late.

“Mmphm. Well. Ye’ve seen when they ride out, your grandda lifts his sword or his rifle as the signal to start?”

Jem nodded enthusiastically, and Roger was obliged to admit that seeing Jamie do that sent a small thrill down his own spine.

“Well, see, that’s the signal that the men are to follow him and go where he leads them. If they come to a place where they need to go in a certain direction, quickly, he’ll draw his sword and point it in the way they should go, so they can all follow at once and not get lost.

“He’s still just who he is—your grandda, and your mam’s father, and a good man—but he’s also got to be a leader, and when he does that, he wears his leather waistcoat and he has his sword in his hand, so everyone
knows
he’s the leader. He doesna have to stop and explain it to anybody.”

Jem nodded again, listening intently.

“So, that’s sort of what it’s like for me to be ordained. Folk will know that I’m…a sort of leader. Being ordained is—my sword, in a way.”
And with luck, they might pay attention to what I tell them, now and then…

“Ohh…” Jem said, understanding dawning. “I see.”

“Good.” He wanted to pat Jem on the head, but instead shook his hand briefly and squeezed it, then rose. “I’ll need to be off now, but I’ll be back by suppertime.”

The smell of gumbo full of shrimp and oysters and sausage was seeping out of the printshop, oddly mixed with the smells of ink and metal, but enough to stir the gastric juices nonetheless.

“Dad?” Jem said, and Roger turned to look over his shoulder.

“Aye?”

“I think they should give you a real sword. You might need one.”

BOOK: Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone
11.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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