Read Outlander Novella [01] The Space Between Online

Authors: Diana Gabaldon

Tags: #Historical, #Fantasy, #Romance

Outlander Novella [01] The Space Between (7 page)

BOOK: Outlander Novella [01] The Space Between
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That thought made him smile. He didn’t know what she was—the talk near Lallybroch painted her as everything from a witch to an angel, with most of the opinion hovering cautiously around “faerie,” for the Auld Ones were dangerous, and you didn’t talk too much about them—but he liked her. So did Da and Young Ian, and that counted for a lot. And Uncle Jamie, of course—though everyone said, very matter-of-fact, that Uncle Jamie was bewitched. He smiled wryly at that. Aye, if being mad in love with your wife was bewitchment.

If anyone outside the family kent what she’d told them—he cut that thought short. It wasn’t something he’d forget, but it wasn’t something he wanted to think about just yet, either. The gutters of Paris running with blood … He glanced down involuntarily, but the gutters were full of the usual assortment of animal and human sewage, dead rats, and bits of rubbish too far gone to be salvaged for food even by the street beggars.

He walked, making his way slowly through the crowded streets, past La Chapelle and the
Tuileries. If he walked enough, sometimes he could fall asleep without too much wine.

He sighed, elbowing his way through a group of buskers outside a tavern, turning back toward the Rue Trémoulins. Some days, his head was like a bramble patch: thorns catching at him no matter which way he turned, and no path leading out of the tangle.

Paris wasn’t a large city, but it was a complicated one; there was always somewhere else to walk. He crossed the Place de la Corcorde, thinking of what Claire had told them, seeing there in his mind the tall shadow of a terrible machine.

* * *

Joan had had her dinner with Mother Hildegarde, a lady so ancient and holy that Joan had feared to breathe too heavily, lest Mother Hildegarde fragment like a stale croissant and go straight off to heaven in front of her. Mother Hildegarde had been delighted with the letter Joan had delivered, though; it brought a faint flush to her face.

“From my … er …” Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, what was the French word for “stepmother”? “Ahh … the wife of my …” Fittens, she didn’t know the word for “stepfather,” either! “The wife of my father,” she ended weakly.

“You are the daughter of my good friend Claire!” Mother had exclaimed. “And how is she?”

“Bonny, er … 
bon
, I mean, last I saw her,” said Joan, and then tried to explain, but there was a lot of French being spoken very fast, and she gave up and accepted the glass of wine that Mother Hildegarde offered her. She was going to be a sot long before she took her vows, she thought, trying to hide her flushed face by bending down to pat Mother’s wee dog, a fluffy, friendly creature the color of burnt sugar, named Bouton.

Whether it was the wine or Mother’s kindness, her wobbly spirit steadied. Mother had welcomed her to the community and kissed her forehead at the end of the meal, before sending her off in the charge of Sister Eustacia to see the convent.

Now she lay on her narrow cot in the dormitory, listening to the breathing of a dozen other postulants. It sounded like a byre full of cows and had much the same warm, humid scent—bar the manure. Her eyes filled with tears, the vision of the homely stone byre at Balriggan sudden and vivid in her mind. She swallowed them back, though, pinching her lips together. A few of the girls sobbed quietly, missing home and family, but she wouldn’t be one of them. She was older than most—a few were nay more than fourteen—and she’d promised God to be brave.

It hadn’t been bad during the afternoon. Sister Eustacia had been very kind, taking her
and a couple of other new postulants round the walled estate, showing them the big gardens where the convent grew medicinal herbs and fruit and vegetables for the table, the chapel where devotions were held six times a day, plus Mass in the mornings, the stables and kitchens, where they would take turns working—and the great Hôpital des Anges, the order’s main work. They had only seen the
hôpital
from the outside, though; they would see the inside tomorrow, when Sister Marie-Amadeus would explain their duties.

It was strange, of course—she still understood only half what people said to her and was sure from the looks on their faces that they understood much less of what she tried to say to
them
—but wonderful. She loved the spiritual discipline, the hours of devotion, with the sense of peace and unity that came upon the sisters as they chanted and prayed together. Loved the simple beauty of the chapel, amazing in its clean elegance, the solid lines of granite and the grace of carved wood, a faint smell of incense in the air, like the breath of angels.

The postulants prayed with the others but did not yet sing. They would be trained in music—such excitement! Mother Hildegarde had been a famous musician in her youth, it was rumored, and considered it one of the most important forms of devotion.

The thought of the new things she’d seen, and the new things to come, distracted her mind—a little—from thoughts of her mother’s voice, the wind off the moors, the … She shoved these hastily away and reached for her new rosary, this a substantial thing with smooth wooden beads, lovely and comforting in the fingers.

Above all, there was peace. She hadn’t heard a word from the voices, hadn’t seen anything peculiar or alarming. She wasn’t foolish enough to think she’d escaped her dangerous gift, but at least there might be help at hand if—when—it came back.

And at least she already knew enough Latin to say her rosary properly; Da had taught her.
“Ave, Maria,”
she whispered,
“gratia plena, Dominus tecum,”
and closed her eyes, the sobs of the homesick fading in her ears as the beads moved slow and silent through her fingers.

Next day

Michael Murray stood in the aisle of the aging shed, feeling puny and unreal. He’d waked with a terrible headache, the result of having drunk a great deal of mixed spirits on an empty stomach, and while the headache had receded to a dull throb at the back of his skull, it had left him feeling trampled and left for dead. His cousin Jared, owner of Fraser
et Cie
, looked at him with the cold eye of long experience, shook his head and sighed deeply, but said nothing, merely taking the list from his nerveless fingers and beginning the count on his own.

He wished Jared had rebuked him. Everyone still tiptoed round him, careful of him. And like a wet dressing on a wound, their care kept the wound of Lillie’s loss open and weeping. The
sight of Léonie didn’t help, either—so much like Lillie to look at, so different in character. She said they must help and comfort each other and, to that end, came to visit every other day, or so it seemed. He really wished she would … just go away, though the thought shamed him.

“How’s the wee nun, then?” Jared’s voice, dry and matter-of-fact as always, drew him out of his bruised and soggy thoughts. “Give her a good send-off to the convent?”

“Aye. Well—aye. More or less.” Michael mustered up a feeble smile. He didn’t really want to think about Sister Gregory this morning, either.

“What did ye give her?” Jared handed the checklist to Humberto, the Italian shed-master, and looked Michael over appraisingly. “I hope it wasna the new Rioja that did that to ye.”

“Ah … no.” Michael struggled to focus his attention. The heady atmosphere of the shed, thick with the fruity exhalations of the resting casks, was making him dizzy. “It was Moselle. Mostly. And a bit of rum punch.”

“Oh, I see.” Jared’s ancient mouth quirked up on one side. “Did I never tell ye not to mix wine wi’ rum?”

“Not above two hundred times, no.” Jared was moving, and Michael followed him perforce down the narrow aisle, the casks in their serried ranks rising high above on either side.

“Rum’s a demon. But whisky’s a virtuous dram,” Jared said, pausing by a rack of small blackened casks. “So long as it’s a good make, it’ll never turn on ye. Speakin’ of which”—he tapped the end of one cask, which gave off the resonant deep
thunk
of a full barrel—“what’s this? It came up from the docks this morning.”

“Oh, aye.” Michael stifled a belch and smiled painfully. “That, cousin, is the Ian Alastair Robert MacLeod Murray memorial
uisge baugh
. My da and Uncle Jamie made it during the winter. They thought ye might like a wee cask for your personal use.”

Jared’s brows rose and he gave Michael a swift sideways glance. Then he turned back to examine the cask, bending close to sniff at the seam between the lid and staves.

“I’ve tasted it,” Michael assured him. “I dinna think it will poison ye. But ye should maybe let it age a few years.”

Jared made a rude noise in his throat, and his hand curved gently over the swell of the staves. He stood thus for a moment as though in benediction, then turned suddenly and took Michael into his arms. His own breathing was hoarse, congested with sorrow. He was years older than Da and Uncle Jamie but had known the two of them all their lives.

“I’m sorry for your faither, lad,” he said after a moment, and let go, patting Michael on the shoulder. He looked at the cask and sniffed deeply. “I can tell it will be fine.” He paused, breathing slowly, then nodded once, as though making up his mind to something.

“I’ve a thing in mind,
a charaid
. I’d been thinking, since ye went to Scotland—and now that we’ve a kinswoman in the church, so to speak … Come back to the office with me, and I’ll
tell ye.”

* * *

It was chilly in the street, but the goldsmith’s back room was cozy as a womb, with a porcelain stove throbbing with heat and woven wool hangings on the walls. Rakoczy hastily unwound the comforter about his neck. It didn’t do to sweat indoors; the sweat chilled the instant one went out again, and next thing you knew, it would be
la grippe
at the best, pleurisy or pneumonia at the worst.

Rosenwald himself was comfortable in shirt and waistcoat, without even a wig, only a plum-colored turban to keep his polled scalp warm. The goldsmith’s stubby fingers traced the curves of the octofoil salver, turned it over—and stopped dead. Rakoczy felt the tingle of warning at the base of his spine and deliberately relaxed himself, affecting a nonchalant self-confidence.

“Where did you get this, monsieur, if I may ask?” Rosenwald looked up at him, but there was no accusation in the goldsmith’s aged face—only a wary excitement.

“It was an inheritance,” Rakoczy said, glowing with earnest innocence. “An elderly aunt left it—and a few other pieces—to me. Is it worth anything more than the value of the silver?”

The goldsmith opened his mouth, then shut it, glancing at Rakoczy. Was he honest? Rakoczy wondered with interest.
He’s already told me it’s something special. Will he tell me why, in hopes of getting other pieces? Or lie, to get this one cheap?
Rosenwald had a good reputation, but he was a Jew.

“Paul de Lamerie,” Rosenwald said reverently, his index finger tracing the hallmark. “This was made by Paul de Lamerie.”

A shock ran up Rakoczy’s backbone.
Merde!
He’d brought the wrong one!

“Really?” he said, striving for simple curiosity. “Does that mean something?”

It means I’m a fool
, he thought, and wondered whether to snatch the thing back and leave instantly. The goldsmith had carried it away, though, to look at it more closely under the lamp.

“De Lamerie was one of the very best goldsmiths ever to work in London—perhaps in the world,” Rosenwald said, half to himself.

“Indeed,” Rakoczy said politely. He was sweating freely.
Nom d’une pipe!
Wait, though—Rosenwald had said “was.” De Lamerie was dead, then, thank God. Perhaps the Duke of Sandringham, from whom he’d stolen the salver, was dead, too? He began to breathe more easily.

He never sold anything identifiable within a hundred years of his acquisition of it; that
was his principle. He’d taken the other salver from a rich merchant in a game of cards in the Low Countries in 1630; he’d stolen this one in 1745—much too close for comfort. Still …

His thoughts were interrupted by the chime of the silver bell over the door, and he turned to see a young man come in, removing his hat to reveal a startling head of dark-red hair. He was dressed
à la mode
and addressed the goldsmith in perfect Parisian French, but he didn’t look French. A long-nosed face with faintly slanted eyes. There was a slight sense of familiarity about that face, yet Rakoczy was sure he’d never seen this man before.

“Please, sir, go on with your business,” the young man said with a courteous bow. “I meant no interruption.”

“No, no,” Rakoczy said, stepping forward. He motioned the young man toward the counter. “Please, go ahead. Monsieur Rosenwald and I are merely discussing the value of this object. It will take some thought.” He snaked out an arm and seized the salver, feeling a little better with it clasped to his bosom. He wasn’t sure; if he decided it was too risky to sell, he could slink out quietly while Rosenwald was busy with the redheaded young man.

The Jew looked surprised but, after a moment’s hesitation, nodded and turned to the young man, who introduced himself as one Michael Murray, partner in Fraser
et Cie
, the wine merchants.

“I believe you are acquainted with my cousin Jared Fraser?”

Rosenwald’s round face lighted at once. “Oh, to be sure, sir! A man of the most exquisite taste and discrimination. I made him a wine cistern with a motif of sunflowers, not a year past!”

“I know.” The young man smiled, a smile that creased his cheeks and narrowed his eyes, and that small bell of recognition rang again. But the name held no familiarity to Rakoczy—only the face, and that only vaguely.

“My uncle has another commission for you, if it’s agreeable?”

“I never say no to honest work, monsieur.” From the pleasure apparent on the goldsmith’s rubicund face, honest work that paid very well was even more welcome.

“Well, then—if I may?” The young man pulled a folded paper from his pocket but half-turned toward Rakoczy, eyebrow cocked in inquiry. Rakoczy motioned him to go on and turned himself to examine a music box that stood on the counter—an enormous thing the size of a cow’s head, crowned with a nearly naked nymph festooned with the airiest of gold draperies and dancing on mushrooms and flowers, in company with a large frog.

BOOK: Outlander Novella [01] The Space Between
12.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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