Authors: Diana Gabaldon
She didn’t speak for a long time. Her gaze fixed on Brianna and lingered there for a moment, then returned to Roger’s face.
“Yes,” she said, in a whisper so soft he could barely hear her. “Yes. Find out for me. Please. Find out.”
May 9, 1968
The foot traffic was heavy on the bridge over the River Ness, with folk streaming home to their teas. Roger moved in front of me, his wide shoulders protecting me from the buffets of the crowd around us.
I could feel my heart beating heavily against the stiff cover of the book I was clutching to my chest. It did that whenever I paused to think what we were truly doing. I wasn’t sure which of the two possible alternatives was worse; to find that Jamie had died at Culloden, or to find that he hadn’t.
The boards of the bridge echoed hollowly underfoot, as we trudged back toward the manse. My arms ached from the weight of the books I carried, and I shifted the load from one side to the other.
“Watch your bloody wheel, man!” Roger shouted, nudging me adroitly to the side, as a workingman on a bicycle plowed head-downward through the bridge traffic, nearly running me against the railing.
“Sorry!” came back the apologetic shout, and the rider gave a wave of the hand over his shoulder, as the bike wove its way between two groups of schoolchildren, coming home for their teas. I glanced back across the bridge, in case Brianna should be visible behind us, but there was no sign of her.
Roger and I had spent the afternoon at the Society for the Preservation of Antiquities. Brianna had gone down to the Highland Clans office, there to collect photocopies of a list of documents Roger had compiled.
“It’s very kind of you to take all this trouble, Roger,” I said, raising my voice to be heard above the echoing bridge and the river’s rush.
“It’s all right,” he said, a little awkwardly, pausing for me to catch him up. “I’m curious,” he added, smiling a little. “You know historians—can’t leave a puzzle alone.” He shook his head, trying to brush the windblown dark hair out of his eyes without using his hands.
I did know historians. I’d lived with one for twenty years. Frank hadn’t wanted to leave this particular puzzle alone, either. But neither had he been willing to solve it. Frank had been dead for two years, though, and now it was my turn—mine and Brianna’s.
“Have you heard yet from Dr. Linklater?” I asked, as we came down the arch of the bridge. Late in the afternoon as it was, the sun was still high, so far north as we were. Caught among the leaves of the lime trees on the riverbank, it glowed pink on the granite cenotaph that stood below the bridge.
Roger shook his head, squinting against the wind. “No, but it’s been only a week since I wrote. If I don’t hear by the Monday, I’ll try telephoning. Don’t worry”—he smiled sideways at me—“I was very circumspect. I just told him that for purposes of a study I was making, I needed a list—if one existed—of the Jacobite officers who were in Leanach farmhouse after Culloden, and if any information exists as to the survivor of that execution, could he refer me to the original sources?”
“Do you know Linklater?” I asked, easing my left arm by tilting the books sideways against my hip.
“No, but I wrote my request on the Balliol College letterhead, and made tactful reference to Mr. Cheesewright, my old tutor, who does know Link-later.” Roger winked reassuringly, and I laughed.
His eyes were a brilliant, lucent green, bright against his olive skin. Curiosity might be his stated reason for helping us to find out Jamie’s history, but I was well aware that his interest went a good bit deeper—in the direction of Brianna. I also knew that the interest was returned. What I didn’t know was whether Roger realized that as well.
Back in the late Reverend Wakefield’s study, I dropped my armload of books on the table in relief, and collapsed into the wing chair by the hearth, while Roger went to fetch a glass of lemonade from the manse’s kitchen.
My breathing slowed as I sipped the tart sweetness, but my pulse stayed erratic, as I looked over the imposing stack of books we had brought back. Was Jamie in there somewhere? And if he was…my hands grew wet on the cold glass, and I choked the thought off. Don’t look too far ahead, I cautioned myself. Much better to wait, and see what we might find.
Roger was scanning the shelves in the study, in search of other possibilities. The Reverend Wakefield, Roger’s late adoptive father, had been both a good amateur historian, and a terrible pack rat; letters, journals, pamphlets and broadsheets, antique and contemporary volumes—all were crammed cheek by jowl together on the shelves.
Roger hesitated, then his hand fell on a stack of books sitting on the nearby table. They were Frank’s books—an impressive achievement, so far as I could tell by reading the encomiums printed on the dust jackets.
“Have you ever read this?” he asked, picking up the volume entitled The Jacobites.
“No,” I said. I took a restorative gulp of lemonade, and coughed. “No,” I said again. “I couldn’t.” After my return, I had resolutely refused to look at any material dealing with Scotland’s past, even though the eighteenth century had been one of Frank’s areas of specialty. Knowing Jamie dead, and faced with the necessity of living without him, I avoided anything that might bring him to mind. A useless avoidance—there was no way of keeping him out of my mind, with Brianna’s existence a daily reminder of him—but still, I could not read books about the Bonnie Prince—that terrible, futile young man—or his followers.
“I see. I just thought you might know whether there might be something useful in here.” Roger paused, the flush deepening over his cheekbones. “Did—er, did your husband—Frank, I mean,” he added hastily. “Did you tell him…um…about…” His voice trailed off, choked with embarrassment.
“Well, of course I did!” I said, a little sharply. “What did you think—I’d just stroll back into his office after being gone for three years and say, ‘Oh, hullo there, darling, and what would you like for supper tonight?’”
“No, of course not,” Roger muttered. He turned away, eyes fixed on the bookshelves. The back of his neck was deep red with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry,” I said, taking a deep breath. “It’s a fair question to ask. It’s only that it’s—a bit raw, yet.” A good deal more than a bit. I was both surprised and appalled to find just how raw the wound still was. I set the glass down on the table at my elbow. If we were going on with this, I was going to need something stronger than lemonade.
“Yes,” I said. “I told him. All about the stones—about Jamie. Everything.”
Roger didn’t reply for a moment. Then he turned, halfway, so that only the strong, sharp lines of his profile were visible. He didn’t look at me, but down at the stack of Frank’s books, at the back-cover photo of Frank, leanly dark and handsome, smiling for posterity.
“Did he believe you?” Roger asked quietly.
My lips felt sticky from the lemonade, and I licked them before answering.
“No,” I said. “Not at first. He thought I was mad; even had me vetted by a psychiatrist.” I laughed, shortly, but the memory made me clench my fists with remembered fury.
“Later, then?” Roger turned to face me. The flush had faded from his skin, leaving only an echo of curiosity in his eyes. “What did he think?”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. “I don’t know.”
The tiny hospital in Inverness smelled unfamiliar, like carbolic disinfectant and starch.
I couldn’t think, and tried not to feel. The return was much more terrifying than my venture into the past had been, for there, I had been shrouded by a protective layer of doubt and disbelief about where I was and what was happening, and had lived in constant hope of escape. Now I knew only too well where I was, and I knew that there was no escape. Jamie was dead.
The doctors and nurses tried to speak kindly to me, to feed me and bring me things to drink, but there was no room in me for anything but grief and terror. I had told them my name when they asked, but wouldn’t speak further.
I lay in the clean white bed, fingers clamped tight together over my vulnerable belly, and kept my eyes shut. I visualized over and over the last things I had seen before I stepped through the stones—the rainy moor and Jamie’s face—knowing that if I looked too long at my new surroundings, these sights would fade, replaced by mundane things like the nurses and the vase of flowers by my bed. I pressed one thumb secretly against the base of the other, taking an obscure comfort in the tiny wound there, a small cut in the shape of a J. Jamie had made it, at my demand—the last of his touch on my flesh.
I must have stayed that way for some time; I slept sometimes, dreaming of the last few days of the Jacobite Rising—I saw again the dead man in the wood, asleep beneath a coverlet of bright blue fungus, and Dougal MacKenzie dying on the floor of an attic in Culloden House; the ragged men of the Highland army, asleep in the muddy ditches; their last sleep before the slaughter.
I would wake screaming or moaning, to the scent of disinfectant and the sound of soothing words, incomprehensible against the echoes of Gaelic shouting in my dreams, and fall asleep again, my hurt clutched tight in the palm of my hand.
And then I opened my eyes and Frank was there. He stood in the door, smoothing back his dark hair with one hand, looking uncertain—and no wonder, poor man.
I lay back on the pillows, just watching him, not speaking. He had the look of his ancestors, Jack and Alex Randall; fine, clear, aristocratic features and a well-shaped head, under a spill of straight dark hair. His face had some indefinable difference from theirs, though, beyond the small differences of feature. There was no mark of fear or ruthlessness on him; neither the spirituality of Alex nor the icy arrogance of Jack. His lean face looked intelligent, kind, and slightly tired, unshaven and with smudges beneath his eyes. I knew without being told that he had driven all night to get here.
“Claire?” He came over to the bed, and spoke tentatively, as though not sure that I really was Claire.
I wasn’t sure either, but I nodded and said, “Hullo, Frank.” My voice was scratchy and rough, unaccustomed to speech.
He took one of my hands, and I let him have it.
“Are you…all right?” he said, after a minute. He was frowning slightly as he looked at me.
“I’m pregnant.” That seemed the important point, to my disordered mind. I had not thought of what I would say to Frank, if I ever saw him again, but the moment I saw him standing in the door, it seemed to come clear in my mind. I would tell him I was pregnant, he would leave, and I would be alone with my last sight of Jamie’s face, and the burning touch of him on my hand.
His face tightened a bit, but he didn’t let go of my other hand. “I know. They told me.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “Claire—can you tell me what happened to you?”
I felt quite blank for a moment, but then shrugged.
“I suppose so,” I said. I mustered my thoughts wearily; I didn’t want to be talking about it, but I had some feeling of obligation to this man. Not guilt, not yet; but obligation nonetheless. I had been married to him.
“Well,” I said, “I fell in love with someone else, and I married him. I’m sorry,” I added, in response to the look of shock that crossed his face, “I couldn’t help it.”
He hadn’t been expecting that. His mouth opened and closed for a bit and he gripped my hand, hard enough to make me wince and jerk it out of his grasp.
“What do you mean?” he said, his voice sharp. “Where have you been, Claire?” He stood up suddenly, looming over the bed.
“Do you remember that when I last saw you, I was going up to the stone circle on Craigh na Dun?”
“Yes?” He was staring down at me with an expression somewhere between anger and suspicion.
“Well”—I licked my lips, which had gone quite dry—“the fact is, I walked through a cleft stone in that circle, and ended up in 1743.”
“Don’t be facetious, Claire!”
“You think I’m being funny?” The thought was so absurd that I actually began to laugh, though I felt a good long way from real humor.
I quit laughing. Two nurses appeared at the door as though by magic; they must have been lurking in the hall nearby. Frank leaned over and grabbed my arm.
“Listen to me,” he said through his teeth. “You are going to tell me where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing!”
“I am telling you! Let go!” I sat up in bed and yanked at my arm, pulling it out of his grasp. “I told you; I walked through a stone and ended up two hundred years ago. And I met your bloody ancestor, Jack Randall, there!”
Frank blinked, entirely taken aback. “Who?”
“Black Jack Randall, and a bloody, filthy, nasty pervert he was, too!”
Frank’s mouth hung open, and so did the nurses’. I could hear feet coming down the corridor behind them, and hurried voices.
“I had to marry Jamie Fraser to get away from Jack Randall, but then—Jamie—I couldn’t help it, Frank, I loved him and I would have stayed with him if I could, but he sent me back because of Culloden, and the baby, and—” I broke off, as a man in a doctor’s uniform pushed past the nurses by the door.
“Frank,” I said tiredly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to happen, and I tried all I could to come back—really, I did—but I couldn’t. And now it’s too late.”
Despite myself, tears began to well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks. Mostly for Jamie, and myself, and the child I carried, but a few for Frank as well. I sniffed hard and swallowed, trying to stop, and pushed myself upright in the bed.
“Look,” I said, “I know you won’t want to have anything more to do with me, and I don’t blame you at all. Just—just go away, will you?”
His face had changed. He didn’t look angry anymore, but distressed, and slightly puzzled. He sat down by the bed, ignoring the doctor who had come in and was groping for my pulse.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said, quite gently. He took my hand again, though I tried to pull it away. “This—Jamie. Who was he?”
I took a deep, ragged breath. The doctor had hold of my other hand, still trying to take my pulse, and I felt absurdly panicked, as though I were being held captive between them. I fought down the feeling, though, and tried to speak steadily.