Drums of Autumn

Drums of Autumn

Page 22

“To this end, sir, there is established a system of land grants whereby a large acreage may be given to a gentleman of means, who will undertake to persuade a number of emigrants to come and settle upon a part of it under his sponsorship. This policy has been blessed with success over the last thirty years; a good many Highlanders and families from the Isles of Scotland have been induced to come and take up residence here. Why, when I arrived, I was astonished to find the banks of the Cape Fear River quite thick with MacNeills, Buchanans, Grahams, and Campbells!”

The Governor tasted his cigar again, but this time the barest nip; he was anxious to make his point.

“Yet there remains a great deal of desirable land to be settled, further inland toward the mountains. It is somewhat remote, and yet, as you say, for men accustomed to the far reaches of the Scottish Highlands—”

“I did hear mention of such grants, sir,” Jamie interrupted. “Yet is not the wording that persons holding such grants shall be white males, Protestant, and above thirty years of age? And this statement holds the force of law?”

“That is the official wording of the Act, yes.” Mr. Tryon turned so that I saw him now in profile, tapping the ash from his cigar into a small porcelain bowl. The corner of his mouth was turned up in anticipation; the face of a fisherman who feels the first twitch on his line.

“The offer is one of considerable interest,” Jamie said formally. “I must point out, however, that I am not a Protestant, nor are most of my kinsmen.”

The Governor pursed his lips in deprecation, lifting one brow.

“You are neither a Jew nor a Negro. I may speak as one gentleman to another, may I not? In all frankness, Mr. Fraser, there is the law, and then there is what is done.” He raised his glass with a small smile, setting the hook. “And I am convinced that you understand that as well as I do.”

“Possibly better,” Jamie murmured, with a polite smile.

The Governor shot him a sharp look, but then uttered a quick bark of laughter. He raised his brandy glass in acknowledgment, and took a sip.

“We understand each other, Mr. Fraser,” he said, nodding with satisfaction. Jamie inclined his head a fraction of an inch.

“There would be no difficulties raised, then, regarding the personal qualifications of those who might be persuaded to take up your offer?”

“None at all,” said the Governor, setting down his glass with a small thump. “Provided only that they are able-bodied men, capable of working the land, I ask nothing more. And what is not asked need not be told, eh?” One thin brow flicked up in query.

Jamie turned the glass in his hands, as though admiring the deep color of the liquid.

“Not all who passed through the Stuart Rising were so fortunate as myself, Your Excellency,” he said. “My foster son suffered the loss of his hand; another of my companions has but one arm. Yet they are men of good character and industry. I could not in conscience partake of a proposal which did not offer them some part.”

The Governor dismissed this with an expansive wave of the hand.

“Provided that they are able to earn their bread and will not prove a burden upon the community, they are welcome.” Then, as though fearing he had been incautious in his generosity, he sat up straight, leaving the cigar to burn, propped on the edge of the bowl.

“Since you mention Jacobites—these men will be required to swear an oath of loyalty to the Crown, if they have not already done so. If I might presume to ask, sir, as you imply you are Papist…you, yourself…”

Jamie’s eyes might have narrowed only against the sting of the smoke, but I didn’t think so. Neither did Governor Tryon, who was only in his thirties but no mean judge of men. He swiveled to face the table again, so that I saw only his back, but I could tell that he was gazing intently at Jamie, eyes tracing the swift movements of the trout beneath the water.

“I do not seek to remind you of past indignity,” he said quietly. “Nor yet to offend present honor. Still, you will understand that it is my duty to ask.”

Jamie smiled, quite without humor.

“And mine to answer, I expect,” he said. “Yes, I am a pardoned Jacobite. And aye, I have sworn the oath—like the others who paid that price for their lives.”

Quite abruptly, he set down his still-full glass and pushed back the heavy chair. He stood and bowed to the Governor.

“It grows late, Your Excellency. I must beg to take my leave.”

The Governor sat back in his chair, and lifted the cigar slowly to his lips. He drew heavily on it, making the tip glow bright, as he gazed up at Jamie. Then, he nodded, letting a thin plume of smoke drift from his pursed lips.

“Good night, Mr. Fraser. Do consider my offer, will you not?”

I didn’t wait to hear the answer—I didn’t need to. I skimmed down the hall in a rustle of skirts, startling a footman dozing in a dark corner.

I made it back to our borrowed room in the stable block without meeting anyone else, and collapsed. My heart was pounding; not only from the dash up the stairs but from what I had heard.

Jamie would consider the Governor’s offer, all right. And what an offer! To regain in one swoop all that he had lost in Scotland—and more.

Jamie had not been born a laird, but the death of his elder brother had left him heir to Lallybroch, and from the age of eight he had been raised to take responsibility for an estate, to see to the welfare of land and tenants, to place that welfare above his own. Then had come Charles Stuart, and his mad march to glory; a fiery cross leading his followers to shambles and destruction.

Jamie had never spoken bitterly of the Stuarts; had never spoken of Charles Stuart at all. Nor had he often spoken of what that venture had cost him personally.

But now…to have that back. New lands, cultivable and rich with game, and settled by families under his sponsorship and protection. It was rather like the Book of Job, I thought—all those sons and daughters and camels and houses, destroyed so casually, and then replaced with such extravagant lar-gesse.

I had always viewed that bit of the Bible with some doubt, myself. One camel was much like another, but children seemed a different proposition. And while Job might have regarded the replacement of his children as simple justice, I couldn’t help thinking that the dead children’s mother might possibly have been of another mind about it.

Unable to sit, I went again to the window, gazing out unseeingly at the dark garden.

It wasn’t simply excitement that was making my heart beat fast and my hands perspire; it was fear. With matters as they were in Scotland—as they had been since the Rising—it would be no difficult matter to find willing emigrants.

I had seen ships come into port in the Indies and in Georgia, disgorging their cargos of emigrants, so emaciated and worn by their passage that they reminded me of nothing so much as concentration camp victims—skeletal as living corpses, white as maggots from two months in the darkness below-decks.

Despite the expense and difficulty of the journey, despite the pain of parting from friends and family and homeland forever, the immigrants poured in, in hundreds and in thousands, carrying their children—those who survived the voyage—and their possessions in small, ragged bundles; fleeing poverty and hopelessness, seeking not fortune but only a small foothold on life. Only a chance.

I had spent only a short time at Lallybroch the winter before, but I knew there were tenants there who survived only by the goodwill of Ian and Young Jamie, their crofts not yielding enough to live on. While such goodwill was invariably given, it was not inexhaustible; I knew that the estate’s slender resources were often stretched to the maximum.

Beyond Lallybroch, there were the smugglers Jamie had known in Edinburgh, and the illegal distillers of Highland whisky—any number of men, in fact, who had been forced to turn to lawlessness to feed their families. No, finding willing emigrants would be no problem at all for Jamie.

The problem was that in order to recruit suitable men for the purpose, he would have to go to Scotland. And in my mind was the sight of a granite gravestone in a Scottish kirkyard, on a hill high above the moors and sea.

JAMES ALEXANDER MALCOLM MACKENZIE FRASER, it read, and below that, my own name was carved—Beloved husband of Claire.

I would bury him in Scotland. But there had been no date on the stone when I saw it, two hundred years hence; no notion when the blow would fall.

“Not yet,” I whispered, clenching my fists in the silk of my petticoat. “I’ve only had him for a little while—oh, God, please, not yet!”

As though in answer, the door swung open, and James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser came in, carrying a candle.

He smiled at me, loosening his stock.

“You’re verra light on your feet, Sassenach. I see I must teach ye to hunt one day, and you such a fine stalker.”

I made no apology for eavesdropping, but came to help him with his waistcoat buttons. In spite of the late hour and the brandy, he was clear-eyed and alert, his body tautly alive when I touched him.

“You’d best put out the candle,” I said. “The bugs will eat you alive.” I pinched a mosquito off his neck by way of illustration, the fragile body crushed to a smear of blood between my fingers.

Among the scents of brandy and cigar smoke, I could smell the night on him, and the faint musky spice of nicotiana; he had been walking, then, amid the flowers in the garden. He did that when he was either distressed or excited—and he didn’t seem distressed.

He sighed and flexed his shoulders as I took his coat; his shirt was damp with sweat underneath, and he plucked it away from his skin with a mild grunt of distaste.

“I canna tell how folk live in such heat, dressed like this. It makes the savages look quite sensible, to be goin’ about in loincloths and aprons.”

“It would be a lot cheaper,” I agreed, “if less aesthetically appealing. Imagine Baron Penzler in a loincloth, I mean.” The Baron weighed perhaps eighteen stone, with a pasty complexion.

He laughed, the sound muffled in his shirt as he pulled it over his head.

“You, on the other hand…” I sat down on the window seat, admiring the view as he stripped off his breeches, standing on one leg to roll down his stocking.

With the candle extinguished, it was dark in the room, but with my eyes adapted, I could still make him out, long limbs pale against the velvet night.

“And speaking of the Baron—” I prodded.

“Three hundred pounds sterling,” he replied, in tones of extreme satisfaction. He straightened up and tossed the rolled stockings onto a stool, then bent and kissed me. “Which is in large part due to you, Sassenach.”

“For my value as an ornamental setting, you mean?” I asked dryly, recalling the Wylies’ conversation.

“No,” he said, rather shortly. “For keeping Wylie and his friends occupied at dinner, while I talked wi’ the Governor. Ornamental setting…tcha! Stanhope nearly dropped his eyeballs into your bosom, the filthy lecher; I’d a mind to call him out for it, but—”

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” I said, standing up and kissing him back. “Not that I’ve ever met a Scot who seemed to think so.”

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