Dragonfly in Amber (Page 7)

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2)(7)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

He turned to a pegboard from which hung a selection of dilapidated tools, and selected a large screwdriver to aid his assault on the window.

"Look for the ones that say ‘Parish Registers,’ he advised. "Or for village names in the area of Broch Tuarach."

"I don’t know any of the villages in the area," Brianna pointed out.

"Oh, aye, I was forgetting." Roger inserted the point of the screwdriver between the edges of the window frame, grimly chiseling through layers of ancient paint. "Look for the names Broch Mordha…um, Mariannan, and…oh, St. Kilda. There’s others, but those are ones I know had fair-sized churches that have been closed or knocked down."

"Okay." Pushing aside a hanging flap of tarpaulin, Brianna suddenly leaped backward with a sharp cry.

"What? What is it?" Roger whirled from the window, screwdriver at the ready.

"I don’t know. Something skittered away when I touched that tarp." Brianna pointed, and Roger lowered his weapon, relieved.

"Oh, that all? Mouse, most like. Maybe a rat."

"A rat! You have rats in here?" Brianna’s agitation was noticeable.

"Well, I hope not, because if so, they’ll have been chewing up the records we’re looking for," Roger replied. He handed her the torch. "Here, shine this in any dark places; at least you won’t be taken by surprise."

"Thanks a lot." Brianna accepted the torch, but still eyed the stacks of cartons with some reluctance.

"Well, go on then," Roger said. "Or did you want me to do you a rat satire on the spot?"

Brianna’s face split in a wide grin. "A rat satire? What’s that?"

Roger delayed his answer, long enough for another try at the window. He pushed until he could feel his biceps straining against the fabric of his shirt, but at last, with a rending screech, the window gave way, and a reviving draft of cool air whooshed in through the six-inch gap he’d created.

"God, that’s better." He fanned himself exaggeratedly, grinning at Brianna. "Now, shall we get on with it?"

She handed him the torch, and stepped back. "How about you find the boxes, and I’ll sort through them? And what’s a rat satire?"

"Coward," he said, bending to rummage beneath the tarpaulin. "A rat satire is an old Scottish custom; if you had rats or mice in your house or your barn, you could make them go away by composing a poem—or you could sing it—telling the rats how poor the eating was where they were, and how good it was elsewhere. You told them where to go, and how to get there, and presumably, if the satire was good enough—they’d go."

He pulled out a carton labeled JACOBITES, MISCELLANEOUS, and carried it to the table, singing,

"Ye rats, ye are too many,

If ye would dine in plenty,

Ye mun go, ye mun go."

Lowering the box with a thump, he bowed in response to Brianna’s giggling and turned back to the stacks, continuing in stentorian voice.

"Go to Campbell’s garden,

Where nae cat stands warden,

And the kale, it grows green.

Go and fill your bellies,

Dinna stay and gnaw my wellies—

Go, ye rats, go!"

Brianna snorted appreciatively. "Did you just make that up?"

"Of course." Roger deposited another box on the table with a flourish. "A good rat satire must always be original." He cast a glance at the serried ranks of cartons. "After that performance, there shouldn’t be a rat within miles of this place."

"Good." Brianna pulled a jackknife from her pocket and slit the tape that sealed the topmost carton. "You should come do one at the bed-and-breakfast place; Mama says she’s sure there’s mice in the bathroom. Something chewed on her soap case."

"God knows what it would take to dislodge a mouse capable of eating bars of soap; far beyond my feeble powers, I expect." He rolled a tattered round hassock out from behind a teetering stack of obsolete encyclopedias, and plumped down next to Brianna. "Here, you take the parish registers, they’re a bit easier to read."

They worked through the morning in amiable companionship, turning up occasional interesting passages, the odd silverfish, and recurrent clouds of dust, but little of value to the project at hand.

"We’d better stop for lunch soon," Roger said at last. He felt a strong reluctance to go back into the house, where he would once more be at Fiona’s mercy, but Brianna’s stomach had begun to growl almost as loudly as his own.

"Okay. We can do some more after we eat, if you’re not worn out." Brianna stood and stretched herself, her curled fists almost reaching the rafters of the old garage. She wiped her hands on the legs of her jeans, and ducked between the stacks of boxes.

"Hey!" She stopped short, near the door. Roger, following her, was brought up sharp, his nose almost touching, the back of her head.

"What is it?" he asked. "Not another rat?" He noted with approval that the sun lit her thick single braid with glints of copper and gold. With a small golden nimbus of dust surrounding her, and the light of noon silhouetting her long-nosed profile, he thought she looked quite medieval; Our Lady of the Archives.

"No. Look at this, Roger!" She pointed at a cardboard carton near the middle of a stack. On the side, in the Reverend’s strong black hand, was a label with the single word "Randall."

Roger felt a stab of mingled excitement and apprehension. Brianna’s excitement was unalloyed.

"Maybe that’s got the stuff we’re looking for!" she exclaimed. "Mama said it was something my father was interested in; maybe he’d already asked the Reverend about it."

"Could be." Roger forced down the sudden feeling of dread that had struck him at sight of the name. He knelt to extract the box from its resting place. "Let’s take it in the house; we can look in it after lunch."

The box, once opened in the Reverend’s study, held an odd assortment of things. There were old photostats of pages from several parish registers, two or three army muster lists, a number of letters and scattered papers, a small, thin notebook, bound in gray cardboard covers, a packet of elderly photographs, curling at the edges, and a stiff folder, with the name "Randall" printed on the cover.

Brianna picked up the folder and opened it. "Why, it’s daddy’s family tree!" she exclaimed. "Look." She passed the folder to Roger. Inside were two sheets of thick parchment, with lines of descent neatly ruled across and down. The beginning date was 1633; the final entry, at the foot of the second page, showed

Frank Wolverton Randall m. Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, 1937

"Done before you were born," Roger murmured.

Brianna peered over his shoulder as his finger passed slowly down the lines of the genealogical table. "I’ve seen it before; daddy had a copy in his study. He used to show it to me all the time. His had me at the bottom, though; this must be an early copy."

"Maybe the Reverend did some of the research for him." Roger handed Brianna back the folder, and picked up one of the papers from the stack on the desk.

"Now here’s an heirloom for you," he said. He traced the coat of arms embossed at the head of the sheet. "A letter of commission in the army, signed by His Royal Majesty, King George II."

"George the Second? Jeez, that’s even before the American Revolution."

"Considerably before. It’s dated 1735. In the name of Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Know that name?"

"Yeah." Brianna nodded, stray wisps of hair falling in her face. She wiped them back carelessly and took the letter. "daddy used to talk about him every now and then; one of the few ancestors he knew much about. He was a captain in the army that fought Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden." She looked up at Roger, blinking. "I think maybe he was killed in that battle, in fact. He wouldn’t have been buried there, would he?"

Roger shook his head. "I shouldn’t think so. It was the English who cleared up after the battle. They shipped most of their own dead back home for burial—the officers, anyway."

He was prevented from further observation by the sudden appearance in the doorway of Fiona, bearing a feather duster like a battle standard.

"Mr. Wakefield," she called. "There’s the man come to take awa’ the Reverend’s truck, but he canna get it started. He says will ye be givin’ him a hand, like?"

Roger started guiltily. He had taken the battery to a garage for testing, and it was still sitting in the backseat of his own Morris. No wonder the Reverend’s truck wasn’t starting.

"I’ll have to go sort this out," he told Brianna. "I’m afraid it might take a while."

"That’s okay." She smiled at him, blue eyes narrowing to triangles. "I should go too. Mama will be back by now; we thought we might go out to the Clava Cairns, if there was time. Thanks for the lunch."

"My pleasure—and Fiona’s." Roger felt a stab of regret at being unable to offer to go with her, but duty called. He glanced at the papers spread out on the desk, then scooped them up and deposited them back in the box.

"Here," he said. "This is all your family records. You take it. Maybe your mother would be interested."

"Really? Well, thanks, Roger. Are you sure?"

"Absolutely," he said, carefully laying the folder with the genealogical chart on top. "Oh, wait. Maybe not all of it." The corner of the gray notebook stuck out from under the letter of commission; he pulled it free, and tidied the disturbed papers back into the box. "This looks like one of the Reverend’s journals. Can’t think what it’s doing in there, but I suppose I’d better put it with the others; the historical society says they want the whole lot."

"Oh, sure." Brianna had risen to go, clutching the box to her chest, but hesitated, looking at him. "Do you—would you like me to come back?"

Roger smiled at her. There were cobwebs in her hair, and a long streak of dirt down the bridge of her nose.

"Nothing I’d like better," he said. "See you tomorrow, eh?"

The thought of the Reverend’s journal stayed with Roger, all during the tedious business of getting the ancient truck started, and the subsequent visit of the furniture appraiser who came to sort the valuable antiques from the rubbish, and set a value on the Reverend’s furnishings for auction.

This disposition of the Reverend’s effects gave Roger a sense of restless melancholy. It was, after all, a dismantling of his own youth, as much as the clearing away of useless bric-a-brac. By the time he sat down in the study after dinner, he could not have said whether it was curiosity about the Randalls that compelled him to pick up the journal, or simply the urge somehow to regain a tenuous connection with the man who had been his father for so many years.

The journals were kept meticulously, the even lines of ink recording all major events of the parish and the community of which the Reverend Mr. Wakefield had been a part for so many years. The feel of the plain gray notebook and the sight of its pages conjured up for Roger an immediate vision of the Reverend, bald head gleaming in the glow of his desk lamp as he industriously inscribed the day’s happenings.

"It’s a discipline," he had explained once to Roger. "There’s a great benefit to doing regularly something that orders the mind, you know. Catholic monks have services at set times every day, priests have their breviaries. I’m afraid I haven’t the knack of such immediate devotion, but writing out the happenings of the day helps to clear my mind; then I can say my evening prayers with a calm heart."

A calm heart. Roger wished he could manage that himself, but calmness hadn’t visited him since he’d found those clippings in the Reverend’s desk.

He opened the book at random, and slowly turned the pages, looking for a mention of the name "Randall." The dates on the notebook’s cover were January–June, 1948. While what he had told Brianna about the historical society was true, that had not been his chief motive in keeping the book. In May of 1948, Claire Randall had returned from her mysterious disappearance. The Reverend had known the Randalls well; such an event was sure to have found mention in his journal.

Sure enough, the entry for May 7:

"Visit w. Frank Randall this evening; this business about his wife. So distressing! Saw her yesterday—so frail, but those eyes staring—made me uneasy to sit w. her, poor woman, though she talked sensibly.

Enough to unhinge anyone, what she’s been through—whatever it was. Terrible gossip about it all—so careless of Dr. Bartholomew to let on that she’s pregnant. So hard for Frank—and for her, of course! My heart goes out to them both.

Mrs. Graham ill this week—she could have chosen a better time; jumble sale next week, and the porch full of old clothes…"

Roger flipped rapidly through the pages, looking for the next mention of the Randalls, and found it, later the same week.

"May 10—Frank Randall to dinner. Doing my best to associate publicly both w. him and his wife; I sit with her for an hour most days, in hopes of quelling some of the gossip. It’s almost pitying now; word’s gone round that she’s demented. Knowing Claire Randall, I’m not sure that she would not be more offended at being thought insane than at being considered immoral—must be one or the other though?

Tried repeatedly to talk to her about her experiences, but she says nothing of that. Talks all right about anything else, but always a sense that she’s thinking of something else.

Must make a note to preach this Sunday on the evils of gossip—though I’m afraid calling attention to the case with a sermon will only make it worse."

"May 12—…Can’t get free of the notion that Claire Randall is not deranged. Have heard the gossip, of course, but see nothing in her behaviour that seems unstable in the slightest.

Do think she carries some terrible secret; one she’s determined to keep. Spoke—cautiously—to Frank of this; he’s reticent, but I’m convinced she has said something to him. Have tried to make it clear I wish to help, in any way I can."

"May 14—A visit from Frank Randall. Very puzzling. He has asked my help, but I can’t see why he asked what he has. Seems very important to him, though; he keeps himself under close rein, but wound tight as a watch. I fear the release—if it comes.

Claire well enough to travel—he means to take her back to London this week. Assured him I would communicate any results to him by letter at his University address; no hint to his wife.

Have several items of interest on Jonathan Randall, though I can’t imagine the significance of Frank’s ancestor to this sorry business. Of James Fraser, as I told Frank—no inkling; a complete mystery."

A complete mystery. In more ways than one, Roger thought. What had Frank Randall asked the Reverend to do? To find out what he could about Jonathan Randall and about James Fraser, apparently. So Claire had told her husband about James Fraser—told him something, at least, if not everything.

But what conceivable connection could there be between an English army captain who had died at Culloden in 1746, and the man whose name seemed inextricably bound up with the mystery of Claire’s disappearance in 1945—and the further mystery of Brianna’s parentage?

The rest of the journal was filled with the usual miscellany of parish happenings; the chronic drunkenness of Derick Gowan, culminating in that parishioner’s removal from the River Ness as a water-logged corpse in late May; the hasty wedding of Maggie Brown and William Dundee, a month before the christening of their daughter, June; Mrs. Graham’s appendectomy, and the Reverend’s attempts to cope with the resultant influx of covered dishes from the generous ladies of the parish—Herbert, the Reverend’s current dog, seemed to have been the beneficiary of most of them.

Reading through the pages, Roger found himself smiling, hearing the Reverend’s lively interest in his flock come to life once more in the old minister’s words. Browsing and skimming, he nearly missed it—the last entry concerning Frank Randall’s request.

"June 18—Had a brief note from Frank Randall, advising me that his wife’s health is somewhat precarious; the pregnancy is dangerous and he asks my prayers.

Replied with assurances of prayers and good wishes for both him and his wife. Enclosed also the information I had so far found for him; can’t say what use it will be to him, but that must be his own judgement. Told him of the surprising discovery of Jonathan Randall’s grave at St. Kilda; asked if he wishes me to photograph the stone."

And that was all. There was no further mention of the Randalls, or of James Fraser. Roger laid the book down and massaged his temples; reading the slanting lines of handwriting had given him a mild headache.

Aside from confirming his suspicions that a man named James Fraser was mixed up in all this, the matter remained as impenetrable as ever. What in the name of God did Jonathan Randall have to do with it, and why on earth was the man buried at St. Kilda? The letter of commission had given Jonathan Randall’s place of birth as an estate in Sussex; how did he end up in a remote Scottish kirkyard? True, it wasn’t all that far from Culloden—but why hadn’t he been shipped back to Sussex?

"Will ye be needin’ anything else tonight, Mr. Wakefield?" Fiona’s voice roused him from his fruitless meditations. He sat up, blinking, to see her holding a broom and a polishing cloth.

"What? Er, no. No, thanks, Fiona. But what are you doing with all that clobber? Not still cleaning at this time of night?"

"Well, it’s the church ladies," Fiona explained. "You remember, ye told them they could hold their regular monthly meeting here tomorrow? I thought I’d best tidy up a bit."

The church ladies? Roger quailed at the thought of forty housewives, oozing sympathy, descending on the manse in an avalanche of tweeds, twin-sets, and cultured pearls.

"Will ye be takin’ tea with the ladies?" Fiona was asking. "The Reverend always did."

The thought of entertaining Brianna Randall and the church ladies simultaneously was more than Roger could contemplate with equanimity.

"Er, no," he said abruptly. "I’ve…I’ve an engagement tomorrow."

His hand fell on the telephone, half-buried in the debris of the Reverend’s desk. "If you’ll excuse me, Fiona, I’ve got to make a call."

Brianna wandered back into the bedroom, smiling to herself. I looked up from my book and arched a brow in inquiry.

"Phone call from Roger?" I said.

"How’d you know?" She looked startled for a moment, then grinned, shucking off her robe. "Oh, because he’s the only guy I know in Inverness?"

"I didn’t think any of your boyfriends would be calling long-distance from Boston," I said. I peered at the clock on the table. "Not at this hour, anyway; they’ll all be at football practice."