Excerpt from the seventh "OUTLANDER" novel – so far untitled
Copyright 2007 Diana Gabaldon
He rode slowly past the loch, thinking that this visit was a mistake. It was possible to leave things behind–places, people, memories–at least for a time. But places held tight to the things that had happened in them, and to come again to a place you had once lived was to be brought face to face with what you had done there, and who you had been.
Balriggan, though…it hadn't been a bad place; he had loved the wee loch, and the way it mirrored the sky, so still some mornings that you felt you might walk down into the clouds you saw reflected there, feeling their cold mist rise up about you, to wrap you in their drifting peace. Or in the summer evenings, when the surface glimmered in hundreds of overlapping rings as the hatch rose, the rhythm of it broken now and then by the sudden splash of a leaping salmon.
The road took him closer, and he saw the stony shallows where he'd shown wee Joan and Marsali how to guddle fish, all three of them so intent on their business they'd paid no heed to the midgies biting, and gone home wet to the waist and red with bites and sunburn, the wee maids skipping and swinging from his hands, gleeful in the sunset. He smiled just a little–then turned his horse's head away, up the hill to the house.
The place was shabby, but in decent repair, he grudgingly noted. There was a saddle-mule browsing in the paddock behind the house, elderly, but sound-looking. Well enough. Laoghaire wasn't spending his money on follies or a coach-and-four, at least.
He set his hand on the gate and felt a twist go through his wame. The feel of the wood under his hand was eerily familiar; he'd lifted it without thinking, at the spot where it was always inclined to drag on the path. That twist corkscrewed its way up to his mouth as he recalled his last meeting with Ned Gowan, Laoghaire's lawyer. What does the bloody woman want, then? he'd demanded, exasperated. To which Ned had replied cheerfully, "Your head, mounted above her gate."
With a brief snort, he went through, closing the gate a bit harder than necessary, and glanced up at the house.
Movement took his eye. A man was sitting on the bench outside the cottage, staring at him over a bit of broken harness on his knee.
An ill-favored wee lad, Jamie thought, scrawny and narrow-faced as a ferret, with a wall-eye and a mouth that hung open as though in astonishment. Still, he greeted the man pleasantly, asking was his mistress to home the day?
The lad–seen closer to, he must be in his thirties–blinked at him, then turned his head to bring his good eye to bear.
"Who're you, then?" he asked, sounding unfriendly.
"Fraser of Broch Tuarach," Jamie replied. It was a formal occasion, after all. "Is Mrs.–" he hesitated, not knowing how to refer to Laoghaire. His sister had said she persisted in calling herself "Mrs. Fraser," despite the scandal. He hadn't felt he could object, the fault of it being his and he being in America in any case–but damned if he'd call her that himself, even to her servant.
"Fetch your mistress, if ye please," he said shortly.
"What d'ye want wi' her?" The straight eye narrowed in suspicion.
He hadn't expected obstruction, and was inclined to reply sharply, but reined himself in. The man clearly kent something of him, and it was as well if Laoghaire's servant was concerned for her welfare, even if the man's manner was crude.
"I wish to speak with her, if ye've no great objection," he said, with extreme politeness. "D'ye think ye might make shift to go and tell her so?"
The man made a rude sound in his throat, but put aside the harness and stood up. Too late, Jamie saw that his spine was badly twisted and one leg shorter than the other. There was no way to apologize that would not make matters worse, though, and so he only nodded shortly and let the man lurch his way off into the house, thinking that it was just like Laoghaire to keep a lame servant for the express purpose of embarrassing him.
Then he shook himself in irritation, ashamed of his thought. What was it about him, that a hapless woman such as Laoghaire MacKenzie should bring out every wicked, shameful trait he possessed? Not that his sister couldn't do it, too, he reflected ruefully. But Jenny would evoke some bit of bad temper or hasty language from him, fan the flames 'til he was roaring, and then extinguish him neatly with a word, as though she'd doused him with cold water.
Go see her, Jenny had said.
"All right, then," he said belligerently. "I'm here."
"I see that," said a light, dry voice. "Why?"
He swung round to face Laoghaire, who was standing in the doorway, broom in hand, giving him a cool look.
He snatched off his hat and bowed to her.
"Good day to ye. I hope I see ye well the day." Apparently so; her face was slightly flushed beneath a starched white kerch, blue eyes clear.
She looked him over, expressionless save for fair brows arched high.
"I heard ye were come home. Why are ye here?"
"To see how ye fare."
Her brows rose that wee bit higher.
"Well enough. What d'ye want?"
He'd gone through it in his mind a hundred times, but should have known that for the waste of effort it was. There were things that could be planned for, but none of them involved women.
"I've come to say sorry to ye," he said bluntly. "I said it before, and ye shot me. D'ye want to listen, this time?