Roger Wakefield stood in the center of the room, feeling surrounded. He
thought the feeling largely justified, insofar as he was surrounded: by
tables covered with bric-a-brac and mementos, by heavy Victorian-style
furniture, replete with antimacassars, plush and afghans, by tiny braided rugs
that lay on the polished wood, craftily awaiting an opportunity to skid beneath
an unsuspecting foot. Surrounded by twelve rooms of furniture and clothing
and papers. And the books—my God, the books!
The study where he stood was lined on three sides by bookshelves, every one
crammed past bursting point. Paperback mystery novels lay in bright, tatty piles
in front of calf-bound tomes, jammed cheek by jowl with book-club selections,
ancient volumes pilfered from extinct libraries, and thousands upon thousands
of pamphlets, leaflets, and hand-sewn manuscripts.
A similar situation prevailed in the rest of the house. Books and papers cluttered
every horizontal surface, and every closet groaned and squeaked at the
seams. His late adoptive father had lived a long, full life, a good ten years past
his biblically allotted threescore and ten. And in eighty-odd years, the Reverend
Mr. Reginald Wakefield had never thrown anything away.
Roger repressed the urge to run out of the front door, leap into his Morris
Minor, and head back to Oxford, abandoning the manse and its contents to the
mercy of weather and vandals. Be calm, he told himself, inhaling deeply. You
can deal with this. The books are the easy part; nothing more than a matter of
sorting through them and then calling someone to come and haul them away.
Granted, they’ll need a lorry the size of a railcar, but it can be done. Clothes—
no problem. Oxfam gets the lot.
He didn’t know what Oxfam was going to do with a lot of vested black serge
suits, circa 1948, but perhaps the deserving poor weren’t all that picky. He began
to breathe a little easier. He had taken a month’s leave from the History department
at Oxford in order to clear up the Reverend’s affairs. Perhaps that
would be enough, after all. In his more depressed moments, it had seemed as
though the task might take years.
He moved toward one of the tables and picked up a small china dish. It
was filled with small metal rectangles; lead “gaberlunzies,” badges issued to
eighteenth-century beggars by parishes as a sort of license. A collection of
stoneware bottles stood by the lamp, a ramshorn snuff mull, banded in silver,
next to them. Give them to a museum? he thought dubiously. The house was
filled with Jacobite artifacts; the Reverend had been an amateur historian, the
eighteenth century his favorite hunting ground.
Mustering the Roll
His fingers reached involuntarily to caress the surface of the snuff mull, tracing
the black lines of the inscriptions—the names and dates of the Deacons and
Treasurers of the Incorporation of Tailors of the Canongate, from Edinburgh,
1726. Perhaps he should keep a few of the Reverend’s choicer acquisitions . . .
but then he drew back, shaking his head decidedly. “Nothing doing, cock,” he
said aloud, “this way lies madness.” Or at least the incipient life of a pack rat.
Get started saving things, and he’d end up keeping the lot, living in this monstrosity
of a house, surrounded by generations of rubbish. “Talking to yourself,
too,” he muttered.
The thought of generations of rubbish reminded him of the garage, and he
sagged a bit at the knees. The Reverend, who was in fact Roger’s great-uncle,
had adopted him at the age of five when his parents had been killed in World
War II; his mother in the Blitz, his father out over the dark waters of the Channel.
With his usual preservative instincts, the Reverend had kept all of Roger’s
parents’ effects, sealed in crates and cartons in the back of the garage. Roger
knew for a fact that no one had opened one of those crates in the past twenty
Roger uttered an Old Testament groan at the thought of pawing through his
parents’ memorabilia. “Oh, God,” he said aloud. “Anything but that!”
The remark had not been intended precisely as prayer, but the doorbell
pealed as though in answer, making Roger bite his tongue in startlement.
The door of the manse had a tendency to stick in damp weather, which
meant that it was stuck most of the time. Roger freed it with a rending screech,
to find a woman on the doorstep.
“Can I help you?”
She was middle height and very pretty. He had an overall impression of fine
bones and white linen, topped with a wealth of curly brown hair in a sort of
half-tamed chignon. And in the middle of it all, the most extraordinary pair of
light eyes, just the color of well-aged sherry.
The eyes swept up from his size-eleven plimsolls to the face a foot above her.
The sidelong smile grew wider. “I hate to start right off with a cliché,” she said,
“but my, how you have grown, young Roger!”
Roger felt himself flushing. The woman laughed and extended a hand. “You
are Roger, aren’t you? My name’s Claire Randall; I was an old friend of the
Reverend’s. But I haven’t seen you since you were five years old.”
“Er, you said you were a friend of my father’s? Then, you know already. . . .”
The smile vanished, replaced by a look of regret.
“Yes, I was awfully sorry to hear about it. Heart, was it?”
“Um, yes. Very sudden. I’ve only just come up from Oxford to start dealing
with . . . everything.” He waved vaguely, encompassing the Reverend’s death,
the house behind him, and all its contents.
“From what I recall of your father’s library, that little chore ought to last you
’til next Christmas,” Claire observed.
“In that case, maybe we shouldn’t be disturbing you,” said a soft American
“Oh, I forgot,” said Claire, half-turning to the girl who had stood out of
sight in the corner of the porch. “Roger Wakefield—my daughter, Brianna.”
Brianna Randall stepped forward, a shy smile on her face. Roger stared for
4 Di a n a G a b a l d o n
a moment, then remembered his manners. He stepped back and swung the
door open wide, momentarily wondering just when he had last changed his
“Not at all, not at all!” he said heartily. “I was just wanting a break. Won’t
you come in?”
He waved the two women down the hall toward the Reverend’s study, noting
that as well as being moderately attractive, the daughter was one of the
tallest girls he’d ever seen close-to. She had to be easily six feet, he thought, seeing
her head even with the top of the hall stand as she passed. He unconsciously
straightened himself as he followed, drawing up to his full six feet three. At the
last moment, he ducked, to avoid banging his head on the study lintel as he followed
the women into the room.
“I’d meant to come before,” said Claire, settling herself deeper in the huge
wing chair. The fourth wall of the Reverend’s study was equipped with floor-toceiling
windows, and the sunlight winked off the pearl clip in her light-brown
hair. The curls were beginning to escape from their confinement, and she
tucked one absently behind an ear as she talked.
“I’d arranged to come last year, in fact, and then there was an emergency at
the hospital in Boston—I’m a doctor,” she explained, mouth curling a little at
the look of surprise Roger hadn’t quite managed to conceal. “But I’m sorry
that we didn’t; I would have liked so much to see your father again.”
Roger rather wondered why they had come now, knowing the Reverend was
dead, but it seemed impolite to ask. Instead, he asked, “Enjoying a bit of sightseeing,
“Yes, we drove up from London,” Claire answered. She smiled at her daughter.
“I wanted Bree to see the country; you wouldn’t think it to hear her talk,
but she’s as English as I am, though she’s never lived here.”
“Really?” Roger glanced at Brianna. She didn’t really look English, he
thought; aside from the height, she had thick red hair, worn loose over her
shoulders, and strong, sharp-angled bones in her face, with the nose long and
straight—maybe a touch too long.
“I was born in America,” Brianna explained, “but both Mother and Daddy
“My husband died two years ago,” Claire explained. “You knew him, I
“Frank Randall! Of course!” Roger smacked himself on the forehead, and
felt his cheeks grow hot at Brianna’s giggle. “You’re going to think me a complete
fool, but I’ve only just realized who you are.”
The name explained a lot; Frank Randall had been an eminent historian, and
a good friend of the Reverend’s; they had exchanged bits of Jacobite arcana for
years, though it was at least ten years since Frank Randall had last visited the