The warehouses loomed high above me as I walked along the dockside. Men hurried about, dashing around me on route to complete urgent tasks. I had dressed formally for this occasion and felt out of place. I hadn’t been out of my military uniform for many years but since my tenure at Ardsmuir, that god awful posting in Scotland had ended, my service to the Crown had shifted. Top secret intelligence work, the war with France was just gaining traction and relations between France, Britain and Prussia were at best strained. There was also the shadowy threat from Jacobites. The rebellion had been successfully squashed in 1746, I knew that, having been there to witness it. Plus I had had the pleasure, or was it misery of dealing with the last of the Jacobite prisoners arrested in the aftermath of Culloden. I shuddered at the thought of having to listen to Tom Christie one more time. I never relished seeing men broken by circumstance but I had delighted in seeing him marching off to the Colonies on the closure of Ardsmuir.
Now I was in Paris for a message exchange between myself and a Prussian officer. Doing important work for the war office had given me purpose. It had also kept me quite busy and away from home. Hal my brother was a Duke and Colonel in charge of a regiment. I was still part of that regiment ranked as a Major but of recent months had been involved in clandestine operations across the continent. This one was rather simple, deliver a missive and then I could enjoy some of the sights and delights of Paris before returning to London. This could be a rather enjoyable trip I thought as I smiled to myself.
Continuing along the dock I was struck rigid, unable to more. My mind racing as it tried to reason with what my eyes had seen. No it simply couldn’t be, it mustn’t be, how? But the large red headed man shouting out in a strong Scots accent could only be one and the same, James Fraser or Red Jamie. Suddenly I was back now to the eve of Prestonpans, the cool Highland air chilling my body. Were as a foolish boy I had tried and failed to kill him and then save an English woman from those Jacobite barbarians. I shuddered and rubbed my arm instinctively, which he had broken at the time in the struggle. My young solider body useless against his powerful toned warrior strength. My traitorous body though remembered that large Scot pressed against me, the heat coming from him and the musky masculine smell. Stop it Grey! Get it together before you have a cockstand to contend with on a dockside full of warehouses and people!
Fraser was still working, shirt sleeves rolled up showing his fine muscles flexing, no wait stop it! I shook my head to clear the thoughts. He hasn’t seen me thankfully and would have no reason to recognise me. But my Lord he was handsome and breathtaking. I looked away, focusing on two sailors arguing over a large crate being loaded onto their ship, in efforts to clear the explicit thoughts running through my head. As I cast my eyes back in Fraser’s direction I wondered how he had ended up here. He was at the Culloden battle of that I was sure, several witnesses had seen him on the battle field. He would have been difficult to miss, over six feet tall, broad, red locks gleaming in the sunlight, kilt swinging with each movement, sword drawn. Now really I must desist. The fluttering in my breeches needed no encouragement!
Fraser despite being bent to task in moving various barrels and surrounded by warehouse workers stood out. He held command, leadership. They all looked to him for direction and I could see the workers held him in high regard. Despite his state of undress, jacket and waistcoat removed, I noted that the clothing was of fine material, well made and fitted to his muscled body perfectly. Coughing to focus my thoughts I scanned the warehouse and saw the Fraser wine sign. Ah that’s it!must be a family member. Fraser wine was a popular supplier of the finest wines and brandies across London. Fraser despite doing the lug work was after all well dressed, to well dressed to be a mere member of staff.
I moved to the side of the dock closer to a warehouse front to continue my observations undetected. For a large man he moved with grace and ease. I watched imagining what his life had been since Culloden. When had he come to France, was he married, settled with a family? So many questions, many which in a few seconds from when they were formed received an answer. A woman appeared to one side of him, dressed in navy blue silk with lace trimming. Her rich brown hair pinned loosely so than bits fell around her face in a most becoming way. Her eyes even at this distance were rich and shining as she gazed upon Fraser. She rose on her toes to lay a gentle kiss him.
Oh wait! No it can’t be! That woman, she was the prisoner, the English woman I tried to save! I could feel my face flush, no doubt with both rage and embarrassment, I had been played for a fool. I wanted to stride over and demand an apology. Instead I stood rooted to the spot watching them interact. She had a young boy on her hip, maybe three years old, the same gleaming red hair as his father and a carbon copy of the man too. Another child, a daughter, maybe ten years old maybe younger? It was hard to tell she was tall and had the same long red hair curling loosely down her back. Again there was no escaping who her father was. I chuckled to myself some shires stamped their gets unmistakably.
I watched the family interactions, the clear love that Fraser held for his wife and the joy he had in fatherhood. The young boy now safely held in his Father’s arms, had squealed with delight at being tossed into the air and caught. The daughter, beaming with a wide smile that matched her Father’s watching them both. Before being pulled into an embrace and lovingly kissed on the top of her head. His wife throughout engaged in animated conversation with him. Her face radiant.
Jacobites were not hunted down with the same tenacity as years before. But this was Red Jamie. James Fraser who had been a Captain, led a company of Highland warriors, been part of the young pretenders inner circle. I was an officer, a loyal citizen to King and country. No I would have to report this to my superiors, it was my duty after all. I glanced at the Fraser family once more, watching as Fraser lead his wife and children wrapped in his embrace into the warehouse. The contentment in her face and the relaxed manner of her body as he held her choked me.
The docks were a bustling busy place. Ships being loaded and unloaded, carts and delivery boys scurried back and forth. I was stood close to the walls of a warehouse spying, no not spying, I was observing and gathering information for the Crown on Fraser, when I heard the loud cry and crash. A dray cart loaded with crates had toppled over, shouts and screams echoed out all over the dock as time seemed to still.
Suddenly I was there beside the chaos, no memory of how I got there or of having consciously moved. A dock worker was trapped screaming in pain, pinned to the ground by his leg.
“We need to lift the cart off him!”
I shouted in English I realised, in a French dock area. Bodies however where soon surrounding me, assisting in lifting for all we were worth. The man to my left was barking orders in French, the heat radiating from his muscled arms as they brushed against mine. It was him! It was Fraser! How had he got to this in that time? I had seen him walk away and how had I ended up beside him? Kill me now I thought to my self. The cart was raised and moved away from the injured man.
“Sassenach, can ye get to him? Help him?”
His wife, the healer, the Stuart Witch? It was all making perfect sense. She moved to the man’s side, assessing him from head to toe. The man was crying out in pain, his right leg clearly broken and bleeding. The crowd was thinning out. I thought both due to needing to return to work and due to the squeamish nature of most people.
The woman moved with poetic grace, focused on task and indifferent to the dirt and filth on the ground.
“I need to move him to the surgery. You there help my husband.”
Pointing to me with the authority of a Sergeant Major I jumped to assist. Taking hold of one side of a large wooden board. Continuing to hold command with the assistance of myself, Fraser and two other males, the injured man was placed onto the board. In a swift movement we where off headed toward the Fraser Wines warehouse.
Stopping the mad dash in a small room to one side of the entrance doors. The room had a long bench at the rear, stacked with bottles and vials. A table stood in the centre with a medical caddy on wheels to one side. How genius I thought. This clearly the surgery she had spoke off. The man was transferred to this table and I stood back to watch. The other two men hurried off after a respectful tug of their forelock to Fraser.
His wife began asking for items, as she and Fraser washed their hands. With clear practiced ease he began gathering and passing the required items. I was still stood rooted to the spot.
“If you are intending to stay Sir I could use your assistance.”
“Me? Oh yes of course, I do beg your pardon.”
“No apologies needed Sir, just wash your hands and come around this side. I need to force the bone back in and reset the limb.”
“You are not amputating the leg!”
I was most shocked in a military hospital with that level of injury amputation would have been the only choice for a military surgeon. I was quite sure this woman was not quite as skilled as a trained surgeon! The aghast must have shown on my face as Fraser who was dosing the man with laudanum responded.
“Claire never takes a limb unless she has to.”
Claire! Of course that’s her name. I remembered a few of the soldiers who had been treated in the Jacobite camp after Prestonpans spoke of her. They also spoke highly of her care and knowledge come to think of it. Right I must focus on my task. Holding the man steady I watched her work. Her movements precise and elegant. The limb was realigned and stitched neatly up. Cleaned down with whiskey and wrapped with very clean linen. The limb was then splinted.
I looked around this makeshift surgery, it was clean, the bench spotless, glass bottles and vials gleaming. Her assortment of tools and equipment shone. This I realised was no makeshift surgery, this was a work area that was cherished and well kept. The man was now sound asleep on the table.
“Thank you for your assistance Mr...?”
“Oh where are my manners, Lord John Madam.”
I bowed towards her, pondering if I should have given my name. Curtsying back to me she replied.
“Lord John your help was very much appreciated. This is my husband James Fraser and I am Claire Fraser.”
“A pleasure to meet you Mrs Fraser and Mr Fraser.”
He had finished tidying the items used in this impromptu medical emergency.
“You are a fine healer Mrs Fraser, I am sure the dock workers are most grateful for your assistance.”
“It is a busy surgery to be sure, dock workers are forever in need of treatment.”
“Indeed they are, well Mr and Mrs Fraser I must bid you good day I have a matter than requires my attention.”
With final bows and curtsy I left the surgery and the warehouse.
Thoughts clashed in my head, a moral dilemma. I pondered, taking one last look back as the Fraser family disappeared into the darkness of the warehouse. No, I believe I have been mistaken perhaps, it was a great many years ago and I was young and it was dark. I simply couldn’t have remembered his features correctly and it would be most dishonourable of a gentlemen to falsely accuse without the full information and evidence. Yes quite, a hunch that I recognised someone from a long forgotten war was most ungentlemanly indeed. I quietly moved along the dock back and away from the warehouse. Heading in the direction of the city. I did after all have an important missive to pass along, I could not delay. A missive regarding yet another war, I sighed. James Fraser and his family would be safe, the shadowy ghosts of a war from time long past.
“God speed James Fraser, perhaps in another life we could have been friends.”