Within another week, the sickness had passed for all aboard who had come down with it and survived. Claire warned that the recovery for those affected would take a while.
It was two weeks before Faith was well enough to leave her cabin. Fergus and her parents kept her company and after the first week, when there were no new cases aboard, Laoghaire MacKimmie allowed her daughters to leave their cabin. They made Faith’s bedside their first visit.
“It’s been dreadful bein’ kept in such close quarters for so long,” Joanie groaned.
Marsali gave her sister a light smack on the back. “At least we’ve no been ill like Faith here,” she reminded her younger sister, glancing apologetically at Faith and then Fergus before turning her face away with a blush.
Joanie looked horrified. “Oh, I’m sorry, Miss Faith. I didna mean…”
Faith shook her head and smiled. “It’s fine, Joanie. I ken what ye meant. As soon as my mam allows, I’ll ask ye to help me take a turn up top. I expect we’ll be near enough to spot land by then.”
Joanie shook her head. “No, the captain says it’ll be a few weeks yet, so long as the weather holds and we’re no becalmed.”
“The captain also says your maman is the only woman he’d not mind having aboard ship again,” Fergus laughed. “When the first men became ill, some on the crew said it was because there were so many women aboard—ill luck. But with all you and your maman did for the men, now they are singing praises to her and some would have the figure at the front of the ship recut to be more like her.”
Faith snorted and that set Joanie (and then Marsali) giggling.
It wasn’t long before Claire conceded that Faith was well enough to make her way to the top deck—so long as she had Fergus or Jamie accompanying her, especially up and down the steep steps between decks.
On her first trip up, Faith made it to the railing before she needed to rest. Fergus helped her on one side and Marsali on the other while Joanie went ahead spewing encouragement. They lined up at the railing, Fergus holding Faith tight while Marsali kept a strong hold of her little sister.
“What d’ye think it’ll be like in the colonies?” Joanie asked, peering out and looking for land despite the captain’s continued insistence it would be at least another fortnight.
“No too different from Scotland, I expect,” Marsali remarked cynically. “No for us anyway.”
“Fergus, how different was France from Scotland?” Faith asked.
He frowned. “Very different in many ways—Paris compared to being at Lallybroch… And there are certainly many differences between Paris and Edinburgh. But even with differences in language and such things, there are some that are the same as well. The bustle of the city can be similar. Some of the unsavory parts as well,” he added with a mischievous grin that set Joanie giggling nervously. Marsali watched him more carefully. “But it depends on many things and I do not know enough of the colonies to make a guess. Except that they are supposed to be larger than France and Scotland combined and that there are fewer people there, though, that may not be true of the cities and ports.”
“Is it true yer mother is to marry a man she’s never met before when ye arrive?” Faith asked Marsali quietly.
“Uncle Hobart kens him but no, Mam never met him,” Marsali answered, resigned. “But there’s naught she can do about it. She needs a husband and there’s none as’ll have her back home. Not after the rumors about Da’s death.” Marsali glanced momentarily at Faith, her cheeks red from more than just the brisk wind off the ocean.
“Well, I hope yer Mam’s new husband is a good one and that the colonies are a fresh start for all of you,” Faith told her friend with a warm sincerity that had Marsali sighing with relief. Whatever animosity Laoghaire had toward Claire and Faith, for Marsali and Joanie’s sake it would be left behind in Scotland.
“And what about you?” Joanie asked, squinting into the sun as she looked over at Faith. “You’re not goin’ to the colonies to find a husband, are ye? And if ye were, ye wouldna need yer mam and da to go wi’ ye. So why’re you all goin’?”
“We are searching for someone,” Fergus replied, bending conspiratorially toward Joanie. “One of Milord’s relations was captured after Culloden. He went to prison and then some years ago, the English sent him to the colonies. Transportation is what they call it.”
“We’re goin’ to see if we can find him,” Faith explained. “We want to bring him home to Scotland if it’s possible.”
“Ye think he’s still alive?” Marsali asked, her voice dropping nervously.
“He is,” Fergus said with a quick certainty that caused Faith to smile. She didn’t remember Murtagh, though she had heard plenty of stories from her father and Fergus over the years. “If there is anyone more likely to survive such trials than Milord, it is Monsieur Murtagh.”
“Then ye’ll no be stayin’ in Charleston for long,” Joanie remarked sadly.
Marsali’s expression fell too. She gazed pointedly out to sea but Faith noted the way her eyes peeked sidelong at Fergus periodically.
“The records wi’ who it was purchased his indenture are in Charleston,” Faith said. “Or, they should be. It may be that he’s still there too. But we’ll be goin’ wherever it is he’s supposed to have gone.”
“And what if there’s naught to be found of ‘im?” Marsali inquired, cautiously. “Is there any way ye see that would have ye stayin’ in the colonies?”
“If we find him and he does not wish to return to Scotland,” Fergus shrugged, “I suppose we would stay for some time in that case.”
“It is findin’ him and makin’ sure he’s no on his own that’s the main thing,” Faith agreed.
“Well, we’ll wish ye luck in yer searchin’ for him then,” Marsali promised and Joanie nodded vigorously in agreement. “I hope ye find him right there in Charleston and that ye stay for a time at least.” Color rushed to her cheeks but she squinted out at the horizon rather than face either of the Frasers. “It would be a comfort to have some from home as ken us near to hand while we all settle in. The notion of knowin’ none around us… I hate to think of what we’d do did somethin’ go wrong.”
“We’ll be there long enough to know where to send a letter, if ye dinna mind,” Faith offered. “I’m no sure we’ll be able to leave ye wi’ a place to send a reply, but we’ll let ye know how we get on.”
“Will ye? Truly?” Joanie bounced with excitement. “I’ve never had a letter sent t’me before.”
“Well you shall be buried in them before long, ma chére,” Fergus promised and Joanie laughed.
Claire and Jamie stood near the bow of the ship, watching Faith and Fergus with the MacKimmie girls.
“She looks good,” Jamie remarked, quietly, then turned to look at Claire, seeking reassurance. “Doesn’t she?”
Claire nodded and smiled. “She does. She’s not leaning on Fergus as much as she might — I can’t tell if it’s because she doesn’t need to or because she’s too stubborn to accept his help. Given she’s a Fraser, it’s a coin toss.”
Jamie chuckled then turned his attention to the horizon. “We can stay in Charleston till she’s well enough to travel again,” he said.
“It could take us a while to discover where Murtagh was sent,” Claire agreed. “She’ll certainly be well by the time we’ve decided on our next steps.”
“I only hope we’re no too late for Murtagh’s sake,” Jamie murmured.
Claire leaned into him, looping her arm through his and pressing her cheek to his shoulder. “It’s out of our hands.”
“Mmmm. I… It’s goin’ to sound terrible… but worryin’ about Faith…”
“It’s been a distraction,” Claire finished for him. “It’s easier to worry about her because she’s in front of us and we can do something to help her. Murtagh… he’s beyond our reach just now and it’s enough to drive you mad if you think about it too much.”
Jamie scoffed. “You’ve been able to do somethin’ to help her. I’ve done little aside from get in yer way.” Claire gave him a light pinch to bring him back from self pity. “But aye… it’s been a distraction. And it’s had me thinkin’… It’ll depend on what we learn in Charleston, but I dinna ken as I want Faith and ye to come wi’ me and Fergus when we go for Murtagh. It might be best if the pair of ye stay in Charleston where ye’ll be safer.”
Claire pulled on Jamie’s arm to turn him so he had to face her.
“No,” she said firmly.
He lifted his hand to her cheek and the terrified look in his eyes killed her impulse to bat it away.
“I cannae bear the thought that harm might come to ye—that I might lose ye. I ken we said we’d no be parted and that we’d find him together, but what happened wi’ Faith… it was too close. And it’s no as though there’ll be an ocean ‘tween us as there would ha’ been did ye stay in Scotland. If ye set yerself up in Charleston, ye’ll be safe and comfortable for as long as it takes.”
“No,” Claire repeated, more gently this time. She raised her hand to cover his.
He let out a breath and smiled softly. Then he leaned forward to kiss her forehead before tilting to press his own against the same spot.
“Ye cannae blame me for tryin’ no?”
Claire smiled. “Of course not.”