He stepped off the ledge and made his way down the steep incline, bracing his feet against tufts of grass, catching at branches to keep his balance, not looking back. I watched him until he disappeared into the oak clump, walking slowly, like a man wounded, who knows he must keep moving, but feels his life ebbing slowly away through the fingers he has clenched over the wound.
My knees were trembling. Slowly, I lowered myself to the granite shelf and sat cross-legged, watching the swallows about their business. Below, I could just see the roof of the cottage that now held my past. At my back loomed the cleft stone. And my future.
I sat without moving through the afternoon. I tried to force all emotion from my mind and use reason. Jamie certainly had logic on his side when he argued that I should go back: home, safety, Frank; even the small amenities of life that I sorely missed from time to time, like hot baths and indoor plumbing, to say nothing of larger considerations such as proper medical care and convenient travel.
And yet, while I would certainly admit the inconveniences and outright dangers of this place, I would have also to admit that I had enjoyed many aspects of it. If travel was inconvenient, there were no enormous stretches of concrete blanketing the countryside, nor any noisy, stinking autos—contrivances with their own dangers, I reminded myself. Life was much simpler, and so were the people. Not less intelligent, but much more direct—with a few sterling exceptions like Colum ban Campbell MacKenzie, I thought grimly.
Because of Uncle Lamb’s work, I had lived in a great many places, many even cruder and more lacking in amenities than this one. I adapted quite easily to rough conditions, and did not really miss “civilization” when away from it, though I adapted just as easily to the presence of niceties like electric cookers and hot-water geysers. I shivered in the cold wind, hugging myself as I stared at the rock.
Rationality did not appear to be helping much. I turned to emotion, and began, shrinking from the task, to reconstruct the details of my married lives—first with Frank, then with Jamie. The only result of this was to leave me shattered and weeping, the tears forming icy trails on my face.
Well, if not reason nor emotion, what of duty? I had given Frank a wedding vow, and had meant it with all my heart. I had given Jamie the same, meaning to betray it as soon as possible. And which of them would I betray now? I continued to sit, as the sun sank lower in the sky and the swallows disappeared to their nests.
As the evening star began to glow among the black pines’ branches, I concluded that in this situation reason was of little use. I would have to rely on something else; just what, I wasn’t sure. I turned toward the split rock and took a step, then another, and another. Pausing, I faced around and tried it in the other direction. A step, then another, and another, and before I even knew that I had decided, I was halfway down the slope, scrabbling wildly at grass clumps, slipping and falling through the patches of granite scree.
When I reached the cottage, breathless with fear lest he had left already, I was reassured to see Donas hobbled and grazing nearby. The horse raised his head and eyed me unpleasantly. Walking softly, I pushed the door open.
He was in the front room, asleep on a narrow oak settle. He slept on his back, as he usually did, hands crossed on his stomach, mouth slightly open. The last rays of daylight from the window behind me limned his face like a metal mask; the silver tracks of dried tears glinted on golden skin, and the copper stubble of his beard gleamed dully.
I stood watching him for a moment, filled with an unutterable tenderness. Moving as quietly as I could, I lay down beside him on the narrow settle and nestled close. He turned to me in sleep as he so often did, gathering me spoon-fashion against his chest and resting his cheek against my hair. Half-conscious, he reached to smooth my hair away from his nose; I felt the sudden jerk as he came awake to realize that I was there, and then we overbalanced and crashed together onto the floor, Jamie on top of me.
I didn’t have the slightest doubt that he was solid flesh. I pushed a knee into his abdomen, grunting.
“Get off! I can’t breathe!”
Instead, he aggravated my breathless condition by kissing me thoroughly. I ignored the lack of oxygen temporarily in order to concentrate on more important things.
We held each other for a long time without speaking. At last he murmured “Why?”—his mouth muffled in my hair.
I kissed his cheek, damp and salty. I could feel his heart beating against my ribs, and wanted nothing more than to stay there forever, not moving, not making love, just breathing the same air.
“I had to,” I said. I laughed, a little shakily. “You don’t know how close it was. The hot baths nearly won.” And I wept then, and shook a little, because the choice was so freshly made, and because my joy for the man I held in my arms was mingled with a tearing grief for the man I would never see again.”
Excerpt From: Gabaldon, Diana. “Outlander.”