“Have you really got to go, Mac?” he asked, in a very small voice.
“Aye, I have.” He looked into the dark blue eyes, so heartbreakingly like his own, and suddenly didn’t give a damn what was right or who saw. He pulled the boy roughly to him, hugging him tight against his heart, holding the boy’s face close to his shoulder, that Willie might not see the quick tears that fell into his thick, soft hair.
Willie’s arms went around his neck and clung tight. He could feel the small, sturdy body shake against him with the force of suppressed sobbing. He patted the flat little back, and smoothed Willie’s hair, and murmured things in Gaelic that he hoped the boy would not understand.
At length, he took the boy’s arms from his neck and put him gently away.
“Come wi’ me to my room, Willie; I shall give ye something to keep.”
“Here. Keep this, too, to remember me by.” He laid the beechwood rosary gently over Willie’s head. “Ye canna let anyone see that, though,” he warned. “And for God’s sake, dinna tell anyone you’re a Papist.”
“I won’t,” Willie promised. “Not a soul.” He tucked the rosary into his shirt, patting carefully to be sure that it was hidden.
“Good.” Jamie reached out and ruffled Willie’s hair in dismissal. “It’s almost time for your tea; ye’d best go on up to the house now.”
Willie started for the door, but stopped halfway, suddenly distressed again, with a hand pressed flat to his chest.
“You said to keep this to remember you. But I haven’t got anything for you to remember me by!”
Jamie smiled slightly. His heart was squeezed so tight, he thought he could not draw breath to speak, but he forced the words out.
“Dinna fret yourself,” he said. “I’ll remember ye.”