Chapter One – Felicitations on a Birthday
Frank Randall sat in his office at Harvard trying (and failing) to finish the course outline for the upcoming semester. Instead of making the small alterations he meant to complete, he found himself watching the dust motes float lazily in the beam of late summer sunshine which fell on the rug in front of his desk sparking the color of the deep red outline surrounding the pattern of white roses in the center. The warmth of the sun caused the mahogany of his desk to glow with the memory of the life it once contained.
Unable to concentrate, Frank fell into a muse, contemplating his life. It was the 22nd of August, 1952 and his 45th birthday. “ Coming up on half a century, old man,” he told himself ruefully. “A man is entitled to a bit of self-reflection at that age.”
On the tenure track at one of the most prestigious universities in America, several articles published in historical periodicals and working on the second of a series of books, Frank thought he should be quite content with the state of his professional affairs. He was, actually. It was his personal life that failed to satisfy.
Claire had returned from her mysterious disappearance in the Scottish Highlands four years ago. Frantic when she disappeared and devastated by thoughts of the possible horrors which may have befallen her, Frank had sunken into a dark frame of mind for the three years of Claire’s absence. Once she had returned he’d been first shocked at her condition – so thin and frail she looked as if she might shatter with the slightest touch. Also, she had been pregnant with another man’s child.
Resentful didn’t begin to cover the moil of emotions Frank experienced on hearing that piece of information. Then there was the ridiculous story Claire had concocted about where she’d been. Everyone, including himself, had put it down to shock and trauma. It was clear she’d been through some horrendous experience, apparently, so much so that her mind was unable to access the facts.
Frank had hoped that after a time Claire’s mind would heal enough to reveal the truth of the matter, but it had not happened. By tacit mutual agreement, they no longer spoke of it. After four years, he was at the point of giving up hope of ever discovering the facts of Claire’s disappearance.
That rankled. He was an historian, and a good one. His knack for digging up scraps of information and cobbling them together to get a decent, believable history earned him a good living. But there had been nothing to be found about Claire during the three years she went missing. No pieces to of the puzzle to arrange into a coherent picture. Not a single trace.
Not that he was done with his search. He didn’t mean to give up until he had the full story - somehow. If Claire could not or would not tell him what happened he would use other means. He used his research time during summers and sabbaticals to travel to England and Scotland and always found some time to look for records that might reveal that first thread to unravel the mystery of Claire's disappearance.
His hopes for resuming his marriage with Claire had been, at best, only partially fulfilled. Only freshly returned to each other after WWII, they’d been feeling their way back to the intimacy enjoyed before the war separated them for six long years. The start they’d made was aborted by her disappearance. They’d both been trying – then. Since her return, Frank had never been able to get past the amorphous barrier that separated him from Claire and he felt alone in his attempts to rebuild their marriage.
Still, he couldn’t leave her. “Bloody Church knew what they were doing when they make you vow ‘for better or for worse,’” he muttered. Staunch Catholic that he was, Frank wouldn’t consider leaving Claire. Even had it not been for Church doctrine, Frank admitted to himself (albeit reluctantly) he wouldn’t leave her. He loved her - still. Despite everything, he loved her. And even had he not, Frank felt a duty to Claire as her husband. She was his to care for and his to protect.
Duty and honor were more than just words to Frank. Perhaps it was his study of history, but Frank was inculcated with a sense of honor that harkened back to bygone days when men acted in accordance with a certain code. At least men who wished to consider themselves true gentlemen did. And Frank believed he was a gentleman and so felt obliged to act accordingly. “Inconvenient, that.” He muttered again.
And then there was Brianna. Brianna made everything worthwhile. Frank had lived in a state of constant emotional turmoil during Claire’s pregnancy. The uncertainty of his ability to love what was clearly another man’s child, combined with worry over the precarious state of Claire’s health throughout the pregnancy, had caused more than a few sleepless nights. He alternated between pity, fury, scorn and love for Claire. But for his daughter, “Yes, dammit all, my daughter!” Frank had only love and adoration.
Certain experiences cannot be communicated sufficiently in words, parenthood being one of these. The depth of his love for Brianna knew no bounds. One look at the small face, wrapped in a pink blanket, when the nurse had handed newborn Brianna to Frank and he’d fallen in love with her. “Daddy’s little beauty,” he crooned to her, as she’d squished her eyes tight shut and pursed her lips presaging a howl of hunger.
He’d held her for only a minute before having to give the baby to Claire for feeding. That one moment had been enough for Brianna to claim Frank’s heart. She’d grabbed his little finger and his heart had melted into the tiny pink fist that held him fast. Frank felt, well, like he’d made a pledge to her, as knights of old pledged fealty to their queen.
The opening of his office door broke Frank’s train of thought. His secretary, Missy Miller, slid into the room and placed a small pile of envelopes on the corner of his desk, sliding out again wordlessly. One envelope was noticeably larger than the others and bore a Scottish postmark. Noticing the postmark and handwriting, Frank was cheered by anticipation of a letter from his old friend, Reverend Wakefield.
He should save it for after he was finished with work . . . “Sod it. I can’t seem to get it done today anyway,” Frank mumbled to himself as he opened the letter.
I hope this letter finds you well and happy. I have been rooting through old records, as is my wont, always keeping an eye out for things which may be of interest to you in either of your researches. And so, enclosed you will find my birthday present to you.
I was so excited on your behalf when I ran across this evidence of the marriage between your ancestor, Jack Randall and his bride Mary Hawkins. Such a shame they had only a few weeks together before his death at Culloden, but they had apparently spent several months prior to the actual marriage seeing each other in some fashion, given the date of the birth of their son.
I was fascinated by the names of the witnesses, as I’m sure you will be. What a coincidence that this bit of information on your ancestor should turn up the other name you’ve been researching – James Fraser. Of course, there were any number of James Frasers then (and now, for that matter) so this is not evidence it would necessarily be the same man.
The other witness was a woman named Claire B. Fraser, presumably his wife. This put me very much in mind of your wife. How does your Claire fare these days? And your lovely daughter, Brianna? Thank you for the picture of her you sent with your last correspondence. I am always enchanted by the stories you tell in your letters. She seems quite the precocious lass!
Ah, Mrs. Graham reminds me that the postman will be here any minute, so I will close as I am hoping you receive this missive in time for the day. I wish you a very Happy Birthday and many returns.
Your friend, Reggie ******************************************************************************************************* “Ah, bless you Reggie, for keeping it short.” Frank murmured, turning with pleasant anticipation to examine his present.
This was more than just history, this was his history. His family. As Reggie well knew, Black Jack, as he’d been dubbed, was a particular favorite of Frank’s. Turning the page over, Frank perused the names and dates, noting that the marriage had taken place in Edinburgh.
How on earth had Reggie run across this, he wondered? And what on earth had Black Jack being doing in Edinburgh just weeks before the battle on Culloden Moor?
Frank’s eye fell to the names and signatures of the witnesses and time seemed to stand still. Or perhaps it began running backwards. For there on the page was the signature of one Claire B. Fraser. Frank blinked, then blinked again, his brain attempting fruitlessly to reject what his eyes told him. For there on the page, his wife’s lovely clear handwriting stood out in silent rebuke for his years of disbelief. And right below her signature, the other name fairly leapt from the page. James Fraser, Laird Broch Turach.
“It can’t be true. It simply can’t,” Frank finally breathed and realized he had been holding his breath since he laid eyes on Claire’s 200 year old signature. Frank carefully laid the letter and it's accompanying document gently on the desk, as if it might explode.
There was the proof, the microfiche copy before him on his desk. He still didn’t want to believe it. Nevertheless he felt the shell of his disbelief cracking. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Frank muttered at last.