“I would love to walk,” she said, breathing of the sweet Scottish air.
Two hours later she almost wished she hadn’t been so confident. She had followed Trevelyan up and down ravines, across little streams, up one hill that should have been called a mountain, and over four logs that lay across streams too wide and deep to ford. Trevelyan had handed her a piece of dry, hard bread that he’d had in his sporran, and twice he’d lent her his heavy staff.
“Why do you carry a cane made out of iron? Wouldn’t a wooden one do just as well?”
“I need to rebuild my strength,” he said over his shoulder.
She wanted to ask him about his illness but she didn’t, for she’d already learned that he didn’t like any mention of it.
After they’d walked for three hours they sat down on a rock and Trevelyan pulled dates from his sporran, frowning at Claire when she began to hungrily devour hers. She managed to control herself enough to munch the fruit.
“Last night when I got back to my room there was a newspaper hidden under my pillow.”
“And who do you suppose did that?” he asked.
“At first I thought it was you, but I didn’t think the
re was any way you could get into my room without being seen.” She smiled at him, then laughed at his smug expression. “Do you know who I think it was?” She paused. “Leatrice.”
Trevelyan looked off at the hills, at the way the soft purple heather blended with the gray-green of the rocks and the grass. He remembered the laughing girl he’d known and the timid woman who now stayed in her room at the beck and call of her mother. “Lee would do that. There’s a bit of a rebel inside her.”
“That’s hard to believe.” She told him about somehow offending Leatrice at tea the day before. “All I did was ask how her mother was.”
“It’s forbidden to mention the old woman’s injury. At least not out loud.”
Claire ate the last of the dates he’d handed her and went to the stream to get a drink. “Why is the water brown?”
“It runs through peat,” he said impatiently. “That’s what makes the whisky taste so good. Good Scotch can’t be made anywhere else in the world except Scotland because the peat-filled water is here. Are you ready to go?”
She nodded and began to follow him. “Anyway, I finally got to read a paper last night, and you’ll never believe what I read.”
“That the Campbells are rising again?”
“Don’t be cynical. It doesn’t become you, although I do think cynicism is natural to you. Were you born believing the world is a bad place or have you developed this attitude?”
He turned and narrowed his eyes at her.
Claire smiled sweetly at him. She was beginning to love being able to pierce his hard outer shell. “I read that Captain Baker’s former partner, Jack Powell, is going to speak to the Royal Geographic Society about having entered Pesha.”
“Is he?” Trevelyan said softly. “And do you plan to go hear him speak?”
“You are joking, aren’t you? Personally, I don’t believe that the man ever entered Pesha.”
At that Trevelyan stopped walking and turned to look at her. “And how did you come to that conclusion?”
“Because I know Captain Baker.”
He turned away so she couldn’t see his smile. “Do you, now?”
“You can stop laughing at me. I’ll never believe Captain Baker didn’t make it into Pesha.”
“We have another hour of walking. Why don’t you tell me how you reached this conclusion? It might make the time pass faster and I could use a good laugh.”
“I shouldn’t tell you anything, not with your attitude, but I will. You have to understand what Pesha meant to Captain Baker. I know that to the rest of the world it’s just a name of fable, a name that conjures exotic…” She trailed off.
He turned back to her, smiling in a smirking sort of way and started walking backward. “Exotic pleasures where a man’s fantasies can come true? A city of riches beyond belief? A place where women are beautiful and plentiful and don’t wear corsets and bustles that keep a man from feeling their flesh? A place—”
“Would you mind? As I was saying, Captain Baker wanted to see the place. He wanted to be the first man from the outside world to reach it and prove it existed, because there were rumors that it didn’t exist, that it was merely a legend. Like Atlantis. He wanted so much to find the place that he spent three years of his life looking for it. I’ve read how when he returned from that first trip without having found it he was sick and dispirited, but he swore he’d return. He vowed he’d die if he didn’t make it.”