The whole Scene:
THE BOY WAS NOT quite three; he could not have gone far. He couldn’t. So Jamie told himself, trying to control the panic that was creeping into his mind as fast as the fog was covering the ground.
“Stay here, and stay together!” he said to Isobel and Lady Dunsany, both of whom blinked at him in surprise. “Call out for the lad, keep calling out—but dinna move a step. Here, hold the horses.” He thrust the bundled reins into Wilberforce’s hand, and the lawyer opened his mouth as though to protest, but Jamie didn’t stay to hear it.
“William!” he bellowed, plunging into the fog.
“Willie! Willie!” The women’s higher voices obligingly took up the call, regular as a bell on a ship’s buoy, and serving the same purpose. “Willie! Where are youuuu?”
The air had changed quite suddenly, no longer clear but soft and echoing; sound seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.
“William!” The sound bounced off the stones and the short, leathery turf. “William!”
He was moving up the slope, Jamie could tell that much. Perhaps William had gone to explore the shepherd’s hut. Wilberforce had joined the women now in calling out but was doing it in counterpoint, rather than in unison with them.
Jamie had the feeling that he could not breathe, that the fog was choking him—but this was nonsense. Pure illusion.“William!”His shins thumped into the fallen wall of the shepherd’s hut. He could not see more than the faintest outline of the stones but felt his way inside and crawled quickly along the walls, calling out for the boy. Nothing.
Fogs might last an hour, or a day.
Jamie gritted his teeth. If they didn’t keep quiet now and then, he couldn’t hear Willie shouting back. If the boy was capable of shouting. The footing was treacherous, the grass slippery, the ground rocky. And if he went all the way to the bottom of the slope, the moss …
He went higher, among the tumbled stones. Staggered from one to another, feeling round their bases, stubbing his toes. The fog was cold in his chest, aching. His foot came down on something soft—Willie’s jacket—and his heart leapt.“WILLIAM!”
Was that a sound, a whimper? He stopped dead, trying to listen, trying to hear through the whisper of the moving fog and the distant voices, cacophonous as a ring of church bells.And then, quite suddenly, he saw the boy curled up in a rocky hollow, the yellow of his shirt showing briefly through an eddy in the fog. He lunged and seized William before he could disappear, clutched him to his bosom, saying, “It’s all right, a chuisle, it’s all right now, dinna be troubled, we’ll go and see your grannie, aye?”
“Mac! Mac, Mac! Oh, Mac!”
Willie clung to him like a leech, trying to burrow into his chest, and he wrapped his arms tight around the boy, too overcome to speak.
To this point, he could not really have said that he loved William. Feel the terror of responsibility for him, yes. Carry thought of him like a gem in his pocket, certainly, reaching now and then to touch it, marveling. But now he felt the perfection of the tiny bones of William’s spine through his clothes, smooth as marbles under his fingers, smelled the scent of him, rich with the incense of innocence and the faint tang of shit and clean linen. And thought his heart would break with love.