Saturday, October 12, 2013

Written In My Own Heart's Blood Excerpts (#4) by Dianna Gabaldon

All excerpts from Written In My Own Heart's Blood can also be found on Gabaldon's Facebook page. 

Posted on October 5th:

While fascinated to hear about William and the dramatic circumstances under which he had just discovered his paternity, Jenny’s true concern was for another young man.

“D’ye ken where Young Ian is?” she asked eagerly. “And did he find his young woman, the Quaker lassie he told his da about?”

I relaxed a little at this; Young Ian and Rachel Hunter were—thank God—_not_ on the list of fraught situations. At least not for the moment.

“He did,” I said, smiling. “As for where he is…I haven’t seen him for several days, but he’s often gone for longer. He scouts for the Continental army now and then, though since they’ve been in their winter quarters at Valley Forge for so long, there’s been less need for scouting. He spends quite a bit of time there, though, because Rachel does.” 

Jenny blinked at that.

“She does? Why? Do Quakers not mislike wars and such?”

“Well, more or less. But her brother Denzell is an army surgeon—though he’s a real physician, not the usual horse-leech or quack-salver the army usually gets—and he’s been at Valley Forge since last December. Rachel comes and goes to Philadelphia—she can pass through the pickets, so she carries back food and supplies—but she works with Denny, so she’s out there much more often than she is here, helping with patients.

“Tell me about her,” Jenny said, leaning forward intently. “Is she a good lass? And d’ye think she loves Young Ian? From what Ian told me, the lad’s desperate in love with her, but hadn’t spoken to her yet, not knowing how she’d take it—he wasna sure she could deal with him being…what he is.” Her quick gesture encompassed Young Ian’s history and character, from Highland lad to Mohawk warrior. “God kens weel he’ll never make a decent Quaker, and I expect Young Ian kens that, too.”

Posted on October 6th:

“You’re a relative of Lord John Grey’s,” I blurted, staring at him. He had to be. The man wore his own hair, as John did, though his was dark beneath its powder. The shape of his head—fine-boned and long-skulled—was John’s, and so was the set of his shoulders. His features were much like John’s, too, but his face was deeply weathered and gaunt, marked with harsh lines carved by long duty and the stress of command. I didn’t need the uniform to tell me that he was a life-long soldier.

He smiled, and his face was suddenly transformed. Apparently he had John’s charm, too.

“You’re most perceptive, Madam,” he said, and stepping forward, smoothly took my limp hand away from the general and kissed it briefly in the continental manner before straightening and eyeing me with interest.

“General Clinton informs me that you are my brother’s wife.”

“Oh,” I said, scrambling to recover my mental bearings. “Then you must be Hal! Er…I beg your pardon. I mean, you’re the…I’m sorry, I know you’re a duke, but I’m afraid I don’t recall your title, your grace.”

“Pardloe,” he said, still holding my hand and smiling at me. “But my Christian name _is_ Harold, do please use it if you like. Welcome to the family, my dear. I had no idea John had married. I understand the event was quite recent?” He spoke with great cordiality, but I was aware of the intense curiosity behind his good manners.

“Ah,” I said, noncommittally. “Yes, quite recent.” It hadn’t for an instant occurred to me to wonder whether John had written to tell his family about me, and if he had, they could barely have received the letter by now. I didn’t even know who all the members of his family _were_—though I had heard about Hal, he being the father of John’s nephew Henry, who—

“Oh, of course, you’ve come to see Henry!” I exclaimed. “He’ll be so pleased to see you! He’s doing very well,” I assured him.

“I have already seen Henry,” the duke assured me in turn. “He speaks with the greatest admiration of your skill in removing pieces of his intestine and reuniting the remnants. Though eager as I naturally was to see my son—and my daughter—“ his lips compressed for a moment; apparently Dottie had informed her parents about her engagement—“and delighted as I shall naturally be to meet my brother again, it is actually duty that called me to America. My regiment is newly landed in New York.”

“Oh,” I said. “Er…how nice.” John plainly hadn’t known that his brother was coming, let alone his regiment. It occurred dimly to me that I ought to be asking questions and finding out what I could about the General’s plans, but it didn’t seem the time or place.

The general coughed politely.

“Lady John—do you happen to know the whereabouts of your husband at the moment?”

Posted on October 7th:

“What’s your name, dear?” I said to the young man in front of me. He couldn’t be more than seventeen, and was precious near to bleeding to death. A bullet had gone through the meat of his upper arm, which would normally be a fortuitous location for a wound. Unfortunately, in this instance the ball had passed through the underside of the arm, and nicked the brachial artery, which had been spurting blood in a slow but earnest manner until I’d taken a death-grip on his arm.

“Private Adams, ma’am,” he replied, though his lips were white and he was shaking. “William Adams. Billy, they call me,” he added politely.

“Pleased to meet you, Billy,” I said. “And you, sir…?” For he’d been brought in staggering, leaning on another boy of about his own age—and nearly as white-faced, though I thought he wasn’t hurt.

“Horatio Wilkinson, ma’am,” he said, dipping his head in an awkward bow—the best he could manage while holding his friend upright.

“Lovely, Horatio,” I said. “I’ve got him now. Would you pour him out a little water, with just a splash of brandy in it? Just there.” I nodded at the packing-case I was using for a table, on which one of my brown bottles marked “Poison” stood, along with a canteen full of water and a wooden cup. “And as soon as he’s drunk it, give him that leather strip to bite down on.”

I’d have told Horatio to have a tot, too, save that there were only two cups, and the second one was mine. I was sipping water steadily—my bodice was soaked and clung to me like the membrane inside an egg-shell and sweat ran steadily down my legs—and I didn’t want to be sharing the germs of assorted soldiers who didn’t brush their teeth regularly. Still, I might have to tell him to take a quick gulp direct from the brandy bottle; someone was going to have to apply pressure to Billy Adams’s arm while I stitched his brachial artery and Horatio Wilkinson didn’t presently look equal to the task.

“Would you—“ I began, but I was holding a scalpel in one hand and a suture needle with a dangling ligature in the other, and the sight of these overcame young Mr. Wilkinson. His eyes rolled up in his head and he dropped bonelessly into the gravel.

Posted on October 8th:

Ban laid his helmet on the ground, grinning, and took off his own coat in a leisurely fashion. The motion attracted all his men at once, and in seconds they were surrounded by a circle of dragoons, whistling and hooting encouragement. The only dissenter was Ban’s lieutenant, who had gone a sickly shade of gray.

“Captain!” he said, and William realized that the man’s fear had all to do with taking issue with Ban, and not the consequences of what might happen if he didn’t. He meant to do his duty, though, and reached out a hand to grip Tarleton’s arm. “Sir. You—“

“Let go,” Ban said, not taking his eyes off William. “And shut up.” The lieutenant’s hand dropped away as though someone had punched him in the shoulder.

William felt at once detached, as though he was watching this from somewhere outside himself, above it all—and that part of him wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. And some very tiny remnant of conscience was appalled. But the fleshly part of him was grimly exultant, and very much in charge.

He’d seen Ban fight before, and didn’t make the mistake of waiting for any sort of signal. The moment the green coat hit the ground, he launched himself, and—ignoring a ferocious hook that slammed into his ribs—grabbed Tarleton by both shoulders, jerked him forward and butted him in the face with a horrid sound of cracking bone. 

He let go, pushed Ban hard in the chest and sent him staggering backward, blood flying from his broken nose and a surprised look on his face that turned immediately to berserk fury. Tarleton dug in his heels and leapt at William like a rabid dog.

Posted on October 9th:

Jenny’s eyes were disturbingly like Jamie’s. She blinked at me once, then twice, and shook her head as though to clear it, accepting what I’d just told her.

“So Jamie’s gone off wi’ your Lord John, the British army is after them, the tall lad I met on the stoop wi’ steam comin’ out of his ears is Jamie’s son—well, of course he is; a blind man could see that—and the town’s aboil wi’ British soldiers. Is that it, then?”

“He’s not exactly _my_ Lord John,” I said. “But yes, that’s essentially the position. I take it Jamie told you about William, then?”

“Aye, he did.” She grinned at me over the rim of her teacup. “I’m that happy for him. But what’s troubling his lad, then? He looked like he wouldna give the road to a bear.”

“What did you say?” Mrs. Figg’s voice cut in abruptly. She set down the tray she had just brought in, the silver milk jug and sugar basin rattling like castanets. “William is _whose_ son?” 

I took a fortifying gulp of tea. Mrs. Figg did know that I’d been married to—and theoretically widowed from—one James Fraser. But that was all she knew.

“Well,” I said, and paused to clear my throat. “The, um, tall gentleman with the red hair who was just here—you saw him?”

“I did.” Mrs. Figg eyed me narrowly.

“Did you get a good look at him?”

“Didn’t pay much heed to his face when he came to the door and asked where you were, but I saw his backside pretty plain when he pushed past me and ran up the stairs.”

“Possibly the resemblance is less marked from that angle.” I took another mouthful of tea. “Um…that gentleman is James Fraser, my…er…my—“ “First husband,” wasn’t accurate, and neither was “last husband”—or even, unfortunately, “most recent husband.” I settled for the simplest alternative. “My husband. And, er…William’s father.”

Mrs. Figg’s mouth opened, soundless for an instant. She backed up slowly and sat down on a needlework ottoman with a soft _phumph_.

“William know that?” she asked, after a moment’s contemplation.

“He does _now_,” I said, with a brief gesture toward the devastation in the stairwell, clearly visible through the door of the parlor where we were sitting.

“_Merde_ on—I mean, Holy Lamb of God preserve us.” Mrs. Figg’s second husband was a Methodist preacher, and she strove to be a credit to him, but her first had been a French gambler. Her eyes fixed on me like gun-sights.

“You his mother?”

I choked on my tea.

“No,” I said, wiping my chin with a linen napkin. “It isn’t quite _that_ complicated.” In fact, it was more so, but I wasn’t going to explain just how Willie had come about, either to Mrs. Figg or to Jenny.

Posted October 10th:

“I dinna ken how to say it,” he said. “It wasna the same way I want you—but I dinna mean to make it sound as though…as though Emily didna matter to me. She did,” he added, very softly, and looked down again.

“And…she does?” Rachel asked quietly, after a long pause. After a longer one, he nodded, swallowing.

“But,” he said, and stopped, looking for the way to go on, because now they were coming to the most perilous part of his confession, the thing that might make Rachel stand up and walk away, dragging his heart behind her through the rocks and brush.

“But?” she said, and her voice was gentle.

“The Mohawk,” he began, and had to stop for a breath. “It’s the woman’s choice, about being married. If a woman should take against her husband for some reason—if he beats her, or he’s a lazy sot, or smells too bad when he farts…” he stole a glance, and saw the corner of her mouth twitch, which heartened him a little. “She puts his things out o’ the longhouse, and he has to go back to live wi’ the unmarried men—or find another woman who’ll have him at her fire. Or leave altogether.”

“And Emily put you out?” She sounded both startled and a little indignant. He gave her a wee smile in return.

“Aye, she did. Not because I beat her, though. Because…of the bairns.”

He felt the tears come to his eyes and clenched his hands in frustration on his knees. Damn, he’d sworn to himself that he wouldn’t weep. Either she’d think he made a show of his grief to win her sympathy…or she’d see too deep; he wasn’t ready…but he had to tell her, he’d started this on purpose to tell her, she had to know…

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