Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Written In My Own's Heart's Blood Excerpts (#8) by Diana Gabaldon

As always you can find more at Gabaldon's Facebook page. 

Posted November 5th:

If it weren’t for the coloring book, I might not have noticed immediately. In third or fourth grade, Brianna had had a coloring book featuring scenes from the American Revolution. Sanitized, suitably romantic scenes—Paul Revere flying through the night on a galloping horse, Washington crossing the Delaware while exhibiting (as Frank pointed out) a lamentable lack of seamanship…and a double-paged spread featuring Molly Pitcher, that gallant woman who had carried water to the heat-stricken troops (left-hand page), and then taken her wounded husband’s place to serve his cannon (right-hand page)—at the battle of Monmouth.

Which, it had dawned on me, was very likely what the battle we were engaged in was going to be called, once anyone got round to naming it. Monmouth Courthouse was no more than half a mile from my present location.

I wiped my face once more—this gesture did nothing for the perspiration, which was instantly renewed, but judging from the state of my three soggy handkerchiefs, was removing a fair amount of dirt from my countenance—and glanced toward the east, where I had been hearing distant cannon-fire most of the day. Was she there?

“Well, George Washington certainly is,” I murmured to myself, pouring out a fresh cup of water and returning to my work rinsing out bloody cloths in a bucket of salt water. “Why not Molly Pitcher?”

It had been a complicated picture to color, and as Bree had just got to the phase where she insisted that things be colored “real,” the cannon could _not_ be pink or orange, and Frank had obligingly drawn several crude cannon on a sheet of paper and tried out everything from Gray (with shadings of Black, Blue, Blue-Violet, and even Cornflower) to Brown, with tints of Burnt Sienna and Gold, before they finally settled—Frank’s opinion as to actual historicity of cannon being diffidently advanced—on Black with Dark Green shadings.

Lacking credentials, I had been relegated to coloring in the grass, though I also got to help with the dramatic shading of Mrs. Pitcher’s raggedly streaming clothes, once Brianna got tired of it. I looked up, the smell of crayons strong in my memory, and saw a small group coming down the road.

Posted November 8th:

Three hundred men. Jamie stepped into the darkness beyond the 16th New Jersey’s campfire and paused for a moment to let his eyes adjust. Three _hundred_ bloody men. He’d never led a band of more than fifty. And never had much in the way of subalterns, no more than one or two men under him.

Now he had ten militia companies, each with its own captain and a few informally-appointed lieutenants, and Lee had given him a staff of his own: two aides-de-camp, a secretary--now, _that_ he could get used to, he thought, flexing the fingers of his maimed right hand—three captains, one of whom was striding along at his shoulder, trying not to look worrit, ten of his own lieutenants, who would serve as liaison between him and the companies under his command, a cook, an assistant cook—and of course, he had a surgeon already.

Despite the preoccupations of the moment, the memory of Lee’s face when Jamie’d told him exactly why he didn’t need an army surgeon assigned to him made him smile.

“Indeed,” Lee had said, his long-nosed face going blank. Then he’d gathered his wits and gone red in the face, thinking himself practiced upon. But Jamie had pushed back his cuff and shown Lee his right hand, the old white scars on his fingers like tiny starbursts where the bones had come through, and the broad one, still red, but neat, straight, and beautifully knit, running down between the middle finger and the little one, showing where the missing finger had been amputated with such skill that one had to look twice to see why the hand seemed strange.

“Well, Colonel, your wife seems a most accomplished needlewoman,” Lee said, now amused.

“Aye, sir, she is,” he’d said politely. “And a verra bonny hand with a blade, too.”

Posted November 12th:

He’d come up to the loft, and pulled the ladder up behind him, to prevent the children coming up. I was dressing quickly—or trying to—as he told me about Dan Morgan, about Washington and the other Continental generals. About the coming battle.

“Sassenach, I _had_ to,” he said again, softly. “I’m that sorry.”

“I know,” I said. “I know you did.” My lips were stiff. “I—you—I’m sorry, too.”

I was trying to fasten the dozen tiny buttons that closed the bodice of my gown, but my hands shook so badly that I couldn’t even grasp them. I stopped trying and dug my hair-brush out of the bag he’d brought me from the Chestnut Street house.

He made a small sound in his throat and took it out of my hand. He threw it onto our makeshift couch and put his arms around me, holding me tight with my face buried in his chest. The cloth of his new uniform smelled of fresh indigo, walnut hulls and fuller’s-earth; it felt strange and stiff against my face. I couldn’t stop shaking.

“Talk to me, _a nighean_,” he whispered into my tangled hair. “I’m afraid, and I dinna want to feel so verra much alone just now. Speak to me.”

“Why has it always got to be _you_?” I blurted into his chest.

That made him laugh, a little shakily, and I realized that all the trembling wasn’t coming from me.

“It’s no just me,” he said, and stroked my hair. “There are a thousand other men readying themselves today—more—who dinna want to do it, either.”

“I know,” I said again. My breathing was a little steadier. “I know.” I turned my face to the side in order to breathe, and all of a sudden began to cry, quite without warning.

“I’m sorry,” I gasped. “I don’t mean—I don’t want t-to make it h-harder for you. I—I—oh, Jamie, when I knew you were alive--I wanted so much to go home. To go home with you.”

His arms tightened hard round me. He didn’t speak, and I knew it was because he couldn’t.

“So did I,” he whispered at last. “And we will, _a nighean_. I promise ye.”

The first shot took them by surprise, a muffled boom from the cider orchard and a slow roll of white smoke. They didn’t run, but they stiffened, looking to him for direction. Jamie said to those near him, “Good lads,” then raised his voice. “To my left, now! Mr. Craddock, Reverend Woodsworth…circle them, come into the orchard from behind. The rest—scatter to the right and fire as ye can—“ The second crash drowned his words, and Craddock jerked like a puppet with his strings cut and dropped to the ground, blood spraying from the blackened hole in his chest. Jamie’s horse shied violently, nearly unseating him.

“Go with the Reverend!” he shouted at Craddock’s men, standing there drop-jawed, staring at their captain’s body. “Go now!” One of the men shook himself, grabbed the sleeve of another, pulled him away, and then they all began to move in a body. Woodsworth, bless him, raised his musket overhead and roared, “To me! Follow me!” and broke into the stork-legged shamble that passed with him for running—but they followed him.

The gelding had settled, but was moving uneasily. He was—supposedly—used to the sound of guns, but he didn’t like the strong smell of blood. Jamie didn’t like it either.

“Shouldn’t we...bury Mr. Craddock?” a timid voice suggested behind him.

“He’s not _dead_, lackbrain!”

Jamie glanced down. He wasn’t—but it wouldn’t be more than a few seconds longer.

“Go with God, man,” he said quietly. Craddock didn’t blink; his eyes were fixed on the sky, not yet dull but sightless.

“Go wi’ your fellows,” he said to the two lingerers, then saw that they were Craddock’s two sons, maybe thirteen and fourteen, white-faced and staring as sheep. “Say farewell to him,” he said abruptly. “He’ll still hear ye. Then…go.” He thought for a moment to send them to La Fayette, but they’d be no safer there. “Run!”

I got hold of the girl by the non-wounded arm and sat her down on the stool, hastily pouring most of what remained in my brandy bottle into a cup. She didn’t look as though she had much blood left.

She didn’t. When I got the scarf off, I discovered that her hand was missing, and the forearm badly mangled. She hadn’t bled to death only because someone had twined a belt round her upper arm and fastened the tourniquet tight with a stick thrust through it. It had been a long time since I’d fainted at sight of anything, and I didn’t now, but did have one brief moment when the world shifted under my feet.

“How did you do that, sweetheart?” I asked, as calmly as possible. “Here, drink this.”

“I—grenade,” she whispered. Her head was turned away, not to see the arm, but I guided the cup to her lips and she drank, gulping the mix of brandy and water.

“She--he picked it up,” said a low, choked voice at my elbow. One of the other Continentals was back. “It rolled by my foot and he—she picked it up.”

The girl turned her head at his voice, and I saw his anguished look.

“She came into the army because of you, I suppose?” Clearly the arm would have to be amputated; there was nothing below the elbow that could be saved, and to leave it in this state was to doom her to death by infection or gangrene.

“No, I didn’t!” The girl said, huffing for breath. “Phil—“ She gulped air and twisted her head to look toward the trees. “He tried to make me go with him. Loyalist c-camp…follower. Wouldn’t.” With so little blood remaining in her body, she was having trouble getting enough oxygen. I refilled the cup and made her drink again; she emerged from it spluttering and swaying, but more alert. “I’m a patriot!”

“I—I tried to make her go home, ma’am,” the young man blurted. “But wasn’t anyone left to look out for her.” His hand hovered an inch from her back, wanting to touch her, waiting to catch her if she fell over.

“I see. Him—“ I nodded toward Dottie’s station under the trees. “Your brother?”

She hadn’t the strength to nod, but closed her eyes briefly in acquiescence.

“Her father died just after Saratoga,” the young man looked completely wretched. Christ, he couldn’t be more than seventeen, and she looked about fourteen, though she must be older. “Phillip was already gone, he’d broke with his father when he joined the Provincials. I--” His voice cracked and he shut his mouth hard, and touched her hair.

“What’s your name, dear?” I said. I’d loosened the tourniquet to check that there was still blood flow to the elbow; there was. Possibly the joint could be saved.

“Sally,” she whispered. Her lips were white, but her eyes were open. “Sarah.” All my amputation saws were in the church with Denzell—I couldn’t send her in there. I’d stuck my head in once, and nearly been knocked over by the thick smell of blood and excrement—even more, by the atmosphere of pain and terror and the sounds of butchery.

There were more wounded coming along the road; someone would have to tend them. I hesitated for no more than a minute.

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