[Excerpt from UNTITLED BOOK TEN, Copyright 2022 Diana Gabaldon]
< Spoilers - tome 9>
A piercing scream stopped Brianna in mid-word. At once, she detached the infant from her person and pushed him into William’s arms.
“Here,” she said, and disappeared in a rustle of skirts. He heard her footsteps, irregular thuds suggesting that she was taking the porch stairs two or three at a time, and then her distant voice inside the house, upraised in adjuration. He looked down at the warm bundle, and carefully readjusted it so that the child rested—face up—in the crook of his elbow.
The little boy was smacking his milky lips in a thoughtful sort of way, as though curious as to the sudden change in his circumstances, but didn’t seem to object to them.
“Hullo,” he said, tentatively. The infant’s round eyes narrowed suddenly. The little body stiffened and a sharp smell of fresh pee made William hold the baby hastily out at arm’s length, then squat and lay David on the grass before anything else happened. Something else promptly did, and the child turned purple and began shrieking.
“Really?” William said. “Come now, we scarcely know one another.” A quick glance at the house revealed a complete absence of Brianna or any other woman who might be helpful, and the muffled shouting inside suggested that no one was likely to appear very soon. He rubbed a finger under his nose, then shrugged and set about gingerly removing the infant’s napkin, which was wet and filled with a sweetish smelling, mustard-like substance, sufficient in quantity as to have leaked down the baby’s legs.
The blanket was wet in spots, but not filthy, and he used it to clean the tiny privates and legs. The shirt had suffered somewhat in the eruption, and he managed to roll this up and edge it gingerly over the child’s head without getting too much shit on either of them. David had quit yelling by this point, and kicked his little bandy legs with enthusiasm.
“Better, yes?” William asked, smiling down at him. “Yes, I think so, too. What the devil am I to put on you, though?”
Davy—yes, that’s what his sister called the baby—was a good deal younger than Trevor had been the first time William had met him, but the sensation of something at once very fragile and yet amazingly solid—very male--brought back immediate memories of Amaranthus’s son—and Amaranthus.
William blew out his breath and drew it in again, slowly, trying to ease the sudden knot in the pit of his stomach.
“Where are you?” he said softly to the mountain air. “And what are you doing?”
_What have you done_? This thought came on the heels of the first, and he shook his head violently, in hopes of dislodging it. Pressing his lips together, he pulled a large—and only slightly used—handkerchief from his pocket and shook it out.
“Better than nothing,” he said to Davy. “Must keep up appearances, mustn’t we?”
[The painting above is from the Thyssen-Bornemizsa Museum in Madrid. I'm afraid I didn't have an opportunity to write down the name of the painter; I snapped a quick photo of it because it's the most realistic breastfeeding Virgin I've seen.]
[End of section]
It is obvious that the extracts below contain spoilers on the 9 previous volumes.
Excerpt from [Untitled Book Ten] – Copyright 2022 Diana Gabaldon
< Spoilers - tome 9>
I sat on a stump about fifteen feet from the Stocketts’ cabin, keeping an eye on the door. The newborn baby boy in my arms stirred a little and made a small mewling noise, but then lapsed back into sleep.
“Louder,” I said to him, under my breath. The window was open, its hide covering rolled up to let the light and air of the early summer morning in. Mrs. Stockett was still crying, though it had diminished to a heartbroken sniveling with occasional sobs in response to Mr. Stockett’s verbal assaults. Those had diminished as well, though I could hear his boots tramping restlessly to and fro on the wooden floor.
I’d set out a rudimentary breakfast of cold corn-cakes and boiled eggs for the family, just before things became serious. Judging from the banging of wooden plates inside, hunger had finally got the upper hand over Mr. Stockett’s emotions.
The door flew open with a bang that made the two young boys sitting on the ground in front of me jump. The baby flung out his arms in shock and uttered a loud wail. Good.
“You boys come in and eat,” Paul Stockett said, his voice still rough with shouting, but under control. The boys got up and went, not looking at me. Mr. Stockett cast me a brief glare and slammed the door. The baby went on wailing, and I could hear Mehitabel Stockett making a similar noise.
I glanced at the path, for the twentieth time. Roger should be here soon; I’d sent Elijah, the eldest boy, for him just before daybreak and the birds were hard at it now in the trees behind me. The boys were Mehitabel’s; her first husband had drowned at sea, and she and Paul Stockett had been married less than a year—he’d never seen a baby born, and the shock had been considerable.
The baby was subsiding into small, abrupt cries. I rocked him and began to sing “Frere Jacques” quietly—but loudly enough to be heard in the house. Just as I began again for the third time, I heard the rustle of grass and brush and Roger and Elijah came into sight. Thank God.
Roger took in my state at a glance—blood-stained apron and blanket-wrapped small bundle in my arms—and leaped at once to the reasonable conclusion.
“A stillbirth?” he asked quietly, a wary eye on the cabin, from which emanated a cold silence broken by quiet sobbing. Elijah cast a quick glance at the house and melted back into the bushes.
“No,” I said, standing up and stretching my back. “He’s a very healthy little boy.”
“Mr. Stockett wanted a daughter?” The corner of Roger’s mouth twitched. Most farmers wanted nothing more than a passel of boys. “Or,” he said, all touch of humor vanishing, “is there perhaps some doubt that he’s the father?”
“Well, you _might_ say that,” I said dubiously. “I mean, he _has_ been saying that, but that isn’t really the problem.”
“What _is_ the problem?” Roger asked, cocking his head curiously toward the house. “From the sounds of it, both husband and wife are alive and well.” The shouting and wailing had started up again, and the door banged open suddenly as the two younger boys shot out of the house, the remains of breakfast in hand, and disappeared into the woods.
I sighed, and shifted the baby, who had fallen asleep again, breathing with a tiny, whistling snore.
“He’s accusing his wife of consorting with ducks.”
“Ducks,” Roger said, squinting at me. “Ducks, in the plural?”
“Yes,” I said, and having got the blanket loose at the bottom, folded it back to display the youngest Stockett’s brand-new feet.
“Jesus Christ.” The baby’s toes were the soft, perfect pink of rosebuds, and there were ten of them, all present and correct, fairly long but quite within the normal range. And every one webbed to its neighbor with a thick, clearly visible light-brown membrane. The cool air made the child flex both feet, making the condition even more noticeable.
“I mean,” I said, re-wrapping the blanket, “what’s the first thing parents do with a new baby?”
“Count its fingers and toes,” Roger said automatically. His eyes were still fixed on the blanket.
“Exactly. And when Mr. Stockett saw what—well, after the first moment’s shock, he got rather upset. So did Mrs. Stockett,” I added. “When Mr. Stockett threatened to drop “it” into the fire, I thought perhaps we’d just…step outside.” I glanced protectively at the tiny bundle in my arm.
Inside, Mehitabel Stockett’s first burst of horror, grief and self-blame seemed to be giving way to personal outrage, which I felt was an improvement, but—
“Can you fix it?” Roger asked. I shook my head. It was theoretically possible to remove the webbing, of course—no major vessels were involved and it wasn’t even vaguely life-threatening. But even with modern hospital facilities, it was a difficult procedure, not sure of success—and extremely painful, with the possibility that scarring would only make the problem worse and perhaps impair the patient’s ability to walk. I couldn’t possibly do that to a tiny boy.
“Well, then.” Roger closed his eyes and muttered something under his breath that I assumed to be a prayer for wisdom and strength, for he concluded it with a deep inhalation, and setting his shoulders back, flexed his fists a few times, and walked up to the open door. I followed, wondering just what he planned to say. I hadn’t said much myself, being first occupied with kneading Mrs. Stockett’s abdomen to slow the bleeding, then swabbing little Froggie with oil and generally tidying up the mess.
The Stocketts stopped abruptly at the sound of Roger’s footsteps—deliberately loud—on the porch. Peering past him, I saw that Mrs. Stockett, hair matted with sweat and her shift grubby and bloodstained from the birth, had got out of bed and was brandishing a large iron skillet, holding it in both hands like a tennis-player intending a fore-hand smash. Mr. Stockett, still red in the face and his own hair standing on end, was plastered against the far wall. He risked a sideways glance, saw Roger, and took a breath, coming a little way off the wall.
“Minister,” he said, with a cursory bob of the head, keeping a wary eye on his wife.
“Mr. Stockett,” Roger said, beaming, “and Mrs. Stockett.” He took off his hat and bowed low to her. “Good day to ye, Missus, and my thanks to God for your safe delivery of a bonnie wee lad. And my congratulations to you, sir!”
Mr. Stockett made a low barking noise, and Mrs. Stockett took a step toward him, raising her skillet. Roger moved quickly into the room, interposing his body between them.
“What d’ye mean to call him?” he inquired pleasantly. Mr. Stockett’s face went blank, and Mehitabel blinked, but recovered first.
“Paul,” she said defiantly. “After his fat-heided, stinkin’ _faither_!”
Mr. Stockett uttered a howl and lunged forward, though I saw he allowed Roger to thrust an elbow between himself and the skillet.
“Ye’ll not call him after _me_, ye mumpin’ wee besom!”
“Aye, I will!” she shouted, going almost as red in the face as her husband. “God damn ye for a fool and a blethering gob-shite!”
“Ma’am!” Roger backed skillfully into Paul Stockett, pushing him back toward the wall, and held out placating hands toward Mehitabel. “Now, Missus, I ken ye’re mithered just now—and doubtless with cause--but I’m sure the good Lord would not like to hear His name called out in anger.”
“Aye!” Paul called out, peering belligerently out from the shelter of his protector. “And He wouldna like ye speakin’ chough to your husband, either! That’s takin’ His name in vain, and that’s a God-damned _sin_, woman!”
“Cause?” bellowed Mehitable, changing the focus of her ire to Roger. “ Ye say I have ‘_cause_,’? My own husband tells me to ma face as I’ve been playin’ the loon wi’ a pack of ducks and that’s why ma poor bairnie’s feet are—are—“ She puffed out her cheeks, overcome with emotion, and without warning, slammed the skillet down on the table with a resounding _clang_! “Well, I _haven’t_!” she shrieked, and burst into tears.
Froggie, who had slept peacefully through the shouting, jerked convulsively and started to wail. Mehitabel looked up at the sound, startled, and seeing me in the doorway, shook her head in a dazed sort of way and lumbered toward me. I met her halfway, put the baby into her arms and then grabbed an arm and steered her as well as I could back toward the bed.
She was sobbing loudly, but let me push her down on the bed and shove a pillow behind her back.
“You’d best feed him, I think,” I said gently, and turned back the blanket to expose the round little head and its wide-open, unhappy little mouth. Mrs. Stockett let out a huge sigh and settled, pulling down the front of her shift and tenderly guiding her little boy’s head where it belonged to be. The cries stopped. She didn’t look at her husband, but her entire being radiated defiance.
I moved quietly away from the bed and started putting things to rights. Mr. Stockett was standing in the middle of the floor, glowering at his wife, but clearly less sure of himself. Roger took him by the arm and urged him toward the table.
“You wouldn’t have a dram in the house?” he asked. “To wet the bairnie’s head, and maybe settle your nerves?”
Mr. Stockett looked confused for a moment, but then looked toward the modest sideboard, which held a stack of wooden plates and two earthenware jugs.
“Just beer,” he said, rather shame-faced. “Will ye take a cup with me, Minister?”
“There’s a bottle o’ scuppernong wine in my chest,” Mrs. Stockett said to me, ignoring the men. “I could do wi’ a taste. I’m dry as a scrap of auld leather.”
“I imagine you are. You must be hungry, too—I see there’s bread, shall I…?” I burrowed about and found a pot of gooseberry jam, some dried trout and the remains of an enormous rabbit pie, and brought Mrs. Stockett a generous snack in reward of her labors. She had relaxed a little, and so had the baby; he was still clinging to the nipple but was mostly asleep, only rousing to suck briefly if she tried to put him down. She smiled at this and patted his tiny back.
She’d offered me a cup of the scuppernong wine, and it didn’t come amiss; labor was a tiring business for everybody, including the midwife. The wine was cool and sweet and I felt the pleasant ache of being able to sit down after a hard night’s work.
Of course, on other fronts, the work was just beginning. Roger had blessed the beer, and had been engaging Mr. Stockett in irrelevant chat about his crops and beasts while they drank it, keeping up a soothing murmur. Mr. Stockett’s face had resumed a fairly normal color, but his brow still lowered and his eyes narrowed every time he caught a glimpse of his wife and son.
“Now, ye’ll be wanting your son christened, nay doubt?” Roger said, pouring Mr. Stockett another cup. Stockett, who had been reaching for the cup, stopped dead.
“Ye canna christen such a child, surely!”
Roger stiffened and gave the man a level look. Mrs. Stockett had likewise stiffened beside me.
“I think…” Roger began in measured tones, but was interrupted by Mrs. Stockett, who carefully detached the baby, handed him to me, and swung her legs out of bed, plainly intending to get her hands on the skillet.
“Mehitabel!” I said, grabbing her arm. “You mustn’t…exert yourself. It will make the bleeding worse.”
“I’ll make _his_ bleedin’ worse!” she said, burning eyes fixed on her husband. “How in the name of the Holy Ghost d’ye think I could ha’ been havin’ it away with _one_ duck, let alone a dozen? Drakes dinna even have pricks, as ye’d ken well enough if ye’d ever got off your fat arse and cleaned one yourself!”
“Oh, aye?” he cried, springing to his feet. “And how do they manage, then? I’ve seen ‘em mate—so how, if you ken so much about their pricks?”
“They press their businesses together, ye numpty,” said Mrs. Stockett, irate, but getting herself under control. “And if ye think my business looks anything like a duck’s, ye’ve no more eyes than ye’ve got brains.”
“Mehitabel!” Mr. Stockett went scarlet and cast a scandalized look at Roger. “Ye canna be talkin’ about your business in front o’ the minister, woman!”
Said minister had been sitting transfixed. He wasn’t quite as red as Mr. Stockett, but getting there.
“Mr. Stockett,” I said. “Er…your wife is quite right, you know. Drakes really don’t…er… But what I’m wondering---and I’m sure the minister would like to know this, too—“ I shot Roger a glance, but he’d got hold of himself again. “Is just what caused you to _think_ that the ducks—or even one duck—was responsible for…this?” I patted little Froggie’s tactfully covered feet.
“I saw ‘em,” he said gruffly, and looked at the floor. “In the spring. We went to the lake to fish wi’ the lads, remember?”
“Aye,” she said shortly. “Ye didna even ken how to bait a hook and I had to dae it.”
He ignored this jibe, eyes still fixed on the boards at his feet. “And ye went off into the bushes, and a big flight o’ ducks came down right before us and spoiled the fishing, and whilst we were packing up, I saw a hen-duck runnin’, half-flyin’ and runnin’ again, and a pack o’ drakes after her, with no good on their minds. Ye could tell,” he said apologetically, turning to Roger. “I mean—I’m no countryman, sure, but…ye can tell.”
“Aye, ye can,” Roger murmured, carefully not looking at Mrs. Stockett. “But—“
“But then they all ran into the bushes, right where Mehitabel was…er…and there was enough squawking and such like to make your blood run cold. Have ye ever heard a duck scream?”
“Yes,” I said. In fact, he was right; in the breeding season, hordes of drakes would take after an unmated hen, and Jamie had told me that it wasn’t uncommon for the frantic males to crush the hen or tear her apart in their frenzy.
Mehitabel was looking blank.
“I remember that,” she said slowly. “But—for God’s sake, Paul, ye ken I was well with child already, when that happened!”
“Well, aye,” he said, puffing a little. “But ye canna deny that it marked the wee lad! Look at him!” He pointed censoriously at the bundle in my arms. The little boy had hair—most of it was pasted down with the effluvium of birth, but a vibrant cowlick had escaped and was sticking straight up—exactly like the one presently waving in agitation on top of his father’s head.
“Is that….experience…what ye meant, sir, when ye said that your wife had been…erm, ‘consorting’ with ducks?” Roger said, leaning forward.
“Aye, it is.” Paul Stockett seemed to be calming down a little. His wife wasn’t.
“That’s no what ye said, ye pillock! Ye said I’d played the loon wi’ a pack of ducks, and that’s why—“
“Well, aye, but I didn’t mean—I mean, I meant—“ Mr. Stockett, caught wrong-footed, glanced wildly at Roger for help.
“I think perhaps we’ve a bit of misunderstanding here,” Roger said, his mouth twitching. “Mr. Stockett—Paul, if I can call ye that?” Mr. Stockett nodded mechanically. “I think I was told that your parents were both Scotch-Irish—and came from Ulster. Is that right?” Plainly it was, judging from his accent.
“Aye. We came to Wilmington when I was five.” _So_? His expression plainly said.
“So,” Roger said, “what does “play the loon” mean, in Ulster?” Mehitabel snorted, and he raised a hand to stop her interrupting. Paul glanced at her, then back to Roger.
“Well…to—to be foolish. To…be silly, not have good sense. That’s what my mother told me. What else would it mean?”
Mehitabel made a noise like a tea-kettle and put her hands on her hips, shaking her head at him.
“No, it doesn’t, ye wee dunderheid! It means---“ She broke off and gestured at Roger, who obliged.
“Fornication,” he said helpfully. “Or adultery, depending.”
“Aye,” said Mehitabel, triumphant. “That.”
“Oh.” Paul blinked, backed up until the back of his knees touched the bench, and sat down. There was a long moment of silence, which I broke by clearing my throat.
“Is there any of your delicious wine left, Methitabel?” I asked. “Perhaps we could all use a glass.” I caught Roger’s eye, and his small beckoning motion.
“Let me take him while ye pour it out, aye?” I decanted the child into his arms, and took the beer cups to rinse out, keeping an eye on the baby while I did so. He was awake, but not fussing; his eyes were puffy from birth, but alert—a clear, light blue, not the vague slaty color common to newborns.
Roger laid the baby on his lap, smiling at him, and carefully unwrapped him.
“He’s a lovely wee lad,” he said softly, tickling the baby’s palm with a finger to make him grasp it. “Big, isn’t he?” he asked, looking up at me for confirmation.
“Yes, he is,” I said, smiling down at the baby myself. He was long and stringy, and bow-legged as most babies are. But he’d come late, and was noticeably bigger than the usual; I’d estimated his birth-weight at eight or nine pounds, hefting him.
“He’ll be a famous swimmer, then, won’t he?” Roger took the baby’s tiny feet in both hands, squeezing gently, and the baby made a small chirping noise that made his father’s face go soft. Paul Stockett cleared his throat, quietly.
“I—won’t the other lads torment him, though?” His hand stole out and a finger tentatively stroked the soft downy shoulder. “Say he’s a devil-child?”
“He’s got three older brothers who will beat the snot out of any lad who tries, doesn’t he?” Roger said, matter-of-fact, and Mehitabel laughed.
“That he does,” she said firmly, and laid a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “And his father will take care of anyone else.”
[End of section]
[Excerpt from Untitled Book Ten, Copyright 2022 Diana Gabaldon]
< Spoilers - tome 9>
William had just set foot on the threshold when Fanny spoke behind him.
“Will-yum?” she said, her voice clear but uncertain.
He turned to look back, surprised, but then smiled and stepped back onto the porch, reaching to take her hands.
“Frances,” he said softly, looking down at her. “There you are.”
“Here I am,” she said, smiling up. She’d blushed when he turned to her, but her eyes sparkled. “Shall I take care of your horse for you?”
“Oh.” He glanced down the steps; the horse, a big, muscular dark bay, was munching grass beside the path, his reins carelessly looped over the hitching rail. William glanced at me, and I made a tiny nod in Fanny’s direction.
“That’s most kind of you, Frances,” he said, and squeezed her hands briefly before letting go. “His name is Trajan and I’m sure he will be as grateful for your welcome as I am.”
She turned at once and skipped down the steps, glowing. William looked after her, the smile still on his face.
“I nearly said, ‘How you’ve grown, Frances!’,” he remarked, sotto voce, to me. “But that wouldn’t have done, would it? I always hated it when Papa’s friends would say that to me.”
“It would have gone over like a lead balloon,” I assured him. “She has, though. And her speech is nearly perfect now. “ I glanced over my shoulder; Jamie had gone into the study. “And—er—how is Lord John these days?”
“I wish I knew,” he said, face and voice both suddenly bleak.
[End of section]
[Excerpt from Untitled Book Ten, Copyright 2022 Diana Gabaldon]
< MEGA Spoilers for the END of Volume 9 >
Half an hour later, the whisky bottle was empty, but all three of us were stone-cold sober, and there was a ball of cold dread in the pit of my stomach. According to William, Perseverance Wainwright was dead, and Lord John was missing—kidnapped by a man named Richardson. Or so Percy had said, before dying messily, poisoned on the hearth-rug in Lord John’s house.
Jamie rubbed a hand hard over his face, opened his eyes and looked at me, one eyebrow raised.
“Is it possible?” he said.
William’s lips pressed tight together and he made a noise that might have been a stifled snort.
“I shouldn’t be surprised that you think me a liar, sir. But ask yourself why I should tell you such a tale. Or why I should be here.”
“I have been,” Jamie said frankly. “Askin’ myself, I mean. And now I’m asking my wife.”
“Possible, yes,” I said, trying not to show just how disturbing that possibility was. “John’s brother—you know, the Duke-- sent me a note last year, asking me what herbs I’d recommend for the extermination of…um…pests. I wasn’t sure that he was serious—but I’ve never known Hal to make jokes.” Jamie made a noise that was definitely a snort.
“Oh, his Grace has a sense o’ humor,” he said, very cynical. “But ye’re right, he doesna make jests or play wi’ words like his brother. So, did ye answer him?”
“I did,” I said, exchanging stares with him. “On the basis of what I knew was growing in Savannah at the time, I told him that an alcoholic extract of foxglove would be poisonous, but he should take care in using it. I thought that he might be intending to use it on mice or rats,” I added defensively. “There are mice in most houses in Savannah—and cockroaches.”
Both of them snorted. I ignored this.
“But do you actually think Hal intended to—to poison someone, a person, I mean? Or Percy, specifically? Because your description of his symptoms sounds very much like foxglove poisoning—but from what you say, it sounds as though Percy got hold of a bottle of poisoned brandy entirely by accident, doesn’t it?”
“God only knows.” William closed his eyes briefly, and I saw how tired he was, his young face lined and smeared with the grime of long riding. He summoned his strength, though, and straightened.
“I don’t care how or why Percival—or Perseverance—Wainwright happened to die in Lord John’s house. He came to tell me where Lord John was, and—and why.”
Jamie glanced at me, then fixed his gaze on William.
“So his lordship is—to the best o’ your knowledge—being held aboard a ship called Pallas, in the hands of a man called Richardson, whom ye ken yourself as a right bastard that’s tried to kill you more than once—and now he’s said he means to kill Lord John?”
“But ye dinna ken why?”
William rubbed his hands hard over his face and shook his head.
“I told you what bloody Wainwright told me. How would I know whether it’s the truth? It sounds--” He flung out his hands in a violent, hopeless gesture.
Jamie and I exchanged a quick glance. How, indeed? It sounded like insanity to William; it sounded much worse to me, and to Jamie.
Jamie cleared his throat and set both hands on his desk.
“I suppose that bit doesna really matter, aye? Whether we believe it or not, I mean. The only thing to do is to find where his lordship is, and get him back.”
It was said so simply that I smiled, despite the situation, and William’s bunched shoulders dropped a little.
“You make it sound so easy,” he said. His voice was dry, but the note of strain in it had gone.
“Mmphm. How long have ye been on the road, lad?”
“Don’t call me ‘lad’,” William said, automatically. “Three months, more or less. Looking for my fa—for Lord John, or for my uncle. I can’t find him, either.”
“Aye. Well, twenty-four hours willna alter your prospects of findin’ either one. Eat, wash, and rest now. We’ll lay our plans tomorrow.”
He turned his head to look out the window, then glanced thoughtfully back at William. It was nearly evening, but the yard and the nearby trees were still alive with people and I could tell what he was thinking. So could William.
“Who do you mean to tell…them—” he nodded toward the window, “—that I am? A lot of them saw me. And Frances knows.”
Jamie leaned back a little, looking at his son. _His son_, and I felt, rather than saw, the warmth that touched him at the thought.
“Ye dinna have to say who ye are.” He caught William’s skeptical glance at his face. “We’ll say you’re--my cousin Murtagh’s lad, if ye like.”
I swallowed a startled laugh that went down the wrong way, and two pairs of dark blue eyes looked austerely down two long, straight noses at me.
“I’ve done with lies,” William said abruptly, and shut his mouth, hard. Jamie gave him a long, thoughtful look, and nodded.
“There’s no way back from the truth, ken?”
“I don’t have to speak Scotch, do I?”
“I’d pay money to see ye try, but no.” He took a deep breath and glanced at me. “Just say your mother was English, and she’s dead, God rest her soul.”
“If anyone asks,” I said, trying to be reassuring. Jamie made a brief Scottish noise.
“They’re Scots, Sassenach,” he said. “Everyone will ask. They just may not ask us.”
Music was beginning to gather, fiddlers and drummers and zitherers coming down from the woods; there would be dancing as soon as it grew dark.
“Come with me, William,” I said. “I’ll find you some food.”
He took a breath that went down to the soles of his boots and stood up.
“Thank you, sir,” he said to Jamie, bowing slightly.
“Surely you needn’t go on calling him ‘sir’,” I said, glancing from one man to the other. “I mean…not now.”
“Aye, he does,” Jamie said dryly. “All the other things he might call me are things he can’t--or won’t. ‘Sir’ will do.” Flicking a hand in dismissal of the matter, he rose from his chair, grimacing slightly at the effort needed to do it without bracing himself with his hands.
“You know,” William said, in a conversational tone, “there was a time when you called _me_ “sir”. He didn’t wait to see if there was a response to this, but went out and down the hall toward the kitchen, his steps light on the boards.
“Why, you little _bastard_,” I said, though I was more amused than shocked, and so was Jamie, from the twitch at the corner of his mouth. “Fine thing to say to someone you’ve just asked for help!”
“Aye, well, I suppose it depends who ye say it to.” Jamie lifted one shoulder and dropped it. “He was six, the last time I called him that.”
[End of section]
[Excerpt from Untitled Book Ten, Copyright 2022 Diana Gabaldon]
< Spoilers - volume 9 (vol. 2) >
Jamie met his sister, half a mile from the Murrays’ cabin and looking worried. Her brow lightened a bit when she saw him, and further when she spotted the dog.
“There ye are, ye wee gomerel!” The puppy barked happily at sight of her and charged uphill. Jenny intercepted him before he could leap on her skirt with his muddy paws, and firmly shoved him down, grabbing his scruff and rubbing his ears while he squirmed with delight and tried to lick her hands. “What are ye doing wi’ _him_?” she asked the dog, waving a hand in Jamie’s direction. “And what have ye done wi’ your master, eh?”
“His master? Young Ian, ye mean?”
“I do.” She craned her neck to look round him, in obvious hope that Ian was behind him. “He hasna come home yet. Rachel’s heavin’ her guts out and Oggy wanted his wee _cu_, so I thought the hound must be wi’ Ian and best I come down and dig them out of wherever they’d slept last night.”
Jamie felt a tickle of unease between his shoulders.
“That’s what I was meaning to do, as well. I found the dog sleepin’ wi’ Meyers, but I havena seen hide nor hair of Young Ian.” Jenny raised one sleek black brow.
“When did ye see him last?”
Every woman he knew said this when something was lost. He gave Jenny a look meant to suggest that he didn’t think this any more helpful than the last thousand times he’d heard it. He answered, though.
“Yesterday, after the wedding, dancin’ wi’ Silvia Hardman and Patience—Higgins, I mean. Maybe an hour before…” He stopped abruptly. He’d been about to say, “Before William”, but didn’t want to be side-tracked in to a discussion about William right now. Jenny, Rachel and Oggy had left the festivities early; Rachel was feeling peely-wally and his sister needed to milk her goats. Had the news reached them?
_No_, he thought, keenly aware of his sister’s eyes, fixed with interest on his face. _If she kent about him, it’s the first thing she would ha’ said to me_.
_And she’ll kill me if I dinna tell her about it now_, he concluded.
“My son’s come,” he said abruptly. “William.”
Her face went blank for a second, and then went through such a flurry of expressions that he couldn’t follow it all. The end of it was a look of pure joy, though, and his throat went thick at sight of it. She laughed out loud, and he smiled, shy about his own feelings.
“Did he come armed?” she asked then, a slight tinge of doubt in her voice.
[End of section]
[Excerpt from UNTITLED BOOK TEN, Copyright 2023 Diana Gabaldon.]
I uncurled the tiny fist to check again. I’d caught only a glimpse, but… By reflex, I turned my left hand up and glanced at my own palm. It was a maze of wandering lines: head, heart, life, love, fate—and dozens more caused by the daily wear of age and work. A net to catch an unknown future.
But the twitching little starfish in my right hand was almost a blank slate, save for a single smooth, deep line across the upper palm. Only one. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis called it a simian crease.
The little fingers curled again, gripping my index finger. Weak, but definitely a grasping reflex. The birth had been easy—it was Mhairi MacDonald’s eighth labor, but things could go wrong with any birth. Apgar scores were on the low side, but tolerable--with the exception of some of the other reflexes; I couldn’t get a Babinski reflex at all—and the muscle tone overall, which was…the baby gave a sort of floppy, convulsive movement that nearly spilled her off my lap and made a grunting squeak that wasn’t quite a cry.
“Shh, sweetheart, I’ve got you…don’t worry, everything will be fine…” I picked her up and cuddled her—small, but warm and solid, wrapped in her older brother’s shirt, for lack of a blanket—against my shoulder and glanced at the mother, a cold, heavy feeling in my chest.
I knew. Had known by the time I’d started swabbing the little body with oil. Not all the signs were there, but…enough. The flattened nose, the unusual space between the big toe and the second toe… What could I—what _should_ I tell them?
Old Mrs. MacDonald was helping her daughter, kneading her flaccid belly with a firm but kindly touch, whispering what I thought was a blessing in _Gaidhlig_. Mhairi lay on her sweat-soaked pillow, breathing slowly, eyes half- shut, making little grunts that sounded not unlike her new daughter’s.
Maybe I shouldn’t say anything …specific. “Down’s Syndrome” would mean nothing to anyone in this time, let alone “Trisomy of Chromosome 21”. There was no telling how much cognitive impairment there might be; perhaps only a little, perhaps it wouldn’t be very noticeable. And in this time, when girls largely worked in house and field and took care of children, it mightn’t matter that much; maybe she could function well enough in the bosom of her family.
If she could nurse. If she couldn’t, she likely wouldn’t live long. Her mouth was slightly open, filled by a large, protrusive tongue. I laid her on my lap again and stroked her cheek lightly. Her ears were still pink and slightly crumpled from birth, but looked normal, though small. Her eyes looked somewhat slanted, but were still tight closed, lashes invisible, but she turned her head at once at my touch, snuffling.
_Rooting reflex. Check_.
“Good,” I whispered. “Can you suck, sweetheart?”
My hands weren’t clean enough for me to consider sticking a finger in her mouth to try. We’d have to wait and see. I glanced over at the bed, half-hidden in darkness. Mrs. MacDonald was still kneading, but her head was raised and she was looking at me as she worked, a deep crease between her brows. Her mouth was pressed tight, but it dawned on me that neither I nor the child was her immediate concern.
“What is the word for a placenta in _Gaidhlig_?” I asked, rising to my feet with the baby. Mrs. MacDonald blinked and knuckled away a bead of perspiration running down her cheek. The door and window were closed to keep out flies drawn to the scent of blood, so there was a fire to provide light and hot water, and all of us—except the baby—were sweating in the moving shadows.
She shrugged. “There’s some as says ‘birth-cake’. That’s _breith-cèic_. ” She glanced down at her working hands. “Whatever ye choose to call it, this one’s no lettin’ go.” There was a note of strain in her voice, though her gnarled old hands kept up a steady kneading.
“I have something that might help,” I offered. I’d brought my birthing kit along in a cloth bag. The bag didn’t have everything, but it did have dried raspberry leaves. A strong tea aided labor; it might—I hoped—dislodge an uncooperative placenta. I would have put the child to Mhairi’s breast to suckle, but given my doubts…best start with the tea.
Mrs. MacDonald hesitated for a moment, hands stilled and brows knit. _Old Mrs. MacDonald thinks you’re a witch,_ Fanny had told me. _But it doesn’t matter, because Mr. MacDonald is afraid of Mr. Fraser_. She stared at me, eyes narrowed, but then glanced down at her gasping daughter, and gave in.
“Gie’ me the wean and do what ye can,” she said abruptly.
[End of section]
[EXCERPT FROM UNTITLED BOOK TEN, Copyright 2023 Diana Gabaldon – possible spoiler, but not likely]
< Spoilers for the END of volume 9 >
William opened his eyes and lay still. He’d got used to not knowing quite where he was upon wakening, save when he slept in the woods. Woods at night are mysterious places, and his inner ear heard sounds all night, some deep part of his brain evidently recognizing and dismissing things like wind through leaves, the falling of acorns or the patter of rain on the canvas of his lean-to, but still sensitive enough to apprise him of the heavy pad of a walking bear nearby—to say nothing of the branches snapping in its path.
The result of this behavior on the part of his brain was to keep him aware of his circumstances all night and thus unsurprised at dawn, even if he never woke all the way.
He’d slept like a log last night, though, worn out from his journey, plied with good, hot food and as much alcohol as he could drink. His memory of going to bed was confused, but he was lying now on the floor of an empty room—he felt the smooth boards under his hands, something warm over him. Light filtered through a burlap-covered window…
And quite suddenly, the thought was just there in his mind, without warning.
_I’m in my father’s house._
“Jesus,” he said aloud, and sat up, blinking. All of the day before came flooding back, a jumble of effort, sweat and worry, climbing through forest and cliffs, and finally seeing a large, handsome house emerge, its glass—_glass. In this wilderness?_--windows twinkling in the sun, incongruous amid the trees.
He’d pushed himself and the horse past fear and fatigue, and then--there he was, just sitting on the porch. James Fraser.
There had been other people on the porch and in the yard, but he hadn’t noticed any of them. Just him. Fraser. He’d spent miles and days deciding what to say, how to describe the situation, frame his request—and in the end, had simply ridden right up to the porch, breathless, and said, _“Sir, I need your help.”_
He drew a deep breath and rubbed both hands through his disordered hair, reliving that moment. Fraser had risen at once, came down the steps, took him by the arm. And said, _“You have it.” _
“You have it,” he repeated softly, to himself. Yesterday, that had been enough--the relief of knowing help was at hand. The relief was still with him, but other things had crept in while he slept.
The thought of Papa was still a blade in his chest and a stone in his belly. He hadn’t forgotten, even under the onslaught of people and the comfort of a lot of whisky.
There had been an avalanche of people, flooding out of the house, running from the yard and from what seemed to be a party going on under a huge tree. He’d noticed only three people in the swirling mass: Mother Claire, little Fanny, and a few moments later, his sister.
_Sister_. He hadn’t expected to find Brianna here. He’d been too stunned, by fear, dread, apprehension, fury and desperation, all happening at once, to even try to imagine his reception at Fraser’s Ridge. _And_, he admitted to himself, _because I could scarcely stay in the saddle, and if I’d tried to make the speech I’d thought out, I’d have fallen on my face before I got the first sentence out_.
But he had got it out, and he’d got his answer.
The encouragement of that was enough to get him on his feet. The thing that had covered him was a homely piece of knitting the color of vomit, and he folded it carefully and set it aside. He looked about for a utensil of some sort, and found a battered tin pot, placed by the door with a large bottle beside it, with a label tied round its neck, reading “Drink Me”. He pulled the cork and sniffed. Water. Exactly what he needed, and he drank thirstily, holding the bottle with one hand and unbuttoning his breeches with the other.
He’d just about finished when the door opened. He choked, spraying water, and tried to cover himself with his other hand.
“Good morning, William,” Fanny said. “I brought you something to break your fast. But there’s porridge and bacon downstairs. When you’re wead-_ready_.” She was holding a thick slice of buttered bread and a wooden cup that smelled like beer, and looked amused.
“Thank you, Fanny,” he said, buttoning his breeches with what dignity he could summon. “Ah…how have you been?”
“Very well, thank you,” she said, and straightened her back, thrusting a pair of new small breasts into sudden prominence. “I’ve learnt how to talk. Prroperly,” she added, rolling her ‘r’s slightly.
“So I perceive,” he said, smiling. “Your voice is lovely, Frances. Is that beer?”
“It is. I made it,” she said proudly, and handed him the cup.
It was small beer, and noticeably sour, but he was still thirsty and it went down without effort. So did the bread and butter, which he wolfed in a few bites. Frances watched him with approval.
“Why is it that women like to feed men?” he asked, swallowing the last mouthful. “We’re very grateful, of course, but it seems a good deal of effort for little gain.”
She’d gone a bit pink in the face, and he thought she looked like a small flower, the sort you found hiding in the grass in a spring meadow.
“Mrs. Fraser says women want to keep things alive, and men want to kill things,” she said, taking the empty cup. “But we need men to do that for us, so we feed them.”
“Indeed,” he said, rather startled at hearing this sort of opinion attributed to Mother Claire.
“Are you going to kill the man who took Lord John?” she asked seriously. Her flush had faded, and her eyes were serious. “I listened. I heard what you told Mith-Mister Fraser.”
He took a deep breath, and felt the fresh-scented air of the woods cleanse him of the last traces of fatigue.
“Yes, Frances,” he said. “I am.”
[End of section]
[EXCERPT FROM UNTITLED BOOK TEN, Copyright 2023 Diana Gabaldon – possible spoiler, but not likely]
[Jamie and Roger were sitting outside the malting shed, discussing Jamie's imminent departure in search of Lord John. ]
" Are you afraid ? he said. Jamie looked at Roger, but he shrugged and settled down before answering.
“Does it show? »
“Not at home,” reassured Roger. “At Clare. »
Jamie looked surprised, but after a moment of thought, he nodded slightly.
" Yes of course. She sleeps with me, you know? Roger didn't seem to fully understand. Jamie sighed a little and leaned against the wall of the malting shed.
"I'm dreaming," he said simply. "I can take care of my thoughts while I'm awake, but… you know, the Indians say the world of dreams is as real as this?" Sometimes I think it's true, but often I hope it's not. »
"Do you talk to Claire about your dreams? »
Jamie winced briefly.
" Sometimes. Some... Well, you might know that sometimes it helps to open your mind to somebody, when you're troubled, and some dreams are like that; just saying what happened allows you to take a step back. You understand it's only a dream, as they say. »
" Only. Roger said it softly, but Jamie nodded, his mouth relaxing a little.
" Yes. They were silent for a few moments, and the sounds of the wind and the surrounding birds kept them company.
"I'm afraid for William," Jamie said abruptly. He hesitated, but added, in a low voice, “And I'm afraid for John. I don't want to think about the things we could do to her. Things I may not be able to save him from. "
Roger looked at him, trying not to look surprised. But then he realized that Jamie wasn't avoiding things, or bringing them up. He had simply accepted the fact that Roger knew what he had been through, and exactly why he might fear for his friend.
"I wish I could come with you," he said. It was impulsive, but true, and a genuine smile lit up Jamie's face in response.
“Me too, a Smeorach (La Grive). But the people here need you - and they'll need you much more if I don't come back. "
Roger wished Jamie avoided certain topics from time to time, but he reluctantly admitted that things needed to be said now, no matter how uncomfortable it was. So he answered the question Jamie hadn't asked.
"Yes. I will protect them for you. Claire, and Bree and Ian and Rachel and the little ones. And all your pesky tenants too. sow and her ring.”
Jamie didn't laugh, but the smile was still there.
“It's a comfort to me, Roger Mac, to know that you'll be there to face whatever may come. And everything will happen"
"Now I'm scared," said Roger, as lightly as he could.
" I know. Fortunately, Jamie did not expand on the subject, but turned to practicalities.
“A Deamhan Gael (Highland Demon) can take care of herself,” he assured Roger. “And little Frances will take care of the cow. Oh, about Frances herself…”
"I won't let her marry anyone until you come back," Roger assured her.
" GOOD. Jamie huffed and his shoulders relaxed, "I think I'll be back." But the dead spoke to me. He caught sight of Roger's raised eyebrow. “Not – well, not only – my own deaths. It's often a comfort to me, when my Da, Murtagh or Ian Mor pass by. Once in a while... my mother. He said that shyly and looked away.
Roger made a quiet little noise and waited a moment, then asked, "You said, not just your own deaths...?" »
“Ah. Jamie straightened up and put his feet firmly in the ground. " Others. Men I killed. Sometimes killed for a reason. Others - in battle. Strangers. Men who-” he sat up and Roger saw his whole body stiffen. Jamie looked away, down the path to the lake, as if something was about to happen. The feeling was so strong that Roger looked too, and was relieved to see only a small quail bathing in the dust under a bush.
“Jack Randall came to see me two nights ago. »
[End of section]
[Excerpt from UNTITLED BOOK TEN, Copyright 2023 Diana Gabaldon]
[In which Jamie and William are crossing a patch of wild land. I’m not telling you where they’re going or why.
Jamie felt the crawling and slapped a hand hard over his ribs. The slap numbed his flesh for a moment, but the instant it passed, he felt the tickle again—and in several places at once, including his—
“[Gaelic curse]! _Earbsa_!”
He ripped the flap of his breeks open and shoved them down over his legs, in time to catch the tick crawling toward his balls before it sank its fangs in him. He snapped it away with a flick of a fingernail and jerked the collar of his sark up over his head.
“Dinna go through the bushes!” he shouted from inside the shirt. “They’re alive wi’ ticks!” William said something, but Jamie didn’t catch it, his head enveloped in the heavy hunting shirt. His skin was afire between the sweat and the crawling.
He yanked the sark off and flung it away, scratching and slapping himself. Ears now free, he heard the next thing William said. Clearly.
“Oh, Jesus.” It wasn’t much more than a whisper, but the shock in it froze Jamie with realization. By reflex, he bent, arm stretched out for his shirt, but it was too late. Slowly, he stood up again. A tick was trundling over the curve of his breast, just above the cutlass scar. He reached to snap it off, and saw that his fingers were trembling.
He clenched his fist briefly to stop it, then bent his head, picked off three more of the wee buggers on his neck and ribs, then scratched his arse thoroughly, just in case, before pulling up his breeks. His heart was racing and his wame was hollow, but there was naught to do about it. He took a deep breath and spoke calmly, without turning around.
“D’ye see any more of them on my back?”
A moment’s silence, and a let-out breath. Crunching footsteps behind him and a faint sense of warmth on his bare back.
“Yes,” William said. “It’s not moving, I think it’s dug in. I’ll—get it off.”
Jamie opened his mouth to say no, but then closed it. William seeing his scars close to wasn’t like to make matters worse. He closed his eyes instead, hearing the _shush_ of a knife being drawn from its sheath. Then a large hand came down on his shoulder, and he felt his son’s breath hot on the back of his neck. He barely noticed the prick of the blade or the tickle of a drop of blood running down his back.
The hand left his shoulder, and to his surprise, he missed the comfort of the touch. The touch came back an instant later, when William pressed a handkerchief below his shoulder blade, to stop the bleeding.
A moment, and the cloth lifted, tickling his back. He felt suddenly calm, and put on his shirt, after shaking it hard to dislodge any hangers-on.
“_Taing_,” he said, turning to William. “Ye’re sure ye’ve none on ye?”
William shrugged, face carefully expressionless.
“I’ll know soon enough.”
They walked on without speaking until the sun began to touch the trees on the highest ridge. Jamie had been looking out for a decent spot to camp, but William moved suddenly, nodding toward a copse of scrubby oaks near the top of a small hillock to the right.
“There,” he said. “Cover, we’ll have good sight of the trail, and there’s water coming down the side of that gravelly bit.”
“Aye.” Jamie turned in that direction, asking after a moment, “So, was it the army taught ye castrametation, or Lord John?”
“A bit of both.” William spoke casually, but there was a tinge of pride in his voice, and Jamie smiled to himself.
They made camp—a rudimentary process involving naught more than gathering wood for a fire, fetching water from the rill and finding stones flat enough to sit on. They ate the last of the bread and cold meat, and a couple of small, mealy apples pitted with the knots of insect chewing, and drank water, as there was nothing else.
There was no conversation, but there was an awareness between them that hadn’t been there before. Something different to their usual polite awkwardness, but just as awkward.
_He wants to ask, but doesna ken how. I dinna want to tell him, but I will. If he asks._
As the dark deepened, Jamie heard a distant sound and turned his head sharply. William had heard it too; rustling and shuffling below, and now a chorus of grunting and loud guttural noises that made it clear who the visitors were.
He saw William turn his head, listening, and reach down for his rifle.
“At night?” Jamie asked. “There’s a dozen o’ them at least. And if we killed one without being torn to bits by the rest, we’d leave most of it to the crows. Ye really want to butcher a hog just now?”
William straightened up, but was still listening to the pigs below.
“Can they see in the dark, do you know?”
“I dinna think they’d be walkin’ about now, if they couldn’t. But I dinna think their sight is any better than ours, if as good. I’ve stood near a herd o’ them, nay more than ten yards away—upwind, mind—and they didna ken I was there until I moved. There’s naught amiss wi’ their ears, hairy as they are, and anything that can root out trubs has a better sense o’ smell than I have.”
William made a small noise of amusement, and they waited, listening, ‘til the sounds of the wild hogs faded into the growing night sounds—a racket of crickets and shrilling toads, punctuated by the calling of night birds and owl-hoots.
“When you lived in Savannah,” William said abruptly. “Did you ever encounter a gentleman named Preston?”
Jamie had been half-expecting a question, but not that one.
“No, “ he said, surprised. “Or at least I dinna think so. Who is he?”
“A…um…very junior undersecretary in the War Office. With a particular interest in the welfare of British prisoners of war. We met at a luncheon at General Prevost’s house, and then later that evening, to discuss…things…in more detail.”
“Things,” Jamie repeated, carefully.
“Conditions of prisoners of war, mostly,” William said, with a brief wave of the hand. “But it was from Mr. Preston that I discovered that my father had once been governor of a prison in Scotland. I hadn’t known that.”
“Aye,” Jamie said, and stopped to breathe. “A place called Ardsmuir. That’s where I first became acquainted—” He stopped, suddenly recalling the whole truth of the matter. _Do I tell him _that_? Aye, I suppose I do…_
“Aye, well, I met your father there, that’s true—though I’d met him some years before, ken. During the Rising.”
He felt a sudden prickle in his blood at the memory.
“Where?” William asked, curiosity clear in his voice.
“The Highlands. My men and I were camped near the Carryarick Pass—we were lookin’ out for troops bringin’ cannon to General Cope.”
“Cope. I don’t believe I recall the gentleman…”
“Aye, well. We--disabled his cannon. He lost the battle. At Prestonpans, it was.” Despite the present situation, there was still a deep sense of pleasure at the recollection.
“Indeed,” William said dryly. “I hadn’t heard that, either.”
“Mmphm. It was your uncle, his grace, that was in charge of bringin’ the cannon, and he’d brought along his young brother to have a, um, taste of the army, I suppose. That was Lord John.”
“Young. How old was he?” William asked curiously.
“Nay more than sixteen. But bold enough to try to kill me, alone, when he came across me sittin’ by a fire with my wife.” Despite his conviction that this conversation wasn’t going to end well, he’d started, and he’d finish it, wherever it led.
“He was sixteen,” Jamie repeated. “Plenty of balls, but no much brain, ken.”
William’s face twitched a little at that.
“And how old were you, may I ask?”
“Four-and-twenty,” Jamie said, and felt a rush of such unexpected feeling that it choked him. He’d not thought of those days in many years, would have thought he’d forgotten, but no—it was all there in a heartbeat: Claire’s face in the firelight and her flying hair, his passion for her eclipsing everything, his men nearby, and then the moment of startlement and instant rage and pummeling a stripling on the ground, the dropped knife glinting on the ground beside the fire.
And everything else—the war. Loss, desolation. The long death of his heart.
“I broke his arm,” he said abruptly. “When he attacked me. He wouldna speak, when I asked where the British troops were, but I tricked him into saying. Then I told my men to tie him to a tree where his brother’s men would find him…and then we went to deal wi’ the cannon. I didna see his lordship again until--” He shrugged. “A good many years later. At Ardsmuir.”
William’s face was clearly visible in the firelight, and Jamie could plainly see interest war with caution, while the lad—_Christ, he’s…three-and-twenty? Older than me when_…
“Did he do it?” William asked abruptly.
William made a small movement of one hand and nodded toward him.
“Your…back. Did Lord John do that…to you?”
Jamie opened his mouth to say no, for all his memory had been focused on Jack Randall, but of course…
“Part of it,” he said, and reached for his canteen on the ground, avoiding William’s eye. “Not that much.”
Jamie shook his head, not in negation, but trying to organize his thoughts.
“I made him,” he said, wondering _What’s the matter wi’ me? It’s the truth, but—_
“Why?” William asked again, in a harder tone of voice. Jamie sighed deeply; it might have been irritation, but it wasn’t; it was resignation.
“I broke a rule and he had me punished for it. Sixty lashes. He didna have any choice, really.”
William gave his own deep sigh and it _was_ irritation.
“Tell me or don’t,” he said, and stood up, glaring down at Jamie. “I want to know, but I’m not going to drag it out of you, God damn it!”
Jamie nodded, his immediate feeling of relief tainted by memory. His back itched as though millions of tiny feet were marching over it, and the tiny wound burned. He sighed.
“I said I’d tell ye whatever ye wanted to know, and I will. The Government outlawed the possession of tartan. A wee lad in the prison had kept a scrap of his family’s tartan, for comfort—it wasna likely that any of us would see our families again. It was found, and Lord John asked the lad was it his. He—the lad, I mean—was no but fourteen or fifteen, small, and crined wi’ cold and hunger. We all were.” Memory made him stretch out his hands toward the fire, gathering the warmth.
“So I reached over his shoulder and took the clootie and said it was mine,” he finished simply. “That’s all.”
[End of section]