What do you-all do when a new birthday looms—or stretches out enticingly before you, like a friendly dog wanting a belly-rub? Look back? Look forward? Or just sit quietly and enjoy the moment?
I’m inclined to the last option there. I try to take a few deliberate minutes, to sit in my office in the depths of the night and Just Be. Whatever I am now, I won’t be again. On the other hand, what I am now, and what I’ve been every day since I was conceived, will go on with me in some form.
But it’s worthwhile checking, to see what’s me, and what might be mere baggage that I’m carrying—for myself, or another. Nothing wrong with baggage, but you ought to pack carefully; you don’t know how far you may have to carry it.
And, like Claire—you may have only today in which to prepare.
I woke with a list in my head. This was by no means unusual, but this list came with a spurt of adrenaline attached. I had—at most—only today in which to prepare not only to leave the Ridge for an unknown stretch of time, but to prepare the Ridge for being left.
I swung my feet out of bed, heart already speeding up, and then sat for a moment, trying to focus on what had to be done first. Well, that was simple… I fished the chamberpot out from under the bed and saw that it was clean and dry. Which meant either that Jamie had risen early and considerately gone out to the privy, or that he’d got up in the night and pissed out the window. While I had personally never felt the lack of a penis, I did admit that it was a handy thing to have along on a picnic…
My own sanitary needs being accomplished, I was clear-headed enough to brush my teeth, splash water over my face and run my wet hands through my hair. The hair was unlikely to be improved by the experience, but my hands were dry enough to pull my stockings on.
Find something like coffee.
Drink coffee-like substance.
Eat whatever was left over from yesterday’s feast, while inspecting pantry, pie-safe, simples closet and large cauldron Compile mental sublist of things to be found, things needing to be collected or dug up, put in cauldron to begin cooking…
Sylvia and her daughters had ceremoniously removed to Bobby’s cabin last night. I was happy for them all, but it did leave me somewhat short-handed. So… summon Fanny, Joanie and Fizzy and give them my list to start working on. Find Bree and run through separate list of people who might give trouble—medical, political or otherwise—over the next… how long?
“God knows,” I muttered. William had been looking for Lord John for three months [ck time]; what if Richardson had decided to take him to London and denounce him to the House of Lords or something?
Find Roger…. no, Jamie would already have found Roger and informed him that he was now, de facto, Himself for the foreseeable future.
Back to the list… By now, I was padding downstairs in my stocking-feet, shoes in hand.
Send Jem or Germain or the girls for Jenny and Rachel. Feed them first, my subconscious chimed in.
I inhaled hopefully. Yes, I could smell porridge and toast. And bacon? Yes, definitely bacon. Likely they were already eating, then. I was ravenous, in spite of everything I’d eaten yesterday.
Would Jenny and Rachel want to come down to the big house while Ian was gone with us? Company and help for Brianna… all those children… but then there were Jenny’s goats to be considered…
I emerged into the kitchen, to find William seated at the table, surrounded by children and closely attended by Fanny, armed with a platter of crispy bacon and a pot of peach jam.
“Mother Claire!” William half-rose to greet me, prevented from pushing back the bench to stand up by the weight of the children sharing said bench. “Er… how are you?”
“Somewhat better than you, probably,” I said, sitting down on a spare stool to put my shoes on. “Did you sleep at all last night?” He was very thin; his cheekbones showed like blades and his skin was an unhealthy sort of grayish-yellow under his tan. This looked still more disagreeable by contrast with his sprouting beard, which was red.
“I don’t remember sleeping, he said, rubbing a hand over his stubble, “but I definitely woke up, so I must have. I feel much better,” he assured me, taking a handful of bacon from Fanny’s platter. “Or I will, as soon as I’ve eaten. Thank you, Frances.”
“You should have milk, too,” she informed him. “To coat the insides of your stomach, after everything you drank last night.”
“Everything I drank?” A look of amusement crossed his face, despite the signs of road-weariness and hangover. “Were you keeping count, Frances? How very thoughtful of you. You’ll make some lucky man an excellent wife one day.”
She blushed crimson, but he smiled at her, and she gulped air and managed a tiny simper in return before tottering off to fetch more toast.
“What did I drink last night?” William asked me, lowering his voice. “I admit that I don’t recall very much about last night. I was… so very much relieved. To—to have…”
“Reached shelter?” I asked, sympathetically. “I imagine so. You’ve been alone for quite a while.”
He paused for moment, spreading jam on a slice of toast, then said quietly, “I have. Thank you. For—” he gestured briefly round the lively kitchen, then cleared his throat. “Do you think—er, that Mister Fraser will be…”
“Back soon? Yes.” He offered me the toast and I took it. I was starving and it was delicious, warm and crunchy and sweet. “Fanny?” I said, swallowing. “Has Mr. Fraser had any breakfast?”
“Yes’m,” she said. “He was just going out when I came down, but he had a piece of fried chicken in his hand.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
“No, ma’am. He wasn’t armed,” she added helpfully. “Except his knife.”
“His dirk, or the little knife?” Her smooth brow crinkled in concentration, then relaxed.
He was leaving the property, then, but not going far.