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“Carpe Diem”

Below is an excerpt from Book Nine of the OUTLANDER novels. Note that there are SPOILERS…

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Manoke was his father’s friend; Lord John had never called him anything else. The Indian came and went as he pleased, generally without notice, though he was at Mt. Josiah more often than not. He wasn’t a servant or a hired man, but he did the cooking and washing-up when he was there, kept the chickens—yes, there were still chickens; William could hear them clucking and rustling as they settled in the trees near the house—and helped when there was game to be cleaned and butchered.

"Your hog?" William asked Cinnamon, with a brief jerk of the head toward the muffled firepit. They’d chosen to take their supper on the crumbling porch, enjoying the soft evening air, and keeping an eye on the drying meat, in case of marauding raccoons.

"Oui. Up there," Cinnamon said, waving a big hand toward the north. "Two hours walk. A few pigs in the wood there, not many."

William nodded. "Do you have a horse?" he asked. It was a fairly small hog, maybe sixty pounds, but heavy to carry for two hours"especially as Cinnamon presumably hadn’t known how far he’d have to go. He’d already told William that he’d never visited Mt. Josiah before.

Cinnamon nodded, his mouth full, and jerked his chin in the direction of the ramshackle tobacco barn. William wondered how long Manoke had been in residence; the place looked as though it had been deserted for years—and yet there were chickens…

The clucking and brief squawks of the settling birds reminded him suddenly and sharply of Rachel Hunter, and in the next breath, he found the scent of rain, wet chickens—and wet girl.

"…the one my brother calls the Great Whore of Babylon. No chicken possesses anything resembling intelligence, but that one is perverse beyond the usual."

"Perverse?" Evidently she perceived that he was contemplating the possibilities inherent in this description, and finding them entertaining, for she snorted through her nose and bent to open the blanket chest.

"The creature is sitting twenty feet up in a pine tree, in the midst of a rainstorm. Perverse." She pulled out a linen towel, and began to dry her hair with it.

The sound of the rain altered suddenly, hail rattling like tossed gravel against the shutters.

"Hmph," said Rachel, with a dark look at the window. "I expect she will be knocked senseless by the hail and devoured by the first passing fox, and serve her right." She flapped the folded towel open and began to dry her hair with it. "No great matter. I shall be pleased never to see any of those chickens again."

The scent of Rachel’s wet hair was strong in his memory, and the sight of it, dark and straggling in tails down her back, the wet making her worn shift transparent in spots, with shadows of her soft pale skin beneath.

"What? I mean—I beg your pardon?" Manoke had said something to him, and the smell of rain vanished, replaced by hickory smoke, fried cornmeal and fish.

Manoke gave him an amused look, but obligingly repeated himself.

"I said, have you come to stay? Because if so, maybe you want to fix the chimney."

William glanced over his shoulder; the vine-shrouded rubble was just visible, past the edge of the porch.

"I don’t know," he said, shrugging. Manoke nodded and went back to his conversation with Cinnamon; the two of them were speaking French. William couldn’t make the effort to listen, suddenly overcome by a tiredness that sank to the marrow of his bones.

Would he stay? He didn’t know what he’d intended by coming here; it was just the only place he could think of to go where he wouldn’t be obliged to make explanations.

He’d had some vague notion of thinking. Making sense of things, deciding what to do. Rising up and taking action then, to make things right.

"Right," he said under his breath. "Hell and death." Nothing could be made right. An overlooked fish-bone caught in his throat and he choked, coughed, choked again.

Manoke looked briefly at him, but William waved a hand and the Indian returned to his intense conversation with John Cinnamon. William got up and went, coughing, round the corner of the house to the well.

The water was sweet and cold, and with a little effort, he dislodged the bone and drank, then poured water over his head. As he sluiced the dirt from his face, he felt a gradual sense of calm come over him. Not peace, not even resignation, but a realization that if everything couldn’t be settled right now…perhaps it didn’t need to be. He wouldn’t be twenty-one until January. The estate was still administered by factors and lawyers; all those tenants and farms were still someone else’s responsibility.

He would stay, he thought, wiping a hand over his wet face. Not think. Not struggle. Just be still for a little while.

It was deep twilight now; one of his favorite times of day here. The forest settled with the dying of the light, but the air rose, shedding the burden of the day’s heat, passing cool as a spirit through the murmuring leaves, touching his own hot skin with its peace.

Back to Diana’s Book Nine webpage.

This excerpt from Book Nine was posted by Diana Gabaldon as one of her "Daily Lines" on her Facebook page, on August 8, 2015 at 2:25 a.m. (PT).

This page was last updated on Sunday, October 25, 2015 at 10:51 p.m. (PT) by Diana’s Webmistress.