*[Excerpt from (Untitled) Book Ten, Copyright © 2022 Diana Gabaldon]
Rachel was sitting in a rocking-chair on the porch in her shift, when William stepped into the little aspen grove where the Murrays’ cabin stood. She heard his footsteps and looked up, her face lighting. Then she saw who it was, and while the light didn’t go from her eyes, her smile changed completely, and she reached for the shawl folded over the rocking-chair’s arm.
“William!” she said, and half-rose, the shawl held to her bosom. “Where on earth has thee come from?” The smile was warm and genuine—but he knew he wasn’t the man she had expected.
“Mrs. Murray,” he said, and bowed, smiling back. “Your servant, ma‘am.”
“No man is servant to another, William, and I know thee is aware of that.”
“I’m aware that Friends believe that, yes. But surely you won’t deprive me of the pleasure of offering my meager services to you—as a friend?” He glanced round for something to do; his heart had jumped when he saw her, and hadn’t quite returned to its business. A basket of freshly-picked green pea-pods stood by her rocking chair, along with a yellow pottery bowl, half-filled with shelled peas.
“Sit down,” he said. “I’ll do that.”
He sat down by her, legs dangling over the edge of the porch, and pulled the basket toward himself.
He was aware of a good many things at the moment, all of them concerning Rachel. Her dark hair was loose, somewhat disheveled, and her long legs bare and brown below the hem of her shift. She crossed her—very fine—ankles when she saw his glance, and he averted his gaze, not wanting to embarrass her, though he still wanted to look.
She was alone; the cabin’s door was open and there were no sounds of anyone inside.
On the long climb to the cabin, he hadn’t admitted to himself that he hoped to find her alone… but he had. The last time he’d met her, she’d slapped his face, kicked him in the shin and called him a rooster. She hadn’t meant any of it by way of compliment, and he hoped to make amends.
Still, that had been nearly three years ago, and she seemed well-enough disposed to him at the moment… and she was safely married now.
“My apologies,” he said. “I should have thought to bring you something from the feast—there’s a vast quantity of food; enough to keep the whole of the Ridge from starvation for three months, at least. Scores of fried chickens, pies of all descriptions, something I was told was corn fufu—and as it was my sister who told me, I’m inclined to believe her—sweet potatoes with apples and onions, and a monstrous great hog. They said it roasted underground for days, until the flesh began to drop from the bone—the smell of it covers the entire hillside and the remains of the carcass would feed—”
Rachel stood up suddenly, clutched the post that held up the roof of the cabin and vomited off the side of the porch.
“Miss Hunter! I mean… Mrs… Mrs…” In the stress of the moment, her married name had vanished. “Rachel!” He’d scrambled up when she rose, and now seized her elbow to save her falling off the porch.
She made an inarticulate sound, waving a hand to keep him off, and then threw up again, more profusely. She seemed very wobbly, even though she was clinging to the post with both hands now, and he put an arm about her waist to steady her.
“Oh, Jesus!” he said, at once relieved and appalled by the little round swelling that he’d touched beneath her shift. “You’re pregnant!”
Despite her clear disfirmity, she gave him a look that fortunately wasn’t translated into English.
“Forgive me, madam,” he said, gingerly removing his hand from her midriff.
She flapped a hand and stepped back, collapsing into the chair with a force that made it rock briefly to and fro. Her eyes were closed, her face shiny with sweat and she’d gone the color of curdled milk.
“Is there… anything…?” he said, though the situation seemed entirely beyond his capacities.
Her long, soft throat moved as she swallowed, and she grimaced.
“Pickle,” she said. “Pickles. Butter… milk.” She waved a limp hand toward the open door.
The suggestion of pickles with buttermilk made him feel somewhat queasy, but he went immediately inside and rummaged the food-safe, which yielded a small crock of infant cucumbers that, from the smell, had been pickled in vinegar, dill, garlic and black pepper. They hardly seemed appropriate to someone with a deranged digestion, but Amaranthus had told him once the sorts of things she had found comestible while pregnant, all much worse than garlic-scented cucumbers. And dilled pickles did work for sea-sickness…
*NO, the copyright date does NOT mean the book is done; copyright applies as soon as writing is set in tangible form, so the book is copyrighted, and the date will change, as it does take me several years to write one of the Big Books.
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This excerpt was also posted on my official Facebook page on September 17, 2022.