By popular demand (more or less)—
Sometime in September (I think), I posted a short version of this excerpt. In early October, my beloved German translator, Baerbel (‘Barbara’) Schnell, asked me if I could give her something to post in honor of Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser Grey Fraser’s 104th birthday. So I sent her the complete excerpt. (This is available in German on dgabaldon.de, the website Baerbel maintains for me.)
So—a number of English-speaking fans, eager to see the whole thing, translated the German posting on dgabaldon.de (which is a wonderful site—Baerbel has a number of entertaining innovations, like a complete timeline of all the major events in the books)—and you can translate the site from German to English) back into English.
Except that it wasn’t, quite.
Translations are seldom literal and the literal ones tend not to be very good. So we had a rash of English-speaking readers arguing about whether “ein prust” (in the German version) meant the Scottish noise that Jamie and William make now and then (but which is defined as the coughing growl tigers use to communicate with each other).
Now I do value my fans’ sanity <g>, so decided to post the entire excerpt (called “Sir”, for convenience). Hope you enjoy it!
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.”
[Excerpt from Untitled Book Ten, Copyright © 2022 Diana Gabaldon]
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