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[Excerpt from UNTITLED BOOK TEN, Copyright © 2022 Diana Gabaldon.]
“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.
Addendum: My webmistress did an image search on the web and found that the painter was Marinus van Reymerswaele. ‘The Virgin Nursing The Child,’ 1525-1550, Flemish School. Click to visit the museum’s webpage for ‘The Virgin Nursing The Child.’
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This excerpt was also posted on Saturday, July 16, 2022, on my official Facebook page.