[Excerpt from BOOK TEN (Untitled) – Copyright © 2023 Diana Gabaldon]
William is conversing with Jamie in Jamie’s study, expressing some surprise at his choosing Roger to defend the Ridge while Jamie is gone, in such controversial times (he’s heard about what happened at Lodge Night, from Ian).
“I can’t say I know the Reverend MacKenzie well, but he is clearly a—a man of God. You’re sure he’s capable of handling…” He waved a hand toward the narrow window above the neat bookshelves, indicating the sunlit Ridge outside, with all its tenants, crops, servants, animals….
Fraser gave him a faintly amused look.
“Aye, well. At least most o’ the tenants willna think he’s likely to collect a few men and come along by night to set their house ablaze or hang them in their own dooryard.”
“And they think you would?” William blurted.
“They’re no sure I wouldna,” Jamie said bluntly. “Ken this is a new-built house?” He lifted his chin, indicating the massive ceiling beams overhead, the wood raw and yellow, with small fragrant beads of oozing, half-dried sap along the edges. William stared at him.
“Mind, it wasna the tenants who set fire to the last one. It was the neighbors—from Brownsville—who dragged me and my wife out of our home and tried to hang her and deport me to Scotland. But it was some o’ my own tenants who tried to kill me later—in Lodge, no less—” He stopped abruptly, looked at William, then tapped his fingers on the desk; casually, but in a noticeable pattern.
“No,” William said in answer. Papa had explained Freemasonry to him, but had never suggested that he join a Lodge, and he’d not felt a desire to do so.
Fraser nodded, and went on.
“This was nay more than last year, ken. I dealt wi’ the matter and there’s been nay bother since. I let some o’ them come back, for the sake of their wives and families—and because Harriett McIlhenny blackmailed me, the auld besom—but those that left the Ridge are likely still alive, and bear me a black grudge if they are.”
“Why the devil did they want to kill you?” William asked, because it was the only straightforward question he could think of. His head wasn’t exactly spinning, but he could hear the blood beating in his ears.
Fraser looked at him thoughtfully, and his fingers drummed softly on the table—though obviously as an aid to thought, rather than a Masonic identification.
“Lad,” he said finally, “I’m a Highlander and a Papist. And a rebel, twice over. I ken ye know that, but ye maybe dinna ken that there are folk—and not all o’ them Englishmen—to whom my existence is a mortal offense.” One thick red eyebrow twitched up. “Ye could maybe have chosen a safer ally.”
“Jesus. And—Mother Claire may be in danger, too—because of you?”
That, strangely enough, made Fraser laugh.
“Nay, lad,” he said, shaking his head. “She can manage that on her own account. She’s known through all this neck o’ the woods—and a far piece beyond—as a conjure-woman. And to some folk, a healer who can cast folk into a deep sleep, or reach inside them to cure their ailments, is plainly a witch, and ye ken what the Bible says about that.”
“What… you mean ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’?”
“Aye, that.” Fraser raised the eyebrow again. “Were ye taught your Bible? I ken neither Lord John nor his brother are what ye’d call godly men.”
“They’re soldiers,” William said shortly.
“So am I, lad,” Fraser said mildly. “And so are you.” He stopped, though, and leaned back a little, regarding William thoughtfully.
“Ye dinna like it when I call ye ‘lad,’ do ye? Shall I call ye William? Or Mr. Ransom?” His lips twitched, but the knot between William’s shoulder blades relaxed fractionally.
“William will do.” He was—had been, for weeks—all too conscious of the last time he’d been obliged to ask James Fraser for help. Furious with his own helplessness when Fraser betrayed—he thought—hesitance at his request, he’d snapped, “Don’t bother—I’ll do it myself!”
To which outburst Fraser had replied levelly, “If ye thought ye could, lad, ye’d never have come to me.”
That objective assessment had burned at the time—it burned now, too. But Fraser had been right, then, and he was right now, though sufficiently courteous as not to mention the fact.
William could only hope that things would end better, this time.
[A Brief Writer’s Note: for those folk interested in technique—this scene is establishing minor stuff that we need to know (who’s going to take care of the Ridge while Jamie and William go on their quest, and what the state of things on the Ridge is at this point)—but it’s also an example of what I call “Jacquard” weaving; picking up little strands of previous story that will both inform readers who haven’t read (or have forgotten) an earlier book, and to recap details I want the present readers to have in mind as we go forward. But what the piece is doing on a more overt level is establishing the tentative, evolving relationship between Jamie and William, both of whose personalities are showing pretty clearly here—Jamie’s, because he’s deliberately showing himself to William, and William’s, because we’re in his viewpoint.]
Click to visit my Book Ten webpage for information on this book, and to read more excerpts from it.
This excerpt was also posted on my official Facebook page on Monday, September 4, 2023.