Group: Celtic Nation
Realm: Southern Michiagn USA
Doing my part for all us fans!!!
Excerpt 7 from An Echo in the Bone
Copyright © 2009 Diana Gabaldon, An Echo in the Bone, Outlander series. All rights reserved.
[Fraser’s Ridge, North Carolina]
The world was dripping. Freshets leapt down the mountain, grass and leaves were wet with dew and the cabin’s shingles steamed in the morning sun. Our preparations were made and the passes were clear. There remained only one more thing to do before we could leave.
“Today, d’ye think?” Jamie asked hopefully. He was not a man made for peaceful contemplation; once a course of action was decided upon, he wanted to be acting. Babies, unfortunately, are completely indifferent to both convenience and impatience.
“Maybe,” I said, trying to keep a grip on my own patience. “Maybe not.”
“I saw her last week, and she looked then as though she was goin’ to explode any minute, Auntie,” Ian remarked, handing Rollo the last bite of his bannock. “Ken those mushrooms? The big round ones? Ye touch one and poof!” He flicked his fingers, scattering bannock crumbs. “Like that.”
“She’s only having the one, no?” Jamie asked me, frowning.
“I told you--six times so far--I think so. I bloody hope so,” I added, repressing an urge to cross myself. “But you can’t always tell.”
“Twins run in families,” Ian put in helpfully.
Jamie did cross himself.
“I’ve only heard one heartbeat,” I said, keeping a grip on my temper, “and I’ve been listening for months.”
“Can ye not count the bits that stick out?” Ian inquired. “If it seemed to have six legs, I mean...”
“Easier said than done.” I could, of course, make out the general aspect of the child—a head was reasonably easy to feel, and so were buttocks; arms and legs a bit more problematical. That was what was disturbing me at the moment.
I’d been checking Lizzie once a week for the past month—and had been going up to her cabin every other day for the last week, though it was a long walk. The child—and I did hope there was only one—seemed very large, and while babies frequently changed position in the weeks prior to birth, this one had remained in a transverse lie—wedged sideways—for a worryingly long time.
The fact was that without a hospital, operating facilities, or anesthesia, my ability to deal with an unorthodox delivery was severely limited. Sans surgical intervention, with a transverse lie, a midwife had four alternatives: let the woman die after days of agonizing labor; let the woman die after doing a Caesarian section without benefit of anesthesia or asepsis—but possibly save the baby; possibly save the mother by killing the child in the womb and then removing it in bits (Daniel Rawlings had had several pages in his book—illustrated—describing this procedure), or attempting an internal version, trying to turn the baby into a position in which it might be delivered.
While superficially the most attractive option, that last one could easily be as dangerous as the others, resulting in the deaths of mother and child.
Experience being what it was, I normally managed to distinguish between intelligent planning for contingencies and useless worrying over things that might not happen, thus allowing myself to sleep at night. I’d lain awake into the small hours every night for the last week, though, envisioning the possibility that the child wouldn’t turn in time, and running through that short, grim list of alternatives in futile search for one more choice.
If I had ether...but what I’d had had gone when the house burned.
Kill Lizzie, in order to save the new child? No. If it came to that, better to kill the child in utero, and leave Rodney with a mother, Jo and Kezzie with their wife. But the thought of crushing the skull of a full-term child, healthy, ready to be born—but I couldn’t do that, I hadn’t the necessary tool; I’d have to decapitate it, instead. And then...
“Are ye no hungry this morning, Auntie?”
“Er...no. Thank you, Ian.”
“Ye look a bit pale, Sassenach. Are ye sickening for something?”
“No!” I got up hastily before they could ask any more questions—there was absolutely no point in anyone but me being terrorized by what I was thinking—and went out to fetch a bucket of water from the well.
Amy was outside; she had started a fire going under the big laundry kettle, and was chivvying Aidan and Orrie, who were scrambling round to fetch wood, pausing periodically to throw mud at each other.
“Are ye wanting water, [Gaelic - mistress]?” she asked, seeing the bucket in my hand. “Aidan will fetch it down for ye.”
“No, that’s all right,” I assured her. “I wanted a bit of air. It’s so nice out in the mornings now.” It was; still chilly until the sun got high, but fresh, and dizzy with the scents of grass, resin-fat buds, and early catkins.
She took a deep breath of the intoxicating air, her face peaceful and contented.
“Aye, it is.” She looked down at the tiny girl sleeping in the shawl she had tied sling-fashion over her chest. “I was thinking, maybe, as I might call the wee one Redbud. Bobby says it sounds heathen, maybe, and I reckon it is, but I said we could call her first name for a saint. Catherine, maybe; Himself says Saint Catherine was a great scholar, and I should like her to learn to read,” she added, a little wistfully.
I touched the tiny round cheek gently. The baby was deeply asleep, puffing slowly like a little steam engine, flushed with her mother’s warmth.
“Catherine Redbud Higgins is a lovely name,” I said. “If you like, Himself will be sure to say to Mr. Crombie that he must teach her to read, when she’s old enough.”
“Oh. Well...aye,” Amy’s mouth twisted with doubt. “Mr. Crombie’s no verra pleased at the thought of schooling the lasses, though; he thinks women must stay to hame and be taught by the men—but Bobby canna teach her. Do ye not think ye might be back, maybe, by the time she’s grown enough to read? You could teach her,” she said hopefully.
“I’d be glad to teach her,” I said, smiling, and hoping the smile hid the minor panic that had arisen with her question. Would we come back? If so—when? And what would we find?
The baby smacked her lips in her sleep, as though tasting a dream, and we both laughed. I took my bucket and went up the path to the well, taking solace in the peace of little Catherine’s existence.
She had been born without incident—bar the usual drama of childbirth—two weeks earlier, in the cabin’s back room. She was Bobby Higgins’s first child, and the apple of his eye. I’d put her in his arms, then gone back to tend to Amy, and when I came back out, had found him sitting by the fire, crooning a Dorset lullaby to the little bundle in a whisper.
He’d looked up at me, his cheeks wet, and said in wonder, “She’s perfect. How can anything be so perfect?”
Bobby would make sure his daughter learned to read, I thought. He wasn’t a born leader like Jamie—but he had a quiet, stubborn sort of competence that made the other men respect him. He’d find a way to handle Hiram Crombie.
I filled the bucket and made my way down the path, slowly, looking at things as you do when you know you might not see them again for a long time. If ever.
Things had changed drastically on the Ridge already, with the coming of violence, the disruptions of the war, the destruction of the Big House. They’d change a great deal more, with Jamie and me both gone.
Who would be the natural leader? Hiram was the de facto head of the Presbyterian fisher-folk who had come from Thurso—but he was a rigid, humorless man, much more likely to cause friction with the rest of the community than to maintain order and foster cooperation.
Bobby? After considerable thought, Jamie had appointed him factor, with the responsibility of overseeing our property—or what was left of it. But aside from his natural capabilities or lack thereof, Bobby was a young man. He—along with many of the other men on the Ridge—could so easily be swept up in the coming storm, taken away and obliged to serve in one of the militias. Not the Crown’s forces, though; he had been a British soldier, stationed in Boston two years [ck. date of Boston Massacre] before, where he and several of his fellows had been menaced by a mob of several hundred irate Bostonians. In fear for their lives, the soldiers had loaded their muskets and leveled them at the crowd. Stones and clubs were thrown, shots were fired—by whom, no one could establish; I had never asked Bobby—and men had died.
Bobby’s life had been spared at the subsequent trial, but he bore a brand on his cheek—M,” for “Murder”. I had no idea of his politics—he never spoke of such things—but he would never fight with the British army again.
Mr. Wemyss, Lizzie’s father...
“Of course!” I said out loud. Mr. Wemyss was small and timid by nature, but he was both capable--and educated. Jamie had made him assistant factor, to manage any matters requiring reading and writing. He could teach little Catherine to read!
With that knotty problem solved, I pushed open the door to the cabin, my equanimity somewhat restored.
Jamie and Ian were now arguing as to whether the new child would be a sister or brother to little Rodney, or a half-sibling.
“Well, no way of telling, is there?” Ian said. “Nobody kens whether Jo or Kezzie fathered wee Rodney, and the same for this bairn. If Jo is Rodney’s father, and Kezzie this one’s...”
“It doesn’t really matter,” I interrupted, pouring water from the bucket into the cauldron. “Jo and Kezzie are identical twins. That means their...er...their sperm is identical as well.” That was oversimplifying matters, but it was much too early in the day to try to explain reproductive meiosis and recombinant DNA. “If the mother is the same—and she is—and the father is genetically the same—and they are—any children born would be full sisters or brothers to each other.”
“Their spunk’s the same, too?” Ian demanded, incredulous. “How can ye tell? Did ye look?” he added, giving me a look of horrified curiosity.
“I did not,” I said severely. “I didn’t have to. I know these things.”
“Oh, aye,” he said, nodding with respect. “Of course ye would. I forget sometimes what ye are, Auntie Claire.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, exactly, but it didn’t seem necessary either to inquire, or to explain that my knowledge of the Beardsley’s intimate processes was academic, rather than supernatural.
“But it is Kezzie that’s this one’s father, no?” Jamie put in, frowning. “I sent Jo away; it’s Kezzie she’s been living with this past year.”
Ian gave him a pitying look.
“Ye think he went? Jo?”
“I’ve not seen him,” Jamie said, but the thick red brows drew together.
“Well, ye wouldn’t,” Ian conceded. “They’ll ha’ been gey careful about it, not wantin’ to cross ye. Ye never do see more than one of them—at a time,” he added, off-handed.
We both stared at him. He looked up from the chunk of bacon in his hand and raised his brows.
“I ken these things, aye?” he said blandly.
After supper, the household shifted and settled for the night. All the Higginses retired to the back bedroom where they shared the single bedstead—all but little Catherine Redbud, who enjoyed the snug privacy of her own cradle. Jamie had built it, and Jemmy and then Amanda had slept in it; I wondered how many more children might occupy it, down the years?
Lizzie had a cradle, too; her own father had made it for Rodney.
Obsessively, I opened my midwifery bundle and laid out the kit, checking everything over once more. Scissors, white thread for the cord. Clean cloths, rinsed many times to remove all trace of lye soap, scalded and dried. A large square of waxed canvas, to waterproof the mattress. A small bottle of alcohol, diluted fifty percent with sterile water. A small bag containing several twists of washed—but not boiled—wool. A rolled-up sheet of parchment, to serve in lieu of my stethoscope, which had perished in the fire. A sharp knife. And a length of thin wire, coiled like a snake.
I hadn’t eaten much at dinner—or all day—but had a constant sense of rising bile at the back of my throat. I swallowed and wrapped the kit up again, tying the twine firmly round it.
I felt Jamie’s eyes on me and looked up. He said nothing, but smiled a little, warmth in his eyes, and I felt a momentary easing—then a fresh clenching, as I wondered what he would think, if worst came to worst, and I had to—but he’d seen that twist of fear in my face, and with his eyes still on mine, quietly took his rosary from his sporran, and began silently to tell the beads, the worn wood sliding slowly through his fingers.
Two nights later, I came instantly awake at the sound of feet on the path outside, and was on my own feet, pulling on my clothes, before Jo’s knock sounded on the door. Jamie let him in; I heard them murmuring together as I burrowed under the settle for my kit. Jo sounded excited, a little worried—but not panicked. That was good; if Lizzie had been frightened or in serious trouble, he would have sensed it at once—the twins were nearly as sensitive to her moods and welfare as they were to each other’s.
“Shall I come?” Jamie whispered, looming up beside me.
“No,” I whispered back, touching him for strength. “Go back to sleep. I’ll send, if I need you.”
He was tousled from sleep, the embers of the fire making shadows in his hair, but his eyes were alert. He nodded and kissed my forehead, but instead of stepping back, he laid his hand on my head and whispered, [Gaelic...], then touched my cheek in farewell.
“I’ll see ye in the morning then, Sassenach,” he said, and pushed me gently toward the door.
To my surprise, it was snowing outside. The sky was gray as pearl and full of light and the air alive with huge, whirling flakes that brushed my face, melting instantly on my skin. It was a spring storm; I could see the flakes settle briefly on the grass stems, then vanish. There would likely be no trace of snow by morning, but the night was filled with its mystery. I turned to look back, but could not see the cabin behind us—only the shapes of trees half-shrouded, uncertain in the pearl-gray light. The path before us looked likewise unreal, the trace disappearing into strange trees and unknown shadows.
I felt weirdly disembodied, caught between past and future, nothing visible save the whirling white silence that surrounded me. And yet I felt calmer than I had in many days. I felt the weight of Jamie’s hand on my head, with its whispered blessing. O, Michael of the red domain.....
It was the blessing given to a warrior going out to battle. I had given it to him, more than once. He’d never done such a thing before, and I had no idea what had made him do it now—but the words glowed in my heart, a small shield against the dangers ahead.
The snow covered the ground now, in a thin blanket that hid dark earth and sprouting growth. Jo’s feet left crisp black prints that I followed upward, the needles of fir and balsam brushing cold and fragrant against my skirt, listening to a vibrant silence that rang like a bell.
If ever there were a night when angels walked, I prayed it might be this one.