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Summary: Roger is baffled. He assures himself all is well. Deep down he knows something is amiss. Just maybe he’s stopped Brianna from looking back. A rattlesnake takes up residence in the privy on Fraser’s Ridge. There’s also a guest with measles taking up space in the corncrib. Claire searches for greens. A boy and his stepfather unexpectedly arrive. Claire’s emotions and thoughts go wild. It’s Lord John and Master William. William recently inherited lands in Virginia. A crappy mishap in the privy leads to much mirth and wounded pride. Young Ian doesn’t get off cleanly either.
Inside the Chapters:
Letter-Writing: The Great Art o’ Love
Oxford, March 1971
It’s been six months since we’ve seen Roger. With Brianna in the United States, the rainy weather of Oxford seems cold and dreary to him. He’s heading to the office to see if there are any letters for him. Among the letters, there’s one from the States. Roger involuntarily grins. The clerk asks if Roger will be seeing his young woman soon. Roger hopes to see her in the summer. They are planning on visiting in July, but that is four months away. Roger might die from the ache of wanting her. Brianna wrote to Roger every few days, though the tone has changed. They are no longer passion filled. He thinks she is holding back in her letters. That something seems off and different (p457, Nook).
Roger absentmindedly eats his sandwich and thinks about the interest Fiona is taking in his love affair with Brianna. She sends him clippings from woman’s magazines detailing the ways a woman should be acting. Think about all the ridiculous Cosmopolitan or name your woman’s magazine articles. Roger doubts Brianna is reading the equivalent magazines in America. She’s not a game player. She isn’t playing games, right? (p459, Nook).
He believes he’s deflected Brianna from the past, but he’s now downright obsessed with it (p459, Nook). The lady next to him annoyed told him to bugger himself. He thinks he may already have.
This chapter brings more questions with only Roger’s point of view. We haven’t heard from Brianna for a more than a year since she visited over that fateful Christmas when Roger proposed. What has she been up to besides finishing her studies? Has Roger found any new information? This chapter succeeds in building tension, sowing doubt, and creating worry in Roger and the reader.
Enter a Serpent
Fraser’s Ridge, October 1768
If there’s one thing Claire doesn’t like is a rattlesnake preventing her from using the privy. In fact, it’s sitting on the privy seat rattling away. She spends a decent amount of time trying to figure out what to do without riling the snake to attack her. Jamie comes along and wants to know what she’s doing (p461, Nook). Jamie hits the snake with a rock and knocks it into the privy. Claire says it sounds like a “hollow thwuck.” I would be terrified to use the privy even if the snake couldn’t jump that high. Would all the human waste kill it?
Instead of hanging around, Claire runs into the woods to empty her bladder. She returns to find Young Ian and Jamie peering into the privy hole with a torch in hand (p461, Nook). Young Ian and Jamie accidentally clang heads, leaving both greatly pained. Jamie is annoyed Claire doesn’t comfort him (p462, Nook). Jamie clarifies the difference between poisonous and venomous to Young Ian. They banter about how to get the great thing from the privy. No one wants to sit on the seat with that beastie down below. Claire’s plan strikes Young Ian as funny (p463, Nook). The amount of time spent on the snake in the privy must mean it holds importance to some future event.
They have a hearty breakfast, no thanks to the white sow feistily commandeering the pantry. Jamie is reading his only book, Natural History of North Carolina, to brush up on rattlesnakes. Claire’s more interested in how to deal with a rude pig. Jamie is still hungry, but the rest of the eggs are going to the ill Tuscarora in the corncrib. He’d been part of a hunting party but became too ill and was brought back to her by his companions. Claire is sure he has the measles. Too bad Claire doesn’t have extra vitamin A on hand. Measles is highly contagious, so the man must stay segregated from everyone who hasn’t had the disease before. The man is so ill he is barely able to eat or drink. Claire tries another tactic, appealing to the spiritual so the man might accept her aid (pp467, Nook). Claire not only doctored him, but she also helped him emotionally, and maybe spiritually. Sometimes when treating someone, all that can be done is to make them feel well cared for and understood.
Clare goes hunting for any edible or medicinal plants. She wades into the icy cold stream. The mere act of being alone in nature gives Claire a sense of peace, calm, and being grounded. She notices the abundance of life forms surrounding her down to the gnats (p468, Nook). She allows herself to become part of the natural order. I wonder how she centered herself in Boston all those years. Before she married Frank, she spent many years living rough and being outdoors traveling with her uncle. It makes sense she needs nature.
Her communion is broken by the sound of shriek and a voice from the bank above her. There is a familiar looking frantic boy in front of her (p469, Nook). The boy has leeches all over him. And he’s mortified. Claire sits him down to remove the many leeches from his legs. She wants him to tell her where he comes from. Claire is outwardly calm, but her hands are shaking.
Asking after his stepfather, William wants to know how Claire knows him. He gives his full name (p470, Nook). They head to the cabin so that she can salt the rest of the leeches. Claire realizes Lord John left William by the stream to go ahead and warn Jamie. I sense more than an annoyance in Claire. Jealousy perhaps?
Claire is stunned to have William and Lord John surprise them with a visit. Maybe only the King would be less probable. Claire’s thoughts and emotions are careening around her head. She’s like a bomb with a hair trigger switch (p471, Nook). Claire finally reveals why she dislikes Lord John (pp472, Nook). She IS jealous. She wants to stop and stare at William. The idea of seeing the boy next to Jamie gives her a thrill of sorts. As she eyes William, she has an intense observation (p473, Nook). Poor Claire, this is a gut punch. The knowledge of a son is one thing, but to see him in the flesh is staggering. Claire doesn’t even have the solace of having Brianna near. This also brings to roost the years they spent apart. Clear admission of a life lived without her. Claire is a whirling tornado of internal feelings.
She finds Jamie and Lord John sitting on the bench conversing. Greetings commence, and she takes William into the house for final leech removal. The poor boy trembles as she takes care of the left behind wounds (p475, Nook). Claire also attends to his disheveled looks. Reluctantly he relaxes under her too familiar ministrations. She feels a sense of ownership over the boy (p475, Nook). And fresh annoyance at Lord John.
Jamie enters seeking refreshment for their guests. Jamie looks calm, but he’s strung tight. Claire gathers the necessities, except for the butter because the white sow is holding it hostage in the pantry (p476, Nook). Lord John apologizes for the unexpected visit and hopes it’s not too much inconvenience. Claire mentally tallies the sleeping arrangements (p476, Nook). Can you feel the tension in the air? My goodness, they need a full bottle of brandy and maybe some marijuana to relax. Where’s the good Father Fogden when you need him?
Young Ian comes in like a bull in a china shop. Claire sends him to show William around the property with snacks in hand. This is a ploy to get the three of them alone (p476, Nook). What do you get with a cheeky Englishman, an angry Scot, and an emotionally charged wife? I’d say a terrifically awkward time. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.
John gets to the point at hand. His wife died aboard ship on the way to Jamaica. Poor Willie had been traveling with her. Claire reminds us that Lady Geneva was Isobel’s sister and the biological mother of William. Lord John married Isobel to raise William together. Claire apologizes to John for more than the death of his wife. His appointment as the Jamaican Governor was coming to an end, so settling his family there seemed a good idea. With her death and William’s grief, coming to the Colonies to distract him was in order, after John learned William now owns land in Virginia. John catches Claire thinking Fraser’s Ridge is an out of the way destination. Glass faced Claire strikes again.
The subject of William arises. John had told him Jamie is an old soldiering acquaintance. Certainly, William would recognize, the groom Mac he had loved so much? Jamie doesn’t think William will connect the groom with him. Claire suddenly inquires how John’s wife died. He calls it the bloody flux (dysentery). Claire wonders if that’s where Willie saw leeches used. His reaction to having them on his body was quite severe.
They are interrupted by Young Ian standing in the doorway. There is a situation (p479, Nook). This scene KILLS me every time I read it. Thankfully the privy isn’t empty or full. It’s so disturbing and gross nonetheless. Jamie and Lord John go swiftly to the privy with Young Ian and Claire not far behind. Apparently, the snake is no longer in the privy (p480, Nook). William is unhurt except for his pride. He had fallen face first into the sewage. Lord John takes the first stab at William (p481, Nook). The jig is up. Young Ian knows exactly who fathered that boy. Jamie takes his turn adding fuel to John’s earlier remarks (p482, Nook). Everyone except for William is quivering with laughter.
Then Claire sees the Fraser rage about to come forth from William. She deftly corrects the situation with soap and direction given to water. With William off to wash, the question of the gun’s whereabouts comes up. With quick judgment passed, Young Ian is sent naked to retrieve it from the bog of eternal stench (p482, Nook).
The hilarity of this chapter does not offset the undercurrents and the gravity of the truth. It’s also worth noting there is an Indian ill with measles on the property. What is Lord John’s true aim in coming? How jealous is Claire of the life that came before she returned? What does Young Ian think of his new-found cousin? Will William ever recognize him? Can Claire accept the boy? Can Claire get along with Lord John and become his friend? What is going through Jamie’s mind? This chapter is told from Claire’s point of view. We see continued story building and character development. Humor was used as an excellent avenue to diffuse the tension and awkwardness. The privy scenario also provided an escape for the snake.
What’s Coming up? Chapters 26 and 27 Drums of Autumn (DOA).
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