“Friend or Foe”
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Claire tends to the ill men. She tells the stories of their Jamaican adventure. Jamie and William are to be away for a few more days. She and Lord John make conversation. They slowly engage and begin to bond. John is on a personal mission. A visitor brings alarming news. John serves as a protector. They wish Jamie were there. Claire returns to the chores of the Ridge. John and Claire deepen their connection. Another visitor, maybe friend or foe arrives. A terrible and painful discovery is made. The village is burned. Jamie cautiously investigates. The survivors move north. Jamie makes his way back to the hiding boy.
Inside the Chapters:
Claire diagnoses Young Ian with the measles. To more easily care for him and the still-ailing Lord John, she tucks him into the trundle bed in the cabin. Claire gives a strong cup of willow bark brew to Young Ian to help ease his headache, fever, and general pain. Lord John offers to help Claire, but he is still too unwell to do anything of need, like empty a chamber pot. Claire massages Young Ian’s head in the manner Yi Tien Cho taught her (p514, Nook). Claire is glad he was never caught and prosecuted for the murder on Jamaica. Young Ian insists on hearing the story, and Lord John wants to know who the murderer is. Claire is apprehensive to tell the story, but all the players are dead or missing. She also worries for Ian since Geillis had abused him. Nonetheless, Claire couldn’t keep the information to herself with the desire in the two male’s eyes for the story.
Claire proceeds to tell the story of Rose Hall, the witch called Geillis Abernathy, Reverend Campbell, his sister Margaret, the Edinburgh Fiend, Fraser’s Prophecy, the crocodile, and the slave rebellion. Ian is stunned by the telling of the crocodile (p516, Nook). There could never be a dull life for the Frasers? Certainly not. They are locked and loaded for adventure at every turn. Claire scans the room for weapons and to ensure the door is locked. She’s on high alert caring for two sick men and Jamie away with William.
Claire is concerned over the severity of Ian’s headache. Could it be something more dangerous like meningitis or encephalitis? Ian tells Claire how Geillis used stones for different treatments (p517, Nook). Lord John doesn’t know what Geillis did to Ian. Claire offers Ian watered down wine instead of ground amethyst. He gratefully takes it. Ian explains further what Geillis wanted from the young boys. If a boy were a virgin, then a proper stone would grow in his intestines or stomach. Ian never learned what she’d wanted it for.
There’s an unexpected knock at the door. She and Lord John each grab a pistol. It turns out it’s Ian’s dog, Rollo at the door. He enters the cabin with great joy (p519, Nook). The dog dismisses Lord John at Ian’s urging. Rollo snuggles up to Ian. Claire bids them a good night. Claire moves about the cabin tidying up from the day’s work. She must be exhausted by the number of tasks she has going at once. She finally sits by the fire with her wool basket.
It’s only been two days since Jamie and William left. If nothing hinders them, they’ll be back in four days. She notes the marked contrast between the wool Jocasta spun and the wool she had spun. She reflects on Jamie’s shock over her lack of knitting abilities (p520, Nook). She is, in turn, shocked herself to find that Jamie knows how to knit (p521, Nook). Claire knows the basics now but it’s not her favored task, and it is in no way soothing like Jamie and Ian claim it to be. She decides to roll up balls of yarn. An easy enough and mindless task.
The smell of the newly dyed yarn mingling with the scents and bodies in the room is overwhelming to her. She wants nothing more than a sponge bath and bed. There’s an Englishman in her bed and a sick Ian with Rollo in the other. She gets a pallet of quilts and such to sleep on if doctoring Ian doesn’t take her attention in the night. Claire suddenly feels pity for all the work she’s putting in caring for the ill men and taking care of the Ridge on her own. Then just as suddenly she looks at Lord John, and her ill mood fades.
She sees grief and pain on his face. After he recovers, and Jamie returns with William, they will leave. Life on the Ridge will go back to normal. John and William’s life will not. His wife is dead. Claire’s ashamed of the unkind thoughts she had had toward him. She offers him tea. They sipped silently for a while. Claire breaks the silence offering condolences on the loss of his wife. He says he was thinking of her then. Claire finds satisfaction in being able to read John’s thoughts.
John is grappling with his feelings for his dead wife. It’s why he came to the Ridge. Claire doesn’t understand. John thinks Claire is good with children and asks if she has any of her own (p524, Nook). It’s getting real up in here. John sincerely tells her his motive was not to put the boy in her face to make her jealous. She believes him, but why then did he come? John is taken with Claire (p525, Nook). They seem to have personality in common.
When the conversation lulls for a moment, she makes an infusion of valerian (for sleep), catmint, and wild ginger. It’s the same infusion she’d made for John four days earlier. He discloses they heard of Claire’s doctoring as they traveled away from Wilmington. Apparently, she’s quite well known (p525, Nook). John asks if Jamie and William will be safe (p525, Nook). Now we’re getting deep, deep. Claire thinks John is brave for having sent the boy with Jamie (p526, Nook). Jamie has known John’s secret about his sexuality for years. That’s how he has held his life in his hands. They sit in silence while the infusion steeps. Claire winds more yarn balls.
John breaks the silence speaking of his feelings for his wife (p526, Nook). John believes his wife was content and happy in the life she had led. He further explains or tries to their lack of children wasn’t his fault (p527, Nook). The claws are out. It’s a catfight. Claire allows him to see everything she is thinking with a bold look. When his wife Isobel died, he felt nothing. They had shared a bed, a life, many years together and yet? (p527, Nook). Can he still feel? That’s powerful. Without the aid of a telephone or other means of communication, seeing Jamie would tell him if his heart still lived. She tends to a restless Ian then hands John a cup of the freshly brewed infusion. Claire wants to know now that he’s seen Jamie, does he still have feelings. He does, God help him. This admission of John’s, his need to know if he is still alive, touches me in such a personal way. I had to go through this type of exercise when I was going through a difficult divorce a lifetime ago.
Claire’s fitful sleep is interrupted by a noisy Clarence the Mule (p528, Nook). John is sitting in his shirt at the table and has a startled look in his eye when he sees Claire get up. It isn’t Jamie and Willie returning; it’s Pastor Gottfried from Salem. This must be an emergency visit since it is a two-day ride for the pastor to reach the Ridge. He asks for Jamie. He becomes more upset and starts rattling off German phrases Claire doesn’t understand. Lord John jumps in asking questions of the pastor in German. Claire is thankful he put his pants on for the conversation. The pastor is scandalized by a man being in the house. Lord John quick fires many things to the pastor. The pastor, in turn, apologizes to Claire.
John translates the Mueller baby and daughter are dead from the measles. Claire is sad and upset. The pastor wants Jamie to reason with Gerhard Mueller. Claire explains Jamie and Gerhard aren’t friends (p530, Nook). After a lengthy back and forth in German with the pastor, Lord John can translate the outbreak also entered the backcountry, Indians showed up asking for a drink and kindness. Mueller gruffly sent them away. The Indians obliged but seemed to have hexed the house on their way off the premises. Mueller believes it is the fault of the Indians measles showed up the day after their visit. When Petronella and the baby died, Mueller vowed revenge. He and his sons went looking for the Indians and brought back scalps which he hung from, his barn door. Mueller intends to come to the Ridge next.
Claire is horrified by this knowledge and becomes as pale as the pastor. After more translation, the pastor has no idea why Mueller would want to see Claire. The pastor set out after Mueller and found him by the road passed out from drink and no food. Instead of rousing Mueller, the pastor flew like the wind to Fraser’s Ridge to warn Claire and Jamie. He’s a hero this pastor. Seeing Jamie gone, the pastor is worried for Claire. The pastor urges Claire to leave right away, but she cannot because of Lord John and Young Ian. To make it worse, the pastor hasn’t had measles and is in danger if he enters the cabin. Claire thinks about the scalps on Mueller’s barn door, and her hair actually stands on end. Claire’s scalp is rippling with horror. Lord John assures the pastor he has been a soldier and will take care of Claire. The pastor will not leave without John’s assurances. The pastor blesses them as he rides away.
Claire pauses to notice the autumn morning and what nature has to offer. Who did Mueller exact his revenge against? Did he go into an Indian village? Likely those he murdered would have family who would want revenge in return. Those who might seek out the killers may only know white men were responsible. Fraser’s Ridge is between the Indian villages and the Mueller’s farm. Claire utters aloud a thought (p534, Nook). Looking at John, she orders him back to bed. He is still weak and not ready to be up and about. John doesn’t protest. Claire tends to Young Ian and listens for another announcement more company has arrived.
Claire is paranoid at every sound, but eventually, she gets into her normal routine on top of taking care of Young Ian. Lord John helps with shelling beans. Claire would like to simply walk into the woods to be surrounded by nature within its confines. She could recharge and be unafraid. She doesn’t give in to temptation as the sun sets on the Ridge with no signs of Mueller.
John asks for details about Mueller as he eats a meal, though refusing the greens. Remember Jamie pulling greens in Voyager while at Ardsmuir and John being baffled? Claire explains Mueller’s physical and personality dispositions. She likens the man to a mule (p536, Nook). Though Claire hadn’t been present for the altercation at the mill, Young Ian had described to her what happened in detail. He had insisted Felicia Woolam, one of the daughters of the mill owner, shorted him on flour. Young Ian unable to dissuade the man fetched Jamie to help. Jamie tried to reason with him to no avail. Jamie resorted to physical violence to stop him (pp536, Nook). After dragging Mueller outside to one of his waiting sons, Jamie spoke to him while Woolam rebagged the flour into five sacks.
Claire doesn’t believe Mueller held any ill will and was kind to her when she attended Petronella’s labor and birth. She nearly chokes on her food remembering Petronella and the baby are gone. John gives her ale to drink. She counts her blessings from the small pleasures around her, the warmth of the sun, the smell in the fresh air, and the reality these things were abruptly taken from others who barely knew them. She opens her eyes and thanks John. He looks at her with sympathy. She thinks she shouldn’t be so shocked at how precarious life is there for the young especially. She finds herself with a tear rolling down her cheek. John gives her a used handkerchief to blot it away with, but she doesn’t care. John makes a statement to Claire (p537, Nook). I hope beyond hope this is shown unfettered on screen.
The rest of the day wore on without incident. Young Ian is in full rash with a lessening fever. Claire is reminded its milking time. Up she gets and opens the door and steps right in front of Gerhard Mueller.
Mueller is looking at Claire with great intensity. He looks shrunken, older, and weary. He appears without horse or mule and standing up takes effort. They greet each other. He sounds desperate. Mueller says, “they are dead,” with tears welling in his eyes. Claire wants to reach out and comfort him. Leading her to the bench near the door, they sit. John has come out to see what is going on, pistol in hand. He hugs Claire, weeping silently into her. Claire puts her arms around him. She notices the varying stench on his person. All she can do is hold onto him even though she is repulsed. When Mueller let’s go of Claire, he starts at the sight of John.
The rash on John’s skin is what causes the alarm. Mueller frantically checks Claire’s skin. He thanks God her skin is clear. John further translates the words (pp539, Nook). Babbling in the German tongue, he places the item on her lap. John continues to translate. Mueller thinks Claire a fine woman and like a daughter-in-law. John’s voice trails off as the item is fully unwrapped. Claire shudders and cannot make a sound (p539, Nook). Claire can only hear Nayawenne’s translated words in her ears (p539, Nook).
Claire has spent the last days caring for John, Yong Ian, and the entire homestead alone. A possibly firm foundation is built between John and Claire. They now have something outside of Jamie that is solely theirs. The alarming appearance and news from the pastor further bind them together. She needs John’s translation and protection regardless of how weak he still is. When Mueller shows up broken, in sorrow, and with a gift of protection, the outcome is an utter surprise. Claire not only mourns the death of Petronella and the baby but her Tuscarora friends, especially Nayawenne. Her heart must be breaking into many pieces. The final reminder of the old woman’s prophecy rings in Claire’s head.
The smell of smoke hits Jamie before the Indian village comes into sight. He sends William to hide off the path with the horses, so he can investigate what is happening. Jamie instructs William with directions to leave if he is not back by dark. He further instructs William to leave toward the Ridge if he doesn’t meet him up in that spot by morning. William is scared but only listens. Jamie sends him on his way.
The smell of fire is something out of the norm. Jamie cautiously investigates. He sees the remnants of the village with smoke still rising from the leftover buildings (p541, Nook). His heart sinks. Who could do such a thing? The winds shift pushing the smell of burned flesh into his face. He vomits. This smell and scene are too familiar to Jamie. A known dog comes from the distance. Jamie asks him where the people are. The dog’s owner Onakara walks toward Jamie.
The man doesn’t answer Jamie, rather has him follow into the forest where survivors are a half-hour walk away. Some faces are familiar, others are not, and far too many were missing from this camp. Their faces remind him of the Highlands during the cleansing (p542, Nook). The difference is this had been an orderly exodus from Anna Ooka. Jamie finds Nacognaweto. After composing himself the old man asks after Gabrielle and Nayawenne in a descriptive manner rather than name. Jamie shakes his head. They share a strong drink. Jamie understands the customs of conversation, nevertheless, asks what happened.
The village had succumbed to the measles. Nayawenne tried to stop it and went into the woods looking for a charm or plant. Berthe and Gabrielle went with her, and none of them returned. There had been a search for the women with no results. Nacognaweto believes they are cursed. He explains the burning of the bodies and buildings. The tribe will now go north to become part of another group. Jamie leaves with grief in his heart and thankfulness his family is safe. He walks quickly to cover the distance back to William as the dark comes.
Jamie is grieving and in shock like Claire though he knows not the extent of the situation. He is lucky to have hearth and home intact. He has lost a friend in Nacognaweto as the Tuscarora move north to a new home. I wonder how he will respond when he learns the whole story from Claire and John. These chapters show the value of openness of heart and mind. The value of friendship and family. How grief touches us on the periphery and up close. They highlight how we cannot outrun the inevitable too. Nayawenne knew her time of death and illness were coming.
What’s Coming up? Chapters 30-33 Drums of Autumn (DOA).
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