Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 113

   

All here are in Good Health and Spirits, and trust that this letter will find all in your Household likewise Content.

Your son sends his Most Affectionate Regards, and begs to be Remembered to his Father, Brothers and Sisters. He bids you tell Matthew and Henry that he sends them the Encloased Object, which is the preserved Skull of an animal called Porpentine by Reason of its Prodigious Spines (though it is not at all like the small Hedge-creepie which you will know by that name, being much Greater in Size and Dwelling in the Treetops, where it Feasts upon the tender shoots). Tell Matthew and Henry that I do not know why the Teeth are orange. No Doubt the animal finds it Decorative.

Also enclosed you will find a small Present for yourself; the Patterning is contrived by use of the Quills of this same Porpentine, which the Indians dye with the juices of several Plants, before weaving them in the Ingenious Manner you see before you.

Claire has been recently much Interested by Conversation—if the term can be used for a Communication limited mostly to Gesticulations and the Making of Faces (she insists I note here that she does not Make Faces, to which I reply that I am in Better Case to judge of the matter, being able to see the Face in question, which she is not)—in Conversation with an old woman of the Indians, much Esteemed in this area as a Healer, who has Given her many such plants. In consequence, her fingers are Purple at present, which I find Most Decorative.

Tuesday, 20 Sept.

I have been much Occupied today in repair and strengthening of the pen-fold in which we keep our few cows, pigs, etc. at night, to protect them from the depredations of Bears, which are plentiful. In walking to the privy this morning, I espied a great Pawprint in the mud, which Measured quite the length of my own Foot. The stock appeared Nervous and disturbed, for which Condition I can scarce Blame them.

Do not, I pray you, suffer any Alarm on our account. The Black Bears of this country are wary of Humans, and Loath to approach even a Single Man. Also, our house is strongly built, and I have forbidden Ian to go Abroad after dark, save he is Well-armed.

In the matter of Armament, our situation is much Improved. Fergus has brought back from High Point both a fine Rifle of the new kind, and several excellent Knives.

Also a large boiling kettle, whose Acquisition we have Celebrated with a great quantity of tasty Stew, made with Venison, wild Onions from the wood, dried beans, and likewise some Tomatoe-fruits, dried from the Summer. None of us Died or suffered Ill-effects from Eating of this stew, so Claire is likely right, Tomatoes are not Poison.

Wednesday, 21 Sept.

The Bear has come again. I found large Prints and Scrapings on the new-turned ground of Claire’s Garden today. The beast will be fattening for its Winter slumbers, and no doubt seeks to Digg for grubs in the fresh Earth.

I have Removed the Sow to our Pantry, since she is near Farrowing. Neither Claire nor the Sow was greatly pleased by this arrangement, but the Animal is valuable, having cost me three pound from Mr. Quillan.

Four Indians came today. They are of the kind called Tuscarora. I have met these men on several Occasions, and found them most Amiable.

The Savages having expressed a determination to hunt our particular Bear, I made them a Gift of some tobacco and a Knife, with which they seemed Pleasd.

They sat under the eaves of the House most of the morning, Smoking and talking among themselves, but then near midday made to Depart upon their Hunt. I inquired whether, the Bear seeming Fond of our Society, it would not be best for the Hunters to lie hidden nearby, in Hopes that the animal will return here.

I was Informed—with the Kindest Condescension possible through word and sign—that the appearance of the Animal’s droppings indicated beyond any Doubt that it had Quitted the area, and was Bound upon some errand to the west.

Being of no Mind to take issue with such Expert practitioners, I wished them luck and bade them a cordial Farewell. I could not accompany them, having urgent Labors still to perform here, but Ian and Rollo have gone with them, as they have done before.

I have loaded my new Rifle and left it ready to Hand, lest our friends’ apprehension as to the Bear’s intent be Mistaken.

Thursday, 22 Sept.

I was roused from Sleep last night by a Hideous Noise. This was a great Scraping, which reverberated thru the wooden logs of the wall, accompanied by such Thumps and loud Wails that I bolted from my Bed, convinced that the house was like to Fall about our Ears.

The Sow, observing the nearness of an Enemy, burst through the door of the Pantry (which I will say was flimsily made) and took Refuge beneath our Bed, squealing in a Manner to deafen us. Perceiving that the Bear was at Hand, I seiz’d my new Rifle and ran outside.

It was a moonlit Night, though hazy, and I could plainly see my Adversary, a great black shape, which stretched upon its hind feet appeared near as Tall as Myself, and (to my anxious eyes) roughly three times as Wide, being at no Great Distance from me.

I fired at it, whereon it Dropped to all fours and Ran with amazing Speed toward the shelter of the nearby Wood, disappearing before I could make Shift to shoot any more.

Come Daylight, I searched the ground for sign of Blood and found none, so cannot say did my Shot find its Target. The side of the House is decorated with several long Scrapes, as might be made with a sharpened Adze or Chizl, showing white in the Wood.

We have since been at some Pains to persuade the Sow (she is a White Sow, of Prodigious Size, a most Stubborn Temper, and not lacking in Teeth) to quit our bed and repair to her Sanctuary in the pantry. She was Reluctant, but was at length persuaded by the Combination of a trail of shattered corn laid before her, and myself at her Rear, Armed with a Stout Broom.

Monday, 26th Sept.

Ian and his Red Companions have returned, their Prey having eluded them in the wood. I shrewd them the Scratches upon the Side of the House, whereon they became Excited and talked among themselves at such a Rate I could not Follow their Words.

One man then detached a large tooth from his necklace of such items and presented it to me with great Ceremony, saying that it would serve to Identify me to the Bear-spirit, and thus protect me from Harm. I accepted this Token with all due Solemnity, and was then oblig’d to present him with a piece of Honeycomb in Exchange, thus the proprieties were observ’d.

Claire was called to provide the Honeycomb, and with her usual eye for such Matters, perceived that one of our guests was Unwell, being heavy-eyed, coughing, and distracted in Appearance. Claire says he is also Flushed with fever, though this is not obvious to look at him. He being too ill to continue with his Companions, we have laid him on a pallet in the corncrib.

The sow has Most Incontinently farrowed in the pantry. There are a dozen piglets, all healthy and of a Vigorous Appetite, for which God be thanked. Our own Appetites bid fair to be impoverished for the present, as the Sow viciously Attacks anyone who opens the door of the Pantry, roaring and gnashing her Teeth in Rage. I was given one egg to my supper, and informed that I shall get no more until I have Contriv’d a solution to this Difficulty.

Saturday, 1 October

A great Surprise today. Two Guests have come…

“It will be a wild place.”

Brianna looked up, startled. Jenny nodded at the letter, her eyes fixed on Brianna.

“Savages and bears and porpentines and such. It’s no much more than a wee cot, where they live, Jamie told me. And all alone, up in the high mountains. Verra wild, it will be.” She looked at Brianna a little anxiously. “But ye’ll still wish to go?”

Brianna realized suddenly that Jenny was afraid she would not; that she would be frightened by the thought of the long journey and the savage place at the end of it. A savage place rendered suddenly real by the scrawled black words on the sheet she held—but not nearly as real as the man who had written them.

“I’m going,” she assured her aunt. “As soon as I can.”

Jenny’s face relaxed.

“Oh, good,” she said. She held out her hand, showing Brianna a small leather pouch decorated with a panel made of porcupine’s quills, stained in shades of red and black, with here and there a few quills left in their natural grayish color for contrast.

“This is the present he sent me.”

Brianna took it, admiring the intricacy of the pattern, and the softness of the pale deer’s hide.

“It’s beautiful.”

“Aye, it is.” Jenny turned away, busying herself with unnecessary tidying of the small ornaments that stood on the bookshelf. Brianna had just turned her attention back to the letter when Jenny spoke abruptly.

“Will ye stay a bit?”

Brianna looked up, startled.

“Stay?”

“Only for a day or two.” Jenny turned around, the light from the window halo-bright behind her, shadowing her face.

“I ken ye’ll wish to be gone,” she said. “I should wish so much to talk wi’ ye for a bit, though.”

Brianna looked at her, puzzled, but could read nothing in the pale, even features and the slanted eyes so like her own.

“Yes,” she said slowly. “Of course I’ll stay.”

A smile touched the corner of Jenny’s mouth. Her hair was deep black, streaked with white like a magpie.

“That’s good,” she said softly. The smile spread slowly as she looked at her niece.

“Dear Lord, you’re like my brother!”

Left alone, Brianna returned to the letter, rereading the beginning slowly, letting the quiet room around her fade, disappearing as Jamie Fraser came to life in her hands, his voice so vivid in her inner ear that he might have stood before her, the sun from the window glinting on his red hair.

Saturday, 1 October

A great Surprise today. Two Guests have come from Cross Creek. You will recall, I think, my Telling you of Lord John Grey, whom I knew in Ardsmuir. I have not said that I had seen him since, in Jamaica, where he was Governor for the Crown.

He is perhaps the last Person one should expect to find in this Remote Place, so far Removed from all Traces of Civilization, let alone those Luxurious Offices and Trappings of Pomp to which he is Accustomed. Surely we were Most Astonish’d by his appearing at our door, though we at once made him Welcome.

It is a melancholy Event that has led him here, I am Sorry to say. His wife, embarked from England with her son, contracted a Fever on the voyage, and Died of it while on the Ocean. Fearing lest the Miasmas of the Tropics prove as Fatal to the Boy as to his Mother, Lord John determined that the lad must go to Virginia, where Lord John’s family has Substantial Property, and Determined to escort him there himself, seeing that the Lad was greatly Desolated by loss of his Mother.

I Expressed Amazement, as well as Gratification, that they should chuse to make such Alteration in their Journey as required to visit this Distant Spot, but his Lordship dismisses this, saying that he would have the Boy see something of the different Colonies, so as to appreciate the Richness and Variety of this Land. The lad is most Desirous of encountering Red Indians—reminding me in this Respect of Ian, not so long ago.

He is a comely lad, tall and Well-form’d for his Years, which I believe are near Twelve. He is somewhat subject still to Melancholy from his Mother’s death, but is most Pleasant in Conversation, and Mannerly, for all he is an Earl (Lord John is his stepfather, I believe; his father having been Earl of Ellesmere). His name is William.

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