Drums of Autumn

By: Diana Gabaldon





This book turned out to have a lot to do with fathers,

and so it’s for my own father, Tony Gabaldon, who also tells stories.





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


The author’s grateful thanks to:

My editor, Jackie Cantor, who said, when informed that there was (ahem) actually another book in this series, “Why am I not surprised to hear this?”

Susan Schwartz and her loyal minions—the copyeditors, typesetters, and book designers—without whom this book would not exist; I hope they eventually recover from the experience.

My husband, Doug Watkins, who said, “I don’t know how you go on getting away with this; you don’t know anything about men!”

My daughter Laura, who generously allowed me to steal two lines of her eighth-grade essay for my Prologue; my son Samuel, who said, “Aren’t you ever going to finish writing that book?” and (without pausing for breath), “Since you’re still busy writing, can we have McDonald’s again?” and my daughter Jennifer, who said, “You are going to change clothes before you come talk to my class, aren’t you? Don’t worry, Mommy, I have an outfit all picked out for you.”

The anonymous sixth grader who handed back a sample chapter passed around during a talk at his school and said, “That was kind of gross, but really interesting. People don’t really do that, do they?”

Iain MacKinnon Taylor and his brother Hamish, for Gaelic translations, idioms, and colorful invective. Nancy Bushey, for Gaelic tapes. Karl Hagen, for general advice on Latin grammar. Susan Martin and Reid Snider, for Greek epigrams and rotting pythons. Sylvia Petter, Elise Skidmore, Janet Kieffer Kelly, and Karen Pershing for help with the French bits.

Janet MacConnaughey and Keith Sheppard, for Latin love poetry, macaronics, and the original lyrics of “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

Mary Campbell Toerner and Ruby Vincent, for the loan of an unpublished historical manuscript about the Highlanders of the Cape Fear. Claire Nelson for the loan of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1771 edition. Esther and Bill Schindler, for the loan of the books on Eastern forests.

Ron Wodaski, Karl Hagen, Bruce Woods, Rich Hamper, Eldon Garlock, Dean Quarrel, and several other gentlemen members of the CompuServe Writers Forum, for expert opinions on what it feels like to be kicked in the testicles.

Marte Brengle, for detailed descriptions of sweat lodge ceremonials and suggestions on sports cars. Merrill Cornish, for his stunning description of redbuds in bloom. Arlene and Joe McCrea, for saints’ names and descriptions of plowing with a mule. Ken Brown, for details of the Presbyterian Baptismal rite (much abridged in the text). David Stanley, Scotland’s next great writer, for advice on anoraks, jackets, and the difference between them.

Barbara Schnell, for German translations, error-checking, and sympathetic reading.

Dr. Ellen Mandell, for medical opinions, close reading, and useful suggestions for dealing with inguinal hernias, abortion, and other forms of harrowing bodily trauma.

Dr. Rosina Lippi-Green, for details of Mohawk life and customs, and notes on Scots linguistics and German grammar.

Mac Beckett, for his notion of new and ancient spirits.

Jack Whyte, for his memoirs of life as a Scottish folksinger, including the proper response to kilt jokes.

Susan Davis, for friendship, boundless enthusiasm, dozens of books, descriptions of pulling ticks off her kids—and the strawberries.

Walt Hawn and Gordon Fenwick, for telling me how long is a furlong. John Ravenscroft and miscellaneous members of the UKForum, for a riveting discussion of the RAF’s underpants, circa WWII. Eve Ackerman and helpful members of the CompuServe SFLIT Forum, for the publication dates of Conan the Barbarian.

Barbara Raisbeck and Mary M. Robbins, for their helpful references on herbs and early pharmacology.

My anonymous library friend, for the reams of useful references.

Arnold Wagner and Steven Lopata, for discussions of high and low explosives and general advice on how to blow things up.

Margaret Campbell and other online residents of North Carolina, for miscellaneous descriptions of their fair state.

John L. Myers, both for telling me about his ghosts, and for generously allowing me to incorporate certain elements of his physique and persona into the formidable John Quincy Myers, Mountain Man. The hernia is fictitious.

As always, thanks also to the many members of the CompuServe Literary Forum and Writers Forum whose names have escaped my memory, for their helpful suggestions and convivial conversation, and to the AOL folder-folk for their stimulating discussions.

A special thanks to Rosana Madrid Gatti, for her labor of love in constructing and maintaining the award-winning Official Diana Gabaldon Web Page (http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~gatti/gabaldon/gabaldon.html).

And thanks to Lori Musser, Dawn Van Winkle, Kaera Hallahan, Virginia Clough, Elaine Faxon, Ellen Stanton, Elaine Smith, Cathy Kravitz, Hanneke (whose last name remains unfortunately illegible), Judith MacDonald, Susan Hunt and her sister Holly, the Boise gang, and many others, for their thoughtful gifts of wine, drawings, rosaries, chocolate, Celtic music, soap, statuary, pressed heather from Culloden, handkerchiefs with echidnas, Maori pens, English teas, garden trowels, and other miscellanea meant to boost my spirits and keep me writing far past the point of exhaustion. It worked.

And lastly to my mother, who touches me in passing.

PROLOGUE


I’ve never been afraid of ghosts. I live with them daily, after all. When I look in a mirror, my mother’s eyes look back at me; my mouth curls with the smile that lured my great-grandfather to the fate that was me.

No, how should I fear the touch of those vanished hands, laid on me in love unknowing? How could I be afraid of those that molded my flesh, leaving their remnants to live long past the grave?

Still less could I be afraid of those ghosts who touch my thoughts in passing. Any library is filled with them. I can take a book from dusty shelves, and be haunted by the thoughts of one long dead, still lively as ever in their winding sheet of words.

Of course it isn’t these homely and accustomed ghosts that trouble sleep and curdle wakefulness. Look back, hold a torch to light the recesses of the dark. Listen to the footsteps that echo behind, when you walk alone.

All the time the ghosts flit past and through us, hiding in the future. We look in the mirror and see the shades of other faces looking back through the years; we see the shape of memory, standing solid in an empty doorway. By blood and by choice, we make our ghosts; we haunt ourselves.

Each ghost comes unbidden from the misty grounds of dream and silence.

Our rational minds say, “No, it isn’t.”

But another part, an older part, echoes always softly in the dark, “Yes, but it could be.”

We come and go from mystery and, in between, we try to forget. But a breeze passing in a still room stirs my hair now and then in soft affection. I think it is my mother.





PART ONE





O Brave New World





1


A HANGING IN EDEN


Charleston, June 1767

I heard the drums long before they came in sight. The beating echoed in the pit of my stomach, as though I too were hollow. The sound traveled through the crowd, a harsh military rhythm meant to be heard over speech or gunfire. I saw heads turn as the people fell silent, looking up the stretch of East Bay Street, where it ran from the half-built skeleton of the new Customs House toward White Point Gardens.

It was a hot day, even for Charleston in June. The best places were on the seawall, where the air moved; here below, it was like being roasted alive. My shift was soaked through, and the cotton bodice clung between my breasts. I wiped my face for the tenth time in as many minutes and lifted the heavy coil of my hair, hoping vainly for a cooling breeze upon my neck.

I was morbidly aware of necks at the moment. Unobtrusively, I put my hand up to the base of my throat, letting my fingers circle it. I could feel the pulse beat in my carotid arteries, along with the drums, and when I breathed, the hot wet air clogged my throat as though I were choking.

I quickly took my hand down, and drew in a breath as deep as I could manage. That was a mistake. The man in front of me hadn’t bathed in a month or more; the edge of the stock about his thick neck was dark with grime and his clothes smelled sour and musty, pungent even amid the sweaty reek of the crowd. The smell of hot bread and frying pig fat from the food vendors’ stalls lay heavy over a musk of rotting seagrass from the marsh, only slightly relieved by a whiff of salt-breeze from the harbor.

There were several children in front of me, craning and gawking, running out from under the oaks and palmettos to look up the street, being called back by anxious parents. The girl nearest me had a neck like the white part of a grass stalk, slender and succulent.

There was a ripple of excitement through the crowd; the gallows procession was in sight at the far end of the street. The drums grew louder.

“Where is he?” Fergus muttered beside me, craning his own neck to see. “I knew I should have gone with him!”

“He’ll be here.” I wanted to stand on tiptoe, but didn’t, feeling that this would be undignified. I did glance around, though, searching. I could always spot Jamie in a crowd; he stood head and shoulders above most men, and his hair caught the light in a blaze of reddish gold. There was no sign of him yet, only a bobbing sea of bonnets and tricornes, sheltering from the heat those citizens come too late to find a place in the shade.

▶ Also By Diana Gabaldon

▶ Hot Read

▶ Last Updated

▶ Recommend

Top Books