A Trail of Fire (Page 22)

A Trail of Fire (Lord John Grey #3.5)(22)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

Father LeCarré took the bundle gently from him, turning back the blanket to look at the child’s face. The boy was awake; he pawed at the air, and the priest put out a finger for him to grasp.

‘Ah,’ he said, seeing the clear signs of mixed blood, and Grey knew the priest thought the child was his. He started to explain, but after all, what did it matter?

‘We will baptise him as a Catholic, of course,’ Father LeCarré said, looking up at him. The priest was a young man, rather plump, dark and clean-shaven, but with a gentle face. ‘You do not mind that?’

‘No.’ Grey drew out a purse. ‘Here: for his maintenance. I will send an additional five pounds each year, if you will advise me once a year of his continued welfare. Here – the address to which to write.’ A sudden inspiration struck him – not that he did not trust the good father, he assured himself, only . . . ‘Send me a lock of his hair,’ he said. ‘Every year.’

He was turning to go when the priest called him back, smiling.

‘Has the infant a name, sir?’

‘A—’ He stopped dead. His mother had surely called him something, but Malcolm Stubbs hadn’t thought to tell him what it was before being shipped back to England. What should he call the child? Malcolm, for the father who had abandoned him? Hardly.

Charles, maybe, in memory of Carruthers . . .

. . . one of these days, it isn’t going to.

‘His name is John,’ he said abruptly, and cleared his throat. ‘John Cinnamon.’

‘Mais oui,’ the priest said, nodding. ‘Bon voyage, monsieur – et allez avec le Bon Dieu.’

‘Thank you,’ he said politely, and went away, not looking back, down to the riverbank where Manoke waited to bid him farewell.


The Battle of Quebec is justly famous, as one of the great military triumphs of the eighteenth-century British Army. If you go today to the battlefield at the Plains of Abraham (in spite of this poetic name, it really was just named for the farmer who owned the land, one Abraham Martin), you’ll see a plaque at the foot of the cliff there, commemorating the heroic achievement of the Highland troops who climbed this sheer cliff from the river below, clearing the way for the entire army – and their cannon, mortars, howitzers and accompanying impedimenta – to make a harrowing overnight ascent and confront General Montcalm with a jaw-dropping spectacle by the dawn’s early light.

If you go up onto the field itself, you’ll find another plaque, this one put up by the French, explaining (in French) what a dirty, unsportsmanlike trick this was for those British lowlifes to have played on the noble troops defending the Citadel. Ah, perspective.

General James Wolfe, along with Montcalm, was of course a real historical character, as was Brigadier Simon Fraser (whom you will have met – or will meet later – in An Echo in the Bone). My own rule of thumb when dealing with historical persons in the context of fiction is to try not to portray them as having done anything worse than what I know they did, according to the historical record.

In General Wolfe’s case, Hal’s opinion of his character and abilities is one commonly held and recorded by a number of contemporary military commentators. And there is documentary proof of his attitude toward the Highlanders whom he used for this endeavour, in the form of the letter quoted in the story: ‘. . . no great mischief if they fall.’ (Allow me to recommend a wonderful novel by Alistair McLeod, titled No Great Mischief. It isn’t about Wolfe; it’s a novelised history of a family of Scots who settle in Nova Scotia, beginning in the eighteenth century and carrying on through the decades, but it is from Wolfe’s letter that the book takes its title, and he’s mentioned.)

Wolfe’s policy with regard to the habitant villages surrounding the Citadel (looting, burning, general terrorising of the populace) is a matter of record. It wasn’t an unusual thing for an invading army to do.

General Wolfe’s dying words are also a matter of historical record, but like Lord John, I take leave to doubt that that’s really what he said. He is reported by several sources to have recited Grey’s ‘Elegy written in a Country Churchyard’ in the boat on the way to battle – and I think that’s a sufficiently odd thing to have done that the reports are probably true.

As for Simon Fraser, he’s widely reported to have been the British officer who fooled the French lookouts by calling out to them in French as the boats went by in the darkness – and he undoubtedly spoke excellent French, having campaigned in France. As to the details of exactly what he said – accounts vary, and that’s not really an important detail, so I rolled my own.

I am greatly indebted to Philippe Safavi, who translates my novels into French, for checking and correcting the French inclusions, both in The Custom of the Army and The Space Between.

Lord John and the Plague of Zombies

Introduction to

Lord John and the Plague of Zombies

The thing about Lord John’s situation and career – unmarried, no fixed establishment, discreet political connections, fairly high-ranking officer – is that he can easily take part in far-flung adventures, rather than being bound to a pedestrian daily life. To be honest, once I started doing ‘bulges’ involving him, I just looked at which year it was, and then consulted one of my historical timeline references to see what kinds of interesting events happened in that year. That’s how he happened to find himself in Quebec for the battle there.

In terms of this story, though, the impetus came from two different sources, both ‘trails’ leading back from the main books of the series – Voyager, in this case. To wit: I knew that Lord John was the Governor of Jamaica in 1766, when Claire meets him aboard the Porpoise; it wasn’t impossible for a man with connections and no experience to be appointed to such a post – but it was more likely for a man who had had experience in the territory to which he was appointed. I knew also that Geillis Duncan wasn’t dead, and where she was. And after all, with a story set in Jamaica, how could I possibly resist zombies?

Lord John and the Plague of Zombies

There was a snake on the drawing-room table. A small snake, but still. Lord John Grey wondered whether to say anything about it.

The governor picked up a cut-crystal decanter that stood not six inches from the coiled reptile, appearing quite oblivious. Perhaps it was a pet, or perhaps the residents of Jamaica were accustomed to keep a tame snake in residence, to kill rats. Judging from the number of rats he’d seen since leaving the ship, this seemed sensible – though this particular snake didn’t appear large enough to take on even your average mouse.

The wine was decent, but served at body heat, and it seemed to pass directly through Grey’s gullet and into his blood. He’d had nothing to eat since before dawn, and felt the muscles of his lower back begin to tingle and relax. He put the glass down; he wanted a clear head.

‘I cannot tell you, sir, how happy I am to receive you,’ said the governor, putting down his own glass, empty. ‘The position is acute.’

‘So you said in your letter to Lord North. The situation has not changed appreciably since then?’ It had been nearly three months since that letter was written; a lot could change in three months.

He thought Governor Warren shuddered, despite the temperature in the room.

‘It has become worse,’ the governor said, picking up the decanter. ‘Much worse.’

Grey felt his shoulders tense, but spoke calmly.

‘In what way? Have there been more—’ He hesitated, searching for the right word. ‘More demonstrations?’ It was a mild word to describe the burning of cane fields, the looting of plantations, and the wholesale liberation of slaves.

Warren gave a hollow laugh. His handsome face was beading with sweat. There was a crumpled handkerchief on the arm of his chair, and he picked it up to mop at his skin. He hadn’t shaved this morning – or, quite possibly, yesterday; Grey could hear the faint rasp of his dark whiskers on the cloth.

‘Yes. More destruction. They burnt a sugar press last month, though still in the remoter parts of the island. Now, though . . .’ He paused, licking dry lips as he poured more wine. He made a cursory motion toward Grey’s glass, but Grey shook his head.

‘They’ve begun to move toward King’s Town,’ Warren said. ‘It’s deliberate, you can see it. One plantation after another, in a line coming straight down the mountain.’ He sighed. ‘I shouldn’t say straight. Nothing in this bloody place is straight, starting with the landscape.’

That was true enough; Grey had admired the vivid green peaks that soared up from the centre of the island, a rough backdrop for the amazingly blue lagoon and the white sand shore.

‘People are terrified,’ Warren went on, seeming to get a grip on himself, though his face was once again slimy with sweat, and his hand shook on the decanter. It occurred to Grey, with a slight shock, that the governor himself was terrified. ‘I have merchants – and their wives – in my office every day, begging, demanding protection from the blacks.’

‘Well, you may assure them that protection will be provided them,’ Grey said, sounding as reassuring as possible. He had half a battalion with him – three hundred infantry troops, and a company of artillery, equipped with small cannon. Enough to defend King’s Town, if necessary. But his brief from Lord North was not merely to defend and reassure the merchants and shipping of King’s Town and Spanish Town – nor even to provide protection to the larger sugar plantations. He was charged with putting down the slave rebellion entirely. Rounding up the ringleaders and putting a stop to the violence altogether.

The snake on the table moved suddenly, uncoiling itself in a languid manner. It startled Grey, who had begun to think it was a decorative sculpture. It was exquisite: only seven or eight inches long, and a beautiful pale yellow marked with brown, a faint iridescence in its scales like the glow of good Rhenish wine.

‘It’s gone farther now, though,’ Warren was going on. ‘It’s not just burning and property destruction. Now it’s come to murder.’

That brought Grey back with a jerk.

‘Who has been murdered?’ he demanded.

‘A planter named Abernathy. Murdered in his own house, last week. His throat cut.’

‘Was the house burnt?’

‘No, it wasn’t. The maroons ransacked it, but were driven off by Abernathy’s own slaves before they could set fire to the place. His wife survived by submerging herself in a spring behind the house, concealed by a patch of reeds.’

‘I see.’ He could imagine the scene all too well. ‘Where is the plantation?’

‘About ten miles out of King’s Town. Rose Hall, it’s called. Why?’ A bloodshot eye swivelled in Grey’s direction, and he realised that the glass of wine the governor had invited him to share had not been his first of the day. Nor, likely, his fifth.

Was the man a natural sot? he wondered. Or was it only the pressure of the current situation that had caused him to take to the bottle in such a blatant manner? He surveyed the governor covertly; the man was perhaps in his late thirties, and while plainly drunk at the moment, showed none of the signs of habitual indulgence. He was well-built and attractive; no bloat, no soft belly straining at his silk waistcoat, no broken veins in cheeks or nose . . .