Welcome to this week’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we’ll take a look at the techniques Gabaldon uses to compose a bestselling tale.
(Sorry for the delay in posting today. Between holiday craziness and a lingering cold, I’m afraid I’m behind.)
Chapter 20: Deserted Glade
Summary: A few days later, Claire wakes with a package on the pallet beside her. It’s a bit of amber with a dragonfly caught insides, and the paper wrapping bears a romantic tidbit in Latin, which Jamie translates. Then, as they get ready for the day, Jamie explains to Claire that Hugh has arranged the meeting place between Jamie and Horrocks the English deserter. She’s concerned about Jamie’s safety, but he insists that he’ll be better off since he has Dougal with him.
But in the course of this discussion, Claire learns that Dougal, or one of his men, was the one to shoot Jamie that first night they fled from the English. Jamie had made a break for the Fraser lands and got a musket ball as a deterrent instead. He explains that his lands, Lallybroch, are strategically advantageous. So, while Dougal and Colum may fear Jamie as a contender for the MacKenzie chieftainship, they at least want him alive to ensure his lands remain in MacKenzie control. Claire also learns that, should Jamie die, as his wife, she will now inherit his property.
Writer Comments: Dougal having Jamie shot fits him exactly I think.
There’s a lot of information given in just a few pages here, but Gabaldon uses a technique to keep it moving. Interspersed among the dialogue, she includes brief references to the small chores Jamie and Claire perform to get ready for the day, Jamie shaving and Claire packing up their bedding. On their own, these tasks are unnecessary to mention, but the brief references, especially described in terms of motion, allow the scene to feel as those action on some level occurs, and that helps the pacing.
Summary: While traveling later, Jamie spots a beautiful glade and invites Claire to slip off with him for a roll in the grass. While in mid coitus, two redcoats come upon them and put a pistol to Jamie’s head. One pulls Jamie away with the threat of death while the other turns to taking his own pleasure from Claire.
Determined to get them both out alive, Claire glares at Jamie, warning him by her gaze not to jump to violence right away. She waits instead for the perfect moment and stabs her attacker in the kidney. Jamie takes care of the other one and carries her off to safety.
After this, Claire fears being away from Jamie, and any unknown stir or sound in the woods sends her hurrying through her task and scurrying back to camp. But this presents a problem when it comes time for Jamie and Dougal to meet Horrocks. Claire cannot attend, but she insists on accompanying Jamie. After some argument, Jamie permits her to come most of the way, but then demands she hide in a thicket until he comes for her after the meeting. To force her compliance, he threatens to tie her to a tree and informs her that, should she sneak off before he comes back, he’ll tan her backside. Reluctantly, Claire retreats to the thicket.
Then it occurs to her that, for the first time, she’s truly alone and knows where she is, only seven miles from Craigh na Dun and the stone circle that should be able to transport her back to her own time. But the way across country is rough and perilous and dangerously close to Fort William and Captain Randall.
Still, she takes the chance, her heart aching at the though of leaving Jamie and hoping he’ll forget her. Carefully, she makes her way down the side of a burn with its turbulent water. But the bank is only wide enough to pass part of the way. Claire is forced to skip from slippery rock to rock to cross the water at points, and she slips into a deep pool, plunging deep into the water.
Her voluminous skirts and heavy attire make swimming difficult, and she quickly realizes that she has little hope of reaching the surface through thrashing. Instead, she lets her body sink all the way down to the bottom of the pool, then pushes off to the surface. She gasps a breath, then falls again into the water, only to repeat the process. But this time, someone grabs her and drags her to shore.
A redcoat by the name of Captain Hawkins, whom Claire had met when she last saw Captain Randall.
Writer Comments: In this section, Gabaldon ratchets the tension back up, and it’s clear that all these things, from the attack on Claire and Jamie earlier in the chapter to the meeting with with Horrocks, were largely meant to put Claire within Randall’s reach again. Like all elements of a story, everything must connect and build on one another.