Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a look at how Gabaldon weaves a bestselling story. As chapter 24 is quite long, I’ve broken it into sections. Today, we tackle the fourth and final section of the chapter.
Chapter 24: By the Pricking of My Thumbs
Summary: Claire goes out with her friend Geilie, who is the village healer, into the hills to gather herbs and moss. While out there, Claire comes across a sick baby left in the hollow of a hill with a bowl of milk at its head and a bouquet of flowers at its feet. Claire makes to take the child back home and do what she can to help it, but Geilie refuses to let her. Reluctantly, Claire leaves the child, thinking the parents will return for it soon. But she discovers from Geilie that the child has been left out to die. Claire immediately tries to go back and save the child, but Geilie stops her, insisting that she dare not because the child will die and Claire will be blamed. It’s a changeling, and they’ve no business going near such a dangerous thing.
Claire refuses to give into superstition, and Geilie leaves her as she goes back for the child. It’s near dark, so Claire struggles to find her way back. At last, she finds the right hill, but in the dark, she runs straight into Jamie who’s come to take her home. He tells her he ran into Geilie who explained what she was doing, that he’s already found the child himself, and that it’s already dead.
He then escorts her back to Leoch. He’s at least understanding that she has a kind heart, which motivates her to do such things. But he tries to make her understand that the people who live nearby do not follow the reasoning of the educated. They’ve barely left the places where they were born and know only what the priest tells them and the old stories which are real to them.
At Castle Leoch, the lights are ablaze, for the Duke of Sandringham has finally come.
Writer Comments: Trying to save a baby left abandoned in the wild is classic heroism. That’s what makes Claire appealing in this scene. Even though I knew it would cause her all sorts of trouble to take a changeling child home, I wanted her to save it. But Gabaldon doesn’t just work heroism and sympathy in Claire in this scene. She manages it with Jamie too. Unlike Geilie, and I suspect any other character, Jamie is understanding of Claire’s need to save a helpless child. That sympathy makes him even more heroic.
But notice that neither of them succeeded in saving the baby. Their heroism doesn’t come in the actions they complete, but in their motivation and the actions they attempt.
Summary: A few days later, Claire goes with Jamie to fetch Geilie and her husband, the fiscal, to join the banquet at Leoch for the Duke. While there, Claire sneaks with Geilie to figure out who sent the “ill-wish”, the bundle of herbs Claire and Jamie found in the bed several days before.
Geilie takes her to an attic room locked tight and looking far more like a witch’s lair than what she’s seen of the rest of the house. Geilie even has a shelf with a grimmoire on it. Geilie assure Claire she only does white magic and proceeds to prepare a summoning to find out who sent the ill-wish.
But in the midst of the ritual, with fragrant smoke in her nostrils and candlelight about her, breathing deep and sleepily, Claire encounters something unexpected. A voice asks her who she is and why she came. Claire suspects she’s being hypnotized. She answers that she’s Claire and that she can’t tell how she came because no one will believe her.
Before the voice can extract anything more from Claire, the sound of Geilie’s husband banging on the door to hurry her up breaks the spell. Claire is numb and feeling odd. Geilie has her lie down while she finished getting dressed for the banquet. Mr. Duncan, Geilie’s husband, comes in again. He knocks on Geilie’s closet door. Claire hears a shriek and sees Mr. Duncan fall against the doorjamb. She jumps up to help him, but he staggers off. Thinking the shriek was Geilie, she knocks and asks if she’s all right. Geilie insists that she is.
When the girls come down, Claire finds Mr. Duncan seemingly recovered and drinking brandy with Jamie. However, at the banquet, just after Colum gifts Claire with a beautiful black rosary, Mr. Duncan falls and goes into some sort of convulsions. Claire rushes over to help Geilie try to save him, but nothing she does makes a difference. He dies on the banquet hall floor.
Writer Comments: The plot thickens. This scene is excellent for ratcheting up reader curiosity. As a reader, I suspect that Geilie knows Claire isn’t normal. Perhaps she doesn’t know that Claire is from another time period, but she knows something. The summoning was just a cover for her to find out what, which didn’t fully work. Additionally, I suspect that Geilie may be somewhat culpable in her husband’s death. There’s just a lot of implied suspicion there.
It’s good to keep readers wondering and theorizing. It gets them more invested in a story.
Summary: With Mr. Duncan’s funeral, the hunt involving the Duke, Jamie, and Dougal is delayed briefly, but soon after, Jamie must go, leaving Claire at the castle alone. They’re both reluctant to part, and Jamie insists Claire be careful and not go near Geilie as the villagers think her a witch. After Jamie leaves, Claire soon finds herself depressed and bored.
About two weeks later, the girl who first fancied Jamie tells Claire that Geilie requests her attend her, for Geilie is ill. Compelled by compassion and boredom, Claire goes despite Jamie’s warning. She finds Geilie in her house. Though the house is messy and rundown and Geilie well into her store of brandy, she isn’t ill at all. Just as Claire realizes that Geilie didn’t send for her, she hears the disturbing sound of an approaching mob.
Writer Comments: It’s always nice and good to end a chapter on a cliffhanger. All chapters, and for that matter all scenes, should en in such a way that they compel a reader to keep reading. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a dramatic event like a mob likely intent on burning themselves a witch. However, there must be something unresolved and intriguing or ominous, something that leaves readers craving more.