Inspired by a remark anent rationality and emotion in the last post, I thought I’d put up a brief excerpt illustrating the point. [g] This is from a short story (well, all right, it’s 25,000 words, but still…) I’ve just done for an anthology. The story was originally called “Terror Daemonium” and is the story of what happened to Michael Murray (the middle brother, between Young Jamie and Young Ian, Janet’s twin) and to Joan MacKimmie (Laoghaire’s younger daughter; Marsali’s sister) when they went to France at the end of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. I later changed the name to “The Space Between”, but it’ll be up to the anthology editor as to which title he prefers.
Excerpt from “The Space Between” (aka “Terror Daemonium”)
After a short tour through the rooms of the gaming club, Michael indicated a desire to play whist. Cards weren’t Charles’s favorite; he preferred the excitement of dice. Neither was whist at all fashionable; the tables were in a small, dingy salon at the rear of the establishment.
“Whist is too much like work,” Charles grumbled, though good-naturedly. “That’s why you like it, no doubt. Your Scottish sense of virtue doesn’t allow you to do something just for fun.”
There might be something to this. Beyond such philosophical questions, though, the choice of whist did allow Michael to control Charles’s gambling to some extent. Charles had a wife, two sons, and a mistress to support, and while Michael disapproved the existence of the mistress, he did like the lady—and pitied the wife. Michael shrugged and smiled, they found a pair of Italian gentlemen willing to play, and settled down to a peaceful evening of cards.
It _was_ peaceful. Much to his surprise, Michael found after an hour’s play that the thorns of his personal briar patch had coiled themselves up and withdrawn. His mind was quiet, and if he was not happy, he wasn’t actively miserable, either.
He shuffled the cards and laid them out, counting under his breath. Count to ten, he heard, in the back of his mind, and his Da’s laugh. He smiled involuntarily.
The one thing good about the manner of his father’s dying had been that there was time. He wouldn’t wish such a death by inches on anyone, but it had at least allowed all the children and grandchildren to come to Lallybroch, to see each other, to test the bonds of their family and find they held steady, despite years and distance. And time to talk with Da.
Who had, in the course of one conversation in the kitchen with his sons, pointed out a little-known use of mathematics.
“Ye ken how they say ye should count to ten before ye speak, if ye’re blazin’ wi’ fury?”
“Aye. So?” Young Jamie raised a brow.
“Well, that’s because ye canna think of numbers and be angry at the same time. That’s why I took up the study o’ mathematics when I met your Mam.”
There was laughter, and a certain amount of skepticism expressed, but Da insisted it was so, and Michael and Young Ian had undertaken to insult Young Jamie while the latter did sums, by way of experiment, but this enterprise had broken down into giggles as the insults grew sillier, and finally into open roaring, when their mother walked in unexpectedly, in time to hear her youngest son call her oldest son “Ye whore-mongering son of a hypotenuse!”
“Really, Michel,” Charles said to him disapprovingly in English, “you mustn’t grin like that, even if your cards are stunning. It makes them nervous.” He nodded slightly toward the two Italians, who were regarding Michael with an obvious suspicion.
Michael’s cards were in fact mediocre, but he subdued his grin to a satisfied smile, which unnerved one of the Italians sufficiently as to make him throw in a much superior hand. His partner glared.
_Well, then_, Michael thought, feeling better. _I should ha’ thought of that before. I’ll take to solving problems in geometry, just before bed. That’ll put paid to the dreams. Maybe._