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Excerpt 2 – The Fiery Cross – “The Whereabouts of Mr. Bonnet”

Copyright 2001 Diana Gabaldon


To Mr. James Fraser, of Fraser’s Ridge
Colony of North Carolina

My dear Jamie,

I woke this morning to the sound of the rain which has beat upon us for the last week, and to the gentle clucking of several chickens, who had come to roost upon my bedstead. Rising under the Stare of numerous beady Eyes, I went to make Inquiry as to this circumstance, and was informed that the Lynch River has risen so far under the Impetus of the recent Rain as to have undermined both the Necessary House and the Chicken Coop. The contents of the latter were rescued by William (my son, whom you will recall), and two of the slaves, who swept the dispossessed Fowl out of the passing floodwaters with Brooms. I cannot say whose was the Notion to sequester the hapless Flood-victims in my Sleeping-chamber, but I hold certain Suspicions in this regard.

Resorting to use of my Chamber Pot (I could wish that the Chickens shared this Facility, they are distressing incontinent Fowl), I dressed and ventured forth to see what might be Salvaged. Some few boards and the shingled roof of the Chicken Coop remain, but my privy, alas, has become the Property of King Neptune–or whatever minor water Deity presides over so modest a tributary as the Lynch!

I pray you will suffer no Concern for us, though; the House is at some distance from the River, and safely placed upon a Rise of Ground, such as to render us quite safe from even the most incommodious flooding. (The Necessary had been dug by the old homestead, and we had not yet attempted a new structure more convenient; this minor disaster, by affording us the Necessary opportunity for rebuilding, thus may prove a blessing in disguise.)

You are familiar, I think, with Mr. Stephen Bonnet? I have met with him, you will collect, but have unfortunately no Memory whatever of the Encounter, not even to Recalling of his Appearance, though I do carry a small hole in my Head, as a singular Mementoe of the Occasion. (You may inform your Lady Wife that I am healed well, with no further Symptoms of discomfort than the occasional Headache. Beyond this, the Silver Plate with which the Opening is covered is subject to sudden Chill when the weather is cold, which tends to make my left eye Water, and to cause a great discharge of Snot, but this is of no consequence.)

As I thus share your interest in Mr. Bonnet and his Movements, I have long since had Inquiries dispersed among such Acquaintance as I have near the Coast, since the descriptions of his Machinations cause me to believe the man is most like to be found there (this is a comforting Notion, given the Great Distance between the coast and your remote Eyerie!). The Lynch being navigable to the sea, however, I had some Thought that the River captains and Water Scallywags who now and again grace my Dinnertable might at some Point bear me Word of the man.

I am not Pleased by the Obligation to report that Bonnet still resides among the Living, but both Duty and Friendship compel me to impart such particulars of him as I have received. These are sparse; the Wretch appears sensible of his Criminal Situation, so far as to render him Subtle in his movements–until now.

I had heard little of him, save a report at one Point that he had repaired to France–good news. However, two weeks past I had a guest, one Captain Liston (“Captain” being no more than a title of courtesy; he claims service with the Royal Navy, but I will stake a hogshead of my best tobacco (a sample of which you will find accompanying this missive–and if you do not, I would be obliged to hear of it, since I do not altogether Trust the slave by whom I send it) that he has never so much as smelled the ink on a commission, let alone the reek of the bilges) who gave me a more recent–and highly disagreeable–History of the man Bonnet.

Finding himself at large in the Port of Charleston, Liston said that he fell in with some Companions of low aspect, who invited him to accompany them to a Cock-fight, held in the Inn-yard of an establishment called the Devil’s Glass. Among the revellers there was a Man notable for the Fineness of his Dress, and the Freedom with which he spent his Coin–Liston heard this man referred to as Bonnet, and was told by the Landlord as how this Bonnet had the name of a Smuggler upon the Outer Banks, being Popular with the merchants of the coastal towns in North Carolina, though much less so with the Authorities, who were Helpless to deal with the Man by reason of his Business and the dependence of the Town of Wilmington upon his Trade.

Liston took little further Note of Bonnet (he said) until an altercation rose over a wager upon the Fighting. Hot words were exchanged, and nothing would do save Honor be satisfied by the drawing of Blood. Nothing loath, the spectators at once began to wager upon the outcome of the Human Contest, in the same manner as that of the fighting Fowl.

One combatant was the man Bonnet, the other a Captain Marsden, a half-pay Army captain known to my guest as a good Swordsman. This Marsden, feeling himself the injured Party, damned Bonnet’s eyes, and invited the Smuggler to accommodate him upon the spot, an offer at once accepted. Wagers ran heavy upon Marsden, his Reputation being known, but it was soon clear that he had met his Match and more in Bonnet. Within no more than a few minutes, Bonnet succeeded in disarming his Opponent, and in Wounding him so grievously in the thigh that Marsden sank down upon his knees and yielded to his opponent–having no Choice in the matter at that point, to be sure.

Bonnet did not accept of this Surrender, though, but instead performed an act of such Cruelty as made the deepest impression upon all who saw it. Remarking with great coolness that it was not his own eyes that would be damned, he drew the tip of his weapon across Marsden’s eyes, twisting it in such fashion as not only to blind the Captain, but to inflict such Mutilation as would make him an object of the greatest Horror and Pity to all who might behold him.

Leaving his foe thus mangled and fainting upon the bloody sand of the Inn-yard, Bonnet cleansed his blade by wiping it upon Marsden’s shirt-front, sheathed it, and left–though not before removing Marsden’s purse, which he claimed in payment of his original Wager. None present had any stomach to prevent him, having so cogent an Example of his skill before them.

I recount this History both to acquaint you with Bonnet’s last known whereabouts, and as warning to his Nature and abilities. I know you are already well acquainted with the former, but I draw your Attention to the latter, out of due Regard for your well- being. I do not expect one word of my well-meant Advice will find lodging in your Breast, so filled must it be with adverse Sentiment toward the man, but I would beg that you take Notice at least of Liston’s mention of Bonnet’s Connexions.

Upon the occasion of my own meeting with the man, he was a condemned felon, and I cannot think he has since performed such Service toward the Crown as would gain him official Pardon. If he is content to flaunt himself thus openly in Charleston–where some scant years ago he escaped the hangman’s Noose!–it would seem he is in no great Fears for his safety–and this can only mean that he now enjoys the Protection and Patronage of powerful Friends. You must discover and beware of these, if you seek to destroy Bonnet.

I will continue my Inquiries in this regard, and notify you at once of any further Particulars. In the meantime, keep you well, and spare a thought now and again to your Drenched and Shivering acquaintance in Virginia. I remain, sir, with all good Wishes toward your Wife and Daughter,

Your most Humble and ob’t. Servant,

John William Grey, Esq.
Mount Josiah, Virginia