A Winter Interlude from Bellewether

Susanna here, with a day that somehow completely got away from me! We've been moving my elder son into the city, closer to his college, and my younger son's been catching up on homework over the holidays, and my usually low-maintenance dog has been Very Demanding—most probably feeling deprived of attention.

So in place of a proper post, I thought I'd share a short, winter-themed excerpt from my upcoming novel, Bellewether, which will be published here in Canada in April of this year, and in October in the States.


Bellewether CanadaThis is the Canadian cover—the American one is still being designed—but I do at least have the American back cover summary, so you'll have some context for the scene:

 

"The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren't such easy things to keep."

It's late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.

 

This scene takes place after Jean-Phil has been there several months…

Mr. de Sabran, too, appeared to have no trouble finding tasks to occupy his time.

When work on the Bellewether slowed in December because of the storms and the ice, he helped her father take apart the cider press and store it in the shed. Together with her father and French Peter he cut timber in the woods and hauled it back to lie and season to be ready in the spring. He helped in butchering the hogs. He helped chop firewood.

It didn’t seem to bother Joseph, seeing Mr. de Sabran take up an axe and swing it with both hands.

But it was different on the day Mr. de Sabran asked her father for the hatchet.

She was standing at the kitchen window when he did it, and she saw him pass the large axe to her father by its handle; saw her father pause, and nod, and fetch another item from the shed. She didn’t see exactly what it was until Mr. de Sabran walked away, toward the woods. And then she saw it in his hand.

A hatchet had killed Moses. She had not been meant to know that. Mr. Fisher and her father had discussed the details privately, but they had left the parlor door ajar and she’d been in the kitchen and she’d heard enough of what was said to know what happened.

It was just a common tool, she told herself. She’d seen her father use one since, and never found it troubling. And it helped that Mr. de Sabran, while technically their enemy and French, was not a stranger. Not a man she feared would ever do her harm.

She stood a long time at the window, held there by the simple weight of that one truth: he’d never do her harm.

She was still there when he came back into the clearing, carrying a hickory sapling taller than himself, and straight. He laid it flat across an angle of the kitchen garden fence, not far away, and took the hatchet from where he had tucked it in his belt, and in a practiced manner sheared the rough bark from the sapling, squared it off, and split it carefully and evenly along its length.

It took some time. He didn’t seem to notice she was watching him. But when he finished with whatever he was doing, took the two slim lengths of hickory wood in hand and headed for the shed, both he and she at nearly the same moment noticed Joseph, standing very still beside the barn.

Her father, too, stepped from the shed. Like her, he must have held his breath.

She did not know how much Mr. de Sabran knew about her brother and Oswego and the things he would have seen there, but clearly he knew something of it, because while he’d been about to put the hatchet back into his belt, he turned it neatly now within his hand and walking the last few steps to her father, held it out for him to take. And with the tall, straight pieces of the sapling he passed on into the shed, and Joseph, after a long moment, carried on toward the house.

He came in by the kitchen door and stamped his boots to shake the snow off, bringing in a freezing blast of winter air that made the fire dance. Lydia had moved to stir the panful of potatoes she had set to roast, relieved to find they hadn’t burnt to blackened crisps.

She turned, expecting she would have to cheer him, but he only sniffed the air and told her, “That smells good.” And went upstairs.

***

She doubted they would ever become friendly, Joseph and Mr. de Sabran. They were too watchful of each other, too on guard against each other’s movements. But at least they could share the same room without hostility. And Joseph was the first to guess what Mr. de Sabran was making.

“Snowshoes,” Joseph said. “It has to be. That’s why he asked for the hide, when we slaughtered the steer.”

They had wondered about that. Her father, refusing the offer of payment, had gifted the hide to him, not asking what he intended to do with it. Mr. de Sabran had scraped the hide, soaked it with ashes and taken the hair off, and nailed it to dry on the wall of the shed, but he hadn’t done anything further to tan it. And then he had cut it in long narrow strips, which had baffled them all.

Now she followed his progress with interest. She’d seen snowshoes worn, but she’d never seen anyone make them.

He wound the hide strips tightly into a ball, left them outdoors to freeze in the snow, and then thawed them and wound them again, which she reasoned would make them less likely to stretch. With that done, he took both lengths of hickory wood, soaked them and steamed them and, one by one, bent them around into oval shapes, binding the back joints and adding a single crossbar for stability.

Finally, with patience and strength, he wove the leather strips by hand into an intricate, taut web that filled the inside of each frame, leaving a half-circle hole at the crossbar, the purpose of which became clear when, after January brought a snow that drifted to their knees, he showed them how the snowshoes worked. Her father tried first, with his feet loosely bound to the snowshoes by leather thongs so that the toes of his boots could dip down through the holes when he walked while the long shoes stayed virtually level.

My woods in winterMr. de Sabran smiled encouragement. “Good. Very good.” He tapped the back part of the snowshoe. “This rests always down.” And then the front part. “This rests up. No falling.”

Violet did it easily, and earned another smile. Mr. Ramírez watched her proudly but declined to try himself. So next the shoes were passed to Lydia.

She found it an odd feeling to sink partway in the snow and yet be buoyed by it, and finding it exhilarating she forgot to mind her steps and did what he’d said not to do. The front part of the snowshoe dropped and caught the snow and as she stumbled, pitching forward, Mr. de Sabran reached out and took her hand to steady her. It had the opposite effect.

The feelings that had started in New York, instead of fading with the dull routine of every day, had deepened. She thought of him as often by his first name as his last, having heard it twice—the first time when his letters had been read out in the orchard, and more recently when he had introduced himself to Captain Bonneau at the home of the de Joncourts: Jean-Philippe. A nice name. She imagined herself saying it, and hearing him say “Lydia.” She watched his hands too much, and waited for his smile too often, and the feelings were uncomfortable and thrilling all at once; unwanted and—when he came close to her—confusing.

 

So there you are. You read it here first, before anyone else did (not counting my mom and my editors).

Since this is going to be a 2018 book, I'd love to hear what other books you're all most looking forward to reading this year?

35 thoughts on “A Winter Interlude from Bellewether”

  1. As always, anxiously awaiting a new Susanna Kearsley book! I’m looking forward to Lucinda Riley’s Pearl Sister which will be released here (US) in a couple weeks. Those are the only 2018 releases on my radar, but I haven’t looked very hard yet. 🙂 I love the Canadian cover of Bellewether. So evocative.

    Reply
  2. As always, anxiously awaiting a new Susanna Kearsley book! I’m looking forward to Lucinda Riley’s Pearl Sister which will be released here (US) in a couple weeks. Those are the only 2018 releases on my radar, but I haven’t looked very hard yet. 🙂 I love the Canadian cover of Bellewether. So evocative.

    Reply
  3. As always, anxiously awaiting a new Susanna Kearsley book! I’m looking forward to Lucinda Riley’s Pearl Sister which will be released here (US) in a couple weeks. Those are the only 2018 releases on my radar, but I haven’t looked very hard yet. 🙂 I love the Canadian cover of Bellewether. So evocative.

    Reply
  4. As always, anxiously awaiting a new Susanna Kearsley book! I’m looking forward to Lucinda Riley’s Pearl Sister which will be released here (US) in a couple weeks. Those are the only 2018 releases on my radar, but I haven’t looked very hard yet. 🙂 I love the Canadian cover of Bellewether. So evocative.

    Reply
  5. As always, anxiously awaiting a new Susanna Kearsley book! I’m looking forward to Lucinda Riley’s Pearl Sister which will be released here (US) in a couple weeks. Those are the only 2018 releases on my radar, but I haven’t looked very hard yet. 🙂 I love the Canadian cover of Bellewether. So evocative.

    Reply
  6. I, too, am looking forward to Bellewether. And to many others. But just now, high on my list is C. J. Cherryh’s “Emergence” — the latest in her “Foreigner” series. (For those who don’t recognize her name, this is high quality science fiction).
    There’s also an new Jayne Anne Krentz in the offing.

    Reply
  7. I, too, am looking forward to Bellewether. And to many others. But just now, high on my list is C. J. Cherryh’s “Emergence” — the latest in her “Foreigner” series. (For those who don’t recognize her name, this is high quality science fiction).
    There’s also an new Jayne Anne Krentz in the offing.

    Reply
  8. I, too, am looking forward to Bellewether. And to many others. But just now, high on my list is C. J. Cherryh’s “Emergence” — the latest in her “Foreigner” series. (For those who don’t recognize her name, this is high quality science fiction).
    There’s also an new Jayne Anne Krentz in the offing.

    Reply
  9. I, too, am looking forward to Bellewether. And to many others. But just now, high on my list is C. J. Cherryh’s “Emergence” — the latest in her “Foreigner” series. (For those who don’t recognize her name, this is high quality science fiction).
    There’s also an new Jayne Anne Krentz in the offing.

    Reply
  10. I, too, am looking forward to Bellewether. And to many others. But just now, high on my list is C. J. Cherryh’s “Emergence” — the latest in her “Foreigner” series. (For those who don’t recognize her name, this is high quality science fiction).
    There’s also an new Jayne Anne Krentz in the offing.

    Reply
  11. Definitely looking forward to this one, Susanna. In fact, perhaps a trip to Canada may be just the thing this spring! In general, though, I make few plans, reading wise, preferring to leave it all to serendipity. I often have 4 going at once – one REAL book, one on my Kindle, one on CD in my car, and one digitally audio on my phone, so often it’s whatever comes up next on my borrowing queue or whatever volume is closest at hand on my TBR mountain when I finish something 🙂

    Reply
  12. Definitely looking forward to this one, Susanna. In fact, perhaps a trip to Canada may be just the thing this spring! In general, though, I make few plans, reading wise, preferring to leave it all to serendipity. I often have 4 going at once – one REAL book, one on my Kindle, one on CD in my car, and one digitally audio on my phone, so often it’s whatever comes up next on my borrowing queue or whatever volume is closest at hand on my TBR mountain when I finish something 🙂

    Reply
  13. Definitely looking forward to this one, Susanna. In fact, perhaps a trip to Canada may be just the thing this spring! In general, though, I make few plans, reading wise, preferring to leave it all to serendipity. I often have 4 going at once – one REAL book, one on my Kindle, one on CD in my car, and one digitally audio on my phone, so often it’s whatever comes up next on my borrowing queue or whatever volume is closest at hand on my TBR mountain when I finish something 🙂

    Reply
  14. Definitely looking forward to this one, Susanna. In fact, perhaps a trip to Canada may be just the thing this spring! In general, though, I make few plans, reading wise, preferring to leave it all to serendipity. I often have 4 going at once – one REAL book, one on my Kindle, one on CD in my car, and one digitally audio on my phone, so often it’s whatever comes up next on my borrowing queue or whatever volume is closest at hand on my TBR mountain when I finish something 🙂

    Reply
  15. Definitely looking forward to this one, Susanna. In fact, perhaps a trip to Canada may be just the thing this spring! In general, though, I make few plans, reading wise, preferring to leave it all to serendipity. I often have 4 going at once – one REAL book, one on my Kindle, one on CD in my car, and one digitally audio on my phone, so often it’s whatever comes up next on my borrowing queue or whatever volume is closest at hand on my TBR mountain when I finish something 🙂

    Reply
  16. I can’t wait for this. It’s been too long since I read a Susanna Kearsley book. Any idea when it’s out in Europe? I could buy it on kindle but I have all your books in paperback and would like to add this one to the collection.

    Reply
  17. I can’t wait for this. It’s been too long since I read a Susanna Kearsley book. Any idea when it’s out in Europe? I could buy it on kindle but I have all your books in paperback and would like to add this one to the collection.

    Reply
  18. I can’t wait for this. It’s been too long since I read a Susanna Kearsley book. Any idea when it’s out in Europe? I could buy it on kindle but I have all your books in paperback and would like to add this one to the collection.

    Reply
  19. I can’t wait for this. It’s been too long since I read a Susanna Kearsley book. Any idea when it’s out in Europe? I could buy it on kindle but I have all your books in paperback and would like to add this one to the collection.

    Reply
  20. I can’t wait for this. It’s been too long since I read a Susanna Kearsley book. Any idea when it’s out in Europe? I could buy it on kindle but I have all your books in paperback and would like to add this one to the collection.

    Reply

Leave a Comment