A decent burial

the whole Pas­sage from the Fiery Cross

“What are ye doing, Sasse­nach?” Jamie, with a piece of toast in one hand, paused in the door­way.
“See­ing things,” I said, adjust­ing the focus.
“Oh, aye? What sorts of things?” He came into the room, smil­ing. “Not ghosties, I trust. I will have had enough o’ those.”
“Come look,” I said, step­ping back from the micro­scope. Mild­ly puz­zled, he bent and peered through the eye­piece, screw­ing up his oth­er eye in con­cen­tra­tion.
He squint­ed for a moment, then gave an excla­ma­tion of pleased sur­prise.
“I see them! Wee things with tails, swim­ming all about!” He straight­ened up, smil­ing at me with a look of delight, then bent at once to look again.
I felt a warm glow of pride in my new toy.
“Isn’t it mar­velous?”
“Aye, mar­velous,” he said, absorbed. “Look at them. Such busy wee strivers as they are, all push­ing and writhing against one another—and such a mass of them!”
He watched for a few moments more, exclaim­ing under his breath, then straight­ened up, shak­ing his head in amaze­ment.
“I’ve nev­er seen such a thing, Sasse­nach. Ye’d told me about the germs, aye, but I nev­er in life imag­ined them so! I thought they might have wee teeth, and they don’t—but I nev­er kent they would have such hand­some, lash­ing wee tails, or swim about in such num­bers.”
“Well, some microor­gan­isms do,” I said, mov­ing to peer into the eye­piece again myself. “These par­tic­u­lar lit­tle beasts aren’t germs, though—they’re sperms.”
“They’re what?”
He looked quite blank.
“Sperms,” I said patient­ly. “Male repro­duc­tive cells. You know, what makes babies?”
I thought he might just pos­si­bly choke. His mouth opened, and a very pret­ty shade of rose suf­fused his coun­te­nance.
“Ye mean seed?” he croaked. “Spunk?”

“Well … yes.” Watch­ing him nar­row­ly, I poured steam­ing tea into a clean beaker and hand­ed it to him as a restora­tive. He ignored it, though, his eyes fixed on the micro­scope as though some­thing might spring out of the eye­piece at any moment and go writhing across the floor at our feet.
“Sperms,” he mut­tered to him­self. “Sperms.” He shook his head vig­or­ous­ly, then turned to me, a fright­ful thought hav­ing just occurred to him.
“Whose are they?” he asked, his tone one of dark­est sus­pi­cion.
“Er … well, yours, of course.” I cleared my throat, mild­ly embar­rassed. “Who else’s would they be?”
His hand dart­ed reflex­ive­ly between his legs, and he clutched him­self pro­tec­tive­ly.
“How the hell did ye get them?”
“How do you think?” I said, rather cold­ly. “I woke up in cus­tody of them this morn­ing.”
His hand relaxed, but a deep blush of mor­ti­fi­ca­tion stained his cheeks dark crim­son. He picked up the beaker of tea and drained it at a gulp, tem­per­a­ture notwith­stand­ing.
“I see,” he said, and coughed.
There was a moment of deep silence.


“I … um … did­na ken they could stay alive,” he said at last. “Errrrm … out­side, I mean.”
“Well, if you leave them in a splotch on the sheet to dry out, they don’t,” I said, mat­ter-of-fact­ly. “Keep them from dry­ing out, though”—I ges­tured at the small, cov­ered beaker, with its small pud­dle of whitish fluid—“and they’ll do for a few hours. In their prop­er habi­tat, though, they can live for up to a week after … er … release.”
“Prop­er habi­tat,” he repeat­ed, look­ing pen­sive. He dart­ed a quick glance at me. “Ye do mean—”
“I do,” I said, with some asper­i­ty.
“Mmphm.” At this point, he recalled the piece of toast he still held, and took a bite, chew­ing med­i­ta­tive­ly.
“Do folk know about this? Now, I mean?”
“Know what? What sperm look like? Almost cer­tain­ly. Micro­scopes have been around for well over a hun­dred years, and the first thing any­one with a work­ing micro­scope does is to look at every­thing with­in reach. Giv­en that the inven­tor of the micro­scope was a man, I should cer­tain­ly think that … Don’t you?”He gave me a look, and took anoth­er bite of toast, chew­ing in a marked man­ner.
“I should­na quite like to refer to it as ‘with­in reach,’ Sasse­nach,” he said, through a mouth­ful of crumbs, and swal­lowed. “But I do take your mean­ing.”
As though com­pelled by some irre­sistible force, he drift­ed toward the micro­scope, bend­ing to peer into it once more.
“They seem ver­ra fierce,” he ven­tured, after a few moments’ inspec­tion.
“Well, they do need to be,” I said, sup­press­ing a smile at his faint­ly abashed air of pride in his gametes’ prowess. “It’s a long slog, after all, and a ter­rif­ic fight at the end of it. Only one gets the hon­or, you know.”
He looked up, blank-faced. It dawned on me that he didn’t know. He’d stud­ied lan­guages, math­e­mat­ics, and Greek and Latin phi­los­o­phy in Paris, not med­i­cine. And even if nat­ur­al sci­en­tists of the time were aware of sperm as sep­a­rate enti­ties, rather than a homoge­nous sub­stance, it occurred to me that they prob­a­bly didn’t have any idea what sperm actu­al­ly did.
“Wher­ev­er did you think babies came from?” I demand­ed, after a cer­tain amount of enlight­en­ment regard­ing eggs, sperms, zygotes, and the like, which left Jamie dis­tinct­ly squig­gle-eyed. He gave me a rather cold look.
“And me a farmer all my life? I ken pre­cise­ly where they come from,” he informed me. “I just did­na ken that … er … that all of this daf­fery was going on. I thought … well, I thought a man plants his seed into a woman’s bel­ly, and it … well … grows.” He waved vague­ly in the direc­tion of my stom­ach. “You know—like … seed. Neeps, corn, mel­ons, and the like. I did­na ken they swim about like tad­poles.”
“I see.” I rubbed a fin­ger beneath my nose, try­ing not to laugh. “Hence the agri­cul­tur­al des­ig­na­tion of women as being either fer­tile or bar­ren!”
“Mmphm.” Dis­miss­ing this with a wave of his hand, he frowned thought­ful­ly at the teem­ing slide. “A week, ye said. So it’s pos­si­ble that the wee lad real­ly is the Thrush’s get?”
Ear­ly in the day as it was, it took half a sec­ond or so for me to make the leap from the­o­ry to prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion.
“Oh—Jemmy, you mean? Yes, it’s quite pos­si­ble that he’s Roger’s child.” Roger and Bon­net had lain with Bri­an­na with­in two days of each oth­er. “I told you—and Bree—so.”
He nod­ded, look­ing abstract­ed, then remem­bered the toast and pushed the rest of it into his mouth. Chew­ing, he bent for anoth­er look through the eye­piece.
“Are they dif­fer­ent, then? One man’s from anoth­er, I mean?”

“Er … not to look at, no.” I picked up my cup of tea and had a sip, enjoy­ing the del­i­cate fla­vor. “They are dif­fer­ent, of course—they car­ry the char­ac­ter­is­tics a man pass­es to his off­spring.…” That was about as far as I thought it pru­dent to go; he was suf­fi­cient­ly stag­gered by my descrip­tion of fer­til­iza­tion; an expla­na­tion of genes and chro­mo­somes might be rather exces­sive at the moment. “But you can’t see the dif­fer­ences, even with a micro­scope.”
He grunt­ed at that, swal­lowed the mouth­ful of toast, and straight­ened up.
“Why are ye look­ing, then?”
“Just curios­i­ty.” I ges­tured at the col­lec­tion of bot­tles and beakers on the coun­ter­top. “I want­ed to see how fine the res­o­lu­tion of the micro­scope was, what sorts of things I might be able to see.”
“Oh, aye? And what then? What’s the pur­pose of it, I mean?”
“Well, to help me diag­nose things. If I can take a sam­ple of a person’s stool, for instance, and see that he has inter­nal par­a­sites, then I’d know bet­ter what med­i­cine to give him.”
Jamie looked as though he would have pre­ferred not to hear about such things right after break­fast, but nod­ded. He drained his beaker and set it down on the counter.
“Aye, that’s sen­si­ble. I’ll leave ye to get on with it, then.”
He bent and kissed me briefly, then head­ed for the door. Just short of it, though, he turned back.
“The, um, sperms …” he said, a lit­tle awk­ward­ly.
“Yes?”
“Can ye not take them out and give them decent bur­ial or some­thing?”
I hid a smile in my teacup.
“I’ll take good care of them,” I promised. “I always do, don’t I?”

All rights for the Pic­ture from Out­lander go to the right­ful own­er Starz/Sony
Quote and Excerpt by Diana Gabal­don from “The Fiery Cross”
I own noth­ing but the edit­ing

Heike Ginger Ba Written by:

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