05 August 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Frances Hunter

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're featuring Frances Hunter and the release of THE FAIREST PORTION OF THE GLOBE, a historical thriller set in the danger and squalor of the eighteenth-century American frontier. This gritty tale of intrigue, betrayal, and the birth of a legendary American friendship is the prequel to the highly-acclaimed TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: THE LAST JOURNEY OF LEWIS & CLARK. Historical Novels Review praised the new release as "a well-researched, fast-paced, and incredibly lively novel of frontier war and intrigue...urgently, whole-heartedly recommended."

Frances will be here on Sunday to talk about the new book and give away a set of her novels. Please join us!

***

La Louisiane--a land of riches beyond imagining. Whoever controls the vast domain along the Mississippi River will decide the fate of the North American continent. When young French diplomat Citizen Genet arrives in America, he's determined to wrest Louisiana away from Spain and win it back for France--even if it means global war.

Caught up this astonishing scheme are George Rogers Clark, the washed-up hero of the Revolution and unlikely commander of Genet's renegade force; his beautiful sister Fanny, who risks her own sanity to save her brother's soul; General "Mad Anthony" Wayne, who never imagined he'd find the country's deadliest enemy inside his own army; and two young soldiers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who dream of claiming the Western territory in the name of the United States--only to become the pawns of those who seek to destroy it.

From the frontier forts of Ohio to the elegant halls of Philadelphia, the virgin forests of Kentucky to the mansions of Natchez, Frances Hunter has written a page-turning tale of ambition, intrigue, and the birth of a legendary American friendship--in a time when America was fighting to survive.

***

Damn me. Damn my eyes. Damn my long-suffering mother for bearing me. Damn my benighted father for siring me. Damn the soil on which I was reared, and the air and nourishment that sustained me.

Lewis sat by the fireside, almost weeping. Everything he owned was soaked and covered with wet, stinking peat. His rifle was waterlogged and the powder in his powder horn hopelessly damp; even the papers in the dispatch case were slightly sodden, the ink bleeding through the pages.

As usual, his Achilles heel--which was just as wet as the rest of him--was his damnable curiosity. After what seemed like years of walking through the thick, overhanging forest, Lewis had finally emerged into a wild, grassy clearing. He stopped dead when he felt the ground tremble beneath his feet. He stared down at the soggy forest floor as water the color of dried blood seeped around his bootsoles.

When he looked up, he thought he was in a dream. Before him lay the shattered, sun-bleached remains of a giant creature. An enormous skull lay half-submerged in the boggy ground, while the graceful arcs of two ancient tusks angled upward. Nearby, a pile of bleached bones lay in a jumble, looking like the fallen pillars of a ruined temple.

"I've heard of this place! My God!" His heart pounding with excitement, he had skirted the edge of the marsh, avid to see more. His mind spun back to Monticello, remembering the enormous jawbone of a mastodon Mr. Jefferson kept in his front hall. It had been a gift from George Rogers Clark, and it had come from here.

For a while he forgot himself completely. The ground was bubbling with salty springs that ran warm over his fingers. Mastodons, mammoths, and other ancient animals had come here to drink, and their fossilized remains were everywhere. He picked up several giant teeth and stuffed them in his knapsack; he spent a glorious hour trying to find the tibia and fibula to match a giant thighbone he found standing on end at the edge of a bubbling spring. Tusks, ribs, and skulls lay on the ground, their cavernous eyes gaping at him as he rambled amidst the salt flats, the only living creature in a vast tableau of lovely, ruined solitude. He wished with all his heart that he could box up all the fossils and cart the lot of them home for Mr. Jefferson.

Picking his way around the lick, he thrilled to the tremor of the bog's skin beneath his feet. Across a stretch of sodden earth, he saw a sight that took his breath away: the skeleton of an ancient horse resting on a sandy ledge, scattered upon the ground as if the animal had simply laid down to sleep a million years ago. His heart almost burst with longing. He had to see it--to touch it--to count the bones--

Beneath him the ground quaked, little more than a saturated sponge of smelly, half-rotted vegetation. But what the hell! Who ever gained anything without risk? Carefully shifting his pack to balance the load, he had held onto a tree branch and stepped out gingerly onto the bog. It held.

A wild surge of rapture overtook him. For a crazy moment, he started to bounce. His movement caused ripples to undulate out in all directions as the bog rocked and quaked. Grinning like a madman, he watched the trees that clung to the tangled mats of moss rise and fall along with him.

Strong enough to hold a man's weight. Here goes--

Now, he stared dismally at the soggy contents of his knapsack, which he had spread before the fire. The sealed letter from Wayne lay next to the now-cursed mastodon teeth. He had made it about ten steps when the bog opened its maw beneath him and swallowed him up in its murky depths, a mountain of slime closing with a plop over his bobbing head. He could only pray everything would be dry by morning.

Rubbing his aching gut, he let out a loud belch, his stomach roiling from the great gulps of marsh water he had swallowed as he struggled to free himself from the bog's slimy clutches. He sat naked, his body covered by the bites of flies and leeches and the stings of nettles, an unbearable symphony of itching. Draped on a tree branch nearby, his sodden clothes drifted listlessly in the breeze. Lewis tossed another stick into the fire and muttered another self-recrimination. His foolishness had almost drowned him. But that wasn't the worst of it. The worst of it was that he had forgotten what he was here for. Forgotten about the mission Anthony Wayne had entrusted to him. Forgotten about Clark.

"It's one thing to get myself killed," he muttered through his teeth. "The world would little mourn the loss of a lowly wretch such as I. But Clark--"

He dragged a hand through his smelly, damp hair. He had to make this mission a success. If he failed, the losses would be disastrous. Clark's life. Wayne's peace. The more he thought about it, the life of every man at Fort Washington hung in the balance. For if he died of fly bites, or drowned in a bog, or got lost in the wilderness, or was captured by that bounder Wilkinson...what would become of Clark? Who would stop his brother from storming down the river? And what would become of peace on the frontier, and the future of the American nation?

He burped again, and almost laughed. "There it is, Lewis," he said to himself. "The fate of the whole goddamn country is squarely on your shoulders. Better not make a hash of it."

2 comments:

Alison said...

I love the cover! What a beautiful design.

April said...

Great post.
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