It’s no secret I write longish historical novels. What you may not know is that the novel that’s published is a much edited and trimmed down version of my original draft. For good reason. I’ve been known to produce a first draft that’s more than twice the length of its finished version.
Where do all those trimmed words go? Most are lost to the ether, where their overwritten selves belong. But not all. Now and then, for pacing’s sake, an entire scene or chunk of a scene is lifted out and the gap stitched over so no one can tell it existed.
Mostly I’m content to let such excised story chunks remain on my hard drive, but with Shiloh I want to give you the chance to read one of them. It’s purely a character piece, a bit of backstory that’s given nowhere else in the Kindred series. And because it’s all about one my favorite characters, Malcolm (once enslaved at Mountain Laurel), here it is in its entirety.
Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t read Shiloh consider reading this snippet after you’ve finished the novel. It was part of Chapter 22, the scene that begins on page 212 and ends on 215, in which Malcolm is given his own Bible. In case you’re curious exactly where it once fit, I’ll bracket it with text that appears in the published book, before and after.
Excerpt from Shiloh, Chapter 22, Page 212
Malcolm stared at the page. Around them conversation had fallen off. Ian glanced up to see every eye upon them, Naomi’s on the verge of tears.
“Malcolm Cameron,” the old man said. “Will ye show me those names again.”
Ian pointed to each. “That’s your name, right there.”
“Aye.” The old man nodded once, then pursed his lips and frowned. “But no. It isna.”
It was almost comical the way everyone’s gaze widened, as if they couldn’t believe they’d heard what they’d clearly heard. Naomi, who’d finally sat down to eat her own supper, stood again and said, “Daddy? What’s that you saying?”
Malcolm looked up at his daughter in her calico turban. “My name isna Malcolm Cameron.”
“Ye don’t have to be called Cameron if ye don’t want to be,” Ian said quickly.
The old man smiled. “That’s no’ it, Mister Ian. Neither name is truly my own. Malcolm wasna the name my daddy gave me. The old master, Duncan Cameron, he the one gave me the name when he bought me as a lad. Until then I was called Frederick. After my father, Frederick Heidt.”
Ian’s jaw hung agape. He shut it only to look around the cabin and see every other occupant gaping just the same, including Naomi.
“Our name is Heidt? And you never thought to tell me ’til now? What sort of name is that?”
“German,” Ian said. “Isn’t it?”
Malcolm nodded. “I’m surprised I mind the name myself, it was so long ago I heard it spoke. I canna even mind their faces now, my mama and daddy. He was an indentured man where my mama was a slave. He left us when I was seven.”
Ian had been about to ask if Malcolm’s parents were owned by a German family, when that word indentured brought him up short. “Left ye? Of his own choice d’ye mean? Was your father a white man?”
“He was,” Naomi said. “That much I knew—but not this part about him being German and called Heidt.”
“Frederick Heidt never came back for me and my mama,” Malcolm told them. “He said he meant to—come back and buy us from our master once he’d settled and earned enough to do so. He was a cooper on the farm in Pennsylvania, where I was born.” The old man shook his head. “Maybe he tried, after my mama died and I was sold. I havena thought on it all in a long time.”
The stew and cornbread Ian had swallowed sat in his gut like a stone. “How old were ye then, when Duncan Cameron…” He’d been about to say bought ye but couldn’t choke those words out. “When he took ye south and named ye Malcolm?
“Just turned twelve, already doing a man’s work in my daddy’s old cooperage. Auld Duncan put me up on his spare horse, saddlebags full behind me, and said, ‘I am headed to North Carolina and I aim to call ye Malcolm, after a favorite uncle o’ mine, and this is the last I shall ever address ye in the vile English tongue.’ That was the day I began to learn the Gaelic.”
Naomi was nodding, having heard this part of the tale before. Malcolm took the Bible back onto his knee and stared at the page that bore the name he’d answered to for most of his life. Ian caught Seona’s gaze, haunted by the specter of slavery, and ached with wanting to make it right for her, for all these so long enslaved. In time he prayed he could repay them for the years the locusts of injustice had eaten.
“I could strike through what my da wrote,” he said. “Put your true name there.”
“No, Mister Ian. Malcolm is who I am now. And a Cameron, like the rest of ye.”
Ian studied the old man’s face. “All right then. I’m honored ye’d choose to bear my name, when ye’d another.”
“You hear that, Ally?” Naomi said to the son seated on her bedstead, taking up as much room as any two others in that cabin, big hands gripping his empty stew bowl, crumbs clinging to his lips. “Your name is Cameron. Don’t forget it.”
He licked his lips and grinned. “I won’t, Mama.”
“I’ve always desired a Bible of my own,” Malcolm said, still fingering his name on the page. “Now I need only learn to read it.”
Shiloh Copyright 2021 by Lori Benton
All rights reserved
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