MOBY: Chapter 131: A Born Gambler

Joined: August 21st, 2015, 5:07 pm

April 25th, 2017, 4:19 pm #1

:bagpipe: As of the beginning of the Written in My Own Heart's Blood rekilt, all books currently published (as of 1/2016) are open for discussion. The spoiler policy can be found here. Please do not discuss excerpts from Diana's Daily Lines related to book 9 or any other not yet published works in the MOBY discussion threads. To discuss excerpts of upcoming works, see the threads here.

Written In My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon
Part 8: Search and Rescue
Chapter 131: A Born Gambler

The day of Sophronia’s surgery has arrived and Claire double-checks her preparations. In contrast to her amputation of Tench Bledsoe’s leg months earlier, she is now calm, assured that despite some potential for complications, Sophronia is unlikely to be worse off than she was before. Her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of the door opening. Her unwelcome visitor is Ezekiel Richardson - this time dressed in plain clothes! He assures an alarmed Claire that he means her no harm and is prepared to speak frankly to her about his intentions. He confesses that he is a Rebel and always has been even when he was an officer in the English army. He had pegged Claire as a Rebel as well and admits that he orchestrated her marriage to Lord John so that she would have access to privileged information which he would woo from her romantically since she would receive no physical intimacy from the marriage. Claire deduces that Richardson is privy to Lord John’s well-kept secret of his sexual orientation and Richardson sees that awareness flash across her face. He informs her that this war won’t be won on the battlefield. “Yes, I assure you, ma’am. It will be won by spying and by politics.” Claire is uncertain how she fits into that plan and Richardson reveals that he has been trying to find a way to influence the Duke of Pardloe by threatening a family member, either his son, nephew, or brother. He suggests that since Claire is still close to the Grey family that she could assist him with information exchange in order help him achieve his ends while avoiding any damage to the Duke’s family. Before he could explain further, the door opens and Mrs. Bradshaw and Sophronia enter. He takes his leave rapidly, his distraction at Sophronia’s smell causing him to bump into Rachel and do an awkward dance to get around her. Claire laughs at the slapstick antics which helps to lighten her mood so that she can return her focus to the surgery.

Claire had wanted Jenny to administer the ether to Sophronia, but she was suffering from a cold which forced her to use Rachel, although Claire would have preferred her young apprentice not have to do it given her own pregnant state. Claire is pleased to discover that the fistula and bowel are possible to repair and Sophronia’s tissues are healthy. She feels the girl’s youth will help her to heal well. She assures an anxious Rachel that she wouldn’t allow her to suffer the same fate and invites her to look at the girl’s reproductive organs before she closes the incision. An emotional Rachel expresses amazement at the miracle of the body’s construction and sorrow for Sophronia’s loss of her baby at such a young age which causes a sudden thought comes to Claire. If the girl becomes pregnant again too soon, she could suffer further damage. At best, if her next child survives, it will be born a slave and perhaps destined to a life of unhappiness. She tells Mrs. Bradshaw that she can sterilize the girl, but it would be permanent. Mrs. Bradshaw is conflicted and Claire guesses that she is wondering if the possibility of Sophronia becoming pregnant were removed, would it cause Mr. Bradshaw to resume their affair? Claire points out coldly that her youth hadn’t been enough of a deterrent to him in the first place. Rachel interrupts to remind them that Sophronia had loved her baby and deserves the chance to decide whether she wanted to have another. Due to the uncertainty, Claire closes the incision without performing the sterilization.

Discussion and questions:

I was unsure of the nature of the game of “mumblety peg” which Claire jokes about playing so I looked it up. It is an old American game which involves throwing knives at one’s own foot. The player who comes closest wins. Striking your own foot is an automatic win! I’m assuming Claire would not be aiming for her own foot if she were playing the game with Richardson!

Why does Claire describe Richardson's English accent as "flat?" Do you think it fake or is he attempting to disguise which region of England is his birthplace?

Who is the “born gambler” in this scenario? Richardson, Claire, or both? Richardson admits that he has been playing a mental game of cards with Claire, while Claire does her best to bluff him. Claire is also gambling that her makeshift surgical preparations are enough to heal Sophronia. She knows that, as usual, it is uncertain whether any of her antibiotic cultures actually contain any therapeutic penicillin. Any other interpretations?

Would Richardson have confessed in more detail to possible schemes involving Benjamin or William had Mrs. Bradshaw and Sophronia not interrupted?

Were you surprised that Claire had the last minute idea to sterilize an anesthetized Sophronia? Do you think she would she have proceeded with that procedure if Mrs. Bradshaw had authorized it and Rachel was not there to speak on the slave's behalf?

Any other thoughts on this chapter?
The minister's cat is a camstairy cat.

Clan Fraser
Clan Fraser
Joined: May 26th, 2012, 7:06 am

April 25th, 2017, 5:46 pm #2

Thanks for such a detailed summary, Vala, and for looking up "mumblety peg" - I had no idea what that was.

I don't like the fact that Richardson is divulging so much information; can it be that he is desperate now to control Hal? And why Hal? Are there no other people who can influence the course of the war?
He obviously did not do much research on Claire, to think that he could seduce her, and that she would welcome his advances because she was deprived of intimacy from John!
However, he has done enough research to learn John's sexual orientation and this is very troubling. I don't want anything to happen to John. :worry:

Rachel makes a good assistant. She is calm, efficient, and not afraid. Also, she is interested in the specifics of what is going on. It must have been a big operation, opening up the abdomen to reveal all of the organs. I am glad she had enough ether, and that nobody else passed out from the fumes.

I think Claire would probably have proceeded with the sterilisation, had Mrs Bradshaw wanted it (why raise the subject if she were not going to act on it?). I am glad that Rachel persuaded her against it. I wonder if Mrs Bradshaw felt it was wrong to deprive Sophronia of the ability to bear children.

Clan Fraser
Joined: July 19th, 2010, 10:09 pm

April 25th, 2017, 6:19 pm #3

:agree: Thanks so much Vala for letting us all know what “mumblety peg” was because I had no idea and I wondered.

I'm really not sure whether to believe what Richardson was saying here. I mean, it fits and could very well be true. But, he's already admitting to be a spy in the British ranks, so why trust that he's not now spying for the British by trying to get Claire to trust him? This would explain why he did things that could have led to William's capture (or death) in the Great Dismal, but if he wants to control Hal, why tell Hal that Ben is dead? Wouldn't it make more sense for him to have said that Ben had been captured and Richardson could help free him if Hal would do what Richardson wanted? Or maybe not say that outright, but keep open that possibility? :thinking: He did provide Claire with the very interesting information that the Grey brothers are in Savannah, though. I, too, am concerned that Richardson knows (or at least guesses) John's sexual orientation because that could cause trouble down the road. Mind you, Claire could help him there by saying that they had intimate relations during the time they (believed they) were married. But, his belief that Claire would turn to him for sexual gratification was pretty laughable. Though, that said if he did his research and discovered that she and Jamie had sex frequently, you could see why he might think she'd be looking for options if John wasn't, um, providing that.

I'm glad that Rachel was the assistant - though I completely understand the concern with her being pregnant and all - and that she stood up for Sophronia's right not to be sterilized without her knowledge or input. I'm trying to decide whether I think Mrs. Bradshaw was trying to be kind by not making that decision for Sophronia or by not taking away the barrier to her husband having sex with Sophronia again for a while, or whether she was afraid her husband would be angry because that would make her less valuable as a slave, or something else. It could just be that it was such a fraught and unexpected question that she didn't know what she thought. I'm not a huge fan of Mrs. Bradshaw, but I do get the impression that she is trying to help Sophronia and I want to give her some credit for bringing her to Claire.

I'm really not sure about this chapter title. Any of the possibilities mentioned above make some sense, but nothing stands out clearly to me, which isn't typical - usually there is something that jumps out.

Joined: August 21st, 2015, 5:07 pm

April 25th, 2017, 6:55 pm #4

I wondered why Mr. Bradshaw had to find out that Sophronia was sterile since no one would know except Claire, Rachel, and Mrs. Bradshaw. I suppose Mrs. Bradshaw thought that there was a chance that Claire would tell Sophronia later and Sophronia would tell Mr. Bradshaw.
The minister's cat is a camstairy cat.

Lisa SF
Clan Fraser
Joined: August 2nd, 2011, 11:43 pm

April 26th, 2017, 3:07 am #5

Great summary, Vala! This is a long and complicated chapter.

About Richardson -- well, I don't take anything he says at face value. If he's "confessing" his plans to Claire, then there must be more to the story than what he's saying. He's still trying to manipulate, and I think he still has a secret plan that he hasn't shared. It is very scary that he knows the truth about John. That gives him an awful lot of power, if he should choose to use it in some way.

I actually felt warmer toward Mrs. Bradshaw in this chapter than in the previous scene when we met her. She does seem to have some sense of actual affection or concern for poor Sophronia.

I find it kind of shocking that Claire would contemplate sterilization without the patient's knowledge and consent. No matter the motivation, it's ultimately denying Sophronia ownership of her own body, just as slavery does.
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Joined: March 2nd, 2017, 12:19 am

April 26th, 2017, 4:46 am #6

I don't believe Richardson and find it far more likely he's a double agent.

As Audiobooklover mentioned- it makes no sense for Richardson to tell everyone that Ben is dead if he's trying to blackmail and threaten their family.

And the only current situation he's been in where he's on the American side was being optimistic about leading American Troops on a suicide mission which Jaime wisely sat out.

And Thirdly... where does this leave Randal? He clearly knew partially what Richardson was up to if he warned William to stay far away from him... Considering he is a British solider I can't imagine he would keep his mouth shut if he found out his shady superior was secretly an American spy.
Of course Percy also knew about Richardson's plans towards William and Percy is on the American side... maybe? To be honest Percy isn't one for loyalties and would probably sell himself to the highest bidder based off of what we know about him.... Percy also knows quite a bit about the Greys and specifically Jon which surely is information Richardson would be very interested in knowing (Which makes me wonder exactly how Richardson found out about Jon being gay?)

I have a feeling there's still quite a bit we still don't know about Richardson- but at this point I'm going to assume he's lying about everything. I mean... he is a spy... it seems risky revealing all that information to Clair like that and just hoping things work out. He did technically get information from her though... if there was any doubt about Jon's sexuality with Clair's glass face there isn't any more. Richardson also doesn't seem to make any further efforts to reach out to her about his offer before her and her husband depart. Maybe this was all he really wanted to get from her?

As for the Gambling interpretation-
For the slave girl Clair thought it was a gamble to keep her capable of bearing children since she was so young and likely to be gotten pregnant with a child again that could likely kill her.... sterilizing her would likely have increased her long term odds of survival, but she would also potentially lose out on the "winnings" of later becoming a mother. Rather than a "Born Gambler" its a gamble over whether she any children will ever be born to her in the future.

Richardson is also Gambling with human lives- namely those born to the Grey Family. Its hard to really find a strong parallel between those situations- but Both the Slave and the Greys whose lives are in question don't really have much say in what the gamblers are choosing to do.

Clan Fraser
Joined: September 17th, 2009, 3:16 am

April 29th, 2017, 2:45 am #7

Thanks for the great summary, Vala.

Richardson: don't trust him. I think he is working for Richardson, no one else. He is biding his time and trying to figure out which side will win. At least that's what it looks like to me.

I too am concerned about Richardson "knowing" about John. I'm not sure he really did know, just guessed, and was waiting for Claire to show something that would give her away. I think he was phishing.
Lisa SF wrote:I find it kind of shocking that Claire would contemplate sterilization without the patient's knowledge and consent. No matter the motivation, it's ultimately denying Sophronia ownership of her own body, just as slavery does.
Spot on, Lisa. :clap: I felt the same way but you put it perfectly.

I'm not convinced that Mrs. Bradshaw is bringing Sophronia to heal Sophronia. Sophronia needs fixing so that she can carry out her chores without the faulty, offensive, plumbing. Essentially, Mrs. Bradshaw is taking some thing she owns (in this case, a someone! :x ) to be fixed. (Maybe I read Mrs. Bradshaw incorrectly, but that's my opinion.) Mrs. Bradshaw knows thtat things won't change for Sophronia. To really care for her would mean Mrs. Bradshaw putting the child in someone's protection. Since we have only seen the two women, it sounds like Mr. Bradshaw is a brute who opproses the women in his household.
"'I wish to God,' said Gideon with mild exasperation, 'that you'd talk--just once--in prose like other people.'"
--Game of Kings

Joined: August 29th, 2018, 12:53 pm

August 29th, 2018, 4:43 pm #8

I love how deep into the ethical weeds DG is willing to wade in this chapter. Claire has to weigh so many different factors in her decision whether to sterilize Sophronia. I can't help wondering if she would have even entertained the idea of sterilization if she'd been in this situation when she first traveled through the stones and didn't have as much experience in the 18th century. Anyways, here's my prediction: Sophronia will turn out to be one of Joe Abernathy's ancestors, and so Claire will have only just barely avoided erasing him from history. This will feed into the ongoing themes about free will and whether time travelers can change history.