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Excerpt from News of the World by Paulette Jiles, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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News of the World

by Paulette Jiles

News of the World by Paulette Jiles X
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2016, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 224 pages

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That was yesterday.

The Captain said, It's come up two foot since yesterday.

I know it. Britt stood with one foot on the drawbar. The hurricane lantern burnt with its irresolute light on the tailgate and shone into the interior of the freight wagon as if revealing some alien figure in a tomb.

Captain Kidd took off his hat and shook water from it. Britt Johnson had rescued at least four captives from the red men. From the Comanche, from the Kiowa, and once from the Cheyenne up north in Kansas. Britt's own wife and two children had been taken captive three years ago, in 1867, and he had gone out and got them back. Nobody knew quite how he had done it. He seemed to have some celestial protection about him. He usually went alone. Britt was a rescuing angel, a dark man of the Red Rolling Plains, cunning and strong and fast like a nightjar in the midnight air. But Britt was not going to return this girl to her parents, not even for fifty dollars in gold.

Why won't you go? said Captain Kidd. You have come this far already. Fifty dollars in gold is a considerable amount.

I figured I could find somebody to hand her off to here, Britt said. It's a three-week journey down there. Then three weeks back. I have no haulage to carry down there.

Behind him Paint and Dennis nodded. They crossed their arms in their heavy waxed-canvas slickers. Long bright crawls of water slid across the livery stable floor and took up the light of the lantern like a luminous stain and the roof shook with the percussion of drops as big as nickels.

Dennis Crawford, thin as a spider, said,We wouldn't make a dime the whole six weeks.

Unless we could get something to haul back up here, said Paint.

Shut up, Paint, said Dennis. You know people down there?

Well all right, said Paint. I can hear you.

Britt said, There it is. I can't leave my freighting that long. I have orders to deliver. And the other thing is, if I'm caught carrying that girl it would be bad trouble. He looked the Captain straight in the eye and said, She's a white girl. You take her.

Captain Kidd felt in his breast pocket for his tobacco. He didn't find it. Britt rolled a cigarette for him and handed it to him and then snapped a match in his big hand. Captain Kidd had not lost any sons in the war and that was because he had all daughters. Two of them. He knew girls. He didn't know Indians but he knew girls, and what was on that girl's face was contempt.

He said, Find a family going that way, Britt. Somebody to drown her in sweetness and light and improving lectures on deportment.

Good idea, said Britt. I thought of it already.

And so? Captain Kidd blew out smoke. The girl's eyes did not follow it. Nothing could move her gaze from the men's faces, the men's hands. She had a drizzle of freckles across her cheekbones and her fingers were blunt as noses with short nails lined in black.

Can't locate any. Hard to find somebody to trust with this.

Captain Kidd nodded. But you've delivered girls before now, he said. The Blainey girl, you got her back.

Not that far a trip. Besides I don't know those people down there.You do.

Yes, I see. Captain Kidd had spent years in San Antonio. He knew the way, knew the people. In North and West Texas there were many free black men, they were freighters and scouts and now after the war, the 10thUS Cavalry, all black. However, the general population had not settled the matter of free black people in their minds yet. All was in flux. Flux; a soldering aid that promotes the fusion of two surfaces, an unstable substance that catches fire.

The Captain said, You could ask the Army to deliver her. They take charge of captives.

Not any more, said Britt.

What would you have done if you hadn't come across me?

Excerpted from News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Jiles. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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  Late 19th Century Texas

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