I Would Sooner Summons Pan

as I walked out one evening
to breathe the air and soothe my mind
I thought of friends and the home I had
and all those things I left behind
a silent star shone on me
my eyes saw a far horizon
as if to pierce this veil of time
and escape this earthly prison

fernando ortega

Never fear! I haven't forgot Ask Jeeves. You all just have a devil of a knack for asking questions that take some conniving to answer. For a while I wasn't sure I was going to be able to answer this particular question adequately without giving too much away, or boring you to tears, or confusing you so that you rip out your hair. I like to think I hold that kind of power over people, but I wouldn't want you to be bald.

Gwyn: are you planning on posting any excerpts in the near-ish future?

"Near-ish" is open to interpretation. I would say "I call all times soon," but I am perhaps the most impatient person of my acquaintance with the exception of my two-year-old nephew, and even then I think I give him a run for his money sometimes. But near-ish or far-away, the day has come at last, the opportunity has come at last, for me to present the house with an excerpt from my novel Plenilune. By all means (legal), do enjoy!

* * * * *

It was her first clear day in almost a week. There was no time to dawdle. She put on a frock of fawn-coloured corduroy and stepped out of doors, following the sound of the slow, incessant chopping.

It surprised her how very much old Hobden looked just as she had left him. His bent, wrinkled, nut-brown body was encased in the same cotton shirt, the same tattered leather vest, the same corduroy trousers and boots. He made the same soft, irritated grumbles as he always did. For no reason she could explain, she thought he ought to have changed; for no reason she could explain, she was glad he had not.

“Good morning,” she said graciously, finding a seat on a giant block of wood. Her fingers dug into the hard, sun-warmed bark and she felt the rough rings of the tree’s heart under her palms. In this little southern corner of the House the sun of late autumn, the sun of early morning, dreamed of being warm.

With a slow, circular, ambling movement Hobden swung the axe down and away and gave a little salute, tugging with thumb and forefinger on his forward tuft of hair. “G’moornin’,” he rejoined in that rich, raspy, walnut tone of his. He squinted northward and added, “Mus Rupert’s gone away for the day, hmm?”

Margaret nodded.

Hobden turned away and fumbled with his handle on the axe-haft, grumbling under his breath like a badger all the while. “ ‘Tain’t for me to say, but I knowed Marenové took a breath of relief when ‘e passed beyond t’intake.”

“Marenové and I both,” murmured Margaret, with her head turned away so that Hobden would not hear.

Old walnut Hobden went back to his work, swinging slowly away at the wood while the wood fell away beneath his blows, sheering off in even twos so that he was presently surrounded by so many large split almond-looking pieces of wood. He did not seem to tire, but went on with all the steadiness of an engine. Margaret watched him absentmindedly for some time, wrapped up in her tartan against the November chill; but presently, as he showed no signs of stopping, she began to grow tired of the monotony and she got up, skirting him carefully, and began to wander along the southward arm of the home-meads which were less cultivated and bore the stamp of the wild encroaching fells more clearly than the other gardens did.

Broom and furze, whose flowers had long since fallen, and bramble, whose berries had long since been picked, made a kind of wild hedge at the end of the low slope that took and channelled the little stream. It seemed to be the very oldest piece of garden of all; there was no foot-bridge over the stream, which Margaret would have expected to find elsewhere on the grounds, but a mere loose collection of flat stones rising out of the stream-bed. She took the stones without another thought, crossed a bit of grassy, unkempt soft turf that might have been a flower-plot once, and squeezed gingerly through the thorny gap in the intake hedge.

After that there was a thin, short wood of alder that did its best to sink its roots into the stream. She climbed through it and out, with the suddenness of stepping from one world into another, upon the tawny shoulder of the fell. The wind was all around her as it had not been in the low hollow of the House grounds; it boomed and galloped, thundering, brushing, lunging and kicking like a stampede of horses round her shoulders. It was a golden wind, golden and bronze like the wings of an eagle and the bright colour of it swelled around her with a potency like water. She moved through it, borne and buffeted by it, with the House falling away behind her like a bad dream.

A narrow goat-path, a mere thrush-coloured thread in the tawny turf, stretched upward before her, skirting the steep side of the fell, but always stretching upward, upward and around and out of sight behind the distant shoulder of the fell. There was no question of following it. Without a thought she struck out on it, climbing upward with the swell of the air all around her. It became a bother to wrestle her wrap around her shoulders and she let it go, holding onto it with only one hand, so that it flew out before her like a multicoloured banner of primitive war, fierce, free, its snapping and billowing the very laughter of its genius. She felt it stirring something in her blood.

After a quarter-hour of walking the wind had slackened into a soft constant rush and she paused on the goat-path to look back. She had come far and high; Marenové House lay below her, the view of it unobstructed by trees—if she strained she could just make out the tiny toy-figure of Hobden still at work. If she was very careful, if she stood perfectly still, with one hand up to shove her wayward hair out of her eyes, she could almost imagine she was not wearing Rupert’s collar and leash.

It was a cruel trick, she thought, to be trapped in a land that seemed so high and wild and free.

With prim deliberation she gathered up her wrap and skirts and continued on. She rounded the swell of the hillside and found herself above a flock of sheep, quite a large flock, overseen by two squat calico dogs. They ranged all down the slope and into the finger of a green stream valley. To Margaret, walking along to the tune of their thin bell-notes, they looked like a spray of blackthorn blossom flung across the fell’s slope. Quaint and picturesque, pastoral, uninhibited by the torments and cares of the young woman poised above them, they went on grazing—and would go on grazing, she thought with a pang of strange longing, time out of mind, as they had always done, no matter who sat at Marenové House.

And suddenly from somewhere high in the folds of the fell’s flank, high up above the flock of sheep that was like the blowy white blossom-fleece of a blackthorn, high and clear there came to Margaret at that moment of consideration the sound of a panpipe playing. The sound stopped her in her tracks, frozen like a bird, and she listened to that sound as she had never listened to a sound before; and it seemed to her, as she listened, to be the very calling of a soul. It spoke across the dale, silver and thin, but full-bodied like wine; a pianoforte and its notes, a harp and its notes, were all separate things, but to Margaret the panpipe and its song were a living and eerie one.

Just as quickly as the song had come to her she ached as she had not let herself ache in weeks. It was not for home, it was not for her family. She did not know what it was for. She only knew that she had to turn and get away from that free, melancholy voice among the fells—which was the very voice of the fells themselves—before it crushed her.
plenilune, jennifer freitag

I'm running out of questions. Some of them are still in the queue, and I'm not ignoring them, but I'm still thinking about them. I would love to continue answering questions so if you have anymore, don't hesitate to post them! Otherwise I'll just keep trucking. Thank you for the fun!

3 ripostes:

  1. Well, good, because though some people can pull off the bald-headed look, I certainly can't.

    This is glorious as ever, Jenny. Your characters are real, your dialogue fluid, your description seemingly effortless--but what struck me the most about this excerpt is how well you have captured Autumn. I felt at home, reading it. It seemed... it seemed right. I don't know any better way to describe how it made me feel.

    Your delightful little excerpts always tantalise more than they satisfy. :P

  2. That is gorgeous. I'm currently sat in the study, with the rain pouring outside, and a mountain of homework next to me- falling upon this really cheered me, in a wild sort of way. I love the description of the wind: "It was a golden wind, golden and bronze like the wings of an eagle". I do have one very pedantic, silly comment to make, which you should feel free to disregard, as it is a bit fussy of me- describing it as "bronze like the wings of an eagle" is absolutely mesmerising, although, as we don't have eagles in England, perhaps an avian that Margaret would be more familiar with, living in the northern English countryside and all, might be a bit more fitting... perhaps a Redwing, or a Grouse, or a Chaffinch, or a Golden Pheasant, or an english Buzzard (those are all bronze/golden coloured birds, and buzzards look alot like eagles.)

    "Hobden" is such a warm sort of name... it makes me think of old, brown hobnailed boots, and lots of nice autumnal things.

    "the very calling of a soul"... *shivers with delight*

  3. No, no, Bethany, I am really quite appreciative of your attentiveness to English detail. The only problem is that Margaret is not in England. But my lips must otherwise be sealed or I will have spoiled things for you. However, as I have not studied the nature of eagles in England (or otherwise) other than the Mediterranean kind, I am very grateful for your pointing this out in case I should have made any mistakes on other stories. One must never take anything for granted!

    Redwings! grouse! chaffinches! pheasants! Such beautiful birds. I like the common pheasant for its rich motley coat, and the black grouse for its Benedictine robe and little red cap - but the red grouse is really a beautiful creature, innocently brown and ruddy and gorgeously speckled with gold.

    Thank you, Megan! I'm glad you caught the home-ness of it. I felt at home too, you know... I do dislike writing places that I don't feel at home in. It stops up the creative flow. Nothing gets done. Hmph. Here's to autumn! Alas, winter is swiftly on its way.

    I also love that you mention how my dialogue flows, when Margaret and Hobden rarely speak to each other. :P But I know what you mean. They are the sorts of people who can talk together, if they like, but they often don't - but they can if they want to.