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Friday, 31 October 2008

Samhain/Halloween

For Hallowe'en, an extract from our forthcoming book, Beckford - set in Yorkshire in the early 19th century.

“Here!” Dorcas said suddenly, holding a lantern to survey the bank, “This is perfect.”
She placed the lantern on a rock and bade the others dig the handles of their torches into the mud, creating a circle of light.
“Gather some sticks and twigs,” she said, “and light a small fire in the middle of the circle.”
As Christopher obeyed, she turned to Alice, "Now then, lass, you have the other things?"
Alice nodded and, taking the cover from her basket, pulled out a pot which Dorcas set beside the lantern on the rock.
“Rosemary,” she told Olivia, “in remembrance of all the ones who’ve gone before and come back to help us tonight.”
Again a shiver of fear ran down her spine but Christopher smiled reassuringly.
“Apples, bread and herbs for an offering,” Dorcas set them beside the lantern, “and this for the weaving of dreams.”
She brought from the basket, straw and string and handed a hank and a thread to each of them.
“Make a figure like this,” she said, nimbly bending the straw and tying it at the base. “Here’s the head, then weave the body, the arms and the legs…” In no time at all a perfect straw doll was formed.
“Take as long as you need and while you weave it, put into it everything you want to loose from your life. Any bothers, any upsets, any memories that need to be cleansed. Weave them all into your figure.”
Olivia glanced at Christopher, who raised his eyebrows in reply.
“Start now,” Dorcas commanded and, while they twisted and plaited, she began a strange chant, raising her arms and turning one way and another, invoking the protection of spirits of the north, the south, the east and the west.
For a moment, Olivia wanted to laugh. There was something amusing not only about Dorcas’ superstitious gestures and chants but also in the thought of what her aristocratic friends would think if they knew that the she was standing here weaving a doll by a stream in the middle of the night. How different it all was from what she would have been doing had she accompanied her husband to Monkburn! An image of Sir Edmund and the guests came to mind and brought with it the memory of hours of small-talk and the same conversations about bushels and boars repeated season after season, year after year; so tedious, so stifling, so suffocating…duty and duty and duty and duty…
The urge to laugh had gone, replaced by a far more powerful emotion and as her fingers deftly plaited the straw, she felt herself frantically weaving duty, suffocating duty, duty, stifling, asphyxiating duty into the torso and limbs.
“Spirits of the trees….spirits of the waters…” Dorcas’ voice hummed hypnotically. Faster and faster she plaited the straw and with each thread came random images of the past twenty years: the silence when she had wanted to scream; the resigned acquiescence when she had longed to disagree; the dignified walk when she wanted to dance; the refined smile when she could have laughed aloud; the whispered, eternally-binding ‘I do’ when she longed to shout, “No!” and the tedium, the hour upon hour of silence and duty while her soul burned for music, for passion, for love.
By the time the doll was complete, Olivia’s hand was trembling with the force of two decades of unexpressed emotion. Was it anger, she wondered. Yes, there was anger and more than anger - a great rage swelling from some previously unplumbed depths. And there was power in the rage, a power so violent and unfamiliar that it seemed as though a fury inside her had been unleashed with an intensity so overwhelming that her head began to spin and her whole body swayed to the rapid beat of her heart. Her breath came in short gasps and as she struggled to catch it, she saw, through the corner of her eye, that Christopher was staring at her with an expression of alarm. He stepped closer and held out his hand as though to hold her, when suddenly Dorcas’ voice boomed with authority,
“No, Christopher, no, don’t touch her!” He stopped dead, and Dorcas’ turned urgently to Olivia, “Now, m’lady! Now, throw the doll into the fire!”
She gripped the straw figure and hurled violently it into the flames. It spat and crackled and, as sparks sputtered through the darkness like shooting stars, such a sense of elation overcame her that her eyes flooded with tears and she wept uncontrollably. She knew that Christopher was standing beside her and could feel his eyes upon her but he seemed too astonished to move.
“Alice,” Dorcas’ voice sounded distant, “it’s your turn. Cast the doll!”
A further sputtering and spitting of sparks and then a thud as Alice slumped to the ground. This time Christopher moved. He crouched beside her and would have taken her in his arms had Dorcas not uttered another command, “Now yours, Christopher.”
With far less vehemence than either of the women, he dropped the doll into the flames and as it smouldered among the cinders and twigs, Dorcas stepped forward and placed her own creation beside it.
“That’s it,” she smiled with a deep sigh of contentment, “we’re done.”

1 comment:

Cinderella said...

Well-written and interesting!