Tag Archives: novel

another novel excerpt: the birthday

if you’re wondering why i hardly blog these days, it’s because i’m pretty serious about finishing my novel by the end of the year. it’s a long labour of love but i know it’ll get done! here is another excerpt. it’s the plantation owner’s daughter’s 9th birthday, a huge party. her name it elise. the festivities are drawing to a close and …

only in the evening there was another moment that stood out. somehow mama cass, bessie and a few others managed to drag elise away from the festivities. somehow? it was the marita, the governess, who finally did it, she dragged elise away from it all, and it was a good thing because elise, once again, was getting tired. too many adults! too many people who knew about everything – books, clothes, money, horses, what have you. not enough stories, not enough songs. it was with songs that they dragged her away. she heard the humming in the distance, the melody, the drums and banjos and looked up and the governess smiled at her and said, come on. she excused herself and elise to the parents under a pretense or other, who cares which one, and took elise with her to the hedge, into the dark. a little ways they had to move through the shadows; it had become night an hour or so ago, the grasshoppers were chirping loudly, and the scent of everything – the grasses, the earth, the blooming jasmine rose powerfully through the night air. the deeper into the dark the two rushed, the louder the music became. they made a turn, and suddenly they stood in front of dora’s cottage.

“here she is!” someone exclaimed.

there was loud clapping and the music stopped.

she was in the slaves’ quarters.

“miss elise! here you are!” mama cass was beside herself, her voice high and breathless. elise had never seen mama cass anywhere but in the big house; in fact, it had never occurred to her that she might abide anywhere but there, traveling from kitchen to cellar to breakfast room to the herb garden right outside the kitchen. mama cass gestured wildly and moved her eyes and eyebrows about like a horse scared silly –

“five years served i, under master guy,
in the land of virginny-o
which made me for to know sorrow, grief and woe,
when that i was weary, weary, weary-o ….”

dora’s strong, clear voice permeated the night. after the first two verses, the banjo chimed in. a couple of fiddles joined, the light of the little fires burning in front of each cottage shining up into the players. moving up and down, the fiddling arms threw big shadows, in rhythm with tapping feet and clapping hands. then the song stopped, and everyone suddenly had a little bouquet in their hands that they threw up in the air with a big whoop.

“lady elise! long live our lady elise!” they shouted.

“i don’t LIKE it when you call me lady,” exclaimed elise, without complaint in her voice, though – everyone had heard it a hundred times, and they just laughed.

“what should we call you then?” piped up ellie.

“yes, what should we call you? buttercup? lady doll? miss jones patterson?”

“no, no!” she laughed.

“lady rosebud?”

“princess redhair?”

“our lady of the crinkledress?”

“oh, you people are so silly,” she exclaimed, laughing, into the mirth all around. “i like crinkledress. without the lady.”

“i don’t think mr jones patterson would like it if we called you crinkledress,” said bessie.

“but it’s true! my dress is always crinkled and crumpled. i don’t LIKE wearing dresses! i want to wear pants! this dress is beautiful, that’s true,” she looked down on her lovely cloud of white and silver and lilac, “but can you imagine how difficult it was to ride in it? i had to ask jacqueline to make me a special petticoat.”

“you do look adorable in it, adorable,” said jacqueline. there was pride in her voice, and more than pride – love. “and you should have seen your mother, the way she looked at you.”

“anyway, lady – er, miss elise -” said mama cass –

“oh, for tonight, just for now, don’t call me miss!”

“alright then, er, um, elise – we have a few little trinkets for you.”

and the gift giving began again. someone had made a doll out of old cotton dresses and horse hair. someone else had drawn a painting with charcoal. a little apron arrived, made from cotton cloth, adorned with a tiny little silk ribbon. a loaf of honey bread, a coronet of dried flowers – everyone had made something for her.

elise was in tears, couldn’t see anymore all the treasures offered to her. some of the people she didn’t even know by name and yet they had gone to the trouble and expense to make something for her. each piece was crafted with love and care, each piece looked different. look at this little drum here, carved out of a gourd, with those black and red snakes curling in on each other everywhere, and the beautifully knotted string to carry it! even cortez had a friendly smile on his face when he brought her a small illustrated book of psalms.

they fed her dried fruit and buttered mash and a delicious tea – no doubt one of jacqueline’s. the music and singing played on, mingled with the night air, the crickets chirping and the laughter, played with the crackling fire and the smells of good food and flames licking on the grass.

finally marita approached her, whispered, “i think it’s time to go back.”

“no!” elise whispered back urgently, “i like it here! i don’t want to go back! those people are boring!”

marita had anticipated that. “but you told me that you haven’t looked at joe’s gift yet. it’s in your room. let’s go back, say good-bye to the guests, and then you can go to bed and open joe’s gift.”

——

elise was so exhausted when she finally made it to her room. it had still taken an hour for her to extricate herself from the guests; endless goodbyes and wellwishes jumbled all together before her tired eyes. in her room, marita helped her undress. what a lovely, lovely feeling to be rid of all the heavy clothes and to finally fall into the pillows dressed in fresh linen that smelled faintly of citronella and cloves.

clutched in her hand was the gift joe had given her. the leather felt warm and soft in her hands, almost like a little animal. the white cotton string stood out against it, looked so – white. clean. fresh. like stars. lying there in the pillows, elise held it up, turned it around, held it under the light from the three candles in her candleholder by the bed. she wanted to savour the moment of unwrapping it. oh, but she was so tired …

“here, i’ll untie the knots for you,” whispered marita and gently removed the package from the girl’s hands.

wrapped in the blue leather was another little package, wrapped in embroidered cloth. wrapped in that lay a small brown leather pouch, made of leather just as soft as the other. a long string held the little pouch, to hang it around one’s neck, just like the indians do. inside the pouch elise found a smooth, smooth, smooth stone with an indentation the size of a thumb. the leather felt so soft … the stone so smooth …..

“a worry stone for you,” she heard joe’s voice whisper somewhere in the room. “good night, crinkledress.”

and then she was asleep.

another novel excerpt

did i post at least one excerpt from the novel i’m working on during NaNoWriMo?  i don’t think so.  anyways, i think it’s time for another one.

this plays on a sugar plantation in louisiana in the beginning of the 19th century.  mr jones-patterson is the neurotic plantation owner, elise his daughter.  joe,  the “field negro”, is my main hero, who lives in a complicated relationship with everyone, one of them with mr. jones-patterson (we never find out his first name, everyone calls him by his last name), who, against prudence and common practice, is obsessed with educating joe to the hilt, including the classics.

louisiana sugar plantation by http://flickr.com/photos/neworleanslady/

for elise’s 9th birthday, mr jones patterson arranged a big celebration. he remembered a great event for his 9th birthday; it was during the first of two protracted visits he had paid to england. a band was hired, there were sweets everywhere, people of all ages from all around the county; and he was given his first coach.

elise must have a 9th birthday like that! of course the band would never be as fine as the one commissioned from bristol, the people that could be invited would be – well, most of the spaniards and acadiens were out of the question, of course – and a girl did not need a coach until much later – but still! a grand affair it must be!

“i don’t want to go to that stupid party!”

“it’s your birthday party, miss elise. you’ll enjoy it!” joe was behind the house cutting wood, elise sitting on the fence watching him.

“it’s a stupid party with stupid people and stupid food! with my stupid father and my drunk mother!” each time she said “stupid”, elise slapped the fence, and her voice got louder and more frustrated. by the time she said “drunk”, she was ready to cry.

“now, miss elise …”

“… and don’t you dare call me miss! that’s stupid, stupid, stupid!”

like all men. joe didn’t know what to do with a female close to tears, so he stood there watching her for a while, and then went back at it with his axe.

she looked quite something, with her red-blond curls wild and long against the rising sun, slapping that fence, her eyes fierce and sparkly – and all that in that sweet angelic face and her long body, coltish already, draped in a delicate, lacey beige dress.

“i hate it when you and dora call me miss! i’m no miss! i’m not like elvira, i’m not like my mother, and if you and dora won’t come to the party, i won’t go!”

“oh elise … ”

“i’m going right in and telling my father. you’re coming or i’m not coming!” she jumped off the fence and off she went.

joe winced. elise was a good friend but her impulsive denials of what was real were hard to take often; she never understood the consequences. she couldn’t understand what it was like to be a field negro and yet to spend so much time in the big house, what that cost him. it was a bit easier for dora; she was quieter, less impulsive, she knew how to keep secrets, everyone just saw her pretty, sweet nature; her clear mind and the way she looked at things, animals, plants and people, hardly anyone noticed that. and books. only joe knew how many she had read.

so yes, he knew how to keep secrets, too, had to. but they weighed heavily on him and the smaller ones, he often blurted them out, he let them crash the dam here and there, and it took off the pressure.

it was no secret, however, that he was miss elise’s pet. this tall, strong, muscular young man, he was that little girl’s pet. it was cause for ridicule and envy in most parts of the plantation; fortunately, a good many also approved of it. the girl needed a friend, what with that father who thought she was someone else, some sort of doll, and a mother absent so often, and half of the time she was present, she was chained to a bottle. the choice of betsy as a nurse had been unfortunate, there was just no spark between the two. so it was joe and mama cass who were her true family and later, when dora showed up, her soft and quiet demeanor and her beautiful singing voice added to the strange trio.

dora would know right away how to react to this crazy notion of miss elise’s. “oh, no” she’d say in that soothing voice of hers. not an alarmed “oh, no!!”, not a dismissive one, not a disgusted one, but a sweet, smiling, contented “oh, no” that would end any of elise’s suggestions.

but joe didn’t know how to speak like that. if he would have known, maybe all of this with mr jones-patterson … joe didn’t want to think it to the end.

rumor had it that dora was one of the few girls who had never been touched by a man. so pretty, and still a virgin. she did it with her gentle voice and her friendly way of being elusive, for sure. had done it to him, as a matter of fact.

he was pondering these two girls, elise and dora, when he heard mr jones-patterson’s voice. “joe! kosi!” he quickly stashed away the axe, dusted himself off, and ran into the house.

mr jones-patterson was by the window, arms behind his back. the pose of a man who makes decisions. his riding boots and britches were clean yet, and as often, might remain that way. more and more, he relied on cortez and bradley to inform him of the state of the plantation. they were the practical men – he made decisions.

“my daughter elise just talked to me,” he began. this is how he referred to her, ‘my daughter elise.’

“she wishes that you attend her birthday party. i will have to think of a way of arranging this, but of course you will attend. so will dora.”

joe stood there at the entrance, mr jones-patterson all the way across the room, his back to him. joe erect, strong, young, his face in the shadow but something about the way he held his shoulders showed the mixture of fear, affection, disgust, anticipation and irritation that he almost always felt in the presence of the plantation owner.

“this is not an easy decision. it reminds us of what?” with that, mr jones-patterson swiftly turned around.

“archidamos and sthenelaidas, sir. sparta, sir,” joe mumbled. “the dilemma between old and new.”

“very good, very good, joe. the old and new. what is the old?” he moved a step closer and pointed at joe.

“sparta against athens, sir. sparta decided to give up its old military ways, which allowed it to conquer athens, but it became as hated as athens.”

mr jones patterson looked at joe. “you have an astonishing mind, young man.” his voice quiet and wistful. his hand started to reach out but then fell to his side.

“i will make a decision. you can go now.” with that, he turned back to the window.

image by new orleans lady

quickie: a scented novel

a while ago, i announced that i would like to post little snippets from the novel i’m working on once in a while. it’s time i did that – here you go:

wild bergamot

she was quick with the wind; she was big; she was slender; she was fragile; she was slow and strong like mud gliding over the mountainside after the heavy rains; she was black and white at the same time; so womanly no woman could ever be more of a she; and she was the patron of men who love men.

“ten words,” she said, “ten words will set you free.”

ten words? why not seven, or nineteen, or two or fifty? ten words?

ten words? what are those ten words? just any ten words? ten words that make a particular sentence? ten words strung together?

lilac, strawberry, dillweed, lavender, citronella, chamomile, cloves, bergamot, patchouli.

that’s 10 words.

why are these all words of smell? and not just any smells. soft, female smells. the smells of a mature woman. ripe.

ten ripe soft female aromatic words will set you free …

(image of the wild bergamot by gwarcita)