november 26, 2005

A conversation in the hayloft

When the housekeeper knocked at the door the coachman opened it for her. He started at once to apologise for sitting with a naked flame in the hayloft. He seemed to think that she had walked out in the dark must to beg him to be more careful with the taper. “I know it’s dangerous”, he said, “but I thought that someone had to be reading the Word of God tonight.”

The old woman didn’t answer this. She sat down on a chest that was full of bits of leather and scrap iron. She was still in such a state that her hands tugged constantly at her apron and her lips moved in an incomprehensible muttering.

The Coachman sat and watched her until the fear that weighed her down had communicated itself to him. His old exhausted hands began to shake, and his toothless jaws to rattle together.

“Have you met the Old Father?” he whispered.

The Old Father was the house troll. He was never called anything else on the estate.

“No”, said the old woman, “And I wouldn’t be afraid of the old father either. He only means us well.”

“You don’t want to be too certain of that” said the coachman. “He is a hard master, and there have been many things on the estate recently that he has not liked.”

“If he were as strict as you say, he would never have let the Captain go as far as he has.”

The coachman tried to calm her. “Remember that you are talking about the Lord of the Manor.”

“That’s no reason for me not to see that he is destroying himself and the estate!” she said.

“It is the Captain who is the Lord of the Manor. We are just his poor servants.” the coachman repeated earnestly. But his mood changed suddenly, and he asked. “Has he found some new lunacy?”

“I have been standing behind the door to the gaming room all evening, and heard how he has gambled away all his money,” said the housekeepr. While she sat and rocked her whole body back and forth. “When he had run out of money, he gambled away horses and cows. When he had run out of livestock, he started to lose the estate. He bets village after village, woodland after woodland, meadow after meadow, field after field, and he loses them all.”

The coachman half rose from his seat when he heard this, as if he wanted to rush out and prevent the whole catastrophe. But he sat down again, powerless. “It is the Captain who is the master here.” he said: “He can do what he likes with whatever he owns. But I don’t understand that the Old Father has not interfered with the game.”

“He always stays out here in the stable; he won’t know what’s going on in the house.” said the housekeeper.

The was a long silence in the hayloft. At last the coachman asked, “Who is it gambling with him tonight”

“Captain Duwe, a man who has only to touch the dice to win.”

“There’s a man whose purse is as empty as his heart” said the coachman thoughtfully. The Captain can expect no mercy.”

“Right now, he owns all of Töreby” said the housekeeper.

The coachman picked up the Bible, turned it to catch the light, and started to read.

“I thought I would lose my mind, when I was standing, listening to them” said the housekeeper. “It was so terrible. At first they were cheerful, and the master laughed at all his losses. But now they are silent, except when the Captain has lost another field. Then he swears, and the other one laughs.”

The old coachman muttered as he read, but his words didn’t come from any Bible. All that his trembling lips could manage were “Village after village, woodland after woodland, meadow after meadow, field after field.”

“What use is your reading?” asked the housekeeper. “If you were a real man you’d go in there and make him stop, by hook or by crook, before he gambled away the whole estate. “

“I have worked here for long enough to know how hard it is to rein in Silfverbrandt when he has put his heart into something. I might just as well try to raise a dead man from the grave.”

“Yes, well this should be enough to raise his father and mother from the ground.” said the housekeeper.

Posted by andrewb at november 26, 2005 03:29 EM
Yes, I'm reading it, very exciting it is too and I'm managing fine with the 'new bit last' format. I really like the way this captures a world in which people can have an almost-supernatural reverence for the Bible and yet believe in house trolls. Can't wait for the next bit. Posted by: Louise at december 4, 2005 07:55 EM
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