05 December 2009

Fire From Heaven pages 282-283

They walked on together. The lights and noise still meandered before the prisoners' pens. Alexander walked steadily down river. They picked their way over broken spears and sarissas and javelins, round dead horses and dead men. At length Alexander stopped by the riverbank, where Hephaistion had known he would.

No one had stripped the bodies yet. The bright shields, the victors' trophies, glimmered softly under the moon. The smell of blood was stronger here; bleeding men had fought on longer. The river chuckled gently among the stones.

One body lay by itself, face down, feet towards the river; a young man with dark crisply curling hair. His dead hand still grasped his helmet, which stood by him upside down, with water in it. It was unspilled, because he had been crawling when death overtook him. A blood-spoor, along which he had been returning, led from him to the heap of dead. Alexander picked up the helmet, carrying the water carefully, and followed the trail to its end. This man too was young; he had bled a wide pool, the great vein of his thigh being severed. His open mouth showed the dry tongue. Alexander bent, with the water ready, and touched him, then laid the helmet aside.

"The other had stiffened, but this one is hardly cold. He had a long wait."

"He would know why," Hephaistion said.

A little way on, two bodies lay across each other, both facing upward to where the enemy had been. The elder was a strong-looking man with a fair clipped beard; the younger, on whom he had fallen back in death, was bareheaded. On one side he was bare-skulled; a downward slash of a cavalry sabre had flayed off the face to show a bony grin. From the other side, one could see that beauty had been there.

Alexander knelt, and as one might straighten a garment, replaced the flap of flesh. It adhered, sticky with blood. He looked round at Hephaistion and said, "I did this. I remember it. He was trying to spear Oxhead through the neck. I did it."

"He shouldn't have lost his helmet. I suppose the chin-strap was weak."

"I don't remember the other."

He had been speared through the body, and the spear wrenched back in the urgency of battle, leaving a great torn hole. His face was set in a grimace of agony; he had died wide awake.

"I remember him," said Hephaistion. "He came at you after you struck the first one down. You had your hands full already. So I took him on."

There was a silence. Small frogs chirruped in the river shallows. A night bird sang liquidly. Behind them sounded the blurred chant of the komos.

"It's war," said Hephaistion. "They know they'd have done the same to us."

"Oh yes. Yes, it is with the gods."

He knelt down by the two bodies, and tried to compose the limbs; but they were set hard as wood; the eyes, when he had closed the lids, opened again to stare. Finally he dragged the man's corpse over, till it lay by the youth's with one stiff arm across it. Taking off his shoulder-cloak he spread it so that both faes were covered.

"Alexander. I think you should go back to the komos. The King will be missing you."

"Kleitos can sing much louder." He looked round at the still shapes, the dried blood blackened by moonlight, the palely shining bronze. "It is better here among friends."

"It's only right you should be seen. It's a victory komos. You were first through the line. He waited for that."

"Everyone knows what I did. There's only one honour I want tonight, to have it said I wasn't there." He pointed at the wobbling torchlight.

"Come, then," said Hephaistion. They went down to the water and washed the blood from their hands. Hephaistion loosened his shoulder-cloak and wrapped it around both of them. They walked on by the river into the hanging shadow of the willows fed by the stream.

04 December 2009

Fire From Heaven the first sentence

The child was wakened by the knotting of the snake's coils about his waist.

22 September 2009

Psalm 19: 1-6

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.

21 September 2009

The Full Cupboard of Life pages 132-134

“You look worried,” said the apprentice. “Is there something troubling you, Boss?”

Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni sighed. “I have an unpleasant duty to do,” he said. “I have to go and speak to some bad mechanics about their work. That is what is troubling me.”

“Who are these bad mechanics?” asked the apprentice.

“Those people at First Class Motors,” said Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni. “The man who owns it and the men who work for him. They are all bad, every one of them.”

The apprentice whistled. “Yes, they are bad all right. I have seen those people. They know nothing about cars. They are not like you, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, who knows everything about all sorts of cars.”

The compliment from the apprentice was unexpected, and Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, in spite of his modesty, was touched by the young man’s tribute.

“I am not a great mechanic,” he said softly. “I am just careful, that is all, and that is what I have always wanted you to be. I would want you to be careful mechanics. It would make me very happy if you would be that.”

“We will be,” said the apprentice. “We will try to be like you. We hope that people will always look at our work and think: they learned that from Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni.”

Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni smiled. “Some of your work, maybe …” he began, but the apprentice interrupted him.

“You see,” he said, “my father is late. He became late when I was a small boy – just that high – very small. And I did not have uncles who were any good, and so I think of you as my father, Rra. That is what I think. You are my father.”

Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni was silent. He had always had difficulty in expressing his emotions – as mechanics often do, he thought – and it was hard for him now. He wanted to say to this young man: What you have said makes me very proud, and very sad, all the same time – but he could not find these words. He could, however, place a hand on the young man’s shoulder and leave it there for a moment, to show that he understood what had been said.

“I have never said thank you, Rra,” went on the apprentice. “And I would not want you to die without being thanked by me.”

Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni gave a start. “Am I going to die?” he asked. “I am not all that old surely. I am still here.”

The apprentice smiled. “I did not mean that you were going to die soon, Rra. But you will die one of these days, like everybody else. And I wanted to say thank you before that day came.”

“Well,” said Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, “what you say is probably true, but we have spent too much time standing here talking about these things. There is work to be done in the garage. We have to get rid of that dirty oil over there. You can take it over to the special dump for burning. You can take the spare truck.”

16 September 2009

The Supplicating Voice pages 76-77

That a precept of courtesy is by no means unworthy of the gravity and dignity of an apostolic mandate, may be gathered from the pernicious effects which all must have observed to have arisen from harsh strictness and sour virtue; such as refuses to mingle in harmless gaiety, or give countenance to innocent amusements, or which transacts the petty business of the day with a gloomy ferociousness that clouds existence. Goodness of this character is more formidable than lovely; it may drive away vice from its presence, but will never persuade it to stay to be amended; it may teach, it may remonstrate, but the hearer will seek for more mild instruction.

15 September 2009

What this blog is for

I was reading "Adam Bede" recently and when I'd finished there were many things I wished I'd noted down because I thought they were particularly moving, thought-provoking, or amusing. So that's what this blog is for, to share extracts from my reading.