|One of my favorite meadows near home|
The air was sharp at four thirty in the morning, when she started work. The iron pump-handle was cold, and even with her mitts on, her chilbains flared as she heaved the water up from the underground dark and into her waiting pail. A long day to be got through, and this just the very start of it.
All else was stillness. Sheep huddled in drifts on the hillside; birds in the hedgerows were fluffed like thistledown; in the woods, fallen leaves rustled with the passage of a hedgehog; the stream caught starlight and glistened over rocks, Below, in the barn, cows huffed clouds of sweet breath, and in the sty, the sow twitched, her piglets bundled at her belly. Mrs. Hill and her husband, up high in their tiny attic, slept the black blank sleep of deep fatigue; two floors below, in the principal bedchamber, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were a pair of churchyard humps under the counterpane. The young ladies, all five of them sleeping in their beds, were dreaming of whatever it was that young ladies dream.
The main characters in Longbourn are ghostly presences in Pride and Prejudice; they exist to serve the family and the story. They deliver notes and drive carriages; they run errands when nobody else will step out of doors—they are the “proxy” by which the shoe-roses for Netherfield Ball are fetched in the pouring rain. But they are—at least in my head—people too.
Her senses, briefly, could not accommodate the image.
Then it was a pig. A carcass. A great slab of meat waiting to be skinned.
Then her perceptions shifted again, true patterns formed: she saw the shape of human muscle, shoulder blade, a dark slick of hair, the cable-twist of neck.
In the instant that she saw, she looked away, but by then it was too late. ...His skin was lurid in the dull light, his cheek hazed with greying stubble and flattened against the dark weathered wood. His eyes were wide and rolling, his jaw clenched. His body, held immobile by the bonds, was fiercely at work: his arm muscles shifted and twisted, his feet trod and braced against the cobbles like a horse’s.
|Wild grape and willow at water's edge|