A Key to the Past
It was not the wedding she had dreamed of, nor was the marriage one she had imagined. They exchanged vows by themselves at the altar with not a single guest in sight and not even a priest to officiate. Belle thought it irregular and unlikely but she did not want to disrupt her fiancé’s promising mood by questioning his judgment. He refused to let her parents and sisters visit afterwards, although with time and cajoling he permitted her to send word of their union and their happiness, although he read the letter over himself several times to make sure that there was nothing in there that she had not told him about.
Belle knew that she had a great deal of work to overcome Conomor’s natural distrust. Entendtout helped her to track down information about her new husband and his family to the best of his ability. She was able to put together that, as long as he was able to convey only positive or, at worst, neutral information about the lord of the palace, he could assist her. In the months that followed, as she worked to calm her husband and gain his confidence, he would occasionally ask if she had gone into the room to which he had forbidden her, but the more time passed, the less he inquired.
“Milady,” said Entendtout one day, breaking into her reverie of cultivating the scream flowers around the remains of the cathedral, which had since stretched itself into a grand arboretum, “we have a visitor.” The steward recognized her confusion. “I have phrased it poorly,” he apologized with a bow. “The visitor in question is a tradesman.” Although the palace was not popular with any of the local populace, they paid both well and with remarkable goods, meaning they could always find someone to bring in any supply that the environs could not themselves supply. “He is a silversmith, which is why his skills may be useful to us here, but to your inquiries, he may have served or been in attendance at Lord Conomor’s previous court.”
Belle stripped her gloves from her hands, supple skin that spared her from her scream flowers’ stinging nettles, and followed Entendtout to the stalls behind the kitchen. The silversmith was an old man, bent at the shoulders and the waist. His ropy arms and thick hands belied his small, round belly, and his wrinkles cut deep into his leathered face.
” T’s going ta be expensive,” he warned without turning around. “Cost more than ye tink, most likely more tan ye want.”
“That will not be a problem, monsieur,” answered Entendtout.
“Who’ve you got wit ye, ten?” asked the smith in his turn, and only after speaking did he twist his gnarled body to examine the mistress of the house. His face went dark and he cursed the steward. “Blackguard! Ye should have warned me ye’d bring such like her here! Ah’m not one ta speak wit the better folk! Ah’m a simple man, no airs, no graces, sure ta disgrace te family name!”
Belle couldn’t place his accent, a rough brogue with no education or culture but assurance and confidence all the same. “I requested you,” she said. “My husband is Conomor, called the Accursed, and you knew him before.” She did not need to state her request and he did not have to say he would tell her.
The scream froze her face in an expression of deceptive calm. “Too perfect, my lord?” She clenched her jaw to keep it squarely in her throat and from coming no further. She had a great deal of practice, after all.
With a gentleness that she had only ever seen Conomor show toward the garden and the plants, he took her delicate hands in his massive, calloused, claw-like ones. “It is too perfect,” he said once more. “Too perfect to share with anyone besides ourselves.”
Belle swallowed the knot-like scream in her throat. “To share?” She knew that she was simply repeating his words, but that was all she could do without setting the scream free. She had worked so hard to reach this point, to have him show her this kindness, but now she found it so out of character that she didn’t know what to do. Out of character, she was discovering, was much more alarming than consistent anger.
Conomor nodded and his bristly blue beard shivered with the motion. His eyes bore into hers with an intensity she had never seen in him before.
Could this be love? she wondered. Or at least, love’s beginning? The scream settled in her chest and refused to move further back to the comfort of her stomach. “I do not understand your meaning,” she managed at last.
He knelt before her, although such was his height that he was only slightly below her own eye level. “We will be wed here, just the two of us.”
“But my family…”
He squeezed her hands. She didn’t know if he meant it to be comforting or a punishment. “Your family may come later. Let us not spoil our union’s happiness with the presence of others. I know what they think of me!” His mood turned dark with the suddenness of lightning.
“No, no, my lord, that is only because they do not know you as I have grown to know you,” she said. He did not release his grip on her, but his eyes begged her to go on. “You are brusque, but that is only because you do not wish to waste time on the polite fictions of society. You would call a tree by its proper name and ask for the thing you desire rather than dance in circles, hoping upon hope that the conventional rules of conversation will permit you to speak at all. You see such behavior as the cage that it is and you run free.”
His grateful smile made up for the fact that he was crushing her hands in his. “You understand me,” he said, his voice full of emotion.
“I am learning, my lord,” she answered with a smile.
His dark eyes fell to the rings of keys at her waist. “And you are learning the grounds?”
“I am.” Her answer said without words that she had not explored the door he had forbidden her to open.
“And there are no secrets between us?” he pressed.
“There are only things we do not know yet, but no secrets,” she said with the same smile.
Her scream stretched into her heart and lungs with those words, but especially with all of the unspoken ones, what he was hiding and what he did not yet know about her scream flowers.
Conomor smiled then, a broad, sharp-toothed smile that tried its best to look kind. It did not entirely succeed.
He left her with the promise that they would be wed within days, and, alone in the garden cathedral, Belle buried her latest scream under the altar.
Seeking an Acceptable Solution
Although Conomor had been pleased with her idea for the pavilion, he picked at her first results. “The alabaster orchids don’t belong with the bone lilies.” It was only partly the colors that bothered him, which was a revelation to Belle. It was also that the plants had different properties, and while Belle was more than capable of picking out colors that went well in her clothing and dress, she did not have his expertise in the outdoors. Conomor seemed to treat those same properties in the same way she might have discussed a shawl that clashed with a dress’s lace.
“Could you show me the proper way it should be done?” she ventured.
“I have time neither to play the fool nor to teach you a second time what I have already told you once!” he swore as he stormed away.
She planted her screams in the growing patch beyond the hedge, just out of sight of the kitchen, and when she was free of them, she considered his actions.
I should never think that I can nurture him so quickly. This is the work of a lifetime, to be sure, she thought. Apparently, he considers our single tour to have been enough to have taught me all there is to know about the palace and its grounds, and her I thought it was only an introduction! His eyes must be a great deal more sensitive than mine. These are the things that I must learn. I must do them on my own and I must do them quickly for the sake of our marriage.
Belle gathered the gardener and his assistants and explained the situation. “We have no time to make any more mistakes. The ceremony will be this Sunday, and I trust you to correct what I have done wrong. We will create a central aisle here, as though we are in a church that nature built. There should be seats on either side. Functioning seats upon which any of us could sit without fear of our cloths, skin, or bodies being harmed.” Without thinking, she twitched her still-red fingers and her palms echoed the pain. “Young saplings to suggest walls and flowering vines to suggest stained glass windows. We must at the same time pay heed to Lord Conomor’s needs and attend not only to the differences in coloration, but in what each different flower, tree, vine, and bush may do. This is your palette and you are the painters and carpenters in this garden. Find me if you have the least question, but believe me, I have every faith that you and this garden will be able to accomplish the task.”
On Friday she led Conomor out to show him what they had done. The plants had responded to the gardeners with joy. Green and brown walls of bark and leaves reached toward the sky. Branches stretched out above them, not connecting. The blue and white of the heavens above shone through the leafy skeleton of the floral cathedral. Her stained glass flowers were actually translucent and brightened with the sun. The servants had outdone themselves. On the four windows on each side they had cultivated portraits of their lord and lady, Belle in pure white, Conomor in shades of blue, looking as though he were in a noble suit. Roots from the wall-trees made enough seats for two hundred, and a dense bush at the front shaped the altar before which they would stand.
“Do you like it?” she asked, a scream curling around her stomach.
“It’s perfect. Too perfect,” he answered.
The Moment of Epiphany
It was the garden and the plants that made her think she could save him. Her screams grew into patches of soft, small flowers, the faded faded blue of the sky’s horizon at midday. The gardener tried to warn her away from them, but she would have none of it. “I planted them and they are mine,” she said to him. It was the first time she had used the authority of her position and he flinched as if she’d struck him. It made her feel guilty but his action had made her angry. They were her flowers, after all.
She apologized to him later. Not while he wrapped her hands in thick leaves, no, not then. She was still in too much pain at that time. Later, when the swelling had gone down, although her fingers remained puffy, red, and tender, she sought him out and begged his forgiveness. By then her maid had dabbed her hands with mud, let it dry, and gently peeled the caked dirt off. For whatever reason, it helped the pain. “I did not understand what you meant. I should have trusted you. It was my mistake and my arrogance and I hope you will accept my apology.” He flushed then, gave her more plants and showed her how to use them, and excused himself from her presence.
The flowers of her screams had downy hairs covering the petals. They blended in almost perfectly against their pale background, but Belle did see them. She did not consider them, however. They were flowers and flowers are beautiful. She did not think that they were the flowers of a scream. She did not consider the nature of the scream, only the image of the flower.
Those downy hairs were nothing more or less than a kind of stinging nettle. Belle had pushed her hands into the middle of the flowers, reveling in their softness, before reaching past to uproot a small bunch to bring inside. She was still marveling that a scream could be as beautiful as this small bouquet when her hands went numb. Like fear building up in her stomach, slowly at first and then erupting, the pain in her hands was mild before it overtook and overcame her. Then came the treatments and the recovery.
Before the apology, while she lay in bed with her hands entombed in crushed aloe, Conomor came to see her. He was furious. How could the gardener have let this happen? From where had these flowers come? It took all of her persuasion to mollify him that the gardener had done his job and it was her own insistence that had led to her pain. He only truly settled when she suggested that she would create a pavilion for their wedding, one that would go with her dress (the dress would be done within the week, she promised him). “I can see how dear you hold the garden and the grounds. I would like you to be happy on the day that we join our lives together. It should be a celebration, should it not?”
He searched her eyes for insincerity and found none, because there was none to be found. Able to plant her screams and to think about her fate with a clear head, she had settled on the thought that it would be best to nurture her husband-to-be, to care for him, and to take care of him. He could be as wild as the maddest dog. There was good in him, nevertheless, and like a plant, pruned and watered, that good could be grown.
Chapter 1 – What is a work of art?
Carey starts off this 28-page chapter with a disclaimer: he will not be operating from a religious perspective. Although he does not cite a philosopher directly, he could easily be pointing his finger at Leo Tolstoy, who, aside from writing epic-length Russian novels, also had quite a few things to say about art and its relation to the divine. His position is that without a relation, there is no art: art is by definition, not only its nature, holy. (The whole book is online here, or a simple search will get you a ton of commentary if you want something shorter).
The reason Carey mentions this at all is because so much language about art and aesthetics borrow from religious terms – paintings are “sublime” and music is “transformative.” We can extrapolate if you want to nitpick about the word religious and call it mystical or spiritual. That’s fine. I just wanted to let you know how I understand his approach.
The problem with defining art is, in a nutshell, the twentieth century, when an aggressive modernist agenda began to deconstruct nineteenth century understandings of the definition, which had been pretty clear.
That deconstructing agenda, however, really opened up the possibilities. Is graffiti art, since it is taking place on someone else’s property and is often a criminalized behavior? Carey doesn’t bring up graffiti but he does address crime and art more generally with the horrific example of a murderer who pursues some theoretical artistic goal by homicidal means. He didn’t cite any action films villains who want to aestheticize death or dying, but he could have.
So the problem that any contemporary writer is faced with is that nearly anything can be a work of art, categorically speaking. It can be actions (performance art), silence (John Cage), and from any material (feces). Yes, art made from poop.
Thank you, twentieth century, and thank you, Italian artist Piero Manzoni.
Carey notes a great deal of “artistic expression” is explicitly designed not for any primary aesthetic purpose at all, but instead to provoke a specific response, which raises all kinds of questions – namely about the purpose of art and the nature of its communication.
The central 20-some pages of the chapter serve as a historical précis of aesthetic theory, noting first the word “aesthetic” and its re-formulation in 1750 in the sense we currently understand it. He follows this with Kant, who, given the amount of time Carey spends on him, seems to be the primary voice that has shaped our understanding of artistic expression that Carey identifies. His intellectual descendents Hegel and Schopenhauer make their own contributions farther on, and Carey wraps up with the American art critic and philosopher, Arthur Danto. These are the folks against whom he is doing his main arguing.
I haven’t read the Germans, but I have read Danto, for what that’s worth. Danto argues that the artist’s intent is critical to understanding the success of a work of art, and concludes that art is essentially a teleological category. A typewriter can be art, depending on its context and placement by an artist, and a hamburger can as well. However, a typewriter can never be a hamburger.
Kant sets the tone for this religiously-toned discussion of aesthetics – only the truly good is beautiful and so on. If for Kant art is not a reflection of the divine, it certainly has a moral component. Evil or badness cannot be artistic – literally cannot be. Carey, for his part, will have none of this. Logically it doesn’t hold up. Experientially it doesn’t hold up. The twentieth century took that all away from us.
In fact, it’s only in his last three pages of the chapter that Carey elects to answer his question: What is a work of art? His position, the logical consequence that he believes Danto shied away from, is that art is precisely and exactly anything we say it is as long as at least one person considers that thing to be a work of art.
Which is very egalitarian, rather broad, and dangerously close to saying that “art” has become a useless word.
Which is an interesting thought, really.
Comments? Responses? I’m going to post my own responses to Carey on Tuesday, I expect.
The Good in Him
With her screams planted in the garden, Belle was able to focus on more than simply putting off her wedding date. She continued to draw out the process, but she no longer sought to avoid it altogether. Not that she looked forward to a marriage to Conomor, by no means. It would still be a forced marriage, one meant to save the lives of her family and one to which she had consented under duress. The difference was that she was able to think clearly and consider how she would approach their united lives as a couple.
She had Entendtout and Conomor give her new tours of the grounds – separately, never together, as Conomor’s patience for his perfect steward was fragile on the best of days. “Who comes to work her of his own accord? That old man has secrets,” he spat when Belle asked him about his visible dislike.
“We all have secrets,” she noted, thinking of the door he told her not to open and of her private garden of screams.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he bellowed into her face.
Belle froze her face in the moment, cool disregard, and raised the handkerchief that she kept for this purpose to wipe the stinking spittle from her face. She swallowed the lump in her throat that was only the latest scream to birth and felt it settle in her stomach, cool and tight. She shivered. Although Conomor did not raise his hand to her – he never raised a hand – his body shook with the effort not to do so. “My lord. You told me never to enter a certain door or it would bring bad luck upon us. You have not told me what is beyond nor have I asked. Whether or not you mean it to be a secret, to me it is a secret. I do not question your right to this one privacy. You have been so open and generous with everything else. That is all I meant.”
This was only a partial truth. The lord had indeed been open, but hardly generous. Belle suspected that the enchantment of the palace forced such “generosity” from him. Although calm and even passionate when talking about the miraculous and magical properties of the plants that shaped the palace’s grounds and walls, nearly any other topic of discussion only incensed him. In particular, he disliked talking about his neighbors, all of whom were, for one reason or another, enemies. “They slander my good name,” was all he would say, and not even Entendtout would elaborate other than to note a “fractious history” between the palace and the unenchanted people around it.
“Open!” snarled Conomor. His face twisted as though he saw her thoughts, and not for the first time he reminded her of a mad dog or a slavering wolf. “Bah! We will finish this another day when you are more polite. When we are married you will keep your snide thoughts out of your speech!”
The steward found her in the garden, kneeling deep over the earth, wiping her mouth. “Are you well, mademoiselle?”
“Quite well, now, thank you.” She considered her question. “Can you tell me, would my lord Conomor ever be a danger to me?”
“We are all capable of harm to one another, if that is what you are asking,” he said, avoiding her inquiry in one way and answering it in another.
“I have seen good in him,” she said, thinking of how gentle he could be with the plants.
She didn’t know if that meant he agreed with her or not.
A Planted Scream
Over the following weeks, as she stalled her husband-to-be and sabotaged her own wedding clothes and watched his rage grow, her stomach swelled and her cheeks thinned. As delicious and succulent as it was, the taste of the marvelous foods of the palace became as ashes in her mouth. The scream grew, as though it fed upon her very body.
The steward found her one day as she walked with pain down one of the long, brilliant green corridors. “Lunch will be served in the garden today, mademoiselle.”
“I cannot, Entendtout. I swear I can put nothing past my lips. This place will be death of me.”
“I certainly hope that will not be the case,” he said with a chuckle that he meant to be comforting and warm, and because he was the way he was, the chuckle was exactly as he intended. “Of course, I may not insist, but I would implore you. Would you trust me?”
The curious phrasing did not strike Belle in her current condition, which was also the steward’s intent. It did, however, place a burden upon her – trust, of course, and its siblings, honor and propriety. With a grimace, she allowed him to slip his arm by hers and to guide her through the palace. In the distance, Conomor’s anger shook the walls and Belle trembled along with them. She did not let her fear appear on her face, but she could not stop the scream in her belly from moving, and its violence rippled throughout her body.
Entendtout, true to his perfect training and his curse, pretended not to notice. Instead, he told her an amusing and fantastical story about two brothers, one of whom lost his temper – quite literally! As though seeing herself from outside her body, Belle felt that in another life, even one a few short weeks ago, she would have laughed. As it was, she gave him a wan smile at all of the right moments. She knew he was only trying to make her feel better and that he was bound by his enchantment to speak no ill of the lord. He told more stories, the most memorable being one of a giant who had replaced his heart with a wasp’s nest. He was eventually slain by a young boy whom he had tricked earlier in the story. “How could he have removed his heart?” she asked as they emerged into the grounds.
He shrugged and told her about a hunter he had traveled with who banished his fear in a similar way. “He would plant it in the earth and through those means he would remove it from his own person. Perhaps the giant did something similar?” He looked around. “Ah, me. I have brought you too early. Please have a seat and I shall fetch the food.”
Entendtout sat her at a table next to a freshly dug patch of earth where the gardeners had been working that morning and assured her he would return at once with food she would surely find acceptable.
Conomor swept past, gave her a stiff bow, and left as quickly as he had appeared. His rank smell lingered in the garden, overcoming for a time even the scents of the grounds.
And quite suddenly, Belle believed she understood Entendtout’s intent. He could not say a critical word, but he could leave instructions in plain sight.
When he returned with a small plate of dried fruits, he found her calmer, her belly smaller. Behind her in the garden was a small, freshly packed down section of earth.
What to Do
It was one thing to accept betrothal to Conomor under duress, but it was another altogether to face her wedding gown. The gown made her fate real and it stoked the scream in her belly to shiver and shake. She was accustomed to sewing and she knew what she needed. In something of a daze, she requested from the silent servant linen, ribbon, lace, gauze for a veil, and silk. Her words, at first halting, became more fluid as she considered her list. Each new item would be more difficult to procure than the last. Each one would take time and each delay would put off her wedding with the beastly lord of the palace. “Whalebone and soft leather for the corset. Silk thread. All in white, of course, and they must match. Lord Conomor would never want me to be in mismatched whites. The dress might as well be piebald!”
Her strategy was less successful than she imagined. The very next morning a wide bolt of linen lay on the table next to her bed, and shortly after lunch the servant arrived with gauze and lace. The silk and bone were next to appear, and the bone had already been crafted into the stays for the corset! Thread was next on the following morning, a day later the ribbon, and a day after that the leather. It was all meticulously, almost sparklingly white, each piece of material the same color as the next.
Her maid bowed her head and produced a piece of string with which she evidently intended to measure Belle for the fabric. For all that the young woman could not or did not speak (and Entendtout’s description echoed in Belle’s mind), she made her intentions known with quick gestures and the demonstrations of props – the string for measuring, a brush in the morning for Belle’s hair, a pulled curtain to reveal a drawn bath. She was a faster seamstress than Belle as well. With precise and fluid movement she noted Belle’s body – her waist, bust, and hips, her legs to her elbows and elbows to wrist, and waist to ankle. In nearly as little time as it took her to make her measurements, she sketched out quick lines in thin charcoal across the glowing white fabric. Not a stroke was out of place, no matter how loose her hand, and even though the pieces that she drew showed only the individual panels of the dress, Belle could already imagine its shape in her mind’s eye.
“No!” she said in sudden inspiration. She held up one conciliatory hand to the surprised young woman. “It is beautiful indeed, but this is not the style that I would like. It is to be my only wedding, and I would like it to be exactly as I imagined it when I was a girl.” She swept her hand over the fabric. “Let us not throw this away, but clearly we cannot make my dress from this fabric any longer. Another bolt of the linen, please.”
And just like that, she found her strategy. She would slow everything down. “It must be perfect, Lord Conomor,” she told him that night at dinner. “It was not her fault, but mine, for I neglected to tell her any style and she seemed so sure of what to do. I was unprepared for her speed. If you must punish someone, punish me.”
Conomor growled through his blue beard but he did not raise a hand to her. Instead, he tore into his meat as though it were still a living creature.
“No.” The glowering blue savage that was Conomor the Accursed grimaced his twisted mouth and bared his teeth. Beads of foam flecked his beard and mustache, Belle saw. “I cannot tell you about myself and my past.”
“You are cursed?” she guessed, gathering that whatever afflicted him may have preceded the enchantment that came with the palace.
He nodded. The gesture was short and violent and would have been the same if he’d had an animal in his mouth and sought to break its neck.
“Before you arrived at this place?”
“Come with me,” he said instead of answering her.
Conomor led her on a second tour of the grounds, and although it covered the exact same paths as Entendtout had shown her, it could not have been more different. In fact, the whole experience could not have been more different. Where Entendtout was civil and restrained and made eye contact in a humble, discreet manner, Conomor spat his words, spoke ill of the servants and their neighbors alike, and was in general the most boorish of hosts. He made no jokes but was surly, foul tempered and foul mouthed. His gaze upon her rarely rested upon her eyes but traveled over her body with a sick hunger. Nevertheless, he was restrained with her. She was the only person toward whom he showed the slightest restrain, in fact.
The truly remarkable and not alarming part of his tour was his knowledge and description of the grounds. Whereas the old steward had gestured toward the orangery and pointed out the fire pits inside that would keep the plants warm on cold nights, Conomor spoke of the plants themselves, the faceted fruits as much like carnelians and topazes as like oranges themselves. Instead of pointing out the gardens and noting the number of and some of the kinds of flowers there, he knelt in the gravel of the path to describe the very grass itself and its use for settling an upset stomach. Bordering the lawn were blue cornflowers that, if prepared in an infusion one way, would heal any eye wound. Another method would surpress hunger. His entire manner changed as he discussed the aspects of the grounds. He became focused and less agitated. As soon as he stood to take her to the next place, however, he would revert to his contained violence.
The tour of the palace was much the same, as it was the product of so much plant life itself. Although her father had faced locked door after locked door, Conomor summoned Entendtout, who presented Belle with four large rings of keys. The steward disappeared and the tour continued, with only one room in one tower forbidden to her. “Do not enter there, or you will bring bad luck upon us,” said the beastly man. He did not say which of the keys opened which doors, as they all opened to his hand.
Bad luck, thought Belle. It seemed to her that she was already up to her neck in bad luck.
As if to cement this idea, the last room they visited held two ladies-in-waiting and many, many yards of fabric.
The brute waved one clawed and encrusted hand toward them. “They will help you create your wedding dress. As soon as it is finished, we shall be wed.”
With a snap of his jaw and a roll of his mad eyes, the foam-flecked countenance of her husband to be shut the door and left Belle with her two silent maids.
Bad luck indeed.
The scream that still lay in her gut waited and bided its time.
John Daniel Returns (Part III)
The immense furore this created in the place may only be imagined. Despite our tender ages, ranging between eight and twelve, we were all magisterially examined by Colonel Broadrep, and all agreed in what we had seen, even to the hinges of the coffin ; whilst our descriptions of the coffin tallied exactly with that the deceased boy had been buried in. One of the lads, Samuel Coombe who saw the apparition was not quite twelve years of age, and was a quiet dispassionate lad for his age ; he enrolled in the school after the deceased boy had left it and had never seen Daniel in his life-time. The boy, on examination, gave such a vivid account of the deceased, and took especial notice of one thing about the spectre which the other boys had not mentioned, and that was, the body had a white cloth bound round one of its hands. The woman who had tended the corpse of John Daniel for interment declared on oath that she took such a white cloth from its hand, it having been placed around the boy’s hand as a bandage about four days or so before his death.
It is only now that the full details of John Daniel’s death have been revealed to me. His body had been found in such aberrant circumstances: lying in a field, a few hundred feet from his mother’s house; and thereupon had been buried without an inquest, in event of his mother alleging that the lad had been prone to fits. After the appearance of the spectre, the body was disinterred, a coroner’s inquest held, and a verdict returned to the effect that the boy had been “strangled.” This verdict appears to have been mainly arrived at in consequence of the declarations of two apparently upright and trustworthy women that two days after the corpse was found they had paid their respects only to discover a black strip of cotton or other material round its neck ; and likewise of the joiner who put the body into the coffin, who had seen dramatic marking of the neck, as if some sort of tourniquet had been applied. A surgeon who gave evidence could not or would not positively affirm to the jury that there was any dislocation of the neck.
This is all I have to say on the matter for as far as I have learnt, no steps have been taken to bring anyone to justice on account of the suggested death by violence of John Daniel.
The original, uninterrupted version of this story is found at PJ Hodge’s Freaky Folk Tales.
This is going to be a new thing here – not quite a review of a book and really, more of a conversation with the book. About 4 years ago I started reading John Carey’s provocatively titled What Good Are the Arts? Let me state up front that Mr. Carey is a literary critic and book reviewer for London’s The Sunday Times so yes, he does believe that the arts are good. He, or his editors or publishers, have simply gone in the direction of what we now call “link baiting” in online interactions.
I’m coming back to this book now because a) I’ve always meant to come back to it; b) it’s interesting; c) it’s deeply flawed; and d) through the end of our residency, my time is my own and reading, writing, and thinking about art and suchlike is a good use of my time. With that said – Carey’s introduction.
What Good Are the Arts comes in two halves – the first will ask and answer questions, and the second will make an argument. He spends a brief amount of time covering some basic historical ground so that we’ll all be on the same page (or at least, understand his point of departure).
In the “Western” world, ART comes with a rarefied, spiritual air in its Platonic form. It should be divorced from sex and money and it should have some ennobling affect or influence. Carey argues that these positions are casually assumed rather than thought through and he wants to get at the bottom of them. One problem he asserts is that exactly what sort of influence we’re talking about is unexamined (what do you mean by ennobling, exactly?) and that many markers of aesthetics only serve to reinforce class differences, not get at art itself.
Thus, Part I, in which he will address the following:
- What a work of art is
- The differences and superiorities between high and low art
- Whether art and its spiritual effects can be a substitute for religion
- Why science cannot help us with the question of art
- Given that aesthetics are deeply and only personal responses, justification of them must be done by reasoned thinking.
And Part II, in which he argues that the literary arts are the best of the arts, and not just because he reviews books for a living.
That’s it. I mean, this is just a summary and I’m already working on picking apart some stuff, even while I’m wholly appreciative that he acknowledges that aesthetics are often about class distinctions. From what I remember, there’s a lot of interesting stuff here.
I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting to this category, but I’m going to aim for once a week at least and I’ll link between posts.
John Daniel Returns (part II)
As the boys returned to their sport (and I to my studies) via the worn steps that ran rigidly into the churchyard, we all heard a second burst of discordance, undoubtedly louder than the first for it had broken through the walls of the church. Terrified at this, we ran round the church, and when at the west door, we heard what seemed to be the sound of someone preaching, soon followed by another sound, that of a congregation singing psalms. Both of these noises lasted but a short time.
With the impetuosity of youth, unencumbered by self-doubt, the lads soon resumed their sport, whilst I remained close to the church. After a short time, one of them went into the school to retrieve his book; but seconds after the boy’s entrance, we heard a most appalling shriek, followed by a moment of whimpering. What this boy revealed, after he had returned to the churchyard as distraught as those who had gone in search of pens, was a most chilling experience: passing through the nave, he had seen a coffin lying on one of the benches, only about six feet away. Astonishing as there had not be a funeral that morning; nor would there be one tomorrow.
Alarmed by such a solemn statement, I took to the door of the church, whereupon a throng of twelve surrounded me, and as God is my witness I saw with my own eyes the scene previously described to me; a coffin sat upon a distant bench, with its lid open, and there, worse still, the apparition of John Daniel, who had been dead more than seven weeks, sitting at some distance from the coffin, near to the chancel. I am now aware that only six of us were witness to the said phantom, and it is my conjecture that all did not see the apparition because the door was so narrow that we could not all approach it together. The first who knew it to be the spectre of our deceased schoolfellow was Daniel’s half-brother, and he, on seeing it, cried out, ” There sits our John, with just such a coat on as I have ” — (in the lifetime of the deceased boy the half-brothers were usually clothed alike), — “with a pen in his hand, and a book before him, and a coffin by him. I’ll throw a stone at him.” The other boys attempted to stop him, but he threw the stone, as he did so saying, ” Take it !” upon which the phantom immediately disappeared.
The original, uninterrupted version of this story is at PJ Hodge’s Freaky Folk Tales
Writer PJ Hodge at Freaky Folk Tales has kindly allowed me to re-publish his story John Daniel Returns, originally found at his own site. He’s got a number of wonderful stories, any of which are worth your time. Be sure to visit. Telling Tales will pick up again on May 3.
John Daniel Returns
I, David Harbin, a pupil at Beaminster school, hereby testify that I am a true and honest witness to the events of the 22nd of June, 1728.
I am one of twenty boys benefiting from the charity of our much missed benefactor, the late Mrs Tucker, whose will has provided for us to the sum of £20 a year, derived from the income of her farm at South Mapperton. A portion of the fund provides for a schoolmaster, one who has been most effective in teaching me to read and write — not to mention, taking care to develop my manners; though his tendency to catechise me in a most peculiar manner is certainly unprecedented, but one that I have no wish to make complaint of.
We are schooled in the upper room of an annex attached to the southwest corner of St. Mary’s Church, which is the location of the events I hereby describe.
For those unaware of the long-held customs and traditions of our school, the closure of the schoolroom follows a rather tiresome procedure: every Saturday, the key of the room is delivered to the clerk of the parish by one or the other of the schoolboys. In recent months, that duty has fallen upon myself.
On the Saturday in question, I had handed the key over as usual, then followed my master to dismiss the boys. However, having overseen their passage from the church one half hour earlier, I noticed, with some embarrassment, that eight of the boys remained, loitering within the churchyard where they were involved in a game of ball. It was just about noon. I questioned the boys regarding their reasons for staying — the lads appeared somewhat nervous — and I was soon informed that they were waiting for four of their number who had re-entered the school in search of old pens.
With this, I felt it important to ascertain if there was any impropriety in the aforementioned activity. Walking towards the church, I was startled to hear much commotion; the four boys having emerged from the church appearing shaken and drawn. After recovering their breaths — they had obviously been running at quite a speed — they revealed the source of their distress: they had each been frightened by a sharp, metallic sound emanating from the chancel, something they described as resembling the repeated striking of a brass pan. The four immediately ran to their friends in the churchyard and told them of it.
After much searching for rationality, they came to the conclusion that someone, quite probably a fellow pupil, had secreted himself inside the church in order to frighten them; and deciding upon this, I joined their number in returning to the school to discover the boy’s identity; but our search was in vain, for there was not a soul hiding within.
A Settled Scream
Everything that the steward had said was true, but… He is this creature’s steward. He would not speak ill of him, not to me nor to any other. He would and will speak of him in the best light possible at all times.
She had heard stories of Conomor the Accursed though she had not known his name to put next to the tales, not until her father told her everything that she could expect on the unending trip that was their three-day journey back to the palace.
He was not simply tall. He was not simply broad, nor big, nor blue. He was all of those things, but he was also misshapen.
“Welcome to my home,” he said. His voice was a frustrated growl from a mouth used to speaking in anger, trying to enjoin compassion, as foreign to it as another language. Sharpened teeth peeked out of his jaws past his upper and lower lips, which were themselves dark, darker even than the skin on his face. He was a man who lived under the sun at all times, that was clear. He was leathery, brown, with deep creases around his mouth, by his eyes, and along his hands.
Belle choked back the scream in her throat, swallowed it down where it sat in her stomach, shivering. “I thank you for your hospitality,” she said instead of screaming. Her voice quivered as much as his, though from different reasons entirely.
Conomor’s mouth twisted into a true snarl and she realized what it was about his face that struck her as wrong. His mouth – his teeth – were too big. His cheeks were full and forward. Even with his heavy, blue beard she could tell that his jaws pushed out with his nose, making his face seem more like an animal’s than a man’s. His eyes sat back and his ears flicked lightly as though the wind were telling him secrets. “You mean no such sentiment! Do not lie to me!”
“Your steward Entendtout informed me of the rules of this palace. I understood his meaning to be that decorum is of the utmost importance.” She did not meet his eyes, nor did she hide her controlled fear. “I meant you no disrespect, my lord.”
His body shifted back before she realized he had leaned in close. The fetid smell of an unwashed body flooded the air around her, mixed with the odor of grass and fields, even rotten meat. “I… apologize.” It was clear that it cost him to say those words. He fidgeted where he stood, easily half again as tall as her, and she was not a petite, shrinking girl. He wore a kind of leather or skin smock and pants. They hung loose over his body and had been ill-prepared from whatever animal he had taken them, almost making them seem as though they were his own skin and fur, afflicted with mange. His arms were uncovered as were his calves, and the muscles there were visible even under the thin layer of blue-tinted hair. His hands and feet were larger than they should have been, even for a man his size. The nails were thick and pointed, almost claw-like, and filthy. Dirt caked his skin. He wore no shoes. “The steward does his job well.” It was a grudging compliment.
“I only know of you legends, hearsay, and slander. Would you tell me your history, my lord?” Belle asked.
Conomor’s dark eyes gleamed with an unhealthy light. The scream in Belle’s stomach asked to come out. She did not let it.
Trades of Dubious Merit
“Let us say you have a job to do. Any job, pick one. A butcher? A baker? A candlestick maker? Say then further that your employer has some power over you, that if you were not to work quite as hard as he thought you should, or not quite as fast, or perhaps you laughed too loud or too long. Say that he had a way of gaining more efficiency from you. Imagine that you are not yourself doing a task, but you become the very task itself. To the woodcutter you might say, ‘Chop, axe, chop!’ To the hunter, ‘Fly, arrow, fly!’ That is our fate here. We exchange our freedom for stability.
“Do not make that face. You think it is worse than it is. We are not bound to the palace every moment of every day. There are servants who work during the day and there are those who work at night. Although they do not speak while on the grounds, they regain their voices in their own homes. They eat well. Their families are provided for. And really, what have they lost? What have we lost? We cannot even remember well when our curses are invoked against us so it is not as though we labor under the knowledge that we have been enchanted.
“My fellows’ silence? Yes, well, I expect that they feel that they have no need for speech. Certainly, I have often noted that I feel no need to ask them questions. I give them commands. I have them show me things that they cannot address themselves, though those are infrequent, and I suspect that they could engage with me or with each other if it became necessary. Our enchantment is both thorough and subtle.
“Anything at all about Lord Conomor, you say? Certainly, though nothing that a good steward could or would not say otherwise. I remind you, mademoiselle, I must do my job to its utmost lest I become my work. You see?
“Lord Conomor is amongst the strongest of men. This will be apparent to you in his size alone. He towers over even me, and you see how much taller I am than you. The thing that will strike you at once is that he seems to be covered in blue hair. In truth, his hair mostly comes from his head and beard. That which is on his arms, yes, that shares a bluish tint, but it is not any longer than mine nor than any other person’s.
“He spends most of his time outdoors. He is an avid and successful hunter and avoids the use of horses, which he says are a crutch for the weak. A true man, he avers, is one who can hunt and kill game on its own terms. If the game uses tools, the man may use tools. Each follows according to his own strengths and abilities and cunning.
“Yes, he includes intelligence in that, which is why he is always successful, and his response to your challenge is that were he to stalk ravens he would indeed use bow and arrow, for ravens are as partial to tools as you or I.
“Yes, indeed, I have seen them create hooks from branches, but only after being apprised of their intellect.
“Ah, here he comes.
“Mademoiselle, now that Lord Conomor is here to look after you, I leave you in his care.”
A Brief Dialogue Concerning Discrepancies Between Past and Present
“A victim, you say?”
“Indeed, mademoiselle,” explained the steward Entendtout, “Lord Conomor is equally a victim to the palace’s enchantment as the rest of us, though we are all bound in different and unique ways, proper to our roles. The true master of this place decided long ago that servants and children should be seen and not heard, and so it is that I am the only one among my fellows capable of speech. They all understand perfectly well, naturally, otherwise they would not be very accomplished in their tasks, and believe me, mademoiselle, we are the best that there is.”
“And Lord Conomor…” suggested Belle.
“He is what you might call the lord-in-residence. He fills the role of the all powerful and unquestioned ruler.”
“Has his power corrupted him? Is that why he is so violent?” Although she had yet to meet her future husband, her father had not shied away from telling her all he knew on their trip to the palace.
“I did not know the lord before his time here. He was already in residence when I arrived. I cannot say what his condition was. Nevertheless, I can say that he is as bound to this place as we are. As to your own circumstances, I must leave the explanation of them to him. As his future bride, it falls to him to explain the situation.”
“My father told me all about the laws of hospitality here,” she answered. She was not very successful at keeping the acrimony from her voice.
“What was true for him is not true for you,” said Entendtout. “He was a guest. You will be the lady of the house. The only similarity is that there will be two sets of rules. One that have to do with the palace itself and the enchantment placed upon it, and another that have to do with the Lord Conomor himself.
“Can you tell me about him?”
“No, mademoiselle. I would violate the terms of my service and incur the weight of the curse upon me.”
“Can you tell me about the curse on you?”
The old man considered. “Yes. Yes, I believe I can.” He guided her through the palace grounds at her request, beginning in the farthest of the fields and grounds and working their way in a slow spiral toward where the building itself sat. It was as marvelous as every fantasy her father had described. “I entered service with the palace of my own volition. I am a servant, mademoiselle, and I have ever been so. It is what I know. I have had masters of various stripes, better and worse, and while I am the steward of the palace and Conomor is its lord, you would be mistaken to think that he is my master.” He waved her question away about who the true master was. “To that I cannot speak so long as you are ignorant of the subject. Please do not ask again.” He waved instead at the bejeweled fruits hanging from trees and invited her to taste anything and everything. “You are under Lord Conomor’s protection and the laws of hospitality that apply to him apply to you. You may take of anything you see.”
“Because I cannot leave?”
“As you say. As to me, I am bound by the sorts of regulations one would expect of any in my position, save that, even were I unscrupulous, I could not avail myself of advantages. We all must fulfill the letter and spirit of our work, and to that end there are safeguards.”
“The curses, mademoiselle.”
Come Into My Parlor…
The palace was a living thing as much as the servants inside it. It reached up and out and drew them in, invited them, called their names in the way that the pitcher plant oozes sweet nectar for the fly. “Be welcome here,” was the message. “I will pick your bones,” was the intent.
Glowing flowers illuminated the path in soft reds, greens, and yellows, directing first this way and now that. Their colors faded in the night before and behind them, moving at the same speed and gait as their horses, whose chests still heaved with the effort that had been demanded of them.
“These are the grounds,” said her father. He pointed to one plant in particular. “That was my downfall.”
“Yes, your downfall,” she said, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice. In the darkness she could not see his shame but she felt it rising in his body and choking him. He meant no harm to me or to any of us, she told herself. He was terrified. And pathetic. Would I have been any better? Done any better? “It is pretty, but little more. You said that it has some medicinal value?” she asked by way of apology, because sometimes, when you cannot bring yourself to say you are sorry, leaving the subject behind is the next best thing.
His gratitude was as abject as his misery. He repeated what Conomor had told him about the plant. Who knew if the man was telling the truth or if was simply using the occasion of an imagined slight to push and to punish his erstwhile guest. Who knew how much magic was actually here at all? All he had to go on were the words of the steward and of Conomor himself.
And the flowers, their colors flowing like water. And the trees, whose buds blossomed even now, at night, bright white, at their passing. And the brambled hedgerow, which opened before the daughter and closed before the father.
There at the end she could not keep her misery to herself. She wept in fear and pleaded for her father not to leave her in this place. He cried too, apologies for his actions and sorrow for his lost child. They reached for one another but the thorns pushed thick and fast. On the palace side they were masked with flowers and intricate designs. On the far side they grew into grasping claws that snapped at his horse’s legs.
In that moment her despair was greater than her resentment, while his recriminations were enough for ten. He doubted, as he turned his steed homeward, if it would ever be enough for his lost daughter or his wife, who had turned pale and not spoken a word to either of them since.
For his daughter’s part, her horse fled forward, always toward the palace. One clear path lay before them with its glowing petals, tiny moons and stars scattered across the ground. Just beyond them stinging nettles writhed warnings.
Candle flames lit up the windows in a sudden eruption, one after the other in brilliant, beautiful patterns, a song in flickering light. A broad door opened and silent men and women stepped out, their feet moving with elegant grace as their bodies wove in and out amongst one another. They held their hands aloft and their heads down. They crisscrossed, cut back and forth, and knelt as one. In their center stood the steward. “A votre service, mademoiselle. Please, call me Entendtout.”
“Belle,” she answered by way of introduction. “My name is Belle.”
A Change of Voice
Their doom notwithstanding, none of the three daughters was willing to tie herself in marriage to Conomor. Their father explained to them in no uncertain terms what he had done and took the blame fully. “Not that it matters,” he wept, “for unless one of you will wed him, we are all his victims.” Indeed, the blue brute had said that on the fourth day, should one of the traveler’s daughters not appear at his palace, he would find his way to their home and take it apart, brick by brick, stone by stone, hair by hair, and bone by bone. “I cannot compel any of you, but I must beg, plead that it is not my life that is at stake alone, but that of your blameless mother. Will one of you be brave enough to shoulder this burden that I have settled upon us all?”
It was the middle daughter, who, in the end, acquiesced, or so she told my friend in these words.
* * *
Do not imagine that I am a good person. I would like to think that I am good, of course, but not remarkably so. I am not exceptional. I did not wish to come here and I do not expect that I will live to see my family again. I am not even convinced that Lord Conomor will not go back on his word and destroy my family regardless.
No, that is not it. I have as much to live for as my sisters. I have as many dreams and as much in my life so far to think that I will have a good life. Would have, had I not come here. But here in this enchanted palace is where I will end my days, and sooner rather than later.
Why did I choose to be my family’s sacrifice? I don’t know. I truly don’t. Perhaps I am the weakest. I was the first to crack in my defiance. If I had held out longer, another few hours, one of my other sisters might have been the one and not me.
That is a foolish question. Of course, I resent them. My father for his foolishness that brought my family to this pass, my sisters for… for not being as weak as I am. I do not wish death upon them. That is why I chose to step forward, I suppose. But I do wish misery. I wish them the same horror that I feel with every breath in this terrible place.
Provide me with pen and paper, if you please
A testament. For my family. So they know and so that they feel.
* * *
She arrived at the castle before midnight, but only just. Her horse was wet with sweat, as was her father’s. He had refused to let her travel alone, though he was sure that Conomor’s threats to their family would see her safe upon the road. “I hope you can forgive me someday,” he said in a low, shamed voice.
Of course, she said she could. She didn’t mean it. She would never forgive him, but even in that moment she could not bring herself to say so to his face
The palace rose above them in the night, a darker black than the sky itself, with no moon to show their way in the cloudless sky.
“It was the storm that blew me here, I am sure of it,” went on her helpless father.
Yes, she thought. The storm. It is always another’s fault, but the consequences are the same for the innocent.