Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Unseen (part 9)


For the first two days of being grounded I sulked in my room, mostly reading and sketching and only coming down for meals. On the third day Mum decided she'd had enough of my selfish navel-gazing and set me to work as a drudge in Dad's workshop. Dad and his latest crop of apprentices kept me hopping all day, sweeping up and fetching tools and bringing wood and running errands and carrying meals, so that by day's end I was itching to send an open bucket of wood stain at all their heads.

Dad said very little to me all day until all the apprentices had gone home. Only then did he turn to me.

"Thank you for all your service today," he said, smiling. "You're a good hard worker."

I grunted a response. There was a sliver of wood in my fingertip, and I was trying to get it out.

"Before we go home, I'd like to show you something. And please stop picking at that," he added. "C'mere, catsfoot, and let me see if I can pull that sliver out of your paw."

Still annoyed, I went to him, and Dad took up my small hand between his two large callused ones and carefully examined my throbbing fingertip. Once he had a good idea of it, he closed his eyes, concentrating his mental efforts on the tiny wood fragment embedded under my skin, until it gently worked its way free of my finger and fell harmlessly to the floor of the workshop. Then he kneaded my fingertip between one finger and thumb until the wound was gone and the pain had subsided.

"There you go," he said. "All better?"

I nodded. After years of woodworking, Dad was very good at taking care of slivers.

"All right. Now, let's look at what the Turtle Herd did today." He leaned forward, pulled toward him one of the half-dozen dining chairs that he and the teen apprentices had been working on earlier. "What can you tell me about this chair?"

I glanced at it. "You made it."

Dad chuckled. "True. But how can you tell I made it?"

"Well... for one thing, it has this design here." I pointed to an elaborate pattern he'd carved in the top rail. "There are designs that look like it in a lot of our furniture."

"OK, so the maker leaves a distinguishing mark. What else?"

"It's made of beech. You like beech."

"Yeah, I have a definite preference for certain woods. What else?"

"Um..." I examined the chair as intently as I could.

"Would you like a hint?"

"I guess."

"Your eyes can only tell you so much."

Maybe another sense, then. I took the chair from Dad, listened to it, smelled it, ran my fingers down a stile. And as I did, I found I could pick up the tiniest whisper of -- something. Even though the sensation was so faint as to be almost imperceptible, it was possible to feel traces of Dad that had been left behind in the chair he'd made. The sensation felt odd, slightly foreign, as though I were feeling someone else's emotions. I looked at Dad.

"You really loved making this," I said.

His face crinkled into a smile. "Exactly right," he said. "I've got to love what I do. Every work carries a trace of its maker." He hefted another chair. "Now we're ready to look at the others."

The other chairs in the set had a few surprises. Fran Phillips had made a chair with ungraceful proportions and a distinct wobble; the trace she'd left behind indicated she had no interest in chairs and was keen to learn inlay work. Marcus Felton's chair was prettily carved but not very stoutly made; his trace suggested more of a desire to become a sculptor. Finlay Flint had been so intent on doing everything just as Dad had instructed that his chair hardly reflected his own personality. John Woodbury had created a beautiful, well-made chair with regular proportions, but oddly enough his trace suggested that he hated the work; I wondered if his parents, who liked my father, had pressured him into the apprenticeship.

And then there was Fay Ingersoll's chair. Fay's chair was even worse than Fran's. Not only was it too fragile to put to any use, but Fay's carving work was rough and awkward. And yet when Dad grasped the back of her poor wonky chair, he smiled.

"Fay's got a long way to go," he observed. "We can't use this chair. It's too flawed." Then he put the chair in front of me. "But out of the whole Turtle Herd, she's the only one who really loves what she's doing."

I could tell. The trace she'd left was far more obvious than the one Dad had left behind in his chair. She was clearly embarrassed that her chair wasn't very good, but she'd loved the whole experience of making it, and she was eager to make another.

"If I had to choose just one apprentice today," Dad said, "I'd pick Fay. If she had John's technical skill as well as her own love for the work, it'd be a no-brainer. But it's never that easy." He sighed. "Let's go see what your mum has made for supper."

"Why isn't it that easy?" I asked, following Dad out of the workshop. "If she loves it so much, can't you just show her what she needs to do?"

"Well, yes and no," Dad said, scratching his chin thoughtfully. "Love for the work is necessary, but it isn't enough. You also need a certain amount of natural talent. Not very much, but enough to bridge the gap so that the master's teaching hits the mark." He cast about for the right words. "John is a skilled worker, but he doesn't love the work, and passion is something you can't teach -- it's either there or it isn't. That small amount of talent -- I don't know, say 10 per cent -- it's the same way. It's either there or it isn't, and you can't always tell right off. So I teach and watch, and see if Fay has that 10 per cent to cover the gap."

"What if she doesn't?"

"Then I have to keep looking."

"What are you gonna do about John?"

He sighed. "That's a good question. Maybe Tom Herrick will have better luck with him."

* * *

Mum had made baked beans, brown bread, and a spring salad with sorrel and dandelion greens, and Dad and I both tucked in with pleasure. Mum's baked bean recipe was the most delicious I've ever had; I don't know what she put into them, but they were rich and dark and savory-sweet and perfect. Angels would descend from heaven for a plate of those beans.

After dinner and helping Mum wash up, I went back to my reading. I've always liked histories, and the Conant family history, in its stilted old-fashioned style, tells a lot about the founding of Corey. I'd been reading about the Gathering, where Verity Conant and her family, as well as several other founding families of Corey -- the Putnams, the Feltons, and several others still in existence -- went quietly around to various towns and settlements around Massachusetts Bay, looking for others with the knack and trying to convince them to come away. By all accounts, most didn't need much convincing; the witch-finding frenzy had spread outside Salem, and they feared for their lives if they were ever caught practicing their peculiar talents. The idea of a safe haven like Corey must have seemed like paradise to some of them. Others weren't so eager; some had been so shamed by family members or convinced by itinerant preachers that they staunchly denied their knack for magic, even from others like themselves. Still others had developed a deep self-hatred, despising the very thing that made them different from others, and these also hated the people of Corey and wished them harm.

It was this last group that ended up being the biggest source of trouble for Corey. They determined it would be doing the work of God to expose Corey to the witch-finders and judges, that perhaps thereby they might earn forgiveness and expiation of their "weird Sins," as they dubbed the knack. At least one notorious self-hater professed an eagerness to come to Corey, was subsequently brought there, marked the spot and found his way back to Salem where he boasted of finding "a Rats-nest of Witchery" and urged the witch-finders to follow him and arrest the lot. This bit of treachery was unsuccessful, mostly thanks to the rank incompetence of most of the witch-finders. However, it was around this time that the town of Corey became inaccessible to outsiders; the whole Conscient came together to perform a very complex and difficult bit of magic which sealed the town away from the rest of the world. After that, the act of Gathering simply ceased.

This history brought up some interesting questions. I wondered how many people like us were stranded on the outside when Corey seemed to vanish away, and whether there were still any outsiders who had the knack. I wondered why we had stopped gathering people to bring to Corey. I wondered --

I wondered who was knocking on my window.

Janie Herrick was outside, making goofy faces at me, and Finlay Flint had his arm around her shoulder and was making goofy faces at her. I opened the window.

"Hello, young lovers," I said. "Here to borrow a cup of sugar?"

Janie giggled. "Nooo," she said, "there's a dance out by the lake, and we want you to come."

"Can't," I said shortly. "I'm grounded."

"Oh, just slip out anyway," said Finlay. "It's not like your parents will find out."

"Finlay, do you even know my mother? She always finds out."

"Please?" asked Janie. "It won't be any fun if you don't go."

"I'm really sorry, Janie," I said, "truly I am. But I'm already in trouble. I don't need to go looking for any more."

Janie gave me a big blue-eyed pout. She was used to having her way.

"Look, you guys go have fun, and I'll come with you next time, OK?"


"Sure, as long as I'm not grounded again. Say hi to everyone for me."

"We will," said Finlay, who seemed eager to be gone.

"Remember, you promised!" said Janie. And she and Finlay flew giggling off into the night.

I sighed. I hated to miss a dance, but there wasn't any way around it -- Mum would find out somehow. And when did Janie start dating Finlay? Ugh. She could do a lot better. Not that Finlay was ugly or anything -- he was reasonably good-looking -- but he was also weak-willed and easily led. I thought about his almost slavish desire to manufacture a chair that was exactly like Dad's, and frowned. That wasn't what Janie needed. In truth, Janie really needed someone with a spine who could stand up to her sometimes willful nature and tell her "no" once in a while.

Of course, I had no room to complain since I hadn't yet been on a date at all. No one had asked me, and I hadn't gotten up to asking anyone else. At the moment the pickings seemed pretty slim.

I tried not to think about Keefe. But the trouble with trying not to think about something is that the more you try, the more you do think about it. I tried to go back to my book, but was too distracted to really follow along until my eyes fell on a particular phrase -- "the means of Instruction of our Youth in Reading, Wrighting & divers other Studies."

I sat up. Based on what I was reading, in the earliest days of Corey -- before it was hidden to outsiders -- there was a school and a teacher, and children got regular lessons. That was odd. If the founders felt children needed formal schooling in the early days of Corey, why didn't we seem to need it now?

On impulse, I reached for my commonplace-book, found a blank page and wrote across it: "Why does Corey have no school?"



LDahl said...

Ok, I cheated and read all the parts today. Didn't mean to, it just happened! :))) Can't wait until the next installment. No pressure or rush though, I just want to assure I will be watching for it.

Soozcat said...

You make me smile. I guess I'd better finish this, then. I mean, eventually. ;)