Our work is consecrated by the sun. Compared to winter days, let’s say, or digging days, it’s satisfying work, made all the more so by the company we keep, for on such days all the faces we know and love […] are gathered in one space and bounded by common ditches and collective hopes.
But what are documents and deeds when there are harvests to be gathered in? Only toughened hands can do that job. And Master Kent, for all his parchmenting, would be the poorest man if all he had to work his property were his own two hands and no others […] Ours are the deeds that make the difference.
The organization to all of our advantages that the master has in mind–against his usual character and sympathies, against his promises–involves the closing and engrossment of our fields with walls and hedges, ditches, gates. He means to throw a halter round our lives. He means the clearing of our common land.
We know we ought to make amends for shearing her. That’s why she’s standing there, awaiting us. She’s asking us to witness what we’ve done […] For a moment, the temper of the barn is not that she has shamed our evening but that we’ve found our Gleaning Queen.
But this was precisely what I most liked about this village life, the way we had to press our cheeks and chests against a living, fickle world which in the place where I and Master Kent had lived before only displayed itself as casual weeds in cracks or on our market stalls where country goods were put on sale, already ripe, and magicked up from God knows where.
The moment is always a rousing one. Our labors are condensed to this: a dozen tokens of our bread and drink, each tucked and swaddled in the oval of a grain, and sitting on a child’s undamaged skin. What should we do but toss our hats and cheer?
Their suspicion of anyone who was not born within these boundaries is unwavering. Next time they catch me sitting on my bench at home with a cup and slice, they are bound to wonder if it tastes all the sweeter for not being earned with labor.
The air was cracking with the retributions and damnations that, in my heart of hearts, I knew that some of us deserved. I prayed that this was just a dream and that soon the couldn’t-care-less clamor of the sunrise birds would rouse me to another day, a better day, a bloodless one, one in which, despite my hand, I’d do my common duty and drag up a log or stone to make that short man tall.
I bring you sheep, and I supply a Holy Shepherd too. There’ll be a steeple, higher than the turret of this house, taller than any ancient oak that we might fell. This place will be visible from far. And I will have a bell cast for the very top of it to summon everyone to prayer. And hurry everyone to work.
It feels as if some impish force has come out of the forest in the past few days to see what pleasure it can take in causing turmoil in a tranquil place.
There’s nothing like a show of heavy justice–and a swinging corpse–to persuade a populace not used to formal discipline that their compliance in all matters–including those regarding wool and fence–is beyond debate.
“Nothing but sheep,” he says, and laughs out loud. His joke, I think, is this: we are the sheep, already here, and munching at the grass. There’s none more pitiful than us, he thinks. There’s none more meek. There’s none to match our peevish fearfulness, our thoughtless lives, our vacant, puny faces, our dependency, our fretful scurrying, our plaints.
But none of these compare for patterned vividness with Mr. Quill’s designs. His endeavors are tidier and more wildly colorful–they’re certainly more blue–than anything that nature can provide. They’re rewarding in themselves. They are more pleasing than a barleycorn.
Dissent is never counted. It is weighed. The master always weighs the most. Besides, they can’t draw up a petition and fit it to the doorway of the church as other places do. It only takes a piece of paper and a nail, that’s true. But, even if they had a doorway to a church, none of them has a signature.
Our church ground has been desecrated by our surliness. Our usual scriptures are abused. This body on the cross is not the one that’s promised us. Yet, once again, it’s Mr. Quill who teaches us our shortcomings. It’s Mr. Quill who’s intimate and kind. It’s Mr. Quill who’s valiant. It will not make him popular.
“I have the sense my cousin is taking pleasure from sowing these anxieties, in the same way we take pleasure in the sowing of our seed,” says Master Kent. “I fear his harvesting. I think he means to shear us all, then turn us into mutton.”
He must realize I’m not truly a villager. He knows I used to be the manor man. He sees that I stand apart. I’m separate. Indeed, I haven’t felt as separate in years. Perhaps it’s just as well, this recent, saddening detachment from the drove. I almost welcome it. These loose roots might save me yet.
I’ll not forget her blowing on the grains to winnow off the flake and how the barley pearls were weighty on her palm. But now she is like chaff herself. A sneeze could lift her up and take her off. She’s hollowed out and terrified.
We’re used to looking out and seeing what’s preceded us, and what will also outlive us. Now we have to contemplate a land bare of both. Those woods that linked us to eternity will be removed by spring […] That grizzled oak which we believe is so old it must have come from Eden to our fields will be felled and rooted out.
Frost and furrows. That’s the prompt. I know my duty now. I have to put the earth to the plow. The time has come to put the earth to plow, no matter what the Jordans say. The frost will finish what the plow begins. Winter will provide the spring.
It is a warning–among country folk, at least–that life should be allowed to proceed in its natural and logical order. In other words, you do not eat before you cook, you do not weave before you shear, you do not attempt to light the fire until you have the kindling…
The plowing’s done. The seed is spread. The weather is reminding me that, rain or shine, the earth abides, the land endures, the soil will persevere forever and a day. Its smell is pungent and high-seasoned. This is happiness.
This is my heavy labor now. I have to leave behind these common fields. I have to take this first step out of bounds. I have to carry on alone until I reach wherever is awaiting me, until I gain wherever is awaiting us.