Excerpt of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
(Page 4 of 8)
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"Poor gentleman," said Mr Segundus. "Perhaps it is the age. It is not an age for magic or scholarship, is it sir? Tradesmen prosper, sailors, politicians, but not magicians. Our time is past." He thought for a moment. "Three years ago," he said, "I was in London and I met with a street magician, a vagabonding, yellow- curtain sort of fellow with a strange disfiguration. This man persuaded me to part with quite a high sum of money-in return for which he promised to tell me a great secret. When I had paid him the money he told me that one day magic would be restored to England by two magicians. Now I do not at all believe in prophecies, yet it is thinking on what he said that has determined me to discover the truth of our fallen state - is not that strange?" "You were entirely right - prophecies are great nonsense," said Mr Honeyfoot, laughing. And then, as if struck by a thought, he said, "We are two magicians. Honeyfoot and Segundus," he said trying it out, as if thinking how it would look in the newspapers and history books, "Honeyfoot and Segundus - it sounds very well."
Mr Segundus shook his head. "The fellow knew my profession and it was only to be expected that he should pretend to me that I was one of the two men. But in the end he told me quite plainly that I was not. At first it seemed as if he was not sure of it. There was something about me . . . He made me write down my name and looked at it a good long while."
"I expect he could see there was no more money to be got out of you," said Mr Honeyfoot.
Hurtfew Abbey was some fourteen miles north-west of York. The antiquity was all in the name. There had been an abbey but that was long ago; the present house had been built in the reign of Anne. It was very handsome and "square and solid-looking in a fine park full of ghostly-looking wet trees (for the day was becoming rather misty). A river (called the Hurt) ran through the park and a fine classical-looking bridge led across it.
The other magician (whose name was Norrell) was in the hall to receive his guests. He was small, like his handwriting, and his voice when he welcomed them to Hurtfew was rather quiet as if he were not used to speaking his thoughts out loud. Mr Honeyfoot who was a little deaf did not catch what he said; "I get old, sir - a common failing. I hope you will bear with me."
Mr Norrell led his guests to a handsome drawing-room with a good fire burning in the hearth. No candles had been lit; two fine windows gave plenty of light to see by - although it was a grey sort of light and not at all cheerful.
Yet the idea of a second fire, or candles, burning somewhere in the room kept occurring to Mr Segundus, so that he continually turned in his chair and looked about him to discover where they might be. But there never was anything - only perhaps a mirror or an antique clock.
Mr Norrell said that he had read Mr Segundus's account of the careers of Martin Pale's fairy-servants.3 "A creditable piece of work, sir, but you left out Master Fallow thought. A very minor spirit certainly, whose usefulness to the great Dr Pale was questionable.4 Nevertheless your little history was incomplete without him."
There was a pause. "A fairy-spirit called Fallowthought, sir?" said Mr Segundus, "I . . . that is . . . that is to say I never heard of any such creature- in this world or any other."
Mr Norrell smiled for the first time - but it was an inward sort of smile. "Of course," he said, "I am forgetting. It is all in Holgarth and Pickle's history of their own dealings with Master Fallowthought, which you could scarcely have read. I congratulate you - they were an unsavoury pair - more criminal than magical: the less one knows of them the better." "Ah, sir!" cried Mr Honeyfoot, suspecting that Mr Norrell was speaking of one of his books. "We hear marvellous things of your library. All the magicians in Yorkshire fell into fits of jealousy when they heard of the great number of books you had got!"
From Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, chapter 1, pages 3-15. Text copyright by Susanna Clarke; illustrations copyright by Portia Rosenberg. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Bloomsbury Press.