'I must go back to dinner now,' he said.' I'll come back for the plates tomorrow.'
Jacques went to the door and picked up the lantern where he had left it on the floor because Olivier was not allowed a flame. He turned in the rain outside and bent his hand over the half-door to slide the bolt. In the light of the lantern he could just make out the shape of his brother in the darkness. He sat with his back to the wall, his legs spread wide in front of him, his head nodding expressively as he reasoned with an unseen companion. Two hens fluttered on the rafter above him. Between the flame outside and the square of darkness within, were the pinpoints of the tumbling drizzle. Beyond them, Olivier looked like a prophet from the Old Testament, his hair uncut for more than a year, his dark beard reaching almost to his chest. The piled bales of straw behind him made a ragged arch of steps, like the burial place of a minor potentate, hoping to be gathered up more easily to heaven.Two bridles dangled from a wooden post like effigies in the church of an obscure religion; and the function of such things seemed altered, thought Jacques, as though Olivier's experience had somehow reset the surroundings in the light of its own integrity.
On the other side of the stable wall, the pig grunted and moaned in its sty; Jacques turned from the door, his eyes wet, aware of something absent from his understanding of the world as he hurried back towards his father's house.
Excerpted from Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks Copyright © 2005 by Sebastian Faulks. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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