In fact, my hand the left is too damaged to be raised. I was among the foolish volunteers who tried to roll some of the burning bales into the yard toward the line of water buckets so that we might save at least some of the master's winter feed, his great bulging loaves of hay. I soaked my neckcloth in a water pail and tied it round my mouth against the smoke, and then, with neighbor Carr at my side, went into the stable block beneath the cracking timbers to see what we could save. We put our hands and chests against the closest bale, braced our legs against the paving flags, and pushed. The bale lurched forward, only half a turn. We braced to push again but this time my one hand plunged into the burning straw and smoldered for a moment. My fingertips are burned. There's not a hair below my wrist. My palm is scorched and painful beyond measure. I have to say a roasted man does not smell as appetizing as a roasted dove. The damage is severe. The skin is redder than a haw. I do my best to chew the pain, to not create a further spectacle. Still, I am not starved of sympathy. Even the master himself takes me by the shoulders in a hug to show his pity and concern. He knows a farmer with an injured hand is as useful as a one- pronged pitchfork. No use at all, especially at harvest time. No wonder I am more concerned at the moment with my own flesh than with any stranger's. Now I have to go back to my house and make a poultice for the wound from egg white and cold flour. Then a pinch of salt to pacify the blisters. I will have to be an invalid today. Today, at least, I will have to sit and watch the world. Whatever's bound to happen when my neighbors reach those newcomers who've set up home on the common outskirts of our fields will happen without me.
Excerpted from Harvest by Jim Crace. Copyright © 2013 by Jim Crace. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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