I was gone for more than a week before they found me. A rustling in the bean-field, heavy steps nearby. A shout--the boy's voice--more shouts. Thomas catches me up in his hands with sickening haste. I weigh six pounds thirteen ounces. He lifts me as though I weigh nothing at all.
Ground breaks away. May wind shivers in my ears. My legs churn the sky on their own. I look down on bean-tops. Down on the blunt ends of sheep-bitten grasses. Over one field, into the next, into the hop-garden beyond. Past thatch and tiles, past maypole, past gilded cock on the church tower. All in my eye, all at once. So far to see.
Goody Hammond and Daniel Wheeler's boy totter forward beside Thomas. Great warm two-legged beasts. Stilt-gaited like the rest of their kind. The boy prances backward, eyeing me closely. Bland watery orbs, fringed with pale hair. Cavernous mouth. Halloos as though I were the king's stag being drawn through the village in a deer-cart.
My week gone in two-score of their strides. Through the meadow. Past the alcove and down the brick-walk. Wicket-gate clicks shut behind us. Thomas sets me down beside the asparagus. Edge of my umbrageous forest. All feet square on the ground again. Into the rubbery trunks. Young asparagus thrusting out of the earth like turtles' heads. Ferns just joining in a canopy above. Print of Thomas's warm fingers on my tiled belly, smell of tar and damp mould.
The voices separate and blow away. The boy's cries ring down the street with cries of other boys. A silence behind them, a hollow in the day. Earthworms breach and tunnel, tunnel and breach. Old Hercules in the Great Mead gestures as always, unmoving. Wooden features sadly weathered even since I first knew him. Goody Hammond sweeps white-apple blossoms from the grass-plot. Sings a scrap of song over and over as she works. Wheezing like the blacksmith's bellows across the way.
"O Christ! My very Heart doth bleed with Sorrow for thy Sake . . ."
Greenfinch rattles in the beds nearby, heedless of danger. Mayfly vanishes in the blur of a swallow's wings over the gravel walk. Swallow-bill closes, a smart snap, shutting of a watch-case.
The fuss the humans made when they found me. Escape of the Old Sussex Tortoise! Eight Days' Pursuit! Captured in Hampshire Bean-field! Authentic Deeds of Old Gardener, Weeding Woman, Shocking Boy!
Thomas regarded me sternly before setting me down. Cocked his hat. Took breath to speak, then didn't. Watched till I was deep in the asparagus, safely out of sight.
"Out!" Daniel Wheeler's boy shouted when they found me, stumbling over his heels. "Timothy got out!"
The boy is mistaken. There is no Out! Humans believe the asparagus forest is In! Fruit wall, laurel hedge. Melon-ground. They prey upon the distinction. But I am always Out. Among the anemones. On the grass-plot. In the shade of the Dutch-currant trees. In the sainfoin just short of the Pound Field. Under young beans a week away. Under the rasp and green-rust smell of their leaves.
And I was In there, too, as always. In, under unhedged stars, dark of the moon. Among chiding of field-crickets, stirring of long grasses, gleaming wind. Groaning of beech trees on the Hanger. Clap of thunder and din of hail. The honeyed smell of maples and sycamores in bloom. Clouds pulling apart to show their crimson. Beyond sight of humans. Within my beloved shell.
Great soft tottering beasts. They are out. Houses never by when they need them. Even the humblest villagers live in ill-fitting houses. The greater the personage the worse the fit. Crescent of pale shell at the ends of their fingers. Drab furrows of person-scented cloth hang about them. Dimity, corduroy, buckram, fustian, holland, shalloon, cambric, stuff, wool. False head of hair or kerchief or hat.
Contrivance of hide or wood on the feet, or none at all. Crust of polished dirt, sore-cracked soles, broken nails. Nothing as elegant as a horse's clean hoof, the arc of its wall. My own cruel claws. That mass of body and brainpan to heat and cool with their internal fires. No tegument, no pelt to help them. Only what they fashion for themselves. What they scab together from the world. Fleece, hide, feathers, scales, and shell all denied them. Faint, thin leather of their own growing, proof against nothing. Uneconomic creatures.
Excerpted from Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg Copyright © 2006 by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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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