Saturday, October 29

a nightscape of bonfires

The clear, kingly effulgence that had characterized the majority expressed a heath and furze country like their own, which in one direction extended an unlimited number of miles: the rapid flares and extinctions at other points of the compass showed the lightest of fuel -- straw, beanstalks, and the usual waste from arable land. The most enduring of all -- steady unaltering eyes like planets -- signified wood, such as hazel-branches, thorn-faggots, and stout billets. Fires of the last-mentioned materials were rare, and, though comparatively small in magnitude beside the transient blazes, now began to get the best of them by mere long-continuance. The great ones had perished, but these remained. They occupied the remotest visible positions -- sky-backed summits rising out of rich coppice and plantation districts to the north, where the soil was different, and heath foreign and strange.

...the next circumstance of which the beholders were conscious was a vision of the matron's broad form whisking off towards the space whereon the fire had been kindled. She was lifted bodily by [his] arm, which had been flung round her waist before she had become aware of his intention. The site of the fire was now merely a circle of ashes flecked with red embers and sparks, the furze having burnt completely away. Once within the circle he whirled her round and round in a dance. She was a woman noisily constructed; in addition to her enclosing framework of whalebone and lath, she wore pattens summer and winter, in wet weather and in dry, to preserve her boots from wear; and when [he] began to jump about with her, the clicking of the pattens, the creaking of the stays, and her screams of surprise, formed a very audible concert.

"I'll crack thy numskull for thee, you mandy chap," said Mrs. Nunsuch, as she helplessly danced round with him, her feet playing like drumsticks among the sparks... and in half a minute all that can be seen on Rainbarrow was a whirling of dark shapes amid a boiling confusion of sparks, which leaped around the dancers as high as their waists.

-- Thomas Hardy The Return of the Native