Saturday, 26 June 2010

'Wilderness' by Sally Mann (1951 - ) American photographer
of considerable note for extremely good reasons.

There was once a man who had three daughters; Radiant Rose, Charming Kate and Delicate Deborah. His beloved wife had died giving birth to the triplets, for so they were and he was forced to bring these wonderful girls up on his own. For some considerable time, this little family was poor, but then the man managed to make a good deal of money and they lived very comfortably.

Now one day, as the man was returning late from the big city where he worked, he had to pass through a forest. All the while he was thinking of his delightful daughters and the presents he had brought back for them. So he did not notice the darkness falling upon the trees or the large shadowy presence following him until with a terrible growl a large bear knocked him from his horse and threatened to eat him. The poor man begged the bear not to kill him for he had his daughters to think of. At the talk of daughters, the bear paused and told him,

"If you will swear on all you hold dear to give me the first thing that comes to greet you when you get home I will spare your life. If you refuse or you try to deceive me, I shall find you and destroy all that you love and cherish."

Well, what could the poor man do, lying on the ground between death and life? He promised the bear he would obey and the bear let him get up and told him how to get home the quick way. The man thanked the bear who demanded that he should send what first greeted him to the great willow by the river. The man agreed and trudged wearily home among the trees while night fell about him like a drop of ink in a glass of water. Imagine his horror as he grew nearer home wondering what would meet him. He heard the family dog bark and hoped it would run out to meet him. He smelled woodsmoke and hoped his cook would meet him to tell him that the food was ready. His foot touched ferns fine as fur and hoped that the cat would greet him. But as he trudged up to the door of his home, Charming Kate ran out to greet him and he froze in horror. Even as she placed her arms about him, he fell to sobbing bitterly so that she must ask him the matter.

He led her indoors still sobbing, yet knowing that he could not, dare not deceive the bear. Once inside, his daughters gathered around him and discovered the gifts he had brought for them. But so fearful were they for him that they put the gifts aside and asked him again what the matter was. He told them and Radiant Rose, her pretty face blushing said that Kate could not possibly go to the bear.

"He will most likely eat her up and then come back for the rest of us," she said afraid.

Delicate Deborah fainted away but on being restored said that Kate could not possibly go to the bear.

"There was a tale once of a young lady being married to a beast and Kate could not possibly marry a bear!" she said before swooning again.

But the man could not refuse the bear or deceive him for he would lose all that he loved and cherished. So with much weeping, wailing and carryings on, Kate gathered up a few clothes and the following morning she went out towards the river. There, by the weeping willow, she waited for the bear to come. After a very short while, the bear loped into view and beckoned her to him. She felt her knees knock and her teeth chatter until she sounded like the cutlery drawer being wrenched open, but still she approached him.

"Goodness how big and fierce you are! I do hope you won't kill and eat me for I am young and have not yet finished living," she said.

"Get on my back and hold on, but not too tightly for I do not care to be pinched," the bear growled.

It seemed to Kate that he had not said he would not kill and eat her, but she did as she was told nonetheless. The bears fur was thick and soft and once she was firmly settled he ran off between the trees at quite a speed. Poor Kate was bounced and jounced all over the place, but she hung on still. The trees seemed to reach out to grab at her hair and clothes. Brambles scratched at her legs and her stockings. After a while the trees and their dark shadows and their grasping branches seemed to fall away and the bear came to a high tower. Here she was led in and taken up to a large chamber at the top of the tower. Here she was told she would stay. She might leave the tower only during the night.

"Even then," then bear told her, "You are not to go beyond the 'garden wall', or the Fair Folk will get you and I can do nothing to help you."

Kate could not see a garden, let alone the wall to it, but she promised that she would do as the bear asked her. The bear put his great paws about her then and gave her the gentlest embrace. That done, he left her and ran off into the woods. When she turned around to survey the room, she saw that a table had been set with the finest delicacies upon the finest porcelain and glassware. She sat then and ate well, wondering all the time what the bear might have in store for her. But all that day he did not return to her and she began to wonder what he had wanted her for. She unpacked her small bundle of clothes and put them in the wardrobe. She explored the large chamber and found that there were windows looking North, East, South and West. She read a novel she had brought with her and imagined that the bear was really a prince bewitched. Surely her devotion and love would release him from the spell? Kate decided that she would devote herself to winning him and breaking the spell, for surely that must be why he wanted her.

Morning turned to noon and when she looked up from her novel, the table was once more laid for her. Again she ate well and returned again to her novel. She read about the knight Dorimant and his lady love Fiorella and the trials that kept them from each other and she sighed. After a while, the afternoon turned slowly and surely into evening and the candles upon the dining table were lit. Kate got up from the bed and sat at the table to read, wondering where the bear was. She told herself that he would come to her at night as a handsome prince like Dorimant being free from the spell for the hours of night. Then she would swear her love and devotion to him and promise to marry him and all would be well.

She was getting a little hungry when she heard a sound upon the stairs and the bear entered the chamber. He was not a handsome prince, but still the bear who had brought her there. Kate asked him gently if she might give him some food and he growled that he had already eaten, the night had come and he wished to sleep. Kate ate her food and having eaten prepared for bed. She lay down upon the great four poster bed waiting for the bear to join her. But the bear curled up near the fireside and sighed a great sigh.

"You may go out of the tower if you wish, but if you leave the garden you are lost," he reminded her.

"May I not go out during the day, good bear?" Kate asked him.

"Not if you value your life my love," the bear told her gently.

"Are you bewitched dear bear?" Kate asked him.

The bear stared at her then laughed curtly. He was not, he told her but there was certainly more to him than she saw. Kate covered herself with the quilts and pondered a great many things. As she lay there, the bear's breathing became soft and regular and he slept. Even as he slept, a warm golden light seemed to fill the chamber and Kate got out of bed and went to the East window. In the distance she saw the Moon rising, pale and curved like a cat's claw. Yet directly outside and around the tower she saw a beautiful garden with a great many flowers and trees. There was a fountain and a summerhouse and around the garden was a high wall. Kate suddenly found that she was not in the least bit sleepy and had a longing to go out into the garden.

She slipped on her shoes and went quietly out of the chamber past the sleeping bear and down the stairs. In the garden, the weather seemed summery and warm. Kate, who loved flowers, wandered about the garden with delight at the flowers but when she strayed near the wall she heard music and singing coming from the other side that was both delightful yet indistinct. She wanted to hear it more clearly and looked about the garden until she saw an open gate. She ran towards the gate but remembering the bear's warning, she suddenly stopped and gazed through the gateway.

The music seemed suddenly serpentine and cruel, the singing seemed spiteful and vicious. Kate frowned and turning away she returned up the stairs of the tower and went back to her bed. This time, when her head touched the pillow she fell asleep. Her dreams were filled with strange and dark visions that made her moan and twist in her sleep.

When she awoke the following day, the bear and the garden were gone. Outside the trees seemed to have got closer to the tower and ivy seemed to reach out towards the tower. Kate sighed and leaned upon the windowsill gazing at the trees and it was then that she heard a deep warm voice singing.

"If you would see and the true world know
Then round the tower widdershins go.
If you would not have your senses stray
Out of the sensible light of honest day
Then widdershins round the tower go
And you will find all you would know."

Kate could not see the singer of this little song that repeated itself twice, but she found it intriguing nonetheless. She would consider its instruction and see what she might, she decided, but not during the light of day, for she remembered the words of the bear. That night, the bear returned after her supper and lay down by the fireside. As soon as he was asleep, Kate arose and went down the stairs into the garden again. She knew that 'widdershins' was anti-clockwise and having exited the tower, she went around the tower widdershins once.

Nothing happened at first, so she went around twice more and this time she found herself back at her father's house. She appeared to be in the garden and with delight went up to the house but found she could not get in. She turned away and strode through her father's garden to the old well that had never drawn water since she and her sisters had moved there. Peering over the edge of the well she saw a large box at the bottom of the well. Upon it sat a lean and elegant frog who told her that the box was full of treasure and had been buried during the war some years ago. Kate thanked the frog and continued through the garden to the shed. There was a white crow on the roof who told her that beneath the shed was another large box of treasures.

Kate thanked the crow politely and watched him spread his graceful wings and fly away. Turning away from the shed she looked for the dovecote and found her old cat Swiftpaw beneath it.

"Within the dovecote is a large box of treasure well protected, mistress," the cat told her.

"Well that's a surprise and no mistake beautiful cat," she answered.

"You should probably go around the garden widdershins my love," the cat told her.

Kate did so another three times and this time she found herself back in the tower, but this time it was a ruin. There were whispers and strange fragments of music in the air and Kate became afraid. She dashed around the base of the tower three times again - and found herself back in the tower chamber, the bear asleep by the fireside. Kate got into bed this time, for she was tired and confused. No sooner did her head touch the pillow than she fell asleep. When she awoke the following morning the bear was gone and the table was laid with food for her. She ate her breakfast and asked for some paper and ink. She had no sooner asked than fine paper and ink appeared on the table. She wrote a letter asking her father to go down into the old well in his garden and there he would find a box of treasure that was to be a dowry for Radiant Rose. He was also to feed the frog upon the box. She told him also about the box of treasure beneath the garden shed for Delicate Deborah's dowry and to feed the white crow. She sealed the letter and wrote a note for the bear asking him to take the letter to her father the following morning.

Once more she read her novel and took a stroll about the chamber for exercise. The bear returned in the evening after she had eaten and she had gone to bed. The bear sniffed the letter, read the note and curled up to sleep by the fireside. The following morning when Kate awoke, the bear and her letter were gone. She read the rest of her novel that day, strolling about her chamber and feeling slightly bored. She would have liked to go out of the tower, but she had no iron with her and was afraid the Fair Folk would get her. Instead she sang old songs that her father had taught her when she was younger.

When the bear returned that night, she waited for him to fall asleep and once more went around the tower widdershins. This time she found herself in her father's house wandering through the rooms. Her sisters were asleep as was her father and she could not waken them. She went down the stairs to her father's library and took six books. In the middle of the library Swiftpaw was sitting with his paws tucked neatly together. She went across to him and stroked his soft fur. To her surprise he purred and pushed his head gently against her hand.

"In the back of the fireplace, there is a large box hidden by the duchess who used to live here," the cat told her, "And it is full of the finest dresses too."

"Well I never did!" Kate answered.

She took the six books and went around the rooms of the house, widdershins. She found herself back in the tower with the bear fast asleep and the six books in her arms. She took the books into the bed with her and wrote a letter to her father telling him about the large box with the old duchesses dresses in it. The dresses should be used for wedding dresses for her sisters. She sealed the letter and left a note for the bear.

The following morning, the bear had gone and she sat and read the new books. She took a stroll about the chamber after lunch for exercise and sang some old songs that were a hit before her mother was born. This time, when the bear returned after supper, she was still reading. The bear was cross and growled a lot, but would not say why. Instead he settled himself by the fire and curled up to sleep. Kate waited for a while then tiptoed past him and went out into the garden. She was barely in the garden when she heard the bear come dashing down the stairs. He was growling and roaring with rage.

"Someone has told you where my treasures were hidden!" he roared and chased her. Kate knew better than to go around the tower clockwise. She ran about the garden until she could run around the tower widdershins, pursued by the bear. The bear was about to pounce when he vanished and she found herself within her father's bed-chamber. Her father slept deeply and would not wake even when she kissed him. In fact the only thing stirring in the room was Swiftpaw who leapt down from the window seat and told her,

"Inside the wardrobe by the window, at the back is a box that your grandfather once took from a wizard. Inside the box is a rooster. Kill the rooster and inside it there is a hare. Kill the hare and inside is a salmon. Kill the salmon and inside is an egg. Crack the egg and inside is a hazelnut. Crack the hazelnut and you will have all that you desire."

Kate was much surprised, but went to the wardrobe by the window. Sure enough, at the back of the wardrobe she found a box. It was quite beautifully decorated and she opened it quite carefully. A rooster nonetheless flew out and tried to escape the room, but she caught it and wrung it's neck quickly. She heard a loud roar in the distance and a sharp crack like a pistol shot. She took her father's razor and cut open the rooster. Instantly a hare darted from inside the rooster and tried to escape the room, but Kate flung out her hand and cut the hare in two with the razor. She heard a loud roar from the garden and a boom like a cannon shot. Out of the hare, a salmon leaped into the air and tried to swim through the air out of the window. Kate was faster and cut off it's head with the razor. There was a loud roar from inside the house and an almost deafening boom like several cannons going off at once. Still, nobody sleeping in the house awoke.

Kate took out the egg and cracked it open with the razor. Suddenly the bear burst into the bed-chamber and his eyes flashed with rage and pain. Kate took the hazelnut and put it on the floor. As the bear sprang at her, she brought her shoe heel down hard upon the nut and as it cracked the bear turned into a wicked old man who lay dead upon the floor. Swiftpaw however turned into her dear old grandfather and embraced his dear grand-daughter.

"You have freed me from the punishment of the wizard my dear and I am very grateful. I leave you the Great House in the Wood which is freed also from it's enchantment. The Fair Folk will no longer harm it or you ever again and all will be well," he told her.

Kate suddenly found herself back in the large chamber in the Tower but this time, the garden outside was gone and all she saw outside was a garden dressed in night's own shadows, faintly touched by moonlight in places. She went to bed and awoke in the morning to a grand house full of servants and all that she could wish for. Radiant Rose married a prince as did Delicate Deborah and they lived happily ever after until the following day when they each had a tiff about nothing. Charming Kate learned hunting and how to write novels. She never married, for she enjoyed her liberty far too much.

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