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The Jungle Law by Victoria Vinton

The following is an excerpt from The Jungle Law by Victoria Vinton, published by MacAdam/Cage in October.


BRATTLEBORO, VERMONT
AUGUST 1892

Three o’clock and all is not well. Sleep has abandoned him again. He sits bolt upright in his bed, panic rising from his stomach like bile. In the past eight months he has crossed two oceans and whole continents—from Bombay to London, New York, Vancouver, Yokohama, and halfway back—and now, dislocated by the darkness and the hour and the jumbled swirl of distances he’s come, he does not know where he is.

He looks around but can make out nothing, not even the hump of a bedpost. This is not surprising since he’s been all but blind since the age of twelve. That was when his eyes went wrong, as he likes to say, and his aunt, the Good Aunt, the Beloved Aunt Georgiana, found him pummeling a mulberry tree, thinking it was a monster.

“There, there,” she’d said soothingly, guiding him back to the Grange with her hands on his shoulders. Then she set him up in the nursery with a pot of chamomile tea and proceeded to write two letters: one to a specialist she knew about in London who fitted him with glasses, the first of the wire-framed spectacles that he has worn ever since; and the second to his mother in India, urging her to return, thereby restoring to him both his vision and what had seemed the lost heart of his family.

He reaches for his spectacles now, his fingers routing over the bedclothes like the blunt snout of a mole. They sit on a nightstand next to the bed, where he fails to recall setting them. And as his fingers inch and grope and finally find and clutch them, he feels a grateful wave of relief, though the spectacles themselves have often been a source of shame. The Bad Aunt, Auntie Rosa, not really an aunt at all, saw them as an affectation, one more pretension of a spoiled, deceitful boy who was mocked and bullied and called Giglamps at school and made to sit in corners. And recently, with a pang of chagrin that he couldn’t quite dispel, he has seen himself in the pages of newspapers portrayed by cartoonists and their lampooning pens with eyes as big as saucers, as mill wheels, like the dogs in the old fairy tale.

He shoos these thoughts and images away as he sets his spectacles over his nose, blinks, and blinks again. Now out of the darkness he identifies shapes. A pine commode with a chipped china basin. A maple rocking chair. The other bed, twin to the one where he sits, where his new bride, Carrie, lies sleeping. And as the room contracts into this dim but manageable focus, he is able at last to give it a name: Home. This is his home.

Of course, he sees the irony here. The whole notion of home is as exotic to him as the ports of call in his travels. And this home, in particular, is not much to speak of. A hired man’s cottage rented out for the season with money borrowed from his wife’s family, with skunks in the cellar and no water save that from a half-inch lead pipe connected to a spring. It is an uninspiring backdrop for a man with his ambitions, though the sparseness and simplicity appeal to part of him. And besides, as soon as his fortunes change, as he knows they will, he plans to build a great ark of a house on the crest of a neighboring hill. Naulakha, he will call it. Jewel beyond price. A home to call his own.

 

Excerpt from The Jungle Law by Victoria Vinton. Copyright © 2005. Permission granted by MacAdam/Cage Publishing.

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