In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE EMERALD CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from some of the volume’s magnificent tales.
Knot of Toads
by Jane Yolen
1931: Late on Saturday night,” the old man had
toad came into my study and looked at me with goggled eyes,
reflecting my candlelight back at me. It seemed utterly unafraid.
Although nothing so far seems linked with this appearance, I have had
enough formidable visitants to know this for a harbinger.”
harbinger of spring, I would have told him, but I arrived too late to
tell him anything. I’d been summoned from my Cambridge rooms to his
little whitewashed stone house with its red pantile roof overlooking
St. Monans harbor. The summons had come from his housekeeper, Mrs.
Marr, in a frantic early morning phone call. Hers was from the town’s
one hotel, to me in the porter’s room, which boasted the only
telephone at our college.
was a miserable ten hours getting there. All during the long train
ride, though I tried to pray for him, I could not, having given up
that sort of thing long before leaving Scotland. Loss of faith, lack
of faith—that had been my real reason for going away from home.
Taking up a place at Girton College had only been an excuse.
I had wanted to do this return was to mend our fences before it was
too late to mend anything at all. Father and I had broken so many
fences—stones, dykes, stiles, and all—that the mending would have
taken more than the fortnight’s holiday I had planned for later in
the summer. But I’d been summoned home early this March because, as
Mrs. Marr said, Father had had a bad turn.
bad turn,” was what she’d actually said, before the line had gone
dead, her r’s rattling like a kettle on the boil. In her
understated way, she might have meant anything from a twisted ankle
to a major heart attack.
wire that had followed, delivered by a man with a limp and a harelip,
had been from my father’s doctor, Ewan Kinnear. “Do not delay,”
it read. Still, there was no diagnosis.
so, I did not delay. We’d had no connection in ten years beside a
holiday letter exchange. Me to him, not the other way round. But the
old man was my only father. I was his only child.
was dead by the time I got there, and Mrs. Marr stood at the doorway
of the house wringing her hands, her black hair caught up in a net.
She had not aged a day since I last saw her.
ye’ve left it too late, Janet,” she cried. “And wearing green I
looked down at my best dress, a soft green linen now badly creased
shook her head at me, and only then did I remember. In St. Monans
they always said, “After green comes grief.”
didn’t know he was that ill. I came as fast as I could.”
Mrs. Marr’s face showed her disdain for my excuse. Her eyes
narrowed and she didn’t put out her hand. She’d always been on
Father’s side, especially in the matter of my faith. “His old
heart’s burst in twa.” She was of the old school in speech as
well as faith.
heart was stone, Maggie, and well you know it.” A widow, she’d
waited twenty-seven years, since my mother died birthing me, for the
old man to notice her. She must be old herself now.
can still feel pain,” she cried.
pain?” I asked.
good would it have done to point out I’d left more than ten years
earlier and he’d hardly noticed? He’d had a decade more of
calcification, a decade more of pouring over his bloody old books—the
Latin texts of apostates and heretics. A decade more of filling
notebooks with his crabbed script.
decade more of ignoring his only child.
God, I thought, meaning no appeal to a deity but a
simple swear, I
am still furious with him. It’s no wonder I’ve never married.
Though I’d had chances. Plenty of them. Well, two that were real
went into the house, and the smell of candle wax and fish and salt
sea were as familiar to me as though I’d never left. But there was
another smell, too.
was fear. But I was not to know that till later.
For more info on THE EMERALD CIRCUS, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story