What God said

3 September 2009 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Herra Darwinin puutarhuri (Otava, 2009; Mr Darwin’s Gardener, Peirene Press, 2013). Interview by Soila Lehtonen

The congregation sits in the church pews and the jackdaws caw in the belfry.
We smell of wet dog, the rain made us wet and it is cold but the singing warms us, the hymn rises to the roof and above the roof dwells God, Amen.
We saw Thomas Davies on the hill, he is working in Mr Darwin’s garden,
the atheist and lunatic, he stood in the field alone and the water lashed his face
an irreligious pit pony wandering in the darkness he is from Wales
does the godless man think he can stand in the rain without getting wet did he get an umbrella or bat wings from the devil
perhaps Thomas imagines that he can hold back the rain and the rain not hold him back, he thinks he is more exalted than God with his head in the clouds
The church’s hard pews press into posteriors, the poor man will not grow fatter, for there are no fat and lean years but only lean ones, and thin are the poor man’s sheep and cows and children too, but the rich man cultivates weeds for his amusement as Mr Darwin did and earns money and fame!
Weeds are an allegory, as the Bible says, and God had the devil of a time pruning the rushes the thistles the couch grass and the groves of Asherah which the pagans planted in honour of their heathen gods
Now the name of atheism is science
The Lord destroyed the groves of Asherah, and we believe that He walks in the kitchen gardens of the misbelievers and cuts the weeds with a burning sickle before they can scatter their seeds to all the world
calling them Knowledge & Wisdom, when they are blurring what has been clear since the Day of Creation
light on the waters, His is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.
When I pray I place my hands in a cross, I join the left and right sides of myself together and between the palms of my hands is a roof for God even though I am not in church
I pity Thomas Davies, for he may very well catch a mortal chill out there in the rain
pity is a strand of the mercy of Heaven in man,
for all God’s creations have their heart on the left side of their breast, though I do not know how it is with the fish and the serpents and the lizards, Thomas’s wife died and his eleven-year-old daughter has been feeble-minded since birth, and his six-year-old son is small and frail and strange and cannot hold his own in fights
We took Thomas soup and bread and comfort when Gwyneth died three years ago, but Thomas had smashed his wife’s bed to splinters with an axe and was burning the wood and bedclothes on a pyre in the garden which was spitting sparks and acrid smoke, the children’s faces were black with soot and the little boy was poking the fire with a stick
When a man sets up false gods for himself like the theory of Science and Evolution he mocks our Lord the Creator of all things and punishment will follow
therefore we must warn our fellow human beings off the rocks of sin and shine more brightly than the lamps of the wise virgins

like the Eddystone Lighthouse

Thomas refused our help, grimaced and laughed, the smoke made him cough and we ran on our way, and the freshly baked wheat loaf fell out of the cloth and rolled into the ditch, and when we had tea and spoke of the word of the Bible and the bread of life, we found many verses about this subject, for Christ is the bread of life
truly we began to laugh when we saw such a big loaf rolling into the ditch like a wheel that had fallen off a cart
Jesus’ light warns Christians off the rocks of sin
but Davies’ fire was a blasphemous pyre from Satan, we have heard that in India a wife is burned alive together with the body of her husband,
and on many coasts like Rhossil and Port Eynon unrighteous fires are lit to lead vessels astray in the darkness which is an allegory of the case of Davies
yet I wonder for according to the women of the village the bed was made of solid oak and fashioned with the finest handicraft goodness knows how many guineas it must have cost and burning in the open air like that the fire did not even warm the room

It is not good for a person to fawn on his superiors, though we want to be on good terms with everyone and keep life in the village harmonious,
and Mr Darwin himself is a sweet and pleasant gentleman who has travelled round the world and written big books and knows lords and Londoners and even foreign celebrities though I forget their names,
and in his house he has a shower from which water pours as from a watering-can just at the turn of a tap,
there are also many children in the family, though Mary Eleanor died in infancy and Charles Waring at the age of two and Anne Elizabeth at ten, for Darwin the deaths of his children were surely a great sorrow, one which many of us have also experienced
He is on good terms with our vicar the Reverend Innes,
but those who want to repudiate God invoke his books and Thomas Davies is surely one of them, Amen.

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The most beautiful thing about plants is their silence. The second most beautiful thing is their motionlessness, I wrote when Gwyn died, am reading now, it is evening,
I wrote unscientifically,
when even sympathy boomed and good will would not leave me in peace
grief weighs heavy but it is a rock I bear myself,
in my view the victims of revenge and mercy are in the same situation because other people take up their case as their own.
I have decided to study the static electricity of plants on the basis of what Gustav Theodor Fechner and Edward Solly have written, I am going to try to adapt the use of electricity to the growth of plants, perhaps the plants’ sharp apices function as a kind of lightning conductor and collect electricity from the atmosphere, facilitating the alternation of electrical charges between the air and the soil, if I could connect the plants in metal pots to a static generator by hanging wire netting over them and earthing it in the soil with a rod, the plants would grow well, but I have no generator.
My benefactors understand illness and death also, but not the fact that I want to be alone, because being alone is what they themselves fear most of all.
When I lost my mind and the children were asleep, I wrote
The silence of plants calms the mind, and I rejoice because plants do not run away like animals or fly away like birds, they stay where they are sometimes for hundreds of years like the oaks, or they vanish in winter and like the oriental squill rise from the ground or they spread out joyfully like the balsam that hurls its seeds far and wide.
When Gwyn was dying I did not think about where she was going but what she was leaving behind for she rejected Catherine and John. She did not leave by a single opening of the door, instead death held the door ajar for many months. I wrote that
a plant dies easily, an annual withers when the seeds are ready.

The lights of the village gleam in the darkness like blurred dots as Thomas Davies pulls the curtains over his windows, the children are asleep, Cathy sleeps wrapped in the quilt and radiates warm breathing, John sleeps on his back with his head bent backwards, I lean over to look at John’s eyes
“One should pay attention to how the eyes look during sleep,” Hippocrates wrote. “If when the eyelids are half open a part of the whites become visible… this is a bad sign, which presages certain and early death.”
Old theories,
the space in the house grows when the sleepers leave their places to the one who keeps vigil
can one do anything but love.
I write things down to remember them, as if memory didn’t work by itself, a warm jacket for Cathy and those new shoes for John

When I stood alone on the hill and the rain struck my face I cursed heaven for not caring about me or my children,
the wolf’s prayer is a howl.
The vicar said to mother that in bad times one should think of good times, when father died in the mining accident with his legs and torso crushed, because good times would come. Father’s head rested on the pillow and stubble grew on his chin even after death, at the funeral I thought of the worms that were wriggling into his nose and ears, mother was thrilled by the new black shoes and my younger brothers and sisters by the iced chocolate cake, my school attendance was paid for by the mining company.

The lamp’s light is reflected in the window, the anguish presses my lungs together. I intended, I did not want what I intended, in other people’s talk my intention became truth and deed, my fame runs before me like a wild shadow.

After Gwyn’s death the vicar said that the parish helps its members to bear their sorrow, what does that mean?
The rain is pounding holes in the surface of the water, the circles widen and vanish and I cannot show my grief to anyone.
The vicar said that sophistry in matters of faith is a sickness of the soul and that irony has no place where God is concerned. I replied that nature does not know any irony either, nor do the animals, the plants and the stones, it is only man who is capable of it because he is able to think two contrary things at once. What then is human nature, when a volcanic eruption can be predicted but one cannot predict that a man will dig an axe out of his rucksack and on a train split the skull of a man he does not know at all. Cause and effect change places at random.
If there is no soul there is only the body, which you must carry yourself, when you’re dead it weighs more, six people are needed to carry it.
The vicar tried to console me, thank you thank you,
for grief is a muddy pool in which one cannot see one’s own reflection nor one’s children nor one’s neighbours but everything presses one into the mire and sorrow begets new sorrows.

I pray in rancour and in unbelief,
I pray to a God who does not exist
I pray against my better judgement, I pray to God out of coercion,
without trust,
my prayer is a cold drop of water on a bare branch,
I ask for strength for the children’s sake and for my own.

At nightfall the reflected light of the snow remains in the landscape when Thomas Davies and Cathy and John walk to the field, Thomas wants to make a drawing of the area whose dimensions are 55 x 22 yards as in the diagram:
darwin2
Thomas leads the way and counts his paces, Cathy and John follow behind, they all
stamp their feet, treading a straight and narrow path through the snow, that way is north, that way is south. Thomas puts branches in the corners as markers, and later, when the wooden poles are hammered into the ground and the wire is stretched they will have to use a compass for accuracy because the ground circuits travel from east to west and the wire that is carried through the air by the poles must be
precisely positioned in a north-south direction,
they will have to carve poles and pins of the right dimensions, in the spring the task will be to turn the earth and dig ditches for the underground wires. That is the plan. In Scotland the harvest of a field was increased threefold by the use of electricity.
When back at home they are eating stew in the hot kitchen, Thomas says that the wires will be particularly effective at conducting electricity in thunderstorms, and that the electricity will stimulate the production of nitric acid which is good for the roots of the plants, and when they have finished eating and the plates have been cleared from the table John draws a house-shaped quadrangle on Cathy’s paper and a circle for a cabbage that is bigger than the house.

On the second Sunday in Advent it is snowing when Thomas Davies stands at the front door of his house viewing the measured area whose size is 55 x 22 yards, his footprints and the footprints of his children are visible in the old dry snow, large flakes are floating down on the field, the church bells are ringing, their echo carries on the cold air, recedes and disappears,
when the pealing of the bells and people’s voices die away, a snow-white silence dominates the landscape,
I no longer shout my cold prayers towards heaven,
although my despair is stretched by force of hand, my soul is nevertheless a strong, four-strand rope whose core is hemp or jute, when reason and hope rise up after a long season of despair, it is time to think and make plans and banish the God who has possessed me since childhood and whose voice has been planted in our heads and will not give us the chance to speak, now
God falls silent, but the sun rises and sets,
he departed, was silent at last, he
watched over Adam and Eve in the garden of paradise, punished women with pain and condemned the earth to grow thorns and thistles, he drove human beings to the east of Eden and placed watchmen at the gates, he wanted to wipe human beings from the face of the earth, to destroy the cattle, the reptiles and the birds of the air, he wanted the Flood to destroy all flesh, all that contains the spirit of life, though he did make a pact with Noah and put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of it yet he did not cease to torment human beings and tempted Job, Lot and Isaac, he punished Egypt with frogs and gnats and gadflies and cattle plague and boils and hailstones and locusts and darkness, he did not let Moses go to the promised land, he made laws and when they were imposed he rushed among the heathens to destroy their groves of Asherah and stoned the worshippers of false gods, he threatened to strike them with eczema, abscesses and madness, he cut off their thumbs and big toes, put them to the sword and set fire to their cities, he cried like a madman “You did not listen to my voice, What have you done?” and whenever his wrath was kindled he gave the people around him into the hands of their enemies,
he humiliated, killed and ordered to be killed, he interfered in the lives of nations, tribes, families and villages, his shouting split their ears and his thirst for revenge was insatiable, in my head was planted a cry which gave me no rest by day or by night, nor did he leave in peace those people who in the Lord’s name wished one another ill, that pious din nearly pierced my eardrums,
until the evening before last I saw God, he was short, thickset, swarthy, hirsute, with long hair, I saw him walking past the house with his head bowed, he said something just before he walked to the edge of the forest and vanished from sight,
he is silent, and the parish is silent, and I hear what silence sounds like when the wind does not even blow in the bare boughs of the trees and the snowflakes float to the ground, he has gone but has left me my daughter and my son who are the tender reinforcement of a four-strand rope

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When the sun goes down, the coolness of the spring evening rises from the shadows.
A blackbird flies to the top of the bell-tower and sings a clear wandering melody that carries far across the treetops and the roofs of the houses.
In the garden of Down House Thomas cleans the soil from his spade, his manure fork, his rake and his harrow, hangs the tools in their places in the shed and closes the door. He washes his hands in the metal basin, takes his jacket from the nail on the wall of the shed and puts it on. Thomas goes out by the back gate and strides across the meadows up the hill. His haste resembles joy, for today he is going to set up the poles in the experimental plot where the wires are to be laid. On the kitchen table is the improved design and in the shed the poles and pins that were made during the winter. In the new design there are eight long poles, and in place of one above-ground wire there are so many that they make a network all over the surface area.
John is running downhill. He is wearing shoes that were made by a cobbler in London, and he can run fast in them. Because the bones in his right foot are half an inch shorter than those of his left foot, he got his own special shoes, and he surely suffers from no illness, for he can run from the church to the Gorringes crossroad and back again, faster than the Other Baileys’ boy. Cathy runs after John.
Thomas fetches an iron rod and a spade from the shed. He and the children carry the poles and the pins to the edge of the area that is marked out with sticks and branches.

If the red-cheeked young woman who is travelling in the carriage with a plump baby in her arms were now, at the bend in the road, to look out of the window, she would see against the sunset two children standing with hanging heads and a tall, slightly stooping man holding a spade and would perhaps suppose that someone was being buried on the hillside, but she would be wrong because the moment is not sorrowful but full of hope and excitement.
What does Thomas Davies plant in the electrified kitchen garden?
He plants barley, sugar beet and strawberries.
What did God say to Thomas Davies? That is something of which I know nothing.

Translated by David McDuff

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