Home - Davina Langdale - Author
Davina Langdale is a British writer, author of the novel THE BRITTLE STAR
Davina Langdale, The Brittle Star, Author, London, UK, First Novel
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“Perhaps it was for no more than the banishment of loneliness but,
  in a lonely country, what greater bond was there than that?”

Photo: Mitch Dobrowner. Arm of God, Galatia, Kansas

“Bill looked like a devil freshly spat out of Hell,
his mouth and jaw black from all the powder cartridges
he had bitten open, hair stuck up all over the place,
matted with dried blood from a flesh wound to his head.”

Photo: Charlie Wheeler

“John Evert went to the chair on the stoop to smoke.
He leaned forward, resting his forearms on the rail that ran along the front.
He crossed his hands at the wrist, and stared at the tip of his cigarrito,
which burned fractured orange against the blackness.

The crickets were noisy. Somewhere an owl’s voice trembled.
The breeze brought the smell of hot earth and tinder grass.
He shut his eyes and breathed deep.”

Photo: Philip Volkers

Excerpt from ‘The Brittle Star’ by Davina Langdale

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, 1860

Deep among the white-armed sycamores, there was a pool where the river bent back upon itself. It was fine for fishing, and John Evert was there that day, with a rod made of willow. He wore faded breeches and a blue cloth shirt, open wide at the neck, and the bar of his collarbone shone with perspiration. A haze of midges clouded about his head, but he paid them no mind, keeping his eyes upon the dark brown shape of the fish that hovered in the outer tendril of the current. He could not see the speckled pink and lilac stripe that ran down its side, but he knew well what it looked like. He kept his body right still, only his forearm and wrist moving back and forth smoothly as he worked up a flat cast, making allowance for the low-hanging branches overhead. His line, when it spun out, cast a sickle shadow over the amber water. The mayfly trembled upon the surface before the fish, which moved its tail a fraction. When the fish came up to take the fly, it was lazy as all hell, gulping it down exhaustedly. He set the line with one stiff jerk and hooked it cleanly. There was little fight; he had it on the bank and dead in a matter of seconds. Afterward, he took off his clothes and swam naked in the river.

He walked back through the woods, the same way he had come, ascending the steep slope of the back pasture up to the ranch house. He left the bucket there on the stoop, removed the wooden lid from the water barrel, and took up the wooden scoop to his mouth. The water was as warm as he was. Over the lip of the scoop, his eyes travelled slowly across the pastures.

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Like most of the properties in southern California at that time, the Burn ranch was mired in litigation. The sheriff held a writ of ejection, but out of respect for John Evert’s mother, or some other mysterious principle, he had not seen fit to issue it. John Evert’s father had been a Scotsman, by all accounts a fine man, a decorated soldier of the Mexican War, a hard worker who had transformed the fertile but unruly land of the ranch into a going concern. A man of vision, he had diverted the course of the river, damming and dividing its flow, so that it flooded and watered a greater area of pasture. Yet he had made sure that the tributaries he had broken were rejoined to filter back to the original path where the river left his property. A fair man, he took for himself, but never at the expense of another. He had passed when John Evert was five years old. Now, at the age of fifteen, John Evert possessed but one clear memory of him: a large, steady hand in the small of his back, supporting him as he rode a horse for the first time.

According to John Evert’s mother, his father’s death had had a profound effect upon him. Prior to it, he had been a happy, laughing child, gregarious with strangers. Afterward, he became silent and taciturn, and never quite recovered from this early loss. Perhaps it might have been different had he a brother or sister but, as it was, he was never again entirely at ease in company. Yet whatever his reservations when it came to people, he had a way with horses, and with all things that loped and scuttled and flew. Where words might fail him, sensitivity did not: he could read the thoughts of animals and knew their goodness, and they, in turn, were drawn to him. His mother’s temper had been sorely tested by the baby possums and fallen fledglings that she would come across in makeshift nests within her laundry. She had forbidden him to bring any more animals into the house, but when one of the mares disappeared and later returned in foal, John Evert had spent twenty-four hours with her, first in the blazing sun, then out in the dark, delivering the foal single-handed by the light of an oil lamp. After that, his mother no longer chastised him.

At one time, the ranch had boasted a thousand head of cattle, but now there were just a few hundred, while their mounts consisted of a few sway-backed, slab-sided mustangs, sorry excuses for horses. The fields of wheat had been reduced to a fraction of their former size and wild mustard now grew taller than a man in many areas, amid the Indian paintbrush. John Evert was not concerned with what the ranch might once have been: he lived in the present.