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The Well : Popular Penguins : Popular Penguins - Elizabeth Jolley

The Well : Popular Penguins

Popular Penguins

Paperback Published: 29th June 2009
ISBN: 9780143202769
Number Of Pages: 256

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Driving one night along the deserted track that leads to the farm, Miss Hester Harper and Katherine run into a mysterious creature. They dump the body into the farm's deep well but the voice of the injured intruder will not be stilled and the closer Katherine is drawn to the edge of the well, the farther away she gets from Hester.

A twentieth-century Australian classic, The Well is a haunting and wryly humorous tale of memory, desire and loneliness.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Jolley was one of Australia's most celebrated writers, with a formidable international reputation. She was recognised in Australia with an AO for services to literature and was awarded Honorary Doctorates from Curtin University (1986); Macquarie (1995), Queensland (1997) and The University of New South Wales (2000).

Born in England in 1923, she was brought up in a strict, German-speaking household and attended a Quaker boarding school. She became a nurse, married Leonard Jolley and with three children moved to Western Australia in 1959. In 1974 she started teaching creative writing at Fremantle Arts Centre.

Although she wrote all her life, it was not until she was in her fifties that her books started to receive the recognition they deserved. She won The Age Book of the Year Award on three separate occasions (for Mr Scobie's Riddle, My Father's Moon and The Georges' Wife) and she won the Miles Franklin Award for The Well, as well as many other awards. Her last two novels published by Penguin were An Accommodating Spouse (1999) and An Innocent Gentleman (2001). Her non-fiction collection, Learning to Dance was published in 2006.

Elizabeth Jolley died in 2007.

One night Miss Hester Harper and Katherine are driving home from a celebration, a party at the hotel in town, to which Miss Harper has been an unwilling guest. Katherine had wanted very much to go to the party. She is under the spell of a succession of film stars, the present one being John Travolta. She tries to walk exactly as he walks. Having seen every one of his films several times she is able to imagine herself, when dancing, as his chosen perpetual partner. Miss Harper, unable to refuse Kathy anything, has endured a long evening bearing at least two insults, one of these, because of the Peter Pan collar, laden with disturbing implication. She also suffered during the evening's long drawn-out entertainment a renewal of the realization of her own changed status brought about by recent events.

When the end finally came Katherine had insisted on driving. 'You sit back Miss Harper, dear, and take a rest.' She had covered Miss Harper's bony knees with a cheerful tartan rug before taking her place behind the wheel. 'If I'm to get my test next week Miss Harper, dear,' her purring soft voice soothed, 'I'd better get in some practice hadn't I.' With nimble fingers she had quickly taken the ignition key.

The two women do not speak much during the long drive home. At first it is a moonlight night, dry and clear. The chill air carries the fragrance of the ploughed earth. Liking this but wishing for the sharp scent of rain on the dusty paddocks Hester thinks to herself, not for the first time, that the nights in the wheat are either moonlit or quite black. As soon as she has this thought the moon seems to slide into a bank of ribbed dark cloud. Raising her eyebrows and shrugging her thin shoulders she settles herself more comfortably in the passenger seat.

Sometimes during the day, when making this long drive into town or from town, Hester thinks about walking instead of driving. Life would be changed completely if a person walked all the way. Sometimes, in the car, she feels tempted to get out and start walking. The road between the endless paddocks of wheat would lie before her quite deserted and she would accept a different view of time and journey. When walking like this, on and on, no one in the whole world could know where she was. The occupation of a small fragment of the earth is known only to the one person who is alone on it. She imagines the feeling of being unseen and not known about while standing in one isolated place. She would be small and safe walking and pausing to stand still low down under the immense clear blue sky. Perhaps, she thinks, her fear might disappear. It might dissolve, dissipate itself into the light, gently moving air.

Thoughts of walking do not accompany night driving, such ideas at the outset of a long drive in a remote place are best put out of the mind.

The only tolerable part of the evening, Hester reflects, was Kathy's dancing. The girl's energetic rhythmic movements and the yellow dress, in spite of Rosalie Borden's unexpected attack, were by her perhaps one-sided standards, superb. She smiles to herself remembering the music and the dancing, Katherine forever imagining herself as John Travolta's rightful partner. And then there was the sweetness of Katherine's thoughtfulness, the way in which she put aside her own wishes to come over, knowing Hester's weakness for sweet things.

'Miss Harper, dear,' she hears still the piping but gentle voice, 'i thought you'd like the sherry trifle . . .'

Almost nodding off Hester gives way to some profound thoughts. 'Life,' she declares inside her head, 'is like a wood heap. People do things to ameliorate and to alleviate. With one little detail after another people move through life. it is like taking wood from the heap, one log at a time to the fire, or in summer, the slow stacking of one log upon another when a wood pile is being moved or rebuilt.' She yawns.

The road between black paddocks edged with the black shadows of the saltbush is flat and straight. Every now and then swirls of white mist come towards them and sometimes, when there is a dip in the road, they are completely enshrouded as if in a light white endlessly winding garment.

'How the night can change,' Hester says. the surrounding countryside, she adds, could seem desolate and frightening for anyone travelling especially if they had no home to go to. Katherine agrees saying that she for one would not want to drive the long road at night alone. 'I'm so glad we're together Miss Harper, dear,' she says.

Pleasantly lulled with thoughts of Katherine's happiness at the dance and with looking forward to her own warm bed and possibly because of the enormous, even when shared, plateful of sherry trifle Miss Harper sleeps. She hardly notices when they turn off the road onto the track. it seems, when she does rouse herself, that Kathy is driving too fast.

'Katherine! Not so fast,' she warns, 'Katherine! I said, not so fast! Watch the track. You're going too fast. Slow down Katherine! For heaven's sake! Do be careful. You'll have us over in the scrub if you're not careful! Kathy! You'll lose your licence before you get it!'

Katherine slows down, 'I guess I'm still excited Miss Harper, dear,' she says. 'I'm real sorry if I scared you.' She is, carefully, as American as possible especially with the word you. She chatters on telling Miss Harper how exciting it is that Joanna will be with them in time for the town fête.

'Joanna,' she reminds Hester, 'is really looking forward to the visit. It was a real shame that she was three years in that place, only remand Miss Harper dear, because of her boyfriend, remember? And I've such a wonderful idea for our jam and pickle stall. Oh Miss Harper, dear, wait till you hear my idea . . . Joanna and I could be . . . Oh it's all so Romantic Miss Harper, dear, it's love interest!' Katherine sighs, 'Just right now I would so love to be getting married. A double wedding would be nice ? Joanna and me both being married. Just think a long drive like this . . .' she sighs again. For reply, Hester gives one of her snorts to which nothing more can be said. Joanna's impending visit is just another detail in the wood heap which is life Miss Hester tells herself. She reminds herself, not for the first time that she is wishing that something could recall Joanna to the safe place where she has been and that she, Hester, could manage to live very happily without this forthcoming visit, this apparently simple thing which carries so much complication.

'Oh Miss Harper, dear,' Katherine says after a short silence, 'could I make some baby clothes for the fête, for our stall ? you know little dresses, with smocking, and, I know, little bibs trimmed with lace, I know they'd sell.'

'Babies eat their lace,' Hester says grimly. 'Keep your mind on the road please,' she adds as Katherine pressing her foot harder on the accelerator causes the Toyota to leap on the track.

'Katherine!' Hester's voice is tense. 'Katherine we're nearly at the bend. Slow down! I can see the bend. Slow down!'

'Oh wasn't it a lovely party,' Katherine, in her piping voice, sings:

Dinga Donga Bella Yair Yair
Pussa inna wella Yair Yair Yair
Dinga Donga Bella Huh Huh Yair
'Wow! Miss Harper! i sure enjoyed myself.'

'I'm glad of it, Kathy,' Miss Harper says, 'but do for heaven's sake slow down.'

Pussa inna wella
Hoohah putta inna Huh Huh Huh
Yair Yair Yair
Dinga Donga Bella Yair Yair . . .
'Oh don't keep singing that crazy song!' Hester says crossly. 'I can't think how anyone could think a nursery rhyme could be a song for dancing ? whatever that ridiculous thing, supposed to be a dance, was.'
'Aw, you liked it, Miss Harper, dear, it was the pussycat freeze. Did you like it Miss Harper? You did, dear, didn't you? Eh? Eh?' Katherine presses her thumb on the horn. 'And what about the break-dance huh? Eh?'

'Stop the car Katherine, I'll drive now.'

'Weee-wopp-here we go! Nearly home, Miss Harper, dear. Nearly at the last bend. Oops ? sorry! Caught the bushes, hit a rock. Blast! Shit! Oops sorry Miss Harper, dear, hit the rocks again, always get that rock. I don't hack it.' Katherine laughs in a shrill voice. 'I wish Joanna was here already. Wish you was here already Joanna. Joanna JOANNA.'

'Look out! Oh look out! There's something on the track,' Hester's voice, shrieking, is hoarse with fear, 'Look out. Oh God! The bend. Brake! Katherine! Brake! The bend. There's someone there, someone on the track. For God's sake, child brake!'

Hester stops shrieking suddenly as something hits the Toyota with a dull heavy thud. Katherine stops at once, the engine is still running. 'But there's never ever anyone on this track,' she wails, 'there's never ever been anyone along here, not ever . . .'

Miss Hester grabs her stick and, with difficulty, she climbs out. Leaning heavily on the stick she makes her way to the front of the truck.

'Turn off the lights,' she says. 'We don't know if there's anybody on the track.' And then in a trembling low voice she calls softly, 'it's not a roo, Katherine. It's not a roo. Don't come out, it's too horrible. We've caught something on the bar. Stay there where you are.'

Hester moves slowly round to Katherine's side, 'there's only one thing to do,' she says in the same low voice which is like a hoarse breaking whisper. 'Stop crying! Stop making that noise. I want you to listen carefully and do everything I tell you. We've no choice. We've not got much time. Heaven knows there may be someone else around. We can't know. Now come on. Drive slow. Slow as you can and as quiet as you can. We're nearly in the yard. I'll keep here alongside. When you get in the yard turn straight away and get the bar as close as you can to the well. Yes, I said the well. There's nothing wrong with the Toyota, not yet, just get as near to the well as you can. Yes. I said the well . . .

ISBN: 9780143202769
ISBN-10: 0143202766
Series: Popular Penguins
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 256
Published: 29th June 2009
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 18.2 x 11.3  x 1.5
Weight (kg): 0.15
Edition Number: 1

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