The epigraph for Book Two: “Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of everything that creepeth upon the earth, there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah.” Genesis 7:8
And so Book Two begins as the ark is being built at the top of the Hill where Noah’s family has its family altar. Thinking on the picture my mind calls up from childhood story books and Sunday school lessons etc the experience of reading this second book makes me shake my head in amazement that I never questioned or tried to imagine all the complications of the undertaking involved. I must have made an assumption that because the event was orchestrated by God then it must have been an easy thing to organize. And I never gave a moment’s thought to the matter of what would become of all the animals who could not be included through no fault of their own and certainly I never imagined the carnage that might be involved never mind the cold-bloodedness and lack of compassion inherent therein.
The labour force for the ark was another aspect of the situation that I didn’t think about: I probably saw illustrations with Shem and Ham and Japeth and Noah all working together and inspired by their love and devotion to Yahweh. In this novel we see a much more realistic labour force which includes Emma’s father and brothers. I was emotionally rocked by Mrs. Noyes’ experience riding on the lumber wagon with Emma’s father:
“Oh, I do wish,” said Mrs. Noyes; “that Emma was allowed to come and see you. And it’s crazy that I have to bring her to you this way – so secretive and brief. But he simply won’t allow it and we have to be obedient…”
“So I noticed,” said Emma’s father – and he looked at Mrs. Noyes and gave her a wonderful smile.
Mrs. Noyes blushed. She was being as about as disobedient as a wife could be – riding this way with another man on a lumber wagon. Still – she burst out laughing – it was worth every minute. Just to hear that Lotte and Emma’s mother were still there and thriving – just to hear Emma’s rare, rare laughter in the rear of the wagon – just to have sat these few brief moments beside this tall, sane, loving man – yes, it was worth every minute of jeopardy and danger.”
And this is followed not long after by: “There were no more meetings with Emma’s father or her brothers. Japeth had become suspicious… Emma was kept in the watchful eye of Hannah and, at nightfall, she was locked in her room.”
And then, “The ark was completed on a day of dust storms. Nothing had ever been so ugly. As it sat deserted on its hillside, its poop deck and its castle were shapeless and its colour was a horror, made worse by the great running streams of pitch, oozing down its sides like so much incredible frosting on a poison cake.”
Not exactly the stuff of children’s picture books of stories from the bible. I loved this book for its irreverence when I was younger (it was first published in 1984 when I was in my early 40s) but I treasure it now for much more. The loading of the animals takes place. Imagine how it would have been. Imagine much worse. “The sound of the great parade and round-up was heard on the other side of the forest and it went on for one night and two days.” One must read this with all the maturity of one’s years and consider whether or not this event took place at all.
Mrs. Noyes’ story and Mottyl’s story constitute much of the remainder of Book Two and they too must be read closely and perhaps more than once to be fully appreciated. It is also Lotte’s story: Lotte was Emma’s sister. Like Mottyl, Lotte was definitely not wanted on the voyage.
“Mrs. Noyes knew all about such things since, many years before, she too had had such a child as Lotte – and had done what most people did in that event.”
There is a great deal to ponder after reading this second book. I will take a break before I return to Book Three. Even the description of the rain and how it changes bring a heady dose of reality to the old story: what must it have been like to be on the ark? How did it feel if one really comprehended what was happening?
I adore the scene near the end of Book Two in which Mrs. Noyes succumbs to the influence of the three jars of gin which Japeth did not smash at Noah’s direction and sits at the piano bench and “played “The Riddle” and she played “The Foggy, Foggy Dew. “ She played “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Scarborough Fair” and “Bendemeer Stream.” She played “Careless Love” and “Home, Sweet Home”; “The Bluebells of Scotland,” “Clementine,” “Au Claire de la Lune,” “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,” Auld Lang Syne,” etc. I laughed loudly as the list of songs grew and I realized that Mrs. Noyes , had she indeed been Noah’s spouse, knew not a single one of these songs. And then she finishes up with “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” before launching into her three absolute favourite favourites: “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen,” “My Lord, What a Morning” and the rousing, thumping shout of “The Holy City.” Everything after this is anti-climactic for me: the hero(ine) has been clearly established.