Like most writers, I am a lover of words so I'm always happy when I discover a great new word. Recently, while reading J.K. Rowling's The Cuckoo's Calling I came across the word “plangent” and could not recall ever seeing it before. I looked it up and it turned out to be a wonderful, useful word! It is an adjective that describes a loud, reverberating sound with a melancholy or plaintive quality. Naturally I could not wait to use it.
So, since I am hard at work on The Christmas Daughter and was actually working on a chapter in which Boone goes to see Oliver Eberstark after he learns of Thad's death, I got to use my new word. This is a sample. The first half of this story takes place 5 years before the events in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall.
As Boone followed the long narrow road that led down into Opelt's Wood it occurred to him that during all his years of wandering throughout the country, he had never been to a place more mysteriously beautiful than the woods in which he grew up. He'd been mesmerized by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, overwhelmed by the Rocky Mountains, and humbled by the huge skies of the prairies, but nowhere did he encounter the deep, dark, primeval mystique of the Allegheny Highlands, especially, Opelt's Wood. He remembered spring mornings throughout his childhood when his mother looked out her kitchen window into the woods and said, “Oh, the mountain laurel is in bloom! That means summer is near.”
On the right of the road to the Eberstark Sawmill was a steep wall of sedimentary rock in curved striations of ancient heaves. Clumps of ferns sprouted at odd angles and silvery waterfalls trickled between vines turning brilliant green in the summer light. To the left was a sharp grade bordered with the tops of hemlock trees. In the distance Pistner's Run sparkled. Thad Eberstark's house was a large one made of local split logs and native stone. It nestled in a hollow in front of the hulking shadow of the old sawmill. Boone pulled up next to a big Ram truck and parked. Much as he loved the location of the Wilde Hotel and Tavern, he had to admit this was about as beautiful a setting as he had ever seen.
He walked across the long front porch on which Adirondack chairs sat in a row. The door behind a screen door stood open. He knocked.
“Be right there,” a deep voice called and Boone heard running water being turned off. The shadowy shape of a large man approached.
“Oliver Eberstark?” Boone asked.
“Yeah. Come on in.” Oliver reached for the screen door handle and pulled it open.
“Boone Wilde.” Oliver stepped back and grinned. “I haven't seen you in a long time but I remember you.”
It wasn't often that Boone met anyone larger than himself but Oliver Eberstark was easily a couple inches taller with broad shoulders and a barrel chest. His dark hair framed a high forehead and he wore an impressive beard.
“I don't remember...” Boone hesitated.
“No, you wouldn't. I was just a kid but I remember you and your motorcycle. Come on out in the kitchen. I just pulled a few brookies out of the creek and I was in the middle of cleaning them. Do you mind?” Oliver led the way through a vast room with exposed beams on a vaulted ceiling and a massive stone fireplace.
“This is quite a place.” Boone found himself staring at the beauty of the woodwork.
“My Great-grandfather built it and my grandfather was always working on it. He loved this house. Can I offer you a beer?” An open bottle of Straubs sat on the counter next to the sink.
“Thanks,” Boone said. “I heard about your grandfather and I wanted to offer my condolences.”
Oliver opened the refrigerator and handed him a beer. “Thanks. That's kind of you. Grandpop was the best man I ever knew. The world's a poorer place without him.”
“That's what everyone says.” Boone twisted the cap off and took a swallow. “He was good to my family. A lot of our guests at the hotel appreciated his generosity in letting them hunt and fish in Opelt's Wood.”
Oliver went back to cleaning his fish. “As long as people were respectful of the woods Grandpop didn't mind if they used them.” He glanced at Boone who stood leaning against the cupboard, holding his beer. “I heard you're taking over the hotel and the tavern.”
“I am. The tavern's already open and we're doing good. The hotel will start taking guests the beginning of August. That's sort of why I wanted to talk to you.”
“Well, I don't plan on making any changes.” Oliver split a fat brook trout open and ran his thumb through the cavity to clean it out. “Your guests are welcome to keep hunting and fishing as long as they have their licenses and respect the land.”
“Don't worry. We make sure our guests understand that.”
Oliver nodded. “Good. And you know elk hunting's not allowed.”
“Yep. That's fine with me.” Boone watched the expertise with which Oliver went about his work. “So, I take it you're moving back here.”
“Yeah.” Oliver nodded. “I was working in the Susquehannock State Forest but it was important to Grandpop that Opelt's Wood not be divided up and sold. I just want to keep it going for his sake. He's got quite a bit of land leased so it produces a decent income. It's good that you're doing the same thing with your folks' place. Towns like Marienstadt start to change too drastically when the old traditions die out.”
“I agree.” Boone decided that he liked this man and wouldn't mind having him as a friend. “You'll have to come by the tavern sometime and a let me treat you to a beer or two.”
“I can do that. Speaking of traditions, Grandpop mentioned one that your parents had for years. He hoped that you'd start it back up again when you reopened the tavern.” He spread the fish out on paper towels and rinsed the sink.
“Grandpop said that for years they opened the tavern on Christmas afternoon and had a sort of party for people who might not have family or friends to spend the day with.” He washed his hands and then straightened up, drying them, as he turned to face Boone.
“I never heard about that.” Boone finished his beer. “Of course, I've been gone for twenty years.”
“Yeah, I guess Grandpop liked to stop in to see everybody. He said it was a nice thing to do for fellas like Peeper Baumgratz and Skidder Hoffman. I guess your mother stuffed a turkey and had pies ready.” Oliver reached for his beer. “Grandpop said when they closed the tavern a couple years ago the people who went there for Christmas felt really bad. Like another beer?”
“No, thanks, I have to get to work.” Boone placed the empty bottle on the counter. “Thanks for telling me about that. I'll mention it to my mother. This past Christmas it was just the two of us. My brother Kit lives in Kentucky and my sister's a nun so she just stopped by for a little while. I bet Mom would like having a Christmas party.”
“Good. I might stop by myself. Now that Grandpop's gone the only other family I have is in Pittsburgh and I'm no fan of cities.”
“I agree with you there.” Boone walked with Oliver to the porch and, just as they shook hands, a high, plangent call echoed down through the trees into the valley. Oliver smiled.
“There's one of my guys now,” he said.
“Boy, I haven't heard that in a long time.” Boone shaded his eyes and looked up into the trees.
“There.” Oliver pointed to a high ridge beyond the sawmill. A massive elk with a spreading rack raised his head and bugled again. The call reverberated through the trees and split the air.
Boone grinned. “Damn,” he said. “It's good to be back here.”
Oliver nodded. “Sure is.”