Back to the story. I am now more than half way through ‘Titus Groan’, the writing is miles behind though…. This chapter deals with Nannie Slagg undertaking to get baby Titus a wet-nurse from the dwellings outside the castle.
The acacia trees, silhouetted on her right, cut patterns against the mountain and on her left glowed dimly with a sort of subterranean light. Her path was striped like the dim hide of a zebra from the shadows of the acacia trunks. Mrs Slagg, a midget figure beneath the rearing and overhanging of the aisle of dark foliage, awakened small echoes in the neighbouring rocks as she had moved, for her heels beat a quick uneven measure on the stone path.
Whenever Nannie Slagg is mentioned, her height (or lack of it) is always alluded to. I should still like to know how tall the old nurse is. I am sure I saw a picture somewhere of her perched on Prunesquallor’s knee and she looked miniscule.
The Dwellers live in mud huts and always ate their suppers out in the open on long tables arranged in rows. The actual terrain outside the castle walls is curious – drab grey dust and cacti which sounds more like a desert:-
From the lush shadows of the acacia drive Mrs Slagg had suddenly broken in upon an arid world. She saw the rough sections od white Jarl root and their bowls of sloe wine standing before them. This long tubular Jarl root which they dug each day from a wood in the vicinity, stood upon the tables every evening, sliced up into scores of narrow cylinders. This, she remembered with a flutter that her social status was very much in advance of that held by these poor mud hut dwellers….
I have searched in vain for ‘Jarl root’, but it seems to be a delicacy that Peake invented. I would think it would be like bamboo which panda’s eat or bamboo shoots. Full of fibre probably. They are using spoons to eat with, so it must be quite soft. It doesn’t seem very appetising, but it’s all they have. The Castle people are luckier with Swelter’s cuisine, though it shall be seen that the Dwellers do get a few scraps from those enormous kitchens thrown them
Nannie is very proud to announce the purpose of her visit to the Dwellers and let’s them know in no uncertain terms of the honour that is being bestowed upon them. That a wet-nurse from among them shall be selected to feed the heir of Gormenghast:-
We are all proud. All of us. The Castle,’ (she said this in a rather vain way) ‘is very very satisfied and when I tell you what has happened, then you’ll be happy as well; oh yes, I am quite sure you will. Because I know you are dependent on the castle’
Mrs Slagg was never very tactful. ‘You have some food thrown down to you from the battlements every morning, don’t you?’ She had pursed her mouth and stopped a moment for breath.
A young man lifted his thick black eyebrows and spat.
‘So you are very much thought of by the Castle. Every day you are thought of aren’t you? And that’s why you’ll be so happy when I tell you the wondrous thing that I am going to tell you.’……
It is decided almost immediately who shall be going with Mrs Slagg back to the castle. Her name is Keda. Her story is next.