Book excerpt: "Simon the Fiddler" by Paulette Jiles

Paulette Jiles, the bestselling author of "News of the World," returns with a novel set during the waning years of the Civil War, in which a roaming musician in Texas is conscripted into the Confederate army, and crosses paths with a beautiful indentured servant of a Union officer.

Read an excerpt below from Jiles' "Simon the Fiddler":

William Morrow

Simon the fiddler had managed to evade the Confederate conscription men because he looked much younger than he was and he did everything he could to further that impression. His hair was reddish brown and curly; he was short and spare. He always shaved close so that he had no beard shadow. He could pass for fifteen years of age if not in direct sunlight. And often people protected him because they liked his music and did not care to see him dragged off for a soldier.

In an unseasonably hot October he had been engaged to play at a barbecue near Marshall in East Texas, in plantation country. Horses were tied at random in the shade of the tall loblolly pines, among the fires and the drifting layers of smoke. Black servants moved with pitchers of iced drinks and men and women sat with plates in their hands to listen to Simon play "Jock of Hazeldean"; light and poignant strains so different from the war news, the tattered letters arriving from the ruins of Atlanta with accounts of its burning and its dead.

Simon stood on a flatbed wagon and poured the notes out into the overheated air, unmoving, straight-backed, his hat cocked forward over his face. He had a high-boned face, bright hair, and light eyes and his music was enchanting.

A banjo player sat at the edge of the wagon. He was an old man who tipped his head carefully as if there were water in it and it might spill over. He was trying to hear where it was that Simon was going with the melody and to follow if he could. Simon drew out the last note with a strong vibrato and bowed to the applause, and when he raised his head he searched out the edges of the crowd like a hunted man.

Author Paulette Jiles. © Jill Gann Photography

After a moment he laid his bow tip on the old man's shoulder to get his attention and smiled. "How are you doing?" he said in a loud voice. "Could be you want a cold drink. They have ice, I saw it in a pitcher."

"All right." The old man nodded. "Yessir, doing fine, but I think they done come." The old man kept on nodding. He was cotton-headed and partially blind.

"Who done come?"

"The conscription people." Simon was still and silent for a heartbeat, two heartbeats. Then he said, "Well Goddamn them."

He said this in a low voice because there were ladies present. He would have liked to fall backward into a water tank and sink, clothes and all, but it looked like he was going to be on the run again, abandoning this well-paid job and the lovely girl wearing a blue bonnet sitting in the front row with a rapt, appreciative face. He shoved his fiddle into the case, quickly snapped the bow into its groove, and slammed the case shut. He laid his hand on the old banjo player's shoulder.

"I'm gone," he said. "Take the money."

Excerpt from "Simon the Fiddler" by Paulette Jiles. © Paulette Jiles 2020. Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

For more info:

  • "Simon the Fiddler" by Paulette Jiles (William Morrow), in Hardcover, Large Print, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon