…Continued from Chapter 1.
…Still around the Campfire
They sat about the fire; Mavis sat on her pack and Mrs Thursford on his, while Swan knelt to cook the hares. When he reckoned them ready, he put them on the leaves and gave Mrs Thursford the first. She politely said no, saying she had already eaten, so Mavis took it and he took the other. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, with a banana leaf to keep the hot fat from dripping on his breeches, he put the blade of his knife in the fire and then used it to cut off bits of meat. The women talked about the weather, the goodness of the harvest, Mrs Thursford’s kin, nearby goings-on and characters, traders and rovers who had gone by, most of whom his Teacher knew, and a host of other things. Swan listened carefully, using the Stone to tally up their words for later, knowing that when they were on the road tomorrow Mavis would ask him about what they had said. The farmer’s flask of cider helped their chat flow; inevitably, the talk turned to the Holiday and his heed sharpened.
Mrs Thursford thought it would be good this year. Both the first and second harvests had been full, so folk had plenty put by for the winter and some to spare, and no fireball had landed on the Holm for three years now. The late dry weather meant folk from all over the north of the Holm could smoothly get to Fakenham – many had already gone by the farm. All in all, folk had little to worry about and every need to forget the daily grind. It was time to play. Mrs Thursford had met her late husband at the Holiday years ago, and they had married and had their eldest within a year. She then abruptly fell silent, her face ruddy in the firelight. Mavis changed the thread; Swan glanced at the near-empty cider flask.
They looked into the fire for a few whiles in the hush.
As they talked, it had become fully dark, and the mild, dry night swaddled them in friendly blackness. Mavis put another branch on the fire and asked Mrs Thursford if she would like anything from the Stone. The younger woman replied she would like some of her late husband’s best-liked things if that was all right. He had liked Kipling – you know, the well-known one – and ‘The Boxer’ by Paul Simon; but, unsurprisingly, she wanted to hear ‘Locksley Hall’ first.
Swan sat up straight and tied the Stone onto his forehead, where it warped to fit him. It was thin and black and the shape of the mainland of Africa; in the light of other fires, he’d heard folk say it looked like a glossy tattoo on his skin. He unwound and shut his eyes, before speaking:
<Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet ‘t is early morn:
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn.
‘T is the place, and all around it, as of old, the curlews call,
Dreary gleams about the moorland flying over Locksley Hall;
Locksley Hall, that in the distance overlooks the sandy tracts,
And the hollow ocean-ridges roaring into cataracts.>
A bit of artistic licence there. Swan could smell the sea, even though they were <20 kilometres> from the old Norfolk seashore.
The Wensum firth now stretched even to the outskirts of Fakenham, the salt making the lower fields bitter, and the brackish smell reached them on the easterly wind.
< Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.
Here about the beach I wander’d, nourishing a youth sublime
With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time;>
There followed a long block about cousin Amy, his young love, whom the soldier had lost to another. Then there was a long rue where Amy, her husband, their children and society as a whole were berated. He let the Stone do that bit, while he thought of the Forebear relics he would most like to see beyond the Holm: the nearest Sky Tower was in Africa so that was out; a Polywell didn’t look like much; it would be great to see a working Fabber (were there were any left?); and a crashed star-ship was beyond his wildest dreams. Well, he would settle for sight of a Superhighway – it was said they still glowed at night.
< Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,
When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;
Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield,
Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father’s field,
And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
Sees in heaven the light of [Orbital] flaring like a dreary dawn;>
All right, he’d shunned saying the forbidden word, now he could unwind.
< For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;>
Not a bad foretelling for 1835. Or had the writer heard about George Cayley’s early work? He asked the Stone: <No data>. Tennyson shifted into full foresight now.
< Yet I doubt not thro’ the ages one increasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widen’d with the process of the suns.
What is that to him that reaps not harvest of his youthful joys,
Tho’ the deep heart of existence beat for ever like a boy’s?
Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore,
And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.>
Then came twenty stanzas of sexism, racism, sex and foul play, which had brought Western Post-Newfanglists such angst – the Persian War had ended such luxuries.
<Thro’ the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.>
Swan thought Alfred had got that a bit wrong. After all, the Chinese Year-hundred had seen thinking machines pilot ships to the stars, followed by earthlings. Then he was on the last lap.
< Howsoever these things be, a long farewell to Locksley Hall!
Now for me the woods may wither, now for me the roof-tree fall.
Comes a vapour from the margin, blackening over heath and holt,
Cramming all the blast before it, in its breast a thunderbolt.
Let it fall on Locksley Hall, with rain or hail, or fire or snow;
For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go.>
Much later, Swan would wonder how Alfred Lord Tennyson had foreseen so many things so clearly from Lincolnshire, over the Inland Sea and some five-hundred years before, when he himself had not even guessed what might happen, swept up in happenings there and then.
The story continues … here.
More about ‘Misput Fealties’ here.
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