admiral morwyn was not the only witness to muggleton's bursting through the hedge -for needless to say it was indeed poor muggleton who burst through the hedge - for who else could it have been? - i put it to you - reader, if perchance you exist, we are not here to play tricks on you but to tell a plain tale as plainly as possible - the good old fashioned way, around the hearth, around the campfire, at the old roadside inn as the landlord prods the embers with his blackened poker - blackened by centuries of low smoke and weary travelers tales - all hastening to the same end - oblivion - but to proceed - we will tell our tale - because every tale must be told - no matter how dreary or boring - yes, every tale must be told - and will be told - every song must be sung - down to the last repeated chorus - every dog will have his day - every cat will have his nip - though at night they all are gray - every nip will have his tuck - every tuck will have his friar - every friar will have his fat jolly nun - every fat jolly nun will have her flask of ale at the bar of the old roadside inn where the travelers tell their timeworn tales - their tales that must be told.
yes, tales that must be told.
but not by muggleton. no, not by muggleton.
muggleton was given his chance, his chance to tell his own tale - and a sad enough tale it was, to be sure - and he made - i will not say a complete hash of it, no, not a complete hash, but by god, we have to get on with it, don't we?
so we will nor hear from muggleton again - we will hear of him to be sure, for he is part of this sorry tale - that must be told regardless - as all tales must be told - but not from him.
on with it, man, on with it.
admiral morwyn was not the only witness to muggleton's bursting through the hedge - beckwith, the butler who ruled castle morwyn with an iron hand - or with a rod of steel, or perhaps with a rod of steel in his iron hand - or in his iron fist, i believe that is the correct term - a tale should be told in correct terms - what, i ask you, is the point of telling it otherwise? - beckwith happened to be looking out the window - i should say, a window, as there was more than one window in castle morwyn - it could hardy be called a castle, could it now, if it only had one window - beckwith happened to be looking out of the window of the red room -
called the red room for what the saints only knew what reason, as there was nothing particularly red about it though there may well have been in the mists of time - beckwith had happened to glance out the window in a moment of exasperation while berating a particularly incompetent chambermaid - who must have been particularly incompetent or lazy, or both, to distract him in this manner as all the chambermaids,
indeed all the servants in castle morwyn were lazy and incompetent if not totally moribund - and in glancing out the window - a window - at that moment - he chanced to see poor muggleton at the very moment he burst through the hedge onto the very ill-kept grounds of the castle.
this in itself was remarkable as beckwith, as i may have already given some indication, was not a man to be looking out windows when the day's work was to be done. as the only living creature in the castle with a molecule of sense, except for some dogs, cats, rats, mice and spiders - there were some fearful spiders in castle morwyn, capable of giving the cats and rats a fair challenge -
responsible for the supervision and shepherding through the day of a castleful of barely sentient morwyns and lazy and good for nothing servants - beckwith was not a man to be trifled with or to waste his time on trifles.
this fellow now - muggleton of course, known to you and me, dear reader, but not yet to beckwith who had never set eyes on him before- and would have remembered him if he had, for he had the memory of a lion or tiger or some great ravenous beast of the time before the prophets - this fellow stumbling across the roots and brambles of the shamefully ill-kept grounds of the castle with leaves and twigs and cockleburrs from the thick hedge - and the hedge, for all it was poorly attended to, somehow remained as thick as a morwyn's skull - something to do with the endless rains in this godforsaken stretch of country no doubt - plastered all over his unprepossessing person - could beckwith trust one of the footmen or grooms or groundskeepers - all of these designations being somewhat more than whimsical as whether they were called "footmen" or "grooms" or "groundskeepers" they were nothing more than lazy worthless rascals and parasites who could not be trusted to do the simplest things once out of one's sight - to waylay and ask him his business?
he could not.
with a grim expression - though this description may be more than a bit superfluous as he always had a grim expression - let us say, then, with an even more grim expression than usual - beckwith left the chambermaid to her dirty tray and marched out of the red room and down the cobwebbed corridor to the rotting staircase, down three floors of increasingly dusty stairwell and out the front door - which he opened himself rather than waste precious time attempting to summon one of the layabout lackeys to open it for him - and out into the air.
the air! if there was one thing beckwith had in common with the other inhabitants of the castle it was a sincere and abiding aversion to what is laughingly called "fresh" air - as if air that has blown over the whole foul human-infested earth could be said to have anything "fresh" about it by any stretch of the imagination - the air, at once sickeningly warm and yet with something of the cold clamminess of the tomb about it - smacked him in his gray gob like a dead flounder wielded by a champion batsman - but what he could he do, what could anybody do in his situation but carry on, yes, carry on.
"you there! " beckwith cried to muggleton, who was making his way across the blasted and littered landscape of the castle grounds with an increasingly bewildered expression - increasingly truly the operative word as bewilderment was the very essence of muggleton's being as well as his face to the world.
muggleton appeared not to hear beckwith's salutation. nor even to see him, though he stood plainly in front of the castle gate.
"halloa! you there!" beckwith cried again. there was nothing wrong with beckwith's voice, as he regularly exercised it berating the staff and the morwyns.
exasperated, beckwith began to move toward the oblivious muggleton. he had not gone three paces when he tripped over an exposed root and landed with a dreadful thump face down in a particularly disgusting mess of some sort.
a dead animal, perhaps? something even worse? something that the sun was no longer shining on, as beckwith's head was now effectively shielding it from that entity.
in any case, beckwith had at least succeeded in attracting muggleton's attention, and muggleton now came running as quickly as he could - which as the reader may have surmised was not very quickly - and quite heedless of the myriad traps and pitfalls the grounds held -
reader, you can guess what happened next.
that's enough for now, thought minette. her left index finger was getting sore from tapping at the old typewriter. not too bad, she thought.
minette didn't think she had ever heard of beckett before the contest. but she had been given copies of his books and had started to read them in order. she had not liked "murphy" so much, but liked "watt" better and that was the book she was trying to imitate.
she got up, leaving the sheet of paper in the typewriter and went to the window and looked out.
sari, minette's regular day guard, was lying on the bed and followed her with her eyes.
"are you through?"
"yes, for now."
sari could not read or write and so, unlike some of the other guards and maids - a few of whom were virtually writing the books - was little help to minette in writing her assigned novel. she felt bad about this, and liked to be helpful by at least listening to minette reading it aloud to her, and being encouraging by laughing in what she thought were the right places.
"you want to read it to me?'"
"thanks, maybe later." minette stared out the window. the morning was overcast and windy, and looked cold.
"you want to go out?'" sari asked her. "is anybody out there?"
"no, but this is the time rosalind usually goes out."
"fuck rosalind. you have just as much right to go out as she does."
"i don't want anybody getting mad at me."
"helga even said she didn't want rosalind getting to think she had a special time reserved. if you want to go out, let's go."
"um - all right. it looks cold, though. we should bundle up."
zender had always been vaguely aware that his colleagues in the modern history department regarded him as a pompous ass.
he had never let this bother him.
he was also aware that his field of study - anticipatory history, which he had done so much to promote and make respectable, but which was now widely considered to be totally discredited as a result of the recent worldwide upheavals - was no longer one calculated to win him fame, or a position beyond the one he now held as department chairman.
if, indeed, he could hold on to his position as department chairman.
he wondered what had happened to schon, his most determined adversary within the department, and if schon would be back.
no doubt schon, if he returned - had zender seen him at all on the few occasions he had visited the offices during the hostilities? - would have some cutting remarks about "anticipatory history", but would he actively mount a campaign against zender?
schon's specialty was the minute chronicling of the births and marriages of the prussian and bavarian aristocracies since the formation of the second empire, and he passionately believed - and defended the belief - that "history is documentation". he invariably concluded his briefs by striking the table and exclaiming - "no more and no less."
zender suddenly realized - why had he not realized it before? - no doubt because he had not thought about it - that he did not care if schon mounted a new offensive against him - might in fact, welcome it, if it did not involve any serious financial consequences.
financial consequences! why had he allowed such a poisonous thought to seep into his curiously and pleasantly lassitudinous brain?
for is there not always a strange - though often unacknowledged - for various reasons of courtesy and propriety - exaltation at finding one in a new situation - or leaving an old one behind forever?
is there not a universal music in looking back and seeing something - no matter how previously cherished - grow smaller and smaller and finally disappearing on a receding horizon?
but now the music, pleasant enough as it had been, stopped.
and there was no recalling it. it was over.
but the poison spread.
zender sighed. maybe morgenstern knew something . he usually did.
morgenstern was still at his desk, looking at a two-page newspaper - perhaps a different one? - when zender approached him again.
zender got straight to the point. "has schon come back around?"
morgenstern's almost unchanging expression was one of polite skepticism. now it sharpened a bit. "schon? what would you have with schon?"
zender flushed slightly. after all this time - and after hardly setting eyes on him for four years - morgenstern still had the ability to irritate him. "i should have said, have schon or any or the others come back around?"
"but especially schon, eh?"
"i am still head of the department - so far as i know. until i am informed otherwise. i was wondering if there was much of a department left to be head of."
"you mean much of a department left for schon to aspire to be head of."
zender was the least violent of men but he felt that if he had a stick in his hand he would have hit morgenstern with it.
"be that as it may," zender replied evenly. "have you, or anybody else, in fact seen schon?"
morgenstern laughed. "you have been out of touch. schon is widely believed to be dead."
"well, you know how it is these days. no one brought his body into the department in a carpet and rolled it on to the floor. but it seems to be accepted that we will not see him again."
"accepted by whom?"
"by the count, among others."
"you have not seen the count, i take it," morgenstern asked.
"no, i don't think i have seen him - i don't think i have seen him since the war began."
"ah. he popped in, made the rounds about two weeks ago."
"yes, i believe you mentioned that he seemed unchanged. did he have any particular message to impart?"
"he told us to carry on."
"of course." zender hesitated. "i don't suppose, then, we shall see him again any time soon."
"unless something extraordinary were to happen."
"extraordinary! " morgenstern pretended to return to his paper. "what extraordinary thing could happen? especially after all that has already happened - and not happened."
"look here, morgenstern, can we speak frankly for once? we know that things have changed, and will never be the same again."
"why," cried morgenstern, "have we not been speaking frankly? things will never be the same again - what a thought!" he tapped the paper he had been reading. "but do you know, i have been reading the exact same sentiment in this most worthy publication." he held it out for zender's inspection.
it was , as previously noted, only two pages, and of the cheapest paper.
"the new torch of light," zender read the masthead. "to distinguish it from the old torch of darkness, no doubt. why do you read such rubbish?"
"why?" morgenstern pulled the paper back . "because my field is contemporary - not anticipatory - history - ha ha! as you, as department head, no doubt recall even after the world has been so totally changed.
"yes, of course."
"permit me to read this. it is signed by a fraulein grunbaum, whom i envision as a long legged amazon of about eighteen years, though she may be old enough to be our grandmother - ' this the time, not to try the so-called soul of mankind, but to abandon the idea of civilization itself, which has exposed itself as a total sham. the mask of civilization has been torn off and tossed into the street - -and the street itself has turned to water and washed it away. nothing indeed will ever be the same -' . there you go, your very words. eloquent stuff, eh? shall i go on?"
"please do not. i am sure you and fraulein grunbaum could have a most interesting correspondence on the subject of the future of civilization. i have a more pressing question. if you know the answer, i would appreciate your sharing it."
"and that is?" morgenstern made no effort to mitigate his smirk.
"are we to be paid? and if so, in what? and by whom?"
"ah. ah. that is indeed a question." morgenstern was no longer smiling, and shifted in his seat so that he was no longer directly facing zender. "you had to ask."
"i take it, then, that you know no more than i do."
"i know that there is still food and drink - coffee, at any rate - here in the building. as i told you, the worthy fraulein mommsen is at your service. "
"have you been in the shops lately, and attempted to purchase anything?"
"no, but i have heard travelers' tales. no doubt the same ones you have, since you are asking me." morgenstern seemed to have recovered some of his earlier aplomb. he folded his paper neatly and placed it on his desk.
"and are we to stay in the buiding forever," zender went on, " like shipwrecked sailors, until the fraulein's stores of plenty are exhausted?"
"i suppose the count may know something. if anyone does. if you care to approach him."
zender fell silent.
"after all, " said morgenstern. "you are head of the department."
despite the widespread woe and chaos that they have been credited with spreading, individual witches, unlike kings and conquerors, have not had their lives much chronicled by those scribes who have undertaken to record the histories of nations.
it may be doubted if a single witch has attained real fame, by name, in the history of humanity. the witch of endor, described in the first book of samuel, is not named other than as "the witch".
it is commonly believed that joan of arc was accused of being a witch and tried and executed for being so. in fact she was tried and condemned for the more unromantic crime of heresy.
those persons of an antiquarian bent who are interested enough, can, of course, find the names of actual persons condemned as witches and wizards in europe, in the british isles, and in north america, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
let us return, then, to our story in the fourth century of the christian era.
the three women whom the old soldier probus had encountered on the road to mother ariana's alehouse - were they, in fact, witches?
let us dispense with speculation and simply note that they, and a few others like them, were considered to be so by most of the inhabitants of the area, and that they considered themselves to be so, though they would never acknowledge this outright to any but each other.
if the authorities had not taken note of them, it was because there hardly were any authorities, as a citizen of today's world would understand the term.
barentius, who had constituted such authority as there was in the region, was quite indifferent to their existence, as were his sons (except as they might view the younger of them as pleasing specimens of femininity).
the devout asmeralda, however, was scandalized by their existence, and had she had the ear of a more complaisant governor, or of some powerful abbot or bishop, would have urged the utmost zeal to be employed in the investigation and prosecution of their suspected activities.
the youngest of the three women who had amused themselves by frightening poor probus, and whose melodious voice still echoed in his brain and sent a thrill of mingled terror and excitement through his simple martial soul, had a history which was no doubt repeated thousands or millions times over in all places and ages - the beautiful young woman of the peasant or beggar class who comes quickly to the attention of the males, young and old, of all classes -
who excites the jealousy of women of her own class and the contempt of those of the higher class (and sometimes, the amusement of those of the very highest class) - who resists, briefly or not so briefly, sometimes spiritedly, not infrequently to the death - the casual but implacable cupidity of the siegneur - who is then cast aside to the mockery of her former fellows and the horror (though very occasionally the compassion) of the pious - who is regarded as fallen and ruined by all - who then makes her way as best she can until vanishing into that darkness which awaits the peasant and the potentate alike.
it is not to be wondered at that many of these women join the ranks of "witches" or "sibyls" or whatever other designation would be used in a particular time and place.
their presence would also account, to the rational minded, for the common belief that witches were almost all either young and beautiful, or old and withered, and that they traveled in groups embracing both types.
it also seems obvious, on reflection, that the fear engendered by assuming the role of the "witch" would be regarded as a form of protection, to be courted even though risking the alternate peril of arousing the attention of the inquisitor or witch-finder.
perhaps less obvious, though not immediately susceptible to refutation, is the idea that some very young women, perhaps alerted to their coming dangers by observing the fates the others, should anticipate their attackers by joining the unholy ranks even before reaching the first bloom of womanhood.
such in fact was the story of celia, the young woman whom probus had encountered on the dark road in our previous chapter.
celia had had an older sister, even more beautiful than herself, who had aroused the attentions of the third son of barentius, named claudius, who had long since departed for the capital and a lieutenancy in the imperial army.
the sister, paula, had also departed, none knew where.
rosalind yawned. she stopped pecking at her typewriter. she got up and looked out the window.
there was nothing out there - the same nothingness and blackness that was out there every night. if she scrunched her neck around - or if she opened the window and stuck her head out but it was cold - she could see a few dim lights from the houses on the mountainside.
what a bore this whole thing was. what a crushing, frightful bore.
rosalind missed the excitement of the war. but the war - sigh - was over.
this stupid "contest" was taking forever - even more forever than she had expected.
and when it was over, then what? what would be more of a bore, being "empress" or some kind of lady in waiting or lady's lady or whatever in this dreary post-war world?
not that she actually knew what was going on in the outside world, but with the sort of people who won the war - really, what could one hope for?
look at the lack of respect she got even in this place, where at least she was recognized as a princess.
though of course nobody seemed to appreciate that she was not just a "princess" but a member of the british royal family.
it had never crossed rosalind's mind that she might finish last in the contest and suffer the consequences it entailed.
she tried, without success, not to think of jeffrey. or where he might be. at least writing the stupid novel kept her mind off jeffrey.
jeffrey, her beautiful - so much more beautiful than herself , dashing, heroic, doomed brother. who would always be hers because he had absolutely no interest in other human females.
where oh where was he now?
behind her the bed squeaked a little.
sarabelle, her regular night guard, had sat up and was yawning and scratching her neck.
"i hope i'm not keeping you up," rosalind asked her.
the girl was impervious to sarcasm and just about everything else. "not me. did you want the bed?"
sarabelle flopped back down and closed her eyes. her whole being oozed disrespect. she was a pleasant enough companion in some ways, but nothing could make her understand, in bed or out of it, who was the mistress here and who was the servant.
rosalind had hardly ever been alone for a minute in her life, and being alone was the one thing in the world that frightened her - actually terrified her . she kept one of the guards or the maid - she was one of the few contestants who had chosen to keep a maid - in the room with her whenever she was in it. but the maid went home at night and she was left usually with saucy sarabelle.
what rosalind would like to do - really, really like to do - would be to take a switch and beat some respect into sarabelle and the other little jills who thought they were as good as their mistress.
yes, that would be jolly fun.
but it was not meant to be.
she turned from the window and sat back down and resumed typing.