"now , where were we?" asked harriet, after the unfortunate cook had been sent packing.
hiram cleared his throat. “you had just mentioned, mother, that doctor wilson had told you that you had only a short time to live. “
“oh yes. and i had also got to the point of telling you that you were pitiful fools and must do as i say.”
“yes,” agreed hiram. “you had mentioned that.”
“and do you understand?”
hiram hesitated. “i understand that that is your opinion.”
“my opinion! but surely you do not dispute what you are pleased to call my opinion?”
“you are certainly entitled to your opinion as to my abilities, mother. i do not think, however, that i am going to be amenable to the suggestions you are going to make as to my future.”
“what!! do you defy me?”
“i am not sure that i will agree with you.”
harriet was speechless. she could not have been more astonished if hiram had turned into a chicken or a rattlesnake before her eyes.
“and in what way - and in what way, you pathetic ninny -, “ she finally managed to articulate - “do you presume to not agree with me?”
hiram sat up a little straighter in his chair. “have you ever wondered, mother, what i have been doing all these years when i was at the factory?’
“i assume you were doing nothing, while bud riley and the other foremen ran the place.”
“that is true enough in its way, but i was doing something the whole time i was doing nothing.”
harriet’s eyes narrowed. “get to the point, hiram. what was this something you were doing - and, more importantly, what can it possibly have to do with my instructtions - my dying instructions - to you.”
“i was writing poetry.”
harriet laughed. “you were writing poetry? poetry?”
harriet laughed harder, clearly relieved. she looked around the room, but there was no one to meet her amused gaze. hermione’s eyes, still filled with tears, were cast on the floor.
“and how is writing this precious poetry going to detract from your continuing to go to the factory every day, which, among other things, is what i had envisioned? bud riley will continue to run the factory, as he always has, and you can do whatever you please.”
hiram leaned forward. he twisted his hands together. “up until now i have been concentrating on epic poetry.”
“hiram has showed me some of his poetry, mother,” hermione blurted out. “i think it is really quite excellent. he should be proud. and - and - “
“i am not interested in what you think,” harriet interrupted her. “i do not see what any of this has to do with anything. “ she stated at hiram. “why, exactly, can you not continue to go to the factory every day, poetry or no poetry?”
“because, mother, i feel that i have exhausted the possibilities of the epic form.”
“and what has that to do with the price of grapes?”
“because, to get right right to the point - “
“yes, by all means, do.”
“ - i have decided to become a wandering minstrel.”
“a wandering minstrel?”
“and what does a wandering minstrel do when he is at home?”
“a wandering minstrel is never at home, mother. he lives on the open road, and the sky is his roof and the fields are his bed.”
“do you mean that you wish to become a beggar?”
hiram hesitated, but only for a moment. “if you put it that way, yes.”
“and give up your portion of my inheritance?”
harriet laughed, even louder than before. “i can not say that i did not know you were an idiot, but i never suspected you were such an idiot as this.” but even as she spoke, harriet’s brain, after its initial shock, was starting to process hiram’s words.
maybe this was not such a bad thing - assuming that he was serious and would go through with his nonsense. she had had a little more hope of making a good match for hermione. perhaps, with only one of them to worry about, and that the one with a better chance, it would all work out…
harriet held up her hand. “enough. enough of this for now. we - or you two - can take this foolishness up later. for now, i am going to explain to you the plans i have and that i will put into effect.”
both hiram and hermione nodded respectfully, and held their tongues.
“everything will be divided equally between you. hiram will inherit the house - “ harriet hesitated but neither of them spoke so she continued. “as it is to be hoped that hermione will marry sooner than later. a share of equal value from the capital twill be set aside for her dowry. stock in the factory, and the remaining capital will be split equally between you. do you have any questions?”
neither had questions. hermione continued to dab at her eyes with her handkerchief.
“here is the most important part, so listen carefully. both of your inheritances will be placed in trust until you marry. until then, of course, household expenses will be paid, the factory will hopefully pay its own way, and you will receive allowances - allowances not commensurate with any frivolity, to be sure.”
harriet paused, but neither hiram nor hermione spoke up. what a couple of milksops, she thought. not a millimeter of spine between them.
“do you have any questions?” she asked again.
hiram felt he had to say something. ““i assume mr cooper will handle the trust.” mr cooper was the family lawyer. much as she despised lawyers, harriet could not completely dispense with one.
“no, mister cooper will not handle the trust.”
hiram was surprised. “who, then?”
“madame smithwick! but, mother - “ it was hiram’s turn to laugh. “madame smithwick is a ridicuous charlatan. you laugh at me for writing poetry - and you entrust the family fortune to that ridiculous creature -“
harriet’s face reddened. “i will be the judge of madame smithwick’s competence. madame is in harmony with the universe, and i trust her to do what i will instruct her to do.”
we left beckwith, the fearsome and dignified butler of castle morwyn, lying facedown in some sort of indescribable and by us so far undescribed muck, and the unfortunate muggleton - at this point, the chief protagonist of our plain, or as plain as we can make it, tale, having burst through the protective hedges of the said castle morwyn, approaching the gate - more properly, the front door - of the castle, quite unaware - as he was largely unaware of everything - of beckwith's prone presence.
what happened next was foreordained, as everything in this world is foreordained, whether it be told in a plain unvarnished tale like this the one i am telling, or the most overelaborated one told to the accompaniment of a full orchestra in the finest opera houses of london or paris or dublin, attended by the most respected and dignified citizenries of these bustling metropolises in all their most resplendent finery.
yes, respected and dignified, for the respected and dignified - not to mention the wealthy and celebrated and cosseted - must have their tales - often the same tales - no less than the downtrodden and wretched and faceless of the earth.
it may be rightly understood that the downtrodden need their tales to get them through their desolate existences, but why should the great of the earth attend to the same stories, even as they flaunt their glory?
can it be that in the great echoing cavern of onrushing oblivion that we call "the universe" there is no difference between the highest and the lowest, no more difference than between a termite, about to be devoured by an aardvark, and an ant, about to be devoured by a southern tamandua.
reader, we digress, and we apologize. there should be no digression in this plain story we aim to tell.
and so it was foreordained that the mighty beckwith should lose his dignity in the blasted and root-bestrown and pestilentially infested heath that constituted the "grounds" of castle morwyn ...
dignity! a sage has rightly said that love makes the world go round, but dignity puts it through its paces and keeps it in line.
for many survive the loss of love - many survive well enough without ever having it to lose - but who can survive the loss of dignity?
let the greatest king or emperor or conqueror appear on a white horse or a raised throne, and no matter what his triumphs or what is laughingly called his service to the state, if, while accepting the plaudits of the multitude, his wig blow off or his drawers fall down, and he will be remembered forever for this unlucky accident and for nothing else...
such were the ruminations of beckwith as he attempted to rise, to extricate his foot from the root which seemed to livingly encircle it.
time was of the essence. so far as he could tell none of his good-for-nothing underlings had stirred themselves to accompany him down the stairs and out the door and so none had witnessed his humiliation .
he pushed himself up on his hands. the foul essence covering his face dripped onto the ground, sending up a miasma that blinded him anew.
just as he was about to gain the traction to rise to his feet, he was smashed to the ground again by a heavy oblect falling with dead weight across his back -
the living carcass of poor muggleton, who in his haste to reach beckwith, to help him to his feet and also inform him of the plight of poor costermayne who lay half dead - or perhaps now entirely dead - on the other side of the hedge muggleton had so precipitatively broken through , had just tripped over some rock or bottle or shrub, or had perhaps slipped on one of the numerous slimy worms or grubs who slithered restlessly over the morwyn grounds, day and night, in fair or foul weather - in any event muggleton,
as he fell over the horizontal body of beckwith, had managed to give himself a great clout on his own head with his stout walking stick, the very same walking stick which had heretofore served him so handsomely, as he walked the face of the earth, one foot in front of the other, first one, then the other, an excellent and time honored mode of proceeding, which we have already made the reader acquainted with, at hopefully not excessive length.
the clout on the head with the walking stick - the stick snapping back one way, muggleton falling forward precipitously and with the force of dead weight in the other producing a most prodigious whack, hardly to be duplicated by the most scientifically trained pugilist smacking some poor sod tied to a lamppost smack in the gob -
muggleton as he pinned beckwith back into the muck he had so desperately tried to arise from, was out cold.
muggleton’s hat flew off his head and spun around in the muck and grass like a top before coming to a stop.
beckwith, now all unconscious of dignity or anything except a blind primal desire - are all primal desires blind? - to somehow once again to stand upright upon the earth - had the wind completely knocked out of him.
even in his blind state beckwith at first had the sense to conserve his strength for his attempts to throw the unconscious muggleton off of himself.
but as the day wore on, and the sun began to go down behind the high hedges and darkness to fall and his efforts were for naught, frustration got the better of him and he began bellowing like a wounded moose.
his savage cries finally caught the attention of the chambermaid he had been chastising when fate led him to first notice muggleton’s progress through the hedge and across the grounds.
getting up from the chair she had been sitting on while waiting his return - for no servant in the castle, even the oldest of them - especially the oldest of them - would dare to simply walk away from beckwith before he was done with them - she approached the window and leaned ever so cautiously out of it.
the sight that presented itself to her eyes - insofar as she could see anything in the encroaching gloom - perplexed her acutely, and she stayed hanging out the window for some time wondering what to do, and whether to investigate herself - for she was only a chambermaid -or to seek assistance - but from whom, other than beckwith himself? - and in any event, she feared to leave her post before beckwith returned to complete her dressing down.
was the creature crying out so frightfully perhaps devouring beckwith?
were the cries of beckwith being devoured?
though the moon had not yet risen, might beckwith himself been transformed into the creature?
meanwhile, in other rooms of the castle, admiral morwyn and aunt morwyn and various other moywyns were being served their tea in a most slipshod manner, and were clamoring for beckwith to come to their aid.
where was the fellow?
and you, reader, may be wondering, what of costermayne, left outside the hedge in the deepening gloom with a hole in his head?
margrave, wilkinson and mercer resigned themselves to searching the area where hawkins had been murdered.
they began walking back the half mile to the jeep that they had left at the beginning of the road where the murder had taken place. ashley had insisted on their leaving it there and walking to the spot, so as not to drive over any possible tracks or evidence.
"look here," margrave announced, "there is no need for us all to come back here. mercer can round up a couple of boys and i will come back with them to do your bloody search."
he turned to ashley, who was keeping up rather a brisker pace than the others cared for, eager though they might be to return to the hotel bar . "i suppose you wish to be present for the search?"
"why of course."
"er - i am acting chief of police, you know," wilkinson put in, but he, margrave and mercer know it was only for show.
"happy to do it, old chap," margrave answered. "after all, i am deputy commissioner."
"deputy commissioner", as they all, including ashley, knew, was a largely meaningless title. the "commissioner" was a remote figure in nairobi. or was it cairo?
basically they all just muddled along. they knew what they had to do - the ones of them that had anything to do - and they did it as best they could, when they were sober enough.
"thank you, " wilkinson told margrave. they were approaching the jeep.
"of course," margrave addressed ashley, " you agreed we are going to have a bit of refreshment before we come out here again."
"why of course," ashley replied graciously. he had won his little victory. "we can have luncheon if you like."
they reached the jeep. margrave got behind the wheel and they headed back to the hotel, with the sun blazing overhead in the blue sky.
wilkinson, who managed the hotel and lived in it, had gone up to his room for his afternoon nap.
mercer had gone back to the plantation . three natives that he had assigned to aslhley's search had come up the road and were waiting for margrave and ashley outside the hotel, beside margrave's jeep.
inside in the bar, margrave was attempting to try ashley's patience by lingering over "one more drink."
when he finally finished it, he announced, "the sun is pretty high, i guess we can have one more."
"you can have one more, if you like," ashley answered. "you are right, we have time - if you have nothing else on your plate."
"hmm. so, how long do you think it will take, once we are out there, i mean?"
"oh, probably no more than an hour. maybe less."
"ah, that's no so bad then." the liquor, which usually made margrave more belligerent, seemed, along with ashley's estimation of the time, to mellow him a bit. "sure you won't have another?"
"no thank you." ashley looked out the window. "i see the boys are here. i think i will go out and explain to them what we will be doing."
margrave snorted. "bloody waste of time. when we get there you will still have to stand over them to make sure they do what you want."
"perhaps." ashley started to get up. "but i don't see that it can hurt."
"you want to talk to the buggers as little as possible. they try their infernal palaver on you, try to get you to go native. like poor mercer."
"oh?" ashley laughed. "i have to say none of you chaps quite struck me as 'going native'."
"ha ha! yes, the poor devil is quite under the spell of his black woman." margrave took another sip of his drink. "and, by god, they say the black woman is one of the leaders of the rebels."
"you don't say." suddenly ashley's whole demeanor changed. "you don't say. that is very interesting. i'd like to hear some more about this, if you please."
margrave flushed. he had not expected ashley's reaction and some of his natural bellicosity returned. "oh, it's just - i'm sure it's just talk, you know. you know how chaps talk out here, just from boredom, really. probably nothing to it."
"all the same, it's talk i would like to hear." ashley sat back down. "we take this sort of thing very seriously. very seriously indeed." he rapped his forefinger on the table. "i would like to hear the details of this so-called talk."
"i'm sure it's nothing, really."
"i'll be the judge of that."
the first thing mercer did after getting back to the plantation was assign three of the workers to the detail of helping ashley in his quest of the bullet.
his first thought was to assign the three laziest and incompetent ones he could find.
no, he thought, that might look suspicious.
he compromised. he found tam, his young second boss, and ordered him to take paul and jojo, the two laziest scoundrels on the plantation, and report to margrave and ashley at the hotel.
"it's hot walking, boss. can we take the truck?"
again mercer hesitated. if he made them walk it would give him time, but would it not arouse ashley's suspicions? at best, it would not look very cooperative.
"get martin to drive you over," he told tam.
"will he come back and pick us up?"
"maybe. probably." mercer wondered if tam could sense his nervousness. of course he showed no signs of noticing anything.
he dismissed tam with a nod and watched him head off in search of paul and jojo.
he walked into the shade where his house was, and entered.
jeanette was sitting beside the window sipping tea.
she took one look at him. "what is the matter now?"
"i think the jig may be up. we - i - may have to make a run for it."
jeanette did not seem perturbed. "really? why don't you tell me about it?"
sabine stopped typing. it was late at night. there was a bit of fog outside.
the room seemed quiet without the click-clack of the old typewriter.
it was almost time for helga to arrive. sabine wanted to make sure she got in her request to go for a walk as soon as the sun came up.
sabine had no compunction about using her cozy relationship with helga to her own advantage in small things. surprisingly, none of the other princesses seemed to mind, though some of the guards thought it was amusing.
there was a knock on the door. sabine recognized it as mara's knock, not helga's.
she got up and opened the door. it was indeed mara.
"hello there." mara stared directly into sabine's eyes, the way she always did. "helga couldn't make it."
"so i see."
"mind if i come in?"
"please." like most of the other girls, sabine found the politeness of the guards amusing. "will helga be around later?"
mara came in and sat on sabine's bed. "maybe. why, don't you like my company?"
sabine kept a straight face. "no, i just wanted to ask her something."
"helga's been pretty busy. and if you don't mind my saying so, because i know you and her are such good buds, she's been kind of bitchy lately."
sabine just nodded.
"i think - just think, mind you," mara continued, "because i don't really know anything, that something is going down."