Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Pig Myths - Chapter 4 - Eric and the Wolf King

The Samurai of which Professor Boyd spoke would be best known in the generations to come.  Boyd imagined then that the men before him would sire great leaders, even if they were not already great leaders themselves.  This view he elaborated and detailed at length, whilst one of his own off-spring, the youngest, Thomas Boyd, sat in the snug of a hotel bar in Sloane Square.

Thomas Boyd drank tea, not by choice; he was waiting to visit the statue of the Bronze Pig.  That statue was in Battersea, a district of London more notorious even than Whitechapel.  The young Boyd was aware then, that he was taking risks as he planned to visit the statue.  He had decided to do so, however; and he had a natural confidence, one that would allow for no displays of doubt.  Though he would have preferred to drink ale, he was a picture of relaxation as he sat back in the support of a winged armchair.
           His companion, Brandon Lewis, was also relaxed, though preparing for an informal audition.  His immediate concern was likewise pigs, fairy-pigs, a story he had composed and one that Thomas Boyd had agreed to listen to.  The purpose, one within the gift of the professor’s youngest son, was to decide whether to introduce Brandon to the Penny Periodical.  Boyd prepared to listen then with a critical ear, gauging both the narrative and its possible reception.

“Once upon a time;” Brandon knew the story well enough to recite it.  He wore reading-glasses nonetheless, wire-framed on his thin face.  He had the earnest look of a performer, a kindly and wizened narrator that belied his age; “in a land just beyond imagination and nestled next to dreams, there lived a miserable old King in a miserable old castle.  This castle, dark and lonely, with battlements stretching into the clouds, sat at the very tip of a steep and winding hill.  The castle was visible throughout the kingdom, its threat, like the threat of the King himself, a constant reminder of the tyranny that ruled the many subjects in the farms and villages below.

            The King, a wolf by nature, was known simply as King Wolf.  He was not the tallest of his kind, nor was he broad and strong like the guards who followed him.  His shape indeed was closer to the lean and cunning fox, though his fur was black and he walked on his hind legs, his muzzle turning readily and repeatedly to a snarl.”

Brandon’s voice had the edge of his uncertain art.  Though a child’s story he read with the utmost purpose, the movement of his lean face expressing the dangers of the tyrant described.  Boyd, studying him closely, saw the starved garret-living in the student.  He was conscious also of the animation of Brandon’s words; they were honed and precise.  He raised his cup of tea, sniffed the bergamot with displeasure, and returned the floral china, its contents un-tasted to his saucer.

“King Wolf,” Brandon continued; he had paused only for a brief look, gauging the effect on Thomas Boyd.  His usual audience was Mary, a fellow orphan, and her expression was easier to read.  Whilst Mary was an active listener, playing out the fear, humour and escapes of his story, Boyd listened impassively.  The distraction of Boyd’s cup might have been boredom then.  Brandon persisted nonetheless, imagining Mary’s head curled upon his lap; “was as lonely as he was cruel, and with each passing, lonely year the King’s cruelty increased.  This cruelty meant that none should be happy in his Kingdom; and yet, though his messengers went everywhere acting out the King’s displeasure, there were some creatures that still preferred to laugh, sing and dance.

Most noted of these were the fairy-pigs.  These subjects, short and thin, with round, pink heads, inhabited dry tufts of soil in the marshy lands, near woods, brooks and even the wash of the sea.  They kept mainly to themselves, preferring the merriment of their fun-filled lives; yet, wherever they lived one could usually guess their presence from the sound of sweet-singing voices and the merry rustle as they skipped in their day-long dances.

It is hardly to be surprised then that among the King’s chiefest displeasures was the lives and reputation of this merry folk.  As the sound of their singing was reported over and again to his court the King felt the power of their pleasure threaten to unseat his own.  He issued then the sternest of edicts, a proclamation to be read aloud in village, farm and marsh:

‘On pain of death no subject shall raise their head in song, skip with the merry movement of dance; nor undertake to have any pleasure at all.’”

This edict, read as though Brandon were a wolf-guard himself, was announced with a raised imperative.  The sound brought stares from outside the snug, and Boyd laughed to see the startled attention.  He was pleased that Brandon, also aware of the unexpected audience, did not waiver in his telling; Brandon included any listener that looked to him, glancing from his page to their uncertain faces.

“Now, the fairy-pigs were neither powerful nor particularly brave.  If they had been either they might long before have raised themselves from their mostly private lives.  As it was their chief weapons were their size and their mostly invisible lifestyle.  It could not be doubted, however, when the crier paused by each patch of marshy land, that it was they and their unwelcome ways that were being threatened.

Such threats, as you might well imagine, were not welcome in the marshlands.  How would you, indeed, like it, if the King was to prohibit your defining qualities?  You would not be happy at all, I dare say; and that is exactly how the fairy-pigs felt.  They had not asked to be prohibited; they had not even invited any to listen to their merriment, and so it seemed the greatest of injustices to have it taken from them.”

“Here, here,” Boyd said; Brandon smiled at this the first response; it disappeared as quickly as it came, but he was encouraged still as he regained his focus.

“The fairy-pigs needed then some way to contest the orders of the King.  Though the King had never visited their homes, nor so much as dipped his sharp claws into the muddy waters where they washed, the fairy-pigs knew his reputation well-enough.  They did not talk for long, that was not their way, and knowing that singing and dancing was their chiefest delight, it was quickly agreed that they should hold a party in the King’s honour.”

William Botherin’s head arrived first, peeping round the partition, and smiling to hear the performance.  Brandon paused; this was the signal for Boyd to leave, and he waited for some direction.  Boyd did not stand up.

“I’m listening to a story for Brown’s magazine,” he said to William; “now sit down.  We’ll go shortly.”

“It can wait,” Brandon excused.

“Of course it can; but give me the hero, and then William and I will be off.”

Brandon scanned, skipping the next paragraph and some dialogue that seemed tired now that he read it in silence.  He chose the few lines with which he would conclude.  Then he offered a brief explanation.

“They need a hero,” Brandon said, “someone to invite the King to the party; and Eric, the merriest of the lot, has been chosen.”

“Excellent,” Boyd answered; “tea William?”

“I’d prefer ale.”

“Tea, William; it’s a fairy-tale.”

“Fairy-pigs choose their names according to their character.  Eric, or Ever Reliable in Crisis, knew then that the duty of inviting the King was his.  He gave a merry kiss to his wife, tickled her until she squealed and together they did a merry dance to show that all would be well despite the dangers that he faced.  This done, his round face still giggling with pleasures he had shared, Eric set off for the castle on his own.”

“I love it,” Boyd said, standing up, “and Mr Brown will love it too.  Now, William and I have some dangers of our own to face.  We’ll see you at eight.”

“Battersea Bridge.”

The two medics left; Brandon drank his cold tea as he folded the pages and hid them away in his pocket.  His head felt dizzy with the pleasure of the moment, his performance and the prospect that his story might earn some money; but he had little time and he knew that he would need to hurry if he was to meet Boyd as arranged.  He walked back to his room with a lively step, songs forming in his head.

©2012 Padraig De Brún

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Pig Myths - Chapter 3 - The Samurai

“What do we learn from this story?” Professor Boyd continued when the silence had returned to Logan Hall.  Jack had sat back, conscious that he was being watched by Arthur; and unused to such attention he was pretending an ease that he did not feel.  Despite his pretence, he shifted repeatedly in his seat, adjusting his arms and legs, and trying to relax the tension in his back.  From the corner of his eye he watched the bulge of book in Arthur’s jacket pocket.

“Firstly, the Irishman, however wealthy, should never have risked those roads.  Criminals prey upon the unsuspecting because they are easy targets; and our Irish friend should have known better.  Next, he should know that it is not the quality of your reasoning that wins on such occasions; it is your understanding.  The Irishman was a fool, and deserves a fool’s death............Yes, Gentlemen.  Deserves.”

Arthur leaned forward, the slightest of gestures, barely noticeable to any but Jack.  He took a card from the stack on the table, and used his own pen to write: harsh but true.

“Once we have accepted the Irishman’s death, we must look to the role of the criminal.  He might, for some, deserve respect.  Who amongst you, I ask, has not broken rules for some better gain?  And yet, consider his motives.  Is this some Robin Hood?  No.  He is a man driven only by personal gain; and his gain is taken from the suffering of others, however witless.........”

The criminals are banished from the kingdom, Arthur wrote, ignoring the explanation that was given; they deserve no pity, no pity at all.  They simply take.

Jack did not need such prompting; the professor’s sentiments were familiar.  He guessed, however, that there was more to Arthur’s actions than his words; and so he smiled, as though relaxed.  This did not bring the expected response, Arthur was in control; and whilst Jack was waiting for some further mention of the Myths, Arthur put his pen away and looked once more to Professor Boyd.

“We cannot expect to survive, Gentlemen, if we continue as we are.  I look at you where you sit, old and new wealth, influence, position and profession; and I see the Samurai of our time.  A Samurai, yes; the greatest we could ever expect.  And yet, look at you; no more than men.  How can you, or I for that matter, ever hope to survive, when we are no more than men; and when we live in a society that treats our greatness as no different to the idiocy of the Irishman, or the criminality of the outlaw?

That, Gentlemen, is the challenge I pose for you this evening.  It is no idle challenge; we have not gathered here for merriment, or to listen to some well-worn story.  If The Society of which you are honoured, and honourable members is to be of any use, to be more than just a talk-shop; then we must recognise the threat of democracy, and we must rise to it.”

The hall did rise, almost as one.  Jack alone kept his seat, whilst the hall applauded.  He felt his instincts complain at the show of support; Jack’s politics were studied, rather than fixed; and what Jack wanted was knowledge, reason and understanding, as opposed to this display of blind, collective faith.  Arthur did not seem to notice the rebellion as he sat down, keeping his eyes on the podium where Professor Boyd stood.  Instead, with a casual, indifferent gesture Arthur removed the book once more from his pocket.  Then he passed it to Jack whilst he stood up and moved off about some other business.

As Arthur did so Professor Boyd’s lecture continued as some back-drop to Jack’s concentration.  Like many Jack had heard of the myths, mostly folk-tales, or the gossip of chattering intellects.  It seemed incredible, therefore, that he had a copy open in front of him; it was real, physical.  Though the translation of a Russian priest, Jack could picture the original authors as if the Elder Pigs were gathered in the hall all about him.

These pigs, despite their name, were of many ages, each fattening for the kill.  That was part of the wonder of their work; the pigs were owned, confined, held in one of the many farms that emerged in early Chinese society.  They could no longer act for themselves, find shelter, food, water or mates; and so they simply observed the lives of their captors, learning to talk and write about what they found.

“They’re fascinating,” Arthur whispered, returning to his seat; “it’s a translation of course; but you’ll recognise the name Fr Nilus.”

Jack nodded, not as accomplished at such private conversations as Arthur was.  He noticed the man next along turn, disapproval on his face.  The man did not comment, and Arthur mimed an apology, taking the book back as he did so.  A smile of conspiracy said that he would return it to Jack later.  That was enough for now, and Jack pretended to listen to the remainder of Boyd’s lecture.

“Greatness,” Boyd announced at that moment, “is not commonplace; it is neither within the scope, nor the dreams of the common man.  We cannot, and should not then, leave our futures to be determined by the many.  History is littered with such determinations; be it the gabble of Babel, the mob-rule of Athens, or the corrupt Senate of Rome.  All point in one direction, the demise of civilization.

If that is what you want, and I know it is not, then you may turn a blind eye to the bill for plural voting currently being debated in our chamber of Government.  The bill, if passed, will give the vote to the honourable, mediocre and criminal alike, man and woman.

I say, Gentlemen, that we cannot afford such risks.  Multiples of flawed reasoning and flawed understanding leads to flawed decisions.  We owe it then, to ourselves, to our children and to the future of this great nation, to take control, to rule the kingdom of tomorrow, just as Samurai were meant to do.”

©2012 Padraig De Brún

Chapter 2

       Chapter 4

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Pig Myths - Chapter 2 - Jessica Clarke

               The story might have been written for Jack’s wife, Sarah.  Like the Irishman she refused to bow down to the dangers of the streets; and as Jack was sitting to a Society table Sarah was preparing to walk to Whitechapel.  The walk would take Sarah from the relative comfort of Victoria Park to a district of London known for its squalor and crime; her preparation was to dress in plain, if expensive clothes, a high collar, straight jacket and long skirt that all but erased the evidence of her sex.

                Such behaviour was typical of the doctor, a woman of principle and social conscience; and having dressed, she checked the time and hurried down to the kitchen to give some final instructions.  The young German maid she employed there was a protégé, an ambitious project in self-worth.  Porsche was a reluctant learner, however, she had other ideas; and not expecting to be seen again that evening, Porsche had begun her preparations for her own outing.  She turned away as Sarah entered, trying to hide her face.

                “Are you wearing make-up, Porsche?” Sarah challenged.

                “With permission, Dr Knightley,” Porsche lied; “they are holding a meeting of women at my church.”

                “And do the women usually wear make-up to such meetings?”

                “No, Dr Knightley.”

                “Then you had best remove it.”

                The maid’s blush showed through the light-brown tinge as she turned to this instruction.  Sarah felt no guilt, hers was a tough love; and the model of femininity she practised was physical in a mainly functional sense.  She held the maid’s sheepish gaze with a prudish stare then, Porsche’s youthful deceit something to be corrected.

Porsche responded accordingly, her married lover a secret.  She offered a submissive curtsey, noting its effect.  The submission, as usual, was sufficient to move Sarah onto more practical matters; this time it was supper.

                “You will be home before nine,” Sarah said; “Mr Knightley will expect supper when he returns, and you will need to prepare it.”

                “Of course, Dr Knightley.”

                “Now; I must be off.  Wash your face before you go to church.  You don’t want to give the wrong impression.”

                Sarah closed the door with this final, gentler reminder.  Porsche had already determined what food to leave out before she left for London Bridge; but Sarah could not even guess at this deception.  Hers was a busy life, medicine and politics; and as Sarah thought of suffrage Porsche was preparing to run away to Paris.  The maid pictured a new life there, a fantasy of romance; the excitement justified her behaviour, and she made swift work of her final chores.  Then she dressed in the glamour of silk, a woman of importance ready to leave.

                Sarah meanwhile had moved on, a different protégé.  Jessica Clarke, a nurse at the University Hospital, lived in a street off Whitechapel Road, behind Baker’s Row.  Sarah had recognised the potential at once, a native, if ill-formed intelligence; the woman spoke thus to Sarah’s ambitions, and Sarah had committed a good deal of time, inspiring in Jessica a sense of her own political worth.  As she did so, a bonus of education, Sarah too had learned; and this learning, the innate beauty of Jessica’s class, carried her out from Victoria Park that evening, turning right and right again onto Mile End Road.

She walked, though a woman alone, with her head upright, a hungry intelligence taking in the sights all about.  It was an evening of bitter cold, an icy damp that leaked beneath her coat and her broad-rimmed hat.  There were few people about on such an evening; and those that were, mostly men, gathered beneath street-lamps, or around braziers.  Sarah noticed herself observed by several such groups, some calling out.  She did not react, however crude their jests; she chose rather to assume a look of indifference, as though she was above anything so vulgar.

This defence carried her the few miles towards Whitechapel Station.  She recognised it from a distance, the red and blue lit against the dark of early evening.  About her the sights, sounds and smells had grown more threatening, unpleasant; but Sarah was a woman steeled against unpleasantness.  Her thoughts thus were on spotting the Pavillion Theatre, Jessica’s home was in the streets opposite.  Having reached the theatre Sarah crossed the road, remembering the instructions she had been given, and escaping from a chill wind into a maze of narrow, cramped and poorly lit lanes.

Despite the greater number of people, clustered in doorways or on street corners, Sarah was even more visible now that she had left the main road.  Nobody approached at first, but all eyes seemed to follow her; and as she advanced further, the smokey dark appearing to press its seal behind, she could tell from whispers, gestures and the occasional shout, that she was generating a lot of interest.

She treated this with the same determined resolve; her head was forward now, straight, avoiding any contact of eyes; and she distracted her fear by counting the turns on her right.  By the time she reached Baker’s Row, however, the calls could not be ignored.  Sarah paused at the approach of some women; they were made up for their trade.  The prostitutes looked old, worn with life; and Sarah pitied them their work, even as they stopped, raised their skirts and mimed the movements with which they would serve their customers.

The laughter and jests this invited, placing prices on Sarah’s sex, were echoing loudly as Jessica appeared.  Jessica was both embarrassed and angered by this reception.

“Shut up the lot of yeh,” she called; “or I’ll set my Billy on yeh.”

Sarah’s lesson was brought duly to an end, though the women moved slowly, a few resentful glances, still laughing among themselves.  Sarah watched on, doctor and researcher, the excitements of her danger passing.  She was still doing so when Jessica spoke again.

“I told yeh, yeh shouldn’t have walked,” Jessica complained.

©2012 Padraig De Brún

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Pig Myths - Chapter 1 - The Outlaw

31st January 1907
                “There was once, Gentlemen,” the Professor began, bringing Logan Hall to an immediate hush, “a man of Irish descent riding a fine black horse along the King’s Highway.  The man was wearing his finest clothes, and carrying a purse heavy with all the coins of his wealth.  Beneath him, distributed evenly between two saddle-bags was all that he otherwise owned in the world.  He had travelled far, the West I believe, and was bound for Dublin, and from there to America where he planned to make a new living.”

                Arthur had heard this speech before, as Secretary it was his responsibility to do so; and looking about the room he could tell at once which of the other delegates shared this experience with him.  That Jack Knightley did not was immediately clear; Arthur’s brother-in-law was sitting alone, his eyes lowered to the table, and he seemed to be transcribing the lecture verbatim.   Jack worked on card, thin strips stacked neatly to the side.  Arthur watched him write as he stepped closer, listening to the Professor at the same time. 
                “The man,” Professor Boyd was saying; “conscious of his position in society, and unwilling to bow before the dangers of the road, bore no weapons of his own, and as the days passed the confidence of this foolhardy decision grew.  The man would ride later into the night, rising as early as the Inns in which he stayed, and would set off to continue on his journey.

                It can be of little surprise then that late one evening, as the sun was setting on a winding, solitary stretch of road this lone figure came to the attention of one of the outlaws who make it their business to prey upon travelling men.”

                Coming to the attention of the many men gathered for The Society lecture was Charles Hampton MP.  Like the others, Charles was aware of his importance, he was a man of position and wealth; but for Charles Hampton these were secondary, accidents of life.  As Charles Hampton stood up indeed, upsetting his chair and distracting the professor from his lecture, he was not thinking of eugenics at all.  Charles Hampton’s thoughts were excited rather by the prospect of meeting a young German mistress at London Bridge station.

                Arthur took advantage of the disruption to make his own move; and as the eyes of the room turned to Charles Hampton, Arthur Downing was taking a seat next to Jack.  Arthur had a book in his pocket, a book that was both rare and stolen; and Arthur patted it reflexively as he sat down, greeting Jack with a silent nod.  Then, he turned his eyes to Charles Hampton, watching the MP leave the hall.

The outlaw,” Professor Boyd continued when this disturbance ended, “learning his morals from the practices of his class, and expert in his crime like many of his kind, made a quick assessment of the rider as he approached.  He saw a tall, middle-aged man, his position announced by his costume, and his lack of understanding displayed by his decision to ride alone in such treacherous surroundings.  Of even greater import, Gentlemen, a bonus for the outlaw, was the ready wealth the rider carried with him; this could be seen to bulge from the bags beneath his seat.

There was no need then for further encouragement, crime provides its own rationale.  The outlaw reasoned that the travelling man, one so well-presented, would also carry a purse, and he was already guessing at the extent of coin within as he took up his position.  Unlike the rider he was long familiar with that stretch of road; he knew its bends as readily as the escapes that were provided, and he secreted himself thus behind a large round oak, waiting to ply his crime as he listened to the steady trot of his approaching target.”

Jack looked to his left as Arthur placed the book on the table.  The shock was immediate, a flush of recognition; and Arthur left it linger until Jack had read the title and confirmed the author.  Then, without explanation, Arthur picked up The Pig Myths once more and slipped them into his waist-pocket.  He could tell from the stutter of Jack’s pen that the tease had worked.

At just the moment;” Professor Boyd was bringing his introduction to a close.  Arthur was all attention now, as though he had forgotten both Jack and the book; “when the rider was close enough to make retreat a futile option the outlaw stepped out, his scarf raised on his face and his triangular hat lowered on his brow.  He held two pistols, one in each hand, waited for the startled horse to settle, and called as he had done on many previous occasions.

                ‘Your money or your life, Stranger.’

                This challenge, Gentlemen, as I am sure that many of your number might readily imagine, threatened the man of Ireland to the core.  He looked to the road ahead, remembered what he had already travelled, and reasoned as a result the particular vulnerability of his position.

                Not to be outdone, however, and hating to lose what was rightly his, the Irishman spoke with a native and direct intelligence.

                ‘Robber,’ he said; ‘yeh’re well armed and yeh have me covered good enough.  So I’ll say this, and it’s me best offer.  Yeh’ll need to take me life; for I’m savin’ me money for me auld age.’”1


©2012 Padraig De Brún