The Folly: third arc
Just when the three investigators are feeling close to a breakthrough, de Clieux having established a path to the Celtic daughter, and she beginning to reveal those things unknown to history, to share her language and memories…
A mid-air collision between two planes brings three new spirits to the vicinity. Much to the surprise of the host and the guest, the spirits seem making themselves vocal, though these ought not to have been captured within the Folly’s marble-decorated chimneypiece. One is the playful and adulterous Lady Gimple; one, the husband of Mrs. Tattersby, the Spiritualist fellowship’s president…and one, Tattersby’s most vengeful rival in love.
Complicating the matter is a houseguest from America, Miss Harvey, a woman disturbingly self-aware of her mediumship.
We thought they were not men
They, beardless, most, but for their slaves
Vaunted trophies keeping costumed show
That in all weathers tell their vanquished homes
Came by war-engine attended
Came regaliaed steed, foreguard of chariot
Wheeled cage of sacrificial beast
Gentled by their magic; all these mounted ones,
Their faces red-scorched by their foreign sun
That we, beneath our clouds, did palely gaze upon
The marching men in their stepping ranks
Shields they bore, dressed in gold and silver
Their tents amassed behind the waters
Banners staked, that our eyes would see
Of burning men on cross-braced pillars
You see, M. de Clieux…though I have set my mind
To learn the English speech
A picture and a pointing hand tell much
Our father, Dodtha, met his chiefs in council…
‘Pardon.’ He lifts his pencil.
Father of your blood, or tribe…and do you give a name
‘Awful news!’ The guest arrives. He sees de Clieux dismayed.
‘Ah! You’d found her. I apologize. But had you heard
about the aeroplanes?’
As is the habit with enthusiasts
The host and guest come bustling in confabulation
Collision in mid-air, but did you hear
The witness swears one plane had seemed to veer…
To yaw—ahem—I think that is the term
Woman pilot, three thought deceased…
Blethering, who comes to do the place
And serve the lunch
Welsh rarebit, onion soup, hot tea
de Clieux breaks off his conversation once again
To Blethering’s eyes, the Frenchman speaks to air
And this is why she will not do the place
Except the host is there
On this day when fire could not be thought of
A sooty pall stains stucco shaded by the mantelpiece
But under this
Winks a brilliant blue and does persistently
…this Morse Code going on since yesterday
Refusing glances dart away
And none feels safe to read the message
Three men chew and meet each other’s eyes
‘So,’ the guest begins, and drains his cup.
‘Can this be a sort of ghostly nova? Why have I dreamt it
all night long? Ever since the rains…and I don’t care figs
for aeroplanes. I loathe all infernal machines.’
The host says, ‘We know it already, pictured scenes
are their speech, a means of it. You postulate a conduit,
a new way opened by our probings.
I fear we have a monograph to write.’
‘Awkward,’ sighs the guest. ‘I believe Lady Gimple,
the late aviatrix, was named co-respondent to Mrs. Tattersby’s suit.’
‘Naturally enough, Tattersby himself must be the third victim.
I don’t suppose they’ve said.’
‘Not by today’s Advertiser.’
‘No means,’ de Clieux puts in, ‘of identification.’
My dear madam,
I feel I would have been remiss in my duties, as Secretary of Phenomena, not to have called this to your attention. It was on account of your having a houseguest, that (as I recall) you had written to postpone our walking party. I have found the letter and read it through twice, to make certain of the particulars. Indeed, the weather seems (here, I should like to make a pun between incline and inclement, and can’t seem to do it) to forbid our climbing Wisham’s Hill. Our glasses are unlikely to descry anything promising about the lay of the land, in this pernicious fog. Perhaps, if Miss Harvey cannot walk any distance, she will enjoy reading my notes, assembled thus far, on the False St. Crispin’s. She is one of us?
You’ve never sat, doing your work
…if you had been me, on a stool upstairs
Made dumb by the green walls of Lippard’s laboratory
Looking down, as directed, through the lens
at the wing he’d razored along the vein
Some of the colours are not pigments, you know
Only reflections of light
He hated girls to be romantic
Wanted me to note how thin the very eye
of an insect
Could be cut
Wanted me in a purely clinical sense
To pin the specimen, wearing magnifying goggles
With the scalpel’s point, slice the abdomen
I wouldn’t love the butterfly and make a life for it in fancy
Like a woman
I would understand
It was a creature of component parts
M. de Clieux, Miss Harvey says
I waited for him on the blanket
with the box lunch and my pocket sketchbook
You’ve never sat, doing your work…
And felt uprising mark you
A flying squadron circle you, the enemy
Hem you round, knock you in the eye
Drop into your tea, buzz with a chill obscenity
Fall into your bodice
De Clieux feels this living woman, matter of fact in madness
Infects him, makes his intimate adulation of a ghost
as menacing as the insurgent swallowtail
The Lay of the Land
‘I imagine…I will not say admit…the possibility of cordial relations—
You see what he’s done here.’
The tenant of Wisham’s Hill Cottage
has got the field-gate closed to traffic
For good, more or less…for the time being
Put a sinister tripwire run through a boundary stone
‘He ought not to have made that hole,’ Mrs. Tattersby,
as she braces her rabbit-gun and takes a bead
Remarks acerbically to the host
‘That post is in charge of the Council.’
The spaniel has got herself over
At the loss of a tuft of hair
The terrier is perched with its paws up
And Dougal says, through gritted teeth,
The local youth are pleased to trespass
There goes a lad and his girl with their cameras
The black flattened tillage spans a swath so much larger
Than the bodies of two small planes
Metal parts thrust up
scrubbed shining by the rains
And Dougal’s face is red with a much-resented gallantry
He thinks there must be parts of Tattersby
Burnt in the earth
Knows these young rapscallions think so too, and hope it
Taking photographs, trying to carry things away
And the wife can stand like that, and scorn him
‘We’d arranged our business before all this, Mr. Inskip.
We shan’t be looking that direction.’
All these ordinary things are giving way
Times of late, like the dead wrapped their winding sheets
Familiar in outline still
But disintegrating into melt and worm beneath
He feels infected with the guest’s unhappy mood
Uses the word, not having spoken with de Clieux
He thinks the time is now to broach disturbance
The time is near…the time grown urgent
He gazes at the sky to hold this in
‘They’re loose,’ he murmurs
Faithful Inskip won’t go home
His housekeeper is waving far below
A duster like a signal-flag, up and down
Her smock a sack of ticking in the door frame
‘Bugger the woman,’ he shockingly says
But under his breath, and moves
Again without manners, brusquely pushing through
to catch Mrs. Tattersby
And though the host would have said she never will
She needs poor Dougal’s help
She gives a scream
A shallow skin of humus girds the summit
A clayey baste of tufted grass and pine straw
Here hundreds of white butterflies or moths
Have risen and still rise
Her face cannot be seen
Her garments seethe
As Lightning Might
Their leader is not unwell. No, not harmed.
Please leave off, dear.
Curious, no more. A nuisance.
Please don’t trouble.
All over now.
When she had shaken out her jacket
One flew a spiral
And died in the fire
Its wings by then had…
…caked away, he somehow thinks
As a butterfly’s broken will do
The scales, would it be the scales…
He could ask and she would tell
He wants to leave Miss Harvey…any house that holds her
At this moment, and not hate her
For scintillating so
‘It’s me,’ she says, ‘It’s me, being here. They know.’
De Clieux, pushing currents against the thickness
Tells himself it’s air we blunder through
Air is not nothing
We breathe lethargy and move like swimmers
This countryside this moment pulling down the clouds
Strikes him thus, as lightning might
Our eyes can’t see, but it will burst its bounds
He had wanted an aimless walk alone
He asks his friend, who has trailed behind
To prow away the silence with chatter
Explain what it was about the chapel
The false St. Crispin’s
‘Well, you know. We have records to the twelfth century.
So it had been assumed there was only one. Of course, that would be
typically the way…fire, or invasion, or plague would
rend to ruin, make abandoned, the old edifice
They would rebuild on the same spot.
De Clieux, if you’ll climb with me to the top
of Wisham’s Hill, we’ll arrive just at dusk
I believe it’s safe.’
Dougal Inskip’s Lonely Vigil
When she had been Fiona Medwin
Long about the jaw, but fair enough to a man
Content to break even on a steady-goer
No desire for a flash in the pan
Women, though, Dougal says to himself
Flash will get them, even the sensible ones
Ought she to burn a torch for Tattersby
Useless git to let a butterfly flatter him
…Lady Gimple, not a proper title either
Always the flyboys with that one
He has trodden the beckoning path
Wisham’s Hill Cottage to the Folly’s gate
He has no pretext for passing beyond
She won’t thole it, won’t take it as a caring friend’s
Tear another strip, more like…say to him again, not
Thank you, dear (you are so good to me)
But, Dougal, are you mad?
And at once, the light goes out
‘You must be mad. I swear you are!
Look at you, Mr. Inskip, preening on the inside!
Did she call you Dougal, poor lamb? How starved you are!
And what a meagre banquet the old girl lays on.
How dare you, while we’re at it, say my title’s not a proper one?
Because poor Reggie got his for flying a blimp over the channel?
Ah, poor Reggie! He has truly gone down to the sea.
We will never know if his soul washed up on some Froggie beach.’
Light laughter. Dougal, meanwhile, struggles,
bending double, dancing foot to foot.
She has taken impish hands from his eyes,
And got him by the arms…round the ankles.
He is painfully aware he looks a fool.
Wrestling the invisible.
At last he dares to whisper, ‘Lady Gimple…’
Terror, when it comes, warms the night
Fallen close and hard of breath
like a parachute’s muffling silk and coolness
Borne opaque the face of pity
Mirrored in the watcher’s eye
The plain below
Sinking to the cataract
Emerging hidden under rock
Mimicking Edwytha’s plait
The waters keen
And he has never known this name
For since the Celtic daughter’s hour
They have not called it so
Crania lift hollow sockets, smile
They are death’s heads void of nuance
Smile of all the world’s news
A rational man, de Clieux tells his companion
Would call this fog
Have you really left your bed to join me?
Miss Harvey says, for this time
That was my great disappointment…it has been.
So many, but Edwytha does not come
When the sun was high yet, before the warning clouds
Before the settling mists had veiled her iron locks
You’d have seen her forged there, giantess laid low
Long ribboned tresses bound in woven stone
Edwytha’s resting place, our spirit home
I, monsieur, too much a goddess from the cradle
Not to dream of honour, how I’d fly
The day I’d won a guardian’s grave
And mounted to the sky
The council first resolved
To bargain with our poverty of gold
Yea, this, we give in tribute, Romans!
All we have
My brothers, each with ceremony draws the silver brooch
From his cloak, and from his hair
That for this solemnity our enemy suppose
We yield before their potent Jupiter
We bury our own
Not Wanted Here
Awkward. He reminds himself he’d said it to the host
Not long ago. Meaning Fiona…Tattersby. And the awkwardness was
Sex. Well, but…the guest says, temporizing. In this dense fog,
strolling with somnambulant, cautious footing, he feels the sheen of mist
like Lady Gimple’s atomizer. When he had been her tutor,
she had sprayed him with her Joy, making sticky the Chaucer, and…laughing,
he must say, to see his eyes water. But what had been the notion…
It was this. That as the leaden pull of breakers, at the seaside, and the salt air,
make one feel not alone—but party to the wailing drowned
He frets these spirits may have heard
No, he says aloud for their sake. I impute nothing. The French are different
And Miss Harvey. She is, of course, American.
But, on the prudent side, I am not wanted here.
A ring shapes itself in parting obscurity
A gong-like train’s whistle
About that, where it seems to hit the scale
Shows teasing black, a dream of standing stones,
Else a funhouse mirage
of Dougal’s boundary post, reduplicated.
Not his, of course, a borough feature
Meant to stand as sentinel, for public order
A speaking voice, he cannot fear it
And yet uncertain that he hears it
‘Squier, com neer, if it your wille be,
And sey somwhat of love; for, certes, ye
Connen theron as muche as any man.’
We haven’t met
You and I, my scholarly predecessor.
Pre-deceased, think of that!
Poor bugger’s heart snuffed like ash.
Reggie! Dear old intrepid Reggie, him, we shan’t forget!
Falsetto: I call, and my lover answers not.
Tattersby, chained on a spit, crisped to a cinder.
Inskip, daft prat! You’re for it now, lad!
Thou pair of captives, ye who live
And the hecatomb of my lady Lucille’s dead
I feel cheated. Yes, cheated, in a profound and unexpected way
You won’t like crediting Roscoe Bevington with profundity
Not least because, educated as you’ve been
You no doubt cherish philosophy as franchise
Don’t much take to it, a wrong’un like myself
Waxing Aristotelian on the theme of man’s demise
I missed the war. As, of course, did you… Ergo, sirrah, you understand me
When I say those boys of Kitchener’s brigade
Had the easier time of it
How I’d have thrived as a flying ace
What reward for ramming Tattersby mid-air
What medal pinned upon my breast?
Or such as filled my casket
His precious Tiger Moth, you know
Ha, ha! That also his unimaginative pet name for Lucille
Handy little aviatrix, our Lady Gimple
Now, I am a rather blunt-looking chap
Not one of your equine aristocracy
Makes one cynical of one’s elders, a bit
This inconstant family visage
And what is my brother Anselm today? A plodder
Embalmed behind a company desk
You don’t know, do you… You can’t tell me, my young squire
If he sent his man Walker in the dear old Chickadee
to carry it up to Morpeth
I mean that neatly severed hand of mine
The papers all had been so kind as to mention
The extraordinary freedom!
I refer to taking matters of dispatch into one’s own hands.
I had been inclined, even I, to stick to rules, you know. Embarrassing
the name of Bevington not done.
(As though this were a thing of real concern.)
I bore the insults. Wavered, I tell you
On the brink of feeling
Titles, after all, must find each other out…
Here what feels to the guest like the clutch of a hand
Chilling his forearm with such freezing immediacy
He fears he has been done an injury
How at this moment he could wish, to share this insight with his colleagues!
Do you understand me! Roscoe shakes him and he notes
the arm not broken (shattered, one might dare suppose)
I’d taken her across to Paris, taken her over the sea
To Antwerp. We strolled their sodding cobbled streets, took Flemish snaps
Of architectural excrescences. It was cosy. We came across Tattersby.
Lunching at the flying club.
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘now you I’ve heard of. You had an awful rivalry with Anselm once.
This,’ she said, ‘is Anselm’s brother.’
Tattersby yawned a bit.
I recall her never showing the spark of interest
And all her talk had been of theatre
How she would be an angel, now, being that her father
Had forbade her, in her first youth, going on the stage
‘How’—falsetto again, singsong—‘Simon, pet, I’m curious…
Does one learn to pilot a plane?’
It was only some stunt I’d had in mind, taking off
Only hoping, perhaps, to buzz them royally.
But homing in, it came to me…be a fine and fitting end
To our little ménage à misery.
But there you see, my friend
The true pilgrim’s progress of a deadly flirt
I don’t see it, the guest says
Ah, says Roscoe. You shall.
The Hothouse Rose
‘You’ll have to get rid of that woman’
Her voice rings oddly clear, a piercing ray
of sun snowcaps Mrs. Kentworthy’s hair
His housekeeper meets his eye, a glance up from her cleaning kit
And withering glare, that says indeed,
keeping fealty with the name she bears,
‘I’ve worked many places, Mr. Inskip. This here’s summat
He’s not certain, though, that Lucille can be heard
By any other than himself
It had been the start—
His giving Macbeth’s before the ghost of Banquo
A run for its money
An earlobe tugged sportingly
That chilling touch
(Not her fault, he grants)
And Dougal being out the night, his coat
Face unshaved, shoes tracking mud
His help must think him fallen prey to drink
No, she doesn’t hear that laugh
Sees her gentleman strike a listening attitude, helpless
They pantomime these telegraphing roles
He knows Mrs. Kentworthy is jotting notes
Mentally, what she’ll tell her sister
‘You see I’m not so much the hothouse rose…
No matter what the envious whisper
I intend making a project of it
Of you, my darling Dougal
Keeping your precious hearth and home
Begone melancholy fancy!
I’ve always had a will and made a way
You shall be my hands, my Jane
And I your Rochester
Just see what fun we’ll have together!’
‘What fun!’ he shouts aloud, and sees at once
Of all strange things to blurt
Worse, from a face, no doubt, of humourless defeat
He has found it
That tremor capable of shaking Mrs. Kentworthy
The slamming door frames a hollow quiet
He knows Fiona can never fill it
How will we ever manage?
A Cold Reception
She had written him a letter too confiding
for a cold reception
(Flying an enthusiasm, scientific enquiry, not…in his book)
A girl of twenty…she has since learned her lesson
1911—April it was—she had been introduced at Newmarket races
to Mr. Ismay
All so gay
She thinks of his face
But…there he is—
Simon, always now, hovering
behind her in the glass, eyes beseeching
It makes Fiona want to spit
‘Simon!’ she snaps. ‘I do forgive you, of course’
And this lie dispels nothing
She is the sort who does the expected thing
The powder puff obscures him in a cloud of talc
The very words call up a succession
of infuriating faults
Most of all that twitch of the lip that was not a smile
Because she had put it down in ink
‘Is it possible? I think I love you.’
And had it been possible? Well, youth fades
And in the sitting room below
The guest wrapped in a blanket
Propping a lap desk with his knees
yawns by the fire
‘Give that up,’ the host suggests. ‘Can’t see any need.
Roscoe’s an unprincipled haunter, bound to be.
Dare say by Sunday you’ll find he’s annotated your account
in soot, or spilt tea, or melted frost-runes on the windowpane
If it happens you’ve set events down wrong.’
‘Capital!’ they think they hear,
from a pocket dark and cold
somewhere up the chimney
A Scientific Family
Until the sun finds its moment
Steadfast tick of bodies set in motion
Until the turning earth has lost its math
And the red eye blinks at the black-rimmed gorge’s gap
You won’t have seen night fall
From the cockpit of an aeroplane
You won’t have seen night fall
I’d passed by any chance to make an observation
I’d thought, when the work was done, I might
Come to pass the time of day in a deck chair
Lucille I likely saw there…it could not have been Fiona
Not really visiting this notion
I want now
(You seem a kind and patient man)
To say a thing. I have been thinking of appearances.
When Atherleigh—you’ll recall, we were a scientific family
Was ruled definitely killed, by the blast
I can’t say more—
The still Hon. Simon Tattersby’s voice fades off
And the host, writing to his creditors
Wondering if another paying customer is in the cards
Says aloud, after minutes of the clock’s pendulum
Sounding in quietude its irregular chute, chute
‘Chap’s gone. Bit of a bore.’
Tattersby says, ‘I apologize. Struck me odd. I could tell you
all the trials of the lab. What they’d been working on. What
my elder brother confided. I believe I can. No Official Secrets Act
for the dead. But I shan’t.’
‘De Clieux reports the Celtic daughter could be raised—
His bride full willing,’ the host, sardonic, says
‘So far south as Quimper. The Contessa di Barucchi
Has invited them to stay.
And what can be the meaning of that puppy-doggish eye…?’
he demands of the guest. ‘No sense being envious.’
‘Hardly that. It’s the keenness of pursuit, however…mission!
To marry for science!’ He sighs.
‘I’ve got nowhere whatsoever with my own.’
And doodles on his pad, St. Crispin’s
As usual, and why they pack their bags
Simon Tattersby floats about the place moaning to himself
And Roscoe, when he does not rattle pipes,
Wafts away the pen the host has just set down
Or sings them dirty limericks through the night
‘Miss Keltenham will bring her publicity agent’
The host pronounces this title very foreign
‘Well after all’—offers the guest, who seems to apologize for everyone—
‘they make pictures from her books… I suppose she needs one’
Virginia Keltenham, Simon’s voice comes to them
Buttonholed me once, looking for Fiona
Desperate to write a romance with a ghost in it
I said… I don’t know where she’s gone
I don’t know where she’s gone
I wish that you would find her for me, intervene
I see myself, I told you this, with cruel clarity
Always dogged, finishing up the last job
To close the book, to open it once more and start the next
Lucille’s lessons to be wound up
Because I’d promised her it
She was loved with a passion, she
Who heeds so little, she has gone off to improving Inskip
but I feel…a terrible pity and comprehension
She had said to me, ‘Simon, an affair is what you need!’
And I had said, ‘Yes, no doubt, Lucille, we’ll see’
Poor Roscoe! I utterly forgive
I utterly blame myself
Why, my dear fellow, his ancient rival says
I hope you won’t