Monday, 21 June 2021

Redeemed Available Again

 
I was on my Amazon pages the other day when researching the article I last wrote about a review by a hospital porter, see: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2021/06/a-porters-review.html; when, to my shock and dismay, I noticed that Roswell Redeemed was listed as "currently unavailable". I opened a new browser and saw that it was also unavailable on about six other outlets including Blackwells and Barnes and Noble. I went back to Amazon and saw that Roswell Revealed was listed as "temporarily out of stock" and Roswell Rising only had second hand copies available. I put up this notice on social media: "I've just noticed that Roswell Redeemed is listed as 'currently unavailable' on Amazon. Don't know why. Will sort it out ASAP." I originally planned to call the Ingram Spark office this afternoon, but when I came home and went online I saw that all three books are back to normal status with new copies freely available. I honestly don't know how that happened. Maybe just the act of me logging into IS triggered some sort of activation code; it has been a few months since I last logged in. I normally only visit the site to order copies for myself to put on conference stalls, but that's been unnecessary lately of course. The ordering process for customers in the retail sphere should be automatic. IS never contacted me to inform me of any contractual problems so my guess is a technical glitch. (I paid £240 for the titles to be included in the IS house catalogue, which is well worth the money because it means it appears in ad panes and spam lists for anybody with the right browsing profiles.) Anyway, it seems to be fixed now. At the time of writing, all three books of the Roswell trilogy are freely available from all network outlets. I will keep checking the pages and if anybody else notices any unusual activity on them, I'd be grateful if you'd let me know.
The Roswell Trilogy is available now.
Rising: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2016/08/roswell-rising-is-here.html.
Revealed: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2017/10/roswell-revealed-is-here.html.
Redeemed: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2018/12/roswell-redeemed-is-here.html.

Saturday, 19 June 2021

A Porter's Review

                         
The word of a hospital porter is worth that of ten civilians, in my view; therefore I was delighted by a review from one of my JR brothers. J M Zielinski has gone to a lot of trouble to write a long and detailed evaluation on the Roswell Rising Amazon page, not just of Rising, but of the entire Roswell trilogy. I can tell he is being honest because he clearly liked the books without pretending that they are literary perfection. He has given me four stars when, seeing as I'm a brother porter and that he knows me in person, it would have been tempting to give me five simply to please me. I really appreciate the time and effort MEP&DBP has gone to with reading all three books and writing such a meticulous review, as well as his sincerity. It will help raise the ranking of the books on Amazon's catalogue. Source: https://www.amazon.co.uk/review/RG3LJBW3NYAMS/ref=pe_1572281_66412651_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv. As you can see from the stats, I have 55% five star and 25% four star ratings. This now outweighs the 9% two star and 11% one star ratings given by the review trolls, see: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2018/07/review-trolls.html and: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2020/08/one-star-for-redeemed.html.
The Roswell Trilogy is available now.
Rising: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2016/08/roswell-rising-is-here.html.
Revealed: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2017/10/roswell-revealed-is-here.html.
Redeemed: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2018/12/roswell-redeemed-is-here.html.

Friday, 2 April 2021

The Obscurati Chronicles- Sample Fourth Chapter

 
I have now completed the draft for the fourth chapter of my new novel The Obscurati Chronicles. I have already published the first, second and third draft chapters as samples, see: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-obscurati-chronicles-sample-first.html and: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2020/05/the-obscurati-chronicles-sample-second.html and: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2021/03/the-obscurati-chronicles-sample-third.html. This will definitely be the last sample chapter. What happens next depends on whether I decide to continue with the novel privately and publish it as a book, or serialize it online. If I choose the latter then the serial will be free and posted here on Ben's Bookcase. See here for more information: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2020/11/writing-blog-2-november-2020.html.
 
The Obscurati Chronicles
by Ben Emlyn-Jones
Sample Fourth Chapter
 
Wilfred Ursall laughed. He raised his head and laughed long and loud. He then smiled and made himself look sincere. He was good at it.
    Andreas, his cousin laughed along with him. "So, there is no more 'Red Wilf'?"
    "Goodness no! It was a phase I went though. It's known as the 'communist measles' at Oxford. Something every child catches, gets over and as an adult is immune. I suppose I'm lucky to have recovered so soon."
    "So has this changed your view of Carlson Wood?" asked an old school friend of one of Francis Ursall's relatives whose name Will had forgotten.
    "Who?"
    "You've not heard of him?"
    "No." Will lied.
    "He's an American reporter, rabid Fenian."
    Will snorted. "I'm surprised I've not heard of him then."
    "So you don't support Irish home rule?" the man asked rhetorically.
    Will gave another snort; he was getting good at them. "Who does apart from deluded bogtrotters?... The Irish Republic will not survive six months. Independence? They don't understand what that even means! This time next year they would be begging us to reconquer them, if we would not have done so already... Excuse me." He left the circle of mourners and walked across the garden, which was spacious and well kept. He looked at his father. Francis Ursall was sitting on a velvet chair by a table. Beside him stood a half-finished bottle of red wine. Francis looked up and met his son's eyes briefly and nodded without a smile. His gaze then returned to where it had been before. Will followed it and saw Cassius Dewlove. The debonair tutor was holding court with a group of enchanted men and women. He was always like that, drawing in attention like bees to a honey pot. Will rolled his eyes and entered the backdoor of the house in which he was staying. It was a large detached stone construction, typical of middle class suburban Rotterdam; and it was the home of his great-aunt Gertrude. He climbed the stairs to the upper floor and was about to enter his guestroom when he saw his younger brother standing by the door of his own guestroom. He was trembling and his face looked as if it had been bled of all its colour. His eyes were blank and his eyelids were lowered. He was holding a ragged piece of paper in his hand that looked old. Will stopped and turned to him. "Are you alright, Robin?"
    Robin jolted as if he had been daydreaming. "What?... Yes I'm fine."
    "You don't look it."
    Robin paused as he returned his gaze. "Will... Did you know?" he panted almost inaudibly.
    "Did I know what?"
    Robin stared at him for a few more seconds then abruptly ducked back into his room and shut the door. Will shrugged and entered his own room.
...............
"Wilfred, I don't think it's proper." his father protested.
    "I'm sorry, father; but I need to do this. It's necessary for my career."
    Francis ground his teeth. "Wilfred, this was your mother's funeral. We travelled here together; we should return home together."
    Wilfred looked down. "I'm sorry, father." he repeated.
    "Why do you need to visit Germany when you're after a job in the LPFD?"
    "There are some contacts at the British embassy in Berlin that I need to meet, to get to know... I need to make a good impression. I need to show them that I have changed; that I can be trusted."
    His father sighed. "As you wish, but please come home as soon as you can. We have to visit Eleanor and Roger, seeing as they couldn't make it here."
    "Very well, father. It will only be a couple of days." As always, all his father cared about was what Eleanor and Roger would say. What would they think? Will caught a train for Utrecht and made a phone-call from the station; then he boarded an express train for Berlin. He arrived at 5 PM. The city was wreathed in rain. Bulging dark clouds hung overhead as if they were about to fall and crush the buildings under their weight. Condensation covered the chilled train cabin windows and Will kept wiping the one nearest to him with his sleeve so he could see out. The train clanked to a halt at the Lehrter Station and Will alighted, coughing in the moist German air. A uniformed chauffeur was waiting for him in the station concourse holding a placard with his name on. Will tried to catch glimpses of Berlin's sodden streets as the chauffeur guided his silver Daimler through the evening traffic. He parked outside a townhouse with a narrow facade of dusky slate and held the passenger door open so Will could decamp. A brass plaque was attached to the door pillar that read: Internationaler Preußischer Frühling. Will couldn't speak German, but he knew that this meant "International Prussian Spring". The solid looking front door then opened as he mounted the steps, as if the people inside had seen him arrive. A receptionist bowed slightly as he held the door wide. Inside was one of the most opulent rooms Will had ever been in. It had oak panelled walls, a marble reception desk, leather and mahogany furniture and old paintings on the wall. A grandfather clock ticked tranquilly away in the corner. "Mr Ursall, it's so good to see you. Thank you for coming." The man who was shaking Will's hand was elegantly dressed and an expensive watch bumped against Will's knuckles as it flopped up and down on the man's bony wrist. He was thin and in late middle age, his eyes watery from late nights leaning on a desk beside a Port bottle.
    "It's good to be here, Sir Stephen." replied Will.
    "I'm terribly sorry to hear about your mother..."
    The man who had greeted Will at the door was Sir Stephen Branwhite, chairman of British Sheet Forge, a heavy industrial company based in Yorkshire, but with factories across Britain. He led Will into a lounge full of leather chairs and settees around which shuffled about two dozen men of all ages. Most were Germans, but among them were Britons like Branwhite and several Americans. All were smartly dressed and ostentatiously wealthy. A few wore the dress uniforms of senior military officers. An interpreter circulated like a referee on a football pitch, helping the Anglophones converse with the natives. Will exchanged greetings with a dark-haired man who sported a sparse toothbrush moustache. His name was Adolf Hitler and like Will, he was a guest of the IPF and an observer. He told Will that he had spent the last year travelling round different political think tanks and clubs learning as much as he could. Eventually the meeting came to order and one of the military men gave a brief speech, pausing every so often so the interpreter could repeat his words in English: "My dearly beloved gentlemen and colleagues. Welcome to this, the seventh meeting of International Prussian Spring. Our organization was formed two years ago while the Fatherland was drenched in the blood of war. Since then the nation came within a hair's breadth of falling into the hands of communists sponsored and cheered on by the murderous Bolshevik menace in Russia." He gave a potted history of the IPF. "Gentlemen, today Germany hangs by a horse's hair above a pit of destruction and oblivion! The feeble liberal mondialist lackey Ebert is grasping at every opportunity for treason that there is. He keeps one foot firmly in a Marxist boot, the other in the footbath he shares with his bedfellow Kalergi. The charter of the IPF is for the restoration of the monarchy and empire, the dissolution of the Republic and the rebirth of Germany as a traditionalist superpower!" There was a hearty round of applause following this speech and Will clapped louder than anybody else. After the speech, glasses of sherry were handed out and the men returned to their conversations. A grey-haired assistant from the British embassy was standing at Will's right elbow. "So, young Mr Ursall. What plans do you have when you go down from Oxford?"
    "I've already applied to the Lancombe Pond Foreign Directorate." Will answered confidently. "I like the idea of a diplomatic career. My father serves in the office of the Duke of Bellswill so it's a natural life-path for me."
    "He's not Francis Ursall by any chance?"
    "Yes."
    The man guffawed. "Well, it's a small world! Your father and I used to hold weekly meetings in the Foreign Office."
    "Oh really!?" Will smiled and feigned interested surprise. He already knew about the assistant's past connections to his father. He had spent a day in the Bodleian Library looking up details of some of the principle figures at this meeting.
    "I'm sure I could put a word in for you with the ambassador." the assistant said after a few more minutes of schmoozing.
    "Thank you." Will bowed his head slightly. "That would be much appreciated." Will had had to work hard to earn his place in this room today. He had spent hours grooming all the tutors and fellows of Oxford whom he found out had the right connections, gaining the right endorsements.
    "What's your thesis going to be about; or are you not allowed to tell me?" He winked and chuckled genially.
    "I've been studying the history of the Negroid race within the British Empire in Africa. My proposition is that the Afropids are backward and decadent. They can never play a productive role in the Empire. I argue that all attempts to civilize them have failed and the only solution is to deport them to neighbouring independent regions of the continent. British Africa should then be settled exclusively by Britons."
    The man raised his eyebrows in admiration. "That's very bold of you, Mr Ursall. It will attract much ire, I fear, from the Labourites and liberals of the University."
    "It already has." Will laughed. "I care not for what those leftist fools think. The truth is, God has endowed the European race with a worldwide empire so that they may execute His sovereign purpose in the world. The victories we will have over the heathen are the victories of the nobler soul in man."
    "It reminds me of a conference your father and I went to way back in '98. Cecil John Rhodes returned to Oxford..."
    The meeting broke up at seven PM. The other gentlemen were heading to a restaurant for dinner and invited Will to join them. Will made up an excuse not to and left the IPF building alone. He walked up the street a hundred yards and then turned into a side alley. As soon as he was out of view from the street he leaned back against a wall and sighed with relief. It had been harder than he thought it would be. He recalled the discussions he had taken part in during the last two hours and every word he had spoken felt like a pellet of poison. He suddenly became nauseous and leaned over a drain, expecting to vomit. He did not and slowly recovered. After a few more minutes of deep breathing he felt reasonably well again and headed back out onto the street, checking to see that the IPF gentlemen had departed for the restaurant. He wandered aimlessly for a while and soon found himself walking along the Unter den Linden boulevard in the grand heart of Berlin. The rain had stopped and streetlights had recently popped on as darkness fell. Their glare was reflected in puddles on the pavements like golden globes and threads. The tyres of cars and buses hissed in the fallen rain. Pedestrians hurried back and forth around him. Their feet were quiet and they didn't speak, as if still subdued and shocked by the war and political turmoil that had just ended. The Weimar Constitution had brought a vital breathing space to Germany, but the people were still panting from the exertion of conflict and upheaval. He could feel their lack of energy in their very movements and gaits. He could sense that the new order was unstable and merely an attempt to paint over the political rust. He entered the sprawling stone expanse of Parizer Platz. A Freikorps machine gun post was situated at the corner of the huge square, its muzzle poked out over the top of a sandbag wall. The fascist paramilitaries in their pretentious uniforms were swaggering around beside it, smoking and laughing with their thumbs in their pockets, swivelling on their heels. Will felt his face contort momentarily with hatred before he once again regained control of his emotions.
    Will stopped and looked over his left shoulder. Behind him was the Hotel Adlon where he was booked in to stay overnight, but he had unconsciously walked right past it. Ahead of him was the neoclassical grandeur of the Brandenburg Gate, standing like an island between the other buildings as if a Greek temple had once been there and had been totally demolished except for one part of it. He slowly strolled underneath the structure, along the middle of the five pathways through it; running his hand along the stone uprights. He looked up at it from its foot. This ceramic symbol of Prussian hegemony loomed over his fragile human frame, as if it were a stone boot about to crush him like a beetle. Imperialists always did this; build follies with no other purpose than to look imposing and terrifying to the subjugated citizenry. As he walked onto Königgrätzer Straße, Will worked out that he was being driven by a subconscious urge. He strode southwards and then entered the Zoo District. To his right was a vast forested park that was dark grey almost to the point of complete blackness in the fading light. He had no map and had never been to Berlin before; but, as with Petrograd, he had trod these pavings mentally to the point that they were familiar. When he had set out on this walk he had not realized that he was making an intentional journey. Now he knew he was and realized it was obvious where he was going. It passed through his mind as a brief quandary that he had gone for more than three hours without thinking about his mother. What he was doing was hazardous, he knew. He had been told numerous times that he should never do anything of this kind. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. A few people were in sight on the wide street, lights were on in the buildings to his left, plenty of cars and buses trundled past him; but nobody seemed to be paying him any attention. After about an hour's walk he came to a bridge crossing a canal. An unlit lane ran at right angles from the main road over the bridge. Will took once last look around himself and darted across the road and down the lane. The lack of streetlight made it difficult to see where he was going, but it revealed much that was otherwise hidden, such as the sky. The rain-clouds had broken up and stars pinpricked the black night. A fuzzy blob indicated where the moon struggled to break out through thin high cloud which looked like wet tissue paper across the zenith. Will tripped on a small tree branch lying on the path and almost fell over. He had a cigarette lighter with him and considered igniting it so he could see where he was going, yet he was still concerned somebody was watching him and this would make it easier for them. Nobody must ever find out where he was going. Even in the dark he knew the exact spot, yet he was overjoyed to see that he hadn't needed to. It was easy to discern it because he was not the only one who had made the journey here. There was a rusty metal fence between the Landwehr canal and the pathway that ran along its bank and on the fence a number of posies had been placed. Some were tied onto its uprights and some were just laid on the ground beside it. Greetings cards and pieces of paper had been solemnly included on which people had written. Despite not speaking German, Will could guess what much of the text said; he had seen similar grassroots shrines in Russia. Then he saw the names Luxemburg and Liebknecht. There was now no doubt that he had arrived at his destination.
    He dropped to his knees and cried. He shed more tears here than he had the previous day at his mother's funeral. At this spot two months ago the battered and decomposing body of a woman had been dragged out. She had been contemptuously dumped into the canal back in January. This was after she had been interrogated under torture for hours, then beaten with rifle butts and shot by the Freikorps. She was Rosa Luxemburg, founder of the Communist Party of Germany and the Spartacist League, Germany's answer to the Bolsheviks. Her closest comrade, Karl Liebknecht had also been arrested and shot. A few months ago, Luxemburg and her organization had attempted to take power in the same way Lenin had; but where the Russians had succeeded, the Germans failed. In his mind, Will could envisage every moment of the agonizing and degrading last few hours of Luxemburg's life at the hands of the fascist beasts; the life of a truly great socialist, a great revolutionary. He kept crying. When his tears had run dry, Will noticed that along with the flowers and messages were three glass jars containing candles. These had been extinguished by the rain and water filled the containers. He emptied them out and then used his cigarette lighter to relight them. It took some time because the wicks were wet, but he managed it in the end. He wept again because he was touched by the magnificent devotion local Berliners had shown by setting up this impromptu memorial. For the first time since he had returned from Russia, he did not feel alone. He longed to meet them, to talk to them, to hug them. Will could not risk going to a florists to buy flowers, so instead he stepped off the path into the bushes and tore up some late summer blooms. He placed them on the ground next to the candles and other bouquets and then stood for a moment in silence. He raised his right fist in the air, in the same manner the Bolsheviks sometimes did in Russia; then he turned away and walked back to the main road.
    The following morning Will met up with Sir Stephen Branwhite for breakfast in the Hotel Adlon dining room. They talked over coffee and toast about Will's future career plans in foreign diplomacy and then the embassy chauffeur returned Will to the railway station for his journey home.
                           
Will woke with a start and sat up. His heart was pounding. He switched on his bunk light and looked around the cabin to reassure himself that he was wide awake and everything was normal. It was pitch dark outside the porthole and his watch said three-forty AM. He had just had a very weird nightmare. As always in his dreams there were few coherent details, just a powerful feeling of atmosphere, intense emotion and very vivid imagery. He had felt dry, cracked soil beneath his feet. He was outdoors but there was no wind and although the air was chilled it was also somehow stale. And it was very dry; his lips were cracked and his tongue swollen. A ruddy sun, devoid of all heat, shone hazily down from a smog-covered sky. Around him were buildings that looked simultaneously strange yet familiar. The spectacle filled him with a nameless horror; and that was when he woke up. He lay back in the bunk with a sigh. The ship rolled gently in the North Sea swells soothing him like a baby in a cradle. He switched off the light and tried to go back to sleep, but could not relax. He gave up after half an hour and climbed out of the bunk. He dressed and left his cabin for the upper decks. A few people were awake and about in the second class lounge, mostly proletarians who couldn't afford cabins. They were slumped on the wooden benches snoring and puffing. A sleepy looking steward stood behind the service counter. Will opened the outside hatch and stepped out onto the open desk. The light warm sea breeze massaged his body and the small of salt filled his lungs. The deck was lit by electric floodlights, but the moon and stars were still visible. The moonlight made the clouds look light blue against the black sky. The rush of the sea against the ships hull resembled leaves driven by the wind, except that it was steady and not in gusts. In the distance were the lights of other ships, close to the horizon which was only just discernable from the sky.
    Will took out a packet of cigarettes and lit one with the same lighter that he had used to light the candles at Rosa Luxemburg's memorial. He had started smoking in Russia and found he enjoyed it, although only in moderation. Any more than two or three a day made him restless and gave him a headache. He was still perturbed by his dream, even though the memory of it was fading like an ice-cube in hot water, as often happened with his dreams. This was not the first time he had had this dream, in fact it was the third or fourth; as if a cinematograph were trapped inside his head, playing it over and over again. He recalled a master at Greyguides years ago telling him: "The human brain is the most remarkable object in the universe." Will nodded to himself as he remembered his schooldays. His life had changed so much in such a short space of time. These days he had to pretend to believe in a soul even though he knew no such thing existed. He chuckled to himself ironically. "That's just the start of it." he muttered. He quickly looked around himself to see if anybody had overheard him, not that he had dropped any major secrets in his musings; but he was alone on the open deck of the ship. He contemplated his mother's funeral, just two days ago; but it already felt like it was in the distant past. He was puzzled by his brother's behaviour just before he left for Germany. It was probably because of the fact that Robin was not grieving, yet felt as if he should. No doubt the rest of the family would have thought so too. Among his nuclear family it was an open secret. Everybody knew that Robin hated his mother and that the feeling was more than mutual; but the van Hoozers assumed otherwise and therefore must have been puzzled by Robin's coldness; not to mention the rather erratic way he had acted with Will, should he repeat it with them. The Ursalls were proof positive of the theory that capitalism poisoned and hurt everybody, even those which it appeared to give privilege. This is what many of his Russian comrades failed to understand. The Ursalls were typical of the senior petit-bourgeois, dancing along the frontier between the ruling class and the more lowly employed middle class. Will reminded himself that the class structure of Lancombe Pond was slightly different to that of the rest of industrialized Europe. The one hundred-and-one landlocked square miles was a tiny island of post-feudalism in the ocean of social democratic capitalism. The suffering and dysfunction his family experienced came partly from his mother's illness, but that was only supplementary to their upbringing and education. Both had attended elite schools. His mother had been educated at a church academy and then one of the top Swiss finishing schools. They had both been indoctrinated and conditioned to be the exact toxic collaborators that they were. Will remembered that in his mother's case there was much less personal blame because of the constant mental and physical cruelty she had suffered at the hands of the van Hoozers. However, for Francis Ursall there was no excuse. He was far more aware than his wife and capable of making a conscious decision to be what he was when he knew that there was an alternative. Will gripped the coaming on the rail in anger as the thought passed through his head. He had talked endlessly to his father about the alternative and Francis had contemptuously ignored his son. These days they hardly spoke. The slight affection that had risen to connect them at the funeral had already faded away. Francis was not malicious, but he was monumentally weak and cowardly. He based literally every single decision on what the friends or extended family would think, what they would say. How much difficultly would it cause him? Would it or would it not generate "hassle!"? What was true and was what fair meant nothing to him; it was totally irrelevant. Many times Will had witnessed him telling lies to people in order to escape a necessary confrontation; not to deceive people, just to placate them. One incident particularly came to mind which happened when Will was fifteen years old. The family had been staying with his maternal grandparents in Rotterdam when he noticed that there was something wrong with the water heater in the bathroom. The previous holidays one of Will's friends at Greyguides had been killed when his household gas boiler malfunctioned and started emitting poisonous carbon monoxide. His parents had also perished. A master broke the news when the following term resumed. He told them that all the pupils should check their own boilers at home. It should be burning with a bright blue flame if it were working properly. If the flame turned yellow or orange that was a danger sign that it was giving off carbon monoxide instead of the non-toxic carbon dioxide. Will had checked his home boiler the moment he returned from school and was relieved to see that it was indeed burning with a blue flame. The water heater in his grandparent's bathroom was a first generation Vaillant gas boiler that was about forty years old. Its flame was a bright yellowy orange. Will went and told the family and they came to have a look. "There's nothing wrong with it at all!" Francis immediately butted in.
    "But father! Look! It's burning with an orange flame just like Roland's did..."
    "But our own boiler at home has an orange flame too."
    "No it doesn't!"
    "It does!" He bowed his head and made a chopping motion with both his hands indicating that he didn't want to discuss it any further.
    Will did not retort. He suddenly realized that his father knew as well as he did that their home boiler burned with a blue flame. He was deliberately lying. To acknowledge that there was something amiss would be an "awful hassle!" which would involve taking action. Francis preferred to act as if everything was absolutely fine and hope for the best, even if it meant risking the lives of his family. As his father walked away, Will shook his head at him in disbelief. Did his father really think that if he pretended a problem was not there, it would magically go away? It was no wonder that Francis had wandered so quickly and helplessly towards the siren lure of Cassius Dewlove. He was such easy meat for the likes of that fiend.
    Will began to reminisce about his childhood, knowing that every feeling he had relating to this matter was exaggerated many-fold in the heart of his brother Robin. Cassius Dewlove was typical of the employed petit-bourgeoisie. He had risen higher in education that his own siblings and become the principle music and mathematics teacher at Greyguides. Will couldn't recall in detail how Dewlove had first entered the lives of the Ursall family. He had been ten years old and Robin eight. He had just enrolled in the first form at Greyguides and had met Dr Dewlove in one of his classes. Sometime after Will's first term, Dewlove encountered Francis and Maartje. It had probably been at the end-of-term open day. It was not long after that that Dr Dewlove first visited them at home. Very soon after his first visit he was there almost continuously. He treated the Ursall home as his own. Will's parents began leaving the front door unlocked and Dr Dewlove used to walk in through the front door without knocking. He had a bizarre manner. He wouldn't say anything when he walked in and tread very quietly with slow footfalls, almost as if he were tiptoeing. Then he would enter the lounge and say: "Ah!" smiling and raising his eyebrows. Francis and Maartje would then stop whatever they were doing, smile extremely broadly back at him and say: "Hello, Cassius." Will always studied his parents carefully when they were with Dewlove. Whenever he was around their manner always changed considerably. They would become completely different people. Their faces would take on a rhapsodic smile and they would look at Cassius Dewlove with starry eyes, an almost childlike adoration. Will and Robin's parents were two very different people, opposites in many ways, but when Dewlove was around they behaved exactly the same. And Dewlove was in their home a lot. During holidays he would take the train from Grantham to visit at least once every evening, not just drop in briefly, but stay for several hours, often sharing their dinner. At weekends he'd be there all day Saturday and Sunday.
    Cassius Dewlove was nothing special to look at. When he was not at school he didn't dress very well for a man of his social standing. He always wore faded bush-green corduroy trousers and the thick woollen sweaters that Maartje knitted for him. His leather riding boots were always scuffed and worn, and the tread on the soles filed down by use, as Will could see whenever Dewlove sat in his characteristic posture on the settee; laid back with one of his legs crossed over the knee of the other. He was clean-shaven and didn't wear spectacles. In fact his twenty-twenty vision was one of his many marvels that his parents raved about. One of his most obvious features was his hair. It was light brown, and thick and heavy, and it stood out from his head evenly in all directions. He probably never brushed it as it was extremely chaotic and scruffy, like a bird's nest. However Dewlove's most striking feature of all, by a long shot, was his eyes. They were wide and staring, usually the whites were visible all the way around his electric blue irises. They were active and intelligent eyes, perceptive eyes, eyes which drank in information. However at the same time they were strangely lifeless. They were eyes of a corpse. They looked as if they'd been painted onto his face. When he smiled, which he did a lot of the time, he looked like a waxwork smiling. He was extremely calm and emotionless and never reacted to anything that other people did, like weepy plays or news stories about disasters; he never cried at funerals. However he did laugh, and his laugh was very loud and intrusive. What would happen if, for instance, somebody told a joke which made everybody chuckle mildly in their own way, Dewlove would throw back his head, face the ceiling, open his mouth wide and scream: "Hahahahahahaha!" so stridently it made Will's ears ring. His laugh always lasted almost exactly the same amount of time: three-point-five to three-point-nine seconds; Will once timed it with a stopwatch. As soon as the laugh ended his head would snap back into its upright position like a Roman catapult and his expression would return to normal. While other people would be dabbing their eyes and giving out little hilarity aftershocks, Cassius Dewlove would look as if he hadn't even laughed at all. Yet this didn't seem to worry anybody; on the contrary Dewlove was extremely popular; he had what the Ursalls called a "very wide circle of friends" and at house-parties he was always the centre of attention. What's more, other people at the parties where he went acted in the same perplexing way that the Ursalls did; they wore that same ridiculous and sycophantic smile, had the same glint of devotion in their eyes. Will watched in amazement as everybody leaned towards him at the dinner table like flowers facing the sun. Will once joked to himself that Dewlove could make people act like dogs. This used to make Robin and Blanche chuckle, but deep down there was something frightening and sinister about this observation. People did indeed behave in a manner towards Cassius Dewlove that was very canine: passionately loyal, worshipful and, above all, obedient.
    Within a year of their first meeting, Cassius Dewlove was effectively a member of the family. He was giving Will and Robin extracurricular lessons at home to improve their education. Will at that time had a fairly indifferent opinion of Dr Dewlove. The tutorials they had were not that different to those he had at school, except that they took place at the rosewood table in the drawing room. He and Dr Dewlove would sit for an hour every evening all through the school holidays. Dewlove would teach and Will would learn, one on one. The following year Robin followed his elder brother into Greyguides and in holidays he also underwent private tuition with Dr Dewlove. Then one evening, when Will was aged eleven and Robin nine, their mother summoned all her friends to the house. They all trooped in at seven PM with their husbands and a few of their own teenage children. Will's father knocked on the door of his bedroom. "Wilfred, could you come downstairs please."
    "Why, father?" he put down his storybook.
    "Just come downstairs." There was a strange tone in Francis' voice.
    When Will entered the front lounge he saw a double row of people. Along with the friends and their families was Blanche, a shy thirteen year old in the opening stages of puberty. There was no talking and every face was still. They didn't even move their eyeballs, as if they were soldiers on parade. His two parents stool to one side with their heads bowed and their arms folded in front of them, as if they were children being reprimanded. This was before Maartje's illness took hold. The atmosphere was one of dread, as if something terrible was about to happen.
    "Shall I bring him in now?" came a voice from outside the room, Cassius Dewlove's voice.
    "Yes." said Maartje in a tense tremulous whisper, as if she were shocked at a crime somebody else had committed.
    Dewlove marched swiftly in through the open door. His left hand clasped the hair at the back of Robin's head. Robin himself was crying profusely and he clutched at Dewlove's wrist to relieve some of pressure on his follicles.
    "Robin." Maartje continued in the same tone. "Your father and I have received word from Greyguides that you have fallen one or two performance sets in all subjects. This is despite Cassius' very kind and hardworking extra lessons. Therefore... he is now going to give you a new lesson. This new lesson will be repeated at the end of every term until your grades improve... Cass." She nodded at Dewlove.
    Cassius Dewlove threw the small boy into a prone position on top of the high side table that used to stand against one wall before Maartje had moved in there permanently. His legs dangled over the edge, barely touching the floor. Dewlove tore at Robin's trousers until the belt came loose and Will's brother's bottom was exposed, like the inside of an egg, to the open air. Will then noticed that Dewlove held an object in his right hand. It was a thin bamboo rod...
    "Urgh!" Will jerked back from the ship's rail as he remembered. He screwed up his eyes as if the memory were a physical sight that could be shut out of his vision. There was no escaping it though. His nine-year-old brother had screamed during the beating, so loudly that it hurt Will's ears. Blood trickled down his legs and soaked into his lowered trousers. What Will recalled most about that traumatic moment, was not the horror of witnessing Robin's agony, nor his humiliation at being scourged like that publicly in front of his parents and all their friends; it was the looks on everybody's faces. Firstly the perpetrator Cassius Dewlove. Will had already noticed how he never seemed moved or ruffled emotionally by anything; his only outward expression of feeling was his unearthly laugh. As Dewlove attacked and beat Robin, his face was as calm and nonchalant as always, displaying no anger or offence. The other thing that disturbed Will was the faces of the other adults who witnessed him carry out his castigation, even his mother and father. They were equally impassive; but more than just impassive. They were sheepish, slavish and frustrated; as if helpless, trapped in the unbreakable chains of some higher power. That higher power was Cassius Dewlove. Mixed with that was embarrassment and perhaps the minute twinges enjoyment that is worn by young children in school while a teacher is chastising one of their peers. Today the memory of that feeling made Will feel guilty. That first public corporal punishment was not the last. This is what capitalism did to the classes it materially benefited. The proletariat did not suffer alone; they just suffered in a different way. Capitalism filled the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie with violence. The forces of conflict economics and the knowledge of their own class vulnerability drove them into a frenzy of continuous fear. They all knew deep down that they walked a tightrope every moment of their existence and that at any moment the masses might choose to cut it. Marx said the workers of all lands had nothing to lose but their chains; while the ruling class and their minions had everything to lose. There were others in the bourgeoisie though who had the same innate humanitarian instinct that Will did. For them, domestic violence was merely a coping mechanism for the heart-ripping guilt that had driven Will to explore socialism. While Will used his guilt as a creative opportunity, others tried to cushion their lives from it in more negative and destructive ways.
    Will noticed a new light in the distance. It was a white light that pulsated every few seconds, then vanished for ten or so more before reappearing for another few blinks. It was fuzzy and blurred. He knew that it was a lighthouse just over the horizon whose light was reflected off the invisible night-time mist. In two hours the ship would dock at Harwich and the overnight voyage from the Hook of Holland would be over. Will turned away from the rail with a yawn. He was finally feeling sleepy again and it annoyed him that the feeling should return when he had very little time to use it. He then stopped. He had caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye and turned to look at it more closely. At first he saw nothing and wondered if he had imagined it, but then he saw it again. A tiny spark of turquoise light was moving across the sky like a star that had broken loose from the firmament. At first Will thought it was moving in a straight line, but then he realized that it was gently wheeling in arcs like a dandelion seed in a slow-moving stream. After about five seconds it was obscured by a cloud. He waited for about a minute to see if it would return. "What is that?" he muttered aloud. The object did not reappear. It was probably a shooting star. He had seen plenty of those in Russia. However, why did it not move in a straight line? After another minute of staring at the sky, Will shrugged and headed for the hatch. He returned to his cabin to try and sleep some more, but only succeeded in dozing slightly before the knock of the steward of the door roused him to disembark.
                       
It was a fine spring morning in April 1920, the first year of a new decade. Will liked the concept of new decades, although this was only the second he had ever experienced; for him they represented a chance to begin afresh. The culture and historic narrative invariably changed when there was a new third digit in the year. He walked over the stone slabs of the passageway in Balliol College Oxford. It was Sunday morning and he was heading for the chapel in his tight-collared suit. He took his place on the sideways facing choir pews and a few minutes later stood with the rest of the congregation as the chaplain walked in. "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." whined the minister in his ecclesiastical monotone.
    "Amen." Will responded with the worshippers. As the priest continued Will longed to role his eyes. He did what he always did during chapel services, he withdrew into his imagination and daydreamed; luckily this was something he'd always been very good at. He had to pretend to be a devout Christian supplicant and that wasn't hard seeing as it was something he'd done his entire life. All his school days had involved forced regular church attendance, yet he had never been a religious believer. He understood, even from a very young age, before he had learned the detailed theory, that religion was the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It was the opium of the people. This most famous of Karl Marx' quotes barely touched the depth and complexity of the issue. Humans were a unique species. Their consciousness gave them the ability to conceive of the past and future. The human relationship with their surroundings was a league apart from that of other creatures. It was mental time travel. Without this capability man would never have risen to the top of the animal kingdom the way he had. However this capability of imagining the future comes with a disturbing side effect. The price man pays for awareness of his individual existence is the awareness of its end. Religion evolved into the human experience at the same time as consciousness to function as a psychological lifeboat. It provided the promise of eternal life, allowing man the hope of escaping from the dreaded reality of his demise, even if only a false hope, along with that of his loved ones; not to mention the many miseries of his existence, especially under capitalism.
    After the service Will headed for the dining hall for luncheon. As usual when he entered, nobody spoke to him. Those who looked in his direction at the sound of his approach turned away with a sneer of disgust, as they always did. He sat at the table with the other students, but they edged away from him as far as they could and talked among themselves, their backs facing him, sending him to Coventry. Was it his imagination or was there even more hostility today than usual? The answer to that question came straight after the meal when he headed up the steep stairs to his bedroom. The first thing he noticed when he opened the door was a terrible smell. He flung the door wide and gasped. His room had been vandalized. Books had been tugged off his shelf and onto the floor; some had been ripped. His bedclothes had been slashed with a knife and feathers covered the room. The walls and even the windowpanes had been daubed with red paint spelling out obscene insults. "MONSTER" and "PIG" were among the more polite things the vandals had called him. Above his bed the lines of paint took the form of the Bolshevik Hammer and Sickle. The source of the stench was a pile of human excrement in the middle of the floor on his woollen rug. From the neatly-coiled shape of it, it was clear that somebody had produced it at the location. Will shut the door and leaned against it with a sigh. He gritted his teeth and groaned.
    The correct thing to do, or rather the thing the "new Will" would do, was to report the incident to the master with furious indignation. He did so diligently and with great aplomb.
    "I'm not sure what we can do, Mr Ursall." The master was a stern-faced elderly man with mussed white hair framing his upper face. His pate and chin were separated by a sideboard moustache. He gazed at his student over the tops of his spectacles. His hands were arched disapprovingly in front of his neck.
    "What do you mean, sir!? I am a senior man and my dorm has been wrecked by a bunch of degenerate Bolshies! This is totally unacceptable!"
    The master sighed. "To catch the culprits we will need evidence; physical traces, witnesses, confessions et cetera."
    "Well kindly go out and gather those things!"
    "We shall endeavour, but it will not be easy... In the meantime I shall inform Mrs Bates to arrange a deep clean of your dorm."
    "Thank you, sir." Will paused and then added: "I am not the only conservative at Oxford. I don't see why I have been singled out for this abuse."
    "You're not the only one at Oxford, but you are one of the few in Balliol, at least one who declares his opinions openly. There are probably quite a number of Balliol gentlemen who secretly support you, but dare not speak out for fear of minority persecution. Besides which you haven't been singled out just your political views, Mr Ursall. The primary reason is your betrayal... as they regard it. You were more than just a comrade to them; you were their hero. You alone of all the socialists in Balliol... and as I said there is no shortage of those... left everything behind you to fight for your cause in Russia. The others just talk about the revolution; you went out there and tried to build it, at great risk to your life and health. Surely you can see things from their point of view."
    Will almost nodded in agreement, but stopped himself just in time.
..............
"Son." Francis Ursall called at his back.
    Will was just about to close the front door. The family had all found a reason to turn up that morning. Blanche and the children were there, although her husband was conspicuously absent, which Will was glad of. Robin arrived in his Rain House cadet's uniform. His grandmother kissed him. Robin had always been her favourite grandson, but she still had a fair dollop of affection for his older brother. Will turned and looked at his father. "Yes, father?"
    His father shuffled awkwardly. "I know we've not always seen eye-to-eye on everything, Wilfred; but... I wish you the best of luck. I really do."
    Will smiled. "Thank you, father." Will now had his own car, a Vauxhall A16. It was a far more impressive machine than the old Bullnose Morris that his father still drove. It was faster and more powerful and had splendid silver paint. His father had bought it back in June as a present for Will's twentieth birthday. His son was astounded at his generosity. He had the feeling over the last year that his father was trying to make amends for their split that had underlined his teenage years. He turned the starting handle and climbed into the soft leather driving seat. He looked over his shoulder as he accelerated away along Highmoor Street. Francis was standing in the front garden watching him. At that distance Will couldn't tell, but he thought he detected a beam of pride on his face.
    Will always felt very adult and sophisticated whenever he drove his Vauxhall. He imagined that he looked very adult. He indeed was very adult compared to how he had been two years earlier. He thought it was fair to say that he had become a man, in accordance with every description of the word. It started raining so he pulled over and raised the leather hood that covered the cockpit of the vehicle. He turned onto the main road towards the City of Lancombe Pond and sped up along the wide straight carriageway. He left the Vauxhall in the carpark outside Wicker Park and walked through the administrative heart of the Lancine microstate. The buildings reminded him of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin; hard, obtrusive and frightening, despite being much smaller in size. Even a nation so tiny felt the need to show off its authority. He stopped and looked up at its principle Marxist opium den, St Godfrey's Church, the City's cathedral. It was a more attractive building than the political structures, but it was still intimidating. Carved into stone above the door were the words: AN DAEL AES. GGELAPPA DAEL AES which meant: "God is good. God is all-knowing." Will snorted and wondered what other use could be made of a building after the revolution that might be aesthetic enough not to face demolition. He ducked down an alleyway that ran beside the cathedral into Igmia Street or Span ō Igmyu. It was here where the headquarters of the Lancombe Pond Foreign Directorate or Klōdauh Vaeltuna Koslan was sited. The building was made of typically Lancine dark grey stone and had a slightly concave facade. Its larger lower floor and the arrangement of windows on the upper floor gave it the vague appearance of a bulldog. He reported to reception and was served with a cup of expensive tasting coffee. He went to the washroom and checked his appearance in the mirror. He was dressed in his best suit. He had spent twenty minutes that morning giving himself a very careful shave. His light brown hair was meticulously combed with a few drops of fixing oil. Before long the receptionist called his name and he mounted a flight of polished wooden stairs to a conference room where a panel of five interviewers awaited him. He knew three of them very well. "Wilfred, my boy! How you have grown. It seems only yesterday I could pat you on the head without raising my arm. How's your father getting on in his new office?" The panel chairman shook his hand. He was an old family friend and his name was John Stinson. They all sat down and Will braced himself to be grilled, but instead they just broke open a bottle of sherry and took out some glasses. At any moment, Will assumed that the small-talk would be over and they would focus, but they never did. "It's wonderful that you chose the FD as a career, Wilfred." Stinson said. "We never expected to be so lucky as to have you on board. Many of us assumed you were lost to the One-oh-One; and you'd choose academia as your career after Oxford."
    "Not at all! I'm glad to have applied to the FD, sir. I've always wanted to be a part of this." Will sipped his sherry.
    Stinson raised his hand with a smile. "Less of the 'sir', Wilfred. Call me John."
    And hour and half later Will left the LPFD headquarters as a fully fledged member and his admission into the orientation course certified. He staggered slightly; he was tipsy from the sherry. He made his way home and when he arrived there was much celebration at the news.
............
Will was walking across a plain of cracked, parched soil. The air was freezing cold, but it was also stale and arid. He was wearing only light outdoor clothing and so was shivering; his teeth chattered and his hands became numb. His mouth was caked from microscopic fines, wafted by the lightest of breezes into the air from the desiccated ground. He looked up into the sky; but there was no sky, just a ceiling of smog. It was grey and brown, mottled with cancerous streaks of black, from horizon to horizon. The lifeless sun clawed helplessly through the fume to emerge as a hazy splat of red; heatless and choked, as if drained by the effort it took to rise in the sky. Its height indicated that it was daytime, but the light was as dim as dusk. Will looked at his surroundings. He was in a smooth shallow valley with a river at the bottom. The edges of the valley were lined by a pair of stone walls with buildings behind them. He was about fifty yards or so from the river and so walked closer to take a look. There was a dozen yards of cracked semi-solidified mud bordering the river, indicating that it was a tidal river, or a river that has just receded from a flood. The soil which displaced with the ease of sand under his shoes gave way to the mud. The mud was thin, pure and clean. There were no pieces wood, waterweed, insects or anything else mixed in with it. The water itself was black and looked viscous, more like oil than water. It gave off a foul stench like sewage or chemicals and it looked as lifeless as the mud. The river was only about twenty feet across. He turned away from the river and looked at the walls bordering the valley. They were a dozen or more feet high and looked like they were made of stone. They ran parallel to each other and at one point a few hundred yards along they both jutted out into two broken stumps of masonry directly opposite each other, as if they were the remains of a bridge that once crossed the river. There were tall buildings behind the walls that looked strangely familiar to Will despite the unearthly setting. He walked up the slope of the valley to get a closer look. There were no breaks in the wall, but at odd intervals there were flights of stone steps leading up to the top of it; Will approached one of them. For some reason the steps didn't quite reach the ground and ended about five feet above it. He had to clamber up onto the bottom step before walking up the rest of them normally. When he reached the top he had a far better few of his surroundings. He stood still and looked around himself and recognized where he was. His heart was thumping and his blood ran far colder than it would have from just the low air temperature. He was standing on the Embankment of the River Thames in central London; everything so familiar, yet so horribly different. The river he'd seen was the Thames itself, shrunk to a mere trickle of slurry, a fraction of the size of its former flow. The walls bordering the valley had been the walls which lined both sides of the river as it passed through the metropolis. Around him were the enormous buildings that made up the vista of Westminster, but they were all derelict. Ahead of him were the Houses of Parliament with Big Ben towering over them, but the stone facade was crumbling and ruinous. The clock faces were gone leaving gaping black holes. Thomas Thornycroft's statue Boadicea and her Daughters had been knocked off its pedestal and its bronze body lay shattered on the ground. The stumps he'd seen were the remains of Westminster Bridge. Will picked his way across Victoria Embankment and turned the corner into Parliament Square. It wasn't an easy walk because the road surface was rent like pastry and covered with rubble. The lamp posts and traffic lights were rusty, all the windows were glassless. The gates to the Palace of Westminster had fallen off their hinges and lay on the ground like an ancient, oxidized cattle grid. He continued up Whitehall, but there was no end to the devastation. Along with the broken down buildings he saw vehicles in a similar state, wrecked rust buckets with cracked bare wheels. They were barely recognizable, but he could see that they had been normal vehicles like cars, busses and vans. Along with these he could also make out military hardware like tanks and mobile artillery, as if a great battle had been fought in the heart of London. His foot bumped against what he thought was just another brick or rock, but when he looked down at it he screamed aloud in shock. It was a human skull, as dry and featureless as everything else in the vicinity. Now he'd noticed it once he watched the ground more closely and began to spot many more pieces of human skeletons, strewn around randomly as if by the wind; their ligaments and tendons perished. When he arrived at The Mall he saw that St James' Park was almost indiscernible. Its ground was the same desert soil as that of the river bed. It was clean, homogenous and totally sterile. All that was left of the trees were shattered stumps, worn down by time and the wind. He touched them and the wood crumbled beneath his fingers. As he approached Buckingham Palace he noticed that the Victoria Memorial was covered in graffiti. There were no words, just images that mostly consisted of repeated representations of what looked like two-legged dinosaurs; but they were partly humanoid as well. They were crudely carved or scratched with chalk on the cracked paving between the broken remains of the statues that had once decorated the monument. They reminded Will of the ghastly hallucination he had experienced when he saw the bodies of the Romanov family. One of the rudimentary figures had an object on its head that resembled the monarch's crown. He walked swiftly down into Victoria. He had no idea where he was going or why; he just staggered on subconscious autopilot. He panted and coughed continuously, sometimes stopping to gag and spit phlegm onto the ground. It wasn't just dust from the river bed, he realized. The general air quality was very poor. The atmosphere was polluted with something and very musty...
                        
"Ahh!" Will yelled out loud as he awoke. He sat bolt upright in bed.
    "What is it, darling?" Lareen laid a hand on his back. "Bad dream?"
    He puffed deeply and chuckled slightly. "Bad?... No, not bad; but... just very real. Vivid, you know?"
    "Dreams can be like that sometimes."
   Will got out of bed and looked down at his fiancée. She was lying on her back in the bed, smiling up at him sympathetically. He walked over to the window and looked out. The overcast winter sky was made slivery by the hidden sunrise. "It was really strange, Lareen. I was walking through a ruined city. I think it was London... Oh, it just didn't make sense. It was all atmosphere and no logic." He clutched his forehead.
    "It's always the way... Do you find it easy to remember your dreams? With me, the memory of my dreams fades very quickly when I wake up." she replied.  "When it comes to nightmares that's welcome, but wouldn't it be nice to remember all those good dreams." She sighed and stretched, her lithe body made pleasant shapes under the blanket. Her wiry brown hair was spread over the pillow in an almost circular pattern.
    "I remember this one very well. I've had dreams like this before."
    "Why? Is it something you experienced, in Russia perhaps?"
    He shrugged. "No, not that I recall... What time is it?"
    "Eight forty-five." she answered though a yawn.
    "You'd better be on your way. My neighbours are the most fearful gossip-mongers."
    "It's Sunday." she protested.
    "They're Baptists. They get up earlier on Sunday than any other day." He gave an ironic grimace at her to soften his dismissal, so she knew he ideally would not want her to leave.
    She nodded and got out of bed. She picked up her clothes from a chair and headed for the bathroom.
    Will peeked out of the front door of his rented house to make sure the street was empty and then beckoned her forward. She tiptoed down the garden path as quickly as she could and bolted around the corner. She blew him a kiss just before she vanished from his sight. It was a short walk for her through the streets of West Mansfield to where she could catch a bus to her home in Bolsover. Will shut the door and smiled as he thought of her. He had met Lareen Watson soon after he had gone back up to Oxford the previous year. She was a postgraduate English student at St Hilda's College and they had announced their engagement three months ago in the slipstream of the celebration following Will's recruitment to the LPFD.
    The telephone rang. Will caught his breath. He usually did when the 'phone rang anyway these days, but maybe he was more shocked because Lareen had just left. He thought it might be his father, or Lareen's parents. He was sure they suspected what was going on. When Will had moved into this house in West Mansfield which was conveniently close to Lareen's home, he had seen eyebrows visibly rise. Of course everybody knew that in the modern age, couples often began sleeping together before they were married, but they always assumed it was other people; not members of their own family. They somehow always assumed that their own folk were superior and were not afflicted by the weaknesses of lust. For Will and Lareen it was inevitable. The day they met up for a date in West Mansfield they both knew that Will now had his own home. An anonymous and private bed was looming before them just a few hundred yards away. They were in love and nature took its course. Will was sensible. He had anticipated the eventuality and had paid a visit to the chemists shop for precautions. The 'phone continued ringing. Will jerked every time the bell jingled. Had the families found out? What would they think? What would they do? He half-heartedly chuckled at his paranoia. Nobody who knew his 'phone number could possibly have any idea that Lareen had just left his house. This timing of this call had to be a coincidence. He moved towards the telephone one step at a time. He picked it up. "Hello?"
    "Good morning." said a man's voice in a nondescript accent. "Could I speak to Jonathan McVey please?"
    Will gasped. He didn't know whether to laugh at his false anticipation or faint with shock. He couldn't reply immediately, but the man on the other end of the line said nothing; he waited patiently. "Erm..." Will choked. "There's nobody here of that name. You have the wrong number."
    "Do I? Very well. Apologies."
    "Not a problem. Good morning." The line went dead as the person on the other end hung up. Will's hand trembled as he replaced the receiver on its hook. He had been waiting a year and a half for that telephone call.
...............
Will got up early the following morning and headed purposively for Mansfield station. It was early December and still dark. A few premature Christmas decorations had been erected in the windows of some people's houses; joining in with the continuing post-war mindless optimism. It was frosty and Will's breath produced a cloud of steam in front of his face. He had a long journey ahead of him and he was almost overcome with excitement. He had hardly slept the night before because of the thrill. He caught the first train to Nottingham and then changed for the London line. He chose a compartment near the middle of the coach and watched the people who entered and left very carefully. The sky was bright with high cloud when he alighted at Bedford. He could have stayed on this train which took him to his destination, but he wanted to see if he was being followed. That was not part of his instructions for this particular mission; yet he decided to practice the skills he would need later on. Nobody else who got off the train paid him any attention as he sat on a platform bench, eagle eyed. By the time the next train arrived he was sure the coast was clear. He boarded and completed the last leg of his journey to St Albans, Hertfordshire. He bought a bunch of chrysanthemums and a local newspaper at a florists stall outside the station and carried it with him as he walked swiftly and casually through the town. His destination was a large cemetery just ten minutes walk from the railway station. He checked his pocket watch. Nobody looked at him as he plodded in through the gate with his head slightly bowed, trying to give himself the air of sadness of one recently bereaved. The flowers made him look as if he were attending a burial. The cemetery stretched ahead in all directions. Well kept grass was punctuated by gravestones of all shapes and sizes, like a shark's mouth with rows of uneven teeth. Places where the sun had not yet shone were still covered with frost. He walked along the path around the edge of the cemetery until he came to a bench. He sat down and laid the flowers beside him. He opened the newspaper and held it up, pretending to read it. Through the corners of his eyes he watched the other people around him. There were only a handful of them. They were standing by graves, as individuals or in family clusters. A few were digging with gardening tools or watering plants. He lowered his eyes to the page as an old woman walked close to him carrying a jug of water. His eyes wandered over the page as he tried to look engrossed. This was just part of his disguise and he never meant to read anything, but then he saw something that, even at a moment like that, he couldn't help studying. It was a small entry in the advertisement column: The time of change is coming soon. Signum. WYAGIGA. Will frowned. "What does that mean?" he muttered to himself. Many people he knew had read the "Signum" ads and some urban legends had emerged to try and explain them... He forgot about the mystery instantly as he noticed a man walking towards him purposively, looking at him. He was tall and thin, wearing a grey raincoat and trilby hat; the uniform of the commuter belt office worker would have made him blend in perfectly with Hertfordshire men. His hair was sparse and black above his strangely shaped head. His forehead was wide and protruded above his lower face which tapered to a pointed chin. The tiniest of moustaches clung to his upper lip. He stopped on the pathway, about six feet from Will. "Comrade Ursall, I presume."
    Will paused. Then he felt himself grin broadly. "I can't tell you how good it feels to be called that." He stood up and held out his hand.
    The man took it. "It is good to meet you. I've heard many excellent stories about you. I am authorized to tell you that my name is Hargreaves."
    He left the shortest of pauses before he said "Hargreaves". This was not the only reason Will doubted that was his real name. He had a strong accent from somewhere in Eastern Europe; Will guessed Poland. Hargreaves gestured to the bench and they both sat down. "What happens now?" asked Will, trying not to sound too exhilarated.
    "Nothing for the time being." Hargreaves did not look at Will, but concentrated on reading his own newspaper. "You've done a good job of burying your past, but we need to keep you in reserve for a while longer. You must be totally above suspicion before you begin your work."
    "I think I already am."
    "We do not share your certainty... not yet."
    "Why not? Do you know what they did to me at Oxford?"
    "Of course, and those are hopeful signs."
    "I've done everything I can to renounce my beliefs, pretend that I've emerged from a childhood folly and I've put it totally behind me."
    Hargreaves paused and then turned to look at him. "Was it difficult?"
    "What? Losing virtually all my friends? Yes. They hate me now. I'm still on their side, but they believe I'm an enemy. I have made them believe that!... I wish I could just explain to them."
    "But you didn't. You resisted that temptation. That's good. It demonstrates commitment on your part; a dedication to the struggle."
    "And I have to spend every waking moment canoodling with the bourgeois imperialist scum of the earth! And they adore me!" Will had to check himself from shouting, knowing that he had to keep a low profile. He realized that he was releasing suppressed emotion. He had been prepared for this meeting back in Russia. He was told that when the time was right he would receive the coded message on the telephone. This would tell him he had to come to that cemetery in St Albans the following morning at eleven AM and wait on a bench, any bench, introducing the necessary random element; holding a bunch of chrysanthemums and be reading the local newspaper.
    "I'm sorry you have had to endure such hardships, Comrade Ursall, but it will be worth it in the end. A day will come soon when you can speak openly to everybody about who you are and what you have done... How is your training progressing?"
    "Effortlessly!" Will laughed. "You should have seen my interview for admission. We just sat around drinking sherry and exchanging anecdotes about our families. Then they told me I was in, just like that."
    "The capitalist ruling class is very much like that. Nepotism and corruption are endemic. You have the right background, breeding, education. You are regarded as an insider, despite your 'temporary lapse'. That is why you are extremely valuable to us. We are taking additional care of you, more than we would most other friends. This is why we appear so reluctant to activate you; not because of a low opinion of you, but a high one... What current stage are you in your orientation?"
    "I'm about to be sent for an internship at our London embassy."
    Hargreaves nodded with a half smile. "London, that's fortuitous."
    "Hardly. Ninety percent of Lancombe Pond's diplomatic activity is with Britain. We have a new consulate just opened in Dublin. It is obvious now where Ireland's future lies."
    Hargreaves was silent for a while. "Keep doing what you're doing. Be as good a student as you can be. With your position and expertise, before long there is nowhere in the British or Lancine diplomatic service that will be off limits to you." He stood up suddenly. "Good luck, Comrade Ursall. We will soon meet again."
    Will also stood and shook his hand. He felt regret that the meeting had been so short. "Thank you, Comrade Hargreaves."
    Will felt on fire. He felt as omnipotent as a Greek god. He had to restrain himself from jumping up and down and yelling at the top of his voice for his entire journey home. He recalled the curious Signum ad he had seen earlier: The time of change is coming soon. Yes it was, but not in the way most people thought. The person behind Signum was probably some kind of religious nut, but wisdom sometimes can be found even in the words of a madman. When he arrived in Mansfield he called Lareen and she caught the first bus she could. The couple made love intensely all night. Will was overcome with ardour for his fiancée. He felt that way for the whole world. The entire universe was an ocean of love, energy, purity and perfection.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

The Obscurati Chronicles- Sample Third Chapter

 
I have now completed the draft for the third chapter of my new novel The Obscurati Chronicles. I have already published the first and second draft chapters as samples, see: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-obscurati-chronicles-sample-first.html and: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2020/05/the-obscurati-chronicles-sample-second.html. This will definitely be the second-last sample chapter. What happens next depends on whether I decide to continue with the novel privately and publish it as a book, or serialize it online. If I choose the latter then the serial will be free and posted here on Ben's Bookcase. See here for more information: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2020/11/writing-blog-2-november-2020.html.
See here for the sample fourth chapter: https://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2021/04/the-obscurati-chronicles-sample-fourth.html.
 
The Obscurati Chronicles
by Ben Emlyn-Jones
Sample Third Chapter
 
The morning bell rang. Robin Ursall was dragged out of his dream. Within a split second he had forgotten it as he dragged the prickly woollen blanket down over his body. He was on his feet and out of his bed before his head had fully cleaned out the chemicals of slumber. The other boys were trooping down the aisle in their pyjamas and with bare feet, between the beds. The Lymps were all up early as usual, standing at the door to the dormitory in their full uniform, cajoling the boys alone. "Come on, Granville! Let's get a move on!" Robin gasped as the icy fingers of water pattered down his naked body. The water in the showers felt as cold as liquid gas. He had wondered through all his school days why it was never heated. Maybe it was because it helped to make them alert after sleeping. It also dampened the ardour of the boys who were afflicted with early morning sexual arousal, seeing as even in the senior forms some of them still liked to relieve themselves with the other boys. Robin looked upwards. The Granville shower block had an arched granite ceiling, like much of the school's architecture. The pipes leading to the showerheads were laid horizontally across the top of the stall walls with the wasted arched ceiling space above them, as if the room had not originally been designed to be a shower. After they had towelled themselves dry, the boys dressed in their uniforms; a white shirt with trousers and a blazer, coloured very dark blue. The collar of the shirt was very tight and Robin knotted his green bow tie with the ease of experience. It had taken him a while to learn the skill when he had joined the first form at the age of ten. The colours of the bow ties designated the wearer's house. Green was the colour of Granville. The others were Dimmock, red; Briggs-Rees, blue and Archer, yellow. The houses were named after famous old Greygeedians. The fags from the first and second form came along to take away the laundry baskets of used pyjamas and towels. By the evening they would have laid out a fresh set on every senior boy's neatly made bed. Robin shuddered as he watched the young boys straining under the weight of the baskets. As a junior, he had had to fag regularly like all the others, carrying out laundry duty and much more besides. The uniform also included a blue waistcoat and a stovepipe hat, but these were saved for special occasions. The Lymps, on the other hand, wore these all the time; however, their waistcoats were a pastel orange. Lymps, short for "Olympians", were the heads of the houses. There were three for each house and beneath them was a junior management caste of prefects of varying importance. The Lymps wore a folded handkerchief in their left breast pocket which was the colour of their house. The blazers were all identical, regardless of the boy's status; and on the breast pocket were the school's crest and its Latin motto: Mundus per sapientiam perfectam facimus- "Through wisdom we make the world perfect". The entire school then assembled in the chapel that was the most ancient part of the school. The chaplain led them in "matins", a session of hymn singing and prayers. Then they went to the dining hall for breakfast, which today was bread and butter with sugarless tea.
    Lessons began at nine-thirty sharp. Robin sat in the dusty classroom at his single desk. There was a three foot gap between each of them; one boy per desk, alone. The wooden structure beneath his elbows was so familiar to him. It was very old, cracked and its varnish was wearing thin after countless years of young elbows. Some graffiti had been carved into the sides of the legs. Johnny Carter 1891 read one of them. Robin wondered who that was; probably his father would remember him. Robin tried to pay attention to the teacher and tried to write his notes sensibly, but as always he couldn't concentrate. From mid-afternoon until evening most days, the school engaged in all kinds of sports. At this time of year, it was usually cricket and athletics. There were more lessons until dinner and then usually the pseudo-military activity of the cadet force. This involved parades in the school grounds or quick marches along the beach and dunes. Greyguides was situated on the west Hampshire coast. The school was very old. It was constructed of dark stone and had numerous turrets and battlements. It looked like a medieval castle, and indeed used to be one before it became a school in 1620. Its fairytale facade meant that it appeared in many postcards and paintings, with the blue of The Solent in front of it and the green of the New Forest behind.
    Robin looked sadly at the fags orbiting the rows of beds spreading out sheets and dusting the shelves. A few feathers fluttered to the ground as a twelve year old second former plumped a pillow. He remembered his own experiences in the junior years, acting as servants for the older boys. Some of the memories were not ones he was able to integrate right now, despite a bit of coaching. His spirits rose as he went to dinner. What made it happy was that Robin knew that this was the second last evening meal that he would ever have to endure at Greyguides. Tomorrow would be his last day at the school. Certainly, he would be returning the following month to sit his exams, but that would be for just two weeks. He wasn't sure whether he would pass or fail. He didn't care. He took his seat at one of the four long mahogany tables that had been in the dining room for over two hundred years, one for each house. All the boys stood up as the masters all walked out onto the raised dais at one end of the room where they always sat. The Lymps at the head of each of the tables led the pupils in saying grace and then they sat down as the fags laid plates of food in front of them. "Half over and school over; eh, Robin?" said Michael, the boy who was sitting to Robin's right.
    "Too right!" replied Robin. "Can't wait for tomorrow."
    "I wonder why they call it a 'half'." said Michael as he tucked into his meal.
    "What do you mean?"
    "Terms are called 'halves' at Double-G. Why? There are three of them every year. Why don't they call them 'thirds'?"
    Robin shrugged. "No idea. Never really thought about it. I'm just glad they've come to and end, whatever proportion they are..."
    "Any plans for the hols, Robin?... Robin?"
    Robin did not answer. He was staring uncontrollably at the dais. The previous day Prof. Shenford Cranwell, the headmaster, had announced that several old masters would be joining then for dinner, to celebrate the end of the school year; but it never occurred to Robin to wonder if one of them might be the man he saw walking in and taking his seat to the right of the head himself.
    "Robin, are you alright?"
    "Er... sorry, Mike. Yes, I'm fine... I'll just be revising like we all will."
    Dr Cassius Dewlove sat bolt upright next to the headmaster of Greyguides. His arms moved loosely and he tossed his head confidently as if he was completely at home there. He belonged there, at Prof. Cranwell's right hand. He leaned back at one point and laughed in response to something funny, or not so funny, that Cranwell had said. He threw his head back in his characteristic way and his merriment was audible through the entire chamber. Every so often his gaze was cast around the room. It swept across the heads of the eating pupils like the beam of an evil lighthouse. Robin shrank back and turned his face away when he did this. He went to bed that night in a state of horror. He could hardly sleep. He knew that Dr Dewlove would have been offered a bed for the night. The thought that he was under the same roof caused Robin to lie awake for hours while the other boys snored around him. The following morning at breakfast the old master was nowhere to be seen and Robin breathed a sigh of relief. Dewlove must have headed off first thing. He had probably failed to spot Robin at a distance at dinner yesterday so he had come and gone without realizing his former student was there.
    A fleet of five charabancs shipped the Greyguides students in relays to Bournemouth Central railway station where trains came and went, taking them home to their families. Robin was still slightly on edge, looking around himself all the time; but the death ray gaze he had seen at dinner was absent. Eventually he settled aboard the train in a compartment with his friends and relaxed. Dewlove was gone and Robin would never see him again. He was chatting and laughing with Michael and his other friends as they looked forward to the upcoming holidays and what frolics they had planned. The guard blew his whistle. Robin looked out of the window to watch the train depart and his stomached clenched. Dr Cassius Dewlove emerged from the station concourse onto the platform. He walked casually towards the train. Even though the guard had blown the whistle, the teacher did not rush. He seemed to know that he had time to board the train before it left. It was as if the train had to wait for him. A door slammed at the end of the coach as he stepped onto the train. Robin was panting with dread, stiff in his seat.
    "What's the matter, Robin?" asked Billy, one of his friends.
    "Nothing." Robin lied. At that moment he was praying silently. Which coach did Dewlove enter? If it was the same one Robin was in, which compartment would he choose to sit in? Dewlove had no way of knowing that Robin was on the train. He could not have seen him through the window on this brightly lit morning. There were ten compartments in every coach and six coaches in this train. The chances of Dewlove coming to Robin's compartment were very low, sixty-to-one; yet somehow Robin knew that he would. There was no surprise to mix with his disgust as that face appeared at the inside window and the door slid open. "Ah!" A broad smile broke out across his face. "Hello, Robin."
    Robin looked at the collar of Dewlove's modern jacket. He could never make eye contact with him. "Hello, Dr Dewlove." The atmosphere in the compartment for the journey was like that of a mortuary. It was as if the stench of corpses filled the air. Robin's friends did not know Dewlove as well as Robin did and were visibly puzzled about what the problem was, but they could sense the tension and were subdued compared to their earlier joviality. Dewlove did not speak, but he just sat in a seat next to the aisle. Every few seconds he would shoot a look at Robin. Robin did not return his gaze, but could see his face rotating in his direction in his peripheral vision. Fortunately this stage of the journey was short. Just forty minutes after leaving Bournemouth, the train pulled into Southampton. "Goodbye, Dr Dewlove." said Robin as he darted for the aisle door, trying to hide his eagerness to leave the compartment.
    "See you again soon, Robin." replied Dewlove genially.
   "No you won't, you snake!" Robin whispered. He bade his friends a hasty farewell, promising to write and catch up with them after exams and then headed for the station cafe to buy a cup of strong sweet tea. His hands trembled and his teeth rattled against the cup. The relief he felt at being away from Cassius Dewlove was palpable; the emotion was almost like a physical sensation. He plodded slowly towards the correct platform for his northbound train home. The next train arrived and he entered an empty compartment. This train was far less crowded and he had the compartment to himself. He leaned back in his seat with a sigh of relaxation. His bad night's sleep caught up with him and he began to doze as the guard's whistle blew again.
    "Ah!" The grinning face of Cassius Dewlove lunged forward through the doors to the aisle.
    Robin almost yelled aloud in shock as he was jolted from his slumber.
    "I'm sorry, Robin. I didn't mean to startle you." His mellow voice, together with his broad toothy grin was so outwardly benign, and it covered something so deadly and toxic that, even in his terror, a part of Robin's mind dwelt on the irony.
    "Dr Dewlove, what are you doing here?" Robin asked.
    "Going home, just like you... And why not call me Cass? We're not at school right now."
    "Are you following me around?"
    "No."
    Robin stood up and walked to the open aisle doorway.
    "Why not stay with me, Robin? We're both going in the same direction. Let's keep each other company on the journey."
    "No way!" Robin's tremulous voice managed a shout. "I never want you anywhere near me again!"
    Dewlove chuckled. "You will, Robin. You will!"
    Robin spent the rest of the journey in a separate compartment. He had to change trains again in Birmingham. He dashed from the coach door to the back end of the platform as soon as the train had come to a halt, so he could see who else alighted. Cassius Dewlove did not. Robin waited until the train had pulled out of the station before breathing a second and more confident sigh of relief. Dewlove originally came from Grantham until he moved to West Mansfield. He must have moved house again to have stayed on that train because it was only heading northwest to Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester.
    It was a warm and richly scented afternoon in the Mansfields when Robin arrived in his hometown. He strolled happily from the railway station on the west side to Highmoor Street. It gave him a good feeling to know that soon he would be able to speak to Dirk again and his grandmother. When he was younger, his parents used to come and meet him at the station, but now he was expected to make his own way to his front door. Nellie the maid greeted him warmly. As soon as was inside the house Robin realized that something very good had just happened. He heard excited chatter coming from his mother's lounge. All her friends were in there. His father appeared in the passageway with an uncharacteristic smile on his face. "Ah, Robin. Welcome home, son. Top notch news! We've had another letter from Wilfred. Take a look." He handed Robin a ragged piece of paper with blurred ink. However, it was still legible and his brother's handwriting was recognizable. Robin skimmed the letter and then read it a second time more carefully. "He's in Samara. Where's that?"
    Francis Ursall had an atlas open on the lounge table. He pointed at it. "I checked it on the map. Here it is; quite a long way east. And he may not be there now. He was when he wrote this. Take a look at the date."
    "'June the eleventh 1918'!?... That was a year ago!"
    His father shrugged. "The war has slowed down international mail a bit."
    "The war is over."
    "Not officially."
    "Where is he now?"
    "Who knows except him? Anything could have happened in the last twelve months."
    He and Robin exchanged worried looks. Robin went upstairs to his bedroom. This was the sixth letter that had arrived since Robin's sudden departure for Russia a year and a half earlier. Based on what Will communicated, there must have been dozens more that he posted that had never made it through. Robin was surprised at how much concern he felt for his brother. During the last year and a half Robin regretted the emotional distance that had grown between them before his disappearance. That sense was all the more poignant on the days when they had received his correspondence. When he reached the top of the stairs he opened the door to Will's bedroom and looked in. Their mother had insisted that nothing in the room be touched. The bedroom was preserved as a shrine to the memory of his presence. The bed was left unmade, Will's study desk was still cluttered with writing pads and textbooks from Oxford. The Bolshevik posters remained on the wall with nobody to understand their bold and seditious pronouncements in Russian. On the gramophone in the corner, a record lay on the turntable. Its card sleeve was lying on chair beside it; it was a speech by a Bolshevik firebrand. Will must have placed the sleeve on the chair because he was lying on the bed to listen. The gramophone's brass horn pointed diagonally at the ceiling, its smooth curved insides descending into blackness, now silent, like a frozen metallic whirlpool. Everything was covered by a cuticle of dust, even the floor. There were a few masculine footprints on the carpet which Robin recognized as his father's. At one point recently Francis must have entered the room to contemplate thoughts about his elder son that only he knew. Spiders' webs hung over the bookshelves like the lace curtains that still covered the windows. The spines of the Marxist research books that Will used to read over and over again were now illegible because of the covering of the webs and dust. Robin slowly closed the door and headed for his own room.
                                
"Trots en waardigheid!"
    "Van de ziekenhuis dragers!" Robin embraced his friend with joy as they met at the gates of the Nottingham hospital. He had not seen Dirk Walsander for over two months. "So, where shall we go today, Dirk?"
    "Hmm." The Dutchman furrowed his brow curiously. "Well, after we've fed Jeroen, I was thinking of your neck of the woods."
    They caught a bus to Annesley and headed into the forest. It was a warm clear day and woodpigeons warbled in the distance. The sky above between the greened branches was dark blue and punctuated by snowy white clouds. "How come I've never seen Jeroen?" asked Robin. "How many times have we gone here to feed him? Ten? A dozen?"
    "Not sure." said Dirk as they strolled along the path through the woods. "He's very shy. Maybe we should wait a bit longer this time." They emerged in a shady glade; on one side was a jagged broken row of ruddy masonry. That was all that was left of the former stately home of Annesley Hall. Dirk opened his satchel and took out a paper bag.
    "What have you brought him this time?" asked Robin.
    "Some apple crumble; Jeannie's best."
    "Oh good!" Jeannie was the chef at the Bagthorpe Infirmary and Dirk had brought Robin a few scraps of her delicious wares several times. Dirk placed the bag in the middle of the clearing and then he and Robin hid in the nearby undergrowth, kneeling down behind a clump of bushes. "How did you first meet Jeroen?" asked Robin.
    "He was just there." replied Dirk. "I was walking round these woods last year and I felt that I was not alone. I looked round and there he was, just standing still and staring at me. I was really terrified and backed away, but he didn't move. I couldn't get back down the path because it led straight to the old side of the hall, so we just stood and looked at each other. My fear eased off because I sensed that he was friendly. Eventually he just walked calmly away. He stopped and gave me a look over his shoulder and then vanished into the woods." Dirk pointed at the forest beside the Annesley estate. "I went home and thought about him for a while and the next day I went back to the same spot. He was nowhere to be seen even though I waited for a few minutes. That's when I got the idea of leaving out food for him. I also decided to call him 'Jeroen' because he walks a bit like my brother whose name is Jeroen. I picked up waste food from Jeannie's kitchen and left it out in this glade. Every time I came back half an hour later and it was gone. I tried waiting out like this and after a while Jeroen came out to take the food. I drop it off at about the same time every day to get him into the habit. Not that he has a clock, but he can probably sense the passing of time from the sun."
    "I hope he comes out today; then I'll see him."
    Dirk lowered his voice. "He may well be watching us right now. He might not come for the food while we're here, especially you whom he doesn't know as well as me."
    "Maybe if we wait long enough he'll appear anyway. He'll want to grab the food before the foxes and crows find it."
    Ten minutes passed and then Dirk pointed. "Psst!... Look!"
    Robin saw a man walking through the woods towards them. He came along the path from the northern side of the derelict stately home. He strolled slowly, his arms swinging casually. Despite the balmy weather Jeroen was dressed in a thick hooded jacket and long trousers, both chocolate brown. Then Robin gasped out loud.
    "Shh!" Dirk raised his finger to his own lips.
    Robin couldn't help it. His heart was pounding. Jeroen was closer now and Robin could see that the man approaching was actually not a man. What Robin had thought was brown clothing was actually a coat of brown animal fur. Jeroen was some kind of ape; but an ape of a kind that Robin had never seen before. It was walking upright just like a human. It had a furrowed face like a gorilla with heavy eyebrow ridges, a protruding nose and mouth above a receding chin. Its eyes were dark red and larger than a man's or monkey's. It stopped at the edge of the glade and rotated its head to see if there was any danger. Robin and Dirk ducked their heads lower behind the bushes. Robin held his breath in case the two-legged ape heard him. Jeroen bent down and started at the paper bag lying on the ground and then walked towards it, almost on tip-toes as if worried that it might be a dangerous creature. He picked up the bag in both hands and sniffed it carefully with his nose buried in the crumpled folds. He inhaled deeply for about thirty seconds and then began eating it, paper and all. Within twenty seconds the paper wrapped apple crumble had been completely devoured and Jeroen licked his hands with a long thin purple tongue. Then he swiftly turned back for the safety of the forest. Before he left the glade he took a look over his shoulder, his rosy eyeballs scanning the canopy and undergrowth. He didn't appear to see the two humans skulking behind the greenery. He walked off down the path and was out of sight within a few seconds.
    Robin sighed and stood up. "That is Jeroen?"
    "Uh-huh." Dirk nodded. "Him or maybe another member of his... community."
    "What is he!? I've never seen anything like that before."
    "Neither did I until last year. I've heard of such creatures living in North America and the Himalayas where there's plenty of open space, but not here in the heart of England."
    "Where do they come from? How come I've never seen them before?"
    "Where they come from, I don't know. I don't know of anybody who has seen one. They must keep themselves to themselves in the middle of the forest; keeping out of our way."
    "We must tell people!"
    "No, Robin. Don't!" Dirk frowned at him.
    "Why not?"
    "Firstly, who would believe you? You'd be laughed out of town. Secondly, what if somebody did believe you? What if people discovered Jeroen and his species?"
    "It would be a scientific breakthrough."
    "It might lead to the death of those creatures."
    "How? It's not like the woods would fill up with people out to hunt them?"
    "Hunting wouldn't be necessary. They may occupy a very delicate niche in their ecology. Simply our presence in their habitat might disturb them to the point where they can't feed or breed or anything else... Species have died out before that way."
    There was a pause and Robin nodded. "Alright, Dirk. I won't say anything about Jeroen."
    "Good lad." Dirk patted him on the shoulder. "Let's go. There's somewhere else I want to take a look at." They travelled by bus into West Mansfield, walked over the border and out of town along the Chesterfield road until they arrived at another patch of woodland. They walked between the trees for only a few minutes parallel to the road until they came to a large overgrown meadow. They opened the gate and went in. The grass lay in irregular patches of different shades of green, glowing in the glaring sunlight. It rippled like a silk sheet in the light wind. The seed heads bobbed back and forth. "Do you know this place, Robin?" asked Dirk.
    "Yes. It's Larners Field. I've not been here for a while. Why is the grass so long?"
    "Because it's not been used this season. It's a pasture and normally there are horses or sheep here grazing it down; but not this year."
    "Why not?"
    Dirk raised his eyebrows and his blue eyes glinted. "You know why not."
    "The dangerous gas canisters?"
    Dirk chuckled. "Don't be sneaky, Robin. I think I can guess what really happened here last year. Lots of people in the area do; far more in fact than would ever admit it."
    Robin sighed evasively. "Dirk, it's just... my grandmother told me not to tell anybody."
    "You can tell me about it because I already know something happened here."
    "I found out what happened from my father. He told me that it was some kind of airship."
    "It was a spaceship." Dirk corrected.
    Robin paused as he cast his mind back. "Father told me it was a big golden object shaped like an athletics discus. Inside were three small men, very small. They had no hair and smooth grey skin; very thin limbs and big black eyes."
    Dirk nodded. "Sounds familiar."
    "Father sealed of the area; the LPDF put up roadblocks. He had the corpses taken to Fort Meltan in the City where they have a large icebox for that kind of thing. Then they had to dispose of the wreckage and that was more difficult."
    "Where was it?"
    "Over here." He led the older man across the field to the opposite corner. They waded through the fully-grown grass until they came to an open space of dry cracked soil. Only a few tufts of grass emerged from the cracks. "Here's where they found it. It was broken in two, which is how they got the three pilots out."
    "Strange how the grass has not grown back." said Dirk. "It's thick and lush everywhere except here. It's like something is wrong with the earth under where it landed."
    "Did it leave behind some kind of... poison?"
    "Possibly. In which case it's still lingering a year and a half later. Look." Dirk pointed at a nearby tree. Woodland completely surrounded Larners Field and all the trees were upholstered with midsummer foliage except the one Dirk was indicating. This one was still bare and also had one of its boughs snapped. Jagged pieces of its internal wood jutted out like broken bone. "This tree's dead. The others are all fine except this one."
    "It must have been struck by the golden disk as it descended."
    "How did they get it out of here?"
    "Father didn't say, but look." Robin walked over to the barbed wire fence next to the bare patch. "This bit of fence is new. The wire hasn't rusted like the other bits, see?"
    Dirk pulled down the top row of wire and eased himself over the fence. "They dragged it."
    Robin followed Dirk, ducking down between the upper and lower barbed wire strands. The bottom one caught of his trousers and he used his hand to pull it off so it didn't rip the material. Dirk was ahead of him, discovering more evidence. "They pulled down the fence and dragged it between these trees." He pointed to where a bough had been removed from another tree. This time the cut was flat and mechanical, probably done with a saw. "They didn't have to fell any trees, but they clearly had to make room for it to pass. My God it must have been big!"
    "If it were in two pieces they probably moved them separately. How did they do it? You'd never get a tractor into this thicket."
    "A couple of good strong shire horses would do the trick; they can go anywhere. Besides, we don't know how heavy it was, only how big it was; about twenty to thirty feet across I reckon."
    "We saw it in the sky, remember?"
    Dirk stopped and stared at him. "If it was the same one. There might have been many of them."
    About fifty yards of forest separated Larners Field from a narrow muddy lane. In this warn dry weather the mud had crystallized into solid ridges where tractors and carts had travelled in wetter times. A few horse spoors punctuated the parallel lines of the wheel ruts. Dirk and Robin walked along the lane until it joined the Chesterfield road. Dirk stopped and put his hands on his hips. "Well, this is how they got the thing out of the meadow, but where did they take it next?"
    "There was a bit of a political headache over that because the Brits wanted a stake in the game. They ended up taking desperate measures."
    Dirk chuckled. "A spaceship crash in Lancombe Pond was probably not something they had a contingency plan for."
    "There were some long and heated telephone calls between the Lowdown and Westminster. The Duke declined the British help, but it seems the Brits wouldn't take no for an answer. David Lloyd George is a man used to having his own way it seems. He sent in some troops over the border into East Mansfield, including tanks. Somehow there was no fighting. I thought there would be another Western Front."
    Dirk shrugged. "What's the strength of the LPDF? Four hundred; five hundred men? Less than a single British regiment. What chance would they have had? An Anglo-Lancine war would not be a long one and I would not broker bets on the outcome. By raising the stakes the way he did, DLG forced the Duke into a trap. The only way he could escape from it by avoiding a bloodbath and, more importantly from his point of view, saving face, was to switch positions and pretend it was his idea; pretend he invited the British to assist... What happened next?"
    "My father never found out. All he knew was that the Westminster forces loaded the broken spaceship onto a flatbed carrier and drove it away. They also sent an ambulance to Fort Meltan for the corpses. He passed on the Duke's orders to the TK's there, orders to hand them over."
    "And that's the last you or your papa heard about it?"
    Robin nodded. "I sort of expected there would be something in the news. Surely the crashing of a spaceship carrying creatures from a distant planet would steal the headlines."
    "It did appear briefly in a few foreign outlets. They slipped through while the Westminster D-Notice was being processed. These stories were all corrected in updated articles when the cover story was in place."
    "What was that spaceship? Where did it come from?"
    Dirk shrugged. "I don't know exactly. Generally, these spaceships have many different places of origin."
    Robin looked at him sharply. "Dirk, you seem to know an awful lot about this subject. How come?"
    He paused, turning his back on Robin slightly. "That's a long story."
    Robin looked at his pensive face and thought about the last eighteen months. "You should meet my grandma."
    Dirk laughed. "You keep saying that."
    "You'd just get on so well. It's odd how you've never met each other... I bet you'd end up getting married." The thought of having Dirk Walsander as a step-grandfather was immensely appealing. Robin cast his mind back to January the previous year. It was the day Wilfred left for Russia. His grandmother had summoned him to her home by telephone. Robin had had a difficult journey because of the array of roadblocks surrounding Larners Field; well over a square mile had been cordoned off by the LPDF. He had to walk another half mile down the road to the City before he found a working tram. When he arrived Reg, the old manager of the spiritualist church, was waiting in her hallway with a serious frown on his face. "The black-eyes!" he muttered. "I've had five 'phone calls from people who've seen them. They're turning up all over the place." Robin was filled with terror after his own encounter with the strange child who had rung the bell of his front door; the boy with eyes of purest black emptiness.
    "We must close the rift!" Loyl Ursall had stated. They had driven in Reg's car to Bailey Avenue. Dia's house was silent; all its drapes were drawn. It was if the building itself had been struck dumb by the upheaval that had taken place there two days earlier. Robin looked up at the sky, but the strange apparition that he had seen there was not visible. When he pointed this out his grandmother immediately replied. "It's still there, Robin. It's just not visible in daylight... Come on!" She had instructed him and Reg to stand in a circle with her and hold hands. Then she sung a healing chant Robin had heard a few times in the spiritualist church. He had been told by a few people what it was about, but couldn't remember. They were standing in the road just a few feet from the pavement. Motorists and horses moved over to avoid them; pedestrians gave them curious looks and a few laughed. Robin tried to stay focused on the healing chant, but felt embarrassed by the attention they were attracting. He hoped nobody he knew would see them. He was relieved when his grandmother and Reg lowered their hands. "Right." said Loyl. "I think that should do the trick."
    Dirk wandered back down the track towards Larners Field. The old hospital porter's hands were in his pockets and his head was bowed. "Oh dear." he mumbled.
    Robin trailed after him. "What's wrong, Dirk?"
    "The way the world is going worries me."
    Robin chuckled ironically. "Who isn't worried by that?"
    "I need to know what's happening in Paris."
    "Shall we go into town and buy a paper?"
    "No, I need to know what's going on right now."
    "Well you can't. We're not there."
    Dirk looked around himself, as if checking nobody else was present, and sat down on a fallen log. "Robin, can you keep something private for me?"
    "Of course."
    Dirk reached into his satchel and brought out an object that resembled a small picture frame. It was empty and only the black backing could be seen through the glass pane. Dirk scratched the side of the frame and light burst out of the pane as if somebody has switched on an electric light. Robin gasped. "What the..."
    Dirk put his finger up to his lips; then he spoke into the picture frame as if it were a Gypsy's crystal ball. "Gerard?... Gerard?... It's Dirk. Can you hear me?" He was speaking in Dutch now. He took out a length of white string from his pocket on which one end was a little rubber ball and the other what looked like a nail or pin. He inserted the pin into a hole on the side of the frame and put the rubber ball in his right ear.
    Robin followed his gaze and gasped again. There was now an image in the picture frame, but it was not a painting or photograph. It had the colour of a painting, but it was moving. Robin had seen a few cinematograph shows and was familiar with motion pictures, but this one looked real. It was as if the frame had become a tiny window showing a real location; but it was still resting in Dirk's hands. It showed an image of a large room full of people. Several hundred figures were moving about. The window's position was high up above the crowds as if on a low balcony. The room was ornate and gilded like a hall in a stately home. The arched ceiling was covered in murals and there were two rows of windows. When Robin looked more closely he saw that on one side, the windows were actually mirrors, huge segmented ones that made them look like windows. A row of golden statues stood above the bobbing heads of the crowd.
    "Gerard, have the Krauts turned up yet?... Have you heard anything from Bauer?... No, I'm aware of that...."
    Robin shook his head in wonder. Dirk was talking to somebody else Robin could not hear, as if Robin were eavesdropping on a telephone conversation.
    "Okay, when Bell and Müller arrive see if you can try and talk them out of it... I know what Ebert says, but this is too important!... Alright, Gerard. I know your difficulties... I was hoping the Big Four wouldn't show up... What!?... What do you mean Orlando has resigned!?... Jesus!... You'll have to send me a (unknown word) when it all kicks off."
   Robin followed Dirk's side of the conversation as well as he could with his broken mental Dutch.
    "Very well, Gerard. Keep me posted... Thanks very much." Dirk fiddled with the edge of the picture frame and it went dark. He returned it to his satchel along with the piece of string and laid his forehead in his hands. His white locks hung over his face. "Oh no." he muttered in English.
    "What's wrong, Dirk?" Robin placed a hand on his shoulder.
    "The Germans are going to sign! They're sending new delegates after Brockdorff-Rantzau resigned."
    "Isn't that a good thing? It means the war is over."
    Dirk looked at him sympathetically. His blue eyes were sad and damp. "When it comes to pride, the German is a pernickety accountant. He always balances his books."
    "Are the Germans lacking pride? They never got invaded did they? They entered into the Armistice willingly. They gained an awful lot of land from Russia, thanks to Will's friend Lenin."
    Dirk shook his head. "They've got a new leader now. Ebert is his name. He's a feeble and stupid character. He seems happy for his country to accept all the blame for the war."
    "But the Hun is responsible for the war! The greed and imperialism of Germany caused the whole horrific mess that you had to deal with at the hospital."
    Dirk laughed scornfully, but without ire. "Which newspaper did you read that in? The Times?"
    "Dirk! Everybody knows that the war is Germany's fault."
    The Dutchman shrugged. "Not everybody; I'm one who doesn't."
    "Then you're the only one."
    He shrugged. "Life is not an election."
    "What's going on in Paris, Dirk?"
    "The global movers and shakers are rebuilding the entire world. Borders are being drawn, warships scuttled, trade deals signed. The entire world for the next hundred years or more is being planned out."
    "What happens if the Germans back out?"
    "War."
    Robin groaned. "Not another one!"
    Dirk nodded. "And I just don't think anybody has the stomach for more war, not after the hope the Armistice bought." He shivered and stood up. "I don't think I do either... Perhaps I should not be too judgemental of Ebert." He began walking back up the lane to the Chesterfield road and Robin walked by his side.
    After a few seconds of silence Robin said: "Dirk, what was that thing you were playing with, that thing in your satchel?"
    "It's rather like a telephone except it allows you to see whom you're talking to as well as hearing them. It also needs no wires."
    "I'd like one myself. How do I get one?"
    Dirk smiled slightly. "It's not available in the shops yet."
    "How did you get it then?"
    He paused and sighed. "I can't tell you that."
    Robin nodded. He had become accustomed to the many mysteries surrounding his friend and when another was added on it made little difference.
    "It's very important you keep this private like you promised, alright?"
    "Yes, Dirk." They reached the main road and walked slowly back into East Mansfield. A coal cart drawn by two horses passed them and Dirk exchanged a cheery wave with the driver. Its bags were not well sealed and the cart left behind a thin cloud of black dust that skittered along the road in the light breeze. Robin said: "Dirk."
    "Yes?"
    "Why did the Brits take the golden spaceship, and why did they say nothing more in the newspapers?"
    "That's a long story."
    Robin rolled his eyes. "You've already said that once today!"
    Dirk stopped walking and looked at him. "They did it because they don't want people to know such things exist."
    "Why not?"
    Dirk laughed. "Now that is a very long story."
    "I'm in no rush... It's just I'd have thought that the arrival of a craft from Mars, even if it crashed and its inhabitants killed, would have been on every front page."
    "Really?"
    "Yes! It would be incredibly exciting to think there were men out there in the universe. Earth is not the only place where men walk."
    Dirk sighed and carried on walking along the side of the road. "If we knew that was the case, what difference would that make to the Great War?"
    Robin shrugged. "None at all."
    "None at all? Are you sure?... What if there are men on Mars? There may be some on Venus too; also Jupiter and Saturn. What if there are planets around the distant stars with their own intelligent inhabitants? It would reduce the importance of the war a bit, wouldn't it?"
    "Not particularly."
    "Are you sure? Supposing you heard that the creatures on a planet orbiting Barnard's Star had started a war. The beings on the western hemisphere of the planet were fighting the beings on the eastern hemisphere. What would you think?"
    "Not a lot."
    "'Not a lot'." Dirk quoted. "The Great War took over the globe and has changed it forever. It's effected the existence of every man, woman and child alive, and will effect those yet to be born for generations to come. On a single finite world, it's a huge deal; but on the scale of a universe of a million inhabited worlds, it doesn't add up to more than a barroom brawl... And what happens when men begin fighting in a pub, Robin?"
    "Well, usually the landlord tries to break it up."
    "Without asking what they are fighting about?" Dirk smirked sarcastically. "Generally it's not thought as something important enough for the men to carry on fighting. Whatever they are fighting over is too trivial to be sustained. It cannot justify the resulting destruction and disturbance to the peace. The same would go for Barnard East versus Barnard West... or Alliance versus Entente."
    "But that's good then, isn't it? A reason to shout from every rooftop that we are not alone in space. That would have stopped the war early, wouldn't it?"
    "Not if you want there to be a war."
    "Eh? Who would want there to be a war?"
    Dirk waved his hand evasively. "Forget that for now... There's another issue to consider that's easier to understand. That golden disk, if it flew here from another planet, what kind of motor does it have? Steam? Electric? Petroleum?"
    "Oh, definitely not."
    "Why not?"
    "Because we have those motors and we can't build a craft like that; otherwise we would build one, go to their planet and visit them. Their motors must be something very different, a form of machinery we have yet to invent."
    Dirk looked at him benevolently as if impressed that he was about to grasp some underlying point. "Yet to invent? Maybe, but assuming we have not invented them; we can sit around and wait for some genius to come up with the idea or we can learn about that kind of engineering from outsiders who have done so already."
    "You mean the builders of the golden disk?"
    "Yes! You catch on quick, Robin. It is possible that the British wanted to salvage the debris of the disk so that they could examine it and learn how it works. In doing so the government's engineers hope possibly to reproduce it. They tried to do it with a German tank last year. If the war had lasted longer the Brits might have made their own version of it. It's known as 'reverse engineering' and just imagine what somebody could do if they had the means to create a copy of an extraterrestrial spaceship."
    "We'd be able to sail amongst the stars!" Robin gasped in wonder.
    Dirk chuckled. "What's with the 'we'?"
    Robin stopped walking. "What do you mean?"
    Dirk also stopped and turned round. "I think we can anticipate on theoretical grounds that Westminster would not want to publicize the fact, should they succeed in their reverse engineering. The ability to build a spaceship would give the country a huge advantage over any enemy or potential enemy; and remember we were still at war when the golden disk came down. If the copied spaceship design were released to the general public it would equalize the situation."
    "What does that matter when we could fly around the galaxies!?" Robin roared.
    Dirk nodded kindly at what he clearly thought of as Robin's naivete. "You're still thinking Great War and not pub punch-up."
    "What do you mean?"
    Dirk took a step back. "Don't just think about the stars, think about this planet. What effect would public acknowledgement of the golden disk have on the world?"
    Robin paused. He noticed how Dirk had changed the subject. "Well, not a lot. We already have machines to use in our own world."
    "Yeah, steamships, railways, petroleum cars, horses, aeroplanes."
    "Exactly." Robin recoiled a bit from the sardonic tone in Dirk's voice.
    "But the golden disk could not only give us the keys to outer space, it could give us new keys to the earth! You've seen it in the air, Robin. You saw the RFC aeroplanes try and catch it and fail totally. We wouldn't need aeroplanes if we had the golden disks. We wouldn't need automobiles, trains or ships."
    "By Jove! That would be incredible."
    "Not if you were the chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, or one of the coal mines in South Wales. The golden disk clearly must use a very different kind of fuel and that's bad for business if you provide conventional fuels."
    "They would have to hope they could adapt their product to the new market."
    Dirk folded his arms and leaned his head sideways. He grinned at Robin in the most affectionate ways ever. He didn't reply and carried on walking along the road. By now they had reached Hunter Street where houses began and were in the Mansfields proper. "They must have dragged it up here." said Robin.
    "How do you know?" asked Dirk, his speech muffled slightly as he lit a cigarette.
    "It's the quickest way to the station."
    "Quickest; not necessary the most private."
    "But they could just tell people it was a gas cylinder, remember?"
    He shrugged.
    There was a pause. "Dirk, how come they knew what to do?"
    "In what way?"
    "A spaceship crash doesn't happen every day. The Brits and the Duke seemed to be able to handle it without any confusion"
    "This wasn't the first time."
    "What!?... You mean spaceships have crashed before?"
    "Yes, a few times. Westminster probably has some kind of contingency plan for it. They don't need it that often, but it must lie at the bottom of some safe in Whitehall."
    "How many times has it happened?"
    "In this country, I'm not sure. However it happened in Texas USA in 1897 and in Germany sometime in the seventies."
    "Golly gosh!" Robin puffed out his cheeks. "Why are you telling me all about this?"
    "You're a decent young man, Robin. Your generation will hopefully build a better world than the mess ours has left you."
    An old memory from the previous year came back to him. "That reminds me of somebody I met once in London; a Mr Tesla."
    Dirk stopped so suddenly his boots skidded on the ground. He swung round and gaped at Robin; his blue eyes were wide. "What!?... Who!?"
    "This man I met." Robin was startled by his attitude. "A Mr Tesla. He was doing an electric demonstration in London."
    "You actually know Nikola Tesla!?"
    "Well, I met him once. You've heard of him?"
    "Yes. Tell me more..."
    Robin related his trip to London with Will, the day Will disappeared.
    "God verdom!" Dirk cursed in Dutch.
    "So have you met him too?"
    Dirk raised his head and looked up at the sky in a pensive way. "Oh yes. Many times... It's remarkable that you have." His head jerked back down, as if he were coming out of a trance. "Well, young Robin. I have work to do so I must be off."
    "I thought you were on the early shift today."
    "I am, but my work is not just my work." He raised an eyebrow in a playfully cryptic way.
    Robin nodded with a chuckle. They went to the bus station and Robin waved goodbye to Dirk as the Dutchman's bus pulled away; then he walked home. The mystery of Dirk Walsander didn't bother Robin; in fact it was a part of his nature.
    The moment Robin opened his front door a wave of discomfort passed through him. He could just sense that something was wrong inside. He slowly pushed the door open and saw his father standing in the corridor. "Hello, Robin." he said. The smile on Francis Ursall's face told Robin all he needed to know. It was joyful and reverent, as if he were witnessing a religious apparition. It was a unique expression that he only ever wore in one particular circumstance. "Father... is he here?" Robin asked rhetorically and his father nodded. Inaudible thunder rumbled inside Robin's skull as he walked to the lounge door. His mother was smiling in the same way.
    Cassius Dewlove spread his hands and said "Ah!" as he always did in his form of greeting. His perfect ivory teeth glinted in the light. His porcelain blue cadaver eyes were wide and staring. He was reclining in the armchair by the window, the most comfortable chair in the room. His left leg was raised across his right. The scent of his knee length leather boots permeated the room. His untidy mop of brown hair was pressed against the headrest. "What are you doing here?" Robin rasped; his throat had gone dry.
    Dewlove shrugged and tittered. "Nice to see you too, Robin."
    Robin swung round and bolted for the kitchen, his father hot on his tail. "Listen, Robin!" he whispered fiercely. "I don't want any trouble!"
    "You don't want any trouble!?" hissed Robin. "You let that revolting toad into our family home and you don't want any trouble!?"
    Francis raised his arms and moved his outstretched hands up and down, indicating that Robin should lower the volume of his voice. "Please, don't make any hassle!"
    "What's wrong with you!? You promised he would never come back here again!... You promised!"
    His father's lip trembled as he spoke. "Robin, he just... turned up!"
    "Well, couldn't you make him un-turn up!?"
    There was a silence. "Robin, I think you should know; Cassius plans to stay for a while?"
    "How long for?"
    "A day or two?"
    "Well which?"
    "Two... Maybe three. He didn't say."
    Robin groaned and ran his hands through his hair. He turned his back on his father and strode towards the front door. As he passed the lounge he heard Cassius Dewlove laughing in his textbook way, a raucous warbling "Hahahahahahahaha!" like a cross between a braying donkey and a chattering monkey. His laughs were so loud they could be heard halfway down the street. Robin did not look through the lounge door, but he knew exactly what he would see if he did. Dewlove's head thrown back, his mouth open, his palate vibrating from the sound waves. And his mother would be laughing along; not laughing with him, but following his lead, her hands clasped over her bosom in rapture. Robin opened the front door and continued his rapid exit down the garden path. He had gone a dozen yards along the pavement when he heard a voice behind him. "Robin, wait!" It was Dewlove.
    "Go away!" he yelled.
    "Robin, wait a moment. I only want to apologize."
    Robin stopped walking, not in compliance but surprise. "You want to what?"
    "I'm very sorry, Robin."
    Robin said nothing and kept his back turned towards his former teacher.
    "If I've done anything to hurt you over the years, then I apologize... I only wanted to help you. I thought it was the right thing to do, but now I realize that it wasn't."
    Robin's wonder and curiosity overcame him and he looked into Dewlove's face for the first time in years. "What do you mean, Cass?"
    He smiled and took a step forward. "You have a great future ahead of you, Robin. You will become a great man."
    Robin chuckled ironically. "Haven't you been reading my reports? All that 'extra tuition' you gave me did me no good at all."
    He shook his head firmly and confidently. "No, Robin. Pay no attention to those reports. They mean nothing."
    "What? You're a teacher! How can you say that?"
    "I'm not just a teacher. I am a nurturer of young talent; and you, my boy, have a lot of talent. Give yourself a chance. Let me guide you." He took another step forward.
    Robin recoiled from his advance. "Why should I? Why should I trust you after what you did!?"
    Dewlove shrugged cheerfully. "Maybe you'll find a way... Think it over. Get in touch with me when you're ready." He turned and walked back to the house. Robin watched him enter the front door and shut it behind him.
    Cassius Dewlove stayed the entire weekend. Robin went out as often as he could find reason to and when indoors stayed in his bedroom every moment except mealtimes. While eating he remained silent while Dewlove held court to his adoring audience. Everybody was in a good mood because of the Treaty of Versailles which ended the war formally, but the genuine happiness they should have been feeling was polluted by the much more intense, but toxic pseudo-bliss engendered by the radiation of Cassius Dewlove. On Monday the teacher hung around most of the day, making no indication that he was going to leave. Robin had an awful feeling that he would be staying overnight again. Then, finally, at about five PM, the mountain moved. Dewlove came down the stairs from the guest room carrying his suitcase. The whole family along with Nellie and Joan, a second maid who had recently been employed, stood in the hallway to bid him a formal farewell. Maartje got to her feet for the occasion and stood leaning on Francis' shoulder. "Goodbye, dear Cassius." she said fervently. "It's been a delight to have you hear and I implore you to come back soon."
    Francis shook his hand warmly. "Thank you for taking the time to visit us again, Cass. We have thoroughly enjoyed having you. You're welcome any time."
    Robin didn't say a word. He sensed that Dewlove gave him a look before leaving, but Robin kept his eyes averted to avoid it. The door closed behind him. Robin went to the upstairs front bedroom to watch him as he departed. Dewlove kept walking down the street without slowing and looking back. Robin never took his eyes off his former tutor until he had turned the corner and was out of sight. Robin breathed a sigh of relief.
    The atmosphere of the house returned to normal. Robin went out for a short walk and then lazed in the drawing room reading his Young England annual. The doorbell rang. He sat up. "Oh God, he hasn't come back has he?" He got up and walked out into the corridor. Nothing happened. It was customary in the house to wait for the maids to answer doorbells.
    "Robin, somebody's at the door." growled his mother from her couch in the lounge.
    "I know, mother."
    "Well then could you answer it please?"
    "I was waiting for Nellie or Joan to do it."
    "Nellie's out shopping and Joan has gone home."
    The bell rang again.
    "Alright, mother." He walked slowly to the door. He relaxed when he saw through the frosted glass of the door windows that the person outside was not Cassius Dewlove. It was a smaller slimmer figure. He opened the door and saw a tall thin man standing in front of him. The man was young but looked older at first glance because of his thick long hair and huge bushy beard. He was wearing an old and slightly threadbare suit that looked like it had been worn quite a few times in many different places. On the ground beside him was a small battered cowhide suitcase. He smiled broadly. Robin smiled back at him politely. "Can I help you, sir?"
    The man sighed cheerfully. "Hello, Robin."
    Robin gasped. The man's voice and the look in his eyes unlocked the doors of Robin's memory, despite the difference in his appearance. "Will?"
    He nodded. "It's good to see you again, Robin."
    Robin burst into laughter and threw himself forward at his brother. Will's arms encircled him and they clasped each other tight. "You're back! You've come home!" yelled Robin. "Mother! Mother!"
    Maartje Ursall shrieked with delight as her elder son entered the lounge. She rose from her couch and ran forward to embrace him. "Wilfred! Wilfred!" She dissolved into uncontrolled tears. Her first coherent words were: "Robin! Call your father!"
    His hands were trembling, but Robin managed to dial the number of his father's office. "Hello. An tless. Mr Usrall's office." said his father's secretary.
    "Hello, I need to speak to Mr Ursall urgently. This is his son."
    "One moment please."
    There was a long pause and then Francis Ursall's voice came on the line. "Robin? I'm working. What do you want?"
    "Hello, father. I just thought you should know. Will has come home."
    There was another pause. "What?"
    "Will. He's home."
    His father puffed loudly into the receiver. "Goodness... That's wonderful."
    "Father, did you understand me? Will has come home!"
    "Yes, yes. I heard you."
    "Well... could you come home please?"
    "I have one more meeting today then I'll be heading home."
    Robin hung up shaking his head at his father's manner. Francis' car rumbled into the drive at seven PM and he greeted his returning son by shaking his hand. Will's appearance startled him somewhat, as it had Robin. Will had so altered in the last eighteen months that it was hard to believe he was the same individual he had been when he left in January 1918. "I'm sorry so few of my letters to you got through." Will sipped multiple cups of tea. "I've so missed English tea!" he lamented as he sat in the lounge with his family. He told them what had happened to him over the last year and a half. He described his training and various battles. His family showed him the letters from him that had arrived.
    "Will, is the Russian Civil War over now?" asked Robin.
    "More or less. There are still White incursions here and there. Kolchak is still at large, but I think the worst of the war is over. The Bolsheviks have the upper hand right across Russia."
    "So you're not going back?" asked his mother rhetorically.
    "No."
    "You've come home for good?"
    "Yes."
    She grinned and reached out to hold his hand. "My little comrade."
    "Don't call me that, mother!" Will snapped.
    Everybody stared at him. "Will, could you have not come home sooner?" asked Robin to break the awkward silence.
    Will sighed as if relieved that somebody had rebooted the conversation. "Robin, one does not simply walk away from the Red Army. I had signed a contract enlisting me for active service for as long as I was required. The decision of whether or not I was required is solely the discretion of the Military Commission. I applied for demobilization in February; I sent you a letter about that, but it must have been part of the majority that never got to you. Anyway, I was granted it three weeks ago and so headed here as fast as I could. That wasn't easy. Most of the continent's railways are still military and state chartered only so I had to go north again through Scandinavia, the way I had come. On Friday I tried to telephone you from Copenhagen before boarding a ship for Felixstowe, but it wouldn't connect. I landed this morning and caught a train up here. As it turns out it was a nice surprise for you." He smiled and crossed his legs.
    "It certainly was, Wilfred." said Maartje.
    "What will you do now, son?" asked Francis.
    Will shrugged. "I'm going to try and get back into Oxford. I've already wired the Master of Balliol asking if I can return. I'll carry on with my studies; redo last year if necessary."
    Robin contemplated the difference between how they responded to Will's return as opposed to the presence of Cassius Dewlove. Both situations induced happiness, but Will's return was natural and based on love; Dewlove's visit was artificial and based on hypnotic fanaticism.
    Will was tired from his journey and so decided to go to bed early. He looked exhausted as he plodded up the stairs with his suitcase. He opened the door of his bedroom and froze. A look of shock came over his face. He dropped his suitcase with a strident thud.
    "I'm sorry about the dust, Will." said Robin. "Mother said your room must not be touched. It's been virtually sealed since you left. We've done no cleaning in there."
    He took a few steps into the room looking around him. His eyes moved from the floor to the ceiling, from the bed to the window. He left a trail of footprints, some of which overlapped those of his father.
    "If you need any help clearing up the place, let me know." said Robin.
    Will moved suddenly, as if emerging from a daydream. He walked out of the room and headed downstairs. He came back with a coal sack and began ripping the posters off the wall; the dust that had gathered on them formed clouds in the air. He screwed them up and threw them into the sack.
    "Will, what are you doing!?" gasped Robin.
    "These are going into the rubbish... So are these!" He started pulling the Marxist textbooks off his shelf. He took the disc off the gramophone turntable and broke it in half over his knee.
    "Will, stop! Those are your Bolshevik things!"
    "I know." He split another record in half inside its cardboard sleeve and threw the folded sleeve into the sack.
    "What on earth are you doing!?"
    Will stopped and looked at him. "It was a mistake, Robin. The whole thing was a huge mistake!... I'm not a Bolshevik anymore." He ran up to the wall and ripped a Lenin poster down.
    Robin watched in disbelief as Will stripped his bedroom of everything he used to hold dear.
    Later that evening the telephone rang as Robin was nearest, so he answered it. "Hello, the Ursall residence."
    "Hello, is Wilfred Ursall there?"
    "This is his brother, Robin. Who's speaking, please?"
    "Gregory Rees; Oxford University Socialist and Labour Society. Is Wilfred there? Is he back? Is our fearless warrior home from Russia?" The voice on the end of the line sounded thrilled.
    "Yes, I'll go and fetch him." He looked up to see Will standing on the stairs looking at him. Will came down the stairs and took the receiver from Robin's hand. "Word has got round fast." he muttered to his brother then spoke into the telephone. "Hello this is Wilfred Ursall... Hi, Greg... Not bad thanks... Look, erm... No, er... No, Greg; just listen for a moment will you?... I've only got one thing to say to you and the Society; I'm out! That's all..." He sighed and scratched his head. "No, no... Look, Greg. Things have changed. I have changed... You don't have to understand! You don't have to understand a single thing other than me telling you right now that I resign! I quit! I can't make it any clearer than that... I am not obliged to explain anything... I'm sorry you feel that way, Greg. Goodbye." He put down the 'phone. "Oh dear." Will hung his head and groaned. "I'm going to have to go through the same with SANoLLP."
    "Why, Will? Why have you changed your mind about Bolshevism?" asked Robin.
    "Russia made me see things differently. My life is following a new path now."
                              
It was a humid day in late summer; overcast but dry, as if rain were on the way. Robin was relaxing on the patio in the garden reading. He was contemplating a rather strange ad in the classified column of The Times which read: G.W.A., dig your own grave and spare us the work. Signum. WYAGIGA. He gave up the effort to interpret the message and swapped the paper for an adventure book. Just as he did, his father walked out of the back doors, strode up to the cast iron garden table and threw and envelope onto it. "Robin, I think you'd better read this." he said in a taut voice, then he turned around and strutted back into the house without another word. Robin picked up the envelope with a sigh. He already knew what it was. The handwriting on the envelope was familiar. He pulled the letter out and unfolded it. Dear Mr Ursall ... it began. Robin folded it and returned it to the envelope. He went to his father's study. Francis Ursall was sitting at his desk scribbling furiously on a writing pad. "Father, why do you want me to read this when it's addressed to you?" He tossed the envelope onto the desk.
    He didn't look up. "What do you have to say for yourself, Robin?
    "I'm not sure what to say."
    Francis looked up. "You've read the letter?"
    "No, I just told you; it's addressed to you not me."
    He hissed through his teeth with frustration. "It is from Prof. Cranwell giving me advanced notice of your examination results. You've failed! You've failed everything!"
    An hour later Robin was summoned to the lounge. Nellie served them a pot of tea and the interrogation began. "I can't tell you how disappointed we are in you, Robin." said Maartje, shaking her head; tears were in her eyes. "We've given you every opportunity and every assistance. We've spent over a thousand pounds..." She bowed her head and sobbed.
    His father took over. "Do you realize, Robin, that never before in our family has a Greygeedian failed to graduate. Never!"
    Robin thought back to his examinations two months earlier. He had been totally indifferent as he entered Jeremiah Hall at Greyguides dressed in his full traditional exam uniform. His fellow pupils were biting their nails and gulping with dread; Robin was just thinking that if he failed how nice it would be to become a hospital porter and work with Dirk. He completed his paper calmly and as competently as he could. The same went for the seven other papers he sat over the following ten days. At the end of the exams he went home with the rest of the form. When his parents asked him how he got on he shrugged and replied: "Not bad I suppose." Francis and Maartje had exchanged worried looks at this.
    "You do realize that entry into Oxford is now out of the question!" spat Francis.
    "Maybe he can retake them next year." said Maartje.
    "It won't be enough!" said Francis. "The very fact that he'll be going up a year late... and his results are so bad that it's clear he has not been studying at all for the entire last few forms!"
    "Father, I object to Cranwell writing to you like this." put in Robin. "It's incredibly insulting, as if I were a first former. All results are supposed to be confidential until..."
    "Prof. Cranwell cares about us!" shouted his father. "He has taken the initiative of informing us in confidence outside the usual channels because he is concerned for you and this family. He understands what this could do to your future and to our reputation!"
    "What are our options, Frank?" asked his mother.
    His father shook his head. "Sandhurst... possibly. I'll have to have a word with a commandant. We hadn't planned a military path for Robin, but it may be the only option."
    "Wait a moment!" said Robin. "I'm not joining the army!"
    "You might have no other choice!"
    "If so then I'm certainly not fighting for the bloody Westies!"
    Francis slammed his fist down onto the lounge table making the coffee cups rattle. "Don't you dare use language like that in this house, young man!" Westies was an Anglo-Lancine colloquialism for the British, primarily used by the working class. It derived from the names for both Westminster and West Mansfield. "I suppose you learnt to talk like that from your trawls around town with those filthy street kids."
    "And that scruffy old Dutchman at the hospital." added Maartje. "What's his name?"
    "Dirk." replied Robin.
    "That's him. We don't like you associating with the likes of that old man."
    "Dirk Walsander is a great man!" protested Robin. "He's decent and honest!"
    There was a pause and then Maartje turned to her husband. "Frank, you know who did this? You know who led our son astray?"
    Francis nodded. He trembled and face-palmed.
    "Loyl!... Your mother! She lured Robin away from us! She took our younger son away from us and set him on a track that led him to where he is now!... A failure! It's her fault, Frank! It's her we have to blame! She did it out of spite! She did because she hates us!"
    Robin leapt to his feet. "You leave grandma out of this!" Robin got up and stormed out of the room.
    A few hours later they reconvened and Robin agreed to apply to Rain House, the LPDF's official academy. It was actually just a small centre adjoining the general training facility that invested six cadets per year to add to the officer corps, mostly for appearances. Most of the officers in the Ttakozdje Koslan spent no time at Rain House. It was not the equivalent of attending Sandhurst and the majority of its students were not even Lancine. They were often dropouts from other foreign academies. When Robin said yes, his parents leaned back and sighed, but it was a pyrrhic victory. Robin knew that for his mother and father this was a fallback position, an act of desperation. Before he left the room, they made Robin promise not to breathe a word of what had happened to anybody. More than anything else, they feared the prospect of their circle of friends finding out.
    Over the next few days Robin found out that his parents were furious with him, more so than they expressed. His mother's normal hostility increased by many factors. "Robin." she said the following Wednesday morning. "Get the bath chair out; I wish to go shopping."
    "Nellie is not here to push you, mother."
    She paused and responded in an ice tone: "I am very well aware of that, Robin. I would like you to push me."
    Maartje did not speak to her son as he wheeled her up Highmoor Street towards the centre of the Mansfields. Robin felt trapped. He knew the wise thing would have been to refuse, but his strength failed him. He chose to comply and hope that the journey would not last long. By the time he had reached the square at Market Place he began to regret his decision. Once she was surrounded by strangers, his mother began speaking to Robin again, but she used a tone that made it clear to everybody around her that she was the mistress and Robin was the servant. "Be careful when you lower me from the pavement, Robin!... No! I said go right!... Take me to Queen Street now!..." Robin felt his ears burning as the other shoppers stared at him disapprovingly. Maartje decided she wanted to buy a new teapot so Robin eased the bath chair over the threshold of Peake's, a department store. An assistant was standing by the chinaware shelves and Robin guided the chair across the thin carpet towards him. "Excuse me..." Robin began as they approached, but immediately Maartje turned her head towards him, raising her hand to cut him off and yelled: "Could you be quiet, Robin, and allow me to buy a teapot please!"
    Everybody in the shop stopped what they were doing and went quiet. They all looked at Robin; a cluster of side eyes and open mouths. Robin leaned forward to grasp the handles or the bath chair. He raised his hands and lowered them again. He turned his back on the bath chair and walked away. By the time he had reached the double doors that were the entrance to Peake's his mother realized what had happened. "Robin?... Robin!... ROBIN!" But Robin was out of the door and walking down the road. He broke into a jog. Fifteen minutes later he was home. He used his door key to let himself in and collapsed onto a stool in the kitchen. He was alone in the house. His father was at work, the servants were away and Will was in Oxford. He made a cup of tea and gulped it down. He realized that he only had a short breathing space before the storm broke. It was inevitable; he was rolling towards the cliff edge and he had set himself rolling. His emotions lurched from side to side. One moment he felt terrible fear of the consequences of what he had done; the next he was exhilarated and empowered like he had never been before by his act of rebellion. The experience he had endured since he left the house with his mother was a regular thing. The only difference was this time it was far worse because Maartje was especially angry with her son. A few times several years ago Robin had challenged his parents on his mother's passive aggression and his mother had raised her hands in mock innocence. "Robin, I have no idea why you think I am doing such a thing. I assure you I am not. It's all in your head." There was no way he could prove it, even when the conversation ended with his mother shooting him a triumphant leer. His father, true to form, simply echoed every word his wife uttered.
    Robin heard the noise of an engine outside. By the tone Robin could tell that it belonged to a large vehicle. He ran to the lounge and saw a van parked outside the house with the name PEAKE'S emblazoned on the side. A man was hauling his mother's bath chair out of the back while a second man held his mother's arms as she alighted from the front passenger seat. Robin bolted for the stairs and for his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. He leant against the door as if he could physically prevent the oncoming deluge reaching him. He heard voices downstairs as the van drivers helped his mother into the house and then the front door shut as they left. There were a few minutes of silence and then he heard his mother's voice. He couldn't make out her words, but her tone said it all. She was on the telephone weeping profusely. She ended one call then made another and did the same. He could hear from the direction of the sound that she was on her couch in the lounge and must have dragged the 'phone's cable over into the room. Another call followed which was exactly the same. Robin knew that she had called his father and then each her friends. The inquisition had been summoned.
    Francis was the first to arrive. Robin heard his voice interspersed with renewed sobs of distress from his wife. The doorbell rang and a friend arrived, then five minutes later it happened again. More voices joined the muffled hubbub on the floor below. Robin counted five rings at the door. It was going to be a full scale trial. He heard Nellie's voice emerge as she turned up too. No doubt she would be keeping up a relay of teacups between the kitchen and lounge. Eventually the moment arrived. His father's footsteps came up the stairs and a series of knocks rang out on the bedroom door. Robin opened it. His father did not look at him; he kept his eyes down at his feet. His face was flushed. "Could you come down to the lounge please, Robin?"
    "Who's down there?"
    His father gave a tremulous sigh. "You mother and I, with Jane, Ruth, Margaret, Dorothy and Hilda."
    "When Jane, Ruth, Margaret, Dorothy and Hilda are gone I will come downstairs and talk. Not one moment sooner."
    "Oh for God's sake!" his father exploded.
    "If I'm going to face some kind of kangaroo court then I want it at least to be a kangaroo court of my family only."
    Francis turned away without another word and went downstairs. Three minutes later he was back upstairs knocking on the door again. "Robin... please! Will you please just come downstairs?" He was begging, almost in tears.
    "This is what happens when you spoil the child, father. You made the choice not to stand up to mother; well, these are the consequences of that choice."
    The voices continued for sometime. The sky darkened outside. Robin couldn't help feeling guilty because he knew that in Robin's absence Maartje would currently be venting her rage on her husband, a man who was both innocent and helpless to stop her. All he could do was endure the blows and silently nurse his wounds. But then he remembered something his grandmother once said: "We have enough hard work to do dealing with the consequences of our own mistakes without taking on those of other people; even those closest to us whom we love." She had said it in a context which he knew referred to her son's marriage. Eventually night fell and the friends went home. His parents came upstairs to bed and the house fell silent. Robin went down to the kitchen and made himself some much needed food and drink. Then he went back to his room and took a bag out from one of his cupboards.
...........
The following morning a cloud of apprehension hung over the house. Robin did not even eat breakfast until his father had left for work. He couldn't avoid tiptoeing on the stairs even though he knew his mother could hear him descend. Cigarette smoke hung in the air and he heard her puff as she exhaled. Nellie made him tea and toast. He was halfway through eating when the doorbell rang. Nellie went to answer it and Robin knew exactly who it was. This time all five women turned up together. It must have been a coordinated offensive. He shut the door to the kitchen and smiled to himself. He had found a novel new way of fighting back that he had been saving for an extreme situation, like this one. He had brought the bag he had kept in his cupboard down to the kitchen with him. Inside was a pair of sunglasses and some earmuffs. The latter had been provided by Dirk, borrowed from the hospital stores. They consisted of two steel shells lined with rubber padding so that it would fit comfortably and snugly over his ears. The connector had a spring on it to keep them tight. He put on both the earmuffs and sunglasses, and then he left the kitchen and walked to the lounge. It was an odd feeling. The earmuffs blocked all external sound, but amplified the noises made by his own body. He could hear his breathing and heart beating distinctly. It was an odd feeling, but also very comforting. He walked into the lounge feeling like somebody walking into a dragon's lair wearing a fireproof suit. He didn't look at any of the women in the room, particularly avoiding the sight of his mother and said: "Ladies, I know you're talking about me and your intention is for me to hear it, but I can't hear a word you are saying. Also, you can't see my eyes. This means you can't hurt me. You have no power over me." He couldn't resist a self-satisfied snigger and he walked out of the room. The earmuffs were very good, but they weren't perfect. They failed to block out completely the deafening shriek of rage coming from behind him. He felt hands grab his hair and clothing. The earmuffs were ripped off and irate feminine voices pummelled his ears. Feet kicked the back of his legs. Fingernails sunk into his cheeks and earlobes. He instinctively wrenched his body around. The blazing witch-like faces of Dorothy and Ruth filled his eyes. Their eyes glowed with demonic violence. In the background Maartje's voice bellowed: "SLAP HIM!... KICK HIM!... SCRATCH HIS EYES OUT!"
    Robin drove his fists at the basilisk maws that lunged at him. He felt his knuckles connect with flesh. He heard the crack of breaking bone. His attackers released their grip. He reeled back. Dorothy and Ruth lay on the floor squirming and covering their faces. Hilda, Margaret and Jane were on their feet shouting in alarm. Maartje was screaming at her son; her eyes were clenched and her mouth wide. "Little bastard!... Rat-fucker!... Somebody call the police! Nellie! Call the police!"
    Robin ran. He threw himself at the front door and was outside before he had even completely opened it. He stopped running when he could run no longer. He looked around himself and saw that he was on Victoria Street near the bus station. He collapsed onto the kerb, panting. Sweat dripped into his eyes making them sting. Tears rose and his breath trembled. The familiar town suddenly looked like a perilous jungle. He looked around for any police, but couldn't see any. Where could he go? "Grandma!" He saw a tram arrive at the terminal and immediately went up to it. He bought a ticket for the City and sat on a seat at the back on the lower deck. He raised his collar and lowered his head to hide his face. He felt the tram move and waited. He didn't dare look out of the window. After what he thought was the right amount of time he took a quick glimpse and saw the familiar architecture of Wicker Park. The tram glided to a halt and he joined the queue of people decamping from the vehicle. He stepped down onto the street and began walking away, but before he could react a pair of LPDF policemen approached him purposively. "Robin Ursall?" one of them asked.
    Robin sighed. He almost felt relieved for some reason. "Yes."
    The second officer laid a hand on his shoulder. "I place you under arrest on suspicion of assault. Everything you say could be used as evidence against you. Do you understand?"
.............
The police cell had the atmosphere of a public toilet. Its walls were covered in grey tiles and the windows were of thick frosted pebble panes. There actually was a toilet bowl in the room without a lid or paper roll. Its only attachment was a flushing lever embedded into the wall. None of its plumbing was visible. The air smelt strongly of disinfectant and reminded Robin of Dirk's hospital. Dirk had once talked to him about what to do when one is arrested by the police. "Inside the cell it is boring. There is nothing to do; nothing to read or listen to or look at. The best way to pass the time is to get your head down and try to sleep." Robin did so. The cell had a rudimentary bed of steel struts screwed into the wall. Its mattress was made of canvass and stuffed with straw. The custody officers had given Robin a coarse and itchy blanket to keep him warm. The light made it difficult. There were no curtains on the window and there was a bright white light in the ceiling behind a dome of metallic mesh. Despite all this, Robin dozed lightly. He was surprised how relaxed he felt and he wasn't sure why. It was if a subliminal voice were whispering in his ear, telling him everything would be fine. Another thing which disturbed his sleep was that every so often an officer would open a small viewing panel in the steel door and look in briefly before slamming it shut with a bang. There was some text painted on the wall in stencilled block letters that read: "If you have a medical condition or have consumed any substances that might affect your health while in custody, it is your responsibility to inform the LPDF. Ta lhotdy val amyccumku domaetale yoo waendlepp uhaeb a tumy tudy kkomyt-valoo mitalin aruh, pynveer-valoo aes TK-de nunuhra." He concentrated for a while on trying to unpick the Lancine part of the notice. He was in a half asleep state when the door suddenly opened. Robin rolled over and sat up on the bed. The LPDF officer who had booked him in and taken his fingerprints was standing on the threshold. He was a kindly middle-aged portly man with small glasses. "Mr Usrall, we've got no more cause to detain you in custody. Please follow me to the desk and we'll book you out." Robin had to sign several forms. He was given a receipt for the contents of his pockets which he had emptied when he arrived. He also filled out a form about being released pending investigation which already had a signature in one of the boxes. It was his father's. Therefore it was no surprise when he was led through the locked door of the custody suite to find Francis Ursall standing in the entrance hall with a sour frown on his face.
    "You do realize that the only reason you're a free man right now is because you're my son!" His father was doing his "stress driving"; steering hard and abruptly, stamping too much on the accelerator one moment and the brakes the next. The car lurched from side to side and Robin was thrown backwards and forwards in the passenger seat with the inertia. It was raining and a rubber hood covered the Bullnose Morris. The drops were visible like motes of dust in the twin beams of the headlights.
    "I appreciate you getting me out, father." said Robin woodenly.
    "I had to pay General Parry a personal visit." he hissed. "I don't know why I bothered after what you did." He was staring ahead at the road. They were now on the main road to Mansfield and he drove the car more steadily. There were two police stations in Lancombe Pond; one in the City that was a part of Fort Meltan and another smaller one in East Mansfield. Robin had been taken to the one in the City. His father sighed with controlled fury. "Ruth has a cracked jawbone and Dorothy has a broken nose. You will no doubt be pleased to hear that I have persuaded them both not to press charges; even though Dorothy may never look the same again. Do you have any idea how debilitating that is for a woman!?"
    "I acted in self-defence." said Robin.
    "How could you!?" continued his father as if he hadn't heard him. "Why did you do it, Robin? Why!?... I know you were angry about the situation yesterday, but to attack two of her friends! You physically assaulted them while they were sitting peacefully talking to mother; it was completely unprovoked!"
    "I didn't!"
    "Yes you did! Your mother told me everything!"
    "Mother lied!"
    Francis raised his face to the sky and bellowed at the top of his voice: "YOUR... MOTHER... DOES... NOT... LIE!" They didn't speak for the rest of the journey home.
    When they arrived at the house on Highmoor Street Maartje had gone to bed. Robin and his father manoeuvred around each other in the kitchen as they made separate meals for themselves. They ate them in silence and then went to bed too.
                                  
Robin woke up early the following morning and went to his bedroom window. He opened the curtains and stared at the back garden through the crocheted Dutch netting. It was still raining hard and the world outside was a pallet of grey, brown and dark green. Autumn had come early and fallen leaves were covering the lawn. He dressed and went downstairs to find Nellie in the kitchen making breakfast for his mother. Soon afterwards he heard voices from the hallway and Maartje Ursall appeared with her husband supporting her arm. Robin could only see her from the back. He had not looked into her face since the previous day. She was dressed in a plain indoor dress that almost resembled a nightgown. Her hair was prematurely grey and as always she had proudly brushed it out. Francis came to the kitchen and addressed his son with the formality of a bank manager. "Robin. I have to leave now for work and Nellie has a doctor's appointment. We'll need you to serve your mother her morning tea and lunch later on. Will you... can you do that?"
    "Of course." Robin realized that his father was still very angry with him. "What else do you think I'm going to do?"
    His father turned away without another word. He went into the lounge and talked to his wife for a few minutes; then he left, giving her a wave as he headed for the front door. Nellie washed up the breakfast plates, the coffee pot and cutlery, dried them and put them away in the cupboards. She talked to Robin cheerfully about her upcoming visit to the doctor; apparently it was nothing too serious. She then fetched her hat and her coat and left the house. Robin and his mother were alone. "Robin." His mother called him the moment Nellie had shut the door.
    Robin stood up and walked to the lounge door. He stayed out of Maartje's sight and did not look in. "What is it, mother?"
    "Could you make me a cup of tea please?"
    "Yes, mother." He went to the kitchen and filled the kettle. He lit the hob and placed it on the flame. Then he filled a strainer with tea and took the milk from the icebox. His mother never took sugar. She insisted on only a tiny bit of milk; a few drops. Any more would cause her nausea. When the kettle had boiled he poured it through the leaves in the strainer, placed the cup on a saucer and took it into the lounge. He kept his gaze firmly fixed on an ornament of a silver horse on the mantelpiece. That way, his mother's face was invisible, even in the corner of his visual field. He placed the cup on the small table by her couch and left the room. What normally happened in the house was that once people had given Maartje what she wanted they would be free to go off and do their own thing and she would summon them if she needed them by ringing a small metal bell. She said nothing more as she sipped her tea so Robin headed for the stairs to ascend to his bedroom. He was halfway up them when he heard his mother's voice: "Robin."
    He stopped on the step. "Yes, mother?"
    "Could you empty my commode please?"
    "Yes, mother." Maartje's disability meant that it was difficult for her to go to the toilet. Therefore when she was alone with the family she used a chamber pot that was fitted into a small chair-like piece of furniture. It had a lid and was surrounded by a wooden seat like that of a toilet. The commode was carefully concealed when visitors were present, but set up in the middle of the room when they were gone. Robin lifted the pot out of its seat by its arched metal handle and carried it to the toilet. By the weight of it he could tell that there was not much in it and normally it wouldn't be emptied at this stage. He poured the contents into the toilet bowl, flushed it and washed the pot out in the foul sink. Then he returned it to the commode. "Robin." His mother pointed at the empty teacup. "Could you make me another cup of tea please?"
    "Yes, mother." Maartje had drained the entire cup in just a few minutes. Robin made a fresh one and took it to her. He climbed the stairs, counting down in his head to when his mother spoke again and she did so the moment he thought: Zero!
    "Robin. I need another three Eumovile. Could you fetch them for me please?"
    Robin went to the medicine cabinet where Maartje's collection of drugs were kept. She was on a detailed regime of pills, capsules and syrups. There was a timetable pinned to the inside of the cabinet door and a pencil hanging from a nail by a string. As soon as Robin had measured out the dose in a pill box. He ticked the list under that day's date. He took it to his mother and saw that her teacup was once again empty. He paused for a moment to see if she would ask him right then for a second refill, but she didn't. He knew why. Sure enough, when he was halfway up the stairs, her voice rang out: "Robin, could I have another cup of tea please?" This one she drank in a single gulp and when he was halfway up the stairs she demanded a cup of coffee. By the time she finished that she went and sat on the commode, as she would need to after drinking all that fluid; then it really did need emptying.
    Robin had been in this situation a few times before, but not as many as his father had. His mother only ever played this game when she was at her most angry. It usually only lasted an hour or two, but it could go on all day. She would always think of something to make him do; it didn't matter what. If she ran out of ideas she could always resort to cups of tea. She would be willing personally drain the entire Indian tea harvest rather than let Robin go free from her control. All this time, Robin did not once look at her. He knew that her flaming eyes and bared teeth would strike him like an energetic punch in the stomach.
    "Robin, could you make me a ham sandwich please?... Oh, and I'll have a glass of lemonade with it. Please make sure you pour me some from the bottle in the icebox, not the one in the cupboard."
    It was now eleven AM, three hours after his father and Nellie had left. Robin was in the kitchen. He longed to go upstairs to his room and read, but he had given up on that long ago. He opened his mouth to respond to his mother, but no sound came out. He tried again, but something was keeping his voice silent.
    "Robin!" she barked. "Did you hear me? I would like a ham sandwich and lemonade."
    He stood up and slowly walked to the lounge door.
    "Robin!..."
    "No, mother."
    She paused. "What!?"
    "I said no. I will not make you anything anymore."
    There was a moment of silence; then there was a loud thud from the lounge and a piercing scream. Robin looked in to see his mother lying on the rug. She had apparently fallen off the couch. She was writhing on the floor in what looked like agony, screeching and kicking her legs like a small girl having a tantrum. "Help me!... Help me! Help me back up!"
    "No mother! You got yourself down on the floor! You get yourself back up!"
    She gawped at him, not in anger but fear.
    He turned his back on her and returned to the kitchen. He heard her climb to her feet and lie back down on the couch. "Robin!" There was a sneer in her voice. "If you don't make me a ham sandwich I'll tell you that little story! I've been saving it for the right moment. Perhaps that moment is now!"
    "Tell it then!" he shouted.
    She paused for about twenty seconds; then she blurted: "Ahhhh! You threw me off the couch! You beat me! I'll tell the police!... Make me a ham sandwich now or I'm calling the police!... Did you hear me, you little shit!?"
    Robin's body quaked. He felt a film of tears sweep across his eyes. He stood up and took a plate out of the cupboard. He pulled the chopping board from under the sink and the bread knife from a drawer. As he did so he froze. Lying in the same drawer, next to where the bread knife had been was a carving knife. He replaced the bread knife in the drawer and picked up the carving knife instead. As he did so, his body filled with a surge of energy of a kind he had never felt before. It was frightening and painful, but at the same time pleasurable. It seemed to come to him from the knife, as if it were a magical object blessed by a wizard. He moved as if somebody else was controlling his body. He walked swiftly out of the kitchen towards the lounge. He held the knife downwards in his right hand; the hand was raised to his shoulder. Images flashed through his mind of forbidden thoughts that he unearthed as if they were lost treasure that had been buried for years. He knew that it had been buried, but only realized that now. He could see blood dripping from the blade of the knife. His rational mind understood that this was a hallucination, but it was so clear, like a vivid dream. The blood flowed down the blade and fell onto the floor, leaving a visible trail on the linoleum.
    His mother screamed again. This time her tone was different. Robin broke from his trance with a jolt. He gaped in shock at the clean carving knife in his hand and dropped it to the floor as if it were red hot. He looked into the lounge and saw Maartje lying on her side with her back arched and her arms locked over her head. Her legs were jammed together and her head was thrown back. Robin immediately realized that this time she was not shamming. His mother had been struck down by a seizure. As he watched, her arm muscles rippled like water. Her violent involuntary movements had kicked off the blankets that had covered her. She was facing away from the door and because of the extreme arch of her back Robin could only see the top of her head. She had experienced seizures like these a few times. The other patient with Dutch dementia also suffered from them. They could be triggered by mental tension and the doctors warned Maartje to find ways to avoid stress. His mother's breaths came in gasps. "Help!" she croaked. "Rob... Robin!... Get...Spasmo... cur... Spas!..."
    Robin knew what she meant. He had been instructed carefully by the doctors and nurses what to do in the event of a seizure. He ran to the icebox and opened it. Sure enough, on one of the shelves was a tray on which were three brass tubes. These were kept there at all times. Inside the tubes were syringes drawn ready with hypodermic needles attached. The medicine in the syringes was called Spasmocurine. Once injected it relaxed the patient's muscles to ease the seizure. Robin's task was to inject his mother with the Spasmocurine and then call for an ambulance. He grabbed one of the tubes and removed the cork stopper. He tipped out the syringe, pulling the rubber safety cap off the needle. He ran back to the lounge door, placing his thumb onto the plunger; but before he entered he stopped. His mind was blank. He didn't understand what he was doing. Like the time he had picked up the carving knife a minute earlier, it was as if his body was being remotely controlled.
    His mother's seizure continued. "Robin!... Robin!... He...help!... Give me Spas... Spasmo... cu... cur... ine!"
    Robin ascended the stairs. He walked quickly, but didn't run. His heart was thudding like a railway engine and his head was buzzing. His mother continued to grunt and rasp behind him. He entered his bedroom and shut the door. He sat at his desk and laid the syringe on the desktop. He watched raindrops chasing each other down the window outside. His breath condensed on the chilled pane. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, but eventually he turned his head. He felt a pang of shock. He jumped up and ran out of his room. He stood still at the top of the stairs and listened. No sound at all came from the lower floor. He slowly descended the stairs. It was so quiet he could hear the clock ticking in the kitchen. He eased himself up to the lounge door and slowly his mother came into view. She was lying completely still. She had rolled onto her back and her face was turned upwards. Robin entered the room. Maartje's eyes were half closed and her mouth was open with her slightly protruding teeth visible. Her face was pallid, but there were patches of purple on her cheeks that looked like bruises. Robin looked closely to detect her breathing; her entire body was as still as a statue. He ran. He bolted upstairs to his bedroom. He was laughing and crying at the same time. He saw the syringe still lying on his desk and had enough coherent thought to know that he had to put it back in the tube and return it to the fridge. His hands were shaking so much that he could barely pick it up. He also retrieved the carving knife from the corridor floor. He then returned to his room, looking over his shoulder as if some threatening person was following him. He lay on his bed, quivering. He followed the hands on the clock on the wall. He knew he couldn't stay there forever. He felt calmer now. He got up and went back to the lounge. His mother had not moved. She looked as if she would. He would not have been at all surprised if she rolled over and yawned. A fly landed on her cheek and crawled around on her face. She did not flinch.
    Robin spent the next hour looking at himself in the bathroom mirror while he practiced sad expressions. He tried to make himself cry. Although he could feign the facial expressions and voice of somebody grief-stricken, he couldn't produce tears. He went back to his room and as he was walking past the landing he heard the front door open. He tiptoed to his room and shut the door as quietly as possible. He stood by the door to listen and heard footsteps that sounded like his father's. There was a long silence for several minutes; then he heard a tremendous wail of anguish. It was his father's voice. Robin gritted his teeth as he heard his father weeping and sobbing. A few minutes later he heard Francis talking through his tears in the corridor and realized that he was on the telephone. He made several 'phone-calls over the following twenty minutes and then shouted out "Robin?... Robin!"
    Robin suddenly realized that he was in great danger. He dived for the floor and squeezed himself under his bed just in time. His father's footsteps were coming up the stairs and he opened the bedroom door. "Robin!" He shut it again immediately, thinking his son was not there. He returned to the front door and went outside. It struck Robin that he had to leave the house. He must not be found in the house by his father. This could be his only chance. He grabbed his raincoat and pattered down the stairs. He peeped out of the front door and saw his father on the opposite side of the street standing by a neighbour's door talking to the person inside. Robin raced down the steps and out of the front garden looking to check that nobody saw him, and he bolted. He never slowed his pace until he was around the corner and out of sight. He caught his breath and sighed with relief. He strolled along, deep in thought. It was still raining hard and his feet splashed in the puddles. He had the desperate urge to see his grandmother or Dirk, but he realized that this was something he couldn't share, even with them. He went to the local park and found the driest and most secluded spot that he could. He would need to wait for several hours and he began to throw together a lean-to false narrative in case anybody asked him where he had been. He sat on a bench and did some more facial expression practice.
...........
The men walked into the house in a file of six. Dr Hardy had wanted the ambulance service to do this, but Francis had objected. Robin did not watch as the six black-suited men laid their transport casket in the middle of the lounge and loaded the earthly remains of his mother into it. They stood up and bowed their heads, then raised the casket to their shoulders. Skilfully, professionally and respectfully they manoeuvred their thanatic litter out of the house and slid it into the back of their van. The side of the van had the words: WILLIAMSON, PAYNE AND GUNN- FUNERAL DIRECTORS pained on its flank. There was a large crowd of neighbours in the street, braving the rain to watch. They stood in respectful stillness and silence.
    Afterwards Robin shut the door to his bedroom with more relief than he had ever felt before. He kept bursting into tears, real tears. He hadn't expected this, but he had not needed to act. He felt genuine sadness and wept along with Francis, Blanche, Harry, Mezzie, Nellie and Joan. Clive Peoples was there too and even he had his head bowed and his eyelids drooped. Robin's tears were not for his mother. They were for the emotional agony of his father and sister, and, he guessed, Will; although Will was not present and was currently on a train heading home from Oxford. Robin sat at his desk with his face in his hands for a long time, crying intermittently. Eventually he looked up. The rain had stopped and the clouds were thinning. He gasped as a beam of sunshine burst out of a gap in the overcast and filled the back garden and his bedroom with a golden glow. He stood up. His body felt light and full of energy. It was as if he had been carrying a heavy weight and had been able to put it down, or that he had been suffering from a painful rotten tooth or abscess and it had just been excised. He walked in circles around his bedroom floor marvelling in his newfound buoyancy relishing the sensation of the sunlight warming his body. His entire surroundings, the room, the house, the town suddenly looked and felt different; more solid, more meaningful. Colours looked richer and deeper. Smells were more intense. He began laughing. He put his hands over his mouth so that nobody else could hear him. He sat down at his desk. He knew he could say nothing to anybody, but he could at least tell his diary. He pulled it out of his desk drawer and opened it. He had hardly every used it since he'd left Greyguides and the entire last two months were almost blank. He turned over the page with today's date: Friday the fourth of September 1919. He wrote on the page: Today is the first day of the rest of my life. RKU.
                                        
Maartikende Tannje Ursall née van Hoozer was lowered into the grave. The mourners stood in a cluster. The tombs of the van Hoozer family plot surrounded them; great-grandfathers and mothers, aunts and uncles. Willow trees lined the baulks and pathways of the Crooswijk General Cemetery in Rotterdam. The Calvinist minister read from his prayer book as he led the committal. The sounds of sobs from Robin's various cousins and their families reached his right ear, but his immediate relatives were composed. Maartje had always insisted that when she died, she wanted a full burial in this cemetery. Burial in Lancombe Pond was now outlawed and all remains were cremated. The few small graveyards in the duchy were now full and to save space no others were going to be created. Lancines who were against cremation were mostly buried in cemeteries in West Mansfield or Nottingham. Robin felt a hand brush against his. He looked up to see his grandmother smiling supportively at him. He smiled back. Her expression was unreadable, but there was no way she would not at least guess what he was really thinking. After the service, three of his uncles and one of his cousins picked up spades and filled the grave in themselves. Robin looked round to find his father and was not surprised to see him talking to Cassius Dewlove with an oleaginous smile. His head was stooped and his hands clasped together in a typical submissive posture as he addressed Robin's former tutor. Dewlove was as unruffled as usual. He grinned broadly at Francis, tossing his head nonchalantly. His wife Johnette stood beside him. Throughout the whole funeral, he had behaved as if he were watching a gymkhana. "Of all the people, father." muttered Robin under his breath. "Of all the people here, you have to go up to him!" He shook his head and looked away from the despicable scene. He then noticed that a tall man standing a short distance away. His white hair was very long and thick and it was whipping in the powerful breeze. "It can't be..." He began walking towards the man. Recognition dawned. The man smiled and Robin smiled back. He broke into a run "Dirk!"
    "Trots en waardigheid, broer drager!"
   Robin clasped his arms. "Dirk! It's great to see you! What are you doing here?"
    He shrugged. "Well, I was planning to visit home, say hello to the family, and of course I could hardly not turn up and pay my respects to you and yours for the sad loss you've had."
    "Thank you for coming, Dirk." For no conscious reason they were speaking to each other in Dutch.
    "Well, I'm not invited, which is why I'm keeping my distance."
    "Don't be silly! I'm sure nobody will mind you coming to the wake."
    "Oh no!" Dirk shook his head. "I couldn't without an invitation, and I was never really your mother's favourite person anyway, was I?" He winked.
    Robin paused and gave an embarrassed smile. "Well at least let me introduce you to my grandma."
    "Very well."
    As Robin had hoped, Dirk and Loyl struck up a good conversation and he strategically withdrew to give them privacy. However, a few minutes later Dirk was at his side again. He laid a hand on Robin's shoulder and pointed discretely. "What's he doing here!?" He was indicating the graveside where Francis was still fawning over Dr Cassius Dewlove.
    "Oh, he's an old master at Greyguides, Dr Dewlove."
    "I know who he is; I asked what's he doing here!?"
    Robin was alarmed at Dirk's tone. "He's a family friend as well. He was my tutor for a while..."
    "Stay away from him, Robin!"
    Robin frowned at him. "How do you know him, Dirk?"
    "I can't tell you that now. Just stay away from him. He's a very dangerous man."
    Robin looked hard into his eyes. "I know."
    He paused. "I have to go now, Robin. I must get to The Hague and spend the evening with my family. Take care of yourself. I'll see you back home." Dirk Walsander turned and walked away without looking back. Within a minute he was out of the cemetery gate; but as he left, the deathly eyes of Cassius Dewlove noticed him. They followed him. The cranial smile was gone from Dewlove's face. His expression was neutral, but what passed for recognition flickered in his eyes. He continued staring at the gates long after Dirk was out of sight.
    "How long have you known Mr Walsander?" asked Robin's grandmother as they walked together along the street to the wake, which was due to take place in the home of one of the van Hoozer matriarchs.
    "About two years."
    "What a charming man." She gave a half smile. "What a charming and handsome man." Her eyelids fluttered and her cheeks flushed slightly. Robin knew what that expression meant; he had seen it many times before on the faces of woman, usually younger women. He cheered inwardly.
    Francis approached Robin in the garden where the wake was taking place. He had a tall glass of red wine in his hand. "Robin."
    "Father?" It was the first time they had spoken that day.
    He held out a small white envelope. It looked frayed and yellowed; it was clearly very old. "I don't know if now is the right time to give you this. Many years ago your mother wrote you a message which she put in here and asked me to give to you if she ever died."
    "What does it say?"
    "I don't know. She never told me."
    Robin took the envelope.
    "Don't open it here, son. Go somewhere more secluded." He patted Robin's shoulder.
    Robin went upstairs to the guest room he was staying in at his great-aunt's house. He looked out of the window at the garden beyond, at the well-dressed mourners, shuffling sadly around like black chess pieces. He could see his father sitting alone on a folding chair beside an ornate pond. Francis was hunched forward staring thoughtfully at the water. As Robin looked at him, he experienced a surge of filial love that he had not felt since he was a small child. "Poor father." he said aloud. "You feel so lost. You don't realize it now; you may not for a while, but soon you will understand that you also have been set free." He sat on the side of the bed and tore open the envelope. It contained a letter in his mother's small cursive hand. The ink had faded with time.
My dear boy Robin.
If you are reading this, it means that I have died younger than I should have. You must also be young right now yourself. I'm not sure how young so if you're a bit older than I expect, excuse me if the way I write comes across as a bit childish. I think you need to know what is true and not true so I am now going to tell you. You remember me telling you about how you were born in hospital? It's not quite like that. The time I told you I went into hospital to give birth to you, I really went into hospital to have an operation on my tummy. While I was in hospital I made friends with a woman who was in the bed next to mine on the ward. She had just had a baby. Unfortunately she died, but before she died she asked me if I would take care of her baby for her, forever. So she gave me her baby and then died. When I came out of hospital I told everybody that the baby was mine and I had just given birth to it. That baby is you. Sorry I never told you the truth. I hope you're not too angry with me.
Even though you're not my own baby, I love you as if you were.
Mother.
Robin dropped the letter and slowly clambered to his feet. His hands were shaking and he found it hard to keep his head level. He felt as if continuous small electric shocks were jolting him. In writing the letter his mother had assumed he would be a lot younger and had endeavoured to adapt the concept into a narrative that a small child would comprehend; but whatever had really happened, the meaning was obvious. His mother was not really his mother. Robin walked back over to the window and looked out again. His father had moved from the folding chair and was nowhere to be seen. "So... 'mother'." he puffed aloud. "That was the story you always threatened to tell me!"