The Folly: first arc
The Folly’s first visitor is Henry Calmacott, lifelong bachelor, closest in his life to his brother Michael. Michael has not been seen since he vanished from a nursing home near the end of the Great War. To please his mother, more than from belief of his own, Henry asks the spirit callers to summong Michael. And to his sorrow, his brother answers. The story is that of a tragic convergence of circumstance, a meeting at Bernard Arthur’s farm, between Michael the fugitive, Bess the trouble-stirrer, Mathilda, Authur’s unhappy wife, and at a bad moment, Arthur himself.
Calmacott’s Brother (one)
Maybe we were not fit
Not fit to live nor fit to die
A sower’s superfluity made as the parable’s seed
An abortion or a sturdy weed…howsoever Heaven wills it
Struck wherever we might fall
So the waters close
To see you slumped there in your seat
Grown peevish in your temper
Grown thinning at the temples
I think we must have been a pair
Of caricatures in the cartoon’s waiting chair
And aren’t they queer, those two
Need dusting like the furniture
Yes, a ring, a token, some magic lamp to light the way
So you would see clear
They only execute the ringleaders
Then how does a man of imagination
Find himself fingered
Smile at this, the hayfork that ran me through
Was destined, when they sent me home
I was the one who knew
Remember us as lads
The flooded shaft, the pithead sealed up
And gypsies, so they’d always said
Took shelter by a secret way they’d made themselves
We never found it in our play
Well, it was the last month of the war
They had us all out of doors for a bonfire
That you must recall as well, you’d come down
I shook your hand…and so we parted
It wasn’t like us to embrace
Author’s note: This gentleman turned up in the background of my first illustration for Calmacott’s Brother, so I’m letting him have his moment.
It was full dark by that time
We were not prisoners, only crippled men
Most, pleased enough to find their beds, but I—
‘Lieutenant, you’re well recovered,’ the doctor said
That mate of mine I’d introduced you to
Barnstow, and Quartermaster Jones, had got our orders
In Blighty we were safe from harm
In Blighty would remain
I’d spun a yarn
Camped like gypsies underground
A raiding party foraging
But bound to make amends one day
Keeping good accounts
‘It’s our chance,’ Barnstow said.
He’d plucked my sleeve. ‘It’s our chance, Michael.’
Do you recollect, Henry, how nights when the moon was full
We’d drop over the window ledge and roam the fields free
Bathed in astonishing illumination
So I’d supposed, as I’d been nominated chief
I still would know the country
A landmark would remind me
The devil walks by night, they say, we three
Having cast our lot with him, must pray he give us sight
We dossed in open air, hid ourselves by a hayrick
But when I awoke, the other two had gone
I may yet meet them on this side of things
But on that day, I met the farmer’s wife
The Farmer’s Wife
Mathilda Arthur, you have fallen far behind
Chair pulled near the gramophone, needles busy
Nellie Melba singing God save the king
Seems busy, knitting…quiets the mind
But that’s not doing your chores, girl
Get out. Get out now.
His pigeons, them he treasures so, and the county
show coming and the autumn manuring…
I pulled my old boots on
This was all Mr. Stewart’s doing
I hailed him. He made a show
Of not hearing, and I knew why.
Arthur has gone to Bristol
Same as he went to fetch me, years ago
when I came up from Alderney
To be his bride
His mad rages make them all afraid
I see Stewart’s Bessie come to take the hand he beckons with
Now he has a witness
When he speaks to Arthur’s wife
And Bessie’s face comes over spiteful
I see her fingers slick with grease
I almost think Stewart’s daughter is the hooligan
Been setting fires, marking stones with witch-signs
I know she has been at the pigeons, glutting them with feed
The Farmer’s Wife
While I bent and cried, right hand
Rising to the hammering of my heart
Glass out of frames and littering the graveled floor
I cared more for Arthur’s blaming me
Says the music makes me deaf
His cuttings in their boxes
His wartime gambit, making brass
Adorning cemetery plots
Still all untouched by frost, it hasn’t come
I see him smash the gramophone and then
I see myself on hands and knees, alone
Scrubbing at the door stone
My own blood
I’ll not pay her any mind, I am spotting clues
Yes, my shoulders shook, I heard her laugh
‘Missus,’ again she whispers, ‘I have seen a man.’
A cork, a fat metal bolt, and worse
A basilisk’s egg, so I was told, white and pocked
Like coral from an ancient sea
Has this child never had a fancy?
Does she make her way in others’ rooms to find—
This, I’d dreamed must hold inside
Diamonds to deliver me, and treasured
When sentiment had lost all luster
For that the dream was sweet
—a missile, merely, a thing at hand?
‘And I said to him…’ Bessie tells me
‘Are you hungry? Come up to the house, then.’
They do not often wish to hear, the ordinary man’s
Tale, though I suffer
Though I share…Henry Calmacott, is it?
Sir, with one or two well-padded aldermen
The company of the heathen damned
Came to that harsh resolve much sooner than I’d guessed
Would cross the street…it was no joke—and let me know it
That I was judged, condemned. The farmer’s union
Held their meetings in my absence
‘Ah, Arthur, was your name missed?
Too bad, I call that.’
And his eye said, Murderer
How deep I’d gone in debt
That patch I’d sown in oats one year
That never paid…no, nor even would extend me honour
That I, for one, had never overcharged the army
Burned one after another, and I don’t know how
She could have been so clever
I doubt her having confederates—
That friendlessness, and that she’d clenched her fist
Around my secret…was what I’d seen in Bessie,
If you’d like to know
The ’ricks all set afire
Mine and my neighbours’ to the north and south
Dismissed by the chief constable as vandals’ pranks
A year after the girl had turned a proper sixteen
Stewart allowed it, and I married her
Do you know, I found I couldn’t bear
To have her in my bed
Spirits have been called, the way lies open
Waves of interruption, raucous shouts and song
First one cry is heard and then a chorus
Comes again, while the host’s eye resting
on Henry Calmacott, observes a warning sign
Thus bright of voice, to the guest he notes
‘The Celts. How many, who can say?
May be that gang the Romans called the Dobunni.
Pagans, all of ’em. We’ve had the university men…’
‘Yes. Mr. Woolsaver and his colleague…forget the name.
Minor nobleman from Rennes.’
The host lifts a quieting hand.
Henry Calmacott thinks of
The illnesses that kept him from enlisting
As his brother Michael had, and something he is feeling
Reminds him of a basin jabbed beneath his chin
‘Too sick to be sick,’ some orderly had chuckled, as
He’d sunk again
Now he feels too grieved to shed the tears
That he had seized his handkerchief to damp
But strangely bears a sorrowing sympathy
For Bernard Arthur, poor unhappy sod
‘Because, you know’—he speaks as though he’d spoken
‘Topped himself. That was ’23. In the greenhouse,
With his shotgun.’
She is a young woman still.
Thirty or thereabouts, I’d guess
And when I’d walked out with Bess, once
Met her down the Ram’s
Took her to the picture show
Right enough in the head, those days. Jealous though.
Now they say, these many years
Has let the place fall down around her ears
Got Mother’s back up straightaway
Opening her drawers
And when she’d found the clipping, read:
‘Unfortunate Death in Somerset’
Said to Mother, ‘I know a secret about that.
Mathilda never wrote that note.’
A murmuring voice, a woman’s
Fills this silence, Henry’s words
Seem repeated in another tongue
Her offices draw from the Celts
A peal of exclamation
And feeling sighs of wonderment
‘Michael Calmacott,’ she says, ‘tell on.’
‘Two things don’t coincide alone.
They might have found some traces of my bones.
If they had sought to look. But why
Should Mr. Atkins have thought it?
A trio of soldiers hares off from a nursing home
A man, that night, is stabbed outside the town
A motor car turns over on a curve
A girl breaks her neck
And fires light the hilltops
On Arthur’s farm the pigeon cote goes next.’
‘Good you’re home in time, Arthur. You’ll have a guest for lunch.’
I heard a smile in her voice…she would not have smiled
Knowing I was home. I could hear their talk, although the
Door was closed. Stewart had followed on my heels, fretting.
‘Goddamn you!’ He’d near trod on me. And he was carrying
it. That rage I’d felt was for Stewart.
When I’d snatched the hayfork from his hand.
Yes, I’d only gasped a little. I’d been careful of the blood.
The poor young man. I’d only knelt beside him where he fell.
I do recall I cried. I do recall I moaned and couldn’t stop.
I can’t think I’d been making such a noise.
Oh, Arthur, you were cold.
I was not. Myself. You see, Calmacott, how she—
Bessie…had that reckless prodding habit
An amoral will to be, at this moment
At this moment
Miring in excitement
—how she taunted. Though of course
The note was in her own hand.
‘Yes, if Bess,’ Henry says, ‘had been born a boy
By fifteen, she’d have gone into the navy. Been a nob
She’d have ridden to the hounds. Dash, is what
They call it. There, you have circumstance, as well.’
And what if I had had a little room, a bed
Some Chelsea street where rents are not too dear
And the Mrs. in my name might be enough
For a decent place, serving at a tea room
I know you couldn’t often come across
But I’d have welcomed you, visiting, and if you’d asked
Can you forgive me…Mathilda
I would say, Arthur I do
Let Them Go
‘How does your mother do?’
Henry’s mind’s eye flashes him a slender shaft
Of sun, a halo of blue sky, some other sense raises
With a vividness that flicks him on the raw
A smell of pipe tobacco and horse stall
Old Atkins, retired from the force, still calls
‘Of course, I can’t be easy, altogether…Barnstow’s story
Was at the time, hardly satisfactory.’
Why smoke and autumn leaves
Numb toes inside his sodden boots and the touch
Of his brother’s hand?
‘It’s no use hanging on to things, is it?’
‘No, Michael…no, it’s not. You ask…how’s our mum? She’s well.
I’ll tell her you’re the same.’
Henry lifts his head, so wrenched at length
He wipes his face dry with a vulgar sleeve
The guest, in willful ignorance
Watches only the host
Who, using a paper knife, is prying marbles free
‘I have a steel-head mallet.’ This, he lifts to show.
‘Will you do the honours,
Shuffling to the fire he sees…here are three—
Gaily coloured, red and blue
Lodged in crevices of stone, before the hearth
And if I smash them, sir, that ends their prisonment on earth?