Just when the three investigators are feeling close to a breakthrough, de Clieux having established a path to the Celtic daughter, and she beginning to reveal those things unknown to history, to share her language and memories . . .
A mid-air collision between two planes brings three new spirits to the vicinity. Much to the surprise of the host and the guest, the spirits seem making themselves vocal, though these cannot have been captured within the Folly’s marble-decorated chimneypiece. One is the playful and adulterous Lady Gimple; one, the husband of the Spiritualist fellowship’s president, Mrs. Tattersby . . . and one his most vengeful rival in love.
Complicating the matter is Mrs. Tattersby’s houseguest from America, Miss Harvey, a woman disturbingly self-aware of her mediumship.
We thought they were not men
They, beardless, most, but for their slaves
Vaunted trophies keeping costumed show
That in all weathers tell their vanquished homes
Came by war-engine attended
Came regaliaed steed, foreguard of chariot
Wheeled cage of sacrificial beast
Gentled by their magic; all these mounted ones,
Their faces red-scorched by their foreign sun
That we, beneath our clouds, did palely gaze upon
The marching men in their stepping ranks
Shields they bore, dressed in gold and silver
Their tents amassed behind the waters
Banners staked, that our eyes would see
Of burning men on cross-braced pillars
You see, M. de Clieux…though I have set my mind
To learn the English speech
A picture and a pointing hand tell much
Our father, Dodtha, met his chiefs in council…
“Pardon.” He lifts his pencil.
“Father of your blood, or tribe…and do you give a name
“Awful news!” The guest arrives. He sees de Clieux dismayed.
“Ah! You’d found her. I apologize. But had you heard
about the aeroplanes?”
As is the habit with enthusiasts
The host and guest come bustling in confabulation
Collision in mid-air, but did you hear
The witness swears one plane had seemed to veer…
To yaw—ahem—I think that is the term
Woman pilot, three thought deceased…
Blethering, who comes to do the place
And serve the lunch
Welsh rarebit, onion soup, hot tea
de Clieux breaks off his conversation once again
To Blethering’s eyes, the Frenchman speaks to air
And this is why she will not do the place
Except the host is there
Continued from A Conduit . . .
On this day when fire could not be thought of
A sooty pall stains stucco shaded by the mantelpiece
But under this
Winks a brilliant blue and does persistently
…this Morse Code going on since yesterday
Refusing glances dart away
And none feels safe to read the message
Three men chew and meet each other’s eyes
“So,” the guest begins, and drains his teacup.
“Can this be a sort of ghostly nova? Why have I dreamed it
all night long? Ever since the rains…and I don’t care figs
for aeroplanes. I loathe the infernal machines.”
The host says, “We know it already, pictured scenes
are their speech, a means of it. You postulate a conduit,
a new way opened by our probings.
I fear we have a monograph to write.”
“Awkward,” sighs the guest. “I believe Lady Gimple,
the late aviatrix, was co-respondent in Mrs. Tattersby’s
“Naturally enough. Tattersby himself must be the third.
I don’t suppose they’ve said.”
“Not by today’s Advertiser.”
“No means,” de Clieux puts in, “of identification.”
My dear madam,
I feel I would have been remiss in my duties, as Secretary of Phenomena, not to have called this to your attention. It was on account of your having a houseguest, that (as I’d recalled) you’d written to postpone our walking party. I found the letter and read it through twice, to make certain of the particulars. Indeed, the weather seems (here, I should like to make a pun between incline and inclement, and can’t seem to do it) to forbid our climbing Wisham’s Hill. Our glasses are unlikely to descry anything promising about the lay of the land, in this pernicious fog. Perhaps, if Miss Harvey cannot walk any distance, she will enjoy reading my notes, assembled thus far, on the False St. Crispin’s. She is one of us?
Continued from Swallowtail . . .
You’ve never sat, doing your work
…if you had been me, on a stool upstairs
Made dumb by the green walls of Lippard’s laboratory
Looking down, as directed, through the lens
at the wing he’d razored along the vein
Some of the colors are not pigments, you know
Only reflections of light
He hated girls to be romantic
Wanted me in a purely clinical sense
To pin the specimen, wearing magnifying goggles
With the scalpel’s point, slice the abdomen
I wouldn’t love the butterfly and make a life for it in fancy
Like a woman
I would understand
It was a creature of component parts
M. de Clieux, Miss Harvey says
I waited for him on the blanket
With the box lunch and my pocket sketchbook
You’ve never sat, doing your work…
And felt insurrection mark you
A flying squadron circle you, the enemy
Hem you round, knock you in the eye
Drop into your tea, buzz with a chill obscenity
Fall into your bodice
De Clieux feels this living woman, matter of fact in madness
Infects him, makes his intimate adulation of a ghost
as menacing as the insurgent swallowtail
Continued from The Lay of the Land . . .
The Lay of the Land
“I imagine…I will not say admit…the possibility of cordial relations—
You see what he’s done here.”
The tenant of Wisham’s Hill Cottage
has got the field gate closed to traffic
For good, more or less…for the time being
Put a sinister trip-wire run through a boundary stone
“He ought not to have made that hole,” Mrs. Tattersby,
as she braces her rabbit-gun and takes a bead
Remarks acerbically to the host
“That post is in charge of the Council.”
The spaniel has got herself over
At the loss of a tuft of hair
The terrier is perched with its paws up
And Dougal says, through gritted teeth
The local youth are pleased to trespass
There goes a lad and his girl with their cameras
The black, flattened tillage spans a swath so much larger
Than the bodies of two small planes
Metal parts rise
scrubbed shining by the rains
And Dougal’s face is red with a much-resented gallantry
He thinks there must be parts of Tattersby
Burned in the earth
Knows these young rapscallions think so too, and hope it
Taking photographs, trying to carry things away
And the wife can stand like that, and scorn him
“We’d arranged our business before all this, Mr. Inskip. We shan’t be looking
Continued from Familiar . . .
All these ordinary things are giving way
Times of late, like the dead wrapped in their winding sheets
Familiar in outline still
But disintegrating into melt and worm beneath
He feels infected with the guest’s unhappy mood
Uses the word, not having spoken with de Clieux
He thinks the time is now to broach disturbance
The time is near…the time grown urgent
He gazes at the sky to hold this in
“They’re loose,” he murmurs
Faithful Inskip won’t go home
His housekeeper is waving far below
A duster like a signal-flag, up and down
Her smock a sack of ticking in the door frame
“Bugger the woman,” he shockingly says
But too, under his breath, and moves
Again without manners, brusquely pushing through
to catch Mrs. Tattersby
And though the host would have said she never will
She needs poor Dougal’s help
She gives a scream
A shallow skin of humus girds the summit
A clayey baste of tufted grass and pine straw
Here hundreds of white butterflies or moths
Have risen and still rise
Her face cannot be seen
Her garments seethe
Continued from As Lightning Might . . .
As Lightning Might
Their leader is not unwell. No, not harmed.
Please leave off, dear.
Curious, no more. A nuisance.
Please don’t trouble.
All over now.
When she’d shaken out her jacket
One flew a spiral
And died in the fire
Its wings by then had…
…caked away, he somehow thinks
As a butterfly’s broken will do
The scales, would it be the scales
He could ask and she would tell
He wants to leave Miss Harvey…any house that holds her
At this moment, and not hate her
For scintillating so
“It’s me,” she says. “It’s me, being here. They know.”
De Clieux, pushing currents against the thickness
Tells himself it’s air we blunder through
Air is not nothing
We breathe lethargy and move like swimmers
This countryside this moment pulling down the clouds
Strikes him thus, as lightning might
Our eyes can’t see, but it will burst its bounds
He had wanted an aimless walk alone
He asks his friend, who has trailed behind
To prow away the silence with chatter
Explain what it was about the chapel
The false St. Crispin’s
“Well, you know. We have records to the twelfth century.
So it had been assumed there was only one. Of course, that would be
typically the way of it…fire, or invasion, or plague, would
rend to ruin the old edifice
They would rebuild on the same spot
De Clieux, if you’ll climb with me to the top
Of Wisham’s Hill, we’ll arrive just at dusk
I believe it’s safe.”
Continued from Dougal Inskip’s Lonely Vigil . . .
Dougal Inskip’s Lonely Vigil
When she had been Fiona Medwin
Long about the jaw, but fair enough to a man
Content to break even on a steady-goer
No desire for a flash in the pan
Women, though, Dougal says to himself
Flash will get them, even the sensible ones
Ought she to burn a torch for Tattersby
Useless git to let a butterfly flatter him
. . . Lady Gimple, not a proper title either
Always the fly-boys with that one
He has trodden the beckoning path
Wisham’s Hill Cottage to the Folly’s gate
He has no pretext for passing beyond
She won’t thole it, won’t take it as a caring friend’s
Tear another strip, more like . . . say to him again, not
Thank you, dear (you are so good to me)
But, Dougal, are you mad?
And at once, the light goes out
“You must be mad, I swear you are!
Look at you, Mr. Inskip, preening on the inside!
Did she call you Dougal, you poor lamb? How starved you are!
And what a meagre banquet the old girl provides.
How dare you, while we’re at it, say my title’s not a proper one?
Because poor Reggie got his for flying a blimp over the channel?
Ah, poor Reggie! He has truly gone down to the sea.
We’ll never know if his soul washes up on some Froggie beach.”
Light laughter. Dougal, meanwhile, struggles,
bending double, dancing foot to foot.
She has taken impish hands from his eyes,
And got him by the arms . . . round the ankles.
He is painfully aware he looks a fool,
Wrestling the invisible.
At last he dares to whisper, “Lady Gimple . . . ”
Continued from Edwytha’s Plait
Terror, when it comes, warms the night
Fallen close and hard of breath
like a parachute’s muffling silk and chill
Borne opaque the face of pity
Mirrored in the watcher’s eye
The plain below
Sinking to the cataract
Emerging hidden under rock
Mimicking Edwytha’s plait
The waters keen
And he has never known this name
For since the Celtic daughter’s hour
They have not called it so
Crania lift hollow sockets, smile
They are death’s heads void of nuance
Smile of all the world’s news
A rational man, de Clieux tells his companion
Would call this fog
Have you really left your bed to join me?
Miss Harvey says, for this time
That was my great disappointment . . . it has been
So many, but Edwytha does not come
When the sun was high yet, before the warning clouds
Before the settlling mists had veiled her iron locks
You’d seen her forged there, giantess laid low
Long ribboned tresses bound in woven stone
Edwytha’s resting place, our spirit home
I, monsieur, too much a goddess from the cradle
Not to dream of honour, how I’d fly
The day I’d won a guardian’s grave
And mounted to the sky
The council first resolved
To bargain with our poverty of gold
Yea, this, we give in tribute, Romans!
All we have
My brothers, each with ceremony draws the silver brooch
From his cloak, and from his hair
That for this solemnity our enemy suppose
We yield before their potent Jupiter
We bury our own
(Copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)