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1 Convergence at Abbotsbury

Nearly a century had passed since little Edith Buskett played a very adult-game of Destiny in the Tradescant Brothers’ Style-Knot Garden at Castle Edzell in Wales.

Except for this one trip, she never again ventured more than 100 miles from Abbotsbury, making only rare trips out to London for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and then Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee near the turn of the century. Her family, except for her father whose business demanded that he travel, not much interested in the wider world, and in that the Busketts were typical of Abbotsburians, who were content to let the world pass by on the road. But Abbotsbury had not always been so rustic and obscure.

Sharing with Glastonbury the honor of being the earliest center for Christian worship in Britain, the village “where miters bury” had enjoyed much greater influence and prosperity than the one Edith knew. St. Bertulfus, a holy Celtic priest, had built a church there as early as ANNO 41, when the Romans were first tramping the land and setting up forts and cities like Viroconium (later Wroxeter), the City of the Legion in Wales (later Caerleon), and Durnovaria (later, Dorchester). St. Bertulfus might well have welcomed and embraced a weary traveller, another founding father of Christianity in Britain, Joseph of Arimathea, as the aged disciple who had known Christ passed through, on way back to his home in the Holy Land (only he may not have made it from this point, giving his blessing to his adopted land, then expiring at Abbotsbury).

For centuries during the Middle Ages flourished the wealthy Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of St. Peter, where Wessex’s Saxon kings, queens, and nobility retired and were buried. Archeologists would also dig the numerous tumuli in the area and find that human habitation had gone back 6,000 years. A busy port, the city continued to attract both in-coming and out-going traffic. For thousands of years, there was a port here at this spot originally called “Chesil,” a star in Orion signifying the Lord of Heaven’s all-conquering Son, as a haven for the Fleet, there being a breakwater-weir behind Chesil Banks before they sealed over the mouth of the port, provided excellent cover from the storms of Lyme Bay and the Channel. But the ever-growling, ever-growing Banks finally did close the gap between that let the ships through, and that was the end of all real connection with the outer world. Abbotsbury, its harbor reduced to nesting pond for swans and other waterfowl, faded to a small village, and remained so.

The renowned Abbey torn down during the Dissolution commanded by Henry VIII, monastic buildings were eradicated except for St. Catherine’s Chapel, which only survived Henry because it served as a landmark for sailers crossing Lyme Bay off the dangerous Chesil Banks, a much-feared naval graveyard.

Never returning to the wonderful castle in Wales, Edith gradually forgot Emyr and his queer name, marrying and becoming a mother of four boys and one girl. She outlived them all, husband and children, except for the youngest, Lydia, who had yearly prayed in her younger days in St. Catherine’s Chapel, to no avail:

A Husband, St. Catherine,

A handsome one, St. Catherine,

A rich one, St. Catherine,

A nice one, St. Catherine,

And soon, St. Catherine!

The more desperate, which ranks she joined in her thirties and forties, prayed in Dorset dialect:

Sweet St. Catherine send me a husband,

a good one I pray.

But arn-a-one better than narn-a-one.

Even as the prize of even “arn-a-one” eluded Edith’s daughter, Edith’s prize of a more national and international significance remained behind in Wales, despite occasional desires to revisit the castle in the years following. Whether set in the lintel of the “bridge gate” by a passing bishop or, as is likely by the 17th century language, by the Tradescants, who had found the scroll in restoring the ancient site after mistaking it for a garden of amusing “figures” or “signs”, and put it back with a 17th century British version of the ancient Romano-Celtic one, the scroll would lie safe and undisturbed for three more centuries after Emyr and Edith’s visit. By then the Dukes of Menai would long since join the phantoms of former owners--Emyr’s father had lost the estate due to speculation in South American gold and silver mines, and Emyr never returned for his scroll.

The discoverer of the garden sphinx’s secret--for by then the garden was covered by lawn, with only the statue of the sphinx preserved--a boy of Emyr’s age but quite different character, would know how to exploit the scroll’s contents. He would subject the scroll to 22nd century computer scanning and unlock the meaning of its other, original messages inscribed inside the “scroll,” with fatal consequences for his highly advanced world.

But Abbotsbury? After being an important place in Christianity and in trade and commerce, what good was it, now that the world’s engines of war were turning at higher and higher velocities?

Though the Phoney War of 1939 between Nazi Germany and the allies Britain and France dragged on with amazing little conflict, to make up for lost time the Nazi legions unleashed the blitzkrieg, and the Continent fell to Herr Shickelgruber’s Third Reich. Now Fortress Britain faced him alone, with only the narrow but treacherous British Channel between their forces.

This event posed great peril to Little villages and hamlets like Abbotsbury, Dorset, which huddled along the coast directly opposite the line of Nazi fire. Except for the Home Guard volunteers who patrolled the town, there was no artillery, no anti-aircraft gun emplacements, no aid of any kind from the British army. After all, Abbotsbury had been crossed off as a defensive point to mass British forces for the expected Nazi invasion, precisely because it already possessed an admirable redoubt, a beach wall nature had created from sea currents ceaselessly playing with rocks called the Chesil Banks. Surely, Abbotsbury was the last place the enemy would pick to land amphibious craft--one would assume.

10 Bishop’s Close, Cowl Street, lay right at the end, where the cobbled lane ran out of cobbles and continued for a ways on remarkably smooth and uniform-sized pebbles hauled from Chesil Banks, a miles-long geologic phenomenon of savage tides and tumbling, grinding, and sorting wave action, which was literally a stone’s throw away across the narrow Weir. The engine producing Dorset’s renowned Banks roared day and night, yet the high berm wall of finished, sorted, and polished pebbles torn from the bedrock produced an almost dead calm a few feet away, yet was useless against the weather systems, of course, which ignored even the Ridgeway Hills, once high enough to shut out cold north winds and make Abbotsbury a lush, nearly subtropical garden spot as late as the 19th Century.

Abandoned, cut-off from the world’s concourses of commerce, sleepy little Abbotsbury went about its hardscrabble business of clinging to life, and whether anything important had ever happened there--who could say from looking at the gray-stoned village beside the Banks? Even the main coastal road, when it was metalled, dropped few visitors.

Canterbury pilgrims travelling to Bridport or to Dorchester, if they paused in so unpromising a place for rest and succor at the inn, would have carried off a image that, eight or nine centuries later, would have matched almost exactly with the present Abbotsbury. Only the glassed-in gardens would have struck the pilgrims as “unknowen” and “strang.”

If not for them, there would have been nothing grown and eaten in the area, in fact. Weather, since the turn of the century, had changed so radically that the summers were now being aptly called Arctic springs--full of cold snaps, hail, frosts. Since the Fleet waters, or Chesil Weir, could not be glassed in, the Swannery nesting ground was abandoned, all of Abbotsbury’s swans moving south to more sheltered coves of Cornwall.

Miss Lydia Davies, age sixty-six, peered out the second storey window one morning, her thoughts not on the world war, which had not as yet changed Abbotsbury noticeably, but on shopping. She saw nothing but mist and black clouds, and rising wind making tree limbs stab and scratch at the sky and ground so uninvitingly, and that was that. No shopping today! Why risk a wetting and a cold or a flying branch, when her mother so desperately needed her daughter in good health? They couldn’t very well have two ill and useless in the same house, an old, blind mother and her care-giving daughter.

She dressed, poured some water into a bowl, washed her face, looking at herself as little as possible in the wavering mirror of her vanity, and went down the narrow stairs that led to the hall, parlor, sitting room, and kitchen. A turn left took her to her mother’s little sitting room. Her mother was all right for the moment, where she sat dozing with her chin down on her chest. Why disturb her for no reason? So she quietly made for the kitchen past the sitting room.

Half an hour later she had water on warming to a boil, and already some eggs and toast ready. She wasn’t hungry, but she knew her mother’s appetite, even at ninety eight, had never failed.

When the tea was ready, milk and a little honey added to the pot, she set the tray, put it on the cart, and pushed it in to her mother. Her mother awakened at the cart wheels squeeking, and she must have smelled the eggs, friend potato, sausage, buttered toast, and stewed fruit, for she wrinkled her nose, looked up above Lydia’s head, and shook her head, though her smile was as bright as could be.

“Ooooh, mother, stop that right now!” Lydia was tempted to say, for she could never get her mother to hold her head level and not smile joyously up at the ceiling as if she were addressing angels instead of ordinary human beings. But the usual harsh rebuke, spoken loudly so her mother’s deaf ears could catch them, was not given a chance. Her mother suddenly upchucked like a baby, and in the surprise and hurry to get a cloth--not a good linen, but something she could throw away--Lydia forgot all about her mother’s most annoying habit.

When she got her mother wiped clean, the breakfast, of course, was stone cold. Only the tea was still good, and she poured a cup, thinking that might help her mother’s upset digestion, or whatever was making the nuisance.

“Some nice chamomile spice tea from America, mother,” she warned the old woman, and brought the cup to the trembling fingers, helping them raise the cup to the sagging mouth that opened beneath the folds of the cheeks. “There, take it slowly and don’t gulp it and choke yourself--”

Her mother surprised her even further, and pushed the cup, not enough to spill it, but just to prevent it being given her.

“Oh, what’s the matter?” Lydia protested. “I made it specially for you, and it’s from a company that claims it aids digestion.”

“No,” the old woman said. “I don’t want any, Miss Henley. Please, dear, take it away.”

Her mother was always forgetting her name and calling her the disagreeable, usually naughty “Miss Henley,” after a governess in her far distant childhood. Not eating was new. Lydia was now concerned, but she took the whole cart off to the kitchen, wondering what she was going to do. Should she call the doctor to come and see her? But it was too early--6:00 in the morning! You can’t call in doctors at that hour, unless it were an emergency, and a bit of biliousness might be all the problem.

She went back in the sitting room, peering close at her mother, who sat breathing shallowly and quick--perhaps too quick and often. How Lydia now regretted her lack of nurses’ training. She had given up her chance to set up on her own, along with establishing a career, to remain at home with her blind mother. The nursing profession, the secretarial, and teaching--she had shown exceptional ability and aptitude in each field she was tested in.

“You shouldn’t sacrifice your life prospects for her like that!” friends and schoolmasters had remonstrated. “Your mother will will eventually pass away, and then what will you have?” Lydia had heard it said a thousand times. But, then, her mother had only her, one daughter to see to her needs, while they all came from families where several, at the least, could share the burden of elderly and ailing parents. Forsake an aged, helpless parent? It had never seemed a possible option. As for the terror of “after,” of “Then what will you have, dear Lydia, when she’s finally gone?”--she tried not to think about it--that “after” which towered so grimly, like the utterly barren, treeless Chesil Banks just yards away.

Of course, people had challenged her to think of herself even then, to put her mother in a nursing home, but that had never seemed Christian to do, in Lydia’s mind. She had gone to see how people fared in such places, and residents sat downcast and lonely, most of them, with few visitations. Her mother would languish and die in such circumstances. She really depended on the news Lydia brought home each day from the market, or the church, or from little talks with neighbors. It was the world to her that she could not see.

“What will I do if she is taken badly ill?” Lydia wondered, beginning to panic. Was this the--the--? As if she had not considered the eventual loss of her mother, as if she hadn’t observed this same thing happening to family after family in Abbotsbury, she reacted to the possibility with an overwhelming dread.

Standing in the kitchen, not hearing anything but her own thundering heart-beats, she reached out, taking hold of a coat from a hook, without noticing it was her mother’s moth-eaten gardening coat. “I’ve got to get help!” she thought. “I can’t stand not knowing what condition she’s in. What if she slipped away now, I’d never forgive myself for waiting!”

So, forgetting boots, scarf, hat and gloves, Lydia hurried out into the flying mist and sea-spray, her exposed head salting up almost immediately, so that when she put a hand up to smooth her hair she felt something hard and metallic like wire brush. But she was in too much a panic and a hurry to care how she must have looked, her hair jetting straight out from her head.

Away from the gravel portion, she gained the relative shelter of the more closely packed houses, which gabled close together over the narrow street. Gray in the best sunlight, they looked almost black in rain, and the windows were shuttered, and not a soul seemed to be abroad so early. She had to leave Bishop’s Close and turn to the left on Rodden Row, the cobbled lane that opened up into Market Street and the public market, with Colin Roper’s butcher shop and other shops. Walking fast she could do it in ten minutes, but this time she did even better, with the wind at her back helping.

Awnings were kept fastened on the very bad days, which this was, and she still had no shelter, getting wetter by the minute, but she was determined to fetch the doctor.

She reached his building by the Ilchester Arms, the grand old coaching inn, but had to go up two levels, for his residence was above his practice, and he would not be in his office at this hour.

Lydia knocked, and had to knock again. Finally, she heard footsteps, and the door opened. A pretty, silvery woman of genuine culture and breeding, even in a bathrobe and no pearl earrings and necklace.

“Miss Davies!” said the doctor’s wife, drawing her in by the hand. “Is something wrong? Please come in! My, it must be wet out this morning, you are drenched through!”

Indeed, she was, but Lydia got to the point immediately. “Is Dr. Evesham available to come and look in at my mother. She is doing most poorly and--”

The doctor’s wife excused herself and went out of the room, returning with the doctor, who was dressed in robe and slippers.

“Yes, Lydia, what is it? Your mother--?”

“I am very worried, doctor, she won’t take a bite this morning for breakfast, and that has never happened. Something is quite wrong for her to refuse nourishment! I know that can be a sign of the-- the--” Her voice quavered and broke. She just couldn’t say it.

The doctor moved closer to Lydia, who was standing with her clothes dripping on the rug.

“Please, let me take your coat and dry it,” Mrs. Evesham offered, reaching out with her lovely eyes full of pity.

“Oh, no, thank you, I must be getting back to mother!” Lydia said a little too sharply in alarm, backing.

“I’ll come the moment I’ve dressed,” the doctor announced, despite his wife’s warning glance.

“But it’s storming out,” his wife said just to him. “Can’t it wait a bit until the worst of the weather has cleared?”

Getting no response, Mrs. Evesham sighed and turned to Lydia. “Could you take just enough time out for some tea? I have some water on boiling for a fresh pot just now!”

Lydia thanked her, but her eye was on the doctor waiting. The doctor passed by his wife without a word, and Lydia let herself out, making her way quickly down the stairs. It was rude not to have a final word in parting with the very proper Mrs. Evesham, but she was afraid she’d let something slip off her tongue that she’d regret later--for they attended the same church for years, and it just wouldn’t do to say personal things to fellow parishioners. Everyone would hear, and Abbotsbury society, limited as it was, never forgot lapses in tact.

She nearly ran back to the house at the end of Bishop’s Close, and arrived exhausted, her hair frightful and stiff when she let herself into the hall. Now she would have to wash it, but there wasn’t time before the doctor arrived, so she put a scarf over what looked like Medusa’s ghastly, snaky head in the mirror.

She heard the bell chime pulled, and went and let in the doctor, who knew the house and went immediately to the sitting room. “How are you, Grandma Davies!” he greeted her heartily. “It’s about time I paid you a little visit. Your daughter said you aren’t eating, and that isn’t like you, is it?”

The old woman’s mouth fell open, but she couldn’t think what to say, she was confused, thinking it was maybe her eldest son, Herbert. But hadn’t he died fighting Kaiser Willy, or perhaps it was the difficulty with the naughty Boers--or even Lord Kichener’s wars with the fanatics of the Sudan? She had lost relatives and family, it seemed, in all them, and hadn’t been able to tell the difference for many years now, all the imperial wars and lost loved ones were merging into the same gilt-edged phantoms stacked across the fireplace mantel. So how was this man? She hadn’t a clue. Could he be the vicar? He certainly wore enough black to be a man of the Cloth, but where was his clerical collar?

“Miss Henley,” the patient called out, “who is this young man? Why is he calling on me? I haven’t received his card like a proper gentleman’s!”

Used to the ways of the very old and senescent, the doctor set his black bag on a chair, making sure to smile and pat her hand.

“Your dear Miss Henley said for me to come right over unannounced, for I am your doctor, and your dear parent’s friend. But you remember me, don’t you? Now I’m going to take your pulse, Grandma. We’ll find out just what you need,and get it for you. So--”

While the old woman responded to his friendly manner and acted like she had recalled him, he took the old woman’s pulse, and then began to test her lungs, and after that he turned to Lydia,who was staring at the both of them, her eyes huge and frightened and not quite so sure things were going as well as they seemed.

He paused and then went to his bag, and got a bottle of some rather large plum-tinctured lozenges, and gave them to Lydia. He wrote something, and handed the slip to her.

“She will need more when these are gone. The chemist will have a supply, of course. You know she has many, many things wrong. The pills will aid her digestion a bit, but can’t fix the advance of --” He rattled off some Latin names of various serious if not chronic diseases. “--and bile is coming up on her, you see. And no wonder she couldn’t feel up to eating breakfast! But if that problem settles down, as it should, I expect she’ll be demanding a good lunch. You can’t keep a good woman like this one down very long. I fully expect she’ll become a centurian with her solid bone structure! It’s breaking something, a hip or leg, that leads to something else that carries them off. That’s not likely for her as long as you keep her to this chair. So be encouraged! You’re doing an excellent job. I commend you for it! And don’t mind Mrs. Evesham. Call me anytime, day or night. That’s what we physicians are for.”

“Thank you,” Lydia murmured as she saw the doctor out. He clapped his hat hard on his head, screwing it down against the wind, looked for his footing, and then ducked into the storm that was sweeping the front of the yard and threatening to take tree limbs and cast them all the way down Bishop’s Close.

Lydia shut the door as quickly as possible, and then turned to get a mop to dry the floor. But she forgot the mop, and hurried back to the sitting room. The alimentary medicine! Large enough for a horse, she knew her mother could never get such a thing down, so she went to the kitchen and pounded one in a mortar to powder, and then she put it in jam and spread it on a quarter of a slice of toast. This she took to her mother, and with quite a few efforts she got the old woman to take, chew, and swallow it. Lydia was careful to see this through the swallowing stage especially. How many times her mother could masticate, but never quite swallow it, and hours later there was the expensive medicine in her mouth, dripping out on her front utterly wasted!

Tucking an extra shawl round her mother’s shoulders, throwing a foot blanket over her slippered feet, she went to see about the banging sound upstairs. One shutter had worked loose somehow on the unoccupied bedroom which had been her parents’. She hadn’t been in the unheated room for months, and then only to clean and dust, and the smell of camphor and damp greeted her. Moving quickly in the gelid air, she reached the window, threw it up, and got hold of the whipping shutter. Her arm and shoulder were drenched instantly, and it wasn’t rain but actual ice by now. She secured the shutter, and then pulled down the window. Exhausted, chilled to the bone, she stumbled away, and fled to the warm kitchen. She reached it as smoke was pouring out into the sitting room making her mother sniff and cough.

“Miss Henley, are you smoking Daddy’s cigar again? For shame! I’ll tell Mother on you, I’ll tell--”

Fire? Good God! Lydia burst into the kitchen, looked, but despite the smoke there was nothing else. She opened the stove, but it didn’t seem to be burning--that was the problem. There was a problem with the draught. She tried to adjust it, but still the chimney did not draw, and the fire sputtered and smoked.

Shutting the stove, she went out into the sitting room, turning to the window where she had forgotten to draw the curtain for the night. What was that eerie cast to the window? she wondered. It was as if the dark pane were marbled--over-spread with all of Dorset-Wessex’s calvalcade of battling phantom Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, and-- then she realized what was happening. An ice storm! All of a sudden, she was riveted to the floor by a tremendous crack like a rifle shot a few feet away. As if it were in the room, a groaning and a falling of something very big. A pause. Then a terrific concussion that seemed like a German rocket bomb’s.

What had happened? Before she could recover, the horrible process was repeated. Stunned and aghast, her nerves shattered, Lydia staggered on collapsed ankles to look out the front, where the sound was coming from, and where there should have been two great oaks that had been there over a hundred years, planted by her mother’s parents, there was open space! Nothing!

Now she knew the town and all its souls were in grave danger. She flew to the radio for an emergency BBC report, like the one she had listened to that had the king’s strained stutter telling them they were at war again with Germany. But it crackled with static. Power then stopped, taking everything electric, and they were without lights! The temperature in the house, with the wood stove in the kitchen nearly gone out, and the electric element in the fireplace without power, now plummeted. Her mother’s aged African violets, wilting in the cold on the window ledge! The Aspidistra turning black!

What was she going to do? Lydia grabbed the telephone, jabbing at the dial and not being able to finish one number out, then realized the line was dead. She tottered slowly into the sitting room, her collapsed ankles grazing the floor.

“Mother, “ she said. “This is Lydia your daughter. Not Miss Henley. This is Lydia!”

“Yes?” the old voice quavered, the face of joy and sightless eyes turned once again toward the blessed angels in heaven.

“Mother, pray to Jesus. Pray to Jesus!” Lydia screamed, her voice sounding strange to her own ears, it sounded nothing like herself, like some frightened, little girl’s.

After that hysterical outburst, Lydia had no strength to explain anything. “God help us,” she moaned and fell onto a couch, and pulled a knitted covering over her shaking body.

Over in her rocking chair, the merry old woman began muttering something, giving herself a push to rock back and forth.

It seemed an odd sort of prayer, more chant and even a foreign language, though not at all Latin from the Oriental sound.

Amazed, Lydia tried to catch the words and meaning, but her mother stopped abruptly.

Lydia got up and went to the old widow. “What is it you prayed just now, mother?”

“Yes, dear?”

Lydia had to practically shout in the old woman’s ear.

“Oh, that,” her mother laughed. “I don’t know what it was. It just came to me to say it, like a sweet little lullaby. But I know we’ll be blessed, daughter. A great bishop slept in this very house, you know! A holy bishop! Now don’t worry. We’ll be quite all right. You’ll see--you’ll see--Miss Henley, you, Mother, and me, we’ll be--”

Beside herself, Lydia collapsed back on the sofa, and then a remarkable thing happened, the lights flickered and regained power, and the stove began to relight in the kitchen, and the radio blared Benny Goodman from the Carlton Royal Arms Hotel in London, as the house sprang back to life.

Seeing all these happenings a moment after her mother’s prayer, Lydia knew it could not be an ordinary event, especially when her nerves got hold of their duties, and her ankles functioned normally once again when she rose up. Turning off the radio, she picked up the phone, intending to call out to a neighbor, but the line was dead.

The wind still howled like wolf packs, so she couldn’t go out either. At least they wouldn’t freeze to death, she thought.

“I’m hungry, daughter!” the old mother cried. “Miss Henley, where is my breakfast?”

“But I got it for you a bit ago, and you pushed it away!”

“Where is my breakfast?” her mother demanded, not hearing. “I’ll tell Mother if you don’t give it to me! You’re always stuffing yourself, and then I have to go without!”

Sighing, with relief, Lydia got up, went to the kitchen and got breakfast for her mother.

Her mother ate everything Lydia brought,and drank all the tea.

“Biscuits, I would like some Chelsea Fair biscuits, the ones wi9th chocolate and orange cream!” her mother cried, still unsatisfied.

Lydia went and fetched biscuits,and these too went down. But she started to choke.

“Oh, no don’t you choke! Wait, I’ll fix some more tea for you!” Lydia said,and hurried out.

She heard a loud banging, and then realized it was coming from the front entrance. She flew past her mother, who seemed to be recovering from the choking without the tea, fortunately. Free to proceed, a gust nearly pushed her over as she opened, and it was a neighbor.

Bundled up in blankets, with kneepads of sacking tied on, the bulky person was hard put to identify, but her voice told Lydia who she was--Mrs. Chester Bourne-Ivy of Squire’s Dovecote, 11 Bishop’s Close.

“Are you two sweet old dears still alive?” the lady cried as she began to rummage in her pocket. “We lost all heat and power over at the Dovecote, and knew you girls would be in the same boat. And the telephone wouldn’t connect with you, so I had to come myself. Here’s a jar of my gooseberry jelly, in case you can’t get out and need more jelly. Yes, I had to do it, I told myself. Couldn’t let you two lone ladies suffer without anyone knowing! You know, every tree in town in down! Abbotsbury is a frightful , frightful mess all over, with water pipes torn up when the roots came out, and then freezing solid. It’s a veritable lake of ice in the street, with the old Weir overflowed and frozen solid, so don’t go out! I only made it across by crawling on my poor, old knees! It can’t be done any other way! Poor Oliver refused to let me go out, since he’s bound to his wheelchair, but I had to see how you were!”

Lydia thanked her, inviting her to take some tea. “No, no! I must get back! They’ll think I’ve frozen stiff. I strung a good stout rope from my porch to yours, so don’t worry about me, I can follow it and won’t be lost on the way! It’s a clever trick I recall from schoolgirl days, when we first got these big snow-and-icestorms, you know--starting back in ‘12, or was it ‘13, well, anyway, just before the Great War.”

Thanking her for the gooseberry, then seeing the chatty Valkyrie to the door, who had always been the prime organizer of Bishop’s Close charity sales and bakeries and such fund-raisers for the Missions guild for the local Baptist church, Lydia braced herself, then nearly lost her footing as the door was pushed in by the wind, but Mrs. Ivy managed to get outside, then seize the lifeline, and began to pull herself back across.

Slamming the door, Lydia slid both bolts, and went back to her mother, who was mumbling something, rocking back and forth with the rhythmic verses.

Pulling a shawl over her shoulders, Lydia bent to hear, but the words were strange, something like

Two dragons meet, Red and the White,

one dragons’ fate, sea lion’s blight.

Bed the daughters of the kings,

forty cribs of fell things,

blind the wolf’s high counsellors,

grind them in Lord Chesil’s growlers.

“What on earth are you saying?” Lydia demanded, appalled. She could overlook the “Miss Henleys” and other little things. But was her mother losing her total mind, turning into a vegetable?

The old woman blinked dead white eyes, smiling up to heaven’s gates in the manner that infuriated Lydia, especially when callers were present. But now there were more important matters, and Lydia didn’t mind at all. She only wanted a fair response to her question, if only she could get it from one so deaf.

“I said, what are you saying, mother?”

“Oh, that. Hee hee hee! It’s a nursery rhyme, dear. I learnt it at my grandmother’s knee, and forgot all about it, but it came back. Oh, it’s all come back!”

Lydia had heard no such thing before in her life. “In her dotage, she must be imagining things,” she concluded, shaking her head and her body sagging with all the nervous shocks and chills of the hard day. “Her mind is gone! All gone! Now what will I do with her?”

Lydia had napped, dozing off where she sat on the couch. Suddenly, her neck nearly snapped when a crash jolted her so she threw her head sideways to see if her mother had fallen again from the chair.

“Oh no!” she cried, hurling herself at the heap on the floor, but found it was only blankets, no thin and leaf-like body beneath.

She dashed out the sitting room, calling, then paused--the door was open, the window in it smashed and leaving glass scattered down the icy cold hall.

Pulling the door behind her, with the wind whistling through the window, she stumbled out just as she was in her housedress and old sweater--no coat, scarf, mittens and boots. Stepping through the drifts and litter of snow, ice, and broken tree branches, slipping and screaming, she searched the yard, then the street she could see up and down. No crumpled form lying face down, snow blown on it, leaving a hand sticking up clawing frozen at the air. Nothing but whiteness!

“Oh, God!” Lydia wept, and she couldn’t decide what to do. The neighbors? What would they know? They’d want to talk and talk what to do, and it was too late to talk, her mother had gone out and lost herself somewhere in the killing wastes of ice and snow.

Would the place be Chesil Weir? Her mother remembered it the way it once was, lovely and placid, never iced over, full of ducks, and useful for boating on long afternoons. Perhaps, she thought it was still like that, and--

Lydia scrambled somehow through the masses of thrown-down trees, what had been in the 19th Century a thriving orchard at the end of Bishop’s Close. Beyond, under the ice, was the Weir. But still nothing of her mother lying outstretched. She continued on, past the keel of an upturned boat frozen permanently into the ice. Dark and looming, the Banks were next. The level ended, and she began to climb. She was on them now.

She climbed more, then thought she heard a human voice just over the top, where a little wind escaping over the crest expired quickly, with no more force than a summer zephyr. Clawing at the steepness to gain further ascent, she reached the top. Her hair and head were wrenched back in the open, the wind veering straight up to the stratisphere from the opposite side in a deathly cold, bluish jet.

Facing down into the jet wind her eyes blurred immediately, and flying salt and bits of rock stung her but she thought she saw a ragged thing, its arms flailing, and heard a word or two--

“--gons meet” “--blight”

“Mother!” Lydia screamed with all her might into the fury of the Banks. Her voice swallowed up immediately, she screamed, she knew, in vain.

Then she crawled over and down, clutching for handholds in the loose gravel. Stumbling where she stood, she nearly pitched headlong, except that the gale force winds flattened her against the Banks. Slipping and sliding down, she gained on the wild figure beneath.

Her mother--it was her! Hair streaming free like long white ropes, her hands reaching out to the churning cauldron of waters and tides convulsing white with froth two hundred feet beneath, what was she saying?

All of a sudden, everything quietened. Had a switch been thrown, it would have accounted for the dead calm that settled the monstrous energies of the maelstrom sea current that polished and sorted all the rocks and then threw them up on the Banks.

Lydia reached her mother at last.

Gasping, there was no breath to ask why or wherefore, and Lydia, with the strength she did not know she had, pulled her mother up and over the top of the Banks. It was a gigantic feat for her, but then her mother was so frail, only the pebbles were not something you could climb, especially carrying someone else.

The next thing she knew they were both standing in the house entrance. She was staring at the door, with the window back in it as if it had never been broken, when her mother went in and she numbly followed.

In a daze she helped her mother into her chair, and then collapsed on the couch for hours. What had happened, how could she explain it? She hated to worry the neighbors, who apparently had seen nothing of the incident. They would all be terrified for them, and what service would that be to spread the alarm, now that her mother was back so safe and apparently unharmed?

Was it a--a miracle? Lydia wondered. How had she been able to rescue her mother from so dread a place? And what had caused it to sink instantly into calm? And why couldn’t she remember anything between the Banks and the house?

The questions hurt her head, so she had to stop thinking about it, and go back to what she knew, and that was caring for her useless, old mother.

Yet bits and pieces came back to her days later at odd moments. A blue arc of flame or electricity shooting up around her mother, dancing about her outstretched hands, and then two bolts shooting out, one toward heaven, the other directly into the raging Channel. Expanding, her mother became giant size, then was surrounded with countless fierce beings, the greatest of whom was like the Son of God. Standing at the front of them like a commanding general, her mother’s garment was a pearly white substance, shielding her from head to foot. Then a kind of red star, shooting a long tail of red flame, drove at them, but suddenly halted. Mist, her mother shrinking back to life size, the disappearance of the army on the Banks--such strange things!

Lydia tried not to think about them, and as soon as they came to mind she picked up a care-giver’s journal for housebound patients whose cover pictured a bedpan.

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