Well-a-day to you all and welcome to a new week and the proper beginning of my intent to regularly post the continuing tale of Economous Musgrove, illustrator, some-time concometrist and would-be fabulist, and citizen of Brandenbrass. It must be said that I cannot promise that this will succeed as a story, but I am willing to try if your are willing to go with me come what may.
Either way, let us get on with part 3 ...
PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
Chapter 1, part 3
Chapter 1, part 3
Breathing deeply of the tepid leafy perfume of the wooded park, he heaved a long sigh seeking to expel his fretting with that great exhalation. Curling and uncurling his bare toes in the grasses kept cropped and neat by many rabbit mouths, he allowed himself to bask for a beat or two of his humours in the dapple of sunlight touching his face as the day orb reached the acme of its meridian. Ringed about by hawthorn, the bench that was his seat was far enough in that he could almost pretend the city and its press of cares was not there. He tilted his head slightly so that the pale leaves of a stand of plane trees screened the banal sight of a chimney and a ridgecap. For this moment he let himself believe that he was out in proper woods wide, unfettered by taming walls, free of woes and weights, living each day as though it was new and unspoiled. A kind of music that was not quite music started in his soul singing of a longing for a great before when all things were simpler and bright …
With a snort and a startled blink, Economous roused himself.
“Was I sleeping?” he wondered in a whisper.
Bringing his attention pointedly to the scrawl of rabbits bounding over the open page of his numrelogue, Economous became sharply aware that the threwd of the park had thickened, became more intent, more deliberate in its watchfulness. In all the months he had been coming here such a thing had never happened before. A chill shuddering down his backbone, Economous turned first to his right, peering futilely into the wooded gloom seeing nothing but leaves, branches, trunks growing haphazard as if a true wild wood, stretching back in to the deeps of the park behind him.
“You have a commendable discernment of subject, womb-born,” came a deep, oddly purring voice over his other shoulder.
Pivoting in a twinkling he found himself peering straight into one of the queerer sights he had ever beheld. Partly thrust from thick hawthorn growth was the face of a greatly oversized rabbit – well, more the combination of rabbit and something more feline, its great ears errect and swivelling as it looked on the would-be fabulist with what to all the Alle looked like mirth. Suddenly this creature bent close and breathed upon him. Instantly his senses were overwhelmed with the thick perfume of honeysuckle and the odour of new-turned earth that brought happy thoughts of the vegetable plot at Athingdon Athy.
With a jolt, Economous remembered that he ought to be afraid. Shouting in wordless fright, he seized his calibrator and his thricehigh and sprang away, hareing barefooted down the lawn and the scant path, heedless of thorns and prickles in the lawn, leaving all the rest of his belongings to that … that thing as he dashed from that haunted parkland. Through its gate and safe out on the South Arm – the street of cloes-built half houses and merchant vendors that ran along the Mouldwood’s eastern boudary – Economous halted. His days were tough enough; he would not be deprived of his shoes and trews, nor of his numrelogue, satchel or the well-proofed frockcoat that had already preserved him from a deadly blow dealt many years ago.
Squaring his thricehigh determinedly upon his crown, the would-be fabulist steeled his milt and raced back into the Mouldwood, back up the path of his hasty flight to the hawthorn bench. He slowed for fear of the rabbit-beast. The woodland park creaked and ticked. His humours thumped in his ears. All the rabbits were gone and the weak threwdishness he new as common to this land was restored. Somewhere deeper in the park a wagtail gave voice to a tetchy call. With a lunge, Economous snatched his abandoned belongings from the hazelwood bench and dashed back to the Moldwood gates as fast as limbs and load would let him. The moment he was clear of the tree and grass and gate and out again on the long house-crowded street he halted. Bent, hand on knee, wind heaving to and from his lungs in great gulps, he leant against a stone pillaster of the park’s wall and quite unaccountably began to laugh. The clatter of lentums, park drags and pavillions running past largely swallowed the scandalous noise, but a day-strolling panderer in the lead of three fine-dressed young children was forced to step about him as he was rocked in his peculiar glee.
“How unseemly, sir!” the panderer exclaiming, her cheeks puffing self-importantly. “Not in all my born; it is scarce midday and you are as soused as a hog’s face!”
This made Econmous laugh only the harder.
If only she knew what he had just seen.
That was a monster I just found wasn’t it…? he wondered in astonishment his laughter subsiding as quickly as it had risen. Suely surely not…
He had seen a hand of nickers and bogles on the few monster hunts he had managed to join; terrifying things all teeth and claws and slavering malice Yet a monster right in the very heart of our ancient, impreganble city? This should be mpossible…
I ought tell someone of this!
The masters of the city would most certainly desire to know so terrible a revelation yet what would he say? To whom would he actually say it?
“Are ye a’right, mate?” asked a passing water caddie, permanently bent – as was a mark of his trade – under the small but substantial weight of a water puncheon.
“There’s a… there’s a…” the would-be fabulist tried between great gasps. “There’s a mon–”
Abruptly, with a swallow, Economous stopped.
Who would credit such an outrageous claim? The impossibility of a monster in the very middle of so great and safe a capital as Brandenbrass. He doubted even Asthetica would believe him… And now that he came to it he found that did not want to speak to anyone of this after all. The rabbit-and-cat beast had neither slavered nor snarled, nor had it rent him limb from trunk as all monsters were supposed to do. The worst it had done was compliment his drawing and to blow on him – odd certainly, but not violent.
Suddenly, inwardly, Economous was five years old again, just returned terrified but elated from the hearthwood copse that had grown behind the row of high-houses on the edge of his home village of Lo far out west on the fringes of the parishlands of the Page. Such coppices are a dangerous necessity in any rural setting, providing firewood easy to hand but always a potential haunt for some wandering bogle or nicker. Sure enough, little Economous had been seeking delicious bird’s eggs out in the forbidden trees with three childhood chums when a nasty slavering nicker all spines and talons had reared out from some dense blackberry thicket, snatching the little Economous in its cruel grip and sending the other boys to wild hollering flight. Still able to conjure the whirling, thought-emptying panic that had gripped him, one notion had stood clear in his little mind: this was his end. Yet in a great and tumbling violence, little Economous found himself free. Kicking and flailing to his feet, all he glimpsed before flying into the trees and home was a brown-skinned horned and bearded creature grappling with his wicked abductor, pounding away at the slavering black nicker with terrible mighty blows. Home once more and barely believing what had happened he immediately confessed to his parents of his profound fortune.
“I was attacked by a bad monster but a good one saved me!” he had cried in child’s delight and wonder, thrilled by such an astounding discovery, his humours racing at so miraculous an escape.
Yet rather than the delight that such a revelation of such a wondrous rescue of their only son, his parents had scolded him bitterly for telling such a horrid falsehood.
“There is no such thing as a good monster!” his father had bellowed.
“Never ever speak of this to anyone!” his mother had hissed in wide-eyed worry.
Not one gleam of relief that their own son was safe, just this great dread of other people’s regard, of ill-rumour – all too ready, and of the black consequence for being found a monster-loving sedorner.
In the days after he had appealed to the witness of his friends yet none of them ever said a word in support of the truth or even of a supposed comrade.
Something had shifted inside little Economous so long ago, and it had never righted itself since…
“Jumpin’ at shadows are we, mate?”
The water caddie’s garbled voice broke into the dark charm of memory.
Tricorn tipped back on his crown to scratch at his brow, the fellow was squinting at Economous closely.
Equanimity returning, it took a beat for Economous to understand what the fellow had said through shockingly broken and protuberant teeth. “Well,” Economous began. “I –”
“She’s a curious plot of glebeland, that’s a’certain,” the fellow pressed, nodding towards the park and shrugging his shoulders against the heavy leather strap of the puncheon where it had worn the cloth of his olive-drab frockcoat to a greasy gloss. “Not willin’ to let go her threwd for no labour. I have watched ye as I amble on me common rounds, go in day on and day off like no common folk do. I caution ye: loiter a’long in that yonder park and ye are might to reckon on sights of things not prop’ly there…”
Economous frowned. “Well…” He was too keen an observer, too used to rigourously discerning what it is his eyes beheld to be duped by so simple an effect as the swiming shadows of breeze tossed branches. Perplexed now, Economous straightend and drew in the city’s pungeant air. Somehow, the creature’s breath lingered yet in his nostrils, sweet and sour and loamy at once. No, he had seen what he had seen and there was no getting around it. “Jumping at shadows.” Economous muttered, more to himself than as an answer.
However this seemed enough for the smiling water-carrier and he immediately took hold of this small opportunity. “A goose for a gulp, m’lord,” he asked.
Economous paid two cobs – or four guise – and took four full swills from the communal pewter ladle that hung by a long leather cord from harness that held the puncheon high on the caddie’s hunched shoulders.
With a wink the caddie went on his way.
Returning trews and shoes and coat to their rightful stations on his frame, and taking his lank black hair up in a bow and setting his thricehigh firmly back upon his head, Economous transformed himself from an unshod, bare-headed, tree-embracing wilder to the civilised city-dwelling soul he usually played. Thus comported, he made his way south down South Arm and for home, perplexed by a muted yet definite glow of peculiar and unfounded … positivity – if that was a word – that had crept into his bosom.