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|Edwin Drood's Column
|1 May 2015
|Et in Arcadia ego
A memoir of my schooldays
|In which Edwin continues the search for Jack Tisbury’s remains
and recalls an embrace with a most abrupt ending.
|“Once upon a time in the valley of the tears …”
Anyone for Tennis, Cream
I could hardly get Black Jack Tisbury out of my mind, and when he wasn’t haunting me, I was haunted by a wood elf called Franka. As soon as I got the chance I questioned Mrs Parks, the dinner lady who lived in the village, to see if she knew any more about my mysterious new friend. “Oh, there is a child, Master Drood, as lives mostly with the mother up in London, the Doctor being, shall we say, temporarily estranged from his missus … can’t think why the little one would be down here in term time unless there’s been a change of school, or unless the parents are back together. Now, that’d be nice, wouldn’t it, if Madam were tired of London but not quite tired of life, eh?” This reference, which even going-on-fifteen-year-old me clearly understood as meaning something more than Samuel Johnson maybe intended made me blush. I was at that age when all things sexual are fascinating, but the idea of one’s parents (or anyone of their generation) actually doing any of it was acutely embarrassing. I wanted to pry more information out of Mrs Parks but “I ‘ave to be up and doing, now don’t I, Master Drood?” and that was the end of that, for now.
What had I learned? The surgeon’s name was Verhoeven. He had moved to England from Amsterdam with his beautiful society wife soon after their marriage. He had a senior position at Salisbury General as well as a private practice in that cathedral city. Just in case I imagined him cutting people up after hours, like Doctor Crippen, Mrs Parks was quick to point out that he did “preliminaries” at his practise, referring, I supposed, to diagnostic appointments. All in all he couldn’t be at the manor house very much. I felt sad for little Franka Verhoeven: kicked about between London, Salisbury and our little village like a football by two busy parents, exiled from her homeland (after all, I supposed she was Dutch), putting on a fake West Country accent for her new life in Wiltshire, yet essentially friendless and reduced to hanging around the Gogs spying on other people’s fun and games (“I’ve seen everything
you do”). Looking back, I realise now that my sympathy for her and my desire to protect her within the shelter of my burgeoning manliness was probably a way of dealing with the inferiority I had felt that afternoon in the dell. She could throw better than me, tell stories better than me and seemed to know a lot about me, while I knew nothing about her. I intended to change the balance of power.
Freed from the boring routine of parade ground bashing with the CCF by a fortuitous Corps Command meeting, at which our officers were all expected to attend, the following Wednesday found me back at the Gogs, hoping to find out more about Mr Tisbury and Miss Verhoeven. I had hung about in the dell for what seemed like an eternity to my young life before my wood elf dropped a tatty old birds nest on my head. This playful, one might say flirtatious, mood continued throughout the afternoon but resulted in me learning little more, not even confirmation of what I’d heard from Mrs Parks. Franka liked mystery and was keen to weave as much of it as possible about her person. But the afternoon was soon to draw to a dramatic close.
|Underground pipework for underground channels
Franka needed me to help her unearth Jack Tisbury’s head, and it seems that all this foreplay was simply readying her to make this request. The plan was that the two of us together would raise the head before going on to dig up the unfortunate highwayman’s arms and legs. What had started as a game of sorts was growing serious. Franka had clearly been planning this for some time and had acquired a small stash of tools to serve our grim purpose: a length of iron pipe, some rope and a spade “borrowed” from her father’s gardener.
The afternoon light was closing in, the air hot and humid when we finally started work, forcing the iron pipe into the mouth of the spring’s exit tunnel and levering upwards with the help of a rock as fulcrum. The awful knowledge that we might be poking about inside someone’s skull, like a pair of demented dentists, added a gruesome frisson to our labours. However, so far nothing seemed to be moving down there, and digging with the spade, given the rocky nature of the valley floor, looked like an even more difficult prospect. After several minutes of useless heaving we were both perspiring from our exertions, my shirt clinging to my back, Franka looking hot and bothered and, I was beginning to realise, even less resistible than before, if that were possible.
|Of nymphs and satyrs
It was the sudden movement of me wrenching the pipe out of the channel and tossing it aside in disgust that caused her to lose her balance and fall against me. To say that I “found” myself kissing her would be disingenuous, though certainly it did not seem to be part of the plan. Perhaps it was the spontaneous outlet of our mutually frustrated efforts. Either way we clung together like survivors of a shipwreck while the sunlight dappled our faces, shoulders and backs, mine clad in a soaking wet shirt, hers disturbingly naked and glowing like a cross between silk and molten metal, while the little stream ran unnoticed into our shoes. To say that the world stood still would be an understatement. Entire galaxies paused in their relentless course.
In reality, this sweet state of rapture had probably only lasted one long, slow minute before Franka suddenly wrenched herself violently away from my arms and ran like a creature possessed with demons, without either a word or a glance, straight up the steep bank and out of my life. The effect on me was cataclysmic. Quite apart from the shock, I was left with a terrible feeling of bereavement, like being ripped out of life itself. A treasure, infinitely precious, has been torn from me for a reason I could not fathom. But as I slunk off back to school like a bedraggled dog I couldn’t avoid the nagging sensation that maybe I had missed an important signal.
There was something else going on here, something outside my field of vision. I needed to seek out and question one more person. I resolved that I would confront the terrifying spectre known throughout the village as One-Eyed Mab.
To be continued ...
© Edwin Drood
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