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|Edwin Drood's Column
|19 May 2015
|By any other name
A memoir of my schooldays
|In which Edwin closes his memories of school, at least for now,
with the denouement of a curious tale as well as some more contemporary observations.
|“Fate is setting up the tables, while death rolls out the dice ...”
Anyone for Tennis, Cream
Channel! That had been the word that tilted my world. There was a channel, of course there was, there had to be. The Arcadian “channel”, the underground stream: not only was it a connection between Gog and Magog (states of biblical Barbary), not only between a wild place and a garden, not only between the “heads” (literally) of two “houses”, in the Montague and Capulet sense, houses that were illicitly united in Jack’s birth and tragically again in his death, but also a channel between two nations, a stretch of water between a protestant king in the Netherlands and his protestant sympathizers in 17th century England and between ... two star-crossed lovers, divided by the curse of a name that makes everything impossibly possible!
|The underground stream explained
I was irradiated! I was crushed! I was a master detective! I was his miserable captive! Knowledge coursed through my veins like blood, and blood like fire. Certitude had suddenly become my birthright. I had inherited 20/20 vision from an avenging angel. I was a demi-god, with all the power of foresight and hindsight. Everything now fell into place. The key to the mystery lay not only underwater in the Gogs, but also in a box-file in some Gemeentehuis in the Netherlands. Of this I was certain. That’s what Mab had meant by pulling wool over her eyes, that’s what she’d meant by trickery. Moreover, I was certain that the casus belli between the Feynecotes and the Nortons would be found not only in events leading up to that fateful day in 1691, but also four hundred years earlier in the enclosures after the Statute of Merton in 1235, as well as two and a half centuries later in the records of a bankruptcy filed late in the depression by a certain Reginald Norton, just before his suicide in 1936. The answer to a single question was all I needed to unlock the whole mystery. But like Hercule Poirot, I knew that my little grey cells would not rest until I’d exposed the entire thing in my mind.
“Sir, is Dr Verhoeven’s first name Simon?”
“I believe so, yes” (this was my Eureka moment, now tinged with terrible sadness).
“He’s in his fifties, would you say, sir?”
“Yes, I should say so, mid fifties ...”
“And his wife, sir, she’s a lot younger than him, isn’t she?”
“Oh, most definitely, yes.”
“And she’s not actually British is she?”
“No, I believe she’s Dutch, too.”
“No, not Dutch ‘too’, sir. ‘Too’ is the wrong word in this case, because, you see, he’s
not Dutch at all. He took her
maiden name. I know you can do that in some European countries if your wife’s family has no male heirs. I read about it. Although that’s not the full reason why he took her name, sir. He took it to hide his own name, to conceal his identity from his family’s creditors and especially from the Fynecots …”
Good, solid Mr Cosworth was now staring at me strangely, with an expression caught between avid interest, horror and blank astonishment: “But what on earth are you talking about, Drood? Of all respectable people, what has Doctor Verhoeven got to conceal? And why, for heaven’s sakes, why?”
|How it all falls together ...
“Because his real name is Norton, sir, that’s why! Because his elder brother lost the lands their family unjustly acquired seven hundred years ago from the Feynecotes. Reginald Norton lost everything to the banks in 1936. The former Feynecote lands were listed as collateral for a speculation that failed. You know this, because the school acquired a piece of that land, didn’t it sir? We still call it Deer Park, for that’s what it once was. And we have another piece, sir, and that piece is called Merton, after the statute which caused the land to be confiscated from the people of this valley, who had always held it in common trust, free from tithes, under a grant from Feynecote Manor.
“You told us once in History class, didn’t you, sir, that the place we call Merton had been part of a much larger common pasture, a place where anyone could graze their sheep or goats? At least so it was until the Statute of that name permitted its enclosure, granting it to the Nortons. You said this was because the village had supported Hubert de Burgh at the time of Pembroke’s rebellion. But the village of St Martins has only really existed since the 17th century. Before that there wasn’t a village, was there, sir? Just a few tiny homesteads attached to the Feynecote estates. It was the Feynecotes who backed the wrong side, not the village. It was the Feynecotes who lost everything to the Nortons.”
“But the Nortons only came into their title under the Stuarts, several centuries later!”
“That’s as maybe, sir (I was starting to talk Wiltshire, Mab was rubbing off on me), but the family were wealthy farmers long, long before. And they’d profited as many other peasant families did from the enclosure of commons under the Statute of Merton, it meant that they could push other poorer grazers off their land and develop bigger herds. You told us all about this, yourself, at least in principle. That was the beginning of their ascent for the Norton family, that and the confiscation of the Feynecote forests after Pembroke’s rebellion. I’m sure of it. From then on there was a power vacuum they could go on filling until their efforts and the risks they took by remaining loyal to the Stuarts were rewarded after the Civil War. Am I right or are you wrong, sir?” This was one of Mr Cosworth’s own phrases that I was only too happy to toss cheekily at him in my hour of triumph. I had only one more question to ask.
“Have you ever seen the child, sir?”
|... before it all falls apart
“Whose child? What child?” (Cosworth was still caught up somewhere around the Battle of Worcester, while my own life hung from a thread) “Oh, you mean Dr and Mrs Verhoeven’s? No, I haven’t, though I’ve heard there is
a child who lives with Mrs Verhoeven in London. In fact I’ve only met Mrs Verhoeven once. That was at Founder’s Day, quite a few years ago ... a most charming lady, very, um, elegant. But she never comes down here.”
“She’s here now! They’re both here. I think she’s tired of London.”
There was more, more of a truth that I could bring myself neither to say nor to think. So much of it still lay in the future, even though I was as sure of it all as if it were past. He’d already waited until Franka’s mother came back to her husband, “not quite tired of life,” as Mrs Parks had put it. He could afford to wait a bit longer. He had all the time in the world, lying there in his watery grave. I knew there would be another child soon enough, a baby boy for certain. So Franka wouldn’t have to pretend anymore. And then Black Jack could kill him.
For Jack Tisbury wouldn’t be fooled by appearances. Because I knew now why little Franka had so suddenly pulled away from our embrace and raced away up the dell. I was right, there was a sign that I’d missed, or simply repressed. Our bodies betray us, as surely as we betray each other. Much to poor Mr Cosworth’s complete confusion, silent tears began to run down my cheeks as I turned without a word and scrambled blindly out of the library and up the three flights of stone stairs to my dormitory. I never wrote the essay. I suppose this is it.
Frank Norton-Verhoeven died in mysterious circumstances in a gay bar in Amsterdam in 1974. He had just turned 23. His parents divorced soon after. Their second son, Richard, was only nine years old when all that occurred. He later married a lovely girl from the village, fortuitously named Rachel Fynecot. They have three daughters. As far as I know they still live at the manor. I would imagine that One-Eyed Mab and Black Jack Tisbury are still used to frighten naughty children, but their poison has been drawn, their powder shot. Modern life holds far greater terrors.
Yet the world is a gentler place for transgender children today. They are recognized for the special creatures they truly are, almost like mermaids. They have their own support groups. They are celebrated within the LGBT community. They are medically helped and guided in their choices by dedicated experts. I will never know how much Frank’s life was the product of his parents’ fevered anxieties or how much arose from his own fantastical sense of theatrical whimsy. We were young enough to not be bothered by questions of nature or nurture. Some things rightly remain mysterious.
The new roundabout on the Salisbury road was completed some time before I left school, but to our general disappointment at St Martins, Jack Tisbury’s torso was not found. Most authorities of Wiltshire history doubt that he even existed. It seems the evidence is at best apocryphal.
© Edwin Drood
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