Johnnersintheraw's Blog

June 4, 2010


The House on Wold Fen

Cyril Tode-Pipkin lived with his mummy but not with his daddy in a decaying house in the middle of a mist-enshrouded fen into which no sun, no happiness or even moonbeams ever shone.  His mummy was a very, very nice mummy as far as it went.  She had a faded peaches and cream complexion and no wart on the end of her nose.  She had gently waving auburn hair that sprung back exuberantly from a massively aristocratic and world-wear brow.  On the sides of her face were two shell-like ears, one the size of a rosebud in spring and the other the size of a clam.

His mummy wore silk tea gowns in shades of deepest purple when she wore clothes at all, except in the evenings when she would dress all in lace that was of a deeper black than black.  And when she wore this lace, as she always did when she dressed for dinner, she would over-layer it with shawls and capes and fur-lined rugs against the cold and damp, and against the howling winds that blasted through the ancient stone walls as if there were no walls at all. And on her hands would be black silk gloves.  Mummy had never been known to eat with her fingers.  She was a Wold, and eating with fingers was not very nice, or so she had been told.    

Cyril Tode-Pipkin thought the world of his mummy, for she was the only mummy he had ever known. But his mummy thought very little of him; in fact she would have been happier had he been born a baboon. And because of this she mourned day and night, and it was because of this she wore only lace and silk in the colours of death.  For from the moment of his birth, Cyril Tode-Pipkin’s mummy had been enshrouded in deepest mourning.  There was but  one piece of jewellery on her translucent white throat, and that was a locket of blackest black jet, a locket in which there was entombed a single strand of hair, a mysterious hair strangely like that of a baboon.

The mummy of little Cyril Tode-Pipkin had been brought up in a private zoo on the upside of Epsom Dows, a zoo in which lived the savage beasts her great-uncle had brought back from Dieppe.  Beasts that had gone down in a storm at sea in the Bay of Biscay, and which had been plucked from the depths more dead than alive.  And since these beasts had known death and yet were still alive, their souls were warped with the foul stench of hopelessness that made them more savage than usual.  They would stalk back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and their eyes they were empty and their fangs they always dripped blood.   

The thought that little Cyril Tode-Pipkin was her own tiny son and yet interested her less than even the fainted images of baboons in the Sunday Pictorials, filled his mummy’s throat with bile and her heart with an accountable feeling of noblesse oblige“If only,” she would snort, as he strode in his manful strides through the shadowy, dust-draped salons, “Cyril wasn’t so tall. For I could then bend him in two and paint his bottom bright blue, and stick him up on the wall between the lion and the Tanganikan kazoo.” But when she said this she did not smile; she merely shed a tear – a tear that mingled with the tears she had shed the moment before, and which trickled down her ravaged, mournful cheeks and then dropped from her chin on to the refuse-choked floor.  For the foul-smelling house on the Fen called Wode was never swept, nor were the brasses polished, nor was the piano tuned.  This was more suitable for a rotting house that was in mourning.

Cyril’s mummy, like all mummies whose sons disappoint, was unbearably weary.   Her favourite sport was to recline on her chaise and look out her window and sigh.  “Oh, Cyril,” she’d whine as she lay faintly supine, when he came to the table  to dine, “would you be a good sport and pass me the Port and then jump out your window at nine?” And then she would touch her eyes with her black-edged cambric lace handkerchief and wipe away yet another tear.

Every night, Cyril Tode-Pipkin, who loved his mummy more than he loved even the smell of salted sprats and of the beef kidney tea he so loved to drink, would hop out his window with glee. For he knew it was the only thing that would fill his mummy’s heart with happiness.  But what mummy had forgot (for the house it had damp rot) was that the third-floor nursery had now sunk was now almost level with the sea.

It was therefore with deepest disappointment and sorrow that she’d bid him, “Good Morn,” when she next saw his face the following afternoon just after three, for the fact he had survived and was still even slightly alive filled her heart with chagrin. And after he had finished his tea and had departed the room, she would pour herself ten fingers of gin, with just a soupçon of tonic. She would nibble abstractly a sliver of stilton and a chilled terrine of escargot and pickled pig’s trotter and flies. And as she supped, the mummy of young Cyril Tode-Pipkin would listen to the score of Medea whilst simultaneously reading the play by Shakespeare in which the queen is forced to eat her slain children. Mummy took great comfort in such consoling works, and she wondered why she had been born neither as Medea nor as the queen in Cymbeline.   

Cyril Tode-Pipkin’s daddy – who was a commodore and sailed the seven seas in his ketch – never ever came home, for he preferred just to roam from Brindisi to Johnny O’Groats and revelled in the company of whales and the ghosts of drowned seamen ensnared in their own web-like nets.  The name of his ketch was Suzella-The-Kvetch, and she was his favourite mistress by far – even though he had seven Virginias and one Flora Bird, and even one lad named The Gherkin.  Young Cyril Tode-Pipkin he did honour as his own and bestowed upon him his good name, but that was as far as it went.  For the night young Cyril had been conceived his daddy had been in Rio and his mummy with her lover in Ghent.  And Cyril Tode-Pipkin’s daddy had at least one good eye from which he could see, and he was no fool.  No, not he.

Wold Fen it was old, so very old indeed, that it was made almost entirely of bog, and when strangers did wander out into its wasteland – and if they did not at the time have a cold – as they sank without trace and without time to say grace, they would cry, “But this swamp it smells of nothing of mould!”

The storms what blew through Wold Fen had risen with the crucifixion of Christ and had never relented since then.  The fog it lay thick and on top of it a mist that was so impenetrable that no light had ever shone on the black foetid decay that was all there was to the land.  And it was in this bog, within the bleakest, most sullen trench in the centre, that rotting and foul Wode House had been built.  A house that was swathed in misery and guilt and despair and which had spawned seven Tode sons in seven generations.  Until now, that is.  Until the coming of little Cyril Tode-Pipkin, the spreckled ginger only misbegotten son of the last of the seven sons of the seven sons.  With little Cyril Tode-Pipkin the dynasty would end, and then at last Wold House could fall.

Eventually, as was only to be expected, so inconsolable had her mourning become that the weary sorrow-clenched mummy of Cyril Tode-Pipkin ceased coming down for breakfast entirely. And since Annie MacCree – her maid – had two bandy knees, and only one arm and one leg and a stump, she would carry the tray only as far as the trash (for she was unable to manage the stairs).  She would then return to the kitchen and lie to the cook – Ol’ Mrs Murgatroyd-the-Schnook – “I’ve come back with great sadness because my mistress did take my tray in a fury and did hurl it forthwith though the window and into the slime!”  

“Never you mind,” said the cook, “madam’s not feeling herself these days. But she’ll come round in time and will eat Bengers’ and lime, and will be back to her old self afore you know it! Now you forget about her – she’ll die if she chooses. But we are alive and we’ll serve steak pudding at five. And we shall be safe in our beds with the doors firmly locked, an hour and a half before nine.  

And so it went on.   Every morning, Gwladys Tode-Pipkin née Wold would ring her little bell and every morning she would wait, ‘till her mind got confused and she thought she had dined with the vicar and had supped on the feet of the Emir of Kuwait.  Until, at last – after twenty-seven weeks or so of waiting for food that never arrived – she faded away like a will o’the wisp, and her body it hovered and then was caught up in a breeze and glided out window and was never more seen – until the old Poacher O’Dell, who lived under the well, shot her down in mistake for a grouse. And then took for back to his shack for a tasty wee snack for himself and his mistress, hinky Bertha The Souse.

During this selfsame time of evil and dread, one name was carried by the vapours and did waft through the fen and through the house and through the hearts of all who were in it. “Beware Young Mr. Phlegm… for he will send you to hell… for the house, it is all but his… watch out for his smell and his white spreckled skin….and there’s no beard on the tip of his chin… beware his smile… beware his voice… beware his eyes, they are colder than ice … beware… beware… beware…”

Little Cyril Tode-Pipkin was bereft, and although he had not actually seen his mummy for two years and a day, he felt her absence quite sorely. “Oh, what should I do?” he said to his pet mouse, Lottie-Sue, who was actually less a rodent and more like a louse, “I’ve got no one to talk to but you!”

As if young Cyril Tode-Pipkin did not have enough troubles of his own, by now his dear daddy, Commodore Phipkin Tode-Pipkin (younger son of the Earl of Norsatch) had sent his regrets and a bill for the rent of Wode Fen and the house and the barn and the granary. For he was now on his uppers and so deeply in debt that in prison he would end all his days – simply because – in his ecstasy – he had forgotten to pay for his time night and day with a certain infamous Whore, Miss Fianulla O’Flannery.

And so it came to pass that little Cyril Tode-Pipkin lived with neither his mummy nor even his daddy in the slow-sinking manse in Wode Fen.  He was now completely alone, for even the cook – Ol’ Mrs Murgatroyd-the-Snook – had locked herself up in the  larder.  And as for the maid – young Miss Annie MacCree – she got married to a milk horse named MacFinkle.  And she went far away and was heard only to say, “Young Cyril’s got a glint in his eye that does not bode well for me.” And for that, ‘twas said she was not only fey but was almost impossibly psychical. But as it was, she quite liked dining on hay and sharing with her new spouse a Sunday dinner of bran mash and turnips and apples, as well as other delicacies much  more obscurely equinical.

One day, as Cyril – who by this time was much taller though not that much older in his head – was staring out the window at a passing gale – one that was threatening to take him and his clothes and even the old house clean away – when out of the corner of his eye he spied a mysterious and quite murksome form coming his way.  The form it did stagger and sway through the marshes, and it seemed – although in the murk it was not plain to see – that it was dressed up in a hat and a cape and in a duster from way down in the Antipodes.

And since young Cyril had never seen in his life a person who was neither mummy nor cook nor ill-tempered maid who had two bandy knees and one fewer legs than was normal, he went upstairs to the tower and his hid in a bower and prepared to bombard this strange man with flaming strawberry jam and toast burnt hard as a rock in a toaster.  From the battlements he looked down and then he did frown, for the stranger looked up and he waved.  “Hello, my good sir!” this stranger declaimed with a mischievous and mysterious grin.  And with that he did sweep off his hat and bow all the way to the ground.  “Oh, please, kind sir, I am cold and I’m damp.  All I ask is that you let me come in.”

“Be gone, my good man,” roared young Cyril, and he picked up the jam and he threw. “Next time I won’t miss, and you’ll burn up in a hiss, and I’ll roast you all up on a spit.”

“But my very good sir, what an excellent plan, may I come up and help you to carry it out?”

And young Cyril he thought and then he thought a while more, and then he called down to the man in a welcoming treble, “On, why the hell not,” after which he threw down the key to the stranger – the stranger who was all wrapped up in a Antipodean duster.

And the stranger came up, bringing his own tea and a cup, and the two chaps they sat down and waited.   And when the clock it stuck five, Cyril said, “What ho! Man alive!” my dinner’s at six and you’re still not on the spit, get down on your knees and repent.  But the stranger demurred, and in a nonce, he took out his sabre, and with this sabre he slew the young heir of both the Tode-Pipkins and of the Wolds.

In the winkling of an eye and in a flash as well, the stranger’s work was finished and done.  He said to the corpse, “Hip Hip Hurrah! At last that I am avenged!”  He boiled up some brine and some quite decent wine and threw young Cyril into the broth. And he boiled him away for two nights and a day, and sang to himself a sweet dirge, “My young man,” he did smirk, “you are such a foul jerk, and now at last you are slain!”

And the stranger took off his cape and his duster from the Antipodes and his gloves and his hat, and his nose and his ears and eyebrows, and what then remained was a pinkish white skin all over freckles and bits of red hair.  “You thought yourself clever, much smarter than I, but I have planned this revenge since my birth.”

And with that he danced and sang and his neck he did crane, ‘till his head did fall off with a snap.  And from out of his spine, all shiny with slime, grew a new head right up in its place.

This stranger now stood very still, and then his voice it did trill, and the stew he did eat all at once.

My name it is Cyril, young Cyril the Ginger, and I am the heir to his house.  You tried to kill me all off on the night of my birth, but my mummy she did hide me away.  I was raised up by my dad – and called simply ‘The Lad’ – and fought brave battles as Lieutenant Willy-The-Gherkin.”

And he picked from the broth the head of the imposter, and with his finger he dug out its brain and its heart and he said, “And you, my foul and now-vanquished enemy, were called by Old Scratch ‘the vile and evil Mr. Phlegm’, and you came up from regions of which only you know.  But now, my dear dead Mr. Phlegm, I shall eat up your all your last morsels. And then I shall open my bowels and send you back whence you came.  And that – as they say will be that, my dear dead departed and vanquished Mr. Phlegm.”

And after he had done and had washed out his plate, for his daddy had taught him so well, he roared, “My man, you old cur, to hell with you sir,” and with that he shat into the pot and then  cast the pot right out through the window and down into a bottomless pit between the butchery and the abattoir. And then he washed his hands and his face and he smiled at his image in the mirror.

And with that the sun shone and the old house was once again bathed in white light.  And in the garden there grew rare flowers red, yellow, gold, purple and blue, as well as roses the colour of rebirth. And all through Wold Fen, the songbirds did sing, and the deer they did cavort with the lions.  As they say – and yes, many things they do indeed say – that peace had finally been brought to this once ill-begotten land.

And then true Cyril came down from the bower in the tower, and softly knocked on his mummy’s door and he whispered.  “Sweet mummy it is I whom you loved, for I have finally come home and shall never desert  you again.”

And the door it swung open, and in the room did appear, a woman not nearly so weary.  “I thought you were lost and I would never set eyes on you again.”

As this true first-born son swept his mummy into his arms and embraced her as only a true son should embrace his mummy, she thought to herself that this true son did smell just like a true son should smell, and in her heart she rejoiced in the knowledge that, under his duster from the Antipodes, his bottom was as blue as the sky.  For, here at last, was her much-loved son, her brave and stalwart Cyril Tode-Pipkin.  She looked in his face, and with a smile filled with grace, she murmured, “Oh, how I have missed you, my sweet and my proud, oh, how I have missed you my son, by most beloved my most darling little baboon.”   

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