Sunday, 7 November 2010

Remember, remember...

Funny old time, Guy Fawkes and Halloween and all that.  Often very beautiful, with all the gold and red of Autumn.  Countryside can glow on a late rainy afternoon, if the sinking sun catches golden trees against dark clouds.  And there we are, lighting big fires out in the fields and gathering around them in the dark.
The start of  winter, you know, by the old reckoning, whatever birds are coming and going, what trees are in berry, what the animals are up to.  Our hunting and camping forefathers called it Samuin.  Decided that was it, end of the whole year, by jove, over and done with, the Earth turning towards the cold and dark.
Always remember first time I noticed a Samuin, aeons ago now, I was off school, staying at old Uncle Maxim’s.  It wasn’t vacs, the whole school had to close suddenly for a few days, a special escape for us chaps.  It was all a bally fuss over nothing really, Hodgy and I had poisoned the water supply with a bit of hydrochloric acid, just an accident doing some alchemy in the boiler house one night.  I mean, a few chaps did get a bit sick, the Head's wife ended up with funny coloured hair and the Bursar's ugly old retriever copped it, but really, compared to selling off the school trophies, like Howye-Fartzon, it wasn't worth that much trouble.
So a few days at my nearest kin, old Max.  Interesting old boy, but not the pater type so pretty much left me to run my own camp.  Even took his gig out a couple of times.  One night I'm poking around in his library for hours on end, long after the servants have bedded down, fascinated by all the strange old tomes and crusty incunabula he's got stacked away in there.  He was a good man for the old stuff, took me out and showed me some old stones on the estate, and things that had been dug up.  Probably where I first got my taste for all that.
Remember it being blasted cold, that night, clear, moonlit, perfect for frost next morning.  I'm sitting in a big old leather armchair with what I can only remember seemed like a polar bear skin round me, reading about Druids and mistletoe and the old year's reckoning, Samuin, by chance that very night, and the others, Beltane, Lughnasa.
Looked up, for some reason, and there at the window, looking in at me, was a stag.  We stared at each other.  Swear I thought I could see frost forming on his magnificent tines, like a statue in the cold light, except for his breath, misting against the dark.  The light from the lamp gleamed in big dark eyes, antlers curving up to an impossible height, and him looking at me, just the two of us in that cold, silent night.  Then I moved, fool, and he was gone.
Dashed over, saw him walking away, so slow and proud, across the silver lawn, that majestic way they have of carrying those weapons on their heads, into the dark.
Do you know -  well, funny, never have let this out of the bag before, but I suppose at my time in the campaign it hardly matters now -  I never have shot one.  Couldn't ever bring myself to, after that.  Just didn't seem right.
Lord, the pater would be furious if he knew; I always missed.


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