Monday, 2 June 2008

Man of Bronze, Woman of Sea

Some several years ago it seems, a statue was erected in the centre of a small seaside town. The statue portrayed Sir Lemuel Mizzen (of the Seawall Mizzens, going back to Sir Pelican Mizzen). There he stood in all his glory, a hand on one hip and the hint of a gleam in his eye. The Mizzens had been sailors – before the mast – as they used to say, for almost 700 years.

But Sir Lemuel was remembered specifically for saving the town from an attack by a shipful of confused Dutch traders and soldiers. In fact, the soldiers had insisted on heading for ‘that small coastal town’ to get directions to London, having been blown off course. Seeing a passing British Naval ship, they turned and headed for it. At which point, Sir Lemuel captured them for the crown, his ship having nothing on it but sailor-soldiers.

Having realised they were lost the old charlatan put the news about that he had prevented a possible invasion. As the Dutch did not speak English and the English did not speak Dutch – he was believed. However, as the Dutch were being led away by the soldiers, one Dutch officer turned to Sir Lemuel and said something sharp and to the point. It was a curse upon the Mizzens that all the eldest Mizzens should die before coming to maturity in bizarre sailing accidents until Sir Lemuel had redeemed himself by drowning in some fashion.

It did not quite work out that way. Sir Lemuel laughed off such curses as superstition and promptly died in the next battle from a mizzen mast falling on him. Many of his crew saw the funny side of a Mizzen being mizzen struck, tho’ it is unlikely Sir Lemuel would have been amused. Once he was dead and buried, his eldest son who was now at sea, fell out of the crows nest and would have been saved but for a sail filling suddenly and sending him several feet ahead of the ship into the ocean. His broken body was recovered and sent home. Everyone thought that would be an end to the curse, for the younger Mizzen was the eldest now and had no issue.

But this young Mizzen had a brother who had joined the church. One day, unable to bear the strain of hearing the Most Boring Bishop in London give yet another interminable sermon, the young man ran away from the church to become an accountant. He married a charming young woman from Bow in the City of London and they settled at Mizzen Hall near the coast. Three children came of that marriage. The eldest died of falling overboard drunk at the age of 14 and catching his neckerchief on the point of an anchor that hanged him.

So it went on through the sad generations until this statue of Sir Lemuel was installed. Very fine and handsome it looked too, made of solid bronze, for the mayor (one of the Hampshire Mizzens originally) had spared no public expense. In the interests of the town’s heritage and his re-election, he had felt it important.

A small brass band played sea shanties and the local Women’s Institute provided ‘food and jollity’, such as it was. Children ran about, mainly trying to get away and head for the beach. Elderly gentlemen reminisced and elderly women got politely tipsy on the blackberry wine that was provided for a small consideration. The mayor made a speech that nobody listened to, felt good about being a Mizzen and descended in full pomp and ceremony to taste what was left of the blackberry wine.

However, one little boy was not at all happy. Joshua Mizzen was the eldest of three contemporary Mizzens. He knew all about the curse because he had been told it, kindly by the vicar. It made Joshua feel not a jot happier, but the vicar felt he had imparted the family history to the boy. Joshua glowered at the statue.

“It’s all your fault,” he muttered, “I can’t do a bloomin’ thing in case I get thrown to the sea and killed in some embarrassing way. All because you wanted to look good in front of your friends, you show-off.”

He kicked the plinth of the statue and turned away to get some cake, but was not quick enough. His mother, fretful of him, grabbed him and he was bundled into the car and driven home – safely. Mizzen Hall was large and interesting enough for a boy, so Joshua settled himself in the library and went to sleep on a sofa. A little later, his father found him there and carried the young lad up to bed.

Evening came on and in the centre of town, all was quiet. A few mice cleared up the food, aided by the seagulls. From the sea, a soft and gentle song sidled up the beach towards the town. A stiff breeze blew along the beach and the promenade. The song made its sinuous way up to the town square and entwined itself around the bronze statue. The bronze statue of Sir Lemuel that seemed to sigh.

“Come back to us, come back to the sea where you belong,” the song sighed softly.

Surely it could mean nothing to a statue? Yet… the wind blew stiffly and the bronze cloak about the statue’s shoulders flickered. With a large bronze sigh, the statue creaked and groaned as Sir Lemuel seemed to stretch. He yawned and raised his jaunty hand from his hip. Slowly the statue got down off the plinth and made its way down to the high promenade. Directly heading to the sea. Its joints creaked a little, every footstep was solid, but the town continued to sleep. Still the soft song drew the statue onwards.

At the high promenade overlooking the sea, the statue paused as if gazing out over the black glassy waves. Half raised in the choppy freezing waters appeared to be a young woman of some beauty. One could not have imagined how she could not be frozen cold in her condition. Her long hair fell darkly and wetly about her pale shoulders. Her naked arms were raised up as if in prayer to the bronze figure. Still she sang…

“Come back to us, come back to the sea where you belong.”

The bronze man struggled somewhat in getting over the safety barrier, but having done so, plunged down into the black waters below and kept going all the way to the bottom of the sea. In that instant, Joshua Mizzen awoke suddenly as if from a dream. He was aware that something was different, but it was late and he was tired, so he went back to sleep.

The mayor was furious at the apparent vandalism of such an expensive statue, which was never found. An anchor was put in place of the statue to symbolise Sir Lemuel and his exploits. Joshua Mizzen grew up to become a Judge and married a solicitor. They had four children of which the eldest is doing rather nicely so I hear.


Griffin said...

Sorry for the dense text, folks. For some reason, the spacing showed up when I was writing the post and when I edited it. But not in preview or when published!

Most exasperating, but in the end I decided to publish and be damned!

madameshawshank said...

'food and jollity' how lovely it seems!

dense text fine by me Mr Storyteller..

don't ya love the hand on the hip business! rather like the dames at openings and so ons...the hand on the hip..oh come on!

the idea of the movement of all that...the heaviness moving of its own water..simply LOVE that idea..

the man of bronze lives in King's Hall in Old Parliament House, Canberra, Oz. 'n you should see the shoes!!!!!

madameshawshank said...

forget to add...'tis statue of King George V

Rosemary in Utah said...

Above is a link to a photo of King George V as a boy--hand on hip! (sort of)

Griffin tell us how you invent/decide upon the character's names--("...going back to Sir Pelican..." but who was before him?--I must know!)The names are always so quaint and English-sounding. What would you call your own son or daughter? (If solely your choice.)
Are there names that sound "American" to you? (Like Britney Spears and Barack Obama haha)
Loved the tale--thank you!

Griffin said...

Food and jollity indeed. The Women's Institute is an old British organisation that has a specific reputation, some of it a little unfair and some of it entirely justified. It's been summed up in the phrase 'Jam and Jerusalem' so the food and jollity is their intention but has an ironic touch to it also.

The hand on the hip in male portraits turns up a lot. In 17th century portraits by Van Dyck for example. I have no idea what it was meant to symbolise - if anything.

"Griffin tell us how you invent/decide upon the character's names--("...going back to Sir Pelican..." but who was before him?--I must know!)"

Well mostly I am vaguely remembering books I've read for style. The 17th/18th century is full of wonderful names in plays. But here - Lemuel after Lemuel Gulliver of Gulliver's Travels. Sir Pelican comes from simply being a seabird. Mizzen from the Mizzen mast of a ship as seen in the story.

Joshua is typical at the moment and very middle-class. Stylistically I am referring to a range of things I've read and been inspired by.

I would love to have had three daughters and would have liked to call them, Athena, Iris and Artemis but would not have got away with it. Also the daughters would have sought revenge and I would have deserved it!

Rosemary in Utah said...

It occurred to me that if you put your hand on your hip it sort of pushes your chest and chin forward, so you look confident.

Griffin said...

Finally I've sorted out the spacing problem!!

Yes, I suppose it does make you look more assured. There is a painting of the Killigrew brothers by Van Dyck where they look very fancy-schmancy. One of the brothers has his foot on a step and his hand on his hip, holding his gloves. It's very much a 'swagger portrait'.