Friday, 28 May 2010

The Fallen Wing

Untitled, from a series called 'The Architect's Brother' - Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison

I had been invited to the Duke of Zamorna's home at Glasswyck some time after his wedding to the aviator who had kept faith with his love. I met Lady March there and she seemed somehow invigorated by being with the new couple, though we left them as much alone as we could. Having found themselves again, we knew they had much to catch up on. Instead, Lady March and I strolled about the grounds of Glasswyck House and admired it's beauty and elegance.

Our first morning there was rather misty and damp. Lady March had been unable to sleep and I confess that I had also woken early and been unable to return to sleep. Still, I lay in the warmth of the big bed and contemplated life until I heard a insistent careful tapping at the chamber door. I sighed, pulled on a dressing gown and went to open it. The cold air of the room, for the fire had not yet been lit, chilled my feet and I was not best pleased. But my displeasure gave way to bewilderment at the sight of Lady March in her nightgown and overcoat.

"Oh Pelland, my dear, do put some boots on and come down. Quickly my dear, quickly!" she squeaked.

I struggled to make sense of her, but she insisted a little crossly that I put my boots on. I sighed, put on my boots, breeches, shirt, jacket and my own greatcoat before following her. I asked her if she would be warm enough and she flapped her hands at the suggestion, shooing it away.

"We'll miss it if we don't hurry up," she puffed.

It is fortunate that I am aware of her character or we should undoubtedly have had words. Still, I knew her for a kind-hearted soul and a curious one. Her own curiosity coupled with my love of a good tale now and then made us a match. Our friendship had lasted through many brisk exchanges and I was sure it would last a good while yet. So, I followed her down the stairs, noticing sadly but unsurprisingly that she wore slippers rather than shoes. I had a shawl crammed into the pocket of my greatcoat and as we stepped out onto the stone terrace at the back of the house, I was glad of it. Lady March shivered and instantly I pulled the shawl from my pocket and as we passed along the terrace to the steps, I unfurled it and flung it carefully about her shoulders.

"Very kind my dear, I'm sure," she murmured as we continued through the rose garden.

We passed along an avenue of camellia bushes and out onto the lawns. I had no idea where I was being led and the mist made everything seem slightly unreal. For a moment, I wondered if I was dreaming that I was awake or I was actually awake, but I banished the thought. It is the sort of thought best considered after one's second cup of morning coffee. It was certainly not for that strange morning.

We went as if towards the 'Roman' folly that had been built in the time of Lady March's grandfather and certainly not by the Romans. At that point Lady March paused before trotting on to the right of the folly. We very nearly tumbled down a sudden dip called a ha-ha (probably from the effect such an indignity would have on those watching the victim) and came out onto a large lawn. From here I could barely discern a large object that seemed to be pointing up at the sky. Below it appeared to be a tall black shape and only as we got nearer did I perceive Cropwell, the butler. He was a slim almost funereal figure out here in the mist and I felt a shiver run through me that was not the cold. Beside him the large object came into view and gave us pause for thought. It was a vast wing that seemed to have been torn off the shoulder of some great bird - or, had I believed in them, an angel. Cropwell had a bouquet of flowers in his arms and stood for a moment in respectful silence before placing the flowers by the wing. He murmured softly,

"Flights of angels see thee to thy rest."

Turning he saw us both and Lady March curtsied. I bowed and he bowed in return.

"Will my Lady and sir be wanting breakfast?" he asked.

I was tempted but outflanked by Lady March who asked him instantly for the history of the wing.

"If my Lady will follow me, I shall be pleased to inform her and sir what I know over hot porridge with honey and cream and sir's favourite Nicaraguan blend of coffee," Cropwell answered, pointing out that it was after all, rather cold outside.

I agreed with him and took Lady March's elbow, gently steering her back towards the house. She might be pleased to hear a tale outside in the cold mist, but I strongly desired my coffee and my breakfast. We returned along a path we had not perceived in the mist and followed Cropwell to the side of the house, through the pleasant walled kitchen garden into the kitchen. Lady March's slippers were dew-soaked and now her feet were cold. I helped her to a chair and kneeling, dried her feet with the heavy wool of my greatcoat. Meanwhile, Cropwell made porridge and coffee. The kitchen was large, high and very warm. In one corner, in a basket the cat was curled up comfortably, only the gentle rise and fall of it's furry belly moving. Neither her Ladyship nor myself had been at our toilette, and must have looked quite rough. Yet, Cropwell was all solicitous politeness and the epitome of tolerance. Once the porridge and the coffee
was before us, the butler sat and for a moment sighed, unsure where to begin.

A sound in the passage brought the aviator, equally un-prepared for the day. Cropwell made to arise, but she insisted he sit. She fetched a cup and poured herself coffee and asked him if he had taken the flowers. He said that he had and she turned to Lady March.

"You love a tale do you not my ladyship?"
she asked lightly teasing.

Lady March smiled and admitted she had wondered where Cropwell was going and had followed him.

"I most unkindly dragged Mr Pelland with me, but he loves a good story as much as I. We had persuaded Cropwell to tell us about the wing," she said.

The aviator, or as I should call her now, the Duchess of Zamorna chuckled. She got up from her chair and served herself some porridge with cream and honey.

"Where to begin, eh, Cropwell?" she said lightly.

"Indeed your grace, indeed. I was puzzling it out myself," he admitted.

"Let me then. No sir, don't get up. It's still very early. You have coffee and you can correct me if I go wrong," she said as he made to get up again.

He sat and bowed in his chair to her and she sipped her coffee before her eyes seemed to look into the fireplace and deep into the past.

"As my mother used to say, 'Quand j'etais jeune', when I was young I would often wander out into the grounds and ride. I was almost reckless with my wanderings. My mother used to warn me that the faeries would get me if I was not careful. Faeries or witches or gypsies... anything to keep me careful.

One afternoon I had gone out when high above me the clear bright day turned very dark. I looked up, shading my eyes with my hands but all I could make out was a large moving shadow blotting out the sun. It seemed to writhe and twist in it's centre yet it was utterly silent. I do not believe it was a bird. For a moment I wondered if the old dragons had arisen and were doing battle over our house. Then from out of this silence came suddenly a sharp piercing howl of anguish. It was primeval and raw and filled my horse with panic. He reared up and I was flung from his back. I rolled as I had been taught to and so I broke no bones. My horse bolted away for the house and I ran for the shelter of a large oak.

I was quite frightened, unknowing of what the shape above was, or from whom that terrible sound had come. It had both scared and moved me to the very depths of my self. I cowered I admit it beneath the oak unsure if it would protect me when the thing fell - for surely it must being so badly wounded. Another shadow appeared where my horse and I had been and grew larger as something fell to earth. I assumed it would be the thing that had screamed so full of pain, but as you have seen, what fell was a huge and beautiful wing. There was something both beautiful and deeply sad about it. Much though I longed to examine it, I was sure then that whatever it was from must surely fall to earth.

After an hour staring both at the wing and up into the skies, nothing fell. Indeed the sky seemed to clear and become pale and bright with sunlight again. I came out from under the oak to find Cropwell and several other people running towards me. The wing fell hard and partly stuck into the earth, but its weight was pulling it back to lie flat. We gathered branches and timbers from the stables and propped it up as you have seen it. Every year, in memory of the owner of that wing we lay flowers by the wing to honour flight. For it was the glorious beauty of that wing that made me take up flying and learn all I could to become as good an aviator as I might. The Philobe Mark IV is one of the finest planes we have and upon the side of my own I have painted a wing just like the one in the South Lawn."

We were silent for a moment, wondering what the owner of the wing might have been. It could not have been a bird we reasoned, a bird with one wing would have fallen to earth. It could not have been an angel for the image of the angel is one invented to illustrate an idea. Then Cropwell smiled slightly over his coffee and catching sight of it, Lady March asked him,

"What do you think Cropwell?"

"I should not presume," he began, but Lady March was not to have that.

"Come, come Cropwell, I saw you smile. You know where the wing is from do you not?" she said.

"My Lady, when her Grace was very young there was a great architect who had a house in the town of Verdigris some miles from here. His brother was an inventor obsessed with flight, but not in a plane. He wanted to fly like the birds fly. I believe he was considered quite peculiar by the townsfolk as those who are different are often considered. I suspect his work resulted in a kind of battle between the two brothers and that the architect's brother created a set of wings as well as the architect had. I believe it might be possible that the two brothers had some kind of falling out and took their anger into the air, flying after one another. This soon resulted in a fight and one of the brothers must have torn off one of his sibling's wings. It is that wing that fell, but being brothers, they could not let each other die. So neither fell, but the one flew the other back home.

It inspired her Grace as she has said and her wish to lay flowers at the wing has always meant a way to thank the maker of the wing. For not only did he inspire her Grace, she has kept safe and come back to us," the butler answered.

"Oh Cropwell! Is that the truth of it then?" the Duchess asked him with a smile.

"I believe it might well be your Grace," he said softly.

She threw back her head and laughed then before rising from her chair and embracing the butler. Lady March and I chuckled. The thought that a manufactured wing and a brother's quarrel had inspired a young girl to become an aviator was wonderfully mundane. Yet, Cropwell had kept this quiet for all this time and let the illusion continue - that some mysterious creature had lost a torn wing.

Only later that week when I met Lady March for tea at the Crown Regent Hotel did I suggest that Cropwell did not know for sure if it was the two brothers. It might have been a fight between two Griffins, with one clinging to the other even though it's wing was lost. There were still Griffins in our country then after all. Lady March hmm-ed and said that it was best we didn't mention such a thing.

"There are times, Mr Pelland when a good illusion is worth all the mundane facts in the world. Brothers or Griffins are too mundane in the face of a good mystery. I should never have pursued it with Mr Cropwell and I wish I had not," she said sipping her tea.

I did not reply, for even then griffins and dragons were becoming rare and I wondered if there would ever be a time when an aviator would suddenly find that instead of a few dragons flying alongside him or her, there would be nothing but empty sky.


Rosemary in Utah said...

Nice to see already-met characters resurface, (even if sleepy!) I liked this very much.
"...but being brothers, they could not let each other die." Apply that concept worldwide now!

And yes, griffins griffins should be sighted in the skies swooping circling.
Thank you, G! Again, I'm off to enjoy learning about the (unusual) painting also.

Rosemary in Utah said...

Oh, a photograph, not a painting at all..

Griffin said...

Yes a photo and from a fascinating series by highly imaginative and brilliant photographers.

Their website is a delight to look at, especially for a writer. Every image feels like something from a film I'd love to watch.