Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Crisis (5)

A surprising number of guests came for Reverend Hawker’s funeral, and ate their way through the spread of cold meats in aspic that we had laid out on the old oak tables. Some came from epochs of Hawker’s life that we were accustomed to hear of – tug-boat Captains, High Church clergymen, casino owners, dictionary compilers – and others from periods that must remain a mystery, including a Native American woman and her four grown up sons. That afternoon, the reminiscences were many that flowed in the hall of Hawker’s Pot, and the deceased was celebrated as a man of great wit. But how many of those reminiscences ended with: “Oh! ... but I can’t remember exactly what he said ... least ways, we laughed a great deal ... I’m sure it will come back to me ... No.” And I received the strong impression that the words of the man were disappearing after him quickly, just as he had disappeared, and soon there would be no trace left of him upon the earth.

But now the guests were gone and Swift and I were left alone at Hawker’s Pot.

“And what will you do now, Mr Swift?” I asked.

“There is much for me to do. There is the matter of Reverend Hawker’s legacy, which must be continued, especially in the light of his dying words. I will mine the archives for the best of his jokes, turn them into greetings cards and travel the craft fairs of the land. For there is also the small matter of making a living ...”

“I wish you all the luck in the world, Mr Swift.”

“And should you care to join me, Mr Jones ....”

But I had just seen Margaret pull up at the gates in her black Morris Minor. I shook my head and shook Algernon by the hand. “My work with Puns is done now,” I said. “Henceforward, I will accept the brokenness of language and try my hardest to say the things that need to be said as best I can. And when I fail I will console myself that the world I try to describe can never be perfect either, so what matter if the words I use are imperfect too?”

Margaret tooted the horn. I grabbed my bag and ran out to greet her. Swift followed me to the front door.

“Always remember to have fun!” he called out after me.

As the car pulled away, I looked over my shoulder for one last time at the dark towers and mullioned windows of Hawker’s Pot, and its empty-handed beech trees waving their arms in the air (the rooks had left the day of Hawker’s death). Then, smiling at Margaret, I looked at the landscape ahead of us, the rolling hills and the maze of hedges climbing up them, and, up above, the few shining rags of fleecy cloud. I was irresistibly reminded of Milton’s words,

The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest ...

as the car followed the undulating road among the bright and laughing fields.

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