Void of Course, back with Senses Boggl'd from War, Slavery, Successful Obs, the wind at St. Helena, unaccustom'd Respect from their Peers, Mason and Dixon wander about London like Tops a-spin, usually together, colliding from time to time and bouncing away smartly. They get to dine at The Mitre, tho' it is mid-afternoon and a Ploughman's Lunch of unintegrated Remnants of earlier meals. They address the Council of the Royal Society, and find they have nothing but good to say of all they have met at St. Helena and the Cape. Dixon is soon departed Northward, his only Thought of The Jolly Pit¬man in Staindrop, an Idler's Haunt recall'd the more extravagantly as the Distance from Home increas'd. In London, Mason is less certain how to proceed. He must see his Boys, whom he cannot help missing, yet at the same time he dreads the Re-Union. In Town, he pays his Devoirs, and as Bonk predicted, is casually question'd, across what prove to be a Variety of Desks, by Agents of the Navy, the East India Company, the Royal Society, and the Parliamentary Curious, from King's Men to Rockingham Whigs, as to Vegetable Supply, Road-Widths, Shore-Batteries, Civilian Morale, Slave Discontent, and the like. He is releas'd at the sour gray end of afternoon into a City preparing for Night,— descending into Faith, from one Opportunity to the next, as once, early in his Grief for Rebekah, he descended into Sin.
The Cock Lane Ghost is all the Rage. Mason makes a point of going out to see what he can see. He finds at the fam'd Parsons Dwelling no Ghost, but is amaz'd at the Living who arrive whilst he's there. "Imagine who's here when I'm not?" he is not fully conscious of having utter'd aloud. "That's Mrs. Woffington over there. Little Chap by her Side? Gar-rick. Aye."
Giddily exited into the Lane again, he resolves, upon Rebekah's next Visit, to ask if she mightn't just pop 'round here, for a look within the Walls. But the Days in London stretch on, until he understands that she will not come to him here,— that she wants him in Sapperton,— Home.
However content Rebekah may be, Mason's Sisters are unusually harsh in their treatment of him. The Boys regard him politely. He brings them a pair of Toy Ships, bought as a last-minute afterthought off a bum-boat in Santa Cruz Bay. They take them down to the Stream, leaving the Women to discuss his character, and Mason puzzles thro' with them what he may of the Rigging, re-express'd by Carvers living in Tenerife, after their memories of visiting ships from everywhere. William is five. Doctor Isaac is three.
"It's from very far away," asserts Willy, more to Doc than to this incompletely recogniz'd man, whom it may be unwise to address. "It's not British."
"Your Boat?" Doc has no such caution in piping at Mason.
Mason has a look. "We carried more Guns, I think. There were not quite so many oddly-shap'd Sails. And of course as you note, these are blue. Exact shade of the Sea,— making them invisible Ships, as they sail along. Sneak right up on the French. Before they know it,— Touché!" Pretending to reach toward them with Intent to Tickle. They shrug out of range more than retreat, meantime eyeing him more curiously than before. Doc is closer to agreeable Laughter than his Brother, who believes it his Duty to be the Watchful One. Their boats ride the lenient Current together, in and out of the Shadows, ever in easy reach of rescue, the Boys shepherding them with Willow Wands, no more obtrusive in this Naval History than Gods in a Myth.
In the first weeks of July, Bradley falls ill, and gets steadily worse. On the thirteenth, in Chalford, he dies, and is put to rest with Susannah at Minchinhampton.
Mason rides over as he's done unnumber'd Times, trying not to think ahead. It does not much seem to matter. Too much lies unresolv'd for any Social Visit to clear away. He talks it over with himself.
"And Bradley knew..."
"Ev'rybody knew ev'rything. Except me. I only thought I did, so of course 'twas I who did the most screaming. Thro' the sleepless noontides Astronomers cherish, the emotion that rag'd within those admir'd walls could have shifted the Zero Meridian by seconds of Arc, into either Hemi¬sphere, why who knows, even bounced it back and forth a few times.
"The indoor environment quickly became impossible to live in. That strange Parlor-Game commencing, Rebekah and I moving out of the Observatory, down to Feather Row, trudging up and down that hill at all Hours, with William going ev'rywhere in a sort of Sling,— then, before anyone quite realizes it, Susannah has mov'd in next door, Bradley begins visiting, at first penitent, then abject, soon he's there ev'ry night, takes to dropping in on us, hinting about, presently we're together as a foursome, boating upon the River, playing at Cards upon Nights of Cloud or Storm, Pope Joan, Piquet, Rebekah's sweet Voice, Susannah's hands never touch'd by Sunlight, impossible not to gaze at,— then we move up the hill again, whilst Bradley in some small flaring Snit takes our old Feather Row quarters...the Heavens wheel on, meantime."
Was he fated for these terrible unending four-door Farces? They do not always end luckily, as at the Cape, with ev'ryone's Blood unspill'd.
Young Sam Peach, Susannah's Brother, is there, and Miss Bradley, seventeen and despite her sleeplessness and Pallor, a-bloom,— and even with Bradley looking out of her face, more like her mother than Mason would ever have thought possible in the turn of a Socket, the Scroll of a Nose. He expects to disintegrate, but thro' the mercy of some curious Numbness, does not. They advise him, as gently as they've ever known how, that Bradley wish'd only the Family near. Any further word will be in the newspapers. Thus do Gloucestershire Nabobs deal with former Employees.
All the way back in to Stroud, episodes of the past flick at him like great sticky Webs. Some of us are Outlaws, and some Trespassers upon the very World. Everywhere stand Monitors advising Mason, that he may not proceed. He is a Warrior who has just lost his Lord.
Day into night, rain into starry heavens, when Rebekah crept from their bed to join Mason upon the Astronomer's Couch, Bradley's wraith stood over them, a lonely, weakly-illuminated picture of himself, com¬pelled to watch them, to observe, yet wishing he did not have to hover so,— crying,— no louder than a Whisper,— "I am a Quadrant mounted upon a Wall, I must be ever fiduciary, sent into Error neither by Heat nor by Cold, that with which the Stars themselves are correlated,— finely-set enough for the Aberration of Light, but too coarse to read, with any penetration, the Winds of Desire." He was insanely in love with his young Wife, and had no way to estimate where the end of it might lie.
When young Miss Bradley and Rebekah went thro' their time of infat¬uation, talking long into the nights, Mason would come in from Observ¬ing to find them among the bed-clothes, and generally no room for him without waking one of them.
"How did you meet and marry him?" the girl wishes to know.
"My marriageable years had ebb'd away," Rebekah relates, "so slowly that I never knew the moment I was beach'd upon the Fearful Isle where no Flower grows. Days pass, one upon the next.... And then, against Hope,— lo, a Sail. There at the Horizon,— no idea how far,— a faint Promise of Rescue.. .a sort of Indiaman, as it prov'd."
"With an hundred handsome Sailors aboard, to choose from?" giggles Miss Bradley.
"But the one, alas, Impertinence A Pair of Gentlemen came to me
one day and said, 'Here is the one you must marry,'— and put before me a small cheap sketch, in Sepia already fading, of Charles. Handsome and fine as any Nabob you'd wish for,— since you were about to ask, Princess Sukie,— and of course I knew he wouldn't look that fair in per¬son, yet had I assum'd some Honesty from them,— so to find Picture and Man quite as different as they prov'd to be, well, did surprize me. ' 'Twas but a Representation,' they explain'd, repeatedly, till I quite lost count, having also ceas'd to know what the word meant, anyway."
"Who were these Gentlemen? Had they come from Grandfather Peach's Company?"
"A mystery, lass. They were turn'd out in that flash way of Naboblets, all Morning Tussah and braided Hats, tha may have seen such visiting at
the Peaches' in the Country,— yet they might have been Buzz-men as easily, having some difficulties with the English Tongue, which, given my own, I may not judge."
"Where were ye wed?"
"Down near the East India Docks. 'Clive Chapel,' as they styl'd it then, a Nabob's Day-Dream, made to seem a Treasure-Cave of the East, with Walls of Crystal, Chandeliers of Lenses Prismatick, that could make the light of but a single Candle brighter than a Beacon, Prie-Dieux of Gold, Windows all of precious Gems instead of color'd Glass, depicting Scenes from the Wedding of Lord Clive and Miss Maskelyne,— her Gown entirely of Pearl, his Uniform Jacket of Burmese Ruby, their Eyes painstakingly a-sparkle with tiny Sapphires and Zircons."
"Heavenly.. .and their Hair?"
"Amber,— in its many shades— And the Dignitaries attending, and their Ladies, each in a different Costume, each out-dazzling each,— the Clergy officiating,— the Views of Bombay in the Background,— well, it seem'd to go on forever. You could gaze and get lost. Perhaps I did."
"Or he might have."
"He got lost among the Stars. Years before he met me."
"Papa is like that. I know. They just... drift off, don't they?"
Bradley had reported upon the Comets of '23 and '37, but not, appar¬ently, that of '44, one day to be term'd the finest of the Century. What came sweeping instead into his life that year, was his Bride, Susannah Peach. Did he make any connection at the time between the Comet, and the girl? Or again, in '57, another Comet-year, when she departed from his life?— though Mason would seem to be the one up there most ready to connect the fast-moving image of a female head in the Sky, its hair streaming in a Wind inconceivable, with posthumous Visitation,— hec¬tic high-speed star-gazing, not the usual small-Arc quotinoctian affair by any means. It would have been Mason, desperate with longing, who, had he kept a Journal, would have written,—
"Through the seven-foot Telescope, at that resolution, 'tis a Face, though yet veil'd, 'twill be hers, I swear it, I stare till my eyes ache. I must ask Bradley's advice, and with equal urgency, of course, I must not."
First Susannah, then Rebekah. The nearly two years separating their deaths were rul'd by the Approaching Comet of Dr. Halley, which
reach'd perihelion a month after Rebekah died,— dimming in the glare of the Sun, swinging about behind it, then appearing once more— Whereupon, 'twas Mason's midnight Duty to go in, and open the shutters of the roof, and fearfully recline, to search for her, find her, note her exact location, measure her. On his back. And when she was so close that there could remain no further doubt, how did he hold himself from crying out after the stricken bright Prow of her Face and Hair, out there so alone in the Midnight, unshelter'd, on display to ev'ry 'Gazer with a Lens at his disposal? He could not look too directly...as if he fear'd a direct stare from the eyes he fancied he saw, he could but take fugitive Squints, long enough to measure the great Flow of Hair gone white, his thumb and fingers busy with the Micrometer, no time to linger upon Sen¬timents, not beneath this long Hovering, this undesired Recognition.
Up late between Stars, Mason listen'd downhill to the Owls as they hunted, and kill'd, himself falling into a kind of stunn'd Attendance but a step and a half this side of Dream.... In the Turning-Evil of this time, awaiting her sure Return, he seem'd one night to push through to the other side of something, some Membrane, and understood that the death-faced Hunters below were not moaning that way from any cause,— rather, 'twas the Sound itself that possess'd them, an independent Force, using them as a way into the Secular Air, its purposes in the world far from the Rodents of the Hill-side, mysterious to all.
The pitch of Lust and Death in the Observatory was palpable to, if sel¬dom nameable by, those who came up there. "Phoh! beginning to doubt we'd ever get away again."
"In the Tales I was brought up on, they eat people in places like that. What is going on between those two?
Mason more than once had caught the old Astronomer watching Susannah with a focus'd Patience he recogniz'd from the Sector Room...as if waiting for a sudden shift in the sky of Passion, like that headlong change in Star Position that had led him to the discovery of the Aberration of Light,— waiting for his Heart to leap again the way it had then, after Night upon Night of watching a little Ellipse, a copy in minia¬ture of how the Earth was traveling in its own Orbit, enacted by London's own Zenith-star, Caput Draconis, the Dragon's Head, looking for the
Star's Parallax, as had been Dr. Hooke before him. When the Star inex-
plicably appear'd to be moving, it took him some time to understand and explain the apparent Disorder of the Heavens he was observing. ''I thought 'twas meself,— all the Coffee and Tobacco, driving me unreli¬able." He also saw at the Time a Great Finger reaching in from the Dis¬tance, pausing at Draco and,— gently for a Finger of its size,— stirring up into a small Vortex the Stars there.
By the time Mason went to work for him, he was known and rever'd thro'out Europe, and in the midst of compiling a great Volume of Obser¬vations Lunar, planetary, and astral,— to interested Parties priceless, yet to their Lawyers pricey enough to merit Disputing over. By Warrant of Queen Anne, "Visitors" from the Royal Society were entitl'd annually to a Copy of all Obs,— now,— so Mason had heard being shouted in another room during his late moments with the Peaches,— as Queen Anne was dead these many years, so must be her Warrant, and as the Obs had ever belong'd to Bradley personally, so now did they to his Heirs and Assigns.
Had Susannah been but a means of getting those Obs into the Peach family, and the eager Mittens of Sam Peach, Sr.? Were they the Price of a Directorship in the East India Company? Once there was a child, hav¬ing done her Job, would the little Operative have been free to return to Chalford, back into the Peach Bosom, whilst her Doting Charge fidgeted about with his Lenses and screw-Settings, at distant Greenwich?
Even Mason's Horse looks back at him, reproachful at this. An ungentlemanly Speculation. Who has not been an indulgent Husband? "Who ever set out to be an old fool with a young Wife?" Mason argues aloud. "Of course he ador'd her, his Governess in all things. How shall I speak?"
Sam could've told Tales'd chill any Father's Blood. His affections, as ever, with the Doctor, nonetheless, when they wed, did he welcome the Relief. Now may he welcome the Obs, too. Yet Mason, as Bradley s Assistant, perform'd many of them. Shall he put in a Claim for these? He thinks not, as he was really giving them to Bradley, all, for nothing more than, "Thank you, Mr. Mason, and well done.”