The Boys circle about, not sure of him, tho' Doc has come running, as he has done each time, at the sound of the Horse, his own Motion far ahead of his earthly feet, the moment he spies Mason, stopping short and gaz¬ing intently. "Hello! All well, Papa?" "Why, yes." Alighting, "Hello, Doctor Isaac. How's ev'ryone faring here?"
"Oh...we're all good?" He reaches up without hesitation to take Mason's hand, and they go in.
Today Mason is patient, and by and by the two have settl'd inside his slacken'd Perimeter. They live with their Aunt Hester, Mason's sister, and her husband, Elroy. Mason, having ridden up to the house prepar'd spiri¬tually for Disrespect, Recrimination, bad Coffee, also finds Delicia Quail, the Clothier's daughter, in a colorful pongee gown at least an order of Magnitude too riotous for any casual Visit in these Parts. Before long it is distressingly clear, that she suffers from that uncontroll'd Need to be a Bride, known to Physicians as Nymphomania, in whose cheerful Frenzy nuances vanish, and ev'ry unattach'd man is a potential Husband.
"You're young enough," she ticks off item by item, "Your Sons need a Mother and I've been tending kids all my life. I can bake a Sally Lunn, whose Aroma alone is guaranteed to add Inches to any Waistline, even one as trim as your own, Charlie Mason. My Puddings are Legend even in Painswick. I was brought up in the Anglican Faith, and with enough Spirits to drink, am said to be a merry companion. What were you look¬ing for, exactly, in a second wife?"
" 'Licia, a Joy seeing you again, till this instant I wasn't aware I was looking. Yet I must have been, mustn't I?" At this moment, were he attending, he might have heard, from the direction of St. Kenelm's church-yard, a certain subterranean Rotation.
"What a faraway soul you can be, Mr. Mason," she smiles effort-fully,— "must 1 instruct you, that 'tis universal, upon this Planet, for a young widower to seek a new wife as soon as decency permits? Even wait an extra day, if he's shy."
"Thankee. So have I heard, and keep hearing, from so many well-wishers. Were I not under unbreakable Obligation,—
"To whom? The Royal Society? A Room-ful of men in Wigs, droning away in the candle-light, that's where you'd rather be, than home at the Hearth with your next Wife, and little ones? And the Custard,— ruin'd! How could you!" to appearance self-persuaded, she draws back from him. "What sort of night-crawling creature are you, then?"
"Oh, be a friendly Girl," prays Mason.
"I am not dramatizing at the moment, Charles."
"Kiss me right now, Sweet-Heart."
"Twittering London Fop," she snarls, making to go off. The Boys come running in. "Auntie 'Licia!" "Don't go!" She gathers them in, flashing Mason a There-you-see Smirk, over their small nuzzling heads. "The time you took for your long Sea-Journey might be excus'd, as a remedy for excessive Grief. But you're back now, aren't you?"
"Not entirely, for now there's something else up. So I may be off again, and fairly soon,— "
"What?" shrieks Hester. "Where to, now? There's no work in England? You had a secure job at Greenwich once, what happen'd to that?"
"Times change, Hetty. I enjoy'd that Post by way of the Newcastle Gang, who languish now at politickal Death's Door. New sorts of Whig control the Appointments." Bradley is gone, that's it,— yet he will not whine,— not in front of the Boys. Nor may anyone 'round here even rec¬ognize the Name. "The Pay's said to be good,—
"Were I you," advises Delicia Quail, "I should stick to the matter of the Longitude, for that is where the Money's at.”
"You have studied the Question.— True that in the short term, there'll be plenty of Almanack work, Lunars being the only practickal method at sea right now, and much cheaper than any Time-piece. But soon enough, sturdier offspring of Mr. Harrison's Watch will be showing their noontide Faces all about the Fleets, and Lunars will have had their day. The best we wretched Lunarians can ever hope for, is to share the Prize, which will prove at last a Tart cut too many ways to satisfy any. The real Fees nowadays, 'Licia, are to be earn'd abroad. For the first time real money is finding its way even into Astronomy,— Public Funds paying for entire Expeditions. It ages me to recall that Bradley, in discovering the Aber¬ration, was obliged to rely upon the Generosity of those Nobility who shar'd his Passion for the Stars,"— an opening for someone at least to offer Condolences. None does.
"Where is it this time, Charlie?" asks his Sister Anne, but turn'd sev¬enteen and eager to be out of the House, where she is an unpaid 'round-the-clock Menial.
"There're only Rumors, nothing's decided,—
"Papa!" cries the demonick Doctor Isaac.
"Tell us, Sir?" pipes William. Their Eyes so round and unwavering.
Mason drops his head. "America."
This is greeted with an Uproar, as ev'ryone seeks to comment at once,— "For G-d's Sake, Charles," Hester in piercing disbelief, "you were lucky to come back alive once,— the Odds are well against you now,— you might be thinking of these Two, for a change," whilst the Boys thump and shout, "Snakes! Bears! Indians!" and the like, and the Tea-Kettle whistles furiously upon the Stove, and no one attends.
Whilst the Feminine Gales rage all about, Elroy draws Mason aside, offering a pipeful of Virginia. "This job in America,— you'll be Star-Gazing again?"
"They want Boundary-Lines, hundreds of Miles long, as perfect as they can get 'em. For that, someone must take Latitudes and Longitudes, by the Stars."
"And you'll be some time away, I imagine."
"I never meant the Lads to be a burden on you, or Hester, I can see poor Annie's running Night and Day,— Christ they're enormous, I don't even know them.”
"And the next time you see them? Years, again? Charles, I esteem them as mine, for in this House all get the same Porridge, out of the same Pot,— you are off traveling more than you're here, whilst we'd be happy to take 'em. In which case, you'd have to sign over—
"Then there would be another Price, that you might not wish to pay."
He knows, roughly, what it is, and waits dumb as a Stone.
"When they're of Age, they'll both be apprentic'd to your Father at the Mill. Standard seven-year Contracts. He'll reimburse us till then, and we could well use that help, Charles."
"Why isn't he telling me this?"
"I represent your Father in this matter."
"You? you're a lawyer?"
"No, yet ev'ryone needs Representation, from time to time. If you go to America, you'll be hearing all about that, I expect."
A wonderful Dilemma. Meanwhile more and less distant Relations proceed thro' the Day to come at him from all directions, unerring as Swifts, pointing Fingers, shaking Fists, brandishing Sticks, all with Rea¬sons he ought to stay in Sapperton, vividly recalling to Mason Reason upon Reason why, two years ago, he was happy to leave all this. Back then, of course, he had his Grief. But time has gone on, and absent the Force majeure that drove them, stunn'd, together for an Instant to agree, for the same service now, there will be a Price.
The Boys, up since before Dawn, mombly upon the Floor with Fatigue, lurch over to kiss him good-Night, as if he has never been away, and ev'ry night they have been kissing him so. As ever, he is surpriz'd by the fierceness of their bodies, their inability to hold back, the purity of the not-yet-dishonest,— 'twould take a harder Case than Mason not to struggle with Tears of Sentiment. His relations look on, variously gri¬macing, sneering, or pretending not to see, all recalling his difficulties, in particular with Dr. Isaac, in even touching his Sons. "I am ever afraid they'll draw away," he confesses to his little sister Anne, sitting in the Kitchen drinking Coffee, after the Boys have gone off to bed. "Who would not be? Willy doesn't remember me, Doc is too little,...and what has Hester been telling them about their Father?”
"That you'd be home soon," says Anne. "That you were away, upon a Mission for the King, but that soon, you would be with them again."
"Whilst she's selling them to their Grand-Dad."
"What else are we to do?"
He must talk with his Father about this. I am thirty-four, he tells him¬self, riding over at a morose trot. Whence come these rectal Flashes? What's the worst he'll do, assault me with a day-old Cob-Loaf? It is further possible that Elroy is making the whole thing up, as part of some elaborate Extortion Scheme, wagering that Mason will never be able to verify it.
"No, that's not quite it," his Father pretends to explain. "I said, that as I'd been paying some of their upkeep all along, all the time their father's been off touring the Tropic Isles, why the least I ought to have's a lien on their services, when they're old enough to work. Young Elroy never knows when I'm joking."
"Well, were you?"
"Was I what? Paying? of course I was paying. When am I ever not? No one else in this Family has any money, but by me. I'm the one soon or late you all come to."
"I meant, were you joking."
His smile suggests, Soon I shall be unable to hear anything you say, and then I'll have escap'd you at last. Among ye, but not of ye.
"How did you know about the job in America?"
"The Baker knows ev'rything."
"They don't know in London."
"When I heard that your Protector had died, I knew."
Shouting back and forth, as if above the sound of the Wind of Time. "I don't see the connection."
"I know. D'ye recall, that I warn'd you of Sam Peach?"
"You said he was not my friend."
"And was he, when you went to visit? How'd your parrtickularr Friend treat you?"
Of course his father would have heard about how he was turn'd away. That must have been his only reason for granting this Audience. "Gloat?" Mason inquires in a quieter ev'ryday Voice, "having a nice Gloat over it are we, how admirable, no wonder I've turn'd out this way.”
The elder Mason smiles at him without warmth. "You're a Fool," he shouts. "Stay or go,— 'twill be me who ends up getting them both, I'm the neck of the great Family Funnel 'round here, ain't I? Were you plan¬ning to come in to Work today?"
Tho' 'tis not the first time Mason has been so berated, yet, he reflects, the Cob-Loaf would have been kinder.
In fact, far from the Ogre or Troll his son makes him out to be, Charles Sr. is a wistful and spiritual person. He believes that bread is alive,— that the yeast Animalcula may unite in a single purposeful individual,— that each Loaf is so organized, with the crust, for example, serving as skin or Carapace,— the small cavities within exhibiting a strange com¬plexity, their pale Walls, to appearance smooth, proving, upon magnifi¬cation, to be made up of even smaller bubbles, and, one may presume, so forth, down to the Limits of the Invisible. The Loaf, the indispensible point of convergence upon every British table, the solid British Quartern Loaf, is mostly, like the Soul, Emptiness.
"Wait till you've had the dough in your hands, Charlie," when they could yet talk without restraint, "and feel how warm, like flesh, how it gives off heat.— And if you set a Loaf aside, in a dark, quiet place, it will grow."
"Is it alive?" Young Mason had not wish'd to ask.
"Yes." A silence. "Would you like to have a go at some kneading, then." Weary more than patient, he expected the boy to say no. But as if the images of Flesh so intrigued him, that he must plunge his hands into the carnescent mass, young Mason presently did go to work at his father's Ovens. Mornings of Cock-crows in the dark, far up in the little valleys and echoing from the stones of town, horses a-stir, stable lads and serving-girls curling and turning on the earth floors, travelers dreaming, wives awaken¬ing,— young Mason kept thinking he could see dawn up the street, but dawn had not quite touch'd the Vale. His father work'd beside him, in light from two lanthorns, liquid, softened by years of flour-dust baked onto the reflectors,— watching his son in quick pulses of attention, but aware even so that the lad would rather be someplace else. In the next months, he would speak about duties to Charlie, who'd go along with it, tho' pulled at, the miller could tell, by something else, pull'd away from the silent loaves and the rumbling stones, out to London, the stars, the sea, India.
"Go ahead then, Charles," his mother, Anne Damsel, would call from someplace unseen.
"Talking to me?" the Baker kneading, without breaking his Rhythm, "or the little Starrrgazer?" putting in what Scorn he could afford. Mason, hands in the dough, watch'd his father openly, feeling the pain in his arms, the pale mass seething with live resistance,— hungry peoples' invention to fill in for times of no Meat, and presently a Succedaneum for Our Lord's own Flesh— The baker's trade terrified the young man. He learn'd as much of it as would keep him going,— but when he began to see into it,— the smells, the unaccountable swelling of the dough, the oven door like a door before a Sacrament,— the daily repetitions of smell and ferment and some hidden Drama, as in the Mass,— was he fleeing to the repetitions of the Sky, believing them safer, not as satu¬rated in life and death? If Christ's Body could enter Bread, then what else might?— might it not be as easily haunted by ghosts less welcome? Alone in the early empty mornings even for a few seconds with the mute white rows, he was overwhelmed by the ghostliness of Bread.
"What is it you think I do, then, when I'm up staring at the Sky in the middle of the night?" He stands there, as if hanging, under a sack of flour, hanging waiting, as if his father might stop work, and begin to chat with him.
The baker cocks an eyebrow. Whatever it is, he doesn't understand it, yet hesitates to start the Lad a-jabbering again. Is it his Wits? Slow-wittedness runs among the Damsel side, of course,— has for centuries. But how can his son so imperfectly grasp the nature of Work? Doesn't he even understand that he has to sleep sometime?
In fact, young Mason nods all the time, more than once with a risen raw Loaf for a pillow, his ear flow'd into intimately by the living network of cells, which seems, just before he wakes,— he insists he wasn't dreaming,— to contrive in some wise, directly in his ear canal, to speak to him. It says, "Remember us to your Father."
"What happens to men sometimes," his Father wants to tell Charlie, "is that one day all at once they'll understand how much they love their children, as absolutely as a child gives away its own love, and the terrible terms that come with that,— and it proves too much to bear, and they'll not want it, any of it, and back away in fear. And that's how these miserable situations arise,— in particular between fathers and sons. The Father too afraid, the Child too innocent. Yet if he could but survive the first onrush of fear, and be bless'd with enough Time to think, he might find a way through—" Hoping Charlie might have look'd at him and ask'd, "Are you and I finding a way through?"
He keeps trying. " 'Tis all one thing. From field, to Mill-stone, to oven. All part of Bread. A Proceeding. There'd be naught to knead or bake without this." He gestures toward where the great Stones move in their Dumbness and Power,— "The Grinding, the Rising, the Baking, at each stage it grows lighter, it rises not only in the Pans but from the Earth itself, being ground to Flour, as Stones are ground to Dust, from that condition taking in water, then being fill'd with Air by Yeasts, finding its way at last to Heat, rising each time, d'ye see, until it be a perfect thing." Picking up a Loaf and holding it to his face. Young Mason thinks he is about to eat it.