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The Rats’ Requiem

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(Correctitude, Manners not Morals, Self Writ, To Know Know Know Him)

More Jam­ie

Neigh­bour intro­du­cing new movee Mr. Hand­slip into neigh­bour­hood:

On your oth­er side is Mrs. Egre­mont, a wid­ow. A very nice lady, Phil­ip­pa is mar­vel­lous, the chil­dren are OK, most of them.” with a quick­en­ing.
“How many got ?” startled.
“Four. Paul’s the old­est, he’s going in the Army when older. Not the sort of life I’d choose, but it’s a good thing we’re not all alike, isn’t it ? two girls, Yso­belle and Nancy, and… the young­est, James.” A stil­ted note mod­u­lated his enthu­si­asm, unnoted by the ques­tion­er.
“Any of them noisy ?”
“They won’t be any trouble at all.” Eagerly, “The girls are very pretty, and although they could be bois­ter­ous and cause dif­fi­culties, they don’t. The old­est lad is square strong affable, very decent young man.”
“And the young­er ?”

As I said Paul’s going into the Army, which I think such a waste.” Mr. Pigg was by way of being a paci­fist, which the two boys had always respec­ted with the great tol­er­ance of which they were both very proud. “He really could do any­thing, very bril­liant mind indeed.” respect­fully, “And unas­sum­ing with it. You always feel he’s work­ing out for­mulæ with a part of his mind while talk­ing eas­ily to one…”
“And the oth­er ?” Hand­slip enquired bluntly. Mr. Pigg nearly cringed.
“Um, Jam­ie. Well, he’s dif­fer­ent.”
“You mean, er, men­tally dis­turbed ?” with a faint shy­ness intrud­ing into the brusque­ness of the bald enquiry.
“Good God no ! And you’d bet­ter not ever hint of such a thing. I doubt if he’d care a rush,” bit­terly, “but any of the oth­ers, let alone his dear mama, would be very offen­ded if any­one con­sidered such a thing. No, he’s nor­mal enough, and bright enough, even if he doesn’t shine at school from all I hear.”
He sighed, Phil­ip­pa had con­fided at length enough times to weary him with the sub­ject; but hav­ing done badly him­self when young he was suf­fi­cently scep­tic­al to won­der if school­ing was as import­ant as it was cracked up to be. Con­versely he respec­ted bril­liance, and was anxious to get back to Paul’s men­tal prowess. In fact he had long decided nev­er to ini­ti­ate com­ment upon, or pro­long dis­cus­sion upon, James Egre­mont.

Well, what’s wrong with him ?” bluntly
Pigg looked around.
“Jam­ie,” pick­ing his words, “is not someone to annoy; or com­plain about; or piss off. Do not cri­ti­cise any of the fam­ily where he can hear you. He has a strong fam­ily feel­ing. I said the oth­ers are no trouble: one reas­on is that they… con­tin­ue, upon the lines he lays down. If any per­son con­fronts his feel­ings, or does some­thing he con­strues as unpleas­ant, things some­times hap­pen.” Del­ic­ately.
“You mean he’s one of these viol­ent youths ? Some kind of yob ?” won­der­ing what sort of brute was going to appear.
Pigg was shocked and amused. “He’s only 11 or 12 ! I for­get which; and weak with it. He’s as pretty as the girls in fact. I guess he’s bul­lied at school: but that’s there: in his patch, it’s dif­fer­ent. As say, an old-fashioned squire vis­it­ing Lon­don might be vul­ner­able in the great world, but mas­ter of his own domain; which was one reas­on they usu­ally pre­ferred to cul­tiv­ate their own gar­dens. With exper­i­ence he may be able to grow and handle parts of the great world. I hope not. Very cour­teous. They all are: but him the most. He’s the hid­den pat­ri­arch of a pat­ri­arch­al clan. They do what he dir­ects with only half know­ing the fact.”

You know we have an excel­lent Guy Fawkes Night and they all used to come. At least when it was the par­ents and the two older kids. Then the year before Mr. Egre­mont died that kid, he was very small, took again­st it  —  wasn’t scared by the bangs; some bloody non­sense about not lik­ing the Guy being burnt: he knew it was just a, a lay-figure, not real: but he still hated the idea. Now you or I would have left him at home with a baby-sitter, but they’ve nev­er come since. 

I can’t ima­gine how any­one would listen to a bloody tod­dler, Phil­ip­pa, well some­times I reckoned she was weak-minded or some­thing: I mean, yes well now, if he was my child, I’d prob­ably do pre­cisely what he said; life would be sim­pler that way, and he’s the sort of kid who would be right most of the time: but back then… he was so small. We thought well, she’s just lost a hus­band, that’s why not: but the next year they wouldn’t come. Asked her why not: ‘Jam­ie says it’s wrong to pre­tend to burn people, and you know, I think he’s right.’ Look, he… he wasn’t dom­in­ant back then, even in that weird fam­ily; he is now: back then he’d just argued at them. I’d have told him to take a run­ning jump; some fuck­ing small kid talk­ing back at me. Pity that because Chris­ti­an and Phil­ip­pa were always gen­er­ous about join­ing in vil­lage stuff.”

So does one have to show him one’s friendly ?” uneas­ily.
“What’s to prove ? Just be nice to him and don’t say any­thing to make his mother unhappy.”
“About him ?”
“No.” He laughed at the mis­take. “Not about him: about any­thing. What I meant was try nev­er to do aught that doesn’t con­duce to Philippa’s hap­pi­ness in life. Mrs. Hutchin­son, who is sep­ar­ated from her own hus­band, had a nervous break­down and moved away a year ago. She’d been snip­ing at Phil­ip­pa in the Mother’s Uni­on. Appar­ently someone pos­ted her phone num­ber as emer­gency coun­sel­lor for mar­it­al break­downs; a 24 Hour Plumb­ing con­sult­ant; and Police Liais­on Officer for the loc­al Police Author­ity, spe­cial­ising in all reports from con­cerned vic­tims for Follow-Up Action. I remem­ber that,” he con­tin­ued reflect­ively, “since it nev­er stopped after she denied the post in the loc­al rag, and the police, con­fused them­selves since half the time they’ve no idea what fur­ther idiocy the Home Office has shoved at them, not only didn’t deny any­thing, they even referred a few people to her. That was actu­ally the least annoy­ing thing that happened to her. Both boys have an unpleas­ant sense of humour. Unlike Paul he acts on it.”

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As I said they’re all polite; each will hold a con­ver­sa­tion nicely if you stop them and talk. The boys chat about guns a bit too much  —  the mech­an­ics,” hast­ily, “no fas­cin­a­tion with actu­ally using them at all  —  but then most lads think about that sort of thing. I did, expect you did. Paul will grow out of it and join the army. James won’t grow out of it, but I daresay he won’t ever bother to shoot a gun.
“Neither ever cracked even the hint of a smile at my name or mod­u­lated their inton­a­tion in any way; and believe me, when your name is Pigg, you cer­tainly get even a hint if people do. You look out for it.”
“Paul’s reck­less: he’ll always add the exact amount of yeast. The oth­er, well, he’s cau­tious: he’d put in a bit too much. Jamie’s idea of a hint is a car-bomb. Paul has poin­ted out he has no idea of min­im­um for­ce. In attack too much rather than just right. Double or treble strength in build­ing work. Won’t fall down in five hun­dred years, but waste­ful. He told me there were no def­in­ite max­ims in war, a flu­id busi­ness.”

OK, the boy’s a ter­ror, but how come people stand that sort of thing ?”
Mr. Pigg looked at him pity­ingly. Most of the time no proof, plus he is win­ning enough when you do things right. ‘Right’ being how he assesses you should behave.
“How do you know it’s him then ?” nat­ur­ally won­der­ing if it was just rumour, pos­sibly star­ted by the boy him­self to gain a repu­ta­tion. He expressed this dif­fid­ently
Pigg breathed deeply: “You don’t want that sort of repu­ta­tion. Not a rois­ter­ous cava­lier but the quiet kind of kings­man who would sud­denly hang half a dozen vil­la­gers then torch their homesteads because their favor­ite mare was stolen prob­ably drink­ing up deep quietly the while. Any­way you wouldn’t con­sider it rumour if you found eight dead rats hid­den about your home.”
Hand­slip looked sur­prised and con­fessed this had nev­er entered his house­hold oeconomy.

Pigg explained: “Guther­ing­ton, someone who was quite a friend of the fam­ily. Dis­covered a small but vibrant colony of rats were camp­ing out in the back alley, on a piece of land which, to be truth­ful, is not claimed by any­one, just a few yards square, any­way it’s a tip. So he got an air­gun and a couple of friends with air­guns, and spent a few hours act­ing out a mas­sacre of red injuns. The little blighter didn’t react in any way when they were told, Nancy most upset and scream­ing, but he seemed unin­ter­ested. Not even men­tion­ing that he had been feed­ing the fuck­ing pests and adop­ted them as friends. Three weeks later, after some extremely inter­est­ing smells had mani­fes­ted in the Guther­ing­ton domain, they began the pain­ful dis­cov­ery of a deceased rat; and then another; and the smell not dimin­ish­ing each day, another, until finally after pay­ing san­it­a­tion people to inspect the house, the grand total of eight had been found: all tucked away in the most unlikely places. It being another week before the last came to light, I under­stand that one was really not at all nice. It was quite a warm May.”
“If he’d kept the exist­ence of the rat fam­ily secret for their own safety, he’s quite pre­pared to lie about his sys­tem of revenge, so it’s no use tack­ling him at all. But sim­ple logic elim­in­ates most neigh­bours; and the oth­er youth around here would not go into someone’s house to revenge rodents.”

Hand­slip had sniggered a bit
“Not that amus­ing,” coldly, “yes the boy is a holy ter­ror, but also nev­er for­get he’s also nuts.”
“How so ?” com­pos­ing him­self.
“Well… he’s not hot on respect for eld­ers: I don’t mean he’s not very polite, but he doesn’t revere us any­more than oth­ers: he tries,”  —  an aggrieved note at the con­des­cen­sion mur­mured through  —  “quite obvi­ously at times” moodily “to be extremely polite to every­one. I tackled him once about this and explained that the older an adult was the more one should respect them.”
The little bug­ger looked at me like a great-grandfather and  —  politely  —  explained that respect was not due to any­one as an indi­vidu­al, even if earned, but had to be paid to all things as cre­ated beings. It was some­thing given not to be deman­ded. Then he got weird and explained that age although a real­ity was an illu­sion  —  how he com­bined the two, I mean this wasn’t reli­gious or philo­soph­ic­al, he really is not clev­er, I don’t know, just sil­li­ness really  —  but the total­ity of a per­son was that they exis­ted in all their ages at once, since the per­son at 80 was an exten­sion of the same per­son at 8 and vice ver­sa. And in Etern­ity.

Well, don’t people com­plain to his mother ? Or does that count as ‘both­er­ing her’ ?” asked the scep­tic­al Hand­slip.
Pigg looked thought­ful: “A moot point; but I reck­on it’s not that because he’s a fair little sod. He’d be quite will­ing to argue the mat­ter out with her. OK, she doesn’t spoil him at all, though she adores him: pity she doesn’t, he might be a lot more bear­able. If she’d stop push­ing him so hard about school par­tic­u­larly, he can’t help not being able: puts all his ener­gies in estab­lish­ing his pres­ence. No, the main reas­on is that he doesn’t leave evid­ence behind. Those sort are cun­ning if not clev­er. When he plans things  —  I’m not say­ing he puts a lot of think­ing into that, just roughs out a plan, tests it then expects to deal with mat­ters on the fly only if some­thing really unfore­seen occurs  —  he makes sure he’s covered the bases.”
Hand­slip: “Boys’ clev­erness is the most devi­ous and annoy­ing ingenu­ity in the world. Explains why they’re best at cre­at­ive art when older;” he put up a hand, “yes, I know this chap’s not of a high men­tal stand­ard: but I mean in that clev­erness where­in they dir­ect their ener­gies.”
“He does that all right.” moodily. Some­how he felt bet­ter at hav­ing spoken so freely about the bête noire, so con­trary to his usu­al prac­tice

Doubbel, the retired butcher. There was an old aban­doned man­nequin  —  male, half fall­ing down, left on a skip at the dress-shop last May. Heav­en knows why they had a male one left over; dis­cuss­ing it with the non-committal Paul later, he told me his dear brother had sug­ges­ted the old bird who ran the shop had brought it in to make the female mod­els feel wanted. That’s what I mean, a deeply unkind mind. Mind you,” reluct­antly, “think­ing about Mrs. Toye, now I can well ima­gine it might have been true: she was a dizzy old bird. Any­way, it dis­ap­peared. No-one thought any­thing about it, nor would have, until Doubbel came down for break­fast one morn­ing and found the fuck­ing thing seated in the loun­ge on his own chair. In a cloak. With horns added and the usu­al appur­ten­ances of the Dev­il.”
“Beard made from wool and a couple of rams’ horns found some­where. What sort of bloody mind is that ? Nearly gave him a seizure. Swapped homes half a year later. Explained he could nev­er feel the same way about the house after that. More import­antly: how do you prove some­thing like that ? We know who we sus­pect, but there wasn’t even a particle of evid­ence, and who­ever it was came in through the win­dow. Not that locks bother him. Fam­ily firm all con­nec­ted with damned locks. Prob­ably unlatched the door to bring it in, then locked up from the inside and went out back the win­dow. Little bas­tard.”
Break­ing and enter­ing ? That’s illeg­al.”
“He nev­er breaks and enters. Read up law. He might tres­pass for five minutes, but that’s about all you could com­plain of. And no-one has ever gone to the police. They’re bloody use­less half the time. I reck­on half of them around here are stu­dents build­ing up a bit of good pay in tem­por­ary work: no ded­ic­a­tion. Any­way he’s not a thief, noth­ing has ever gone miss­ing. Just mis­chief.”

Well, there was once someone went to the police, but that was for insur­ance: the Whit­takers at 34. Had run over The Run­yons’ dog, poodle. OK, freez­ing weather and prob­ably skid­ded, but weren’t con­cerned. Week later some­body had emerged in the wee small hours, con­nec­ted to the out­side tap, and hosed the out­side walls patiently for quite a while. Who’s going to see that at three in the morn­ing ? Wore rags around the boots, no pat­tern in the snow; no trail lead­ing down the lane. They found it was like star­ing through three of those old-fashioned circled sweet-shop win­dows at once the ice was so thick. And because it seemed a little chilly inside they put up the heat­ing full blast. Cracked half the win­dows. A not unin­ten­ded bonus for the per­pet­rat­or no doubt.”
They didn’t sus­pect James. He’d nev­er spoken to them or they to he. We didn’t sug­gest it,” See­ing Handslip’s sur­prise, he shrugged, “Well, they weren’t that nice as people any­way. But we guessed.”
“D’don’t, you think… you might be ascrib­ing to him all the things oth­ers do, some­times ?”
“The day before I heard him play­ing Tosca very loudly. That was a good enough clue for me.”

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