Beeches and Bluebells — Giles Watson's poetry and prose
Badbury Clump, near Faringdon, Oxfordshire.
HINGEFINKLE'S LOGBOOK (Eighth Instalment)
From Slime to Civilisation
or How to Train a Frog
“But wait a minute,” you will no doubt say. “What about Llew Llaw Gyffes? And what happened to King Math and Codpiece after Agrimony turned them into frogs? Your way of telling stories does leave something to be desired, Hingefinkle, for half of your characters seem to disappear without trace. It really is most frustrating.”
And I shall reply, “On the contrary! It really is the most reprehensible of faults in a storyteller when, having once begun to narrate his tale from a certain limited viewpoint, he suddenly introduces selected elements which could only be known from the perspective of an Omniscient Being. Such a charlatan is not worthy of the name of Bard, and the informed reader will find his methods quite frustrating. Why, I would not blame his victim for shouting ‘Cheat! You insult my intelligence!’ and storming infuriatedly from the room.”
For the fact is that, at the time when Atropa and Amanita ceased their rampage, neither Agrimony, Gladys or I had any idea what had happened to any of them. In the days that followed, having pieced together various testimonies from the few remaining people in the village, we deduced that the Goblins had indeed made Llew Llaw their titular head of state, and for a while things seemed to go swimmingly between them. But at last, Llew Llaw had baulked at one of Scabpicker’s strategies, and in the ensuing argument, Scabpicker had hurled a spear at him. Here the narratives diverged, for some said that Llew Llaw ended up pinned stone dead to the wall, while others maintained that the moment the spear hit him, he was transformed into an eagle and flew away. Agrimony, being of a prosaic disposition, inclined to favour the former narrative; I the latter, for as everyone knows, that had happened to Llew Llaw once before. In any case, there seemed little doubt that Scabpicker had plumbed the depths of Llew Llaw’s heart, so that at the last, Llew Llaw had stood firm and refused to compromise any further.
But what of King Math and Codpiece? If you have been attentive, you will remember that Agrimony disdained to fill out notification forms after he had turned them into frogs, so that his little spell was not on the books of the local Druid fraternity, but even so, in the weeks which followed our strange deliverance, I could tell that the incident was weighing heavily on his conscience. Still, he procrastinated for several weeks more, so that it was only when the Hermitage had been restored after the ravages of its Goblin occupation, and Agrimony and I sat before the fire meditating on our tribulations, that he at last decided to unburden himself.
“You know Hingefinkle,” he said suddenly, “I really do have some qualms about having turned that ridiculous King and his imbicilic Fool into amphibians. They may have been two of the most aggravating specimens of humanity ever to have walked the earth, but they were, at least, relatively harmless. Besides, after nine years of Goblin hegemony, a few decades of mismanagement and dodgy revenue raising by King Math would probably seem like paradise.”
“Hum,” I replied, blowing smoke rings with my beloved pipe, which, thankfully, the Goblins had left unused, “well, I have had quite enough of politicians to last me a lifetime, and besides, how do you propose to find them, amongst the seven-and-a-half-million frogs which, by my own estimate, inhabit the Rancid Swamp? You can’t exactly turn them back into hominids in situ. They would drown.”
“Quite so,” said Agrimony with a frown. “But if Gladys can invent an astrolabe, and a microscope, and a pocket-watch, and an iron-ore extractor, and a giant mousetrap for the catching of Hydras, I daresay she can invent a way out of this problem too. If we could just get her to attract all the frogs from the Rancid Swamp onto dry land, then I could cast the reversal spell, and we could find Math and Codpiece by a simple process of elimination.”
Now that, I had to admit, did sound rather interesting, and Agrimony was soon cursing and grumbling as Snowdrop (who had survived the Goblin hegemony remarkably well - don’t ask me how) plodded his way down the path towards the workshop of Gladys Sparkbright.
“Eeee, by gum, Ah’m raht glad yer’ve come,” said Gladys as she brewed the tea. “Lahfe is lonely arahnd ‘ere now all me colleagues ‘ave gone. An’ inventin’s not th’ same when thar’s nowt to invent, and nobody ter admire wot yer do invent. Ah’m thinkin’ o’ movin’ away from these parts, yer know, an’ startin’ up afresh.”
“Hum,” I said, “do you know, Gladys, I have been getting itchy feet too. Perhaps we should go exploring togther.”
Gladys’s mood brightened visibly; even the knitting needles seemed to tremble with anticipation. “Now that’s wot Ah call an insp’ration! ‘Splorin’, yer say? Aye, that sounds grand, me duck! A chance ter test out th’ new plates fer me astrolabes, not ter mention th’ new chronometer for th’ determinin’ o’ longitudes!”
“Oh, no you don’t,” said Agrimony grumpily, “I’m not having you two going off on some hare-brained mystery tour, not before you’ve helped me to get all of the frogs out of the Rancid Swamp!”
“Frogs?” said Gladys, “Why, if it’s frogs yer after, yer oughter talk ter Bufo Croaktrapper, th’ younger brother o’ Otto Baconrasher!”
“Indeed,” said Agrimony. “And where might I find him?”
“Ah don’t rahtly know. Ran away o’er th’ sea lahk t’others, no doubt. Raht bright lad, ee was, an’ all. Got ‘imself a foreign scholarship ter study th’ matin’ calls o’ frogs an’ toads, so ‘e did. Most promisin’ young lad, tho’ a bit adventurous in th’ kitchen fer mah lahkin’.”
“Is that so?” said Agrimony. “I don’t suppose, by any chance, that he shared his brother’s interest in magical recordings?”
“Interest?” laughed Gladys, “Ee were obsessed by ‘em. Thar’s a whole archive o’ amphibian calls on t’ thirty-eighth floor!”
And so it was that we found ourselves standing once more at the edge of the Rancid Swamp, beneath the rusty remains of Gladys Sparkbright’s giant mousetrap, listening to a strange recital of the mating calls of the genus Ranidae, while Gladys wildly turned the handle of the wooden contraption which reproduced them. As the light began to fade, I had the distinct impression that the tide was coming in on the Rancid Swamp, but since swamps are not usually very tidal, I rubbed my eyes and looked again, and realised to my astonishment that the experiment was working. Or, at least, it seemed to be working, for what I had at first taken for an influx of swamp water was in fact a seemingly endless flood of frogs who, once they were on dry land, congregated patiently and with great devotion around Gladys Sparkbright’s apparatus. I picked up a few of the frogs and examined them. Then I gave a despairing sigh.
“Hum. Agrimony, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but all of these frogs are females. I rather think we need the males if we are going to find Codpiece and King Math.”
“Eeee, well, why didn’t yer say?” interrupted Gladys consolingly. “Yer’ll be wantin’ me ter change th’ frequency! There! Now that’s better! This ‘ere is th’ typical Ah’ve-got-a-mate-an’-you-can’t-‘ave-‘er call o’ th’ male. Just you watch!”
Sure enough, the ground at our feet was soon swarming with irate male frogs. Some of them wasted no time in climbing atop the nearest female frog, but the more pessimistic among them evidently thought that these female frogs must be inferior to the one that their unseen rival was boasting about, and they sat around looking gloomy and licking their eyes with their tongues. At last, the incoming tide of frogs seemed to diminish, and we stared about ourselves awestruck, for to the north, south and west of us, the ground was one heaving mass of amphibian flesh for as far as the eye could see.
“Fiddlesticks!” I cried. “I think you had better get on with it, Agrimony. Some of these frogs don’t look too friendly.” And indeed, as I spoke, it seemed as though the frogs began to draw even closer around us, until it was impossible to move one’s feet without committing amphibiocide.
It was, therefore not a moment too soon that Agrimony began intoning his spell:
Long is the route from newt to man,
Hard the road from newt to toad,
An age i’th’ bog ‘twixt toad and frog
Who sits for aeons atop his log.
O! Dark earth’s force! Speed nature’s course!
O! Slimy thing! Become the King!
O! Earth, revolve! This curse resolve!
I command you to evolve!
And, before my eyes, the two frogs closest to my feet - a great, fat one and a little, scrawny one - slowly grew scales and began to turn into reptiles. They seemed somewhat distressed by this metamorphosis at first, and indeed, had only just reconciled themselves to their new, entirely terrestrial forms when the little one, which I took to be Codpiece, suddenly sprouted fur. Within moments there were two archetypal-looking mammals scurrying around at my feet, and over the space of about an hour the poor, bewildered creatures passed through a plethora of transitional forms on the way to becoming anthropoid apes. By midnight, it was safe to say that we had King Math and Codpiece back again, and they were not happy about it, I can tell you.
“Ribitwoofeyoreugh!” said King Math, trying to regain his composure and dignity. “We are the King! We will not be treated in this manner! We do not take kindly to having to spend nine years, three months, seven days, six hours and twenty-two minutes eluding pike in the Rancid Swamp. It is decidedly beneath our dignity.”
“Verily, merrily! Hop, flop, plop!” cried Codpiece in agreement. “Not to mention the giant multicoloured axolotls! Methinks, m’lord, you should chop of ye head of ye perpetrator of this heinous and irreverent crime. Yes indeed! Chop, plop! Plop, flop and tiddly-widdly!”
“I seem to remember,” Agrimony pointed out sternly, “that you were trying to do something of the kind when you got yourselves into this mess. Besides, you should be thanking me. A bit of exercise undertaken in order to elude the odd marauding pike or axolotl is nothing compared to languishing in a Goblin’s prison. I advise you to look on the bright side, before I let you try the experiment again from the tadpole phase.” He lifted his staff threateningly, and I must say, I have never seen King Math look so repentant.
“Well,” he said, “since you put it that way, perhaps we can find it in our hearts to forgive you after all. But let there be no mistake. We are the King. We will never again allow our power to be usurped.”
Agrimony stooped and pulled something round and white from beneath the frogs who were still clamouring and flailing at his feet. It was unmistakably the skull of a Goblin. “Do you know, King Math,” he said with a rueful chuckle, “I am compelled to admit that I am glad to hear it.” And then he gazed at the undulating landscape around him, glistening slimily in the moonlight. “Gladys, I don’t suppose that by any chance this contraption of yours has any other frequency options?”
“Aye, it does, me duck. Wot would yer lahke it ter say?”
“I suggest you try something short, simple, and to-the-point,” said Agrimony. “Something to the effect of Go away! should suffice.”
Badbury Rings — туристическая достопримечательность, одна из Укрепленные холмы в городе Shapwick, Великобритания. Он расположен: 463 км от Лондон, 550 км от Бирмингем, 890 км от Ливерпуль. Читать далее