Chapter 22a


Salisbury, November 10, 6 PM


The short autumn day was drawing to a close with a long drab twilight as they drove.  Ivan said, “Jon.  Get on the computer and see if you can find out if the Montgomery house is open tonight.”


Jon hunted around the internet and finally found tourist information.  The house was still open this late in the year, but its hours were restricted.  It had closed already at four in the afternoon and would not reopen until ten in the morning. 


“That’s a pity,” said Hapgood.  “It’s not that long a drive from here.  And for a while I think our friends back there will be trying to explain things to the police.”


“They’ll get it together soon enough,” said Ivan.  “But we ought to be safe holing up for a few hours in Salisbury.  Plenty of tourists there even this time of year.”


They found an old inn with half timbered construction.  The builders had put up a framework of squared beams and then had plastered stones into the triangular spaces formed by the crossing of the beams.  If all you had to work with was an axe and adze and a shovel, it was an excellent way to build a tight house.  The most durable structure is pure stone, but that requires enormous skill and effort either to shape the stone to its purpose or to select from a collection of tons the exact stone to fit into a wall that will hold it together.  Dry stone architecture none the less was having a bit of a revival. 


Brick walls could never outlast the mortar which held them together, and the secret of truly durable cement had vanished with the Romans.  Bricks dated back to the oldest city of the all, Jericho, but despite their sturdy feel they were a measure temporary as the mortar.  In the New World, the Shakers invented the circular saw.  This made cutting a squared beam into planks a trifling matter, and the clapboard building became popular, although it was always known to be a draughty fire trap.


But in Europe, where timber had always been available, where stone and mortar could be found, and where cold wet wind was a major concern, in Europe the half timbered building was dowager queen of architecture.  It even looked snug.  The age of the design was beyond guess.  Doll houses had been discovered in the Balkan region that dated to before the copper age.  The doll houses are clearly models of the two story half timbered homes the children must have been growing up in.  More classical archeological techniques revealed that the people lived in well planned cities of more than one hundred thousand with straight streets and public buildings.  And then it all vanished with the arrival of the Bronze Age, of tribalism, of incessant war. 


But the inn seemed peaceful.  There was dancing in a lounge on the ground floor.  The four rented a small suite of rooms with beveled glass windows that looked out onto the Salisbury Cathedral itself.  Tracy flopped into a chair and said, “This is so nice.  Let’s stay in the room here until morning and then drive on in.”


Ivan said, “I know we’re all tired.  But we need to keep moving.  If we lock the door and go into siege mode, we’ll just sit around getting scared.  Then we won’t think clearly.  Let’s just be tourists and go look at the cathedral.”


They crossed the street to where the cathedral stood illuminated against the darkening sky.  “The original cathedral stood north of here at a place called Old Sarum,” said Hapgood.  “It’s right on our line.  The town was there, but it was on very high ground, so when the cathedral was hit by lighting and burned, they decided to move to a place where there was water, fertile soil and they’d be out of the way of lighting. 


“So they moved right down the line,” said Jon.


“The story is that they decided to shoot an arrow from the site of the old cathedral and build the new one where the arrow fell.  Well the arrow struck a deer, which started off running and finally fell and died right here.”


“Convenient,” said Tracy. “It’s right next the river.”


“There is a connection with the goddess Diana,” Hapgood continued.  “The deer is sacred to Diana, and she is goddess of archery as well.  Some say that there is a connection between Diana and the reverence for the Virgin Mary.”


“What connection is that?” asked Jon.


“For one thing here was a major temple to Diana in the town of Ephesus in Asia Minor.  It is said that Mary was born there and went there after she vanished from scripture to spend the rest of her life.  Diana was so well loved that the people of the town, when they became Christianized and were destroying the old pagan monuments, took the statue of Diana down and buried it with great care, so that it exists to this day.


“More to the point, there was a belief that the protection of the goddess extended as far from the temple as an arrow could be shot from a bow.  It may be coincidence, but the connection with the story of this place seems very strong.


“The temple itself was demolished, but there is a rumor that somewhere in Istanbul there is an enormous cistern to hold water for a siege.  They built the cistern out of odds and ends of stone from classical times.  One of the columns is unlike any other ancient column.  Mostly they were fluted, and columns have been decorated with spirals and bands.  But this one was very beautiful and was decorated with vines and knobs.  If it exists, some think it is the last column from the Temple of Diana at Ephesus.” 


“This cathedral is beautiful,” said Tracy.  “I like it all lit up like that.”


“It was beautiful before electric lights, too,” said Hapgood a little sadly.  “About a hundred years ago somebody went around and took photographs of all the English cathedrals by moonlight.  Usually moonlight is very harsh in a photograph, like sunlight.  But the very long exposure times he had to use gave the moon time to move, and that softened the light.  It was a wonderful collection.”


Repairs were being done, but the sanctuary was still open.  They went inside and gazed at the vast space.


“Notice the gothic columns,” said Hapgood.  “Instead of a single mass of stone they are carved to look like a bundle of much smaller columns.  The result is a scalloped surface, much like folds in a woman’s skirt.”


He gazed upward.  “You can see how distorted the building is.  It was originally built in Old English Gothic style, very delicate.  Later they decided to add the immense tower in Perpendicular Gothic style.  But as you see, there is no support directly under the center of the tower.  The weight had to be carried by the fabric of the walls.  It was more than they were designed for.  The building began to collapse.  Over here, they marked where the center of the spire ought to be and where it had swung to.  Up there you can see where the stone itself has deformed under the weight from above.  Most people think you can’t bend stone.


“They added some support, and for a while the repair held.  But it started to sag again, and they are adding more support.”  The ongoing work was being done from scaffolds mostly hidden by hanging cloth. 


They found an ancient clock preserved in the sanctuary, and they learned that one of the original copies of the Magna Charta was kept here.


As they completed the tour Jon said, “Nice architecture, but they could have used some better engineering consultants.  Buildings aren’t supposed to fall over.”


“Oh there’s an old tradition of cathedrals falling,” said Hapgood.  “They almost lost the one at Winchester.  Some say it is the site of old Camelot, Kind Arthur’s castle.  The only evidence is a round table on display.  And in the oldest part of the construction there is masonry built of rubble and old stones cemented together.  Some of the stones are neatly dressed square, but tossed in like the other rocks.  One might suppose there had been a much older building.

“When they first began to build
Winchester they started at the east end and dug down to the gravel of the river bed to lay the foundations.  But as they got closer to the river they could not keep water from oozing in.  The cathedral, of course, was far bigger than anything practical.  They didn’t need that much space for services.  It was that size in an act of piety to glorify God.  Apparently the swamp wasn’t happy with that and frustrated them as soon as the building was bigger than what they actually needed. 


“But they built huge rafts of oak, which they weighted with stones and sank and laid the foundations on that.”


“They should have used cypress,” said Ivan.  “It lasts forever under water.”


“The New World would not be discovered for some centuries.  But as you guess, the logs rotted and the cathedral started to come down.  Cracks opened, letting sunlight into the crypts.  Walls swayed out of true.  Towers tottered.  They propped it up as best they could and dug down to see what the problem was.  That’s when they discovered the old logs.  Well they decided that it was the twentieth century, and they had technology and electric pumps so they set about digging down to fix it right.  But peat moss clogged the pumps, banks caved in, pumps fell in and by the end they were worse off than ever.


“They found a diver who was willing to work under those walls.  For two years, unable to see through the peat in the water and so cold his hands were numb he worked at the foundations.  And now she stands, bedded on the gravel, secure at last.”


“I hope they thanked the diver,” said Tracy.


“There’s a statue to him.”  Then he added impishly, “Of course the diver said it was secure.  Probably nobody else has been down to check.”


They had supper and made their way back to the inn.  As they did, the man at the desk called them over.


“Excuse me, but this will mean I don’t have to disturb you with a phone call.  What time will you be having breakfast in the morning?”


Eight o’clock will do,” said Jon.


“Right O.  And what will you wish to have?”


“What’s the choice?” asked Jon.


“Anything really, any common breakfast food.  We can arrange it for you.”


“Ham and eggs,” said Jon.


“Ham and eggs,” said Ivan.


“Ham and eggs,” said Hapgood. 


“Well, I’m just going to be weird and have ham and eggs,” said Tracy.  She stood there watching the man punch a keyboard as the others went up to the rooms.


As the man concluded Tracy asked, “Why is it taking you so long?”


“We don’t actually prepare the meals here any longer.  We order the food over the internet.  They’ll bring it straight to your room.  This way we can offer a far greater variety and much more flexibility than anything we could do in a cost effective way …”


He trailed off.  Tracy was bolting up the stairs.


The men were just beginning to settle into chairs and think about relaxing when Tracy burst in with, “They ordered breakfast over the internet.”  She spun and locked the door.


“Grab sheets,” said Ivan.  He turned off the light and opened the window.  There was a rain gutter about four feet down.  The others had taken sheets from the beds and silently followed his gesture to go out the window. 


Ivan paused to lock the window with his knife, and they ran down the rain gutter toward the back of the inn.  Behind them they could hear their door explode under the first impact of a battering ram.  The good talent had arrived.


They had just worked their way past a gable and out of sight when they heard their window opening. 


Just as there is no code that cannot be broken if used too often, there is no knot that cannot be eventually untied.  Thus there is no safe way to knot sheets together and slide down them.  But the most treacherous knot of all for such use is the square not.  Sliding over it will trip it.


They crouched in the darkest corner they could find while Ivan did his best to make secure knots.  Then he tied the chain of sheets to a pipe and started down.  “Don’t hang onto the knots,” he said.


One by one they followed him down to the cobbled alley and sped into the dark. 


The sheets would be an arrow pointed directly at their backs, but there was no help for it.  As they ran in silence Ian was looking up.  If they could gain height they might stretch this out.  And then he saw – bless modern fire codes – an iron fire escape.  Ivan raised a hand to bring them to a halt and then stood under the counterweight.  Jumping as high as he could, he got a hand on the weight and shoved.  The iron mechanism creaked and grumbled as if it thought this was not what it was supposed to be about at all, but it started moving, and Jon was able to jump up and catch the bottom step.


They ran up two floors before they found a way onto the sloping slate roof.  It was slow going, but one roof led to the next so that they were able to work their way most of the length of the block with whatever silence they could manage.  Then in the dark Hapgood stepped on something slick.  His feet went and he slid down the slates.  There was no rain gutter on this building.  He went over the side.


Hapgood put his legs out to stop himself.  In the dark and off balance his legs were not straight beneath him.  He wound up executing a fairly presentable Davis roll and lay sprawled on the pavement.  The others climbed down a pipe to help him, but by the time they had arrived we was up.  Nothing seemed broken.  One side of his rump was going to be very sore, but until he cooled down and stiffened it was serviceable.  He gave them a thumbs up, and they darted away again. 


They moved at an angle to the old cathedral, seeking the oldest and crookedest passages they could find.  Few people were strolling the street by this time, and those who were seemed sufficiently beery not to protest a motley gang of fugitives flitting through the shadows.


At last down a dark alley with a view of illuminated street at either end they crouched in a doorway to catch their breath.  Jon whispered, “How far from the cathedral is the protection of that goddess supposed to reach?”


Incongruously Ivan moved his head to orient himself to the great tower.  As he did a crossbow bolt thudded into the door behind them, burying itself an inch into the wood.


“Thanks, Diana,” thought Ivan as he sprinted in the direction the bolt had come from.  Shadowed by an angle in the alley a man was swiftly resetting his weapon.  Ivan stripped it from his hands and knocked the man senseless.  Fortunately the marksman had not been the brightest bulb in the batch.  He did not recognize the instant when silence ceased to be his friend and became his enemy.  He slumped to the pavement without having uttered a word.  Ivan grabbed three bolts from the man’s belt.


Then they were out of the alley and dashing heedlessly across the street through traffic.  Down another alley and taking a left past some garbage cans they found a passage that revealed the old stone town wall at the other end.  That was promising.


As they started toward the wall, a familiar model motorcycle engine screamed behind them.  Ivan whirled and raised the crossbow.  There was no way to get a glimpse of the driver.  All they could see was the beacon of the single headlamp.  No sane driver with honest intentions would bear down in the dark on a man aiming a crossbow at him, but Ivan decided not to risk killing some innocent but inattentive bystander.  He put a bolt where he reckoned the front tire ought to be, and sure enough the machine and rider went down without a cry of protest, although with a moan of pain.


They made for the town wall. 


There was a flight of stone steps leading upward.  They pelted up the steps and turned to run the perimeter toward the side of town close to the river.  As they ran, a grappling hook came up over the side of the wall, shortly followed by a man in a hood and a black cloak.  Ivan swept the hook from the wall with his foot and heard the man falling into bushes, but then more hooks came over the wall in front of them and behind.


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