Chapter 23a


Montgomery House, November 11, 10 AM


It was drizzling as the bus driver rolled his eyes.  His American passengers, the last to board, managed to be the first off.  They hurried to pay and enter the Great House of Montgomery.  Once inside they inquired if they could speak with the master of the house.  The guide seemed skeptical, but he took their names and returned to say that they would be met in the polo room.  They were conducted to a room decorated with paintings of the sport, some horse tack, trophies, mallets and a small bar. 


Montgomery House dated back to Elizabethan times.  It had had many upgrades since then.  The building reflected a number of architectural styles.  Most distinctively, the main building was surrounded by a moat, which also surrounded a lone round tower.  This tower had few windows beyond loopholes suitable for archers.  It had a small door with a narrow drawbridge that could be dropped to the bank of the moat.  It communicated with the main portion of the building by another drawbridge from high up the tower to a door in the top floor of the building.  The tower was a bit of sentimentality, not actually as old as it looked.


The front had a wide porch running the length of it with a balustrade surmounted by statues.  There were some additional ornamental architectural features along it.  Below was a luxurious boxwood hedge.  There were enormous windows along the front of the building, amounting to tall doors that led onto the porch. Towers and chimneys rose from the roof. 


Montgomery was one of a number of country houses Churchill used as weekend retreats while he was prime minister during the hectic and perilous days of World War II.  There is a story that as things got grimmer and duties of defense more pressing the prime minister decided to institute a seven day week.  However he found that he had been getting so much done over the weekends that he resumed a normal week and contemplated a three day weekend. 


There is a story that Shakespeare himself once preformed in the palace, that the chemist Boyle had visited and that the tune, “Green Sleeves” had been written here.  


Presently a young man came in and spoke cheerfully.  "I am Lanier Montgomery.  My father does not wish to see you.  But he tells me I have his complete confidence and that you may deal with me.  Grandfather is off fishing somewhere."


Jon thought, "That is a diplomatic way to put it.  Your grandfather must be about ninety."


Lanier strode over to the bar and lifted a decanter.  "Would you like some claret?"


"A little early for me," said Jon.  The others declined as well.


"Of course.  How thoughtless of me.  In America the sun has not yet reached the top of Mount Kitaden, much less risen above the yardarm."  He poured himself a goblet, took a sip and put it aside before going on.


"We Montgomery's have always drunk claret.  I believe you Americans call it 'Bordeaux.'  You can tell the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy by the shape of the bottle.  Bordeaux bottles have the square shoulder.  Burgundy bottles are tapered.  St. Emilion wine comes from right beside the Bordeaux area and has the same shape of bottle.  But the oddity is the wine from the land of 'Oc.'  That meant 'yes' in a language once spoken there.  It sounds rather German, doesn't it?  The people were wiped out during the Albigensian crusade.  Something about Cathars.  But the wine is quite acceptable.


"So what brings you to our little cottage?"


They explained as best they could the sequence of events.  Lanier listened closely and then said, "So it seems that what is on the table either is or is not the extinction of the human race."


"So it seems," said Jon.


"And the cure, if I am following you, is to restrict ones choice of spouse not just to the same religion and nationality, not just to the same town but virtually to the same extended family."


"We hadn't gotten that far."


"Right.  Well it seems to me that there are some advantages and some disadvantages to what you say.  If this is true, it would do much to explain why we have wars.  They are merely an occasion for separating people.  The hostility encourages everyone to stay closer to home, even for spouse selection. 


"Then there is the question of why people look so different.  The scientists claim that the differences we see are very superficial.  There are some small adaptations to intensity of sunlight and resistance to cold.  But they are not highly effective.  It is said that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun, and neither mad dogs nor Englishmen are particularly darkly complected.  At all events, sunlight and cold do not go far to explain our remarkable variety.  But if at some time in the past, these cosmetic differences we do have permitted people to sort themselves out for reproductive purposes, and if that was a successful thing, then the differences would have become imprinted upon us.


"I suppose that following the same logic, one could imagine that the widespread preoccupation with the bum could be explained as well.  It is a very peculiar human feature.  No animal, not even a horse, has a proper one.  If one is attracted to such a thing, at least one is assured that one is not enamored of a baboon.  These are advantages of the idea you propose."


"Yes," said Jon.


"But let us look at some of the disadvantages.  For one thing, if it is true and if it is a secret, it must be about the worst kept secret on earth.  Imagine the headline on the tabloids, 'British Aristocrat Wishes to Wed Another British Aristocrat - World Stunned.'  Or if failing to breed true results in loss of children and the fall of nations, it might read, 'British Aristocracy Seen Plotting to Take Over the World - Nonsense, Says Queen, We Were Going to Give it All Back at the End.'


"People have been worrying about their ancestors for a long time.  It should not take all this to bring up the question of whether one’s choice of ancestors determines ones hope of progeny."


"Perhaps they don't know what is really at stake," said Jon.


"True.  And perhaps emotions supervene; the concept of ancestors might become mixed up with notions of status and snobbery, obscuring any ideas about fertility.  But even horse breeders should be privy to this secret, if it exists.  A horse may be a thoroughbred and race against other thoroughbreds only if it can confidently be shown to be pure thoroughbred.  If bringing into the line some, say, quarter horse blood produced a faster horse but that resulted after many repeats in an infertile horse, they would not permit it.  Most of the money is made by putting a winner out to stud."


"The offspring of a hybrid would be unpredictable," said Ivan.


"Precisely," said Lanier.  "And that would account for what they do.  Their silence is unaccountable if they know that multiple crossbreeding destroys fertility and do not tell us.”


“It would mean a lot of people keeping a secret for no good reason,” said Hapgood. 


“Yes.  And the final disadvantage of your idea is that at this moment all you have to go on is a scrap of paper you found on the floor.”


“It looks like someone or some ones are either trying to help us or messing with our minds in the worst way,” said Jon.  “We were rather hoping you could help us on that one.”


“Well I can’t tell you … that’s because I don’t know, by the way.  Apparently my father did receive word you might come, but even he may not know much more.  There are many secret organizations of men in the world, the ones that you have seen chasing and tormenting you being very much a case in point.  Let us take a stroll around.”


They explored the splendid halls, the room where Shakespeare was said to have performed and the painting gallery.  “We are particularly fond of our French painters,” said their cheerful host.  “French painters and French wine, it must be some sort of congenital weakness of the will.  Here is one by Poussin.  Ah, I think we have a print of another in the gift shop.”


In the gift shop he picked up a print of “The Shepherds of Arcadia.”  He called, “Miss Trillie, I am taking one of these prints.  Mark it down to me.”


A musical voice replied, “Yes, Mr. Montgomery.”


“You already have a copy of this in one of your books.  But you might take this one with you, too.  He did the painting more than once, and this may be slightly different from what you have.”


A thin man of formal bearing approached.  He looked like he might have been a butler.   “There are some men sneaking around the house, Mr. Montgomery.  They have the appearance of mercenary soldiers in private employ.”


“Very good Mr. Jenkins.  If you would be so good, we shall have to clear the tourists.  Tell them than a tourist has been found to have a repulsive and highly contagious disease.  We will disinfect, and of course they may return tomorrow, or phone if that is inconvenient and we shall admit them at their pleasure.  Then notify the staff to prepare to defend the house.  The rest of the staff should go upstairs, where it will be safer.  And be sure that Terrance is looked after.”


“At once.”  Mr. Jenkins moved away quickly but gracefully.


Mr. Ivan, if you would help by getting the others upstairs with the staff, perhaps Mr. Jon would stay down here with me for a bit.”


The others left while Lanier led Jon to a cabinet, from which he took two rifles.  Terrence is your father?” Jon asked.


“Yes.  We are very informal around here.  Now these pieces are sturdy and accurate, but I fear they are bolt action.  You will need to reload after every shot.”  He lifted out two boxes of shells and gave one to Jon.


“Shouldn’t we get into that tower?” Jon asked.


Lanier spoke quickly as he led the way along the front, testing doors and adjusting an occasional curtain.  “There is hardly need for that yet.  There was a time when that would be the first thing to do, but the Templars you spoke of realized during the crusades that a castle must be a means of attack as well as defense.  The Normans would build a strong tower with a small door and feel they had done their job.  But if you imagine such an arrangement, it is excellent for a short period of passive survival, but if an outside army approaches it, they need but secure the door.  Then you are in prison, and they have not been put to the trouble even of identifying you. 


“So the crusaders built castles with enormous entries defended by a dropping grate called a portcullis.  You could attack in sorti from the entrance, and upon returning the gate dropped behind you.  Adding a drawbridge had the extra advantage that the bridge could be raised with enemy soldiers upon it.  If they did not jump clear, they were caught between portcullis and bridge, where they were easy targets.  Loping a few in half by dropping the portcullis did no harm either.


“We do not have such amenities, but we shall do with what we have.  Fortunately that does include towers at the corners.”


As he spoke, they entered such a round tower and saw two men creeping along the side wall.  Lanier fired a warning shot, and the men fled.


“A fortified wall is all very good, but the corner is vulnerable.  Men standing just outside a corner can only be struck by a man just inside the corner.  That man, the one inside, has hostile archers on three sides and can be expected to have a short career.  Besides a corner is a convenient place to engage a battering ram.”


They made their way to another tower and flushed away another mercenary.  Mr. Jenkins appeared.  “The family is upstairs, Mr. Montgomery.  And I put in a call to the authorities.”


“Excellent, Mr. Jenkins.  And now if you would be so kind as to rake the front lawn.  Perhaps Mr. Hapgood would be willing to help you.”


“Of course.”  And Jenkins was gone again. 


“The round tower had great advantages, but with the advent of cannon it provided a poor gun deck.  A star shaped fort might seem ideal, there is one in Naples, with each corner flanked by two walls, but it gave limited command at a distance.”  He looked through a curtain and slowly opened one of the floor-to-ceiling windows.  “Take cover behind the door frame.  I shall test their resolve.” 


The mercenaries were beginning to fall back.  Lanier picked one off the porch, and the others took cover behind some potted plants.  “The ultimate evolution of the fort was a square with pentagonal towers at the corners.  That lasted until your gentleman Lee demonstrated that in the presence of efficient fire arms, there is more protection in digging down than in building upward.”


A large China pot arced down from above and vanished behind a plant pot about fifteen feet from the wall.  There was a splash indicating it had been filled with water and a scream indicating that one more mercenary would now trouble them little.


“That would be Mabel.  I buy earthenware from American stores, sort of an example of where our culture is.  Mabel hates them and destroys them with the slightest excuse.  The result is that she has developed quite an arm.”


Another pot came down smashing a man beyond a pot twenty five feet from the wall.


Mable?” said Lanier.


Ivan, I think,” said Jon. 


Elsewhere around the building they could hear other dropped objects finding their marks.


They worked their guns in earnest and soon had the deck clear.  Lanier led a sprint to the opposite corner, and they reentered a tower.


“Your own national fort, the Pentagon, is shaped like a single tower of a classical fort. In crude outline it is little better than a square, no flanking fire possible at the perimeter.  But I should hate to have to besiege it.”


The history lesson was interrupted by the chattering of gunfire from the porch.  Mr. Jenkins and Hapgood had set up a thirty five caliber machine gun in a protected location, and Jenkins was shooting over the front lawn while Hapgood fed belts of ammunition into the gun.  The mercenaries retreated and regrouped. 


“Time for a bit of a sorti, I should think.  Care to join me?”


Lanier threw open a window; he had not locked all of them.  They went onto the balcony and commenced firing over the balustrade at the mercenaries regrouping in the parking lot.  Without comment Lanier gave Jon a shove from the side that sent him staggering.  A crossbow bolt fell between the two. 


“Thanks,” said Jon. 


“They have changed tactic a bit,” said Lanier.  “But they have no time for trenching and are not equipped with siege guns, so they must still take us by storm.  Look there, they are making their way behind that garden house to our right.  That will cover their approach to within better crossbow range.  See if we can prevent that.”


They did their best against the dark figures sprinting for the shelter of the garden house, but it was no use.


“We shall extend our flank a bit.  Come on, then.  Arse first.”


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