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.
There is a story that
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.
course. How thoughtless of me. In
"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.
"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
“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
In the gift shop he picked up
a print of “The Shepherds of Arcadia.”
He called, “
A musical voice replied,
“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,
The others left while
“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
“Shouldn’t we get into that
“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.”
he spoke, they entered such a round tower and saw two men creeping along the
“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.”
made their way to another tower and flushed away another mercenary.
“Of course.” And
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
mercenaries were beginning to fall back.
Another pot came down smashing a man beyond a pot twenty five feet from the wall.
Elsewhere around the building they could hear other dropped objects finding their marks.
worked their guns in earnest and soon had the deck clear.
“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.”
history lesson was interrupted by the chattering of gunfire from the
“Time for a bit of a sorti, I should think. Care to join me?”
have changed tactic a bit,” said
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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