Chapter 23b


Montgomery House


Lanier vaulted over the balustrade and landed seat first in the hedge. He straightened out and slipped to the ground.  Jon followed.  The boxwood hedge was wonderfully perfumed.  They ran a few paces toward the back of the house and flopped down on their bellies where they were just in line with the angle of the back side of the garden house. 


“We must keep them from taking that copse of trees next the garden house.  If they do, then they will have Mr. Jenkins outflanked,” said Lanier.


They concentrated their fire along the back of the garden house, effectively keeping the mercenaries from advancing.  The bare trees were more of an impediment to the crossbow bolts than to the rifles.  Had the mercenaries been at the front of the copse, their crossbows would have been more effective, and their superior numbers would have prevailed.


A band of mercenaries charged from the parking lot and tried to take shelter behind a terrace that ran across the middle of the front lawn.


“Oh, jolly good, “said Lanier.  “Lie down on the glacis.  Do.”


The angle of the terrace was shallow enough so that its surface was angled straight at the level of the elevated machine gun.  It provided no protection at all.  Instead it lined them all up at the same horizon for the gun.  Mr. Jenkins began to sweep along the terrace.  The mercenaries fled.


For a few moments it hung in the balance.  Mr. Jenkins and Hapgood commanded the front.  The terrain offered no shelter around to the left, and the machine gun occasionally swung over to chew into the copse of trees.  Then three vans came roaring across the lawn from the parking lot.  The machine gun stopped one of them, but the other two reached the terrace, swung sideways and men piled out.  With the machine gun preoccupied, mercenaries began advancing through the trees. 


“Time to go,” said Lanier.  They ran up a flight of steps and along the porch.  Crossbow bolts were beginning to sleet down on them.


“Inside I dare say, Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hapgood.”


“Two more belts,” said Jenkins.


“Spike the gun.”


“We must be in trouble,” thought Jon.  “He didn’t say, ‘Please.’”


Mr. Jenkins hooked a peening hammer from his belt and smashed the mechanism of the machine gun.  Best not to have that monster in action at their backs.


They ran inside.  Lanier locked the door.  It would take only a moment to kick it open, but it took less than that to lock it.  That made it worth it.


Mr. Hapgood, be so good as to join the others up top.  Mr. Jenkins, join us on the second floor.”


Where the second flight of stairs reached the second floor stood a highboy.  Lanier reached into a drawer and took out a hank of rope.  While Jon and Jenkins unwound it, Lanier tied one end to the top of the highboy.  They took the other and around the stairwell and waited.  When they heard feet on the landing and starting up the stairs, they pulled the highboy, which tipped and crashed down the steps, and then they ran up to the third floor.


They rigged a similar rope to the chest of drawers that they found there, but pistol fire tore loose the ornament Lanier had tied in to and the rope fell slack.  They ran up to the third floor.  Lanier crouched behind a cedar chest they found there and gestured.  Jenkins led Jon to the drawbridge.  Before they reached it they could hear Lanier give a heave and hear the chest descending in a symphony of splintering wood and bone.


They made it across the drawbridge, where Ivan stood by the handle of the winch.  Lanier made a whirling motion with his arm.  The bridge was already coming up before they left it.  Jon and Mr. Jenkins joined Ivan in snugging it home.


“Out the back door?” suggested Jon.


“It hardly counts,” said Lanier.  “If we try to use it, they will shoot us.  If they try to use it, we shall drop things on them.  They must control the top, and that is the way they will enter.”  He stepped to a door and pounded.  “Father.  Good news.  We still control the tower.  We doubtless shall be able to hold out another ten, fifteen minutes.”


Then Lanier and Jon ran up to the flat top of the tower.  They flopped down behind the battlements and took aim.  Someone broke a window in order to bring his crossbow to bear.  Jon and Lanier took him down.  The mercenaries began darting back and forth, breaking windows on the run.  Then crossbow bolts and pistol fire began to come over the crenellations. 


“They need to posses themselves of the corner towers,” said Lanier.  Almost at once pistol fire came singing around their ears from higher up.  “Now that’s more professional.”  Then Lanier paused a moment to listen.  The sound of police horns was at last audible.


“When we leave the roof, they will grapple us with hooks and be over,” said Lanier.  But there was no help for it.  They went through the trap door and bolted it.  They withdrew down the spiral stairway until Lanier could barely see the bottom of the trap.  He fished a small cotton bat out of his pocket and handed it to Jon.  “Plug your ears.  It will get noisy.”


There was the sound of an axe upon the trap door. Then daylight.  Lanier fired once at the visible sky.  The two ran down a flight, closed and bolted a door and ran back up another flight.  They entered a battle room.  A pot of oil was heating over a bright coal fire.


“How goes it, Miss Trillie?”


“It’s not hot yet, Mr. Mongtomery.”


Lanier stuck a hand into the lukewarm oil.  “Oh well.  Maybe it will make them slip and turn their ankles.”  He shoveled some hot coals into a bowl shaped depression in the floor about two feet across.  He gestured that Trillie and Jon lift the pot by means of a wooden frame that secured the neck. 


When they heard footsteps below, he gestured them to bring the pot over.  Then he had them wait until they could hear the door beginning to splinter.  “Good,” said Lanier.  “It needs a draught.”


Trillie managed to reach the fire with a rolled up slip of paper, which she lit and handed to Lanier.  “Your squib, Mr. Montgomery.”


At a gesture, Trillie and Jon poured the oil into the depression.  The oil hissed as it met the coals and began to spurt out through murder holes and sprinkle the men below.  Lanier ignited it with the paper.


Someone below was hot headed enough to shoot at the stone basket, shattering it and taking the burning oil down in one flaming cascade.  It spattered the hallway below, and a column of heat and smoke came up through the hole.  The battle room became untenable.  They left and descended to the spiral stairs and on down to the level of the drawbridge. 


Lanier pounded on the door again.  “Good news, Father.  There is a fire in the stairwell that is holding them back.  But they should be through in another minute or two.  It might be time to think about moving farther down.”


A voice came from behind the door.  “The police just called and asked if we would drop the drawbridge to the main wing.”


They went back to the winch.  Lanier threw a lever, and it crashed down.  A few police offices with submachine guns came over.  Lanier gestured up the stairs saying, “Mind the burning oil.”  Then he went back in to slip through the door and speak with his father.


When he emerged, he said, “Tell the staff they have the rest of the day off.  The constabulary will see to security for us for a day or two.  But before you leave, be so good, Mr. Jenkins, as to ask some workmen to come over and repair the damage.  We ought to be ready to open on the morrow.  If anyone should care to join us, that is well, but be warned that I shall be doing all the cooking.  There will be a right mess in the kitchen in the morning.”


Lanier’s talents did not extend to general cooking.  The home baked bread and venison were partly burnt and partly raw.  The vegetables, though fresh, were either crunchy or boiled beyond recognition.  The pile of scorched pots in the sink boggled the mind.  Yet between the burnt bits and the raw there was an ample amount that was perfectly acceptable, and they ate happily. 


For dessert Lanier produced six large bowls of different puddings.  Puds,” he said beaming.  This time there was no need to make allowances for the food.  The puddings were delicious.  “Somerset, custom,” said Lanier.  “I spent four months in Glastonbury once learning how to make them.”


No one made demur when Lanier suggested they retire to the Polo room and reconsider the claret.


“What do you do,” inquired Jon, “With the tower?  I mean between sieges.”


“It’s little more than a broom closet, really.  We just put things there we shan’t be needing for some time.


“Now I understand you need to learn something of contract law.”


“That is true,” said Jon.


“That is not something of which I know much, much less of its origins.  Here,” he produced a slip of paper. “This is a barrister in London who should be amply able to satisfy your curiosity on the point.  This evening I shall have a car deliver you to the railway station, and another car will meet you in London.”


“I suppose,” said Jon, “That the history of contract law is it began simple and has become more complicated.”


“Things tend not to go that way.  Consider our work today.  It would have been far simpler had we been able to use more modern equipment, such as a few armored tanks.


“Even using the methods of two generations ago, our defense would have been to lay out some trenches and barbed wire and set up machine guns.  That would have taken less time than simply surveying and preparing the earth for a good stone wall.


“Still, the kind of tactics we were using have well stood the test of time.  They go back before the Crusades.  Indeed the earliest ruins of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia include curtain walls, round tours, broad gates, just about the entire collection of tricks that were developed before gunpowder was introduced.”


“So there is nothing in the tower but old brooms?”


“Well there are some books.  Even I have not seen a fraction of them.  Who knows?  Perhaps your answer is buried in there somewhere, but it is not catalogued, and it would take a lifetime to sort through it.”


“Our car …”


“I have made arrangements for it to be picked up and returned.  Your things will be cleaned and will meet you in London.”


“They know where we will be staying?”


“You will be staying at the Inns of Court.  Oh yes.  And I have put word out about our situation here.  The police will be rounding up a number of innocent people along with anybody suspicious.  It is highly unlikely you have any more such disturbance for now.  After you leave England, though, I can promise nothing.” 


“If there is some sort of organization that has a secret they are leading us to,” Ivan asked.  “Why do they not simply tell us, or pick us up and take us to it?”


“Hard to say, old chap.  If there are more than one, they may not be in complete agreement that this is the time.”


“Time!” blurted Jon.  “The time is upon us. In sixty years the West falls, with its science and agriculture, and takes the rest of the world down with it.  Even if some survive the famines, they face extinction soon after.  The world birth rate is already falling.”


“Sixty years is enough time to work, I dare say,” said Lanier.


“But if the problem is that the birth rate is low because of low fertility, the only way to prevent extinction sixty years from now is to start having enough children thirty years from now.  In the first thirty years society is investing in the child.  Only then can he make a serious contribution.”


“So we have thirty years.  That should be enough time to start engaging in some sexual athleticism.”

”But the problem isn’t enough sex.  It is too few children.  We don’t need more children now; I mean we can’t make more children now.  We need children who are more fertile.  And it will take all thirty of those years to bring them to adulthood.  There is no time to spare.  It may be too late already.”


“I take your point.”


“So besides a stalled committee meeting,” said Ivan, “Why might they be silent?  Our friend Terra Lane didn’t have the resources to find the answer.  But whoever is helping us and who has information we lack obviously has the resources to get a book published.  That is all it would take.”


“Reading minds is either a dark art or pure self deception,” said Lanier.  “But at a guess, perhaps they would feel embarrassed once the truth came out that they had not spoken earlier.  So they wish to reveal enough to guide some good spirited people to the answer but not to themselves.  Besides, it is true that we are creatures of habit.  Once one has undertaken the not insignificant effort of being silent, it can take some time before one feels comfortable about screaming.  Anything else?



“Do you have hot water?” asked Hapgood.


“Newfangled contrivance, but alas yes.  You will not find it so bracing as washing under a pump in the back yard as you Americans are wont to do.”


“I do miss it,” said Tracy ironically.


“I bet the neighbors do, too,” said Jon.


The water was hot.  The towels were hot, too.


There have been 5,808 visitors counted so far.


Home page.