Chapter 24a


Train to London, November 11, 4 PM


Ivan, Jon, Tracy and Hapgood soon found themselves in a first class train compartment whirring through fabulously beautiful English countryside in the late afternoon. 


One of the great charms of that land is the fact that the geological strata slope to the east and slightly to the south.  The modern surface thus cuts through unthinkable millions of years of geologic time.  In most directions of travel the rock beneath the surface is constantly changing from lime rock to sandstone to granite to chalk to slate and so forth.  The earth beneath has an effect on the visible vegetation and the rocks have been used for local construction.  So the architecture, the woodlands and the fields are undergoing constant subtle change as one travels.


For its size, England has an enormous variety of exposed ancient stones.  Almost the only geologic age not well represented is the time when the first human forms were evolving.  Their remains have been found most notably in Africa.  Upon what was happening at the time in England, the geologic record is silent.  But the other times generally occur.


In the mind of most people there is a perfect English cottage built of stone and timber and surrounded by a garden, fields and walls.  But in fact that ideal cottage is as illusory as the typical American face.  The reality is far more varied and far more interesting.


While the evolution of humans is almost absent – and there are some exceptions – the history and prehistory of modern humans is remarkably rich.  Inhabited dwellings frequently go back centuries.  Names hark back to the Romans and the Celts before.  And in the pattern of the fields, the observant traveler can see even from a train window the occasional patchwork quilt of fields tilled long before the arrival of the Celts, small garden plots still identifiable as changes in the grass dating back to the time of Stonehenge and before.  And of course there are the rare more spectacular images of great stone circles and occasionally there is an image of some human or animal form of enormous size where the turf has been pulled up to reveal the chalk white image in a field of the greenest grass.  Those white images are still maintained.  Their origin is mystery.


They had little thought for the splendid past beyond the window of the rustling train.  Their minds were all on the future, on their own quest and for the implications for the world decades hence.  But they watched the countryside all the same.


“I never thought a train could be so nice,” said Tracy.  “In America I have only traveled on trains in cities.”


Hapgood said, “The English have always had a fine system of trains.  Their roads are a little narrow for American tastes, most of them, but early on they started building canals.  They had so many canals that it fixed in their minds that travel should be pleasant.  So when they built their railroads they tried to make them as nice as the canals.  American trains are not nearly so well designed and run.”


Jon was half listening.  He was looking into the low grey clouds of the sky to the south.  The clouds boded no more than the dampness one expected at this time of year, but as he watched he noticed a face in the clouds.  The face was that of a man looking down at him.  The expression was that of cold greed.  It was the face of a man ready to kill or steal on an enormous scale. 


Jon shivered as if with a mild chill and rubbed his eyes.  When he looked out the window again, he fixed his eyes on the gentle countryside rather than the sky.  But the face was there, too, in the stubble fields and then in a small bare forest.  Jon thought, “He’s looking for me.”  Then he wondered why he had thought that.


He opened the laptop computer and started idly searching the internet to have something to keep his eyes occupied.  He looked up some local maps, a bit of London history and some articles about ancient fortifications.  He called up one news site, and when that seemed to be taking too long to load, punched up a second and a third.


Suddenly on the screen in front of him was the same face, not with the same look of vindictive triumph, but the same.  Then the face flashed away before he could find out who it was.  He put the laptop away and pretended to sleep.


“Look,” said Tracy.  “That village, in the town square.  They have a flagpole but no flag.”


“Maypole, I should say,” said Hapgood.  They probably leave the pole up all year and only put ribbons on it for the spring Mayday celebration.”


“Another excuse for an orgy,” said Tracy.


“Not exactly,” Hapgood qualified. 


“But isn’t the pole just a big phallic symbol?”


“I’m sure it is in somebody’s mind.  But the pole itself is the least important part of the celebration.  The most important part is the children.  Next is the time of year.  Third is the ribbons.  Fourth is the music; ‘Country Gardens’ was always my favorite for the occasion.  Fifth is the dance.  The pole itself comes in number six, if that.  You could have all the other things without the pole; for instance you could hang the ribbons from a high tree limb, and not much would be different.”


Ivan said, “I thought you could have sex with anybody you danced the maypole with.”


Hapgood thought about that a for moment.  “That is true in the village community in the same sense that in your own community you can have sex with anybody at all.  So they were restrictive in a way that we are not.


“The maypole was a dance for children.  The folk would fasten ribbons to the top of the pole and all the children would take the ribbons and dance around the pole, weaving the ribbons into a pattern.  In effect it recreated the history of the village, first one family a little more prominent, and in the next generation another family.  But nobody enters and nobody leaves the dance.  Everyone has times when his ribbon is visible, is on top.  And when all is done, each child’s ribbon goes all the way back to the beginning.


“So it is a celebration of fertility if you like.  A celebration of the fact that one generation follows another.  The children, particularly given the nutrition available in earlier times and slow maturing, had no immediate interest in sex.  But when it was time for them to court and marry, they would take an interest only in those they had danced the maypole with when they were children.” 


“That is really romantic,” said Tracy.


Jon was still pretending to be asleep.  He had managed to convince himself that he had seen the face on the computer first and then had imagined it in the sky and the landscape.  That explanation would make better sense later when he learned whom the face belonged to. 


Ivan said, “So Reverend, we are off to learn about law.  What do you know about the origins of law?”


Hapgood reflected a moment and then said, “Well in theory, there is God’s law and there is Man’s law.  God’s law is, of course, perfect and never changing.  Man’s law changes under the circumstances. 


“The oldest laws we have direct contact with are ancient Hebrew.  They believed that there was an absolute divine standard of right and wrong.  The law, then, was what would seem just to an outside observer.  ‘Thou shalt not kill’ would be a permanent thing.  On the other hand, the speed limit on a highway may change as the road is improved or as development occurs along the road.  


“On the other hand, we have a Supreme Court, which acts as if there is some sort of absolute standard.  They are very careful to preserve that illusion, and of course it is an illusion unless they have some sort of direct communication with God that I am not aware of.  The ancient Hebrews did not think it was illusion.  They thought their laws were divinely revealed.  Yet there are laws they had that we would now consider regrettable.  ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,’ is the most notorious one.


“Among Christians the Ten Commandments are still accepted as divine law.  The rest of the Old Testament is subject to interpretation in light of the New Testament.”


Jon spoke up, “Of course the Jews still consider the Law to be a matter of divine will.”


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