The Last European. Chapter Four.
There I throw my gage.The agreed-upon forms seemed to be a stacked deck. Prince Knana was clad in what I presume was his native garb, which consisted of what I can only describe as a gold-plated loin cloth. He had a spear in one hand and a sheathed knife in his golden embroidered belt. He stood on the top of a hill looking down over Miller's Field, which is about two miles out of Lancaster and is usually deserted. There were four other Mogombis with Knana at the top of the hill. They also had spears, knives, and loincloths. But their garments were not gold-plated; I suppose that was only a privilege of royalty.
To prove it on thee to the extremest point
Of martial daring
It was a chilly night, about 30°, but that didn't seem to bother the Mogombis. King Omo, Knana's foster father (according to Knana), along with a couple of hundred of the Mogombis, lined the field.
Bulkington stood in the field looking up toward the hill and Prince Knana. Sean and I stood on the sidelines near but not next to the Mogombis.
All had been arranged between King Omo, Knana, and Bulkington. If Bulkington lost the contest, ambition's debt (from the perspective of the Mogombis) was paid since the contest was to the death. The key negotiating point, from Bulkington's perspective was Sean and I. The Mogombis wanted Sean and me to die if Bulkington lost the contest. Bulkington insisted that his blood should be sufficient. After a great deal of haggling, they agreed to let Bulkington's death suffice for all three of us. I don't know if this was because they simply planned on killing us at a later date or if they were just being moderate in their appetite for vengeance.
Bulkington advised us to come armed and be prepared for anything. "I hope they'll stick to the agreed upon combat, but we can't count on that. If I lose, be prepared to fight your way home. If I win, watch my back for disgruntled Mogombis looking for vengeance."
At 2 A.M. the contest began. Bulkington was armed with a whaler's harpoon and a throwing knife. The four Mogombis who had been chosen to stand with Knana seemed quite fit. I'll simply designate them as warriors 1, 2, 3, and 4. It might seem odd, but even at that rather crucial moment, I couldn't help but think of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, who brought with him Thing 1 and Thing 2. Knana was more lethal than the mischievous cat, however, and he brought not two but four 'things' with him.
The four warriors advanced down the hill toward Bulkington. Prince Knana was still at the top of the hill. Warrior 1 launched the first spear from a distance of about 25 yards. It missed by a wide margin. Warriors 2, 3, and 4 then charged Bulkington, running abreast of each other with only about a foot between them. Warrior 1 ran slightly behind them. At approximately ten yards distance from Bulkington, the three warriors with spears launched them at Bulkington. All three spears would have penetrated Bulkington's chest if he hadn't deflected them to the ground with a great sweeping movement of his harpoon.
The first warrior had continued running as his three comrades threw their spears. As Bulkington swept the spears away, Warrior 1 leapt on him, knocking him to the ground and the harpoon from his hands. Then I saw the warrior raise his knife, and I saw Bulkington's hand raised to stop the downward thrust of Warrior 1's arm. Bulkington twisted the warrior's knife inward toward the warrior's chest while pulling him forward. Then he leapt to his feet, leaving the first warrior dead on the ground.
He threw his own knife into the fourth warrior's chest. Warriors 2 and 3, seeing that Bulkington was now unarmed, rushed him with their knives drawn.
Bulkington tackled Warrior 3, receiving a knife wound in his upper back as he did so. But he still managed to pick up Warrior 3 and hurl him at Warrior 2. Warrior 2 was surprised by the maneuver and did not step aside quickly enough to avoid impaling Warrior 3 on his knife. Bulkington then picked up his harpoon and drove it into Warrior 2 before he could extricate his knife from Warrior 3.
I had been so busy watching the combat that I hadn't seen Knana leave the top of the hill. But he was now ten yards to the left and slightly to the rear of Bulkington. Bulkington saw him a split second too late. Prince Knana's spear went through Bulkington's left side, going in through the back and coming out to the front. He fell to the ground, face down. With a howl of triumph Knana rushed upon Bulkington to finish him off with his knife.
At this point I had to fight back the instinct to draw my revolver and shoot Knana. It was only the knowledge that the Mogombis would shoot Bulkington, Sean, and me if I violated the rules that kept me from shooting him.
As it turned out it was providential that I refrained from interfering. As Knana lunged forward with his knife, Bulkington suddenly rolled over, clutching the splintered spear in his hand. With one hand he held back Knana's knife thrust and with the other he plunged the spear point into Knana's heart. Then, bloody, weak, and deathly pale, Bulkington stood on his feet.
"Prince Knana is defeated. Nydoki did not protect him. The Mogombis must leave this land." He looked at King Omo. "Do I speak the truth?"
King Omo turned and spoke to his warriors, "Yes, he speaks the truth."
Behind me I heard a shot. A Mogombi with a rifle fell dead. Sean had put a bullet into him as he drew a bead on Bulkington. Bulkington again turned to the chief.
"Do you mean to break your bargain?"
"No," said the chief. "There will be no more fighting. We go."
And to my infinite relief they did go. They took their dead and disappeared, presumably back to their apartments in Lancaster. Hopefully, if they keep to their agreement, they will ultimately end up back in Zena.
Bulkington waited until the Mogombis left the field, and then he collapsed. Sean got to him first.
"James, he's lost a lot of blood. We have got to get him to a hospital."
On the way, we discussed what to say at the hospital. We couldn't think of a thing.
"Let's just get him there and worry about the rest when it comes," Sean decided.
Bulkington lived, but if we had been a few minutes later getting him to the hospital he would have died. It was that close. Neither the spear nor the knife had hit vital organs, so once Bulkington recovered from the loss of blood he was out of danger. Of course, although no longer at death's door he still was far from recovered. The people at the hospital wanted to keep him there at least two weeks for observation, but Bulkington checked himself out the next afternoon, having spent just one night in the hospital.
I was against his checking out so early and so was Sean. But it probably was a blessing because a longer stay might have entailed more scrutiny than we could have stood. While Bulkington was unconscious and on the operating table, Sean gave his name and social security number in place of Bulkington's because Bulkington had no social security number, no driver's license, and no… well no anything actually. It was a risky gamut, but Sean didn't seem that worried.
"Nobody will notice that Sean Fitzgerald is supposed to be twenty-two and that the man on the operating table looks 35 or older. People don't pay attention to that until later."
Sean was right; nobody noticed. But I think they would have noticed had Bulkington stayed in the hospital for an extended period of time. But of course he didn't.
Three days after losing enough blood to full up a Red Cross station for a week, Bulkington was out, pack on his back, running up and down the hill to Fisherman's Point. He was at the bottom doing pushups when I came upon him.
"They told me I'd find you here. Don't you think it's a bit too soon to be doing this?"
"No, why don't you join me?"
"I intend to."
"I didn't think you were wearing that sweat suit because you were going dancing."
"I don't dance."
We didn't do much talking as we were soon both concentrating on breathing, but when we finished running on the hill, Bulkington suggested we go over to his house for a couple of beers. I couldn't refuse such a rare invitation. Bulkington had no moral objections to alcohol; it was just something he generally did without because he was on a rather tight budget.
Once safely ensconced in Bulkington's kitchen since we didn't want to get the living room chairs sweaty, Bulkington pulled a couple of sixteen-ounce beer bottles out from his refrigerator.
"Did you rob a bank or something?"
"No, I just broke into the old cookie jar."
"What's the occasion?"
"A happy termination to Round 1."
"But it's only Round 1."
"Hey, it's still a victory!"
"So, you don't think Rankin is through yet?"
"No, James, I don't. Nor do I think he is going to work through intermediaries for much longer. Despite his retraining, he'll revert to form."
"You know, I think I'd prefer that. At least it's something I'm used to."
Bulkington laughed. "I agree, James. I prefer the old Rankin tactics. But it's quite possible if Rankin fails this time that he'll be through as a working devil."
"You mean they'll demote him to the mail room?"
"Something like that. And his replacement could be a lot worse."
"I should feel nervous about that, but I don't. I feel too good about the exodus of the Mogombis. They have left, every single one."
"Yes, they are good little devotees of their devil god, strict formalists. And I agree with you. I feel too good right now to worry about Rankin or his possible replacement."
It was good to see Bulkington back in harness again. When I thought he was dying I felt as if my soul was exiting my body, leaving only an empty shell behind.
We were both on our second beer when Sean, Mary, and Mrs. Fitzgerald stopped by.
"Mary wanted to see if you were dead."
"Mother, don't say that."
"Well, it's true. She saw you running up and down the hill. You should have heard her – 'He'll kill himself -- somebody's got to stop him!' When James came, she sent him over to stop you, but apparently he simply joined you."
"Well, I couldn’t stop him, so I thought I'd run along with him just in case he needed medical attention."
"That's great," Mary said; "the blind leading the blind."
"Ow! That's not fair. I've had some first aid."
She just stared at me in a way that said, 'Don't be ridiculous.'
"Well, we've had our run and nobody died, so why don't you three wait in the living room while I get out of these sweaty clothes. James, I don't know what you're going to do."
"I'll slid down to the house, shower, change, and come back. It's not often we have a gab session at your house."
When I got back, they were all chatting amiably. Mrs. Fitzgerald was asking Bulkington something. "But how can you minimize the mystical component of religion when you have had a number of mystical moments in your life when you saw and heard Jesus Christ?"
"I don't know that I would use the word 'minimize'; I would rather say that the mystical experience was made possible and authenticated by a whole host of human encounters, which might seem mundane when viewed only from the outside. Thomas Hughes describes what I'm talking about infinitely better than I can."
At this point Bulkington got up and took down a coy of Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes from the shelf and started to read:
" 'And let us not be hard on him, if at that moment his soul is fuller of the tomb and him who lies there, than of the altar and him of whom it speaks. Such stages have to be gone through, I believe, by all young and brave souls, who must win their way through hero-worship, to the worship of him who is the King and Lord of heroes. For it is only through our mysterious human relationships, through the love and tenderness and purity of mothers, and sisters, and wives, through the strength and courage and wisdom of fathers, and brothers, and teachers, that we can come to the knowledge of him in whom alone the love, and the tenderness, and the purity, and the strength, and the courage, and the wisdom of all these dwell for ever and ever in perfect fullness.' "
"Do you see what I mean? Would it really do an individual any good to receive a private revelation from God if he hadn't already seen God in His creatures? How would he know it was God he was looking at and speaking to? It could just as easily be the devil. One only knows with certainty when his heart has bled and loved enough to recognize divinity in humanity."
"Father Gordon once said something much like that to me," Mrs. Fitzgerald said. "I miss that man; it's a pity the Church had no use for a man of faith. It seems that what started out as a small, cabalistic movement on the fringes of Christendom has become Christendom, while real Christianity is now on the fringes. Father Gordon had no problems with the Church when he was teaching scholastic philosophy, but when he started to preach the Gospel, he got into trouble."
"Yes, that's true," Bulkington said with a deep sigh.
"Where did it all go wrong?"
"I don't know, Mary. I suppose Blake said it best: 'Can wisdom be put in a silver rod or love in a golden bowl?' I don't think there was a precise moment when the Faith became a philosophy instead of a Faith. It happened over time. And it is hard not to get infected with the faithless faith of the intellectuals in power in all the various churches."
"Not you. You'll never succumb."
"Nobody's immune to it, Sean. It's in the air we breathe. I cling to the fairy tale mode. That keeps me sane."
Mary, Sean, and I were familiar with Bulkington's views on the fairy tale mode of existence, but Mrs. Fitzgerald was not. She asked for an explanation, and Bulkington was only too happy to provide one, as the fairy tale mode of apprehension was his particular passion.
"I think we make Christianity something other than Christianity when we get away from the very basic fairy tale apprehension of the Faith. What does the Incarnation tell us about the way God reveals Himself? It is through humanity. He placed himself in a fairy tale and presented it to us. He is the Third Dumb Brother, at least 'dumb' in the eyes of the worldly wise, who gives up worldly success to perform an act of charity. But much to the chagrin of his worldly brothers, he becomes, because of his act of charity, the High King of the Land.
The Christ story is then, in essence, a true fairy tale with Christ in the role of hero. So if we lose our ability to comprehend existence in the fairy tale mode, we lose God."
"Is it what our Lord was talking about when he said we must be like little children?"
"I think so, Mary."
"Would you tell mother your favorite of the Grimm's fairy tales?"
"I'm sure she has heard it before, Mary."
"Not the way you tell it."
"Well, I do add a few things, but I keep to the spirit of the Grimms' tales."
"Please, I'd like to hear it," Mrs. Fitzgerald said quietly.
When the rest of us gave our sincere assent, Bulkington proceeded with the tale.
Continue to Chapter Five
Labels: The Last European