by John M. Joyce (April 2009)
Anthony Maller gazed out through his drawing room windows at the snow covered south lawn of his family’s ancestral pile deep in the heart of rural England on Wednesday the sixteenth of April. The snow was still eighteen inches deep and the day after tomorrow would be Good Friday in the year of Our Lord 2014 and although the sun had lengthened the days into spring-like hours of light the air still retained the bitterness and the chill of late winter. It had been a vicious and very harsh winter and he had no doubt that many of the remnants of his countrymen and women who had survived the first phases of the disaster probably had perished in that bitter winter. He knew he was lucky – he had seen the disaster coming and had prepared for it.
He had hardened this place against the eventuality of multiple disasters and had laid in a stock of all the things that he thought he and his children would need. He had provided for himself a private power supply, water supply and waste disposal facility. He had dug deep cellars and filled them with super-freezers full of preserved food and had built deep under his house dry goods stores and stockpiled very long life products in huge quantity – he had even ensured that his liquor and wine cellar was adequately filled to see him and his maturing children through even the worst and most long lived disaster imaginable. He had added significantly to his library and entertainment facilities and had fortified the house and grounds, added much in the way of electronic defence and intruder detection and surveillance devices, and expanded his already copious armoury.
He had, however, been completely unprepared mentally for the sheer scale of the disaster which had overtaken England, and the world, over the last five years. He couldn’t help himself but recall that last good Easter in 2009. He had been in London on that Easter Monday. He had left his club (sacred to Boeotian tastes according to some, but a haven for him and his type of solid, respectable and hard-working squires and minor industrial, and industrious, gentry), where he had spent the night in one of its many comfortable and well-appointed rooms, fairly early in order to go to St. Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square for Morning Prayer. Naturally, as most people did in those days, he had turned on the radio in his car as he pulled out of the underground garage into the traffic on St. James’s. He was shocked to his very core by what he heard on BBC Radio Four.
The East Greenland ice sheet had broken free and was collapsing into the sea at the rate of five hundred cubic kilometres per hour – and the rate of collapse appeared to be accelerating. Anthony knew from his own readings in the field of climate change that that sheet contained about 1.3 million cubic kilometres of ice so he knew that it would take many, many days for all of the ice to hit the sea. However, he was well educated enough to know that that rate of collapse had to be sending out shock waves in the North Atlantic ocean which would give rise to some quite severe tsunamis all along the Atlantic coastlines, North and South, to start with, and, within a few days, all around the coastlines fronting every ocean on the planet.
In short order he had turned his Rolls-Royce Phantom VI around and had headed back to his club. He emptied his rooms and had immediately had gone to his bank at 49 Charing Cross and had emptied all his safety deposit boxes into the great car and had drawn down all of his accounts to the minimum. After that he had headed to his dealer and had closed out all of his share accounts. Then, loaded with cash, he had hit the exchanges and had purchased as much as he could, at the best prices he could get, in portable wealth. Gemstones, gold sovereigns and Krugerrands were his preferred purchases but he had bought also some small pieces of fine art. He had specified everything for immediate delivery to where he was and there had been no difficulties for he had paid cash and had everything needed in the way of sound identification.
His Rolls, then loaded to the limit of its weight carrying capacity, had carried him westwards out of London. Keeping always to the high ground he had eventually made his way to the safe haven of his ancestral home – the small rural estate which he had had the foresight to prepare for just such a disaster some years earlier. He had spent the evening of that last civilised Easter Monday secreting his vast fortune in the carefully constructed hidden vaults, nooks and crannies of his estate. He had known, and knew now as he gazed out across his snow-bound gardens, that one day those coins, those objets d’arts, would have value for his descendants and that they would bless his foresight in securing them for their use. Finally, worn out and almost too tired to function, he had fed supper to his seven children and chivvied them, with the help of their nurse cum housekeeper, upstairs and into their beds.
Alice Roughcooper, the nurse to his children and a distant relative (albeit on the wrong side of the blanket from many generations back) had joined him in his study as soon as the children had fallen asleep.
“How bad is it?” she’d asked.
“Very bad,” he’d replied, “Do you want to go home? I can look after the children. I’m not going to leave here again. If you want to go I think that it would be best if you were to go soon. Things are going to get pretty rough, I think.”
Alice hadn’t been a fool, he reflected. She’d left on the following morn in order to join her father and he’d never seen her again. She’d done the right thing but he had still missed her – had missed her a lot more as he had raised his children and watched all bar two of them die.
Grief, the last five years had been bad!
The East Greenland ice sheet had collapsed into the sea in the spring after that Easter of 2009 – it had taken a scant three weeks and had catastrophically raised sea levels by seven metres. Worldwide over two billion people had perished in the three months after the collapse. Tsunamis, starvation, the devastation of, and collapse of law and order in, the great coastal cities on the planet coupled with saltwater penetration of the earth’s most fertile areas had seen to that. In England the great eastern flat lands south of The Wash had been inundated. They had produced over sixty percent of England’s food before that catastrophe. Those acres could have been defended, could have been saved, but Government inaction and politically correct science, incorrect science as it turned out, in the years leading up to the disaster had denied England the benison of those fertile lands in that crisis.
Worse than that, however, had been visited upon his beloved country.
For a moment or two Anthony managed to shake himself out of his reverie and he stood up and walked across to the windows of his drawing room. In his mind’s eye he saw clearly the events of that year. He couldn’t stop himself from recalling those events. Every Easter since that first disaster his mind had always drawn him inexorably back to them. He doubted that his beloved England could ever recover from those events and, safe as he was now, he feared for the future of his two remaining beloved children as they played in the snow on the terrace just outside.
His remaining son, Anthony junior, already a young and muscular man of fifteen years with a ready and lively wit and an intelligent turn of mind, and his precious daughter Pauline, just a year younger and so beautiful – her English rose complexion becomingly flushed by the cold air and her keen eyes, so reminiscent of her mother’s, and sparkling with a telling intelligence – gambolled like foals, like early lambs, in the inclement weather with no cares and worries, such those that he had, to disturb either of them in their youthful enjoyment of the very late snows. Once again, gazing out at his happy children, Anthony saw nothing other than his own memories of the disaster which had brought them to this day – the disaster which had started on that Easter Monday in the Spring of 2009.
The West Greenland ice sheet had collapsed the following autumn – the autumn of 2009. Average sea levels had risen by another eight metres almost immediately and the tsunamis had been even worse than in the spring of that year. That following winter had been a total disaster for humankind – by the spring of 2010 a further three billion people had perished. Out of a world population of close on seven billion souls fewer than two billion had survived from one Easter to the next. The tsunamis had also destabilised the Antarctic land based coastal ice and the following spring, the spring of 2010, the collapsing ice sheets there had raised the levels of the worlds’ oceans by a further six metres with, so it seemed at the time, much worse to follow. Truly Gaea bit back!
The collapsing Antarctic ice, and the resultant deaths, had a salutary effect on human kind and those who had survived so far had retreated into the hills well above the rising sea levels. Anthony and his brood were safely ensconced well above the ninety-metre line on their fortified estate. What did do the final damage was something that had been foreseen but discounted as a possibility – influenza, borne by distressed and disturbed avians, swept over the planet. Over half of the world’s remaining population died in the influenza outbreak of 2011.
By the summer of 2012 fewer than seven hundred and fifty million human beings remained alive on Earth. Anthony buried three of his children that year.
The ‘flu returned, changed, the following year and Anthony buried two more of his beloved children. He wasn’t stupid. He knew just how bad things were and he counted his blessings and thanked God for giving him the foreknowledge and allowing him to plan the retreat which he occupied but, and all, he took the death of his children right hard – as you would expect. He cared, as best he could, for the villagers outside his gate – he gave them what assistance he could. He buoyed their spirits and fed their bodies to the limit of what he could afford – he could do no less for all were related to him (not always legally nor in a form which he would wish to acknowledge), but common decency and humanity drove him and he led his people in the living and the dieing of it throughout those terrible years and his sense of noblesse oblige never deserted him – not in a condescending sense I hope you understand, but in a real English gentleman’s sense of ‘I have, so I must give’, a real sense which we all have of being my brother’s keeper, a real sense of the real meaning of charity.
The real greatness of the English aristocracy – well, shall we say the real greatness of the English squirearchy, for all of England’s aristocrats are really nothing more than squires, and none the worse for that – shone through him during those years, for that would be nearer the mark, I think! He tried as hard as he could to bring as many of those whom he saw as his people through the great calamity which had befallen England and the world. However, not even his great efforts, nor the sharing of his carefully planned and fortunately huge larder, were sufficient to stem the great tides of death which swept over his lands. The village outside his gates suffered calamitously. Despite his best efforts some eighteen hundred people were reduced to fewer than one hundred and thirty souls and his own family, as you know, suffered too.
All things come to an end, eventually. The vicious and extremely cold winter of 2013 into 2014 marked some kind of an end – certainly it marked an end to the killing influenza: although he didn’t know that yet. As Anthony gazed out at the end of it, at his two remaining children playing in the final snows of it, he thought about the coming evening. For centuries it had been the custom of his family to host a party for all the villagers each year on Holy and Great Wednesday, Spy Wednesday, and he had continued that custom throughout the last five disastrous years. In each of the last five years the ever-dwindling numbers had appalled him and frightened him in equal measure. The event had become much more than a party as the years passed; it had become a planning meeting for the following twelve months, as well.
In a very real sense his people had come to rely upon him to help them make decisions. With no vote ever having been taken they had decided in some way that he was their leader. In a sense he had resumed the role played by his ancestors; he had really become the Squire – protector and caretaker of his people. He had organised the younger and fitter members of his tenantry into a part time militia, and armed them, in order to protect his people against the marauding gangs which tried to steal the food so painfully won from the soil with the few left to labour in the fields. The gangs seemed to consist mainly of Muslims who seemed to think that they had a right to take anything that they felt they needed from the infidel. It hadn’t taken more than one or two shoot outs for the Islamic gangs to learn to leave him and his lands and people alone!
He’d also organised the creche and the school run by the older people who could not work on the land any more, the woodland rotation and plantings which provided fuel for heating, the gathering in and appropriate slaughter of the cattle and sheep from farms where the farmer had died, the carefully rotation of crops in the fields still in use, the selective breeding from the few great shire horses which still remained so that the stock of them would increase and ploughing and seeding and harvesting still go on in the years to come. He had personally, and with assistance of only one elderly man, rebuilt the old water powered flourmill and unearthed the remaining millstones and he had re-cut the grooves in them and painfully manoeuvred them into position. So successful had he been in resurrecting the techniques of previous ages that he knew that he and his people had enough food left over from the previous years harvest to see them through another year even if this coming year’s crops failed – and that was precisely the position he had been aiming to achieve.
He had had one major stroke of luck in the October of last year. Just before the first snows of winter his tiny community had had its numbers swelled by fourteen families who had deliberately fled from one of England’s now lawless and dangerous cities in order to find a home in the countryside where they could at least try to survive. They were all professional people and amongst them were four medical doctors, three nurses, two veterinarians and three dentists. Quite willingly he had handed over to them his enormous and unused stock of medical equipment and drugs which he himself had no clue as to how to use. His militia had been placed under permanent instruction to defend these people at all costs!
Reluctantly he called his children in from their carefree play and the three of them set about making ready for the evening’s feast. Stores were raided and much food prepared. The great hall of the ancient house had huge fires kindled in its four massive fireplaces and the Easter decorations were hung from the galleries and the long tables set and dressed. The one hundred and fifty massive, nine light, solid silver candelabra, which a long dead Squire had commissioned to be made from John Cafe of London in 1748 specifically to light the Spy Wednesday feast in this great hall, were set out in symmetry on the tables and the long beeswax candles lit. Then it was time to get dressed and greet his people as they trooped up the carriageway and into the house.
He and his children took their stations by the great, five hundred years old, oak door which led directly into the warm, welcoming hall just after six o’clock. They heard a huge commotion surging up the carriageway. Automatically they reached into the drawers of the eighteenth century French console table behind them and took out their pistols. They need not have worried, however, for the tumult was one of joy. A whole host of villagers were thronging around eight strangers and, laughing and talking loudly, they were escorting them up that once elegant and tidy tree-lined drive.
As the party drew close to the house Anthony recognised one of the strangers. With a huge whoop of joy he deserted his two very surprised children and bounded through the door, down the steps and threw his arms around Daniel Wheatfield, the Rt. Reverend Daniel Jonathan Wheatfield, the Bishop of C———-, his closest friend and one whom he thought he would never see again on this earth. The two of them eventually disengaged from the embrace but held on to each other as if they were scared that to let go would break some spell of dreaming. Tears trickled unheeded down their cheeks. For both, some little part of normality was, by the Grace of God, restored to them in that joyous reunion. The fractured emotions of their lives began a long, slow process of repair.
Eventually the pair of them did let go and they all went into the Great Hall. Bishop Daniel introduced Anthony to the others in his party.
“This is my son, John, and I don’t think that you will recognise him for the last time you saw him he was just nine,” Daniel said turning to a tall, strapping, handsome boy who dutifully shook the hand of his father’s best friend whilst, somehow, never seeming to take his eyes off Pauline.
Anthony called her forward and, ignoring protocol, introduced her to John. Her clear eyes summed him up and she obviously liked what she saw. The two fathers glanced at one another with faint smiles playing on their lips. As they moved on Anthony whispered an aside to Bishop Daniel:
“He’ll have his work cut out. She’s nobody’s fool and she likes to get her own way.”
“Good,” Daniel replied, “That boy of mine need taming.”
They plunged back into the melee of introductions. Three of the Bishop’s party were clergymen and the other four were representatives of the new provisional government of England which had been organised by some of the surviving aristocracy and Bishops and which was scheduled to hold a moot at Winchester in August. Every surviving community in England was to send as many of its members to that moot as it could afford to spare. England had to function again and this great moot was to be the first step on the road to making that happen. Towards the end of that grand evening his people decided to send Anthony and three others of their number to the moot. England was to be resurrected.
The Bishop and his party stayed on over Easter and he and his clergy celebrated the Eucharist on Easter Sunday in the little Norman Parish Church. They had blessed the graves of those who had been called home, and buried by the villagers in God’s acre. They solemnised marriages, Christened children and preached a new message of hope to their flock. They arranged for a priest to visit regularly and explained much and gave much news of the outside world.
After they had moved on, hoping to find another community of people still alive and still hoping, Philip Pargeter, the village’s stonemason, well, still learning stonemason, carved these words onto the decani nave wall of the Church:
“On the 16th. of April in the Year of Our Lord 2014 eight good men and true of England visited this village and gave us hope that our country could be born again.
They were…” he named all eight here, “…and their names will always be remembered by us. Have faith in God, for Easter always brings resurrection. I, Philip Pargeter, stonemason, carved this for the Glory of God and His Saints and for the wholeness of England.”
Ever after, the arrival of those eight men was celebrated in the first toast of the evening at every Spy Wednesday feast held in the Great Hall. The toast, still called by the Squire, because of the words that Philip had carved, has always been:
“To the resurrection men.”
Oh, and by the way, Pauline and John married in 2018. They are grandparents now and still happy together in this resurrected England of ours. She tamed him. But then, women are good at that!
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