Life's Simple Pleasures

Entry by: Tauren

13th December 2016
The slight man in the great coat froze as the wave of gaily dressed children surged down the street towards him. Ranging in ages from five to twelve, the older ones twirled wooden rattles above their heads, the younger children holding sticks with balloons tethered to the ends by string, were bopping them merrily.
Some wore masks that covered the uppermost of their faces, leaving only their mouths visible, the rest had their faces painted, all as animals, mostly, it seemed to the man, taken from the ferocious end of the animal kingdom.

He cringed as they flowed around him, shrinking down into his coat, wincing as he closed his ears to the cacophony of the clackity-clacking rattles and the hollow pinging as grains of barley bounced crazily within the balloons.
“Happy Fools-day,” they shrieked as they streamed past; some of the older boys stopping long enough to dance around him, holding hands ring-a-rosy style, chanting, “Fool`s-day, fool’s-day,” breaking off as suddenly as they`d begun, chasing after the main body of the crowd as it swept on.

Only after they`d gone, did he continue on his way, digging his hands deeper into the pockets of his coat, tucking his chin lower, shivering in spite of the warmth of his jacket, its collar already upturned to ward off the bitter wind that buffeted him.
March had begun its usual lamblike departure, when, without warning on the thirty first day, the wind had tacked to the north east, bringing this morning’s frigid daffodil killing frost with it.

Ethan Parsimous is a prosperous, if not yet wealthy man; his weavery, the best in the north counties had, if you believed the mayor, put Thrumton-upon-Tern on the map. The large spacious weavery with its fifteen looms is at the rear, with the shop, where he did most of his business, at the front, and it is to the entrance of this establishment he now inserted the key, aware of the tumult to his right that drew closer with every heartbeat. And he closed the door behind him just in time as the adult residents of the town came into view, in slow pursuit of the children.

Ethan didn’t turn the sign that hung from a chain on the interior pane of the door from closed to open, but pulled off his gloves, thankful that he`d had the foresight to bank down the fire before he`d locked up the previous evening. He would do no business today; instead he would busy himself with bookwork, as he always did on the first day of April.

He is, it has to be said, a dour serious man, who had been a dour serious child, one who`d had no time for the frivolities of All Fool’s-Day. He had never egged a house or doused another in flour, deeming such things not only to be pointless, but wasteful.

Even his own mother, who, when in her cups, an event that in Ethan`s view, occurred all too frequently, he never imbibed himself. When his mother drank and had an audience to regale, she liked to recount how, on the day of his birth, the midwife who had attended her, a Mrs Ramsey, had, after administering the customary slap to the new-borns rump, exclaimed that he had not cried out, but instead had affixed her with an accusatory eye, as if chastising her for assaulting him without just cause.
At this denouement she would invariably descend into a fit of giggles so infectious that all present, with the exception of her son, would be helpless but to join in.

As far as the townsfolk are concerned he is a humourless man, and like all humourless men is wont to exclaim at regular intervals, “I can take a joke as well as the next man,” and as we all know the next word from anyone who utters this phrase is of course “However,” and then he would explain at length just why that particular joke was not funny.
In the forty three years of Ethan Parsimous`s life no-one in the town of Thrumton-upon-Tern had yet to discover a joke that he deemed not to be injurious, and so they left him be. For Ethan this had the beneficial effect that his was the only shop-front that would, in the morning be unblemished by eggs or flour.

It is widely believed by the townspeople that when the good lord was handing out senses of humour, Ethan had been otherwise engaged; though in what no-one could say. However as proof that God himself retained a sense of humour, today is Ethan`s birthday.

He is as far as he is concerned a good employer, he never begrudges his employees their days off, not even for something as frivolous as All Fool`s-Day, and he gives them each a one shilling raise every other first of January, and a half-crown on their birthday, what his employees think of him he does not know, as it has never occurred to him to ask.

He is a thrifty but not miserly man; a devout Christian, but not so pious as to be irritating, he is a firm believer in helping those less fortunate than himself, and is never found wanting in time of need.
Indeed he had taken it upon himself to provide the towns five young widows, those whose own children were too young yet to support them, with a freshly plucked goose every Christmas eve.
He has never married; as a youth his seriousness and his, and I am being generous here, homely looks, he`d had a dose of the pox at the age of five and to this day his face still bears the scars, had the effect of cooling the ardour of all the towns maidens, whose sights were set on comelier men.

Now in his prosperous middle age, his demeanour and his countenance proved less of an issue, and he had attracted the unwanted attention of the town’s small number of unattached women.
In fact on that first Christmas eve, as he`d delivered the geese to the widows, they`d all extended an invitation for him to dine with them the following day, three of them lengthening it to a late supper, “After the bairns are in their beds,” they`d said, this supplementary invitation delivered with knowing winks and smiles.
He had politely declined their generous offers, telling them truthfully, that he spent Christmas day with his mother, and could not possibly disappoint her, then wished them a “merry Christmas” with a doffing of his hat.
Since that night Ethan had employed an agent to do the deliveries on his behalf, he had become too comfortable in his bachelorhood and saw no reason to amend his situation.

“Madness,” he sighed as through the glass fronted door he watched the costumed townsfolk capering past.
“Indeed,” came the uninvited riposte from somewhere behind him.
Startled, Ethan whirled, his eyes, unaccustomed to the gloom saw only shadows, “Who`s there,” he called, “show yourself?”
A man stepped forward from one of the darker corners of the room, he was tall; impeccably dressed in a charcoal grey suit, and surprisingly young, Ethan guessed he could be no more than twenty five, the stranger smiled at him.

Ethan frowned, “Who are you, how did you get in here?” he demanded.
The man answered his questions with one of his own, “Do I have the honour of addressing the proprietor of this establishment, a Mr Ethan Parsimous?”
“You have the advantage of me sir,” Ethan said by way of reply, shocked as the man impudently took position beside him, watching the mayhem in the street outside, the air beyond the window now a pale fog of flour, figures darting about, becoming more ghostlike by the second as the powder settled upon them.

“My name is Smith,” he replied, “John Smith.”
“Well mister Smith,” Ethan pronounced the man`s name contemptuously, to show he disbelieved that this was his true name, “You are trespassing and if you do not reveal your business to me this instant I shall call the constable and you can explain your presence to him, and then the magistrate.”

Mr Smith cocked an eyebrow and smirked, “Why I think you`re in luck, isn’t that the constable now?”
He flicked his left hand at a bearded man in an apes costume who was gambolling up the street, now on two legs, now knuckling his way along on four, stopping only to wave his arms and cry, “Ooo, ooo, ooo,” at passing women, who feigned terror at being assailed by such a beast, then ran off laughing.

Ethan cursed under his breath as he shrugged out of his jacket, turning his back on the man to show he was unafraid, hanging it on the coat-stand next to the strangers own, his hand brushing against the unfamiliar coat, feeling cashmere.

Still scowling he said, “Whatever your business is sir, you should know I do no trade on this day, so I shall bid you good day and see you on the morrow.” He walked away from the man towards his tall desk with its seat, set high so he could sit level eyed with whomever he was doing business with.

“My business,” the man who called himself Smith said, “Is the Empires business,”
He had turned to watch Ethan`s reaction; Ethan paused in the act of mounting his chair, but only momentarily, then seated himself saying nothing, waiting for the other man to continue.
“Ethan, do you mind if I call you Ethan?” he asked, and then continued before Ethan could express an opinion on the subject of how the man addressed him. “I represent important people, the people that run the Empire, people who are concerned by this,” he made the same dismissive gesture towards the street again, “This has come to their attention.”

“Then these important people you claim to represent are mightily slow on the uptake,” Ethan said almost in a sneer, “The All Fools-Day celebrations have been going on here for more than three hundred years, and it is only now the important people have noticed.”

“Three hundred and eight years to be precise,” Smith retorted smoothly, “And no, we have always been aware of it, but up until now it has not posed a threat to the very fabric of the Empire.”
Ethan gaped at him, “A threat to the Empire,” he repeated, “is there an egg and flour shortage we are unaware of?” sarcasm dripped from every word.

The man ignored his jibe, instead pointing to a print on the right wall, a photograph of twenty seven people arrayed in three ranks by seniority, Ethan himself in the centre of the front rank. “That,” the man who called himself Smith said, “Is the problem.”

“My photograph?” Ethan couldn’t make out if the man was having a jape at his expense; the idea occurring to him that someone was playing an elaborate Fools-Day trick on him. The previous summer a man had arrived in town to demonstrate the wonderful new invention, and so of course nearly every home in Thrumton-upon-Tern now boasted a family photograph.

“The Times of London have succeeded in adding photographs to their newsprint and are sending a reporter with a photographer to document this, this lunacy; they arrive on the midday coach. If they print photographs of this festival of yours, other towns might be encouraged to take it up, or worse. What of England`s reputation, our enemies, and they are legion let me assure you, will see to it that we are the laughing stock of the world.”

“No Ethan, this cannot be allowed to continue, our agents have assured us you are a serious man who finds all this as distasteful as we do. So we have until midday to bring this insanity to an end, are you with me, for Queen and Country, for the Empire?” Smith asked, his eyes taking on the discomforting gleam of the zealot as he spoke.
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