You, Cochrane, what city sent for him?
—Very good. Well?
—There was a battle, sir.
—Very good. Where?
The boy's blank face asked the blank window.
Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it. A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake's wings of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame. What's left us then?
—I forgot the place, sir. 279 B.C.
—Asculum, Stephen said, glancing at the name and date in the gorescarred book.
—Yes, sir. And he said: Another victory like that and we are done for.
That phrase the world had remembered. A dull ease of the mind. From a hill above a corpestrewn plain a general speaking to his officers, leaned upon his spear. Any general to any officers. They lend ear.
—You, Armstrong, Stephen said. What was the end of Pyrrhus?
—End of Pyrrhus, sir?
—I know, sir. Ask me, sir, Comyn said.
—Wait. You, Armstrong. Do you know anything about Pyrrhus?
A bag of figrolls lay snugly in Armstrong's satchel. He curled them between his palms at whiles and swallowed them softly. Crumbs adhered to the tissues of his lips. A sweetened boy's breath. Welloff people, proud that their eldest son was in the navy. Vico Road, Dalkey.
—Pyrrhus, sir? Pyrrhus, a pier.
All laugher. Mirthless high malicious laughter. Armstrong looked round at his classmates, silly glee in profile. In a moment thy will laugh more loudly, aware of my lack of rule and of the fees their papas pay.
—Tell me now, Stephen said, poking the boy's shoulder with the book, what is a pier.
—A pier, sir, Armstrong said. A thing out in the waves. A kind of bridge. Kingstown pier, sir.
Some laughed again: mirthless but with meaning. Two in the back bench whispered. Yes. They knew: had never learned nor ever been innocent. All. With envy he watched their faces. Edith, Ethel, Gerty, Lily. Their likes: their breaths, too, sweetened with tea and jam, their bracelets tittering in the struggle.
—Kingstown pier, Stephen said. Yes, a disappointed bridge.
The words troubled their gaze.
—How, sir? Comyn asked. A bridge is across a river.
For Haines chapbook. No-one here to hear. Tonight deftly amid wild drink and talk, to pierce the polished mail of his mind. What then? A jester at the court of his master, indulged and disesteemed, winning a clement master's praise. Why had they chosen all that part? Not wholly for the smooth caress. For them too history was a tale like any other too often heard, their land a pawnshop.
Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a bedlam's hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind.
—Tell us a story, sir.
—Oh, do, sir, a ghoststory.
—Where do you begin in this? Stephen asked, opening another book.
—Weep no more, Comyn said.
—Get on then, Talbot.
—And the history, sir?
—After, Stephen said. Go on, Talbot.
A swarthy boy opened a book and propped it nimbly under the breastwork of his satchel. He recited jerks of verse awith odd glances at the text:
—Weep no more, woful shepherd, weep no more
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk through he be beneath the watery floor…
It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible. Aristotle's phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night. By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers