Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 7 – “For the Soldiers and Sailors of Chelsea”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 7 – “For the Soldiers and Sailors of Chelsea”)

Sorry for the long, long delay

Anyway, we’re here, so let’s get moving!  If you want to catch up with the previous chapters, they’re all here:

Links to All Chapters

We’re in the final sprint to the end now, and we open this (short-ish) chapter with Harry Penn.  He’s thinking deep thoughts, as someone in his position might well be expected to do:

He wanted miracles.  He wanted life where there was no life, the negation of time,and the gliding of the universe – if only for one truly wonderful moment.

While in this mood, he’s visited by his daughter, Jessica.  They talk about her acting, and how she learns her lines:

“Only bad actors memorize lines.  Good actors are perpetually writing them as they act.”

“Even though the playwright has already written them.”  She nodded her head.  “Isn’t that presumptuous?”

“The playwright understands.”

I don’t think they’re just talking about the theater.  Doesn’t that sound a lot like what Helprin tells us in the chapter “Nothing is Random” ?  Everything has happened, and yet it is still happening.  There is both predestination and free will.

As they talk, Praeger de Pinto arrives, and Harry Penn has a revelation.  He has remembered Peter Lake, and realized that the man he knew nearly a century ago was also the derelict they encountered at Petipas a few months ago.  And now he knows what he has to do.  He orders Praeger to get a sleigh, and to drive him up to Lake of the Coheeries.  The newly-elected Mayor of New York does as he’s told, and off they go.

On the ride, Harry and Praeger talk, and it’s clear that Harry Penn has begin to see with somerthing of the clarity gifted to his long-dead sister.

“If you know only a dozen winters, it looks completely chaotic.  But after a hundred you begin to see where certain patterns surface and intersect.  I always know the weather.  That’s easy.”

Praeger asks if human relations can be similarly predicted.

“Not so easy, but possible.”

And history?  “Very difficult,” according to Harry.  But he doesn’t say it’s impossible.

After a day’s journey, they arrive on the Lake of the Coheeries, to find the town completely dark, which never happens.  Harry knows what this means, and, soon enough, they begin finding the bodies – everyone in town, victims of what appears to have been a terrible battle.

Harry and Praeger proceed to the Penn house, which was left untouched by the battle (with the Short Tails).  But that doesn’t matter, according to Harry:

“They wouldn’t have taken the one important thing, and as for damage, well, damage will soon be of little moment.”

Harry leads Praeger past the portraits of all his relatives.

“I could tell you the name of each one, and a lot more than that, too, because they were people I loved.  They’re all gone now.  But even they may be surprised  – when they awaken.”

Recall what Mrs. Gamely tells Virginia way back in Part 2, about trying to “shatter time and bring back the dead.”  Harry believes that’s precisely what’s going to happen, and soon.  He mentions Beverly’s death, and her deathbed instructions, to be carried out the next time Harry saw Peter Lake.  And note what Harry says:

“He left right after she died, and though we expected him to return at any moment, he never did, and i never saw him again – until Petipas.”

We;ve talked about how Peter Lake seems to fulfilll the role of the Jewish Messiah, but Harry speaks of him in Christian terms – doesn’t that sound a lot like the Second Coming?

Harry and Praeger carry out Beverly’s last instruction – they take down the portraits of her and Peter Lake, and then set fire to the house, and then the rest of the town of Lake of the Coheeries, before setting off back towards Manhattan.

Back there, we rejoin Hardesty, who’s still in Grand Central Station, and decides to see who – or what – is behind the trap door in the sky.  He ends up climbing all the way up by hand, and finds himself outside the door of Peter Lake’s hideaway.  He commences throwing himself at the door with all his strength, which startles Peter – just at the moment that Peter’s reading through an old Police Gazette featuring a picture of him from nearly a century ago.  Distracted, Peter fails to see himself, and instead waits to see who – or what – is attacking his door.

After half an hour, the door finally gives way, and Hardesty bursts inside, and promptly collapses.  After a couple of moments of confused conversation, they recognize each other from that early evening dinner at Petipas.

“Who are you?” Peter Lake asked.

Hardesty shook his head.  “That doesn’t matter,”  he said.  “Who are you?”

We leave Hardesty and Peter and visit Jackson Mead, who has just

unleashed all the forces he had been preparing and conserving, in a mad, bone-shaking spectacle.

The spectacle will continue for ten days, until the turn of the Millennium, and it will go on even as New York is

consumed by fire and civil disorder occasioned by the rainbow bridge itself.

And that takes us back to Gotterdammerung, of course – where Valhalla is consumed by fire, and that outcome is preordained the moment the ring is stolen, and the Gods cross the Rainbow Bridge in Das Rheingold.

Mead’s spectacle includes an “armada” of ships, hundreds of helicopters equipped with hypnotic lights and emitting deafening sounds, and a variety of other wonders.  His strategy is to

make each hour more intense than the one that preceded it.

It’s working admirably, too.

As this goes on, we check in on Virginia Gamely, who’s sitting with her stricken daughter.  She’s dreaming, and in her dream, she finds herself in an old, dusty tenement – in this dream, she herself is the dying child that Peter Lake saw way back in Part 1.  This is interesting, because we’ve seen Virginia dream several times over the course of the book, and every time, her dream is of something yet to come (and what she dreamed generally happens just as she dreamed it).  This time, she’s dreaming of something that happened nearly a century ago, something she couldn’t possibly know about – yet she’s dreaming it quite accurately.  I take it as yet another indication of the past, present and future all being connected – all being one thing when seen from a far enough distance.

What does it mean, though?  Is this dream (vision?) presaging Abby’s fate?

Her mother is there, too, and urges Virginia to take a walk and get some fresh air.  Virginia asks where Mrs. Gamely had been (she hadn’t been at Abby’s bedside when Virginia fell asleep), and she explains that she was at a lecture given by Craig Binky.

“I rather liked him, though his vocabulary needs a great deal of work.”

(for his part, Binky also noticed Mrs. Gamely, and was immediately entranced by her, even dispatching his bodyguards to find her for him)

Together, they wander around Manhattan, finally ending up in Chelsea, at a statue dedicated to soldiers of World War I (with the inscription “For the soldiers and sailors of Chelsea”).  Mrs. Gamely reminds Virginia of a long-ago visit here.  Mrs. Gamely had taken a very young Virginia to greet her father, who was supposed to be returning from “the war” – but which one?  We discussed this back in Part 2.  When we first meet Virginia (in 1994), she’s in her mid 30’s.  That would place her birth in 1960 or so, and therefore the incident Mrs. Gamely talks about would take place in the late 60’s or maybe as late as 1970.  But history as we know it doesn’t jibe with that.

My guess is that it’s World War 2 – that would fit with Mrs. Gamely’s description of troopships returning to New York, and also with the idea that Harry Penn was the commander of a regiment.  That also fits with the nature of Lake of the Coheeries and its uncertain relationship with time.

Mrs. Gamely explains that it was Harry who delivered the terrible news of Theodore Gamely’s death, and that poor Virginia’s reaction made him cry.  Mrs. Gamely is surprised that he never brought it up to Virginia in the five years she’s worked for him:

“There was nothing I could do to make him fire me.  I guess that’s the way he brought it up.”

Mrs. Gamely understands that, although Virginia doesn’t.  When Virginia wonders what it was all for, her mother answers:

“A benevolent act is like a locust.  It sleeps until it is called.”

She then goes on to remind Virginia (and us) that we may not live to see the repercussions of our acts, and that nothing is guaranteed to us – but we have to try anyway.  As she puts it:

“You may not find a way to save your child.  But you have to try.  You owe it to her, and you owe it in general.”

And that’s where we end this chapter.  Virginia has been given, if not hope, than at least a strong push to keep fighting.  And although she has no way to know it, her husband may have found the key to saving Abby – and Peter Lake may have finally, after a century, found a child he can save.

And, again, we see that the past and future are connected – Peter’s inability to find the child in the tenement, and his powerlessness over Beverly’s illness, was, maybe, just preparation for something yet to come.  Virginia’s dream/vision would seem to fit in with that.  But we’ll see what happens in the final two chapters…




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