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THE BALLAD OF EDMUND TUPPENCE

 

CANTO THE SECOND (PART ONE)

CANTO THE FIRST PART ONE here if you missed it
CANTO THE FIRST PART TWO here if you missed it

MARK GULLICK 

March 1st, 2020

 

I

 

‘Tis morning! Sally smooths young Edmund’s brow,

Her nursing skills unpaid unless you count

The coin of love. Oh, not that she rates now

As legal tender an unknown amount.

But wealth can lie unreckoned, so allow

Her tenderness as coinage and recount

That though this Nightingale has loved before

Her heart knows that she never has loved more.

 

 

II

 

As Sally takes a pulse and makes some tea,

The buzzer makes her start, now what is this?

She hesitates to view CCTV

But knows it has saved many a young miss.

The bulky frame enframed there seems to be

Our Royal Mullins. What could be amiss?

This guardian brought an angel to her door.

Now, who can say he can’t do something more?

 

 

III

 

Our Royal is a man quite made of granite,

And wider than a rugby scrum, and so

Although the Mullins never meant to plan it,

Young Sal admits him with someone in tow.

We wish the young muse safe. But wait; well, damn it!

We knew that Royal would not stoop so low.

He’s brought a doctor from a local surgery.

(We’ll look away while he commits his perjury).

 

 

IV

 

As Sally brews some tea, the GP kneels,

Attaches wires to Edmund, hooks him up.

Inspects his eyes by flashlight, then he feels

Young Eddie’s cranium, Lord! What a cup

That is to drink from! He who always steals

Has juice of memory from which to sup.

He tells young Sal, though Edmund still be game,

When he awakes, he may not know his name.

 

 

V

 

The doctor leaves, but not before our Royal

Informs poor Sal that there must be a fee.

She understands that now she is embroiled

And as she knows that nothing is for free

She reaches for her purse, but Mull is loyal

And takes her to one side and says that she

Should look in Edmund’s pockets, just the once.

There, she will find what Royal calls some ‘bunce’.

 

 

VI

 

Now Quicklake feels inside the young man’s jeans.

The first thing there that strikes her is not cash

But warmth, and life, and something else between,

But we will move on, lest we be seen brash.

She extricates amounts she has not seen,

Enquires of Mullins who says, don’t be rash.

The doctor names a price, a large amount.

A word from Royal brings a large discount.

 

 

VII

 

Now, Mullins says, I will return again,

But there are things that you should know, um, Miss?

I’m Sally Quicklake, Sal replies. Your name?

I’m Royal Mullins (truth won’t go amiss).

You understand the nature of Ed’s game?

I do not, says young Sal, and also this;

It’s nothing would disturb or make me grieve.

Good luck with that, says Royal as he leaves.

 

 

VIII

 

As Mullins leaves the flat the building shakes.

The man is a colossus! Sally knows

That she must care for… Name! For heaven’s sakes!

Her curiosity for Edmund grows.

And just as there in Eden was a snake,

So Sally’s need to know a name now shows.

She reaches once again into his trousers.

(Why do the smallest movements so arouse us?)

 

 

IX

 

This time it is not money that she takes

From Eddie’s nether parts. Some other thing.

A bag of flour? Does he look like he bakes?

She looks at it. A bell begins to ring.

How memory a saviour often makes

And often times the strangest gifts will bring.

She vaguely knows what she holds in her hand.

(The street value is roughly 50 grand).

 

 

X

 

But Sal has little time now to assess

Her findings. Her poor patient now has stirred.

She primps her hair, adjusts her cotton dress.

How curious, we think of pride deferred.

She almost sees herself as in distress,

And then recalls she has a wounded bird.

She has no understanding, poor sweet thing,

That Ed has more than just a broken wing.

 

 

XI

 

He’s with us now. Young Tuppence comes around,

And Sally looks into those hazel eyes.

Well, poetry must end. We’ve run aground.

We’ll more of love, it is a greater prize

Than our poor art can summon up or sound.

We’ll watch our Ed and Sally realise

That sudden love is sweeter when unplanned

Just as the drowning sailor sees the land.

 

 

XII

 

Now, let us leave these foundlings for a while

And possibly review the situation.

Exhibit A, M’lud. There is a pile

Of Charlie sitting in Sal’s habitation.

The lovers may begin their tryst in style

In jail (if you can find a police station).

And all the Royal Mullins in the world

Could never save our hero or our girl.

 

 

XIII

 

But aren’t we poets? We must hie us hence!

For love is our true subject, and we see

A mingling, a sense joined as one sense

Two rivers flow to join in one blue sea.

We must rejoin young Sally and Tuppence.

Oh, water, bathe us, poets as we be.

(The rhyme there in line five is weak, we know.

But love, not poesie, makes a river flow).

 

 

XIV

 

So, here we are, spies in the house of love.

Oh, muffins! We have clipped our wings once more!

The usual suspects, glove and dove, above.

You know the drill, I won’t become a bore.

Unless… what if we cheat and just let love

Do double duty? For we stand before

Two lovers. Let not love now make them fools.

But please allow them – once – to break the rules.

 

 

XV

 

An afternoon flows by. Young Edmund walks.

Just baby steps, and looks always at Sal

As if at mother. If once they could talk,

Thinks Sally Q, who has no child at all.

He sits, all tired, as Sally draws a cork.

A glass of wine for her, she needs withdrawal.

This poor child must be pitied. She is torn.

She’s birthed a child which has yet to be born.

 

 

XVI

 

And when young Eddie sleeps again she thinks.

He is out like a light, sleeps like a cat

For many hours. But, even as she drinks

Her Côtes du Rhône, she can’t help but think that

She has a lodger criminal, the links

Between her old life and her new-style flat

Cannot escape her, nor those thoughts be louder.

(Those thoughts turn once again to all that powder).

 

 

XVII

 

One point remains in Sally’s late events.

The telephone, that lifeline to us all.

Remember, Sal, remember. Marshal sense

And memory. Remember who to call!

So; Royal Mullins. Talking to a fence

May be the conversation overall

For dodgy escapades. But what a tonic!

Sal dials and vows to use her bond Platonic.

 

 

XVIII

 

Now, there are moments, certain fulcrum times,

Where lives rotate. Now Sally has reached hers.

We can but watch her, we who trade in rhymes.

‘Tis not within our gift what next occurs

As Sally views her life. Now something primes

This rootless, loveless girl as love defers

A tiresome life now Sally Q has seen

An underworld in which she may be queen.

 

 

XIX

 

Thus, Sally views time as a corridor

In which she stands. She looks one way and back.

The past recedes behind, the rest before.

And where she stands decides her future track.

Her life has been a dull thing, such a bore,

A terminus, a weary cul-de-sac.

She leaves the corridor turned all about.

One girl went in. A different girl came out.

 

 

XX

 

This rearrangement must be stalled for now.

The patient stirs. She kneels beside his bed.

He is the key and codex, he is how

Our changeling child will strike her poor past dead.

As with her lips she grazes Edmund’s brow,

The shades of inhibition are now fled

As Sally Quicklake, by her own admission,

Takes love and life and Edmund as a mission.

 

 

XXI

 

The door again. Return of Royal M.

He’d wondered if the girl would change her tune

On seeing so much marching powder. Then

Again he knew that he would see doubloon

With so much coke, but told himself again

His code would not allow him such a boon.

Though Royal had no father and no mother,

He’d always seen Ed as a little brother.

 

 

XXII

 

We’ll grant some privacy to Sal and Royal

And muse instead upon morality.

We know that Mullins R. remains as loyal

As faithful hound to master, loyalty

Being a habit difficult to foil.

But where does Sally owe her fealty?

To Edmund, yes, but what of moral codes?

Can right be found by following wrong roads?

 

 

XXIII

 

Morality’s a river to the sea,

A Nile, a Danube, like a serpent flows.

But rivers muddy, though their course agree

With undulations all their hist’ry knows.

They reach the same place, ‘tis no mystery,

At least, no mystery that we suppose.

The mystery is how the water’s changed

And how the moral system’s rearranged.

 

 

XXIV

 

For Sally’s called her work and told them straight

She’s quit. She won’t be coming in again.

She has a new job now which will not wait.

A new life with a lightning-lit terrain.

A man, a plan. They may have got here late

But here they stay and grow, that much is plain.

For she has struck a dealer’s deal with Royal.

She knows the gentle giant will stay loyal.

 

 

XXV

 

She’ll hold the stock, he to a dealer sells

Who hawks it on the street and takes a cut

As does our Royal, whose presence there compels

The vendor to be honest injun. But

Young Sally is defended. If he tells

A soul, Mullins will crush him like a nut.

As Sally toys with Edmund’s silken hair,

She’s set her sail, and now the wind blows fair.

Mark Gullick is a philosophy PhD from London, England, who went on holiday to Costa Rica four years ago and forgot to go home. He now works there as a musician. He blogs at https://postcardsfromtraumaville.blogspot.com/