Excerpt of The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
(Page 2 of 7)
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And I must not fail.
The first word I ever heard used to describe myself was: resourceful.
It was said by Tom Grexby, my dear old schoolmaster, to my mother. They were
standing beneath the ancient chestnut tree that shaded the little path that
led up to our house. I was tucked away out of view above them, nestled
snugly in a cradle of branches I called my crows-nest. From here I could
look out across the cliff-top to the sea beyond, dreaming for long hours of
sailing away one day to find out what lay beyond the great arc of the
On this particular day hot, still, and silent I watched my mother as she
walked down the path towards the gate, a little lace parasol laid against
her shoulder. Tom was panting up the hill from the church as she reached the
gate. I had not long commenced under his tutelage, and supposed that my
mother had seen him from the house and had come out expressly to speak to
him about my progress.
He is, I heard him say, in reply to her enquiry, a most resourceful young
Later, I asked her what resourceful meant.
It means you know how to get things done, she said, and I felt pleased
that this appeared to be a quality approved of in the adult world.
Was Papa resourceful? I asked.
She did not reply, but instead told me to run along and play, as she must
return to her work.
When I was very young, I was often told gently but firmly by my mother
to run along, and consequently spent many hours amusing myself. In summer,
I would dream amongst the branches of the chestnut tree or, accompanied by
Beth, our maid-of-all-work, explore along the shore-line beneath the cliff;
in winter, wrapped up in an old tartan shawl on the window-seat in my
bedroom, I would dream over Wanleys Wonders of the Little World,
Gullivers Travels, or Pilgrims Progress (for which I cherished an
inordinate fondness and fascination) until my head ached, looking out
betimes across the drear waters, and wondering how far beyond the horizon,
and in which direction, lay the Country of the Houyhnhnms, or the City of
Destruction, and whether it would be possible to take a packet boat from
Weymouth to see them for myself. Why the City of Destruction should have
sounded so enticing to me, I cannot imagine, for I was terrified by
Christians premonition that the city was about to be burned with fire from
heaven, and often imagined that the same fate might befall our little
village. I was also haunted throughout my childhood, though again I could
not say why, by the Pilgrims words to Evangelist: I am condemned to die,
and after that to come to judgment; and I find that I am not willing to do
the first, nor able to do the second. Puzzling though they were, I knew
that the words expressed a terrible truth, and I would repeat them to myself
over and again, like some occult incantation, as I lay in my cradle of
branches or in my bed, or as I wandered the windy shore beneath the
I dreamed, too, of another place, equally fantastic and beyond possession,
and yet strangely having the distinctness of somewhere experienced and
remembered, like a taste that stays on the tongue. I would find myself
standing before a great building, part castle and part palace, the home of
some ancient race, as I thought, bristling with ornamented spires and
battlemented turrets, and wondrous grey towers, topped with curious
dome-like structures, that soared into the sky so high that they seemed to
pierce the very vault of heaven. And in my dreams it was always summer
perfect, endless summer, and there were white birds, and a great dark
fish-pond surrounded by high walls. This magical place had no name, and no
location, real or imagined. I had not found it described in any book, or in
any story told to me. Who lived there whether some king or caliph I knew
not. Yet I was sure that it existed somewhere on the earth, and that one day
I would see it with my own eyes.
Excerpted from The Meaning of the Night, copyright (c) 2006 by Michael Cox. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, W.W.Norton and Company. All rights reserved