Meadows of Fantasy
FANDOM IS AT HOME
"IN THE SUMMER," declaimed Owen Mole as he marched slowly round the table laying down quarto sheets, "a young fan's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of hibernation."
"Hibernation in summer," said Mine from across the table, "unfortunately happens to be an etymological impossibility."
"Nevertheless," Owen returned, "that does not prevent one's thought turning to the subject." He started down the other side, following in the footsteps of the individual in front of him -- who happened to be Bert Duckbarrow. "Here we are, four magnificent red-blooded specimens of young British manhood. And what good does it do us? You've got an excuse, Mine, perhaps. But Cynth won't so much look at us. So what else is there to think about?"
"That's a lie to start with, Owen," Cynthia put in from her place in the procession. "I distinctly remember looking at you twice this evening already. I looked at Ian a couple of times, too."
"So I noticed," said Ian Omlet. "You seemed to be measuring me up for the oven."
"It was the refrigerator, so there," Cynthia snapped at him.
"Cool, man," said Ian. "Sorry Bert. That should've been your line."
"Anyway," said Dave Portable, "you can't complain, Owen. You had your share of Pat Whatsit last week-end."
"Yes -- about an eighth."
"That, I imagine," said Cynthia carefully, "is about as much of her as anybody ever gets."
The week-end in question had been Whit week-end, and the Thisbury and District Science Fiction Circle had played host to a mixed bunch of fans from out of town. This had been Cynthia's first experience of non-Thisbury fandom -- and theirs of her. She had liked them right enough -- particularly Barker -- whilst watching Pat's permutations with an air of cynical detachment.
"An eighth is better than nothing," Ian protested.
"Come to that," said Bert, "so is any vulgar fraction."
Dave suddenly stopped. "Hey!" he exclaimed. "Why am I putting Page Twenty-four on top of Page Twenty?"
"A very good question, Dave," Owen agreed. Why are you? Can't you concentrate?"
"Who's got Page Twenty-two?" Dave wanted to know.
"Er," said Mine. "I have."
"Well what the hell are you doing behind me then you nit? Get in front of me. Hang on, everybody -- we've got to sort this mess out first."
Presently the collating procession resumed its march, this time with the pages in their correct order.
"What is her name, anyway?" asked Ian.
"Whose?" wondered several people.
"Pat's. Pat Whatsit."
"Watson," said Owen.
"Wantsit," said Bert.
"Wantstrett," said Mine. She spelled it. "There's the Bennett Directory in the book-case, if you don't believe me."
"If she's in the Bennett Directory," was Owen's comment, "she's got something that none of us have."
"Naturally," said Dave. "The Directory's always a year in arrears. We'll be in next year's though."
"Half of us'll have got fed up waiting, or grown up or something in the mean time," said Ian.
"Like to bet?" asked Mine with a grin.
"Anyway," Cynthia pointed out, "we don't have to wait a year to see our names in print."
"On a strictly do-it-yourself basis," Dave agreed, "you're undoubtedly right."
"That wasn't what I meant."
Dave laid down the last sheet from his pile, and the procession shambled to an empty-handed halt. "OK, Cynth," he said. "Be obscure if you want to. We've got all night."
"There's probably nothing in it," said Cynthia off-handedly. "As Chairman you'll have thought of it months ago and decided against it."
"Very likely so."
"Put the poor boy out of his misery," urged Mine.
"Not to mention the rest of us," said Ian.
"No need," Dave declared. "As chairman I'll have thought of it months ago and decided against it. We have Cynth's word for it -- whatever it is."
"I'm sorry I mentioned it," Cynthia murmured contritely.
"Mentioned what?" Owen exploded.
Cynthia swung to face him.
"So somebody's interested," she observed.
"Always," Owen confirmed. "But specifically -- would it be asking too much for you to explain precisely what you're talking about?"
"Not at all. I was simply wondering whether it mightn't be possible to invite the Press down here and have a look at us some time."
This was obviously an idea well worthy of consideration, and it was received as such.
"The 'Echo'?" asked Mine.
Dave recaptured the initiative. "That's one possibility. Or even the 'County Gazette'."
"The 'Echo''s the best bet to begin with, surely?" Mine argued. "It's strictly interested in Thisbury and its immediate environs."
"But the 'Gazette' comes out six times a week," Dave pointed out, "and has far more space to bestow on trivialities."
"We're trivialities of course," said Cynthia.
"First catch your paper," Owen suggested. "Does anybody know anybody on either?"
Nobody present admitted to doing so.
"Never mind," said Dave. "We can write to them. Who should do it, Mine -- me or you?"
"You as Chairman I think -- you should sign it, anyway."
"Fair enough. Let's adjourn the collating to draft it, while we're in the mood."
"Oh, goody," put in Bert. "I could just do with a draught."
"I thought Bert had been strangely silent," said Mine.
"I was drafting some silence fiction."
"Secretary," said Dave.
"Aye-aye, sir?" responded Mine promptly.
"Take a note. Mr. Duckbarrow and the Press to be segregated from each other with the utmost rigour."
"Mortis," added Owen. Bert swept him an ironical bow.
Both papers replied almost by return. The 'Echo' simply sent a printed acknowledgement with the message (unsigned) that the Editor would be writing shortly. The 'Echo' was known to be strictly a two-men-and-a-typist sort of outfit, so this was fair enough. The 'County Gazette', however, indicated its willingness to cover the Circle on any convenient evening. Dave rang them up from work, and the negotiations were completed there and then -- a reporter and a photographer would be down the following Wednesday.
Dave on his new scooter, and Owen on his sister's bicycle, between them passed the word around, and the club achieved a strong and early turnout for the occasion. All the aboriginal pre-Turtle gang were there, even Tom who'd been getting lax in his attendances of late, besides several newcomers -- not all of them strictly members though -- who'd been recruited during the winter. John Russell. Harbottle (his real name) had brought along his girl-friend Jean, and Carolyn Redfern had dragged along her husband who was known to grudge every second that was spent neither in his garden nor on his allotment. George Morley, a regular but silent attendee on club nights, had brought a friend -- a Mr. Low or Lowe (or it might even have been Mr. Lo, the introduction being of course purely verbal). Dave started the proceedings by chairing a general discussion among not far short of twenty people all told.
Cynthia, who was sitting at the top of the ladder keeping lookout, kicked peremptorily on the panelling. "Visitors," she announced as she swung herself inside and dropped lithely to the lower deck. The Nullgray Mouser scooted down its plank and ensconced itself in its favourite position of safety atop the bookcase. Dave adjourned the discussion and went up to welcome the new arrivals. These were two in number, a man and a woman. The woman was holding open the door of their car while the man extricated a load of equipment. Most of this he slung over one shoulder and, the woman in the lead, they advanced to where Dave awaited them at the end of the gang-plank.
"The 'Gazette'?" asked Dave, then "I'm Dave Portable, the Chairman."
The woman -- she might have been in her middle or late twenties -- held out a tidily gloved hand and shook his firmly. "I'm Ruth Welby. This is Bill Williams. I don't think he has a hand free to shake."
"Well come on down. I hope you don't mind climbing ladders."
"I was in the Wrens," said the woman. Dave helped the man with his effects, and then the three of them were standing surveying the interior while the two newshounds were being thoroughly surveyed in their turn.
Mine, in her several capacities as Secretary, First Lady ,and general number two to Dave, could hardly avoid joining the group -- and Dave, his his turn, could hardly avoid introducing her. "This is -- er -- Miss Mine Smith," he announced. Ruth Welby looked blank for a moment. "M-I-N-E," Mine amplified hastily. "It's my name. Don't ask me to explain." Ruth Welby obligingly didn't. "Why don't you take your coat off?" Mine continued.
"Good idea. I'll do that. Can you start casing the join then, Bill?"
"Fair enough," Bill the photographer agreed amiably, and moved towards a table to dump the rest of his gear. Ruth Welby, for her part, allowed Mine to hang her coat among the others while she peeled off her gloves and stuffed them into a capacious handbag that hung from the crook of her elbow. Mine found herself thinking that the other woman would look a lot better either with less make-up on her face or with a more vivid colour on her nails -- or possibly both.
"Right," said Ruth Welby. "How are we playing this? D'you want to talk while I interrupt, or shall I ask you questions, or what?"
"Well, I think it'd..." began Dave, then tailed off as Owen caught his eye and indicated a group of three chairs that he'd just placed together in the least-occupied corner of the room. This rated as a Good Idea, and the trio adjourned there forthwith. Then Ruth Welby began to learn all about the Thisbury and District Science Fiction Circle.
She seemed to be reasonably knowledgeable and broad-minded -- though that is probably characteristic of reporters generally. She asked most of the obvious stock questions of course -- "What do you actually do here?" and "Do you all believe in flying saucers?" -- but also some shrewd and informed ones -- "Do science fiction authors take their writing seriously?" and "But would H.G. Wells have had the same influence if his works had been channelled into a pulp market rather than a more respectable market?" She was given a gratis copy of the second issue of SON OF THE TURTLE -- the first was out of print -- and discussed it briefly with them. She inspected the club library -- mainly recent magazines and paperbacks of course -- and other various aids to gracious living (fannish and otherwise) which the Turtle incorporated. Then they sat down again and the inquisition proceeded.
Meanwhile, Bill Williams had not been idle. Having cased the joint as directed, he suggested that some of those present might care to arrange themselves naturally about the outer deck while it was still light. The younger element -- Owen, Ian, Cynthia, Russ Harbottle and his Jean -- scrambled to comply, and a couple of their elders were impressed for the sake of balance. Bill took several shots o the barge from various positions, and then the company adjourned downstairs where he laid his equipment aside again.
"Aren't you going to take any interiors?" asked Cynthia.
"Not yet. There's no hurry."
"Why don't you take one of that huddle in the corner?" Owen suggested. "That girl of yours is certainly photogenic."
The photographer -- he didn't look more than twenty-five himself -- shook his head, and winked. "Never!" he declared. "That's as much as my job's worth -- she's the boss's aunt. Or niece or something."
Owen kept the floor. "You should've had your stuff set up when she came down," he grinned. "That shot would've been worth losing two jobs for.
"Laid on deliberately," said Bill Williams. "Helps to break the ice."
When the tripartite conference in the corner momentarily flagged, Dave suggested that Ruth Welby might like to mingle a bit and hold converse with some of the others. She agreed readily to this; after that, she said, she'd like to have them all pose for some real-life photographs. So she got up and moved over to the nearest other with whom she might mingle.
That other just happened to be Mr. Redfern, husband to Carolyn.
"Well," she greeted him breezily. "You enjoy coming here, do you?"
"Not in the least -- since you ask," Mr. Redfern returned flatly.
Ruth Welby was momentarily taken somewhat aback. Only momentarily. "I shouldn't have expected quite that answer," she said non-committally.
"On an evening like this," declared Mr. Redfern, "it's a sin to be indoors."
"Oh? A gardener, perhaps? Or a sportsman?"
"Right first time."
"I see. Well then -- might I ask what brings you here tonight, if that isn't being too nosy?"
"I came to oblige the wife."
"She's a lucky woman then," said Ruth Welby. "Still, you have my sympathies -- fancy being cooped up indoors on a perfect evening for bedding out the snapdragons."
"What did you say?" came a female snort from behind the woman reporter's shoulder. She looked round. It was Carolyn, and her face was furious. This time Ruth Welby really was taken aback. She couldn't for the life of her think what was wrong. When at last she began to get some glimmering of the trouble, it was too late.
"Er -- is this your wife, Mr. Er?" she asked, for the want of anything better to say.
"This most certainly is his wife," announced Carolyn in ominous tones. "Are you going to apologise?" She stood facing her now, blazing with anger. She was a bigger woman than Ruth Welby, too.
"But...but I...I'm not..." Ruth Welby stood her ground, but that was all.
Mr. Redfern at last collected his wits, which had been scattered by his wife's sudden eruption. "Dear," he began. "I think you've got hold of the wrong..."
"You stay out of this," Carolyn snapped at him. "I heard perfectly well what this woman said. She said she sympathised with you for being married to a dr..--a snapdragon."
Now Ruth Welby fully understood. She wanted to howl with laughter. She suppressed the urge somehow. "Madam," she stated quietly, "I assure you I said nothing of the sort."
"You...said..what? Then you're a bloody liar," screamed Carolyn, and raising her hands she grabbed hold of a handful of the other woman's hair on each side, where it was pinned above the ears.
"Ouch!" gasped Ruth Welby, now definitely on the losing side. Help, however, was on its way. Cynthia grabbed one of Carolyn's wrists, and although rewarded with a savage kick from a narrow heel, hung on grimly. Ian Omlet secured the other wrist, and as Carolyn loosened her grip for a moment she was pulled away and held firmly by several people. For an instant all was deadly silence. Then a heavy tread sounded on the deck above, and Harry the Second's head poked through the hatch.
"Am I missing something?" he enquired casually.
As if waiting for this signal, Carolyn dissolved into a torrent of near-hysterical tears.
Mine was standing by with Ruth Welby's coat. Ruth Welby entirely agreed with her. She caught Bill the photographer's eye. "I think it's time we were going, Bill," she told him. Then, as Mine attempted to take her arm -- "I'm all right thanks. Hadn't you better attend to your lady member?"
Dave, therefore, escorted the pair off the premises as he had escorted them on. He tried to stammer an apology, but he wasn't very successful inasmuch as he didn't have a clue how the fracas had started. Ruth Welby let him take her arm over the gang-plank, then she turned to face him. She looked a bit flushed and more than a bit dishevelled, but she seemed to be entirely composed.
"There's no need to worry about this," she told him. "It's sort of an occupational hazard. I'm sorry we couldn't get any interior shots." Then she'd turned, and was helping Bill the photographer get his equipment into the car. Dave felt entirely at a loss, so he just stood there and left them to it, watching them as (the photographer driving) they bumped across the Meadows and vanished into the gloaming.
As soon as Carolyn had got over her weeping fit, Harry the Second drove her and her husband home -- and that was the last that the Circle ever saw of the Redferns. Once they'd gone, everybody else started to hold an excited inquest on the affair. Mr. Redfern had managed to pass on the truth about the snapdragons, with the result that nobody knew quite whether to laugh or cry. The face of Mr. Lowe (Or Lowe or Lo) in particular was a study.
"I don't know," he said. "I really don't know. The scoop of the year -- and I daren't use it."
This called for further explanations, which he willingly gave. "I trust," he said, "you'll excuse the decent obscurity in which I've hitherto been wrapped. Allow me to introduce myself -- Frank Lowe, assistant editor and chief reporter of the 'Thisbury Echo'." He handed Dave a card to confirm this. "I got your letter, but knowing that George was a member of your club I thought if I could get him to bring me as just a friend, I might get a rather more intimate picture of things. I would have declared myself of course before leaving. So I come here incog. And what happens? I see the ace girl reporter of the rival paper get her hair pulled. And my readers -- bless 'em -- will never know. Not from me, at any rate." He chucked deeply.
"That, I think," put in Bert, "is known as the power of suppress."
The 'Echo' duly reported upon the Turtle and her crew -- entirely favourably, as befits the attitude of a small provincial weekly to local activities. The Circle was pleasantly surprised to find that the 'County Gazette' likewise reported on them favourably. The article, though it lacked a byline, was clearly the work of Ruth Welby, and it was supported by a good exterior shot of the Turtle. It concluded by recommending all local science fiction enthusiasts to visit the barge on Wednesday evenings, where they would be assured of a lively time.
Which, one and all agreed, was remarkably fair of her.
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