Three senators of the Anvil Parliament lived in a cluster of houses near Jimmy Moreau’s Creek. Kitchens in all three houses had windows that looked out to the front of the blacksmith shop. On the morning of the 20th day of June, 1931, even as the senators watched the sun spread itself out under the big basswood tree, the two halves of the entry to the blacksmith shop were suddenly flung open from within.
Three pairs of non-elected eyes lifted joyously.
The day was Friday, eve of the summer solstice, and, with the doors flung wide open, the day signaled a new session of the Anvil Parliament: Great news!
Rejoicing broke out in the senatorial breasts, compounded of three parts patience, the natural virtue of retired shantymen, one part wonder, and a soupcon of the amazement which stout old Cortez felt on first gazing out on the Pacific. A new season of learning, the continuing challenge of study of man in his close association with the horse, the ever-pressing need to keep up-to-date on happenings in the precinct and the wider world of Almonte on the Mississippi, all that and more in a panorama of man’s frailties and accomplishments opened up with the open doors of the blacksmith shop.
Even as they were glancing at the twin halves of the open door, Hilary the blacksmith and “ex officio” Speaker of the Assembly, stepped out on to the sidewalk and proceeded to hook both door halves to the front wall of the shop, after which he simply stood silent, like old Cortez, on the sidewalk, alone, in the sun, drinking in the wonders of creation in the precinct’s June day.
That astounding moment lifted the senatorial spirits to rapturous heights, and they too felt the inner strength of new life within, a life very much akin to that which St. Paul’s newly-baptized neophytes felt as they shucked off the old pagan and were lifted up in the splendour of faith and hope to the promise of eternal life.
Three senators in three kitchens got up from three rocking chairs, independently, checked pockets for tobacco pouch, and Eddy’s Sesqui firesticks. A well-worn pipe peeped out from the bib of Carhartt’s blue denim overalls. Thus outfitted they cast off mooring lines and slid away from hearth and home, gliding out into the current and merged into the stream of people till they reached the hooked front door of the blacksmith shop and settled into their seats on the front step, a safe distance from hooves of draft horses, and distant household chores.
A smell of yeast in the air, the usual by-product of operations around the forge in the presence of horses and shantymen, was particularly pungent in the heat of sun on the eve of the official opening of a hot summer, and when that yeasty air began circulating around the front step it began to work its magic on the senatorial gray matter with promise of a swelling performance. Just in time too, for, at the very moment when the Speaker with the flatting hammer poised over the horn of the anvil was about to convoke the assembly for the opening prayer of a new session, Paddy Rooney the barber, proprietor of Rooney’s pool room and barber shop, rounded the corner on his way down town.
Delight swarmed into the eyes of the three watchful senators. Small wonder! When Paddy changed direction slightly to steer directly towards the senators seated, a swelling excitement made it clear that Patrick could be the bringer of news beyond the world of the precinct, and of the forge and anvil. “As my old grandfather once said” remarked one senator, “If you want to find out what’s going on in the world, ask a hotelkeeper or a barber, and, if you have a choice, pick the barber.” Opportunity to do just that came walking towards the senators seated in the person of Patrick, Rooney Himself, begor.
One item of unfinished and unintended business lay before the senate, an item left over from a previous session of dim memory, viz. the matter of names His Reverence, Msgr. Walter E. Cavanaugh attached to his animal household, the horse, the cow, and the pig. Horse and cow had been satisfactorily dealt with, but there remained the yawning lacuna, viz. did His Reverence really have a name for a pig?
Paddy stopped. Greetings slithered down from Patrick upright to senators seated. “Twas a fine day indeed, unbelievably warm and like to continue. Yeasty like. Had Patrick been made aware that His Reverence’s fine driving horse carried a most wondrous name, Photius? A heretic of old.
Indeed yes. Photius had entered the current jargon of the ballistics experts, denizens of the pool hall, as well as men who sought mere sartorial improvement in the barber’s chair.
Discussion veered from ancient times when Photius the schismatic had the unparalleled nerve to threaten to excommunicate the pope to an era more ancient still, an era when aboriginal Algonquins fished below the sixty-foot fall of the Mississippi at Almonte. “I’m told”, one senator threw out “That the old Algonquins held the strange notion that the souls of the dead do not die after all, but live on in some other creatures for long afterwards.”
“Not only live on,” added a colleague, “But oftentimes return as a tree, a fox, an otter, eagle, or wolf, some creature I’d suppose that would display the same kind of knockabout temperament as the deceased.”
“Hah, you don’t have to go all that far back,” came from the Senator from Irishtown Beyond the Creek, entering the lists for the first time since September. “Sure don’t the Irish do that in those old legends they talk about every time two or three of them find a place to sit? Now, His Reverence being Irish, he’s already got those wondrous heretical names for his horse and his cow, Photius and Vorgilla, poor souls, so like as not he’s found some other strange name for the pig too.”
“Feller in the chair a few days back had a thing or two to say about that,” said Paddy upright. “Said His Reverence has the idea that every blessed thing in creation has been made for a good purpose — even if only to serve as a bad example. I guess that’s why Photius the horse gets to feel a touch of the knotted end of the whip now and again, and the brindled Vorgilla slaves away every day to atone for crimes unmentionable. So His Reverence probably has other heretics worth mention too.”
“Would you suppose spirits of evil-doers get a chance to return to earth, or would it be the just only come back to mingle with the righteous? Seems to me there could be shortages of the returning just hereabouts, and we know there’ll always be a plentiful crop of big-time evil-doers. His Reverence could have a field day looking for a name for the pig if he took the wider view.”
“Oh, didn’t you know?” said Patrick. “He’s already done that. Pig’s got a name too.”
Astounding in its simplicity, this declaration from the practitioner of sartorial splendour struck one senator so hard that his lower jaw fell and hung slack, like the mainsail of a schooner becalmed in a tropical sea. With a struggle the honourable ancient levered the jaw back into working position and off the end of his tongue came a declaration loaded full of utter consternation: “You don’t say!”
“Oh yes,” confirmed Patrick. “Sexton was in for a haircut yesterday, and mentioned it.”
“One of the blessed saints of Ireland?” asked the Senator From Within the Bounds. “Or, maybe, just maybe, one of the condemned?”
“A bit of both I’d say,” quoth Patrick.
“Well, and what might that name be, Patrick?” enquired slack-jaw.
“Sexton says the pig’s name comes from Ireland of long, long ago.” Patrick took a deep breath before venturing further. He cleared his throat, and said, “Cromwell’s the name.”
“The devil you say” came from three senators and an audible snicker from Hilary sailed away over the clamorous ring of the four-pound hammer on the horn of the anvil.