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Glen Notes (1907-1914)

Chapter Text

May, 1913


Half a League Onward


Walter's heart was pounding in his chest, his lungs straining and beginning to burn. He felt pathetic. This shouldn't be so hard.

"Jem," he wheezed, "please slow down."

Jem reined in his stride with a little hop, much to the delight of Bruce Meredith, perched atop his broad shoulders.

"Sorry, Walt. Do you need a rest?"*

"No," Walter grimaced. "Just go slower."

"Fast!" Bruce cried. "Go fast, Jem!"

The red shore road wound down from Glen St. Mary, past the old House of Dreams and on toward the Four Winds Light. They had been walking a little farther every day since Jem arrived home from Redmond, but Walter hadn't made it all the way to the light yet. He had been determined that today would be the day, but now his lungs felt horribly constricted. He wanted to open himself up to the salt air, feel it course through him in a torrent, but his body took only thin sips, never allowing him to slake his thirst for oxygen.

"Take it easy," Jem said, scrutinizing Walter's blanched face. "Dad said not to push yourself too hard yet. We made it to Miss Cornelia's yesterday — let's try for three steps past her door today."

"I'm going to the Light today," Walter muttered.

Jem shook his head. "Walter, you can't force yourself to get better all at once. No one gets over typhoid easily, and you had a close shave. Go slow. We'll have you back in fighting form soon enough."

"I'm going to the Light," Walter repeated. "It's only half a league."

Jem did not contradict him.

"Go fast, Jem!" Bruce urged, digging his heels into Jem's sides.

Instead of leaving Walter to his fate, Jem began to gallop back and forth, charging down the road for a short way and then backtracking to the spot where Walter hobbled along. Bruce shrieked his joy, clutching Jem's head with stubby fingers and gripping tight with pudgy knees.

Despite the stitch growing in his side, Walter had to smile at the laughing child and his noble steed. "Half a league, half a league, half a league onward," he quoted, before running short of breath.

Jem took up the lines:

"Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

He capered forward and back again, the cadence of Tennyson's lines propelling him on as much as Bruce's shrill joy.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Now here was a poem! Despite the weakness of his body, Walter felt his blood thrum with the cadence. Beyond argument, reason, or question, the momentum of the words gave courage to his heart and strength to his limbs.

I must learn to write like this.

Could he? Could a quiet life in the placid Glen ever inspire anything so stirring from his own pen?

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Bruce gasped. "Jem said a bad word!"

"Did I?" Jem, flushed with the exertion of simultaneous exercise and recitation, looked to Walter for assistance.

"I think he means H-E-L-L," Walter spelled.

"Oh," Jem said. "Um, sorry, Bruce. No more bad words. Mustn't send you home full of mischief, or your mother won't let you come on our walks anymore."

Bruce giggled.

Walter scanned through the next few lines in his mind. "You're alright for Flashed all their sabres bare, but after that stanza, just skip to the last."

Jem grinned and was off again.

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Walter felt as shiver race up his spine. They had all learned Tennyson's poem off by heart from the sixth Royal Reader, and the thrill had never faded. To hear Jem recite, his voice carrying over the harbor breeze and Bruce's squeals, spurred Walter onward.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

When the last lines had wafted away on the wind, Walter looked up and beheld the Four Winds Light before him. His body ached, and the stitch in his side pinched uncomfortably, but he had made it. Panting, he took the last few steps and laid his hand against the cool, salt-sprayed wall of the lighthouse.

"Well done, Walt," Jem beamed.

"Well done, Walt!" Bruce echoed.

Walter had no breath to reply, but nodded and smiled as best he could.

"Alright, half a league homeward!" Jem said, and was off, galloping back up the road, Bruce squealing with delight, before Walter could take a single step.


Notes:

*As far as I can discover, Jem is the only member of the family who ever calls Walter "Walt."

Tennyson, "Charge of the Light Brigade" (1854)