words. And facile or clever talkers, together with tellers ofnelaborate tales, will fist his face into a frown.nCaptain Barfoot has a frown which can silence a tavern.nAnd yet he has been known, stepping into the verynsilence he, himself, has created, as if he were a man steppingnout of the dark and into lantern light, to talk as if the onlynthing which stood between him and sudden death was thenshield of his words.nHere, for example, is one of his digressions on the subjectnof the wisdom of wounds:n”It is the folly of most healthy men to consider that thosenwho have suffered from long illness or those who havenearned a rich reward of scabs and scars (if nothing muchnelse) in this vain, hurtful world, are somehow more fortunate,nas if blessed with an acquired coat of hardness like ansnail in his castle or a turtle in his shell. That they may benperhaps somewhat like the saints. That is to say, enabled tonbe careless.n”Having lost so much to predatory time and tribulation,nthey are left with much less to lose now. Precious little to fretnover or about. Having tasted the worst which fever andnchills, cuts and bruises and broken bones can offer a man,nwhy they are imagined, deemed likely to be feariess evernafter. Having met with the dark man in the dark andnwrestled him to the very edge of the pit of hell, then risen upnagain, not from the dead, but, anyway, risen up into lightnfrom darkness, and not whole, either, but touched andnchanged by the closeness of Death, just as Jacob wasnNow you know the two chief actors of the story.nWitnesses who will give testimony. And it will be, asnyou will see, mostly a matter of observing them and listeningnto them, to their thoughts and words, separately andntogether in consort, a duet of voices making their ownnmusic. Whispers fading in and out of the darkness.nGhosts, no more and no less, we cannot be clearly seennby daylight. Vague and brief as frosty breath on coldest days,nwe float through time. No, say instead that we float upon thenGhost Voicentouched and shriveled by his Angel, they are believed bynothers to be in possession of a rare kind of knowledge, notnwisdom, but a deep way of knowing taught in and by thenschool of hard experience. Which knowledge, it is believed,nleaves them somehow or other less vulnerable to futurenwounds than others who have been spared. Leaves them,nafter all is said and done, blithely willing and able to embracenany kind of pain and discomfort.n”Leaves them on good terms, then, if not intimatelynfriendly with Death. Who having failed the first time willnnow be kind, no doubt, and take them away, bootless, inntheir sleep, with no more noise or shuddering than a cat’snbreath.n”It is a pretty kind of fiction.n”Do not believe any of it.”nBy now this hard-faced, scarred and battered man has allnwho are present staring at his visible scars and lumps andnhurt places. Almost in envy.n”You want to know the truth of it? I believe, deeply andnsincerely, that old Death has spared me thus far and thisnlong for the sake of something truly terrible. That those ofnus who have endured so much and been left alive enough, ifnnot entirely hale and whole, are being prepared for somethingnworse than any of us is able to imagine.n”And what do I say to that? What can I say? What shouldnI say?n”I say let us fill our cups and drink to this moment as if itnwere to be our last!”nsurface of time as you might float on a lazy stream on a softnsummer afternoon. That’s an image which is true enough.nExcept that, for ourselves, the lost and almost forgotten timenof our living and being, our brief time to suffer and tonrejoice, is now and always an eternal February. It can bensummer again only in your memory.nYou will have noticed how I have said we. Claiming anplace for myself For though I play no part in the events ofnthis tale, I am nevertheless ever present, at once the teller ofnnnMAY 1989/17n