My Brother’s Cistern And My Sister’s Cistern

Today I would like to tell you about cisterns. Specifically, I would like to talk about my brother’s cistern and my sister’s cistern. They are two very different cisterns. My brother’s cistern was manufactured by Pastewick & Co, an old family-run firm, whereas my sister built her own.

Pastewick cisterns are admired for the simple elegance of their design, which still relies on a chain rather than a lever or push button. The founder of the firm, Alonzo Pastewick, who cut a sort of Scaramouche figure, was what is known as a “chain cistern man” in the trade. In contrast to the simplicity of the cistern itself, Pastewick chains tend to be rococo. My brother’s cistern’s chain, for example, is a wonder of metalwork, knotty and swirling and embedded with floral motifs, at the end of which is a wooden handle carved in the form of a Naiad, the Greek fresh water nymph. Neither chain nor handle is a Pastewick original, for these – made before 1911 – are now much-prized and highly expensive. What my brother has is a modern reproduction, made by Pastewick & Co themselves, and still fairly pricey. When he bought the house in which the cistern lurked, like a porcelain treasure, it had one of the postwar ‘Suspension Bridge’ chains the company favoured at the time. It had been ill-treated by the previous occupants – God knows how! – and was buckled and rusting. My brother devised a foolish tale about the chain having been used to weigh down a corpse thrown into a lake, then subsequently recovered, and even tried to sell a short story based upon his idea to Madcap Potboilers! magazine. The editor sensibly refused it and the manuscript ended up as fuel for a bonfire.

I have never been entirely clear how my brother raised the money to buy the Naiad reproduction. Arrested an extraordinary four times in connection with the Sausage Factory Affair, no charges were ever levelled against him and so I suppose he must be innocent. He was also able to prove that the snapshots of him in a conspiratorial huddle with Soapy Binglegloom were faked, which presumably means he had nothing to do with the Pointy Town Killings. Anyway, however he raised the cash, my brother was able to replace his chain and handle within two years of moving in. He even threw a party to celebrate the occasion, which as far as I know is the only time he has ever hosted a party. Certainly it’s the only one I have ever been invited to. I was astonished at all the celebrities who were there. I had no idea my brother had even heard of DeForest Kelley, Nikolaus Pevsner, or Olivia De Havilland, let alone that he was on back-slapping terms with them. Of course we all had to troop into the bathroom at one point to admire the Pastewick reproduction, while my brother brayed. That was the night of the Squirrel Sanctuary Horror, so he had a perfect alibi.

My sister wasn’t at the party, though she had been invited. She had a good excuse, having slipped a disc while doing the final digging for her home-made cistern. Hers is a huge tank with a cement floor and dirt walls coated in plaster. There is a lid, of course, to prevent mud, creepy crawlies, small creatures such as otters or weasels, or her seven children from getting into the water. She pooh-poohs Pastewick and all his works. “The man was but a Scaramouche chain cistern man,” she wrote in her latest letter to me, from her cell in the Big Grim Prison at Vug-On-The-Ack, where she is on remand as the chief suspect in the Choctaw Guide Dog Scandal. I have no idea whether she is innocent or guilty, but I promised her I would keep an eye on her cistern, and that I shall.

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