Speaking of barbarians, as I did yesterday, it’s not often that you come upon the chieftain of a barbarian horde whose name is Chauncey. So I was pleased to learn about such a chap this morning, when I popped into my local Andy Burnham Chat ‘n’ Snack Zone, fought my way through a gaggle of feral hoodies, and sought refuge in the cupboard where a few reference books had been stashed. Soon, I am sure, they will end up in a lime-pit to join the quarter of a million books wilfully destroyed by Waltham Forest Council in the last couple of years, but for now, at least, I had a chance to browse through them for anything which might catch my eye.
And it was an article about Chauncey that I lighted upon, in a big fat book called A Biographical Dictionary Of Barbarian Chieftains Who Swept Across The Plains With Their Hordes On Horseback Wreaking Mayhem And Leaving Ruination In Their Wake; With Six Maps And Twenty-Six Mezzotints. Most of the entries were for barbarian chieftains with names like Hengist and Blegvad and Hagblod, so it was quite a surprise to find one called Chauncey. His full name was given as Chauncey Kittenridge III, and to me that sounded more like a blue-blooded Boston Brahmin than a barbarian chieftain, but what do I know?
Actually, it turned out that Chauncey was indeed the spawn of a wealthy New England family, destined for a career in the banking sector, but that, once astride a horse, some sort of atavistic impulse impelled him to barbarism and sweeping across the plains at the head of a horde. Throughout history, the plains favoured by barbarian hordes for sweeping across, from west to east, have been those that stretch from Asia into Europe, so Chauncey was miffed to find himself on an inappropriate continent. Thus it was that he bid farewell to the living members of the Kittenridge dynasty and made his way to Asia, picking up ruffians as he travelled whom he impressed into the ranks of his horde. He was careful to choose only bloodthirsty thugs who sat well upon horses, for he intended, when the time came for sweeping across the plains, to be fearsome in the extreme, and it would not do to have among his horde the feckless or the merciful or the weedy.
Chauncey himself, however, never lost the impeccable manners that had been drummed into him from childhood, and even at the height of his barbaric career was as much at home in the dining room of a grand hotel as he was setting fire to a barn in some godforsaken village that had the misfortune to be in his path as his horde swept across the plains. As a chieftain, Chauncey had a natural air of authority, and he added to it by sprouting a magnificently hairy beard and by festooning his person with big battered bits of jewellery and raiment. These were not the sorts of adornments that could be mistaken for girly fripperies, for they were heavy and chunky and some were not even of precious metals, but were fashioned from the bones and pelts of slaughtered animals, usually those that charged, terrified, out of the barns the horde set fire to as they wrought mayhem in their sweeping progress from east to west leaving ruination in their wake. Chauncey was particularly fond of a necklace made from the ribcages of goats and chickens, and he liked to polish this with a rag as his horde encamped for the night, warmed by the blaze of a burning barn.
It has been argued that, had Chauncey not been so keen on barbarism, he would have made a fine military commander in the conventional sense. He certainly knew how to keep his horde loyal to him, and suffered no mutinies. He had the knack of instilling camaraderie among his vicious ruffians by encouraging rousing sing-songs as they laid waste to villages and hamlets, songs often of his own composition, usually taking for their subject matter episodes of violence and havoc and chaos close to his heart. Sprightly numbers such as Ho! Boys! Let Us Burn Down The Barn!, Hey! Ho! Boys! Let Us Pillage The Village! and Hidey Hey! Ho! Boys! Let Us Cast The Library Books Into A Lime-Pit! might have topped the pop charts had such things been on the radar of a barbarian horde, but of course they were not, and the very idea that they could have been is simply a foolish fancy, diverting as it may be to imagine a Eurovision or Asiatic Song Contest in which the winners are a tangle of bloodsoaked barbarians festooned with goat-and-chicken-bone necklaces.
According to the Biographical Dictionary, Chauncey eventually succumbed to ennui. His barbarian horde had swept across the plains from east to west, doubled back, swept across them again, headed back and swept across them yet again, dozens of times, wreaking ruination, and it appears there came a point when Chauncey felt that the urges within his soul had been placated. At night, he began to have dreams of lawns in New England upon which he would sprawl, wearing a boater and sharing a picnic with a socialite. When giving orders to his horde, his voice turned to a drawl, as if he were Gore Vidal reminiscing about the Bouviers and the Kennedys and the Auchinclosses. He yearned to attend a weekend party at a Chappaquiddick marina. And so, one vile morning on the outskirts of a destroyed village somewhere on the plains across which he was sweeping, he announced that he was disbanding the horde. He paid off his thugs with hogsheads of bitter grog and distributed among them his baubles of bones and jewellery, and then he galloped upon his horse to a city with a swish hotel, where he booked in and shaved off his mighty beard.
Some weeks later, his barbaric bloodlust decisively a thing of the past, Chauncey boarded a transatlantic liner, ready to return home and to exchange a mess of pottage for his birthright. He had not written ahead to the Kittenridges, but he was confident that he would meet with a warm welcome, and if he did not, was prepared to slip back temporarily into barbarism and unleash pitiless violence, even without his horde to back him up. In the event, it was not a choice he was forced to make, for the transatlantic liner on which he embarked was the jewel of the White Star Line, the Titanic, and he went down with it in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.