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In Limbo by Victor Bruno

EXTRACT FOR
In Limbo 
(Victor Bruno)


IN LIMBO

INTRODUCTION

 

LIMBOURNE, where the action of this story is centred, cannot be said truly to exist.  Except in the imagination of man.  It is, in a way, rather like Swift’s country of Lilliput ... a setting against which a way of life can be acted out, politics played, passions pursued.  And where points of view may be made.

So there is no place where LIMBOURNE can exactly said to be.  Sometimes one feels it might be a quiet English seaside town or, possibly, a large village; at others one feels one is amongst some pioneer American community, with its rough honesty, rigidity and Puritanical outlook allied to hard work.  It is a strange mixture.

There is a timelessness about LIMBOURNE, too.  It cannot be the present, though many things are of the present day.  Mainly one seems to be living in the past, yet one cannot deny the numerous facets of the future which ever and anon flash upon the scene.

So one must be content with the fact that it is any place, at any time.  Therefore, and rightly, one must call it a figment of fantasy, and yet ... and yet ... how often the reality of the place and people seem to grip one.

Here then, is a strange ‘new world’.

But it is not a science-fiction world filled with bizarre beings and even more bizarre machines.  One the contrary, it is filled with very ‘ordinary’ people who live in a familiar everyday world for a very good deal of their time.  In that sense, it is a quite believable world.  At least, so it is to be hoped.

It is a world some will find amusing.  Some will enjoy it a great deal.  Others may be rather appalled by it.  If you are one of the latter, please do not persist.  This is meant to be a form of entertainment for those who enjoy such things.  It is not meant to be taken seriously.  So if you don’t like it, don’t read it - simply dispose of it.

What then, makes this mythical LIMBOURNE different?

After all, it has been said that the people and the place have a familiar appearance.

It is simply that it is a place where society (even this microcosm of it) is based on a system of slavery.  There are those who own and those who are owned.  There are those who are served and those who serve.  That, of course is something quite alien, indeed horrifying, to society today.  Yet those in LIMBOURNE accept it as a natural way of life.  For them, it is something that has been ordained - from ‘on high’, as it were.  Complacent ease and privilege ... or bitter toil, humiliation and deprivation.  One or the other has been decreed.  How?  Why?  To what end?  If there is any purpose in anything at all anyway!

Let us, then, in imagination, move into LIMBOURNE ...


CHAPTER ONE

 

The small train huffed and puffed its way through the bleakly brown landscape of an Autumn afternoon.  Shuddering and hissing, it would make its way up some modest incline and then, more at ease, clatter down the slope on the other side.  It was a rather old train.  The sort of steam train one might have found on any one of the hundreds of British branch lines in post-war days.

There were four carriages in all.  The first was a rather smart, green pullman-type with a restaurant car; then came a plain, squarely-built carriage, made of sepia wood, very third-class in appearance; finally there were two goods wagons.

Through the windows of the Pullman, a few figures might be observed - a considerable number of them in uniform - reclining easily or eating under the soft pink shades of the lamps on the restaurant-car tables.  These people were of the privileged class known as State Officials.  They were in charge of the administration and the ordering of the People of the Land.  Practical men and women devoted to the pursuit of State Policies.  No-one ever questioned those policies - especially people in their position.  They were policies which, it seemed, had been in operation since time immemorial and had acquired something of the authority of the Laws of Mosses.

Theirs not to reason why ...

The second carriage was of far greater austerity.  It was of open-plan type and had wooden seats and upright wooden backs.  On these were lines of closely packed young men and women.  At each end of the carriage were two guards in dark blue uniform, one man, one woman.  They had very much the appearance of prison guards.  No doubt because that was exactly what they were.  To be more precise, they were guards attached to one of the State Slave Training Centres.

The rows sat in silence, young men and girls mixed indiscriminately on the seats.  Most eyes were lowered, but some darted fearfully about the carriage or peered at the gloomy landscape.  On a few girlish cheeks there was a hint of tears.

The young men wore a sort of plimsoll-shoe, coarse grey shorts and rough shirts.  The shorts would have been more suitable for a ten-year-old boy and the shirts were, in fact, hair-shirts and exceedingly irritating in the heat of the carriage.  The young women also wore the same plimsoll-like shoes and each had on a grey, sack-like dress of knee length.  The hairstyle of each was similar.  Uncut, it had been allowed to grow long but was plaited in a pony-tail which was fastened on the back or the top of the head.  The ultimate arrangement of that hair was something that would be decided in the near future.  It might all be shaved off, it might be trimmed and shaped, it might go into pigtails, or it might flow free.  That was a decision for the girl’s new owner.

As to who that owner was had already been designated by the label fastened around the neck of each young person by a piece of string.  In black indelible pencil were scrawled names and addresses, such as:

Mrs. Bracewell - Tanderville’.

Mr. and Mrs. Crampton - Ramport’.

Mrs. Campbell - Limbourne’.

They were all, indeed, like so many parcels ... and had no more say-so in their destination than the real brown paper-wrapped thing!

Some half-a-dozen of the labels bore the address of the town Limbourne.  But only two were addressed to Mrs. Campbell.  These were worn by a young man and a girl who sat alongside him.  It was obvious, like all the others, they were either in their late teens or early twenties.  The young man was, in fact, twenty-four years old and the young girl just nineteen.  On the front and the back of the upper garments of these two was fastened the letter ‘P’ in yellow cloth.

There came a ‘click’ from the loudspeaker Tannoy in the carriage.

“The next station will be Tanderville,” intoned a flat, official voice.  “All those alighting there will now stand.”

A half-a-dozen or so of the seated figures got quickly to their feet and stood swaying at attention.  Two of the guards checked the labels against a manifest and, in about a minute, with a grinding of brakes and a hissing of steam, the train came to a halt at a small station.  Those who could see out noted that it was scarcely more than a wayside halt.  Two of the carriage doors opened.

“Out ... out!” shouted a guard.  And, one after another, the figures stumbled down the steep step to drop to a wooden platform.  There a burly male figure could be seen awaiting them.

“Sign for the consignment,” yelled out another guard, extending the manifest.  The burly figure checked the number of new arrivals against the list and put pen to paper.

“All correct,” he said.  “Right away ...”  He raised his hand.

With an anguished snort, the engine tugged off its load again.  Silent resignation, bred of despair, settled over the carriage again.  For these were the doomed.  Those of their generation destined to be slaves.  It had been decreed and there was no escaping it.  One simply had to accept the hideous facts of life.  Fate could have dealt none of them a more cruel blow.

Yet, ever since childhood, each had been aware that it was a Fate that possibly awaited them.  It was part of the pattern of life.  Something they had had to learn to live with. 

But oh ... oohh ... how they envied those for whom Fate had decreed a quite different existence!

A half hour later, the loudspeaker Tannoy clicked again.

“The next station will be Limbourne,” came the voice.  “All those alighting there will now stand.”

If one had been close enough, one would have heard a sharp intake of breath from the raven-haired girl who bore the yellow ‘P’ on front and back.  Her youthful male companion certainly heard it as he stood alongside her.  Though he had not been able to study her properly, he was aware of the girl’s attractiveness and the thought pleased him rather.  For the girl was allocated with him.  A kind of companion - even if a companion in servitude.  He wondered what sort of figure she had under that sack of a dress.  She certainly had a very pretty face.  The young man stiffened as the face of one of the female guards came before him ... thin-lipped, hard-eyed.  He recognised her as being from his own Centre.

“Name?”  she demanded.

“Matt Dawson, Miss,” he answered promptly.

The guard looked down at the manifest.  “You are on Probation,” she said.

“Yes, Miss ...”

“And you,” said the guard, moving to the girl alongside.  “Name?”

“Nancy Blake, Miss.”  The girl’s voice was soft and low.

“Speak up!”

“Nancy Blake, Miss.”  At once the response was louder and firmer.  The girl’s small white fists clenched at her sides and her body trembled under the coarse gown.  Oh God, would she ever get used to her new status?  It seemed impossible that she ever could.  She had endured three cruel and hideous months of training at one of the Centres.  That was enough for a lifetime.  Yet, in fact, it was but a beginning.  The true horror was yet to come.

Like an iron chain, her existence stretched indefinitely out before her.  Link after link.  Servitude ... submission ... humiliation ... obedience.  The links went on and on.  To an awful infinity.  The girl bit a full lower lip to stop it quivering.  She had a wide soft mouth; a mouth made for sweet young kisses.

“I need hardly tell you,” said the guard, looking from one to the other, “that, if you get a bad report from Mrs. Campbell - to whom you are allocated - you Training Overseer will make you wish you had never been born when you return to your Centre.  Understood?”

“Yes ... Miss ...”  said the two in unison.

The girl trembled again; the young man tried to square his shoulders and tried to look brave yet respectful.  Only the day before, he recalled, his own Overseer had had him over a Flogging Bench and laid a rod across his naked rump.  Ten strokes.  But, as she pointed out, a mere fleabite compared with what she would give him if his behaviour was unsatisfactory whilst on Probation.  Whatever this Mrs. Campbell is like, he thought, I must be humble and obedient.  Oh yes, very obedient.  Industrious, too.  He must show all the merits a slave should possess.  But, as Matt Dawson well knew, that was easier to think and to say than to do.

Once more the train ground to a halt and another half-dozen figures were decanted, Nancy Blake and Matt Dawson among them.

They had arrived in Limbourne.