Geological science has progressed a lot since 1489, when this festival was first begun, and despite the fact that it was born out of ignorance, you could perhaps charitably say that the Checking of Reim’s Stone was one of the first geological experiments. Less charitable folks might say that it is a nonsense, the fruit of a drunken argument that we gained the answers to long ago, but what would Buentoille be without its traditions, however silly they may seem to modern eyes?
It was on this day in 1489 that Lord Orphel Reim, a man disgraced within the aristocratic community for his wilful association with the working and middle classes, was drinking with a young woman whose name has not been recorded. Due to his status and gender it is Reim who the festival came to be named after, whereas, because of the assumptions and values of that less enlightened age, we know very little about the mystery woman. This is a shame because what we do know is very interesting; she was purportedly a labourer, some kind of brick maker it seems, and according to the other folks at the Respectful Dowager Inn who were later interview by the Buentoilliçan Consolidated Gazette, he had the appearance of ‘a laydee of grayte nowelyge.’
It seems that Reim, who frequented the pub, had been drawn to the young woman because of her physical charms and, looking to persuade her into a ‘liaison’ through virtue of his status and wealth, ended up becoming embroiled in a complex discussion with her about natural sciences instead. The Lord was generally disbelieving of the claims the woman made (nobody from the pub remembered much of what these claims were, except for one young man who had been rather captivated when she had begun speaking on the subject of deer), although as his higher status was his primary argument against them, he let most slide. When she began talking of the formation of rocks, however, Reim felt he had superior experience and credentials, and butted in.
Reim owned a lot of agricultural land, and spent much of his youth on that land talking to the farmhands and local folk who lived there. The eldest farmer and supervisor on his primary farm, a lady known locally as ‘Wise Aunt Meldrew,’ knew a great deal about when to plant seeds, which wild plants were good for digestion, when to cut the corn so parasites didn’t get into it, and one of the first things she had taught the young Reim was that rocks grew in the soil. Why else would you always keep digging them up every year? Rocks grew in the ground, that everyone knew, but now this young precocious woman was trying to tell him they were made at the bottom of the sea, or in some kind of primeval furnace! An argument ensued, and a bet was called for.
The mystery woman didn’t turn up the next year, or the one after. She was never seen again, after that night when they drunkenly walked out to one of Reim’s fields and buried a stone in the corner, under a marking post. He kept digging it up every year, nonetheless, partly in hopes that she would return and partly because the folk who’d been at the pub had told their friends and made their own bets and he would look rather silly if he gave up on it now. When he died in 1513, Reim was defiant still, despite the fact the rock hadn’t grown one inch, no matter which way you measured it. ‘They just grow very slowly,’ was the essential gist of his argument.
When the City grew over those fields where the stone was buried, it was moved further out, and then further out again, and then they decided they’d moved it enough and built the courtyard around it instead of moving it. It would never grow if you kept moving it. At some point during this period of turmoil someone seems to have switched the original stone for a larger one, probably because they had made an ill-advised bet long ago. Either that or the stone has actually grown, which seems highly unlikely. The first stone was said to be ‘abowt the siyse of a nywebairn chylde,’ whereas the new stone has to be lifted by two people. Next to the patch of grass beneath which the stone is buried is another stone, inscribed with the proportions of this new stone, so that you’ll know if it ever changes.
A few times folk have found slight changes in the stone’s size, but this is thought to be primarily because of inaccurate recording equipment or methods. There were, however, two definite occurrences where the stone became slightly smaller, both times because an over-eager digger had chipped a piece off when trying to dig it up. Once the topsoil is unearthed two strong Buentoillitants raise it out of the ground and it is bathed in stout in a tin tub. This rather odd part of the process comes from a need to clean the stone to accurately measure it, but at some point water was replaced with stout, presumably by those hoping it would help it grow. When all the mud has been washed off it is once again lifted out of the tub and measured carefully, a point at which the gathered audience (usually in the region of 250 people, all supplied well with food and drink by the households of Stone’s Rest Courtyard) becomes silent with anticipation. The results are then announced, accompanied by a humorously deflated cheer from the crowd, usually followed by laughter.
Of course, few believe that stone will grow, yet the audience’s mock disappointment is perhaps tinged with some that is real; wouldn’t it be wonderful if the stone did grow? That would be a turnout for the books! And of course there are some who truly believe that the stone would grow, if only we gave it a chance and left it alone, instead of digging it up every year; in fact this is the origination of the well-worn saying, ‘a watched stone never grows.’
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Skaification
- The Festival of Too Many Trumpets
- Ulterior Route Day