My most interesting relative was probably Aunt Eloise, the rover of the family: the bucolic pleasures of country life were not for her, for she was as bored with rolling rural landscapes as she was exasperated by the roiling anthill of city life, so she got herself a job in international sales and—finding what her critical siblings thought quite jammy success and enjoying the work—she spent the next forty years sending the family postcards from assorted exotic climes, as well as photographs of herself skiing in the Andes and dining at an oont ranch in Australia (I’ve never cared for camel meat myself), and on the occasional visit giving us strange charms and talismans, such as Greek Evil Eye beads, Japanese Omamori, and once a monkey’s paw that we were all afraid to go near for fear we would accidentally wish for something; finally Cousin Gaspard buried it in the woods above the lower forty.
A new magic instructor was brought to Chrestomanci Castle, and he proved especially skilled with alembics, teaching the children how to distill all manner of potions, but he was eighty-sixed as soon as Chrestomanci discovered he was also using an alembic to make and drink a daily batch of whiskey, the great enchanter not being such a latitudinarian as to employ an alcoholic teacher; the man left, but angrily, muttering oaths and execrations, none of which were powerful enough to harm Chrestomanci.
Lydia Milquetoast planned the first tea party she had ever given, inviting her boss, her supervisor, and her minister’s wife, but as usual left the execution of her plans to the last minute, when she found that she had painted herself into a corner on picking up the fine little tea cakes and petit fours from the bakery (which closed too early for her to get there from work the day before), had not been able to find the kind of bread she really wanted (the kind that cut so neatly into tiny sandwiches), and now discovered that she had chipped one of the only set of four matched teacups she owned; the last straw was when she realized that her toaster was kaput and that she would not be able to produce the charming little toast points that she had so counted on to go with her fine Scottish marmalade, the expensive stuff and the only thing she had ordered well in advance, knowing that her boss’s own personal avarice was matched only by her snobbish insistence that everyone else entertain her in the finest style, and as Lydia sat down and began to cry, her nerves by this time so frayed that she failed to realize she could make toast in the oven, the grimalkin, sitting on her tuffet and twitching her grey-striped tail, gazed calmly at Lydia with her crystalline green eyes as if to say, “Didn’t I tell you how it would be?”
As the company sank slowly into the sunset, one of our last diversions was watching management’s Vice-President in Charge of Productivity, Mandrake Dalrymple, welcome the liquidation specialist’s Workplace Consultant, Giles Galvanise—both experts in corporate efficiency, an oxymoron if ever there was one—to his little kingdom at headquarters: frenemies since the time they had been prep-school bullies thirty years before, Dalrymple and Galvanise could confront the most head-scratching problems of business organization with cool calculation, but any idle moment was spent in polite cat fights, where the flamboyant Dalrymple and the still-preppy Galvanise cast their contemptuous gazes upon one another, alow and aloft, each sneering at the other’s respective sartorial addictions, from sockless Sperrys to paisley cravat and from cap-toe oxfords to Brooks Brothers tie, as they dropped acid remarks about one another’s career choices and professional abilities.
After her years of apprenticeship, Rosamund Lacrimae at last cast off the cocoon of the student and presented herself as the true imago of the professional soothsayer, using many arcane methods, but relying especially on types of numerology, such as Kabbalah, Pythagoreanism, and especially logarithmancy, for which she carried books of tables; her claims were modest, but her results consistent, and set beside her skill the activities of her rivals were as a gimcrack rhinestone ring bought from a sidewalk vendor compared to the chatoyant glow of a black opal.
During the Great War Lord Greystoke became accustomed to the long waiting in the trenches, punctuating the boredom of playing cards and caring for his uniform and other gear with the terrifying charges across No Man’s Land, but his experiences of the war hardened him as an aginner when it came to civilization, and afterwards he shucked title, clothing, and English manners, emerging like a butterfly from a chrysalis as his old self—if at first a trifle paler—happily brachiating from tree to tree through the jungle, hurling his cries to help his ape friends find his position and ward off enemies, and knowing that if and when he did need a show of force, he could swiftly assemble an elephantry that could do quite stunning damage to the average poacher’s camp or a burgeoning safari stop; that happy state of affairs continued until the day the aging Tarzan missed his grip and plunged eighty feet or so through crashing branches to the forest floor below.
Caspar Milquetoast was in such despair over the ignoble shamelessness of leaders (whether CEOs or heads of state) who spouted tired platitudes about sacrifice and greatness that they believed in not one whit, who boasted of their love for humanity while grinding their heels into the faces of the poor, and who vaunted over brief recoveries that were in fact dead cat bounces, that he shucked his previous responsible social position in what was a sort of ecdysis of disgust and joined a hermitage of Buddhist monks in British Columbia.
When Sherlock Holmes presented a narrative based on his observations, Watson would initially think it a cock and bull story, designed to flaunt the detective's supposed brilliance; then, when he turned out to be right, even about the future actions of a criminal, Watson would be in awe of what seemed to him veritable vaticination; and, at last, as Holmes explained his processes of thought, the mystery would fall away as though through some process of ecdysis, and Watson would say that what had seemed a Banbury tale was perfectly plain, once explained, and even obvious---a result that never failed to annoy Holmes, who occasionally got his revenge on his old friend by tormenting him with little piskies such as short-sheeting his bed or putting salt in the sugar bowl.
Portnoy Windemere, who had inherited his family’s wealth at the age of five, had found no satisfaction in the mining and attendant habitat-destruction that was the source of his wealth, leaving all his businesses to the management of others, and by the age of thirty was already such a victim of Weltschmerz that he traveled wanly through the world, weary of everything he saw before he had scarcely seen it, believing in the greed but not the goodness of other people, and it was not until he became curious about the request of one of his managers to partner with a children’s charity that he even looked into the processing of the various metals his mines produced, at which point exploring his molybdenum interests created in him such a change of heart that he devoted the rest of his life to the non-profit manufacture of moly cows by his own radiopharmaceutical companies and the better organization with hospitals of distribution networks for these generators, his activities drawing him further into cancer charities and into closer contact with patients themselves, leading to still more munificent ventures in supporting every stage of patient need from diagnosis to burial, so that in his own last years he said that becoming involved with his charities had caused a kind of ecdysis in him, where he had shed his gloominess of spirit as a blue crab sheds its outgrown shell.
It was only when we were having a comfortable coze before the fire that the mysterious Mr. Rochester, in a retrospective mood, explained how it was that his late wife, always the gadfly to his tormented psyche, at last succeeded in burning down the house, this event being the cause of his poor sight, his scarred face, and his ungainly, limping gait.
When trainer Henry McDaniel bought the racehorse Exterminator, the tall lanky gelding looked such a rosinante---he was nicknamed "Old Bones" and "the Hatrack"---that his new owner was convinced McDaniel's stated belief in the horse's potential was just a lot of blarney, and he ordered that "that goat" be used merely to train his horse Sun Briar for the Kentucky Derby; his plan being scuppered when Sun Briar developed ringbone, it was Exterminator who ran the Derby: coming in like an understudy on opening night, and in heavy rain and mud, Exterminator began at the back, but at the last turn made a wedge through the other horses, won by a length, and went on to one of the longest and greatest careers in Thoroughbred racing, eventually retiring to finish his last couple of decades in comfortable meadows, with pony companions who were always named Peanuts. (Exterminator, 1915-1945, 99 starts and 50 wins)
Harry Potter was eating a wedge of Swiss cheese when a person riding a bony rosinante blarneyed Harry with a story about how poor he was, so Harry gave him enough money to get a new horse, but that scuppered his plans for buying more cheese.
There was an old man who wanted to o be a soldier and used a lot of blarney about defeating great armies of people to get a horse from the king, but the soldier picked out a rosinante so bony and old that the horse could hardly carry him; that scuppered his plan, putting a wedge in his future as a brave soldier.
Sam Spade wasn't one of those old-fashioned hidebound detectives worried about maintaining a reputation for scrupulously following the letter of the law, and so it was that he found himself, at his apartment at seven o'clock in the morning, sharing a makeshift breakfast with Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Joel Cairo, and Casper Gutman, with Gutman's soon-to-be-former bodyguard, the gunsel Wilmer, shivering on the couch nearby; used to deskfasts in his office, Spade didn't mind impromptu early-morning meals, but it was a little much watching the Fat Man ingurgitate most of the pantry stores, and Sam hoped Effie would arrive soon with the Black Bird.
It is typical of fanatical bardolators that they are intractable about allowing a single word of Shakespeare's sacred text to be changed, although words may be omitted; rather than have the Bard's language modernized, they would prefer even Hamlet's soliloquy to be reduced to null content, and rather than suffer the notorious 18th-Century happy ending to "Romeo and Juliet," they would much prefer that a bolide hurting from the sky exploded over the theater, ending the world instead.
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