Scurveyshire’s Reddle Craze

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Introducing Chapter CCCXCIII (Chapter CCCXCII seemed to be missing) of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, Violet Crepuscular writes, “Olaf Skraeling’s diabolical plan to win the hand of Lady Margo Cargo by disguising himself as a reddleman has worked too well! All of Scurveyshire has gone absolutely mad for reddle-ing (or should it be ‘reddling’?), and he suddenly has so much business that he has no time to woo the rich widow!”

She takes the opportunity to soliloquize about the pitfalls of crime, adding certain lewd comments about her neighbor, Mr. Pitfall. We will spare the reader. Feel free to tear out those two dozen pages.

Suddenly everyone in Scurveyshire wants everything reddled–doors and windows, dogs, children, tools, underclothes… “They’ve all gone mad!” cries Lord Jeremy Coldsore. They have even reddled the bearded barmaid at The Lying Tart. Desperate to curb the craze, Lord Jeremy summons Constable Chumley and orders him to arrest the reddleman.

“Withy me aw’ yon firthin mizzle, m’lord,” demurs the constable. His keen police instincts aroused, he already knows the reddleman is none other than Mr. Skraeling, and therefor that worst of all malefactors–a fraudulent reddleman.

“Just do it!” sighs Lord Jeremy.

As for Lady Margo, now that her upholstered wooden leg has been duly reddled, she has attempted to play hop-scotch with some of the reddled children. Hopping awkwardly from one box to the next, her glass eye falls out and shatters on the slate. The children, horrified, run away screaming.

“I must now interject my recipe for cat-food turnovers with a dab of toothpaste on the crust,” Violet interjects. It plays hob with the novel’s continuity.

Enter the Reddle Man! (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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Well, she did warn us that Olaf Skraeling is an unsuccessful forger. His forged letter to Lady Margo Cargo, intended to break up her impending marriage (it’s been impending for a long time!) to Lord Jeremy Coldsore has been exposed as a fraud–by a seven-year-old child, no less!

But you can’t keep a bad man down: such is the message of Chapter CCCXCI of Violet Crepuscular’s epic romance, Oy, Rodney.

With his letter to Lady Margo exposed as yet another clumsy forgery, Mr. Skraeling has gone undercover, disguised as a reddle man.

“I know, dear readers,” writes Violet, “that the only way most of you will know what a reddle man is is if you had to read The Return of the Native in high school and for some reason remember it. I thought it was going to be a Tarzan book, myself. But it does feature a character who is by trade a reddle man!” She goes on and on without remembering to tell us what a reddle man is. My best guess is that it’s a man who reddles.

In this diabolically clever disguise, alleged Welshman Olaf Skraeling sets about wooing Lady Margo and stealing her affections. His first step is to offer to reddle her upholstered wooden leg. “No one in London, Milady, would be caught dead with a wooden leg that isn’t reddled!” he declares. “I can do it for you in a single day–as a tribute to your beauty.” Lady Margo, I regret to say, is a sucker for that kind of talk.

“What can I do?” wails Lord Jeremy. “How can I compete with anything so exotic as a reddle man?”

“Chin up, Germy!” says his boon companion, the American adventurer Willis Twombley. Lady Margo still thinks he and Lord Jeremy are the same person. “Why, even a blind man could see that that there reddle man isn’t the real McCoy, but only that varmint Skraeling in disguise. You better let me shoot him. We can dump the body under the vicar’s backyard wading pool.”

“And have Scotland Yard detectives back here quicker than boiled asparagus?” cries Jeremy. “No thanks! No, old chap, we need a plan more subtle than that. We have to expose the reddle man as a fake. Now then, how do we do that?”

“In the next chapter,” Violet promises her readers, “I’ll explain exactly how to go about exposing a fraudulent reddle man. I am sure some of you will find it useful!”

Mr. Skraeling’s Revenge (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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You would think, with the curse of the Bug-Men lifted and nothing left to do but round up the sated chameleons who feasted on the Bug-Men until none were left in Scurveyshire, that all was well and nothing remains but to get Lord Jeremy Coldsore and Lady Margo Cargo married. If only life were that simple.

For Olaf Skraeling, the owner of all those chameleons, double-crossed in his plan to marry Lady Margo himself, has vowed revenge. Introducing Chapter CCCXC (the Roman numerals are getting tricky) of her interminable–sorry, I mean “epic”!–romance, Oy, Rodney, Violet Crepuscular writes, “Olaf Skraeling is a Welshman, dear readers, and all Welshmen are able to do black magic–or at least know someone else who can. Scurveyshire knows Mr. Skraeling as an impoverished and unsuccessful forger, but he is much more than that! He is also a master of deceit.”

On this ominous note, we join Mr. Skraeling as he forges a letter to Lady Margo that’s supposed to be from Lord Jeremy. It reads thus:

“Dear Lady Margo Cargo, Its me Lord Jerramy and this is to tell you that i dont whish to marry you anymore! So you better marry Mr. Olaff Skraeling insted, he is a very nice man! Yours truely Lord Jerramy Coldsore (not a nice man!).”

The crusty old butler, Crusty, hands the letter to Lady Margo on a silver platter.

Upon reading it, she sighs, “How romantic!”

“Eh?” marvels Crusty. “Why, the man’s a total blackguard! You should sue him for breach of promise.”

“You have no romance in your soul, Crusty!”

“And you’re a daft old trout,” rejoins the butler.

“I wonder what’s happened to Jeremy’s handwriting,” Lady Margo muses. “It’s totally changed, I’d never think it was his, except he’s signed it, hasn’t he? Even his signature is totally different.”

“I’m sure he was drunk when he wrote it,” says Crusty.

Ms. Crepuscular closes the chapter: “Will this devious ploy succeed? Will Olaf Skraeling win the hand of the richest widow in Scurveyshire? Will he resort to black magic? The next chapter will tell all!”

Promises, promises…

Lord Jeremy’s Conflict (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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“In Chapter CCCLXXXVIII, we left Lord Jeremy Coldsore confronted with an inner conflict,” writes Violet Crepuscular, introducing Chapter CCCLXXXIX of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney. “With all of Scurveyshire now infested with Bug-Men, does he meet Olaf Skraeling’s diabolical price for releasing his chameleons to eat the Bug-Men, and give him the hand of Lady Margo Cargo in marriage; or does he carry through his plan to marry Lady Margo himself, so that her vast wealth will serve to pay off his myriad creditors and leave him very much in the clover?” Never mind the dilemma: who ever heard of such a sentence?

Lady Margo does not want to marry Mr. Olaf Skraeling.

“I could never marry a Frenchman!” she declares.

“He’s Welsh,” answers Jeremy.

“Foreigners are all the same,” intones Lady Margo.

“He won’t release the chameleons unless you marry him!” cries Jeremy. “It’s the only way to save Scurveyshire!”

“It’ll be a Prussian or a Serbian next,” grumbles Lady Margo. “I thought you loved me, Willis!” She can’t tell the difference between Lord Jeremy and the American adventurer, Willis Twombley.

This conversation goes on for quite a while with nothing being resolved. “Lord Jeremy cannot decide whether to save himself or to save all Scurveyshire,” writes Ms. Crepuscular. “What would you do in his place, dear reader?”

Before the reader can answer, Constable Chumley, thoroughly misunderstanding his instructions, lets himself into Mr. Skraeling’s palatial hovel and releases the chameleons, who have a field day gulping down Bug-Men. The crafty Welshman is considerably upset by this. Meanwhile the Bug-Men flee back to wherever they came from: they just can’t stand chameleons.

“You have cheated me, Lord Jeremy!” growls Skraeling. “But I have powerful friends in high places, and your days are numbered!” He has grown a mustache for the occasion, which he now fingers in a sinister manner, anticipating a gesture made famous by silent movie villains.

The chapter closes with Ms. Crepuscular’s recipe for toothpaste dumplings.

 

How to Get Rid of Bug-Men (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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The problem, as elucidated by Violet Crepuscular in Chapter CCCLXXXVIII of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney (we do not know what happened to Chapter CCCLXXXVII), is how to get rid of the Bug-Men now infesting Scurveyshire. Johnno the Merry Minstrel has been researching it, and thinks he has a solution.

“The bad news is, we’ve got Bug-Men,” he explains to Lord Jeremy Coldsore, justice of the peace. “The good news is that chameleons have an insatiable appetite for Bug-Men. More bad news: chameleons don’t live in Scurveyshire or anywhere else in England. But the best news–” here he smirks charmingly–“is, I know someone right here in town who raises chameleons! He has dozens of them.”

“Well, then!” exults Lord Jeremy. “What are we waiting for?”

“The bad news,” says Johnno, “is… he’s Welsh!”

“So?”

“So Welsh people are notoriously averse to parting with their chameleons!”

“I don’t believe it,” cries Lord Jeremy. “We don’t have any Welsh people in Scurveyshire! Lord Frump chased them all out, after the Wars of the Roses.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, my lord! We have Mr. Olaf Skraeling, the noted forger–and he has a ton of chameleons.”

“Olaf Skraeling is Welsh?” Lord Jeremy is incredulous.

“You could look it up,” says Johnno.

The two of them make a beeline for Mr. Skraeling’s palatial hovel, which they find overrun with chameleons. Here is a picture of one. His name is Ariobarzanes.

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At first they find it very difficult to persuade Mr. Skraeling to unleash his chameleons on the Bug-Men. We are cautioned not to imagine that he keeps all of these little lizards on leashes. “I am averse to parting with my chameleons,” he declares.

“But they’ll eat the Bug-Men!” exclaims Lord Jeremy. “And then you can have them back.”

“Only for a price,” says Mr. Skraeling. Lord Jeremy suspects he’s not really Welsh. It is traditionally an ancient Viking ruse to pretend to be Welsh. But Jeremy, desperate for a solution, replies, “Name your price, and we’ll pay it!”

“My price is this,” proclaims the uncrowned Chameleon King of England: “the hand of Lady Margo Cargo in marriage!”

Ms. Crepuscular draws the chapter’s curtain on this dreadful news.

The Vicar’s New Conniptions (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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“I have not forgotten my promise to explain what’s so bad about Bug-Men,” writes Violet Crepuscular, introducing Chapter CCCLXXXVI of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney. “But first we must consider the vicar’s new conniptions.”

The vicar no longer thinks he’s Wally Moon, an American baseball player from the future. That delusion vanished when he discovered a particularly noisome Bug-Man perched atop his plate of falafel. This has plunged him into a whole new set of conniptions. Once again, he is not able to perform the long-awaited marriage of Lord Jeremy Coldsore and Lady Margo Cargo. He is too busy doing head-stands and singing lurid Estonian folk songs.

“Maybe we should find another vicar to marry us,” suggests Lord Jeremy.

“I don’t want us to be married to a vicar,” Lady Margo objects. It takes some time to patch up this failure to communicate. Lady Margo’s crusty old butler, Crusty, subtly implies that “Maybe two people who only confuse each other shouldn’t be married in the first place.”

“I’m not speaking to you, Crusty!”

“You just did, you daft old trout.”

This conversation might have continued for hours, but for a flood of letters from exasperated readers demanding to know what’s so bad about Bug-Men. We deem it unnecessary to provide yet another picture of a Bug-Man. Ms. Crepuscular has no choice but to keep her promise.

“These unnatural little creatures,” she explains, “carry nameless diseases which make lumbago or psoriasis seem like a walk in the park, albeit not a very nice park. They also spread baseless rumors that can start deadly feuds. This is not to be taken lightly!”

Bug-Men can only be brought onto the scene by medieval sorcerers casting evil spells on a community. Once established, they’re very hard to get rid of. They know this, and it makes them cocky.

Johnno the Merry Minstrel is investigating the problem. “Chameleons eat them,” he reports. “They’re scared to death of chameleons. You’d be, too, if you were only the size of a Bug-Man.”

At this point Ms. Crepuscular concludes the chapter: it’s time for her to watch re-runs of The Gong Show.

Bug-Men of Scurveyshire (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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“One of the sure signs that a medieval sorcerer is at work in your community is the presence of Bug-Men,” writes Violet Crepuscular, introducing Chapter CCCLXXXV of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney. “But this is only because after five or six hundred years, a sorcerer’s incantations get a little rusty and tiny errors slip into the formula. This is what attracts the Bug-Men.” Here she obliges us with an image of a Bug-Man (in case you missed it last night).

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Several of these have been spotted at The Lying Tart, causing the patrons to forget their feud over Go-Gro vs. Slo-Gro crayfish food. Several patrons have suffered conniptions. For analysis of this sudden crisis, Lord Jeremy Coldsore, justice of the peace, turns to Johnno the Merry Minstrel.

“It’s a very bad sign,” says Johnno. “But wouldn’t you know it? Black Rodney looks into his crystal ball for another curse to put on Scurveyshire, and the only movie he sees is The Fly–which has a kind of Bug-Man in it.”

“What’s a movie?” wonders Jeremy. Movies have not yet been invented, Ms. Crepuscular reminds us.

“A hundred years from now,” Johnno explains, “sorcerers will produce moving pictures and use them to captivate the public. We know that from Black Rodney’s notes which are preserved in the Scurveyshire Museum of Dreadful Things. The Bug-Men come from movies.”

Here Ms. Crepuscular pauses to defend her use of a blatant anachronism.

“This is not the first time beings from the 20th century have invaded the 19th,” she informs the reader. “In Pskov, Russia, in 1843, a chess player named Marty Cheesecloth amazed Russian chess masters with an opening move that none of them had ever seen before. That’s because Marty was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1956. The czar had him discreetly put away before he could make trouble. And need I add that Pskov was harassed by Bug-Men for several years afterward?”

“So what’s so bad about these Bug-Men?” asks the American adventurer, Willis Twombley. “You can take care of them with a fly swatter. Just don’t listen when they cry ‘Help me, help me!’ Heck, I remember a king of Assyria who used to collect ’em.”

But we will have to wait for the next chapter to find out what’s so bad about Bug-Men.

Lord Jeremy Goes Mad (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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“There is only so much stress a man can take,” writes Violet Crepuscular, introducing Chapter CCCLXXXIV of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney. “Confined to his bed with injuries sustained in his fall from the tree, and confronted with a virtual civil war in Scurveyshire over the crayfish food controversy, Lord Jeremy Coldsore has reached and exceeded his limit–and snapped!”

Summoning community leaders and crayfish food activists to his bedside, Lord Jeremy proceeds to lay down the law–new laws, and a great many of them.

“By the power vested in me as justice of the peace,” he declares, “all pet crayfish in Scurveyshire shall now be fed filet mignon! Furthermore, all women over 16 must now wear conical hats at all times and all men over 16 must wear thick woolen mittens on their hands at all times. Ownership of hamsters is now against the law. All private business transactions must now be conducted in sign language. And in the interests of peace, and until further notice, all persons living or working in Scurveyshire must observe a curfew from 11 a.m. to 11 o’clock at night.” He has proclaimed quite a few more laws, but as those were motivated by mere peevishness, adds Ms. Crepuscular, “We’ll leave them alone.”

“Ain’t you layin’ it on a bit hard, ol’ hoss?” says Willis Twombley, the American adventurer.

“The mandates don’t apply to us, old chap.”

Lady Margo Cargo is displeased. Her pet crayfish, Oswin, does not like filet mignon. She sends a brief but telling note to Lord Jeremy: “Sorry, but I cannot marry a lunatic.”

“Who’s a lunatic?” wonders Jeremy. “I didn’t think we had any in Scurveyshire.”

“We’ll have to find one, then,” says Twombley. “I heard they’ve got a reg’lar herd of ’em in Plaguesby.”

Will this be the end of the romance between Jeremy and Lady Margo? “I will revisit this crisis,” pledges Ms. Crepuscular, “after I perfect my recipe for raw clams in toothpaste sauce.”

 

The Crayfish Food Controversey (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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“I have remembered my promise to provide a further elucidation of Scurveyshire’s increasingly volatile crayfish food kerfuffle,” writes Violet Crepuscular, introducing Chapter CCCLXXXIII of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney.

“The heart of the matter,” she explains, “is Slo-Gro Crayfish Snax vs. Go-Gro Crayfish Treats. Crusty the butler meant to buy Go-Gro, but Mr. Samuel Heathen sold him Slo-Gro. The matter, when put before Lord Jeremy Coldsore as justice of the peace, proved too stressful for the injured master of Coldsore Hall–you will remember that he recently fell down from a rather tall tree–and produced a deep swoon. I never meant to suggest that it was Lady Margo Cargo’s pet crayfish, Oswin, who swooned. I do not believe crayfish are able to faint. No–it was Lord Jeremy himself!”

Before Lord Jeremy can be brought back to a conscious state, all of Scurveyshire has taken sides in the controversy and several brawls have broken out at The Lying Tart. Slo-Gro partisans have nothing on the Go-Gro faction: both are equally ready to resort to fisticuffs. It has made the American adventurer, Willis Twombley, homesick for Dodge City. “There ain’t nothin’ more upliftin’ than a good saloon fight,” he says.

Lord Jeremy revives to find himself confronted with a string of riots. “It’s froothin’ yair grommet, m’lord,” sagely remarks Constable Chumley.

In what can only be described as inspiration, Lord Jeremy finds a solution. “Cut the bloomin’ crayfish in half and feed one half with Slo-Gro and the other half with Go-Gro,” he declares. This pleases nobody. “Alas,” opines Ms. Crepuscular, “this is often the way with truly groundbreaking ideas.”

At this point Oswin the Crayfish faints, after all: and the Royal Crayfish Society calls for an emergency meeting to discuss it.

The Crayfish Food Hullabaloo (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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In Chapter CCCLXXXII of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney (we are not told what happened to Chapter CCCLXXXI–must’ve been a non-starter), Violet Crepuscular reveals that the two rival Scotland Yard detectives have succeeded in framing each other for the theft of the locomotive. Both are carted off to Newgate Prison, and Lord Jeremy finally comes down from the tree where he’s been hiding. All we are told about that is, “He came down like rain.” Only raindrops don’t wind up swathed in bandages from head to toe.

Constable Chumley is interrupted in dictating his memoirs to the Wise Woman of the Gaol by a controversy centered in the Scurveyshire pet shop, where Lady Margo Cargo’s crusty butler, Crusty, has been trying to buy food for his mistress’ pet crayfish, Oswin. Distracted by the rantings and ravings of the prisoner who has been moved from the jail to the pet shop, Crusty has mistakenly bought the wrong kind of food but now can’t get his money back. Unable to break up the argument, Constable Chumley arrests them both and brings them to Lord Jeremy’s bedside. Ms. Crepuscular has had a devilish time trying to type the word “bedside.” It keeps coming out “bedides” or “bdesdie,” etc.

“Ivver yon greeth wi’ hammels, m’lord,” Chumley explains.

Crusty and the shop owner, one Samuel Heathen, yell and scream at each other. As justice of the peace, Lord Jeremy has the power to put both of them to death. He is reluctant to use it, however. Lady Margo would never forgive him for having Crusty thrown to the shire’s ferocious pug dogs, and Mr. Heathen owes him several guineas.

“Can’t we all just get along?” he groans.

“This caitiff asked for King-Size Slo-Gro Depilatory Crayfish Food, and that’s what I sold him!” roars Mr. Heathen.

“I never asked for Slo-Gro! I asked for Go-Gro!” growls Crusty.

With wisdom rivaling Solomon’s, Lord Jeremy faints.

The matter will be taken up again, Mr. Crepuscular assures us, in the next exciting chapter.