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A Traveling Salesman Calls (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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Now out on bail, Violet Crepuscular introduces Chapter CCCI of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney:

“Dear readers, I am out of durance vile by virtue of my editor, who paid $900 bail just before the publisher fired him. The judge ate one of my toothpaste rolls and is not only still alive, but has also expressed doubt that I have poisoned anyone on purpose. This has enabled me to continue my novel in peace!”

In this chapter, a traveling salesman named Elston The Traveling Salesman, finding Scurveyshire added to his route, visits The Lying Tart. Mr. Elston sells paper cutlery. He used to sell ordinary steel cutlery, but found that to be unworthy of his talents as a salesman. He relishes the challenge of selling paper knives and forks. His wife and children are starving, but he is unaware of that.

Having stood a round of drinks, Mr. Elston proceeds to sell several sets of deluxe paper cutlery. The locals, meanwhile, bring him up to date on Scurveyshire’s current troubles. People are still rather miffed about all those peasants being sucked under the wading pool in the vicar’s back yard.

“But this is absurd!” remarks the salesman. “Why, it would be the easiest thing in the world for all of you to get together and simply drag the pool away!”

This strikes most of the customers as a most irresponsible saying, probably motivated by an evil quirk in Mr. Elston’s character.

“That’s exactly the sort of thing a witch would say!” exclaims a jolly toper named Ernest Phinrod. In no time at all the entire company is convinced that Mr. Elston is a witch, in league with the spirit of the medieval sorcerer, Black Rodney. An impromptu taproom court immediately sentences Mr. Elston to death.

“You must not judge them too harshly,” Ms. Crepuscular admonishes her readers. “The good people of Scurveyshire do the best they can in spite of their massive ignorance. Most traveling salesmen do get out of Scurveyshire alive. Mr. Elston was merely one of the unfortunate few.”

As Scurveyshire’s Justice of the Peace, Lord Jeremy Coldsore is not informed of the incident until after it has been concluded.

“There’s likely to be a spot of trouble over this!” he muses fretfully.


Trouble in Scurveyshire (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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I am happy to report that Byron the Quokka has returned. He was not able to squeeze Ms. Crepuscular through the bars of the holding cell, but he did succeed in rescuing the manuscript, along with a note from Violet to her readers. We quote:

“My dear readers, it’s really too silly for words, my being in jail like this for the sake of a few harmless toothpaste rolls which I eat all the time and have never gotten sick! True, Mr. Pitfall ate all two dozen of them–but it wasn’t my fault, I couldn’t stop him. And it’s not like he’s died or anything! The doctors expect him to be back on his feet in just a year or two. My thanks to Byron the Whatchamacallit for saving my manuscript! The detective who read it said he would surely destroy it, as a service to world literature. Yours sincerely, Violet M. Crepuscular.” She will not tell us what the M stands for.

Moving on, we now have a Chapter CCCI of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, which is somewhat below her usual artistic standard–or anyone else’s, for that matter. In this chapter, all of Scurveyshire, led by the few survivors of the Peasants Benevolent Assn., is in an uproar. They have assembled at Coldsore Hall to yell at Lord Jeremy.

“They’ll skedaddle, ol’ hoss, if you let me shoot a few of ’em,” offers the American adventurer, Willis Twombley. “Back home, them Elamites was always tryin’ to riot their way into my palace.” He thinks he is Sargon of Akkad. “But they always gave up when my archers started usin’ ’em for target practice.”

“I’m dashed if I can see my way to that, old boy,” expostulates (I just work here) Lord Jeremy. “If they’d just stay away from that deuced wading pool in the vicar’s back yard, they wouldn’t get sucked under it in droves.” He finally placates the mob by promising to get rid of Black Rodney, the medieval sorcerer responsible for all these objectionable happenings.

“How you gonna do that, Germy?” wonders Twombley. “Him bein’ a ghost and all, and havin’ just blown half the roof off’n your house, I mean.”

Jeremy smiles slyly. “But we now know what he’s afraid of, don’t we?” he replies. “Antimacassars! We’ll drape antimacassars over all the shire!”

Here the chapter breaks off. She had to stop writing, Byron reports, because the jailer was coming to take her for a walk. He had only time to gather up the manuscript and, as he put it, “vamoose!” The quokkas have been watching a lot of old Westerns lately.


Byron the Quokka to the Rescue!

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Imagine my dismay last night, at precisely 2:17 a.m., when my agents informed me that Violet Crepuscular has been arrested for that business with the toothpaste rolls, and her manuscript of Oy, Rodney been impounded by police. Something had to be done before the cops burned the papers.

Byron the Quokka has been sent to rescue Ms. Crepuscular–he’s sure he can get in and out of the police station, and in and out of the holding cell, without anyone seeing or hearing him–and safely retrieve the manuscript. He promises success. It seems a great-aunt of his once sprang H.G. Wells from jail.

Well, if he’s not back in another two hours, I’ll have to presume they did catch him, after all, and then find someone to rescue him.

Any volunteers?

 


That Business with the Mob of Peasants (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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Introducing Chapter CCXCIV of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, Violet Crepuscular confides in her readers, “Let me confide in you, dear readers! I do wish Mr. Duigon had not said I was ‘in jail’! I was merely helping the police with their inquiries. They are trying to discover who, if anyone, poisoned Mr. Pitfall, and they now suspect everyone in the neighborhood–he is that unpopular. I hope they realize now that my toothpaste rolls couldn’t make anybody that sick!” She is a little miffed that none of the police officers was willing to try one himself.

Moving on to the chapter, she describes the grief and horror that overwhelmed all Scurvyshire when Mr. Percy Puce, F.R.S., the shire’s Resident Genius, disappeared below the vicar’s backyard wading pool as the result of a fall from a clandestine sliding board. Don’t ask me if that’s a suitable adjective for a sliding board. I just work here.

Provoked beyond measure, a mob of peasants armed with torches and pitchforks assembles at The Lying Tart. Why they should want torches in broad daylight is mystifying. Maybe it’s just a thing that mobs of peasants do.

“We’ll destroy the vicar’s wading pool if it’s the last thing we do!” vows the mob’s ringleader, button collecter Oswald Backdraft, Official Ringleader of the Peasants Benevolent Association. The mob rushes off to the vicar’s back yard and that’s the last anybody sees of them.

Hours later, word of the incident reaches Lord Jeremy Coldsore at Coldsore Hall, where they have just put the Marquess of Grone to bed.

“We’re going to run out of peasants at this rate!” ejaculates Lord Jeremy. (“It’s a perfectly permissible use of that verb!” insists Ms. Crepuscular. I just work here.) “Constable Chumley, you ought to have prevented this disaster!”

“Huish, M’lord, I deagle fair maundery this fleethin’,” parries the constable. He rushes off to The Lying Tart to see if he can find any clues at the bottom of a tankard of ale.

This still leaves five chapters, I think, to be written before catching up to Chapter CCC, which Ms. Crepuscular has written out of order. “I pledge myself to accomplish this,” she writes in a chapter-ending footnote, “provided I am left in peace!”


That Business with the Sliding Board (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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Introducing Chapter CCXCII of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, Violet Crepuscular writes, “I shall now indulge in a flashback, to tell you, dear readers, all about that lamentable business with the sliding board.” It isn’t really a flashback, because she is now writing chapters out of order. And her editor has not returned her phone calls.

It seems that Scurveyshire’s resident genius, Percy Puce, F.R.S., the Resident Genius, has deduced that although considerable danger lurks below the vicar’s backyard wading pool, “Up on top, within the pool, one is perfectly safe. If only one had some means of entering the water without coming too close to the edge of the pool, one would be able to enjoy a refreshing swim.” The water in the pool is less than a foot deep, but Mr. Puce has some unusual ideas about swimming.

In the dead of night, Percy has workmen come and erect a sliding board just a few feet from the pool. They are too drunk to contemplate the danger of this enterprise. With the sliding board in place, the genius scrambles up the ladder, pauses for a moment at the top to strike an heroic pose, then races down the board as fast as his legs can carry him. “He has learned this trick by observing his pet hamster,” Ms. Crepuscular confides in the reader.

Alas, he slips on the ramp, his feet shoot out from under him, and his body describes an impressive arc through the air as he lands with a crash on his coccyx.

The sliding board itself slides under the pool and disappears. Howling with pain, Mr. Percy Puce disappears, too. The appalling character of the scene penetrates the workmen’s drunken haze and they rush back to The Lying Tart to tell the tale and quaff more ale.

Ms. Crepuscular is interrupted in her artistic endeavors by two police officers pounding on her door.

Editor’s note: I couldn’t find a suitable picture of someone taking a running start and then falling off a sliding board. It isn’t done that often.


One of the Skipped Chapters of ‘Oy, Rodney’

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Turn we now unto one of the chapters skipped over by Violet Crepuscular in her mad rush to Chapter CCC of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney. Constable Chumley, with Lord Jeremy Coldsore, the American adventurer Willis Twombley, and Johnno the Merry Minstrel peering over his shoulder, at the start of Chapter CCXCIII, is picking the lock so they can search the attic of Coldsore Hall for the missing Marquess of Grone, Lord Cromleigh or whatever his name is. Sheesh, what a sentence!

“Yeer, us’ll see now,” Chumley mutters, “that’s a fithul bricken yairst…”

Click! The door is unlocked. The constable begins to turn the knob–

“By Jove, the attic’s the only place where we haven’t put in any antimacassars to fend off the spirit of Black Rodney,” Johnno is about to point out. But before he can admonish Chumley to be careful, a tremendous explosion nearly hurls the whole group back down the stairs. “Kaboom!” writes Ms. Crepuscular. “I have always found, in describing an explosion, that ‘Kaboom!’ is preferable to ‘Blasto!’ or ‘Boom!'”

When the smoke clears, the door is hanging from a single hinge and half the roof of Coldsore Hall has been blown off. Lord Jeremy, briefly contemplating the cost of repairing it, faints. Twombley just manages to grab him before he tumbles down the appallingly long flight of stairs.

“We never put any antimacassars in the attic,” Johnno remarks.

“A little late for that, ol’ hoss!” parries Twombley.

The constable’s helmet has disappeared, his uniform is in tatters, his hair disarranged, and his face awash with soot. “He looks rather like Wile E. Coyote after one of those Acme sticks of dynamite blows up in his face,” writes Ms. Crepuscular, in an intimate aside, “but of course I can’t mention that because it would be an anachronism.”

The attic is now in considerable disarray. If the missing peer is there, does he still live?

“I shall divulge that in the next chapter, breaking off here to heighten the suspense,” writes Ms. Crepuscular. She has forgotten that this has already been divulged by her writing Chapter CCC before Chapter CCXCII. So there’s no suspense to speak of.


The 300th Chapter of ‘Oy, Rodney’

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In her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, Violet Crepuscular has skipped from Chapter CCXCI to Chapter CCC. “I crave the reader’s indulgence,” she writes, “and I promise to go back and write those intervening chapters as soon as the police stop coming around here to investigate the toothpaste rolls I made for Mr. Pitfall. It was not my fault he ate too many and is now in intensive care at the hospital. Besides which, Chapter CCC is a milestone which I wanted to reach as soon as possible.” Of course, she could have written it first and saved herself the trouble.

This is how we wind up with half the roof blown off the top of Coldsore Hall, the Marquess of Grone found crouching behind some old steamer trunks in the attic with his hair frozen straight up from his scalp, babbling about the ghost of the medieval sorcerer, Black Rodney, stealing his pocket watch, and a whole mob of Scurveyshire peasants, armed with torches and pitchforks, disappearing under the vicar’s backyard wading pool. We have no idea how any of this happened.

Chapter CCC opens with the marquess in bed and Lady Margo Cargo bending over him with a can of fishing worms. He thinks she’s Queen Victoria, with whom he once played Chutes and Ladders.

“Please, my lord, try to concentrate!” Lady Margo coos. “Tell me what these things are, wriggling around inside this can.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, Your Majesty, but I am allergic to frumpweed and I wish you would remove it from under my nose,” whimpers the peer of the realm.

“Is he any better today?” asks Lord Jeremy Coldsore, standing in the doorway and doing his best to strike a dignified pose despite having two left feet.

“Oh, much better!” cries Lady Margo. She and Lord Jeremy cannot get married until the stricken peer recovers. “As you can see, those frozen hairs are falling out and his eyes have stopped rolling. But he’s still confused about certain objects.”

“My aunt is still weeping in the garden.” Lady Petunia, the marquess’ wife, has been weeping steadily ever since a piece of the chimney fell on her. And of course there was that business with the sliding board.

“I showed this chapter to my editor,” Ms. Crepuscular interjects, “and he says it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. He is a great believer in skipping chapters. And now I have to stop because the police are at my door again.”

 


The Missing Peer (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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I fear Violet Crepuscular has been eating too many of her own toothpaste rolls. Chapter CCXCI of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, suggests that maybe these confections are not quite as good for you as might be hoped.

With Lord Gromleigh, Marquess of Grone, still missing, Lord Jeremy Coldsore summons Constable Chumley–but he seems to be missing, too.

“Fear not, dear reader,” writes Ms. Crepuscular. “I know where he is. It’s the writer’s responsibility to know more than the characters.” Especially these characters.

Totally captivated by his study of moles, the constable has joined the Greater Scurveyshire Mole Study Club. Imagine his disappointment when it turns out to be just another one of those clubs whose members do nothing but sit around and brag about how difficult their lives have been.

“I went to a school where they used to make us do everything backwards. We tried to tunnel out of it, but we only succeeded in tunneling back in!”

“When I was born, my mother sold me to a fisherman to use as bait. And she only got sixpence for me!”

“You think you’ve got troubles? My wife has no nose!” And so on.

Meanwhile, Lord Jeremy’s wedding to Lady Margo Cargo cannot possibly be held as long as a peer of the realm is lost somewhere in Coldsore Hall. After failing to find him anywhere else, Johnno the Merry Minstrel proposes to search the attic.

“I don’t know about that,” Lord Jeremy says. “No one has been up there since Lord Hucklebutt went in 1673–and he was never entirely rational afterward. Eventually he had to be put down. Besides, no one has the key.”

“But Germy,” interposes the American adventurer, Willis Twombley, “ain’t it a well-known fact that nobody’s better than ol’ Chumley when it comes to pickin’ locks? He’ll get in, if anyone can.”

“I have ordered peasants with torches and pitchforks to search the shire for the constable,” declares Jeremy.

“And that, dear reader, is where we must let it stand for the nonce,” Ms. Crepuscular confides in the reader. “You really ought to try those toothpaste rolls. They’re wonderful with catsup.”


The Wedding’s On Again (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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And so we come at last to Chapter CCXC of Violet Crepuscular’s epic romance, Oy, Rodney. Nothing happened in the preceding two chapters except for the installation of Babylonian antimacassars, imported by the London firm of Dombey & Son, on all the furniture in Coldsore Hall. “I am sorry that took up two whole chapters,” Ms. Crepuscular confides in her readers, “but there’s a lot of furniture in Coldsore Hall and I just couldn’t help it.”

Assured that the antimacassars will keep him safe from the malign spirit of Black Rodney, the medieval sorcerer who has been persecuting him from beyond the garve (who can resist such a typo?), Lord Jeremy has plunged into rescheduling his wedding to Lady Margo Cargo. He hopes his Aunt Petunia and her husband, Lord Gromleigh, Marquess of Grone, will give him a vast amount of money as a wedding present.

“You really must stay for the wedding, Aunt!” he urges her. “You and the marquess will be the guests of honor.”

“But Jeremy, my dear–I don’t know where my husband is!”

This is a difficulty. Lord Gromleigh has a habit of hiding in unusual places so he can jump out at people and scare them.

“Oh, he’s just hiding somewhere, Aunt. He’s sure to turn up.”

“But he’s been gone two days!”

With the help of Johnno the Merry Minstrel, Jeremy’s close friend, the American adventurer Willis Twombley starts a room-to-room search for the missing lord. “I tell ya, Germy ol’ hoss, I don’t like this!” whispers Twombley. “The old coot might of hidden in some place that he can’t get out of. This is a big house with a ton of hiding-places in it. What if he laid hisself down in a cedar chest and then couldn’t get it open? Or maybe he ain’t here at all! He might of run away. You never know what one of them peers o’ the realm might do.”

“I don’t see how we can have the wedding with the Marquess of Grone having misplaced himself somewhere in my house!”

“I remember when this happened at the king of Ugarit’s palace: his brother-in-law, the high something-or-other of Phoenicia, got lost in the palace and they never could find him, not even with fifty or sixty servants lookin’ up and down for him.” Twombley sighs. Believing himself to be Sargon of Akkad, he finds these memories of ancient times to be rather bittersweet. “We’ll keep lookin’, but don’t get your hopes up.”

Here the chapter abruptly breaks off with a barely coherent recipe for toothpaste rolls.


The One Thing Black Rodney Hates Most of All (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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Violet Crepuscular introduces Chapter CCLXXXVII of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, with a flourish: “Dear reader, you have surely been wondering what Johnno the Merry Minstrel has been doing while Lord Gromleigh and Lady Petunia, who is Lord Jeremy’s aunt, married to the Marquess of Grone, have been visiting Lord Jeremy at Coldsore Hall. If you haven’t, I fear you may be losing the thread of the story.” To say nothing of the thread of that sentence.

Well, Johnno has been busy in Scurveyshire’s Library of Forbidden Books. No one is allowed to go in and see the books–they are, after all, forbidden–but Constable Chumley has been so busy studying moles, he has rather neglected his duty to watch over the library and see that no one enters. In fact, it has been quite a long time since he paid any attention to it at all.

At dinner that evening, Johnno is called upon to perform Lady Petunia’s favorite song, I’ve Got Rabies, singing it while also playing it on his harmonica. This puts everyone into a festive mood except for the marquess, who wanted kippers for supper and didn’t get them.

“Johnno, ol’ hoss, that was great!” exclaims Lord Jeremy’s friend, the American adventurer Willis Twombley, who thinks he is Sargon of Akkad. “How’s about an encore?”

“Sir, I have something better than an encore!” Johnno replies. “I have discovered, through my perusal of certain ancient books whose titles are better left unsaid, the one thing most abhorrent to the spirit of Black Rodney–the one thing guaranteed to keep his evil presence from this house!”

“Kippers, I shouldn’t wonder!” grumbles Lord Gromleigh.

“Lord Jeremy, your troubles are over! Black Rodney will persecute you no more!”

“Well?” cries Lord Jeremy. “Speak up, man! What is it?”

Johnno takes a moment to beam beamingly, then answers.

“Antimacassars, my lord! Black Rodney can’t stand antimacassars! He won’t venture within 50 feet of one. All you have to do is place them on every piece of furniture in Coldsore Hall.”

“My word!” cries Lady Petunia. “But Jeremy–I don’t think you have any antimacassars.”

“That’s no problem, lady!” exults Twombley. “I sure hate them Babylonians, but you got to give the varmints credit for one thing–they make the best goldarn antimacassars in the world! I’m surprised old Queen Victwhatsername ain’t got a passell of ’em in her palace. There’s an English firm right there in London that imports ’em by the bloatload–Dombey & Son. Dirt cheap, too. Germy, old pal, we can order a whole cartful of ’em right away.”

Here Ms. Crepuscular accommodates the reader with a picture of an antimacassar. Three of them, in fact.

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