Fog everywhere. Well, dry ice, anyway. Dry ice up the derelict nostrils. Dry ice across the commodious stage, where it swallows up the shifting figures. Dry ice in the arena, where the hard-of-hearing clap their trumpets to their tremulous ears. Dry ice in amongst the rigging, where the speakers hang precariously, like boulders above a wizened riverbed. Dry ice in the dressing-rooms, where the champagne awaits. "Start me up a little, Keith," huffs the old man, "start me up," his features petrified, his cheekbones whitened like hoar-frost, his lips opening and closing like a mollusc, his legs doing a half-passable impersonation of a jig. "Ho!" he cries, and "Bosh!" and "Give me that honky-tonk blues!"
Elsewhere in the great metropolis, some long murky shadows cross the well-creased temples of the great and the goodly, as the various attendants on the case of Blairdyce And Browndyce debate the length of the days, scouring, pouting, heaving with questions, cross-questions, trick questions, questions both tentative and tendentious, reading the ochre-stained runes, every word wrung as dry as a dog's discarded bone.
Some say they know, or did know, or might know, the solution to the matter; but everyone has a hollow theory, which being advanced, retreats, or which being decided upon, is undecided in the very instant. That infant once mewling in his or her cradle when first the case was opened (and adjourned) is now an expert in the business, having attained a certain cheese-like maturity, and cudgels their wits with certainties; which are half-certainties; which have the dubious, rarefied whiff of rumour about them. Ask Mr Paxlinghorn, who thrives on his intimate knowledge of Chancery. Ask Mr Humphet, the mastermind of these desperate machinations.
Mr Puppy, a babyshambles of a figure, his pork-pie hat perching upon his head in a state of perpetual imbalance, begs to call upon Miss Mosscover, for he has a message of which to divest himself. "Without prejudice," he says, his thin hands shivering, "would you be so decent as to share some lines I have prepared?" And he produces, all the while humming uncertainly, his forehead a very sheen of perspiration, and a rivulet of mascara stealthily trickling from the corner of his eyelid, a paper, which he unfolds with dreadful indelicacy. Miss Mosscover is as thin as a seamstress's needle, her bones having seemingly been reticulated by a man with a map of a skeleton to hand, and her pupils, onyx and immobilised, fix themselves upon her apparent paramour. "Do not dismiss me, missus," begs young Puppy, partaking suddenly of two glasses of intoxicant. But Miss Mosscover, her eyes dissolving into shadow, turns her back. She is to enter a priory, which may be a blessing.
Dressed in a cerise leotard, and disco cut-offs, Mrs Madonna Jellyby is a lady of devotion to many causes, all of them irreproachable, all of them extravagantly philanthropic. She has danced for Africa. She has sung for the cause of that benighted continent. She has single-handedly changed all those corners of the world thought previously impervious to the Qabalah, and her commitment to the gratification of the innocent is expres-sively momentous. How else might her children learn the iniquities of television, other than by their being prevented (for so she is apt to confess in television interviews) from watching television? As for Mr Jellyby, he is seldom seen. He hunts; he fishes; he drinks his ales; he directs films - all of these activities sedulously concealed from the public gaze, unless revealed by Mrs Jellyby's repugnance for publicity, which is so widely renowned as to be indisputable.
The rich, almost pungent scent of a rosette announces Mr. Skimpcameron. He is quite the child at heart, and his laughter is charmingly careless. "I have very many ideas," he says, parting his lips with enthusiasm. "I have an idea about national service, and I have an idea about pensions, and I have an idea about education, and I have an idea about youthful indiscretions." But he sees it as perfectly nonsensical to enunciate these ideas, for, as he confesses, it is not his business to be delving and sifting and ruminating further upon such propositions. "I have ideas, but I am quite innocent of their consequence. Suppose that a fellow were to ask me my ideas!" he exclaims, smoothing the fine fabric of his suit. "I should be quite incapable of developing them. I say, here are my ideas, make of them what you will, for I am a perfect cherub, and a perfectly simple candidate for office."
Sir Ozzy Dedlock and My Lady Sharon Dedlock are presently ensconced in one of their many mansions. There is no more formidable presence than he. His vocal cords and his particular riffs are as old as the iron ore from which the heaviest metal is smelted, and he would, were he capable, admit that metal is as excruciating to the brain as it is to the common ear. He has an uncommon addiction to the innocence of its devilry, and when he speaks, indistinguishably, he is wondrously incomprehensible. My Lady is not so dulled. Every dim little starlet who dances around her is in thrall to her inscrutable truculence, and there is scarcely an idea - or an ignorant head - upon which she will not pour cold water. Alas, she is too late to douse Lord Archkrook, whose combustible spontaneity may yet return him, a palpable phoenix, to the smoking Palace of Westminster.
And what of Grandfather Jagweed, whom we glimpsed through the curtains of so much dry ice? Mincing, wincing, preening, queening, the indefatigable old ruffian continues to call to us, while so many unseen puppeteers tug at his strings, and the cry continues to rise above the crowds to whom the Browndyce And Blairdyce case, rumbling on, is no longer intelligible. "Start me up a little, Keith," he insists, as the ancient tides of his voice swill constantly over us all. "Start me up!"Reuse content