The Verdant Leaves of Despair

“Greetings, o Mother of the East,” said my brother Cain as our train pulled into Boston’s North Station. He called his mother who lived in Harwich ‘Mother of the East’; his mother who lived in Saskatoon ‘Mother of the North’’; his mother who lived in Oyster Bay ‘Mother of Pearl’, or in German, ‘Perlmutter’. Cain was a little confused. He apparently expected his mother to greet our train, whereas she hadn’t budged from Harwich for twenty years. In fact, she had been buried in Harwich for twenty years.

We had come to Boston hoping to find some trace of our long-lost pet chimpanzee, Harlan P. Marquand. Harlan had become separated from us in the press of a crowd on the floor of the Bourse, in Paris. It was Mauve Wednesday, and we had rushed to the Bourse as soon as we heard the news, in order to sell our controlling interest in Kleenex and avoid being wiped out. As I felt his furry little hand slip out of my grip, I cried, “Cain! Where are you going?” He said he had lost Harlan and intended to search him out. Torn between the bonds of Loyalty and Money, I sold the bonds of Loyalty, as the American Fore Loyalty Group is known in financial circles, clearing roughly around several hundred thousand francs or so on the deal. We left Paris sadder but richer.

Now, twenty years later, we had come across an item in our home town newspaper to the effect that Harlan was attending Harvard; had, in fact, made dean’s list. We made haste to telephone the registrar, who, alas, informed us that Harlan had disappeared only the week before, his room a shambles. Our hopes dashed to smithereens, we dashed to the B and M station.

As we stepped off the train, a dashing stranger in a rattan shirt and cuffless pin-striped pants careered into me, knocking me under the wheels of an onrushing helicopter! I was crushed by his lack of respect for my years (1872 and 58,091 B.C.; I inherited them from a bosom bachelor buddy of my grandfather), and boxed his ear soundly. His ear soundly boxed, he whimpered, “I’m terribly sorry, sir. You see, I’ve just returned from a year of study at a public school in England, where I had a harrowing experience…

“I was on yard work duty, and assigned to plow the south forty…

“Believe you me, forty square miles is a lot for one man to plow in an occasional moment stolen under cover of night from the Bursar’s Office. Well, sir, as sure as my name is Reed Gwillim Law, Jr.—“

“Stop right there!” I cried. “Why, what a singular coincidence—or even, I may say, what a plural coincidences. Would you believe me if I were to tell you that our names are identical?”

“Certainly I would,” he replied. “So are our faces, our allure, our aplomb.” Much to my chagrin, I discovered that I was talking with my reflection in a candy machine mirror.

We had lived in Boston once, but that was twenty years ago, and we no longer knew our way about town. We hailed a taxi, and asked the driver to take us to the nearest subway station. He took us to one called Newton Highlands. The conductor of the car we boarded told us in his quaint, clipped, Yankee twang how to get to Harvard, which I found a little curious, as we hadn’t asked him. Perhaps my rattan shirt or Cain’s lorgnette and vest covered with dollar signs gave us away. Unfortunately, we dozed off in transit, which was hardly unusual, as I had last slept five weeks earlier. Cain, on the other hand, hadn’t slept for twenty years, and even then he had only had five or ten winks. He had been participating in a siesta, or festival, in a little sidewalk cafe on the banks of the Ganges. Fujiyama glowed red on the southern horizon, and the sky was tinged with a verdant opoponax. Oh, to be back in Baghdad, sniffing the caliph-blossoms and smoking a seraglio as the verdant wail of a hookah breaks the silence of the night.

I awoke with a start to Cain’s insistent shaking some time later. We were on a wet bench in a dingy transit station called Lechmere. It was twilight, or else dawn. I brushed the larger fungi off my shoulders and accosted a passer-by, from whom I determined that it was dawn, and that we had been asleep for a month and a half. We had apparently become quite an attraction, drawing several hundred people a day to Lechmere Square. We determined to split up, I to find provisions, and Cain to find Harvard. I stalked off with a determined gait and presently arrived at a place called Lechmere Sales. As nearly as I could determine, the place didn’t sell food, but I determined to ask anyway. I lined up behind an elderly gentleman who was placing an order for a monogrammed electric bed.

“Your name, please?” I overheard the clerk ask.

“Leopold Xavier Ingraham Xylas,” he replied, and stalked off with a determined gait. I glanced down and saw that my gait was missing. Pursuit was futile, as the only gait I had left was an awkward, loping one, so I resolved to grow it anew.

The clerk informed me that the only food they had on hand was Vaseline petroleum jelly, so I bought a couple of dozen jars. I found another grocery store in the area, and bought two loaves of bread—rye for me, scotch for Cain. Then I set out for our rendezvous. Unfortunately, Cain didn’t speak French, so we missed connections. I took out a personal ad in the daily newspapers, couched in veiled terms: “Ain-cay, I-ay ill-way e-bay aying-stay at-ay e-thay Eraton-shay Aza-play. Il-gwu.”

Two days later, as I was watching Bozo the Clown on the TV set in my room at the Sheraton-Plaza, Cain burst in with a girl on a leash. “Greetings, o Mother of the North,” he exclaimed. He was still a little confused; his mother who lived in Saskatoon was on safari in Tierra del Fuego, an autonomous protectorate of Tannu Tuva. “Lookit what followed me home,” he continued. “Can I keep him? Huh?” I could see that that boy needed a man-to-man talk.

So, “Cain,” I told him, “you’ll be a man soon, and you’ll have responsibilities. Perhaps now, before you’re thirty-five, is a good time for you to learn to live up to them. You may keep, uh, him, but only (now, now, don’t bother licking my shoes) but only if you feed him yourself, out of your own allowance.”

But, where the welfare of my brother was concerned, I could take no chances; after I had tucked him in, I took the girl aside. “Tell me, sir,” I barked, “just what is your name, and what are your intentions toward my brother?”

“You’re nuts, Gwil,” she purred. “I’ve been married to him for twenty years.”

“What? Why didn’t he tell me?”

“He probably didn’t think he needed to. You were his best man.”

“Wait—yes, it all comes back to me now. That slippery step in the Capitoline stairway, in Rome, that tumble, that bump on the head, and when I awoke I couldn’t remember a thing.”

“In all the years I’ve known you, you haven’t set foot outside of Massachusetts.”

“Then how did I lose Harlan?”

“What a family,” Clara sighed—for Clara was my sister-in-law’s name. “You sent him to the veterinarian by parcel post and he was lost in the mail.”

“I see. Well, would you care to join me in a Vaseline sandwich?”

The following morning, I set off alone to find Harvard. I stopped at the hotel desk to ask directions, but I had got no farther than “east?” when the receptionist said, “Roderick! What a pleasant surprise!”

“I’m sorry, miss, but you seem to have the advantage of me—in several ways…”

“Come, now, Roddy, don’t you know your own sister-in-law?”

“I give up. Do I?”

“You ought to. You were best man when Cain and I tied the knot.”

“Your name wouldn’t be Clara, would it?”

“Roddy! You know very well that my name is Festina Lente.”

It was too deep for me. I said, “Excuse me, Festina, but I have a prior engagement,” and wandered out into the street. My brain was aboil, but my train of thought was derailed by the report of a shot. I dived into a gutter and looked up. Sure enough, it was a sniper, taking a guttersnipe. The report was printed on page 17 of the Gloston Bobe (er, Boston Globe), a local newspaper. As I sat bemused in the gutter, a young woman passed by, glanced at me, and dropped her handkerchief. I sprang to my feet, picked it up, and said, “Oh, miss.”

“Yes?”

“Littering is illegal here. You should be more careful.” I dropped the hanky in a handy trash basket. She slapped me, and I continued along my way. After a few hours I arrived at Logan Airport and decided to inquire the route to

“Cambridge?” said the clicket Turk, gesturing at me. “That’s in England, son. Take a jet to London, and the train from there.” So, when the sun rose, you may imagine its surprise to see me heading toward it.

I took a handsome cab, as the driver proudly called it, from the London airport. It was before noon by my watch, but the sun hung rather low in the west. (After a few days, I became somewhat accustomed to this unseemly haste on the sun’s part.) Big Ben struck four. Appalling, how the country lets one of its most famous landmarks run five hours fast. If I had to run five hours fast, I assure you, I’d resent it.

The cab was slowed by a large crowd lining a major thoroughfare, down which was passing an ornate landau. I recognized the occupant of the calash; it was Renée à Deuxportes, whom I had known in high school in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. My, my, that was fully twelve score months ago. We were on the gift committee for our retiring (that is, shy) principal together. We selected a gold-plated nose ring and an army surplus pup tent.

A wisp of sky was floating in front of her eyes. I called her name—she spied me from her brougham—a star came out in the wisp of sky—a well-drilled platoon of teeth marched out between her subtle lips. She tossed forward a word, and the carriage drew to a halt. I renumerated my cabby from one to ten and trotted over to her. A door swung open, trailing her arm firmly in its wake. I stepped in, and the barouche proceeded.

“My, it’s pleasant to see you again, Renée,” I said. “Tell me, what are you doing with yourself these days?”

“I’m queen of England, Gwil. And what brings you to London?” Her voice flashed sparkles of green and gold through the conveyance. When the last eddies had subsided, I replied.

“(Pardon me, Your Glory, for having addressed you so familiarly.) I’m on my way to Cambridge to seek my pet chimpanzee, who—your pardon, Your Grace, you’re frowning. How could I have sounded retreat for that platoon of teeth? How could I have, uh?”

“Alas, Gwil, you have committed a grave crime. You have alluded to the Royal Family in the Royal Presence.”

“The Royal Family? You Mean (I mean ‘mean’) Harlan–?”

“Is my cousin-german. He was, one might say, the black sheep of the family, and when he was very young, we sold him to a wandering pet shop.”

“But what about his pedigree?”

“Forged. The poor fellow is one-third human. Well, I fear I must do my duty.” She drew herself up to a most righteous posture, and commanded, “Guards! Imprison this man in the Tower!”

Strictly speaking, the Tower of London is no longer a prison; fortunately, they were able to lock me up in a glass case along with the Crown Jewels. The next day, when the first tourists arrived, I regretted the state of my apparel. My pin-striped cuffless pants looked as if they had been slept in; as for my shirt, nothing can wrinkle rattan, but the epaulets were bent, and large areas of the garment showed a marked limburger-green tint. As the visitors gawked by, I became inured to the situation, and began modeling some of the jewels. I found a sable-trimmed gules with bezique pendants which was just my size (I take an 18).

Night fell. I fell asleep. Then, in one fell swoop, I fell over backwards and awoke, as the door of the case, against which I had been leaning, had opened. The light pressure of a velvet hand muffled my startled grunt. It was Renée, her face cameotic in the moonlight, her other hand poised at her mouth in admonition of silence. I followed her through an open casement to a steep roof, from the edge of which a rope dangled dwindling into a black gulf. “Follow me,” she whispered, and the whisper caressed my ear, gradually circling up from the lobe, past the Darwin’s point, around the tragus, and into the concha. “I don’t think I can,” I replied, but by then she was on the way down the rope. I shut my eyes and clutched it. The wind rushed up into my face. I must have lost consciousness, but my hands still grasped the rope.

When I awoke I was still on the roof. The queen was shaking me gently, her hair sprinkled with reflected moonlight. “This time,” she suggested, “you’ll go first.” I slid vaguely off into the void, her foot pressing warmly into my back. The rope fled through my gloved hands. I gathered speed. I couldn’t maintain my grip. I plummeted faster and faster, lost hold, fell down, down, down, and hit. Fortunately, the total drop had only been ten feet, so I was unharmed. We now had access to an unguarded stairway, and my escape was made good. Renée ushered me to a parked Opel and motioned me in.

“Stay,” said I; “why didn’t you just pardon me, rather than helping me to escape?”

“Powerful forces, led by my wicked brother, are plotting to dethrone me. Now, if ever, I dare not show weakness. No one must know I aided you. Flee to Dover, and thence to France. The queen commands you!” She touched her fragile fingertips to her lips, then to my breast pocket, to bid me adieu.

As I drove off, my mind turmoiled, “I can’t leave the poor girl to fight her wicked brother alone. Well do I remember his treachery. In fact, when most boys dreamed of becoming President, his thoughts were of becoming Secretary of the Treachery.” A tear fell for Her Majesty’s plight. I drew forth my pocket handkerchief, and found a wad of gum in it. Odd; I never chew gum. Well. What would Rupert of Hentzau do in a case like this? That was a poser. I knew what the prisoner of Chillon, or Lorenzo sans terre, or Blind Michael would have done, but not Rupert of Hentzau. On a hunch, I turned around and headed north. By three a. m. I had reached Birmingham, the sun had risen, the stores had opened, and I had located a costumer’s shop where the customers shop. When I entered the cluttered little store and rang for service, who should appear but “Cain!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“Clara said that you’d been killed in an automobile accident on your way to Harvard, and asked why I didn’t move to England and get a steady job. I couldn’t think of a good answer, so here I am.”

He gave me a free disguise, complete with makeup, transforming me into a bearded savant. I bade him au revoir and returned to the car. A bobby was hooking it to a tow truck.

“What seems to be the matter, officer?” inquired I.

“Stolen car. The owner reported it missing yesterday evening. Probably some kids taking it for a ruddy joy ride.”

The bobby’s voice sounded strangely familiar. “Haven’t I known you someplace before?”

“Have you ever been in Boston, Gwil?” said Clara. Yes, it was Clara. That clarified everything.

Deprived of a car, I undertook to hitchhike. A traveling elevator salesman stopped and said, “Want a lift, my bloke?” I accepted. He introduced himself as Lorenzo sans terre; I introduced mine (my self, that is) as Sir Ira Mayne Youghers-Treweleigh, F. R. S.

Midway through the story of his life, he paused and said enigmatically, “You know, an individual is always safest when he minds his own ruddy business.”

“What are you driving at?” I demanded.

“Only 40 mph,” he replied mphatically.

Well, there I was in London, at a pay phone—on Grosvenor Road, if you must know. I wanted an audience with the queen, so I dropped a dime in the slot, dialed 999, and waited. A train of barges drifted up the Thames. Crowds milled out into the street for lunch, then milled back into their offices, picking breadbats out of their teeth. … The stars gradually dimmed above the Tate Gallery across the street, and a yellow glow suffused itself into the normal lambent matutinal sphere. …back into their offices, picking breadbats out of their teeth. Say, my dime was sitting in the coin return. Oh, I saw. I dropped a threepence in the slot, dialed 999, and requested an audience with the queen.

“Listen, yank, this bloody number is for blinkin’ ruddy h’emergencies. Notwithstanding which, ‘Er Majesty is at Windsor Castle, blimey.”

“Thank yew, lor’ luv yer ludship.”

I called Cain. He said, “I say, are you there?”

I checked. Most of me was. I stretched a point and said, “Yes. Cain, this is R. Gwillim Law, Jr. I’d like you to meet me at Windsor this afternoon.”

“Oh, really?”

“Let me put it this way: ‘Meet me at Windsor this afternoon.’”

“All right. Say, will Clara be with you?”

“’Will Clara be with you?’” I obeyed.

“No, I thought she was with you.”

“I haven’t seen her since yesterday.”

“Are you sure you haven’t just mislaid her?”

“Why, Cain, how could you think such a thing? I’ll see you at Windsor.”

Do you think that I took a train from Waterloo Station, which stopped at Vauxhall, Queens Road, Clapham Junction, Putney, Barnes, Mortlake, Twickenham, Staines, and Windsor, where I detrained? Very astute. However, you’ve neglected to mention my conduct on the train. First, I reminisced on my acquaintance with Renée. I met her when she moved to Conshohocken one October 24. The following day, I believe it was the 25th, I moved to Agloe, British Guiana. But in between, ah, what a time we—Clara, what are you doing here?

“What am I doing where?” she asked.

“What are you doing sitting next to me on the train to Windsor?”

“You answered your own question.”

Too true, too true. At Windsor, I took a seat to await Cain, and Clara wandered away thence thither. Cain arrived just in time for foursies, so we entered a tea shop across the road from the palace. I snapped my fingers, and the queen of England came forward, bearing a tray bearing a teapot and three teacups. Her regal bearing sent a warm breeze across the table as she slipped into the chair opposite me, waves bobbing in the golden waterfall coursing over her shoulders. As I introduced her to Cain, he poured a cup of tea, or, more strictly speaking, poured some tea into his cup; pulled out a marking pen and made a dot on the side of the cup; and focused his eyes on the bridge of his Hudsonian nose.

“Cain, whatever are you doing?” asked Renée.

“Oh,” he smiled, “Gwil always tells me to cross my eyes and dot my teas.”

“I do not,” I huffed. “I haven’t said that since we had the skywriting concession in Mauritania, when I was 21/41 of my present age. Remember those torrid tropical moons (one at a time, of course)? The sweltering palms, swaying in the wind as we bribed the sweltering colonial officials? But tell me, my liege: how may I help you circumvent your wicked brother?”

“Easy,” began Cain, but I silenced him with a glare.

The queen said, “Ssh. Meet me here immediately after dark.” Before the words had dissipated, she was gone, leaving a cold draught on my back. We left the tea shop to while away the time in Windsor Great Park; on the way, we met Clara.

“Clara,” said I, “we are about to face great danger. If you won’t go back to Birmingham willingly, I’ll make you.”

She apparently didn’t recognize me in the learned disguise Cain had given me, for she said, “Who are you, stranger?”

“You answered your own question, haw, haw!” This was Cain’s contribution to the conversation, and a pretty feeble one it was, if you ask me. We saw Clara to the station. It began to rain lightly. As Clara boarded the train, Cain said, “Godspeed.” Clara replied, “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s only rain.”

We shipped off to the tree top—I mean, tripped off to the tea shop. Renée beckoned to us from beneath the eaves. “Gwil,” she asked, with a sad faraway look in her eyes, “would you carry a torch for me?”

“I, ah, hardly know what to say, Your—oh,” I said, as she handed me a flashlight. Alas, I fumbled it, and as it hit the ground it went out.

“Oh, dear,” said Renée. (My blood pounded in my ears.) “I don’t suppose you have another on you?”

“Will this answer?” I inquired, drawing a dark-lantern from the folds of my toga. You see, the bearded savant as whom I was disguised was Diogenes. By the light, then, of the lantern, since the gray afternoon had been swept away with the ebbing of daylight, leaving only a few dim stars awash on the broad ebon beach above, we made our way across the road and into the churchyard of a chapel appurtenant to stately old Windsor Castle. We crept past some mullioned corbels, stepped gingerly over a loose machicolation, threaded our way around an échauguette, and stopped in front of a crypt. The queen produced a large rusty key. She used it to open the door of the crypt. We entered the crypt. She shut the door. Cain said he was tired. He lay down on a slab. He closed his eyes.

“Cain,” Renée intoned. “Do you often sleep with your glasses on?”

“Yes,” Cain intoned, “so I can see what I’m dreaming about.”

“Blurry dreams,” I intoned, “always give him headaches.”

“Khwornk,” Cain intoned.

“He seems,” intoned Renée, “to be asleep. Fortunately, his aid isn’t vital. Would you lift this coffin lid? It’s rather heavy.”

“Loffin kid? Er, kiffin lod, liffincod, abbabab—“ I intoned.

“You needn’t worry,” Renée intoned. “It’s uninhabited.”

I handed her the lantern and intrepidly slithered over to the recumbent sarcophagus. I bent to the effort of raising its lid, when, in the ghastly half-light of the dark-lantern, I perceived a shadow looming over me on the wall. With a little cry of amusement, I dropped the lid. It made a noise loud enough to wake the—well, in fact, it didn’t even wake Cain. However, Renée was startled enough to let the slit of the lantern close. The shadow went away. I found the lid again in the dark with no difficulty (one of my fingers had remained underneath it), and raised it without further mishap. Renée had the lantern open again, and lo, the coffin was not a coffin but the head of a stairway. At the foot of the stairway could be found a clandestine passageway, straight and dark. This I know because it was found there, by a hitherto completely reliable source. I refer, of course, to myself.

As we passed down the tunnel, Her Majesty began to show signs of fatigue. “May I offer you, madam,” I ventured, “the support of my strong right arm?”

“We are grateful,” she replied, “but are you sure one arm is enough?”

“All my arms are at your service,” quoth I, nonplussed. When I had been plussed, I grasped her upper left arm in my left hand, my thumb unflexed. I bent down. My right forearm was sucked into a vortex in her long skirt at knee level, and her substance floated into a roughly horizontal position before me. It settled into my abdomen. With halting steps, I followed it forward. As I walked, its head nodded on my shoulder and its spine nibbled at my forearm.

A little while later, the tunnel seemed to end. I set down my burden, whereupon it awoke and was again Renée. She led me back a few paces and into a side tunnel I had missed. This led to a door, through which we entered what was patently a grocery store, laden with exotic and earthy smells. We left the store by a more popular portal, and I, in doing so, bumped right into—

“Patricia! Good old Patricia! Where have you been all these decades (two in number)? Renée, I’d like you to:…?”

But as I scanned the horizon, the zenith, and other such likely areas, no glimpse caught I of the queen. “Well, Patricia,” I drawled, “do you suppose she was jealous of you? You didn’t see where she went, did you?”

“Wark! (Slurp, slurp) Wark!… Werrrrr-ark!” replied Patricia, wagging her tail. Patricia had always been perhaps a little over-affectionate, and, embarrassed, I suggested a promenade through the streets of this unfamiliar city. As we crossed a boulevard with a cafe in the center strip, I began to whistle ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’. Patricia joined in with the counterpoint. (You see, Patricia was born deformed. She had a humanlip. She turned her handicap to good account, though, by developing a shrill whistle which attracted dogs more than they were repulsed by her deformity. With constant practice, she developed great skill with complicated passages in prestissimo.) Many passing eyes were drawn to the touching vignette we formed, a man and his dog (I being the man, of course) expressing their companionship through the harmony of music. As we reached the end of the piece, we improvised a catchy cadenza, and, upon emerging triumphant from the last echoes of John P. Sousa, glanced at each other, smiled, and winked. Patricia had a smile that would shame many humans, as indeed it should, lest the money we spent on her orthodonture have been wasted.

I stopped at a news stand to find out where we were. I began, “Pardon me, sir, but—“, but the vendor butted in with these words: “Lo siento, señor, pero yo no hablo Inglés,” and returned to his function. I interpreted, for Patricia’s benefit, “He says we’re in Dresden, China.”

I suggested to Patricia that she choose a restaurant, being better acquainted than I with the metropolitan area, and followed her through the beaded doorway of a little corrida. I ordered a peanut butter sandwich. The waitress asked, “¿Y su perro?”

“The same,” said I. She returned shortly with a stew of bread crumbs, rice, and beef for me, and a soup bone for Patricia. By a natural mistake, she got the orders confused, placing the bone before me and the stew before Patricia. The bone looked better than the stew, so I started to gnaw thereupon, when a phrase fell out of its chink in a hushed conversation at the next table and struck me. The phrase was “… Harlan P. Marquand…”.

The rest of the sentence was drowned out by my gnawing, so I gnu a little more quietly and heard a man who sounded as if he had an unusual, but not extraordinary, number of vocal cords, saying, “Not so loud! We’ll be heard!”

“And if we are? Everyone in here speaks Spanish.” A plausible assumption for an obscure cerveza in Dresden, China.

“Well, anyway,” returned the laryngeal one, “we can prove that he’s the rightful heir, and at this moment our colleagues in England are planning a coup. What do you say, Señor Hugo de Naranja?”

“I’m with ye, mon,” said Hugo. “And yet, what can I do to help the cause?”

“We have information that Gwil Law is in the city.” Patricia glanced up, but returned to the stew with a shrug of her hairy shoulders and a lick of her ebony lips. “You’re to trace him. I’ll get you a description—“

Just then Clara clattered through the beaded doorway. An expression contorted her features. “Fools!” she cried, with a dramatic gesture. “There sits Gwil Law behind you. (The one with the bone.)”

“¡Sangre de helados!” imprecated the interlocutor from the mysterious core of his Adam’s apple, leaping up and upsetting the table on Hugo. I retreated into the kitchen, which looked like the only avenue of escape. After a brief glance around, I tossed an insignificant coin (in fact, I think it was a suspender button) to the waitress in gratitude for her malentendu, and headed upstream. The sound of someone slogging along behind me grew faint and finally was heard no more.

Patricia was still at my heels. A dog’s fidelity is a wondrous thing. I heard recently of the case of a family which, in moving to a new home on the moon, had to leave its pet dog with relatives. Relatives of the family. A year later, the young son heard a scratching at the airlock of the new family residence, and upon investigation found that the causative agent was the faithful dog, bedraggled but happy. What is even more remarkable is that the beast must have maintained an average speed of over 25 miles an hour, which even a greyhound can’t sustain for a full day.

Patricia, I was saying, was still at my heels. “Well, girl,” I asked, “which way to England?” She wouldn’t say. I luckily espied a travel agency down the block, whose agent spoke English and pointed me in the right direction. Soon I was in a magnificent room in the finest hotel in England, speaking to Renée.

“Renée, they’ll seize your throne. Your life may be in danger. Will you abdicate, and be… -stow upon me your (hand)?”

“Why, you’re old enough to be my father, Daddy.”

“!!!!!!!!

“Did

“you say,:

“’Daddy’?

“But we were adolescents together in Conshohocken!”

“No, you’re thinking of Raymonda Dortsz. You always did get us confused.”

“Say, that’s right. Now that you mention it, I was thinking of Raymonda. So you’re my little Renée. How did my daughter get to be queen of England?”

“Not queen,” she replied, “quean.”

“’Not queenqueen’?”

“Not ‘”Not queen queen,”’ ‘Not queen, quean.’”

“’Knot “’Knot queen queen,’”, “Not clean queen”’?”

“No, not ‘”Knot ‘”Knot queen queen,”’, ‘Not clean queen’”’, ‘Not “’Not queenqueen,’” “Not queen, quean.”’”

“’Know-not not not not “’”’—‘”’”’?”

“I don’t think I can take much more, Dad. What I mean is that I’m not a queen, with two e’s, but a quean, queue you eeyayenn, a Scottish term for a young woman.”

“Well, all I can say is ‘Well!’” quoth I.

“But you said ‘all I can say is’, as well as ‘Well’.”

“All right, then, all I can say is, ‘All right, then, all I can say is, “All right, then, all I can say is”‘—Say, why would anyone plot against a quean?”

But just then Cain entered the room and exclaimed “Dad!”

“Oh,” recalled I, cracking my knuckles, “yes. You’ve been like a brother to me, and since you’re only six years younger than I, I sometimes think of you as my real brother, dead these last fifty years. You knew him, perhaps? A wonderful fellow, full of youthful enthusiasm when he was so tragically caught under a—“

“Daddy,” warned Renée, “you’re wandering again.”

“—with his—“

Thereupon Hugo de Naranja arrived on the scene. And he said:

“Hello papa. Renée, Cain.”

“Hello, son,” I replied, increasingly bewildered. “What’s that, uh, rope in your hand?”

“You answered your own question,” he sassed, reeling it in. At the end was Harlan, who came to me, hugged me around the knees, and gibbered, “Father!”

I bit him.

THE END