Mr Frogworth gave a start. He blenched (had he known it) with the pallor of one whom an Apparition has visited, and left little doubt as to the ultimate malignity of its purposes. For he had seen — or could have sworn it, at any rate — what appeared to be a pair of inviting blue eyes, peering at him from beyond the wainscoting.

He shook himself — this was scarcely possible; he had left her boxed up at Throgmorton — and resolved to investigate calmly and methodically. Striding up to where the eyes had appeared he grasped two fistfuls of wainscoting and tore it to bits with a banshee shriek. But there was nothing behind it but a couple of brown spiders, which rolled away from the light like pinballs into their holes.

Very well, then, this left no doubt. It had been an illusion, a hallucination born of nerves. Mr Frogworth laughed at himself for his foolish susceptibility. Gloria here? Why, what an imbecilic notion! Had he not boxed her up thoroughly at Throgmorton, in a lead coffin twenty feet underground, wrists and ankles bound together with steel fetters and a black scarf of spider’s silk tied tightly over those inviting blue eyes?

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December 21, 2012 · 11:11 pm

Many a mile of tundra have I trod,
And eyed the bright and baleful aureola
Of frosty Northern lights, on frosty Northern nights,
Taking my rest on journeys circumpolar;
Many a league of salt and scorpions
My boots have swallowed with their leather tongues,
In wild and desolate lands, where wild and desolate bands
Of mad Mings roam among yet madder Hmongs.

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December 21, 2012 · 11:07 pm

And yet it was not without some fleeting sense of guilt that Friar Bosworth rode homeward that evening. Something in his conscience, some long-neglected imp of the heart had rebelled, and was crying out for justice. JUSTICE it cried! — a muffled imp at best, of course, but insistent nevertheless. And the Friar, as he walked on swinging his cane, could not rid himself of the feeling that perhaps, for all his scholastic skill, there was an argument here he could not counter.

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December 21, 2012 · 11:01 pm

Distance; fog and distance. Mile upon bleak mile of tundra separated him from his heart’s desire while she, innocent, went shopping in Willesden Green. –But what was this scrap of doggerel whirling in his head, an old snatch of a burlesque or a come-all-ye from Ballymacdrogheda… No, ’twas gone.

Frivol and froth, all of it. Fie!

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December 21, 2012 · 10:58 pm

- Parsimony, thrift, mercy, lewdness, and sport, said Justice Oddwallader. – These are the virtues, Sir, upon which the British Empire is built. These are the five pillars of our civilization; the five indispensable features of our nation’s existence – the staples, as it were, of our moral diet. And you, Sir, have violated every one.

– Damned ruffian, said a voice from the gallery. Damned concupiscent stinker.

– Silence! admonished the Justice. I won’t have any θορύβημα in this court, to coin a phrase. Now, Sir, you goddamned scoundrel -

– That’s telling him, judge, said another.

– Order! said the judge. Now then, you scummy incongruous ruffian, hear your sentence. I sentence you, Willard Mohammed McGillicuddy Smith, of 47, The Crescent, Scrottingham, to be taken from this court to the place of execution and buggered up the arse until you’ve learned your lesson.

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December 21, 2012 · 10:56 pm

He stood in front of the door for a few moments, wondering whether to knock or simply walk in; but while he was hesitating the handle turned. The door opened a crack and he saw a face: a hairy, longish face with very sharp eyes, scrutinizing him: then the door closed as suddenly as it had opened.

After this he was a little scared even to knock: he had some doubts about that face. But at last he gave three or four sharp raps on the door. It was some time before there came any response, and he was beginning to nerve himself for walking in uninvited after all, when there came a voice:

“Enter, Mr. Witherspoon!”

He turned the handle and went in. It was a smaller room than he had expected, with a desk in the middle of the room covered with books and papers, a small curtained window and what appeared to be the door of a closet. But the room was empty.

There was nowhere a person could hide, and no apparent outlet. Richard stood staring for a moment. This was too much; it was not a moment since a voice—whether a human voice, he could not say, but a voice—had summoned him in, and there was no one here. His fear deepened and, feeling he must take some action or succumb utterly, he strode to the door of the closet and threw it open. There were a few old coats on hangers and a pile of shoes and slippers.

“I am not in the closet, Mr. Witherspoon,” said the voice, behind him. “I am sitting at the desk. It is simply that I have my back to you, and I am invisible from the back.”

Richard turned around and shut the closet door. There was a chair behind the desk, and another in front of it, near where he had come in. He sat down in the latter. It was hard to know where to look: he did not want to sit staring at the seemingly empty chair before him, but it seemed equally uncivil to turn his gaze away from his interlocutor. He looked down at the scattered papers that covered the desk.

“Why have you come to see me, Mr. Witherspoon?” said the voice.

It spoke not in the tone of one requesting information, but more in the style of a catechist: as if this question had to be posed and answered so that their conversation could take its proper course, but the answer was equally well known to both the participants. Richard, accepting this, began to relate the story of that day’s adventures. He put in as much detail as he could, repeating conversations word for word when he could remember them and describing even the most trivial aspects of dress, gesture, weather, for he felt this was a welcome opportunity to rest from the incessant exertions that had occupied him all day and reflect for a while on what they had meant. He was not interrupted, and from the complete silence of the invisible thing across the table he was sure that his words were heard with interest: if not in the events described, then in the way he described them.

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December 21, 2012 · 10:54 pm

At the moment they were arguing about the Confluence of Radical Epistemologies in the Postcolonial Moment.

‘You’ve read your Hegel, Gloria,’ his father was saying. ‘The method is the consciousness of the form of the inner self-movement of the content of logic.’

‘That position,’ his mother replied, ‘has not been intellectually respectable since the devastating operations of the early Habermas (1966, 1973). Must I remind you, Theodore, that hierarchical power is implicitly co-construed through the interaction of pragmatic agents (Foucault 1981)?’

‘Tripe,’ said his father. ‘You fail to consider the culturally contingent web of negotiated meanings by which public artifacts are reified, deified, de-reified and re-deified. It is an agentive structure/process (Smegner et al. 1989) which, I suggest, is better understood as a social gesture (“art-if-act”).’

Robert knew how it would end. His father would accuse his mother of ignoring the seminal work of Babaghanoushi and Boulmichev; his mother, between clenched teeth, would retort that the dialectical process was inherently engendered; his father would bang on the table and shout ‘I problematize your assumptions!’; his mother, with a hoarse cry of ‘I subsume you!’, would storm out of the room in tears.

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December 21, 2012 · 10:54 pm

The whole story started with a visit from my aunt Dahlia, as these things so often do. Often and often have I found that many a time and oft is it that case that such malentendus (if that’s the word I’m after) – or is it contretemps? – that such imbroglios, if I may use the expression, often begin with a visit from the aunt. For she is a stormy petrel of sorts who brings the old storm clouds in her wake wherever she hies as if they were attached by a leash to her ankle. Which is substantial, by the way, having been lovingly beefed up for years by her incomparable French chef Anatole. But this is by the way.

So on the morning in question the old aunt had incorporated, if that’s the word, in my midst at about nine a.m. without so much as a word of warning. Faithful readers will not need to have it spelled out to them what a nuisance, indeed a what-d’ye-call-it such unanticipated visitations present to the Wooster constitution, which is frail and birdlike. To intrude into the presence before noon is to risk the wrath that my ancestors showed to such effect at Boulogne (I think it was). And so it proved on the occasion in question.

‘My dear old a.,’ I said, fixing her with a cold stare, ‘what is the meaning of this?’

But she was unflappable. Indeed I have often and often had occasion to remark that to flap old aunt Dahlia is a project beyond the capacities of most mortals. She has a sort of steely whatsit to her that is all but impossible to penetrate. Even the bravest men have been seen to quail before her when she stands athwart their doorway like a seventy-four that is miffed. But not for nothing am I a Wooster, and the Wooster blood does not curdle lightly.

I braved her steely gaze bravely and continued my harangue, for to be honest I was quite dashedly pipped. ‘I must observe, aunt of my loins,’ I continued icily, ‘that your unheralded appearance chez Bertie at this ungodly hour is not at all what I would call the thing. There is a fine line between paying a nephew a friendly visit and making a damned nuisance of yourself, and you seem to have mistaken that line for the starting pistol in the long jump.’ Thinking back I suppose I got my metaphors a bit mixed at this point, but the gist was clear enough. ‘What, I ask again, is the meaning of this barbaric intrusion? I haven’t had breakfast.’

‘Nor will you ever, you nitwit, if you go on in that vein,’ she said in what I thought was a somewhat menacing tone, ‘because I’ll kill you. Now listen to me. You’re to come down to Brinkley Court tout de suite. Take the first train down. No need to pack. Bring Jeeves.’

And with these ominous words she was gone, like a wraith that has, well, uttered ominous words and gone.

I was left rather nonplussed by this communication, to tell you the truth. It sounded as if she had said ‘You’re to come down to Brinkley Court tout de suite’ and ‘Take the first train down’, as well as ‘No need to pack’ and also ‘Bring Jeeves’. But this was scarcely possible.

Thus reflecting I sank back upon my pillow with a sigh and decided to put in another hour or four of Zs. Perhaps things would be clearer in the morning, or, seeing that it was morning, in the afternoon. ‘Jeeves,’ I murmured sleepily, forgetting that he was not by my side.

‘Sir?’ came his answering hail from the direction of the kitchen. The chap has a marvelous sense of pitch, I’ve always said. He can distinguish his own name from a parasang away.

‘Jeeves, I shall be wanting breakfast in about four hours.’

‘Very good, sir,’ says he. ‘But would you not prefer to breakfast at Brinkley Court?’

There was that name again. ‘Brinkley Court?’ I said. ‘Why on earth should I prefer to breakfast at Brinkley Court when I’m not at Brinkley Court? You’ve taken leave of your senses, Jeeves.’

‘I was under the impression, sir, that we were to embark for Brinkley Court in a matter of minutes.’

This took the biscuit.

‘Oh, you were, were you?’ I said. ‘Well, you can extricate yourself from under that impression, Jeeves, and spare yourself considerable discomfort, I would imagine. We are to do nothing of the sort.’

‘Very good, sir. But I suspect Mrs Travers will be rather put out if we fail to arrive forthwith.’

‘Mrs Travers’ put-outness or the contrary, Jeeves, is none of your concern,’ I said, imbuing my tone with a hint of that Wooster sharpness that has made braver men than he to quail and blubber. ‘Breakfast in four hours. Till then, toodle-pip.’

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December 21, 2012 · 10:52 pm

At that moment my uncle stormed in. Gesturing furiously at the cigarette I was holding he inquired,

- Is that what I think it is?

- That is an interesting problem in epistemic ontology, I replied. I am inclined to say that objects in the world exist in a different plane from our mental representations of them, and that to conflate the two is a category error. But some would counter that the fallacy consists rather in postulating the objective existence of things independently of our perception of them, as we can never have empirical grounds for so doing; in which case to answer your question in the affirmative would be merely to state a truism.

- All right, mister smart alec, said my uncle. Give it here.

- Certainly, I said, perceiving that it would be foolish to oppose him in his present nervous condition. It is not of the highest quality but you are always welcome to what humble hospitality I can afford. There are matches on the dresser.

- Damn your impudence, he said.

Snatching the proffered cigarette from my hand he sniffed at it gingerly, then held it up at a roughly equal distance from my face and his, in the manner of a barrister displaying a forensic exhibit.

- You’re in some very hot water, he said. You won’t be wearing that smirk for much longer, let me tell you that. Now then, mister smarty pants. Where’d you get this from?

- It was a present from Mr Connolly, I said.

- Connolly, is it? Is that the pimply little bugger who was here just now?

- It is very ill bred of you to call him that, I said. I don’t make derogatory comments about the appearance of your friends.

Though God knows it’s tempting, I thought, but decided not to give voice to this further observation.

- Well, he continued, I never liked the look of that ugly little bastard and now I know why.

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December 21, 2012 · 10:50 pm

He waited for a moment just outside, pressing his ear to the door. No noise: not even a sleeper’s breath: only the hum of the waves and the splash of the water falling from the keel with each dip of the bowsprit. A snore would be welcome, he thought, straining to hear: he would take heart at a snore. Maybe the captain was at his desk, poring over charts or logs even at this hour of the night? But no light showed under the crack of the door. He must be asleep; and now if only the door did not creak–

It did not creak. Tiptoeing in, he shut it behind him, fearing it would slam to with the swinging of the ship, and stood in the darkness, not breathing. He had seen where the captain kept the chest, against the wall at the foot of his bed.

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December 21, 2012 · 10:45 pm