The Curmudgeon


Monday, November 26, 2012

26 November 1120

It was near the hour of closing at the Gallows and Glockenspiel. In their enigmatic corner, Mr Boggust and Mr Blodgett had concluded some enigmatic transaction, and were exchanging satisfied sibilants of mutual esteem. At the card-players' table, a less civilised exchange was taking place because Limbless Fred had bitten a piece out of somebody without giving them a chance to win it back first. The mutilated party was threatening Limbless Fred with a haircut, because when it came to bodily curtailment there was very little else with which to threaten Limbless Fred; and Hooligan Motts was just about to announce, "Twenty-sixth of November, eleven twenty. Nearly closing time," when a young man and lady in noble attire came in through the front door. They had been arguing vehemently, but halted at the sight of Granny Forbus and stood staring around the clientele.

"What's the matter with you two?" demanded Granny Forbus.
"Have you not yet heard?" said the young man. "The White Ship has foundered."
"The king's only son, William Adelin, is drowned," said the lady.
"Good thing we came when we did, then," grunted Granny Forbus. "If we'd arrived a day later, you wouldn't be able to budge for floral tributes."
"It will mean great trouble for the kingdom, unless a new heir is found," said the man. "By a miracle, Stephen of Blois was spared the catastrophe."
"Stephen of Blois," said the lady, in the projectile tone which Granny Forbus used when expelling olive stones, "was spared the catastrophe because of an attack of the flux. I never heard the trots called a miracle before."
"The bowel moves in mysterious ways," interposed one of the card-players, who had been eavesdropping from the bar. Melon Head Myrtle gave him one of her piercing glares, which were not quite as sharp as Constable Pring and even less difficult to ignore.

The man ordered ale and the lady ordered wine, and they continued their argument. Melon Head Myrtle listened in, along with a couple of others who enjoyed a royal tragedy with their tipple.

"There is no need for Stephen of Blois," the lady said, "while the Empress Matilda enjoys good health and the esteem of her countrymen."
"Precisely so," said the man; "and it is because she has the first and not the second that a strong and worthy successor is required. We need no more wars, such as the king himself had to fight at the beginning of his reign against the rebellion of Robert Littlesocks. What the kingdom needs is someone who can keep order - "
"Like the late Prince William, I suppose," said the lady. She addressed Melon Head Myrtle, who was observing the conversation over a banana daiquiri with all the trimmings. "Do you know the precious Prince may have caused the ship to founder? They say he gave the crew too much drink, that the priests were not allowed on board to give their blessing, and that they tried to race the king's own ship."
"I'm sure you're right, dearie," agreed Melon Head Myrtle, partly from politeness and partly because the man was wearing bright yellow tights. "And I'm sure you're well rid of this Stephen of Blooey, too. The last thing you need is a king with a delicate stomach."
"The Empress Matilda," said the man, "has the stomach and the heart of a weak and feeble woman." He started suddenly and clapped a hand to his ear as an olive stone bounced off it. "The Empress Matilda has not seen twenty summers," he said, glaring over at Granny Forbus who ignored him and gurgled her gin.
"She is still older than that wastrel Prince," argued the lady. "Come now, dear Eustace - " the gurgles of Granny Forbus grew momentarily louder and less controlled - "is there no circumstance under which the Empress might gain your favour?"
"If she were twenty years older and wiser, and promised to cut taxes by half, I might be moved to give her my consideration," said Eustace.

There was a murmur of disapproval among the card-players. "Bad idea, mate," one of them called over. "Stick with the male line, that's my advice. A queen in this period would be culturally unsound."
"It'd undermine the Salic law," said someone else.
"You'd have anarchy, pure anarchy," said a third, but he was lying under the table and nobody heard him except Limbless Fred, who wasn't interested.

"Closing time," said Hooligan Motts.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home