The Curmudgeon


Saturday, February 16, 2013

16 February 1106

It was nearly closing time at the Gallows and Glockenspiel. Hooligan Motts stood behind the bar, polishing glasses and maintaining his imperturbability; Granny Forbus sat in front of the door, muttering imprecations against the universe. In their enigmatic corner, Mr Blodgett and Mr Boggust kept breaking off their enigmatic negotiations so that the gaze of one or the other could drift upwards to the ceiling; those like Pippa Twelve Toes who tried to follow the gaze with their own saw nothing but beams and bats. From the card-players' table came an occasional muted curse as Limbless Fred perpetrated some new and hideous shuffle; from Melon Head Myrtle came the unsprung rhythm of desultory fingernails tapping on the bar; from Ten Gallon Harry came snores.

"Sixteenth of February, eleven hundred and six," announced Hooligan Motts. "Nearly closing time."

The snoring of Ten Gallon Harry was momentarily interrupted, and the rhythm of Melon Head Myrtle's finger-tappings was momentarily sprung, only to unspring itself again with the sullen obstinacy of a senile mattress; then the doors opened and a monk strode in. He was large and portly of figure, and the face inside his cowl was fleshy and rubicund; but his nose was long and sharp, and the eyes on either side of it moved about constantly.

"I am Brother Francis, of the Peterborough abbey," he informed Hooligan Motts, having ordered wine and been served a generous measure of fiftieth-century Mobberly Plonk. "I am gathering information," he continued, "concerning the public's reaction to the new star, to be documented in the Peterborough Chronicle."
"New star?" said Pippa Twelve Toes, who had followed a celebrity or two in her time.
"It's a comet," said Malvolio Quabbage.

"A new star in the heavens," said Brother Francis; "its appearance this day, in the first week of Lent, and during such portentous and significant times, is thought to be an omen of most significant portent. Would you disagree with that, madam?"
"I suppose," said Pippa Twelve Toes.
"There are, for example," said Brother Francis, "sources who ascribe the star's appearance to the disagreement between King Henry and the Archbishop of Canterbury. They are in no doubt that the omen has been sent by God as a reminder to resolve the investiture controversy in accordance with His divine will. What do you think of that, madam?" he inquired of Melon Head Myrtle.
"I think a person's investitures are their own business," said Melon Head Myrtle.
"Archbishop Anselm is a most learned man," said Brother Francis; "it was he who devised the commercial theory of the Atonement, whereby man's debt to God is passed on to the Saviour like a promissory note, which is a most apt and beautiful doctrine for a nation of entrepreneurs."
"But if the Saviour should choose to pass the debt on again," put in Malvolio Quabbage, "perhaps even with interest, to someone who passed it on to somebody else, and so forth, might this not cause a certain lack of stability in the market?"
"The Saviour would never pass on the debt," said Brother Francis; "for that would be the act of a usurer and a Jew, and could never happen under a properly regulated fiscal system. In any case, I am here to chronicle the people's opinions as to the new star."
"It's a comet," said Malvolio Quabbage.

"There are, for example," said Brother Francis, "sources who ascribe the star's appearance to the disagreement between King Henry and his brother, Robert Littlesocks, as to the disbursement of the estate of their father, William the Conqueror. By the Conqueror's will, Robert was made Duke of Normandy and the late William Rufus was made King of England, thus splitting the country in a most blasphemous fashion."
"Wasn't it already split a bit," asked Melon Head Myrtle, "what with the Channel and all? And what did Henry get out of the arrangement?"
"Henry received five thousand pounds in silver," said Brother Francis.
"A most apt and beautiful bequest for a king of entrepreneurs," said Malvolio Quabbage.
"As for the English Channel," said Brother Francis, "it was placed there at the Creation, and therefore is a product of the same divine will which now urges us to maintain our nation's natural and reasonable extent. For was it not that same divine will which, at the very time the Conqueror set sail for England, placed another new star in the heavens, as a signal of God's favour towards the enterprise?"
"I suppose," said Pippa Twelve Toes.
"It was another comet," said Malvolio Quabbage.
"Closing time," said Hooligan Motts.


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