home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
comic strips - editorial - souvenirs - Yahoo forum
Update 8 March 2010
1,001 Mornings of
Character by EO Costello in collaboration with Simon Barber
"Where Is The Song of Songs For Me?"
by EO Costello
“Where Is The Song of Songs for Me?”
by E.O. Costello
Reggie Buckhorn, Lodge, Po’na, Sergeant Brush characters by E.O. Costello
Toby Trotter and Sophie van Assendonk courtesy Simon Barber
Minnie Fischer courtesy Walter D. Reimer
Toby Trotter’s spirits were sinking, and if you’ll pardon the reference to a stallion, it looked like he was going down with all hands.
But I haven’t started at the beginning. Toby Trotter is a chum of mine, a fellow ex-pat and subject of the King living here in the Spontoon Islands. Toby’s sire sent him out here for health reasons, though whether the health in question was that of Toby, or the sire, was never totally clear to me. As with your humble narrator and Sir Josslyn Buckhorn, Bt., there is a decided lack of the Glad Eye between Toby and the head of his family. It seems that Toby’s presence on the ancestral broad acres in Shropshire was not a sine qua non, as Lodge (my valet) likes to say. I could relate. It had been a few years since I’d darkened the bathroom linen at Monongahela House, Bucks.
Now, some furs would view a fairly generous allowance and a spell in a rather pleasant isle of the North Pacific as the stuff to give the troops, and figure out a way to make this more or less a permanent feature. Toby Trotter, alas, is very big of heart without a corresponding size of intellect.
The subject of said heart was one Sophie van Assendonk. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a supporter of the old chacun a son gout as any other buck. But even to someone of my slapstick experience in these matters, La Assendonk gives one pause.
In terms of physique, the aforesaid La Assendonk is built upon lines that bring to mind not so much Manchester Cathedral as Manchester United. A certain level of vigour and strength is a good thing, though one can take a point only so far.
And as for character, the Mary of song and story that called the cattle home, across the Sands o’ Dee is not in it. Toby’s inamorata has a voice that carries. In the same sense a locomotive can carry a few dozen boxcars. If she ever gets to the altar, the sexton would be well-advised to lay in a good supply of sandbags to fortify the rose window, before she says “I do.”
And speaking of altars, that’s the nub of the matter. Toby has been engaged to Sophie. Six separate times. I mean, I’ll grant you, that’s rather better than some Pittsburgh steel millionaires my paternal grand-doe used to describe, the type that ran through mates at a goodish clip. But still, you can have too much of a good thing. Poor Toby has had to shell out for a half-dozen rings. You’d think his fiancée was trying for a set.
In any event, engagement the sixth ended up in the same bin that holds Ninevah and Tyre. I mean, this one was Toby’s fault. There ought to be a policy at telegram companies that forbids the sending of missives after a prolonged cocktail hour. How on Earth Toby’s message got through, without melting the wires or setting fire to the ticker tape, I’ll never know. One could say the same of the reply from La Assendonk, though it was not nearly in the same vein. I saw the reply, and it was clear that while other parts of her are broad, her mind doesn’t fall in that category.
So, there we were, at the Long Bar at Shepherd’s Hotel, and Toby had face to match. Only the twitch of a solitary facial muscle, and the twitch of his throat muscles as the whisky-and-sodas went down, indicated life. At least until he began to speak.
“Reggie, I’m an ass.”
“That’s not what your birth certificate says.”
Toby wasn’t in the mood for humour.
“If you’re going to open your gin-hole, at least say something helpful.”
“Sorry, old thing.”
“There I was, sitting on top of the world, engaged to the most beautiful femme in the world, and I go and mess things up. What was I thinking?”
Given the content of the telegram he’d sent, I, for one, knew what he was thinking. A stallion’s a stallion for a’ that.
“I ought to see about a Songmark girl, Reggie. Maybe they’re different.”
I came close to dropping my glass. “Good heavens, you can’t mean it!”
Another eye baleful. “What, you don’t think I’m good enough for ‘em?”
“It’s not that, Toby. I mean, you’ve heard the stories about Songmark girls, and what they learn over there. The Silver Ring wouldn’t give very long odds on what would happen if you fell into a specimen’s paws. It’s a cert. they’d have you stripped naked and helpless inside thirty seconds.”
The expression in Toby’s eye softened alarmingly. “Do you really think so?” It was clear my choice of comment had misfired rather badly.
“Well, hang it all, that’s…”
“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, Reggie, and for once, you’re talking sense.”
“No, I’m not. I’m talking rubbish.”
Toby kicked moodily at the brass railing with a pensive hoof. “You’re absolutely right, Reggie. What I need is a femmefur of action, of real-world experience, not some cosseted, shrinking violet out of a convent.”
I couldn’t for the life of me contemplate what kind of convent would produce a specimen like Sophie van Assendonk, and this is from a buck who’s read any number of green-backed French novels. Some things are best left without contemplation.
“Now, hang on a tick, Toby…”
Another ringing meeting of hoof on brass rail. “That’s what I need, all right. Get a Songmark girl in a frank conversation. Make her an offer she can’t refuse.”
“An offer? What kind…? Never mind, I withdraw the question.”
“Do it now, Reggie. That’s my motto from now on. To think is to act.”
“Yes, well you need to think, first, to do that.”
My words were directed at an equine tail that was fast receding out of the precincts of the bar. Without, mark you, paying the tab, which was left to Reginald. It was thus in mood of gloom that I hied myself back upstairs to my suite.
“Lay out my best black suit with matching armband. If you have a weeper to attach to my hat, so much the better.”
Lodge raised an eyebrow, and enquired as to the location of the masquerade. I slumped into an easy chair and lit a cigarette.
“If only, Lodge. If only. You are familiar with l’affaire Trotter-van Assendonk, I assume? The question is rhetorical, as you Know All, so it would appear from evidence and experience.”
“I am aware that Miss van Assendonk has terminated her engagement to Mr. Trotter. The circumstances of which I am familiar with, Sir.”
“As is, I suspect, half of Casino Island.”
Lodge admitted there was a certain abundance of knowledge in the public sphere on the subject, and respectfully asked particulars as to the subject at paw. I laid out the essentials, namely, that Toby Trotter had set his cap –and perhaps something else -- at a Songmark girl with a certain eye for doing something beyond the usual conversation about the weather.
“And you are concerned, Sir, that Mr. Trotter is confusing…please forgive me, Sir…love with certain other biological imperatives?”
“Lodge, if he goes through with this, Toby’s ability to conjugate the imperative is going to be highly questionable. As painful as the memory of Latin class is, I recall that the imperative singular is found by taking the last two letters off the infinitive. Draw the analogy to Br’er Trotter, and shudder.”
Lodge duly shuddered. “The situation is alarmingly clear, Sir.”
“We must cancel my previous instruction to you, Lodge. Lay out my Buck of Action clothes. Something short-sleeved and in khaki, I fancy. And when you’ve finished that, fetch Po’na with his ricksha. I shall require all of the Brain Trust to deal with this weighty matter.”
The buck-form having been changed into duds fresh, I was informed by Lodge that Po’na was currently on Eastern Island, where the seaplanes come in and where the Songmark Academy hangs its metaphorical hat. So it was water-taxi ho for Reginald.
Rounding into the curve of the road where the water-taxis were, who should I see coming at me from the other direction but Toby. Toby was looking slicked up and glossy, like those equine chappies you see in the mane-shampoo ads. Given that he had a bouquet of flowers in one paw, and what appeared to be a largish box of chocolates in the other paw, one could only guess with a grimace as to what was cooking between his ears.
I admit I reverted to ancient ancestral forms, by standing stock-still, swiveling my ears and snorting. Toby paused in his promenade, and having caught sight of me, demonstrated that his newly-adopted motto (see above) had been adopted with vim. He bolted, and jumped into the nearest water-taxi, and bawled out his destination in a voice that carried over half the island.
For myself, I hopped into the next water-taxi. The rather dapper fish-hawk in charge didn’t even bother to ask what was going on. With a roar and a rooster-tail of spray, we were off into the lagoon.
Toby, in his water-taxi, peered over the back with a glower and yelled an order that, while drowned out by engine noise, was pretty obvious: lose the buck! My driver gleefully gunned the motor, and it was a fortunate thing that I had my lagoon-legs, because for the next fifteen minutes or so, those upon the shore were entertained by the sight of two water-taxis engaged in a rather ungainly ballet, square dance, or what have you. I really don’t know what Toby was thinking: I mean, the lagoon is a rather smallish space, and you can’t very well hide a water-taxi in traffic, such as it is.
Toby eventually gave it up, so it seemed, and before long, we arrived at the Eastern Island terminal, a few seconds apart. Toby flung a bill at his driver, and I, mine. Toby, with fleetness of hoof, vaulted over a stack of steamer trunks, hopped twice, and landed neatly in the back of a ricksha, startling five years’ growth out of a smallish ferret who looked like he could ill have stood such a loss. Po’na, my quondam ricksha driver, came whistling out of the post, and it was the work of but a moment to dive rack-first into the seat.
And so, another chase started. The ferret, though small, was doing quite well. In no small measure due to the fact that Toby was standing in the back seat and yowling for all he was worth. Just as well he’d left his whip, if any, at home. I settled myself into the backseat, confident in the fact that Po’na knew what he was doing.
You’d think on such a small island there wouldn’t be such a menu of roads to choose from, but it shows you what Reginald knows. Lots of twisty routes, which makes you think the chappies who laid it out were themselves laid out after a hard night at it. Po’na caught up to the ferret, who began to try to crowd him off the road, in a manner that would have had him warned off the Turf anywhere else.
Unluckily for the ferret, this rather unsportsfurlike conduct necessitated taking his eyes off the road, and therefore, the assortment of tools, implements and lunching furs that were in one half of it, courtesy of the Spoontoon Ministry of Public Works.
The flock of doves that burst out from a nearby tree were treated to the following sights, in rough order:
(1) A ricksha wheel hitting a largish excavation;
(2) Said wheel going in one direction, generally through a group of workfurs;
(3) The second wheel sailing off into the undergrowth by the side of the road;
(4) A smallish ferret going ears-over-tail into a largish wheelbarrow of rather damp cement mix;
(5) A large and expensive bouquet of flowers bursting into the air;
(6) A large and expensive box of chocolates spraying a quality assortment over all and sundry; and
(7) A large and expensively dressed stallion demonstrating that, Standard Oil of New York notwithstanding, horses really weren’t meant to fly.
Toby sailed toward a rather large bush, which slowed down his momentum rather noticeably. Unfortunately, the somewhat sharp thorns on the bush completely stopped substantial parts of his wardrobe. It was thus a significantly more casually dressed stallion that landed, after about three bounces along the grass but right side up, at the footpads of a rather fetching and nattily dressed marten. And, as luck would have it, in a cloud of rose-petals.
I was about to wonder how somefur had conjured up this lass, when Po’na, who had securely brought his ricksha (and yours truly) to a safe stop, pointed to a nearby sign, indicating that Toby had landed approximately fifteen feet from, and in full sight of, the front gate of the Songmark Academy.
I got out to render assistance, and was cut short by a snarl from the marten femme, who rather crisply informed me that she knew first aid, she was in charge, and…well, there followed something about antlers that I won’t repeat here. That last bit caught the ears of a few femmes hanging about the front gate, and was in general approved by voice vote.
Toby eventually came to, and given his rather goofy grin, I imagine that he took the administration of first aid by the musteline well. To my untrained eye, I couldn’t fathom why this required him to turn his head and cough at least ten times. By about the sixth or seventh time, I suspected either Toby was shamming, or the marten femme was taking rather more care that was, strictly speaking, necessary. Perhaps she wasn’t familiar with equine anatomy. She seemed eager to learn.
In any event, there were certain indications that the presence of Reginald was not desired, which consisted in part of clods of dirt being hoiked at me from behind the fence with a fair degree of accuracy. Vox populi, vox dei: I oiled off and left Toby in the paws of his angel of mercy, who was busy checking him over for bruises and cuts.
Now, you ask any general, they’ll tell you that a knowledge of the opposition is vital. I mean, really: if you’re expecting the enemy to be toting bows, arrows and spears, and all of the sudden they show up with Maxim guns, it’s going to ruin your day. So it was that I enquired of Agent ZXY36, alias Lodge, to get me the low-down. Which, of course, he did.
“Her name is Fischer, Sir. Wilhelmina Fischer, known generally as Minnie.”
“Dashed shortage of ha-ha about that femme, Lodge. Status of dreams about the King of Sweden unknown, I take?”
“She is, as you surmised, a student entering her second year at Songmark, Sir. The uniform and distinctive patch she wore, which you described to me, indicates as such.”
“How long is one sentenced to Songmark, Lodge?”
“The course of study is three years, Sir.”
“So much mayhem to learn in so little time, one supposes. Hang on, though: isn’t school in session?”
“I am led to believe, Sir, that the new term begins in a few weeks, and that in the meantime, the young ladies have slightly more liberty than they will in a few weeks.”
“Yegads, Lodge! This Fischer has licence to sow some wild oats, what?”
“I fear, Sir, that that expression is distressingly apt, considering the status of Mr. Trotter.”
“Hmmmm. One sees the point, Lodge. After all, she caught him on the bounce, rather literally. Do you have any suggestions, Lodge? Ones that, preferably, involve me keeping out of range of blackjacks, brass-knuckles and the like she may be toting in places indelicate?”
“Miss Watermaster downstairs has advised me that Mr. Trotter has made dinner reservations for this evening, for two.”
“What? That rotter! He owes yours truly a good thirty guineas until the next money order. Blasted cheek. So you advise a careful and cautious recce?”
“Indeed, Sir. Discretion being the better part of valour.”
The results of the recce were at once disappointing and yet also disheartening.
Young Trotter was showering attention on the female like it was about to be rationed, and given that Minnie Fischer was from all accounts going to be starting in on some class of Devil’s Island-type fun, she was gathering it in at all speed.
Since I take my meals at L’Etoile d’Argent (all part of being a suite resident at Shepherd’s Hotel), I could not help but notice she was ordering the best stuff off the menu and the wine card. Given that Toby was tipping the staff, down to the busfurs, lavishly, even the maitre d’hotel was on his best behaviour. Toby even had the insolence to send over dessert to my table. He knows perfectly well I don’t like cheese with my apple pie.
There were also moonlight swims, too. Hardly a surprise, given the lady in question. Toby is a rather more awkward swimmer, and is more at home in his Steel Pier diving style. I didn’t make much of an effort to hide myself. Not the Buckhorn Way, you know, to be sneaky. In retrospect, I think the beach umbrella was probably gilding the lily, considering the risk of being caught in the glare of the moon, but there you are.
In short, all of the elements of your standard-issue romance. I suppose there was a soupcon of jealousy on my part, but all the same, it was clear to me that my erstwhile equine chum was being played for a chump.
I was also disappointed in Lodge, who seemed to be taking a detached view of the whole affair. Not the proper feudal spirit. He merely indicated that matters would resolve themselves in due course.
I was going to have none of this fatalism. If Toby Trotter could take action and Do It Now, Reginald P.R. Buckhorn was going to do the same, and in spades. I pondered telling Lodge to lay out the Dutch Uncle duds, but I decided this was probably a poor choice of words, and I limited the self to a respectable blazer, tie and white duck trousers.
Some hours later, I was soaking the self in a hot tub, while holding a cold ice pack to the rapidly swelling parts of the phiz. Lodge, after having given my wardrobe a decent burial, arrived with the dressing gown, box of cigarettes, and expertly mixed G&T. It was clear from the way he was hanging about, one eyebrow raised, that he craved conversation.
I refilled the ice pack with fresh supplies, the remainder going to a nicely chilled bit of refreshment. Only then was I in the mood for a debriefing.
“I trust, Sir, you found Mr. Trotter?”
“Oh, come now, Lodge. You know perfectly well I never come back to the suite like this. Well, sober anyway. Yes, indeed, I did find Le Trotter, arm in arm with La Fischer, strolling as if they owned the entire boardwalk. Now I’ll grant you, La Fischer is an eyeful and one half when dressed up, if your taste runs to those things, but still, Toby was making an ass of himself. It was the work of but a moment to halt the Royal Progress and speak to him, buck to stallion.”
“Very forthright, Sir.”
“Hmmm. That’s as may be, Lodge. He didn’t think so, and neither did his companion. I will tell you right now that young ladies really shouldn’t have such a vocabulary like she had.”
“Enough to peel paint and shrivel the ego, Lodge. In a way, dealing with the Sire has made me proof against that sort of thing, but all the same, there were a series of statements in there that were libelous, down to the use of conjunctions. Anyway, to resume: there I was, standing in the middle of the boardwalk of Casino Island, outnumbered two to one and getting a fine old dose of the verbal vinegar, when what do you suppose happened?”
“Your words are few but to the point, Lodge. Indeed. From somewhere behind me, I heard a yell of rage the timbre of which I haven’t heard since the Sire caught me playing hockey with his pocket watch. Who should hove into view but Sophie van Assendonk.”
“To the life, Lodge. I’d met her once before, and believe me, one meeting is more than sufficient to sear a description into the memory. So here she comes, galloping up, finally pulling up with a snort right in front of us. And who d’ye suppose she starts in on?”
“Mr. Trotter, Sir?”
“Not a bit of it. Your humble narrator, that’s who. And if Miss Fischer’s vocab. left something to be desired in the category of delicacy, it was naught compared to La Assendonk’s. Y’know the chap downstairs, the concierge, the one with the moustaches you could toast bread on the ends of?”
“Sergeant Kerry, ex of the Irish Guards, Sir?”
“That’s the baby. He ought to take lessons from Sophie Assendonk in projection. Straight from the diaphgram and the bowels of hell, all at once. Anyway, round about the third minute or so of the catalogue rasionne of my faults, La Fischer chooses to let out a laugh. And that’s when the rannygazoo started.”
“An ill-timed sally, Sir.”
“Well, it brought the young lady to the attention of La Assendonk, who snapped out a brisk phrase in what I think was Dutch. Don’t speak the lingo, but Context is All, Lodge. Anyway, La Fischer was having little of it, and began to give back a nice little budget of invective in the same lingo.”
“And Mr. Trotter, Sir?”
“Standing like a great big lump, looking slack-jawed. No help at all. So if anything was going to happen, it would have to happen at the initiative of your humble servant. So I stepped between the ladies, and held up my paws.”
“An admirable effort at peacemaking, Sir.”
“Forgive the crispness of my retort, Lodge, but that’s a load of bollocks. I now know why those League of Nations chappies are always slinking about Geneva with long faces.”
“The ladies gave you a rejection, Sir?”
“No. Each of them gave me a fine old punch in the head, that’s what happened. Things went rapidly downhill after that, Lodge.”
“Quite. Now, Lodge, I’ve been to my share of championship prize-fights. D’ye remember that Italian fellow a few years ago?”
“Primo Carmera, Sir. The “Ambling Alp.” ”
“Yes, well, keep the fun clean with regards to comparisons to La Assendonk. I’m telling you, put these hard ones in a training camp for a few months, and I guarantee a Yankee Stadium sellout. In any event, they were standing hoof-to-toeclaw, and giving it what for, Lodge.”
“But you stated you had stepped in between them, Sir.”
“So I did, Lodge. So I did. I wasn’t given the chance to withdraw gracefully, either. I’m sure there’s something going all the way back to the London Prize Rules about using third parties as shields. Not according to Hoyle, Lodge. A goodish half of the blows were landing on various parts of my physique. I finally got loose when La Fischer threw a sucker punch and hung this jolly mouse on me.” Here, I paused, and lifted the ice pack for Lodge’s inspection. He tut-tutted sympathetically while I paused for refreshment.
“Anyway. With Yours Truly out of the way, the fight proper resumed.”
“The spectators were getting quite the eyeful, Lodge. Particularly as the respective wardrobes suffered under the circs. Students of the Sweet Science will tell you, Lodge, that speed and technique versus punching power is a classic matchup, and La Assendonk and La Fischer were giving a master class demonstration of this principle.”
“Most unlady-like, Sir.”
“You can tell that to them if you like, Lodge. I shan’t. Well, to sum up, those who put their money on La Assendonk – and there was quite the little betting scheme going around – got their money’s worth. La Fischer missed with a right hook, and La Assendonk brought an uppercut from somewhere down about the level of her high heels, bang square on La Fischer’s chin. No need for the Long Count, Lodge.”
“But what of Mr. Trotter, Sir?”
“Standing like a great big lump. Mixture of terror and I strongly suspect emotions rather less befitting a gentlefur. Bloody useless.”
“He did not react at the end?”
“Never got a chance to, Lodge. La Fischer had hardly hit the wood when Toby got collared by the ear, and dragged away, underneath the boardwalk.”
“But Sir, I…oh. Oh, my.”
“Let’s leave it at that, shall we? I had a brief interview with Sergeant Brush, who for once accepted the fact that I hadn’t started it, and was on the side of the angels. I oiled off before the other festivities started.”
“I see, Sir.”
“What gets me, Lodge, is how the devil La Assendonk showed up just at that time.”
There was a longish silence, interrupted only by Lodge giving a discreet cough.
“I believe, Sir, that Miss Assendonk had received some communications.”
“You believe she did?”
“Well…perhaps I should show you, Sir.”
Lodge at this point produced two telegrams, addressed to Sophie van Assendonk, c/o Azimuth Pictures, Hollywood, California, USA. The first, dated a few days ago, was a pretty straight-forward, if telegraphically terse, rundown of Toby’s accident.
“Well, that’s as may be, Lodge. But why would she care? And by the way, how did you know where she was?”
Lodge produced a Spontoon Mirror from a few days ago. A syndicated column indicated that one Sophie van Assendonk, socialite, was attempting to break into motion pictures. I, for one, assumed this was by crashing through the walls of the studio.
“The psychology of the individual, Sir.”
“You mean maternal instinct, what?”
“Precisely, Sir. It would arouse her better feelings if she knew Mr. Trotter was hurt.”
“That’s assuming she has any, Lodge. I saw precious little evidence of that today.” I turned to the second telegram, and was startled enough to drop my G&T.
The telegram was in the nature of a confession, indicating that Toby had not sent the infamous telegram in question, but that it had been sent to La Assendonk by a third party, as a class of prank. The third party in question being the self.
After things settled down from the whirl, I fixed Lodge with a cold eye, and waved the telegram at him. I’m afraid all I could produce was a series of strangled noises indicating displeasure. Lodge bowed.
“Again, Sir, it was a question of the psychology of the individual. In this case, Sir, it was necessary to foment feelings of guilt and misjudgement on the part of Miss Assendonk. Having broken relations with him over the telegram, the discovery that it was not, in fact, his fault would introduce introspection on her part. In combination with an account of his injuries, it was hoped by me that Miss Assendonk would rush to the side of Mr. Trotter.”
“Well, blast it! That dropped me neck-deep in the bouillon, Lodge! With results that you can see. Explain yourself.”
“Deeply regrettable, Sir. But I think you will agree, Sir, that you have effectively restored relations between Mr. Trotter and Miss Assendonk, and have had Miss Fischer duly punished for her mercenary efforts. You will agree, Sir, that such a public defeat for Miss Fischer will not go unnoticed by the faculty of Songmark?”
I paused, mid-splutter, to consider the justice of this statement. If I was neck-deep in bouillon, La Fischer was no doubt up to the tips of her musteline ears in the stuff, and richly-deserved it was, too. And I had evidence that relations were restored between La Assendonk and Young Trotter. I won’t bore you with the evidence, just trust your narrator on this.
I relented, and Lodge as a peace offering poured me another G&T. At that point, the doorbell to the suite rang, and Lodge shimmered off to answer it. The return shimmer was accompanied by a note on a silver tray.
“Read it, Lodge. I’m only cyclopean at the moment, and the one free eye is not in the mood.”
Lodge perused the contents. “It would appear, Sir, that Magistrate Spaniel has heard the cases against Mr. Trotter and Miss Assendonk.”
I grimaced. Spaniel was something of a hanging magistrate, as I had good cause to know. “What’s the damage, Lodge?”
“They are in the Casino Island Jail, Sir, pending the payment of a fifty-pound fine for each. Mr. Trotter was hoping…”
I sighed and waved a languid paw. “Never mind, Lodge. It’s traditional to give the happy couple on their engagement a gift. Release from durance vile is hardly traditional, but I suppose would be appreciated under the circs.”
“Very understanding and sporting of you, Sir.”
“Hmmm. Well, Lodge, one admits to an element of jealousy on my part. Would that I had a femme that would make such exertions on my behalf. Where is the Song of Songs for Reginald, hmmm? Lay out something suitable, Lodge. Something that doesn’t clash with my ice-pack.”
October 28-31, 2009