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And so I face the final curtain

31 December, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and set about the finishing of entrys in my Journalle for this second of the new plague years, having been neglecktful of it; but in a humour less malancholy than a year since, for the new Varyant is not yet the catastrophe feared, restrictions middling, vaxines pursued. But the contrary is not confirmed, that the plague is done and our daily lifes repaired: for still remain the disquiets of a constraint here or a threatened tightness there, that we might dare to breathe mask-free, meet others without unease, or go abroad with no restraint; though I reflect that a fine holyday was had in autumn, when we were able, and the theatres are opened and holding their breaths. And all that I know are well, blessed be God: my father come through his great indisposition, though my mother a little more frayle, and I am thankful for all that I have in the world. In the tally of my year’s value I find I am backwards in my accounts but my purse, I think, worth a satisfacktory sum, and I enter into the new year with no expenses un-payed.
  Of publick matters, thus. All have weather’d two storms in recent weeks, and the First Lord of the Treasurey a pair of his own making, his standing thereby notably diminished: first, by accusations of corruption on his own side in Gouvernement, which he doth not meet with frankness, and second by his dissembling efforts to divert [us] from partys held in White hall, which hath come to light, that when all the people were confyned by his Covey rules in what they must do, his minyons hugged and laughed and eat and drunk merrily, clapping themselfs upon their backs with the hand that did not hold champayne, celibrating that they evade their own Rules with impunity, and his lackeys joked upon it. And now the gazette tells of a certain Positioning by the Secretarie for Foreyne Parts, that she preens herself should the Call come, when all esteem for the First Lord is gone, though few in the land have the faintest idea of her. And at the back of all still skulks our Separation from the Continente, which divorce is two years, and none hath seen any good come from it, not fishermen nor wagon men, nor any man of Science nor any that do trade there; nor will they, I think, in my lifetime.
  To merrier matters. After supper, which was at Mr. Jones house, stayed up late, and at a half-past eleven a-clock seated ourselfs with great anticipacion before the magick screen to watch upon it the new play that they made, to star both his garderobe and my indispensible Narracion. And Lord! how marvellous to see the proscenium set before us as if we there in person, the velvet curtayns closed and the candles all alight, and to hear with such clearity the hubbub of the audience, unseen in pit and gallery. And then along comes a man all peri-wigged, and stamps a great staff upon the stage to silence the house, and declaims that we shall see…
  ‘…Episode the Sixth and Last of Our Drama! Performed with Realism Unrivaled, by Players Unparalleled, using Effeckts Unequaled!’
  … and so retires.
  And so settle we watch open-mouthed, for as the curtaynes part we see no longer the trappings of the theatre, not its slanted stage nor the illusions of its machinery, but rather it is as if we are all concentred upon the very scene itself, where at one moment we see it as from afar, and at another from an intimacy so close as to see the very fleas within the players wigs. There are many scenes, only I find it difficult to follow, for I know naught of the back story.
  ‘Can we not fast forwerd it?’ whisper I, after a little while.
  ‘No, we cannot,’ hisses Mr. Jones. ‘You must admire the artistry of the unparalleled players and the arc of the narrative. Look! This is the bit with the explosion!’
  We sit upright and watch the great blast occur, which takes place behind the neighbores house — and Lord! there come a tremendous Boom!, a great flame, much smoke, pandemonium, and shrapnel ejected high into the sky! And the unseen audience gasps as we do at the very similitude of it, and all clap and roar approval.
  ‘What is that?’ say I, pointing with an onion ring at an odd-shaped object pursuing a parabolick trajectory through the air.
  Mr. Jones frowns at the screen. ‘Looks like a pig,’ says he, and the audience in the theatre must think so too, for there are loud guffaws as it lands, picks itself up and charges after some Player who has his crooked arm supported by the triangle of a great bandage.
  But then shifts the scene to a dark interior: a door, shadows at play upon it. I grasp the forearm of Mr. Jones for it is a door we recognise — indeed, it is just beyond where we sit — and we tense to see what drama hath been made of it.
  But then we sit up uncertain, our expecktacions confounded, for we see not the door opened and the tableau revealed, but the stealing in from stage left of a stout figure, of a build unmistakeable to us though now it be topped by a tall periwig all powdered, possessed of a black beauty spot upon one rouged cheek, reddened of lip and all a-pout, with breeches displaying such a fine thigh that it secures whistles from those who watch, and muscular stockinged calves that ankle to crimson velvet shoes; but above all, between neck and waist, is a cleavage of prodigious pink breasts so enormouse and unbalancing as to almost burst the seams of shirt, waistcoat and tunic. This character stations himself beside the ornamental bracket on which flickers a lighted candle. He waits for the house to quiet itself, then beckons the audience hither and, making sure the coast is clear, addresses them from behind the back of a hand.

  ‘Psst! Here am I in breeches role
  (‘Yay!’ choruses the audience, for this is always a favourite moment. There are some whoops.)
   A-crouch beside this girandole.
  My nerves have come under control

  With double-dose Propranolole.

  ‘So by this key hole here I lurk,
  Engaged in some detective-work,

  To spy within what kind of jerk
  Therein would hide his dirty work.

He bends flamboyantly at the waist to apply his eyeball to the Apperture, and gasps before turning scandalised to the audience.

  ‘Oh! could you see what I can see,
  You’d faint from the enormity!
  A man-sized Tool in hand has he,
  That with a sure dexterity
  Could be contrived to guarantee
  A Climax extra-ordin’ry!
  But Restoration comedy,
  For all its great vulgarity,
  Prohibits outright crudity:
  The hinted-at obscenity
  Must henceforth and forever be

  Obscured, for sensitivity.
  (‘Boo-oo-oo!’)

He whips across the portière and admonishes the audience. 

  ‘This door stays shut for mystery
  And principles of decency.
  Eschewing impropriety,
  Our scene is cloaked in secrecy.

  (Stamping of feet and ‘Open the door!’)

  ‘For here we leave the tale untold,
  The metal molten in the mould.
  If you’re to see the plot unfold

  Tune in to the next Episode!
  (‘Boo! Yay! Show us yer Ding-Dong, Mary Lee!’)

  ‘My garderobe,’ cries Mr. Jones, ‘that I have allowed them use! They have disclosed it not at all!’
  ‘And what of my role?’ cry I, jumping to my feet. ‘My perfeckt rendition of crucial narration! The blackguards have cut it!’
  While we speechless at our omission, on-screen the theatre reasserts itself before our eyes: the velvet curtayns are back and close upon the stage, and it sounds as if the doors are opened on to the streets for we hear the rumble of people leaving, the snapping of distant fire crackers and the midnight chimes of the clocks of the City. Then roll the credits, where all the Players named, and their roles, ending thus: 

Irate man with arm in sling, pursued by sow: Mr. M. Jones
Simpleton peering through window: Mr. S. Pips

…and Introducing, as Woman in Breeches Role…

*** MR. G. SMALL !!! ***

Season the Second will ayre next year

Copyright MDCLXXI

So ends the old year.

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Take as many as you like

21 December, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and after breakfast by coach to Mr. Jones house for my staring role in the final scene of the play that is being acted there. I have lost a week’s sleep for the practice of learning my lines, which are:
  ‘Begad! The beggar hath a plot to hide
 
The evil stash he hath inside
  The house. But no one in there as yet knows
  The secret place that he hath chose!’
  There being none to greet me upon my arrival, I stationed my coach in a vacant place by the Port-a-lieu. Seeing a bright light on downstairs, and hearing there a speech in progress, I shielded my eyes with a hand, pressed my nose to the window and peered within. From nowhere, however, I felt my shoulders grabbed of a sudden, as some ruffian stage hand manhandled me away with a hissed, ‘They are playing a crucial scene!’ And then says he, ‘Come, our sound reckordist and camerraman here shall document your performance in the woodshed. Five minutes and you may go.’
  ‘The woodshed?’ say I. ‘I would have thought lines of such importance to require nothing less than the main stage.’
  ‘Mr. Jones is charging enough for the woodshed,’ says one of the two young men with the strange equipment, so thither we proceed. On route I spy a familiar stout figure in petticoat and gown, coming all a-rush in the opposite direcktion. In the capaciose bag that he carries are a fresh costume and two enormous pink balloons, and upon one cheek there is what appears to be a large smudge.
  ‘You?’ say I.
  ‘Oh, Mr. Popes,’ says he, all out of breath. ‘They have given me a role! I must not be late to say my lines! I am so very nervous, I am all a-shake!’
  ‘Your lines?’
  ‘My lines from outside the garderobe!’
  ‘The garderobe?’
  ‘I must dash!’
  ‘Why is he outside the garderobe whilst I am in — ?’ But by now we are actually in Mr. Jones’ woodshed.
  ‘Take One!’ says one of the pair who have escorted me thither, and snaps together his clapper in business-like fashion.
  ‘“Begad! The bugger hath a stash to hide — ”
  ‘Cut! Try again, Mr. Pepys.’
  ‘Oh, I am so very sorry,’ say I. ‘I shall endeavore to get it right but I must connect with the role.’ For I have been inhabiting this character for several days, allowing him to consume my very existence. Of what consists his private life? Of what his secret life? Whence come the thoughts that stoke his deepest fears? I shut my eyes and pause to take control, breathe deeply and start again.
  ‘“Butter the plot! The beggar hath to hide —
  ‘Cut! It’s, “Begad! The beggar hath a plot to hide…” Let’s go again. Take Three.’
  ‘“Begad! The beggar hath a bigger plot — ”
  ‘One more time, Mr. Pepys. Take Four.’
  ‘You may take as many as you wish,’ say I, benevolently, as I feel the full force of my Method Acting research kick in. ‘“Buggered, the evil potter hides the beggar’s stash — ”
  …
  Two hours later the young men regard me wearily, appearing exhausted.
  ‘I think we shall call it a day there, Mr. Pepys,’ says the young man with the apparatus of Lenses, removing it from his shoulder and rubbing his tired eyes.
  ‘I can splice it together syllable by syllable,’ says the young man with the Angora tube on a stick. ‘We thank you for your time.’
  ‘The pleasure hath been all mine,’ say I, pleasantly, for I have been contented as much by this day as by any day in all my life. ‘If you would like an autograph, I would be more than happy — ’
  ‘Thank you, Mr. Pepys.’
  ‘Oh, right! Where shall I sign?’
  ‘No. Thank you, Mr. Pepys.’ And he holds ajar the woodshed door.

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The quest for a Bousterjab

17 December, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and to my office, where a great pile of letters, and among them three from the Board of Health: the first enquiring of me if I still have an interest in becoming a vaxernator, for my name remayns upon their roll; the second from the same source, correcting a sentence contayned within the first, which should be replaced by another; the third from the same source yet again, indicating that the Board of Health should now like to withdraw completely the previose two letters. I wondered why this papertrail of ineptitude (since only last week did I tell them by the Messenger that they could call upon me), but on reading once more the first and second found each to contayne as an Appendix every private address of those to whom they had been sent — the irony being that to become a Board of Health’s vaxernator requires of applicants a certifycate for completion of their module on Data Protecktion. Fourthly, an appoyntment for a Boustertjab — but not for nearly a month! I wondered how they still allow Mrs. Cadwallader to preside over such incompitence — a toothless crone, as I imagine her, from the Crymea, living out her senescence on a pedestal of achievements long lapsed. Amongst the rest, a letter to raise my spirits from my father, may God preserve him, indicating the results of his being again fed through the Contryvance that sees inside his chest, for which we went together by coach these ten days, and that he is very much contented, for all matters of any import are un-changed.
  All work done by five a-clock, it dark very early as night pinches the days towards the shortest, passed by the premices of the Physician, whence through the windows spilled a narrow shaft of light, the brightness of a great many candles from deep within, gold against the silver of the rising moon; this together with the muffled sound of much laughter, and the hubbub of merry conversation. With the impulsive thought to advantage myself of the lack of the customery file of people in the street, I in, the jangle of the bell announcing my presence. There found the anteroom empty and the counter unstaffed, but the air warm and heavy with the scent of nutmeg, clove and roasted apple, and the fan of bright light coming from the doorway behind the counter that opens on the backroom; and visible there, and moreso audible, an assemblage of happy souls, a dozen or more a-gather round some planks upon a trestle, thereby forming a make shift table upon which were set many mis-matched glasses, with mulled wine at various levels of drinking, and plates of all sizes and dishes with all manner of confecktion — tartlets of beef in verjuice, the eggs of plovers dipped in salt and lovage, a great Parmisan and marrow bone dip, jumballs in the shape of reindeer, pottage jelly, Twiglets; and all so engrossed in their raucous jokes and rowdy persiflage that it was several minutes before my presence at the counter was noticed.
  ‘Hallo, Mr. Peepshow!’ cometh a shout, its origin the pipsqueek and cocksure Erchin, who raises a glass and toasts, ‘Merry Christmas! What can we do for you?’
  ‘Well, I can see you are all very busy,’ say I, crossly, ‘but I was hoping there might be a chance to have my Bousterjab against the new varyant of the Covey plague, since I saw none waiting in the lane for it.’
  ‘It pains me to say we are finished for the day,’ says Mr. Erchin, affecting a pain I feel contrived.
  ‘Well, I feel you provide a cheapjack service in such trying times,’ say I. ‘For I find my existing appoyntment to be not until the eleventh day of January, while the Varyant plague threatens to march across the land!’
  ‘You have come at an inconvenient time, Pepys! Return tomorrow!’ retorts a mouth clearly half-full, but the voice I recognise to be that of the Physician and I catch sight of him there, hot and flushed as if himself mulled, halfway through a piece of peacock pie, which he waves dismissively. But what, by surprise, takes my eye more is the slender and elegant lady in red seated at his side, certainly not specially distanced, sipping a little sherry sack from a cut glass schooner, her head topped by an offset beret, her hair falling in an impeccable cascade over her smart bodice, her legs demurely crossed and her shoes flawlessly polished; and I feel with a certain pride that I might have taken her eye in the same fashion, for she scrutinises me with an air of amused curiosity, so that my collar feels tight in the cosy warmth and I must loosen it with a finger ere I speak again. I drag my gaze back to the Physician.
  ‘To compound my dissatisfacktion,’ say I, crossly, ‘I find my efforts to advance myself as a vaxernator spurned not once but twice by the Board of Health, and you to be having a Christmas party!’
  Whereupon the lady decorously uncrosses her slim silk-stockinged legs, brushes off some tiny invisible crumbs, climbs gracefully to her feet and, glass in hand, makes her way with studied casualness toward me. Once opposite me she spreads her arms, places her palms upon the counter and leans teasingly across it till she is close enough for me to inhale the warmth of her breath.
  ‘Oh, Mr. Pepys,’ says she, huskily, ‘I think we would rather call it a work meeting — ’ … at which she reaches forward with a perfect slender forefinger, and with a perfect fingernail slowly traces a perfect line up my imperfect face, from my Adams apple across my chin, from my chin across my lips, and from my upper lip along the ridge of my nose, till it comes to rest perfectly on the spot between my eyebrows, like a benediction, so that I squint and see paired images of her faintly amused smile… ‘ — wouldn’t you?’
  ‘If you say — ,’ babble I, finding my heart a-race and my mouth dry. ‘I mean — .’
  ‘But what a sad tale of thwarted promise you do tell,’ continues the soft and breathy voice, as if in all the Universe it is meant for me, and me alone. ‘It upsets me that a man of such manifest…talents should find his aspirations crushed so. I wonder what I might do to…accommodate you?’
  ‘Accommodate me?’ croak I, immobile in the fixity of her gaze. ‘Who are you to accommodate me?’
  ‘I?’ At which she leans back, and with a languid and proprietorial motion of her arm indicates the assembly behind her, and laughs like a peal of Christmas bells. ‘I am their overseer, Mr. Pepys, their authority…their mistress. I am Mrs. Cadwallader.’
  Whereupon she raises one eyebrow, coyly lifts the hinged counter, turns to rejoin the fray, and with a cockettish backward glance suggestively implies I accompany her.
  Now happen two events in rapid succession. The first is that as I follow this bewitching figure in red, I am so mesmerised that I fail to see a stray candle lying upon the floor. I tread on it, which causes my left foot to roll away while my right remains in mid-air. My arms flail around my body, I fail to equilibrate, and I crash face-down in the shadows behind the counter, where the floor is littered with the overspill of Christmas cracker trinkets, stray peanuts and used latterale Flough Tests. A moment later the door bell is again all a-jangle. I feel the in-rush of cold street air and hear the rapidity of footsteps upon the floorboards. Two pairs of legs from the thighs downwards are briefly visible to me from my low vantage point, one that of a man rushing ahead into the backroom and the other of a woman striding purposefully behind. The woman is the first to speak and I know I have heared that slightly lisping voice before.
  ‘Well, this looks like a nice little — gathering, does it not?’ says she coolly. ‘Would you call it a Gathering, Constable Arnott, or would you not say it looked suspiciosely like a Christmas party?’
  I climb silently to my feet unseen, dust myself down and position myself behind the door jamb to spy as the scene unfolds.
  ‘Party, if you ask me, ma’am,’ confirms her weskitted loyal underling, minesweeping for drinks. ‘This glass contaynes wine of the mulled variety, this a sherry sack, and this cheap cock-ale of the nastiest kind.’ By the time he has swallowed the evidence, all glasses are empty. ‘If you ask me ma’am, there has been a flagrant infringement of Covey rules. We have no option but to make arrests.’
  ‘This is an outrage!’ cries the Physician. ‘We are performing a public service to the loftiest of ideals for you and your kin!’
  ‘Well, the tidings I bring are less than good,’ says Mrs. Coachmichael icily, ‘for what we have witnessed here, I am sorry to say, is a congregacion of persons nothing short of illegality. The law requires we intervene.’
  At which point I can remain silent no longer from my vantage point by the doorway.
  ‘And yet — ,’ say I.
  Which surprise remark causes Mrs. Coachmichael to wheel round and her toadie to freeze mid-bite. Ruffled, she does her best to collect herself. ‘Mr. Pepys! How unexpected. I did not anticipate renewing our acquaintance in such circumstances.’
  ‘Nor I yours,’ say I, nodding affabubbly to her subordinate. ‘But since we are discussing matters of law and legality, is that alkerhol I can smell on your breath, Constable Arnott? For I believe drinking on duty to transgress Constabulary Regulations, a matter of sufficient seriousness that it might be reported to your superiors.’ At which I fix Mrs. Coachmichael with a steely stare. ‘For we all have superiors, do we not? Even a senior…Accessory?’
  The room is silent as they exchange glances.
  ‘Well, on this occasion it is conceivable that we might — ’ says she.
  ‘ — might somehow be unable to pursue retrospective charges?’ say I. ‘My lips will be sealed — ’
  ‘Very well.’ And so, pursed-lipped and scowling over a mission foiled, they sullenly begin their reluctant retreat to the door.
  ‘ — for a small price.’
  They turn sharply to confront me from the threshold, glaring danger from two pairs of furious eyes. ‘And what price would that be, Mr. Pepys?’ asks she, very precisely.
  ‘There is the small matter of pigs at large in the environs of the house belonging to Mr. M. Jones,’ say I, returning Arnott’s menacing stare. ‘I should take my wellington boots, if I were you…Constable.’
  ‘Watch your step, Pepys,’ snarls he to me, but to intimidate all. ‘I know a Nibble when I see one. And those Twiglets are bitter and burned,’ he adds, as a reason to spit their remains on the floor.
  ‘They have never been the same since Peek Freans bequeathed them to Jacobs,’ say I, blithely. To which he hath no reply.
  The door slams shut behind them, though I suspeckt not to have heard the last from them. The gathering relaxes again, fresh wine is poured, the hubbub resumes, vigour is renewed and from somewhere comes the loud squawk of a party horn.
  ‘Well, Mr. Pepys,’ says Mrs. Cadwallader, placing her scarlet self so seductively close that she can make herself heard with barely a murmur, ‘it seems we are indebted to you for your timely intervention. I feel bound to offer you some kind of…reward.’ I can practically hear her lick her shiny red lips as she caresses my lapel. ‘Take off your jacket — ’
  My mouth dries again and anything that comes out of my voice box is high-pitched.
  ‘Oh!’
  ‘ — and roll up your sleeve.’

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Never corner a sow

10 December, in the year of our Lord 2021

These last days very stormy. Up, but all morning thinking of some new business, that hath been upon my mind for a little time. For last week met with friends not seen these two years, which I worked with, and walked awhile together along the coast, purposing three or four hours of it, all merry and picnicks in our knapsacks, expecting to sit for dinner late, upon some rocks amongst some ruins. Only at a quarter to eleven a’clock, which I think it was, we stopped at a pantry for what I thought was merely coffee, but all the people in our party ordering minced pies, and some Eckles cakes, and some even two sandwichs of bacon, which I could not believe for we had only been going twenty minutes. But there offered itself up a chance to sit in discourse with Dr. J. Edwards, a great friend, he mightily extolling of the studies he took after his payed work finished, which were in Musique, and I have began to form in my mind a notion to do the same, and today write a letter to a fine Musicien of my aquaintence to inquire if he might concur with me in the thought of doing it.
  After supper, the Messenger from Mr. M. Jones, mightily troubled that he hath been the casualty of an unpleasant altercacion — viz.: that returning home after walking with his Poudle he found the great sow now in his garden, up above him on a bank beside his kitchen wall, but his effort to shoe it away proved unwise, for it found itself with no escape route other than to knock him off his feet and trample him to freedom. Bruised and sore of shoulder, he hath remonstrated with the owner, saying to him that he presumes his Insurance will protect him should serious injury arise, at which went the owner very quiet, for it was clear that the man is a fool no more capable of organising provision of this kind than of confyning his pigs to a field.
  And so to bed.

 

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Of pigs and passes

14 November, in the year of our Lord 2021

Yesterday a deliverie boy did bring my Covey Pass, which I did find contained within the hunter case of a pocketwatch, with a hinged cover, all in gold, and a gold chain come with it to fasten to a button on my waistcoat; all very fine. But the Pass itself a ridiculous thing such as I never saw before, for though it be ennammelled in a delicate fashion, it lacks all colour and appears as little more than an excited chequerboard, all tiny tiles of black and white, though a fine cloisonné edge to finish the border. Yet I did need it, for today up and by coach with Mr. Jones to dinner at The London Carriageworks, and then a-cross the road purposing to hear a Selection of Fine Musique performed by a band, most distinguished; but before in must show our Covey passes, which we did, the steward saying (so that all could hear) that he not seen one like mine before, which did make me very contented for buying such a handsome piece; and indeed on our comparing them, myself and Mr. Jones, I did think my arrangement of black and white squares to present a fashion more aesthetick and pleasing than his, and commented as we did find our seats that I was much joyed that with them we may do as we please for as long as the Plague troubles the land. He was to reply, I think, when up struck all the musiciens on the stage, many violons and all manner of shawms and sackbutts, and kettle drums, and all made a very great noise playing together. And the best of them was two men from Venerzeuala, which were friends, I think, of the man they put in charge of all the Musique we did hear, who come hither, one playing loudly upon a square lute, strumming fit to break its guts, such as I never heard in my entire life, while the other set before himself no fewer than three Trompettes, which he played, one after the other, and all thought he played the most remarkable they ever heard, especially a woman in the band who only had a Violla. In the second part was played a work called a Concerto for All the Instruments of the Orchestra, Wrote to Display the Singularity of Every One and the Prowess of Every Player, in Five Mouvements, by a Hungerian called Mr. Bantock, only I did not enjoy it as much, for in the Interval Mr. Jones explayned that I must buy a new Covey pass in less than 30 days.

 

24 November, in the year of our Lord 2021

Today comes news to dampen the spirits of all, that there is a new varyant of the Covey plague, which they find in Affricka, which might pass, from person to person, with a greater ease, and so evade our vaxines. Also that a great storm is to break out, with wind and rain, hayle and snow, which makes me fear for the roof of the house, and in perticular a little finiall, which is on my sunroom and moves in the merest breeze.
  After supper, Mr. Jones complayned about the matter of pigs, which is now daily, which hath made him mighty angry, for not only hath there again been there the great sow, but also along come her piglets, which are now grown up, having broken out, and all have been a-snout and rooting in the soil outside his house, so all the grass about his house, which is little for it grows not well where he lives, is now a great swamp of mire and muck, and in the houses all around is a very great degree of discontent that the pigs are free to roam, with all saying that if the man who owns them cannot control them they will have recourse to the Constabulary. But Mr Jones hath made a complaynte to the Company of Players that with all their coming and going his track is close unfit for passing, so the Principal of the actors Troupe hath agreed that in addicion to ground rent for the Port-a-Lieu, and above the payment by the hour for the use of his garderobe, they shall pay for a ton of Aggregate against all the mud, and today a man come to fill in the pot Holes with it.

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The explosion at Mr. Jones house

10 November, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and by the Messenger from Mr. M. Jones that all around is a Chaos, with a great crowd of people all about his house, and one shouting through the device of a great horn, hailing others and saying they must stand here, or speak now, all with a cry of ‘Action!’; and there also are many horsemen, prepared to douse a fire with water in such a quantity of buckets that the well hath run dry, more than he hath seen since the Great Fire; and standing by there also are men with severall carts, upon which are stretchers, and many vain actors, bewigged and in their costumes, loungeing idly till their turn to say their lines. He hath gone out.
  By and by, took a walk along the Lane, where found the owner of Gerard Small ~ Ladys Fashions in an old frock and over all, on his knees scrubbing at his window pains, a scarf tight upon his head like Mrs. Ogden.
  ‘I see you are branching out,’ say I, observing a curious pair of mens undergarments on display, of a fabrick with a carefree artistic patterning upon it.
  ‘Needs must, to put food upon the table. I have doublets and breeches inside, should they interest you, and worsted stockings against the cold,’ says he, climbing to his feet.
  ‘And these short linen trousers with the strange loops and splatter-paint design?’
  ‘Ah, the drawers,’ says he, peering alongside me into his own window. ‘The loops are positioned beneath the foot to prevent ride-up, but the gusset is narrow for draught-free winter comfort.’
  ‘1s. 4d. seems very reasonable.’
  ‘They are second hand,’ says he, affabubblie, ‘from a man dead of the bloody flux. But they are a worthy purchase, Snugjunk being a fashionable brand.’
  But before I could decline came the sound from a distance of an enormous Explosion, a detonacion sufficient to rattle the window and startle all around, who turned their heads to see a great plughme of smoke arise behind the roofs.
  ‘What?’ cries my companion, a hand to his open mouth. ‘Is White Hall up in smoke? Or the Doutch upon our fleet?’
  ‘I believe not,’ say I. ‘I believe it more likely a controlled detonacion of gunpowder in the vicinity of Mr. Jones’ house, devised as a spectacle in a scene of a Play being acted there.’
  ‘Well, I hope it hath not brought the house down,’ says my companion, shooting me a droll look. And then gazes he dreamly into the middle distance. ‘I have always wanted to act. To tread the boards. To be a player upon the stage. To make them weep with a gesture, laugh with a glance. To hold the hearts of men in my hands!’ He bites his lower lip and his shoulders slump. ‘We did a little theatrickle at school, Mr. Pipes. We had to pretend to be things like the sky, or a lonely autumn leaf.’ He gazes at me as if regretting a life lost. ‘I was once in Waiting for Godot.’
  ‘As Estragon?’
  ‘As the tree. Do you think they might give me a speaking role?’
  ‘Well, it is a play in which, if I may vouchsafe it without conceit — ’ (and here cough I modestly into my fist) ‘ — I am to have a line or two.’
  ‘A line or two! Oh, how you make me enviose! Of what nature is the narrative?’
  ‘Well,’ say I, growing into my new role of accomplished thespian, ‘a ne’er-do-well is to lock himself in Mr. Jones’s garderobe, purposing there to secret illicit substances, in the form of unlawful potions and addictive Narcotiques, that he conspires to sell furtively throughout the City, a crime so heinose that should it be found by the Constabulary he will surely be condemned to an agonising death! So to evade apprehension, by full employment of his innate devioseness he arrives upon the expedient of using an Impliment to wrest a panel from the bathside, that the cavity so revealed may conceal his stash, and then seals all intact!’
  Gerard Small is wide-eyed at the complexity of the plot. ‘Will Mr. Jones permit such damage to his home?’
  ‘Aha!’ say I. ‘Therein lies the Illusion of theatre! For they have erected a false panel for the very purpose, Mr. Jones’ bath being a very cheap one, basic with neither plinth nor cladding, and have strewn around all manner of towles and littered the place with such jetsam as used wet Wypes, plug hole hair, worn dental floss, toenail clippings and half-used toilet rolls, so that Mr. Jones can barely recognise it as his own, for he doth not use wet Wypes owing to ezcemma, and they have aged his wash basin by smearing coffee over it.’
  All of which is too much for my shop-keeper friend to hear without action.
  ‘I may yet conspire a role in this entertaynement! I shall approach them this very day!’
  ‘I fear the speaking roles are filled,’ say I, letting him down gently. ‘But perchance you could be Best Boy, or Best…whatever.’
  But the conversacion is closed of a sudden, for he spies movement further up the street and whips off his headscarf.
  ‘That is one of my latest clients!’ says he, struggling to look his best. ‘The lady emerging from the tea rooms is Mrs. Hyphen-Holmes. She is there every day.’ He sighs in envy. ‘What it must be like, never to have to eat at home.’

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The stage is set

19 October, in the year of our Lord 2021

For supper to Mr. Jones house, where at the place I station my coach am surprised by the matter of two things: matter the First being the sound of a great snuffling in the dark, and outside the house of the neighbour, which is Allison, spied a great sow rooting in the soil; matter the Second, a cabinet of substancial capacity, of such a size as to house two person, with two doors and some little steps to the doors. The latter transpired to be a Port-a-lieu, for Allyson hath let out her house to a Company of Players, which seem’d to me a strange ocurrance but was with explanacion — viz.: that this troupe hath in recent weeks approached Mr. Jones and her to inquire of them whether either might permit, at times, a performance within their premices of a great Play, which is to be set down for posteritie on the magick screen, for all to see. Mr. Jones hath said that he would not like it, for all the up-heaving it would thereby cause; but his neighbour hath agree’d, that they might use the house and she be payed a pretty penny for it. Onlie they have found that her privy is not so big as they hoped and will not allow within it at the same time an actor, a man to direckt the scene and make sure all done well, another to make an record of what is acted there, and yet one more with a great torch to light the tiny space, that all may be illumined to best effeckt. So the troupe hath prevailed upon Mr. Jones for the use of his downstairs garderobe, for scenes of some importance to the Plot, to which he hath agreed, for a fee which he will add to the ground rent for the incoveniant convenience outside, for he is able to secure the room from the rest of the house, and go out with his Poudle and leave them act without a disturbance. 

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The holiday Reckoning

2 October, in the year of our Lord 2021

Nothing yet come too badly of the lack of fodder for the horses, so up, and by coach to visit my mother and father, who were at home and in fine spirits, and shew them all the little sketches and pictures I made of my time in Morrer, my father much joyed at the sight of them, and most of all my sketches of the little cottage, for it did break his heart to sell it; but much contented at the sight of it so unchanged, more I think than I ever saw him contented for any thing. The mother of Mrs. Macduff hath sent him a pretty card for the strong water that he sent to her.
  After supper, home, and the realisacion that Mr. Jones’ little card is not as magick as I did think, for by the Messenger from him that he hath done the Reckoning for our holiday and that I am indebted to him the sum of 14l 8s. 9d, this being for fodder pertaneing to the travel by coach, seven suppers, sundry sandwichs and Victuals, incl. a stop off at Burgher king on the way home. And so to bed.

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The long road home

22-23 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Rose, and finding our land lady gone out for the day, it seeming that she is a care Worker, early about her charges (which did further embarress me for my suspition of her), payed the reckoning by a bank Transfer, 65l 7s. 6d. So set out, though the news of the day is that there is a shortidge of fodder for the horses throughout the land. Decided upon a way that did not take us by Loch Lomond, and it mighty good, with no hold ups, so by Styrling at midday, where a great castle upon a hill. And by the Messenger along the way, from Mrs. Macduff, ‘Maybe don’t leave it so long next time?’, which joyed me greatly, to have been in the presence of such fine people, and filled with merry remenescince of such a care free day. Thence by roads less familiar, purposing to return to the city by the north east of England.
  In the journys course my mind turned to ponder upon the prefix ‘e-’, for I heard of e-commerce and of e-Learning, and now Mr. Macbeth hath his e-byke, and it seems now all is an ‘e-something’. But I did retreat from asking Mr. Jones his opinion lest he procure his answer from his favourite Book of Dad Jokes, for we had by then entered Yorkshire. 

 

24 September, in the year of our Lord 2020

Today we did end our journy, and in the evening home, where all well and to my great content; and Banjo did greet me by his jumping upon the table and demanding a great scratching of his ears, and all a-purr. Only that towards home we did see many in their coaches, in great tails all at a stand-still outside ev’ry Purveyer of fodder in the city, there being so few coach men for the deliverie of fodder since we left the Continent that all are stocking up on it, though the First Lord of the Treasurie hath offered a Contrackt to all the coachmen, from Bulgarya to the Doutch, that he will condiscend to let them work here till Christmas day, at which they scoff and stick a finger up at him. Mighty glad to find ourselfs home and without any need of travel, for a few days. In the evening I wrote a letter to Mrs. Macbeth, in gratitude for her Hospitalitty, and sent it as a e-pistle.

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On holiday: day the Sixth

21 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, but the night disturbed by noyses in the hall outside our door, as if a person wandering therein, all a-mutter in their confucion, so that in the dark I did hiss to Mr. Jones, ‘Hath our door been lock’d?’ and he did say, ‘Yes,’ but I up to make sure it was, which it was, and then to bed again, but slept poorly. At our breakfast pick up, dared speak upon it to Mrs. Macbeth, and she says, ‘Oh, I am sorry. That would be Banquo. He stalks the house at night.’
  ‘Banquo?’
  ‘He will have brought in a wee mouse — ’ (and on kew appears a pretty white cat, who mews sweetly) ‘ — won’t you? Do ye want some cat milk, eh, wee man? Come on, then,’ says she. And then looks at me, I suspeckt wickedly but cannot tell if my mind plays a trick upon me. ‘The milk of human kindnesse, eh?’
  And so they to the kitchen while I hasten to our room with our food, but remayne silent upon our discourse for I fear Mr. Jones hath formed an Opinion that I am become parannoyed.
  It being a day of fine drizzle and mist, with no breeze, the midgies are abroad and we start to scratch even as we set out, determining to see a great Fort upon the coast, though it an hour, or more, I think, by coach.
  ‘I feel as if I am eat alive!’ say I, rubbing my face and ears. ‘The damn’d things are in the coach! Is there no remedie?’
  Whereupon Mr. Jones brightens and we stop.
  ‘I forgot, since we have been so little troubled, but we must apply this to our exposed areas,’ says he, and removes the lid from a small bottle of light glass, within which an oily water, and on it a label proclayming it to be Skin So Soft by Avon. ‘It is my favoured preventitive and not known to fail!’
  And so for some minutes we sit and rub it in, and smell fresh but scented, a little too much I think, but pray that it will work. Then on by small roads, with room only for a single coach, only with little bays all along the road where we must pause for another coach, which comes towards us, to pass, which I think a fine idea, and so weave our way to the ruin of a stone castle, stood upon on small island, all watery around but with a sandy tidle causeway, and with a fine aspect, though we could not go in it for there was a wooden gate with a pad Lock.
  ‘It is the ancient fortress of the MacDonalds,’ say I, for I have read up on it, ‘and called Castle Tioram, which is heard as Chirrum in the language of the Gael. Is there any more of that midgie stuff?’
  Walked a while on a small path up a pretty inlet, meeting only two or three, it pleasant though the sky become grey; and then a little farther by coach, and eat a fine salmagundi outside at a small Caff, 2s. 3d. After, set out for the westerliest point on the island of Great Bretayne, but betrayed again by the weather, which comes very poor for a while, so turn homeweards.
  But before home we can divert, the storm clouds cleared by late in the afternoon (the weather being so unpredicktable here), to walk upon the beaches for the last time, it being our last day, and admire the fine views of islands, all sun-lighted, and the tide lapping at our feet as it ebbs.
  ‘The sand here is of an uncommon whitenesse owing to its extraordinary make up,’ explayne I to Mr. Jones, as we stroll, ‘which is of uncountable tiny white seashells, buffetted over a thousand years on the rocks to a fine dust. Doth it not amaze you to think of it?’
  ‘That is a fine and romantick notion,’ says Mr. Jones. ‘But I think it owes its character to another source. Follow me.’
  Whereupon he leads me across a grassy headland, and we find ourselfs upon a beach frequented by none other, and the purest white sand of them all, with not a foot print upon it, only the remains of a wrecked ship lying in the shallow sea.
  ‘Look,’ says he. ‘Here. And there.’
  And I look where he points and my mouth drys. For what I perceived as little imperfecktions in the sand are not. Here is the vault of skull, there the end of femur, and over there the remaynes of a rib cage, all scoured by the sea and bleached by the sun, to make of them this unnatural pearly strand.
  ‘All these are — ?’
  ‘They do not call it the Midge Coast for nothing,’ says Mr. Jones, grimly. ‘These are the remaynes of those who were eat alive. These bones are the source of your Silver Sands.’
  ‘And all this before Skin So Soft by Avon,’ murmur I, in awe.
  To our lodgeings as night falls, where we unpack our coach for the final time, the yellow coach still upon the gravel and not moved, and I find against my Will my mind now all preoccupyed anew by thoughts of Death, and pace back and forth in our room, Mr. Jones’ eyes upon me as if watching a tennis match.
  ‘Be still, Pepys! We have had a fine last day and a table in a tavern awaits.’
  ‘But I am prey to a gnawing concern,’ say I, all furrowed of brow and biting a nuckle.
  ‘You have been gnawed by preying concerns since the day we arrived. You have done that which you came here to do. You have walked upon the beaches. You have been to the isles. You have seen the old cottage. And you have met the Macduffs.’
  ‘Of course!’ cry I aghast. ‘It is all become clear! Do you not see? The dysappearance of Duncan! The absence of Macbeth! The Macduffs are in mortal danger! I must warn them forthwith!’
  And with that I grab my Carrymore coat and run from the room while Mr. Jones flounders behind me.
  On the gravel I wonder which way to turn, and head up behind the inn to the road. I think to run down to the Macduffs, but next door to Railway Cottage there is a light on in their old house, which I thought derrelict. There is no moon and I have no lamp. I am confused and know not which way to turn so end up rotating three hundred and fifty degrees. Ten degrees short of an entyre cyrcumfirence comes a great yowl and out from the shadows beside the road springs a white apparicion! All at once there is a scream, a shout, a high pitched screech and a banshee wail.
  ‘Aaa-a-a-argh!’ scream I, for I have never seen a ghost before!
  ‘What the f— ?’ comes an angry cry!
  Eeeeeee-e-e-ek! comes the screech of emergincie braking!
  ‘Ya-a-h! De-addy-addy-addy — !’ comes the simultaneose banshee wail.
  The world spins around me as I flail in my purpose.
  ‘Banquo!’ cries the voice of a ciclist.
  ‘What?’ cry I.
  ‘A hundred yards from home and the bloody cat tries to get me killed!’ cries the voice.
  There is the noyse of a dismounting in the dark, and a grumpy scrabbling around on the road. The banshee wail gets closer and is accompanied by a wobbly point of light. It is the mother of next door neighbours staggering from her old house. She clutches in her hand an empty bottle of Famose Grouse and is singing her head off. Her lamp illuminates a man emerging from the Thaie take away, the entire Macduff family marching up the hill and the bicicle on the road, where the ciclist gathers up his strewn belongings.
  My head swyvels from side to side as I strive, dysorientated in the dark, to see who amongst this assembly might be who.
  ‘Duncan!’ gasp I, and the man with the takeaway stops in surprise. ‘I thought you were —  ’
  ‘Was what?’ He is baffled. ‘The guy who owns the pub in Inverie’s leavin’, so we had a wee bit of a night last week and I thought I’d sleep it off thair. I got the last boat back just now.’
  I spin bewildered to face the assembled Macduffs.
  ‘I was coming to warn you!’ pant I. ‘Your lifes are in — danger.’ But I peter out.
  ‘I’d be very surprised about that,’ says Mrs. Macduff, perplexed. ‘We’ve just come up tae take my Mum home. She does this every week.’
  At which point her mother begins an inebriated rendicion of Donald Where’s Yer Troosers and has to be manhandled down the road. To the diminishing bellow of ‘Ah’ve juss come down…from the ISLE OF SKYE…’ I turn in desperacion to the ciclist.
  ‘And you?’ ask I, astonished.
  ‘Iain Macbeth,’ says he, grumpily replacing his spilled possessions in his cicle basket.
  ‘Ah!’ gabble I. ‘We are staying with your — ! But I supposed you upon an errand of dark purpose — !’
  ‘Dark purpose? I went on my new e-byke tae Glasge to pick up all this stuff from the Polis,’ says he.
  ‘All this stuff?’ say I weakly, for before me I see no dagger, nor poison, nor any instrument of murder. It seems in fact to consist mainly of books.
  ‘Aye, as soon we could, what with the Covey an’ everything, me and the wife were off for a wee break abroad, but we got set upon by ruffians around Loch Lomond.’
  ‘And the brigands took all your valuables, and only now have they been recovered?’
  ‘Aye. Well, not quite. It’s really weird. They seemed more interested in the books. They even wrote in the bloody things. Look at this.’ Whereupon rummages he in his cicle baskitt and opens up a book. ‘“5/10” it says, “…weak female characterisacion”, and in this one, “3/10 — ending very contryved”.’
  ‘Did you get them all back?’
  ‘Not all. They never recovered the Amsterdam Ferry Timetable or my wife’s bound copy of The Age of Innocence.’ He rights himselfe upon his bicycle, his feet upon the peddles. ‘I’m more of a Dean Koontz man myself. He’s no Walter Scott but “1/10, implausible drivel” was a bit harsh.’
  He off in the direction of our lodgeings, Mr. Jones draws up in his coach to reskew me.
  ‘I have been foolish, have I not?’ say I, despondantly.
  ‘A little,’ says Mr. Jones, whose sanguin outlook I admyre, ‘to let your fancy run away with you so. But they know you are English, so they will make allowances. Now, we must put all thought of Shakespearian tragedie behind us. A pint of wine and a fish stew await us in a warm tavern…where a fire burns and a cauldron — ’
  ‘Very funny.’
  ‘Lighten up.’