CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.
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A Turkish Delight of musings on languages, deflations of metaphysics, vauntings of arcana, and great visual humor.

Yesterday — November 11, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death at the Dog, by Joanna Cannan:

***

"He roared out, 'Shut the bloody gate, can't you--I don't want my cattle something-or-othering out on the bloody highroad.'"

***

"'It is not long the time of wine' and crumpets."

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November 9, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Dead Men Don't Ski, by Patricia Moyes:

***

To the right, about ten feet away, was the downward cable of the lift, on which a procession of empty seats followed each other towards the valley with the stately melancholy of a deserted merry-go-round.

***

He had chosen a table tucked away discreetly behind a complicated modern mobile made of tin and string, and he seemed even more ill at ease than the contemplation of this object would suggest.

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November 6, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Brass Bowl, by Louis Joseph Vance:

***

A witticism was flung back at him from the retreating car, but spent itself unregarded.

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November 4, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

[This novel from 1933 is a work of comic fiction that was, I guess, mismarketed as a mystery. It's published by the Detective Club, and the Coles did write mysteries ... but imo this is not even a screwball mystery, it's purely farcical comedy with, yes, a burglary (and attendant police inspector) as a plot device, but with little attention given to its mysteriousness, and the solution to the crime a mere footnote to the main action. Though it's stylistically less indebted to Wodehouse than that Joan Butler book, the characters and plot complications are more successfully Wodehousian (though it's definitely more cynical and a lot racier than Plum's work). On the whole, I found it quite entertaining, though there are some appalling instances of humor in very bad taste.]

***

There was enough noise going on to wake any normal person a dozen times over, but the fat cleric was sleeping peacefully through it all. [I just like the idea of being woken up "a dozen times over," all at once.]

***

[Now I know the genteel way of saying that someone has a stick up his arse.]

"Swallowed a ramrod, eh, and never digested it?"

***

"What I always maintain is that the Bible can only be regarded as inspired in the purely Freudian sense."

"You are sure you don't mean Pickwickian," said David.

"Never heard of him," said Miss Perks.

***

"What all you professionally religious people suffer from is lack of faith. Now, I can believe anything--absolutely anything."

***

David had made up his mind that Miss Perks should not get a chance of going on about her ghosts until Mrs. Muggeridge had been given a fair chance of getting her ghost off her chest.

***

"Garn, don't you know his Grace has got hundreds of Holbeins and what's-his-names hanging up in the Long Gallery...?"

[...]

"I've got you where I want you, Mr. whatever your name really is...."

[...]

He had made no attempt to stem the torrent of Mr. Jenkins's remarks. That individual so evidently belonged to the class of persons who are best left to talk themselves to a standstill before one attempts to do business with them.

***

"There seem to be rather a lot of ifs," said Susan.

"Didn't somebody once say life was just one if after another? Whether anybody said it or not it is. Things do look a bit iffish at the moment."

***

David felt he had been given his cue--to say as little as possible and let the man of few words talk as much as he liked.

***

"As for this outrageous story of yours, I don't believe a word of it. Charles would never------"

In the midst of the torrent Lady Snodgrass stopped. David could see her beginning to wonder if Sir Charles would never.

***

"Send for Sir Charles at once. I've been insulted as well as murdered."

***

"The fact is, we've been deburgling."

"Deburgling?" said Pat. "Whatever's that?"

"Well, when a burglar burgles things he takes them away, doesn't he? We've been putting them back. That's what I call deburgling."

***

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November 2, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Black Bag, by Louis Joseph Vance:

***

[A two-fer: A person named Calendar, and fire-dogs standing in for the proverbial lamppost. (There are actually fire-dogs in the room where this conversation takes place.)]

"I said that it is a question, Mr. Calendar, whether or not I am the man you're looking for. Between you and me and the fire-dogs, I don't believe I am."

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October 30, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Bandbox, by Louis Joseph Vance:

***

“Mr. Iff. W. H. Iff, Whiff: sometimes so-called: merry wheeze based on my typographical make-up; once a joke, now so grey with age I generally pull it myself, thus saving new acquaintances the mental strain. Practical philanthropy—what?”

“Indeed?”

“Believe me. You’ve no notion how folks suffer in the first throes of that giddy pun. And then when it falls flat—naturally I can’t laugh like a fool at it any longer—blooie!” said Mr. Iff with expression—“like that—blooie!—they do feel so cheap. Wherefore I maintain I do humanity a service when I beat it to that moth-eaten joke. You follow me?”

***

In Act I (Time: the Present) he saw himself bearding the telephone in its lair—that is, in the darkest and least accessible recess of the ground-floor hallway. In firm, manful accents, befitting an intrepid soul, he details a number to the central operator—and meekly submits to an acidulated correction of his Amurrikin accent.

***

“I ain’t sure, sir, as she did nime the lidy, but if she did, it was somethin’ like Burnside, I fancy—or else Postlethwayt.”

***

His conclusions may be summed up under two heads: (a) there wasn’t any answer; (b) it was all an unmitigated nuisance.

***

a short, stout, sedulously hilarious gentleman who oozed public-spirited geniality at every pore and insisted on buttonholing inoffensive strangers and demanding that they enter an embryonic deck-quoit tournament—in short, discovering every known symptom of being the Life and Soul of the Ship

***

Her passion for bromidioms always stupefied Staff.

***

Mrs. Ilkington’s manner implied that he was a bold, bad butterfly, but that she had his entomological number, none the less.

***

“R’ally!” she cried, and tapped his arm playfully. “You are as stupid as most brilliant men!”

***

“I quite understand; I keep a temperament of my own."

***

“Genius frequently needs a lift but is more often to be found in an apartment without one."

***

[Audible italics are getting to be old hat* to me, but I haven't yet tired of audible capital letters.]

“But—I fail to see the joke.”

“And will, until I tell you All.”

Her tone supplied the capital letter.

[*Incidentally, this dialogue occurs in a conversation about a hat.]

***

He was standing in the doorway to the [protagonist's] bedroom, looking much like an exceptionally cruel caricature of [the protagonist].

***

"I add up the bandbox and the razor and multiply the sum by the fact that the average woman will smuggle as quick as the average man will take a drink; and I’m Jeremiah Wise, Esquire.”

***

Mrs. Ilkington bore down upon them in full regalia of sensation.

***

[Qualified Things dept.]

He didn’t believe for an instant that she had meant to run away with the Cadogan collar; and he hoped fervently that she hadn’t been involved in any serious trouble by the qualified thing.

[That "qualified" is a blank map to maledicta, yes?"]

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October 26, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Silent Partner, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

Magard interrupted him by holding up his hand, making a waving motion of the wrist as though patting the words back in the lawyer's mouth.

***

"He has the brains of an encyclopedia, and the personality of a last year's almanac."

***

[From Death of a Pooh-Bah, by Karen Sturges]:
***

She turned toward me a face strongly reminiscent of the Andrews Sister with the biggest mouth.

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October 23, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Coffin for Christopher, by Delano Ames:

***

Was the Giant Rotor [an amusement-park ride], then, Uncle Sigismund's secret vice?

***

[This eyewear business seems to be quite the specialty with Ames!]

Sigismund's smile of constrained mirth became, I thought, rather forced as he fumbled for his eye-glass and suddently recognised us. He let the glass drop again from his eye as though to obliterate the vision and hastily donned a false moustache.

***

[The Frenchman's] English was excellent, though some of his expressions were culled from reading novels of a by-gone epoch. [Well, for that matter, so are some of mine!]

***

[When the protagonist is the only woman at a three-person formal dinner.]

It was nearly ten before I caught my own eye and gave the signal to rise.

***

[Rhetorical Questions Answered]

"Still, what's a hundred guineas?"

"One hundred and five pounds."

***

"He doesn't want this business cleared up--and I'm just the man not to do it."

***

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October 21, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From A Devious Death, by Alyssa Maxwell:

***

Both stood framed in their doorways--literally, as if an artist had painted both men in place with their dressing gowns and mussed hair.

***

[From The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink, by Erle Stanley Gardner]:

["I don't know him from Adam" meets "you, me, and the lamp post"! As far as I can tell at a quick glance, this seems to be an ESG original.]

"I don't know him from a lamp post."

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October 19, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The May-Week Murders, by Douglas G. Browne:

***

"He was Judas Thingumbob." [for Judas Maccabaeus]

***

A stentorian shout from Patrick Ince made him (and about fifty other people) turn in our direction.

***

"Let's get it tidy," Maurice said. He has a mania for getting things tidy. "What precisely were the conditions of the trust?"

***

[One-Upping Chef Anatole dept. (I'm assuming, for present purposes, that 10 > "some.")]

"That fellow seemed as cool as ten cucumbers."

***

I felt slightly uncomfortable, and wished Mr. Armfeldt and all his family in Jericho.

[As you may recall, Jericho has come up before (from a different author), as what I classify under "Alternatives to Timbuktu." So I guess the Jericho version must have been a "thing." But then later on, we have this!]

"They looked pally enough, but I could see he wished her at Halifax."

[N.B., Halifax is funnier than Charlottetown or even Moncton. True, Moncton evokes "monkfish"; but then Halifax inevitably suggest "lox," so even on that turf (or rather surf), Halifax has the clear advantage, imo.]

***

"Your Mr. Whatsisname, I suppose?"

"He's not my Mr. Whatsisname."

***

"A wide net must be flung, every means employed—"

"Every avenue explored and every stone turned," I murmured.

James glared.

"Sorry," I said. "It was protective mimicry."

[As I told Facebook, I'll have to remember #sorryitwasprotectivemimicry next time I'm being talked at by a bore!]

***

[Even good old Lady Whatsername would be impressed!]

At a glance I was able to read affectionate regards and remembrances from the Prince von This, the Count von That, the Grand Duke of Something and the Baron de Something Else.

***

"At last I've met a Surrealist."

***

"Stop this staccato dialogue, and tell the story properly. We're not characters in an American novel."

***

The words "of course" were in permanent type on Miss Lanham's lips.

***

[When the protagonists are in a room that's full of their host's collection of clocks and watches, and one of them is trying to hint at the other that it's time they were on their way.]

He kept catching my eye and casting meaning glances at the nearest half-dozen timepieces.

***

[Nonexistent American (and/or Canadian) Place Names dept.]

"Or I might have done if he wasn't the best swimmer in Michitoba. Or is it Manichigan?"

***

"What is this--a pilgrimage, or a Rotary convention?"

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October 16, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From A Mysterious Affair of Style, by Gilbert Adair:

***

[from the dedication]

When... you proposed that I write a sequel, I immediately rejected the idea on the grounds that I've always made it a point of honour never to repeat myself. Later, however, it occurred to me that I had never written a sequel before.... [and] to write one now would represent another new departure for me.

***

She was dressed... in a shapeless tweed suit that protruded in the places in which she herself protruded but also appeared to protrude in a few places on its own initiative.

***

[Fictitious Stage Productions dept.]

Save the Last Valise for Me

***

"I never smoke. I never drink. I never dance."

[...]

"How do you find the time to do all these things you never do?"

***

"I'm afraid he's joined the Great Majority."

"What!" cried Cora. "You mean he's gone to Hollywood?"

***

"He apparently plucked her from the chorus line in the new Crazy Gang revue."

[Remember the Crazy Gang? With something like "How's your father? Good bye!" to the tune of "shave and a haircut...," as a movie ending?]

***

"Life is more like the Pictures than the Pictures are like Life--if you take my meaning--which, to be frank, I'm not at all sure I do myself."

***

[Fictitious Movie Titles dept.]

An American in Plaster-of-Paris

The Yes Man Said No

***

What about all those ordinary what's-their-names.... Not Alastair Farjeon, of course, who certainly wasn't a what's-his-name....

[By the way, I don't know whether 21st-c. period-mystery author Adair is paying homage to vintage author J. Jefferson Farjeon. I wondered whether the Farjeon surname alone would re-earworm me with JJJS, but the degrees of separation seem to have sufficed for keeping the earworm at bay. (And, hopefully, you're perfectly safe at this even greater distance.)]

***

"Where other directors' thrillers often have twist endings, his have always had twist beginnings."

***

"I have two or three really very juicy scenes where I not only get to chew up the furniture but spit it out."

***

"It's a big nothing of a scene. It's not even a big nothing, it's a small nothing, it's a nothing nothing."

***

[Nonexistent Hats dept.]

[He] wore a double-breasted Savile Row suit in flamboyant grey pin-stripes from whose breast-pocket he would repeatedly pull a handkerchief, perfumed and polka-dotted, to mop his brow with. If he'd been wearing a hat--a Panama by choice--you felt sure he'd never stop fanning himself with it.

***

"Everybody hated it. When the curtain came down, it was so quiet you could hear a pin get up and walk out of the theatre."

***

[Rebonjour dept.]

"Re-touché."

***

"No pun intended, I promise you."

"And none taken, I'm sure."

***

[Blank-Map Ellipsis (or, if you prefer, Empty Question) dept.]

"We-ll..."

"Yes?"

"...?"

***

"On the dot--those were her words and she insisted I let you know they were in italics."

***

After a moment--waiting for the silence, like applause, to fade away--Lettice continued.

***

Their eyes met. The older man's eyebrows nodded.

***

"one of those corkscrewy little cul-de-sacs whose houses seem to be leaning out of their own windows"

***

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October 14, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Henrietta, by Ella Crosby Heath:

[The narrator is the 11-year-old daughter of a drama critic.]

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October 12, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Murder à la Mode, by Patricia Moyes:

***

"Would you mind getting off my desk, Teresa? You're sitting on my justified captions."

***

Rachel hit the keys of her typewriter viciously, in loud, unspoken criticism.

***

[Flet Vewels dept.]

"Ay'm afrayde," she said, "that Ay can't connect yew with the aytelier today. We're rehearsing the show, yew see. Everywan is fraightfully busy."

[...]

He had already seen it on a quiet day. The idea of what it would be like when fraightfully busy was enough to make the strongest man quail.

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October 9, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Body on Page One, by Delano Ames:

***

He has written a concerto for Factory Siren, accompanied by muted voices. The score calls for a thousand male voices who symbolise steel-mill workers on strike.

***

“Incidentally, I’m no good at this kind of conversation.”

“But only one of us need be,” he said.

***

[Genericized Names Department, Inanimate Objects Division]

"[The stove] is a Regulo, Mark Something-or-other."

***

Dagobert has never been an automat at the breakfast table.

***

You simply call the book: Harold Quinn. By page two or three hundred you’ll have the reader glancing nervously back at the cover to see whether he’s got the right book, and from there on you’ll have him gripped.

***

Over the coffee we decided to put off Ischia for another time and settle down in a small Alsatian village that Dagobert either knew about or invented on the spot.

***

“Shall we go around to the Dog and Duck, or shall I get noisy and excited here?”

***

“I believe in a certain amount of independence between husbands and wives,” I said, “but never again leave me with men who insist upon being called Claude.”

***

He had a nervous trick of removing his horn-rimmed spectacles just when he needed them most, and without them he was half blind.

[Cf. The character in another book--also Ames?--who stares fiercely through his eyeglass but would have had an easier time following the action without it.]

[And, a few paragraphs later.]

He readjusted his spectacles with a fumbling movement, as though he had momentarily forgotten where his ears were.

***

“It just shows, doesn’t it? Plus ça change. . . . By the way, it’s still on this week,” he added, forgetting the rest of the quotation.

***

“Really, old boy, this won’t do. It won’t do at all! Not good enough, don’t y’know.”

His voice must have come from the same public school as his necktie: both were imposing, but unknown to me. Dagobert was as impressed as I was. He sat down on the divan, murmuring to himself:

“Dontcha know, don’t yer-know . . . I wish I could say it that way.”

***

[Very Wodehousian, this!]

“This,” he nodded briefly, “etcetera.”

“Et, as you say, cetera,” I repeated.

***

It would have been easier if someone had protested or argued. Dagobert likes talking only if there is some competition.

***

[Genericized Names Department, Mme. Chose Division.: A character called Elsa, whose surname turns out to be Huggins, is referred to by someone earlier on as Elsa Thingamajig.]

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October 7, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Negligent Nymph, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

[Shipped His Dripping Paddle dept.]

[The woman] had apparently been swimming in the nude with a small waterproof sack tied to her back. From this sack she removed a bath towel with which she dried her slender, athletic body. Then she produced stockings, shoes, and a low-cut evening gown.

Fascinated, Mason shipped his dripping paddle into the rented canoe....

[I call this metaphor drift (pun semi-intended)... but here's a coda, from the end of the book.]

“That goes double for me,” Della Street said. “It should teach Mr. Mason not to go around picking up nymphs who make passes at his canoe.”

***

"Jackson will see only the legal principles involved, and for the rest of it will regard her owlishly through those thick-lensed spectacles of his, blinking his eyes as though trying to chop the situation up into small pieces so he can more readily feed them into his mental digestive apparatus."

***

"Underneath this thin head of hair, back of these glassy eyes, is a ballbearing brain racing away like mad."

"Perhaps that’s why it’s so darned hard to get you started in a new direction," Mason said. "Your brain is just a huge gyroscope."

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October 5, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Perjured Parrot by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

“Don’t talk with him this morning, Della, he’s suffering from an ingrowing disposition.”

***

"I’m not responsible for anything a parrot says."

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October 2, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Murder in the Museum, by John Rowland:

***

Henry had summed him up as a nouveau riche--probably a millionaire with a bee in his bonnet, perhaps writing a book to prove that Queen Victoria had written Shakespeare's plays, or something equally crazy.

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September 30, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Seven against Reeves, by Richard Aldington:

***

Just as Mr. Reeves was producing another Stravinsky passage on the electric bell, the door was flung open.

***

In the foreground was a hare which looked like a tortoise, and a tortoise which looked like a hare--for Mr. Marsbate had been to Eton and had heard of the problem of Achilles....

***

Next time, she reflected, she would have a silent protégé--a mountaineer or a sculptor, who couldn't possibly perform in the drawing-room.

***

The acquaintance developed like a motion picture of growing vegetation. [I.e., a time-lapse; the acquaintance developed quickly.]

***

[The best scene is a party that occurs early on. Here are the highlights.]

"And the Press is here, my dear! Janet Fogherty of the Lick-Spittle, Jessie O'Dour of the Powder-Puff and McSwiney of the Sponge."

[...]

Mr. Hawksneetch... looked down his nose at Mr. Reeves as if gazing down the wrong end of a telescope. Mr. Reeves wasn't going to stand that, so he metaphorically turned the telescope round and looked distantly down his nose at Mr. Hawksneetch. Their instantaneous dislike for each other was as beautifully equal as an equation.

[...]

The room was about half-full of people all polly-doodling to each other with an air of much animation.

[...]

[Lady Blakebridge] was the widow of a minor official who had been knighted by mistake, owing to a clerical error in the Honours List; which so much annoyed the responsible authority that when the real man came up next year he only got an O.B.E.

[...]

"He's just published a monumental book on Dr. Johnson--much better than Boswell--oh, miles better--and such a success--two columns in the Log-roller and a page in the Back-scratcher."

[...]

Was this the face that launched a thousand novelists?

***

[More good names: Mrs. Faddiman-Fish and Mr. Higgins-Wragge. Higgins-Wragge is a composer, and later on people are described as dropping into a party at which he's performing for "a cup of coffee and a Higgins-Wragge."]

***

[And another good verb construction: "Darby-and-Joaning away."]

***

[And, not to neglect the theatrical programme: "Cloppety-Clop, the new revue."]

 

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September 28, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

"What's new, Paul?"

The detective sat down in the big leather chair, and turned around, draping his legs over one of its arms. "Lots of things," he said, lighting a cigarette.

"Well," Mason told him, "begin in the middle and work both ways."

***

"Of course, I can't be certain myself because I got it from that snooty old Mrs. Blank, and she's the worst gossip on earth, but her brother-in-law works for a Broadway columnist and his secretary told..."

***

"Leave the worrying to me," he told her. "I believe that was the bargain, wasn't it?"

"No," she said with a smile, "Virginia took over the worrying concession."

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September 25, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh:

***

"Only last week the Poet Laureate wrote us an ode to the seasonal fluctuation of our net sales."

***

"That must be good style. At least it doesn't sound like anything else to me."

***

"Going up," they cried in Punch-and-Judy accents, and before anyone could enter, snapped their doors and disappeared from view.

***

From that moment a new, more human note was apparent in their relationship; conversation was still far from easy but they had this bond in common, that neither of them liked cider.

***

"I will not have a barrier erected between me and my staff. I am as accessible to the humblest..." Lord Copper paused for an emphatic example..."the humblest book reviewer as I am to my immediate entourage."

***

Lord Copper quite often gave banquets; it would be an understatement to say that no one enjoyed them more than the host, for no one else enjoyed them at all, while Lord Copper positively exulted in every minute.

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