ady Blandishment’s Hippopotamus was almost ten feet long when it stretched itself out upon its favourite Persian carpet in the sitting room of Blandishment Hall, and it weighed just over two thousand pounds. It was known to roar now and again for no apparent reason, and on rare occasions to consume unattended children, but aside from these odd personality quirks, it was quite excellently behaved. It had been thoroughly housebroken years earlier, and it understood a rich vocabulary of commands, including "come," "sit," "stay," "roll over" and "crush that poodle."

Lady Blandishment delegated one of her groundskeepers to bath and curry her hippopotamus once a week, and it was always smartly groomed. Bathing the hippopotamus was not a sought-after task amongst her staff, as the creature was wont to roll over unexpectedly and crush its attendant to death if it anticipated having its belly rubbed. None the less, Lady Blandishment’s groundskeepers performed it without complaint, or at least, without complaint if they noticed that Lady Blandishment was within earshot.

From time to time, Lady Blandishment would hold lavish parties on the grounds of Blandishment Hall, and it amused her to allow her hippopotamus to wander freely amongst her guests. She trained it to balance a glass of Bombay gin on its head. "Take this drink to Mrs. Fulcrum-Blowhardt, the lady in the red dress," she would instruct her hippopotamus, and the faithful creature would push its way through a crowd of Lady Blandishment’s acquaintances. That Mrs. Fulcrum-Blowhardt, upon realizing that a ton of hippopotamus with a glass of gin on its head was bearing down upon her, might well run shrieking from the gardens of Blandishment Hall in unspeakable, knee-buckling horror was a consequence with which Lady Blandishment was prepared to live.

Most of Lady Blandishment’s guests appreciated that their hostess had more money than God, and as such was entitled to call "quaint eccentricities" aspects of her behavior which the less affluent would certainly be jailed for.

An integral part of the two billion dollar per year domestic pet industry.

It was on a particularly hot and desultory afternoon in the middle of August that Lady Blandishment’s usual regimen of taking the air in her private woods and walking her hippopotamus on a lead was unaccountably interrupted by one of her groundskeepers, who begged to inform her that a hitherto unknown man in ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes had arrived at the gates of Blandishment Hall and was requesting an audience with the mistress of the house. At first Lady Blandishment felt certain that he must be one of the peripatetic tradesmen or itinerate hawkers she had heard tell of, who would travel from house to house offering to build a Watt-Newcombing reciprocating steam engine with a secondary vapour condenser out of ordinary kitchen implements for ninepence, or dispense small jars of a liquid once used by Cleopatra to improve her complexion and kill troublesome shrews. After giving the matter some thought, however, she realized that this could not be so, as the Guild of Peripatetic Tradesmen and Itinerate Hawkers required that all its members be smartly dressed. Lady Blandishment sighed loudly enough to discomfit her hippopotamus, which seated itself upon its enormous haunches and gazed at her forlornly.

"It can only be someone from the government," Lady Blandishment mused remorsefully.

When Lady Blandishment returned to Blandishment Hall, she discovered a small, rather awkward man with a large bald spot atop his head and a coat the colour of tapeworms upon his arm. He was poised in Lady Blandishment’s favourite chair. He rose partway from the chair as she entered, but upon noticing Lady Blandishment’s hippopotamus following her into the room, his cheeks turned a colour very much like that of his coat, and he plummeted back to his seat.

"I am most sorry to trouble you, my lady," he began nervously, his eyes twitching between Lady Blandishment’s smiling countenance and the gleaming teeth of Lady Blandishment’s hippopotamus. The hippopotamus seemed not to notice the man in Lady Blandishment’s favourite chair, and began to amuse itself with a ball of string.

"I’m certain it’s no trouble at all," Lady Blandishment interrupted him, hoping that he would get to the point of his visit before nightfall.

The man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes smiled uncertainly and produced a small leather-bound notebook from a pocket of his coat. He opened it and appeared to read from one of its pages.

"You’re too kind," he said at some length. "The matter is, you see, my lady, would there be any possibility that you harbour wild animals of some kind on the premises of your dwelling?"

Lady Blandishment stared intently at him. "I believe there is a rather fecund nest of red squirrels in the thicket behind my stables," offered Lady Blandishment.

The man grimaced. "I was instructed to inquire about somewhat more extensive wild animals, my lady," he persisted, clearly ill at ease with the prospect of troubling a lady much removed from his own station.

"Extensive?" she inquired innocently.

"Larger," he explained.

"I know of no wild animals larger than a squirrel on my lands, but I should not be surprised if we have a few deer in the woods," she offered.

The man coughed into his hand and glanced furtively about the room. His eyes alighted upon Lady Blandishment’s hippopotamus. "What about that?" he inquired in a hissing, edgy voice, gesturing at the hippopotamus with a single outstretched finger.

All public employees should be shot, preferably with very small bullets so it hurts more.

Lady Blandishment glanced about the room for a moment, clearly uncertain to what the man was referring. When she realized that he was staring nervously at her hippopotamus, she permitted herself to smile. "He’s hardly a wild animal," she exclaimed. The hippopotamus drew its attention from its ball of string when it realized that it at become the object of conversation. It belched contentedly.

Lady Blandishment clapped her hands. "Cyril," she called to the hippopotamus. After a moment, the immense animal struggled to its feet and lumbered across the room toward the settee where Lady Blandishment was sitting.

The man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes grew sufficiently pale that Lady Blandishment feared he would soon become transparent.

"Would you like to scratch his ears?" Lady Blandishment inquired. "He does so love having his ears scratched."

The man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes shook his head. "I should very much enjoy that," he said in uneven, gasping breaths as he struggled to retract his legs onto Lady Blandishment’s favourite chair with the rest of himself, "but my physician has warned me away from coming into contact with lions, zebras, large reptiles of any species and... and whatever that is."

"Cyril is a hippopotamus," Lady Blandishment explained, as if it would have been obvious to anyone not in the employ of the public sector.

The man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes fumbled with his notebook, in time extracting a fountain pen from a pocket of his coat. "Hippopotamus," he repeated. "How many P’s are in hippopotamus?"

"Three," replied Lady Blandishment, "but preferably not all in a row."

The man scribbled something in his notebook. Having done so, he flipped anxiously through its pages, his attention clearly divided between his papers and Lady Blandishment’s hippopotamus, which was practicing opening its mouth as widely as possible.

The man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes seemed to be struggling to assume an air of professionalism and composure. "The thing of it is, Lady Blandishment," he began hesitantly, "and it’s with considerable sorrow that I must bring this to your attention... the thing of it is that you can’t keep a hippopotamus in this shire."

Lady Blandishment stared at the man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes for a time. "Can’t keep a hippopotamus?" she asked with ill-concealed shock. "That’s preposterous."

"Oh no," the man said earnestly. "It’s entirely posterous, I assure you. The shire has several bylaws and ordinances concerning " He paused to read aloud from his notebook, "house-pets or captive livestock which might by their size, activities, species or bodily emissions prove a threat, annoyance or discommodation to other residents of the shire."

Lady Blandishment smiled graciously at the man. "Cyril has never troubled anyone, I can assure you," she said evenly.

"I’m afraid that’s not entirely true," the man said. "Just last week, Colonel Pangoria, one of your neighbours, complained of having several priceless antique Chinese vases thrown from their shelves and dashed to the floor. At first it was believed to be the work of a small earth tremor, but it was later ascertained as being the result of your... your animal jumping up and down whilst chasing a ball across your grounds."

"Colonel Pangoria lives three miles up the laneway," Lady Blandishment observed.

"My point exactly," the man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes said, and continued reading from his notebook. "We have received complaints that your animal is causing both visual and tectonic distress to those surrounding you."

"Visual distress?" Lady Blandishment demanded. "Colonel Pangoria has had a large hedgerow in his garden carved into a thirty foot living sculpture of two people fornicating in a particularly creative position. It is my understanding that he has ordered the addition of a growth of new hawthorn shrubs for next spring that he might convert it into a ménage à trois."

"Ah, yes," said the man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes, raising his index finger as if to trip a low-flying stork. "However, Colonel Pangoria’s erotic hedgerows are permitted under the 1802 Artistic and Expressive Shrub and Topiary Protection Act. While we may disagree with the colonel’s choice of subjects, we certainly cannot argue with his right to display them. Don’t you think it’s remarkable how he managed to craft nipples out of sunflowers?"

I shall now show you all the slides from my recent vacation. Cyanide pills, anyone?

Lady Blandishment scowled to indicate that she did not. "And what of Lord and Lady Prodmore, my other neighbours?" she inquired. "They have a massive stone fish pond in their garden."

The man smiled agreeably. "I hardly think a fish pond can be classified as a dwelling for wild animals, my lady," he said unctuously.

"You do know that Lord Prodmore stocked it with piranha after his recent return from an exploratory mission up the Amazon river, don’t you?" Lady Blandishment asked sternly. "On otherwise dull afternoons, Lord and Lady Prodmore will erect a winch over the pond and lower a sheep into it."

The man shook his head. "You see, they’re perfectly within their rights in doing so," he admonished her. "Lord Prodmore applied for and received permission for his fish under the 1817 Carnivorous Aquatic Wildlife Preservation Statute." He consulted his notebook once again. "As long as the feeder sheep are not, and I quote, being made to suffer unduly or caused to eject or expel unreasonable quantities of internal bodily fluids or constituent organs through a naturally-occurring physical orifice, no violation of the statute shall be construed."

Lady Blandishment felt her forehead crease with aggravation. "They tie a rope around the poor creatures’ mouths and block their nostrils with rags to keep them from spewing blood while they’re being eaten alive, to be sure, but I hardly think the sheep find the experience wholly enjoyable," she said.

"As it was explained to me, this is the preferred feeding method for Lord Prodmore’s fish, my lady," said the man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes. "One mustn’t contradict nature."

"Need I remind you that a hippopotamus is also a natural creature?" Lady Blandishment inquired of him.

"It most certainly would appear to be so," he agreed. "However, it is not one for which any legislation has been passed. I’m afraid it will have to go."

"You can’t mean that," Lady Blandishment said with ill-disguised shock in her voice.

"My good lady," said the man, "I am a government employee. I can mean things which most civilized people would not dare think surreptitiously to themselves whilst beating their dogs to death."

"Well, it hardly matters," Lady Blandishment continued. "I have nowhere to send him."

The man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes lowered his gaze for a moment. "In that case, I regret that your animal may have to be put down."

Lady Blandishment felt her blood begin to rise. She got to her feet. "I shall give you a piece of advice before you leave," she said, indicating the hallway which would take the man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes to the nearest exit from Blandishment Hall. "It is unwise to attempt to kill a hippopotamus. It irks them." She lowered her voice while she resumed scratching the ears of her hippopotamus. "They’re not even particularly fond of people speaking of such matters in their presence."

Lady Blandishment’s hippopotamus took a single, hesitant step toward the man in Lady Blandishment’s favourite chair. His eyes became as wide as inexpensive dinner plates at a carnival shooting gallery. He scrambled to his feet and proceeded in the direction of Lady Blandishment’s outstretched hand. "You shall be receiving official notification of the shire’s orders regarding your animal by the early post on the morrow," he called after himself.

Lady Blandishment scowled after the departed man and wondered to herself if anyone would miss him, were he to find himself with a rope tied around his head, his nostrils blocked with rags and a large number of small fish with very sharp teeth swarming about in the waters immediately below him.

Upon receipt of the early post the following morning, Lady Blandishment ordered her coachman to drive her to the offices of the reeve of the shire. She chose to leave her hippopotamus behind on this occasion. When she entered the office of the skeletal, greying creature who purported to have authorized the letter she had received that morning, he rose as if his chair included a mechanical spike in its seat which was actuated by the opening of his office door. He smiled a smile which looked as if it had been bought in the same job-lot as the one used by the man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes the day before. Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the suit worn by the reeve of the shire had been acquired at the same time. Its gravy stains did seem to be of a later epoch, however.

She presented the matter of her hippopotamus to the reeve of the shire, recounting her visit by his minion the previous day. When she had finished speaking, the reeve produced a particularly dusty volume from a bookcase behind his desk and turned to what appeared to be a singularly disused section of it. "I am familiar with your case," he muttered, glancing at Lady Blandishment over a bedraggled pair of spectacles which seemed to resent the effort required to remain perched upon his nose. He permitted his bony fingers to caress the pages before him, as if they might have contained the words of a minor deity. At last he paused in his dalliance with the book and adjusted his spectacles.

Of course it's not what I wanted! Do I look like someone who would order a happy meal?

"Ah yes," he exclaimed. "It seems that you are in violation of the Law Prohibiting the Maintenance of Multi-Headed Snakes, Demons Having More than Seven Livers, Unlicensed Unicorns and River-Dwelling Predators within a Radius of One Hundred Furlongs of a Place of Worship or a Major Public Thoroughfare, signed into law in 1304 by his majesty King Edward I himself. The penalty for a violation of this law is the forfeiture of 579 pounds, three shillings and thrupence or the immediate beheading of the offender. I trust you will choose to pay the fine... you can make arrangements to settle this account with my clerk on your way out."

"I shall do no such thing," Lady Blandishment exclaimed. "This is monstrous... that foolish law is hundreds of years old. I defy you to introduce me to anyone in the shire with a multi- headed snake or a demon with more than seven livers."

"You can see how effective this particular law has been, my lady," the reeve said, his voice growing more oily.

"Perhaps you would be so good as to direct me to whichever cancerous little troll I need to bribe to have this law changed," Lady Blandishment requested.

The reeve scratched his greying head. "I believe you would have to have the matter tabled in the House of Commons, my lady," he said, his expression suggesting that he suspected he had recently been the victim of a slight or insult, although he was unable to ascertain when it had occurred. "You might do well to speak to Sir Nettlesome Underfruit, your member of parliament. His constituency office is just along the road in the high street of the village of Filthcastle."

"Is it likely to do me any good?" Lady Blandishment inquired.

The reeve looked thoughtfully at her through his spectacles. "I shouldn’t think so," he offered. "If you’ll recall the last general election, Sir Nettlesome took the day because his opponent turned out to have been carved from a log of dark oak a hundred years earlier to stand in a haberdashery and sell codpieces. As it was, Sir Nettlesome only won by eleven votes."

"Perhaps I shall remind Sir Nettlesome that mine was one of them," she mused to herself.

"Really?" said the reeve as he rose to escort Lady Blandishment to the door. "I voted for the piece of wood, myself. It had a much more compelling speaking voice."

Lady Blandishment returned to her carriage and was on the point of instructing her coachman to make for Filthcastle when she was the recipient of a moment of inspiration the like of which typically only visits people when they’re too sleepy to do anything about it, and unlikely to recall what they’d been so excited about the next morning. She tapped on the roof of her carriage, and when the face of her coachman appeared at its window, she instructed him, "I should like to visit that quaint little prison at Slothwick."

If the coachman was startled at this request, he had been in the employ of Lady Blandishment long enough not to show it. He nodded, touched the brim of the ferret on his head which served him for a hat and climbed back behind his reins.

The quaint little prison at Slothwick was actually a medieval horror which only looked quaint if it were viewed from at least fifty miles away, whereupon it was virtually impossible to see. It had high, treacherous walls topped with razor-sharp steel pikes, an iron-bound gate which appeared capable of impeding the progress of a large mountain bent on escape and a guard at the entrance who had ungainly calluses on his knuckles because of the way he walked. The sounds of men without hope crying out for a quick death and an end to their misery could be heard from within. It was the sort of place Lady Blandishment felt prisons ought to be.

Lady Blandishment’s coachman arranged an audience for Lady Blandishment with the prison’s warden, at her instructions, and led her through the deplorable conditions and unspeakable stench of the place to his office. The warden himself was a genial man, portly, with a jovial expression and hands like the unnamable machines he no doubt used to extract confessions from his more recalcitrant prisoners. He thoughtfully offered Lady Blandishment a glass of sherry and gestured for her to sit.

Lady Blandishment fluttered her hands nervously. "I shall draw directly to the point," she began. "I have come to appreciate that there are those who are much less fortunate than I, and it is my wish to be of some small assistance to one of them. I find myself in need of a new gardener, and I thought, what better way to fill this position than to hire some unfortunate soul who would otherwise be confined to a cell for the next ten years. For all we know, performing honest work might reform such a man, and return him unto the bosom of polite society."

The warden smiled agreeably. He knew full well that none of his prisoners had ever known the bosom of polite society in the first place, unless they’d groped it in the dark one night. None the less, he appreciated that women with more money than God were entitled to their peculiar notions, and that if he didn’t accede to Lady Blandishment’s unusual request and satisfy her need to be charitable, he’d receive a harsh letter from his superiors and probably lose his flogging privileges for a week.

"What sort of prisoner were you looking for, my lady?" he inquired earnestly.

Lady Blandishment stared at him for a moment, hr expression suggesting that she’d not anticipated his question. "I don’t really know," said replied. "What do you have on offer this week?"

The warden scratched his ample chin. "How do you feel about a triple murderer?" he suggested. "Winslaw Buggins, bludgeoned his wife, his mother in law and a man who’d come to clean the privy just for smelling so bad. You might have read about him in the broadsheets. He’s due to be hanged a week next Tuesday, mind, so he won’t be available for long."

Lady Blandishment gestured uncertainly. "Perhaps someone not quite so impolite," she said.

"We have several highwaymen," the warden observed. "They’re not exactly well-mannered, but they’re unlikely to slit your throat without reasonable provocation."

"Most highwaymen have bandy legs," Lady Blandishment observed. "They would not really be suitable for stepping between rows of bedding plants."

The warden nodded. "Something in a nice embezzler, then," he continued. "There are plenty to choose from. I’d recommend Tyrone Mindenthorpe-Pegwaller, myself. Clever chap... stole over a quarter of a million pounds from the bank where he worked by losing four stone while he was on holiday and carrying the money out in a false stomach he attached to himself with saliva from a St. Bernard dog. He only got caught when the St. Bernard developed a glandular condition which affected the viscosity of its digestive juices and the false stomach fell out of Mr. Mindenthorpe-Pegwaller’s suit-coat in front of a room full of customers."

"He sounds rather calculating to me," Lady Blandishment observed.

"Your basic embezzler has to be fairly calculating, if you don’t mind my mentioning it," said the warden. "The ones who lack a gift for it usually get caught at an early age trying to make change in the collection plate at church, and rarely proceed any further into the profession."

Lady Blandishment shook her head, and the warden looked thoughtful. "What would you say to a little treasure of a burglar?" he asked hesitantly.

Lady Blandishment’s eyes lit up, and the warden smiled. "Ah yes, I knew you’d like him. Lancelot Shirt, just gone twenty-three, not unbearably ugly and about as smart as any three bricks you’d care to name. Both his parents were demonstrably human and he has a heart of gold. Mind, it’s his fingers you want to worry about."

"What sort of crimes has he committed?" inquired Lady Blandishment.

"Partial burglaries," the warden answered her, "always on the instructions of an accomplice our Lancelot refused to name."

"I’m not certain I understand what a partial burglary might be," Lady Blandishment interrupted him.

The warden glanced at a nearby window and hesitated before he again spoke, as if he were uncertain how he would explain the matter to Lady Blandishment. "A partial burglary is what happens when an unknown accomplice instructs Lancelot Shirt to break into someplace with valuable things in it, instructs Lancelot Shirt to nick the valuable things but neglects to provide Lancelot Shirt with the all- important final instruction, to wit, run away." The warden’s eyes rolled in his head. "It was always easy to apprehend him after one of his daring robberies, as he was sitting beside the cupboard or lock-box he’d just burgled with a sack of things that didn’t belong to him in one hand and a confused expression on his face."

"I think I shall have that one," Lady Blandishment exclaimed, beaming at the warden.

I used to be an apprentice lettuce tester. Now I'm the antichrist.

When Lancelot Shirt was delivered to Blandishment Hall several days later, Lady Blandishment agreed that he was everything the warden had described him as. He seemed awestruck by the enormity of Lady Blandishment’s home, and by the paucity of its locks. As the last of his chains and manacles were removed and the prison warden produced a receipt for Lady Blandishment to sign, Lancelot Shirt began to salivate noticeably. He had made himself busy enumerating the items in Lady Blandishment’s silver tea service by the time the warden bade Lady Blandishment a good day and turned to leave. He’d just made it through the engraved marrow forks presented to Lady Blandishment by the Earl of Northumberland in recognition of a particularly satisfying cotillion ball several years earlier when he noticed Lady Blandishment’s hippopotamus regarding him curiously. He returned one of the marrow forks to where he’d found it and tried to force himself to refrain from breathing.

"Ah, I see you’ve met Cyril," Lady Blandishment noted as she approached Lancelot Shirt. "Don’t be alarmed… he won’t eat you unless I give him leave to."

"Are… are you likely to do that, madam?" Lancelot Shirt inquired with a sense of considerable urgency.

"Not unless you try to steal anything," Lady Blandishment replied.

Lancelot Shirt permitted himself to be led to Lady Blandishment’s favourite chair, the one where the man in the ill-fitting Scottish tweed clothes had sat several days earlier. Lady Blandishment decided that there was a measure of symmetry in this. "Would you like some tea?" she inquired.

Lancelot Shirt glanced at Lady Blandishment’s tea service. "I don’t think I ought to, madam," he said.

Lady Blandishment nodded approvingly, and her hippopotamus eased itself down onto its Persian carpet.

"Is it true that I’m to work in your gardens, madam?" Lancelot Shirt inquired.

Lady Blandishment nodded. "Yes, although I’ll need you to do a small job for me first," she said.

Lancelot Shirt smiled broadly. "I’ve never actually worked for gentry before," he said enthusiastically. "What am I to do?"

Lady Blandishment produced a large, leather-bound book and handed it to him. "You’re to make your way to the village of Filthcastle and enter the offices of Sir Nettlesome Underfruit. When you get inside, you will find a book just like this one on his desk. I would like you to take his book away, and leave this one in its place." She paused, and then added, "and be sure to leave the building when you’re done."

Lancelot Shirt was some while considering her instructions. "I think I can do that," he said at last.

"There’s one more thing," said Lady Blandishment. She took a small brown vial from a table beside her and handed it to Lancelot Shirt. "I’ve had this made for you. It’s for use if you happen to be caught."

The man scrutinized the label of the vial at some length. "What does it mean, ‘cyanide?’ " he asked.

Lady Blandishment cleared her throat. "It’s a special invisibility drug," she explained hastily. "Just swallow it and the police won’t be able to see you for the next hour or two."

Lancelot Shirt smiled warmly, his expression suggesting that he’d never known a more thoughtful employer. With a glad heart he rose from his chair, gathered up the book and the vial of invisibility drug and bade Lady Blandishment a good day.

My family tree has no branches and all my uncles were named Stig. What are the odds?

So it was that Lady Blandishment paid a visit to the offices of Sir Nettlesome Underfruit on the following Monday morning, and put the problem of her hippopotamus to him. He looked quite mystified by the whole business as she explained it. When she had completed her tale, he leant back in his chair and gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling, as if he needed a few weeks to puzzle over all the intricacies and convolutions of the matter. "What exactly did you say this animal of yours is?" he eventually asked Lady Blandishment.

"A hippopotamus," she replied.

Concern creased the miniscule forehead of Sir Nettlesome Underfruit. "What sort of a creature would that be?" he inquired.

Lady Blandishment opened her mouth as if to speak, and then seemed to stop herself. "Perhaps it would be inobjective of me to describe it. Would it not be preferable for you to come out and see the hippopotamus for yourself?"

Sir Nettlesome Underfruit gestured absently with a hand protruding from a lace cuff that would have seemed overdone on a professional trollop. "I should like nothing better," he said, "but my duties here… you have no idea. I can’t spare ten minutes to have myself fitted for looser trousers so the blood to my legs isn’t cut off and my feet don’t become gangrenous."

"You could send an assistant," she suggested.

"My assistants have their calendars fully booked until next Michaelmas," he said ruefully.

Lady Blandishment glanced at him, her expression drawn and sharing in his obvious predicament. After some time, she glanced about the office. "Perhaps this might be settled simply if you were to satisfy yourself with the dictionary definition of a hippopotamus," she suggested.

Sir Nettlesome Underfruit’s expression brightened. "What a cracking grand idea," he exclaimed. He took a large leather-bound dictionary from the podium beside his desk and began to consult its pages. "Let’s see," he muttered to himself. "Hippocrene… hippodrome… hippogriff… hippolyte… hippopotamus… here we are," He smiled knowingly, and then began reading from the dictionary. "Hippopotamus, noun, a small aquatic reptile having a hard dome-shaped oval shell which encloses its entire body, save for its short protruding legs and head. Hippopotami may grow to a length of as much as six inches and weight up to half a pound."

Sir Nettlesome Underfruit looked up from his dictionary. "Is this what all the fuss is about?" he demanded. "It sounds like some sort of small turtle."

"A subspecies, I believe," Lady Blandishment agreed.

Sir Nettlesome Underfruit snapped his dictionary closed with an air of finality. "I don’t think we need bother you any further with this matter," he proclaimed. "I shall have my secretary draft a letter to the shire with the usual instructions… no further action to be taken, all files to be closed, full restitution of any costs incurred, get stuffed…"

"It has been most awfully kind of you to give this matter your attention," Lady Blandishment said warmly.

Sir Nettlesome Underfruit seemed as if he would blush. "Not at all, my lady," he said. "Not at all. I’m only sorry you have been inconvenienced by what I can best imagine has been an overzealous member of your local government." He paused, and then resumed speaking. "Do you know, I think it would be a cracking grand idea indeed if the reeve of your shire and his senior staff were moved to another posting, change of scenery, new horizons, that sort of thing." He produced a pen and a sheet of writing paper from a drawer in his desk. "Would you know how many L’s there are in Falkland Islands?" he inquired.

"Three," replied Lady Blandishment, "but preferably not all in a row."

He nodded his appreciation, and Lady Blandishment left him to his work.

Lady Blandishment and her hippopotamus were never again troubled by anyone from the government, and they enjoyed their daily walks in Lady Blandishment’s woods for many more years. Sir Nettlesome Underfruit served for three more years as a member of parliament. He was defeated in the next general election when he consulted his dictionary for the correct spelling of the small, white, floppy-eared creatures which were breeding at such an alarming rate and damaging the vegetable gardens of his constituents, and subsequently made elephant control a primary plank in his platform.





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