By Robert G. Cook
“The cloth entire is both title and deed. It will meet you in state, and show all you need.”
The contract thus intoned, the instrument (Ah, but no, Mr Moulde, you must dishabit yourself from such terms—you must imagine them as clientele!), the client retracts with elongated gestures from the ironbark counter, all the while eyeing the leg-pouched and tarry-feathered rook on his outstretched arm. He retreats through the shopfront’s duplicitous fernery, exuding gratitude while ducking fronded bracken, and exits into the Lane’s oily gloom. (Why ferns, Mr Moulde? Because pteridophytes, dear Caractacus, have a reiterative design. A design they repeat in their edges, which go on forever).
The doorbell’s clang, followed by a flap of dark wings as the rook takes flight, set Mr Moulde’s qualms to rest, and he allows a small congratulation to sidle across his cranium. He imagines the dupe—the customer—hurrying back through the Innards’ warrens to Gilantine Station, trailed by spies and the Kraken’s chitinous guards. (But never anything on or in him to implicate you, Mr Moulde!) At his far-flung destination, the pigeon—the patron—will meet the rook and take the square swatch of sable cloth from its leg-pouch. He will lay it in the exactly measured centre of his newly purchased property and witness its miraculous unfolding. And like each of Caractacus Moulde’s foolish buyers, he will marvel as his lavishly expensive paving flag, longwall stone, or swamp-mired rock tessellates out-and-upwards into cottage, townhouse, or mansion, which he’ll then inhabit without query or concern from neighbours or constabulary.
As if it had always been there. As if it always would.
But now Caractacus Moulde retires to the parlour at the very back of the shop, to the stove and the pear brandy. He sits and gazes at the ash-wood cupboard there, while the shop’s bell clangs and cracks through the afternoon, and the boy Dimity sells exotic ferns of which Mr Moulde knows little, to people for whom he cares less. He admires the carven intricacies on the cupboard door: fauns, mermaids, lamia and leviathans, encircled and ensorcelled in rich and lascivious couplings. (Oh, a dance you know well, Mr Moulde, a pavane of profit as much as desire).