Mr. Dame needed a drink. It wasn’t about drowning his brain in alcohol so much as disinfecting the wounds he’d taken after, as it turned out, he’d been fed to the lions. He could take the usual angst-laden anti-authoritarianism of the average student; it was the pointedness of the sharper students that pierced his professional resilience. True, the students could practically teach themselves — in much the same way that the boys in Lord of the Flies could come up with their own social contract. He dropped his bag in the entryway, kicked the door closed with his heel an maneuvered into the kitchen without taking off his coat. A fresh bottle, an ample glass, and soon all would be well-enough with the world.
“I did enact Julius Caesar,” said somebody in the living room. There was a frail cough, followed by “I was killed in the Capitol.”
Mr. Dame furiously turned to find an feeble old man who seemed to have been left behind by a Renaissance Faire huddled in the living room. This gave Mr. Dame pause; he’d never encountered a topical vagrant squatter before. He’d never encountered a garden-variety vagrant squatter before, actually, but he thought about how much furious anger he might unleash upon a garden-variety vagrant squatter, especially if some of the garden’s variety were to be tracked into his apartment. But the topicality of this vagrant was wholly unexpected.
Mr. Dame checked his glass. It was still quite full, and smelling deliciously inebriating.
“Brutus killed me,” the old man added by way of superfluous explanation.
Mr. Dame sighed at the interloper. “Okay, ah…” — he realized that he’d had quite enough of trying to address people by their names for one day — “… who are you and why are you in my living room and quoting Shakespeare at me?”
“Well I’m Polonius, aren’t I?” scolded the old man with just enough feeble confusion to suggest that Mr. Dame might be the senile one in the room. “But you don’t really believe that,” he continued with pure disappointment. “You suspect that I am some vagrant who has wandered in off the street. The notion that I am a bit of your subconscious cognitive surplus gone rogue to address the questions that you didn’t face with your class hasn’t occurred to you,” he said, strength creeping into his voice. “Or rather, it just did.”
“I’m sorry, are you claiming I’m hallucinating a topical Shakespearean vagrant into my living room so it can give me the answers for some test?” asked Mr. Dame, over-gesticulating in an attempt to mask his fear that he might actually be hallucinating a topical Shakespearean vagrant into existence. Rum sloshed out of his glass and ran down his hand. “Shit,” he concluded.
“If it helps,” said Polonius, rising in the deferential way of a beta jackal before its weakening alpha, “you can think of me as your attempt to give yourself some psychotherapy. And for that you should be glad. Services like you’re providing to yourself often cost rather a lot of money.”
Mr. Dame set the no-longer-full-enough glass down and, failing to have a towel, wiped his hand on his coat. “I think I’m a quack. Can I sue myself for malpractice or something?”
“I think you would find that the lawyers would get more money out of you than you would.”
“That was a remarkably sane answer,” said Mr. Dame, recovering his glass and taking a sip.
“Insightful, actually, which merely ruled out your being stupid,” replied Polonius obsequiously. “You may yet be crazy.”
“Great. Please, take a seat?” asked Mr. Dame, gesturing Polonius back to where he’d first appeared. The faux-subservience was off-putting; Mr. Dame would rather have politely seated conversation inside his head if it was all the same to himself. Polonius graciously sat. Mr. Dame remained standing a potentially safe distance away. “So, let’s get some clarity:” Mr. Dame suggested, “why are you here?”
Polonius paused as if surprised by the question. “It seems to me that’s exactly the question to ask. Why is Polonius in Hamlet at all?”
That wasn’t what Mr. Dame had asked, and the shift caught him off-guard. “Um,” he rejoined. “I meant, why are you here talking with me now. Because Polonius is in Hamlet to play a windbag. Comedy relief, you know — I mean, who else would blather on about brevity being the soul of wit? Kurt Vonnegut said so. Everybody knows this.”
“Your appeal to authority is no substitute for being certain of your claim,” replied Polonius smoothly. “Try again. Try harder.”
“Well I suppose some people think you’re totally brilliant for that ‘to thine own self be true’ bit, but other people think that you’re somewhere between evil and gestapo for sending a spy after your son,” mused Mr. Dame, trying to remember what the Internet had claimed about the old man.
“Ah, but that’s an interesting point there,” interrupted Polonius, rising to deliver his retort. “Did I send a spy after my son? Or did I send a spy after my son’s reputation, perhaps to ensure that the honor of all of Denmark would not be besmirched by his indiscretions while in France — with France being the geographical confluence of all indiscretions, you know. Many trivialities may be dismissed as the taint of liberty, but my professional concern is international relations, and ensuring that they’re not at all disrupted — certainly not by the behavior of my offspring.”
“So, what? You sent a spy after your son because you’re more concerned about him having the appearance of a debauched pugilist than him perhaps being a debauched pugilist?” asked Mr. Dame, uncertain where the phantom statesman was going.
“Why not?” replied Polonius, sitting down again. “You worry that your participation in this conversation is a symptom of mental illness. But underneath the symptom, we’re having a perfectly rational discussion that may lead you to learning. I care predominantly about the form of statecraft and diplomacy, trusting function to follow. You care more about the form of mental health, trusting function to follow — irony in that particular delusion, eh?”
Mr. Dame scowled unhappily at this development. He tried moving the old man to the edge of his field of vision, hoping for something anomalous just to prove or dispel the illusion. The old man simply sat on his couch with the infuriating calm of the implacably patient. “Okay,” said Mr. Dame, resigning himself to a more complete test, “so tell me something I don’t know about Hamlet.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that precisely,” replied Polonius with a ponderous stroke of his beard. “I only know what you know. But I know it from a different perspective. And I can remind you of what you’ve forgotten. But,” he said, nodding to the visibly growing frustration on Mr. Dame’s face, “that may well be close enough to what you mean. So.” He closed his eyes.
What kind of a joke is this? Mr. Dame tried to think, his mind scrambling for any evidence in this situation that he was not losing his grasp on reality. But the old man’s trance-like quiet was distracting. Mr. Dame found himself fixating on the man and what he might say. As the last plausible explanation of Polonius’ presence slipped from Mr. Dame’s mind, Polonius opened his eyes and smiled gently at him.
“It is entirely possible that Ophelia was reasonably sane when she committed suicide. Distraught and disturbed for certain, but not devoid of reason,” Polonius said sagely.
“Now that’s crazy. Everybody knows Ophelia was insane. She’s got that crazy flower ditty and everything.”
“Ah, there’s what Everybody Knows again,” Polonius condescended gently. “Tell me, how is it that you know Hamlet was sane and not mad?”
“Well he tells us that he’s going to put on an antic disposition. His insanity is intentionally feigned,” reasoned Mr. Dame.
“Or so you are lead to believe, but never mind that,” replied Polonius, “let’s start with the consideration that Ophelia never had a soliloquy in which to explain anything to the audience. She barely had two lines to rub together, never mind a speech for the sole benefit of the audience. In fact, Claudius is — hypothetically — the only other character besides Hamlet that gets a soliloquy. But again, never mind that.” The old man paused, seeming to herd his thoughts into coherence. Mr. Dame shrugged — nothing new so far. “Now this girl has been getting all of the prince’s flirtations so at the start of the play she’s happy he’s home, but concerned about his grief. And then I tell her that she has to reject her grieving beau. Mind-bogglingly callous timing on my part, really. And then Hamlet appears to go crazy at her, so she freaks out and comes to me. And what do I say? ‘Oh, its your rejecting his love that has driven him mad.’ Maybe I was slightly more tactful and honest about it being my fault than that, but I drag her along to see the king, and send her in to bait the prince… She’s constantly in the middle of all of this. Admittedly, it’s me putting her there, but from her perspective, it’s her in the middle. So the next thing she knows, the ex-boyfriend she drove insane has slaughtered her dad and been shipped off to England. You with me so far?
“Now if Hamlet is insane, then he’s not actually responsible for the slaughter of Ophelia’s dad — me. But Ophelia is sane, so, quite unlike Hamlet, she feels guilty. She feels guilty for driving the prince insane as her dad said she did, and then she feels guilty for her dad being slaughtered by somebody who couldn’t be responsible for slaughtering him (me) because he (Hamlet) was insane. The holes in Hamlet’s mind, then, cause the guilt of my murder to flow through to Ophelia. From her perspective, that would be patricide, a crime rather worse than just a casual slaughter like what Hamlet did… to me. You’ll want to remember that when you read The Stranger. But anyway, Ophelia’s got the sort of guilt that demands an amende honorable bit of capital punishment, except that she is her own accuser at this point, and to be one’s own executioner only increases the guilt and cuts short the ability to make amends. What she rationally needs to resolve this quandary is a schism in herself so that it appears that an action is not taken by Ophelia, but rather by Ophelia’s Madness. And Ophelia has just had first-hand experience with an exceptionally crazy person so she knows how to act such madness — only more so. She does this, trying to drop subtle hints about what’s going on, looking for her opportunity to wash out her guilt. Once her brother gets home from France — committing treason and putting the family at risk, it should be noted — she has no one left to say farewell to so she slips away and commits suicide as a form of self-execution to rationally deal with her unbearable guilt. Not quite the same thing as Everybody Knows, I suspect. And yet you knew it, you just never stopped to think about it like that.”
Mr. Dame’s lips hung slightly ajar as he retraced what Polonius had told him through the script of Hamlet. “Well damn,” he concluded. Suddenly uncertain of what everybody knew, Mr. Dame took a very rational and calculated sip of his neglected drink. “But is that what Shakespeare thought of it?” he rejoined.
Poloius grinned slyly. “Did he, or not did he? That is the question.” Mr. Dame raised an incredulous eyebrow at the pun. “Ah, well. I, for one, find it rather telling that the gravediggers find it wholly unremarkable that they’re digging a grave for somebody too well-connected to have officially committed suicide. Like this sort of thing happens more than just this once. I believe the saying was ‘and the more pity that great folk should have countenance to drown or hang themselves more then their fellow Christians.’ Should make you wonder who else went and offed themselves. Just like Claudius’ offhand statement that ‘madness must not unwatched in great ones go’ should make you wonder who was insane prior to Hamlet, shouldn’t it?” Polonius saw the exasperation with the tangent rising in Mr. Dame’s eyes. “The point is, young man, that much of what happened during the play of Hamlet was a jarred repetition of things that had happened before Hamlet. The ghost comes back and shakes up the fate of the kingdom. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come back and try to be Hamlet’s friends. The players Hamlet had seen before come back and Hamlet has them perform a play he had seen before. Whether Hamlet is insane due to unfortunate genetics or just faking it based on some knowledge of crazy people he got from we-don’t-know-where, the fact is that he had to be implementing a pattern of existence. And the patterning is wholly intentional, for: there is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow; if it be now, ’tis not to come… if it be not to come, it will be now… if it be not now, yet it will come. That is the pattern of life and death that Hamlet finally realizes he’s playing out, tragically.” The old man shrugged. “The point, young man, is that half of what is in the play is what is also not in the play, regardless of whether it was intentionally excluded or not, because that is the part we interpret to make the play fit a pattern that is interesting and recognizable to us.”
“Well how am I supposed to teach that?” Mr. Dame snapped back. Mr. Dame was having a hard enough time teaching what was in Hamlet without a vagrant Polonius showing up and telling him he should also be teaching what wasn’t in Hamlet. Polonius simply gave him a pained expression. “Sorry,” Mr. Dame mumbled, vaguely aware that he might be apologizing to himself, “I’m just having difficulty maintaining my commitment to my profession lately.”
“I understand, I understand,” soothed Polonius. “But you seem to be coming to terms with my being here. I think that’s progress. Why don’t you come sit down?”
Mr. Dame wandered towards his delusion, wondering what it would be like to have his fate cry out or have his petty arteries as hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve. But he sat as chastened as dejected as a substitute teacher who’d been schooled by his students. He had suspected that Polonius would smell of tobacco and mothball. He was almost disappointed to find that the phantasm had no scent at all.
“So you’ve got two problems — or rather, two exigent problems,” Polonius said. “First, I’m here because you’re missing something about me. And second, you’re feeling overwhelmed by students who are actually trying to learn while you’re just trying to stay employed.” He paused. “Am I right?”
Mr. Dame nodded glumly.
“Alright. I can’t necessarily help you with all of this material because you’re not there yet. But since I’m here, I think you’ll find that you can probably help yourself if you just let yourself relax into it.”
“That’s, uh, wonderful,” said Mr. Dame, mildly worried that the Ghost of Literature Future might show up during the winter break, “but we’re pretty much done with Hamlet in class. Are you telling me that I’ll gain all of this, uh, understanding after the fact?”
“Yes; there’s no telling that anybody will appreciate the insights you get from it but you,” said Polonius almost apologetically before adding, “It is rather as Nietzsche said, ‘Slow is the experience of all deep fountains: long have they to wait until they know what hath fallen into their depths.’ To which end the typically rapid pace of a literature class does injustice to students, teachers, and literature.
“But about me. Some people think I’m a clown just there for comic relief. Look at how long I took to say that brevity is the soul of wit. Look at how I mistake Hamlet’s despair over what’s going on in his head and in Denmark as unrequited love for my daughter. Clearly I am an idiot. But this doesn’t ring true because I am also old and well-known and you don’t get to be old and well-known around a palace if you are an idiot.” The old man paused, surveying Mr. Dame’s face for any possible signs of comprehension. “Or you could compare me to C-3PO in Star Wars, I suppose,” he suggested instead. “Never has a more useless character appeared in six films,” he declared as if reprimanding George Lucas who was, in fact, nowhere to be found. “And yet there is that one scene, late in Return of the Jedi, where C-3PO’s unique skills and talents as a diplomat allow him to recruit the surprisingly hardy Ewoks to join the Rebel Alliance and defeat the evil Empire. Like C-3PO, I am very much a diplomat. But unlike C-3PO, I didn’t have Chewbacca to put me back in working order when I was rather surprisingly killed in The Empire Strikes Back. Or the Queen’s closet, as the case was for me. The point is that just because my character was useless and usually wrong doesn’t mean I was stupid; rather, I was there to show how topsy-turvy things had gotten.”
“Uh,” said Mr. Dame, interrupting the flow of thoughts to try to see how Polonius was like C-3PO. “So you’re saying you’re kind of like when C-3PO advocates surrendering to the Empire because he doesn’t understand that everybody’s going to be tortured and killed since he’s just a robot and can be reassembled?”
“Yes, quite right.”
“I don’t get it.”
“I’m unsurprised,” the old man said almost gently. “Look, your students, they read things like Spark notes and Cliff notes and Lotus notes so that they don’t have to really read and understand the underlying material directly, yes?”
“Well, I’d hope not,” said Mr. Dame, “but I do expect that that’s true.”
“Well consider The Art of War. Or The Prince. Or How to Win Friends and Influence People. You know these books, yes?”
“I know… of them,” Mr. Dame replied, giving an embarrassed accentuation to the word “of” as he began to suspect where Polonius was going with this.
“Well I sort of know of them as well. I’ve heard of them — or rather, heard about what’s in them — from traveling scribes and such. I might have even actually read one or two such books. But regardless of what I’ve read or heard about, my actual role in life is to ensure that the king knows how he should do whatever he’s going to do so that it looks like he’s doing whatever he’s doing in the right way. We may, for example, go to war against Norway simply because Fortinbras said mean things about Claudius’ mother’s cooking — but I’m going to advise the king to make the offense sound much graver than that.”
“Well people go on what they’re told, don’t they? If I tell you it was an insult to the old lady’s cooking, then you’re going to think the king needs to grow a thicker skin. But if I tell you that Fortinbras claims that Claudius’ mother tried to assassinate him with poison at a formal dinner and now he’s rallying an army to attack us — using his own ‘I was almost assassinated’ narrative — then your perspective changes and you can see how much graver the offense is. You can see how Denmark would need to rally its troops to defend itself from the aggressive young prince with the lying tongue and persecution complex, never mind the insult to the cooking. When the king says that we’re going to war, then we’re going to war — but the narrative form and framework around it is what holds it together or allows it collapse, and that’s what I’m there for.”
“And that would be why you send Reynaldo after Laertes with those screwy carp-baiting instructions to slander him?”
“Quite right. After all, it doesn’t matter whether my boy is drinking and gambling and whoring so long as nobody actually notices. To which end, he mustn’t get caught, and part of not getting caught is not losing — at dice or cards, in a duel or a bed. Put frankly, I know for a fact that he’s going to be doing things I wish he wouldn’t because he needs to test the world as he’s experiencing it against what I’ve told him it would be like. I have to be able to accept that my boy is now a grown man. But what I cannot accept because of my position, what I must maintain as a professional, is the reputation and stature of Denmark and the Danish people and our noble houses, my own included, throughout the world — and that’s a responsibility I need the rest of my family to be keyed into as well. Laertes can do whatever he wants, so long as no ill word of him spreads. Ophelia can do whatever she wants, so long as she’s not seen as compromising the crown prince. And I’m sure it seems silly and trite to be so worried about such seemings and rumors, but how much of the play is spent by me going — and leading the king and queen — in the wrong direction because I’m following Hamlet’s seemings and rumors? How much of the real action follows based on wrong seemings and rumors?”
“So instead of form following function, you’re looking at functions that follow forms. But if Hamlet just got back from Wittenburg, don’t you expect that he was out drinking and gambling and, ah, whoring like you suspect Laertes was doing? Why didn’t you warn Ophelia off of Hamlet based on that?”
“Warn her to what? She loves the boy, I hate him, but ‘I hate him’ isn’t going to really resolve the issue. I have to present an incompatible, competitive behavior that she may also want to engage in, then give that my blessing so that she can choose which pleases both of us. It’s like training a dog: don’t go over there where I don’t want you to go, come here to where I have a scrap of food for you instead. But I had nothing to offer her, really; Hamlet spelled out the position: we are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us… go thy ways to a nunnery. It’s not like local nobles were better just because they’d not sent their boys abroad for carousing.” Polonius paused to consider the possible long-term effects of drinking and gambling and whoring locally. “Rather the opposite, I’d say,” he concluded before adding: “No, my concern was the possibility that Hamlet would appear unavailable to any foreign princesses that would help form political alliances.”
“So you would’ve been surprised when Gertrude says that she wanted Ophelia as a daughter-in-law at her funeral?” Mr. Dame asked.
“Bah, no. People say all sorts of particularly kind but ridiculously untrue things at funerals. Whitewashing is the name of the game out of respect for how we hope to be remembered when we’re as dead as the dead are. But the boys seem to have not comprehended that aspect of it. I mean, really: brawling in her open grave over who loved her more? Hamlet thinking that eating a crocodile would prove that he loved her after how wretchedly he’d treated her? And neither of them notice that I’m the prime issue between them. It’s another particularly odd layer of misdirection: they’re at Ophelia’s funeral, so they’re vaguely obeying the form of focusing on her while talking about themselves — but they’re completely ignoring all decorum because of their functional animosity over Hamlet having killed me. Really, this is exactly the sort of situation that I could’ve helped with. If I hadn’t been dead.”
“Wait a second,” interjected Mr. Dame, “we were just talking about Laertes not sullying his reputation in France, right? But he comes back to Denmark, almost usurps and assassinates a king and then starts brawling with the crown prince? That doesn’t seem right at all.” He bit his lip momentarily. “Do you suppose it was because Ophelia and Hamlet were lovers that he saw Hamlet as a peer he could reasonably assault?”
“My dear boy,” Polonius said with a roll of his eyes, “clearly you have never had a raw primal lust for revenge. Social position doesn’t enter into it. Laertes already almost killed the sitting king; what majesty would a mere prince — particularly a nut-job of one — be able to fend him off with? Goodness no.” Polonius looked around the room, his lips wrinkling in concentration. “That said, I am disappointed with the little bastard for forgetting his place,” he finally spat out resentfully.
Mr. Dame cocked his head with surprise. “I’m sorry, what?” he prompted.
“So very much of form is in positioning of things. But in order to know places, you must know sizes and hierarchies. Recall: while I advise the king how to do what he’s going to do, I always accept the fact that the king is going to do what the king is going to do. That’s just my place. But my place also allows me to deploy spies and agents and kitchen-help because my position is higher than theirs. Remember how long I spent saying that brevity is the soul of wit, before snapping-to when the Queen complained? Well compare that to when the lowly actor has his speech of some 30 lines together: I’m of a higher station, so I speak out in annoyance… right after having praised Hamlet for his delivery of a longer speaking block. But then Hamlet reprimands me from his position as Prince on behalf of the lowly actor, so I have to find something nice to say to save face: ‘mobled queen’ is good? I mean, really?” said Polonius.
“But if Hamlet didn’t believe that forms lead to real functions — he disbelieved the form of the king because he was convinced that his uncle killed his dad, and he tossed up the form of insanity to obfuscate his intended function — then wouldn’t it make sense that he was annoyed with you for interrupting the function of the drama to complain about its form?” clarified Mr. Dame. “I mean, if he’s all ‘oh, I’m so real and totally get how rotten this world is despite what everybody says it looks like,’ and you interrupt a play saying ‘bah, this looks like a boring play!’ then of course he’s going to consider you one of those people who doesn’t matter because they don’t deal with reality. No offense.”
“Oh you do but poison in jest; no offense in the world,” replied Polonius cannily. “But Hamlet’s woefully wrong in that and demonstrates his immaturity and unreadiness for the throne, doesn’t he? Claudius was never really supposed to be king, to which end he’s not really the king. But everybody treats him like the king. He’s wearing the crown, ergo he is expected to be the king. Everybody follows his orders when he tells them to strengthen the military to prepare for an invasion from Norway. Everybody looks to him to see if they should revel or be dour. They’re glad that their king is carousing again, never mind that his name is Claudius now, not Hamlet. Indeed, it is only Hamlet who is stuck on his grim interpretation of reality — just like the teenagers you have reading it. For everybody else, reality follows the form of reality which is this continuity: le roi est mort, vive le roi. The king is dead, long live the king. And that,” he said, punctuating the air with a finger, “is why my knowledge of forms doesn’t make me a clown. At least to everybody except Hamlet himself. But that sociopath can’t even take me seriously when I’m on functionally bleeding out on him. Still, appropriate fate I suppose: I did enact Julius Caesar; I was killed in Elsinore.”
The last words hung in the air. Mr. Dame stared at where they supposed they would be as if the were there, projected out from Polonius who was there even though he wasn’t supposed to be.
“The point,” the old man explained while staring pointedly at his fingernails, “behind Julius Caesar and I both getting the, ah, point in the third act of our respective plays shows a parallelism. Either Shakespeare was a woefully formulaic writer or he had something on his mind. If he’s worth studying, then I suspect you don’t believe he’s really just some lucky hack, eh? No? Well then,” Polonius smiled as if he had been, however briefly, truly promoted from a Danish noble to a Roman emperor as had long been his due. “In both plays, we are the first blood of the play. In both plays, everything goes downhill from there: our deaths precipitate the violence that follows.”
“Uh, no,” rejected Mr. Dame, “King Hamlet’s death precipitated the violence that followed.”
“Did it really?” the old man asked with mock feigned surprise. “Ophelia says that the old king has been dead twice two months, but Hamlet hasn’t actually hatched a plot to kill Claudius of any kind. He was utterly failing to shore up any support for his cause or position. He’s only just now gotten around to — badly — convincing himself that Claudius really did kill his dad. Really, my boy did a far more princely job trying to avenge me than Hamlet did, make no mistake there with treason and all. But who does Hamlet kill instead? Me,” he said holding up a finger to indicate the start of the body count. “Hamlet now appears to be a threat to Claudius, so Claudius ships him off to be executed. Meanwhile, Ophelia goes next as we’ve discussed,” the second finger went up. “To avenge my death, Laertes agrees to kill Hamlet with a poisoned sword that will be used on Hamlet, Laertes, and Claudius each in turn,” fingers three through five went up. “But because Hamlet threatened the king in his killing of me, Claudius follows up Laertes with a poisoned drink which ends up killing Gertrude.” A sixth finger extended. “Strange that it took his mother’s dying in front of him to get Hamlet incensed enough to actually kill Claudius. Really, we’ve not seen a ghost in two acts now; it was only the spontaneity of the action at the end that got Hamlet to suddenly go all stabbity-stabbity,” Polonius said, as if Hamlet were nothing more than shrapnel from an exploding valve. “But anyway, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were effectively killed by Hamlet for carrying the execution order they’d been given by Claudius in response to Hamlet threatening Claudius while killing… me.” Polonius held his eight extended fingers in clear view. “In this way, both Rome and Denmark fall because some asshole thinks they can get away with killing Julius Caesar. The only difference is that when Julius Caesar exited, he left behind a ghost — but when I left, the ghost also exited.”
A moment of silence filled the room as the thoughts nestled into place. “That’s a lot to think about,” Mr. Dame finally admitted.
“Yes, well,” said the old man reaching over and gently tapping his leg, “I’m sure you’re quite capable of it, eh?” He leaned back, pointed meaningfully at his cranium, and left Mr. Dame to a stack of papers and a clock with a regrettably late hour on it.