12 January, 2016 by katelaity
‘Yes, the tape only goes out as far as the object to be measured, like so,’ he raised his arm and the tape unspooled to the ground to measure me. ‘Precisely six feet tall.’
‘That is correct.’ I was guardedly impressed, mostly with the ease with which the tape retreated with just whisper of sound into its holder.
‘And observe,’ Tansy continued, holding the silver measurer next to Brien.
‘I say!’ Brien did not appear to be pleased.’
‘Five foot nine,’ Tansy read off the tape.
‘I am five foot ten and a half,’ Brien complained.
‘I am afraid you are mistaken.’ Tansy smiled apologetically. ‘Or perhaps a little tired today.’
Brien sniffed and did his best to pretend that he was not deeply affronted. Like most men, he held inflated ideas about his own height and was unaccustomed to having the reckoning of inches contradicted. ‘A poor sort of instrument that.’
‘I think it’s quite beautiful,’ I said, which was nothing less than the truth after all.
‘Could you measure an elephant?’ Nolan wisely thought a change of subject the most collegial ploy.
‘Most assuredly,’ Tansy said. ‘Bring me an elephant and I shall demonstrate it to be so.’
‘How about measuring Old Dame Whatsis?’
Everyone brightened at that. ‘Capital idea!’ Tansy turned and we all trotted down to the lobby where our beacon for the club stood, a huge statue of some Greek goddess or some such but done so vaguely that some were sure it was Ceres and others insisted it was Hecate, so everyone had agreed on the more general term as the best way to refer to the grand old thing.
Our shoes clattered across the marble floor. The black and white tiles made the sound echo up to the high ceiling. The high columns seemed to vibrate with the larkish hijinks, a sharp contrast to the usual sober exterior behind which we hid.
‘How do we get up there to measure her?’
Brien frowned. ‘Can’t you send it up to measure something?’
Tansy shook his head. ‘No, the weight has to be dropped.’
‘Design flaw you’ve got there,’ Brien said, puffing himself back up again.
‘Perhaps,’ Tansy admitted with a cool air, ‘but if you can get on top of a thing, you can measure it with this.’
‘But how shall we?’ I asked, gazing up at the impassive marble face looming high in the shadowed hall.
Nolan nudged me. ‘Just like in school. Gymnastics. Old heave-ho, up on the shoulders, like that.’
I groaned. ‘And I have to be on the bottom as usual.’
It only took three of us, which let Brien off the hook to stand and criticize as we wobbled into a sort of human tower so that Tansy, at the top, could drop the little weight and measure the Old Dame. ‘Eighteen feet, three inches.’
We were all laughing and red-faced from the effort, but greatly amused.
‘Could you measure Big Ben?’ Nolan asked, eyes aglow as he contemplated the possibilities.
‘Get me up there and I could.’ Tansy laughed.
‘The height of absurdity!’ Brien said, shaking his head.
‘Yes, I could even measure that,’ Tansy replied with a cool air of insouciance that I came to know so very well. ‘All we have to do is find it.’
I need not tell you the sort of argument that led to; suffice to say that as we wandered back to the more congenial environs of the bar, others joined in the animated discussion and all manner of suggestions were made.
‘Of course it must be found in the Americas,’ Brien opined in a voice that betrayed his fluster at no longer holding sway of the argument. Indeed his initial disdain had given way to the spirited debate and he no longer insisted that the whole notion had to be nonsense. ‘If the Bard were writing today that’s where he’d send his melancholy Dane,
‘Why, because he was mad: he shall recover his wits.
There; or, if he do not, it’s no great matter there.
Twill not be seen in him there; there the men
Are as mad as he.’
Much merriment resulted from that claim but the others shook their heads and offered such locations as befit their notions of absurdity: a certain province in the south of France, a distant ashram in India, a mountainous hideaway in Mongolia and under a glacier in Iceland.
Tansy, however, would have none of it. Indeed he proved most obstinate on the fact that such extensive traveling would be unnecessary. ‘I’m no Phileas,’ he said with a little smile. Chortles greeted his good-natured ribbing of that fellow from the Reform Club who had made headlines recently as much for his unpleasant pernickty habits as for grand plan to circumnavigate the globe. ‘And I declare that the height of absurdity must be found in this nation or nowhere at all!’
‘Hear hear!’ The general approval could not be doubted. Let it never be said that we do not take great pride in the accomplishments of our nation. Though it is not our way to trumpet our own accomplishments, we are more than willing to cheer on any mention of our nation’s superiority.
‘Then let us make it a wager,’ Brien said, his whiskers bristling with the excitement of the moment. The prospect of a challenge seemed to galvanise him once more. I had never seen such fire in the man’s eye save for when he was winning at flechettes.