Part Ten: A Plot Thickens... Considerably

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or lessPart Ten: A Plot Thickens... Considerably

I looked at the twenty young men, who stood at a kind of boneless attention. The paramilitary wing of the reborn Church of England, indeed.

‘This is all getting a bit silly, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘Not so,’ said the Reverend Moon. ‘The YMCE, to use their proper title, are not silly.’

‘YMCE?’ said Vespa. ‘The Young Men’s Church of England,’ said Moon. ‘All organisations, even crypto-fascist ones, need a tidy letterhead.’

Moon pointed to a viciously anodyne youth, who seemed to lead the silent YMCE platoon. ‘Simon,’ he said. ‘Show our guests… what you do.’

Simon, if that really was his name, reached into the pocket of his snug-fit cable-knit cardigan and pulled out a fountain pen and a comb.

I snorted. By now, I’ll cheerfully admit, I should have known that to snort, honk or pshaw in derision could only presage something nasty.
The YMCE kapo smiled an ingratiating smile, then whipped his arm back and forth with alarming speed. The comb whistled inches past my ear!

The comb buried itself in the wall, quivering loathsomely. Keeping my cool, I cocked an eyebrow at the cadaverous Moon. ‘That all?’ I said.

Moon looked to Simon. Slowly, he unscrewed the cap of his fountain pen and turned to Vespa. ‘I don’t think we need continue,’ said Moon.

Nor did I. ‘The YMCE are useful,’ said Moon. ‘Street fights with Methodists. Slot-machines and coffee mornings. Brutes, yes, but useful.’

‘All right, Moon,’ I said. ‘You’ve made your point, disgusting as it is. You have Vespa and I well and truly cornered. What’s your game?’

‘My game?’ he said. ‘Oh, Brother Leinigen, I have no ‘game’, oh, no, not so.’ ‘Fine,’ I said. ‘What are you up to, then, Reverend Moon?'

Moon chuckled. He didn’t actually produce a hairball, but the affect was much the same. ‘I am up to all sorts of things,’ he said, smiling.

Vespa spoke. ‘The Taxus Brevifola. What do you want with it?’ Moon fluttered his hand. ‘Ah, yes,’ he said. ‘The book. A charming toy.’

‘The Taxus Brevifola,’ Moon said, ‘is, for the Church of England, the most dangerous volume in the world.’ I could see that. I nodded.

Moon continued. ‘To prove the non-existence of God and the superiority of the artistic mind would not serve the Church’s, ah, purpose.’

‘So now you’ve found it and proved its potency,’ I said, ‘you will destroy it.’ Moon looked at me, askance. ‘Not necessarily,’ he said.

‘The Taxus Brevifola,’ Moon said, ‘can be used for some rather diverting fun.’ It was my turn to bristle. Phraxby’s death hadn’t been ‘fun’.

Moon shushed me, a finger to his lips. ‘The book can be employed, using only basic artistic and literary knowledge, to considerable effect.’

Vespa twigged before I did. ‘Basic artistic and literary knowledge?’ she said. ‘But you studied divinity. How can you then use the book?’

I growled. ‘One fiction’s as good as another. He might as well have studied the romantic novel.’ Moon glared at me. ‘Not so!’ he said.

Moon might have slapped me. Fair enough. But prayers don’t figure when you’re lost in the bush with only a nest of puff adders for company.

Moon continued. ‘I have a masters in art history,’ he said. ‘From the Sorbonne.’ It figured. His pallour indicated years of lamp-lit study.

‘Enough,’ he said. ‘Let us return to the plot.’ About time. ‘The Taxus Brevifola,’ Moon said, ‘does not have to be used atheistically.’

In short, Moon planned to use the Taxus Brevifola against itself, aiding the rebirth of the Church rather than helping to bring it down.

The semiotics of it were a little too rich for easy digestion, but there was a megalomaniac Swiss industrial billionaire involved somewhere.

We’d meet him, Moon promised, soon enough. I grasped eagerly at that – evidently Moon did not intend to dispose of Vespa and I just yet.

As I digested this, Vespa asked: ‘How did you find the book?’ Moon told us: the Archbishops of Canterbury had always known of its location.

They had, naturally, kept it secret. The Taxus Brevifola had been kept in this specially constructed subterranean chamber since Blake’s day.

But on learning of the book’s existence, Moon said, he had simply made the current occupant of Lambeth Palace an offer he could not refuse.

Thus, aided by Simon and the YMCE, had the Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon unearthed a treasure that had been hidden for two hundred years.

And thus, reaching for long-forgotten essays on Blake, Gillray and Fuseli, had he magicked up the Flea, the Gout Devil and the Night Mare.

It was beginners’ stuff, as Vespa had suggested, but she and I and poor Sam had turned up and proved ourselves excellent laboratory rabbits.

And so here I was, menaced by goons in a cistern deep below Lambeth Palace, a priceless medieval treasure in the hands of an evil lunatic.

‘It is all rather simple, no?’ said Moon. He didn’t give me a chance to answer. ‘Simon,’ he said. The YMCE leader clicked his booster heels.

'I think it's time to take our guests above ground.' Moon paused, and looked from me to Vespa and back. 'It is time to meet the Archbishop!' 

Part Nine: An Old Enemy Reveals Himself

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less
Part Nine: An Old Enemy Reveals Himself

The Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon was never a friend of mine. Tall fellow, thin and sallow. Studied divinity at Oxford. One of the killjoys.

Put a stop to a lark of mine, the Combined Colleges Alpineering Society. Took exception when he found me belaying the south face of Jesus.

He’d gone on to a career, darkly glittering by all accounts, in the Synod. Popped up in broadsides from home, behind World Service static.

Advocated something called Moral Rearmament. I have never had much time for morals – in nature, tooth and claw rule over nicety and nuance.

We’d had the odd scrape. The Assyrian Affair in ’20. The Bad-Wurttemberg Unpleasantness of ’32. A nasty stand-off on the maidan at Cawnpore.

I hadn’t seen Moon for a while. Assumed he’d been busy, as had I. I did not expect to find him deep in the bowels of the Lambeth Labyrinth.

Sorry to kill the surprise. No cliffhanger here – Vespa called me and I joined her in a doorway, through which could be glimpsed said Moon.

The Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon, committed straightface that he was, was never one for surprises, after all. His was a lugubrious evil.

He had his back to us, Vespa and me, as we stood in the doorway. The chamber we beheld was lit by flickering torches affixed to the walls.

Moon – I’d have known that stooped form anywhere, just as a bear once winged stays in the memory until you pot him for good – did not turn.

He was standing at a large desk. Black balsa, I guessed, the stuff of Okavango native canoes. Handy crafts. Smart lads propelling ’em too.

On the desk was a book, open in the middle. About a thousand pages thick, it seemed. Heavily bound. I looked at Vespa. She looked at me.

Moon was still. In the silence, the air in the room seemed almost to calcify. He had that affect, the Reverend Moon. Not a hit at parties.

I looked again to Vespa. She shrugged, so I took matters into my own hands. I coughed. ‘Ahem!’ The stooped figure at the desk did not move.

I coughed again. Still Moon did not move. Not for the first time in my earthly, impatience bested me. ‘Dash it,’ I said. ‘Moon! Over here!’

Such impetuousness, while part of my rough charm, often serves me ill. The time I missed the Rajah’s beserk elephant goads me to this day.

In this case, fortunately, my brusque manner served to kick events into some sort of gear. With an odd sigh, the Reverend Moon turned.

Moon spread his hands in greeting. ‘Brother Leinigen,’ he said. ‘We are delighted.’ We? I didn’t care for such weaselly regal affectations.

‘And Sister Vespa, yes, quite so.’ Moon seemed almost to simper. It wasn’t pretty; rather like watching a very thin hippo suffer from gripe.

‘You know us? You knew we were coming?’ Vespa spoke, jaw jutting and eyes flashing, every inch the voting modern woman. I looked to Moon.

‘Yes, yes, quite yes indeed,’ Moon murmured. ‘I have been waiting for you, yes, yes. I presumed you would pass my little tests. Yes, yes.'

‘Tests?’ I said. ‘Sam Phraxby didn’t pass ’em.’ ‘No,’ said Moon, ‘no indeed, quite no. Poor Sam. Always a slow student, yes?’ I glared.

‘What the devil d’you mean by this, Moon?’ I asked. ‘Sam Phraxby is dead thanks to you and your damned book. And he didn’t go pleasantly.'

‘Oh yes, quite so,’ said Moon, with a wave that became a flutter. ‘But Phraxby was a plodder, Brother Leinigen. Not a first-class mind.’

I started forward, pricked to vengeful anger. Vespa laid a firm hand on my arm. ‘How dare you, Moon!’ I roared. ‘You killed my friend!’ 
‘Not so, no, not I,’ said Moon. ‘It was the Flea.’ True enough, I thought. But the dastard had conjured up said dreadful Flea. Blame stood. 
I said as much, and again Moon fluttered his pale hand. I didn’t see how I could answer that, so silence descended on the room once again. 
Vespa broke it. ‘Mr Moon,’ she said. ‘Reverend,’ said Moon, with unusual vehemence. ‘Reverend,’ said Vespa. ‘You have the Taxus Brevifola?’ 
She gestured to the book on the desk. ‘Oh,’ said Moon, relatively airily. ‘Yes, yes, quite so, that is the Taxus Brevifola. Yes, quite so.’

Vespa looked at me. I looked at Vespa. Clearly we should lasso the book, truss Moon up like a bantam and hopscotch it back to the surface. 
I stepped forward. Moon, understanding my design, stepped back. ‘I’ll take the book, Moon,’ I said. He reacted with a thin, sickly smile. 
‘Oh no, not quite so, no,’ he said, raising his hands in his gesture of greeting. I froze, expecting spell or apparition, golem or ghoul. 
But there was to be no magic this time, no curse or fright. The Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon merely clapped his hands, sharply, twice. 
At Moon’s clap, a door in the far wall flew open and into the room marched ten, fifteen, perhaps twenty identically clad young gentlemen. 
The young men all wore brown brogue shoes, cornmeal slacks, black shirts with white dog collars and close-fitting cable-knit cardigans. 
Each young man wore brown-tinted, squareish spectacles of the kind used by aviators and parted his short, firmly pomaded hair to the right. 
‘Ah yes, my boys, yes,’ said Moon. ‘Brother Leinigen, Sister Vespa. May I introduce the paramilitary wing of the reborn Church of England!’

Part Eight: A New and Hideous Peril

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
Part Eight: A New and Hideous Peril

This time our assailant gave no warning of its approach. There was no low and baleful groan. Just a skittering rush and a gibbering shriek!

From down the tunnel, where Vespa had pointed, sprinted a small, dark form. I made out its features. Humanoid, ish. More so than the Flea.

The creature was black, with a shiny, domed head that echoed the melon-like muscles that rippled and bulged on its shoulders, arms and back.

It stared fiercely, and as it neared us it bared not teeth but a pair of yellowed fangs as gnarled and whorled as the horns of a prize ram.

‘Stand back, Vespa,’ I said. ‘This little fellow ain’t giving either of us a kiss.’ I drew my revolver and aimed at the onrushing demon.

I was not able to fire. As I squeezed the trigger, the creature fell into a roll, spinning along the tunnel floor in a whirl of limbs.

As I tried for an aim, it came out of its tumble and, in a low arc, sprang towards me. Landing, it sank both fangs squarely into my big toe!

Enamel pierced boot leather with a pop and a gout of blood spouted from my tootsie. I bellowed like a society matron surprised from behind.

‘Ooh-yah!’ I shouted, as the fiend fastened its fangs to my foot. ‘In the name of all the bankers in Hades! That smarts!’ The fiend chomped.

I roared and kicked, but the devil bit down stronger. I roared some more and thrashed my foot against the tunnel wall. The fiend budged not.

And then, in the midst of my white-hot pain, I realised that Vespa, my accomplice and only aid in this infernal adventure, was laughing.

‘What’s so damned amusing?’ I managed to gasp. ‘Can’t you help me? Vespaaaaaaah!’ The fiend was chewing. White-hot nails rolled in my toe.

Vespa stopped laughing. ‘Very well, Leinigen,’ she said. ‘I will help.’ As I writhed, she reached into her haversack and pulled out… a book!

‘Another blasted book?’ I scarce believed my eyes. ‘I don’t need reading to, woman, I need…. ahhhhhhhhh!’ I hopped, puce with rage and pain.

‘Shhhh,’ said Vespa. ‘See.’ She opened the book. It was a work of art history. If I had been able to snort – or pshaw – I would have done.

But Vespa pointed to the page. Between tears, I focused. Another drawing. Vespa read: ‘James Gillray. Seventeen-Ninety-Nine. The Gout!’ 

Gillray’s work – cartoonish, admittedly – showed a small, muscular, dome-headed devil, plunging its teeth into a nastily inflamed foot. 
I looked at the fiend attached to my foot, which plunged its claws into my ankle. I convulsed with pain. No doubt about it. I had The Gout. 
‘Very pretty,’ I said, between gasps and grunts. ‘So this little swine comes from the mind of some eighteenth-century artistic fellow too.’ 
‘Quite so,’ said Vespa, didactically. ‘James Gillray, pre-eminent satirist of the age. Whoever is using the Taxus Brevifola is a beginner.’ 
‘How so?’ I managed to ask, between stabs of agony from the red needles of metallic brutality that now knitted into my shin and groin.
‘The Flea, The Gout. These are miniatures. Doodles.’ Vespa peered at the tiny gibbering devil. ‘We are being attacked by Blake’s ephemera!’
I was impressed by Vespa’s research, but given that I was in near mortal pain I begged her, politely, to deal forthwith with my assailant. 
Vespa reached into her pack. Producing a phial, she held it over my foot. ‘Do not flinch,’ she said. ‘What is it?’ I said. ‘Apple vinegar.’ 

I didn’t ask why, in preparing for a deadly mission in a hellish labyrinth, Vespa had packed such a recondite condiment. Because it worked. 

Vespa poured the vinegar on the Gout Devil and, in a flash of foam, steam and shrieks, it dissolved. The concoction ate a hole in the floor. 
My foot, two small puncture wounds aside, was in one piece. The pain subsided surprisingly quickly. I flexed my toes and looked at Vespa. 
‘Eighteenth-century remedy for an eighteenth-century complaint,’ she said. ‘Elementary, my dear Leinigen.’ She stood with hands on hips. 
I sat, stunned. Vespa smiled, slung her haversack over her shoulder and walked away, rounding a corner in the tunnel. I rubbed my forehead. 
A rum evening had become decidedly rummer, and that its increasing rumness seemed not to be the product of a dream struck me as, well, rum. 
But as I pondered, Vespa’s voice sounded from round the corner. ‘Come on, Leinigen,’ she said. ‘We have no time to lose. Oh, and watch out.’
I looked up to see a ghostly form tear round the bend. Whinnying and bellowing, a white, sightless, madly grinning horse bore down upon me!

I threw myself aside. The spectral apparition flew down the tunnel, its cries blending into the dark, hollow hoof beats thocking on brick.

Vespa popped her head round the corner and smiled. ‘Henry Fuseli,’ she said. ‘The Night Mare, no less. Bigger but predictable, all told.’

As Vespa disappeared again, I stood and brushed down my trousers. My evening had now left the rum behind and moved on to port and cigars.

Vespa called from further down the tunnel. ‘Leinigen,’ she cried. ‘Do hurry up. I think we have reached our goal.’ I hurried round the bend.

Part Seven: An Exploration Renewed

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
Part Seven: An Exploration Renewed

In short, and after stashing Sam’s papery cadaver behind the chaise longue, Vespa and I went back into the Lambeth Labyrinth together.

I couldn’t trust her. I knew that. She could trust me. She knew that. We made a fine pair as we walked back to the spot where Sam had died.

After my discovery in Blake’s study, I’d recovered the sangness of my froid. Vespa filled me in on what she knew about the Lambeth Treasure.

It turned out it was not gold, diamonds, rubies or other such girlish gewgaws, as I had imagined. It was, Vespa said with a smile, a book.

I goggled, Phraxbyesque. You’ll forgive me. After all, a book had just given me a funny turn, and now I was told a book had killed a friend.

Odd lads, books. Never had much use for ’em except, every so often, to dip my toe into Buchan or dangle an idle finger in Radclyffe Hall.

But it seemed Vespa was telling the truth. Or at the least she was certain of her story, which was more than I could say for Radclyffe Hall.

So I listened, gawping, as Vespa told me about the book that was the Lambeth Treasure. Or, to give it its proper name, the Taxus Brevifola. 

The Taxus Brevifola was a medieval codex. Bound in vellum, illuminated letters, all that. A thousand pages thick. A work of art in itself.

Old Blake, apparently, had bought it in seventeen-ninety-something, two hundred years after the Dissolution released it from its monastery. 

Now Blake, as mentioned before, was something of a curious fish. Vespa reminded me about the visions, the poetry and the back-yard nudism.

Some fine fellow to have lured me into this infernal chase, I thought, as we stalked down culverts and sewers of yellow London brick. 

We passed the spot where Blake’s Flea had drained Sam Phraxby’s stuff of life. I tried not to look at the stains. Vespa did, and shuddered.

But she told her story. In brief (and as with Sam’s subterranean paleojurassic hooey, such tales benefit from a spot of pith) it was this: 

The Taxus Brevifola contained knowledge that the established church, and quite a few unestablished ones, did not wish to have widely known.

In short, the book proved the non-existence of God and indicated how the literary and artistic mind could be used to order the real world.

Hence Blake, with his egalitarian, atheistic and artistic leanings, had been as appropriate an owner of it as he had been a dangerous one.

And hence Blake, appalled by the power of the Taxus Brevifola when placed in his hands, had hidden it somewhere in the Lambeth Labyrinth.

He had subsequently and predictably gone rather mad and, in short order, died. The Taxus Brevifola, interred, lay undisturbed for an aeon. 

Until recently, when person or persons unknown to me but perhaps known to Vespa had found it and started to use it, with ignoble purpose.

And hence Blake’s Flea had appeared, literally bloodthirsty, to kill my oldest friend, Sam Phraxby, halfway down a storm drain in Lambeth.

The Flea had been given life by the book’s user who, said Vespa, would be a brainy cove with an arts degree. No other qualification needed.

As a plot, it sounded half-formed and ill-thought through, and I said so. Vespa agreed, with a lovely, trickling laugh. The thing was crazy.

But there it was. I plodded on, digesting the information. Subduing an urge to stop, sit down and laugh myself silly, I turned to Vespa.

‘Vespa,’ I said. ‘Let’s say, for argument’s sake, I believe your story. Let’s say, further, that Sam’s death does rather press your point.’

Vespa gazed at me, dark eyes glittering in the dim light of the tunnel, a hand on her hip. She looked, appropriately, devilishly fetching.

‘Let’s say,’ I said, ‘all this is true. You said someone else had found the Lambeth Treasure and was using it. And that this was not good.’

Vespa smiled. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘So someone has used the dratted book to conjure up a hideous beastie from Blake’s very imaginings.’

‘The Flea that drained your friend, yes,’ said Vespa. Despite an urge, I did not snort, scoff or pshaw. ‘There it is,’ I said. Vespa nodded.

I asked Vespa if she knew who this someone was. She said she did, but that she would not tell me quite yet. I looked up the silent tunnel.

Should I gird myself for another terrible visitation? Some new hell from Blake’s mind? Possibly. I tried to remember his other works.

Once more I cursed my boyhood wanderings, when sailing ships of dreams after whales made of clouds pushed dull schoolwork from my mind.

A few dim images swum into my cerebellum. I didn’t suppose I fancied meeting Behemoth or Leviathan on a dark night. Or in this dark tunnel.

Of course, had I known what was about to happen, there in the tunnel, I would not have wasted such time in arid and gloomy prognostication.

What was about to happen, as Vespa tensed and pointed up the tunnel, happened to be a rather efficient way to end such bookish meanderings.

Part Six: A Frankly Unlikely Development

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
Part Six: A Frankly Unlikely Development

I woke in the tunnel’s dim light. Sam’s body lay where the Guardian had let it fall, dried out, a husk. Not Phraxby, now. Not my old friend.

I listened. No sound. I scanned the shadows. Nothing. The beast was gone. My synapses flickered into life. I would have it’s lousy hide!

Press into the darkness! Stalk it, shoot it, skin it – if that were possible – and mount its head on a plinth. By God, I’d avenge my friend.

But no. Sam was dead. I would beat a tactical retreat. Not thinking beyond the next step, I hoisted Sam’s dry corpse on to my shoulders.

I retraced my way. Climbed the stone steps, back to Blake’s study. Staggering into that musty den, I let Sam’s cadaver slip to the floor.

It was dark. A new silence filled the room, lighter than that in the tunnels. It had a different nose, a keen sommelier might have said.

I turned for the chaise longue. I had some thinking to do. Brainwork’s best done after a buffalo steak and a quart of stout, but needs must.

At a cough I span round, my revolver quick to the draw, a wild glint in my eye. I loosed a shot and a window shattered in the moonlight!

A feminine chuckle, low and seductive, came from the murk. ‘You are jumpy, Mr Leinigen,’ said a foreign voice. ‘Please, do not shoot again.’

My senses span. ‘What is this?’ I said, sternly. ‘Who are you?’ The chuckle came again. ‘Oh,’ said the voice. ‘Just your guardian angel…’

My mind raced, searching for sense and advantage. I blustered. ‘What the devil? Poppycock! I mean to say!’ Fortunately, I was cut off.

A flame flared, briefly, to light a slim cigarette. In the flame, behind Blake’s desk, I saw a profile. Strong, handsome. Dark. Greek.

Memory is a strumpet, nostalgia a harlot. Neither are to be trusted. But I would have known that profile anywhere. I gasped. ‘Neozeleboria…’ 

Again came the chuckle. ‘Neozeleboria Cryptoides, to be precise,’ said my shadowy interlocutor. ‘But you can call me Vespa.’ I knew I could.

My mind flicked back to a summer in Athens. Venizelos, heat and filthy raki. Lightning on the Acropolis. Revolution. Riot. Death. Vespa.

Vespa. Archaeologist. Or that was the front. Professional explorer. Rival. But a wasp-waisted, seductive rival with eyes you could swim in.

‘You?’ I said. ‘Me,’ she said. ‘The charlady?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘My God. You let Phraxby water your radishes.’ ‘He was sweet.’ Yes, I thought, he was.

‘Why are you here, Vespa?’ I asked. I wanted answers that Sam’s corpse didn’t have. She laughed. ‘I’m looking for the Lambeth Treasure.’

Of course. No prize was too big. I hadn’t heard of her in years – presumed her dead, or lost in the Amazon. She had been here all the time.

Vespa lit a lamp and told me her story. How she’d heard of the Lambeth Treasure from some bird at a dig. How she’d come to London forthwith.

The real Greek charlady hadn’t been a problem. Vespa skated over the details, but I didn’t fancy the old dear’s chances. Vespa was ruthless.

She had been sitting here since, edging into the Lambeth Labyrinth, exploring further each night and bumbling about in disguise by day.

And now here I was, her old rival and, according to some sources, inamorato. Burst in with a gun and a dessicated corpse. Like old times.

I told Vespa about Sam and she listened, cat’s eyes impassive. I told her about the curious little beast. About how it wasn’t so little now.

‘You are a lucky man, Leinigen,’ Vespa said. ‘It could have been you.’ ‘Quite,’ I said. ‘But why wasn’t it you? You’ve been down there.'

‘It is not good,’ she said. ‘Someone else has found the Lambeth Treasure.’ ‘Someone else?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘And they are using it.’ 

‘Using it?’ I said. ‘What the devil?’ Vespa laughed. ‘Your word is appropriate,’ she said, reaching for a book that was placed on the desk.

Vespa handed me the tome. Dusty and leather-bound, it was an album, containing prints and lithographs. I snorted. Vespa raised a finger.

‘Turn to page forty-two,’ she said, ‘if you wish for answers regarding your friend.’ Glancing at Sam’s shrunken form, I did as I was told.

The pages of the album creaked with age. Dust swirled. I coughed and cleared the air with my hand. Page forty-two held a small picture.

I squinted. In the murk of the study it took a second to focus. When I did, I rather wished I had not. ‘Gad!’ I cried. ‘It’s the Guardian!’

The drawing showed a tiny form. Humanoid. Ish. Orange-scaled, a spine from its head to its long and loathsome tail. Strong, sprung legs.

In its talons, the creature held a small bucket. The bucket was full of blood and the creature gazed at it with a look of haunted hunger...

The caption was in close gothic script. Without monocle or lorgnette, I squinted further. ‘William Blake,’ I read. ‘The Ghost… of a Flea!’