Sunday, October 07, 2007


“Do go on with your tale,” Lizzie said, caught up in the exciting adventure of Black Ethel’s childhood. “I hope something terrible -- er, something morally instructive happened to Miss Surfeis Perkineiss.”

Black Ethel smiled and blew some smoke from her cigar. She swirled the rum in her glass and said, “We LeBeaus -- for that is my family’s illustrious name -- we do not take kindly to insults. I swore upon the cheese-scented grave of my parents that I would have revenge upon Miss Surfeis. Her mother Lady Dowdy, to give her some credit, was kindly to me after Lord Surfeit whipped me for his daughter’s naughtiness, but she too drew the line at suspecting their petite angel capable of the deed herself.

“I plotted and planned and at last saw my opportunity. There was a soft little fribble of the name of Algernon – a true demimonde, always in le dernier cri, his parents owned the most successful flower shop in Angoulême, so successful that they did not soil there hands with any kind of soil but had servants and shop girls to do it for them. This Algernon earnestly pursued the life of the fashionable young man even at our childish years. Although he was more hair than wit, Miss Surfeis had a ceaseless desire to flatter him and win his friendship, treating him as if he were a nabob of the first order. I fancy it was only because she had her family’s stoat-like hunger for money.”

“The little cormorant!” Alice said with explosive vehemence, startling both Lizzie and the pirate queen. “How unutterably common!”

“Indeed,” said Black Ethel as Lizzie tried to smother her laughter and Alice looked mildly confused. “I knew that on a certain day the two would be riding forth in his little pony cart to go pick strawberries at the meadow’s edge, beyond the walls of the city. Algernon fancied himself quite the horseman even at the age of eight. Miss Surfeis -- with her family’s unerring compass for the ways of the ton -- would always join him in his little cart as he whipped his little pony to charge down the cobblestones with all manner of speed.”

Alice could not abide such cruelty even in the past. “The poor little pony! I cannot bear the thought of his being so callous. I should never whip my pony, dear dear little Bosky.” Indeed, Alice’s frequent playmate was so idle as to have exceeded his ideal weight by at least two stone, so that very often he wheezed as he trotted, unable to work up the effort to accomplish even a mild canter. It is doubtful that whipping would have done much to increase his pace even if he were able to feel the sting of the crop upon his well-padded hind quarters. But let us think well of Alice for her kindness, regardless of the dubiousness of the object of her affections. It would not be the first time those near to her would need to turn a blind eye to her ideas.

“Knowing her plans, I gathered my few friends together for a dastardly plan. My playmates were mostly from the less fortunate side of town, rough young boys whose ideas of games were often quite dangerous and careless of the rules of society. We found our position for the attack at the base of the hill, where the rains of the last few days had gathered in a considerable pool of murky waters across the road. My confederates armed themselves with large scoopings of mud and some small rocks. We ran a purloined laundry line across the road.

“And then we waited.”

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