Sunday, October 21, 2007


“Oh my,” Alice said with horror, forgetting for a moment that the people in peril were Black Ethel’s mortal enemies. “The poor pony!”

“Never fear,” the pirate queen said, waving away the young woman’s fears with her still-smouldering cigar. “The pony himself was unhurt. My enemies, however, did not fare so well.”

Her face seemed filled with a grim satisfaction as she recalled the events. “My compatriots let fly with the best of their weapons and soon the glistening white cart had become spattered with the foulest mud, its gilt edgings dimmed. The snooty pair who had dismissed us so peremptorily now gasped with shock as they were met with volley after volley of the viscous glop gleaned from the depths of the muddied waters.

“My nemesis, Miss Surfeis Perkineiss, cried aloud in alarm as the handfuls of mud splashed against her white frock, every pleat pressed laboriously by me the night before -- yet another punishment for my imagined wrongs. I hated her, I hated that dress and I hated the way she was coddled and cosseted, assured of a cushy life without the least bit of effort -- all from an accident of birth. My parents were the kindest people on earth and I had been robbed of their comforts.”

Alice suddenly began to cry, so overwrought by the story as to imagine herself much wronged by the death of Lord Mangrove, although the spirit departed had not (at last encounter) yet managed to depart completely and that she had already some difficulty in recalling any event of kindness or thoughtfulness demonstrated by her late father and so, lapsed into a puzzled silence as she tried to imagine him doing anything other than muttering behind an endless succession of newspapers or fuming red-faced at her mother or the servants.

Lizzie was, on the other hand, deriving a great deal of vicarious satisfaction from the narrative, events she could never have brought herself to take part in (to be entirely truthful) but which she was delighted someone of Black Ethel’s mettle had had no scruples about. “Go on,” she encouraged the buccaneer, who had paused to raise an eyebrow at Alice’s tenderhearted weeping (which had since dwindled into sniffles and a furrowed brow). “Was Algernon greatly displeased?”

The pirate queen laughed gleefully. “He was quite beside himself! I could not tell if the indignity or the mud was worst for him, but his face was red as a pomegranate and he let loose with most ungentlemanly words of the blackest vituperation. My comrades and I only laughed in delight, some of the rougher fellows sought to pull him from the bench and toss the young dandy headlong into the floodwaters.

“They were still struggling with the recalcitrant lad, while Miss Surfeis was weeping bitter tears, when the authorities at last arrived. My compatriots, hardened criminals all, made rude gestures, called even ruder names, and quickly eluded the gendarmes, but I was too overcome with triumph to bother.

“I was dragged to the home of my keepers and true to form, the Perkineisses turned me out without a kind word after a tearful accusation from Surfeis. I no longer cared. I was glad to be sent to Les Orphelines de Brad, once I had rescued the last remnant of my parents from the wall of my tiny room. I looked with scorn at my ungrateful relatives and spit on the ground at their feet. A door was closing behind me, but I was sure things could be no worse that at that hated home.

“Oh, la la! What a child I was!”

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