Friday, October 28, 2005

Chapter XXXII. Return to Foggstable

Nigel swept deftly through the casement, which fortunately proved to be open, sword in mittened hand, his vengeful titter lost in the weasel howls of the forest. He crouched on a single leg and buttock, while he surveyed the room's dim interior with the bejeweled spyglass taken at great cost from the late pirate captain Nate Frappe. Francinetta -- his Francinetta -- lay not five feet from where he twirled to a silent pivot. She lay above the four-poster-and-a-notice bed, her hairs spreadeagled luxuriantly on the pillow, her sinuous taffeta nightshade translucently entangled in her rosy knees, her breast rising and falling with an animal squeak, her face aglow in the wobbling moonlight, as eastern breezes rotated her toes luxuriously. She was just as he remembered her from that night when he had been dragged from her multilimbed embrace to be manacled aboard the H.M.S. Strumpet, thence transported to the wilds of New Guinea for five long and not especially interesting years, working in the absinthe mines, quiet, watchful, awaiting his main chance. And now, at last, he was back, to settle old debts -- not with his acquired riches, nor yet with a note deftly initialed by his secretary, but with the blade, the bladder, and the bludgeon.

But what was this shadowed figure growling atop his beloved Francinetta? The guards were everywhere, but he must risk a light, so he quickly set his tinderbox to an illuminated manuscript, bathing the room in eerie luminescence and several bubbles. That was no mere figure snoring into his beloved's necklace; that was Winslow Slutterpipe, the companion of his youth and mentor in the art of offense! Nigel sprang back, setting the curtains aflame, and cursing beneath his collapsed wig.

It all assumed perfect clarity for him now: How Francinetta had never loved him, but used him to get at Father Grapple and the key to the pantry. How Winslow had been perverted by her steaming charms to betray him to the very navy that had the most to gain by his timely disappearance. How the maps of the Blue Nile had been but clever forgeries to lead a dozen men across a thousand continents in search of the truly negligible. How the very privateer he had captained these many bloody months had been in port the whole while, as paid agents pretended to be hardened seamen rounding the Horn. How the black prince had sold his birthright for a handful of baubles and flesh. How his father had been the true pretender, and not the drunken cutpurse who had raised him to be a poultry trainer at Dunderhead. How the seed of destiny had taken root in the soil of his fevered imagination to produce the twin fruited vines of impetuousness and style.

There was only one thing to be done now, if Nigel could but think of it.