Chivalry Isn't Dead
By E. O. Costello
Art by Fio Purrfetti - http://www.furaffinity.net/user/fio/
Chivalry Isn’t Dead
© 2008 E.O. Costello
(The characters of Jean-Francois Sansavon and Monique Bao My
were originally created by Walter D. Reimer.)
If there is anything that I learned from spending the first seventeen years of my life at Hanoi’s esteemed Our Lady of Lourdes Orphanage for Young Ladies, it is the importance of manners. It is, quite frankly, amazing what you can get away with when you present a polite and placid face. But I digress. Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Monique Bao My.
Those that take an interest in such things will be interested to know that “Bao” and “My” are traditional Vietnamese names, which, translated, mean “Protection” and “Pretty.” “Monique” is a traditional French name, which means “my mother got knocked up by a Frenchman who abandoned my mother and left her to die in kittenbirth, the bastard.”
Yes, I know. That’s not the standard translation. It’s my translation, and I’m sticking to it.
As for the profession I practiced until very recently, the polite term for it would be “douceur.” A far less polite term would be “courtesan.” An even less polite term involves some gutter language I won’t bore you with.
It would be nice to say that the sisters at Our Lady would be shocked at what befell me, but that would be a pretty large lie. I’m not entirely sure that most of them cared, so long as the inmates under their charge were able to recite their rosaries and follow along during High Mass, and looked perfectly innocent in their snow-white ao dais (speaking of pretty large lies). We got our little heads stuffed with theology on the one paw and French history on the other paw, and along with cooking and sewing, that was felt enough to turn out a proper and demure femmefur.
Which of course ignored the real education that went on after lights out, when furs would discuss Confucionism and, later on, what can kindly be described as “comparative anatomy.” I’m sure the Mother Superior knew what was going on, but she probably forgot it after her second or third snifter, anyway.
Aside from my native Vietnamese and the language of our colonial masters, one or two of the feistier nuns – Irish, of course – gave lessons in English. Perhaps out of boredom, though at least one of them held out hopes that a charge or two of hers would figure out a way to bring down the British Empire. She never realized that most of us wanted to bring down the French Empire, first, but those of us that sat with her appreciated the impulse.
Once a month, we were paraded before the Board of Visitors. This was a group of middle-aged furs whose general impulse for their charitable work was the moulding of young ladies. Anyone who saw the looks they gave us as we sat in the aforementioned snow-white ao-dais, paws in laps, would probably jump to the conclusion that they had other activities involving young ladies in mind.
Around the time of my seventeenth birthday, I got my first encounter with a few of this lot. I was brought up for examination. In French language and history, though I’ll bet a few would have been interested in what I learned in comparative anatomy. I could see, when I surreptiously looked up, one of the furs swishing his tail and stroking his mustache. After all, as a ripe young Tonkinese… well, kitten would be overstating it a bit… there was much to perk the tail, and I don’t think I’m being overly boastful about it. I kept, and still keep, my headfur long and clean, and my late mother was very generous in certain ways, my only inheritance from her. And keeping my eyes down and my voice soft didn’t hurt, either.
With the benefit of hindsight, I think I would have been better off lighting up a Lucky Strike, or swigging from a bottle.
I passed my examination. The official one, involving languages and such. I must have passed the other examination as well, because the Mother Superior, in giving me my diploma, beamed and informed me that I was a very lucky young feline, in that I would be given a responsible position with a prominent merchant house in Haiphong.
It was a responsible position, all right. I just didn’t know the position would be flat on my tailfur.
On the outside, the Mother Superior was, of course, right: M. Morpion was a prominent merchant in Haiphong, who did do a splendid export business, and had close ties to the colonial government.
On the inside, I quickly discovered just how M. Morpion operated. Largely like a magician. While you are pulling things out of your sleeve (or putting them in), have a distraction. Like a stream of patter. Or a pretty young femmefur assistant.
I won’t bore you with my period of initiation at Morpion & Cie. The less said, the better.
My base of operations, once I was “integrated” into the workings of the firm, was a yacht, the M/V Alouette, out of Haiphong. Oh, it was something, all right. The masts and sails were mostly for show, since the thing was powered by some of the best naval engineering you could get from St. Nazaire. As well it should, since there was a full kitchen to power, not to mention a wine cellar (on a French vessel, arguably the most important room), an elegant, mahogany-panelled dining room (with electric chandelier), a very comfortable salon/library, a bathroom with full tub and hot water, and a large master bedroom with silk-lined walls. Okeh, maybe I was wrong about which was the most important room.
You may be wondering, incidentally, why my language is the way it is. Well, during my periods of down-time, when I’m mercifully left alone (M. Morpion having other affairs, and other Vietnamese femmefurs to have them with), I make use of the library, which is one-half Great Works of French Literature, and one-half Great Works of American Newsstands. I tend to prefer the latter, having had my fill of the former in the orphanage. Outrage, I suppose, to anyone who considers French culture to be the acme of civilization, but having seen French culture up close, I’m willing to try anything else, even vicariously.
Why so cynical? Well, as I mentioned at the start, my profession, to put it very diplomatically, is known as a “douceur.” The Alouette is used to entertain the very good customers, mostly government furs, of Morpion & Cie. After all, bringing culture to the poor, benighted Vietnamese is very tiring work (never mind that we had culture in an era were most French furs considered painting their fur with berry-juice to be high culture). So, what better way to reward good customers than a week-long cruise in the South China Sea, with chef, captain, crew, and hostess. Not necessarily in that order of importance.
My job as hostess was to keep the guests happy. Unfortunately, the definition of “happy” usually meant that my silk ao dai was the first thing to go, and neither very elegantly nor by my own paws, either. And so it would go for most of the cruise, when they weren’t stuffing their face or getting drunk. If I was lucky, they’d have usually tied one on so handily they’d be asleep for a day or two, giving me a rest. Usually, by the end of the week, a guest would be so exhausted and exhilarated that he would sign virtually anything put in front of his muzzle, which was the whole point of the matter. It’s amazing what charges you can put on page 54 of a single-spaced document, and not have it noticed.
Not that the captain or crew was any help. The captain was of a type that was focused on getting the ship around and about in one piece, and the crew was of a type that was focused on getting its collective salary paid in cash at the end of a cruise, with time enough to spend it. They thought I had it pretty soft, and occasionally let me know it, too. If only they knew. My salary was kept in “safekeeping” in the vault at Morpion & Cie. I had my doubts, but I suppose as long as I had decent food (which I did) and very decent clothes (ao dais and what went underneath, to the extent I was allowed to wear them on the job), I let myself forget about it. After all, I didn’t know how my fellow alumnae were doing, though I was pretty sure some of them were having a lot harder time making ends meet in this year, A.D. 1938.
In the first week of February of that year, I got notice from the randy old bastard that was my boss that there was going to be another cruise, and that I was to exercise my usual (insert leer) skill (insert larger leer) in entertaining the firm’s client. Imagine my joy. Still, the furbrushes came out. Self-pride was self-pride, after all.
It certainly didn’t start out as promising. The manifest listed the “supercargo” as one Jean-Francois Sansavon, occupation somewhat unhelpfully listed as “import-export.” That could cover a wide variety of things, of varying legality, not that it would bother M. Morpion. The name was attached to a squirrel with a slight pot-belly, fussy bourgeois clothes, and whiskers that evidentally saw even more care than the clothes. He trotted up the gangplank at Haiphong. Upon meeting me, he beamed, and gave a bow. That was always how it usually started, of course, so my expectations (low as they were) didn’t get shattered.
The strange stuff started happening during the tour of the vessel after we got his luggage stowed, and we were underway. He met everything with approval, his chins nodding, eyes gleaming…and paws behind back. Now that was unusual. On average, it was usually in the dining room that I felt the first explorations. But not this time.
It continued during afternoon tea, which I served. M. Sansavon contented himself with the selection of pastries, dusting the sugar from his paws. On average, I was usually one of the selections on the menu. But not this time.
Dinner was more of the same. He came in for the meal in white tie, and insisted on escorting me arm in arm to the table, pulled out my chair for me, and had the steward serve me first. Conversation mostly centered around the countryside near Haiphong. On average, I was usually asked to have dinner in the bedroom, and often the covers never got removed from the dishes, though they got removed from the hostess. But not this time.
Except for the fact that he asked, politely, if I would stroll with him on deck after dinner, I was starting to wonder if I had somehow lost my touch with the furbrushes. But he managed to behave himself under the starry night sky while still giving the impression that he was enjoying my company greatly. He was, I thought, either chivalrous or putting on a show that underscored every stereotype I’d heard of regarding queers and acting.
I’m not complaining, mind you. Much. It’s just that I was wondering what he was up to. There wasn’t a lock on the door of my little stateroom, but my privacy wasn’t disturbed all night.
The morning of the second day found M. Sansavon enjoying a plate of crepes and juice, followed by a brisk stroll on the deck. Things were going to get very interesting if he was going to be this sober when my boss put a contract in front of him. He was going to be in a state where he could actually read and comprehend things. I was starting to get worried, because if things went to hell, I was going to get blamed for making him unhappy, and I really wasn’t eager to find out what the punishment, or “punishment,” was going to be. Still, he seemed to be enjoying himself all day, so I didn’t worry. Too much.
It was a relief when, after dinner, he came inside to the salon, and sat himself down on the sofa. He indicated that he would find it a great pleasure if I would be so kind as to sit with him. Oh, oh, I thought, there drops the mask. It was sort of strange, though. Sure, he held a paw, and sure, he kissed it, and my forearm, and stroked my chin and my headfur, but he was keeping the fun clean. If this was an act, I’m damned if he didn’t have me interested in finding out what he was up to, and I started purring back at him, trying to egg him on.
I didn’t get a chance to find out what he had in mind, because just at that very moment, all hell broke loose on deck, with yelling and screaming, accompanied by a thunderous splash. A puzzled and peeved squirrel (and puzzled and peeved Tonkinese) parted the lace curtain around one of the windows of the salon, and beheld an interesting sight in the moonlight.
Namely, a long, black submarine not too far from us, with a few furs firing warning shots from rifles.
This was not part of the programme of excitement, unfortunately.
My first reaction was my insides turning to water, since it was obvious these fellows didn’t have an invitation, and they were interested in something more than joining us for a nightcap. The crew loved to talk, when I was in earshot, about what Malay pirates would do if they ever got aboard the Alouette. My part in that little vignette was lingered upon.
The second reaction was a more measured response, since I realized that your standard Malay pirates didn’t have access to submarines. This implied some sort of rogue navy operation, which at least held out hope that things wouldn’t get out of paw.
The third reaction was some pretty nasty words that I kept to myself, since it was evident that the part of the crew that wasn’t openly interested in welcoming our “guests” aboard were running around, and the source of the yelling and screaming that I just mentioned. Very helpful. Almost as helpful as the steward, who came bounding in, squealed the obvious, and then bolted. I knew that we had a rifle and some handguns on board, but on second thoughts, I weighed the odds the things had been sold for cheap liquor at some Haiphong dive, and they came out even money.
The fourth reaction was a bit of going for the main chance. With all the noise and chaos and such, it wasn’t much to clutch and bump against M. Sansavon a few times, during which he was carefully relieved of his wallet, pocket watch, passport and wedding ring. This was part of the unofficial curriculum at the Orphanage, and long practice had made me pretty proficient at it. Who would think that a sweet, innocent cat had such nimble fingers? Well, okeh, for certain purposes.
My friend ducked out of the room, motioning me to stay put. I sort-of obeyed his orders. There was a small washroom off the salon, and I quickly ducked in there and shed my ao dai. The ring was the easiest to dispose of. Down the hatch, and I don’t mean the porcelain one. The wallet was next. Some cash in there, an identity card (Lyons – I knew where that was from geography class), and some family photographs. I thought about destroying them, but somehow, at the last second, I couldn’t do it. I stripped the wallet, and stuffed the paper and such in the passport. That, in turn, got tucked in my bra strap. Given how long I wear my headfur in back, and how much of it there was (crowning glory, remember), I figured it was hidden fairly well.
The watch. Let’s just say I hoped the damn thing was moisture-resistant, and leave it at that.
Back went on the ao dai, and I reappeared, joining my guest on deck (and standing behind him). Things were pretty quiet, at least in some senses, because the engines had stopped. M. Sansavon had come back, breathing fire and brimstone about the crew. He had been on deck, and the captain had reported to him that he believed the ship was going to be boarded by pirates. Well, in his defence, it was the truth, even if it was painfully obvious.
The ship’s gig went out, and brought back a cargo of pirates, about seven and a half of them, if I was any judge of the leader, who was a fox that seemed to have been shortchanged in the build department. It was he who yelled up at the captain, who had put on his uniform jacket and cap.
“Hey! Chief! What ship is this?”
“M’sieur,” replied the captain in tones of wounded dignity, “this is the motor vessel Alouette, out of Haiphong, in the service of Messrs. Morpion & Cie. of the same port.”
The fox nearly dropped out of the gig. “Hey!”
The captain looked down, not really used to this. Must not be a fan of Hollywood movies. “M’sieur…” he started to repeat.
“Did you say Morpion & Cie., of Haiphong?!”
The captain looked down his nose. “I am sorry, m’sieur. I regret that I did not make myself clear…”
“Hell, yeah, you did!” And with that, and a whoop, he shimmied up the ladder. At the top, he paused to yell back at the sub, without even a megaphone.
“HEY, SAM! GUESS WHAT?” He didn’t pause for an answer. “THIS TOY BELONGS TO OUR OLD FRIEND LOUIE THE LOUSE!” This was a new one on me, though I didn’t argue with the nickname. There was a back-and-forth with some large dame on the sub, who didn’t risk her lungs, and used the megaphone. She also gave a few more orders, and soon a whole bunch of her little friends came over with her.
The fox, meantime, was grinning from ear to ear. For the sheer fun of it, he began to break the windows. The captain closed his eyes, but some of the crew began to cheer, and a few joined in.
M. Sansavon appeared to be the only one with any sort of voice.
“Ruffians! Hooligans! Stop this at once!” It probably would have been better had this not come out with such a high-pitched voice, but he seemed to be the only one putting up a fight of any kind. The captain certainly wasn’t, and he was just keeping his eyes closed, which was probably not a good idea, as a few of the crew with some evident labour-management grievances snuck up behind him and knocked him one on his head, and began to drag him away.
The fox grinned, and, lining up his gang, plus a few from our crew (I noticed even the chef had joined in), began to issue some orders. One group went down below decks to have a talk with the engine crew. They were carrying satchels of tools. Another group was detailed off to examine the ship’s pantry and dining room. They were led by the chef. The largest group, about half the boarders and some of the crew, were given an order. To have fun.
It was right around then that I figured wearing a bright yellow silk ao dai was NOT the best idea in the world, especially since the fox, grinning from ear to ear, stepped forward.
“Dibs!” he yowled, and gave a cheerful look at me. Which meant that he missed the paw swinging for his ear. It almost made it, and I’m sure he felt the breeze. He turned, pretty startled, to see that M. Sansavon had his fist cocked, and was due for another swing.
They were pretty decently matched in size, but I think the squirrel had spent far too much time behind a dinner plate to be truly effective. He caught one square in the nose, and he went down. Amazingly, he bounced right back up, and collected a second hearty belt in his muzzle. He got up a THIRD time, and made a wild swing for the fox’s head. I recognized his bravery as the kind the French were famous for. Unfortunately, I recognized it as the kind of bravery the French were famous for at Crecy and Agincourt. He finally went down, hard, courtesy of a smack to the chin, and stayed down.
“Max…” The large femme turned out to be some kind of black-and-white fur I hadn’t seen before, but she was much bigger, and seemed to have more command authority.
“He started it, Sam!”
“I don’t care if he started it. YOU stop it. We’ve got business to attend to.”
“Mmmmm, don’t we!” Said with a look in my direction.
“Business before pleasure, Max.”
“You never let me have any fun!”
“You should have thought of that before you married me.”
MARRIED pirates? This was new.
“But Saaaaamm…” the fox whined, “I’ve been cooped up in that damn sub for-EVER…”
“You weren’t complaining early this morning.”
“I had my mouth full.”
“Let’s not go there, Max.”
Meanwhile, the squirrel had groggily got to his feet, and staggered over to a spot just in front of me, and planted his footpads firmly on the carpeted floor. The badger femme rolled her eyes.
“Look, buddy, I don’t want anyone to get hurt…but listen, really, this whole thing will go a lot smoother if you just follow orders.”
“Yeah!” chimed the fox.
“Shut up, Max. You never follow my orders.”
“I followed them early this morning.”
“Those weren’t orders, those were requests. There’s a difference.” Turning back to us, she winced a bit as some loud smashing and crashing noises began to issue from other parts of the ship.
“Look, what we’re doing is nothing personal. Some of this is just a resupply operation, and some of this…”
“IS personal, Sam. C’mon, Louie the Louse is gonna be SO pissed when he finds out about this…almost makes up for what he did to us in Singapore.”
“Did to you, you mean.”
“Do you know how long it took my fur to grow back? And it ITCHED, too. So why can’t I have some fun, Sam? I want to send a message.”
“Call Western Union, then.”
“Funny. Well, no time like the present. Hey, fatso, off with the fancy evening duds. You’re getting blood on them, and that’s going to play hell with the resale value.”
The squirrel bristled, and I could see him clench his fists. That wasn’t anything compared to the reaction he gave out when the fox pointed at me, and noted his admiration for the material. What followed was an extensive catalog discussing the fox’s ancestry and their respective personal habits. It would have taken lawyers months to find a statement that wasn’t libelous in any of it.
Hostilities were about to recommence, when the badger femme stepped on the fox’s tail, and yanked him back. “Max, see to it they don’t break the mirrors. I don’t want any bad luck more than I have now.”
“NOW, Max. I’ll take care of things here.”
The fox trotted off, but not before he spotted the salon’s gleaming black piano. He took his frustrations out on it. Must have had some bad recitals as a kit.
The black and white one, once her husband had finished his Composition for Hammer, Footpad and Rifle, turned her weapon on us, and invited us to hand over our wardrobe. This promised to be big trouble for me, as I wasn’t sure whether what I had stashed between my shoulder blades was going to show or not. I didn’t worry about the ring, so much. Or the watch.
My guardian angel, in the midst of his own disrobing, stood in front of me, and glowered at his larger opponent. She shrugged, and let me take off my ao dai blocked by an expanse of squirrel tail. I paused to see if there were any further developments. Okeh, that’s a lie. I paused because M. Sansavon was wearing a pair of cerise silk underwear with little flowers on them. The badger femme was looking at them, too. Our eyes met, and there was a mutual shrug. Some things among femmes don’t require vocalization.
We were pointed toward a corner of the salon, as the sound of smashing and crashing went on all night. Every so often, the ship’s gig would go over to the submarine, loaded with whatever. My guest wasn’t so disturbed about losing his evening clothes. He didn’t even seem to notice that I’d robbed him. Nor did the sight of his Louis Vuitton luggage being tossed overboard move him. No, what moved him was the sight of cases of vintage wine being toted away. It required some sharp words and three armed furs to keep that tantrum in check.
Toward morning, the captain was shoved into the salon with us. He’d lost a great deal more than his dignity, and had gained a pair of black eyes in the bargain. He stood with us in the corner, watching (as best he could) the salon getting torn up around us. Not even the sight of large bits of machinery, which could only have been part of the ship’s diesels, could move him. He never even raised his paws. Well, doing so would have been a bit embarrassing, but still…
We were allowed to drink some water, and were given some hardtack. The sub’s rations, or rather their ex-rations, since I think they were going to eat much better for some time to come, especially since the chef, with a parting shot, made a gesture at the captain and indicated M. Sansavon wouldn’t know a premier grand cru from Coca-Cola. That took four armed furs to control the tantrum.
I have heard the expression “creative destruction,” but I had never seen it applied in this fashion. Especially with regard to a bathtub. The fox made sure all of the mirrors were carefully thrown overboard without breakage. They didn’t worry so much about the mahogany paneling or what I recognized as the silk things from the master bedroom. I even recognized the furniture from my own little stateroom, and my furbrushes, just about the only things I owned. That nearly caused some tears. Only the squirrel seemed to notice, and he gave me a small nod of recognition. It helped, a bit.
About 24 hours after the whole raid had started, the fox came in and emptied a sack of tin cans on the (now bare metal) floor of the salon.
“Bon appetit!” he grinned. M. Sansavon’s response was equally terse. I don’t think he liked the prospect of Buckhorn’s Tinned Water Chestnuts for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. I saw some meat tins of Great War vintage, and seriously considered becoming a vegetarian.
With a cheery and sarcastic wave, the fox left us, and the rest of the armed furs filed out, and eventually boarded the gig, which went off to the submarine. As we watched the gig get scuttled, and the sub chug away, we were left with a ship that was mostly bare metal floors, bare metal walls (with bits of wiring sticking out), smashed windows, broken doors, and a set of sails, and a crew that could have been called a prize crew, except that they had rather little in the way of uniforms. The hostess and guest of the M/V Alouette were in much the same position, except what we had was of much higher quality and of Parisian origin.
I started to shiver. I was a native, but even I found the South China Sea at ten o’clock on a February night chilly.
M. Sansavon looked about the salon, and spotted the captain, who literally had his muzzle turned to the wall. Three requests for assistance, in increasingly louder tones of voice, didn’t do much. With an exasperated chitter, he walked onto the deck, stuck a paw in his mouth, and managed to produce an interesting imitation of a bosun’s whistle.
The remnants of the crew, in the remnants of their uniforms, shuffled on deck. I peered out one of the windows, not that there was anything blocking me from the cold night air. None of the crew members paid me any attention; the lot that had predicted my fate in a pirate raid had left to a fur. M. Sansavon lined them up on deck, and gave them a little speech about the need to overcome reverses, illustrated with some anecdotes from French history. That didn’t get nearly as much of a reception as did the promise to match their salaries if they snapped to it and broke out and rigged the sails. That at least got some modest action. One of the crew members pointed out that the compasses had been smashed. The squirrel shrugged, pointed up at the night sky, and simply said “Voila!”
He ducked back into the salon, apologized to me, and stated that while he regretted leaving me with any mel to guard me (this said with a nasty glare at the captain, who didn’t give any indication of hearing), he had to attend to matters on deck. He promised he would be back shortly, and trotted off in a swirl of tailfur.
For about the next hour or so, I could hear him giving orders, and eventually the ship gave something of a lurch, as it began to move and swing around, heading somewhere at last. Eventually, he returned with some cloth in his paws.
“Bah! Blistering barnacles! Those bezi-bazouks, they were sloppy, and leave behind a tablecloth.” He produced what I recognized as one of the damask cloths from the dining room. He put it around my shoulders, gave a little bow, and buzzed off to give more orders.
I padded back to what was left of my stateroom, which wasn’t much. In fact, it wasn’t anything. They even took my toothbrush. I sat down, and instantly remembered that I needed to do something. About five minutes later, I had Jean-Francois Sansavon’s passport, personal papers, loose cash and watch in paw. Well, the watch was actually in a fold of the tablecloth, where I was trying to clean it. The ring was going to have to wait a bit more.
This whole collection was worth, what, a few hundred francs? That might get me through a few months, at best, and then I didn’t have a damn thing in sight. I may have a convent-orphanage education, but that was going to do me no good out on the streets, and out on the streets was about the only prospect I had.
A little light came through one of the windows, and I flipped through the papers. M. Sansavon seemed to have a wife, a formidable looking one, and four little squirrels. Well, one wasn’t so little, and was at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, whatever that was. Some card for ex-servicefurs, showing that M. Sansavon had been in the French Navy during the Great War, which explained a hell of a lot (not the least of which why he hadn’t been seasick, like some furs I’d seen). There was another card, indicating that he was the General Director of some huge outfit in Lyons. Lastly, a letter from his wife (Alice), which rather tartly suggested that if he was going to have a secretary as a mistress, could he at least schedule the assignations during lunch, as it might prevent him from getting fatter, especially since it was the only exercise he was getting.
This told me a number of things, not the least of which was this was a fur with a roaming eye and probably a decent bank account. Two things that were virtues in the eyes of this femmefur. There were possibilities here.
I cussed at myself for rolling the old boy, but then I tumbled on something. Facts may be facts, but you can always present the facts in a different way. I leaned back, and thought about the way to present the facts.
I’d drifted off, when I was awoken by a sneeze from the nearby master bedroom. Padding down, I saw that M. Sansavon was somewhat unsuccessfully curled up on the metal floor of the room, and was cussing at himself in his half-sleep over what seemed to be one of the floor’s rivets poking into his stomach. I slipped off the tablecloth, laid it over him, and padded away quietly to await developments.
They weren’t long in coming. About fifteen minutes later, there was a firm tread of footpads, so I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep (my loot tucked under me). The tablecloth was laid over me, and there was a sound of retreating footpads.
So, fifteen minutes later, I went back and draped him again. And fifteen minutes later, back came the tablecloth. It must have been about three o’clock in the morning, and I decided that was entirely enough bait for the moment, especially as I could feel a sneeze in my nose.
Some drops of rain awoke me some hours later, and I looked up to see that it was grey and bleary outside. The ship wasn’t moving much, so the sails must have been taken down. There were voices coming from the direction of the salon, so I gathered everything I had, and went to investigate.
Sansavon had the crew lined up. Amazingly, they were in something that looked like attention, and one had even found a cap that had been overlooked. The one with initiative was being given orders, and some sort of schedule was being worked out. The captain was still in his corner of the salon, muzzle to the wall.
“Eh, bien. Company, dismiss!” The crew saluted (!) . It’s amazing what kind of authority you can project, even when you’re clad only in a pair of cerise silk underwear. After the crew left, I padded over, and gently tapped his shoulder.
“Eh? Comment? Ah, it is you. Did you sleep well?”
I decided the best way to play this was doing the shy routine. So I dropped my eyes, nodded, and then reached under the cloth around me, and pulled out his things, and held them out.
M. Sansavon gave a startled chitter and took them.
“Quoi?! Quoi?! But this is impossible! You have these things all along?”
I was really, really hoping he wasn’t going to ask me HOW I got them. Luckily for me, the question didn’t seem to come to mind. I simply nodded.
“But mademoiselle, this is the greatly foolish thing you have done! It was very much possible that had those ruffians found these things, you could have been very seriously hurt!” He gave me a gentle, finger-wagging lecture. I took it with lowered eyes and nodding head.
“Eh bien,” he finished up “for all that, do not think that I am ungrateful for this. To think of this was very kind of you, and it is very pleasing that you show the enterprise and the bravery.” Another glare at the captain. “By chance, do you know what happened to the ring I wear?”
I blushed, and nodded. “Errrrr, mademoiselle, you will forgive the indelicacy of the question, but where is it, this ring?”
I looked up at him, and made a motion of eating something, and blushed again. I can work up a good blush when I need to. He blushed back, and mumbled how the matter would be taken up later.
He was examining his watch when I left him, shaking it and holding it up to his ear. There was a very strange expression on his face when he brought the watch close, and I could sense he was looking after me.
Breakfast wasn’t very pleasant, and I didn’t have much of the tinned British stew. My guest rubbed his chin, and then walked over the wall of the dining salon (where we were eating), and began to pull the wire out of the wall, eventually getting a good few yards out of it. This was given to one of the crew members, along with a tin of water chestnut and some whispered instructions.
The day passed rather slowly. M. Sansavon alternated taking naps with popping out and giving orders, and the captain was in his corner of the salon, muzzle to the wall. The best I could do was huddle in my tablecloth and figure out how I was going to work this thing. I had a notion what was going to happen when M. Morpion saw what was left of his toy, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant for any fur. Especially me.
I was looking at the same tin from breakfast and lunch, when one of the crew members came in, proudly toting a still-wriggling fish on a length of electrical wire. This earned him one of the bills that had been restored to the squirrel. I’m not ashamed to say that I looked at the catch of the day with very large eyes, and an audible growling from my stomach. It was, as I had hoped, for me, and was presented to me with a flourish.
I don’t think I’d had a meal I enjoyed more, even when the dining salon was in its full glory.
The night skies at cleared up again, and M. Sansavon was attempting to guess the time from the position of the stars, so as to set his watch, which seemed to be having a little trouble. He kept lifting it up to his muzzle to peer at it.
If I was going to fix things, it was going to have to be very soon, I thought.
Having attempted to set his watch, he marched back into the salon, where we had retired after dinner (some habits are hard to break), and took me by the elbow.
“I believe, ma chere, that tomorrow will be fortunate, as we have been headed in the correct direction, and the chances of a rescue are that much better. So! It is best that you get a good night’s sleep, yes?”
I nodded. That’s what you think, m’sieur.
He marched me down the passageway, and gently steered me into my stateroom, and then turned to go to the master bedroom. I followed after him, silently, as only a cat can. He was thus very surprised to see me right behind him.
“Ah? But ma chere, are you not supposed to be…?”
I laid out the tablecloth on the metal floor, bunching it up near where the rivets were.
“Now, ma chere, we settle this last night about this…”
I will tell you frankly and forthrightly that I defy any femmefur to stand around in nothing but a flimsy set of Paris’ best ladies undergarments for the better part of a few days, in cold weather, and not start to act in a certain way. I started to act in a certain way, which, after a few minutes, didn’t require the silk things.
I’m sure M. Sansavon would tell you frankly and forthrightly that he would defy any French mel to stand around in nothing but a pair of cerise silk underwear for the better part of a few days, to have a Tonkinese femme about a few feet from him in a cloud of natural scent that no Paris atelier could ever hope to match, and not start to act in a certain way. Which, after about a few seconds on his part, didn’t require the silk thing.
I’ll bet you could have heard us from stem to stern. I wonder how many furs got sleep that night. I know I, for one, didn’t get to sleep until very late, not that I cared. Nor did Jean-Francois.
A squirrel’s tailfur, by the way, is very warm.
Some polite coughing awoke the two of us. I craned my neck, and saw that one of the crewfurs, the one with the hat, was standing with his back to us in the smashed doorway.
“I beg your pardon, m’sieur, but there is a French naval vessel that is hailing us. Will you…ahem…come on deck?”
“Certainment. Assemble the crew, and I will join you shortly.” A look in my direction. “Say, twenty minutes. My compliments to the captain, and will he join us. On deck, that is.” Well, yes. I doubt he would have moved his muzzle from against the wall, even for this kind of sight.
It was actually probably closer to thirty minutes when he got on deck, looking as presentable as we could, considering how we’d spent much of the last ten hours or so. We were met by a lieutenant in a crisp uniform, who did a double-take as he saw me pad on deck a few steps behind M. Sansavon. One of the seafurs in his party sniggered, and he collected a dirty look for his insolence.
“Ah. M. Sansavon? I am Lieutenant Chevalbrun, of the cutter Beaune. Please accept my apologies for our tardiness in the rescue. I imagine conditions must have been very desolate for you, under the circumstances.”
This time, all three of the seafurs in the party sniggered, which triggered a wrathful explosion from M. Sansavon, who demanded their names and ranks, and yelled that it was a fine thing for former officers of the French Navy to be treated in such a disrespectful fashion, and why weren’t they saluting, and their shirts were a God-damned disgrace to the service, and this was what happened when you elected God-damned socialists to Parliament, and speaking of which he had a good mind to write to his member of Parliament about this, and why the hell wasn’t anyone offering this lady a shirt, couldn’t they see she was cold, or were they blind or homosexuals, and he really wasn’t interested in an answer to the last question, as it was purely rhetorical and he didn’t give a damn who or what they did below decks, but he was entirely certain it was probably disgusting in any event and the French Navy had gone completely to hell since his day, and it was highly likely that if we ever fought the British, we would end up being buggered by them, not that that would disturb them, and what the hell were they doing looking slack-jawed at him like a bunch of land-locked, half-witted peasants, hadn’t they heard his order about the lady, and get a God-damned move on, already, or they’d get a kick up their arse, not that that would disturb them, and they’d probably enjoy it in the bargain, so he wasn’t going to do that, but punch their God-damned muzzles if they didn’t get their God-damned footpads moving.
Ten minutes later, I was seated at a folding card-table, with a fresh cloth, and a pot of tea, with some fresh bread and jam. I was the beneficiary, in addition, of some soap, a fur-brush, a large flagon of hot water, and a shirt that while it was several sizes too large for me, at least had the benefit of covering me rather well.
M. Sansavon had been given a spare uniform by another officer from the vessel, who had heard about the soliloquy and had come to the conclusion that there was no question this had been a former brother lieutenant in the French Navy. Orders were now being chattered to various seafurs to get towing under way. I noticed that he was being obeyed very quickly, this time.
The commander of the Beaune, being, after all, a French mel, sent over a ship’s carpenter to attach a new door to the master bedroom, and graciously supplied a bedroll and a sheet.
Quite comfortable, but I chose squirrel fur again. The warmth, you see.
I did think the bottle of champagne the commander had sent over showed a certain level of imagination, too. Or maybe understanding.
About two days later, we were back in Haiphong harbour. Oddly enough, we weren’t all that far behind schedule. Which was probably the only normal thing about the ship. More than a few sailors on other ships were gawking at the Alouette as it limped to a berth, helped there by a few tugboats.
Waiting at the dock was a messenger from one of the Hanoi hotels, who had brought a trunk of things for M. Sansavon. A bank messenger from the Credit Lyonnais had also brought a small locked bag, which proved to fulfill the squirrel’s promise to the crew. He got some crisp salutes for this, and with all fingers, too.
The captain was in his corner of the salon, his muzzle to the wall.
I was wondering where all of this left me, when another Tonkinese femme quietly padded into the customs shed where I was, bowed, and softly spoke to me in Vietnamese, indicating that she had had orders for some clothes to wear, and would I sign for them, please? Back in a silk ao dai, and fresh underthings, and having cleaned myself that morning, I felt better. At least physically. Events, I knew, were going to happen shortly.
M. Sansavon, back in three-piece suit, watch firmly on chain across tummy, ordered up a few rickshas, one for the two of us, and the other for certain of the crew members that wished to have an interview with Louis Morpion. Most of them didn’t, being more interested in getting blitzed on cheap liquor (who could blame them?), but there were a few who had a certain gleam in their eye.
We arrived at the offices of Morpion & Cie. A flunky came out to see who it was, saw who it was, and instantly kept moving, out the front door. Not a good sign.
Nor was it a good sign when we saw that Louis Morpion was in his office with a fire blazing merrily away in the fireplace, stuffing some papers in an overnight bag. He looked up, startled, to see an angry French squirrel, about five very unhappy Vietnamese sailors, and one Tonkinese femme, who was hidden off to the side of the desk. Quite fortunately, since she was busily palming a gold fountain-pen carelessly left on the desk.
“Ah! Mon ami. How…errr, did you find the cruise?”
If the seafurs on board the Beaune thought they were in for it, they must have realized that Jean-Francois Sansavon had let them off lightly by comparison. I had difficulty in following the conversation, as it was largely conducted using slang expressions that I’d never heard. Most of it, as I said.
“Reparations? Nonsense! THAT for your reparations, you refugee from a Kentucky oak tree.” Morpion snapped his fingers, which really seemed like a foolhardy thing to do.
“Where the hell is the insurance, then, you infested denizen of the sewers?! God take your grandmother if you tell me you had no insurance!”
“You can take my grandmother, and your grandmother in the bargain, not that you haven’t had her already, you bastard. You were probably too busy screwing that little hank of tailfur, anyway, to defend my property.” He looked over at me, just in time to miss me pocketing a small desk-clock.
“Defend YOUR property? YOUR property? Show me the receipts, you swine, and we’ll see how much of this is paid for.”
“I don’t have to show you a damned thing, you nutshell-shtting, absinthe-swilling tree rat.”
“Oh-ho! So none of what was on that vessel was paid for?”
Another office flunky, with admirable timing, noted that there was a representative from the shipyard, and another from the wine merchants, and a third from the linen company, and could they each have a word with M. Morpion when he was through with his current appointment, as they were concerned about the latest news…
He was sent on his way with a hurled decanter (likely someone else’s property, like the small silver bell I had in my paw).
“So, you want compensation, do you? Why don’t you take THAT.” The “that” in this question was me. “She isn’t worth much, God only knows, you could replace her with anything off the streets near the wharf, and no questions asked. Dumb as a brick, too. Let me have all of her ‘savings,’ too.”
One look at the empty safe behind him told me all I needed to know. Now, I could have gotten angry and hit him, but that wouldn’t have done much, other than spill the silver letter-opener I had tucked up my sleeve. So I tried my other weapon. I gave a long sniff, and began to cry.
This had the desired effect, namely, a firm punch on the nose, accompanied by highly satisfying squelching noise, administered by my hero to my employer. It cost me a few thousand francs, my life savings, but seeing that bastard knocked on his tailfur, holding a bleeding nose, was priceless.
The crew members decided at this point to join in the fun, and there was something of a re-enactment, in miniature, of the sacking of the Alouette. There was a blizzard of paper flying through the air, mostly dud contracts and other things that would have probably interested the local magistrates. I pawed through them, looking for anything negotiable. I found nothing valuable, except for a personal services contract between Miss Monique Bao My, late of Hanoi, French Indochina, and Messrs. Morpion & Cie, of Haiphong. same. I showed this to my hero, who was watching two crewfurs slugging Morpion over the head repeatedly with seat cushions. He reached in, grabbed Morpion by his scruff, and dragged him out. A demand was made for an assignment of the contract, and did he have a pen on him?
No, he didn’t. Amazingly, I did. There was a brief scrawl, and the unlucky fur was tossed back into the scrum. We left the room just as an angry wine merchant discovered what had happened to the cases of champagne he had sold on credit. We left by the back entrance, to avoid the furniture that was showering down onto the sidewalk, not to mention the gendarmes that were running up to the front entrance.
A week later, we were back in Haiphong. M. Sansavon was surrounded by a sea of Louis Vuitton luggage (a set that was missing one element, now at the bottom of the South China Sea), a briefcase, and some agents of the French Pacific Line, who were taking down and bringing various telegrams.
I was standing a little off to the side, with a small bag that contained everything I owned (legally, and in the case of Morpion, not by virtue of law, but certainly by justice). I had a sheaf of tickets in my paw, which puzzled me. Not the fact that I was in a stateroom close by, but not connected to, that of Jean-Francois Sansavon. He was keeping up some appearances, and I understood that. What puzzled me was the destination. The Spontoon Islands? Where were they?
I twitched my ear, and caught a briskly dictated telegram going to a recipient there, setting up an appointment with a certain individual regarding a process for artificial rubber that he wanted to discuss. Another telegram was to something called the Althing, regarding a visa for Monique Bao My, and could this be expedited, please, as her assistance was necessary for negotiations on a project of economic importance to the Spontoon Islands. A third was to the manager of Shepherd’s Hotel, confirming an extended reservation for a suite there, and enquiring as to the times for dinner and appropriate dress for ladies and gentlefurs.
An officer of the French Pacific Line walked up, as the luggage (including my humble little bag) was being whisked away. He saluted, and indicated that boarding for first class passengers was to commence, and would he like if he, the officer, escorted the lady up the gangplank.
This offer was politely declined. M. Sansavon indicated that the pleasure was his.
Not quite true, you know.
The pleasure was mine, as well.