The Violet Phantom and the Yellow Conquistador: Part 3

    

     The next day the triumphant villagers hailed Austin Slaymaker, their bruised and battered savior, with a massive banquet in the Plaza de Maria Pita. After all, he was golden-haired, he had ridden the bull, and had banished the invading French minions seemingly single-handedly! What more could be asked of an ancient prophecy come true?

      Slaymaker was slightly bewildered and bemused by all the hullabaloo, but enjoyed himself nonetheless. He even went so far as to insist that Jane change out of her soldier’s tunic and become his official consort for the banquet. Now, clad in a flowing violet gown and with her auburn hair daintily tucked up in her matching violet mantilla, she really was the belle of the ball. Austin was decked out in his dress uniform and grinning from ear to ear, arm-in-arm with his consort at the table of honor.

      Off in the alley, an increasingly annoyed Leonard skulked in the shadows. As he skulked, he continued to contrive his concerted, callous, conspiratorial caper to corner his catch. “Curse that supercilious son of a gypsy…” he growled.

    “Did you say gypsy, Sir?” Demifrere poked his bandana-wrapped head around the corner and beamed at Leonard with his yellowed teeth. The plotter grimaced. “Go away and get back to your juggling,” he huffed.

   “Now, now, my friend,” Demi soothed, “I understand your… eh… depth of feeling about…” He gestured with the back of his hand towards the table of honor. “That gummy, grinning baboon is stealing your thunder!”

   “And some,” sighed the redcoat gazing wistfully at Jane.

   “And some,” agreed the gypsy rolling his eyes. “But enough mooning, good Sir. What you English say? Faint heart never won fair lady?”

   Leonard perked up. “What have you in mind?”

   Demi snickered and pointed to the courtyard where a troop of British soldiers were making their way to the banquet. On horseback at their head was none other than Sir John Moore, commander of British Forces in the Peninsular.

   Leonard gasped. “This is ghastly! Sir John has to show up now? When that dandelion is being lionized? Ugh!!”

   “Ah, my soldier friend, you missing big point,” the gypsy countered. “If big general have long association with our golden-haired hero, things sure to… shall we say… run amuck?”

   Leonard’s beady eyes took on a sinister glitter, and he heartily shook hands with Demi as they combined their plans in a mutually beneficial way.    

   Meanwhile, Sir John Moore made his grand entry. “Soldier,” he boomed to a guard in the square, “in whose honor is this grand banquet being held?”    

   The guard, slightly inebriated, blurted out, “It be Slaymaker, yer lordship! ‘E be a bloomin’ ‘ero!” He then attempted to relate the origin of this heroic status, but wound up keeling over before the end. Sir John was not amused. “Captain-of-the-guards!” he barked. “Take this man to the guardhouse until he sobers up! Then help me find this Slaymaker fellow.”

   He was promptly directed to the table of honor. Catching sight of the general, Austin leapt to attention and gave a clumsy salute, knocking his bowl of chili all over Jane’s new dress. “Sir! My greetings and salutations…”

   “At ease, Captain Slaymaker,” Moore responded. “Evidently, it is I who should be saluting ye. I hear ye have achieved great things this day for king and country, what?”

“Well, I… it was nothing,” Austin demurred.

   “Why, Captain Slaymaker, you really are too modest!” exclaimed Leonard coming over to the table with hands clasped dramatically. “Your heroism was wondrous in the face of such insurmountable odds!”

   “Never tell me the odds, I always say,” replied Austin boastfully.

   Demifrere interjected: “Young Austin here have snuff box from king of England!”

   “My, my, that is remarkable!” Sir John exclaims. “You must really be a talented individual.”

   “Well, if you insist,” Austin replied bashfully.

   “See here good sir, I don’t usually do this without forethought, but seeing your connection with his Majesty, and your heroism, I would extend an invitation to you to join my staff,” said Sir John, “do you accept?”

   “Oh… well… that surely is an honor coming from you, Sir Han,” stuttered Austin. “But I…I…”

   “Oh, come, Slaymaker ol’e boy, you wouldn’t deprive the general of such a valuable asset as yourself, would you?” Leonard pressed. “Nor the little lady of her…ehem…hero?”

   “Oh, no, Austin, you mustn’t think of me in this!” Jane insisted in a high-pitched yelp.

   “Well…umm…”

   “Oh, go on man, do make up your mind!” sighed Sir John.

   Austin winced. He realized he was being backed into a very uncomfortable corner and would heartily have liked to make a break for it. Nevertheless, he wanted to impress Jane, and he also fondly remembered the rumors that British generals had some of the best chefs around, which was especially tempting since he was getting heartily fed up with spicy chicken for supper night after night.

   So with these pleasant thoughts in mind, he summoned up all his courage and replied: “Noble Sir Han, I would be most exhilarated to except this illustrious post…”

   “Just say ‘aye’, man!” retorted the rather wrung out Sir John, none-too-taken with having his name misspoken twice in a row.

   “Oh, aye, sir!” Slaymaker obliged. “Aye, aye, aye, sir!” 

*** 

   So it was in such a manner that Slaymaker was put on the staff of Sir John, who allowed him to freely speak his mind about military maneuvers during councils of war. After a few such sessions, he put him in charge of food preparation. Leonard and Demifrere, who became somewhat inseparable, continued to conspire for his downfall and proceed to sabotage his every move. This included such dirty deeds as dumping pepper in tea, burning burritos, and spreading mustard on cheesecake.

   But Jane, resuming her role as scarlet-clad aide, did everything in her power to uphold his reputation by turning the doomed dishes into something that could be passed off as unusual foreign delicacies. She even suggested several brilliant military maneuvers that he could spout out at the proper moments, making him think they had been his ideas all along and astonishing the high command.

 But difficulties even more serious than Austin’s cooking blunders befell the British forces, and they were forced to retreat across Spain the face of a large French advance. Due to their small numbers, Sir John made the decision to make preparations to retreat to England. However, the British transport ships that had been requested were held up by a winter storm upon passing the southern French coast.

   Early one morning, a British scout came running into Sir John’s headquarters, yelling: “The French are coming, the French are coming!”

   “Where, Paul, where?” shouted Sir John.

   “There are French scouts in the town of Lugo, and some of their forces are almost through the Asturias.”

   “Captain Fisher!” Sir John bellowed, “prepare to disembark! All we can do is try to hold off the assault, and hope the transports won’t be too late!”

   “At your service, sir,” replied Leonard promptly. “Oh, and Sir John, may I bring along Captain Slaymaker to assist? I’m sure these last minute preparations will be tedious….”

   “Fine, go, go, go!” he huffed impatiently, obviously having bigger things on his mind.

   So Leonard found Slaymaker, who was busy trying to desperately to save some scrambled eggs that Demi had dumped ketchup, and the two rivals trudged down to the storehouse together. In the process of gathering up the necessary supplies for the journey back to England, Slaymaker came across several barrel marked “PÓLVORA.” Not knowing what it was, he opened it up out of curiosity.

   “What an odd smell,” he remarked.

   “Oh, my dear Austin,” whispered Leonard in a sinister tone, “those are Spanish candles. Perhaps you’d like to light one up – after all, it’s still rather dark out, and it’s getting hard to tell friend from foe.”

   “Well, that sounds like a fine idea,” replied Slaymaker.

     He pulled out a roll of gunpowder, which is formed in a cylinder and wrapped in paper. He was just starting to light it when Jane comes bursting through the door. “Austin! Don’t!!!” she shrieked, prompting Slaymaker to accidentally burn himself and drop the “candle” over the edge of a short parapet.

   Leonard, who was in the process of sneaking out the back door, rushed back when he realized Jane was there and yelped, “Everybody get down!”

   Everybody did get down, but that didn’t stop the subsequent blast from knocking the three of them out cold. 

*** 

   When Austin finally came to, he found himself in a very different environment than the one they were in previously. It was cold and dank, and the only light he could perceive was a small lantern burning outside a small, iron-barred door.

   “Where…where are we?” murmured Slaymaker, rubbing his head.

   “I haven’t the foggiest notion,” replied Jane, who had evidently woken up before him.

   Leonard was the only one who was still out cold.

       “I think we’re in a dungeon,” said Slaymaker. “A rather miserable one, at that.”

   “Yes, that seems like a reasonable conclusion to draw,” said Jane, sarcastically.

   At that moment, voices, in French, were heard coming closer. Next was the jingle of keys, as a blue-coated soldier opened up the cell door.

   “Bon, vous pouvez nous laisser maintenant,” said a darkly-clad figure to the guard.

“I see you’ve arrived in one piece,” he continued, in a thick French accent, stepping further into the cell, his dark brown eyes scanning the three prisoners intently, his thin, cold lips pursed into a sickening smile.

   Following him into the cell was a short, stocky man, with dirty and disheveled clothes, and, along with Demifrere.

   “My name is Maximilien Du Blois, and I wish to extend to you a hearty welcome to Paris,” he continued, grinning.

   “Where exactly in Paris do you have us incarcerated, sir?” inquired Jane stiffly.

   “To be exact, you are in the basement of the Imperial Secret Service Department, of which I am the distinguished head,” Du Blois answered with a gallant bow.

   “I demand an explanation as to why we three have been brought here!” shouted Slaymaker.

   Demifrere shrugged. “It was your friend’s doing,” replied Demifrere, gesturing to the unconscious Leonard. “He helped me catch the Yellow Conquistador and the Violet Phantom.” He nodded to Austin and Jane in turn. “’Tis a pity for your side that the little explosion he instigated was taken by our forces to be a cannon shot, when they actually meant to proffer a temporary truce. I’m afraid Sir John Moore is now in the great beyond.”

   Jane turned her eyes on the unconscious Leonard and shrieked, “That traitor!”

   Leonard finally woke up as a result of the commotion, and muttered, “Who…what?”

   “You traitor!” Slaymaker and Jane repeated in unison.

   “Tut, tut, friends, there’s time enough for all that,” Du Blois chuckled. “But first things first. I should like the young lady to be my guest for dinner.”

   The stocky man yanked Jane to her feet and dragged her out of the cell, as she screamed, “Let go, let go, you mangy beast!”

   “No, take me, take me!” shouted the two rival lovers together.

   Du Blois rolled his eyes. “Please, my little friends, explain why I would rather have one of you to sup with instead of the fair young lady?”

   “Well…umm…I resent that!” Austin sniffed airily.

   “Give it up,” sighed Leonard, realizing Du Blois definitely had them beat with logic.

   Demifrere stalked over to Slaymaker haughtily and snatched away his snuffbox out from his coat pocket. “Now I shall appear favored by your king, no?” he cackled.

   Then they left Austin and Leonard alone together, glowering at each other in the darkness and making up nasty insults such as, “Your mother was a hamster”, “Your father smelled of elderberry”, etc. etc. etc.   

*** 

   Several hours later, Demifrere returned to the basement cell, having his ear pulled by another distinguished visitor. It was none other that Abele Enchantre.

   “Ah, my little English baby!” she exclaimed, pinching Slaymaker’s cheek.

   “I’m…I’m your baby?” he stammered, taken aback by the assertation.

   “You most certainly are, mon petite canard,” Mama asserted. “I knew it as soon as I saw the snuff box Demi brought home. It the same one as I gave your papa all those years ago…snatched it from a pawn shop, I did.”

   “You…you did?” Austin gasped.

   “I knew there was something strange about you from the start!” Leonard grumbled. “And to think a half-a-gypsy almost courted that fair, well-born young maiden!”

   Abele promptly clunked him on the head. “My baby can get any mademoiselle he like!”

   “But madam…or should I say mama…I can’t win her if I’m locked up in here!” Austin whined. “Can’t you possibly come over to the good side?”

   “Mama, that nutty!” shrieked Demifrere. “We getting good money from skinny, shifty fellow in black!”

   “Hey, nobody question whether my English baby can get girl!” she retorted. “You gotta help your half-brother, Demi!”

   “Besides, my people in England would pay handsomely to have me back,” responded Slaymaker.

   Demifrere, Leonard, and mama all had rather disbelieving looks on their faces, so Austin amended, “Well…I mean…if I were to return with important papers from Napoleon’s secret service, or something.”

   This changed Demifrere’s tune, and he scratched his scruffy chin thoughtfully. “That might be arranged.”

   “Excellent! Then all you need do is set me at liberty and…”

   “What about me?!” shrieked Leonard. “Do you intend to simply leave me here to rot?”

   “It’s a tempting suggestion,” Austin replied, “but I’m afraid noblesse oblige would never permit it. However, if we release you, you must swear to assist us in rescuing Jane and getting the papers safely out of the country.”

   “But of course, chap,” Leonard sighed. “What d’ya think I am, a bloody revolutionary sympathizer or something?” 

*** 

   Demifrere and mama made quick work of furnishing themselves and the would-be escapees with pistols stashed under her petticoats. Austin insisted on switching pistols with Leonard because he liked the design on his handle better. In truth, it was because he had emptied out the bullets so that his rival would be effectively defanged. But Leonard was quite oblivious to this, and quite cock-sure with his new weapon.

   Demi knew of a spot in the cell where the wall was weak, so together the troupe loosened the stones and discovered and a tunnel that their gypsy guides informed them would lead right into Du Blois’ private study where he and Jane were having dinner.          

   So after crawling upwards through the winding passage, and finally emerged behind a tapestry of Bastille Day, right behind Du Blois’ desk. They could hear him and Jane talking.

   “My dear, you’ve hardly eaten any of the soufflé,” he pouted.

   “I’m not particularly in the mood for French fineries, sir,” she retorted. “What do you plan on doing with Austin Slaymaker?”

   “That all depends on what he is willing to tell me,” he answered evasively. “It’s not every day I capture such a high-ranking officer on the staff of the lately lamented Sir John Moore.”

   “Austin will tell you nothing,” she stated. “He’s true blue all the way.”

   “That may prove his undoing…unless of course you can convince him to change colors.”

   “I would never!”

   “I really think that depends on the situation,” Du Blois hinted.

   Jane’s fork clanked down on the plate. “You wouldn’t…you can’t…”

   “Ah, my dear young lady, you look shaken! Well, I shall leave you to yourself for a while to recompose yourself,” he announced cynically, and then left the room.

   Slaymaker seized the opportunity and called in a hushed tone, “Jane! Over here, quick!”

   She stood up with a start, her eyes wide as he, Leonard, Demifrere, and Abele stepped into the room. “Austin…how…how did you and Leonard get out? What are those gypsies doing here?”

   “Girly, I am his mama!” Abele retorted. “And you can do no better than taking up with my English baby!”

   “Demi, grab those papers in the desk, will you?” Leonard instructed. “We must make quick work of this!”

   With the papers stuffed safely in mama’s peasant blouse, Austin yanked Jane into the secret passage and they all continued their trek through the dank, drippy tunnel that took them beneath the city.

   “The tunnel goes two ways,” Demi observed. “I think we should try for the left side passage. I think this one will lead to the Seine River, where we can hop boat and make for English Channel.”

   “Actually, half-brother, judging from the sound of distant gurgling, I think the right side would be more likely to lead to the river,” Slaymaker commented.

   “Why don’t we just split up and then meet back here at the end?” Leonard suggested slyly. “I’d be happy to follow your suggestion, Austin ol’e boy.”

   “Why are you being so attentive, Leonard?” Jane inquired suspiciously.

   “I’m just that sort of character, m’lady,” he responded brightly.

   So Austin, Jane, and Leonard parted ways with Demifrere and Abele and took the right passage. After staggering about in the dark for over an hour, they come upon the origin of the gurgling: the Paris sewer system. After quite a lot of sloshing and grumbling, they finally located a grate which came up in a square a short distance from the river.

   Just as they got popped their heads into the light above, a sinister figure cast a shadow over them. There, standing on the dock to block the escapees was Du Blois. “Hello, my darlings,” he hissed. “So nice you put that decrepit tunnel to good use after all these years. I’m glad my ability to judge character has never failed me – somehow I just knew Mr. Slaymaker would take the right passage.”

   Austin, Leonard, and Du Blois all pulled their guns – but both Leonard and Du Blois were aiming at Slaymaker.

   “Leonard, you traitorous beast!” shouted Jane.

   “I’m sorry, my dear, but this had to happen some time or other,” he insisted. Then turning back to Slaymaker he taunted, “Go on, dandelion, aim at me!”

   “No thank you, sir,” Austin replied stiffly, “even if you do ever so much deserve it!”

   “Ha, ha, farewell, you squabbling little beaus,” cackled the Frenchman.

   Leonard fired at Austin, but missed; Austin aimed at Du Blois and shot him in the shoulder, causing him to drop his pistol; Leonard turned to run but Jane tripped and was swiftly sprawled on the cobblestones.

   “You are very perceptive, my friend,” Du Blois hissed. “But you have made one tiny oversight.” He drew a matching pistol out of his cloak. “Now you have an empty gun, and nothing to stop me from using this one.”

   “Not so, sir!” responded Jane, whipping out her own pistol and training it on him with a triumphant demeanor.

   Meanwhile, Leonard still flat on his back, caught site of Du Blois’ slimy sidekick sneaking up behind Jane. “Look out!” he yelped in a moment of redemption.

   Jane, startled, who fired her pistol at the lunging Du Blois, wounding him in the other shoulder and making him drop his second pistol.

   Sidekick lunged also, causing Jane to drop her pistol, but Austin yanked Jane back, and Leonard rolled himself in front of him, causing him to trip.

   “Everyone keep calm,” Leonard instructed, getting to him feet and holding his pistol on the villains. “I’ve got ‘em covered.”

   “Why are you suddenly being so helpful?” Jane demanded.

   “Well, I told you my dear, it was never a matter of disloyalty to the country, or to you,” he responded. “I had every intent of finishing off both the frog and the dandelion in one glorious blast.” Then he eyed Austin questioningly. “But I still don’t understand something. Why did you fire on him instead of me? We both had our guns drawn on you.”

   Slaymaker grinned. “There are two kinds of people in the world, Captain Fisher: those with loaded guns and those who dig; you dig.”

   “So you mean…that gun isn’t loaded?” panted the prostrate Du Blois.

   “Well…” muttered Austin realizing his blunder in revealing that bit of information.

   “RUN!!!” Jane shrieked, inaugurating a headlong flight along the docks of the three gallant escapees. 

*** 

   Austin, Jane, and Leonard reunited with Demi and Mama on a riverboat in the Seine River, from whence they proceeded to the English Channel. Docking in a small town, they all made it safely on board a transport ship, disguised as a band of wandering gypsies – outrageous costumes and flaming torches a courtesy of Austin’s newfound family connections.

   Landing in England, Slaymaker and Leonard find themselves hailed as heroes for whisking away the military papers and ostensibly rescuing Jane. She was willing to let the boys have their delusions and their fun. And as part of that fun they agreed to put aside their differences and, like true gentlemen, ask the little lady which one of them she would like to be her groom and which one she would like to be the groom’s best man. It didn’t take her long to make up her mind.

   And so it was that the bells tolled joyously and the wine flowed from fountains and flowers were strewn in the air, all at the tight-fisted and very annoyed Sir Denis De Lacey’s expense for the marriage of his militarily astute daughter to the militarily un-astute Austin Slaymaker. 

   After the ceremony, the wedding party and the guests left the church and ate chicken salad sandwiches (without crusts), a Sunday Roast, cheddar potatoes, garden herb salad, lemon poppy seed cake with cream cheese icing, and apple crumble pudding, plus lots and lots of rum punch. Austin preferred to have lemonade, until he discovered that someone had dumped pepper in it….well, he was willing to concede that Leonard and Demi couldn’t be cured of their bad habits all in one day.

   The day ended with a spontaneous fireworks display, set into motion when Demifrere and Abele did a juggling act with flaming torches that accidentally landed in the striped tent marked “combustibles”. No, they didn’t know how to read English “pretty good”. Nevertheless, everyone made the most of it by getting a safe distance away and enjoying the show from the roof of the manor house. And it is to be noted that Abele and Sir Rodney Slaymaker sat together for the event, hand-in-hand, as the sun sank behind the English hills and the sky turned gold and then mauve and then violet.

THE END

 —

By Rosaria Marie & Byrnwiga

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