Russell Helms

Within the walls of La Frappe, Pollard considered himself lucky to be part of the retinue of the Marquis Gavard who was his uncle. He did not have to work, save his studies with the philosopher Mouseman. Early morning and Pollard glanced himself in the mirror on the wall. His golden locks touched his shoulders, his face with a big smile pooching his rosy red lips. Pollard was slight in build, somewhat resembling a woman. He pulled on his velvet breeches and ruffled shirt of silk, headed to breakfast with the Marquis, the Marquis’ wife, and the great philosopher Mouseman.

          At table, there was a newspaper, which Mouseman was reading, decrying the violence of the Prussians but being sympathetic as it was in the nature of man to fight.

          “All will be well, for nothing is as it should not be,” said Mouseman. 

          Pollard gave vent to his thoughts. “Yes, you are right, as you have taught me. All men see fit to do as best they can given their circumstances.” He munched an apple as the maid served tea.

          Just then there was a booming knock at the door, as if it would break. The doorman of La Frappe had peeped through a window and seeing a passel of soldiers ran to the kitchen.

          “The Prussians! Mon Dieu, the Prussians!” said the doorkeeper. He made for the kitchen door and fled through a garden.

          The Marquis rose, trembling, and unbolted the door to be met by a corpulent corporal.

          “You are spies for the enemy,” said the corporal, his blue suit fringed with gold braid. “Stand aside!”

          Into the manor of La Frappe entered a dozen soldiers, bayonets at the ready. The marquis’ wife had come and stood behind her husband.

          “Take them!” said the corporal.

          Without ado, two soldiers advanced and fairly sliced the marquis and his wife into halves, their bleeding bodies tumbling to the floor. Just then Pollard and Mouseman appeared, fairly dejected at the sight before them. With haste they were bound and thrown upon horses and ridden to an encampment where they were beaten with cudgels and hung from a plane tree by their wrists.

          Writhing just inches from the ground, Mouseman whispered to Pollard. “All is well. Had we been the marquis and his wife, we would be dead.” His long face with a pretty moustache twitched.

Pollard thought. “Yes, you are right. Things could be much worse.” He thought about his half-sister Moreline and wished to see her beauteous face once more. Alas, she had been visiting an aunt when the Prussians had arrived.

          The next day, thoroughly stretched and dying of thirst, two horses with riders trotted into camp. Pollard could not believe his eyes. It was his dearest Moreline, whom he treasured. With his shoulders having become dislocated, he watched in horror as she was hung by the neck, her body then tossed aside.

          “They have killed dear Moreline,” said Pollard.

          “Yes, they have,” said Mouseman wishing to tweak his moustache.

          For six weeks, Pollard and Mouseman tramped, their hands bound behind their backs, eating but bread and drinking not enough water. Skirmishes with “the enemy” interrupted the long days. One fine day, the sun shining like the song of a lark, there was a great roar of cannon and rifle. Twas the Bulgarians!

          In the melee, Pollard and Mouseman found themselves adrift and captured by the dirty Bulgarians. One among the group of their captors recognized the famous philosopher, and Mouseman was shot. Pollard watched with extreme anxiety, but soon took the Bulgarian uniform, and telling them of his knowledge gained while marching with the Prussians was put in charge of a light regiment.

          Pollard excelled in his position, leading his men against all sorts of craven enemy including the Musselmen. He was always at the forefront of battle and led charges with cries of Zarezhdane! He oversaw the shooting of prisoners and quelled arguments over potato rations and horse meat, earning the charm of his men.

          Sitting beside a roaring campfire, he mulled to himself. “All is as it should be. The world could not be more perfect. How I wish that poor Mouseman were with me.” He then bethought the loss of his dear Moreline. He recalled her long black tresses, her massive bosom, and rutilant cheeks.

          But, after a month, Pollard became bored and one night struck off for Vienna, which was nearby. With his little stash of gold, he rented a room. At noon, whilst shaving, there was a terrible ruckus in the streets and he besought to determine the cause. The potted meat workers were on strike!

          Pollard ventured to the street to sate his curiosity. Lo and behold, he recognized his precious Moreline brandishing a pike, leading the uproarious crowd of potted meat workers. He fought his way to the fore, receiving a blow to the head, and called out.

          “Moreline! You are saved. But how is it so? I saw you hanged by the Prussians!”

          Moreline embraced him, being careful not to expose her arms. “Yes, tis I. The rope was poorly fashioned, and I could still breathe. I waited for the Prussian departure and took myself straightway to Dresden and thence to Vienna. Here, I have found purpose, but I do miss La Frappe and poor mother and father.”

          “Alas,” said Pollard, “It is well as the great Mouseman would say. For how could I have met you here had not your parents been killed and you had been hanged?”

          “Tis true,” said Moreline, “but I must needs continue this day with my task. Meet me at the Hotel Gran at six.” And with that she was off, brandishing her pike.

          Poor Pollard watched as she was carried away with her work. She was soon arrested and thrown into gallows, but Pollard had no way of knowing, and he was vexed when he could not find her. Thinking that she must have fled to some other town in search of another cause, for she was energetic and of a singular mind, Pollard racked his brains. Knowing not what to do, he betook by foot a peregrination, which landed him in Italy in the quaint town of Vino Verde.

          By this time, he was scarce of money, and betook a job making hard sausages. His hands covered with blood and fat, he wondered at his life and found that all was as it should be and hoped for the best. Having made a trifle, but enough upon which to travel, he embarked yet again soon arriving at the coast of the Adriatic.

          Speaking not the language, he accidentally called a large man in a grog house by an untoward name and was beaten to within an inch of his life. Lying in a gutter, refuse flowing around him, he looked up at the stars wishing to see once again his beloved Moreline. His face battered by many blows, he could only smile, remembering the great Mouseman and knew that he would have to take courage and continue on.

          At a small seaside port, Pollard hired on as a sailor, sharing a room with ten men swinging in their hammocks. They spoke not his language, and he was very careful in choosing his words. The crew struck him as disagreeable, unknowing of the meaning of life, and he departed their company in Albania. He had by this time, from much toil and labor, become a thin man. His first task was to visit a barber where his golden locks were trimmed and powdered.

          He found lodging in a rooming house and upon entering the dining chamber there was amazed. His heart leapt into his throat, for behind the bar, sure enough, was the blessed Mouseman, pouring out wine from huge jugs. Pollard was besought with glee and agitation.

          Mouseman seemed subdued. “Yes, it is I. The bullets did not kill me. I have done what is best in life and have taken what is given me.”

          Pollard sat upon a hard wooden stool, the perfume of his locks in his nose, but there was also the smell of heavy foods fried in grease.

          “Oh, how happy I am,” said Pollard. “You are surely right when you observe that all things happen according to plan. For if you had not been shot I would not have met you here. What a joy to see your ideas in motion!”

          The great philosopher seemed unmoved by this rhetoric that was his.

          “Yes, what is shall be and always. Listen, my lad, I have a favor to ask. I have a nephew who lives in the dread mountains of Transylvania. He is very rich and would gladly see to it that we were returned to the blessed La Frappe. I wish to spend my last days there.”

          Without a hitch, Pollard agreed, and buying a worn map took foot to his new journey. Four weeks of travel brought him into the mountains and with inquiry he located the castle of the Count Morass. After introductions, he belied the plans of Mouseman and was delighted to find the Count agreeable. The Count was dressed in black with a red rose in his long beard and red epaulettes upon his shoulders. He was a handsome man, but white as snow, and his eyes seemed like bricks of coal.

          That night, as Pollard lay sleeping in a large bed of goose down, the Count entered his room and began sucking at his neck. Pollard felt the fangs bite his flesh and gave a mighty struggle soon running from the castle and losing himself in the dark moonlit woods.

          “Mon Dieu!” was all he could muster.

          Still with his mind on Moreline, and forgetting the wishes of Mouseman, Pollard set forth to the coast once again and boarded a ship headed for South America. As this seemed proper, Pollard, hoping for the best, toiled away at sail and net during the long journey. Alas, though, there was a mutiny passing by the Canary Islands. The inmates, as they were, caused much bloodshed, but were soon put down with musket and knife and thrown overboard. This much frightened Pollard, and he had to beg for his life in front of the mangy captain, swearing he had no involvement. He was beaten nonetheless and developed a limp as a result. But was he not alive?

          The ship regained its course to French Guiana, and Pollard rejoiced that he would be among the company of his countrymen. The ship landed with strict orders that all were to return by nightfall under threat of death. Pollard found the natives quite cheerful amid their destitute poverty and took upon himself a journey into the interior to discover the cause of this happiness.

          After three days walking, his shoes flopping about his feet, he found himself at a small stream and thus began to drink. Of a sudden was a piercing pain in his side, and he found an arrow there deeply embedded. He fell into the stream and was attacked by some ravenous fish but was pulled from the water bleeding. The strange little brown men bound him and hung him from a pole, carrying him like a dead pig to their village where were open-air huts leaking the smoke of cookfires.

          Tied to a bujumka tree, Pollard wondered at his condition, but recalled the memes of his counselor the great philosopher Mouseman and parlayed himself into a state of mental wellness. On the third day, he was given the meat of a monkey to eat and felt some better but was alarmed by the building of a rather large fire and roasting spit. He was going to be cooked!

          But first, a man masked in black, completely naked except for rude swashes of ochre upon his body, brought to Pollard a brew in a wooden bowl. As instructed, Pollard drank the brew, which tasted like sour wine mixed with dirt. All around him had gathered the villagers, watching in expectation. Within minutes, Pollard began to wretch and vomit, soiling himself. Great rainbows of color vibrating with electricity filled his brain. He knew not where he was and a great peace enveloped him, a smile coming to his lips.

          This reaction pleased the villagers mightily, and he was unbound from the tree, whereupon he made haste to return to the coast, but disoriented went further into the jungle. Having discovered his error upon the third day, he decided that it was meant to be and pressed forward. Within six weeks, he had passed into Mexico and learned to answer of all that asked that he was looking for God, which brought nods of appreciation.

          He passed through Texas, being dragged behind a bull for eating wild mushrooms, strayed south into Louisiana, being tarred and feathered for stealing sugar cane, found himself in the strange sounding Mississippi, where he took refuge with escaped slaves and ate cornbread mixed with syrup, ventured into Alabama where he was bitten by a rattlesnake, and then tired and unable to continue farther sank into the middle of a dirt road that passed through the small town of Whitesburg, Tennessee.

          An old soldier rescued him from the road and secreted him in a small bunkhouse shared by three others. Having learned some English, Pollard spoke with his mates, learning of the town and its environs. He spoke to them of his beloved Mouseman and forthwith prodded them with his knowledge of good will to all should the occasion arise. He also spoke of the lovely Moreline, wounded by thoughts of her adrift in the world.

          On his fourth day, Pollard ventured out and pushed into one of the many bars. Lo and behold twas Moreline serving drinks, whiskey and bourbon. He fell to his knees, covering her hands with kisses before taking a long look at her face and figure. Her long black hair had become gray and seemed chopped at the shoulders. Her hourglass figure had reversed itself, her chest seeming flat and her waist like that of a barrel. Stunned, but hoping for the best, he acquiesced himself to this new Moreline, considering it his duty to take what came his way. He had loved her before and was it not right to love her still?

          His many kisses upon her hands had not gone unnoticed, and a large beefsteak of a man took exception.

          “Who are ye, messing with my woman?” said the tall man with the chest of a horse.

          “Oh, Bart, please. He is an old friend,” said Moreline in perfect English.

          Pollard rose from his knees, his chin meeting his foe’s chest. “It is well that you are Moreline’s lover, for it could not be otherwise. However, I love her and she must be mine.”

          At that, Bart grabbed Pollard’s locks and plunged his mighty fist into Pollard’s face, breaking his nose. Pollard reeled and fell back to his knees, the stars of heaven playing before his eyes. He saw a leg before him and withdrawing a knife plunged it into the flesh. But alas, he had stabbed another, the son of the constable.

          Pollard awoke, his chin smarting and two teeth missing, inside a crude jail cell, iron bars in front and heavy brick around. He recalled the events and wished for something to eat. He spoke aloud, calling for his jailer, wishing that his poor Mouseman would appear to save him from this trouble, for he would find a way to make everything right.

          On the third day, at midnight, as Pollard lay on his back counting the cracks in the ceiling, there was a mighty explosion. Pollard was thrown to floor, covered with brick and mortar. 

          “Come quick!” and it was Moreline who had set off the dynamite.

          “Mon Dieu!” said Pollard, crawling through the jagged hole.

          On two horses, they galloped into the night, a full moon lighting the way. After some twenty leagues, the horses fagged and wet, the pair stopped whereupon Pollard descried his love for her. They bedded in the pine straw and not having blankets slept close to one another, Pollard trembling with delight at her womanly smell.

          “All is well and good night, my dear,” said Pollard, squeezing Moreline’s porcine shoulder.

          “Yes, we shall find our way home and be married,” said Moreline.

          Within four weeks, they had reached Boston and selling the horses took a room together. For two days they slept. In the next room was staying a minor banker saving his pennies on lodging. In the middle of the night, he was robbed of three hundred dollars by a man with golden hair and Pollard was arrested as the perpetrator. Moreline begged his release, watching as he was carried away to gaol. 

          Pollard chalked up his situation to destiny, telling himself that nothing could be otherwise and that all would be well. He was found guilty of theft, whipped, and set aboard a frigate with thirty other prisoners to be deported back to their homelands.

          The ship stopped first at Brighton and continued for Le Havre, where he was disgorged less than forty leagues from his precious manor of La Frappe just outside of Paris. He was received by the authorities with a sneer, but they soon realized he was of the second estate and released him, for the jails were crowded anyway. Walking, and without a sous to his name, Pollard made his way southwest, stopping briefly in Bourneville to beg some alms from the parish priest. With a single louis in the pocket of his tattered breeches and with a light snow he continued on now barefoot and bedraggled.

          On the outskirts of Paris, Pollard was attacked by a large Newfoundland and bitten through the left arm. Bleeding, and with just an hour’s walk to go, he refused the attentions of an old woman, and soon came to the magnificent gate of La Frappe, but it was locked with a heavy chain. Pollard picked up a stone and beat upon the gate as if for air and lo the old doorman came rushing from within, followed by the maid. The lock was undone, and Pollard collapsed to his knees as he kissed the ground. There was a woman’s voice he recognized, and he looked up.

          “My dearest, Pollard!” The woman threw her fat arms around him.

          “Moreline?” said Pollard. 

          He stood, and she squeezed him. He quickly assayed the conundrum, smiled, and resolved that all was as it should be.

Russell Helms has had stories in Nowhere Magazine, Whitefish Review, Driftwood Press, Bewildering Stories, Drunken Boat, Sand, antiTHESIS, and other journals. He holds a lectureship in English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His novel, Fade, is forthcoming (2019) from Unsolicited Press.