Sitting primly on the mahogany side table was the symbol of man’s greatest achievement: a pineapple. Its green crown rose crisply from the oval body. Each lobe was golden and precise in its anatomy. Beyond being an absolute triumph of tropical agriculture, it was arranged delicately and in the best of taste on the dark side table. Framing it was two silver-gilt candlesticks. Other than these three objects, the table was naked. A mirror hung on the wall directly behind the pineapple. The effect was thus that the viewers were blessed with a double-vision of the fruit.
Standing in tasteful proximity to this arrangement was Paul Beaujolais. He had chosen his position to make the presence of the pineapple seem like a casual decoration at his birthday celebration, yet close enough that his guests would make no mistake in his association with it. As he stood, he looked at his guests and his pineapple alike with a wide-eyed stare that left a ring of white visible above his irises. The effect was a look of slight Mad Hatter-esqe insanity. Despite his relative youth, his dirty blonde hair was stiff and stood out above his ears in defiance of his earnest attempts to oil it close to his skull.
Around him, ladies milled in silk skirts that whispered as they brushed against the floor and each other. Paul was pleased to see that all of his guests had dressed in the best of taste. No obnoxious colours or risqué necklines. The year was 1865, for God’s sake! The prudishness of the past was forgotten, and the audacity of the future was yet to come. As such, a little claret was appropriate, and the guests nursed glasses full of the blushing liquid. The men stood in proud groups around the periphery of the room, eyeing the shy women. The overall tone was that of a sparrow singing on a spring morning, one of promise.
The sparrows had not always sung for Paul Beaujolais. Named for a Christian man and the orphanage’s mistress’s favourite bottle of wine, he had started life as a random spit of a boy. Despite the hard-won luxury now surrounding him, he could not help but think back to that time and its crippling sense of poverty, and therefore, inadequacy.
In 1848, he had been living in St. Mary’s Orphanage, down on S—– Street in London.
“Paul!” The screech of his headmistress echoed through his memory. He became lost in a reverie, remembering the sound of the switch cracking across his knuckles. “Paul, you must pay attention! You are too old for doodling. Pay attention, or next time the switch will find your head.” London, at that time, was still bursting at the seams from the explosion of innovation that had taken the world by a storm. That was how Paul ended up behind a desk in an orphanage instead of playing in a meadow, or more realistically, herding some sheep. Like many similar youngsters, he was being bred to run the machines that had taken the jobs of their parents (even though Paul had no parents). The world had outgrown shepherds and playtime. In this day and age, the price of being alive was tuberculosis and fingernails grey with the grime of machinery.
Paul slowly looked up from his drab paper and stubby pencil to the red welt across his hand. He had merely been drawing a creek and a bridge. This math is too easy, he thought. What else am I supposed to do?
“Paul Beaujolais, I can see that look in your eyes. You may not know it, but God must have some purpose in mind for you that I could never”, she paused to cough, “divine. How else would I get so lucky as to educate you when you should instead be in the factories? Do you know that your peers are begging on the streets with toes so cold that they fall off into the gutter?”
“Yes, madame.” The switch whistled through the air and landed on the knuckles of his opposite hand. He flinched, and his face blushed in shame. Stupid, he thought. Stupid, stupid Paul. Under the desk, where he had hidden his abused hand, he pinched and twisted the skin on his legs.
“Remember that. You were given a future. You are currently wasting it.” With that, the headmistress turned around and returned to the front of the classroom. The heavy black material girding her from neck to ankle looked suffocating. Maybe she can’t breathe, and that is why I can never please her, mused Paul. He bent his head down and tried harder not to draw attention to himself. And that is how he would have to continue for five more years until he got a job as a grocer. Then he would be in control of his life. Then he would be good enough.
The headmistress frowned at his bowed head. She bent to her work, switch momentarily retired.
Paul shook his head and returned to the present. He was pleased to see a group of women ask for more claret and then casually saunter their way in his direction, perhaps to wish him a happy birthday. At the last minute, they diverted to gather ’round the pineapple. He felt prouder than if one of them had walked up and kissed him right on the lips. His eyes bulged with pleasure and hope.
“Claret, sir?” inquired a servant.
“Yes, then, go on.” Paul held out his glass. While he was doing so, he saw Amelia Shelby sweep through the doors. In his eagerness, he almost pulled his glass away from the servant before he stopped pouring, which would have resulted in an embarrassing splash. Damn these orphan’s manners, Paul thought to himself carelessly. This thought had tread a well-worn path in his mind, eventually becoming so familiar that he didn’t even notice it anymore. Amelia was handing her cloak to another servant. Afraid of appearing too eager, Paul stayed where he was. His eagerness to talk to her was betrayed by the fact that he was standing almost on his toes to watch her little golden head bob across the room.
Her eyes were the exact same shade as the proud crown of the pineapple. She radiated a juicy, sugary, fresh glow. Womanhood had just plucked her from immaturity, which lent her an awkwardness that was endearing to Paul. He loved her chewed fingernails, which he knew from experience had probably earned her more than one whipping. He looked down at his own masticated digits ruefully. This flaw, which he had noticed second only to her beauty when he bent down to kiss her hand for the very first time, had stolen his heart.
He inched closer to the pineapple. When he rented the pineapple from that suspicious Scot, he had not failed to notice that its leaves matched her eyes. Her father, the factory manager that oversaw canned herring from Norway, would surely be impressed by the pineapple. After all, no poor man would have such a symbol of wealth sitting on his side table for all to see! Momentarily, Paul’s gorge rose when he considered the cost of his party, which had almost emptied his pockets completely. The feeling quickly dissipated as he glanced back at the pineapple; he felt a glow in his stomach spread up to warm his cheeks, and he did not think that it was the claret.
“As a necessary precaution, Caleb took down Paul’s address…”
Two weeks earlier and hundreds of miles north, Caleb Fraser rode through the Scottish countryside peacefully. For once, the sun had defeated the clouds and beat down upon him, threatening to burn his fair brow. Miles of land lay at his disposal for the afternoon, and he intended to make the most of it! His tasks included lounging in the prodigious sunshine, drinking ale from his flask, maybe scaring a few kine, taking a nap, and galloping recklessly through the brush and trees. He sighed contentedly at his prospects. As he imagined it, so he carried it out.
As he rode back into the outskirts of Edinburgh, he saw the smoke billows that indicated that the train had just arrived. Curious to see what wonders it had brought this time—Caleb had a healthy sense of wonder—he hurried to the outskirts of the city and tied up his horse. Walking quickly, but not hurriedly, he made his way across the cobblestones and mud to the new train station. Some passengers had already disembarked, but more than half were still stretching and working their way off this modern wonder of engineering. From London in less than a day! Caleb hoped to make this journey himself soon.
He smirked at the people that climbed out of the carriages. Well off enough, he supposed, but certainly no Fraser. Caleb did not fail to notice the dirt on the hems of the ladies’ skirts, a sign that they had worn them many times before. Their poverty made them weak, and this weakness disgusted him.
He noticed a beggar slumped against a wall a few buildings away. Caleb thought, a beggar is less revolting than the middle class because they do not have any dreams or presumptions. They are at home in their filth. But God above! Look at this lady!
During this thought, he had given his hand to a middle-aged, tubby woman struggling off of the train. He smiled as he noted the scars on her hands and wrinkles between her eyebrows.
He decided that she was vile. He wanted to push her to the ground but instead finished helping her off the train and safely onto the platform.
Caleb wandered down the train, hands clasped behind his back, smiling benevolently on all who passed him. The onlookers were impressed with the quality of wool that bedecked his body. The ribbon in his hair was new, and its dark blue colour highlighted the porcelain white of his cheeks and the gold in his hair.
With no warning, Caleb froze. Off the last carriage came a cart, filled to the brim with odd plants that Caleb had never seen before in his entire privileged life.
Manipulating the cart was a man who was not so big but had such an aura of command and Success that Caleb instantly respected him wholeheartedly. Not only did he respect him, but he wanted to be him. He held himself erect and pushed his large cart with precision. With a boldness bordering on petulance, Caleb walked up to this man confidently.
“Good day there, sir! Can I offer you some assistance?” Caleb asked. The man looked him up and down, an exercise that Caleb adored. Let him see my finery, Caleb thought. It cannot fail but to impress him. In response, the man shrugged and moved over so that Caleb could fit beside him on the cart. Eagerly, Caleb put his hands on his side of the cart and pushed. “Just lead the way, sir! I will make sure that I will not slow you down.” This proclamation hardly merited a response from the stranger. Instead, he began the process of moving the cart down the street.
“If I may ask, what are these strange fruits that you have here?” Unable to stand his own curiosity, Caleb asked the question minutes after they had moved off the platform.
“Pineapples, sir. From the Indies,” the stranger said, finally breaking his silence. He had a Cockney accent that had been polished by time evidently spent hawking his wares in London.
“Do you eat them?” Caleb inquired further.
“’ Course. Very sweet. So sweet they ‘urt your tongue.” At this, the stranger stopped in front of a nondescript close. “I stop ‘ere. Thank’ee for the help.”
“Wait,” Caleb cried before the stranger even turned to walk away. “I’ll buy a few. Two. No, let me think,” as he paused for barely a heartbeat. “Three. Give me three, fellow.” The stranger shrugged again and sold him the fruit. Without another word, he rumbled down the close into the twisting alleys that so characterize central Edinburgh. Arms filled with his prickly prize, Caleb gaily made his way home.
A mere moment after he had opened the glass-paned door of his home, Emma Fraser, his young sister, ran up to him, yapping like a dog. He dodged her hugs and questions adroitly, as this was a maneuver he repeated most days of the week. As he started down the hall, having successfully pushed her to the side, he threw a lazy word behind him in answer to her inquiries: “A pineapple! That’s what it is, pup!”
He took the fruit to the kitchen, successfully bewildering all of the servants. In fact, there was such confusion that he enlisted the help of his mother.
The loud-mouthed Lady Fraser made her way down the stairs into the kitchen with blistering energy; the sullen clouds of Scotland only fueled the fire that drove Lady Fraser to extremes of activity, claiming that ‘rain is merely a hodgepodge of the tears of the unproductive.’ Much of her focus was dedicated to reading, a habit characterized by her peculiar habit of ceaselessly bouncing her leg as she studied her books.
Before Caleb could open his mouth, she cried, “Oh, a pineapple!” He shut his mouth in surprise and bitterness. The presumption that he would be the only one familiar with this rarity had entertained him the whole way home, even eliciting a few private giggles. “Well then, cut off the crown and the rest of the green stuff. Serve us the yellow in a bowl. What a nice decoration the other ones will make! They are quite in vogue right now, you’ve heard. Very welcoming, they say.”
As it happens, the information that Lady Fraser was at that moment disseminating was also in the hands of Paul Beaujolais. After a long day at the artisanal grocery store that Paul was running for an ageing gentleman, Miles south, Paul encountered the very same information. In order to take his mind off Amelia, whom he had recently met, and to shake the mental cobwebs of rare spice receipts and the antics of his young assistant, he turned to a popular novel about a famed adventuress. In all her descriptions of wondrous things like cannibals and shipwrecks, the pineapple stood out to Paul for two reasons. First of all, he could sell it in his store. And secondly, more profoundly, it was a symbol of all that he hoped to achieve. It was a splint to all in him that he found broken. His wretchedness, his orphanage past, his aspirations for the future. His fear of Amelia’s father. In the firelight, Paul decided that to have a pineapple was to be a man.
The book in question was—true to Lady Fraser’s proclamation—in vogue. A pineapple frenzy took the nation by a storm. The elitist presumptions that a pineapple granted its owner confirmed Paul’s first impression; that to have a pineapple was to finally grasp Success, that elusive fox. The green leaves became the crown of the bourgeois domestic. Let it be said for Paul that his instinct for market trends was quite accurate. Due to the difficulty in harvesting and importing the illustrious fruit to England, its presence on a side table indicated affluence.
The book grasped firmly in his hand, Paul saw the entire narrative take form. He would acquire a pineapple—just one; but oh, how it would be the best pineapple in all the land!—and he would put it on his table. Maybe put a candlestick or two on it. Then he would have a party and invite the Shelby’s. Conveniently, his birthday was just around the corner. Amelia would walk in, swoon into his arms. While he was holding her, Amelia’s father would shake his hand and declare their engagement.
Meanwhile, all of his guests would be impressed with his Success and perhaps even be intimidated by his luxury. Then, once they all realized that to have a pineapple was the pinnacle of human achievement, they would rush to his store to buy the golden fruit. A small smile grew on Paul’s face, and he rose to his toes. His eyes bulged with the thrill of a perfect plan. An unsuspecting servant was wrangled into his study and pummeled with talk of his plan for the better part of an hour.
Caleb sampled the pineapple that evening, surrounded by the delighted cries of his family, and was rather disappointed. At first, the sharp flavour shocked him. It seemed sweet enough to cut right through his tongue. In fact, Caleb feared the flavour—he was uncertain that the thin, fleshy wall of his cheek could contain such a sensation. But pain sometimes joins with pleasure, and his shock prompted him to finish his bowl. Only then did his mouth, born into a land of fried fish and boiled peas, make known its opinion of this new food. Sores opened on his tongue so that he could consume nothing but water for a day and a night. Astonishingly ill-adapted to pain, Caleb found himself permanently in scorn of the bright treat.
“Mother,” he began the day after the pineapple incident. “I have bought three pineapples but find myself disliking them. You know, though, that I cannot afford to simply throw the extra two away. I dare not waste money so willfully when some are going hungry.” Lady Fraser rolled her eyes at this lofty statement because she knew that it was the fruit of her husband’s purse that had purchased the ill-received treat. “Mother, what do I do?”
“Well, dear, why not sell them again? They probably have another week or so before they go bad. Aren’t you taking your maiden voyage to London on the train? Take them to your friends. The train makes the ride so short that you’ll be just fine.”
Caleb, by his silence, indicated that this plan was the best one he had encountered so far.
“I’ll have one of the maids get you a special crate. Maybe one that used to hold apples. How will that work, hmm?” Lady Fraser already knew the answer, but she went through the motions of helping her son nonetheless.
“That’ll do fine. I will sell them in London. We aren’t so savage as they may think!” Caleb remarked. In fact, the thought of flaunting his wealth to the stunted middle-class of London took hold of his mind. That class was so easy to bully. Their desire to belong meant that they followed the slightest suggestion of what may be fashionable and were therefore considerably easier to manipulate than the population of Caleb’s own class. The thought of Up, Up, Up distracted them from those that might take them down. The corners of Caleb’s mouth tightened into a curiously cold smile.
Two days later, Paul encountered Caleb. Near London Bridge, headed towards Winchester Abbey, Paul had been walking with his hands behind his back. So absorbed was he in thoughts of his upcoming party that he failed to notice that the wind had taken command of his hair and was blowing it hither and thither. In fact, he looked a bit like a tufted dandelion. With the wind tickling his ears and his hair whispering, it is surprising that he heard the faint call at all.
“Pineapples! I have only two! Rich as the setting sun and bright as it too! Pineapples!” Of course, it was Caleb’s voice that floated on the breeze. Perhaps it was even fate that bore his call into Paul’s ears. A twist of fate is the only explanation for why a dignity such as Caleb has been hawking wares on the street like an urchin.
Paul, on his part, froze comically with one foot in the air. At first, he thought that he had been thinking about his birthday party with such concentration that he had merely heard his own thoughts.
Faintly, still frozen, he heard, “Pineapples!” from directly ahead, at the base of Big Ben. He put down his hovering foot with startling speed and hurried up the street. This motion, of course, blew his hair into even more of a flurry. His urgency caused his eyes to widen, exposing that strip of white so characteristic of passion and obsession.
On the slippery cobblestones, there stood Caleb with a pineapple in each hand, like a picture of Justice herself. To his credit, he had selected two beautiful fruits. They contrasted with the grey of the sky, the grey of his coat, and the grey of the street beneath his feet. In fact, they were so bright that they were nearly blinding. Paul was so dazzled that he did not notice that no one around him gave Caleb a second glance. Hypnotized by their beauty into a sort of tunnel vision, Paul saw spectres of Success, romance, and riches etched onto their prickly skin.
Caleb saw Paul hundreds of feet before Paul reached him. Bully that Caleb was, he knew a victim when he saw one. Though unwilling to learn in most ways, Caleb’s enthusiasm for the art of deception helped him to formulate an immediate plan. He thought I will not sell this pineapple to this pathetic man. He must rent it from me, and I’ll more than make back what I spent. He is so poor, so middle-class, that he could not buy it for what I paid for it, anyway. He’ll never be suspicious. Caleb observed how Paul nearly got hit by a passing carriage without even looking at it. Fool, he thought.
“You, fine sir!” Caleb yelled at Paul. “Are you interested in renting this exquisite fruit with which to decorate your home?” The question was merely an exercise in redundancy, as Paul was practically slavering over the fruits as he finally arrived beneath the tower. At the last minute, he pulled himself together.
“Well, yes. But what is the price?”
“Are you a man of quality? Can I trust you with my treasure?” Caleb drew the fruit closer to himself as if he were holding his first-born child.
“Yes, of course, man. What is the price?” Paul was unconsciously wringing his fingers, and his eyes were bulging so comically that Caleb almost laughed in his revulsion.
“You do seem like a man of quality. I trusted you the minute I saw you walking down the street. I think that I will deign to rent it to you, how about that?”
Paul smiled, for he could not have hoped for such good news. “Yes, my fellow, that will be just fine.”
“Good! We men of quality need to stick together in this strange world.” Caleb raised his shoulder in a friendly shrug that may have even led to a friendly back slap if his disgust at Paul’s tufted hair were not so complete. On the other hand, Paul flushed with pleasure at Caleb’s indication that they stood on equal gentlemanly ground. They exchanged the money and the precious fruit, agreeing to meet back at the same place in four days’ time. As a necessary precaution, Caleb took down Paul’s address. Amid hearty farewells, the two separated.
“I wonder,” said the old man, narrowing his eyes slyly, “if it tastes as good as it looks.”
Amelia’s golden head, accompanied by her father’s grey one, had finally made their way across to the room to where Paul stood. He saw her father’s eyes flick to the pineapple, watched his bushy eyebrows raise, and exulted. He had impressed the old man.
As usual, he shook his hand and then bent over to kiss Amelia’s chewed nails.
“Welcome! Shall I call over some claret?” Paul bounced up onto his toes to look for a servant, one of which was directly behind his elbow. He turned quickly, almost upsetting the entire tray, before waving his hand towards his two distinguished guests. “There you go then, hand them the brightest glasses we’ve got.” Indeed, in Amelia’s hands, the claret looked like a perfect rose-hued diamond.
“Son, I see you’ve got that fruit, the… ah… willow-pear?”
“The pineapple, sir!”
“Of course,” Mr. Shelby conceded, “A pineapple.” Amelia looked sharply at her father, detecting a suspicious tone that Paul was too excited to notice.
“Straight from the Indies, sir!” Amelia’s eyes widened at being in the presence of such an exotic item, let alone under the beam of Paul’s glittering eyes.
“From a beach?” she asked. “With white sand? Not gray like ours, but white like driven snow?”
“From a beach with sand as white as your own brow, my dear,” Paul rejoined. Both Paul and Amelia blushed charmingly as Mr. Shelby looked on.
“Quite the accomplishment, my young man.”
“I am pleased to hear you say so, sir!” Paul was hyper with joy at the thought that his attempts to impress Mr. Shelby had worked so easily.
“I wonder,” said the old man, narrowing his eyes slyly, “if it tastes as good as it looks.”
More from Goat’s Milk Magazine
“Well, Mother, you’ll be pleased to know that I moved the goods on. For a tidy profit, too,” Caleb announced at dinner the evening that he arrived back to the Fraser Mansion from his trip to London.
“Oh? And I’ll thank you for leaving that tidy profit in my purse tonight, yes?” His mother replied though she knew her son well enough to understand that she would never see a penny. Caleb concealed his flush of irritation clumsily, and she experienced a flash of that perverse joy that mothers experience from getting the best of their children.
“Of course. I’ll do that right after dinner.” The sum had actually paid for a ticket to a show to see dancing girls from Amsterdam and no less than five pints of beer. In fact, Caleb already had plans for the remaining amount that that idiot Paul Baudelaire or Bourdain or whatever his name was. That man was revolting from his frizzy, dull hair to his skinny, grasping hands. Caleb had imagined whacking him across the face with the pineapple—imagine the red scratches and dripping blood that would be the result of the spiky skin raking across flesh—but instead decided to steal his money. My better nature always wins out; Caleb had thought glumly as his spindly prey walked away.
But hope was not yet lost. If the idiot damaged the fruit, as Caleb suspected Paul might, then there was no shadow that Paul could crawl into to hide from the wrath of Caleb. The scheming Scot smiled into his pudding, a smile which gave his mother a very bad feeling indeed.
“Paul was eager to distract himself from his situation—the impending awkward conversation…”
“Mr. Shelby, I must confess that I don’t know how the pineapple tastes. This is the first of the fruit that I have ever laid hands-on.” Paul had sunken from the balls of his feet firmly back onto his heels. “To tell the truth, I don’t think I should like it.” He didn’t want to admit that he would not even know how to instruct the servants to serve it. “And anyway, it’s been in this warm room all day.”
“No, I insist! A fruit that bright must have a wonderful flavour. Its spikes are all the more proof that it has treasure for its flesh. Let’s dig in.” Mr. Shelby reached authoritatively for the fruit.
“No!” Paul moved his arm quickly as if to knock Mr. Shelby aside but controlled the impulse at the last minute. “Sir, I am afraid that we cannot eat the pineapple.”
“Why shouldn’t we?” Amelia inquired. The Shelby’s were rich from the canned herring trade, and a fruit that was utterly forbidden was a foreign concept in her mind. “You aren’t teasing us, are you, Paul?”
“No, most certainly not! But the fellow I bought this from, a most distinguished gentleman from Edinburgh, told me quite firmly that it was not ripe.”
“Let’s poke it. If it gives a little, we will know that it’s ripe,” suggested Mr. Shelby. Before Paul could dissuade them again, Mr. Shelby gave the fruit a hard prod with the calloused tip of his finger. “There you go! The flesh inside is quite ripe, I assure you.”
By this time, the attention of most of the party was turned toward Paul and the Shelby’s. Inquisitive eyes darted between the object in question and the involved participants. Paul, who mistakenly thought himself in control of the situation, clearly and unknowingly displayed his agitation by wringing his pale fingers.
“What if someone is allergic?” he asked. His voice was noticeably higher in pitch than only a moment before.
Aware of the attention of the room at large, Mr. Shelby turned to face the crowd and asked, “Is anyone allergic?” Nobody raised their hands. The whites of Paul’s eyes began to show as his eyes bulged ever and ever further out of their sockets. “Well then, that’s that. You, maid, take this to the kitchen. I read that you cut off the horny bits and slice the yellow flesh beneath. Bring it to us in a bowl, directly.” The maid curtsied, grasped the strange fruit hesitatingly, and dashed it into the kitchens.
“Yes, go on now, dear, cut that up for us!” Paul called to her, already disappearing back. In an effort to maintain control of the situation, he turned to the crowd. He announced that his surprise for the evening would be that everyone would get to try a piece of this mysterious fruit from the Indies. “I have been considering it for quite some time, and I believe that merely looking at the fruit is not enough. We must taste it, yes?” There were some confused murmurs from the crowd. “And so we will!”
Only a moment after this statement, the maid returned with her laden bowl. Skirts rustled as the ladies bent in to get their taste. The men waited skeptically behind but eventually received their portion. Soft exclamations sounded around the room. Mr. Shelby said, “It is delightful!” and Amelia followed this with a satisfied sigh. In fact, she refused to eat anything for the rest of the night so that she could preserve this taste of white sand beaches in the Indies. Paul was eager to distract himself from his situation—the impending awkward conversation where he would have to tell Caleb Fraser that his wares were in the bellies of Paul’s guests—by reaching into the bowl with his silver fork.
Lo and behold, the guests had eaten every bit of his beloved fruit.
“At their entrance, she threw herself around in a panic, shifting the table back and forth…”
The next day, Caleb took the train into London once more. If he hadn’t had other business in that huge city, he would not have bothered Paul. But as it was, it would brighten up a dull afternoon.
As arranged, the two wayfarers met at the base of the clocktower. This time, instead of bouncing up to Caleb as he had before, Paul dragged his feet. His eyes studied the ground, and he held his hands rigidly behind his back. Only his sense of honesty, inherited from the switch-happy nuns, compelled him to return. All in all, he looked like a guilty child, which, of course, was an arena in which he had much experience. The juxtaposition of his greying hair and his juvenile posture was odd, and Caleb found it irritated him.
“Well?” he asked.
“Sir. I have the rest of my rent. Here it is for you.” Without looking up, Paul held out his hand with the money for the pineapple. Caleb took the money from his hand, and Paul turned to go.
“Wait! Where is the fruit?” Caleb called. Paul paused.
“It is gone.” He moved to continue his slow walk away.
“Gone! You there!” Paul stopped walking once more. “Don’t you walk away from me? You have stolen my pineapple!”
“I have paid you for the rest of my lease.”
“There is a penalty for the misplacement of the fruit.” If Paul had been watching Caleb as he spoke, he would see an odd gleam in the Scot’s squinting eyes. “I require triple the price of the lease.” The news landed on Paul’s ears so forcefully that he whirled around and nearly lost his balance.
“I cannot!” Paul exclaimed.
“But alas, you must.” Caleb rejoined in mock formality. “I have a team of rough men who will come for you if you do not. They shall; I will make sure of it.” Paul’s mouth hung open, and he stood there mute. “Remember, man, I know where you live.”
Without another word, Paul turned and ran. Caleb smiled.
“I am glad that you have run, Paul Boreaux. Now give me a merry chase.”
Caleb turned on his heel and quickly walked to the bar where he knew his friends would be within the hour for their afternoon libations. Made bold by the liquid courage in their cups, the group of pale, slim students left the pub to pay a visit at the ill-fated house on T—– Avenue.
Bursting with energy and hope that Paul would try to jump out of a window or something thrilling of the sort, the privileged group knocked raucously on his door. They shouted insults regarding his wealth, stature, and sexual appeal; that is, they taunted him for having none of the aforementioned. Taunts that elicit no response are hardly satisfying, however.
Lubricated with a strength belying their small bodies, the students threw themselves against the door until it opened.
“Forward, comrades!” Caleb shouted.
Together, they surged into the entryway. Upstairs, they heard a frantic scramble. With their blood on fire, they moved up the stairs, growling in impatience to both witness and dispense violence. Caleb led the group, crowing as he knocked pictures from the wall. Halfway down the hallway, he became so inspired by the mayhem that he drew a small knife from his boot and carved a crooked run down the length of the rest of the hallway. In the end, he gestured for his friends to quiet. They all listened carefully and were almost immediately gratified by a thumping in the door at the end, directly to Caleb’s right.
He grinned with the same expression that had inspired such uneasiness in his mother. Perhaps one or two of the students, raised on warm milk and nursery rhymes, felt hesitation at this time. If so, they only had a moment to question their decision to join Caleb’s quest.
Silently, Caleb put his hand on the door handle. At the same time, he put his shoulder on the door in anticipation of resistance. The group looked on. He nodded and received a unanimous nod in return. He pushed his shoulder into the door and turned the handle at the same time.
Inside, a cat—named Mary, though Caleb would never know her name—crouched angrily across the room, tethered to the leg of an upturned side table.
At their entrance, she threw herself around in a panic, shifting the table back and forth, thereby creating a thumping sound identical to that which had led them to this room.
“Paul scampered from all he had known, not in fear but in shame. He was right to be frightened of Caleb…”
Paul, by that point, was long gone. Hours before, he had realized that he could never make a place for himself in a world that would forever see him as the orphan—and a coward—that he was. A patchwork of bruises across the flesh of his legs, wrought by his anxious fingers, stood witness to the nature of his thoughts. Filled with the knowledge of his own inadequacy and fueled by the ever-present inferno of shame, he slunk through the poorer streets of London that Caleb Fraser would never penetrate. Tucked in a sack and thrown over his shoulder were a few of his most treasured possessions and a bit of money that would have gone to cover the expense of the pineapple. It was little enough.
He felt rotten about leaving poor Mary to the mercy of his hunters. Still, He consoled himself with the thought that no one would torture such an innocent creature. She would be released by his bewildered servants, who would show up the next day to an empty house. From there, he liked to think that she would live a happy feline life, such as he could not give her, hunting mice and exploring Kensington Garden.
He had left an envelope on a desk, a letter saying that all his belongings were to go to his dear almost-betrothed, Amelia Shelby. While he was writing it, he nearly broke his own heart with the romance and sincerity that he poured onto the paper. He did shed a tear, in fact, thinking of her devastation when she learned that he had been called away suddenly to serve in Her Majesty’s Royal Army as a colonel. He would likely never return. War is like that, sometimes. He also left some to St. Mary’s Orphanage, but when he was writing the letter, he found himself doodling on the margins, which helped him recall his lashings. Still, the nuns had given him a home.
Paul scampered from all he had known, not in fear but in shame. He was right to be frightened of Caleb. Still, by running, he had forfeited the opportunity to stand for something, for anything.
In his flight, he resembled nothing so much as a dandelion in the wind—tumbling freely in currents outside of his control, dropping fragments of himself here and there, and utterly, heartbreakingly fragile.
Chloe Bourdon earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Colorado Mesa University. She is currently earning her master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language at Northern Arizona University. In her spare time, she loves to write, read, rock climb, and travel. More of her writing is featured on her Tumblr.