Les Enfants Terribles
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Miss Clarissa's School for Young Ladies was a notable establishment on the outskirts of Portsmouth. And whilst the happy vessels of the knowledge so liberally imparted left with neither the poise nor education provided by such luminary establishments as Roedean or Dorking Primary, they did tend to be able to hold their drink, win suspiciously regularly at poker and punch above their weight in a brawl at the Frog and Bucket.
All this, with the fees (which were remarkably reasonable), meant that a
disproportionate number of naval officers found it convenient to send their
daughters there. Following Jack's example, Stephen had finally done so with Brigit.
"It was curious," Brigit mused, as she sat on the Gym roof, wiring up the detonator, "how...
"Frowardnet, more like it," grumbled Charlotte. "Phizbook don't load at all. Which means
She looked down at Fanny slowly walking backwards from the
tuck shop door carrying the small keg, keeping close to the wall in
an effort to make the trail of gunpowder less obvious to the casual
observer. The staff room should be well into their plum duff and
twelfth bottle of wine by now. She could hear Skinner singing, they
should be OK.
"Where did we get all that gunpowder?" asked Charlotte
"Father got it last time he was in the Amazon," Brigit
muttered, as she finished with the second terminal. "He bought a lot,
seeing the shipping was free."
The same question was being asked five miles away in the clock
tower of the laughably named St Viles School for Young Gentlemen.
"Exactly how much gunpowder did your uncle bring back, Aubrey?"
asked Bramwell-Wesley Babbington Minor, peering through the
"Quite a lot, I think," came the reply. "Why?"
"Cos I think Brigit's about to use all of it." – "Hey, Zimmmm,"
he called down the stairs, "If we set off a barrel of gunpowder,
how far back should we stand?"
"Red or Black grain?"
Babbington looked at Aubrey.
"Cos Brigit has three barrels of it up against the tuck shop
There was the sound of feet on the stairs and Zimmermann
came through the hatch, holding a collection of helmets snatched
from the suits of armour from the hall below.
"Put these on quick!" he shouted.
"Who's got the slow match?" asked Charlotte.
Gertie Baker (Applied Phlebotomy, French and Hard Sums) was walking past the tuck shop, about to light her Meerschaum, when she saw her new colleague waving and calling from the staff room window. What was the woman about? Gertie grunted as the flame of the match reached her hand and
His Admiralty orders were to proceed expeditiously to
Portsmouth and to take temporary command of the newly commissioned
HMS Cuttlefish, the Royal Navy's first fully submersible (by
design) warship. Rumors throughout the service had been that
certain unanticipated difficulties had been encountered regarding
the Cuttlefish's sail plan, and that the expert eye of a right
seaman was required.
Stephen Maturin accompanied his friend, eager to see sea life from the flip side.
"You remarked that distant explosion too, brother? Sure, I was relieved when Brigit's shell evaded the fire ship during the Novice Fours. But about this Unterseeboot, Jack. Surely to God it doesn't need a sail plan?"
"We'll cop it, Brig, cop it something cruel if she finds out
it was us," said Charlotte as they joined the back of the crowd in
the Applied Chemistry demonstration. Professor Wilson was calling
Critchley and Hatwell Minima a pair of shatter-brained ninnies for
failing to grasp the distinction between reflux and fractionating
Miss Baker burst in suddenly through the lab doors and, in her haste, knocked over the display of finger paintings on horse doping techniques. Breathing fast with angry excitement, she cried out
Hard on her heels was Sigismund the Mad Maths Master who
leapt to the blackboard and sketched a series of neat diagrams
which showed a invasion fleet of experimental French submersibles
which had made the mistake of employing freshwater eels (anguilles)
on their propellors.
There was a thunder of tiny feet in the close. Hatwell
Minima took a quick squizz out the window and related what she saw
a contigent of Fourth Formers from the neighbouring academy
Zimm at its head bearing a banner with the strange
device, "Floreat St Viles".
At the rear, trundling along behind, being pulled by the First
XV, was an ancient cannon that had stood outside the school since
Naseby and a rather newer carronade, painted in school colours
(green and yellow) that the Sixth Form had stolen from the Portsmouth
Marine base as part of Rag Week. It was currently the subject
of a somewhat strained correspondence between the Headmaster and
the Marine Colonel.
Aboard Le Sous-marin Déraisonnable, Jeanne Le Cuirot
straightened her gymslip, knocked three times at the door of the
head girl's cabin and whispered "The pen of my aunt is in the
"And the postillion was struck by lightning," came the reply.
The semaphore on the roof of the "Gentleman" Jackson
Gymnasium told the same tale and drooping white flags broke out as
both sides laid down their arms.
"Allons enfants! Now for the unarmed combat!" exhorted the
The crowd had become raucous by the time Jack and Stephen
rattled onto the field of battle behind the pub and alighted in
time to cop some chance pats of stirred up earth.
"Come, brother," said Stephen as he steered Jack in his splendid new breeches back to the coach, "Come away. You must come away – here is too much mud altogether".