PERCY’S CROSSING • by Elizabeth Archer

Sir Percival Pettigrew saw things other men did not see until it was too late.

“I should have named you Cassandra,” said Lady Pettigrew. “Pity you were male.” Only his mother understood him. Sadly, she died in a hunting accident, mistaken by Lord Pettigrew for a pheasant.

“Shame about that damned hat of hers,” Lord Pettigrew lamented to Sir Percival and his siblings. He drank himself to oblivion, and left everything to Percival’s brother Thomas.

Being a second son was dreadful.

Sir Percival decided to affect a large turban, with an enormous pheasant feather, in honor of his Mum. He wore a jeweled silk caftan, and performed at fashionable parties as The All-Seeing Panocculi.

***

“You know your name is redundant, don’t you?” said Lady Beatrice Bumbleshoot. “I suppose you must.”

She was a short, dark woman with the hint of moustache and very keen grey eyes.

“Perhaps I do,” said Sir Percival.

“Tell me,” said Beatrice. “In my dirigible Titanic, I plan to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Will I be successful?”

Sir Percival shut his eyes, and put the back of his right hand dramatically upon his forehead.

“No. I see that you are going to hit an iceberg on your maiden voyage.”

“Well, that’s bunkum,” said Lady Beatrice, peeved. “I can hardly hit an iceberg in a dirigible.”

“Sometimes my visions for the future are strangely imprecise.”

“Perhaps you should come along,” said Lady Beatrice. “I was planning on taking only my monkey, but you are much more diverting. I can pay you very handsomely. To have someone who can predict the future aboard might prove useful.”

It happened that Sir Percival owed his tailor a great deal of money for caftans of fine Indian silk.

“You’ll pay?”

“Handsomely. You’ll be a sensation in America,” said Lady Beatrice. “Of course, so will I. They like your sort.”

“Is your dirigible safe?”

“The best things in life never are. But that’s why I’m bringing you. You can warn me when I’m going to have difficulties.”

“May I give you my answer on Tuesday?” asked Percival. Tuesday seemed more auspicious.

He had never fancied small dark women or women in general. Heights frightened him, and so did monkeys. Unfortunately, his tailor and boot maker threatened to make life in town hell.

On Tuesday, he visited Lady Bumbleshoot’s London lodgings, and agreed to terms.

“I think it best you wear trousers on the dirigible,” said Beatrice. “I plan on wearing trousers myself. An airship is no place for skirts. Don’t you ever dress as a man?”

“I am dressed as a man. It is a caftan, of the sort men wear in the east.”

Beatrice narrowed her grey eyes at him. “Call it what you will,” she replied. “You do have trousers?”

“Of course,” he said stiffly. He found them uncomfortably chafing downstairs after the caftans, but he had no desire to share that information with Lady Beatrice.

***

On a fine summer day they embarked from the coast. The monkey was airsick. So was Lady Beatrice.

“I had not counted on being stricken,” she moaned. “What do you predict?” Her face was green and she kept leaning over the basket and being ill.

“I predict I will have to learn to fly a dirigible,” said Sir Percival. “Or we will die.”

“The time I flew from London to Brighton I was fine.”

“It is a shorter distance.”

Beatrice collapsed in a corner with the monkey in her lap. Sir Percival tried to predict the voyage, but all he saw in his future was ocean.

He was greatly relieved when he had a vision of large green woman with a torch.

“We are going to make it across,” he told Beatrice.

His vision proved imprecise. They descended abruptly and landed on a small island in the Outer Hebrides, where an elderly Scottish person greeted them with a lantern. She was wearing green.

“At least we survived,” Beatrice observed.

The monkey caused an immediate sensation on the island, where people had never seen a real Capuchin.

Sir Percival found his own lack of welcome disheartening.

“They have seen men in dresses before. This is Scotland,” said Beatrice. “You’d better put your trousers on in all this mud.”

***

In London,  they became instant celebrities, but not in the way they imagined. Sir Percival Pettigrew became known as the first man to fly a dirigible to the Hebrides. It would be a long time, people said, before anyone could cross the Atlantic. No sane Englishman, The Times printed, would ever attempt such a feat.

Poor Beatrice became the woman who got sick in the corner of the basket whilst holding a monkey. Fortunately, she had piles of money from her father’s woolen mills for consolation.

“What do you see in my future?” she asked Sir Percival.

“I predict you will marry a man in a caftan and settle in the country,” he told her. Flying a dirigible had made a man out of Percival, his brother Tom told the other Pettigrews.

“Perhaps the shape of the craft reminded him of something,” sniggered his cousin Adolphus.

The truth involved a rather cold night in Scotland, a bottle of whisky, and his pressing need for release from financial problems.

They were married quietly. She wore sensible breeches, and he wore a new white silk caftan, with a matching turban. The monkey wore a small kilt they had bought him in the Hebrides.

Every so often, the Percival Pettigrews would go for a brief ride in one of their silk hot air balloons. Percival wore turbans to match the silks.

“Pity we can’t make these from Father’s wool,” sighed Beatrice, who spent a great deal of her fortune on silk, all things considered.

“Never mind,” said Percival, shutting his eyes. “In the future, flying machines will be made of metal, and no cloth at all.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You might as well tell me monkeys will go up in space.”


Elizabeth Archer writes flash fiction, poetry, and short stories. She lives in Texas.


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