Luke Upward’s Legend of Pimlico Part 2
The story so far: Imperial China in the 1860s. Beautiful, gifted peasant girl Pim-Lee-Koh (Little Oyster of the Prairie) is groomed to become the concubine of the Manchu Emperor. Instead, she becomes the lover of the Loyal King, military leader of the Tai-Ping uprising. Together they use daring tactics based on her invention of cavalry mounted on bicycles. But the tide turns against the Tai-Pings when foreign armies are sent to re-conquer China for the Manchu Emperor. Pim-Lee-Koh and the Loyal King are left to face the invaders alone…
Upward paused in his narrative, leaving the company to contemplate the image of the two lovers on bicycles facing a huge foreign army equipped with the latest spike technology. Not a sound was heard in the room, even from the jealous Walter Downer, recovered from his peanut excess. Suddenly an ant cleared its throat with a deafening report, and Upward continued.
“Soon the foreign army had caught them up. An overwrought platoon commander gave the order ‘Fix baronets and charge!’ Pim-Lee-Koh and the Loyal King fought off their titled attackers in hand-to-hand combat, using spokes from the Boy King’s abandoned bicycle, defiantly singing Wheel Meet Again. Then the Loyal King fell speechless and indeed spokeless under a hundred bayonets as an intelligent sergeant-major corrected his commander’s mistaken order.
“On seeing the Loyal King fall, Pim-Lee-Koh threw herself on her lover’s lifeless body and started to look for his insurance. When she found an uncompleted proposal form she collapsed in a dead swoon.
“She woke up in the tent of a British general. He gave her a civil ‘Good evening’ and introduced himself and another officer. ‘I am General Gordon and this is my Serbian adjutant, Major Santonic.’
“‘I don’t mind if I do,’ said the general and mixed himself a large drink with ice and lemon. ‘You are my prisoner,’ he continued. Pim-Lee-Koh looked blank. ‘You are my plisoner,’ he corrected himself and she understood. ‘Give me your name, lank and number.’
“‘My name is Pim-Lee-Koh. My lank is heloine. My number is 32-54-76’.
“’32, 54, 76’, called out adjutant Santonic and a few moments later a waiter appeared.
“’32 plawn foo yong, 54 sweet and sour pork, 76 clispy pancake loll.’
“‘Make the most of them. From here back to England you’ll get nothing but rain biscuit and dry water,’ said General Gordon, who besides being mad was a distant relative of the celebrated Dr Spooner.
“So Pim-Lee-Koh began the long voyage back to England as the captive of General Gordon. The worst thing about the journey was his insistence on reading the Bible to her aloud. His malady made most of it incomprehensible, particularly his references to Edam and Ave. Pim-Lee-Koh wondered why the Creation had begun with a cheese.
“General Gordon returned to London with his prisoner and set up house in Lower Belgravia. However, he was almost immediately called away to suppress another distant uprising. The beautiful Pim-Lee-Koh, who had once ruled the Tai-Ping empire, was left behind as a household slave and drudge, or as Gordon put it, a dave and sludge.
“However, her real torment was not the household sludgery but the knowledge that her lover, the Loyal King was unavenged, and that his spirit was condemned to walk the earth so long as Gordon was alive to do the same.
“Day and night, she dreamed of escape, she cared not where. But every night the General’s house was locked up tight by Chiropodist, the footman. Then suddenly a chance came to her. One evening Lightning, the postillion, broke into the wine cellar and all the household staff staged a wild party. All but Pim-Lee-Koh.
“She rushed out into the night, she knew not where… Moonlight… Vauxhall Gardens, empty and eerie… the sudden surprising clatter of coconut shells… the discovery that these were real horses’ hooves after all… a warning shout… a swoop by a black-cloaked figure … strong arms seizing the lovely fugitive and placing her on the steaming grillocks and broad grunions of a thoroughbred stallion…
“Pim-Lee-Koh looked at her new captor. Although she did not yet know this, she saw the most famous face in England. Rich, handsome, gifted, Sir Mark M’Footsteps, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Shower (Grand Chancellor, Mr Terry-Thomas), was already a popular hero. Sportsman, aesthete, explorer, he was the most famous amateur cricketer in England, who had bowled out W G Grace at the age of eight, although anyone should be able to bowl out an eight-year-old even if he is W G Grace. As leader of the Post-Raphaelite Group, he had edited and published the Beige Book, with poems and drawings by Swinburne and Millais. Unfortunately, Swinburne was a rotten draughtsman and Millais was a pedestrian poet. He had been the first swimmer to traverse the Channel from Dover to Land’s End, the result of a cross-eyed navigator. As Britain’s most famous explorer, he had earned his knighthood for his astonishing discovery of the mouth of the Nile while all the other fools got lost looking for the source.
“When in England, Sir Mark divided his time between his Suffolk estate at Stuffem Hall and his town house not far from Gordon’s in Lower Belgravia. A restless spirit, he often rode in the moonlight and besides, he did not have resident’s parking for the horse.
“Sir Mark gazed at Pim-Lee-Koh. At once he was spellbound. He gasped out ‘May I introduce myself?’
“’Why, have you forgotten who you are?’
“At this sally, Sir Mark’s laughter rang out like a thousand soda siphons all emptying at once. I said his laughter ‘rang out like a thousand soda siphons,’ said Upward, glaring at his still silent listeners, and his hostess, Lady Bea Goode, led some dutiful titters. Upward flashed a brief gratified smile and continued. ‘My name is Mark M’Footsteps and this is Goode, my page’ said the knight, indicating a youthful manservant lurking in the shadows. Upward held the smile for Lady Bea after introducing her name into the narrative. He saw a flash of pain on her lovely features and remembered too late that her marriage to the waster, Noah Goode, was said to be in trouble. He hurried on. ‘And I am Pim-Lee-Koh.’
“Sir Mark and Pim-Lee-Koh married as soon as they could. The only witnesses were Goode and Sir Mark’s royal Arab best man, Sheik Ratoul-en-Rol. After a brief but costly reception, he and his new bride drove to Suffolk.
“For some months, their lives were peaceful and happy. By day they sailed Sir Mark’s twin yachts, Gotit and Flauntit. By night they played Happy Families into the small hours. But Sir Mark could sense that something was wrong. ‘My little oyster, I can sense that something is wrong.’
“’I cannot find Mr Spend the Pools Winner and his daughter, Miss Spent.’
“’Something more than that.’ She sprang up, scattering Mr Taken, the Felon, and his daughter, Miss Taken Identity. ‘I cannot live with you, on you, so long as my first love, the Loyal King, is unavenged. So long as his enemy still walks this earth, so must my lover’s spirit. It is my mission, my destiny, somewhere, somehow I must slay Gordon!’
“’But he’s miles away, in the Spice Islands.’
“’In that case, I’ll have a Gordon’s and ginger!’ and knowing a good exit line, she ran away into the night (again). The stricken Sir Mark ran after her, but in spite of his superb physique, he could not catch her up. Some elemental force propelled her away from Stuffem Hall. All their lives, the neighbouring villagers were to be haunted by Sir Mark’s ravaged cry: ‘Pim-Lee-Koh!’ But she was gone.
“He tried to forget his grief by constant cricket. His only solace was to bowl flat out. In his efforts to hurl the crimson traveller at maximum velocity he invented overarm bowling like what we have today. But so ravaged was Sir Mark’s spirit that not even cricket could provide its customary balm. He therefore planned his most daring expedition yet to discover something undiscovered – the origins deep in Africa of the mighty gray-green greasy Hokus-Pokus river, that is to say, the HP source.
“For years he wandered around the jungle, living only on bear grills. And if you object that there are no bears in Africa, that’s because Sir Mark ate them all. At last he discovered the source of the Hokus-Pokus in the bath at the Congo Hilton, from which he was finally rescued when his credit cards expired. His rescuer was the celebrated American explorer, Dr Presume, or to give him his full name, Dr Livingstone I Presume.
“Sir Mark returned to London to another hero’s welcome. Public funds were raised to name something in his honour. But Sir Mark had changed. No longer the debonair sportsman/aesthete, he had acquired a haggard, haunted and hollow face, a gift from the headhunters of the Hokus-Pokus. But he did not look too well himself. Disdaining the crowds of admirers, he shut himself up in his town house, murmuring one word to himself, over and over.
“In spite of his disdain for his public, the funds in his honour were lavishly over-subscribed. There was enough not just for the usual statue or cattle-trough but to build an entire new road with houses and shops. It was to be called Mefootsteps Road to spare the idle signwriter a troublesome apostrophe, and would connect the Royal Hospital to Ebury Bridge – not a minute too soon for the people who had waited 1860 years for a 39 omnibus.
“They summoned Sir Mark to cut the ribbon and name the road. Pale, gaunt, blinking in the sunlight, Sir Mark glimpsed at his script. ‘It gives me great pleasure to name this road…’ Then he gazed far away into the East and said in a mighty voice ‘… Pim-Lee-Koh!’ The hero’s command could not be ignored. The road and the surrounding area have been called Pim-Lee-Koh ever since, save only for further adjustments to suit the idle signwriter.
“And what, I hear the cry, became of Pim-Lee-Koh herself? Well, it is a little-known fact that the dervish hordes who overpowered Gordon arrived in Khartoum by bicycle.”