miss prue nodded to ameline, who stood up and picked a paper out of the white hat. she unfolded it. "feminist. cool." she stared at the piece of paper. "that means i get to write the most feminist book i can?"
"that's what it means,"
"i can live with that." she looked around. the others looked back or looked away, not sure what to think.
miss prue pushed the black hat toward her. "now pick your author."
"bulwer-lytton! " a few of the others laughed. "well - we'll see."
the last woman
by ameline d'ambois
illustrated by konrad kraus and rhoda penmarq
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
the hon. matilda shirley to diana, marchioness of d--------, sept 9, 181-.:
ah, my dear friend, what a relief to be able to take up my pen to write to you. what an evening i have just suffered through! my dear host sir percival, whose hospitality i have been abusing, is , i am afraid, beginning to grow a bit tiresome. but - not yet so tiresome that i would quit his castle and be forced to endure the multi-headed indignities and boredoms of "the season", in london, or in paris or vienna.
do not misunderstand me. sir percival himself continues to be a most delightful companion - when he is my only companion. no one could be more attentive. no one can be wittier when wit is called for.
he is knowledgeable when knowledge is called for, and above all - silent when silence is called for. if he has a fault it is one i share myself - he is easily bored. but where i have learned to simply suffer boredom when there is nothing else for it, my dear percival will have recourse to any creature that can open its mouth and talk to him, in his efforts to hold ennui at bay.
so - the parade of the tiresome has continued apace here at the castle. i hope you have found some slight amusement in considering these creatures as my pen has described them to you - briefly, of course - unlike my own captive contemplation of them for hours at a time!
well - to come to a point you may have already guessed - percival tonight produced a guest who has quite outdone all his previous ones. a "professor" branleigh o'bannon - perhaps you have heard of him? met him in lady somebody's salon somewhere? i would have thought only percival could have tolerated the fellow - but he did seem quite at home among us "enlightened and ethereal spirits" (as the quarterly would have it) and was in no wise abashed to partake either of sir percival's food and drink, or of the conversation that followed and preceded it.
the "professor", like so many of the guests here, has his hobby-horse of course, his plan for improving the lot of humankind if not of all creatures living, dead and to come, and his, at any rate, is a truly drastic one. can you guess it? the elimination of women! i am afraid i laughed politely on first hearing this proposal, thinking it some kind of poor jest (an attempt at one in the manner of the dean of st patrick's?) but i was quickly put to rights. the fellow could not have been more in earnest, seemed in fact, quite surprised that anyone could find anything exceptional in his reasonable proposal. he begged me, in the most sincere manner, to consider the inestimable advantages accruing to a humanity which had divested itself of the indolent, scheming, irrational and malicious ( he did not actually use these terms) creatures who presently consume so many of the resources of the world, whilst providing virtually nothing of value themselves.
nothing at all, it seems, but a most inefficient manner of manufacturing infants. i - yes, my dear, i - was struck almost dumb - and left it to percival, who seemed to regard his plan with no more surprise than if he had suggested a new way of planting tulips, to inquire - actually how this service (the manufacture of infants) was to be continued - or was it to be continued? but this was brushed aside by our savant - surely a new archimedes or galileo would emerge any day to solve this trifling problem - was this not the modern age, the age of genius, of byron and bonaparte, etc. - the usual cant of a hundred salons. at this point i relaxed on my sofa, thinking we might move on to some less alarming topic, when lady anne spoke up. ( have i mentioned that lady anne is still with us? she seems as little inclined to quit the castle as i am.)
"but my dear sir," asked lady anne in her usual wide-eyed manner. "what of us poor creatures who have the misfortune to already populate the earth? when our usefulness is at an end, what is to become of us? shall guillotines be erected in every town market and village square from here to botany bay, to speed us on our way?"
in no wise embarrassed by this question, the solemn theorist assured lady anne that such measures would need not be implemented - not only because gentlemanly feeling frowned on it but because the expense incurred would outweigh the benefits. he went on at some length about the amount of metal needed for the guillotines, the expense of building and transporting them, also the difficulty of disposing of so many bodies in a short time, the sudden disruption of certain forms of industry currently assigned (in birmingham and in china) to the fair sex, and so forth. still not entirely convinced of his seriousness - might percival still not reveal that "professor o'bannon" was, in fact, some wag he had befriended at eton and they were having their little jest -
i thought to lighten the proceedings by favoring the sage with my most fluttering gaze, and inquiring "oh, but do not women contribute something to civilization besides that which can be stacked in a counting house? what of wit, and grace, and the art of conversation - such as you are enjoying at this moment ? what of - what of love, professor?"
you may well imagine the alacrity and enthusiasm with which lady anne seconded these thoughts and made them her own. and indeed, we succeeded in drawing the ghost of a smile from the lips of the professor - a smile tolerant of our hopeless foolishness.
i see i have not described the "professor" yet. but he was as you may have guessed - a great thumping redfaced fellow, solemn as a toad, who might have been any age from fifteen to fifty, but powerful looking in his ill-fitting black suit. from the blank way he stared at me as he spoke, i would have thought him as nearsighted as an oyster, except for a trifling accident involving lady anne. as she was declaiming on the civilizing effects of love, she twisted her necklace and broke it,
sending tiny pearls much the same color as the carpet rolling around and under the furniture. the servants summoned to attend to this having some trouble finding them all, the professor rose to assist them and quickly recovered them all. i made some polite murmur of admiration on his exceptional sharpness of sight, and he informed me that it was not a facility he had been born with but one he had developed in his travels among the red indians of north america.
"ah," quoth lady anne. "how romantic! surely you should write a romance based on your experiences, or an epic poem. it would sweep the continent, i know it."
"i have a better idea," said percival. "i think o'bannon should indeed write a romance, but not about the american aborigines. i think he should favor us with a romance of the future, when the fair sex is no longer with us. eh? what do you say, old fellow? a few chapters before you go to bed tonight, and we shall have something to look forward to tomorrow night."
"oh, i don't know. i wouldn't want to bore you, you know."
percival was looking at me as o'bannon intoned these words. "you will do better if you have some competition. i think matilda should also commence a romance - perhaps, on the efforts of some heroic amazons to resist this new world."
"that sounds most propitious, and delightful," cried lady anne. "i, too, will try my hand. and what subject could i have, but the triumph of love, over all such fantastical considerations."
"and you, percival," i asked. "surely you will join the competition, having proposed it?"
"oh, dear, no. and forego my well-deserved reputation as lazy percy? no, i will save my energy - and be sufficiently excited by the productions of you, my dear guests."
so, my dear, you see what i have gotten myself into. not, of course, that i am incapable of getting myself out of it - or out of anything, for that matter.
i will write again tomorrow night. until then, i am your ever faithful and devoted,