BY : helliongoddess
Category: Gensomaden Saiyuki > AU - Alternate Universe
Dragon prints: 770
Disclaimer: I do not own Gensomaden Saiyuki, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Nii Jenyii as Professor Henry Higgins
Hazel Grouse standing in for Eliza Doolittle
Koumyou Sanzo as Col. Pickering, Higgins' best friend
Yaone as Missy the Housekeeper
Kougaiji as Koo Higgins, Prof. Higgins' younger brother
Gyokumen Kyoshu as Mamma G, Matriarch of Shangri-La Plantation
Dokugakuji as Doc, head of the Shangri-La Stables
and the Sanzo Party, basically as themselves.

Author's Note's: Artistic license is taken with the relative ages of Higgins (Nii) and Pickering (Koumyou) and Hazel. In Saiyuki Koumyou is actually close to twice Nii’s age, but In this AU, Pickering is only a few years older than Higgins (45 and 40, respectively.) Hazel is still 20, the age we see him in Saiyuki.

Chapter One

“Would you like another julep, Colonel Pickering?”

“That would be delightful, Missy, yes, thank you so much, it is a trifle close out here today.” The pale thin man smiled at the comely housekeeper, doing his best to ignore the large drops of sweat that were forming on his slender neck and dampening the thicket of hair at the base of his long blonde ponytail. The long hair, with some streaks of silver beginning to show in it now, was an anachronism from his youth he refused to part with, although recently he had taken to braiding it, feeling like it was easier to manage it in the heat of the Kentucky summers that way somehow. He fanned himself with his palm frond fan as he rocked gently in the large oak rocker, and looked at his host, marveling at the fact that though the gentleman might rant and rail against the heat louder than anyone, he somehow never seemed to sweat. Pickering put down his well-worn copy of “The Romance of Alexander the Great” by Pseudocallisthenes, and turned to his best friend and perennial host, Dr. Neil Higgins.

“Aren’t you having another beverage, Professor?”

Not bothering to conceal the look of bored disgust that usually graced his otherwise handsome face, the Professor also didn’t look at either the pretty young housekeeper or his perpetual houseguest Pickering as he demanded another julep .

“Might as well. God knows there isn’t anything else to do around here – and close doesn’t begin to cover it. It’s hotter than the fucking hinges of hell. Yes, land sakes, gimme another drink, girl, and be quick about it.”

The housekeeper blushed a pretty shade of bright pink that set off her pale skin and exceedingly long black hair, which she kept in a long braid wrapped around her head during the summer heat.

“Right away, sirs,” she said and quickly departed.

“Really, Professor, you needn’t be so harsh on the girl. She’s awfully young to be running a manor house as large as this, and you don’t have nearly enough help for her, in my humble opinion.”

Pickering lit his pipe and resumed fanning himself. He surveyed the skies as he quietly spoke, and wondered if any rains might come soon and provide them with a break from the infernal heat. His perpetually-smiling, young-looking face belied his indeterminate age (he had actually been born in the Old Dominion, as he loved to call Virginia, around forty-five years ago, but would never give a straight answer when asked his age directly.)

His distinguished service in the War Between the States while barely a young man had left him a shadow of the strapping and jovial youth he had been when he had volunteered for Mr. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He had seen and done things during the War that even now haunted his dreams as well as his waking hours all these years later, and there were still many days and nights when the trembling in his hands as he struggled to get through the waves of grief and guilt that would overtake him could only be managed with large amounts of bourbon and brandy.

After the War ended he had chosen to pursue a life of the mind, studying Classical literature and philosophy with an intention to teach, first at Harvard for his Baccalaureate, and then to the University of Virginia to obtain his postgraduate degrees, but he had ultimately left Mr. Jefferson’s College under mysterious circumstances that were rumored to have involved a young male student.

His friend Prof. Higgins had offered him shelter when the supposed scandal had happened, and somehow he had just never left, finding himself seduced by the comfort and safety of being at Shangri-la with Higgins and his family. He loved watching the thriving post-bellum horse and tobacco business on this well-managed Kentucky plantation, and found he enjoyed the genteel manners and culture of the Bluegrass State and its people. Kentucky was by tradition very Southern in some of the best ways- friendly, kind people, good food, slow-moving -and it made Pickering feel at home.

Although it had had a small secession movement, it had been a border state in the War, and largely out of the fray compared to its neighbors. However postbellum Kentucky was undergoing a great deal of transition, as was the entire country in one way or another. Even in the rarified world of the Kentucky horse culture, things were nonetheless changing fast in the first decades after the War. Pickering hated to see the traits of graciousness and civility get lost in the shuffle, but he knew it was inevitable. He himself was an anachronism now, and he knew it, but he was content to stay that way and live his life out in the quiet peace of Shangri-la with his books and his fine whiskey, and the mixed blessing of his friend Neil Higgins’ companionship.

“If you’re so bloody concerned about her, you can just get your nose out of your books and get in there and help the creature,” Higgins spat irritably.

“My dear Professor, you know she would not allow that, even if I should attempt it. Let us leave her some pride, especially since she knows she is only here because Koo rescued her from that barbarian husband of hers before he beat her to death. I wouldn’t think of doing anything that she might infer as meaning that she is doing anything less than a superb job in her service here at Shangri-la, the poor dear.”

“Well, isn’t that convenient for you,” his companion observed cynically. “You’d think we were running a state poor house here between her and that damned Doc.”

Higgins, unlike his guest, was a compleat Twentieth-Century Man, before the new century had even begun. In some ways, he was very much the son of his late father, Big Daddy G Higgins, believing the world was there for his use and disposal, including the businesses, the land, the animals, and all the young women (and occasionally boys) he desired to enjoy carnally, regardless of race, creed or color.

He was also an equal-opportunity snob, choosing to regard pretty much everyone he met as beneath him, based largely on his financial superiority, as well as his obviously large intellect, which he felt free to flaunt at any opportunity. He had been sent overseas in his adolescence to travel Europe, staying with business acquaintances here and there until he was old enough at sixteen to travel completely on his own. This first stay on the Continent allowed him to completely avoid all the unpleasantness and deprivation of the War, as well as to circumvent suggestions from agitated patriots on either side that he should enlist. Before Neil came home for good his travels had extended to include all of Asia, some of African Continent, and finally, most of the larger cities of the U.S.

It was only when he had come home that he had turned to academics, with Daddy G’s money serving to grease the wheels and get him admitted to his Ivy League university of choice. Like Pickering, Higgins, now had “retired” under dubious circumstances, and the story circulating around Louisville was that he had been asked to leave Harvard University because of an affair with a young male student. True or not, he had left before he was tenured and without retirement benefits, and returned with a particular hatred for Yankees that had absolutely nothing to do with the War Between the States.

He was a technology whore of the worst kind, and followed the onrush of development in the last quarter of the 19th century with an almost morbid fascination. Any new gadget or gimcrack that he could get his hands on, he would be sure to obtain as quickly as possible, usually with some pretense of it having something to do with his ongoing “academic research.” What that research specifically was, not a soul on the Shangri-La Plantation could actually tell you in any detail, not even Pickering, but it seemed to vary widely, and depending on a number of whimsical factors that could include Higgins’ mood, the weather, the time of day, and the phase of the moon. It appeared to consist of a variety of subjects including speech and dialects, steam engines and other such motors, Tibetan metaphysics, horse husbandry, and the psychosexual development of adolescent boys.

The Colonel quietly clucked his tongue disapprovingly. “Oh, now, sir, that’s hardly sporting of you. Why, Doc is like a brother to young Koo. They’ve been running around like wild mustangs together on this plantation since they were tykes. And you know damn well Doc’s the best caretaker of horse flesh in ten counties. If it wasn’t for him you wouldn’t have a horse that’s a got a right smart chance to win the Derby this year, and you know it.” The Derby had been running for fifteen years now, and was becoming more and more of an event with each passing year, not only in the horseracing world, but as the centerpiece of Louisville high society, with the lawn parties, balls, and cotillions throughout Derby Week.

Higgins snorted derisively. “The only reason Doc Cage is here is on Shangri-La is because Big Daddy knocked up some whore in Atlanta, and had an attack of ‘the guilts’ nine months later, as far as I’m concerned. And the reason we have Hakuryu is because I mastered the scientific art of horse breeding, not because Doc fancies himself an amateur horse doctor.” The professor curled his lip as a faraway leer ghosted across his face. “That man’s only real worth to this plantation is when he mucks out the stables with his shirt off on a hot day.”

Colonel Pickering suppressed a quiet giggle. “Why, Professor, how you do go on.”

He knew the truth lay somewhere in the middle, as was often the case in life. Doc had an intuitive way with horses, and definitely knew all there was to know as to their day-to-day care and maintenance, but Neil Higgins followed the most recent developments in horse husbandry through subscriptions to the technical journals, and Koo worked hand-in-hand with the specialists from the Ag school at University of Kentucky at Lexington. Between the three of them, they made sure that the Shangri-La Stables were a state of the art facility, breeding some of the best animals in the state.

Missy returned to the veranda with a tray containing two frosty silver cups and quietly handed them to the two scholars. As she was turning to go she scanned the long drive leading to the circle in front of the manor house and squinted as she thought she saw two figures coming down the dusty cedar-lined drive.

“Are you expecting company today, Professor?” she asked quietly.

“Good lord, no!” he exclaimed, pulling his wire-framed glasses down his nose and scanning down the drive to look for himself. “The last thing I want to do on a scalding day like today is to have to entertain some local nitwits, and have to listen to endless war stories, or tales of the social balls in Atlanta and Cincinnati this season. Heaven forfend.”

She strained to look again and confirm what she saw, and turned to her employer. “I’m sorry, sir, but there do appear to be two gentlemen callers approaching. Would you like me to run them off?”

“Are they on foot, Missy?” the Colonel asked her, his curiosity piqued.

They were about fifteen miles from the outer limits of Louisville, and as sprawled-out as the population of their county was, they very rarely saw anyone these days traveling by foot power alone. Some sort of buggy or wagon, or at least horseback, was very much the order of the day when it came to transportation in rural Kentucky in 1890. The Professor, ever the new technology buff, had been regaling Pickering with tales of strange horseless carriages being built in Germany by someone named Benz, and he had predicted that they would be building them in the States soon, as useful as they would be for traversing the vast open distances in the New World. The Colonel had pooh-poohed it, figuring it was just another of Higgins’ colorful delusions.

“Yes sir,” the pretty housekeeper replied, scanning the two figures carefully as they were close enough to take some stock of now. “I think one of them might be an Indian, sir… and the other one… well… oh, my…I don’t know what he is! I certainly don’t recognize them.”

The surprise in her voice pulled both Higgins and the Colonel to their feet, and they joined her at the top of the staircase that led from the veranda of the manor house to the walkway around the circle. They squinted their eyes and shaded their vision against the midday sun to see these interesting apparitions as they approached.

In point of fact, one of them did appear to be an Indian by blood, dark skin with a definite russet tint. He had long black hair in one thick queue down his back, deep onyx eyes, was very tall, and gaunt in both body and visage. His clothing was very rustic and road-worn: a simple linen shirt and wool trousers, and a pair of soft dusty hand-sewn moccasins on his long slender feet. He had a rifle and an extremely large pack on his back, with a variety of camping accoutrements hanging off of it, and a large holster slung low on his hips that held a brace of pistols, which Higgins noted with interest were examples of some of the largest-caliber handguns manufactured anywhere in the world in the past hundred years. The only spot of color in his outfit was the dark and weathered red bandana he wore tied around his head, perhaps to protect him from the heat.

To say that the other man was a dramatic contrast to his companion would have been a masterpiece of understatement. His build was slight, and he was a full twelve inches shorter than his tall friend. Their complexions could be said to be diametric opposites as well, for while the taller man was dark of eye, hair, and skin, the smaller one was quite fair-skinned. His pale blonde hair turned to gentle curls as it met his shoulders, and he had startling ice blue eyes. While he was slender like his companion, his frame and visage would best be described as more delicate in appearance than gaunt.

His flamboyant attire was also a startling contrast to the simple garb of his companion. He appeared to have started with a simple priest’s cassock originally, but somehow to have deconstructed it here and there, and then begun steadily adding to it in piecemeal along the way, perhaps by way of repairing worn bits, until the effect was a rather multicolor patchwork. Underneath it, rather than the simple vestments that most priests wore, was what Higgins recognized to be a colorful calico ribbon-work shirt such as those made by the Seminole Indians in Florida.

Around his waist was wrapped a multicolor woven wool sash known as an Assumption Sash, such as those often seen around the waists and shoulders of the trappers and natives of the Great Lakes and Midwest. He wore finger-woven yarnwork garters below his knees, worked in a colorful design, which reminded Higgins of those he had seen while doing his dialect studies with the Southern Plains tribes such as Kiowa and Comanche. On his feet he sported a pair of lace-up boots, of what looked to be black patent leather underneath the considerable wear and dust. With their pointy toes and high blocky heels, they were a style worthy of the most daring dandies from the first decade or so after the war. Missy marveled, looking at them, wondering how the man did the amount of walking that he obviously did in shoes that simply couldn’t be all that comfortable.

Around his neck the young man had hung an assortment of colorful beads such as the ones thrown at Mardi Gras, several crucifixes, and even what appeared to be a large Star of David amulet of some sort. The crowning glory of the entire ensemble was a large floppy hat, which he wore cocked rakishly to one side. It looked to have started out life as the hat that completed the priestly vestments, but its effect was far from pious now. The brim was completely down on one side, and pinned up with a brooch of some kind on the other, and narrow satin ribbons of several colors were wrapped around the crown. The finishing touch was one large and rather battered ostrich plume tucked into the band of ribbons, which brought immediately to Pickering’s mind the quixotic “Cyrano de Bergerac” of Edmund Rostand, and his beloved “panache.”

The complete effect of the whole outfit was one of a rather tragi-comic faded romantic hero, an exotic romantic gone horribly wrong, without benefit of guidance or taste. Yet the young man’s face had such an appealing earnest quality, and his companion’s visage was so severe and foreboding by contrast, that both Missy and Pickering had to strive valiantly not to laugh as the pair approached, tempting though it might be. Of course, knowing that at any minute Higgins would let loose his impulses to mock them and find endless humor at their expense gave them more motivation to restrain their own inclination to laugh.

“My God, Pickering, what infernal visitation is this that approaches us?” Higgins stretched his drawl and oozed syrupy sarcasm as he feigned over-enthusiasm at the approach of the unusual visitors. “Why, Colonel, I do believe it’s Crazy Horse and General George Armstrong Custer, both returned from the depths of hell, just to visit us here at Shangri-La!”

Pickering hid his furtive smile behind his fan. “Now Professor, don’t be rude to your guests,” he chided. “They have obviously come from far away, we should at least find out what business they have with us.” Even the kind-hearted mannerly Colonel had a hard time keeping a straight face as they approached the bottom of the steps and he was able to take a closer look at the smaller man’s truly outrageous outfit.

Missy, who had a soft heart herself, and knew just how cruel the Professor could be, determined quickly that she needed to intervene and quickly dashed down the steps to greet the pair.

“Good day, sirs, what can I do for you today?”

A charming smile spread across the blonde man’s face and he doffed the peculiar hat and bowed low before Missy and the gentlemen on the porch, making eye contact with all of them as he began to speak.

“Aah, bonjours, belle mam’selle, messieurs. How y’all are? Je m’appelle, dat is to say I am ‘azel DesJardins, of Ascension Parish, Louisian’ an’ dis’ ‘ere, ‘e’s mah fine frien’ Gateau. ‘E is an Ind’an of de Choctaw people, from de Bayou like me, but he not Cajun, no. Gat an’ I, we are mos’ ‘onored to make your acquaintance, mam’selle,” he smiled charmingly, then turned his blinding white smile towards Pickering and Higgins, and then around to his Indian friend,`` eh messieurs. An’ such a pretty mam’selle, Gateau, no?”

He poked the Indian with his elbow, and his friend made a small acknowledging grunt, but beyond that, there had been no other sound or change in his expression since they had approached the steps. The word “inscrutable” crossed Pickering’s mind as he studied the silent man furtively.

Missy made a small curtsy and tried her best to sort out what the stranger had said, from the odd accent, which she recognized as being close to French, yet different somehow. “Uhm, well now... Thank you… I think. How can I …help you gentlemen?”

“Mais, are you de lady of de ‘ouse, mam’selle?” the blonde inquired, again smiling confidently.

Missy tried not to look flustered. “Me? No. No. Uhm… no…. de…. Er … the Lady.. well, the mistress of the house, that would be Mrs. Higgins, and she is inside, and can’t be disturbed this afternoon.”

Mamma G was resting, having been overcome from a combination of the heat and a long morning working on both business and preparations for their upcoming Cotillion. She had retired to her bedroom with a novel and a pitcher of iced tea, threatening death to anyone that disturbed her before the evening meal unless it was to tell her the house was on fire.

“This is Professor Higgins, her son, and Colonel Pickering, his houseguest. I am Missy, the Housekeeper. May I help you with something?”

A still larger smile slid across Hazel’s face as he fell into a routine that was obviously as familiar to him as putting on an old pair of shoes. “Perfect”, he thought, the girl had fed him precisely the right line to start off, almost as if she were acting as shill for him.

“Ah, mais non non, mam’selle! It is what I can do to ‘elp you and de fam’ly ‘ere! I see from de beaut’ful cruc’fix around your neck mam’selle you are a good Cath’lic woman. Dat is a won’erful t’ing, chere. Me, I am de Cath’lic too. I bet dat de whole fam’ly here, dey be de Cath’lics, too. I t’ink de Lord, He done brought me to you an’ yours today, chere, dat’s what I t’ink. You see, mam’selle, I am a glover wit’ de Duplantiers Religious Supply ‘ouse, from dat Ascension Parish, Lousian’, whar’ I be from, an’ in dat dere pack what my frien’ Gat carry, we got de worl’s larges’ assortmen’ of God’s goods, chere... we gots de dregailles dat bring you closer to you’ Lord an’ Savior up in heav’n, and keep you safe from de evil of de gator and de gris-gris , here on God’s good eart’. We got de crucifix, de Bible, de plaster saint, all de saints! Whatever you want, chere, we got it all in dat pack, dere.”

His voice dropped from the enthusiastic banter of his sales pitch to a more plaintive tone as he attempted to play on Missy’s sympathies and sweet nature. His face became more serious as he spoke, “I done been de glover for Duplantiers for long time now, many year. Since I was an altar boy in Ascension Parish Church, and my poor maman, she done gone to live wit’ Jesus herself. Dear ol’ Pere Filber’, he was de pries’ an’ de principle of my school, an’ de good pere, he done took me in, God res’ his soul. Only de Devil himself know’ what would have happen’ to ‘Azel if not for dat saint, dat defan Pere Filber’. But you don’ wanna hear my sad story, chere. ‘Ow ‘bout instead I come up in de good shade on dat dere big verand’ o’ yours and show you an’ dese nice mens my goods?”

There was a short moment of stunned silence from those on the veranda when Hazel finished enough of his spiel to take a breath and wait for a reply from Missy. The cicadas in the trees and the neighing of horses from the stables were the only sounds to be heard as Missy stood, her mouth agape, uncertain what to think of the unusual salesman, much less how to proceed. Normally she sent all glovers packing out of hand before they even gave their pitch: all the goods necessary for running the plantation were either purchased in town or by mail order. But this fellow had left her somehow boggled, almost bewitched, and in the back of her mind she somehow already found herself thinking she might even purchase a few things from him herself, maybe even buy a few early Christmas presents to tuck away.

Pickering merely sat in his rocker, smiling like a sage, fighting the urge to chuckle, and studying the strange pair that had shown up on their doorstep. Mentally he was ticking off the seconds, and just waiting for Higgins to detonate. He knew it was only a matter of time; the man was nothing if not predictable, at least to him.

Sure enough, in a matter of seconds the silence was broken by a loud explosion of rude laughter from Higgins: right on cue to Pickering’s mind, but of course he would never tell his friend that and risk being on the receiving end of his temper. Missy blushed in embarrassment, having a fairly good idea of what was coming next for the more vocal of the pair of strangers.

“Ha!! My god!! Pickering, are you getting all this? Absolutely fucking priceless!! A classic, completely uneducated, Southeastern Louisiana Bayou, classic Acadian accent – totally primitive and unspoiled! Do you hear those voiced alveolar stops? And he completely drops the dental fricatives! It’s just too hideously delicious!”

The Professor could hardly contain himself, he was having such fun, he was practically capering about at the top of the steps. Such high entertainment didn’t happen down his drive just every day. “And don’t get me started on the outfit… Well, my God, oh, it’s just too…” He collapsed into a chair in a fit of obviously snarky and ribald laughter that was clearly at Hazel’s expense.

Both Hazel and his companion were beginning to realize that he was clearly being made fun of. Gat spread his legs slightly and moved his hands to his revolvers in a gesture that was lost on Higgins in his smug glee, but not on Pickering and Missy.

Hazel happened to be quite proud of his outfit, especially since several of the items of Indian origin had been presented to him by the chiefs of the Indian tribes they had visited during their travels. Not being all that worldly or self-involved, especially in comparison to Higgins, and never having encountered a full-length mirror as he had slowly assembled the ensemble, he had no concept of what the full effect of his outfit was. He only knew he felt good when he had it all on, and he resented this saleau having the gumbo to pass judgement on his outfit, especially when the suit of clothes was the one thing in the world he had that he could truly call his own. He also had a distinct feeling that the other things he had heard the dark-haired man say about him were none-too- flattering as well, although he had absolutely no idea what any of them meant.

“Mais, mais, mais, M’sieu’!! I don’ t’ink I like dat w’at you done been sayin’ ‘bout ‘azel! I be educated, yes,yes! I went to de Parish school all de way t’rough de t’ird grade, I did. An’ don’ you be talkin’ about my dentals, neider, no! I got all my dentals dat I was borned wit’, every one, dat’s de trut’.” He smiled wide to demonstrate the beauty of his teeth, and clutched the Star of David amulet on his breast defensively as he glared at the steely-eyed Higgins.

Remembering what he was there for, Hazel softened his expression, slipping back into his salesman mode, and jerked his chin seductively at Missy. It was such a hot day, and he really just wanted to get through this sale, make a few piastres , and get Gat and himself settled in to camp in some cool shade somewhere as soon as possible. Plantations in this part of the country were far flung, and there were not all that many Catholics in Kentucky, or people otherwise in the market for his wares. The walks had been long and sales few and far between of late.

“Ca va , chere? Would mam’selle like to see what my big friend has in his pack?” As he batted his deep blue eyes at Missy seductively, his Cajun drawl became even deeper.

Higgins exploded in another round of laughter, this time with a distinctly obscene tinge to it. Missy did her best to ignore him, and Pickering tried to hide his amusement with a long sip of his julep and a wave of his fan. He did pity the two poor fellows, being out on the road in this abysmal heat.

Missy looked helplessly from the pair of odd travelers to Higgins and back. Her heart went out to the strange ragtag man and his tall friend for some reason. She had, in fact, been raised by her Irish mother to be Catholic, but there was more to it than that. These men were different: to say they were unique would be an almighty understatement, and they were quite obviously nowhere near the same social class as Higgins and his friend. While Col. Pickering was a very kind man, she hated how snobby and cruel the Professor could be to anyone he considered beneath him for any reason, which was pretty much everyone. She herself was only there at the plantation because his younger brother Koo had learned of her horrible situation, trapped in an isolated cabin in the hills with an abusive husband who, drunk on the moonshine from his own illegal stills, had beaten and raped her daily.

One day several winters ago Koo Higgins had ridden into the little clearing where her cabin was out of the blue, looking like a red-haired knight in shining armor to her on one of their beautiful bay horses, and he had thrashed her lout of a husband to within an inch of his life, threatening to finish the job if the drunkard ever came anywhere near Missy again. When she had asked him on the ride back to Shangri-la why he had chosen to save her, of all people, he had simply replied, “because it needed to be done.” Her husband had frozen to death the following winter, too drunk to get his own self in out of the cold.

Missy had progressed from Maid to Housekeeper in charge of Shangri-la when old Minnie, the last of their freed slaves, who had run the place for years, had finally passed away in her sleep of old age the year after Koo had rescued her. Missy found she still missed their talks around the kitchen table and Minnie’s sage guidance in dealing with the eccentricities of the various Higgins family members.

She knew the little bit of business she alone could give the glover wouldn’t do the pair much good, but she hoped between that, and the cold iced tea and leftover food she could slip them if she could get them around back to the kitchen entrance, she might help them out at least a little bit. Plus there was a nice shady arbor around back near the stables, with a stream deep enough for swimming and fishing, and plenty of soft grass for camping. She could steer them towards that she could get them out of Higgins’ earshot long enough. The Professor went down there so rarely once the late Spring/early Summer heat set in, and she knew Doc and Koo wouldn’t mind – they were far more friendly and hospitable than Professor Neil Higgins.

Nodding deferentially to her employer, she spoke quietly. “Sir, I have a few pennies saved, and I’ve been hankering to get a crucifix for the wall of my room. If I could perhaps take the gentlemen around to the servants’ entrance, I could look at their….”

“No, come now, Missy, don’t you go stealing my scant pleasures so quickly,” Higgins interrupted, his voice dripping with syrupy venom. He slowly started descending the steps towards the trio at the bottom as he spoke. “It’s not often we get such… colorful… visitors here at Shangri-La! Why, I am sure Col. Pickering and I would both love a chance to… get to know these two fine ‘folks’.”

Higgins had reached the bottom now, and was standing a few feet away from Hazel, looking at him with a smarmy smile that did little to disguise the deep disdain with which he obviously held the visitors, like he was looking at some odd and unusual specimen of insect.

Hazel and Missy exchanged glances nervously, and he was becoming more and more uncomfortable as Higgins approached him, feeling like one of the dead butterflies he remembered seeing pinned to a board in his Parish House school classroom. He shifted from foot to foot, suddenly acutely aware of the small trickle of sweat running down his back under his calico blouse.

“Mo chagren, m’sieu’, I… err.. apologize. I will not take up mo’ of de time trop chere of you an’ de nice m’sieu’.” He nodded and smiled at Pickering, then turned slightly as if to leave, catching Missy’s eye and giving a slight jerk of his chin towards what he guessed was the rear of the house she had spoken of. He was quite ready to be away from this strange man, who was frankly making his flesh begin to crawl. “Merci, an’ I bid a good day to you bot’. C’est assez, Gat. Allons . Mam’selle?”

Before Missy could lead them off to safety, Higgins stepped quickly to block their path. He had been studying the slight blonde very intently as he spoke, and the disdain that curled his lip was beginning to morph into a bit of a leer, as his voice deepened and one dark eyebrow slowly elevated.

“Not so fast, ‘Azel’, ” again, he mocked the young Cajun’s pronunciation of his own name, “perhaps I wish to see your… trinkets myself.” His eyes raked over the comely young blonde’s form, obviously appraising more than just his unusual costume.

“Oh, Higgins, really now, must you?” Pickering said softly.

“Hush, Colonel,” Higgins snapped irritably, “this young man might have all kinds of things I might be interested in. You have no idea.”

“Oh, I think I know exactly what kinds of things you might be interested in, Professor,” Pickering replied, a trace of a resigned laughter in his voice.

Pickering watched with a familiar feeling of dismay as Professor Higgins began to circle the young man, separating him from Missy and his traveling companion like a wolf cutting a weak calf from the herd before the kill. The taciturn Indian scowled when reluctantly giving ground to the Professor, but Pickering noted that the tall Choctaw man’s fingers never once left his large six guns, and his dark fathomless eyes were trained expertly on Higgins’ every move. He had the distinct feeling that the tall aborigine considered it his calling in life to come between the pretty Cajun man and disaster, and that he had done it many times before.

“Hssssttt!!!” Higgins expelled the hissing sound in response to the Colonel’s chiding, sounding so much like a striking snake that Hazel jumped visibly, and both Hazel and Missy out of reflex made small genuflecting motions.

“Mais mon Dieu, m’sieu’, you scare pauvre ‘Azel! Really, chere, Gat and I just go with the nice mam’selle an’ we don’ trouble you again…”

Hazel moved to leave again and Higgins moved closer, cocking his head and fingering the details of the Cajun’s interesting attire, his face set in a sardonic smirk.

“’Pauvre ‘Azel’” Higgins minced, mimicking Hazel in the worst way. “He’s so deliciously low, isn’t he? Already starting to work the con, trying to find the angle…”

It took a moment for him to realize what Higgins meant but when he did, Hazel’s eyes flared in indignation. He opened his mouth to protest, but by then Higgins had already moved on. One of the things that unnerved Hazel the most about the man was his tendency to consistently talk about him as if he were an interesting piece of furniture, rather than with him as another participant in the conversation. And even when he was included, he had the distinct feeling he was being either talked down to or made sport of or both.

“Note the fascinating costume, Pickering.” He narrated to his friend as if he were viewing a museum specimen, not clothing worn by a real living soul right in front of him. “Basic Roman Catholic Priest’s cassock underneath it all, or at least it was once upon a time.” He circled him again. “Were you a priest sometime, ‘chere,’?” he asked with a sarcastic lilt, “or did you just ‘relieve’ a priest of his vestments during some sort of furtive encounter? More likely the latter, I’m guessing…” He continued to poke and prod at Hazel, making him more and more discomfited.

Nonetheless, Hazel had been asked about one of his favorite subjects, and answered him in good faith.

“Mais non, chere, dis here cassock, she come from de pries’ my dear departed maman lef’ me to, who done raise me. Defan Pere Filber’, he a good man. He gone to live wit’ de angels now, God res’ his blessed soul.” His eyes got slightly misty as he remembered the good Father’s kindness, and he crossed himself for the peaceful repose of his soul.

“He wan’ me to be a pries’ lahk’ him, he did, but dis Bishop f’om N’Awleans who come see me when Pere Filber’ done pass away, he say I don’ got de ra’t schoolin’, an’ den he say I ain’ nothin’ but a no-good sodomiz’n’ bayou rat! My eye! Dat no good saleau… Den de peunez t’row me out of de parish where I done growed up, and he done tol’ me to allez and don’ never come back, he do. Ca faire? All I had was dis here cassock of Pere Filber’ dat I porte on ma back, I porte encore night an’ day so I not miss my defan Filber’ so, bless his soul, I tell you true, la verite...”

As Hazel got deeper into his tale, he became more emotional and animated, and his accent and dialect became so deep as to almost become incomprehensible to almost all present.

Higgins splayed his fingers across his chest in a gesture of mock compassion, pretending to dab at a tear.

“Oh, Pickering, did you ever hear a more touching tale? Why I do think I might positively weep in sympathy for this poor dear benighted creature… “

He smiled a sickly-sweet smile as he continued to pace in gradually-tightening small circles around the confused young man and continued his dissection of the newcomer.

“So with your poor simple cassock clutched about you, you hit the lonely road all by yourself, a pretty young lad, all alone in the world. Why, Pickering, how can it not bring a tear to your eye, such a sad story?”

He stopped circling him and folded his arms across his chest, leaning back slightly. Assuming his normal bored and cynical air now, Higgins went on, his tone almost sing-song.

“Let me tell you the rest of your story, shall I? Let’s see. You went straight to New Orleans, because you had always wanted to see Mardi Gras, and the big city. While there you found yourself prey to the worst kinds of hustlers and con men, many of whom wanted to put your pretty ass to work for them, and not selling religious articles, no, it was something far less savory. How am I doing so far?”

Hazel was standing totally still and listening transfixed to every word Higgins said, his eyes large.

“Hmm. I’ll take that as meaning I’m on the nose. So after a week or two of starvation on the street, you finally caved in to one of the less abusive ones pressuring you, and did ‘work’ for him for a while. Eventually you met a kind ‘customer’, who happened to be the religious artifact business: I suppose that would be Monsieur Duplantiers? He offered to take you away from working on your back, and put you to work on your feet. You put your tattered cassock back on, and hit the road. Somewhere along the line, you met up with ‘Chief No-Speak-Um’ here, and struck a bargain of food, sex, or something for bodyguard services – I haven’t figured that part out yet - and here we are.”

Hazel stood completely awestruck, staring at Higgins as if he had pronounced the Second Coming itself. Even Gat’s normally implacable expression had given way to visible consternation, his brows beetling as he heard how close the smug stranger had come to telling them in explicit detail exactly how Hazel had come to be in his current circumstances.

Hazel had blanched, and his voice grew shaky and uncertain as he tried to determine how best to handle this most peculiar gentleman, who seemed to somehow have an unsettling amount of knowledge about him even though, as far as he knew, they had never met, and he knew his travels had never taken him anywhere near this part of Kentucky before.

“M’sieu’…Professor…’ow is it dat you know all dese t’ings about ‘Azel, when we ‘ave never ‘ad de pleasure of making de acquaintance before? ‘Ave you been followin’ ol’ ‘Azel an’ Gateau ? Pourquoi you wan’ go do dat? ‘Azel ain’t got not’in’ of no good to you, m’sieu’, I be jus’ a simple bayou boy, I guar-ahn-tee you dat, I jus’ a simple bayou boy, an’ not a damn t’ing more.”

Higgins laughed, and the sound sent a small shiver up Hazel’s spine. Pickering drained the last watery dregs of his julep and sighed, thinking to himself that the sound of Higgins laughter must have jackels in the desert raising their heads from their kills in affinity.

(End Chapter 1)
This story is dedicated to my brother Jim, and his lifemate, Lorri. Their courage and their enthusiasm for life and love, even while facing the ultimate loss, has been something I will never forget, and it made it possible for me to keep writing this story this summer, even through the hard times.

Because of the amount of work I put into this 60,000+ word story and the limitations of formatting on, I have chosen to only publish one of the twelve chapters of Pygmalion on this site. If it has piqued your interest and you wish to continue reading, please go to my journal at LiveJournal (not friend-locked)
The footnotes for Chap. 1 are available there, with translations for the Cajun words, among other things. If you wish to comment, I have allowed for anonymous comments there, or you may comment here. Merci, chere! hg

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