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"Once upon a time two brave princes and a beautiful princess set out to make their fortunes--" began the dark-haired, dark-eyed boy by the roadster.
"Royalty is out of fashion," corrected Ricky Ralestone somewhat indifferently. "Can't you do better than that?" She gave her small, pert hat an exasperated tweak which brought the unoffending bowl-shaped bit of white felt into its proper position over her right eyebrow. "How long does it take Rupert to ask a single simple question?"
Her brother Val watched the gas gage on the instrument board of the roadster fluctuate wildly as the attendant of the station shook the hose to speed the flow of the last few drops. Five gallons--a dollar ten. Did he have that much? He began to assemble various small hoards of change from different pockets.
"Do you think we're going to like this?" Ricky waved her hand vaguely in a gesture which included a dilapidated hot-dog stand and a stretch of road white-hot under the steady baking of the sun.
"Well, I think that Pirate's Haven is slightly different from our present surroundings. Where's your proper pride? Not everyone can be classed among the New Poor," Val observed judiciously.
"Nobility in the bread line." His sister sniffed with what she fondly believed was the air of a Van Astor dowager.
"We never relinquished the title, did we? Rupert's still the Marquess of Lorne."
"After some two hundred years in America I am afraid that we would find ourselves strangers in England. And Lorne crumbled to dust long ago."
"But he's still Marquess of Lorne," shepersisted.
"All right. And what does that make you?"
"Lady Richanda, of course, silly. Can't you remember the wording of the old charter? And you're Viscount--"
"Wrong there," Val corrected her. "I'm only a lord, by courtesy, unless we can bash Rupert on the head some dark night and chuck him into the bayou."
"Lord Valerius." She rolled it upon her tongue. "Marquess, Lady, and Lord Val, out to seek their fortunes. Pity we can't do it in the traditional family way."
"But we can't, you know," he protested laughingly. "I believe that piracy is no longer looked upon with favor by the more solid members of any community. Though plank-walking is an idea to keep in mind when the bill collectors start to draw in upon us."
"Here comes Rupert at last. Rupert," she raised her voice as their elder brother opened the door by the driver's seat, "shall we all go and be pirates? Val has some lovely gory ideas."
"Not just yet anyway--we still have a roof over our heads," he answered as he slid in behind the wheel. "We should have taken the right turn a mile back."
"Bother!" Ricky surveyed as much of her face as she could see in the postage-stamp mirror of her compact. "I don't think I'm going to like Louisiana."
"Maybe Louisiana won't care for you either," Val offered slyly. "After all, we dyed-in-the-wool Yanks coming to live in the deep South--"
"Speak for yourself, Val Ralestone." She applied a puff carefully to the tip of her upturned nose. "Since we've got this barn of a place on our hands, we might as well live in it. Too bad you couldn't have persuaded our artist tenant to sign another lease, Rupert."
"He's gone to spend a year in Italy. The place is in fairly good condition though. LeFleur said that as long as we don't use the left wing and close off the state bedrooms, we can manage nicely."
"State bedrooms--" Val drew a deep breath which was meant to be one of reverence but which turned into a sneeze as the roadster's wheels raised the dust. "How does it feel to own such magnificence, Rupert?"
"Not so good," he replied honestly. "A house as big as Pirate's Haven is a burden if you don't have the cash to keep it up properly. Though this artist chap did make a lot of improvements on his own."
"But think of the Long Hall--" began Ricky, rolling her eyes heavenward.
"And just what do you know about the Long Hall?" demanded Rupert.
"Why, that's where dear Great-great-uncle Rick's ghost is supposed to walk, isn't it?" she asked innocently. "I hope that our late tenant didn't scare him away. It gives one such a blue-blooded feeling to think of having an active ghost on the premises. A member of one's own family, too!"
"Sure. Teach him--or it--some parlor tricks and we'll show it--or him--off every afternoon between three and four. We might even be able to charge admission and recoup the family fortune," Val suggested brightly.
"Have you no reverence?" demanded his sister. "And besides, ghosts only walk at night."
"Now that's something we'll have to investigate," Val interrupted her. "Do ghosts have union rules? I mean, I wouldn't want Great-great-uncle Rick to march up and down the carriage drive with a sign reading, 'The Ralestones are unfair to ghosts,' or anything like that."