Evershed Zanzibar, Esq.
24 April 1893
My Dear Lady Climateus,
I do hope this finds you well and happily attending to your research and your inventions as usual. After finding out about the construction of your amazing Chancetorium and your need for a young captain to take it out to sea, I told myself that I simply must contact you on the subject of a Miss Mercy Be Little, who is now my ward.
I have quite a story to tell you, dear friend, and it behooves me to begin at the very beginning and perhaps even before the beginning, so to speak.
Once upon a time two rare and lovely actors fell in love, married, and bore a rare and lovely child. Almost as soon as she could walk the child was given stage roles— a cherub here, a faerie child there. The theatre was her playground— the costumes, props, and sets her toys, the actors her playmates.
The circumstances surrounding her gestation and infancy were not the kindest; in order to provide for themselves the family was obliged to travel the world in an exhausting acting schedule, and they were often compelled to hide from police in hidden annexes in theatres.
I know you will be shocked to hear this, dear lady, but do not for a moment suppose that this sweet couple was guilty of having committed any misdemeanor. They possessed sterling characters and showed a remarkable fortitude in the face of their misfortunes. In the annexes they made the best of things by dining on their Camembert and baguettes by candlelight, filling the small hiding place with whispered stories of changelings, warrior princesses, prophets, thieves, and sorcerers.
Most of the theatre people were honourable and kept the family’s whereabouts secret, but there were always a few who, acting in the blind self-interest common to many artistic types (and who would know about this better than I, my dear Climateus?), envious, scheming types who would inform on them, necessitating another quick flight into the wild blue yonder with naught but the clothes on their backs.
The family name was Little, and because they’d seen that the world was cruel and that their very lives were marked, they named their beloved daughter Mercy Be Little.
They plotted night and day as to how to grant her every possible benefit in this vale of tears, extracting promises from friends the world over— including you and I, as you know— to watch over her and grant her whatever good was in their power to provide in order to aid her in her journey through this fearsome world should harm ever befall them, for the parents were both orphans, with no family to succour them or to take in their daughter should she be orphaned as well.
They dubbed these folk the Friends of Mercy. The very mention of them was enough to comfort the parents’ worried hearts, and so they mentioned them at every turn, listing their personal qualities.
One dark and stormy night the little family found itself on a rickety vessel bound for Cyprus, where they were to appear in a staging of Antony and Cleopatra. The foolhardy captain got too close to the shore and ripped the hull on a sharp boulder. There was only one lifeboat; the father placed his wife and daughter in it and was about to enter it himself when a voracious wave quickly arrived to devour him and suck him to the bottom of the sea. Yes, before their very eyes, my dear Climateus!
The grieving mother and child floated to shore with the others and remained with a family of peasants who were unfortunately in the throes of consumption. Mercy and her dam mourned Papa’s loss quietly until the mother became consumptive and died of the disease— or of a broken heart, or both; who can say? The family of peasants died, too, one by one, until little Mercy found herself alone with a disagreeable old widow who finally decided to move in with relatives the next village over.
Dear lady, my eyes are old and the candle is sputtering. I will send this by the morning post and write more tomorrow, because you simply must know every detail. I’ve gotten it into my head, you see, that Mercy, much as I’ve grown fond of her and would love to keep her here, would be the perfect candidate to captain the Chancetorium. I also believe, old friend, that you could provide a much better life and education for her than could I in my bare little house on this poor island.
Sincerest best wishes,
(Excerpted from The Wondrous Chancetorium of Mercy Be Little, by Wanda Waterman)