Perhaps even more disturbing – for the first time in her life, Miss Bianca is referred to as ‘vermin’. By someone who clearly knows nothing of her hand-carved cedar wood furniture and swan-down-filled pillows. And who clearly would never guess that by the time readers meet her again, in Miss Bianca in the Orient (1970), her first slim volume of verse has gone into three editions.
On this mission, Miss Bianca carries an elegant overnight bag made of snail-tortoiseshell, lined with spider-silk and containing all necessities (a fan, a light chiffon scarf, and a flash of eau-de-Cologne). Meanwhile, Bernard has his galoshes and a packet of cough lozenges tied up in a spotted handkerchief which he uses with fondness as it once served as a safety net for Miss Bianca on an adventure in the Black Castle (although she encourages him to replace it with a proper briefcase).
Readers have a more complete picture of the Moot-hall, where the meetings of the P.A.S. are held: a majestic building which was once a claret-cask, with many rows of match-box benches and a platform at one end made of cigar-box cedar wood containing four walnut-shell chairs. Behind the platform hangs a richly-framed painting of a mouse freeing a lion from a net, and nearby is a display case which contains a chart drawn by Miss Bianca for use in the expedition to the Black Castle and other similar trophies.
Another tidbit of Miss Bianca trivia is offered when readers learn that her pedigree extends back to her ancestress Blanche de Port Salut, although her ancestress might disown her upon learning that Miss Bianca has, in an unparalleled moment of frustration, used the word ‘phooey’, a vulgar expression designed to startle her friends into paying particular attention.
There is also a throwaway comment about Bernard’s whiskers which does not go unnoticed: “(Bernard’s whiskers haven’t so far been done justice to: though short, they were remarkably strong.)”
The volume I was most eagerly anticipating was Miss Bianca in the Antarctic (1970) because I was looking for some mouse and penguin teamwork: I was not disappointed.
First though, however, there is the ruse of a second retirement. (As if the world of prisoners could do without our brave rescue personnel!) Still, this time it is not merely about a party but also gifts.