Homophones sound alike but differ in spelling and meaning, like knight/night, suite/sweet, and prints/prince. How many of the 140 pairs can you find in this tale? (Note: Since pronunciations can vary, some pairs may be debatable.)
Good Knight, Suite Prints
A Homophone Story by Mary Ellen Slate
(with apologies to Walter Mitty)
Russell Wood, a nearly bald man of modest mien, wore clothes of worn serge and a tie with just the merest flecks of color. Unless you focused on his tie, he almost disappeared: His hair matched his face, which matched his suit—all grays.
Alone at his teller's cage, idle and bored, Russell took a peek at the frieze along the bank's ceiling. There was a knight, a minstrel with a lute, an urn, a lyre. Russell swayed on his feet and the room began to reel as he daydreamed.
Sir Claude de Bois reined his horse and rode at a slower gait. As the castle bell tolled, he saw the lord of the manor wave his sword at an empty metal coffer. "You vile villein, to steal my gold!" The weak serf cowered as the baron sent the steel weapon toward his heart. Sir Claude bawled: "Stop, by the Holy Rood! I am de Bois! I mete out justice and bring aid and succor to all men, howe'er base. Don't try my mettle or, rude coward, you'll be sealing your fate."
Suddenly through the grille of the cage came the hoarse bass voice of a constant cougher: "Freeze, sucker! Now, raise your hands. High."
Russell looked but saw no one.
"Didn't you hear me?" There was an edge of real pique verging on choler in the rough voice. "Do as I told you."
"Do you mind, sir? I heard you but I can't see you," sighed Russell.
"Never mind the sighs, liar. Look down here. Damn! I'm losing patience."
The teller ducked his head and saw a vain, wee man only four feet high who paced up and down, stopping at intervals to flex his impressive arm muscles. He wore a tee shirt, suede jacket, and blue jeans. Over his seamed forehead and ape-like brows perched a wig, apparently tacked on with flour paste. His nose went straight for a bit, then took a sharp turn to the side. Yet Harry "Peewee" Farplotz, the world's smallest and most inept bank robber, had style. As he paced, a veil seemed to fall over Peewee's eyes:
Dr. Malcolm Farquahar stepped out of the hansom cab and paid his fare. "Another wholly daring feat accomplished for The Cause," he said as he flicked his ruff. None of his patients, indeed few in London, knew that the foppish medico was in fact a one-man-war-against-injustice in the guise of the Purple Pimpernel, master spy, who mined the terrorists of the French Revolution of their cache of francs.
During the instants that the pint-size hood mused, thoughts chased through Russell's mind. He was considering gambling on an act of derring-do when he saw Peewee's aide, a very broad broad, pointing a big black gun at him.
Rose "Mean Queen" Farplotz was as outsize as her husband was undersame. Her beet-red hair was tied in a messy knot. She wore a wrap of mangy furs masquerading as minks and a four-carat rhinestone ring. "Not well-bred," thought Russell, "but oddly handsome." And then she too fell into a daze:
Chaste Rosalind, the shepherdess, rowed on the incoming sea tide. She began to wade in with her pail of mussels, as behind her on the strait, the surge of the surf moved to the barren shore. The rays of the morning sun glinted from a vein of silver ore in a boulder. A lone tern wheeled. As Rosalind headed for her secret vale, she could sense its peace. The dew had disappeared and the mist had vanished, quiet as a nun. She heard the caws of crows as the flocks soared over the copse of yews; a sole hare started to browse. Near the fields of hay and rows of rye, a deer family—hart, doe, and half-grown fawn—stopped to graze. A bee buzzed over the furze.
Rosalind hugged her slim waist in delight as she inhaled the scent of phlox. She picked a flower and heard a rustle in the bushy brake as a herd of sheep appeared, a woolly lamb gamboling beside each ewe. She passed by the stile, went through the gate, and bathed her feet in the crystal water of the tiny duct that led from the dam. She hummed a hymn for this balm to her soul.
Rose's return to reality was abrupt. "This doll could waste you," Peewee snarled. "She knows how to use that gun. Last week she blew away four guys. And," he held up a vial of pale liquid, "this is a bomb. So let's have the bread, the loot, the dough."
Russell stopped and weighed the situation as an uneasy silence reigned. Then he got out the cash box and threw it on the counter. "Take it. Be my guest, but the sum total is only eight hundred dollars and some cents."
Russell's eyes were drawn, as though by a magnet, to Rose's big gun, which was now held loosely at her side. He knew that the tough facade had cracked and he felt bolder. With a wry smile, he said, "I'm only a simple teller."
"Gimme a break," Peewee whined. "We didn't figure you for a real big-shot magnate like Chairman of the Board, for instance—not even a pipsqueak loan officer. You're nothing but—" there was an astonished pause. "But you're de Bois. I've seen you in my dreams."
By now Russell had also guessed Peewee's alter ego. "Hey! I know you too. Well, hi! You're my idol, the gallant Pimpernel, the prince of spies. And," he made a bow to Rose, "this minx, this belle, this fair maid would be Rosalind."
Russell stopped with a groan. "Oh, dear, I owe you an apology. I pushed the alarm, and the police will be here soon."
"No need to fret, son, we'll beat the rap," said Peewee. "Not a penny has changed hands. Close the cash box and wipe off my prints. Then, just watch as Rosy eats her piece of hardware."
Rose calmly ate the gun, a creation made of a carved carrot dyed black.
"And now," said Peewee, "I'll just drink the liquid bomb and that ought to sew it up." He knocked back the tea that had posed as TNT.
When the cops got there they found a disappointing paucity of perpetrators; no villain to collar, no one to grill.
"It was a false alarm, in a manner of speaking," Russell told them with tact.
The police made out their report while Rose started to coo at their fierce attack dogs, who wagged their tails, put their paws in her lap, gently clawed her furs, and licked her nose.
For the three new-found friends, the nonheist had been a coup. One night a week they would meet for a "Days of Yore" fete when they ate well and wined well and told tales of the past.
ANSWERS (List of homophones that appear in the story)
This puzzle was based on an idea by J.F. Peirce. It appeared in the November 1983 issue of GAMES.