Monday, 4 April 2016

2 Flash Fic stories by Hope Denney & ReeD

A little while ago, in early February, my favourite Twitter-based microfiction game@FridayPhrases, generated the following #FP effort from me:
Her suitor cuts her at the opera, blatant, cruel. She is publicly silent & slips a snake onto his coach. He likes games; she doesn't lose

I quite liked it and thought there might be scope for a longer story sitting in between the words, waiting for the telling.

But even better, the brilliant @HopeDenney2 quite liked it too. When we realised we both thought it could be developed into a longer story, we, of course, had to give it a go!

So we did, and we each came up with very different interpretations. Hope's story is immediately below, and mine is further down the post.



by Hope Denney

New York City
The coats behind them rattled and fell to the floor in graceless heaps like so many tangled corpses on the plush red medallion carpeting. Camille caught sight of herself in the mirror that had been hidden behind the coatrack and giggled. Pressed against the wall, his lips on her neck, she looked like anything but a pampered, delicate lady.
“We’re going to be late to La Traviata,” she whispered between his urgent kisses.
Phillip reached behind his back and tested the chair wedged under the doorknob.
“You’re just worried someone will find us,” he said, biting her lower lip. She gasped. The hand at her waist began creeping upward.
“So I am.” She pushed him back and straightened her silk bodice. “I’d hate for Mother to drag me home in disgrace from such a prestigious event.”
“Is your mother hoping you’ll catch the count’s eye?” Phillip asked.
“Or duke or knight or whatever he is. She did pay scads of money for the opportunity,” said Camille and shrugged. “As though it matters. Even if I meet him, he’ll forget all about me when he meets Sybil.”
“How old is Sybil?” he asked as he tied a bow that had come loose right below her collarbones. She smacked his hand.
“Fourteen. Far too young to think of marriage. Yet it hasn’t stopped any of my suitors from passing me over in the hopes of winning her one day,” said Camille bitterly.
Phillip turned her around and pressed her back against his chest so that she faced the gilt mirror. “I think you’re lovely,” he said. “Those haunting green eyes and night-dark hair against that white skin couldn’t be surpassed by anyone.”
“I’m moonlight and Sybil is sunshine,” sighed Camille. She broke away from his grasp. “So unless you have honest intentions regarding me, I’ll please Mother and Father by standing in the receiving line for the count.”
“I might, but I’m notoriously slow to make up my mind.” Phillip grinned. His dark eyes glistened, and Camille felt her knees quake beneath her skirt. She wasn’t quite certain of what they were doing, but she loved not being treated as a fragile flower.
“Perhaps I’ll see you after the opera?” asked Camille.
“I never can resist a beautiful hoyden,” replied Phillip, bending forward to kiss her lips.
She slapped him across the mouth. She could tell the blow smarted from the sting in his black eyes.
“I think I’ll take my chances in the receiving line with the count,” she said, and with every appearance of dignity, she removed the chair from its barricade and exited the coatroom.
The receiving line was long. It wound through the gallery and down the hall in serpentine fashion. Camille found Sybil and her family in their spot and tried to get a glimpse of the count, but the line was too long.
“Where in the world have you been? Do try to mind your manners!” hissed Mother in her ear. “Hem in your unladylike ways. Don’t say anything about women’s rights to him, and for heaven’s sake, if the other girls are curtseying to the count, you should too.”
“I’ll be the model of decorum,” said Camille, trying to look demure. “He’s going to be astounded that he’s never met a lady like me before.”
Sybil, both girlish and sultry in a gown the color of asters with her sleek golden hair falling around her face, linked her arm through Camille’s.
“It’s a pity I’m not old enough to marry,” she said to Camille. “They say he’s touring New York in search of a wife, that his family needs fresh blood in it. I’d like to live in Europe. I think he’s from Austria. Or is it Ireland? Either way, he’s simply the most dashing man! I saw two guards walk him in.”
“I’m not worried about him,” said Camille. “If I can’t get married in New York, nobility isn’t going to look twice at me.”
“And with that attitude, young lady, no one ever will,” hissed Mother.
The line was moving rapidly. It appeared that each eager young lady spent no more than about ten seconds greeting the count before guards waved her on. Camille caught sight of him. He wore an elegant black suit, and his thick black hair waved back from his forehead in a way that—
Oh, stars above! The man she’d shown the way to the coatroom, the man she’d kissed until they were both breathless was none other than the count! And she’d slapped his mouth! Her heart hammered inside her corset until her ribs ached where his hands had rested.
His previously mirthful black eyes betrayed nothing as she curtseyed before him. He solemnly thanked her for coming as she moved through the procession of ladies. Then the humiliation that burned within her breast turned to ire as Count Phillip laid a hand on her mother’s arm.
“Madam, I realize this is highly irregular, but would you mind if your youngest joined me at my table for dinner before the opera?” he asked in his mellow, elegant voice.
Sybil blushed at the honor, and Camille moved down the corridor toward the dining hall without giving him the benefit of letting him see her wounded expression.
What had she been thinking? She’d been on her way to sneak a cigarette in the coatroom when she’d run into a young man looking to deposit his coat. She hadn’t thought a blessed thing about his accent. Few in New York were actually from New York. No sooner than he’d hung it up did he ask her for a match, and before she knew it, she’d lost her head and they were kissing. Now she looked cheap and foolish. He thought she was beautiful. Had she met him first in the receiving line, he might have chosen her over Sybil to join him at his table.
She drank a glass of Cabernet by the window and watched as Sybil took her place at his right hand side at the table. She leaned forward, artfully chatting with him about music and art, while Camille felt her head spin from the wine but chased it with a glass of champagne anyway. When she could no longer stand Sybil’s fresh face staring at Count Phillip as though he were God, she slipped out onto the baloney and shook a cigarette into her clammy palm.
She blew a smoke ring, a ghost of all her hopes, into the bustling evening of a city whose dreams would never be dashed. She hastened to toss her cigarette to the street as the curtains behind her parted, but it was only Philip. He began to speak but she turned away, preferring not to take notice of him. When she went back inside, he was back at his table with Sybil, whispering low in her ear, making her regale the room with her tinkling laughter. Camille rolled her eyes and left early to find her seat for La Traviata.
She was puzzled when the usher told her that her seating had been changed. He led her to a box, replete with maroon velvet and marble columns. She turned and turned, confused to find herself in such an opulent box, but the entrance of the count solved her quandaries.
“I hope you don’t mind that I requested your presence for the opera,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “We didn’t get to finish our conversation earlier.”
“I thought you ended it rather effectively,” she said.
He took a seat in the front of the box and patted the seat next to him. A tray of champagne was placed before them, and Phillip gallantly poured her a flute. Camille was torn between wanting to wound him as deeply as he had wounded her and being drawn in enough by his inherent mischievousness to want to try to salvage the evening. The curtain rose, and Phillip suddenly chuckled.
La Traviata is my favorite opera,” he told her quietly. “I made sure I would see it before my journey home. All the misunderstandings, betrayal, and humiliation…ah, there is no better tale of love!”
“I’ve never seen it before,” said Camille.
“No? You will like it. The papers are abuzz here because they believe I’m hunting a wife for myself. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I merely wanted to tour the city. One hears so much of it, of its brazenness and vibrant nature. It would be a pity not to see it. Sometimes I tire of formality and sophistication.”
Camille relaxed into her chair. If he wasn’t looking for a wife, she had no reason to be offended, but she thought it odious of him to not announce who he was in the coatroom. She deserved to be called a hoyden—even if she didn’t think he was any better.
“Forgive me for asking, but do you kiss every girl you meet behind closed doors?” she found herself asking.
The count laughed. “Sometimes I do, but I meant what I said. You are exceedingly beautiful. Most men would want to kiss you, you know. It will be a nice memory to take back to France, especially when I’m married to some insipid third cousin that my mother choses for me.”
Camille giggled, and the tension instantly dissolved. Phillip glanced sidelong at her.
“But I’ll have to agree with common opinion. Moonlight can never survive sunlight. Sybil might just be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
Camille winced. What was he trying to do? He treated women like toys, obviously, so of course he would prefer Sybil who still played with her dolls from time to time. She rose, livid, feeling the sear of a hot blush rising up to color her ivory cheeks. She turned on her heels and fled the box.
She rushed down the vast steps of the Metropolitan Opera House and stood on the sidewalk, tears spilling from her eyes. He’d seemed perfect. When she hadn’t known his true identity and their hands had been all over one another in the coatroom, she’d wanted him for him. She’d have taken him over some unknown count any day. She didn’t know of any other man who would kiss a woman so boldly or share a cigarette with her. Why was he so damningly handsome? And why so cunning that he had to cast her younger sister up to her? He knew that it hurt her in a way that nothing else did. Wouldn’t she like to teach him a lesson he’d never forget?
Then she spied his coach and the sidewalk bazaar nearby. Liked betrayal and humiliation, did he? Well, soon he might change his mind. She approached the snake charmer under the darkening sky.
“How much for that snake with his basket?” she asked.
“Lord God, you don’t want this creature, miss!” cried the charmer, putting aside his flute. “It’s a cobra. Nasty creatures, miss!”
“How much?” she repeated impatiently. The moon was shining its gentle light on her, sharpening her pain. It reminded her of all she would never be, who she would never outshine. She removed her emerald earrings and held them out in her palm. “I take it this is more than enough?”
“Yes, and thank you! Have a good evening, madam,” croaked the handler as she took off down the sidewalk, feeling unnerved by the weight of the parcel under her arm.
While the coach driver was courting the affections of a wash woman, she slipped the basket into the coach and began to walk home. She felt accomplished and smug.
“Camille! Camille!” cried Phillip.
He was coming down the Met steps for her. She picked up her sweeping skirts and took off. She heard him slam the coach door after instructing his driver to pursue her. Some of her fury was waning. The entire evening was becoming rather ludicrous. Her mother would be furious, but somehow trading insults and injury with this dark stranger was worth it. Wouldn’t he be shocked when he found himself in company with a serpent? Served him right. He was a snake himself. She found herself laughing.
Suddenly, the coach screeched to a stop. The door opened after a struggle, and she watched Phillip roll out, clutching his arm to his breast. Even ensconced in the dying light of day, he was too gray.
Oh no.
“Camille,” he gasped.
“Phillip! Phillip!” She ran to him.
 She tore at her skirt. She needed to make a tourniquet, didn’t she? Was that right? Where was he bitten? Oh. Oh no. There were too many bites to count! She thought snake charmers only worked with defanged animals. Didn’t they?
“Phillip, I didn’t know,” she said through her tears. “Please believe me. I didn’t know!”
“You didn’t let me finish in the box.” He smiled. “Sunlight drowns out moonlight, but I’m moonlight, too. I’m as dark as you.”
Camille put her hands over her mouth and sobbed through them.
“I was looking for a wife,” he moaned through his teeth. “I knew you were perfect from the moment I saw you fishing through your reticule for the cigarettes. You were the only girl there who wasn’t fortune hunting.”
“Don’t say anymore,” she begged him.
“The family needs someone bold, someone without lily-livered pretensions and someone who knows her own mind. I was just baiting you, just trying to get you to show me exactly who you are. We’re a matched set. I thought if I insulted you and twitted you about your sister, I’d get to see you in all your brash glory. I loved you from the moment you slapped me.”
“Stop, you fool,” she choked.
“This proves I was right about you, you know.”
“At what cost? We love each other, and now it’s all for nothing!”
Shouts of alarm were echoing all around them. Camille could hear running footsteps advancing toward them, but it was too late. She smoothed his thick hair from his cool, sweating brow and kissed his hand.
“I would have said yes, you know,” she sobbed. “All you had to do was ask. I’ve never felt this way about any of the others.”
“It didn’t end the way I hoped it would, but it’s still a perfect ending,” he gasped, each word becoming more difficult. “It’s worth dying for just to know that a suitable mate for me exists.”
He went still, moonbeams illuminating eyes that no longer appreciated them. Camille knelt on the pavement in despair, knowing that soon she’d be found out, soon she’d be imprisoned. Did it matter? Passed over for years now, she doubted she’d be satisfied with any man after the games of tonight. The dark adventure of it excited her spirit in way that ladies aide luncheons and bridal showers never would.
She’d won. But what?
And she’d lost. Everything.


Mabel and the Marquis

by ReeD

The ton was in unanimous agreement.

Miss Mabel Merriweather had the utmost temerity to be young, wealthy, almost pretty and most dreadfully opinionated about things no self-respecting young miss on the marriage mart ought ever have opinions about. She had been overheard earnestly duelling with her dancing partners on such incomprehensible subjects as politics, crop rotation, the goings-on in the far-flung reaches of the Empire and botany! She did sketch quite prettily, the ton allowed, but pointed out that she could neither sing nor play. What use was sketching at a ball, for heaven’s sake?! It was no wonder she hadn’t acquired a single beau.

The young lady in question was well aware of the vapidity she was required to display in society, but unfortunately for the ton, found it quite beyond her abilities. “I will never find joy in lace because it is expected of me!” She declared to her mother, “I will always be more interested in where lace designs come from, or how they are made”.

So it was to everyone’s surprise when Mr Reginald Carruthers, fourth Marquis of Farnsworth, began to pay Miss Mabel Merriweather very obvious and unmistakable attentions. Many of the Marquis’ gentlemen friends were aware that these attentions began after a particularly rambunctious evening at his club one Wednesday evening, which featured copious amounts of alcohol, cards and exchanges of various sums of money. However, this was not information they chose to share; they were not gossiping society matrons and misses after all! (Although, if faced with appropriate incentives, they would unanimously agree their silence might well be tied to their stakes in the various exchanges of sums and any wagers therein).

The Marquis appeared at every social event Mabel was attending, he danced with her twice at every ball, dinner and soiree. He listened to her every conversation topic with considerable enthusiasm and displayed his woeful ignorance.

In short, there was every reason for the ton to begin linking their names together in expectation of a forthcoming engagement. The matrons nodded sagely at a union which united income and rank, while the young ladies pouted and whispered jealously about any unladylike actions Miss Merriweather must have taken to catch the Marquis’ eye.

“Well, dear?” Mrs Merriweather asked her daughter the morning after the Marquis’ dedicated attentions continued into a third week. “The Marquis?”

Mabel looked up from her attempt at sketching a hibiscus flower, a tropical species she’d only recently encountered and whose papery petals she was having trouble replicating. She was frowning distractedly as she struggled to process her mother’s question. “The Marquis? He doesn’t really know a lot. I get the impression he’s only glances at The Times headlines. Aren’t men supposed to care about politics? Especially those of his rank? He says he has several estates in the country and another in Scotland. But he doesn’t know anything useful about them. He says he’s been to the continent, but he couldn’t tell me anything about his travels. One would think he never set foot outside his hotel rooms!”

She paused as her mother was assailed by a sudden coughing fit, then added. “That’s not true. He also said he saw a grass snake in Italy. As you know, they’re harmless, yet he insisted on dressing it up in all the accoutrements of all the poisonous snakes in the subcontinent. It was a veritable sea serpent by the time he’d finished!”

Mrs Merriweather nodded. “He is paying you a lot of attention. You’d better nip him in the bud now before you find yourself engaged through gossip and expectations and the weight of scandal.”

Mabel shrugged. “He can’t be so stupid as to be trapped into marriage. But very well. If he wishes to persist in his attentions, I’ll speak to him about cacti. That should deter him.”

She changed the subject. “Hibiscuses are dashed difficult to draw!”

“Language, dear.” Mrs Merriweather spoke automatically, coming over to check her daughter’s one undeniable talent – in the eyes of society, at least. “Where did you get that reference book for the hyb- hib-... for this flower?”

“Oh. Mr Longville lent it to me. From his own travels.”

Mabel bent her head to her drawing paper, but not before Mrs Merriweather observed a light stain of pink dusting her daughter’s complexion for the first time. Mrs Merriweather smiled widely and said no more. Mr Longville was one of Mr Merriweather’s colleagues from the Royal Botanical Society. A young man with a serious intellect and outlook on life, and a very decent inheritance (a mother must care about these things for the sake of her only daughter, of course).

Cacti, Mabel discovered at the next ball, didn’t work. Neither did sea slugs, the opium trade or poetry. Instead, the Marquis stuck to Mabel’s side, as tiresome as tree sap under fingernails. Mabel observed his face unobtrusively as he stood proprietally nearby. He cut a dashing figure in society and he knew it. She had fallen silent and had ruthlessly shot down his society gossip chit-chat (honestly, he was worse than the other society misses). He had gamely tried to converse with her on her topics, but his ignorance was more than she could bear. Now, they sat in silence. Mabel was determined to let it grow as uncomfortable as it could, although it must be admitted that this tactic was spoilt somewhat by the regular parade of young ladies who sauntered by, arm in arm, to flap their fans at the Marquis.

Another half hour went by, and Mabel was still several hours from home and freedom. There was only one thing she hadn’t tried, she decided impulsively and put it into action.

Turning to the Marquis, she beamed at him, and was gratified to see him look discombobulated. It must be said that Miss Mabel Merriweather was not in the habit of beaming wholeheartedly at anything in society. But this was quickly replaced by the Marquis’ look of unalloyed delight.

Dash it all! Mabel fumed inwardly. It was not the reaction she had hoped for. But she could be good at games when she chose. So she began to prattle on in a steady stream about lace, bonnets, the pianoforte. She even tried to bat her eyelashes once or twice (although she drew the line at tittering – there were some things she refused to stoop to). The Marquis responded with relief, great charm, condescending attentiveness and a look of … furtive delight.

Very well. She would find out what he was up to, and would disrupt his game thoroughly. For now, at least, the evening was nearing its end. And at least she could look forward to a Marquis-free evening tomorrow at the Opera. And her father had offhandedly said Mr Longville would be a member of their party – a little piece of information she had hugged delightedly to herself more than once. And she had carefully informed the Marquis that she did not believe she would be at the opera tomorrow, so she could genuinely look forward to the following night.

Unfortunately, at the end of the evening, this wonderful plan was spoilt by Miss Catherine Allsop, a young lady who had taken several turns during the ball with the express purpose of speaking with, and fluttering her eyelashes at, the Marquis. Miss Allsop smiled simperingly at Mabel and said how much she was looking forward to seeing Mabel at the opera tomorrow, “Mrs Merriweather told Mamma that you were attending, and I was so glad, for you always dress so handsomely.”

The Marquis smiled widely as he bowed his farewell to Mabel and promised to be at the Opera tomorrow “for my heart depends on it.” This last statement was said far too loudly and pointedly, and was received with raised eyebrows and smiles by all within earshot.

In the carriage ride home, Mrs Merriweather noted the ruby colour on her daughter’s face, but said nothing. She knew well the difference between a furious colour and a shy blush.

Mabel attended the opera the next day in a black mood, her enjoyment at the prospect of speaking with Mr Longville about all the fascinating things he had seen in his travels, hijacked by the Marquis. What did the puerile man want with her anyway? She’d given him no encouragement, he was much richer than she, and they had nothing – absolutely nothing – in common.

The answer was soon made abundantly clear.

Mabel and her parents waited in the foyer, along with the rest of the audience. This was one of the primary harvesting spots of gossip for tomorrow’s drawing rooms. Ostensibly they were waiting for the other members of their party, Mr Longville and Captain Ward (another colleague from the Royal Botanical Society). However, it was patently obvious that they were also waiting for the Marquis. One had to, Mabel supposed, looking glumly in her reticule to see if she’d packed her opera glasses. Fortunately, her father had asked their manservant, Roberts, to accompany them. If need be, he could be dispatched to collect them for her so she would at least be able to see and concentrate on the second half of the opera. 

There was a hubbub at the entrance. Someone was entering, intent on garnering maximum attention. Everyone in the foyer hushed and waited expectantly. Mabel wondered sourly why a dozen trumpeters had not been hired to provide a fanfare; it would have been easier.

To her surprise, the cause of the excitement was none other than the Marquis. This was rather uncouth by his standards, wasn’t it? He didn’t normally have to draw attention to himself; it followed him. Or rather, it followed his wealth and rank.

Mabel watched reluctantly as the Marquis strolled in, followed by his guests. He had outdone his normal elegance tonight and was proceeding slowly through the foyer, stopping to bow and chat to a favoured few with such condescension, grace and style, one would have thought he was the Prince of Wales, hosting an extraordinary event. She watched as the Marquis and his party wind their way inexorably towards her.

How, she thought, do I get out of this? Wasn’t it meant to be the case that women tried to trap men into marriage? Not the other way around?

The Marquis came face-to-face with Mabel, made deliberate eye contact and paused … and then swept right past her, as though they had never been introduced.

The collectively-inhaled gasp whipped around the foyer like a wind.

Miss Mabel Merriweather had just been cut. In the most awfully, obscenely public of settings. The gossips drank in every tiny detail avidly. Miss Merriweather’s raised eyebrows and wide eyes, how those brows furrowed before being rapidly smoothed out, the two rapid blinks of her eyes, the pursing of the lips, and then the donning of a seemingly calm façade, which sat at odds with the rush of rose which covered her entire face and neck.

The gossips couldn’t quite do justice to Miss Merriweather’s thoughts however, which consisted of floods of: bafflement, chased by relief, then anger, followed by the pulsing heat of revenge. If the Marquis wanted to play games, a game he would receive. She didn’t know that there was money due to exchange hands in the gentlemen’s clubs later, but she didn’t have to. Mabel’s thoughts surged along like the swiftest river current, considering and discarding plans of attack with ruthless rapidity.

Her mother guided her to their box, her fingers a cool, calm touch on Mabel’s elbow, her own face heated beneath white powder at the Marquis’ insult. With the greatest of efforts, Mrs Merriweather said nothing. But if Mabel did nothing in response, which was unlikely, Mrs Merriweather would step in and ensure some form of justice herself.  She was glad her husband was oblivious about these forms of tedious society matters; it made managing things so much easier.

The orchestra was turning up as Mabel seated herself and turned to converse briefly with Mr Longville who was seated behind her. Many eyes remained surreptitiously on Mabel, every time she brought her hand anywhere near her face, the action being enthusiastically reinterpreted as one of sorrow. The eager eyes did not notice Mr Longville’s disappearance shortly after the opera began.

Mr Longville did not excite the ton. He was too serious, too well-read, and too predisposed towards intelligent conversation. He did not participate enough in society and never did anything remotely scandalous. He was wealthy, but not enough to generate interest. He was passably handsome, although too tanned to be fashionable thanks to his travel to foreign climes. He had a hothouse in which he grew strange, ugly, foreign flowers, and he would be more likely to lecture young ladies about the qualities of those ugly flowers rather than offer polite compliments. In short, he was of no interest to the audience.

It was also recorded by the gossips that the Merriweather manservant was despatched to the Merriweather house to procure the forgotten opera glasses. Mabel produced these out of her reticule after the intermission, and apparently watched the opera with calm enjoyment.

The gossips noted that the Merriweathers left as soon as the opera ended. Not inclined to linger, poor things! This statement was delivered with varying combinations of glee and sympathy. The Merriweathers thus missed the final events of the evening.

The Marquis exited the foyer with as much fanfare and flourish as had marked his arrival, a delighted smile plastered upon his face as he engaged in chit-chat and drew further attention to himself. He had a significant audience as he entered his carriage.

And his audience was still there when he exited his carriage mere seconds later with considerably less dignity. That is, with a high, girlish scream, tripping over his feet, and landing into a particularly muddy puddle, face-first. He then compounded his actions with a combined crawl-and-slither action away from the carriage, a look of abject fear on his face, squealing something incoherent about a snake.

Three of his attendants leapt into the carriage, sticks at the ready. They held lanterns into every nook and cranny, they shook out every blanket and declared there was nothing.

“I tell you, I saw it! Check again!” The Marquis screamed again, his face a shade of umber beneath the mud splatters.

The attendants exchanged glances and did as they were told. They shook out the blankets again. There was nothing. They had to repeat their actions a third time before the soggy Marquis staggered to his feet, reluctantly agreeing to enter his carriage.

No-one noticed there was one less blanket in the carriage than there ought to be. Even the eagle-eyed audience watching feverishly failed to notice when, away from the commotion, one of the Marquis’ attendants passed a bundled blanket to a figure who – should anyone have been watching closely – looked uncommonly like Roberts, the Merriweather manservant.

Roberts then went on his final errand of the night – to return a bundled blanket into the safekeeping of a certain shadowy figure outside the Royal Botanical Society, who may or may not have resembled the respectable Mr Longville who had quit the opera early. (Roberts then returned home to share his view of the events with his wife, and asked her to convey his (and Miss Mabel Merriweather’s) thanks to her cousin, an attendant currently in the employ of a certain muddy Marquis).

In the end, the Marquis’ cut to Miss Mabel Merriweather was only part – and the lesser part at that – of a long and entrallingly juicy sequence of events. The rounds of drawing room visits the following day had rarely been so looked forward to and few stories had been quite as relished in the telling and the listening. There was hardly even any need for embellishment. It was most diverting!

There was common agreement that the Marquis had to be a little bit unhinged to engage in such uncharacteristic behaviour. Wasn’t it the case that he partook in excessive amounts of absinthe? And laudanum? And indeed, wasn’t it well-known that his paternal grandfather had slipped into dotage whilst in his fifties?

The Marquis had a serious job to do to repair his reputation in society. He wasn’t, he reassured many concerned matrons with practised smiles, suffering any kinds of apoplexies. He had to refuse multiple offers of excellent physicians. He also had to suffer many pretend snakes in his club; these appeared out of all manner of unexpected corners and were timed to extract the maximum number of shrieks out of him. In the end, he went off to the Continent for some weeks, but returned to find that his scandal had not been replaced by another. He was forced therefore to pick up where he left off and repeatedly reassure society that he was indeed, quite well, thank you.

Mabel Merriweather, in turn, sailed on with her usual disregard to society. She dismissed the Marquis’ former attentions and his cut as having no significance for her. It was neither a reaction nor an outcome which contributed much to the re-tellings in drawing rooms, and so it was quickly dropped to allow the full focus to remain on the Marquis.

It thus went almost unnoticed that Miss Merriweather and Mr Longville were courting. The announcement of their engagement came and went, without causing a marked increase in the number of visitors who came calling (much to the delight of the couple in question, who preferred to converse with each other). After their wedding, the newly-wedded couple set sail for the West Indies.

Drawing room discussion paused to take notice of this unexpected course of action. They politely agreed they would all miss Miss Merriweather’s diverting topics of conversation, while Mr Longville was politely mourned as an acceptable catch now no longer available.

On the ship sailing into the orange sun sinking beneath the horizon, Mrs Mabel Longville rested her head on her new husband’s shoulders and smiled as his arm slipped around her shoulders. They were leaving the drawing rooms, gossip and polite words behind with every breath of fresh salty air. She sighed happily. She was going to see the wider world. At last. 


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