Everyone’s favorite curmudgeon returns in The Garden Intrigue, playing a Pirate Queen in Emma and Augustus’ masque at Malmaison. As you can imagine, Miss Gwen has a little too much fun laying about with that cardboard cutlass….
For your entertainment, here’s my favorite Miss Gwen-related excerpt: the ill-fated first rehearsal of the masque Emma and Augustus have co-authored together, starring Jane as heroine and Miss Gwen as Pirate Queen.
Let’s just say it’s not going well….
From Chapter Fifteen of The Garden Intrigue:
“Although the waves beset me sore, / No force shall keep me from thy door. . . .” Dropping his pose, Kort squinted at his script. “It says here that I’m supposed to be beset by waves. Where are they?”
The cast of Americanus had at last convened for their first full rehearsal in the theatre at Malmaison. They had arrived that morning in their several conveyances, converging on the small town of Rueil with its modest chateau, and had been sorted into their respective lodgings by those members of the staff who remained in readiness for the First Consul’s impromptu visits.
With Francia’s tower still in pieces backstage, Jane stood on a chair appropriated from the main house. With the red and gold striped cushion bowing in under her ribbon-tied slippers, and the back of the chair serving as in impromptu armrest, she looked out over the tiered seats of the theatre, largely empty except for a smattering of cast members, an abandoned script here, a discarded shawl there. So far, Jane had been a remarkably good sport about being stuck up there for the better part of half an hour. She claimed she enjoyed the view.
That was a good thing, decided Emma, because it looked like Jane was going to be on that chair for some time.
Kort glanced down at his feet, set slightly apart as befitted a seasoned mariner on a storm-tossed sea. The floor remained still in a very un-sealike way. “I must say, I’m not feeling particularly beset.”
“Don’t worry! We’ll have the waves soon!” Emma called out from the prompt box. Dropping her voice, she muttered, “At least, I hope we will.”
Mr. Fulton had faithfully promised a wave machine that would make the Comédie-Française’s puny efforts look like puddles in comparison. So far, however, there had been little sign of one. She had called upon him before leaving Paris. He had another commission, he said, which had set him back slightly, but the wave machine was at the very top of his list and he would be sure she had it by Tuesday.
Today was Wednesday.
A very nice man, Mr. Fulton, but he did tend to be consumed by his work. If this other project proved as engrossing as it seemed, they might be forced to resort to having footmen on either side of the stage waving bits of blue cloth, an amateurism to which Emma had sworn they would not stoop.
Augustus stooped down next to the prompt box. “Shall I get the blue cloth?” he murmured.
“No!” Emma exclaimed, as though she hadn’t been thinking the exact same thing. With more confidence than she felt, she said, “Don’t be silly. It’s just a slight delay. You know what the roads are.”
“Rutted. Why, at this very moment, a couple of sturdy stable boys might be tugging the crate down the road.”
“Or your friend might have forgotten.” Turning back to the stage, Augustus called out, “Lift your imagination with the lofty spirit of invention, Mr. Livingston. The absence of the baser realities should be no obstruction to the flight of fancy.”
Kort folded his arms across his chest, showing off the fact that his tailoring had improved considerably since his arrival in Paris, a fact for which Emma took full credit. “In a language I can understand?”
“Try rocking back and forth,” translated Emma. “And stagger a bit.”
Kort obligingly staggered. “Good?”
“Excellent!” cheered Emma.
Both men gave her a look.
That made a nice change, thought Emma. Finally, they agreed on something. Emma consulted her script, even though, by now, she knew it by heart. “Americanus, you’ve just arrived at Francia’s shores.”
“Is that what they’re calling them now?” whispered one of the spare pirates, one of Napoleon’s younger generals.
Someone near him snickered.
Emma raised her voice. “You’ve come bearing all sorts of gifts for her from your native land. Shall we pick up with ‘in my hand’?”
Kort consulted his script. “In my hand I hold for thee the peach, the pear, the blooming tree—How can I hold a tree in my hand?”
Emma resisted the urge to bang her head against the polished wood of the music stand she had borrowed from the main house to hold her script.
How had she forgotten how staggeringly literal-minded her cousin could be? This was the same man who told her that acorn caps couldn’t be fairy teacups because they would leak.
“It’s a metaphor! Oh, fine, if that makes you uncomfortable, change it to ‘In my ship’s hold, I hold for thee.’ Better?”
“Slightly.” Emma made a note of it on her master copy, and Kort returned to his script. “For I shall bring you crimson leaves, and rippling wheat in golden sheaves, a cache of berries, red and sweet, and dappled deer on silent feet.”
Instead of the seductive litany Emma had envisioned, his reading sounded like a merchant ticking off items on an inventory.
“At least he has the American accent down,” murmured Augustus, settling himself on the edge of the prompt box, his long legs dangling down next to her.
Emma whacked him in the ankle and poked her head out of the prompt box. “You’re not inviting her to the theatre, Kort. You’re trying to get her to run away with you and be your love. Surely, you can show a little more feeling than that.”
“In fact,” said Jane, shifting a bit from one foot to the other. The cushion beneath her feet made an unhappy squelching noise. “I am perfectly happy in my tower. I need proper inducement to entice me to leave.”
“I can see to that!” called out one of the pirates.
He was abruptly silenced by the whap of thickened cardboard hitting an equally thick skull. Emma had her suspicions as to the source but preferred not to verify. If she hadn’t seen it, it hadn’t happened.
Kort tapped the script. “Why would I haul half of America to her shores if only to turn around and go back again? It makes no sense.”
“It’s a gesture,” said Emma, through gritted teeth. “It’s meant to be romantic.”
“It’s not romantic, it’s impractical. I wouldn’t blame Francia for turning me down flat.”
A pirate popped up from behind the half-finished backdrop at the back of the stage, declaring, “First sensible thing I’ve heard all day!”
Miss Gwen might have traded in her signature parasol for a pirate’s cutlass, but her character hadn’t changed in the slightest; chaperone or scourge of the high seas, it was all the same to her, just so long as she got to lay about with a pointy implement at regular intervals.
Emma didn’t like to think of Miss Gwen unleashed on the Spanish Main. It was enough to make the blood run cold. From the curl of Augustus’s lip, he shared that view.
Undaunted, Miss Gwen stalked forward, her knee-high boots revealing a surprisingly spry figure. A gold ring bobbed in one ear as she said, with relish, “Wheat and berries? Deer? What is he? A gentleman or a gamekeeper?” She hoisted her cutlass imperiously in the air, like a ship showing its colors. “Turn him down and impound his ship, that’s what I say.”
“Er . . .” Emma looked from Miss Gwen to Augustus.
They hadn’t even gotten to the pirate part yet and this was already turning from a rehearsal into a mutiny.
Eloise and Colin coming up tomorrow!