For our fourth Pinkorama, Freya brings us Lord Vaughn and Miss Mary Alsworthy in “Can the World Buy Such a Peep?”, taken from Chapter Ten of The Seduction of the Crimson Rose.
(Text by Freya with occasional parenthetical interpolations by the author.)
Sebastian, Lord Vaughn appears dramatically in the Chinese chamber.
(Because, of course, Lord Vaughn does everything dramatically. He’s Lord Vaughn. Enough said.)
Miss Mary Alsworthy, nearly caught gawking at the trompe l’oeil, now gawks at the delicious Lord Vaughn lounging in the doorway in little more than his linen, a delicate vinous flush over his elegant cheekbones.
(Lord Vaughn approves of this message. He, too, finds his cheekbones very elegant. And vinous flush is much more delicate than “totally sloshed”, “foxed”, “inebriated”, or “HOW much claret was that, again?”)
Closer inspection (ahem) reveals a telltale claret stain just over the region of his heart. In a lazy punto-reverso-con-ballestra-attack-to-four, Lord Vaughn kicks shut the secret panel and advances upon Mary.
Now with free extra alternative ending! Everyone in Belliston Square is abruptly devoured by a titanic kitty-cat named Cyril Bassington Bassington! The House of Stuart remains free to wreak havoc across Europe!
(PG Wodehouse meets Pink Carnation in feline form! Where is Gussy Finknottle when you need him? Bonnie Prince Charlie avec newt?)
Thank you so much, Freya, for that beautiful staging of Vaughn’s secret chamber– and Vaughn-approved descriptions. A special shout out goes to Cyril Bassington-Bassington and his work for the Jacobite (Catobite?) cause.
For your amusement, here’s the passage from which the scene was taken:
Mary came to an abrupt halt, the sole of her boot squeaking against the polished floor. She scarcely noted the click of the door as it closed behind her. There was no Vaughn. The room was empty.
Revolving in a slow circle, Mary took in her surroundings. There was certainly no place for Vaughn to hide. The room was scarcely larger than her dressing room at her brother-in-law’s house, the walls paneled in a polished rosewood inlaid with precious porcelain plaques painted with scenes of life in the Orient. There were eight panels in all, angling inward to form an octagon. The parquet of the floor echoed the shape of the walls, sloping inward in an ever-narrowing pattern that drew the eye towards the center of the room, where a fancifully carved table held a silver salver.
Everything in the room was rich and strange, from the unexpected shelves that held vases made of jade so fine that Mary could see the light reflecting through it, to the oriental dragons who stood in pairs beside the crimson-cushioned benches that sat at the base of seven of the eight walls. The eighth wall was occupied by a mantel of rare red marble, in which a fire had been laid but not lit. Even without the fire, the room didn’t feel cold. Candles had been lit in gold filigree holders at even intervals all along the eight walls, and their light reflected warmly off the rich rosewood and the pale parquet floor, striking off the hidden gold threads in the shot-silk crimson cushions and turning the lolling tongues of the brass lions red-gold.
Standing in the center, beside the carved teak table, Mary felt as though she had been placed in a velvet-lined jewel box. There were no windows, no door, nothing but rosewood and porcelain, filigree and marble. Even the ceiling had been plastered and painted in imitation of the roof of a pagoda, tricking the eye with the illusion of successive layers of intricate architectural detail rising ever upwards.
Tipping her head back, Mary squinted at the ceiling, knowing that it had to be flat no matter how her eyes insisted otherwise.
The only warning she had was a light click, and then the door burst open, followed by a velvety voice drawling, in tones of barely veiled menace, “How very kind of you to call. It saves me all sorts of trouble.”
Mary dropped her head so quickly she nearly wrenched something in her neck. It was so like Vaughn, to catch her at a disadvantage, gawking at the ceiling like some poor provincial who had never seen trompe l’oeil before.
Drawing herself up, she slowly turned to face him with all the outraged dignity of Elizabeth I confronting a disorderly courtier. She was doing quite well at the regal outrage until Vaughn came into view. The stinging rejoinder Mary had prepared fell unuttered from her slack lips.
Vaughn lounged in an expansive pose, the billowing while folds of his shirt sleeves filling the doorway. Without waistcoat or cravat, the ties of his shirt undone, Lord Vaughn looked more like the caricaturist’s ideal of a dissolute poet than a belted earl. His shirt hung open at his neck, revealing the strong lines of his throat and a surprisingly impressive display of musculature, the smoothly honed physique of a swordsman rather than a pugilist. The shirt had been loosely tucked into his pantaloons, but seemed to have come free in the back, the shirttails hanging over the tight kerseymere of his breeches. The large diamond still winked on his finger, its richness only serving to underline his shocking dishabille.
Mary found herself incapable of doing anything but stare. It was impossible to envision Lord Vaughn without his armor of brocade and lace, but there he was, in little more than his linen, the lithe grace of his form admirably displayed by the sheer folds of fine fabric. It was… Mary blinked rapidly. It was unmistakably Lord Vaughn, but a Lord Vaughn such as she would never have imagined. And yet, it was undeniably he. Who else could be so arrogant even in dishabille?
In the meantime, Vaughn seemed to be having equal difficulties comprehending her presence. At the sight of her face, he rocked back on his heels, taking an inadvertent step back and catching at the doorframe for balance in a movement that made his sleeves flatten against the corded muscles of his arm.
Regaining his usual self-possession, he propped himself against the doorframe, folding his arms across his chest.
“Well, well,” said Vaughn mockingly. “What have we here?”
Stay tuned for Pinkorama #5, coming your way tomorrow….