For our fifth Pinkorama, Rachel brings us “The Deception of the Emerald Peep”, from Chapter Thirteen of Pink III, The Deception of the Emerald Ring.
Rachel writes, “Jane has invited Letty to her house in order to reveal the true nature of her– and Miss Gwen’s– relationship with Geoff. Dual identities and mistaken impressions are just some of the reasons why this scene is a favorite… and the dialogue is as witty as ever! Miss Gwen has the manuscript for her “scandalous novel” in hand and Jane is ready to literally let her hair down and tell the truth to poor, confused Letty. And Geoff… is Being A Guy. For more of the scene come to life, watch the video!””
But, seriously, watch the video. Just make sure your office door is shut and you haven’t taken a large gulp of coffee– because it will wind up up your nose. You’ve never experienced Emerald Ring until you’ve seen it performed by Peeps.
Thank you, Rachel, for making my week with that video! (Still cleaning up that coffee spill…. But, oh boy, it was worth it.)
For your amusement, here’s the entirety of the scene– but it’s much more fun with Peeps.
“Ah, Mrs. Alsdale!” Miss Fairley broke off, and half-rose from her place at the table to beckon Letty in, ribbons and curls bobbing. “You are wonderfully prompt. Do come in.”
The brisk words were entirely at odds with the gushing Miss Fairley of the night before, but Letty only barely noticed. All her attention was fixed upon the mysterious third party, whose cup rattled on its saucer as he pushed his chair abruptly back from the table.
“Lord Pinchingdale?” stammered Letty.
Her husband appeared incapable of speech.
Not so Miss Fairley. “I believe you are already acquainted,” said Miss Fairley pleasantly, looking calmly from one to the other.
Lord Pinchingdale’s gaze narrowed on Miss Fairley.
“I did not agree to this,” he said levelly.
“No,” Miss Fairley acknowledged, in a voice that wasn’t like Miss Fairley’s at all. “But if you weren’t going to be reasonable, you had to be made to be reasonable. Hence this afternoon’s arrangement.”
“Perhaps I should go,” suggested Letty, inching her way backwards. She stumbled as her heel came into painful contact with the lintel of the door, catching at the doorframe for balance. “I wasn’t aware you had other guests…. Some other time, perhaps….”
“Not at all.” Miss Fairley’s voice was still pleasant, but there was a note of command in it that arrested Letty mid-flight. “Do sit down, Mrs. Alsdale.”
Letty moved away from the door, but refused to take the chair her hostess indicated. She felt safer standing. There were strange currents making themselves felt across the table; Mrs. Grimstone was looking superior, Miss Fairley determined, and Lord Pinchingdale displeased. And all of them knew something Letty didn’t.
That alone was enough to make Letty refuse the chair.
“I am quite comfortable as I am,” Letty declared, ruining the effect by shifting her weight off her throbbing heel.
“As you will,” Miss Fairley said equably, pausing to take a sip from her almost-full cup. “I suppose you won’t take any coffee either?”
Letty shook her head in negation, anxious to hasten the strange interview to its close. The whole scene made her oddly uneasy. Miss Fairley’s sudden, unexpected poise. The malicious gleam in Mrs. Grimstone’s black eyes. Lord Pinchingdale’s air of watchful expectation, as he leaned back in his chair, lips pressed tightly together, and arms folded across his chest. He looked as though he were waiting for something… they were all waiting for something. But for what?
Half a dozen scenarios straight out of the annals of sensational fiction presented themselves to Letty’s rapidly whirring mind, as she stood impaled in the center of the circle of eyes, like a hart in a medieval tapestry. There were ways of getting rid of an unwanted wife, weren’t there? A drug in the coffee, a quick trip to a mental asylum to have her declared incompetent. Just before she left London, Charlotte Lansdowne had pressed one of Richardson’s novels on her, where a virtuous young lady was tricked into residence in a brothel under false pretenses, driven to degradation and eventually death by the vindictive madame. Mrs. Grimstone, with her cold eyes and grasping hands would make an excellent bawd.
But such things didn’t happen outside of fiction; it was too strange, too sensational—wasn’t it?
Despite the sun slanting through the long windows, Letty shivered. She knew no one in Dublin, no one except Emily Gilchrist and Mrs. Lanergan, and they didn’t even know her under her proper name. As far as her family was concerned, she was on an extended honeymoon trip. What better time for Lord Pinchingdale to divest himself of an inconvenience? He could return home, the grieving widower, and pick up just where he had left off, philandering his way through London’s ballrooms. And no one would ever suspect….
Letty’s hand’s closed around the curved wooden chair back. “Why did you ask me here? Not for coffee, I take it.”
“No,” agreed Miss Fairley, “not for coffee. For this.”
With one graceful movement, she reached up and swept the entire mass of silver-blonde curls off her head.
Letty didn’t know what she had been expecting, but it wasn’t that. Where Miss Gilly Fairley’s foaming locks had been a moment before, shining pale brown hair had been coiled into a graceful knot that accentuated the classical planes of the woman’s face. Without the elfin curls and gaily colored ribbons, her entire appearance was transformed. Instead of a flighty wood nymph, she reminded Letty of a marble statue of Minerva, intelligent and slightly alien.
“It does feel good to get that off,” murmured Miss Fairley, dropping the wig with obvious distaste on the table next to the coffee pot. “The ringlets itch terribly.”
The transformation made Letty’s disguise seem decidedly amateur.
There were altogether too many people in disguise. Her own had been donned out of desperation, on a moment’s impulse, but what about Miss Fairley? What excuse could she have? Suspicion trickled through Letty, as unpleasant as cold coffee, as she looked at Miss Fairley’s serene countenance, all the more beautiful for being unadorned. She didn’t look much like Mary—her hair was fair where Mary’s was dark, her eyes almond shaped where Mary’s were round, her lips thinner and the bridge of her nose narrower—but there was a similarity that transcended the differences in coloring, a certain inherent stateliness and an underlying beauty of bone structure.
Letty rounded on her husband, who was watching Miss Fairley with an expression that she could only term grim resignation. Grim resignation, but not the slightest drop of surprise. If Lord Pinchingdale could come to Dublin and pay court to a young lady without revealing his prior marriage in London, couldn’t it also work the other way around?
“Is there something I ought to know?” Letty asked sharply.
“The less you know,” said Lord Pinchingdale, and although the words were ostensibly addressed to her, Letty knew they were really intended as a warning for the alien beauty sitting at the head of the table, incongruously attired in Gilly Fairley’s frills and flounces, “the better.”
“The better for whom?” demanded Letty. “For you?”
Lord Pinchingdale’s lazy posture didn’t change, but something in his face hardened. “Of course. Whom else?”
With the unforgiving light from the windows picking out the rich brocade of his waistcoat, glinting off the sapphire in his cravat, she saw him for what he really was, a pampered aristocrat who thought nothing of running amuck through the lives of others in the pursuit of his own pleasure.
Loathing, pure and painful, rose through Letty like lava, bubbling up through the back of her throat, nearly choking her.
“You might try thinking of someone other than yourself for a change. Just for variety.”
Lord Pinchingdale raised an indolent eyebrow. “As you do? I’m sure your appearance here last night was arranged entirely for my convenience.”
“Why should I think of your convenience when you are so adept at doing so for yourself? How many other women do you have tucked away in far-flung bits of the world? One in Scotland, perhaps, to go with the grouse shooting? A harem in Paris?”
Lord Pinchingdale’s lips twisted with amusement at a joke that eluded Letty. “Not of the sort you’re imagining.”
“I have no interest in hearing the sordid details.”
“I do,” interrupted Mrs. Grimstone, who had been listening avidly. “A harem would be just the thing.”
“Mrs. Grimstone is engaged in writing a sensational novel,” explained Lord Pinchingdale in a tone drier than the kindling in the hearth. Turning to Mrs. Grimstone, he added, “Do make sure to change the names. My reputation appears to be black enough already.”
“Certainly I shall,” sniffed Mrs. Grimstone. “Pinchingdale is an absurd name for a hero.”
“I’m sure Mrs. Alsdale will vouch that it works excellently well for a villain.”
“You do yourself too much honor,” said Letty scathingly. “Villains, at least, have a certain grandeur to them. Reprobates have nothing to recommend them.”
“How quickly the pot turns on the kettle.”
“If you weren’t so entirely debased yourself, you wouldn’t be so quick to judge others by your own standards!”
“If you find yourself running short of terms of abuse, I suggest ‘degenerate cad’ for your next go. Or you can just slap me and get it over with.”
“Only if I had a gauntlet to do it with!”
“Are you challenging me to a duel? I’m afraid that’s not done, my dear.”
“I forgot.” Letty drew herself up to her full five feet, enjoying the sensation of being able to look down on Lord Pinchingdale. “You have no honor to defend.”
“Well delivered!” exclaimed Mrs. Grimstone. “I couldn’t have done it better myself.”
“Before we descend any further into absurdity,” Miss Fairley broke in calmly, sounding as unruffled as though she were supervising a philosophical discussion at the Bluestocking Society, “someone really ought to provide an explanation to our guest.”
“What sort of explanation did you have in mind?” enquired Lord Pinchingdale. His voice was perfectly calm, but there was a bite to it that suggested he wasn’t quite so blasé about slights to his honor as he might pretend.
“Fiction is so much more entertaining,” mused Mrs. Grimstone. “Especially my fiction.”
“But not necessarily conducive to domestic peace,” countered Miss Fairley.
Lord Pinchingdale looked rather tight about the lips, in a way that suggested that he found the possibility of domestic peace just as unlikely a goal as Letty did. Not, thought Letty mutinously, that he had any right to look grim. After all, he was the one keeping a harem.
He folded his arms across his chest, and nodded towards Miss Fairley. “Since this was your idea, Jane, why don’t you do the honors?”
“Who,” demanded Letty, rather shrilly, “is Jane?”
Miss Fairley flicked the wig fastidiously aside, and looked Letty straight in the eye. “My name is Jane.”
“Not Gilly?” Letty knew there were other things she probably ought to be asking, but that was the first that rose to her lips.
Miss Fairley—Jane—smiled at her kindly. Too kindly. Letty hadn’t seen an expression like that since the time the cook had been delegated to tell her that her favorite dog had died. “No, not Gilly.”
“And you may address me as Miss Gwen,” announced Mrs. Grimstone, whose Christian name was supposed to be Ernestine, which, as far as Letty could tell, bore no discernable relation to Gwen, by any stretch of linguistic acrobatics. “However, you may do so only in private, when there is no danger of anyone overhearing, or you will jeopardize the entire mission. Do you understand?”
“We are all,” Jane said gently, “agents of the Pink Carnation.”
Stay tuned for Pinkorama #6, coming your way tomorrow….