Hello hello, I hope you have all been well over the last week, and I hope you enjoy this next instalment.
PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
A thing that ought not be
Asthetica’s arrival provoked her mother, Madamine Grouse, to emerge from the ground floor door of her private sanctums. Tall and still slender despite three children and being well on the reverse slope of her prime, she bustled out with a hiss and rush of many silken skirts like a sea-born gale to throw her arms about her daughter.
“Oh oh, my wenigblüte!” she cried, her accent thick with the Gottish roll despite many years away from her homeland far across the Pontus Canis to the south-east. “My little blossom! Home to me once more. How I dread that someday it will be a skopp-boy instead to tell me that you are ground to powder under the wheels of those awful flecheschatchel and be returned to me as nothing more zan a sack of powder.”
“Mama…” Asthetica glanced the merest long-suffering glance to Economous. “You know full well I do not work with the gastrine mills, mama,” she continued her role in the game. “The worst I might suffer is to be smothered under a great pile of paper.”
These two played much the same game every time he was there to witness he beloved’s workday homecoming.
“Oh, how can you say such horrors to your dearest old ma-ma!” Madamine Grouse demanded with a pitch close to a wail. “You know how I fret myself to frays over you with untermensch – monsters – loose on every turn and circuit…”
At this a tall man entered the vestibule and graced the entire scene with a broad, knowing smile but saving his longest most oily looks for Asthetica herself. Though only a few years ahead of Econmous in age, the fellow was entire vaults filled with coin ahead in quality of dress.
It was Monsiere the Lord Sprandis Fold, Reive of Lot-in-the-Hole.
So far below the man in station that a mere word from him could have them wisked off to the Duke’s Bench, Binbrindle and Economous immediately bowed – just as they ought – offering a duet of “M’lord” as they did.
The Reive scarcely apprehended them, releasing them from their obeisance with a flick of his velvet-gloved hand.
Glossy was the only word Economous could think to describe the man as he straightened: glossy brightblack slippers, glossy silken trews, glossy plum longshanks and matching frockcoat, glossy fullbottom wig of fashionable silver, and – worst of all – betwixt glossy locks and glossy white neckerchief, a glossy unblemished smile. What woman would not be swept up by such dazzling cockery?
A pearl would be shamed to stand in this man’s presence, Economous concluded sourly feeling very drab indeed. He could not even dismiss the fellow as a high-stepping fluff; for primped and fashionable as the Reive of Lot-in-the-Hole might have been, he had not strayed into the kinds of sartorial excesses – huge bows, enormous ruffled neckerchiefs, fur-lined everything – of a vain and ludicrous dandidawdler.
“The Lord Fold has so very kindly brought me home today, ma ma,” Asthetica declared with pointed attention to her mother, yet her cheeks flushed with such pretty pleasure at such a focus of male attention.
For the merest pulse of a humour Economous was certain he witnessed an expression of utter horror twist the mother’s face as she comprehended just who it was that stood resplendent in her shabby vestibule. However grandiose her ambitions for her daughter, it had clearly never figured in her reckonings that Asthetica would bring her exulted prize home.
“A kindness indeed, my gracious Lord,” Madamine Grouse proclaimed with a shrill display of delight, curtseying low with a cracking of knee joints and back bone. “Such more zan any others can do for my wenigblüte, I am sure,” she added with the briefest, sidelong scowl at the two lowly gents left hapless on the stairs.
“T’was a trifling, good lady.” The Lord Fold took the lowly landlady by the hand becked a genteel bow as she were a duchess of state herself.
Eyelashes fluttering girlishly fast as any bee’s wings, Madamine Grouse palid face transmuted to a scarlet hue Economous had never thought possible in such a habitually sour mien. Fer several beats her mouth made breathless “oh’s” of delight, until she finally declared, “Such handsome treatment, sir! Such handsome treatment!” Released once more, the madamine took Asthetica by the hand and drew her daughter towards the door of their ground floor apartment. “If you please, my lord, allow me und my delight some moments to refresh ourselves,” she said with a harsh and nervous laugh, bobbing and nodding obsequiously even as she retreated.
“Refit and refurbish, a-hey – as the vinegaroons on the docks would say,” Bidbrindle offered with a friendly chuckle.
Backing through her domestic portal, Madamine Grouse glared at him from the shrinking gap, her eyes communicating perfectly just how inappropriate such terms were to be applied to ladies, and in the presence of gentry too!
Awkward, throat-clearing, foot-shuffling minutes commenced and ground on. Leaving the two lesser men unreleased, Lord Fold seemed quite content to stand in silence, leaning on his silver-topped baton and staring at a yellowing patch in the green paint above the Grouse’ family door. He paid no mind at all to the other two men, yet neither Economous nor clearly the violin-maker had felt themselves unable to go on with their own small, pointless lives.
With a stout ruttle, Bidbrindle bravely undertook his marvellous tale of the black-elder viol on the Reive who looked at the violin maker in a show listening but clearly barely comprehended him nor saw the need to.
At the place in Bidbrindle’s telling where the rosewood was being ordered from Turkmantine, the Reive suddenly spoke. “You there!” he demanded of the violin-maker, stopping the poor fellow dumb. “Go out to my fit and let my bridleman know I shall be some time yet.”
“How will I know which fit is your, m’lord?” poor Bidbrindle asked, even as he moved to comply.
To this Lord Fold arched a brow and gave an impatient nod. “It is immediately outside. I can assure you, you will tell it from all others…”
Whether by strength of wind or a trained and broken soul, Binbrindle becked and humbly obeyed, stepping outside.
As the heavy front swung open then shut again, Economous caught a glimpse of two heavy set fellows without, waiting on either side of the door : the Reive’s spurns – his personal guards – little doubt, glowering at all passers and patently ill-at-ease.
Abruptly the Reive fixed his attention on Economous. “I do believe I know you, man,” he declared bluntly.
“M – me, m’lord?” Economous blinked.
“Aye indeed, man,” Lord Fold returned. “I have been puzzling on it o’er and o’er these many minutes gone, ‘Where is it that I have beheld such a distinctively lank-locked and underfed face before?’ I never forget a face, you see. Once seen, it is in,” he tapped his smooth brow with a velvet-gloved finger. “And now I have it!”
Lank-locked, Economous did not hide his frown. Underfed! “And where have you seen me, m’lord?” he asked if only to divert his offended sensibilities.
“At the great gala that strutting foreign duchess-heir held at the fore o’ month: you were a scribbler there scribbling all the illustrious faces. My how you must have been agog to be surrounded by such glories, such heights of society – it’s a wonder you could draw at all. Still, my wife was well pleased with your work.
Wife? Economous’ scandalised mind lurched. Had the man meant to tell this? He was clearly careless of his company, but surely the Reive was not this contemptuous?
Lord Fold went on without a pause, as if nothing so extraordinary had passed his indulged and pouting lips. “‘Tis pity that that appalling Branden Rose dame was your first employer, m’boy, else I might have had you along as a curiosity at my own upcoming Lestwich Tide. Were she still here I would absolutely have to have you, but she is – as the papers say – run off again on some outrageous errand, no doubt to marry some monster if the buzz about certain circles is to be believed… It is a wonder the Emperor did not demand an explaining when he was with us a fortnight ago. She, of course, was not in the city – but if I were he I would have summoned her right back from where’er she is supposed to have slunk off.”
In his growing dismay Economous barely remarked any of this. Asthetica cannot surely know that he is wed already, can she? “You said have a wife, m’lord?” he said, daring to draw out the appalling revelation so carelessly disclosed.
Yet in the very moment of utterance he was saved what would have most likely been a dangerously withering remark and the more dangerous ire of a well placed peer by the racket of the simultaneous return of Bidbrindle back from street and Madamine and Miss Grouse emerged again from their boudoir.
Dressed in fold upon fold of glistening cloth-of-silver draped over petticoats of blood red then pristine white, Asthetica stopped all noise dead with her expensive splendour.
Gazing at her with cool yet patent hunger, the Reive crooked his arm for Asthetica to lay her hand upon, which she now did with a mannered kind of grace. He then said something he obviously found funny for he laughed loud and look-at-me drawing a shrill bray of uncomprehending mirth from the two women as he swept his beautiful companion out and away.
Dumbstruck, Economous watched them leave, utterly flummoxed as to how it was he could save Asthetica from heartbreak and shame without shaming her or breaking her heart instead.
Stamping her foot to get attention, Madamine Grouse gave a scornful sniff.
The young man and the older look at her as one.
“I have reckoned ze new rent arrears to ze start of spring,” she said with sharp tones so very appropriate to such sharp practice. “You owe me ze difference!” she proclaimed sourly without looking either man in the eye and slammed the door.
Turning and climbing the stairs to his own apartment, Bidbrindle tipped a knowing nod to Economous, as if he and the young concometrist belonged together in the same hopeless chase. “Raised rents equals fine dresses, methinks,” he said with a smirk, and retired.
Clearly too age-ed and frowsty and full of dull stories, that Bidbrindle fathomed his own cause with Asthetica to be a thin ruse was admirable self-knowledge; that he thought Economous was his fellow member in such a forlorn school was a bitter brew. Feeling thwarted and furious with himself, Economous climbed the shuddering, groaning flights to his cramped garret and lay a-bed on his tandem chair among the frames and boards and the greasy smell of seed oil, the gusting turmoil without a perfect twin of that within.
Was he to let all of his life be stymied by fear?
Was everything he reached for to be somehow snatched away as impossible?
Yet as wind battered angrily against the narrow shutters, it seemed to him that facing the Mouldwood was a less frightening prospect than exposing the blackguard Fold and laying himself soul-bared to Asthetica.
I will act then, he determined and with that, fell asleep.