“… a packet o’ paper, five bottles of ink, a box of small tacks and a half-dozen fresh nibs. Here ye’ are, Miss Fawkes….”

Merri smiles her thanks, and if they are a bit distracted, she cannot truly help it. She would not have left her sitting room at all had it not been Esther’s day off, but she’d run out of nearly everything she needed to continue her work on the Parabola Equation and there was no one else to run the errand.

That’s when she runs into the first of her neighbors, a Mrs. Caravola, who could not wait to ask her about the latest rumors regarding Mr. Paulsen. And if Merri thought she was distracted before she’d left the stationer’s shoppe, what she hears afterward — from Mrs. Caravola, from Mrs. Bennet, from Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle, and a Miss Dewberry, and young Mr. Remington — sets her ears buzzing.

Vaguely horrified — mostly because the rumormongers seemed to think she ought to be horrified and it didn’t take much probing to discover why they assumed she should be horrified — she alters her course and heads toward the bookshop where Henrik and Theodor share rooms.

It perhaps is not the wisest course she could choose, given she’s now as mired in scandal as Henrik, if not moreso, but she’s only two blocks along the way when she spots his familiar figure walking toward her on the street.

[okay, if this doesn’t suit, I shall rewrite however you think best. Cue Henrik!]

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33 Comments

  1. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Henrik is clearly not anxious to be spotted. He has turned up the collar of his overcoat, despite the false-summer heat, and his shoulders are rolled up practically to his ears. An ill-tempered monkey keeps watch there as though from a set of rather roundish battlements, and he flicks pebbles at passersby — or even at passers more distant, when he thinks he can get away with it. This is endearing the monkey neither to his neighbours nor to Henrik. Unless Merri should hail him, Henrik is quite determined to make it to his lodgings without once raising his gaze above the level of the cobblestones.

  2. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Oh, she’s going to hail him all right. If she were a goddess of storms he’d find himself buried in it!

    “Henrik!” she hisses, warning the monkey off with one steely-eyed glance. “What in the name of God have you been doing? I thought you were at Summerset to be a lecturer, not a lecher.

    It’s somewhat inaccurate, but the shame and scandal she’s caught in the backlash has her quite upset. As is evident, and even the monkey seems to know it.

  3. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    “You needn’t take that tone,” he says tartly. “Honest misunderstanding — surely that sort of thing happens every day –“

  4. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    “I have been accosted no fewer than five times in the last hour alone!” She retorts, fighting to keep her voice down. “And all six of the persons involved heard of it either from that provost, or from his wife, who was either amused or incensed, depending on who was relating the tale!”

  5. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    For perhaps the first time in their acquaintance, he flushes red as a radish. “What was I meant to think when I asked him to adjourn with me, and he agreed? What sort of man reads such a request as a plea for digestive tonic?”

  6. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    There is a moment of complete silence as Merri’s eyes take in his enflamed complexion, the import of his words, and what she knows of his grasp of the language. Then she remembers the barely suppressed glee of Mrs. Carlisle in the relating of the gossip, and flushes herself.

    “I know your grasp of idiom is not perfect” she finally says, controlling both tone and volume with an incredible invocation of will. “Are you quite sure you understood his replies?”

  7. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    “No,” he concedes, while the monkey climbs upon his hat and appears to be preparing to nap on the brim. “If we must discuss my foolishness, could we do so indoors? Certainly we’ve scandal enough that it would scarcely register for you to enter an unmarried man’s rooms unchaperoned –“

  8. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Her chin comes up. “We have no scandal at all. I have a great deal of it, but I’ve spent the last hour repairing your reputation. You should be free of it, or most of it. I am the poor wretch who’s so obviously taken with a man whose affections…”

    Her mouth snaps closed. “Very well. If you would risk the scandal of such a branded woman entering your rooms, then let’s get off the street. I can feel all the eyes of Fallen London boring into my back.”

  9. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    “– I had no idea that it would touch on your reputation,” he says, and his expression is so completely confounded that he cannot be anything but sincere. “I had no intention of doing you harm; you must believe that I never thought it would concern you in the least — my most heartfelt apologies, my dear –” Still stumbling over his own tongue to apologize, he reaches the bookshop and almost absently waves away the proprietor, taking his key from his coat pocket as he goes. A few spore toffee wrappers drift sedately toward the floor, and he unlocks his door on the third try. By this stage, he is nearly mashing the key into the keyhole.

  10. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Merri’s jaw is clamped firmly shut until they are safely within the confines of the rooms he shares with Theodor, and he finally manages to close the door behind them.

    “Dear God, Henrik! Do you think my neighbors are blind? Or our friends, as we spend time together in public? Mrs. Caravola saw you kiss me on the street that night — indulgent soul that she is, she has assumed we’re courting and was nothing but pleased until… this…!” Her packages land on the paper-strewn table and she throws up her hands to indicate “this,” whatever it is. “Of course what you do touches me now. Until or unless we publicly break with each other, everything each of us does touches the other!”

  11. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    “Then what would you have me do? Take no other lovers? Very well — then I’ll take no other lovers, and for propriety’s sake perhaps I’ll become a priest in the bargain,” he snaps. His hat, he leaves upon a shelf; his monkey, he shoes into the wilderness of neglected teacups that has somehow accumulated around his chair. “I meant you no harm. What would you have me do but mean you no harm?”

  12. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    “Just… think!” she retorts. “I know bloody well — ” and it’s a mark of her distraught state that she actually swears in English, aloud — “you’ve taken other lovers, all without setting polite society on its ear. Were you feeling somehow deprived, with a need only a man like the provost — a well and long married man, mind you — could fill?”

  13. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    “I was curious why he should want me; surely that’s not difficult to understand even if I judged wrongly — you wouldn’t be shouting at me if I were Narciso; you’d be charmed if I were Narciso –“

  14. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    If you were Narciso I wouldn’t be involved in the scandal!” She shouts, clamping her hand over her mouth momentarily because she knows, from painful experience, there is no other way she’s going to stop shouting. She hasn’t lost control of herself like this since the last row with Gavin, and that it was over this very same subject isn’t lost on her.

    Same process, same result, she thinks, pulling her hand away from her mouth, unaware she’s left fingermarks on her cheeks. If you want a different result, Merri, you’d better change the process.

    “I’m sorry for shouting, Henrik. It was inexcusable of me. I do beg your forgiveness.” It’s said stiffly, awkwardly, but somehow sincerely too.

  15. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    He turns away, though — lights candles, for the banked fire and the streetlights outside don’t provide enough light for him to see by. “You are right to be angry. I was a fool to imagine … well. I’ll forswear all others, and be yours alone. That should settle matters agreeably.”

  16. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    “Don’t. Don’t say that. I don’t want those promises. Not from you.” As if their apologies have pulled a plug, the anger drains from her and leaves her tired and faintly nauseous in the aftermath. She finds a chair and unceremoniously sits in it without waiting to be invited. “You’re not a saint and you’re not a priest. As it turns out, neither am I.”

  17. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    “I can’t continue bringing scandal on your head. This is the most efficient solution — it requires only fortitude.” The candles lit, he goes to kneel by the chair that she’s adopted. He folds her hand in his; his fingertips smell of sulphur. “I want to make things right with you, my dear.”

  18. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Merri smiles softly, she really can’t help it. “Then don’t make promises you may not be able to keep,” she tells him, stroking his jaw with almost unbearable fondness. “I know you would intend to do so, but you are human, darling. Your desires run to your own sex, not to me or mine. It’s only a matter of time before you break that vow, not because you are weak, but because you are human. I for one am glad you are human — I am too mortal and fallible to live peaceably with either angel or saint.”

  19. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Although they have shared a tacit understanding of their circumstances for some time now, it nonetheless sends an icy sensation through him to hear her articulate his condition so plainly. He swallows, and rests his head against her knee. “You’ve taught me that I can and do desire you; you are woman enough to surfeit any man. How could I complain? Why should I seek secret pleasures, when I enjoy your company so thoroughly?”

  20. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Her clear grey eyes meet his candidly, and he sees the signs of strain and sleeplessness around them. “That is a very good question, you know, one to which it is worth knowing the answer. Why should you? Why do you?”

    And it is plain she is not accusing. It is almost the inquiry of the scientist, only posed gently, lovingly.

  21. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    “I had not thought that I shouldn’t. It was innocent inquiry — or perhaps I might better say carnal inquiry, but conducted in a spirit of innocence. I didn’t know what he wanted; I wanted very much to know.” It’s not quite an answer to her question, and he’s aware of that. “I’ve had no others, since you. I’ve tried to …” he has to think of a way to phrase it that’s both accurate and sincere “… to keep my faith with you.”

  22. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    She feels the smile flickering at the corners of her mouth again, and twines her fingers into his hair gently. “That’s… very sweet,” she murmurs, forgiving him utterly. “But, my darling Henrik… if we’re to continue together, we’re going to have to come to some civilised arrangements fairly soon. I don’t intend to repeat the mistakes of my first marriage, not if I can help it.”

  23. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    “What sort of civilised arrangement were you envisioning? Would it safeguard us both from scandal?” He catches her hand and kisses the palm lightly, then releases it again.

  24. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    “Possibly.” She’s still shivering from the intimacy of the kiss, and it’s something of an effort to pull her thoughts back into order. “The only relatively safe way to do that is to conduct your seductions slowly and carefully, much in the method you used to conquer your foes on Watchmaker’s Hill and the Wolfstack Docks,” Merri murmurs. “Go slowly. Observe. Be sure before you move. Then leave no regrets behind.”

    She speaks from experience, that much is plain. “My troubles at court have not been due to sexual scandal, merely speaking imprudently and hastily — but scandal is scandal, it seems. It shall take some time to repair.”

    With a chagrined sigh, she raises his hand to her lips in turn, kissing the middle knuckle and sucking on it lightly. “We cannot escape scandal entirely, darling. It is in neither of us to live societally conformable lives. But we can manage scandal, conduct ourselves intelligently. Mindfully.” Then she grins a little. “Would you be willing to attend church with me for a few days until this dies down?”

  25. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    “Gladly,” he answers, and he means it — he is always sincerely glad to attend church, although he finds himself longing for familiar rites and canons. His devotion, though, is somewhat dampened by the fact that a beautiful woman is suckling at his fingers. “My dear, are you …” And he’s not entirely certain of how to finish.

  26. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    She smiles over his hand, and it’s possible he recognizes that light in her eyes, muted though it is. “I am,” Merri agrees. “But I know I am too tired to tend to you justly, my dearest. Forgive me?”

  27. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    “I need no tending,” he avers. “Would you prefer to walk, or to rest?” If he is avoiding discussion of their intrigues — he has never quite developed a vocabulary for them.

  28. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    “Dear God. I would rest, Henrik. I’ve been charging ahead full-throttle in defining the Parabola Equation, declining laudanum until madness threatens, courting dreams and nightmares so I may learn but not go mad…”

    She smiles to forestall his protest. “But I am not our dear Theodor — I know when I’m at my limit. I shouted at you — that tells me this is it, my limit. I just ran right into it. I do need rest. I think I shall have to walk to get it, however.”

  29. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 10, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Henrik must concede that, much as he would like to tuck her into bed and read at her beside until she could manage sleep, it would do little good for either of their reputations — and Theodor would never understand (or, which worries him more, he might understand perfectly). “May I escort you?” he asks, finally. “Or would that be a shock beyond bearing, for our reputations?”

    [I’m off to bed — thank you again for agreeing to this!]

  30. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 10, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Merri chortles wryly and arises. “Not at all. You will escort me home like a proper gentleman, bow over my hand at the door, then return home alone — if you wish to avoid more scandal, of course.”

    She considers teasing him about an exile’s vacation to the Tomb Colonies, but forebears. She’s not that tired. Instead she precedes him out the door, and enjoys the walk back home on his arm.

    [My pleasure, it was fun! Good night!]

  31. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 11, 2010 at 5:59 am

    He bows over her hand, precisely as instructed, and then tips his hat as he turns to go. Something in her look, though, arrests him; perhaps the strain of her efforts with the Parabola is showing on her face, or perhaps he has only become newly conscious of her vulnerability. He pauses, suddenly seized with a desire to protect her as he could not protect Theodor (or Jakob — or Annelise). “If your mind will not let you rest,” he says softly, “Will you promise me that you’ll take laudanum?”

  32. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 11, 2010 at 8:06 am

    It is a bit unexpected and therefore bracing, this concern from him, but pleasant, too. Merri smiles gently. “I shall, I promise. I’ll see you tomorrow for church, dear Henrik.”

  33. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 11, 2010 at 8:36 am

    “Tomorrow, then,” he answers, and takes his leave.

    Their conversation has chastened him, certainly — but not driven him to chastity. He has begun to think of his error not as an embarrassment, but as a failure … and Henrik will not brook failure of any kind.


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