Upon a Quiet Afternoon

For this particular day, Lady Merriwether Fawkes sits in her conservatory, the great room where most of the festivities of The Masque of All Souls will be centered. A writing desk has been brought in for her and a tea service sits on a tray at her elbow, a cup of golden green tea steaming fragrantly in its saucer. An intermittent stream of young persons passes into and out of the room, which is open to the softly lit patio and garden just without. They are carrying invoices, calling cards, room decor, cleaning utensils and supplies, personal letters, business communiqués, the inevitable bouquets of fresh flowers from any of a dozen or so devils at the Brass Embassy, as well as other errata that go toward the production of the Monday’s Masque and, less happily perhaps, to the eventual closing of this house.

The bustle is contained and orderly, with quite a bit of good humour and japing among Esther’s young nieces and nephews, and even a few laughing sallies from the lady herself. It’s a good day to be quietly preoccupied with such matters, as they are mostly to do with celebration and shared joy. The only thing which might make it better is shared company — and for that, Scarlet has said she would come.

“Esther dear, do remember to bring in fresh tea when Scarlet arrives, please. I’m afraid I’ve drunk most of this pot already.”

“Of course, milady,” the housekeeper replies, a faint note of reproval in her tone — as if she could forget such a detail, even with all the uproar the house is in….

Merri hides a grin and, with a swift glance at the pocket watch open upon her desk, returns to her invoices, humming a sprightly tune.

[Cue Scarlet!]

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17 Comments

  1. Scarlet O said,

    October 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Having awoken from an additional several hours of sleep in a warm embrace, Scarlet is refreshed and rosy-cheeked in her simple somber dress – a far cry from the zombie that was slumped in the tea house that morning. She walks with dignity and vibrancy towards Merri’s house, an odd-shaped box under her arm – most certainly a food item, but what?

    With so much activity at Cl0ckw0rks, Scarlet need not even ring the bell or knock. Instead, she slips in among the activity, grabbing the arm of a young boy – likely a nephew of Esther – who is carrying a packet of papers to Merri’s conservatory. She ruffles his hair, taking the packet from him; tucking it under her arm, she bumbles into the conservatory, attempting to hold back her grin.

    “These just arrived for you, mi’lady,” she says, attempting to effect Esther’s voice.

    • cl0ckw0rks said,

      October 29, 2010 at 2:06 pm

      Merri takes that packet with scarcely a glance, but then does a double-take and laughs in genuine delight. “Oh that was very good,” she assures Scarlet, eyes twinkling. “Will you sit with me for awhile, then? I’m `directing operations’ here today, which means I make the decisions Esther’s already approved,” she goes on, rolling her eyes and gesturing for a chair to be brought over. It was probably an exaggeration, but only God knew how much of one.

      “You look much refreshed, I must say,” Merri added.

  2. Scarlet O said,

    October 29, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Scarlet retrieves the chair – she won’t let someone else do it for her – and pulls it near Merri. “I am – I needed much more sleep after such merriment last eve. But you look so busy – have you been doing this all day?” She places the box next to her chair, and leans forward. “I do not want to interrupt you if you are too busy. But it is amazing…and informative…to watch you prepare such an event!” She sweeps a tendril of Merri’s hair back behind her ear. “It’s good to see you feeling better as well,” she says, tenderness plain in her tone.

  3. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 29, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    “It’s good to feel better,” she admits, leaning back in her chair. She notices Esther finally noting Scarlet’s arrival with chagrined indignation and chuckles a little as the older woman hurries off toward the kitchen. “I don’t know why this time has made me so irritable and moody, but I’m glad it’s over.

    “As for interrupting me, of course not! How many times do I have to tell you?” Merri smiles in mock-exasperation. “Even if there are moments when I must attend to these other things, it’s all much more enjoyable for your company. The decor for this one is going to be quite macabre, dull greys, black, and browns, so the costumes of the guests will stand out. The orchestra has a list of music that should keep everyone on their toes, with a break scheduled for the Commodore’s show of course. The food? Well, creepy of course.” She laughs again. “But after midnight, we’ll shuck off all this death and gloom and begin to celebrate life. It should be riotously entertaining.”

  4. Scarlet O said,

    October 29, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    “Orchestra!” She blinks, “An entire orchestra?” And then she laughs, “After midnight celebrations of life is what we call it at The Crimson Ring. I’ve still got the rooms open, as my girls have not moved in yet. So there can be space for those seeking…privacy.”

    Scarlet looks around at Cl0ckw0rks again, as if memorizing it. “I would be happy to help you in the preparations, happy to help you with anything, happy to be with you.”

  5. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 29, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    “A chamber orchestra,” Merri corrects gently. “Sixteen musicians with a variety of instrumentation among them.” She seems about to add something else to that, but keeps quiet as Esther brings in the fresh tea and pours a cup for Scarlet. Bobbing a polite curtsy, she takes the old pot with her when she goes.

    “If you’d truly like to help? Deliveries for refreshments will be arriving tomorrow and it all needs to be checked against a list of orders–” she produces a paper from a neat stack on one corner — “but the final fitting for my costume is that afternoon, too. If you could stand in for me while I have to be gone, that would be wonderful.

    “Also, I would like it most especially if you’d show up here on Sunday to help Esther and I direct the decorating. I’m hiring help to do the heavy lifting, but neither Esther nor I can be in more than one place at a time. I’ll be overseeing this room, but we’ll need someone in the parlour while Esther handles the common areas of the house, and the out-of-doors.”

    Winding down suddenly, Merri grins. “Does any of that sound appealing?”

  6. Scarlet O said,

    October 29, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Scarlet smiles up at Esther as she delivers fresh tea. Scarlet pours a fresh cup of tea for Merri, and then one for herself. “I can certainly do all of those things. Sunday I do have the show, of course, but my costume is complete, Honoria can help me put it on, or I can snag one of the men.” She grins, “I imagine Narciso knows how to put a corset on better than I do.”

    “Really, I want to be of help – I want to…” she pauses, and picks up her cup of tea, “…be a part of your life.”

  7. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 29, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Merri blinks, seems surprised by this. “You are,” she says, declaratively. “We see each other every day, teas and luncheons, spend nights together whenever your schedule permits…” Her smile is a lovely thing, gentle and wondering. “What more may I do to convince you?”

  8. Scarlet O said,

    October 30, 2010 at 8:38 am

    “It is less something you must do, and something that I want to do. You include me in every way you know how. But…I must endeavor to include me. That is why I want to help.” Despite her earlier writing and emotional exploration, now before Merri her insides get tangled, and she drinks her tea. “I feel as if I flutter through your life as I please, and while I would not seek to burden you or interrupt you or…” realizing she is babbling, and that her simple desire to help Merri and visit her has already turned into some emotional outburst, she pulls back. “…That is to say, I am sorry for not visiting you while you were ill.”

  9. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Merri sips her tea too, eyebrows raised delicately as she waits for her friend to finish. “I was not ill, love. It was only a troubled onset. They happen, though in my case, thankfully, it’s rare. But, if I understand you aright,” she goes on, placing her cup on the desk thoughtfully, “what you’re really saying is that you want to be in my life through the tedium as well as the thrills? Through the low times, as well as the high ones? Is that right?”

  10. Scarlet O said,

    October 31, 2010 at 9:20 am

    “Well, yes.” When Merri says it, it reminds her of the vows of marriage, and her chest tightens, threatening to cut off her air. She swallows into her teacup. “As a friend should be.”

    She waves at herself, “I can tell you think I’m being foolishly serious, so I will stop. Suffice it to say that I’ve decided I should be more thoughtful. And now…what other delights do you have planned for the party?”

  11. Merri said,

    November 1, 2010 at 9:46 am

    “Thoughtfulness a widely appreciated trait,” Merri replies, ignoring for the questions. “But mistaken attempts at mind-reading are not, sweetheart. Please don’t presume to know what I’m thinking on such matters. It reminds me too much of Henrik.” She pauses for a sip of tea, from which emerges her flickering smile. “I don’t think ill of you nearly as much as you seem to think I do, I assure you.”

  12. Scarlet O said,

    November 1, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Scarlet closes her eyes; her head gives a tiny shake. “I am an utter mess. You’d think that, with all my artful tongue and skill with persuasion that I could clearly discern the proper path to navigate around them as well. But I think once you’ve immersed yourself so fully into the curving avoidance of any pure truth, it becomes harder to see it hiding among the rushes…” she opens her eyes, but squints, “unless you focus on them alone, a wholly unfamiliar way of seeing – or communicating.”

    She sighs, realizing that she is doing it even now. “What I mean to say is that, well. It is not something you do not already know, as you notice everything, but recently I’ve learned better to say some of the things that I mean, and recognize it may be important to say them, even if they are known.” Dear God, I am Henrik!

    She takes Merri’s hand in her own, takes a breath and says, “I love you.”

  13. Merri said,

    November 1, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Merri clasps that hand, gazing upon her companion with an inordinately clear-eyed look. “I do know it,” she nods, turning Scarlet’s hand to kiss the palm tenderly, then folding her fingers back over it. “But I realize how difficult it has been for you to admit it to yourself, or to say it.”

    Something flickers behind those eyes, a realization which makes her smile ruefully. Perhaps that explains her extraordinarily brash, loud behaviour of late, her need to take up all the air in any room she occupies — dear Scarlet fights love with every weapon in her arsenal… I was a fool not to understand it immediately.

    That expression clears, and she smiles gently, tenderly. “You know I love you too. I may not always understand you, but I always wish to understand you, that I may love you more truly.”

  14. Scarlet O said,

    November 1, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    She smiles; there is the odd combined feeling of having lifted a weight off her chest and taken on another one in its place. But that she takes this one on willingly. She has confessed her feelings to the one that remained, the one who returned, and – in some oblique way – through this confession, she has acknowledged the one she has lost. It is almost dizzying, as if discharging some arcane duty set upon her that, whirling through distractions and drink, she has been avoiding. Her breath catches in her throat, the well of emotion -sadness, loss, loneliness, but also love, admiration, friendship, caring – choking her for a moment such that she reaches for that cup of tea again with her free hand and drinks deeply, as if wine.

    “Thank you,” is all she can manage to say.


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