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23 February, 1996
Blandsdown by night. Above, a vast expanse of stars twinkling over the last traces of snow upon the frozen fields. Within, a fire blazes in the white marble fireplace of the Crystal Ballroom. The musicians, especially hired from Brompton for the evening--for cost is no object when one hosts the fete to celebrate the knighting of the grand-nephew of Eunice, Duchess of Crabbe--subduedly tune their instruments at the end of the chamber. All is perfection.
Ah, and then the ladies enter. Young Penelope Windsor-Smythe, bedecked in the laces and frills suitable for a lass of her age and station (she is, for those of one's readers who have not yet twigged to the fact--one does not like to brag--eighty-fourth in line for the throne), appeared both sullen and downcast. "What ho!" one exclaimed. "Brighten those bonnie cheeks with a smile, one's ward, for tonight you shall be dancing with the newly beknighted Cxxlxx Bxxx!" (One was never able to decipher the name from the Duchess's letter.) The girl responded only by blowing wetly into her handkerchief.
One then turned to the Lady Felicia. Oh, but surely this rapturous creature dressed in a silk gown of a deep Kingfisher Blue was not the woman one was privileged to call wife! Not this fair lady, whose decolletage sumptuously breathed of the evening air! One's readers (a vast and no doubt envious lot) will be surprised at the confession to follow, but never in all our years of marriage had one seen the Lady Felicia look as sublime and inviting as she appeared that evening! Were she not one's wife, and therefore entitled to remain unmolested by her spouse, one would have been tempted to approach her--nay, be not shocked--very much in the way a Man approaches a Woman. But one is a gentleman. One does not act upon one's base instincts. One captures the memory so as later to relish the sight, so as later to relive every sweet sensation in the privacy of one's own chambers as one. . . .
''Master Bates," intoned the entering chambermaid. One turned angrily to box the saucy wench's ears when one perceived that she was escorting into the ballroom none other than the pony-tailed Blackguard Blacksmith of Bath! "Colin!" cried young Penelope Windsor-Smythe excitedly. With a snap of one's fingers, one instructed Magister Artium, Penelope's Latin tutor, to restrain the villain--one notes that the working class scoundrel had the impudent audacity to mock his betters by appearing in full evening dress--and lock him in a remote dumbwaiter to await his well-deserved horse-whipping when the last guest of the evening had taken his leave. Young Penelope Windsor-Smythe promptly burst into tears.
One was so pleased with one's expediency of thought that one still wore the same smug smile an hour later, while speaking with our most excellent neighbour, Eunice, Duchess of Crabbe. "We hope," she was intoning between gasps into her oxygen filter, "that you have not hired the musicians from Brompton once again. We know how notoriously cheap the Grandiose family can be. And we did not appreciate, at the last gathering here in the Crusty Ballroom--a pity it is so dingy--the Brompton quartet's raucous scratchings." One was about to correct the senile old bat, but she continued queruously. "Where is our grand-nephew? It is most unlike him to keep us waiting." The Lady Felicia and oneself made hasty assurances that we were most anxious to meet young Sir Cxxlxx. ''He is an odd lad, we find," the Duchess admitted. "Took it into his head to learn a trade. We admit we never thought young Colin would amount to much."
"Colin?" one exclaimed.
One hastily draws a veil over the remainder of the evening. The Duchess quit the house when it was discovered--and what a shock it was to oneself!--that Magister Artium (secretly harbouring an affection for his pupil!) of his own volition had assaulted the newly knighted Sir Colin Bates and stuffed him into a remote dumbwaiter! One dismissed this vile Latin-speaking deceiver upon the spot!
Sir Colin did not deny one's stern reprimand to the shrinking tutor, for all his smouldering senses were trained upon one's ward. And did young Penelope return his interest? Indeed, the ungrateful wench did not. If anything she was most curt with the irreproachable young knight, dancing with him most coldly and refusing to speak, and then dashing off to her private chambers when the reserved dances were complete.
As for the Lady Felicia, well, one did not have the opportunity privately to inform her of one's admiration of her gown of kingfisher blue. She gaily danced the entire evening with Lord Frost of Locksley-Charmes, and exiled one from one's sleeping quarters to one's smoking room at the end of that (admittedly lengthy) evening.
And it is from that cramped chamber that one will remain, until the Lady Felicia in her infinite wisdom decides otherwise,
The Blade writes:
"Eighty-four" is such a large number, is it not? A curtailment of its enormity would certainly be advantageous to your worthy ward. Those individuals holding the lowest numbers are hard to approach, no doubt, but there remains in between a vast swath of various and sundry folk whose names and addresses are easily accessible.
For a modest fee, we would be more than happy to help Penelope along. A message given to Leonard at Bolgy's Fish 'n' Chips Haven (in South London) would certainly reach our ears. If it said, for example, "35, 24, & 76," we could guarantee results within the week.
The full extent of our help is up to you, of course. But next time you see young Penelope, think of how lovely a number in the mid-forties would suit her fine frame.
Sir Charles replies:
Were the one the sort of fellow to feel the emotions of the common folk, such a generous offer would bring a tear to the corner of one's eye! So very few souls these days recognize the importances of privileging sheer altruism and grace over grubby self-interest. Why, one's readers (one pictures their faces vividly, staring at one with hundreds of thousands of sycophantic eyes) would be astonished at the volume of letters one receives from scheming, skulking tatterdemalions with scarcely a scrap of good reputation to share amongst themselves.
Oh, the tricks these wolves attempt! Illusory promises of wealth, ruses alleged to double one's fortune, the permanent removal of persons called 'Mabel' and 'Chatsy' (though one knows no one by those particular names) . . . . Why, these ignoble rapscallions have even sent one infernal machinations that would exile one's mother-in-law, Augusta Windover-Midden, from the country for good. (And one was tempted, believe you one, but this particular package involved 'cement shoes', and one was not willing to give 'Gusty' one whit of satisfaction by adding to her wardrobe, no matter how ungainly the footwear.)
And here, from the proverbial blue, came this missive, in which 'The Blade' (a curiously vulgar appellation . . . one is presuming it is from the French) humbly offers his assistance in proving that young Penelope Windsor-Smythe holds a stronger claim to the throne than is current. One presumes the services in question involve researching the genealogy of the Windsor-Smythes and disproving the bloodlines of other claimants, do they not? One does hope that there is a 'Tube' line to the British Museum Library near the 'Chip Shop.' One is not willing to subsidize luxury rides in hired cabs for one's help, no matter how good the cause. One will, however, be most happy to provide funds for any further 'research' that might prove fruitful.
Most anxiously awaiting the results, one remains,
Sir Charles meekly passes the pen to the Lady Felicia.
Sobrinia Montcalm writes:
Dear Lady Felicia,
How can I persuade my husband to refrain from unseemly displays of affection such as pats or strokes in public? (In private I have the situation in hand, if you catch my meaning.)
Sobrinia Montcalm, Mrs.
The Lady Felicia replies:
One sadly mourns the lost days when a lady wore voluminous skirts, for what better place to sequester a cattle prod? But one cannot spend one's days pining for the past, alas.
It is of no use to cry out 'Fie! Fie, sirrah!' like a young debutante, once one has married. One has found that a look of stern and icy cold is often enough to work wonders, especially when one's spouse has previously endured such looks, and the threat of domestic disharmony those looks portend.
Of course it is no good threatening to remove those little comforts from his life that make a house a home, you understand, if one does not carry out the promise. To this end one feels that the correspondent would be entirely justified in exiling the misbehaving husband from the domestic chambers if he has made a buffoon of himself and shamed the entire family in his hasty actions. One should suppose the sight of one's spouse in the mornings with crease marks from the smoking room sofa indelibly imprinted in his face would be most satisfying.
If the offense is especially grievous--say, if the spouse in question offended a titled neighbour as well, through his fumblings--one would think the correspondent would be entirely justified in donating the family's collection of Antique Indian Brass Spittoons in the Shape of the Kama Sutra to the Frothampton-on-Sea High Church Jumble Sale. There is no balm sweeter to the ruffled feminine ego than the howl of a man deprived of his Thursday afternoon spit-polishing.
Serenely, one remains,
The Lady Felicia passes the quill to the young Penelope Windsor-Smythe, who, if she persists in crying as she has for the last seventy-two hours, will have a complexion quite unbecoming of one eighty-fourth in line for the throne. And knights do not appreciate puffy faces.
Dear Penelope Windsor-Smythe:
I know you never have this sort of problem, since you've got wealth, beauty, smarts, and a closet the size of my two-bedroom apartment (I saw the profile in RoyaltyWatch! magazine and let me tell you, I'd kill for just one of those cherrywood shoe stands with the inlaid mother-of-pearl highlights!). But I think my boyfriend is lying and cheating on me. Should I have him followed, or should I try harder to trust him?
Dubious in Denver (CO)
Young Penelope Windsor-Smythe replies:
One finds it quite interesting that not only do you mention the words 'lying' and 'boyfriend', but that you antecede them by the verb 'to kill'. Why truly, great minds think very much alike!
One finds it of less interest, however, that you, in a foolish, foolish, repenting vein, suggest you should try harder to 'trust' him. Why, one knows of a very, very close 'friend' whose beloved basely lied to her, deceived her of his true rank and fortune, by making her think--ha! ha!--that he was of the working classes! And little did she wont that he was in reality very nearly a peer!
From this example it seems to one that the sterner sex is quite ignorant of the word 'trust' and its synonyms. So why shouldn't you be? Experto credite, dear correspondent, experto credite!
Your dilemma, however, is easily resolved, and in a manner which makes one quite happily anticipate the result: All you must do is ditch the ingrate. Yes, you heard one aright! Gentle reader, were you not the best thing to ever happen to him? Did you not spend hours, days, weeks, yearning to breathe deeply of his manly, musky, spicy scent? Did you not, sweet, loving soul that you are, entrust your tender heart to him (miserable fiend!) only to have it cruelly betrayed (Hobbesian brute!) by his faithless love? The beast! The cad! How could he do this to one . . . er, you?!
Trusting you will do the right thing,
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