Sunday, February 10, 2019

Joy V. Sheridan writes

Charity Amour

The house was modest in size and situated in a discreet neighbourhood, being sited in a quiet street of similar detached dwellings, somewhat to the north of Hanover Square. Although small, the architect who had designed the house had endowed it with a fine eye for detail and a stylishly classy showmanship. Charity was delighted, nay, overwhelmed, that she, who had suffered so often the most lamentable of fortunes, looked to be now in the process of turning the swings the other way. 

Lord Seyton Clover, true to his word, handed the ‘petite maison’ over to her, complete with deeds of leasing, sound for three years, which made her the legitimate occupier of the house. Charming it most certainly was; consisting of three bedrooms, one of which served as the master bedroom, two attic rooms suitable for staff such as she would need in such a small establishment, with another room below stairs for the accommodation of such minions unhoused elsewhere.

The staircase to the ground floor was in rosewood and daintily designed. Upon the ground floor was one reception room, a drawing room, a dining room and a study. Apart from the bedrooms, the first floor also held a small dressing-room and a chambre de bain. Sweet little love seats, fragile in construction and design, flanked both the largest window below the first floor window on the landing. These were emulated in similar positioning on the ground floor. 

The front door was solid oak with a heavy, ornate knocke; the back door delivered the curious into a frangipani counterpane of shrubs, flowers and other greenery. There was even a tiny folly at the rear, northern side of the garden, and a minute water fountain and pond. The path was laid in coloured crazy-paving, and the shrubberies gave the walker privacy from the more curious outsider who might wish to glimpse into the garden. There was also a small wrought iron seat and table outside of the folly, which was to give Miss Cottrell many hours of pleasure. 

Charity, whose mind periodically drifted back to the unfortunate and premature demise of her dearest Papa, still observed - when this despondent mood came upon her - mourning and to this effect, she had secured a gown of black fine cotton stuff, which, although she did not think it was in the least bit flattering to her, Lord Seyton Clover applauded as lending her a grave dignity to the peachy lustre of her natural beauty. 

She had also some twists of black fabric which she draped upon her shoulders and arms: in those instances when she mourned a little less than what needed the full sorrower's garb. Lord Seyton Clover had let her keep the gowns and other items of apparel which he had furnished her with whilst at Cheniston Mansion. With the purchasing of two more wigs and sundry hair-pieces, Charity felt assured that if the direst situation arose, she should be able to keep her true identity disguised. 

This had pleased Me Lord, after for a fashion, for he had it in mind that should she soon be strutting the boards - and successfully! - a diversification of appearance was desirable to her new profession. The good fortune which seemed to have attended her after such earlier calamities made her bloom. She still felt pain, however, from the damaged hip and thigh but was pleased that there was no permanent disfigurement. 

She had added weight, albeit only in the right places, and the swelling majesty of her breasts was even more alluring and enticing. These physical alterations did not escape the laconic but eagle-eyed Lord Seyton Clover, and many were the times, in the privacy of his own rooms, when he groaned with sensitive fingers over his impotence. But he kept his own dilemmas to himself. Whatever might have been brewing beneath the calm, controlled and, yes! perhaps iron-willed placidity of his interior self, he showed no sign of any amorous or immoral attitudes upon his exterior being. Art was, after all, Art and this required purity of, where possible, thought, and certainly, action. So chaste was the goddess he and Charity served: for the time being, that was.
The neighbourhood seemed well in keeping with the picture which mayhap Miss Charity Cottrell would present: the well-to-do daughter of some country squire, or, more excitingly, perhaps the mistress of such an illustrious hidalgo as Lord Seyton Clover. 

Her neighbours were people in moderate ascendancy. A young couple, he at the Bar, she the daughter of a soap manufacturer, nouveau riche certainly, but well-mannered and quietly spoken. Other neighbours included a retired classical actor with his retinue of doting followers and fans; a hack writer of some trite, gossipy pieces which appeared in the daily broadsheets; a young, would-be buck who was awaiting the demise of his elderly mistress before he launched himself - with an anticipated legacy - into more glittering spheres. Not to mention a third home for a wealthy county family who, so gossip went, could not always see eye to eye when ensconced en masse in their London house and who had therefore purchased this smaller house as a sort of ‘bolt-hole’ when tempers were frayed and threatened to lead one or t’other to the gallows. 

The study His Lordship soon had cushioned and changed into a music-cum-rehearsal room. That he did not want his protégée’s occupation or progress, nor indeed, the real purpose of his own visits (creative rather than procreative), to be exposed for general speculation soon became evident through the speed with which the room was rendered soundproof. 

He also bade Miss Cottrell that she must keep her own counsel and not get onto too familiar grounds with any of her neighbours. Not that she should effect to be jumped up, or aloof, it was simply that the true purpose of her being accommodated in the house should be kept secret. Once it was known that there was an aspiring and maybe an accomplished ‘artiste’ in the house, then undoubtedly, all and sundry would become curious as to the quality of the gifts that this person was endowed of – bar, that is, the very obvious gifts which Charity Cottrell’s figure exposed most dramatically, especially when she bent to get down from the interior of the landau and her gown was low cut. 

No, No! Lord Seyton Clover knew that should Charity be asked to perform before she was ready, there then could be dismal failures all round. When eventually she did perform, then he would be as much on show as she and it was something he understood full well. Frankly, he was quite often tortured about the quality of his own gifts and the ensuing work and was not confident inwardly, as he pretended to be on occasion.
A music teacher was engaged - a charming, robust woman of Latin heritage: a retired opera singer with an ample bosom and winning smile, not to mention the motherly attitude she sometimes entered into with Jenkins, the butler. Senñora Lamberti gave Charity her first lessons in singing, which included voice projection and scales.
A youngish man, plain, sallow and studious, was engaged for work upon the pianoforte. That he had for a time been a student in the school perfected by Mozart was evidenced in the style of his playing. Lord Seyton Clover was mildly impressed that he had been able to procure the man’s services for a modest fee.

Charity would quite often stand, riveted to the spot, watching the musician’s fine, long fingers flying over the tea-cup fragility of the ivoried keys. These lessons more often than not awed and intimidated her: for she was, by nature, essentially a shy, retiring type. It was, she could but deduce, only the vigours and hardships of the last few months which had forced the braver, more outgoing personality to emerge from the cocoon of her mourning and grief. 

That, certainly, and perhaps the persuasive looks and encouraging tones of Lord Seyton Clover himself - when he was in a good mood, that was! Whatever his mood, as soon as he had commenced upon their lessons, the smouldering depths of his passionate, dark eyes all but mesmerised Charity into complete obedience to his wishes. Indeed, she avowed to herself, that she would work harder, do her utmost, to please this strangely singular gentleman. 

She was glad that her mentor had made the music room as sound proofed as possible. She was sure that her first serious attempts at voice projection and modulation must have sounded hideously unmusical to the casual listener. Time went by, and a drama coach was hired to teach Charity the basics of the theatrical art. It was curious, but once Lord Seyton Clover took over the lessons himself, she found herself reacting with a greater conviction of emotion, greater clarity of speech and power, than she ever did with any of her tutors. On more than one occasion, she had wavered in a note, slipped a word from her recitation. Sometimes this engendered a wrathful sarcasm from the composer. His stinging words wounded her deeply and she would feel the cold mist of fear buckling about her clenched fists: would feel all but unable to proceed whilst he persisted in this verbal whipping of her inadequacies. 

Still, he had not made overtures of any suspect carnal nature towards her, and many was the night before sleep touched her eyes: she began to wonder if his good Lordship was natural - the same as the rest of his sex? She had come to look forward to the visits he had been able to foster on her, for it was not every day nor every week that the little house resounded to his voice and presence. 

Charity often stood in front of a full length mirror, placed in the music room, assessing her mannerisms, gestures, profile, posture, and despairing if her fair silhouette was little less than perfect. Was she becoming vain?, she considered on some occasions: in her heart she knew she was not; it was merely that she always wanted to look her best for the physically-aloof Lord Seyton Clover. 

It was a peculiar thing, she mused, but she felt that she could give her very best when Lord Seyton Clover was before her, or she, leaning over the polished walnut of the pianoforte, staring into his eyes as he played. Then he would make rise out of her notes of indescribable beauty. Nothing mattered then, apart from her performance pleasing him. He, for his part, seemed to get wildly excited on occasion; would turn his head a fraction and would exclaim between opened lips, but no sound would usher forth. 

Although Charity had never been courageous enough to broach him on the subject of his own excitement, for it so often appeared that the pale warmth of her trance-like state forbade her making comment on what she had observed about His Lordship. 

Some days he would appear more than usually affectionate, squeezing her hands and patting her on the arm, kissing the crown of her head. Other times there would be more than a shadow of fury across his brow; his ominous presence would make itself felt even before he inserted the key into the lock and let himself into the house. 'Twas as though he was tortured from within, by sights, sounds, personalities, voices whom he alone could communicate with. These monsters veiled themselves before Charity and it was at these times that he was at his most awesome, threateningly dark: so that his whole form seemed to be of darkness and mists. Then, she would get stung over the knuckles with his cutting tongue and remarks.

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