That she had become something of an overnight sensation, a new celebrity in the glittering spheres of London life, soon made itself apparent to Charity Cottrell. She needed not the gazette which Lord Seyton Clover flourished triumphantly in front of her to know that! For had not there been talk amongst her house servants concerning ‘The marvellous apparition that was seen at the Aldwych Pits last night’, and ‘Who would surely ’ave floored Mister Garrick himself? All of this served to make Charity apprehensive and nervous. For, would she be able to repeat the quality of that performance on ensuing engagements?
And was there, perhaps, the piquant appeal of her undisclosed identity which added further to the air of greatness with the role she had assumed?
If she did not speak of these things directly, it was certain that Lord Seyton Clover divined them. Somehow, Lord Seyton Clover had been able to mask his own true identity as both composer of the ‘petite’ masterpiece and as the conductor of its music.
But during his visit to Charity the following day, whilst they were closeted together in private, he voiced the belief that he was uncertain himself how long he could keep the deception up.
He had adopted a disguising wardrobe of chestnut eyebrows, moustaches and a pair of squat, square-rimmed little eyeglasses which he had contrived to perch upon the end of his hawk-like nose. Those things, coupled with a mince to his walk, disguised him adequately for the time being, so he confessed, giving him a somewhat Latin, effeminate appearance.
Perhaps, he continued, adding a florid note of wayward genius to his personality was another tack he could take. He sat mute, nursing a glass of fine Madeira between his hands. But - so he said - he was sure that someone would break through this veiling soon enough and he did not yet want either the true identity of chanteuse or composer to be revealed. Therefore, he spoke on, he had arranged that Charity give only two performances, ala, akin to the cameo role which she had performed for her debut appearance, and then he and she would withdraw from the scene until the closing of the year.
It had been, therefore, loosely scheduled with the theatre’s ‘Patron’ that Mam’selle Hélène de Noir and the eccentric ‘Señor Bonaparta’ give performances only on the first and second Monday evenings in November. Charity inwardly applauded this action, for she was not sure how long she herself could keep up the pretence. Why, it seemed almost like committing some heinous crime and any situation which drew her spirits back into a parallel of those emotions, she would rather avoid.
But, she said nothing of her thoughts. She was, after all, merely the clay in her mentor’s hands and such was the regard which she now held Lord Seyton Clover in, she would comply with anything he suggested. Anything.
By way of reward for her compelling and strenuous performance, His Lordship suggested that Charity change from the sombre stuff of her black gown – and perhaps illustrative of His Lordship’s capriciousness - into more colourful apparel. For, so he informed the young woman, he was intent on taking her for a ride in the briskness of the late autumnal ambience. After this, they should repair to partake of hot chocolate, perhaps a mulled liqueur or so, and muffins. This should herald the start of a small celebratory entertainment for the fêted and mysterious ‘Mademoiselle Hélène de Noir.’ Maybe, he intoned, as he helped himself to snuff from the silver filigreed box, he should wine her and dine her at one of the better eating establishments; White’s, say, or the Beefsteak Club? Charity’s pale face (for the preceding weeks of hard work had taken a toll upon her fragile health) flushed up at this suggestion with anticipatory pleasure, and her blue eyes sparkled, dewy-wet, like some flower from Neptune's own fairy and aqueous grotto.
She summoned her maid and bade the girl lay out the blue velvet gown, which was, she considered, rather low in the neckline, and the matching long coat, for she intended in that costume, and with the rich ostrich feathers and veiling about her visage, to look quite the most delectable dame who should ever parade with her paramour in Hyde Park.
Although, she conceded, chewing upon her lip, Lord Seyton Clover could not be exactly described as such. As she ascended the staircase, she felt a distinct jab of remorse in her heart, sadness at her seeming inability to entice the only man who mattered to her, Lord Seyton Clover. He had looked commandingly handsome as he had stood talking to her just a few minutes prior: that inspirational fire which fringed his loquacity, standing with his legs apart, in front of the small fire which burned in the grate. And had not, as he shifted his position in to the window seat, that silvery early winter light complimented his dark colouring, adding an even keener edge to the shadows and curves of his aristocratically lean features?
She shook her head as though throwing cobwebs off.
Add to this the lustrous sheen of power nuancing the signature of his indomitable will, and was it any wonder that the delicate composition of her own womanliness all but soulfully trembled before his presence? Her heart was still fluttering with agitation as she rapidly changed from the loose flowing house-robe into the welcoming tactile seduction of the soft but strong caress of expensive midnight-blue velvet.
There could be no mistaking that cadence which boomed and bellowed across the foyer, betokening none other than Fitzroy, Lord Rispian of Andover, himself. His cousin, Lord Seyton Clover, complete with elegantly dressed female companion on his arm, resisted the urge to turn sharply on his heel and wheel out into the busy thoroughfare, thence to the waiting eventuality of the chaise. His hesitation lost him the edge however.
Lord Rispian rose from behind a barrage of hee-haws, chortles, chuckles, catcalls and other noises of buffoonery, to hail heartily his kinsman. Charity, unsolicited, tightened her grip on her protector’s arm. She was glad that she had been possessed of the forethought to have donned a polka-dotted veil, which shrouded her face now as it fell in loose folds from the crown of her circular Juliet cap. She swept her gaze to the floor, ensuring that the frothy cascade of ostrich feathers fell forward, further to hasten her disguise.
Lord Rispian stood, panting and breathless, before them, his eyes all but boring into Charity's veiled head. She was convinced, that unless Lord Seyton Clover distracted his attention very soon, away from herself, he would discern something familiar in her form, even though she was no longer crowned with either a vermilion or brunette, wig. For she doubted that, when he had drunkenly come to call upon her in the early hours whilst she was engaged in service for his rich and eccentric elder sister, he would have noticed the rich profusion of her pale corn-gold hair; but she could not be absolutely sure of his observations or memory.
She was relieved also, that she hadn’t carmined her lips: remaining pale they drew no particular attention to their unique and provocative shape. She felt Lord Seyton Clover bristle, albeit almost imperceptibly to the casual bystander, and then with a professional expertise he shifted his body so that it all but genuinely welcomed his cousin.
With the same rapidity of sleight-of-hand diplomacy, he had pushed Charity to one side and with a hand backing movement of his own right hand had indicated that she stand still and remain unobtrusive. He had hissed lowly that he would deal with his cousin in the most suitable way - and, with a saucy inference - in a manner which his rakish cousin would understand.
Charity moved a little further away from the two gentlemen, taking care not to be buffeted by the ebbing and flowing tide of customers. She shot suitably mawkish glances towards the cousins from beneath the veiling of her head dress.
At length she realised that her mentor had bowed ostentatiously in her direction, indicating that she come forward again to take his arm.
She could see the retreating form of Lord Rispian all but mowing down those idlers who stood in his path. Once she had rejoined him, Lord Seyton Clover gave a somewhat impatient nod and indicated that they should repair to a booth, in a quieter section of the refreshments house.
‘That should,’ he mused to himself, ‘set the seal of juicy scandal nicely for the likes of my dear coz and his cronies!’
Over hot chocolate, he showed himself to be in a rare witty mood, jesting as the drink steamed that undoubtedly Lord Rispian thought the pair of them steamed just like that at this moment! He told Charity that he had concocted a cock and bull story, which purported that she, Charity, was an aristocratic lady from the northern parts, who was – alas! – not free to wed and that he, Lord Seyton Clover, and she were enjoying a little mutual dalliance, whilst they could.
Though she smiled upon this piece of verbal fabrication, she could not help a flush spreading over her cheeks, tinting the paleness of her skin with a roseate glow for some seconds. Although the air was somewhat clearer in that portion of the eating house they had selected, still there persisted conflicting cauldrons of aromas, all but fighting each other for supremacy; tobacco smoke and hot chocolate vapours, stale perspirations and costly-smelling scents. Rich and spicy aromas came off the toasted muffins and cakes and other fancies. There were the pungent odours of fruit-rich jams and preserves, which, if they tasted anything as good as they looked and smelt, would prove divine eating.
There, too, was the distinct aroma of intrigue, of bodily longings, for, absurd to Charity’s ears as Lord Seyton Clover’s tale had been, there were couples which this pack of lies would have described decidedly truthfully. The smoke began to make Charity’s eyes stream and she said as much to her companion.
With unexpected solicitude, he lifted Charity’s veil clear of her face to see if there might be some offending mote in her eye.
He withdrew, nonetheless, a fine, white lawn handkerchief and handed this to her, so that she might attend to her discomfiture. Alas, how Fate can prove a wicked and duplicitous adversary. For whilst the couple were embroiled in this joint act of repair, how could either of them have seen the hand - broad and well-shaped - which was ready to land upon Lord Seyton Clover’s shoulder?
Charity looked up, momentarily bedazzled by the display of corpulent opulence, then with a quick reflex action, she had let the spotted veiling float down in front of her face, meanwhile picking up the cooling cup of hot chocolate and nursing it between slightly trembling fingers.
“Ah, Fitzi, what can I do for you?”
Lord Seyton Clover induced cadences of camaraderie into his voice. It was obvious that Lord Rispian had been overcome with curiosity as to the mysterious quantity who passed for his bachelor cousin’s paramour. He had shaken off his cronies for a few minutes: the better to glean an acuter earful and eyeful of this unknown woman.
A tasty morsel she looked to be indeed, and if one could only divest her of that silly hat and veiling! By Jove, the tits on her fair made a stout man’s heart beat faster, not to mention what such thoughts might do for another part of his anatomy. Lord Rispian shuffled slightly, conscious of the widening bulge in his velvet breeches. Charity felt herself blushing again, for unschooled as she was in the deportment of Love’s schools, she knew what the stretching fabric indicated.
Lord Rispian, quite forgetting to make small talk, stood staring down at the girl; he could hardly tear his eyes away from her veiled face and provocative décolletage. His cousin coughed mildly, for the silence was beginning to embarrass him, and he directed his gaze to Lord Rispian’s solid, yeoman’s face, for despite the dandification of powder and patch, the costly gems about neck and fingers, that is precisely what he did resemble. A stout, worthy yeoman – as had many of his untitled ancestors been.
Meanwhile, Lord Seyton Clover had done some hard thinking. Knowing that it would be exceedingly bad form should his offer be accepted, his yarn having been taken into account etcetera, with regard to the slightly fugitive nature of his clandestine meeting with his companion, Lord Seyton Clover asked his cousin if he would care to join them for a hot chocolate or liqueur.
“Nay,” replied Lord Rispian, still fascinated by the discreetly obvious charms of Charity Cottrell, for now his eyes seemed to want to penetrate the shadowy cleft which ran atwixt her handsome breasts. He continued: “I have me own chums back yonder and they’ll soon be wonderin’ what the deuce has become of me! Hear! They're kicking up a shindig by the sound of things even now.”
Leisurely, despite his words, he extracted a small silver snuffbox from his pocket and helped himself to a hefty pinch.
He waved the box in his cousin’s direction, but that good gentleman declined: he did not wish to be sniffing one second and sneezing the next.
“Be at the Drury next week, then, Say?” “Dare say I shall,” “My, but what a performance last night at the Aldywch Pits! All London Town is fair agog with that mysterious French charmer!”
Charity sought Lord Seyton Clover’s foot under the table and gave a stamp on it, a mite harder than she would truly have considered the right pressure. She was anxious to remind her mentor – lest he had forgotten – who she was and what their position was here.
If Lord Rispian did not move off very quickly of his own volition, she was anxious that she and Lord Seyton Clover should depart.
She noticed that her companion winced slightly and he turned to scan Charity with a tight-lipped gaze, though it did seem he had taken her meaning. Their dilemma was solved for them by a buxom, mobcapped serving wench, who came breathless and flustered to give a message to Lord Rispian.
He tore his eyes away from Charity’s breasts and then, with a true libertine’s abandonment, cottoned onto the busty wench who was mawing and curtseying before him. Slipping to his feet, he pushed an arm about the wench’s waist and, whispering something in her ear, made to rejoin his companions.
“Well, s’pose I shall be seein’ you then, coz, if not before, next week at the Drury? An’ the lovely lady mayhap?”
For a second it looked as though he might remove his arm from about the wench’s waist and lift up Charity’s hand. Instead, he turned with a cursory bow in both Lord Seyton Clover’s and Charity’s, direction and sauntered off good-naturedly. Lord Seyton Clover looked meaningfully at Charity.
“Must you use the maximum of weight when you wish to gain my attention?” “Please forgive me, My Lordship. I was quite carried away and sure that Lord Rispian should unveil me at the slightest, and earliest, opportunity.” “Very well, I understand. You are forgiven. Now, would you care for another hot chocolate here, or a liqueur perhaps? Or would you prefer something else?” “Thank you for your kind offer. Your Lordship, but I feel I should truly prefer something else.”
Lord Seyton Clover looked mildly surprised and interested at the same time: “And that is?” “That we should be away from here, dear, kind, Lord Seyton Clover, for I am still terribly afraid lest your cousin return.”
“Very well, me lady.”
There was the hint of slight disappointment in his voice, as though he muttered to himself in his mind: he really didn’t know what he was expecting Charity to ask for.
He pushed the table away from them and helped the girl to her feet. With a sweeping gesture he had guided her through the rooms and on towards the main entrance, which also served as the exit. He had it half in mind to turn and acknowledge his cousin but considered better of it. He merely lifted his hat in that direction and walked on. As it happened, Lord Rispian was so taken up by his own party of revellers that he did not notice the pair leaving.
“Phew!” he said to Charity Cottrell "Glad to be out in the fresh air again, me dear?”
Charity turned to her gallant and smiled: “Absolutely, dear Lordship. I shall trust that I never shall be required to go through a pantomime like that again. Also, that I shall never more be as close to your kinsman again: for I’d all but swear that he was staring so hard at me that he was all but within a fraction of uncovering who I really am!”
She smiled sadly seductive: “Believe me, Your Lordship, - oh! I know he’s your cousin and all that - but I believe that I should receive no mercy from him! No, Your Lordship, I should receive no mercy at all!”
“Calm yourself Charity. You are, after all, under MY protection now and so what if he did discover your true title? There is very little he could do about it. Come, let us repair to Orchard Street and there the lackeys shall cosset us the way we should have wished back in yonder refreshment rooms.”
Charity did not look convinced of her safety but nonetheless allowed Lord Seyton Clover to take her arm and conduct her to where his coach waited. She was trepidatious on several accounts. One was, how long would the fancy persist that Lord Seyton Clover would keep her on as his protégée, his ‘charge’? She flounced up from under the long silken sweep of her lashes: surely sooner or later he would tire of the virtuous paragon’s role he had modelled for himself and would demand (or take) something other than her charm from her? He had more than a hint of torrid sensuality in the flare of his nostrils; in the shadowing of passion which moulded his sensualist’s mouth. Hers - from hard experience - was a knowing innocence: her days roughing it in London Town had taught her to read faces and she had seen many a maid tumbled by a handsome gentleman, less refined than Lord Seyton Clover.
She reddened at the direction her train of thought was leading her toward, her bosom swaying with the undulations of the journey. He, for his part, was not oblivious to the movement of the open vehicle, which occasionally threw Charity against his left shoulder.
Inside his mind, his passions were groaning with tortured and ecstatic thoughts. How he so desired to pull the lovely young woman to him and take her on the spot, open coach or not!
But then, he twitched with mortification, how could he be ever sure that he had manhood enough to complete the task of varnishing over completely this natural masterpiece in flesh?
After a particularly rough jolt had tumbled Charity hard against him, he eased her back into her own seat, feeling the kindling of ancient and half-forgotten fires burning his hand and chest.
He turned to survey, somewhat dismal of mien, the autumnal coloration amidst foliage and trees.
Charity had noticed the firm refusal to acknowledge her essentially sensual womanhood, and though she would have not known it that way yet awhile, it hurt her. Would he ever show that he was a man as well as Lordship and genius?