An authoress let loose in Lady Beaufetheringstone’s ballroom is such a wonderful opportunity––for the authoress. And while I would never seek to embarrass anyone by revealing their pecadillo, if I choose to borrow the tale for the sake of Art who could blame me?
Lady B herself is naturally the best font of gossip, but as she is otherwise engaged, I shall go to the very source itself. And next to the convenient bit of drapery, there is one creature, if I may call it that, found in the wilds of the London ballroom—any ballroom, truthfully—that knows everything about what occurs in the shadows and it can be tracked down in its native habitat quite easily, although it hides itself within decorative art.
Corner of the room. Green, leafy, large…settled in a large marble pot shaped like an urn…with carved handles, and a relief of some neoclassical interpretation of the Dionysian revels. The perfect disguise: The potted plant.
Plant: Perhaps it is you who are a touch disguised.
If a plant could raise its one imperious eyebrow, this one would have.
Plant: I heard that.
I was simply about to discuss the importance of placing potted plants in strategic areas of a ballroom.
Plant: Ah! I assure you I know quite a bit more about that than you.
Naturally, as does Lady B, which is why her ballroom is so delightfully outfitted. Perhaps you’d like to share with our readers some of the more scandalous tableaux you’ve shielded?
Plant: All people ever want is to sniff out scandal. I am employed to preserve reputations.
You don’t have to name names…
Plant: (looking around shiftily) No names? Well in that case. Just last week, in this very corner, there was a certain young lady with a certain young man’s ungloved hand under her dampened skirts.
Oh! Was that—
Plant: No names!
Right, sorry. That reminds me of a ballroom in Brighton a few years ago. There were two persons, who shared the same family name though they were not related, until of course they married some months later, doing completely unmentionable acts just outside in the hall, as if they thought a flimsy potted plant could hide that! Not that with the lady’s reputation I was much surprised, but the gentleman, not at all his usual discretion.
Plant: (warming up again) It is a matter of illusion, Miss Darby. Never underestimate the power of illusion. It covers all manner of masquerades, secrets, and ridiculous misunderstandings. There was also the poor wallflower whose mother made her wear a shade of green entirely unbecoming to her complexion, who made use of that dress by standing beside me and blending in so completely no one noticed her enough to make sport of her.
Oh her! She ends up with—Ah yes never mind…names again! But perhaps I might mention that other wallflower, at least by her initials, Miss S.C., as she chose to take scandal far away from a potted plant and into a dark chamber.
Plant: Neither I, nor any of my colleagues, were involved in that affair. Who was the man she dallied with?
The earl…and pirate, of course. Why look at this! I know something that you do not.
Plant: Revel in the moment, Miss Darby, because it will be the last. After all, I’m certain you knew nothing about Ralston and the spinster planning to drink scotch in a low tavern.
Naming names! How indiscreet of you. And you should know better than to call any young lady a spinster.
Plant: I do her a service, Miss Darby. There is no faster way to assure a lady’s marriage than to label her a spinster and put her in reach of a rake.
Not all women wish to marry.
Plant: Declaring that belief as well will ensure a matrimonial fate.
I cannot and will not agree with you. But in any event, what about intrigue? Any spies or Scarlet Pimpernelesque pretenders frequenting the parquet floor lately?
Plant: What would a decorative bit of greenery like me know about espionage? La, you insult me with the question. Next you’ll be saying that I myself am a spy.
(using my own best imitation romance hero single eyebrow lift) I see.
(Silence, but for the orchestra.)
Unfortunately for this authoress, but not for those wishing a moment of privacy, the common potted ballroom plant is quite discreet.
Plant: (strangled exclamation) Common?
So I rely upon everyone else in the ballroom to supply me with the best of gossip and scandal. What––and more importantly, whom––did you witness behind a bit of greenery?