It’s a quiet afternoon in the Ballroom, and I’ve just taken advantage of a lull in the dancing to slip off to a corner and quietly flip through a magazine a friend just sent me. I’m trying to muffle my laughter, when….
Lady B: What are you reading, Miss Willig?
Lauren (trying to whisk a glossy, paper-y thingy behind her back): Er, nothing! Nothing at all.
I’m not really lying, am I? Magazines don’t count as reading, per se. They’re more flipping and browsing. Reading involves large chunks of unbroken text—or something like that. Yes, yes, I’m grasping at straws here, but Lady B can have that effect on one.
It’s also that we all have guilty habits we don’t like to admit to, the sorts of things we whisk away when we see other people coming: the slightly stale Twizzlers from the vending machine, the Starbucks when we’ve sworn we’re cutting down on coffee, the Cadbury Crème Eggs bought five for a dollar (and slightly sticky) from the supermarket sale table, or, in my case, the guilty Cosmo read.
Today, the sky isn’t particularly gray and I’m all out of Crème Eggs, but this isn’t your normal Cosmo—it’s Eighteenth Century Cosmo. Yes, Eighteenth Century Cosmo. And that means it counts as research, right?
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let Lady B see it. So I do my best to cram it behind my back, wishing I were wearing one of those eighteenth century gowns with broad panniers instead of a flimsy little muslin number.
Lady B: That’s a lot of rustling for nothing, Miss Willig. You aren’t reading poetry again, are you? We already spoke of this. Poetry encourages excessive emotion and contributes to an appalling tendency to communicate in rhyme.
Albert: <<squawk>> All the time! <<squawk>>
Lady B (silences him with a glare): Miss Willig, I’m waiting.
Lauren (beginning to squirm): It’s not really poetry per se…. (Unless one counts the alliteration that so frequently pops up in their titles, but I’m not even going to start down that road with Lady B.) I guess you could call it an improving tract?
Albert: <<squawk>> Cosmo! <<squawk>>
Lady B: The Cosmopolitan Lady’s Book! (fixes Lauren with stare through her lorgnette) You don’t allow your characters to read this periodical, do you?
Um…. My character Henrietta, heroine of The Masque of the Black Tulip, not only has a subscription, apparently she’s been writing a column for them, Lady Henrietta’s Advice for the Lovelorn. I hate it when my characters keep these things from me. Sometimes, the author is the last to know.
I also suspect Miss Gwen of being the author of the rather spicy serial novel, The Abbey of Otranto, that’s been running in the back of the magazine, right next to the ads for pointier parasols. It’s true potboiler stuff—creaky floorboards and brooding heroes and just a whiff of vampire—but it seems to be awfully popular with the ton at the moment.
I’d seen more than one copy sticking out of a lady’s reticule, magazine folded back to the Abbey of Otranto page….
Including Lady B’s.
Now that I came to think of it, one of the Dear Lady Henrietta letters in this last edition had been signed “A Harassed Hostess”. (See? I told you there was alliteration.) Could our harassed hostess be none other than… Lady B?
I also had my suspicions about the letter signed “A Perturbed Parrot”.
Lady B (happily holding forth): Really, Miss Willig! Play His Heart Like the Harp? 101 Ways to Drop a Handkerchief? I despair of you.
Lauren: What’s that in your reticule?
Lady B: It’s—er….
Albert: <<squawk>> Busted! <<squawk>>
Time to ‘fess up. Do you slip Cosmo in among the groceries at the supermarket? Or do you have other guilty reading treats?
(If you’d like to read more from 18th Century Cosmo, my talented readers have prepared a sampling of articles over on my website. Come on over and browse through…. )