The magnitude of Lanky Ella Lanesbury’s revelation was dumbfounding. Had it been an earthquake, it would have unleashed a tsunami, and not in a good way. I remained steadfast in my Freudian listening pose. Learning from Ypres, I betrayed no emotion. When the Vasa-Lanesbury dialogue resumed, I was the incarnation of stoicism.
“A kiss! With tongue! And a grope! Every half an hour! In public!”
“I should have been clearer, Vanessa. The proposed kiss, with tongue, is to be every half an hour. The grope is on the hour. I should also have said that the location of the grope has yet to be settled on.”
“You mean you are to be groped in a particular location on Regent Street?”
“Not quite. It is not the geographic location of the grope that is in question.”
“Then where is it proposed to be?”
“South of the border. In the nether regions.”
“Aren’t those geographical, Ella?”
“You appear confused. Perhaps I have not been clear.”
“No, you have been abundantly clear. In return for a gentleman friend’s second opinion, while on your Regent Street shopping expeditions, you are to be kissed, with tongue, in a Southern manner, and groped in the Netherlands. All this with shocking regularity.”
I may have said my last interjection a tad too loudly. An old lady clutching a volume on petroleum-based pesticides shushed me. She then proceeded to give Ella and me the once over.
“Well, Vanessa, you seem to have got the gist of it. Even if your facts are a bit muddled. I shall put that down to emotion.” Ella paused. “What should I do?”
“This is definitely a conundrum. There is no question that the upgrade from quandary was necessary. Groping firmly pulls it out of the quandary category. A further escalation into kerfuffle might prove judicious. I will have to consult Ypres.”
“Good idea. It is best to keep this between us girls.”
“Isn’t it ‘we girls’, as opposed to ‘us girls’?”
“It doesn’t matter. You must go get Ypres straight away.”
On that note, Lanky Ella and I decided to disband. Time was of the essence. I had to get access to Ypres’s brain as fast as possible.
To ease in to my eventual revelation of Ella’s conundrum, I decided to get Ypres a book. I got her a book on Churchill, she already had the one I had slipped into earlier. I was assured by a salesclerk that it was obscure. Obscure is the way to go on Churchill books for Ypres.
On the way to the cash register, I spotted some book by Ypres’s old friend Said. It appeared to be some sort of fan fiction reprise of Murder on the Orient Express. I picked it up as well. Given that I was enlisting Ypres to help in a conundrum, I figured two books were better than one.
I paid for the books. I paid in cash for I did not want to leave a paper trail. I felt this to be a necessary precaution when embarking on conundrums. Also, I did not want any financial institution to know that I bought an obscure book on Churchill and an Agatha Christie spin-off. I reached the Park Street flat in record time. I did not even stop to window shop on Bond Street.
I entered into the Vasa abode nonchalantly. I did not want to betray the urgency of the situation to Ypres. I would slip the news of Ella’s conundrum casually into conversation. “Oh, hello, Ypres,” I said as she popped around the corner into the living room. “Everything tickety-boo with the luggage?” She wore the unperturbed look of a fish sauntering in an aquarium at a dentist’s office.
“Yes. The porters were most helpful. I just finished unpacking the cases.”
“Hat boxes and all?”
“Hat boxes and all.”
“Splendid.” I continued the general air of insouciance. “Before I forget, I got these for you, Ypres.” I handed over the books, betraying no emotion.
“Since you like Churchill and all that. Also, the second one is written by that friend of yours you mentioned earlier. Looks like he’s written some fan fiction. I gather he used Murder on the Orient Express for inspiration.”
“Thank you very much. It is much appreciated. I shall put these on my shelf with the rest of my books. I did not, as yet, have a copy of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Or, might I add, of the first volume of Sir Winston Churchill’s biography of the Duke of Marlborough.”
“Glad you appreciate it, Ypres. I asked for something obscure on Churchill. Figured something on dukes and cigarettes would prove obscure enough. I’m sure the author tied it together well in the end so it all relates back to Sir Winnie.” There was a short silence. I briefly rearranged some flowers in a vase. Had there been an audience, I think they would have agreed that it was done with the grace of a Baroness reaching for a scone. “Before you go place those on your shelf, I have an update on the Ella front.”
“Does she require your assistance?”
“Perhaps you have better sit, Ypres.”
“If it is alright, I would rather stand.”
“Ypres, I did not invest a small fortune in Madame de Pompousdoor…”
“Madame de Pompadour.”
“Please don’t interrupt me when I’m talking. I did not invest a small fortune in Madame de Pumpadour furniture, on which Louis XV himself is supposed to have sat, no doubt with a martini in hand, and had it shipped from France, so that it would not be sat on.”
“Indeed. Yet, if I may take the liberty, having spent a great portion of the morning sitting on an airplane, I prefer to stand. I find it advisable to stretch my legs.”
We were going round in circles. Not literally, of course. I am not one for circles. I decided to jump into the task at hand with gusto.
“Very well. Suit yourself. Ella’s quandary has officially been upgraded to conundrum status. She spoke hydrographically, or in hieroglyphs, I forget, to preserve the aura of modesty. Nevertheless, the curtain was soon pulled open.” So far Ypres was unresponsive. “Ella has been assisted in her shopping expeditions on Regent Street by a gentleman friend. In return, this gentleman friend has requested a favour. I can see your line of thought is going in the direction of cashmere socks, but no, Ypres. Socks were not the desired object.”
I struck a suitable pose to deliver the last line. Like a detective about to reveal the murderer in the drawing room, I pounced. “In exchange for company, and a second opinion on her shopping expedition, Lanky Ella is to forfeit a kiss and a grope!”
When one has learned to know Ypres, one is not surprised that she does not like to display emotion. Where a normal individual would have had an immediate reaction at the news, Ypres did not. The average passer-by would have exclaimed, in a Shakespearian thrust, something to the effect of “I cannot live to hear the news from England”, and dully fainted.
Smelling salts would have to be called for. A priest, a Catholic priest given the gravity of the situation, would have been requested. Presumably, someone in a corner would be tearing out their hair. In despair, emergency services might even be called. A friend of a friend would offer to contact the Prime Minister and keep it all hush-hush.
Ypres stood there blankly, and blinked once.
“I should add that the grope is to happen on the hour, whereas the kiss every half hour. Also, the grope occurs in the Southern hemisphere by the Netherlands. Which appears to be a riddle, but I thought about it on the way over, and it might refer to the Dutch Antilles. Any thoughts?”
Ypres raised an eyebrow by about half a centimetre (you will have to do the conversion into inches by yourself).
“This is indeed a troubling occurrence.”
“It is more than an occurrence, Ypres. It is a conundrum and then some. Presumably, it could further escalate to a kerfuffle.”
“I shall have to think about it in repose.”
“That’s the spirit! I knew I could count on you.”
Right then, the telephone rang. I keep a rotary phone for show by the entrance hall. It is red. I find a red phone makes more of a fashion statement. Ypres duly shuffled over and answered it. Whispers were exchanged, and she came back to the living room with a status update. My Uncle Edward wished to see me in his office in the City.
Chapter VIII will be published next Monday, 8 February 2016, at 12:00 EST 17:00 GMT. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media. Vasa and Ypres has won the One Lovely Blog Award. More information will be given in the weeks to come in the Afterword.