Silence fell upon the scene. It was the kind of silence that falls after a particularly bloody battle. The kind of battle that festoons wars of succession. Wars of succession where a queen tries to claim a throne while male relatives run towards the armoury. Powdered wings and marshal’s baton at the ready, glamorous mistresses in tow.
A nondescript diner, gazing over between mouthfuls of mash, would realise something was afoot. That realisation might even occur mid-mouthful. Dessert would certainly be put on hold. Ears would be discreetly extended. Dinning companions would be asked to lower their voices. Napkins would be untied from collars. Anything noisier than peas would be barred from making an appearance at the table.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, as it were, the Vasa mind went blank. My head felt like a computer running a particularly complex update. Numbers were doing their thing where they become more numbers. Nothing was happening. Numbers were run through one more time with a bit of Euclidian geometry in the mix. Despite formidable processing power, I ended up with pictures of triangles in my mind, followed by blankness. It appears numbers can offer no solution to an uncle who keeps company to a friend while shopping, in exchange for a kiss with tongue, with a firm grope in return to keep things levelled.
The situation had evolved from quandary, to conundrum, into kerfuffle territory. So deep were we in kerfuffle territory that the reasonable mind could see no end in sight. I excused myself from our high table, claiming I had to powder my nose, and indicated to Ypres to follow me. Ypres and I have developed coded language for such situations. At my behest, we often rehearse the code at the Park Street flat. I rose.
“Please excuse me, all. I must powder my nose. Also, and I add this as an afterthought, Wimbledon has run out of strawberries and cream.”
Lanky Ella and Uncle Edward interrupted their cooing to enjoy a brief moment of perplexity. Ypres, always a quick study, grasped the code immediately. She had remained as cool as the coolest sea creature throughout the ordeal. (I have a feeling Atlantic salmon is the fish which resides in the coldest water, so I will go with that.) Indeed, she was as cool as an Atlantic salmon. Allowing me a head start to allay any suspicions, she had soon joined me in the ladies’ washroom.
I was cautiously checking my make-up, and wiping the sweat from my face, when Ypres cruised in.
“Glad you caught on to the code, Ypres. It seems as if all those hours of practice have paid off.”
“Now, the reason I called you in here is to confer. We need to deal with Ella’s kerfuffle.”
“Yes, Ypres, kerfuffle. I feel as if we have gone into kerfuffle territory. Wouldn’t you agree that, when an uncle announces, in a tone half way between a whisper and a declaration, that a friend’s buttocks are asymmetric, and that this discovery is the result of a firm grope, perhaps even two or three, that one is beyond conundrums? That one is in a kerfuffle?”
Right then the dialogue was interrupted by an ill-timed flush. Of course, flushes are better than the status quo alternative. Even so, a flush can ruin a dialogue. Particularly as the offender came out of a cubicle with a surprised look upon his face. A sudden high-pitched scream escaped me. A quick exchange followed in which it was established that Ypres and I were in the gentlemen’s lavatory. Our fake moustaches and my kilt further complicated matters.
Temporary HQ were re-established in the ladies. This time, the location was double-checked. The Vasa-Ypres dialogue resumed.
“Ypres, why did you not inform me we were in the gents?”
“The code was: Wimbledon has run out of strawberries and cream.”
“Very well, I’ll put that down to deciphering issues.”
“Regarding the kerfuffle with Mr. Vasa and Miss Lanesbury.”
“Right, thank you for reminding me, Ypres. I need your help for the next step. Of course, a girl wants to tackle these things head on, but sometimes help is necessary. Sometimes, the heavy artillery must be brought in. In this case, Ypres, you are the heavy artillery. Or rather, your brain is. So bombs away!”
“Artillery delivers shells, not bombs.”
“You got the gist of it, Ypres. Whether or not artillery people are seashell enthusiasts has nothing to do with our kerfuffle.” Leave it to Ypres to bring a conversation to maritime related trivialities.
Ypres thought for a moment. When the ordinary person thinks, chins are caressed, scalps are scratched, and eyes are squinted. Not Ypres. She showed no sign of mental gymnastics even as it was clear to the average onlooker that she was thinking. Within a few seconds, the answer came. “I may have a solution.”
“Hold that thought, Ypres!” Some odour had reached the Vasa nostrils. It was definitely a whiff. In an instant, the familiar odour brought a solution to mind. “Call off your plan, Ypres. I have an answer! A girl’s got to do, what a girl’s got to do!” I had had an eureka moment, as I believe Einstein put it. All would be well. I ripped off my fake moustache, and marched backed to the high table. Ypres sternly followed.
As I approached my vacated stool, Uncle Edward offered one of his stock nonsensical greetings. “What happened to your moustache?”
Like Ypres, I was as cool as an Atlantic salmon. I paired this with the elegance of an orca. “I have a solution to your kerfuffle, Ella.” I filled Lanky Ella in on the progression from conundrum to kerfuffle, and how her enjoying a firm grip had played a key part. The debriefing was successful. I was able to release my answer. I adopted the appropriate pose, as it were. The casual observer would no doubt say that I looked like a stylish explorer gloriously claiming a plot of land.
Ella looked perplexed. “What about pork pies, Vanessa?”
“Pork pies are the solution to your kerfuffle, Ella. No more kisses, with or without tongue. No more gropes, firm or not. Substitute the lot for pork pies.”
Uncle Edward chimed in. “I don’t understand, Vanessa.”
“Well, my dear uncle, it is quite simple really. In exchange for your company on Ella’s Regent Street shopping expeditions, in which you give her clothing advice when warranted, and carry her bags, as a gentleman should, Ella will provide you with pork pies. Cashmere socks were my first instinct, but upon mature reflection, pork pies will be best. This could be done every half an hour, or on the hour. You can arrange the exact details amongst yourselves.”
The solution was quite obvious really. Once I had smelled a whiff of pork pies from the kitchen, the answer came to me in an instant. Pork pies are how the fiendish girl scout managed to subdue me at the door to the Park Street flat. Unable to resist pork pies, Uncle Edward would surely accept them in lieu of all that physical nonsense.
I stood, waiting for glory. Surely, soon enough, both the aged ancestor and good old Lanky Ella would embrace me. Controlled tears would be shed. Champagne would be promptly ordered. Caviar or foie gras would follow. Ypres would acknowledge my improvised brilliance. Uncle Edward would offer monetary compensation, but like a proud Enlightenment aristocrat, I would refuse.
“I no longer eat pork.”
The bubble had burst. As the answer came, I was daydreaming of champagne. I did not quite catch who or what had emitted it. I uttered a controlled apology.
Uncle Edward delivered the line. “I no longer eat pork, Vanessa. In pies or any other format.”
“This is news to me. Since when have you forsaken pork?”
“If you must know, since this morning. Over breakfast, Ella told me about that Said fellow Ypres was talking about when that nurse was tending to you at Heathrow, and how he is keen on Orientalism.” I gave Ypres a quick glance as Uncle Edward delivered the reasoning behind his pork boycott. She was gingerly sipping tea as if on a Sunday afternoon in the country. “It turns out a lot of these eastern religions forsake pork or meats of any kind. I figured an all-out meat ban might be premature, so I settled for pork.”
Uncle Edward’s pork boycott torpedoed my kerfuffle solution. I protested that there were other pies, but my ideas were dismissed.
It was bruised, but not broken, that I return to Park Street with Ypres. We spent the remainder of the day in silence. I took the opportunity to meditate my discontent away. I would have medicated it away, but every time I tiptoed to the kitchen and reached for some bacon in the fridge, Ypres appeared out of nowhere and gave me the look.
The final chapter of Vasa and Ypres: A Mayfair Conundrum, Chapter XIV, will be published Monday, 28 March 2016, at 12:00 EST 17:00 GMT. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media. Vasa and Ypres is now on Twitter! You can also join over 600 WordPress followers.