My “how”, delivered with convincing aplomb, lingered in the hot summer air.
We had both, after Madison’s mad dash to the street, resumed our seated positions opposite one another.
Ypres adopted her postgraduate stance. She was in her element. The lecture would commence, and the isms would no doubt pepper the disquisition. The daylight came through the open windows gently illuminating her now professorial face. She exhibited the confidence of a wise octopus. Calm, measured, and serene, she carefully began her controlled seminar.
“I made it clear to Madame LaPeine de Mort that information would be made public if she did not acquiesce to her niece’s desire to sing.”
The premise, or research question, had been set. I dutifully posed my follow-up.
“Damaging information? Given the size of the aunt, I assume she has a number of skeletons in her massive closet.”
“The information is not damaging in itself. Yet, if revealed to the wider public, it would be perceived as detrimental by Madame LaPeine de Mort, and would harm her nationalistic credentials.”
The thing with Ypres is that she can be direct when circularity is required, and circular when getting to the point is of the essence.
“The information being?” I asked with a light hint of impatience.
“Have you heard of the New Bloomsbury Gathering?”
I rummaged through my mental files. Luckily, the secretarial staff of the Vasa mind was in full form and found the required dossier.
“As a matter of fact, I have, Ypres. Although I do not know what the Gathering does, and am unfamiliar with its manifesto, if it has one, I am acquainted with one of its members. You see, Ypres, before we left London I took a small liberty of my own.
I arranged for a kind and studious lady, Madam Perestroika, to rent the Park Street flat for a couple of hours each afternoon. You see, Ypres, Madam Perestroika gracefully presented her impeccable credentials to me after we met, almost by chance, while I was taking tea at one of the better establishments off Grosvenor Square.”
I paused for effect.
“She is a strong figure in the capital’s philanthropic circles. She informed me that she was looking for a quiet and private space to retreat to during the afternoon, where she could have a couple of hours to herself and read poetry. A sort of retreat away from her home in Kensington. You know how the Russians are about literature and what not, so I readily agreed.
I did not share the information before, Ypres, because Madam Perestroika, true gentle soul that she is, did not want it to be known that she indulged in her literary passion. She says her husband, although a successful businessman, is a bit of a philistine when it comes to reading. For the use of the flat and my discretion, she has agreed to pay me a generous fee. The income will offset the cost of our lodgings here on Park Avenue and our return flight.”
I came back to the original question as would a good student.
“So yes, Ypres, I have a passing acquaintance with a member of the New Bloomsbury Gathering. Are they an exclusive literary circle?”
“They do meet on occasion at Coutts.”
“So they are exclusive!”
“And they have named themselves in honour of the Bloomsbury Group, or Bloomsbury Set, as it is sometimes referred to, which did include notable authors.”
“So they are a literary circle! Should I send them copies of my Mayfair Conundrum?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Oh?” My voice dropped an octave. It was a good thing Madison was no longer present or she would have tried to harmonise and embark on a show tune.
“The New Bloomsbury Gathering is a group of women seeking young companions.”
“To read Russian poetry to them?”
“The guiding principles of the Gathering, which Alistair shared with me that evening you joined us at the cigar lounge, do not include any overt reference to the arts. The aim of the gathering is to provide a forum for women to discuss their relations with young companions – of both sexes. The relations, although not always, are mostly sensual in nature. Alistair informed me that a favoured activity among the members is to have dances performed by their youthful companions.”
“So there is no reading?”
“Alistair did say that it was practised by some.”
“But the reader is often in the nude.”
“Isn’t that illegal, Ypres?”
“The New Bloomsbury Gathering clearly mandates that no carnal relations are permitted. The women share the possibility of sensuality. Like their namesake, the Bloomsbury Group, they want to explore desire uninhibited by society. It is presented as a spiritual journey.”
Having once read the back jacket of a Tolstoy novel, I failed to see whether a nude reading would be detrimental to its enjoyment or enhance it.
“That’s all very well, Ypres, but what does this have to do with Madame LaPeine de Mort?”
“She is a member of the Gathering, whose constituents are very internationally minded, which could dent her nationalist credentials. But it is her activity among the women’s group which could most embarrass her if made public. She is one of the members who favours being read to.”
“Well, she may be illiterate, but I don’t see how that could be held against her. Aren’t most of her supporters undereducated as well?”
“Her preferred subject matter is spiritual texts.”
“In the past, at the moment it is the Koran and the Torah.”
“Ah. Nothing wrong with that.”
“Being read in the nude.”
“Her or the reader?”
“Yes, herself, a muscular Iranian gentleman, who is completing a PhD at Columbia University, and who reads the Koran. And a Canadian of the Jewish faith, who was selected for his legs, and reads the Torah.”
“His legs!” I stammered! No! It could not be! “Not Beaconsfield-Outremont?”
I was dumbfounded! The muscular-thighed Montrealer!
All this time I had assumed the proximity between Beaconsfield-Outremont and Madison was the result of some special bond between the two. Now it all became clear. The Montrealer bumping into the American outside the aunt’s New York HQ. It was Madame LaPeine de Mort he was visiting! That wink he gave her at the strip club, the exaggerated outrage she directed towards him, it all made sense! And to think Ypres had been putting the story together, piece by piece, since her meeting with Alistair, perhaps even before!
Ypres was calm through it all.
“During my telephone conversation, I made it known to Madame LaPeine de Mort that her nude reading sessions of Holy Scripture with a Shia Iranian and Reform Jewish Canadian, if made public, would not sit well with her party’s nationalist and secular stance. Indeed, les Coqs français platform has strongly worded language against foreigners and organised religion. I agreed to keep the information to myself if she did not set up any barriers to her niece’s pursuit of a career on Broadway.”
“We reached a negotiated settlement,” Ypres added in United Nations parlance. “Madame LaPeine de Mort was most proactive, and agreed to have her niece meet with a musical theatre producer. She also promised to deposit a handsome sum into your account at Coutts if you left New York within forty-eight hours.”
“A veritable Adonis.”
I thought I heard a cash register in the distance, but it might have been my imagination.
“We best get packing, Ypres! London calls!”
Ypres coughed. After such a magnificent display of Ypresian (contact the Oxford English Dictionary) prowess, I could not let the cough go unnoticed.
“Perhaps we should take leave of your New York acquaintances before we depart.”
“You’re right, Ypres! I’m sure that if we hurry we can still catch up with Madison, and then meet up with Cousin Andrew.”
I held the flat door open for Ypres.
“After you, Ypres, it’s the least I can do.”
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