Saturday, 22 March 2014

IX: At Kshesinskaya's Salon

Matilda Kshesinskaya holds an open salon near Covent Garden, where the great and good of London's high-brow entertainment world can often be found. It is a fine example of fin de si├Ęcle decadence and opulence - like something out of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting - full of smoke from cigarillos and the smell of vermouth and gin. There is a permanent sense of a party going on which is always slowly winding down, but never really ending.

Kshesinskaya herself is small, beautiful, and extremely cold. She is surrounded by various men who hang on her every word and who she clearly despises. She has the look of a Turkish princess, and indeed she is often said to be a descendant of a prince of Tartary. She greats you politely enough, offering her hand - as if expecting you to kneel and kiss it.

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    1. She lets her hand be taken and inclines her head slightly. "And what can I do for you, good sir?" Her accent is so exotic-sounding it almost sounds like she's putting it on.

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    2. Challenge me, I hope. The world of society and conversation closes around me like a trap and the stories I have heard of your wit, taste and ruthless eye for *real* beauty suggest that you may be the only person with the knowledge I seek whose rapport may not instantly bore me to near suicide.

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    3. Her eyes widen slightly, although otherwise her face remains expressionless. "Then tell me of this knowledge you seek, sir."

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    4. Simply put; an engaging mystery. A painting by Defernex, its form, an apparent translation of the Sephirot. A girl, young, beautiful, posessed by an uncontrollable desire. She cannot be parted from the image and wastes slowly by degrees. Her whisper suggests the Qliphoth.

      That is to say, the images of M Defernex, may be, not only uniquely potent (as I am sure you are aware) but also, not entirely what they seem or claim to be.

      A kind of fraud, not of the tiersome material kind pursued by agents of the law, but a much more exciting deception. A spiritual fraud, a counter-signal hidden in the paintings form.

      Quite fascinating is it not?

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    5. [We agreed this conversation happens after Brindleton's, below.]

      Kshesinskaya looks at Kitson for a long, drawn out moment. "Will you be joining your friend tomorrow after the performance?" She sips her drink - a sazerac. "I do hope so."

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    6. More a colleague than a friend, but of course.

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  2. I circle the room and try to observe who is watching our arrival.

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    1. Your arrival has obviously been noted. There are a few burly characters in one corner who seem to have 'clocked' you. But you rather suspect they are Kseshinskaya's personal security detail.

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    2. Wandering and making small talk I try to get a sense of whether or not anywhere is "out of bounds" or locked. Also, is any of the decoration/artwork on display weird/suspicious/occult?

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    3. Yes, there are staircases leading both up and down. Downstairs seems to be a small pantry/kitchen area where the staff are to-ing and fro-ing. Upstairs you can see a small landing and a closed door. You get the sense that the guests go neither upstairs or downstairs.

      The artwork and ornaments are unusual. You notice a prominent bronze seal, about 12 inches in diameter, which looks like it has a roughly hewn Star of David on it. On one mantelpiece are two large ram's horns, fashioned into what look like musical instruments.

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    4. Who in the group would be best to take a look at all this? After a glance over it with hopefully a suitably bemused look on my face (of the well to do who knows very little) what do I make of it?

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    5. Maybe Kitson or Foxworth, I'd say.

      You don't really know much about it. You'd say there's something Judaic about the whole thing, but that's about all.

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  3. I ply the kitchen staff for information with compliments and foodie trivia.

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    1. There are a few servants to-ing and fro-ing serving drinks and val-au-vents. You manage to attract the attention of a serving girl who stops to exchange a few words each time she passes. From what you gather, the ballerina runs a more-or-less never-ending open house party in her apartment. Sometimes she goes upstairs to sleep, but her guests remain regardless. Her countless suitors and young debutante friends can sometimes become rowdy, but are generally keen to maintain an air of grace and sophistication. Her agent, Benjamin Cohen, is often around to maintain order and make sure the prima-donna never misses rehearsals or a performance.

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    2. If you ask about art, the girl confirms that the prima-donna has an extensive collection in a studio upstairs, but she rarely lets anybody in to see it - much less a serving girl.

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  4. "Enchantez, madame!" Brindleton bows creakily as he kisses her hand. "It is a great honour to meet - not only a true goddess of the stage but also..." (sotto voce) "a keeper of one of Defernex's Great Keys."
    (conspiratorially) "of course you know all about the _secrets_ he's hidden away, for the cognoscenti. Remarkable times."
    Brindleton straightens up and compliments her on her latest part. As he does, he's looking around to see who else might have caught that.

    ((and I'm really sorry for being so late with this. Crazy week mostly afk. Back now))

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    1. in summary, B is going to drop hints that there's some hidden valuable secret in Defernex's paintings and it'll all be great fun figuring it out and in the meantime she can lord it over everyone else in yet another way by having an inside track on the secret if only she knows what it is... the plan being to find out (a) if indeed she has some secret relationship with her painting and (b) if she's willing to show it to us so we can discover the secrets together.

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    2. of course he doesn't put it like that. If he has to he'll mention the inscription on the back without saying what it says and wonder if they match up

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    3. Her expression changes when she hears the name Defernex. She stays holding onto Brindleton's hand - her small fingers showing surprising strength. "Oh, La Sylphide?" she asks softly. "A charming version as I'm sure you'll agree. Perhaps you ought to come to see the performance tomorrow night...I would be interested to hear your thoughts. It would be such a bore to discuss it here with all of these people around."

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    4. "I would be honoured to see it, madame!" [does Brindleton know which performance she means? At Covent Garden? He did his homework, ready to flatter her about her current role, but if she means something here at the salon then he's going to have to ask for details] "And regarding the Master... would you mind if I brought one or two like-minded colleagues? I promise, they shall not bore." Brindleton bows, just a little cockily.

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    5. [Brindleton knows that the performance is at Covent Garden. "La Sylphide" is a well-known ballet.]

      She smiles very slightly. "Provided you keep that promise. I cannot abide bores."

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