Two things are real today. One is that summer is quite definitely over and instead of toughing it out until November 1 (I made the rule and by golly I can break it) I turned on the heating and am wearing strange layers of clothes, necessitated by what’s clean or what can pass for clean.
The other reality is my next book from Little Black Dress. It’s real because I have revisions and a release date–February 2010–and, huzzah, the title I chose, Improper Relations.
I wrote this scene, where the heroine and her sister-in-law visit their aunt Lady Hortense Renbourn, one night when I had insomnia and decided to write at 2 a.m. I think I was more asleep than I realized, because this is what I came up with, and quite a surprise when I read it later. Although the character had appeared earlier in the book I wasn’t quite sure why she was there. I still wasn’t quite sure after this scene either, although she turned out to be very important to the plot. It was the invention of Lady Renbourn that confirmed my belief that (sometimes) I know what I’m doing even when I think I’m not (as far as writing goes, anyway).
Lady Renbourn’s drawing room is infested with cats and a handful of decorative young men, all dewy eyes and careful curls. She is apparently fashionable in a strange sort of way—the young men hang upon her every word and seem grateful when picked out for any particular insult.
A cat climbs into my lap and proceeds to shed, purring with delight.
“I see Cleopatra likes you,” Aunt Renbourn says. “Tom, show the lady what Cleopatra did to you.”
Obligingly the young man turns back his velvet cuff to display a collection of livid scratches.
“Love tokens!” screeches Aunt Renbourn. “We’ll have claret, now. Johnny—damn the boy, where is he?—you’ll pour. I won’t have the footmen bothered; they’re cleaning the silver. So, miss, give us the news. I hear you and Shad spurn the town to bill and coo at home. Most unfashionable, you’ll regret it.”
“I trust your ladyship is in good health,” Marianne comments. She wipes cat hair from her glass.
“I’m at death’s door, you hussy.” Aunt Renbourn, immune to polite conversation, takes a swallow of claret and belches. “Those onions will be the death of me. Francis will play the spinet for us now. None of this newfangled stuff by foreigners, Francis—give us some Playford tunes.”
One of the young men shoos a couple of cats from the instruments and wipes the keys with a handkerchief. The spinet is ancient, like its owner, and sadly out of tune and missing a few notes. Aunt Renbourn listens with avid delight, thumping her ebony cane in time (mostly) to the music and occasionally humming along.
“Has Shad found himself a mistress yet?” she shouts across the room, apropos of nothing.
“I believe not, ma’am,” I bellow back.
“He will. And what think you of the Bastards?”
“They are charming children,” I respond.
She stands, scattering a cat or two from her lap, and hobbles behind a screen set in a corner of the room, where I suspect a chamber pot resides.
One of the decorative young men rouses himself to make a comment on the weather. Johnny pours everyone more claret, Francis and the spinet continue to abuse Playford, and Tom extricates himself from fashionable lethargy to tell me he admires my hairstyle.
Aunt Renbourn emerges from behind the screen. She proceeds to entertain us for a good half hour with an extraordinary narration of vice, dissipation, and depravity involving virtually every wellborn family in England. Even Marianne looks taken aback at the revelation of young Lord L—’s indiscretion with his valet, the valet’s sister, two military officers and a luckless goat.
“And they had to completely replace the wallpaper!” Aunt Renbourn concludes.
Question of the day: What have you learned about trusting your instincts?