July 30 1815
Panic hushed number fourteen, Lincoln Inn Fields as the servants listened to their employer screaming curses at his valet in-between blows. Limbs trembled as the master emerged from his chamber in a haze of lemon-violet scented rage. His favourite mirror had been shattered into a mosaic of reflecting shards threatening seven years of misfortune. The dishonourable John Smirke’s pleasurable afternoon was suddenly threatened by a foolish superstition invented by ugly people. The enjoyment of gazing at his favourite reflection ruined, he sought out the next pleasurable sensation of the day. Even in a rage he was aware of the soft caressing fabrics moving against his body. A quilted black satin dressing gown enveloped his trim figure festooned in fresh white linen elegantly tucked into buff leather breeches unbuttoned at the knees. Black garter ribbons knotted over white silk stockings fluttered against perfect shaped calves outlined by white silk stockings. The proud forehead disappeared into carefully combed long blonde curls restrained by another black ribbon tied in a perfect bow at the nape of the neck. Servants muttered prayers of gratitude under their breath as the pretty man passed oblivious to their existence.
Pastel bluish-green walls decorated with life sized paintings of naked women eating and drinking cast a sickly shadow over the angry man as he sailed into the dining room. He waited impatiently as the footman rushed to pull out his chair and then scowled as the housekeeper whispered hurried directions to the new manservant as covered dishes, chocolate pot and tableware were artfully arranged before the seated devil.
Picking up his knife and fork, black marble eyes turned towards the beautiful old woman, a conspicuous chain of keys hanging from her waist. “I’m expecting a visitor this afternoon. Show her to the drawing room and then disappear. I don’t wish to be disturbed whatever you may hear. Comprends?”
“Oui Monsieur; will Madmoiselle visite un longtemps Monsieur?”
“She will visit until I tire of her. Lay a thick coverlet over my daybed. I don’t want blood on my upholstery.”
“Un autre virgin Monseiur?” The question was tinged with disapproval. Black eyes flickered with icy offence, “Oui Madame, another old maid will be introduced to the pleasures of the flesh without the burden of writing out wedding invitations. What do you care?”
“Ruining les innocents is a grave sin Monsieur!”
Smirke’s eyes raked over the old woman with a half hearted leer. “Save your sins for the confessional Madame or you’ll be confessing that I made you moan with pleasure, comprends?”
The long suffering woman nodded her head, “Oui Monsieur.”
“And while we’re on the subject of confession; why are there three hideous maids in my attic? You know I can’t abide ugly people!”
“They stay in the attic until you absence Monsieur!”
“This is not an almshouse for homely sluts! Get rid of them.”
“I will if…when I find substitutions Monsieur.”
“Ugly people may legally blemish the street, but this is my house and I don’t want them in it!”
“Je visite every agency in London once a week Monsieur! Pas belle demoiselle accessible!”
“Pretty maids pour into London by the cartload Madame! Why aren’t they making my bed and cleaning my grate? Why am I cursed with ugly maids?”
Madame Pêche sighed and licked her lips as she searched for just the right words. “This is a bachelor’s establishment Monsieur. Perhaps les belles demoiselle are afraid for their…reputations?”
“Perhaps you should obey my orders before I replace you with une autre French émigré. Offer fifty pounds a year if you have to, I refuse to be served by ugly people.”
“Puis-je advertise au France, Monseiur?”
“Advertise in Hell; I don’t care who takes out my slops as long as they’re not ugly. If you don’t find me some tolerable looking staff Madame, I’ll be replacing my housekeeper, comprends?”
“I shall découvres les belle demoiselles Monsieur.”
“See that you do! Was there no other post?”
“Juste le lettre de Bolingbroke Monsieur.”
John Smirke sneered at the thick cheerful letter sitting next to his plate, “You may have once decorated the Queen’s Salon Madame Pêche, but I don’t pay you to embellish my dining experience. Go do some work.” The old woman creaked into an elegant curtsey before shuffling from the room thinking ungodly thoughts of her wicked employer.
Incensed by the broken mirror and the fact that there were ugly people inhabiting his house; Smirke carefully picked up each silver lid off his breakfast dishes and threw them as hard as he could denting his black polished table in the process. Having eased the compressed fury in his chest, he heaped his plate with fried bread and ham. Luck or no luck he was going to have a pleasurable afternoon taking revenge on another silly wench whose father had rejected his proposal of marriage while he was in the mood to acquire a wife. He smiled as he neatly filled his mouth with ham and chewed as he imagined the scene. She’d admire his beauty and allow him to remove layers of silk hiding virgin untouched flesh. Smirke sighed with pleasure at the thought. He wouldn’t have to wear a shield to protect him from some vile venereal disease. He’d take his pleasure and if he gave her a screaming black eyed brat to remind her father of his foolish pride, so much the better.
After finishing his meal he sipped a cup of chocolate and glared at the latest letter from his unmet ward. The bedevilled female appeared to be hell-bent on spending his fortune one letter at a time. Every morning he received at least one rambling update on life at Bolingbroke. The demented young woman was most likely the ugliest female ever born in England, a fact he used hourly to stifle an inexplicable desire to ride home to Lincolnshire and bridle her spending in person. The inert letter seemed to smile and wave, taunting him with promises of adoration. Sighing loudly in exasperation, he set his cup down with a dull chink and picked up the letter and sat back as he relished the pleasure caused by the sensation of the thick smooth paper unfolding in his hands.
‘To my beautiful Mr Smirke, the best guardian in the whole world!’ Smirke’s upper lip levitated into a horrified sneer as the innocent opening line nearly wrenched him from his chair. He choked back an impulsive order for his carriage and read on. ‘I haven’t heard from you in ages, if one can call your last brief note a letter. You say you have pressing engagements in London, but what could be more pressing than meeting your ward? I’m dying of curiosity to see if you’re as beautiful as your mother’s portrait even though all your servants say that it’s just like you. Do come home Mr Smirke! There’s no one here to talk to! If you don’t come home soon I’m going to run away…’ Smirke’s eyes lit up with hope, it was a miracle! His eyes skimmed back towards the flourished script. ‘…I’m going to run away and marry a masked footpad over a Scottish anvil. He’ll probably only pretend to marry me. He’ll have his evil way and leave me enceinte at some stinking Inn and then you’ll be legally responsible for two! Oh please come home Mr Smirke! I don’t want to marry a footpad. He’ll smell awful! When would he bathe running from the hangman? I’d never be able to love him; he wouldn’t ever buy me presents. How could he when he he’d have to sleep all day so he could thieve all night when he wasn’t drinking beer at some alehouse. I hate beer, it stinks! I sold the servant’s supply to the local Innkeeper. It took me four hours to convince him you wouldn’t kill him, but he said he paid you a very faire price. See, I’m not wasting all your money! You’ll be pleased to hear I used the beer money to order more wine as the cellar is getting low. The servants are more cheerful these days; I don’t think they liked drinking watered down beer. Do send for me, I could come keep house for you in London. I’d be very quiet. You’d hardly know I was there.
I nearly forgot to tell you, I’ve repapered the large yellow drawing room a cheerful pink. I’m sure you’ll like it, it’s a great improvement. And please don’t lose your temper, but I accidentally put my foot through another painting. Honestly, I did want to put my foot through it as it was particularly horrid, but I swear I wasn’t trying to put my foot through it. I stumbled off the ladder as I was getting it down and I fell. My foot went right through a part I couldn’t possibly describe without my cheeks catching fire! I feel bad for the artist. I’d hate to have one of my paintings end up with a gaping hole, but then I’d never paint Leda and the Swan quite so…you know. I ordered a large roll of canvas and a cart load of pigments, thinners etc. I’m going to paint you some beautiful pictures without naked people. Please come home, I’m dying to paint a picture of you sitting in the Castle ruins.
Your most humble and obedient ward
Miss J Lark
I kiss your hand as reverently as if you were a Bishop even if you are a wicked rake-hell. I am sure God loves you just as much as if you were the most perfect saint!
Smirke crumpled up the letter and threw it into the fire, his rage rekindled.
The awful young woman was ruining his house, pouring his wine collection down his servants’ throats and tearing up his peace. He had to do something with the wench before she burnt down his Lincolnshire property and showed up on his London doorstep. He had no illusions; it would cost him a small fortune to get rid of his drunken mistake. He sighed and pushed his ward out of his thoughts. He was going to have a pleasurable day if it killed him. His visitor would be arriving in two hours. By the time his meal settled in his stomach he’d be ready to energetically entertain the prim Lady Harriet Bloomswater. After all the waiting and scheming, there was nothing to do but relax and contemplate the exquisite nature of pleasure.Go to chapter 2