Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Salome - Prologue

March 1, 1811 London, England
The crowd outside St. James Palace was still rather impressive, despite the slight chill in the air. Though the official start of the London Season lay a few weeks away, the newly appointed Prince Regent’s ball drew crowds of commoners in droves to view the spectacle of the aristocracy as they arrived for the event. There was no better way for those who could not afford expensive fashion plates to view the latest in fashionable attire for the ton than to mill around the edges of St. James Park whenever an event was hosted at the Palace. Uniformed guardsmen lined the drive to protect partygoers from the crowd, but they could not still the conversation that filled the air.
Despite the jostling, a pair of dark figures stood steadfast, eyes upon every figure that descended from the line of carriages. The larger of the two stood calmly, his arms crossed before him and presenting an imposing figure, garnering enough space so that the shorter spectator standing slightly behind him could remain undisturbed. This smaller figure was heavily cloaked from the cold breeze and prying eyes. The deep cowl of his hood rose and fell regularly as he eyed the carriages and their occupants, then lowering to scribble notes furiously into a small notebook.
The crowd took little notice of the curious figures in their midst. It was not uncommon for gossip reporters to hang about in mobs like this one, making note of who was whom amongst London’s elite, and the popular responses about them. Though the aristocracy took little care for what the populace might think of them, it was great fun for the general population to comment on their dress and their choice of companions.
Such was not the case for the pair of observers, though the smaller one making notes took care to listen to the muttered comments around him. It served his purpose well to be thought a gossip hound, but the truth behind his motives was far more devious. However, the running commentary provided by the crowd around him provided useful information as well.
‘Oh, look, there is the Lord and Lady Castlereagh-‘ someone noted the famed Patroness of Almack’s.
‘That color is just hideous-‘ another said about another noblewoman.
‘Of course, he would arrive with her, an engagement is expected soon-‘
‘That dandy!’
The commentary ranged far and wide; speculation about affairs and marriages, political bias, the lack of polish on someone’s boots. All was carefully noted by the cloaked figure. The line of carriages continued and began to slow, and the crowd began to disperse. The giant looked down as the hooded figure nodded and began to turn away, when one last carriage pulled up. The mob grew excited once more.
‘There he is, that half-breed-‘
The tone of the audience had certainly changed, attracting the attention of the pair of observers, who paused to see whom had arrived. The coat of arms on the side of the carriage indicated it belonged to the Earl Verney.
‘Thought that old goat died,’ someone said.
‘And with him the title, but they found an heir in America somewhere,’ replied another.
The two figures exchanged glances and moved back to their previous position to get a better view.
‘Some nephew, his father married one of the natives in the colonies, and supported the Revolution-‘ the rest of the words could not be made out in the press of people.
‘Been here two years now, trying to get some decency-‘
‘Failing, look at the trollop with him-‘
‘Handsome devil, he is, though, ain’t he?’
The smaller one tried to get a better look at the mysterious Earl Verney, but the carriage was blocking his line of sight. When it finally moved out of the way, all that could be seen of the Earl was his backside. Dark hair wore unfashionably long and unpowdered was pulled into a queue, but nothing could be seen of his face. The woman beside him that someone had referred to as a trollop was clad in a diaphanous cloud of blue, her blonde hair pulled high on her head.
As though sensing the crowd’s interest in him, the gentleman turned towards the mob in the park, at last revealing his face. His tanned visage was indeed handsome, with high cheekbones above a square jawline. His face was impassive, his lips a thin line as he scanned the press of faces briefly. Then, he did something wholly unexpected. He raised a hand and actually waved, acknowledging the crowd of onlookers! His previous serious demeanor relaxed into a wicked smile, flashing teeth that shone even and white, even in the dim light.
The crowd roared, loving the attention bestowed upon them. American half-breed or not, such behavior by one of the peer was just not seen.
‘Oh, that cheeky devil!’ a woman laughed, waving back enthusiastically.
The blonde woman on his arm scowled as she looked back at the crowd, tossing her curls imperiously. She tugged at his coat sleeve to try and regain her escort’s attention.
‘Really, Donovan, what are you doing?’ she pressed.
Donovan Tremaine, Earl Verney ignored her for the moment as he continued to scan the crowd, his rakish smile never wavering. From the corner of his eye, he noted a large man standing just behind the row of guards, dwarfing them with his size. Focusing on the giant, he became aware that the man was staring impassively at him. He lowered his arm, though his smile never wavered. The giant looked briefly downward, nodding at a hooded figure beside him. Something passed from the smaller man to the larger one, though he could not see what it was, and all his senses went on alert. Donovan could not make out a face in the deep cowl, though light briefly glittered off a pair of pale eyes as both figures turned away, blending into the crowd. At last, he returned his attention to his companion.
‘If one hopes to gain the support of one’s constituents, it is best not to ignore them,’ Donovan replied, his American accent gruff.
‘This isn’t Amersham, Donovan, and no one in that mob is one of your ‘constituents’,’ replied the blonde beauty beside him, her face twisting into an unattractive sneer. ‘Things are done differently here than they are in the colonies. Those people-‘ she waved vaguely behind her as they moved toward the Palace, ‘are not your equals. You are one of the ton, now, and you are expected to behave as such.’
Donovan scowled, his countenance darkening. ‘The United States of America,’ he stressed between clenched teeth, ‘ceased to be colonies nearly twenty years ago. And my presence amongst the peerage does nothing to change my philosophical views about my fellow man.’ He wondered to himself why he continued to dally with Madeline Latham. The beautiful widow had proven useful in gaining entrĂ©e into the upper echelons of Society in his early days as Earl, and was always a willing bed partner, but her snobbishness was a hindrance. He would have to think seriously about finding a new mistress this Season.
Madeline shrugged at Donovan’s history lesson as they entered the receiving line. ‘Save the philosophizing for your men’s club. This is a party, and I would like to enjoy myself. Seriously, Donovan, you can be such a bore sometimes,’ she said.
Donovan returned her nonchalant gesture. It was pointless to argue with Madeline, at any rate. He turned his mind to other things, but his thoughts kept returning to the mysterious figures in the crowd outside the Palace. It might amount to nothing and a mere coincidence alone that the pair seemed so fixed on him, but he was still considered a newcomer, and bound to be of interest to many. Still, considering some of his more clandestine activities, he would have to be careful in his conduct for the time being.

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