Tereus wakes the following morning feeling ill and out-of-sorts. Breakfast is slight and improvised. The toast is cold, and his request for bacon meets with polite incredulity. Lavinia actually laughs it off. She and Valeria seem to have met and reaffirmed their sisterly bond by agreeing that he’s a Bad Man. Tereus has often wished that he could concede this point and move on to more important matters, like what he has to do to get a slice of bacon in his own home, let alone a piece of ass.
Clearly neither will be forthcoming. The entire house is astir with party preparations: Furniture being moved from here to there, reception rooms thrown open and festooned with silk swags and live flowers.
There’s no privacy or quiet to be found, short of confining himself to his bedchamber. Even Tereus balks at such open incivility, so he, Lucius, Valeria, Lord Soane and Lord Wallace take uneasy refuge in the library. Just before noon, the majordomo enters, leading a team of scullery maids and two footmen.
Tereus is slumped at his desk, scowling and trying to enjoy a pornographic French novel. Without looking up, he asks the majordomo, “What do you think you’re doing?” His tone is one of infinite weariness.
“Begging your pardon, sir. The library is to be a card room.”
“A card room?”
“Yes, to accommodate gentlemen who don’t choose to dance. The library and music room are to be used as card rooms.”
“The library will not be a card room,” Tereus says. “It will be locked against intruders.”
The majordomo emits a polite titter. “It’s usual to to allow a certain number of tables for every hundred guests, specifically for the gentlemen who don’t choose to dance. It must be the library. There’s no other adjacent room, and it’s too cold to allow guests onto the verandah and into the orangery.”
“Gentlemen who don’t choose to dance can crowd into the music room, or they can suck my fucking dick,” says Tereus. “The library will provide a place for the master of the house to smoke, and to punch a wall if it should become necessary.”
The majordomo calls off the operation, and his troops retreat. Tereus’s outraged gaze follows them until the last and lowliest scullery maid curtsies and withdraws, closing the massive double doors behind her. Tereus settles back into his chair, and reapplies himself to the delicious dilemma of a young novitiate cast among a very knowing set of nuns.
“Was that really necessary?” Valeria asks.
“Perhaps not, but he seemed slow on the uptake,” Tereus says. He keeps his eyes trained on the volume in his hand.
“They’re just trying to do their jobs.”
“It will never be the job of any servant in Shelawn House to turn the library into a card room. The sooner they learn that, the better.”
“Your language was particularly brutal.”
“It often is.” He marks his place, sets the volume down. “Valeria, is this really necessary? What do you hope to accomplish by criticizing my conduct in my own home?” Seeing her expression, he realizes that she’s truly indignant on his servants’ behalf. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Lucius trying to catch his wife’s eye, shaking his head.
“No, Lucius,” she says. “I won’t remain silent on this subject.”
Tereus stands up, says, “In that case, you’re welcome to address your concerns to my empty chair.” He strides out the French doors into the garden, and paces up and down, swearing. Lucius emerges from the library, follows Tereus as he takes off for the stables. Tereus stops suddenly, turns to confront his brother. “Yes, I know. She’s right. It’s what one dislikes most in her.”
They saddle up and ride the streets aimlessly and wordlessly.
As they return through the orangery an hour later, Tereus is still crackling with rage. He turns to Lucius and says in an almost conversational tone, “I feel as if I can’t stand it. I tried to think things through two nights ago. I don’t see any way out. I wish to hell that I could just be let the fuck alone tonight. Short of that, I’d settle for driving iron spikes into both of my eyes while standing outside the portico on the front steps.”
He sees the shock in his brother’s face, says, “Since neither one is possible, I’ll wear fucking evening clothes and do my best to adopt a normal expression. But for the love of God, tell them to ease up. I can’t think.” His voice is flat, his expression anguished.
“I wish you could speak to me about it,” Lucius says.
“I can’t. I wish I could.” He smiles crookedly. “I’m sorry, little brother.”
For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.