Chapter IV

“Too, too, too,” crows Miss La La, accepting the goblet she’s offered, “Mercy, Mewsy Fran Stone, I will never fatigue of that dear charming countenance. And just when I’d fallen to thinking that all was lost. Why have we not become best, best, oh best of companions? You know you’re the jewel of this whole institution.”

“I’m flushing — you mustn’t!” says Mewsy, confoundedly. Both women sip their black, viscous Épice du Bengale.

“I hope you won’t feel that I’m fresh, Mewsalorca,” the Queen begins hoarsely, her voice burned charcoal from th’elixir, “But I’m ever so drawn to you, seeing, forgive me, a sister of sorts in you — Mewsy, my sweet little sister.”

Mewsy chafes herself lightly against the brocade of The Old Cheroot’s premium loge.

“Miss La La…” she ventures, demure, at a loss for how to go on.

“Oh, La, call me La, darling Mewmew — it’s La or it’s nothing at all.”

“Well, La then – we’re all just so drunk on starmania, having you here with us, sharing yourself with our quaint little hamlet of three hundred twenty lost souls.”

“It’s a blessing, I’m sure, to be taken to bosom by such an historic ensemble. But three hundred twenty? — I’m sure Finch-Marie had said ‘bustling’ — ‘thriving’ — a ‘hot spot’?”

“It’s her business to know, I suppose…” murmurs Mewsy. She worries a dark-crimson curl. “I, like you, ‘ve not been out in just… ever.”

“Six weeks today since I came,” says the Queen — and then, with a furrow: “I’ve counted, I’m sorry to say.”

“My dear, yes, I do beg indulgence, for — well, for our whole filthy crew. The trains never run as they should here in Barebones, and neither does anything else. But the charm — well… the charm. We must take consolation in that.”

“It does have its charm.”

“Oh, indeed.”

Épice. Smiles. Silence.

“Since we — well —“ La La starts up again, running her fingers along the divan. “Everyone’s been just like peaches and milk to me, couldn’t have dreamed of it sweeter. Still, should one wonder aloud if we’ll start soon… responses do tend to the murky.”

Mewsy Fran Stone nods with infinite sadness, surveying the Club’s second-swishest room.

“You mustn’t lose heart,” she says softly, “I’m sure it will still be divine.”

“Have you heard something?” La La leans forward intently, kimono-clad chests spilling forth. “This delay — well, I’ve never seen anything like it, and honestly, darling, I’m withering up on the vine.”

“My friend — Mr. Crane — you’ll have seen him, perhaps… dearest chap from Logistics down there… He was saying just now that he’s sure that they’ll make it all work. It may not turn out quite as we had imagined, of course, but — and don’t think me flatterer, La — you could step out in paper pyjamas and nightcap and have the whole town at your feet. We’re so lucky, so terribly lucky you’re here.”

“Kind of you,” La La says, imperceptibly wincing, “But surely it won’t come to that.”

“Indeed. And that’s just how we all must be facing it. Brow smooth, implacable, tits to the sky. Don’t let’s listen to Dreary Doloreses, shall we? You’re resolute, all the others will follow.”

“I — well, I —” blinking, Miss La La drains downs her black roiling draught.

“Mustn’t fret, lovely La La; I’ll drop in as much as I’m able. Stay pert, and at very least, think of the stories! My Year in the Country: Miss La La’s Foray Into Indolence.”

“A memoir…” La smiles back faintly.

“Just so. It’ll all come out right as white nightshade. You’ll see.”