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1905, London




"What do-" Christopher starts to say.

Manuel holds up a hand. "Not here, please. This is not a conversation for this place."

Christopher looks around. "What? The Kells Club? The promenade?"

"All of those, yes." He gestures at the lights of the club, blazing from within mullioned windows. "This is modern and bright. This is a place of electric lamps and science."

"Yes? Is there something the matter with science?"

"One does not use a rifle to drive a nail. Will you come with me or not?"

Christopher sighs. "Lead on. I've nothing better to do tonight."

Manuel turns into the wind, leading them around the side of the building to the street. He hails a hansom cab with a vigorous wave, and the two of them pile inside. The driver flips open the top hatch and peers down at them. "Where will I be taking you then, sirs?"

"I do not know the exact address," Manuel says. "Take us up to Holborn, and I will guide you from there."

"Just as you say, sir. " The driver withdraws, glowering, and the trapdoor closes.

"Ah..." Christopher hesitates. "It's more pronounced 'Hobun', really."

"Is it? I was certain there was an 'l' and and 'r' included in the name."

"Yes- yes, there is. But they aren't pronounced. It's a bit like 'Thames' in that respect. Where are you from, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Everywhere," Manuel says. "What is the good of having so many letters in your place names, if you do not use them?"

Christopher shrugs. "Search me. I didn't name them."

They rattle onward into the London night. Christopher turns to the window and watches the streetlamps pass by, each one crowned with a halo of glowing mist. A. E. Waite speaks up suddenly in his head, filled with overwrought pomposity:

"The Chariot, in the Tarot, symbolizes inexorable and often unstoppable forces drawing one onward toward an unseen and often unknowable destiny. It represents a synthesis, a coming-together of diverse and multifaceted forms to reflect a higher- yea, even a more rarefied- structure, though its nature be shrouded in the darkness of the tunnel-mouth."

They turn onto High Holborn, and Manuel flips up the trapdoor to give directions to the driver. Christopher, who has never been familiar with the area, is soon lost in the darkened tangle of streets that form the city's beating, congested heart. A damp mist presses its chilly fingertips against the glass of the cab door, leaving tiny droplets of moisture that glimmer in the lamplight. The streets become more esoteric, winding around narrow and looming tenement walls. At last, Manuel knocks on the ceiling.

"Stop here, please."

The driver leans over, eyebrows raised. "Here, sir? Are you sure?"

"Yes, thank you. You have been very helpful." Manuel extracts a handful of money from a vest pocket and hands it through the trap. "Will this be enough?"

The driver looks from the wad of cash to Manuel. "Er. Yes. Yes, this will be enough. Sir." He opens Christopher's door from the outside. "Have a care, then, sir. Good-night."

The two of them climb out, and the hansom clatters away around a corner.

"You shouldn't do that," Christopher says.

"Do what?"

"I don't know how much you gave that man, but I'm sure it was far too much. You're liable to be robbed, if you keep on like that."

"No," Manuel says. "I will not be robbed. Come-" He leads Christopher onto the front step of a large building that appears, at first glance, to be completely dark. Up on the doorstep, however, Christopher can see lights blazing behind heavy curtains. Smells of perfume, gin, and fresh sweat waft through the windows. Distant voices, laughter.

Manuel knocks three times on the heavy door. There is the sound of a latch being drawn back, and it is opened- just a crack- from within. A silhouetted face peers out. "State your busin- oh, it's you, Mr. Lascaris."

The door is pulled wide, flooding the steps with warm light. A slim man in formal dress steps aside and ushers them in. The man is dressed in what appears at first glance to be butler's attire, but something about him- the jaunty, unusually sharp cut of his clothes, his youthful appearance, or the obvious Asiatic background in his features- suggests otherwise.

"Mr. Lascaris," the man says, with no trace of an accent. "And guest. May I show you to the commons room?"

"Thank you, no," Manuel says. "A private lounge, if you have such a one free."

"Of course." The man turns and moves away down the hall.

Christopher leans over Manuel's shoulder. "What is this place?"

"I do not know if it has a proper name. It is called Chang's."

"Chinese?"

Manuel shrugs.

They follow the butler through a beaded curtain and down a short flight of stairs into a rambling, low-ceilinged foyer. Tables and chairs, both for eating and for relaxing, are scattered about the edges of the room, made semi-private by hanging silks that waft to and fro on the breezes generated by movement and pressure. The air is heavy with myrrh and musk, with exotic perfumes and- somewhere beneath- the subtle hint of quim. A layer of smoke hangs near the ceiling, pulled about by eddies from the curtains beneath. Patrons lounge about, drink wine, smoke kreteks and cigarettes. The atmosphere is subdued, the mingled voices muffled by the hanging fabrics. The patrons themselves are heterogenous. Christopher sees well-dressed ladies and gentlemen who could have stepped direct from the Kells Club fraternizing with shadier figures, dandies and eccentrics, men dressed in ragged coats, women with porcelain arms tattooed with dragons and Qabalistic symbols. There are Asiatic faces, negroid features, the rich and sunburnt complexions of India, pale Europeans with faded irises.

Their host continues on, passing through another curtain and turning down a dim hall lit with covered lanterns. He leads them to a sliding door paneled in rice-paper and moves it aside. Beyond lies a small room set with table and chairs, a long settee, a chaise longue, and a low coffee table. The butler moves about the room, lighting a brass lamp set into the wall and removing a drop cloth from the settee. A moment later, he returns to the doorway, gives a quick bow, and is gone.

"What is all this?" Christopher tests the chaise with a hand, then settles down onto it. "Please don't tell me I've fallen in with a band of rogues and decadents. Or please do tell me I've fallen in with a band of rogues and decadents. I've nothing against negroes, you understand, but I've never known them to share space with high society."

"I do not know what high society is," Manuel says. "But I do not think Mr. Chang cares a great deal about it. We can-"

He is interrupted by the arrival of a woman in a high-necked gown, bearing a silver tray before her. She sets the tray down on the table and removes a teapot, cups and saucers, a bottle of wine, and a complicated flute-like device that can only be an opium pipe. Manuel thanks the woman in a language- Chinese?- Christopher does not recognize. She bows and leaves, closing the door after her.

Christopher raises his eyebrows.

"Decadent?" Manuel says, and grins. "This is maybe the right word, yes."

------
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.


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Comments

The following comments are for "Take Me Back to the Garden of Love - 9"
by Beckett Grey

I love it when you talk dirty!
Now, I thought I had a pretty good vocabulary (and as I've mentioned before, my boss calls me a "font of useless knowledge,") but I had to look up two words from a single paragraph above: "quim" and "kretek." I feel dirty AND smarter!

I'm delighted to see that even if you're not showing any inclination to get violent in this story, you ARE hinting at getting decadent! Thank you for humoring my baser instincts!

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: February 3, 2010 )

Decadent
"Christopher, who has never been familiar with the area, is soon lost in the darkened tangle of streets that form the city's beating, congested heart. A damp mist presses its chilly fingertips against the glass of the cab door, leaving tiny droplets of moisture that glimmer in the lamplight. The streets become more esoteric, winding around narrow and looming tenement walls. At last, Manuel knocks on the ceiling."

I like the personification and attention to detail.

Decadent? Love it!

( Posted by: sandra [Member] On: February 4, 2010 )

@ Linnie and sandra
Linnie,
Smart and naughty. The best way to be!
I'm actually kind of in a grey area with the kreteks. While they certainly existed and were smoked in 1905, they were still being made by hand by...well, basically by a couple of guys in India, if I have my history right. Then again, maybe Chang has good connections. Who knows?

sandra,

Thanks! I'm glad the detail came off well. If there's anything I worry about with this story, it's getting the *feel* of the places and times I'm writing about. London in particular is important to me, because I have a personal love for the place.

More to come soon.

( Posted by: Beckett Grey [Member] On: February 4, 2010 )

Take me back
Tell on! Great work!

( Posted by: HeRoCoMpLeX [Member] On: February 7, 2010 )





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