Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: A Finger Ring with a Portrait of Grand Duke Adolphus, 1746

Finger Ring with Miniature of
Adolphus Frederick IV
Presented to Queen Charlotte, 1746
The Royal Collection
Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Sterlitz, Adolphus Frederick IV was the brother of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. Adolphus was most beloved and Charlotte often showered her brother with expensive gifts.

In 1746, he returned the favor by presenting Queen Charlotte with this diamond finger ring set with a watercolor on ivory portrait of himself by an unknown German artist. Though he looks quite foppish to modern eyes in his elaborate wig, Adolphus was quite the height of fashion. The Queen loved the ring and wore it frequently. A similar portrait was also set into a matching snuff box.

At the Music Hall: Oh, It’s a Lovely War, 1917

Oh! Oh! Oh! it's a lovely war,
Who wouldn't be a soldier eh?
Oh! It's a shame to take the pay.
As soon as reveille is gone
We feel just as heavy as lead,
But we never get up till the sergeant brings
Our breakfast up to bed
Oh! Oh! Oh! it's a lovely war,
What do we want with eggs and ham
When we've got plum and apple jam?
Form fours! Right turn!
How shall we spend the money we earn?
Oh! Oh! Oh! it's a lovely war.

Written in 1917 by J.P. Long and Maurice Scott, “Oh, It’s a Lovely War,” was popularized during the First World War by male impersonator and music hall star Ella Shields. The song with it’s rousing and patriotic overtones was a humorous and effective means of raising moral during the grisly war and remained popular well into World War II.

The song has been featured in many musicals and films, not the least of which was the 1969 film, Oh, What a Lovely War which was based on the 1963 musical of the same name. “Oh, It’s a Lovely War’ was the centerpiece of Oh, What a Lovely War and served as a show-stopping number.

Here’s a clip of the song from the 1969 film.

The Art of Play: Prince William of Gloucester, 1946

Prince William of Gloucester
Marcus Adams, 1946
The Royal Collection
When we think of the Royal Family, we don’t often think of Prince William of Gloucester. The Prince—the son of Henry, the Duke of Gloucester and the grandson of King George V and Mary of Teck—died in a tragic plane accident in 1972.

Despite suffering from a variety of ailments, The Prince was a bright, active child who enjoyed laughter and play. His jubilant spirit was captured in this 1946 photo by Marcus Adams taken at the Children’s Studio. Here, we see Prince William of Gloucester playing with a stuffed toy he borrowed from one of his sisters.

Painting of the Day: The Eye of Mrs. Fitzherbert, 1786

The Eye of Mrs. Maria Anna Fitzherbert
Ivory, Watercolor, Gold, Diamonds
The Royal Collection
As we’ve previously discussed, it was a custom for a woman to present a special man in her life with a token of her affection in the form of a miniature portrait of her eye. These portraits were often set as jewelry and were usually worn or carried secretly by the gentleman in order to protect the virtue of the lady in question.

The owner of this miniature wasn’t as concerned with protecting the virtue of the lady as much as he was interested in protecting his own position (if not his already somewhat questionable reputation). This watercolor on ivory portrait set in a frame of gold and diamonds shows the eye of one Mrs. Maria Anna Fitzherbert—the mistress (and secret wife—for awhile) of King George IV.

Due to its secret nature, the portrait fell out of the possession of the Royal Family following the death of George IV. The Royals didn’t much approve of George’s relationship with Mrs. Fitzherbert. Where the portrait ended up is unknown, however, it was purchased in the Twentieth Century by Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 187

Charles and Ulrika walked in silence for several minutes before Charles looked at the disheveled, ginger heiress and smiled.

“It’s not my concern, Miss,” Charles began, “but it seems to me that a young lady from a good family shouldn’t be keeping company with someone like ‘The Elegant Ogress.’”

“I am not some insipid little thing. I’m not helpless. I make my own way in this world.” Ulrika grumbled.

“Don’t you think you might make your way toward a better quality of people?” Charles answered with a light friendliness.

“You’re awfully forward for a servant.” Ulrika frowned.

“My apologies, Miss.”

“Really, you’re one to give advice. Look at the company you’re keeping. Barbara Allen isn’t exactly the delicate maiden that she seems to be.”

“I know all about Miss Allen’s life.” Charles nodded. “It’s one thing to have a storied past, it’s another to keep it a secret. She’s been quite upfront with me. Some people, no matter what they’ve done, have a glimmer of hope in them. That makes them worthwhile. Iolanthe Evangeline has no such glimmer, Miss.”

“Did you know that she used to work for me?”

“I did.” Charles nodded.

“You may think you know her,” Ulrika scowled, “but you don’t. I can assure you of that. I could tell you a few things that would curl your beautiful hair.”

“Forget that I said anything, Miss.” Charles shrugged.

“You’d do well to remember your place.” Ulrika nodded.

“I never forget who I am.” Charles sighed. “If only everyone could say the same.”

“That’ll be enough from you.” Ulrika spat.

“As you wish, Miss.” Charles smiled.

Again, they walked toward Royal Street in silence.

“You know she’s married?” Ulrika said finally.

“I know.” Charles answered.

“That didn’t stop her husband from taking up with…” Charles paused.

“Go on,” Ulrika grimaced.

“As you say, Miss, I should remember my place.” Charles smiled.

“He’s missing.” Ulrika whispered.

“That I didn’t know.”

“I was trying to get him back.” Ulrika said.

“So, that he might return to Miss Allen?” Charles asked.

“No, you fool, so that he can return to me!” Ulrika said, shaking.

“Perhaps I can help,” Charles said calmly.

“Perhaps you can,” Ulrika grinned.

Meanwhile, back on the docks, Barbara Allen narrowed her eyes at Iolanthe Evangeline.

“Listen, Traitor, I owe you no explanations.” Iolanthe shook her head. “I owe you nothing.”

“What were you doing with Ulrika Rittenhouse?” Barbara demanded.

“What do you care?” Iolanthe frowned. “She treated you as if you were dirt. She stole your husband. She betrayed you and took your brother’s diamond. She conspired to injure your lunatic brother as well.”

“She’s still a living creature.” Barbara said softly.

“So, you’ve developed a soft streak?” Iolanthe laughed. “How novel. I suggest, however, you not waste your time worrying about that flame-haired sow. You’ve bigger things to occupy your worry.”

“Such as?”

“Such as the fact that presently, your wayward husband is chained below decks on a ship headed toward the Orient.” Iolanthe grinned.

At that very moment, at their borrowed house on Royal Street, Robert watched helplessly as Julian continued his silent battle. Little did he know that a horrific drama was beginning to unfold in a hidden, imaginary room inside of his dear friend.

Mr. Punch watched in terror as the stage before him and Julian began to change. It filled with black smoke which made Mr. Punch sputter. From the smoke emerged a hulking, faceless, figure clad in black knit. Without a mouth, the monster spoke in a gravely voice.

“Agnes!” The man howled. “Bring the boy to me. The knife is hot!”

Mr. Punch shrieked as he watched.

Julian rose from his chair and stood next to his other half, putting his arm around Mr. Punch’s shoulders.

“We must watch, dear Punch,” Julian whispered. “We must.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-186? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, March 7, 2011 for Chapter 188 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Make Each Day an Adventure

Weekends are often filled with chores and drudgery, but even the dullest of activities can be made interesting when you approach them with a sense of adventure. Think about when you were a child. Everything was exciting because it was new and was imbued with wonderment. When I watch Bertie, I see that he goes into most situations with the same sense of delight. There’s no reason that adult humans can’t do the same.

Today, as you carry out the list of chores that mounted up during the week, don’t look at them as mindless tasks, but as an opportunity to improve your home, your quality of life and your overall comfort. Look around you. Find things that capture your imagination. Not only will your work go quicker, but it’ll be a lot more intriguing and fulfilling.

Object of the Day: A Vintage Toy Trolley

This souvenir of San Francisco was given to me when a child. Iconic of San Francisco, theie cable car system is the world’s last remaining manually-operated trolley line. San Francisco cable cars began in 1873 and soon spread throughout the city, providing inexpensive public transportation. By the 1940’s declining use of the cable cars due to the prominence of automobiles threatened the trolley system. However, the city made a decision to preserve the emblematic trolleys and they continue today.

This toy cable car made of painted metal features a dinging bell, just like the real thing. The toy even carries little metal commuters—neatly painted in 1920’s-inspired clothing. This is a toy that was built to last and remains in pristine condition.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pets of the Belle Époque: A Sculpture of the Borzoi Vassilka, 1908-17

Carl Fabergé, 1908-1917
The Royal Collection
The borzoi Vassilka was a gift to King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra from Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Marie Feodorovna. The dog lived at Sandringham House and was frequently showed, winning more the seventy-five prizes for its beauty.

In 1908, King Edward VII commissioned the craftsmen at Fabergé to create a silver sculpture of the prize-winning dog. The statuette—executed by Carl Fabergé himself—was one of Queen Alexandra’s most prized possessions.

Antique Image of the Day: Madame Albani Gye, 1883

Madame Albani Gye
Presented to Queen Victoria, 1883
The Royal Collection
Sometimes the audience would fill the great room at the Palace, stretching out behind the two rows of Royalties, glittering and splendid in jewels and uniforms, and the Queen’s private band would be swollen out of all recognition by Costa’s additions from the various orchestras he conducted and a large chorus from the Opera.

--Averil Mackenzie Grieve, Clara Novello, 1818-1908

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were fervent fans of the opera and often had command performances by the favorite singers (as described above) at Buckingham Palace. Among the favorites of the Royal couple was a Canadian singer known professionally as Emma Albani. Dame Emma Albani Gye was a Canadian-born soprano who made her debut in 1870. She was a frequent guest of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Dame Albani presented the Queen with this photograph of herself in 1883.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: Punch and the Doctor

Though the cast of characters varies from show to show and location to location, there is a somewhat standard roster of personalities that are unique to the Punch & Judy legend. One of these characters is “The Doctor.” The Doctor tends to Judy after Punch tries to murder her (kindly, of course). He also takes care of Mr. Punch from time-to-time.

In Punch’s Cousin, when Julian and Robert attended the 1852 Masquerade Ball, they went in the costumes of Mr. Punch and The Doctor. The character has been utilized in the puppet show almost as long as it’s been performed in England. This antique drawing on card is of unknown origin to me, but it is a wonderful representation of Mr. Punch being administered a “Physic” by The Doctor.

Friday Fun: A Gaggle of Punches

The Punch & Judy Fellowship
What would one call an assembly of Mr. Punch puppets from all over the world? A gaggle? A gang? A murder? Regardless of the correct term, this wild gathering of Punch Professors (and even a Guignol and a couple of Pulcinellas) comes to us via The Punch & Judy Fellowship and their footage from last year’s annual May Fayre at Covent Garden.

There’s no way that you can watch this herd of puppets singing, “I do like to be beside the seaside,” without smling. Happy Friday!

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 186

Robert pressed his hands together as he studied Julian’s body. The man appeared to be sleeping, but Robert knew better. Julian’s lips moved and his fingers wiggled. Though no sound came from Julian’s throat, Robert knew that some sort of conversation was taking place, and he wondered what the subject of that conversation was. Robert smoothed Julian’s hair with his large palm and looked closely at his friend’s face. Julian’s expression was not one of the peacefulness of sleep, but one of immense concentration—the countenance of a soul in deep thought—or a trance.

Robert’s instinct was to awaken Julian to protect him from whatever vivid nightmare was plaguing him in that odd state of concentrated suspension. However, Robert knew that whatever was taking place between Julian and Mr. Punch—deep within their shared body—was of the utmost importance to their survival—all of their survival, but especially that of Julian and Mr. Punch.

Who would emerge from their tumultuous coma? Would Julian awaken and look at Robert with his wide, nervous eyes? Or would it be Mr. Punch with his air of wild excitement and sheer wonder? How would Mr. Punch survive their private, arduous journey? Would he survive? Robert thought of his dear Punch and realized how much he’d miss Julian’s other half if the erstwhile puppet didn’t reappear. How cruel it was, Robert thought. How cruel to have two men in one body, when only one should survive.

“Selfish though it is,” Robert whispered. “I want you both to return to me. I’ve gotten used to the way things are and I like them.”

He watched as Julian silently mouthed a series of words. Or was it Mr. Punch? Perhaps it was both of them speaking concurrently. Robert wished he could be in there with them—in their private, exclusive space. But, he knew he couldn’t be absorbed into them as much as he wished. Someone had to keep guard, no matter how painful it was.

At that very moment, deep inside of Julian’s body, Mr. Punch was protesting. He rose from the chair he occupied—the twin to the one in which Julian sat.

“Mr. Punch, please,” Julian said gently.

“I gotta stop this.” Mr. Punch moaned.

“No.” Julian smiled. “Let the panto continue.”

“I feel weak,” Punch said, looking to the phantom stage where the spectral “actors” had become frozen like some sort of strange projected painting fueled by light and energy.

“As do I.” Julian whispered, “but, together our weakness makes us strong. Do you see?”

Mr. Punch closed his eyes and shook his head. “I do.”

He sat down again, looking at the stage, he whispered, “Carry on.”

The figures before them sprung to “life,” and began to move again as if they were automata made of fire who had just been wound-up and activated.

The image of the Duchess—faceless, but still recognizable—began speaking again.

“I’ve grown weary of seeing this creature,” The duchess proclaimed to the figure of the Nanny. “Do take him away for awhile. I wish to have the Hall to myself while sir Colin is abroad.”

“I shall take him to London as instructed, Your Grace.” The nanny answered.

“It won’t do for you to travel alone,” The Duchess grinned.

“Shall I take one of the footmen?” The nanny asked.

Meanwhile, the tiny image of young Julian rose from where he’d crumpled to the ground. He stood shivering as far away from the two adults as possible while still remaining on the stage. He held his puppet close to his heart and hugged it as if by embracing it, he’d give it his own life.

“No.” The Duchess chortled. “I’ve hired a companion to look after you both. I’m sure you’ll find him most enjoyable. And, I’ve no doubt that he’ll mete out discipline on the boy as is needed.”

“What’s this man’s name?” The nanny asked.

“He has many names. You may call him, ‘the Professor.’” The Duchess answered. “You’ll find him most talented. And, I’m happy to say, quite skilled with a knife. You’re to do as he says without question.”

“As you wish, Your Grace.” The figure of the nanny said clearly.

“As for you,” The Duchess turned toward the child. “Be careful with yourself. Remember, naughty little boys are eaten alive.”

“Help me, Mr. Punch,” The image of young Julian said softly into the “neck” of his puppet. “Help me, please.”

“I’ll help you, Master,” The “real” Mr. Punch began to cry from the audience of two. “I’ll help you. Oh, please, don’t go with them!”

“It’s too late, dear Punch,” Julian whispered to his other half. “We’ve already gone.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-185? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Approach People with Gentleness

Some people do not make it easy to be gentle with them. For some reason, there’s a contingency of the human race that’s simply bitter, aggressive and thoroughly disagreeable. Nevertheless, we owe it to ourselves to be true to our own natures and approach the people around us with a degree of gentility, kindness and sensitivity.

Now, of course, I’m not talking about the people you might encounter when stranded in a dark alley in the middle of the night. There’s a time and a place to be gentle. However, among the people you encounter on a daily basis—co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, family—it’s always a good idea to go into meetings with them with a sense of calm and kindness. Even the most disagreeable of the lot should respond positively to that. And, even if they don’t, you’ll leave the exchange feeling all the more peaceful.

Object of the Day: A Caricature by “Spy,” Sir Leslie Ward

Sir Leslie Ward, the son of celebrated painters E.M. Ward and Henrietta Ward was better known to the citizens of Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century Britain as “Spy.” His sensitive caricatures graced the covers of over two thousand issues of Vanity Fair Magazine.

Spy took great pride in the fact that is caricatures were not grotesque , but rather showed an idealized and affectionate tribute to his subjects. Take for example, this 1880 caricature of the great showman P.T. Barnum. We see Barnum, known for his healthy appetite, seated at a table, in the process of enjoying his lunch. While some artists might have exaggerated the act of eating, “Spy” shows us a man of great elegance, neatly posed with knife and fork, his tasteful cuff buttons evident against his crisp white shirt.

This 1880 magazine cover has been carefully preserved in a frame which dates to the era. Leslie Ward’s covers were often saved and framed because of their high quality and gentle humor.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: What’s for Breakfast?

“Do I smell pancakes with boysenberry syrup?  Could I?”

Image: The Married Couple’s Breakfast, Pietro Longhi, 1744, The Royal Collection

Mastery of Design: A Silver Vase and Stand, 1852-9

Silver Vase and
The Royal Collection
This silver vase and stand is the only surviving member of a pair commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen and her consort shared a love of Italian Renaissance style and commissioned several monumental silver pieces in designs reminiscent of the Renaissance.

This vase was created in 1852 by Victoria from the goldsmiths Hunt & Roskell, Ltd. Curiously, though the vase is visible in paintings from 1852, it was not hallmarked until 1854. The stand is a later creation—being fashioned for Queen Victoria’s birthday in 1859. This vase with its intricate chasing and sculpting shows scenes of Venus and Apollo. While this model is purely silver, the Prince’s companion vase was inlaid with precious stones.

Painting of the Day: “Blind Man’s Buff,” Pietro Longhi, 1744

Blind Man's Buff
Pietro Longhi, 1744
The Royal Collection
Italian artist Pietro Longhi excelled at intimate and romantic interior scenes. Though trained in Venice, Longhi demonstrated a certain French influence in his works. He had a remarkable ability to capture to joy of everyday events and the objects used by people on a daily basis. The figures on all of his paintings were carefully rendered. Many of them were small portraits of people known to Longhi or his patrons.

Here, we see a group engaged in the popular game of Blind Man’s Buff which was a celebrated diversion in Paris on the Eighteenth Century. The joyful scene is curiously juxtaposed by the painting in the background which depicts the suicide of the Numidian Queen. Was Longhi making a statement about the fleeting nature of joy? Perhaps he was, or perhaps not. Nevertheless, this painting, over three hundred years later, reminds us to enjoy each moment.

Unfolding Pictures: Mary of Teck’s Irish Lace Wedding Fan, 1893

Irish Lace Fan
Presented to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, 1893
Irish lace, blond tortoiseshell, diamonds, pearls, emeralds,
gold, silver, ruby
The Royal Collection
This exquisitely delicate Irish lace fan was presented to Mary of Teck upon her marriage to the future King George V I 1893. The handmade lace with it’s intricate pattern is supported on blond tortoiseshell sticks. The guards—also of blond tortoiseshell—is inset with diamonds in the shape of shamrocks surrounding the monogram “V.M.” (for Victoria Mary—Mary struggled with her name for awhile, choosing to be called Queen Mary to become distinct from her husband’s grandmother, Queen Victoria).

Above the monogram, is an inlaid ducal coronet of gold, diamonds, pearls, emeralds and a ruby. The fan was presented to Mary by Lord Houghton, Viceroy of Ireland. After the potato famine, Irish workers searched for ways to improve the country’s economy. Intense labor was considered unsuitable for a lady, but lace work was deemed acceptable. So, the women of Ireland applied themselves to mastering the art of lace-making. This fan is emblematic of their magnificent work.

The fan’s original box survives and shows that it was made especially for Mary by Duvelleroy in France.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 185

The phantom room around Punch and Julian grew dim as a bright light shone on the proscenium which had emerged from the rear wall when Julian turned the key.

“What’s this?” Punch whispered from his chair beside Julian.

“I suppose we’ll have to see.” Julian smiled.

“Should we clap?” Punch asked. “People clap at the theater.”

“No.” Julian shook his head, “I don’t think it’s necessary.”

A figure appeared on the stage. A little boy with chestnut hair and wide, wet eyes stood very still in the center of the proscenium. He was dressed in fine clothes, the sort of handsome finery in which the Duchess had insisted that Julian be dressed when he was a child. At first glance, the child appeared to be quite solid and real, and for a moment, Mr. Punch wondered how he’d gotten inside their shared body. Punch grunted in concern.

As he studied the figure of the child, Punch realized that he wasn’t at all solid, but rather appeared to flicker as if he was a creation of light and color. In fact, Punch could even see a bit of the background through the boy’s torso.

“Here, what is that thing?” Punch asked. “Is he a ghost?”

“You could say that,” Julian replied softly. “Don’t you recognize him?”

“I do.” Punch nodded. “It’s you.”

“It’s us.” Julian whispered.

“He’s all alone,” Mr. Punch said quietly. “It’s sad.”

“Is it?” Julian smiled through the darkness between them. “Look again.”

The figure of young Julian raised his hand and upon it sat a puppet—Mr. Punch himself—far too big for the child’s small hand and arm.

“Coo!” Mr. Punch whooped. “It’s me.”


“Whole again.”

“We’re both whole at the moment.” Julian nodded.

“Will he speak?” Mr. Punch asked.

“We shall see.” Julian whispered.

The child walked downstage and stood in the bright light, facing out toward Punch and Julian.

Mr. Punch wondered if the spirit boy could see them.

“Mr. Punch,” The child began speaking.

Punch almost answered, but he quickly realized that the wee actor was speaking to the puppet on his almost translucent hand.

The child manipulated the puppet so that it appeared to nod.

“Mother says I must take a trip,” The boy continued.

The puppet nodded.

“I don’t want to go. I like it here. I like the Hall and playing in the folly. Even if Mother is harsh sometimes, Father is here and we have the staff to play with us. They’re all so kind. Aren’t they? Except…”

The air in the room around them filled with the aroma of dried roses as another figure appeared on the stage. Dressed in a pale pink gown, the shape of a woman shimmered into visibility. Her face was obscured by a mask. Or was it? Perhaps she had no face at all, no features that would identify her as human. However, her identity was unmistakable.

“Master Julian,” the woman croaked in a rusty voice which both Julian and Mr. Punch recognized as being that of Agnes Rittenhouse, Julian’s one-time nanny.

“Yes, Nanny.” The child Julian answered meakly.

“Whatever are you about?” The woman chided. “Standing here and talking to yourself. You don’t want to grow up to be mad, do you? You know madness runs in your family—your father’s side anyway. You know that your mother is terribly concerned that you’ll be soft-headed, too. Now, straighten up and be a man. Remember that you are a Fallbridge. Make Her Grace proud.”

“Yes, Nanny.” The child repeted.

“A young gentleman should be excited about a journey to London. Aren’t you a young gentleman?”

“Yes, Nanny.”

“Then, where’s your smile?”

“My smile is outside in the folly and in the thistle and hidden behind the trees where the dirt has worn away to show the sparkling rocks that glitter in the sunshine. My smile is in the statues on the great hall and in the colors of the paintings in the banquet room. My smile is here, in this house, Nanny.”

The female figure raised her hand behind her head and swiftly lowered it—slapping the child across the face.

“Insolent!” The woman shouted.

A third figure appeared on the stage in a puff of smoke and the sharpness of fire. Her face, too, was missing or hidden, but, again, her identity was clear. Her lavish red gown and shining red satin slippers told Punch and Julian that his mother, the Duchess, had appeared in their little private panto.

“Nanny!” The Duchess bellowed. “That’s no way to treat the future Duke of Fallbridge!”

“My apologies, Your Grace,” The nanny mewed.

“You should treat his little lordship like this!” The Duchess laughed, raising her leg and kicking the child swiftly in the stomach.

The child fell to the ground, clutching his puppet to his chest.

“Master,” Punch said to Julian in the audience. “Please, look away.”

“I’ve looked away long enough, haven’t I?” Julian sighed.

On the stage, the misty, flickering figure of the Duchess shrieked with laughter. “Get up, boy!”

In the audience, Julian mumbled, “It’s time for me to get up.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-184? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Don’t Push for Perfection

When you collect antiques and vintage items, you learn that imperfections are part of their charm. As an item endures and survives, it’s bound to pick up some nicks and scratches. Though it might fade a bit around the edges, it’s no less beautiful. In fact, these small reminders of its long life often make the piece all the more attractive.

The same applies to people. As we age, we collect flaws—both mental and physical. As much as we try to stave these off, sometimes it’s impossible. Nothing is perfect. Nothing is pristine. And, so it is with people. We’ll never be flawless. But, it’s our flaws which make us unique and attractive. While we should always strive to be the finest we can be, we should realize that we’re already as close to perfect as possible.

Object of the Day: A Pair of Antique Tazze

A tazza (Italian for cup, plural “tazze”) is a shallow, saucer-like dish which is usually presented on a stem and foot or a plinth. Tazze often come in pairs and are frequently made of hard stone. Slate (known as marble) mantel clocks of the Eighteenth through Twentieth Centuries frequently came with a pair of tazze as a garniture (a set of decorative, flanking items). Contrary to popular-present day thinking, these objects are not candleholders—they’re not meant to hold pillar candles. They’re not meant to hold anything. They’re meant to be left alone. Though early tazze (from the Second Century B.C., for example) might have been used as drinking vessels or to serve small items of food, the tazze which come as clock garnitures are purely decorative and serve only to look attractive and monumental next to the clock.

When I purchased the enormous slate temple-form mantel clock which sits on the mantel in my dining room, it had long been separated from its garniture. These tazze were found later at another antique store. I purchased them because their style complimented the clock and I thought they’d make a fine marriage. With incised, gilt designs and insets of rust-colored marble, these tazze date to the mid Nineteenth Century and were created around the same time as the clock. They fulfill their destiny by proudly guarding the clock, and nothing more.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Building of the Week: The Royal Pavilion at Brighton

"How you doin'?"
King George IV when Prince of Wales
The Royal Collection
Good ol’ George IV was something of a “bad boy.” Perhaps, even, he was the Charlie Sheen of his day—behaviorally, at least. While King George IV had unquestionably good taste in art and furnishings and assembled an amazing collection of antiquities, he also had a taste for the ladies and for alcohol, good food and other stuff he considered ripping, good fun.

While still the Prince of Wales, George went to Brighton and fell in love with the slightly tawdry (at the time) seaside town. He decided to keep a home there. It seemed like a good place to hide out and also provided a nifty little spot for him to entertain lady friends. He had one particular lady friend who was a frequent visitor to his modest, new farmhouse in Brighton—Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. Mrs. Fitzherbert was a favorite companion of the Prince of Wales. He wished to marry her, but he didn’t dare ask for permission to wed the twice-widowed Catholic woman. So, instead, he married her in secret—as one does. This didn’t sit too well with George’s elders and betters. The marriage was declared invalid—secretly, of course. Later, George would marry Princess Caroline of Brunswick. The State liked that marriage. George, however, did not. He kept seeing Mrs. Fitzherbert (and many others) throughout. And, where better to meet his “friends” than at Brighton? Besides, he would argue, the salt water was good for his gout.

Prince George’s farmhouse was too small. When George had built tremendous stables that dwarfed the house, he knew it was time for him to enlarge his summer residence. In 1787, he employed Henry Holland as architect. Holland had designed George’s London mansion, Carlton House. The resulting structure of several rooms around a central rotunda was still modest when compared to the site today. The house was called “The Marine Pavilion.” It, too, proved too small and was enlarged again in 1801.

Then, George had some family troubles—namely with his father King George III. It seemed George III wasn’t quite himself. In fact, some would say he’d gone quite mad. In any event, George III was not fit to be the ruler of the Empire. Being as George III was still alive, George IV couldn’t be crowned king just yet. So, he was dubbed Prince Regent, and set about taking over his father’s duties. This proved to be something of a distraction for George IV.

Still, in 1815, he found the time to update his Marine Pavilion. This time, designer John Nash concocted a design for a huge, lavish Indo-Saracenic palace with Chinoiserie décor and furnishings. The tremendous pavilion with its Indian-inspired domes and archways was opulently appointed with imported furniture, porcelain and textiles. This gave George IV the opportunity to buy more things for his collection. Nash saw to it that George would be quite comfortable there. The height of technology was employed in the pipes, heating and sanitation.

The Prince Regent was thrilled with the new pavilion and took great delight in its richly-colored rooms, plush Persian rugs, glittering chandeliers, and gilt woodwork. It remained his favorite home. When his father died and he became King George IV, he preferred the Royal Pavilion at Brighton above all other residences—even his beloved Carlton House.

Upon the death of George IV, King William IV also used the pavilion as an occasional home though he didn’t have quite the enthusiasm for it that George did. William IV’s successor, his niece, Queen Victoria loathed the place. She did, however, visit it to show her support for Brighton. After that, she was really rather finished with the place. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built their own—much friendlier-looking—summer home, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and they sold the pavilion to Brighton for about £50,000.

While some toyed with the idea of tearing down the palace, most recognized that the Pavilion at Brighton was too important to the city to lose. The building was stripped of most of its fittings (on order of Queen Victoria) and redecorated in a similar, yet more subdued style, for use as a civic hall. In the 1890’s Queen Victoria permanently loaned much of the original fittings to Brighton so that they could be returned to their original home and put on display for the public.

The pavilion has had many uses over the years—including time as a hospital. Around World War II, restoration efforts increased, and since that time, the palace has been well-maintained and open to the public. Today, efforts continue to not only maintain the pavilion, but also to restore it to John Nash’s and King George’s original vision. The palace is open for tours. For more information, visit the official Web site of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.

Precious Time: King George III’s Barometrical Clock, 1763-5

Barometrical Clock
Scot Alexander Cumming
For King George III
The Royal Collection
George III’s keen interest in science led him to amass an impressive collection of scientific instruments and clocks in the early part of his reign. The barometrical clock from 1763 to 1765 was made for the King by Scot Alexander Cumming who included an exquisite clock mechanism, a month-long calendar and a barometer in the design.

The gorgeous case is of unknown origin, but features inlaid shell and exceptionally sculpted ormolu mounts of flowers, volutes and a figural group of “Time” assisted by Cupid. King George III kept the clock along with several of his favorite devices in his private suite at Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace).

Sculpture of the Day: Sappho and Cupid, 1851

Sappho and Cupid
Henri de Triqueti
The Royal
French Sculptor Henri de Triqueti was wildly popular with the French Court and was a favorite of King Louis-Philippe who not only enjoyed the artist’s work, but also his company. Sadly (for Triqueti, at least), Louis-Philippe found himself booted out of power. Without a patron, Triqueti collected his English wife and sought opportunities in Britain.

His work was quickly noticed. Queen Victoria appreciated the artist’s work, and, in 1851 purchased this ivory statue directly from Triqueti as a surprise Christmas gift for Prince Albert. The figure—neatly rendered in ivory—depicts the great poetess Sappho as she attempts to fling herself into the sea upon learning she’s been rejected by Phaon. Tiny little Cupid tries desperately to prevent her suicide.

Victoria, who was equally mad about Prince Albert, thought this would be a sweet gift for her husband. And, it was. However, she made a good artistic choice, too. This sculpture is rare. Triqueti exclusively sculpted historical and biblical scenes. This classically-themed sculpture is a strange departure for him. Victoria would go on to purchase a full-scale marble sculpture of Edward VI from Triqueti. He then offered her a good price on two more ivory figures. She politely declined.

Unusual Artifacts: A Silver-Gilt Caddinet, 1688

Silver-Gilt, 1688-89
Anthony Nelme
Made for King William and Queen Mary
Sold to Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, 1808
Acquired by Queen Elizabeth II, 1975
The Royal Collection
The very first caddinet in England was introduced for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661. Charles II declared the use of a caddinet the sole dominion of the Royal family. A caddinet (deriving its name from “cadenas,” meaning padlock) is an object used on a dining table. The compartments at the top of the caddinet (often with locking mechanisms) were used to hold salt and cutlery. The tray, often engraved, was set with a napkin and slices of bread and placed at the chair of the head of the household.

Only three English caddinets remain in existence. This is one of them. Created in 1688-1689 for the coronation of King William and Queen Mary, this caddinet is engraved with their cipher. Over the next two centuries as caddinets fell from daily use, the keepers of the Royal Collection had a hard time identifying the object and inventoried it as an “old, siver inkstand” before auctioning it off in 1808. The items was purchased by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1975 via private sale. I imagine that she knew what it was.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 184

Where are you taking me?” Ulrika panted.

“I told you to be quiet.” Iolanthe spat. “Look around you, Girl. What don’t you understand about the shipyard?”

“You can’t do this to me.” Ulrika moaned.

Iolanthe dug her fingernails into Ulrika’s arm and yanked on it so fiercely that Ulrika shrieked. “What’s the matter, Girl? Don’t you want to be reunited with your man?”

Before Ulrika could answer, she heard a man’s voice behind her say “Is there some trouble here, Miss?”

Ulrika turned around to see a tall, handsome man with dark hair and shocking blue eyes. She didn’t know him, but she liked the look of him immediately.

“Move along, Boy.” Iolanthe hissed.

“I will.” Charles smiled, “as soon as I am assured that there’s no trouble here. Miss Rittenhouse, are you well?”

“How do you know my name?” Ulrika said.

“I told him,” Barbara grinned, stepping out from behind Charles.

“Ah, Barbara Allen.” Iolanthe narrowed her eyes. “The traitor.”

“What are you doing, Iolanthe?” Barbara asked.

“She’s taking me…” Ulrika started.

“Quiet!” Iolanthe shouted, releasing her grip on Ulrika’s arm. “My friend and I were just taking a walk.”

“Is this true?” Charles asked.

Ulrika rubbed her arm and glanced at Iolanthe who glowered at her.

“Tell them, Miss Rittenhouse,” Iolanthe cooed. “Tell them your tale.”

“I…” Ulrika grunted. “I was just going for a walk with Miss Evangeline.”

“It seemed to me that she was dragging you,” Charles shook his head.

“It’s a game we play.” Iolanthe smiled. “You know all about games, don’t you, Barbara? Seems you’re playing a game yourself. Games with boys. Naughty girl. This man isn’t your husband.”

“No, he isn’t.” Barbara nodded.

“When was the last time you heard from your husband?” Iolanthe asked.

“That doesn’t concern you, Iolanthe,” Barbara answered stiffly.

“Isn’t it?” Iolanthe laughed. “Well, then. Whose concern is it? Ulrika’s? She has an interest in your husband. Perhaps she can tell you where he is.”

Barbara looked at Ulrika.

“I don’t know.” Ulrika stammered. “I don’t know where he is.”

“How strange,” Iolanthe grimaced. “Barbara’s lost track of her husband, and Ulrika has lost track of her lover. Yet, I know where he is.”

“What are you talking about?” Barbara asked.

“Oh, but it’s ‘none of my concern.’” Iolanthe laughed.

“Charles,” Barbara said softly, “Will you accompany Miss Rittenhouse back to the Cage’s home on Royal Street? It’s on your way back to Miss Heralda’s.”

“I’d be happy to.” Charles nodded. “However, I’d be happier if you came along, too.”

“Thank you, but I shall stay here to speak with Miss Evangeline for awhile.”

“Miss Allen,” Charles began.

“Don’t worry.” Barbara smiled. “I can handle myself quite well with her.”

“It’s not you that worries me.” Charles looked at Iolanthe,

“Aren’t you gallant? Sir, as you can see, I’m quite harmless.” Iolanthe chuckled. “Now, go on Ulrika. I’ll visit you presently. All you have to do is wait. Just wait…”

Ulrika swallowed hard.

“This way, Miss Rittenhouse,” Charles smiled. Ulrika followed him.

Alone on the pier with Iolanthe, Barbara squinted at the Ogress and frowned. “You’ve bothered me long enough, Iolanthe. Now, it’s time that we settle this once and for all.”

Meanwhile, at Dr. Biamenti’s house on Royal Street, Mr. Punch shivered as he entered the private room hidden deep within Julian—that space that only the two of them could see.

Julian was—as he usually was—sitting in a silk and gilt wood chair in the center of the room. He was dressed in a fine suit of clothes and looked rested and strong.

“Welcome back, dear Punch,” Julian smiled.

“Thanks,” Mr. Punch nodded. He pointed upward, “Robert’s up there. Watchin’ over us.”

“I know.” Julian grinned. “He’s quite loyal.”

“Wonder what our body looks like.” Mr. Punch sniffed.

“I’m sure it would simply appear that I’m—we’re—sleeping.” Julian answered gently.

“But, we ain’t sleepin’.” Mr. Punch sighed.


“We’re havin’ an adventure. Only it’s an adventure that only we can see.”

“Because it only concerns us.” Julian answered.

“Do you have it?” Punch asked.

Julian raised his hand and opened his fingers, revealing the key which Naasir had left behind.

“’Course you do.” Punch shook his head.

“Shall we begin?” Julian asked, rising.

“Why don’t we just rest awhile?” Mr. Punch said quickly.

“There’ll be plenty of time to rest,” Julian smiled, walking to the front wall of the phantom room. He removed an oil painting from the wall and revealed an escutcheon and keyhole.

“A key in the wall?” Mr. Punch asked.

“It fits wherever I wanted it to fit.” Julian sighed.

He inserted the key into the lock and turned it. With a loud groaning creak, the wall rose and disappeared like a stage curtain, revealing a proscenium draped in red velvet. Two comfortable chair appeared in front of the raised stage.

“Join me.” Julian said, pointing to one of the chairs.

“Why?” Punch asked weakly. “What are we doin’?”

“We’re watching.” Julian smiled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-183? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Be Happy to See People

Again, more from the file of the “Wisdom of Dogs.” This morning, as I was taking Bertie for his “spa day” (the groomer), we stopped at a red light where the median was being tended by city gardeners. Bertie spotted them immediately and his ears perked up. When they crossed the street in front of my car, Bertie stood up, put his paws on the window and wagged his tail. I asked him, “Are those your friends?” His response was a plaintiff howl followed by the murmuring, squeaking noise he makes when he sees something he wants but can’t have.

As the light turned green and we hurried off, I couldn’t help but laugh. I’ve always thought it quite humorous that I’ve got the world’s friendliest dog, but I’m quite shy and reserved. Once again, I learned something from Bertie. While I’d certainly not have rolled down my window to wish the road workers a good morning, I should be happier to see people and find some excitement in the fact that the world is filled with other people who have ideas and voices. Bertie seizes every opprtunity he can to learn and discover. There’s no reason that the rest of us can’t do the same.

Object of the Day: A Vintage Portrait

Those of us who prowl around antique malls see all sorts of merchandise. Much of it is authentic—real antiques. However, there’s a spate of convincing-looking objects which are either relatively new or fresh from the factory. When you’re buying an object, make sure that you know what you’re buying—especially if you’re paying “antiques” prices for market materials.

When I first bought my house and was initially furnishing it, I was basically looking for things to fill these Victorian walls and was drawn to anything that I thought fit the theme. Thankfully, I have a background in art history and knew what I was looking at. I came across this portrait. With its velvet inset and hobnail details, it has the look of a Victorian miniature painting on board. However, I knew immediately that it wasn’t.

It is, however, vintage and interesting in its own right. This item was produced by the Turner Manufacturing Company in Chicago, Illinois between 1960 and 1975. It’s part of the company’s line of “Royal Portraits.” The Turner Manufacturing Company was the country’s largest producer of low-cost, attractive home décor and served the “five-and-dime” community. Their products were actually very high quality objects and reproductions. Most Turner products are clearly marked on the reverse with a rather obvious label.

If you’re browsing an antique shop and looking for a nice-looking, low-cost piece, you might keep your eyes open for items that had been produced by the Turner Manufacturing Company. While they’re not going to cost you the few cents that they originally did, you can get most of them for less than $60. You won’t be getting a family heirloom, but you will get an attractive object which will stand the test of time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Her Majesty’s Furniture: King George IV’s Bath Cabinet

Bath Cabinet
Morel & Seddon, 1828
Made for King George IV
The Royal Collection
Once King George IV had finished redecorating Carlton House, he turned his attention to refurbishing the Royal apartments at Windsor Castle. The first order of business was to redo his bedroom and bath. The trouble with George IV was that he had so many passions and so many tastes that combining his desires into one cohesive interior design was somewhat complicated if not impossible. George IV wanted his bedroom and bath to be hung with blue silk—like a tent in the Persian style—into which mirrored alcoves would be inset for his bed and bath.

To this end, this bath cabinet was made from panels from a cabinet built in 1810. The three-sided casket of purplewood, satinwood, pietra dura and gilt bronze was set on casters. It opened at the top to allow access to the bathtub. By all accounts it was strange and awkward to use—being at once difficult to get into and out of and quite sloppy to transport. The King quickly grew tired of the cumbersome tub and its preventative case and had the thing put in storage soon after it was introduced to him in 1828.

Later, Prince Albert, being an industrious and frugal sort of chap, came upon the bath cabinet in storage and thought it would make a nice folio cabinet. He had the bathtub removed and the back closed-in so that the piece would have some degree of usefulness.

Film of the Week: The Letter, 1940

The early 40’s belonged to Bette Davis who created some of her finest film roles during this period. One of the best of her career, and one of my favorite films of all time, is 1940’s The Letter directed by the great William Wyler and starring Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Gale Sondergaard and (Victor) Sen Yung.

The Letter is based on the 1927 play of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham. This is the second film version of the story. The tale of adultery and murder had been previously filmed in 1929. The story concerns Leslie Crosbie, the wife of a British rubber plantation owner in Malaya and her manipulations and sins. The film opens after a moody montage which was cleverly devised by Wyler to capture the spirit of sultry Malaya. A cockatoo squawks as a gun is fired and we soon see a man stumble down a short flight of stairs to his death as Bette (as Leslie) swaggers out, her arm stiff, her face mesmerized, as she empties the gun into the man’s body.

At first, Leslie’s husband, Robert (played by Herbert Marshall) and their lawyer, Howard Joyce (played by James Stephenson) appear to believe that the murdered man, Geoff Hammond, had attempted to rape Leslie and she shot him in self defense. Howard, however, seems to doubt some of the facts of the case, but supports his client/friend nonetheless. Then, Howard’s clerk, Ong Che Seng ((Victor) Sen Yung) reveals that there’s in existence a letter which damns Leslie. What follows is a tale of treachery, murder, adultery and shattered morals.

William Wyler and Bette Davis (who had been having an affair) often clashed during the production. This feuding came to a climax during the filming of one of the final scenes in which Leslie delicates, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. With all my heart, I still love the man I killed.” Davis insisted that Leslie—or any woman—could not look her husband in the eye and say such a horrible thing. Wyler disagreed and pressed Davis to look squarely at Marshall as she delivered the line. Davis stormed off the set. Later, she returned and finished the scene as directed, but she spent the rest of her life—truly—complaining about it.

One thing everyone could agree about was the fact that no one liked the ending that the Hays Office forced upon the picture. According to the Production Code, anyone who committed murder had to be punished by the end of the picture, preferably by also being killed. In the original story, Leslie declares that she loved the man she killed, leaves her husband and goes on about her life. However, in the film version, she states her feelings and, then, wanders out in the garden where she meets a strange kind of justice.

The cast is superb. While Warner Brothers wanted the character of Howard Joyce to be played by a bigger star than James Stephenson, they were surprised by his Academy Award nominated performance. Herbert Marshall shines as Robert. Curiously Marshall was in the 1929 version as the man that Leslie kills. Much credit should be given to Gale Sondergaard who plays the grotesque Eurasian wife of Geoff Hammond and the owner of the damning letter. And, Bette Davis, truly gives one of her most controlled and subtle performances.

With a soundtrack by Max Steiner and some lovely costumes, this picture hits all the right notes and is rightfully put in a place on honor in film history.

Humanitarian of the Week: Harry Connick, Jr.

Harry Connick, Jr.
Whether you think of him as a talented singer, a movie star or even as Grace Adler’s wayward husband on Will & Grace, there’s one thing that always comes to mind when one thinks of Harry Connick, Jr.—his birthplace, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Connick was born in New Orleans in 1967 to Anita and Joseph Harry Fowler Connick, Sr. As a student in Louisiana, Connick always had an interest in jazz and showed a talent for music at an early age. By 1987, with two albums to his credit, Harry Connick, Jr. had already established himself as an up-and-coming performer who was popular in up-market New York clubs. His growing reputation led Rob Reiner to contract Connick for music for the soundtrack of the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally. The film’s success and its outstanding soundtrack opened even more doors to Connick who continued to explore his music, free his talent and even enter into the world of cinema as an actor in comedic, dramatic and romantic roles.

With all of his success, Connick never lost sight of his roots. Loyal to New Orleans, Connick has often paid homage to the Crescent City in his music. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast, Connick was among he first to lend a hand to helping the citizens of New Orleans rebuild and grow again. He used his celebrity to enlist television networks like NBC to encourage restoration of New Orleans, organized A Concert for Hurricane Relief and donated many hours building houses for those whose homes had been lost. His work led him to be named honorary chair of Habitat for Humanity’s Operation Home Delivery.

Furthermore, with musician Branford Marsalis, Connick has worked to encourage the growth of New Orlean’s musical heritage by helping to create Musician’s Village where Habitat for Humanity built homes are built to provide affordable housing for musicians or anyone who qualifies.

For his celebrated work in the arts as well as his magnificent kindness and charitable works, Harry Connick, Jr. is this week’s “Humanitarian of the Week.”

The Belle Époque Today: The Art of Peter Kuhfeld, RP

The Wyndham Family
Peter Kuhfeld
A member of the Royal Academy, The Royal Society of Portrait Painters, and the New English Art Club, Peter Kuhfeld has been painting since 1972. This multiple-prize winning figurative painter has impressed critics and art lovers with his richly-colored portraits.

Kuhfeld not only shows the essence of his sitters in his romanticized portraits, but also has mastered showing them in their natural surroundings and in compositions which don’t appear to be posed, but rather seem to be captured moments in time. While his loose brushstrokes lend an ethereal quality to his subjects, his brave use of color affords them weight and permanence while his brilliant rendering of light and shadow anchor his subjects into the frame of the composition.

HRH Charles, The Prince of Wales
Peter Kuhfeld
A proponent of the New English Art Movement, Kuhfeld continues to prove that a portrait doesn’t need to be a photographic representation in order to effectively and attractively showcase both the sitter’s beauty and the artist’s talent.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 183

Barbara Allen sat down on a bench in Jackson Square and took a bite from a warm beignet, being careful not to get powdered sugar on her dark blue dress.

“You’re hungry.” Charles laughed.

“Terribly sorry,” Barbara looked up, embarrassed. “My mother would have had apoplexy if she saw me being so greedy. I was taught to pick at my food. But, yes, I am hungry. I’m not ashamed of it. Food is in short supply these days. It’s a far cry from the groaning sideboards at Fallbridge Hall.”

“Eat up,” Charles winked. “I like to see a girl with a healthy appetite.”

“Good to know,” Barbara grinned before taking another bite of the fried pastry that Charles had bought for her on their walk.

“Here,” Charles said, sitting down next to her. “Take mine, too.”

“Are you sure?” Barbara asked. “You must be hungry, too. When’s the last time you’ve eaten?”

“Don’t worry about me, Miss Allen,” Charles shook his head. “I had breakfast. Besides, I’m not very hungry. I’m too excited.”

“You’re happy, then? You’re pleased to have the position with my brother?”

“Quite.” Charles said. “His Grace and his companion have afforded me a far more interesting life than I thought I’d have.”

“It will be interesting. I’ll give you that.” Barbara nodded.

“He’s a shrewd fellow, your brother—if not a bit strange.”

Barbara nodded. “Even in the grips of his lunacy, he’s still quite sharp.”

“I don’t think he’s a lunatic.” Charles shook his head. “A lunatic isn’t aware that he’s ill. Your bother seems quite aware that he’s different and seems to have embraced it. He makes no apologies for it, but he also doesn’t try to hide it.”

“Who were you dealing with?” Barbara asked. “Was he acting as a Duke should or was he affecting the rough voice and mannerisms of this persona they call ‘Mr. Punch.’”

“I don’t believe that is an affectation.” Charles sighed. “He is Mr. Punch. He’s also the Duke of Fallbridge. My conversations were with the one who calls himself Mr. Punch. I found him to be quite fair and pleasant. And very alert and observant. Whoever he is, he’s a kind and just man. I can’t help but like him.”

“And, that’s the trouble. He’s very likeable. Looking back at my life—my girlhood at the Hall—I think I grew up with Mr. Punch. I think he has all of the finest parts of Julian without any of the fear.” She began eating the other beignet. “Thank you for this. Charles, I do hope that this turns out to be a good experience for you.”

“I believe you mean that.” Charles said.

“I do.”

“I don’t think you’re the inherently wicked girl that your brother’s companion and his family have painted you as being.” Charles sighed.

Barbara sputtered a little bit, swallowing her beignet.

“I hope that doesn’t offend you.” Charles added.

“No.” Barbara shook her head. “I know what they think of me. And, in many ways, they’re not mistaken.”

“You know, you still haven’t answered my question.” Charles smiled. “You’ve done a very good job of avoiding it, in fact. So, don’t you think it’s time you are completely honest with me?”

“You want to know why I recommended that you inquire about the valet position with my brother.”

“I actually do believe that you wanted to see that your brother was looked after properly, and I suspect you’re sincere that you thought the position would be good for me, but I can’t help but think…”

“That I have some other reason. Some motive.” Barbara nodded. “I don’t blame you for thinking that. And, frankly, you’re correct. I did have another motive, but I don’t know what it is. You see, Marie Laveau suggested that I tell you about the position.”

“I thought as much.” Charles nodded. “But, what could she want from me?”

“For some reason, she wished to remove you from your present post. I’m to further insinuate myself into the life of Miss Harelda.”

“She’s after Dr. Odil, isn’t she?” Charles nodded.

“There’s some connection to Iolanthe Evangeline.” Barbara replied.

“Oh yes,” Charles nodded, chuckling. “I should say so.” He paused, looking up distractedly.

“What is it?” Barbara asked.

“Speak of the Devil.” Charles pointed forward with his chin.

Barbara brushed the powdered sugar from her hands and looked up to see Iolanthe Evangeline leading a red-headed woman toward the dock.

“Do you know that ginger woman?” Charles asked.

“Yes. I do.” Barbara answered softly. “It’s Ulrika Rittenhouse. I used to work for her.”

“Whatever is she doing with The Elegant Ogress?” Charles asked.

“Nothing good, I can assure you.”

“Do you think she’s in trouble?” Charles said.

“Most likely.” Barbara sighed.

“Shouldn’t we help her?” Charles wondered.

Meanwhile, at their borrowed house on Royal Street, Robert closed the door to Julian’s room.

“Can I give you something to help you relax?” Robert asked.

“No, Chum.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “I don’t want nothin’ that’ll weaken our thinkin’.”

“Fair enough.” Robert said. “How? Well, I mean…can you simply retreat into yourselves and commune with Julian?”

“I ‘spect so.” Punch nodded.

“Where is he now?” Robert wondered.

“There’s a room—not a room really, but a place inside us—that’s where me master stays. I was in there with him. I can’t describe it.”

“I think I understand.” Robert nodded. “Is he in there now?”

“Yes.” Mr. Punch said. “He’s waitin’ for me. He has been.”

“Has he got the key?” Robert asked.

“He does.” Punch sighed.

“Are you ready for this?”

“No.” Mr. Punch grumbled. “But, it ain’t my place to be ready. I think Julian’s ready. And, he’s the master.”

“I won’t leave your side.” Robert replied gently.

“I know.” Mr. Punch said nervously.

“You’re doing the right thing.” Robert smiled.

“Then why does it feel so terrible bad?”

“Sometimes the right thing often does.” Robert responded.

Did you miss Chapters 1-182? If so, you can read them here.

Reminders: White Collar and Christopher Miller’s Art Show

As a follow-up to other recent posts from Stalking the Belle Époque, I wanted to take a moment to offer two reminders about upcoming events.

Tonight—Tuesday, March 1, 2011—is the last episode before next week's season finale of the USA Network’s brilliant White Collar starring the charming duo of Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay. White Collar season finales are always quite exciting and this one promises to be no less exceptional. With only two episodes to go, make sure to tune in to USA at 10/9 Central tonight and for the finale on March 8, 2011.

Also, last week, I cast the spotlight on the artwork of Christopher J. Miller. If you’re in the Dallas area, Mr. Miller’s current exhibition of his paintings—The Silence Between the Sounds—opens tomorrow night at the WaterTower Theatre in Addison. The exhibit runs through May 1. For more information, visit Mr. Miller’s Web site.