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A Classical Education

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The stairs creaked alarmingly beneath Jane's feet as she crept down them, but no sound escaped the muffling glamour she held. Maintaining it as she went was all but impossible, though; she had to release it and re-create the effect every few steps. The effort made sweat stand out on her brow, but the alternative was not to be borne. Above all things, she must not be caught sneaking about here.

She ought not to be sneaking about anywhere, and especially not at this hour. She was a grown woman, and married, and respectable; what would people say, if they heard she had been caught here? If she had an ounce of sense, she would turn around and go home, and hope Vincent had not woken to find her missing from their bed.

Instead she continued to the bottom of the stairs, where she knelt to study the lock on the door. Of course she could not see much other than its ornate outer surface -- but she had anticipated that. Reaching into the ether, she quickly twisted the strands into a lointaine vision, placing one end close to the lamp at the base of the stairs. Then she made a second, sliding it into the mechanism of the lock. Braiding the two together required a careful hand, but when that was done, the combined effects lit the inside of the lock, and allowed her to see within.

After that, it was surprisingly easy. Picking a lock might be difficult for those who could not see what they were doing, but with glamour, it was simply a matter of studying the mechanism until she saw where to press. A pair of bent hairpins were sufficient to the task. The door swung open silently, on well-oiled hinges. Jane unraveled both of her glamours, lit her own lamp, and hurried inside before she could reconsider.

The room beyond was quiet and blessedly deserted. It was clearly an entry hall, with pegs for the men's hats and coats, and a stand for their umbrellas and canes. The latter made Jane blush. It was sculpted in the form of several nymphs, standing as if to lasciviously embrace whatever was placed in the stand. She was very glad she had no reason to put anything there, and turned resolutely away.

Did she expect that doing so would spare her eyes, when she stood in the entry hall of the infamous Hellfire Club?

The decorations everywhere were just as lewd. On the wall behind the desk, where the butler would stand when the Hellfire Club was open to its members, hung a painting whose subjects she recognized as Cupid and Psyche. The body of the candelabrum atop the desk had the form of a nubile woman wearing very little. Jane took refuge in sniffing that the sculpture was not executed with a great deal of skill. Perhaps it was the work of a club member, an amateur piece made for the entertainment of his fellows.

Much like the work she had come here to see.

It was not difficult to find. The club consisted of several chambers, but she did not have to explore them; the first room beyond the entry hall was the largest, and the glamural held pride of place along its back wall.

Jane lit several more lamps in the room, knowing as she did so that she was delaying. Even with her attention resolutely turned to the task of touching fire to each wick, she kept catching glimpses out of the corner of her eye. By the time she took a deep breath and turned to face the glamural properly, she knew very well what it depicted.

How long she stood there in study, she could not have said. All she knew was that she began to study the glamural; then, some unknown time later, someone spoke from behind her, sending her almost out of her skin with fright.

"Muse," Vincent said wearily, "what in heaven's name possessed you to come here?"

Jane pressed one hand to her pounding heart and answered him breathlessly. "That is an odd turn of phrase, given where we are."

He came to stand alongside her. No, not alongside; he angled his body so that he presented the back of his shoulder to the glamural, neither quite facing it, nor shunning it entirely. "Do you have any idea what would happen if someone found you here? Someone other than me."

"Then I am glad it was you," Jane said, with complete sincerity. "As for why I am here . . . I was curious, ever since Mr. Clayton let slip that Lord Byron had commissioned you to create a glamural for the Hellfire Club. Though I confess he did not tell me what the glamural depicted."

"Subjects from classical mythology," Vincent said stiffly. "As requested. Lord Byron has a keen interest in the art of the ancients, as do many other members of the club."

Jane tapped one finger against her lip, looking up at the glamural. "My own knowledge of the classics is somewhat deficient, I fear. Is that Bacchus lounging in the center?"


"My apologies. I'm afraid my education left me ignorant of the finer distinctions between those two gentlemen. Several varieties of nymphs, I see . . . the ones coming out of the trees are dryads, I think? And then -- oh, I cannot recall the word for the water nymphs. The ones you have sporting in that fountain."

Vincent made a stifled noise. "They are naiads. As I suspect you know very well."

"Those fellows further back are of course centaurs. And if I remember my mythology correctly, we have Apollo on the right, and the swan on the left is Zeus. I have forgotten the name of the lady Zeus is attending to."

"Leda. Muse, will you not leave it be?"

He sounded pleading. Jane softened, smiling at him. "My dear Vincent. This is the first large-scale glamural you ever created. How could I not wish to see it?"

Her husband winced. "You might have taken pity on me. It is student work -- hardly even that, really. Not worthy of more than a passing thought."

Jane clicked her tongue at him. "What would Herr Scholes say, if he heard you denigrate your own efforts in such fashion? It is student work, yes; but the work of a student with great talent and potential. Why, look here." She slid past Vincent's blocking shoulder and approached the glamural more closely. With her back now to Vincent, he could not see her blush as she spoke. "You have done a marvelous job with these strands, creating the spray of the fountain over the dancing faun. If you were a student when you made this, then the lumière changeant had not even yet been developed, to give them the sparkle you would no doubt include today. You cannot fault your younger self for failing to use a technique unknown to glamour at the time."

"I can fault myself for other things," Vincent said, and laid his hands on her shoulders, as if to pull her away. But the pull did not come. He stood behind her, so closely she could feel the warmth of his body as she continued to examine the glamural's construction.

"Or consider this segment," she said, her tone growing more playful. "The delicacy is really quite remarkable. Just the faintest hint of a blush across her face and her -- ah --" She faltered, then forged ahead, knowing there was more than a faint hint of redness in her own skin. "A student of lesser skill would have left her looking like a tomato."

Then she paused, playfulness giving way to honest curiosity. "What is this thread for? I do not believe I have ever seen that arrangement before. It looks as if --" She reached out.

Vincent made the most undignified squawk she had ever heard from him, but failed to catch her hand in time. Jane took hold of the thread and pulled, whereupon a pattern of glamour began to unfurl, filling the air with sound.

It only lasted for a short while, but by the time it ended, her face was as hot as fire. "Oh my."

"It, ah." Vincent cleared his throat. "It is an outdated technique for creating triggered sound. Not commonly used nowadays, because the glamourist must fold the material back into place each time; it does not reset on its own."

Jane cleared her own throat, as if that would do anything to cool her face. Or, for that matter, her wits. "It is very cleverly done, nonetheless."

"You need not flatter me, Muse."

"Oh, I do not flatter," she said, recovering something like equilibrium. "There are flaws, without doubt. The balance of the composition is off; the knot of figures on the grass there is much too densely placed -- though I suppose if they were farther apart, they would not all be able to interact at once, as they are doing now. And although my knowledge such things is limited in the extreme, I believe there are some elements you have depicted as rather improbably large."

Vincent actually dropped his head onto her shoulder, muffling a laugh in the fabric of her redingote. When he was able to speak again, he said, "You will be the death of me. You stand in front of the most obscene piece of glamour I have ever produced, and you are critiquing my depiction of male anatomy."

Jane laid her hand over one of his, then turned to face him, wrapping her arms about his waist. "You are right that it is not your best work. Perhaps the gentlemen here might be convinced to have the glamural updated? You could replace that outdated aural structure with a more modern technique, add sparkle to the fountain --"

"Oh, no," Vincent said. "This is not worth trying to mend. It would be better to take it out entirely and replace it with something else."

She looked up at him through her eyelashes, deliberately coy. "That sounds like a new commission."

He laid a kiss on the top of her head. "We work together, Muse. I would not take a commission without you."

It warmed Jane down to her toes that even in a facetious discussion such as this, Vincent was solicitous of her pride as a glamourist. It gave her the nerve to say, "Oh, naturally. I was imagining we might work on it together."

Vincent went utterly still in her arms. Jane giggled and said, "After all, it is classical mythology. Quite respectable -- or so you would have me believe."

Whatever he might have said to that was forestalled by the sound of the street door opening up above.

They moved in complete concert. Vincent raced to snuff out the lamps on one side of the room, while Jane took the other side. Then she felt his hand on his arm, leading her by touch into a side room; she looked into the glamour and quickly wove a Sphère Obscurcie around them, while Vincent wrapped them in silence.

Footsteps clattered down the stairs, and then a pair of young men came into the main room, carrying their own lamps. They were deep in drunken conversation, and did not seem to notice the lights in the room were already warm as they lit them. Then they dropped into chairs and continued talking -- something about a particularly entertaining game of cards. Jane was hardly attending.

"You know," she whispered in her husband's ear, "they can neither see nor hear us."

"And a good thing, too," he whispered back. Keeping their voices low was of course not necessary, but instinct compelled it.

She leaned in against him. "We cannot possibly leave before they do. However will we pass the time?"

Vincent looked down at her. When he spoke, his voice roughened. "Perhaps by considering that replacement glamural."

"Working out suitable poses, yes." Jane smiled. "I am glad we are in accord."