“Shove over Mags, it’s a blasted mirror, not your lover, share it.”
“Shove over Mags, it’s a blasted mirror, not your lover, share it.”
“Ah Torrie, I’d share both, you know that.”
The two girls kissed at the air and giggled, turning in unison to the vanity, lit perfectly on all sides by a spectrum of bulbs. A third girl, older by a couple months — enough to be eighteen already, which she did not let the others forget — lay back on a divan and slowly rolled a dove grey stocking down her raised leg, fussing with the seam. She admired her silk-covered foot as she spoke.
“Mags, have I told you how jealous I am that your father wired your dressing room? I’ve only got gas in mine, it’s horrible. I might as well dress in a cave.” Satisfied that the stocking was plumb, she clipped it to a chartreuse garter and brought up the other leg to repeat the operation. Gold-red hair on her thighs glinted in the bright electric light.
“Oh, is that the only reason you’re here then, Eva, to bask in my technological mastery?” Mags met the older girl’s eyes through the mirror, smiling.
Eva dropped her leg dramatically, splaying her arms off the sides of the couch. “Hang it all, you’ve caught me. I’m simply a beast, using you like this. But, as you have discovered that secret, let me now confess another.” She rolled to her side, facing the vanity, her unclipped stocking dropping below the knee. “I’m here to borrow your crimson petticoat too.”
“Oh no Eva, not with your hair!”
“Oh yes with my hair, the colours will all go together when I’m done, you’ll be in absolute awe.”
Torrie made a rude noise and the girls all burst into laughter. They’d more or less composed themselves and Eva had successfully secured her other stocking when Mags’ maid came in, carrying a tray of hot chocolate.
Jumping up from the divan, Eva took the tray from the maid and brought it to the vanity, distributing cups to the other girls. “Veronica, has your task-master Margaret given you the evening off, or are we going to have to sneak you out under our cloaks?”
Carefully applying cut feathers to her eyelashes with gum, Mags spoke into the mirror. “Oh, Ronnie’s done — if you’ve checked in with Mrs. Albert?” The maid nodded. “Well then, start getting dressed, Torrie looks about done, she’ll help.”
“You’re presumptuous, Mags, but correct.” Torrie stood and spun to face the others, dramatically framing her face with her hands. “How do you like the look of your escort tonight, ladies?” Her fresh face now wore an artistically narrow moustache running like a pencil line across her full upper lip. The same artifice had been worked just before her ears, giving the impression of a full beard kept at bay by the most careful shave. With bobbed hair pinned back and the arches of her eyebrows delicately filled in, Torrie was the perfect impression of a young gentleman.
The others applauded, Eva and Veronica returning Torrie’s grateful bow. A tall girl, with broad shoulders and willowy frame, the illusion was spoiled only by the curve of breasts hinted at beneath her chemise. Acknowledging evidence of her femininity with a casual wave of her hand, she added, “A strip of muslin and a well-starched shirt front should be enough take care of this.” Taking her cup of chocolate and sipping it carefully to avoid her moustache, she hooked Veronica’s arm in her own and the two began sorting through the presses against the wall.
Joining Mags at the mirror, Eva began dressing her hair, apparently aiming for a new acme of height. The younger girl rolled her feathered eyes with a flutter. “It’s going to take you all of tomorrow to undo that, you know.”
Eva shrugged. “It doesn’t matter much, as I am going to look simply fabulous tonight and that really is the whole point, isn’t it? Besides, it’s a wonderful challenge to get it just so, but in a way that will last no matter how long I dance.” Mags, dipping her little finger into a pot of rouge, assented with a shrug.
“Have you been to this club? What is it like?”
“Like any other, really, with galleries and secluded nooks — though there’s a garden built just so, with perfectly set flagstones and lawn, that the music pours into so that one can step outside and not miss a thing.” Mags listened while working the rouge in dramatic arches across her cheeks and under her eyes.
“And you won’t want to miss any of it. This group plays opera halls more often than not, on the stage and far away. Can you imagine, Mags, we’ll be in the same room as them, perhaps but an arm’s length away!”
Torrie piped up from the back of the room, as she held a dress up to Veronica, judging the fit. “The only pity is that they won’t have their stage setting, which is absolutely stunning.”
“I am sure, with the sonorous tones and perfectly hellish beats in such an intimate venue, we will survive without painted boards.” Eva sighed and worked jelled flax seed into the flame of her backcombed hair with deft fingers. “I mean, have you seen their octobass? It’s divine.”
“Hellish and divine? What are you girls getting me into?” Finished with her paint, Mags swung off the padded bench and joined the others at the chests of clothes. She rummaged through one overspilling with lace and drew out arms of red froth, which she hurled at Eva across the room, hitting her in the shoulder.
Eva swore as she turned. “If you’d hit my hair I would have throttled you — ooh it’s the petticoat, thank you Mags!” Giving the skirt a shake she slipped it on and trotted to the trunk she’d brought with her.
“So, Miss Margaret, you’ve never seen them play before?” Veronica had stripped to her shift and was standing carefully while Torrie laced her into something complicated looking. “With how much you gad about I’m surprised.”
“And Ronnie, I’m surprised you’re calling me Miss Margaret, as in a few hours we’ll all be Bacchanalian worshippers of Saint Vitus together. But to answer your question, no, I’ve not been to see these particular performers yet. As bawdy as my set can be, none are quite this wild, though I can’t imagine fully what it will be like.”
Torrie twisted her mouth, thinking, twitching her moustache into a contortion that set Eva giggling. “They’ve a bass that grips you directly by the heart, like a backbone to the rest of it, the other strings just sort of spiral around, sort of like a flowering vine — blast it Mags, I feel like a simpleton trying to explain what it’s like.”
“There’s no damned marching band brass, I’ll tell you that.” Eva was slipping on a slashed overdress of navy with chartreuse trim and talking from inside it. “And it’s in God’s own English, like what regular folk talk, nothing highbrow, no ‘thous’ and ‘thees’.”
Veronica, revealing bits of sheer and skin as she moved, took her turn at the vanity. “And it’s loud, Miss Mags. Close enough to the stage you can feel it through the floorboards, you’re torn between dancing and being frozen in place as the sound vibrates up through your bones, stirring your heart.” She smiled. “And other things.” Sleeking her hair back to the crown of her head, she giggled. “Speaking of which, I think all of us know what we find even more heart stirring about them.”
Torrie sighed. “I cannot even begin to describe the singer’s voice for you, Mags.” With practised ease she settled the legs of her trousers so as not to bag the knees as she sat. “Nor have I words to explain his fey, adrogyne beauty. I think really, all we can properly express is how much damned fun it will be.”
“Torrie, you’re such a poet,” Eva laughed. “He’d make the most innocent virgin’s mind spin with possibilities, so you can guess what it does to the likes of us.”
In coats and cloaks that hid the more scandalous aspects of their costumes, the girls piled into the taxi, falling onto thin padded benches as the driver urged his horse forward. They were chattering brightly, falling into brief silences as each was caught up in a whirl of anticipation that made the very air about them hum.
Reaching the private club, Torrie paid the driver and tipped her hat. The other girls were already moving up the walk, driven by excitement and the cold.
“You’ve got quite an evening before you.” The driver grinned, pocketing the coins.
Torrie pulled her most innocent face. “Taking my cousins out? I’m sure it will be dreadfully dull.” Her eyes crinkled as she nearly smiled. “Though it is my pleasure to gratify their whims.” With a wink she turned on her heel and trotted to catch up with the others, the driver’s short guffaw echoing off the buildings around her.
Eva was vouching for Veronica and Mags to the doorman as Torrie joined them. “Ah, now we’re all together. Shall we go in?” She took Torrie’s proffered arm and herded the other two before her as the doors swept open.