For the first time in her life, Miss Turple found herself at a loss for words.
It wasn’t like she’d known what to expect when the invitation was slipped under her door. That was suspicious in itself because she hadn’t even got around to unpacking all her shoes yet, let alone socialising with people who could afford gold trimmed envelopes. There was no name or address mentioned that she could write back to either. Just the time she would be picked up. The presumptuousness didn’t sit right with her but curiosity won. It was the first time she was living away from Mrs Turple’s hawk eyes, and the key to the case of the secret invite would be at the party.
So she’d put aside all reservations, put on her new dress and had waited by the river front as told. She hadn’t asked any questions either when Mr Top Hat showed up in a boat and gestured for her to step in. She even bared the eternity long boat ride quietly without letting loose the thousand and one unladylike quips hanging off the tip of her tongue. But when Mr Alarmingly-Silent-Top-Hat-Man led her to her destination, she couldn’t stay mum any longer.
Except she didn’t know what to say.
“I loved your piece in the press. The poem about the little animals. It warmed my heart.” Mrs Exotic-Feathers-Number-2 said before she drifted off to listen to Mr Burgundy Ascot’s caterwauling.
“It was about children, not animals.” Miss Turple mumbled to nobody in particular. At least that explained how they found her. The press had demanded she skip out on the pseudonym. In retrospect, she should’ve insisted on the confidentiality, but she quite enjoyed the flattering recognition she was receiving now. The chatter of the guests had momentarily died when she stepped into the… she couldn’t find a word to describe the place. Whispers had started up in that fraction that conversation had taken to regain traction. Clearly this was a crowd who knew of her writing.
Another Mr Top Hat came up to her to congratulate her on the marvelous work she’d done on Itsy Bitsy.
“It was a splendid plot. It’s such a shame that the production house cancelled on it.”
“Yes, they couldn’t find the right actor for the little girl.”
Mrs Pince-nez and Mr Pinstripe stopped to gush all over the Pansy True.
“What a bright, powerful, empowered character you’ve created. It would be heart-breaking if anything ever happened to her.” So Miss Turple safely excused herself without mentioning the climax of her sequel Her Witness. She looked around the open air, reader’s ball or ORB as she decided to call it. The people present were downright outlandish. She didn’t get the memo about the fancy dress theme, but it seemed like everybody else did. There was a man in a ruff collar, a woman in mourning robes and a man in what looked suspiciously like a bed sheet trying to be a toga.
She continued to look around the ORB trying to ignore the prickling on the back of her neck. Someone was watching her every move. She tried to appear casual in her actions as she raised her glass to her lips and subtly tracked the source of the intense stare. Her gaze fell on the man in the bow-tie by the pier who looked away almost immediately. The perpetrator was found. Miss Turple picked up another glass of gin from a passing waiter and made her way to Mr Bow-Tie.
“You should not have come.” He said bluntly as he accepted the gin.
“There’s still time,” he said looking around, “you can make a run for it. Take the boat and scamper.”
“Why would I do that?” she demanded. The sun hadn’t even begun to set. Even by Mrs Turple’s standards, it was far too early.
“Because,” he said, turning away from the gathering to face her, “they want you to join the society.”
Miss Turple looked at him like he’d gone mad, but the look on his face suggested that she was the crazy one.
“What society? Why shouldn’t I join?” Mr Bow-Tie cocked his head to a side, assessing her fully.
“Well, Miss Turple, this is the Dead Poets’ Society and for your contribution to literature, you’re being recruited. Naturally, dying is the only way of joining.”