Exit the Actress

Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar

Book: Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar Read Free Book Online
Authors: Priya Parmar
is more likely to steal than an ordinary girl,” Hart countered.
    “Please, it is getting late. Rose is in gaol. We must get this to the king
tonight,”
I urged them.
    “Ellen, if we are honest in this letter, your sister will be branded a whore to the king. Can you live with that?” Hart asked bluntly.
    “Oh.” I shrugged. “My sister
is
a whore. What does it matter how it looks? May as well tell the truth.”
    “All right, Harry, sign it. Let us all to Whitehall,” Hart conceded.
    “Together?” I asked disbelievingly.
    “Of course together, you mouse,” Hart chided affectionately. “You don’t think I’d leave you now, do you?”
Later, two a.m. (Whitehall Palace—The Matted Gallery)
    My head is heavy on Hart’s shoulder. Harry has been gone for hours. How long have we been sitting on this bench? If I just close my eyes for a few minutes—
Four o’clock in the morning—The Matted Gallery
    “Hart, what have we here, sleeping
Ariadne
?” an amused voice asked.
    “Your Majesty,” Hart stuttered, leaping to his feet and executing a perfect bow. Sleepy and bewildered, I remained on my bench, squinting up at the exceedingly tall figure in front of me. He was slimly built but had a coiled restiveness about him, like a spring waiting to stretch. A mixed crowd of grim-faced councillors, foppishly dressed young men, and women in carnival-coloured gowns stood about him, and a great puddle of spaniels nosed about his feet. He was the fixed centre of the mêlée—the substance anchoring the chaos. Nothing about him was quite right: his face was too long, his eyes too deeply set, his lids too heavy, his moustache too lank and his mouth too wide, yet he fit together perfectly. And he was the king: a king waiting to speak to me.
    “Majesty? Majesty! Are you … are you him?” I asked sleepily, shaking myself awake.
    The king threw back his head and laughed. “Yes, I am he, and it is customary to curtsey when you meet me,” he teased.
    “I, oh … oh, pardon me,” I said, flummoxed, leaping up to copy Hart’s bow exactly.
    The king whooped with laughter. “Is that how ladies curtsey these days?”
    Indignant and impatient, I forgot myself. “My sister is in prison this night. I do not worry about a proper curtsey!” I heard Hart’s sharp intake of breath beside me. The ladies stopped nattering, and the fops stood aghast. “I, oh, Your Majesty, forgive me!”
    The king’s eyes crinkled merrily as he composed his mobile face into a serious countenance. “No, no, you are quite right. There are prostitutes in prison this night. This is no time to stand upon ceremony. Mistress … Gwyn, is it?”
    “Ellen,” I said miserably. “Please, please, don’t hold my rudeness against my sister.” This was a disaster. One of the spaniels promptly sat upon my foot, rooting me to the spot.
    “Ellen, do you suppose I am the sort of king who would?” he asked, gently lifting my chin with his long, cool fingers until I looked up into his intelligent face.
    “No … no, I do not think you would. Please, help her,” I said softly.
    “I have already sent Harry and John Browne to secure her release from Newgate, but now that I have met
you,
I will also send the royal berline to fetch her home. All charges against her will be dropped.” He waved his hand, sending servants flying to follow his commands.
    “Thank you, Your Majesty,” I whispered, and sank into a deep and correct curtsey.
    He chuckled, and bent low to whisper into my ear, “I preferred your first attempt. God give you good night, little Ellen.”
    “And to you as well, Your Majesty.”
    I watched him as he moved down the stone-vaulted gallery. The air felt so quiet once he had gone.

When I Enjoy Modest Success

Sunday, January 3, 1664
    Morning service at St. Martin in the Fields with Grandfather and then home. Music sounds so beautiful ringing through that lovely old building. Rose is too anxious after her recent
trouble
to risk church. She is

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