The Cocktail Bar

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VISITING THE EMBASSY: girls in Pit-london who love Aristasia and would like to visit Aristasian soil may discuss a Visit to the Aristasian Embassy, which is five minutes from an Underground station. Pop us a note if you are interested.
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Music Playing: Dora's Big Band with Let's Face The Music And Dance

Dateline: Tuesday, October 21st, 1952

The Romance Continues: Pigeons Fly

After one of her aforementioned barely understated soirees, Cassiopeia had bid her guests an early good night, as was her custom, on the pretext of having an engagement with her bankers first thing next morning, leaving her company amid opulent trappings (and a Western Kadorie jazz sextet imported for the evening), and with food, drink and matter enough for speculative gossip to last at least until dawn. For by now it was clear to all in New Ladyton who might bother to take any interest in the affairs of the city's most eligible brunette that Cassiopeia was smitten by love; the word was that the object of her affections was a pale and diminutive blonde, with an exotic name, who inhabited a remote part of far-off Northern Amazonia.

One faction held that the blonde with the unpronouceable name was an Arctic princess, fabulously wealthy in sables and ivory, who lived in a palace of carved crystalline ice, which shimmered in refracted spectral colors under winter's eternal starlight. The ice, it was said, had been quarried five thousand years ago from a glacier then ten thousand years old. Another faction held the girl to be an unusually refined and beautiful orphan slavey who wore herself to the bone carrying water and fuel for an avaricious family of seal trappers who paid her wages in table-scraps and a monthly fresh stuffing of dry river grass for her pallet which she was permitted to spread no closer than ten feet from the fire. Cassiopeia (so said this faction) had come away with one of this Cinderella's glass slippers and would never be content until she had the pair, with the blonde to fill them.

At any event, Cassiopeia's departure allowed such brunette speculation, which had been more-or-less discreetly carried out up until then in such rare sheltered nooks and corners as Art Neo furniture and statuary affords, to become general, assuming at moments the nature of a dozen simultaneous spirited little debates. These almost all concluded with a round of tsk-tsking, the opposing sides resting their cases, however intricate their arguments might have been, with the observation that matches across Aristasian provinces almost never work out, and that Cassiopeia would do far better to confine herself to Novarian blondes; the names of certain blonde younger sisters (none of them present but all unquestionably superior to the unknown Amazonian) were tendered. Then the debates would start up again with only slight variation.

The blondes, meanwhile, taking no part at all in these debates, universally pouted upon the accurate perception that whatever the truth concerning the distant Amazonian girl, a supremely eligible local brunette was almost certainly being struck from the lists. They pouted, caught one another's eyes, hunched their bared ivory shoulders almost imperceptibly (and somewhat impatiently) together and absently inspected the ceilings and walls, while one blonde's pointed pump tripped like a metronome, all plainly saying, in that blonde language that is so much more eloquent than any spoken words, "Let's have another drink, girls, and get on with the remainder."

* * * * *

This night Cassiopeia did not repair directly to her dovecote on the roof to cuddle her six messenger birds as was her custom, but to a private study adjoining her bedroom. She sat down at her antique rosewood Arcadian writing table (for in her private rooms the furnishings were far from the Art Neo style of the downstairs part of the flat seen by guests), efficiently smoothed the satin skirt of her hostess's gown, extracted a sheet of lemon-grass parchment from the drawer and began to write in a strong hand made consciously softer.

What words Cassiopeia actually inscribed we can perhaps better imagine than read (for she was not an eloquent writer); whatever ones she chose, however, we may accurately surmise that they proclaimed her deep affection for Kwethalyn and expressed the hope that such affection was reciprocated with as much passion as it was offered -- that is to say, a very great deal, for Cassiopeia, too, was being consumed by love and was running low on fuel with which to feed her fire.

What we cannot guess, however, and what my task as Narrator is to tell you, is that Cassiopeia also acquainted Kwethalyn with some additional facts beyond the state of her affections: to wit, that she had shipped her gyrocraft to the gyrocraft works, where it was being fitted with an experimental snow-skirt and heated cabin to allow winter travel; that the engineers at the works were confident that Hermia (for so the gyrocraft was named) would be suited for comfortable travel over frozen terrain, even at ninety degrees of frost, the lowest extreme ever recorded in Northern Amazonia; that the alteration would be done in a week; and that she, Cassiopeia, had every intention of making a winter trip to Unalakleet as soon as Hermia was returned to her and certificated by the Provincial Transport Ministry as safe and fit for travel.

As she was a well-brought up brunette, Cassiopeia, in her penultimate sentence, begged Kwethalyn to write, by return pigeon post, whether her (Kwethalyn's) affections had altered since their parting, and to give her (Cassiopeia) a frank "No, do not come," if they had: Cassiopeia did not wish to force affections where not wanted even at the cost of her own annihilation. In her last sentence, she prayed that Kwethalyn's answer would be, "I am as you left me. Please come." At the closing she hesitated, then wrote, "With undying love, your own, Cassiopeia," and added an unpremeditated post-script in her natural, un-softened hand, "Let it be Yes!" She folded and rolled up the parchment tightly and slipped it into one of the seal-gut pouches from the same drawer. She then covered herself in a rain-cape, ascended to the roof and to the dovecote.

It was a raw autumn night over New Ladyton; dirty grey clouds, barely higher than the roof-tops, scudded in sodden masses from the Eastern Marshes, bearing a faintly rank odor mingled with the freshness of sea-salt and spitting sparse, fat raindrops. The wind was brisk enough so that an occasional bare patch was ripped in the low cover, revealing a slivered moon riding fast on a tableau of stars.

This night, for the first time, Cassiopeia switched on the light in the dovecote, alarming the birds, but she needed the light to fasten the pouch onto the sturdiest of the six Unalakleet snow pigeons. Carrying the harnessed bird, she left the dovecote, carefully latching the door behind her, and walked to the parapet at the edge of the rooftop, where the twinkling lights of the city and the hum of traffic lay beyond and below her. Kissing the bird and murmuring a prayer for its safe journey, she released it over her head. Caught in a gust, the bird wheeled sharply downwards, uttered a shrill un-pigeonlike cry of joy at its freedom, and was instantly gone.

Cassiopeia, drained by the unwonted effort of writing and dispatching such a letter, stood lost in reflection high above New Ladyton, one hand hanging limp at her side and the other distractedly playing with a detached breast feather that had stuck to her forefinger when the bird had taken flight. The lights of the city blurred as tears filled her eyes -- she was weeping girlish tears of hope or foreboding or relief, she knew not what -- so it was fully five minutes before she noticed the bird had returned and was perched before her on the parapet, impudently tilting its head sharply to one side, then to the other, dancing in little circles and appearing unusually ruffled after such a short (and disappointing!) flight. Cassiopeia's heart sank as she apprehended that her only means of communication with Kwethalyn, so carefully planned and nurtured, had failed at the outset! But as she ruefully wiped the tears from her eyes, her heart leapt within her as she saw that it was not the same bird, (it had a black beak, the other's had been red), though it bore a seal gut pouch strapped to its back.

TO BE CONTINUED...


Dateline:Monday, October 20th, 1952

A Misunderstanding

Dear Friends,

It's me, Amy, and I know that I am quite past the point where I should be out in public, so I apologize to any Arcadian pettes who are especially disturbed by my appearance here tonight. But I just had to come and clear up the name of my sweet cousin, Miranda, who is in such a state you wouldn't believe it. She came to our door yesterday with tear-stained cheeks and a very wobbly voice. As I was making her a cup of hot cocoa, she told me about how she had written to Ariadne in Kadoria California, telling her that I was in the family way, but then Ariadne, blonde extraordinaire that she is, mistook the letter to mean that she, Miranda, was expecting. Between sobs, she wondered aloud what Miss F would think? Or what if her mothers heard? She is so distraught because, though Ariadne seems quite beyond the ability to understand such things (and if you were a Cocktail Bar regular during the Miss de V days, you know just what I mean), Miranda knows very well that a good reputation is a girl's most valuable possession.

But, darlings, look at my midsection for a moment. This is what a girl looks like just a couple of months away from the blessed event. And little Miranda is still that... little. Nobody really needs proof, do they? I mean Miranda's sweet spirit and innocent gaze are enough to prove the falseness of such claims. Such a dear she is, too. After crying and crying, she regained her composure long enough to ask me in all seriousness, "How could I be pregnant? I am not even married yet!"

That's all the proof anyone needs as far as I am concerned. And if that Miss F would finally pop the question, she'd be able to put Miranda's mind off of this mess in a hurry, wouldn't she!

All my love,

AMY
p.s. you pettes didn't really believe it for a minute, did you?


A First Visit

Hello, I'm Danae. I'm a blonde. This is my first visit here. My brunette mommy and her friend, Miss Barbara, said I should come here and learn to talk to people, because I've been spending too much time reading, and sewing, and tending the flowers. And day-dreaming, which is what I'm best at. I don't have a blonde mummy - I mean, I don't remember her at all. My brunette mommy says that means I'm lacking in blonde role models, and she wants me to have positive blonde influences in my life. (Do all mommies talk that way?) My brunette mommy is sitting over there keeping an eye on me, so I don't get into any trouble. I hope that won't keep anybody from talking to me.

DANAE


Miss Helen Forrest Talks About Herself

Me again, pettes, Ariadne, going into her third week as annoucerette at the Hollywood Palladium. Benita Goodmaid and her orchestra are back for a return engagement this week with the devine Miss Forrest as vocalist. But before I bring you your song for tonight I must tell you all about poor Miss Forrest! She has just won the Metronome Award for the best vocalist of 1941, a very presteegious honor in Culveria, but she is quite unhappy!

You see the devine Miss Forrest is only a kid, just three-and-twenty last week and already a Culverian star! As Miss Forrest was seeking the councils of a wiser, older blonde (I am, Dea forfend, twenty-nine next month!) us two shared quite a number of champagne cocktails last night after the show up in the Flying Saucer while she told me a bit about herself. It appears that Miss Forrest was born in Atlantic City (thats in New Jersey you know) but her blonde mummy drank rather more than she ought to and her brunette step-mummie was quite mean (even when not drinking) so she was not happy as a child as one might well imagine.

Miss Forrest's name is really Helen Fogel but she started singing on the wireless Thursday evenings under the name The Blue Lady or sometimes Marlene and at other times Bonnie Blue. Sometimes she did not earn enough for cab fare home from the studio after a show so she had to hoof it, taking off her heels and stockings and walking home barefoot!

When Miss Fogel was only nineteen she started singing with Artemis Shaw's orchestra replacing the famous Miss Billie Holiday but Miss Shaw who quickly became rather promminant is notoriously unreliable you know and suddenly decided to pack it all in and do a fade to Mexico stranding all the girls without work and without any notice at all. And without any pay.

Miss Forrest (the name by which she now goes) had by now become quite promminant for her exquisite voice, perfect timing and interpretation so she managed to get herself hired by Miss Goodmaid without too much troub and together they have made a colossal hit all over Culveria. But Miss Forrest says that Miss Goodmaid turns out to be tray diffeesseal to work with -- very fussy and wants to do everything twenty times over in recording sessions while Miss Forrest is known among musicians as "one-take Helen" because she always does it right the first time. Besides it seems Miss Goodmaid since the Metronome Award was announced has taken to playing these rather promminant clarinet obbligattoes in quite a high register while Miss Forrest is trying to sing sort-of drowning her out and that is another reason she is so sad.

So Miss Forrest is planning to leave Miss Goodmaid and find some other orchestra but she is still under contract at $500 a week for the next month so that is why she is here at the Hollywood Palladium tonight even though she would quite rather be somewhere else. One would never know she is unhappy because she sings like an angel no matter what and tonight I had the priviledge of introducing her singing this inaffably lovely number:

I Found A Million Dollar Baby

It was a lucky April shower
It was a most convenient door
She found a million dollar baby
In a Five and Ten Cent Store.

Oh, the rain continued for an hour
She hung around for three or four
Around a million dollar baby
In a Five and Ten Cent Store.

She [blonde] was selling Shama*
And when she made those eyes
Oh, she [brunette] kept buying Shama
Until the crowd got wise.

Incidentally, if you should run into a shower
Just step inside this cottage door
And meet the million dollar baby
From the Five and Ten Cent Store.

ARIADNE


[Editor's Note: Shama is an inexpensive perfume now wildly popular in Eastern Kadoria, available in Woolworth's and other five and ten's. Try some before it's gone! This week only , on special at twenty-nine cents an ounce]

Dateline:Wednesday,October 11th, 1952

The Hollywood Palladium Opens

Golliwogs, pettes, what ever has happened to this stodgy old Aphrodite Cocktail Bar what with unfinished Amazonian romances no pinches no music no barpettes in crinolines dodging bold young brunette advances no secret assignations no hats no more Trentish Hollywood fashions no tragick spoiled young brunettes throwing rings off bridges into rivers and no punctuation? Where is the Miranda of old (the word is, she is in a family way, an item incredible), where is Candida, Ellhedrine, Miss Prism, Miss Trent? Miss Barbara, Symone de V, Norma and my especial friend, Dr. Silverthorne? Not to forget Miss Cherry Uno, of course. Where are all these pettes of yore?

>Sigh<

La, pettes, all you darling blondes and brunettes, it's me Ariadne again! I'm still in Kadorian Hollywood but now that the summer is finally done and the tourists all packed up and gone, the Maps To The Stars' Houses trade has declined rather dreffy and I was freezing my gams off every day perched out there exposed on that stool on La Cienega Boulevard (Sepulveda on Tuesdays) selling only three maps of a morning and phoning in to Central Casting every half hour to no effect whatsoever as Blondes Jumping Out Of Cake films have evidently gone out of fashion forever and my promising screen career is in tatters! Even optimistic I must finally concede the teensiest tinge of failure!

So, since every inventive girl knows that the mother of necessity never judges a book by its color, I finally struck my covers, ran the white towel up the mast and returned to my former, um, vocation of Hat Check Blonde at ... guess where? ... the Hollywood Palladium!

What is the Hollywood Palladium you may well ask? Well, its nothing like the London Palladium -- its not a variety show hall at all. It is strickly a dance hall, a great grand one, and like all things in Kadorie Culveria, 'specially Kadorie Hollywood, it is much bigger than big, that is to say rather enormous or colossal as pettes here in El Lay are fond of saying in reference to anything even slightly larger than small. But really, this place is rather, um, roomy.

Here is a photo I cut out of Variety showing the Palladium from the outside on opening night [Ed. Note: The Hollywood Palladium opened on October 29, 1940, in historical times. Here is a Real Photo taken on the very night to which Ariadne shortly refers; the marquee announces Tammy Dorsey and her Orchestra.] 'Course, only the very luckiest five thousand girls got inside on opening night but as my star was not in ascendancy at that particular mome I was not one of the lucky ones, even as a plain patronette not to mention a Hat Check Blonde, so I languished enviously in the crowd outside and watched the spotlights play over the marquee and imagined the lovely strains of Tammy Dorsey and her orchestra wafting out over the street where pettes danced with one another blocking traffic to the honking of taxicab horns.

I did not manage to get hired until two weeks later when Benita Goodmaid and her orchestra were appearing with the incomparable Helen Forrest as vocalist. " By then the crowds were even bigger than at first -- Variety blabbed in bold type that 6,750 dancers were out on the floor at once. One cannot quite imagine the immensity of the highly polished maple dance floor nor how closely the dancers are packed.

You see, Big Bands are now all the rage in Eastern Kadoria, and Big Crowds, too, which makes for very good tips for Hat Check Blondes at a place like the Palladium in Kadorian Hollywood of which there are twenty. Hat Check Blondes I mean, sillies, not dance halls, wearing scanty pink and grey velveteen uniforms that show off a girl's legs to alarming advantage with grey diamond-net stockings and little round pink velveteen caps like a bell-hop's that fasten under the chin with an elastic covered in small little rhinestones that make a girl want to scratch and give her a rash. Theres almost no place at all to stow tips in a uniform like this, not like those Aphrodite Cocktail Bar crinnies where one can stash even a fistful of pound notes (really you'd be surprised what wealthy brunettes used to leave for a tip!) without the merest bulge showing.

So for all you Aphrodite Cocktail Bar pettes here is the divine Miss Helen Forrest singing Mistress Meadow Lark, about a city slicker pette who does not know how to whistle so she has lost her brunette to a country pette who does know how. If one looks very closely, one can see Miss Forrest, right there in the middle of the Palladium's stage, high-shouldered straight-backed and swaying in that delightful slightly stiff Kadorie manner -- from the waist up as one unit, as if one's spine neck head and shoulders are all softly welded together.

Mistress Meadow Lark

[Long introductory jinky-swingy instrumental, featuring clarinet, muted trumpets]

Mistress Meadow Lark, we've got an awful lot of serenading to do
Mistress Meadow Lark, I'm just a city slicker and I'm counting on you
She's got a country gal who whistles, my whistle is thin
So when I begin, that's where you come in

Oh, Mistress Meadow Lark
If you should cop a gander when she's kissing her chick
Needless to remark
I hope you'll have the decency to exit but quick

If Mrs. M. thinks you're out steppin'
I'll make it all right
Mistress meadow Lark
Meet me in the dark tonight!

[Long closing jinky-swingy instrumental]

And here is a picture of the divine Miss Forrest herself, from her latest album. With lots of kisses from your ever-faithful, big-band-struck, swinging and jiving,

ARIADNE


Dateline: Wednesday, October 1st, 1952

Epic Glamour In Trent

Dearest Aphrodite Cocktail Bar patronettes, it is I, Anita, with (alas!) my swan song on Trentish Hollywood fashions. I have saved the most extravagant, most outrageous, most expensive costumes for last. And they really are the last, I am dreadfully sorry to say: I told you last week about all the studio layoffs, and, >sob< I got the dreaded pink slip only yesterday! The entire studio still and costume archive departments are being disbanded within the week. From now on, publicity shots will be taken directly from actual film footage, which may look nice on the screen, but, as movie film is only 35 millimeters, [Ed. Note: "metrication," as we in the Empire all know, is really just another hateful tentacle of the Octopus, but Anita's use of "millimeters" here is a rare and permissible exception], the print quality will not compare at all to those made from eight by ten view camera negatives! The executive brunettes claim costs must be cut, no more high-budget films, costumes must be used over and over again, and so forth. So next week I shall take the Twentieth Century Limited back to Gotham and look for work in the fashion industry there.

But in the meanwhile, pettes, I can still freely delve into the Paramount Studio Archives and tickle your fancies with some of the loveliest (and gaudiest) costumes ever created for the silver screen. So let us start with a studio still of Miss Loretta Young in Suez, where she plays the Empress Eugenie. Miss Young has eighteen gown changes in this film, the grand total for which comes to $38,000. Here is Miss Young dressed in a replica of a gown actually worn by the Empress herself. It is a hooped ball gown of lavender satin and tulle, the satin richly embroidered in a light blue floral motif.

How does a girl even move in such a gown? How sit down? Pass through a doorway of normal dimensions? Well, Miss Young is an unrivalled mistress of costume. She knows precisely how to handle big hoop skirts like this one. Did you know that she never wears shoes on screen unless the costume reveals her feet? Here she is secretly wearing a favorite old pair of soft bedroom slippers, which is almost like being barefoot, and allows her to glide gracefully across the set. Miss Young can and does sit down in this gown without its flying up: she knows how to get the skirt moving in precisely the right direction and with the right momentum so that there is not the slightest bounce (the follow-through smoothing-down after being seated is part of the trick). Similarly with going through doorways, when a girl must whisk the hoop up at just the right instant and slide through semi-sideways.

Now here is an example a costume designer's imagination running wild. This is the peerlessly beautiful Madeleine Carroll in Prisoner of Zenda, just released in Western Trent. The open bodice of this black velvet evening gown is studded with hundreds of oversize faux pearls, with double halos of pearls surrounding the lace-trimmed demi-sleeves. Miss Carroll was born in Birmingham, England, and holds a Bachelorette of Arts degree from Birmingham University, where she majored in diplomacy and international relations, with a minor in French language and literature. When she is filming, she insists on a proper tea, served in her own personal blue china tea service by her maid, right there on the set! All filming activity ceases until Miss Carroll has taken all the time she needs.

But I promised you outrageous costumes, too, so let me first tell you a little about The Great Ziegfeld, still in filming after two years and a production investment of $1,500,000! A whole boxcar load of ostrich feathers had to be imported from Australia for headdresses, trim and extravagant gown trains. The studio has hired one hundred seamstresses who work day and night round the clock in three shifts. Here is one of the many costumes designed for the film, worn by two uncredited chorus girls. Well, I suppose it is really two costumes, as one girl is dressed as the harp (do not miss her harp-strings of pearls!) The harp can only maintain her pose for a matter of seconds, even with her feet strapped tightly in place!

Despite all the lavish materials and styling, however, the Zeigfeld costumes are notoriously uncomfortable to wear (besides the harp costume, of course, which is really a bit of stage sculpture). Here is Miss Virginia Bruce decked out in a gown with a glass headpiece weighing twenty-two pounds; the gown's wired train adds an additional forty-six pounds, so that four stage-blondes are needed to carry Miss Bruce up the steps to pose in one scene, where she must use all her strength the keep from toppling over. No dancing in this outfit, to be sure.

Darlings, I do hope you have enjoyed seeing the selection from the archives I have been able to bring you over the past several months. It is too bad you will never get a chance now to visit and see the entire collection, which will soon be consigned to a dusty back-lot warehouse, I am afraid. I have enjoyed immensely the opportunity of bringing you what is really just a tiny fraction of the gorgeous feminine raiment that has clothed so many of your favorite Trentish stars.

I shall let you know what turns up in Gotham. Signing off for good, then, this is, >boo-hoo,<

ANITA, PARAMOUNT STUDIOS ARCHIVIST FROM TRENT


Dateline:Tuesday, September 30th, 1952

Hail to the girls!

Well, my dears, I'm back at work after a lovely holiday. And oh, what a hard, cruel world is my work located in. I won't say any more about that (it's so abrasive to the gentler sensibilities of those who live in Aristasia proper, though those of you who live in Aristasia-in-Telluria know what I'm talking about, I expect.)

No, thank you honey, nobody has been mean to me. It's just, you know, the pace and the sort of wall you have to keep in place all around you.

So I just wanted to say, well, it's really nice to have this place to come to, and you lovely darlings to talk to, all of you: Amy glowing with the life inside her, chic Candida, breathlessly blonde Ariadne, sweet Miss Fox, and dashing Cassiopeia, and Katherine, and Mary Margarete, and little Miranda, and well, you know, I could go on and on. But thank you, my dears, thank you just for being here, and for being you, and for letting this hard brunette melt and flow a little at the edges.

ELIZABETH RUTH


Tea and sympathy

Oh Valentine,
I am so sorry to hear about your broken heart. But aren't you lucky to have found a nice older brunette who will take care of you and offer you the protection every blonde needs. I am lucky that my brunette wife takes such good care of me that she even keeps all the family bills and checkbooks and money matters far from my reach. I never have to think of such things, and that bit of protection frees me to think of more important matters, such as racinating our home, arranging flowers, getting our little nest ready for our second blessed event, canning, and preparing special birthday packages for very special friends. But don't pass that on to anyone else, for some of those very friends are sitting at a nearby table!

The racinating touches to your home sound wonderful. It makes all the difference, doesn't it? You might do a little here, a little there, buy a Kadorie picture for one wall and a art-neo lamp for a corner, then, one day, you look around and realize you've really honestly created true sanctuary from the Pit. And what a glorious feeling that is!

Let me buy you a hot toddy, darling, and know that you have all of my sympathy.

Love,

AMY


A Romance Unfolds: Chapter Two

As it was Kwethalyn's twice daily chore to feed her family's carrier pigeons, she had ample opportunity to lavish special care on the six Novarian birds, whose separate and privileged presence in the dovecote remained undetected. Kwethalyn would bring them tasty crusts from the table and caribou suet and flakes of dessicated whale blubber, too, while the other birds received only their plain rations of unhulled tundra rice and dried aspen cones. Kwethalyn reasoned that the New Ladyton squadron, as she secretly named them, having been raised in a much milder climate, might lack the stamina required to carry her letters south over the cordillera in the dead of winter.

She could not release them to fly about the village in sharp veering formations like the others, as she knew they would have instantly absconded in unison towards the sun fast receding southwards, so to keep them in trim she would tenderly take each one in turn under her warm lynx fur parka and gently stretch out its wings to their full expanse, softly clutching each bird to her breast the while as if to suffuse it with her own fortitude and determination for the long journeys to come.

During these pensive moments she wished herself a bird, able to soar over the mountains to Novaria in a day, being transformed back into a girl the moment she alighted on Cassiopeia's doorstep (for she imagined that flats in New Ladyton had doorsteps), in a hazy fluttering of white feathers becoming fair skin and blonde hair before the door was opened and she was swept in to Cassiopeia's protective embrace. Kwethalyn, of course, had no desire to be a bird except for the temporary power of flight such a transmutation would have conferred; she was more than content to be an ultrafeminine Northern Amazonian girl at all other times -- a prototypical blonde.

But not such a blonde all alone, separated from her of whom she nightly dreamed and for whom she daily pined during most of her waking hours. By the time the autumnal equinox had been passed but three weeks and the river had frozen hard and all was white below and blue above, her mothers, sisters and friends could plainly see that Kwethalyn was in love and was visibly being consumed like seal oil in a lamp that is burning too brightly, though the analogy falls somewhat short of the mark because Kwethalyn became wan and listless as her wick grew shorter.

Her cheekbones could now be detected and naked in the steam lodge her ribs could be seen tenting up her pale skin in ridges where she had been smooth and never ridged before. Her knitting became irregular as she began to drop stitches, she twice spoiled the musk-ox butter by leaving her churn too close to the stove, she burned the loaves each time it was her turn to bake, and in a hundred other little ways she showed that her attention was anywhere but on the task at hand -- except for tending her special birds, which she did with all the care and concentration that should have been spent on her other work. But her tending was secret, of course, so everyone thought that Kwethalyn could do nothing right anymore and would not last out the winter, which promised to be an unusually harsh one.

And of Cassiopeia, two thousand miles to the south, in warm, sunny Novaria? What of her? Cassiopeia had made an unexpected and enormous profit on her tundra rose honeycombs, as the wild honey harvest had unaccountably failed in many parts of the Empire because of a prolonged summer drought affecting all provinces except Northern Amazonia. The Novarian cosmetics firm, New Lady, was frantic for the beeswax -- like ambergris, it became worth its weight in gold; the scarcity of the firm's facial restorative and its resultant exorbitant price merely had the effect of overheating demand to near-fever pitch, driving prices up even higher and fueling blatant speculation in the product, like Dutch tulip bulbs or the South Sea bubble in Eastern Arcadia. But, canny trader that she was, Cassiopeia took her profits out in good time and did not speculate further.

So, with this single and exceedingly fortunate transaction alone, Cassiopeia suddenly found herself a brunette of independent means, far richer than she had ever dreamt, with tens and tens and tens of thousands of Imperial Pounds invested with her bankers at six per cent per annum and no need to work at a living for many years to come, perhaps for the rest of her life.

Without reducing her principal one farthing, Cassiopeia refurbished her flat in the most up-to-date Art Neo style, sparing no expense; she replaced her whole wardrobe, bought herself a stunning necklace-earring-and-bracelet combination in platinum-set diamonds and threw a number of tastefully lavish dinner parties and only slightly understated glittering soirees to which she invited hundreds of friends and acquaintances. All of New Ladyton was soon abuzz with Cassiopeia's success: blondes clamored for invitations, some even attempting to bribe the domestic staff with favors better left unmentioned, or, on one notable occasion, mobbing Cassiopeia's poor private secretary in the street, importuning her to add their names to the guest list.

At these functions Cassiopeia would amiably but absently preside, engaging in small talk and being perfectly polite to all, but she would invariably retire early on such occasions, before her guests, pleading a headache or other temporary infirmity and begging them to stay on to enjoy themselves as long as they liked (which they usually did until all the food and drink were consumed). Having thus extricated herself from her self-imposed social obligations, Cassiopeia would dismiss the upstairs staff for the night, then steal out alone onto the roof and into the dovecote, creating a soft stir of wings and a muted ripple of cooing as she gently sprang the latch and stole quietly in amongst the sleeping birds.

Like Kwethalyn, Cassiopeia had set aside her six special Unalakleet birds from the rest in a separate part of the dovecote, an enclosure large enough to walk into upright, and she, too, was fattening them up for their forthcoming missions. She would cuddle each bird in turn, feed it a special morsel held between her own lips, kiss the tip of its beak, adjuring it, in that baby talk which always sounds so unsettling when coming from the mouths of otherwise competent brunettes, to deliver all her passion with the letters she would soon send.

[TO BE CONTINUED]Dateline:Wednesday, September 24th, 1952 ADD YOUR COMMENT TO THE CONVERSATION

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