“A little context goes a long way.”
_ J. M. Barrie,
The Founder of Secret Literary Society (SLitS).
Written on the pale wall, the slogan greeted her on the first day of her job. She was standing in a dimly lit, narrow reception area. It was desperately in want of a receptionist as there were no visible directions about where she was supposed to go. She gathered her teal patterned muffler and covered her face as a protective response against her nerves, which were threatening to overcome her resolve for a yearning for the signature hustle and bustle of a London evening filled her. But there was only the mild noise filtering from the bar above to keep her company. Previous day’s events ran before her eyes like that of a play she had watched repeatedly.
She was clutching a letter in her hands that congratulated her on securing a position. A position which she had never applied for. But it incited her interest many degrees more than the prospect of engaging with an unknown family and educating their children. A tedious but also the only other means of earning for her. Curiosity coupled with the greed of being called the 1st woman to be selected for the work of such a unique nature motivated her. She looked at the letter again for reassurance. .
The SLitS Headquarters,
October 16th, 18____,
As per our previous correspondence, we offer you the said position. Consider this letter your official appointment. Please take note that you, under no circumstances, are to show this to anyone. If you want to decline, then burn the letters and speak no word about them. However, if you were to accept, then we request your presence at The SLitS Headquarter (basement of The 1888 Bar) today at sharp 20:00.
May the Power of Words shine over you!
Secret Literary Society.
She ventured forward and after a few minutes located a spiral staircase leading deep into the building.
A year later
She was standing in the lavish garden of a grand mansion that she was to enter in due course. The paper in her gloved hands read,
“Story-telling is not mere escapism. It is more real than reality; truer than the truth.”
Chilling air cut through despite her heavy corset, abundantly ruffled bustle skirt, and a copious amount of hosiery. Her ample bosom peeked out of the sensuous V-neck of her bodice, which was tighter than the pursed lips of her mother, when she lost her temper. A Gainsborough hat covered her curls, except for a few strands that were let loose purposefully. While her figure was plump in all the right places, her face — if not flattered with hair — heavily inclined towards corpulence.
She looked about her anxiously. It had taken her more than the standard 3 days to avail the invitation to this ball. She had almost lost hope, except in her line of work, one did not have the luxury of giving up. She sighed and threw back her shoulders before she entered the royal venue with a lady-like gait she had been practicing for a month.
Blood-red carpet covered the floor of the gigantic hall. Draping the 7 feet tall windows, the satin curtains in a shade of deep burgundy shielded the room from the gloomy weather outside. Within a few moments, she had detected her target and was moving towards him but was hindered by her hostess. As guided by her mentor at the SLitS headquarter, she fended off the emergency by cutting her off mid-dialogue without appearing curt or disregarding in the least.
She noticed that the night was advancing fast. Soon the mad chaos of colliding bodies in the jolly ritual called dance will ensue. It would be impossible to get hold of her target then. She decided that it was time to make her move. But —
“A woman of exceptional beauty in a room full of prospective grooms, interested not in even one of them only falls short in terms of suspicion to a handsome bachelor, with a large income and handsome disposition yet who was not pursued by a string of women,” said a velvety, almost intoxicating voice.
She stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes closed in a gesture of frustration, not unlike someone who was caught in the midst of performing an illegal deed. With great difficulty, she brought herself to face the watchful eyes under the drooping upper lids of this man of extraordinary eminence.
He was towering her 5 ft. 4” figure by a good 8 inches. Devoid of his wide-brimmed hat, sporting a tuft of curled hair neatly separated in a straight middle parting, and dressed in a silk frock coat of indescribable brown hue, he looked a character from the 17th century.
“Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde,” she curtsied and offered him her hand.
His Grecian features transformed utterly as he boomed with laughter and kissed her outstretched hand.
“It is odd you presented your left … ” He lost consciousness mid-sentence. Her backup had caught him and transferred him into another room before he had completed his fall.
By the time, Wilde came to his senses, a crucial piece of information had been exchanged between the 9th Marquees of Queens-berry and a charming lady who was never again seen in the same circle. It was an information that could char the name of a certain Lord Alfred Douglas for debauchery of inconceivable nature.
“A few years and his work would have bestowed upon him success and popularity,” she told a mysterious man in black, “Why did we do this to him?”
“I may not have foreseen the level of injustice they perpetrated on him,” said the man but without even a shred of remorse in his voice. “Nonetheless” he added, “Our actions have only made him immortal.”
“Because that is our job,” she retorted, “We kill wordsmiths to immortalize them.”
The man had had enough. “His work is larger than his life and our sins,” he told the girl he had recruited a few years ago, “Besides,” he said adjusting his bowler hat on his head, “He isn’t dead, yet.”
A strange woman visited the most controversial prisoner of his time. What a scandal! thought everyone at the prison.
The powers that be had wanted to keep the whole affair a secret; thus, it was on every tongue like the other secrets of the literary world. Why was every great writer afflicted with misfortune? Why was there always a back-story about the best of storytellers? These were more than mere coincidences. Spicing up the lives of great writers was the job for which our protagonist had been hired!
“Why have you come here, dear lady?” questioned a prisoner whose glory and dignity had been drowned in a gong that still echoed “Shame!” “Shame!”
A veil covered the face of the woman in black, but he knew who she was. He looked down at the gloved hand more lethal than the most venomous serpent living in the depths of the African jungles.
“Apologizing will not absolve me or undo my deed,” she said in a sepulchral tone, “I want you to remember who you are irrespective of what happens in this dreadful place.”
She offered him her hand again. This time it was the right one.
“De Profundis,” wrote the queer prisoner on a sheet of paper that night.