Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Midnight balls were a regular part of The London Season. February and March were like a dress rehearsal. Oh, those assembled for the various festivities still had fun, but things didn't heat up till May, though the Third Annual British Cinema Ball was still the place to be. Lord Robert subscribed. He bought ten ducats, enough for the entire Crawley contingent, ðplus a pleasant, little 'add on' for Tom and an extra gentleman from the club for his sister, Rosamund. Edith and Bertie, recently come back from their wedding trip, came too, indeed, she planned to feature it in her magazine. Four hundred pounds for the lot. Worth two thousand American dollars at the time. In today's money that would be roughly seven or eight times as much, so figure sixteen to eighteen thousand dollars in all. The payoff to Lucas cost plenty, but upper class families had to see and be seen.

Bates came too. Robert offered him a seat with the rest of them. He refused, but did attend as a 'supporter,' which entitled him to have drinks and savories at the bar, along with all the London strivers who paid ten pounds a person for the right to say they were there.

It was a black and white ball... no other colors.... After three years 'a tradition.' German, impressionist director, Fritz Lang showed up to tout early clips of his new science fiction film, Metropolis. Alfred Hitchcock, a successful homegrown up and comer shot footage of the event. People pretended not to notice, but still managed to pass before the lens much more than absolutely necessary. Apparently none had ever heard of editing.

Those at tables dined on a fine, seafood bisque, poached salmon with dill sauce and a supremely satisfying crème brulee. The bar crowd had their savories, small plated tidbits of the selfsame salmon and miniature fruit tarts. Food writers from three papers declared the menu a triumph.

After dinner they saw Lang's clips, along with snippets from Charlie Chaplain's latest, The Gold Rush. Following that, there was dancing. Everything moved like clockwork. At 3AM they left. You can fit a lot into three hours.

Now Bates knew Sir Richard Carlisle would be there too. Part of the reason the Crawleys attended was to make it look like they had no inkling Mary's former suitor was in any way involved in that Lucas business. Mary even passed by his table with Henry and gave him a polite, little nod.

But there was a man seated with the Carlisle party... an intriguing, though somewhat loathsome sort, one Alistair Crowley. Some thought him a distant connection of the Downton Abbey crowd, but there was no proof of that. Carlisle knew him from The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn. An 'occult' master he was, though there were those who said his 'magic' had a more sinister bent.

Bates watched from the bar. When the films ended and the dancing started, he signaled to a distinguished, older gentleman who looked rather like the American actor, Lewis Stone... cropped, white hair... even, strong features... tall, thin build. But this man was no actor, not officially anyway. He was a hypnotist, an accomplished practitioner of the suggestive arts. He was also paid by Sir Robert and they both watched as he wandered over to where the exploitive newspaper publisher (Sir Richard) stood talking to a man from The Tattler. Five minutes later he joined the conversation. God knows what he said. Brits are far more approachable after a few drinks. Look, who isn't? But he made the connection and their nemesis was now falling under the subtle control of Europe's finest hypnotist... Not a cabaret performer, but a high end consultant, brought in to do what was arguably not that far from magic.... A woman in Prague threw herself under a tram. A man in Istanbul drowned most horribly in a huge, kitchen vat of writhing, ravenous, hagfish.... Who knows what death scene Sir Richard would play? ... But play one he would.... The role was so enticing.....

Meanwhile back at the Crawley table everyone oohed and aahed over Edith's honeymoon pictures. She carried a small, stapled 'book' of glossies in her purse. That's how chemists (pharmacists in US & Canada) prepared them. Shots of the new marquis and countess in Tuscany... in Barcelona... in the Loire Valley.. in Paris and Brussels too.... Edith looked so happy. Cora beamed.

Mary and Henry danced a bit. Tom and his date did too. Even Robert and Cora took the floor. Rosamund didn't much care for her escort, so she joined a party of friends at a nearby table while he slipped into a card game in the gentlemen's lounge.

An enjoyable evening for all....

The next night, Sir Richard 'took the needle' (heroin) for the fist time...

Eight hours later he took it again....

<more next time>


click CHARITY BALL ... to browse every episode I have up...
click LONDON CALLING ... to join me on Twitter...
please comment. thank you.