Jotting down my recollections, safe in the comfort of the Park Lane flat, overlooking the better part of Mayfair, I have doubts about the title of this chapter: Ypres reveals all. It could be seen as a detailed account of Ypres exposing herself. Of course, she would never do that.
Ypres does not really reveal much of anything. She is like one of those sea creatures who has innumerable numbers of layers. The Latin name escapes me at the moment, but I am confident I knew it at some point in time. It is rather impossible to gain access to her core or utmost inner thoughts. I see it as one of her talents. Too often, individuals are eager to share all, to deliver every opinion as sanctified knowledge. Not Ypres. She is one of those precious pearls amongst a bed of pungent oysters, and I a (Tiffany) necklace upon which pearls must be affixed.
One thing has always astounded me about Ypres. It beats me, on occasion, why a woman with her genius is satisfied to hang around dealing with household logistics and what not. If I had half Ypres’s brain, perhaps even a fifth, I should have a stab at being Prime Minister or something. Well, perhaps not Prime Minister, but sometime of use to society’s betterment.
Recovering from her impromptu smile, Ypres issued one of her signature coughs. It is a clearing of the throat that summons attention. I do not know what the most educated creature of the sea is, perhaps a dolphin, but in this moment Ypres embodied that creature with quiet dignity.
“You may reveal all, Ypres! Please share your plan.”
“Thank you, Vasa. Yet, before I embark upon the matter, I would like to give an overview of the situation as it now stands.”
“Of course, please do, Ypres.”
“Well,” said Cousin Andrew en route to the kitchen, “I shall take this as my cue to go get a snack. Carry on, I can hear you from the refrigerator.”
I grabbed Andrew by the arm and brought him to his armchair. Despite the look of incredulity of a tourist faced with a Manhattan restaurant bill for the first time, Andrew acquiesced silently.
“You may proceed with the facts, Ypres.”
Andrew mumbled something about how facts were not a priority in the country at the mo. Ypres, as usual, was unperturbed.
“As it currently stands, the premise is simple. Madame LaPeine de Mort’s niece, Miss Madison, is engaged to a gentleman her aunt does not approve of. Furthermore, she wishes to embark on a career, as a Broadway actress, which her aunt feels is unbecoming. Madame LaPeine de Mort’s accord, while being morally and socially futile, is necessary financially. This necessity is due to the fact that she supports’s her niece’s expenses, and has threatened to withdraw that support. The basic facts have been enhanced by Miss Madison’s announced engagement to you, Vasa.”
Whenever Ypres boils the situation down to the facts, it becomes clear, like a good chicken broth.
“The engagement, while being a hiccough, was necessary after Vasa pushed Madame LaPeine de Mort into the lake at Prospect Park.”
“If you will recall, Ypres,” I said elegantly taking centre stage, “it is you who pushed me down that incline at Prospect Park, leading me to crash my delicate frame into that mammoth of an aunt.”
“Indeed, it was necessary for the aunt to take a distaste towards you.”
“I’m surprised your help was needed for that at all, Ypres,” Cousin Andrew butted in, “my dear cousin is usually eminently capable of instilling almost instantaneous dislike in those she meets. It is one of her great strengths.”
Ypres resumed as the old Vasa lemon throbbed fiercely, thinking through the true meaning of Andrew’s declaration.
“You see, Vasa, the crux of your plan at Prospect Park was correct: to enhance the appeal of Miss Madison’s gentleman friend. You chose to elevate his person, which did not work. It was more effective to enhance his appeal by debasing an alternative, for negative experiences have a stronger impact on the human psyche.”
“How clever of you, Ypres, to use the psycho angle!”
Andrew smirked. I pinched him. The resulting high-pitched shriek punctuated Ypres’s extrapo-, disquisi-, her talk.
“The alternative to debase, in this situation, was you, Vasa. Madame LaPeine de Mort had already not taken to you upon your first meeting. That feeling had to be enhanced. That is why I arranged for you to push her into the lake.”
“How did you know she would not just fall in, as I had planned?” I interjected. “Aunts are always falling into water. That’s what they do. They point things out and fall into water while noticing the geraniums or lilies.”
“I felt the probability to be limited. If you remember, I had noted my scepticism at the time you presented your plan to me.”
I dislike when Ypres uses isms. It tends to mean she is switching to postgraduate lecture mode.
“Once it was established that Madame LaPeine de Mort took a strong dislike towards you, it was necessary for you to become attached to Miss Madison. Therefore, I suggested to Miss Madison that she announce her engagement to you. To be plausible, the engagement had to be made public in the Western world’s major publications. Although Madame LaPeine de Mort is a fervent nationalist, her peers and social circle are very international. The published announcements would ensure external pressure. As it became evident to Madame LaPeine de Mort that Miss Madison appeared committed to marry you, a person she is intent on despising, and her friends and family made enquiries on your person, the pressure to prevent the marriage from going forward mounted. Indeed, as I foresaw, the pressure was such that she would turn towards other potential suitors for her niece. Yet, these suitors had to be disqualified.”
Andrew suddenly became more attentive.
“Knowing it unlikely that Miss Madison’s companion would make an appearance at the opportune time, I made arrangements for Mr. Vasa to be present, knowing his fondness for swimming.”
“That’s impossible, Ypres!” Andrew rose from his chair in outrage. “I was in the park that day out of my own volition! I was attending a rally against the building of a condominium tower to be designed by Renzo Piano on Parkside Avenue.”
“The rally, although fictitious, was organised by me to assure Mr. Vasa’s presence. Parkside Avenue is along the lake. Knowing Mr. Vasa’s discontent with Mr. Piano’s work, I had flyers put up on Bedford Avenue, indicating the rally’s time and place. This coincided with when Vasa and I were to meet Madame LaPeine de Mort and her niece. That is also why Vasa had to push Madame LaPeine de Mort in the lake when she did – and is why I intervened. Timing was crucial. Fortunately, I had time to make preparations between the moment Vasa announced her plan to have Madame La Peine de Mort fall into a lake and the arranged meeting at Prospect Park.”
Cousin Andrew let go of a silent gasp.
“As Mr. Vasa saved Madame LaPeine de Mort, she quickly projected her wish for a suitable suitor for her niece upon him. An alternate having been secured in the person of Mr. Vasa, it was crucial he be disqualified. During her stay in New York City, Madame LaPeine de Mort frequents La Durée on Madison Avenue, near 70th street, every afternoon at 16h00, for two macarons. I came about the information through enquiries with the doorman at our current address, who is familiar with the doormen of the Upper East Side – indeed they form an informal association. As such, I arranged to be present at La Durée one afternoon at 16h00, and pretended to speak loudly on my mobile phone.”
Cousin Andrew had yet to regain speech.
“During my purposefully loud conversation, I let slip that a friend of mine had rescued a woman from drowning in Prospect Park on the preceding Saturday afternoon. This friend, whom I described in lavish terms, happened to live in Williamsburg. I then repeated Mr. Vasa’s Bedford Avenue address three times, giving Madame LaPeine de Mort, at the table next to mine, ample time to write down the address. That is why she presented herself here unannounced. I knew that Mr. Vasa, when confronted by Madame LaPeine de Mort on the reason why he was not free to seek romance with her niece, having just seen Vasa’s engagement announcement to Miss Madison, would use a similar solution. I believe behavioural psychologists call it the power of suggestion.”
Cousin Andrew’s eyes were now as round as a pair of Royal Doulton saucers (if I had to approximate, I would say the Finsbury collection). Being saucered did not, however, prevent him from regaining speech.
“But… I mean… Why… How could you have been certain?”
“It is merely the power of psychology, and controlling one’s environment to reach the most suitable outcome. I believe Professor Richard Thaler has conducted exhaustive research on the topic as applied to the field of economics. I know you to be an avid reader of The Guardian, where I had published a copy of your cousin’s engagement announcement, and was fairly certain you would suggest me as a fictional fiancée. The same principle applied to Mr. Vasa in London.”
“Uncle Edward?” I hesitated.
“No, your Uncle George, Vasa. Your cousin Mr. Vasa’s father. An advertisement of the engagement in The Economist, which he and his Foreign Office circle read religiously, would cause a reaction. No doubt, Mr. Vasa and his colleagues will informally reach out to their counterparts here in New York, perhaps through the United Nations, to discuss the matter with France’s representatives. The course of action will likely take a few days, but will add further pressure on Madame LaPeine de Mort.”
“Further pressure?” At this point, before such an intricate pattern of who does what to who, I was reduced to asking question.
“Yes, further pressure diminishing you in Madame LaPeine de Mort’s opinion. Informal British diplomatic involvement will dent her nationalistic pride. Each devaluating action raises the profile of Madison’s companion, enhancing his suitability.”
“So I can call off the engagement with Madison?”
“Why not, Ypres?”
“It must be Madame LaPeine de Mort who initiates the move to break off the engagement, and accepts Miss Madison’s love, for both her companion and a career on Broadway. For that, one more step is needed.”
“I see, Ypres. The last move in this chess game of yours.”
“It brings to mind Stefan Zweig’s The Chess Player.”
“You die something, Ypres.”
Andrew was at the ready: “If it’s die of boredom, rest assured, I’m on the cusp of comatose consciousness.”
At this point in the proceedings, Ypres continued.
“Digress is, no doubt, the word you were looking for, Vasa. I apologise. You are, on that point, correct. The final step that is needed to successfully get Madame LaPeine de Mort to break the engagement is a party.”
“A party!” Andrew and I (or me – it is of limited importance here) spat out the phrase with excitement. A party always gets the Vasa blood flowing.
We had bid farewell to Andrew and his fez and returned to the Park Avenue flat without incident. The doorman continued to fail to recognise me. Perhaps because of the time and energy he spends specialising in the growth of his eyebrow.
As I settled in to the flat for the evening, I was struck, rather uncharacteristically, by a thought. Well, to be honest, it was more of a question than a thought.
“Ypres, I do have one final thought. Well, to be honest, it is more of a question.”
“With your superior skill set, why is it you chose to be employed by me when you could give it a go to be Prime Minister, or something useful for the country?”
“Sometimes, as a young woman with quiet intellect and strong knowledge of the world, one faces professional and societal hurdles. In your employment, Vasa, these hurdles do not exist. One can be who one was meant to be, without pressure or constraint. That is what is important.”
“I feel that somewhere behind those words there was sentiment, Ypres.”
“Right ho!” said I with Britannic purpose, before wishing Ypres a good night. Our formidable duo was about to set forth into the world. We had a plan to put in motion, and, for once, it involved a party.
Unfortunately, as is usually the case with parties, work was to interfere. I had to report to the UNDO office the next morning.
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