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Blackguard

Killigrew Calling April 7 morning

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Dressed in a dark suit, knowing it was a preference of the Spanish, Thomas Killigrew arrived at the residence of the Spanish Ambassador.  Lady Toledo had summoned him to discuss something theatrical. 

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Sophia had decided to use the main drawing room for her meeting with Master Killigrew. As it was employed almost exclusively by the lady of the house, she’d had free rein in decorating it. The wallpaper on three of the walls was pale yellow. The fourth wall, at the end of the room, had been painted lavender. White curtains embroidered in yellow and lavender had been pulled back from the window which looked out over the small but picturesque garden.

 

All of the furniture … the table and chairs by the window as well as the array of couches and smaller tables arranged in a semi-circle around the fireplace ... had been painted white and the upholstery, tablecloths, and rugs featured soft yellow and lavender hues. Porcelain vases sat upon the tables filled with white, yellow, and pink roses. She had not been able to locate lavender roses and wasn’t sure if they even existed.

 

A few statues had been placed where they would be immediately noticed and paintings that Sophia had purchased during her travels adorned the walls. Portraits of the Count and Countess of Toledo hung in a prominent location. A low fire was flickering in the fireplace, keeping the room a bit warmer than was usual In London. Both Sophia and Esteban were accustomed to hotter climates and the temperature in the house catered to their preferences..

 

Dressed in a pale pink gown trimmed in pearls and lace, the petite singer was waiting for her guest when the butler showed him in. “Good morning, Master Killigrew."  she said politely. Leading him over to the couches, she added: “Please sit down. Would you like a cup of tea? My cook just made some pastries, if you’re hungry."

 

Though she wanted to get right down to business, Sophia prized herself on being an excellent hostess. Also, by behaving like a proper noble lady, she would not remind him of the exuberant peasant girl who had auditioned for a play at his theater last year.

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"What a beautiful home you have," Killigrew flattered as he met the Countess.  The older man gave her a small bow.  Shaking his head at the offers politely Thomas replied "thank you but I had breakfast before arriving."  When he visited for business, he avoided food and drink. 

He waited for her to sit first and then he sat as requested.  "My lady, how is it that I can be of service to you?"

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“Thank you, Master Killigrew,” Sophia replied, pleased with his compliment. Commoners generally had no taste, but those involved in staging theatrical productions were an exception. Great care must be taken with scenery so that it would draw the audience into the story. In Venice, she had watched many bare stages come alive with creative sets. Therefore, she appreciated his opinion.

 

She was also glad that he wasn’t interested in refreshments. He was quite polite, waiting until she had seated herself before lowering himself upon one of the brocade couches and asking how he could be of service. “My lord husband wants to host a play,” she began, “about some historical battle between Spain and France that he thinks will show that his country is allied with England against the French. Originally he wanted to perform it in Spanish, but I convinced him that the play should be translated into English and that the actors should also speak fluent English.

 

"Plays are not like operas. You can enjoy an opera even if you don’t know the language in which it is sung, but the audience will lose interest quickly in a play that they can’t understand. So if it is to be entertaining, it must be performed in English.”

 

Sophia leaned forward. “This is where you come in. You have produced many outstanding plays and I think you can make this one a success as well. We will need a playwright who can turn Lord Toledo’s translated script into a gripping story that will have everyone sitting on the edge of their seats. We also need well-known and experienced actors to draw people in. It doesn’t have to be performed until the end of the season, so I think there is plenty of time to prepare.”

 

She sat back again. “You will be handsomely compensated for your expertise as will everyone who participates in this production. What do you say? You are my first choice to head this project and you do not seem like the kind of man to let a such a lucrative and challenging opportunity pass you by.”

 

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The bit about handsome compensation was the only thing that kept his jaw from dropping.  Translating and producing a play in a few short weeks was nigh impossible to his thinking.  Still, he maintained a courteous demeanor.

"Did I hear you say that the play is already written and it needs merely to be translated?"  He supposed the Spanish embassy could do that.  "Please tell me that it is already gripping and it merely needs a few English actors to bring it to life in London.  How well was it received in Spain?"

"The Spring season can last until the King's birthday.  If so, we might have four weeks to prepare.  If His Majesty ends it early, I fear that there shall not be time to produce, staff and practice."  He did not wish to sound too negative but there were many other competing projects as well. 

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He didn’t jump to his feet and flee in horror. That was a good sign. Sophia had not been certain if Master Killigrew would be interested in producing a play about a historical battle between the Spanish and the French. Perhaps he understood Esteban’s purpose. And since defeating the French was also England’s goal, it would bolster spirits to see it played out on stage. She knew what the audience would be thinking: If those stuffy Spaniards can do it, then so can we.

 

“My lord husband told me that it is in the process of being translating. I have not read it myself so I can’t tell you how riveting it is. He said he commissioned it  from a well-known playwright so it has never been performed before. The script may need some fine-tuning to appeal to English tastes. Surely you must know a playwright who would enjoy the challenge and the generous payment he would receive for his expertise.”

 

Sophia had performed in operas with less than a month to rehearse. Every opera house in Venice tried to outdo each other, and sometimes that meant putting on a new show before the competition gave the composer a better deal. Operas were much more demanding than plays. It could be done in four weeks. But if the season ended early …

 

If we don’t have much time, perhaps the play can be condensed so that it is shorter but just as entertaining. I’m not sure how long it is now. The zarzuela that was performed at our party last season took less than an hour and the Spanish troupe we hired had only about a week to put everything together.” The young Countess was hoping that Master Killigrew would not be able to resist proving that English plays could be staged faster than their Spanish counterparts.

 

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Killigrew listened politely.   "Charles Sedley is a good playwright.  I do not know if he would be interested or not, or whether he would move with the speed that is needed."  The other ones he knew were deep into other projects and would likely look askance at this work, although money could change minds.

"With all due respect Countess, a play can be more difficult that a series of songs.  The actors must be found.  They must rehearse and memorize their lines.  Sets and backdrops need to be constructed.  My theater is still recovering from a devastating fire.  It is still in need of money to finish its stage and seating.  It leaves me with an indelicate question."  One did not discuss money with a lady.  "Perhaps your husband has a certain budget in mind?"

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Master Killigrew seemed to be seriously considering her offer, which was more than Sophia had expected. Perhaps she was better at selling ideas than she thought. Or maybe he couldn’t resist the promise of a generous fee. Money was a strong motivator, as she was beginning to learn. She was finally starting to appreciate its value and what one could do when one had it. Only a year ago, she had taken wealth for granted, as if money really did grow on trees.

 

She disagreed with him that plays were harder to produce than operas. Arias had to be memorized too, and the right singer had to be found for each role. It was much easier to talk than to sing. Sets and costumes needed to be designed and made for both forms of theatre. However, she kept that opinion to herself. Arguing with him wouldn’t help her convince him to take on this project.

 

Sophia smiled, trying to put Master Killigrew at ease when he asked about the budget. “I’m not certain, but I can find out. He spared no expense for our last party. He brought the zarauela troupe with us from Spain and paid for their room and board.” Or at least she thought he had. He had not discussed the deal he had made with them. “A stage had to be built at the embassy. There were costumes and props and an impressive banquet for our guests as well.

 

“He planned to hire Spanish actors for this play and there are so few of them in England that they probably command as high a price as the most renowned actors in London My lord husband has a reputation to uphold as well and he wants to show that Spain and England are allied against the French in this play. I expect that he knows how much a successful production will cost him.”

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Killigrew was not as sanguine about the largesse of Spanish nobility.  Many an aristocrat had cheated him of his fair due over the years.  Yet, his relationship with the King had given Thomas more leverage in negotiation, and collections.

Sophia mentioned examples of Esteban's conspicuous spending.  This was comforting.

"How best to proceed then?" he inquired.  "There is not a moment to lose if there is to be a deal struck.  Should I expect a letter from you or from His Excellency?"

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Sophia had been immersed in theatre culture long enough to know that nobody did anything without promise of payment. There had been a few operas produced with little or no funding, but all those she knew of had recouped their losses in ticket sales. Nobody would have to pay to watch Esteban’s play, unless she could convince him to charge admission. Since he wanted to do it instead of hosting a party, she assumed that admittance would be free.

 

She thought about sending a quick letter to the Embassy requesting her husband’s presence so that the financial aspects could be ironed out immediately. As Master Killigrew had pointed out, they didn’t have time to waste. However, Esteban was probably busy and he might need a bit of encouragement to fork out the amount needed to stage the kind of play she envisioned.

 

“I doubt that anything can be settled before Easter anyway,” she said. The weekend would give her ample time to turn Esteban to her way o thinking. “One of us will contact you on Monday. How much money do you think you will need?”

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"After Easter would be fine," the man agreed amiably.  "But we should not tarry long thereafter."  There was an unreasonable deadline already. 

Sophia mentioned money but Killigrew knew that he could not discuss money with a lady.  It was not proper.  "Tell your husband that it will be twice as expensive as he thinks," the older man laughed.

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If Sophia had known that Englishmen believed that discussing money with ladies was improper, she would have considered it one of those quaint and pointless customs that she would never understand. Maybe some Germans lived by those standards too, but Sophia’s father had taught her a fair bit about trade, knowledge that had surprised Lord Kingston last year. She saw nothing wrong in discussing prices and she would have preferred to have a solid sum to present her husband with.

 

However, she wasn’t going to press Master Killigrew for a set amount. She needed his help too much to alienate him. Maybe he didn’t yet know how much it was going to cost. “I will relay that information.” Her lyrical laughter joined his. “He will at least know what to expect. My lord husband will probably want to meet with you himself.” Sophia was going to have to be very persuasive to get Esteban to agree with her plan. Now that she was pregnant, she had a bit of leverage.

 

It looked as if this meeting was coming to an end.

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