Having very helpfully put together a suitable shaving kit for the young lady, Tristan went back home thinking that his task was at an end. He was certainly not expecting her to ask him to help with the…process.
‘But I cannot come in!’ he called through the bathroom door, trying to keep the anguish from his voice.
‘Because…’ Try as he might, he couldn’t prevent his voice from squeaking. ‘Because you are in your slip!’
‘I can’t very well wear my frock to do this,’ Susie called back, and he had to admit that she had a point. ‘Please, Tristan! I have no idea what I’m doing. Do come and help me, won’t you? I promise I won’t tell anyone that you saw me in my slip.’
Tristan leaned his head against the bathroom door and closed his eyes, summoning up strength from the very earth beneath his feet, and almost lost his countenance when she added, 'I promise I won't try to seduce you.'
‘Shall I describe the process?’ he gasped, when he could manage speech once again. ‘You need...let me see, you require hot water - and have you a towel?’
‘Soak it in hot water,’ said Tristan, ‘and put it on…on the…area.’
A muffled snort from behind the door, which he did his best to ignore, and then the sound of water sloshing. Tristan glanced down the corridor, hoping that his sister would not return from her walk unexpectedly and catch him, alone, leaning on a door behind which was a young woman clad only in slip and stockings…
‘I’ve done that,’ said Susie, bringing his attention back. ‘Now, what do I do next? Make a lather?’
‘Yes, with the brush,’ said Tristan. Silence fell within the bathroom, sporadically broken by clinks and bumps.
‘It’s not very good,’ came Susie’s complaint. ‘Not really lathery at all. Matty makes a much better job at it.’
‘Your brother has a great deal more practice,’ observed Tristan. ‘Circular motions - with the brush, I mean.’
‘It’s still not working,’ she said after a few moments, and he sighed.
‘I do not know what you might be doing wrong,’ he said.
‘Oh…oh, very well. Open the door a fraction and I will demonstrate.’
She opened the door rather more than a fraction and he kept his eyes averted as he showed her the correct method of making a lather of shaving cream, carefully not noticing how lovely she looked in her light blue slip with its criss-cross pattern of pale flowers, and the narrow straps, and the lace trim at the bust…oh, Christ, stop looking!
He could not, however, avoid the bold grin she gave him as she retreated back inside and it was with relief, and a shaking heart, that he pulled the door closed and waited for his breathing to subside.
‘So I put the lather on and…’
‘Be very careful with the blade.’ He cleared his throat and spoke at a more ordinary pitch. ‘Make sure you see which way the hair grows before you shave it, so you know when you need to change your stroke with the razor.’
‘But I’ve put the lather on,’ said Susie, and Tristan sighed again.
‘Then you must do as best you can. The first time, go with the direction of the hair, the second time against it. Remember - be careful with the blade. It is very…’
‘…sharp. Have you cut yourself?’
‘Of course I have, idiot!’
‘Badly?’ he enquired, ignoring the rudeness.
‘I don’t know, I can’t see through all this lather. Oh, this razor is too big! I thought they made small razors for women to use.’
‘If they do, I have never seen one,’ said Tristan - not that he’d ever looked for one. ‘Will you continue?’
‘Oh, yes, I’m still going. I’m determined to wear that frock.’
‘Then proceed with more care.’
‘Right,’ said Susie after a few minutes. ‘I think that’s done it. What should I do now?’
‘Rinse off the lather and make sure you’ve got all the hair,’ said Tristan. ‘And then…well,’ he said, frowning suddenly, ‘I use an aftershave, but that would not be suitable for a lady.’
‘I’ve some perfume in my bag,’ said Susie. ‘Would that do?’
‘Quite possibly,’ he agreed. ‘We can but try.’
There was a rustling as Susie rummaged in her bag, and then a spritz, and a scream.
‘Argh! Oh! Oh, God, that hurts! That hurts so much! Tristan, you utter…’
The epithet was drowned in the creak of the door hinges as he dashed into the bathroom, to find Susie crouching on the floor, clutching her underarm and squeaking incoherently.
‘The alcohol in the perfume!’ he cried in sudden understanding. ‘Oh, that will not be pleasant in your cut…’
He stopped and his lips twitched. He bit them and reached for the damp towel Susie had used earlier.
‘Try this,’ he said, and his voice squeaked for quite a different reason from earlier. As she reached for the towel, Susie’s eyes caught his and a suspicious look came over her.
‘No, I’m not.’
‘You are - oh, you are! You utter beast! You…you…’
‘Stop abusing me and wipe away that perfume,’ he said, taking hold of the fists that flailed in his direction and holding them easily. ‘Here, give me the towel…is that better?’
‘Yes, but it still stings, you wretch.’
‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘I’ll fetch you some talc and…and…’
He broke off and let go of Susie, who looked up in some surprise before her gaze followed his to the doorway of the bathroom.
‘It may be rather a stereotyped line,’ said Sarah Denny, who was standing in the doorway, ‘but what on earth is going on in here?’
‘It is…um…that is, I…’ Tristan floundered, unable to explain why he might have been manhandling a scantily clad young woman in terms that would satisfy his sister. But Susie was, as ever, quite ready with her words.
‘Oh, hallo, Sarah! Nothing sinister at all - quite the opposite. You see, it all started with Harper’s Bazaar…’