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Title: The Flower Beneath the Foot - Being a record of the early life of St. Laura de Nazianzi - and the times in which she lived
Author: Firbank, Ronald
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  THE FLOWER BENEATH
  THE FOOT


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY THE RIVERSIDE PRESS LIMITED
EDINBURGH

[Illustration]



  THE
  FLOWER BENEATH
  THE FOOT

  BEING A RECORD OF THE EARLY LIFE OF
  ST. LAURA DE NAZIANZI AND THE
  TIMES IN WHICH SHE LIVED

  [Illustration]

  BY

  RONALD FIRBANK

  WITH A DECORATION BY C. R. W. NEVINSON
  AND PORTRAITS BY AUGUSTUS JOHN
  AND WYNDHAM LEWIS

  LONDON
  GRANT RICHARDS LTD.
  1923



    To
    Madame Mathieu and
    Mademoiselle Dora Garnier-Pagès


    “Some girls are born organically good: I wasn’t.”
                                     ST LAURA DE NAZIANZI.

    “It was about my eighteenth year that I conquered my _Ego_.”
                                                       IBID.



I


Neither her Gaudiness the Mistress of the Robes, or her Dreaminess the
Queen were feeling quite themselves. In the Palace all was speculation.
Would they be able to attend the _Fêtes_ in honour of King Jotifa,
and Queen Thleeanouhee of the Land of Dates?--Court opinion seemed
largely divided. Countess Medusa Rappa, a woman easily disturbable, was
prepared to wager what the Countess of Tolga “liked” (she knew), that
another week would find the Court shivering beneath the vaulted domes
of the Summer-Palace.

“I fear I’ve no time (or desire) now, Medusa,” the Countess answered,
moving towards the Royal apartments, “for making bets,” though turning
before the ante-room door she nodded: “Done!”

She found her sovereign supine on a couch piled with long Tunisian
cushions, while a maid of honour sat reading to her aloud :

“_Live with an aim, and let that aim be high!_” the girl was saying as
the Countess approached.

“Is that you, Violet?” her Dreaminess enquired without looking round.

“How is your condition, Madam?” the Countess anxiously murmured.

“Tell me, do, of a place that soothes and lulls one----?”

The Countess of Tolga considered.

“Paris,” she hazarded.

“Ah! Impossible.”

“The Summer-Palace, then,” the Countess ejaculated, examining her long
slender fingers that were like the tendrils of a plant.

“Dr Cuncliffe Babcock flatly forbids it,” the Royal woman declared,
starting slightly at the sound of a gun: “That must be _the Dates_!”
she said. And in effect, a vague reverberation, as of individuals
cheering, resounded fitfully from afar. “Give me my diamond anemones,”
the Queen commanded, and motioning to her Maid: “Pray conclude,
mademoiselle, those lofty lines.”

With a slight sigh, the lectress took up the posture of a Dying
Intellectual.

“_Live with an aim, and let that aim be high!_” she reiterated in tones
tinged perceptibly with emotion.

“But not _too_ high, remember, Mademoiselle de Nazianzi....”

There was a short pause. And then--

“Ah Madam! What a dearest he is!”

“I think you forget yourself,” the Queen murmured with a quelling
glance. “You had better withdraw.”

“He has such strength! One could niche an idol in his dear, dinted
chin.”

“Enough!”

And a moment later, the enflamed girl left the room warbling softly:
_Depuis le Jour_.

“Holy Virgin,” the Countess said, addressing herself to the ceiling.
“Should his Weariness, the Prince, yield himself to this caprice....”

The Queen shifted a diamond bangle from one of her arms to the other.

“She reads at such a pace,” she complained, “and when I asked her
_where_ she had learnt to read so quickly, she replied ‘On the screens
at Cinemas.’”

“I do not consider her at all distinguished,” the Countess commented
turning her eyes away towards the room.

It was a carved-ceiled, and rather lofty room, connected by tall
glass doors with other rooms beyond. Peering into one of these the
Countess could see reflected the “throne,” and a little piece of
broken Chippendale brought from England, that served as a stand for a
telephone, wrought in ormolu and rock-crystal, which the sun’s rays at
present were causing to emit a thousand playful sparks. Tapestry panels
depicting the Loves of _Mejnoun and Leileh_ half concealed the silver
_boisèries_ of the walls, while far down the room, across old rugs from
Chirvan that were a marvellous wonder, showed fortuitous jardinières,
filled with every flowering-kind of plant. Between the windows were
canopied recesses, denuded of their statues by the Queen’s desire, “in
order that they might appear suggestive,” while through the windows
themselves, the Countess could catch across the fore-court of the
castle, a panorama of the town below, with the State Theatre and the
Garrisons, and the Houses of Parliament, and the Hospital, and the low
white dome, crowned by turquoise-tinted tiles of the Cathedral, which
was known to all churchgoers as _the Blue Jesus_.

“It would be a fatal connexion,” the Queen continued, “and it must
never, never be!”

By way of response the Countess exchanged with her sovereign a glance
that was known in Court circles as her _tortured-animal_ look: “Their
Oriental majesties,” she observed, “to judge from the din, appear to
have already endeared themselves with the mob!”

The Queen stirred slightly amid her cushions.

“For the aggrandisement of the country’s trade, an alliance with
Dateland is by no means to be depreciated,” she replied, closing her
eyes as though in some way or other this bullion to the State would
allow her to gratify her own wildest whims, the dearest, perhaps, of
which was to form a party to excavate (for objects of art) among the
ruins of Chedorlahomor, a _faubourg_ of Sodom.

“Am I right, Madam, in assuming it’s Bananas?...” the Countess queried.

But at that moment the door opened, and his Weariness the Prince
entered the room in all his tinted Orders.

Handsome to tears, his face, even as a child had lacked innocence.
His was of that _magnolia_ order of colouring, set off by pleasantly
untamed eyes, and teeth like flawless pearls.

“You’ve seen them? What are they like.... Tell Mother, darling?” the
Queen exclaimed.

“They’re merely dreadful,” his Weariness, who had been to the
railway-station to welcome the Royal travellers, murmured in a voice
extinct with boredom.

“They’re in European dress, dear?” his mother questioned.

“The King had on a frock coat and a cap....”

“And she?”

“A tartan-skirt, and checked wool-stockings.”

“She has great individuality, so I hear, marm,” the Countess ventured.

“Individuality be ----! No one can doubt she’s a terrible woman.”

The Queen gently groaned.

“I see life to-day,” she declared, “in the colour of mould.”

The Prince protruded a shade the purple violet of his tongue.

“Well, it’s depressing,” he said, “for us all, with the Castle full of
blacks.”

“That is the least of my worries,” the Queen observed. “Oh, Yousef,
Yousef,” she added, “do you wish to break my heart?”

The young man protruded some few degrees further his tongue.

“I gather you’re alluding to Laura!” he remarked.

“But what can you _see_ in her?” his mother mourned.

“She suits my feelings,” the Prince simply said.

“Peuh!”

“She meets my needs.”

“She’s so housemaid.... I hardly know...!” the Queen raised beautiful
hands bewildered.

“Très gutter, ma’am,” the Countess murmured dropping her voice to a
half-whisper.

“She saves us from _cliché_,” the Prince indignantly said.

“She saves us from nothing,” his mother returned. “Oh, Yousef, Yousef.
And what _cerné_ eyes, my son. I suppose you were gambling all night at
the Château des Fleurs?”

“Just hark to the crowds!” the Prince evasively said. And never too
weary to receive an ovation, he skipped across the room towards the
nearest window, where he began blowing kisses to the throng.

“Give them the Smile Extending, darling,” his mother beseeched.

“Won’t you rise and place your arm about him, Madam,” the Countess
suggested.

“I’m not feeling at all up to the mark,” her Dreaminess demurred,
passing her fingers over her hair.

“There is sunshine, ma’am ... and you have your _anemones_ on ...”
the Countess cajoled, “and to please the people, you ought indeed to
squeeze him.” And she was begging and persuading the Queen to rise, as
the King entered the room preceded by a shapely page (of sixteen) with
cheeks fresher than milk.

“Go to the window, Willie,” the Queen exhorted her Consort fixing an
eye on the last trouser button that adorned his long, straggling legs.

The King, who had the air of a tired pastry-cook, sat down.

“We feel,” he said, “to-day, we’ve had our fill of stares!”

“One little bow, Willie,” the Queen entreated, “that wouldn’t kill you.”

“We’d give perfect worlds,” the King went on, “to go, by Ourselves, to
bed.”

“Get rid of the noise for me. _Quiet them._ Or I’ll be too ill,” the
Queen declared, “to leave my room to-night!”

“Should I summon Whisky, Marm?” the Countess asked, but before there
was time to reply the Court physician, Dr Cuncliffe Babcock was
announced.

“I feel I’ve had a relapse, Doctor,” her Dreaminess declared.

Dr Babcock beamed: he had one blind eye--though this did not prevent
him at all from seeing all that was going on with the other.

“Leave it to me, Madam,” he assured, “and I shall pick you up in _no_
time!”

“Not Johnnie, doctor?” the Queen murmured with a grimace. For a glass
of _Johnnie Walker_ at bed-time was the great doctor’s favourite
receipt.

“No; something a little stronger, I think.”

“We need expert attention, too,” the King intervened.

“You certainly are somewhat pale, sir.”

“Whenever I go out,” the King complained, “I get an impression of
raised hats.”

It was seldom King William of Pisuerga spoke in the singular tense, and
Doctor Babcock looked perturbed.

“Raised hats, sir?” he murmured in impressive tones.

“Nude heads, doctor.”

The Queen commenced to fidget. She disliked that the King should appear
more interesting than herself.

“These earrings tire me,” she said, “take them out.”

But the Prince, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the success of his
appearance with the crowd, had already begun tossing the contents of
the flower vases into the street.

“Willie ... prevent him! Yousef ... I forbid you!” her Dreaminess
faintly shrieked. And to stay her son’s despoiling hand she skimmed
towards him, when the populace catching sight of her, redoubled their
cheers.

Meanwhile Mademoiselle de Nazianzi had regained again her composure.
A niece of her Gaudiness the Mistress of the Robes (the Duchess of
Cavaljos), her recent début at Court, had been made under the brightest
conceivable of conditions.

Laura Lita Carmen Etoile de Nazianzi was more piquant perhaps than
pretty. A dozen tiny moles were scattered about her face, while on
either side of her delicate nose, a large grey eye surveyed the world
with a pensive critical glance.

“Scenes like that make one sob with laughter,” she reflected, turning
into the corridor where two of the Maids of Honour, like strutting
idols, were passing up and down.

“Is she really very ill? Is she _really_ dying?” they breathlessly
enquired.

Mademoiselle de Nazianzi disengaged herself from their solicitously
entwining arms.

“She is not!” she answered, in a voice full of eloquent inflections.

But beguiled by the sound of marching feet, one of the girls had darted
forward towards a window.

“Oh Blanche, Blanche, Blanchie love!” she exclaimed, “I could dance to
the click of your brother’s spurs.”

“You’d not be the first to, dear darling!” Mademoiselle de Lambèse
replied, adjusting her short shock of hair before a glass.

Mademoiselle de Lambèse believed herself to be a very valuable piece of
goods, and seemed to think she had only to smile to stir up an Ocean of
passion.

“Poor Ann-Jules,” she said: “I fear he’s in the clutches of that awful
woman.”

“Kalpurnia?”

“Every night he’s at the Opera.”

“I hear she wears the costume of a shoe-black in the new ballet,”
Mademoiselle de Nazianzi said, “and is too strangely extraordinary!”

“Have you decided, Rara,[1] yet, what you’ll wear for the ball?”

“A black gown and three blue flowers on my tummy.”

“After a Shrimp-tea with the Archduchess, I feel I _want_ no dinner,”
Mademoiselle Olga Blumenghast, a girl with slightly hunched shoulders
said, returning from the window.

“Oh? Had she a party?”

“A curé or two, and the Countess Yvorra.”

“Her black bordered envelopes make one shiver!”

“I thought I should have died it was so dull,” Mademoiselle Olga
Blumenghast averred, standing aside to allow his Lankiness, Prince
Olaf (a little boy wracked by all the troubles of Spring), and Mrs
Montgomery, the Royal Governess, to pass. They had been out evidently
among the crowd, and both were laughing heartily at the asides they had
overheard.

“’Ow can you be so frivolous, your royal ’ighness?” Mrs Montgomery
was expostulating: “for shame, wicked boy! For shame!” And her cheery
British laugh echoed gaily down the corridors.

“Well _I_ took tea at the Ritz,” Mademoiselle de Lambèse related.

“Anybody?”

“Quite a few!”

“There’s a rumour that Prince Yousef is entertaining there to-night.”

Mademoiselle Blumenghast tittered.

“Did you hear what he called the lanterns for the _Fête_?” she asked.

“No.”

“A lot of ‘bloody bladders’!”

“What, what a dearest,” Mademoiselle de Nazianzi sighed beneath her
breath. And all along the almost countless corridors as far as her
bedroom door, she repeated again and again: “What, _what_ a dearest!”



II


Beneath a wide golden ceiling people were dancing. A capricious concert
waltz, drowsy, intricate, caressing, reached fitfully the supper-room,
where a few privileged guests were already assembled to meet King
Jotifa and Queen Thleeanouhee of the Land of Dates.

It was one of the regulations of the Court, that those commanded to
the King’s board, should assemble some few minutes earlier than the
Sovereigns themselves, and the guests at present were mostly leaning
stiffly upon their chair-backs, staring vacuously at the olives and
salted almonds upon the table-cloth before them. Several of the ladies
indeed had taken the liberty to seat themselves, and were beguiling
the time by studying the menu or disarranging the smilax, while one
dame went as far as to take, and even to nibble, a salted almond. A
conversation of a non-private kind (carried on between the thin,
authoritative legs of a Court Chamberlain) by Countess Medusa Rappa and
the English Ambassadress, was being listened to by some with mingled
signs of interest.

“Ah! How clever Shakespere!” the Countess was saying: “How gorgeous!
How glowing! I once knew a speech from ‘Julia Sees Her!...’ perhaps his
greatest _œuvre_ of all. Yes! ‘Julia _Sees_ Her’ is what I like best of
that great, great master.”

The English Ambassadress plied her fan.

“Friends, Comrades, Countrymen,” she murmured, “I used to know it
myself!”

But the lady nibbling almonds was exciting a certain amount of
comment. This was the Duchess of Varna, voted by many to be one of the
handsomest women of the Court. Living in economical obscurity nearly
half the year round, her appearances at the palace were becoming more
and more infrequent.

“I knew the Varnas were very hard up, but I did not know they were
_starving_,” the Countess Yvorra, a woman with a would-be indulgent
face, that was something less hard than rock, remarked to her neighbour
the Count of Tolga, and dropping her glance from the Count’s weak chin
she threw a fleeting smile towards his wife, who was looking “Eastern”
swathed in the skin of a blue panther.

“Yes, their affairs it seems are almost desperate,” the Count returned,
directing his gaze towards the Duchess.

Well-favoured beyond measure she certainly was, with her immense placid
eyes, and bundles of loose, blonde hair. She had a gown the green of
Nile water, that enhanced to perfection the swan-like fairness of her
throat and arms.

“I’m thinking of building myself a Villa in the Land of Dates!” she was
confiding to the British Ambassador, who was standing beside her on her
right: “Ah, yes! I shall end my days in a country strewn with flowers.”

“You would find it I should say too hot, Duchess.”

“My soul has need of the sun, Sir Somebody!” the Duchess replied,
opening with equanimity a great black ostrich fan, and smiling up at
him through the sticks.

Sir Somebody Something was a person whose nationality was written all
over him. Nevertheless, he had despite a bluff, and somewhat rugged
manner, a certain degree of feminine sensitiveness, and any reference
to the _soul_ at all (outside the Embassy Chapel), invariably made him
fidget.

“In moderation, Duchess,” he murmured, fixing his eyes upon the golden
head of a champagne bottle.

“They say it is a land of love!” the Duchess related, raising
indolently an almond to her sinuously-chiselled lips.

“And even, so it’s said, too,” his Excellency returned: “of licence!”
when just at this turn of things the Royal cortège entered the
supper-room, to the exhilarating strains of King Goahead’s War-March.

Those who had witnessed the arrival of King Jotifa and his Queen
earlier in the afternoon, were amazed at the alteration of their aspect
now. Both had discarded their European attire for the loosely-flowing
vestments of their native land, and for a brief while there was some
slight confusion among those present as to which was the gentleman,
or which the lady of the two. The king’s beard long and blonde,
should have determined the matter outright, but on the other hand the
Queen’s necklet of reeds and plumes was so very misleading.... Nobody
in Pisuerga, had seen anything to compare to it before. “Marvellous,
though terrifying,” the Court passed verdict.

Attended by their various suites, the royal party gained their places
amid the usual manifestation of loyal respect.

But one of the Royal ladies as it soon became evident was not yet come.

“Where’s Lizzie, Lois?” King William asked, riveting the Archduchess’
empty chair.

“We’d better begin without her, Willie,” the Queen exclaimed, “you know
she never minds.”

And hardly had the company seated themselves when, dogged by a
lady-in-waiting and a maid-of-honour, the Archduchess Elizabeth of
Pisuerga rustled in.

Very old and very bent, and (even) very beautiful, she was looking as
the Grammar-books say, ‘meet’ to be robbed, beneath a formidable tiara,
and a dozen long strands of pearls.

“Forgive me Willie,” she murmured, with a little high shrill tinkling
laugh: “but it was so fine, that after tea I, and a Lady, went paddling
in the Basin of the Nymphs.”

“How was the water?” the King enquired.

The Archduchess repressed a sneeze: “Fresh,” she replied, “but not
too....”

“After sunset, beware dear Aunt, of chills.”

“But for a frog, I believe nothing would have got me out!” the august
lady confessed as she fluttered bird-like to her chair.

Forbidden in youth by parents and tutors alike the joys of paddling
under pain of chastisement, the Archduchess Elizabeth appeared to
find a zest in doing so now. Attended by a chosen lady-in-waiting (as
a rule the dowager Marchioness of Lallah Miranda) she liked to slip
off to one of the numerous basins or natural grottos in the castle
gardens, where she would pass whole hours in wading blissfully about.
Whilst paddling, it was her wont to run over those refrains from the
vaudevilles and operas (with their many shakes and rippling _cadenzi_),
in favour in her day, interspersed at intervals by such cries as: “Pull
up your skirt, Marquise, it’s dragging a little my friend below the
knees ...” or, “A shark, a shark!” which was her way of designating
anything that had fins, from a carp to a minnow.

“I fear our Archduchess has contracted a slight catarrh,” the Mistress
of the Robes, a woman like a sleepy cow, observed, addressing herself
to the Duke of Varna upon her left.

“Unless she is more careful, she’ll go paddling once too often,” the
Duke replied, contemplating with interest, above the moonlight-coloured
daffodils upon the table board, one of the button-nosed belles of Queen
Thleeanouhee’s suite. The young creature, referred to cryptically among
the subordinates of the Castle, as ‘Tropical Molly,’ was finding fault
already it seemed with the food.

“Take it away,” she was protesting in animated tones: “I’d as soon
touch a foot-squashed mango!”

“No _mayonnaise_, miss?” a court-official asked, dropping his face
prevailingly to within an inch of her own.

“Take it right away.... And if you should _dare_ sir! to come any
closer...!”

The Mistress of the Robes fingered nervously the various Orders of
Merit on her sumptuous bosom.

“I trust there will be no contretemps,” she murmured, glancing uneasily
towards the Queen of the Land of Dates, who seemed to be lost in
admiration of the Royal dinner-service of scarlet plates, that looked
like pools of blood upon the cloth.

“What pleases me in your land,” she was expansively telling her host,
“is less your food, than the china you serve it on; for with us you
know there’s none. And now,” she added, marvellously wafting a fork,
“I’m for ever spoilt for shells.”

King William was incredulous.

“With you no china?” he gasped.

“None, Sir, none!”

“I could not be more astonished,” the king declared, “if you told
me there were fleas at the Ritz,” a part of which assertion Lady
Something, who was blandly listening, imperfectly chanced to hear.

“Who would credit it!” she breathed, turning to an attaché, a young man
all white and pensieroso, at her elbow.

“Credit what?”

“Did you not hear what the dear king said!”

“No.”

“It’s almost _too_ appalling ...” Lady Something replied, passing a
small, nerveless hand across her brow.

“Won’t you tell me though,” the young man murmured gently, with his
nose in his plate.

Lady Something raised a glass of frozen lemonade to her lips.

“Fleas,” she murmured, “have been found at the Ritz.”

“.............!.............?.......!.....!!!”

“Oh and _poor_ Lady Bertha! And poor good old Mrs Hunter!” And Lady
Something looked away in the direction of Sir Somebody, as though
anxious to catch his eye.

But the British Ambassador and the Duchess of Varna were weighing the
chances of a Grant being allowed by Parliament for the excavation of
Chedorlahomor.

“Dear little Chedor,” the Duchess kept on saying, “I’m sure one would
find the most enthralling things there. Aren’t _you_, Sir Somebody?”

And they were still absorbed in their colloquy when the King gave the
signal to rise.

Although King William had bidden several distinguished Divas from the
Opera House to give an account of themselves for the entertainment of
his guests, both King Jotifa and Queen Thleeanouhee with disarming
candour declared that, to their ears, the music of the West was hardly
to be borne.

“Well I’m not very fond of it either,” her Dreaminess admitted,
surrendering her skirts to a couple of rosy boys, and leading the way
with airy grace towards an adjacent salon, “although,” she wistfully
added across her shoulder, to a high dignitary of the Church, “I’m
trying, it’s true, to coax the dear Archbishop to give the first act
of _La Tosca_ in the Blue Jesus.... Such a perfect setting, and with
Desiré Erlinger and Maggie Mellon...!”

And as the Court now pressed after her the rules of etiquette became
considerably relaxed. Mingling freely with his guests, King William had
a hand-squeeze and a fleeting word for each.

“In England,” he paused to enquire of Lady Something, who was warning a
dowager, with impressive earnestness, against the Ritz, “have you ever
seen two cooks in a kitchen-garden?”

“No, never, sir!” Lady Something simpered.

“Neither,” the King replied moving on, “have _we_.”

The Ambassadress beamed.

“My dear,” she told Sir Somebody, a moment afterwards, “my dear, the
King was simply charming. Really I may say he was more than gracious!
He asked me if I had ever seen two cooks in a kitchen-garden, and I
said no, never! And he said that neither, either, had he! And oh isn’t
it so strange how few of us ever have?”

But in the salon, one of Queen Thleeanouhee’s ladies had been desired
by her Dreaminess to sing.

“It seems so long,” she declared, “since I heard an Eastern voice, and
it would be such a relief.”

“By all means,” Queen Thleeanouhee said, “and let a _darbouka_ or two
be brought! For what charms the heart more, what touches it more,” she
asked, considering meditatively her babouched feet, “than a _darbouka_?”

It was told that, in the past, her life had been a gallant one,
although her adventures, it was believed, had been mostly with men.
Those however, who had observed her conduct closely, had not failed
to remark how often her eyes had been attracted in the course of the
evening towards the dimpled cheeks of the British Ambassadress.

Perceiving her ample form not far away, Queen Thleeanouhee signalled to
her amiably to approach.

_Née_ Rosa Bark (and a daughter of the Poet) Lady Something was perhaps
not sufficiently tactful to meet all the difficulties of the rôle in
which it had pleased life to call her. But still, she tried, and did do
her best, which often went far to retrieve her lack of _savoir faire_.
“Life is like that, dear,” she would sometimes say to Sir Somebody,
but she would never say what it was that life was like. ‘_That_,’ it
seemed....

“I was just looking for my daughter,” she declared.

“And is she as sympathetic,” Queen Thleeanouhee softly asked, “as her
mamma?”

“She’s shy--of the Violet persuasion, but that’s not a bad thing in a
young girl.”

“Where _I_ reign, shyness is a quality which is entirely unknown...!”

“It must be astonishing, ma’am,” Lady Something replied, caressing a
parure of false jewels, intended, indeed, to deceive no one, “to be a
Queen of a sun-steeped country like yours.”

Queen Thleeanouhee fetched a sigh.

“Dateland--my dear, it’s a scorch!” she averred.

“I conclude, ma’am, it’s what _we_ should call ‘conservatory’ scenery?”
Lady Something murmured.

“It is the land of the jessamine-flower, the little amorous
jessamine-flower,” the Queen gently cooed with a sidelong smiling
glance, “that twines itself sometimes to the right-hand, at others to
the left, just according to its caprices!”

“It sounds I fear to be unhealthy, ma’am.”

“And it is the land also, of romance, my dear, where _shyness_ is a
quality which is entirely unknown,” the Queen broke off, as one of her
ladies, bearing a _darbouka_, advanced with an air of purposefulness
towards her.

The hum of voices which filled the room might well have tended to
dismay a vocalist of modest powers, but the young matron known to the
Court as ‘Tropical Molly,’ and whom her mistress addressed as Timzra,
soon shewed herself to be equal to the occasion.

    “Under the blue gum-tree
     I am sitting waiting,
     Under the blue gum-tree
     I am waiting all alone!”

Her voice reached the ears of the fresh-faced ensigns and the beardless
subalterns in the Guard Room far beyond, and startled the pages in the
distant dormitories, as they lay smoking on their beds.

And then, the theme changing, and with an ever-increasing passion,
fervour and force:

    “I heard a Watch-dog in the night ...
     Wailing, wailing ...
     Why is the watch-dog wailing?
     He is wailing for the Moon!”

“That is one of the very saddest songs,” the King remarked, “that I
have ever heard. ‘Why is the watchdog wailing? He is wailing for the
Moon!’” And the ambitions and mortifications of kingship, for a moment
weighed visibly upon him.

“Something merrier, Timzra!” Queen Thleeanouhee said.

And throwing back her long love-lilac sleeves, Timzra sang:

    “A negress with a margaret once, lolled frousting in the sun
     Thinking of all the little things that she had left undone ...
     With a hey, hey, hey, hey, hi, hey ho!”

“She has the air of a cannibal!” the Archduchess murmured behind her
fan to his Weariness, who had scarcely opened his lips except to yawn
throughout the whole of the evening.

“She has the air of a ----” he replied, laconically, turning away.

Since the conversation with his mother earlier in the day, his thoughts
had revolved incessantly around Laura. What had they been saying to the
poor wee witch, and whereabouts was she to be found?

Leaving the salon, in the wake of a pair of venerable politicians, who
were helping each other along with little touches and pats, he made
his way towards the ballroom, where a new dance known as the Pisgah
Pas was causing some excitement, and gaining a post of vantage, it
was not long before he caught a glimpse of the agile, boyish figure
of his betrothed. She passed him, without apparently noticing he was
there, in a whirlwind of black tulle, her little hand pressed to the
breast of a man like a sulky eagle; and he could not help rejoicing
inwardly, that, _once_ his wife, it would no longer be possible for her
to enjoy herself exactly with whom she pleased. As she swept by again
he succeeded in capturing her attention, and nodding meaningly towards
a deserted picture-gallery, wandered away towards it. It was but
seldom he set foot there, and he amused himself by examining some of
the pictures to be seen upon the walls. An old shrew with a rose ... a
drawing of a man alone in the last extremes ... a pink-robed Christ ...
a seascape, painted probably in winter, with cold, hard colouring....

“Yousef?”

“Rara!”

“Let us go outside, dear.”

A night so absolutely soft and calm, was delicious after the glare and
noise within.

“With whom,” he asked, “sweetheart, were you last dancing?”

“Only the brother of one of the Queen’s Maids, dear,” Mademoiselle de
Nazianzi replied. “After dinner, though,” she tittered, “when he gets
Arabian-Nighty, it’s apt to annoy one a scrap!”

“_Arabian-Nighty?_”

“Oh, never mind!”

“But (pardon me dear) I do.”

“Don’t be tiresome, Yousef! The night is too fine,” she murmured
glancing absently away towards the hardly moving trees, from whose
branches a thousand drooping necklets of silver lamps palely burned.

Were _those_ the “bladders” then?

Strolling on down hoops of white wisteria in the moon they came to the
pillared circle of a rustic-temple, commanding a prospect on the town.

“There,” she murmured smiling elfishly, and designating something, far
below them, through the moonmist, with her fan: “is the column of
Justice and,” she laughed a little, “of _Liberty_!”

“And there,” he pointed inconsequently, “is _the Automobile Club_!”

“And beyond it ... The Convent of the Flaming-Hood....”

“And those blue revolving lights; can you see them, Rara?”

“Yes, dear ... what are _they_, Yousef?”

“Those,” he told her, contemplating her beautiful white face against
the dusky bloom, “are the lights of the Café Cleopatra!”

“And what,” she questioned, as they sauntered on, pursued by all the
sweet perfumes of the night, “are those berried-shrubs, that smell so
passionately?”

“I don’t know,” he said: “Kiss me, Rara!”

“No, no.”

“Why not?”

“Not now!”

“Put your arm about me, dear.”

“What a boy he is!” she murmured, gazing up into the starry clearness.

Overhead a full moon, a moon of circumstance, rode high in the sky,
defining phantasmally far off, the violet-farded hills beyond the town.

“To be out there among the silver bean-fields!” he said.

“Yes, Yousef,” she sighed, starting at a Triton’s face among the
trailing ivy on the castle wall. Beneath it, half concealed by
water-flags, lay a miniature lake: as a rule now, nobody went near the
lake at all, since the Queen had called it ‘_appallingly smelly_,’ so
that, for rendezvous, it was quite ideal.

“Tell me, Yousef,” she presently said, pausing to admire the beautiful
shadow of an orange-tree on the path before them: “tell me, dear, when
Life goes like that to one--what does one do!!”

He shrugged. “Usually nothing,” he replied, the tip of his tongue (like
the point of a blade) peeping out between his teeth.

“Ah, but isn’t that being strong?” she said half-audibly, fixing her
eyes as though fascinated upon his lips.

“Why,” he demanded with an engaging smile that brought half-moons to
his hollow cheeks: “What has the world been doing to Rara?”

“At this instant, Yousef,” she declared, “it brings her nothing but
Joy!”

“You’re happy, my sweet, with me?”

“No one knows, dearest, how much I love you.”

“Kiss me, Rara,” he said again.

“Bend, then,” she answered, as the four quarters of the twelve strokes
of midnight rang out leisurely from the castle clock.

“I’ve to go to the Ritz!” he announced.

“And _I_ should be going in.”

Retracing reluctantly their steps they were soon in earshot of the
ball, and their close farewells were made accompanied by selections
from _The Blue Banana_.

She remained a few moments gazing as though entranced at his retreating
figure, and would have, perhaps, run after him with some little
capricious message, when she became aware of someone watching her from
beneath the shadow of a garden vase.

Advancing steadily and with an air of nonchalance, she recognised
the delicate, sexless silhouette and slightly hunched shoulders of
Olga Blumenghast, whose exotic attraction had aroused not a few
heartburnings (and even feuds) among several of the grandes dames about
the court.

Poised flatly against the vases’ sculptured plinth, she would have
scarcely have been discernible, but for the silver glitter of her gown.

“Olga? Are you faint?”

“No; only my slippers are _torture_.”

“I’d advise you to change them, then!”

“It’s not altogether my feet, dear, that ache....”

“Ah, I see,” Mademoiselle de Nazianzi said, stooping enough to scan the
stormy, soul-tossed eyes of her friend: “you’re suffering, I suppose on
account of Ann-Jules?”

“He’s such a gold-fish, Rara ... any fingers that will throw him
bread....”

“And there’s no doubt, I’m afraid, that lots do!” Mademoiselle de
Nazianzi answered lucidly, sinking down by her side.

“I would give all my soul to him, Rara ... my chances of heaven!”

“Your chances, Olga----” Mademoiselle de Nazianzi murmured, avoiding
some bird-droppings with her skirt.

“How I envy _the men_, Rara, in his platoon!”

“Take away his uniform, Olga, and what does he become?”

“Ah _what_----!”

“No.... Believe me, my dear, he’s not worth the trouble!”

Mademoiselle Blumenghast clasped her hands brilliantly across the nape
of her neck.

“I want to possess him at dawn, at dawn,” she broke out: “Beneath a sky
striped with green....”

“Oh, Olga!”

“And I never shall rest,” she declared, turning away on a languid heel,
“until I _do_.”

Meditating upon the fever of Love, Mademoiselle de Nazianzi directed
her course slowly towards her room. She lodged in that part of the
palace known as ‘The Bachelors’ Wing,’ where she had a delicious
little suite just below the roof.

“If she loved him absolutely,” she told herself, as she turned the
handle of her door, “she would not care about the colour of the sky--;
even if it snowed, or hailed!”

Depositing her fan upon the lid of an old wedding-chest that formed
a couch, she smiled contentedly about her. It would be a wrench
abandoning this little apartment that she had identified already with
herself, when the day should come to leave it for others more spacious
in the Keep. Although scarcely the size of a ship’s cabin, it was
amazing how many people one could receive together at a time merely by
pushing the piano back against the wall, and wheeling the wedding-chest
on to the stairs, and once no fewer than seventeen persons had sat
down to a birthday _fête_, without being made too much to feel like
herrings. In the so-called salon, divided from her bedroom by a folding
lacquer screen, hung a few studies in oils executed by herself, and
which, except to the initiated, or the naturally instinctive, looked
sufficiently enigmatic against a wall-paper with a stealthy design.

Yes it would be a wrench to quit the little place, she reflected, as
she began setting about her toilet for the night. It was agreeable
going to bed late without anybody’s aid, when one could pirouette
interestingly before the mirror in the last stages of déshabille, and
do a thousand (and one) things besides[2] that one might otherwise
lack the courage for. But this evening being in no frivolous mood, she
changed her ball-dress swiftly for a robe-de-chambre bordered deeply
with ermins, that made her feel nearer somehow to Yousef, and helped
her to realise, in its various facets, her position as future Queen.

“Queen!” she breathed, trailing her fur flounces towards the window.

Already the blue revolving lights of the Café Cleopatra were growing
paler with the dawn, and the moon had veered a little towards the
Convent of the Flaming-Hood. Ah ... how often as a lay boarder there
had she gazed up towards the palace wondering half-shrinkingly what
life “in the world” was like; for there had been a period indeed, when
the impulse to take the veil had been strong with her--more, perhaps,
to be near one of the nuns whom she had _idolised_ than from any more
immediate vocation.

She remained immersed in thoughts, her introspectiveness fanned
insensibly by the floating zephyrs that spring with morning. The slight
sway-sway of the trees, the awakening birds in the castle eaves, the
green-veined bougainvilleas that fringed her sill--these thrilled her
heart with joy. All virginal in the early dawn what magic the world
possessed! Slow speeding clouds like knots of pink roses came blowing
across the sky, sailing away in titanic bouquets above the town.

Just such a morning should be their wedding-day! she mused, beginning
lightly to apply the contents of a jar of Milk of Almonds to her breast
and arms. Ah, before that Spina Christi lost its leaves, or that
swallow should migrate ... that historic day would come!

Troops ... hysteria ... throngs.... The Blue Jesus packed to
suffocation.... She could envisage it all.

And there would be a whole holiday in the Convent, she reflected
falling drowsily at her bedside to her knees.

“Oh! help me heaven,” she prayed, “to be decorative and to do right!
Let me always look young, never more than sixteen or seventeen--at the
_very_ outside, and let Yousef love me--as much as I do him. And I
thank you for creating such a darling, God (for he’s a perfect dear),
and I can’t tell you how much I love him; especially when he wags it!
I mean his tongue.... Bless all the sisters at the Flaming-Hood--above
all Sister Ursula ... and be sweet, besides, to old Jane.... Shew me
the straight path! And keep me ever free from the malicious scandal of
the Court: Amen.”

And her orisons (ending in a brief self-examination) over, Mademoiselle
de Nazianzi climbed into bed.



III


In the Salle de Prince or Cabinet d’Antoine, above the Café Cleopatra,
Madame Wetme the wife of the proprietor, sat perusing the Court
gazettes.

It was not often that a _cabinet particulier_ like Antoine was
disengaged at luncheon time, being as a rule reserved many days in
advance, but it had been a ‘funny’ season, as the saying went, and
there was the possibility that a party of late-risers might look in yet
(officers, or artistes from the Halls), who had been passing a night on
the ‘tiles.’ But Madame Wetme trusted not. It was pleasant to escape
every now and again from her lugubrious back-drawing-room that only
faced a wall, or to peruse the early newspapers without having first
to wait for them. And to-day precisely was the day for the hebdomadal
_causerie_ in the _Jaw-waws’ Journal_ on matters appertaining to
society, signed by that ever popular diarist “Eva Schnerb.”

“Never,” Madame Wetme read, ”was a gathering more brilliant than
that which I witnessed last night! I stood in a corner of the Great
ball room and literally _gasped_ at the wealth of jewels.... Beauty
and bravery abounded but no one, _I_ thought, looked better than our
most-gracious Queen, etc.... Among the supper-guests I saw their
Excellencies Prince and Princess Paul de Pismiche,--the Princess
impressed me as being _just_ a trifle pale: she is by no means
strong, and unhappily our nefarious climate does not agree with
everybody! Their Excellencies, Sir Somebody and Lady Something (Miss
Ivy Something charming in cornflower _charmeuse_ danced indefatigably
all the evening, as did also one of the de Lambèse girls). The
Count and Countess of Tolga--she all in blue furs and literally
_ablaze_ with gorgeous gems (I hear on excellent authority she is
shortly relinquishing her post of Woman of the Bedchamber which she
finds is really too arduous for her). The Duchess of Varna, looking
veritably radiant (by the way where has she been?) in the palest of
pistachio-green mashlaks, which are all the rage at present.

       *       *       *       *       *

“_Have you a Mashlak?_

       *       *       *       *       *

“Owing to the visit of King Jotifa and Queen Thleeanouhee, the Eastern
mashlak is being worn by many of the smart women about the Court. I saw
an example at the Opera the other night in silver and gold _lamé_ that
I thought too----”

Madame Wetme broke off to look up, as a waiter entered the room.

“Did Madame ring?”

“No!...”

“Then it must have been ‘Ptolomy’!” the young man murmured, bustling
out.

“I daresay. When will you know your bells?” Madame Wetme retorted,
returning with a headshake to the gazette: Her beloved Eva was full of
information this week and breathlessly she read on:

“I saw Minnie, Lady Violetrock (whose daughter Sonia is being educated
here) at the garden _fête_ the other day, at the Château des Fleurs,
looking chic as she _always_ does, in a combination of petunia and
purple ninon raffling a donkey.

“I hear on the best authority that before the Court goes to the
Summer-Palace later on, there will be at least _one_ more Drawing-room.
Applications, from those entitled to attend, should be made to the Lord
Chamberlain as _soon_ as possible.”

One more Drawing-room--! the journal fell from Madame Wetme’s hand.

“I’m getting on now,” she reflected, “and if I’m not presented soon, I
never will be....”

She raised imploring eyes to the mural imagery--to the “Cleopatra
couchant,” to the “Arrival of Anthony,” to the “Sphinx,” to the “Temple
of Ra,” as though seeking inspiration: “Ah my God!” she groaned.

But Madame Wetme’s religion, her cruel God, was the _Chic_: The God
Chic.

The sound of music from below reached her faintly. There was not a
better orchestra (even at the Palace) than that which discoursed at the
Café Cleopatra--and they played, the thought had sometimes pleased her,
the same identical tunes!

“Does it say when?” she murmured, reopening the gazette. No: But it
would be “before” the Court left.... And when would that be?

“I have good grounds for believing,” she continued to read: “that in
order to meet his creditors, the Duke of Varna is selling a large
portion of his country estate.”

If it were true ... Madame Wetme’s eyes rested in speculation on the
Oleanders in the great flower-tubs before the Café, if it were true,
why the Varnas must be desperate, and the Duchess ready to do anything.
“Anything--for remuneration,” she murmured, rising and going towards a
table usually used for correspondence. And seating herself with a look
of decision, she opened a leather writing-pad, full of crab-coloured
ink-marked blotting paper.

In the fan-shaped mirror above the writing-table she could see herself
in fancy, all veils and aigrettes, as she would be on “the day” when
coiffed by Ernst.

“Among a bevy of charming débutantes, no one looked more striking
than Madame Wetme, who was presented by the Duchess of Varna.” Being
a client of the house (with an unpaid bill) she could _dictate_ to
Eva.... But first, of course, she must secure the Duchess. And taking
up her pen she wrote: “Madame Wetme would give the Duchess of Varna
fifty thousand crowns to introduce her at Court.” A trifle terse
perhaps?? Madame Wetme considered. How if the Duchess should take
offence.... It was just conceivable! And besides, by specifying no
fixed sum, she might be got for less.

“Something more mysterious, more delicate in style....” Madame Wetme
murmured with a sigh, beginning the letter anew:

“If the Duchess of Varna will call on Madame Wetme this afternoon,
about five, and partake of a cup of tea, she will hear of something _to
her advantage_.”

Madame Wetme smiled: “That should get her!” she reflected, and
selecting an envelope, she directed it boldly to the Ritz. “Being hard
up, she is sure to be there!” she reasoned, as she left the room in
quest of a page.

The French maid of the Duchess of Varna was just putting on her
mistress’s shoes, in a private sitting-room at the Ritz, when Madame
Wetme’s letter arrived.

The pleasure of being in the capital once more, after a long spell
of the country, had given her an appetite for her lunch and she was
feeling braced after an excellent meal.

“I shall not be back, I expect, till late, Louison,” she said to her
maid, “and should anyone enquire where I am, I shall either be at the
Palace, or at the Skating-Rink.”

“Madame la Duchesse will not be going to her corsetier’s?”

“It depends if there’s time. What did I do with my shopping-list?”
the Duchess replied, gathering up abstractedly a large, becoroneted
vanity-case and a parasol. She had a gown of khaki and daffodil and a
black tricorne hat trimmed with green. “Give me my other sunshade, the
jade--and don’t forget--: On me trouvera, Soit au Palais Royal, soit,
au Palais de Glace!” she enjoined sailing quickly out.

Leaving the Ritz by a side door, she found herself in a quiet, shady
street, bordering the Regina Gardens. Above a sky so blue, so clear, so
luminous seemed to cry out: “Nothing matters! Why worry? Be sanguine!
Amuse yourself! Nothing matters!”

Traversing the gardens, her mind preoccupied by Madame Wetme’s note,
the Duchess branched off into a busy thoroughfare, leading towards the
Opera, in whose vicinity lay the city’s principal shops. To learn of
anything to one’s advantage was, of course, always welcome, but there
were various other claims upon her besides that afternoon, which she
was unable, or loath to ignore--the palace, a _thé dansant_ or two, and
then her favourite rink ... although the unfortunate part was, most of
the rink instructors were still unpaid, and, on the last occasion she
had hired a man to waltz with her, he had taken advantage of the fact
by pressing her waist with greater freedom than she felt he need have
done.

Turning into the Opera Square with its fine arcades, she paused,
half furtively, before a Florist’s shop. Only her solicitors and a
few in the secret were aware that the premises known as _Haboubet of
Egypt_ were her own; for fearful lest they might be occupied one day
by sheriffs’ officers, the little business venture had been kept the
closest mystery. Lilies “from Karnak,” Roses “from the Land of Punt”
(all grown in the gardens of her country house, in the purlieus of the
capital) found immediate and daily favour among amateurs of the choice.
Indeed as her gardener frequently said, the demand for Roses from the
Land of Punt, was more than he could possibly cope with without an
extra man.

“I may as well run in and take whatever there’s in the till,” she
reflected--“not that, I fear, there’s much....”

The superintendent, a slim Tunisian boy, was crouching pitcher-posture
upon the floor, chanting languidly to himself, his head supported by an
osier pannier lately arrived from “Punt.”

“Up, Bachir!” the Duchess upbraided. “Remember the fresh consignments
perish, while you dream there and sing.”

The young Tunisian smiled.

He worshipped the Duchess, and the song he was improvising as she
entered, had been inspired by her. In it (had she known) he had led her
by devious tender stages to his Father’s fondouk at Tifilalet “on the
blue Lake of Fetzara,” where he was about to present her to the Cheikh,
and the whole assembled village, as his chosen bride.

The Duchess considered him. He had a beautiful face spoiled by a bad
complexion, which doubtless (the period of puberty passed) he would
outgrow.

“Consignment him come not two minute,” the youth replied.

“Ah Bachir? Bachir!”

“By the glorious Koran, I will swear it.”

“Be careful not to shake those _Alexandrian Balls_,” the Duchess
peremptorily enjoined pointing towards some Guelder-roses--“or they’ll
fall before they’re sold!”

“No matter at all. They sold already! An American lady this morning,
she purchase all my Alexandrian-Balls; two heavy bunch.”

“Let me see your takings.”...

With a smile of triumph, Bachir turned towards the till. He had the
welfare of the establishment at heart as well as his own, and of an
evening often he would flit, garbed in his long gandourah, through the
chief Cafés and Dancings’ of the city, a vast pannier heaped high with
flowers upon his head, which he would dispose of to dazzled clients for
an often exorbitant sum. But for these excursions of his (which ended
on occasion in adventure) he had received no authority at all.

“Not so bad,” the Duchess commented: “And, as there’s to be a Court
again soon, many orders for bouquets are sure to come in!”

“I call in outside hands to assist me: I summon Ouardi! He an Armenian
boy. Sympathetic. My friend. More attached to him am I than a branch of
Jessamine is about a Vine.”

“I suppose he’s capable?” the Duchess murmured, pinning a green-ribbed
orchid to her dress.

“The garlands of Ouardi would make even a jackal look bewitching!”

“Ah: he has taste?”

“I engage my friend. Much work always in the month of Redjeb!”

“Engage nobody,” the Duchess answered as she left the shop, “until I
come again.”

Hailing one of the little shuttered cabs of the city in the square she
directed the driver to drop her at the palace gates, and pursued by an
obstreperous newsboy with an evening paper, yelling: “Chedorlahomor!
Sodom! Extra Special!” the cab clattered off at a languid trot. Under
the plane-trees, near the Houses of Parliament, she was overtaken by
the large easy-stepping horses of the Ambassadress of England, and
acknowledged with a winning movement of the wrist, Lady Something’s
passing acceuil. It was yet not quite the correct hour for the
Promenade, where beneath the great acacias Society liked best to ride
or drive, but, notwithstanding, that zealous reporter of social deeds,
the irrepressible Eva Schnerb, was already on the prowl and able with
satisfaction to note: “I saw the Duchess of Varna early driving in the
Park, all alone in a little one-horse shay, that really looked more
elegant than any Delaunay-Belleville!”

Arriving before the palace gates, the Duchess perceived an array of
empty carriages waiting in the drive, which made her apprehensive of a
function. She had anticipated an intimate chat with the Queen alone,
but this it seemed was not to be.

Following a youthful page with a _resigned_ face, down a long black rug
woven with green and violet flowers, who left her with a sigh (as if
disappointed of a tip) in charge of a couple of giggling colleagues,
and who, in turn, propelled her towards a band of sophisticated-looking
footmen and grim officials, she was shewn at last into a vast white
drawing-room whose ceiling formed a dome.

Knowing the Queen’s interest in the Chedorlahomor Excavation Bill, a
number of representative folk, such as the wives of certain Politicians
or Diplomats, as well as a few of her own more immediate circle, had
called to felicitate her upon its success. Parliament had declared
itself willing to do the unlimited graceful by all those concerned,
and this in a great measure was due to the brilliant wire pulling of
the Queen.

She was looking singularly French in a gold helmet and a violet
Vortniansky gown, and wore a rope of faultless pearls, clasped very
high beneath the chin.

“I hope the Archbishop will bless the Excavators’ tools!” she was
saying to the wife of the Premier, as the Duchess entered. “The _picks_
at any rate....”

That lady made no reply: In presence of royalty she would usually sit
and smile at her knees, raising her eyes from time to time to throw,
beneath her lashes, an ineffable expiring glance.

“God speed them safe home again!” the Archduchess Elizabeth who was
busy knitting said. An ardent philanthropist she had begun already
making “comforts” for the men, as the nights in the East are cold.
The most philanthropic perhaps of all the Royal Family, her hobby was
designing, for the use of the public, sanitary, but artistic, places
of Necessity on a novel system of ventilation. The King had consented
to open (and it was expected appropriately) one of these in course of
construction in the Opera Square.

“Amen,” the Queen answered, signalling amiably to the Duchess of Varna,
whose infrequent visits to court disposed her always to make a fuss of
her.

But no fuss the Queen could make of the Duchess of Varna, could exceed
that being made by Queen Thleeanouhee, in a far-off corner, of her
Excellency, Lady Something. The sympathy, the _entente_ indeed that had
arisen between these two ladies was exercising considerably the minds
of certain members of the diplomatic corps, although had anyone wished
to eavesdrop, their conversation upon the whole must have been found to
be anything but esoteric.

“What I want,” Queen Thleeanouhee was saying, resting her hand
confidentially on her Excellency’s knee: “what I want is an English
maid with Frenchified fingers---- Is there such a thing to be had?”

“But surely----” Lady Something smiled: for the servant-topic was one
she felt at home on.

“In Dateland, my dear, servant girls are nothing but sluts.”

“Life is like _that_, ma’am, I regret indeed, to have to say: I once
had a housemaid who had lived with Sarah Bernhardt, and oh, wasn’t
she a terror!” Lady Something declared, warding off a little black
bat-eared dog who was endeavouring to scramble on to her lap.

“Teddywegs, Teddywegs!” the Archduchess exclaimed jumping up and
advancing to capture her pet: “He arrived from London not later than
this morning,” she said: “from the Princess Elsie of England.”

“He looks like some special litter,” Lady Something remarked.

“How the dear girl loves animals!”

“The rumour of her betrothal it seems is quite without foundation?”

“To my nephew: ah alas....”

“Prince Yousef and she are of an equal age!”

“She is interested in Yousef I’m inclined to believe; but the worst of
life is, nearly everyone marches to a different tune,” the Archduchess
replied.

“One hears of her nothing that isn’t agreeable.”

“Like her good mother, Queen Glory,” the Archduchess said, “one feels,
of course, she’s all she should be.”

Lady Something sighed.

“Yes ... and even _more_!” she murmured, letting fall a curtsy to King
William who had entered. He had been lunching at the Headquarters of
the Girl Guides, and wore the uniform of a general.

“What is the acme of nastiness?” he paused of the English Ambassadress
to enquire.

Lady Something turned paler than the white candytuft that is found on
ruins. “Oh _la_, sir,” she stammered, “how should I know!”

The King looked the shrinking matron slowly up and down: “The supreme
disgust----”

“Oh _la_, sir!” Lady Something stammered again.

But the King took pity on her evident confusion: “Tepid potatoes,” he
answered, “on a stone-cold plate.”

The Ambassadress beamed.

“I trust the warmth of the girls, sir, compensated you for the coldness
of the plates?” she ventured.

“The inspection, in the main, was satisfactory! Although I noticed that
one or two of the guides, seemed inclined to lead astray,” the King
replied, regarding Teddywegs, who was inquisitively sniffing his spurs.

“He’s strange yet to everything,” the Archduchess commented.

“What’s this--a new dog?”

“From Princess Elsie....”

“They say she’s stupid, but I do not know that intellect is always a
blessing!” the King declared, drooping his eyes to his abdomen, with an
air of pensive modesty.

“Poor child, she writes she is tied to the shore, so that I suppose she
is unable to leave dear England.”

“Tied to it?”

“And bound till goodness knows.”

“As was Andromeda!” the King sententiously exclaimed.... “She would
have little, or maybe nothing, to wear,” he clairvoyantly went on: “I
see her standing shivering, waiting for Yousef.... Chained by the leg,
perhaps, exposed to the howling winds.”[3]

“Nonsense. She means to say she can’t get away yet on account of her
engagements: that’s all.”

“After Cowes-week,” Lady Something put in, “she is due to pay a round
of visits before joining her parents in the North.”

“How I envy her,” the Archduchess sighed, “amid that entrancing
scene....”

Lady Something looked _attendrie_.

“Your royal highness is attached to England?” she asked.

“I fear I was never there.... But I shall always remember I put my hair
up when I was twelve years old because of the Prince of Wales.”

“Oh? And ... which of the Georges?” Lady Something gasped.

“It’s so long ago now that I really forget.”

“And pray, ma’am, what was the point of it?”

The Archduchess chuckled:

“Why, so as to look eligible of course!” she replied, returning to her
knitting.

Amid the general flutter following the King’s appearance, it was easy
enough for the Duchess of Varna to slip away. Knowing the palace inside
out it was unnecessary to make any fuss. Passing through a long room,
where a hundred holland-covered chairs stood grouped, Congresswise,
around a vast table, she attained the Orangery, that gave access to
the drive. The mellay of vehicles had considerably increased, and
the Duchess paused a moment to consider which she should borrow,
when recollecting she wished to question one of the royal gardeners
on a little matter of mixing manure, she decided to return through
the castle grounds instead. Taking a path that descended between
rhododendrons and grim old cannons towards the town, she was comparing
the capriciousness of certain bulbs to that of certain people, when she
heard her name called from behind, and glancing round perceived the
charming silhouette of the Countess of Tolga.

“I couldn’t stand it inside: Could you?”

“My _dear_, what a honeymoon hat!”

“It was made by me!”

“Oh, Violet....” the Duchess murmured, her face taking on a look of
wonder.

“Don’t forget, dear, Sunday.”

“Is it a party?”

“I’ve asked Grim-lips and Ladybird, Hairy and Fluffy, Hardylegs and
Bluewings, Spindleshanks, and Our Lady of Furs.”

“Not Nanny-goat?”

“Luckily ...” the Countess replied, raising to her nose the heliotropes
in her hand.

“Is he no better?”

“You little know, dear, what it is to be all alone with him chez soi
when he thinks and sneers into the woodwork.”

“_Into the woodwork?_”

“He addresses the ceiling, the walls, the floor--me never!”

“Dear dove.”

“All I can I’m plastic.”

“Can one be plastic ever enough, dear?”

“Often but for Olga ...” the Countess murmured, considering a little
rosy ladybird on her arm.

“I consider her ever so compelling, ever so wistful--” the Duchess of
Varna averred.

“Sweet girl--! She’s just my consolation.”

“She reminds me, does she you, of that _Miss Hobart_ in de Grammont’s
_Memoirs_.”

“C’est une ame exquise!”

“Well au revoir, dear: We shall meet again at the Princess Leucippe’s
later on,” the duchess said, detecting her gardener in the offing.

By the time she had obtained her recipe and cajoled a few special
shoots from various exotic plants, the sun had begun to decline.
Emerging from the palace by a postern-gate, where lounged a sentry,
she found herself almost directly beneath the great acacias on the
Promenade. Under the lofty leafage of the trees, as usual towards this
hour, society, in its varying grades had congregated to be gazed upon.
Mounted on an eager-headed little horse his Weariness (who loved being
seen) was plying up and down, while in his wake a “_screen artiste_,”
on an Arabian mare with powdered withers and eyes made up with kohl,
was creating a sensation. Every time she used her whip the powder rose
in clouds. Wending her way through the throng the duchess recognised
the rose-harnessed horses of Countess Medusa Rappa--the Countess bolt
upright, her head carried stiffly staring with a pathetic expression
of dead _joie-de-vie_ between her coachman’s and footman’s waists. But
the intention of calling at the Café Cleopatra caused the duchess to
hasten. The possibility of learning something beneficial to herself
was a lure not to be resisted. Pausing to allow the marvellous blue
automobile of Count Ann-Jules to pass (with the dancer Kalpurnia
inside), she crossed the Avenue, where there seemed, on the whole, to
be fewer people. Here she remarked a little ahead of her the masculine
form of the Countess Yvorra, taking a quiet stroll before _Salut_ in
the company of her Confessor. In the street she usually walked with
her hands clasped behind her back, huddled up like a statesman: “_Des
choses abominables!... Des choses hors nature!_” she was saying, in
tones of evident relish, as the duchess passed.

Meanwhile Madame Wetme was seated anxiously by the samovar in her
drawing-room. To receive the duchess, she had assumed a mashlak à la
mode, whitened her face and rouged her ears, and set a small, but
costly aigrette at an insinuating angle in the edifice of her hair.
As the hour of Angelus approached, the tension of waiting grew more
and more acute, and beneath the strain of expectation even the little
iced-sugar cakes upon the tea-table looked green with worry.

Suppose, after all, she shouldn’t come? Suppose she had already left?
Suppose she were in prison? Only the other day a woman of the highest
fashion, a leader of “society” with an _A_, had served six months as a
consequence of her extravagance....

In agitation Madame Wetme helped herself to a small glassful of
_Cointreau_, (her favourite liqueur) when, feeling calmer for the
consommation, she was moved to take a peep out of Antoine.

But nobody chic at all met her eye.

Between the oleanders upon the curb, that rose up darkly against a
flame-pink sky, two young men dressed “as Poets” were arguing and
gesticulating freely over a bottle of beer. Near them, a sailor with a
blue drooping collar and dusty boots (had he walked, poor wretch, to
see his mother?) was gazing stupidly at the large evening gnats that
revolved like things bewitched about the café lamps. While below the
window a lean soul in glasses, evidently an impresario, was loudly
exclaiming: “London has robbed me of my throat, sir!! It has deprived
me of my voice.”

No, an “off” night certainly!

Through a slow, sun-flower of a door (that kept on revolving long after
it had been pushed) a few military men bent on a game of billiards, or
an early _fille de joie_ (only the discreetest _des filles “serieuses”_
were supposed to be admitted)--came and went.

“To-night they’re fit for church,” Madame Wetme complacently smiled as
the door swung round again: “Navy-blue and silver-fox looks the goods,”
she reflected, “upon any occasion! It suggests something sly--like a
Nurse’s uniform.”

“A lady in the drawing-room, Madame, desires to speak to you,” a
chasseur tunefully announced, and fingering nervously her aigrette
Madame Wetme followed.

The Duchess of Varna was inspecting a portrait with her back to the
door as her hostess entered.

“I see you’re looking at my Murillo!” Madame Wetme began.

“Oh.... Is it o-ri-gi-nal?” the duchess drawled.

“No.”

“I _thought_ not.”

“To judge by the Bankruptcy-sales of late (and it’s curious how many
there’ve been ...) it would seem from the indifferent figure he makes,
that he is no longer accounted chic,” Madame Wetme observed as she drew
towards the duchess a chair.

“I consider the chic to be such a very false religion!...” the duchess
said, accepting the seat which was offered her.

“Well, I come of an old Huguenot family myself!”

“----...?”

“Ah my early home.... Now, I hear, it’s nothing but a weed-crowned
ruin.”

The duchess considered the ivory cat handle of her parasol: “You wrote
to me?” she asked.

“Yes: about the coming court.”

“About it?”

“Every woman has her dream, duchess! And mine’s to be presented.”

“The odd ambition!” the duchess crooned.

“I admit we live in the valley. Although _I_ have a great sense of the
hills!” Madame Wetme declared demurely.

“Indeed?”

“My husband you see ...”

“...............”

“Ah! well!”

“Of course.”

“If I’m not asked this time, I shall die of grief.”

“Have you made the request before?”

“I have attempted!”

“Well?”

“When the Lord Chamberlain refused me, I shed tears of blood,” Madame
Wetme wanly retailed.

“It would have been easier, no doubt, in the late king’s time!”

Madame Wetme took a long sighing breath.

“I only once saw him in my life,” she said, “and then he was standing
against a tree, in an attitude offensive to modesty.”

“Tell me ... as a public man, what has your husband done----”

“His money helped to avert, I always contend, the noisy misery of a
War!”

“He’s open-handed?”

“Ah ... as you would find....”

The duchess considered: “I _might_,” she said, “get you cards for a
State concert....”

“A State concert, duchess? That’s no good to me!”

“A drawing-room you know is a very dull affair.”

“I will liven it!”

“Or an invitation perhaps to begin with to one of the Embassies--the
English for instance might lead....”

“Nowhere...! You can’t depend on that: people have asked me to
lunch, and left me to pay for them...! There is so much trickery in
Society....” Madame Wetme laughed.

The duchess smiled quizzically: “I forget if you know the Tolgas,” she
said.

“By ‘name’!”

“The Countess is more about the throne at present than I.”

“Possibly--but oh _you_ who do _everything_, duchess?” Madame Wetme
entreated.

“I suppose there are things still one wouldn’t do however----!” the
duchess took offence.

“The Tolgas are so hard.”

“You want a misfortune and they’re sweet to you. Successful persons
they’re positively hateful to!”

“These women of the Bedchamber are all alike, so glorified. You would
never credit they were Chambermaids at all! I often smile to myself
when I see one of them at a _première_ at the Opera, gorged with
pickings, and think that, most likely, but an hour before she was
stumbling along a corridor with a pailful of slops!”

“You’re fond of music, Madame?” the duchess asked.

“It’s my joy: I could go again and again to _The Blue Banana_!”

“I’ve not been.”

“Pom-pom, pompity-pom! We might go one night, perhaps, together.”

“...”

“Doudja Degdeg is always a draw, although naturally now she is getting
on!”

“And I fear so must I”--the duchess rose remarking.

“So soon?”

“I’m only so sorry I can’t stay longer----!”

“Then it’s all decided,” Madame Wetme murmured archly as she pressed
the bell.

“Oh I’d not say that.”

“If I’m not asked, remember this time, I shall die with grief.”

“To-night the duke and I are dining with the Leucippes, and possibly
...” the duchess broke off to listen to the orchestra in the café
below, which was playing the waltz-air from _Der Rosenkavalier_.

“They play well!” she commented.

“People often tell me so.”

“It must make one restless, dissatisfied, that yearning, yearning music
continually at the door?”

Madame Wetme sighed.

“It makes you often long,” she said, “to begin your life again!”

“Again?”

“Really it’s queer I came to yoke myself with a man so little fine....”

“Still----! If he’s open-handed,” the duchess murmured as she left the
room.



IV


One grey, unsettled morning (it was the first of June) the English
Colony of Kairoulla[4] awoke in arms. It usually did when the Embassy
entertained. But the omissions of the Ambassador, were, as old Mr
Ladboyson the longest-established member of the colony declared, “not
to be fathomed,” and many of those overlooked declared they should go
all the same. Why should Mrs Montgomery (who, when all was said and
done, was nothing but a governess) be invited and not Mrs Barleymoon
who was “nothing” (in the most distinguished sense of the word) at
all? Mrs Barleymoon’s position, as a captain’s widow with means,
unquestionably came before Mrs Montgomery’s, who drew a salary, and
hadn’t often an h.

Miss Grizel Hopkins, too--the cousin of an Earl, and Mrs Bedley the
“Mother” of the English Colony, both had been ignored. It was true
Ann Bedley kept a circulating library and a tea-room combined and gave
“Information” to tourists as well (a thing she had done these forty
years), but was that a sufficient reason why she should be totally
taboo? _No_, in old Lord Clanlubber’s time all had been made welcome,
and there had been none of these heartburnings at all. Even the Irish
coachman of the Archduchess was known to have been received--although
it had been outside of course upon the lawn. Only gross carelessness,
it was felt, on the part of those attachés could account for the
extraordinary present neglect.

“I don’t myself mind much,” Mrs Bedley said, who was seated over a
glass of morning milk and “a plate of fingers” in the _Circulating_
end of the shop: “going out at night upsets me. And the last time Dr
Babcock was in he warned me not.”

“What is the Embassy there for but to be hospitable?” Mrs Barleymoon
demanded from the summit of a ladder, from where she was choosing
herself a book.

“You’re shewing your petticoat, dear--excuse me telling you,” Mrs
Bedley observed.

“When will you have something new, Mrs Bedley?”

“Soon, dear ... soon.”

“It’s always ‘soon,’” Mrs Barleymoon complained.

“Are you looking for anything, Bessie, in particular?” a girl, with
loose blue eyes that did not seem quite firm in her head, and a
literary face enquired.

“No, only something,” Mrs Barleymoon replied, “I’ve not had before and
before and before.”

“By the way, Miss Hopkins,” Mrs Bedley said, “I’ve to fine you for
pouring tea over _My Stormy Past_.”

“It was coffee, Mrs Bedley--not tea.”

“Never mind, dear, what it was the charge for a stain is the same as
you know,” Mrs Bedley remarked, turning to attend to Mrs Montgomery
who, with his Lankiness, Prince Olaf, had entered the Library.

“Is it in?” Mrs Montgomery mysteriously asked.

Mrs Bedley assumed her glasses.

“_Mmnops_,” she replied, peering with an air of secretiveness in her
private drawer where she would sometimes reserve or ‘hold back’ a
volume for a subscriber who happened to be in her special good graces.

“I’ve often said,” Mrs Barleymoon from her ladder sarcastically let
fall, “that Mrs Bedley has her pets!”

“You are all my pets, my dear,” Mrs Bedley softly cooed.

“Have you read _Men--my Delight_, Bessie?” Miss Hopkins asked, “by Cora
Velasquez.”

“No!”

“It’s not perhaps a very.... It’s about two dark, and three fair, men,”
she added vaguely.

“Most women’s novels seem to run off the rails before they reach the
end, and I’m not very fond of them,” Mrs Barleymoon said.

“And anyway, dear, it’s out,” Mrs Bedley asserted.

“_The Passing of Rose_ I read the other day,” Mrs Montgomery said, “and
_so_ enjoyed it.”

“Isn’t that one of Ronald Firbank’s books?”

“No, dear, I don’t think it is. But I never remember an author’s name
and I don’t think it matters!”

“I suppose I’m getting squeamish! But this Ronald Firbank I can’t take
to at all. _Valmouth!_ Was there ever a novel more coarse. I assure you
I hadn’t gone very far when I had to put it down.”

“It’s _out_,” Mrs Bedley suavely said, “as well,” she added, “as the
rest of them.”

“I once met him,” Miss Hopkins said, dilating slightly the _retinæ_ of
her eyes: “He told me writing books was by no means easy!”

Mrs Barleymoon shrugged.

“Have you nothing more enthralling, Mrs Bedley,” she persuasively
asked, “tucked away?”

“Try _The Call of the Stage_, dear,” Mrs Bedley suggested.

“You forget, Mrs Bedley,” Mrs Barleymoon replied, regarding solemnly
her _crêpe_.

“Or _Mary of the Manse_, dear.”

“I’ve read _Mary of the Manse_ twice, Mrs Bedley--and I don’t propose
to read it again.”

“..........?”

“..........!”

Mrs Bedley became abstruse.

“It’s dreadful how many poets take to drink,” she reflected.

A sentiment to which her subscribers unanimously assented.

“I’m taking _Men are Animals_, by the Hon. Mrs Victor Smythe, and _What
Every Soldier Ought to Know_, Mrs Bedley,” Miss Hopkins breathed.

“And I _The East is Whispering_,” Mrs Barleymoon in hopeless tones
affirmed.

“Robert Hitchinson! He’s a good author.”

“Do you think so? I feel his books are all written in hotels with the
bed unmade at the back of the chair.”

“And I daresay you’re right, my dear.”

“Well, Mrs Bedley, I must go--if I want to walk to my husband’s grave,”
Mrs Barleymoon declared.

“Poor Bessie Barleymoon,” Mrs Bedley sighed, after Mrs Barleymoon and
Miss Hopkins had gone: “I fear she frets!”

“We all have our trials, Mrs Bedley.”

“And some more than others.”

“Court life, Mrs Bedley, it’s a funny thing.”

“It looks as though we may have an English Queen, Mrs Montgomery.”

“I don’t believe it!”

“Most of the daily prints I see are devoting leaders to the little dog
the Princess Elsie sent out the other day.”

“Odious, ill-mannered, horrid little beast....”

“It seems, dear, he ran from room to room looking for her until he came
to the prince’s door, where he just lay down and whined.”

“And what does that prove, Mrs Bedley?”

“I really don’t know, Mrs Montgomery. But the press seemed to find it
significant,’” Mrs Bedley replied as a Nun of the Flaming-Hood with a
jolly face all gold with freckles entered the shop:

“Have you _Valmouth_ by Ronald Firbank or _Inclinations_ by the same
author?” she asked.

“Neither I’m sorry--both are out!”

“Maladetta ✠✠✠✠! But I’ll be passing soon again,” the Sister answered
as she twinklingly withdrew.

“You’d not think now by the look of her she had been at Girton!” Mrs
Bedley remarked.

“Once a Girton girl always a Girton girl, Mrs Bedley.”

“It seems a curate drove her to it....”

“I’m scarcely astonished. Looking back I remember the average curate at
home as something between a eunuch and a snigger.”

“Still, dear, I could never renounce my religion. As I said to the dear
Chaplain only the other day (while he was having some tea), Oh, if only
I were a man, I said! Wouldn’t I like to _denounce_ the disgraceful
goings on every Sabbath down the street at the church of the Blue
Jesus.”

“And I assure you it’s positively _nothing_, Mrs Bedley, at the Jesus,
to what it is at the church of St Mary the Fair! I was at the wedding
of one of the equerries lately, and never saw anything like it.”

“It’s about time there was an English wedding, in _my_ opinion, Mrs
Montgomery!”

“There’s not been one in the Colony indeed for some time.”

Mrs Bedley smiled undaunted.

“I trust I may be spared to dance before long at Dr and Mrs Babcock’s!”
she exclaimed.

“Kindly leave Cunnie out of it, Mrs Bedley,” Mrs Montgomery begged.

“So it’s Cunnie already you call him!”

“Dr Cuncliffe and I scarcely meet.”

“People talk of the immense sameness of marriage, Mrs Montgomery; but
all the same, my dear, a widow’s not much to be envied.”

“There are times, it’s true, Mrs Bedley, when a woman feels she needs
fostering; but it’s a feeling she should try to fight against.”

“Ah my dear, I never could resist _a mon_!” Mrs Bedley exclaimed.

Mrs Montgomery sighed.

“Once,” she murmured meditatively, “men (those procurers of delights)
engaged me utterly.... I was their _slave_.... Now.... One does not
burn one’s fingers twice, Mrs Bedley.”

Mrs Bedley grew introspective.

“My poor husband sometimes would be a little frightening, a little
fierce ... at night, my dear, especially. Yet how often now I miss him!”

“You’re better off as you are, Mrs Bedley, believe me,” Mrs Montgomery
declared, looking round for the little prince who was amusing himself
on the library-steps.

“You must find him a handful to educate, my dear.”

“It will be a relief _indeed_, Mrs Bedley, when he goes to Eton!”

“I’m told so long as a boy is grounded....”

“His English accent is excellent, Mrs Bedley, and he shews quite a
talent for languages,” Mrs Montgomery assured.

“I’m delighted, I’m sure, to hear it!”

“Well, Mrs Bedley, I mustn’t stand dawdling: I’ve to ’ave my ’air
shampooed and waved for the Embassy party to-night you know!” And
taking the little prince by the hand, the Royal Governess withdrew.



V


Among those attached to the Chedorlahomor expedition was a young--if
thirty-five be young--eccentric Englishman from Wales, the Hon. ‘Eddy’
Monteith, a son of Lord Intriguer. Attached first to one thing and
then another, without ever being attached to any, his life had been a
gentle series of attachments all along. But this new attachment was
surely something better than a temporary secretaryship to a minister,
or “aiding” an ungrateful general, or waiting in through draughts
(so affecting to the constitution) in the anterooms of hard-worked
royalty, in the purlieus of Pall Mall. Secured by the courtesy of his
ex-chief, Sir Somebody Something, an old varsity friend of his father,
the billet of “surveyor and occasional help” to the Chedorlahomorian
excavation party had been waywardly accepted by the Hon. ‘Eddy’ just
as he had been upon the point of attaching himself, to the terror of
his relatives and the amusement of his friends, to a monastery of the
Jesuit Order, as a likely candidate for the cowl.

Indeed he had already gone so far as to sit to an artist for his
portrait in the habit of a monk, gazing ardently at what looked to
be the Escurial itself, but in reality was nothing other than an
“impression” from the kitchen garden of Intriguer Park. And now this
sudden change, this call to the East instead. There had been no time,
unfortunately, before setting out to sit again in the picturesque
“sombrero” of an explorer, but a ready camera had performed miracles,
and the relatives of the Hon. ‘Eddy’ were relieved to behold his
smiling countenance in the illustrated-weeklies, pick in hand, or
with one foot resting on his spade while examining a broken jar, with
just below the various editors’ comments: _To join the Expedition to
Chedorlahomor--the Hon. ‘Eddy’ Monteith, only son of Lord Intriguer_;
or, _Off to Chedorlahomor!_ or, _Bon Voyage_...!

Yes, the temptation of the expedition was not to be withstood, and
for vows and renunciations there was always time!... And now leaning
idly on his window ledge in a spare room of the Embassy, while his man
unpacked, he felt, as he surveyed the distant dome of the Blue Jesus
above the dwarf-palm trees before the house, half-way to the East
already. He was suffering a little in his dignity from the contretemps
of his reception, for having arrived at the Embassy among a jobbed
troop of serfs engaged for the night, Lady Something had at first
mistaken him for one: “The cloak-room will be in the Smoking-room!” she
had said, and in spite of her laughing excuses and ample apologies,
he could not easily forget it. What was there in his appearance that
could conceivably recall a cloak-room attendant--? _He_ who had been
assured he had the profile of a “Rameses”! And going to a mirror he
scanned, with less perhaps than his habitual contentment, the light,
liver-tinted hair, grey narrow eyes, hollow cheeks, and pale mouth like
a broken moon. He was looking just a little fatigued he fancied from
his journey, and really, it was all his hostess deserved, if he didn’t
go down.

“I have a headache, Mario,” he told his man (a Neapolitan who had been
attached to almost as many professions as his master). “I shall not
leave my room! Give me a kimono: I will take a bath.”

Undressing slowly, he felt as the garments dropped away, he was acting
properly in refraining from attending the soirée, and only hoped the
lesson would not be “lost” on Lady Something, whom he feared must be
incurably dense.

Lying amid the dissolving bath crystals while his man-servant deftly
bathed him, he fell into a sort of coma, sweet as a religious trance.
Beneath the rhythmic sponge, perfumed with _Kiki_, he was St Sebastian,
and as the water became cloudier and the crystals evaporated amid the
steam, he was Teresa ... and he would have been, most likely, the
Blessed Virgin herself, but that the bath grew gradually cold.

“You’re looking a little pale, sir, about the gills!” the valet
solicitously observed, as he gently dried him.

The Hon. ‘Eddy’ winced: “I forbid you ever to employ the word gill,
Mario,” he exclaimed. “It is inharmonious, and in English it jars;
whatever it may do in Italian.”

“Overtired, sir, was what I meant to say.”

“Basta!” his master replied, with all the brilliant glibness of the
Berlitz-school.

Swathed in towels, it was delicious to relax his powder-blanched limbs
upon a comfy couch, while Mario went for dinner: “I don’t care what it
is! So long as it isn’t--”(naming several dishes that he particularly
abhorred, or might be “better,” perhaps, without)--” And be sure, fool,
not to come back without Champagne.”

He could not choose but pray that the Ambassadress had nothing whatever
to do with the Embassy cellar, for from what he had seen of her
already, he had only a slight opinion of her discernment.

Really he might have been excused had he taken her to be the cook
instead of the social representative of the Court of St James, and he
was unable to repress a caustic smile on recollecting her appearance
that afternoon, with her hat awry, crammed with _Maréchal Niel_ roses,
hot, and decoiffed, flourishing a pair of garden-gauntlets as she
issued her commands. What a contrast to his own Mamma--“so different,”
... and his thoughts returned to Intriguer--“dear Intriguer, ...” that
if only to vex his father’s ghost, he would one day turn into a Jesuit
college! The Confessional should be fitted in the paternal study, and
engravings of the Inquisition, or the sweet faces of Lippi and Fra
Angelico, replace the Agrarian certificates and tiresome trophies
of the chase; while the crack of the discipline in Lent would echo
throughout the house! How “useful” his friend Robbie Renard would have
been; but alas poor Robbie. He had passed through life at a rapid
canter, having died at nineteen....

Musingly he lit a cigarette.

Through the open window a bee droned in on the blue air of evening and
closing his eyes he fell to considering whether the bee of one country
would understand the remarks of that of another. The effect of the
soil of a nation, had it consequences upon its Flora? Were plants
influenced at their roots? People sometimes spoke (and especially
ladies) of the language of flowers ... the pollen therefore of an
English rose would probably vary, not inconsiderably, from that of a
French, and a bee born and bred at home (at _Intriguer_ for instance)
would be at a loss to understand (it clearly followed) the conversation
of one born and bred, here, abroad. A bee’s idiom varied then, as did
man’s! And he wondered, this being proved the case, where the best
bees’ accents were generally acquired....

Opening his eyes, he perceived his former school chum, Lionel
Limpness--Lord Tiredstock’s third (and perhaps most gifted) son, who
was an honorary attaché at the Embassy, standing over him, his spare
figure already arrayed in an evening suit.

“Sorry to hear you’re off colour, Old Dear!” he exclaimed, sinking down
upon the couch beside his friend.

“I’m only a little shaken, Lionel...: have a cigarette.”

“And so you’re off to Chedorlahomor, Old Darling?” Lord Tiredstock’s
third son said.

“I suppose so ...” the only son of Lord Intriguer replied.

“Well, I wish I was going too!”

“It would be charming, Lionel, of course to have you: but they might
appoint you Vice-Consul at Sodom, or something?”

“Why _Vice_? Besides...! There’s no consulate there yet,” Lord
Tiredstock’s third son said, examining the objects upon the portable
altar, draped in prelatial purple of his friend.

“Turn over, Old Dear, while I chastise you!” he exclaimed, waving what
looked to be a tortoiseshell lorgnon to which had been attached three
threads of “cerulean” floss silk.

“Put it down, Lionel, and don’t be absurd.”

“Over we go. Come on.”

“Really, Lionel.”

“Penitence! To thy knees, Sir!”

And just as it seemed that the only son of Lord Intriguer was to be
deprived of all his towels, the Ambassadress mercifully entered.

“_Poor_ Mr Monteith!” she exclaimed in tones of concern bustling
forward with a tablespoon and a bottle containing physic, “_so_
unfortunate.... Taken ill at the moment you arrive! But Life is like
that!”

Clad in the flowing circumstance of an oyster satin ball dress, and
all a-glitter like a Christmas tree (with jewels), her arrival perhaps
saved her guest a “whipping.”

“Had I known, Lady Something, I was going to be ill, I would have gone
to the Ritz!” the Hon. ‘Eddy’ gasped.

“And you’d have been bitten all over!” Lady Something replied.

“Bitten all over?”

“The other evening we were dining at the Palace, and I heard the dear
King say--but I oughtn’t to talk and excite you----”

“By the way, Lady Something,” Lord Tiredstock’s third son asked: “what
is the etiquette for the Queen of Dateland’s eunuch?”

“It’s all according; but you had better ask Sir Somebody, Air
Limpness,” Lady Something replied, glancing with interest at the
portable altar.

“I’ve done so, and he declared he’d be jiggered!”

“I recollect in Pera when we occupied the Porte, they seemed (those of
the old Grand Vizier--oh what a good-looking man he was--! such eyes--!
and such a _way_ with him--! _Despot!!_) only too thankful to crouch in
corners.”

“Attention with that castor-oil...!”

“It’s not castor-oil; it’s a little decoction of my own,--aloes,
gregory, a dash of liquorice. And the rest is buckthorn!”

“Euh!”

“It’s not so bad, though it mayn’t be very nice.... Toss it off like a
brave man, Mr Monteith (nip his nostrils, Mr Limpness), and while he
takes it, I’ll offer a silent prayer for him at that duck of an altar,”
and as good as her word, the Ambassadress made towards it.

“You’re altogether too kind,” the Hon. ‘Eddy’ murmured seeking refuge
in a book--a volume of _Juvenalia_ published for him by “Blackwood
of Oxford,” and becoming absorbed in its contents: “Ah Doris”--“Lines
to Doris”--“Lines to Doris: written under the influence of wine, sun
and fever”--“Ode to Swinburne”--“Sad Tamarisks”--“Rejection”--“Doigts
Obscènes”--“They Call me _Lily_!”--“Land of Titian! Land of Verdi! Oh
Italy!”--“I heard the Clock:

    I heard the clock strike seven,
    Seven strokes I heard it strike!
    His Lordship’s gone to London
    And won’t be back to-night.”

He had written it at Intriguer, after a poignant domestic disagreement,
his Papa,--the “his lordship” of the poem--had stayed away however
considerably longer.... And here was a sweet thing suggested by an old
Nursery Rhyme, “Loves, have you Heard”:

    “Loves, have you heard about the rabbits??
     They have such odd fantastic habits....
     Oh, Children...! I daren’t disclose to You
     The licentious things _some_ rabbits do.”

It had “come to him” quite suddenly out ferreting one day with the
footman....

But a loud crash as the portable altar collapsed beneath the weight of
the Ambassadress aroused him unpleasantly from his thoughts.

“Horrid dangerous thing!” she exclaimed as Lord Tiredstock’s third son
assisted her to rise from her “Silent” prayer: “I had no idea it wasn’t
solid! But Life is like that ...” she added somewhat wildly.

“Pity oh my God! Deliver me!” the Hon. ‘Eddy’ breathed, but the hour of
_deliverance_ it seemed was not just yet; for at that instant the Hon.
Mrs Chilleywater, the “literary” wife of the first attaché, thrust her
head in at the door.

“How are you?” she asked. “I thought perhaps I might find _Harold_....”

“He’s with Sir Somebody.”

“Such mysteries!” Lady Something said.

“This betrothal of Princess Elsie’s is simply wearing him out,”
Mrs Chilleywater declared, sweeping the room with half-closed,
expressionless eyes.

“It’s a pity you can’t pull the strings for us,” Lady Something
ventured: “I was saying so lately to Sir Somebody.”

“I wish I could, dear Lady Something: I wouldn’t mind wagering I’d soon
bring it off!”

“Have you fixed up Grace Gillstow yet, Mrs Chilleywater?” Lord
Tiredstock’s third son asked.

“She shall marry Baldwin: but not before she has been seduced first by
Barnaby....”

“What are you talking about?” the Hon. ‘Eddy’ queried.

“Of Mrs Chilleywater’s forthcoming book.”

“Why should Barnaby get Grace--? Why not Tex!”

But Mrs Chilleywater refused to enter into reasons.

“She is looking for cowslips,” she said, “and oh I’ve such a wonderful
description of a field of cowslips.... They make quite a darling
setting for a powerful scene of lust.”

“So Grace loses her virtue!..!” Lord Tiredstock’s third son exclaimed.

“Even so she’s far too good for Baldwin: after the underhand shabby way
he behaved to Charlotte, Kate, and Millicent!”

“Life is like that, dear,” the Ambassadress blandly observed.

“It ought not to be, Lady Something!” Mrs Chilleywater looked
vindictive.

_Née_ Victoria Gellybore Frinton, and the sole heir of Lord Seafairer
of Sevenelms, Kent, Mrs Harold Chilleywater, since her marriage “for
Love,” had developed a disconcerting taste for fiction--a taste that
was regarded at the Foreign Office with disapproving forbearance....
So far her efforts (written under her maiden name in full with her
husband’s as well appended) had been confined to lurid studies of
low life (of which she knew nothing at all), but the Hon. Harold
Chilleywater had been gently warned, that if he was not to remain at
Kairoulla until the close of his career, the style of his wife must
really grow less _virile_.

“I agree with V.G.F.,” the Hon. Lionel Limpness murmured fondling
meditatively his “Charlie Chaplin” moustache--“Life ought not to be.”

“It’s a mistake to bother oneself over matters that can’t be remedied.”

Mrs Chilleywater acquiesced: “You’re right indeed, Lady Something,” she
said, “but I’m so sensitive.... I seem to _know_ when I talk to a man,
the colour of his braces...! I say to myself: ‘Yours are violet....’
‘Yours are blue....’ ‘His are red....’”

“I’ll bet you anything, Mrs Chilleywater, you like, you won’t guess
what mine are,” the Hon. Lionel Limpness said.

“I should say, Mr Limpness, that they were _multihued_--like Jacob’s,”
Mrs Chilleywater replied, as she withdrew her head.

The Ambassadress prepared to follow:

“Come, Mr Limpness,” she exclaimed, “we’ve exhausted the poor fellow
quite enough--and besides, here comes his dinner.”

“Open the champagne, Mario,” his master commanded immediately they were
alone.

“‘Small’ beer is all the butler would allow, sir.”

“Damn the b... butler!”

“What he calls a _demi-brune_, sir. In Naples we say _spumenti_!”

“To ---- with it.”

“Non é tanto amarro, sir; it’s more sharp, as you’d say, than
bitter....”

“......!!!!!!”

And language _unmonastic_ far into the night reigned supreme.

Standing beneath the portraits of King Geo and Queen Glory, Lady
Something, behind a large sheaf of mauve malmaisons, was growing
stiff. Already, for the most part, the guests were welcomed, and it
was only the Archduchess now, who as usual was late, that kept their
Excellencies lingering at the head of the stairs. Her Majesty Queen
Thleeanouhee of the Land of Dates had just arrived, but seemed loath to
leave the stairs, while her hostess, whom she addressed affectionately
as her _dear gazelle_, remained upon them-- “Let us go away by and by,
my dear gazelle,” she exclaimed with a primitive smile, “and remove our
corsets and talk.”

“Unhappily Pisuerga is not the East, ma’am!” Lady Something replied.

“Never mind, my dear; we will introduce this innovation....”

But the arrival of the Archduchess Elizabeth spared the Ambassadress
from what might too easily have become an “incident.”

In the beautiful chandeliered apartments several young couples were
pirouetting to the inevitable waltz from the Blue Banana, but most of
the guests seemed to prefer exploring the conservatories and Winter
Garden, or elbowing their way into a little room where a new portrait
of Princess Elsie had been discreetly placed....

“One feels, of course, there _was_ a sitting--; but still, it isn’t
like her!” those that had seen her said.

“The artist has attributed to her at least the pale spent eyes of
her father!” the Duchess of Cavaljos remarked to her niece, who was
standing quite silent against a rose-red curtain.

Mademoiselle de Nazianzi made no reply. Attaching not the faintest
importance to the rumours afloat, still, she could not but feel, at
times, a little heartshaken....

The duchess plied her fan.

“She will become florid in time like her mother!” she cheerfully
predicted turning away just as the Archduchess approached herself to
inspect the painting.

Swathed in furs, on account of a troublesome cough contracted paddling,
she seemed nevertheless in charming spirits.

“Have you been to my new _Pipi_?” she asked.

“Not yet----”

“Oh but you must!”

“I’m told it’s even finer than the one at the Railway Station. Ah,
from musing too long on that Hellenic frieze, how often I’ve missed my
train!” the Duchess of Cavaljos murmured, with a little fat deep laugh.

“I have a heavenly idea for another--Yellow tiles with Thistles....”

“Your Royal Highness never repeats herself!”

“Nothing will satisfy me this time,” the Archduchess declared, “but
files of state-documents in all the dear little boxes: In secret,
secrets!” she added archly fixing her eyes on the assembly.

“It’s positively pitiable,” the Duchess of Cavaljos commented, “how the
Countess of Tolga is losing her good-looks: She has the air to-night of
a tired business-woman!”

“She looks at other women as though she would inhale them,” the
Archduchess answered, throwing back her furs with a gesture of superb
grace, in order to allow her robe to be admired by a lady who was
scribbling busily away behind a door, with little nervous lifts of the
head. For _noblesse oblige_ the correspondent of the _Jaw-Waw_, the
illustrious Eva Schnerb, was not to be denied.

“Among the many balls of a brilliant season,” the diarist, with her
accustomed fluency, wrote: “none surpassed that which I witnessed at
the English Embassy last night. I sat in a corner of the Winter Garden
and literally gorged myself upon the display of dazzling uniforms and
jewels. The Ambassadress Lady Something was looking really regal in
dawn-white draperies, holding a bouquet of the new mauve malmaisons
(which are all the vogue just now), but no one, I thought, looked
better than the _Archduchess_, etc.... Helping the hostess, I noticed
Mrs Harold Chilleywater, in an ‘æsthetic’ gown of flame-hued Kanitra
silk edged with Armousky fur (to possess a dear woolly Armousk as
a pet, is considered _chic_ this season), while over her brain--an
intellectual caprice, I wonder?--I saw a tinsel bow.... She is a
daughter of the fortieth Lord Seafairer of Sevenelms-Park (so famous
for its treasures) and is very artistic and literary having written
several novels of English life under her maiden name of Victoria
Gellybore-Frinton:--She inherits considerable cleverness _also_ from
her Mother. Dancing indefatigably (as she always does!) Miss Ivy
Something seemed to be thoroughly enjoying her Father’s ball: I hear
on _excellent authority_ there is no foundation in the story of her
engagement to a certain young Englishman, said to be bound ere long for
the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Among the late arrivals were the Duke
and Duchess of Varna--_she_ all in golden tissues: they came together
with Madame Wetme, who is one of the new hostesses of the season you
know, and they say has bought the Duke of Varna’s palatial town-house
in Samaden Square----”

“There,” the Archduchess murmured, drawing her wraps about her with a
sneeze: “she has said quite enough now I think about my _toilette_!”

But the illustrious Eva was in unusual fettle, and only closed her
notebook towards Dawn, when the nib of her pen caught fire.



VI


And suddenly the Angel of Death passed by and the brilliant season
waned. In the Archduchess’ bed-chamber, watching the antics of priests
and doctors, he sat there unmoved. Propped high, by many bolsters, in
a vast blue canopied bed, the Archduchess lay staring laconically at a
diminutive model of a flight of steps, leading to what appeared to be
intended, perhaps, as a hall of Attent, off which opened quite a lot of
little doors, most of which bore the word: “Engaged.” A doll, with a
ruddy face, in charge, smiled indolently as she sat feigning knitting,
suggesting vague “fleshly thoughts,” whenever he looked up, in the
Archduchess’ spiritual adviser.

And the mind of the sinking woman, as her thoughts wandered, appeared
to be tinged with “matter” too: “I recollect the first time I heard the
_Blue-Danube_ played!” she broke out: “it was at Schonnbrunn--schönes
Schonnbrunn--My cousin Ludwig of Bavaria came--I wore--the Emperor
said----”

“If your royal highness would swallow this!” Dr Cuncliffe Babcock
started forward with a glass.

“Trinquons, trinquons et vive l’amour! Schneider sang that----”

“If your royal highness----”

“Ah my dear Vienna. Where’s Teddywegs?”

At the Archduchess’ little escritoire at the foot of the bed, her
Dreaminess was making ready a few private telegrams, breaking
without undue harshness the melancholy news: “Poor Lizzie has ceased
articulating,” she did not think she could improve on it, and indeed
had written it several times in her most temperamental hand, when the
Archduchess had started suddenly cackling about Vienna.

“_Ssssh_, Lizzie--I never can write when people talk!”

“I want Teddywegs.”

“The Countess Yvorra took him for a run round the courtyard.”

“I think I must undertake a convenience next for dogs.... It is
disgraceful they have not got one already, poor creatures,” the
Archduchess crooned accepting the proffered glass.

“Yes, yes, dear,” the Queen exclaimed rising and crossing to the window.

The bitter odour of the oleander flowers outside oppressed the
breathless air and filled the room as with a faint funereal music. So
still a day. Tending the drooping sun-saturated flowers, a gardener
with long ivory arms alone seemed animate.

“Pull up your skirt, Marquise! Pull it up.... It’s dragging, a little,
in the water.”

“_Judica me, Deus_,” in imperious tones, the priest by the bedside
besought: “_et discerne causam meum de gente non sancta. Parce, Domine!
Parce populo tuo--! ne in aeternum irascaris nobis_.”

“A whale! A whale!”

“_Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus speravit anima mea in Domino._”

“Elsie?” A look of wondrous happiness overspread the Archduchess’
face--She was wading--wading again among the irises and rushes;
wading, her hand in Princess Elsie’s hand, through a glittering golden
sea, towards the wide horizon.

The plangent cry of a peacock, rose disquietingly from the garden.

“I’m nothing but nerves, doctor,” her Dreaminess lamented, fidgeting
with the crucifix that dangled at her neck upon a chain. _Ultra_
feminine, she disliked that another--even _in extremis_--should absorb
_all_ the limelight.

“A change of scene, ma’am, would be probably beneficial,” Dr Cuncliffe
Babcock replied, eyeing askance the Countess of Tolga who unobtrusively
entered:

“The couturiers attend your pleasure, ma’am,” in impassive undertones
she said: “to fit your mourning.”

“Oh tell them the Queen is too tired to try on now,” her Dreaminess
answered repairing in agitation towards a glass.

“They would come here, ma’am,” the Countess said, pointing persuasively
to the little anteroom of the Archduchess, where two nuns of the
Flaming-Hood were industriously telling their beads.

“----I don’t know why, but this glass refuses to flatter me!”

“_Benedicamus Domino! Ostende nobis Domine misericordiam tuam. Et
salutare tuum da nobis!_”

“Well just a toque,” the Queen sadly assented.

“_Indulgentiam absolutionem et remissionem peccatorum nostrorum tribuat
nobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus._”

“Guess who is at the Ritz, ma’am, this week!” the Countess demurely
murmured.

“Who is at the Ritz this week, I can’t,” the Queen replied.

“_Nobody!_”

“Why how so?”

“The Ambassadress of England, it seems has alarmed the world away. I
gather they mean to prosecute!”

The Archduchess sighed.

“I want mauve sweet-peas,” she listlessly said.

“Her spirit soars; her thoughts are in the _Champs-Elysées_,” the
Countess exclaimed, withdrawing noiselessly to warn the milliners.

“Or in the garden,” the Queen reflected, returning to the window. And
she was standing there, her eyes fixed half wistfully upon the long
ivory arms of the kneeling gardener, when the Angel of Death (who had
sat unmoved throughout the day) arose.

It was decided to fix a period of mourning of fourteen days for the
late Archduchess.



VII


Swans and sunlight. A little fishing boat with coral sails. A lake all
grey and green. Beatitude intense. Consummate calm. It was nice to be
at the Summer-Palace after all.

“The way the air will catch your cheek and make a rose of it,” the
Countess of Tolga breathed. And as none of the company heeded her: “How
sweetly the air takes one’s cheek,” she sighed again.

The post-prandial exercise of the members of the Court through the
palace grounds was almost an institution.

The first half of the mourning prescribed, had as yet not run its
course, but the tongues of the Queen’s ladies had long since made an
end of it.

“I hate dancing with a fat man,” Mademoiselle de Nazianzi was saying:
“for if you dance at all near him, his stomach hits you, while if you
pull away, you catch either the scent of his breath or the hair of his
beard.”

“But, you innocent baby, _all_ big men haven’t beards,” Countess Medusa
Rappa remarked.

“Haven’t they? Never mind. Everything’s so beautiful,” the young girl
inconsequently exclaimed: “Look at that Thistle! and that Bee! O, you
darling!”

“Ah, how one’s face unbends in gardens!” the Countess of Tolga said,
regarding the scene before her, with a faraway pensive glance.

Along the lake’s shore, sheltered from the winds by a ring of wooded
hills, shewed many a proud retreat, mirroring its marble terraces to
the waveless waters of the lake.

Beneath a twin-peaked crag (known locally as the White Mountain whose
slopes frequently would burst forth into patches of garlic that from
the valley resembled snow) nestled the Villa Clement, rented each
season by the Ambassador of the Court of St James, while half-screened
by conifers and rhododendrons, and in the lake itself, was St
Helena--the home and place of retirement of a “fallen” minister of the
Crown.

Countess Medusa Rappa cocked her sunshade; “Whose boat is that,” she
asked, “with the azure oars?”

“It looks nothing but a pea-pod!” the Countess of Tolga declared.

“It belongs to a darling, with delicious lips and eyes like brown
chestnuts,” Mademoiselle de Lambèse informed.

“Ah!... Ah!... Ah!... Ah!...” her colleagues crooned.

“A sailor?”

The Queen’s maid nodded: “There’s a partner, though,” she added, “A
blue-eyed, gashed-cheeked angel....”

Mademoiselle de Nazianzi looked away.

“I love the lake with the white wandering ships,” she sentimentally
stated, descrying in the distance the prince.

It was usually towards this time, the hour of the siesta, that the
lovers would meet and taste their happiness, but, to-day, it seemed
ordained otherwise.

Before the heir apparent had determined whether to advance or retreat,
his father and mother were upon him, attended by two dowagers newly
lunched.

“The song of the pilgrim women, how it haunts me,” one of the dowagers
was holding forth: “I could never tire of that beautiful, beautiful
music! Never tire of it. Ne-ver....”

“Ta, ta, ta, ta,” the Queen vociferated girlishly, slipping her arm
affectionately through that of her son’s.

“How spent you look, my boy.... Those eyes....”

His Weariness grimaced.

“They’ve just been rubbing in Elsie!” he said.

“Who?”

“‘Vasleine’ and ‘Nanny-goat’!”

“Well?”

“Nothing will shake me.”

“What are your objections?”

“She’s so extraordinarily uninteresting!”

“Oh Yousef!” his mother faltered: “_Do you wish to break my heart_?”

“We had always thought you too lacking in initiative,” King William
said (tucking a few long hairs back into his nose) “to marry against
our wishes.”

“They say she walks too wonderfully,” the Queen courageously pursued.

“What? Well?”

“Yes.”

“Thank God for it.”

“And can handle a horse as few others can!”

Prince Yousef closed his eyes.

He had not forgotten how as an undergraduate in England he had come
upon the princess once while out with the hounds. And it was only by a
consummate effort that he was able to efface the sinister impression
she had made--her lank hair falling beneath a man’s felt-hat, her habit
skirt torn to tatters, her full cheeks smeared in blood; the blood, so
it seemed, of her “first” fox.

A shudder seized him.

“No, nothing can possibly shake me,” he murmured again.

With a detached, cold face, the Queen paused to inhale a rose.

(Oh you gardens of Palaces...! How often have you witnessed agitation
and disappointment? You smooth, adorned paths...! How often have you
known the extremes of care ...?)

“It would be better to do away I think next year with that bed of
cinerarias altogether,” the Queen of Pisuerga remarked, “since persons
won’t go round it.”

Traversing the flower plat now, with the air of a black-beetle with a
purpose, was the Countess Yvorra.

“We had supposed you higher-principled, Countess,” her sovereign
admonished.

The Countess slightly flushed.

“I’m looking for groundsel for my birds, Sire,” she said--“for my
little dickies!”

“We understand your boudoir is a sort of menagerie,” His Majesty
affirmed.

The Countess tittered.

“Animals love me,” she archly professed. “Birds perch on my breast if
only I wave.... The other day a sweet red robin came and stayed for
hours...!”

“The Court looks to you to set a high example,” the Queen declared,
focusing quizzically a marble shape of Leda green with moss, for whose
time-corroded plinth the late Archduchess’ toy-terrier was just then
shewing a certain contempt.

The Countess’ long, slightly pulpy fingers strayed nervously towards
the rosary at her thigh.

“With your majesty’s consent,” she said, “I propose a campaign to the
Island.”

“What? And beard the Count?”

“The salvation of one so fallen, in my estimation should be worth
hereafter (at the present rate of exchange, but the values vary) ... a
Plenary perpetual-indulgence: I therefore,” the Countess said, with an
upward fleeting glance (and doubtless guileless of intention of irony),
“feel it my _duty_ to do what I can.”

“I trust you will take a bodyguard when you go to St Helena?”

“And pray tell Count Cabinet from us,” the King looked implacable: “we
forbid him to serenade the Court this year! or to throw himself into
the Lake again or to make himself a nuisance!”

“He was over early this morning, Willie,” the Queen retailed: “I saw
him from a window. Fishing, or feigning to! And with white kid gloves,
and a red carnation.”

“Let us catch him stepping ashore!” the King displayed displeasure.

“And as usual the same mignon youth had the charge of the tiller.”

“I could tell a singular story of that young man,” the Countess said:
“for he was once a choir-boy at the Blue Jesus. But, perhaps, I would
do better to spare your ears....”

“You would do better, a good deal, to spare my cinerarias,” her
Dreaminess murmured, sauntering slowly on.

Sun so bright, trees so green, it was a perfect day. Through the
glittering fronds of the palms shone the lake like a floor of silver
glass strewn with white sails.

“It’s odd,” the King observed, giving the dog Teddywegs a sly prod with
his cane, “how he follows Yousef.”

“He seems to know!” the Queen replied.

A remark that so annoyed the Prince that he curtly left the garden.



VIII


But this melancholy period of _crêpe_, a time of idle secrets, and
unbosomings, was to prove fatal to the happiness of Mademoiselle de
Nazianzi. She now heard she was not the first in the Prince’s life, and
that most of the Queen’s maids, indeed, had had identical experiences
with her own. She furthermore learned, amid ripples of laughter, of
her lover’s relations with the Marquesa Pizzi-Parma and of his light
dealings with the dancer April Flowers, a negress (to what depths??)
at a time when he was enjoying the waxen favours of the wife of his
Magnificence, the Master of the Horse.

Chilled to the point of numbness, the mortified girl had scarcely
winced, and when on repairing to her room a little later, she had
found his Weariness wandering in the corridor on the chance of a
surreptitious kiss, she had bolted past him without look, or word, and
sharply closed her door.

The Court had returned to colours when she opened it again, and such
had been the trend of her meditations, that her initial steps were
directed, with deliberate austerity, towards the basilica of the Palace.

Except for the Countess Yvorra, with an _écharpe de décence_ drawn over
her hair, there was no one in it.

“I thank Thee God for this _escape_,” she murmured falling
to her knees before the silver branches of a cross: “It is
terrible; for I did so love him .........................
...............................................
..................................................... and oh how could
he ever with _a negress_? .......................................
...................................................... Pho
..................................... ........... I fear this
complete upset has considerably aged me............................
....... But to Thee I cling........................................
...................................................................
................................................ Preserve me at all
times from the toils of the wicked, and forgive him, as _I_ hope to
forgive him soon.” Then kindling several candles with a lingering
hand, she shaped her course towards the Kennels, called Teddywegs to
her and started, with an aching heart, for a walk.

It was a day of heavy somnolence. Skirting the Rosery where gardeners
with their slowly moving rakes were tending the sandy paths, she chose
a neglected footway that descended towards the lake. Indifferent to
the vivacity of Teddywegs, who would race on a little before her, then
wait with leonine accouchments of head until she had almost reached
him, when he would prick an ear and spring forward with a yap of
exhortation, she proceeded leisurely, and with many a pause, wrapped in
her own mournful thoughts.

Alack! Among the court circle there was no one to whom in her
disillusion she could look for solace, and her spirit yearned for
Sister Ursula, and the Convent of the Flaming-Hood.

Wending her way amid the tall trees, she felt she had never cared for
Yousef as she had for Ursula ... and broodingly, in order to ease her
heart, she began comparing the two together as she walked along.

After all what had he ever said that was not either commonplace or
foolish? Whereas Sister Ursula’s talk was invariably pointed; and often
indeed so delicately, that words seemed almost too crude a medium to
convey her ethereal meanings, and she would move her evocative hands,
and flash her aura, and it was no fault of hers if you hadn’t a peep of
the beyond. And the infinite tenderness of her least caress. Yousef’s
lips had seldom conveyed to hers the spell of Ursula’s; and once indeed
lately, when he had kissed her, there had been an unsavoury aroma of
tobacco and _charcuterie_, which, to deal with, had required both
tact and courage.... Ah dear Hood! What harmony life had held within.
Unscrupulous and deceiving men might lurk around its doors (they often
did) coveting the chaste, but Old Jane, the porteress, would open to no
man beyond the merest crack. And how right they were the nuns in their
mistrust of man! Sister Ursula one day had declared, in uplifted mood,
that “marriage was obscene.” Was it--? ...??... Perhaps it might be--!
How appalling if it was!

She had reached the lake.

Beneath a sky as white as platinum it lay, pearly, dove-like,
scintillating capriciously where a heat-shrouded sun kindled its torpid
waters into fleeting diamonds. A convulsive breeze strayed gratefully
from the opposite shore, descending from the hills that rose up all
veiled, and without detail, against the brilliant whiteness of the
morning.

Sinking down upon the shingle by an upturned boat, she heaved a brief
sigh, and drawing from her vanity-case the last epistles of the Prince,
she began methodically to arrange them in their proper sequence.

(_1_) “What is the matter with my Dearest Girl?”

(_2_) “My own tender little Lita, I do not understand--”

(_3_) “Darling, what’s this--?”

(_4_) “Beloved one, I swear--”

(_5_) “Your cruel silence--”

If published in a dainty brochure format about the time of his
Coronation, they ought to realise no contemptible sum, and the proceeds
might go to Charity, she reflected, thrusting them back again carefully
into the bag.

Then, finding the shingle too hard through her thin gown to remain
seated long, she got up, and ran a mournful race with Teddywegs along
the shore.

Not far along the lake was the “village,” with the Hôtel d’Angleterre
et du Lac, its stucco, belettered-walls professing: “Garages, Afternoon
Tea, Modern Comfort!” Flitting by this, and the unpretentious pier
(where long, blonde fishing-nets lay drying in the sun), it was a
relief to reach the remoter plage beyond.

Along the banks stretched vast brown carpets of corn and rye, broken by
an occasional olive-garth, beneath whose sparse shade the heavy-eyed
oxen blinked and whisked their tails, under the attacks of the
water-gnats that were swarming around.

Musing on Negresses--and Can-Can dancers in particular--she strolled
along a strand all littered with shells and little jewel-like stones.

The sun shone down more fiercely now, and soon, for freshness sake, she
was obliged to take to the fields.

Passing among the silver drooping olives, relieved here and there by a
stone-pine, or slender cypress-tree eternally green, she sauntered on,
often lured aside to pluck the radiant wild-flowers by the way. On the
banks the pinkest cyclamens were in bloom, and cornflowers of the hue
of paradise, and fine-stemmed poppies flecked with pink.

“Pho! A Negress ...” she murmured, following the flight of some
waterfowl towards the opposite shore.

The mists had fallen from the hills, revealing old woods wrapped in the
blue doom of Summer.

Beyond those glowing heights, towards this hour, the nuns, each in her
cool, shuttered, cell, would be immersed in noontide prayer.

“Ursula--for thee!” she sighed, proffering her bouquet in the direction
of the town.

A loud splash ... the sight of a pair of delicate legs (mocking the
Law’s requirements under the Modesty Act as relating to bathers)....
Mademoiselle de Nazianzi turned and fled. She had recognised _the
Prince_.[5]



IX


And in this difficult time of spiritual distress, made more trying
perhaps because of the blazing midsummer days, and long, pent feverish
nights, Mademoiselle de Nazianzi turned in her tribulation towards
religion.

The Ecclesiastical set at Court, composed of some six, or so,
ex-Circes, under the command of the Countess Yvorra, were only too
ready to welcome her, and invitations to meet Monsignor this, or
“Father” that, who constantly were being _coaxed_ from their musty
sacristies and wan-faced acolytes in the capital, in order that they
might officiate at Masses, Confessions and Breakfast-parties _à la
fourchette_, were lavished daily upon the bewildered girl.

Messages, and hasty informal lightly-pencilled notes, too, would
frequently reach her; such as: “I shall be pouring out cocoa after
dinner in bed. Bring your biscuits and join me!” ... or a rat-a-tat
from a round-eyed page and: “The Countess’ comp’ts and she’d take it a
Favour if you can make a ‘Station’ with her in chapel later on,” or:
“The Marchioness will be birched to-morrow, and _not_ to-day.”

O, the charm, the flavour of the religious world! Where match it for
interest or variety!

An emotion approaching sympathy had arisen, perhaps a trifle
incongruously, between the injured girl and the Countess Yvorra, and
before long, to the amusement of the sceptical element of the Court,
the Countess and her Confessor, Father Nostradamus, might often be
observed in her society.

“I need a cage-companion, Father, for my little bird,” the Countess one
evening said, as they were ambling, all the three of them before Office
up and down the perfectly tended paths: “ought it to be of the same
species and sex, or does it matter? For as I said to myself just now
(while listening to a thrush), _All_ birds are His creatures.”

The priest discreetly coughed.

“Your question requires reflection,” he said: “What is the bird?”

“A hen canary!--and with a voice, Father! Talk of soul!!”

“H--m ... a thrush and a canary, I would not myself advise.”

Mademoiselle de Nazianzi tittered.

“Why not let it go?” she asked, turning her eyes towards the
window-panes of the palace, that glanced like rows of beaten-gold in
the evening sun.

“A hawk might peck it!” the Countess returned, looking up as if for
one, into a sky as imaginative, and as dazzling as Shelley poetry.

“Even the Court,” Father Nostradamus ejaculated wryly, “will peck at
times.”

The Countess’ shoulder-blades stiffened.

“After over thirty years,” she said, “I find Court-life _pathetic_....”

“Pathetic?”

“Tragically pathetic....”

Mademoiselle de Nazianzi considered wistfully the wayward outline of
the hills.

“I would like to escape from it all for a while,” she said, “and
travel.”

“I must hunt you out a pamphlet, by and by, dear child, on the ‘Dangers
of Wanderlust.’”

“The Great Wall of China and the Bay of Naples! It seems so frightful
never to have seen them!”

“I have never seen the Great Wall, either,” the Countess said, “and
I don’t suppose, my dear, I ever shall; though I once did spend a
fortnight in Italy.”

“Tell me about it.”

The Countess became reminiscent.

“In Venice,” she said, “the indecent movements of the Gondolieri quite
affected my health, and, in consequence, I fell a prey to a sharp
nervous fever. My temperature rose and it rose, ah, yes ... until I
became quite ill. At last I said to my maid (she was an English girl
from _Wales_, and almost equally as sensitive as me): ‘Pack.... Away!’
And we left in haste for Florence. Ah, and Florence, too, I regret to
say I found very far from what it ought to have been!!! I had a window
giving on the Arno, and so I could _observe_.... I used to see some
curious sights! I would not care to scathe your ears, my Innocent,
by an inventory of one half of the wantonness that went on; enough to
say the tone of the place forced me to fly to Rome, where beneath the
shadow of dear St Peter’s I grew gradually less distressed.”

“Still, I should like, all the same, to travel!” Mademoiselle de
Nazianzi exclaimed, with a sad little snatch of a smile.

“We will ask the opinion of Father Geordie Picpus, when he comes again.”

“It would be more fitting,” Father Nostradamus murmured (professional
rivalry leaping to his eye), “if Father Picpus kept himself free of the
limelight a trifle more!”

“Often I fear our committees would be corvés without him....”

“Tchut.”

“He is very popular ... too popular, perhaps ...” the Countess
admitted. “I remember on one occasion in the Blue Jesus, witnessing
the Duchess of Quaranta and Madame Ferdinand Fishbacher, fight like
wild cats as to which should gain his ear--(any girl might envy Father
Geordie his ear)--at Confession next. The odds seemed fairly equal,
until the Duchess gave the Fishbacher-woman, such a violent push--(well
down from behind, in the crick of the joints)--that she overturned The
Confessional Box, with Father Picpus within: and when we scared ladies,
standing by, had succeeded in dragging him out, he was too shaken,
naturally as you can gather, to absolve anyone else _that_ day.”

“He has been the object of so many unseemly incidents, that one can
scarcely recall them all,” Father Nostradamus exclaimed, stooping to
pick up a dropped pocket-handkerchief with “remembrance” knots tied to
three of the corners.

“Alas.... Court life is not uplifting,” the Countess said again,
contemplating her muff of _self-made_ lace, with a half-vexed forehead.
What that muff contained was a constant problem for conjecture; but
it was believed by more than one of the maids-in-waiting to harbour
“goody” books and martyrs’ bones.

“By generous deeds and Brotherly love,” Father Nostradamus exclaimed,
“we should endeavour to rise above it!”

With the deftness of a virtuoso, the Countess seized, and crushed with
her muff, a pale-winged passing gnat.

“Before Life,” she murmured, “that saddest thing of all, was thrust
upon us, I believe I was an angel....”

Father Nostradamus passed a musing hand across his brow.

“It may be,” he replied, “and it very well may be,” he went on, “that
our ante-nativity was a little more brilliant, a little more _h--m_
...; and there is nothing unorthodox in thinking so.”

“O what did I do then to lose my wings?? What did I ever say to Them?!
Father, Father. How did I annoy God? Why did He put me here?”

“My dear child, you ask me things I do not know; but it may be you
were the instrument appointed above to lead back to Him our neighbour
yonder,” Father Nostradamus answered, pointing with his breviary in the
direction of St Helena.

“Never speak to me of that wretched old man.”

For despite the ablest tactics, the most diplomatic angling, Count
Cabinet had refused to rally.

“We followed the sails of your skiff to-day,” Mademoiselle de Nazianzi
sighed, “until the hazes hid them!”

“I had a lilac passage.”

“You delivered the books?”

The Countess shrugged.

“I shall never forget this afternoon,” she said. “He was sitting in the
window over a decanter of wine when I floated down upon him; but no
sooner did he see me, than he gave a sound, like a bleat of a goat, and
disappeared: I was determined however to call! There is no bell to the
villa, but two bronze door-knockers, well out of reach, are attached
to the front-door. These with the ferrule of my parasol I tossed and I
rattled, until an adolescent, with Bougainvillea at his ear, came and
looked out with an insolent grin, and I recognised Peter Passer from
the Blue Jesus grown quite fat.”

“Eh mon Dieu!” Father Nostradamus half-audibly sighed.

“Eh mon Dieu ...” Mademoiselle de Nazianzi echoed, her gaze roving
over the palace, whose long window-panes in the setting sun gleamed
like sumptuous tissues.

“So that,” the Countess added, “I hardly propose to venture again.”

“What a site for a Calvary!” Father Nostradamus replied, indicating
with a detached and pensive air the cleft in the White Mountain’s
distant peaks.

“I adore the light the hills take on when the sun drops down,”
Mademoiselle de Nazianzi declared.

“It must be close on _Salut_....”

It was beneath the dark colonnades by the Court Chapel door that they
received the news from the lips of a pair of vivacious dowagers that
the Prince was to leave the Summer-Palace on the morrow to attend
“the Manœuvres,” after which it was expected his Royal Highness would
proceed “_to England_.”



X


And meanwhile the representatives of the Court of St James were
enjoying the revivifying country air and outdoor-life of the Villa
Clement. It was almost exquisite how rapidly the casual mode
of existence adopted during the summer villeggiatura by their
Excellencies, drew themselves and their personnel together, until
soon they were as united and as _sans gêne_ as the proverbial family
party. No mother, in the “acclimatization” period, could have dosed
her offspring more assiduously than did her Excellency the attachés in
her charge; flavouring her little inventions frequently with rum or
gin until they resembled cocktails. But it was Sir Somebody himself
if anyone that required a tonic. Lady Something’s pending litigation,
involving as it did the crown, was fretting the Ambassador more than
he cared to admit, and the Hon. Mrs Chilleywater, ever alert, told
“Harold” that the injudicious chatter of the Ambassadress (who even
now notwithstanding her writ, would say to every other visitor that
came to the villa: “Have you heard about the Ritz?? The other night we
were dining at the Palace, and I heard the King,” _etc._) was wearing
their old Chief out.

And so through the agreeable vacation life there twitched the grim vein
of tension.

One day disturbed by her daughter’s persistent trilling of the latest
coster song _When I sees ’im I topple giddy_, Lady Something gathered
up her morning letters and stepped out upon the lawn.

Oh so formal, oh so slender towered the Cypress-trees against the
rose-farded hills and diamantine waters of the lake. The first hint of
Autumn was in the air; and over the gravel paths, and in the basins of
the fountains, a few shed leaves lay hectically strewn already.

Besides an under-stamped missive, with a foreign postmark, from her
Majesty the Queen of the Land of Dates beginning “My dear Gazel,”
there was a line from the eloquent, and moderately-victorious, young
barrister, engaged in the approaching suit with the Ritz: He had spared
himself no pains he assured his client in preparing the defence, which
was he said to be _the respectability of Claridge’s_.

“Why bring in Claridge’s? ...?” the Ambassadress murmured, prodding with
the tip of her shoe a decaying tortoiseshell leaf; “but anyway,” she
reflected, “I’m glad the proceedings fall in winter, as I always look
well in furs.”

And mentally she was wrapped in leopard skins and gazing round the
crowded court saluting with a bunch of violets an acquaintance here
and there, as her eyes fell on Mrs Chilleywater seated in the act of
composition beneath a cedar-tree.

Mrs Chilleywater extended a painful smile of welcome which revealed her
pointed teeth and pale-hued gums, repressing, simultaneously, an almost
irresistible inclination to murder.

“What!... Another writ?” she suavely asked.

“No, dear; but these legal men _will_ write....”

“I love your defender. He has an air of d’Alembert sympathetic soul.”

“He proposes pleading Claridge’s.”

“Claridge’s?”

“Its respectability.”

“Are hotels ever respectable,--I ask you. Though, possibly, the
horridest are.”

“Aren’t they all horrid!”

“_Natürlich_; but do you know those cheap hotels where the guests are
treated like naughty children?”

“No. I must confess I don’t,” the Ambassadress laughed.

“Ah, there you are....”

Lady Something considered a moment a distant gardener employed in tying
Chrysanthemum blooms to little sticks.

“I’m bothered about a cook,” she said.

“And I, about a maid! I dismissed Ffoliott this morning--well I simply
_had_ to--for a figure salient.”

“So awkward out here to replace anyone; I’m sure I don’t know....” the
Ambassadress replied, her eyes hovering tragically over the pantaloons
strained to _splitting_ point, of the stooping gardener.

“It’s a pretty prospect....”

“Life is a compound!” Lady Something defined it at last.

Mrs Chilleywater turned surprised. “Not even Socrates,” she declared,
“said anything truer than that.”

“A compound!” Lady Something twittered again.

“I should like to put that into the lips of Delitsiosa.”

“Who’s Delitsiosa?” the Ambassadress asked as a smothered laugh broke
out beside her.

Mrs Chilleywater looked up.

“I’d forgotten you were there. Strange thing among the cedar-boughs,”
she said.

The Hon. Lionel Limpness tossed a slippered foot flexibly from his
hammock.

“You may well ask ‘who’s Delitsiosa’!” he exclaimed.

“She is my new heroine,” Mrs Chilleywater replied, after a few quick
little clutches at her hair.

“I trust you won’t treat her, dear, quite so shamefully as your last.”

The Authoress tittered.

“Delitsiosa is the wife of Marsden Didcote,” she said, “the manager of
a pawn-shop in the district of Maida Vale, and in the novel he seduces
an innocent seamstress, Iris Drummond, who comes in one day to redeem
her petticoat (and really I don’t know how I did succeed in drawing the
portrait of a little fool!) ... and when Delitsiosa, her suspicions
aroused, can no longer doubt or ignore her husband’s intimacy with
Iris, already engaged to a lusty young farmer in Kent--(some boy)--she
decides to yield herself to the entreaties of her brother-in-law Percy,
a junior partner in the firm, which brings about the great tussle
between the two brothers on the edge of the Kentish cliffs. Iris and
Delitsiosa--Iris is anticipating a babelet soon--are watching them from
a cornfield, where they’re boiling a kettle for afternoon tea; and
oh, I’ve such a darling description of a cornfield. I make you _feel_
England!”

“No really, my dear,” Lady Something exclaimed.

“Harold pretends it would be wonderful, arranged as an Opera ... with
duos and things and a _Liebestod_ for Delitzi towards the close.”

“No, no,” Mr Limpness protested: “What would become of our modern
fiction at all if Victoria Gellybore Frinton gave herself up to the
stage?”

“That’s quite true, strange thing among the cedar-boughs,” Mrs
Chilleywater returned fingering the floating strings of the bandelette
at her brow: “It’s lamentable; yet who is there doing anything at
present for English Letters ...? Who among us to-day,” she went on
peering up at him, “is carrying on the tradition of Fielding? Who
really cares? I know _I_ do what I can ... and there’s Madam Adrian
Bloater, of course. But I can think of no one else;--we two.”

Mr Limpness rocked, critically.

“I can’t bear Bloater’s books,” he demurred.

“To be frank, neither can I. I’m very fond of Lilian Bloater, I adore
her _welt-bürgerliche_ nature, but I feel like you about her books;
I _cannot_ read them. If only she would forget Adrian; but she will
thrust him headlong into all her work. Have _I_ ever drawn Harold?
No. (Although many of the public seem to think so!) And please heaven,
however _great_ my provocation at times may be, I never shall!”

“And there I think you’re right,” the Ambassadress answered, frowning a
little as the refrain that her daughter was singing caught her ear.

    “And when I sees ’im
     My heart goes BOOM!...
     And I topple over;
     I topple over, over, over,
     All for Love!”

“I dreamt last night my child was on the Halls.”

“There’s no doubt, she’d dearly like to be.”

“Her Father would never hear of it!”

    “And when she sees me
     O, when she sees me--

(_The voice slightly false was Harold’s_)

    Her heart goes BOOM!...
    And she topples over;
    She topples over, over, over,
    All for Love!”

“There; they’ve routed Sir Somebody....”

“And when anything vexes him,” Lady Something murmured, appraising the
Ambassador’s approaching form with a glassy eye, “he always, you know,
blames me!”

Shorn of the sombre, betailed attire, so indispensable for the
town-duties of a functionary, Sir Somebody, while rusticating, usually
wore a white-twill jacket, and black multi-pleated pantaloons; while
for headgear, he would favour a Mexican sugar-loaf, or green-draped
pugaree: “He looks half-Irish,” Lady Something would sometimes say.

“Infernal Bedlam,” he broke out: “the house is sheer pandemonium.”

“I found it so too, dear,” Lady Something agreed; “and so,” she added,
removing a fallen tree-bug tranquilly from her hair, “I’ve been
digesting my letters out here upon the lawn.”

“And no doubt,” Sir Somebody murmured, fixing the placid person of
his wife, with a keen psychological glance: “you succeed, my dear, in
digesting them?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“...” the Ambassador displayed discretion.

“We’re asked to a Lion hunt in the Land of Dates; quite an
_entreating_ invitation from the dear Queen--; really most pressing
and affectionate, but Princess Elsie’s nuptial negotiations and this
pending Procès with the Ritz, may tie us here for some time.”

“Ah Rosa.”

“Why these constant moans? ...? A clairvoyant once told me I’d ‘the
bump of Litigation’--a _cause célèbre_ unmistakably defined; so it’s as
well, on the whole, to have it over.”

“And quite probably; had your statement been correct----”

The Ambassadress gently glowed

“I’m told it’s simply swarming!” she impenitently said.

“Oh Rosa, Rosa....”

“And if you doubt it at all, here is an account direct from the Ritz
itself,” her Excellency replied, singling out a letter from among the
rest: “It is from dear old General Sir Trotter-Stormer. He says: ‘I
am the only guest here. I must say, however, the attendance is beyond
all praise, more _soigné_ and better than I’ve ever known it to be, but
after what you told me, dear friend, I feel _distinctly uncomfortable_
when the hour for bye-bye comes!’”

“Pish; what evidence, pray, is that?”

“I regard it as of the very first importance! Sir Trotter admits--a
distinguished soldier admits, his uneasiness; and who knows, he is so
brave about concealing his woes--his two wives left him!--what he may
not have patiently and stoically endured?”

“Less I am sure, my dear, than I of late in listening sometimes to you.”

“I will write I think and press him for a more detailed report....”

The Ambassador turned away.

“She should no more be trusted with ink than a child with firearms!”
he declared, addressing himself with studious indirectness to a
garden-snail.

Lady Something blinked.

“Life is a compound,” she murmured again.

“Particularly for women!” the Authoress agreed.

“Ah, well,” the Ambassadress majestically rose: “I must be off and
issue household orders; although I derive hardly my usual amount of
enjoyment at present, I regret to say, from my morning consultations
with the cook....”



XI


It had been once the whim, and was now the felicitous habit of the
Countess of Tolga to present Count Cabinet annually with a bouquet of
flowers. It was as if Venus-Anadyomene herself, standing[6] on a shell
and wafted by all the piquant whispers of the town and court, would
intrude upon the flattered exile (with her well-wired orchids, and
malicious, soulless, laughter), to awaken delicate, pagan images, of a
trecento, Tuscan Greece.

But upon this occasion desirous of introducing some new features, the
Countess decided on presenting the fallen senator with a pannier of
well-grown, early pears, a small “heath,” and the Erotic Poems bound
in half calf with tasteful tooling of a Schoolboy Poet, cherishable
chiefly, perhaps, for the vignette frontispiece of the author.
Moreover, acting on an impulse she was never able afterwards to
explain, she had invited Mademoiselle Olga Blumenghast to accompany her.

Never had summer shown a day more propitiously clement, than the
afternoon in mid-Autumn they prepared to set out.

Fond of a compliment, when not too frankly racy,[7] and knowing how
susceptible the exile was to clothes, the Countess had arrayed herself
in a winter gown of kingfisher-tinted silk turning to turquoise, and
stencilled in purple at the arms and neck with a crisp Greek-key
design; while a voluminous violet veil, depending behind her to a
point, half-concealed a tricorne turquoise toque from which arose a
shaded lilac aigrette branching several ways.

“I shall probably die with heat, and of course it’s most unsuitable;
but poor old man, he likes to recall the Capital!” the Countess panted,
as, nursing heath, poems and pears, she followed Mademoiselle Olga
Blumenghast blindly towards the shore.

Oars, and swaying drying nets, a skyline lost in sun, a few moored
craft beneath the little rickety wooden pier awaiting choice:-- “The
boatmen, to-day, darling, seem all so ugly; let’s take a sailing-boat
and go alone!”

“I suppose there’s no danger, darling?” the Countess replied, and
scarcely had she time to make any slight objection, than the owner of a
steady wide-bottomed boat--the _Calypso_--was helping them to embark.

The Island of St Helena, situated towards the lake’s bourne, lay
distant some two miles or more, and within a short way of the open sea.

With sails distended to a languid breeze the shore eventually was left
behind; and the demoiselle cranes, in mid-lake, were able to observe
there were two court dames among them.

“Although he’s dark, Vi,” Mademoiselle Olga Blumenghast presently
exclaimed, dropping her cheek to a frail hand upon the tiller,
“although he’s dark, it’s odd how he gives one the impression somehow
of perfect fairness!”

“Who’s that, darling?” the Countess murmured, appraising with fine
eyes, faintly weary, the orchid-like style of beauty of her friend.

“Ann-Jules, of course.”

“I begin to wish, do you know, I’d brought Pomegranates, and worn
something else!”

“What are those big burley-worleys?”

“Pears....”

“Give me one.”

“Catch, then.”

“Not that I could bear to be married; especially like _you_, Vi!”

“A marriage like ours, dear, was so utterly unworthwhile....”

“I’m not sure, dear, that I comprehend altogether?”

“Seagulls’ wings as they fan one’s face....”

“It’s vile and wrong to shoot them: but oh! How I wish your happiness
depended, even ever so little, on me.”

The Countess averted her eyes.

Waterfowl, like sadness passing, hovered, and soared overhead, casting
their dark, fleeting shadows to the white, drowned clouds, in the
receptive waters of the lake.

“I begin to wish I’d brought grapes,” she breathed.

“Heavy stodgy pears. So do I.”

“Or a few special peaches,” the Countess murmured, taking up the volume
of verse beside her, with a little, mirthless, half-hysterical laugh.

_To a Faithless Friend._

_To V.O.I. and S.C.P._

_For Stephen._

_When the Dormitory Lamp burns Low._

Her gaze travelled over the Index.

“Read something, dear,” Mademoiselle Blumenghast begged, toying with
the red-shaded flower in her burnished curls.

“Gladly; but oh, Olga!” the Countess crooned.

“What!”

“Where’s the wind?”

It had gone.

“We must row.”

There was nothing for it.

To gain the long, white breakwater, with the immemorial willow-tree at
its end, that was the most salient feature of the island’s approach,
required, nevertheless, resolution.

“It’s so far, dear,” the Countess kept on saying. “I had no idea how
far it was! Had you any conception at all it was so far?”

“Let us await the wind, then. It’s bound to rally.”

But no air swelled the sun-bleached sails, or disturbed the pearly
patine of the paralysed waters.

“I shall never get this peace, I only realise it _exists_ ...” the
Countess murmured with dream-glazed eyes.

“It’s astonishing ... the stillness,” Mademoiselle Blumenghast
murmured, with a faint tremor, peering round towards the shore.

On the banks young censia-trees raised their boughs like strong white
whips towards the mountains, upon whose loftier heights lay, here and
there, a little stray patch of snow.

“Come hither, ye winds, come hither!” she softly called.

“Oh, Olga! Do we really want it?” the Countess in agitation asked,
discarding her hat and veil with a long, sighing breath.

“I don’t know, dear; no; not, not much.”

“Nor I,--at all.”

“Let us be patient then.”

“It’s all so beautiful it makes one want to cry.”

“Yes; it makes one want to cry,” Mademoiselle Blumenghast murmured,
with a laugh that in brilliance vied with the October sun.

“Olga!”

“So,” as the _Calypso_ lurched: “lend me your hanky, dearest.”

“_Olga_--? --? Thou fragile, and exquisite thing!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Count Cabinet was seated with rod-and-line at an open window,
idly ogling a swan. Owing to the reluctance of tradespeople to call
for orders, the banished statesman was often obliged to supplement the
larder himself. But hardly had he been angling ten minutes to-day, when
lo! a distinguished mauvish fish with vivid scarlet spots. Pondering
on the mysteries of the deep, and of the subtle variety there is in
Nature, the veteran ex-minister lit a cigar. Among the more orthodox
types that stocked the lake, such as carp, cod, tench, eels, sprats,
shrimps, etc., this exceptional fish must have known its trials and
persecutions, its hours of superior difficulty ... and the Count,
with a stoic smile recalled his own. Musing on the advantages and
disadvantages of personality, of “party” viewpoints, and of morals in
general, the Count was soon too self-absorbed to observe the approach
of his “useful” secretary and amanuensis, Peter Passer.

More valet perhaps than secretary, and more errand-boy than either, the
former chorister of the Blue Jesus had followed the fallen statesman
into exile at a moment when the Authorities of Pisuerga were making
minute enquiries for sundry missing articles,[8] from the _Trésor_ of
the Cathedral, and since the strain of constant choir-practice is apt
to be injurious for a youngster suffering from a delicate chest, the
adolescent had been willing enough to accept, for a time, at least, a
situation in the country.

“O, sir,” he exclaimed, and almost in his excitement forgetting
altogether the insidious, lisping tones he preferred as a rule to
employ: “O, sir, here comes that old piece of rubbish again with a
fresh pack of tracts!”

“Collect yourself, Peter, pray do: what, lose our heads for a visit?”
the Count said getting up and going to a glass.

“I’ve noticed, sir, it’s impossible to live on an island long without
feeling its effects; you _can’t_ escape being insular!”

“Or insolent.”

“Insular, sir!”

“No matter much, but if it’s the Countess Yvorra, you might shew her
round the garden this time, perhaps, for a change,” the Count replied,
adjusting a demure-looking fly, of indeterminate sex, to his line.

And brooding on life and baits, and what _A_ will come for while _B_
won’t, the Count’s thoughts grew almost humorous as the afternoon wore
on.

Evening was approaching, when weary of the airs of a common carp, he
drew in, at length, his tackle.

Like a shawl of turquoise silk the lake seemed to vie, in serenity
and radiance, with the bluest day in June, and it was no surprise, on
descending presently for a restricted ramble--(the island, in all,
amounted to scarcely one acre)--to descry the invaluable Peter enjoying
a pleasant swim.

When not boating or reading or feeding his swans, to watch Peter’s
fancy-diving off the terrace end, was perhaps the favourite pastime
of the veteran _viveur_: to behold the lad trip along the riven
breakwater, as naked as a statue, shoot out his arms and spring, the
_Flying-head-leap_ or the _Backsadilla_, was a beautiful sight, looking
up now and again--but more often _now_--from a volume of old Greek
verse; while to hear him warbling in the water with his clear alto
voice--of Kyries and Anthems he knew no end--would often stir the old
man to the point of tears. Frequently the swans themselves would paddle
up to listen, expressing by the charmed or rapturous motions of their
necks (recalling to the exile the ecstasies of certain musical, or
“artistic” dames at Concert-halls, or the Opera House, long ago) their
mute appreciation, their touched delight....

“Old goody Two-shoes never came, sir,” Peter archly lisped, admiring
his adventurous shadow upon the breakwater wall.

“How is that?”

“Becalmed, sir,” Peter answered, culling languidly a small, nodding
rose, that was clinging to the wall:

    “O becalmed is my soul
     I rejoice in the Lord!”

At one extremity of the garden stood the Observatory, and after duly
appraising various of Peter’s neatest feats, the Count strolled away
towards it. But before he could reach the Observatory, he had first to
pass his swans.

They lived, with an ancient water-wheel, beneath a cupola of sun-glazed
tiles, sheltered, partially, from the lake by a hedge of towering red
geraniums, and the Count seldom wearied of watching these strangely
gorgeous creatures as they sailed out and in through the sanguine-hued
flowers. A few, with their heads sunk back beneath their wings, had
retired for the night already; nevertheless, the Count paused to
shake a finger at one somnolent bird, in disfavour for pecking Peter:
“Jealous, doubtless of the lad’s grace,” he mused, fumbling with the
key of the Observatory door.

The unrivalled instrument that the Observatory contained, whose
intricate lenses were capable of drawing even the remote Summer-Palace
to within an appreciable range, was, like most instruments of merit,
sensitive to the manner of its manipulation; and fearing lest the
inexpert tampering of a homesick housekeeper (her native village was
visible in clear weather, with the aid of a glass) should break or
injure the delicate lenses, the Count kept the Observatory usually
under key.

But the inclination to focus the mundane and embittered features of
the fanatic Countess, as she lectured her boatmen for forgetting their
oars, or, being considerably superstitious, to count the moles on their
united faces as an esoteric clue to the Autumn Lottery, waned a little
before the mystery of the descending night.

Beneath a changing tide of deepening shadow, the lifeless valleys
were mirroring to the lake the sombreness of dusk. Across the blue
forlornness of the water, a swan, here and there, appeared quite
violet, while coiffed in swift clinging, golden clouds, the loftiest
hills alone retained the sun.

A faint nocturnal breeze, arising simultaneously with the Angelus-bell,
seemed likely to relieve, at the moon’s advent, the trials to her
patience of the Countess Yvorra: “who must be cursing,” the Count
reflected, turning the telescope about with a sigh, to suit her sail.

Ah poignant moments when the heart stops still! Not since the hour of
his exile had the Count’s been so arrested.

From the garden Peter’s voice rose questingly; but the Count was too
wonder-struck, far, to heed it.

Caught in the scarlet radiance of the afterglow, the becalmed boat, for
one brief and most memorable second, was his to gaze on.

In certain lands with what diplomacy falls the night, and how
discreetly is the daylight gone: Those dimmer-and-dimmer,
darker-and-lighter twilights of the North, so disconcerting in their
playfulness, were unknown altogether in Pisuerga. There, Night pursued
Day, as though she meant it. No lingering, or arctic sentiment! No
concertinaishness.... Hard on the sun’s heels, pressed Night. And the
wherefore of her haste; Sun-attraction? Impatience to inherit? An
answer to such riddles as these may doubtless be found by turning to
the scientists’ theories on Time and Relativity.

Effaced in the blue air of evening became everything, and with the
darkness returned the wind.

“Sir, sir?... Ho, Hi, hiiiiiiiiiiii!!” Peter’s voice came again.

But transfixed, and loath just then for company, the Count made no
reply.

A green-lanterned barge passed slowly, coming from the sea, and on the
mountain-side a village light winked wanly here and there.

“Oh, why was I not _sooner_?” he murmured distractedly aloud.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Oh Olga!”

“Oh Vi!”

“... I hope you’ve enough money for the boat, dear? ...?”

“...!!?”

“Tell me, Olga: Is my hat all sideways?”

“................”

The long windows of the Summer-Palace were staring white to the moon,
as the Countess of Tolga, her aigrettes casting _heroic_ shadows and
hugging still her heath, re-entered the Court’s precincts on the arm of
her friend.



XII


One evening, as Mrs Montgomery was reading _Vanity Fair_ for the
fifteenth time, there came a tap at the door. It was not the first
interruption since opening the cherished green-bound book, and Mrs
Montgomery seemed disinclined to stir. With the Court about to return
to winter quarters, and the Summer-Palace upside down, the royal
governess was still able to command her habitual British phlegm. It had
been decided, moreover, that she should remain behind in the forsaken
palace with the little prince, the better to “prepare” him for his
forthcoming Eton exam.

Still, with disputes as to the precedence of trunks and dress-baskets
simmering in the corridors without, it was easier to enjoy the
Barley-sugar stick in one’s mouth, than the Novel in one’s hand.

“Thank God I’m not touchy!” Mrs Montgomery reflected, rolling her eyes
lazily about the little white wainscoted room.

It was as if something of her native land had crept in through the
doorway with her, so successfully had she inculcated its tendencies, or
spiritual Ideals, upon everything around.

A solitary teapot, on a bracket, above the door, two _Jubilee_
plates, some peacocks’ feathers, an image of a little Fisher-boy in
bathing-drawers and a broken hand;--“a work of delicate beauty!” A
mezzotint: _The Coiffing of Maria_--these were some of the treasures
which the room contained.

“A blessing to be sure when the Court has gone!” she reflected
half-rising to drop a curtsy to Prince Olaf who had entered.

“Word from your country,” sententiously he broke out: “My brother’s
betrothed! So need I go on with my preparation?”

“Put your tie straight! And just look at your socks all tumbling down.
Such great jambons of knees!... What will become of you, I ask myself,
when you’re a lower boy at Eton.”

“How can I be a lower boy when I’m a Prince?”

“Probably, the Rev. Ruggles-White, when you enter his House, will be
able to explain.”

“I won’t be a lower boy! I will _not_!”

“Cs, Cs.”

“Damn the democracy.”

“Fie, sir.”

“Down with it.”

“For shame.”

“Revenge.”

“That will do: and now, let me hear your lessons: I should like,”
Mrs Montgomery murmured, her eyes set in detachment upon the floor;
“the present-indicative tense of the Verb _To be_! Adding the words,
Political h-Hostess;--more for the sake of the pronunciation than for
anything else.”

And after considerable persuasion, prompting, and “bribing,” with
various sorts of sweets:

    “I am a Political Hostess,
     Thou art a Political Hostess,
     He is a Political Hostess,
     We are Political Hostesses,
     Ye are Political Hostesses,
     They are Political Hostesses.”

“Very good, dear, and only one mistake. _He_ is a Political h-Hostess:
Can you correct yourself? The error is so slight....”

But alas the prince was in no mood for study; and Mrs Montgomery very
soon afterwards was obliged to let him go.

Moving a little anxiously about the room, her meditations turned upon
the future.

With the advent of Elsie a new régime would be established: increasing
Britishers would wish to visit Pisuerga; and it seemed a propitious
moment to abandon teaching, and to inaugurate in Kairoulla an English
hotel.

“I have no more rooms. I am quite full up!” she smiled, addressing the
silver andirons in the grate.

And what a deliverance to have done with instructing unruly children,
she reflected, going towards the glass mail-box attached to her
vestibule door. Sometimes about this hour there would be a letter in
it, but this evening there was only a picture postcard of a field mouse
in a bonnet, from her old friend Mrs Bedley.

       *       *       *       *       *

“We have _Valmouth_ at last,” she read, “and was it you, my dear, who
asked for _The Beard Throughout the Ages_? It is in much demand, but I
am keeping it back anticipating a _reply_. Several of the plates are
missing I see, among them, those of the late King Edward, and of Assur
Bani Pal; I only mention it, that, you may know I shan’t blame you! We
are having wonderful weather, and I am keeping pretty well, although
poor Mrs Barleymoon, I fear, will not see through another winter.
Trusting you are benefiting by the beautiful country air: your obedient
servant to command,

  ANN BEDLEY.

“P.S.--_Man, and All About Him_, is rebinding. Ready I expect soon.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Ah! Cunnie, Cunnie ...?” Mrs Montgomery murmured, laying the card down
near a photograph of the Court-physician with a sigh: “Ah! Arthur Amos
Cuncliffe Babcock ...?” she invoked his name dulcetly in full: and as
though in telepathic response, there came a tap at the door, and the
doctor himself looked in.

He had been attending, it seemed, the young wife of the Comptroller of
the Household at the extremity of the corridor; a creature, who, after
two brief weeks of marriage, imagined herself to be in an interesting
state: “_I believe baby’s coming!_” she would cry out every few hours.

“Do I intrude?” he demanded, in his forceful, virile voice, that ladies
knew and liked: “pray say so if I do.”

“Does he intrude!” Mrs Montgomery flashed an arch glance towards the
cornice.

“Well, and how are you keeping?” the doctor asked, dropping on to a rep
causeuse that stood before the fire.

“I’m only semi-well, doctor, thanks!”

“Why, what’s the trouble?”

“You know my organism is not a very strong one, Dr Cuncliffe ...” Mrs
Montgomery replied, drawing up a chair, and settling a cushion with a
sigh of resignation at her back.

“Imagination!”

“If only it were!”

“Imagination,” he repeated, fixing a steady eye on the short train of
her black brocaded robe that all but brushed his feet.

“If that’s your explanation for continuous broken sleep ...” she gently
snapped.

“Try mescal.”

“I’m trying Dr Fritz Millar’s treatment,” the lady stated, desiring to
deal a slight _scratch_ to his masculine _amour propre_.

“Millar’s an Ass.”

“I don’t agree at all!” she incisively returned, smiling covertly at
his touch of pique.

“What is it?”

“Oh it’s horrid. You first of all lie down; and then you drink cold
water in the sun.”

“Cold what? I never _heard_ of such a thing: It’s enough to kill you.”

Mrs Montgomery took a deep-drawn breath of languor.

“And would you care, doctor, so _very_ much if it did?” she asked, as a
page made his appearance with an ice-bucket and champagne.

“To toast our young Princess!”

“Oh, oh, Dr Cuncliffe? What a wicked man you are:” And for a solemn
moment their thoughts went out in unison to the sea-girt land of their
birth--Barkers’, Selfridges’, Brighton-pier, the Zoological gardens on
a Sunday afternoon.

“Here’s to the good old country!” the doctor quaffed.

“The Bride, and,” Mrs Montgomery raised her glass, “the Old Folks at
h-home.”

“The Old Folks at home!” he vaguely echoed.

“Bollinger, you naughty man,” the lady murmured, amiably seating
herself on the causeuse at his side.

“You’ll find it dull here all alone after the Court has gone,” he
observed, smiling down, a little despotically, on to her bright,
abundant hair.

Mrs Montgomery sipped her wine.

“When the wind goes whistling up and down under the colonnades: oh,
then!” she shivered.

“You’ll wish for a fine, bold Pisuergian husband; shan’t you?” he
answered, his foot drawing closer to hers.

“Often of an evening, I feel I need fostering,” she owned, glancing up
yearningly into his face.

“Fostering, eh?” he chuckled, refilling with exuberance her glass.

“Why is it that wine always makes me feel _so good_?”

“Probably, because it fills you with affection for your neighbour!”

“It’s true; I feel I could be very affectionate: I’m what they call an
‘amoureuse’ I suppose, and there it is....”

There fell a busy silence between them.

“It’s almost too warm for a fire,” she murmured, repairing towards the
window; “but I like to hear the crackle!”

“Company, eh?” he returned, following her (a trifle unsteadily) across
the room.

“The night is so clear the moon looks to be almost transparent,” she
languorously observed, with a long tugging sigh.

“And so it does,” he absently agreed.

“I adore the Pigeons in my wee court towards night, when they sink down
like living sapphires upon the stones,” she sentimentally said, sighing
languorously again.

“Ours,” he assured her; “since the surgery looks on to it, too....”

“Did you ever see anything so ducky-wucky, so completely twee!” she
inconsequently chirruped.

“Allow me to fill this empty glass.”

“I want to go out on all that gold floating water!” she murmured
listlessly, pointing towards the lake.

“Alone?”

“Drive me towards the sweet seaside,” she begged, taking appealingly
his hand.

“Aggie?”

“Arthur--Arthur, for God’s sake!” she shrilled, as with something
between a snarl and a roar, he impulsively whipped out the light.

“H-Help! Oh Arth----”

Thus did they celebrate the “Royal engagement.”



XIII


Behind the heavy moucharabi in the little dark shop of Haboubet of
Egypt all was song, _fête_ and preparation. Additional work, had
brought additional hands, and be-tarbouched boys in burnooses, and
baskets of blossoms, lay strewn all over the floor.

    “Sweet is the musk-rose of the Land of Punt!
     Sweet are the dates from Khorassân ...
     But bring _me_ (O wandering Djinns) the English rose, the English apple!
     O sweet is the land of the Princess Elsie,
     Sweet indeed is England----”

Bachir’s voice soared, in improvisation, to a long-drawn, strident,
wail.

“Pass me the scissors, O Bachir ben Ahmed, for the love of Allah,”
a young man with large lucent eyes, and an untroubled face, like a
flower, exclaimed, extending a slender, keef-stained hand.

“Sidi took them,” the superintendent of the Duchess of Varna replied,
turning towards an olive-skinned Armenian youth, who, seated on an
empty hamper, was reading to a small, rapt group, the _Kairoulla
Intelligence_ aloud.

“‘Attended by Lady Canon-of-Noon and by Lady Bertha Chamberlayne (she
is a daughter of Lord Frollo’s[9]) the Princess was seen to alight from
her saloon, in a _chic_ toque of primrose paille, stabbed with the
quill of a nasturtium-coloured bird, and, darting forward, like the
Bird of Paradise that she _is_, embraced her future Parents-in-law with
considerable affection....’”

“Scissors, for the love of Allah!”

“‘And soon I heard the roll of drums! And saw the bobbing plumes in the
jangling browbands of the horses: it was a moment I shall never forget.
She passed ... and as our Future Sovereign turned smiling to bow her
acknowledgments to the crowd, I saw a happy tear...!’”

“Ah Allah.”

“Pass me two purple pinks.”

“‘Visibly gratified at the cordial ovation to her Virgin Daughter
was Queen Glory, a striking and impressive figure, all a-glitter in
a splendid dark dress of nacre and nigger tissue, her many Orders of
Merit almost bearing her down.’”

“Thy scissors, O Sidi, for the love of Muhammed?”

“‘It seemed as if Kairoulla had gone wild with joy. Led by the first
Life-Guards and a corps of ladies of great fashion disguised as
peasants, the cortège proceeded amid the whole-hearted plaudits of
the people towards Constitutional Square, where, with the sweetest of
smiles and thanks the princess received an exquisite sheaf of Deflas
(they are the hybrids of slipper-orchids crossed with maidens-rue, and
are all the mode at present), tendered her by little Paula Exelmans,
the Lord Mayor’s tiny daughter. Driving on, amid showers of confetti,
the procession passed up the Chausée, which presented a scene of rare
animation; boys, and even quite elderly dames swarming up the trees
to obtain a better view of their new Princess. But it was not until
Lilianthal Street and the Cathedral Square were reached, that the
climax reached its height! Here, a short standstill was called, and
after an appropriate address from the Archbishop of Pisuerga, the
stirring strains of the National Anthem, superbly rendered by Madame
Marguerite Astorra of the State Theatre (she is in perfect voice this
season), arose on the air. At that moment a black cat and its kitties
rushed across the road, and I saw the Princess smile.’”

“Thy scissors, O Sidi, in the Name of the Prophet!”

“‘A touching incident,’” Sidi with equanimity pursued, “‘was just
before the English Tea Rooms, where the English Colony had mustered
together in force....’”

But alack for those interested. Owing to the clamour about him much of
the recital was lost: “‘Cheers and tears.... ... Life’s benison....
Honiton lace.... If I live to be _forty_, it was a moment I shall never
forget.... Panic ... congestion.... Police.’”

But it was scarcely needful to peruse the paper, when on the boulevards
outside, the festivities were everywhere in full swing. The arrival of
the princess for her wedding had brought to Kairoulla unprecedented
crowds from all parts of the kingdom, as much eager to see the
princess, as to catch a glimpse of the fine pack of beagles, that it
was said had been brought over with her, and which had taken an half
eerie hold of the public mind. Gilderoy, Beausire, Audrey, many of the
dogs’ names were known pleasantly to the crowd already; and anecdotes
of Audrey, picture-postcards of Audrey, were sold as rapidly almost as
those even of the princess. Indeed mothers among the people had begun
to threaten their disobedient offspring with Audrey, whose silky,
thickset frame was supported, it appeared, daily on troublesome little
boys and tiresome little girls....

“Erri, erri, get on with thy bouquet, oh Lazari Demitraki!” Bachir
exclaimed in plaintive tones, addressing a blonde boy with a skin of
amber, who was “charming” an earwig with a reed of grass.

“She dance the _Boussadilla_ just like in the street of Halfaouine in
Gardaïa my town any Ouled Nail!” he rapturously gurgled.

“Get on with thy work, oh Lazari Demitraki,” Bachir besought him, “and
leave the earwigs alone for the clients to find.”

“What with the heat, the smell of the flowers, the noise of you boys,
and with filthy earwigs Boussadillaing all over one, I feel I could
_swoon_,” the voice, cracked yet cloying, was Peter Passer’s.

He had come to Kairoulla for the “celebrations,” and also, perhaps,
aspiring to advance his fortunes, in ways known best to himself.
With Bachir, his connection dated from long ago, when as a Cathedral
choir-boy it had been his habit to pin a shoulder, or bosom-blossom to
his surplice, destroying it with coquettish, ring-laden fingers in the
course of an anthem, and scattering the petals from the choir-loft,
leaf by leaf, on to the grey heads of the monsignori below.

“Itchiata wa?” Bachir grumbled, playing his eyes distractedly around
the shop. And it might have been better for the numerous orders there
were to attend to had he called fewer of his acquaintance to assist
him. Sunk in torpor, a cigarette smouldering at his ear, a Levantine
Greek known as “Effendi darling” was listening to a dark-cheeked
Tunisian engaged at the Count of Tolga’s private Hammam Baths--a young
man, who, as he spoke, would make mazy gestures of the hands as though
his master’s ribs, or those of some illustrious guest, lay under him.
But by no means all of those assembled in the little shop, bore the
seal of Islam. An American who had grown too splendid for the copper
“Ganymede” or Soda-fountain of a Café bar and had taken to teaching the
hectic dance-steps of his native land in the night-halls where Bachir
sold, was achieving wonders with some wires and Eucharist lilies,
while discussing with a shy-mannered youth the many difficulties that
beset the foreigner in Kairoulla.

“Young chaps that come out here, don’t know what they’re coming to,” he
sapiently remarked, using his incomparable teeth in place of scissors.
“Gosh! Talk of advancement,” he growled.

“There’s few can mix as I can, yet I don’t never get no rise!” the shy
youth exclaimed, producing a card that was engraved: _Harry Cummings,
Salad-Dresser to the King_: “I expect I’ve arrived,” he murmured,
turning to hide a modest blush towards a pale young man who looked on
life through heavy horn glasses.

“Salad dressing? I’d sooner it was hair! You do get tips there anyway,”
the Yankee reasoned.

“I wish _I_ were--arrived,” the young man with the glasses, by name Guy
Thin, declared. He had come out but recently from England to establish
a “British Grocery,” and was the owner of what is sometimes called an
expensive voice, his sedulously clear articulation missing out no
syllable or letter of anything he might happen to be saying, as though
he were tasting each word, like the Pure tea, or the Pure marmalade, or
any other of the so very Pure goods he proposed so exclusively to sell.

“If Allah wish it then you arrive,” Lazari Demitraki assured him with a
dazzling smile, catching his hand in order to construe the lines.

“Finish thy bouquet, O Lazari Demitraki,” Bachir faintly moaned.

“It finished--arranged: it with Abou!” he announced, pointing to an
aged negro with haunted sin-sick eyes who appeared to be making strange
grimaces at the wall. A straw hat of splendid dimensions was on his
head, flaunting bravely the insignia of the Firm.

But the old man seemed resolved to run no more errands:

“Nsa, nsa,” he mumbled: “Me walk enough for one day! Me no go out any
more. Old Abou too tired to take another single step! As soon would me
cross the street again dis night as the Sahara!...”

And it was only after the promise of a small gift of Opium that he
consented to leave a débutante’s bouquet at the Théâtre Diana.[10]

“In future,” Bachir rose remarking, “I only employ the women; I keep
only girls,” he repeated, for the benefit of “Effendi darling” who
appeared to be attaining Nirvâna.

“And next I suppose you keep a Harem?” “Effendi darling” somnolently
returned.

Most of the city shops had closed their shutters for the day, when
Bachir shouldering a pannier bright with blooms, stepped with his
companions forth into the street.

Along the Boulevards thousands were pressing towards the Regina Gardens
to view the Fireworks, all agog to witness the pack of beagles wrought
in brilliant lights due to course a stag across the sky, and which
would change, if newspaper reports might be believed, at the critical
moment, into “‘something of the nature of a surprise.’”

Pausing before a plate-glass window that adjoined the shop to adjust
the flowing folds of his gandourah, and to hoist his flower tray to his
small scornful head, Bachir allowed his auxiliaries to drift, mostly
two by two, away among the crowd. Only the royal salad-dresser, Harry
Cummings, expressed a demure inclination (when the pushing young grocer
caressed his arm), to “be alone”; but Guy Thin, who had private designs
upon him, was loath to hear of it! He wished to persuade him to buy a
bottle of Vinegar from his Store, when he would print on his paper-bags
_As supplied to his Majesty the King_.

“Grant us, O Allah, each good Fortunes,” Bachir beseeched, looking up
through his eyelashes towards the moon, that drooped like a silver
amulet in the firmament above: in the blue nocturnal air he looked like
a purple poppy. “A toute à l’heure mes amis!” he murmured as he moved
away.

And in the little closed shop behind the heavy moucharabi, now that
they all had gone, the exhalations of the _flowers_ arose; pungent,
concerted odours, expressive of natural antipathies and feuds, suave
alliances, suffering, pride, and joy.... Only the shining moon through
the moucharabi, illumining here a lily, there a leaf, may have guessed
what they were saying:

“My wires are hurting me: my wires are hurting me.”

“I have no water. I cannot reach the water.”

“They have pushed me head down into the bottom of the bowl.”

“I’m glad I’m in a Basket! No one will hurl _me_ from a window to be
bruised under foot by the callous crowd.”

“It’s uncomfy, isn’t it, without one’s roots?”

“You Weed you! You, you, you ... _buttercup_! How dare you to _an
Orchid_!”

“I shouldn’t object to sharing the same water with him, dear....
Ordinary as he is! If _only_ he wouldn’t smell....”

“She’s nothing but a piece of common grass and so I tell her!”

When upon the tense pent atmosphere surged a breath of cooler air, and
through the street-door slipped the Duchess of Varna.

Overturning a jar of great heavy-headed Gladioli with a crash, she
sailed, with a purposeful step, towards the till.

Garbed in black and sleepy citrons, she seemed, indeed, to be equipped
for a long, long Voyage, and was clutching, in her arms, a pet Poodle
dog, and a levant-covered case, in which, doubtless, reposed her jewels.

Since her rupture with Madame Wetme (both the King and Queen had
refused to receive her), the money _ennuis_ of the Duchess had become
increasingly acute. Tormented by tradespeople, dunned and bullied by
creditors, menaced, mortified, insulted--an offer to “star” in the
_rôle_ of _A Society Thief_ for the cinematograph had particularly
shocked her--the inevitable hour to quit the Court so long foreseen
had come. And now with her departure definitely determined upon, the
Duchess experienced an insouciance of heart unknown to her assuredly
for many a year. Replenishing her reticule with quite a welcome sheaf
of the elegant little banknotes of Pisuerga, one thing only remained
to do, and taking pen and paper, she addressed to the Editor of the
_Intelligence_ the supreme announcement:--“_The Duchess of Varna has
left for Dateland_.”

Eight light words! But enough to set _tout_ Kairoulla in a rustle.

“I only so regret I didn’t go sooner,” she murmured to herself aloud,
breaking herself a rose to match her gown from an arrangement in the
window.

Many of the flowers had been newly christened, “Elsie,” “Audrey,”
“London-Madonnas” (black Arums these), while the Roses from the “Land
of Punt” had been renamed “Mrs Lloyd George”--and priced accordingly. A
basket of Odontoglossums eked out with Gypsophila seemed to anticipate
the end, when supplies from Punt must necessarily cease. However,
bright boys, like Bachir, seldom lacked patrons, and the duchess
recalled glimpsing him one evening from her private sitting-room at
the Ritz Hotel, seated on a garden bench in the Regina Gardens beside
the Prime Minister himself; both, to all seeming, on the most cordial
terms, and to have reached a perfect understanding as regards the
Eastern Question. Ah, the Eastern Question! It was said that, in the
Land of Dates, one might study it well. In Djezira, the chief town,
beneath the great golden sun, people, they said, might grow wise. In
the simoon that scatters the silver sand, in the words of the nomads,
in the fairy mornings beneath the palms, society with its foolish
_cliché_ ... the duchess smiled.

“But for that poisonous woman, I should have, gone last year,” she told
herself, interrupted in her cogitations by the appearance of her maid.

“The train your Grace we shall miss it....”

“Nonsense!” the duchess answered following, leaving the flowers alone
again to their subtle exhalations.

“I’m glad _I’m_ in a Basket!”

“I have no water. I cannot reach the water.”

“Life’s bound to be uncertain when you haven’t got your roots!”



XIV


On a long-chair with tired, closed eyes lay the Queen. Although spared
from henceforth the anxiety of her son’s morganatic marriage, yet,
now that his destiny was sealed, she could not help feeling perhaps
he might have done better. The bride’s lineage was nothing to boast
of--over her great-great-grandparents, indeed, in the year 17--it
were gentler to draw a veil--while, for the rest, disingenuous,
undistinguished, more at home in the stables than in a drawing-room,
the Queen much feared that she and her future daughter-in-law would
scarcely get on.

Yes, the little princess was none too engaging, she reflected, and her
poor sacrificed child if not actually trapped....

The silken swish of a fan, breaking the silence, induced the Queen to
look up.

In waiting at present was the Countess Olivia d’Omptyda, a person of
both excellent principles and birth, if lacking, somewhat, in social
boldness. Whenever she entered the royal presence she would begin
visibly to tremble, which considerably flattered the Queen. Her Father,
Count “Freddie” d’Omptyda, an infantile and charming old man, appointed
in a moment of unusual vagary Pisuergan Ambassador to the Court of
St James’, had lately married a child wife scarcely turned thirteen,
whose frivolity, and numerous pranks on the high dames of London, were
already the scandal of the _Corps Diplomatique_.

“Sssh! Noise is the last vulgarity,” the Queen commented, raising a
cushion embroidered with raging lions and white uncanny unicorns higher
behind her head.

Unstrung from the numerous _fêtes_, she had retired to a distant
boudoir to relax, and, having partly disrobed, was feeling remotely
Venus of Miloey with her arms half-hidden in a plain white cape.

The Countess d’Omptyda furled her fan.

“In this Age of push and shriek ...” she said and sighed.

“It seems that neither King Geo, nor Queen Glory, _ever_ lie down of a
day!” her Dreaminess declared.

“Since his last appointment, neither does Papa.”

“The affair of your step-mother and Lady Diana Duff Semour,” the Queen
remarked, “appears to be assuming the proportions of an Incident!”

The Countess dismally smiled. The subject of her step-mother, mistaken
frequently for her grand-daughter, was a painful one: “I hear she’s
like a colt broke loose!” she murmured, dropping her eyes fearfully to
her costume.

She was wearing an apron of Parma-violets, and the Order of the Holy
Ghost.

“It’s a little a pity she can’t be more sensible,” the Queen returned,
fingering listlessly some papers at her side. Among them was the
_Archæological Society’s_ initial report relating to the recent finds
among the Ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah. From Chedorlahomor came the
good news that an _amphora_ had been found, from which it seemed that
men, in those days, rode sideways, and women straddle-legs, with
their heads to the horses’ tails, while a dainty cup, ravished from a
rock-tomb in the Vale of Akko, ornamented with naked boys and goblets
of flowers, encouraged a yet more extensive research.

“You may advance, Countess, with the Archæologists’ report,” the Queen
commanded. “Omitting (skipping, I say) the death of the son of Lord
Intriguer.”[11]

“‘It was in the Vale of Akko, about two miles from Sââda,” the Countess
tremblingly began, “that we laid bare a superb tear-bottle, a unique
specimen in _grisaille_, severely adorned with a matron’s head. From
the inscription, there can be no doubt whatever that we have here an
authentic portrait of Lot’s disobedient, though unfortunate wife. Ample
and statuesque (as the salten image she was afterwards to become),
the shawl-draped, masklike features are by no means beautiful. It is
a face that you may often see to-day, in down-town ‘Dancings,’ or
in the bars of the dockyards, or wharfs, of our own modern cities,
Tilbury, ’Frisco, Vera Cruz--a sodden, gin-soaked face, that helps to
vindicate, if not, perhaps, excuse, the conduct of Lot.... With this
highly interesting example of the Potters’ Art, was found a novel
object, of an unknown nature, likely to arouse, in scientific circles,
considerable controversy....”

And just as the lectrice was growing hesitant, and embarrassed, the
Countess of Tolga, who had the _entrée_, unobtrusively entered the room.

She was looking particularly well in one of the new standing-out skirts
ruched with rosebuds, and was showing more of her stockings than she
usually did.

“You bring the sun with you!” the Queen graciously exclaimed.

“Indeed,” the Countess answered, “I ought to apologise for the
interruption, but the _poor little thing_ is leaving now.”

“What? has the Abbess come?”

“She has sent Sister Irene of the Incarnation, instead....”

“I had forgotten it was to-day.”

With an innate aversion for all farewells, yet the Queen was accustomed
to perform a score of irksome acts daily that she cordially disliked,
and when, shortly afterwards, Mademoiselle de Nazianzi accompanied by
a Sister from the Flaming-Hood were announced, they found her quite
prepared.

Touched, and reassured at the ex-maid’s appearance, the Queen judged,
at last, it was safe to unbend. Already very remote and unworldly in
her novice’s dress, she had ceased, indeed, to be a being there was
need any more to either circumvent, humour, or suppress; and now that
the threatened danger was gone, her Majesty glanced, half-lachrymosely,
about among her personal belongings for some slight token of “esteem”
or _souvenir_. Skimming from cabinet to cabinet, in a sort of hectic
dance, she began to fear, as she passed her bibelots in review, that
beyond a Chinese Buddha that she believed to be ill-omened, and which
for a nun seemed hardly suitable, she could spare nothing about her
after all, and in some dilemma, she raised her eyes, as though for
a crucifix, towards the wall. Above the long-chair a sombre study
of a strangled negress in a ditch by Gauguin conjured up to-day with
poignant force a vivid vision of the Tropics.

“The poor Duchess!” she involuntarily sighed, going off into a train of
speculation of her own.

Too tongue-tied, or, perhaps, too discreet, to inform the Queen that
anything she might select would immediately be confiscated by the
Abbess, Sister Irene, while professing her rosary, appraised her
surroundings with furtive eyes, crossing herself frequently with a
speed, and facility due to practice whenever her glance chanced to
alight on some nude shape in stone. Keen, meagre, and perhaps slightly
malicious, hers was a curiously pinched face--like a cold violet.

“The Abbess is still in retreat; but sends her duty,” she ventured as
the Queen approached a gueridon near which she was standing.

“Indeed? How I envy her,” the Queen wistfully said, selecting, as
suited to the requirements of the occasion, a little volume of a mystic
trend, the _Cries of Love_ of Father Surin,[12] bound in grey velvet,
which she pressed upon the reluctant novice, with a brief, but cordial,
kiss of farewell.

“She looked quite pretty!” she exclaimed, sinking to the long-chair as
soon as the nuns had gone.

“So like the Cimabue in the long corridor ...” the Countess of Tolga
murmured chillily; It was her present policy that her adored ally, Olga
Blumenghast, should benefit by Mademoiselle de Nazianzi’s retirement
from Court, by becoming nearer to the Queen, when they would work all
the wires between them.

“I’d have willingly followed her,” the Queen weariedly declared, “at
any rate, until after the wedding.”

“It seems that I and Lord Derbyfield are to share the same closed
carriage in the wake of the bridal coach,” the Countess of Tolga said,
considering with a supercilious air her rose _suède_ slipper on the
dark carpet.

“He’s like some great Bull. What do you suppose he talks about?”

The Countess d’Omptyda repressed a giggle.

“They tell me Don Juan was nothing _nothing_ to him.... He cannot see,
he cannot be, oh every hour. It seems he can’t help it, and that he
simply _has_ to!”

“Fortunately Lady Lavinia Lee-Strange will be in the landau as well!”

The Queen laid her cheek to her hands.

“I all but died, dear Violet,” she crooned, “listening to an account
of her Ancestor, who fell, fighting Scotland, at the battle of Pinkie
Cleugh.”

“These well-bred, but detestably insular women, how they bore one.”

“They are not to be appraised by any ordinary standards. Crossing the
state saloon while coming here what should I see, ma’am, but Lady
Canon of Noon on her hands and knees (all fours!) peeping below the
loose-covers of the chairs in order to examine the Gobelins-tapestries
beneath....”

“Oh----”

“‘Absolutely authentic’ I said! as I passed on, leaving her looking
like a pick-pocket caught in the act.”

“I suppose she was told to make a quiet survey....”

“Like their beagles and deer-hounds, that their Landseer so loved to
paint, I fear the British character is, at bottom, _nothing_ if not
rapacious!”

“It’s said, I believe, to behold the Englishman at his _best_, one
should watch him play at tip-and-run.”

“You mean of course at cricket?”

The Queen looked doubtful: She had retained of a cricket-match at
Lord’s a memory of hatless giants waving wooden sticks.

“I only wish it could have been a long engagement,” she abstrusely
murmured, fastening her attention on the fountains whitely spurting in
the gardens below.

Valets in cotton-jackets and light blue aprons bearing baskets of
crockery and _argenterie_, were making ready beneath the tall Tuba
trees, a supper _buffet_ for the evening’s Ball.

    “Flap your wings, little bird
        O flap your wings----”

A lad’s fresh voice, sweet as a robin’s, came piping up.

“These wretched workpeople----! There’s not a peaceful corner,” the
Queen complained, as her husband’s shape appeared at the door. He was
followed by his first secretary--a simple commoner, yet, with the air,
and manner, peculiar to the husband of a Countess.

“Yes, Willie? I’ve a hundred head-aches. What is it?”

“Both King Geo and Queen Glory, are wondering where you are.”

“Oh, really, Willie?”

“And dear Elsie’s asking after you too.”

“Very likely,” the Queen returned with quiet complaisance, “but
unfortunately, I have neither her energy, or,” she murmured with a
slightly sardonic laugh, “her appetite!”

The Countess of Tolga tittered.

“She called for fried-eggs and butcher’s-meat, this morning, about the
quarter before eight,” she averred.

“An excellent augury for our dynasty,” the King declared, reposing
the eyes of an adoring grandparent upon an alabaster head of a Boy
attributed to Donatello.

“She’s terribly foreign, Willie...! Imagine ham and eggs ...” the Queen
dropped her face to her hand.

“So long as the Royal-House----” The King broke off, turning gallantly
to raise the Countess d’Omptyda, who had sunk with a gesture of
exquisite allegiance to the floor.

“Sir ... Sir!” she faltered in confusion, seeking with fervent lips her
Sovereign’s hand.

“What is she doing, Willie?”

“Begging for Strawberry-leaves!” the Countess of Tolga brilliantly
commented.

“Apropos of Honours ... it appears King Geo has signified his intention
of raising his present representative in Pisuerga to the peerage.”

“After her recent _Cause_, Lady Something should be not a little
consoled.”

“She was at the début of the new diva, little Miss Hellvellyn (the
foreign invasion has indeed begun!), at the Opera-House last night, so
radiant....”

“When she cranes forward out of her own box to smile at someone into
the next, I can’t explain ... but one feels she ought to hatch,” the
Queen murmured, repairing capriciously from one couch to another.

“We neglect our guests, my dear,” the King expostulatingly exclaimed,
bending over his consort anxiously from behind.

“Tell me, Willie,” she cooed, caressing the medals upon his breast, and
drawing him gently down: “tell me? Didst thou enjoy thy cigar, dear,
with King Geo?”

“I can recall in my time, Child, a suaver flavour....”

“Thy little chat, though, dearest, was well enough?”

“I would not call him crafty, but I should say he was a man of
considerable subtlety ...” the King evasively replied.

“One does not need, my dearest nectarine, a prodigy of intelligence
however to take him in!”

“Before the proposed Loan, love, can be brought about, he may wish to
question thee as to thy political opinions.”

The Queen gave a little light laugh.

“No one knows what my political opinions are; I don’t myself!”

“And I’m quite confident of it: But, indeed, my dear, we neglect our
functions.”

“I only wish it could have been a _long_ engagement, Willie....”



XV


In the cloister eaves, the birds were just awakening, and all the
spider scales, in the gargoyled gables, glanced fresh with dew. Above
the Pietà, on the porter’s gate, slow-speeding clouds, like knots
of pink roses, came blowing across the sky, sailing away in titanic
bouquets towards the clear horizon. All virginal in the early sunrise
what enchantment the world possessed! The rhythmic sway-sway of the
trees, the exhalations of the flowers, the ethereal candour of this
early hour,--these raised the heart up to their Creator.

Kneeling at the casement of a postulant’s cell, Laura de Nazianzi
recalled that serene, and just thus had she often planned must dawn her
bridal day!

Beyond the cruciform flower-beds, and the cloister wall, soared the
Blue Jesus, the storied windows of its lofty galleries aglow with
light.

“Most gracious Jesus. Help me to forget. For my heart aches. Uphold me
now.”

But to forget to-day, was well-nigh she knew impossible....

Once it seemed she caught the sound of splendid music from the
direction of the Park, but it was too early for music yet. Away in the
palace, the Princess Elsie must be already astir ... in her peignoir,
perhaps? The bridal-garment unfolded upon the bed: But no; it was said
the bed indeed was where usually her Royal-Highness’ dogs....

With a long and very involuntary sigh, she began to sweep, and put in
some order, her room.

How forlorn her cornette looked upon her _prie-Dieu_! And, oh, how
stern, and “old”!

Would an impulse to bend it slightly but only so, _so_ slightly, to an
angle to suit her face, be attended, later, by remorse?

“Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatae Mariae semper vergini, beato
Michaeli Archangelo (et _tibi_ Pater), quia peccavi nimis cogitatione,
verbo et opere,” she entreated, reposing her chin in meditation, upon
the handle of her broom.

The bluish shadow of a cypress-tree, on the empty wall, fascinated her
as few pictures had.

“Grant my soul Eyes,” she prayed, cheerfully completing her task.

In the corridor, being a general holiday, all was yet quite still.
A sound, as of gentle snoring, came indeed from behind more than
one closed door, and the new _pensionnaire_ was preparing to beat a
retreat, when she perceived, in the cloister, the dumpish form of Old
Jane.

Seated in the sun by the convent well, the Porteress was sharing a
scrap of breakfast with the birds.

“You’re soonish for Mass, love,” she broke out, her large archaic
features surcharged with smiles.

“It’s such a perfect morning, I felt I must come down.”

“I’ve seen many a more promising sunrise before now, my dear, turn to
storm and blast! An orange sky overhead, brings back to me the morning
that I was received; ah, I shall never forget, as I was taking my Vows,
a flash of forked lightning, and a clap of Thunder (Glory be to God!)
followed by a water-spout (Mercy save us!) bursting all over my Frinch
lace veil....”

“What is your book, Old Jane?”

“Something light, love, as it’s a holiday.”

“_Pascal_....”

“Though it’s mostly a _Fête_ day I’ve extra to do!” the Porteress
averred, dropping her eyes to the great, glistening spits, upon the
Cloister flags. It was her boast she could distinguish Monsignor Potts’
round splash from Father Geordie Picpus’ more dapper fine one, and
again the Abbess’ from Mother Martinez de la Rosa’s--although these
indeed shared a certain opaque sameness.

“Of course it’s a day for private visits.”

“Since the affair of Sister Dorothea and Brother Bernard Soult, private
visits are no longer allowed,” the Porteress returned, reproving
modestly, with the cord of her discipline, a pert little lizard, that
seemed to be proposing to penetrate between the nude toes of her
sandalled foot.

But on such a radiant morning it was preposterous to hint at “Rules.”

Beneath the clement sun a thousand cicadas were insouciantly chirping,
while birds, skimming about without thoughts of money, floated lightly
from tree to tree.

“Jesus--Mary--Joseph!” the Porteress purred, as a Nun, with her face
all muffled up in wool, crossed the Cloister, glancing neither to right
nor left, and sharply slammed a door: for, already, the Convent was
beginning to give signs of animation. Deep in a book of Our Lady’s
Hours, a biretta’d priest was slowly rounding a garden path, while
repairing from a _Grotto-sepulchre_, to which was attached a handsome
indulgence, Mother Martinez de la Rosa appeared, all heavily leaning on
her stick.

Simultaneously the matins bell rang out, calling all to prayer.

The Convent Chapel founded by the tender enthusiasm of a wealthy widow,
the Countess d’Acunha, to perpetuate her earthly comradeship with the
beautiful Andalusian, the Doña Dolores Baatz, was still but thinly
peopled some few minutes later, although the warning bell had stopped.

Peering around, Laura was disappointed not to remark Sister Ursula in
her habitual place, between the veiled fresco of the “Circumcision” and
the stoup of holy-water by the door.

Beyond an offer to “exchange whippings” there had been a certain
coolness in the greeting with her friend, that had both surprised and
pained her.

“When those we rely on wound and betray us, to whom should we turn but
Thee?” she breathed, addressing a crucifix, in ivory, contrived by
love, that was a miracle of wonder.

Finished Mass, there was a general rush for the Refectory!

Preceded by Sister Clothilde, and followed, helter-skelter, by an
exuberant bevy of nuns, even Mother Martinez, who being shortsighted
would go feeling the ground with her cane, was propelled to the measure
of a hop-and-skip.

Passing beneath an archway, labelled “Silence” (the injunction to-day
being undoubtedly ignored), the company was welcomed by the mingled
odours of tea, _consommé_, and fruit. It was a custom of the Convent
for one of the Sisters during meal-time to read aloud from some
standard work of fideism, and these edifying recitations, interspersed
by such whispered questions as: “Tea, or _Consommé_?” “A Banana, or a
Pomegranate?” gave to those at all foolishly, or hysterically inclined,
a painful desire to giggle. Mounting the pulpit-lectern, a nun with an
aristocratic, though gourmand little face, was about to resume the arid
life of the Byzantine monk, Basilius Saturninus, when Mother Martinez
de la Rosa took it upon herself, in a few patriotic words, to relax all
rules for that day.

“We understand in the world now,” a little faded woman murmured to
Laura upon her right: “that the latest craze among ladies is to gild
their tongues; but I should be afraid,” she added diffidently, dipping
her banana into her tea, “of poison, myself!”

Unhappy at her friend’s absence from the Refectory, Laura, however,
was in no mood to entertain the nuns with stories of the present pagan
tendencies of society.

Through the bare, blindless windows, framing a sky so bluely luminous,
came the swelling clamour of the assembling crowds, tinging the
languid air as with some sultry fever. From the _Chausée_, music
of an extraordinary intention--heated music, crude music, played
with passionate élan to perfect time, conjured up, with vivid,
heartrending prosaicness, the seething Boulevards beyond the high old
creeper-covered walls.

“I forget now, Mother, which of the Queens it is that will wear a
velvet train of a beautiful orchid shade: But one of them will!” Sister
Irene of the Incarnation was holding forth.

“I must confess,” Mother Martinez remarked, who was peeling herself a
peach, with an air of far attention: “I must confess, I should have
liked to have cast my eye upon the _lingerie_....”

“I would rather have seen the ballwraps, Mother, or the shoes, and
evening slippers!”

“Yes, or the fabulous jewels....”

“Of course Sister Laura saw the _trousseau_?”

But Laura made feint not to hear.

Discipline relaxed, a number of nuns had collected provisions and
were picnicking in the window, where Sister Innez (an ex-Repertoire
actress) was giving some spirited renderings of her chief successful
parts--_Jane de Simerose_, _Frou-Frou_, _Sappho_, _Cigarette_....

“My darling child! I always sleep all day and only revive when there’s
_a Man_,” she was saying with an impudent look, sending the scandalised
Sisters into delighted convulsions.

Unable to endure it any longer, Laura crept away.

A desire for air and solitude, led her towards the Recreation ground.
After the hot refectory, sauntering in the silken shade of the old
astounding cedars, was delightful quite. In the deserted alleys,
the golden blossoms of the censia-trees, unable to resist the sun,
littered in perfumed piles the ground, overcoming her before long with
a sensation akin to _vertige_. Anxious to find her friend, Laura turned
towards her cell.

She found Sister Ursula leaning on her window-ledge all crouched
up--like a Duchess on “a First Night.”

“My dear, my dear, the _crowds_!”

“Ursula?”

“Yes, what is it?”

“Perhaps I’ll go, since I’m in the way.”

“Touchy Goose,” Sister Ursula murmured wheeling round with a glance of
complex sweetness.

“Ah, Ursula,” Laura sighed, smiling reproachfully at her friend.

She had long almond eyes, one longer and larger than the other, that
gave to her narrow, etiolated face, an exalted, mystic air. Her hair,
wholly concealed by her full coif, would be inclined to rich copper or
chestnut: Indeed, below the pinched and sensitive nostrils, a moustache
(so slight as to be scarcely discernible) proved this beyond all
controversy to be so. But perhaps the quality and beauty of her hands
were her chief distinction.

“Do you believe it would cause an earthquake, if we climbed out, dear
little one, upon the leads?” she asked.

“I had forgotten you overlooked the street by leaning out,” Laura
answered, sinking fatigued to a little cane armchair.

“Listen, Laura...!”

“This cheering racks my heart....”

“Ah, Astaroth! There went a very ‘swell’ carriage.”

“Perhaps I’ll come back later: It’s less noisy in my cell.”

“Now you’re here, I shall ask you, I think, to whip me.”

“Oh, no....”

“Bad dear Little-One. Dear meek soul,” Sister Ursula softly laughed.

“This maddening cheering,” Laura breathed, rolling tormented eyes about
her.

A crucifix, a text: _I would lay Pansies at Jesus’ Feet_, two fresh
eggs in a blue paper bag, some ends of string, a breviary, and a birch,
were the chamber’s individual, if meagre, contents.

“You used _not_ to have that text, Ursula,” Laura observed, her
attention arrested by the preparation of a Cinematograph Company on the
parapet of the Cathedral.

The Church had much need indeed of Reformation! The Times were
incredibly low: A new crusade ... she ruminated, revolted at the
sight of an old man holding dizzily to a stone-winged angel, with a
wine-flask at his lips.

“Come, dear, won’t you assist me now to mortify my senses?” Sister
Ursula cajoled.

“No, really, no--!--!--!”

“Quite lightly: For I was scourged, by Sister Agnes, but yesterday,
with a heavy bunch of keys, head downwards, hanging from a bar.”

“Oh....”

“This morning she sent me those pullets’ eggs. I perfectly was touched
by her delicate sweet sympathy.”

Laura gasped.

“It must have hurt you?”

“I assure you I felt nothing--my spirit had travelled so far,” Sister
Ursula replied, turning to throw an interested glance at the street.

It was close now upon the critical hour, and the plaudits of the crowd
were becoming more and more uproarious, as “favourites” in Public life,
and “celebrities” of all sorts, began to arrive in brisk succession at
the allotted door of the Cathedral.

“I could almost envy the fleas in the Cardinal’s vestments,” Sister
Ursula declared, overcome by the venal desire to see.

Gazing at the friend upon whom she had counted in some disillusion,
Laura quietly left her.

The impulse to witness something of the spectacle outside
was, nevertheless, infectious, and recollecting that from the
grotto-sepulchre in the garden it was not impossible to attain the
convent wall, she determined, moved by some wayward instinct, to do so.
Frequently, as a child, had she scaled it, to survey the doings of the
city streets beyond--the streets, named by the nuns often “Sinward-ho.”
Crossing the cloisters, and through old gates crowned by vast
fruit-baskets in stone, she followed, feverishly the ivy-masked bricks
of the sheltering wall, and was relieved to reach the grotto without
encountering anyone. Surrounded by heavy boskage, it marked a spot
where, once, long ago, one of the Sisters, it was said, had received
the mystic stigmata.... With a feline effort (her feet supported by the
Grotto boulders), it needed but a bound to attain an incomparable post
of vantage.

Beneath a blaze of bunting, the street seemed paved with heads.
“Madonna,” she breathed, as an official on a white horse, its mane
stained black, began authoritatively backing his steed into the patient
faces of the mob, startling an infant in arms below, to a frantic fit
of squalls.

“Just so shall we stand on the Day of Judgment,” she reflected,
blinking at the glare.

Street boys vending programmes, ‘Lucky’ horseshoes, Saturnalian
emblems--(these for gentlemen only), offering postcards of ‘Geo and
Glory,’ etc., wedged their way however where it might have been deemed
indeed impossible for anyone to pass.

And _he_, she wondered, her eyes following the wheeling pigeons,
alarmed by the recurrent salutes of the signal guns, he must be there
already: Under the dome! Restive a little beneath the busy scrutiny,
his tongue like the point of a blade....

A burst of cheering seemed to announce the Queen. But no, it was only a
lady, with a parasol sewn with diamonds, that was exciting the rah-rahs
of the crowd. Followed by mingled cries of “Shame!” “Waste!” and sighs
of envy, Madame Wetme was enjoying a belated triumph. And now a brief
lull, as a brake containing various delegates and “representatives of
English Culture,” rolled by at a stately trot--Lady Alexander, E. V.
Lucas, Robert Hichens, Clutton Brock, etc.,--the ensemble the very
apotheosis of worn-out _cliché_.

“There’s someone there wot’s got enough heron plumes on her head!” a
young girl in the crowd remarked.

And nobody contradicted her.

Then troops and outriders, and at last the Queen.

She was looking charming in a Corinthian chlamyde, in a carriage lined
in deep delphinium blue, behind six restive blue roan horses.

Finally, the bride and her father, bowing this way and that....

Cheers.

“Huzzas”--

A hushed suspense.

Below the wall the voice of a beggar arose, persistent, haunting: “For
the Love of God.... In the Name of Pity ... of Pity.”

“Of Pity,” she echoed, addressing a frail, wind-sown harebell, blue as
the sky: And leaning upon the shattered glass ends, that crowned the
wall, she fell to considering the future--Obedience, Solitude--death.

The troubling _valse_ theme from _Dante in Paris_ interrupted her
meditations.

How often had they valsed it together, he and she ... sometimes as a
two-step...! What souvenirs.... Yousef, Yousef.... Above the Cathedral,
the crumbling clouds, had eclipsed the sun. In the intense meridian
glare the thronged street seemed even as though half-hypnotised;
occasionally only the angle of a parasol would change, or some bored
soldier’s legs would give a little. When brusquely, from the belfry,
burst a triumphant clash of bells.

Laura caught her breath.

Already?

A shaking of countless handkerchiefs in wild ovation: From roof-tops,
and balconies, the air was thick with falling flowers--the bridal pair!

But only for the bridegroom had she eyes.

Oblivious of what she did, she began to beat her hands, until they
streamed with blood, against the broken glass ends upon the wall:
“Yousef, Yousef, Yousef....”


_July 1921_, _May 1922_.

_Versailles_, _Montreux_, _Florence_.



BY THE SAME AUTHOR


CARL VAN VECHTEN, in _The Double Dealer:_ “It is high time
that the world should know something of the works of Ronald Firbank.
He is the Pierrot of the Minute. _Plus chic que le futurisme_. Aubrey
Beardsley in a Rolls-Royce. Sacher-Masoch in Mayfair. ‘_A Rebours’ à
la mode._ Aretino in Piccadilly. Jean Cocteau at the Savoy. The Oxford
Tradition with a dash of the Paris _bains de vapeurs_.... Firbank plays
Picasso’s violin.”



VAINGLORY

A NOVEL

WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY FÉLICIEN ROPS

[Illustration]


TIMES:

“A perpetual sparkle.”


OBSERVER:

“An incessant sparkle.”


PALL MALL GAZETTE:

“A very clever book.”


BELFAST WHIG:

“Extraordinary clever.”


NEW WITNESS:

“The author of this book has a gift for trenchant satire ... one cannot
help feeling that Mr Firbank must have gone straight to life for some
of these people.”



INCLINATIONS

A NOVEL

WITH TWO DRAWINGS BY ALBERT RUTHERSTON (ROTHENSTEIN)

[Illustration]


SCOTSMAN:

“The book is pleasant, vivacious and stimulating throughout.”


IRISH TIMES:

“Marked by a certain bizarre lightness of treatment.”


NEW WITNESS:

“The scheme of his new book is novel.”


GLASGOW HERALD:

“Mr Ronald Firbank’s fiction bears a strong resemblance to the work of
the Futurists in painting.”


TIMES:

“There is humour.”


HARROGATE HERALD:

“A quiet vein of humour.”


FREEMAN’S JOURNAL:

“Pleasant and clever, _Inclinations_ is a book that won’t tax the
patience of any reader.”


NEW STATESMAN:

“The result is amusing.”


VALMOUTH

A NOVEL

WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY AUGUSTUS JOHN

[Illustration]


TIMES:

“All the characters are bizarre--as bizarre as the style.”


LONDON MERCURY:

“He has a certain gift for inconsequence and highly etherealised
frivolity.”


SCOTSMAN:

“There is no particular plot.”


IRISH LIFE:

“It is a weird medley of Beardsleyesque chatter.”


LAND AND WATER:

“This is the real decadence: Huysmans and his friends were muscular
giants, playing at bizarre senility, compared with Mr Firbank.”


LIVERPOOL POST:

“Had Shelley written nothing but _Julian and Maddalo_ and _The Cenci_,
we might have called Mr Firbank a prose Shelley.”


DAILY NEWS:

“Mr Firbank, who can write really witty nonsense.”


ATHENÆUM:

“But Mr Firbank has talents--a gift of style, a capacity to write
dialogue, an appreciation of the beautiful and the absurd. With such
gifts he might produce a real comedy of manners. It is to be hoped that
he will.”



THE PRINCESS ZOUBAROFF

A COMEDY

WITH A FRONTISPIECE AND DECORATION BY MICHEL SEVIER

[Illustration]


LIVERPOOL POST AND MERCURY:

“In taking to play-writing he has obviously done the right thing. _The
Princess Zoubaroff_ is artificial comedy of the uncommonly successful
sort.... The brilliancy, suavity and vim of the dialogue.... No
present-day social-satirist has parodied more cruelly the elegant
verbal affectations, the malicious chatter and fashionable slang that
passes for wit and wisdom in Mayfair.”


SPECTATOR:

“Mr Firbank has an extraordinary knack of writing dialogue, and his
entirely odious people move and breathe and are completely real.
Perhaps some day Mr Firbank will give us a comedy that is not all
satire; when he does it might prove an exceedingly brilliant acting
play.”


OUTLOOK:

“Possibly someone familiar with the English colony at Florence would
regard it as a _roman à clef_.”


MANCHESTER GUARDIAN:

“He is a portent ... a black sheep among white ones....”


TIMES:

“A continuous sparkle of crisp dialogue.”


DAILY EXPRESS:

“Mr Firbank’s endeavours to be wicked are almost pathetic.... Young men
with side-whiskers and maids in Assyrian jumpers are raving about Mr
Firbank’s audacities....”


ODETTE

A FAIRY TALE FOR WEARY PEOPLE

WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALBERT BUHRER

[Illustration]


GLASGOW HERALD:

“The short story here published reveals a delicate descriptive power,
a fine perception of the value of colour, and that restraint which is
indispensable to the making of a good short story.”



CAPRICE

A NOVEL

WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY AUGUSTUS JOHN

[Illustration]

_Out of Print._



SANTAL

[Illustration]


OBSERVER:

“Mr Firbank always had a sense of style and a feeling for the mannered
beauty of arranged words.... In _Santal_ the passion for beautiful
writing is still evident, but it is used with greater simplicity to
achieve an effect such as a more reticent Pierre Loti might manage....
Mr Firbank has emotion rather than passion, and his East is viewed
through a slight haze of sentiment; but it is a real country, and has
its own spiritual excitements.”


GLASGOW EVENING NEWS:

“Mr Firbank has acquired a reputation as a stylist which this work will
enhance. Within its brief compass there is all the glamour, the colour,
the heat, the smells, the vileness, the beauty, and the fervour of
Islam. It is the sort of thing that Loti does on a grander scale, and,
like Loti, Mr Firbank is an adept at the creation of atmosphere. He is
guilty of a few affectations perhaps, but these are like precious flaws
in a wondrous Turkish carpet--they are lost in the beauty of the design
as a whole.”


LIVERPOOL DAILY POST:

“Mr Ronald Firbank has always had his own manner, and a very modish
one. In _Santal_ the elegance, almost dandyism, of his style has given
just a faint hint of flippancy to a tale in itself very dignified,
and full of an unexpected warmth and delicacy of feeling. It is a
_nouvelle_--who could call a thing of such distinction a long short
story?--with the vivid richly-coloured background of the East....
Something there is, too, of irony and detachment, as though the Mr
Firbank of _Valmouth_ and of _The Princess Zoubaroff_ were secretly
smiling a little cynically at his unexpected tumble into sentiment.”


SOUTHPORT GUARDIAN:

“The incense of Santal pervades the book throughout. Mr Firbank is a
discriminating artist; he has an exotic sense of words and of colour.
Seldom have we met in so short a space so intense a characterisation of
pilgrimage or so vivid a picture of the Algerian scene.”


TIMES:

“Mr Firbank here drops his artificiality and gives a vividly real
study of an Eastern city ... a vivid glimpse of a world strange--to a
European--but convincingly true.”



_IN PREPARATION_

A STUDY OF WEST INDIAN LIFE AND MANNERS



FOOTNOTES:

[1] The name by which the future saint was sometimes called among her
friends.

[2] Always a humiliating recollection with her in after years. _Vide_:
‘Confessions.’

[3] _Winds_, pronounced as we’re told, “in poetry.”

[4] The Capital of Pisuerga.

[5] The recollection of this was never quite forgotten.

[6] _Vide_ Botticelli.

[7] In Pisuerga compliments are apt to rival in this respect those of
the ardent South.

[8] The missing articles were:--

    5 chasubles.
    A relic-casket in lapis and diamonds, containing the Tongue of St Thelma.
    4¾ yards of black lace, said to have “belonged” to the Madonna.


[9] Although the account of Princess Elsie’s arrival in Kairoulla is
signed “Green Jersey,” it seems not unlikely that “Eva Schnerb” herself
was the reporter on this eventful occasion.

[10] The Théâtre Diana; a Music Hall dedicated to Spanish Zarzuelas and
Operettes. It enjoyed a somewhat doubtful reputation.

[11] The Hon. ‘Eddy’ Monteith had succumbed: the shock received by
meeting a jackal while composing a sonnet had been too much for him.
His tomb is in the Vale of Akko, beside the River Dis. Alas, for the
_triste_ obscurity of his end!

[12] Author of _In the Dusk of the Dawn_.


[Transcriber’s Note:

Obvious printer errors corrected silently.

Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation are as in the original.]





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