Queen Lucia
by E. F. Benson
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Thus reinforced, she plunged with the same energy as she had devoted to repelling uric acid into the embrace of Christian Science. The inhumanity of that sect towards both herself and others took complete possession of her, and when her husband complained on a bitter January morning that his smoking-room was like an icehouse, because the housemaid had forgotten to light the fire, she had no touch of pity for him, since she knew that there was no such thing as cold or heat or pain, and therefore you could not feel cold. But now, since, according to the new creed, such things as uric acid, chromogens and purins had no existence, she could safely indulge in decent viands again. But her unhappy husband was not a real gainer in this respect, for while he ate, she tirelessly discoursed to him on the new creed, and asked him to recite with her the True Statement of Being. And on the top of that she dismissed the admirable cook, and engaged the miscreant from whom he suffered still, though Christian Science, which had allowed her cold to make so long a false claim on her, had followed the uric-acid fad into the limbo of her discarded beliefs.

But now once more she had temporarily discovered the secret of life in the teachings of the Guru, and it was, as has been mentioned, sheer Guruism that constituted the main attraction of the new creed. That then being taken for granted, she turned her mind to certain side-issues, which to a true Riseholmite were of entrancing interest. She felt a strong suspicion that Lucia contemplated annexing her Guru altogether, for otherwise she would not have returned so enthusiastic a response to her note, nor have sent Georgie to deliver it, nor have professed so violent an interest in the Guru. What then was the correctly diabolical policy to pursue? Should Daisy Quantock refuse to take him to Mrs Lucas altogether, with a message of regret that he did not feel himself sent? Even if she did this, did she feel herself strong enough to throw down the gauntlet (in the shape of the Guru) and, using him as the attraction, challenge darling Lucia to mutual combat, in order to decide who should be the leader of all that was advanced and cultured in Riseholme society? Still following that ramification of this policy, should she bribe Georgie over to her own revolutionary camp, by promising him instruction from the Guru? Or following a less dashing line, should she take darling Lucia and Georgie into the charmed circle, and while retaining her own right of treasure trove, yet share it with them in some inner ring, dispensing the Guru to them, if they were good, in small doses?

Mrs Quantock's mind resembled in its workings the manoeuvres of a moth distracted by the glory of several bright lights. It dashed at one, got slightly singed, and forgetting all about that turned its attention to the second, and the third, taking headers into each in turn, without deciding which, on the whole, was the most enchanting of those luminaries. So, in order to curb the exuberance of these frenzied excursions she got a half sheet of paper, and noted down the alternatives that she must choose from.

"(I) Shall I keep him entirely to myself?

"(II) Shall I run him for all he is worth, and leave out L?

"(III) Shall I get G on my side?

"(IV) Shall I give L and G bits?"

She paused a moment: then remembering that he had voluntarily helped her very pretty housemaid to make the beds that morning, saying that his business (like the Prince of Wales's) was to serve, she added:

"(V) Shall I ask him to be my cook?"

For a few seconds the brightness of her eager interest was dimmed as the unworthy suspicion occurred to her that perhaps the prettiness of her housemaid had something to do with his usefulness in the bedrooms, but she instantly dismissed it. There was the bottle of brandy, too, which he had ordered from Rush's. When she had begged him to order anything he wanted and cause it to be put down to her account, she had not actually contemplated brandy. Then remembering that one of the most necessary conditions for progress in Yoga, was that the disciple should have complete confidence in the Guru, she chased that also out of her mind. But still, even when the lines of all possible policies were written down, she could come to no decision, and putting her paper by her bed, decided to sleep over it. The rhythmical sounds of hallowed breathing came steadily from next door, and she murmured "Om, Om," in time with them.

The hours of the morning between breakfast and lunch were the time which the inhabitants of Riseholme chiefly devoted to spying on each other. They went about from shop to shop on household businesses, occasionally making purchases which they carried away with them in little paper parcels with convenient loops of string, but the real object of these excursions was to see what everybody else was doing, and learn what fresh interests had sprung up like mushrooms during the night. Georgie would be matching silks at the draper's, and very naturally he would carry them from the obscurity of the interior to the door in order to be certain about the shades, and keep his eye on the comings and goings in the street, and very naturally Mr Lucas on his way to the market gardener's to enquire whether he had yet received the bulbs from Holland, would tell him that Lucia had received the piano-arrangement of the Mozart trio. Georgie for his part would mention that Hermy and Ursy were expected that evening, and Peppino enriched by this item would "toddle on," as his phrase went, to meet and exchange confidences with the next spy. He had noticed incidentally that Georgie carried a small oblong box with hard corners, which, perfectly correctly, he conjectured to be cigarettes for Hermy and Ursy, since Georgie never smoked.

"Well, I must be toddling on," he said, after identifying Georgie's box of cigarettes, and being rather puzzled by a bulge in Georgie's pocket. "You'll be looking in some time this morning, perhaps."

Georgie had not been quite sure that he would (for he was very busy owing to the arrival of his sisters, and the necessity of going to Mr Holroyd's, in order that that artist might accurately match the shade of his hair with a view to the expensive toupet), but the mention of the arrival of the Mozart now decided him. He intended anyhow before he went home for lunch to stroll past The Hurst, and see if he did not hear—to adopt a mixed metaphor—the sound of the diligent practice of that classical morsel going on inside. Probably the soft pedal would be down, but he had marvellously acute hearing, and he would be very much surprised if he did not hear the recognisable chords, and even more surprised if, when they came to practise the piece together, Lucia did not give him to understand that she was reading it for the first time. He had already got a copy, and had practised his part last night, but then he was in the superior position of not having a husband who would inadvertently tell on him! Meantime it was of the first importance to get that particular shade of purple silk that had none of that "tarsome" magenta-tint in it. Meantime also, it was of even greater importance to observe the movements of Riseholme.

Just opposite was the village green, and as nobody was quite close to him Georgie put on his spectacles, which he could whisk off in a moment. It was these which formed that bulge in his pocket which Peppino had noticed, but the fact of his using spectacles at all was a secret that would have to be profoundly kept for several years yet. But as there was no one at all near him, he stealthily adjusted them on his small straight nose. The morning train from town had evidently come in, for there was a bustle of cabs about the door of the Ambermere Arms, and a thing that thrilled him to the marrow was the fact that Lady Ambermere's motor was undoubtedly among them. That must surely mean that Lady Ambermere herself was here, for when poor thin Miss Lyall, her companion, came in to Riseholme to do shopping, or transact such business as the majestic life at The Hall required, she always came on foot, or in very inclement weather in a small two-wheeled cart like a hip-bath. At this moment, steeped in conjecture, who should appear, walking stiffly, with her nose in the air, as if suspecting, and not choosing to verify, some faint unpleasant odour, but Lady Ambermere herself, coming from the direction of The Hurst.... Clearly she must have got there after Peppino had left, or he would surely have mentioned the fact that Lady Ambermere had been at The Hurst, if she had been at The Hurst. It is true that she was only coming from the direction of The Hurst, but Georgie put into practice, in his mental processes Darwin's principle, that in order to observe usefully, you must have a theory. Georgie's theory was that Lady Ambermere had been at The Hurst just for a minute or two, and hastily put his spectacles in his pocket. With the precision of a trained mind he also formed the theory that some business had brought Lady Ambermere into Riseholme, and that taking advantage of her presence there, she had probably returned a verbal answer to Lucia's invitation to her garden-party, which she would have received by the first post this morning. He was quite ready to put his theory to the test when Lady Ambermere had arrived at the suitable distance for his conveniently observing her, and for taking off his hat. She always treated him like a boy, which he liked. The usual salutation passed.

"I don't know where my people are," said Lady Ambermere majestically. "Have you seen my motor?"

"Yes, dear lady, it's in at your own arms," said Georgie brightly. "Happy motor!"

If Lady Ambermere unbent to anybody, she unbent to Georgie. He was of quite good family, because his mother had been a Bartlett and a second cousin of her deceased husband. Sometimes when she talked to Georgie she said "we," implying thereby his connection with the aristocracy, and this gratified Georgie nearly as much as did her treatment of him as being quite a boy still. It was to him, as a boy still, that she answered.

"Well, the happy motor, you little rascal, must come to my arms instead of being at them," she said with the quick wit for which Riseholme pronounced her famous. "Fancy being able to see my motor at that distance. Young eyes!"

It was really young spectacles, but Georgie did not mind that. In fact, he would not have corrected the mistake for the world.

"Shall I run across and fetch it for you?" he asked.

"In a minute. Or whistle on your fingers like a vulgar street boy," said Lady Ambermere. "I'm sure you know how to."

Georgie had not the slightest idea, but with the courage of youth, presuming, with the prudence of middle-age, that he would not really be called upon to perform so unimaginable a feat, he put two fingers up to his mouth.

"Here goes then!" he said, greatly daring. (He knew perfectly well that the dignity of Lady Ambermere would not permit rude vulgar whistling, of which he was hopelessly incapable, to summon her motor. She made a feint of stopping her ears with her hands.)

"Don't do anything of the kind," she said. "In a minute you shall walk with me across to the Arms, but tell me this first. I have just been to say to our good Mrs Lucas that very likely I will look in at her garden-party on Friday, if I have nothing else to do. But who is this wonderful creature she is expecting? Is it an Indian conjurer? If so, I should like to see him, because when Ambermere was in Madras I remember one coming to the Residency who had cobras and that sort of thing. I told her I didn't like snakes, and she said there shouldn't be any. In fact, it was all rather mysterious, and she didn't at present know if he was coming or not. I only said, 'No snakes: I insist on no snakes.'"

Georgie relieved her mind about the chance of there being snakes, and gave a short precis of the ascertained habits of the Guru, laying special stress on his high-caste.

"Yes, some of these Brahmins are of very decent family," admitted Lady Ambermere. "I was always against lumping all dark-skinned people together and calling them niggers. When we were at Madras I was famed for my discrimination."

They were walking across the green as Lady Ambermere gave vent to these liberal sentiments, and Georgie even without the need of his spectacles could see Peppino, who had spied Lady Ambermere from the door of the market-gardener's, hurrying down the street, in order to get a word with her before "her people" drove her back to The Hall.

"I came into Riseholme today to get rooms at the Arms for Olga Bracely," she observed.

"The prima-donna?" asked Georgie breathless with excitement.

"Yes; she is coming to stay at the Arms for two nights with Mr Shuttleworth."

"Surely—" began Georgie.

"No, it is all right, he is her husband, they were married last week," said Lady Ambermere. "I should have thought that Shuttleworth was a good enough name, as the Shuttleworths are cousins of the late lord, but she prefers to call herself Miss Bracely. I don't dispute her right to call herself what she pleases: far from it, though who the Bracelys were, I have never been able to discover. But when George Shuttleworth wrote to me saying that he and his wife were intending to stay here for a couple of days, and proposing to come over to The Hall to see me, I thought I would just look in at the Arms myself, and see that they were promised proper accommodation. They will dine with me tomorrow. I have a few people staying, and no doubt Miss Bracely will sing afterwards. My Broadwood was always considered a remarkably fine instrument. It was very proper of George Shuttleworth to say that he would be in the neighbourhood, and I daresay she is a very decent sort of woman."

They had come to the motor by this time—the rich, the noble motor, as Mr Pepys would have described it—and there was poor Miss Lyall hung with parcels, and wearing a faint sycophantic smile. This miserable spinster, of age so obvious as to be called not the least uncertain, was Lady Ambermere's companion, and shared with her the glories of The Hall, which had been left to Lady Ambermere for life. She was provided with food and lodging and the use of the cart like a hip-bath when Lady Ambermere had errands for her to do in Riseholme, so what could a woman want more? In return for these bounties, her only duty was to devote herself body and mind to her patroness, to read the paper aloud, to set Lady Ambermere's patterns for needlework, to carry the little Chinese dog under her arm, and wash him once a week, to accompany Lady Ambermere to church, and never to have a fire in her bedroom. She had a melancholy wistful little face: her head was inclined with a backward slope on her neck, and her mouth was invariably a little open shewing long front teeth, so that she looked rather like a roast hare sent up to table with its head on. Georgie always had a joke ready for Miss Lyall, of the sort that made her say, "Oh, Mr Pillson!" and caused her to blush. She thought him remarkably pleasant.

Georgie had his joke ready on this occasion.

"Why, here's Miss Lyall!" he said. "And what has Miss Lyall been doing while her ladyship and I have been talking? Better not ask, perhaps."

"Oh, Mr Pillson!" said Miss Lyall, as punctually as a cuckoo clock when the hands point to the hour.

Lady Ambermere put half her weight onto the step of the motor, causing it to creak and sway.

"Call on the Shuttleworths, Georgie," she said. "Say I told you to. Home!"

Miss Lyall effaced herself on the front seat of the motor, like a mouse hiding in a corner, after Lady Ambermere had got in, and the footman mounted onto the box. At that moment Peppino with his bag of bulbs, a little out of breath, squeezed his way between two cabs by the side of the motor. He was just too late, and the motor moved off. It was very improbable that Lady Ambermere saw him at all.

Georgie felt very much like a dog with a bone in his mouth, who only wants to get away from all the other dogs and discuss it quietly. It is safe to say that never in twenty-four hours had so many exciting things happened to him. He had ordered a toupet, he had been looked on with favour by a Guru, all Riseholme knew that he had had quite a long conversation with Lady Ambermere and nobody in Riseholme, except himself, knew that Olga Bracely was going to spend two nights here. Well he remembered her marvellous appearance last year at Covent Garden in the part of Brunnhilde. He had gone to town for a rejuvenating visit to his dentist, and the tarsomeness of being betwixt and between had been quite forgotten by him when he saw her awake to Siegfried's line on the mountain-top. "Das ist keine mann," Siegfried had said, and, to be sure, that was very clever of him, for she looked like some slim beardless boy, and not in the least like those great fat Fraus at Baireuth, whom nobody could have mistaken for a man as they bulged and heaved even before the strings of the breastplate were uncut by his sword. And then she sat up and hailed the sun, and Georgie felt for a moment that he had quite taken the wrong turn in life, when he settled to spend his years in this boyish, maidenly manner with his embroidery and his china-dusting at Riseholme. He ought to have been Siegfried.... He had brought a photograph of her in her cuirass and helmet, and often looked at it when he was not too busy with something else. He had even championed his goddess against Lucia, when she pronounced that Wagner was totally lacking in knowledge of dramatic effects. To be sure she had never seen any Wagner opera, but she had heard the overture to Tristram performed at the Queen's Hall, and if that was Wagner, well——

Already, though Lady Ambermere's motor had not yet completely vanished up the street, Riseholme was gently closing in round him, in order to discover by discreet questions (as in the game of Clumps) what he and she had been talking about. There was Colonel Boucher with his two snorting bull-dogs closing in from one side, and Mrs Weston in her bath-chair being wheeled relentlessly towards him from another, and the two Miss Antrobuses sitting playfully in the stocks, on the third, and Peppino at close range on the fourth. Everyone knew, too, that he did not lunch till half past one, and there was really no reason why he should not stop and chat as usual. But with the eye of the true general, he saw that he could most easily break the surrounding cordon by going off in the direction of Colonel Boucher, because Colonel Boucher always said "Haw, hum, by Jove," before he descended into coherent speech, and thus Georgie could forestall him with "Good morning, Colonel," and pass on before he got to business. He did not like passing close to those slobbering bull-dogs, but something had to be done ... Next moment he was clear and saw that the other spies by their original impetus were still converging on each other and walked briskly down towards Lucia's house, to listen for any familiar noises out of the Mozart trio. The noises were there, and the soft pedal was down just as he expected, so, that business being off his mind, he continued his walk for a few hundred yards more, meaning to make a short circuit through fields, cross the bridge, over the happy stream that flowed into the Avon, and regain his house by the door at the bottom of the garden. Then he would sit and think ... the Guru, Olga Bracely ... What if he asked Olga Bracely and her husband to dine, and persuaded Mrs Quantock to let the Guru come? That would be three men and one woman, and Hermy and Ursy would make all square. Six for dinner was the utmost that Foljambe permitted.

He had come to the stile that led into the fields, and sat there for a moment. Lucia's tentative melodies were still faintly audible, but soon they stopped, and he guessed that she was looking out of the window. She was too great to take part in the morning spying that went on round about the Green, but she often saw a good deal from her window. He wondered what Mrs Quantock was meaning to do. Apparently she had not promised the Guru for the garden-party, or else Lady Ambermere would not have said that Lucia did not know whether he was coming or not. Perhaps Mrs Quantock was going to run him herself, and grant him neither to Lucia nor Georgie. In that case he would certainly ask Olga Bracely and her husband to dine, and should he or should he not ask Lucia?

The red star had risen in Riseholme: Bolshevism was treading in its peaceful air, and if Mrs Quantock was going to secrete her Guru, and set up her own standard on the strength of him, Georgie felt much inclined to ask Olga Bracely to dinner, without saying anything whatever to Lucia about it, and just see what would happen next. Georgie was a Bartlett on his mother's side, and he played the piano better than Lucia, and he had twenty-four hours' leisure every day, which he could devote to being king of Riseholme.... His nature flared up, burning with a red revolutionary flame, that was fed by his secret knowledge about Olga Bracely. Why should Lucia rule everyone with her rod of iron? Why, and again why?

Suddenly he heard his name called in the familiar alto, and there was Lucia in her Shakespeare's garden.

"Georgino! Georgino mio!" she cried. "Gino!"

Out of mere habit Georgie got down from his stile, and tripped up the road towards her. The manly seething of his soul's insurrection rebuked him, but unfortunately his legs and his voice surrendered. Habit was strong....

"Amica!" he answered. "Buon Giorno." ("And why do I say it in Italian?" he vainly asked himself.)

"Geordie, come and have ickle talk," she said. "Me want 'oo wise man to advise ickle Lucia."

"What 'oo want?" asked Georgie, now quite quelled for the moment.

"Lots-things. Here's pwetty flower for button-holie. Now tell me about black man. Him no snakes have? Why Mrs Quantock say she thinks he no come to poo' Lucia's party-garden?"

"Oh, did she?" asked Georgie relapsing into the vernacular.

"Yes, oh, and by the way there's a parcel come which I think must be the Mozart trio. Will you come over tomorrow morning and read it with me? Yes? About half-past eleven, then. But never mind that."

She fixed him with her ready, birdy eye.

"Daisy asked me to ask him," she said, "and so to oblige poor Daisy I did. And now she says she doesn't know if he'll come. What does that mean? Is it possible that she wants to keep him to herself? She has done that sort of thing before, you know."

This probably represented Lucia's statement of the said case about the Welsh attorney, and Georgie taking it as such felt rather embarrassed. Also that bird-like eye seemed to gimlet its way into his very soul, and divine the secret disloyalty that he had been contemplating. If she had continued to look into him, he might not only have confessed to the gloomiest suspicions about Mrs Quantock, but have let go of his secret about Olga Bracely also, and suggested the possibility of her and her husband being brought to the garden-party. But the eye at this moment unscrewed itself from him again and travelled up the road.

"There's the Guru," she said. "Now we will see!"

Georgie, faint with emotion, peered out between the form of the peacock and the pine-apple on the yew-hedge, and saw what followed. Lucia went straight up to the Guru, bowed and smiled and clearly introduced herself. In another moment he was showing his white teeth and salaaming, and together they walked back to The Hurst, where Georgie palpitated behind the yew-hedge. Together they entered and Lucia's eye wore its most benignant aspect.

"I want to introduce to you, Guru," she said without a stumble, "a great friend of mine. This is Mr Pillson, Guru; Guru, Mr Pillson. The Guru is coming to tiffin with me, Georgie. Cannot I persuade you to stop?"

"Delighted!" said Georgie. "We met before in a sort of way, didn't we?"

"Yes, indeed. So pleased," said the Guru.

"Let us go in," said Lucia, "It is close on lunch-time."

Georgie followed, after a great many bowings and politenesses from the Guru. He was not sure if he had the makings of a Bolshevist. Lucia was so marvellously efficient.

Chapter FIVE

One of Lucia's greatnesses lay in the fact that when she found anybody out in some act of atrocious meanness, she never indulged in any idle threats of revenge: it was sufficient that she knew, and would take suitable steps on the earliest occasion. Consequently when it appeared, from the artless conversation of the Guru at lunch that the perfidious Mrs Quantock had not even asked him whether he would like to go to Lucia's garden party or not (pending her own decision as to what she was meaning to do with him) Lucia received the information with the utmost good-humour, merely saying, "No doubt dear Mrs Quantock forgot to tell you," and did not announce acts of reprisal, such as striking Daisy off the list of her habitual guests for a week or two, just to give her a lesson. She even, before they sat down to lunch, telephoned over to that thwarted woman to say that she had met the Guru in the street, and they had both felt that there was some wonderful bond of sympathy between them, so he had come back with her, and they were just sitting down to tiffin. She was pleased with the word "tiffin," and also liked explaining to Daisy what it meant.

Tiffin was a great success, and there was no need for the Guru to visit the kitchen in order to make something that could be eaten without struggle. He talked quite freely about his mission here, and Lucia and Georgie and Peppino who had come in rather late, for he had been obliged to go back to the market-gardener's about the bulbs, listened entranced.

"Yes, it was when I went to my friend who keeps the book-shop," he said, "that I knew there was English lady who wanted Guru, and I knew I was called to her. No luggage, no anything at all: as I am. Such a kind lady, too, and she will get on well, but she will find some of the postures difficult, for she is what you call globe, round."

"Was that postures when I saw her standing on one leg in the garden?" asked Georgie, "and when she sat down and tried to hold her toes?"

"Yes, indeed, quite so, and difficult for globe. But she has white soul."

He looked round with a smile.

"I see many white souls here," he said. "It is happy place, when there are white souls, for to them I am sent."

This was sufficient: in another minute Lucia, Georgie and Peppino were all accepted as pupils, and presently they went out into the garden, where the Guru sat on the ground in a most complicated attitude which was obviously quite out of reach of Mrs Quantock.

"One foot on one thigh, other foot on other thigh," he explained. "And the head and back straight: it is good to meditate so."

Lucia tried to imagine meditating so, but felt that any meditation so would certainly be on the subject of broken bones.

"Shall I be able to do that?" she asked. "And what will be the effect?"

"You will be light and active, dear lady, and ah—here is other dear lady come to join us."

Mrs Quantock had certainly made one of her diplomatic errors on this occasion. She had acquiesced on the telephone in her Guru going to tiffin with Lucia, but about the middle of her lunch, she had been unable to resist the desire to know what was happening at The Hurst. She could not bear the thought that Lucia and her Guru were together now, and her own note, saying that it was uncertain whether the Guru would come to the garden party or not filled her with the most uneasy apprehensions. She would sooner have acquiesced in her Guru going to fifty garden-parties, where all was public, and she could keep an eye and a control on him, rather than that Lucia should have "enticed him in,"—that was her phrase—like this to tiffin. The only consolation was that her own lunch had been practically inedible, and Robert had languished lamentably for the Guru to return, and save his stomach. She had left him glowering over a little mud and water called coffee. Robert, at any rate, would welcome the return of the Guru.

She waddled across the lawn to where this harmonious party was sitting, and at that moment Lucia began to feel vindictive. The calm of victory which had permeated her when she brought the Guru in to lunch, without any bother at all, was troubled and broken up, and darling Daisy's note, containing the outrageous falsity that the Guru would not certainly accept an invitation which had never been permitted to reach him at all, assumed a more sinister aspect. Clearly now Daisy had intended to keep him to herself, a fact that she already suspected and had made a hostile invasion.

"Guru, dear, you naughty thing," said Mrs Quantock playfully, after the usual salutations had passed, "why did you not tell your Chela you would not be home for tiffin?"

The Guru had unwound his legs, and stood up.

"But see, beloved lady," he said, "how pleasant we all are! Take not too much thought, when it is only white souls who are together."

Mrs Quantock patted his shoulder.

"It is all good and kind Om," she said. "I send out my message of love. There!"

It was necessary to descend from these high altitudes, and Lucia proceeded to do so, as in a parachute that dropped swiftly at first, and then floated in still air.

"And we're making such a lovely plan, dear Daisy," she said. "The Guru is going to teach us all. Classes! Aren't you?"

He held his hands up to his head, palms outwards, and closed his eyes.

"I seem to feel call," he said. "I am sent. Surely the Guides tell me there is a sending of me. What you call classes? Yes? I teach: you learn. We all learn.... I leave all to you. I will walk a little way off to arbour, and meditate, and then when you have arranged, you will tell Guru, who is your servant. Salaam! Om!"

With the Guru in her own house, and with every intention to annex him, it was no wonder that Lucia took the part of chairman in this meeting that was to settle the details of the esoteric brotherhood that was to be formed in Riseholme. Had not Mrs Quantock been actually present, Lucia in revenge for her outrageous conduct about the garden-party invitation would probably have left her out of the classes altogether, but with her sitting firm and square in a basket chair, that creaked querulously as she moved, she could not be completely ignored. But Lucia took the lead throughout, and suggested straightaway that the smoking-parlour would be the most convenient place to hold the classes in.

"I should not think of invading your house, dear Daisy," she said, "and here is the smoking-parlour which no one ever sits in, so quiet and peaceful. Yes. Shall we consider that settled, then?"

She turned briskly to Mrs Quantock.

"And now where shall the Guru stay?" she said. "It would be too bad, dear Daisy, if we are all to profit by his classes, that you should have all the trouble and expense of entertaining him, for in your sweet little house he must be a great inconvenience, and I think you said that your husband had given up his dressing room to him."

Mrs Quantock made a desperate effort to retain her property.

"No inconvenience at all," she said, "quite the contrary in fact, dear. It is delightful having him, and Robert regards him as a most desirable inmate."

Lucia pressed her hand feelingly.

"You and your husband are too unselfish," she said. "Often have I said, 'Daisy and Mr Robert are the most unselfish people I know.' Haven't I, Georgie? But we can't permit you to be so crowded. Your only spare room, you know, and your husband's dressing room! Georgie, I know you agree with me; we must not permit dear Daisy to be so unselfish."

The bird-like eye produced its compelling effect on Georgie. So short a time ago he had indulged in revolutionary ideas, and had contemplated having the Guru and Olga Bracely to dinner, without even asking Lucia: now the faint stirrings of revolt faded like snow in summer. He knew quite well what Lucia's next proposition would be: he knew, too, that he would agree to it.

"No, that would never do," he said. "It is simply trespassing on Mrs Quantock's good-nature, if she is to board and lodge him, while he teaches all of us. I wish I could take him in, but with Hermy and Ursy coming tonight, I have as little room as Mrs Quantock."

"He shall come here," said Lucia brightly, as if she had just that moment thought of it. "There are Hamlet and Othello vacant"—all her rooms were named after Shakespearian plays—"and it will not be the least inconvenient. Will it, Peppino? I shall really like having him here. Shall we consider that settled, then?"

Daisy made a perfectly futile effort to send forth a message of love to all quarters of the compass. Bitterly she repented of having ever mentioned her Guru to Lucia: it had never occurred to her that she would annex him like this. While she was cudgelling her brains as to how she could arrest this powerful offensive, Lucia went sublimely on.

"Then there's the question of what we shall pay him," she said. "Dear Daisy tells us that he scarcely knows what money is, but I for one could never dream of profiting by his wisdom, if I was to pay nothing for it. The labourer is worthy of his hire, and so I suppose the teacher is. What if we pay him five shillings each a lesson: that will make a pound a lesson. Dear me! I shall be busy this August. Now how many classes shall we ask him to give us? I should say six to begin with, if everybody agrees. One every day for the next week except Sunday. That is what you all wish? Yes? Then shall we consider that settled?"

Mrs Quantock, still impotently rebelling, resorted to the most dire weapon in her armoury, namely, sarcasm.

"Perhaps, darling Lucia," she said, "it would be well to ask my Guru if he has anything to say to your settlings. England is a free country still, even if you happen to have come from India."

Lucia had a deadlier weapon than sarcasm, which was the apparent unconsciousness of there having been any. For it is no use plunging a dagger into your enemy's heart, if it produces no effect whatever on him. She clapped her hands together, and gave her peal of silvery laughter.

"What a good idea!" she said. "Then you would like me to go and tell him what we propose? Just as you like. I will trot away, shall I, and see if he agrees. Don't think of stirring, dear Daisy, I know how you feel the heat. Sit quiet in the shade. As you know, I am a real salamander, the sun is never troppo caldo for me."

She tripped off to where the Guru was sitting in that wonderful position. She had read the article in the encyclopaedia about Yoga right through again this morning, and had quite made up her mind, as indeed her proceedings had just shown, that Yoga was, to put it irreverently, to be her August stunt. He was still so deep in meditation that he could only look dreamily in her direction as she approached, but then with a long sigh he got up.

"This is beautiful place," he said. "It is full of sweet influences and I have had high talk with Guides."

Lucia felt thrilled.

"Ah, do tell me what they said to you," she exclaimed.

"They told me to follow where I was led: they said they would settle everything for me in wisdom and love."

This was most encouraging, for decidedly Lucia had been settling for him, and the opinion of the Guides was thus a direct personal testimonial. Any faint twitchings of conscience (they were of the very faintest) that she had grabbed dear Daisy's property were once and for ever quieted, and she proceeded confidently to unfold the settlements of wisdom and love, which met with the Guru's entire approval. He shut his eyes a moment and breathed deeply.

"They give peace and blessing," he said. "It is they who ordered that it should be so. Om!"

He seemed to sink into profound depths of meditation, and Lucia hurried back to the group she had left.

"It is all too wonderful," she said. "The Guides have told him that they were settling everything for him in wisdom and love, so we may be sure we were right in our plans. How lovely to think that we have been guided by them! Dear Daisy, how wonderful he is! I will send across for his things, shall I, and I will have Hamlet and Othello made ready for him!"

Bitter though it was to part with her Guru, it was impious to rebel against the ordinances of the Guides, but there was a trace of human resentment in Daisy's answer.

"Things!" she exclaimed. "He hasn't got a thing in the world. Every material possession chains us down to earth. You will soon come to that, darling Lucia."

It occurred to Georgie that the Guru had certainly got a bottle of brandy, but there was no use in introducing a topic that might lead to discord, and indeed, even as Lucia went indoors to see about Hamlet and Othello, the Guru himself having emerged from meditation, joined them and sat down by Mrs Quantock.

"Beloved lady," he said, "all is peace and happiness. The Guides have spoken to me so lovingly of you, and they say it is best your Guru should come here. Perhaps I shall return later to your kind house. They smiled when I asked that. But just now they send me here: there is more need of me here, for already you have so much light."

Certainly the Guides were very tactful people, for nothing could have soothed Mrs Quantock so effectually as a message of that kind, which she would certainly report to Lucia when she returned from seeing about Hamlet and Othello.

"Oh, do they say I have much light already, Guru, dear?" she asked. "That is nice of them."

"Surely they said it, and now I shall go back to your house, and leave sweet thoughts there for you. And shall I send sweet thoughts to the home of the kind gentleman next door?"

Georgie eagerly welcomed this proposition, for with Hermy and Ursy coming that evening, he felt that he would have plenty of use for sweet thoughts. He even forebore to complete in his own mind the conjecture that was forming itself there, namely, that though the Guru would be leaving sweet thoughts for Mrs Quantock, he would probably be taking away the brandy bottle for himself. But Georgie knew he was only too apt to indulge In secret cynicisms and perhaps there was no brandy to take away by this time ... and lo and behold, he was being cynical again.

The sun was still hot when, half an hour afterwards, he got into the open cab which he had ordered to take him to the station to meet Hermy and Ursy, and he put up his umbrella with its white linen cover, to shield him from it. He did not take the motor, because either Hermy or Ursy would have insisted on driving it, and he did not choose to put himself in their charge. In all the years that he had lived at Riseholme, he never remembered a time when social events—"work," he called it—had been so exciting and varied. There were Hermy and Ursy coming this evening, and Olga Bracely and her husband (Olga Bracely and Mr Shuttleworth sounded vaguely improper: Georgie rather liked that) were coming tomorrow, and there was Lucia's garden-party the day after, and every day there was to be a lesson from the Guru, so that God alone knew when Georgie would have a moment to himself for his embroidery or to practise the Mozart trio. But with his hair chestnut-coloured to the very roots, and his shining nails, and his comfortable boots, he felt extremely young and fit for anything. Soon, under the influence of the new creed with its postures and breathings, he would feel younger and more vigorous yet.

But he wished that it had been he who had found this pamphlet on Eastern philosophies, which had led Mrs Quantock to make the inquiries that had resulted in the epiphany of the Guru. Of course when once Lucia had heard about it, she was certain to constitute herself head and leader of the movement, and it was really remarkable how completely she had done that. In that meeting in the garden just now she had just sailed through Mrs Quantock as calmly as a steamer cuts through the waters of the sea, throwing her off from her penetrating bows like a spent wave. But baffled though she was for the moment, Georgie had been aware that Mrs Quantock seethed with revolutionary ideas: she deeply resented this confiscation of what was certainly her property, though she was impotent to stop it, and Georgie knew just what she felt. It was all very well to say that Lucia's schemes were entirely in accord with the purposes of the Guides. That might be so, but Mrs Quantock would not cease to think that she had been robbed....

Yet nothing mattered if all the class found themselves getting young and active and loving and excellent under this tuition. It was that notion which had taken such entire command of them all, and for his part Georgie did not really care who owned the Guru, so to speak, if only he got the benefit of his teachings. For social purposes Lucia had annexed him, and doubtless with him in the house she could get little instructions and hints that would not count as a lesson, but after all, Georgie had still got Olga Bracely to himself, for he had not breathed a word of her advent to Lucia. He felt rather like one who, when revolutionary ideas are in the air, had concealed a revolver in his pocket. He did not formulate to himself precisely what he was going to do with it, but it gave him a sense of power to know it was there.

The train came in, but he looked in vain for his sisters. They had distinctly said they were arriving by it, but in a couple of minutes it was perfectly clear that they had done nothing of the kind, for the only person who got out was Mrs Weston's cook, who as all the world knew went into Brinton every Wednesday to buy fish. At the rear of the train, however, was an immense quantity of luggage being taken out, which could not all be Mrs Weston's fish, and indeed, even at that distance there was something familiar to Georgie about a very large green hold-all which was dumped there. Perhaps Hermy and Ursy had travelled in the van, because "it was such a lark," or for some other tomboy reason, and he went down the platform to investigate. There were bags of golf clubs, and a dog, and portmanteaux, and even as the conviction dawned on him that he had seen some of these objects before, the guard, to whom Georgie always gave half-a-crown when he travelled by this train, presented him with a note scrawled in pencil. It ran—

"Dearest Georgie,

"It was such a lovely day that when we got to Paddington Ursy and I decided to bicycle down instead, so for a lark we sent our things on, and we may arrive tonight, but probably tomorrow. Take care of Tiptree: and give him plenty of jam. He loves it.

"Yours, "HERMY.

"P.S.—Tipsipoozie doesn't really bite: it's only his fun."

Georgie crumpled up this odious epistle, and became aware that Tipsipoozie, a lean Irish terrier, was regarding him with peculiar disfavour, and shewing all his teeth, probably in fun. In pursuance of this humorous idea, he then darted towards Georgie, and would have been extremely funny, if he had not been handicapped by the bag of golf-clubs to which he was tethered. As it was, he pursued him down the platform, towing the clubs after him, till he got entangled in them and fell down.

Georgie hated dogs at any time, though he had never hated one so much as Tipsipoozie, and the problems of life became more complicated than ever. Certainly he was not going to drive back with Tipsipoozie in his cab, and it became necessary to hire another for that abominable hound and the rest of the luggage. And what on earth was to happen when he arrived home, if Tipsipoozie did not drop his fun and become serious? Foljambe, it is true, liked dogs, so perhaps dogs liked her ... "But it is most tarsome of Hermy!" thought Georgie bitterly. "I wonder what the Guru would do." There ensued a very trying ten minutes, in which the station-master, the porters, Georgie and Mrs Weston's maid all called Tipsipoozie a good dog as he lay on the ground snapping promiscuously at those who praised him. Eventually a valiant porter picked up the bag of clubs, and by holding them out in front of him at the extreme length of his arms, in the manner of a fishing rod, with Tipsipoozie on a short chain at the other end of the bag, like a savage fish, cursing and swearing, managed to propel him into the cab, and there was another half-crown gone. Georgie thereupon got into his cab and sped homewards in order to arrive there first, and consult with Foljambe. Foljambe usually thought of something.

Foljambe came out at the noise of the arriving wheels and Georgie explained the absence of his sisters and the advent of an atrocious dog.

"He's very fierce," he said, "but he likes jam."

Foljambe gave that supreme smile which sometimes Georgie resented. Now he hailed it, as if it was "an angel-face's smile."

"I'll see to him, sir," she said. "I've brought up your tea."

"But you'll take care, Foljambe won't you?" he asked.

"I expect he'd better take care," returned the intrepid woman.

Georgie, as he often said, trusted Foljambe completely, which must explain why he went into his drawing-room, shut the door, and looked out of the window when the second cab arrived. She opened the door, put her arms inside, and next moment emerged again with Tipsipoozie on the end of the chain, making extravagant exhibitions of delight. Then to Georgie's horror, the drawing-room door opened, and in came Tipsipoozie without any chain at all. Rapidly sending a message of love in all directions like a S. O. S. call, Georgie put a small chair in front of him, to shield his legs. Tipsipoozie evidently thought it was a game, and hid behind the sofa to rush out again from ambush.

"Just got snappy being tied to those golf-clubs," remarked Foljambe.

But Georgie, as he put some jam into his saucer, could not help wondering whether the message of love had not done it.

He dined alone, for Hermy and Ursy did not appear, and had a great polishing of his knick-knacks afterwards, while waiting for them. No one ever felt anxious at the non-arrival of those sisters, for they always turned up from their otter-hunting or their golf sooner or later, chiefly later, in the highest spirits at the larks they had had, with amazingly dirty hands and prodigious appetite. But when twelve o'clock struck, he decided to give up all idea of their appearance that night, and having given Tipsipoozie some more jam and a comfortable bed in the woodshed, he went upstairs to his room. Though he knew it was still possible that he might be roused by wild "Cooees!" and showers of gravel at his window, and have to come down and minister to their gross appetites, the prospect seemed improbable and he soon went to sleep.

Georgie awoke with a start some hours later, wondering what had disturbed him. There was no gravel rattling on his window, no violent ringing of bicycle bells, nor loud genial shouts outraging the decorous calm of Riseholme, but certainly he had heard something. Next moment, the repeated noise sent his heart leaping into his throat, for quite distinctly he heard a muffled sound in the room below, which he instantly diagnosed with fatal certainty as burglars. The first emotion that mingled itself with the sheer terror, was a passionate regret that Hermy and Ursy had not come. They would have thought it tremendous larks, and would have invented some wonderful offensive with fire-irons and golf-clubs and dumb-bells. Even Tipsipoozie, the lately-abhorred, would have been a succour in this crisis, and why, oh why, had not Georgie had him to sleep in his bedroom instead of making him cosy in the woodshed? He would have let Tipsipoozie sleep on his lovely blue quilt for the remainder of his days, if only Tipsipoozie could have been with him now, ready to have fun with the burglar below. As it was, the servants were in the attics at the top of the house, Dicky slept out, and Georgie was all alone, with the prospect of having to defend his property at risk of his life. Even at this moment, as he sat up in bed, blanched with terror, these miscreants might be putting his treasure into their pockets. The thought of the Faberge cigarette case, and the Louis XVI snuff box, and the Queen Anne toy-porringer which he had inherited all these years, made even life seem cheap, for life would be intolerable without them, and he sprang out of bed, groped for his slippers, since until he had made a plan it was wiser not to shew a light, and shuffled noiselessly towards the door.

Chapter SIX

The door-handle felt icy to fingers already frozen with fright, but he stood firmly grasping it, ready to turn it noiselessly when he had quite made up his mind what to do. The first expedient that suggested itself with an overpowering sweetness of relief, was that of locking his door, going back to bed again, and pretending that he had heard nothing. But apart from the sheer cowardice of that, which he did not mind so much, as nobody else would ever know his guilt, the thought of the burglar going off quite unmolested with his property was intolerable. Even if he could not summon up enough courage to get downstairs with his life and a poker in his hand, he must at least give them a good fright. They had frightened him, and so he would frighten them. They should not have it all their own way, and if he decided not to attack them (or him) single-handed, he could at least thump on the floor, and call out "Burglars!" at the top of his voice, or shout "Charles! Henry! Thomas!" as if summoning a bevy of stalwart footmen. The objection to this course, however, would be that Foljambe or somebody else might hear him, and in this case, if he did not then go downstairs to mortal combat, the knowledge of his cowardice would be the property of others beside himself.... And all the time he hesitated, they were probably filling their pockets with his dearest possessions.

He tried to send out a message of love, but he was totally unable to do so.

Then the little clock in his mantelpiece struck two, which was a miserable hour, sundered so far from dawn.

Though he had lived through years of agony since he got out of bed, the actual passage of time, as he stood frozen to the door-handle, was but the duration of a few brief seconds, and then making a tremendous call on his courage he felt his way to his fireplace, and picked up the poker. The tongs and shovel rattled treacherously, and he hoped that had not been heard, for the essence of his plan (though he had yet no idea what that plan was) must be silence till some awful surprise broke upon them. If only he could summon the police, he could come rushing downstairs with his poker, as the professional supporters of the law gained an entrance to his house, but unfortunately the telephone was downstairs, and he could not reasonably hope to carry on a conversation with the police station without being overheard by the burglars.

He opened his door with so masterly a movement that there was no sound either from the hinges nor from the handle as he turned it, and peered out. The hall below was dark, but a long pencil of light came from the drawing room, which showed where the reckless brutes must be, and there, too, alas! was his case of treasures. Then suddenly he heard the sound of a voice, speaking very low, and another voice answered it. At that Georgie's heart sank, for this proved that there must be at least two burglars, and the odds against him were desperate. After that came a low, cruel laugh, the unmistakable sound of the rattle of knives and forks, and the explosive uncorking of a bottle. At that his heart sank even lower yet, for he had read that cool habitual burglars always had supper before they got to work, and therefore he was about to deal with a gang of professionals. Also that explosive uncorking clearly indicated champagne, and he knew that they were feasting on his best. And how wicked of them to take their unhallowed meal in his drawing-room, for there was no proper table there, and they would be making a dreadful mess over everything.

A current of cool night air swept up the stairs, and Georgie saw the panel of light from the open drawing-room door diminish in width, and presently the door shut with a soft thud, leaving him in the dark. At that his desperation seemed pressed and concentrated into a moment of fictitious courage, for he unerringly reasoned that they had left the drawing-room window open, and that perhaps in a few moments now they would have finished their meal and with bulging pockets would step forth unchallenged into the night. Why had he never had bolts put on his shutters, like Mrs Weston, who lived in nightly terror of burglars? But it was too late to think of that now, for it was impossible to ask them to step out till he had put bolts up, and then when he was ready begin again.

He could not let them go gorged with his champagne and laden with his treasures without reprisals of some sort, and keeping his thoughts steadily away from revolvers and clubs and sandbags, walked straight downstairs, threw open the drawing-room door, and with his poker grasped in his shaking hand, cried out in a faint, thin voice:

"If you move I shall fire."

There was a moment of dead silence, and a little dazzled with the light he saw what faced him.

At opposite ends of his Chippendale sofa sat Hermy and Ursy. Hermy had her mouth open and held a bun in her dirty hands. Ursy had her mouth shut and her cheeks were bulging. Between them was a ham and a loaf of bread, and a pot of marmalade and a Stilton cheese, and on the floor was the bottle of champagne with two brimming bubbling tea cups full of wine. The cork and the wire and the tin-foil they had, with some show of decency, thrown into the fireplace.

Hermy put down her bun, and gave a great shout of laughter; Ursy's mouth was disgustingly full and she exploded. Then they lay back against the arms of the sofa and howled.

Georgie was very much vexed.

"Upon my word, Hermy!" he said, and then found it was not nearly a strong enough expression. And in a moment of ungovernable irritation he said:

"Damn it all!"

Hermy showed signs of recovery first, and as Georgie came back after shutting the window, could find her voice, while Ursy collected small fragments of ham and bread which she had partially chewed.

"Lord! What a lark!" she said. "Georgie, it's the most ripping lark."

Ursy pointed to the poker.

"He'll fire if we move," she cried. "Or poke the fire, was it?"

"Ask another!" screamed Hermy. "Oh, dear, he thought we were burglars, and came down with a poker, brave boy! It's positively the limit. Have a drink, Georgie."

Suddenly her eyes grew round and awestruck, and pointing with her finger to Georgie's shoulder, she went off into another yell of laughter.

"Ursy! His hair!" she said, and buried her face in a soft cushion.

Naturally Georgie had not put his hair in order when he came downstairs, for nobody thinks about things like that when he is going to encounter burglars single-handed, and there was his bald pate and his long tresses hanging down one side.

It was most annoying, but when an irremediable annoyance has absolutely occurred, the only possible thing for a decent person to do is to take it as lightly as possible. Georgie rose gallantly to the occasion, gave a little squeal and ran from the room.

"Down again presently," he called out, and had a heavy fall on the stairs, as he went up to his bedroom. There he had a short argument with himself. It was possible to slam his door, go to bed, and be very polite in the morning. But that would never do: Hermy and Ursy would have a joke against him forever. It was really much better to share in the joke, identifying himself with it. So he brushed his hair in the orthodox fashion, put on a very smart dressing-gown, and came tripping downstairs again.

"My dears, what fun!" he said. "Let's all have supper. But let's move into the dining-room, where there's a table, and I'll get another bottle of wine, and some glasses, and we'll bring Tipsipoozie in. You naughty girls, fancy arriving at a time like this. I suppose your plan was to go very quietly to bed, and come down to breakfast in the morning, and give me a fine surprise. Tell me about it now."

So presently Tipsipoozie was having his marmalade, which did just as well as jam, and they were all eating slices off the ham, and stuffing them into split buns.

"Yes, we thought we might as well do it all in one go," said Hermy, "and it's a hundred and twenty miles, if it's a yard. And then it was so late when we got here, we thought we wouldn't disturb you, specially as the drawing-room window wasn't bolted."

"Bicycles outside," said Ursy, "they'll just have to be out at grass till morning. Oh, Tipsi-ipsi-poozie-woozy, how is you? Hope he behaved like the good little Tiptree that he is, Georgie?"

"O yes, we made great friends," said Georgie sketchily. "He was wee bit upset at the station, but then he had a good tea with his Uncle Georgie and played hide and seek."

Rather rashly, Georgie made a face at Tiptree, the sort of face which amuses children. But it didn't amuse Tiptree, who made another face, in which teeth played a prominent part.

"Fool-dog," said Hermy, carelessly smacking him across the nose. "Always hit him if he shows his teeth, Georgie. Pass the fizz."

"Well, so we got through the drawing-room window," continued Ursy, "and golly, we were hungry. So we foraged, and there we were! Jolly plucky of you, Georgie, to come down and beard us."

"Real sport," said Hermy. "And how's old Fol-de-rol-de-ray? Why didn't she come down and fight us, too?"

Georgie guessed that Hermy was making a humourous allusion to Foljambe, who was the one person in Riseholme whom his two sisters seemed to hold in respect. Ursy had once set a booby-trap for Georgie, but the mixed biscuits and Brazil nuts had descended on Foljambe instead. On that occasion Foljambe, girt about in impenetrable calm, had behaved as if nothing had happened and trod on biscuits and Brazil nuts without a smile, unaware to all appearance that there was anything whatever crunching and exploding beneath her feet. That had somehow quelled the two, who, as soon as she left the room again, swept up the mess, and put the uninjured Brazil nuts back into the dessert dish.... It would never do if Foljambe lost her prestige and was alluded to by some outrageously slangy name.

"If you mean Foljambe," said Georgie icily, "it was because I didn't think it worth while to disturb her."

In spite of their ride, the indefatigable sisters were up early next morning, and the first thing Georgie saw out of his bathroom window was the pair of them practising lifting shots over the ducking pond on the green till breakfast was ready. He had given a short account of last night's adventure to Foljambe when she called him, omitting the episode about his hair, and her disapproval was strongly indicated by her silence then, and the studied contempt of her manner to the sisters when they came in to breakfast.

"Hullo, Foljambe," said Hermy. "We had a rare lark last night."

"So I understand, miss," said Foljambe.

"Got in through the drawing-room window," said Hermy, hoping to make her smile.

"Indeed, miss," said Foljambe. "Have you any orders for the car, sir?"

"Oh, Georgie, may we run over to the links this morning?" asked Hermy. "Mayn't Dickie-bird take us there?"

She glanced at Foljambe to see whether this brilliant wit afforded her any amusement. Apparently it didn't.

"Tell Dicky to be round at half-past ten," said Georgie.

"Yes, sir."

"Hurrah!" said Ursy. "Come, too, Foljambe, and we'll have a three-ball match."

"No, thank you, miss," said Foljambe, and sailed from the room, looking down her nose.

"Golly, what an iceberg!" said Hermy when the door was quite shut.

Georgie was not sorry to have the morning to himself, for he wanted to have a little quiet practice at the Mozart trio, before he went over to Lucia's at half-past eleven, the hour when she had arranged to run through it for the first time. He would also have time to do a few posturing exercises before the first Yoga-class, which was to take place in Lucia's smoking-parlour at half-past twelve. That would make a pretty busy morning, and as for the afternoon, there would be sure to be some callers, since the arrival of his sisters had been expected, and after that he had to go to the Ambermere Arms for his visit to Olga Bracely.... And what was he to do about her with regard to Lucia? Already he had been guilty of disloyalty, for Lady Ambermere had warned him of the prima-donna's arrival yesterday, and he had not instantly communicated that really great piece of news to Lucia. Should he make such amends as were in his power for that omission, or, greatly daring, should he keep her to himself, as Mrs Quantock so fervently wished that she had done with regard to the Guru? After the adventure of last night, he felt he ought to be able to look any situation in the face, but he found himself utterly unable to conceive himself manly and erect before the bird-like eyes of the Queen, if she found out that Olga Bracely had been at Riseholme for the day of her garden-party, and that Georgie, knowing it and having gone to see her, had not informed the Court of that fact.

The spirit of Bolshevism, the desire to throw off all authority and act independently, which had assailed him yesterday returned now with redoubled force. If he had been perfectly certain that he would not be found out, there is no doubt he would have kept it from her, and yet, after all, what was the glory of going to see Olga Bracely (and perhaps even entertaining her here) if all Riseholme did not turn green with jealousy? Moreover there was every chance of being found out, for Lady Ambermere would be at the garden party tomorrow, and she would be sure to wonder why Lucia had not asked Olga. Then it would come out that Lucia didn't know of that eminent presence, and Lady Ambermere would be astonished that Georgie had not told her. Thus he would be in the situation which his imagination was unable to face, although he had thrown the drawing room door open in the middle of the night, and announced that he would fire with his poker.

No; he would have to tell Lucia, when he went to read the Mozart trio with her for the first time, and very likely she would call on Olga Bracely herself, though nobody had asked her to, and take all the wind out of Georgie's sails. Sickening though that would be, he could not face the alternative, and he opened his copy of the Mozart trio with a sigh. Lucia did push and shove, and have everything her own way. Anyhow he would not tell her that Olga and her husband were dining at The Hall tonight; he would not even tell her that her husband's name was Shuttleworth, and Lucia might make a dreadful mistake, and ask Mr and Mrs Bracely. That would be jam for Georgie, and he could easily imagine himself saying to Lucia, "My dear, I thought you must have known that she had married Mr Shuttleworth and kept her maiden name! How tarsome for you! They are so touchy about that sort of thing."

Georgie heard the tinkle of the treble part of the Mozart trio (Lucia always took the treble, because it had more tune in it, though she pretended that she had not Georgie's fine touch, which made the bass effective) as he let himself in to Shakespeare's garden a few minutes before the appointed time. Lucia must have seen him from the window, for the subdued noise of the piano ceased even before he had got as far as Perdita's garden round the sundial, and she opened the door to him. The far-away look was in her eyes, and the black undulations of hair had encroached a little on her forehead, but, after all, others besides Lucia had trouble with their hair, and Georgie only sympathized.

"Georgino mio!" she said. "It is all being so wonderful. There seems a new atmosphere about the house since my Guru came. Something holy and peaceful; do you not notice it?"

"Delicious!" said Georgie, inhaling the pot-pourri. "What is he doing now?"

"Meditating, and preparing for our class. I do hope dear Daisy will not bring in discordant elements."

"Oh, but that's not likely, is it?" said Georgie. "I thought he said she had so much light."

"Yes, he did. But now he is a little troubled about her, I think. She did not want him to go away from her house, and she sent over here for some silk pyjamas belonging to her husband, which he thought she had given him. But Robert didn't think so at all. The Guru brought them across yesterday after he had left good thoughts for her in her house. But it was the Guides who wished him to come here; they told him so distinctly. It would have been very wrong of me not to do as they said."

She gave a great sigh.

"Let us have an hour with Mozart," she said "and repel all thought of discord. My Guru says that music and flowers are good influences for those who are walkers on the Way. He says that my love for both of them which I have had all my life will help me very much."

For one moment the mundane world obtruded itself into the calm peace.

"Any news in particular?" she asked. "I saw you drive back from the station yesterday afternoon, for I happened to be looking out of the window, in a little moment of leisure—the Guru says I work too hard, by the way—and your sisters were not with you. And yet there were two cabs, and a quantity of luggage. Did they not come?"

Georgie gave a respectably accurate account of all that had happened, omitting the fact of his terror when first he awoke, for that was not really a happening, and had had no effect on his subsequent proceedings. He also omitted the adventure about his hair, for that was quite extraneous, and said what fun they had all had over their supper at half past two this morning."

"I think you were marvellously brave, Georgie," said she, "and most good natured. You must have been sending out love, and so were full of it yourself, and that casts out fear."

She spread the music open.

"Anything else?" she asked.

Georgie took his seat and put his rings on the candle-bracket.

"Oh yes," he said, "Olga Bracely, the prima-donna, you know, and her husband are arriving at the Ambermere Arms this afternoon for a couple of days."

The old fire kindled.

"No!" exclaimed Lucia. "Then they'll be here for my party tomorrow. Fancy if she would come and sing for us! I shall certainly leave cards today, and write later in the evening, asking her."

"I have been asked to go and see her," said Georgie, not proudly.

The music rest fell down with a loud slap, but Lucia paid no attention.

"Let us go together then," she said. "Who asked you to call on her?"

"Lady Ambermere," said he.

"When she was in here yesterday? She never mentioned it to me. But she would certainly think it very odd of me not to call on friends of hers, and be polite to them. What time shall we go?"

Georgie made up his mind that wild horses should not drag from him the fact that Olga's husband's name was Shuttleworth, for here was Lucia grabbing at his discovery, just as she had grabbed at Daisy's discovery who was now "her Guru." She should call him Mr Bracely then.

"Somewhere about six, do you think?" said he, inwardly raging.

He looked up and distinctly saw that sharp foxy expression cross Lucia's face, which from long knowledge of her he knew to betoken that she had thought of some new plan. But she did not choose to reveal it and re-erected the music-rest.

"That will do beautifully," she said. "And now for our heavenly Mozart. You must be patient with me, Georgie, for you know how badly I read. Caro! How difficult it looks. I am frightened! Lucia never saw such a dwefful thing to read!"

And it had been those very bars, which Georgie had heard through the open window just now.

"Georgie's is much more dwefful!" he said, remembering the double sharp that came in the second bar. "Georgie fwightened too at reading it. O-o-h," and he gave a little scream. "Cattivo Mozart to wite anything so dwefful diffy!"

It was quite clear at the class this morning that though the pupils were quite interested in the abstract messages of love which they were to shoot out in all directions, and in the atmosphere of peace with which they were to surround themselves, the branch of the subject which thrilled them to the marrow was the breathing exercises and contortions which, if persevered in, would give them youth and activity, faultless digestions and indefatigable energy. They all sat on the floor, and stopped up alternate nostrils, and held their breath till Mrs Quantock got purple in the face, and Georgie and Lucia red, and expelled their breath again with sudden puffs that set the rushes on the floor quivering, or with long quiet exhalations. Then there were certain postures to be learned, in one of which, entailing the bending of the body backwards, two of Georgie's trouser-buttons came off with a sharp snap and he felt the corresponding member of his braces, thus violently released, spring up to his shoulder. Various other embarrassing noises issued from Lucia and Daisy that sounded like the bursting of strings and tapes, but everybody pretended to hear nothing at all, or covered up the report of those explosions with coughings and clearings of the throat. But apart from these discordances, everything was fairly harmonious indeed, so far from Daisy introducing discords, she wore a fixed smile, which it would have been purely cynical to call superior, when Lucia asked some amazingly simple question with regard to Om. She sighed too, at intervals, but these sighs were expressive of nothing but patience and resignation, till Lucia's ignorance of the most elementary doctrines was enlightened, and though she rather pointedly looked in any direction but hers, and appeared completely unaware of her presence, she had not, after all, come here to look at Lucia, but to listen to her own (whatever Lucia might say) Guru.

At the end Lucia, with her far-away look, emerged, you might say, in a dazed condition from hearing about the fastness of Thibet, where the Guru had been in commune with the Guides, whose wisdom he interpreted to them.

"I feel such a difference already," she said dreamily. "I feel as if I could never be hasty or worried any more at all. Don't you experience that, dear Daisy?"

"Yes, dear," said she. "I went through all that at my first lesson. Didn't I, Guru dear?"

"I felt it too," said Georgie, unwilling not to share in these benefits, and surreptitiously tightening his trouser-strap to compensate for the loss of buttons. "And am I to do that swaying exercise before every meal?"

"Yes, Georgie," said Lucia, saving her Guru from the trouble of answering. "Five times to the right and five times to the left and then five times backwards and forwards. I felt so young and light just now when we did it that I thought I was rising into the air. Didn't you, Daisy?"

Daisy smiled kindly.

"No, dear, that is levitation," she said, "and comes a very long way on."

She turned briskly towards her Guru.

"Will you tell them about that time when you levitated at Paddington Station?" she said. "Or will you keep that for when Mrs Lucas gets rather further on? You must be patient, dear Lucia; we all have to go through the early stages, before we get to that."

Mrs Quantock spoke as if she was in the habit of levitating herself, and it was but reasonable, in spite of the love that was swirling about them all, that Lucia should protest against such an attitude. Humility, after all, was the first essential to progress on the Way.

"Yes, dear," she said. "We will tread these early stages together, and encourage each other."

Georgie went home, feeling also unusually light and hungry, for he had paid special attention to the exercise that enabled him to have his liver and digestive organs in complete control, but that did not prevent him from devoting his mind to arriving at that which had made Lucia look so sharp and foxy during their conversation about Olga Bracely. He felt sure that she was meaning to steal a march on him, and she was planning to draw first blood with the prima-donna, and, as likely as not, claim her for her own, with the same odious greed as she was already exhibiting with regard to the Guru. All these years Georgie had been her faithful servant and coadjutor; now for the first time the spirit of independence had begun to seethe within him. The scales were falling from his eyes, and just as he turned into shelter of his mulberry-tree, he put on his spectacles to see how Riseholme was getting on without him to assist at the morning parliament. His absence and Mrs Quantock's would be sure to evoke comment, and since the Yoga classes were always to take place at half-past twelve, the fact that they would never be there, would soon rise to the level of a first-class mystery. It would, of course, begin to leak out that they and Lucia were having a course of Eastern philosophy that made its pupils young and light and energetic, and there was a sensation!

Like all great discoveries, the solution of Lucia's foxy look broke on him with the suddenness of a lightning-flash, and since it had been settled that she should call for him at six, he stationed himself in the window of his bath room, which commanded a perfect view of the village green and the entrance to the Ambermere Arms at five. He had brought up with him a pair of opera-glasses, with the intention of taking them to bits, so he had informed Foljambe, and washing their lenses, but he did not at once proceed about this, merely holding them ready to hand for use. Hermy and Ursy had gone back to their golf again after lunch, and so callers would be told that they were all out. Thus he could wash the lenses, when he chose to do so, uninterrupted.

The minutes passed on pleasantly enough, for there was plenty going on. The two Miss Antrobuses frisked about the green, jumping over the stocks in their playful way, and running round the duck-pond in the eternal hope of attracting Colonel Boucher's attention to their pretty nimble movements. For many years past, they had tried to gain Georgie's serious attention, without any result, and lately they had turned to Colonel Boucher. There was Mrs Antrobus there, too, with her ham-like face and her ear-trumpet, and Mrs Weston was being pushed round and round the asphalt path below the elms in her bath-chair. She hated going slow, and her gardener and his boy took turns with her during her hour's carriage exercise, and propelled her, amid streams of perspiration, at a steady four miles an hour. As she passed Mrs Antrobus she shouted something at her, and Mrs Antrobus returned her reply, when next she came round.

Suddenly all these interesting objects vanished completely from Georgie's ken, for his dark suspicions were confirmed, and there was Lucia in her "Hightum" hat and her "Hightum" gown making her gracious way across the green. She had distinctly been wearing one of the "Scrub" this morning at the class, so she must have changed after lunch, which was an unheard of thing to do for a mere stroll on the green. Georgie knew well that this was no mere stroll; she was on her way to pay a call of the most formal and magnificent kind. She did not deviate a hair-breadth from her straight course to the door of the Arms, she just waggled her hand to Mrs Antrobus, blew a kiss to her sprightly daughters, made a gracious bow to Colonel Boucher, who stood up and took his hat off, and went on with the inexorability of the march of destiny, or of fate knocking at the door in the immortal fifth symphony. And in her hand she carried a note. Through his glasses Georgie could see it quite plainly, and it was not a little folded-up sheet, such as she commonly used, but a square thick envelope. She disappeared in the Arms and Georgie began thinking feverishly. A great deal depended on how long she stopped there.

A few little happenings beguiled the period of waiting. Mrs Weston desisted from her wild career, and came to anchor on the path just opposite the door into the Arms, while the gardener's boy sank exhausted on to the grass. It was quite easy to guess that she proposed to have a chat with Lucia when she came out. Similarly the Miss Antrobuses who had paid no attention to her at all before, ceased from their pretty gambolings, and ran up to talk to her, so they wanted a word too. Colonel Boucher, a little less obviously, began throwing sticks into the ducking-pond for his bull-dog (for Lucia would be obliged to pass the ducking-pond) and Mrs Antrobus examined the stocks very carefully, as if she had never seen them before.

And then, before a couple of minutes had elapsed Lucia came out. She had no longer the note in her hand, and Georgie began taking his opera-glasses to bits, in order to wash the lenses. For the present they had served their purpose. "She has left a note on Olga Bracely," said Georgie quite aloud, so powerful was the current of his thoughts. Then as a corollary came the further proposition which might be considered as proved, "But she had not seen her."

The justice of this conclusion was soon proved, for Lucia had hardly disengaged herself from the group of her subjects, and traversed the green on her way back to her house, when a motor passed Georgie's bathroom window, closely followed by a second; both drew up at the entrance to the Ambermere Arms. With the speed of a practised optician Georgie put his opera glass together again, and after looking through the wrong end of it in his agitation was in time to see a man get out of the second car, and hold the carriage-door open for the occupants of the first. A lady got out first, tall and slight in figure, who stood there unwinding her motor veil, then she turned round again, and with a thump of his heart that surprised Georgie with its violence, he beheld the well-remembered features of his Brunnhilde.

Swiftly he passed into his bedroom next door, and arrayed himself in his summer Hightums; a fresh (almost pearly) suit of white duck, a mauve tie with an amethyst pin in it, socks, tightly braced up, of precisely the same colour as the tie, so that an imaginative beholder might have conjectured that on this warm day the end of his tie had melted and run down his legs; buckskin shoes with tall slim heels and a straw hat completed this pretty Hightum. He had meant to wear it for the first time at Lucia's party tomorrow, but now, after her meanness, she deserved to be punished. All Riseholme should see it before she did.

The group round Mrs Weston's chair was still engaged in conversation when Georgie came up, and he casually let slip what a bore it was to pay calls on such a lovely day, but he had promised to visit Miss Olga Bracely, who had just arrived. So there was another nasty one for Lucia, since now all Riseholme would know of her actual arrival before Lucia did.

"And who, Mr Georgie," asked Mrs Antrobus presenting her trumpet to him in the manner in which an elephant presents its trunk to receive a bun, "who was that with her?"

"Oh, her husband, Mr Shuttleworth," said Georgie. "They have just been married, and are on their honeymoon." And if that was not another staggerer for Lucia, it is diffy, as Georgie would say, to know what a staggerer is. For Lucia would be last of all to know that this was not Mr Bracely.

"And will they be at Mrs Lucas's party tomorrow?" asked Mrs Weston.

"Oh, does she know them?" asked Georgie.

"Haw, haw, by Jove!" began Colonel Boucher. "Very handsome woman. Envy you, my boy. Pity it's their honeymoon. Haw!"

Mrs Antrobus's trumpet was turned in his direction at this moment, and she heard these daring remarks.

"Naughty!" she said, and Georgie, the envied, passed in into the inn.

He sent in his card, on which he had thought it prudent to write "From Lady Ambermere," and was presently led through into the garden behind the building. There she was, tall and lovely and welcoming, and held out a most cordial hand.

"How kind of you to come and see us," she said. "Georgie, this is Mr Pillson. My husband."

"How do you do, Mr Shuttleworth," said Georgie to shew he knew, though his own Christian name had given him quite a start. For the moment he had almost thought she was speaking to him.

"And so Lady Ambermere asked you to come and see us?" Olga went on. "I think that was much kinder of her than to ask us to dinner. I hate going out to dinner in the country almost as much as I hate not going out to dinner in town. Besides with that great hook nose of hers, I'm always afraid that in an absent moment I might scratch her on the head and say 'Pretty Polly.' Is she a great friend of yours, Mr Pillson? I hope so, because everyone likes his best friends being laughed at."

Up till that moment Georgie was prepared to indicate that Lady Ambermere was the hand and he the glove. But evidently that would not impress Olga in the least. He laughed in a most irreverent manner instead.

"Don't let us go," she went on. "Georgie, can't you send a telegram saying that we have just discovered a subsequent engagement and then we'll ask Mr Pillson to show us round this utterly adorable place, and dine with us afterwards. That would be so much nicer. Fancy living here! Oh, and do tell me something, Mr Pillson. I found a note when I arrived half an hour ago, from Mrs Lucas asking me and Mr Shuttleworth to go to a garden-party tomorrow. She said she didn't even hope that I should remember her, but would we come. Who is she? Really I don't think she can remember me very well, if she thinks I am Mrs Bracely. Georgie says I must have been married before, and that I have caused him to commit bigamy. That's pleasant conversation for a honeymoon, isn't it? Who is she?"

"Oh, she's quite an old friend of mine," said Georgie, "though I never knew she had met you before; I'm devoted to her."

"Extremely proper. But now tell me this, and look straight in my face, so that I shall know if you're speaking the truth. Should I enjoy myself more wandering about this heavenly place than at her garden party?"

Georgie felt that poor Lucia was really punished enough by this time.

"You will give her a great deal of pleasure if you go," he began.

"Ah, that's not fair; it is hitting below the belt to appeal to unselfish motives. I have come here simply to enjoy myself. Go on; eyes front."

The candour and friendliness of that beautiful face gave Georgie an impulse of courage. Besides, though no doubt in fun, she had already suggested that it would be much nicer to wander about with him and dine together than spend the evening among the splendours of The Hall.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse