Lucia's benevolent scheme of educating and refining vanished like morning mists, and through her drooping eyelids, the firelight seemed strangely red.... She had been too kind, too encouraging: now she must collect her forces round her and be stern. As she dozed off to sleep, she reminded herself to ask Georgie to lunch next day. He and Peppino and she must have a serious talk. She had seen Georgie comparatively little just lately, and she drowsily and uneasily wondered how that was.
Georgie by this time had quite got over the desolation of the moment when standing in the road opposite Mrs Quantock's mulberry-tree he had given vent to that bitter cry of "More misery: more unhappiness!" His nerves on that occasion had been worn to fiddlestrings with all the fuss and fiasco of planning the tableaux, and thus fancying himself in love had been just the last straw. But the fact that he had been Olga's chosen confidant in her wonderful scheme of causing Mrs Weston and the Colonel to get engaged, and the distinction of being singled out by Olga to this friendly intimacy, had proved a great tonic. It was quite clear that the existence of Mr Shuttleworth constituted a hopeless bar to the fruition of his passion, and, if he was completely honest with himself, he was aware that he did not really hate Mr Shuttleworth for standing in his path. Georgie was gentle in all his ways, and his manner of falling in love was very gentle, too. He admired Olga immensely, he found her stimulating and amusing, and since it was out of the question really to be her lover, he would have enjoyed next best to that, being her brother, and such little pangs of jealousy as he might experience from time to time, were rather in the nature of small electric shocks voluntarily received. He was devoted to her with a warmth that his supposed devotion to Lucia had never kindled in him; he even went so far as to dream about her in an agitated though respectful manner. Without being conscious of any unreality about his sentiments, he really wanted to dress up as a lover rather than to be one, for he could form no notion at present of what it felt to be absorbed in anyone else. Life was so full as it was: there really was no room for anything else, especially if that something else must be of the quality which rendered everything else colourless.
This state of mind, this quality of emotion was wholly pleasurable and quite exciting, and instead of crying out "More misery! more unhappiness!" he could now, as he passed the mulberry, say to himself "More pleasures! more happiness!"
Yet as he ran down the road to lunch with Lucia he was conscious that she was likely to stand, an angel perhaps, but certainly one with a flaming sword, between him and all the interests of the new life which was undoubtedly beginning to bubble in Riseholme, and to which Georgie found it so pleasant to take his little mug, and have it filled with exhilarating liquid. And if Lucia proved to be standing in his path, forbidding his approach, he, too, was armed for combat, with a revolutionary weapon, consisting of a rolled-up copy of some of Debussy's music for the piano—Olga had lent it him a few days,—and he had been very busy over "Poissons d'or." He was further armed by the complete knowledge of the Italian debacle of last night, which, from his knowledge of Lucia, he judged must constitute a crisis. Something would have to happen.... Several times lately Olga had, so to speak, run full-tilt into Lucia, and had passed on leaving a staggering form behind her. And in each case, so Georgie clearly perceived, Olga had not intended to butt into or stagger anybody. Each time, she had knocked Lucia down purely by accident, but if these accidents occurred with such awful frequency, it was to be expected that Lucia would find another name for them: they would have to be christened. With all his Riseholme appetite for complications and events Georgie guessed that he was not likely to go empty away from this lunch. In addition there were other topics of extraordinary interest, for really there had been very odd experiences at Mrs Quantock's last night, when the Italian debacle was going on, a little way up the road. But he was not going to bring that out at once.
Lucia hailed him with her most cordial manner, and with a superb effrontery began to talk Italian just as usual, though she must have guessed that Georgie knew all about last night.
"Bon arrivato, amico mio," she said. "Why, it must be three days since we met. Che la falto il signorino? And what have you got there?"
Georgie, having escaped being caught over Italian, had made up his mind not to talk any more ever.
"Oh, they are some little things by Debussy," he said. "I want to play one of them to you afterwards. I've just been glancing through it."
"Bene, molto bene!" said she. "Come in to lunch. But I can't promise to like it, Georgino. Isn't Debussy the man who always makes me want to howl like a dog at the sound of the gong? Where did you get these from?"
"Olga lent me them," said Georgie negligently. He really did call her Olga to her face now, by request.
Lucia's bugles began to sound.
"Yes, I should think Miss Bracely would admire that sort of music," she said. "I suppose I am too old-fashioned, though I will not condemn your little pieces of Debussy before I have heard them. Old-fashioned! Yes! I was certainly too old-fashioned for the music she gave us last night. Dio mi!"
"Oh, didn't you enjoy it?" asked he.
Lucia sat down, without waiting for Peppino.
"Poor Miss Bracely!" she said. "It was very kind of her in intention to ask me, but she would have been kinder to have asked Mrs Antrobus instead, and have told her not to bring her ear-trumpet. To hear that lovely voice, for I do her justice, and there are lovely notes in her voice, lovely, to hear that voice shrieking and screaming away, in what she called the great scene, was simply pitiful. There was no melody, and above all there was no form. A musical composition is like an architectural building; it must be built up and constructed. How often have I said that! You must have colour, and you must have line, otherwise I cannot concede you the right to say you have music."
Lucia finished her egg in a hurry, and put her elbows on the table.
"I hope I am not hide-bound and limited," she said, "and I think you will acknowledge, Georgie, that I am not. Even in the divinest music of all, I am not blind to defects, if there are defects. The Moonlight Sonata, for instance. You have often heard me say that the two last movements do not approach the first in perfection of form. And if I am permitted to criticise Beethoven, I hope I may be allowed to suggest that Mr Cortese has not produced an opera which will render Fidelio ridiculous. But really I am chiefly sorry for Miss Bracely. I should have thought it worth her while to render herself not unworthy to interpret Fidelio, whatever time and trouble that cost her, rather than to seek notoriety by helping to foist on to the world a fresh combination of engine-whistles and grunts. Non e vero, Peppino? How late you are."
Lucia had not determined on this declaration of war without anxious consideration. But it was quite obvious to her that the enemy was daily gaining strength, and therefore the sooner she came to open hostilities the better, for it was equally obvious to her mind that Olga was a pretender to the throne she had occupied for so long. It was time to mobilise, and she had first to state her views and her plan of campaign to the chief of her staff.
"No, we did not quite like our evening, Peppino and I, did we, caro?" she went on. "And Mr Cortese! His appearance! He is like a huge hairdresser. His touch on the piano. If you can imagine a wild bull butting at the keys, you will have some idea of it. And above all, his Italian! I gathered that he was a Neapolitan, and we all know what Neapolitan dialect is like. Tuscans and Romans, who between them I believe—Lingua Toscano in Bocca Romana, you remember—know how to speak their own tongue, find Neapolitans totally unintelligible. For myself, and I speak for mio sposo as well, I do not want to understand what Romans do not understand. La bella lingua is sufficient for me."
"I hear that Olga could understand him quite well," said Georgie betraying his complete knowledge of all that had happened.
"That may be so," said Lucia. "I hope she understood his English too, and his music. He had not an 'h' when he spoke English, and I have not the slightest doubt in my own mind that his Italian was equally illiterate. It does not matter; I do not see that Mr Cortese's linguistic accomplishments concern us. But his music does, if poor Miss Bracely, with her lovely notes, is going to study it, and appear as Lucretia. I am sorry if that is so. Any news?"
Really it was rather magnificent, and it was war as well; of that there could not be the slightest doubt. All Riseholme, by this time, knew that Lucia and Peppino had not been able to understand a word of what Cortese had said, and here was the answer to the back-biting suggestion, vividly put forward by Mrs Weston on the green that morning, that the explanation was that Lucia and Peppino did not know Italian. They could not reasonably be expected to know Neapolitan dialect; the language of Dante satisfied their humble needs. They found it difficult to understand Cortese when he spoke English, but that did not imply that they did not know English. Dante's tongue and Shakespeare's tongue sufficed them....
"And what were the words of the libretto like?" asked Georgie.
Lucia fixed him with her beady eyes, ready and eager to show how delighted she was to bestow approbation wherever it was deserved.
"Wonderful!" she said. "I felt, and so did Peppino, that the words were as utterly wasted on that formless music as was poor Miss Bracely's voice. How did it go, Peppino? Let me think!"
Lucia raised her head again with the far-away look.
"Amore misterio!" she said. "Amore profondo! Amore profondo del vasto mar." Ah, there was our poor bella lingua again. I wonder who wrote the libretto."
"Mr Cortese wrote the libretto," said Georgie.
Lucia did not hesitate for a moment, but gave her silvery laugh.
"Oh, dear me, no," she said. "If you had heard him talk you would know he could not have. Well, have we not had enough of Mr Cortese and his works? Any news? What did you do last night, when Peppino and I were in our purgatorio?"
Georgie was almost equally glad to get off the subject of Italian. The less said in or of Italian the better.
"I was dining with Mrs Quantock," he said. "She had a very interesting Russian woman staying with her, Princess Popoffski."
Lucia laughed again.
"Dear Daisy!" she said. "Tell me about the Russian princess. Was she a Guru? Dear me, how easily some people are taken in! The Guru! Well, we were all in the same boat there. We took the Guru on poor Daisy's valuation, and I still believe he had very remarkable gifts, curry-cook or not. But Princess Popoffski now——"
"We had a seance," said Georgie.
"Indeed! And Princess Popoffski was the medium?"
Georgie grew a little dignified.
"It is no use adopting that tone, cara," he said, relapsing into Italian. "You were not there; you were having your purgatory at Olga's. It was very remarkable. We touched hands all round the table; there was no possibility of fraud."
Lucia's views on psychic phenomena were clearly known to Riseholme; those who produced them were fraudulent, those who were taken in by them were dupes. Consequently there was irony in the baby-talk of her reply.
"Me dood!" she said. "Me very dood, and listen carefully. Tell Lucia!"
Georgie recounted the experiences. The table had rocked and tapped out names. The table had whirled round, though it was a very heavy table. Georgie had been told that he had two sisters, one of whom in Latin was a bear.
"How did the table know that?" he asked. "Ursa, a bear, you know. And then, while we were sitting there, the Princess went off into a trance. She said there was a beautiful spirit present, who blessed us all. She called Mrs Quantock Margarita, which, as you may know, is the Italian for Daisy."
"Thank you for explaining, Georgino," she said.
There was no mistaking the irony of that, and Georgie thought he would be ironical too.
"I didn't know if you knew," he said. "I thought it might be Neapolitan dialect."
"Pray, go on!" said Lucia, breathing through her nose.
"And she said I was Georgie," said Georgie, "but that there was another Georgie not far off. That was odd, because Olga's house, with Mr Shuttleworth, were so close. And then the Princess went into very deep trance, and the spirit that was there took possession of her."
"And who was that?" asked Lucia.
"His name was Amadeo. She spoke in Amadeo's voice, indeed it was Amadeo who was speaking. He was a Florentine and knew Dante quite well. He materialised; I saw him."
A bright glorious vision flashed upon Lucia. The Dante-class might not, even though it was clearly understood that Cortese spoke unintelligible Neapolitan, be a complete success, if the only attraction was that she herself taught Dante, but it would be quite a different proposition if Princess Popoffski, controlled by Amadeo, Dante's friend, was present. They might read a Canto first, and then hold a seance of which Amadeo—via Princess Popoffski—would take charge. While this was simmering in her mind, it was important to drop all irony and be extremely sympathetic.
"Georgino! How wonderful!" she said. "As you know, I am sceptical by nature, and want all evidence carefully sifted. I daresay I am too critical, and that is a fault. But fancy getting in touch with a friend of Dante's! What would one not give? Tell me: what is this Princess like? Is she the sort of person one could ask to dinner?"
Georgie was still sore over the irony to which he had been treated. He had, moreover, the solid fact behind him that Daisy Quantock (Margarita) had declared that in no circumstances would she permit Lucia to annex her Princess. She had forgiven Lucia for annexing the Guru (and considering that she had only annexed a curry-cook, it was not so difficult) but she was quite determined to run her Princess herself.
"Yes, you might ask her," he said. If irony was going about, there was no reason why he should not have a share.
Lucia bounced from her seat, as if it had been a spring cushion.
"We will have a little party," she said. "We three, and dear Daisy and her husband and the Princess. I think that will be enough; psychics hate a crowd, because it disturbs the influences. Mind! I do not say I believe in her power yet, but I am quite open-minded; I should like to be convinced. Let me see! We are doing nothing tomorrow. Let us have our little dinner tomorrow. I will send a line to dear Daisy at once, and say how enormously your account of the seance has interested me. I should like dear Daisy to have something to console her for that terrible fiasco about her Guru. And then, Georgino mio, I will listen to your Debussy. Do not expect anything; if it seems to me formless, I shall say so. But if it seems to me promising, I shall be equally frank. Perhaps it is great; I cannot tell you about that till I have heard it. Let me write my note first."
That was soon done, and Lucia, having sent it by hand, came into the music-room, and drew down the blinds over the window through which the autumn sun was streaming. Very little art, as she had once said, would "stand" daylight; only Shakespeare or Dante or Beethoven and perhaps Bach, could complete with the sun.
Georgie, for his part, would have liked rather more light, but after all Debussy wrote such very odd chords and sequences that it was not necessary to wear his spectacles.
Lucia sat in a high chair near the piano, with her chin in her hand, tremendously erect.
Georgie took off his rings and laid them on the candle-bracket, and ran his hands nimbly over the piano.
"Poissons d'or," he said. "Goldfish!"
"Yes; Pesci d'oro," said Lucia, explaining it to Peppino.
Lucia's face changed as the elusive music proceeded. The far-away look died away, and became puzzled; her chin came out of her hand, and the hand it came out of covered her eyes.
Before Georgie had got to the end the answer to her note came, and she sat with it in her hand, which, released from covering her eyes, tried to beat time. On the last note she got up with a regretful sigh.
"Is it finished?" she asked. "And yet I feel inclined to say 'When is it going to begin?' I haven't been fed; I haven't drank in anything. Yes, I warned you I should be quite candid. And there's my verdict. I am sorry. Me vewy sowwy! But you played it, I am sure, beautifully, Georgino; you were a buono avvocato; you said all that could be said for your client. Shall I open this note before we discuss it more fully? Give Georgino a cigarette, Peppino! I am sure he deserves one, after all those accidentals."
She pulled up the blind again in order to read her note and as she read her face clouded.
"Ah! I am sorry for that," she said. "Peppino, the Princess does not go out in the evening; they always have a seance there. I daresay Daisy means to ask us some evening soon. We will keep an evening or two open. It is a long time since I have seen dear Daisy; I will pop round this afternoon."
Spiritualism, and all things pertaining to it, swept over Riseholme like the amazing growth of some tropical forest, germinating and shooting out its surprising vegetation, and rearing into huge fantastic shapes. In the centre of this wonderful jungle was a temple, so to speak, and that temple was the house of Mrs Quantock....
A strange Providence was the origin of it all. Mrs Quantock, a week before, had the toothache, and being no longer in the fold of Christian Science, found that it was no good at all to tell herself that it was a false claim. False claim it might be, but it was so plausible at once that it quite deceived her, and she went up to London to have its falsity demonstrated by a dentist. Since the collapse of Yoga and the flight of the curry-cook, she had embarked on no mystical adventure, and she starved for some new fad. Then when her first visit to the dentist was over (the tooth required three treatments) and she went to a vegetarian restaurant to see if there was anything enlightening to be got out of that, she was delighted to find herself sitting at a very small table with a very communicative lady who ate cabbages in perfectly incredible quantities. She had a round pale face like the moon behind the clouds, enormous eyebrows that almost met over her nose, and a strange low voice, of husky tone, and a pronunciation quite as foreign as Signor Cortese's. She wore some very curious rings with large engraved amethysts and turquoises in them, and since in the first moments of their conversation she had volunteered the information that vegetarianism was the only possible diet for any who were cultivating their psychical powers, Mrs Quantock asked her if these weird finger-ornaments had any mystical signification. They had; one was Gnostic, one was Rosicrucian, and the other was Cabalistic.... It is easy to picture Mrs Quantock's delight; adventure had met her with smiling mouth and mysterious eyes. In the course of an animated conversation of half an hour, the lady explained that if Mrs Quantock was, like her, a searcher after psychical truths, and cared to come to her flat at half-past four that afternoon, she would try to help her. She added with some little diffidence that the fee for a seance was a guinea, and, as she left, took a card out of a case, encrusted with glowing rubies, and gave it her. That was the Princess Popoffski.
Now here was a curious thing. For the last few evenings at Riseholme, Mrs Quantock had been experimenting with a table, and found that it creaked and tilted and tapped in the most encouraging way when she and Robert laid their hands on it. Then something—whatever it was that moved the table—had indicated by raps that her name was Daisy and his Robert, as well as giving them other information, which could not so easily be verified. Robert had grown quite excited about it, and was vexed that the seances were interrupted by his wife's expedition to London. But now how providential that was. She had walked straight from the dentist into the arms of Princess Popoffski.
It was barely half-past four when Mrs Quantock arrived at the Princess's flat, in a pleasant quiet side street off Charing Cross Road. A small dapper little gentleman received her, who explained that he was the Princess's secretary, and conducted her through several small rooms into the presence of the Sybil. These rooms, so Mrs Quantock thrillingly noticed, were dimly lit by oil lamps that stood in front of shrines containing images of the great spiritual guides from Moses down to Madame Blavatski, a smell of incense hung about, there were vases of flowers on the tables, and strange caskets set with winking stones. In the last of these rooms the Princess was seated, and for the moment Mrs Quantock hardly recognised her, for she wore a blue robe, which left her massive arms bare, and up them writhed serpent-shaped bracelets of many coils. She fixed her eyes on Mrs Quantock, as if she had never seen her before, and made no sign of recognition.
"The Princess has been meditating," said the secretary in a whisper. "She'll come to herself presently."
For a moment meditation unpleasantly reminded Mrs Quantock of the Guru, but nothing could have been less like that ill-starred curry-cook than this majestic creature. Eventually she gave a great sigh and came out of her meditation.
"Ah, it is my friend," she said. "Do you know that you have a purple halo?"
This was very gratifying, especially when it was explained that only the most elect had purple halos, and soon other elect souls assembled for the seance. In the centre of the table was placed a musical box and a violin, and hardly had the circle been made, and the lights turned down, when the most extraordinary things began to happen. A perfect storm of rappings issued from the table, which began to rock violently, and presently there came peals of laughter in a high voice, and those who had been here before said that it was Pocky. He was a dear naughty boy, so Mrs Quantock's neighbour explained to her, so full of fun, and when on earth had been a Hungarian violinist. Still invisible, Pocky wished them all much laughter and joy, and then suddenly said "'Ullo, 'ullo, 'ere's a new friend. I like her," and Mrs Quantock's neighbour, with a touch of envy in her voice, told her that Pocky clearly meant her. Then Pocky said that they had been having heavenly music on the other side that day, and that if the new friend would say "Please" he would play them some of it.
So Mrs Quantock, trembling with emotion, said "Please, Pocky," and instantly he began to play on the violin the spirit tune which he had just been playing on the other side. After that, the violin clattered back onto the middle of the table again, and Pocky, blowing showers of kisses to them all, went away amid peals of happy laughter.
Silence fell, and then a deep bass voice said, "I am coming, Amadeo!" and out of the middle of the table appeared a faint luminousness. It grew upwards and began to take form. Swathes of white muslin shaped themselves in the darkness, and there appeared a white face, in among the topmost folds of the muslin, with a Roman nose and a melancholy expression. He was not gay like Pocky, but he was intensely impressive, and spoke some lines in Italian, when asked to repeat a piece of Dante. Mrs Quantock knew they were Italian, because she recognised "notte" and "uno" and "caro," familiar words on Lucia's lips.
The seance came to an end, and Mrs Quantock having placed a guinea with the utmost alacrity in a sort of offertory plate which the Princess's secretary negligently but prominently put down on a table in one of the other rooms, waited to arrange for another seance. But most unfortunately the Princess was leaving town next day on a much needed holiday, for she had been giving three seances a day for the last two months and required rest.
"Yes, we're off tomorrow, the Princess and I," said he, "for a week at the Royal Hotel at Brinton. Pleasant bracing air, always sets her up. But after that she'll be back in town. Do you know that part of the country?"
Daisy could hardly believe her ears.
"Brinton?" she said. "I live close to Brinton."
Her whole scheme flashed completely upon her, even as Athene sprang full-grown from the brain of Zeus.
"Do you think that she might be induced to spend a few days with me at Riseholme?" she said. "My husband and I are so much interested in psychical things. You would be our guest, too, I hope. If she rested for a few days at Brinton first? If she came on to me afterwards? And then if she was thoroughly rested, perhaps she would give us a seance or two. I don't know—"
Mrs Quantock felt a great diffidence in speaking of guineas in the same sentence with Princesses, and had to make another start.
"If she were thoroughly rested," she said, "and if a little circle perhaps of four, at the usual price would be worth her while. Just after dinner, you know, and nothing else to do all day but rest. There are pretty drives and beautiful air. All very quiet, and I think I may say more comfortable than the hotel. It would be such a pleasure."
Mrs Quantock heard the clinking of bracelets from the room where the Princess was still reposing, and there she stood in the door, looking unspeakably majestic, but very gracious. So Mrs Quantock put her proposition before her, the secretary coming to the rescue on the subject of the usual fees, and when two days afterwards Mrs Quantock returned to Riseholme, it was to get ready the spare room and Robert's room next to it for these thrilling visitors, whose first seance Georgie and Piggy had attended, on the evening of the Italian debacle....
The Quantocks had taken a high and magnificent line about the "usual fees" for the seances, an expensive line, but then Roumanian oils had been extremely prosperous lately. No mention whatever of these fees was made to their guests, no offertory-plate was put in a prominent position in the hall, there was no fumbling for change or the discreet pressure of coins into the secretary's hand; the entire cost was borne by Roumanian oils. The Princess and Mrs Quantock, apparently, were old friends; they spoke to each other at dinner as "dear friend," and the Princess declared in the most gratifying way that they had been most intimate in a previous incarnation, without any allusion to the fact that in this incarnation they had met for the first time last week at a vegetarian restaurant. She was kind enough, it was left to be understood, to give a little seance after dinner at the house of her "dear friend," and so, publicly, the question of money never came up.
Now the Princess was to stay three nights, and therefore, as soon as Mrs Quantock had made sure of that, she proceeded to fill up each of the seances without asking Lucia to any of them. It was not that she had not fully forgiven her for her odious grabbing of the Guru, for she had done that on the night of the Spanish quartette; it was rather that she meant to make sure that there would by no possibility be anything to forgive concerning her conduct with regard to the Princess. Lucia could not grab her and so call Daisy's powers of forgiveness into play again, if she never came near her, and Daisy meant to take proper precautions that she should not come near her. Accordingly Georgie and Piggy were asked to the first seance (if it did not go very well, it would not particularly matter with them), Olga and Mr Shuttleworth were bidden to the second, and Lady Ambermere with Georgie again to the third. This—quite apart from the immense interest of psychic phenomena—was deadly work, for it would be bitter indeed to Lucia to know, as she most undoubtedly would, that Lady Ambermere, who had cut her so firmly, was dining twice and coming to a seance. Daisy, it must again be repeated, had quite forgiven Lucia about the Guru, but Lucia must take the consequences of what she had done.
It was after the first seance that the frenzy for spiritualism seized Riseholme. The Princess with great good-nature, gave some further exhibitions of her psychical power in addition to the seances, and even as Georgie the next afternoon was receiving Lucia's cruel verdict about Debussy, the Sybil was looking at the hands of Colonel Boucher and Mrs Weston, and unerringly probing into their past, and lifting the corner of the veil, giving them both glimpses into the future. She knew that the two were engaged for that she had learned from Mrs Quantock in her morning's drive, and did not attempt to conceal the fact, but how could it be accounted for that looking impressively from the one to the other, she said that a woman no longer young but tall, and with fair hair had crossed their lives and had been connected with one, of them for years past? It was impossible to describe Elizabeth more accurately than that, and Mrs Weston in high excitement confessed that her maid who had been with her for fifteen years entirely corresponded with what the Princess had seen in her hand. After that it took only a moment's further scrutiny for the Princess to discover that Elizabeth was going to be happy too. Then she found that there was a man connected with Elizabeth, and Colonel Boucher's hand, to which she transferred her gaze, trembled with delightful anticipation. She seemed to see a man there; she was not quite sure, but was there a man who perhaps had been known to him for a long time? There was. And then by degrees the affairs of Elizabeth and Atkinson were unerringly unravelled. It was little wonder that the Colonel pushed Mrs Weston's bath-chair with record speed to "Ye signe of ye daffodil," and by the greatest good luck obtained a copy of the "Palmist's Manual."
At another of these informal seances attended by Goosie and Mrs Antrobus, even stranger things had happened, for the Princess's hands, as they held a little preliminary conversation, began to tremble and twitch even more strongly than Colonel Boucher's, and Mrs Quantock hastily supplied her with a pencil and a quantity of sheets of foolscap paper, for this trembling and twitching implied that Reschia, an ancient Egyptian priestess, was longing to use the Princess's hand for automatic writing. After a few wild scrawls and plunges with the pencil, the Princess, though she still continued to talk to them, covered sheet after sheet in large flowing handwriting. This, when it was finished and the Princess sunk back in her chair, proved to be the most wonderful spiritual discourse, describing the happiness and harmony which pervaded the whole universe, and was only temporarily obscured by the mists of materiality. These mists were wholly withdrawn from the vision of those who had passed over. They lived in the midst of song and flowers and light and love.... Towards the end there was a less intelligible passage about fire from the clouds. It was rendered completely intelligible the very next day when there was a thunderstorm, surely an unusual occurrence in November. If that had not happened Mrs Quantock's interpretation of it, as referring to Zeppelins, would have been found equally satisfactory. It was no wonder after that, that Mrs Antrobus, Piggy and Goosie spent long evenings with pencils and paper, for the Princess said that everybody had the gift of automatic writing, if they would only take pains and patience to develop it. Everybody had his own particular guide, and it was the very next day that Piggy obtained a script clearly signed Annabel Nicostratus and Jamifleg followed very soon after for her mother and sister, and so there was no jealousy.
But the crown and apex of these manifestations was undoubtedly the three regular seances which took place to the three select circles after dinner. Musical boxes resounded, violins gave forth ravishing airs, the sitters were touched by unseen fingers when everybody's hands were touching all around the table, and from the middle of it materialisations swathed in muslin were built up. Pocky came, visible to the eye, and played spirit music. Amadeo, melancholy and impressive, recited Dante, and Cardinal Newman, not visible to the eye but audible to the ear, joined in the singing "Lead, Kindly Light," which the secretary requested them to encourage him with, and blessed them profusely at the conclusion. Lady Ambermere was so much impressed, and so nervous of driving home alone, that she insisted on Georgie's going back to the Hall with her, and consigning her person to Pug and Miss Lyall, and for the three days of the Princess's visit, there was practically no subject discussed at the parliaments on the Green, except the latest manifestations. Olga went to town for a crystal, and Georgie for a planchette, and Riseholme temporarily became a spiritualistic republic, with the Princess as priestess and Mrs Quantock as President.
Lucia, all this time, was almost insane with pique and jealousy, for she sat in vain waiting for an invitation to come to a seance, and would, long before the three days were over, have welcomed with enthusiasm a place at one of the inferior and informal exhibitions. Since she could not procure the Princess for dinner, she asked Daisy to bring her to lunch or tea or at any hour day or night which was convenient. She made Peppino hang about opposite Daisy's house, with orders to drop his stick, or let his hat blow off, if he saw even the secretary coming out of the gate, so as possibly to enter into conversation with him, while she positively forced herself one morning into Daisy's hall, and cried "Margarita" in silvery tones. On this occasion Margarita came out of the drawing-room with a most determined expression on her face, and shut the door carefully behind her.
"Dearest Lucia," she said, "how nice to see you! What is it?"
"I just popped in for a chat," said she. "I haven't set eyes on you since the evening of the Spanish quartette."
"No! So long ago as that is it? Well, you must come in again sometime very soon, won't you? The day after tomorrow I shall be much less busy. Promise to look in then."
"You have a visitor with you, have you not?" asked Lucia desperately.
"Yes! Two, indeed, dear friends of mine. But I am afraid you would not like them. I know your opinion about anything connected with spiritualism, and—isn't it silly of us?—we've been dabbling in that."
"Oh, but how interesting," said Lucia. "I—I am always ready to learn, and alter my opinions if I am wrong."
Mrs Quantock did not move from in front of the drawing-room door.
"Yes?" she said. "Then we will have a great talk about it, when you come to see me the day after tomorrow. But I know I shall find you hard to convince."
She kissed the tips of her fingers in a manner so hopelessly final that there was nothing to do but go away.
Then with poor generalship, Lucia altered her tactics, and went up to the Village Green where Piggy was telling Georgie about the script signed Annabel. This was repeated again for Lucia's benefit.
"Wasn't it too lovely?" said Piggy. "So Annabel's my guide, and she writes a hand quite unlike mine."
Lucia gave a little scream, and put her fingers to her ears.
"Gracious me!" she said. "What has come over Riseholme? Wherever I go I hear nothing but talk of seances, and spirits, and automatic writing. Such a pack of nonsense, my dear Piggy. I wonder at a sensible girl like you."
Mrs Weston, propelled by the Colonel, whirled up in her bath-chair.
"'The Palmist's Manual' is too wonderful," she said, "and Jacob and I sat up over it till I don't know what hour. There's a break in his line of life, just at the right place, when he was so ill in Egypt, which is most remarkable, and when Tommy Luton brought round my bath-chair this morning—I had it at the garden-door, because the gravel's just laid at my front-door, and the wheels sink so far into it—'Tommy,' I said, 'let me look at your hand a moment,' and there on his line of fate, was the little cross that means bereavement. It came just right didn't it, Jacob? when he was thirteen, for he's fourteen this year, and Mrs Luton died just a year ago. Of course I didn't tell Tommy that, for I only told him to wash his hands, but it was most curious. And has your planchette come yet, Mr Georgie? I shall be most anxious to know what it writes, so if you've got an evening free any night soon just come round for a bit of dinner, and we'll make an evening of it, with table turning and planchette and palmistry. Now tell me all about the seance the first night. I wish I could have been present at a real seance, but of course Mrs Quantock can't find room for everybody, and I'm sure it was most kind of her to let the Colonel and me come in yesterday afternoon. We were thrilled with it, and who knows but that the Princess didn't write the Palmist's Manual for on the title page it says it's by P. and that might be Popoffski as easily as not, or perhaps Princess."
This allusion to there not being room for everybody was agony to Lucia. She laughed in her most silvery manner.
"Or, perhaps Peppino," she said. "I must ask mio caro if he wrote it. Or does it stand for Pillson? Georgino, are you the author of the Palmist's Manual? Ecco! I believe it was you."
This was not quite wise, for no one detested irony more than Mrs Weston, or was sharper to detect it. Lucia should never have been ironical just then, nor indeed have dropped into Italian.
"No" she said. "I'm sure it was neither Il Signer Peppino nor Il Signer Pillson who wrote it. I believe it was the Principessa. So, ecco! And did we not have a delicious evening at Miss Bracely's the other night? Such lovely singing, and so interesting to learn that Signor Cortese made it all up. And those lovely words, for though I didn't understand much of them, they sounded so exquisite. And fancy Miss Bracely talking Italian so beautifully when we none of us knew she talked it at all."
Mrs Weston's amiable face was crimson with suppressed emotion, of which these few words were only the most insignificant leakage, and a very awkward pause succeeded which was luckily broken by everybody beginning to talk again very fast and brightly. Then Mrs Weston's chair scudded away; Piggy skipped away to the stocks where Goosie was sitting with a large sheet of foolscap, in case her hand twitched for automatic script, and Lucia turned to Georgie, who alone was left.
"Poor Daisy!" she said. "I dropped in just now, and really I found her very odd and strange. What with her crazes for Christian Science, and Uric Acid and Gurus and Mediums, one wonders if she is quite sane. So sad! I should be dreadfully sorry if she had some mental collapse; that sort of thing is always so painful. But I know of a first-rate place for rest-cures; I think it would be wise if I just casually dropped the name of it to Mr Robert, in case. And this last craze seems so terribly infectious. Fancy Mrs Weston dabbling in palmistry! It is too comical, but I hope I did not hurt her feelings by suggesting that Peppino or you wrote the Manual, It is dangerous to make little jokes to poor Mrs Weston."
Georgie quite agreed with that, but did not think it necessary to say in what sense he agreed with it. Every day now Lucia was pouring floods of light on a quite new side of her character, which had been undeveloped, like the print from some photographic plate lying in the dark so long as she was undisputed mistress of Riseholme. But, so it struck him now, since the advent of Olga, she had taken up a critical ironical standpoint, which previously she had reserved for Londoners. At every turn she had to criticise and condemn where once she would only have praised. So few months ago, there had been that marvellous Hightum garden party, when Olga had sung long after Lady Ambermere had gone away. That was her garden party; the splendour and success of it had been hers, and no one had been allowed to forget that until Olga came back again. But the moment that happened, and Olga began to sing on her own account (which after all, so Georgie thought, she had a perfect right to do), the whole aspect of affairs was changed. She romped, and Riseholme did not like romps; she sang in church, and that was theatrical; she gave a party with the Spanish quartette, and Brinton was publicly credited with the performance. Then had come Mrs Quantock and her Princess, and, lo, it would be kind to remember the name of an establishment for rest-cures, in the hope of saving poor Daisy's sanity. Again Colonel Boucher and Mrs Weston were intending to get married, and consulted a Palmist's Manual, so they too helped to develop as with acid the print that had lain so long in the dark.
"Poor thing!" said Lucia, "it is dreadful to have no sense of humour, and I'm sure I hope that Colonel Boucher will thoroughly understand that she has none before he speaks the fatal words. But then he has none either, and I have often noticed that two people without any sense of humour find each other most witty and amusing. A sense of humour, I expect, is not a very common gift; Miss Bracely has none at all, for I do not call romping humour. As for poor Daisy, what can rival her solemnity in sitting night after night round a table with someone who may or may not be a Russian princess—Russia of course is a very large place, and one does not know how many princesses there may be there—and thrilling over a pot of luminous paint and a false nose and calling it Amadeo the friend of Dante."
This was too much for Georgie.
"But you asked Mrs Quantock and the Princess to dine with you," he said, "and hoped there would be a seance afterwards. You wouldn't have done that, if you thought it was only a false nose and a pot of luminous paint."
"I may have been impulsive," said Lucia speaking very rapidly. "I daresay I'm impulsive, and if my impulses lie in the direction of extending such poor hospitality as I can offer to my friends, and their friends, I am not ashamed of them. Far otherwise. But when I see and observe the awful effect of this so-called spiritualism on people whom I should have thought sensible and well-balanced—I do not include poor dear Daisy among them—then I am only thankful that my impulses did not happen to lead me into countenancing such piffle, as your sister so truly observed about POOR Daisy's Guru."
They had come opposite Georgie's house, and suddenly his drawing-room window was thrown up. Olga's head looked out.
"Don't have a fit, Georgie, to find me here" she said. "Good morning, Mrs Lucas; you were behind the mulberry, and I didn't see you. But something's happened to my kitchen range, and I can't have lunch at home. Do give me some. I've brought my crystal, and we'll gaze and gaze. I can see nothing at present except my own nose and the window. Are you psychical, Mrs Lucas?"
This was the last straw; all Lucia's grievances had been flocking together like swallows for their flight, and to crown all came this open annexation of Georgie. There was Olga, sitting in his window, all unasked, and demanding lunch, with her silly ridiculous crystal in her hand, wondering if Lucia was psychical.
Her silvery laugh was a little shrill. It started a full tone above its normal pitch.
"No, dear Miss Bracely," she said. "I am afraid I am much too commonplace and matter-of-fact to care about such things. It is a great loss I know, and deprives me of the pleasant society of Russian princesses. But we are all made differently; that is very lucky. I must get home, Georgie."
It certainly seemed very lucky that everyone was not precisely like Lucia at that moment, or there would have been quarrelling.
She walked quickly off, and Georgie entered his house. Lucia had really been remarkably rude, and, if allusion was made to it, he was ready to confess that she seemed a little worried. Friendship would allow that, and candour demanded it. But no allusion of any sort was made. There was a certain flush on Olga's face, and she explained that she had been sitting over the fire.
The Princess's visit came to an end next day, and all the world knew that she was going back to London by the 11.00 a.m. express. Lady Ambermere was quite aware of it, and drove in with Pug and Miss Lyall, meaning to give her a lift to the station, leaving Mrs Quantock, if she wanted to see her guest off, to follow with the Princess's luggage in the fly which, no doubt, had been ordered. But Daisy had no intention of permitting this sort of thing, and drove calmly away with her dear friend in Georgie's motor, leaving the baffled Lady Ambermere to follow or not as she liked. She did like, though not much, and found herself on the platform among a perfect crowd of Riseholmites who had strolled down to the station on this lovely morning to see if parcels had come. Lady Ambermere took very little notice of them, but managed that Pug should give his paw to the Princess as she took her seat, and waved her hand to Mrs Quantock's dear friend, as the train slid out of the station.
"The late lord had some Russian relations," she said majestically. "How did you get to know her?"
"I met her at Potsdam" was on the tip of Mrs Quantock's tongue, but she was afraid that Lady Ambermere might not understand, and ask her when she had been to Potsdam. It was grievous work making jokes for Lady Ambermere.
The train sped on to London, and the Princess opened the envelope which her hostess had discreetly put in her hand, and found that that was all right. Her hostess had also provided her with an admirable lunch, which her secretary took out of a Gladstone bag. When that was finished, she wanted her cigarettes, and as she looked for these, and even after she had found them, she continued to search for something else. There was the musical box there, and some curious pieces of elastic, and the violin was in its case, and there was a white mask. But she still continued to search....
About the same time as she gave up the search, Mrs Quantock wandered upstairs to the Princess's room. A less highly vitalised nature than hers would have been in a stupor of content, but she was more in a frenzy of content than in a stupor. How fine that frenzy was may be judged from the fact that perhaps the smallest ingredient in it was her utter defeat of Lucia, She cared comparatively little for that glorious achievement, and she was not sure that when the Princess came back again, as she had arranged to do on her next holiday, she would not ask Lucia to come to a seance. Indeed she had little but pity for the vanquished, so great were the spoils. Never had Riseholme risen to such a pitch of enthusiasm, and with good cause had it done so now, for of all the wonderful and exciting things that had ever happened there, these seances were the most delirious. And better even than the excitement of Riseholme was the cause of its excitement, for spiritualism and the truth of inexplicable psychic phenomena had flashed upon them all. Tableaux, romps, Yoga, the Moonlight Sonata, Shakespeare, Christian Science, Olga herself, Uric Acid, Elizabethan furniture, the engagement of Colonel Boucher and Mrs Weston, all these tremendous topics had paled like fire in the sunlight before the revelation that had now dawned. By practice and patience, by zealous concentration on crystals and palms, by the waiting for automatic script to develop, you attained to the highest mysteries, and could evoke Cardinal Newman, or Pocky....
There was the bed in which the Sybil had slept; there was the fresh vase of flowers, difficult to procure in November, but still obtainable, which she loved to have standing near her. There was the chest of drawers in which she had put her clothes, and Mrs Quantock pulled them open one by one, finding fresh emanations and vibrations everywhere. The lowest one stuck a little, and she had to use force to it....
The smile was struck from her face, as it flew open. Inside it were billows and billows of the finest possible muslin. Fold after fold of it she drew out, and with it there came a pair of false eyebrows. She recognised them at once as being Amadeo's. The muslin belonged to Pocky as well.
She needed but a moment's concentrated thought, and in swift succession rejected two courses of action that suggested themselves. The first was to use the muslin herself; it would make summer garments for years. The chief reason against that was that she was a little old for muslin. The second course was to send the whole paraphernalia back to her dear friend, with or without a comment. But that would be tantamount to a direct accusation of fraud. Never any more, if she did that, could she dispense her dear friend to Riseholme like an expensive drug. She would not so utterly burn her boats. There remained only one other judicious course of action, and she got to work.
It had been a cold morning, clear and frosty, and she had caused a good fire to be lit in the Princess's bedroom, for her to dress by. It still prospered in the grate, and Mrs Quantock, having shut the door and locked it, put on to it the false eyebrows, which, as they turned to ash, flew up the chimney. Then she fed it with muslin; yards and yards of muslin she poured on to it; never had there been so much muslin nor that so exquisitely fine. It went to her heart to burn it, but there was no time for minor considerations; every atom of that evidence must be purged by fire. The Princess would certainly not write and say that she had left some eyebrows and a hundred yards of muslin behind her, for, knowing what she did, it would be to her interests as well as Mrs Quantock's that those properties should vanish, as if they never had been.
Up the chimney in sheets of flame went this delightful fabric; sometimes it roared there, as if it had set the chimney on fire, and she had to pause, shielding her scorched face, until the hollow rumbling had died down. But at last the holocaust was over, and she unlocked the door again. No one knew but she, and no one should ever know. The Guru had turned out to be a curry-cook, but no intruding Hermy had been here this time. As long as crystals fascinated and automatic writing flourished, the secret of the muslin and the eyebrows should repose in one bosom alone. Riseholme had been electrified by spiritualism, and, even now, the seances had been cheap at the price, and in spite of this discovery, she felt by no means sure that she would not ask the Princess to come again and minister to their spiritual needs.
She had hardly got downstairs when Robert came in from the Green, where he had been recounting the experiences of the last seance.
"Looked as if there was a chimney on fire," he said. "I wish it was the kitchen chimney. Then perhaps the beef mightn't be so raw as it was yesterday."
Thus is comedy intertwined with tragedy!
Georgie was very busily engaged during the first weeks of December on a water-colour sketch of Olga sitting at her piano and singing. The difficulty of it was such that at times he almost despaired of accomplishing it, for the problem of how to draw her face and her mouth wide open and yet retain the likeness seemed almost insoluble. Often he sat in front of his own looking-glass with his mouth open, and diligently drew his own face, in order to arrive at the principles of the changes of line which took place. Certainly the shape of a person's face, when his mouth was wide open altered so completely that you would have thought him quite unrecognisable, however skilfully the artist reproduced his elongated countenance, and yet Georgie could easily recognise that face in the glass as his. Forehead, eyes and cheek-bones alone retained their wonted aspect; even the nose seemed to lengthen if you opened your mouth very wide.... Then how again was he to indicate that she was singing and not yawning, or preparing for a sneeze? His most successful sketch at present looked precisely as if she was yawning, and made Georgie's jaws long to yawn too. Perhaps the shape of the mouth in the two positions was really the same, and it was only the sound that led you to suppose that an open-mouthed person was singing. But perhaps the piano would supply the necessary suggestion; Olga would not sit down at the piano merely to yawn or sneeze, for she could do that anywhere.
Then a brilliant idea struck him: he would introduce a shaded lamp standing on the piano, and then her face would be in red shadow. Naturally this entailed fresh problems with regard to light, but light seemed to present less difficulty than likeness. Besides he could make her dress, and the keys of the piano very like indeed. But when he came to painting again he despaired. There must be red shadow on her face and yellow light on her hands, and on her green dress, and presently the whole thing looked not so much like Olga singing by lamp-light, as a lobster-salad spread out in the sunlight. The more he painted, the more vividly did the lettuce leaves and the dressing and the lobster emerge from the paper. So he took away the lamp, and shut Olga's mouth, and there she would be at her piano just going to sing.
These artistic agonies had rewards which more than compensated for them, for regularly now he took his drawing-board and his paint-box across to her house, and sat with her while she practised. There were none of love's lilies low or yawning York now, for she was very busy learning her part in Lucretia, spending a solid two hours at it every morning, and Georgie began to perceive what sort of work it implied to produce the spontaneous ease with which Brunnhilde hailed the sun. More astounding even was the fact that this mere learning of notes was but the preliminary to what she called "real work." And when she had got through the mere mechanical part of it, she would have to study. Then when her practice was over, she would indulgently sit with her head in profile against a dark background, and Georgie would suck one end of his brush and bite the other, and wonder whether he would ever produce anything which he could dare to offer her. By daily poring on her face, he grew not to admire only but to adore its youth and beauty, by daily contact with her he began to see how fresh and how lovely was the mind that illuminated it.
"Georgie, I'm going to scold you," she said one day, as she took up her place against the black panel. "You're a selfish little brute. You think of nothing but your own amusement. Did that ever strike you?"
Georgie gasped with surprise. Here was he spending the whole of every morning trying to do something which would be a worthy Christmas present for her (to say nothing of the hours he had spent with his mouth open in front of his glass, and the cost of the beautiful frame which he had ordered) and yet he was supposed to be only thinking about himself. Of course Olga did not know that the picture was to be hers....
"How tarsome you are!" he said. "You're always finding fault with me. Explain."
"Well, you're neglecting your old friends for your new one," she said. "My dear, you should never drop an old friend. For instance, when did you last play duets with Mrs Lucas?"
"Oh, not so very long ago," said Georgie.
"Quite long enough, I am sure. But I don't actually mean sitting down and thumping the piano with her. When did you last think about her and make plans for her and talk baby-language?"
"Who told you I ever did?" asked Georgie.
"Gracious! How can I possibly remember that sort of thing? I should say at a guess that everybody told me. Now poor Mrs Lucas is feeling out of it, and neglected and dethroned. It's all on my mind rather, and I'm talking to you about it, because it's largely your fault. Now we're talking quite frankly, so don't fence, and say it's mine. I know exactly what you mean, but you are perfectly wrong. Primarily, it's Mrs Lucas's fault, because she's quite the stupidest woman I ever saw, but it's partly your fault too."
She turned round.
"Come, Georgie, let's have it out," she said. "I'm perfectly powerless to do anything, because she detests me, and you've got to help her and help me, and drop your selfishness. Before I came here, she used to run you all, and give you treats like going to her tableaux and listening to her stupid old Moonlight Sonata, and talking seven words of Italian. And then I came along with no earthly intention except to enjoy my holidays, and she got it into her head that I was trying to run the place instead of her. Isn't that so? Just say 'yes.'"
"Yes," said Georgie.
"Well, that puts me in an odious position and a helpless position. I did my best to be nice to her; I went to her house until she ceased to ask me, and asked her here for everything that I thought would amuse her, until she ceased to come. I took no notice of her rudeness which was remarkable, or of her absurd patronising airs, which didn't hurt me in the smallest degree. But Georgie, she would continue to make such a dreadful ass of herself, and think it was my fault. Was it my fault that she didn't know the Spanish quartette when she heard it, or that she didn't know a word of Italian, when she pretended she did, or that the other day (it was the last time I saw her, when you played your Debussy to us at Aunt Jane's) she talked to me about inverted fifths?"
Olga suddenly burst out laughing, and Georgie assumed the Riseholme face of intense curiosity.
"You must tell me all about that," he said, "and I'll tell you the rest which you don't know."
Olga succumbed too, and began to talk in Aunt Jane's voice, for she had adopted her as an aunt.
"Well, it was last Monday week" she said "or was it Sunday? No it couldn't have been Sunday because I don't have anybody to tea that day, as Elizabeth goes over to Jacob's and spends the afternoon with Atkinson, or the other way about, which doesn't signify, as the point is that Elizabeth should be free. So it was Monday, and Aunt Jane—it's me talking again—had the tea-party at which you played Poisson d'Or. And when it was finished, Mrs Lucas gave a great sigh, and said 'Poor Georgino! Wasting his time over that rubbish,' though she knew quite well that I had given it to you. And so I said, 'Would you call it rubbish, do you think?' and she said 'Quite. Every rule of music is violated. Don't those inverted fifths make you wince, Miss Bracely?'"
Olga laughed again, and spoke in her own voice.
"Oh, Georgie, she is an ass," she said. "What she meant I suppose was consecutive fifths; you can't invert a fifth. So I said (I really meant it as a joke), 'Of course there is that, but you must forgive Debussy that for the sake of that wonderful passage of submerged tenths!' And she took it quite gravely and shook her head, and said she was afraid she was a purist. What happened next? That's all I know."
"Directly afterwards," said Georgie, "she brought the music to me, and asked me to show her where the passage of tenths came. I didn't know, but I found some tenths, and she brightened up and said 'Yes, it is true; those submerged tenths are very impressive.' Then I suggested that the submerged tenth was not a musical expression, but referred to a section of the population. On which she said no more, but when she went away she asked me to send her some book on 'Harmony.' I daresay she is looking for the submerged tenth still."
Olga lit a cigarette and became grave again.
"Well, it can't go on," she said. "We can't have the poor thing feeling angry and out of it. Then there was Mrs Quantock absolutely refusing to let her see the Princess."
"That was her own fault," said Georgie. "It was because she was so greedy about the Guru."
"That makes it all the bitterer. And I can't do anything, because she blames me for it all. I would ask her and her Peppino here every night, and listen to her dreary tunes every evening, and let her have it all her own way, if it would do any good. But things have gone too far; she wouldn't come. It has all happened without my noticing it. I never added it all up as it went along, and I hate it."
Georgie thought of the spiritualistic truths.
"If you're an incarnation," he said in a sudden glow of admiration, "you're the incarnation of an angel. How you can forgive her odious manners to you——"
"My dear, shut up," said Olga. "We've got to do something. Now how would it be if you gave a nice party on Christmas night, and asked her at once? Ask her to help you in getting it up; make it clear she's going to run it."
"All right. You'll come, won't you?"
"Certainly I will not. Perhaps I will come in after dinner with Goosie or some one of that sort. Don't you see it would spoil it all if I were at dinner? You must rather pointedly leave me out. Give her a nice expensive refined Christmas present too. You might give her that picture you're doing of me—No, I suppose she wouldn't like that. But just comfort her and make her feel you can't get on without her. You've been her right hand all these years. Make her give her tableaux again. And then I think you must ask me in afterwards. I long to see her and Peppino as Brunnhilde and Siegfried. Just attend to her, Georgie, and buck her up. Promise me you will. And do it as if your heart was in it, otherwise it's no good."
Georgie began packing up his paint-box. This was not the plan he had hoped for on Christmas Day, but if Olga wished this, it had got to be done.
"Well, I'll do my best," he said.
"Thanks ever so much. You're a darling. And how is your planchette getting on? I've been lazy about my crystal, but I get so tired of my own nose."
"Planchette would write nothing but a few names," said Georgie, omitting the fact that Olga's was the most frequent. "I think I shall drop it."
This was but reasonable, for since Riseholme had some new and absorbing excitement every few weeks, to say nothing of the current excitement of daily life, it followed that even the most thrilling pursuits could not hold the stage for very long. Still, the interest in spiritualism had died down with the rapidity of the seed on stony ground.
"Even Mrs Quantock seems to have cooled," said Olga. "She and her husband were here last night, and they looked rather bored when I suggested table-turning. I wonder if anything has happened to put her off it?"
"What do you think could have?" asked Georgie with Riseholme alacrity.
"Georgie, do you really believe in the Princess and Pocky?" she asked.
Georgie looked round to see that there was no one within hearing.
"I did at the time," he said, "at least I think I did. But it seems less likely now. Who was the Princess anyway? Why didn't we ever hear of her before? I believe Mrs Quantock met her in the train or something."
"So do I," said Olga. "But not a word. It makes Aunt Jane and Uncle Jacob completely happy to believe in it all. Their lines of life are enormous, and they won't die till they're over a hundred. Now go and see Mrs Lucas, and if she doesn't ask you to lunch you can come back here."
Georgie put down his picture and painting-apparatus at his house, and went on to Lucia's, definitely conscious that though he did not want to have her to dinner on Christmas Day, or go back to his duets and his A. D. C. duties, there was a spice and savour in so doing that came entirely from the fact that Olga wished him to, that by this service he was pleasing her. In itself it was distasteful, in itself it tended to cut him off from her, if he had to devote his time to Lucia, but he still delighted in doing it.
"I believe I am falling in love with her this time," said Georgie to himself.... "She's wonderful; she's big; she's—-"
At that moment his thoughts were violently diverted, for Robert Quantock came out of his house in a tremendous hurry, merely scowling at Georgie, and positively trotted across the Green in the direction of the news-agent's. Instantly Georgie recollected that he had seen him there already this morning before his visit to Olga, buying a new twopenny paper in a yellow cover called "Todd's News." They had had a few words of genial conversation, and what could have happened in the last two hours that made Robert merely gnash his teeth at Georgie now, and make a second visit to the paper-shop?
It was impossible not to linger a moment and see what Robert did when he got to the paper-shop, and with the aid of his spectacles Georgie perceived that he presently loaded himself with a whole packet of papers in yellow covers, presumably "Todd's News." Flesh and blood could not resist the cravings of curiosity, and making a detour, so as to avoid being gnashed at again by Robert, who was coming rapidly back in his direction, he strolled round to the paper-shop and asked for a copy of "Todd's News." Instantly the bright December morning grew dark with mystery, for the proprietor told him that Mr Quantock has bought every copy he possessed of it. No further information could be obtained, except that he had bought a copy of every other daily paper as well.
Georgie could make nothing of it whatever, and having observed Robert hurry into his house again, went on his errand to Lucia. Had he seen what Robert did when he got home, it is doubtful if he could have avoided breaking into the house and snatching a copy of "Todd's News" from him....
Robert went to his study, and locked the door. He drew out from under his blotting-pad the first copy of "Todd's News" that he bought earlier in the morning, and put it with the rest. Then with a furrowed brow he turned to the police-reports in the "Times" and after looking at them laid the paper down. He did the same to the "Daily Telegraph," the "Daily Mail," the "Morning Post," the "Daily Chronicle." Finally (this was the last of the daily papers) he perused "The Daily Mirror," tore it in shreds, and said "Damn."
He sat for a while in thought, trying to recollect if anybody in Riseholme except Colonel Boucher took in the "Daily Mirror." But he felt morally certain that no one did, and letting himself out of his study, and again locking the door after him, he went into the street, and saw at a glance that the Colonel was employed in whirling Mrs Weston round the Green. Instead of joining them he hurried to the Colonel's house and, for there was no time for half-measures, fixed Atkinson with his eye, and said he would like to write a note to Colonel Boucher. He was shown into his sitting-room, and saw the "Daily Mirror" lying open on the table. As soon as he was left alone, he stuffed it into his pocket, told Atkinson he would speak to the Colonel instead, and intercepted the path of the bath-chair. He was nearly run over, but stood his ground, and in a perfectly firm voice asked the Colonel if there was any news in the morning papers. With the Colonel's decided negative ringing joyfully in his ears, he went home again, and locked himself for the second time into his study.
There is a luxury, when some fell danger has been averted by promptness and presence of mind, in living through the moments of that danger again, and Robert opened "Todd's News," for that gave the fuller account, and read over the paragraph in the police news headed "Bogus Russian Princess." But now he gloated over the lines which had made him shudder before when he read how Marie Lowenstein, of 15, Gerald Street, Charing Cross Road, calling herself Princess Popoffski, had been brought up at the Bow Street Police Court for fraudulently professing to tell fortunes and produce materialised spirits at a seance in her flat. Sordid details followed: a detective who had been there seized an apparition by the throat, and turned on the electric light. It was the woman Popoffski's throat that he held, and her secretary, Hezekiah Schwarz, was discovered under the table detaching an electric hammer. A fine was inflicted....
A moment's mental debate was sufficient to determine Robert not to tell his wife. It was true that she had produced Popoffski, but then he had praised and applauded her for that; he, no less than she, had been convinced of Popoffski's integrity, high rank and marvellous psychic powers, and together they had soared to a pinnacle of unexampled greatness in the Riseholme world. Besides poor Daisy would be simply flattened out if she knew that Popoffski was no better than the Guru. He glanced at the pile of papers, and at the fire place....
It had been a cold morning, clear and frosty, and a good blaze prospered in the grate. Out of each copy, of "Todd's News" he tore the page on which were printed the police reports, and fed the fire with them. Page after page he put upon it; never had so much paper been devoted to one grate. Up the chimney they flew in sheets of flame; sometimes he was afraid he had set it on fire, and he had to pause, shielding his scorched face, until the hollow rumbling had died down. With the page from two copies of the "Daily Mirror" the holocaust was over, and he unlocked the door again. No one in Riseholme knew but he, and no one should ever know. Riseholme had been electrified by spiritualism, and even now the seances had been cheap at the price.
The debris of all these papers he caused to be removed by the housemaid, and this was hardly done when his wife came in from the Green.
"I thought there was a chimney on fire, Robert," she said. "You would have liked it to be the kitchen-chimney as you said the other day."
"Stuff and nonsense, my dear," said he. "Lunch-time, isn't it?"
"Yes. Ah, there's the post. None for me, and two for you."
She looked at him narrowly as he took his letters. Perhaps their subconscious minds (according to her dear friend's theory) held communication, but only the faintest unintelligible ripple of that appeared on the surface.
"I haven't heard from my Princess since she went away," she remarked.
Robert gave a slight start; he was a little off his guard from the reaction after his anxiety.
"Indeed!" he said. "Have you written to her?"
She appeared to try to remember.
"Well, I really don't believe I have," she said. "That is remiss of me. I must send her a long budget one of these days."
This time he looked narrowly at her. Had she a secret, he wondered, as well as he? What could it be?...
Georgie found his mission none too easy, and it was only the thought that it was a labour of love, or something very like it, that enabled him to persevere. Even then for the first few minutes he thought it might prove love's labour's lost, so bright and unreal was Lucia.
He had half crossed Shakespeare's garden, and had clearly seen her standing at the window of the music-room, when she stole away, and next moment the strains of some slow movement, played very loud, drowned the bell on the mermaid's tail so completely that he wondered whether it had rung at all. As a matter of fact, Lucia and Peppino were in the midst of a most serious conversation when Georgie came through the gate, which was concerned with deciding what was to be done. A party at The Hurst sometime during Christmas week was as regular as the festival itself, but this year everything was so unusual. Who were to be asked in the first place? Certainly not Mrs Weston, for she had talked Italian to Lucia in a manner impossible to misinterpret, and probably, so said Lucia with great acidity, she would be playing children's games with her promesso. It was equally impossible to ask Miss Bracely and her husband, for relations were already severed on account of the Spanish quartette and Signer Cortese, and as for the Quantocks, did Peppino expect Lucia to ask Mrs Quantock again ever? Then there was Georgie, who had become so different and strange, and ... Well here was Georgie. Hastily she sat down at the piano, and Peppino closed his eyes for the slow movement.
The opening of the door was lost on Lucia, and Peppino's eyes were closed. Consequently Georgie sat down on the nearest chair, and waited. At the end Peppino sighed, and he sighed too.
"Who is that?" said Lucia sharply. "Why is it you, Georgie? What a stranger. Aren't you? Any news?"
This was all delivered in the coldest of tones, and Lucia snatched a morsel of wax off Eb.
"I've heard none," said Georgie in great discomfort. "I just dropped in."
Lucia fixed Peppino with a glance. If she had shouted at the top of her voice she could not have conveyed more unmistakably that she was going to manage this situation.
"Ah, that is very pleasant," she said. "Peppino and I have been so busy lately that we have seen nobody. We are quite country-cousins, and so the town-mouse must spare us a little cheese. How is dear Miss Bracely now?"
"Very well," said Georgie. "I saw her this morning."
Lucia gave a sigh of relief.
"That is good," she said. "Peppino, do you hear? Miss Bracely is quite well. Not overtired with practising that new opera? Lucy Grecian, was it? Oh, how silly I am! Lucretia; that was it, by that extraordinary Neapolitan. Yes. And what next? Our good Mrs Weston, now! Still thinking about her nice young man? Making orange-flower wreaths, and choosing bridesmaids? How naughty I am! Yes. And then dear Daisy? How is she? Still entertaining princesses? I look in the Court Circular every morning to see if Princess Pop—Pop—Popoff isn't it? if Princess Popoff has popped off to see her cousin the Czar again. Dear me!"
The amount of malice, envy and all uncharitableness which Lucia managed to put into this quite unrehearsed speech was positively amazing. She had not thought it over beforehand for a moment; it came out with the august spontaneity of lightning leaping from a cloud. Not till that moment had Georgie guessed at a tithe of all that Olga had felt so certain about, and a double emotion took hold of him. He was immensely sorry for Lucia, never having conjectured how she must have suffered before she attained to so superb a sourness, and he adored the intuition that had guessed it and wanted to sweeten it.
The outburst was not quite over yet, though Lucia felt distinctly better.
"And you, Georgie," she said, "though I'm sure we are such strangers that I ought to call you Mr Pillson, what have you been doing? Playing Miss Bracely's accompaniments, and sewing wedding-dresses all day, and raising spooks all night? Yes."
Lucia had caught this "Yes" from Lady Ambermere, having found it peculiarly obnoxious. You laid down a proposition, or asked a question, and then confirmed it yourself.
"And Mr Cortese," she said, "is he still roaring out his marvellous English and Italian? Yes. What a full life you lead, Georgie. I suppose you have no time for your painting now."
This was not a bow drawn at a venture, for she had seen Georgie come out of Old Place with his paint-box and drawing-board, but this direct attack on him did not lessen the power of the "sweet charity" which had sent him here. He blew the bugle to rally all the good-nature for which he was capable.
"No, I have been painting lately," he said, "at least I have been trying to. I'm doing a little sketch of Miss Bracely at her piano, which I want to give her on Christmas Day. But it's so difficult. I wish I had brought it round to ask your advice, but you would only have screamed with laughter at it. It's a dreadful failure: much worse than those I gave you for your birthdays. Fancy your keeping them still in your lovely music-room. Send them to the pantry, and I'll do something better for you next."
Lucia, try as she might, could not help being rather touched by that. There they all were: "Golden Autumn Woodland," "Bleak December," "Yellow Daffodils," and "Roses of Summer."...
"Or have them blacked over by the boot-boy," she said. "Take them down, Georgie, and let me send them to be blacked."
This was much better: there was playfulness behind the sarcasm now, which peeped out from it. He made the most of that.
"We'll do that presently," he said. "Just now I want to engage you and Peppino to dine with me on Christmas Day. Now don't be tarsome and say you're engaged. But one can never tell with you."
"A party?" asked Lucia suspiciously.
"Well, I thought we would have just one of our old evenings together again," said Georgie, feeling himself remarkably clever. "We'll have the Quantocks, shan't we, and Colonel and Mrs Colonel, and you and Peppino, and me, and Mrs Rumbold? That'll make eight, which is more than Foljambe likes, but she must lump it. Mr Rumbold is always singing carols all Christmas evening with the choir, and she will be alone."
"Ah, those carols" said Lucia, wincing.
"I know: I will provide you with little wads of cotton-wool. Do come and we'll have just a party of eight. I've asked no one yet and perhaps nobody will come. I want you and Peppino, and the rest may come or stop away. Do say you approve."
Lucia could not yield at once. She had to press her fingers to her forehead.
"So kind of you, Georgie," she said, "but I must think. Are we doing anything on Christmas night, carrissimo? Where's your engagement-book? Go and consult it."
This was a grand manoeuvre, for hardly had Peppino left the room when she started up with a little scream and ran after him.
"Me so stupid," she cried. "Me put it in smoking-room, and poor caro will look for it ever so long. Back in minute, Georgino."
Naturally this was perfectly clear to Georgie. She wanted to have a short private consultation with Peppino, and he waited rather hopefully for their return, for Peppino, he felt sure, was bored with this Achilles-attitude of sitting sulking in the tent. They came back wreathed in smiles, and instantly embarked on the question of what to do after dinner. No romps: certainly not, but why not the tableaux again? The question was still under debate when they went in to lunch. It was settled affirmatively during the macaroni, and Lucia said that they all wanted to work her to death, and so get rid of her. They had thought—she and Peppino—of having a little holiday on the Riviera, but anyhow they would put if off till after Christmas. Georgie's mouth was full of crashing toast at the moment, and he could only shake his head. But as soon as the toast could be swallowed, he made the usual reply with great fervour.
Georgie was hardly at all complacent when he walked home afterwards, and thought how extremely good-natured he had been, for he could not but feel that this marvellous forbearance was a sort of mistletoe growth on him, quite foreign really to his nature. Never before had Lucia showed so shrewish and venomous a temper; he had not thought her capable of it. For the gracious queen, there was substituted a snarling fish-wife, but then as Georgie calmly pursued the pacific mission of comfort to which Olga had ordained him, how the fish-wife's wrinkles had been smoothed out, and the asps withered from her tongue. Had his imagination ever pictured Lucia saying such things to him, it would have supplied him with no sequel but a complete severance of relations between them. Instead of that he had consulted her and truckled to her: truckled: yes, he had truckled, and he was astonished at himself. Why had he truckled? And the beautiful mouth and kindly eyes of Olga supplied the answer. Certainly he must drop in at once, and tell her the result of the mission. Perhaps she would reward him by calling him a darling again. Really he deserved that she should say something nice to him.
It was a day of surprises for Georgie. He found Olga at home, and recounted, without loving any of the substance, the sarcasms of Lucia, and his own amazing tact and forbearance. He did not comment, he just narrated the facts in the vivid Riseholme manner, and waited for his reward.
Olga looked at him a moment in silence: then she deliberately wiped her eyes.
"Oh, poor Mrs Lucas" she said. "She must have been miserable to have behaved like that! I am so sorry. Now what else can you do, Georgie, to make her feel better?"
"I think I've done everything that could have been required of me," said Georgie. "It was all I could do to keep my temper at all. I will give my party at Christmas, because I promised you I would."
"Oh, but it's ten days to Christmas yet," said Olga. "Can't you paint her portrait, and give it her for a present. Oh, I think you could, playing the Moonlight-Sonata."
Georgie felt terribly inclined to be offended and tell Olga that she was tired of him: or to be dignified and say he was unusually busy. Never had he shown such forbearance towards downright rudeness as he had shown to Lucia, and though he had shown that for Olga's sake, she seemed to be without a single spark of gratitude, but continued to urge her request.
"Do paint a little picture of her," she repeated. "She would love it, and make it young and interesting. Think over it, anyhow: perhaps you'll think of something better than that. And now won't you go and secure all your guests for Christmas at once?"
Georgie turned to leave the room, but just as he got to the door she spoke again:
"I think you're a brick," she said.
Somehow this undemonstrative expression of approval began to glow in Georgie's heart as he walked home. Apparently she took it for granted that he was going to behave with all the perfect tact and good-temper that he had shown. It did not surprise her in the least, she had almost forgotten to indicate that she had noticed it at all. And that, as he thought about it, seemed a far deeper compliment than if she had told him how wonderful he was. She took it for granted, no more nor less, that he would be kind and pleasant, whatever Lucia said. He had not fallen short of her standard....
Georgie's Christmas party had just taken its seats at his round rosewood table without a cloth, and he hoped that Foljambe would be quick with the champagne, because there had been rather a long wait before dinner, owing to Lucia and Peppino being late, and conversation had been a little jerky. Lucia, as usual, had sailed into the room, without a word of apology, for she was accustomed to come last when she went out to dinner, and on her arrival dinner was always announced immediately. The few seconds that intervened were employed by her in saying just one kind word to everybody. Tonight, however, these gratifying utterances had not been received with the gratified responses to which she was accustomed: there was a different atmosphere abroad, and it was as if she were no more than one-eighth of the entire party.... But it would never do to hurry Foljambe, who was a little upset already by the fact of there being eight to dinner, which was two more than she approved of.
Lucia was on Georgie's right, Mrs Colonel as she had decided to call herself, on his left. Next her was Peppino, then Mrs Quantock, then the Colonel, then Mrs Rumbold (who resembled a grey hungry mouse), and Mr Quantock completed the circle round to Lucia again. Everyone had a small bunch of violets in the napkin, but Lucia had the largest. She had also a footstool.
"Capital good soup," remarked Mr Quantock. "Can't get soup like this at home."
There was dead silence. Why was there never a silence when Olga was there, wondered Georgie. It wasn't because she talked, she somehow caused other people to talk.
"Tommy Luton hasn't got measles," said Mrs Weston. "I always said he hadn't, though there are measles about. He came to walk as usual this morning, and is going to sing in the carols tonight."
She suddenly stopped.
Georgie gave an imploring glance at Foljambe, and looked at the champagne glasses. She took no notice. Lucia turned to Georgie, with an elbow on the table between her and Mr Quantock.
"And what news, Georgie?" she said. "Peppino and I have been so busy that we haven't seen a soul all day. What have you been doing? Any planchette?"
She looked brightly at Mrs Quantock.
"Yes, dear Daisy, I needn't ask you what you've been doing. Table-turning, I expect. I know how interested you are in psychical matters. I should be, too, if only I could be certain that I was not dealing with fraudulent people."
Georgie felt inclined to give a hollow groan and sink under the table when this awful polemical rhetoric began. To his unbounded surprise Mrs Quantock answered most cordially.
"You are quite right, dear Lucia," she said. "Would it not be terrible to find that a medium, some dear friend perhaps, whom one implicitly trusted, was exposed as fraudulent? One sees such exposures in the paper sometimes. I should be miserable if I thought I had ever sat with a medium who was not honest. They fine the wretches well, though, if they are caught, and they deserve it."
Georgie observed, and couldn't the least understand, a sudden blank expression cross Robert's face. For the moment he looked as if he were dead but had been beautifully stuffed. But Georgie gave but a cursory thought to that, for the amazing supposition dawned on him that Lucia had not been polemical at all, but was burying instead of chopping with the hatchet. It was instantly confirmed, for Lucia took her elbow off the table, and turned to Robert.
"You and dear Daisy have been very lucky in your spiritualistic experiences," she said. "I hear on all sides what a charming medium you had. Georgie quite lost his heart to her."
"'Pon my word; she was delightful," said Robert.
"Of course she was a dear friend of Daisy's, but one has to be very careful when one hears of the dreadful exposures, as my wife said, that occur sometimes. Fancy finding that a medium whom you believed to be perfectly honest had yards and yards of muslin and a false nose or two concealed about her. It would sicken me of the whole business."
A loud pop announced that Foljambe had allowed them all some champagne at last, but Georgie hardly heard it, for glancing up at Daisy Quantock, he observed that the same dead and stuffed look had come over her face which he had just now noticed on her husband's countenance. Then they both looked up at each other with a glance that to him bristled with significance. An agonised questioning, an imploring petition for silence seemed to inspire it; it was as if each had made unwittingly some hopeless faux pas. Then they instantly looked away from each other again; their necks seemed to crack with the rapidity with which they turned them right and left, and they burst into torrents of speech to the grey hungry mouse and the Colonel respectively.
Georgie was utterly mystified: his Riseholme instinct told him that there was something below all this, but his Riseholme instinct could not supply the faintest clue as to what it was. Both of the Quantocks, it seemed clear, knew something perilous about the Princess, but surely if Daisy had read in the paper that the Princess had been exposed and fined, she would not have touched on so dangerous a subject. Then the curious incident about "Todd's News" inevitably occurred to him, but that would not fit the case, since it was Robert and not Daisy who had bought that inexplicable number of the yellow print. And then Robert had hinted at the discovery of yards and yards of muslin and a false nose. Why had he done that unless he had discovered them, or unless ... Georgie's eyes grew round with the excitement of the chase ... unless Robert had some other reason to suspect the integrity of the dear friend, and had said this at hap-hazard. In that case what was Robert's reason for suspicion? Had he, not Daisy, read in the paper of some damaging disclosures, and had Daisy (also having reason to suspect the Princess) alluded to the damaging exposures in the paper by pure hap-hazard? Anyhow they had both looked dead and stuffed when the other alluded to mediumistic frauds, and both had said how lucky their own experiences had been. "Oh!"—Georgie almost said it aloud—What if Robert had seen a damaging exposure in "Todd's News," and therefore bought up every copy that was to be had? Then, indeed, he would look dead and stuffed, when Daisy alluded to damaging exposures in the paper. Had a stray copy escaped him, and did Daisy know? What did Robert know? Had they exquisite secrets from each other?
Lucia was being talked to across him by Mrs Weston, who had also pinned down the attention of Peppino on the other side of her. At that precise moment the flood of Mrs Quantock's spate of conversation to the Colonel dried up, and Robert could find nothing more to say to the hungry mouse. Georgie in this backwater of his own thoughts was whirled into the current again. But before he sank he caught Mrs Quantock's eye and put a question that arose from his exciting backwater.
"Have you heard from the Princess lately?" he asked.
Robert's head went round with the same alacrity as he had turned it away.
"Oh, yes," said she. "Two days ago was it, Robert?"
"I heard yesterday," said Robert firmly.
Mrs Quantock looked at her husband with an eager encouraging earnestness.
"So you did!" she said. 'I'm getting jealous. Interesting, dear?"
"Yes, dear, haw, haw," said Robert, and again their eyes met.
This time Georgie had no doubts at all. They were playing the same game now: they smiled and smirked at each other. They had not been playing the same game before. Now they recognised that there was a conspiracy between them.... But he was host, his business for the moment was to make his guests comfortable, and not pry into their inmost bosoms. So before Mrs Weston realised that she had the whole table attending to her, he said:
"I shall get it out of Robert after dinner. And I'll tell you, Mrs Quantock."
"Before Atkinson came to the Colonel," said Mrs Weston, going on precisely where she had left off, "and that was five years before Elizabeth came to me—let me see—was it five or was it four and a half?—four and a half we'll say, he had another servant whose name was Ahab Crowe."
"No!" said Georgie.
"Yes!" said Mrs Weston, hastily finishing her champagne, for she saw Foljambe coming near—"Yes, Ahab Crowe. He married, too, just like Atkinson is going to, and that's an odd coincidence in itself. I tell the Colonel that if Ahab Crowe hadn't married, he would be with him still, and who can say that he'd have fancied Elizabeth? And if he hadn't, I don't believe that the Colonel and I would ever have—well, I'll leave that alone, and spare my blushes. But that's not what I was saying. Whom do you think Ahab Crowe married? You can have ten guesses each, and you would never come right, for it can't be a common name. It was Miss Jackdaw. Crowe: Jackdaw. I never heard anything like that, and if you ask the Colonel about it, he'll confirm every word I've said. Boucher, Weston, why that's quite commonplace in comparison, and I'm sure that's an event enough for me."
Lucia gave her silvery laugh.
"Dear Mrs Weston," she said, "you must really tell me at once when the happy day will be. Peppino and I are thinking of going to the Riviera——"
Georgie broke in.
"You shan't do anything of the kind," he said. "What's to happen to us? 'Oo very selfish, Lucia."
The conversation broke up again into duets and trios, and Lucia could have a private conversation with her host. But half-an-hour ago, so Georgie reflected, they had all been walking round each other like dogs going on tiptoe with their tails very tightly curled, and growling gently to themselves, aware that a hasty snap, or the breach of the smallest observance of etiquette, might lead to a general quarrel. But now they all had the reward of their icy politenesses: there was no more ice, except on their plates, and the politeness was not a matter of etiquette. At present, they might be considered a republic, but no one knew what was going to happen after dinner. Not a word had been said about the tableaux.
Lucia dropped her voice as she spoke to him, and put in a good deal of Italian for fear she might be overheard.
"Non cognosce anybody?" she asked. "I tablieri, I mean. And are we all to sit in the aula, while the salone is being got ready?"
"Si," said Georgie. "There's a fire. When you go out, keep them there. I domestichi are making salone ready."
"Molto bene. Then Peppino and you and I just steal away. La lampa is acting beautifully. We tried it over several times."
"Everybody's tummin'," said Georgie, varying the cipher.
"Me so nervosa!" said Lucia. "Fancy me doing Brunnhilde before singing Brunnhilde. Me can't bear it."
Georgie knew that Lucia had been thrilled and delighted to know that Olga so much wanted to come in after dinner and see the tableaux, so he found it quite easy to induce Lucia to nerve herself up to an ordeal so passionately desired. Indeed he himself was hardly less excited at the thought of being King Cophetua.