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   Chapter 5 FIVE

Queen Lucia By E. F. Benson Characters: 24516

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


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

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

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

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

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

He looked round with a smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guru had unwound his legs, and stood up.

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

Mrs Quantock patted his shoulder.

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

There!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

She turned briskly to Mrs Quantock.

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

Mrs Quantock made a desperate effort to retain her property.

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

Lucia pressed her hand feelingly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"This is beautiful place," he said. "It is full of sweet influences and

I have had high talk with Guides."

Lucia felt thrilled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bitter though it was to part with her Guru, it was impious to

rebel against the ordinances of the Guides, but there was a trace of human resentment in Daisy's answer.

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

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

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

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

"Oh, do they say I have much light already, Guru, dear?" she asked.

"That is nice of them."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Dearest Georgie,

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

"Yours,

"HERMY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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