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   Chapter 8 EIGHT

Queen Lucia By E. F. Benson Characters: 37104

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


Throughout August, Guruism reigned supreme over the cultured life of Riseholme, and the priestess and dispenser of its mysteries was Lucia. Never before had she ruled from so elate a pinnacle, nor wielded so secure a supremacy. None had access to the Guru but through her: all his classes were held in the smoking-parlour and he meditated only in Hamlet or in the sequestered arbour at the end of the laburnum walk. Once he had meditated on the village green, but Lucia did not approve of that and had led him, still rapt, home by the hand.

The classes had swelled prodigiously, for practically all Riseholmites now were at some stage of instruction, with the exception of Hermy and Ursy, who pronounced the whole thing "piffle," and, as gentle chaff for Georgie, sometimes stood on one leg in the middle of the lawn and held their breath. Then Hermy would say One, Two, Three, and they shouted "Om" at the tops of their discordant voices. Now that the Guru was practically interned in The Hurst, they had actually never set eyes on him, for they had not chosen to come to the Hightum garden-party, preferring to have a second round of golf, and meeting Lucia next day had been distinctly irreverent on the subject of Eastern philosophy. Since then she had not been aware of their existence.

Lucia now received special instruction from the Guru in a class all by herself so prodigious was her advance in Yoga, for she could hold her breath much longer than anybody else, and had mastered six postures, while the next class which she attended also consisted of the other original members, namely Daisy Quantock, Georgie and Peppino. They had got on very well, too, but Lucia had quite shot away from them, and now if the Guru had other urgent spiritual claims on him, she gave instruction to a less advanced class herself. For this purpose she habited herself in a peculiarly becoming dress of white linen, which reached to her feet and had full flowing sleeves like a surplice. It was girdled with a silver cord with long tassels, and had mother-of-pearl buttons and a hood at the back lined with white satin which came over her head. Below its hem as she sat and taught in a really rather advanced posture showed the toes of her white morocco slippers, and she called it her "Teacher's Robe." The class which she taught consisted of Colonel Boucher, Piggy Antrobus and Mrs Weston: sometimes the Colonel brought his bull-dogs with him, who lay and snorted precisely as if they were doing breathing exercises, too. A general air of joyful mystery and spiritual endeavour blew balmily round them all, and without any doubt the exercises and the deep breathing were extremely good for them.

One evening, towards the end of the month, Georgie was sitting in his garden, for the half hour before dressing-time, thinking how busy he was, and yet how extraordinarily young and fresh he felt. Usually this month when Hermy and Ursy were with him was very fatiguing, and in ordinary years he would have driven away with Foljambe and Dicky on the day after their departure, and had a quiet week by the seaside. But now, though his sisters were going away tomorrow morning, he had no intention of taking a well-earned rest, in spite of the fact that not only had he been their host all this time, but had done an amazing quantity of other things as well. There had been the daily classes to begin with, which entailed much work in the way of meditation and exercises, as well as the actual learning, and also he had had another job which might easily have taxed his energies to the utmost any other year. For Olga Bracely had definitely bought that house without which she had felt that life was not worth living, and Georgie all this month had at her request been exercising a semi-independent supervision over its decoration and furnishing. She had ordered the general scheme herself and had sent down from London the greater part of the furniture, but Georgie was commissioned to report on any likely pieces of old stuff that he could find, and if expedition was necessary to act on his own responsibility and buy them. But above all secrecy was still necessary till the house was so complete that her Georgie might be told, and by the end of the month Riseholme generally was in a state of prostration following on the violent and feverish curiosity as to who had taken the house. Georgie had gone so far as to confess that he knew, but the most pathetic appeals as to the owner's identity had fallen on obdurate, if not deaf, ears. Not the smallest hint would he give on the subject, and though those incessant visits to the house, those searchings for furniture, the bestowal of it in suitable places, the superintendence of the making of the garden, the interviewings of paperhangers, plumbers, upholsterers, painters, carpenters and so forth occupied a great deal of time, the delicious mystery about it all, and the fact that he was doing it for so adorable a creature, rendered his exertions a positive refreshment. Another thing which, in conjunction with this and his youth-giving studies, made him feel younger than ever was the discreet arrival and perfect success of his toupet. No longer was there any need to fear the dislocation of his espaliered locks. He felt so secure and undetectable in that regard that he had taken to wearing no hat, and was soon about to say that his hair was growing more thickly than ever in consequence. But it was not quite time for that yet: it would be inartistic to suggest that just a couple of weeks of hatlessness had produced so desirable a result.

As he sat at ease after the labours of the day he wondered how the coming of Olga Bracely to Riseholme would affect the economy of the place. It was impossible to think of her with her beauty, her charm, her fame, her personality as taking any second place in its life. Unless she was really meaning to use Riseholme as a retreat, to take no part in its life at all, it was hard to see what part she would take except the first part. One who by her arrival at Lucia's ever-memorable party had converted it in a moment from the most dire of Scrubs (in a psychical sense) to the Hightumest gathering ever known could not lay aside her distinction and pre-eminence. Never had Lucia "scored" so amazingly as over Olga's late appearance, which had the effect of bringing back all her departed guests with the compulsion of a magnet over iron-filings, and sending up the whole party like a rocket into the zenith of social success. All Riseholme knew that Olga had come (after playing croquet with Georgie the entire afternoon) and had given them free gratis and for nothing, such a treat as only the wealthiest could obtain with the most staggering fees. Lady Ambermere alone, driving back to The Hall with Pug and poor Miss Lyall, was the only person who had not shared in that, and she knew all about it next day, for Georgie had driven out on purpose to tell her, and met Lucia coming away. How, then, would the advent of Olga affect Riseholme's social working generally, and how would it affect Lucia in particular? And what would Lucia say when she knew on whose behalf Georgie was so busy with plumbers and painters, and with buying so many of the desirable treasures in the Ambermere Arms?

Frankly he could not answer these conundrums: they presupposed inconceivable situations, which yet, though inconceivable, were shortly coming to pass, for Olga's advent might be expected before October, that season of tea-parties that ushered in the multifarious gaieties of the winter. Would Olga form part of the moonlit circle to whom Lucia played the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata, and give a long sigh at the end like the rest of them? And would Lucia when they had all recovered a little from the invariable emotion go to her and say, "Olga mia, just a little bit out of the Valkyrie? It would be so pleasant." Somehow Georgie, with all his imagination, could not picture such a scene. And would Olga take the part of second citizenness or something of the sort when Lucia played Portia? Would Olga join the elementary class of Yoga, and be instructed by Lucia in her Teacher's Robe? Would she sing treble in the Christmas Carols, while Lucia beat time, and said in syllables dictated by the rhythm, "Trebles a little flat! My poor ears!"? Georgie could not imagine any of these things, and yet, unless Olga took no part in the social life of Riseholme at all (and that was equally inconceivable) what was the alternative? True, she had said that she was coming here because it was so ideally lazy a backwater, but Georgie did not take that seriously. She would soon see what Riseholme was when its life poured down in spate, whirling her punt along with it.

And finally, what would happen to him, when Olga was set as a shining star in this firmament? Already he revolved about her, he was aware, like some eager delighted little moon, drawn away from the orbit where it had encircled so contentedly by the more potent planet. And the measure of his detachment from that old orbit might be judged precisely by the fact that the process of detachment which was already taking place was marked by no sense of the pull of opposing forces at all. The great new star sailing into the heavens had just picked him up by force of its superior power of attraction, even as by its momentary conjunction with Lucia at the garden-party it had raised her to a magnitude she had never possessed before. That magnitude was still Lucia's, and no doubt would be until the great star appeared again. Then without effort its shining must surely eclipse every other illumination, just as without effort it must surely attract all the little moons to itself. Or would Lucia manage somehow or other, either by sheer force of will, by desperate and hostile endeavour, or, on the other hand, by some supreme tact and cleverness to harness the great star to her own chariot? He thought the desperate and hostile endeavour was more in keeping with Lucia's methods, and this quiet evening hour represented itself to him as the lull before the storm.

The actual quiet of the moment was suddenly broken into. His front-door banged, and the house was filled with running footsteps and screams of laughter. But it was not uncommon for Hermy and Ursy to make this sort of entrance, and at the moment Georgie had not the slightest idea of how much further-reaching was the disturbance of the tranquillity. He but drew a couple of long breaths, said "Om" once or twice, and was quite prepared to find his deeper calm unshattered.

Hermy and Ursy ran down the steps into the garden where he sat still yelling with laughter, and still Georgie's imagination went no further than to suppose that one of them had laid a stymie for the other at their golf, or driven a ball out of bounds or done some other of these things that appeared to make the game so diverting to them.

"Georgie, you'll never guess!" cried Hermy.

"The Guru: the Om, of high caste and extraordinary sanctity," cried

Ursy.

"The Brahmin from Benares," shrieked Hermy.

"The great Teacher! Who do you think he is?" said Ursy. "We never seen him before-"

"But we recognised him at once-"

"He recognised us, too, and didn't he run?-"

"Into The Hurst and shut the door-"

Georgie's deeper calm suddenly quivered like a jelly.

"My dears, you needn't howl so, or talk quite so loud," he said. "All Riseholme will hear you. Tell me without shouting who it was you thought you recognised."

"There's no think about it," said Hermy. "It was one of the cooks from the Calcutta Restaurant in Bedford Street-"

"Where we often have lunch," said Ursy. "He makes the most delicious curries."

"Especially when he's a little tipsy," said Hermy.

"And is about as much a Brahmin as I am."

"And always said he came from Madras."

"We always tip him to make the curry himself, so he isn't quite ignorant about money."

"O Lord!" said Hermy, wiping her eyes. "If it isn't the limit!"

"And to think of Mrs Lucas and Colonel Boucher and you and Mrs Quantock, and Piggy and all the rest of them sitting round a cook," said Ursy, "and drinking in his wisdom. Mr Quantock was on the right track after all when he wanted to engage him."

Georgie with a fallen heart had first to satisfy himself that this was not one of his sisters' jokes, and then tried to raise his fallen heart by remembering that the Guru had often spoken of the dignity of simple manual work, but somehow it was a blow, if Hermy and Ursy were right, to know that this was a tipsy contriver of curry. There was nothing in the simple manual office of curry-making that could possibly tarnish sanctity, but the amazing tissue of falsehoods with which the Guru had modestly masked his innocent calling was not so markedly in the spirit of the Guides, as retailed by him. It was of the first importance, however, to be assured that his sisters had not at present communicated their upsetting discovery to anybody but himself, and after that to get their promise that they would not do so.

This was not quite so easy, for Hermy and Ursy had projected a round of visits after dinner to every member of the classes with the exception of Lucia, who should wake up next morning to find herself the only illusioned person in the place.

"She wouldn't like that, you know," said Hermy with brisk malice. "We thought it would serve her out for never asking us to her house again after her foolish old garden-party."

"My dear, you never wanted to go," said Georgie.

"I know we didn't, but we rather wanted to tell her we didn't want to go. She wasn't nice. Oh, I don't think we can give up telling everybody. It has made such sillies of you all. I think he's a real sport."

"So do I," said Ursy. "We shall soon have him back at his curry-oven again. What a laugh we shall have with him."

They subsided for just as long as it took Foljambe to come out of the house, inform them that it was a quarter of an hour to dinner-time, and return again. They all rose obediently.

"Well, we'll talk about it at dinner-time," said Georgie diplomatically. "And I'll just go down to the cellar first to see if I can find something you like."

"Good old Georgie," said Hermy. "But if you're going to bribe us, you must bribe us well."

"We'll see," said he.

Georgie was quite right to be careful over his Veuve Clicquot, especially since it was a bottle of that admirable beverage that Hermy and Ursy had looted from his cellar on the night of their burglarious entry. He remembered that well, though he had-chiefly from the desire to keep things pleasant about his hair-joined in "the fun," and had even produced another half-bottle. But tonight, even more than then, there was need for the abolition of all petty economies, for the situation would be absolutely intolerable if Hermy and Ursy spread about Riseholme the fact that the introducers and innermost circle of Yoga philosophers had sat at the feet of no Gamaliel at all, but at those of a curry-cook from some low restaurant. Indeed he brought up a second bottle tonight with a view if Hermy and Ursy were not softened by the first to administer that also. They would then hardly be in a condition to be taken seriously if they still insisted on making a house-to-house visit in Riseholme, and tearing the veil from off the features of the Guru. Georgie was far too upright of purpose to dream of making his sisters drunk, but he was willing to make great sacrifices in order to render them kind. What the inner circle would do about this cook he had no idea; he must talk to Lucia about it, before the advanced class tomorrow morning. But anything was better than letting Hermy and Ursy loose in Riseholme with their rude laughs and discreditable exposures. This evening safely over, he could discuss with Lucia what was to be done, for Hermy and Ursy would have vanished at cock-crow as they were going in for some golf-competition at a safe distance. Lucia might recommend doing nothing at all, and wish to continue enlightening studies as if nothing had happened. But Georgie felt that the romance would have evaporated from the classes as regards himself. Or again they might have to get rid of the Guru somehow. He only felt quite sure that Lucia would agree with him that Daisy Quantock must not be told. She with her thwarted ambitions of being the prime dispenser of Guruism to Riseholme might easily "turn nasty" and let it be widely known that she and Robert had seen through that fraud long ago, and had considered whether they should not offer the Guru the situation of cook in their household, for which he was so much better qualified. She might even add that his leanings towards her pretty housemaid had alone dissuaded her.

The evening went off with a success more brilliant than Georgie had anticipated, and it was quite unnecessary to open the second bottle of champagne. Hermy and Ursy, perhaps under the influence of the first, perhaps from innate good-nature, perhaps because they were starting so very early next morning, and wanted to be driven into Brinton, instead of taking a slower and earlier train at this station, readily gave up their project of informing the whole of Riseholme of their discovery, and went to bed as soon as they had rooked their brother of eleven shillings at cut-throat bridge. They continued to say, "I'll play the Guru," whenever they had to play a knave, but Georgie found it quite easy to laugh at that, so long as the humour of it did not spread. He even himself said, "I'll Guru you, then," when he took a trick with the Knave of Trumps.

The agitation and uncertainty caused him not to sleep very well, and in addition there was a good deal of disturbance in the house, for his sisters had still all their packing in front of them when they went to bed and the doze that preceded sleep was often broken by the sound of the banging of luggage, the clash of golf-clubs and steps on the stairs as they made ready for their departure.

But after a while these disturbances ceased, and it was out of a deep sleep that he awoke with the sense that some noise had awakened him. Apparently they had not finished yet, for there was surely some faint stir of movement somewhere. Anyhow they respected his legitimate desire for quiet, for the noise, whatever it was, was extremely stealthy and subdued. He thought of his absurd lark about burglars on the night of their arrival, and smiled

at the notion. His toupet was in a drawer close to his bed, but he had no substantial impulse to put it on, and make sure that the noise was not anything other than his sisters' preparations for their early start. For himself, he would have had everything packed and corded long before dinner, if he was to start next day, except just a suit case that would hold the apparatus of immediate necessities, but then dear Hermy and Ursy were so ramshackle in their ways. Some time he would have bells put on all the shutters as he had determined to do a month ago, and then no sort of noise would disturb him any more….

The Yoga-class next morning was (unusually) to assemble at ten, since Peppino, who would not miss it for anything, was going to have a day's fishing in the happy stream that flowed into the Avon, and he wanted to be off by eleven. Peppino had made great progress lately and had certain curious dizzy symptoms when he meditated which were highly satisfactory.

Georgie breakfasted with his sisters at eight (they had enticed the motor out of him to convey them to Brinton) and when they were gone, Foljambe informed him that the housemaid had a sore throat, and had not "done" the drawing-room. Foljambe herself would "do" it, when she had cleaned the "young ladies'" rooms (there was a hint of scorn in this) upstairs, and so Georgie sat on the window seat of the dining-room, and thought how pleasant peace and quietness were. But just when it was time to start for The Hurst in order to talk over the disclosures of the night before with Lucia before the class, and perhaps to frame some secretive policy which would obviate further exposure, he remembered that he had left his cigarette-case (the pretty straw one with the turquoise in the corner) in the drawing-room and went to find it. The window was open, and apparently Foljambe had just come in to let fresh air into the atmosphere which Hermy and Ursy had so uninterruptedly contaminated last night with their "fags" as they called them, but his cigarette-case was not on the table where he thought he had left it. He looked round, and then stood rooted to the spot.

His glass-case of treasures was not only open but empty. Gone was the Louis XVI snuff-box, gone was the miniature of Karl Huth, gone the piece of Bow China, and gone the Faberge cigarette case. Only the Queen Anne toy-porringer was there, and in the absence of the others, it looked to him, as no doubt it had looked to the burglar, indescribably insignificant.

Georgie gave a little low wailing cry, but did not tear his hair for obvious reasons. Then he rang the bell three times in swift succession, which was the signal to Foljambe that even if she was in her bath, she must come at once. In she came with one of Hermy's horrid woolen jerseys that had been left behind, in her hand.

"Yes, sir, what is it?" she asked, in an agitated manner, for never could she remember Georgie having rung the bell three times except once when a fish-bone had stuck in his throat, and once again when a note had announced to him that Piggy was going to call and hoped to find him alone. For answer Georgie pointed to the rifled treasure-case. "Gone! Burgled!" he said. "Oh, my God!"

At that supreme moment the telephone bell sounded.

"See what it is," he said to Foljambe, and put the Queen Anne toy-porringer in his pocket.

She came hurrying back.

"Mrs Lucas wants you to come around at once," she said.

"I can't," said Georgie. "I must stop here and send for the police. Nothing must be moved," and he hastily replaced the toy-porringer on the exact circle of pressed velvet where it had stood before.

"Yes, sir," said Foljambe, but in another moment she returned.

"She would be very much obliged if you would come at once," she said.

"There's been a robbery in the house."

"Well, tell her there's been one in mine," said Georgie irritably. Then good-nature mixed with furious curiosity came to his aid.

"Wait here, then, Foljambe, on this very spot," he said, "and see that nobody touches anything. I shall probably ring up the police from The Hurst. Admit them."

In his agitation he put on his hat, instead of going bareheaded and was received by Lucia, who had clearly been looking out of the music-room window, at the door. She wore her Teacher's Robe.

"Georgie," she said, quite forgetting to speak Italian in her greeting, "someone broke into Philip's safe last night, and took a hundred pounds in bank-notes. He had put them there only yesterday in order to pay in cash for that cob. And my Roman pearls."

Georgie felt a certain pride of achievement.

"I've been burgled, too," he said. "My Louis XVI snuff-box is worth more than that, and there's the piece of Bow china, and the cigarette-case, and the Karl Huth as well."

"My dear! Come inside," said she. "It's a gang. And I was feeling so peaceful and exalted. It will make a terrible atmosphere in the house. My Guru will be profoundly affected. An atmosphere where thieves have been will stifle him. He has often told me how he cannot stop in a house where there have been wicked emotions at play. I must keep it from him. I cannot lose him."

Lucia had sunk down on a spacious Elizabethan settle in the hall. The humorous spider mocked them from the window, the humorous stone fruit from the plate beside the pot-pourri bowl. Even as she repeated, "I cannot lose him," again, a tremendous rap came on the front door, and Georgie, at a sign from his queen, admitted Mrs Quantock.

"Robert and I have been burgled," she said. "Four silver spoons-thank God, most of our things are plate-eight silver forks and a Georgian tankard. I could have spared all but the last."

A faint sign of relief escaped Lucia. If the foul atmosphere of thieves permeated Daisy's house, too, there was no great danger that her Guru would go back there. She instantly became sublime.

"Peace!" she said. "Let us have our class first, for it is ten already, and not let any thought of revenge or evil spoil that for us. If I sent for the police now I could not concentrate. I will not tell my Guru what has happened to any of us, but for poor Peppino's sake I will ask him to give us rather a short lesson. I feel completely calm. Om."

Vague nightmare images began to take shape in Georgie's mind, unworthy suspicions based on his sisters' information the evening before. But with Foljambe keeping guard over the Queen Anne porringer, there was nothing more to fear, and he followed Lucia, her silver cord with tassels gently swinging as she moved, to the smoking-parlour, where Peppino was already sitting on the floor, and breathing in a rather more agitated manner than was usual with the advanced class. There were fresh flowers on the table, and the scented morning breeze blew in from the garden. According to custom they all sat down and waited, getting calmer and more peaceful every moment. Soon there would be the tapping of slippered heels on the walk of broken paving-stones outside, and for the time they would forget all these disturbances. But they were all rather glad that Lucia was to ask the Guru to give them a shorter lesson than usual.

They waited. Presently the hands of the Cromwellian timepiece which was the nearest approach to an Elizabethan clock that Lucia had been able at present to obtain, pointed to a quarter past ten.

"My Guru is a little late," said she.

Two minutes afterwards, Peppino sneezed. Two minutes after that Daisy spoke, using irony.

"Would it not be well to see what has happened to your Guru, dear?" she asked. "Have you seen your Guru this morning?"

"No, dear," said Lucia, not opening her eyes, for she was "concentrating," "he always meditates before a class."

"So do I," said Daisy, "but I have meditated long enough."

"Hush!" said Lucia. "He is coming."

That proved to be a false alarm, for it was nothing but Lucia's Persian cat, who had a quarrel with some dead laurel leaves. Lucia rose.

"I don't like to interrupt him," she said, "but time is getting on."

She left the smoking-parlour with the slow supple walk that she adopted when she wore her Teacher's Robes. Before many seconds had passed, she came back more quickly and with no suppleness.

"His door is locked", she said; "and yet there's no key in it."

"Did you look through the keyhole, Lucia mia?" asked Mrs

Quantock, with irrepressible irony.

Naturally Lucia disregarded this.

"I knocked," she said, "and there was no reply. I said, 'Master, we are waiting,' and he didn't answer."

Suddenly Georgie spoke, as with the report of a cork flying out of a bottle.

"My sisters told me last night that he was the curry-cook at the

Calcutta restaurant," he said. "They recognised him, and they thought

he recognised them. He comes from Madras, and is no more a Brahmin than

Foljambe."

Peppino bounded to his feet.

"What?" he said. "Let's get a poker and break in the door! I believe he's gone and I believe he's the burglar. Ring for the police."

"Curry-cook, is he?" said Daisy. "Robert and I were right after all. We knew what your Guru was best fitted for, dear Lucia, but then of course you always know best, and you and he have been fooling us finely. But you didn't fool me. I knew when you took him away from me, what sort of a bargain you had made. Guru, indeed! He's the same class as Mrs Eddy, and I saw through her fast enough. And now what are we to do? For my part, I shall just get home, and ring up for the police, and say that the Indian who has been living with you all these weeks has stolen my spoons and forks and my Georgian tankard. Guru, indeed! Burglaroo, I call him! There!"

Her passion, like Hyperion's, had lifted her upon her feet, and she stood there defying the whole of the advanced class, short and stout and wholly ridiculous, but with some revolutionary menace about her. She was not exactly "terrible as an army with banners," but she was terrible as an elderly lady with a long-standing grievance that had been accentuated by the loss of a Georgian tankard, and that was terrible enough to make Lucia adopt a conciliatory attitude. Bitterly she repented having stolen Daisy's Guru at all, if the suspicions now thickening in the air proved to be true, but after all they were not proved yet. The Guru might still walk in from the arbor on the laburnum alley which they had not yet searched, or he might be levitating with the door key in his pocket. It was not probable but it was possible, and at this crisis possibilities were things that must be clung to, for otherwise you would simply have to submerge, like those U-boats.

They searched all the garden, but found no trace of the curry-cook: they made guarded enquiries of the servants as to whether he had been seen, but nothing whatever could be learned about him. So when Peppino took a ponderous hammer and a stout chisel from his tool chest and led the way upstairs, they all knew that the decisive moment had come. Perhaps he might be meditating (for indeed it was likely that he had a good deal to meditate about), but perhaps-Peppino called to him in his most sonorous tones, and said that he would be obliged to break his lock if no answer came, and presently the house resounded with knockings as terrible as those in Macbeth, and much louder. Then suddenly the lock gave, and the door was open.

The room was empty, and as they had all conjectured by now, the bed was unslept in. They opened the drawers of the wardrobe and they were as empty as the room. Finally, Peppino unlocked the door of a large cupboard that stood in the corner, and with a clinking and crashing of glass there poured out a cataract of empty brandy bottles. Emptiness: that was the key-note of the whole scene, and blank consternation its effect.

"My brandy!" said Mrs Quantock in a strangled voice. "There are fourteen or fifteen bottles. That accounts for the glazed look in his eyes which you, dear Lucia, thought was concentration. I call it distillation."

"Did he take it from your cellar?" asked Lucia, too shattered to feel resentment, but still capable of intense curiosity.

"No: he had a standing order from me to order any little things he might want from my tradesmen. I wish I had my bills sent in every week."

"Yes, dear," said Lucia.

Georgie's eyes sought hers.

"I saw him buy the first bottle," he said. "I remember telling you about it. It was at Rush's."

Peppino gathered up his hammer and chisel.

"Well, it's no use sitting here and thinking of old times," he observed. "I shall ring up the police-station and put the whole matter into their hands, as far as I am concerned. They'll soon lay hands on him, and he can do his postures in prison for the next few years."

"But we don't know that it was he who committed all these burglaries yet," said Lucia.

No one felt it was worth answering this, for the others had all tried and convicted him already.

"I shall do the same," said Georgie.

"My tankard," said Mrs Quantock. Lucia got up.

"Peppino mio," she said, "and you, Georgie, and you, Daisy, I want you before you do anything at all to listen to me for five minutes. Just consider this. What sort of figure shall we all cut if we put the matter into the hands of the police? They will probably catch him, and it will all come out that we have been the dupes of a curry-cook. Think what we have all been doing for this last month, think of our classes, our exercises, our-everything. We have been made fools of, but for my part, I simply couldn't bear that everybody should know I had been made a fool of. Anything but that. What's a hundred pounds compared to that, or a tankard-"

"My Louis XVI snuff-box was worth at least that without the other things," said Georgie, still with a secret satisfaction in being the greatest sufferer.

"And it was my hundred pounds, not yours, carissima," said Peppino. But it was clear that Lucia's words were working within him like leaven.

"I'll go halves with you," she said. "I'll give you a cheque for fifty pounds."

"And who would like to go halves in my tankard?" said Daisy with bitter irony. "I want my tankard."

Georgie said nothing, but his mind was extremely busy. There was Olga soon coming to Riseholme, and it would be awful if she found it ringing with the tale of the Guru, and glancing across to Peppino, he saw a thoughtful and sympathetic look in his eyes, that seemed to indicate that his mind was working on parallel lines. Certainly Lucia had given them all something to meditate upon. He tried to imagine the whole story being shouted into Mrs Antrobus's ear-trumpet on the village-green, and could not endure the idea. He tried to imagine Mrs Weston ever ceasing to talk about it, and could not picture her silence. No doubt they had all been taken in, too, but here in this empty bedroom were the original dupes, who encouraged the rest.

After Mrs Quantock's enquiry a dead silence fell.

"What do you propose, then?" asked Peppino, showing signs of surrender.

Lucia exerted her utmost wiles.

"Caro!" she said. "I want 'oo to propose. Daisy and me, we silly women, we want 'oo and Georgie to tell us what to do. But if Lucia must speak, I fink-"

She paused a moment, and observing strong disgust at her playfulness on

Mrs Quantock's face, reverted to ordinary English again.

"I should do something of this sort," she said. "I should say that dear Daisy's Guru had left us quite suddenly, and that he has had a call somewhere else. His work here was done; he had established our classes, and set all our feet upon the Way. He always said that something of the sort might happen to him--"

"I believe he had planned it all along," said Georgie. "He knew the thing couldn't last for ever, and when my sisters recognised him, he concluded it was time to bolt."

"With all the available property he could lay hands on," said Mrs

Quantock.

Lucia fingered her tassel.

"Now about the burglaries," she said. "It won't do to let it be known that three burglaries were committed in one night, and that simultaneously Daisy's Guru was called away-"

"My Guru, indeed!" said Mrs Quantock, fizzing with indignation at the repetition of this insult.

"That might give rise to suspicion," continued Lucia calmly, disregarding the interruption, "and we must stop the news from spreading. Now with regard to our burglary … let me think a moment."

She had got such complete control of them all now that no one spoke.

"I have it," she said. "Only Boaler knows, for Peppino told her not to say a word till the police had been sent for. You must tell her, carissimo, that you have found the hundred pounds. That settles that. Now you, Georgie."

"Foljambe knows," said Georgie.

"Then tell her not to say a word about it. Put some more things out in your lovely treasure-case, no one will notice. And you, Daisy."

"Robert is away," said she, quite meekly, for she had been thinking things over. "My maid knows."

"And when he comes back, will he notice the loss of the tankard? Did you often use it?"

"About once in ten years."

"Chance it, then," said Lucia. "Just tell your maid to say nothing about it."

She became deliciously modest again.

"There!" she said. "That's just a little rough idea of mine and now Peppino and Georgie will put their wise heads together, and tell us what to do."

That was easily done: they repeated what she had said, and she corrected them if they went wrong. Then once again she stood fingering the tassels of her Teacher's Robe.

"About our studies," she said. "I for one should be very sorry to drop them altogether, because they made such a wonderful difference to me, and I think you all felt the same. Look at Georgie now: he looks ten years younger than he did a month ago, and as for Daisy, I wish I could trip about as she does. And it wouldn't do, would it, to drop everything just because Daisy's Guru-I mean our Guru-had been called away. It would look as if we weren't really interested in what he taught us, as if it was only the novelty of having a-a Brahmin among us that had attracted us."

Lucia smiled benignly at them all.

"Perhaps we shall find, bye and bye, that we can't progress much all by ourselves," she said, "and it will all drop quietly. But don't let us drop it with a bang. I shall certainly take my elementary class as usual this afternoon."

She paused.

"In my Robe, just as usual," she said.

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