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   Chapter 12 TWELVE

Queen Lucia By E. F. Benson Characters: 40145

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


The miserable Lucia started a run of extreme bad luck about this time, of which the adventure or misadventure of the Guru seemed to be the prelude, or perhaps the news of her want of recognition of the August moon, which Georgie had so carefully saluted, may have arrived at that satellite by October. For she had simply "cut" the August moon….

There was the fiasco about Olga coming to the tableaux, which was the cause of her sending that very tart reply, via Miss Lyall, to Lady Ambermere's impertinence, and the very next morning, Lady Ambermere, coming again into Riseholme, perhaps for that very purpose, had behaved to Lucia as Lucia had behaved to the moon, and cut her. That was irritating, but the counter-irritant to it had been that Lady Ambermere had then gone to Olga's, and been told that she was not at home, though she was very audibly practising in her music-room at the time. Upon which Lady Ambermere had said "Home" to her people, and got in with such unconcern of the material world that she sat down on Pug.

Mrs Quantock had heard both "Home" and Pug, and told the cut Lucia, who was a hundred yards away about it. She also told her about the engagement of Atkinson and Elizabeth, which was all she knew about events in those houses. On which Lucia with a kind smile had said, "Dear Daisy, what slaves some people are to their servants. I am sure Mrs Weston and Colonel Boucher will be quite miserable, poor things. Now I must run home. How I wish I could stop and chat on the green!" And she gave her silvery laugh, for she felt much better now that she knew Olga had said she was out to Lady Ambermere, when she was so audibly in.

Then came a second piece of bad luck. Lucia had not gone more than a hundred yards past Georgie's house, when he came out in a tremendous hurry. He rapidly measured the distance between himself and Lucia, and himself and Mrs Quantock, and made a bee-line for Mrs Quantock, since she was the nearest. Olga had just telephoned to him….

"Good morning," he said breathlessly, determined to cap anything she said. "Any news?"

"Yes, indeed," she said. "Haven't you heard?"

Georgie had one moment of heart-sink.

"What?" he said.

"Atkinson and Eliz--" she began.

"Oh, that," said he scornfully. "And talking of them, of course you've heard the rest. Haven't you? Why, Mrs Weston and Colonel Boucher are going to follow their example, unless they set it themselves, and get married first."

"No!" said Mrs Quantock in the loudest possible Riseholme voice of surprise.

"Oh, yes. I really knew it last night. I was dining at Old Place and they were there. Olga and I both settled there would be something to talk in the morning. Shall we stroll on the green a few minutes?"

Georgie had a lovely time. He hurried from person to person, leaving Mrs Quantock to pick up a few further gleanings. Everyone was there except Lucia, and she, but for the accident of her being further off than Mrs Quantock, would have been the first to know.

When this tour was finished Georgie sat to enjoy the warm comforting glow of envy that surrounded him. Nowadays the meeting place at the Green had insensibly transferred itself to just opposite Old Place, and it was extremely interesting to hear Olga practising as she always did in the morning. Interesting though it was, Riseholme had at first been a little disappointed about it, for everyone had thought that she would sing Brunnhilde's part or Salome's part through every day, or some trifle of that kind. Instead she would perform an upwards scale in gradual crescendo, and on the highest most magnificent note would enunciate at the top of her voice, "Yawning York!" Then starting soft again she would descend in crescendo to a superb low note and enunciate "Love's Lilies Lonely." Then after a dozen repetitions of this, she would start off with full voice, and get softer and softer until she just whispered that York was yawning, and do the same with Love's Lilies. But you never could tell what she might not sing, and some mornings there would be long trills and leapings onto high notes: long notes and leaping onto trills, and occasionally she sang a real song. That was worth waiting for, and Georgie did not hesitate to let drop that she had sung four last night to his accompaniment. And hardly had he repeated that the third time, when she appeared at her window, and before all Riseholme called out "Georgie!" with a trill at the end, like a bird shaking its wings. Before all Riseholme!

So in he went. Had Lucia known that, it would quite have wiped the gilt off Lady Ambermere's being refused admittance. In point of fact it did wipe the gilt off when, about an hour afterwards, Georgie went to lunch because he told her. And if there had been any gilt left about anywhere, that would have vanished, too, when in answer to some rather damaging remark she made about poor Daisy's interests in the love-affairs of other people's servants, she learned that it was of the love-affairs of their superiors that all Riseholme had been talking for at least an hour by now.

Again there was ill-luck about the tableaux on Saturday, for in the Brunnhilde scene, Peppino in his agitation, turned the lamp that was to be a sunrise, completely out, and Brunnhilde had to hail the midnight, or at any rate a very obscure twilight. Georgie, it is true, with wonderful presence of mind, turned on an electric light when he had finished playing, but it was more like a flash of lightning than a slow, wonderful dawn. The tableaux were over well before 10.45, and though Lucia in answer to the usual pressings, said she would "see about" doing them again, she felt that Mrs Weston and Colonel Boucher, who made their first public appearance as the happy pair, attracted more than their proper share of attention. The only consolation was that the romps that followed at poor Daisy's were a complete fiasco. It was in vain, too, at supper, that she went from table to table, and helped people to lobster salad and champagne, and had not enough chairs, and generally imitated all that had apparently made Olga's party so supreme a success. But on this occasion the recipe for the dish and not the dish itself was served up, and the hunting of the slipper produced no exhilaration in the chase….

But far more untoward events followed. Olga came back on the next Monday, and immediately after Lucia received a card for an evening "At Home," with "Music" in the bottom left-hand corner. It happened to be wet that afternoon, and seeing Olga's shut motor coming from the station with four men inside, she leaped to the conclusion that these were four musicians for the music. A second motor followed with luggage, and she quite distinctly saw the unmistakable shape of a 'cello against the window. After that no more guessing was necessary, for it was clear that poor Olga had hired the awful string-quartet from Brinton, that played in the lounge at the Royal Hotel after dinner. The Brinton string-quartet! She had heard them once at a distance and that was quite enough. Lucia shuddered as she thought of those doleful fiddlers. It was indeed strange that Olga with all the opportunities she had had for hearing good music, should hire the Brinton string-quartet, but, after all, that was entirely of a piece with her views about the gramophone. Perhaps the gramophone would have its share in this musical evening. But she had said she would go: it would be very unkind to Olga to stop away now, for Olga must know by this time her passion for music, so she went. She sincerely hoped that she would not be conducted to the seat of honour, and be obliged to say a few encouraging words to the string-quartet afterwards.

Once again she came rather late, for the music had begun. It had only just begun, for she recognised-who should recognise if not she?-the early bars of a Beethoven quartet. She laid her hand on Peppino's arm.

"Brinton: Beethoven," she said limply.

She slipped into a chair next Daisy Quantock, and sat in her well-known position when listening to music, with her head forward, her chin resting on her hand, and the far-away look in her eyes. Nothing of course could wholly take away the splendour of that glorious composition, and she was pleased that there was no applause between the movements, for she had rather expected that Olga would clap, and interrupt the unity of it all. Occasionally, too, she was agreeably surprised by the Brinton string-quartet: they seemed to have some inklings, though not many. Once she winced very much when a string broke.

Olga (she was rather a restless hostess) came up to her when it was over.

"So glad you could come," she said. "Aren't they divine?"

Lucia gave her most indulgent smile.

"Perfect music! Glorious!" she said. "And they really played it very creditably. But I am a little spoiled, you know, for the last time I heard that it was performed by the Spanish Quartet. I know one ought never to compare, but have you ever heard the Spanish Quartet, Miss Bracely?"

Olga looked at her in surprise.

"But they are the Spanish Quartet!" she said pointing to the players.

Lucia had raised her voice rather as she spoke, for when she spoke on music she spoke for everybody to hear. And a great many people undoubtedly did hear, among whom, of course, was Daisy Quantock. She gave one shrill squeal of laughter, like a slate-pencil, and from that moment granted plenary absolution to poor dear Lucia for all her greed and grabbing with regard to the Guru.

But instantly all Olga's good-nature awoke: unwittingly (for her remark that this was the Spanish Quartet had been a mere surprised exclamation), she had made a guest of hers uncomfortable, and must at once do all she could to remedy that.

"It's a shocking room for echoes, this," she said. "Do all of you come up a little nearer, and you will be able to hear the playing so much better. You lose all shade, all fineness here. I came here on purpose to ask you to move up, Mrs Lucas: there are half a dozen chairs unoccupied near the platform."

It was a kindly intention that prompted the speech, but for all real Riseholme practical purposes, quite barren, for many people had heard Lucia's remarks, and Peppino also had already been wincing at the Brinton quartet. In that fell moment the Bolshevists laid bony fingers on the sceptre of her musical autocracy…. But who would have guessed that Olga would get the Spanish Quartet from London to come down to Riseholme?

Staggering from these blows, she had to undergo an even shrewder stroke yet. Already, in the intelligence department, she had been sadly behind-hand in news, her tableaux-party had been anything but a success, this one little remark of Olga's had shaken her musically, but at any rate up till this moment she had shewn herself mistress of the Italian tongue, while to strengthen that she was being very diligent with her dictionary, grammar and Dante's Paradiso. Then as by a bolt out of a clear sky that temple, too, was completely demolished, in the most tragic fashion.

A few days after the disaster of the Spanish-Brinton Quartet, Olga received a letter from Signor Cortese, the eminent Italian composer, to herald the completion of his opera, "Lucretia." Might he come down to Riseholme for a couple of nights, and, figuratively, lay it at her feet, in the hope that she would raise it up, and usher it into the world? All the time he had been writing it, as she knew, he had thought of her in the name part and he would come down today, tomorrow, at a moment's notice by day or night to submit it to her. Olga was delighted and sent an effusive telegram of many sheets, full of congratulation and welcome, for she wanted above all things to "create" the part. So would Signor Cortese come down that very day?

She ran upstairs with the news to her husband.

"My dear, 'Lucretia' is finished," she said, "and that angel practically offers it me. Now what are we to do about dinner tonight? Jacob and Jane are coming, and neither you nor they, I suppose, speak one word of Italian, and you know what mine is, firm and intelligible and operatic but not conversational. What are we to do? He hates talking English…. Oh, I know, if I can only get Mrs Lucas. They always talk Italian, I believe, at home. I wonder if she can come. She's musical, too, and I shall ask her husband, I think: that'll be a man over, but it will be another Italiano--"

Olga wrote at once to Lucia, mentioning that Cortese was staying with them, but, quite naturally, saying nothing about the usefulness of Peppino and her being able to engage the musician in his own tongue, for that she took for granted. An eager affirmative (such a great pleasure) came back to her, and for the rest of the day, Lucia and Peppino made up neat little sentences to let off to the dazzled Cortese, at the moment when they said "good-night," to shew that they could have talked Italian all the time, had there been any occasion for doing so.

Mrs Weston and Colonel Boucher had already arrived when Lucia and her husband entered, and Lucia had quite a shock to see on what intimate terms they were with their hostess. They actually called each other Olga and Jacob and Jane, which was most surprising and almost painful. Lucia (perhaps because she had not known about it soon enough) had been a little satirical about the engagement, rather as if it was a slight on her that Jacob had not been content with celibacy and Jane with her friendship, but she was sure she wished them both "nothing but well." Indeed the moment she got over the shock of seeing them so intimate with Olga, she could not have been surpassed in cordiality.

"We see but little of our old friends now," she said to Olga and Jane jointly, "but we must excuse their desire for solitude in their first glow of their happiness. Peppino and I remember that sweet time, oh, ever so long ago."

This might have been tact, or it might have been cat. That Peppino and she sympathised as they remembered their beautiful time was tact, that it was so long ago was cat. Altogether it might be described as a cat chewing tact. But there was a slight air of patronage about it, and if there was one thing Mrs Weston would not, and could not and did not even intend to stand, it was that. Besides it had reached her ears that Mrs Lucas had said something about there being no difficulty in finding bridesmaids younger than the bride.

"Fancy! How clever of you to remember so long ago," she said. "But, then, you have the most marvellous memory, dear, and keep it wonderfully!"

Olga intervened.

"How kind of you and Mr Lucas to come at such short notice," she said. "Cortese hates talking English, so I shall put him between you and me, and you'll talk to him all the time, won't you? And you won't laugh at me, will you, when I join in with my atrocious attempts? And I shall buttress myself on the other side with your husband, who will firmly talk across me to him."

Lucia had to say something. A further exposure was at hand, quite inevitably. It was no use for her and Peppino to recollect a previous engagement.

"Oh, my Italian is terribly rusty," she said, knowing that Mrs Weston's eye was on her…. Why had she not sent Mrs Weston a handsome wedding-present that morning?

"Rusty? We will ask Cortese about that when you've had a good talk to him. Ah, here he is!"

Cortese came into the room, florid and loquacious, pouring out a stream of apology for his lateness to Olga, none of which was the least intelligible to Lucia. She guessed what he was saying, and next moment Olga, who apparently understood him perfectly, and told him with an enviable fluency that he was not late at all, was introducing him to her, and explaining that "la Signora" (Lucia understood this) and her husband talked Italian. She did not need to reply to some torrent of amiable words from him, addressed to her, for he was taken on and introduced to Mrs Weston, and the Colonel. But he instantly whirled round to her again, and asked her something. Not knowing the least what he meant, she replied:

"Si: tante grazie."

He looked puzzled for a moment and then repeated his question in

English.

"In what deestrict of Italy 'ave you voyaged most?"

Lucia understood that: so did Mrs Weston, and Lucia pulled herself together.

"In Rome," she said. "Che bella citta! Adoro Roma, e il mio marito.

Non e vere, Peppino?"

Peppino cordially assented: the familiar ring of this fine intelligible Italian restored his confidence, and he asked Cortese whether he was not very fond of music….

Dinner seemed interminable to Lucia. She kept a watchful eye on Cortese, and if she saw he was about to speak to her, she turned hastily to Colonel Boucher, who sat on her other side, and asked him something about his cari cani, which she translated to him. While he answered she made up another sentence in Italian about the blue sky or Venice, or very meanly said her husband had been there, hoping to direct the torrent of Italian eloquence to him. But she knew that, as an Italian conversationalist, neither she nor Peppino had a rag of reputation left them, and she dismally regretted that they had not chosen French, of which they both knew about as much, instead of Italian, for the vehicle of their linguistic distinction.

Olga meantime continued to understand all that Cortese said, and to reply to it with odious fluency, and at the last, Cortese having said something to her which made her laugh, he turned to Lucia.

"I've said to Meesis Shottlewort" … and he proceeded to explain his joke in English.

"Molto bene," said Lucia with a dying flicker. "Molto divertente. Non e vero, Peppino."

"Si, si," said Peppino miserably.

And then the final disgrace came, and it was something of a relief to have it over. Cortese, in excellent spirits with his dinner and his wine and the prospect of Olga taking the part of Lucretia, turned beamingly to Lucia again.

"Now we will all spick English," he said. "This is one very pleasant evening. I enjoy me very much. Ecco!"

Just once more Lucia shot up into flame.

"Parlate Inglese molto bene," she said, and except when Cortese spoke to Olga, there was no more Italian that night.

Even the unique excitement of hearing Olga "try over" the great scene in the last act could not quite absorb Lucia's attention after this awful fiasco, and though she sat leaning forward with her chin in her hand, and the far-away look in her eyes, her mind was furiously busy as to how to make anything whatever out of so bad a job. Everyone present knew that her Italian, as a medium for conversation, had suffered a complete break-down, and it was no longer any real use, when Olga did not quite catch the rhythm of a passage, to murmur "Uno, due, tre" unconsciously to herself; she might just as well have said "one, two, three" for any effect it had on Mrs Weston. The story would be all over Riseholme next day, and she felt sure that Mrs Weston, that excellent observer and superb reporter, had not failed to take it all in, and would not fail to do justice to it. Blow after blow had been rained upon her palace door, it was little wonder that the whole building was a-quiver. She had thought of starting a Dante-class this winter, for printed Italian, if you had a dictionary and a translation in order to prepare for the class, could be easily interpreted: it was the spoken word which you had to understand without any preparation at all, and not in the least knowing what was coming, that had presented such insurmountable difficulties. And yet who, when the story of this evening was known, would seek instruction from a teacher of that sort? Would Mrs Weston come to her Dante-class? Would she? Would she? No, she would not.

Lucia lay long awake that night, tossing and turning in her bed in that delightful apartment in "Midsummer Night's Dream," and reviewing the fell array of these unlucky affair

s. As she eyed them, black shapes against the glow of her firelight, it struck her that the same malevolent influence inspired them all. For what had caused the failure and flatness of her tableaux (omitting the unfortunate incident about the lamp) but the absence of Olga? Who was it who had occasioned her unfortunate remark about the Spanish Quartet but Olga, whose clear duty it had been, when she sent the invitation for the musical party, to state (so that there could be no mistake about it) that those eminent performers were to entrance them? Who could have guessed that she would have gone to the staggering expense of having them down from London? The Brinton quartet was the utmost that any sane imagination could have pictured, and Lucia's extremely sane imagination had pictured just that, with such extreme vividness that it had never occurred to her that it could be anybody else. Certainly Olga should have put "Spanish Quartet" in the bottom left-hand corner instead of "Music" and then Lucia would have known all about it, and have been speechless with emotion when they had finished the Beethoven, and wiped her eyes, and pulled herself together again. It really looked as if Olga had laid a trap for her….

Even more like a trap were the horrid events of this evening. Trap was not at all too strong a word for them. To ask her to the house, and then suddenly spring upon her the fact that she was expected to talk Italian…. Was that an open, an honourable proceeding? What if Lucia had actually told Olga (and she seemed to recollect it) that she and Peppino often talked Italian at home? That was no reason why she should be expected, off-hand like that, to talk Italian anywhere else. She should have been told what was expected of her, so as to give her the chance of having a previous engagement. Lucia hated underhand ways, and they were particularly odious in one whom she had been willing to educate and refine up to the highest standards of Riseholme. Indeed it looked as if Olga's nature was actually incapable of receiving cultivation. She went on her own rough independent lines, giving a romp one night, and not coming to the tableaux on another, and getting the Spanish Quartet without consultation on a third, and springing this dreadful Pentecostal party on them on a fourth. Olga clearly meant mischief: she wanted to set herself up as leader of Art and Culture in Riseholme. Her conduct admitted of no other explanation.

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."

Lucia smiled.

"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 compete 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."

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