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   Chapter 16 SIXTEEN

Queen Lucia By E. F. Benson Characters: 9746

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03

The glad word went round Riseholme one March morning that the earliest flower in Perdita's garden was in bloom. The day was one of those glories of the English spring-time, with large white clouds blown across wide spaces of blue sky by the southwest wind, and with swift shadows that bowled across the green below them. Parliament was in full conclave that day, and in the elms the rooks were busy.

An awful flatness had succeeded Olga's departure. Riseholme naturally took a good deal of credit for the tremendous success which had attended the production of Lucretia, since it so rightly considered that the real cradle of the opera was here, where she had tried it over for the first time. Lucia seemed to remember it better than anybody, for she remembered all sorts of things which no one else had the faintest recollection of: how she had discussed music with Signor Cortese, and he had asked her where she had her musical training. Such a treat to talk Italian with a Roman-lingua Toscana in bocca Romana-and what a wonderful evening it was. Poor Mrs Colonel recollected very little of this, but Lucia had long been aware that her memory was going sadly. After producing Lucretia in New York, Olga had appeared in some of her old roles, notably in the part of Brunnhilde, and Lucia was very reminiscent of that charming party of Christmas Day at dear Georgino's, when they had the tableaux. Dear Olga was so simple and unspoiled: she had come to Lucia afterwards, and asked her to tell her how she had worked out her scheme of gestures in the awakening, and Lucia had been very glad, very glad indeed to give her a few hints. In fact, Lucia was quite herself: it was only her subjects whom it had been a little hard to stir up. Georgie in particular had been very listless and dull, and Lucia, for all her ingenuity, was at a complete loss to find a reason for it.

But today the warm inflowing tide of spring seemed to renovate the muddy flats, setting the weeds, that had lain dank and dispirited, a-floating again on the return of the water. No one could quite resist the magic of the season, and Georgie, who had intended out of mere politeness to go to see the earliest of Perdita's stupid flowers (having been warned of its epiphany by telephone from The Hurst) found, when he set foot outside his house on that warm windy morning, that it would be interesting to stroll across the green first, and see if there was any news. All the news he had really cared about for the last two months was news from America, of which he had a small packet done up in a pink riband.

After getting rid of Piggy, he went to the newspaper shop, to get his "Times," which most unaccountably had not arrived, and the sight of "Todd's News" in its yellow cover stirred his drowsy interest. Not one atom of light had ever been thrown on that extraordinary occurrence when Robert bought the whole issue, and though Olga never failed to enquire, he had not been able to give her the slightest additional information. Occasionally he set a languid trap for one of the Quantocks, but they never by any chance fell into it. The whole affair must be classed with problems like the origin of evil, among the insoluble mysteries of life.

It was possible to get letters by the second post an hour earlier than the house-to-house delivery by calling at the office, and as Georgie was waiting for his "Times," Mrs Quantock came hurrying out of the post-office with a small packet in her hands, which she was opening as she walked. She was so much absorbed by this that she did not see Georgie at all, though she passed quite close to him, and soon after shed a registered envelope. At that the "old familiar glamour" began to steal over him again, and he found himself wondering with intensity what it contained.

She was now some hundred yards in front of him, walking in the direction of The Hurst, and there could be no doubt that she, too, was on her way to see Perdita's first flower. He followed her going more briskly than she and began to catch her up. Soon (this time by accident, not in the manner in which, through eagerness she had untidily cast the registered envelope away) she dropped a small paper, and Georgie picked it up, meaning to give it her. It had printed matter on the front of it, and was clearly a small pamphlet. He could not possibly help seeing what that printed matter was, for it was in capital letters:


Georgie quickened his step, and the old familiar glamour brightened round him. As soon as he got within speaking distance, he called to her, and turning round, "like a guilty thing surprised," a little box flew out of her hand. As it fell the lid came off, and there was scattered on the green grass a multitude of red lozenges. She gave a cry of dismay.

"Oh! Mr Georgie, how you startled me" she said. "Do help

me to pick them up. Do you think the damp will have hurt them? Any news? I was so wrapped up in what I was doing that I've spoken to nobody."

Georgie assisted in the recovery of the red lozenges.

"You dropped this as you walked," he said. "I picked it up in order to give it you."

"Ah, that is kind, and did you see what it was?"

"I couldn't help seeing the outside," said Georgie.

She looked at him a moment, wondering what was the most prudent course.

If she said nothing more, he would probably tell everybody….

"Well, then I shall let you into the whole secret," she said. "It's the most wonderful invention, and increases your height, whatever your age is, from two to six inches. Fancy! There are some exercises you have to do, rather like those Yoga ones, every morning, and you eat three lozenges a day. Quite harmless they are, and then you soon begin to shoot up. It sounds incredible, doesn't it? but there are so many testimonials that I can't doubt it is genuine. Here's one of a man who grew six inches. I saw it advertised in some paper, and sent for it. Only a guinea! What fun when Robert begins to see that I am taller than he is! But now not a word! Don't tell dear Lucia whatever you do. She is half a head taller than I, and it would be no fun if everybody grew from two to six inches. You may write for them, and I'll give you the address, but you must tell nobody."

"Too wonderful" said Georgie. "I shall watch you. Here we are.

Look, there's Perdita's flower. What a beauty!"

It was not necessary to press the mermaid's tail, for Lucia had seen them from the music-room, and they heard her high heels clacking over the polished floor of the hall.

"Listen! No more need of high heels!" said Mrs Quantock. "And I've got something else to tell you. Lucia may hear that. Ah, dear Lucia, what a wonderful Perdita-blossom!"

"Is it not?" said Lucia, blowing kisses to Georgie, and giving them to Daisy. "That shows spring is here. Primavera! And Peppino's piccolo libro comes out today. I should not be a bit surprised if you each of you found a copy of it arrived before evening. Glorious! It's glorious!"

Surely it was no wonder that Georgie's blood began to canter along his arteries again. There had been very pleasant exciting years before now, requiring for their fuel no more than was ready at this moment to keep up the fire. Mrs Quantock was on tip-toe, so to speak, to increase her height, Peppino was just delivered of a second of these vellum volumes with seals and tapes outside, Mrs Weston was going to become Mrs Colonel at the end of the week, and at the same hour and church Elizabeth was going to become Mrs Atkinson. Had these things no savour, because--

"How is 'oo?" said Georgie, with a sudden flush of the spring-time through him. "Me vewy well, sank 'oo and me so want to read Peppino's bookie-bookie."

"'Oo come in," said Lucia. "Evewybody come in. Now, who's got ickle bit news?"

Mrs Quantock had been walking on her toes all across the hall, in anticipation of the happy time when she would be from two to six inches taller. As the animated pamphlet said, the world assumed a totally different aspect when you were even two inches taller. She was quite sorry to sit down.

"Is next week very full with you, dear Lucia?" she asked.

Lucia pressed her finger to her forehead.

"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday," she began. "No, not Tuesday, I am doing nothing on Tuesday. You want to be the death of me between you. Why?"

"I hope that my dear friend, Princess Popoffski, will be staying with me" said Mrs Quantock. "Do get over your prejudice against spiritualism, and give it a chance. Come to a seance on Tuesday. You, too, of course, Georgie: I know better than to invite Lucia without you."

Lucia put on the far-away look which she reserved for the masterpieces of music, and for Georgie's hopeless devotion.

"Lovely! That will be lovely!" she said. "Most interesting! I shall come with a perfectly open mind."

Georgie scarcely lamented the annihilation of a mystery. He must surely have imagined the mystery, for it all collapsed like a card-house, if the Princess was coming back. The seances had been most remarkable, too; and he would have to get out his planchette again.

"And what's going to happen on Wednesday?" he asked Lucia. "All I know is that I've not been asked. Me's offended."

"Ickle surprise," said Lucia. "You're not engaged that evening, are you? Nor you, dear Daisy? That's lovely. Eight o'clock? No, I think a quarter to. That will give us more time. I shan't tell you what it is."

Mrs Quantock, grasping her lozenges, wondered how much taller she would be by then. As Lucia played to them, she drew a lozenge out of the box and put it into her mouth, in order to begin growing at once. It tasted rather bitter, but not unpleasantly so.

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