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- Queen Lucia - 30/46 -


nothing could be so ridiculous as three people doing tableaux for two others. And on the other hand, I don't want her to spoil mine, for what's to prevent her going on with the tableaux till church-time next morning if she wishes to keep Miss Bracely away from my house? I'm sure after the way she behaved about my Guru---- Well, never mind that. How would it be if we had the tableaux first at Lucia's, and then came on here? If Lucia cares to suggest that to me, and my guests consent, I don't mind doing that."

By six o'clock on Tuesday evening therefore all the telephone bells of Riseholme were merrily ringing again. Mrs Quantock stipulated that Lucia's party should end at 10.45 precisely, if it didn't end before, and that everyone should then be free to flock across to her house. She proposed a romp that should even outshine Olga's, and was deep in the study of a manual of "Round Games," which included "Hunt the Slipper."...

Georgie and Peppino took turns at the telephone, ringing up all Mrs Quantock's guests, and informing them of the double pleasure which awaited them on Saturday. Since Georgie had let out the secret of the impromptu tableaux to Mrs Quantock there was no reason why the rest of Riseholme should not learn of this firsthand from The Hurst, instead of second-hand (with promises not to repeat it) from Mrs Quantock. It appeared that she had a better nature than Lucia credited her with, but to expect her not to tell everybody about the tableaux would be putting virtue to an unfair test.

"So that's all settled," said Georgie, as he returned with the last acceptance, "and how fortunately it has happened after all. But what a day it has been. Nothing but telephoning from morning till night. If we go on like this the company will pay a dividend this year, and return us some of our own pennies."

Lucia had got a quantity of pearl beads and was stringing them for the tableau of Mary Queen of Scots.

"Now that everyone knows," she said, "we might allow ourselves a little more elaboration in our preparations. There is an Elizabethan axe at the Ambermere Arms which I might borrow for Peppino. Then about the Brunnhilde tableau. It is dawn, is it not? We might have the stage quite dark when the curtain goes up, and turn up a lamp very slowly behind the scene, so that it shines on my face. A lamp being turned up very slowly is wonderfully effective. It produces a perfect illusion. Could you manage that with one hand and play the music of the awakening with the other, Georgino?"

"I'm quite sure I couldn't," said he.

"Well then Peppino must do it before he comes on. We will have movement in this tableau; I think that will be quite a new idea. Peppino shall come in--just two steps--when he has turned the lamp up, and he will take off my shield and armour----"

"But the music will never last out," cried Georgie. "I shall have to start earlier."

"Yes, perhaps that would be better," said Lucia calmly. "That real piece of chain-armour too, I am glad I remembered Peppino had that. Marshall is cleaning it now, and it will give a far finer effect than the tawdry stuff they use in opera. Then I sit up very slowly, and wave first my right arm and then my left, and then both. I should like to practise that now on the sofa!"

Lucia had just lain down, when the telephone sounded again and Georgie got up.

"That's to announce a dividend," he said, and tripped into the hall.

"Is that Mrs Lucas'?" said a voice he knew.

"Yes, Miss Olga," he said, "and this is me."

"Oh, Mr Georgie, how fortunate," she said. "You can give my message now to Mrs Lucas, can't you? I'm a perfect fool, you know, and horribly forgetful."

"What's the matter?" asked Georgie faintly.

"It's about Saturday. I've just remembered that Georgie and I--not you, you know--are going away for the week, end. Will you tell Mrs Lucas how sorry I am?"

Georgie went back to the music room, where Lucia had just got both her arms waving. But at the sight of his face she dropped them and took a firm hold of herself.

"Well, what is it?" she said.

Georgie gave the message, and she got off the sofa, rising to her feet, while her mind rose to the occasion.

"I am sorry that Miss Bracely will not see our tableaux," she said. "But as she was not acting in them I do not know that it makes much difference."

A deadly flatness, although Olga's absence made no difference, descended on the three. Lucia did not resume her arm-work, for after all these years her acting might be supposed to be good enough for Riseholme without further practice, and nothing more was heard of the borrowing of the axe from the Ambermere Arms. But having begun to thread her pearl-beads, she finished them; Georgie, however, cared no longer whether the gold border of King Cophetua's mantle went quite round the back or not, and having tacked on the piece he was working at, rolled it up. It was just going to be an ordinary party, after all. His cup was empty.

But Lucia's was not yet quite full, for at this moment Miss Lyall's pony hip-bath stopped at the gate, and a small stableboy presented a note, which required an answer. In spite of all Lucia's self-control, the immediate answer it got was a flush of heightened colour.

"Mere impertinence," she said. "I will read it aloud."

"Dear Mrs Lucas,

"I was in Riseholme this morning, and learn from Mrs Weston that Miss Bracely will be at your house on Saturday night. So I shall be enchanted to come to dinner after all. You must know that I make a rule of not going out in the evening, except for some special reason, but it would be a great pleasure to hear her sing again. I wonder if you would have dinner at 7:30 instead of 8, as I do not like being out very late."

There was a short pause.

_"Caro,"_ said Lucia, trembling violently, "perhaps you would kindly tell Miss Lyall that I do not expect Miss Bracely on Saturday, and that I do not expect Lady Ambermere either."

"My dear--" he began.

"I will do it myself then," she said.

It was as Georgie walked home after the delivery of this message that he wanted to fly away and be at rest with Foljambe and Dicky. He had been frantically excited ever since Sunday at the idea of doing tableaux before Olga, and today in especial had been a mere feverish hash of telephoning and sewing which all ended in nothing at all, for neither tableaux nor romps seemed to hold the least attraction for him now that Olga was not going to be there. And then all at once it dawned on him that he must be in love with Olga, for why else should her presence or absence make such an astounding difference to him? He stopped dead opposite Mrs Quantock's mulberry tree.

"More misery! More unhappiness!" he said to himself. Really if life at Riseholme was to become a series of agitated days ending in devastating discoveries, the sooner he went away with Foljambe and Dicky the better. He did not quite know what it was like to be in love, for the nearest he had previously ever got to it was when he saw Olga awake on the mountain-top and felt that he had missed his vocation in not being Siegfried, but from that he guessed. This time, too, it was about Olga, not about her as framed in the romance of legend and song, but of her as she appeared at Riseholme, taking as she did now, an ecstatic interest in the affairs of the place. So short a time ago, when she contemplated coming here first, she had spoken of it as a lazy backwater. Now she knew better than that, for she could listen to Mrs Weston far longer than anybody else, and ask for more histories when even she had run dry. And yet Lucia seemed hardly to interest her at all. Georgie wondered why that was.

He raised his eyes as he muttered these desolated syllables and there was Olga just letting herself out of the front garden of the Old Place. Georgie's first impulse was to affect not to see her, and turn into his bachelor house, but she had certainly seen him, and made so shrill and piercing a whistle on her fingers that, pretend as he would not to have seen her, it was ludicrous to appear not to have heard her. She beckoned to him.

"Georgie, the most awful thing has happened," she said, as they came within speaking distance. "Oh, I called you Georgie by mistake then. When one once does that, one must go on doing it on purpose. Guess!" she said in the best Riseholme manner.

"You can come to Lucia's party after all," said he.

"No, I can't. Well, you'll never guess because you move in such high circles, so I'll tell you. Mrs Weston's Elizabeth is going to be married to Colonel Boucher's Atkinson. I don't know his Christian name, nor her surname, but they're the ones!"

"You don't say so!" said Georgie, stung for a moment out of his own troubles. "But will they both leave? What will either of the others do? Mrs Weston can't have a manservant, and how on earth is she to get on without Elizabeth? Besides----"

A faint flush mounted to his cheek.

"I know. You mean babies," said Olga ruthlessly. "Didn't you?"

"Yes," said Georgie.

"Then why not say so? You and I were babies once, though no one is old enough to remember that, and we shouldn't have liked our parents and friends to have blushed when they mentioned us. Georgie, you are a prude."

"No, I'm not," said Georgie, remembering he was probably in love with a married woman.


Queen Lucia - 30/46

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