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- Queen Lucia - 40/46 -
not sit down at the piano merely to yawn or sneeze, for she could do that anywhere.
Then a brilliant idea struck him: he would introduce a shaded lamp standing on the piano, and then her face would be in red shadow. Naturally this entailed fresh problems with regard to light, but light seemed to present less difficulty than likeness. Besides he could make her dress, and the keys of the piano very like indeed. But when he came to painting again he despaired. There must be red shadow on her face and yellow light on her hands, and on her green dress, and presently the whole thing looked not so much like Olga singing by lamp-light, as a lobster-salad spread out in the sunlight. The more he painted, the more vividly did the lettuce leaves and the dressing and the lobster emerge from the paper. So he took away the lamp, and shut Olga's mouth, and there she would be at her piano just going to sing.
These artistic agonies had rewards which more than compensated for them, for regularly now he took his drawing-board and his paint-box across to her house, and sat with her while she practised. There were none of love's lilies low or yawning York now, for she was very busy learning her part in Lucretia, spending a solid two hours at it every morning, and Georgie began to perceive what sort of work it implied to produce the spontaneous ease with which Brunnhilde hailed the sun. More astounding even was the fact that this mere learning of notes was but the preliminary to what she called "real work." And when she had got through the mere mechanical part of it, she would have to study. Then when her practice was over, she would indulgently sit with her head in profile against a dark background, and Georgie would suck one end of his brush and bite the other, and wonder whether he would ever produce anything which he could dare to offer her. By daily poring on her face, he grew not to admire only but to adore its youth and beauty, by daily contact with her he began to see how fresh and how lovely was the mind that illuminated it.
"Georgie, I'm going to scold you," she said one day, as she took up her place against the black panel. "You're a selfish little brute. You think of nothing but your own amusement. Did that ever strike you?"
Georgie gasped with surprise. Here was he spending the whole of every morning trying to do something which would be a worthy Christmas present for her (to say nothing of the hours he had spent with his mouth open in front of his glass, and the cost of the beautiful frame which he had ordered) and yet he was supposed to be only thinking about himself. Of course Olga did not know that the picture was to be hers....
"How tarsome you are!" he said. "You're always finding fault with me. Explain."
"Well, you're neglecting your old friends for your new one," she said. "My dear, you should never drop an old friend. For instance, when did you last play duets with Mrs Lucas?"
"Oh, not so very long ago," said Georgie.
"Quite long enough, I am sure. But I don't actually mean sitting down and thumping the piano with her. When did you last think about her and make plans for her and talk baby-language?"
"Who told you I ever did?" asked Georgie.
"Gracious! How can I possibly remember that sort of thing? I should say at a guess that everybody told me. Now poor Mrs Lucas is feeling out of it, and neglected and dethroned. It's all on my mind rather, and I'm talking to you about it, because it's largely your fault. Now we're talking quite frankly, so don't fence, and say it's mine. I know exactly what you mean, but you are perfectly wrong. Primarily, it's Mrs Lucas's fault, because she's quite the stupidest woman I ever saw, but it's partly your fault too."
She turned round.
"Come, Georgie, let's have it out," she said. "I'm perfectly powerless to do anything, because she detests me, and you've got to help her and help me, and drop your selfishness. Before I came here, she used to run you all, and give you treats like going to her tableaux and listening to her stupid old Moonlight Sonata, and talking seven words of Italian. And then I came along with no earthly intention except to enjoy my holidays, and she got it into her head that I was trying to run the place instead of her. Isn't that so? Just say 'yes.'"
"Yes," said Georgie.
"Well, that puts me in an odious position and a helpless position. I did my best to be nice to her; I went to her house until she ceased to ask me, and asked her here for everything that I thought would amuse her, until she ceased to come. I took no notice of her rudeness which was remarkable, or of her absurd patronising airs, which didn't hurt me in the smallest degree. But Georgie, she would continue to make such a dreadful ass of herself, and think it was my fault. Was it my fault that she didn't know the Spanish quartette when she heard it, or that she didn't know a word of Italian, when she pretended she did, or that the other day (it was the last time I saw her, when you played your Debussy to us at Aunt Jane's) she talked to me about inverted fifths?"
Olga suddenly burst out laughing, and Georgie assumed the Riseholme face of intense curiosity.
"You must tell me all about that," he said, "and I'll tell you the rest which you don't know."
Olga succumbed too, and began to talk in Aunt Jane's voice, for she had adopted her as an aunt.
"Well, it was last Monday week" she said "or was it Sunday? No it couldn't have been Sunday because I don't have anybody to tea that day, as Elizabeth goes over to Jacob's and spends the afternoon with Atkinson, or the other way about, which doesn't signify, as the point is that Elizabeth should be free. So it was Monday, and Aunt Jane--it's me talking again--had the tea-party at which you played Poisson d'Or. And when it was finished, Mrs Lucas gave a great sigh, and said 'Poor Georgino! Wasting his time over that rubbish,' though she knew quite well that I had given it to you. And so I said, 'Would you call it rubbish, do you think?' and she said 'Quite. Every rule of music is violated. Don't those inverted fifths make you wince, Miss Bracely?'"
Olga laughed again, and spoke in her own voice.
"Oh, Georgie, she is an ass," she said. "What she meant I suppose was consecutive fifths; you can't invert a fifth. So I said (I really meant it as a joke), 'Of course there is that, but you must forgive Debussy that for the sake of that wonderful passage of submerged tenths!' And she took it quite gravely and shook her head, and said she was afraid she was a purist. What happened next? That's all I know."
"Directly afterwards," said Georgie, "she brought the music to me, and asked me to show her where the passage of tenths came. I didn't know, but I found some tenths, and she brightened up and said 'Yes, it is true; those submerged tenths are very impressive.' Then I suggested that the submerged tenth was not a musical expression, but referred to a section of the population. On which she said no more, but when she went away she asked me to send her some book on 'Harmony.' I daresay she is looking for the submerged tenth still."
Olga lit a cigarette and became grave again.
"Well, it can't go on," she said. "We can't have the poor thing feeling angry and out of it. Then there was Mrs Quantock absolutely refusing to let her see the Princess."
"That was her own fault," said Georgie. "It was because she was so greedy about the Guru."
"That makes it all the bitterer. And I can't do anything, because she blames me for it all. I would ask her and her Peppino here every night, and listen to her dreary tunes every evening, and let her have it all her own way, if it would do any good. But things have gone too far; she wouldn't come. It has all happened without my noticing it. I never added it all up as it went along, and I hate it."
Georgie thought of the spiritualistic truths.
"If you're an incarnation," he said in a sudden glow of admiration, "you're the incarnation of an angel. How you can forgive her odious manners to you----"
"My dear, shut up," said Olga. "We've got to do something. Now how would it be if you gave a nice party on Christmas night, and asked her at once? Ask her to help you in getting it up; make it clear she's going to run it."
"All right. You'll come, won't you?"
"Certainly I will not. Perhaps I will come in after dinner with Goosie or some one of that sort. Don't you see it would spoil it all if I were at dinner? You must rather pointedly leave me out. Give her a nice expensive refined Christmas present too. You might give her that picture you're doing of me--No, I suppose she wouldn't like that. But just comfort her and make her feel you can't get on without her. You've been her right hand all these years. Make her give her tableaux again. And then I think you must ask me in afterwards. I long to see her and Peppino as Brunnhilde and Siegfried. Just attend to her, Georgie, and buck her up. Promise me you will. And do it as if your heart was in it, otherwise it's no good."
Georgie began packing up his paint-box. This was not the plan he had hoped for on Christmas Day, but if Olga wished this, it had got to be done.
"Well, I'll do my best," he said.
"Thanks ever so much. You're a darling. And how is your planchette getting on? I've been lazy about my crystal, but I get so tired of my own nose."
"Planchette would write nothing but a few names," said Georgie, omitting the fact that Olga's was the most frequent. "I think I shall drop it."
This was but reasonable, for since Riseholme had some new and absorbing excitement every few weeks, to say nothing of the current excitement of daily life, it followed that even the most thrilling pursuits could not hold the stage for very long. Still, the interest in spiritualism had died down with the rapidity of the seed on stony ground.
"Even Mrs Quantock seems to have cooled," said Olga. "She and her husband were here last night, and they looked rather bored when I suggested table-turning. I wonder if anything has happened to put her off it?"
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