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Title:      Lucia's Progress (1935)
Author:     E. F. Benson
eBook No.:  0500961.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          October 2005
Date most recently updated: October 2005

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Title:      Lucia's Progress (1935)
Author:     E. F. Benson






Cordially dedicated to the Marquess of Carisbrooke




CHAPTER I


Mrs. Emmeline Lucas was walking briskly and elegantly up and down
the cinder path which traversed her kitchen garden and was so
conveniently dry underfoot even after heavy rain.  This house of
hers, called "Grebe," stood some quarter of a mile outside the
ancient and enlightened town of Tilling, on its hill away to the
west; in front there stretched out the green pasture-land of the
marsh, flat and featureless, as far as the line of sand-dunes along
the shore.  She had spent a busy morning divided about equally
between practising a rather easy sonata by Mozart and reading a
rather difficult play by Aristophanes.  There was the Greek on one
page and an excellent English translation on the page opposite, and
the play was so amusing that to-day she had rather neglected the
Greek and pursued the English.  At this moment she was taking the
air to refresh her after her musical and intellectual labours, and
felt quite ready to welcome the sound of that tuneful set of little
bells in the hall which would summon her to lunch.

The January morning was very mild and her keen bird-like eye noted
that several imprudent and precocious polyanthuses (she spoke and
even thought of them as "polyanthi") were already in flower, and
that an even more imprudent tortoiseshell butterfly had been
tempted from its hybernating quarters and was flitting about these
early blossoms.  Presently another joined it, and they actually
seemed to be engaged in a decrepit dalliance quite unsuitable to
their faded and antique appearance.  The tortoiseshells appeared to
be much pleased with each other, and Lucia was vaguely reminded of
two friends of hers, both of mature years, who had lately married
and with whom she was to play Bridge this afternoon.

She inhaled the soft air in long breaths holding it in for five
seconds according to the Yoga prescription and then expelling it
all in one vigorous puff.  Then she indulged in a few of those
physical exercises, jerks and skippings and flexings which she
found so conducive to health, pleased to think that a woman of her
age could prance with such supple vigour.  Another birthday would
knock at her door next month, and if her birth certificate was
correct (and there was no reason for doubting it) the conclusion
was forced upon her that if for every year she had already lived,
she lived another, she would then be a centenarian.  For a brief
moment the thought of the shortness of life and the all-devouring
grave laid a chill on her spirit, as if a cold draught had blown
round the corner of her house, but before she had time to shiver,
her habitual intrepidity warmed her up again, and she resolved to
make the most of the years that remained, although there might not
be even fifty more in store for her.  Certainly she would not
indulge in senile dalliance, like those aged butterflies, for
nothing made a woman so old as pretending to be young, and there
would surely be worthier outlets for her energy than wantonness.
Never yet had she been lacking in activity or initiative or even
attack when necessary, as those ill-advised persons knew who from
time to time had attempted to thwart her career, and these
priceless gifts were still quite unimpaired.

It was a little over a year since the most remarkable adventure of
her life so far had befallen her, when the great flood burst the
river bank just across the road, and she and poor panic-stricken
Elizabeth Mapp had been carried out to sea on the kitchen table.
They had been picked up by a trawler in the Channel and had spent
three weird but very interesting months with a fleet of cod-fishers
on the Gallagher Bank.  Lucia's undefeated vitality had pulled them
through, but since then she had never tasted cod.  On returning
home at grey daybreak on an April morning they had found that a
handsome cenotaph had been erected to their memories in the
churchyard, for Tilling had naturally concluded that they must be
dead.  But Tilling was wrong, and the cenotaph was immediately
removed.

But since then, Lucia sometimes felt, she had not developed her
undoubted horse-power to its full capacity.  She had played
innumerable duets on the piano with Georgie Pillson: she had
constituted herself instructress in physical culture to the ladies
of Tilling, until the number of her pupils gradually dwindled away
and she was left to skip and flex alone: she had sketched miles of
marsh and been perfectly willing to hold classes in Contract
Bridge: she had visited the wards in the local hospital twice a
week, till the matron complained to Dr. Dobbie that the patients
were unusually restless for the remainder of the day when Mrs.
Lucas had been with them, and the doctor tactfully told her that
her vitality was too bracing for them (which was probably the
case).  She had sung in the church choir; she had read for an hour
every Thursday afternoon to the inmates of the workhouse till she
had observed for herself that, long before the hour was over, her
entire audience was wrapt in profound slumber; she had perused the
masterpieces of Aristophanes, Virgil and Horace with the help of a
crib; she had given a lecture on the "Tendencies of Modern
Fiction," at the Literary Institute, and had suggested another on
the "Age of Pericles," not yet delivered, as, most unaccountably, a
suitable date could not be arranged; but looking back on these
multifarious activities, she found that they had only passed the
time for her without really extending her.  To be sure there was
the constant excitement of social life in Tilling, where crises,
plots and counterplots were endemic rather than epidemic, and kept
everybody feverish and with a high psychical temperature, but when
all was said and done (and there was always a great deal to do, and
a great deal more to say) she felt this morning, with a gnawing
sense of self-reproach, that if she had written down all the
achievements which, since her return from the Gallagher Bank, were
truly worthy of mention, the chronicle would be sadly brief.

"I fear," thought Lucia to herself, "that the Recording Angel will
have next to nothing in his book about me this year.  I've been
vegetating.  Molto cattiva!  I've been content (yet not quite
content: I will say that for myself) to be occupied with a hundred
trifles.  I've been frittering my energies away over them, drugging
myself with the fallacy that they were important.  But surely a
woman in the prime of life like me could have done all I have done
as mere relaxations in her career.  I must do something more
monumental (monumentum re perennius, isn't it?) in this coming
year.  I know I have the capacity for high ambition.  What I don't
know is what to be ambitious about.  Ah, there's lunch at last."

Lucia could always augur from the mode in which Grosvenor, her
parlourmaid, played her prelude to food on those tuneful chimes, in
what sort of a temper she was.  There were six bells hung close
together on a burnished copper frame, and they rang the first six
notes of an ascending major scale.  Grosvenor improvised on these
with a small drumstick, and if she was finding life a harmonious
business she often treated Lucia to charming dainty little tunes,
quite a pleasure to listen to, though sometimes rather long.  Now
and then there was an almost lyrical outburst of melody, which
caused Lucia a momentary qualm of anxiety, lest Grosvenor should
have fallen in love, and would leave.  But if she felt morose or
cynical, she expressed her humour with realistic fidelity.  To-day
she struck two adjoining bells very hard, and then ran the
drumstick up and down the peal, producing a most jangled effect,
which meant that she was jangled too.  "I wonder what's the matter:
indigestion perhaps," thought Lucia, and she hurried indoors, for a
jangled Grosvenor hated to be kept waiting.

"Mr. Georgie hasn't rung up?" she asked, as she seated herself.

"No, ma'am," said Grosvenor.

"Nor Foljambe?"

"No, ma'am."

"Is there no tomato sauce with the macaroni?"

"No, ma'am."

Lucia knew better than to ask if she ached anywhere, for Grosvenor
would simply have said "No, ma'am" again, and, leaving her to stew
in her own snappishness, she turned her mind to Georgie.  For over
a fortnight now he had not been to see her, and enquiries had only
elicited the stark information that he was keeping the house, not
being very well, but that there was nothing to bother about.  With
Georgie such a retirement might arise from several causes none of
which need arouse anxiety.  Some little contretemps, thought Lucia:
perhaps there was dental trouble, and change must be made in the
furnishings of his mouth.  Or he might have a touch of lumbago, and
did not want to be seen hobbling and bent, instead of presenting
his usual spry and brisk appearance.  It was merely tactless when
he assumed these invisibilities to ask the precise cause: he came
out of them again with his hair more auburn than ever, or wreathed
in smiles which showed his excellent teeth, and so one could guess.

But a fortnight was an unprecedentedly long seclusion, and Lucia
determined to have a word with Foljambe when she came home in the
evening.  Foljambe was Georgie's peerless parlourmaid and also the
wife of Lucia's chauffeur.  She gave Cadman his early breakfast in
the morning, and then went up to Georgie's house, Mallards Cottage,
where she ministered all day to her master, returning home to her
husband after she had served Georgie with his dinner.  Like famous
actresses who have married, she retained her maiden name, instead
of becoming Mrs. Cadman (which she undoubtedly was in the sight of
God) since her life's work was Foljambizing to Georgie. . . .  Then
Grosvenor brought in the tomato sauce of which there was quantities,
after Lucia had almost finished her macaroni, and by way of
expressing penitence for her mistake, became more communicative,
though hardly less morose.

"Foljambe won't say anything about Mr. Georgie, ma'am," she
observed, "except that he hasn't been outside his front door for
over a fortnight nor seen anybody.  Dr. Dobbie has been in several
times.  You don't think it's something mental, ma'am, do you?"

"Certainly not," said Lucia.  "Why should I think anything of the
kind?"

"Well, my uncle was like that," said Grosvenor.  "He shut himself
up for about the same time as Mr. Georgie, and then they took him
away to the County Asylum, where he's thought himself to be the
Prince of Wales ever since."

Though Lucia poured scorn on this sinister theory, it made her more
desirous of knowing what actually was the matter with Georgie.  The
news that the doctor had been to see him disposed of the theory
that a new chestnut-coloured toupee was wanted, for a doctor would
not have been needed for that, while if he had been paying a round
of visits to the dentist, Foljambe would not have said that he had
not been outside his own front door, and an attack of lumbago would
surely have yielded to treatment before now.  So, after telephoning
to Georgie suggesting, as she had often done before, that she
should look in during the afternoon, and receiving uncompromising
discouragement, she thought she would walk into Tilling after lunch
and find what other people made of this long retirement.  It was
Saturday and there would certainly be a good many friends popping
in and out of the shops.

Lucia looked at her engagement book, and scribbled "Mozart,
Aristophanes," as post-dated engagements for the morning of to-day.
She was due to play Bridge at Mallards, next door to Mallards
Cottage, this afternoon at half-past three with Major and Mrs. Mapp-
Flint: tea would follow and then more Bridge.  For the last year
Contract had waged a deadly war with Auction, but the latter, like
the Tishbites in King David's campaigns, had been exterminated,
since Contract gave so much more scope for violent differences of
opinion about honour-tricks and declarations and doublings and
strong twos and takings-out, which all added spleen and savagery to
the game.  There were disciples of many schools of thought: one
played Culbertson, another one club, another two clubs, and Diva
Plaistow had a new system called "Leeway," which she could not
satisfactorily explain to anybody, because she had not any
clearness about it herself.  So, before a couple of tables were
started, there was always a gabble, as of priests of various
denominations reciting the articles of their faith.  Mrs. Mapp-
Flint was "strong two," but her husband was "one club."
Consequently when they cut together their opponents had to remember
that when he declared one club, it meant that he had strong outside
suits, but possibly no club at all, but that when his wife declared
two clubs it meant that she certainly had good clubs and heaps of
other honour-tricks as well.  Lucia herself relied largely on
psychic bids: in other words when she announced a high contract in
any suit, her partner had to guess whether she held, say, a
positive tiara of diamonds, or whether she was being psychic.  If
he guessed wrong, frightful disaster might result, and Elizabeth
Mapp-Flint had once been justifiably sarcastic on the conclusion of
one of these major debacles.  "I see, dear," she said, "when you
declare four diamonds, it means you haven't got any, and want to be
taken out.  So sorry: I shall know better another time."

Lucia, as she walked up to Tilling, ran over in her head the
various creeds of the rest of the players she was likely to meet.
The Padre and his wife Evie Bartlett were sure to be there: he was
even more psychic than herself, and almost invariably declared his
weakest suit first, just to show he had not got any.  Evie, his
wife, was obliging enough to play any system desired by her
partner, but she generally forgot what it was.  Then Algernon and
Susan Wyse would certainly be there: they need not be reckoned
with, as they only declared what they thought they could get and
meant what they said.  The eighth would probably be Diva with her
"Leeway," of which, since she invariably held such bad cards, there
was always a great deal to make up.

Lucia passed these systems in review, and then directed her stream
of consciousness to her hostess, who, as Elizabeth Mapp, had been
her timorous partner in the great adventure on the kitchen table a
year ago.  She, at any rate, had not vegetated since their return,
for she had married Major Benjamin Flint, and since he had only an
Army Pension, and she was a woman of substance in every sense of
the word, and owner of Mallards, it was only proper that she should
hyphenate her surname with his.  The more satirical spirits of
Tilling thought she would have preferred to retain her maiden name
like Foljambe and famous actresses.  At the marriage service she
had certainly omitted the word "obey" when she defined what sort of
wife she would make him.  But the preliminary exhortation had been
read in full, though the Padre had very tactfully suggested to the
bride that the portion of it which related to children need not be
recited: Elizabeth desired to have it all.

Immediately after the marriage the "young couple" had left Tilling,
for Elizabeth had accepted the offer of a very good let for
Mallards for the summer and autumn months, and they had taken a
primitive and remote bungalow close to the golf links two miles
away, where they could play golf and taste romance in solitude.
Mr. and Mrs. Wyse had been there to lunch occasionally and though
Mr. Wyse (such a gentleman) always said it had been a most
enjoyable day, Susan was rather more communicative and let out that
the food was muck and that no alcoholic beverage had appeared at
table.  On wet days the Major had occasionally come into Tilling by
bus, on some such hollow pretext of having his hair cut, or posting
a letter, and spent most of the afternoon at the Club where there
was a remarkably good brand of port.  Then Elizabeth's tenants had
been so delighted with Mallards that they had extended their lease
till the end of November, after which the Mapp-Flints, gorged with
the gold of their rent-roll, had gone to the Riviera for the month
of December, and had undoubtedly been seen by Mr. Wyse's sister,
the Contessa Fariglione, at the Casino at Monte Carlo.  Thus their
recent return to Tilling was a very exciting event, for nothing was
really known as to which of them had established supremacy.
Teetotalism at the bungalow seemed "one up" to Elizabeth, for
Benjy, as all Tilling knew, had a strong weakness in the opposite
direction: on the other hand Mrs. Wyse had hinted that the bride
exhibited an almost degrading affection for him.  Then which of
them was the leading spirit in those visits to the Casino?  Or were
they both gamblers at heart?  Altogether it was a most intriguing
situation: the ladies of Tilling were particularly interested in
the more intimate and domestic side of it, and expressed themselves
with great delicacy.

Lucia came up the steep rise into the High Street and soon found
some nice food for constructive observation.  There was Foljambe
just going into the chemist's, and Lucia, remembering that she
really wanted a toothbrush, followed her in, to hear what she
ordered, for that might throw some light on the nature of Georgie's
mysterious indisposition.  But a packet of lint was vague as a
clue, though it disposed of Grosvenor's dark suggestion that his
illness was mental: lint surely never cured lunacy.  A little
further on there was quaint Irene Coles in trousers and a scarlet
pullover, with her easel set up on the pavement, so that foot
passengers had to step on to the roadway, making a highly
impressionistic sketch of the street.  Irene had an almost
embarrassing schwrm for Lucia, and she flung her arms round her
and upset her easel; but she had no news of Georgie, and her
conjecture that Foljambe had murdered him and was burying him below
the brick-pillar in his back garden had nothing to support it.

"But it might be so, beloved," she said.  "Such things do happen,
and why not in Tilling?  Think of Crippen and Belle Elmore.  Let's
suppose Foljambe gets through with the burial to-day and replaces
the pillar, then she'll go up there to-morrow morning just as usual
and tell the police that Georgie has disappeared.  Really I don't
see what else it can be."

Diva Plaistow scudded across the street to them.  She always spoke
in the style of a telegram, and walked so fast that she might be
mistaken for a telegram herself.  "All too mysterious," she said,
taking for granted what they were talking about.  "Not seen since
yesterday fortnight.  Certainly something infectious.  Going to the
Mapp-Flints, Lucia?  Meet again then," and she whizzed away.

These monstrous suggestions did not arouse the least anxiety in
Lucia, but they vastly inflamed her curiosity.  If Georgie's
ailment had been serious, she knew he would have told so old a
friend as herself: it must simply be that he did not want to be
seen.  But it was time to go to the Bridge party, and she retraced
her steps a few yards (though with no definite scheme in her mind)
and turned up from the High Street towards the church: this route,
only a few yards longer, would lead her past Mallards Cottage,
where Georgie lived.  It was dusk now, and just as she came
opposite that gabled abode, a light sprang up in his sitting-room
which looked on to the street.  There was no resisting so potent a
temptation, and crossing the narrow cobbled way she peered
stealthily in.  Foljambe was drawing the curtains of the other
window, and there was Georgie sitting by the fire, fully dressed,
with his head turned a little away, doing his petit-point.  At that
very moment he shifted in his chair, and Lucia saw to her
indescribable amazement that he had a short grey beard: in fact it
might be called white.  Just one glimpse she had, and then she must
swiftly crouch down, as Foljambe crossed the room and rattled the
curtains across the window into which she was looking.  Completely
puzzled but thrilled to the marrow, Lucia slid quietly away.  Was
he then in retirement only in order to grow a beard, feigning
illness until it had attained comely if not venerable proportions?
Common sense revolted at the notion, but common sense could not
suggest any other theory.

Lucia rang the bell at Mallards, and was admitted into its familiar
white-panelled hall which wanted painting so badly.  On her first
visit to Tilling, which led to her permanent residence here, she
had taken this house for several months from Elizabeth Mapp and had
adored it.  Grebe, her own house, was very agreeable, but it had
none of the dignity and charm of Mallards with its high-walled
garden, its little square parlours, and, above all, with its
entrancing garden-room, built a few yards away from the house
itself, and commanding from its bow-window that unique view of the
street leading down to the High Street, and, in the other
direction, past Mallards Cottage to the church.  The owner of
Mallards ought not to let it for month after month and pig it in a
bungalow for the sake of the rent.  Mallards ought to be the centre
of nodal life in Tilling.  Really Elizabeth was not worthy of it:
year after year she let it for the sake of the rent it brought her,
and even when she was there she entertained very meagrely.  Lucia
felt very strongly that she was not the right person to live there,
and she was equally strongly convinced as to who the right person
was.

With a sigh she followed Withers out into the garden and up the
eight steps into the garden-room.  She had not seen the young
couple since the long retirement of their honeymoon to the bungalow
and to the garishness of Monte Carlo, and now even that mysterious
phenomenon of Georgie with a grey, nearly white, beard faded out
before the intense human interest of observing how they had
adjusted themselves to matrimony. . . .  "Chrie!" cried Mrs.
Elizabeth.  "Too lovely to see you again!  My Benjy-boy and I only
got back two days ago, and since then it's been 'upstairs and
downstairs and in my lady's chamber,' all day, in order to get
things shipshape and comfy and comme il faut again.  But now we're
settled in, n'est ce pas?"

Lucia could not quite make up her mind whether these pretty
Gallicisms were the automatic result of Elizabeth's having spent a
month in France, or whether they were ironically allusive to her
own habit of using easy Italian phrases in her talk.  But she
scarcely gave a thought to that, for the psychological balance
between the two was so much more absorbing.  Certainly Elizabeth
and her Benjy-boy seemed an enamoured couple.  He called her Liz
and Girlie and perched himself on the arm of her chair as they
waited for the rest of the gamblers to gather, and she patted his
hand and pulled his cuff straight.  Had she surrendered to him,
Lucia wondered, had matrimony wrought a miraculous change in this
domineering woman?  The change in the room itself seemed to support
the astounding proposition.  It was far the biggest and best room
in Mallards, and in the days of Elizabeth's virginity it had
dripped with feminine knick-knacks, vases and china figures, and
Tilling crockery pigs, screens set at angles, muslin blinds and
riband-tied curtains behind which she sat in hiding to observe the
life of the place.  Here had been her writing-table close to the
hot water pipes and here her cosy corner by the fire with her work-
basket.  But now instead of her water-colours on the walls were
heads of deer and antelopes, the spoil of Benjy's sporting
expeditions in India, and a trophy consisting of spears and arrows
and rhinoceros-hide whips and an apron made of shells, and on the
floor were his moth-eaten tiger-skins.  A stern business table
stood in the window, a leather chair like a hipbath in her cosy
corner, a gun stand with golf clubs against the wall, and the room
reeked of masculinity and stale cigar smoke.  In fact, all it had
in common with its old aspect was the big false bookcase in the
wall which masked the cupboard, in which once, for fear of lack of
food during a coal strike, the prudent Elizabeth had stored immense
quantities of corned beef and other nutritious provisions.  All
this change looked like surrender: Girlie Mapp had given up her
best room to Benjy-boy Flint.  Their little pats and tweaks at each
other might have been put on merely as Company-manners suitable to
a newly-married couple, but the room itself furnished more
substantial evidence.

The party speedily assembled: the Wyses' huge Rolls-Royce from
their house fifty yards away hooted at the front door and Susan
staggered in under the weight of her great sable coat, and the
odour of preservatives from moth gradually overscored that of
cigars.  Algernon followed and made a bow and a polite speech to
everybody.  The Padre and Mrs. Bartlett arrived next: he had been
to Ireland for his holiday, and had acquired a touch of brogue
which he grafted on to his Highland accent, and the effect was
interesting, as if men of two nationalities were talking together
of whom the Irishman only got in a word or two edgeways.  Diva
Plaistow completed the assembly and tripped heavily over the head
of a one-eyed tiger.  The other eye flew out at the shock of the
impact and she put it, with apologies, on the chimneypiece.

The disposition of the players was easily settled, for there were
three married couples to be separated, and Diva and Lucia made the
fourth at each of the tables.  Concentration settled down on the
room like the grip of some intense frost, broken, at the end of
each hand, as if by a sudden thaw, by torrential postmortems.  At
Lucia's table, she and Elizabeth were partners against Mr. Wyse and
the Padre.  "Begorra," said he, "the bhoys play the lassies.  Eh,
mon, there's a sair muckle job for the puir wee laddies agin the
guid wives o' Tilling, begob."

Though Elizabeth seemed to have surrendered to her Benjy-boy, it
was clear that she had no thoughts of doing so to the other wee
laddies, who, though vulnerable after the first hand were again and
again prevented from winning the rubber by preposterously expensive
bids on Elizabeth's part.

"Yes, dear Lucia," she said, "three hundred down I'm afraid, but
then it's worth six hundred to prevent the adversary from going
out.  Let me see, qui donne?"

"Key what?" asked the Padre.

"Who gives: I should say, who deals?"

"You do, dear Elizabeth," said Lucia, "but I don't know if it's
worth quite so many three hundreds.  What do you think?"

Lucia picked up a hand gleaming with high honours, but psychic
silences were often as valuable as psychic declarations.  The
laddies, flushed with untold hundreds above would be sure to
declare something in order to net so prodigious a rubber, and she
made no bid.  Far more psychic to lure them on by modest
overbidding and then crush them under a staggering double.  But the
timorous laddies held their tongues, the hands were thrown in and
though Lucia tried to mingle hers with the rest of the pack,
Elizabeth relentlessly picked it out and conducted a savage post-
mortem as if on the corpse of a regicide.

The rubber had to be left for the present, for it was long after
tea-time.  At tea a most intriguing incident took place, for it had
been Major Benjy's invariable custom at these gatherings to have a
whisky and soda or two instead of the milder refreshment.  But to-
day, to the desperate interest of those who, like Lucia, were
intent on observing the mutual adjustments of matrimony, a
particularly large cup was provided for him which, when everybody
else was served, was filled to the brim by Elizabeth and passed to
him.  Diva noticed that, too, and paused in her steady consumption
of nougat chocolates.

"And so triste about poor Mr. Georgie," said Elizabeth.  "I asked
him to come in this afternoon, and he telephoned that he was too
unwell: hadn't been out of his maison for more than a fortnight.
What's the matter with him?  You'll know, Lucia."

Lucia and everybody else wondered which of them would have been
left out if Georgie had come, or whether Elizabeth had asked him at
all.  Probably she had not.

"But indeed I don't know," she said.  "Nobody knows.  It's all very
puzzling."

"And haven't even you seen him?  Fancy!" said Elizabeth.  "He must
be terribly ill."

Lucia did not say that actually she had seen him, nor did she
mention his beard.  She intended to find out what that meant before
she disclosed it.

"Oh, I don't think that," she said.  "But men like to be left quite
alone when they're not the thing."

Elizabeth kissed her finger-tips across the table to her husband.
Really rather sickening.

"That's not the way of my little Benjy-boy," she said.  "Why, he
had a touch of chill out at Monte, and pas un moment did I get to
myself till he was better.  Wasn't it so, mischief?"

Major Benjy wiped his great walrus-moustache which had been dipped
in that cauldron of tea.

"Girlie is a wizard in the sick-room," he said.  "Bucks a man up
more than fifty tonics.  Ring Georgie up, Liz: say you'll pop in
after dinner and sit with him."

Lucia waited for the upshot of this offer with some anxiety.
Georgie would certainly be curious to see Elizabeth after her
marriage and it would be too shattering if he accepted this
proposal after having refused her own company.  Luckily nothing so
lamentable happened.  Elizabeth returned from the telephone in a
very short space of time, a little flushed, and, for the moment,
forgetting to talk French.

"Not up to seeing people," she said, "so Foljambe told me.  A rude
woman I've always thought: I wonder Mr. Georgie can put up with
her.  Diva, dear, more chocolates?  I'm sure there are plenty more
in the cupboard.  More tea, anybody?  Benjy, dear, another cup?
Shall we get back to our rubbers then?  All so exciting!"

The wee laddies presently began to get as incautious as the guid
wives.  It was maddening to be a game up and sixty, and not to be
allowed to secure one of the fattest scores above ever known in
Sussex.  Already it reached nearly to the top of the scoring-sheet,
but now owing to penalties from their own overbidding, a second sky-
scraper was mounting rapidly beside the first.  Then the guid wives
got a game, and the deadly process began again.

"Trs amusant!" exclaimed Elizabeth, sorting her hand with a fixed
smile, because it was so amusing, and a trembling hand because it
was so agonizing.  "Now let me see; que faire?"

"Hold your hand a wee bitty higher, Mistress Mapp-Flint," said the
Padre, "or sure I can't help getting a keek o't."

"Monsieur, the more you keeked the less you'd like it," said
Elizabeth, scanning a hand of appalling rubbish.  Quite legitimate
to say that.

At this precise moment when Elizabeth was wondering whether it
might not pay to be psychic for once, Major Benjy at the other
table laid down his hand as dummy, and cast just one glance, quick
as a lizard at the knotted face of his wife.  "Excuse me," he said
and quietly stole from the room.  Elizabeth, so thought Diva, had
not noticed his exit, but she certainly noticed his return, though
she had got frightfully entangled in her hand, for Lucia had been
psychic, too, and God knew what would happen. . . .

"Not kept you waiting, I hope," said Benjy stealing back.  "Just a
telephone message.  Ha, we seem to be getting on, partner.  Well, I
must say, beautifully played."

Diva thought these congratulations had a faint odour about them as
if he had been telephoning to a merchant who dealt in spirituous
liquors. . . .

It was not till half-past seven that the great tussle came to an
end, resulting in a complete wash-out, and the whole party,
marvelling at the lateness of the hour left in a great hurry so as
not to keep dinner (or a tray) waiting.  Mr. Wyse vainly begged
Lucia and Diva to be taken home in the Royce: it was such a dark
night, he observed, but saw that there was a full moon, and it
would be so wet underfoot, but he became aware that the pavements
were bone-dry.  So after a phrase or two in French from Elizabeth,
in Italian from Lucia, in Scotch and Irish from the Padre, so that
the threshold of Mallards resembled the Tower of Babel, Diva and
Lucia went briskly down towards the High Street, both eager for a
communing about the balance of the matrimonial equation.

"What a change, Diva!" began Lucia.  "It's quite charming to see
what matrimony has done for Elizabeth.  Miraculous, isn't it?  At
present there does not seem to be a trace left of her old
cantankerousness.  She seems positively to dote on him.  Those
little tweaks and dabs, and above all her giving up the garden-room
to him: that shows there must be something real and heartfelt,
don't you think?  Fond eyes following him--"

"Not so sure about the fond eyes," said Diva.  "Pretty sharp they
looked when he came back from telephoning.  Another kind of cup of
tea was what he was after.  That I'll swear to.  Reeked!"

"No!" said Lucia.  "You don't say so!"

"Yes, I do.  Teetotal lunches at the bungalow indeed!  Rubbish.
Whisky bottles, I bet, buried all over the garden."

"Dear Diva, that's pure imagination," said Lucia very nobly.  "If
you say such things you'll get to believe them."

"Ho!  I believe them already," said Diva.  "There'll be
developments yet."

"I hope they'll be happy ones, anyhow," said Lucia.  "Of course, as
the Padre would say, Major Benjy was apt to lift the elbow
occasionally, but I shall continue to believe that's all done with.
Such an enormous cup of tea: I never saw such a cup, and I think
it's a perfect marriage.  Perfect!  I wonder--"

Diva chipped in.

"I know what you mean.  They sleep in that big room overlooking the
street.  Withers told my cook.  Dressing-room for Major Benjy next
door; that slip of a room.  I've seen him shaving at the window
myself."

Lucia walked quickly on after Diva turned into her house in the
High Street.  Diva was a little coarse sometimes, but in fairness
Lucia had to allow that when she said "I wonder," Diva had
interpreted what she wondered with absolute accuracy.  If she was
right about the precise process of Major Benjy's telephoning, it
would look as if matrimony had not wrought so complete a change in
him as in his bride, but perhaps Diva's sense of smell had been
deranged by her enormous consumption of chocolates.

Then like a faint unpleasant odour the thought of her approaching
fiftieth birthday came back to her.  Only this morning she had
resolved to make a worthy use of the few years that lay in front of
her and of the energy that boiled inside her, and to couple the two
together and achieve something substantial.  Yet, even while that
resolve was glowing within her, she had frittered four hours away
over tea and Bridge, with vast expenditure of nervous force and
psychic divination, and there was nothing to shew for it except
weariness of the brain, a few dubious conclusions as to the effect
of matrimony on the middle-aged and a distaste for small cards. . . .
Relaxation, thought Lucia in this sharp attack of moralizing,
should be in itself productive.  Playing duets with Georgie was
productive because their fingers in spite of occasional errors,
evoked the divine harmonies of Mozartino and Beethoven: when she
made sketches of the twilight marsh her eye drank in the loveliness
of Nature, but these hours of Bridge, however strenuous, had not
really enriched or refreshed her, and it was no use pretending that
they had.

"I must put up in large capital letters over my bed 'I am fifty',"
she thought as she let herself into her house, "and that will
remind me every morning and evening that I've done nothing yet
which will be remembered after I am gone.  I've been busy (I will
say that for myself) but beyond giving others a few hours of
enchantment at the piano, and helping them to keep supple, I've
done nothing for the world or indeed for Tilling.  I must take
myself in hand."


The evening post had come in but there was nothing for her except a
packet covered with seals which she knew must be her pass-book
returned from the bank.  She did not trouble to open it, and after
a tray (for she had made a substantial tea) she picked up the
evening paper, to see if she could find any hints about a career
for a woman of fifty.  Women seemed to be much to the fore: there
was one flying backwards and forwards across the Atlantic, but
Lucia felt it was a little late for her to take up flying: probably
it required an immense amount of practice before you could, with
any degree of confidence, start for New York alone, two or three
thousand feet up in the air.

Then eight others were making a tour of pavilions and assembly
rooms in towns on the South Coast, and entrancing everybody by
their graceful exhibitions (in tights, or were their legs bare?) of
physical drill; but on thinking it over, Lucia could not imagine
herself heading a team of Tilling ladies, Diva and Elizabeth and
Susan Wyse, with any reasonable hope of entrancing anybody.  The
pages of reviews of books seemed to deal entirely with novels by
women, all of which were works of high genius.  Lucia had long felt
that she could write a marvellous novel, but perhaps there were
enough geniuses already.  Then there was a woman who, though it was
winter, was in training to swim the Channel, but Lucia hated sea-
bathing and could not swim.  Certainly women were making a stir in
the world, but none of their achievements seemed suited to the
ambitions of a middle-aged widow.

Lucia turned the page.  Dame Catherine Winterglass was dead at the
age of fifty-five, and there was a long obituary notice of this
remarkable spinster.  For many years she had been governess to the
children of a solicitor who lived at Balham, but at the age of
forty-five she had been dismissed to make way for somebody younger.
She had a capital of 500, and had embarked on operations on the
Stock Exchange, making a vast fortune.  At the time of her death
she had a house in Grosvenor Square where she entertained Royalty,
an estate at Mocomb Regis in Norfolk for partridge shooting, a deer
forest in Scotland, and a sumptuous yacht for cruising in the
Mediterranean; and from London, Norfolk, Ross-shire and the Riviera
she was always in touch with the centres of finance.  An admirable
woman, too: hospitals, girl-guides, dogs' homes, indigent parsons,
preventions of cruelty and propagations of the Gospel were the
recipients of her noble bounty.  No deserving case (and many
undeserving) ever appealed to her in vain and her benefactions were
innumerable.  Right up to the end of her life, in spite of her
colossal expenditure, it was believed that she grew richer and
richer.

Lucia forgot all about nocturnal arrangements at Mallards, and read
this account through again.  What an extraordinary power money had!
It enabled you not only to have everything you could possibly want
yourself, but to do so much good, to relieve suffering, to make the
world (as the Padre had said last Sunday) "a better place."
Hitherto she had taken very little interest in money, being quite
content every six months or so to invest a few hundred pounds from
her constantly accruing balance in some gilt-edged security, the
dividends from which added some negligible sum to her already ample
income.  But here was this woman who, starting with a total capital
of a paltry five hundred pounds, had for years lived in Sybaritic
luxury and done no end of good as well.  "To be sure," thought
Lucia, "she had the start of me by five years, for she was only
forty-five when she began, but still . . ."

Grosvenor entered.

"Foljambe's back from Mr. Georgie's ma'am," she said.  "You told me
you wanted to see her."

"It doesn't matter," said Lucia, deep in meditation about Dame
Catherine.  "To-morrow will do."

She let the paper drop, and fixed her gimlet eyes on the bust of
Beethoven, for this conduced to concentration.  She did not covet
yachts and deer forests, but there were many things she would like
to do for Tilling: a new organ was wanted at the church, a new
operating theatre was wanted at the hospital and she herself wanted
Mallards.  She intended to pass the rest of her days here, and it
would be wonderful to be a great benefactress to the town, a
notable figure, a civic power and not only the Queen (she had no
doubt about that) of its small social life.  These benefactions and
the ambitions for herself, which she had been unable to visualize
before, outlined themselves with distinctness and seemed wreathed
together: the one twined round the other.  Then the parable of the
talents occurred to her.  She had been like the unprofitable
servant who, distrusting his financial ability, had wrapped it up
in a napkin, for really to invest money in Government Stock was
comparable with that, such meagre interest did it produce.

She picked up her paper again and turned to the page of financial
news, and strenuously applied her vigorous mind to an article on
the trend of markets by the City Editor.  Those tedious gilt-edged
stocks had fallen a little (as he had foreseen) but there was great
activity in Industrials and in gold shares.  Then there was a list
of the shares which the City Editor had recommended to his readers
a month ago.  All of them (at least all that he quoted) had
experienced a handsome rise: one had doubled in price.  Lucia
ripped open the sealed envelope containing her pass-book and
observed with a pang of retrospective remorse that it revealed that
she had the almost indecent balance of twelve hundred pounds.  If
only, a month ago, she had invested a thousand of it in that share
recommended by this clever City Editor each pound would have made
another pound!

But it was no use repining, and she turned to see what the wizard
recommended now.  Goldfields of West Africa were very promising,
notably Siriami, and the price was eight to nine shillings.  She
did not quite know what that meant: probably there were two grades
of shares, the best costing nine shillings, and a slightly inferior
kind costing eight.  Supposing she bought five hundred shares of
Siriami and they behaved as those others had done, she would in a
month's time have doubled the sum she had invested.

"I'm beginning to see my way," she thought, and the way was so
absorbing that she had not heard the telephone bell ring, and now
Grosvenor came in to say that Georgie wanted to speak to her.
Lucia wondered whether Foljambe had seen her peeping in at his
window this afternoon and had reported this intrusion, and was
prepared, if this was the case and Georgie resented it, not exactly
to lie about it, but to fail to understand what he was talking
about until he got tired of explaining.  She adopted that intimate
dialect of baby-language with a peppering of Italian words in which
they often spoke together.

"Is zat 'oo, Georgino mio?" she asked.

"Yes," said Georgie in plain English.

"Lubly to hear your voice again.  Come sta?  Better I hope."

"Yes, going on all right, but very slow.  All too tarsome.  And I'm
getting dreadfully depressed seeing nobody and hearing nothing."

Lucia dropped dialect.

"But, my dear, why didn't you let me come and see you before?
You've always refused."

"I know."

There was a long pause.  Lucia with her psychic faculties alert
after so much Bridge felt sure he had something more to say, and
like a wise woman she refrained from pressing him.  Clearly he had
rung her up to tell her something, but found it difficult to bring
himself to the point.

At last it came.

"Will you come in to-morrow then?"

"Of course I will.  Delighted.  What time?"

"Any time is the same to me," said Georgie gloomily.  "I sit in
this beastly little room all day."

"About twelve then, after church?" she asked.

"Do.  And I must warn you that I'm very much changed."

("That's the beard," thought Lucia.)  She made her voice register
deep concern.

"My dear, what do you mean?" she asked with a clever tremolo.

"Nothing to be anxious about at all, though it's frightful.  I
won't tell you because it's so hard to explain it all.  Any news?"

That sounded better: in spite of this frightful change Georgie had
his human interests alive.

"Lots: quantities.  For instance, Elizabeth says n'est ce pas and
chrie, because she's been to France."

"No!" said Georgie with a livelier inflexion.  "We'll have a good
talk: lots must have happened.  But remember there's a shocking
change."

"It won't shock ME," said Lucia.  "Twelve then, to-morrow.  Good
night, Georgino."

"Buona notte," said he.



CHAPTER II


Major Benjy was in church with his wife next morning: this was
weighty evidence as regards her influence over him, for never yet
had he been known to spend a fine Sunday morning except on the golf
links.  He sat with her among the auxiliary choir sharing her hymn-
book and making an underground sort of noise during the hymns.  The
Padre preached a long sermon in Scotch about early Christianity in
Ireland which was somehow confusing to the geographical sense.
After service Lucia walked away a little ahead of the Mapp-Flints,
so that they certainly saw her ring the bell at Mallards Cottage
and be admitted, and Elizabeth did not fail to remember that
Georgie had said only yesterday afternoon that he was not up to
seeing anybody.  Lucia smiled and waved her hand as she went in to
make sure Elizabeth saw, and Elizabeth gave a singularly mirthless
smile in answer.  As it was Sunday, she tried to feel pleased that
he must be better this morning, but with only partial success.
However, she would sit in the window of the garden-room and see how
long Lucia stayed.

Georgie was not yet down and Lucia had a few minutes alone in his
sitting-room among the tokens of his handiwork.  There were dozens
of his water-colour sketches on the walls, the sofa was covered
with a charming piece of gros-point from his nimble needle, and his
new piece in petit point, not yet finished, lay on one of the
numerous little tables.  One window looked on to the street, the
other on to a tiny square of flower garden with a patch of crazy
pavement surrounding a brick pillar on the top of which stood a
replica of the Neapolitan Narcissus.  Georgie had once told Lucia
that he had just that figure when he was a boy, and with her usual
tact she had assured him he had it still.  There were large soft
cushions in all the chairs, there was a copy of Vogue, a work-
basket containing wools, a feather brush for dusting, a screen to
shut off all draughts from the door, and a glass case containing
his bibelots, including a rather naughty enamelled snuff-box: two
young people--Then she heard his slippered tread on the stairs and
in he came.

He had on his new blue suit: round his neck was a pink silk scarf
with an amethyst pin to keep it in place, and above the scarf his
face, a shade plumper than Narcissus's, thatched by his luxuriant
auburn hair and decorated with an auburn moustache turned up at the
ends, was now framed in a short grey, almost white beard.

"My dear, it's too dreadful," he said.  "I know I'm perfectly
hidjus, but I shan't be able to shave for weeks to come, and I
couldn't bear being alone any longer.  I tried to shave yesterday.
Agonies!"

Dialectic encouragement was clearly the first thing to administer.

"Georgino!  'Oo vewy naughty boy not to send for me before," said
Lucia.  "If I'd been growing a barba--my dear, not AT ALL
disfiguring: rather dignified--do you think I should have said I
wouldn't see you?  But tell me all about it.  I know nothing."

"Shingles on my face and neck," said Georgie.  "Blisters.
Bandages.  Ointments.  Aspirin.  Don't tell anybody.  So
degrading!"

"Povero!  But I'm sure you've borne it wonderfully.  And you're
over the attack?"

"So they say.  But it will be weeks before I can shave, and I can't
go about before I do that.  Tell me the news.  Elizabeth rang me up
yesterday, and offered to come and sit with me after dinner."

"I know.  I was there playing Bridge and you, or Foljambe rather,
said you weren't up to seeing people.  But she saw me come in this
morning."

"No!" said Georgie.  "She'll hate that."

Lucia sighed.

"An unhappy nature, I'm AFRAID," she said.  "I waggled my hand and
smiled at her as I stepped in, and she smiled back--how shall I say
it?--as if she had been lunching on soused mackerel and pickles
instead of going to church.  And all those n'est ce pas-s as I told
you yesterday."

"But what about her and Benjy?" asked Georgie.  "Who wears the
trousers?"

"Georgie: it's difficult to say: I felt a man's eye was needed.  It
looked to me as if they wore one trouser each.  He's got the garden-
room as his sitting-room: horns and savage aprons on the wall and
bald tiger-skins on the floor.  On the other hand he had tea
instead of whisky and soda at tea-time in an enormous cup, and he
was in church this morning.  They dab at each other about equally."

"How disgusting!" said Georgie.  "You don't know how you cheer me
up."

"So glad, Georgie.  That's what I'm here for.  And now I've got a
plan.  No, it isn't a plan, it's an order.  I'm not going to leave
you here alone.  You're coming to stay with me at Grebe.  You
needn't see anybody but me and me only when you feel inclined.
It's ridiculous your being cooped up here with no one to talk to.
Have your lunch and tell Foljambe to pack your bags and order your
car."

Georgie required very little persuasion.  It was a daring
proceeding to stay all alone with Lucia but that was not in its
disfavour.  He was the professional jeune premier in social circles
at Tilling, smart and beautifully dressed and going to more tea-
parties than anybody else, and it was not at all amiss that he
should imperil his reputation and hers by these gay audacities.
Very possibly Tilling would never know, as the plan was that he
should be quite invisible till his clandestine beard was removed,
but if Tilling did then or later find out, he had no objection.
Besides, it would make an excellent opportunity for his cook to
have her holiday, and she should go off to-morrow morning, leaving
the house shut up.  Foljambe would come up every other day or so to
open windows and air it.

So Lucia paid no long visit, but soon left Georgie to make domestic
arrangements.  There was Elizabeth sitting at the window of the
garden-room, and she threw it open with another soused mackerel
smile as Lucia passed below.

"And how is our poor malade?" she asked.  "Better, I trust, since
he is up to seeing friends again.  I must pop in to see him after
lunch."

Lucia hesitated.  If Elizabeth knew that he was moving to Grebe
this afternoon, she would think it very extraordinary that she was
not allowed to see him, but the secret of the beard must be
inviolate.

"He's not very well," she said.  "I doubt if he would see anybody
else to-day."

"And what's the matter exactly, chrie?" asked Elizabeth, oozing
with the tenderest curiosity.  Major Benjy, Lucia saw, had crept up
to the window too.  Lucia could not of course tell her that it was
shingles, for shingles and beard were wrapped up together in one
confidence.

"A nervous upset," she said firmly.  "Very much pulled down.  But
no cause for anxiety."

Lucia went on her way, and Elizabeth closed the window.

"There's something mysterious going on, Benjy," she said.  "Poor
dear Lucia's face had that guileless look which always means she's
playing hokey-pokey.  We shall have to find out what really is the
matter with Mr. Georgie.  But let's get on with the crossword till
luncheon: read out the next."

By one of those strange coincidences, which admit of no
explanation, Benjy read out:

"No. 3 down.  A disease, often seen on the seashore."


Georgie's move to Grebe was effected early that afternoon without
detection, for on Sunday, during the hour succeeding lunch, the
streets of Tilling were like a city of the dead.  With his head
well muffled up, so that not a hair of his beard could be seen, he
sat on the front seat to avoid draughts, and, since it was not
worth while packing all his belongings for so short a transit,
Foljambe sitting opposite him, was half buried under a loose
moraine of coats, sticks, paint-boxes, music, umbrellas, dressing-
gown, hot-water bottle and work-basket.

Hardly had they gone when Elizabeth, having solved the crossword
except No. 3 down, which continued to baffle her, set about solving
the mystery which, her trained sense assured her, existed, and she
rang up Mallards Cottage with the intention of congratulating
Georgie on being better, and of proposing to come in and read to
him.  Georgie's cook, who was going on holiday next day and had
been bidden to give nothing away, answered the call.  The personal
pronouns in this conversation were rather mixed as in the
correspondences between Queen Victoria and her Ministers of State.

"Could Mrs. Mapp-Flint speak to Mr. Pillson?"

"No, ma'am, she couldn't.  Impossible just now."

"Is Mrs. Mapp-Flint speaking to Foljambe?"

"No, ma'am, it's me.  Foljambe is out."

"Mrs. Mapp-Flint will call on Mr. Pillson about 4.30."

"Very good, ma'am, but I'm afraid Mr. Pillson won't be able to see
her."

The royal use of the third person was not producing much effect, so
Elizabeth changed her tactics, and became a commoner.  She was
usually an adept at worming news out of cooks and parlourmaids.

"Oh, I recognise your voice, cook," she said effusively.  "Good
afternoon.  No anxiety, I hope, about dear Mr. Georgie?"

"No, ma'am, not that I'm aware of."

"I suppose he's having a little nap after his lunch."

"I couldn't say, ma'am."

"Perhaps you'd be so very kind as just to peep, oh, so quietly,
into his sitting-room and give him my message, if he's not asleep."

"He's not in his sitting-room, ma'am."

Elizabeth rang off.  She was more convinced than ever that some
mystery was afoot, and her curiosity passed from tender oozings to
acute inflammation.  Her visit at 4.30 brought her no nearer the
solution, for Georgie's substantial cook blocked the doorway, and
said he was at home to nobody.  Benjy on his way back from golf met
with no better luck, nor did Diva on her way to evening church.
All these kind enquiries were telephoned to Georgie at Grebe:
Tilling was evidently beginning to seethe, and it must continue to
do so.

Lucia's household had been sworn to secrecy, and the two passed a
very pleasant evening.  They had a grand duet on the piano, and
discussed the amazing romance of Dame Catherine Winterglass who had
become enshrined in Lucia's mind as a shining example of a
conscientious woman of middle-age determined to make the world a
better place.

"Really, Georgie," she said, "I'm ashamed of having spent so many
years getting gradually a little richer without being a proper
steward of my money.  Money is a power, and I have been letting it
lie idle, instead of increasing it by leaps and bounds like that
wonderful Dame Catherine.  Think of the good she did!"

"You might decrease it by leaps and bounds if you mean to
speculate," observed Georgie.  "It's supposed to be the quickest
short-cut to the workhouse, isn't it?"

"Speculation?" said Lucia.  "I abhor it.  What I mean is studying
the markets, working at finance as I work at Aristophanes, using
one's brains, going carefully into all those prospectuses that are
sent one.  For instance, yesterday there was a strong recommendation
in the evening paper to buy shares in a West African mine called
Siriami, and this morning the City Editor of a Sunday paper gave the
same advice.  I collate those facts, Georgie.  I reason that there
are two very shrewd men recommending the same thing.  Naturally I
shall be very cautious at first, till I know the ropes, so to speak,
and shall rely largely on my broker's advice.  But I shall telegraph
to him first thing to-morrow to buy me five hundred Siriami.  Say
they go up only a shilling--I've worked it all out--I shall be
twenty-five pounds to the good."

"My dear, how beautiful!" said Georgie.  "What will you do with it
all?"

"Put it into something else, or put more into Siriami.  Dame
Catherine used to say that an intelligent and hard-working woman
can make money every day of her life.  She was often a bear.  I
must find out about being a bear."

"I know what that means," said Georgie.  "You sell shares you
haven't got in order to buy them cheaper afterwards."

Lucia looked startled.

"Are you sure about that?  I must tell my broker to be certain that
the man he buys my Siriami shares from has got them.  I shall
insist on that: no dealings with bears."

Georgie regarded his needlework.  It was a French design for a
chair back: a slim shepherdess in a green dress was standing among
her sheep.  The sheep were quite unmistakable but she insisted on
looking like a stick of asparagus.  He stroked the side of his
beard which was unaffected by shingles.

"Tarsome of her," he said.  "I must give her a hat or rip her
clothes off and make her pink."

"And if they went up two shillings I should make fifty pounds,"
said Lucia absently.

"Oh, those shares: how marvellous!" said Georgie.  "But isn't there
the risk of their going down instead?"

"My dear, the whole of life is a series of risks," said Lucia
sententiously.

"Yes, but why increase them?  I like to be comfortable, but as long
as I have all I want, I don't want anything more.  Of course I hope
you'll make tons of money, but I can't think what you'll do with
it."

"Aspett'un po', Georgino," said she.  "Why it's half-past ten.  The
invalid must go to bed."

"Half-past ten: is it really?" said Georgie.  "Why, I've been going
to bed at nine, because I was so bored with myself."


Next morning Tilling seethed furiously.  Georgie's cook had left
before the world was a-stir, and Elizabeth, setting out with her
basket about half-past ten to do her marketing in the High Street
observed that the red blinds in his sitting-room were still down.
That was very odd: Foljambe was usually there at eight, but
evidently she had not come yet: possibly she was ill, too.  That
distressing (but interesting) doubt was soon set at rest, for there
was Foljambe in the High Street looking very well.  Something might
be found out from her, and Elizabeth put on her most seductive
smile.

"Good morning, Foljambe," she said.  "And how is poor Mr. Georgie
to-day?"

Foljambe's face grew stony, as if she had seen the Gorgon.

"Getting on nicely, ma'am," she said.

"Oh, so glad!  I was almost afraid you were ill, too, as his
sitting-room blinds were down."

"Indeed, ma'am," said Foljambe, getting even more flintily
petrified.

"And will you tell him I shall ring him up soon to see if he'd like
me to look in?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Foljambe.

Elizabeth watched her go along the street, and noticed she did not
turn up in the direction of Mallards Cottage, but kept straight on.
Very mysterious: where could she be going?  Elizabeth thought of
following her, but her attention was diverted by seeing Diva pop
out of the hairdresser's establishment in that scarlet beret and
frock which made her look so like a round pillar-box.  She had
taken the plunge at last after tortures of indecision, and had had
her hair cropped quite close.  The right and scathing thing to do,
thought Elizabeth, was to seem not to notice any change in her
appearance.

"Such a lovely morning, isn't it, dear Diva, for January," she
said.  "Si doux.  Any news?"

Diva felt there was enough news on her own head to satisfy anybody
for one morning, and she wheeled so that Elizabeth should get a
back view of it, where the change was most remarkable.  "I've heard
none," she said.  "Oh, there's Major Benjy.  Going to catch the
tram, I suppose."

It was Elizabeth's turn to wheel.  There had been a coolness this
morning, for he had come down very late to breakfast, and had
ordered fresh tea and bacon with a grumpy air.  She would punish
him by being unaware of him. . . .  Then that wouldn't do, because
gossipy Diva would tell everybody they had had a quarrel, and back
she wheeled again.

"Quick, Benjy-boy," she called out to him, "or you'll miss the
tram.  Play beautifully, darling.  All those lovely mashies."

Lucia's motor drew up close to them opposite the post office.  She
had a telegraph form in her hand, and dropped it as she got out.
It bowed and fluttered in the breeze, and fell at Elizabeth's feet.
Her glance at it, as she picked it up, revealing the cryptic
sentence:  "Buy five hundred Siriami shares," was involuntary or
nearly so.

"Here you are, dear," she said.  "En route to see poor Mr.
Georgie?"

Lucia's eye fell on Diva's cropped head.

"Dear Diva, I like it immensely!" she said.  "Ten years younger."

Elizabeth remained profoundly unconscious.

"Well, I must be trotting," she said.  "Such a lot of commissions
for my Benjy.  So like a man, bless him, to go off and play golf,
leaving wifie to do all his jobs.  Such a scolding I shall get if I
forget any."

She plunged into the grocer's, and for the next half-hour, the
ladies of Tilling, popping in and out of shops, kept meeting on
doorsteps with small collision of their baskets, and hurried
glances at their contents.  Susan Wyse alone did not take part in
this ladies' chain, but remained in the Royce, and butcher and
baker and greengrocer and fishmonger had to come out and take her
orders through the window.  Elizabeth felt bitterly about this,
for, in view of the traffic, which would otherwise have become
congested, tradesmen ran out of their shops, leaving other
customers to wait, so that Susan's Royce might not be delayed.
Elizabeth had addressed a formal complaint about it to the Town
Council, and that conscientious body sent a reliable timekeeper in
plain clothes down to the High Street on three consecutive
mornings, to ascertain how long, on the average, Mrs. Wyse's car
stopped at each shop.  As the period worked out at a trifle over
twenty seconds they took the view that as the road was made for
vehicular traffic, she was making a legitimate use of it.  She
could hardly be expected to send the Royce to the parking place by
the Town Hall each time she stopped, for it would not nearly have
got there by the time she was ready for it again.  The rest of the
ladies, not being so busy as Elizabeth, did not mind these delays,
for Susan made such sumptuous orders that it gave you an appetite
to hear them: she had been known, even when she and Algernon had
been quite alone to command a hen-lobster, a pheasant, and a pt
de foie gras. . . .


Elizabeth soon finished her shopping (Benjy-boy had only asked her
to order him some shaving soap), and just as she reached her door,
she was astonished to see Diva coming rapidly towards her house
from the direction of Mallards Cottage, thirty yards away, and
making signs to her.  After the severity with which she had ignored
the Eton crop, it was clear that Diva must have something to say
which overscored her natural resentment.

"The most extraordinary thing," panted Diva as she got close, "Mr.
Georgie's blinds--"

"Oh, is his sitting-room blind still down?" asked Elizabeth.  "I
saw that an hour ago, but forgot to tell you.  Is that all, dear?"

"Nowhere near," said Diva.  "ALL his blinds are down.  Perhaps you
saw that too, but I don't believe you did."

Elizabeth was far too violently interested to pretend she had, and
the two hurried up the street and contemplated the front of
Mallards Cottage.  It was true.  The blinds of his dining-room, of
the small room by the door, of Georgie's bedroom, of the cook's
bedroom, were all drawn.

"And there's no smoke coming out of the chimneys," said Diva in an
awed whisper.  "Can he be dead?"

"Do not rush to such dreadful conclusions," said Elizabeth.  "Come
back to Mallards and let's talk it over."

But the more they talked, the less they could construct any theory
to fit the facts.  Lucia had been very cheerful, Foljambe had said
that Georgie was going on nicely, and even the two most ingenious
women in Tilling could not reconcile this with the darkened and
fireless house, unless he was suffering from some ailment which had
to be nursed in a cold, dark room.  Finally, when it was close on
lunch time, and it was obvious that Elizabeth was not going to
press Diva to stay, they made their thoughtful way to the front
door, still completely baffled.  Till now, so absorbed had they
been in the mystery, Diva had quite forgotten Elizabeth's
unconsciousness of her cropped head.  Now it occurred to her again.

"I've had my hair cut short this morning," she said.  "Didn't you
notice it?"

"Yes, dear, to be quite frank, since we are such old friends, I
did," said Elizabeth.  "But I thought it far kinder to say nothing
about it.  Far!"

"Ho!" said Diva, turning as red as her beret, and she trundled down
the hill.

Benjy came back very sleepy after his golf, and in a foul temper,
for the Padre, who always played with him morning and afternoon on
Monday, to recuperate after the stress of Sunday, had taken two
half-crowns off him, and he was intending to punish him by not
going to church next Sunday.  In this morose mood he took only the
faintest interest in what might or might not have happened to
Georgie.  Diva's theory seemed to have something to be said for it,
though it was odd that if he was dead, there should not have been
definite news by now.  Presently Elizabeth gave him a little
butterfly kiss on his forehead, to show she forgave him for his
unpunctuality at breakfast, and left him in the garden-room to have
a good snooze.  Before his good snooze he had a good swig at a
flask which he kept in a locked drawer of his business table.


Diva's theory was blown into smithereens next day, for Elizabeth
from her bedroom window observed Foljambe letting herself into
Mallards Cottage at eight o'clock, and a short stroll before
breakfast shewed her that blinds were up and chimneys smoking, and
the windows of Georgie's sitting-room opened for an airing.  Though
the mystery of yesterday had not been cleared up, normal routine
had been resumed, and Georgie could not be dead.


After his sad lapse yesterday Benjy was punctual for breakfast this
morning.  Half-past eight was not his best time, for during his
bachelor days he had been accustomed to get down about ten o'clock,
to shout "Quai-hai" to show he was ready for his food, and to
masticate it morosely in solitude.  Now all was changed: sometimes
he got as far as "Quai," but Elizabeth stopped her ears and said
"There is a bell, darling," in her most acid voice.  And concerning
half-past eight she was adamant: she had all her household duties
to attend to, and then after she had minutely inspected the larder,
she had her marketing to do.  Unlike him she was quite at her best
and brightest (which was saying a good deal) at this hour, and she
hailed his punctual advent to-day with extreme cordiality to show
him how pleased she was with him.

"Nice hot cup of tea for my Benjy," she said, "and dear me, what a
disappointment--no, not disappointment: that wouldn't be kind--but
what a surprise for poor Diva.  Blinds up, chimneys smoking at Mr.
Georgie's, and there was she yesterday suggesting he was dead.
Such a pessimist!  I shan't be able to resist teasing her about
it."

Benjy had entrenched himself behind the morning paper, propping it
up against the teapot and the maiden-hair fern which stood in the
centre of the table, and merely grunted.  Elizabeth, feeling
terribly girlish made a scratching noise against it, and then
looked over the top.

"Peep-o!" she said brightly.  "Oh, what a sleepy face!  Turn to the
City news, love, and see if you can find something called Siriami."

A pause.

"Yes: West African mine," he said.  "Got any, Liz?  Shares moved
sharply up yesterday: gained three shillings.  Oh, there's a note
about them.  Excellent report received from the mine."

"Dear me! how lovely for the shareholders, I wish I was one," said
Elizabeth with singular bitterness as she multiplied Lucia's five
hundred shares by three and divided them by twenty.  "And what
about my War Loan?"

"Down half a point."

"That's what comes of being patriotic," said Elizabeth, and went to
see her cook.  She had meant to have a roast pheasant for dinner
this evening, but in consequence of this drop in her capital,
decided on a rabbit.  It seemed most unfair that Lucia should have
made all that money (fifteen hundred shillings minus commission) by
just scribbling a telegram, and dropping it in the High Street.
Memories of a golden evening at Monte Carlo came back to her, when
she and Benjy returned to their pension after a daring hour in the
Casino with five hundred francs between them and in such a state of
reckless elation that he had an absinthe and she a vermouth before
dinner.  They had resolved never to tempt fortune again, but next
afternoon, Elizabeth having decided to sit in the garden and be
lazy while he went for a walk, they ran into each other at the
Casino, and an even happier result followed and there was more
absinthe and vermouth.  With these opulent recollections in her
mind she bethought herself, as she set off with her market-basket
for her shopping, of some little savings she had earmarked for the
expenses of a rainy day, illness or repair to the roof of Mallards.
It was almost a pity to keep them lying idle, when it was so easy
to add to them. . . .

Diva trundled swiftly towards her with Paddy, her great bouncing
Irish terrier, bursting with news, but Elizabeth got the first
word.

"All your gloomy anticipations about Mr. Georgie quite gone phut,
dear," she said.  "Chimneys smoking, blinds up--"

"Oh, Lord, yes," said Diva.  "I've been up to have a look already.
You needn't have got so excited about it.  And just fancy!  Lucia
bought some mining shares only yesterday, and she seems to have
made hundreds and hundreds of pounds.  She's telegraphing now to
buy some more.  What did she say the mine was?  Syrian Army, I
think."

Elizabeth made a little cooing noise, expressive of compassionate
amusement.

"I should think you probably mean Siriami, n'est ce pas?" she said.
"Siriami is a very famous gold mine somewhere in West Africa.  Mon
vieux was reading to me something about it in the paper this
morning.  But surely, dear, hundreds and hundreds of pounds is an
exaggeration?"

"Well, quite a lot, for she told me so herself," said Diva.  "I
declare it made my mouth water.  I've almost made up my mind to buy
some myself with a little money I've got lying idle.  Just a few."

"I wouldn't if I were you, dear," said Elizabeth earnestly.
"Gambling is such an insidious temptation.  Benjy and I learned
that at Monte Carlo."

"Well, you made something, didn't you?" asked Diva.

"Yes, but I should always discourage anyone who might not be strong-
minded enough to stop."

"I'd back the strength of my mind against yours any day," said
Diva.

A personal and psychological discussion might have ensued, but
Lucia at that moment came out of the post-office.  She held in her
hand a copy of the Financial Post.

"And have you bought some more Siriami?" asked Diva with a sort of
vicarious greed.

Lucia's eyes wore a concentrated though far-away expression as if
she was absorbed in some train of transcendent reasoning.  She gave
a little start as Diva spoke, and recalled herself to the High
Street.

"Yes: I've bought another little parcel of shares," she said.  "I
heard from my broker this morning, and he agrees with me that
they'll go higher.  I find his judgment is usually pretty sound."

"Diva's told me what a stroke of luck you've had," said Elizabeth.

Lucia smiled complacently.

"No, dear Elizabeth, not luck," she said.  "A little studying of
the world-situation, a little inductive reasoning.  The price of
gold, you know: I should be much surprised if the price of gold
didn't go higher yet.  Of course I may be wrong."

"I think you must be," said Diva.  "There are always twenty
shillings to the pound, aren't there?"

Lucia was not quite clear what was the answer to that.  Her
broker's letter, quite approving of a further purchase on the
strength of the favourable news from the mine, had contained
something about the price of gold, which evidently she had not
grasped.

"Too intricate to explain, dear Diva," she said indulgently.  "But
I should be very sorry to advise you to follow my example.  There
is a risk.  But I must be off and get back to Georgie."

The moment she had spoken she saw her mistake.  The only way of
putting it right was to take the street that led up to Mallards
Cottage and then get back to Grebe by a circuitous course, else
surely Elizabeth would get on Georgie's track.  Even as it was
Elizabeth watched her till she had disappeared up the correct
turning.

"So characteristic of the dear thing," she said, "making a lot of
money in Siriami, and then advising you not to touch it!  I
shouldn't the least wonder if she wants to get all the shares
herself and be created Dame Lucia Siriami.  And then her airs, as
if she was a great financier!  Her views of the world-situation!
Her broker who agrees with her about the rising price of gold!  Why
she hadn't the slightest idea what it meant, anyone could see that.
Diva, c'est trop!  I shall get on with my humble marketing instead
of buying parcels of gold."

But behind this irritation with Lucia, Elizabeth was burning with
the desire to yield to the insidious temptation of which she had
warned Diva, and buy some Siriami shares herself.  Diva might
suspect her design if she went straight into the post-office, and
so she crossed the street to the butcher's to get her rabbit.  Out
of the corner of her eye she saw Susan Wyse's car slowing up to
stop at the same shop, and so she stood firm and square in the
doorway, determined that that sycophantic vendor of flesh-food
should not sneak out to take Susan's order before she was served
herself, and that should take a long time.  She would spin the
rabbit out.

"Good morning, Mr. Worthington," she said in her most chatty
manner.  "I just looked in to see if you've got anything nice for
me to give the Major for his dinner to-night.  He'll be hungry
after his golfing."

"Some plump young pheasants, ma'am," said Mr. Worthington.  He was
short, but by standing on tiptoe he could see that Susan's car had
stopped opposite his shop, and that her large round face appeared
at the window.

"Well, that does sound good," said Elizabeth.  "But let me think.
Didn't I give him a pheasant a couple of days ago?"

"Excuse me, ma'am, one moment," said this harassed tradesman.
"There's Mrs. Wyse--"

Elizabeth spread herself a little in the doorway with her basket to
reinforce the barricade.  Another car had drawn up on the opposite
side of the street, and there was a nice congestion forming.
Susan's chauffeur was hooting to bring Mr. Worthington out and the
car behind him was hooting because it wanted to get by.

"You haven't got a wild duck, I suppose," said Elizabeth, gloating
on the situation.  "The Major likes a duck now and then."

"No ma'am.  Mallards, if you'll excuse me, is over."

More hoots and then an official voice.

"Move on, please," said the policeman on point duty to Susan's
chauffeur.  "There's a block behind you and nothing in front."

Elizabeth heard the purr of the Royce as it moved on, releasing the
traffic behind.  Half-turning she could see that it drew up twenty
yards further on and the chauffeur came back and waited outside the
doorway which she was blocking so efficiently.

"Not much choice then," said Elizabeth.  "You'd better send me up a
rabbit, Mr. Worthington.  Just a sweet little bunny, a young one
mind--"

"Brace of pheasants to Mrs. Wyse," shouted the chauffeur through
the window, despairing of getting in.

"Right-o," called Mr. Worthington.  "One rabbit then, ma'am; thank
you."

"Got such a thing as a woodcock?" called the chauffeur.

"Not fit to eat to-day," shouted Mr. Worthington.  "Couple of snipe
just come in."

"I'll go and ask."

"Oh, Mr. Worthington, why didn't you tell me you'd got a couple of
snipe?" said Elizabeth.  "Just what the Major likes.  Well, I
suppose they're promised now.  I'll take my bunny with me."

All this was cheerful work: she had trampled on Susan's self-
assumed right to hold up traffic till she lured butchers out into
the street to attend to her, and with her bunny in her basket she
crossed to the post-office again.  There was a row of little boxes
like mangers for those who wanted to write telegrams, and she took
one of these, putting her basket on the floor behind her.  As she
composed this momentous telegram for the purchase of three hundred
Siriami shares and the denuding of the rainy day fund, she heard a
mixed indefinable hubbub at her back and looking round saw that
Diva had come in with Paddy, and that Paddy had snatched bunny from
the basket, and was playing with him very prettily.  He tossed him
in the air, and lay down with a paw on each side of him, growling
in a menacing manner as he pretended to worry him.  Diva who had
gone to the counter opposite with a telegram in her hand was
commanding Paddy to drop it, but Paddy leaped up, squeezed himself
through the swing-door and mounted guard over his prey on the
pavement.  Elizabeth and Diva rushed out after him and by dint of
screaming "Trust, Paddy!" Diva induced her dog to drop bunny.

"So sorry, dear Elizabeth," she said, smoothing the rumpled fur.
"Not damaged at all, I think."

"If you imagine I'm going to eat a rabbit mangled by your
disgusting dog--" began Elizabeth.

"You shouldn't have left it lying on the floor," retorted Diva.
"Public place.  Not my fault."

Mr. Worthington came nimbly across the street, unaware that he was
entering a storm-centre.

"Mrs. Wyse doesn't need that couple of snipe, ma'am," he said to
Elizabeth.  "Shall I send them up to Mallards?"

"I'm surprised at your offering me Mrs. Wyse's leavings," said
Elizabeth.  "And charge the rabbit I bought just now to Mrs.
Plaistow."

"But I don't want a rabbit," said Diva.  "As soon eat rats."

"All I can say is that it's not mine," said Elizabeth.

Diva thought of something rather neat.

"Oh, well, it'll do for the kitchen," she said, putting it in her
basket.

"Diva dear, don't let your servants eat it," said Elizabeth.  "As
likely as not it would give them hydrophobia."

"Pooh!" said Diva.  "Bet another dog carried it when it was shot.
Oh, I forgot my telegram."

"I'll pick out a nice young plump one for you, ma'am, shall I?"
said Mr. Worthington to Elizabeth.

"Yes, and mind you only charge one to me."

The two ladies went back into the post-office with Paddy and the
rabbit to finish the business which had been interrupted by that
agitating scene on the pavement.  Elizabeth's handwriting was still
a little ragged with emotion when she handed her telegram in, and
it was not (except the address which had been written before) very
legible.  In fact the young lady could not be certain about it.

"Buy 'thin bunkered Simiawi' is it?" she asked.

"No, three hundred Siriami," said Elizabeth, and Diva heard.
Simultaneously Diva's young lady asked:  "Is it Siriami?" and
Elizabeth heard.  So both knew.

They walked back together very amicably as far as Diva's house,
quite resolved not to let a rabbit wreck or even threaten so long-
standing a friendship.  Indeed there was no cause for friction any
more, for Diva had no objection to an occasional rabbit for the
kitchen, and Elizabeth saw that her bunny was far the plumper of
the two.  As regards Siriami, Diva had a distinct handle against
her friend, in case of future emergencies, for she knew that
Elizabeth had solemnly warned her not to buy them and had done so
herself: she knew, too, how many Elizabeth had bought, in case she
swanked about her colossal holding, whereas nobody but the young
lady to whom she handed her telegram, knew how many she had bought.
So they both quite looked forward to meeting that afternoon for
Bridge at Susan Wyse's.

Marketing had begun early this morning, and though highly
sensational, had been brief.  Consequently, when Elizabeth turned
up the street towards Mallards, she met her Benjy just starting to
catch the eleven o'clock tram for the golf links.  He held a folded
piece of paper in his hand, which, when he saw her, he thrust into
his pocket.

"Well, boy o' mine, off to your game?" she asked.  "Look, such a
plump little bunny for dinner.  And news.  Lucia has become a great
financier.  She bought Siriami yesterday and again to-day."

Should she tell him she had bought Siriami too?  On the whole, not.
It was her own private rainy day fund she had raided, and if, by
some inscrutable savagery of Providence, the venture did not
prosper, it was better that he should not know.  If, on the other
hand, she made money, it was wise for a married woman to have a
little unbeknownst store tucked away.

"Dear me, that's a bit of luck for her, Liz," he said.

Elizabeth gave a gay little laugh.

"No, dear, you're quite wrong," she said.  "It's inductive
reasoning, it's study of the world-situation.  How pleasant for her
to have all the gifts.  Bye-bye."

She went into the garden-room, still feeling very sardonic about
Lucia's gifts, and wondering in an undercurrent why Benjy had
looked self-conscious.  She could always tell when he was self-
conscious, for instead of having a shifty eye, he had quite the
opposite kind of eye; he looked at her, as he had done just now,
with a sort of truculent innocence, as if challenging her to
suspect anything.  Then that piece of paper which he had thrust
into his pocket, linked itself up.  It was rather like a telegraph
form, and instantly she wondered if he had been buying Siriami,
too, out of his exiguous income.  Very wrong of him, if he had, and
most secretive of him not to have told her so.  Sometimes she felt
that he did not give her his full confidence, and that saddened
her.  Of course it was not actually proved yet that he had bought
Siriami, but cudgel her brains as she might, she could think of
nothing else that he could have been telegraphing about.  Then she
calculated afresh what she stood to win if Siriami went up another
three shillings, and sitting down on the hot water pipes in the
window which commanded so wide a prospect, she let her thoughts
stray back to Georgie.  Even as she looked out she saw Foljambe
emerge from his door, and without a shadow of doubt she locked it
after her.

The speed with which Elizabeth jumped up was in no way due to the
heat of the pipes.  A flood of conjectures simply swept her off
them.  Lucia had gone up to see Georgie less than half-an-hour ago,
so had Foljambe locked her and Georgie up together?  Or had
Foljambe (in case Lucia had already left) locked Georgie up alone
with his cook?  She hurried out for the second time that morning to
have a look at the front of the house.  All blinds were down.



CHAPTER III


Confidence was restored between the young couple at Mallards next
morning in a manner that the most ingenious could hardly have
anticipated.  Elizabeth heard Benjy go thumping downstairs a full
five minutes before breakfast time, and peeping out from her
bedroom door in high approval she called him a good laddie and told
him to begin without her.  Then suddenly she remembered something
and made the utmost haste to follow.  But she was afraid she would
be too late.

Benjy went straight to the dining-room, and there on the table with
the Times and Daily Mirror, were two copies of the Financial Post.
He had ordered one himself for the sake of fuller information about
Siriami, but what about the other?  It seemed unlikely that the
newsagent had sent up two copies when only one was ordered.  Then
hearing Elizabeth's foot on the stairs, he hastily sat down on one
copy, which was all he was responsible for, and she entered.

"Ah, my Financial Post," she said.  "I thought it would be amusing,
dear, just to see what was happening to Lucia's gold mine.  I take
such an interest in it for her sake."

She turned over the unfamiliar pages, and clapped her hands in
sympathetic delight.

"Oh, Benjy-boy, isn't that nice for her?" she cried.  "Siriami has
gone up another three shillings.  Quite a fortune!"

Benjy was just as pleased as Elizabeth, though he marvelled at the
joy that Lucia's enrichment had given her.

"No!  That's tremendous," he said.  "Very pleasant indeed."

"Lovely!" exclaimed Elizabeth.  "The dear thing!  And an article
about West African mines.  Most encouraging prospects, and
something about the price of gold: the man expects to see it higher
yet."

Elizabeth grew absorbed over this, and let her poached egg get
cold.

"I see what it means!" she said.  "The actual price of gold itself
is going up, just as if it was coals or tobacco, so of course the
gold they get out of the mine is worth more.  Poor muddle-headed
Diva, thinking that the number of shillings in a pound had
something to do with it!  And Diva will be pleased too.  I know she
bought some shares yesterday, after the rabbit, for she sent a
telegram, and the clerk asked if a word was Siriami."

"Did she indeed?" asked Benjy.  "How many?"

"I couldn't see.  Ring the bell, dear, and don't shout Quai-hai.
Withers has forgotten the pepper."

Exultant Benjy forgot about his copy of the Financial Post, on
which he was sitting, and disclosed it.

"What?  Another Financial Post?" cried Elizabeth.  "Did you order
one, too?  Oh, Benjy, make a clean breast of it.  Have you been
buying Siriami as well as Lucia and Diva?"

"Well, Liz, I had a hundred pounds lying idle.  And not such a bad
way of using them after all.  A hundred and fifty shares.  Three
times that in shillings.  Pretty good."

"Secretive one!" said Elizabeth.  "Naughty!"

Benjy had a brain-wave.

"And aren't you going to tell me how many you bought?" he asked.

Evidently it was no use denying the imputation.  Elizabeth
instinctively felt that he would not believe her, for her joy for
Lucia's sake must already have betrayed her.

"Three hundred," she said.  "Oh, what fun!  And what are we to do
next?  They think gold will go higher.  Benjy, I think I shall buy
some more.  What's the use of, say, a hundred pounds in War Loan
earning three pound ten a year?  I shouldn't miss three pound ten a
year. . . .  But I must get to my jobs.  Not sure that I won't
treat you to a woodcock to-night, if Susan allows me to have one."

In the growing excitement over Siriami, Elizabeth got quite
indifferent as to whether the blinds were up or down in the windows
of Georgie's house.  During the next week the shares continued to
rise, and morning after morning Benjy appeared with laudable
punctuality at breakfast, hungry for the Financial Post.  An
unprecedented extravagance infected both him and Elizabeth:
sometimes he took a motor out to the links, for what did a few
shillings matter when Siriami was raining so many on him, and
Elizabeth vied with Susan in luxurious viands for the table.
Bridge at threepence a hundred, which had till lately aroused the
wildest passions, failed to thrill, and next time the four
gamblers, the Mapp-Flints and Diva and Lucia, met for a game, they
all agreed to play double the ordinary stake, and even at that
enhanced figure a recklessness in declaration, hitherto unknown,
manifested itself.  They lingered over tea discussing gold and the
price of gold, the signification of which was now firmly grasped by
everybody, and there were frightful searchings of heart on the part
of the Mapp-Flints and Diva as to whether to sell out and realize
their gains, or to invest more in hopes of a further rise.  And
never had Lucia shewn herself more nauseatingly Olympian.  She
referred to her "few shares" when everybody knew she had bought
five hundred to begin with and had made one if not two more
purchases since, and she held forth as if she was a City Editor
herself.

"I was telephoning to my broker this morning," she began.

"What?  A trunk call?" interrupted Diva.  "Half-a-crown, isn't it?"

"Very likely: and put my view of the situation about gold before
him.  He agreed with me that the price of gold was very high
already, and that if, as I suggested, America might come off the
gold standard--however, that is a very complicated problem; and I
hope to hear from him to-morrow morning about it.  Then we had a
few words about English rails.  Undeniably there have been much
better traffic returns lately, and I am distinctly of the opinion
that one might do worse--"

Diva was looking haggard.  She ate hardly any chocolates, and had
already confessed that she was sleeping very badly.

"Don't talk to me about English rails," she said.  "The price of
gold is worrying enough."

Lucia spread her hands wide with a gesture of infinite capacity.

"You should enlarge your horizon, Diva," she said.  "You should
take a broad, calm view of world-conditions.  Look at the markets,
gold, industrials, rails as from a mountain height; get a panoramic
view.  My few shares in Siriami have certainly given me a
marvellous profit, and I am beginning to ask myself whether there
is not more chance of capital-appreciation, if you follow me,
elsewhere.  Silver, for instance, is rising--nothing to do with the
number of pennies in a shilling--one has to consider that.  I feel
very responsible, for Georgie has bought a little parcel--we call
it--of Siriami on my advice.  If one follows silver, I don't think
one could do better--and my broker agrees--than to buy a few Burma
Corporation.  I am thinking seriously of clearing out of Siriami,
and investing there.  Wonderfully interesting, is it not?"

"It's so interesting that it keeps me awake," said Diva.  "From one
o'clock to two this morning, I thought I would buy more, and from
six to seven I thought I would sell.  I don't know which to do."

Elizabeth rose.  Lucia's lecture was quite intolerable.  Evidently
she was constituting herself a central bureau for the dispensing of
financial instruction.  So characteristic of her: she must boss and
direct everybody.  There had been her musical parties at which all
Tilling was expected to sit in a dim light and listen to her and
Georgie play endless sonatas.  There had been her gymnastic class,
now happily defunct, for the preservation of suppleness and
slimness in middle-age, and when Contract Bridge came in she had
offered to hold classes in that.  True, she had been the first
cause of the enrichment of them all by the purchase of Siriami, but
no one could go on being grateful for ever, and Elizabeth's notable
independence of character revolted against the monstrous airs she
exhibited, and inwardly she determined that she would do exactly
the opposite of anything Lucia recommended.

"Thank you, dear," she said, "for all you've told us.  Most
interesting and instructive.  How wonderfully you've grasped it
all!  Now do you think we may go back to our Bridge before it gets
too late to begin another rubber?  And I declare I haven't asked
about notre pauvre ami, Mr. Georgie.  One hasn't seen him about
yet, though Foljambe always tells me he's much better.  And such
odd things happen at his house.  One day all his blinds will be
down, as if the house was empty, and the next there'll be Foljambe
coming at eight in the morning as usual."

"No!  What a strange thing!" said Lucia.

Diva managed to eat just one of those nougat chocolates of which
she generally emptied the dish.  It was lamentable how little
pleasure it gave her, and how little she was thrilled by the
mystery of those drawn blinds.

"I noticed that too," she said.  "But then I forgot all about it."

"Not before you suggested he was dead, dear," said Elizabeth.  "I
only hope Foljambe looks after him properly."

"I saw him this morning," said Lucia.  "He has everything he
wants."

The Bridge was of a character that a week ago would have aroused
the deepest emotions.  Diva and Lucia played against the family and
won three swift rubbers at these new dizzy points.  There were
neither vituperations between the vanquished nor crows of delight
from the victors, and though at the end Diva's scoring, as usual,
tallied with nobody's, she sacrificed a shilling without insisting
that the others should add up again.  There was no frenzy, there
was no sarcasm even when Benjy doubled his adversaries out or when
Elizabeth forgot he always played the club convention, and thought
he had some.  All was pale and passionless; the sense of the vast
financial adventures going on made it almost a matter of
indifference who won.  Occasionally, at the end of a hand Lucia
gave a short exposition of the psychic bid which had so flummoxed
her opponents, but nobody cared.

Diva spent the evening alone without appetite for her tray.  She
took Paddy out for his stroll observing without emotion that
someone, no doubt in allusion to him, had altered the notice of "No
Parking" outside her house to "No Barking."  It scarcely seemed
worth while to erase that piece of wretched bad taste, and as for
playing Patience to beguile the hour before bedtime, she could not
bother to lay the cards out, but sat in front of her fire re-
reading the City news in yesterday's and to-day's paper.  She
brooded over her note of purchase of Siriami shares: she made small
addition sums in pencil on her blotting-paper: the greed of gold
caused her to contemplate buying more: the instinct of prudence
prompted her to write a telegram to her broker to sell out her
entire holding.  "Which shall I do?  Oh, which shall I do?" she
muttered to herself.  Ten struck and eleven: it was long after her
usual bedtime on solitary evenings, and eventually she fell into a
doze.  From that she passed into deep sleep and woke with her fire
out and her clock on the stroke of midnight, but with her mind made
up.  "I shall sell two of my shares and keep the other three," she
said aloud.

For the first time for many nights she slept beautifully till she
was called, and woke fresh and eager for the day.  There on her
dressing-table lay the three half-crowns which she had taken from
Elizabeth the evening before.  They had seemed then but joyless and
negligible tokens; now they gleamed with their accustomed
splendour.  "And to think that I won all that without really
enjoying it," thought Diva, as she performed a few of those
salubrious flexes and jerks which Lucia had taught her.  Just
glancing at the Financial Post she saw that Siriami had gone up
another sixpence, but she did not falter in her prudent
determination to secure some part of her profits.

The same crisis which, for Diva, had sucked all the sweetness out
of life but supplied Lucia with grist for the Imitation of Dame
Catherine Winterglass.  Georgie, with a white pointed beard (that
clever Foljambe had trimmed it for him, as neatly as if she had
been a barber all her life) came down to breakfast for the first
time this morning, and pounced on the Financial Post.

"My dear, another sixpence up!" he exclaimed.  "What shall I do?"

Lucia already knew that: she had taken a swift glance at the paper
before he came down, and had replaced it as if undisturbed.  She
shook a finger at him.

"Now, Georgie, what about my rule that we have no business talk at
meals?  How are you?  That's much more important."

"Beautiful night," said Georgie, "except that I dreamt about a gold
mine and the bottom fell out of it, and all the ore slid down to
the centre of the earth."

"That will never do, Georgie.  You must not let money get on your
mind.  I'll attend to your interests when I get to work after
breakfast.  And are your face and neck better?"

"Terribly sore still.  I don't know when I shall be able to shave."

Lucia gave him a glance with head a little tilted, as if he was a
landscape she proposed to paint.  That neat beard gave character
and distinction to his face.  It hid his plump second chin and
concealed the slightly receding shape of the first: another week's
growth would give it a greater solidity.  There was something
Stuart-like, something Vandyckish about his face.  To be sure the
colour of his beard contrasted rather strangely with his auburn
hair and moustache, in which not the faintest hint of grey was
manifest, but that could be remedied.  It was not time, however, to
say anything about that yet.

"Don't think about it then," she said.  "And now for to-day.  I
really think you ought to get some air.  It's so mild and sunny.
Wrap up well and come for a drive with me before lunch."

"But they'll see me," said Georgie.

"Not if you lean well back till we're out of the town.  I shall
walk up there when I've gone into my affairs and yours, for I'm
sure to have a telegram to send, and the car shall take you and
Foljambe straight up to your house.  I shall join you, so that we
shall appear to be starting from there.  Now I must get to work.  I
see there's a letter from my broker."

Lucia's voice had assumed that firm tone which Georgie knew well to
betoken that she meant to have her way, and that all protest was
merely a waste of nervous force.  Off she went to the little room
once known as the library, but now more properly to be called the
Office.  This was an inviolable sanctuary: Grosvenor had orders
that she must never be disturbed there except under stress of some
great emergency, such as a trunk-call from London.  The table where
Lucia used to sit with her Greek and Latin dictionaries and the
plays of Aristophanes and the Odes of Horace with their English
translations was now swept clean of its classical lore, and a
ledger stood there, a bundle of prospectuses, some notes of
purchase and a clip of communications from her broker.  She opened
the letter she had received this morning, and read it with great
care.  The rise in gold (and in consequence in gold mines) he
thought had gone far enough and he repeated his suggestion that
home-rails and silver merited attention.  There lay the annual
report of Burma Corporation, and a very confusing document she
found it, for it dealt with rupees and annas instead of pounds and
shillings, and she did not know the value of an anna or what
relation it bore to a rupee: they might as well have been drachmas
and obols.  Then there was a statement about the earnings of the
Great Western Railway (Lucia had no idea how many people went by
train), and another about the Southern Railway shewing much
improved traffics.  Once more she referred to her broker's last two
letters, and then, with the dash and decision of Dame Catherine,
made up her mind.  She would sell out her entire holding in
Siriami, and Burma Corporation and Southern Rails Preferred should
enact a judgment of Solomon on the proceeds and each take half.
She felt that she was slighting that excellent line, the Great
Western, but it must get on without her support.  Then she wrote
out the necessary telegram to her broker, and touched the bell on
her table.  Grosvenor, according to orders, only opened the door an
inch or two, and Lucia sent for Georgie.

Like a client he pulled a high chair up to the table.

"Georgie, I've gone very carefully into the monetary situation,"
she said, "and I am selling all my Siriami.  As you and others in
Tilling followed me in your little purchases, I feel it my duty to
tell you all what I am doing."

Georgie gave a sigh of relief, as when a very rapid movement in a
piano duet came to an end.

"I shall sell, too, then," he said.  "I'm very glad.  I'm not up to
the excitement after my shingles.  It's been very pleasant because
I've made fifty pounds, but I've had enough.  Will you take a
telegram for me when you go?"

Lucia closed her ledger, put a paper-weight on her prospectuses,
and clipped Mammoncash's letter into its sheaf.

"I think--I say I think--that you're right, Georgie," she said.
"The situation is becoming too difficult for me to advise about,
and I am glad you have settled to clear out, so that I have no
further responsibility.  Now I shall walk up to Tilling--I find
these great decisions very stimulating--and a quarter of an hour
later, you will start in the car with Foljambe.  I think--I say I
think--that Mammoncash, my broker you know, telegraphic address,
will approve my decision."

As he had already strongly recommended this course, it was probable
he would do so, and Lucia walked briskly up to the High Street.
Then, seeing Benjy and Elizabeth hanging about outside the post-
office, she assumed a slower gait and a rapt, financial face.

"Bon jour, chrie," said Elizabeth, observing that she took two
telegrams out of her bag.  "Those sweet Siriamis.  Up another
sixpence."

Lucia seemed to recall her consciousness from an immense distance,
and broke the transition in Italian.

"Ah, si, si!  Buono piccolo Siriami! . . .  So glad, dear Elizabeth
and Major Benjy that my little pet has done well for you.  But I've
been puzzling over it this morning and I think the price of gold is
high enough.  That's my impression--"

Diva whizzed across the road from the greengrocer's.  All her zest
and brightness had come back to her.

"Such a relief to have made up my mind, Lucia," she said.  "I've
telegraphed to sell two-thirds of my Siriami shares, and I shall
keep the rest."

"Very likely you're right, dear," said Lucia.  "Very likely I'm
wrong, but I'm selling all my little portfolio of them."

Diva's sunny face clouded over.

"Oh, but that's terribly upsetting," she said.  "I wonder if I'm
too greedy.  Do tell me what you think."

Lucia had now come completely out of her remote financial
abstraction, and addressed the meeting.

"Far be it from me to advise anybody," she said.  "The monetary
situation is too complicated for me to take the responsibility.
But my broker admits--I must say I was flattered--that there is a
great deal to be said for my view, and since you all followed my
lead in your little purchases of Siriami, I feel bound to tell you
what I am doing to-day.  Not one share of Siriami am I keeping, and
I'm reinvesting the whole--I beg of you all NOT to consider this
advice in any way--in Burma Corporation and Southern Railway
Preferred, Prefs as we call them.  I have given some study to the
matter, and while I don't think anyone would go far wrong in buying
them, I should be sorry if any of you followed me blindly, without
going into the matter for yourselves--"

Elizabeth simply could not stand it a moment longer.

"Sweet of you to tell us, dear," she said, "but pray don't make
yourself uneasy about any responsibility for us.  My Benjy and I
have been studying too, and we've made up our minds to buy some
more Siriami.  So set your mind at ease."

Diva moaned.

"Oh, dear me!  Must begin thinking about it all over again," she
said, as Lucia, at this interruption from the meeting, went into
the post-office.

Elizabeth waited till the swing-door had shut.

"I'm more and more convinced," she said, "that the dear thing has
no more idea what she's talking about than when she makes psychic
bids.  I shall do the opposite of whatever she recommends."

"Most confusing," moaned Diva again.  "I wish I hadn't begun to
make money at all."

Elizabeth followed Lucia into the post-office, and Benjy went to
catch the tram, while Diva, with ploughed and furrowed face, walked
up and down the pavement in an agony of indecision as to whether to
follow Lucia's example and sell her three remaining shares or to
back Elizabeth and repurchase her two.

"Whatever I do is sure to be wrong," she thought to herself, and
then her attention was switched off finance altogether.  Along the
High Street came Lucia's motor.  Cadman turned to go up the street
leading to the church and Mallards Cottage, but had to back again
to let Susan's Royce come down.  Foljambe was sitting by her
husband on the box, and for an instant there appeared at the window
of the car the face of a man curiously like Georgie.  Yet it
couldn't be he, for he had a neat white beard.  Perhaps Lucia had a
friend staying with her, but, if so, it was very odd that nobody
had heard about him.  "Most extraordinary," thought Diva.  "Who can
it possibly be?"

She got no second glimpse for the head was withdrawn in a great
hurry, and Lucia came out of the post-office as calm as if she had
been buying a penny stamp instead of conducting these vast
operations.

"So that's done!" she said lightly, "and now I must go and see
whether I can persuade Georgie to come out for a drive."

"Your car has just gone by," said Diva.

"Tante grazie.  I must hurry."

Lucia went up to Mallards Cottage, and found Georgie had gone into
his house, for fear that Elizabeth might peer into the car if she
saw it standing there.

"And I was a little imprudent," he said, "for I simply couldn't
resist looking out as we turned up from the High Street to see what
was going on, and there was Diva standing quite close.  But I don't
think she could have recognised me."

In view of this contingency, however, the re-embarkation was
delayed for a few minutes, and then conducted with great caution.
This was lucky, for Diva had told Elizabeth of that puzzling
apparition at the window of the car, and Elizabeth, after a
brilliant and sarcastic suggestion that it was Mr. Montagu Norman
who had come down to consult Lucia as to the right policy of the
Bank of England in this world crisis, decided that the matter must
be looked into at once.  So the two ladies separated and Diva
hurried up to the Church Square in case the car left Georgie's
house by that route, while Elizabeth went up to Mallards, where,
from the window of the garden-room she could command the other road
of exit . . .  So, before Georgie entered the car again, Foljambe
reconnoitred this way and that, and came back with the alarming
intelligence that Diva was lurking in Church Square, and that
Elizabeth was in her usual lair behind the curtains.  Cadman and
Foljambe therefore stood as a screen on each side of Georgie's
doorstep while he, bending double, stole into the car.  They passed
under the window of the garden-room, and Lucia, leaning far forward
to conceal Georgie, kissed and waved her hand to the half-drawn
curtains to show Elizabeth that she was perfectly aware who was in
ambush behind them.

"That's thwarted them," she said, as she put down the window when
danger-points were passed.  "Poor Elizabeth couldn't have seen you,
and Diva may hide in Church Square till Doomsday.  Let's drive out
past the golf links along the road by the sea and let the breeze
blow away all these pettinesses."

She sighed.

"Georgie, how glad I am that I've taken up finance seriously," she
said.  "It gives me real work to do at last.  It's time I had some,
for I'm fifty next week.  Of course I shall give a birthday party,
and I shall have a cake with fifty-one candles on it, so as to
prepare me for my next birthday.  After all, it isn't the years
that give the measure of one's age, but energy and capacity for
enterprise.  Achievement.  Adventure."

"I'm sure you were as busy as any woman could be," said Georgie.

"Possibly, but about paltry things, scoring off Elizabeth when she
was pushing and that genus omne.  I shall give all that up.  I
shall dissociate myself from all the petty gossip of the place.  I
shall--"

"Oh, look," interrupted Georgie.  "There's Benjy playing golf with
the Padre.  There!  He missed the ball completely, and he's
stamping with rage."

"No!  So it is!" cried Lucia, wildly interested.  "Pull up a
minute, Cadman.  There now he's hit it again into a sandpit, and
the Padre's arguing with him.  I wonder what language he's
talking."

"That's the best of Tilling," cried Georgie enthusiastically,
throwing prudence to the sea-winds, and leaning out of the window.
"There's always something exciting going on.  If it isn't one thing
it's another, and very often both!"

Benjy dealt the sand-pit one or two frightful biffs and Lucia
suddenly remembered that she had done with such paltry trifles.

"Drive on, Cadman," she said.  "Georgie, I'm afraid Major Benjy's
nature has not been broadened and enriched by marriage.  Marriage,
one hoped, might have brought that about, but I don't see the
faintest sign of it.  Indeed I can't make up my mind about their
marriage at all.  They dab and stroke each other, and they're Benjy-
boy and Girlie, but is it more than lip-service and finger-tips?
Some women, I know, have had their greatest triumphs when youth was
long, long past: Diane de Poictiers was fifty, was she not, when
she became the King's mistress, but she was an enchantress, and you
could not reasonably call Elizabeth an enchantress.  Of course you
haven't seen them together yet, but you will at my birthday party."

Georgie gingerly fingered the portion of beard on the ailing side
of his face.

"Not much chance of it," he said.  "I don't suppose I shall get rid
of this by then.  Too tarsome."

Lucia looked at him again with a tilted head.

"Well, we shall see," she said.  "My dear, the sun glinting on the
sea!  Is that what Homer--or was it schylus?--meant by the
'numberless laughter of ocean?'  An immortal phrase."

"I shouldn't wonder if it was," said Georgie.  "But about Benjy and
Elizabeth.  I can't see how you could expect anybody to be
broadened and enriched by marrying Elizabeth.  Nor by marrying
Benjy for that matter."

"Perhaps I was too sanguine.  I hope they won't come to grief over
their speculations.  They're ignorant of the elements of finance.
I told them both this morning what I was going to do.  So they went
and did exactly the opposite."

"It's marvellous the way you've picked it up," said Georgie.  "I'm
fifty pounds richer by following your advice--"

"No, Georgie, not advice.  My lead, if you like."

"Lead then.  I'm not sure I shan't have another go."

"I wouldn't," said she.  "It began to get on your mind: you dreamed
about gold mines.  Don't get like Diva: she was wringing her hands
on the pavement in agony as to what she should do."

"But how can you help thinking about it?"

"I do think about it," she said, "but calmly, as if finance was a
science, which indeed it is.  I study, I draw my conclusions, I
act.  By the way, do you happen to know how much a rupee is worth?"

"No idea," said Georgie, "but not very much, I believe.  If you
have a great many of them, they make a lakh.  But I don't know how
many it takes, nor what a lakh is when they've made it."


No startling developments occurred during the next week.  Siriami
shares remained steady, but the continued strain so told on Diva
that, having bought seven more because the Mapp-Flints were making
further purchases she had a nervous crisis one morning when they
went down sixpence, sold her entire holding (ten shares) and with
the help of a few strychnine pills regained her impaired vitality.
But she watched with the intensest interest the movements of the
market, for once again, as so often before, a deadly duel was in
progress between Elizabeth and Lucia, but now it was waged as on
some vast battlefield consisting of railway lines running between
the shafts of gold mines.  Lucia, so to speak, on the footboard of
an engine on the Southern railway shrieked by, drawing a freight of
Burma Corporation, while Elizabeth put lumps of ore from Siriami on
the metals to wreck her train.  For Southern Railway Prefs began to
move: one morning they were one point up, another morning they were
three, and at Mallards the two chagrined operators snatched up
their copies of the Financial Post and ate with a poor appetite.
It was known all over Tilling that this fierce fight was in
progress, and when, next Sunday morning, the sermon was preached by
a missionary who had devoted himself to the enlightenment of the
heathen both in Burma and West Africa, Lucia, sitting among the
auxiliary choir on one side of the church and the Mapp-Flints on
the other seemed indeed to be the incarnations of those dark
countries.  Mr. Wyse, attending closely to the sermon thought that
was a most extraordinary coincidence: even missionary work in
foreign lands seemed to be drawn into the vortex.

Next morning on the breakfast table at Mallards was Lucia's
invitation to the Mapp-Flints to honour her with their presence at
dinner on Friday next, the occasion of her Jubilee.  Southern Prefs
had gone up again and Siriami down, but, so Elizabeth surmised,
"all Tilling" would be there, and if she and Benjy refused, which
seemed the proper way to record what they felt about it, all
Tilling would certainly conclude that they had not been asked.

"It's her WAYS that I find it so hard to bear," said Elizabeth,
cracking the top of her boiled egg with such violence that the
rather under-cooked contents streamed on to her plate.  "Her airs,
her arrogance.  Even if she says nothing about Siriami I shall know
she's pitying us for not having followed her lead, and buying those
wild-cat shares of hers.  What has Bohemian Corporation, or
whatever it is, been doing?  I didn't look."

"Up sixpence," said Benjy, gloomily.

Elizabeth moistened her lips.

"I suspected as much, and you see I was right.  But I suppose we
had better go to her Jubilee, and perhaps we shall learn something
of this mystery about Georgie.  I'm sure she's keeping something
dark: I feel it in my bones.  Women of a certain age are like that.
They know that they are getting on in years and have become
entirely unattractive, and so they make mysteries in order to
induce people to take an interest in them a little longer, poor
things.  There was that man with a beard whom Diva saw in her car;
there's a mystery which has never been cleared up.  Probably it was
her gardener, who has a beard, dressed up, and she hoped we might
think she had someone staying with her whom we were to know nothing
about.  Just a mystery."

"Well, she made no mystery about selling Siriami and buying those
blasted Prefs," said Benjy.

"My fault then, I suppose," said Elizabeth bitterly, applying the
pepper pot to the pool of egg on her plate, and scooping it up with
her spoon.  "I see: I ought to have followed Lucia's lead, and have
invested my money as she recommended.  And curtsied, and said
'Thank your gracious Majesty.'  Quite."

"I didn't say you ought to have done anything of the kind," said
Benjy.

Elizabeth had applied pepper with too lavish a hand, and had a
frightful fit of sneezing before she could make the obvious
rejoinder.

"No, but you implied it, Benjy, which, if anything, is worse," she
answered hoarsely.

"No I didn't.  No question of 'ought' about it.  But I wish to God
I had done as she suggested.  Southern Prefs have risen ten points
since she told us."

"We won't discuss it any further, please," said Elizabeth.


Everyone accepted the invitation to the Jubilee, and now Lucia
thought it time to put into action her scheme for getting Georgie
to make his re-entry into the world of Tilling.  He was quite
himself again save for the pointed white beard which Foljambe had
once more trimmed very skilfully, his cook was returning from her
holiday next day, and he would be going back to shut himself up in
his lonely little house until he could present his normal face to
his friends.  On that point he was immovable: nobody should see him
with a little white beard, for it would be the end of his jeune
premiership of Tilling: no jeune premier ever had a white beard,
however little.  And Dr. Dobbie had told him not to think of
"irritating the nerve-ends" with the razor until they were
incapable of resentment.  In another three weeks or so, Dr. Dobbie
thought.  This verdict depressed Georgie: there would be three
weeks more of skulking out in his motor, heavily camouflaged, and
of return to his dreary solitude in the evening.  He wanted to hear
the Padre mingle Irish with Scotch, he wanted to see Diva with her
Eton crop, he wanted to study the effect of matrimony on Mapp and
Flint, and what made him miss this daily bread the more was that
Lucia was very sparing in supplying him with it, for she was rather
strict in her inhuman resolve to have done with petty gossip.
Taken unawares, she could still manifest keen interest in seeing
Benjy hit a golf ball into a bunker, but she checked herself in an
annoying manner and became lofty again.  Probably her inhumanity
would wear off, but it was tarsome that when he so particularly
thirsted for local news, she should be so parsimonious with it.

However, they dined very comfortably that night, though she had
many far-away glances, as if at distant blue hills, which indicated
that she was thinking out some abstruse problem: Georgie supposed
it was some terrific financial operation of which she would not
speak at meals.  Then she appeared to have solved it, for the blue-
hill-look vanished, she riddled him with several gimlet-glances,
and suddenly gabbled about the modern quality of the Idylls of
Theocritus.  "Yet perhaps modern is the wrong word," she said.
"Let us call it the timeless quality, Georgie, senza tempo in fact.
It is characteristic, don't you think of all great artists: Vandyck
has it pre-eminently.  What timeless distinction his portraits
have!  His Lady Castlemaine, the Kroualle, Nell Gwynn--"

"But surely Vandyck was dead before their time," began Georgie.
"Charles I, you know, not Charles II."

"That may be so, possibly you are right," said Lucia with her
habitual shamelessness.  "But my proposition holds.  Vandyck is
timeless, he shows the dignity, the distinction which can be
realized in every age.  But I always maintain--I wonder if you will
agree with me--that his portraits of men are far, far finer than
his women.  More perception: I doubt if he ever understood women
really.  But his men!  That coloured print I have of his Gelasius
in the next room by the piano.  Marvellous!  Have you finished your
coffee?  Let us go."

Lucia strolled into the drawing-room, glanced at a book on the
table, and touched a few notes on the piano as if she had forgotten
all about Gelasius.

"Shall we give ourselves a holiday to-night, Georgie, and not
tackle that dwefful diffy Brahms?" she asked.  "I shall have to
practise my part before I am fit to play it with you.  Wonderful
Brahms!  As Pater says of something else, 'the soul with all its
maladies' has entered into his music."

She closed the piano, and casually pointed to a coloured print that
hung on the wall above it beside a false Chippendale mirror.

"Ah, there's the Gelasius I spoke of," she said.  "Rather a dark
corner.  I must find a worthier place for him."

Georgie came across to look at it.  Certainly it was a most
distinguished face: high eye-browed with a luxuriant crop of auburn
hair and a small pointed beard.  A man in early middle life,
perhaps forty at the most.  Georgie could not remember having
noticed it before, which indeed was not to be wondered at, since
Lucia had bought it that very afternoon.  She had seen the great
resemblance to Georgie, and her whole magnificent scheme had
flashed upon her.

"Dear me, what a striking face," he said.  "Stupid of me never to
have looked at it before."

Lucia made no answer, and turning, he saw that she was eagerly
glancing first at the picture and then at him, and then at the
picture again.  Then she sat down on the piano stool and clasped
her hands.

"Absolutely too straordinario," she said as if speaking to herself.

"What is?" asked Georgie.

"Caro, do not pretend to be so blind!  Why it's the image of you.
Take a good look at it, then move a step to the right and look at
yourself in the glass."

Georgie did as he was told, and a thrill of rapture tingled in him.
For years he had known (and lamented) that his first chin receded
and that a plump second chin was advancing from below, but now his
beard completely hid these blemishes.

"Well, I do see what you mean," he said.

"Who could help it?  Georgie, you ARE Gelasius, which I've always
considered Vandyck's masterpiece.  And it's your beard that has
done it.  Unified!  Harmonised!  And to think that you intend to
shut yourself up for three weeks more and then cut it off!  It's
murder.  Artistic murder!"

Georgie cast another look at Gelasius and then at himself.  All
these weeks he had taken only the briefest and most disgusted
glances into his looking-glass because of the horror of his beard,
and had been blind to what it had done for him.  He felt a sudden
stab of longing to be a permanent Gelasius, but there was one
frightful snag in the way, irrespective of the terribly shy-making
moment when he should reveal himself to Tilling so radically
altered.  The latter, with such added distinction to shew them, he
thought he could tone himself up to meet.  But--

"Well?" asked Lucia rather impatiently.  She had her part ready.

"What's so frightfully tarsome is that my beard's so grey that you
might call it white," he said.  "There's really not a grey hair on
my head or in my moustache, and the stupid thing has come out this
colour.  No colour at all, in fact.  Do you think it's because I'm
run down?"

Lucia pounced on this: it was a brilliant thought of Georgie's, and
made her part easier.

"Of course that's why," she said.  "As you get stronger, your beard
will certainly get its colour back.  Just a question of time.  I
think it's beginning already."

"But what am I to do till then?" asked Georgie.  "Such an odd
appearance."

She laughed.

"Fancy asking a woman that!" she said.  "Dye it, Georgino.
Temporarily of course, just anticipating Nature.  There's that
barber in Hastings you go to.  Drive over there to-morrow."

Actually, Georgie had got a big bottle upstairs of the precise
shade, and had been touching up with it this morning.  But Lucia's
suggestion of Hastings was most satisfactory.  It implied surely
that she had no cognizance of these hidden practices.

"I shouldn't quite like to do that," said he.

Lucia had by now developed her full horse-power in persuasiveness.
She could quite understand (knowing Georgie) why he intended to
shut himself up for another three weeks, sooner than shew himself
to Tilling with auburn hair and a white beard (and indeed, though
she personally had got used to it, he was a very odd object).
Everyone would draw the inevitable conclusion that he dyed his
hair, and though they knew it perfectly well already, the public
demonstration of that fact would be intolerable to him, for the
poor lamb evidently thought that this was a secret shared only by
his bottle of hair-dye.  Besides, she had now for over a fortnight
concealed him like some Royalist giving a hiding place to King
Charles, and while he had been there, she had not been able to ask
a single one of her friends to the house, for fear they should
catch a glimpse of him.  Her kindliness revolted at the thought of
his going back to his solitude, but she had had enough of his
undiluted company.  He had been a charming companion: she had even
admitted to herself that it would be pleasant to have him always
here, but not at the price of seeing nobody else. . . .  She opened
the throttle.

"But how perfectly unreasonable," she cried.  "Dyeing it is only a
temporary measure till it resumes its colour.  And the improvement!
My dear, I never saw such an improvement.  Diva's not in it!  And
how can you contemplate going back to solitary confinement, for
indeed it's that, for weeks and weeks more, and then at the end to
scrap it?  The distinction, Georgie, the dignity, and, to be quite
frank, the complete disappearance of your chin, which was the one
weak feature in your face.  And it's in your power to be a living
Vandyck masterpiece, and you're hesitating whether you shall madly
cast away, as the hymn says, that wonderful chance.  Hastings to-
morrow, directly after breakfast, I implore you.  It will be dry by
lunch-time, won't it?  Why, a woman with the prospect of improving
her appearance so colossally would be unable to sleep a wink to-
night from sheer joy.  Oh, amico mio," she said, lapsing into the
intimate dialect, "Oo will vex povera Lucia vewy, vewy much if you
shave off vostra bella barba.  Di grazia!  Georgie."

"Me must fink," said Georgie.  He left his chair and gazed once
more at Gelasius and then at himself, and wondered if he had the
nerve to appear without warning in High Street even if his beard
was auburn.

"I believe you're right," he said at length.  "Fancy all this
coming out of my shingles.  But it's a tremendous step to take . . .
Yes, I'll do it.  And I shall be able to come to your birthday
party after all."

"It wouldn't be a birthday party without you," said Lucia warmly.

Georgie's cook having returned, he went back to his own house after
the operation next morning.  He had taken a little hand-glass with
him to Hastings, and all the way home he had constantly consulted
it in order to get used to himself, for he felt as if a total
stranger with a seventeenth century face was sharing the car with
him, and his agitated consciousness suggested that anyone looking
at him at all closely would conclude that this lately discovered
Vandyck (like the Carlisle Holbein) was a very doubtful piece.  It
might be after Vandyck, but assuredly a very long way after.
Foljambe opened the door of Mallards Cottage to him, and she
considerably restored his shattered confidence.  For the moment her
jaw dropped, as if she had been knocked out, at the shock of this
transformation, but then she recovered completely, and beamed up at
him.

"Well, that is a pleasant change, sir," she said, "from your white
beard, if you'll pardon me," and Georgie hurried upstairs to get an
ampler view of himself in the big mirror in his bedroom than the
hand-glass afforded.  He then telephoned to Lucia to say that the
operation was safely over and she promised to come up directly
after lunch and behold.

The nerve-strain had tired him and so did the constant excursions
upstairs to get fresh impressions of himself.  Modern costume was a
handicap, but a very pretty little cape of his with fur round the
neck had a Gelasian effect, and when Lucia arrived he came down in
this.  She was all applause: she walked slowly round him to get
various points of view, ejaculating, "My DEAR, what an improvement,"
or "My dear, WHAT an improvement," to which Georgie replied, "Do you
really like it?" until her iteration finally convinced him that she
was sincere.  He settled to rest for the remainder of the day after
these fatigues, and to burst upon all Tilling at the marketing hour
next morning.

"And what do you seriously think they'll all think?" he asked.
"I'm terribly nervous as you may imagine.  It would be good of you
if you'd pop in to-morrow morning, and walk down with me.  I simply
couldn't pass underneath the garden-room window, with Elizabeth
looking out, alone."

"Ten forty-five, Georgie," she said.  "WHAT an improvement!"


The afternoon and evening dragged after she was gone.  It was
pleasant to see his bibelots again, but he missed Lucia's
companionship.  Intimate as they had been for many years, they had
never before had each other's undivided company for so long.  A
book, and a little conversation with Foljambe made dinner
tolerable, but after that she went home to her Cadman, and he was
alone.  He polished up the naughty snuffbox, he worked at his petit-
point shepherdess.  He had stripped her nakeder than Eve, and
replaced her green robe with pink, and now instead of looking like
a stick of asparagus she really might have been a young lady who,
for reasons of her own, preferred to tend her sheep with nothing
on; but he wanted to show her to somebody and he could hardly
discuss her with his cook.  Or a topic of interest occurred to him,
but there was no one to share it with, and he played beautifully on
his piano, but nobody congratulated him.  It was dreary work to be
alone, though no doubt he would get used to it again, and dreary to
go up to bed with no chattering on the stairs.  Often he used to
linger with Lucia at her bedroom door, finishing their talk, and
even go in with her by express invitation.  To-night he climbed up
stairs alone, and heard his cook snoring.

Lucia duly appeared next morning, and they set off under the guns
of the garden-room window.  Elizabeth was there as usual, and after
fixing on them for a moment her opera glass which she used for
important objects at a distance, she gave a squeal that caused
Benjy to drop the Financial Post which recorded the ruinous fall of
two shillings in Siriami.

"Mr. Georgie's got a beard," she cried, and hurried to get her hat
and basket and follow them down to the High Street.  Diva, looking
out of her window was the next to see him, and without the hint
Elizabeth had had of observing his exit from his own house quite
failed to recognise him at first.  She had to go through an
addition sum in circumstantial evidence before she arrived at his
identity: he was with Lucia, he was of his own height and build,
the rest of his face was the same and he had on the well-known
little cape with the fur collar.  Q.E.D.  She whistled to Pat, she
seized her basket, and taking a header into the street ran straight
into Elizabeth who was sprinting down from Mallards.

"He's come out.  Mr. Georgie.  A beard," she said.

Elizabeth was out of breath with her swift progress.

"Oh yes, dear," she panted.  "Didn't you know?  Fancy!  Where have
they gone?"

"Couldn't see.  Soon find them.  Come on."

Elizabeth, chagrined at not being able to announce the news to
Diva, instantly determined to take the opposite line, and not shew
the slightest interest in this prodigious transformation.

"But why this excitement, dear?" she said.  "I cannot think of
anything that matters less.  Why shouldn't Mr. Georgie have a
beard?  If you had one now--"

A Sinaitic trumpet-blast from Susan's Royce made them both leap on
to the pavement, as if playing Tom Tiddler's ground.

"But don't you remember--" began Diva almost before alighting--
"there we're safe--don't you remember the man with a white beard
whom I saw in Lucia's car?  Must be same man.  You said it was Mr.
Montagu Norman first and then Lucia's gardener disguised.  The one
we watched for, you at your window and me in Church Square."

"Grammar, dear Diva.  'I' not 'me'," interrupted Elizabeth to gain
time, while she plied her brain with crucial questions.  For if
Diva was right, and the man in Lucia's car had been Georgie (white
beard), he must have been driving back to Mallards Cottage in
Lucia's car from somewhere.  Could he have been living at Grebe all
the time while he pretended (or Lucia pretended for him) to have
been at home too ill to see anybody?  But if so, why, on some days,
had his house appeared to be inhabited, and on some days completely
deserted?  Certainly Georgie (auburn beard) had come out of it this
morning with Lucia.  Had they been staying with each other
alternately?  Had they been living in sin? . . .  Poor shallow Diva
had not the slightest perception of these deep and probably
grievous matters.  Her feather-pated mind could get no further that
the colour of beards.  Before Diva could frame an adequate reply to
this paltry grammatical point a positive eruption of thrills
occurred.  Lucia and Georgie came out of the post office, Paddy
engaged in a dog fight, and the Padre and Evie Bartlett emerged
from the side street opposite, and, as if shot from a catapult,
projected themselves across the road just in front of Susan's
motor.

"Oh, dear me, they'll be run over!" cried Diva.  "PADDY!  And there
are Mr. Georgie and Lucia.  What a lot of things are happening this
morning!"

"Diva, you're a little overwrought," said Elizabeth with kindly
serenity.  "What with white beards and brown beards and motor
accidents . . .  Oh, voil!  There's Susan actually got out of her
car, and she's almost running across the road to speak to Mr.
Georgie, and quaint Irene in shorts.  What a fuss!  For goodness
sake let's be dignified and go on with our shopping.  The whole
thing has been staged by Lucia, and I won't be a super."

"But I must go and say I'm glad he's better," said Diva.

"Certainement, dear, if you happen to think he's been ill.  I
believe it's all a hoax."

But she spoke to the empty air for Diva had thumped Paddy in the
ribs with her market-basket and was whizzing away to the group on
the pavement where Georgie was receiving general congratulations on
his recovery and his striking appearance.  The verdict was most
flattering, and long after his friends had gazed their fill he
continued to walk up and down the High Street and pop into shops
where he wanted nothing, in order that his epiphany which he had
been so nervous about, and which he found purely enjoyable, might
be manifest to all.  For a long time Elizabeth, determined to take
no part in a show which she was convinced was run by Lucia,
succeeded in avoiding him, but at last he ran her to earth in the
greengrocer's.  She examined the quality of the spinach till her
back ached, and then she had to turn round and face him.

"Lovely morning, isn't it, Mr. Georgie," she said.  "So pleased to
see you about again.  Sixpennyworth of spinach, please, Mr.
Twistevant.  Looks so good!" and she hurried out of the shop, still
unconscious of his beard.

"Tarsome woman," thought Georgie.  "If there is a fly anywhere
about she is sure to put it in somebody's ointment . . ."  But
there had been so much ointment on the subject that he really
didn't much mind about Elizabeth's fly.



CHAPTER IV


Elizabeth Mapp-Flint had schemes for her husband and meant to
realize them.  As a bachelor, with an inclination to booze and a
very limited income, inhabiting that small house next to Mallards,
it was up to him, if he chose, to spend the still robust energies
of his fifty-five years in playing golf all day and getting
slightly squiffy in the evening.  But his marriage had given him a
new status: he was master, though certainly not mistress, of the
best house in Tilling, he was, through her, a person of position,
and it was only right that he should have a share in municipal
government.  The elections to the Town Council were coming on
shortly, and she had made up her mind, and his for him, that he
must stand.  The fact that, if elected, he would make it his
business to get something done about Susan Wyse's motor causing a
congestion of traffic every morning in the High Street was not
really a leading motive.  Elizabeth craved for the local dignity
which his election would give not only to him but her, and if poor
Lucia (always pushing herself forward) happened to turn pea-green
with envy, that would be her misfortune and not Elizabeth's fault.
As yet the programme which he should present to the electors was
only being thought out, but municipal economy (Major Mapp-Flint and
Economy) with reduction of rates would be the ticket.

The night of Lucia's birthday party was succeeded by a day of
pelting rain, and, no golf being possible, Elizabeth, having sent
her cook (she had a mackintosh) to do the marketing for her, came
out to the garden-room after breakfast for a chat.  She always
knocked at the door, opening it a chink and saying, "May I come in,
Benjy-boy?" in order to remind him of her nobility in giving it
him.  To-day a rather gruff voice answered her, for economy had
certainly not been the ticket at Lucia's party, and there had been
a frightful profusion of viands and wine: really a very vulgar
display, and Benjy had eaten enormously and drunk far more wine
than was positively necessary for the quenching of thirst.  There
had been a little argument as they drove home, for he had insisted
that there were fifty-one candles round the cake and that it had
been a remarkably jolly evening: she said that there were only
fifty candles, and that it was a very mistaken sort of hospitality
which gave guests so much more than they wanted to eat or should
want to drink.  His lack of appetite at breakfast might prove that
he had had enough to eat the night before to last him some hours
yet, but his extraordinary consumption of tea could not be
explained on the same analogy.  But Elizabeth thought she had made
sufficient comment on that at breakfast (or tea as far as he was
concerned) and when she came in this morning for a chat, she had no
intention of rubbing it in.  The accusation, however, that he had
not been able to count correctly up to fifty or fifty-one, still
rankled in his mind, for it certainly implied a faintly camouflaged
connection with sherry, champagne, port and brandy.

"Such a pity, dear," she said brightly, "that it's so wet.  A round
of golf would have done you all the good in the world.  Blown the
cobwebs away."

To Benjy's disgruntled humour, this seemed an allusion to the old
subject, and he went straight to the point.

"There were fifty-one candles," he said.

"Cinquante, Benjy," she answered firmly.  "She is fifty.  She said
so.  So there must have been fifty."

"Fifty-one.  Candles I mean.  But what I've been thinking over is
that you've been thinking, if you follow me, that I couldn't count.
Very unjust.  Perhaps you'll say I saw a hundred next.  Seeing
double, eh?  And why should a round of golf do me all the good in
the world to-day?  Not more good than any other day, unless you
want me to get pneumonia."

Elizabeth sat down on the seat in the window as suddenly as if she
had been violently hit behind the knees, and put her handkerchief
up to her eyes to conceal the fact that there was not a vestige of
a tear there.  As he was facing towards the fire he did not
perceive this manoeuvre and thought she had only gone to the window
to make her usual morning observations.  He continued to brood over
the Financial Post, which contained the news that Siriami had been
weak and Southern Prefs remarkably strong.  These items were about
equally depressing.

Elizabeth was doubtful as to what to do next.  In the course of
their married life, there had been occasional squalls, and she had
tried sarcasm and vituperation with but small success.  Benjy-boy
had answered her back or sulked, and she was left with a sense of
imperfect mastery.  This policy of being hurt was a new one, and
since the first signal had not been noticed she hoisted a second
one and sniffed.

"Got a bit of a cold?" he asked pacifically.

No answer, and he turned round.

"Why, what's wrong?" he said.

"And there's a jolie chose to ask," said Elizabeth with strangled
shrillness.  "You tell me I want you to catch pneumonia, and then
ask what's wrong.  You wound me deeply."

"Well, I got annoyed with your nagging at me that I couldn't count.
You implied I was squiffy just because I had a jolly good dinner.
And there were fifty-one candles."

"It doesn't matter if there were fifty-one million," cried
Elizabeth.  "What matters is that you spoke to me very cruelly.  I
planned to make you so happy, Benjy, by giving up my best room to
you and all sorts of things, and all the reward I get is to be told
one day that I ought to have let Lucia lead me by the nose and
almost the next that I hoped you would die of pneumonia."

He came across to the window.

"Well, I didn't mean that," he said.  "You're sarcastic, too, at
times and say monstrously disagreeable things to me."

"Oh, that's a wicked lie," said Elizabeth violently.  "Never have I
spoken disagreeably to you.  Jamais!  Firmly sometimes, but always
for your good.  Toujours!  Never another thought in my head but
your true happiness."

Benjy was rather alarmed: hysterics seemed imminent.

"Yes, girlie, I know that," he said soothingly.  "Nothing the
matter?  Nothing wrong?"

She opened her mouth once or twice like a gasping fish, and
recovered her self-control.

"Nothing, dear, that I can tell you yet," she said.  "Don't ask me.
But never say I want you to get pneumonia again.  It hurt me
cruelly.  There!  All over!  Look, there's Mr. Georgie coming out
in this pelting rain.  Do you know, I like his beard, though I
couldn't tell him so, except for that odd sort of sheen on it, like
the colours on cold boiled beef.  But I daresay that'll pass off.
Oh, let's put up the window and ask him how many candles there
were . . .  Good morning, Mr. Georgie.  What a lovely, no,
disgusting morning, but what a lovely evening yesterday!  Do you
happen to know for certain how many candles there were on Lucia's
beautiful cake?"

"Yes, fifty-one," said Georgie, "though she's only fifty.  She put
an extra one, so that she may get used to being fifty-one before
she is."

"What a pretty idea!  So like her," said Elizabeth, and shut the
window again.

Benjy with great tact pretended not to have heard, for he had no
wish to bring back those hysterical symptoms.  A sensational
surmise as to the cause of them had dimly occurred to him, but
surely it was impossible.  So tranquillity being restored, they sat
together "ever so cosily," said Elizabeth, by the fire (which meant
that she appropriated his hip-bath chair and got nearly all the
heat) and began plotting out the campaign for the coming municipal
elections.

"Better just get quietly to work, love," said she, "and not say
much about it at first, for Lucia's sadly capable of standing, too,
if she knows you are."

"I'm afraid I told her last night," said Benjy.

"Oh, what a blabbing boy!  Well, it can't be helped now.  Let's
hope it'll put no jealous ambitions into her head.  Now, l'conomie
is the right slogan for you.  Anything more reckless than the way
the Corporation has been spending money I can't conceive.  Just as
if Tilling was Eldorado.  Think of pulling down all those pretty
little slums by the railway and building new houses!  Fearfully
expensive, and spoiling the town: taking all its quaintness away."

"And then there's that new road they're making that skirts the
town," said Benjy, "to relieve the congestion in the High Street."

"Just so," chimed in Elizabeth.  "They'd relieve it much more
effectually if they didn't allow Susan to park her car, positively
across the street, wherever she pleases, and as long as she
pleases.  It's throwing money about like that which sends up the
rates by leaps and bounds; why, they're nearly double of what they
were when I inherited Mallards from sweet Aunt Caroline.  And
nothing to shew for it except a road that nobody wants and some
ugly new houses instead of those picturesque old cottages.  They
may be a little damp, perhaps, but, after all, there was a dreadful
patch of damp in my bedroom last year, and I didn't ask the Town
Council to rebuild Mallards at the public expense.  And I'm told
all those new houses have got a bathroom in which the tenants will
probably keep poultry.  Then, they say, there are the unemployed.
Rubbish, Benjy!  There's plenty of work for everybody, only those
lazy fellows prefer the dole and idleness.  We've got to pinch and
squeeze so that the so-called poor may live in the lap of luxury.
If I didn't get a good let for Mallards every year we shouldn't be
able to live in it at all, and you may take that from me.  Economy!
That's the ticket!  Talk to them like that and you'll head the
poll."

A brilliant notion struck Benjy as he listened to this impassioned
speech.  Though he liked the idea of holding public office and of
the dignity it conferred, he knew that his golf would be much
curtailed by his canvassing, and, if he was elected, by his duties.
Moreover, he could not talk in that vivid and vitriolic manner. . . .

He jumped up.

"Upon my word, Liz, I wish you'd stand instead of me," he said.
"You've got the gift of the gab; you can put things clearly and
forcibly, and you've got it all at your fingers' ends.  Besides,
you're the owner of Mallards, and these rates and taxes press
harder on you than on me.  What do you say to that?"

The idea had never occurred to her before: she wondered why.  How
she would enjoy paying calls on all the numerous householders who
felt the burden of increasing rates, and securing their votes for
her programme of economy!  She saw herself triumphantly heading the
poll.  She saw herself sitting in the Council Room, the only woman
present, with sheaves of statistics to confute this spendthrift
policy.  Eloquence, compliments, processions to church on certain
official occasions, a status, a doctorial-looking gown, position,
power.  All these enticements beckoned her, and from on high, she
seemed to look down on poor Lucia as if at the bottom of a disused
well, fifty years old, playing duets with Georgie, and gabbling
away about all the Aristophanes she read and the callisthenics she
practised, and the principles of psychic bidding, and the advice
she gave her broker, while Councillor Mapp-Flint was as busy with
the interests of the Borough.  A lesson for the self-styled Queen
of Tilling.

"Really, dear," she said, "I hardly know what to say.  Such a new
idea to me, for all this was the future I planned for you, and how
I've lain awake at night thinking of it.  I must adjust my mind to
such a revolution of our plans.  But there is something in what you
suggest.  That house to house canvassing: perhaps a woman is more
suited to that than a man.  A cup of tea, you know, with the mother
and a peep at baby.  It's true again that as owner of Mallards, I
have a solider stake in property than you.  Dear me, yes, I begin
to see your point of view.  Sound, as a man's always is.  Then
again what you call the gift of the gab--such a rude expression--
perhaps forcible words do come more easily to me, and they'll be
needful indeed when it comes to fighting the spendthrifts.  But
first you would have to promise to help me, for you know how I
shall depend on you.  I hope my health will stand the strain, and
I'll gladly work myself to the bone in such a cause.  Better to
wear oneself out than rust in the scabbard."

"You're cut out for the job," said Benjy enthusiastically.  "As for
wearing yourself out, hubby won't permit that!"

Once more Elizabeth recalled her bright visions of power and the
reduction of rates.  The prospect was irresistible.

"I give you your way as usual, Benjy-boy," she said.  "How I spoil
you!  Such a bully!  What?  Dejeuner already, Withers?  Hasn't the
morning flown?"

The morning had flown with equal speed for Lucia.  She had gone to
her office after breakfast, the passage to which had now been laid
with india-rubber felting, so that no noise of footsteps outside
could distract her when she was engaged in financial operations.
This insured perfect tranquillity, unless it so happened that she
was urgently wanted, in which case Grosvenor's tap on the door
startled her very much since she had not heard her approach; this
risk, however, was now minimised because she had a telephone
extension to the office.  To-day there were entries to be made in
the ledger, for she had sold her Southern Prefs at a scandalous
profit, and there was a list of recommendations from that
intelligent Mammoncash for the re-investment of the capital
released.

She drew her chair up to the fire to study this.  High-priced
shares did not interest her much: you got so few for your money.
"The sort of thing I want," she thought, "is quantities of low-
priced shares, like those angelic Siriamis, which nearly doubled
their value in a few weeks," but the list contained nothing to
which Mammoncash thought this likely to happen.  He even suggested
that she might do worse than put half her capital into gilt-edged
stock.  He could not have made a duller suggestion: Dame Catherine
Winterglass, Lucia felt sure, would not have touched Government
Loans with the end of a barge-pole.  Then there was "London
Transport 'C.'"  Taking a long view, Mammoncash thought that
in a year's time there should be a considerable capital
appreciation. . . .

Lucia found her power of concentration slipping from her, and her
thoughts drifted away to her party last night.  She had observed
that Benjy had seldom any wine in his glass for more than a moment,
and that Elizabeth's eye was on him.  Though she had forsworn any
interest in such petty concerns, food for serious thought had
sprung out of this, for, getting expansive towards the end of
dinner, he had told her that he was standing for the Town Council.
He and Elizabeth both thought it was his duty.  "It'll mean a lot
of work," he said, "but thank God, I'm not afraid of that, and
something must be done to check this monstrous municipal
extravagance.  Less golf for me, Mrs. Lucas, but duty comes before
pleasure.  I shall hope to call on you before long and ask your
support."

Lucia had not taken much interest in this project at the time, but
now ideas began to bubble in her brain.  She need not consider the
idea of his being elected--for who in his senses could conceivably
vote for him?--and she found herself in violent opposition to the
programme of economy which he had indicated.  Exactly the contrary
policy recommended itself: more work must somehow be found for the
unemployed: the building of decent houses for the poor ought to be
quickened up.  There was urgent and serious work to be done, and,
as she gazed meditatively at the fire, personal and ambitious day-
dreams began to form themselves.  Surely there was a worthy career
here for an energetic and middle-aged widow.  Then the telephone
rang and she picked it off the table.  Georgie.

"Such a filthy day: no chance of its clearing," he said.  "Do come
and lunch and we'll play duets."

"Yes, Georgie, that will be lovely.  What about my party last
night?"

"Perfect.  And weren't they all astonished when I told them about
my shingles.  Major Benjy was a bit squiffy.  Doesn't get a chance
at home."

"I rather like to see people a little, just a little squiffy at my
expense," observed Lucia.  "It makes me feel I'm being a good
hostess.  Any news?"

"I passed there an hour ago," said Georgie, "and she suddenly threw
the window up and asked me how many candles there were on your
cake, and when I said there were fifty-one she banged it down again
quite sharply."

"No!  I wonder why she wanted to know that and didn't like it when
you told her," said Lucia, intrigued beyond measure, and forgetting
that such gossip could not be worth a moment's thought.

"Can't imagine.  I've been puzzling over it," said Georgie.

Lucia recollected her principles.

"Such a triviality in any case," she said, "whatever the
explanation may be.  I'll be with you at one-thirty.  And I've got
something very important to discuss with you.  Something quite new:
you can't guess."

"My dear, how exciting!  More money?"

"Probably less for all of us if it comes off," said Lucia
enigmatically.  "But I must get back to my affairs.  I rather
think, from my first glance at the report, that there ought to be
capital appreciation in Transport 'C'."

"Transport by sea?" asked Georgie.

"No, the other sort of sea.  A. B. C."

"Those tea-shops?" asked the intelligent Georgie.

"No, trams, buses, tubes."

She rang off, but the moment afterwards so brilliant an idea struck
her that she called him up again.

"Georgie: about the candles.  I'm sure I've got it.  Elizabeth
believed that there were fifty.  That's a clue for you."

She rang off again, and meditated furiously on the future.

Georgie ran to the door when Lucia arrived and opened it himself
before Foljambe could get there.

"--and Benjy said there were fifty-one and she thought he wasn't in
a state to count properly," he said all in one breath.  "Come in,
and tell me at once about the other important thing.  Lunch is
ready.  Is it about Benjy?"

Georgie at once perceived that Lucia was charged with weighty
matter.  She was rather overwhelming in these humours: sometimes he
wished he had a piece of green baize to throw over her as over a
canary, when it will not stop singing.  ("Foljambe, fetch Mrs.
Lucas's baize," he thought to himself.)

"Yes, indirectly about him, and directly about the elections to the
Town Council.  I think it's my duty to stand, Georgie, and when I
see my duty clearly, I do it.  Major Benjy is standing, you see; he
told me so last night, and he's all out for the reduction of rates
and taxes--"

"So am I," said Georgie.

Lucia laid down her knife and fork, and let her pheasant get cold
to Georgie's great annoyance.

"You won't be if you listen to me, my dear," she said.  "Rates and
taxes are high, it's true, but they ought to be ever so much higher
for the sake of the unemployed.  They must be given work, Georgie:
I know myself how demoralizing it is not to have work to do.
Before I embarked on my financial career, I was sinking into
lethargy.  It is the same with our poorer brethren.  That new road,
for instance.  It employs a fair number of men, who would otherwise
be idle and on the dole, but that's not nearly enough.  Work helps
everybody to maintain his--or her--self-respect: without work we
should all go to the dogs.  I should like to see that road doubled
in width and--well in width, and however useless it might appear to
be, the moral salvation of hundreds would have been secured by it.
Again, those slums by the railway: it's true that new houses are
being built to take the place of hovels which are a disgrace to any
Christian town.  But I demand a bigger programme.  Those slums
ought to be swept away, at once.  All of them.  The expense?  Who
cares?  We fortunate ones will bear it between us.  Here are we
living in the lap of luxury, and just round the corner, so to
speak, or, at any rate, at the bottom of the hill are those pig-
sties, where human beings are compelled to live.  No bathroom, I
believe; think of it, Georgie!  I feel as if I ought to give free
baths to anybody who cares to come and have one, only I suppose
Grosvenor would instantly leave.  The municipal building plans for
the year ought to be far more comprehensive.  That shall be my
ticket: spend, spend, spend.  I'm too selfish: I must work for
others, and I shall send in my name as standing for the Town
Council, and set about canvassing at once.  How does one canvass?"

"You go from house to house asking for support I suppose," said
Georgie.

"And you'll help me, of course.  I know I can rely on you."

"But I don't want rates to be any higher," said Georgie.  "Aren't
you going to eat any pheasant?"

Lucia took up her knife and fork.

"But just think, Georgie.  Here are you and I eating pheasant--
molto bene e bellissime cooked--in your lovely little house, and
then we shall play on your piano, and there are people in this dear
little Tilling who never eat a pheasant or play on a piano from
Christmas day to New Year's Day, I mean the other way round.  I
hope to live here for the rest of my days, and I have a duty
towards my neighbours."

Lucia had a duty towards the pheasant, too, and wolfed it down.
Her voice had now assumed the resonant tang of compulsion, and
Georgie, like the unfortunate victim of the Ancient Mariner "could
not choose but hear."

"Georgie, you and I--particularly I--are getting on in years, and
we shall not pass this way again.  (Is it Kingsley, dear?)  Anyhow
we must help poor little lame dogs over stiles.  Ickle you and me
have been spoiled.  We've always had all we wanted and we must do
ickle more for others.  I've got an insight into finance lately,
and I can see what a power money is, what one can do with it
unselfishly, like the wonderful Winterglass.  I want to live, just
for the few years that may still be left me, with a clear
conscience, quietly and peacefully--"

"But with Benjy standing in the opposite interest, won't there be a
bit of friction instead?" asked Georgie.

"Emphatically not, as far as I am concerned," said Lucia, firmly.
"I shall be just as cordial to them as ever--I say 'them', because
of course Elizabeth's at the bottom of his standing--and I give
them the credit of their policy of economy being just as sincere as
mine."

"Quite," said Georgie, "for if taxes were much higher, and if they
couldn't get a thumping good let for Mallards every year, I don't
suppose they would be able to live there.  Have to sell."

An involuntary gleam lit up Lucia's bird-like eyes, just as if a
thrush had seen a fat worm.  She instantly switched it off.

"Naturally I should be very sorry for them," she said, "if they had
to do that, but personal regrets can't affect my principles.  And
then, Georgie, more schemes seem to outline themselves.  Don't be
frightened: they will bring only me to the workhouse.  But they
want thinking out yet.  I seem to see--well, never mind.  Now let
us have our music.  Not a moment have I had for practice lately, so
you mustn't scold me.  Let us begin with deevy Beethoven's fifth
symphony.  Fate knocking at the door.  That's how I feel, as if
there was one clear call for me."

The window of Georgie's sitting-room, which looked out on to the
street, was close to the front door.  Lucia, as usual, had bagged
the treble part, for she said she could never manage that difficult
bass, omitting to add that the treble was far the more amusing to
play, and they were approaching the end of the first movement, when
Georgie, turning a page, saw a woman's figure standing on the
doorstep.

"It's Elizabeth," he whispered to Lucia.  "Under an umbrella.  And
the bell's out of order."

"Uno, due.  So much the better, she'll go away," said Lucia with a
word to each beat.

She didn't.  Georgie occasionally glancing up saw her still
standing there and presently the first movement came to an end.

"I'll tell Foljambe I'm engaged," said Georgie, stealing from his
seat.  "What can she want?  It's too late for lunch and too early
for tea."

It was too late for anything.  The knocker sounded briskly, and
before Georgie had time to give Foljambe this instruction, she
opened the door, exactly at the moment that he opened his sitting-
room door to tell her not to.

"Dear Mr. Georgie," said Elizabeth.  "So ashamed, but I've been
eavesdropping.  How I enjoyed listening to that lovely music.
Wouldn't have interrupted it for anything!"

Elizabeth adopted the motion she called "scriggling."  Almost
imperceptibly she squeezed and wriggled till she had got past
Foljambe, and had a clear view into George's sitting-room.

"Why!  There's dear Lucia," she said.  "Such a lovely party last
night, chrie: all Tilling talking about it.  But I know I'm
interrupting.  Duet wasn't it?  May I sit in a corner, mum as a
mouse, while you go on?  It would be such a treat.  That lovely
piece: I seem to know it so well.  I should never forgive myself if
I broke into it, besides losing such a pleasure.  Je vous prie!"

It was of course quite clear to the performers that Elizabeth had
come for some purpose beyond that of this treat, but she sank into
a chair by the fire, and assumed the Tilling musical face (Lucia's
patent) smiling wistfully, gazing at the ceiling, and supporting
her chin on her hand, as was the correct attitude for slow
movements.

So Georgie sat down again, and the slow movement went on its long
deliberate way, and Elizabeth was surfeited with her treat pages
before it was done.  Again and again she hoped it was finished, but
the same tune (rather like a hymn, she thought) was presented in
yet another aspect, till she knew it inside out and upside down: it
was like a stage army passing by, individually the same, but with
different helmets, or kilts instead of trousers.  At long last came
several loud thumps, and Lucia sighed and Georgie sighed, and
before she had time to sigh too, they were off again on the next
instalment.  This was much livelier and Elizabeth abandoned her
wistfulness for a mien of sprightly pleasure, and, in turn, for a
mien of scarcely concealed impatience.  It seemed odd that two
people should be so selfishly absorbed in that frightful noise as
to think that she had come in to hear them practise.  True, she had
urged them to give her a treat, but who could have supposed that
such a gargantuan feast was prepared for her?  Bang!  Bang!  Bang!
It was over and she got up.

"Lovely!" she said.  "Bach was always a favourite composer of mine.
Merci!  And such luck to have found you here, dear Lucia.  What do
you think I came to see Mr. Georgie about?  Guess!  I won't tease
you.  These coming elections to the Town Council.  Benjy-boy and I
both feel very strongly--I believe he mentioned it to you last
night--that something must be done to check the monstrous
extravagance that's going on.  Tout le monde is crippled by it: we
shall all be bankrupt if it continues.  We feel it our duty to
fight it."

Georgie was stroking his beard: this had already become a habit
with him in anxious moments.  There must be a disclosure now, and
Lucia must make it.  It was no use being chivalrous and doing so
himself: it was her business.  So he occupied himself with putting
on the rings he had taken off for fate knocking at the door and
stroked his beard again.

"Yes, Major Benjy told me something of his plans last night," said
Lucia, "and I take quite the opposite line.  Those slums, for
instance, ought to be swept away altogether, and new houses built
tutto presto."

"But such a vandalism, dear," said Elizabeth.  "So picturesque and,
I expect, so cosy.  As to our plans, there's been a little change
in them.  Benjy urged me so strongly that I yielded, and I'm
standing instead of him.  So I'm getting to work toute suite, and I
looked in to get promise of your support, monsieur, and then you
and I must convert dear Lucia."

The time had come.

"Dear Elizabeth," said Lucia very decisively, "you must give up all
idea of that.  I am standing for election myself on precisely the
opposite policy.  Cost what it may we must have no more slums and
no more unemployment in our beloved Tilling.  A Christian duty.
Georgie agrees."

"Well, in a sort of way--" began Georgie.

"Georgie, tuo buon' cuore agrees," said Lucia, fixing him with the
compulsion of her gimlet eye.  "You're enthusiastic about it
really."

Elizabeth ignored Lucia, and turned to him.

"Monsieur Georgie, it will be the ruin of us all," she said, "the
Town Council is behaving as I said  mon mari just now, as if
Tilling was Eldorado and the Rand."

"Georgie, you and I go to-morrow to see those cosy picturesque
hovels of which dear Elizabeth spoke," said Lucia, "and you will
feel more keenly than you do even now that they must be condemned.
You won't be able to sleep a wink at night if you feel you're
condoning their continuance.  Whole families sleeping in one room.
Filth, squalor, immorality, insanitation--"

In their growing enthusiasm both ladies dropped foreign tongues.

"Look in any time, Mr. Georgie," interrupted Elizabeth, "and let me
show you the figures of how the authorities are spending your money
and mine.  And that new road which nobody wants has already cost--"

"The unemployment here, Georgie," said Lucia, "would make angels
weep.  Strong young men willing and eager to get work, and
despairing of finding it, while you and dear Elizabeth and I are
living in ease and luxury in our beautiful houses."

Georgie was standing between these two impassioned ladies, with his
head turning rapidly this way and that, as if he was watching lawn
tennis.  At the same time he felt as if he was the ball that was
being slogged to and fro between these powerful players, and he was
mentally bruised and battered by their alternate intensity.
Luckily, this last violent drive of Lucia's diverted Elizabeth's
attack to her.

"Dear Lucia," she said.  "You, of course, as a comparatively new
resident in Tilling can't know very much about municipal
expenditure, but I should be only too glad to show you how rates
and taxes have been mounting up in the last ten years, owing to the
criminal extravagance of the authorities.  It would indeed be a
pleasure."

"I'm delighted to hear they've been mounting," said Lucia.  "I want
them to soar.  It's a matter of conscience to me that they should."

"Naughty and reckless of you," said Elizabeth, trembling a little.
"You've no idea how hardly it presses on some of us."

"We must shoulder the burden," said Lucia.  "We must make up our
minds to economise."

Elizabeth with that genial air which betokened undiluted acidity,
turned to Georgie, and abandoned principles for personalities,
which had become irresistible.

"Quite a coincidence, isn't it, Mr. Georgie," she said, "that the
moment Lucia heard that my Benjy-boy was to stand for the Town
Council, she determined to stand herself."

Lucia emitted the silvery laugh which betokened the most
exasperating and child-like amusement.

"Dear Elizabeth!" she said.  "How can you be so silly?"

"Did you say 'silly' dear?" asked Elizabeth, white to the lips.

Georgie intervened.

"O, dear me!" he said.  "Let's all have tea.  So much more
comfortable than talking about rates.  I know there are muffins."

They had both ceased to regard him now: instead of being driven
from one to the other, he lay like a ball out of court, while the
two advanced to the net with brandished rackets.

"Yes, dear, I said 'silly,' because you are silly," said Lucia, as
if she was patiently explaining something to a stupid child.  "You
certainly implied that my object in standing was to oppose Major
Benjy qua Major Benjy.  What made me determined to stand myself,
was that he advocated municipal economy.  It horrified me.  He woke
up my conscience, and I am most grateful to him.  Most.  And I
shall tell him so on the first opportunity.  Let me add that I
regard you both with the utmost cordiality and friendliness.
Should you be elected, which I hope and trust you won't, I shall be
the first to congratulate you."

Elizabeth put a finger to her forehead.

"Too difficult for me, I'm afraid," she said.  "Such niceties are
quite beyond my simple comprehension . . .  No tea for me, thanks,
Mr. Georgie, even with muffins.  I must be getting on with my
canvassing.  And thank you for your lovely music.  So refreshing.
Don't bother to see me out, but do look in some time and let me
show you my tables of figures."

She gave a hyena-smile to Lucia, and they saw her hurry past the
window, having quite forgotten to put up her umbrella, as if she
welcomed the cooling rain.  Lucia instantly and without direct
comment sat down at the piano again.

"Georgino, a little piece of celestial Mozartino, don't you think,
before tea?" she said.  "That will put us in tune again after those
discords.  Poor woman!"

The campaign began in earnest next day, and at once speculative
investments, Lucia's birthday party and George's beard were, as
topics of interest, as dead as Queen Anne.  The elections were
coming on very soon, and intensive indeed were the activities of
the two female candidates.  Lucia hardly set foot in her office,
letting Transport "C" pursue its upward path unregarded, and Benjy,
after brief, disgusted glances at the Financial Post, which gave
sad news of Siriami, took over his wife's household duties and went
shopping in the morning instead of her, with her market-basket on
his arm.  Both ladies made some small errors: Lucia, for instance,
exercised all her powers of charm on Twistevant the greengrocer,
and ordered unheard of quantities of forced mushrooms, only to
find, when she introduced the subject of her crusade and spoke of
those stinking (no less) pigsties where human beings were forced to
dwell, that he was the owner of several of them and much resented
her disparagement of his house property.  "They're very nice little
houses indeed, ma'am," he said, "and I should be happy to live
there myself.  I will send the mushrooms round at once. . . ."
Again, Elizabeth, seeing Susan's motor stopping the traffic (which
usually made her see red), loaded her with compliments on her sable
cloak (which had long been an object of derision to Tilling) and
made an appointment to come and have a cosy talk at six that
afternoon, carelessly oblivious of the fact that, a yard away,
Georgie was looking into the barber's window.  Hearing the
appointment made, he very properly told Lucia, who therefore went
to see Susan at exactly the hour named.  The two candidates sat and
talked to her, though not to each other, about everything else
under the sun for an hour and a half, each of them being determined
not to leave the other in possession of the field.  At half-past
seven Mr. Wyse joined them to remind Susan that she must go and
dress, and the candidates left together without having said a
single word about the election.  As soon as they had got outside
Elizabeth shot away up the hill, rocking like a ship over the
uneven cobbles of the street.  That seemed very like a "cut," and
when Lucia next day, in order to ascertain that for certain, met
the mistress of Mallards in the High Street and wished her good
morning, Elizabeth might have been a deaf mute.  They were both on
their way to canvass Diva, and crossed the road neck to neck, but
Lucia by a dexterous swerve established herself on Diva's doorstep
and rang the bell.  Diva was just going out with her market-basket,
and opened the door herself.

"Diva mia," said Lucia effusively, "I just popped in to ask you to
dine to-morrow: I'll send the car for you.  And have you two
minutes to spare now?"

"I'll look in presently, sweet Diva," called Elizabeth shrilly over
Lucia's shoulder.  "Just going to see the Padre."

Lucia hurried in and shut the door.

"May I telephone to the Padre?" she asked.  "I want to get him,
too, for to-morrow night.  Thanks.  I'll give you a penny in a
moment."

"Delighted to dine with you," said Diva, "but I warn you--"

"Tilling 23, please," said Lucia.  "Yes, Diva?"

"I warn you I'm not going to vote for you.  Can't afford to pay
higher rates.  Monstrous already."

"Diva, if you only saw the state of those houses--Oh, is that the
Padre?  I hope you and Evie will dine with me to-morrow.  Capital.
I'll send the car for you.  And may I pop in for a minute
presently? . . .  Oh, she's with you now, is she.  Would you ring
me up at Diva's then, the moment she goes?"

"It's a squeeze to make ends meet as it is," said Diva.  "Very
sorry for unemployed, and all that, but the new road is sheer
extravagance.  Money taken out of my pocket.  I shall vote for
Elizabeth.  Tell you frankly."

"But didn't you make a fortune over my tip about Siriamis?" asked
Lucia.

"That would be over-stating it.  It's no use your canvassing me.
Talk about something else.  Have you noticed any change, any real
change, in Elizabeth lately?"

"I don't think so," said Lucia thoughtfully.  "She was very much
herself the last time I had any talk with her at Georgie's a few
days ago.  She seemed to take it as a personal insult that anyone
but herself should stand for the Town Council, which is just what
one would expect.  Perhaps a shade more acid than usual, but
nothing to speak of."

"Oh, I don't mean that," said Diva, "No change there: I told you
about the rabbit, didn't I?"

"Yes, so characteristic," said Lucia.  "One hoped, of course, that
matrimony might improve her, mellow her, make a true woman of her,
but eagerly as I've looked out for any signs of it, I can't say--"

Lucia broke off, for a prodigious idea as to what might be in
Diva's mind had flashed upon her.

"Tell me what you mean," she said, boring with her eye into the
very centre of Diva's secret soul, "Not--not THAT?"

Diva nodded her head eight times with increasing emphasis.

"Yes, that," she said.

"But it can't be true!" cried Lucia.  "Quite impossible.  Tell me
precisely why you think so?"

"I don't see why it shouldn't be true," said Diva, "for I think
she's not more than forty-three, though of course it's more likely
that she's only trying to persuade herself of it.  She was in here
the other day.  Twilight.  She asked me what twilight sleep was.
Then hurriedly changed the subject and talked about the price of
soap.  Went back to subject again.  Said there were such pretty
dolls in the toy shop.  Had a mind to buy one.  It's odd her
talking like that.  May be something in it.  I shall keep an open
mind about it."

The two ladies had sat down on the window-seat, where the muslin
curtains concealed them from without, but did not obstruct from
them a very fair view of the High Street.  Their thrilling
conversation was now suddenly broken by the loud ringing, as of a
dinner-bell, not far away to the right.

"That's not the muffin-man," said Diva.  "Much too sonorous and the
town-crier has influenza, so it's neither of them.  I think there
are two bells, aren't there?  We shall soon see."

The bells sounded louder and louder, evidently there were two of
them, and a cortge (no less) came into view.  Quaint Irene led it.
She was dressed in her usual scarlet pullover and trousers, but on
her head she wore a large tin helmet, like Britannia on a penny,
and she rang her dinner-bell all the time, turning round and round
as she walked.  Behind her came four ragged girls eating buns and
carrying a huge canvas banner painted with an impressionist
portrait of Lucia, and a legend in gold letters "Vote for Mrs.
Lucas, the Friend of the Poor."  Behind them walked Lucy, Irene's
six-foot maid, ringing a second dinner-bell and chanting in a
baritone voice, "Bring out your dead."  She was followed by four
ragged boys, also eating buns, who carried another banner painted
with a hideous rendering of Elizabeth and a legend in black, "Down
with Mrs. Mapp-Flint, the Foe of the Poor."  The whole procession
was evidently enjoying itself prodigiously.

"Dear me, it's too kind of Irene," said Lucia in some agitation,
"but is it quite discreet?  What will people think?  I must ask her
to stop it."

She hurried out into the street.  The revolving Irene saw her, and,
halting her procession, ran to her.

"Darling, you've come in the nick of time," she said.  "Isn't it
noble?  Worth hundreds of votes to you.  We're going to march up
and down through all the streets for an hour, and then burn the
Mapp-Flint banner in front of Mallards.  Three cheers for Mrs.
Lucas, the Friend of the Poor!"

Three shrill cheers were given with splutterings of pieces of bun
and frenzied ringing of dinner-bells before Lucia could get a word
in.  It would have been ungracious not to acknowledge this very
gratifying enthusiasm, and she stood smiling and bowing on the
pavement.

"Irene, dear, most cordial and sweet of you," she began when the
cheers were done, "and what a charming picture of me, but--"

"And three groans for the Foe of the Poor," shouted Irene.

Precisely at that tumultuous moment Major Benjy came down one side-
street from Mallards on his marketing errands, and Elizabeth down
the next on her way from her canvassing errand to the Padre.  She
heard the cheers, she heard the groans, she saw the banners and the
monstrous cartoon of herself, and beckoned violently to her Benjy-
boy, who broke into a trot.

"The enemy in force," shrieked Irene.  "Run, children."

The procession fled down the High Street with bells ringing and
banners wobbling frightfully.  Major Benjy restrained an almost
overwhelming impulse to hurl his market-basket at Lucy, and he and
Elizabeth started in pursuit.  But there was a want of dignity
about such a race and no hope whatever of catching the children.
Already out of breath, they halted, the procession disappeared
round the far end of the street, and the clamour of dinner-bells
died away.

Shoppers and shop-keepers, post-office clerks, errand boys, cooks
and housemaids and private citizens had all come running out into
the street at the sound of the cheers and groans and dinner-bells,
windows had been thrown open, and heads leaned out of them, goggle-
eyed and open-mouthed.  Everyone cackled and chattered: it was like
the second act of The Meistersinger.  By degrees the excitement
died down, and the pulse of ordinary life, momentarily suspended,
began to beat again.  Cooks went back to their kitchens, housemaids
to their brooms, shop-keepers to their customers, and goggle-faces
were withdrawn and windows closed.  Major Benjy, unable to face
shopping just now, went to play golf instead, and there were left
standing on opposite pavements of the High Street the Friend of the
Poor and the Foe of the Poor, both of whom could face anything,
even each other.

Lucia did not know what in the world to do.  She was innocent of
all complicity in Irene's frightful demonstration in her favour,
except that mere good manners had caused her weakly to smile and
bow when she was cheered by four small girls, but nothing was more
certain than that Elizabeth would believe that she had got up the
whole thing.  But, intrepid to the marrow of her bones, she walked
across the street to where a similar intrepidity was standing.
Elizabeth fixed her with a steely glance, and then looked carefully
at a point some six inches above her head.

"I just popped across to assure you," said Lucia, "that I knew
nothing about what we have just seen until--well, until, I saw it."

Elizabeth cocked her head on one side, but remained looking at the
fixed point.

"I think I understand," she said, "you didn't see that pretty show
until you saw it.  Quite!  I take your word for it."

"And I saw it first when it came into the High Street," said Lucia.
"And I much regret it."

"I don't regret it in the least," said Elizabeth with shrill
animation.  "People, whoever they are, who demean themselves either
to plan or to execute such gross outrages only hurt themselves.  I
may be sorry for them, but otherwise they are nothing to me.  I do
not know of their existence.  Ils n'existent pas pour moi."

"Nor for me either," said Lucia, following the general sentiment
rather than the precise application, "Sono niente."

Then both ladies turned their backs on each other, as by some
perfectly executed movement in a ballet, and walked away in
opposite directions.  It was really the only thing to do.

Two days still remained before the poll, and these two remarkable
candidates redoubled (if possible) their activities.  Major Benjy
got no golf at all, for he accompanied his wife everywhere, and
Georgie formed a corresponding bodyguard for Lucia: in fact the
feuds of the Montagus and Capulets were but a faint historical
foreshadowing of this municipal contest.  The parties, even when
they met on narrow pavements in mean streets, were totally blind to
each other, and, pending the result, social life in Tilling was at
a standstill.  As dusk fell on the eve of the poll, Lucia and
Georgie, footsore with so much tramping on uneven cobblestones,
dragged themselves up the hill to Mallards Cottage for a final
checking of their visits and a reviving cup of tea.  They passed
below the windows of the garden-room, obscured by the gathering
darkness, and there, quite distinctly against the light within,
were the silhouettes of the enemy, and Elizabeth was drinking out
of a wineglass.  The silhouette of Benjy with a half-bottle of
champagne in his hand showed what the refreshment was.

"Poor Elizabeth, taken to drink," said Lucia, in tones of the
deepest pity.  "I always feared for Benjy's influence on her.
Tired as I am, Georgie--and I can't remember ever being really
tired before--have you ever known me tired?"

"Never!" said Georgie in a broken voice.

"Well, tired as I am, nothing would induce me to touch any sort of
stimulant.  Ah, how nice it will be to sit down."

Foljambe had tea ready for them and Lucia lay down full length on
Georgie's sofa.

"Very strong, please, Georgie," she said.  "Stir the teapot up
well.  No milk."

The rasping beverage rapidly revived Lucia; she drank two cups, the
first out of her saucer, then she took her feet off the sofa, and
the familiar gabbling timbre came back to her voice.

"Completely restored, Georgie, and we've got to think what will
happen next," she said.  "Elizabeth and I can't go on being totally
invisible to each other.  And what more can I do?  I definitely
told her that I had nothing to do with dear, loyal Irene's
exhibition, and she almost as definitely told me that she didn't
believe me.  About the election itself I feel very confident, but
if I get in at the top of the poll, and she is quite at the bottom,
which I think more than likely, she'll be worse than ever.  The
only thing that could placate her would be if she was elected and I
wasn't.  But there's not the slightest chance of that happening as
far as I can see.  I have a flair, as Elizabeth would say, about
such things.  All day I have felt a growing conviction that there
is a very large body of public opinion behind me.  I can feel the
pulse of the place."

Sheer weariness had made Georgie rather cross.

"I daresay Elizabeth feels precisely the same," he said,
"especially after her booze.  As for future plans, for goodness
sake let us wait till we see what the result is."

Lucia finished her tea.

"How right you are, Georgino," she said.  "Let us dismiss it all.
What about un po' di musica?"

"Yes, do play me something," said Georgie.  "But as to a duet, I
can't.  Impossible."

"Povero!" said Lucia.  "Is 'oo fatigato?  Then 'oo shall rest.
I'll be going back home, for I want two hours in my office.  I've
done hardly anything all this week.  Buon riposo."


The result of the poll was declared two mornings later with due
pomp and circumstance.  The votes had been counted in the committee
room of the King's Arms Hotel in the High Street, and thither at
noon came the Mayor and Corporation in procession from the Town
Hall clad in their civic robes and preceded by the mace-bearers.
The announcement was to be made from the first floor balcony
overlooking the High Street.  Traffic was suspended for the
ceremony and the roadway was solid with folk, for Tilling's
interest in the election, usually of the tepidest, had been vastly
stimulated by the mortal rivalry between the two lady candidates
and by Irene's riotous proceedings.  Lucia and Georgie had seats in
Diva's drawing-room window, for that would be a conspicuous place
from which to bow to the crowd: Elizabeth and Benjy were wedged
against the wall below, and that seemed a good omen.  The morning
was glorious, and in the blaze of the winter sun the scarlet gowns
of Councillors, and the great silver maces dazzled the eye as the
procession went into the hotel.

"Really a very splendid piece of pageantry," said Lucia, the palms
of whose hands, despite her strong conviction of success, were
slightly moist.  "Wonderful effect of colour, marvellous maces;
what a pity, Georgie, you did not bring your paint-box.  I have
always said that there is no more honourable and dignified office
in the kingdom than that of the Mayor of a borough.  The word
'mayor,' I believe, is the same as Major--poor Major Benjy."

"There's the list of the Mayors of Tilling from the fifteenth
century onwards painted up in the Town Hall," said Georgie.

"Really!  A dynasty indeed!" said Lucia.  Her fingers had begun to
tremble as if she was doing rapid shakes and trills on the piano.
"Look, there's Irene on the pavement opposite, smoking a pipe.  I
find that a false note.  I hope she won't make any fearful
demonstration when the names are read out, but I see she has got
her dinner-bell.  Has a woman ever been Mayor of Tilling, Diva?"

"Never," said Diva.  "Not likely either.  Here they come."

The mace-bearers emerged on to the balcony, and the mayor stepped
out between them and advanced to the railing.  In his hand he held
a drawing-board with a paper pinned to it.

"That must be the list," said Lucia in a cracked voice.

The town-crier (not Irene) rang his bell.

"Citizens of Tilling," he proclaimed.  "Silence for the Right
Worshipful the Mayor."

The Mayor bowed.  There were two vacancies to be filled, he said,
on the Town Council, and there were seven candidates.  He read the
list with the number of votes each candidate had polled.  The first
two had polled nearly three hundred votes each.  The next three,
all close together, had polled between a hundred and fifty and two
hundred votes.

"Number six," said the Mayor, "Mrs. Emmeline Lucas.  Thirty-nine
votes.  Equal with her, Mrs. Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, also thirty-nine
votes.  God save the King."

He bowed to the assembled crowd and, followed by the mace-bearers,
disappeared within.  Presently the procession emerged again, and
returned to the Town Hall.

"A most interesting ceremony, Diva.  Quite medival," said Lucia.
"I am very glad to have seen it.  We got a wonderful view of it."

The crowd had broken up when she and Georgie came out into the
street.

"That noble story of Disraeli's first speech in the House of
Commons," she began--



CHAPTER V


The cause that chiefly conduced to the reconciliation of these two
ultimate candidates was not Christian Charity so much as the fact
that their unhappy estrangement wrecked the social gaieties of
Tilling, for Georgie and Lucia would not meet Mallards and Mallards
would not meet Irene as long as it continued, and those pleasant
tea-parties for eight with sessions of Bridge before and after,
could not take place.  Again, both the protagonists found it
wearing to the optic nerve to do their morning's shopping with one
eye scouting for the approach of the enemy, upon which both eyes
were suddenly smitten with blindness.  On the other hand the
Padre's sermon the next Sunday morning, though composed with the
best intentions, perhaps retarded a reconciliation, for he preached
on the text, "Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren,
to dwell together in unity," and his allusions to the sad
dissensions which arose from the clash of ambitions, highly
honourable in themselves, were unmistakable.  Both protagonists
considered his discourse to be in the worst possible taste, and
Elizabeth entirely refused to recognise either him or Evie when
next they met, which was another wedge driven into Tilling.  But
inconvenience, dropping like perpetual water on a stone, eventually
wore down dignity, and when, some ten days after the election, the
market-baskets of Lucia and Elizabeth came into violent collision
at the door of the fishmonger's, Lucia was suddenly and
miraculously healed of her intermittent blindness.  "So sorry,
dear," she said, "quite my fault," and Elizabeth, remembering with
an effort that Lent was an appropriate season for self-humiliation,
said it was quite hers.  They chatted for several minutes, rather
carefully, with eager little smiles, and Diva who had observed this
interesting scene, raced up and down the street, to tell everybody
that an armistice at least had been signed.  So Bridge parties for
eight were resumed with more than their usual frequency, to make up
for lost time, and though Lucia had forsworn all such petty
occupations, her ingenuity soon found a formula, which justified
her in going to them much as usual.

"Yes, Georgie, I will come with pleasure this afternoon," she said,
"for the most industrious must have their remissions.  How
wonderfully Horace puts it:  'Non semper arcum tendit Apollo.'  I
would give anything to have known Horace.  Terse and witty and
wise.  Half-past three then.  Now I must hurry home, for my broker
will want to know what I think about a purchase of Imperial
Tobacco."

That, of course, was her way of putting it, but put it as you
liked, the fact remained that she had been making pots of money.
An Industrial boom was on, and by blindly following Mammoncash's
advice, Lucia was doing exceedingly well.  She was almost
frightened at the speed with which she had been growing richer, but
remembered the splendid career of great Dame Catherine Winterglass,
whose picture, cut out of an illustrated magazine, now stood framed
on the table in her office.  Dame Catherine had made a fortune by
her own skill in forecasting the trend of the markets; that was not
due to luck but to ability, and to be afraid of her own ability was
quite foreign to Lucia's nature.

The financial group at Mallards, Mapp & Flint, was not displaying
the same acumen, and one day it suffered a frightful shock.  There
had been a pleasant Bridge-party at Diva's, and Elizabeth shewed
how completely she had forgiven Lucia, by asking her counsel about
Siriami.  The price of the shares had been going down lately, like
an aneroid before a typhoon, and, as it dwindled, Elizabeth had
continued to buy.  What did Lucia think of this policy of
averaging?

Lucia supported her forehead on her hand in the attitude of
Shakespeare and Dame Catherine.

"Dear me, it is so long since I dealt in Siriami," she said.  "A
West African gold mine, I seem to recollect?  The price of gold
made me buy, I am sure.  I remember reasoning it out and concluding
that gold would go up.  There were favourable reports from the mine
too.  And why did I sell?  How you all work my poor brain!  Ah!
Eureka!  I thought I should have to tie up my capital for a long
time: my broker agreed with me, though I should say most decidedly
that it is a promising lock-up.  Siriami is still in the early
stage of development, you see, and no dividend can be expected for
a couple of years--"

"Hey, what's that?" asked Benjy.

"More than two years, do you think?" asked Lucia.  "I am rusty
about it.  Anyone who holds on, no doubt, will reap a golden reward
in time."

"But I shan't get any dividends for two years?" asked Elizabeth in
a hollow voice.

"Ah, pray don't trust my judgment," said Lucia.  "All I can say for
certain, is that I made some few pounds in the mine, and decided it
was too long a lock-up of my little capital."

Elizabeth felt slightly unwell.  Benjy had acquired a whisky and
soda and she took a sip of it without it even occurring to her that
he had no business to have it.

"Well, we must be off," she said, for though the reconciliation was
so recent, she felt it might be endangered if she listened to any
more of this swank.  "Thanks, dear, for your views.  All that four
shillings mine?  Fancy!"

It was raining hard when they left Diva's house, and they walked up
the narrow pavement to Mallards in single file, with a loud and
dismal tattoo drumming on their umbrellas, and streams of water
pouring from the ends of the ribs.  Arrived there, Elizabeth led
the way out to the garden-room and put her dripping umbrella in the
fender.  It had been wet all afternoon and before going to Diva's,
Benjy had smoked two cigars there.

"Of course, this is your room, dear," said Elizabeth, "and if you
prefer it to smell like a pothouse, it shall.  But would you mind
having the window open a chink for a moment, for unless you do, I
shall be suffocated."

She fanned herself with her handkerchief, and took two or three
long breaths of the brisker air.

"Thank you.  Refreshed," she said.  "And now we must talk Siriami.
I think Lucia might have told us about its not paying dividends
before, but don't let us blame her much.  It merely isn't the way
of some people to consider others--"

"She told you she was selling all the Siriami shares she held,"
said Benjy.

"If you've finished championing her, Benjy, perhaps you'll allow me
to go on.  I've put two thousand pounds into that hole in the
ground, for, as far as I can see, it's little more than that.  And
that means that for the next two years my income will be diminished
by seventy pounds."

"God bless me," ejaculated Benjy.  "I had no idea you had invested
so heavily in it."

"I believe a woman, even though married, is allowed to do what she
likes with her money," said Elizabeth bitterly.

"I never said she wasn't.  I only said that I didn't know it," said
Benjy.

"That was why I told you.  And the long and short of it is that we
had better let this house as soon as we can for as long as we can,
because we can't afford to live here."

"But supposing Mrs. Lucas is wrong about it?  I've known her wrong
before now--"

"So have I," interrupted Elizabeth, "usually, in fact: but we must
be prepared for her being right for once.  As it is, I've got to
let Mallards for three or four months in the year in order to live
in it at all.  I shall go to Woolgar & Pipstow's to-morrow and put
it in their hands, furnished (all our beautiful things!) for six
months.  Perhaps with option of a year."

"And where shall we go?" asked Benjy.

Elizabeth rose.

"Wherever we can.  One of those little houses, do you think, which
Lucia wanted to pull down.  And then, perhaps, as I told you,
there'll be another little mouth to feed, dear."

"I wish you would go to Dr. Dobbie and make sure," he said.

"And what would Dr. Dobbie tell me?  'Have a good rest before
dinner.'  Just what I'm going to do."

With the re-establishment of cordial relations between the two
leading ladies of Tilling, the tide of news in the mornings flowed
on an unimpeded course, instead of being held up in the eddies of
people who would speak to each other, and being blocked by those
who wouldn't, and though as yet there was nothing definite on the
subject to which Elizabeth and Benjy had thus briefly alluded,
there were hints, there were signs and indications that bore on it,
of the very highest significance.  The first remarkable occurrence
was that Major Benjy instead of going to play golf next morning,
according to his invariable custom, came shopping with Elizabeth,
as he had done when she was busy canvassing and carried his wife's
basket.  There was a solicitous, a tender air about the way he gave
her an arm as she mounted the two high steps into Twistevant's
shop.  Diva was the first to notice this strange phenomenon, and
naturally she stood rooted to the spot in amazement, intent on
further observation.  When they came out there was not the shadow
of doubt in her mind that Elizabeth had let out the old green skirt
that everyone knew so well.  It fell in much ampler folds than ever
before, and Diva vividly recollected that strange talk about dolls
and twilight sleep: how pregnant it seemed now, in every sense of
the word!  The two popped into another shop, and at the moment the
Padre and Evie debouched into the High Street, a few yards away,
and he went into the tobacconist's, leaving Evie outside.  Diva
uprooted herself with difficulty, hurried to her, and the two
ladies had a few whispered remarks together.  Then the Mapp-Flints
came out again, and retraced their way, followed by four eager
detective eyes.

"But no question whatever about the skirt," whispered Evie, "and
she has taken Major Benjy's arm again.  SO UNUSUAL.  What an event
if it's really going to happen!  Never such a thing before in our
circle.  She'll be quite a heroine.  There's Mr. Georgie.  What a
pity we can't tell him about it.  What beautiful clothes!"

Georgie had on his fur-trimmed cape and a new bright blue beret
which he wore a little sideways on his head.  He was coming towards
them with more than his usual briskness, and held his mouth
slightly open as if to speak the moment he got near enough.

"Fiddlesticks, Evie," said Diva.  "You don't expect that Mr.
Georgie, at his age, thinks they're found under gooseberry bushes.
Good morning, Mr. Georgie.  Have you seen Elizabeth--"

"Skirt," he interrupted.  "Yes, of course.  Three inches I should
think."

Evie gave a little horrified squeal at this modern lack of
reticence in talking to a gentleman who wasn't your husband, on
matters of such extreme delicacy, and took refuge in the
tobacconist's.

"And Major Benjy carrying her basket for her," said Diva.  "So it
must be true, unless she's deceiving him."

"Look, they've turned down Malleson Street," cried Georgie.
"That's where Dr. Dobbie lives."

"So do Woolgar & Pipstow," said Diva.

"But they wouldn't be thinking of letting Mallards as early as
March," objected Georgie.

"Well, it's not likely.  Must be the doctor's.  I'm beginning to
believe it.  At first when she talked to me about dolls and
twilight sleep, I thought she was only trying to make herself
interesting, instead of being so--"

"I never heard about dolls and twilight sleep," said Georgie, with
an ill-used air.

"Oh, here's Irene on her motor-bicycle, coming up from Malleson
Street," cried Diva.  "I wonder if she saw where they went.  What a
row she makes!  And so rash.  I thought she must have run into
Susan's Royce, and what a mess there would have been."

Irene, incessantly hooting, came thundering along the High Street,
with foul fumes pouring from the open exhaust.  She evidently
intended to pull up and talk to them, but miscalculated her speed.
To retard herself, she caught hold of Georgie's shoulder, and he
tittuped along, acting as a brake, till she came to a standstill.

"My life-preserver!" cried Irene fervently, as she dismounted.
"Georgie, I adore your beard.  Do you put it inside your bedclothes
or outside?  Let me come and see some night when you've gone to
bed.  Don't be alarmed, dear lamb, your sex protects you from any
frowardness on my part.  I was on my way to see Lucia.  There's
news.  Give me a nice dry kiss and I'll tell you."

"I couldn't think of it," said Georgie.  "What would everybody
say?"

"Dear old grandpa," said Irene.  "They'd say you were a bold and
brazen old man.  That would be a horrid lie.  You're a darling old
lady, and I love you.  What were we talking about?"

"You were talking great nonsense," said Georgie, pulling his cape
back over his shoulder.

"Yes, but do you know why?  I had a lovely idea.  I thought how
enlightening it would be to live a day backwards.  So when I got up
this morning, I began backwards as if it was the end of the day
instead of the beginning.  I had two pipes and a whisky and soda.
Then I had dinner backwards, beginning with toasted cheese, and I'm
slightly tipsy.  When I get home I shall have tea, and go out for a
walk and then have lunch, and shortly before going to bed I shall
have breakfast and then some salts.  Do you see the plan?  It gives
you a new view of life altogether; you see it all from a completely
different angle.  Oh, I was going to tell you the news.  I saw the
Mapp-Flints going into the house agent's.  She appeared not to see
me.  She hasn't seen me since dinner-bell day.  I hope you
understand about living backwards.  Let's all do it: one and all."

"My dear, it sounds too marvellous," said Georgie, "but I'm sure it
would upset me and I should only see it from the angle of being
sick. . . .  Diva, they were only going into Woolgar & Pipstow's."

Diva had trundled up to them.

"Not the doctor's, then," she said.  "I'm disappointed.  It would
have made it more conclusive."

"Made what more conclusive?" asked Irene.

"Well, it's thought that Elizabeth's expecting--" began Diva.

"You don't say so!" said Irene.  "Who's the co-respondent?
Georgie, you're blushing below your beard.  Roguey-poguey-Romeo!  I
saw you climbing up a rope-ladder into the garden-room when you
were supposed to be ill.  Juliet Mapp opened the window to you, and
you locked her in a passionate embrace.  I didn't want to get you
into trouble, so I didn't say anything about it, and now you've
gone and got her into trouble, you wicked old Romeo, hoots and
begorra.  I must be godmother, Georgie, and now I'm off to tell
Lucia."

Irene leapt on to her bicycle and disappeared in a cloud of
mephitic vapour in the direction of Grebe.


With the restoration of the free circulation of news, it was no
wonder that by the afternoon it was universally known that this
most interesting addition to the population of Tilling was
expected.  Neither of the two people most closely concerned spoke
of it directly, but indirectly their conduct soon proclaimed it
from the house-roofs.  Benjy went strutting about with his wife,
carrying her market-basket, obviously with the conscious pride of
approaching fatherhood, pretty to see; and when he went to play
golf, leaving her to do her marketing alone, Elizabeth, wreathed in
smiles, explained his absence in hints of which it was impossible
to miss the significance.

"I positively drove my Benjy-boy out to the links to-day," she said
to Diva.  "I insisted, though he was very loth to go.  But where's
the use of his hanging about?  Ah, there's quaint Irene: foolish of
me, but after her conduct at the elections, it agitates me a little
to see her, though I'm sure I forgive her with all my heart.  I'll
just pop into the grocer's."

Irene stormed by, and Elizabeth popped out again.

"And you may not have heard yet, dear," she continued, "that we
want to let our sweet Mallards for six months or a year.  Not that
I blame anybody but myself for that necessity.  Lucia perhaps might
have told me that Siriami would not be paying any dividends for a
couple of years, but she didn't.  That's all."

"But you were determined to do the opposite of whatever she
advised," said Diva.  "You told me so."

"No, you're wrong there," said Elizabeth, with some vehemence.  "I
never said that."

"But you did," cried Diva.  "You said that if she bought Siriami,
you would sell and versy-visa."

Instead of passionately denying this, Elizabeth gave a far-away
smile like Lucia's music smile over the slow movements of Sonatas.

"We won't argue about it, dear," she said.  "Have it all your own
way."

This suavity was most uncharacteristic of Elizabeth: was it a small
piece of corroborative evidence?

"Anyhow, I'm dreadfully sorry you're in low water," said Diva.
"Hope you'll get a good let.  Wish I could take Mallards myself."

"A little bigger than you're accustomed to, dear," said Elizabeth
with a touch of the old Eve.  "I don't think you'd be very
comfortable in it.  If I can't get a long let, I shall have to shut
it up and store my furniture, to avoid those monstrous rates, and
take a teeny-weeny house somewhere else.  For myself I don't seem
to mind at all, I shall be happy anywhere, but what really grieves
me is that my Benjy must give up his dear garden-room.  But as long
as we're together, what does it matter, and he's so brave and
tender about it . . .  Good morning, Mr. Georgie.  I've news for
you, which I hope you'll think is bad news."

Georgie had a momentary qualm that this was something sinister
about Foljambe, who had been very cross lately: there was no
pleasing her.

"I don't know why you should hope I should think it bad news," he
said.

"I shall tease you," said Elizabeth in a sprightly tone.  "Guess!
Somebody going away: that's a hint."

Georgie knew that if this meant Foljambe was going to leave, it was
highly unlikely that she should have told Elizabeth and not him,
but it gave him a fresh pang of apprehension.

"Oh, it's so tarsome to be teased," he said.  "What is it?"

"You're going to lose your neighbours.  Benjy and I have got to let
Mallards for a long, long time."

Georgie repressed a sigh of relief.

"Oh, I am sorry: that is bad news," he said cheerfully.  "Where are
you going?"

"Don't know yet.  Anywhere.  A great wrench, but there's so much to
be thankful for.  I must be getting home.  My boyikins will scold
me if I don't rest before lunch."


Somehow this combination of financial disaster and great
expectations raised Elizabeth to a high position of respect and
sympathy in the eyes of Tilling.  Lucia, Evie and Diva were all
childless, and though Susan Wyse had had a daughter by her first
marriage, Isabel Poppit was now such a Yahoo, living permanently in
an unplumbed shack among the sand-dunes, that she hardly counted as
a human being at all.  Even if she was one, she was born years
before her mother had come to settle here, and thus was no
Tillingite.  In consequence Elizabeth became a perfect heroine; she
was elderly (it was really remarkably appropriate that her name was
Elizabeth) and now she was going to wipe the eye of all these
childless ladies.  Then again her financial straits roused
commiseration: it was sad for her to turn out of the house she had
lived in for so long and her Aunt Caroline before her.  No doubt
she had been very imprudent, and somehow the image presented itself
of her and Benjy being caught like flies in the great web Lucia had
been spinning, in the centre of which she sat, sucking gold out of
the spoils entangled there.  The image was not accurate, for Lucia
had tried to shoo them out of her web, but the general impression
remained, and it manifested itself in little acts of homage to
Elizabeth at Bridge-parties and social gatherings, in care being
taken that she had a comfortable chair, that she was not sitting in
draughts, in warm congratulations if she won her rubbers and in
sympathy if she lost.  She was helped first and largely at dinner,
Susan Wyse constantly lent her the Royce for drives in the country,
so that she could get plenty of fresh air without undue fatigue,
and Evie Bartlett put a fat cushion in her place behind the choir
at church.  Already she had enjoyed precedence as a bride, but this
new precedence quite outshone so conventional a piece of etiquette.
Benjy partook of it too in a minor degree, for fatherhood was just
as rare in the Tilling circle as motherhood.  He could not look
down on Georgie's head, for Georgie was the taller, but he
straddled before the fire with legs wide apart and looked down on
the rest of him and on the entire persons of Mr. Wyse and the
Padre.  The former must have told his sister, the Contessa
Faraglione, who from time to time visited him in Tilling, of the
happy event impending, for she sent a message to Elizabeth of so
delicate a nature, about her own first confinement, that Mr. Wyse
had been totally unable to deliver it himself, and entrusted it to
his wife.  The Contessa also sent Elizabeth a large jar of Italian
honey, notable for its nutritious qualities.  As for the Padre, he
remembered with shame that he had suggested that a certain sentence
should be omitted from Elizabeth's marriage service, which she had
insisted should be read, and he made himself familiar with the form
for the Churching of Women.

But there were still some who doubted.  Quaint Irene was one, in
spite of her lewd observations to Georgie, in her coarse way she
offered to lay odds that she would have a baby before Elizabeth.
Lucia was another.  But one morning Georgie, coming out of Mallards
Cottage, had seen Dr. Dobbie's car standing at the door of
Mallards, and he had positively run down to the High Street to
disseminate this valuable piece of indirect evidence, and in
particular to tell Lucia.  But she was nowhere about, and, as it
was a beautiful day, and he was less busy than usual, having
finished his piece of petit point yesterday, he walked out to Grebe
to confront her with it.  Just now, being in the Office, she could
not be disturbed, as Grosvenor decided that a casual morning call
from an old friend could not rank as an urgency, and he sat down to
wait for her in the drawing-room.  It was impossible to play the
piano, for the sound, even with the soft pedal down, would have
penetrated into the Great Silence, but he found on the table a fat
volume called Health in the Home, and saw at once that he could
fill up his time very pleasantly with it.  He read about shingles
and decided that the author could never have come across as bad a
case as his own: he was reassured that the slight cough which had
troubled him lately was probably not incipient tuberculosis: he
made a note of calomel, for he felt pretty sure the Foljambe's
moroseness was due to liver, and she might be induced to take a
dose.  Then he became entirely absorbed in a chapter about mothers.
A woman, he read, often got mistaken ideas into her head: she would
sometimes think that she was going to have a baby, but would refuse
to see a doctor for fear of being told that she was not.  Then,
hearing Lucia's step on the stairs, he hastily tried to replace the
book on the table, but it slipped from his hand and lay open on the
carpet, and there was not time to pick it up before Lucia entered.
She said not a word, but sank down in a chair, closing her eyes.

"My dear, you're not ill, are you?" said Georgie.

Lucia kept her eyes shut.

"What time is it?" she asked in a hollow voice.

"Getting on for eleven.  You are all right, are you?"

Lucia spread out her arms as if measuring some large object.

"Perfectly.  But columns of figures, Georgie, and terrific
decisions to make, and now reaction has come.  I've been
telephoning to London.  I may be called up any moment.  Divert my
mind, while I relax.  Any news?"

"I came down on purpose to tell you," said Georgie, "and perhaps
even you will be convinced now.  Dr. Dobbie's car was waiting
outside Mallards this morning."

"No!" said Lucia, opening her eyes and becoming extremely brisk and
judicial.  "That does look more like business.  But still I can't
say that I'm convinced.  You see, finance makes one look at all
possible sides of a situation.  Consider.  No doubt, it was the
doctor's car: I don't dispute that.  But Major Benjy may have had
an upset.  Elizabeth may have fallen downstairs, though I'm sure I
hope she hasn't.  Her cook may have mumps.  Lots of things.  No,
Georgie, if the putative baby was an industrial share--I put it
badly--I wouldn't touch it."

She pointed at the book on the floor.

"I see what that book is," she said, "and I feel sure you've been
reading about it.  So have I.  A rather interesting chapter about
the delusions and fancies of middle-aged women lately married.
Sometimes, so it said, they do not even believe themselves, but are
only acting a kind of charade.  Elizabeth must have had great fun,
supposing she has been merely acting, getting her Benjy-boy and you
and others to believe her, and being made much of."

Lucia cocked her head thinking she heard the telephone.  But it was
only a womanly fancy of her own.

"Poor dear," she said.  "I am afraid her desire to have a baby may
have led her to deceive others and perhaps herself, and then of
course she liked being petted and exalted and admired.  You must
all be very kind and oblivious when the day comes that she has to
give it up.  No more twilight sleep or wanting to buy dolls or
having the old green skirt let out--Ah, there's the telephone.
Wait for me, will you, for I have something more to say."

Lucia hurried out, and Georgie, after another glance at the medical
book applied his mind to the psychological aspect of the situation.
Lucia had doubtless written under the growing ascendency of
Elizabeth.  She knew about the Contessa's honey, she had seen how
Elizabeth was cossetted and helped first and listened to with
deference, however abject her utterance, and she could not have
liked the secondary place which the sentiment of Tilling assigned
to herself.  She was a widow of fifty, and Elizabeth in virtue of
her approaching motherhood, had really become of the next
generation, whose future lies before them.  Everyone had let Lucia
pass into eclipse.  Elizabeth was the great figure, and was the
more heroic because she was obliged to let the ancestral home of
her Aunt.  Then there was the late election: it must have been
bitter to Lucia to be at the bottom of the poll and obtain just the
same number of votes as Elizabeth.  All this explained her
incredulity . . .  Then once more her step sounded on the stairs.

"All gone well?" asked Georgie.

"Molto bene.  I convinced my broker that mine was the most likely
view.  Now about poor Elizabeth.  You must all be kind to her, I
was saying.  There is, I am convinced, an awful anti-climax in
front of her.  We must help her past it.  Then her monetary losses:
I really am much distressed about them.  But what can you expect
when a woman with no financial experience goes wildly gambling in
gold mines of which she knows nothing, and thinks she knows better
than anybody?  Asking for trouble.  But I've made a plan, Georgie,
which I think will pull her out of the dreadful hole in which she
now finds herself.  That house of hers, Mallards.  Not a bad house.
I am going to offer to take it off her hands altogether, to buy the
freehold."

"I think she only wants to let it furnished for a year if she can,"
said Georgie, "otherwise she means to shut it up."

"Well, listen."

Lucia ticked off her points with a finger of one hand on the
fingers of the other.

"Uno.  Naturally I can't lease it from her as it is, furnished with
mangy tiger-skins, and hip baths for chairs and Polynesian aprons
on the walls and a piano that belonged to her grandmother.
Impossible."

"Quite," said Georgie.

"Due.  The house wants a thorough doing up from top to bottom.  I
suspect dry rot.  Mice and mildewed wallpaper and dingy paint, I
know.  And the drains must be overhauled.  I don't suppose they've
been looked at for centuries.  I shall not dream of asking her to
put it in order."

"That sounds very generous so far," said Georgie.

"That is what it is intended to be.  Tre.  I will take over from
her the freehold of Mallards and hand to her the freehold of Grebe
with a cheque for two thousand pounds, for I understand that is
what she has sunk in her reckless speculations.  If she accepts,
she will step into this house all in apple-pie order and leave me
with one which it will really cost a little fortune to make
habitable.  But I think I OUGHT to do it, Georgie.  The law of
kindness.  Che pensate?"

Georgie knew that it had long been the dream of Lucia's life to get
Mallards for her own, but the transaction, stated in this manner,
wore the aspect of the most disinterested philanthropy.  She was
evidently persuaded that it was, for she was so touched by the
recital of her own generosity that the black bird-like brightness
of her eyes was dimmed with moisture.

"We are all here to help each other, Georgie," she continued, "and
I consider it a Providential privilege to be able to give Elizabeth
a hand out of this trouble.  There is other trouble in front of
her, when she realizes how she has been deceiving others, and, as I
say, perhaps herself, and it will make it easier for her if she has
no longer this money worry and the prospect of living in some
miserable little house.  Irene burst into tears when I told her
what I was going to do.  So emotional."

Georgie did not cry, for this Providential privilege of helping
others, even at so great an expense, would give Lucia just what she
wanted most.  That consideration dried up, at its source, any real
tendency to tears.

"Well, I think she ought to be very grateful to you," he said.

"No, Georgie, I don't expect that; Elizabeth may not appreciate the
benevolence of my intentions, and I shall be the last to point them
out.  Now let us walk up to the town.  The nature of Dr. Dobbie's
visit to Mallards will probably be known by now and I have finished
with my Office till the arrival of the evening post. . . .  Do you
think she'll take my offer?"

Marketing was over before they got up to the High Street, but Diva
made a violent tattoo on her window, and threw it open.

"All a wash-out about Dr. Dobbie," she called out.

"The cook scalded her hand, that's all.  Saw her just now.  Lint
and oiled silk."

"Oh, poor thing!" said Lucia.  "What did I tell you, Georgie?"


Lucia posted her philanthropic proposal to Elizabeth that very day.
In consequence there was a most agitated breakfast duet at Mallards
next morning.

"So like her," cried Elizabeth, when she had read the letter to
Benjy with scornful interpolations.  "So very like her.  But I know
her well enough now to see her meannesses.  She has always wanted
my house and is taking a low advantage of my misfortunes to try to
get it.  But she shan't have it.  Never!  I would sooner burn it
down with my own hands."

Elizabeth crumpled up the letter and threw it into the grate.  She
crashed her way into a piece of toast and resumed.

"She's an encroacher," she said, "and quite unscrupulous.  I am
more than ever convinced that she put the idea of these libellous
dinner-bells into Irene's head."

Benjy was morose this morning.

"Don't see the connection at all," he said.

Elizabeth couldn't bother to explain anything so obvious and went
on.

"I forgave her that for the sake of peace and quietness, and
because I'm a Christian, but this is too much.  Grebe indeed!  Grab
would be the best name for any house she lives in.  A wretched
villa liable to be swept away by floods, and you and me carried out
to sea again on a kitchen table.  My answer is no, pass the
butter."

"I shouldn't be too much in a hurry," said Benjy.  "It's two
thousand pounds as well.  Even if you got a year's let for
Mallards, you'd have to spend a pretty penny in doing it up.  Any
tenant would insist on that."

"The house is in perfect repair in every respect," said Elizabeth.

"That might not be a tenant's view.  And you might not get a tenant
at all."

"And the wicked insincerity of her letter," continued Elizabeth.
"Saying she's sorry I have to turn out of it.  Sorry!  It's what
she's been lying in wait for.  I have a good mind not to answer her
at all."

"And I don't see the point of that," said Benjy.  "If you are
determined not to take her offer, why not tell her so at once?"

"You're not very bright this morning, love," said Elizabeth, who
had begun to think.

This spirited denunciation of Lucia's schemings was in fact only a
conventional prelude to reflection.  Elizabeth went to see her
cook; in revenge for Benjy's want of indignation, she ordered him a
filthy dinner, and finding that he had left the dining-room, fished
Lucia's unscrupulous letter out of the grate, slightly scorched,
but happily legible, and read it through again.  Then, though she
had given him the garden-room for his private sitting-room, she
entered, quite forgetting to knock and ask if she might come in,
and established herself in her usual seat in the window, where she
could observe the movements of society, in order to tune herself
back to normal pitch.  A lot was happening: Susan's great car got
helplessly stuck, as it came out of Porpoise Street, for a
furniture van was trying to enter the same street, and couldn't
back because there was another car behind it.  The longed-for
moment therefore had probably arrived, when Susan would have to go
marketing on foot.  Georgie went by in his Vandyck cape and a new
suit (or perhaps dyed), but what was quaint Irene doing?  She
appeared to be sitting in the air in front of her house on a level
with the first storey windows.  Field-glasses had to be brought to
bear on this: they revealed that she was suspended in a hammock
slung from her bedroom window and (clad in pyjamas) was painting
the sill in squares of black and crimson.  Susan got out of her car
and waddled towards the High Street.  Georgie stopped and talked to
Irene who dropped a paintbrush loaded with crimson on that blue
beret of his.  All quite satisfactory.

Benjy went to his golf: he had not actually required much driving
this morning, and Elizabeth was alone.  She had lately started
crocheting a little white woollen cap, and tried it on.  It curved
downwards too sharply, as if designed for a much smaller head than
hers, and she pulled a few rows out, and began it again in a
flatter arc.  A fresh train of musing was set up, and she thought,
with strong distaste, of the day when Tilling would begin to wonder
whether anything was going to happen, and, subsequently, to know
that it wasn't.  After all, she had never made any directly
misleading statement: she had chosen (it was a free country) to
talk about dolls and twilight sleep, and to let out her old green
skirt, and Tilling had drawn its own conclusions.  "That dreadful
gossipy habit," she said to herself, "if there isn't any news they
invent it.  And I know that they'll blame me for their disappointment.
(Again she looked out of the window: Susan's motor had extricated
itself, and was on its way to the High Street, and that was a
disappointment too.)  I must try to think of something to divert
their minds when that time comes."

Her stream of consciousness, eddying round in this depressing
backwater, suddenly found an outlet into the main current, and she
again read Lucia's toasted letter.  It was a very attractive offer;
her mouth watered at the thought of two thousand pounds, and though
she had expressed to Benjy in unmistakable terms her resolve to
reject any proposal so impertinent and unscrupulous, or, perhaps,
in a fervour of disdain, not to answer it at all, there was nothing
to prevent her accepting it at once, if she chose.  A woman in her
condition was always apt to change her mind suddenly and violently.
(No: that would not do, since she was not a woman in her
condition.)  And surely here was a very good opportunity of
diverting Tilling's attention.  Lucia's settling into Mallards and
her own move to Grebe would be of the intensest interest to
Tilling's corporate mind, and that would be the time to abandon the
role of coming motherhood.  She would just give it up, just go
shopping again with her usual briskness, just take in the green
skirt and wear the enlarged woollen cap herself.  She need make no
explanations for she had said nothing that required them: Tilling,
as usual, had done all the talking.

She turned her mind to the terms of Lucia's proposal.  The blaze of
fury so rightly kindled by the thought of Lucia possessing Mallards
was spent, and the thought of that fat capital sum made a warm glow
for her among the ashes.  As Benjy had said, no tenant for six
months or a year would take a house so sorely in need of
renovation, and if Lucia was right in supposing that that wretched
hole in the ground somewhere in West Africa would not be paying
dividends for two years, a tenant for one year, even if she was
lucky enough to find one, would only see her half through this
impoverished period.  No sensible woman could reject so open a way
out of her difficulties.

The mode of accepting this heaven-sent offer required thought.
Best, perhaps, just formally to acknowledge the unscrupulous
letter, and ask for a few days in which to make up her mind.  A
little hanging back, a hint conveyed obliquely, say through Diva,
that two thousand pounds did not justly represent the difference in
values between her lovely Queen Anne house and the villa
precariously placed so near the river, a heartbroken wail at the
thought of leaving the ancestral home might lead to an increased
payment in cash, and that would be pleasant.  So, having written
her acknowledgment Elizabeth picked up her market-basket and set
off for the High Street.

Quaint Irene had finished her window-sill, and was surveying the
effect of this brilliant decoration from the other side of the
street.  In view of the disclosure which must come soon, Elizabeth
suddenly made up her mind to forgive her for the dinner-bell
outrage for fear she might do something quainter yet: a cradle, for
instance, with a doll inside it, left on the doorstep would be very
unnerving, and was just the sort of thing Irene might think of.  So
she said:

"Good morning, love: what a pretty window-sill.  So bright."

Regardless of Elizabeth's marriage Irene still always addressed her
as "Mapp."

"Not bad, is it, Mapp," she said.  "What about my painting the
whole of your garden-room in the same style?  A hundred pounds
down, and I'll begin to-day."

"That WOULD be very cheap," said Mapp enthusiastically.  "But alas,
I fear my days there are numbered."

"Oh, of course; Lucia's offer.  The most angelic thing I ever
heard.  I knew you'd jump at it."

"No, dear, not quite inclined to jump," said Mapp rather
injudiciously.

"Oh, I didn't mean literally," said Irene.  "That would be very
rash of you.  But isn't it like her, so noble and generous?  I
cried when she told me."

"I shall cry when I have to leave my sweet Mallards," observed
Elizabeth.  "If I accept her offer, that is."

"Then you'll be a crashing old crocodile, Mapp," said Irene.
"You'll really think yourself damned lucky to get out of that old
ruin of yours on such terms.  Do you like my pyjamas?  I'll give
you a suit like them when the happy day--"

"Must be getting on," interrupted Elizabeth.  "Such a lot to do."

Feeling slightly battered, but with the glow of two thousand pounds
comforting her within, Elizabeth turned into the High Street.
Diva, it seemed, had finished her shopping, and was seated on this
warm morning at her open window reading the paper.  Elizabeth
approached quite close unobserved, and with an irresistible spasm
of playfulness said "Bo!"

Diva gave a violent start.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" she said.

"No, dear, somebody quite different," said Elizabeth skittishly.
"And I'm in such a state of perplexity this morning.  I don't know
what to do."

"Benjy eloped with Lucia?" asked Diva.  Two could play at being
playful.

Elizabeth winced.

"Diva, dear, jokes on certain subjects only hurt me," she said.
"Tiens!  Je vous pardonne."

"What's perplexing you then?" asked Diva.  "Come in and talk if you
want to, tiens.  Can't go bellowing bad French into the street."

Elizabeth came in, refused a low and comfortable chair and took a
high one.

"Such an agonizing decision to make," she said, "and its coming
just now is almost more than I can bear.  I got un petit lettre
from Lucia this morning offering to give me the freehold of Grebe
and two thousand pounds in exchange for the freehold of Mallards."

"I knew she was going to make you some offer," said Diva.
"Marvellous for you.  Where does the perplexity come in?  Besides,
you were going to let it for a year if you possibly could."

"Yes, but the thought of never coming back to it.  Mon vieux, so
devoted to his garden-room, where we were engaged.  Turning out for
ever.  And think of the difference between my lovely Queen Anne
house and that villa by the side of the road that leads nowhere.
The danger of floods.  The distance."

"But Lucia's thought of that," said Diva, "and puts the difference
down at two thousand pounds.  I should have thought one thousand
was ample."

"There are things like atmosphere that can't be represented in
terms of money," said Elizabeth with feeling.  "All the old
associations.  Tante Caroline."

"Not having known your TANTE CAROLINE I can't say what her
atmosphere's worth," said Diva.

"A saint upon earth," said Elizabeth warmly.  "And Mallards used to
be a second home to me long before it was mine."  (Which was a
lie.)  "Silly of me, perhaps, but the thought of parting with it is
agony.  Lucia is terribly anxious to get it, on m'a dit."

"She must be if she's offered you such a price for it," said Diva.

"Diva, dear, we've always been such friends," said Elizabeth, "and
it's seldom, n'est ce pas, that I've asked you for any favour.  But
I do now.  Do you think you could let her know, quite casually,
that I don't believe I shall have the heart to leave Mallards?
Just that: hardly an allusion to the two thousand pounds."

Diva considered this.

"Well, I'll ask a favour, too, Elizabeth," she said, "and it is
that you should determine to drop that silly habit of putting easy
French phrases into your conversation.  So confusing.  Besides
everyone sees you're only copying Lucia.  So ridiculous.  All put
on.  If you will, I'll do what you ask.  Going to tea with her this
afternoon."

"Thank you, sweet.  A bargain then, and I'll try to break myself:
I'm sure I don't want to confuse anybody.  Now I must get to my
shopping.  Kind Susan is taking me for a drive this afternoon, and
then a quiet evening with my Benjy-boy."

"Tres agrable," said Diva ruthlessly.  "Can't you hear how silly
it sounds?  Been on my mind a long time to tell you that."


Lucia was in her office when Diva arrived for tea, and so could not
possibly be disturbed.  As she was actually having a sound nap, her
guests, Georgie and Diva, had to wait until she happened to awake,
and then, observing the time, she came out in a great hurry with a
pen behind her ear.  Diva executed her commission with much tact
and casualness, but Lucia seemed to bore into the middle of her
head with that penetrating eye.  Having pierced her, she then
looked dreamily out of the window.

"Dear me, what is that slang word one hears so much in the City?"
she said.  "Ah, yes.  Bluff.  Should you happen to see dear
Elizabeth, Diva, would you tell her that I just mentioned to you
that my offer does not remain open indefinitely?  I shall expect to
hear from her in the course of to-morrow.  If I hear nothing by
then I shall withdraw it."

"That's the stuff to give her," said Georgie appreciatively.
"You'll hear fast enough when she knows that."

But the hours of next day went by, and no communication came from
Mallards.  The morning post brought a letter from Mammoncash,
which required a swift decision, but Lucia felt a sad lack of
concentration, and was unable to make up her mind, while this other
business remained undetermined.  When the afternoon faded into dusk
and still there was no answer, she became very anxious, and when,
on the top of that, the afternoon post brought nothing her anxiety
turned into sheer distraction.  She rang up the house agents to ask
whether Mrs. Mapp-Flint had received any application for the lease
of Mallards for six months or a year, but Messrs. Woolgar and
Pipstow, with much regret, refused to disclose the affairs of their
client.  She rang up Georgie to see if he knew anything, and
received the ominous reply that as he was returning home just now,
he saw a man, whom he did not recognise, being admitted into
Mallards: Lucia in this tension felt convinced that it was somebody
come to look over the house.  She rang up Diva who had duly and
casually delivered the message to Elizabeth at the marketing hour.
It was an awful afternoon, and Lucia felt that all the money she
had made was dross if she could not get this coveted freehold.
Finally after tea (at which she could not eat a morsel) she wrote
to Elizabeth turning the pounds into guineas, and gave the note to
Cadman to deliver by hand and wait for an answer.

Meantime, ever since lunch, Elizabeth had been sitting at the
window of the garden-room, getting on with the conversion of the
white crocheted cap into adult size, and casting frequent glances
down the street for the arrival of a note from Grebe, to say that
Lucia (terrified at the thought that she would not have the heart
to quit Mallards) was willing to pay an extra five hundred pounds
or so as a stimulant to that failing organ.  But no letter came and
Elizabeth in turn began to be terrified that the offer would be
withdrawn.  No sooner had Benjy swallowed a small (not the large)
cup of tea on his return from his golf, than she sent him off to
Grebe, with a note accepting Lucia's first offer, and bade him
bring back the answer.

It was dark by now, and Cadman passing through the Landgate into
the town met Major Benjy walking very fast in the direction of
Grebe.  The notes they both carried must therefore have been
delivered practically simultaneously, and Elizabeth, in writing,
had consented to accept two thousand pounds, and Lucia, in writing,
to call them guineas.



CHAPTER VI


This frightful discrepancy in the premium was adjusted by Lucia
offering--more than equitably so she thought, and more than meanly
thought the other contracting party--to split the difference, and
the double move was instantly begun.  In order to get into Mallards
more speedily, Lucia left Grebe vacant in the space of two days,
not forgetting the india-rubber felting in the passage outside the
Office, for assuredly there would be another Temple of Silence at
Mallards, and stored her furniture until her new house was fit to
receive it.  Grebe being thus empty, the vans from Mallards poured
tiger-skins and Polynesian aprons into it, and into Mallards there
poured a regiment of plumbers and painters and cleaners and
decorators.  Drains were tested, pointings between bricks renewed,
floors scraped and ceilings whitewashed, and for the next fortnight
other householders in Tilling had the greatest difficulty in
getting any repairs done, for there was scarcely a workman who was
not engaged on Mallards.

Throughout these hectic weeks Lucia stayed with Georgie at the
Cottage, and not even he had ever suspected the sheer horse-power
of body and mind which she was capable of developing when really
extended.  She had breakfasted before the first of her workmen
appeared in the morning, and was ready to direct and guide them and
to cancel all the orders she had given the day before, till
everyone was feverishly occupied, and then she went back to the
Cottage to read the letters that had come for her by the first post
and skim the morning papers for world-movements.  Then Mammoncash
got his orders, if he had recommended any change in her
investments, and Lucia went back to choose wallpapers, or go down
into the big cellars that spread over the entire basement of the
house.  They had not been used for years, for a cupboard in the
pantry had been adequate to hold such alcoholic refreshment as Aunt
Caroline and her niece had wished to have on the premises, and bins
had disintegrated and laths fallen, and rubbish had been hurled
there, until the floor was covered with a foot or more of compacted
debris.  All this, Lucia decreed, must be excavated, and the floor
level laid bare, for both her distaste for living above a rubbish
heap, and her passion for restoring Mallards to its original state
demanded the clearance.  Two navvies with pick-axe and shovel
carried up baskets of rubbish through the kitchen where a
distracted ironmonger was installing a new boiler.  There were rats
in this cellar, and Diva very kindly lent Paddy to deal with them,
and Paddy very kindly bit a navvy in mistake for a rat.  At last
the floor level was reached, and Lucia examining it carefully with
an electric torch, discovered that there were lines of brickwork
lying at an angle to the rest of the floor.  The moment she saw
them she was convinced that there was a Roman look about them, and
secretly suspected that a Roman villa must once have stood here.
There was no time to go into that just now: it must be followed up
later, but she sent to the London Library for a few standard books
on Roman remains in the South of England, and read an article
during lunch-time in Georgie's Encyclopdia about hypocausts.

After such sedentary mornings Lucia dug in the kitchen garden for
an hour or two clad in Irene's overalls.  Her gardener vainly
protested that the spring was not the orthodox season to manure the
soil, but it was obvious to Lucia that it required immediate
enrichment and it got it.  There was a big potato-patch which had
evidently been plundered quite lately, for only a few sad stalks
remained, and the inference that Elizabeth, before quitting, had
dug up all the potatoes and taken them to Grebe was irresistible.
The greenhouse, too, was strangely denuded of plants: they must
have gone to Grebe as well.  But the aspect was admirable for peach
trees, and Lucia ordered half-a-dozen to be trained on the wall.
Her gardening book recommended that a few bumble-bees should always
be domiciled in a peach house for the fertilization of the
blossoms, and after a long pursuit her gardener cleverly caught one
in his cap.  It was transferred with angry buzzings to the peach
house and immediately flew out through a broken pane in the roof.

A reviving cup of tea started Lucia off again, and she helped to
burn the discoloured paint off the banisters of the stairs which
were undoubtedly of oak, and she stayed on at this fascinating job
till the sun had set and all the workmen had gone.  While dressing
for dinner she observed that the ground floor rooms of Mallards
that looked on to the street were brilliantly illuminated, as for a
party, and realizing that she had left all the electric light
burning, she put a cloak over her evening gown and went across to
switch them off.  A ponderous parcel of books had arrived from the
London Library and she promised herself a historical treat in bed
that night.  She finished dressing and hurried down to dinner, for
Georgie hated to be kept waiting for the meals.  Lucia had had
little conversation all day, and now, as if the dam of a reservoir
had burst, the pent waters of vocal intercourse carried all before
them.

"Georgino, such an interesting day," she said, "but I marvel at the
vandalism of the late owner.  Drab paint on those beautiful oak
banisters, and I feel convinced that I have found the remains of a
Roman villa.  I conjecture that it runs out towards the kitchen
garden.  Possibly it may be a temple.  My dear, what delicious
fish!  Did you know that in the time of Elizabeth--not this one--
the Court was entirely supplied with fish from Tilling?  A convoy
of mules took it to London three times a week. . . .  In a few days
more I hope and trust, Mallards will be ready for my furniture, and
then you must be at my beck and call all day.  Your taste is
exquisite: I shall want your sanction for all my dispositions.
Shall the garden-room be my office, do you think?  But, as you
know, I cannot exist without a music-room, and perhaps I had better
use that little cupboard of a room off the hall as my office.  My
ledgers and a telephone is all I want there, but double windows
must be put in as it looks on to the street.  Then I shall have my
books in the garden-room: the Greek dramatists are what I shall
chiefly work at this year.  My dear, how delicious it would be to
give some tableaux in the garden from the Greek tragedians!  The
return of Agamemnon with Cassandra after the Trojan wars.  You must
certainly be Agamemnon.  Could I not double the parts of Cassandra
and Clytemnestra?  Or a scene from Aristophanes.  I began the
Thesmophoriazusae a few weeks ago.  About the revolt of the
Athenian women, from their sequestered and blighted existence.
They barricaded themselves into the Acropolis, exactly as the
Pankhursts and the suffragettes padlocked themselves to the
railings of the House of Commons and the pulpit in Westminster
Abbey.  I have always maintained that Aristophanes is the most
modern of writers, Bernard Shaw, in fact, but with far more wit,
more Attic salt.  If I might choose a day in all the history of the
world to live through, it would be a day in the golden age of
Athens.  A talk to Socrates in the morning; lunch with Pericles and
Aspasia: a matine at the theatre for a new play by Aristophanes:
supper at Plato's Symposium.  How it fires the blood!"

Georgie was eating a caramel chocolate and reply was impossible,
since the teeth in his upper jaw were firmly glued to those of the
lower and care was necessary.  He could only nod and make massaging
movements with his mouth, and Lucia, like Cassandra, only far more
optimistic, was filled with the spirit of prophecy.

"I mean to make Mallards the centre of a new artistic and
intellectual life in Tilling," she said, "much as the Hurst was, if
I may say so without boasting, at our dear little placid Riseholme.
My Attic day, I know, cannot be realized, but if there are, as I
strongly suspect, the remains of a Roman temple or villa stretching
out into the kitchen garden, we shall have a whiff of classical
ages again.  I shall lay bare the place, even if it means scrapping
the asparagus bed.  Very likely I shall find a tesselated pavement
or two.  Then we are so near London, every now and then I shall
have a string quartet down, or get somebody to lecture on an
archological subject, if I am right about my Roman villa.  I am
getting rather rich, Georgie, I don't mind telling you, and I shall
spend most of my gains on the welfare and enlightenment of Tilling.
I do not regard the money I spent in buying Mallards a selfish
outlay.  It was equipment: I must have some central house with a
room like the garden-room where I can hold my gatherings and
symposia and so forth, and a garden for rest and refreshment and
meditation.  Non e bella vista?"

Georgie had rid himself of the last viscous strings of the caramel
by the aid of a mouthful of hot coffee which softened them.

"My dear, what big plans you have," he said.  "I always--" but the
torrent foamed on.

"Caro, you know well that I have never cared for small interests
and paltry successes.  The broad sweep of the brush, Georgie: the
great scale!  Indeed it will be a change in the life-history of
Mallards--I think I shall call it Mallards House--to have something
going on there beyond those perennial spyings from the garden-room
window to see who goes to the dentist.  And I mean to take part in
the Civic, the municipal government of the place: that too, is no
less than a duty.  Dear Irene's very ill-judged exhibition at the
election to the Town Council, deprived me, I feel sure, of hundreds
of votes, though she meant so well.  It jarred, it was not in
harmony with the lofty aims I was hoping to represent.  I AM the
friend of the poor, but a public pantomime was not the way to
convince the electors of that.  I shall be the friend of the rich,
too.  Those nice Wyses, for instance, their intellectual horizons
are terribly bounded, and dear Diva hasn't got any horizons at all.
I seem to see a general uplift, Georgie, an intellectual and
artistic curiosity, such as that out of which all renaissances
came.  Poor Elizabeth!  Naturally, I have no programme at present:
it is not time for that yet.  Well, there's just the outline of my
plans.  Now let us have an hour of music."

"I'm sure you're tired," said Georgie.

"Never fresher.  I consider it is a disgrace to be tired.  I was, I
remember, after our last day's canvassing, and was much ashamed of
myself.  And how charming it is to be spending tranquil quiet
evenings with you again.  When you decided on a permanent beard
after your shingles, and went to your own house again, the evenings
seemed quite lonely sometimes.  Now let us play something that will
really test us."

Lucia's fingers were a little rusty from want of practice and she
had a few minutes of rapid scales and exercises.  Then followed an
hour of duets, and she looked over some samples of chintzes.

That night Georgie was wakened from his sleep by the thump of some
heavy object on the floor of the adjoining bedroom.  Lucia, so he
learned from her next morning, had dropped into a doze as she was
reading in bed one of those ponderous books from the London Library
about Roman remains in the South of England, and it had slid on to
the floor.

Thanks to the incessant spur and scourge of Lucia's presence, which
prevented any of her workmen having a slack moment throughout the
day, the house was ready incredibly soon for the reception of her
furniture, and Cadman had been settled into a new garage and
cottage near by, so that Foljambe's journeys between her home and
Georgie's were much abbreviated.  There was a short interlude
during which fires blazed and hot water pipes rumbled in every room
in Mallards for the drying of newly hung paper and of paint.  Lucia
chafed at this inaction, for there was nothing for her to do but
carry coal and poke the fires, and then a second period of feverish
activity set in.  The vans of her stored furniture disgorged at the
door and Georgie was continually on duty so that Lucia might
consult his exquisite taste and follow her own.

"Yes, that bureau would look charming in the little parlour
upstairs," she would say.  "Charming!  How right you are!  But
somehow I seem to see it in the garden-room.  I think I must try it
there first."

In fact Lucia saw almost everything in the garden-room, till a
materialistic foreman told her that it would hold no more unless
she meant it to be a lumber-room, in which case another table or
two might be stacked there.  She hurried out and found it was
difficult to get into the room at all, and the piano was yet to
come.  Back came a procession of objects which were gradually
dispersed among other rooms which hitherto had remained empty.
Minor delays were caused by boxes of linen being carried out to the
garden-room because she was sure they contained books, and boxes of
books being put in the cellar because she was equally certain that
they contained wine.

But by mid-April everything was ready for the house-warming lunch.
All Tilling was bidden with the exception of quaint Irene, for she
had another little disturbance with Elizabeth, and Lucia thought
that their proximity was not a risk that should be taken on an
occasion designed to be festive, for there were quite enough danger
zones without that.  Elizabeth at first was inclined to refuse her
invitation: it would be too much of a heart-break to see her
ancestral home in the hands of an alien, but she soon perceived
that it would be a worse heart-break not to be able to comment
bitterly on the vulgarity or the ostentation or the general
uncomfortableness or whatever she settled should be the type of
outrage which Lucia had committed in its hallowed precincts, and
she steeled herself to accept.  She had to steel herself also to
something else, which it was no longer any use putting off; the
revelation must be made, and, as in the case of Georgie's beard
everybody had better know together.  Get it over.

Elizabeth had fashioned a very striking costume for the occasion.
One of Benjy's tiger-skins was clearly not sufficiently strong to
stand the wear and tear of being trodden on, but parts of it were
excellent still, and she had cut some strips out of it which she
hoped were sound and with which she trimmed the edge of the green
skirt which had been exciting such interest in Tilling, and the
collar of the coat which went with it.  On her head she wore a
white woollen crochetted cap, just finished: a decoration of
artificial campanulas, rendering its resemblance to the cap of a
hydrocephalous baby less noticeable.

Elizabeth drew in her breath, wincing with a stab of mental anguish
when she saw the dear old dingy panels in the hall, once adorned
with her water-colour sketches, gleaming with garish white paint,
and she and Benjy followed Grosvenor out to the garden-room.  The
spacious cupboard in the wall once concealed behind a false
bookcase of shelves ranged with leather simulacra of book backs,
"Elegant Extracts," and "Poems" and "Commentaries," had been
converted into a real bookcase, and Lucia's library of standard and
classical works filled it from top to bottom.  A glass chandelier
hung from the ceiling, Persian rugs had supplanted the tiger-skins
and the walls were of dappled blue.

Lucia welcomed them.

"So glad you could come," she said.  "Dear Elizabeth, what lovely
fur!  Tiger, surely."

"So glad you like it," said Elizabeth.  "And sweet of you to ask
us.  So here I am in my dear garden-room again.  Quite a change."

She gave Benjy's hand a sympathetic squeeze, for he must be feeling
the desecration of his room, and in came the Padre and Evie, who
after some mouselike squeals of rapture began to talk very fast.

"What a beautiful room!" she said.  "I shouldn't have known it
again, would you, Kenneth?  How de do, Elizabeth.  Bits of Major
Benjy's tiger-skins, isn't it?  Why that used to be the cupboard
where you had been hoarding all sorts of things to eat in case the
coal strike went on, and one day the door flew open and all the
corned beef and dried apricots came bumping out.  I remember it as
if it was yesterday."

Lucia hastened to interrupt that embarrassing reminiscence.

"Dear Elizabeth, pray don't stand," she said.  "There's a chair in
the window by the curtain, just where you used to sit."

"Thanks, dear," said Elizabeth, continuing slowly to revolve, and
take in the full horror of the scene.  "I should like just to look
round.  So clean, so fresh."

Diva trundled in.  Elizabeth's tiger-trimmings at once caught her
eye, but as Elizabeth had not noticed her cropped hair the other
day, she looked at them hard and was totally blind to them.

"You've made the room lovely, Lucia," she said.  "I never saw such
an improvement, did you, Elizabeth?  What a library, Lucia!  Why
that used to be a cupboard behind a false bookcase.  Of course, I
remember--"

"And such a big chandelier," interrupted Elizabeth, fearful of
another recitation of that frightful incident.  "I should find it a
little dazzling, but then my eyes are wonderful."

"Mr. and Mrs. Wyse," said Grosvenor at the door.

"Grosvenor, sherry at once," whispered Lucia, feeling the tension.
"Nice of you to come, Susan.  Buon giorno, Signor Sapiente."

Elizabeth, remembering her promise to Diva, just checked herself
from saying "Bon jour, Monsieur Sage," and Mr. Wyse kissed Lucia's
hand, Italian-fashion, as a proper reply to this elegant
salutation, and put up his eyeglass.

"Genius!" he said.  "Artistic genius!  Never did I appreciate the
beautiful proportions of this room before; it was smothered--ah,
Mrs. Mapp-Flint!  Such a pleasure, and a lovely costume if I may
say so.  That poem of Blake's:  'Tiger, tiger, burning bright.'
I am writing to my sister Amelia to-day, and I must crave your
permission to tell her about it.  How she scolds me if I do not
describe to her the latest fashions of the ladies of Tilling."

"A glass of sherry, dear Elizabeth," said Lucia.

"No, dear, not a drop, thanks.  Poison to me," said Elizabeth
fiercely.

Georgie arrived last.  He, of course, had assisted at the
transformation of the garden-room, but naturally he added his voice
to the chorus of congratulation which Elizabeth found so trying.

"My dear, how beautiful you've got the room!" he said.  "You'd have
made a fortune over house-decorating.  When I think what it was
like--oh, good morning, Mrs. Major Benjy.  What a charming frock,
and how ingenious.  It's bits of the tiger that used to be the
hearthrug here.  I always admired it so much."

But none of these compliments soothed Elizabeth's savagery, for the
universal admiration of the garden-room was poisoning her worse
than sherry.  Then lunch was announced, and it was with difficulty
she was persuaded to lead the way, so used was she to follow other
ladies as hostess, into the dining-room.  Then, urged to proceed,
she went down the steps with astonishing alacrity, but paused in
the hall as if uncertain where to go next.

"All these changes," she said.  "Quite bewildering.  Perhaps Lucia
has turned another room into the dining-room."

"No, ma'am, the same room," said Grosvenor.

More shocks.  There was a refectory table where her own round table
had been, and a bust of Beethoven on the chimney-piece.  The walls
were of apple-green, and instead of being profusely hung with
Elizabeth's best water-colours, there was nothing on them but a
sconce or two for electric light.  She determined to eat not more
than one mouthful of any dish that might be offered her, and
conceal the rest below her knife and fork.  She sat down, stubbing
her toes against the rail that ran round the table, and gave a
little squeal of anguish.

"So stupid of me," she said.  "I'm not accustomed to this sort of
table.  Ah, I see.  I must put my feet over the little railing.
That will be quite comfortable."

Lobster  la Riseholme was handed round, and a meditative silence
followed in its wake, for who could help dwelling for a moment on
the memory of how Elizabeth, unable to obtain the recipe by
honourable means, stole it from Lucia's kitchen?  She took a
mouthful, and then, according to plan, hid the rest of it under her
fork and fish-knife.  But her mouth began to water for this
irresistible delicacy, and she surreptitiously gobbled up the rest,
and then with a wistful smile looked round the desecrated room.

"An admirable shade of green," said Mr. Wyse, bowing to the walls.
"Susan, we must memorize this for the time when we do up our little
salle  manger."

"Begorra, it's the true Oirish colour," said the Padre.  "I canna
mind me what was the way of it before."

"I can tell you, dear Padre," said Elizabeth eagerly.  "Biscuit-
colour, such a favourite tint of mine, and some of my little
paintings on the walls.  Quite plain and homely.  Benjy, dear, how
naughty you are: hock always punishes you."

"Dear lady," said Mr. Wyse, "surely not such nectar as we are now
enjoying.  How I should like to know the vintage.  Delicious!"

Elizabeth turned to Georgie.

"You must be very careful of these treacherous spring days, Mr.
Georgie," she said.  "Shingles are terribly liable to return, and
the second attack is always much worse than the first.  People
often lose their eyesight altogether."

"That's encouraging," said Georgie.

Luckily Elizabeth thought that she had now sufficiently impressed
on everybody what a searing experience it was to her to re-visit
her ancestral home, and see the melancholy changes that had been
wrought on it, and under the spell of the nectar her extreme
acidity mellowed.  The nectar served another purpose also: it
bucked her up for the anti-maternal revelation which she had
determined to make that very day.  She walked very briskly about
the garden after lunch.  She tripped across the lawn to the
giardino segreto: she made a swift tour of the kitchen garden under
her own steam, untowed by Benjy, and perceived that the ladies were
regarding her with a faintly puzzled air: they were beginning to
see what she meant them to see.  Then with Diva she lightly
descended the steps into the greenhouse and, diverted from her main
purpose for the moment, felt herself bound to say a few words about
Lucia's renovations in general, and the peach trees in particular.

"Poor things, they'll come to nothing," she said.  "I could have
told dear hostess that, if she had asked me.  You might as well
plant cedars of Lebanon.  And the dining-room, Diva!  The colour of
green apples, enough to give anybody indigestion before you begin!
The glaring white paint in the hall!  The garden-room!  I feel that
the most, and so does poor Benjy.  I was prepared for something
pretty frightful, but not as bad as this!"

"Don't agree," said Diva.  "It's all beautiful.  Should hardly have
known it again.  You'd got accustomed to see the house all dingy,
Elizabeth, and smothered in cobwebs and your own water-colours and
muck--"

That was sufficient rudeness for Elizabeth to turn her back on
Diva, but it was for a further purpose that she whisked round and
positively twinkled up those steep steps again.  Diva gasped.  For
weeks now Elizabeth had leant on Benjy if there were steps to
mount, and had walked with a slow and dignified gait, and all of a
sudden she had resumed her nimble and rapid movement.  And then the
light broke.  Diva felt she would burst unless she at once poured
her interpretation of these phenomena into some feminine ear, and
she hurried out of the greenhouse nearly tripping up on the steps
that Elizabeth had so lightly ascended.

The rest of the party had gathered again in the garden-room, and by
some feminine intuition Diva perceived in the eyes of the other
women the knowledge which had just dawned on her.  Presently the
Mapp-Flints said good-bye, and Mr. Wyse, who, with the obtuseness
of a man, had noticed nothing, was pressing Elizabeth to take the
Royce and go for a drive.  Then came the first-hand authentic
disclosure.

"So good of you," said she, "but Benjy and I have promised
ourselves a long walk.  Lovely party, Lucia: some day you must come
and see your old house.  Just looked at your peach trees: I hope
you'll have quantities of fruit.  Come along, Benjy, or there won't
be time for our tramp.  Good-bye, sweet garden-room."

They went out, and instantly there took place a species of manoeuvre
which partook of the nature of a conjuring trick and a conspiracy.
Evie whispered something to her Padre, and he found that he had
some urgent district-visiting to do: Susan had a quiet word with
her husband, and he recollected that he must get off his letter to
Contessa Amelia Faraglione by the next post and Lucia told Georgie
that if he could come back in half-an-hour she would be at leisure
to try that new duet.  The four ladies therefore were left, and
Evie and Diva, as soon as the door of the garden-room was shut,
broke into a crisp, unrehearsed dialogue of alternate sentences,
like a couple of clergymen intoning the Commination service.

"She's given it up," chanted Diva.  "She nipped up those steep
steps from the greenhouse, as if it was on the flat."

"But such a sell, isn't it," cried Evie.  "It WOULD have been
exciting.  Ought we to say anything about it to her?  She must feel
terribly disappointed--"

"Not a bit," said Diva.  "I don't believe she ever believed it.
Wanted us to believe it: that's all.  Most deceitful."

"And Kenneth had been going through the Churching of Women."

"And she had no end of drives in your motor, Susan.  False
pretences, I call it.  You'd never have lent her it at all, unless--"

"And all that nutritious honey from the Contessa."

"And I think she's taken in the old green skirt again, but the
strips of tiger-skin make it hard to be certain."

"And I'm sure she was crocheting a baby-cap in white wool, and she
must have pulled a lot of it out and begun again.  She was wearing
it."

"And while I think of it," said Diva in parenthesis, "there'll be a
fine mess of tiger hairs on your dining-room carpet, Lucia.  I saw
clouds of them fly when she banged her foot."

Susan Wyse had not had any chance at present of joining in this
vindictive chant.  Sometimes she had opened her mouth to speak, but
one of the others had been quicker.  At this point, as Diva and
Evie were both a little out of breath, she managed to contribute.

"I don't grudge her her drives," she said, "but I do feel strongly
about that honey.  It was very special honey.  My sister-in-law,
the Contessa, took it daily when she was expecting her baby, and it
weighed eleven pounds."

"Eleven pounds of honey?  O dear me, that is a lot!" said Evie.

"No, the baby--"

The chant broke out afresh.

"And so rude about the sherry," said Diva, "saying it was poison."

"And pretending not to know where the dining-room was."

"And saying that the colour of the walls gave her indigestion like
green apples.  She's enough to give anybody indigestion herself."

The torrent spent itself: Lucia had been sitting with eyes half-
closed and eyebrows drawn together as if trying to recollect
something, and then took down a volume from her bookshelves of
classical literature and rapidly turned over the pages.  She
appeared to find what she wanted, for she read on in silence a
moment, and then replaced the book with a far-away sigh.

"I was saying to Georgie the other day," she said, "how
marvellously modern Aristophanes was.  I seemed to remember a scene
in one of his plays--the Thesmophoriazusae--where a somewhat
similar situation occurred.  A woman, a dear, kind creature really,
of middle-age or a little more, had persuaded her friends (or
thought she had) that she was going to have a baby.  Such Attic wit--
there is nothing in English like it.  I won't quote the Greek to
you, but the conclusion was that it was only a 'wind-egg.'
Delicious phrase, really untranslatable, but that is what it comes
to.  Shan't we all leave it at that?  Poor dear Elizabeth!  Just a
wind-egg.  So concise."

She gave a little puff with her pursed lips, as if blowing the wind-
egg away.

Rather awed by this superhuman magnanimity the conductors of the
Commination service dispersed, and Lucia went into the dining-room
to see if there was any serious deposit of tiger-hairs on her new
carpet beside Elizabeth's place.  Certainly there were some, though
not quite the clouds of which Diva had spoken.  Probably then that
new pretty decoration would not be often seen again since it was
moulting so badly.  "Everything seems to go wrong with the poor
soul," thought Lucia in a spasm of most pleasurable compassion,
"owing to her deplorable lack of foresight.  She bought Siriami
without ascertaining whether it paid dividends: she tried to make
us all believe that she was going to have a baby without
ascertaining whether there was the smallest reason to suppose she
would, and with just the same blind recklessness she trimmed the
old green skirt with tiger without observing how heavily it would
moult when she moved."

She returned to the garden-room for a few minutes' intensive
practice of the duet she and Georgie would read through when he
came back, and seating herself at the piano she noticed a smell as
of escaping gas.  Yet it could not be coal gas, for there was none
laid on now to the garden-room, the great chandelier and other
lamps being lit by electricity.  She wondered whether this smell
was paint not quite dry yet, for during the renovation of the house
her keen perception had noticed all kinds of smells incident to
decoration: there was the smell of pear-drops in one room, and that
was varnish: there was the smell of advanced corruption in another,
and that was the best size: there was the smell of elephants in the
cellar and that was rats.  So she thought no more about it,
practised for a quarter of an hour, and then hurried away from the
piano when she saw Georgie coming down the street, so that he
should not find her poaching in the unseen suite by Mozart.

Georgie was reproachful.

"It was tarsome of you," he said, "to send me away when I longed to
hear what you all thought about Elizabeth.  I knew what it meant
when I saw how she skipped and pranced and had taken in the old
green skirt again--"

"Georgie, I never noticed that," said Lucia.  "Are you sure?"

"Perfectly certain, and how she was going for a tramp with Benjy.
The baby's off.  I wonder if Benjy was an accomplice--"

"Dear Georgie!" remonstrated Lucia.

Georgie blushed at the idea that he could have meant anything so
indelicate.

"Accomplice to the general deception was what I was going to say
when you interrupted.  I think we've all been insulted.  We ought
to mark our displeasure."

Lucia had no intention of repeating her withering comment about the
wind-egg.  It was sure to get round to him.

"Why be indignant with the poor thing?" she said.  "She has been
found out and that's quite sufficient punishment.  As to her making
herself so odious at lunch and doing her best, without any success,
to spoil my little party, that was certainly malicious.  But about
the other, Georgie, let us remember what a horrid job she had to
do.  I foresaw that, you may remember, and expressed my wish that,
when it came, we should all be kind to her.  She must have skipped
and pranced, as you put it, with an aching heart, and certainly
with aching legs.  As for poor Major Benjy, I'm sure he was putty
in her hands, and did just what she told him.  How terribly a
year's marriage has aged him, has it not?"

"I should have been dead long ago," said Georgie.

Lucia looked round the room.

"My dear, I'm so happy to be back in this house," she said, "and to
know it's my own, that I would forgive Elizabeth almost anything.
Now let us have an hour's harmony."

They went to the piano where, most carelessly, Lucia had left on
the music-rack the duet they were to read through for the first
time.  But Georgie did not notice it.  He began to sniff.

"Isn't there a rather horrid smell of gas?" he asked.

"I thought I smelled something," said Lucia, successfully whisking
off the duet.  "But the foreman of the gasworks is in the house
now, attending to the stove in the kitchen.  I'll get him to come
and smell too."

Lucia sent the message by Grosvenor, and an exceedingly cheerful
young man bounded into the room.  He smelt, too, and burst into a
merry laugh.

"No, ma'am, that's not MY sort of gas," he said gaily.  "That'll be
sewer gas, that will.  That's the business of the town surveyor and
he's my brother.  I'll ring him up at once and get him to come and
see to it."

"Please do," said Lucia.

"He'll nip up in a minute to oblige Mrs. Lucas," said the gasman.
"Dear me, how we all laughed at Miss Irene's procession, if you'll
excuse my mentioning it.  But this is business now, not pleasure.
Horrid smell that.  It won't do at all."

Lucia and Georgie moved away from the immediate vicinity of the
sewer, and presently with a rap on the door, a second young man
entered exactly like the first.

"A pleasure to come and see into your little trouble, ma'am," he
said.  "In the window my brother said.  Ah, now I've got it."

He laughed very heartily.

"No, no," he said.  "Georgie's made a blooming error--beg your
pardon, sir, I mean my brother--Let's have him in."

In came Georgie of the gasworks.

"You've got something wrong with your nosepiece, Georgie," said the
sewer man.  "That's coal gas, that is."

"Get along, Percy!" said Georgie.  "Sewers.  Your job, my lad."

Lucia assumed her most dignified manner.

"Your immediate business, gentlemen," she said, "is to ascertain
whether I am living (i) in a gas pipe or (ii) in a main drain."

Shouts of laughter.

"Well, there's a neat way to put it," said Percy appreciatively.
"We'll tackle it for you, ma'am.  We must have a joint investigation,
Georgie, till we've located it.  It must be percolating through the
soil and coming up through the floor.  You send along two of your
fellows in the morning, and I'll send two of the Corporation men,
and we'll dig till we find out.  Bet you a shilling it's coal gas."

"I'll take you.  Sewers," said Georgie.

"But I can't live in a room that's full of either," said Lucia.
"One may explode and the other may poison me."

"Don't you worry about that, ma'am," said Georgie.  "I'll guarantee
you against an explosion, if it's my variety of gas.  Not near up
to inflammatory point."

"And I've workmen, ma'am," said Percy, "who spend their days
revelling in a main drain, you may say, and live to ninety.  We'll
start to dig in the road outside in the morning, Georgie and me,
for that's where it must come from.  No one quite knows where the
drains are in this old part of the town, but we'll get on to their
scent if it's sewers, and then tally-ho.  Good afternoon, ma'am.
All O.K."

At an early hour next morning the combined exploration began.  Up
came the pavement outside the garden-room and the cobbles of the
street, and deeper all day grew the chasm, while the disturbed
earth reeked even more strongly of the yet unidentified smell.  The
news of what was in progress reached the High Street at the
marketing hour, and the most discouraging parallels to this crisis
were easily found.  Diva had an uncle who had died in the night
from asphyxiation owing to a leak of coal gas, and Evie, not to be
outdone in family tragedies, had an aunt, who, when getting into a
new house (ominous), noticed a "faint" smell in the dining-room,
and died of blood-poisoning in record time.  But Diva put
eucalyptus on her handkerchief and Evie camphor and both hurried up
to the scene of the excavation.  To Elizabeth this excitement was a
god-send, for she had been nervous as to her reception in the High
Street after yesterday's revelation, but found that everyone was
entirely absorbed in the new topic.  Personally she was afraid
(though hoping she might prove to be wrong) that the clearing out
of the cellars at Mallards might somehow have tapped a reservoir of
a far deadlier quality of vapour than either coal gas or sewer gas.
Benjy, having breathed the polluted air of the garden-room
yesterday, thought it wise not to go near the plague-spot at all,
but after gargling with a strong solution of carbolic, fled to the
links, with his throat burning very uncomfortably, to spend the day
in the aseptic sea air.  Georgie (not Percy's gay brother) luckily
remembered that he had bought a gas-mask during the war, in case
the Germans dropped pernicious bombs on Riseholme, and Foljambe
found it and cleared out the cobwebs.  He adjusted it (tarsome for
the beard) and watched the digging from a little distance, looking
like an elephant whose trunk had been cut off very short.  The
Padre came in the character of an expert, for he could tell sewer
gas from coal gas, begorra, with a single sniff, but he had
scarcely taken a proper sniff when the church clock struck eleven,
and he had to hurry away to read matins.  Irene, smoking a pipe,
set up her easel on the edge of the pit and painted a fine
impressionist sketch of navvies working in a crater.  Then, when
the dinner-hour arrived, the two gay brothers, Gas and Drains,
leaped like Quintus Curtius into the chasm and shovelled feverishly
till their workmen returned, in order that no time should be lost
in arriving at a solution and the settlement of their bet.

As the excavation deepened Lucia with a garden-spud, raked
carefully among the baskets of earth which were brought up, and
soon had a small heap of fragments of pottery, which she carried
into Mallards.  Georgie was completely puzzled at this odd conduct,
and, making himself understood with difficulty through the gas-
mask, asked her what she was doing.

Lucia looked round to make sure she would not be overheard.

"Roman pottery without a doubt," she whispered.  "I am sure they
will presently come across some remains of my Roman villa--"

A burst of cheering came from the bowels of the earth.  One of the
gas workmen with a vigorous stroke of his pick at the side of the
pit close to the garden-room brought down a slide of earth, and
exposed the mouth of a tiled aperture some nine inches square.

"Drains and sewers it is," he cried, "and out we go," and he and
his comrade downed tools and clambered out of the pit, leaving the
town surveyor's men to attend to the job now demonstrated to be
theirs.

The two gay brethren instantly jumped into the excavation.  The
aperture certainly did look like a drain, but just as certainly
there was nothing coming down it.  Percy put his nose into it, and
inhaled deeply as a Yogi, drawing a long breath through his
nostrils.

"Clean as a whistle, Georgie," he said, "and sweet as a sugar-plum.
Drains it may have been, old man, but not in the sense of our bet.
We were looking for something active and stinkful--"

"But drains it is, Per," said Georgie.

A broken tile had fallen from the side of it, and Percy picked it
up.

"There's been no sewage passing along that for a sight of years,"
he said.  "Perhaps it was never a drain at all."

Into Lucia's mind there flashed an illuminating hypocaustic idea.

"Please give me that tile," she called out.

"Certainly, ma'am," said Percy, reaching up with it, "and have a
sniff at it yourself.  Nothing there to make your garden-room
stink.  You might lay that on your pillow--"

Percy's sentence was interrupted by a second cheer from his two men
who had gone on working, and they also downed tools.

"'Ere's the gas pipe at last," cried one.  "Get going at your work
again, gas brigade!"

"And lumme, don't it stink," said the other.  "Leaking fit to blow
up the whole neighbourhood.  Soil's full of it."

They clambered out of the excavation, and stood with the gas
workers to await further orders.

"Have a sniff at that, Georgie," said Per encouragingly, "and then
hand me a bob.  That's something like a smell, that is.  Put that
on your pillow and you'll sleep so as you'll never wake again."

Georgie, though crestfallen, retained his sense of fairness, and
made no attempt to deny that the smell that now spread freely from
the disengaged pipe was the same as that which filled the garden-
room.

"Seems like it," he said, "and there's your bob, not but what the
other was a drain.  We'll find the leak and have it put to rights
now."

"And then I hope you'll fill up that great hole," said Lucia.

"No time to-day, ma'am," said Georgie.  "I'll see if I can spare a
couple of men to-morrow, or next day at the latest."

Lucia's Georgie, standing on the threshold of Mallards, suddenly
observed that the excavation extended right across the street, and
that he was quite cut off from the Cottage.  He pulled off his gas-
mask.

"But, look, how am I to get home?" he asked in a voice of acute
lamentation.  "I can't climb down into that pit and up on the other
side."

Great laughter from the brethren.

"Well, sir, that is awkward," said Per.  "I'm afraid you'll have to
nip round by the High Street and up the next turning to get to your
little place.  But it will be all right, come the day after to-
morrow."

Lucia carried her tile reverently into the house, and beckoned to
Georgie.

"That square-tiled opening confirms all I conjectured about the
lines of foundation in the cellar," she said.  "Those wonderful
Romans used to have furnaces underneath the floors of their houses
and their temples--I've been reading about it--and the hot air
was conveyed in tiled flues through the walls to heat them.
Undoubtedly this was a hot-air flue and not a drain at all."

"That would be interesting," said Georgie.  "But the pipe seemed to
run through the earth, not through a wall.  At least there was no
sign of a wall that I saw."

"The wall may have perished at that point," said Lucia after only a
moment's thought.  "I shall certainly find it further on in the
garden, where I must begin digging at once.  But not a word to
anybody yet.  Without doubt, Georgie, a Roman villa stood here or
perhaps a temple.  I should be inclined to say a temple.  On the
top of the hill, you know: just where they always put temples."

Dusk had fallen before the leak in the gas pipe was repaired, and a
rope was put up round the excavation and hung with red lanterns.
Had the pit been less deep, or the sides of it less precipitous,
Lucia would have climbed down into it and continued her study of
the hot-air flue.  She took the tile to her bathroom and scrubbed
it clean.  Close to the broken edge of it there were stamped the
letters S.P.

She dined alone that night and went back to the garden-room from
which the last odours of gas had vanished.  She searched in vain in
her books from the London Library for any mention of Tilling having
once been a Roman town, but its absence made the discovery more
important, as likely to prove a new chapter in the history of Roman
Britain.  Eagerly she turned over the pages: there were
illustrations of pottery which fortified her conviction that her
fragments were of Roman origin: there was a picture of a Roman tile
as used in hot-air flues which was positively identical with her
specimen.  Then what could S.P. stand for?  She ploughed through a
list of inscriptions found in the South of England and suddenly
gave a great crow of delight.  There was one headed S.P.Q.R., which
being interpreted meant Senatus Populusque Romanus, "the Senate and
the People of Rome."  Her instinct had been right: a private villa
would never have borne those imperial letters; they were reserved
for state-erected buildings, such as temples. . . .  It said so in
her book.



CHAPTER VII


For the next few days Lucia was never once seen in the streets of
Tilling, for all day she supervised the excavations in her garden.
To the great indignation of her gardener, she hired two unemployed
labourers at very high wages in view of the importance of their
work, and set them to dig a trench across the potato-patch which
Elizabeth had despoiled and the corner of the asparagus bed, so
that she must again strike the line of the hot-air flue, which had
been so providentially discovered at the corner of the garden-room.
Great was her triumph when she hit it once more, though it was a
pity to find that it still ran through the earth, and not, as she
had hoped through the buried remains of a wall.  But the soil was
rich in relics, it abounded in pieces of pottery on the same type
as those she had decided were Roman, and there were many pretty
fragments of iridescent, oxydised glass, and a few bones which she
hoped might turn out to be those of red deer which at the time of
the Roman occupation were common in Kent and Sussex.  Her big table
in the garden-room was cleared of its books and writing apparatus,
and loaded with cardboard trays of glass and pottery.  She scarcely
entered the Office at all, and but skimmed through the communications
from Mammoncash.

Georgie dined with her on the evening of the joyful day when she
had come across the hot-air flue again.  There was a slightly
earthy odour in the garden-room where after dinner they pored over
fragments of pottery, and vainly endeavoured to make pieces fit
together.

"It's most important, Georgie," she said, "as you will readily
understand, to keep note of the levels at which objects are
discovered.  Those in Tray D come from four feet down in the corner
of the asparagus bed: that is the lowest level we have reached at
present, and they, of course, are the earliest."

"Oh, and look at Tray A," said Georgie.  "All those pieces of clay
tobacco pipes.  I didn't know the Romans smoked.  Did they?"

Lucia gave a slightly superior laugh.

"Caro, of course they didn't," she said.  "Tray A: yes, I thought
so.  Tray A is from a much higher level, let me see, yes, a foot
below the surface of the ground.  We may put it down therefore as
being subsequent to Queen Elizabeth when tobacco was introduced.
At a guess I should say those pipes were Cromwellian.  A
Cromwellian look, I fancy.  I am rather inclined to take a complete
tile from the continuation of the air flue which I laid bare this
morning, and see if it is marked in full S.P.Q.R.  The tile from
the street, you remember, was broken and had only S.P. on it.  Yet
is it a Vandalism to meddle at all with such a fine specimen of a
flue evidently in situ?"

"I think I should do it," said Georgie, "you can put it back when
you've found the letters."

"I will then.  To-morrow I expect my trench to get down to floor
level.  There may be a tesselated pavement like that found at
Richborough.  I shall have to unearth it all, even if I have to dig
up the entire kitchen garden.  And if it goes under the garden-
room, I shall have to underpin it, I think they call it.  Fancy all
this having come out of a smell of gas!"

"Yes, that was a bit of luck," said Georgie stifling a yawn over
Tray A, where he was vainly trying to make a complete pipe out of
the fragments.

Lucia put on the kind, the indulgent smile suitable to occasions
when Georgie did not fully appreciate her wisdom or her brilliance.

"Scarcely fair to call it entirely luck," she said, "for you must
remember that when the cellar was dug out I told you plainly that I
should find Roman remains in the garden.  That was before the gas
smelt."

"I'd forgotten that," said Georgie.  "To be sure you did."

"Thank you, dear.  And to-morrow morning, if you are strolling and
shopping in the High Street, I think you might let it be known that
I am excavating in the garden and that the results, so far, are
most promising.  Roman remains: you might go as far as that.  But I
do not want a crowd of sightseers yet: they will only impede the
work.  I shall admit nobody at present."


Foljambe had very delicately told Georgie that there was a slight
defect in the plumbing system at Mallards Cottage, and accordingly
he went down to the High Street next day to see about this.  It was
pleasant to be the bearer of such exciting news about Roman
remains, and he announced it to Diva through the window and
presently met Elizabeth.  She had detached the tiger-skin border
from the familiar green skirt.

"Hope the smell of gas or drains or both has quite gone away now,
Mr. Georgie," she said.  "I'm told it was enough to stifle anybody.
Odd that I never had any trouble in my time nor Aunt Caroline in
hers.  Lucia none the worse?"

"Not a bit.  And no smell left," said Georgie.

"So glad!  Most dangerous it must have been.  Any news?"

"Yes: she's very busy digging up the kitchen garden--"

"What?  My beautiful garden?" cried Elizabeth shrilly.  "Ah, I
forgot.  Yes?"

"And she's finding most interesting Roman remains.  A villa, she
thinks, or more probably a temple."

"Indeed!  I must go up and have a peep at them."

"She's not showing them to anybody just yet," said Georgie.  "She's
deep down in the asparagus bed.  Pottery.  Glass.  Air flues."

"Well, that is news!  Quite an archologist, and nobody ever
suspected it," observed Elizabeth smiling her widest.  "Padre, dear
Lucia has found a Roman temple in my asparagus bed."

"Ye dinna say!  I'll rin up, bedad."

"No use," said Elizabeth.  "Not to be shown to anybody yet."

Georgie passed on to the plumbers.  "Spencer & Son" was the name of
the firm, and there was the proud legend in the window that it had
been established in Tilling in 1820 and undertook all kinds of work
connected with plumbing and drains.  Mr. Spencer promised to send a
reliable workman up at once to Mallards Cottage.

The news disseminated by Georgie quickly spread from end to end of
the High Street, and reached the ears of an enterprising young
gentleman who wrote paragraphs of local news for the Hastings
Chronicle.  This should make a thrilling item, and he called at
Mallards just as Lucia was coming in from her morning's digging,
and begged to be allowed to communicate any particulars she could
give him to the paper.  There seemed no harm in telling him what
she had allowed Georgie to reveal to Tilling (in fact she liked the
idea) and told him briefly that she had good reason to hope that
she was on the track of a Roman villa, or, more probably, a temple.
It was too late for the news to appear in this week's issue, but it
would appear next week, and he would send her a copy.  Lucia
lunched in a great hurry and returned to the asparagus bed.

Soon after Georgie appeared to help.  Lucia was standing in the
trench with half of her figure below ground level, like Erda in
Wagner's justly famous opera.  If only Georgie had not dyed his
beard, he might have been Wotan.

"Ben arrivato," she called to him in the Italian translation.  "I'm
on the point of taking out a tile from my hot-air flue.  I am glad
you are here as a witness, and it will be interesting for you.
This looks rather a loose one.  Now."

She pulled it out and turned it over.

"Georgie," she cried.  "Here's the whole of the stamped letters of
which I had only two."

"Oh, how exciting," said Georgie.  "I do hope there's a Q.R. as
well as the S.P."

Lucia rubbed the dirt off the inscription and then replaced the
tile.

"What is the name of that plumber in the High Street established a
century ago?" she asked in a perfectly calm voice.

Georgie guessed what she had found.

"My dear, how tarsome!" he said.  "I'm afraid it IS Spencer."

Lucia got nimbly out of the trench, and wiped her muddy boots
against the box edging of the path.

"Georgie, that is a valuable piece of evidence," she said.  "No
doubt this is an old drain.  I confess I was wrong about it.  Let
us date it, tentatively, circa 1830.  Now we know more about the
actual levels.  First we have the Cromwellian stratum: tobacco
pipes.  Below again--what is that?"

There were two workmen in the trench, the one with a pick, the
other shovelling the earth into a basket to dump it on to the far
corner of the potato-patch uprooted by Elizabeth.  Georgie was glad
of this diversion (whatever it might be) for it struck him that the
stratum which Lucia had assigned to Cromwell was far above the air
flue stratum, once pronounced to be Roman, but now dated circa
1830 . . .  The digger had paused with his pickaxe poised in the
air.

"Lovely bit of glass here, ma'am," he said.  "I nearly went crash
into it!"

Lucia jumped back into the trench and became Erda again.  It was a
narrow escape indeed.  The man's next blow must almost certainly
have shattered a large and iridescent piece of glass, which gleamed
in the mould.  Tenderly and carefully, taking off her gloves, Lucia
loosened it.

"Georgie!" she said in a voice faint and ringing with emotion,
"take it from me in both hands with the utmost caution.  A
wonderful piece of glass, with an inscription stamped on it."

"Not Spencer again, I hope," said Georgie.

Lucia passed it to him from the trench, and he received it in his
cupped hands.

"Don't move till I get out and take it from you," said she.  "Not
another stroke for the present," she called to her workman.

There was a tap for the garden-hose close by.  Lucia let the water
drip very gently, drop by drop, on to the trove.  It was
brilliantly iridescent, of a rich greenish colour below the
oxydized surface, and of curved shape.  Evidently it was a piece of
some glass vessel, ewer or bottle.  Tilting it this way and that to
catch the light she read the letters stamped on it.

"A.P.O.L." she announced.

"It's like crosswords," said Georgie.  "All I can think of is
'Apology'."

Lucia sat down on a neighbouring bench, panting with excitement but
radiant with triumph.

"Do you remember how I said that I suspected I should find the
remains of a Roman temple?" she asked.

"Yes: or a villa," said Georgie.

"I thought a temple more probable, and said so.  Look at it,
Georgie.  Some sacrificial vessel--there's a hint for you--some
flask for libations dedicated to a God.  What God?"

"Apollo!" cried Georgie.  "My dear, how perfectly wonderful!  I
don't see what else it could be.  That makes up for all the
Spencers.  And it's the lowest level of all, so that's all right
anyhow."

Reverently holding this (quite large) piece of the sacrificial
vessel in her joined hands, Lucia conveyed it to the garden-room,
dried the water off it with blotting-paper, and put it in a tray by
itself, since the objects in Tray D, once indubitably Roman, had
been found to be Spenserian.

"All important to find the rest of it," she said.  "We must search
with the utmost care.  Let us go back and plan what is to be done.
I think I had better lock the door of the garden-room."

The whole system of digging was revised.  Instead of the earth at
the bottom of the trench being loosened with strong blows of the
pick, Lucia, starting at the point where this fragment of a
sacrificial vessel was found, herself dug with a trowel, so that no
random stroke should crash into the missing pieces: when she was
giddy with blood to the head from this stooping position, Georgie
took her place.  Then there was the possibility that missing pieces
might have been already shovelled out of the trench, so the two
workmen were set to turn over the mound of earth already excavated
with microscopic diligence.

"It would be unpardonable of me," said Lucia, "if I missed finding
the remaining portions, for they must be here, Georgie.  I'm so
giddy: take the trowel."

"Something like a coin, ma'am," sang out one of the workmen on the
dump.  "Or it may be a button."

Lucia vaulted out of the trench with amazing agility.

"A coin without doubt," she said.  "Much weathered, alas, but we
may be able to decipher it.  Georgie, would you kindly put it--you
have the key of the garden-room--in the same tray as the
sacrificial vessel?"

For the rest of the afternoon the search was rewarded by no further
discovery.  Towards sunset a great bank of cloud arose in the west,
and all night long, the heavens streamed with torrential rain.  The
deluge disintegrated the dump, and the soil was swept over the
newly-planted lettuces, and on to the newly gravelled garden-path.
The water drained down into the trench from the surface of the
asparagus bed, and next day work was impossible, for there was a
foot of water in it, and still the rain continued.  Driven to more
mercenary pursuits, Lucia spent a restless morning in the office,
considering the latest advice from Mammoncash.  He was strongly of
opinion that the rise in the Industrial market had gone far enough:
he counselled her to take her profits, of which he enclosed a most
satisfactory list, and again recommended gilt-edged stock.  Prices
there had dwindled a good deal since the Industrial boom began, and
the next week or two ought to see a rise.  Lucia gazed at the
picture of Dame Catherine Winterglass for inspiration, and then
rang up Mammoncash (trunk-call) and assented.  In her enthusiasm
for archological discoveries, all this seemed tedious business: it
required a great effort to concentrate on so sordid an aim as money-
making, when further pieces of sacrificial vessels (or vessel) from
a temple of Apollo must be lurking in the asparagus bed.  But the
rain continued and at present they were inaccessible below a foot
or more of opaque water enriched with the manure she had dug into
the surrounding plots.

Several days elapsed before digging could be resumed, and Tilling
rang with the most original reports about Lucia's discoveries.  She
herself was very cautious in her admissions, for before the
complete "Spencer" tile was unearthed, she had, on the evidence of
the broken "S.P." tile, let it be known that she had found Roman
remains, part of a villa or a temple, in the asparagus bed, and now
this evidence was not quite so conclusive as it had been.  The
Apolline sacrificial vessel, it is true, had confirmed her original
theory, but she must wait for more finds, walls or tesselated
pavement, before it was advisable to admit sightseers to the
digging, or make any fresh announcement.  Georgie was pledged to
secrecy, all the gardener knew was that she had spoiled his
asparagus bed, and as for the coin (for coin it was and no button)
the most minute scrutiny could not reveal any sort of image or
superscription on its corroded surface: it might belong to the age
of Melchizedeck or Hadrian or Queen Victoria.  So since Tilling
could learn nothing from official quarters, it took the obvious
course, sanctified by tradition, of inventing discoveries for
itself: a statue was hinted at and a Roman altar.  All this was
most fortunate for Elizabeth, for the prevailing excitement about
the ancient population of Tilling following on the gas and sewer
affair, had rendered completely obsolete its sense of having been
cheated when it was clear that she was not about to add to the
modern population, and her appearance in the High Street alert and
active as usual ceased to rouse any sort of comment.  To make
matters square between the late and the present owner of Mallards,
it was only right that, just as Lucia had never believed in
Elizabeth's baby, so now Elizabeth was entirely incredulous about
Lucia's temple.

Elizabeth, on one of these days of April tempest when digging was
suspended, came up from Grebe for her morning's marketing in her
raincloak and Russian boots.  The approach of a violent shower had
driven her to take shelter in Diva's house, who could scarcely
refuse her admittance, but did not want her at all.  She put down
her market-basket, which for the best of reasons smelt of fish,
where Paddy could not get at it.

"Such a struggle to walk up from Grebe in this gale," she said.
"Diva, you could hardly believe the monstrous state of neglect into
which the kitchen garden there has fallen.  Not a vegetable.  A sad
change for me after my lovely garden at Mallards where I never had
to buy even a bit of parsley.  But beggars can't be choosers, and
far be it from me to complain."

"Well, you took every potato out of the ground at Mallards before
you left," said Diva.  "That will make a nice start for you."

"I said I didn't complain, dear," said Elizabeth sharply.  "And how
is the Roman Forum getting on?  Any new temples?  Too killing!  I
don't believe a single word about it.  Probably poor Lucia has
discovered the rubbish-heap of odds and ends I threw away when I
left my beloved old home for ever."

"Did you bury them in the ground where the potatoes had been?"
asked Diva, intensely irritated at this harping on the old home.

Elizabeth, as was only dignified, disregarded this harping on
potatoes.

"I'm thinking of digging up two or three old apple-trees at Grebe
which can't have borne fruit for the last hundred years," she said,
"and telling everybody that I've found the Ark of the Covenant or
some Shakespeare Folios among their roots.  Nobody shall see them,
of course.  Lucia finds it difficult to grow old gracefully: that's
why she surrounds herself with mysteries, as I said to Benjy the
other day.  At that age nobody takes any further interest in her
for herself, and so she invents Roman Forums to kindle it again.
Must be in the limelight.  And the fortune she's supposed to have
made, the office, the trunk-calls to London.  More mystery.  I
doubt if she's made or lost more than half-a-crown."

"Now that's jealousy," said Diva.  "Just because you lost a lot of
money yourself, and can't bear that she should have made any.  You
might just as well say that I didn't make any."

"Diva, I ask you.  DID you make any?" said Elizabeth, suddenly
giving tongue to a suspicion that had long been a terrible weight
on her mind.

"Yes.  I did," said Diva with great distinctness, turning a rich
crimson as she spoke.  "And if you want to know how much, I tell
you it's none of your business."

"Chrie--I mean Diva," said Elizabeth very earnestly, "I warn you
for your good, you're becoming a LEETLE mysterious, too.  Don't let
it grow on you.  Let us be open and frank with each other always.
No one would be more delighted than me if Lucia turns out to have
found the Parthenon in the gooseberry bushes, but why doesn't she
let us see anything?  It is these hints and mysteries which I
deprecate.  And the way she talks about finance, as if she was a
millionaire.  Pending further evidence, I say 'Bunkum' all round."

The superb impudence of Elizabeth of all women giving warnings
against being mysterious and kindling waning interest by hinting at
groundless pretensions, so dumbfounded Diva that she sat with open
mouth staring at her.  She did not trust herself to speak for fear
she might say, not more than she meant but less.  It was better to
say nothing than not be adequate and she changed the subject.

"How's the tiger-skirt?" she asked.  "And collar."

Elizabeth rather mistakenly thought that she had quelled Diva over
this question of middle-aged mysteriousness.  She did not want to
rub it in, and adopted the new subject with great amiability.

"Sweet of you to ask, dear, about my new little frock," she said.
"Everybody complimented me on it, except you, and I was a little
hurt.  But I think--so does Benjy--that it's a wee bit smart for
our homely Tilling.  How I hate anybody making themselves
conspicuous."

Diva could trust herself to speak on this subject without fear of
saying too little.

"Now Elizabeth," she said, "you asked me as a friend to be open and
frank with you, and so I tell you that that's not true.  The hair
was coming off your new little frock--it was the old green skirt
anyway--in handfuls.  That day you lunched with Lucia and hit your
foot against the table-rail it flew about.  Grosvenor had to sweep
the carpet afterwards.  I might as well trim my skirt with strips
of my doormat and then say it was too smart for Tilling.  You'd
have done far better to have buried that mangy tiger-skin and the
eye I knocked out of it with the rest of your accumulations in the
potato-patch.  I should be afraid of getting eczema if I wore a
thing like that, and I don't suppose that at this minute there's a
single hair left on it.  There!"

It was Elizabeth's turn to be dumbfounded at the vehemence of these
remarks.  She breathed through her nose and screwed her face up
into amazing contortions.

"I never thought to have heard such words from you," she said.

"And I never thought to be told that strips from a mangy tiger-skin
were too smart to wear in Tilling," retorted Diva.  "And pray,
Elizabeth, don't make a face as if you were going to cry.  Do you
good to hear the truth.  You think everybody else is being
mysterious and getting into deceitful ways just because you're
doing so yourself.  All these weeks you've been given honey and
driven in Susan's Royce and nobody's contradicted you because--oh,
well, you know what I mean, so leave it at that."

Elizabeth whisked up her market-basket and the door banged.  Diva
opened the window to get rid of that horrid smell of haddock.

"I'm not a bit sorry," she said to herself.  "I hope it may do her
good.  It's done me good, anyhow."


The weather cleared, and visiting the flooded trench one evening
Lucia saw that the water had soaked away and that digging could be
resumed.  Accordingly she sent word to her two workmen to start
their soil-shifting again at ten next morning.  But when, awaking
at seven, she found the sun pouring into her room from a cloudless
sky, she could not resist going out to begin operations alone.  It
was a sparkling day, thrushes were scudding about the lawn
listening with cocked heads for the underground stir of worms and
then rapturously excavating for their breakfast: excavation,
indeed, seemed like some beautiful law of Nature which all must
obey.  Moreover she wanted to get on with her discoveries as
quickly as possible, for to be quite frank with herself, the
unfortunate business of the Spencer tile had completely exploded,
sky-high, all her evidence, and in view of what she had already
told the reporter from the Hastings Chronicle, it would give a
feeling of security to get some more.  To-day was Friday, the
Hastings Chronicle came out on Saturday, and, with the earth soft
for digging, with the example of the thrushes on the lawn and the
intoxicating tonic of the April day, she had a strong presentiment
that she would find the rest of that sacred bottle with the
complete dedication to Apollo in time to ring up the Hastings
Chronicle with this splendid intelligence before it went to press.

Trowel in hand Lucia jumped lightly into the trench.  Digging with
a trowel was slow work, but much safer than with pick and shovel,
for she could instantly stop when it encountered any hard
underground resistance which might prove to be a fragment of what
she sought.  Sometimes it was a pebble that arrested her stroke,
sometimes a piece of pottery, and once her agonised heart leapt
into her mouth when the blade of her instrument encountered and
crashed into some brittle substance.  But it was only a snail-
shell: it proved to be a big brown one and she remembered a
correspondence in the paper about the edible snails which the
Romans introduced into Britain, so she put it carefully aside.  The
clock struck nine and Grosvenor stepping cautiously on the mud
which the rain had swept on to the gravel-path came out to know
when she would want breakfast.  Lucia didn't know herself, but
would ring when she was ready.

Grosvenor had scarcely gone back again to the house, when once more
Lucia's trowel touched something which she sensed to be brittle,
and she stopped her stroke before any crash followed, and dug round
the obstruction with extreme caution.  She scraped the mould from
above it, and with a catch in her breath disclosed a beautiful
piece of glass, iridescent on the surface, and of a rich green in
substance.  She clambered out of the trench and took it to the
garden tap.  Under the drip of the water there appeared stamped
letters of the same type as the APOL on the original fragment: the
first four were LINA, and there were several more, still caked with
a harder incrustation, to follow.  She hurried to the garden-room,
and laid the two pieces together.  They fitted exquisitely, and the
"Apol" on the first ran straight on into the "Lina" of the second.

"Apollina," murmured Lucia.  In spite of her Latin studies and her
hunts through pages of Roman inscriptions, the name "Apollina"
(perhaps a feminine derivative from Apollo) was unfamiliar to her.
Yet it held the suggestion of some name which she could not at once
recall.  Apollina . . . a glass vessel.  Then a hideous surmise
loomed up in her mind, and with brutal roughness regardless of the
lovely iridescent surface of the glass, she rubbed the caked earth
off the three remaining letters, and the complete legend
"Apollinaris" was revealed.

She sat heavily down and looked the catastrophe in the face.  Then
she took a telegraph form, and after a brief concentration
addressed it to the editor of the Hastings Chronicle, and wrote:
"Am obliged to abandon my Roman excavations for the time.  Stop.
Please cancel my interview with your correspondent as any
announcement would be premature.  Emmeline Lucas, Mallards House,
Tilling."

She went into the house and rang for Grosvenor.

"I want this sent at once," she said.

Grosvenor looked with great disfavour at Lucia's shoes.  They were
caked with mud which dropped off in lumps on to the carpet.

"Yes, ma'am," she said.  "And hadn't you better take off your shoes
on the door mat?  If you have breakfast in them you'll make an
awful mess on your dining-room carpet.  I'll bring you some indoor
shoes and then you can put the others on again if you're going on
digging after breakfast."

"I shan't be digging again," said Lucia.

"Glad to hear it, ma'am."

Lucia breakfasted, deep in meditation.  Her excavations were at an
end, and her one desire was that Tilling should forget them as soon
as possible, even as, in the excitement over them, it had forgotten
about Elizabeth's false pretences.  Oblivion must cover the memory
of them, and obliterate their traces.  Not even Georgie should know
of the frightful tragedy that had occurred until all vestiges of it
had been disposed of; but he was coming across at ten to help her,
and he must be put off, with every appearance of cheerfulness so
that he should suspect nothing.  She rang him up, and her voice was
as brisk and sprightly as ever.

"Dood morning, Georgino," she said.  "No excavazione to-day."

"Oh, I'm sorry," said Georgie.  "I was looking forward to finding
more glass vessel."

"Me sorry, too," said Lucia.  "Dwefful busy to-day, Georgie.  We
dine to-morrow, don't we, alla casa dei sapienti."

"Where?" asked Georgie, completely puzzled.

"At the Wyses," said Lucia.

She went out to the garden-room.  Bitter work was before her but
she did not flinch.  She carried out, one after the other, trays A,
B, C and D, to the scene of her digging, and cast their contents
into the trench.  The two pieces of glass that together formed a
nearly complete Apollinaris bottle gleamed in the air as they fell,
and the undecipherable coin clinked as it struck them.  Back she
went to the garden-room and returned to the London Library every
volume that had any bearing on the Roman occupation of Britain.  At
ten o'clock her two workmen appeared and they were employed for the
rest of the day in shovelling back into the trench every spadeful
of earth which they had dug out of it.  Their instructions were to
stamp it well down.

Lucia had been too late to stop her brief communication to the
reporter of the Hastings Chronicle from going to press, and next
morning when she came down to breakfast she found a marked copy of
it ("see page 2" in blue pencil).  She turned to it and with a
curdling of her blood read what this bright young man had made out
of the few words she had given him.

"All lovers of art and archology will be thrilled to hear of the
discoveries that Mrs. Lucas has made in the beautiful grounds of
her Queen Anne mansion at Tilling.  The chtelaine of Mallards
House most graciously received me there a few days ago, and in her
exquisite salon which overlooks the quaint old-world street gave
me, over 'the cup that cheers but not inebriates,' a brilliant
little rsum of her operations up to date and of her hopes for the
future.  Mrs. Lucas, as I need not remind my readers, is the
acknowledged leader of the most exclusive social circles in
Tilling, a first-rate pianist, and an accomplished scholar in
languages, dead and alive.

"'I have long,' she said, 'been studying that most interesting and
profoundly significant epoch in history, namely the Roman
occupation of Britain, and it has long been my day-dream to be
privileged to add to our knowledge of it.  That day-dream, I may
venture to say, bids fair to become a waking reality.'

"'What made you first think that there might be Roman remains
hidden in the soil of Tilling?' I asked.

"She shook a playful but warning finger at me.  (Mrs. Lucas's hands
are such as a sculptor dreams of but seldom sees.)

"'Now I'm not going to let you into my whole secret yet,' she said.
'All I can tell you is that when, a little while ago, the street
outside my house was dug up to locate some naughty leaking gas
pipe, I, watching the digging closely, saw something unearthed that
to me was indisputable evidence that under my jardin lay the
remains of a Roman villa or temple.  I had suspected it before: I
had often said to myself that this hill of Tilling, commanding so
wide a stretch of country, was exactly the place which those
wonderful old Romans would have chosen for building one of their
castra or forts.  My intuition has already been justified, and, I
feel sure will soon be rewarded by even richer discoveries.  More I
cannot at present tell you, for I am determined not to be
premature.  Wait a little while yet, and I think, yes, I think you
will be astonished at the results . . .'"

Grosvenor came in.

"Trunk-call from London, ma'am," she said.  "Central News Agency."

Lucia, sick with apprehension, tottered to the office.

"Mrs. Lucas?" asked a buzzing voice.

"Yes."

"Central News Agency.  We've just heard by 'phone from Hastings of
your discovery of Roman remains at Tilling," it said.  "We're
sending down a special representative this morning to inspect your
excavations and write--"

"Not the slightest use," interrupted Lucia.  "My excavations have
not yet reached the stage when I can permit any account of them to
appear in the press."

"But the London Sunday papers are most anxious to secure some
material about them to-morrow, and Professor Arbuthnot of the
British Museum, whom we have just rung up is willing to supply
them.  He will motor down and be at Tilling--"

Lucia turned cold with horror.

"I am very sorry," she said firmly, "but it is quite impossible for
me to let Professor Arbuthnot inspect my excavations at this stage,
or to permit any further announcement concerning them."

She rang off, she waited a moment, and, being totally unable to
bear the strain of the situation alone, rang up Georgie.  There was
no Italian or baby-talk to-day.

"Georgie, I must see you at once," she said.

"My dear, anything wrong about the excavations?" asked the
intuitive Georgie.

"Yes, something frightful.  I'll be with you in one minute."

"I've only just begun my break--" said Georgie and heard the
receiver replaced.

With the nightmare notion in her mind of some sleuth-hound of an
archologist calling while she was out and finding no excavation at
all, Lucia laid it on Grosvenor to admit nobody to the house under
any pretext, and hatless, with the Hastings Chronicle in her hand,
she scudded up the road to Mallards Cottage.  As she crossed the
street she heard from the direction of Irene's house a prolonged
and clamorous ringing of a dinner-bell, but there was no time now
even to conjecture what that meant.

Georgie was breakfasting in his blue dressing-gown.  He had been
touching up his hair and beard with the contents of the bottle that
always stood in a locked cupboard in his bedroom.  His hair was not
dry yet, and it was most inconvenient that she should want to see
him so immediately.  But the anxiety in her telephone-voice was
unmistakable, and very likely she would not notice his hair.

"All quite awful, Georgie," she said, noticing nothing at all.
"Now first I must tell you that I found the rest of the Apollo-
vessel yesterday, and it was an Apollinaris bottle."

"My dear, how tarsome," said Georgie sympathetically.

"Tragic rather than tiresome," said Lucia.  "First the Spencer-tile
and then the Apollinaris bottle.  Nothing Roman left, and I filled
up the trench yesterday.  Finito!  O Georgie, how I should have
loved a Roman temple in my garden!  Think of the prestige!
Archologists and garden parties with little lectures!  It is
cruel.  And then as if the extinction of all I hoped for wasn't
enough there came the most frightful complications.  Listen to the
Hastings Chronicle of this morning."

She read the monstrous fabrication through in a tragic monotone.

"Such fibs, such inventions!" she cried.  "I never knew what a vile
trade journalism was!  I did see a young man last week--I can't
even remember his name or what he looked like--for two minutes, not
more, and told him just what I said you might tell Tilling.  It
wasn't in the garden-room and I didn't give him tea, because it was
just before lunch, standing in the hall, and I never shook a
playful forefinger at him or talked about day-dreams or naughty gas
pipes, and I never called the garden jardin, though I may have said
giardino.  And I had hardly finished reading this tissue of lies
just now, when the Central News rang me up and wanted to send down
Professor Arbuthnot of the British Museum to see my excavations.
Georgie, how I should have loved it if there had been anything to
show him!  I stopped that--the Sunday London papers wanted news too--
but what am I to do about this revolting Chronicle?"

Georgie glanced through the paper again.

"I don't think I should bother much," he said.  "The chtelaine of
Mallards, you know, leader of exclusive circles, lovely hands,
pianist and scholar: all very complimentary.  What a rage Elizabeth
will be in.  She'll burst."

"Very possibly," said Lucia.  "But don't you see how this drags me
down to her level?  That's so awful.  We've all been despising her
for deceiving us and trying to make us think she was to have a
baby, and now here am I no better than her, trying to make you all
think I had discovered a Roman temple.  And I did believe it much
more than she ever believed the other.  I did indeed, Georgie, and
now it's all in print which makes it ever so much worse.  Her baby
was never in print."

Georgie had absently passed his fingers through his beard, to
assist thought, and perceived a vivid walnut stain on them.  He put
his hand below the tablecloth.

"I never thought of that," he said.  "It is rather a pity.  But
think how very soon we forgot about Elizabeth.  Why it was almost
the next day after she gave up going to be a mother and took in the
old green skirt again that you got on to your discoveries, and
nobody gave a single thought to her baby any more.  Can't we give
them all something new to jabber about?"

Georgie had got up from the table and with his walnut hand still
concealed strayed to the open window and looked out.

"If that isn't Elizabeth at the door of Mallards!" he said.  "She's
got a paper in her hand: Hastings Chronicle, I bet.  Grosvenor's
opened the door, but not very wide.  Elizabeth's arguing--"

"Georgie, she mustn't get in," cried the agonized Lucia.  "She'll
pop out into the garden, and see there's no excavation at all."

"She's still arguing," said Georgie in the manner of Brangaene
warning Isolde.  "She's on the top step now . . .  Oh, it's all
right.  Grosvenor's shut the door in her face.  I could hear it,
too.  She's standing on the top step, thinking.  Oh, my God, she's
coming here, just as she did before, when she was canvassing.  But
there'll be time to tell Foljambe not to let her in."

Georgie hurried away on this errand, and Lucia flattened herself
against the wall so that she could not be seen from the street.
Presently the door-bell tinkled, and Foljambe's voice was heard
firmly reiterating, "No, ma'am, he's not at home . . .  No ma'am,
he's not in . . .  No, ma'am, he's out, and I can't say when he'll
be in.  Out."

The door closed, and next moment Elizabeth's fell face appeared at
the open window.  A suspiciously-minded person might have thought
that she wanted to peep into Georgie's sitting-room to verify (or
disprove) Foljambe's assertions, and Elizabeth, who could read
suspicious minds like an open book, made haste to dispel so odious
a supposition.  She gave a slight scream at seeing him so close to
her and in such an elegant costume.

"Dear Mr. Georgie," she said.  "I beg your pardon, but your good
Foljambe was so certain you were out, and I, seeing the window was
open, I--I just meant to pop this copy of the Hastings Chronicle
in.  I knew how much you'd like to see it.  Lovely things about
sweet Lucia, chtelaine of Mallards and Queen of Tilling and such a
wonderful archologist.  Full of surprises for us.  How little one
knows on the spot!"

Georgie, returning from warning Foljambe, had left the door ajar,
and in consequence Lucia, flattening herself like a shadow against
the wall between it and the window, was in a strong draught.  The
swift and tingling approach of a sneeze darted through her nose and
it crashed forth.

"Thanks very much," said Georgie in a loud voice to Elizabeth,
hoping in a confused manner by talking loud to drown what had
already resounded through the room.  Instantly Elizabeth thrust her
head a little further through the window and got a satisfactory
glimpse of Lucia's skirt.  That was enough: Lucia was there and she
withdrew her head from its strained position.

"We're all agog about her discoveries," she said.  "Such an
excitement!  You've seen them, of course."

"Rather!"  said Georgie with enthusiasm.  "Beautiful Roman tiles
and glass and pottery.  Exquisite!"

Elizabeth's face fell: she had hoped otherwise.

"Must be trotting along," she said.  "We meet at dinner, don't we,
at Susan Wyse's.  Her Majesty is coming, I believe."

"Oh, I didn't know she was in Tilling," said Georgie.  "Is she
staying with you?"

"Naughty!  I only meant the Queen of Tilling."

"Oh, I SEE," said Georgie.  "Au reservoir."


Lucia came out of her very unsuccessful lair.

"Do you think she saw me, Georgie?" she asked.  "It might have been
Foljambe as far as the sneeze went."

"Certainly she saw you.  Not a doubt of it," said Georgie rather
pleased at this compromising rle which had been provided for him.
"And now Elizabeth will tell everybody that you and I were
breakfasting in my dressing-gown--you see what I mean--and that you
hid when she looked in.  I don't know what she mightn't make of
that."

Lucia considered this a moment, weighing her moral against her
archological reputation.

"It's all for the best," she said decidedly.  "It will divert her
horrid mind from the excavations.  And did you ever hear such
acidity in a human voice as when she said 'Queen of Tilling'?  A
dozen lemons, well squeezed, were saccharine compared to it.  But,
my dear, it was most clever and most loyal of you to say you had
seen my exquisite Roman tiles and glass.  I appreciate that
immensely."

"I thought it was pretty good," said he.  "She didn't like that."

"Caro, it was admirable, and you'll stick to it, won't you?  Now
the first thing I shall do is to go to the newsagents and buy up
all their copies of the Hastings Chronicle.  It may be useful to
cut off her supplies . . .  Oh, Georgie, your hand.  Have you hurt
it?  Iodine?"

"Just a little sprain," said Georgie.  "Nothing to bother about."

Lucia picked up her hat at Mallards, and hurried down to the High
Street.  It was rather a shock to see a news-board outside the
paper-shop with


            "MRS. LUCAS'S ROMAN FINDS IN TILLING"


prominent in the contents of the current number of the Hastings
Chronicle, and a stronger shock to find that all the copies had
been sold.

"Went like hot cakes, ma'am," said the proprietor, "on the news of
your excavations, and I've just telephoned a repeat order."

"Most gratifying," said Lucia, looking the reverse of gratified. . . .
There was Diva haggling at the butcher's as she passed, and Diva ran
out, leaving Pat to guard her basket.

"Morning," she said.  "Seen Elizabeth?"

Lucia thought of replying "No, but she's seen me," but that would
entail lengthy explanations, and it was better first to hear what
Diva had to say, for evidently there was news.

"No, dear," she said.  "I've only just come down from Mallards.
Why?"

Diva whistled to Pat, who, guarding her basket, was growling
ferociously at anyone who came near it.

"Mad with rage," she said.  "Hastings Chronicle.  Seen it?"

Lucia concentrated for a moment, in an effort of recollection.

"Ah, that little paragraph about my excavations," said she lightly.
"I did glance at it.  Rather exaggerated, rather decorated, but you
know what journalists are."

"Not an idea," said Diva, "but I know what Elizabeth is.  She told
me she was going to expose you.  Said she was convinced you'd not
found anything at all.  Challenging you.  Of course what really
riled her was that bit about you being leader of social circles,
etcetera.  From me she went on to tell Irene, and then to call on
you and ask you point-blank whether your digging wasn't all a fake,
and then she was going on to Georgie. . . .  Oh, there's Irene."

Diva called shrilly to her, and she pounded up to them on her
bicycle on which was hung a paint-box, a stool and an immense
canvas.

"Beloved!" she said to Lucia.  "Mapp's been to see me.  She told me
she was quite sure you hadn't found any Roman remains.  So I told
her she was a liar.  Just like that.  She went gabbling on, so I
rang my dinner-bell close to her face until she could not bear it
any more and fled.  Nobody can bear a dinner-bell for long if it's
rung like that: all nerve specialists will tell you so.  We had
almost a row, in fact."

"Darling, you're a true friend," cried Lucia, much moved.

"Of course I am.  What else do you expect me to be?  I shall bring
my bell to the Wyses' this evening, in case she begins again.  Good-
bye, adored.  I'm going out to a farm on the marsh to paint a cow
with its calf.  If Mapp annoys you any more I shall give the cow
her face, though it's bad luck on the cow, and send it to our
summer exhibition.  It will pleasantly remind her of what never
happened to her."

Diva looked after her approvingly as she snorted up the High
Street.

"That's the right way to handle Elizabeth, when all's said and
done," she remarked.  "Quaint Irene understands her better than
anybody.  Think how kind we all were to her, especially you, when
she was exposed.  You just said 'Wind-egg.'  Never mentioned it
again.  Most ungrateful of Elizabeth, I think.  What are you going
to do about it?  Why not show her a few of your finds, just to
prove what a liar she is?"

Lucia thought desperately a moment, and then a warm, pitying smile
dawned on her face.

"My dear, it's really beneath me," she said, "to take any notice of
what she told you and Irene and no doubt others as well.  I'm only
sorry for that unhappy jealous nature of hers.  Incurable, I'm
afraid: chronic, and I'm sure she suffers dreadfully from it in her
better moments.  As for my little excavations, I'm abandoning them
for a time."

"That's a pity!" said Diva.  "Should have thought it was just the
time to go on with them.  Why?"

"Too much publicity," said Lucia earnestly.  "You know how I hate
that.  They were only meant to be a modest little amateur effort,
but what with all that rclame in the Hastings Chronicle, and the
Central News this morning telling me that Professor Arbuthnot of
the British Museum, who, I understand is the final authority on
Roman archology, longing to come down to see them--"

"No! from the British Museum?" cried Diva.  "I shall tell Elizabeth
that.  When is he coming?"

"I've refused.  Too much fuss.  And then my arousing all this
jealousy and ill-feeling in--well, in another quarter, is quite
intolerable to me.  Perhaps I shall continue my work later on, but
very quietly.  Georgie, by the way, has seen my little finds, such
as they are, and thinks them exquisite.  But I stifle in this
atmosphere of envy and malice.  Poor Elizabeth!  Good-bye, dear, we
meet this evening at the Wyses', do we not?"

Lucia walked pensively back to Mallards, not displeased with
herself.  Irene's dinner-bell and her own lofty attitude would
probably scotch Elizabeth for the present, and with Georgie as a
deep-dyed accomplice and Diva as an ardent sympathiser, there was
not much to fear from her.  The Hastings Chronicle next week would
no doubt announce that she had abandoned her excavations for the
present, and Elizabeth might make exactly what she chose out of
that.  Breezy unconsciousness of any low libels and machinations
was decidedly the right ticket.

Lucia quickened her pace.  There had flashed into her mind the
memory of a basket of odds and ends which she had brought from
Grebe, but which she had not yet unpacked.  There was a box of
Venetian beads among them, a small ebony elephant, a silver
photograph frame or two, some polished agates, and surely she
seemed to recollect some pieces of pottery.  She had no very
distinct remembrance of them, but when she got home she unearthed
(more excavation) this basket of dubious treasures from a cupboard
below the stairs, and found in her repository of objects suitable
for a jumble sale, a broken bowl and a saucer (patera) of red
stamped pottery.  Her intensive study of Roman remains in Britain
easily enabled her to recognise them as being of "Samian ware," not
uncommonly found on sites of Roman settlements in this island.
Thoughtfully she dusted them, and carried them out to the garden-
room.  They were pretty, they looked attractive casually but
prominently disposed on the top of the piano.  Georgie must be
reminded how much he had admired them when they were found . . .



CHAPTER VIII


With social blood pressure so high, with such embryos of plots and
counterplots darkly developing, with, generally, an atmosphere so
charged with electricity, Susan Wyse's party to-night was likely
(to change the metaphor once more) to prove a scene of carnage.
These stimulating expectations were amply fulfilled.

The numbers to begin with were unpropitious.  It must always remain
uncertain whether Susan had asked the Padre and Evie to dine that
night, for though she maintained ever afterwards that she had asked
them for the day after, he was equally willing to swear in Scotch,
Irish and English that it was for to-night.  Everyone, therefore,
when eight people were assembled, thought that the party was
complete, and that two tables of Bridge would keep it safely
occupied after dinner.  Then when the door opened (it was to be
hoped) for the announcement that dinner was ready, it proved to
have been opened to admit these two further guests, and God knew
what would happen about Bridge.  Susan shook hands with them in a
dismayed and distracted manner, and slipped out of the room, as
anyone could guess, to hold an agitated conference with her cook
and her butler, Figgis, who said he had done his best to convince
them that they were not expected, but without success.  Starvation
corner therefore was likely to be a Lenten situation, served with
drumsticks and not enough soup to cover the bottom of the plate.
Very embarrassing for poor Susan, and there was a general feeling
that nobody must be sarcastic at her wearing the cross of a Member
of the British Empire, which she had unwisely pinned to the front
of her ample bosom, or say they had never been told that Orders
would be worn.  In that ten minutes of waiting, several eggs of
discord (would that they had only been wind-eggs!) had been laid
and there seemed a very good chance of some of them hatching.

In the main it was Elizabeth who was responsible for this clutch of
eggs, for she set about laying them at once.  She had a strong
suspicion that the stain on Georgie's fingers, which he had been
unable to get rid of, was not iodine but hair-dye, and asked him
how he had managed to sprain those fingers all together: such bad
luck.  Then she turned to Lucia and enquired anxiously how her cold
was: she hoped she had been having no further sneezing fits, for
prolonged sneezing was so exhausting.  She saw Georgie and Lucia
exchange a guilty glance and again turned to him:  "We must make a
plot, Mr. Georgie," she said, "to compel our precious Lucia to take
more care of herself.  All that standing about in the wet and cold
over her wonderful excavations."

By this time Irene had sensed that these apparent dew-drops were
globules of corrosive acid, though she did not know their precise
nature, and joined the group.

"Such a lovely morning I spent, Mapp," she said with an intonation
that Elizabeth felt was very like her own.  "I've been painting a
cow with its dear little calf.  Wasn't it lovely for the cow to
have a sweet baby like that?"

During this wait for dinner Major Benjy, screened from his wife by
the Padre and Diva managed to secure three glasses of sherry and
two cocktails.  Then Susan returned followed by Figgis, having told
him not to hand either to her husband or her that oyster-savoury
which she adored, since there were not enough oysters, and to be
careful about helpings.  But an abundance of wine must flow in
order to drown any solid deficiencies, and she had substituted
champagne for hock, and added brandy to go with the chestnut ice 
la Capri.  They went into dinner: Lucia sat on Mr. Wyse's right and
Elizabeth on his left in starvation corner.  On her other side was
Georgie, and Benjy sat next Susan Wyse on the same side of the
table as his wife and entirely out of the range of her observation.

Elizabeth, a little cowed by Irene's artless story, found nothing
to complain of in starvation corner, as far as soup went: indeed
Figgis's rationing had been so severe on earlier recipients that
she got a positive lake of it.  She was pleased at having a man on
each side of her, her host on her right, and Georgie on her left,
whereas Lucia had quaint Irene on her right.  Turbot came next;
about that Figgis was not to blame, for people helped themselves,
and they were all so inconsiderate that, when it came to
Elizabeth's turn, there was little left but spine and a quantity of
shining black mackintosh, and as for her first glass of champagne,
it was merely foam.  By this time, too, she was beginning to get
uneasy about Benjy.  He was talking in a fat contented voice, which
she seldom heard at home, and neither by leaning back nor by
leaning forward could she get any really informatory glimpse of him
or his wine-glasses.  She heard his gobbling laugh at the end of
one of his own stories, and Susan said, "Oh fie, Major, I shall
tell of you."  That was not reassuring.

Elizabeth stifled her uneasiness and turned to her host.

"Delicious turbot, Mr. Wyse," she said.  "So good.  And did you see
the Hastings Chronicle this morning about the great Roman
discoveries of the chtelaine of Mallards.  Made me feel quite a
Dowager."

Mr. Wyse had clearly foreseen the deadly feelings that might be
aroused by that article, and had made up his mind to be extremely
polite to everybody, whatever they were to each other.  He held up
a deprecating hand.

"You will not be able to persuade your friends of that," he said.
"I protest against your applying the word Dowager to yourself.  It
has the taint of age about it.  The ladies of Tilling remain young
for ever, as my sister Amelia so constantly writes to me."

Elizabeth tipped up her champagne-glass, so that he could scarcely
help observing that there was really nothing in it.

"Sweet of the dear Contessa," she said.  "But in my humble little
Grebe, I feel quite a country mouse, so far away from all that's
going on.  Hardly Tilling at all: my Benjy-boy tells me I must call
the house 'Mouse-trap.'"  Irene was still alert for attacks on
Lucia.

"How about calling it Cat and Mouse trap, Mapp?" she enquired
across the table.

"Why, dear?" said Elizabeth with terrifying suavity.

Lucia instantly engaged quaint Irene's attention, or something even
more quaint might have followed, and Mr. Wyse made signals to
Figgis and pointed towards Elizabeth's wine-glass.  Figgis thinking
that he was only calling his notice to wine-glasses in general
filled up Major Benjy's which happened to be empty, and began
carving the chicken.  The maid handed the plates and Lucia got some
nice slices off the breast.  Elizabeth receiving no answer from
Irene, wheeled round to Georgie.

"What a day it will be when we are all allowed to see the great
Roman remains," she said.

"Won't it?" said Georgie.

A dead silence fell on the table except for Benjy's jovial voice.

"A saucy little customer she was.  They used to call her the Pride
of Poona.  I've still got her photograph somewhere, by Jove."

Rockets of conversation, a regular bouquet of them, shot up all
round the table.

"And was Poona where you killed those lovely tigers, Major?" asked
Susan.  "What a pretty costume Elizabeth made of the best bits.  So
ingenious.  Figgis, the champagne."

"Irene dear," said Lucia in her most earnest voice, "I think you
must manage our summer picture-exhibition this year.  My hands are
so full.  Do persuade her to, Mr. Wyse."

Mr. Wyse bowed right and left particularly to Elizabeth.

"I see on all sides of me such brilliant artists and such competent
managers--" he began.

"Oh, pray not me!" said Elizabeth.  "I'm quite out of touch with
modern art."

"Well, there's room for old masters and mistresses, Mapp," said
Irene encouragingly.  "Never say die."

Lucia had just finished her nice slice of breast when a well-
developed drumstick, probably from the leg on which the chicken
habitually roosted, was placed before Elizabeth.  Black roots of
plucked feathers were dotted about in the yellow skin.

"Oh, far too much for me," she said.  "Just a teeny slice after my
lovely turbot."

Her plate was brought back with a piece of the drumstick cut off.
Chestnut ice with brandy followed, and the famous oyster savoury,
and then dessert, with a compote of figs in honey.

"A little Easter gift from my sister Amelia," explained Mr. Wyse to
Elizabeth.  "A domestic product of which the recipe is an heirloom
of the mistress of Castello Faraglione.  I think Amelia had the
privilege of sending you a spoonful or two of the Faraglione honey
not so long ago."

The most malicious brain could not have devised two more appalling
gaffes than this pretty speech contained.  There was that
unfortunate mention of the word "recipe" again, and everyone
thought of lobster, and who could help recalling the reason why
Contessa Amelia had sent Elizabeth the jar of nutritious honey?
The pause of stupefaction was succeeded by a fresh gabble of
conversation, and a spurt of irrepressible laughter from quaint
Irene.

Dinner was now over: Susan collected ladies' eyes, and shepherded
them out of the room, while the Padre held the door open and
addressed some bright and gallant little remark in three languages
to each.  In spite of her injunction to her husband that the
gentlemen mustn't be long, or there would be no time for Bridge, it
was impossible to obey, for Major Benjy had a great number of very
amusing stories to tell, each of which suggested another to him.
He forgot the point of some, and it might have been as well if he
had forgotten the point of others, but they were all men together,
he said, and it was a sad heart that never rejoiced.  Also he
forgot once or twice to send the port on when it came to him, and
filled up his glass again when he had finished his story.

"Most entertaining," said Mr. Wyse frigidly as the clock struck
ten.  "A long time since I have laughed so much.  You are a regular
storehouse of amusing anecdotes, Major.  But Susan will scold me
unless we join the ladies."

"Never do to keep the lil' fairies waiting," said Benjy.  "Well,
thanks, just a spot of sherry.  Capital good dinner I've had.  A
married man doesn't often get much of a dinner at home, by Jove, at
least I don't, though that's to go no further.  Ha, ha!  Discretion."

Then arose the very delicate question of the composition of the
Bridge tables.  Vainly did Mr. Wyse (faintly echoed by Susan)
explain that they would both much sooner look on, for everybody
else, with the same curious absence of conviction in their voices,
said that they would infinitely prefer to do the same.  That was so
palpably false that without more ado cards were cut, the two
highest to sit out for the first rubber.  Lucia drew a king, and
Elizabeth drew a knave, and it seemed for a little that they would
have to sit out together, which would have been quite frightful,
but then Benjy luckily cut a Queen.  A small sitting-room, opening
from the drawing-room would enable them to chat without disturbing
the players, and Major Benjy gallantly declared that he would
sooner have a talk with her than win two grand slams.

Benjy's sense of exuberant health and happiness was beginning to be
overshadowed, as if the edge of a coming eclipse had nicked the
full orb of the sun--perhaps the last glass or two of port had been
an error in an otherwise judicious dinner--but he was still very
bright and loquacious and suffused.

"'Pon my word, a delightful little dinner," he said, as he closed
the door into the little sitting-room.  "Good talk, good friends, a
glass of jolly good wine and a rubber to follow.  What more can a
man ask, I ask you, and Echo answers 'Cern'ly not.'  And I've not
had a pow-wow with you for a long time, Signora, as old Camelia
Faradiddleone would say."

Lucia saw that he had had about enough wine, but after many
evenings with Elizabeth who wouldn't?

"No, I've been quite a hermit lately," she said.  "So busy with my
little jobs--oh, take care of your cigar, Major Benjy: it's burning
the edge of the table."

"Dear me, yes, monstrous stupid of me: where there's smoke there's
fire!  We've been busy, too, settling in.  How do you think Liz is
looking?"

"Very well, exceedingly well," said Lucia enthusiastically.  "All
her old energy, all her delightful activity seem to have returned.
At one time--"

Major Benjy looked round to see that the door was closed and nodded
his head with extreme solemnity.

"Quite, quite.  Olive-branches.  Very true," he said.  "Marvellous
woman, ain't she, the way she's put it all behind her.  Felt it
very much at the time, for she's mos' sensitive.  Highly strung.
Concert pitch.  Liable to ups and downs.  For instance, there was a
paragraph in the Hastings paper this morning that upset Liz so much
that she whirled about like a spinning top, butting into the tables
and chairs.  'Take it quietly, Lisbeth Mapp-Flint,' I told her.
Beneath you to notice it, or should I go over and punch the
Editor's head?"

"Do you happen to be referring to the paragraph about me and my
little excavations?" asked Lucia.

"God bless me, if I hadn't forgotten what it was about," cried
Benjy.  "You're right, Msslucas, the very first time.  That's what
it was about, if I may say so without prejudice.  I only remembered
there was something that annoyed Lisbeth Mapp-Flint, and that was
enough for Major B, late of His Majesty's India forces, God bless
him, too.  If something annoys my wife, it annoys me, too, that's
what I say.  A husband's duty, Msslucas, is always to stand between
her and any annoyances, what?  Too many annoyances lately and often
my heart's bled for her.  Then it was a sad trial parting with her
old home which she'd known ever since her aunt was a lil' girl, or
since they were lil' girls together, if not before.  Then that was
a bad business about the Town Council and those dinner-bells.  A
dirty business I might call it, if there wasn't a lady present,
though that mustn't go any further.  Not cricket, hic.  All adds
up, you know, in the mind of a very sensitive woman.  Twice two and
four, if you see what I mean."

Benjy sank down lower in his chair, and after two attempts to
relight his cigar, gave it up, and the eclipse spread a little
further.

"I'm not quite easy in my mind about Lisbeth," he said, "an' that's
why it's such a privilege to be able to have quiet talk with you
like this.  There's no more sympathetic woman in Tilling, I tell my
missus, than Msslucas.  A thousand pities that you and she don't
always see eye to eye about this or that, whether it's dinner bells
or it might be Roman antiquities or changing houses.  First it's
one thing and then it's another, and then it's something else.
Anxious work."

"I don't think there's the slightest cause for you to be anxious,
Major Benjy," said Lucia.

Benjy thumped the table with one hand, then drew his chair a little
closer to hers, and laid the other hand on her knee.

"That reminds me what I wanted to talk to you about," he said.
"Grebe, you know, our lil' place Grebe.  Far better house in my
opinion than poor ole Auntie's.  I give you my word on that, and
Major B's word's as good's his bond, if not better.  Smelt of dry
rot, did Auntie's house, and the paint peeling off the walls same
as an orange.  But 'Lisbeth liked it, Msslucas.  It suited 'Lisbeth
down to the ground.  You give the old lady a curtain to sit behind
an' something puzzling going on in the street outside, and she'll
be azappy as a Queen till the cows come home, if not longer.  She
misses that at our lil' place, Grebe, and it goes to my heart,
Msslucas."

He was rather more tipsy, thought Lucia than she had supposed, but
he was much better here, maundering quietly along than coming under
Elizabeth's eye, for her sake as well as his, for she had had a
horrid evening with nothing but foam to drink and mackintosh and
muscular drumstick to eat, to the accompaniment of all those
frightful gaffes about cat-traps and recipes and nutritious honey
and hints about Benjy's recollections of the Pride of Poona, poor
woman.  Lucia sincerely hoped that the rubbers now in progress
would be long, so that he might get a little steadier before he had
to make a public appearance again.

"It gives 'Lisbeth the hump, does Grebe," he went on in a
melancholy voice.  "No little side-shows going on outside.  Nothing
but sheep and sea-gulls to squint at from behind a curtain at our
lil' place.  Scarcely worth getting behind a curtain at all, it
isn't, and it's a sad come-down for her.  I lie awake thinking of
it, and I'll tell you what, Msslucas, though it mustn't go any
further.  Mum's the word, like what we had at dinner.  I believe,
though I couldn't say for certain, that she'd be willing to let you
have Grebe, if you offered her thousan' pounds premium, and go back
to Auntie's herself.  Worth thinking about, or lemme see, do I mean
that she'd give you thousan' pounds premium?  Split the difference.
Why, here's 'Lisbeth herself!  There's a curious thing!"

Elizabeth stood in the doorway, and took him in from head to foot
in a single glance, as he withdrew his hand from Lucia's knee as if
it had been a live coal, and, hoisting himself with some difficulty
out of his chair, brushed an inch of cigar-ash off his waistcoat.

"We're going home, Benjy," she said.  "Come along."

"But I want to have rubber of Bridge, Liz," said he.  "Msslucas and
I've been waiting for our lil' rubber of Bridge."

Elizabeth continued to be as unconscious of Lucia as if they were
standing for the Town Council again.

"You've had enough pleasure for one evening, Benjy," said she, "and
enough--"

Lucia, crushing a natural even a laudable desire to hear what
should follow, slipped quietly from the room and closed the door.
Outside a rubber was still going on at one table, and at the other
the Padre, Georgie and Diva were leaning forward discussing
something in low tones.

"But she HAD quitted her card," said Diva.  "And the whole rubber
was only ninepence, and she's not paid me.  Those hectoring ways of
hers--"

"Diva, dear," said Lucia, seating herself in the vacant chair.
"Let's cut for deal at once and go on as if nothing had happened.
You and me.  Laddies against lassies, Padre."

They were still considering their hands when the door into the
inner room opened again, and Elizabeth swept into the room followed
by Benjy.

"Pray don't let anyone get up," she said.  "Such a lovely evening,
dear Susan!  Such a lovely party!  No, Mr. Wyse, I insist.  My
Benjy tells me it's time for me to go home.  So late.  We shall
walk and enjoy the beautiful stars.  Do us both good.  Goloshes
outside in the hall.  Everything."

Mr. Wyse got up and pressed the bell.

"But, my dear lady, no hurry, so early," he said.  "A sandwich
surely, a tunny sandwich, a little lemonade, a drop of whisky.
Figgis:  Whisky, sandwiches, goloshes!"

Benjy suddenly raised the red banner of revolt.  He stood quite
firmly in the middle of the room, with his hand on the back of the
Padre's chair.

"There's been a lil' mistake," he said.  "I want my lil' rubber of
Bridge.  Fair play's a jewel.  I want my tummy sandwich and
mouthful whisky and soda.  I want--"

"Benjy, I'm waiting for you," said Elizabeth.

He looked this way and that but encountered no glance of
encouragement.  Then he made a smart military salute to the general
company and marched from the room stepping carefully but
impeccably, as if treading a tight rope stretched over an abyss,
and shut the door into the hall with swift decision.

"Puir wee mannie," said the Padre.  "Three no trumps, Mistress
Plaistow."

"She HAD quitted the card," said Diva still fuming.  "I saw the
light between it and her fingers.  Oh, is it me?  Three spades, I
mean four."



CHAPTER IX


Lucia and Georgie were seated side by side on the bench of the
organ in Tilling church.  The May sunshine streamed on to them
through the stained glass of a south window, vividly colouring them
with patches of the brightest hues, so that they looked like
objects daringly camouflaged in war-time against enemy aircraft,
for nobody could have dreamed that those brilliant Joseph-coats
could contain human beings.  The lights cast upon Lucia's face and
white dress reached her through a picture of Elijah going up to
heaven in a fiery chariot.  The heat from this vehicle would
presumably have prevented the prophet from feeling cold in
interstellar space, for he wore only an emerald-green bathing-dress
which left exposed his superbly virile arms and legs, and his snowy
locks streamed in the wind.  The horses were flame-coloured, the
chariot was red-hot, and high above it in an ultramarine sky hung
an orange sun which seemed to be the object of the expedition.
Georgie came under the influence of the Witch of Endor.  She was
wrapt in an eau de nil mantle, which made his auburn beard look
livid.  Saul in a purple cloak, and Samuel in a black dressing-gown
made sombre stains on his fawn-coloured suit.

The organ was in process of rebuilding.  A quantity of fresh stops
were being added to it, and an electric blowing apparatus had been
installed.  Lucia clicked on the switch which set the bellows
working, and opened a copy of the Moonlight Sonata.

"It sounds quite marvellous on the organ, Georgie," she said.  "I
was trying it over yesterday.  What I want you to do is to play the
pedals.  Just those slow base notes: pom, pom.  Quite easy."

Georgie put a foot on the pedals.  Nothing happened.

"Oh, I haven't pulled out any pedal stop," said Lucia.  By mistake
she pulled out the tuba, and as the pedals happened to be coupled
to the solo organ a blast of baritone fury yelled through the
church.  "My fault," she said, "entirely my fault, but what a
magnificent noise!  One of my new stops."

She uncoupled the pedals and substituted the bourdon: Elijah and
the Witch of Endor rattled in their leaded frames.

"That's perfect!" she said.  "Now with one hand I shall play the
triplets on the swell, and the solo tune with the other on the vox
humana!  Oh, that tuba again!  I thought I'd put it in."

The plaintive throaty bleating of the vox humana was enervatingly
lovely, and Lucia's America-cloth eyes grew veiled with moisture.

"So heart-broken," she intoned, her syllables keeping time with the
air.  "A lovely contralto tone.  Like Clara Butt, is it not?  The
passionate despair of it.  Fresh courage coming.  So noble.  No,
Georgie, you must take care not to put your foot on two adjacent
pedals at once.  Now, listen!  Do you hear that lovely crescendo?
That I do by just opening the swell very gradually.  Isn't it a
wonderful effect? . . .  I am surprised that no one has ever
thought of setting this Sonata for the organ . . .  Go on pulling
out stops on the great organ--yes, to your left there--in case I
want them.  One always has to look ahead in organ playing.  Arrange
your palette, so to speak.  No, I shan't want them . . .  It dies
away, softer and softer . . .  Hold on that bass C sharp till I say
now . . .  Now."

They both gave the usual slow movement sigh.  Then the volume of
Beethoven tumbled on to the great organ on which Georgie had pulled
out all the stops, and the open diapasons received it with a shout
of rapture.  Lucia slipped from the bench to pick it up.  On the
floor round about was an assemblage of small pipes.

"I think this lot is the cor anglais," she said.  "I am putting in
a beautiful cor anglais."

She picked up one of the pipes, and blew through it.

"A lovely tone," she said.  "It reminds one of the last act of
Tristan, does it not, where the shepherd-boy goes on playing the
cor anglais for ever and ever."

Georgie picked up a pipe belonging to the flute.  It happened to be
a major third above Lucia's cor anglais, and they blew on them
together with a very charming effect.  They tried two others, but
these happened to be a semitone apart, and the result was not so
harmonious.  Then they hastily put them down, for a party of
tourists, being shown round the church by the Padre, came in at the
north door.  He was talking very strong Scots this morning, with
snatches of early English in compliment to the architecture.

"The orrgan, ye see, is being renovated," he said.  "'Twill be a
bonny instrument, I ken.  Good morrow to ye, Mistress Lucas."

Then, as she and Georgie passed him on their way out, he added in
an audible aside:

"The leddy whose munificence has given it to the church.  Eh, a
grand benefaction.  A thousand pounds and mair, what wi' lutes and
psaltery, and a' the whustles."


"I often go and have a little practice on my organ during the
workmen's dinner-hour," said Lucia as they stepped out into the hot
sunshine.  "The organ, Georgie, I find is a far simpler instrument
on which to get your effects than the piano.  The stops supply
expression: you just pull them out or push them in.  That vox
humana, for instance, with what ease one gets the singing tone,
that's so difficult on the piano."

"You've picked it up wonderfully quickly," said Georgie.  "I
thought you had a beautiful touch.  And when will your organ be
finished?"

"In a month or less, I hope.  We must have a service of dedication
and a recital: the Padre, I know, will carry out my wishes about
that.  Georgie, I think I shall open the recital myself.  I am sure
that Tilling would wish it.  I should play some little piece, and
then make way for the organist.  I might do worse than give them
that first movement of the 'Moonlight.'"

"I'm sure Tilling would be much disappointed if you didn't," said
Georgie warmly.  "May I play the pedals for you?"

"I was going to suggest that, and help me with the stops.  I have
progressed, I know, and I'm glad you like my touch, but I hardly
think I could manage the whole complicated business alone yet.
Festina lente.  Let us practice in the dinner-hour every day.  If I
give the 'Moonlight' it must be exquisitely performed.  I must shew
them what can be done with it when the orchestral colour of the
organ is added."

"I promise to work hard," said Georgie.  "And I do think, as the
Padre said to the tourists just now, that it's a most munificent
gift."

"Oh, did he say that?" asked Lucia who had heard perfectly.  "That
was why they all turned round and looked at me.  But, as you know,
it was always my intention to devote a great part, anyhow, of what
I made on the Stock Exchange to the needs of our dear Tilling."

"Very generous, all the same," repeated Georgie.

"No, dear; simple duty.  That's how I see it. . . .  Now what have
I got to do this afternoon?  That tea-party for the school-
children: a hundred and twenty are coming.  Tea in the garden in
the shade, and then games and races.  You'll be helping me all the
time, won't you?  Only four o'clock till seven."

"Oh dear: I'm not very good with children," said Georgie.
"Children are so sticky, particularly after tea, and I won't run a
race with anybody."

"You shan't run a race.  But you'll help to start them, won't you,
and find their mothers for them and that sort of thing.  I know I
can depend on you, and children always adore you.  Let me see: do I
dine with you to-night or you with me?"

"You with me.  And then to-morrow's your great dinner-party.  I
tell you I'm rather nervous, for there are so many things we
mustn't talk about, that there's scarcely a safe subject.  It'll be
the first complete party anyone's had since that frightful evening
at the Wyses'."

"It was clearly my duty to respond to Diva's appeal," said Lucia,
"and all we've got to do is to make a great deal of poor Elizabeth.
She's had a horrid time, most humiliating, Georgie, and what makes
it worse for her is that it was so much her own fault.  Four
o'clock then, dear, this afternoon, or perhaps a little before."


Lucia let herself into her house, musing at considerable length on
the frightful things that had happened since that night at the
Wyses' to which Georgie had alluded, when Elizabeth and Benjy had
set out in their goloshes, to walk back to Grebe.  That was an
unwise step, for the fresh night air had made Benjy much worse, and
the curate returning home on the other side of the High Street
after a meeting of the Band of Hope (such a contrast) had witnessed
dreadful goings-on.  Benjy had stood in the middle of the road,
compelling a motor to pull up with a shriek of brakes, and asked to
see the driver's license, insisting that he was a policeman in
plain clothes on point duty.  When that was settled in a most
sympathetic manner by a real policeman, Benjy informed him that
Msslucas was a regular stunner, and began singing "You are Queen of
my heart to-night."  At that point the curate, pained but violently
interested, reluctantly let himself into his house, and there was
no information to be had with regard to the rest of their walk home
to Grebe.  Then the sad tale was resumed, for Withers told Foljambe
(who told Georgie who told Lucia) that Major Mapp-Flint on arrival
had, no doubt humorously, suggested getting his gun and shooting
the remaining tiger-skins in the hall, but that Mrs. Mapp-Flint
wouldn't hear of it and was not amused.  "Rather the reverse," said
Withers. . . .  Bed.

The curate felt bound to tell his spiritual superior about the
scene in the High Street and Evie told Diva, so that by the time
Elizabeth came up with her market-basket next morning, this sad
sequel to the Wyses' dinner party was known everywhere.  She
propitiated Diva by paying her the ninepence which had been in
dispute, and went so far as to apologise to her for her apparent
curtness at the bridge-table last night.  Then, having secured a
favourable hearing, she told Diva how she had found Benjy sitting
close to Lucia with his hand on her knee.  "He had had more to
drink than he should," she said, "but never would he have done that
unless she had encouraged him.  That's her nature, I'm afraid: she
can't leave men alone.  She's no better than the Pride of Poona!"

So, when Diva met Lucia half an hour afterwards, she could not
resist being distinctly "arch" about her long tte--tte with
Benjy during the first rubber.  Lucia, not appreciating this
archness, had answered not a word, but turned her back and went
into Twistevant's.  Diva hadn't meant any harm, but this truculent
conduct (combined with her dropping that ninepence down a grating
in the gutter) made her see red, and she instantly told Irene that
Lucia had been flirting with Benjy.  Irene had tersely replied,
"You foul-minded old widow."

Then as comment spread, Susan Wyse was blamed for having allowed
Benjy (knowing his weakness) to drink so much champagne, and Mr.
Wyse was blamed for being so liberal with his port.  This was quite
unfounded: it was Benjy who had been so liberal with his port.  The
Wyses adopted a lofty attitude: they simply were not accustomed to
their guests drinking too much, and must bear that possibility in
mind for the future: Figgis must be told.  Society therefore once
again, as on the occasion of the municipal elections, was rent.
The Wyses were aloof, Elizabeth and Diva would not speak to Lucia,
nor Diva to Irene, and Benjy would not speak to anybody because he
was in bed with a severe bilious attack.

This haycock of inflammatory material would in the ordinary course
of things soon have got dispersed or wet through or trodden into
the ground, according to the Tilling use of disposing of past
disturbances in order to leave the ground clear for future ones,
but for the unexpected arrival of the Contessa Faraglione who came
on a flying visit of two nights to her brother.  He and Susan were
still adopting their tiresome lofty, un-Tillingish attitude, and
told her nothing at all exhaustive about Benjy's inebriation,
Lucia's excavations, Elizabeth's disappointment and other matters
of first-rate importance, and in the present state of tension
thought it better not to convoke any assembly of Tilling Society in
Amelia's honour.  But she met Elizabeth in the High Street who was
very explicit about Roman antiquities, and she met Lucia, who was
in a terrible fright lest she should begin talking Italian, and
learned a little more, and she went to tea with Diva, who was quite
the best chronicler in Tilling, and who poured into her madly
interested ear a neat rsum of all previous rows, and had just got
down to the present convulsion when the Padre popped in, and he and
Diva began expounding it in alternate sentences after the manner of
a Greek tragedy.  Faradiddlione sat, as if hypnotised, alert and
wide-eyed while this was going on, but when told of Elizabeth's
surmise that Lucia had encouraged Benjy to make love to her, she
most disconcertingly burst into peals of laughter.  Muffins went
the wrong way, she choked, she clapped her hands, her eyes
streamed, and it was long before she could master herself for
coherent speech.

"But you are all adorable," she cried.  "There is no place like
Tilling, and I shall come and live here for ever when my Cecco dies
and I am dowager.  My poor brother (such a prig!) and fat Susan
were most discreet: they told me no more than that your great Benjy--
he was my flirt here before, was he not, the man like a pink
walrus--that he had a bilious attack, but of his tipsiness and of
all those gaffes at dinner and of that scene of passion in the back
drawing-room not a word.  Thr-r-rilling!  Imagine the scene.  Your
tipsy walrus.  Your proud Lucia in her Roman blue stockings.  She
is a Duse, all cold alabaster without and burning with volcanic
passion within.  Next door is Mapp quarrelling about ninepence.
What did the guilty ones do?  I would have given anything to have
been behind the curtain.  Did they kiss?  Did they embrace?  Can
you picture them?  And then the entry of Mapp with her ninepence
still in her pocket."

"It's only fair to say that she paid me next morning," said Diva
scrupulously.

"Oh, stop me laughing," cried Faradiddlione.  "Mapp enters.  'Come
home, Benjy,' and then 'Queen of my Heart' all down the High
Street.  The rage of the Mapp!  If she could not have a baby she
must invent for her husband a mistress.  Who shall say it is not
true, though?  When his bilious attack is better will they meet in
the garden at Mallards?  He is Lothario of the tiger-skins.  Why
should it not be true?  My Cecco has had a mistress for years--such
a good-natured pretty woman--and why not your Major?  Basta!  I
must be calm."

This flippant and deplorably immoral view of the crisis had an
inflammatory rather than a cooling effect.  If Tilling was
anything, it was intensely serious, and not to be taken seriously
by this lascivious Countess made it far more serious.  So, after a
few days during which social intercourse was completely paralysed,
Lucia determined to change the currents of thought by digging a new
channel for them.  She had long been considering which should be
the first of those benefactions to Tilling which would raise her on
a pinnacle of public pre-eminence and expunge the memory of that
slight fiasco at the late municipal elections, and now she decided
on the renovation and amplification of the organ on which she and
Georgie had been practising this morning.  The time was well
chosen, for surely those extensive rents in the social fabric would
be repaired by the universal homage rendered her for her
munificence, and nothing more would be heard of Roman antiquities
and dinner-bells and drunkenness and those odious and unfounded
aspersions on the really untarnishable chastity of her own
character.  All would be forgotten.

Accordingly next Sunday morning the Padre had announced from the
pulpit in accents trembling with emotion that through the
generosity of a donor who preferred to remain anonymous the
congregation's psalms and hymns of praise would soon be accompanied
by a noble new relay of trumpets and shawms.  Then, as nobody
seemed to guess (as Lucia had hoped) who the anonymous donor was,
she had easily been persuaded to let this thin veil of anonymity be
withdrawn.  But even then there was not such a tumultuous
outpouring of gratitude and admiration as to sweep away all the
hatchets that still lay perilously about: in fact Elizabeth who
brought the news to Diva considered the gift a very ostentatious
and misleading gesture.

"It's throwing dust in our eyes," she observed with singular
acidity.  "It's drawing a red herring across her Roman excavations
and her abominable forwardness with Benjy on that terrible evening.
As for the gift itself, I consider it far from generous.  With the
fortune she has made in gold-mines and rails and all the rest of
it, she doesn't feel the cost of it one atom.  What I call
generosity is to deprive yourself--"

"Now you're not being consistent, Elizabeth," said Diva.  "You told
me yourself that you didn't believe she had made more than half-a-
crown."

"No, I never said that, dear," affirmed Elizabeth.  "You must be
thinking of someone else you were gossiping with."

"No, I mustn't," said Diva.  "You did say it.  And even if you
hadn't, it would be very paltry of you to belittle her gift just
because she was rich.  But you're always carping and picking holes,
and sowing discord."

"I?" said Elizabeth, not believing her ears.

"Yes, you.  Go back to that terrible evening as you call it.
You've talked about nothing else since: you've been keeping the
wound open.  I don't deny that it was very humiliating for you to
see Major Benjy exceed like that, and of course no woman would have
liked her husband to go bawling out 'Queen of my Heart' all the way
home about some other woman.  But I've been thinking it over.  I
don't believe Lucia made up to him any more than I did.  We should
all be settling down again happily if it wasn't for you, instead of
being at loggerheads with each other.  Strawberries will be in next
week, and not one of us dares ask the rest to our usual summer
Bridge parties for fear of there being more ructions."

"Nonsense, dear," said Elizabeth.  "As far as I am concerned it
isn't a question of not daring at all, though of course I wouldn't
be so rude as to contradict you about your own moral cowardice.
It's simply that I prefer not to see anything of people like Lucia
or Susan who on that night was neither more nor less than a barmaid
encouraging Benjy to drink, until they've expressed regret for
their conduct."

"If it comes to expressions of regret," retorted Diva.  "I think
Major Benjy had better show the way and you follow.  How you can
call yourself a Christian at all is beyond me."

"Benjy has expressed himself very properly to me," said Elizabeth,
"so there's the end of that.  As for my expressing regret I can't
conceive what you wish me to express regret for.  Painful though I
should find it to be excommunicated by you, dear, I shall have to
bear it.  Or would you like me to apologise to Irene for all the
wicked things she said to me that night?"

"Well I daren't ask our usual party," said Diva, "however brave you
are.  You may call it moral cowardice, but it's simply common
sense.  Lucia would refuse with some excuse that would be an insult
to my intelligence, and Mr. Georgie would certainly stick to her.
So would Irene; besides she called me a foul-minded old widow.  The
Wyses won't begin, and I agree it wouldn't be any use your trying.
The only person who's got the power or position or whatever you
like to call it, to bring us all together again is Lucia herself.
Don't look down your nose, Elizabeth, because it's true.  I've a
good mind to apologise to her for my bit of silly chaff about Major
Benjy, and to ask her to do something for us."

"I hope, dear," said Elizabeth rising, "that you won't encourage
her to think that Benjy and I will come to her house.  That would
only lead to disappointment."

"By the way, how is he?" said Diva.  "I forgot to ask."

"So I noticed, dear.  He's better, thanks.  Gone to play golf again
to-day."


Diva put her pride in her pocket and went up to Mallards that very
afternoon and said that she was very sorry that a word of hers
spoken really in jest, should have given offence to Lucia.  Lucia,
as might have been expected from her lofty and irritating ways,
looked at her smiling and a little puzzled, with her head on one
side.

"Dear Diva, what do you mean?" she said.  "How can you have
offended me?"

"What I said about Benjy and you," said Diva.  "Just outside
Twistevant's.  Very stupid of me, but just chaff."

"My wretched memory," said Lucia.  "I've no recollection of it at
all.  I think you must have dreamed it.  But so nice to see you,
and tell me all the news.  Heaps of pleasant little parties?  I've
been so busy with my new organ and so on, that I'm quite out of the
movement."

"There's not been a single party since that dinner at Susan's,"
said Diva.

"You don't say so!  And how is Major Benjy?  I think somebody told
me he had caught a chill that night, when he walked home.  People
who have lived much in the tropics are liable to them: he must take
more care of himself."

They had strolled out into the garden, awaiting tea, and looked
into the greenhouse where the peach trees were covered with setting
fruit.  Lucia looked wistfully at the potato and asparagus beds.

"More treasures to be unearthed some time, I hope," she said with
really unparalleled nerve.  "But at present my hands are so full:
my organ, my little investments, Georgie just dines quietly with me
or I with him, and we make music or read.  Happy busy days!"

Really she was quite maddening, thought Diva, pretending like this
to be totally unaware of the earthquake which had laid in ruins the
social life of Tilling.  On she went.

"Otherwise I've seen no one but Irene, and just a glimpse of dear
Contessa Faraglione, and we had a refreshing chat in Italian.  I
found I was terribly rusty.  She told me that it was just a flying
visit."

"Yes, she's gone," said Diva.

"Such a pity: I should have liked to get up an evening with un po'
di musica for her," said Lucia, who had heard from Georgie, who had
it from the Padre, all about her monstrously immoral views and her
maniac laughter.  "Ah, tea ready, Grosvenor?  Tell me more Tilling
news, Diva."

"But there isn't any," said Diva, "and there won't be unless you do
something for us."

"I?" asked Lucia.  "Little hermit I?"

Diva could have smacked her for her lofty unconsciousness, but in
view of her mission had to check that genial impulse.

"Yes, you, of course," she said.  "We've all been quarrelling.
Never knew anything so acute.  We shall never get together again,
unless you come to the rescue."

Lucia sighed.

"Dear Diva, how you all work me, and come to me when there's
trouble.  But I'm very obedient.  Tell me what you want me to do.
Give one of my simple little parties, al fresco, here some
evening?"

"Oh, DO!" said Diva.

"Nothing easier.  I'm afraid I've been terribly remiss, thinking of
nothing but my busy fragrant life.  Very naughty of me.  And if, as
you say, it will help to patch up some of your funny little
disagreements between yourselves, of which I know nothing at all,
so much the better.  Let's settle a night at once.  My engagement-
book, Grosvenor."

Grosvenor brought it her.  There were no evening engagements at all
in the future, and slightly tipping it up, so that Diva could not
see the fair white pages, she turned over a leaf or two.

"This week, impossible, I'm afraid," she said, with a noble
disregard of her own admission that she and Georgie dined quietly
together every night.  "But how about Wednesday next week?  Let me
think--yes, that's all right.  And whom am I to ask?  All our
little circle?"

"Oh do!" said Diva.  "Start us again.  Break the ice.  Put out the
fire.  They'll all come."


Diva was right: even Elizabeth who had warned her that such an
invitation would only lead to disappointment accepted with
pleasure, and Lucia made the most tactful arrangements for this
agap.  Grosvenor was instructed to start every dish at Mrs. Mapp-
Flint, and to offer barley-water as well as wine to all the guests.
They assembled before dinner in the garden-room, and there, on the
top of the piano, compelling notice, were the bowl and saucer of
Samian ware.  Mr. Wyse, with his keen perception for the beautiful,
instantly enquired what they were.

"Just some fragments of Roman pottery," said Lucia casually.  "So
glad you admire them.  They are pretty, but, alas, the bowl as you
see is incomplete."

Evie gave a squeal of satisfaction: she had always believed in
Lucia's excavations.

"Oh, look, Kenneth," she said to her husband, "Fancy finding those
lovely things in an empty potato-patch."

"Begorra, Mistress Lucia," said he, "'twas worth digging up a whole
garden entoirely."

Elizabeth cast a despairing glance at this convincing evidence, and
dinner was announced.

Conversation was a little difficult at first; for there were so
many dangerous topics to avoid that to carry it on was like
crossing a quaking bog and jumping from one firm tussock to another
over soft and mossy places.  But Elizabeth's wintriness thawed,
when she found that not only was she placed on Georgie's right hand
who was acting as host, but that every dish was started with her,
and she even asked Irene if she had been painting any of her sweet
pictures lately.  Dubious topics and those allied to them were
quite avoided, and before the end of dinner, if Lucia had proposed
that they should sing "Auld Lang Syne," there would not have been a
silent voice.  Bridge, of so friendly a kind that it was almost
insipid, followed, and it was past midnight before anyone could
suppose that it was half-past ten.  Then most cordial partings took
place in the hall: Susan was loaded with her furs, Diva dropped a
shilling and was distracted.  Benjy found a clandestine opportunity
to drink a strong whisky and soda, Irene clung passionately to
Lucia, as if she would never finish saying good night, the Royce
sawed to and fro before it could turn and set forth on its journey
of one hundred yards, and the serene orbs of heaven twinkled
benignly over a peaceful Tilling.  This happy result (all but the
stars) was Lucia's achievement: she had gone skimming up the
pinnacle of social pre-eminence till she was almost among the stars
herself.



CHAPTER X


Naturally nobody was foolish enough to expect that such idyllic
harmony would be of long duration, for in this highly alert and
critical society, with Elizabeth lynx-eyed to see what was done
amiss, and Lucia, as was soon obvious, so intolerably conscious of
the unique service she had done Tilling in having reconciled all
those "funny little quarrels" of which she pretended to be quite
unaware, discord was sure to develop before long; but at any rate
tea-parties for Bridge were in full swing by the time strawberries
were really cheap, and before they were over came the ceremony of
the dedication of Lucia's organ.

She had said from the first that her whole function (and that a
privilege) was to have made this little contribution to the beauty
of the church services: that was all, and she began and ended
there.  But in a quiet talk with the Padre she suggested that the
day of its dedication might be made to coincide with the annual
confirmation of the young folk of the parish.  The Bishop, perhaps,
when his laying on of hands was done, would come to lunch at
Mallards and take part in the other ceremony in the afternoon.  The
Padre thought that an excellent notion, and in due course the
Bishop accepted Lucia's invitation and would be happy (D.V.) to
dedicate the organ and give a short address.

Lucia had got her start: now like a great liner she cast off her
tugs and began to move out under her own steam.  There was another
quiet talk in the garden-room.

"You know how I hate all fuss, dear Padre," she said, "but I do
think, don't you, that Tilling would wish for a little pomp and
ceremony.  An idea occurred to me: the Mayor and Corporation
perhaps might like to escort the Bishop in procession from here to
the church after lunch.  If that is their wish, I should not
dream of opposing it.  Maces, scarlet robes; there would be
picturesqueness about it which would be suitable on such an
occasion.  Of course I couldn't suggest it myself, but, as Vicar,
you might ascertain what they felt."

"'Twould be a gran' sight," said the Padre, quite distinctly seeing
himself in the procession.

"I think Tilling would appreciate it," said Lucia thoughtfully.
"Then about the service: one does not want it TOO long.  A few
prayers, a Psalm, such as 'I was glad when they said unto me': a
lesson, and then, don't you think, as we shall be dedicating my
organ, some anthem in praise of music?  I had thought of that last
chorus in Parry's setting of Milton's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day,
'Blest Pair of Syrens'.  Of course my organ would accompany the
psalm and the anthem, but, as I seem to see it, unofficially
incognito.  After that, the Bishop's address: so sweet of him to
suggest that."

"Very menseful of him," said the Padre.

"Then," said Lucia, waving the Samian bowl, "then there would
follow the dedication of my organ, and its OFFICIAL appearance.  An
organ recital--not long--by our admirable organist to show the
paces, the powers of the new instrument.  Its scope.  The tuba, the
vox humana and the cor anglais: just a few of the new stops.
Afterwards, I shall have a party in the garden here.  It might give
pleasure to those who have never seen it.  Our dear Elizabeth, as
you know, did not entertain much."

The Mayor and Corporation welcomed the idea of attending the
dedication of the new organ in state, and of coming to Mallards
just before the service and conducting the Bishop in procession to
the church.  So that was settled, and Lucia, now full steam ahead,
got to work on the organist.  She told him, very diffidently, that
her friends thought it would be most appropriate if, before his
official recital (how she was looking forward to it!), she herself,
as donor, just ran her hands, so to speak, over the keys.  Mr.
Georgie Pillson, who was really a wonderful performer on the
pedals, would help her, and it so happened that she had just
finished arranging the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight
Sonata" for the organ.  She was personally very unwilling to play
at all, and in spite of all this pressure she had refused to
promise to do so.  But now as he added his voice to the general
feeling she felt she must overcome her hesitation.  It mustn't be
mentioned at all: she wanted it to come as a little surprise to
everybody.  THEN would follow the real, the skilled recital by him.
She hoped he would then give them Falberg's famous "Storm at Sea,"
that marvellous tone-poem with thunder on the pedals, and lightning
on the Diocton, and the choir of voices singing on the vox humana
as the storm subsided.  Terribly difficult, of course, but she knew
he would play it superbly, and she sent him round a copy of that
remarkable composition.

The day arrived, a hot and glorious morning, just as if Lucia had
ordered it.  The lunch at Mallards for the Bishop was very intime:
just the Padre and his wife and the Bishop and his chaplain.  Not
even Georgie was asked, who, as a matter of fact, was in such a
state of nerves over his approaching performance of the pedal part
of the "Moonlight" that he could not have eaten a morsel, and took
several aspirin tablets instead.  But Lucia had issued invitations
broadcast for the garden party afterwards, to the church choir, the
Mayor and Corporation, and all her friends to meet the Bishop.
R.S.V.P.; and there was not a single refusal.  Tea for sixty.

The procession to church was magnificent, the sun poured down on
maces and scarlet robes and on the Bishop, profusely perspiring, in
his cope and mitre.  Lucia had considered whether she should take
part in the procession herself, but her hatred of putting herself
forward in any way had caused her to abandon the idea of even
walking behind the Bishop, and she followed at such a distance that
not even those most critical of her conduct could possibly have
accused her of belonging to the pageant, herself rather nervous,
and playing triplets in the air to get her fingers supple.  She
took her seat close to the organ beside Georgie, so that they could
slip into their places on the organ-bench while the Bishop was
returning from the pulpit after his sermon.  A tremendous bank of
cloud had risen in the north, promising storm: it was lucky that it
had held off till now, for umbrellas would certainly have spoiled
the splendour of the procession.

The choir gave a beautiful rendering of the last chorus in "Blest
Pair of Sirens," and the Bishop a beautiful address.  He made a
very charming allusion to the patroness of organs, St. Cecilia, and
immediately afterwards spoke of the donor "your distinguished
citizeness" almost as if Lucia and that sainted musician were one.
A slight stir went through the pews containing her more intimate
friends: they had not thought of her like that, and Elizabeth
murmured "St. Lucecilia" to herself for future use.  During the
address the church grew exceedingly dark, and the gloom was
momentarily shattered by several vivid flashes of lightning
followed by the mutter of thunder.  Then standing opposite the
organ, pastoral staff in hand, the Bishop solemnly dedicated it,
and, as he went back to his seat in the Chancel, Lucia and Georgie,
like another blest pair of sirens, slid on to the organ-seat,
unobserved in the gathering gloom, and were screened from sight by
the curtain behind it.  There was a momentary pause, the electric
light in the church was switched on, and the first piece of the
organ recital began.  Though Lucia's friends had not heard it for
some time, it was familiar to them, and Diva and Elizabeth looked
at each other, puzzled at first, but soon picking up the scent, as
it were, of old associations.  The scent grew hotter, and each
inwardly visualized the picture of Lucia sitting at her piano with
her face in profile against a dark curtain, and her fingers
dripping with slow triplets: surely this was the same piece.
Sacred edifice or not, these frightful suspicions had to be
settled, and Elizabeth quietly rose and stood on tiptoe.  She saw,
quite distinctly, the top of Georgie's head and of Lucia's
remarkable new hat.  She sat down again, and in a hissing whisper
said to Diva, "So we've all been asked to come to church to hear
Lucia and Mr. Georgie practise." . . .  Diva only shook her head
sadly.  On the slow movement went, its monotonous course relieved
just once by a frightful squeal from the great organ as Georgie,
turning over, put his finger on one of the top notes, and wailed
itself away.  The blest pair of sirens tiptoed round the curtain
again, thereby completely disclosing themselves and sank into their
seats.

Then to show off the scope of the organ there followed Falberg's
famous tone-poem, "Storm at Sea."  The ship evidently was having a
beautiful calm voyage but then the wind began to whistle on swiftly
ascending chromatic scales, thunder muttered on the pedals, and the
Diocton contributed some flashes of forked lightning.  Louder grew
the thunder, more vivid the lightning as the storm waxed fiercer.
Then came a perfectly appalling crash, and the Bishop, who was
perhaps dozing a little after his labours and his lunch, started in
his seat and put his mitre straight.  Diva clutched at Elizabeth,
Evie gave a mouse-like squeal of admiring dismay, for never had
anybody heard so powerful an instrument.  Bang, it went again and
then it dawned on the more perceptive that Nature herself was
assisting at the dedication of Lucia's organ with two claps of
thunder immediately overhead at precisely the right moment.  Lucia
herself sat with her music-face on, gazing dreamily at the vaulting
of the church, as if her organ was doing it all.  Then the storm at
sea (organ solo without Nature) died away and a chorus presumably
of sailors and passengers (vox humana) sang a soft chorale of
thanksgiving.  Diva gave a swift suspicious glance at the choir to
make sure this was not another trick, but this time it was the
organ.  Calm broad chords, like sunshine on the sea, succeeded the
chorale, and Elizabeth writhing in impotent jealousy called Diva's
attention to the serene shafts of real sunshine that were now
streaming through Elijah going up to heaven and the witch of Endor.

Indeed it was scarcely fair.  Not content with supplying that
stupendous obbligato to the storm at sea, Nature had now caused the
sun to burst brilliantly forth again, in order to make Lucia's
garden party as great a success as her organ, unless by chance the
grass was too wet for it.  But during the solemn melody which
succeeded, the sun continued to shine resplendently, and the lawn
at Mallards was scarcely damp.  There was Lucia receiving her
guests and their compliments: the Mayor in his scarlet robe and
chain of office was talking to her as Elizabeth stepped into what
she still thought of as her own garden.

"Magnificent instrument, Mrs. Lucas," he was saying.  "That storm
at sea was very grand."

Elizabeth was afraid that he thought the organ had done it all, but
she could hardly tell him his mistake.

"Dear Lucia," she said.  "How I enjoyed that sweet old tune you've
so often played to us.  Some of your new stops a little harsh in
tone, don't you think?  No doubt they will mellow.  Oh, how sadly
burned up my dear garden is looking!"

Lucia turned to the Mayor again.

"So glad you think my little gift will add to the beauty of our
services," she said.  "You must tell me, Mr. Mayor, what next--Dear
Diva, so pleased to see you.  You liked my organ?"

"Yes, and wasn't the real thunderstorm a bit of luck?" said Diva.
"Did Mr. Georgie play the pedals in the Beethoven?  I heard him
turn over."

Lucia swerved again.

"Good of you to look in, Major Benjy," she said.  "You'll find tea
in the marquee, and other drinks in the giardino segreto."

That was clever: Benjy ambled off in an absent-minded way towards
the place of other drinks, and Elizabeth, whom Lucia wanted to get
rid of, ambled after him, and towed him towards the less alcoholic
marquee.  Lucia went on ennobling herself to the Mayor.

"The unemployed," she said.  "They are much and often on my mind.
And the hospital.  I'm told it is in sad need of new equipments.
Really it will be a privilege to do something more before very long
for our dear Tilling.  You must spare me half-an-hour sometime and
talk to me about its needs."

Lucia gave her most silvery laugh.

"Dear me, what a snub I got over the election to the Town Council,"
she said.  "But nothing discourages me, Mr. Mayor . . .  Now I
think all my guests have come, so let us go and have a cup of tea.
I am quite ashamed of my lawn to-day, but not long ago I had an
entertainment for the school-children and games and races, and they
kicked it up sadly, dear mites."

As they walked towards the marquee, the Mayor seemed to Lucia to
have a slight bias (like a bowl); towards the giardino segreto and
she tactfully adapted herself to this change of direction.  There
were many varieties of sumptuous intoxicants, cocktails and sherry
and whisky and hock-cup.  Grosvenor was serving, but just now she
had a flinty face, for a member of the Corporation had been
addressing her as "Miss", as if she was a barmaid.  Then Major
Benjy joined Grosvenor's group, having given Elizabeth the slip
while she was talking to the Bishop, and drank a couple of
cocktails in a great hurry before she noticed his disappearance.
Lucia was specially attentive to members of the Corporation,
making, however, a few slight errors, such as recommending her
greengrocer the strawberries she had bought from him, and her wine
merchant his own sherry, for that was bringing shop into private
life.  Then Elizabeth appeared with the Bishop in the doorway of
the giardino segreto, and with a wistful face she pointed out to
him this favourite spot in her ancestral home: but she caught sight
of Benjy at the bar and her wistfulness vanished, for she had found
something of her own again.  Firmly she convoyed him to the less
alcoholic garden, and Lucia took the Bishop, who was interested in
Roman antiquities, to see the pieces of Samian ware in the garden-
room and the scene of her late excavations.  "Too sad," she said,
"to have had to fill up my trenches again, but digging was terribly
expensive, and the organ must come first."

A group was posed for a photograph: Lucia stood between the Mayor
and the Bishop, and afterwards she was more than affable to the
reporter for the Hastings Chronicle, whose account of her
excavations had already made such a stir in Tilling.  She gave him
hock-cup and strawberries, and sitting with him in a corner of the
garden, let him take down all she said in shorthand.  Yes: it was
she who had played the opening piece at the recital (the first
movement of the sonata in C sharp minor by Beethoven, usually
called the "Moonlight").  She had arranged it herself for the organ
("Another glass of hock-cup, Mr. Meriton?") and hoped that he did
not think it a vandalism to adapt the Master.  The Bishop had
lunched with her, and had been delighted with her little Queen Anne
house and thought very highly of her Roman antiquities.  Her future
movements this summer?  Ah, she could not tell him for certain.
She would like to get a short holiday, but they worked her very
hard in Tilling.  She had been having a little chat with the Mayor
about some schemes for the future, but it would be premature to
divulge them yet . . .  Elizabeth standing near and straining her
ears, heard most of this frightful conversation and was petrified
with disgust.  The next number of the Hastings Chronicle would be
even more sickening than the excavation number.  She could bear it
no longer and went home with Benjy, ordering a copy in advance on
her way.

The number, when it appeared justified her gloomiest anticipations.
The Bishop's address about the munificent citizeness was given very
fully, and there was as well a whole column almost entirely about
Lucia.  With qualms of nausea Elizabeth read about Mrs. Lucas's
beautiful family home that dated from the reign of Queen Anne, its
panelled parlours, its garden-room containing its positively
Bodleian library and rare specimens of Samian ware which she had
found in the excavations in her old-world garden.  About the lawn
with the scars imprinted on its velvet surface by the happy heels
of the school-children whom she had entertained for an afternoon of
tea and frolics.  About the Office with its ledgers and strip of
noiseless indiarubber by the door, where the chtelaine of Mallards
conducted her financial operations.  About the secret garden (Mrs.
Lucas who spoke Italian with the same ease and purity as English
referred to it as "mio giardino segreto") in which she meditated
every morning.  About the splendour of the procession from Mallards
to the church with the Mayor and the maces and the mitre and the
cope of the Lord Bishop, who had lunched privately with Mrs. Lucas.
About the masterly arrangement for the organ of the first movement
of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, made by Mrs. Lucas, and her superb
performance of the same.  About her princely entertainment of the
local magnates.  About her hat and her hock-cup.

"I wonder how much she paid for that," said Elizabeth, tossing the
foul sheet across to Benjy as they sat at breakfast.  It fell on
his poached egg, in which he had just made a major incision, and
smeared yolk on the clean table-cloth.  She took up the Daily
Mirror, and there was the picture of Lucia standing between the
Mayor and the Bishop.  She took up the Financial Gazette, and
Siriami had slumped another shilling.


It was not only Elizabeth who was ill-pleased with this sycophantic
column.  Georgie had ordered a copy, which he first skimmed swiftly
for the name of Mr. G. Pillson: a more careful reading of it showed
him that there was not the smallest allusion to his having played
the pedals in the "Moonlight."  Rather mean of Lucia; she certainly
ought to have mentioned that, for, indeed, without the pedals it
would have been a very thin performance.  "I don't mind for
myself," thought Georgie, "for what good does it do me to have my
name in a squalid provincial rag, but I'm afraid she's getting
grabby.  She wants to have it all.  She wants to be on the top with
nobody else in sight.  Her masterly arrangement of the Moonlight!
Rubbish!  She just played the triplets with one hand and the air
with the other, while I did the bass on the pedals.  And her family
house!  It's been in her family (only she hasn't got one) since
April.  Her Italian, too!  And the Samian ware from her
excavations!  That's a whopper.  All she got from her excavations
was three-quarters of an Apollinaris bottle.  If she had asked my
advice, I should have told her that it was wiser to let sleeping
dogs lie!" . . .  So instead of popping into Mallards and
congratulating her on her marvellous press, Georgie went straight
down to the High Street in a condition known as dudgeon.  He saw
the back of Lucia's head in the Office, and almost hoped she would
disregard Mammoncash's advice and make some unwise investment.

There was a little group of friends at the corner, Diva and
Elizabeth and Evie.  They all hailed him: it was as if they were
waiting for him, as indeed they were.

"Have you read it, Mr. Georgie?" asked Diva.  (There was no need to
specify what.)

"Her family home," interrupted Elizabeth musingly.  "And this is my
family market-basket.  It came into my family when I bought it the
day before yesterday and it's one of my most cherished heirlooms.
Did you EVER, Mr. Georgie?  It's worse than her article about the
Roman forum, in the potato-bed."

"And scarcely a word about Kenneth," interrupted Evie.  "I always
thought he was Vicar of Tilling--"

"No, dear, we live and learn when we come up against the chtelaine
of Mallards," said Elizabeth.

"After all, you and the Padre went to lunch, Evie," said Diva who
never let resentment entirely obliterate her sense of fairness.
"But I think it's so mean of her not to say that Mr. Georgie played
the pedals for her.  I enjoyed them much more than the triplets."

"What I can't understand is that she never mentioned the real
thunderstorm," said Elizabeth.  "I expected her to say she'd
ordered it.  Surely she did, didn't she?  Such a beauty, too: she
might well be prouder of it than of her hat."

Georgie's dudgeon began to evaporate in these withering blasts of
satire.  They were ungrateful.  Only a few weeks ago Lucia had
welded together the fragments of Tilling society, which had been
smashed up in the first instance by the tipsiness of Benjy.  Nobody
could have done it except her, strawberry time would have gone by
without those luscious and inexpensive teas and now they were all
biting the hand that had caused them to be fed.  It was bright
green jealousy, just because none of them had ever had a line in
any paper about their exploits, let alone a column.  And who, after
all, had spent a thousand pounds on an organ for Tilling, and got a
Bishop to dedicate it, and ordered a thunderstorm, and asked them
all to a garden party afterwards?  They snatched at the benefits of
their patroness, and then complained that they were being
patronised.  Of course her superior airs and her fibs could be
maddening sometimes, but even if she did let a reporter think that
she spoke Italian as naturally as English and had dug up Samian
ware in her garden, it was "pretty Fanny's way," and they must put
up with it.  His really legitimate grievance about his beautiful
pedalling vanished.

"Well, I thought it was a wonderful day," he said.  "She's more on
a pinnacle than ever.  Oh, look: here she comes."

Indeed she did, tripping gaily down the hill with a telegraph form
in her hand.

"Buon giorno a tutti," she said.  "Such a nuisance: my telephone is
out of order and I must go to the post-office.  A curious situation
in dollars and francs.  I've been puzzling over it."

Stony faces and forced smiles met her.  She tumbled to it at once,
the clever creature.

"And how good of you all to have rallied round me," she said, "and
have made our little festa such a success.  I was so anxious about
it, but I needn't have been with so many dear loyal friends to back
me up.  The Bishop was enchanted with Mallards, Elizabeth: of
course I told him that I was only an interloper.  And what sweet
things he said to me about the Padre, Evie."

Lucia racked her brain to invent something nice which he said about
Diva.  So, though Pat hadn't been at the party, how immensely the
Bishop admired her beautiful dog!

"And how about a little Bridge this afternoon?" she asked.  "Shan't
invite you, Georgino: just a woman's four.  Yes and yes and yes?
Capital!  It's so hot that we might play in the shelter in
Elizabeth's secret garden.  Four o'clock then.  Georgie, come to
the stationer's with me.  I want you to help me choose a book.  My
dear, your pedalling yesterday!  How enthusiastic the organist was
about it.  Au reservoir, everybody.

"Georgie, I must get a great big scrap-book," she went on, "to
paste my press notices into.  They multiply so.  That paragraph the
other day about my excavazioni, and to-day a whole column, and the
photograph in the Daily Mirror.  It would be amusing perhaps, years
hence, to turn over the pages and recall the past.  I must get a
handsome looking book, morocco, I think.  How pleased all Tilling
seems to be about yesterday."



CHAPTER XI


The holiday season came round with August, and, as usual, the
householders of the Tilling social circle let their own houses, and
went to live in smaller ones, thereby not only getting a change of
environment, but making, instead of spending, money on their
holiday, for they received a higher rent for the houses they
quitted than they paid for the houses they took.  The Mapp-Flints
were the first to move: Elizabeth inserted an advertisement in the
Times in order to save those monstrous fees of house agents and
instantly got an enquiry from a most desirable tenant, no less than
the widow of a Baronet.  In view of her rank, Elizabeth asked for
and obtained a higher rent than she had ever netted at Mallards,
and, as on her honeymoon, she took a very small bungalow near the
sea, deficient in plumbing, but otherwise highly salubrious, and as
she touchingly remarked "so near the golf links for my Benjy-boy.
He will be as happy as the day is long."  She was happy, too, for
the rent she received for Grebe was five times what (after a little
bargaining) she paid for this shack which would be so perfect for
her Benjy-boy.

Her new tenant was interesting: she had forty-seven canaries, each
in its own cage, and the noise of their pretty chirping could be
heard if the wind was favourable a full quarter of a mile from the
house.  It was ascertained that she personally cleaned out all
their cages every morning, which accounted for her not being seen
in Tilling till after lunch.  She then rode into the town on a
tricycle and bought rape seed and groundsel in prodigious
quantities.  She had no dealings with the butcher, so it was
speedily known, and thus was probably a vegetarian; and Diva,
prowling round Grebe one Friday morning, saw her clad in a burnous,
kneeling on a carpet in the garden and prostrating herself in an
eastward position.  It might therefore be inferred that she was a
Mahommedan as well.

This was all very satisfactory, a titled lady, of such marked
idiosyncrasies, was evidently a very promising addition to Tilling
society, and Diva, not wishing to interrupt her devotions, went
quietly away, greatly impressed, and called next day, meaning to
follow up this formality with an invitation to a vegetarian lunch.
But even as she waited at the front door a window directly above
was thrown open, and a shrill voice shouted "Not at home.  Ever."
So Diva took the tram out to the golf links, and told Elizabeth
that her tenant was certainly a lunatic.  Elizabeth was much
disturbed, and spent an hour every afternoon for the next three
days in hiding behind the horn-beam hedge at Grebe, spying upon
her.  Lucia thought that Diva's odd appearance might have accounted
for this chilling reception and called herself.  Certainly nobody
shouted at her, but nobody answered the bell and, after a while,
pieces of groundsel rained down on her, probably from the same
upper window. . . .  The Padre let the Vicarage for August and
September, and took a bungalow close to the Mapp-Flints.  He and
Major Benjy played golf during the day and the four played hectic
Bridge in the evening.

Diva at present had not succeeded in letting her house, even at a
very modest rental, and so she remained in the High Street.  One
evening horrid fumes of smoke laden with soot came into her
bathroom where she was refreshing herself before dinner, and she
found that they came down the chimney from the kitchen of the house
next door.  The leakage in the flue was localized, and it appeared
that Diva was responsible for it, since, for motives of economy,
which seemed sound at the time, she had caused the overflow pipe
from her cistern to be passed through it.  The owner of the house
next door most obligingly promised not to use his range till Diva
had the damage to the flue repaired, but made shift with his gas-
ring, since he was genuinely anxious not to suffocate her when she
was washing.  But Diva could not bring herself to spend nine pounds
(a frightful sum) on the necessary work on the chimney, and for the
next ten days took no further steps.

Then Irene found a tenant for her house, and took that of Diva's
neighbour.  He explained to her that just at present, until Mrs.
Plaistow repaired a faulty flue, the kitchen range could not be
used, and suggested that Irene might put a little pressure on her,
since this state of things had gone on for nearly a fortnight, and
his repeated reminders had had no effect.  So Irene put pressure,
and on the very evening of the day she moved in, she and Lucy lit
an enormous fire in her range, though the evening was hot, and
waited to see what effect that would have.  Diva happened to be
again in her bath, musing over the terrible expense she would be
put to: nine pounds meant the saving of five shillings a week for
the best part of a year.  These gloomy meditations were interrupted
by volumes of acrid smoke pouring through the leak, and she sprang
out of her bath, convinced that the house was on fire, and without
drying herself she threw on her dressing-gown.  She had left the
bathroom door open: thick vapours followed her downstairs.  She
hastily dressed and with her servant and Paddy wildly barking at
her heels flew into the High Street and hammered on Irene's door.

Irene, flushed with stoking, came upstairs.

"So I've smoked you out," she said.  "Serve you right."

"I believe my house is on fire," cried Diva.  "Never saw such smoke
in my life."

"Call the fire-engine then," said Irene.  "Goodbye: I must put some
more damp wood on.  And mind, I'll keep that fire burning day and
night, if I don't get a wink of sleep, till you've had that flue
repaired."

"Please, please," cried Diva in agony.  "No more damp wood, I beg.
I promise.  It shall be done to-morrow."

"Well, apologise for being such a damned nuisance," said Irene.
"You've made me and Lucy roast ourselves over the fire.  Not to
mention the expense of the firing."

"Yes.  I apologise.  Anything!" wailed Diva.  "And I shall have to
re-paper my bathroom.  Kippered."

"Your own fault.  Did you imagine I was going to live on a gas-
ring, because you wouldn't have your chimney repaired?"

Then Diva got a tenant in spite of the kippered bathroom, and moved
to a dilapidated hovel close beside the railway line, which she got
for half the rent which she received for her house.  Passing trains
shook its crazy walls and their whistlings woke her at five in the
morning, but its cheapness gilded these inconveniences, and she
declared it was delightful to be awakened betimes on these August
days.  The Wyses went out to Capri to spend a month with the
Faragliones, and so now the whole of the Tilling circle, with the
exception of Georgie and Lucia, were having change and holiday to
the great advantage of their purses.  They alone remained in their
adjoining abodes and saw almost as much of each other as during
those weeks when Georgie was having shingles and growing his beard
in hiding at Grebe.  Lucia gave her mornings to finance and the
masterpieces of the Greek tragedians, and in this piping weather
recuperated herself with a siesta after lunch.  Then in the evening
coolness they motored and sketched or walked over the field-paths
of the marsh, dined together and had orgies of Mozartino.  All the
time (even during her siesta) Lucia's head was as full of plans as
an egg of meat, and she treated Georgie to spoonfuls of it.

They were approaching the town on one such evening from the south.
The new road, now finished, curved round the bottom of the hill on
which the town stood: above it was a bare bank with tufts of coarse
grass rising to the line of the ancient wall.

Lucia stood with her head on one side regarding it.

"An ugly patch," she said.  "It offends the eye, Georgie.  It is
not in harmony with the mellow brick of the wall.  It should be
planted.  I seem to see it covered with almond trees; those late
flowering ones.  Pink blossom, a foam of pink blossom for la bella
Primavera.  I estimate that it would require at least fifty young
trees.  I shall certainly offer to give them to the town and see to
them being put in."

"That would look lovely," said Georgie.

"It shall look lovely.  Another thing.  I'm going to stop my
financial career for the present.  I shall sell out my tobacco
shares--realize them is the phrase we use--on which I have made
large profits.  I pointed out to my broker, that, in my opinion,
tobaccos were high enough, and he sees the soundness of that."

Georgie silently interpreted this swanky statement.  It meant, of
course, that Mammoncash had recommended their sale; but there was
no need to express this.  He murmured agreement.

"Also I must rid myself of this continual strain," Lucia went on.
"I am ashamed of myself, but I find it absorbs me too much: it
keeps me on the stretch to be always watching the markets and
estimating the effect of political disturbances.  The Polish
corridor, Hitler, Geneva, the new American president.  I shall
close my ledgers."

They climbed in silence up the steep steps by the Norman tower.
They were in considerable need of repair, and Lucia, contemplating
the grey bastion in front, stumbled badly over an uneven paving-
stone.

"These ought to be looked to," she said.  "I must make a note of
that."

"Are you going to have them repaired?" asked Georgie humorously.

"Quite possibly.  You see, I've made a great deal of money,
Georgie.  I've made eight thousand pounds--"

"My dear, what a sum.  I'd no notion."

"Naturally one does not talk about it," said Lucia loftily.  "But
there it is, and I shall certainly spend a great deal of it,
keeping some for myself--the labourer is worthy of his hire--on
Tilling.  I want--how can I put it--to be a fairy godmother to the
dear little place.  For instance, I expect the plans for my new
operating-theatre at the hospital in a day or two.  That I regard
as necessary.  I have told the Mayor that I shall provide it, and
he will announce my gift to the Governors when they meet next week.
He is terribly keen that I should accept a place on the Board:
really he's always worrying me about it.  I think I shall allow him
to nominate me.  My election, he says, will be a mere formality,
and will give great pleasure."

Georgie agreed.  He felt he was getting an insight into Lucia's
schemes, for it was impossible not to remember that after her gift
of the organ she reluctantly consented to be a member of the Church
Council.

"And do you know, Georgie," she went on, "they elected me only to-
day to be President of the Tilling Cricket Club.  Fancy!  Twenty
pounds did that--I mean I was only too glad to give them the heavy
roller which they want very much, and I was never more astonished
in my life than when those two nice young fellows, the foreman of
the gas works and the town surveyor--"

"Oh yes, Georgie and Per," said he, "who laughed so much over the
smell in the garden-room, and started you on your Roman--"

"Those were their names," said Lucia.  "They came to see me and
begged me to allow them to nominate me as their President, and I
was elected unanimously to-day.  I promised to appear at a cricket
match they have to-morrow against a team they called the Zingari.
I hope they did not see me shudder, for as you know it should be 'I
Zingri': the Italian for 'gipsies.'  And the whole of their
cricket ground wants levelling and relaying.  I shall walk over it
with them, and look into it for myself."

"I didn't know you took any interest in any game," said Georgie.

"Georgino, how you misjudge me!  I've always held, always, that
games and sport are among the strongest and most elevating
influences in English life.  Think of Lord's, and all those places
where they play football, and the Lonsdale belt for boxing, and
Wimbledon.  Think of the crowds here, for that matter, at cricket
and football matches on early closing days.  Half the townspeople
of Tilling are watching them: Tilling takes an immense interest in
sport.  They all tell me that people will much appreciate my
becoming their President.  You must come with me to-morrow to the
match."

"But I don't know a bat from a ball," said Georgie.

"Nor do I, but we shall soon learn.  I want to enter into every
side of life here.  We are too narrow in our interests.  We must
get a larger outlook, Georgie, a wider sympathy.  I understand they
play football on the cricket ground in the winter."

"Football's a sealed book to me," said Georgie, "and I don't intend
to unseal it."

They had come back to Mallards, and Lucia standing on the doorstep
looked over the cobbled street with its mellow brick houses.

"Bella piccolo citt!" she exclaimed.  "Dinner at eight here, isn't
it, and bring some musica.  How I enjoy our little domestic
evenings."

"Domestic": just the word "domestic" stuck in Georgie's mind as he
touched up his beard, and did a little sewing while it dried,
before he dressed for dinner.  It nested in his head, like a
woodpecker, and gave notice of its presence there by a series of
loud taps at frequent intervals.  No doubt Lucia was only referring
to their usual practice of dining together and playing the piano
afterwards, or sitting (even more domestically) as they often did,
each reading a book in easy silence with casual remarks.  Such a
mode of spending the evening was infinitely pleasanter and more
sensible than that they should sit, she at Mallards and he at the
Cottage, over solitary meals and play long solos on their pianos
instead of those adventurous duets.  No doubt she had meant nothing
more than that by the word.


The party from the bungalows, the Mapp-Flints and the Padre and his
wife, came into Tilling next day to see the cricket match.  They
mingled with the crowd and sat on public benches, and Elizabeth
observed with much uneasiness how Lucia and Georgie were conducted
by the town surveyor to reserved deck-chairs by the pavilion: she
was afraid that meant something sinister.  Lucia had put a touch of
sun-burn rouge on her face, in order to convey the impression that
she often spent a summer day watching cricket, and she soon learned
the difference between bats and balls: but she should have studied
the game a little more before she asked Per, when three overs had
been bowled and no wicket had fallen, who was getting the best of
it.  A few minutes later a Tilling wicket fell and Per went in.  He
immediately skied a ball in the direction of long on, and Lucia
clapped her hands wildly.  "Oh, look, Georgie," she said.  "What a
beautiful curve the ball is describing!  And so high.  Lovely . . .
What?  Has he finished already?"

Tilling was out for eighty-seven runs, and between the inningses,
Lucia, in the hat which the Hastings Chronicle had already
described, was escorted out to look at the pitch by the merry
brothers.  She had learned so much about cricket in the last hour
that her experienced eye saw at once that the greater part of the
field ought to be levelled and the turf relaid.  Nobody took any
particular notice of Georgie, so while Lucia was inspecting the
pitch he slunk away and lunched at home.  She, as President of the
Tilling Club, lunched with the two teams in the pavilion, and found
several opportunities of pronouncing the word Zingri properly.

The bungalow-party having let their houses picnicked on sandwiches
and indulged in gloomy conjecture as to what Lucia's sudden
appearance in sporting circles signified.  Then Benjy walked up to
the Club nominally to see if there were any letters for him and
actually to have liquid refreshment to assuage the thirst caused by
the briny substances which Elizabeth had provided for lunch, and
brought back the sickening intelligence that Lucia had been elected
President of the Tilling Cricket Club.

"I'm not in the least surprised," said Elizabeth.  "I suspected
something of the sort.  Nor shall I be surprised if she plays
football for Tilling in the winter.  Shorts, and a jersey of
Tilling colours.  Probably that hat."

Satire, it was felt, had said its last word.

The Hastings Chronicle on the next Saturday was a very painful
document.  It contained a large-print paragraph on its middle page
headed "Munificent Gift by Mrs. Lucas of Mallards House, Tilling."
Those who felt equal to reading further then learnt that she had
most graciously consented to become President of the Tilling
Cricket Club, and had offered, at the Annual General Meeting of the
Club, held after the XI's match against the Zingri, to have the
cricket field levelled and relaid.  She had personally inspected it
(so said Mrs. Lucas in her Presidential address) and was convinced
that Tilling would never be able to do itself justice at the King
of Games till this was done.  She therefore considered it a
privilege, as President of the Club, in which she had always taken
so deep an interest, to undertake this work (loud and prolonged
applause) . . .  This splendid gift would benefit footballers as
well as cricketers since they used the same ground, and the
Committee of the football club, having ascertained Mrs. Lucas's
feelings on the subject, had unanimously elected her as President.

The very next week there were more of these frightful revelations.
Again there was that headline, "Munificent Gift, etc!"  This time
it was the Tilling Hospital.  At a meeting of the Governors the
Mayor announced that Mrs. Lucas (already known as the Friend of the
Poor) had offered to build a new operating-theatre, and to furnish
it with the most modern equipment according to the plan and
schedule which he now laid before them--

Elizabeth was reading this aloud to Benjy, as they lunched in the
verandah of their bungalow, in an indignant voice.  At this point
she covered up with her hand the remainder of the paragraph.

"Mark my words, Benjy," she said.  "I prophesy that what happened
next was that the Governors accepted this gift with the deepest
gratitude and did themselves the honour of inviting her to a seat
on the Board."

It was all too true, and Elizabeth finished the stewed plums in
silence.  She rose to make coffee.

"The Hastings Chronicle ought to keep 'Munificent Gift by Mrs.
Lucas of Mallards House, Tilling,' permanently set up in type," she
observed.  "And 'House' is new.  In my day and Aunt Caroline's
before me, 'Mallards' was grand enough.  It will be 'Mallards
Palace' before she's finished with it."


But with this last atrocity, the plague of munificences was stayed
for the present.  August cooled down into September, and September
disgraced itself at the season of its spring tides by brewing a
terrific southwest gale.  The sea heaped up by the continued press
of the wind broke through the shingle bank on the coast and flooded
the low land behind, where some of the bungalows stood.  That
inhabited by the Padre and Evie was built on a slight elevation and
escaped being inundated, but the Mapp-Flints were swamped.  Nearly
a foot of water covered the rooms on the ground floor, and until it
subsided, the house was uninhabitable unless you treated it like a
palazzo on the Grand Canal at Venice, and had a gondola moored to
the banisters of the stairs.  News of the disaster was brought to
Tilling by the Padre when he bicycled in to take Mattins on Sunday
morning.  He met Lucia at the church door, and in a few vivid
sentences described how the unfortunate couple had waded ashore.
They had breakfasted with him and Evie and would lunch and sup
there, but then they would have to wade back again to sleep, since
he had no spare room.  A sad holiday experience: and he hurried off
to the vestry to robe.

The beauty of her organ wrought upon Lucia, for she had asked the
organist to play Falberg's "Storm at Sea" as a voluntary at the end
of the service, and, as she listened, the inexorable might of
Nature, of which the Mapp-Flints were victims, impressed itself on
her.  Moreover she really enjoyed dispensing benefits with a
bountiful hand on the worthy and unworthy alike, and by the time
the melodious storm was over she had made up her mind to give board
and lodging to the refugees until the salt water had ebbed from
their ground-floor rooms.  Grebe was still let and resonant with
forty-seven canaries, and she must shelter them, as Noah took back
the dove sent out over the waste of waters, in the Ark of their old
home . . .  She joined softly in the chorale of passengers and
sailors, and left the church with Georgie.

"I shall telephone to them at once, Georgie," she said, "and offer
to take them in at Mallards House.  The car shall fetch them after
lunch."

"I wouldn't," said Georgie.  "Why shouldn't they go to an hotel?"

"Caro, simply because they wouldn't go," said Lucia.  "They would
continue to wade to their beds and sponge on the Padre.  Besides if
their bungalow collapsed--it is chiefly made of laths tied together
with pieces of string and pebbles from the shore--and buried them
in the ruins, I should truly regret it.  Also I welcome the
opportunity of doing a kindness to poor Elizabeth.  Mallards House
will always be at the service of the needy.  I imagine it will only
be for a day or two.  You must promise to lunch and dine with me,
won't you, as long as they are with me, for I don't think I could
bear them alone."

Lucia adopted the seignorial manner suitable to the donor of organs
and operating-theatres.  She instructed Grosvenor to telephone in
the most cordial terms to Mrs. Mapp-Flint, and wrote out what she
should say.  Mrs. Lucas could not come to the telephone herself at
that moment, but she sent her sympathy, and insisted on their
making Mallards House their home, till the bungalow was habitable
again: she thought she could make them quite comfortable in her
little house.  Elizabeth of course accepted her hospitality though
it was odd that she had not telephoned herself.  So Lucia made
arrangements for the reception of her guests.  She did not intend
to give up her bedroom and dressing-room which they had occupied
before, since it would be necessary to bring another bed in, and it
would be very inconvenient to turn out herself.  Besides, so it
happily occurred to her, it would arouse very poignant emotion if
they found themselves in their old nuptial chamber.  Elizabeth
should have the pleasant room looking over the garden, and Benjy
the one at the end of the passage, and the little sitting-room next
Elizabeth's should be devoted to their exclusive use.  That would
be princely hospitality, and thus the garden-room, where she always
sat, would not be invaded during the day.  After tea, they might
play Bridge there, and of course use it after dinner for more
Bridge or music.  Then it was time to send Cadman with the motor to
fetch them, and Lucia furnished it with a thick fur rug and a hot
water-bottle in case they had caught cold with their wadings.  She
put a Sunday paper in their sitting-room, and strewed a few books
about to give it an inhabited air, and went out as usual for her
walk, for it would be more in the seigniorial style if Grosvenor
settled them in, and she herself casually returned about tea-time,
certain that everything would have been done for their comfort.

This sumptuous insouciance a little miscarried, for though
Grosvenor had duly conducted the visitors to their own private
sitting-room, they made a quiet little pilgrimage through the house
while she was unpacking for them, peeped into the Office, and were
sitting in the garden-room when Lucia returned.

"So sorry to be out when you arrived, dear Elizabeth," she said,
"but I knew Grosvenor would make you at home."

Elizabeth sprang up from her old seat in the window.  (What a
bitter joy it was to survey from there again.)

"Dear Lucia," she cried.  "Too good of you to take in the poor
homeless ones.  Putting you out dreadfully, I'm afraid."

"Not an atom.  Tutto molto facile.  And there's the parlour
upstairs ready for you, which I hope Grosvenor showed you."

"Indeed she did," said Elizabeth effusively.  "Deliciously cosy.
So kind."

"And what a horrid experience you must have had," said Lucia.  Tea
will be ready: let us go in."

"A waste of waters," said Elizabeth impressively, "and a foot deep
in the dining-room.  We had to have a boat to take our luggage
away.  It reminded Benjy of the worst floods on the Jumna."

"'Pon my word, it did," said Benjy, "and I shouldn't wonder if
there's more to come.  The wind keeps up, and there's the highest
of the spring tides to-night.  Total immersion of the Padre,
perhaps.  Ha!  Ha!  Baptism of those of Riper Years."

"Naughty!" said Elizabeth.  Certainly the Padre had been winning at
Bridge all this week, but that hardly excused levity over things
sacramental, and besides he had given them lunch and breakfast.
Lucia also thought his joke in poor taste and called attention to
her dahlias.  She had cut a new flower-bed, where there had once
stood a very repulsive weeping-ash, which had been planted by Aunt
Caroline, and which, to Elizabeth's pretty fancy, had always seemed
to mourn for her.  She suddenly felt its removal very poignantly,
and not trusting herself to speak about that, called attention to
the lovely red admiral butterflies on the buddleia.  With which
deft changes of subjects they went in to tea.  Georgie and Bridge,
and dinner, and more Bridge followed, and Lucia observed with
strong misgivings that Elizabeth left her bag and Benjy his cigar-
case in the garden room when they went to bed.  This seemed to
portend their return there in the morning, so she called attention
to their forgetfulness.  Elizabeth on getting upstairs had a
further lapse of memory, for she marched into Lucia's bedroom,
which she particularly wanted to see, before she recollected that
it was no longer her own.

Lucia was rung up at breakfast next morning by the Padre.  There
was more diluvian news from the shore, and his emotion caused him
to speak pure English without a trace of Scotch or Irish.  A tide,
higher than ever, had caused a fresh invasion of the sea, and now
his bungalow was islanded, and the gale had torn a quantity of
slates from the roof.  Georgie, he said, had kindly offered to take
him in, as the Vicarage was still let, and he waited in silence
until Lucia asked him where Evie was going.  He didn't know, and
Lucia's suggestion that she should come to Mallards House was very
welcome.  She promised to send her car to bring them in and
rejoined her guests.

"More flooding," she said, "just as you prophesied, Major Benjy.
So Evie is coming here, and Georgie will take the Padre.  I'm sure
you won't mind moving on to the attic floor, and letting her have
your room."

Benjy's face fell.

"Oh, dear me, no," he said heartily.  "I've roughed it before now."

"We shall be quite a party," said Elizabeth without any marked
enthusiasm, for she supposed that Evie would share their sitting-
room.

Lucia went to see to her catering, and her guests to their room,
taking the morning papers with them.

"I should have thought that Diva might have taken Evie in, or she
might have gone to the King's Arms," said Elizabeth musingly.  "But
dear Lucia revels in being Lady Bountiful.  Gives her real
pleasure."

"I don't much relish sleeping in one of those attics," said Benjy.
"Draughty places with sloping roofs if I remember right."

Elizabeth's pride in her ancestral home flickered up.

"They're better than any rooms in the house you had before we
married, darling," she said.  "And not quite tactful to have told
her you had roughed it before now . . .  Was your haddock at
breakfast QUITE what it should be?"

"Perfectly delicious," said Benjy hitting back.  "It's a treat to
get decent food again after that garbage we've been having."

"Thank you dear," said Elizabeth.

She picked up a paper, read it for a moment and decided to make
common cause with him.

"Now I come to think of it," she said, "it would have been easy
enough for Lucia not to have skied you to the attics.  You and I
could have had her old bedroom and dressing-room, and there would
have been the other two rooms for her and Evie.  But we must take
what's given us and be thankful.  What I do want to know is whether
we're allowed in the garden-room unless she asks us.  She seemed to
give you your cigar-case and me my bag last night rather
purposefully.  Not that this is a bad room by any means."

"It'll get stuffy enough this afternoon," said he, "for it's going
to rain all day and I suppose there'll be three of us here."

Elizabeth sighed.

"I suppose it didn't occur to her to take this room herself, and
give her guests the garden-room," she said.  "Not selfish at all: I
don't mean that, but perhaps a little wanting in imagination.  I'll
go down to the garden-room presently and see how the land lies. . . .
There's the telephone ringing again.  That's the third time since
breakfast.  She's arranging football matches, I expect.  Oh, the
Daily Mirror has got hold of her gift to the hospital.  'Most
munificent': how tired I am of the word.  Of course it's the silly
season still."

Had Elizabeth known what that third telephone call was, she would
have called the season by a more serious name than silly.  The
speaker was the Mayor, who now asked Lucia if she could see him
privately for a few moments.  She told him that it would be quite
convenient, and might have added that it was also very exciting.
Was there perhaps another Board which desired to have the honour of
her membership?  The Literary Institute?  The Workhouse?  The--.
Back she went to the garden-room and hurriedly sat down at her
piano and began communing with Beethoven.  She was so absorbed in
her music that she gave a startled little cry when Grosvenor,
raising her voice to an unusual pitch called out for the second
time:  "The Mayor of Tilling!"  Up she sprang.

"Ah, good morning, Mr. Mayor," she cried.  "So glad.  Grosvenor,
I'm not to be interrupted.  I was just snatching a few minutes, as
I always do after breakfast, at my music.  It tunes me in--don't
they call it--for the work of the day.  Now, how can I serve you?"

His errand quite outshone the full splendour of Lucia's
imagination.  A member of the Town Council had just resigned, owing
to ill-health, and the Mayor was on his way to an emergency
meeting.  The custom was, he explained, if such a vacancy occurred
during the course of the year, that no fresh election should be
held, but that the other members of the Council should co-opt a
temporary member to serve till the next elections came round.
Would she therefore permit him to suggest her name?

Lucia sat with her chin in her hand in the music attitude.
Certainly that was an enormous step upwards from having been equal
with Elizabeth at the bottom of the poll . . .  Then she began to
speak in a great hurry, for she thought she heard a footfall on the
stairs into the garden-room.  Probably Elizabeth had eluded
Grosvenor.

"How I appreciate the honour," she said.  "But--but how I should
hate to feel that the dear townsfolk would not approve.  The last
elections, you know . . .  Ah, I see what is in your mind.  You
think that since then they realize a little more the sincerity of
my desire to forward Tilling's welfare to the best of my humble
capacity."  (There came a tap at the door.)  "I see I shall have to
yield and, if your colleagues wish it, I gladly accept the great
honour."

The door had opened a chink; Elizabeth's ears had heard the words
"great honour," and now her mouth (she HAD eluded Grosvenor) said:

"May I come in, dear?"

"Entrate," said Lucia.  "Mr. Mayor, do you know Mrs. Mapp-Flint?
You must!  Such an old inhabitant of dear Tilling.  Dreadful floods
out by the links, and several friends, Major and Mrs. Mapp-Flint
and the Padre and Mrs. Bartlett are all washed out.  But such a
treat for me, for I am taking them in, and have quite a party.
Mallards House and I are always at the service of our citizens.
But I mustn't detain you.  You will let me know whether the meeting
accepts your suggestion?  I shall be eagerly waiting."

Lucia insisted on seeing the Mayor to the front door, but returned
at once to the garden-room, which had been thus violated by
Elizabeth.

"I hope your sitting-room is comfortable, Elizabeth," she said.
"You've got all you want there?  Sure?"

The desire to know what those ominous words "great honour" could
possibly signify, consumed Elizabeth like a burning fire, and she
was absolutely impervious to the hint so strongly conveyed to her.

"Delicious, dear," she enthusiastically replied.  "So cosy, and
Benjy so happy with his cigar and his paper.  But didn't I hear the
piano going just now?  Sounded so lovely.  May I sit mum as a mouse
and listen?"

Lucia could not quite bring herself to say "No, go away," but she
felt she must put her foot down.  She had given her visitors a
sitting-room of their own, and did not intend to have them here in
the morning.  Perhaps if she put her foot down on what she always
called the sostenuto pedal, and played loud scales and exercises
she could render the room intolerable to any listener.

"By all means," she said.  "I have to practice very hard every
morning to keep my poor fingers from getting rusty, or Georgie
scolds me over our duets."

Elizabeth slid into her familiar place in the window where she
could observe the movements of Tilling, conducted chiefly this
morning under umbrellas, and Lucia began.  C Major up and down till
her fingers ached with their unaccustomed drilling: then a few firm
chords in that jovial key.

"Lovely chords!  Such harmonies," said Elizabeth, seeing Lucia's
motor draw up at Mallards Cottage and deposit the Padre and his
suit-case.

C Minor.  This was more difficult.  Lucia found that the upward
scale was not the same as the downward, and she went over it half-a-
dozen times, rumbling at first at the bottom end of the piano and
then shrieking at the top and back again, before she got it right.
A few simple minor chords followed.

"That wonderful funeral march," said Elizabeth absently.  Evie had
thrust her head out of the window of the motor, and, to anybody who
had any perception, was quite clearly telling Georgie, who had come
to the door, about the flood, for she lowered and then raised her
podgy little paw, evidently showing how much the flood had risen
during the night.

As she watched, Lucia had begun to practice shakes, including that
very difficult one for the third and fourth fingers.

"Like the sweet birdies in my garden," said Elizabeth, still
absently (though nothing could possibly have been less like),
"thrushes and blackbirds and . . ."  Her voice trailed into silence
as the motor moved on, down the street towards Mallards, minus the
Padre and his suit-case.

"And here's Evie just arriving," she said, thinking that Lucia
would stop that hideous noise, and go out to welcome her guest.
Not a bit of it: the scale of D Major followed: it was markedly
slower because her fingers were terribly fatigued.  Then Grosvenor
came in.  She left the door open, and a strong draught blew round
Elizabeth's ankles.

"Yes, Grosvenor?" said Lucia, with her hands poised over the keys.

"The Mayor has rung up, ma'am," said Grosvenor, "and would like to
speak to you, if you are disengaged."

The Mayoral call was irresistible, and Lucia went to the telephone
in her Office.  Elizabeth, crazy with curiosity, followed, and
instantly became violently interested in the book-case in the hall,
where she hoped she could hear Lucia's half, at any rate, of the
conversation.  After two or three gabbling, quacking noises, her
voice broke jubilantly in.

"Indeed, I am most highly honoured, Mr. Mayor--" she began.  Then,
unfortunately for the cause of the dissemination of useful
knowledge, she caught sight of Elizabeth in the hall just outside
with an open book in her hand, and smartly shut the Office door.
Having taken this sensible precaution she continued:

"Please assure my colleagues, as I understand that the Town Council
is sitting now, that I will resolutely shoulder the responsibility
of my position."

"Should you be unoccupied at the moment, Mrs. Lucas," said the
Mayor, "perhaps you would come and take part in the business that
lies before us, as you are now a member of the Council."

"By all means," cried Lucia.  "I will be with you in a couple of
minutes."

Elizabeth had replaced the fourth volume of Pepys' Diary upside
down, and had stolen up closer to the Office door, where her
footfall was noiseless on the india-rubber.  Simultaneously
Grosvenor came into the hall to open the front door to Evie, and
Lucia came out of the Office, nearly running into Elizabeth.

"Admiring your lovely india-rubber matting, dear," said Elizabeth
adroitly.  "So pussy-cat quiet."

Lucia hardly seemed to see her.

"Grosvenor: my hat, my raincoat, my umbrella at once," she cried.
"I've got to go out.  Delighted to see you, dear Evie.  So sorry to
be called away.  A little soup or a sandwich after your drive?
Elizabeth will show you the sitting-room upstairs.  Lunch at half-
past one: begin whether I'm in or not.  No, Grosvenor, my new hat--"

"It's raining, ma'am," said Grosvenor.

"I know it is, or I shouldn't want my umbrella."

Her feet twinkled nearly as nimbly as Diva's as she sped through
the rain to the mayor's parlour at the Town Hall.  The assembled
Council rose to their feet as she entered, and the Mayor formally
presented them to the new colleague whom they had just co-opted:
Per of the gas works, and Georgie of the drains and Twistevant the
greengrocer.  Just now Twistevant was looking morose, for the
report of the Town-Surveyor about his slum-dwellings had been
received, and this dire document advised that eight of his houses
should be condemned as insanitary, and pulled down.  The next item
on the agenda was Lucia's offer of fifty almond trees (or more if
desirable) to beautify in spring-time the bare grass slope to the
south of the town.  She said a few diffident words about the
privilege of being allowed to make a little garden there, and
intimated that she would pay for the enrichment of the soil and the
planting of the trees and any subsequent upkeep, so that not a
penny should fall on the rates.  The offer was gratefully accepted
with the applause of knuckles on the table, and as she was popular
enough for the moment, she deferred announcing her project for the
relaying of the steps by the Norman Tower.  Half-an-hour more
sufficed for the rest of the business before the Town Councillors.

Treading on air, Lucia dropped in at Mallards Cottage to tell
Georgie the news.  The Padre had just gone across to Mallards, for
Evie and he had got into a remarkable muddle that morning packing
their bags in such a hurry: he had to recover his shaving equipment
from hers, and take her a few small articles of female attire.

"I think I had better tell them all about my appointment at once,
Georgie," she said, "for they are sure to hear about it very soon,
and if Elizabeth has a bilious attack from chagrin, the sooner it's
over the better.  My dear, how tiresome she has been already!  She
came and sat in the garden-room, which I don't intend that anybody
shall do in the morning, and so I began playing scales and shakes
to smoke her out.  Then she tried to overhear my conversation on
the Office telephone with the Mayor--"

"And did she?" asked Georgie greedily.

"I don't think so.  I banged the door when I saw her in the hall.
You and the Padre will have all your meals with me, won't you, till
they go, but if this rain continues, it looks as if they might be
here till they get back into their own houses again.  Let me sit
quietly with you till lunch-time, for we shall have them all on our
hands for the rest of the day."

"I think we've been too hospitable," said Georgie.  "One can overdo
it.  If the Padre sits and talks to me all morning, I shall have to
live in my bedroom.  Foljambe doesn't like it, either.  He's called
her 'my lassie' already."

"No!" said Lucia.  "She'd hate that.  Oh, and Benjy looked as black
as ink when I told him I must give up his room to Evie.  But we
must rejoice, Georgie, that we're able to do something for the poor
things."

"Rejoice isn't quite the word," said Georgie firmly.


Lucia returned to Mallards a little after half-past one, and went
up to the sitting-room she had assigned to her guests and tapped on
the door before entering.  That might convey to Elizabeth's obtuse
mind that this was their private room, and she might infer, by
implication, that the garden-room was Lucia's private room.  But
this little moral lesson was wasted, for the room was empty except
for stale cigar-smoke.  She went to the dining-room, for they
might, as desired, have begun lunch.  Empty also.  She went to the
garden-room, and even as she opened the door, Elizabeth's voice
rang out.

"No, Padre, my card was NOT covered," she said.  "Uncovered."

"An exposed card whatever then, Mistress Mapp," said the Padre.

"Come, come, Mapp-Flint, Padre," said Benjy.

"Oh, there's dearest Lucia!" cried Elizabeth.  "I thought it was
Grosvenor come to tell us that lunch was ready.  Such a dismal
morning; we thought we would have a little game of cards to pass
the time.  No card-table in our cosy parlour upstairs."

"Of course you shall have one," said Lucia.

"And you've done your little businesses?" asked Elizabeth.

Lucia was really sorry for her, but the blow must be dealt.

"Yes: I attended a meeting of the Town Council.  But there was very
little business."

"The Town Council, did you say?" asked the stricken woman.

"Yes: they did me the honour to co-opt me, for a member has
resigned owing to ill-health.  I felt it my duty to fill the
vacancy.  Let us go in to lunch."



CHAPTER XII


It was not till a fortnight later that Georgie and Lucia were once
more dining alone at Mallards House, both feeling as if they were
recovering from some debilitating nervous complaint, accompanied by
high blood-pressure and great depression.  The attack, so to speak,
was over, and now they had to pick up their strength again.  Only
yesterday had the Padre and Evie gone back to their bungalow, and
only this morning had the Mapp-Flints returned to Grebe.  They
might have gone the day before, since the insane widow of the
Baronet had left that morning, removing herself and forty-seven
canaries in two gipsy-vans.  But there was so much rape seed
scattered on the tiger-skins, and so many tokens of bird-life on
curtains and tables and chairs that it had required a full day to
clean up.  Benjy on his departure had pressed a half-crown and a
penny into Grosvenor's hand, one from himself and one from
Elizabeth.  This looked as if he had calculated the value of her
services with meticulous accuracy, but the error had arisen because
he had mixed up coppers and silver in his pocket, and he had
genuinely meant to give her five shillings.  Elizabeth gave her a
sweet smile and shook hands.

Anyhow the fortnight was now over.  Lucia had preserved the
seignorial air to the end.  Her car was always at the disposal of
her guests, fires blazed in their bedrooms, she told them what
passed at the meetings of the Town Council, she consulted their
tastes at table.  One day there was haggis for the Padre who was
being particularly Scotch, and one day there were stewed prunes for
Elizabeth, and fiery curry for Major Benjy in his more Indian
moods, and parsnips for Evie who had a passion for that deplorable
vegetable.  About one thing only was Lucia adamant.  They might
take all the morning papers up to the guests' sitting-room, but
until lunch-time they should not read them in the garden-room.
Verboten; dfendu; non permesso.  If Elizabeth showed her nose
there, or Benjy his cigar, or Evie her parish magazine, Lucia
telephoned for Georgie, and they played duets till the intruder
could stand it no more. . . .


She pressed the pomander which rang the electric bell.  Grosvenor
brought in coffee, and now they could talk freely.

"That wonderful fourth round of the Inferno, Georgie," said Lucia
dreamily.  "The guests who eat the salt of their host, and sputare
it on the floor.  Some very unpleasant fate awaited them: I think
they were pickled in brine."

"I'm sure they deserved whatever it was," said Georgie.

"She," said Lucia, mentioning no name, "She went to see Diva one
morning and said that Grosvenor had no idea of valeting, because
she had put out a sock for Benjy with a large hole in it.  Diva
said:  'Why did you let it get like that?'"

"So that was that," said Georgie.

"And Benjy told the Padre that Grosvenor was very sparing with the
wine.  Certainly I did tell her not to fill up his glass the moment
it was empty, for I was not going to have another Wyse-evening
every day of the week."

"Quite right, and there was always plenty for anyone who didn't
want to get tipsy," said Georgie.  "And Benjy wasn't very sparing
with my whisky.  Every evening practically he came across to chat
with me about seven, and had three stiff goes."

"I thought so," cried Lucia triumphantly, bringing her hand sharply
down on the table.  Unfortunately she hit the pomander, and
Grosvenor re-entered.  Lucia apologized for her mistake.

"Georgie, I inferred there certainly must be something of the
sort," she resumed when the door was shut again.  "Every evening
round about seven Benjy used to say that he wouldn't play another
rubber because he wanted a brisk walk and a breath of fresh air
before dinner.  Clever of him, Georgie.  Though I'm sorry for your
whisky I always applaud neat execution, however alcoholic the
motive.  After he had left the room, he banged the front door loud
enough for her to hear it, so that she knew he had gone out and
wasn't getting at the sherry in the dining-room.  I think she
suspected something, but she didn't quite know what."

"I never knew an occasion on which she didn't suspect something,"
said he.

Lucia crunched a piece of coffee sugar in a meditative manner.

"An interesting study," she said.  "You know how devoted I am to
psychological research, and I learned a great deal this last
fortnight.  Major Benjy was not very clever when he wooed and won
her, but I think marriage has sharpened his wits.  Little bits of
foxiness, little evasions, nothing, of course, of a very high
order, but some inkling of ingenuity and contrivance.  I can
understand a man developing a certain acuteness if he knew
Elizabeth was always just round the corner.  The instinct of self-
protection.  There is a character in Theophrastus very like him: I
must look it up.  Dear me; for the last fortnight I've hardly
opened a book."

"I can imagine that," said he.  "Even I, who had only the Padre in
the house couldn't settle down to anything.  He was always coming
in and out, wanting some ink in his bedroom, or a piece of string,
or change for a shilling."

"Multiply it by three.  And she treated me all the time as if I was
a hotel-keeper and she wasn't pleased with her room or her food,
but made no formal complaint.  Oh, Georgie, I must tell you,
Elizabeth went up four pounds in weight the first week she was
here.  She shared my bathroom and always had her bath just before
me in the evening, and there's a weighing-machine there, you know.
Of course, I was terribly interested, but one day I felt I simply
must thwart her, and so I hid the weights behind the bath.  It was
the only inhospitable thing I did the whole time she was here, but
I couldn't bear it.  So I don't know how much more she went up the
second week."

"I should have thought your co-option on to the Town Council would
have made her thinner," observed Georgie.  "But thrilling!  She
must have weighed herself without clothes, if she was having her
bath.  How much did she weigh?"

"Eleven stone twelve was the last," said Lucia.  "But she has got
big bones, Georgie.  We must be fair."

"Yes, but her bones must have finished growing," said Georgie.
"They wouldn't have gone up four pounds in a week.  Just fat."

"I suppose it must have been.  As for my co-option, it was
frightful for her.  Frightful.  Let's go into the garden-room.  My
dear, how delicious to know that Benjy won't be there, smoking one
of his rank cigars, or little Evie, running about like a mouse, so
it always seemed to me, among the legs of chairs and tables."

"Hurrah, for one of our quiet evenings again," said he.

It was with a sense of restored well-being that they sank into
their chairs, too content in this relief from strain to play duets.
Georgie was sewing a border of lace on to some new doilies for
finger-bowls, and Lucia found the "Characters of Theophrastus," and
read to him in the English version the sketch of Benjy's prototype.
As their content worked inside them both, like tranquil yeast, they
both became aware that a moment of vital import to them, and hardly
less so to Tilling, was ticking its way nearer.  A couple of years
ago only, each had shuddered at the notion that the other might be
thinking of matrimony, but now the prospect of it had lost its
horror.  For Georgie had stayed with her when he was growing his
shingles-beard, and she had stayed with him when she was settling
into Mallards, and those days of domestic propinquity had somehow
convinced them both that nothing was further from the inclination
of either than any species of dalliance.  With that nightmare
apprehension removed they could recognise that for a considerable
portion of the day they enjoyed each other's society more than
their own solitude: they were happier together than apart.  Again,
Lucia was beginning to feel that, in the career which was opening
for her in Tilling, a husband would give her a certain stability: a
Prince Consort, though emphatically not for dynastic purposes,
would lend her weight and ballast.  Georgie with kindred thoughts
in his mind could see himself filling that eminent position with
grace and effectiveness.

Georgie, not attending much to his sewing, pricked his finger:
Lucia read a little more Theophrastus with a wandering mind and
moved to her writing-table, where a pile of letters was kept in
place by a pretty paper-weight consisting of a small electroplate
cricket bat propped against a football, which had been given her
jointly by the two clubs of which she was President.  The clock
struck eleven: it surprised them both that the hours had passed so
quickly: eleven was usually the close of their evening.  But they
sat on, for all was ready for the vital moment, and if it did not
come now, when on earth could there be a more apt occasion?  Yet
who was to begin, and how?

Georgie put down his work, for all his fingers were damp, and one
was bloody.  He remembered that he was a man.  Twice he opened his
mouth to speak, and twice he closed it again.  He looked up at her,
and caught her eye, and that gimlet-like quality in it seemed not
only to pierce but to encourage.  It bored into him for his good
and for his eventual comfort.  For the third time, and now
successfully, he opened his mouth.

"Lucia, I've got something I must say, and I hope you won't mind.
Has it ever occurred to you that--well--that we might marry?"

She fiddled for a moment with the cricket bat and the football, but
when she raised her eyes again, there was no doubt about the
encouragement.

"Yes, Georgie: unwomanly as it may sound," she said, "it has.  I
really believe it might be an excellent thing.  But there's a great
deal for us to think over first, and then talk over together.  So
let us say no more for the present.  Now we must have our talk as
soon as possible: some time to-morrow."

She opened her engagement book.  She had bought a new one, since
she had become a Town Councillor, about as large as an ordinary
blotting-pad.

"Dio, what a day!" she exclaimed.  "Town Council at half-past ten,
and at twelve I am due at the slope by the Norman tower to decide
about the planting of my almond trees.  Not in lines, I think, but
scattered about: a little clump here, a single one there. . . .
Then Diva comes to lunch.  Did you hear?  A cinder from a passing
engine blew into her cook's eye as she was leaning out of the
kitchen window, poor thing.  Then after lunch my football team are
playing their opening match and I promised to kick off for them."

"My dear, how wonderfully adventurous of you!" exclaimed Georgie.
"Can you?"

"Quite easily and quite hard.  They sent me up a football and I've
been practising in the giardino segreto.  Where were we?  Come to
tea, Georgie--no, that won't do: my Mayor is bringing me the plans
for the new artisan dwellings.  It must be dinner then, and we
shall have time to think it all over.  Are you off?  Buona notte,
caro: tranquilli--dear me, what is the Italian for 'sleep'?  How
rusty I am getting!"

Lucia did not go back with him into the house, for there were some
agenda for the meeting at half-past ten to be looked through.  But
just as she heard the front door shut on his exit, she remembered
the Italian for sleep, and hurriedly threw up the window that
looked on the street.

"Sonni," she called out, "Sonni tranquilli."

Georgie understood: and he answered in Italian.

"I stessi a voi, I mean, te," he brilliantly shouted.


The half-espoused couple had all next day to let simmer in their
heads the hundred arrangements and adjustments which the fulfilment
of their romance would demand.  Again and again George cast his
doily from him in despair at the magnitude and intricacy of them.
About the question of connubialities, he meant to be quite
definite: it must be a sine qua non of matrimony, the first clause
in the marriage treaty, that they should be considered absolutely
illicit, and he need not waste thought over that.  But what was to
happen to his house, for presumably he would live at Mallards?  And
if so, what was to be done with his furniture, his piano, his
bibelots?  He could not bear to part with them, and Mallards was
already full of Lucia's things.  And what about Foljambe?  She was
even more inalienable than his Worcester china, and Georgie felt
that though life might be pretty much the same with Lucia, it could
not be the same without Foljambe.  Then he must insist on a good
deal of independence with regard to the companionship his bride
would expect from him.  His mornings must be inviolably his own and
also the time between tea and dinner as he would be with her from
then till bed-time severed them.  Again two cars seemed more than
two people should require, but he could not see himself without his
Armaud.  And what if Lucia, intoxicated by her late success on the
Stock Exchange, took to gambling and lost all her money?  The
waters on which they thought of voyaging together seemed sown with
jagged reefs, and he went across to dinner the next night with a
drawn and anxious face.  He was rather pleased to see that Lucia
looked positively haggard, for that showed that she realised the
appalling conundrums that must be solved before any irretraceable
step was taken.  Probably she had got some more of her own.

They settled themselves in the chairs where they had been so easy
with each other twenty-four hours ago and Lucia with an air of
determination, picked up a paper of scribbled memoranda from her
desk.

"I've put down several points we must agree over, Georgie," she
said.

"I've got some, too, in my head," said he.

Lucia fixed her eyes on a corner of the ceiling, as if in a music-
face, but her knotted brow showed it was not that.

"I thought of writing to you about the first point, which is the
most important of all," she said, "but I found I couldn't.  How can
I put it best?  It's this, Georgie.  I trust that you'll be very
comfortable in the oak bedroom."

"I'm sure I shall," interrupted Georgie eagerly.

"--and all that implies," Lucia went on firmly.

"No caresses of any sort: none of those dreadful little dabs and
pecks Elizabeth and Benjy used to make at each other."

"You needn't say anything more about that," said he.  "Just as we
were before."

The acuteness of her anxiety faded from Lucia's face.

"That's a great relief," she said.  "Now what is my next point?
I've been in such a whirl all day and scribbled them down so
hastily that I can't read it.  It looks like 'Frabjious.'"

"It sounds as if it might be Foljambe," said Georgie.  "I've been
thinking a lot about her.  I can't part with her."

"Nor can I part with Grosvenor, as no doubt you will have realised.
But what will their respective positions be?  They've both bossed
our houses for years.  Which is to boss now?  And will the other
one consent to be bossed?"

"I can't see Foljambe consenting to be bossed," said Georgie.

"If I saw Grosvenor consenting to be bossed," said Lucia, "I merely
shouldn't believe my eyes."

"Could there be a sort of equality?" suggested Georgie.  "Something
like King William III and Queen Mary?"

"Oh, Georgie, I think there might be a solution there," said Lucia.
"Let us explore that.  Foljambe will only be here during the day,
just as she is now with you, and she'll be your valet, and look
after your rooms, for you must have a sitting-room of your own.  I
insist on that.  You will be her province, Georgie, where she's
supreme.  I shall be Grosvenor's.  I don't suppose either of them
wants to leave us, and they are friends.  We'll put it to them to-
morrow, if we agree about the rest."

"Won't it be awful if they don't come to terms?" said Georgie.
"What are we to do then?"

"Don't let's anticipate trouble," said Lucia.  "Then let me see.
'Mallards Cottage' is my next entry.  Naturally we shall live
here."

"I've been worrying terribly about that," said Georgie.  "I quite
agree we must live here, but I can't let the Cottage with all my
things.  I don't wish other people to sleep in my bed and that sort
of thing.  But if I let it unfurnished, what am I to do with them?
My piano, my pictures and embroideries, my sofa, my particular
armchair, my bed, my bibelots?  I've got six occasional tables in
my sitting-room, because I counted them.  There's no room for them
here, and things go to pot if one stores them.  Besides there are a
lot of them which I simply can't get on without.  Heart's blood."

A depressed silence followed, for Lucia knew what his household
goods meant to Georgie.  Then suddenly she sprang up, clapping her
hands, and talking so weird a mixture of baby-language and Italian
that none but the most intimate could have understood her at all.

"Georgino!" she cried.  "Ickle me vewy clever.  Lucia's got a molto
bella idea.  Lucia knows how Georgino loves his bibelotine.  Tink
a minute: shut oo eyes and tink!  Well, Lucia no tease you any
more . . .  Georgino will have booful night-nursery here, bigger
nor what he had in Cottagino.  And booful salone bigger nor salone
there. Now do you see?"

"No, I don't," said Georgie firmly.

Lucia abandoned baby and foreign tongues.

"I'll send all the furniture in your bedroom and sitting-room here
across to Mallards Cottage, and you shall fill them with your own
things.  More than enough room for the curtains and pictures and
occasional tables which you really love.  You wouldn't mind letting
the Cottage if you had all your special things here?"

"Well, you are clever!" said Georgie.

An appreciative pause followed instead of that depressed silence,
and Lucia referred to her notes.

"'Solitude' is my next entry," she said.  "What can--Oh, I know.
It sounds rather as if I was planning that we should see as little
as possible of each other if and when we marry, but I don't mean
that.  Only, with all the welter of business which my position in
Tilling already entails (and it will get worse rather than better)
I must have much time to myself.  Naturally we shall entertain a
good deal: those quaint Bridge parties and so on, for Tilling
society will depend on us more than ever.  But ordinarily, when we
are alone, Georgie, I must have my mornings to myself, and a couple
of hours at least before dinner.  Close times.  Of course nothing
hard or fast about it; very likely we shall often make music
together then.  But you mustn't think me unsociable if, as a rule,
I have those hours to myself.  My municipal duties, my boards and
committees already take a great deal of time, and then there are
all my private studies.  A period of solitude every day is
necessary for me.  Is it not Goethe who says that we ripen in
solitude?"

"I quite agree with him if he does," said Georgie.  "I was going to
speak about it myself if you hadn't."

Most of the main dangers which threatened to render matrimony
impossible had now been provided for and of these the Foljambe-
Grosvenor complication alone remained.  That, to be sure, was full
of menace, for the problem that would arise if those two pillars of
the house would not consent to support it in equal honour and
stability, seemed to admit of no solution.  But all that could be
done at present was to make the most careful plans for the tactful
putting of the proposition before William and Mary.  It ought to be
done simultaneously in both houses, and Lucia decided it would be
quite legitimate if she implied (though not exactly stated) to
Grosvenor that Foljambe thought the plan would work very well,
while at the same moment Georgie was making the same implication to
Foljambe.  The earlier that was done, the shorter would be the
suspense, and zero hour was fixed for ten next morning.  It was
late now, and Georgie went to bed.  A random idea of kissing Lucia
once, on the brow, entered his mind, but after what had been said
about caresses, he felt she might consider it a minor species of
rape.

Next morning at a quarter past ten Georgie was just going to the
telephone with brisk tread and beaming face, when Lucia rang him
up.  The sparkle in her voice convinced him that all was well even
before she said "La domestica e molto contenta."

"So's mine," said Georgie.


All obstacles to the marriage being now removed, unless Elizabeth
thought of something and forbade the banns, there was no reason why
it should not be announced.  If Diva was told, no further
dissemination was needful.  Accordingly Lucia wrote a note to her
about it, and by half-past eleven practically all Tilling knew.
Elizabeth, on being told, said to Diva, "Dear, how can you repeat
such silly stories?"  So Diva produced the note itself, and
Elizabeth without a particle of shame said, "Now my lips are
unsealed.  I knew a week ago.  High time they were married, I
should say."

Diva pressed her to explain precisely what she meant with such
ferocity that Paddy showed his teeth, being convinced by a dog's
unfailing instinct that Elizabeth must be an enemy.  So she
explained that she had only meant that they had been devoted to
each other for so long, and that neither of them would remain quite
young much longer.  Irene burst into tears when she heard it, but
in all other quarters the news was received with great cordiality,
the more so perhaps because Lucia had told Diva that they neither
of them desired any wedding presents.

The date and manner of the wedding much exercised the minds of the
lovers.  Georgie, personally, would have wished the occasion to be
celebrated with the utmost magnificence.  He strongly fancied the
prospective picture of himself in frock-coat and white spats
waiting by the north door of the church for the arrival of the
bride.  Conscious that for the rest of his years he would be
overshadowed by the first citizeness of Tilling, his nature
demanded one hour of glorious life, when the dominating rle would
be his, and she would promise to love, honour and obey, and the
utmost pomp and circumstance ought to attend this brief apotheosis.
To Lucia he put the matter rather differently.

"Darling," he said (they had settled to allow themselves this
verbal endearment), "I think, no, I'm sure, that Tilling would be
terribly disappointed if you didn't allow this to be a great
occasion.  You must remember who you are, and what you are to
Tilling."

Lucia was in no serious danger of forgetting that, but she had got
another idea in her head.  She sighed, as if she had herself just
played the last chord of the first movement of the "Moonlight."

"Georgie," she said, "I was turning up only yesterday the account
of Charlotte Bront's wedding.  Eight o'clock in the morning, and
only two of her most intimate friends present.  No one of the folk
at Haworth even knew she was being married that day.  So terribly
chic somehow, when one remembers her world-wide fame.  I am not
comparing myself to Charlotte--don't think that--but I have got a
touch of her exquisite delicacy in shunning publicity.  My public
life, darling, must and does belong to Tilling, but not my private
life."

"I can't quite agree," said Georgie.  "It's not the same thing, for
all Tilling knows you're going to be married, and it wouldn't be
fair to them.  I should like you to ask the Bishop to come again in
cope and mitre--"

Lucia remembered that day of superb triumph.

"Oh, Georgie, I wonder if he would come," she said.  "How Tilling
enjoyed it before!"

"Try anyhow.  And think of your organ.  Really it ought to make a
joyful noise at your wedding.  Mendelssohn's Wedding March: tubas."

"No, darling, not that," said Lucia.  "So lascivious don't you
think?"

"Well, Chopin's then," said Georgie.

"No, that's a funeral march," said Lucia.  "Most unsuitable."

"Well, some other march," said Georgie.  "And the Mayor and
Corporation would surely attend.  You're a Town Councillor."

The example of Charlotte Bront was fading out in Lucia's mind,
vanishing in a greater brightness.

"And the Hastings Chronicle," said Georgie pushing home his
advantage.  "That would be a big cutting for your book.  A column
at least."

"But there'll be no wedding presents," she said.  "Usually most of
it is taken up with wedding presents."

"Another score for you," said Georgie ingeniously.  "Tell your Mr.
Meriton that because of the widespread poverty and unemployment you
begged your friends not to spend their money on presents.  They'd
have been very meagre little things in any case: two packs of
patience cards from Elizabeth and a pen-wiper from Benjy.  Much
better to have none."

Lucia considered these powerful arguments.

"I allow you have shaken my, resolve, darling," she said.  "If you
really think it's my duty as--"

"As a Town Councillor and a fairy-godmother to Tilling, I do," said
he.  "The football club, the cricket club.  Everybody.  I think you
ought to sacrifice your personal feelings, which I quite
understand."

That finished it.

"I had better write to the Bishop at once then," she said, "and
give him a choice of dates.  Bishops I am sure are as busy as I."

"Scarcely that," said Georgie.  "But it would be as well."

Lucia took a couple of turns up and down the garden-room.  She
waved her arms like Brunnhilde awakening on the mountain-top.

"Georgie, I begin to visualize it all," she said.  "A procession
from here would be out of place.  But afterwards, certainly a
reception in the garden-room, and a buffet in the dining-room.
Don't you think?  But one thing I must be firm about.  We must
steal away afterwards.  No confetti or shoes.  We must have your
motor at the front door, so that everyone will think we are driving
away from there, and mine at the little passage into Porpoise
Street, with the luggage on."

She sat down and took a sheet of writing paper.

"And we must settle about my dress," she said.  "If we are to have
this great show, so as not to disappoint Tilling, it ought to be up
to the mark.  Purple brocade, or something of the sort.  I shall
have it made here, of course: that good little milliner in the High
Street.  Useful for her . . .  'Dear Lord Bishop' is correct, is it
not?"

The Bishop chose the earliest of the proffered dates, and the Mayor
and Corporation thereupon signified their intention of being
present at the ceremony, and accepted Lucia's invitation to the
reception afterwards at Mallards.  A further excitement for Tilling
two days before the wedding was the sight of eight of the men whom
now Lucia had come to call "her unemployed" moving in opposite
directions between Mallards and the Cottage like laden ants,
observing the rules of the road.  They carried the most varied
burdens: a bed in sections came out of Mallards passing on its way
sections of another bed from the Cottage: bookcases were
interchanged and wardrobes: an ant festooned with gay water-colour
sketches made his brilliant progress towards Mallards, meeting
another who carried prints of Mozart at the age of four improvising
on the spinet and of Beethoven playing his own compositions to an
apparently remorseful audience.  A piano lurched along from the
Cottage, first sticking in the doorway, and thus obstructing the
progress of other ants laden with crockery vessels, water-jugs and
basins and other meaner objects, who had to stand with their
intimate burdens in the street, looking a shade self-conscious,
till their way was clear.  Curtains and rugs and fire-irons and
tables and chairs were interchanged, and Tilling puzzled itself
into knots to know what these things meant.

As if this conundrum was not sufficiently agonizing, nobody could
ascertain where the happy pair were going for their honeymoon.
They would be back in a week, for Lucia could not forsake her
municipal duties for longer than that, but she had made concession
enough to publicity, and this was kept a profound secret, for the
mystery added to the cachet of the event.  Elizabeth made desperate
efforts to find out: she sprang all sorts of Jack-in-the-box
questions on Lucia in the hope that she would startle her into
revealing the unknown destination.  Were there not very amusing
plays going on in Paris?  Was not the climate of Cornwall very
agreeable in November?  Had she ever seen a bull-fight?  All no
use: and completely foiled she expressed her settled conviction
that they were not going away at all, but would immure themselves
at Mallards, as if they had measles.

All was finished on the day before the wedding, and Georgie slept
for the last time in the Cottage surrounded by the furniture from
his future bedroom at Mallards, and clad in his frock-coat and fawn-
coloured trousers had an early lunch, with a very poor appetite, in
his unfamiliar sitting-room.  He brushed his top-hat nervously from
time to time, and broke into a slight perspiration when the church
bells began to ring, yearning for the comfortable obscurity of a
registry office, and wishing that he had never been born, or, at
any rate, was not going to be married quite so soon.  He tottered
to the church.

The ceremony was magnificent, with cope and corporation and plenty
of that astonishing tuba on the organ.  Then followed the reception
in the garden-room and the buffet in the dining-room, during which
bride and bridegroom vanished, and appeared again in their go-away
clothes, a brown Lucia with winter-dessert in her hat, and a bright
mustard-coloured Georgie.  The subterfuge, however, of starting
from Porpoise Street via the back door was not necessary, since the
street in front of Mallards was quite devoid of sightseers and
confetti.  So Georgie's decoy motorcar retreated, and Grosvenor
ordered up Lucia's car from Porpoise Street.  There was some
difficulty in getting round that awkward corner, for there was a
van in the way, and it had to saw backwards and forwards.  The
company crowded into the hall and on to the doorstep to see them
off, and Elizabeth was quite certain that Lucia did not say a word
to Cadman as she stepped in.  Clearly then Cadman knew where they
were going, and if she had only thought of that she might have
wormed it out of him.  Now it was too late: also her conviction
that they were not going anywhere at all had broken down.  She
tried to persuade Diva that they were only going for a drive and
would be back for tea, but Diva was pitilessly scornful.

"Rubbish!" she said.  Or was all that luggage merely a blind?
"You're wrong as usual, Elizabeth."


Lucia put the window half down: it was a warm afternoon.

"Darling, it all went off beautifully," she said.  "And what fun it
will be to see dear Riseholme again.  It was nice of Olga Bracely
to lend us her house.  We must have some little dinners for them
all."

"They'll be thrilled," said Georgie.  "Do you like my new suit?"



CHAPTER XIII


Lucia decided to take a rare half-holiday and spend this brilliant
afternoon in mid May, in strolling about Tilling with Georgie, for
there was a good deal she wanted to inspect.  They went across the
churchyard pausing to listen to the great blare of melodious uproar
that poured out through the open south door, for the organist was
practising on Lucia's organ, and, after enjoying that, proceeded to
the Norman Tower.  The flight of steps down to the road below had
been relaid from top to bottom, and a most elegant hand-rail put
up.  A very modest stone tablet at the side of the top step
recorded in quite small letters the name of the person to whom
Tilling owed this important restoration.

"They were only finished yesterday, Georgie," said Lucia hardly
glancing at the tablet, since she had herself chosen the lettering
very carefully and composed the inscription, "and I promised the
foreman to look at them.  Nice, I think, and in keeping.  And very
evenly laid.  One can walk down them without looking to one's
feet."

Half-way down she stopped and pointed.

"Georgie," she cried.  "Look at the lovely blossom on my almond
trees!  They are in flower at last, after this cold spring.  I was
wise to get well-grown trees: smaller ones would never have
flowered their first year.  Oh, there's Elizabeth coming up my
steps.  That old green skirt again.  It seems quite imperishable."

They met.

"Lovely new steps," said Elizabeth very agreeably.  "Quite a
pleasure to walk up them.  Thank you, dear, for them.  But those
poor almond trees.  So sad and pinched, and hardly a blossom on
them.  Perhaps they weren't the flowering sort.  Or do you think
they'll get acclimatised after some years?"

"They're coming out beautifully," said Lucia in a very firm voice.
"I've never seen such healthy trees in all my life.  By next week
they will be a blaze of blossom.  Blaze."

"I'm sure I hope you'll be right, dear," said Elizabeth, "but I
don't see any buds coming myself."  Lucia took no further notice of
her, and continued to admire her almond trees in a loud voice to
Georgie.

"And how gay the pink blossom looks against the blue sky, darling,"
she said.  "You must bring your paint-box here some morning and
make a sketch of them.  Such a feast for the eye."

She tripped down the rest of the steps, and Elizabeth paused at the
top to read the tablet.

"You know Mapp is really the best name for her," said Lucia, still
slightly bubbling with resentment.  "Irene is quite right never to
call her anything else.  Poor Mapp is beginning to imitate herself:
she says exactly the things which somebody taking her on would
say."

"And I'm sure she wanted to be pleasant just now," said Georgie,
"but the moment she began to praise your steps she couldn't bear
it, and found herself obliged to crab something else of yours."

"Very likely.  I never knew a woman so terribly in the grip of her
temperament.  Look, Georgie: they're playing cricket on my field.
Let us go and sit in the pavilion for a little.  It would be
appreciated."

"Darling, it's so dull watching cricket," said Georgie.  "One man
hits the ball away and another throws it back and all the rest eat
daisies."

"We'll just go and show ourselves," said Lucia.  "We needn't stop
long.  As President I feel I must take an interest in their games.
I wish I had time to study cricket.  Doesn't the field look
beautifully level now?  You could play billiards on it."

"Oh, by the way," said Georgie, "I saw Mr. Woolgar in the town this
morning.  He told me he had a client, very desirable he thought,
but he wasn't at liberty to mention the name yet, enquiring if I
would let the Cottage for three months from the end of June.  Only
six guineas a week offered, and I asked eight.  But even at that a
three months' let would be pleasant."

"The client's name is Mapp," said Lucia with decision.  "Diva told
me yesterday that the woman with the canaries had taken Grebe for
three months from the end of June at twenty guineas a week."

"That may be only a coincidence," said Georgie.

"But it isn't," retorted Lucia.  "I can trace the windings of her
mind like the course of a river across the plain.  She thinks she
wouldn't get it for six guineas if you knew she was the client, for
she had let out that she was getting twenty for Grebe.  Stick to
eight, Georgie, or raise it to ten."

"I'm going to have tea with Diva," said Georgie, "and the Mapps
will be there.  I might ask her suddenly if she was going to take a
bungalow again for the summer, and see how she looks."

"Anyhow they can't get flooded out of Mallards Cottage," observed
Lucia.


They had skirted the cricket ground and come to the pavilion, but
since Tilling was fielding Lucia's appearance did not evoke the
gratification she had anticipated, since none of the visiting side
had the slightest idea who she was.  The Tilling bowling was being
slogged all over the field, and the fieldsmen had really no time to
eat daisies with this hurricane hitting going on.  One ball crashed
on to the wall of the pavilion just above Georgie's head, and Lucia
willingly consented to leave her cricket field, for she had not
known the game was so perilous.  They went up into the High Street
and through the churchyard again, and were just in sight of
Mallards Cottage on which was a board:  "To be let Furnished or
Sold," when the door opened, and Elizabeth came out, locking the
door after her: clearly she had been to inspect it, or how could
she have got the keys?  Lucia knew that Georgie had seen her, and
so did not even say "I told you so."

"You must promise to do a sketch of my almond trees against the
sky, Georgie," she said.  "They will be in their full beauty by
next week.  And we must really give one of our omnibus dinner-
parties soon.  Saturday would do: I have nothing on Saturday
evening, I think.  I will telephone all round now."


Georgie went upstairs to his own sitting-room to get a reposeful
half-hour, before going to his tea-party.  More and more he
marvelled at Lucia's superb vitality: she was busier now than she
had ever pretended to be, and her labours were but as fuel to feed
her fires.  This walk to-day, for instance, had for him
necessitated a short period of quiescence before he set off again
for fresh expenditure of force, but he could hear her voice crisp
and vigorous as she rang up number after number, and the reason why
she was not coming to Diva's party was that she had a class of girl-
guides in the garden-room at half-past four, and a meeting of the
Governors of the Hospital at six.  At 7.15 (for 7.30) she was to
preside at the annual dinner of the cricket club.  Not a very full
day.

Lucia had been returned at the top of the poll in the last
elections for the Town Council.  Never did she miss a meeting,
never did she fail to bring forward some fresh scheme for the
employment of the unemployed, for the lighting of streets or the
paving of roads or for the precedence of perambulators over
pedestrians on the narrow pavements of the High Street.  Bitter had
been the conflict which called for a decision on that knotty
question.  Mapp, for instance, meeting two perambulators side by
side had refused to step into the road and so had the nursery-
maids.  Instead they had advanced, chatting gaily together, solid
as a phalanx and Mapp had been forced to retreat before them and
turn up a side street.  "What with Susan's great bus," she
passionately exclaimed, "filling up the whole of the roadway, and
perambulators sweeping all before them on the pavements, we shall
have to do our shopping in aeroplanes."

Diva, to whom she made this protest, had been sadly forgetful of
recent events, which, so to speak, had not happened and replied:

"Rubbish, dear Elizabeth!  If you had ever had occasion to push a
perambulator, you wouldn't have wheeled it on to the road to make
way for the Queen." . . .  Then, seeing her error, Diva had made
things worse by saying she hadn't meant THAT, and the Bridge party
to which Georgie was going this afternoon was to mark the
reconciliation after the resultant coolness.  The legislation
suggested by Lucia to meet this traffic problem was a model of
wisdom: perambulators had precedence on pavements, but they must
proceed in single file.  Heaps of room for everybody.

Georgie, resting and running over her activities in his mind, felt
quite hot at the thought of them, and applied a little eau-de-
cologne to his forehead.  To-morrow she was taking all her girl-
guides for a day by the sea at Margate: they were starting in a
chartered bus at eight in the morning, but she expected to be back
for dinner.  The occupations of her day fitted into each other like
a well-cut jigsaw puzzle, and not a piece was missing from the
picture.  Was all this activity merely the outpouring of her
inexhaustible energy that spouted like the water from the rock when
Moses smote it?  Sometimes he wondered whether there was not an
ulterior purpose behind it.  If so, she never spoke of it, but
drove relentlessly on in silence.

He grew a little drowsy; he dozed, but he was awakened by a step on
the stairs and a tap at his door.  Lucia always tapped, for it was
his private room, and she entered with a note in her hand.  Her
face seemed to glow with some secret radiance which she repressed
with difficulty: to mask it she wore a frown, and her mouth was
working with thought.

"I must consult you, Georgie," she said, sinking into a chair.
"There is a terribly momentous decision thrust upon me."

Georgie dismissed the notion that Mapp had made some violent
assault upon the infant occupiers of the perambulators as
inadequate.

"Darling, what has happened?" he asked.

She gazed out of the window without speaking.

"I have just received a note from the Mayor," she said at length in
a shaken voice.  "While we were so light-heartedly looking at
almond trees, a private meeting of the Town Council was being
held."

"I see," said Georgie, "and they didn't send you notice.
Outrageous.  Anyhow, I think I should threaten to resign.  After
all you've done for them, too!"

She shook her head.

"No: you mustn't blame them," she said.  "They were right, for a
piece of business was before them at which it was impossible I
should be present."

"Oh, something not quite nice?" suggested Georgie.  "But I think
they should have told you."

Again she shook her head.

"Georgie, they decided to sound me as to whether I would accept the
office of Mayor next year.  If I refuse, they would have to try
somebody else.  It's all private at present, but I had to speak to
you about it, for naturally it will affect you very greatly."

"Do you mean that I shall be something?" asked Georgie eagerly.

"Not officially, of course, but how many duties must devolve on the
Mayor's husband!"

"A sort of Mayoress," said Georgie with the eagerness clean skimmed
off his voice.

"A thousand times more than that," cried Lucia.  "You will have to
be my right hand, Georgie.  Without you I couldn't dream of
undertaking it.  I should entirely depend on you, on your judgment
and your wisdom.  There will be hundreds of questions on which a
man's instinct will be needed by me.  We shall be terribly hard-
worked.  We shall have to entertain, we shall have to take the
lead, you and I, in everything, in municipal life as well as social
life, which we do already.  If you cannot promise to be always by
me for my guidance and support, I can only give one answer.  An
unqualified negative."

Lucia's eloquence, with all the practice she had had at Town
Councils, was most effective.  Georgie no longer saw himself as a
Mayoress, but as the Power behind the Throne; he thought of Queen
Victoria and the Prince Consort, and bright images bubbled in his
brain.  Lucia, with a few sideways gimlet-glances saw the effect,
and, wise enough to say no more, continued gazing out of the
window.  Georgie gazed too: they both gazed.

When Lucia thought that her silence had done as much as it could,
she sighed, and spoke again.

"I understand.  I will refuse then," she said.

That, in common parlance, did the trick.

"No, don't fuss me," he said.  "Me must fink."

"Si, caro: pensa seriosamente," said she.  "But I must make up my
mind now: it wouldn't be fair on my colleagues not to.  There are
plenty of others, Georgie, if I refuse.  I should think Mr.
Twistevant would make an admirable Mayor.  Very business-like.
Naturally, I do not approve of his views about slums and, of course
I should have to resign my place on the Town Council and some other
bodies.  But what does that matter?"

"Darling, if you put it like that," said Georgie, "I must say that
I think it your duty to accept.  You would be condoning slums
almost, if you didn't."

The subdued radiance in Lucia's face burst forth like the sun
coming out from behind a cloud.

"If you think it's my duty, I must accept," she said.  "You would
despise me otherwise.  I'll write at once."

She paused at the door.

"I wonder what Elizabeth--" she began, then thought better of it,
and tripped lightly downstairs.


Tilling had unanimously accepted Lucia's invitation for dinner and
Bridge on Saturday, and Georgie, going upstairs to dress heard
himself called from Lucia's bedroom.

He entered.

Her bed was paved with hats: it was a parterre of hats, of which
the boxes stood on the floor, a rampart of boxes.  The hats were of
the most varied styles.  There was one like an old-fashioned beaver
hat with a feather in it.  There was a Victorian bonnet with
strings.  There was a three-cornered hat, like that which Napoleon
wore in the retreat from Moscow.  There was a head-dress like that
worn by nuns, and a beret made of cloth of gold.  There was a hat
like a full-bottomed wig with ribands in it, and a Stuart-looking
head-dress like those worn by the ladies of the Court in the time
of Charles I.  Lucia sitting in front of her glass, with her head
on one side was trying the effect of a green turban.

"I want your opinion, dear," she said.  "For official occasions as
when the Mayor and Corporation go in state to church, or give a
civic welcome to distinguished visitors, the Mayor, if a woman, has
an official hat, part of her robes.  But there are many semi-
official occasions, Georgie, when one would not be wearing robes,
but would still like to wear something distinctive.  When I preside
at Town Councils, for instance, or at all those committees of which
I shall be chairman.  On all those occasions I should wear the same
hat: an undress uniform, you might call it.  I don't think the
green turban would do, but I am rather inclined to that beret in
cloth of gold."

Georgie tried on one or two himself.

"I like the beret," he said.  "You could trim it with your
beautiful seed pearls."

"That's a good idea," said Lucia cordially.  "Or what about the
thing like a wig.  Rather majestic: the Mayor of Tilling, you know,
used to have the power of life and death.  Let me try it on again."

"No, I like the beret better than that," said Georgie critically.
"Besides the Mayor doesn't have the power of life and death now.
Oh, but what about this Stuart-looking one?  Rather Vandyckish,
don't you think?"

He brought it to her, and came opposite the mirror himself, so that
his face was framed there beside hers.  His beard had been trimmed
that day to a beautiful point.

"Georgino!  Your beard: my hat," cried Lucia.  "What a harmony!
Not a question about it!"

"Yes, I think it does suit us," said Georgie, blushing a little.



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