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Title:      Trouble for Lucia (1939)
Author:     E. F. Benson
eBook No.:  0501151.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          December 2005
Date most recently updated: December 2005

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Title:      Trouble for Lucia (1939)
Author:     E. F. Benson






CHAPTER I


Lucia Pillson, the Mayor-Elect of Tilling and her husband Georgie
were talking together one October afternoon in the garden-room at
Mallards.  The debate demanded the exercise of their keenest
faculties.  Viz:

Should Lucia, when next month she entered on the supreme Municipal
Office, continue to go down to the High Street every morning after
breakfast with her market-basket, and make her personal purchases
at the shops of the baker, the grocer, the butcher and wherever
else the needs of the day's catering directed?  There were pros and
cons to be considered, and Lucia had been putting the case for both
sides with the tedious lucidity of opposing counsel addressing the
Court.  It might be confidently expected that, when she had
finished exploring the entire territory, she would be fully
competent to express the verdict of the jury and the sentence of
the judge.  In anticipation of the numerous speeches she would soon
be called upon to make as Mayor, she was cultivating, whenever she
remembered to do so, a finished oratorical style, and a pedantic
Oxford voice.

"I must be very careful, Georgie," she said.  "Thoroughly
democratic as you know I am in the truest sense of the word, I
shall be entrusted, on the ninth of November next, with the duty of
upholding the dignity and tradition of my high office.  I'm not
sure that I ought to go popping in and out of shops, as I have
hitherto done, carrying my market-basket and bustling about just
like anybody else.  Let me put a somewhat similar case to you.
Supposing you saw a newly-appointed Lord Chancellor trotting round
the streets of Westminster in shorts, for the sake of exercise.
What would you feel about it?  What would your reactions be?"

"I hope you're not thinking of putting on shorts, are you?" asked
Georgie, hoping to introduce a lighter tone.

"Certainly not," said Lucia.  "A parallel case only.  And then
there's this.  It would be intolerable to my democratic principles
that, if I went into the grocer's to make some small purchase,
other customers already there should stand aside in order that I
might be served first.  That would never do.  Never!"

Georgie surveyed with an absent air the pretty piece of needlework
on which he was engaged.  He was embroidering the Borough arms of
Tilling in coloured silks on the back of the white kid gloves which
Lucia would wear at the inaugural ceremony, and he was not quite
sure that he had placed the device exactly in the middle.

"How tar'some," he said.  "Well, it will have to do.  I daresay it
will stretch right.  About the Lord Chancellor in shorts.  I don't
think I should mind.  It would depend a little on what sort of
knees he had.  As for other customers standing aside because you
were the Mayor, I don't think you need be afraid of that for a
moment.  Most unlikely."

Lucia became violently interested in her gloves.

"My dear, they look too smart for anything," she said.  "Beautiful
work, Georgie.  Lovely.  They remind me of the jewelled gloves you
see in primitive Italian pictures on the hands of kneeling Popes
and adoring Bishops."

"Do you think the arms are quite in the middle?" he asked.

"It looks perfect.  Shall I try it on?"

Lucia displayed the back of her gloved hand, leaning her forehead
elegantly against the finger-tips.

"Yes, that seems all right," said Georgie.  "Give it me back.  It's
not quite finished.  About the other thing.  It would be rather
marked if you suddenly stopped doing your marketing yourself, as
you've done it every day for the last two years or so.  Except
Sundays.  Some people might say that you were swanky because you
were Mayor.  Elizabeth would."

"Possibly.  But I should be puzzled, dear, to name off-hand
anything that mattered less to me than what Elizabeth Mapp-Flint
said, poor woman.  Give me your opinion, not hers."

"You might drop the marketing by degrees, if you felt it was
undignified," said Georgie yawning.  "Shop every day this week, and
only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday next week--"

"No, dear," interrupted Lucia.  "That would be hedging, and I never
hedge.  One thing or the other."

"A hedge may save you from falling into a ditch," said Georgie
brilliantly.

"Georgino, how epigrammatic!  What does it mean exactly?  What
ditch?"

"Any ditch," said Georgie.  "Just making a mistake and not being
judicious.  Tilling is a mass of pitfalls."

"I don't mind about pitfalls so long as my conscience assures me
that I am guided by right principles.  I must set an example in my
private as well as my public life.  If I decide to go on with my
daily marketing I shall certainly make a point of buying very
cheap, simple provisions.  Cabbages and turnips, for instance, not
asparagus."

"We've got plenty of that in the garden when it comes in," said
Georgie.

"--plaice, not soles.  Apples," went on Lucia, as if he hadn't
spoken.  "Plain living in private--everybody will hear me buying
cheap vegetables--Splendour, those lovely gloves, in public.  And
high thinking in both."

"That would sound well in your inaugural speech," said Georgie.

"I hope it will.  What I want to do in our dear Tilling is to
elevate the tone, to make it a real centre of intellectual and
artistic activity.  That must go on simultaneously with social
reforms and the well-being of the poorer classes.  All the slums
must be cleared away.  There must be an end to overcrowding.
Pasteurisation of milk, Georgie; a strict censorship of the films;
benches in sunny corners.  Of course, it will cost money.  I should
like to see the rates go up by leaps and bounds."

"That won't make you very popular," said Georgie.

"I should welcome any unpopularity that such reforms might earn for
me.  The decorative side of life, too.  Flower boxes in the windows
of the humblest dwellings.  Cheap concerts of first-rate music.
The revival of ancient customs, like beating the bounds.  I must
find out just what that is."

"The town-council went in procession round the boundaries of the
parish," said Georgie, "and the Mayor was bumped on the boundary
stones.  Hadn't we better stick to the question of whether you go
marketing or not?"

Lucia did not like the idea of being bumped on boundary stones . . .

"Quite right, dear.  I lose myself in my dreams.  We were talking
about the example we must set in plain living.  I wish it to be
known that I do my catering with economy.  To be heard ordering
neck of mutton at the butcher's."

"I won't eat neck of mutton in order to be an example to anybody,"
said Georgie.  "And, personally, whatever you settle to do, I won't
give up the morning shopping.  Besides, one learns all the news
then.  Why, it would be worse than not having the wireless!  I
should be lost without it.  So would you."

Lucia tried to picture herself bereft of that eager daily
interchange of gossip, when her Tilling circle of friends bustled
up and down the High Street carrying their market-baskets and
bumping into each other in the narrow doorways of shops.  Rain or
fine, with umbrellas and goloshes or with sunshades and the
thinnest blouses, it was the bracing hour that whetted the appetite
for the complications of life.  The idea of missing it was
unthinkable, and without the slightest difficulty she ascribed
exalted motives and a high sense of duty to its continuance.

"You are right, dear," she said.  "Thank you for your guidance!
More than ever now in my new position, it will be incumbent on me
to know what Tilling is thinking and feeling.  My finger must be on
its pulse.  That book I was reading the other day, which impressed
me so enormously--what on earth was it?  A biography."

"Catherine the Great?" asked Georgie.  Lucia had dipped into it
lately, but the suggestion was intended to be humorous.

"Yes: I shall forget my own name next.  She always had her finger
on the pulse of her people: that I maintain was the real source of
her greatness.  She used to disguise herself, you remember, as a
peasant woman--moujik, isn't it?--and let herself out of the back-
door of the Winter Palace, and sat in the bars and cafs or
wherever they drink vodka and tea--samovars--and hear what the
common people were saying, astonishing her Ministers with her
knowledge."

Georgie felt fearfully bored with her and this preposterous
rubbish.  Lucia did not care two straws what "the common people"
were saying.  She, in this hour of shopping in the High Street,
wanted to know what fresh mischief Elizabeth Mapp-Flint was
hatching, and what Major Benjy Mapp-Flint was at, and whether Diva
Plaistow's Irish terrier had got mange, and if Irene Coles had
obtained the sanction of the Town Surveying Department to paint a
fresco on the front of her house of a nude Venus rising from the
sea, and if Susan Wyse had really sat down on her budgerigar,
squashing it quite flat.  Instead of which she gassed about the
duty of the Mayor Elect of Tilling to have her finger on the pulse
of the place, like Catherine the Great.  Such nonsense was best met
with a touch of sarcasm.

"That will be a new experience, dear," he said.  "Fancy your
disguising yourself as a gypsy-woman and stealing out through the
back-door, and sitting in the bars of public-houses.  I do call
that thorough."

"Ah, you take me too literally, Georgie," she said.  "Only a loose
analogy.  In some respects I should be sorry to behave like that
marvellous woman.  But what a splendid notion to listen to all that
the moujiks said when their tongues were unloosed with vodka.  In
vino veritas."

"Not always," said Georgie.  "For instance, Major Benjy was sitting
boozing in the club this afternoon.  The wind was too high for him
to go out and play golf, so he spent his time in port . . .
Putting out in a gale, you see, or stopping in port.  Quite a lot
of port."

Georgie waited for his wife to applaud this pretty play upon words,
but she was thinking about herself and Catherine the Great.

"Well, wine wasn't making him truthful, but just the opposite," he
went on.  "Telling the most awful whoppers about the tigers he'd
shot and his huge success with women when he was younger."

"Poor Elizabeth," said Lucia in an unsympathetic voice.

"He grew quite dreadful," said Georgie, "talking about his bachelor
days of freedom.  And he had the insolence to dig me in the ribs
and whisper 'We know all about that, old boy, don't we?  Ha ha.
What?'"

"Georgie, how impertinent," cried Lucia.  "Why, it's comparing
Elizabeth with me!"

"And me with him," suggested Georgie.

"Altogether most unpleasant.  Any more news?"

"Yes; I saw Diva for a moment.  Paddy's not got mange.  Only a
little eczema.  And she's quite determined to start her tea-shop.
She asked me if I thought you would perform the opening ceremony
and drink the first cup of tea.  I said I thought you certainly
would.  Such clat for her if you went in your robes!  I don't
suppose there would be a muffin left in the place."

Lucia's brow clouded, but it made her happy to be on Mayoral
subjects again.

"Georgie, I wish you hadn't encouraged her to hope that I would,"
she said.  "I should be delighted to give Diva such a magnificent
send-off as that, but I must be very careful.  Supposing next day
somebody opens a new boot-shop I shall have made a precedent and
shall have to wear the first pair of shoes.  Or a hat-shop.  If I
open one, I must open all, for I will not show any sort of
favouritism.  I will gladly, ever so gladly, go and drink the first
cup of tea at Diva's, as Mrs. Pillson, but not officially.  I must
be officially incognita."

"She'll be disappointed," said Georgie.

"Poor Diva, I fear so.  As for robes, quite impossible.  The Mayor
never appears in robes except when attended by the whole
Corporation.  I can hardly request my Aldermen and Councillors to
have tea with Diva in state.  Of course it's most enterprising of
her, but I can't believe her little tea-room will resemble the
goldmine she anticipates."

"I don't think she's doing it just to make money," said Georgie,
"though, of course she wouldn't mind that."

"What then?  Think of the expense of cups and saucers and tables
and tea-spoons.  The trouble, too.  She told me she meant to serve
the teas herself."

"It's just that she'll enjoy so much," said Georgie, "popping in
and out and talking to her customers.  She's got a raving passion
for talking to anybody, and she finds it such silent work living
alone.  She'll have constant conversation if her tea-room catches
on."

"Well, you may be right," said Lucia.  "Oh, and there's another
thing.  My Mayoral banquet.  I lay awake half last night--perhaps
not quite so much--thinking about it, and I don't see how you can
come to it."

"That's sickening," said Georgie.  "Why not?"

"It's very difficult.  If I ask you, it will certainly set a
precedent--"

"You think too much about precedents," interrupted Georgie.
"Nobody will care."

"But listen.  The banquet is entirely official.  I shall ask the
Mayors of neighbouring boroughs, the Bishop, the Lord Lieutenant,
the Vicar, who is my Chaplain, my Aldermen and Councillors, and
Justices of the Peace.  You, dear, have no official position.  We
are, so to speak, like Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort."

"You said that before," said Georgie, "and I looked it up.  When
she opened Parliament he drove with her to Westminster and sat
beside her on a throne.  A throne--"

"I wonder if that is so.  Some of those lives of the Queen are very
inaccurate.  At that rate, the wife of the Lord Chancellor ought to
sit on a corner of the Woolsack.  Besides, where are you to be
placed?  You can't sit next me.  The Lord Lieutenant must be on my
right and the Bishop on my left--"

"If they come," observed Georgie.

"Naturally they won't sit there if they don't.  After them come the
Mayors, Aldermen and Councillors.  You would have to sit below them
all, and that would be intolerable to me."

"I shouldn't mind where I sat," said Georgie.

"I should love you to be there, Georgie," she said.  "But in what
capacity?  It's all official, I repeat.  Think of tradition."

"But there isn't any tradition.  No woman has ever been Mayor of
Tilling before: you've often told me that.  However, don't let us
argue about it.  I expect Tilling will think it very odd if I'm not
there.  I shall go up to London that day, and then you can tell
them I've been called away."

"That would never do," cried Lucia.  "Tilling would think it much
odder if you weren't here on my great day."

"Having dinner alone at Mallards," said Georgie bitterly.  "The
neck of mutton you spoke of."

He rose.

"Time for my bath," he said.  "And I shan't talk about it or think
about it any more.  I leave it to you."


Georgie went upstairs, feeling much vexed.  He undressed and put on
his blue silk dressing-gown, and peppered his bath with a liberal
allowance of verbena salts.  He submerged himself in the fragrant
liquid, and concentrated his mind on the subject he had resolved
not to think about any more.  Just now Lucia seemed able to apply
her mind to nothing except herself and the duties or dignities of
her coming office.

"'Egalo-megalo-mayoralo-mania', I call it," Georgie said to himself
in a withering whisper.  "Catherine the Great!  Delirium!  She
thinks the whole town is as wildly excited about her being Mayor as
she is herself.  Whereas it's a matter of supreme indifference to
them . . .  All except Elizabeth, who trembles with rage and
jealousy whenever she sees Lucia . . .  But she always did
that . . .  Bother!  I've dropped my soap and it slips away like
an eel . . .  All very tar'some.  Lucia can't talk about anything
else . . .  Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, there's nothing but
that . . .  Mayoral complex . . .  It's a crashing bore, that's what
it is . . .  Everlastingly reminding me that I've no official
position . . .  Hullo, who's that?  No, you can't come in, whoever
you are."

A volley of raps had sounded at the door of the bathroom.  Then
Lucia's voice:

"No, I don't want to come in," she said.  "But, eureka, Georgie.
Ho trovato: ho ben trovato!"

"What have you found?" called Georgie, sitting up in his bath.

"It.  Me.  My banquet.  You and my banquet.  I'll tell you at
dinner.  Be quick."

"Probably she'll let me hand the cheese," thought Georgie, still
feeling morose.  "I'm in no hurry to hear that."

He padded back to his bedroom in his dressing-gown and green
morocco slippers.  A parcel had arrived for him while he was at his
bath, and Foljambe, the parlour-maid valet had put it on his pink
bed-quilt.

"It must be my new dinner suit," he said to himself.  "And with all
this worry I'd quite forgotten about it."

He cut the string and there it was: jacket and waistcoat and
trousers of ruby-coloured velvet, with synthetic-onyx buttons,
quite superb.  It was Lucia's birthday present to him; he was to
order just what dinner-suit he liked, and the bill was to be sent
to her.  She knew nothing more, except that he had told her that it
would be something quite out of the common and that Tilling would
be astonished.  He was thrilled with its audacious beauty.

"Now let me think," he meditated.  "One of my pleated shirts, and a
black butterfly tie, and my garnet solitaire.  And my pink vest.
Nobody will see it, but I shall know it's there.  And red socks.
Or daren't I?"

He swiftly invested himself in this striking creation.  It fitted
beautifully in front, and he rang the bell for Foljambe to see if
it was equally satisfactory behind.  Her masterful knock sounded on
the door, and he said come in.

Foljambe gave a shrill ejaculation.

"Lor!" she said.  "Something fancy-dress, sir?"

"Not at all," said Georgie.  "My new evening suit.  Isn't it smart,
Foljambe?  Does it fit all right at the back?"

"Seems to," said Foljambe, pulling his sleeve.  "Stand a bit
straighter, sir.  Yes, quite a good fit.  Nearly gave me one."

"Don't you like it?" asked Georgie anxiously.

"Well, a bit of a shock, sir.  I hope you won't spill things on it,
for it would be a rare job to get anything sticky out of the
velvet, and you do throw your food about sometimes.  But it is
pretty now I begin to take it in."

Georgie went into his sitting-room next door, where there was a big
mirror over the fireplace, and turned on all the electric lights.
He got up on a chair, so that he could get a more comprehensive
view of himself, and revolved slowly in the brilliant light.  He
was so absorbed in his Narcissism that he did not hear Lucia come
out of her bedroom.  The door was ajar, and she peeped in.  She
gave a strangled scream at the sight of a large man in a glaring
red suit standing on a chair with his back to her.  It was unusual.
Georgie whisked round at her cry.

"Look!" he said.  "Your delicious present.  There it was when I
came from my bath.  Isn't it lovely?"

Lucia recovered from her shock.

"Positively Venetian, Georgie," she said.  "Real Titian."

"I think it's adorable," said Georgie, getting down.  "Won't
Tilling be excited?  Thank you a thousand times."

"And a thousand congratulations, Georgino," she said.  "Oh, and my
discovery!  I am a genius, dear.  There'll be a high table across
the room at my banquet with two tables joining it at the corners
going down the room.  Me, of course, in the centre of the high
table.  We shall sit only on one side of these tables.  And you can
sit all by yourself exactly opposite me.  Facing me.  No official
position, neither above or below the others.  Just the Mayor's
husband close to her materially, but officially in the air, so to
speak."

From below came the merry sound of little bells that announced
dinner.  Grosvenor, the other parlour-maid, was playing quite a
sweet tune on them to-night, which showed she was pleased with
life.  When she was cross she made a snappy jangled discord.

"That solves everything!" said Georgie.  "Brilliant.  How clever of
you!  I DID feel a little hurt at the thought of not being there.
Listen: Grosvenor's happy, too.  We're all pleased."

He offered her his beautiful velvet arm, and they went downstairs.

"And my garnet solitaire," he said.  "Doesn't it go well with my
clothes?  I must tuck my napkin in securely.  It would be frightful
if I spilt anything.  I am glad about the banquet."

"So am I, dear.  It would have been horrid not to have had you
there.  But I had to reconcile the feelings of private life with
the etiquette of public life.  We must expect problems of the sort
to arise while I'm Mayor--"

"Such good fish," said Georgie, trying to divert her from the
eternal subject.

Quite useless.

"Excellent, isn't it," said Lucia.  "In the time of Queen
Elizabeth, Georgie, the Mayor of Tilling was charged with supplying
fish for the Court.  A train of pack-mules was despatched to London
twice a week.  What a wonderful thing if I could get that custom
restored!  Such an impetus to the fishermen here."

"The Court must have been rather partial to putrid fish," said
Georgie.  "I shouldn't care to eat a whiting that had been carried
on a mule to London in hot weather, or in cold, for that matter."

"Ah, I should not mean to go back to the mules," said Lucia,
"though how picturesque to see them loaded at the river-bank, and
starting on their Royal errand.  One would use the railway.  I
wonder if it could be managed.  The Royal Fish Express."

"Do you propose a special train full of soles and lobsters twice a
week for Buckingham Palace or Royal Lodge?" he asked.

"A refrigerating van would be sufficient.  I daresay if I searched
in the archives I should find that Tilling had the monopoly of
supplying the Royal table, and that the right has never been
revoked.  If so, I should think a petition to the King:  'Your
Majesty's loyal subjects of Tilling humbly pray that this privilege
be restored to them'.  Or perhaps some preliminary enquiries from
the Directors of the Southern Railway first.  Such prestige.  And a
steady demand would be a wonderful thing for the fishing industry."

"It's got enough demand already," said Georgie.  "There isn't too
much fish for us here as it is."

"Georgie!  Where's your political economy?  Demand invariably leads
to supply.  There would be more fishing-smacks built, more men
would follow the sea.  Unemployment would diminish.  Think of
Yarmouth and its immense trade.  How I should like to capture some
of it for our Tilling!  I mustn't lose sight of that among all the
schemes I ponder over so constantly. . . .  But I've had a busy
day: let us relax a little and make music in the garden-room."

She rose, and her voice assumed a careless lightness.

"I saw to-day," she said, "in one of my old bound-up volumes of
duets, an arrangement for four hands of Glazonov's 'Bacchanal'.  It
looked rather attractive.  We might run through it."

Georgie had seen it, too, a week ago, and though most of Lucia's
music was familiar, he felt sure they had never tried this.  He had
had a bad cold in the head, and, not being up to their usual walk
for a day or two, he had played over the bass part several times
while Lucia was out taking her exercise: some day it might come in
useful.  Then this very afternoon, busy in the garden, he had heard
a long-continued soft-pedalled tinkle, and rightly conjectured that
Lucia was stealing a march on him in the treble part . . .  Out
they went to the garden-room, and Lucia found the 'Bacchanal'.  His
new suit made him feel very kindly disposed.

"You must take the treble, then," he said.  "I could never read
that."

"How lazy of you, dear," she said, instantly sitting down.  "Well,
I'll try if you insist, but you mustn't scold me if I make a mess
of it."

It went beautifully.  Odd trains of thought coursed through the
heads of both.  "Why is she such a hypocrite?" he wondered.  "She
was practising it half the afternoon." . . .  Simultaneously Lucia
was saying to herself, "Georgie can't be reading it.  He must have
tried it before."  At the end were mutual congratulations: each
thought that the other had read it wonderfully well.  Then bed-
time.  She kissed her hand to him as she closed her bedroom door,
and Georgie made a few revolutions in front of his mirror before
divesting himself of the new suit.  By a touching transference of
emotions, Lucia had vivid dreams of heaving seas of ruby-coloured
velvet, and Georgie of the new Cunard liner, Queen Mary, running
aground in the river on a monstrous shoal of whiting and lobsters.


There was an early autumnal frost in the night, though not severe
enough to blacken the superb dahlias in Lucia's garden and soon
melting.  The lawn was covered with pearly moisture when she and
Georgie met at breakfast, and the red roofs of Tilling gleamed
bright in the morning sun.  Lucia had already engaged a shorthand
and typewriting secretary to get used to her duties before the
heavy mayoral correspondence began to pour in, but to-day the post
brought nothing but a few circulars at once committed to the waste-
paper basket.  But it would not do to leave Mrs. Simpson completely
idle, so, before setting out for the morning marketing, Lucia
dictated invitations to Mrs. Bartlett and the Padre, to Susan and
Mr. Wyse, to Elizabeth Mapp-Flint and Major Benjy for dinner and
Bridge the following night.  She would write in the invocations and
signatures when she returned, and she apologized in each letter for
the stress of work which had prevented her from writing with her
own hand throughout.

"Georgie, I shall have to learn typing myself," she said as they
started.  "I can easily imagine some municipal crisis which would
swamp Mrs. Simpson, quick worker though she is.  Or isn't there a
machine called the dictaphone? . . .  How deliciously warm the sun
is!  When we get back I shall make a water-colour sketch of my
dahlias in the giardino segreto.  Any night might see them
blackened, and I should deplore not having a record of them.  Ecco,
there's Irene beckoning to us from her window.  Something about the
fresco, I expect."

Irene Coles bounced out into the street.

"Lucia, beloved one," she cried.  "It's too cruel!  That lousy Town
Surveying Department refuses to sanction my fresco-design of Venus
rising from the sea.  Come into my studio and look at my sketch of
it, which they have sent back to me.  Goths and Vandals and Mrs.
Grundys to a man and woman!"

The sketch was very striking.  A nude, well-nourished, putty-
coloured female, mottled with green shadows, was balanced on an
oyster shell, while a prizefighter, representing the wind and
sprawling across the sky, propelled her with puffed cheeks up a
river towards a red-roofed town on the shore which presented
Tilling with pre-Raphaelite fidelity.

"Dear me!  Quite Botticellian!" said Lucia.

"What?" screamed Irene.  "Darling, how can you compare my great
deep-bosomed Venus, fit to be the mother of heroes, with
Botticelli's anmic flapper?  What'll the next generation in
Tilling be like when my Venus gets ashore?"

"Yes.  Quite.  So vigorous!  So allegorical!" said Lucia.  "But,
dear Irene, do you want everybody to be reminded of that whenever
they go up and down the street?"

"Why not?  What can be nobler than Motherhood?" asked Irene.

"Nothing!  Nothing!" Lucia assured her.  "For a maternity home--"

Irene picked up her sketch and tore it across.

"I know what I shall do," she said.  "I shall turn my wondrous
Hellenic goddess into a Victorian mother.  I shall dress her in a
tartan shawl and skirt and a bonnet with a bow underneath her chin
and button-boots and a parasol.  I shall give my lusty South Wind a
frock-coat and trousers and a top-hat, and send the design back to
that foul-minded Department asking if I have now removed all
objectionable features.  Georgie, when next you come to see me, you
won't need to blush."

"I haven't blushed once!" said Georgie indignantly.  "How can you
tell such fibs?"


"Dear Irene is so full of vitality," said Lucia as they regained
the street.  "Such ozone!  She always makes me feel as if I was out
in a high wind, and I wonder if my hair is coming down.  But so
easily managed with a little tact--Ah!  There's Diva at her window.
We might pop in on her for a minute, and I'll break it to her about
a State-opening for her tea-rooms . . .  Take care, Georgie!
There's Susan's Royce plunging down on us."

Mrs. Wyse's huge car, turning into the High Street, drew up
directly between them and Diva's house.  She let down the window
and put her large round face where the window had been.  As usual,
she had on her ponderous fur-coat, but on her head was a quite new
hat, to the side of which, like a cockade, was attached a trophy of
bright blue, green and yellow plumage, evidently the wings, tail
and breast of a small bird.

"Can I give you a lift, dear?" she said in a mournful voice.  "I'm
going shopping in the High Street.  You, too, of course, Mr.
Georgie, if you don't mind sitting in front."

"Many thanks, dear Susan," said Lucia, "but hardly worth while, as
we are in the High Street already."

Susan nodded sadly to them, put up the window, and signalled to her
chauffeur to proceed.  Ten yards brought her to the grocer's, and
the car stopped again.

"Georgie, it was the remains of the budgerigar tacked to her hat,"
said Lucia in a thrilled whisper as they crossed the street.  "Yes,
Diva: we'll pop in for a minute."

"Wearing it," said Diva in her telegraphic manner as she opened the
front-door to them.  "In her hat."

"Then is it true, Diva?" asked Lucia.  "Did she sit down on her
budgerigar?"

"Definitely.  I was having tea with her.  Cage open.  Budgerigar
flitting about the room.  A messy bird.  Then Susan suddenly said
'Tweet, tweet.  Where's my blue Birdie?'  Not a sign of it.  'It'll
be all right,' said Susan.  'In the piano or somewhere.'  So we
finished tea.  Susan got up and there was blue Birdie.  Dead and as
flat as a pancake.  We came away at once."

"Very tactful," said Georgie.  "But the head wasn't on her hat, I'm
pretty sure."

"Having it stuffed, I expect.  To be added later between the wings.
And what about those new clothes, Mr. Georgie?"

"How on earth did you hear that?" said Georgie in great
astonishment.  How news travelled in Tilling!  Only last night,
dining at home, he had worn the ruby-coloured velvet for the first
time, and now, quite early next morning, Diva had heard about it.
Really things were known in Tilling almost before they happened.

"My Janet was posting a letter, ten p.m.," said Diva.  "Foljambe
was posting a letter.  They chatted.  And are they really red?"

"You'll see before long," said Georgie, pleased to know that
interest in his suit was blazing already.  "Just wait and see."

All this conversation had taken place on Diva's doorstep.

"Come in for a minute," she said.  "I want to consult you about my
parlour, when I make it into a tea-room.  Shall take away those two
big tables, and put in six little ones, for four at each.  Then
there's the small room at the back full of things I could never
quite throw away.  Bird-cages.  Broken coal-scuttles.  Old towel-
horses.  I shall clear them out now, as there's no rummage-sale
coming on.  Put that big cupboard there against the wall, and a
couple of card tables.  People might like a rubber after their tea
if it's raining.  Me always ready to make a fourth if wanted.
Won't that be cosy?"

"Very cosy indeed," said Lucia.  "But may you provide facilities
for gambling in a public place, without risking a police-raid?"

"Don't see why not," said Diva.  "I may provide chess or draughts,
and what's to prevent people gambling at them?  Why not cards?  And
you will come in your robes, won't you, on Mayoring day, to
inaugurate my tea-rooms?"

"My dear, quite impossible," said Lucia firmly.  "As I told
Georgie, I should have to be attended by my Aldermen and
Councillors, as if it was some great public occasion.  But I'll
come as Mrs. Pillson, and everyone will say that the Mayor
performed the opening ceremony.  But, officially, I must be
incognita."

"Well, that's something," said Diva.  "And may I put up some
posters to say that Mrs. Pillson will open it?"

"There can be no possible objection to that," said Lucia with
alacrity.  "That will not invalidate my incognita.  Just some big
lettering at the top 'Ye Olde Tea-House', and, if you think my name
will help, big letters again for 'Mrs. Pillson' or 'Mrs. Pillson of
Mallards'.  Quite.  Any other news?  I know that your Paddy hasn't
got mange."

"Nothing, I think.  Oh yes, Elizabeth was in here just now, and
asked me who was to be your Mayoress?"

"My Mayoress?" asked Lucia.  "Aren't I both?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Diva.  "But she says she's sure all
Mayors have Mayoresses."

"Poor Elizabeth: she always gets things muddled.  Oh, Diva, will
you--No nothing: I'm muddled, too.  Goodbye, dear.  All too cosy
for words.  A month to-day, then, for the opening.  Georgie, remind
me to put that down."

Lucia and her husband passed on up the street.

"Such an escape!" she said.  "I was on the point of asking Diva to
dine and play bridge to-morrow, quite forgetting that I'd asked the
Bartletts and the Wyses and the Mapp-Flints.  You know, our custom
of always asking husbands and wives together is rather Victorian.
It dates us.  I shall make innovations when the first terrific
weeks of office are over.  If we always ask couples, single people
like Diva get left out."

"So shall I if the others do it, too," remarked Georgie.  "Look,
we've nearly caught up Susan.  She's going into the post-office."

As Susan, a few yards ahead, stepped ponderously out of the Royce,
her head brushed against the side of the door, and a wing from the
cockade of bright feathers, insecurely fastened, fluttered down on
to the pavement.  She did not perceive her loss, and went in to the
office.  Georgie picked up the plume.

"Better put it back on the seat inside," whispered Lucia.  "Not
tactful to give it her in public.  She'll see it when she gets in."

"She may sit down on it again," whispered Georgie.

"Oh, the far seat: that'll do.  She can't miss it."

He placed it carefully in the car, and they walked on.

"It's always a joy to devise those little unseen kindnesses," said
Lucia.  "Poulterer's first, Georgie.  If all my guests accept for
to-morrow, I had better bespeak two brace of partridges."

"Delicious," said Georgie, "but how about the plain living?  Oh I
see: that'll be after you become Mayor . . .  Good morning, Padre."

The Reverend Kenneth Bartlett stepped out of a shop in front.  He
always talked a mixture of faulty Scots and spurious Elizabethan
English.  It had been a playful diversion at first, but now it had
become a habit, and unless carried away by the conversation he
seldom spoke the current tongue.

"Guid morrow, richt worshipful leddy," he said.  "Well met, indeed,
for there's a sair curiosity abroad, and 'tis you who can still it.
Who's the happy wumman whom ye'll hae for your Mayoress?"

"That's the second time I've been asked that this morning," said
Lucia.  "I've had no official information that I must have one."

"A'weel.  It's early days yet.  A month still before you need her.
But ye mun have one: Mayor and Mayoress, 'tis the law o' the land.
I was thinking--"

He dropped his voice to a whisper.

"There's that helpmate of mine," he said.  "Not that there's been
any colloquy betune us.  She just passed the remark this morning:
'I wonder who Mistress Pillson will select for her Mayoress,' and I
said I dinna ken and left it there."

"Very wise," said Lucia encouragingly.

The Padre's language grew almost Anglicized.

"But it put an idea into my head, that my Evie might be willing to
help you in any way she could.  She'd keep you in touch with all
Church matters which I know you have at heart, and Sunday Schools
and all that.  Mind.  I don't promise that she'd consent, but I
think 'tis likely, though I wouldn't encourage false hopes.  All
confidential, of course; and I must be stepping."

He looked furtively round as if engaged in some dark conspiracy and
stepped.

"Georgie, I wonder if there can be any truth in it," said Lucia.
"Of course, nothing would induce me to have poor dear little Evie
as Mayoress.  I would as soon have a mouse.  Oh, there's Major
Benjy: he'll be asking me next who my Mayoress is to be.  Quick,
into the poulterer's."

They hurried into the shop.  Mr. Rice gave her a low bow.  "Good-
morning, your worship--" he began.

"No, not yet, Mr. Rice," said Lucia.  "Not for a month yet.
Partridges.  I shall very likely want two brace of partridges to-
morrow evening."

"I've got some prime young birds, your worsh--ma'am," said Mr.
Rice.

"Very well.  Please earmark four birds for me.  I will let you know
the first thing to-morrow morning, if I require them."

"Earmarked they are, ma'am," said Mr. Rice enthusiastically.

Lucia peeped cautiously out.  Major Benjy had evidently seen them
taking cover, and was regarding electric heaters in the shop next
door with an absent eye.  He saw her look out and made a military
salute.

"Good-morning," he said cordially.  "Lovely day isn't it?
October's my favourite month.  Chill October, what?  I was
wondering, Mrs. Pillson, as I strolled along, if you had yet
selected the fortunate lady who will have the honour of being your
Mayoress."

"Good morning, Major.  Oddly enough somebody else asked me that
very thing a moment ago."

"Ha!  I bet five to one I know who that was.  I had a word or two
with the Padre just now, and the subject came on the tapis, as they
say in France.  I fancy he's got some notion that that good little
wife of his--but that would be too ridiculous--"

"I've settled nothing yet," said Lucia.  "So overwhelmed with work
lately.  Certainly it shall receive my attention.  Elizabeth quite
well?  That's good."

She hurried away with Georgie.

"The question of the Mayoress is in the air like influenza,
Georgie," she said.  "I must ring up the Town Hall as soon as I get
in, and find out if I must have one.  I see no necessity.  There's
Susan Wyse beckoning again."

Susan let down the window of her car.

"Just going home again," she said.  "Shall I give you a lift up the
hill?"

"No, a thousand thanks," said Lucia.  "It's only a hundred yards."

Susan shook her head sadly.

"Don't overdo it, dear," she said.  "As we get on in life we must
be careful about hills."

"This Mayoress business is worrying me, Georgie," said Lucia when
Susan had driven off.  "If it's all too true, and I must have one,
who on earth shall I get?  Everyone I can think of seems so totally
unfit for it.  I believe, do you know, that it must have been in
Major Benjy's mind to recommend me to ask Elizabeth."

"Impossible!" said Georgie.  "I might as well recommend you to ask
Foljambe."



CHAPTER II


Lucia found on her return to Mallards that Mrs. Simpson had got
through the laborious task of typing three identical dinner
invitations for next day to Mrs. Wyse, Mrs. Bartlett and Mrs. Mapp-
Flint with husbands.  She filled up in autograph "Dearest Susan,
Evie and Elizabeth" and was affectionately theirs.  Rack her brains
as she would she could think of no further task for her secretary,
so Mrs. Simpson took these letters to deliver them by hand, thus
saving time and postage.  "And could you be here at nine-thirty to-
morrow morning," said Lucia, "instead of ten in case there is a
stress of work?  Things turn up so suddenly, and it would never do
to fall into arrears."

Lucia looked at her engagement book.  Its fair white pages
satisfied her that there were none at present.

"I shall be glad of a few days' quiet, dear," she said to Georgie.
"I shall have a holiday of painting and music and reading.  When
once the rush begins there will be little time for such pursuits.
Yet I know there was something very urgent that required my
attention.  Ah, yes!  I must find out for certain whether I must
have a Mayoress.  And I must get a telephone extension into the
garden-room, to save running in and out of the house for calls."

Lucia went in and rang up the clerk at the Town Hall.  Yes: he was
quite sure that every Mayor had a Mayoress, whom the Mayor invited
to fill the post.  She turned to Georgie with a corrugated brow.

"Yes, it is so," she said.  "I shall have to find some capable
obliging woman with whom I can work harmoniously.  But who?"

The metallic clang of the flap of the letter-box on the front door
caused her to look out of the window.  There was Diva going quickly
away with her scudding, birdlike walk.  Lucia opened the note she
had left, and read it.  Though Diva was telegraphic in conversation,
her epistolary style was flowing.


DEAREST LUCIA,

I felt quite shy of speaking to you about it to-day, for writing is
always the best, don't you think, when it's difficult to find the
right words or to get them out when you have, so this is to tell
you that I am quite at your disposal, and shall [Note: Line missing
in scanned copy] much longer in Tilling than you, dear, that
perhaps I can be of some use in all your entertainments and other
functions.  Not that I would ASK you to choose me as your Mayoress,
for I shouldn't think of such a thing.  So pushing!  So I just want
to say that I am quite at your service, as you may feel rather
diffident about asking me, for it would be awkward for me to
refuse, being such an old friend, if I didn't feel like it.  But I
should positively enjoy helping you, quite apart from my duty as a
friend.

                                             Ever yours,

                                                       DIVA.


"Poor dear, ridiculous little Diva!" said Lucia, handing Georgie
this artless epistle.  "So ambitious and so pathetic!  And now I
shall hurry off to begin my sketch of the dahlias.  I will not be
interrupted by any further public business this morning.  I must
have a little time to myself--What's that?"

Again the metallic clang from the letter box, and Lucia, consumed
with curiosity, again peeped out from a corner of the window and
saw Mr. Wyse with his malacca cane and his Panama hat and his black
velveteen coat, walking briskly away.

"Just an answer to my invitation for to-morrow, I expect," she
said.  "Susan probably doesn't feel up to writing after the loss of
her budgerigar.  She had a sodden and battered look this morning,
didn't you think, like a cardboard box that has been out in the
rain.  Flaccid.  No resilience."

Lucia had taken Mr. Wyse's letter from the post-box, as she made
these tonic remarks.  She glanced through it, her mouth falling
wider and wider open.

"Listen, Georgie!" she said:


DEAR AND WORSHIPFUL MAYOR-ELECT,

It has reached my ears (Dame Rumour) that during the coming year,
when you have so self-sacrificingly consented to fill the highest
office which our dear little Tilling can bestow, thereby honouring
itself so far more than you, you will need some partner to assist
you in your arduous duties.  From little unconscious signs, little
involuntary self-betrayals that I have observed in my dear Susan, I
think I may encourage you to hope that she MIGHT be persuaded to
honour herself and you by accepting the onerous post which I hear
is yet unfilled.  I have not had any word with her on the subject.
Nor is she aware that I am writing to you.  As you know, she has
sustained a severe bereavement in the sudden death of her little
winged companion.  But I have ventured to say to her, "Carissima
sposa, you must buck up.  You must not let a dead bird, however
dear, stand between you and the duties and opportunities of life
which may present themselves to you."  And she answered (whether
she guessed the purport of my exhortation, I cannot say), "I will
make an effort, Algernon."  I augur favourably from that.

Of the distinction which renders her so suitable for the post of
Mayoress I need not speak, for you know her character so well.  I
might remind you, however, that our late beloved Sovereign himself
bestowed on her the insignia of the Order of Member of the British
Empire, and that she would therefore bring to her new office a
cachet unshared by any of the otherwise estimable ladies of
Tilling.  And in this distressing estrangement which now exists
between the kingdoms of England and Italy, the fact that my dear
Susan is sister-in-law to my dear sister Amelia, Contessa di
Faraglione, might help to heal the differences between the
countries.  In conclusion, dear lady, I do not think you could do
better than to offer my Susan the post for which her distinction
and abilities so eminently fit her, and you may be sure that I
shall use my influence with her to get her to accept it.

A rivederci, illustrissima Signora, ed anche presto!

                                                ALGERNON WYSE.

P.S.:  I will come round at any moment to confer with you.

P.P.S.:  I reopen this to add that Susan has just received your
amiable invitation for to-morrow, which we shall both be honoured
to accept.


Lucia and Georgie looked at each other in silence at the end of the
reading of this elegant epistle.

"Beautifully expressed, I must allow," she said.  "Oh, Georgie, it
is a frightful responsibility to have patronage of this crucial
kind in one's gift!  It is mine to confer not only an honour but an
influence for good of a most far-reaching sort.  A line from me and
Susan is my Mayoress.  But good Susan has not the energy, the
decision which I should look for.  I could not rely on her
judgment."

"She put Algernon up to writing that lovely letter," said Georgie.
"How they're all struggling to be Mayoress!"

"I am not surprised, dear, at that," said Lucia, with dignity.  "No
doubt also Evie got the Padre to recommend her--"

"And Diva recommended herself," remarked Georgie, "as she hadn't
got anyone to do it for her."

"And Major Benjy was certainly going to say a word for Elizabeth,
if I hadn't cut him short," said Lucia.  "I find it all rather
ugly, though, poor things, I sympathise with their ambitions which
in themselves are noble.  I shall have to draft two very tactful
letters to Diva and Mr. Wyse, before Mrs. Simpson comes to-morrow.
What a good thing I told her to come at half-past nine.  But just
for the present I shall dismiss it all from my mind, and seek an
hour's peace with my paint-box and my belli fiori.  What are you
going to do till lunch?"

"It's my day for cleaning my bibelots," said Georgie.  "What a rush
it all is!"

Georgie went to his sitting-room and got busy.  Soon he thought he
heard another metallic clang from the post-box, and hurrying to the
window, he saw Major Benjy walking briskly away from the door.

"That'll be another formal application, I expect," he said to
himself, and went downstairs to see, with his wash-leather in his
hand.  There was a letter in the post-box, but to his surprise it
was addressed not to Lucia, but himself.  It ran:


MY DEAR PILLSON,

My wife has just received Her Worship's most amiable invitation
that we should dine chez vous to-morrow.  I was on the point of
writing to you in any case, so she begs me to say we shall be
charmed.

Now, my dear old man (if you'll permit me to call you so) I've a
word to say to you.  Best always, isn't it, to be frank and open.
At least that's my experience in my twenty-five years of service in
the King's (God bless him) army.  So listen.  Re Mayoress.  It will
be a tremendous asset to your wife's success in her most
distinguished post, if she can get a wise and level-headed woman to
assist her.  A woman of commanding character, big-minded enough to
disregard the little flurries and disturbances of her office, and
above all one who has tact, and would never make mischief.  Some of
our mutual friends--I mention no names--are only too apt to scheme
and intrigue and indulge in gossip and tittle-tattle.  I can only
put my finger on one who is entirely free from such failings, and
that is my dear Elizabeth.  I can't answer for her accepting the
post.  It's a lot to ask of any woman, but in my private opinion,
if your wife approached Elizabeth in a proper spirit, making it
clear how inestimable a help she (Elizabeth) would be to her, (the
Mayor), I think we might hope for a favourable reply.  Perhaps to-
morrow evening I might have a quiet word with you.  Sincerely
yours,

                                   BENJAMIN MAPP-FLINT (Major).


Georgie with his wash-leather hurried out to the giardino segreto
where Lucia was drawing dahlias.  He held the letter out to her,
but she scarcely turned her head.

"No need to tell me, dear, that your letter is on behalf of another
applicant.  Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, I believe.  Read it me while I go
on drawing.  Such exquisite shapes: we do not look at flowers
closely enough."

As Georgie read it she plied a steady pencil, but when he came to
the sentence about approaching Elizabeth in a proper spirit, her
hand gave a violent jerk.

"Georgie, it isn't true!" she cried.  "Show me. . . .  Yes.  My
india-rubber?  Ah, there it is."

Georgie finished the letter, and Lucia, having rubbed out the
random line her pencil had made, continued to draw dahlias with
concentrated attention.

"Lucia, it's too ridiculous of you to pretend to be absorbed in
your sketch," he said impatiently.  "What are you going to do?"

Lucia appeared to recall herself from the realms of peace and
beauty.

"Elizabeth will be my Mayoress," she said calmly.  "Don't you see,
dear, she would be infinitely more tiresome if she wasn't?  As
Mayoress, she will be muzzled, so to speak.  Officially, she will
have to perform the tasks I allot to her.  She will come to heel,
and that will be very good for her.  Besides, who else IS there?
Diva with her tea-shop?  Poor Susan?  Little mouse-like Evie
Bartlett?"

"But can you see yourself approaching Elizabeth in a proper
spirit?" he asked.

Lucia gave a gay trill of laughter.

"Certainly I cannot.  I shall wait for her to approach me.  She
will have to come and implore me.  I shall do nothing till then."

Georgie pondered on this extraordinary decision.

"I think you're being very rash," he said.  "And you and Elizabeth
hate each other like poison--"

"Emphatically no," said Lucia.  "I have had occasion sometimes to
take her down a peg or two.  I have sometimes felt it necessary to
thwart her.  But hate?  Never.  Dismiss that from your mind.  And
don't be afraid that I shall approach her in any spirit at all."

"But what am I to say to Benjy when he asks me for a few private
words to-morrow night?"

Lucia laughed again.

"My dear, they'll all ask you for a few private words to-morrow
night.  There's the Padre running poor little Evie.  There's Mr.
Wyse running Susan.  They'll all want to know whom I'm likely to
choose, and to secure your influence with me.  Be like Mr. Baldwin
and say your lips are sealed, or like some other Prime Minister,
wasn't it? who said 'Wait and see.'  Counting Diva, there are four
applicants now--remind me to tell Mrs. Simpson to enter them all--
and I think the list may be considered closed.  Leave it to me; be
discreet . . .  And the more I think of it, the more clearly I
perceive that Elizabeth Mapp-Flint must be my Mayoress.  It is far
better to have her on a lead, bound to me by ties of gratitude than
skulking about like a pariah dog, snapping at me.  True, she may
not be capable of gratitude, but I always prefer to look for the
best in people, like Mr. Somerset Maugham in his delightful
stories."


Mrs. Simpson arriving at half-past nine next morning had to wait a
considerable time for Lucia's tactful letters to Diva and Mr. Wyse;
she and Georgie sat long after breakfast scribbling and erasing on
half-sheets and envelopes turned inside out till they got
thoroughly tactful drafts.  Lucia did not want to tell Diva point-
blank that she could not dream of asking her to be Mayoress, but
she did not want to raise false hopes.  All she could do was to
thank her warmly for her offers of help ("So like you, dear Diva!")
and to assure her that she would not hesitate to take advantage of
them should occasion arise.  To Mr. Wyse she said that no one had a
keener appreciation of Susan's great gifts (so rightly recognised
by the King) than she; no one more deplored the unhappy
international relations between England and Italy . . .  Georgie
briefly acknowledged Major Benjy's letter and said he had
communicated its contents to his wife, who was greatly touched.
Lucia thought that these letters had better not reach their
recipients till after her party, and Mrs. Simpson posted them later
in the day.


Lucia was quite right about the husbands of expectant Mayoresses
wanting a private word with Georgie that evening.  Major Benjy and
Elizabeth arrived first, a full ten minutes before dinner-time and
explained to Foljambe that their clocks were fast, while Georgie in
his new red velvet suit was putting the menu-cards which Mrs.
Simpson had typed on the dinner-table.  He incautiously put his
head out of the dining-room door, while this explanation was going
on, and Benjy spied him.

"Ha, a word with you, my dear old man," he exclaimed, and joined
Georgie, while Elizabeth was taken to the garden-room to wait for
Lucia.

"'Pon my soul, amazingly stupid of us to have come so early," he
said, closing the dining-room door behind him.  "I told Liz we
should be too early--ah, our clocks were fast.  Don't let me
interrupt you; charming flowers, and, dear me, what a handsome
suit.  Just the colour of my wife's dress.  However, that's neither
here nor there.  What I should like to urge on you is to persuade
your wife to take advantage of Elizabeth's willingness to become
Mayoress, for the good of the town.  She's willing, I gather, to
sacrifice her time and her leisure for that.  Mrs. Pillson and Mrs.
Mapp-Flint would be an alliance indeed.  But Elizabeth feels that
her offer can't remain open indefinitely, and she rather expected
to have heard from your wife to-day."

"But didn't you tell me, Major," asked Georgie, "that your wife
knew nothing about your letter to me?  I understood that it was
only your opinion that if properly approached--"

There was a tap at the door, and Mr. Wyse entered.  He was dressed
in a brand new suit, never before seen in Tilling, of sapphire blue
velvet, with a soft pleated shirt, a sapphire solitaire and bright
blue socks.  The two looked like two middle-aged male mannequins.

Mr. Wyse began bowing.

"Mr. Georgie!" he said.  "Major Benjy!  The noise of voices.  It
occurred to me that perhaps we men were assembling here according
to that pretty Italian custom, for a glass of vermouth, so my wife
went straight out to the garden-room.  I am afraid we are some
minutes early.  The Royce makes nothing of the steep hill from
Starling Cottage."

Georgie was disappointed at the ruby velvet not being the only
sartorial sensation of the evening, but he took it very well.

"Good evening," he said.  "Well, I do call that a lovely suit.  I
was just finishing the flowers, when Major Benjy popped in.  Let us
go out to the garden-room, where we shall find some sherry."

Once again the door opened.

"Eh, here be all the laddies," said the Padre.  "Mr. Wyse; a
handsome costume, sir.  Just the colour of the dress wee wifie's
donned for this evening.  She's ganged awa' to the garden-room.  I
wanted a bit word wi' ye, Mr. Pillson, and your parlour-maid told
me you were here."

"I'm afraid we must go out now to the garden-room, Padre," said
Georgie, rather fussed.  "They'll all be waiting for us."

It was difficult to get them to move, for each of the men stood
aside to let the others pass, and thus secure a word with Georgie.
Eventually the Church unwillingly headed the procession, followed
by the Army, lured by the thought of sherry, and Mr. Wyse deftly
closed the dining-room door again and stood in front of it.

"A word, Mr. Georgie," he said.  "I had the honour yesterday to
write a note to your wife about a private matter--not private from
you, of course--and I wondered whether she had spoken to you about
it.  I have since ascertained from my dear Susan--"

The door opened again, and bumped against his heels and the back of
his head with a dull thud.  Foljambe's face looked in.

"Beg your pardon, sir," she said.  "Thought I heard you go."

"We must follow the others," said Georgie.  "Lucia will wonder
what's happened to us."

The wives looked enquiringly into the faces of their husbands as
they filed into the garden-room to see if there was any news.
Georgie shook hands with the women and Lucia with the men.  He saw
how well his suit matched Elizabeth's gown, and Mr. Wyse's might
have been cut from the same piece as that of the Padre's wife.
Another brilliant point of colour was furnished by Susan Wyse's
budgerigar.  The wing that had been flipped off yesterday had been
re-stitched, and the head, as Diva had predicted, had been stuffed
and completed the bird.  She wore this notable decoration as a
centrepiece on her ample bosom.  Would it be tactful, wondered
Georgie, to admire it, or would it be tearing open old wounds
again?  But surely when Susan displayed her wound so conspicuously,
she would be disappointed if he appeared not to see it.  He gave
her a glass of sherry and moved aside with her.

"Perfectly charming, Mrs. Wyse," he said, looking pointedly at it.
"Lovely!  Most successful!"

He had done right; Susan's great watery smile spread across her
face.

"So glad you like it," she said, "and since I've worn it, Mr.
Georgie, I've felt comforted for Blue Birdie.  He seems to be with
me still.  A very strong impression.  Quite psychical."

"Very interesting and touching," said Georgie sympathetically.

"Is it not?  I am hoping to get into rapport with him again.  His
pretty sweet ways!  And may I congratulate you, too?  Such a lovely
suit!"

"Lucia's present to me," said Georgie, "though I chose it."

"What a coincidence!" said Susan.  "Algernon's new suit is my
present to him and he chose it.  There are brain-waves everywhere,
Mr. Georgie, beyond the farthest stars."

Foljambe announced dinner.  Never before had conversation, even at
Lucia's table, maintained so serious and solid a tone.  The ladies
in particular, though the word Mayoress was never mentioned, vied
with each other in weighty observations bearing on municipal
matters, in order to show the deep interest they took in them.  It
was as if they even engaged on a self-imposed vive-voce examination
to exhibit their qualifications for the unmentioned post.  They
addressed their answers to Lucia and of each other they were highly
critical.

"No, dear Evie," said Elizabeth, "I cannot share your views about
girl-guides.  Boy scouts I wholeheartedly support.  All that drill
teaches them discipline, but the best discipline for girls is to
help mother at home.  Cooking, housework, lighting the fire,
father's slippers.  Don't you agree, dear hostess?"

"Eh, Mistress Mapp-Flint," said the Padre, strongly upholding his
wife.  "Ye havena' the tithe of my Evie's experience among the
bairns of the parish.  Half the ailments o' the lassies come from
being kept at home without enough exercise and air and chance to
fend for themselves.  Easy to have too much of mother's apron
strings, and as fur father's slippers I disapprove of corporal
punishment for the young of whatever sex."

"Oh, Padre, how could you think I meant that!" exclaimed Elizabeth.

"And as for letting a child light a fire," put in Susan, "that's
most dangerous.  No match-box should ever be allowed within a
child's reach.  I must say too, that I wish the fire-brigade in
Tilling was better organized and more efficient.  If once a fire
broke out here the whole town would be burned to the ground."

"Dear Susan, is it possible you haven't heard that there was a fire
in Ford Place last week?  Fancy!  And you're strangely in error
about the brigade's efficiency, for they were there in three
minutes from the time the alarm was given, and the fire was
extinguished in five minutes more."

"Lucia, what is really wanted in Tilling," said Susan, "is better
lighting of the streets.  Coming home sometimes in the evening my
Royce has to crawl down Porpoise Street."

"More powerful lamps to your car would make that all right, dear,"
said Elizabeth.  "Not a very great expense.  The paving of the
streets, to my mind, wants the most immediate attention.  I nearly
fell down the other day, stepping in a great hole.  The roads, too:
the road opposite my house is little better than a snipe bog.
Again and again I have written to the Hampshire Argus about it."

Mr. Wyse bowed across the table to her.

"I regret to say I have missed seeing your letters," he said.
"Very careless of me.  Was there one last week?"

Evie emitted the mouse-like squeak which denoted intense private
amusement.

"I've missed them, too," she said.  "I expect we all have.  In any
case, Elizabeth, Grebe is outside the parish boundaries.  Nothing
to do with Tilling.  It's a County Council road you will find if
you look at a map.  Now the overcrowding in the town itself, Lucia,
is another matter which does concern us.  I have it very much at
heart, as anybody must have who knows anything about it.  And then
there are the postal deliveries.  Shocking.  I wrote a letter the
other day--"

This was one of the subjects which Susan Wyse had specially mugged
up.  By leaning forward and putting an enormous elbow on the table
she interposed a mountain of healthy animal tissue between Evie and
Lucia, and the mouse was obliterated behind the mountain.

"And only two posts a day, Lucia," she said.  "You will find it
terribly inconvenient to get only two and the second is never
anything but circulars.  There's not a borough in England so ill-
served.  I'm told that if a petition is sent to the Postmaster-
General signed by fifty per cent. of the population he is bound by
law to give us a third delivery.  Algernon and I would be only too
happy to get up this petition--"

Algernon from the other side of the table suddenly interrupted her.

"Susan, take care!" he cried.  "Your budgerigar: your raspberry
souffl!"

He was too late.  The budgerigar dropped into the middle of Susan's
bountifully supplied plate.  She took it out, dripping with hot
raspberry juice and wrapped it in her napkin, moaning softly to
herself.  The raspberry juice stained it red, as if Blue Birdie had
been sat on again, and Foljambe very tactfully handed a plate to
Susan on which she deposited it.  After so sad and irrelevant an
incident, it was hard to get back to high topics, and the Padre
started on a lower level.

"A cosy little establishment will Mistress Diva Plaistow be running
presently," he said.  "She tells me that the opening of it will be
the first function of our new Mayor.  A fine send-off indeed."

A simultaneous suspicion shot through the minds of the candidates
present that Diva (incredible as it seemed) might be in the
running.  Like vultures they swooped on the absent prey.

"A little too cosy for my tastes," said Elizabeth.  "If all the
tables she means to put into her tea-room were full, sardines in a
tin wouldn't be the word.  Not to mention that the occupants of two
of the tables would be being kippered up the chimney, and two
others in a gale every time the door was opened.  And are you going
to open it officially, dear Lucia?"

"Certainly not," said Lucia.  "I told her I would drink the first
cup of tea with pleasure, but as Mrs. Pillson, not as Mayor."

"Poor Diva can't MAKE tea," squeaked Evie.  "She never could.  It's
either hot water or pure tannin."

"And she intends to make all the fancy pastry herself," said Susan
sorrowfully.  "Much better to stick to bread and butter and a plain
cake.  Very ambitious, I call it, but nowadays Diva's like that.
More plans for all we know."

"And quite a reformer," said Elizabeth.  "She talks about a quicker
train service to London.  She knows a brother-in-law of one of the
directors.  Of course the thing is as good as done with a word from
Diva.  It looks terribly like paranoia coming on."


The ladies left.  Major Benjy drunk off his port in a great hurry,
so as to get a full glass when it came round again.

"A very good glass of port," he said.  "Well, I don't mind if I
fill up.  The longer I live with my Liz., Pillson, the more I am
astonished at her masculine grasp of new ideas."

"My Susan's remarks about an additional postal delivery and
lighting of the streets showed a very keen perception of the
reforms of which our town most stands in need," said Algernon.
"Her judgment is never at fault.  I have often been struck--"

The Padre, speaking to Major Benjy, raised his voice for Georgie to
hear and thumped the table.

"Wee wifie's energy is unbounded," he said.  "Often I say to her:
'Spare yourself a bitty' I've said, and always she's replied
'Heaven fits the back to the burden' quo' she, 'and if there's
more work and responsibility to be undertaken, Evie's ready for
it'."

"You mustn't let her overtax herself, Padre," said Benjy with great
earnestness.  "She's got her hands over full already.  Not so young
as she was."

"Eh, that's what ails all the ladies of Tilling," retorted the
Padre, "an' she'll be younger than many I could mention.  An
abounding vitality.  If they made me Lord Archbishop to-morrow,
she'd be a mother in Israel to the province, and no mistake."

This was too much for Benjy.  It would have been a gross
dereliction of duty not to let loose his withering powers of
satire.

"No no, Padre," he said.  "Tilling can't spare you.  Canterbury
must find someone else."

"Eh, well, and if the War Office tries to entice you away, Major,
you must say no.  That'll be a bargain.  But the point of my
observation was that my Evie is aye ready and willing for any call
that may come to her.  That's what I'm getting at."

"Ha, ha, Padre; let me know when you've got it, and then I'll talk
to you.  Well, if the port is standing idle in front of you--"

Georgie rose.  He had had enough of these unsolicited testimonials,
and when Benjy became satirical it was a symptom that he should
have no more port.

"I think it's time we got to our Bridge," he said.  "Lucia will
scold me if I keep you here too long."

They marched in a compact body to the garden-room, where Lucia had
been keeping hopeful Mayoresses at bay with music, and two tables
were instantly formed.  Georgie and Elizabeth, rubies, played
against the sapphires, Mr. Wyse and Evie, and the other table was
drab in comparison.  The evening ended unusually late, and it was
on the stroke of midnight when the three pairs of guests, unable to
get a private word with either of their hosts, moved sadly away
like a vanquished army.  The Royce conveyed the Wyses to Porpoise
Street, just round the corner, with Susan, faintly suggesting
Salome, holding the plate with the bloodstained handkerchief
containing the budgerigar; a taxi that had long been ticking
conveyed the Mapp-Flints to the snipe-bog, and two pairs of
goloshes took the Padre and his wife to the Vicarage.


Lucia's tactful letters were received next morning.  Mr. Wyse
thought that all was not yet lost, though it surprised him that
Lucia had not taken Susan aside last night and implored her to be
Mayoress.  Diva, on the other hand, with a more correct estimate of
the purport of Lucia's tact, was instantly sure that all was lost,
and exclaiming, "Drat it, so that's that," gave Lucia's note to
Paddy to worry, and started out for her morning's shopping.  There
were plenty of absorbing interests to distract her.  Susan, with
the budgerigar cockade in her hat, looked out of the window of the
Royce, but to Diva's amazement the colour of the bird's plumage had
changed; it was flushed with red like a stormy sunset with patches
of blue sky behind.  Could Susan, for some psychical reason, have
dyed it? . . .  Georgie and Lucia were approaching from Mallards,
but Diva, after that tactful note, did not want to see her friend
till she had thought of something pretty sharp to say.  Turning
towards the High Street she bumped baskets sharply with Elizabeth.

"Morning, dear!" said Elizabeth.  "Do you feel up to a chat?"

"Yes," said Diva.  "Come in.  I'll do my shopping afterwards.  Any
news?"

"Benjy and I dined with Worshipful last night.  Wyses, Bartletts,
Bridge.  We all missed you."

"Wasn't asked," said Diva.  "A good dinner?  Did you win?"

"Partridges a little tough," said Elizabeth musingly.  "Old birds
are cheaper, of course.  I won a trifle, but nothing like enough to
pay for our taxi.  An interesting, curious evening.  Rather
revolting at times, but one mustn't be captious.  Evie and Susan--
oh, a terrible thing happened.  Susan wore the bird as a
breastplate, and it fell into the raspberry souffl.  Plop!"

Diva gave a sigh of relief.

"THAT explains it," she said.  "Saw it just now and it puzzled me.
Go on, Elizabeth."

"Revolting, I was saying.  Those two women.  One talked about boy-
scouts, and the other about posts, and then one about overcrowding
and the other about the fire brigade.  I just sat and listened and
blushed for them both.  So cheap and obvious."

"But what's so cheap and obvious and blush-making?" asked Diva.
"It only sounds dull to me."

"All that fictitious interest in municipal matters.  What has Susan
cared hitherto for postal deliveries, or Evie for overcrowding?  In
a nutshell, they were trying to impress Lucia, and get her to ask
them, at least one of them, to be Mayoress.  And from what Benjy
told me, their husbands were just as barefaced when we went into
the garden-room.  An evening of intrigue and self-advertisement.
Pah!"

"Pah indeed!" said Diva.  "How did Lucia take it?"

"I really hardly noticed.  I was too disgusted at all these
underground schemings.  So transparent!  Poor Lucia!  I trust she
will get someone who will be of use to her.  She'll be sadly at sea
without a woman of sense and experience to consult."

"And was Mr. Georgie's dinner costume very lovely?" asked Diva.

Elizabeth half closed her eyes as if to visualise it.

"A very pretty colour," she said.  "Just like the gown I had dyed
red not long ago, if you happen to remember it.  Of course he
copied it."

The front-door bell rang.  It was quicker to answer it oneself,
thought Diva, than to wait for Janet to come up from the kitchen,
and she trundled off.

"Come in, Evie," she said, "Elizabeth's here."

But Elizabeth would not wait, and Evie, in turn, gave her own
impressions of the previous evening.  They were on the same lines
as Elizabeth's, only it had been Elizabeth and Susan who (instead
of revolting her) had been so vastly comical with their sudden
interest in municipal affairs:

"And, oh, dear me," she said, "Mr. Wyse and Major Benjy were just
as bad.  It was like that musical thing where you have a tune in
the treble, and the same tune next in the bass.  Fugue; that's it.
Those four were just like a Bach concert.  Kenneth and I simply sat
listening.  And I'm much mistaken if Lucia and Mr. Georgie didn't
see through them all."

Diva had now got a complete idea of what had taken place; clearly
there had been a six-part fugue.

"But she's got to choose somebody," she said.  "Wonder who it'll
be."

"Perhaps you, he, he!" squeaked Evie for a joke.

"That it won't," cried Diva emphatically, looking at the fragments
of Lucia's tactful note scattered about the room.  "Sooner sing
songs in the gutter.  Fancy being at Lucia's beck and call,
whenever she wants something done which she doesn't want to do
herself.  Not worth living at that price.  No, thank you!"

"Just my fun," said Evie.  "I didn't mean it seriously.  And then
there were other surprises.  Mr. Georgie in a red--"

"I know; the colour of Elizabeth's dyed one," put in Diva.

"--and Mr. Wyse in sapphire velvet," continued Evie.  "Just like my
second-best, which I was wearing."

"No!  I hadn't heard that," said Diva.  "Aren't the Tilling boys
getting dressy?"


The tension increased during the next week to a point almost
unbearable, for Lucia, like the Pythian Oracle in unfavourable
circumstances, remained dumb, waiting for Elizabeth to implore her.
The strain was telling and whenever the telephone bell rang in the
houses of any of the candidates she or her husband ran to it to see
if it carried news of the nomination.  But, as at an inconclusive
sitting of the Conclave of Cardinals for the election of the
Pontiff, no announcement came from the precinct; and every evening,
since the weather was growing chilly, a column of smoke curled out
of the chimney of the garden-room.  Was it that Lucia, like the
Cardinals, could not make up her mind, or had she possibly chosen
her Mayoress and had enjoined silence till she gave the word?
Neither supposition seemed likely, the first, because she was so
very decisive a person; the second, because it was felt that the
chosen candidate could not have kept it to herself.

Then a series of curious things happened, and to the overwrought
imagination of Tilling they appeared to be of the nature of omens.
The church clock struck thirteen one noon, and then stopped with a
jarring sound.  That surely augured ill for the chances of the
Padre's wife.  A spring broke out in the cliff above the Mapp-
Flint's house, and, flowing through the garden, washed the
asparagus bed away.  That looked like Elizabeth's hopes being
washed away too.  Susan Wyse's Royce collided with a van in the
High Street and sustained damage to a mud-guard; that looked bad
for Susan.  Then Elizabeth, distraught with anxiety, suddenly felt
convinced that Diva had been chosen.  What made this the more
probable was that Diva had so emphatically denied to Evie that she
would ever be induced to accept the post.  It was like poor Diva to
think that anybody would believe such a monstrous statement; it
only convinced Elizabeth that she was telling a thumping lie, in
order to conceal something.  Probably she thought she was being
Bismarckian, but that was an error.  Bismarck had said that to tell
the truth was a useful trick for a diplomatist, because others
would conclude that he was not.  But he had never said that telling
lies would induce others to think that he was telling the truth.

The days went on, and Georgie began to have qualms as to whether
Elizabeth would ever humble herself and implore the boon.

"Time's passing," he said, as he and Lucia sat one morning in the
garden-room.  "What on earth will you do, if she doesn't?"

"She will," said Lucia, "though I allow she has held out longer
than I expected.  I did not know how strong that false pride of
hers was.  But she's weakening.  I've been sitting in the window
most of the morning--such a multiplicity of problems to think over--
and she has passed the house four times since breakfast.  Once she
began to cross the road to the front-door, but then she saw me, and
walked away again.  The sight of me, poor thing, must have made
more vivid to her what she had to do.  But she'll come to it.  Let
us discuss something more important.  That idea of mine about
reviving the fishing industry.  The Royal Fish Express.  I made a
few notes--"

Lucia glanced once more out of the window.

"Georgie," she cried.  "There's Elizabeth approaching again.
That's the fifth time.  Round and round like a squirrel in its
cage."

She glided to her ambush behind the curtain, and, peeping
stealthily out, became like the reporter of the University boat-
race on the wireless.

"She's just opposite, level with the front-door," she announced.
"She's crossing the road.  She's quickening up.  She's crossed the
road.  She's slowing down on the front-door steps.  She's raised
her hand to the bell.  She's dropped it again.  She turned half-
round--no, I don't think she saw me.  Poor woman, what a tussle!
Just pride.  Georgie, she's rung the bell.  Foljambe's opened the
door; she must have been dusting the hall.  Foljambe's let her in,
and has shut the door.  She'll be out here in a minute."

Foljambe entered.

"Mrs. Mapp-Flint, ma'am," she said.  "I told her you were probably
engaged, but she much wants to see you for a few moments on a
private matter of great importance."

Lucia sat down in a great hurry, and spread some papers on the
table in front of her.

"Go into the garden, will you, Georgie," she said, "for she'll
never be able to get it out unless we're alone.  Yes, Foljambe;
tell her I can spare her five minutes."



CHAPTER III


Five minutes later Elizabeth again stood on the doorstep of
Mallards, uncertain whether to go home to Grebe by the Vicarage and
tell inquisitive Evie the news, or via Irene and Diva.  She decided
on the latter route, unconscious of the vast issues that hung on
this apparently trivial choice.

On this warm October morning, quaint Irene (having no garden) was
taking the air on a pile of cushions on her door-step.  She had a
camera beside her in case of interesting figures passing by, and
was making tentative jottings in her sketch-book for her Victorian
Venus in a tartan shawl.  Irene noticed something peculiarly
buoyant about Elizabeth's gait, as she approached, and with her
Venus in mind she shouted to her:

"Stand still a moment, Mapp.  Stand on one leg in a poised
attitude.  I want that prancing action.  One arm forward if you can
manage it without tipping up."

Elizabeth would have posed for the devil in this triumphant mood.

"Like that, you quaint darling?" she asked.

"Perfect.  Hold it for a second while I snap you first."

Irene focused and snapped.

"Now half a mo' more," she said, seizing her sketchbook.  "Be on
the point of stepping forward again."

Irene dashed in important lines and curves.

"That'll do," she said.  "I've got you.  I never saw you so lissom
and elastic.  What's up?  Have you been successfully seducing some
young lad in the autumn of your life?"

"Oh, you shocking thing," said Elizabeth.

"Naughty!  But I've just been having such a lovely talk with our
sweet Lucia.  Shall I tell you about it, or shall I tease you?"

"Whichever you like," said Irene, putting in a little shading.  "I
don't care a blow."

"Then I'll give you a hint.  Make a pretty curtsey to the
Mayoress."

"Rubbish," said Irene.

"No, dear.  Not rubbish.  Gospel."

"My God, what an imagination you have," said Irene.  "How do you DO
it?  Does it just come to you like a dream?"

"Gospel, I repeat," said Elizabeth.  "And such joy, dear, that you
should be the first to hear about it, except Mr. Georgie."

Irene looked at her and was forced to believe.  Unaffected bliss
beamed in Mapp's face; she wasn't pretending to be pleased, she
wallowed in a bath of exuberant happiness.

"Good Lord, tell me about it," she said.  "Bring another cushion,
Lucy," she shouted to her six-foot maid, who was leaning out of the
dining-room window, greedily listening.

"Well, dear, it was an utter surprise to me," said Elizabeth.
"Such a notion had never entered my head.  I was just walking up by
Mallards: I often stroll by to look at the sweet old home that used
to be mine--"

"You can cut all that," said Irene.

"--and I saw Lucia at the window of the garden-room, looking, oh,
so anxious and worn.  She slipped behind a curtain and suddenly I
felt that she needed me.  A sort of presentiment.  So I rang the
bell--oh, and that was odd, too, for I'd hardly put my finger on it
when the door was opened, as if kind Foljambe had been waiting for
me--and I asked her if Lucia would like to see me."

Elizabeth paused for a moment in her embroidery.

"So Foljambe went to ask her," she continued, "and came almost
running back, and took me out to the garden-room.  Lucia was
sitting at her table apparently absorbed in some papers.  Wasn't
that queer, for the moment before she had been peeping out from
behind the curtain?  I could see she was thoroughly overwrought and
she gave me such an imploring look that I was quite touched."

A wistful smile spread over Elizabeth's face.

"And then it came," she said.  "I don't blame her for holding back:
a sort of pride, I expect, which she couldn't swallow.  She begged
me to fill the post, and I felt it was my duty to do so.  A
dreadful tax, I am afraid, on my time and energies, and there will
be difficult passages ahead, for she is not always very easy to
lead.  What Benjy will say to me I don't know, but I must do what I
feel to be right.  What a blessed thing to be able to help others!"

Irene was holding herself in, trembling slightly with the effort.

Elizabeth continued, still wistfully.

"A lovely little talk," she said, "and then there was Mr. Georgie
in the garden, and he came across the lawn to me with such
questioning eyes, for I think he guessed what we had been talking
about--"

Irene could contain herself no longer.  She gave one maniac scream.

"Mapp, you make me sick," she cried.  "I believe Lucia has asked
you to be Mayoress, poor misguided darling, but it didn't happen
like that.  It isn't true, Mapp.  You've been longing to be
Mayoress: you've been losing weight, not a bad thing either, with
anxiety.  You asked her: you implored her.  I am not arguing with
you, I am telling you . . .  Hullo, here they both come.  It will
be pretty to see their gratitude to you.  Don't go, Mapp."

Elizabeth rose.  Dignity prevented her from making any reply to
these gutter-snipe observations.  She did it very well.  She paused
to kiss her hand to the approaching Lucia, and walked away without
hurrying.  But once round the corner into the High Street, she,
like Foljambe, "almost ran".

Irene hailed Lucia.

"Come and talk for a minute, darling," she said.  "First, is it all
too true, Mayoress Mapp, I mean?  I see it is.  You had far better
have chosen me or Lucy.  And what a liar she is!  Thank God I told
her so.  She told me that you had at last swallowed your pride, and
asked her--"

"What?" cried Lucia.

"Just that; and that she felt it was her duty to help you."

Lucia, though trembling with indignation, was magnificent.

"Poor thing!" she said.  "Like all habitual liars, she deceives
herself far more often than she deceives others."

"But aren't you going to DO anything?" asked Irene, dancing wild
fandangoes on the doorstep.  "Not tell her she's a liar?  Or, even
better, tell her you never asked her to be Mayoress at all!  Why
not?  There was no one there but you and she."

"Dear Irene, you wouldn't want me to lower myself to her level?"

"Well, for once it wouldn't be a bad thing.  You can become lofty
again immediately afterwards.  But I'll develop the snap-shot I
made of her, and send it to the press as a photograph of our new
Mayoress."

Within an hour the news was stale.  But the question of how the
offer was made and accepted was still interesting, and fresh coins
appeared from Elizabeth's mint: Lucia, it appeared had said
"Beloved friend, I could never have undertaken my duties without
your support" or words to that effect, and Georgie had kissed the
hand of the Mayoress Elect.  No repudiation of such sensational
pieces came from head-quarters and they passed into a sort of
doubtful currency.  Lucia merely shrugged her shoulders, and said
that her position forbade her directly to defend herself.  This was
thought a little excessive; she was not actually of Royal blood.  A
brief tranquillity followed, as when a kettle, tumultuously
boiling, is put on the hob to cool off, and the Hampshire Argus
merely stated that Mrs. Elizabeth Mapp-Flint (ne Mapp) would be
Mayoress of Tilling for the ensuing year.

Next week the kettle began to lift its lid again, for in the same
paper there appeared a remarkable photograph of the Mayoress.  She
was standing on one foot, as if skating, with the other poised in
the air behind her.  Her face wore a beckoning smile, and one arm
was stretched out in front of her in eager solicitation.  Something
seemed bound to happen.  It did.

Diva by this time had furnished her tea-room, and was giving dress-
rehearsals, serving tea herself to a few friends and then sitting
down with them, very hot and thirsty.  To-day Georgie and Evie were
being entertained, and the Padre was expected.  Evie did not know
why he was late: he had been out in the parish all day, and she had
not seen him since after breakfast.

"Nothing like rehearsals to get things working smoothly," said
Diva, pouring her tea into her saucer and blowing on it.  "There
are two jams, Mr. Georgie, thick and clear, or is that soup?"

"They're both beautifully clear," said Georgie politely, "and such
hot, crisp toast."

"There should have been pastry-fingers as well," said Diva, "but
they wouldn't rise."

"Tar'some things," said Georgie with his mouth full.

"Stuck to the tin and burned," replied Diva.  "You must imagine
them here even for a shilling tea.  And cream for eighteenpenny
teas with potted meat sandwiches.  Choice of China or Indian.
Tables for four can be reserved, but not for less. . . .  Ah,
here's the Padre.  Have a nice cup of tea, Padre, after all those
funerals and baptisms."

"Sorry I'm late, Mistress Plaistow," said he, "and I've a bit o'
news, and what d'ye think that'll be about?  Shall I tease you, as
Mistress Mapp-Flint says?"

"You won't tease me," said Georgie, "because I know it's about that
picture of Elizabeth in the Hampshire Argus.  And I can tell you at
once that Lucia knew nothing about it, whatever Elizabeth may say,
till she saw it in the paper.  Nothing whatever, except that Irene
had taken a snap-shot of her."

"Well, then, you know nowt o' my news.  I was sitting in the club
for a bitty, towards noon, when in came Major Benjy, and picked up
the copy of the Hampshire Argus where was the portrait of his guid
wife.  I heard a sort o' gobbling turkey-cock noise and there he
was, purple in the face, wi' heathen expressions streaming from him
like torrents o' spring.  Out he rushed with the paper in his hand--
club-property, mind you, and not his at all--and I saw him pelting
down the road to Grebe."

"No!" cried Diva.

"Yes, Mistress Plaistow.  A bit later as I was doing my parish
visiting, I saw the Major again with the famous cane riding-whip in
his hand, with which, we've all heard often enough, he hit the
Indian tiger in the face while he snatched his gun to shoot him.
'No one's going to insult my wife, while I'm above ground,' he
roared out, and popped into the office o' the Hampshire Argus."

"Gracious!  What a crisis!" squeaked Evie.

"And that's but the commencement, mem!  The rest I've heard from
the new Editor, Mr. McConnell, who took over not a week ago.  Up
came a message to him that Major Mapp-Flint would like to see him
at once.  He was engaged, but said he'd see the Major in a quarter
of an hour, and to pass the time wouldn't the Major have a drink.
Sure he would, and sure he'd have another when he'd made short work
of the first, and, to judge by the bottle, McConnell guessed he'd
had a third, but he couldn't say for certain.  Be that as it may,
when he was ready to see the Major, either the Major had forgotten
what he'd come about, or thought he'd be more prudent not to be so
savage, for a big man is McConnell, a very big man indeed, and the
Major was most affable, and said he'd just looked in to pay a call
on the newcomer."

"Well, that was a come-down," ejaculated Georgie.

"And further to come down yet," said the Padre, "for they had
another drink together, and the poor Major's mind must have got in
a fair jumble.  He'd come out, ye see, to give the man a thrashing,
and instead they'd got very pleasant together, and now he began
talking about bygones being bygones.  That as yet was Hebrew-Greek
to McConnell, for it was the Art-Editor who'd been responsible for
the picture of the Mayoress and McConnell had only just glanced at
it, thinking there were some queer Mayoresses in Hampshire, and
then, oh, dear me, if the Major didn't ask him to step round and
have a bit of luncheon with him, and as for the riding-whip it went
clean out of his head and he left it in the waiting-room at the
office.  There was Mistress Elizabeth when they got to Grebe,
looking out o' the parlour window and waiting to see her brave
Benjy come marching back with the riding-whip shewing a bit of wear
and tear, and instead there was the Major with no riding-whip at
all, arm in arm with a total stranger saying as how this was his
good friend Mr. McConnell, whom he'd brought to take pot-luck with
them.  Dear, oh dear, what wunnerful things happen in Tilling, and
I'll have a look at that red conserve."

"Take it all," cried Diva.  "And did they have lunch?"

"They did that," said the Padre, "though a sorry one it was.  It
soon came out that Mr. McConnell was the Editor of the Argus, and
then indeed there was a terrifying glint in the lady's eye.  He
made a hop and a skip of it when the collation was done, leaving
the twa together, and he told me about it a' when I met him half an
hour ago and 'twas that made me a bit late, for that's the kind of
tale ye can't leave in the middle.  God knows what'll happen now,
and the famous riding-whip somewhere in the newspaper office."

The door-bell had rung while this epic was being related, but
nobody noticed it.  Now it was ringing again, a long, uninterrupted
tinkle, and Diva rose.

"Shan't be a second," she said.  "Don't discuss it too much till I
get back."

She hurried out.

"It must be Elizabeth herself," she thought excitedly.  "Nobody
else rings like that.  Using up such a lot of current, instead of
just dabbing now and then."

She opened the door.  Elizabeth was on the threshold smiling
brilliantly.  She carried in her hand the historic riding-whip.
Quite unmistakable.

"Dear one!" she said.  "May I pop in for a minute.  Not seen you
for so long."

Diva overlooked the fact that they had had a nice chat this morning
in the High Street, for there was a good chance of hearing more.
She abounded in cordiality.

"Do come in," she said.  "Lovely to see you after all this long
time.  Tea going on.  A few friends."

Elizabeth sidled into the tea-room: the door was narrow for a big
woman.

"Evie dearest!  Mr. Georgie!  Padre!" she saluted.  "How de do
everybody.  How cosy!  Yes, Indian, please, Diva."

She laid the whip down by the corner of the fireplace.  She beamed
with geniality.  What turn could this humiliating incident have
taken, everybody wondered, to make her so jocund and gay?  In sheer
absorption of constructive thought the Padre helped himself to
another dollop of red jam and ate it with his teaspoon.  Clearly
she had reclaimed the riding-whip from the Argus office but what
next?  Had she administered to Benjy the chastisement he had feared
to inflict on another?  Meantime, as puzzled eyes sought each other
in perplexity, she poured forth compliments.

"What a banquet, Diva!" she exclaimed.  "What a pretty tablecloth!
If this is the sort of tea you will offer us when you open, I
shan't be found at home often.  I suppose you'll charge two
shillings at least, and even then you'll be turning people away."

Diva recalled herself from her speculations.

"No: this will be only a shilling tea," she said, "and usually
there'll be pastry as well."

"Fancy!  And so beautifully served.  So dainty.  Lovely flowers
on the table.  Quite like having tea in the garden with no
earwigs . . .  I had an unexpected guest to lunch to-day."

Cataleptic rigidity seized the entire company.

"Such a pleasant fellow," continued Elizabeth.  "Mr. McConnell, the
new Editor of the Argus.  Benjy paid a morning call on him at the
office and brought him home.  He left his tiger-riding-whip there,
the forgetful boy, so I went and reclaimed it.  Such a big man:
Benjy looked like a child beside him."

Elizabeth sipped her tea.  The rigidity persisted.

"I never by any chance see the Hampshire Argus," she said.  "Not
set eyes on it for years, for it used to be very dull.  All
advertisements.  But with Mr. McConnell at the helm, I must take it
in.  He seemed so intelligent."

Imperceptibly the rigidity relaxed, as keen brains dissected the
situation . . .  Elizabeth had sent her husband out to chastise
McConnell for publishing this insulting caricature of herself.  He
had returned, rather tipsy, bringing the victim to lunch.  Should
the true version of what had happened become current, she would
find herself in a very humiliating position with a craven husband
and a monstrous travesty unavenged.  But her version was brilliant.
She was unaware that the Argus had contained any caricature of her,
and Benjy had brought his friend to lunch.  A perfect story, to the
truth of which, no doubt, Benjy would perjure himself.  Very
clever!  Bravo Elizabeth!

Of course there was a slight feeling of disappointment, for only a
few minutes ago some catastrophic development seemed likely, and
Tilling's appetite for social catastrophe was keen.  The Padre
sighed and began in a resigned voice "A'weel, all's well that ends
well", and Georgie hurried home to tell Lucia what had really
happened and how clever Elizabeth had been.  She sent fondest love
to Worshipful, and as there were now four of them left, they
adjourned to Diva's card-room for a rubber of bridge.


Diva's Janet came up to clear tea away, and with her the bouncing
Irish terrier, Paddy, who had only got a little eczema.  He scouted
about the room, licking up crumbs from the floor and found the
riding-whip.  It was of agreeable texture for the teeth, just about
sufficiently tough to make gnawing a pleasure as well as a duty.
He picked it up, and, the back-door being open, took it into the
wood-shed and dealt with it.  He went over it twice, reducing it to
a wet and roughly minced sawdust.  There was a silver cap on it,
which he spurned and when he had triturated or swallowed most of
the rest, he rolled in the debris and shook himself.  Except for
the silver cap, no murderer could have disposed of a corpse with
greater skill.

Upstairs the geniality of the tea-table had crumbled over cards.
Elizabeth had been losing and she was feeling hot.  She said to
Diva "This little room--so cosy--is quite stifling, dear.  May we
have the window open?"  Diva opened it as a deal was in progress,
and the cards blew about the table: Elizabeth's remnant consisted
of Kings and aces, but a fresh deal was necessary.  Diva dropped a
card on the floor, face upwards, and put her foot on it so nimbly
that nobody could see what it was.  She got up to fetch the book of
rules to see what ought to happen next, and, moving her foot
disclosed an ace.  Elizabeth demanded another fresh deal.  That was
conceded, but it left a friction.  Then towards the end of a hand,
Elizabeth saw that she had revoked, long, long ago, and detection
was awaiting her.  "I'll give you the last trick," she said, and
attempted to jumble up together all the cards.  "Na, na, not so
fast, Mistress," cried the Padre, and he pounced on the card of
error.  "Rather like cheating: rather like Elizabeth" was the
unspoken comment, and everyone remembered how she had tried the
same device about eighteen months ago.  The atmosphere grew acid.
The Padre and Evie had to hurry off for a choir-practice, for which
they were already late, and Elizabeth finding she had not lost as
much as she feared lingered for a chat.

"Seen poor Susan Wyse lately?" she asked Diva.

Diva was feeling abrupt.  It WAS cheating to try to mix up the
cards like that.

"This morning," she said.  "But why 'poor'?  You're always calling
people 'poor'.  She's all right."

"Do you think she's got over the budgerigar?" asked Elizabeth.

"Quite.  Wearing it to-day.  Still raspberry-coloured."

"I wonder if she has got over it," mused Elizabeth.  "If you ask
me, I think the budgerigar has got over her."

"Not the foggiest notion what you mean," said Diva.

"Just what I say.  She believes she is getting in touch with the
bird's spirit.  She told me so herself.  She thinks that she hears
that tiresome little squeak it used to make, only she now calls it
singing."

"Singing in the ears, I expect," interrupted Diva.  "Had it
sometimes myself.  Wax.  Syringe."

"--and the flutter of its wings," continued Elizabeth.

"She's trying to get communications from it by automatic script.  I
hope our dear Susan won't go dotty."

"Rubbish!" said Diva severely, her thoughts going back again to
that revoke.  She moved her chair up to the fire, and extinguished
Elizabeth by opening the evening paper.

The Mayoress bristled and rose.

"Well, we shall see whether it's rubbish or not," she said.  "Such
a lovely game of Bridge, but I must be off.  Where's Benjy's riding-
whip?"

"Wherever you happened to put it, I suppose," said Diva.

Elizabeth looked in the corner by the fireplace.

"That's where I put it," she said.  "Who can have moved it?"

"You, of course.  Probably took it into the card-room."

"I'm perfectly certain I didn't," said Elizabeth, hurrying there.
"Where's the switch, Diva?"

"Behind the door."

"What an inconvenient place to put it.  It ought to have been the
other side."

Elizabeth cannoned into the card-table and a heavy fall of cards
and markers followed.

"Afraid I've upset something," she said.  "Ah, I've got it."

"I said you'd taken it there yourself," said Diva.  "Pick those
things up."

"No, not the riding-whip; the switch," she said.

Elizabeth looked in this corner and that, and under tables and
chairs, but there was no sign of what she sought.  She came out,
leaving the light on.

"Not here," she said.  "Perhaps the Padre has taken it.  Or Evie."

"Better go round and ask them," said Diva.

"Thank you, dear.  Or might I use your telephone?  It would save me
a walk."

The call was made, but they were both at choir-practice.

"Or Mr. Georgie, do you think?" asked Elizabeth.  "I'll just
enquire."

Now one of Diva's most sacred economies was the telephone.  She
would always walk a reasonable distance herself to avoid these
outlays which, though individually small, mounted up so ruinously.

"If you want to telephone to all Tilling, Elizabeth," she said,
"you'd better go home and do it from there."

"Don't worry about that," said Elizabeth effusively; "I'll pay you
for the calls now, at once."

She opened her bag, dropped it, and a shower of coins of low
denomination scattered in all directions on the parquet floor.

"Clumsy of me," she said, pouncing on the bullion.  "Ninepence in
coppers, two sixpences and a shilling, but I know there was a
threepenny bit.  It must have rolled under your pretty sideboard.
Might I have a candle, dear?"

"No," said Diva firmly.  "If there's a threepenny bit, Janet will
find it when she sweeps in the morning.  You must get along without
it till then."

"There's no 'if' about it, dear.  There WAS a threepenny bit.  I
specially noticed it because it was a new one.  With your
permission I'll ring up Mallards."

Foljambe answered.  No; Mr. Georgie had taken his umbrella when he
went out to tea, and he couldn't have brought back a riding-whip by
mistake . . .  Would Foljambe kindly make sure by asking him . . .
He was in his bath . . .  Then would she just call through the
door.  Mrs. Mapp-Flint would hold the line.

As Elizabeth waited for the answer, humming a little tune, Janet
came in with Diva's glass of sherry.  She put up two fingers and
her eyebrows to enquire whether she should bring two glasses, and
Diva shook her head.  Presently Georgie came to the telephone
himself.

"Wouldn't have bothered you for words, Mr. Georgie," said
Elizabeth.  "Foljambe said you were in your bath.  She must have
made a mistake."

"I was just going," said Georgie rather crossly, for the water must
be getting cold.  "What is it?"

"Benjy's riding-whip has disappeared most mysteriously, and I can't
rest till I trace it.  I thought you might possibly have taken it
away by mistake."

"What, the tiger one?" said Georgie, much interested in spite of
the draught round his ankles.  "What a disaster.  But I haven't got
it.  What a series of adventures it's had!  I saw you bring it into
Diva's; I noticed it particularly."

"Thank you," said Elizabeth, and rang off.

"And now for the police-station," said Diva, sipping her delicious
sherry.  "That'll be your fourth call."

"Third, dear," said Elizabeth, uneasily wondering what Georgie
meant by the series of adventures.  "But that would be premature
for the present.  I must search a little more here, for it must be
somewhere.  Oh, here's Paddy.  Good dog!  Come to help Auntie
Mayoress to find pretty riding-whip?  Seek it, Paddy."

Paddy, intelligently following Elizabeth's pointing hand, thought
it must be a leaf of Diva's evening paper, which she had dropped on
the floor, that Auntie Mayoress wanted.  He pounced on it, and
worried it.

"Paddy, you fool," cried Diva.  "Drop it at once.  Torn to bits and
all wet.  Entirely your fault, Elizabeth."  She rose, intensely
irritated.

"You must give it up for the present," she said to Elizabeth who
was poking about among the logs in the wood-basket.  "All most
mysterious, I allow, but it's close on my supper-time, and that
interests me more."

Elizabeth was most reluctant to return to Benjy with the news that
she had called for the riding-whip at the office of the Argus and
had subsequently lost it.

"But it's Benjy's most cherished relic," she said.  "It was the
very riding-whip with which he smacked the tiger over the face,
while he picked up his rifle and then shot him."

"Such a lot of legends aren't there?" said Diva menacingly.  "And
if other people get talking there may be one or two more, just as
remarkable.  And I want my supper."

Elizabeth paused in her search.  This dark saying produced an
immediate effect.

"Too bad of me to stop so long," she said.  "And thanks, dear, for
my delicious tea.  It would be kind of you if you had another look
round."

Diva saw her off.  The disappearance of the riding-whip was really
very strange: positively spooky.  And though Elizabeth had been a
great nuisance, she deserved credit and sympathy for her ingenious
version of the awkward incident . . .  She looked for the pennies
which Elizabeth had promised to pay at once for those telephone
calls, but there was no trace of them, and all her exasperation
returned.

"Just like her," she muttered.  "That's the sort of thing that
really annoys me.  So mean!"

It was Janet's evening out, and after eating her supper, Diva
returned to the tea-room for a few games of patience.  It was
growing cold; Janet had forgotten to replenish the wood-basket, and
Diva went out to the wood-shed with an electric torch to fetch in a
few more logs.  Something gleamed in the light, and she picked up a
silver cap, which seemed vaguely familiar.  A fragment of chewed
wood projected from it, and looking more closely she saw engraved
on it the initials B. F.

"Golly!  It's it," whispered the awe-struck Diva.  "Benjamin Flint,
before he Mapped himself.  But why here?  And how?"

An idea struck her, and she called Paddy, but Paddy had no doubt
gone out with Janet.  Forgetting about fresh logs but with this
relic in her hand, Diva returned to her room, and warmed herself
with intellectual speculation.

Somebody had disposed of all the riding-whip except this metallic
fragment.  By process of elimination (for she acquitted Janet of
having eaten it), it must be Paddy.  Should she ring up Elizabeth
and say that the riding-whip had been found?  That would not be
true, for all that had been found was a piece of overwhelming
evidence that it never would be found.  Besides, who could tell
what Elizabeth had said to Benjy by this time?  Possibly (even
probably, considering what Elizabeth was) she would not tell him
that she had retrieved it from the office of the Argus, and thus
escape his just censure for having lost it.

"I believe," thought Diva, "that it might save developments which
nobody can foresee, if I said nothing about it to anybody.  Nobody
knows except Paddy and me.  Silentio, as Lucia says, when she's
gabbling fit to talk your head off.  Let them settle it between
themselves, but nobody shall suspect ME of having had anything to
do with it.  I'll bury it in the garden before Janet comes back.
Rather glad Paddy ate it.  I was tired of Major Benjy showing me
the whip, and telling me about it over and over again.  Couldn't be
true, either.  I'm killing a lie."

With the help of a torch and a trowel Diva put the relic beyond
reasonable risk of discovery.  This was only just done when Janet
returned with Paddy.

"Been strolling in the garden," said Diva with chattering teeth.
"Such a mild night.  Dear Paddy!  Such a clever dog."


Elizabeth pondered over the mystery as she walked briskly home, and
when she came to discuss it with Benjy after dinner they presently
became very friendly.  She reminded him that he had behaved like a
poltroon this morning, and, like a loyal wife, she had shielded him
from exposure by her ingenious explanations.  She disclosed that
she had retrieved the riding-whip from the Argus office, but had
subsequently lost it at Diva's tea-rooms.  A great pity, but it
still might turn up.  What they must fix firmly in their minds was
that Benjy had gone to the office of the Argus merely to pay a
polite call on Mr. McConnell, and that Elizabeth had never seen the
monstrous caricature of herself in that paper.

"That's settled then," she said, "and it's far the most dignified
course we can take.  And I've been thinking about more important
things than these paltry affairs.  There's an election to the Town
Council next month.  One vacancy.  I shall stand."

"Not very wise, Liz," he said.  "You tried that once, and came in
at the bottom of the poll."

"I know that.  Lucia and I polled exactly the same number of votes.
But times have changed now.  She's Mayor and I'm Mayoress.  It's of
her I'm thinking.  I shall be much more assistance to her as a
Councillor.  I shall be a support to her at the meetings."

"Very thoughtful of you," said Benjy.  "Does she see it like that?"

"I've not told her yet.  I shall be firm in any case.  Well, it's
bedtime; such an exciting day!  Dear me, if I didn't forget to pay
Diva for a few telephone calls I made from her house.  Dear Diva,
and her precious economies!"

And in Diva's back garden, soon to tarnish by contact with the
loamy soil, there lay buried, like an unspent shell with all its
explosive potentialities intact, the silver cap of the vanished
relic.


Mayoring day arrived and Lucia, formally elected by the Town
Council, assumed her scarlet robes.  She swept them a beautiful
curtsey and said she was their servant.  She made a touching
allusion to her dear friend the Mayoress, whose loyal and loving
support would alone render her own immense responsibilities a joy
to shoulder, and Elizabeth, wreathed in smiles, dabbed her
handkerchief on the exact piece of her face where tears, had there
been any, would have bedewed it.  The Mayor then entertained a
large party to lunch at the King's Arms Hotel, preceding them in
state while church bells rang, dogs barked, cameras clicked, and
the sun gleamed on the massive maces borne before her.  There were
cheers for Lucia led by the late Mayor and cheers for the Mayoress
led by her present husband.

In the afternoon Lucia inaugurated Diva's tea-shop, incognita as
Mrs. Pillson.  The populace of Tilling was not quite so thrilled as
she had expected at the prospect of taking its tea in the same room
as the Mayor, and no one saw her drink the first cup of tea except
Georgie and Diva, who kept running to the window on the look-out
for customers.  Seeing Susan in her Royce, she tapped on the pane,
and got her to come in so that they could inaugurate the card-room
with a rubber of Bridge.  Then suddenly a torrent of folk invaded
the tea-room and Diva had to leave an unfinished hand to help Janet
to serve them.

"Wish they'd come sooner," she said, "to see the ceremony.  Do wait
a bit; if they ease off we can finish our game."

She hurried away.  A few minutes afterwards she opened the door and
said in a thrilling whisper, "Fourteen shilling ones, and two
eighteen-penny's."

"Splendid!" said everybody, and Susan began telling them about her
automatic script.

"I sit there with my eyes shut and my pencil in my hand," she said,
"and Blue Birdie on the table by me.  I get a sort of lost feeling,
and then Blue Birdie seems to say 'Tweet, tweet', and I say 'Good
morning, dear'.  Then my pencil begins to move.  I never know what
it writes.  A queer, scrawling hand, not a bit like mine."

The door opened and Diva's face beamed redly.

"Still twelve shilling ones," she said, "though six of the first
lot have gone.  Two more eighteen-penny, but the cream is getting
low, and Janet's had to add milk."

"Where had I got to?" said Susan.  "Oh, yes.  It goes on writing
till Blue Birdie seems to say 'Tweet, tweet' again, and that means
it's finished and I say 'Good-bye, dear'."

"What sort of things does it write?" asked Lucia.

"All sorts.  This morning it kept writing mre over and over
again."

"That's very strange," said Lucia eagerly.  "Very.  I expect Blue
Birdie wants to say something to me."

"No," said Susan.  "Not your sort of Mayor.  The French word mre,
just as if Blue Birdie said 'Mummie'.  Speaking to me evidently."

This did not seem to interest Lucia.

"And anything of value?" she asked.

"It's all of value," said Susan.

A slight crash sounded from the tea-room.

"Only a tea-cup," said Diva, looking in again.  Rather like
breaking a bottle of wine when you launch a ship."

"Would you like me to show myself for a minute?" asked Lucia.  "I
will gladly walk through the room if it would help."

"So good of you, but I don't want any help except in handling
things.  Besides, I told the reporter of the Argus that you had had
your tea, and were playing cards in here."

"Oh, not quite wise, Diva," said Lucia.  "Tell him I wasn't playing
for money.  Think of the example."

"Afraid he's gone," said Diva.  "Besides, it wouldn't be true.  Two
of your Councillors here just now.  Shillings.  Didn't charge them.
Advertisement."

The press of customers eased off, and, leaving Janet to deal with
the remainder, Diva joined them, clinking a bag of bullion.

"Lots of tips," she said.  "I never reckoned on that.  Mostly
twopences, but they'll add up.  I must just count the takings, and
then let's finish the rubber."

The takings exceeded all expectation; quite a pile of silver; a
pyramid of copper.

"What will you do with all that money now the banks are closed?"
asked Georgie lightly.  "Such a sum to have in the house.  I should
bury it in the garden."

Diva's hand gave an involuntary twitch as she swept the coppers
into a bag.  Odd that he should say that!  "Safe enough," she
replied.  "Paddy sleeps in my room, now that I know he hasn't got
mange."


The Mayoral banquet followed in the evening.  Unfortunately,
neither the Lord Lieutenant nor the Bishop nor the Member of
Parliament were able to attend, but they sent charming letters of
regret, which Lucia read before her Chaplain, the Padre, said
Grace.  She wore her mayoral chain of office round her neck, and
her chain of inherited seed-pearls in her hair, and Georgie, as
arranged, sat alone on the other side of the table directly
opposite her.  He was disadvantageously placed with regard to
supplies of food and drink, for the waiter had to go round the far
end of the side-tables to get at him, but he took extra large
helpings when he got the chance, and had all his wine-glasses
filled.  He wore on the lapel of his coat a fine green and white
enamel star, which had long lain among his bibelots, and which
looked like a foreign order.  At the far end of the room was a
gallery, from which ladies, as if in purdah, were allowed to look
on.  Elizabeth sat in the front row, and waggled her hand at the
Mayor, whenever Lucia looked in her direction, in order to
encourage her.  Once, when a waiter was standing just behind Lucia,
Elizabeth felt sure that she had caught her eye, and kissed her
hand to her.  The waiter promptly responded, and the Mayoress,
blushing prettily, ceased to signal. . . .  There were flowery
speeches made and healths drunk, and afterwards a musical
entertainment.  The Mayor created a precedent by contributing to
this herself and giving (as the Hampshire Argus recorded in its
next issue) an exquisite rendering on the piano of the slow
movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.  It produced a somewhat
pensive effect, and she went back to her presiding place again amid
respectful applause and a shrill, solitary cry of "Encore!" from
Elizabeth.  The spirits of her guests revived under the spell of
lighter melodies, and at the end Auld Lang Syne was sung with
crossed hands by all the company, with the exception of Georgie,
who had no neighbours.  Lucia swept regal curtsies to right and
left, and a loop of the seed pearls in her hair got loose and
oscillated in front of her face.

The Mayor and her Prince Consort drove back to Mallards, Lucia
strung up to the highest pitch of triumph, Georgie intensely
fatigued.  She put him through a catechism of self-glorification in
the garden-room.

"I think I gave them a good dinner," she said.  "And the wine was
excellent, wasn't it?"

"Admirable," said Georgie.

"And my speech.  Not too long?"

"Not a bit.  Exactly right."

"I thought they drank my health very warmly.  Non e vero?"

"Very.  Molto," said Georgie.

Lucia struck a chord on the piano before she closed it.

"Did I take the Moonlight a little too quick?" she asked.

"No.  I never heard you play it better."

"I felt the enthusiasm tingling round me," she said.  "In the days
of horse-drawn vehicles, I am sure they would have taken my horses
out of the shafts and pulled us up home.  But impossible with a
motor."

Georgie yawned.

"They might have taken out the carburetter," he said wearily.

She glanced at some papers on her table.

"I must be up early to-morrow," she said, "to be ready for Mrs.
Simpson. . . .  A new era, Georgie.  I seem to see a new era for
our dear Tilling."



CHAPTER IV


Lucia did not find her new duties quite as onerous as she expected,
but she made them as onerous as she could.  She pored over plans
for new houses which the Corporation was building, and having once
grasped the difference between section and elevation was full of
ideas for tasteful weathercocks, lightning conductors and
balconies.  With her previous experience in Stock Exchange
transactions to help her, she went deeply into questions of finance
and hit on a scheme of borrowing money at three and a half per
cent. for a heavy outlay for the renewal of drains, and investing
it in some thoroughly sound concern that brought in four and a half
per cent.  She explained this masterpiece to Georgie.

"Say we borrow ten thousand pounds at three and a half," she said,
"the interest on that will be three hundred and fifty pounds a
year.  We invest it, Georgie,--follow me closely here--at four and
a half, and it brings us in four hundred and fifty pounds a year.
A clear gain of one hundred pounds."

"That does seem brilliant," said Georgie.  "But wait a moment.  If
you re-invest what you borrow, how do you pay for the work on your
drains?"

Lucia's face grew corrugated with thought.

"I see what you're driving at, Georgie," she said slowly.  "Very
acute of you.  I must consider that further before I bring my
scheme before the Finance Committee.  But in my belief--of course
this is strictly private--the work on the drains is not so very
urgent.  We might put it off for six months, and in the meantime
reap our larger dividends.  I'm sure there's something to be done
on those lines."


Then with a view to investigating the lighting of the streets, she
took Georgie out for walks after dinner on dark and even rainy
evenings.

"This corner now," she said as the rain poured down on her
umbrella.  "A most insufficient illumination.  I should never
forgive myself if some elderly person tripped up here in the dark
and stunned himself.  He might remain undiscovered for hours."

"Quite," said Georgie, "But this is very cold-catching.  Let's get
home.  No elderly person will come out on such a night.  Madness."

"It is a little wet," said Lucia, who never caught cold.  "I'll go
to look at that alley by Bumpus's buildings another night, for
there's a memorandum on Town Development plans waiting for me,
which I haven't mastered.  Something about residential zones and
industrial zones, Georgie.  I mustn't permit a manufactory to be
opened in a residential zone: for instance, I could never set up a
brewery or a blacksmith's forge in the garden at Mallards--"

"Well, you don't want to, do you?" said Georgie.

"The principle, dear, is the interesting thing.  At first sight it
looks rather like a curtailment of the liberty of the individual,
but if you look, as I am learning to do, below the surface, you
will perceive that a blacksmith's forge in the middle of the lawn
would detract from the tranquillity of adjoining residences.  It
would injure their amenities."

Georgie plodded beside her, wishing Lucia was not so excruciatingly
didactic, but trying between sneezes to be a good husband to the
Mayor.

"And mayn't you reside in an industrial zone?" he asked.

"That I must look into.  I should myself certainly permit a shoe-
maker to live above his shop.  Then there's the general business
zone.  I trust that Diva's tea-rooms in the High Street are in
order: it would be sad for her if I had to tell her to close
them . . .  Ah, our comfortable garden-room again!  You were asking
just now about residence in an industrial zone.  I think I have
some papers here which will tell you that.  And there's a coloured
map of zones somewhere, green for industrial, blue for residential
and yellow for general business, which would fascinate you.  Where
is it now?"

"Don't bother about it to-night," said Georgie.  "I can easily wait
till to-morrow.  What about some music?  There's that Scarlatti
duet."

"Ah, divino Scarlattino!" said Lucia absently, as she turned over
her papers.  "Eureka!  Here it is!  No, that's about slums, but
also very interesting . . .  What's a 'messuage'?"

"Probably a misprint for message," said he.  "Or massage."

"No, neither makes sense: I must put a query to that."

Georgie sat down at the piano, and played a few fragments of
remembered tunes.  Lucia continued reading: it was rather difficult
to understand, and the noise distracted her.

"Delicious tunes," she said, "but would it be very selfish of me,
dear, to ask you to stop while I'm tackling this?  So important
that I should have it at my fingers' ends before the next meeting,
and be able to explain it.  Ah, I see . . . no, that's green.
Industrial.  But in half an hour or so--"

Georgie closed the piano.

"I think I shall go to bed," he said.  "I may have caught cold."

"Ah, now I see," cried Lucia triumphantly.  "You can reside in any
zone.  That is only fair: why should a chemist in the High Street
be forced to live half a mile away?  And very clearly put.  I could
not have expressed it better myself.  Good-night, dear.  A few
drops of camphor on a lump of sugar.  Sleep well."


The Mayoress was as zealous as the Mayor.  She rang Lucia up at
breakfast time every morning, and wished to speak to her
personally.

"Anything I can do for you, dear Worship?" she asked.  "Always at
your service, as I needn't remind you."

"Nothing whatever, thanks," answered Lucia.  "I've a Council
meeting this afternoon--"

"No points you'd like to talk over with me?  Sure?"

"Quite," said Lucia firmly.

"There are one or two bits of things I should like to bring to your
notice," said the baffled Elizabeth, "for of course you can't keep
in touch with everything.  I'll pop in at one for a few minutes and
chance finding you disengaged.  And a bit of news."

Lucia went back to her congealed bacon.

"She's got quite a wrong notion of the duties of a Mayoress,
Georgie," she said.  "I wish she would understand that if I want
her help I shall ask for it.  She has nothing to do with my
official duties, and as she's not on the Town Council, she can't
dip her oar very deep."

"She's hoping to run you," said Georgie.  "She hopes to have her
finger in every pie.  She will if she can."

"I have got to be very tactful," said Lucia thoughtfully.  "You see
the only object of my making her Mayoress was to dope her malignant
propensities, and if I deal with her too rigorously I should merely
stimulate them . . .  Ah, we must begin our rgime of plain living.
Let us go and do our marketing at once, and then I can study the
agenda for this afternoon before Elizabeth arrives."

Elizabeth had some assorted jobs for Worship to attend to.  Worship
ought to know that a car had come roaring down the hill into
Tilling yesterday at so terrific a pace that she hadn't time to see
the number.  A van and Susan's Royce had caused a complete stoppage
of traffic in the High Street; anyone with only a few minutes to
spare to catch a train must have missed it.  "And far worse was a
dog that howled all last night outside the house next Grebe," said
Elizabeth.  "Couldn't sleep a wink."

"But I can't stop it," said Lucia.

"No?  I should have thought some threatening notice might be served
on the owner.  Or shall I write a letter to the Argus, which we
both might sign.  More weight.  Or I would write a personal note to
you which you might read to the Council.  Whichever you like,
Worship.  You to choose."

Lucia did not find any of these alternatives attractive, but made a
business-like note of them all.

"Most valuable suggestions," she said.  "But I don't feel that I
could move officially about the dog.  It might be a cat next, or a
canary."

Elizabeth was gazing out of the window with that kind, meditative
smile which so often betokened some atrocious train of thought.

"Just little efforts of mine, dear Worship, to enlarge your sphere
of influence," she said.  "Soon, perhaps, I may be able to support
you more directly."

Lucia felt a qualm of sickening apprehension.

"That would be lovely," she said.  "But how, dear Elizabeth, could
you do more than you are doing?"

Elizabeth focused her kind smile on dear Worship's face.  A close
up.

"Guess, dear!" she said.

"Couldn't," said Lucia.

"Well, then, there's a vacancy in the Borough Council, and I'm
standing for it.  Oh, if I got in!  At hand to support you in all
your Council meetings.  You and me!  Just think!"

Lucia made one desperate attempt to avert this appalling prospect,
and began to gabble.

"That would be wonderful," she said, "and how well I know that it's
your devotion to me that prompts you.  How I value that!  But
somehow it seems to me that your influence, your tremendous
influence, would be lessened rather than the reverse, if you became
just one out of my twelve Councillors.  Your unique position as
Mayoress would suffer.  Tilling would think of you as one of a
body.  You, my right hand, would lose your independence.  And then,
unlikely, even impossible as it sounds, supposing you were not
elected?  A ruinous loss of prestige--"

Foljambe entered.

"Lunch," she said, and left the door of the garden-room wide open.

Elizabeth sprang up with a shrill cry of astonishment.

"No idea it was lunch-time," she cried.  "How naughty of me not to
have kept my eye on the clock, but time passed so quickly, as it
always does, dear, when I'm talking to you.  But you haven't
convinced me; far from it.  I must fly; Benjy will call me a
naughty girl for being so late."

Lucia remembered that the era of plain living had begun.  Hashed
mutton and treacle pudding.  Perhaps Elizabeth might go away if she
knew that.  On the other hand, Elizabeth had certainly come here at
one o'clock in order to be asked to lunch, and it would be wiser to
ask her.

"Ring him up and say you're lunching here," she decided.  "Do."

Elizabeth recollected that she had ordered hashed beef and
marmalade pudding at home.

"I consider that a command, dear Worship," she said.  "May I use
your telephone?"

All these afflictions strongly reacted on Georgie.  Mutton and Mapp
and incessant conversation about municipal affairs were making home
far less comfortable than he had a right to expect.  Then Lucia
sprang another conscientious surprise on him, when she returned
that afternoon positively invigorated by a long Council meeting.

"I want to consult you, Georgie," she said.  "Ever since the
Hampshire Argus reported that I played Bridge in Diva's card-room,
the whole question has been on my mind.  I don't think I ought to
play for money."

"You can't call threepence a hundred money," said Georgie.

"It is not a large sum, but emphatically it IS money.  It's the
principle of the thing.  A very sad case--all this is very private--
has just come to my notice.  Young Twistevant, the grocer's son,
has been backing horses, and is in debt with his last quarter's
rent unpaid.  Lately married and a baby coming.  All the result of
gambling."

"I don't see how the baby is the result of gambling," said Georgie.
"Unless he bet he wouldn't have one."

Lucia gave the wintry smile that was reserved for jokes she didn't
care about.

"I expressed myself badly," she said.  "I only meant that his want
of money, when he will need it more than ever, is the result of
gambling.  The principle is the same whether it's threepence or a
starving baby.  And Bridge surely, with its call both on prudence
and enterprise, is a sufficiently good game to play for love: for
love of Bridge.  Let us set an example.  When we have our next
Bridge party, let it be understood that there are no stakes."

"I don't think you'll get many Bridge parties if that's
understood," said Georgie.  "Everyone will go seven no trumps at
once."

"Then they'll be doubled," cried Lucia triumphantly.

"And redoubled.  It wouldn't be any fun.  Most monotonous.  The
dealer might as well pick up his hand and say Seven no-trumps,
doubled and redoubled, before he looked at it."

"I hope we take a more intelligent interest in the game than THAT,"
said Lucia.  "The judgment in declaring, the skill in the play of
the cards, the various systems so carefully thought out--surely we
shan't cease to practise them just because a few pence are no
longer at stake?  Indeed, I think we shall have far pleasanter
games.  They will be more tranquil, and on a loftier level.  The
question of even a few pence sometimes produces acrimony."

"I can't agree," said Georgie.  "Those acrimonies are the result of
pleasant excitement.  And what's the use of keeping the score, and
wondering if you dare finesse, if it leads to nothing?  You might
try playing for twopence a hundred instead of threepence--"

"I must repeat that it's the principle," interrupted Lucia.  "I
feel that in my position it ought to be known that though I play
cards, which I regard as quite a reasonable relaxation, I no longer
play for money.  I feel sure we should find it just as exciting.
Let us put it to the test.  I will ask the Padre and Evie to dine
and play to-morrow, and we'll see how it goes."

It didn't go.  Lucia made the depressing announcement during
dinner, and a gloom fell on the party as they cut for partners.
For brief bright moments one or other of them forgot that there was
nothing to be gained by astuteness except the consciousness of
having been clever, but then he (or she) remembered, and the gleam
faded.  Only Lucia remained keen and critical.  She tried with
agonised anxiety to recollect if there was another trump in and
decided wrong.

"Too stupid of me, Padre," she said.  "I ought to have known.  I
should have drawn it, and then we made our contract.  Quite
inexcusable.  Many apologies."

"Eh, it's no matter; it's no matter whatever," he said.  "Just
nothing at all."

Then came the adding-up.  Georgie had not kept the score and
everyone accepted Lucia's addition without a murmur.  At half past
ten instead of eleven, it was agreed that it was wiser not to begin
another rubber, and Georgie saw the languid guests to the door.  He
came back to find Lucia replaying the last hand.

"You could have got another trick, dear," she said.  "Look; you
should have discarded instead of trumping.  A most interesting
manoeuvre.  As to our test, I think they were both quite as keen
as ever, and for myself I never had a more enjoyable game."


The news of this depressing evening spread apace through Tilling,
and a small party assembled next day at Diva's for shilling teas
and discussions.

"I winna play for nowt," said the Padre.  "Such a mirthless evening
I never spent.  And by no means a well-furnished table at dinner.
An unusual parsimony."

Elizabeth chimed in.

"I got hashed mutton and treacle pudding for lunch a few days ago,"
she said.  "Just what I should have had at home except that it was
beef and marmalade."

"Perhaps you happened to look in a few minutes before unexpectedly,"
suggested Diva who was handing crumpets.

There was a nasty sort of innuendo about this.

"I haven't got any cream, dear," retorted Elizabeth.  "Would you
kindly--"

"It'll be an eighteen-penny tea then," Diva warned her, "though
you'll get potted meat sandwiches as well.  Shall it be eighteen-
pence?"

Elizabeth ignored the suggestion.

"As for playing bridge for nothing," she resumed, "I won't.  I've
never played it before, and I'm too old to learn now.  Dear
Worship, of course, may do as she likes, so long as she doesn't do
it with me."

Diva finished her serving and sat down with her customers.  Janet
brought her cream and potted-meat sandwiches, for of course she
could eat what she liked, without choosing between a shilling and
an eighteen-penny tea.

"Makes it all so awkward," she said.  "If one of us gives a Bridge-
party, must the table at which Lucia plays do it for nothing?"

"The other table, too, I expect," said Elizabeth bitterly, watching
Diva pouring quantities of cream into her tea.  "Worship mightn't
like to know that gambling was going on in her presence."

"That I won't submit to," cried Evie.  "I won't, I won't.  She may
be Mayor but she isn't Mussolini."

"I see nought for it," said the Padre, "but not to ask her.  I play
my Bridge for diversion and it doesna' divert me to exert my mind
over the cards and not a bawbee or the loss if it to show for all
my trouble."

Other customers came in; the room filled up and Diva had to get
busy again.  The office boy from the Hampshire Argus and a friend
had a good blow-out, and ate an entire pot of jam, which left
little profit on their teas.  On the other hand, Evie and the Padre
and Elizabeth were so concerned about the Bridge crisis that they
hardly ate anything.  Diva presented them with their bills, and
they each gave her a tip of twopence, which was quite decent for a
shilling tea, but the office boy and his friend, in the bliss of
repletion, gave her threepence.  Diva thanked them warmly.

Evie and the Padre continued the subject on the way home.

"Such hard luck on Mr. Georgie," she said.  "He's as bored as
anybody with playing for love.  I saw him yawn six times the other
night and he never added up.  I think I'll ask him to a Bridge-tea
at Diva's, just to see if he'll come without Lucia.  Diva would be
glad to play with us afterwards, but it would never do to ask her
to tea first."

"How's that?" asked the Padre.

"Why she would be making a profit by being our guest.  And how
could we tip her for four teas, when she had had one of them
herself?  Very awkward for her."

"A'weel, then let her get her own tea," said the Padre, "though I
don't think she's as delicate of feeling as all that.  But ask the
puir laddie by all means."

Georgie was duly rung up and a slightly embarrassing moment
followed.  Evie thought she had said with sufficient emphasis "So
pleased if YOU will come to Diva's tomorrow for tea and Bridge,"
but he asked her to hold on while he saw if Lucia was free.  Then
Evie had to explain it didn't matter whether Lucia was free or not,
and Georgie accepted.

"I felt sure it would happen," he said to himself, "but I think I
shan't tell Lucia.  Very likely she'll be busy."

Vain was the hope of man.  As they were moderately enjoying their
frugal lunch next day, Lucia congratulated herself on having a free
afternoon.

"Positively nothing to do," she said.  "Not a committee to attend,
nothing.  Let us have one of our good walks, and pop in to have tea
with Diva afterwards.  I want to encourage her enterprise."

"A walk would be lovely," said Georgie, "but Evie asked me to have
tea at Diva's and play a rubber afterwards."

"I don't remember her asking me," said Lucia.  "Does she expect
me?"

"I rather think Diva's making our fourth," faltered Georgie.

Lucia expressed strong approval.

"A very sensible innovation," she said.  "I remember telling you
that it struck me as rather bourgeois, rather Victorian, always to
have husbands and wives together.  No doubt also, dear Evie felt
sure I should be busy up till dinner-time.  Really very considerate
of her, not to give me the pain of refusing.  How I shall enjoy a
quiet hour with a book."

"She doesn't like it at all the same," thought Georgie, as, rather
fatigued with a six mile tramp in a thick sea mist, he tripped down
the hill to Diva's, "and I shouldn't wonder if she guessed the
reason . . ."  The tea-room was crowded, so that Diva could not
have had tea with them even if she had been asked.  She presented
the bill to Evie herself (three eighteenpenny teas) and received
the generous tip of fourpence a head.

"Thank you, dear Evie," she said pocketing the extra shilling.  "I
do call that handsome.  I'll join you in the card-room as soon as
ever I can."

They had most exciting games at the usual stakes.  It was
impossible to leave the last rubber unfinished, and Georgie had to
hurry over his dressing not to keep Lucia waiting.  Her eye had
that gimlet-like aspect, which betokened a thirst for knowledge.

"A good tea and a pleasant rubber?" she asked.

"Both," said Georgie.  "I enjoyed myself."

"So glad.  And many people having tea?"

"Crammed.  Diva couldn't join us till close on six."

"How pleasant for Diva.  And did you play for stakes, dear, or for
nothing?"

"Stakes," said Georgie.  "The usual threepence."

"Georgie, I'm going to ask a favour of you," she said.  "I want you
to set an example--poor young Twistervant, you know--I want it to
be widely known that I do not play cards for money.  You diminish
the force of my example, dear, if you continue to do so.  The lime-
light is partially, at any rate, on you as well as me.  I ask you
not to."

"I'm afraid I can't consent," said Georgie.  "I don't see any harm
in it--Naturally you will do as you like--"

"Thank you, dear," said Lucia.

"No need to thank me.  And I shall do as I like."

Grosvenor entered.

"Silentio!" whispered Lucia.  "Yes, Grosvenor?"

"Mrs. Mapp-Flint has rung up"--began Grosvenor.

"Tell her I can't attend to any business this evening," said Lucia.

"She doesn't want you to, ma'am.  She only wants to know if Mr.
Pillson will dine with her the day after tomorrow and play Bridge."

"Thank her," said Georgie firmly.  "Delighted."


Card-playing circles in Tilling remained firm: there was no slump.
If, in view of her exemplary position, Worship declined to play
Bridge for money, far be it from us, said Tilling, to seek to
persuade her against the light of conscience.  But if Worship
imagined that Tilling intended to follow her example, the sooner
she got rid of that fond illusion the better.  Lucia sent out
invitations for another Bridge party at Mallards but everybody was
engaged.  She could not miss the significance of that, but she put
up a proud front and sent for the latest book on Bridge and studied
it incessantly, almost to the neglect of her Mayoral Duties, in
order to prove that what she cared for was the game in itself.  Her
grasp of it, she declared, improved out of all knowledge, but she
got no opportunities of demonstrating that agreeable fact.
Invitations rained on Georgie, for it was clearly unfair that he
should get no Bridge because nobody would play with the Mayor, and
he returned these hospitalities by asking his friends to have tea
with him at Diva's rooms, with a rubber afterwards, for he could
not ask three gamblers to dinner and leave Lucia to study Bridge
problems by herself, while the rest of the party played.  Other
entertainers followed his example, for it was far less trouble to
order tea at Diva's and find the card-room ready, and as Algernon
Wyse expressed it, 'ye olde tea-house' became quite like Almack's.
This was good business for the establishment, and Diva bitterly
regretted that it had not occurred to her from the first to charge
card-money.  She put the question one day to Elizabeth.

"All those markers being used up so fast," she said, "and I shall
have to get new cards so much oftener than I expected.  Twopence,
say, for card-money, don't you think?"

"I shouldn't dream of it, dear," said Elizabeth very decidedly.
"You must be doing very well as it is.  But I should recommend some
fresh packs of cards.  A little greasy, when last I played.  More
daintiness, clean cards, sharp pencils and so on are well worth
while.  But card-money, no!"


The approach of the election to the vacancy on the Town Council
diverted the Mayor's mind from her abstract study of Bridge.  Up to
within a few days of the date on which candidates' names must be
sent in, Elizabeth was still the only aspirant.  Lucia found
herself faced by the prospect of her Mayoress being inevitably
elected, and the thought of that filled her with the gloomiest
apprehensions.  She wondered if Georgie could be induced to stand.
It was his morning for cleaning his bibelots, and she went up to
his room with offers of help.

"I so often wish, dear," she said pensively, attacking a snuff-box,
"that you were more closely connected with me in my municipal work.
And such an opportunity offers itself just now."

"Do be careful with that snuff-box," said he.  "Don't rub it hard.
What's this opportunity?"

"The Town Council.  There's a vacancy very soon.  I'm convinced,
dear, that with a little training, such as I could give you, you
would make a marvellous Councillor, and you would find the work
most absorbing."

"I think it would bore me stiff," he said.  "I'm no good at slums
and drains."

Lucia decided to disclose herself.

"Georgie, it's to help me," she said.  "Elizabeth at present is the
only candidate, and the idea of having her on the Council is
intolerable.  And with the prestige of your being my husband I
don't doubt the result.  Just a few days of canvassing; you with
your keen interest in human nature will revel in it.  It is a duty,
it seems to me, that you owe to yourself.  You would have an
official position in the town.  I have long felt it an anomaly that
the Mayor's husband had none."

Georgie considered.  He had before now thought it would be pleasant
to walk in Mayoral processions in a purple gown.  And bored though
he was with Lucia's municipal gabble, it would be different when,
with the weight of his position to back him, he could say that he
totally disagreed with her on some matter of policy, and perhaps
defeat some project of hers at a Council Meeting.  Also, it would
be a pleasure to defeat Elizabeth at the poll . . .

"Well, if you'll help me with the canvassing--" he began.

"Ah, if I only could!" she said.  "But, dear, my position precludes
me from taking any active part.  It is analogous to that of the
King, who, officially, is outside politics.  The fact that you are
my husband--what a blessed day was that when our lives were joined--
will carry immense weight.  Everyone will know that your
candidature has my full approval.  I shouldn't wonder if Elizabeth
withdrew when she learns you are standing against her."

"Oh, very well," said he.  "But you must coach me on what my
programme is to be."

"Thank you, dear, a thousand times!  You must send in your name at
once.  Mrs. Simpson will get you a form to fill up."

Several horrid days ensued and Georgie wended his dripping way from
house to house in the most atrocious weather.  His ticket was
better housing for the poorer classes, and he called at rows of
depressing dwellings, promising to devote his best energies to
procuring the tenants bath-rooms, plumbing, bicycle-sheds and open
spaces for their children to play in.  A disagreeable sense
oppressed him that the mothers, whose household jobs he was
interrupting, were much bored with his visits, and took very little
interest in his protestations.  In reward for these distasteful
exertions Lucia relaxed the Spartan commissariat--indeed, she
disliked it very much herself and occasionally wondered if her
example was being either followed or respected--and she gave him
Lucullan lunches and dinners.  Elizabeth, of course, at once got
wind of his candidature and canvassing, but instead of withdrawing,
she started a hurricane campaign of her own.  Her ticket was the
reduction of rates, instead of this rise in them which these
idiotic schemes for useless luxuries would inevitably produce.

The result of the election was to be announced by the Mayor from
the steps of the Town Hall.  Owing to the howling gale, and the
torrents of rain the street outside was absolutely empty save for
the figure of Major Benjy clad in a sou'wester hat, a mackintosh
and waders, crouching in the most sheltered corner he could find
beneath a dripping umbrella.  Elizabeth had had hard work to induce
him to come at all: he professed himself perfectly content to curb
his suspense in comfort at home by the fire till she returned with
the news, and all the other inhabitants of Tilling felt they could
wait till next morning . . .  Then Lucia emerged from the Town Hall
with a candidate on each side of her, and in a piercing scream, to
make her voice heard in this din of the elements, she announced the
appalling figures.  Mrs. Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, she yelled, had
polled eight hundred and five votes, and was therefore elected.

Major Benjy uttered a hoarse "Hurrah!" and trying to clap his hands
let go of his umbrella which soared into the gale and was seen no
more. . . .  Mr. George Pillson, screamed Lucia, had polled four
hundred and twenty-one votes.  Elizabeth, at the top of her voice,
then warmly thanked the burgesses of Tilling for the confidence
which they had placed in her, and which she would do her best to
deserve.  She shook hands with the Mayor and the defeated
candidate, and instantly drove away with her husband.  As there
were no other burgesses to address Georgie did not deliver the
speech which he had prepared: indeed it would have been quite
unsuitable, since he had intended to thank the burgesses of Tilling
in similar terms.  He and Lucia scurried to their car, and Georgie
put up the window.

"Most mortifying," he said.

"My dear, you did your best," said Lucia, pressing his arm with a
wet but sympathetic hand.  "In public life, one has to take these
little reverses--"

"Most humiliating," interrupted Georgie.  "All that trouble thrown
away.  Being triumphed over by Elizabeth when you led me to expect
quite the opposite.  She'll be far more swanky now than if I hadn't
put up."

"No, Georgie, there I can't agree," said Lucia.  "If there had been
no other candidate, she would have said that nobody felt he had the
slightest chance against her.  That would have been much worse.
Anyhow she knows now that four hundred and--what was the figure?"

"Four hundred and twenty-one," said Georgie.

"Yes, four hundred and twenty-one thoughtful voters in Tilling--"

"--against eight hundred and five thoughtless ones," said Georgie.
"Don't let's talk any more about it.  It's a loss of prestige for
both of us.  No getting out of it."

Lucia hurried indoors to tell Grosvenor to bring up a bottle of
champagne for dinner, and to put on to the fire the pretty wreath
of laurel leaves which she had privily stitched together for the
coronation of her new Town Councillor.

"What's that nasty smell of burning evergreen?" asked Georgie
morosely, as they went into the dining-room.


In the opinion of friends the loss of prestige had been entirely
Lucia's.  Georgie would never have stood for the Council unless she
had urged him, and it was a nasty defeat which, it was hoped, might
do the Mayor good.  But the Mayoress's victory, it was feared,
would have the worst effect on her character.  She and Diva met
next morning in the pouring rain to do their shopping.

"Very disagreeable for poor Worship," said Elizabeth, "and not very
friendly to me to put up another candidate--"

"Rubbish," said Diva.  "She's made you Mayoress.  Quite enough
friendliness for one year, I should have thought."

"And it was out of friendliness that I accepted.  I wanted to be of
use to her, and stood for the Council for the same reason--"

"Only she thought Mr. Georgie would be of more use than you,"
interrupted Diva.

"Somebody in her pocket--Take care, Diva.  Susan's van."

The Royce drew up close to them, and Susan's face loomed in the
window.

"Good morning, Elizabeth," she said.  "I've just heard--"

"Thanks, dear, for your congratulations," said Elizabeth.  "But
quite a walk-over."

Susan's face shewed no sign of comprehension.

"What did you walk over?" she asked.  "In this rain, too?--Oh, the
election to the Town Council.  How nice for you!  When are you
going to reduce the rates?"

A shrill whistle, and Irene's huge red umbrella joined the group.

"Hullo, Mapp!" she said.  "So you've got on the map again.  Ha, ha!
How dare you stand against Georgie when my Angel wanted him to get
in?"

Irene's awful tongue always deflated Elizabeth.

"Dear quaint one!" she said.  "What a lovely umbrella."

"I know that.  But how dare you?"

Elizabeth was stung into sarcasm.

"Well, we don't all of us think that your Angel must always have
her way, dear," she replied, "and that we must lie down flat for
her to trample us into the mire."

"But she raised you out of the mire, woman," cried Irene, "when she
made you Mayoress.  She took pity on your fruitless efforts to
become somebody.  Wait till you see my fresco."

Elizabeth was sorry she had been so courageous!

"Painting a pretty fresco, dear?" she asked.  "How I shall look
forward to seeing it!"

"It may be a disappointment to you," said Irene.  "Do you remember
posing for me on the day Lucia made you Mayoress?  It came out in
the Hampshire Argus.  Well, it's going to come out again in my
fresco.  Standing on an oyster shell with Benjy blowing you along.
Wait and see."

This was no brawl for an M.B.E. to be mixed up in, and Susan called
"Home!" to her chauffeur, and shut the window.  Even Diva thought
she had better move on.

"Bye-bye," she said.  "Must get back to my baking."

Elizabeth turned on her with a frightful grin.

"Very wise," she said.  "If you had got back earlier to your baking
yesterday, we should have enjoyed your jam-puffs more."

"That's too much!" cried Diva.  "You ate three."

"And bitterly repented it," said Elizabeth.

Irene hooted with laughter and went on down the street.  Diva
crossed it, and Elizabeth stayed where she was for a moment to
recover her poise.  Why did Irene always cause her to feel like a
rabbit with a stoat in pursuit?  She bewildered and disintegrated
her; she drained her of all power of invective and retort.  She
could face Diva, and had just done so with signal success, but she
was no good against Irene.  She plodded home through the driving
rain, menaced by the thought of that snap-shot being revived again
in fresco.



CHAPTER V


Nobody was more conscious of this loss of prestige than Lucia
herself, and there were losses in other directions as well.  She
had hoped that her renunciation of gambling would have induced card-
playing circles to follow her example.  That hope was frustrated;
bridge-parties with the usual stakes were as numerous as ever, but
she was not asked to them.  Another worry was that the humiliating
election rankled in Georgie's mind and her seeking his advice on
municipal questions, which was intended to show him how much she
relied on his judgment, left him unflattered.  When they sat after
dinner in the garden-room (where, alas, no eager gamblers now found
the hours pass only too quickly) her lucid exposition of some
administrative point failed to rouse any real enthusiasm in him.

"And if everything isn't quite clear," she said, "mind you
interrupt me, and I'll go over it again."

But no interruption ever came; occasionally she thought she
observed that slight elongation of the face that betokens a
suppressed yawn, and at the end, as likely as not, he made some
comment which shewed he had not listened to a word she was saying.
To-night, she was not sorry he asked no questions about the
contentious conduct of the catchment board, as she was not very
clear about it herself.  She became less municipal.

"How these subjects get between one and the lighter side of life!"
she said.  "Any news to-day?"

"Only that turn-up between Diva and Elizabeth," he said.

"Georgie, you never told me!  What about?"

"I began to tell you at dinner," said Georgie, "only you changed
the subject to the water-rate.  It started with jam-puffs.
Elizabeth ate three one afternoon at Diva's, and said next morning
that she bitterly repented it.  Diva says she'll never serve her a
tea again, until she apologizes, but I don't suppose she means it."

"Tell me more!" said Lucia, feeling the old familiar glamour
stealing over her.  "And how is her tea-shop getting on?"

"Flourishing.  The most popular house in Tilling.  All so pleasant
and chatty, and a rubber after tea on most days.  Quite a centre."

Lucia wrestled with herself for an intense moment.

"There's a point on which I much want your advice," she began.

"Do you know, I don't think I can hope to understand any more
municipal affairs to-night," said Georgie firmly.

"It's not that sort, dear," she said, wondering how to express
herself in a lofty manner.  "It is this:  You know how I refused to
play Bridge any more for money.  I've been thinking deeply over
that decision.  Deeply.  It was meant to set an example, but if
nobody follows an example, Georgie, one has to consider the wisdom
of continuing to set it."

"I always thought you'd soon find it very tar'some not to get your
Bridge," said Georgie.  "You used to enjoy it so."

"Ah, it's not THAT," said Lucia, speaking in her best Oxford voice.
"I would willingly never see a card again if that was all, and
indeed the abstract study of the game interests me far more.  But I
did find a certain value in our little Bridge-parties quite apart
from cards.  Very suggestive discussions, sometimes about local
affairs, and now more than ever it is so important for me to be in
touch with the social as well as the municipal atmosphere of the
place.  I regret that others have not followed my example, for I am
sure our games would have been as thrilling as ever, but if others
won't come into line with me, I will gladly step back into the
ranks again.  Nobody shall be able to say of me that I caused
splits and dissensions.  'One and all', as you know, is my
favourite motto."

Georgie didn't know anything of the sort, but he let it pass.

"Capital!" he said.  "Everybody will be very glad."

"And it would give me great pleasure to reconcile that childish
quarrel between Diva and Elizabeth," continued Lucia.  "I'll ask
Elizabeth and Benjy to have tea with us there to-morrow; dear Diva
will not refuse to serve a guest of MINE, and their little
disagreement will be smoothed over.  A rubber afterwards."

Georgie looked doubtful.

"Perhaps you had better tell them that you will play for the usual
stakes," he said.  "Else they might say they were engaged again."

Lucia, with her vivid imagination, visualised the horrid superior
grin which, at the other end of the telephone, would spread over
Elizabeth's face, when she heard that, and felt that she would
scarcely be able to get the words out.  But she steeled herself and
went to the telephone.


Elizabeth and Benjy accepted, and, after a reconciliatory eighteen-
penny tea, at which Elizabeth ate jam puffs with gusto ("Dear Diva,
what delicious, light pastry," she said.  "I wonder it doesn't fly
away") the four retired into the card-room.  As if to welcome Lucia
back into gambling circles, the God of Chance provided most
exciting games.  There were slams declared and won, there was
doubling and redoubling and rewards and vengeances.  Suddenly Diva
looked in with a teapot in her hand and a most anxious expression
on her face.  She closed the door.

"The Inspector of Police wants to see you, Lucia," she whispered.

Lucia rose, white to the lips.  In a flash there came back to her
all her misgivings about the legality of Diva's permitting gambling
in a public room, and now the police were raiding it.  She pictured
headlines in the Hampshire Argus and lurid paragraphs. . . .  Raid
on Mrs. Godiva Plaistow's gaming rooms . . .  The list of the
gamblers caught there.  The Mayor and Mayoress of Tilling . . .  A
retired Major.  The Mayor's husband.  The case brought before the
Tilling magistrates with the Mayor in the dock instead of on the
Bench.  Exemplary fines.  Her own resignation.  Eternal infamy. . . .

"Did he ask for me personally?" said Lucia.

"Yes.  Knew that you were here," wailed Diva.  "And my tea-shop
will be closed.  Oh, dear me, if I'd only heeded your warning about
raids!  Or if we'd only joined you in playing Bridge for nothing!"

Lucia rose to the topmost peak of magnanimity, and refrained from
rubbing that in.

"Is there a back way out, Diva?" she asked.  "Then they could all
go.  I shall remain and receive my Inspector here.  Just sitting
here.  Quietly."

"But there's no back way out," said Diva.  "And you can't get out
of the window.  Too small."

"Hide the cards!" commanded Lucia, and they all snatched up their
hands.  Georgie put his in his breast-pocket.  Benjy put his on the
top of the large cupboard.  Elizabeth sat on hers.  Lucia thrust
hers up the sleeve of her jacket.

"Ask him to come in," she said.  "Now all talk!"

The door opened, and the Inspector stood majestically there with a
blue paper in his hand.

"Indeed, as you say, Major Mapp-Flint," said Lucia in an unwavering
Oxford voice, "the League of Nations has collapsed like a card-
house--I should say a ruin--Yes, Inspector, did you want me?"

"Yes, your Worship.  I called at Mallards, and was told I should
catch you here.  There's a summons that needs your signature.  I
hope your Worship will excuse my coming, but it's urgent."

"Quite right, Inspector," said Lucia.  "I am always ready to be
interrupted on magisterial business.  I see.  On the dotted line.
Lend me your fountain-pen, Georgie."

As she held out her hand for it, all her cards tumbled out of her
sleeve.  A draught eddied through the open door and Benjy's cache
on the cupboard fluttered into the air.  Elizabeth jumped up to
gather them, and the cards on which she was sitting fell on to the
floor.

Lucia signed with a slightly unsteady hand, and gave the summons
back to the Inspector.

"Thank you, your Worship," he said.  "Very sorry to interrupt your
game, ma'am."

"Not at all," said Lucia.  "You were only doing your duty."

He bowed and left the room.

"I must apologise to you all," said Lucia without a moment's pause,
"but my good Inspector has orders to ask for me whenever he wants
to see me on any urgent matter.  Dear me!  All my cards exposed on
the table and Elizabeth's and Major Benjy's on the floor.  I am
afraid we must have a fresh deal."

Nobody made any allusion to the late panic, and Lucia dealt again.

Diva looked in again soon, carrying a box of chocolates.

"Any more Inspectors, dear?" asked Elizabeth acidly.  "Any more
raids?  Your nerves seem rather jumpy."

Diva was sorely tempted to retort that their nerves seemed pretty
jumpy too, but it was bad for business to be sharp with patrons.

"No, and I'm giving him such a nice tea," she said meekly.  "But it
was a relief, wasn't it?  A box of chocolates for you.  Very good
ones."

The rubber came to an end, with everybody eating chocolates, and a
surcharged chat on local topics succeeded.  It almost intoxicated
Lucia, who, now for weeks, had not partaken of that heady beverage,
and she felt more than ever like Catherine the Great.

"A very recreative two hours," she said to Georgie as they went up
the hill homewards, "though I still maintain that our game would
have been just as exciting without playing for money.  And that
farcical interlude of my Inspector!  Georgie, I don't mind
confessing that just for one brief moment it DID occur to me that
he was raiding the premises--"

"Oh, I know that," said Georgie.  "Why, you asked Diva if there
wasn't a back way out, and told us to hide our cards and talk.  I
was the only one of us who knew how absurd it all was."

"But how you bundled your cards into your pocket!  We were all a
little alarmed.  All.  I put it down to Diva's terror-stricken
entrance with her teapot dribbling at the spout--"

"No!  I didn't see that," said Georgie.

"Quite a pool on the ground.  And her lamentable outcry about her
tea-rooms being closed.  It was suggestion, dear.  Very sensitive
people like myself respond automatically to suggestion . . .  And
most interesting about Susan and her automatic script.  She thinks,
Elizabeth tells me, that Blue Birdie controls her when she's in
trance, and is entirely wrapped up in it."

"She's hardly ever seen now," said Georgie.  "She never plays
Bridge, nor comes to Diva's for tea, and Algernon usually does her
marketing."

"I must really go to one of her sances, if I can find a free hour
some time," said Lucia.  "But my visit must be quite private.  It
would never do if it was known that the Mayor attended sances
which do seem alien [ed.--akin?] to necromancy.  Necromancy, as you
may know, is divining through the medium of a corpse."

"But that's a human corpse, isn't it?" asked he.

"I don't think you can make a distinction--Oh!  Take care!"

She pulled Georgie back, just as he was stepping on to the road
from the pavement.  A boy on a bicycle, riding without lights, flew
down the hill, narrowly missing him.

"Most dangerous!" said Lucia.  "No lights and excessive speed.  I
must ring up my Inspector and report that boy--I wonder who he
was."

"I don't see how you can report him unless you know," suggested
Georgie.

Lucia disregarded such irrelevancy.  Her eyes followed the boy as
he curved recklessly round the sharp corner into the High Street.

"Really I feel more envious than indignant," she said.  "It must be
so exhilarating.  Such speed!  What Lawrence of Arabia always
loved.  I feel very much inclined to learn bicycling.  Those smart
ladies of the nineties use to find it very amusing.  Bicycling-
breakfasts in Battersea Park and all that.  Our brisk walks,
whenever I have time to take them, are so limited: in these short
afternoons we can hardly get out into the country before it is time
to turn again."

The idea appealed to Georgie, especially when Lucia embellished it
with mysterious and conspiratorial additions.  No one must know
that they were learning until they were accomplished enough to
appear in the High Street in complete control of their machines.
What a sensation that would cause!  What envious admiration!  So
next day they motored out to a lonely stretch of road a few miles
away, where a man from the bicycle-shop, riding a man's bicycle and
guiding a woman's, had a clandestine assignation with them.  He
held Georgie on, while Chapman, Lucia's chauffeur, clung to her,
and for the next few afternoons they wobbled about the road with
incalculable swoopings.  Lucia was far the quicker of the two in
acquiring the precarious balance, and she talked all the time to
Chapman.

"I'm beginning to feel quite secure," she said.  "You might let go
for one second.  No: there's a cart coming.  Better wait till it
has passed.  Where's Mr. Georgie?  Far behind, I suppose."

"Yes, ma'am.  Ever so far."

"Oh, what a jolt!" she cried, as her front wheel went over a loose
stone.  "Enough to unseat anybody.  I put on the brake, don't I?"

After ringing the bell once or twice, Lucia found the brake.  The
bicycle stopped dead, and she stepped lightly off.

"So powerful," she said remounting.  "Now both hands off for a
moment, Chapman."


The day came when Georgie's attendant still hovered close to him,
but when Lucia outpaced Chapman altogether.  A little way in front
of her a man near the edge of the road, with a saucepan of tar
bubbling over a pot of red-hot coals, was doctoring a telegraph
post.  Then something curious happened to the co-ordination between
Lucia's brain and muscles.  The imperative need of avoiding the
fire-pot seemed to impel her to make a bee-line for it.  With her
eyes firmly fixed on it, she felt in vain for that powerful brake,
and rode straight into the fire-pot, upsetting the tar and
scattering the coals.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said to the operator.  "I'm rather new at
it.  Would half-a-crown?  And then would you kindly hold my bicycle
while I mount again?"

The road was quite empty after that, and Lucia sped prosperously
along, wobbling occasionally for no reason, but rejoicing in the
comparative swiftness.  Then it was time to turn.  This was
impossible without dismounting, but she mounted again without much
difficulty, and there was a lovely view of Tilling rising red-
roofed above the level land.  Telegraph post after telegraph post
flitted past her, and then she caught sight of the man with the
fire-pot again.  Lucia felt that he was observing her, and once
more something curious occurred to her co-ordinations, and with it
the familiar sense of exactly the same situation having happened
before.  Her machine began to swoop about the road; she steadied
it, and with the utmost precision went straight into the fire-pot
again.

"You seem to make a practice of it," remarked the operator
severely.

"Too awkward of me," said Lucia.  "It was the very last thing I
wanted to do.  Quite the last."

"That'll be another half-crown," said the victim, "and now I come
to look at you, it was you and your pals cocked up on the Bench,
who fined me five bob last month, for not being half as unsteady as
you."

"Indeed!  How small the world is," said Lucia with great dignity
and aloofness, taking out her purse.  Indeed it was a strange
coincidence that she should have disbursed to the culprit of last
month exactly the sum that she had fined him for drunkenness.  She
thought there was something rather psychic about it, but she could
not tell Georgie, for that would have disclosed to him that in the
course of her daring, unaccompanied ride she had twice upset a fire-
pot and scattered tar and red hot coals on the highway.  Soon she
met him still outward bound and he, too, was riding unsupported.

"I've made such strides to-day," he called out.  "How have you got
on?"

"Beautifully!  Miles!" said Lucia, as they passed each other.  "But
we must be getting back.  Let me see you turn, dear, without
dismounting.  Not so difficult."

The very notion of attempting that made Georgie unsteady, and he
got off.

"I don't believe she can do it herself," he muttered, as he turned
his machine and followed her.  The motor was waiting for them, and
just as she was getting in, he observed a blob of tar on one of her
shoes.  She wiped it off on the grass by the side of the road.


Susan had invited them both to a necromantic sance after tea that
evening.  She explained that she would not ask them to tea, because
before these sittings she fasted and meditated in the dark for an
hour.  When they got home from their ride, Georgie went to his
sitting-room to rest, but Lucia, fresh as a daisy, filled up time
by studying a sort of catechism from the Board of the Southern
Railway in answer to her suggestion of starting a Royal Fish
Express with a refrigerating van to supply the Court.  They did not
seem very enthusiastic; they put a quantity of queries.  Had Her
Worship received a Royal command on the subject?  Did she propose
to run the R.F.E. to Balmoral when the Court was in Scotland,
because there were Scotch fishing ports a little closer?  Had she
worked out the cost of a refrigerating van?  Was the supply of fish
at Tilling sufficient to furnish the Royal Table as well as the
normal requirements of the district?  Did her Worship--

Grosvenor entered.  Mr. Wyse had called, and would much like, if
quite convenient, to have a few words with Lucia before the sance.
That seemed a more urgent call, for all these fish questions
required a great deal of thought, and must be gone into with Mrs.
Simpson next morning, and she told Grosvenor that she could give
him ten minutes.  He entered, carrying a small parcel wrapped up in
brown paper.

"So good of you to receive me," he said.  "I am aware of the value
of your time.  A matter of considerable delicacy.  My dear Susan
tells me that you and your husband have graciously promised to
attend her sance to-day."

Lucia referred to her engagement book.

"Quite correct," she said.  "I found I could just fit it in.  Five-
thirty p.m. is my entry."

"I will speak but briefly of the ritual of these sances," said Mr.
Wyse.  "My Susan sits at the table in our little dining-room, which
you have, alas too rarely, honoured by your presence on what I may
call less moribund occasions.  It is furnished with a copious
supply of scribbling paper and of sharpened pencils for her
automatic script.  In front of her is a small shrine, I may term
it, of ebony--possibly ebonite--with white satin curtains
concealing what is within.  At the commencement of the sance, the
lights are put out, and my Susan draws the curtains aside.  Within
are the mortal remains--or such as could be hygienically preserved--
of her budgerigar.  She used to wear them in her hat or as a
decoration for the bosom.  They once fell into a dish, a red dish,
at your hospitable table."

"I remember.  Raspberry something," said Lucia.

"I bow to your superior knowledge," said Mr. Wyse.  "Then Susan
goes into a species of trance, and these communications through
automatic script begin.  Very voluminous sometimes, and difficult
to decipher.  She spends the greater part of the day in puzzling
them out, not always successfully.  Now, adorabile Signora--"

"Oh, Mr. Wyse," cried Lucia, slightly startled.

"Dear lady, I only meant Your Worship," he explained.

"I see.  Stupid of me," she said.  "Yes?"

"I appeal to you," continued he.  "To put the matter in a nutshell,
I fear my dear Susan will get unhinged, if this goes on.  Already
she is sadly changed.  Her strong commonsense, her keen appreciation
of the comforts and interests of life, her fur-coat, her Royce, her
shopping, her Bridge; all these are tasteless to her.  Nothing
exists for her except these communings."

"But how can I help you?" asked Lucia . . .

Mr. Wyse tapped the brown paper parcel.

"I have brought here," he said, "the source of all our trouble:
Blue Birdie.  I abstracted it from the shrine while my dear Susan
was meditating in the drawing-room.  I want it to disappear in the
hope that when she discovers it has gone, she will have to give up
the sances, and recover her balance.  I would not destroy it: that
would be going too far.  Would you therefore, dear lady, harbour
the Object in some place unknown to me, so that when Susan asks me,
as she undoubtedly will, if I know where it is, I may be able to
tell her that I do not?  A shade jesuitical perhaps, but such
jesuitry, I feel, is justifiable."

Lucia considered this.  "I think it is, too," she said.  "I will
put it somewhere safe.  Anything to prevent our Susan becoming
unhinged.  That must never happen.  By the way, is there a slight
odour?"

"A reliable and harmless disinfectant," said Mr. Wyse.  "There was
a faint smell in the neighbourhood of the shrine which I put down
to imperfect taxidermy.  A thousand thanks, Worshipful Lady.  One
cannot tell what my Susan's reactions may be, but I trust that the
disappearance of the Object may lead to a discontinuance of the
sances.  In fact, I do not see how they could be held without it."

Lucia had ordered a stack of black japanned boxes to hold documents
connected with municipal departments.  The arms of the Borough and
her name were painted on them, with the subject with which they
were concerned.  There were several empty ones, and when Mr. Wyse
had bowed himself out, she put Blue Birdie into the one labelled
"Museum," which seemed appropriate.  "Burial Board" would have been
appropriate, too, but there was already an agenda-paper in that.

Presently she and Georgie set forth for Starling Cottage.

Susan and Algernon were ready for them in the dining-room.  The
shrine with drawn curtains was on the table.  Susan had heated a
shovel and was burning incense on it.

"Blue Birdie came from the Spice Islands," she explained, waving
the shovel in front of the shrine.  "Yesterday my hand wrote 'sweet
gums' as far as I could read it, over and over again, and I think
that's what he meant.  And I've put up a picture of St. Francis
preaching to the birds."

Certainly Susan, as her husband had said, was much changed.  She
looked dotty.  There was an ecstatic light in her eye, and a
demented psychical smile on her mouth.  She wore a wreath in her
hair, a loose white gown, and reminded Lucia of an immense operatic
Ophelia.  But critical circumstances always developed Lucia's
efficiency, and she nodded encouragingly to Algernon as Susan swept
fragrantly about the room.

"So good of you to let us come, dear Susan," she said.  "I have
very great experience in psychical phenomena: adepts--do you
remember the Guru at Riseholme, Georgie?--adepts always tell me
that I should be a marvellous medium if I had time to devote myself
to the occult."

Susan held up her hand.

"Hush," she whispered.  "Surely I heard 'Tweet, Tweet', which means
Blue Birdie is here.  Good afternoon, darling."

She put the fire-shovel into the fender.

"Very promising," she said.  "Blue Birdie doesn't usually make
himself heard so soon, and it always means I'm going into trance.
It must be you, Lucia, who have contributed to the psychic force."

"Very likely," said Lucia, "the Guru always said I had immense
power."

"Turn out the lights then, Algernon, all but the little ruby lamp
by my paper, and I will undraw the curtains of the shrine.  Tweet,
Tweet!  There it is again, and that lost feeling is coming over
me."

Lucia had been thinking desperately, while Ophelia got ready, with
that intense concentration which, so often before, had smoothed out
the most crumpled situations.  She gave a silvery laugh.

"I heard it, I heard it," she exclaimed to Algernon's great
surprise.  "Buona sera, Blue Birdie.  Have you come to see Mummie
and Auntie Lucia from Spicy Islands? . . .  Oh, I'm sure I felt a
little brush of soft feathers on my cheek."

"No! did you really?" asked Susan with the slightest touch of
jealousy in her voice.  "My pencil, Algernon."

Lucia gave a swift glance at the shrine, as Susan drew the
curtains, and was satisfied that the most spiritually enlightened
eye could not see that it was empty.  But dark though the room was,
it was as if fresh candles were being profusely lit in her brain,
as on some High Altar dedicated to Ingenuity.  She kept her eyes
fixed on Susan's hand poised over her paper.  It was recording very
little: an occasional dot or dash was all the inspiration Blue
Birdie could give.  For herself, she exclaimed now and then that
she felt in the dark the brush of the bird's wing, or heard that
pretty note.  Each time she saw that the pencil paused.  Then the
last and the greatest candle was lit in her imagination, and she
waited calm and composed for the conclusion of the sance, when
Susan would see that the shrine was empty.

They sat in the dim ruby light for half an hour, and Susan, as if
not quite lost, gave an annoyed exclamation.

"Very disappointing," she said.  "Turn on the light, Algernon.
Blue Birdie began so well and now nothing is coming through."

Before he could get to the switch, Lucia, with a great gasp of
excitement, fell back in her chair, and covered her eyes with her
hands.

"Something wonderful has happened," she chanted.  "Blue Birdie has
left us altogether.  What a manifestation!"

Still not even peeping, she heard Susan's voice rise to a scream.

"But the shrine's empty!" she cried.  "Where is Blue Birdie,
Algernon?"

"I have no idea," said the Jesuit.  "What has happened?"

Lucia still sat with covered eyes.

"Did I not tell you before the light was turned on that there had
been a great manifestation?" she asked.  "I KNEW the shrine would
be empty!  Let me look for myself."

"Not a feather!" she said.  "The dematerialization is complete.
Oh, what would not the President of the Psychical Research have
given to be present!  Only a few minutes ago, Susan and I--did we
not, Susan?--heard his little salutation, and I, at any rate, felt
his feathers brush my cheek.  Now no trace!  Never, in all my
experience, have I seen anything so perfect."

"But what does it mean?" asked the distraught Susan, pulling the
wreath from her dishevelled hair.  Lucia waved her hands in a
mystical movement.

"Dear Susan," she said, beginning to gabble, "Listen!  All these
weeks your darling's spirit has been manifesting itself to you, and
to me also to-night, with its pretty chirps and strokes of the
wing, in order to convince you of its presence, earth-bound and
attached to its mortal remains.  Now on the astral plane Blue
Birdie has been able so to flood them with spiritual reality that
they have been dissolved, translated--ah, how badly I put it--into
spirit.  Blue Birdie has been helping you all these weeks to
realise that all is spirit.  Now you have this final, supreme
demonstration.  Rapt with all of him that was mortal into a higher
sphere!"

"But won't he ever come back?" asked Susan.

"Ah, you would not be so selfish as to wish that!" said Lucia.  "He
is free; he is earth-bound no longer, and, by this miracle of
dematerialization, has given you proof of that.  Let me see what
his last earthly communication with you was."

Lucia picked up the sheet on which Susan had automatically recorded
a few undecipherable scribbles.

"I knew it!" she cried.  "See, there is nothing but those few
scrawled lines.  Your sweet bird's spirit was losing connection
with the material sphere; he was rising above it.  How it all hangs
together!"

"I shall miss him dreadfully," said Susan in a faltering voice.

"But you mustn't, you mustn't.  You cannot grudge him his freedom.
And, oh, what a privilege to have assisted at such a demonstration!
Ennobling!  And if my small powers added to yours, dear, helped
toward such a beautiful result, why that is MORE than a privilege."

Georgie felt sure that there was hocus-pocus somewhere, and that
Lucia had had a hand in it, but his probings, as they walked away,
only elicited from her idiotic replies such as "Too marvellous!
What a privilege!"

It soon became known in marketing circles next morning that very
remarkable necromancy had occurred at Starling Cottage, that Blue
Birdie had fluttered about the darkened room, uttering his sharp
cries, and had several times brushed against the cheek of the
Mayor.  Then, wonder of wonders, his mortal remains had vanished.
Mr. Wyse walked up and down the High Street, never varying his
account of the phenomena, but unable to explain them, and for the
first time for some days Susan appeared in her Royce, but without
any cockade in her hat.

There was something mysterious and incredible about it all, but it
did not usurp the entire attention of Tilling, for why did
Elizabeth, from whom violent sarcasm might have been expected, seem
to shun conversation?  She stole rapidly from shop to shop, and,
when cornered by Diva, coming out of the butcher's, she explained,
scarcely opening her lips at all, that she had a relaxed throat,
and must only breathe through her nose.

"I should open my mouth wide," said Diva severely, "and have a good
gargle," but Elizabeth only shook her head with an odd smile, and
passed on.  "Looks a bit hollow-cheeked, too," thought Diva.  By
contrast, Lucia was far from hollow-cheeked; she had a swollen
face, and made no secret of her appointment with the dentist to
have "it" out.  From there she went home, with the expectation of
receiving, later in the day, a denture comprising a few molars with
a fresh attachment added.

She ate her lunch, in the fashion of a rabbit, with her front
teeth.

"Such a skilful extraction, Georgie," she said, "but a little
sore."

As she had a Council meeting that afternoon, Georgie went off alone
in the motor for his assignation with the boy from the bicycle
shop.  The sance last evening still puzzled him, but he felt more
certain than ever that her exclamations that she heard chirpings
and felt the brush of Birdie's wing were absolute rubbish; so, too,
was her gabble that her psychic powers added to Susan's, had
brought about the dematerialization.  "All bosh," he said aloud in
an annoyed voice, "and it only confirms her complicity.  It's very
unkind of her not to tell me how she faked it, when she knows how I
would enjoy it."

His bicycle was ready for him; he mounted without the slightest
difficulty, and the boy was soon left far behind.  Then with secret
trepidation he observed not far ahead a man with a saucepan of tar
simmering over a fire-pot.  As he got close, he was aware of a
silly feeling in his head that it was exercising a sort of
fascination over his machine, but by keeping his eye on the road he
got safely by it, though with frightful wobbles, and dismounted for
a short rest.

"Well, that's a disappointment," observed the operator.  "You ain't
a patch on the lady who knocked down my fire-pot twice yesterday."

Suddenly Georgie remembered the dab of tar on Lucia's shoe, and
illumination flooded his brain.

"No!  Did she indeed?" he said with great interest.  "The same lady
twice?  That was bad riding!"

"Oh, something shocking.  Not that I'd ever seek to hinder her, for
she gave me half-a-crown per upset.  Ain't she coming today?"

As he rode home Georgie again meditated on Lucia's secretiveness.
Why could she not tell him about her jugglings at the sance
yesterday and about her antics with the fire-pot?  Even to him she
had to keep up this incessant flow of triumphant achievement both
in occult matters and in riding a bicycle.  Now that they were man
and wife she ought to be more open with him.  "But I'll tickle her
up about the fire-pot," he thought vindictively.

When he got home he found Lucia just returned from a most
satisfactory Council meeting.

"We got through our business most expeditiously," she said, "for
Elizabeth was absent, and so there were fewer irrelevant
interruptions.  I wonder what ailed her: nothing serious I hope.
She was rather odd in the High Street this morning.  No smiles: she
scarcely opened her mouth when I spoke to her.  And did you make
good progress on your bicycle this afternoon?"

"Admirable," said he.  "Perfect steering.  There was a man with a
fire-pot tarring a telegraph-post--"

"Ah, yes," interrupted Lucia.  "Tar keeps off insects that burrow
into the wood.  Let us go and have tea."

"--and an odd feeling came over me," he continued firmly, "that
just because I must avoid it, I should very likely run into it.
Have you ever felt that?  I suppose not."

"Yes, indeed I have in my earlier stages," said Lucia cordially.
"But I can give you an absolute cure for it.  Fix your eyes
straight ahead, and you'll have no bother at all."

"So I found.  The man was a chatty sort of fellow.  He told me that
some learner on a bicycle had knocked over the pot twice yesterday.
Can you imagine such awkwardness?  I am pleased to have got past
that stage."

Lucia did not show by the wink of an eyelid that this arrow had
pierced her, and Georgie, in spite of his exasperation, could not
help admiring such nerve.

"Capital!" she said.  "I expect you've quite caught me up by your
practice to-day.  Now after my Council meeting I think I must
relax.  A little music, dear?"

A melodious half-hour followed.  They were both familiar with
Beethoven's famous Fifth Symphony, as arranged for four hands on
the piano, and played it with ravishing sensibility.

"Caro, how it takes one out of all petty carpings and schemings!"
said Lucia at the end.  "How all our smallnesses are swallowed up
in that broad cosmic splendour!  And how beautifully you played,
dear.  Inspired!  I almost stopped in order to listen to you."

Georgie writhed under these compliments: he could hardly switch
back to dark hints about sances and fire-pots after them.  In
strong rebellion against his kindlier feelings towards her, he made
himself comfortable by the fire, while Lucia again tackled the
catechism imposed on her by the Directors of the Southern Railway.
Fatigued by his bicycle-ride, Georgie fell into a pleasant slumber.

Presently Grosvenor entered, carrying a small packet, neatly
wrapped up and sealed.  Lucia put her finger to her lip with a
glance at her sleeping husband, and Grosvenor withdrew in tiptoe
silence.  Lucia knew what this packet must contain; she could slip
the reconstituted denture into her mouth in a moment, and there
would be no more rabbit-nibbling at dinner.  She opened the packet
and took out of the cotton-wool wrapping what it contained.

It was impossible to suppress a shrill exclamation, and Georgie
awoke with a start.  Beneath the light of Lucia's reading-lamp
there gleamed in her hand something dazzling, something familiar.

"My dear, what HAVE you got?" he cried.  "Why, it's Elizabeth's
front teeth!  It's Elizabeth's widest smile without any of her
face!  But how?  Why?  Blue Birdie's nothing to this."

Lucia made haste to wrap up the smile again.

"Of course it is," she said.  "I knew it was familiar, and the
moment you said 'smile' I recognised it.  That explains Elizabeth's
shut mouth this morning.  An accident to her smile, and now by some
extraordinary mistake the dentist has sent it back to me.  Me of
all people!  What are we to do?"

"Send it back to Elizabeth," suggested Georgie, "with a polite note
saying it was addressed to you, and that you opened it.  Serve her
right, the deceitful woman!  How often has she said that she never
had any bother with her teeth, and hadn't been to a dentist since
she was a child, and didn't know what toothache meant.  No wonder;
that kind doesn't ache."

"Yes, that would serve her right--" began Lucia.

She paused.  She began to think intensely.  If Elizabeth's entire
smile had been sent to her, where, except to Elizabeth, had her own
more withdrawn aids to mastication been sent?  Elizabeth could not
possibly identify those four hinterland molars, unless she had been
preternaturally observant, but the inference would be obvious if
Lucia personally sent her back her smile.

"No, Georgie; that wouldn't be kind," she said.  "Poor Elizabeth
would never dare to smile at me again, if she knew I knew.  I don't
deny she richly deserves it for telling all those lies, but it
would be an unworthy action.  It is by a pure accident that we
know, and we must not use it against her.  I shall instantly send
this box back to the dentist's."

"But how do you know who her dentist is?" asked Georgie.

"Mr. Fergus," said Lucia, "who took my tooth so beautifully this
morning; there was his card with the packet.  I shall merely say
that I am utterly at a loss to understand why this has been sent
me, and not knowing what the intended destination was, I return
it."

Grosvenor entered again.  She bore a sealed packet precisely
similar to that which now again contained Elizabeth's smile.

"With a note, ma'am," she said.  "And the boy is waiting for a
packet left here by mistake."

"Oh, do open it," said Georgie gaily.  "Somebody else's teeth, I
expect.  I wonder if we shall recognise them.  Quite a new game,
and most exciting."

Hardly were the words out of his mouth when he perceived what must
have happened.  How on earth could Lucia get out of such an awkward
situation?  But it took far more than that to disconcert the Mayor
of Tilling.  She gave Grosvenor the other packet.

"A sample or two of tea that I was expecting," she said in her most
casual voice.  "Yes, from Twistevant's."  And she put the sample
into a drawer of her table.

Who could fail to admire, thought Georgie, this brazen composure?



CHAPTER VI


Elizabeth's relaxed throat had completely braced itself by next
morning, and at shopping time she was profuse in her thanks to
Diva.

"I followed your advice, dear, and gargled well when I got home,"
she said, "and not a trace of it this morning . . .  Ah, here's
Worship and Mr. Georgie.  I was just telling Diva how quickly her
prescription cured my poor throat; I simply couldn't speak
yesterday.  And I hope you're better, Worship.  It must be a horrid
thing to have a tooth out."

Lucia and Georgie scrutinized her smile . . .  There was no doubt
about it.

"Ah, you're one of the lucky ones," said Lucia in tones of fervent
congratulation.  "How I envied you your beautiful teeth when Mr.
Fergus said he must take one of mine out."

"I envy you too," said Georgie.  "We all do."

These felicitations seemed to speed Elizabeth's departure.  She
shut off her smile, and tripped across the street to tell the Padre
that her throat was well again, and that she would be able to sing
alto as usual in the choir on Sunday.  With a slightly puzzled face
he joined the group she had just left.

"Queer doings indeed!" he said in a sarcastic voice.  "Everything
in Tilling seems to be vanishing.  There's Mistress Mapp-Flint's
relaxed throat, her as couldn't open her mouth yesterday.  And
there's Mistress Wyse's little bird.  Dematerialized, they say.
Havers!  And there's Major Benjy's riding-whip.  Very strange
indeed.  I canna' make nothing of it a'."

The subject did not lead to much.  Lucia had nothing to say about
Blue Birdie, nor Diva about the riding-whip.  She turned to
Georgie.

"My tulip bulbs have just come for my garden," she said.  "Do spare
a minute and tell me where and how to plant them.  Doing it all
myself.  No gardener.  Going to have an open-air tea-place in the
Spring.  Want it to be a bower."

The group dispersed.  Lucia went to the bicycle shop to order
machines for the afternoon.  She thought it would be better to
change the venue and appointed the broad, firm stretch of sands
beyond the golf links, where she and Georgie could practise turning
without dismounting, and where there would be no risk of
encountering fire-pots.  Georgie went with Diva into her back-
garden.

"Things," explained Diva, "can be handed out of the kitchen window.
So convenient.  And where shall I have the tulips?"

"All along that bed," said Georgie.  "Give me a trowel and the
bulbs.  I'll show you."

Diva stood admiringly by.

"What a neat hole!" she said.

"Press the bulb firmly down, but without force," said Georgie.

"I see.  And then you cover it up, and put the earth back again--"

"And the next about three inches away--"

"Oh dear, oh dear.  What a quantity it will take!" said Diva.  "And
DO you believe in Elizabeth's relaxed throat.  I don't.  I've been
wondering--"

Through the open window of the kitchen came the unmistakable sound
of a kettle boiling over.

"Shan't be a minute," she said.  "Stupid Janet.  Must have gone to
do the rooms and left it on the fire."

She trundled indoors.  Georgie dug another hole for a bulb, and the
trowel brought up a small cylindrical object, blackish of hue, but
of smooth, polished surface, and evidently no normal product of a
loamy soil.  It was metal, and a short stub of wood projected from
it.  He rubbed the soil off it, and engraved on it were two
initials, B. F. Memory poised like a hawk and swooped.

"It's it!" he said to himself.  "Not a doubt about it.  Benjamin
Flint."

He slipped it into his pocket while he considered what to do with
it.  No; it would never do to tell Diva what he had found.  Relics
did not bury themselves, and who but Diva could have buried this
one?  Evidently she wanted to get rid of it, and it would be
heartless as well as unnecessary to let her know that she had not
succeeded.  Bury it again then?  There are feats of which human
nature is incapable, and Georgie dug a hole for the next tulip.

Diva whizzed out again, and went on talking exactly where she had
left off before the kettle boiled over, but repeating the last word
to give him the context.

"--wondering if it was not teeth in some way.  She often says
they're so marvellous, but people who have really got marvellous
teeth DON'T speak about them.  They let them talk for themselves.
Or bite.  Tilling's full of conundrums as the Padre said.
Especially since Lucia's become Mayor.  She's more dynamic than
ever and makes things happen all round her.  What a gift!  Oh, dear
me, I'm talking to her husband.  You don't mind, Mr. Georgie?
She's so central."

Georgie longed to tell her how central Lucia had been about
Elizabeth's relaxed throat, but that wouldn't be wise.

"Mind?  Not a bit," he said.  "And she would love to know that you
feel that about her.  Well, good luck to the tulips, and don't dig
them up to see how they're getting on.  It doesn't help them."

"Of course not.  Won't it be a bower in the spring?  And Irene is
going to paint a signboard for me.  Sure to be startling.  But
nothing nude, I said, except hands and faces."


Irene was doing physical jerks on her doorstep as Georgie passed
her house on his way home.

"Come in, King of my heart," she called.  "Oh, Georgie, you're a
public temptation, you are, when you've got on your mustard-
coloured cape and your blue tam-o'-shanter.  Come in, and let me
adore you for five minutes--only five--or shall I show you the new
design for my fresco?"

"I should like that best," said Georgie severely.

Irene had painted a large sketch in oils to take the place of that
which the Town Surveying Department had prohibited.  Tilling,
huddling up the hill and crowned by the church formed the
background, and in front, skimming up the river was a huge oyster-
shell, on which was poised a substantial Victorian figure in shawl
and bonnet and striped skirt, instead of the nude, putty-coloured
female.  It reproduced on a large scale the snap-shot of Elizabeth
which had appeared in the Hampshire Argus, and the face,
unmistakably Elizabeth's, wore a rapturous smile.  One arm was
advanced, and one leg hung out behind, as if she was skating.  An
equally solid gentleman, symbolizing wind, sprawled, in a frock-
coat and top-hat, on a cloud behind her and with puffed cheeks
propelled her upstream.

"Dear me, most striking!" said Georgie.  "But isn't it very like
that photograph of Elizabeth in the Argus?  And won't people say
that it's Major Benjy in the clouds?"

"Why, of course they will, stupid, unless they're blind," cried
Irene.  I've never forgiven Mapp for being Mayoress and standing
against you for the Town Council.  This will take her down a peg,
and all for the sake of Lucia."

"It's most devoted of you, Irene," he said, "and such fun, too, but
do you think--"

"I never think," cried Irene.  "I FEEL, and that's how I feel.  I'm
the only person in this petty, scheming world of Tilling who acts
on impulse.  Even Lucia schemes sometimes.  And as you've
introduced the subject--"

"I haven't introduced any subject yet," said Georgie.

"Just like you.  You wouldn't.  But Georgie, what a glorious
picture, isn't it?  I almost think it has gained by being
Victorianized; there a devilish reserved force about the Victorians
which mere nudity lacks.  A nude has all its cards on the table.
I've a good mind to send it to the Royal Academy instead of making
a fresco of it.  Just to punish the lousy Grundys of Tilling."

"That would serve them right," agreed Georgie.


The afternoon bicycling along the shore was a great success.  The
tide was low, exposing a broad strip of firm, smooth sand.  Chapman
and the bicycle boy no longer ran behind, and, now that there was
so much room for turning, neither of the athletes found the least
difficulty in doing so, and their turns soon grew, as Lucia said,
as sharp as a needle.  The rocks and groins provided objects to be
avoided, and they skimmed close by them without collision.  They
mounted and dismounted, masters of the arts of balance and
direction; all those secret practisings suddenly flowered.

"It's time to get bicycles of our own," said Lucia as they turned
homewards.  "We'll order them to-day, and as soon as they come
we'll do our morning shopping on them."

"I shall be very nervous," said Georgie.

"No need, dear.  I pass you as being able to ride through any
traffic, and to dismount quickly and safely.  Just remember not to
look at anything you want to avoid.  The head turned well away."

"I am aware of that," said Georgie, much nettled by this patronage.
"And about you.  Remember about your brake and your bell.  You
confuse them sometimes.  Ring your bell, dear!  Now put on your
brake.  That's better."

They joined the car and drove back along Fire-Pot Road.  Work was
still going on there, and Lucia, in a curious fit of absence of
mind, pointed to the bubbling saucepan of tar.

"And to think that only a few days ago," she said, "I actually--My
dear, I'll confess, especially as I feel sure you've guessed.  I
upset that tar-pot.  Twice."

"Oh, yes, I knew that," said Georgie.  "But I'm glad you've told me
at last.  I'll tell you something, too.  Look at this.  Tell me
what it is."

He took out of his pocket the silver top of Benjy's riding-whip,
which he had excavated this morning.  Foljambe had polished it up.
Lucia's fine eyebrows knit themselves in recollective agony.

"Familiar, somehow," she mused.  "Ah!  Initials.  B. F.  Why, it's
Benjy's!  Newspaper Office!  Riding-whip!  Disappearance!  Georgie,
how did you come by it?"

Georgie's account was punctuated by comments from Lucia.

"Only the depth of a tulip bulb . . .  Not nearly deep enough, such
want of thoroughness . . .  Diva must have buried it herself, I
think . . .  So you were quite right not to have told her; very
humiliating.  But how did the top come to be snapped off?  Do you
suppose she broke it off, and buried the rest somewhere else, like
murderers cutting up their victims?  And look at the projecting
end!  It looks as if it had been bitten off, and why should Diva do
that?  If it had been Elizabeth with her beautiful teeth, it would
have been easier to understand."

"All very baffling," said Georgie, "but anyhow I've traced the
disappearances a step further.  I shall turn my attention to Blue
Birdie next."

Lucia thought she had done enough confession for one day.

"Yes, do look into it, Georgie," she said.  "Very baffling, too.
But Mr. Wyse is most happy about the effect of my explanation upon
Susan.  She has accepted my theory that Blue Birdie has gone to a
higher sphere."

"That seems to me a very bad sign," said Georgie.  "It looks as if
she was seriously deranged.  And, candidly, do you believe it
yourself?"

"So difficult, isn't it," said Lucia in a philosophical voice, "to
draw hard and fast lines between what one rationally believes, and
what one trusts is true, and what seems to admit of more than one
explanation.  We must have a talk about that some day.  A wonderful
sunset!"


The bicycles arrived a week later, nickel-plated and belled and
braked; Lucia's had the Borough Arms of Tilling brilliantly painted
on the tool-bag behind her saddle.  They were brought up to
Mallards after dark; and next morning, before breakfast, the two
rode about the garden paths, easily passing up the narrow path into
the kitchen garden, and making circles round the mulberry tree on
the lawn ("Here we go round the mulberry tree" light-heartedly
warbled Lucia) and proving themselves adepts.  Lucia could not eat
much breakfast with the first public appearance so close, and
Georgie vainly hoped that tropical rain would begin.  But the sun
continued to shine, and at the shopping hour they mounted and
bumped slowly down the cobbles of the steep street into the High
Street, ready to ring their bells.  Irene was the first to see
them, and she ran by Lucia's side.

"Marvellous, perfect person," she cried, putting out her hand as if
to lay it on Lucia's.  "What is there you can't do?"

"Yes, dear, but don't touch me," screamed Lucia in panic.  "So
rough just here."  Then they turned on to the smooth tarmac of the
High Street.

Evie saw them next.

"Dear, oh, dear, you'll both be killed!" she squealed.  "There's a
motor coming at such a pace.  Kenneth, they're riding bicycles!"

They passed superbly on.  Lucia dismounted at the post-office;
Georgie, applying his brake with exquisite delicacy, halted at the
poulterer's with one foot on the pavement.  Elizabeth was in the
shop and Diva came out of the post-office.

"Good gracious me," she cried.  "Never knew you could.  And all
this traffic!"

"Quite easy, dear," said Lucia.  "Order a chicken, Georgie, while I
get some stamps."

She propped her bicycle against the kerb; Georgie remained sitting
till Mr. Rice came out of the poulterer's with Elizabeth.

"What a pretty bicycle!" she said, green with jealousy.  "Oh,
there's Worship, too.  Well, this is a surprise!  So accomplished!"

They sailed on again.  Georgie went to the lending library, and
found that the book Lucia wanted had come, but he preferred to have
it sent to Mallards: hands, after all, were meant to take hold of
handles.  Lucia went on to the grocer's, and by the time he joined
her there, the world of Tilling had collected: the Padre and Evie,
Elizabeth and Benjy and Mr. Wyse, while Susan looked on from the
Royce.

"Such a saving of time," said Lucia casually to the admiring
assembly.  "A little spin in the country, Georgie, for half an
hour?"

They went unerringly down the High Street, leaving an amazed group
behind.

"Well, there's a leddy of pluck," said the Padre.  "See, how she
glides along.  A mistress of a' she touches."

Elizabeth was unable to bear it, and gave an acid laugh.

"Dear Padre!" she said.  "What a fuss about nothing!  When I was a
girl I learned to ride a bicycle in ten minutes.  The easiest thing
in the world."

"Did ye, indeed, me'm," said the Padre, "and that was very
remarkable, for in those days, sure, there was only those great
high machines, which you rode straddle."

"Years and years after that," said Elizabeth, moving away.

He turned to Evie.

"A bicycle would be a grand thing for me in getting about the
parish," he said.  "I'll step into the bicycle-shop, and see if
they've got one on hire for to learn on."

"Oh, Kenneth, I should like to learn, too," said Evie.  "Such fun!"


Meantime the pioneers, rosy with success, had come to the end of
the High Street.  From there the road sloped rapidly downhill.
"Now we can put on the pace a little, Georgie," said Lucia, and she
shot ahead.  All her practisings had been on the level roads of the
marsh or on the sea-shore, and at once she was travelling much
faster than she had intended, and with eyes glued on the curving
road, she fumbled for her brake.  She completely lost her head.
All she could find in her agitation was her bell, and, incessantly
ringing it, she sped with ever increasing velocity down the short
steep road towards the bridge over the railway.  A policeman on
point duty stepped forward, with the arresting arm of the law held
out to stop her, but as she took no notice he stepped very hastily
back again, for to commit suicide and possibly manslaughter, was a
more serious crime than dangerous riding.  Lucia's face was
contorted with agonised apprehension, her eyes stared, her mouth
was wide open, and all the young constable could do by way of
identification was to notice, when the unknown female had whisked
by him, that the bicycle was new and that there was the Borough
coat of arms on the tool-bag.  Lucia passed between a pedestrian
and a van, just avoiding both: she switch-backed up and down the
railway-bridge, still ringing her bell . . .  Then in front of her
lay the long climb of the Tilling hill, and as the pace diminished
she found her brake.  She dismounted, and waited for Georgie.  He
had lost sight of her in the traffic, and followed her cautiously
in icy expectation of finding her and that beautiful new bicycle
flung shattered on the road.  Then he had one glimpse of her swift
swallow-flight up the steep incline of the railway-bridge.  Thank
God she was safe so far!  He traversed it himself and then saw her
a hundred yards ahead up the hill.  Long before he reached her his
impetus was exhausted, and he got off.

"Don't hurry, dear," she called to him in a trembling voice.  "You
were right, quite right to ride cautiously.  Safety first ALWAYS."

"I felt very anxious about you," said Georgie, panting as he joined
her.  "You oughtn't to have gone so fast.  You deserve to be
summoned for dangerous riding."  A vision, vague and bright, shot
through Lucia's brain.  She could not conceive a more enviable
piece of publicity than, at her age, to be summoned for so athletic
a feat.  It was punishable, no doubt, by law, but like a crime
passionel, what universal admiration it would excite!  What a
dashing Mayor!

"I confess I was going very fast," she said, "but I felt I had such
complete control of my machine.  And so exhilarating.  I don't
suppose anybody has ever ridden so fast down Landgate Street.  Now,
if you're rested, shall we go on?"

They had a long but eminently prudent ride, and after lunch a well-
earned siesta.  Lucia, reposing on the sofa in the garden-room, was
awakened by Grosvenor's entry from a frightful nightmare that she
was pedalling for all she was worth down Beachy Head into the arms
of a policeman on the shore.

"Inspector Morrison, ma'am," said Grosvenor.  "He'll call again if
not convenient."

Nightmare vanished: the vague vision grew brighter.  Was it
possible? . . .

"Certainly, at once," she said springing up and Inspector Morrison
entered.

"Sorry to disturb your Worship," he said, "but one of my men has
reported that about eleven a.m. to-day a new bicycle with the arms
of Tilling on the tool-bag was ridden at a dangerous speed by a
female down Landgate Street.  He made enquiries at the bicycle shop
and found that a similar machine was sent to your house yesterday.
I therefore ask your permission to question your domestics--"

"Quite right to apply to me, Inspector," said Lucia.  "You did your
duty.  Certainly I will sign the summons."

"But we don't know who it was yet, ma'am.  I should like to ask
your servants to account for their whereabouts at eleven a.m."

"No need to ask them, Inspector," said Lucia.  "I was the culprit.
Please send the summons round here and I will sign it."

"But, your Worship--"

Lucia was desperately afraid that the Inspector might wriggle out
of summoning the Mayor and that the case would never come into
Court.  She turned a magisterial eye on him.

"I will not have one law for the rich and another for the poor in
Tilling," she said.  "I was riding at a dangerous speed.  It was
very thoughtless of me, and I must suffer for it.  I ask you to
proceed with the case in the ordinary course."


This one appearance of Lucia and Georgie doing their shopping on
bicycles had been enough to kindle the spark of emulation in the
breasts of the more mature ladies of Tilling.  It looked so lissom,
so gaily adolescent to weave your way in and out of traffic and go
for a spin in the country, and surely if Lucia could, they could
also.  Her very casualness made it essential to show her that there
was nothing remarkable about her unexpected feat.  The bicycle shop
was besieged with enquiries for machines on hire and instructors.
The Padre and Evie were the first in the field, and he put off his
weekly visit to the workhouse that afternoon from half-past two
till half-past three, and they hired the two bicycles which Lucia
and Georgie no longer needed.  Diva popped in next, and was
chagrined to find that the only lady's bicycle was already
bespoken, so she engaged it for an hour on the following morning.
Georgie that day did quite complicated shopping alone, for Lucia
was at a committee meeting at the Town Hall.  She rode there--a
distance of a hundred and fifty yards--to save time, but the gain
was not very great, for she had to dismount twice owing to the
narrow passage between posts for the prevention of vehicular
traffic.  Georgie, having returned from his shopping, joined her at
the Town Hall when her meeting was over, and, with brakes fully
applied, they rode down into the High Street, en route for another
dash into the country.  Susan's Royce was drawn up at the bicycle-
shop.

"Georgie, I shan't have a moment's peace," said Lucia, "until I
know whether Susan has ambitions too.  I must just pop in."

Both the Wyses were there.  Algernon was leaning over Susan's
shoulder as she studied a catalogue of the newest types of
tricycles . . .


The Mayoress alone remained scornful and aloof.  Looking out from
her window one morning, she observed Diva approaching very slowly
up the trafficless road that ran past Grebe buttressed up by
Georgie's late instructor, who seemed to have some difficulty in
keeping her perpendicular.  She hurried to the garden-gate,
reaching it just as Diva came opposite.

"Good morning, dear," she said.  "Sorry to see that you're down
with it, too."

"Good morning, dear," echoed Diva, with her eyes glued to the road
in front of her.  "I haven't the slightest idea what you mean."

"But is it wise to take such strenuous exercise?" asked Elizabeth.
"A great strain surely on both of you."

"Not a bit of a strain," called Diva over her shoulder.  "And my
instructor says I shall soon get on ever so quick."

The bicycle gave a violent swerve.

"Oh, take care," cried Elizabeth in an anxious voice, "or you'll
get off ever so quick."

"We'll rest a bit," said Diva to her instructor, and she stepped
from her machine and went back to the gate to have it out with her
friend.  "What's the matter with you," she said to Elizabeth, "is
that you can't bear us following Lucia's lead.  Don't deny it.
Look in your own heart, and you'll find it's true, Elizabeth.  Get
over it, dear.  Make an effort.  Far more Christian!"

"Thank you for your kind interest in my character, Diva," retorted
Elizabeth.  "I shall know now where to come when in spiritual
perplexity."

"Always pleased to advise you," said Diva.  "And now give me a
treat.  You told us all you learned to ride in ten minutes when you
were a girl.  I'll give you my machine for ten minutes.  See if you
can ride at the end of it!  A bit coy, dear?  Not surprised.  And
rapid motion might be risky for your relaxed throat."

There was a moment's pause.  Then both ladies were so pleased at
their own brilliant dialectic that Elizabeth said she would pop in
to Diva's establishment for tea, and Diva said that would be
charming.


In spite of Elizabeth (or perhaps even because of her) this revival
of the bicycling nineties grew most fashionable.  Major Benjy
turned traitor and was detected by his wife surreptitiously
practising with the gardener's bicycle on the cinder path in the
kitchen garden.  Mr. Wyse suddenly appeared on the wheel riding in
the most elegant manner.  Figgis, his butler, he said, happened to
remember that he had a bicycle put away in the garage and had
furbished it up.  Mr. Wyse introduced a new style: he was already
an adept and instead of wearing a preoccupied expression, made no
more of it than if he was strolling about on foot.  He could take a
hand off his handle-bar, to raise his hat to the Mayor, as if one
hand was all he needed.  When questioned about this feat, he said
that it was not really difficult to take both hands off without
instantly crashing, but Lucia, after several experiments in the
garden, concluded that Mr. Wyse, though certainly a very skilful
performer, was wrong about that.  To crown all, Susan, after a long
wait at the corner of Porpoise Street, where a standing motor left
only eight or nine feet of the roadway clear, emerged majestically
into the High Street on a brand new tricycle.  "Those large
motors," she complained to the Mayor, "ought not to be allowed in
our narrow streets."


The Town Hall was crowded to its utmost capacity on the morning
that Lucia was summoned to appear before her own Court for
dangerous riding.  She had bicycled there, now negotiating the anti-
vehicular posts with the utmost precision, and, wearing her
semiofficial hat, presided on the Borough Bench.  She and her
brother magistrates had two cases to try before hers came on, of
which one was that of a motor-cyclist whose brakes were out of
order.  The Bench, consulting together, took a grave view of the
offence, and imposed a penalty of twenty shillings.  Lucia in
pronouncing sentence, addressed some severe remarks to him: he
would have been unable to pull up, she told him, in case of an
emergency, and was endangering the safety of his fellow citizens.
The magistrates gave him seven days in which to pay.  Then came the
great moment.  The Mayor rose, and in a clear unfaltering voice,
said:

"Your Worships, I am personally concerned in the next case, and
will therefore quit my seat on the Bench.  Would the senior of Your
Worships kindly preside in my temporary absence?"

She descended into the body of the Town Hall.

"The next case before your Worships," said the Town Clerk, "is one
of dangerous riding of a push-bicycle on the part of Mrs. Lucia
Pillson.  Mrs. Lucia Pillson."

She pleaded guilty in a voice of calm triumph, and the Bench heard
the evidence.  The first witness was a constable, who swore that he
would speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
He was on point duty by the railway-bridge at 11 a.m. on Tuesday
the twelfth instant.  He observed a female bicyclist approaching at
a dangerous speed down Landgate Street, when there was a lot of
traffic about.  He put out his arm to stop her, but she dashed by
him.  He estimated her speed at twenty miles an hour, and she
seemed to have no control over her machine.  After she had passed,
he observed a tool-bag on the back of the saddle emblazoned with
the Borough coat-of-arms.  He made enquiries at the bicycle-shop
and ascertained that a machine of this description had been
supplied the day before to Mrs. Pillson of Mallards House.  He
reported to his superior.

"Have you any questions, your Worsh--to ask the witness?" asked the
Town Clerk.

"None," said Lucia eagerly.  "Not one."

The next witness was the pedestrian she had so nearly annihilated.
Lucia was dismayed to see that he was the operator with the fire-
pot.  He began to talk about his experiences when tarring telegraph-
posts some while ago, but, to her intense relief, was promptly
checked and told he must confine himself to what occurred at 11
a.m. on Tuesday.  He deposed that at that precise hour, as he was
crossing the road by the railway-bridge, a female bicyclist dashed
by him at a speed which he estimated at over twenty miles an hour.
A gratified smile illuminated the Mayor's face, and she had no
questions to ask him.

That concluded the evidence, and the Inspector of Police said there
were no previous convictions against the accused.

The Bench consulted together: there seemed to be some difference of
opinion as to the amount of the fine.  After a little discussion
the temporary Chairman told Lucia that she also would be fined
twenty shillings.  She borrowed it from Georgie, who was sitting
near, and so did not ask for time in which to pay.  With a superb
air she took her place again on the Bench.

Georgie waited for her till the end of the sitting, and stood a
little in the background, but well in focus, while Lucia posed on
the steps of the Town Hall, in the act of mounting her bicycle, for
the photographer of the Hampshire Argus.  His colleague on the
reporting staff had taken down every word uttered in this cause
clbre and Lucia asked him to send proofs to her, before it went
to press.  It was a slight disappointment that no reporters or
photographers had come down from London, for Mrs. Simpson had been
instructed to inform the Central News Agency of the day and hour of
the trial . . .  But the Mayor was well satisfied with the local
prestige which her reckless athleticism had earned for her.
Elizabeth, indeed, had attempted to make her friends view the
incident in a different light, and she had a rather painful scene
on the subject with the Padre and Evie.

"All too terrible," she said.  "I feel that poor Worship has
utterly disgraced herself, and brought contempt on the dignified
office she holds.  Those centuries of honourable men who have been
Mayors here must turn in their graves.  I've been wondering whether
I ought not, in mere self-respect, to resign from being Mayoress.
It associates me with her."

"That's not such a bad notion," said the Padre, and Evie gave
several shrill squeaks.

"On the other hand, I should hate to desert her in her trouble,"
continued the Mayoress.  "So true what you said in your sermon last
Sunday, Padre, that it's our duty as Christians always to stand by
our friends, whenever they are in trouble and need us."

"So because she needs you, which she doesn't an atom," burst out
Evie, "you come and tell us that she's disgraced herself, and made
everybody turn in their graves.  Most friendly, Elizabeth."

"And I'm of wee wifie's opinion, mem," said the Padre, with the
brilliant thought of Evie becoming Mayoress in his mind, "and if
you feel you canna' preserve your self-respect unless you resign,
why, it's your Christian duty to do so, and I warrant that won't
incommode her, so don't let the standing by your friends deter you.
And if you ask me what I think of Mistress Lucia's adventure, 'twas
a fine spunky thing to have gone flying down the Landgate Street at
thirty miles an hour.  You and I daurna do it, and peradventure
we'd be finer folk if we daur.  And she stood and said she was
guilty like a God-fearing upstanding body and she deserves a medal,
she does.  Come awa', wifie: we'll get to our bicycle-lesson."

The Padre's view was reflected in the town generally, and his new
figure of thirty miles an hour accepted.  Though it was a very
lawless and dangerous feat, Tilling felt proud of having so
spirited a Mayor.  Diva indulged in secret visions of record-
breaking when she had learned to balance herself, and Susan
developed such a turn of speed on her tricycle that Algernon called
anxiously after her "Not so fast, Susan, I beg you.  Supposing you
met something."  The Padre scudded about his parish on the wheel,
and, as the movement grew, Lucia offered to coach anybody in her
garden.  It became fashionable to career up and down the High
Street after dark, when traffic was diminished, and the whole
length of it resounded with tinkling bells and twinkled with
bicycle lamps.  There were no collisions, for everyone was properly
cautious, but on one chilly evening the flapping skirt of Susan's
fur coat got so inextricably entangled in the chain of her tricycle
that she had to shed it, and Figgis trundled coat and tricycle back
to Porpoise Street in the manner of a wheel-barrow.

As the days grew longer and the weather warmer, picnic-parties were
arranged to points of interest within easy distance, a castle, a
church or a Martello tower, and they ate sandwiches and drank from
their thermos flasks in ruined dungeons or on tombstones or by the
edge of a moat.  The party, by reason of the various rates of
progress which each found comfortable, could not start together, if
they were to arrive fairly simultaneously, and Susan on her
tricycle was always the first to leave Tilling, and Diva followed.
There was some competition for the honour of being the last to
leave: Lucia, with the cachet of furious riding to her credit,
waited till she thought the Padre must have started, while he was
sure that his normal pace was faster than hers.  In consequence,
they usually both arrived very late and very hot.  They all
wondered how they could ever have confined physical exercise within
the radius of pedestrianism, and pitied Elizabeth for the pride
that debarred her from joining in these pleasant excursions.



CHAPTER VII


Lucia had failed to convince the Directors of the Southern Railway
that the Royal Fish Train was a practicable scheme.  "Should Their
Majesties" so ran the final communication "express Their Royal wish
to be supplied with fish from Tilling, the Directors would see that
the delivery was made with all expedition, but in their opinion the
ordinary resources of the line will suffice to meet Their
requirements, of which at present no intimation has been received."

"A sad want of enterprise, Georgie," said the Mayor as she read
this discouraging reply.  "A failure to think municipally and to
see the distinction of bringing an Elizabethan custom up to date.
I shall not put the scheme before my Council at all."  Lucia
dropped this unenterprising ultimatum into the waste paper basket.
The afternoon post had just arrived and the two letters which it
brought for her followed the ultimatum.

"My syllabus for a series of lectures at the Literary Institute is
not making a good start," she said.  "I asked Mr. Desmond McCarthy
to talk to us about the less known novelists of the time of William
IV, but he has declined.  Nor can Mr. Noel Coward speak on the
technique of the modern stage on any of the five nights I offered
him.  I am surprised that they should not have welcomed the
opportunity to get more widely known."

"Tar'some of them," said Georgie sympathetically, "such a chance
for them."

Lucia gave him a sharp glance, then mused for a while in silence
over her scheme.  Fresh ideas began to flood her mind so copiously
that she could scarcely scribble them down fast enough to keep up
with them.

"I think I will lecture on the Shakespearian drama myself," she
said.  "That should be the inaugural lecture, say April the
fifteenth.  I don't seem to have any engagement that night, and you
will take the chair for me . . .  Georgie, we might act a short
scene together, without dresses or scenery to illustrate the
simplicity of the Elizabethan stage.  Really, on reflection I think
my first series of lectures had much better be given by local
speakers.  The Padre would address us one night on Free Will or the
Origin of Evil.  Irene on the technique of fresco painting.  Diva
on catering for the masses.  Then I ought to ask Elizabeth to
lecture on something, though I'm sure I don't know on what subject
she has any ideas of the slightest value.  Ah!  Instead, Major
Benjy on tiger-shooting.  Then a musical evening: the art of
Beethoven, with examples.  That would make six lectures; six would
be enough.  I think it would be expected of me to give the last as
well as the first.  Admission, a shilling, or five shillings for
the series.  Official, I think, under the patronage of the Mayor."

"No," said Georgie, going back to one of the earlier topics.  "I
won't act any Shakespearian scene with you to illustrate
Elizabethan simplicity.  And if you ask me I don't believe people
will pay a shilling to hear the Padre lecture on Free-Will.  They
can hear that sort of thing every Sunday morning for nothing but
the offertory."

"I will consider that," said Lucia, not listening and beginning to
draw up a schedule of the discourses.  "And if you won't do a scene
with me, I might do the sleep-walking from Macbeth by myself.  But
you must help me with the Beethoven evening.  Extracts from the
Fifth Symphony for four hands on the piano.  That glorious work
contains, as I have always maintained, the Key to the Master's
soul.  We must practise hard, and get our extracts by heart."

Georgie felt the sensation, that was now becoming odiously
familiar, of being hunted and harried.  Life for him was losing
that quality of leisure, which gave one time to feel busy and ready
to take so thrilled an interest in the minute happenings of the
day.  Lucia was poisoning that eager fount by this infusion of
mayoral duties and responsibilities, and tedious schemes for
educational lectures and lighting of the streets.  True, the old
pellucid spring gushed out sometimes: who, for instance, but she
could have made Tilling bicycle-crazy, or have convinced Susan that
Blue Birdie had gone to a higher sphere?  That was her real mtier,
to render the trivialities of life intense for others.  But how her
schemes for the good of Tilling bored him!

Lucia finished sketching out her schedule, and began gabbling
again.

"Yes, Georgie, the dates seem to work out all right," she said,
"though Mrs. Simpson must check them for me.  April the fifteenth:
my inaugural lecture on Shakespeare: April the twenty-second: the
Padre on Free-Will which I am convinced will attract all serious
people, for it is a most interesting subject, and I don't think any
final explanation of it has yet been given; April the twenty-ninth,
Irene on the technique of fresco painting: May the sixth: Diva on
tea-shops.  I expect I shall have to write it for her.  May the
thirteenth: Major Benjy on tigers: May the twentieth: Beethoven, me
again . . .  I should like to see these little centres of
enlightenment established everywhere in England, and I count it a
privilege to be able, in my position, to set an example.  The
B.B.C., I don't deny, is doing good work, but lectures delivered
viva voce are so much more vivid.  Personal magnetism.  I shall
always entertain the lecturer and a few friends to a plain supper-
party here afterwards, and we can continue the discussion in the
garden-room.  I shall ask some distinguished expert on the subject
to come down and stay the night after each lecture: the Bishop when
the Padre lectures on Free-Will: Mr. Gielgud when I speak about
Shakespearian technique: Sir Henry Wood when we have our Beethoven
night: and perhaps the Manager of Messrs. Lyons after Diva's
discourse.  I shall send my Town Council complimentary seats in the
first row for the inaugural lecture.  How does that strike you for
a rough sketch?  You know how I value your judgment, and it is most
important to get the initial steps right."

Georgie was standing by her table, suppressing a yawn as he glanced
at the schedule, and feeling in his waistcoat pocket for his gun-
metal match-box with the turquoise latch.  As he scooped for it,
there dropped out the silver top of Major Benjy's riding whip,
which he always kept on his person.  It fell noiselessly on the
piece of damp sponge which Mrs. Simpson always preferred to use for
moistening postage-stamps, rather than the less genteel human
tongue.  Simultaneously the telephone-bell rang, and Lucia jumped
up.

"That incessant summons!" she said.  "A perfect slavery.  I think I
must take my name off the exchange, and give my number to just a
few friends . . .  Yes, yes, I am the Mayor of Tilling.  Irene, is
it? . . .  My dear how colossal!  I don't suppose anybody in
Tilling has ever had a picture in the Royal Academy before.  Is
that the amended version of your fresco, Venus with no clothes on
coming to Tilling?  I'm sure this one is far nicer.  How I wish I
had seen it before you sent it in, but when the Academy closes you
must show it at our picture-exhibition here.  Oh, I've put you down
to give a lecture in my Mayoral course of Culture on the technique
of painting in fresco.  And you're going up to London for
varnishing day?  Do take care.  So many pictures have been ruined
by being varnished too much."

She rang off.

"Accepted, is it?" said Georgie in great excitement.  "There'll be
wigs on the green if it's exhibited here.  I believe I told you
about it, but you were wrestling with the Royal Fish Express.
Elizabeth, unmistakable, in a shawl and bonnet and striped skirt
and button-boots, standing on an oyster-shell, and being blown into
Tilling by Benjy in a top-hat among the clouds."

"Dear me, that sounds rather dangerously topical," said Lucia.
"But it's time to dress.  The Mapp-Flints are dining, aren't they?
What a coincidence!"


They had a most harmonious dinner, with never a mention of
bicycles.  Benjy readily consented to read a paper on tiger-
shooting on May 13.

"Ah, what a joy," said Lucia.  "I will book it.  And some
properties perhaps, to give vividness.  The riding-whip with which
you hit the tiger in the face.  Oh, how stupid of me.  I had
forgotten about its mysterious disappearance which was never
cleared up.  Pass me the sugar, Georgie."

There was a momentary pause, and Lucia grew very red in the face as
she buried her orange in sugar.  But that was soon over, and
presently the Mayor and Mayoress went out to the garden-room with
interlaced waists and arms.  Lucia had told Georgie not to stop too
long in the dining-room and Benjy made the most of his time and
drank a prodigious quantity of a sound but inexpensive port.
Elizabeth had eaten a dried fig for dessert, and a minute but
adamantine fig-seed had lodged itself at the base of one of her
beautiful teeth.  She knew she would not have a tranquil moment
till she had evicted it, and she needed only a few seconds
unobserved.

"Dear Worship," she said.  "Give me a treat, and let your hands
just stray over the piano.  Haven't heard you play for ever so
long."

Lucia never needed pressing and opened the lid of the instrument.

"I'm terribly rusty, I'm afraid," she said, "for I get no time for
practising nowadays.  Beethoven, dear, or a morsel of precious
Mozart; whichever you like."

"Oh, prettioth Mothart, pleath," mumbled Elizabeth, who had effaced
herself behind Lucia's business table.  A moment sufficed, and her
eye, as she turned round towards the piano again and drank in
precious Mozart, fell on Mrs. Simpson's piece of damp sponge.
Something small and bright, long-lost and familiar, gleamed there.
Hesitation would have been mere weakness (besides, it belonged to
her husband).  She reached out a stealthy hand, and put it inside
her bead-bag.

It was barely eleven when the party broke up, for Elizabeth was
totally unable to concentrate on cards when her bag contained the
lock, if not the key to the unsolved mystery, and she insisted that
dear Worship looked very tired.  But both she and Benjy were very
tired before they had framed and been forced to reject all the
hypotheses which could account for the reappearance in so fantastic
a place of this fragment of the riding-whip.  If the relic had come
to light in one of Diva's jam-puffs, the quality of the mystery
would have been less baffling, for at least it would have been
found on the premises where it was lost, but how it had got to
Lucia's table was as inexplicable as the doctrine of Freewill.
They went over the ground five or six times.

"Lucia wasn't even present when it vanished," said Elizabeth as the
clock struck midnight.  "Often, as you know, I think Worship is not
quite as above-board as I should wish a colleague to be, but here I
do not suspect her."

Benjy poured himself out some whisky.  Finding that Elizabeth was
far too absorbed in speculation to notice anything that was going
on round her, he hastily drank it, and poured out some more.

"Pillson then," he suggested.

"No; I rang him up that night from Diva's, as he was going to his
bath," said she, "and he denied knowing anything about it.  He's
fairly truthful--far more truthful than Worship anyhow--as far as
I've observed."

"Diva then," said Benjy, quietly strengthening his drink.

"But I searched and I searched, and she had not been out of my
sight for five minutes.  And where's the rest of it?  One could
understand the valuable silver cap disappearing--though I don't say
for a moment that Diva would have stolen it--but it's just that
part that has reappeared."

"All mos' mysterious," said Benjy.  "But wo'll you do next, Liz?
There's the cruksh.  Wo'll you do next?"

Benjy had not observed that the Mayoress was trembling slightly,
like a motor-bicycle before it starts.  Otherwise he would not have
been so surprised when she sprang up with a loud crow of triumph.

"I have it," she cried.  "Eureka! as Worship so often says when
she's thought of nothing at all.  Don't say a word to anybody,
Benjy, about the silver cap, but have a fresh cane put into it, and
use it as a property (isn't that the word?) at your tiger-talk,
just as if it had never been lost.  That'll be a bit of puzzle-work
for guilty persons, whoever they may be.  And it may lead to
something in the way of discovery.  The thief may turn pale or red
or betray himself in some way . . .  What a time of night!"


Puzzle-work began next morning.

"I can't make out what's happened to it," said Georgie, in a state
of fuss, as he came down very late to breakfast, "and Foljambe
can't either."

Lucia gave an annoyed glance at the clock.  It was five minutes to
ten; Georgie was getting lazier and lazier in the morning.  She
gave the special peal of silvery laughter in which mirth played a
minor part.

"Good afternoon, caro," she said sarcastically.  "Quite rested?
Capital!"

Georgie did not like her tone.

"No, I'm rather tired still," he said.  "I shall have a nap after
breakfast."

Lucia abandoned her banter, as he did not seem to appreciate it.

"Well, I've finished," she said.  "Poor Worship has got to go and
dictate to Mrs. Simpson.  And what was it you and Foljambe couldn't
find?"

"The silver top to Benjy's riding-whip.  I was sure it was in my
yesterday's waistcoat pocket, but it isn't, and Foljambe and I have
been through all my suits.  Nowhere."

"Georgie, how very queer," she said.  "When did you see it last?"

"Some time yesterday," he said, opening a letter.  A bill.

"It'll turn up.  Things do," said Lucia.

He was still rather vexed with her.

"They seem to be better at vanishing," he said.  "There was Blue
Birdie--"

He opened the second of his letters, and the thought of riding-whip
and Blue Birdie alike were totally expunged from his brain.

"My dear," he cried.  "You'd never guess.  Olga Bracely.  She's
back from her world-tour."

Lucia pretended to recall distant memories.  She actually had the
most vivid recollection of Olga Bracely, and, not less, of
Georgie's unbounded admiration of her in his bachelor days.  She
wished the world-tour had been longer.

"Olga Bracely?" she said vaguely.  "Ah, yes.  Prima donna.
Charming voice; some notes lovely.  So she's got back.  How nice!"

"--and she's going to sing at Covent Garden next month," continued
Georgie, deep in her letter.  "They're producing Cortese's opera,
Lucrezia, on May the twentieth.  Oh, she'll give us seats in her
box.  It's a gala performance.  Isn't that too lovely?  And she
wants us to come and stay with her at Riseholme."

"Indeed, most kind of her," said Lucia.  "The dear thing!  But she
doesn't realize how difficult it is for me to get away from Tilling
while I am Mayor."

"I don't suppose she has the slightest idea that you are Mayor,"
said Georgie, beginning to read the letter over again.

"Ah, I forgot," said Lucia.  "She has been on a world tour, you
told me.  And as for going up to hear Lucrezia--though it's very
kind of her--I think we must get out of it.  Cortese brought it
down to Riseholme, I remember, as soon as he had finished it, and
dear Olga begged me to come and hear her sing the great scene--I
think she called it--and, oh, that cacophonous evening!  Ah!
Eureka!  Did you not say the date was May the twentieth?  How
providential!  That's the very evening we have fixed for my lecture
on Beethoven.  Olga will understand how impossible it is to cancel
that."

"But that's quite easily altered," said Georgie.  "You made out
just the roughest schedule, and Benjy's tiger-slaying is the only
date fixed.  And think of hearing the gala performance in London!
Lucrezia's had the hugest success in America and Australia.  And in
Berlin and Paris."

Lucia's decisive mind wavered.  She saw herself sitting in a
prominent box at Covent Garden, with all her seed-pearls and her
Mayoral badge.  Reporters would be eager to know who she was, and
she would be careful to tell the box-attendant, so that they could
find out without difficulty.  And at Tilling, what rclame to have
gone up to London on the prima donna's invitation to hear this
performance of the world-famous Lucrezia.  She might give an
interview to the Hampshire Argus about it when she got back.

"Of course we must go," continued Georgie.  "But she wants to know
at once."

Still Lucia hesitated.  It would be almost as magnificent to tell
Tilling that she had refused Olga's invitation, except for the
mortifying fact that Tilling would probably not believe her.  And
if she refused, what would Georgie do?  Would he leave her to
lecture on Beethoven all by herself, or would he loyally stand by
her, and do his part in the four-handed pianoforte arrangement of
the Fifth Symphony?  He furnished the answer to that unspoken
question.

"I'm sorry if you find it impossible to go," he said quite firmly,
"but I shall go anyhow.  You can play bits of the Moonlight by
yourself.  You've often said it was another key to Beethoven's
soul."

It suddenly struck Lucia that Georgie seemed not to care two hoots
whether she went or not.  Her sensitive ear could not detect the
smallest regret in his voice, and the prospect of his going alone
was strangely distasteful.  She did not fear any temperamental
disturbance; Georgie's passions were not volcanic, but there was
glitter and glamour in opera houses and prima donnas which might
upset him if he was unchaperoned.

"I'll try to manage it somehow, dear, for your sake," she said,
"for I know how disappointed you would be if I didn't join you in
Olga's welcome to London.  Dear me; I've been keeping Mrs. Simpson
waiting a terrible time.  Shall I take Olga's letter and dictate a
grateful acceptance from both of us?"

"Don't bother," said Georgie.  "I'll do it.  You're much too busy.
And as for that bit of Benjy's riding-whip, I daresay it will turn
up."


The prospectus of the Mayoral series of cultural lectures at the
Literary Institute was re-cast, for the other lecturers, wildly
excited at the prospect, found every night equally convenient.
Mrs. Simpson was supplied with packets of tickets, and books of
receipts and counterfoils for those who sent a shilling for a
single lecture or five shillings for the whole course.  She arrived
now at half-past nine o'clock so as to be ready for the Mayor's
dictation of official correspondence at ten, and had always got
through this additional work by that time.  Complimentary tickets
in the front row were sent to Town Councillors for Lucia's
inaugural lecture, with the request that they should be returned if
the recipient found himself unable to attend.  Apart from these,
the sale was very sluggish.  Mr. John Gielgud could not attend the
lecture on Shakespearian technique, and previous engagements
prevented the Bishop and Sir Henry Wood from listening to the Padre
on Free Will and Lucia on Beethoven.  But luckily the Hampshire
Argus had already announced that they had received invitations.

"Charming letters from them all, Georgie," said Lucia, tearing them
up, "and their evident disappointment at not being able to come
really touches me.  And I don't regret, far from it, that
apparently we shall not have very large audiences.  A small
audience is more intime; the personal touch is more quickly
established.  And now for my sleep-walking scene in the first
lecture.  I should like to discuss that with you.  I shall give
that with Elizabethan realism."

"Not pyjamas?" asked Georgie, in an awestruck voice.

"Certainly not: it would be a gross anachronism.  But I shall have
all the lights in the room extinguished.  Night."

"Then they won't see you," said Georgie.  "You would lose the
personal touch."

Lucia puzzled over this problem.

"Ah!  I have it!" she said.  "An electric torch."

"Wouldn't that be an anachronism, too?" interrupted Georgie.

"Rather a pedantic criticism, Georgie," said Lucia.

"An electric torch: and as soon as the room is plunged in darkness,
I shall turn it on to my face.  I shall advance slowly, only my
face visible suspended in the air, to the edge of the platform.
Eyes open I think: I believe sleep-walkers often have their eyes
open.  Very wide, something like this, and unseeing.  Filled with
an expression of internal soul-horror.  Have you half an hour to
spare?  Put the lights out, dear: I have my electric torch.  Now."


As the day for the inaugural lecture drew near and the bookings
continued unsatisfactory except from the intime point of view,
Lucia showered complimentary tickets right and left.  Grosvenor and
Foljambe received them and Diva's Janet.  In fact, those who had
purchased tickets felt defrauded, since so many were to be had
without even asking for them.  This discontent reached Lucia's
ears, and in an ecstasy of fair-mindedness she paid Mrs. Simpson
the sum of one shilling for each complimentary ticket she had sent
out.  But even that did not silence the carpings of Elizabeth.

"What it really comes to, Diva," she said, "is that Worship is
paying everybody to attend her lecture."

"Nothing of the kind," said Diva.  "She is taking seats for her
lecture, and giving them to her friends."

"Much the same thing," said Elizabeth, "but we won't argue.  Of
course she'll take the same number for Benjy's lecture and yours
and all the others."

"Don't see why, if, as you say, she's only paying people to go to
hers.  Major Benjy can pay people to go to his."

Elizabeth softened at the thought of the puzzle that would rack the
brains of Tilling when Benjy lectured.

"The dear boy is quite excited about it," she said.  "He's going to
have his tiger skins hung up behind the platform to give local
jungle-colour.  He's copied out his lecture twice already and is
thinking of having it typed.  I daresay Worship would allow Mrs.
Simpson to do it for nothing to fill up her time a little.  He read
it to me: most dramatic.  How I shuddered when he told how he had
hit the man-slayer across the nose while he seized his rifle.  Such
a pity he can't whack that very tiger-skin with the riding-whip he
used then.  He's never quite got over its loss."

Elizabeth eyed Diva narrowly and thought she looked very
uncomfortable, as if she knew something about that loss.  But she
replied in the most spirited manner.

"Wouldn't be very wise of him," she said.  "Might take a lot more
of the fur off.  Might hurt the dead tiger more than he hurt the
live one."

"Very droll," said Elizabeth.  "But as the riding-whip vanished so
mysteriously in your house, there's the end of it."


Thanks to Lucia's prudent distribution of complimentary tickets,
the room was very well filled at the inaugural lecture.  Georgie
for a week past had been threatened with a nervous collapse at the
thought of taking the chair, but he had staved this off by patent
medicines, physical exercises and breakfast in bed.  Wearing his
ruby-coloured dinner suit, he told the audience in a firm and
audible voice that any introductory words from him were quite
unnecessary, as they all knew the lecturer so well.  He then
revealed the astonishing fact that she was their beloved Mayor of
Tilling, the woman whom he had the honour to call wife.  She would
now address them on the Technique of the Shakespearian Stage.

Lucia first gave them a brief and lucid definition of Drama as the
audible and visible presentation of situations of human woe or
weal, based on and developing from those dynamic individual forces
which evoke the psychological clashes of temperament that give rise
to action.  This action (drama) being strictly dependent on the
underlying motives which prompt it and on emotional stresses might
be roughly summed up as Plot.  It was important that her audience
should grasp that quite clearly.  She went on to say that anything
that distracts attention from Plot or from the psychology of which
it is the logical outcome, hinders rather than helps Drama, and
therefore the modern craze for elaborate decorations and
embellishments must be ruthlessly condemned.  It was otherwise in
Shakespeare's day.  There was hardly any scenery for the setting of
his masterpieces, and she ventured to put forward a theory which
had hitherto escaped the acumen of more erudite Shakespearian
scholars than she.  Shakespeare was a staunch upholder of this
simplicity and had unmistakably shewn that in Midsummer Night's
Dream.  In that glorious masterpiece a play was chosen for the
marriage festival at Athens, and the setting of it clearly proved
Shakespeare's conviction that the less distraction of scenery there
was on the stage, the better for Drama.  The moon appeared in this
play within a play.  Modern decor would have provided a luminous
disk moving slowly across the sky by some mechanical device.  Not
so Shakespeare.  A man came on with a lantern, and told them that
his lantern was the moon and he the man in the moon.  There he was
static and undistracting.  Again the lovers Pyramus and Thisbe were
separated by a wall.  Modern decor would have furnished a
convincing edifice covered with climbing roses.  Not so
Shakespeare.  A man came out of the wings and said "I am the wall."
The lovers required a chink to talk through.  The wall held up his
hand and parted his fingers.  Thus, in the guise of a jest the
Master poured scorn on elaborate scenery.

"I will now," said Lucia, "without dress or scenery of any sort,
give you an illustration of the technique of the Shakespearian
Stage.  Lady Macbeth in the sleepwalking scene."


Foljambe, previously instructed, was sitting by the switch-board,
and on a sign from Georgie, plunged the hall in darkness.
Everybody thought that a fuse had gone.  That fear was dispelled
because Lucia, fumbling in the dark, could not find her electric
torch, and Georgie called out "Turn them on again, Foljambe."
Lucia found her torch and once more the lights went out.  Then the
face of the Mayor sprang into vivid illumination, suspended against
the blackness, and her open, sleep-walking eyes gleamed with soul-
horror in the focused light.  A difficult moment came when she made
the pantomimic washing of her hands for the beam went wobbling
about all over the place and once fell full on Georgie's face,
which much embarrassed him.  He deftly took the torch from her and
duly controlled its direction.  At the end of the speech Foljambe
restored the lights, and Lucia went on with her lecture.

Owing to the absence of distinguished strangers she did not give a
supper-party afterwards, at which her subject could be further
discussed and illuminated, but she was in a state of high elation
herself as she and Georgie partook of a plain supper alone.

"From the first moment," she said, waving a sandwich, "I knew that
I was in touch with my audience and held them in my hand.  A
delicious sensation of power and expansion, Georgie; it is no use
my trying to describe it to you, for you have to experience it to
understand it.  I regret that the Hampshire Argus cannot have a
verbatim report in its issue this week.  Mr. McConnell--how he
enjoyed it--told me that it went to press to-night.  I said I quite
understood, and should not think of asking him to hold it up.  I
gave him the full typescript for next week, and promised to let him
have a close-up photograph of Lady Macbeth; just my face with the
background blacked out.  He thanked me most warmly.  And I thought,
didn't you, that I did the sleep-walking scene at the right moment,
just after I had been speaking of Shakespearian simplicity.  A
little earlier than I had meant, but I suddenly felt that it came
there.  I KNEW it came there."

"The very place for it," said Georgie, vividly recalling her
catechism after the Mayoral banquet.

"And that little contretemps about the light going out before I had
found my torch--"

"That wasn't my fault," said he.  "You told me to signal to
Foljambe, when you said 'sleep walking scene.'  That was my cue."

"My dear, of course it wasn't your fault," said Lucia warmly.  "You
were punctuality itself.  I was only thinking how fortunate that
was.  The audience knew what was coming, and that made the suspense
greater.  The rows of upturned faces, Georgie; the suspense; I
could see the strain in their eyes.  And in the speech, I think I
got, didn't I, that veiled timbre in my voice suggestive of the
unconscious physical mechanism, sinking to a strangled whisper at
'Out, damned spot!'  That, I expect, was not quite original, for I
now remember when I was quite a child being taken to see Ellen
Terry in the part and she veiled her voice like that.  A sub-
conscious impression coming to the surface."

She rose.

"You must tell me more of what you thought to-morrow, dear," she
said, "for I must go to bed.  The emotional strain has quite worn
me out, though it was well worth while.  Mere mental or physical
exertion--"

"I feel very tired too," said Georgie.

He followed Lucia upstairs, waiting while she practised the Lady
Macbeth face in front of the mirror on the landing.


Benjy's lecture took place a week later.  There was a palm tree
beside his reading desk and his three tiger-skins hung on the wall
behind.  "Very effective, Georgie," said Lucia, as they took their
seats in the middle of the front row.  "Quite the Shakespearian
tradition.  It brings the jungle to us, the heat of the Indian noon-
day, the buzz of insects.  I feel quite stifled." . . .  He marched
on to the platform, carrying a rifle, and wearing a pith helmet and
saluted the audience.  He described himself as a plain old
campaigner, who had seen a good deal of shikarri in his time, and
read them a series of exciting adventures.  Then (what a climax!)
he took up from his desk a cane riding-whip with a silver top and
pointed to the third of the skins.

"And that old villain," he said, "nearly prevented my having the
honour to speak to you to-night.  I had just sat down to a bit of
tiffin, putting my rifle aside, when he was on me."

He whisked round and gave the head of the tiger-skin a terrific
whack.

"I slashed at him, just like that, with my riding-whip which I had
in my hand, and that gave me the half-second I needed to snatch up
my rifle.  I fired point-blank at his heart, and he rolled over
dead.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what saved my life.  It
may interest you to see it, though it is familiar to some of you.
I will pass it round."

He bowed to the applause and drank some whisky and a little soda.
Lucia took the riding-whip from him, and passed it to Georgie,
Georgie passed it to Diva.  They all carefully examined the silver-
top, and the initials B. F. were engraved on it.  There could be no
doubt of its genuineness and they all became very still and
thoughtful, forbearing to look at each other.

There was loud applause at the end of the lecture, and after making
rather a long speech, thanking the lecturer, Lucia turned to Diva.

"Come to lunch to-morrow," she whispered.  "Just us three.  I am
utterly puzzled . . .  Ah, Major Benjy, marvellous!  What a treat!
I have never been so thrilled.  Dear Elizabeth, how proud you must
be of him.  He ought to have that lecture printed, not a word, not
a syllable altered, and read it to the Royal Zoological Society.
They would make him an honorary member at once."


Next day at a secret session in the garden-room Georgie and Diva
contributed their personal share in the strange history of the
relic (Paddy's being taken for granted, as no other supposition
would fit the facts of the case) and thus the movements of the
silver cap were accounted for up to the moment of its disappearance
from Georgie's possession.

"I always kept it in my waistcoat pocket," he concluded, "and one
morning it couldn't be found anywhere.  You remember that, don't
you, Lucia?"

A look of intense concentration dwelt in Lucia's eyes: Georgie did
not expect much from that, because it so often led to nothing at
all.  Then she spoke in that veiled voice which had become rather
common with her since the sleep-walking scene.

"Yes, yes," she murmured.  "It comes back to me.  And the evening
before Elizabeth and Benjy had dined with us.  Did it drop out of
your pocket, do you think, Georgie? . . .  She and I came into the
garden-room after dinner, and . . . and she asked me to play to
her, which is unusual.  I am always unconscious of all else when I
am playing . . ."

Lucia dropped the veiled voice which was hard to keep up and became
very distinct.

"She sat all by herself at my table here," she continued.  "What if
she found it on the floor or somewhere?  I seem to sense her doing
that.  And she had something on her mind when we played Bridge.
She couldn't attend at all, and she suggested stopping before
eleven, because she said I looked so tired, though I was never
fresher.  Certainly we never saw the silver cap again till last
night."

"Well that is ingenious," said Diva, "and then I suppose they had
another cane fitted to it, and Benjy said it was the real one.  I
do call that deceitful.  How can we serve them out?  Let's all
think."

They all thought.  Lucia sat with her head on one side
contemplating the ceiling, as was her wont when listening to music.
Then she supplied the music, too, and laughed in the silvery
ascending scale of an octave and a half.

"Amichi," she said.  "If you will leave it to me, I think I can
arrange something that will puzzle Elizabeth.  She and her
accomplice have thought fit to try to puzzle us.  I will contrive
to puzzle them."

Diva glanced at the clock.

"How scrumptious!" she said.  "Do be quick and tell us, because I
must get back to help Janet."

"Not quite complete yet," answered Lucia.  "A few finishing
touches.  But trust me."

Diva trundled away down the hill at top-speed.  A party of clerical
tourists were spending a day of pilgrimage in Tilling, and after
being shewn round the church by the Padre were to refresh
themselves at 'ye olde Tea-House.'  The Padre would have his tea
provided gratis as was customary with Couriers.  She paused for a
moment outside her house to admire the sign which quaint Irene had
painted for her.  There was nothing nude about it.  Queen Anne in
full regalia was having tea with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and
decorum reigned.  Diva plunged down the kitchen-stairs, and peeped
into the garden where the tulips were now in flower.  She wondered
which tulip it was.


As often happened in Tilling, affairs of sensational interest
overlapped.  Georgie woke next morning to find Foljambe bringing in
his early morning tea with the Daily Mirror.

"A picture this morning, sir, that'll make you jump," she said.
"Lor', what'll happen?"

Off she went to fill his bath, and Georgie, still rather sleepy,
began to look through the paper.  On the third page was an article
on the Royal Academy Exhibition, of which the Private View was to
be held today.

"The Picture of the Year," said our Art Editor, "is already
determined.  For daring realism, for withering satire of the so-
called Victorian age, for savage caricature of the simpering,
guileless prettiness of such early Italian artists as Botticelli,
Miss Irene Coles's--"  Georgie read no more but turned to the
centre-page of pictures.  There it was.  Simultaneously there came
a rap on his door, and Grosvenor's hand, delicately inserted, in
case he had got up, held a copy of the Times.

"Her Worship thought you might like to see the picture-page of the
Times," she said.  "And could you spare her the Daily Mirror, if
it's got it in."

The transfer was effected.  There again was Elizabeth on her oyster-
shell being wafted by Benjy up the river to the quay at Tilling,
and our Art Editor gave his most serious attention to this
arresting piece.  He was not sure whether it was justifiable to
parody a noble work of art in order to ridicule an age, which, in
spite of its fantastic prudery, was distinguished for achievement
and progress.  But no one could question the vigour, the daring,
the exuberant vitality of this amazing canvas.  Technically--

Georgie bounded out of bed.  Thoughtful and suggestive though this
criticism was, it was also lengthy, and the need for discussion
with Lucia as to the reactions of Tilling was more immediate,
especially since she had a committee-meeting at ten.  He omitted to
have his bath at all, and nearly forgot about his toupe.  She was
already at breakfast when he got down, with the Daily Mirror
propped up against the tea-pot in front of her, and seemed to
continue aloud what she must have been saying to herself.

"--and in my position, I must--good morning, Georgie--be extremely
careful.  She IS my Mayoress, and therefore, through me, has an
official position, which I am bound to uphold if it is brought into
ridicule.  I should equally resent any ruthless caricature of the
Padre, as he is my chaplain.  Of course you've seen the picture
itself, Georgie, which, alas, I never did, and it's hard to form a
reasoned judgment from a reduced reproduction.  Is it really like
poor Elizabeth?"

"The image," said Georgie.  "You could tell it a hundred miles off.
It's the image of Benjy, too, But that thing in his hand, which
looks so like the neck of a bottle is really the top of his
umbrella."

"No!  I thought it was a bottle," said Lucia.  "I'm glad of that.
The other would have been a sad lack of taste."

"Oh, it's all a lack of taste," said Georgie, "though I don't quite
feel the sadness.  On the other hand it's being hailed as a
masterpiece.  That'll sweeten it for them a bit."

Lucia held the paper up to get a longer focus, and Georgie got his
tea.

"A wonderful pose," she said.  "Really, there's something majestic
and dominant about Elizabeth, which distinctly flatters her.  And
look at Benjy with his cheeks puffed out, as when he's declared
three no trumps, and knows he can't get them.  A boisterous wind
evidently, such as often comes roaring up the river.  Waves tipped
with foam.  A slight want of perspective, I should have said, about
the houses of Tilling . . .  One can't tell how Elizabeth will take
it--"

"I should have thought one could make a good guess," said Georgie.

"But it's something, as you say, to have inspired a masterpiece."

"Yes, but Irene's real object was to be thoroughly nasty.  The
critics seem to have found in the picture a lot she didn't intend
to put there."

"Ah, but who can tell about the artist's mind?" asked Lucia, with a
sudden attack of high-brow.  "Did Messer Leonardo really see in the
face of La Gioconda all that our wonderful Walter Pater found
there?  Does not the artist work in a sort of trance?"

"No; Irene wasn't in a trance at all," insisted Georgie.  "Anything
but.  And as for your feeling that because Elizabeth is Mayoress
you ought to resent it, that's thoroughly inconsistent with your
theory that Art's got nothing to do with Life.  But I'll go down to
the High Street soon, and see what the general feeling is.  You'll
be late, dear, if you don't go off to your meeting at once.  In
fact, you're late already."

Lucia mounted her bicycle in a great hurry and set off for the Town
Hall.  With every stroke of her pedals she felt growing pangs of
jealousy of Elizabeth.  Why, oh why, had not Irene painted her, the
Mayor, the first woman who had ever been Mayor of Tilling, being
wafted up the river, with Georgie blowing on her from the clouds?

Such a picture would have had a far greater historical interest,
and she would not have resented the grossest caricature of herself
if only she could have been the paramount figure in the Picture of
the Year.  The town in the background would be widely recognised as
Tilling, and Lucia imagined the eager comments of the crowd
swarming round the masterpiece . . .  "Why that's Tilling!  We
spent a week there this summer.  Just like! . . ."  "And who can
that woman be?  Clearly a portrait" . . . "Oh, that's the Mayor,
Lucia Pillson: she was pointed out to me.  Lives in a lovely family
house called Mallards" . . . "And the man in the clouds with the
Vandyck beard and the red dinner-suit (what a colour!) must be her
husband . . ."

"What fame!" thought Lucia with aching regret.  "What illimitable,
immortal rclame.  What publicity to be stared at all day by
excited crowds!"  At this moment the Private View would be going
on, and Duchesses and Archbishops and Cabinet Ministers would soon
be jostling to get a view of her, instead of Elizabeth and Benjy!
"I must instantly commission Irene to paint my portrait," she said
to herself as she dismounted at the steps of the Town Hall.  "A
picture that tells a story I think.  A sort of biography.  In
my robes by the front door at Mallards with my hand on my
bicycle. . . ."

She gave but scant attention to the proceedings at her Committee,
and mounting again rang the bell all the way down the hill into the
High Street on a secret errand to the haberdashery shop.  By a
curious coincidence she met Major Benjy on the threshold.  He was
carrying the reconstructed riding-whip and was in high elation.

"Good morning, your Worship," he said.  "Just come to have my
riding-whip repaired.  I gave my old man-eater such a swipe at my
lecture two nights ago, that I cracked it, by Jove."

"Oh Major, what a pity!" said Lucia.  "But it was almost worth
breaking it, wasn't it?  You produced such a dramatic sensation."

"And there's another sensation this morning," chuckled Benjy.
"Have you seen the notice of the Royal Academy in the Times?"

Lucia still considered that the proper public line to take was her
sense of the insult to her Mayoress, though certainly Benjy seemed
very cheerful.

"I have," she said indignantly.  "Oh, Major Benjy, it is monstrous!
I was horrified: I should not have thought it of Irene.  And the
Daily Mirror, too--"

"No, really?" interrupted Benjy.  "I must get it."

"Such a wanton insult to dear Elizabeth," continued Lucia, "and, of
course, to you up in the clouds.  Horrified!  I shall write to
Elizabeth as soon as I get home to convey my sympathy and
indignation."

"Don't you bother!" cried Benjy.  "Liz hasn't been so bucked up
with anything for years.  After all, to be the principal feature in
the Picture of the Year is a privilege that doesn't fall to
everybody.  Such a leg up for our obscure little Tilling, too.
We're going up to town next week to see it.  Why, here's Liz
herself."

Elizabeth kissed her hand to Lucia from the other side of the
street, and, waiting till Susan went ponderously by, tripped
across, and kissed her (Lucia's) face.

"What a red-letter day, dear!" she cried.  "Quaint Irene suddenly
becoming so world-wide, and your humble little Mayoress almost
equally so.  Benjy, it's in the Daily Telegraph, too.  You'd better
get a copy of every morning paper.  Pop in, and tell them to mend
your riding-whip, while I send a telegram of congratulation to
Irene.--I should think Burlington House, London, would find her now--
and meet me at the paper-shop.  And do persuade Irene, Worship, to
let us have the picture for our exhibition here, when the Academy's
over, unless the Chantrey Bequest buys it straight away."

Benjy went into the haberdasher's to get the riding-whip repaired.
This meeting with him just here made Lucia's errand much simpler.
She followed him into the shop and became completely absorbed in
umbrellas till he went out again.  Then, with an eye on the door,
she spoke to the shopman in a confidential tone.

"I want you," she said, "to make me an exact copy of Major Mapp-
Flint's pretty riding-whip.  Silver top with the same initials on
it.  Quite private, you understand: it's a little surprise for a
friend.  And send it, please, to me at Mallards House, as soon as
it's ready."

Lucia mounted her bicycle and rode thoughtfully homewards.  Since
Elizabeth and Benjy both took this gross insult to her Mayoress as
the highest possible compliment, and longed to have quaint Irene's
libel on them exhibited here, there was no need that she should
make herself indignant or unhappy for their sakes.  Indeed, she
understood their elation, and her regret that Irene had not
caricatured her instead of Elizabeth grew very bitter: she would
have borne it with a magnanimity fully equal to their's.  It was a
slight consolation to know that the replica of the riding-whip was
in hand.

She went out into the garden-room where patient Mrs. Simpson was
waiting for her.  There were invitations to be sent out for an
afternoon party next week to view the beauties of Lucia's spring-
garden, for which she wanted to rouse the envious admiration of her
friends, and the list must be written out.  Then there was a letter
to Irene of warm congratulation to be typed.  Then the Committee of
the Museum, of which the Mayor was Chairman was to meet on Friday,
and she gave Mrs. Simpson the key of the tin-box labelled "Museum".

"Just look in it, Mrs. Simpson," she said, "and see if there are
any papers I ought to glance through.  A mountain of work, I fear,
to-day."

Grosvenor appeared.

"Could you see Mrs. Wyse for a moment?" she asked.

Lucia knitted her brows, and consulted her engagement-book.

"Yes, just for ten minutes," she said.  "Ask her to come out here."

Grosvenor went back into the house to fetch Susan, and
simultaneously Mrs. Simpson gave a shriek of horror.

"The corpse of a blue parakeet," she cried, "and an awful smell."

Lucia sprang from her seat.  She plucked Blue Birdie, exhaling
disinfectant and decay, from the Museum box, and scudding across
the room thrust it into the fire.  She poked and battered it down
among the glowing embers, and even as she wrought she cursed
herself for not having told Mrs. Simpson to leave it where it was
and lock the Museum box again, but it was too late for that.  In
that swift journey to cremation Blue Birdie had dropped a plume or
two, and from the fire came a vivid smell of burned feathers.  But
she was just in time and had resumed her seat and taken up her pen
as Susan came ponderously up the steps into the garden-room.

"Good morning, dear," said Lucia.  "At my eternal tasks as usual,
but charmed to see you."

She rose in welcome, and to her horror saw a long blue tail-feather
(slightly tinged with red) on the carpet.  She planted her foot
upon it.

"Good morning," said Susan.  "What a horrid smell of burned
feathers."

Lucia sniffed, still standing firm.

"I do smell something," she said.  "Gas, surely.  I thought I smelt
it the other day.  I must send for my town-surveyor.  Do you not
smell gas, Mrs. Simpson?"

Lucia focused on her secretary the full power of her gimlet-eye.

"Certainly, gas," said that loyal woman, locking the Museum box.

"Most disagreeable," said Lucia, advancing on Susan.  "Let us go
into the garden and have our little talk there.  I know what you've
come about: Irene's picture.  The Picture of the Year, they say.
Elizabeth is famous at last, and is skipping for joy.  I am so
pleased for her sake."

"I should certainly have said burned feathers," repeated Susan.

Dire speculations flitted through Lucia's mind: would Susan's vague
but retentive brain begin to grope after a connection between
burned feathers and her vanished bird?  A concentration of force
and volubility was required, and taking another step forward on to
another blue feather, she broke into a gabble of topics as she
launched Susan, like a huge liner, down the slip of the garden-room
stairs.

"No, Susan, gas," she said.  "And have you seen the reproduction of
Irene's picture in the Times?  Mrs. Simpson, would you kindly bring
the Times into the garden.  You must stroll across the lawn and
have a peep at my daffodils in my giardino segreto.  Never have I
had such a show.  Those lovely lines 'dancing with the daffodils'.
How true!  I saw you in the High Street this morning, dear, on your
tricycle.  And such wallflowers; they will be in fullest bloom for
my party next week, to which you and Mr. Wyse must come.  And Benjy
in the clouds; so like, but Georgie says it isn't a bottle, but his
umbrella.  Tell me EXACTLY what you think of it all.  So important
that I should know what Tilling feels."

Unable to withstand such a cataract of subjects, Susan could hardly
say 'burned feathers' again.  She showed a tendency to drift
towards the garden-room on their return, but Lucia, like a powerful
tug, edged her away from that dangerous shoal and towed her out to
the front door of Mallards, where she cast her adrift to propel her
tricycle under her own steam.  Then returning to the garden-room,
she found that the admirable Mrs. Simpson had picked up a few more
feathers, which she had laid on Lucia's blotting-pad.

Lucia threw them into the fire and swept up some half-burned
fragments from the hearth.

"The smell of gas seems quite gone, Mrs. Simpson," she said.  "No
need, I think, to send for my town-surveyor.  It is such a pleasure
to work with anyone who understands me as well as you . . .  Yes,
the list for my garden-party."


The replica of the riding-whip was delivered, and looked identical.
Lucia's disposition of it was singular.  After she had retired for
the night, she tied it safely up among the foliage of the Clematis
Montana which grew thickly up to the sill of her bedroom window.
The silver top soon grew tarnished in this exposure, spiders spun
threads about it, moisture dulled its varnished shaft, and it
became a weathered object.  "About ripe," said Lucia to herself one
morning, and rang up Elizabeth and Benjy, inviting them to tea at
ye olde tea-house next day, with Bridge to follow.  They had just
returned from their visit to London to see the Picture of the Year,
and accepted with pleasure.

Before starting for Diva's, Lucia took her umbrella up to her
bedroom, and subsequently carried it to the tea-room, arriving
there ten minutes before the others.  Diva was busy in the kitchen,
and she looked into the card-room.  Yes: there was the heavy
cupboard with claw feet standing in the corner; perfect.  Her
manoeuvres then comprised opening her umbrella and furling it again;
and hearing Diva's firm foot on the kitchen stairs she came softly
back into the tea-room.

"Diva, WHAT a delicious smell!" she said.  "Oh, I want eighteen-
penny teas.  I came a few minutes early to tell you."

"Reckoned on that," said Diva.  "The smell is waffles.  I've been
practising.  Going to make waffles at my lecture, as an
illustration, if I can do them over a spirit-lamp.  Hand them round
to the front row.  Good advertisement.  Here are the others."

The waffles were a greater success than Diva had anticipated, and
the compliments hardly made up for the consumption.  Then they
adjourned to the card-room, and Lucia, leaning her umbrella against
the wall let it slip behind the big cupboard.

"So clumsy!" she said, "but never mind it now.  We shall have to
move the cupboard afterwards.  Cut?  You and I, Georgie.  Families.
Happy families."

It was chatty Bridge at first, rich in agreeable conversation.

"We only got back from London yesterday," said Elizabeth, dealing.
"Such a rush, but we went to the Academy three times; one no
trump."

"Two spades," said Georgie.  "What did you think of the Picture?"

"Such a crowd round it!  We had to scriggle in."

"And I'm blest if I don't believe that they recognised Liz," put in
Major Benjy.  "A couple of women looked at her and then at the
picture and back again, and whispered together, by Jove."

"I'm sure they recognised me at our second visit," said Elizabeth.
"The crowd was thicker than ever, and we got quite wedged in.  Such
glances and whisperings all round.  Most entertaining, wasn't it,
Benjy?"

Lucia tried to cork up her bitterness, but failed.

"I AM glad you enjoyed it so much, dear," she said.  "How I envy
you your superb self-confidence.  I should find such publicity
quite insupportable.  I should have scriggled out again at whatever
cost."

"Dear Worship, I don't think you would if you ever found yourself
in such a position," said Elizabeth.  "You would face it.  So
brave!"

"If we're playing Bridge, two spades was what I said.  Ever so long
ago," announced Georgie.

"Oh, Mr. Georgie; apologies," said Elizabeth.  "I'm such a
chatterbox.  What do you bid, Benjy?  Don't be so slow."

"Two no trumps," said Benjy.  "We made our third visit during lunch-
time, when there were fewer people--"

"Three spades," said Lucia.  "All I meant, dear Elizabeth, was that
it is sufficient for me to tackle my little bit of public service,
quietly and humbly and obscurely--"

"So like you, dear," retorted Elizabeth, "and I double three
spades.  That'll be a nice little bit for you to tackle quietly."

Lucia made no reply, but the pleasant atmosphere was now charged
with perilous stuff, for on the one side the Mayor was writhing
with envy at the recognition of Elizabeth from the crowds round the
Picture of the Year, while the Mayoress was writhing with
exasperation at Lucia's pitiful assertion that she shunned
publicity.

Lucia won the doubled contract and the game.

"So there's my little bit, Georgie," she said, "and you played it
very carefully, though of course it was a sitter.  I ought to have
redoubled: forgive me."

"Benjy, your finesse was idiotic," said Elizabeth, palpably
wincing.  "If you had played your ace, they'd have been two down.
Probably more."

"And what about your doubling?" asked Benjy.  "And what about your
original no-trump?"

"Thoroughly justified, both of them," said Elizabeth, "if you
hadn't finessed.  Cut to me, please, Worship."

"But you've just dealt, dear," cooed Lucia.

"Haw, Haw.  Well tried, Liz," said Benjy.

Elizabeth looked so deadly at Benjy's gentle fun that at the end of
the hand Lucia loaded her with compliments.

"Beautifully played, dear!" she said.  "Did you notice, Georgie,
how Elizabeth kept putting the lead with you?  Masterly!"

Elizabeth was not to be appeased with that sort of blarney.

"Thank you, dear," she said.  "I'm sorry, Benjy: I ought to have
put the lead with Worship, and taken another trick."


Diva came in as they were finishing the last rubber.

"Quite a lot of teas," she said.  "But they all come in so late
now.  Hungrier, I suppose.  Saves them supper.  No more waffles for
shilling teas.  Not if I know it.  Too popular."

Lucia had won from the whole table, and with an indifferent air she
swept silver and copper into her bag without troubling to count it.

"I must be off," she said.  "I have pages of Borough expenditure to
look through.  Oh, my umbrella!  I nearly forgot it."

"Dear Worship," asked Elizabeth.  "Do tell me what that means!
Either you forget a thing, or you don't."

"I let it slip behind your big cupboard, Diva," said Lucia, not
taking the slightest notice of her Mayoress.  "Catch hold of that
end, Georgie, and we'll run it out from the wall."

"Permit me," said Benjy, taking Lucia's end.  "Now then, with a
heave-ho, as they say in the sister service.  One, two, three."

He gave a tremendous tug.  The cupboard, not so heavy as it looked,
glided away from the wall with an interior rattle of crockery.

"Oh, my things!" cried Diva.  "Do be careful."

"Here's your umbrella," said Georgie.  "Covered with dust . . .
Why, what's this?  Major Benjy's riding whip, isn't it?  Lost here
ages ago.  Well, that is queer!"

Diva simply snatched it from Georgie.

"But it is!" she cried.  "Initials, everything.  Must have lain
here all this time.  But at your lecture the other day Major--"

Lucia instantly interrupted her.

"What a fortunate discovery!" she said.  "How glad you will be,
Major, to get your precious relic back.  Why it's half-past seven!
Good night everybody."

She and Georgie let themselves out into the street.

"But you MUST tell me," said he, as they walked briskly up the
hill.  "I shall die if you don't tell me.  How did you do it?"

"I?  What do you mean?" asked the aggravating woman.

"You're too tarsome," said Georgie crossly.  "And it isn't fair.
Diva told you how she buried the silver cap, and I told you how I
dug it up, and you tell us nothing.  Very miserly!"

Lucia was startled at the ill-humour in his voice.

"My dear, I was only teasing you--" she began.

"Well it doesn't amuse me to be teased," he snapped at her.
"You're like Elizabeth sometimes."

"Georgie, what a monstrous thing to say to me!  Of course, I'll
tell you, and Diva, too.  Ring her up and ask her to pop in after
dinner."

She paused with her hand on the door of Mallards.  "But never hint
to the poor Mapp-Flints," she said, "as Diva did just now, that the
riding-whip Benjy used at his lecture couldn't have been the real
one.  They knew that quite well, and they knew we know it.  Much
more excruciating for them NOT to rub it in."



CHAPTER VIII


Lucia, followed by Georgie, and preceded by an attendant, swept
along the corridor behind the boxes on the grand tier at Covent
Garden Opera House.  They had dined early at their hotel and were
in good time.  She wore her seed-pearls in her hair, her gold
Mayoral badge, like an Order, on her breast, and her gown was of a
rich, glittering russet hue like cloth of copper.  A competent-
looking lady, hovering about with a small note book and a pencil,
hurried up to her as the attendant opened the door of the box.

"Name, please," he said to Lucia.

"The Mayor of Tilling," said Lucia, raising her voice for the
benefit of the lady with the note book.

He consulted his list.

"No such name, ma'am," he said.  "Madam has given strict orders--"

"Mr. and Mrs. Pillson," suggested Georgie.

"That's all right, sir "; and in they went.

The house was gleaming with tiaras and white shoulders, and loud
with conversation.  Lucia stood for a minute at the front of the
box which was close to the stage, and nodded and smiled as she
looked this way and that, as if recognising friends . . .  But, oh,
to think that she might have been recognised, too, if only Irene
had portrayed her in the Picture of the Year!  They had been to see
it this afternoon, and Georgie, also, had felt pangs of regret that
it was not he with his Vandyck beard who sprawled windily among the
clouds.  But in spite of that he was very happy for in a few
minutes now he would hear and see his adorable Olga again, and they
were to lunch with her to-morrow at her hotel.

A burst of applause hailed the appearance of Cortese, composer,
librettist and, to-night, conductor of Lucrezia.  Lucia waggled her
hand at him.  He certainly bowed in her direction (for he was
bowing in all directions), and she made up her mind to scrap her
previous verdict on the opera and be enchanted with it.

The Royal party unfortunately invisible from Lucia's box arrived,
and after the National Anthem the first slow notes of the overture
wailed on the air.

"Divine!" she whispered to Georgie.  "How well I remember dear
Signor Cortese playing it to me at Riseholme.  I think he took it a
shade faster . . .  There!  Lucrezia's motif, or is it the Pope's?
Tragic splendour.  The first composer in Europe."

If Georgie had not known Lucia so well, he would scarcely have
believed his ears.  On that frightful evening, three years ago,
when Olga had asked her to come and hear "bits" of it, she had
professed herself outraged at the hideous, modern stuff, but there
were special circumstances on that occasion which conduced to
pessimism.  Lucia had let it be widely supposed that she talked
Italian with ease and fluency, but when confronted with Cortese, it
was painfully clear that she could not understand a word he said.
An awful exposure . . .  Now she was in a prominent box, guest of
the prima donna, at this gala performance, she could not be called
upon to talk to Cortese without annoying the audience very much,
and she was fanatic in admiration.  She pressed Georgie's hand,
emotion drowning utterance; she rose in her place at the end of
Olga's great song in the first act, crying "Brava!  Brava!" in the
most correct Italian, and was convinced that she led the applause
that followed.

During the course of the second act, the box was invaded by a large
lady, clad in a magnificent tiara, but not much else, and a small
man, who hid himself at the back.  Lucia felt justly indignant at
this interruption, but softened when the box-attendant appeared
with another programme, and distinctly said "Your Grace" to the
large lady.  That made a difference, and during the interval Lucia
talked very pleasantly to her (for when strangers were thrown
together stiffness was ridiculous) and told her how she had heard
her beloved Olga run through some of her part before the opera was
produced, and that she had prophesied a huge success for it.  She
was agonising to know what the large lady was the Grace of, but
could scarcely put so personal a question on such short
acquaintance.  She did not seem a brilliant conversationalist, but
stared rather fixedly at Georgie . . .  At the end of the opera
there was immense enthusiasm: Olga and Cortese were recalled again
and again, and during these effusions, Her unidentified Grace and
her companion left: Lucia presumed that they were husband and wife
as they took no notice of each other.  She regretted their
disappearance, but consoled herself with the reflection that their
names would appear in the dazzling list of those who would be
recorded in the press to-morrow as having attended the first
performance of Lucrezia.  The competent female in the corridor
would surely see to that.

Georgie lay long awake that night.  The music had excited him, and,
more than the music, Olga herself.  What a voice, what an exquisite
face and presence, what an infinite charm!  He recalled his
bachelor days at Riseholme, when Lucia had been undisputed Queen of
that highly-cultured village and he her cavaliere servente, whose
allegiance had been seriously shaken by Olga's advent.  He really
had been in love with her, he thought, and the fact that she had a
husband alive then, to whom she was devoted, allowed a moral man
like him to indulge his emotions in complete security.  It had
thrilled him with daring joy to imagine that, had Olga been free,
he would have asked her to marry him, but even in those flights of
fancy he knew that her acceptance of him would have put him in a
panic.  Since then, of course, he had been married himself, but his
union with Lucia had not been formidable, as they had agreed that
no ardent tokens of affection were to mar their union.  Marriage,
in fact, with Lucia might be regarded as a vow of celibacy.  Now,
after three years, the situation was reversing itself in the oddest
manner.  Olga's husband had died and she was free, while his own
marriage with Lucia protected him.  His high moral principles would
never suffer him to be unfaithful to his wife.  "I am not that sort
of man," he said to himself.  "I must go to sleep."

He tossed and turned on his bed.  Visions of Olga as he had seen
her to-night floated behind his closed eyelids.  Olga as a mere
girl at the fte of her infamous father Pope Alexander VI: Olga at
her marriage in the Sistine Chapel to the Duke of Biseglia: his
murder in her presence by the hired bravos of His Holiness and
her brother.  The scenery was fantastically gorgeous ("not
Shakespearian at all, Georgie," Lucia had whispered to him), but
when Olga was on the stage, he was conscious of nothing but her.
She outshone all the splendour, and never more so than when,
swathed in black, she followed her husband's bier, and sang that
lament--or was it a song of triumph?--"Amore misterioso, celeste,
profondo." . . . "I believe I've got a very passionate nature,"
thought Georgie, "but I've always crushed it."

It was impossible to get to sleep, and wheeling out of bed, he lit
a cigarette and paced up and down his room.  But it was chilly, and
putting on a smart blue knitted pullover he got back into bed
again.  Once more he jumped up; he had no ashtray, but the lid of
his soap-dish would do, and he reviewed Life.

"I know Tilling is very exciting," he said to himself, "for
extraordinary things are always happening, and I'm very comfortable
there.  But I've no independence.  I'm devoted to Lucia, but what
with breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, as well as a great deal in
between . . .  And then how exasperating she is as Mayor!  What
with her ceaseless jaw about her duties and position I get fed up.
Those tin boxes with nothing in them!  Mrs. Simpson every morning
with nothing to do!  I want a change.  Sometimes I almost
sympathise with Elizabeth, when Lucia goes rolling along like the
car of Juggernaut, squish-squash, whoever comes in her way.  And
yet it's she, I really believe, who makes things happen, just
because she is Lucia, and I don't know where we should be without
her.  Good gracious, that's the second cigarette I've smoked in
bed, and I had my full allowance before.  Why didn't I bring up my
embroidery?  That often makes me sleepy.  I shall be fit for
nothing to-morrow, lying awake like this, and I must go shopping in
the morning, and then we lunch with Olga, and catch the afternoon
train back to That Hole.  Damn everything!"

Georgie felt better in the morning after two cups of very hot tea
brought him by Foljambe who had come up as their joint maid.  He
read his paper, breakfasting in his room, as in his comfortable
bachelor days.  There was a fervent notice of Lucrezia, but no
indication, since there had been five Duchesses present, as to
which their particular Grace was, who had rather embarrassed him by
her fixed eye.  But then Foljambe brought him another paper which
Lucia wanted back.  She had marked it with a blue pencil, and there
he read that the Duke and Duchess of Sheffield and the Mayor of
Tilling had attended the opera in Miss Bracely's box.  That gave
him great satisfaction, for all those folk who had looked at
their box so much would now feel sure that he was the Mayor of
Tilling . . .  Then he went out alone for his shopping, as Lucia
sent word that she had received some agenda for the next Council
meeting, which she must study, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  He found
some very pretty new ties and some nice underwear, and he could
linger by attractive windows, instead of going to some improving
exhibition which Lucia would certainly have wished to do.  Then in
eager trepidation he went to the Ritz for lunch, and found that
Lucia had not yet arrived.  But there was Olga in the lounge, who
hailed him on a high soprano note, so that everybody knew that he
was Georgie, and might have guessed, from the timbre, that she was
Olga.

"My dear, how nice to see you," she cried.  "But a beard, Georgie!
What does it mean?  Tell me all about it.  Where's your Lucia?  She
hasn't divorced you already, I hope?  And have a cocktail?  I
insist, because it looks so bad for an elderly female to be
drinking alone, and I am dying for one.  And did you like the opera
last night?  I thought I sang superbly; even Cortese didn't scold
me.  How I love being in stuffy old London again; I'm off to
Riseholme to-night for a week, and you must--Ah, here's Lucia!
We'll go into lunch at once.  I asked Cortese, but he can't come in
till afterwards.  Only Poppy Sheffield is coming, and she will
probably arrive about tea-time.  She'll be terribly taken up with
Georgie, because she adores beards, and says they are getting so
rare nowadays.  Don't be alarmed, my lamb: she doesn't want to
touch them, but the sight of them refreshes her in some psychic
manner.  Oh, of course, she was in your box last night.  She hates
music, and hears it only as a mortification of the flesh, of which
she has plenty.  Quite gaga, but so harmless."

Olga was a long time getting to her table, because she made many
greetings on the way, and Lucia began to hate her again.  She was
too casual, keeping the Mayor of Tilling standing about like this,
and Lucia, who had strong views about maquillage, was distressed to
see how many women, Olga included, were sadly made-up.  And yet how
marvellous to thread her way through the crowded restaurant with
the prima donna, not waiting for a Duchess: if only some
Tillingites had been there to see!  Per contra, it was rather
familiar of Olga to put her hand on Georgie's shoulder and shove
him into his place.  Lucia stored up in separate packets resentment
and the deepest gratification.

Asparagus.  Cold and very buttery.  Olga picked up the sticks with
her fingers and then openly sucked them.  Lucia used a neat little
holder which was beside her plate.  Perhaps Olga did not know what
it was for.

"And you and Georgie must come to Riseholme for the week-end," she
said.  "I get down to-night, so join me to-morrow."

Lucia shook her head.

"Too sweet of you," she said, "but impossible, I'm afraid.  So many
duties.  To-morrow is Friday, isn't it?  Yes: a prize-giving to-
morrow afternoon, and something in the evening, I fancy.  Borough
Bench on Monday at ten.  One thing after another; no end to them,
day after day.  It was only by the rarest chance I was able to come
up yesterday."

Georgie knew that this was utter rubbish.  Lucia had not had a
single municipal engagement for four days, and had spent her time
in bicycling and sketching and playing Bridge.  She just wanted to
impress Olga with the innumerable duties of her position.

"Too bad!" said Olga.  "Georgie, you mustn't let her work herself
to death like this.  But you'll come, won't you, if we can't
persuade her."

Here was an opportunity for independent action.  He strung himself
up to take it.

"Certainly.  Delighted.  I should adore to," he said with emphasis.

"Capital.  That's settled then.  But you must come, too, Lucia.
How they would all love to see you again at Riseholme."

Lucia wanted to go, especially since Georgie would otherwise go
without her, and she would have been much disconcerted if her
refusal had been taken as final.  She pressed two fingers to her
forehead.

"Let me think!" she said.  "I've nothing after Friday evening, have
I, Georgie, till Monday's Council?  I always try to keep Saturdays
free.  No: I don't think I have.  I could come down with Georgie,
on Saturday morning, but we shall have to leave again very early on
Monday.  Too tempting to refuse, dear Olga.  The sweet place, and
those busy days, or so they seemed then, but now, by comparison,
what a holiday!"

Poppy appeared just as they had finished lunch, and Lucia was
astonished to find that she had not the smallest idea that they had
ever met before.  When reminded, Poppy explained that when she went
to hear music a total oblivion of all else seized her.

"Carried away," she said.  "I don't know if I'm on my head or my
heels."

"If you were carried away you'd be on your back," said Olga.  "What
do you want to eat?"

"Dressed crab and plenty of black coffee," said Poppy decidedly.
"That's what keeps me in perfect health."  She had just become
conscious of Georgie, and had fixed her eye on his beard, when
Cortese plunged into the restaurant and came, like a bore up the
River Severn, to Olga's table, loudly lamenting in Italian that he
had not been able to come to lunch.  He kissed her hand, he kissed
Poppy's hand, and after a short pause for recollection, he kissed
Lucia's hand.

"Si, si," he cried, "it is the lady who came to hear the first
trial of Lucrezia at your Riseholme, and spoke Italian with so pure
an accent.  Come sta, signora?"  And he continued to prattle in
Italian.

Lucia had a horrid feeling that all this had happened before, and
that in a moment it would be rediscovered that she could not speak
Italian.  Lunch, anyhow, was over, and she could say a reluctant
farewell.  She summoned up a few words in that abhorred tongue.

"Cara," she said to Olga, "we must tear ourselves away.  A
rivederci, non e vero, dopo domani.  But we must go to catch our
train.  A poor hard-worked Mayor must get back to the call of
duty."

"Oh, is he a Mayor?" asked Poppy with interest.  "How very
distinguished."

There was no time to explain; it was better that Georgie should be
temporarily enthroned in Poppy's mind as Mayor, rather than run any
further risks, and Lucia threaded her way through the narrow
passage between the tables.  After all she had got plenty of
material to work up into noble narrative at Tilling.  Georgie
followed and slammed the door of the taxi quite crossly.

"I can't think why you were in such a hurry," he said.  "I was
enjoying myself, and we shall only be kicking our heels at the
station."

"Better to run no risk of missing our train," she said.  "And we
have to pick up Foljambe and our luggage."

"Not at all," said Georgie.  "We particularly arranged that she
should meet us with it at Victoria."

"Georgie, how stupid of me!" said the shameless Lucia.  "Forgive
me."


Lucia found that she had no engagement for the next evening, and
got up a party for dinner and Bridge in order casually to
disseminate these magnificent experiences.  Mr. Wyse and Diva,
(Susan being indisposed) the Mapp-Flints and the Padre and Evie
were her guests.  It rather surprised her that nobody asked any
questions at dinner, about her visit to London, but, had she only
known it, Tilling had seen in the paper that she and a Duke and
Duchess had been in Olga's box, and had entered into a fell
conspiracy, for Lucia's good, not to show the slightest curiosity
about it.  Thus, though her guests were starving for information,
conversation at dinner had been entirely confined to other topics,
and whenever Lucia made a casual allusion to the opera, somebody
spoke loudly about something else.  But when the ladies retired
into the garden-room the strain on their curiosity began to tell,
and Lucia tried again.

"So delightful to get back to peaceful Tilling," she said, as if
she had been away for thirty-six weeks instead of thirty-six hours,
"though I fear it is not for long.  London was such a terrible
rush.  Of course the first thing we did was to go to the Academy to
see the Picture of the Year, dear Elizabeth."

That was crafty: Elizabeth could not help being interested in that.

"And could you get near it, dear?" she asked.

"Easily.  Not such a great crowd.  Technically I was a wee bit
disappointed.  Very vigorous, of course, and great bravura--"

"What does that mean?" asked Diva.

"How shall I say it?  Dash, sensational effect, a too obvious
dexterity," said Lucia, gesticulating like a painter doing bold
brush-work.  "I should have liked more time to look at it, for
Irene will long to know what I think about it, but we had to dress
and dine before the opera.  Dear Olga had given us an excellent
box, a little too near the stage perhaps."

It was more than flesh and blood could stand: the conspiracy of
silence broke down.

"I saw in the paper that the Duke and Duchess of Sheffield were
there, too," said Evie.

"In the paper was it?" asked Lucia with an air of great surprise.
"How the press ferrets things out!  He and Poppy Sheffield came in
in the middle of the second act.  I was rather cross, I'm afraid,
for I hate such interruptions."

Elizabeth was goaded into speech.

"Most inconsiderate," she said.  "I hope you told her so, Worship."

Lucia smiled indulgently.

"Ah, people who aren't REALLY musical--poor Poppy Sheffield is not--
have no idea of the pain they give.  And what has happened here
since Georgie and I left?"

"Seventeen to tea yesterday," said Diva.  "What was the opera
like?"

"Superb.  Olga sang the great scene to me years ago and I confess I
did not do it justice.  A little modern for my classical taste, but
a very great work.  Very.  And her voice is still magnificent;
perhaps a little sign of forcing in the top register, but then I am
terribly critical."

The conspiracy of silence had become a cross-examination of
questions.  These admissions were being forced from her.

"And then did you go out to supper?" asked Evie.

"Ah no!  Music takes too much out of me.  Back to the hotel and so
to bed, as Pepys says."

"And next morning, Worship, after such an exciting evening?" asked
Elizabeth.

"Poor me!  A bundle of agenda for the Council meeting on Monday.  I
had to slave at them until nearly lunch-time."

"You and Mr Georgie in your hotel?" asked Diva.

"No: dear Olga insisted that we should lunch with her at the Ritz,"
said Lucia in the slow drawling voice which she adopted when her
audience were on tenterhooks.  No party, just the four of us."

"Who was the fourth?"

"The Duchess.  She was very late, just as she had been at the
opera.  A positive obsession with her.  So we didn't wait."

Not waiting for a Duchess produced a stunning effect.

Diva recovered first.

"Good food?" she asked.

"Fair, I should have called it.  Or do you mean Poppy's food?  How
you will laugh!  A dressed crab and oceans of black coffee.  The
only diet on which she feels really well."

"Sounds most indigestible," said Diva.  "What an odd sort of
stomach.  And then?"

"How you all catechize me!  Then Cortese came in.  He is the
composer, I must explain, of Lucrezia, and conducted it.  Italian,
with all the vivaciousness of the South--"

"So you had a good talk in Italian to him, dear," said Elizabeth
viciously.

"Alas, no.  We had to rush off almost immediately to catch our
train.  Hardly a word with him."

"What a pity!" said Elizabeth.  "And just now you told us you were
not going to be here long.  Gadding off again?"

"Alas, yes; though how ungrateful of me to say 'alas'," said Lucia
still drawling.  "Dear Olga implored Georgie and me to spend the
week-end with her at Riseholme.  She would not take a refusal.  It
will be delicious to see the dear old place again.  I shall make
her sing to us.  These great singers are always at their best with
a small intime sympathetic audience."

"And will there be some Duchesses there?" asked Elizabeth, unable
to suppress her bitterness.

"Chi lo sa?" said Lucia with superb indifference.  "Ah, here come
the men.  Let us get to our Bridge."

The men, who were members of this conspiracy, had shewn a stronger
self-control than the women, and had not asked Georgie a single
question about high-life, but they knew now about his new ties.
Evie could not resist saying in an aside to her husband:

"Fancy, Kenneth, the Duchess of Sheffield lives on dressed crab and
black coffee."

Who could resist such an alluring fragment?  Certainly not the
Padre.

"Eh, that's a singular diet," he said, "and has Mistress Mayor been
telling you a' about it?  An' what does she do when there's no crab
to be had?"

From the eagerness in his voice, Lucia instantly guessed that the
men had heard nothing, and were consumed with curiosity.

"Enough of my silly tittle-tattle," she said.  "More important
matters lie before us.  Elizabeth, will you and the Padre and Mr.
Wyse play at my table?"

For a while cards overrode all other interests, but it was evident
that the men were longing to know all that their vow of self-
control had hidden from them: first one and then another, during
the deals, alluded to shellfish and Borgias.  But Lucia was
adamant: they had certainly conspired to show no interest in the
great events of the London visit, and they must be punished.  But
when the party broke up, Mr. Wyse insisted on driving Diva back in
the Royce, and plied her with questions, and Major Benjy and the
Padre, by the time they got home, knew as much as their wives.


Lucia and Georgie, with Grosvenor as maid (for it was only fair
that she should have her share in these magnificent excursions)
motored to Riseholme next morning.  Lucia took among her luggage
the tin box labelled "Housing," in order to keep abreast of
municipal work, but in the hurry of departure forget to put any
municipal papers inside it.  She would have liked to take Mrs.
Simpson as well, but Grosvenor occupied the seat next her
chauffeur, and three inside would have been uncomfortable.  Olga
gave a garden-party in her honour in the afternoon, and Lucia was
most gracious to all her old friends, in the manner of a Dowager
Queen who has somehow come into a far vaster kingdom, but who has a
tender remembrance of her former subjects, however humble, and she
had a kind word for them all.  After the party had dispersed, she
and Georgie and Olga sat on in the garden, and her smiles were
touched with sadness.

"Such a joy to see all the dear, quaint folk again," she said, "but
what a sad change has come over the place!  Riseholme, which in old
days used to be seething with every sort of interest, has become
just like any other vegetating little village--"

"I don't agree at all," said Georgie loudly.  "It's seething still.
Daisy Quantock's got a French parlourmaid who's an atheist, and
Mrs. Antrobus has learned the deaf and dumb alphabet, as she's got
so deaf that the most expensive ear-trumpet isn't any use to her.
Everybody has been learning it, too, and when Mrs. Boucher gave a
birthday party for her only last week, they all talked deaf and
dumb to each other, so that Mrs. Antrobus could understand what was
being said.  I call that marvellous manners."

The old flame flickered for a moment in Lucia's breast.

"No!" she cried.  "What else?"

"I haven't finished this yet," said Georgie.  "And they were all
using their hands so much to talk, that they couldn't get on with
their dinner, and it took an hour and a half, though it was only
four courses."

"Georgie, how thrilling!" said Olga.  "Go on."

Georgie turned to the more sympathetic listener.

"You see, they couldn't talk fast, because they were only learning,
but when Mrs. Antrobus replied, she was so quick, being an expert,
that nobody except Piggie and Goosie--"

Lucia tilted her head sideways, with a sidelong glance at Olga,
busy with a looking-glass and lipstick.

"Ah; I recollect.  Her daughters," she said.

"Yes, of course.  They could tell you what she said if they were
looking, but if they weren't looking you had to guess, like when
somebody talks fast in a foreign language which you don't know much
of, and you make a shot at what he's saying."

Lucia gave him a gimlet-glance.  But of course, Georgie couldn't
have been thinking of her and the Italian crisis.

"Their dear, funny little ways!" she said.  "But everyone I talked
to was so eager to hear about Tilling and my mayoral work, that I
learned nothing about what was going on here.  How they besieged me
with questions!  What else, Georgie?"

"Well, the people who have got your house now have made a swimming
bath in the garden and have lovely mixed bathing parties."

Lucia repressed a pang of regret that she had never thought of
doing that, and uttered a shocked sort of noise.

"Oh, what a sad desecration!" she said.  "Where is it?  In my
pleached alley, or in Perdita's garden?"

"In the pleached alley, and it's a great success.  I wish I'd
brought my bathing-suit."

"And do they keep up my tableaux and Elizabethan ftes and literary
circles?" she asked.

"I didn't hear anything about them, but there's a great deal going
on.  Very gay, and lots of people come down for week-ends from
town."

Lucia rose.

"And cocktail parties, I suppose," she said.  "Well, well, one must
expect one's traces to be removed by the hand of time.  That
wonderful sonnet of Shakespeare's about it.  Olga mia, will you
excuse me till dinner-time?  Some housing plans I have got to
study, or I shall never be able to face my Council on Monday."


Lucia came down to dinner steeped in the supposed contents of her
tin box and with a troubled face.

"Those riband-developments!" she said.  "They form one of the
greatest problems I have to tackle."

Olga looked utterly bewildered.

"Ribands?" she asked.  "Things in hats."

Lucia gave a bright laugh.

"Stupid of me not to explain, dear," she said.  "How could you
know?  Building developments: dreadful hideous dwellings along the
sweet country roads leading into Tilling.  Red-brick villas instead
of hedges of hawthorn and eglantine.  It seems such desecration."

Georgie sighed.  Lucia had already told him what she meant to say
to her Council on Monday afternoon, and would assuredly tell him
what she had said on Monday evening.

"Caterpillars!" she cried with a sudden inspiration.  "I shall
compare those lines of houses to caterpillars, hungry red
caterpillars wriggling out across the marsh and devouring its
verdant loveliness.  A vivid metaphor like that is needed.  But I
know, dear Olga, that nothing I say to you will go any further.  My
Councillors have a right to know my views before anybody else."

"My lips are sealed," said Olga.

"And yet we must build these new houses," said the Mayor, putting
both her elbows on the table and disregarding her plate of chicken.
"We must abolish the slums in Tilling, and that means building on
the roads outside.  Such a multiplicity of conflicting interests."

"I suppose the work is tremendous," said Olga.

"Yes, I think we might call it tremendous, mightn't we, Georgie?"
asked Lucia.

Georgie was feeling fearfully annoyed with her.  She was only
putting it on in order to impress Olga, but the more fervently he
agreed, the sooner, it might be hoped, she would stop.

"Overwhelming.  Incessant," he asserted.

The hope was vain.

"No, dear, not overwhelming," she said, eating her chicken in a
great hurry.  "I am not overwhelmed by it.  Working for others
enlarges one's capacity for work.  For the sake of my dear Tilling
I can undertake without undue fatigue, what would otherwise render
me a perfect wreck.  Ich Dien.  Of course I have to sacrifice other
interests.  My reading?  I scarcely open a book.  My painting?  I
have done nothing since I made a sketch of some gorgeous dahlias in
the autumn, which Georgie didn't think too bad."

"Lovely," said Georgie in a voice of wood.

"Thank you, dear.  My music?  I have hardly played a note.  But as
you must know so well, dear Olga, music makes an imperishable store
of memories within one: morsels of Mozart: bits of Beethoven all
audible to the inward ear."

"How well I remember you playing the slow movement of the Moonlight
Sonata," said Olga, seeking, like Georgie to entice her away from
Mayoral topics.  But the effect of this was appalling.  Lucia
assumed her rapt music-face, and with eyes fixed on the ceiling,
indicated slow triplets on the table cloth.  Her fingers faltered,
they recovered, and nobody could guess how long she would continue:
probably to the end of the movement, and yet it seemed rude to
interrupt this symbolic recital.  But presently she sighed.

"Naughty fingers," she said, as if shaking the triplets off.  "So
forgetful of them!"

Somehow she had drained the life out of the others, but dinner was
over, and they moved into Olga's music-room.  The piano stood open,
and Lucia, as if walking in sleep, like Lady Macbeth, glided on to
the music stool.  The naughty fingers became much better, indeed
they became as good as they had ever been.  She dwelt long on the
last note of the famous slow movement, gazing wistfully up, and
they all sighed, according to the traditional usage when Lucia
played the Moonlight.

"Thank you, dear," said Olga.  "Perfect."

Lucia suddenly sprang off the music-stool with a light laugh.

"Better than I had feared," she said, "but far from perfect.  And
now, dear Olga, dare I?  Might we?  One little song.  Shall I try
to accompany you?"

Olga thought she could accompany herself and Lucia seated herself
on a sort of throne close beside her and resumed her rapt
expression, as Olga sang the "Ave" out of Lucrezia.  That solemn
strain seemed vaguely familiar to Lucia, but she could not place
it.  Was it Beethoven?  Was it from Fidelio or from Creation Hymn?
Perhaps it was wiser only to admire with emotion without committing
herself to the composer.

"That wonderful old tune!" she said.  "What a treat to hear it
again.  Those great melodies are the very foundation-stone of
music."

"But isn't it the prayer in Lucrezia?" asked Georgie.

Lucia instantly remembered that it was.

"Yes, of course it is, Georgie," she said.  "But in the plain-song
mode.  I expressed myself badly."

"She hadn't the smallest idea what it was," thought Olga, "but she
could wriggle out of a thumb-screw."  Then aloud:

"Yes, that was Cortese's intention," she said.  "He will be pleased
to know you think he has caught it.  By the way, he rang up just
before dinner to ask if he and his wife might come down to-morrow
afternoon for the night.  I sent a fervent 'yes'."

"My dear, you spoil us!" said Lucia ecstatically.  "That will be
too delightful."


In spite of her ecstasy, this was grave news, and as she went to
bed she pondered it.  There would be Cortese, whose English was
very limited (though less circumscribed than her own Italian),
there would be Olga, who, though she said she spoke Italian
atrociously, was fluent and understood it perfectly, and possibly
Cortese's wife knew no English at all.  If she did not,
conversation must be chiefly conducted in Italian, and Lucia's
vivid imagination pictured Olga translating to her what they were
all saying, and re-translating her replies to them.  Then no doubt
he would play to them, and she would have to guess whether he was
playing Beethoven or Mozart or plain-song or Cortese.  It would be
an evening full of hazards and humiliations.  Better perhaps, in
view of a pretended engagement on Monday morning, to leave on
Sunday afternoon, before these dangerous foreigners arrived.  "If
only I could bring myself to say that I can neither speak nor
understand Italian, and know nothing about music!" thought Lucia.
"But I can't after all these years.  It's wretched to run away like
this, but I couldn't bear it."


Georgie came down very late to breakfast.  He had had dreams of
Olga trying through a song to his accompaniment.  She stood
behind him with her hands on his shoulders, and her face close
to his. Then he began singing, too, and their voices blended
exquisitely. . . .  Dressing was a festival with his tiled bathroom
next door, and he debated as to which of his new ties Olga would
like best. Breakfast, Grosvenor had told him, would be on the
verandah, but it was such a warm morning there was no need for his
cape.

The others were already down.

"Georgie, this will never do," said Olga, as he came out.  "Lucia
says she must go back to Tilling this afternoon.  Keep her in
order.  Tell her she shan't."

"But what's happened, Lucia?" he asked.  "If we start early to-
morrow we shall be in heaps of time for your Council meeting."

Lucia began to gabble.

"I'm too wretched about it," she said, "But when I went upstairs
last night, I looked into those papers again which I brought down
with me, and I find there is so much I must talk over with my Town
Clerk if I am to be equipped for my Council in the afternoon.  You
know what Monday morning is, Georgie.  I must not neglect my duties
though I have to sacrifice my delicious evening here.  I must be
adamant."

"Too sad," said Olga.  "But there's no reason why you should go,
Georgie.  I'll drive you back tomorrow.  My dear, what a pretty
tie!"

"I shall stop then," said he.  "I've nothing to do at Tilling.  I
thought you'd like my tie."

Lucia had never contemplated this, and she did not like it.  But
having announced herself as adamant, she could not instantly turn
to putty.  Just one chance of getting him to come with her
remained.

"I shall have to take Grosvenor with me," she said.

Georgie pictured a strange maid bringing in his tea, and getting
his bath ready, with the risk of her finding his toupe, and other
aids to juvenility.  He faced it: it was worth it.

"That doesn't matter," he replied.  "I shall be able to manage
perfectly."



CHAPTER IX


Lucia was in for a run of bad luck, and it began that very
afternoon.  Ten minutes before she started with Grosvenor for
Tilling, Cortese and his wife arrived.  The latter was English and
knew even less Italian than she did.  And Cortese brought with him
the first act of his new opera.  It was too late to change her
plans and she drove off after a most affectionate parting from
Olga, whom she charged to come and stay at Tilling any time at a
moment's notice.  Just a telephone message to say she was coming,
and she could start at once sure of the fondest welcome . . .  But
it was all most tiresome, for no doubt Cortese would run through
the first act of his opera to-night, and the linguistic panic which
had caused her to flee from Riseholme as from a plague-stricken
village, leaving her nearest and dearest there, had proved to be
utterly foundationless.

For the present that was all she knew: had she known what was to
occur half an hour after she had left, she would certainly have
turned and gone back to the plague-stricken village again, trusting
to her unbounded ingenuity to devise some reason for her
reappearance.  A phone-call from the Duchess of Sheffield came for
Madame Cortese.

"Poor mad Cousin Poppy," she said.  "What on earth can she want?"

"Dressed crab," screamed Olga after her as she went to the
telephone, "Cortese, you darling, let's have a go at your Diane de
Poictiers after dinner.  I had no idea you were near the end of the
first act."

"Nor I also.  It has come as smooth as margarine," said Cortese,
who had been enjoined by Madame to learn English with all speed,
and never to dare to speak Italian in her presence.  "And such an
aria for you.  When you hear it, you will jump for joy.  I jump,
you jumps, they jumpino.  Dam' good."

Madame returned from the telephone.

"Poppy asked more questions in half a minute than were ever asked
before in that time," she said.  "I took the first two or three and
told her to wait.  First, will we go to her awful old Castle to-
morrow, to dine and stay the night.  Second: who is here.  Olga, I
told her, and Cortese, and Mr. Pillson of Tilling.  'Why, of course
I know him,' said Poppy.  'He's the Mayor of Tilling, and I met him
at Lucrezia, and at lunch at the Ritz.  Such a lovely beard'.
Thirdly--"

"But I'm not the Mayor of Tilling," cried Georgie.  "Lucia's the
Mayor of Tilling, and she hasn't got a beard--"

"Georgie, don't be pedantic," said Olga.  "Evidently she means you--"

"La Barba e mobile," chanted Cortese.  "Una barba per due.  Scusi.
Should say 'A beard for two,' my Dorothea."

"It isn't mobile," said Georgie, thinking about his toupe.

"Of course it isn't," said Olga.  "It's a fine, natural beard.
Well, what about Poppy?  Let's all go to-morrow afternoon."

"No: I must get back to Tilling," said Georgie.  "Lucia expects me--"

"Aha, you are a henpeck," cried Cortese.  "And I am also a henpeck.
Is it not so, my Dorothea?"

"You're coming with us, Georgie," said Olga.  "Ring up Lucia in the
morning and tell her so.  Just like that.  And tell Poppy that
we'll all four come, Dorothy.  So that's settled."


Lucia, for all her chagrin, was thrilled at the news, when Georgie
rang her up next morning.  He laid special stress on the Mayor of
Tilling having been asked, for he felt sure she would enjoy that.
Though it was agonizing to think what she had missed by her
precipitate departure yesterday, Lucia cordially gave him leave to
go to Sheffield Castle, for it was something that Georgie should
stay there, though not she, and she sent her love and regrets to
Poppy.  Then after presiding at the Borough Bench (which lasted
exactly twenty seconds, as there were no cases) instead of
conferring with her Town Clerk, she hurried down to the High Street
to release the news like a new film.

"Back again, dear Worship," cried Elizabeth, darting across the
street.  "Pleasant visit?"

"Delicious," said Lucia in the drawling voice.  "Dear Riseholme!
How pleased they all were to see me.  No party at Olga's; just
Cortese and his wife, trs intime, but such music.  I got back last
night to be ready for my duties to-day."

"And not Mr. Georgie?" asked Elizabeth.

"No.  I insisted that he should stop.  Indeed, I don't expect him
till to-morrow, for he has just telephoned that Duchess Poppy--a
cousin of Madame Cortese--asked the whole lot of us to go over to
Sheffield to-day to dine and sleep.  Such short notice, and
impossible for me, of course, with my Council meeting this
afternoon.  The dear thing cannot realise that one has duties which
must not be thrown over."

"What a pity.  So disappointing for you, dear," said Elizabeth,
writhing under a sudden spasm of colic of the mind.  "But
Sheffield's a long way to go for one night.  Does she live in the
town?"

Lucia emitted the musical trill of merriment.

"No, it's Sheffield Castle," she said.  "Not a long drive from
Riseholme, in one of Olga's Daimlers.  A Norman tower.  A moat.  It
was in Country Life not long ago. . . .  Good morning, Padre."

"An' where's your guid man?" asked the Padre.

Lucia considered whether she should repeat the great news.  But it
was more exalted not to, especially since the dissemination of it,
now that Elizabeth knew, was as certain as if she had it proclaimed
by the Town Crier.

"He joins me to-morrow," she said.  "Any news here?"

"Such a lovely sermon from Reverence yesterday," said Elizabeth,
for the relief of her colic.  "All about riches and position in the
world being only dross.  I wish you could have heard it, Worship."

Lucia could afford to smile at this pitiable thrust, and proceeded
with her shopping, not ordering any special delicacies for herself
because Georgie would be dining with a Duchess.  She felt that fate
had not been very kind to her personally, though most thoughtful
for Georgie.  It was cruel that she had not known the nationality
of Cortese's wife, and her rooted objection to his talking Italian,
before she had become adamant about returning to Tilling, and this
was doubly bitter, because in that case she would have still been
on the spot when Poppy's invitation arrived, and it might have been
possible (indeed, she would have made it possible) for the Deputy
Mayor to take her place at the Council meeting to-day, at which her
presence had been so imperative when she was retreating before the
Italians.

She began to wonder whether she could not manage to join the Ducal
party after all.  There was actually very little business at the
Council meeting; it would be over by half-past four, and if she
started then she would be in time for dinner at Sheffield Castle.
Or perhaps it would be safer to telephone to the Deputy Mayor,
asking him to take her place, as she had been called away
unexpectedly.  The Deputy Mayor very willingly consented.  He hoped
it was not bad news and was reassured.  All that there remained was
to ring up Sheffield Castle, and say that the Mayor of Tilling was
delighted to accept Her Grace's invitation to dine and sleep,
conveyed to her Worship by Mr. Pillson.  The answer was returned
that the Mayor of Tilling was expected.  "And just for a joke,"
thought Lucia, "I won't tell them at Riseholme that I'm coming.
Such a lovely surprise for them, if I get there first.  I can start
soon after lunch, and take it quietly."

She recollected, with a trivial pang of uneasiness, that she had
told Elizabeth that her duties at Tilling would have prevented her
in any case from going to Sheffield Castle, but that did not last
long.  She would live it down or deny having said it, and she went
into the garden-room to release Mrs. Simpson, and, at the same
time, to provide for the propagation of the tidings that she was
going to her Duchess.

"I shall not attend the Council meeting this afternoon, Mrs.
Simpson," she said, "as there's nothing of the slightest
importance.  It will be a mere formality, so I am playing truant.
I shall be leaving Tilling after lunch, to dine and sleep at the
Duchess of Sheffield's, at Sheffield Castle.  A moat and I think a
drawbridge.  Ring me up there if anything occurs that I must deal
with personally, and I will give it my attention.  There seems
nothing that need detain you any more to-day.  One of our rare
holidays."

On her way home Mrs. Simpson met Diva's Janet, and told her the
sumptuous news.  Janet scuttled home and plunged down into the
kitchen to tell her mistress who was making buns.  She had already
heard about Georgie from Elizabeth.

"Don't believe a word of it," said Diva.  "You've mixed it up,
Janet.  It's Mr. Georgie, if anybody, who's going to Sheffield
Castle."

"Beg your pardon, ma'am," said Janet hotly, "but I've mixed nothing
up.  Mrs. Simpson told me direct that the Mayor was going, and
talking of mixing you'd better mix twice that lot of currants, if
it's going to be buns."

The telephone bell rang in the tea-room above, and Diva flew up the
kitchen-stairs, scattering flour.

"Diva, is that Diva?" said Lucia's voice.  "My memory is shocking;
did I say I would pop in for tea to-day?"

"No.  Why?" said Diva.

"That is all right then," said Lucia.  "I feared that I might have
to put it off.  I'm joining Georgie on a one night's visit to a
friend.  I couldn't get out of it.  Back to-morrow."

Diva replaced the receiver.

"Janet, you're quite right," she called down the kitchen stairs.
"Just finish the buns.  Must go out and tell people."


Lucia's motor came round after lunch.  Foljambe (it was Foljambe's
turn, and Georgie felt more comfortable with her) was waiting in
the hall with the jewel-case and a camera, and Lucia was getting
the "Slum Clearance" tin box from the garden-room to take with her,
when the telephone-bell rang.  She had a faint presage of coming
disaster as she said, "Who is it?" in as steady a voice as she
could command.

"Sheffield Castle speaking.  Is that the Mayor of Tilling."

"Yes."

"Her Grace's maid speaking, your Worship.  Her Grace partook of her
usual luncheon to-day--"

"Dressed crab?" asked Lucia in parenthesis.

"Yes, your Worship, and was taken with internal pains."

"I am terribly sorry," said Lucia.  "Was it tinned?"

"Fresh, I understand, and the party is put off."

Lucia gave a hollow moan into the receiver, and Her Grace's maid
offered consolation.

"No anxiety at all, your Worship," she said, "but she thought she
wouldn't feel up to a party."

The disaster evoked in Lucia the exercise of her utmost brilliance.
There was such a fearful lot at stake over this petty indigestion.

"I don't mind an atom about the dislocation of my plans," she said,
"but I am a little anxious about her dear Grace.  I quite
understand about the party being put off; so wise to spare her
fatigue.  It would be such a relief if I might come just to
reassure myself.  I was on the point of starting, my maid, my
luggage all ready.  I would not be any trouble.  My maid would
bring me a tray instead of dinner.  Is it possible?"

"I'll see," said her Grace's maid, touched by this devotion.  "Hold
on."

She held on; she held on, it seemed, as for life itself, till,
after an interminable interval the reply came.

"Her Grace would be very happy to see the Mayor of Tilling, but
she's putting off the rest of the party," said the angelic voice.

"Thank you, thank you," called Lucia.  "So good of her.  I will
start at once."

She picked up Slum Clearance and went into the house only to be met
by a fresh ringing of the telephone in the hall.  A panic seized
her lest Poppy should have changed her mind.

"Let it ring, Grosvenor," she said.  "Don't answer it at all.  Get
in, Foljambe.  Be quick."

She leaped into the car.

"Drive on, Chapman," she called.

The car rocked its way down to the High Street, and Lucia let down
the window and looked out, in case there were any friends about.
There was Diva at the corner, and she stopped the car.

"Just off, Diva," she said.  "Duchess Poppy not very well, so I've
just heard."

"No!  Crab?" asked Diva.

"Apparently, but not tinned, and there is no need for me to feel
anxious.  She insisted on my coming just the same.  Such a lovely
drive in front of me.  Taking some work with me."

Lucia pulled up the window again and pinched her finger but she
hardly regarded that for there was so much to think about.  Olga at
Riseholme, for instance, must have been informed by now that the
party was off, and yet Georgie had not rung up to say that he would
be returning to Tilling to-day.  A disagreeable notion flitted
through her mind that, having got leave to go to Sheffield Castle,
he now meant to stay another night with Olga, without telling her,
and it was with a certain relief that she remembered the
disregarded telephone call which had hurried her departure.  Very
likely that was Georgie ringing up to tell her that he was coming
back to Tilling to-day.  It would be a sad surprise for him not to
find her there.

Her route lay through Riseholme, and passing along the edge of the
village green, she kept a sharp look-out for familiar figures.  She
saw Piggie and Goosie with Mrs. Antrobus: they were all three
gesticulating with their hands in a manner that seemed very odd
until she remembered that they must be speaking in deaf and dumb
alphabet: she saw a very slim elegant young woman whom she
conjectured to be Daisy Quantock's atheistic French maid, but there
was no sign of Georgie or Olga.  She debated a moment as to whether
she should call at Olga's to find out for certain that he had gone,
but dismissed the idea as implying a groundless suspicion.  Beyond
doubt the telephone call which she had so narrowly evaded was to
say that he had done so, and she steadily backed away from the
familiar scene in order to avoid seeing him if he was still
here . . .  Then came less familiar country, a belt of woods, a
stretch of heathery upland glowing in the afternoon sun, positively
demanding to be sketched in water-colours, and presently a turning
with a sign-post "To Sheffield Bottom".  Trees again, a small
village of grey stone houses, and facing her a great castellated
wall with a tower above a gateway and a bridge over a moat leading
to it.  Lucia stopped the car and got out, camera in hand.

"What a noble faade," she said to herself.  "I wonder if my room
will be in that tower."

She took a couple of photographs, and getting back into the car,
she passed over the bridge and through the gateway.

Inside lay a paved courtyard in a state of indescribable neglect.
Weeds sprouted between the stones, a jungle of neglected flower-
beds lay below the windows, here and there were moss-covered stone
seats.  On one of these close beside the huge discoloured door of
blistered paint sat Poppy with her mouth open, fast asleep.  As
Lucia stepped out, she awoke, and looked at her with a dazed
expression of strong disfavour.

"Who are you?" asked Poppy.

"Dear Duchess, so good of you to let me come," said Lucia, thinking
that she was only half-awake.  "Lucia Pillson, the Mayor of
Tilling."

"That you aren't," said Poppy.  "It's a man, and he's got a beard."

Lucia laughed brightly.

"Ah, you're thinking of my husband," she said.  "Such a vivid
description of him.  It fits him exactly.  But I'm the Mayor.  We
met at dear Olga's opera-box, and at the Ritz next day."

Poppy gave a great yawn, and sat silent, assimilating this
information.

"I'm afraid there's been a complete muddle," she said.  "I thought
it was he who was coming.  You see I was much flattered at his
eagerness to spend a quiet evening with me and my stomach-ache, and
so I said yes.  No designs on him of any kind I assure you.  All
clean as a whistle: he'd have been as safe with me as with his
grandmother, if she's still alive.  My husband's away, and I just
wanted a pleasant companion.  And to think that it was you all the
while.  That never entered my head.  Fancy!"

It did not require a mind of Lucia's penetrative power to perceive
that Poppy did not want her, and did not intend that she should
stop.  Her next remarks removed any possibility of doubt.

"But you'll have some tea first, WON'T you?" she asked.  "Indeed I
insist on your having some tea unless you prefer coffee.  If you
ring the door-bell, somebody will probably come.  Oh, I see you've
got a camera.  Do take some photographs.  Would you like to begin
with me, though I'm not looking my best."

In spite of the nightmarish quality of the situation, Lucia kept
her head, and it was something to be given tea and to take
photographs.  Perhaps there was a scoop here, if she handled it
properly, and first she photographed Poppy and the dismal
courtyard, and then went to Poppy's bedroom to tidy herself for tea
and snapped her washing-stand and the corner of her Elizabethan
bed.  After tea Poppy took her to the dining-room and the gaunt
picture gallery and through a series of decayed drawing-rooms, and
all the time Lucia babbled rapturous comments.

"Magnificent tapestry," she said, "ah, and a glimpse of the Park
from the window.  Would you stand there, Duchess, looking out with
your dog on the window-seat?  What a little love!  Perfect.  And
this noble hall: the panelling by that lovely oriel window would
make a lovely picture.  And that refectory table."

But now Poppy had had enough, and she walked firmly to the front-
door and shook hands.

"Charmed to have seen you," she said, "though I've no head for
names.  You will have a pleasant drive home on this lovely evening.
Goodbye, or perhaps au revoir."

"That would be much nicer," said Lucia, cordial to the last.


She drove out of the gateway she had entered three quarters of an
hour before, and stopped the car to think out her plans.  Her first
idea was to spend the night at the Ambermere Arms at Riseholme, and
return to Tilling next morning laden with undeveloped photographs
of Sheffield Castle and Poppy, having presumably spent the night
there.  But that was risky: it could hardly help leaking out
through Foljambe that she had done nothing of the sort, and the
exposure, coupled with the loss of prestige, would be infinitely
painful.  "I must think of something better that that," she said to
herself, and suddenly a great illumination shone on her.  "I shall
tell the truth," she heroically determined, "in all essentials.  I
shall say that Poppy's maid told me that I, the Mayor of Tilling
was expected.  That, though the party was abandoned, she still
wanted me to come.  That I found her asleep in a weedy courtyard,
looking ghastly.  That she evidently didn't feel up to entertaining
me, but insisted that I should have tea.  That I took photographs
all over the place.  All gospel truth, and no necessity for saying
anything about that incredible mistake of hers in thinking that
Georgie was the Mayor of Tilling."

She tapped on the window.

"We'll just have dinner at the Ambermere Arms, at Riseholme,
Chapman," she called, "and then go back to Tilling."


It was about half-past ten when Lucia's car drew up at the door of
Mallards.  She could scarcely believe that it was still the same
day as that on which she had awoke here, regretful that she had
fled from Riseholme on a false alarm, had swanked about Georgie
staying at Sheffield Castle, had shirked the Council meeting to
which duty had called her, had wangled an invitation to the Castle
herself, had stayed there for quite three quarters of an hour, and
had dined at Riseholme.  "Quite like that huge horrid book by Mr.
James Joyce, which all happens in one day," she reflected, as she
stepped out of the car.

Looking up, she saw that the garden-room was lit, and simultaneously
she heard the piano: Georgie therefore must have come home.  Surely
(this time) she recognised the tune: it was the prayer in Lucrezia.
He was playing that stormy introduction with absolute mastery, and
he must be playing it by heart, for he could not have the score,
nor, if he had, could he have read it.  And then that unmistakeable
soprano voice (though a little forced in the top register) began to
sing.  The wireless?  Was Olga singing Lucrezia in London to-night?
Impossible; for only a few hours ago during this interminable day,
she was engaged to dine and sleep at Poppy's Castle.  Besides, if
this was relayed from Covent Garden, the orchestra, not the piano,
would be accompanying her.  Olga must be singing in the garden-room,
and Georgie must be here, and nobody else could be here . . .  There
seemed to be material for another huge horrid book by Mr. James
Joyce before the day was done.

"I shall be perfectly calm and ladylike whatever happens," thought
Lucia, and concentrating all her power on this genteel feat she
passed through the hall and went out to the garden-room.  But
before entering, she paused, for in her reverence for Art, she felt
she could not interrupt so superb a performance: Olga had never
sung so gloriously as now when she was singing to Georgie all
alone. . . .  She perched on the final note pianissimo.  She held
it with gradual crescendo till she was singing fortissimo.  She
ceased, and it was as if a great white flame had been blown out.

Lucia opened the door.  Georgie was sitting in the window: his
piece of needle-work had dropped from his hand, and he was gazing
at the singer.  "Too marvellous," he began, thinking that Grosvenor
was coming in with drinks.  Then, by some sixth sense, he knew it
wasn't Grosvenor, and turning, he saw his wife.

In that moment he went through a selection of emotions that fully
equalled hers.  The first was blank consternation.  A sense of
baffled gallantry succeeded, and was followed by an overwhelming
thankfulness that it was baffled.  All evening he had been
imagining himself delightfully in love with Olga, but had been
tormented by the uneasy thought that any man of spirit would make
some slight allusion to her magnetic charm.  That would be a most
perilous proceeding.  He revelled in the feeling that he was in
love with her, but to inform her of that might be supposed to lead
to some small practical demonstration of his passion, and the
thought made him feel cold with apprehension.  She might respond
(it was not likely but it was possible, for he had lately been
reading a book by a very clever writer, which showed how lightly
ladies in artistic professions, take an adorer's caresses), and he
was quite convinced that he was no good at that sort of thing.  On
the other hand she might snub him, and that would wound his
tenderest sensibilities.  Whatever happened, in fact, it would
entirely mar their lovely evening.  Taking it all in all, he had
never been so glad to see Lucia.

Having pierced him with her eye, she turned her head calmly and
gracefully towards Olga.

"Such a surprise!" she said.  "A delightful one, of course.  And
you, no doubt, are equally surprised to see me."

Lucia was being such a perfect lady that Olga quaked and quivered
with suppressed laughter.

"Georgie, explain at once," she said.  "It's the most wonderful
muddle that ever happened."

"Well, it's like this," said Georgie carefully.  "As I telephoned
you this morning, we were all invited to go to Poppy's for the
night.  Then she was taken ill after lunch and put us off.  So I
rang up in order to tell you that I was coming back here and
bringing Olga.  You told her to propose herself whenever she felt
inclined, and just start--"

Lucia bestowed a polite bow on Olga.

"Quite true," she said.  "But I never received that message.  Oh--"

"I know you didn't," said Georgie.  "I couldn't get any answer.
But I knew you would be delighted to see her, and when we got here
not long before dinner, Grosvenor said you'd gone to dine and sleep
at Poppy's.  Why didn't you answer my telephone?  And why didn't
you tell us you were going away?  In fact, what about you?"

During this brief but convincing narrative, the thwarted Muse of
Tragedy picked up her skirts and fled.  Lucia gave a little trill
of happy laughter.

"Too extraordinary," she said.  "A comedy of errors.  Georgie, you
told me this morning, very distinctly, that Poppy had invited the
Mayor of Tilling.  Very well.  I found that there was nothing that
required my pretence at the Council meeting, and I rang up
Sheffield Cattle to say I could manage to get away.  I was told
that I was expected.  Then just as I was starting there came a
message that poor Poppy was ill and the party was off."

Lucia paused a moment to review her facts as already rehearsed, and
resumed in her superior, drawling voice.

"I felt a little uneasy about her," she said, "and as I had no
further engagement this afternoon, I suggested that though the
party was off, I would run over--the motor was actually at the door--
and stay the night.  She said she would be so happy to see me.
She gave me such a pleasant welcome, but evidently she was far from
well, and I saw she was not up to entertaining me.  So I just had
tea; she insisted on that, and she took me round the Castle and
made me snap a quantity of photographs.  Herself, her bedroom, the
gallery, that noble oriel window in the hall.  I must remember to
send her prints.  A delicious hour or two, and then I left her.  I
think my visit had done her good.  She seemed brighter.  Then a
snack at the Ambermere Arms; I saw your house was dark, dear Olga,
or I should have popped in.  And here we are.  That lovely prayer
from Lucrezia to welcome me.  I waited entranced on the doorstep
till it was over."

It was only by strong and sustained effort that Olga restrained
herself from howling with laughter.  She hadn't been singing the
prayer from Lucrezia this time, but Les feux magiques, by Berlioz;
Lucia seemed quite unable--though of course she had been an
agitated listener--to recognise the prayer when she heard it.  But
she was really a wonderful woman.  Who but she would have had the
genius to take advantage of Poppy's delusion that Georgie was the
Mayor of Tilling?  Then what about Lucia's swift return from the
Castle?  Without doubt Poppy had sent her away when she saw her
female, beardless guest, and the clever creature had made out that
it was she who had withdrawn as Poppy was so unwell, with a gallery
of photographs to prove she had been there.  Then she recalled
Lucia's face when she entered the garden-room a few minutes ago,
the face of a perfect lady who, unexpectedly returns home to find a
wanton woman, bent on seduction, alone with her husband.  Or was
Georgie's evident relief at her advent funnier still?  Impossible
to decide, but she must not laugh till she could bury her face in
her pillow.  Lucia had a few sandwiches to refresh her after her
drive, and they went up to bed.  The two women kissed each other
affectionately.  Nobody kissed Georgie.


Tilling next morning, unaware of Lucia's return, soon began to
sprout with a crop of conjectures which, like mushrooms, sprang up
all over the High Street.  Before doing any shopping at all,
Elizabeth rushed into Diva's tea-shop to obtain confirmation that
Diva had actually seen Lucia driving away with Foljambe and luggage
on the previous afternoon en route for Sheffield Castle.

"Certainly I did," said Diva.  "Why?"

Elizabeth contracted her brows in a spasm of moral anguish.

"I wish I could believe," she said, "that it was all a blind, and
that Worship didn't go to Sheffield Castle at all, but only wanted
to make us think so, and returned home after a short drive by
another route.  Deceitful though that would be, it would be far,
far better than what I fear may have happened."

"I suppose you're nosing out some false scent as usual," said Diva.
"Get on."

Elizabeth made a feint of walking towards the door at this rude
speech, but gave it up.

"It's too terrible, Diva," she said.  "Yesterday evening, it might
have been about half-past six, I was walking up the street towards
Mallards.  A motor passed me, laden with luggage, and it stopped
there."

"So I suppose you stopped, too," said Diva.

"--and out of it got Mr. Georgie and a big, handsome--yes, she was
very handsome--woman, though, oh, so common.  She stood on the
doorstep a minute looking round, and sang out, 'Georgino!  How
divino!'  Such a screech!  I judge so much by voice.  In they went,
and the luggage was taken in after them, and the door shut.  Bang.
And Worship, you tell me, had gone away."

"Gracious me!" said Diva.

"You may well say that.  And you may well say that I stopped.  I
did, for I was rooted to the spot.  It was enough to root anybody.
At that moment the Padre had come round the corner, and he was
rooted too.  As I didn't know then for certain whether Worship had
actually gone--it might only have been one of her grand plans of
which one hears no more--I said nothing to him, because it is so
wicked to start any breath of scandal, until one has one's facts.
It looks to me very black, and I shouldn't have thought it of Mr.
Georgie.  Whatever his faults--we all have faults--I did think he
was a man of clean life.  I still hope it may be so, for he has
always conducted himself with propriety, as far as I know, to the
ladies of Tilling, but I don't see how it possibly can."

Diva gave a hoarse laugh.

"Not much temptation," she said, "from us old hags.  But it is
queer that he brought a woman of that sort to stay at Mallards on
the very night Lucia was away.  And then there's another thing.
She told us all that HE was going to stay at Poppy's last night--"

"I can't undertake to explain all that Worship tells us," said
Elizabeth.  "That is asking too much of me."

"--but he was here," said Diva.  "Yet I shouldn't wonder if you'd
got hold of the wrong end of the stick somehow.  Habit of yours,
Elizabeth.  After all, the woman may have been a friend of Lucia's--"

"--and so Mr. Georgie brought her when Lucia was away.  I see,"
said Elizabeth.

Her pensive gaze wandered to the window, and she stiffened like a
pointing setter, for down the street from Mallards was coming
Georgie with the common, handsome, screeching woman.  Elizabeth
said nothing to Diva, for something might be done in the way of
original research, and she rose.

"Very dark clouds," she said, "but we must pray that they will
break.  I've done no shopping yet.  I suppose Worship will be back
some time to-day with a basket of strawberry leaves, if Poppy can
spare her.  Otherwise, the municipal life of Tilling will be
suspended.  Not that it matters two straws whether she's here or
not.  Quite a cypher in the Council."

"Now that's not fair," shouted Diva angrily after her.  "You can't
have it both ways.  Why she ever made you Mayoress--" but Elizabeth
had shut the door.

Diva went down to her kitchen with an involuntary glow of
admiration for Georgie, which was a positive shock to her moral
principles.  He and his petit point, and his little cape, and his
old-maidish ways--was it possible that these cloaked a passionate
temperament?  Who could this handsome, common female be?  Where had
he picked her up?  Perhaps in the hotel when he and Lucia had
stayed in London, for Diva seemed to have heard that voluptuous
assignations were sometimes made in the most respectable places.
What a rogue!  And how frightful for Lucia, if she got to know
about it.  "I'm sure I hope she won't," thought Diva, "but it
wouldn't be bad for her to be taken down a peg or two, though I
should pity her at the same time.  However, one mustn't rush to
conclusions.  But it's shocking that I've got a greater respect for
Mr. Georgie than I ever had before.  Can't make it out."

Diva got to work with her pastry-making, but some odd undercurrent
of thought went trickling on.  What a starvation diet for a man of
ardent temperament, as Georgie now appeared, must his life in
Tilling have been, where all the women were so very undecorative.
If there had only been a woman with a bit of brilliance about her,
whom he could admire and flirt with just a little, all this might
have been averted.  She left Janet to finish the shortbread, and
went out to cull developments.

Elizabeth meantime had sighted her prey immediately, and from close
at hand observed the guilty pair entering the photographer's.  Were
the shameless creatures, she wondered, going to be photographed
together?  That was the sort of bemused folly that sinning couples
often committed, and bitterly rued it afterwards.  She glided in
after them, but Georgie was only giving the shopman a roll of
negatives to be developed and printed and sent up to Mallards as
soon as possible.  He took off his hat to her very politely, but
left the shop without introducing her to his companion which was
only natural and showed good feeling.  Certainly she was remarkably
handsome.  Beautifully dressed.  A row of pearls so large that
they could not be real.  Hatless with waved hair.  Rouge.
Lipstick. . . .  She went in pursuit again.  They passed the Padre
and his wife, who turned completely round to look at them; they
passed Susan in her Royce (she had given up tricycling in this hot
weather) who held her head out of the window till foot passengers
blocked her view of them, and Diva, standing on her doorstep with
her market basket, was rooted to the spot as firmly as Elizabeth had
been the night before.  The woman was a dream of beauty with her
brilliant colouring and her high, arched eyebrows.  Recovering her
powers of locomotion, Diva went into the hairdressing and toilet
saloon.

Elizabeth bought some parsnips at Twistevant's, deep in thought.
Bitter moralist though she was, she could not withhold her
admiration for the anonymous female.  Diva had rudely alluded to
the ladies of Tilling as old hags, and was there not a grain of
truth in it?  They did not make the best of themselves.  What
brilliance that skilfully applied rouge and lipstick gave a face!
Without it the anonymous might have looked ten years older and far
less attractive.  "Hair, too," thought Elizabeth, "that soft brown,
so like a natural tint.  But fingernails, dripping with bright
arterial blood: never!"

She went straight to the hair-dressing and toilet establishment.
Diva was just coming out of the shop carrying a small packet.

"Little titivations, dear?" asked Elizabeth, reading her own
thoughts unerringly.

"Tooth-powder," said Diva without hesitation, and scooted across
the road to where Susan was still leaning out of the window of her
Royce and beckoning to her.

"I've seen her," she said (there was no need to ask who 'she' was).
"And I recognised her at once from her picture in the Tatler.
You'd never guess."

"No, I know I shouldn't," said Diva impatiently.  "Who?"

"The great prima donna.  Dear me, I've forgotten her name.  But the
one Lucia went to hear sing in London," said Susan.  "Bracelet,
wasn't it?"

"Bracely?  Olga Bracely?" cried Diva.  "Are you QUITE sure?"

"Positive.  Quite lovely, and such hair."

That was enough, and Diva twinkled back across the road to
intercept Elizabeth who was just coming out of the hair-dressing
and toilet shop with a pink packet in her hand, which she instantly
concealed below the parsnips.

"Such a screechy voice, didn't you say, Elizabeth?" she asked.

"Yes, frightful.  It went right through me like a railway whistle.
Why?"

"It's the prima donna, Olga Bracely.  That's all," said Diva.
"Voice must have gone.  Sad for her.  Glad to have told you who she
is."

Very soon all Tilling knew who was the lovely maquille woman with
the pearls, who had stayed the night alone with Georgie at
Mallards.  Lucia had not been seen at all this morning, and it was
taken for granted that she was still away on that snobbish
expedition for which she had thrown over her Council meeting.
Though Olga (so she said) was a dear friend, it would certainly be
a surprise to her, when she returned to find her dear friend
staying with her husband at her own house, when she had told
Tilling that both Georgie and Olga were staying that night at
Poppy's Castle.  Or would Olga leave Tilling again before Lucia
returned?  Endless interpretations could be put on this absorbing
incident, but Tilling was too dazzled with the prima donna herself,
her pearls, her beauty, her reputation as the Queen of Song to sit
in judgment on her.

What a dream of charm and loveliness she was with her delicately
rouged cheeks and vermilion mouth, and that air of joyous and
unrepentant paganism!  For Evie her blood-red nails had a peculiar
attraction, and she too went to the hair-dressing and toilet
establishment, and met Susan just coming out.


Lucia meantime had spent a municipal morning in the garden-room
without showing herself even for a moment at the window.  Her
departmental boxes were grouped round her, but she gave them very
little attention.  She was completely satisfied with the
explanation of the strange adventures which had led to the
staggering discovery of Olga and Georgie alone in her house the
night before, and was wondering whether Tilling need ever know how
very brief her visit to Poppy had been.  It certainly was not her
business to tell her friends that a cup of tea had been the only
hospitality she had received.  Then her photographs (if they came
out) would be ready by to-morrow, and if she gave a party in the
evening she would leave her scrap-book open on the piano.  She
would not call attention to it, but there it would be, furnishing
unshakable ocular evidence of her visit . . .

After lunch, accordingly, she rang up all her more intimate circle,
and, without definitely stating that she had this moment returned
to Tilling from Sheffield Castle, let it be understood that such
was the case.  It had been such a lovely morning: she had enjoyed
her drive so much: she had found a mass of arrears waiting for her,
and she asked them all to dine next night at eight.  She apologized
for such short notice, but her dear friend Olga Bracely, who was
here on a short visit, would be leaving the day after--a gala night
at the opera--and it would give her such pleasure to meet them all.
But, as she and Olga went up to dress next evening, she told Olga
that dinner would be at eightish: say ten minutes past eight.
There was a subtle reason for this, for the photographs of
Sheffield Castle had arrived and she had pasted them into her scrap-
book.  Tilling would thus have time to admire and envy before Olga
appeared: Lucia felt that her friends would not take much interest
in them if she was there.

Never had any party in Tilling worn so brilliant and unexpected an
appearance as that which assembled in the garden-room the following
night.  Evie and the Padre arrived first: Evie's finger nails
looked as if she had pinched them all, except one, in the door,
causing the blood to flow freely underneath each.  She had
forgotten about that one, and it looked frost-bitten.  Elizabeth
and Benjy came next: Elizabeth's cheeks were like the petals of
wild roses, but she had not the nerve to incarnadine her mouth,
which, by contrast, appeared to be afflicted with the cyanosis
which precedes death.  Diva, on the other hand, had been terrified
at the aspect of blooming youth which rouge gave her, and she had
wiped it off at the last moment, retaining the Cupid's bow of a
vermilion mouth, and two thin arched eyebrows in charcoal.  Susan,
wearing the Order of the British Empire, had had her grey hair
waved, and it resembled corrugated tin roofing: Mr. Wyse and
Georgie wore their velvet suits.  It took them all a few minutes to
get used to each other, for they were like butterflies which had
previously only known each other in the caterpillar or chrysalis
stage, and they smiled and simpered like new acquaintances in the
most polite circles, instead of old and censorious friends.  Olga
had not yet appeared, and so they had time to study Lucia's album
of snap-shots which lay open on the piano, and she explained in a
casual manner what the latest additions were.

"A corner of the Courtyard of Sheffield Castle," she said.  "Not
come out very well.  The Norman tower.  The dining hall.  The
Duchess's bedroom; wonderful Elizabethan bed.  The picture gallery.
She is standing looking out of the window with her Pekingese.  Such
a sweet.  It jumped up on the window-seat just before I snapped.
The Duchess at the tea-table--"

"What a big cake!" interrupted Diva professionally.  "Sugared, too.
So she does eat something besides dressed crab.  Hope she didn't
have much cake after her indigestion."

"But what a shabby court-yard," said Evie.  "I should have thought
a Duke would have liked his Castle to look tidier.  Why doesn't he
tell his gardener to weed it?"

Elizabeth felt she would burst unless she put in a venomous word.

"Dear Worship, when you write to thank her Grace for your pleasant
visit, you must say, just in fun, of course, that you expect the
court-yard to be tidied up before you come next."

Lucia was perfectly capable of dealing with such clumsy sarcasm.

"What a good idea!" she said.  "You always think of the right
thing, Elizabeth.  Certainly I will.  Remind me, Georgie."

So the photographs did their work.  Tilling could not doubt that
Lucia had been wrapped in the Norman embrace of Sheffield Castle,
and determined silently and sternly never again to allude to the
painful subject.

That suited Lucia admirably, for there were questions that might be
asked about her visit which would involve regrettable admissions if
she was to reply quite truthfully.  Just as her friends were
turning surfeited and sad from the album a step was heard outside
and Olga appeared in the doorway.  A white gown, high at the neck,
reeking of Molyneux and simplicity.  A scarlet girdle, and pearls
as before.

"Dear Lucia," she cried, "I see I'm late.  Forgive me."

"My own!  I always forgive you as soon as I see you, only there is
never anything to forgive," said Lucia effusively.  "Now I needn't
say who you are, but this is Mrs. Bartlett and our Padre, and here
are Mr. and Mrs. Wyse, and this is Diva Plaistow, and here's my
beloved Mayoress, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint and Major Mapp-Flint--"

Olga looked from Benjy to Elizabeth and back again.

"But surely I recognise them," she said.  "That marvellous picture,
which everybody raves about--"

"Yes, little me," said the beaming Elizabeth, "and my Benjy in the
clouds.  What an eye you've got, Miss Bracely!"

"And this is my husband," went on Lucia with airy humour, "who says
he thinks he has met you before--"

"I believe we did meet somewhere, but ages ago, and he won't
remember me," said Olga.  "Oh, Georgie, I mustn't drink sherry, but
as you've poured it out for me--"

"Dinner," said Grosvenor rather sternly.

In the hard overhead light of the dining-room, the ladies of
Tilling, novices in maquillage, looked strangely spurious, but the
consciousness in each of her rejuvenated appearance, combined with
Olga's gay presence, made them feel exceptionally brilliant.  All
round the table conversation was bright and eager, and they all
talked at her, striving to catch her attention.  Benjy, sitting
next her, began telling her one of his adventures with a tiger, but
instantly Susan raised her voice and spoke of her tricycle.  Her
husband chipped in, and with an eye on Olga told Lucia that his
sister the Contessa di Faraglione was a passionate student of the
age of Lucrezia Borgia.  Diva, longing to get Olga to come to ye
olde tea-house, spoke loudly about her new recipe for sardine
tartlets, but Lucia overrode so commercial a subject by the
introduction of the Mayoral Motif coupled with slums.  Olga herself
chattered and laughed, the only person present who was not anxious
to make a favourable impression.  She lit a cigarette long before
dinner was over, and though Elizabeth had once called that "a
disgusting foreign habit" she lit one, too.  Olga ate a cherry
beginning with the end of the stalk and at once Benjy was trying to
do the same, ejaculating, as it dropped into his finger bowl, "Not
so easy, by Jove."  There was no Bridge to-night, but by incessant
harping on antique dances, Lucia managed to get herself asked to
tread a minuet with Georgie.  Olga accompanied them, and as she
rose from the piano, she became aware that they were all looking at
her with the expectant air of dogs that hope to be taken out for a
walk.

"Yes, certainly if you want me to," she said.

She sat down at the piano again.  And she sang.



CHAPTER X


Though Tilling remained the same at heart, Olga's brief visit had
considerably changed the decorative aspect of its leading
citizenesses.  The use of powder on the face on very hot days when
prominent features were apt to turn crimson, or on very cold ones,
when prominent features were apt to turn mauve, had always been
accepted, but that they should embellish themselves with rouge and
lipstick and arched eyebrows was a revolution indeed.  They had
always considered such aids to loveliness as typical of women who
shamelessly advertised their desire to capture the admiration of
males, and that was still far from their intentions.  But Diva
found that arched eyebrows carefully drawn where there were none
before gave her a look of high-bred surprise: Elizabeth that the
rose-mantled cheeks she now saw in her looking-glass made her feel
(not only appear) ten years younger: Susan that her corrugated hair
made her look like a French marquise.  Irene, who had been spending
a fortnight of lionization in London, was amazed at the change when
she returned, and expressed her opinion of it, by appearing in the
High Street with the tip of her nose covered with green billiard-
chalk.

She at once got to work on the portrait which Lucia had
commissioned.  She had amplified Lucia's biographical suggestion,
and it represented her in full Mayoral robes and chain and a three-
cornered hat playing the piano in the garden-room.  Departmental
boxes were piled in the background, a pack of cards and a paint-box
lay on the lid of the piano, and her bicycle leaned against it.

"Symbols, beloved," said the artist, "indicating your marvellous
many-sidedness.  I know you don't ride your bicycle in the garden-
room, nor play cards on your piano, nor wear your robes when you're
at your music, but I group your completeness round you.  Ah!  Hold
that expression of indulgent disdain for the follies of the world
for a moment.  Think of the Tilling hags and their rouge."

"Like that?" asked Lucia, curling her upper lip.

"No, not at all like that.  Try another.  Be proud and calm.  Think
of spending an evening with your Duchess--darling, why are you such
a snob?--or just think of yourself with all your faults and
splendours.  Perfect!"

Irene stepped back from her easel.

"And I've got it!" she cried.  "There's not a living artist and
very few dead ones who could have seized that so unerringly.  How
monstrous that my work should be hated just because I am a woman!"

"But your picture was the picture of the year," said Lucia, "and
all the critics cracked it up."

"Yes, but I felt the undercurrent of hostility.  Men are such self-
centred brutes.  Wait till I publish my memoirs."

"But aren't you rather young for that?"

"No, I'm twenty-five, and by that age everyone has experienced all
that matters, or anyhow has imagined it.  Oh, tell me the truth
about what all the painted hags are whispering.  Georgie and Olga
Bracely being alone here.  What happened really?  Did you arrange
it all for them?  How perfect of you!  Nobody but you would be so
modern and open-minded.  And Tilling's respect for Georgie has gone
up enormously."

Lucia stared at her a moment, assimilating this monstrous
suggestion, then sprang to her feet with a gasp of horror.

"Oh, the poisonous tongues!" she cried.  "Oh, the asps.  And
besides--"

She stopped.  She found herself entangled in the web she herself
had woven, and never had any spider known to natural history so
completely encircled itself.  She had told Tilling that she was
going to dine and sleep at Poppy's Castle, and had shewn everybody
those elegant photographs as tacit evidence that she had done so.
Tilling therefore, had concluded that Olga and Georgie had spent
the night alone at Mallards, and here was Irene intolerably
commending her for her open-mindedness not only in condoning but in
promoting this assignation.  The fair fame, the unsullied morality
of herself and Georgie, not to mention Olga, was at stake, and (oh,
how it hurt!) she would be forced to give the utmost publicity to
the fact that she had come back to Tilling the same evening.  That
would be a frightful loss of prestige, but there was no choice.
She laughed scornfully.

"Foolish of me to have been indignant for a single moment at such
an idea!" she said.  "I never heard such rubbish.  I found poor
Poppy very unwell, so I just had tea with her, cheered her up and
took some photographs and came home at once.  Tilling is really
beyond words!"

"Darling, what a disappointment!" said Irene.  "It would have been
so colossal of you.  And what a comedown for poor Georgie.  Just an
old maid again."

The news was very soon known, and Tilling felt that Lucia and
Georgie had let them down.  Everything had been so exciting and
ducal and compromising, and there was really nothing left of it.
Elizabeth and Diva lost no time in discussing it in Diva's tea-room
next morning when marketing was done, and were severe.

"The deceitfulness of it is what disgusts me most," said the
Mayoress.  "Far worse than the snobbishness.  Worship let it be
widely known that she was staying the night with Poppy, and then
she skulks back, doesn't appear at all next morning to make us
think that she was still away--"

"And shows us all those photographs," chimed in Diva, "as a sort
of . . . what's the word?"

"Can't say, dear," said Elizabeth, regarding her rose-leaf cheeks
with high approval in the looking-glass over the mantelpiece.

"Affidavit, that's it, as testifying that she had stayed with
Poppy.  Never told us she hadn't."

"My simple brain can't follow her conjuring tricks," said
Elizabeth, "and I should be sorry if it could.  But I'm only too
thankful she did come back.  It will be a great relief to the
Padre, I expect, to be told that.  I wonder, if you insist on
knowing what I think, whether Mr. Georgie somehow decoyed that
lovely creature to Tilling, telling her that Lucia was here.
That's only my guess, and if so we must try to forgive him, for if
anything is certain in this bad business, it is that he's madly in
love with her.  I know myself how a man looks--"

Diva gave a great gasp, but her eyebrows could not express any
higher degree of astonishment.

"Oh, Elizabeth!" she cried.  "Was a man ever madly in love with
you?  Who was it?  Do tell me!"

"There are things one can't speak of even to an old friend like
you," said Elizabeth.  "Yes, he's madly in love with her, and I
think Worship knows it.  Did you notice her demonstrations of
affection to sweet Olga?  She was making the best of it, I believe;
putting on a brazen--no, let us say a brave face.  How worn and
anxious she looked the other night when we were all so gay.  That
pitiful little minuet!  I'm sorry for her.  When she married Mr.
Georgie, she thought life would be so safe and comfortable.  A sad
awakening, poor thing . . .  Oh, another bit of news.  Quaint Irene
tells me she is doing a portrait of Worship.  Quite marvellous, she
says, and it will be ready for our summer exhibition.  After that
Lucia means to present it to the Borough, and have it hung in the
Town Hall.  And Irene's Academy picture of Benjy and me will be
back in time for our exhibition, too.  Interesting to compare
them."


Lucia bore her loss of prestige with characteristic gallantry.
Indeed, she seemed to be quite unconscious that she had lost any,
and continued to let her album of snapshots remain open on the
piano at the Sheffield Castle page, and airily talked about the
Florentine mirror which just did not come into the photograph of
Poppy's bedroom.  Occasionally a tiresome moment occurred, as when
Elizabeth, being dummy at a Bridge-party in the garden-room, pored
over the Castle page, and came back to her place, saying,

"So clever of you, Worship, to take so many pretty photographs in
so short a time."

Lucia was not the least disconcerted.

"They were all very short exposures, dear," she said.  "I will
explain that to you sometime."

Everybody thought that a very fit retort, for now the Poppy-crisis
was no longer recent, and it was not the custom of Tilling to keep
such incidents alive too long: it was not generous or kind, and
besides, they grew stale.  But Lucia paid her back in her own coin,
for next day, when playing Bridge at the Mapp-Flints, she looked
long and earnestly at Benjy's tiger-whip, which now hung in its old
place among bead-aprons and Malayan creases.

"Is that the one he broke at his interesting lecture, dear
Elizabeth," she asked, "or the one he lost at Diva's tea-rooms?"

Evie continued to squeak in a disconcerting manner during the whole
of the next hand, and the Poppy-crisis (for the present) was
suffered to lapse.


The annual Art Exhibition moved into the foreground of current
excitements, and the Tilling artists sent in their contributions:
Lucia her study of dahlias, entitled "Belli fiori ", and a sketch
of the courtyard of Sheffield Castle, which she had weeded for
purposes of Art.  She called it "From Memory", though it was really
from her photograph, and, without specifying the Castle, she added
the motto


           "The splendour falls on Castle walls."


Elizabeth sent in "A misty morning on the Marsh".  She was fond of
misty mornings, because the climatic conditions absolutely
prohibited defined draughtsmanship.  Georgie (without any notion of
challenging her) contributed "A sunny morning on the Marsh", with
sheep and dykes and clumps of ragwort very clearly delineated: Mr.
Wyse, one of his usual still-life studies of a silver tankard, a
glass half-full of (probably) Capri wine, and a spray of
nasturtiums: Diva another piece of still life, in pastel, of two
buns and a tartlet (probably sardine) on a plate.  This was perhaps
an invasion of Mr. Wyse's right to reproduce still life, but Diva
had to be in the kitchen so much, waiting for kettles to boil and
buns to rise, that she had very little leisure for landscape.
Susan Wyse sent a mystical picture of a budgerigar with a halo
above its head, and rays of orange light emanating from the primary
feathers of its spread wings:  "Lost Awhile" was the touching
title.  But in spite of these gems, the exhibition was really
Irene's show.  She had been elected an honorary member of the
hanging committee, and at their meetings she showed that she fully
appreciated this fact.

"My birth of Venus," she stated, "must be hung quite by itself at
one end of the room, with all the studies I made for it below.
They are of vast interest.  Opposite it, also by itself, must be my
picture of Lucia.  There were no studies for that; it was an
inspiration, but none of your potty little pictures must be near
it.  Hang them where you like--oh, darling Lucia, you don't mind
your dahlias and your Castle walls being quite out of range, do
you?  But those are my terms, and if you don't like them, I shall
withdraw my pictures.  And the walls behind them must be painted
duck's egg green.  Take it or leave it.  Now I can't bother about
settling about the rest, so I shall go away.  Let me know what you
decide."

There was no choice.  To reject the picture of the year and that
which Irene promised them should be the picture of next year was
inconceivable.  The end walls of the studio where the exhibition
was held were painted duck's egg green, a hydrangea and some ferns
were placed beneath each, and in front of them a row of chairs.
Lucia, as Mayor, opened the show and made an inaugural speech,
tracing the history of pictorial Art from earliest times, and,
coming down to the present, alluded to the pictures of all her
friends, the poetical studies of the marsh, the loving fidelity of
the still life exhibits, the spiritual uplift of the budgerigar.
"Of the two great works of Miss Coles," she concluded, "which will
make our exhibition so ever-memorable, I need not speak.  One has
already acquired world-wide fame, and I hope it will not be thought
egotistic of me if I confidently prophesy that the other will also.
I am violating no secrets if I say that it will remain in Tilling
in some conspicuous and public place, the cherished possession for
ever of our historic town."

She bowed, she smiled, she accepted a special copy of the
catalogue, which Georgie had decorated with a blue riband, and,
very tactfully, instead of looking at the picture of herself, sat
down with him in front of that of Elizabeth and Benjy, audibly
pointing out its beauties to him.

"Wonderful brush-work," she said, waving her catalogue as if it was
a paintbrush.  "Such life and movement!  The waves.  Venus's button
boots.  Quite Dutch.  But how Irene has developed since then!
Presently we will look at the picture of me with this fresh in our
minds."

Elizabeth and Benjy were compelled, by the force of Lucia's polite
example, to sit in front of her picture, and they talked quietly
behind their catalogues.

"Can't make head or tail of it," murmured Benjy.  "I never saw such
a jumble."

"A little puzzling at first," said Elizabeth, "but I'm beginning to
grasp it.  Seated at her piano you see, to show how divinely she
plays.  Scarlet robe and chain, to show she's Mayor.  Cards
littered about for her Bridge.  Rather unkind.  Bicycle leaning
against the piano.  Her paint-box because she's such a great
artist.  A pity the whole thing looks like a jumble-sale, with
Worship as auctioneer.  And such a sad falling off as a work of
Art.  I'm afraid success has gone to Irene's head."

"Time we looked at our own picture," said Benjy.  "Fancy this daub
in the Town Hall, if that's what she meant by some conspicuous and
public place."

"It hasn't got there yet," whispered Elizabeth.  "As a Councillor,
I shall have something to say to that."

They crossed over to the other side of the room, passing Lucia and
Georgie on the way, as if in some figure of the Lancers.  Evie and
the Padre were standing close in front of the Venus and Evie burst
into a series of shrill squeaks.

"Oh, dear me!  Did you ever, Kenneth!" she said.  "Poor Elizabeth.
What a face and so like!"

"Well indeed!" said Kenneth.  "Surely the puir oyster-shell canna'
bear that weight, and down she'll go and get a ducking.  An' the
Major up in the clouds wi' his wee bottle . . .  Eh, and here's
Mistress Mapp-Flint herself and her guid man.  A proud day for ye.
Come along wifie."

Irene had not been at the opening, but now she entered in her
shorts and scarlet jersey.  Her eye fell on the hydrangea below the
Venus.

"Take that foul thing away," she screamed.  "It kills my picture.
What, another of them under my Lucia!  Throw them into the street,
somebody.  By whose orders were they put there?  Where's the
hanging Committee?  I summon the hanging Committee."

The offending vegetables were borne away by Georgie and the Padre,
and Irene, having cooled down, joined Benjy and Elizabeth by the
Venus.  She looked from it to them and from them to it.

"My God, how I've improved since I did that!" she said.  "I think I
must repaint some of it, and put more character into your faces."

"Don't touch it, dear," said Elizabeth nervously.  "It's perfect as
it is.  Genius."

"I know that," said Irene, "but a few touches would make it more
scathing.  There's rouge on your cheeks now, Mapp, and that would
give your face a hungry impropriety.  I'll see to that this
afternoon when the exhibition closes for the day."

"But not while it's on view, quaint one," argued Elizabeth.  "The
Committee accepted it as it was.  Most irregular."

"They'll like it far better when I've touched it up," said Irene.
"You'll see;" and she joined Lucia and Georgie.

"Darling, it's not unworthy of you, is it?" she asked.  "And how
noble you are to give it to the Borough for the Town Hall.  It must
hang just above the Mayor's chair.  That's the only place for it."

"There'll be no difficulty about that," said Lucia.


She announced her gift to the Town Council at their next meeting,
coupled with the artist's desire that it should be hung on the wall
behind the Mayor's chair.  Subdued respectful applause followed her
gracious speech and an uncomfortable silence, for most of her
Councillors had already viewed the work of Art with feelings of
bewildered stupefaction.  Then she was formally thanked for her
generous intention and the Town-Clerk intimated that before the
Borough accepted any gift, a small committee was always appointed
to inspect it.  Apart from Elizabeth, who said she would be
honoured to serve on it, some diffidence was shown; several
Councillors explained that they had no knowledge of the pictorial
art, but eventually two of them said they would do their best.

This Committee met next morning at the exhibition, and sat in
depressed silence in front of the picture.  Then Elizabeth sighed
wistfully and said "Tut, tut" and the two others looked to her for
a lead.  She continued to gaze at the picture.

"Me to say something, gentlemen?" she asked, suddenly conscious of
their scrutiny.  "Well, if you insist.  I trust you will disagree
with what I feel I'm bound to say, for otherwise I fear a very
painful duty lies in front of us.  So generous of our beloved
Mayor, and so like her, isn't it?  But I don't see how it is
possible for us to recommend the Council to accept her gift.  I
wouldn't for the world set up my opinion against yours, but that's
what I feel.  Most distressing for me, you will well understand,
being so intimate a friend of hers, but private affection cannot
rank against public responsibility."  A slight murmur of sympathy
followed this speech, and the committee found that they were of one
mind in being conscientiously unable to recommend the Council to
accept the Mayor's gift.

"Very sad," said Elizabeth, shaking her head.  "Our proceedings, I
take it, are confidential until we communicate them officially to
the Council."

When her colleagues had gone, the Mayoress strolled round the
gallery.  A misty morning on the marsh really looked very well: its
vague pearly opalescence seemed to emphasize the faulty drawing in
Georgie's sunny morning on the marsh and Diva's tartlets.
Detaching herself from it, she went to the Venus, and a horrified
exclamation burst from her.  Quaint Irene had carried out her awful
threat, had tinged her cheeks with unnatural colour, and had
outlined her mouth with a thin line of vermilion, giving it a coyly
beckoning expression.  So gross a parody of her face and indeed of
her character could not be permitted to remain there: something
must be done, and, leaving the gallery in great agitation, she went
straight to Mallards, for no one but Lucia had the smallest
influence with that quaint and venomous young person.

The Mayor had snatched a short respite from her incessant work, and
was engaged on a picture of some fine holly-hocks in her garden.
She was feeling very buoyant, for the Poppy-crisis seemed to be
quite over, and she knew that she had guessed correctly the purport
of her Mayoress's desire to see her on urgent business.  Invisible
to mortal eye, there was a brazier of coals of fire on the lawn
beside her, which she would presently pour on to the Mayoress's
head.

"Good morning, dear Elizabeth," she said.  "I've just snatched half
an hour while good Mrs. Simpson is typing some letters for me.
Susan and Mr. Wyse have implored me to do another little flower-
study for our esposizione, to fill up the vacant place by my
dahlias.  I shall call it 'Jubilant July'.  As you know, I am
always at your disposal.  What good wind blows you here?"

"Lovely of you to spare the time," said Elizabeth.  "I've just been
to the esposizione, and I felt it was my duty to see you at once.
Quaint Irene has done something too monstrous.  She's altered my
face; she's given it a most disgusting expression.  The picture
can't be allowed to remain there in its present condition.  I
wondered if you with your great influence--"

Lucia half-closed her eyes, and regarded her sketch with
intolerable complacency.

"Yes: that curious picture of Irene's," she said at length.  "What
a Puck-like genius!  I went with her to our gallery a couple of
hours ago, to see what she had done to the Venus: she was so eager
to know what I thought about her little alterations."

"An outrage, an abomination!" cried Elizabeth.

"I should not put it quite as strongly as that," said Lucia,
returning to her holly-hocks and putting in a vein on one of the
leaves with exquisite delicacy.  "But I told her that I could not
approve of those new touches.  They introduced, to my mind, a note
of farce into her satire, which was out of place, though amusing in
itself.  She agreed with me after a little argument into which I
need not go.  She will remove them again during the lunch hour."

"Oh thank you, dear," said Elizabeth effusively.  "I always say
what a true friend you are.  I was terribly upset."

"Nothing at all," said Lucia sucking her paint-brush.  "Quite
easy."

Elizabeth turned her undivided attention to the holly-hocks.

"What a lovely sketch!" she said.  "How it will enrich our
exhibition.  Thank you, dear, again.  I won't keep you from your
work any longer.  How you find time for all you do is a constant
amazement to me."

She ambled swiftly away.  It would have been awkward if, at such a
genial moment, Lucia had asked whether the artistic committee
appointed by the Council had inspected Irene's other masterpiece
yet.


The holiday months of August and September were at hand, when the
ladies of Tilling were accustomed to let their houses and move into
smaller houses themselves at a cheaper rent than what they
received.  Diva, for instance, having let her own house, was
accustomed to move into Irene's, who took a remote cottage on the
marsh, where she could pursue her art and paint nude studies of
herself in a looking-glass.  But this year Diva refused to quit ye
olde tea-house, when, with the town full of visitors, she would be
doing so roaring a business; the Wyses decided not to go to Italy
to stay with the Contessa, since international relations were so
strained, and Lucia felt it her duty as Mayor, to remain in
Tilling.  The only letting done, in fact, was by the Padre, who
left his curate in charge, while he and Evie took a prolonged
holiday in bonnie Scotland, and let the Vicarage to the Mapp-Flints
who had a most exciting tenant.  This was a Miss Susan Leg, who, so
Tilling was thrilled to learn from an interview she gave to a
London paper, was none other than the world-wide novelist, Rudolph
da Vinci.  Miss Leg (so she stated in this piece of self-
revelation) never took a holiday.  "I shall not rest," she finely
observed, "till the shadows of life's eventide close round me," and
she went on to explain that she would be studying, in view of a
future book, this little centre of provincial English life.  "I am
well aware," said Miss Leg, "that my readers expect of me an
aristocratic setting for my romances, but I intend to prove to them
that life is as full of human interest in any simple, humble
country village as in Belgravia and the country-houses of the
nobility."

Lucia read this interview aloud to Georgie.  It seemed to suggest
possibilities.  She veiled these in her usual manner.

"Rudolph da Vinci," she said musingly.  "I have heard her name now
I come to think of it.  She seems to expect us all to be yokels and
bumpkins.  I fancy she will have to change her views a little.  No
doubt she will get some introduction to me, and I shall certainly
ask her to tea.  If she is as uppish and superior as she appears to
be, that would be enough.  We don't want best-sellers to write up
our cultured vivid life here.  So cheap and vulgarising; not in
accordance with our traditions."

There was nothing, Georgie knew, that would fill Lucia with deeper
pride than that traditions should be violated and life vulgarised,
and even while she uttered these high sentiments a vision rose in
her mind of Rudolph da Vinci writing a best-seller, with the scene
laid in Tilling, and with herself, quite undisguised, as head of
its social and municipal activities.

"Yet one must not prejudge her," she went on, as this vision grew
brighter.  "I must order a book of hers and read it, before I pass
judgment on her work.  And we may find her a very pleasant sort of
woman.  Perhaps I had better call on her, Georgie, for I should not
like her to think that I slighted her, and then I will ask her to
dine with us, trs intime, just you and she and I.  I should be
sorry if her first impressions of Tilling were not worthy of us.
Diva, for instance, it would be misleading if she saw Diva with
those extraordinary eyebrows, bringing up teas from the kitchen,
purple in the face, and thought her representative of our social
life.  Or if Elizabeth with her rouged cheeks asked her to dine at
the Parsonage, and Benjy told his tiger-stories.  Yes, I will call
on her as soon as she arrives, and get hold of her.  I will take
her to our Art Exhibition, allow her to sign the Mayor's book as a
distinguished visitor, and make her free of my house without
ceremony.  We will show her our real, inner life.  Perhaps she
plays Bridge: I will ascertain that when I call.  I might almost
meet her at the station, if I can find out when she arrives.  Or it
might be better if you met her at the station as representing me,
and I would call on her at Grebe half an hour afterwards.  That
would be more regular."

"Elizabeth told me that she arrives by the three-twenty-five to-
day," said Georgie.  "And she has hired a motor and is meeting
her."

It did not require so keen a nose as Lucia's to scent rivalry, but
she gave no hint of that.

"Very proper," she said.  "Elizabeth no doubt will drive her to
Grebe, and show her tenant the house."

Lucia bicycled to Grebe about tea-time, but found that Miss Leg had
driven into the town, accompanied by the Mayoress, to have tea.
She left her official card, as Mayor of Tilling, and went straight
to the Vicarage.  But Elizabeth was also out, and Lucia at once
divined that she had taken Miss Leg to have tea at Diva's.  She
longed to follow and open operations at once, but decided to let
the Mayoral card do its work.  On her way home she bought a copy of
the 25th edition of the novelist's Kind Hearts and Coronets, and
dipped into it.  It was very sumptuous.  On the first page there
was a Marchioness who had promised to open a village bazaar and was
just setting off to do so, when a telephone message arrived that a
Royal Princess would like to visit her that afternoon.  "Tell her
Royal Highness," said that kind-hearted woman, "that I have a long-
standing engagement, and cannot disappoint my people.  I will hurry
back as soon as the function is over. . . ."  Lucia pictured
herself coming back rather late to entertain Miss Leg at lunch--
Georgie would be there to receive her--because it was her day for
reading to the inmates of the workhouse.  She would return with a
copy of Kind Hearts and Coronets in her hand, explaining that the
dear old bodies implored her to finish the chapter.  The idea of
Miss Leg writing a best-seller about Tilling became stupefyingly
sweet.

Georgie came in, bringing the evening post.

"A letter from Olga," he said, "and she's written to me too, so
it's sure to be the same.  She wants us to go to Riseholme to-
morrow for two days, as she's got music.  A string quartette coming
down."

Lucia read her letter.

"Yes, most kind of her," she said.  "But how can I get away?  Ah,
she anticipates that, and says that if I'm too busy she will
understand.  And it would look so marked if I went away directly
after Miss Leg had arrived."

"That's for you to judge," he said.  "If you think she matters, I
expect you're right, because Elizabeth's getting a pretty firm
hold.  I've been introduced to her: Elizabeth brought her in to tea
at Diva's."

"I imagined that had happened," said Lucia.  "What about her?"

"A funny little round red thing, rather like Diva.  Swanky.  She's
brought a butler and a footman, she told us, and her new Daimler
will get down late to-night.  And she asked if any of the nobility
had got country seats near Tilling--"

"Did you tell her that I dined and slept--that Duchess Poppy asked
me to dine and sleep at the Castle?" interrupted Lucia.

"No," said Georgie.  "I thought of it, but then I judged it was
wiser not to bring it up again.  She ate a whole lot of buns, and
she was very gracious to Diva, (which Diva didn't like much) and
told her she would order her chef--her very words--to send her a
recipe for cream wafers.  Elizabeth's toadying her like anything.
She said 'Oh, how kind, Miss Leg.  You are lucky, dear Diva.'  And
they were going on to see the church afterwards, and Leg's dining
with the Mapp-Flints tomorrow."

Lucia reviewed this rather sinister intelligence.

"I hate to disappoint dear Olga," she said, "but I think I had
better stop here.  What about you?"

"Of course I shall go," said Georgie.


Georgie had to leave for Riseholme next morning without a maid, for
in view of the entertainment that might be going on at Mallards,
Lucia could not spare either Foljambe or Grosvenor.  She spent a
long time at the garden-room window that afternoon, and told her
cook to have a good tea ready to be served at a moment's notice,
for Miss Leg would surely return her call to-day.  Presently a
large car came bouncing up the street: from its size Lucia thought
at first that it was Susan's, but there was a man in livery sitting
next the chauffeur, and at once she guessed.  The car stopped at
Mallards, and from behind her curtain Lucia could see that
Elizabeth and another woman were inside.  A podgy little hand was
thrust out of the window, holding a card, which the man-servant
thrust into the letter box.  He rang the bell, but before it was
answered he mounted again, and the car drove on.  A hundred pages
of stream-of-consciousness fiction could not have explained the
situation more exhaustively to Lucia than her own flash of insight.
Elizabeth had evidently told the novelist that it would be quite
sufficient to leave a card on the Mayor and have done with her.
What followed at the Parsonage that evening when Miss Leg dined
with the Mapp-Flints bore out the accuracy of Lucia's intuition.

"A very plain simple dinner, dear Miss Leg," said Elizabeth as they
sat down.  "Just pot luck, as I warned you, so I hope you've got a
country appetite."

"I know I have, Liz," said Benjy heartily.  "A round of golf makes
me as hungry as I used to be after a day's tiger shooting in the
jungle."

"Those are trophies of yours at Grebe, then," said Miss Leg.  "I
consider tiger-shooting a manly pursuit.  That's what I mean by
sport, taking your life in your hand instead of sitting in an arm
chair and firing into flocks of hand-reared pheasants.  That kind
of  'sportsman' doesn't even load his own gun, I believe.  Butchers
and poulterers; that's what I called them in one of my books."

"Withering! scathing!" cried Elizabeth.  "And how well-deserved!
Benjy gave such a wonderful lecture here the other day about his
hair-breath escapes.  You could have heard a pin drop."

"Ah, that's an old story now," said Benjy.  "My shikarri days are
over.  And there's not a man in Tilling who's even seen a tiger
except through the bars at the Zoo.  Georgie Pillson, for instance--"

"Whom I presented to you at tea yesterday, Miss Leg," put in
Elizabeth.  "Husband of our dear Mayor.  Pointed beard.  Sketches
quite prettily, and does exquisite needlework.  My wicked Benjy
once dubbed him Miss Milliner Michael-Angelo."

"And that was very withering too," said Miss Leg, eating lumps of
expensive middle-cut salmon with a country appetite.

"Well, well, not very kind, I'm afraid, but I like a man to be a
man," said Benjy.  "I'll take a bit more fish, Liz.  A nice fresh-
run fish.  And what are you going to give us next?"

"Just a brace of grouse," said Elizabeth.

"Ah, yes.  A few old friends with Scotch moors haven't quite
forgotten me yet, Miss Leg.  Dear old General!"

"Your Miss Milliner has gone away, Benjy," said Elizabeth.
"Staying with Miss Olga Bracely.  Probably you know her, Miss Leg.
The prima donna.  Such a fascinating woman."

"Alone?  Without his wife?" asked Miss Leg.  "I do not approve of
that.  A wife's duty, Mayor or not, is to be always with her
husband and vice versa.  If she can't leave her home, she ought to
insist on his stopping with her."

"Dear Lucia is a little slack in these ways," said Elizabeth
regretfully.  "But she gives us to understand that they're all old
friends."

"The older the better," said Miss Leg epigrammatically, and they
all laughed very much.

"Tell me more about your Lucia," she ordered, when their mirth
subsided.

"I don't fancy you would find very much in common with her," said
Elizabeth thoughtfully.  "Rather prone we think, to plot and
intrigue in a way we regret.  And a little superior at times."

"It seems to have gone to her head to be Mayor," put in Benjy.
"She'd have made a sad mess of things without you to steady her,
Liz."

"I do my best," sighed Elizabeth, "though it's uphill work
sometimes.  I am her Mayoress and a Councillor, Miss Leg, and she
does need assistance and support.  Oh, her dear, funny little ways!
She's got a curious delusion that she can play the piano, and she
gives us a treat sometimes, and one doesn't know which way to look.
And not long ago--how you'll scream, Miss Leg, she told us all,
several times over, that she was going to stay with the Duchess of
Sheffield, and when she came back she showed us quantities of
photographs of the Castle to prove she had been there--"

"I went to a Charity Concert of the Duchess's in her mansion in
Grosvenor Square not long ago," said Miss Leg.  "Five-guinea seats.
Does she live near here?"

"No, many miles away.  There's the cream of it.  It turned out that
Worship only went to tea.  A three hours' drive each way to get a
cup of tea!  So odd.  I almost suspect that she was never asked at
all really; some mistake.  And she always alludes to her as Poppy;
whether she calls her that to her face is another question."

"Evidently a snob," said Miss Leg.  "If there's one thing I hate
it's snobbishness."

"Oh, you mustn't call her a snob," cried Elizabeth.  "I should be
so vexed with myself if I had conveyed that impression."

"And is that a family house of her husband's where I left my card
to-day?" asked Miss Leg.

Elizabeth sighed.

"Oh, what a tragic question!" she said.  "No, they're quite
parvenus in Tilling; that beautiful house--such a garden--belonged
to my family.  I couldn't afford to live there, and I had to sell
it.  Lucia gave me a pitiful price for it, but beggars can't be
choosers.  A cruel moment!"

"What a shame," said Miss Leg.  "All the old homes of England are
going to upstarts and interlopers.  I hope you never set foot in
it."

"It's a struggle to do so," said Elizabeth, "but I feel that both
as Mayoress and as a friend of Lucia, I must be neighbourly.
Neither officially nor socially must I fail to stand by her."

They made plans for next day.  Elizabeth was very sarcastic and
amusing about the morning shopping of her friends.

"Such fun!" she said.  "Quite a feature of life here, you must not
miss it.  You'll see Diva bolting in and out of shops like a
rabbit, Benjy says, when a ferret's after it, and Susan Wyse
perhaps on a tricycle, and Lucia and quaint Irene Coles who painted
the picture of the year, which is in our exhibition here; you must
see that.  Then we could pop in at the Town Hall, and I would show
you our ancient charters and our wonderful Elizabethan plate.  And
would you honour us by signing your name in the Mayor's book for
distinguished visitors?"

"Certainly, very glad," said Miss Leg, "though I don't often give
my autograph."

"Oh, that is kind.  I would be ready for you at ten--not too early?--
and take you round.  Must you really be going?  Benjy, see if Miss
Leg's beautiful Daimler is here.  Au reservoir!"

"O what?" asked Miss Leg.

"Some of the dear folk here say 'au reservoir' instead of 'au
revoir'," explained Elizabeth.

"Why do they do that?" asked Miss Leg.


Lucia, as she dined alone, had been thinking over the hostilities
which she felt were imminent.  She was quite determined to annex
Miss Leg with a view to being the central figure in her next best-
seller, but Elizabeth was determined to annex her too, and Lucia
was aware that she and her Mayoress could not run in harness over
this job; the feat was impossible.  Her pride forbade her to get
hold of Miss Leg through Elizabeth, and Elizabeth, somehow or
other, must be detached.  She sat long that night meditating in the
garden-room, and when next morning the Mayoress rang her up as
usual at breakfast time, she went to the telephone ready for
anything.

"Good morning, dear Worship," said that cooing voice.  "What a
beautiful day."

"Lovely!" said Lucia.

"Nothing I can do for you, dear?"

"Nothing, thanks," said Lucia, and waited.

"I'm taking Miss Leg--"

"Who?" asked Lucia.

"Susan Leg: Rudolph da Vinci: my tenant," explained Elizabeth.

"Oh, yes.  She left a card on me yesterday, Foljambe told me.  So
kind.  I hope she will enjoy her visit."

"I'm taking her to the Town Hall this morning.  So would you be a
very sweet Worship and tell the Serjeant to get out the Corporation
plate, which she would like to see.  We shall be there by half-past
ten, so if it is ready by a quarter past there'll be no delay.  And
though she seldom gives her autograph, she's promised to sign her
name in Worship's book."

Lucia gave a happy sigh.  She had not dared to hope for such a rash
move.

"My dear, how very awkward," she said.  "You see, the Corporation
plate is always on view to the public on Tuesdays at three p.m.--or
it may be two p.m.; you had better make certain--and it is such a
business to get it out.  One cannot do that for any casual visitor.
And the privilege of signing the Mayor's book is reserved for
really distinguished strangers, whose visit it is an honour to
record.  Olga, for instance."

"But, dear Worship," said Elizabeth.  "I've already promised to
show her the plate."

"Nothing simpler.  At two p.m. or three p.m., whichever it is, on
Tuesday afternoon."

"And the Mayor's book: I've asked her to sign it."

Lucia laughed gaily.

"Start a Mayoress's book, dear," she said.  "You can get anybody
you like to sign that."


Lucia remained a moment in thought after ringing off.  Then she
rang up the Town Hall.

"Is that the Serjeant?" she said.  "The Mayor speaking.  Serjeant,
do not get out the Corporation plate or produce my visitors' book
without direct orders from me.  At present I have given none.  What
a lovely morning."

Lucia gave Mrs. Simpson a holiday, as there was nothing for her to
do, and went down to the High Street for her marketing.  Her mind
resembled a modern army attended by an air force and all
appliances.  It was ready to scout and skirmish, to lay an ambush,
to defend or to attack an enemy with explosives from its aircraft
or poison gas (which would be only a reprisal, for she was certain
it had been used against her).  Diva was watching at her window,
evidently waiting for her, and threw it open.

"Have you seen her?" she asked.

There was only one "her" just now.

"Only her hand," said Lucia.  "She put it out of her motor--a podgy
sort of hand--yesterday afternoon.  She left a card on me, or
rather her footman popped it into my letterbox, without asking if I
was in.  Elizabeth was with her.  They drove on."

"Well, I do call that rude," said Diva, warmly.  "High and lofty,
that's what she is.  She told me her chef would send me a recipe
for cream-wafers.  I tried it.  Muck.  I gave one to Paddy, and he
was sick.  And she rang me up just now to go to tea with her this
afternoon.  Did she think I was going out to Grebe, just when I was
busiest, to eat more muck?  Not I.  She dined at Elizabeth's last
night, and Janet heard from Elizabeth's parlour-maid what they had.
Tomato soup, middle-cut of Salmon sent over from Hornbridge, a
brace of grouse from Rice's, Melba peaches, but only bottled with
custard instead of cream, and tinned caviare.  And Elizabeth called
it pot-luck!  I never had such luck there, pot or unpot.
Elizabeth's meaning to run her, that's what it is.  Let 'em run!
I'll come out with you and do my shopping.  Just see how Paddy is,
but I think he's got rid of it.  Cream-wafers, indeed!  Wait a
sec."

While Lucia waited a sec., Susan's Wyse's Royce, with her husband
and herself inside, hooted its ponderous way into the High Street.
As it drew up at the fishmonger's, Lucia's eagle eye spied
Elizabeth and a round, fat little woman, of whose identity there
could be no doubt, walking towards it.  Mr. Wyse had got out and
Elizabeth clearly introduced him to her companion.  He stood
hatless, as was his polite habit when he talked to ladies under
God's blue sky, or even in the rain, and then led her towards the
open door of the Royce, where Elizabeth was chatting to Susan.

Lucia strolled towards them, but the moment Elizabeth saw her, she
wheeled round without smile or greeting, and, detaching Miss Leg,
moved away up the street to where Irene in her usual shorts and
scarlet pullover, had just set up her easel at the edge of the
pavement.

"Good morning, dear Susan," called Lucia.  "Oh, Mr. Wyse, pray put
your hat on; such a hot sun.  Who was that odd little woman with my
Mayoress, who spoke to you just now?"

"I think your Mayoress said Miss Leg," observed Mr. Wyse.  "And she
told my Susan that if she asked Miss Leg to dine to-night she would
probably accept.  Did you ask her, dear?  If so, we must order more
fish."

"Certainly I didn't," said Susan.  "Who is this Leg?  Why should
Elizabeth foist her friends on me?  Most unheard of."

"Leg?  Leg?" said Lucia vaguely.  "Ah, of course.  Elizabeth's
tenant.  The novelist.  Does she not call herself Rudolph da
Vinci?"

"A very self-satisfied little woman, whatever she calls herself,"
said Susan with unusual severity, "and she's not going to dine with
me.  She can dine with Elizabeth."

Diva had trundled up and overheard this.

"She did.  Last night," she said.  "All most sumptuous and grand.
But fancy her leaving a card on Lucia without even asking whether
she was at home!  So rude."

"Did she indeed?" asked Mr. Wyse in a shocked voice.  "We are not
accustomed to such want of manners in Tilling.  You were very
right, Susan, not to ask her to dine.  Your intuition served you
well."

"I thought it strange," said Lucia, "but I daresay she's a very
decent, homely little woman, when left to herself.  Elizabeth was
with her, when she honoured me with her card."

"That accounts for it," interrupted Diva and Susan simultaneously.

"--and Elizabeth rang me up at breakfast and asked to give orders
that the Corporation plate should be ready for her little friend's
inspection this morning at 10.30.  And the Mayor's book for her to
sign."

"Well, I never!" said Diva.  "And the church-bells ringing, I
suppose.  And the Town Band playing the Italian National Anthem for
Rudolph da Vinci.  What did you say?"

"Very polite regrets."

Irene's voice from a few yards away, loud and emphatic, broke in on
their conversation.

"No, Mapp!" she cried.  "I will not come to the Exhibition to show
you and your friend--I didn't catch her name--my pictures.  And I
can't bear being looked over when I'm sketching.  Trot along."

There seemed nothing else for them to do, and Lucia walked on to
Irene.

"Did you hear?" asked Irene.  "I sent Mapp and her friend about
their business.  Who is the little guy?"

"A Miss Leg, I am told," said Lucia.  "She writes novels under some
foreign name.  Elizabeth's tenant: she seems to have taken her up
with great warmth."

"Poor wretch.  Mapp-kissed, like raisins.  But the most exciting
news, beloved.  The directors of the Carlton Gallery in Bond Street
have asked me if I will let them have my Venus for their autumn
exhibition.  Also an enquiry from an American collector, if it's
for sale.  I'm asking a thumping price for it.  But I shall show it
at the Carlton first, and I shall certainly put back Mapp's rouge
and her cocotte smile.  May I come up presently to Mallards?"

"Do dear.  I have a little leisure this morning."

Lucia passed on with that ever-recurring sense of regret that Irene
had not painted her on the oyster-shell and Georgie in the clouds,
and, having finished her shopping, strolled home by the Town Hall.
The Serjeant was standing on the steps, looking a little flushed.

"The Mayoress and a friend have just been here, your Worship," he
said.  "She told me to get out the Corporation plate and your
Worship's book.  I said I couldn't without direct orders from you.
She was a bit threatening."

"You did quite right, Serjeant," said Lucia very graciously.  "The
same reply always, please."


Meantime Elizabeth and Miss Leg, having been thwarted at the Town
Hall, passed on to the Exhibition where Elizabeth demanded free
admittance for her as a distinguished visitor.  But the door-keeper
was as firm as the Serjeant had been, and Elizabeth produced a
sixpence and six coppers.  They went first to look at the Venus,
and Elizabeth had a most disagreeable surprise, for the eminent
novelist highly disapproved of it.

"An irreverent parody of that great Italian picture by Botticello,"
she said.  "And look at that old hag on the oyster shell and that
boozy navvy in a top-hat.  Most shocking!  I am astonished that you
allowed it to be exhibited.  And by that rude unsexed girl in
shorts?  Her manners and her painting are on a par."

After this pronouncement Elizabeth did not feel equal to disclosing
that she was the hag and Benjy the navvy, but she was pleased that
Miss Leg was so severe on the art of the rude girl in shorts, and
took her to the portrait of Lucia.

"There's another picture of Miss Coles's," she said, "which is much
worse that the other.  Look: it reminds me of an auctioneer at a
jumble sale.  Bicycle, piano, old packs of cards, paint-box--"

Miss Leg burst into loud cries of pleasure and admiration.

"A magnificent work!" she said.  "That's something to look at.
Glorious colour, wonderful composition.  And what an interesting
face.  Who is it?"

"Our Mayor: our dear Lucia whom we chatted about last night," said
Elizabeth.

"Your chat misled me.  That woman has great character.  Please ask
her to meet me, and the artist too.  She has real talent in spite
of her other picture.  I could dine with you this evening: just a
plain little meal as we had last night.  I never mind what I eat.
Or tea.  Tea would suit me as well."

Agitated thoughts darted through the Mayoress's mind.  She was
still desperately anxious to retain her proprietary rights over
Miss Leg, but another plain little meal could not be managed.
Moreover it could not be expected that even the most exalted
Christian should forgive, to the extent of asking Lucia to dinner,
her monstrous rudeness about the Corporation plate and the Mayor's
book, and it would take a very good Christian to forgive Irene.
Tea was as far as she could go, and there was always the hope that
they would refuse.

"Alas, Benjy and I are both engaged to-night," she said.  "But I'll
ask them to tea as soon as I get home."

They strayed round the rest of the gallery: the misty morning on
the marsh, Elizabeth thought, looked very full of poetry.

"The usual little local daubs," observed Miss Leg, walking by it
without a glance.  "But the hollyhocks are charming, and so are the
dahlias.  By Miss Coles, too, I suppose."

Elizabeth simply could not bear that she should know who the artist
was.

"She does exquisite flower-studies," she said.


Irene was in the garden-room with Lucia when Elizabeth's call came
through.

"Just been to the Exhibition, dear Worship, with Miss Leg.  She's
so anxious to know you and quaint Irene.  Would you pop in for a
cup of tea this afternoon?  She will be there."

"So kind!" said Lucia.  "I must consult my engagement book."

She covered the receiver with her hand, and thought intensely for a
moment.

"Irene," she whispered.  "Elizabeth asks us both to go to tea with
her and meet Miss Leg.  I think I won't.  I don't want to get at
her via Elizabeth.  What about you?"

"I don't want to get at Leg via anybody" said Irene.

Lucia uncovered the receiver.

"Alas!" she said.  "As I feared I am engaged.  And Irene is with me
and regrets she can't come either.  Such a pity.  Goodbye."

"Why my regrets?" asked Irene.  "And what's it all about?"

Lucia sighed.  "All very tiresome," she said, "but Elizabeth forces
me, in mere self-defence, to descend to little schemings and
intrigues.  How it bores me!"

"Darling, it's the breath of your life!" said Irene, "and you do it
so beautifully!"


In the course of that day and the next Miss Leg found that she was
not penetrating far into the life of Tilling.  She attended
shopping parade next morning by herself.  Diva and the Wyses were
talking together, but gave her no more than cold polite smiles, and
when she had passed, Irene joined them and there was laughter.
Further on Lucia, whom she recognised from Irene's portrait was
walking with a tall man with a Vandyck beard, whom she guessed to
be the truant husband returned.  Elizabeth was approaching, all
smiles; surely they would have a few words together, and she would
introduce them, but Lucia and the tall man instantly crossed the
road.  It was all very odd: Lucia and Irene would not come to tea
at the Mapp-Flints, and the Wyses had not asked her to dinner, and
Diva had refused to go to tea at Grebe, and Elizabeth had not
produced the Corporation plate and the Mayor's book.  She began to
wonder whether the Mapp-Flints were not some species of pariah whom
nobody would know.  This was a dreadful thought; perhaps she had
got into wrong hands, and, while they clutched her, Tilling held
aloof.  She remembered quite a large percentage of Elizabeth's
disparaging remarks about Lucia at the plain little meal, and of
Benjy's comments on Georgie, and now they assumed a different
aspect.  Were they prompted by malice and jealousy and impotence to
climb into Tilling society?  "I've not got any copy at present,"
thought Miss Leg.  "I must do something.  Perhaps Mrs. Mapp-Flint
has had a past, though it doesn't look likely."

It was a very hot day, and Georgie and Lucia settled to go
bicycling after tea.  The garden-room, till then, was the coolest
place and after lunch they played the piano and sat in the window
overlooking the street.  He had had two lovely days at Riseholme,
and enlarged on them with more enthusiasm than tact.

"Olga was too wonderful," he said.  "Singing divinely and inspiring
everybody.  She enjoys herself simply by giving enjoyment to other
people.  A concert both evenings at seven, with the Spanish
quartette and a few songs by Olga.  Just an hour and a half and
then a delicious supper in the garden, with everybody in Riseholme
asked, and no Duchesses and things at all.  Just for Riseholme:
that's so like her: she doesn't know what the word 'snob' means.
And I had the room I had before, with a bathroom next door, and my
breakfast on the balcony.  And none of those plots and intrigues we
used to be always embroiled in.  It WAS a change."

A certain stoniness had come into Lucia's face, which Georgie,
fired with his subject, did not perceive.

"And she asked down a lot of the supers from Covent Garden," he
went on, "and put them up at the Ambermere Arms.  And her kindness
to all her old friends: dull old me, for instance.  She's taken a
villa at Le Touquet now, and she's asked me there for a week."  I
shall cross from Seaport, and there are some wonderful anti-sick
tablets--"

"Did dearest Olga happen to mention if she was expecting me as
well?" asked Lucia in a perfectly calm voice.

Georgie descended, like an aeroplane with engine-trouble, from
these sunlit spaces.  He made a bumpy landing.

"I can't remember her doing so," he said.

"Not a thing you would be likely to forget," said Lucia.  "Your
wonderful memory."

"I daresay she doesn't want to bother you with invitations," said
Georgie artfully.  "You see, you did rub it in a good deal how
difficult it was for you to get away, and how you had to bring tin
boxes full of municipal papers with you."

Lucia's face brightened.

"Very likely that is it," she said.

"And you promised to spend Saturday till Monday with her a few
weeks ago," continued Georgie, "and then left on Sunday because of
your Council meeting, and then you couldn't leave Tilling the other
day because of Miss Leg.  Olga's beginning to realize, don't you
think, how busy you are--What's the matter?"

Lucia had sprung to her feet.

"Leg's motor coming up the street," she said.  "Georgie, stand at
the door, and, if I waggle my thumb at you, fly into the house and
tell Grosvenor I'm at home.  If I turn it down--those Roman
gladiators--still fly, but tell her I'm out.  It all depends on
whether Elizabeth is with her.  I'll explain afterwards."

Lucia slid behind the window-curtain, and Georgie stood at the
door, ready to fly.  There came a violent waggling of his wife's
thumb, and he sped into the house.  He came flying back again, and
Lucia motioned him to the piano, on the music-stand of which she
had already placed a familiar Mozart duet, "Quick!  Top of the
page," she said.  "Uno, due, tre.  Pom.  Perfect!"

They played half a dozen brilliant bars, and Grosvenor opened the
door and said, "Miss Leg".  Lucia took no notice but continued
playing, till Grosvenor said "Miss Leg!" much louder, and then,
with a musical exclamation of surprise, she turned and rose from
her seat.

"Ah, Miss Leg, so pleased!" she said, drawling frightfully.  "How-
de-do?  Have you met Miss Leg, Georgie?  Ah, yes, I think you saw
her at Diva's one afternoon.  Georgie, tell somebody that Miss Leg--
you will, won't you--will stop to tea . . .  My little garden-
room, which you may have noticed from outside.  I'm told that they
call it the Star Chamber--"

Miss Leg looked up at the ceiling, as if expecting to see the hosts
of heaven depicted there.

"Indeed.  Why do they call it that?" she asked.

Lucia had, of course, just invented that name for the garden-room
herself.  She waved her hand at the pile of Departmental tin boxes.

"Secrets of municipal business," she said lightly.  "The Cabal, you
know: Arlington, Bolingbroke . . .  Shall we go out into the
garden, until tea is ready?  A tiny little plot, but so dear to me,
the red brick walls, the modest little house."

"You bought it quite lately from Mrs. Mapp-Flint, I understand,"
said Miss Leg.

Clever Lucia at once guessed that Elizabeth had given her version
of that.

"Yes, poor thing," she said.  "I was so glad to be able to get her
out of her difficulties.  It used to belong to an aunt of hers by
marriage.  What a state it was in!  The garden a jungle of weeds,
but I am reclaiming it.  And here's my little secret garden: when I
am here and the door is shut, I am not to be disturbed by anybody.
Busy folk, like you and me, you with your marvellous creative work,
and me with my life so full of interruptions, must have some
inviolable sanctuary, must we not? . . .  Some rather fine
hollyhocks."

"Charming!" said Miss Leg, who was disposed to hate Lucia with her
loftiness and her Star Chamber, but still thought she might be the
Key to Tilling.  "I have a veritable grove of them at my little
cottage in the country.  There was a beautiful study of hollyhocks
at your little exhibition.  By Miss Coles, I think Mrs. Mapp-Flint
said."

Lucia laughed gaily.

"Oh, my sweet, muddle-headed Mayoress!" she cried.  "Georgie, did
you hear?  Elizabeth told Miss Leg that my picture of hollyhocks
was by Irene.  So like her.  Tea ready?"

Harmony ripened.  Miss Leg expressed her great admiration for
Irene's portrait of Lucia, and her withering scorn for the Venus,
and promised to pay another visit to study the features of the two
principal figures: she had been so disgusted with the picture that
one glance was enough.  Before she had eaten her second bun, Lucia
had rung up the Serjeant at the Town Hall, and asked him to get out
the Corporation plate and the Mayor's book, for she would be
bringing round a distinguished visitor very shortly: and before
Miss Leg had admired the plate and signed the book ("Susan Leg" and
below, "Rudolph da Vinci"), she had engaged herself to dine at
Mallards next day.  "Just a few friends," said Lucia, "who would be
so much honoured to meet you."  She did not ask Elizabeth and
Benjy, for Miss Leg had seen so much of them lately, but, for fear
they should feel neglected, she begged them to come in afterwards
for a cup of coffee and a chat.  Elizabeth interpreted this as an
insult rather than an invitation, and she and Benjy had coffee and
a vivacious chat by themselves.

The party was very gay, and a quantity of little anecdotes were
told about the absentees.  At the end of most of them Lucia cried
out:

"Ah, you mustn't be so ill-natured about them," and sometimes she
told another.  It was close on midnight when the gathering broke
up, and they were all bidden to dine with Miss Leg the next night.

"Such a pleasant evening, may I say 'Lucia?'" said she on the
doorstep, as she put up her round red face for the Mayor to deal
with as she liked.

"Indeed do, dear Susan," she said.  "But I think you must be
Susanna.  Will you?  We have one dear Susan already."

They kissed.



CHAPTER XI


Georgie continued to be tactless about Olga's manifold perfections,
and though his chaste passion for her did not cause Lucia the
smallest anxiety (she knew Georgie too well for that) she wondered
what Tilling would make of his coming visit to Le Touquet without
her.  Her native effrontery had lived the Poppy-crisis down, but
her rescue of Susan Leg, like some mature Andromeda, from the
clutches of her Mayoress, had raised the deepest animosity of the
Mapp-Flints, and she was well aware that Elizabeth would embrace
every opportunity to be nasty.  She was therefore prepared for
trouble, but, luckily for her peace of mind, she had no notion what
a tempest of tribulation was gathering . . .  Georgie and Foljambe
left by a very early train for Seaport so that he might secure a
good position amidships on the boat, for the motion was felt less
there, before the continental express from London arrived, and each
of them had a tube of cachets preventive of sea-sickness.

Elizabeth popped into Diva's for a chat that morning.

"They've gone," she said.  "I've just met Worship.  She was looking
very much worried, poor thing, and I'm sure I don't wonder."

Diva had left off her eyebrows.  They took too long, and she was
tired of always looking surprised when, as on this occasion, she
was not surprised.

"I suppose you mean about Mr. Georgie going off alone," she said.

"Among other worries.  Benjy and I both grieve for her.  Mr.
Georgie's infatuation is evidently increasing.  First of all there
was that night here--"

"No: Lucia came back," said Diva.

"Never quite cleared up, I think.  And then he's been staying at
Riseholme without her, unless you're going to tell me that Worship
went over every evening and returned at cock-crow for her duties
here."

"Olga asked them both, anyhow," said Diva.

"So we've been told, but did she?  And this time Lucia's certainly
not been asked.  It's mounting up, and it must be terrible for her.
All that we feared at first is coming true, as I knew it would.
And I don't believe for a moment that he'll come back at the end of
a week."

"That would be humiliating," said Diva.

"Far be it from me to insinuate that there's anything wrong,"
continued Elizabeth emphatically, "but if I was Lucia I shouldn't
like it, any more than I should like it if you and Benjy went for a
week and perhaps more to Le Touquet."

"And I shouldn't like it either," said Diva.  "But I'm sorry for
Lucia, too."

"I daresay she'll need our sympathy before long," said Elizabeth
darkly.  "And how truly grateful I am to her for taking that Leg
woman off my hands.  Such an incubus.  How she managed it I don't
enquire.  She may have poisoned Leg's mind about me, but I should
prefer to be poisoned than see much more of her."

"Now you're getting mixed, Elizabeth," protested Diva.  "It was
Leg's mind you suggested was poisoned, not you."

"That's a quibble, dear," said Elizabeth decidedly.  "You'll hardly
deny that Benjy and I were most civil to the woman.  I even asked
Lucia and Irene to meet her, which was going a long way considering
Lucia's conduct about the Corporation plate and the Mayor's book.
But I couldn't have stood Leg much longer, and I should have had to
drop her . . .  I must be off; so busy to-day, like Worship.  A
Council meeting this afternoon."


Lucia always enjoyed her Council meetings.  She liked presiding,
she liked being suave and gracious and deeply conscious of her own
directing will.  As she took her seat to-day, she glanced at the
wall behind her, where before long Irene's portrait of her would be
hanging.  Minutes of the previous meeting were read, reports from
various committees were received, discussed and adopted.  The last
of these was that of the Committee which had been appointed to make
its recommendation to the Council about her portrait.  She had
thought over a well-turned sentence or two: she would say what a
privilege it was to make this work of genius the permanent
possession of the Borough.  Miss Coles, she need hardly remind the
Council was a Tillingite of whom they were all proud, and the
painter also of the Picture of the Year, in which there figured two
of Tilling's most prominent citizens, one being a highly honoured
member of the Council.  ("And then I shall bow to Elizabeth,"
thought Lucia, "she will appreciate that.")

She looked at the agenda.

"And now we come to our last business, ladies and gentlemen," she
said.  "To receive the report of the Committee on the Mayor's offer
of a portrait of herself to the Council, to be hung in the Town
Hall."

Elizabeth rose.

"As Chairman of this Committee," she said, "it is my duty to say
that we came to the unanimous conclusion that we cannot recommend
the Council to accept the Mayor's most generous gift."

The gracious sovereignty of Lucia's demeanour did not suffer the
smallest diminution.

"Those in favour of accepting the findings of the Committee?" she
asked.  "Unanimous, I think."


Never, in all Lucia's triumphant career, had she suffered so
serious a reverse, nor one out of which it seemed more impossible
to reap some incidental advantage.  She had been dismissed from
Sheffield Castle at the shortest notice, but she had got a harvest
of photographs.  Out of her inability to find the brake on her
bicycle, thus madly scorching through a crowded street, she had
built herself a monument for dash and high athletic prowess.  She
always discovered silver linings to the blackest of clouds, but
now, scrutinize them as she might, she could detect in them none
but the most sombre hues.  Her imagination had worked out a
dazzling future for this portrait.  It would hang on the wall
behind her; the Corporation, at her request, would lend it (heavily
insured) to the Royal Academy exhibition next May, where it would
be universally acclaimed as a masterpiece far outshining the Venus
of the year before.  It would be lithographed or mezzotinted, and
she would sign the first fifty pulls.  Visitors would flock to the
Town Hall to see it; they would recognise her as she flashed by
them on her bicycle or sat sketching at some picturesque corner;
admiring the mellow front of Mallards, the ancestral home of the
Mayor, they would be thrilled to know that the pianist, whose
exquisite strains floated out of the open window of the garden-
room, was the woman whose portrait they just seen above her
official chair.  Such thoughts as these were not rigidly defined
but floated like cloud-castles in the sky, forming and shifting and
always elegant.

Now of those fairy edifices there was nothing left.  The Venus was
to be exhibited at the Carlton Gallery and then perhaps to form a
gem in the collection of some American millionaire, and Elizabeth
would go out into all lands and Benjy to the ends of the earth,
while her own rejected portrait would be returned to Mallards, with
the best thanks of the Committee, like Georgie's sunny morning on
the marsh, and Susan's budgerigar, and Diva's sardine tartlet.
(And where on earth should she hang this perpetual reminder of
defeated dreams?) . . .  Another aspect of this collapse struck
her.  She had always thought of herself as the beneficent director
of municipal action, but now the rest of her Council had expressed
unanimous agreement with the report of a small malignant Committee,
instead of indignantly rallying round her and expressing their
contempt of such base ingratitude.  This was a snub to which she
saw no possible rejoinder except immediate resignation of her
office, but that would imply that she felt the snub, which was not
to be thought of.  Besides, if her resignation was accepted, there
would be nothing left at all.


Her pensive steps, after the Council meeting was over, had brought
her to the garden-room, and the bright japanned faces of tin-boxes
labelled "Museum", "Fire Brigade" or "Burial Board" gave her no
comfort: their empty expressions seemed to mock her.  Had Georgie
been here, she could have confided the tragedy to him without loss
of dignity.  He would have been sympathetic in the right sort of
way: he would have said "My dear, how tar'some!  That foul
Elizabeth: of course she was at the bottom of it.  Let's think of
some plan to serve her out."  But without that encouragement she
was too flattened out to think of Elizabeth at all.  The only thing
she could do was to maintain, once more, her habitual air of
prosperous self-sufficiency.  She shuddered at the thought of
Tilling being sorry for her, because, communing with herself, she
seemed to sense below this superficial pity, some secret
satisfaction that she had had a knock.  Irene, no doubt, would be
wholly sincere, but though her prestige as an artist had suffered
indignity, what difference would it make to her that the Town
Council of Tilling had rejected her picture, when the Carlton
Gallery in London had craved the loan of her Venus, and an American
millionaire was nibbling for its purchase?  Irene would treat it as
a huge joke; perhaps she would design a Christmas card showing
Mapp, as a nude, mature, female Cupid, transfixing Benjy's heart
with a riding-whip.  For a moment, as this pleasing fantasy tickled
Lucia's brain, she smiled wanly.  But the smile faded again: not
the grossest insult to Elizabeth would mend matters.  A head held
high and a total unconsciousness that anything disagreeable had
happened was the only course worthy of the Mayor.

The Council meeting had been short, for no reports from Committees
(especially the last) had raised controversy, and Lucia stepped
briskly down the hill to have tea in public at Diva's, and exhibit
herself as being in cheerful or even exuberant spirits.  Just
opposite the door was drawn up a monstrous motor, behind which was
strapped a dress-basket and other substantial luggage with the
initials P.S. on them.  "A big postscript," thought Lucia,
lightening her heavy heart with humorous fancies, and she skirted
round behind this ponderous conveyance, and so on to the pavement.
Two women were just stepping out of ye olde tea-shop: one was
Elizabeth dripping with unctuous smiles, and the other was Poppy
Sheffield.

"And here's sweet Worship herself," said Elizabeth.  "Just in time
to see you.  How fortunate!"

Some deadly misgiving stirred in Lucia's heart as Poppy turned on
her a look of blank unrecognition.  But she managed to emit a thin
cry of welcome.

"Dear Duchess!" she said.  "How naughty of you to come to my little
Tilling without letting me know.  It was au revoir when we parted
last."

Poppy still seemed puzzled, and then (unfortunately, perhaps) she
began to remember.

"Why, of course!" she said.  "You came to see me at the Castle,
owing to some stupid misunderstanding.  My abominable memory.  Do
tell me your name."

"Lucia Pillson," said the wretched woman.  "Mayor of Tilling."

"Yes, how it all comes back," said Poppy, warmly shaking hands.
"That was it.  I thought your husband was the Mayor of Tilling, and
I was expecting him.  Quite.  So stupid of me.  And then tea and
photographs, wasn't it?  I trust they came out well."

"Beautifully.  Do come up to my house--only a step--and I'll show
you them."

"Alas! not a moment to spare.  I've spent such a long time chatting
to all your friends.  Somebody--somebody called Leg, I think--
introduced them to me.  She said she had been to my house in London
which I daresay was quite true.  One never can tell.  But I'm
catching, at least I hope so, the evening boat at Seaport on my way
to stay with Olga Bracely at Le Touquet.  Such a pleasure to have
met you again."

Lucia presented a brave front.

"Then do come and dine and sleep here to break your journey on your
return," she said.  "I shall expect you to propose yourself at any
time, like all my friends.  Just a wire or a telephone call.
Georgie and I are sure to be here.  Impossible for me to get away
in these crowded months--"

"That WOULD be nice," said Poppy.  "Good-bye: Mrs. Pillson, isn't
it?  Quite.  Charmed, I'm sure: so pleasant.  Drive straight on to
the quay at Seaport," she called to her chauffeur.

Lucia kissed her hand after the car.

"How lucky just to have caught her for a moment," she drawled to
Elizabeth, as they went back into ye olde tea-house.  "Naughty of
her not to have let me know.  How dreadfully bad her memory is
becoming."

"Shocking," said Elizabeth.  "You should persuade her to see
somebody about it."

Lucia turned on the full horse-power of her courage for the coming
encounter in ye olde tea-house.  The moment she saw the faces of
her friends assembled there, Evie and Leg and Diva, she knew she
would need it all.

"You've just missed an old friend, Lucia," said Susanna.  (Was
there in her words a touch of the irony for which Rudolph da Vinci
was celebrated?)

"Too unfortunate, dear Susanna," said Lucia.  "But I just got a
word with her.  Off to stay at Le Touquet, she said.  Ah!  I never
told her she would find Georgie there.  My memory is getting as bad
as hers.  Diva, may I have a one and sixpenny?"

Diva usually went down to the kitchen to see to the serving of a
one and sixpenny, but she only called the order down the stairs to
Janet.  And her face lacked its usual cordiality.

"You've missed such a nice chat," she said.

There was a silence pregnant with trouble.  It was impossible,
thought Lucia, that her name should not have figured in the nice
chat, or that Poppy should not have exhibited that distressing
ignorance about her which had been so evident outside.  In any case
Elizabeth would soon promulgate the news with the addition of that
hideous detail, as yet undiscovered, that she had been asked to
Sheffield Castle only because Poppy thought that Georgie was Mayor
of Tilling.  Brave cheerfulness was the only possible demeanour.

"Too unfortunate," she repeated, "and I could have been here half
an hour ago, for we had quite a short Council meeting.  Nothing
controversial: all went so smoothly--"

The memory of that uncontroversial rejection of her portrait
brought her up short.  Then the sight of Elizabeth's wistful,
softly smiling face lashed her forward again.

"How you will laugh, Susanna," she said brightly, "when I tell you
that the Council unanimously refused to accept my gift of the
portrait Irene painted of me which you admired so much.  A small
Committee advised them against it.  And ecco!"

Susanna's laugh lacked the quality of scorn and contempt for the
Council, for which Lucia had hoped.  It sounded amused.

"Well, that was a pity," she said.  "They just didn't like it.  But
you can't get people to like what they don't like by telling them
that they ought to."

The base desertion was a shock.  Lucia looked without favour at the
sumptuous one and sixpenny Janet had brought her, but her voice
remained calm.

"I think I was wrong to have offered it them at all," she said.  "I
ought to have known that they could not understand it.  What fun
Irene and I will have over it when I tell her.  I can hear her
scream 'Philistines!  Vandals!' and burst into shrieks of laughter.
And what a joy to have it back at Mallards again!"

Elizabeth continued to smile.

"No place like home is there, dear?" she said.  "Where will you
hang it?"

Lucia gave up the idea of eating her sardine-tartlet.  She had
intended to stay on, until Susanna and Elizabeth left, and find out
from Diva what had been said about her before she came in.  She
tried a few light topics of general interest, evoking only short
replies of paralyzing politeness.  This atmosphere of veiled
hostility was undermining her.  She knew that if she went away
first, Elizabeth would pour out all that Poppy had let slip on the
doorstep, but perhaps the sooner that was known the better.  After
drinking her tea and scalding her mouth she rose.

"I must be off," she said.  "See you again very soon, Susanna.  One
and sixpence, Diva?  Such a lovely tea."

Elizabeth continued smiling till the door closed.

"Such odd things happened outside," she said.  Her Poppy didn't
recognise her.  She asked her who she was.  And Worship wasn't
invited to Sheffield Castle at all.  Poppy thought that Mr. Georgie
was the Mayor, and the invitation was for him.  That was why
Worship came back so soon."

"Gracious, what a crash!" said Diva.

"It always comes in time," said Elizabeth thoughtfully.  "Poor
thing, we must be very gentle with her, but what a lot of things we
must avoid talking about!"

She enumerated them on her plump fingers.

"Duchesses, Castles, photographs--I wonder if they were picture
postcards--prima-donnas, for I'm sure she'd have gone to Le
Touquet, if she had been asked--portraits--it was my duty to
recommend the Council not to accept that daub--gad-about husbands--
I havn't got enough fingers.  Such a lot of subjects that would
tear old wounds open, and she's brought it all on herself, which
makes it so much more bitter for her."

Diva, who hated waste (and nothing would keep in this hot weather)
ate Lucia's sardine-tartlet.

"Don't gloat, Elizabeth!" she commanded.  "You may say sympathetic
things, but there's a nasty tone in the way you say them.  I'm
really rather sorry for her."

"Which is just what I have been trying to express," retorted
Elizabeth.

"Then you haven't expressed it well.  Not that impression at all.
Goodness, here's a fresh party coming in.  Janet!"

Lucia passed by the fishmonger's, and some stir of subconscious
cerebration prompted her to order a dressed crab that she saw in
the window.  Then she went home and out into the garden-room.  This
second blow falling so fast on the heels of the first, caused her
to reel.  To all the dismal reflections occasioned by the rejection
of her portrait there were added those appropriate to the second,
and the composite mental picture presented by the two was
appalling.  Surely some malignant Power, specially dedicated to the
service of her discomfiture, must have ordained the mishaps (and
their accurate timing) of this staggering afternoon: the malignant
Power was a master of stage-craft.  Who could stand up against a
relentless tragedian?  Lucia could not, and two tears of self-pity
rolled down her cheeks.  She was much surprised to feel their
tickling progress, for she had always thought herself incapable of
such weakness, but there they were.  The larger one fell on to her
blotting-pad, and she dashed the smaller aside.

She pulled herself together.  Whatever humiliations were heaped on
her, her resolve to continue sprightly and dominant and unsubdued
was as firm as ever, and she must swallow pity or contempt without
apparently tasting them.  She went to her piano, and through a
slightly blurred vision had a good practice at the difficult treble
part of the duet Georgie and she had run through before his
departure.  She did a few bracing physical exercises, and a little
deep breathing.  "I have lost a great deal of prestige," she said
to herself as she held her breath and puffed it out again, "but
that shall not upset me.  I shall recover it all.  In a fortnight's
time, if not less, I shall be unable to believe that I could ever
have felt so abject and have behaved so weakly.  Sursum corda!  I
shall--"

Her telephone-bell rang.  It required a strong call on her courage
to answer it, for who could tell what fresh calamity might not be
sprung on her?  When she heard the name of the speaker, she nearly
rang off, for it seemed so impossible.  Probably some infamous joke
was being played on her.  But she listened.

"I've just missed my boat," said the voice, "and sleeping in a
hotel makes me ill for a week.  Would you be wonderfully kind and
let me dine and sleep?  You were so good as to suggest that this
afternoon.  Then I can catch the early boat to-morrow."

A sob of joy rose in Lucia's throat.

"Delighted, Duchess," she answered.  "So glad you took me at my
word and proposed yourself."

"Many thanks.  I shall be with you in an hour or so."

Lucia skipped to the bell, and kept her finger on it till Grosvenor
came running out.

"Grosvenor, the Duchess of Sheffield will be here in about an hour
to dine and sleep," cried Lucia, still ringing.  "What is there for
dinner?"

"Couldn't say, except for a dressed crab that's just come in--"
began Grosvenor.

"Yes, I ordered it," cried Lucia excitedly, ceasing to ring.  "It
was instinctive, Grosvenor, it was a leading.  Things like that
often happen to me.  See what else, and plenty of strong coffee."

Grosvenor went into the house, and the music of triumphant
meditations poured through Lucia's brain.

"Shall I ask Benjy and Elizabeth?" she thought.  "That would crush
Elizabeth for ever, but I don't really wish her such a fate.  Diva?
No.  A good little thing, but it might seem odd to Poppy to meet at
dinner a woman to whom she had paid a shilling for her tea, or
perhaps eighteen-pence.  Susanna Leg?  No: she was not at all kind
about the picture.  Shall I send for the Mayor's book and get Poppy
to write in it?  Again, no.  It would look as if I wanted to record
her visit officially, whereas she only just drops in.  We will be
alone, I think.  Far more chic."

Grosvenor returned with the modest menu, and Lucia added a savoury.

"And I shan't dress, Grosvenor," she said.  "Her Grace (rich
words!) will be leaving very early, and she won't want to unpack, I
expect."

Her Grace arrived.  She seemed surprised not to find Georgie there,
but was pleased to know that he was staying with Olga at Le
Touquet.  She went to bed very soon after dinner, and left at eight
next morning.  Never had Lucia waited so impatiently for the
shopping hour, when casually, drawlingly she would diffuse the
news.


The first person she met was Elizabeth herself, who hurried across
the street with an odious smile of kindly pity on her face.

"So lonely for you, Worship, all by yourself without Mr. Georgie,"
she said.  "Pop in and dine with us to-night."

Lucia could have sung aloud to think how soon that kindly pity
would be struck from the Mayoress's face.  She pressed a finger to
her forehead.

"Let me think," she said.  "I'm afraid . . .  No, that's
tomorrow . . .  Yes, I am free.  Charmed."  She paused, prolonging
the anticipation of the wonderful disclosure.

"And I had such a queer little surprise last night," she drawled.
"I went home after tea at Diva's,--of course you were there--and
played my piano a while.  Then the eternal telephone rang.  Who do
you think it was who wanted to dine and sleep at such short
notice?"

Elizabeth curbed her longing to say "Duchess Poppy," but that would
have been too unkind and sarcastic.

"Tell me, dear," she said.

"The Duchess," said Lucia.  "I begged her, do you remember, when we
three met for a minute yesterday, just to propose herself . . .
And an hour afterwards, she did.  Dear vague thing!  She missed her
boat and can't bear hotels and telephoned.  A pleasant quiet
evening.  She went off again very early to-day, to catch the
morning boat.  I wonder if she'll succeed this time.  Eight o'clock
this evening then?  I shall look forward to it."

Lucia went into a shop, leaving Elizabeth speechless on the
pavement, with her mouth wide open.  Then she closed it, and it
assumed its grimmest aspect.  She began to cross the street, but
leaped back to the pavement again on the violent hooting, almost in
her ear, of Susan's Royce.

"So sorry if it made you jump," said Susan, putting her face out of
the window, "but I hear that Lucia's Duchess was here yesterday and
didn't know her from Adam.  Or Eve.  Either of them.  Can it be
true?"

"I was there," said Elizabeth.  "She hadn't the slightest idea who
Worship was."

"That's odd, considering all those photographs."

"These's something odder yet," said Elizabeth.  "Worship has just
told me she had a visitor to dine and sleep, who left very early
this morning.  Guess who that was!"

"I never can guess, as you know," said Susan.  "Who?"

"She!" cried Elizabeth shrilly.  "And Lucia had the face to tell me
so!"

Mr. Wyse, concealed behind the immense bulk of his wife, popped his
head round the corner of her shoulder.  The Mayoress's savage
countenance so terrified him that he popped it back again.

"How Worship's conscience will let her tell such whoppers, is her
concern and not mine, thank God," continued the Mayoress.  "What I
deplore is that she should think me idiotic enough to believe them.
Does one woman ask another woman, whom she doesn't know by sight,
to let her dine and sleep?  DOES she?"

Mr. Wyse always refused to be drawn into social crises.  "Drive
on," he said in a low voice down the speaking-tube, and the car
hooted and moved away.  Elizabeth screamed "DOES she," after it.

The news spread fast, and there was only one verdict on it.
Obviously Lucia had invented the story to counter the mortification
of being unrecognised by Poppy the day before.  "So silly," said
Diva, when Elizabeth plunged into the tea-house and told her.
"Much better to have lived it down.  We've all got to live things
down sometimes.  She's only made it much harder for herself.
What's the good of telling lies which nobody can believe?  When you
and I tell lies, Elizabeth, it's in the hope anyhow--What is it
Janet?"

"Please ma'am, Grosvenor's just told me there was a visitor at
Mallards last night, and who do you think--"

"Yes, I've heard," said Diva.  "I'll be down in the kitchen in a
minute."

"And making poor Grosvenor her accomplice," said Elizabeth.  "Come
and dine to-night, Diva.  I've asked Worship, and you must help
Benjy and me to get through the evening.  You must help us to keep
her off the subject, or I shall lose my self-control and forget
that I'm a lady and tell her she's a liar."

Lucia spent a wonderfully happy day.  She came straight home after
telling Elizabeth her news, for it was far more lofty not to spread
it herself and give the impression that she was gratified, and
devoted herself to her music and her reading, as there was no
municipal business to occupy her.  Long before evening everyone
would know, and she would merely make casual allusions at dinner to
her visitor, and inflame their curiosity.  She went out wearing her
seed-pearls in the highest spirits.

"Dear host and hostess," she said as she swept in.  "So sweet of
you to take compassion on my loneliness.  No, Major Benjy, no
sherry thanks, though I really deserve some after my long day.
Breakfast at half-past seven--"

"Fancy!  That was early!" interrupted Elizabeth.  Diva entered.

"So sorry," she said.  "A bit late.  Fearfully busy afternoon.
Worn out.  Yes, Major Benjy: just half a glass."

"I was just saying that I had had a long day, too," said Lucia.
"My guest was off at eight to catch the early boat at Seaport--"

"Such a good service," put in Benjy.  "Liz and I went by that route
on our honeymoon."

"--and would get to Le Touquet in time for lunch."

"Well, dinner, dinner," said Benjy, and in they went.


"I've not seen Susan Leg to-day," remarked Diva.  "She usually
drops in to tea now."

"She's been writing hard," said Elizabeth.  "I popped in for a
minute.  She's got some material NOW, she told me."

This dark saying had a bright lining for Lucia.  Her optimistic
mind concluded that Susanna knew about her visitor, and she laughed
gaily as dressed crab was handed to her.

"Such a coincidence," she said.  "Last night I had ordered dressed
crab before--dear Elizabeth, I never get tired of it--before I was
rung up from Seaport.  Was not that lucky?  Her favourite food."

"And how many teas did you say you served to-day, Diva?" asked
Elizabeth.

"Couldn't tell you yet.  Janet hadn't finished counting up.  People
still in the garden when I left."

"I heard from Georgie to-day," said Lucia.  "He'll be back from Le
Touquet on Saturday.  The house was quite full already, he said,
and he didn't know where Olga would put another guest."

"Such lovely September weather," said Elizabeth.  "So good for the
crops."

Lucia was faintly puzzled.  They had all been so eager to hear
about her visit to Sheffield Castle, and now whenever she brought
up kindred topics, Elizabeth or Diva changed the subject with
peculiar abruptness.  Very likely Elizabeth was a little jealous, a
little resentful that Lucia had not asked her to dine last night.
But she could explain that.

"It was too late, alas," she said, "to get up a small party," she
said, "as I should have so much liked to do.  Simply no time.  We
didn't even dress."

Elizabeth rose.

"Such a short visit," she said, "and breakfast at half-past seven.
Fancy!  Let us have a rubber, as we needn't get up so early to-
morrow."


Lucia walked home in the bright moonlight, making benevolent plans.
If Poppy broke her return journey by staying a night here she must
certainly have a party.

She vaguely regretted not having done so last night: it would have
given pleasure, and she ought to welcome all opportunities of
making treats for her friends . . .  They were touchy folk; to-
night they had been harsh with each other over Bridge, but to her
they had been scrupulously polite, receiving all her criticisms of
their play in meek silence.  Perhaps they were beginning to
perceive at last that she was a different class of player from
them.  As she caressed this vainglorious thought, she stopped to
admire the chaste whiteness of the moonlight on the church-tower,
which seemed to point skywards as if towards her own serene
superiority among the stars.  Then quite suddenly a violent
earthquake happened in her mind, and it collapsed.

"They don't believe that Poppy ever stayed with me at all," she
moaned.  "They think I invented it.  Infamous!"



CHAPTER XII


For the whole of the next day no burgess of Tilling, except Mrs.
Simpson and the domestic staff, set eyes on the Mayor.  By a strong
effort of will Lucia took up her market-basket after breakfast with
the intention of shopping, but looking out from the window of her
hall, she saw Elizabeth on the pavement opposite, sketching the
front of the ancestral house of her aunt by marriage.  She could
not face Elizabeth yet, for that awful mental earthquake in the
churchyard last night had shattered her nerve.  The Mayor was a
self-ordained prisoner in her own house, as Popes had been at the
Vatican.

She put down her basket and went back into the garden-room.  She
must show Elizabeth though not by direct encounter, that she was
happy and brilliant and busy.  She went to her piano and began
practising scales.  Arpeggios and roulades of the most dazzling
kind followed.  Slightly exhausted by this fine display she crept
behind the curtain and peered out.  Elizabeth was still there, and,
in order to continue the impression of strenuous artistic activity,
Lucia put on a gramophone record of the Moonlight Sonata.  At the
conclusion of that she looked out again; Elizabeth had gone.  It
was something to have driven that baleful presence away from the
immediate neighbourhood, but it had only taken its balefulness
elsewhere.  She remembered how Susanna had said with regard to the
rejected portrait (which no longer seemed to matter an atom) "You
can't get people to like what they don't like by telling them that
they ought to"; and now a parallel aphorism suggested itself to
Lucia's harassed brain.

"You can't get people to believe what they won't believe by telling
them that it's true," she whispered to herself.  "Yet Poppy did
stay here: she did, she did!  And it's TOO unfair that I should
lose more prestige over that, when I ought to have recovered all
that I had lost . . .  What is it, Grosvenor?"

Grosvenor handed her a telegram.

"Mr. Georgie won't be back till Monday instead of Saturday," said
Lucia in a toneless voice.  "Anything else?"

"Shall Cook do the shopping, ma'am, if you're not going out?  It's
early closing."

"Yes.  I shall be alone for lunch and dinner," said Lucia, wishing
that it were possible for all human affairs to shut down with the
shops.

She glanced at Georgie's telegram again, amazed at its light-
heartedness.  "Having such fun," it ran.

"Olga insists I stop till Monday.  Know you won't mind.  Devoted
Georgie."

She longed for devoted Georgie, and fantastic ideas born of pure
misery darted through her head.  She thought of replying:  "Come
back at once and stand by me.  Nobody believes that Poppy slept
here."  She thought of asking the B.B.C. to broadcast an S.O.S.:
"Will George Pillson last heard of to-day at Le Touquet, return at
once to Tilling where his wife the Mayor--"  No, she could not say
she was dangerously ill.  That would alarm him; besides he would
find on arrival that she was perfectly well.  He might even come by
air, and then the plane might crash and he would be burned to
death.  She realised that such thoughts were of the most morbid
nature, and wondered if a glass of sherry would disperse them.  But
she resisted.  "I won't risk becoming like Major Benjy," she said
to herself, "and I've got to stick it alone till Monday."

The hours crept dismally by: she had lunch, tea and dinner by
herself.  One fragment of news reached her through Grosvenor and
that was not encouraging.  Her cook had boasted to Elizabeth's
parlour-maid that she had cooked dinner for a Duchess, and the
parlour-maid with an odd laugh, had advised her not to be so sure
about that.  Cook had returned in a state of high indignation,
which possibly she had expressed by saturating Lucia's soup with
pepper, and putting so much mustard into her devilled chicken that
it might have been used as a plaster for the parlour-maid.  Perhaps
these fiery substances helped to kindle Lucia again materially, and
all day psychical stimulants were at work: pride which refused to
surrender, the extreme boredom of being alone, and the consciousness
of rectitude.  So next morning, after making sure that Elizabeth was
not lurking about, Lucia set forth with her market-basket.  Irene
was just coming out of her house, and met her with a grave and
sympathetic face.

"Darling, I am so sorry about it," she said.

Lucia naturally supposed that she was referring to the rejection of
the portrait.

"Don't give it another thought," she said.  "It will be such a joy
to have it at Mallards.  They're all Goths and Vandals and
Elizabeths."

"Oh that!" said Irene.  "Who cares?  Just wait till I've touched up
Elizabeth and Benjy for the Carlton Gallery.  No, about this septic
Duchess.  Why did you do it?  So unwise!"

Lucia wondered if some fresh horror had ripened, and her mouth went
dry.

"Why did I do what?" she asked.

"Say that she'd been to stay with you, when she didn't even know
you by sight.  So futile!"

"But she did stay with me!" cried Lucia.

"No, no," said Irene soothingly.  "Don't go on saying it.  It
wounds me.  Naturally, you were vexed at her not recognising you.
You HAD seen her before somewhere, hadn't you?"

"But this is preposterous!" cried Lucia.  "You MUST believe me.  We
had dressed crab for dinner.  She went to bed early.  She slept in
the spare room.  She snored.  We breakfasted at half-past-seven--"

"Darling, we won't talk about it any more," said Irene.  "Whenever
you want me, I'll come to you.  Just send for me."

"I shall want you," said Lucia with awful finality, "when you beg
my pardon for not believing me."

Irene uttered a dismal cry, and went back into her house.  Lucia
with a face of stone went on to the High Street.  As she was
leaving the grocer's her basket bumped against Diva's, who was
entering.

"Sorry," said Diva.  "Rather in a hurry.  My fault."

It was as if an iceberg, straight from the North Pole, had
apologized.  Mr. Wyse was just stepping on to the pavement, and he
stood hatless as she hailed him.

"Lovely weather, isn't it?" she said.  "Georgie writes to me that
they're having the same at Le Touquet.  We must have some more
Bridge parties when he gets back."

"You enjoy your Bridge so much, and play it so beautifully," said
Mr. Wyse with a bow.  "And, believe me, I shall never forget your
kindness over Susan's budgerigar."

In Lucia's agitated state, this sounded dreadfully like an
assurance that, in spite of all, she hadn't lost his friendship.
Then with an accession of courage, she determined to stick to her
guns.

"The Duchess's visit to me was at such short notice," she said,
"that there was literally not time to get a few friends together.
She would so much have liked to see you and Susan."

"Very good of you to say so.  I--I heard that she had spent the
night under your hospitable roof.  Ah!  I see Susan beckoning to
me."

Lucia's shopping had not raised her spirits, and when she went up
the street again towards Mallards, there was Elizabeth on the
pavement opposite, at her easel.  But now the sight of her braced
Lucia.  It flashed through her mind that her dear Mayoress had
selected this subject for her sketch in order to keep an eye on
her, to observe, as through a malicious microscope, her joyless
exits and entrances and report to her friends how sad and wan she
looked: otherwise Elizabeth would never have attempted anything
which required the power to draw straight lines and some knowledge,
however elementary, of perspective.  All the more reason, then,
that Lucia should be at her very best and brightest and politest
and most withering.

Elizabeth out of the corner of her eye saw her approaching and
kissed the top end of her paint-brush to her.

"Good morning, dear Worship," she said.  "Been shopping and
chatting with all your friends?  Any news?"

"Good morning, sindaca mia," she said.  "That means Mayoress, dear.
Oh, what a promising sketch!  But have you quite got the mellow
tone of the bricks in my garden-room?  I should suggest just a
touch of brown-madder."

Elizabeth's paint-brush began to tremble.

"Thank you, dear," she said.  "Brown-madder.  I must remember
that."

"Or a little rose-madder mixed with burnt sienna would do as well,"
continued Lucia.  "Just stippled on.  You will find that will give
the glowing effect you want."

Elizabeth wondered whether Lucia could have realised that nobody in
Tilling believed that Poppy had ever stayed with her and yet remain
so complacent and superior.  She hoped to find an opportunity of
introducing that topic.  But she could find something to say on the
subject of Art first.

"So lovely for quaint Irene to have had this great success with her
picture of me," she said.  "The Carlton Gallery, she tells me, and
then perhaps an American purchaser.  Such a pity that masterpieces
have to leave the country.  Luckily her picture of you is likely to
remain here."

"That was a terrible set-back for Irene," said Lucia, as glibly as
if she had learned this dialogue by heart, "when your Committee
induced the Council to reject it."

"Impossible to take any other view," said Elizabeth.  "A daub.  We
couldn't have it in our beautiful Town Hall.  And it didn't do you
justice, dear."

"How interesting that you should say that!" said Lucia.  "Dear
Irene felt just that about her picture of you.  She felt she had
not put enough character into your face.  She means to make some
little alterations in it before she sends it to the Carlton
Galleries."

That was alarming: Elizabeth remembered the "little alterations"
Irene had made before.  But she did not allow that to unnerve her.

"Sometimes I am afraid she will never rise to the level of her
Venus again," she sighed.  "Her high-water mark.  Her picture of
you, for instance.  It might have been out of Mr. Wyse's pieces of
still life: bicycle, piano, packs of cards."

"Some day when I can find time, I will explain to you the
principles of symbolism," Lucia promised.

Elizabeth saw her way to the desired topic.

"Thank you, dear," she said fervently.  "That would be a treat.
But I know how busy you are with all your duties and all your
entertaining.  Have you had any more visitors to dine and sleep and
go away very early next morning before they had seen anything of
our lovely Tilling?"

The blow was wholly unexpected and it shook Lucia.  She pulled
herself together.

"Let me think," she said.  "Such a succession of people dropping
in.  No!  I think the dear Duchess was my last guest."

"What a lovely evening you must have had," said Elizabeth.  "Two
old friends together.  How I love a tte--tte, just like what
we're having now with nobody to interrupt.  Roaming over all sorts
of subjects, like bees sipping at flowers.  How much you always
teach me, Worship.  Rose-madder and burnt sienna to give
luminousness--"

Lucia clutched at the return of this topic, and surveyed
Elizabeth's sketch.

"So glad to have given you that little tip," she said.  "Immense
improvement, isn't it?  How the bricks glow now--"

"I haven't put any madder on yet, brown or rose," cooed Elizabeth,
"but so glad to know about it.  And is poor Duchess's memory really
as bad as it seemed?  How dreadful for you if she had forgotten her
own name as well as yours."

Quite suddenly Lucia knew that she had no more force left in her.
She could only just manage a merry laugh.

"What a delicious social crisis that would be!" she said.  "You
ought to send it to some comic paper.  And what a pleasant talk we
have had!  I could stay here all morning chatting, but alas, I have
a hundred arrears to get through.  Addio, cara sindaca."

She walked without hurrying up the steps to her door and tottered
out into the garden-room.  Presently she crept to the observation
post behind the curtain and looked out.  Benjy had joined the
Mayoress, and something she said caused him to laugh very
heartily . . .  And even devoted Irene did not believe that Poppy
had ever stayed here.

Next day was Sunday.  As Lucia listened to the joyful peal of the
bells she wondered whether, without Georgie, she could meet the
fresh ordeal that awaited her, when after the service Tilling
society assembled outside the south porch of the church for the
Sunday morning chat which took the place of the week-day shopping.
To shirk that would be a tacit confession that she could not face
her friends: she might just as well, from the social point of view,
not go to church at all.  But though the dbcle appeared so
complete, she knew that her essential spirit was unbroken: it would
be "given her," she felt, to make that manifest in some convincing
manner.

She sang very loud in the hymns and psalms, she winced when the
organist had a slight misunderstanding with the choir, she let
ecclesiastical smiles play over her face when she found herself in
sympathy with the doctrine of the curate's sermon, she gave
liberally to the offertory.  When the service was over she waited
outside the south porch.  Elizabeth followed close behind, and
behind Elizabeth were other familiar faces.  Lucia felt
irresistibly reminded of the hymn she had just been singing about
the hosts of Midian who 'prowled and prowled around'. . . .  So
much the worse for the hosts of Midian.

"Good morning, dear," said Elizabeth.  "No Mr. Georgie in church?
Not ill I hope?"

"No, particularly well," said Lucia, "and enjoying himself so much
at Le Touquet that he's staying till Monday."

"Sweet of you to allow him," responded Elizabeth, "for you must be
so lonely without him."

At that precise moment there took possession of Lucia an emotion to
which hitherto she had been a stranger, namely sheer red rage.  In
all the numerous crises of her career her brain had always been
occupied with getting what she wanted and with calm triumph when
she got it, or with devising plans to extricate herself from tight
places and with scaring off those who had laid traps for her.  Now
all such insipidities were swept away; rage at the injustice done
her thrilled every fibre of her being, and she found the sensation
delicious.  She began rather gently.

"Lonely?" she asked.  "I don't know the word.  How could I be
lonely with my books and my music and my work, above all with so
many loving loyal friends like yourself, dear Elizabeth, so close
about me?"

"That's the stuff to give her.  That made her wince," she thought,
and opening the furnace doors she turned to the group of loving
loyal friends, who had emerged from church, and were close about
her.

"I'm still the deserted wife, you see," she said gaily.  "My
Georgie can't tear himself away from the sirens at Le Touquet, Olga
and Poppy and the rest.  Oh, Mr. Wyse, what a cold you've got!  You
must take care of yourself: your sister the Contessa Amelia di
Faraglione would never have allowed you to come out!  Dear Susan!
No Royce?  Have you actually walked all the way from Porpoise
Street?  You mustn't overdo it!  Diva, how is Paddy?  He's not been
sick again, I hope, after eating one of your delicious sardine
tartlets.  Yes, Georgie's not back yet.  I am thinking of going by
aeroplane to Le Touquet this afternoon, just to dine and sleep--
like Poppy--and return with him tomorrow.  And Susanna!  I hear
you've been so busy with your new story about Tilling.  I do hope
you will get someone to publish it when it's finished.  Dear Diva,
what a silly mistake I've made: of course it was the recipe for
cream-wafers which Susanna's chef gave you which made Paddy so
unwell.  Irene?  You in church?  Was it not a lovely sermon, all
about thinking evil of your friends?  Good morning, Major Benjy.
You must get poor Mr. Wyse to try your favourite cure for colds.  A
tumbler of whisky, isn't it, every two hours with a little boiling
water according to taste.  Au revoir, dear ones.  See you all to-
morrow I hope."

She smiled and kissed her hand, and walked off without turning her
head, a little out of breath with this shattering eloquence, but
rejoicing and rejuvenated.

"That WAS a pleasure," she said to herself, "and to think that I
was ever terrified of meeting them!  What a coward!  I don't think
I left anybody out: I insulted each one in the presence of all the
rest.  That's what they get for not believing that Poppy stayed
here, and for thinking that I was down and out.  I've given them
something else to think about.  I've paid them back, thank God, and
now we'll see what will happen next."


Lucia, of course, had no intention of flying to Le Touquet, but she
drove to Seaport next morning to meet Georgie.  He was wearing a
new French yachting costume with a double-breasted jacket and brass
buttons.

"My dear, how delightful of you to come and meet me!" he said.
"Quite a smooth crossing.  Do you like my clothes?"

"Too smart for anything, Georgie, and I am so glad to see you
again.  Such a lot to tell you which I couldn't write."

"Elizabeth been behaving well?" he asked.

"Fiendishly.  A real crisis, Georgie, and you've come into the
middle of it.  I'll tell you all about it as we go."

Lucia gave an unbiassed and lucid sketch of what had happened,
peppered by indignant and excited comments from him:

"Poppy's imbecile--yes I call her Poppy to her face, she asked me
to--Fancy her forgetting you: just the sort of thing for that foul
Mapp to make capital of--And so like her to get the Council to
reject the picture of you--My dear, you cried?  What a shame, and
how very unlike you--And they don't believe Poppy stayed with you?
Why of course she did!  She talked about it--Even Irene?--How
utterly poisonous of them all!--Hurrah, I'm glad you gave it them
hot after church.  Capital!  We'll do something stunning, now that
we can put our heads together about it.  I must hear it all over
again bit by bit.  And here we are in the High Street.  There's
Mapp, grinning like a Cheshire cat.  We'll cut her anyhow, just to
make a beginning: we can't go wrong over that."

Georgie paused a moment.

"And, do you know, I'm very glad to be back," he said.  "Olga was
perfectly sweet, as she always is, but there were other things.  It
would have been far better if I'd come home on Saturday."

"Georgie, how thrilling!" cried Lucia, forgetting her own crisis
for a brief second.  "What is it?"

"I'll tell you afterwards.  Hullo, Grosvenor, how are you?  Yes, I
think I'll have a warm bath after my journey and then rest till tea-
time."

They had tea in his sitting-room after he had rested, where he was
arranging his bibelots, for Grosvenor had not put them back, after
dusting them, exactly as he wished.  This done, he took up his
needle-work and his narration.

"It's been rather upsetting," he said.  "Poppy was terribly ill on
her crossing, and I didn't see her till next day, after I had
settled to stop at Olga's over the Sunday, as I telegraphed.  And
then she was very queer.  She took hold of my hand under the table
at dinner, and trod on my foot and smiled at me most oddly.  She
wouldn't play Bridge, but came and sat close up against me.  One
thing after another--"

"Georgie, what a horrid woman," said Lucia.  "How could she dare?
Did she try--"

"No," said Georgie hastily.  "Nothing important.  Olga assured me
she didn't mean anything of the sort, but that she always behaved
like that to people with beards.  Olga wasn't very sympathetic
about it: in fact she came to my room one night, and simply went
into fits of laughter."

"Your bedroom, Georgie?" asked Lucia.

"Yes.  She often did when we went upstairs and talked for a bit.
But Poppy was very embarrassing.  I'm not good at that sort of
thing.  And yesterday, she made me go for a walk with her along the
beach, and wanted to paddle with me.  But I was quite firm about
that.  I said I should go inland at once if she went on about it."

"Quite right, dear.  Just what I should have done myself," said
Lucia appreciatively.

"And so those last two days weren't so pleasant.  I was
uncomfortable.  I wished I'd come back on Saturday."

"Very tiresome for you, dear," said Lucia.  "But it's all over
now."

"That's just what I'm not so sure about," said he.  "She's leaving
Olga's to-morrow, and she's going to telegraph to you, asking if
you would let her stay here for a couple of nights.  Apparently you
begged her to propose herself.  You must really say your house is
full or that you're away.  Though Olga says she means no harm, it's
most disagreeable."

Lucia sprang from her chair.

"Georgie, how absolutely providential!" she cried.  "If only she
came, it would kill that despicable scandal that she hadn't stayed
here before.  They would be forced to believe that she had.  Oh!
What a score!"

"Well, I couldn't stop here if she came," said Georgie firmly.  "It
got on my nerves.  It made me feel very jumpy."

"But then she mightn't stop if she found you weren't here," pleaded
Lucia.  "Besides, as Olga says, she doesn't mean anything, I shall
be with you; surely that will be sufficient protection, and I won't
leave you alone with her a minute all day.  And if you're nervous,
you may sleep in my room.  Just while she's here, of course."

"Oh, I don't think either of us would like that," said Georgie,
"and Foljambe would think it so odd."

"Well, you could lock your door.  Oh, Georgie, it isn't really much
to ask, and it will put me on a higher pinnacle than ever, far, far
above their base insinuations.  They will eat their hearts out with
shame."

Grosvenor entered.

"A telegram for you, ma'am.  Prepaid."

With trembling hands Lucia tore it open, and, for Grosvenor's
benefit, assumed her drawling voice.

"From the Duchess, dear," she said.  "She wants to come here to-
morrow for two nights, on her way back from Le Touquet.  I suppose
I had better say yes, as I did ask her to propose herself."

"Oh, very well," said Georgie.

Lucia scribbled a cordial reply, and Grosvenor took it away with
the tea-tray.

"Georgino, you're an angel," said she.  "My dear, all the time that
I was so wretched here, I knew it would all come right as soon as
you got back, and see what has happened!  Now let us make our plans
at once.  I think we'll ask nobody the first night she is here--"

"Nor the second either I should hope," said Georgie, "Give them a
good lesson.  Besides, after the way you talked to them yesterday
after church, they probably wouldn't come.  That would be a knock."

Lucia regarded an angle of the ceiling with that far away
abstracted expression with which she listened to music.

"About their coming, dear," she said, "I will wager my knowledge of
human nature that they will without exception.  As to my asking
them, you know how I trust your judgment, but here I'm not sure
that I agree.  Don't you think that to forgive them all, and to
behave as if nothing had happened, would be the most devastating
thing I could do?  There's nothing that stings so much as
contemptuous oblivion.  I have often found that."

"You don't mean to say that you'll ask Elizabeth Mapp-Flint to
dine?" asked Georgie.

"I think so, Georgie, poor soul.  If I don't she will feel that she
has hurt me, that I want to pay her out.  I shouldn't like her to
feel that.  I don't want to leave her a leg to stand on.  Up till
now I have never desired quite to crush her, but I feel I have been
too lenient.  If she is to become a better woman, I must give her a
sharper lesson than merely ignoring her.  I may remind her by some
little impromptu touch of what she tried to do to me, but I shall
trust to the inspiration of the moment about that."

Georgie came round to Lucia's view of the value of vindictive
forgiveness, while for himself he liked the idea of calling a
Duchess by her Christian name before Mapp and Co.  He would not
even mind her holding his hand if there were plenty of people
there.

"It ought to be a wonderful party," he said.  "Even better than the
party you gave for Olga.  I'm beginning to look forward to it.
Shall I help you with writing the invitations?"

"Not necessary, dear, thank you," said Lucia.  "I shall ask them
all quite casually by telephone on the afternoon of our dinner.
Leave it to me."


Poppy arrived next evening, again prostrated by seasickness and far
from amorous.  But a good night restored her, and the three took a
morning stroll in the High Street, so that everybody saw them.
Lucia, absolutely certain that there would be a large dinner-party
at Mallards that night, ordered appropriate provisions.  In the
afternoon they went for a motor-drive: just before starting Lucia
directed Foljambe to ring up the whole circle of friends, asking
them to excuse such short notice and take pot-luck with her, and
not a word was Foljambe to say about Duchesses.  They knew.

While the ducal party traversed the country roads, the telephone
bells of Tilling were ringing merrily.  For the Wyses were engaged
to dine and play Bridge with the Mapp-Flints, and Susan, feeling
certain that she would not meet the Mapp-Flints anyhow at Mallards,
rang up Elizabeth to say that she was not feeling at all well and
regretted not being able to come.  Algernon, she said, did not like
to leave her.  To her surprise Elizabeth was all cordiality: dear
Susan must not think of going out, it was no inconvenience at all,
and they would arrange another night.  So, with sighs of relief,
they both rang up Mallards, and found that the line was engaged,
for Susan Leg, having explained to Diva that she had made a stupid
mistake, and had meant to ask her for tomorrow not for to-night,
was telling Foljambe that she would be charmed to come.  Diva got
the line next, and fussing with this delay, Elizabeth sent Benjy
round to Mallards to say how pleased.  Then to make certain, they
all wrote formal notes of acceptance.  As for Irene, she was so
overcome with remorse at having ever doubted Lucia's word, and so
overwhelmed by her nobility in forgiving her, that she burst into
tears, and forgot to answer at all.

Poppy was very late for dinner, and all Lucia's guests had arrived
before she appeared.  They were full of a timid yet eager
cordiality, as if scarcely believing that such magnanimity was
possible, and their hostess was graciousness itself.  She was
particularly kind to Elizabeth and made enquiries about her sketch.
Then as Poppy still lingered she said to Georgie:  "Run up to
Poppy's room, dear, and tell her she must be quick."  She had
hardly got that pleasant sentence out when Poppy entered.

"Naughty!" said Lucia, and took her arm to introduce the company.
"Mr. and Mrs. Wyse, Miss Leg (Rudolph da Vinci, you know, dear),
Miss Irene Coles--the picture of the year--and Mrs. Plaistow:
didn't you have one of her delicious teas when you were here?  And
my Mayoress, Mrs. Mapp-Flint, I don't think you met her when you
stayed with me last week.  And Major Mapp-Flint.  Now everybody
knows everybody.  Sherry, dear Poppy?"

Georgie kept his hands on the table during dinner, and Poppy
intermittently caressed the one nearest her in a casual manner;
with so many witnesses and in so bright a light, Georgie liked it
rather than otherwise.  Her attempt to stroll with him alone in the
garden afterwards was frustrated, for Lucia, as bound by her
promise, instantly joined them, and brought them back to the garden-
room.  She was induced to play to them, and Poppy, sitting close to
Georgie on the sofa, fell into a refreshing slumber.  At the
cessation of the music, she woke with a start and asked what the
time was.  A most distinguished suavity prevailed, and though the
party lacked the gaiety and lightness of the Olga-festival, its
quality was far more monumental.  Then the guests dispersed; Lucia
had a kind word for each and she thanked them all for having
excused her giving them such short notice.

Elizabeth walked home in silence with Benjy.  Her exaltation
evaporated in the night-air like the fumes of wine, leaving behind
an irritated depression.

"Well, there's no help for it," she said bitterly, as he fumbled
with the latch-key of the Vicarage.  "But I daresay before long--Do
be quick."


Half an hour later at Mallards, Lucia, having seen Poppy well on
the way to bed, tapped discreetly at Georgie's door.  That gave him
a terrible fright, till he remembered he had locked it.

"No, you can't come in," he said.  "Good night, Poppy.  Sleep
well."

"It's me, Georgie," said Lucia in a low voice.  "Open the door:
only a chink.  She isn't here."

Georgie unlocked it.

"Perfect!" she whispered.  "Such a treat for them all!  They will
remember this evening.  Perfect."



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