When William Came

by H.H. Munro (SAKI)

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Chapter X: A Reflection and a "Te Deum"

Cicely awoke, on the morning after the “memorable evening,” with the satisfactory feeling of victory achieved, tempered by a troubled sense of having achieved it in the face of a reasonably grounded opposition. She had burned her boats, and was glad of it, but the reek of their burning drifted rather unpleasantly across the jubilant incense-swinging of her Te Deum service.

Last night had marked an immense step forward in her social career; without running after the patronage of influential personages she had seen it quietly and tactfully put at her service. People such as the Gräfin von Tolb were going to be a power in the London world for a very long time to come. Herr von Kwarl, with all his useful qualities of brain and temperament, might conceivably fall out of favour in some unexpected turn of the political wheel, and the Shalems would probably have their little day and then a long afternoon of diminishing social importance; the placid dormouse-like Gräfin would outlast them all. She had the qualities which make either for contented mediocrity or else for very durable success, according as circumstances may dictate. She was one of those characters that can neither thrust themselves to the front, nor have any wish to do so, but being there, no ordinary power can thrust them away.

With the Gräfin as her friend Cicely found herself in altogether a different position from that involved by the mere interested patronage of Lady Shalem. A vista of social success was opened up to her, and she did not mean it to be just the ordinary success of a popular and influential hostess moving in an important circle. That people with naturally bad manners should have to be polite and considerate in their dealings with her, that people who usually held themselves aloof should have to be gracious and amiable, that the self-assured should have to be just a little humble and anxious where she was concerned, these things of course she intended to happen; she was a woman. But, she told herself, she intended a great deal more than that when she traced the pattern for her scheme of social influence. In her heart she detested the German occupation as a hateful necessity, but while her heart registered the hatefulness the brain recognised the necessity. The great fighting-machines that the Germans had built up and maintained, on land, on sea, and in air, were three solid crushing facts that demonstrated the hopelessness of any immediate thought of revolt. Twenty years hence, when the present generation was older and greyer, the chances of armed revolt would probably be equally hopeless, equally remote-seeming. But in the meantime something could have been effected in another way. The conquerors might partially Germanise London, but, on the other hand, if the thing were skilfully managed, the British element within the Empire might impress the mark of its influence on everything German. The fighting men might remain Prussian or Bavarian, but the thinking men, and eventually the ruling men, could gradually come under British influence, or even be of British blood. An English Liberal-Conservative “Centre” might stand as a bulwark against the Junkerdom and Socialism of Continental Germany. So Cicely reasoned with herself, in a fashion induced perhaps by an earlier apprenticeship to the reading of Nineteenth Century articles, in which the possible political and racial developments of various countries were examined and discussed and put away in the pigeon-holes of probable happenings. She had sufficient knowledge of political history to know that such a development might possibly come to pass, she had not sufficient insight into actual conditions to know that the possibility was as remote as that of armed resistance. And the rôle which she saw herself playing was that of a deft and courtly political intriguer, rallying the British element and making herself agreeable to the German element, a political inspiration to the one and a social distraction to the other. At the back of her mind there lurked an honest confession that she was probably over-rating her powers of statecraft and personality, that she was more likely to be carried along by the current of events than to control or divert its direction; the political day-dream remained, however, as day-dreams will, in spite of the clear light of probability shining through them. At any rate she knew, as usual, what she wanted to do, and as usual she had taken steps to carry out her intentions. Last night remained in her mind a night of important victory. There also remained the anxious proceeding of finding out if the victory had entailed any serious losses.

Cicely was not one of those ill-regulated people who treat the first meal of the day as a convenient occasion for serving up any differences or contentions that have been left over from the day before or overlooked in the press of other matters. She enjoyed her breakfast and gave Yeovil unhindered opportunity for enjoying his; a discussion as to the right cooking of a dish that he had first tasted among the Orenburg Tartars was the prevailing topic on this particular morning, and blended well with trout and toast and coffee. In a cosy nook of the smoking-room, in participation of the after-breakfast cigarettes, Cicely made her dash into debatable ground.

“You haven’t asked me how my supper-party went off,” she said.

“There is a notice of it in two of the morning papers, with a list of those present,” said Yeovil; “the conquering race seems to have been very well represented.”

“Several races were represented,” said Cicely; “a function of that sort, celebrating a dramatic first-night, was bound to be cosmopolitan. In fact, blending of races and nationalities is the tendency of the age we live in.”

“The blending of races seems to have been consummated already in one of the individuals at your party,” said Yeovil drily; “the name Mentieth-Mendlesohnn struck me as a particularly happy obliteration of racial landmarks.”

Cicely laughed.

“A noisy and very wearisome sort of woman,” she commented; “she reminds one of garlic that’s been planted by mistake in a conservatory. Still, she’s useful as an advertising agent to any one who rubs her the right way. She’ll be invaluable in proclaiming the merits of Gorla’s performance to all and sundry; that’s why I invited her. She’ll probably lunch to-day at the Hotel Cecil, and every one sitting within a hundred yards of her table will hear what an emotional education they can get by going to see Gorla dance at the Caravansery.”

“She seems to be like the Salvation Army,” said Yeovil; “her noise reaches a class of people who wouldn’t trouble to read press notices.”

“Exactly,” said Cicely. “Gorla gets quite good notices on the whole, doesn’t she?”

“The one that took my fancy most was the one in the Standard,” said Yeovil, picking up that paper from a table by his side and searching its columns for the notice in question. “‘The wolves which appeared earlier in the evening’s entertainment are, the programme assures us, trained entirely by kindness. It would have been a further kindness, at any rate to the audience, if some of the training, which the wolves doubtless do not appreciate at its proper value, had been expended on Miss Mustelford’s efforts at stage dancing. We are assured, again on the authority of the programme, that the much-talked-of Suggestion Dances are the last word in Posture dancing. The last word belongs by immemorial right to the sex which Miss Mustelford adorns, and it would be ungallant to seek to deprive her of her privilege. As far as the educational aspect of her performance is concerned we must admit that the life of the fern remains to us a private life still. Miss Mustelford has abandoned her own private life in an unavailing attempt to draw the fern into the gaze of publicity. And so it was with her other suggestions. They suggested many things, but nothing that was announced on the programme. Chiefly they suggested one outstanding reflection, that stage-dancing is not like those advertised breakfast foods that can be served up after three minutes’ preparation. Half a life-time, or rather half a youth-time is a much more satisfactory allowance.’”

“The Standard is prejudiced,” said Cicely; “some of the other papers are quite enthusiastic. The Dawn gives her a column and a quarter of notice, nearly all of it complimentary. It says the report of her fame as a dancer went before her, but that her performance last night caught it up and outstripped it.”

“I should not like to suggest that the Dawn is prejudiced,” said Yeovil, “but Shalem is a managing director on it, and one of its biggest shareholders. Gorla’s dancing is an event of the social season, and Shalem is one of those most interested in keeping up the appearance, at any rate, of a London social season. Besides, her début gave the opportunity for an Imperial visit to the theatre—the first appearance at a festive public function of the Conqueror among the conquered. Apparently the experiment passed off well; Shalem has every reason to feel pleased with himself and well-disposed towards Gorla. By the way,” added Yeovil, “talking of Gorla, I’m going down to Torywood one day next week.”

“To Torywood?” exclaimed Cicely. The tone of her exclamation gave the impression that the announcement was not very acceptable to her.

“I promised the old lady that I would go and have a talk with her when I came back from my Siberian trip; she travelled in eastern Russia, you know, long before the Trans-Siberian railway was built, and she’s enormously interested in those parts. In any case I should like to see her again.”

“She does not see many people nowadays,” said Cicely; “I fancy she is breaking up rather. She was very fond of the son who went down, you know.”

“She has seen a great many of the things she cared for go down,” said Yeovil; “it is a sad old life that is left to her, when one thinks of all that the past has been to her, of the part she used to play in the world, the work she used to get through. It used to seem as though she could never grow old, as if she would die standing up, with some unfinished command on her lips. And now I suppose her tragedy is that she has grown old, bitterly old, and cannot die.”

Cicely was silent for a moment, and seemed about to leave the room. Then she turned back and said:

“I don’t think I would say anything about Gorla to her if I were you.”

“It would not have occurred to me to drag her name into our conversation,” said Yeovil coldly, “but in any case the accounts of her dancing performance will have reached Torywood through the newspapers—also the record of your racially-blended supper-party.”

Cicely said nothing. She knew that by last night’s affair she had definitely identified herself in public opinion with the Shalem clique, and that many of her old friends would look on her with distrust and suspicion on that account. It was unfortunate, but she reckoned it a lesser evil than tearing herself away from her London life, its successes and pleasures and possibilities. These social dislocations and severing of friendships were to be looked for after any great and violent change in State affairs. It was Yeovil’s attitude that really troubled her; she would not give way to his prejudices and accept his point of view, but she knew that a victory that involved estrangement from him would only bring a mockery of happiness. She still hoped that he would come round to an acceptance of established facts and deaden his political malaise in the absorbing distraction of field sports. The visit to Torywood was a misfortune; it might just turn the balance in the undesired direction. Only a few weeks of late summer and early autumn remained before the hunting season, and its preparations would be at hand, and Yeovil might be caught in the meshes of an old enthusiasm; in those few weeks, however, he might be fired by another sort of enthusiasm, an enthusiasm which would sooner or later mean voluntary or enforced exile for his part, and the probable breaking up of her own social plans and ambitions.

But Cicely knew something of the futility of improvising objections where no real obstacle exists. The visit to Torywood was a graceful attention on Yeovil’s part to an old friend; there was no decent ground on which it could be opposed. If the influence of that visit came athwart Yeovil’s life and hers with disastrous effect, that was “Kismet.”

And once again the reek from her burned and smouldering boats mingled threateningly with the incense fumes of her Te Deum for victory. She left the room, and Yeovil turned once more to an item of news in the morning’s papers that had already arrested his attention. The Imperial Aufklärung on the subject of military service was to be made public in the course of the day.


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