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lacquer boxes. The interval of waiting was not destined, however, to be
without its interest; in its way it provided the one really important and
dramatic moment of the evening. One or two uniforms and evening
toilettes had already made their appearance in the Imperial box; now
there was observable in that quarter a slight commotion, an unobtrusive
reshuffling and reseating, and then every eye in the suddenly quiet semi-
darkened house focussed itself on one figure. There was no public
demonstration from the newly-loyal, it had been particularly wished that
there should be none, but a ripple of whisper went through the vast
audience from end to end. Majesty had arrived. The Japanese
marvel-workers went through their display with even less attention than
before. Lady Shalem, sitting well in the front of her box, lowered her
observant eyes to her programme and her massive bangles. The evidence of
her triumph did not need staring at.




CHAPTER IX: AN EVENING "TO BE REMEMBERED"


To the uninitiated or unappreciative the dancing of Gorla Mustelford did
not seem widely different from much that had been exhibited aforetime by
exponents of the posturing school. She was not naturally graceful of
movement, she had not undergone years of arduous tutelage, she had not
the instinct for sheer joyous energy of action that is stored in some
natures; out of these unpromising negative qualities she had produced a
style of dancing that might best be labelled a conscientious departure
from accepted methods. The highly imaginative titles that she had
bestowed on her dances, the "Life of a fern," the "Soul-dream of a
topaz," and so forth, at least gave her audience and her critics
something to talk about. In themselves they meant absolutely nothing,
but they induced discussion, and that to Gorla meant a great deal. It
was a season of dearth and emptiness in the footlights and box-office
world, and her performance received a welcome that would scarcely have
befallen it in a more crowded and prosperous day. Her success, indeed,
had been waiting for her, ready-made, as far as the managerial profession
was concerned, and nothing had been left undone in the way of
advertisement to secure for it the appearance, at any rate, of popular
favour. And loud above the interested applause of those who had personal
or business motives for acclaiming a success swelled the exaggerated
enthusiasm of the fairly numerous art-satellites who are unstinted in
their praise of anything that they are certain they cannot understand.
Whatever might be the subsequent verdict of the theatre-filling public
the majority of the favoured first-night audience was determined to set
the seal of its approval on the suggestion dances, and a steady roll of
applause greeted the conclusion of each item. The dancer gravely bowed
her thanks; in marked contradistinction to the gentleman who had
"presented" the performing wolves she did not permit herself the luxury
of a smile.

"It teaches us a great deal," said Rhapsodic Pantril vaguely, but
impressively, after the Fern dance had been given and applauded.

"At any rate we know now that a fern takes life very seriously," broke in
Joan Mardle, who had somehow wriggled herself into Cicely's box.

As Yeovil, from the back of his gallery, watched Gorla running and
ricochetting about the stage, looking rather like a wagtail in energetic
pursuit of invisible gnats and midges, he wondered how many of the middle-
aged women who were eagerly applauding her would have taken the least
notice of similar gymnastics on the part of their offspring in nursery or
garden, beyond perhaps asking them not to make so much noise. And a
bitterer tinge came to his thoughts as he saw the bouquets being handed
up, thoughts of the brave old dowager down at Torywood, the woman who had
worked and wrought so hard and so unsparingly in her day for the well-
being of the State - the State that had fallen helpless into alien hands
before her tired eyes. Her eldest son lived invalid-wise in the South of
France, her second son lay fathoms deep in the North Sea, with the hulk
of a broken battleship for a burial-vault; and now the grand-daughter was
standing here in the limelight, bowing her thanks for the patronage and
favour meted out to her by this cosmopolitan company, with its lavish
sprinkling of the uniforms of an alien army.

Prominent among the flowers at her feet was one large golden-petalled
bouquet of gorgeous blooms, tied with a broad streamer of golden riband,
the tribute rendered by Caesar to the things that were Caesar's. The new
chapter of the fait accompli had been written that night and written
well. The audience poured slowly out with the triumphant music of
Jancovius's Kaiser Wilhelm march, played by the orchestra as a happy
inspiration, pealing in its ears.

"It has been a great evening, a most successful evening," said Lady
Shalem to Herr von Kwarl, whom she was conveying in her electric brougham
to Cicely Yeovil's supper party; "an important evening," she added,
choosing her adjectives with deliberation. "It should give pleasure in
high quarters, should it not?"

And she turned her observant eyes on the impassive face of her companion.

"Gracious lady," he replied with deliberation and meaning, "it has given
pleasure. It is an evening to be remembered."

The gracious lady suppressed a sigh of satisfaction. Memory in high
places was a thing fruitful and precious beyond computation.

Cicely's party at the Porphyry Restaurant had grown to imposing
dimensions. Every one whom she had asked had come, and so had Joan
Mardle. Lady Shalem had suggested several names at the last moment, and
there was quite a strong infusion of the Teutonic military and official
world. It was just as well, Cicely reflected, that the supper was being
given at a restaurant and not in Berkshire Street.

"Quite like ole times," purred the beaming proprietor in Cicely's ear, as
the staircase and cloak-rooms filled up with a jostling, laughing throng.

The guests settled themselves at four tables, taking their places where
chance or fancy led them, late comers having to fit in wherever they
could find room. A babel of tongues in various languages reigned round
the tables, amid which the rattle of knives and forks and plates and the
popping of corks made a subdued hubbub. Gorla Mustelford, the motive for
all this sound and movement, this chatter of guests and scurrying of
waiters, sat motionless in the fatigued self-conscious silence of a great
artist who has delivered a great message.

"Do sit at Lady Peach's table, like a dear boy," Cicely begged of Tony
Luton, who had come in late; "she and Gerald Drowly have got together, in
spite of all my efforts, and they are both so dull. Try and liven things
up a bit."

A loud barking sound, as of fur-seals calling across Arctic ice, came
from another table, where Mrs. Mentieth-Mendlesohnn (one of the
Mendlesohnns of Invergordon, as she was wont to describe herself) was
proclaiming the glories and subtleties of Gorla's achievement.

"It was a revelation," she shouted; "I sat there and saw a whole new
scheme of thought unfold itself before my eyes. One could not define it,
it was thought translated into action - the best art cannot be defined.
One just sat there and knew that one was seeing something one had never
seen before, and yet one felt that one had seen it, in one's brain, all
one's life. That was what was so wonderful - yes, please," she broke off
sharply as a fat quail in aspic was presented to her by a questioning
waiter.

The voice of Mr. Mauleverer Morle came across the table, like another
seal barking at a greater distance.

"Rostand," he observed with studied emphasis, "has been called le Prince
de l'adjectif Inopine; Miss Mustelford deserves to be described as the
Queen of Unexpected Movement."

"Oh, I say, do you hear that?" exclaimed Mrs. Mentieth-Mendlesohnn to as
wide an audience as she could achieve; "Rostand has been called - tell
them what you said, Mr. Morle," she broke off, suddenly mistrusting her
ability to handle a French sentence at the top of her voice.

Mr. Morle repeated his remark.

"Pass it on to the next table," commanded Mrs. Mentieth-Mendlesohnn.
"It's too good to be lost."

At the next table however, a grave impressive voice was dwelling at
length on a topic remote from the event of the evening. Lady Peach
considered that all social gatherings, of whatever nature, were intended
for the recital of minor domestic tragedies. She lost no time in
regaling the company around her with the detailed history of an
interrupted week-end in a Norfolk cottage.

"The most charming and delightful old-world spot that you could imagine,
clean and quite comfortable, just a nice distance from the sea and within
an easy walk of the Broads. The very place for the children. We'd
brought everything for a four days' stay and meant to have a really
delightful time. And then on Sunday morning we found that some one had
left the springhead, where our only supply of drinking water came from,
uncovered, and a dead bird was floating in it; it had fallen in somehow
and got drowned. Of course we couldn't use the water that a dead body
had been floating in, and there was no other supply for miles round, so
we had to come away then and there. Now what do you say to that?"

"'Ah, that a linnet should die in the Spring,'" quoted Tony Luton with
intense feeling.

There was an immediate outburst of hilarity where Lady Peach had
confidently looked for expressions of concern and sympathy.

"Isn't Tony just perfectly cute? Isn't he?" exclaimed a young American
woman, with an enthusiasm to which Lady Peach entirely failed to respond.
She had intended following up her story with the account of another
tragedy of a similar nature that had befallen her three years ago in
Argyllshire, and now the opportunity had gone. She turned morosely to
the consolations of a tongue salad.

At the centre table the excellent von Tolb led a chorus of congratulation
and compliment, to which Gorla listened with an air of polite detachment,
much as the Sheikh Ul Islam might receive the homage of a Wesleyan
Conference. To a close observer it would have seemed probable that her
attitude of fatigued indifference to the flattering remarks that were
showered on her had been as carefully studied and rehearsed as any of her
postures on the stage.

"It is something that one will appreciate more and more fully every time
one sees it . . . One cannot see it too often . . . I could have sat and
watched it for hours . . . Do you know, I am just looking forward to to-
morrow evening, when I can see it again. . . . I knew it was going to be
good, but I had no idea - " so chimed the chorus, between mouthfuls of
quail and bites of asparagus.

"Weren't the performing wolves wonderful?" exclaimed Joan in her fresh
joyous voice, that rang round the room like laughter of the woodpecker.

If there is one thing that disturbs the complacency of a great artist of
the Halls it is the consciousness of sharing his or her triumphs with
performing birds and animals, but of course Joan was not to be expected
to know that. She pursued her subject with the assurance of one who has
hit on a particularly acceptable topic.

"It must have taken them years of training and concentration to master
those tricycles," she continued in high-pitched soliloquy. "The nice
thing about them is that they don't realise a bit how clever and
educational they are. It would be dreadful to have them putting on airs,
wouldn't it? And yet I suppose the knowledge of being able to jump
through a hoop better than any other wolf would justify a certain amount
of 'side.'"

Fortunately at this moment a young Italian journalist at another table
rose from his seat and delivered a two-minute oration in praise of the
heroine of the evening. He spoke in rapid nervous French, with a North
Italian accent, but much of what he said could be understood by the
majority of those present, and the applause was unanimous. At any rate
he had been brief and it was permissible to suppose that he had been
witty.

It was the opening for which Mr. Gerald Drowly had been watching and
waiting. The moment that the Italian enthusiast had dropped back into
his seat amid a rattle of hand-clapping and rapping of forks and knives
on the tables, Drowly sprang to his feet, pushed his chair well away, as
for a long separation, and begged to endorse what had been so very aptly
and gracefully, and, might he add, truly said by the previous speaker.
This was only the prelude to the real burden of his message; with the
dexterity that comes of practice he managed, in a couple of hurried
sentences, to divert the course of his remarks to his own personality and
career, and to inform his listeners that he was an actor of some note and
experience, and had had the honour of acting under - and here followed a
string of names of eminent actor managers of the day. He thought he
might be pardoned for mentioning the fact that his performance of
"Peterkin" in the "Broken Nutshell," had won the unstinted approval of
the dramatic critics of the Provincial press. Towards the end of what
was a long speech, and which seemed even longer to its hearers, he
reverted to the subject of Gorla's dancing and bestowed on it such
laudatory remarks as he had left over. Drawing his chair once again into
his immediate neighbourhood he sat down, aglow with the satisfied
consciousness of a good work worthily performed.

"I once acted a small part in some theatricals got up for a charity,"
announced Joan in a ringing, confidential voice; "the Clapham Courier
said that all the minor parts were very creditably sustained. Those were
its very words. I felt I must tell you that, and also say how much I
enjoyed Miss Mustelford's dancing."

Tony Luton cheered wildly.

"That's the cleverest speech so far," he proclaimed. He had been asked
to liven things up at his table and was doing his best to achieve that
result, but Mr. Gerald Drowly joined Lady Peach in the unfavourable
opinion she had formed of that irrepressible youth.

Ronnie, on whom Cicely kept a solicitous eye, showed no sign of any
intention of falling in love with Gorla. He was more profitably engaged
in paying court to the Grafin von Tolb, whose hospitable mansion in
Belgrave Square invested her with a special interest in his eyes. As a
professional Prince Charming he had every inducement to encourage the
cult of Fairy Godmother.

"Yes, yes, agreed, I will come and hear you play, that is a promise,"
said the Grafin, "and you must come and dine with me one night and play
to me afterwards, that is a promise, also, yes? That is very nice of
you, to come and see a tiresome old woman. I am passionately fond of
music; if I were honest I would tell you also that I am very fond of good-
looking boys, but this is not the age of honesty, so I must leave you to
guess that. Come on Thursday in next week, you can? That is nice. I
have a reigning Prince dining with me that night. Poor man, he wants
cheering up; the art of being a reigning Prince is not a very pleasing
one nowadays. He has made it a boast all his life that he is Liberal and
his subjects Conservative; now that is all changed - no, not all; he is
still Liberal, but his subjects unfortunately are become Socialists. You
must play your best for him."

"Are there many Socialists over there, in Germany I mean?" asked Ronnie,
who was rather out of his depth where politics were concerned.

"Ueberall," said the Grafin with emphasis; "everywhere, I don't know what
it comes from; better education and worse digestions I suppose. I am
sure digestion has a good deal to do with it. In my husband's family for
example, his generation had excellent digestions, and there wasn't a case
of Socialism or suicide among them; the younger generation have no
digestions worth speaking of, and there have been two suicides and three
Socialists within the last six years. And now I must really be going. I
am not a Berliner and late hours don't suit my way of life."

Ronnie bent low over the Grafin's hand and kissed it, partly because she
was the kind of woman who naturally invoked such homage, but chiefly
because he knew that the gesture showed off his smooth burnished head to
advantage.

The observant eyes of Lady Shalem had noted the animated conversation
between the Grafin and Ronnie, and she had overheard fragments of the
invitation that had been accorded to the latter.

"Take us the little foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines," she
quoted to herself; "not that that music-boy would do much in the
destructive line, but the principle is good."




CHAPTER X: SOME REFLECTIONS 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
Grafin 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 Grafin 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 Grafin 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 role
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


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Online LibrarySakiWhen William Came → online text (page 6 of 12)