“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.”
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.