It was time, he thought, to go back to the boys’ room, and see how they were getting on with their peace toys. As he stood outside the door he could hear Eric’s voice raised in command; Bertie chimed in now and again with a helpful suggestion.
“That is Louis the Fourteenth,” Eric was saying, “that one in knee-breeches, that Uncle said invented Sunday schools. It isn’t a bit like him, but it’ll have to do.”
“We’ll give him a purple coat from my paintbox by and by,” said Bertie.
“Yes, an’ red heels. That is Madame de Maintenon, that one he called Mrs. Hemans. She begs Louis not to go on this expedition, but he turns a deaf ear. He takes Marshal Saxe with him, and we must pretend that they have thousands of men with them. The watchword is Qui vive? and the answer is L’etat c’est moi—that was one of his favourite remarks, you know. They land at Manchester in the dead of the night, and a Jacobite conspirator gives them the keys of the fortress.”
Peeping in through the doorway Harvey observed that the municipal dust-bin had been pierced with holes to accommodate the muzzles of imaginary cannon, and now represented the principal fortified position in Manchester; John Stuart Mill had been dipped in red ink, and apparently stood for Marshal Saxe.
“Louis orders his troops to surround the Young Women’s Christian Association and seize the lot of them. ’Once back at the Louvre and the girls are mine,’ he exclaims. We must use Mrs. Hemans again for one of the girls; she says ‘Never,’ and stabs Marshal Saxe to the heart.”
“He bleeds dreadfully,” exclaimed Bertie, splashing red ink liberally over the facade of the Association building.
“The soldiers rush in and avenge his death with the utmost savagery. A hundred girls are killed”—here Bertie emptied the remainder of the red ink over the devoted building—“and the surviving five hundred are dragged off to the French ships. ‘I have lost a Marshal,’ says Louis, ‘but I do not go back empty-handed.’”
Harvey stole away from the room, and sought out his sister.
“Eleanor,” he said, “the experiment—”
“Has failed. We have begun too late.”
“The tea will be quite cold, you’d better ring for some more,” said the Dowager Lady Beanford.
Susan Lady Beanford was a vigorous old woman who had coquetted with imaginary ill-health for the greater part of a lifetime; Clovis Sangrail irreverently declared that she had caught a chill at the Coronation of Queen Victoria and had never let it go again. Her sister, Jane Thropplestance, who was some years her junior, was chiefly remarkable for being the most absent-minded woman in Middlesex.
“I’ve really been unusually clever this afternoon,” she remarked gaily, as she rang for the tea. “I’ve called on all the people I meant to call on; and I’ve done all the shopping that I set out to do. I even remembered to try and match that silk for you at Harrod’s, but I’d forgotten to bring the pattern with me, so it was no use. I really think that was the only important thing I forgot during the whole afternoon. Quite wonderful for me, isn’t it?”