Belvane Enjoys Herself

The entrance of an attendant into his room that morning to bring him his early bran-mash had awakened Udo. As soon as she was gone he jumped up, shook the straw from himself, and said in a very passion of longing,

Bo, boll, bill, bole.
Wo, woll, will, wole.

He felt it was his last chance. Exhausted by his effort, he fell back on the straw and dropped asleep again. It was nearly an hour later that he became properly awake.

Into his feelings I shall not enter at any length; I leave that to Roger Scurvilegs. Between ourselves Roger is a bit of a snob. The degradation to a Prince of Araby to be turned into an animal so ludicrous, the delight of a Prince of Araby at regaining his own form, it is this that he chiefly dwells upon. Really, I think you or I would have been equally delighted. I am sure we can guess how Udo felt about it.

He strutted about the room, he gazed at himself in every glass, he held out his hand to an imaginary Hyacinth with “Ah, dear Princess, and how are we this morning?” Never had he felt so handsome and so sure of himself. It was in the middle of one of his pirouettings, that he caught sight of the unfortunate bran-mash, and uttered the remarkable words which I have already recorded.

The actual meeting with Hyacinth was even better than he had expected. Hardly able to believe that it was true, she seized his hands impulsively and cried:

“Oh, Prince Udo! oh, my dear, I am so glad!”

Udo twirled his moustache and felt a very gay dog indeed.

At breakfast (where Udo did himself extremely well) they discussed plans. The first thing was to summon the Countess into their presence. An attendant was sent to fetch her.

“If you would like me to conduct the interview,” said Udo, “I’ve no doubt that——”

“I think I shall be all right now that you are with me. I shan’t feel so afraid of her now.”

The attendant came in again.

“Her ladyship is not yet down, your Royal Highness.”

“Tell her that I wish to see her directly she isdown,” said the Princess.

The attendant withdrew.

“You were telling me about this army of hers,” said Udo. “One of my ideas—I had a good many while I was—er—in retirement—was that she could establish the army properly at her own expense, and that she herself should be perpetual orderly-sergeant.”

“Isn’t that a nice thing to be?” asked Hyacinth innocently.

“It’s a horrible thing to be. Another of my ideas was that——”

The attendant came in again.

“Her ladyship is a little indisposed, and is staying in bed for the present.”

“Oh! Did her ladyship say when she thought of getting up?”

“Her ladyship didn’t seem to think of getting up at all to-day. Her ladyship told me to say that she didn’t seem to know when she’d get up again.”

The attendant withdrew, and Hyacinth and Udo, standing together in a corner, discussed the matter anxiously.

“I don’t quite see what we can do,” said Hyacinth. “We can’t pull her out of bed. Besides, she may really be ill. Supposing she stays there for ever!”

“Of course,” said Udo. “It would be rather——”

“You see if we——”

“We might possibly——”

Good morning, all!” said Belvane, sweeping into the room. She dropped a profound curtsey to the Princess. “Your Royal Highness! And dear Prince Udo, looking his own charming self again!”

She had made a superb toilet. In her flowing gold brocade, cut square in front to reveal the whitest of necks, with her black hair falling in two braids to her knees and twined with pearls which were caught up in loops at her waist, she looked indeed a Queen; while Hyacinth and Udo, taken utterly by surprise, seemed to be two conspirators whom she had caught in the act of plotting against her.

“I—I thought you weren’t well, Countess,” said Hyacinth, trying to recover herself.

“I not well?” cried Belvane, clasping her hands to her breast. “I thought it was his Royal Highness who—— Ah, but he’s looking a true Prince now.”

She turned her eyes upon him, and there was in that look so much of admiration, humour, appeal, impudence—I don’t know what (and Roger cannot tell us, either)—that Udo forgot entirely what he was going to say and could only gaze at her in wonder.

Her mere entry dazzled him. There is no knowing with a woman like Belvane; and I believe she had purposely kept herself plain during these last few days so that she might have the weapon of her beauty to fall back upon in case anything went wrong. Things had indeed gone wrong; Udo had become a man again; and it was against the man that this last weapon was directed.

Udo himself was only too ready. The fact that he was once more attractive to women meant as much as anything to him. To have been attractive to Hyacinth would have contented most of us, but Udo felt a little uncomfortable with her. He could not forget the last few days, nor the fact that he had once been an object of pity to her. Now Belvane had not pitied him.

Hyacinth had got control of herself by this time.

“Enough of this, Countess,” she said with dignity. “We have not forgotten the treason which you were plotting against the State; we have not forgotten your base attack upon our guest, Prince Udo. I order you now to remain within the confines of the Palace until we shall have decided what to do with you. You may leave us.”

Belvane dropped her eyes meekly.

“I am at your Royal Highness’s commands. I shall be in my garden when your Royal Highness wants me.”

She raised her eyes, gave one fleeting glance to Prince Udo, and withdrew.

“A hateful woman,” said Hyacinth. “What shall we do with her?”

“I think,” said Udo, “that I had better speak to her seriously first. I have no doubt that I can drag from her the truth of her conspiracy against you. There may be others in it, in which case we shall have to proceed with caution; on the other hand, it may be just misplaced zeal on her part, in which case——”

“Was it misplaced zeal which made her turn you into a——?”

Udo held up his hand hastily.

“I have not forgotten that,” he said. “Be sure that I shall exact full reparation. Let me see; whichis the way to her garden?”

Hyacinth did not know quite what to make of her guest. At the moment when she first saw him in his proper form the improvement on his late appearance had been so marked that he had seemed almost the handsome young Prince of her dreams. Every minute after that had detracted from him. His face was too heavy, his manner was too pompous; one of these days he would be too fat.

Moreover he was just a little too sure of his position in her house. She had wanted his help, but she did not want so much of it as she seemed to be likely to get.

Udo, feeling that it was going to be rather a nice day, went into Belvane’s garden. He had been there once before; it seemed to him a very much prettier garden this morning, and the woman who was again awaiting him much more desirable.

Belvane made room for him on the seat next to her.

“This is where I sit when I write my poetry,” she said. “I don’t know if your Royal Highness is fond of poetry?”

“Extremely,” said Udo. “I have never actually written any or indeed read much, but I have a great admiration for those who—er—admire it. But it was not to talk about poetry that I came out here, Countess.”

“No?” said Belvane. “But your Royal Highness must have read the works of Sacharino, the famous bard of Araby?”

“Sacharino, of course. ‘Blood for something, something——He who something——’ I mean, it’s a delightful little thing. Everybody knows it. But it was to talk about something very different that I——”

Blood for blood and shoon for shoon,
 He who runs may read my rune,

quoted Belvane softly. “It is perhaps Sacharino’s most perfect gem.”

“That’s it,” cried Udo excitedly. “I knew I knew it, if only I could——” He broke off suddenly, remembering the circumstances in which he had wanted it. He coughed importantly and explained for the third time that he had not come to talk to her about poetry.

“But of course I think his most noble poem of all,” went on Belvane, apparently misunderstanding him, “is the ode to your Royal Highness upon your coming-of-age. Let me see, how does it begin?

Prince Udo, so dashing and bold,
 Is apparently eighteen years old.
     It is eighteen years since
     This wonderful Prince
 Was born in the Palace, I’m told.

“These Court Poets,” said Udo, with an air of unconcern, “flatter one, of course.”

If he expected a compliment he was disappointed.

“There I cannot judge,” said Belvane, “until I know your Royal Highness better.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eyes. “Is your Royal Highness very—dashing?”

“I—er—well—er—one—that is to say.” He waded on uncomfortably, feeling less dashing every moment. He should have realised at once that it was an impossible question to answer.

“Your Royal Highness,” said Belvane modestly, “must not be too dashing with us poor Euralians.”

For the fourth time Udo explained that he had come there to speak to her severely, and that Belvane seemed to have mistaken his purpose.

“Oh, forgive me, Prince Udo,” she begged. “I quite thought that you had come out to commune soul to soul with a fellow-lover of the beautiful.”

“N—no,” said Udo; “not exactly.”

“Then what is it?” she cried, clasping her hands eagerly together. “I know it will be something exciting.”

Udo stood up. He felt that he could be more severe a little farther off. He moved a few yards away, and then turned round towards her, resting his elbow on the sundial.

“Countess,” he began sternly, “ten days ago, as I was starting on my journey hither, I was suddenly——”

“Just a moment,” said Belvane, whispering eagerly to herself rather than to him, and she jumped up with a cushion from the seat where she was sitting, and ran across and arranged it under his elbow. “He would have been souncomfortable,” she murmured, and she hurried back to her seat again and sat down and gazed at him, with her elbows on her knees and her chin resting on her hands. “Now go on telling me,” she said breathlessly.

Udo opened his mouth with the obvious intention of obeying her, but no words came. He seemed to have lost the thread of his argument. He felt a perfect fool, stuck up there with his elbow on a cushion, just as if he were addressing a public meeting. He looked at his elbow as if he expected to find a glass of water there ready, and Belvane divined his look and made a movement as if she were about to get it for him. It would be just like her. He flung the cushion from him (“Oh, mind my roses,” cried Belvane) and came down angrily to her. Belvane looked at him with wide, innocent eyes.

“You—you—oh, don’t look like that!”

“Like that?” said Belvane, looking like it again.

“Don’t do it,” shouted Udo, and he turned and kicked the cushion down the flagged path. “Stop it.”

Belvane stopped it.

“Do you know,” she said, “I’m rather frightened of you when you’re angry with me.”

“I am angry. Very, very angry. Excessively annoyed.”

“I thought you were,” she sighed.

“And you know very well why.”

She nodded her head at him.

“It’s my dreadful temper,” she said. “I do such thoughtless things when I lose my temper.”

She sighed again and looked meekly at the ground.

“Er, well, you shouldn’t,” said Udo weakly.

“It was the slight to my sex that made me so angry. I couldn’t bear to think that we women couldn’t rule ourselves for such a short time, and that a man had to be called in to help us.” She looked up at him shyly. “Of course I didn’t know then what the man was going to be like. But now that I know——”

Suddenly she held her arms out to him beseechingly.

“Stay with us, Prince Udo, and help us! Men are so wise, so brave, so—so generous. They know nothing of the little petty feelings of revenge that women indulge.”

“Really, Countess, we—er—you—er—— Of course there is a good deal in what you say, and I—er——”

“Won’t you sit down again, Prince Udo?”

Udo sat down next to her.

“And now,” said Belvane, “let’s talk it over comfortably as friends should.”

“Of course,” began Udo, “I quite see your point. You hadn’t seen me; you didn’t know anything about me; to you I might have been just any man.”

“I knew a little about you when you came here. Beneath the—er—outward mask I saw how brave and dignified you were. But even if I could have got you back into your proper form again, I think I should have been afraid to; because I didn’t know then how generous, how forgiving you were.”

It seemed to be quite decided that Udo was forgiving her. When a very beautiful woman thanks you humbly for something you have not yet given her, there is only one thing for a gentleman to do. Udo patted her hand reassuringly.

“Oh, thank you, your Royal Highness.” She gave herself a little shake and jumped up. “And now shall I show you my beautiful garden?”

“A garden with you in it, dear Countess, is always beautiful,” he said gallantly. And it was not bad, I think, for a man who had been living on watercress and bran-mash only the day before.

They wandered round the garden together. Udo was now quite certain it was going to be a nice day.

It was an hour later when he came into the library. Hyacinth greeted him eagerly.

“Well?” she said.

Udo nodded his head wisely.

“I have spoken to her about her conduct to me,” he said. “There will be no more trouble in that direction, I fancy. She explained her conduct to me very fully, and I have decided to overlook it this time.”

“But her robberies, her plots, her conspiracy against me!

Udo looked blankly at her for a moment and then pulled himself together.

“I am speaking to her about that this afternoon,” he said.