“i don’t have time for this. my guests will be arriving in an hour. leave a memo explaining, in the simplest terms possible, who this person is and what he wants, and i will address the matter tomorrow.”
“but, madam - “
“i have spoken.”
“but the fate of the empire is at stake.”
“i am the empire and i have spoken.”
my sister particularly was pleased with this answer.
the menu for the evening meal had been decided the day before.
the colonel took down the assault rifle with radiation bullets.
as advised in the margins of somebody else’s lost notebook.
they were aware that death had entered the room.
it was left to the duchess of g————, the oldest member of the party, to make light of the fact.
the colonel, the only person in the room who had been through the siege of f———, suddenly felt a curious sense of embarrassment.
they all obviously belonged to a privileged section of society.
and were what the gutter press is pleased to call “people of the world.”
yes, they were, weren’t they?
not that it really left them any better informed than the rest of humankind.
rather less, really, as they had more illusions to cherish and protect.
sylvie had suddenly had quite enough.
“come, roger,” she commanded the youngest member of the party, "let us go out on the balcony and look at the moon.”
poor roger, who had hoped for a trustful evening after a long day breaking codes at the embassy, could do ought but comply.
annette was rather pleased than otherwise that sylvie was showing such spunk and savoir-faire.
“the mist is quite silent tonight, don’t you think?” roger asked when they shut the balcony window behind them.
the count knew when he was being well served.
they obviously belonged to a privileged section of society.
baron de d—————, ignoring the attempted ostracisms of the other guests, was quite enjoying himself, sitting my himself by the fire in the most comfortable chair in the room, sipping his wine and surveying the scene.
he found sylvie particularly fetching, and was indifferent to the venomous glances of annette.
“it is frightfully simple and straightforward” terence was insisting to annette.
sylvie had always loved silence and mist.
the devilfish is found quite commonly on mediteranean shores.
the duchess, under her calm exterior, felt a strong sense of foreboding, and wished she were back in africa, with her lions.
”everything is quite simple and straightforward if one has the means to make it so,” annette drawled.
suddenly a chill entered the room - followed by the forbidding figure of fra paolo - the aggressively austere papal envoy.
general b——————, in all the innocence of an old soldier, offered the worthy friar a cigar.
to the surprise - astonishment would be too strong a word - the offer was accepted.
the count began surreptitiously examining the pages of the mysterious abandoned notebook.
the duchess composed herself, and began examining the curiously coloured painting of a devilfish which hung over the blue divan.
the room served various vague purposes.
“can you see a star - right over there?” sylvie asked innocenttly.
“no, i am afraid i can’t,” roger replied dubiously.
“oh, bother!” cried sylvie, and flounced back into the room.
forgetting that our mothers were married at twelve or thirteen.
the duchess herself had been married at fourteen, the empress at eleven.
they viewed young women of the “the fast set” like annette and sylvie, with amused disdain.
dinner was announced at last.
the temperature had fallen in the room, and the banquet hall beckoned invitingly.
reluctantly, the colonel placed the assault rifle back over the fireplace.
they were reminded to speak a language appropriate to their civilized european lives.
the country which the general staff was planning to invade was rich and kindly, though it had long been deserted.
the butler appeared, with a message for fra paolo that his holiness the pope was on the phone.
far paolo politely informed the empress that in that case he would not be dining, and insisted that they proceed without him.
annette and sylvie were impressed with her majesty’s frankness in accepting the worthy friar’s excuses.
outside in the mist the silence had become well nigh unbearable.
though civilization was crumbling minute by minute, the amenities were scrupulously observed.
especially by the empress, whose demeanor thrilled them all.
as they went to dinner, they continued to speak a language appropriate to their civilized european life.
the colonel cast a last regretul glance back at the assault rifle hanging over the fireplace.
death, who had not been invited to dinner, watched them depart. did he admire the empress, or any of them, for their frankness?
sources: clarissa, by samuel richardsion;
sir charles grandson, by samuel richardson;
war and peace, by leo tolstoy;
the magic mountain, by thomas mann;
anthony adverse, by hervey allen;
the man without qualities, by robert musil;
the recognitions, by william gaddis;
lord of the rings, by j r r tolkien;
the demons, by hermito von doderer;
gravity’s rainbow, by thomas pynchon;
dhalgren, by samuel delany;
battlefield earth, by l ron hubbard;
harlot’s ghost, by norman mailer;
infinite jest, by david foster wallace