“Then you really are coming?” said Queen Elizabeth.
“Yes, I really am,” I sighed.
“I don’t know at all–something with a cold. I leave it to you, partner, only don’t go a black suit.”
“What about Richelieu?”
“I should never be able to pronounce that,” I confessed. “Besides, I always think that these great scientists–I should say philos–that is, of course, that these generals–er, which room is the Encyclopedia in?”
“You might go as one of the Kings of England. Which is your favourite King?”
“William and Mary. Now that would be an original costume. I should have—-“
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why not Henry VIII?”
“Do you think I should get a lot of partners as Henry VIII? Anyhow, I don’t think it’s a very becoming figure.”
“But you don’t wear fancy dress simply because it’s becoming.”
“Well, that is rather the point to settle. Are we going to enhance my natural beauty, or would you like it–er–toned down a little? Of course, I could go as the dog-faced man, only—-“
“Very well then, if you don’t like Henry, what about Edward I?”
“But why do you want to thrust royalty on me? I’d much sooner go as Perkin Warbeck. I should wear a brown perkin–I mean jerkin.”
“Jack is going as Sir Walter Raleigh.”
“Then I shall certainly touch him for a cigarette,” I said, as I got up to go.
* * * * *
It was a week later that I met Elizabeth in Regent Street.
“Well,” she said, “have you got your things?”
“I haven’t,” I confessed.
“I forgot who you said you were going as?”
“Somebody who had black hair,” I said. “I have been thinking it over and I have come to the conclusion that I should have knocked them rather if I had had black hair. Instead of curly eyes and blue hair. Can you think of anybody for me?”
Queen Elizabeth regarded me as sternly as she might have regarded–Well, I’m not very good at history.
“Do you mean to say,” she said at last, “that that is as far as you have got? Somebody who had black hair?”
“Hang it,” I protested, “it’s something to have been measured for the wig.”
“Have you been measured for your wig?”
“Well–er–no. That is to say, not exactly what you might call measured. But–well, the fact is that I was just going along now, only–I say, where do I get a wig?”
“You’ve done nothing,” said Elizabeth, “absolutely nothing.”
“I say, don’t say that,” I began nervously, “I’ve done an awful lot, really. I’ve practically got the costume, I’m going as Harold the Boy Earl, or Jessica’s last–Hallo, there’s my bus; I’ve got a cold, I mustn’t keep it waiting. Good-bye.” And I fled.
* * * * *
“I am going,” I said, “as Julius Cæsar. He was practically bald. Think how cool that will be.”
“Do you mean to say,” cried Elizabeth, “that you have altered again?”
“Don’t be rough with me or I shall cry. I’ve got an awful cold.”
“Then you’ve no business to go as Julius Cæsar.”
“I say, now you’re trying to unsettle me. And I was going to-morrow to order the clothes.”
“What! You haven’t—-“
“I was really going this afternoon, only–only it’s early closing day. Besides, I wanted to see if my cold would get better. Because if it didn’t—- Look here, I’ll be frank with you. I am going as Charlemagne.”
“Charlemagne in half-mourning, because Pepin the Short had just died. Something quiet in grey, with a stripe I thought. Only half-mourning because he only got half the throne. By-the-way, I suppose all these people wore pumps and white kid gloves all right? Yes, I thought so. I wonder if Charlemagne really had black hair. Anyhow, they can’t prove he didn’t, seeing when he lived. He flourished about 770, you know. As a matter of fact 770 wasn’t actually his most flourishing year because the Radicals were in power then and land went down so. Now 771–Yes. Or else as Winston Churchill.
“Anyhow,” I added indignantly a minute later, “I swear I’m going somehow.”
* * * * *
“Hallo,” I said cheerfully, as I ran into Her Majesty in Piccadilly. “I’ve just been ordering–that is to say, I’ve been going–I mean I’m just going to—- Let’s see, it’s next week, isn’t it?”
For a moment Elizabeth was speechless–not at all my idea of the character.
“Now then,” she said at last, “I am going to take you in hand. Will you trust yourself entirely to me?”
“To the death, Your Majesty. I’m sickening for something as it is.”
“How tall are you?”
“Oh, more than that,” I said quickly. “Gents’ large medium, I am.”
“Then I’ll order a costume for you and have it sent round. There’s no need for you to be anything historical; you might be a butcher.”
“Quite–blue is my colour. In fact, I can do you the best end of the neck at tenpence, madam, if you’ll wait a moment while I sharpen the knife. Let’s see; you like it cut on the cross, I think? Bother, they’ve forgotten the strop.”
“Well, it may not be a butcher,” said Elizabeth; “it depends what they’ve got.”
* * * * *
That was a week ago. This morning I was really ill at last; had hardly any breakfast; simply couldn’t look a poached in the yolk. A day on the sofa in a darkened room and bed at seven o’clock was my programme. And then my eye caught a great box of clothes, and I remembered that the dance was to-night. I opened the box. Perhaps dressed soberly as a black-haired butcher I could look in for an hour or two … and—-
A yellow waistcoat, pink breeches, and–no, it’s not an eider-down, it’s a coat.
A yellow–Pink br—-
I am going as Joseph.
I am going as a humming bird.
I am going–yes, that’s it, I am going back to bed.