By: Irene Clyde
May 23, 2024

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

Beatrice the Sixteenth: Being the Personal Narrative of Mary Hatherley, M.B., Explorer and Geographer (1909), by the English feminist, pacifist, and non-binary or transgender lawyer and writer Irene Clyde (born Thomas Baty) introduces us to Armeria, an ambiguous utopia — to which we are introduced initially without any firm indications of its inhabitants’ genders. HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize this ground-breaking novel for HILOBROW’s readers.

BEATRICE THE SIXTEENTH: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13.




And so I went to the palace constantly. So often, that Lyphra, one of the children of our house, informed me one day that Athroës said I had become a regular courtier-to my mild consternation, for I did not want my movements to be conspicuous. However, I felt by this time pretty sure that Opanthë would put my frequent presence down to zeal in the fulfilment of my supposed nefarious duties. And, besides, Athroës was a professed mocker at courts and courtiers.

It was interesting to watch Opanthë’s behaviour towards me. Nearly invariably it was as entirely unconscious of any special relation between herself and me as could possibly be figured. I had difficulty sometimes in convincing myself that I had put the right interpretation on her enigmatic utterance. Calm, more than a shade contemptuous, carefully polite, and always strikingly beautiful, she did not seem to be in the least disturbed in mind or spirits by the anxieties of the time. Only, very occasionally, she would shoot out a glance or give a peculiar curl to her handsome mouth, which plainly showed in what light she regarded me. And, on one of my first visits after the expedition to the barbarians, she showed this more obviously than she usually allowed herself to do.

The good-humoured Princess Iôtris has been drawing me out to speak of my adventures on that occasion.

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“And occupied your time well on that occasion?”

The look which Opanthë gave me was most comical. Her habitual impassiveness was shaken for the moment, and amusement at the double entendre, irony at the expense of the Princess, and intriguing familiarity towards me, struggled for the mastery in her expression. It was the only time I saw her off her guard, and she immediately quenched the whole of these emotions in a factitious fit of coughing.

“My dear Opanthë,” said the Princess blandly, turning round to her, “I should advise a visit to the Western Ocean for that throat of yours. That’s a very bad cough.”

I expected her to blush, for there was an unintentional double entendre here also. But she did not.

“Thank you, your highness,” she said coldly, “It was not anything the matter with my throat — only an accident.”

Iôtris was a little obtuse — sometimes, I thought, purposely.

“Well, it certainly sounded as if something were the matter with your throat,” she observed, laughingly, “and very uncomfortably so.”

Opanthë did not answer, but she neither blushed nor moved a muscle. She went out in a few moments, nevertheless.

The Princess failed to observe her departure and took me by the arm confidentially. “You saw nothing of Thekla on your travels?”

“Nothing your Highness.”

“I’m sorry for Beatrice,” she proceeded. “I really am. She is not expansive to strangers or to most of us — as a queen, she can’t be. She has to keep up her dignity. I dare say you’ve noticed Beatrice does — kind and assuming as she is. But one can’t live on an icy peak always — Thekla was the person she unbent to. They were such friends. It was Thekla’s art that made it easy and possible. I don’t know whether you think much of our art; but we consider Thekla a genius — queens of art and cities are naturally equals. And as a cousin of Beatrice’s I knew more than many people what Thekla was to her.”

“Did she visit Thekla much?” I asked, knowing that I never had seen her at the house.

“No, you don’t understand, of course! No, she could not very well go much there. That would have raised comment. But Thekla was constantly here, and would spend hours alone with her. And she was so good; nobody could be jealous of her, or grudge the pleasure it gave Beatrice to have her.”

The pleasant-faced Princess looked grave and gave a little sigh.

“Well, I hope she may come to light, no worse,” she added in a lighter tone.

“Indeed, I hope she may,” I said, “she was always very good to me!”

Iôtris glanced quickly at me.
“Was she? Then you will do your best to find out what has become of her, won’t you? In case you are ever in Uras — you might keep your eyes open for traces of her. Sometimes children know things that might put one on the scent. And I think you would win a child’s confidence.”

“Do you know what I’d do, your highness?” I said.

“No!” She turned a half-quizzical face towards me, but listened with grave attention.

“I should capture the most easily accessible magnate of Uras, and retain him till Thekla was delivered up.”

“Couldn’t!” smiled Iôtris. “Far too delicate negotiations are going on to make that possible. It might be an elegant method of precipitating war — otherwise your solution, I am afraid, hasn’t much merit.”

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

She laughed and began to address herself to the company generally.

“Ilex tells me our friend from Anglia doesn’t approve of our barbarian descent,” she remarked.

A tremor of horrified susceptibilities was distinctly apparent.

“I approve of you, at all events,” I said boldly, glancing round the assemblage and smiling, and, I believe, blushing a little at the same time.

“Of me in particular?” said the girl whom I mentioned as having been engaged in painting on my first visit to the palace.

“Certainly. Of you and several others in particular,” I replied. The Princess laughed and clapped her hands.

“She had you there, Kisêna — she had you there!”

Kisêna was accustomed to laughter and placidly watched the amused faces as though they formed a very interesting study.

As, sometime after, Iôtris was leaving the saloon or hall where we were, she said quietly to me: “You are in no hurry to leave us, then?”

“No, my Princess.”

“Perhaps not at all! Is it true what I hear — that Ilex and you are kerôta?”

Kerôta, your highness? I do not understand.”

Kerôta. One is kerôta when one wishes to be conjux of anybody. But forgive me if I have spoken recklessly.”

For, indeed, Ilex was so much to me that the suggestion, based as it appeared to be on common rumour, affected me curiously. – do not know how I answered the Princess, but I am sure I denied the report; and equally sure that I confirmed her suspicion that it was true.

I could not think it over calmly. The words “conjux of Ilex!” would not form themselves in my mind. A burning impulse to seek out the Astrologer, and try to escape to the familiar world by whatever occult means, overtook me. But the mere experiment was to involve a long and difficult journey, according to her pronouncement. It was impossible to think of it at present.

I slipped away from the palace. There was a place not far off, where tall white columns of soaring marble served as supports for a wealth of ivy and dark green climbing plants; their shafts held up only a frieze and cornice, across which curtains could be spread. Here I had learnt to come for quiet. At the base of a great Doric pillar leant against its firm flutings, and followed with eyes the serene aspiration of its sisters opposite, as they raised into the very sky their crown of marble entablature. The snowy whiteness, the cool green, always worked on my mind like music. And I went home without showing any traces of perturbation.

For all that, I felt the effects of that minute’s rush of wild feeling. It threw me back for a time on myself. I had insensibly ceased to feel a stranger in the city; now, for a while, the sensation of detachment returned. It was not long proof against the friendliness of the occupants of the house stayed in — but it had the consequence, meanwhile, of directing my energies into the impersonal channel of politics and intrigue. I devoted myself assiduously to watching the development of the conspiracy on which I had so unexpectedly stumbled; and, in the process, I made frequently repeated visits to the palace, All the time there grew less and less chance of a peaceful settlement.

On one of the occasions on which I ventured into Opanthë’s apartments, Galêsa strolled, with his usual overbearing air, into the room as I was looking out of the window, and seated himself near her, on a couch on the opposite side, between the door and the fireplace. I should explain that the room opened onto a long corridor, which led at its farther end to a chamber specially reserved, on account of its seclusion, for important purposes.

Opanthë, with as near an approach to excitement as I had ever known her display, and without waiting for compliments which, indeed, it was not Galêsa’s practice to bestow —hurriedly exclaimed: “Galêsa, who do you think is being lodged in the End Room tonight!”

Galêsa, who was sitting bent forward, with a knee in the capacious embrace of each palm, and a somewhat deeper scowl than usual on his features, turned a slow head half towards her inquiringly.

“No less a person than a special messenger from our ambassador in Uras, with despatches. They are playing a game with us, my friend. They —”

Galêsa made an impatient jerk in my direction.

“She’s alright. She’s one of us. There’s no time to argue that point. Galêsa, they are bringing things to a crisis now.”

“How do you know?”

“Nevermind how I know! The certain matter is that our guest must not reach the queen and that the despatches must — reach us.”

“And how?”

“How? Isn’t the game in our hands? Haven’t I key for the door? Is there anything so simple as to invite the messenger to a goodnight glass? I will enjoy one with her — of a different mixture! Tsuch! Then you come up the stairs, as if to see me on state business — most urgent — two or three strong retainers with you, and plenty of cord. You find our friend sleeping — you lower her gently from a window — the small courtyard just outside is dark as pitch, and there will be nobody about so late. You descend by the stairs unruffled: you and you friends take the dispatch box with you, or leave it for me to annex. Meet a confederate or two in the courtyard, who will have taken charge of her majesty’s messenger, and walk coolly out with her as an opium-dosed slave. Nobody will question a person of your consequence.”

“No, it seems a good scheme,” he said slowly. “Are you certain the drug will work?”

“Certain! Not the first time of trial, Steward! And you have no resource. Think how much depends on appearances. An official sees you, in full official costume, superintending the hauling along of a half-dressed, half-stupid creature. Nothing in the world is easier than to pass it off with a high hand. Indeed, I would recommend I you to carry her halfway round the palace before attempting to go out.”

Galêsa grinned intelligently, but his face fell.

“There is one fatal flaw in your plan.”

“Not one,” said Opanthë confidently.

“Who is the officer of the guard in this part of the palace?”


“Then it’s no use! She is sure to be hanging about the corridor. I know this part of the building is so secluded that the duties of the officer are simply a sinecure, but that doesn’t carry weight with her. I have met her at three in the morning pacing the passage like a tiger in a cage. Why, I can’t tell. But she is sure to interrupt us.”

“You may be perfectly easy about that,” Opanthë said, with contemptuous triumph. “She would give her eyes for ten minutes here with me, and I shall let her have an hour.”

“What!” said the Grand Steward.

“I know you never think about these things. But you should,” said Opanthë. “A good many people have done me the honour to consider me worth notice. If you were not too much occupied with yourself, you would see that Cydonia is simply infatuated — self-contained as she is.”

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

I privately doubted the accuracy of her diagnosis.

“Well,” said Galêsa, “if things are so, it is quite time we took measures of some kind —your plan, if no other. As you remark, it is no time for argument. I must get my assistants picked and instructed. You will have your arrangements to effect, likewise. When is she expected?”

“She might come anytime after dark.”

“Who’s your informant?”

Opanthë smiled her superior, aggravating smile. “Understand, you are not to know that.”

“Humph! … Well! — You are sure there is no moon?”

“Not unless a new one is presented to this planet.”

“And your drugs — yes, you say that is alright?”


“What are we to do with our ambassador’s envoy — in the end, I mean?”

“Why do you ask me? After tomorrow she can do no harm. Apologise say some of your servants found her lying in the palace grounds — took kindly care of her — suggest sunstroke — anything.”

“After tomorrow she can do no harm — they will wait no longer, that’s certain. Their forces are signalled in motion — the queen leaves for the army — and we open the gates when she’s gone. Ha!” A subdued and nervous chuckle escaped the statesman’s lips. “And — just once more — you are quite certain about Cydonia? I wish — I wish we had some other officer. Could we put her off duty and send Psydrophé round? She will sit with a lamp and a book or a map in the antechamber and hear nothing all night — short of a gong.”

“My Galêsa, it’s the most fortunate thing, I tell you, that we have Cydonia. She simply worships the air I breathe. You notice she is silent and abrupt. Pure shyness! It affects her so to be near me. I can engage to occupy her attention for you.”

“Isn’t it because you would like her to feel so about you, that you think she does?” said Galêsa bluntly. “Are you sure of your ground? Don’t let us make any mistakes.”

“Is she not always here? Does she not follow me about the palace? Are not things always being sent ‘to improve the look of the room’?” “But you are not often alone. Others share these rooms.”

“Who, then?”


“Chloris! Chloris is a baby! I suppose you will be saying that I may expect to be supplanted by Etela next. Really, Galêsa, Chloris —?”

“They are near neighbours.”

“Yes, and know each other too well to be excited about one another. You do not know!”

Opanthë was getting warm. Galêsa hated anything like a scene with his equals and rose to go. As he left the room he gave me a glance of uncomfortable suspicion.

His confederate smiled. “Silly old creature!” she said. “Mêrê, you will help us in this! You have all my secrets now — public and personal.”

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

She indicated a darkened recess in the wall by the window, screened by a bronze lattice, and opened the latter.

“Just slip in there, Mêrê, and then, if there is any scuffle, you can burst out and help us.”

I complied, with a grim smile at the thought of the kind of assistance they were likely to get: when, to my horror, found the lattice firmly fixed by a bolt which Opanthë slide in.

“Can’t you leave it a little open?” I urged.

“Not possibly!” said she. “Etela would be sure to suspect something if she saw it ajar. She is such a frightened creature!”

“There is some coffee in there,” she resumed, “and some cakes, if you feel hungry. Don’t rattle the cups.”

She moved to the door as she said this, and was gone before I had time to remonstrate, or to feel quite sure whether she meant well or ill. I heard the key turn in the lock.

Considering it over, I thought my best policy was to make no objection to her wishes, and to wait my chance. It was long before she returned. Etela was with her.

“Etela, will you stand behind that lilac silk screen?” she said. Etela obligingly did so, and got between screen and wall.

“Stand against the wall. Thank you. now if you move one foot or make one sound, this poniard goes into your heart! Your heart! You understand?”

Apparently Etela did.

“I can’t see you, Mêrê. Are you there? Oh, yes — you’re not quite hidden. A little farther back, please. Let me see if I can touch you.”

A long blade was inserted through the diamond lattice, and carefully dabbed against me.

“Yes! That is right, keep just there.”

She made up the fire and lit the lamps. At that moment voices were heard in the passage, and if I had commanded a view of the doorway, which a screen hid from me, I should doubtless have seen the household procession, headed by the chamberlain, escorting the queen’s messenger to her chamber.

Opanthë left the room and was absent some time.

“Etela!” I said, “Etela! Come here and unbolt this latch! Don’t be so absurdly frightened! Speak, anyway. Whisper!”

But Etela would not give sign of her presence, and a more uncomfortable sensation than to be alone with a person whom you cannot reach, and who will not speak to you, it is hard to imagine, short of actual pain.

Later, voices were heard at the door, Opanthë’s and Cydonia’s.

“Come in, Cydonia, sit down and rest a while.” Her voice vibrated melodiously. Usually it was hard and measured.

“Thank you. I will stay in the passage,” I heard Cydonia reply.

“Nonsense! See my beautiful fire. It is so much more comfortable in here. Why should you want to stay out in the cold?”

She laughed. “It isn’t very cold, Opanthë. And, somehow, I like it. I suppose I am used to it.”

Opanthë went out to her.

“But, Cydonia, I want you! Don’t be shy of me! It would really please me if you would come in. Don’t think I say it out of civility.”

“I’m sure you don’t. But I think I had better keep outside.”

“Cydonia,” she murmured, “Dear! Come! I do so wish —”

“It’s very kind of you. I’m intensely obliged, I but at present I think I must stay out I here.”

Their voices were lowered for a minute or two, and I could not hear anything but the soft splashing of the fountains outside. When suddenly Opanthë’s beautiful figure shone in the doorway and she exclaimed angrily: “Very well, then! You are anxious to insult me. What have I done to you? But I cannot prevent you affront me to your heart’s content. I wonder that you don’t come to the door and scoff at me. Do, if you like!”

She sat by the fire, pal and erect, with dilated nostrils and flashing eyes. As I looked at her from the lattice I could not help admiring her. Outside I heard Cydonia softly humming an air.

After about a quarter of an hour — (as I judged by the sounds of the changing guards — it seemed longer) — Opanthë got up and crept out to the corridor.

“I have such a temper, Cydonia; you won’t think more about it? You are So hard to offend yourself! Say you forget it and come and sit with me to show it.”

“Of course, I forget it. What was there to forget?” responded Cydonia agreeably.

“You sweet Cydonia!” and an amicable conversation followed, in such low tones, that I inferred (not incorrectly, as I subsequently ascertained) that the speakers’ heads were in pretty close proximity. The next words I heard were: “Now take me in, dear, I and put me in a seat. I feel dizzy tonight.”

She came in, leaning on Cydonia’s shoulder and as she sank onto the couch, she drew her hands between hers and made her sit down also.

“Well, just for a few minutes,” said the officer.

Should I warn Cydonia? Better not for a little while. The look of the weapons ready to hand was not encouraging to a peaceable individual, closely cramped up in a cupboard, whose lattice was no protection against a sword-thrust. Cydonia might not stay long. If she did, then I might screw myself up to the point of declaring my presence.

And when Opanthë, a little after, complained of a draught, Cydonia, with alacrity, sprang up, and drew the heavy portiere. “I’ll go back now,” she said.

“No! No!” exclaimed Opanthë, “or I’ll think you are vexed with me yet! I am very weak and nervous tonight. Don’t leave me here all alone. Please, Cydonia. I am like a child, I know! I don’t know what can be the matter with me, but I haven’t a scrap of self-command. Don’t go!”

“I’ll send some of the fan-bearers at once. Where’s Etela? I do hope I’m not to blame for it,” said Cydonia.

“Dear, no!” she replied. “But don’t, if you love me, send for anybody. And do stay!”

“Well, I’ll leave the door open — see! And stand within the curtain. That will suit us both. I can see if anyone passes through the chink between the folds.”

“Who do you expect might be passing?” Opanthë said quickly.

“Expect? Oh, nobody! That is, nobody who shouldn’t be here. Etela will be coming, and, to tell you the truth, one is never sure what goes on. Palace slaves are like others, and they are up to mischief where one least suspects it.”

“How could any of the slaves penetrate here?” said Opanthë pettishly. “I wish you would be sensible, and sit comfortably by me.”

But Cydonia was obdurate, and stood, talking at intervals, with her eye on the corridor.

“Opanthe!” she said, in a low voice, “somebody’s coming up the corridor! The shadows are moving on the pavement. Hush!”

For Opanthë had swiftly risen from the couch and approached the curtain. Cydonia motioned her away with her long blade, which glittered towards her in the light of the flames.

“Gods! She threatens me!” panted the palace beauty, as she crouched in a heap on the floor, trembling with passion.

“No, no that! No, dear!” Cydonia said, coming quickly to her, and gentle patting her shoulder. “Only I wanted you to keep away from the doorway, and I dared not speak. I must go and make out what it was.”

She put the curtain aside and went. Opanthë, with the poniard, glided after her.

“Etela!” I said, “Etela! It’s a question of life and death! Do you think so much of your own life, that nobody else’s is of any account to you? For Heaven’s sake come and unbolt this latch!”

To my inexpressible relief, a fluttering figure darted across the room, and, in an agony of apprehension, released me. I caught up one of the long swords which were lying on the floor and put a light one into Etela’s hand. It is odd to remember what care I took to choose a light one, when every second was precious. We went out into the corridor. Cydonia and Opanthë were standing at the door of the end room, which was open. I stood in the dead silence irresolute for a moment — two or three. Then Etela’s nerves gave way and she burst into a wail, imploring us not to let her be killed, and so on.

“Fly down the corridor,” I said. “Alarm the palace. Let nobody pass from here, not if it was the queen herself. I will not let Opanthë pass me — don’t be afraid of her.”

I fear she was too much overcome to do as I told her, but she pulled herself together, and flew like the wind. This took very much less time to enact than to tell. I myself hurried up the passage in the contrary direction. Opanthë smiled joyfully when she saw me.

“That’s right! Thank goodness you’re come, Mêrê! I could have killed myself when I found I had forgotten you!”

My answer was to pink her sword-arm — not a heroic act, nor a straightforward one, but necessary.

“Opanthë is in league with traitors, Cydonia!” I cried.

She sprang into the room. The door was forced back in my face. A moment later it yielded again and I saw the sleeping form of the envoy, calm and still, with Galêsa and two others, setting on Cydonia. A moment later, and the lamp was extinguished. We were driven towards the door, and gradually down the corridor. I confess I trembled when I reflected how much it would be to the advantage of Galêsa and his friend if Cydonia and I — especially myself — were not left capable of telling our version of the fracas.

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

I had never learnt the art of fencing, but I was not unfamiliar with the feel of a sword. Galêsa, on the other hand, and Cydonia were excellent swordsfolk. The narrowness of the passage prevented the numbers opposed to us from telling, but we were continually being forced back towards the staircase, where we should be an easy prey.

“Come!” I said to myself, “we must make a stand!” As was inevitable, I felt the cold steel of my opponent’s sword — and more than once.

“Splendid!” my companion found time to say. “Mêrê, I am never so pleased as when I have a good fighter beside me.” Which bloodthirsty sentiment appealed to me strongly for the time being.

At last the hurrying of feet was heard through the clang of steel. Our opponents lowered their points, and turning, I saw a crowd of disturbed and excited denizens of the palace — and in advance of them, a slight and solitary figure. It was the queen herself.

“Am I to be favoured with an explanation of this?” said her majesty.

Galêsa grinned unpleasantly as Opanthë joined us.

“I can only tell your majesty that I came to visit the state messenger from Uras, with reference to our important dispatch just received here it is in my sleeve — when was set on by these ladies, who have succeeded in —”

The queen abruptly stopped him. “Why did you not ask for me? Why are these retainers of yours with you?”

“It was not necessary to disturb your majesty. More important, I considered, that you should be fresh at the audience tomorrow,” said Galêsa, bowing with more grace than I could have thought him capable of. After a moment he added: “As to my retainers, — your majesty can see they have been of some use!”

Again abruptly, she turned to me. “And, Mêrê, why are you here?”

“Opanthë saw fit to lock me in her room!” I answered. “Why she did I shall be pleased to explain — only it will take some time.”

“Your majesty will not believe,” said Opanthë’s measured voice, tinged with its melodious deep thrill that came into it with excitement, “all the inventions of an adventurer and a spy! It’s true I shut the creature up. Shall I inform your majesty —”

But the slight imperial form turned from us to her Castellan. The wondering circle of inmates of the palace, of all sorts and conditions, stood about us, none venturing to speak. The tall and simple figure of the Castellan, sleepy but attentive, bent to listen. In the distance the Arch-Sword bearer’s guards passed through the central hall, coming nearer and nearer, with the precise footsteps of soldiers.

“Emoron, let these six people remain here in separate rooms. See that the palace surgeons attend to them at once.” Then to the rest she observed, “no one will go through the corridor tonight. Athalis and Cronista, you will stood here, and see that that is carried out. I will send you a guard. That prohibition doesn’t apply to me and I’m going through with Aelon and Vassôné. And let us have a file of guards, Emoron!” she called to the Castellan, as the officer conducted us away.

Opanthë walked near me. Her sleeve was stained and wet. I felt it more comfortable to fall back a little. Suddenly a white form flew past me and the queen appeared by Opanthë’s side.

“You have had a nasty stab!” she said. “I am very sorry, Opanthë, however this has happened!”

The lady addressed nothing, but smiled sadly and with resignation at her sovereign, who again observed gently: “I am very sorry. I hope you will all get put right directly — before long ” And she was gone again, with four of the guards whom we then encountered.

As we went one did one’s best to tie up the hurts one had received. There hurried to us, one by one, the medical staff of the place, and four or five of the Castellan’s people.

“This has better be your room, Opanthë,” said the Castellan, leaving her with a surgeon and an officer, at the door of one of a series of chambers which overlooked an inner court. “And this is yours, Cydonia.”

She gave Galêsa a third and myself a fourth. The two retainers were sent off to less distinguished apartments.

I expected the room to be locked. But the only precaution taken was to station an additional officer outside, as I could hear by the conversation that was carried on near the door way. The elderly and deferential surgeon who attended me was a garrulous individual.

“Yes, Lady Mêrê, it isn’t many — accidents — that happen in the palace that I don’t know something about. It’s only two years ago that — by the way, what’s your general constitution? Good? I don’t like this cut on the knee, if you’re delicate it will give us trouble. Hmm, a good deal of trouble. Yes, I was saying, I remember two years ago, when Ioris fell from the arched gallery close by the central hall there. No one this moment knows how it happened. What work we had to bring her to! And she only lasted a week — a day or two more than a week — after all. The queen wanted to brick up the arches, but I said to her: ‘It’s perfectly safe, your majesty! Perfectly safe! She must have been sitting on the balustrade, which no one ought to do.’ And so she must, though we’ll never know for certain.”

A stream of refreshing water was directed on to my burning flesh by the skilful hand of the surgeon, who resumed: “No. Nobody was near, up above there, when she fell. The nearest was a son of that abominable Galêsa,’ — (curious that Galêsa should be mixed up in this!) — “He was reading in a cabinet but he heard and saw nothing. A pity that he did not happen to take a turn in the arcade just then! How things come about! He might have saved her! Now! Lady Mêrê, I will put on this unguent and bandage. Allow me.”

“Your memories of the palace go a good way back, do they?” I asked.

“Ten years,” returned the surgeon. “I practised my art for forty years in my native town, and never was unheard of. Then the Viceroy, passing through, gets thrown out of her palanquin, and I, by good luck, am on the spot. She took me with her to the towns she had to visit — now, she has a spirit, Lady Mêrê, she wouldn’t miss one them — and when she brought her report to the capital, she recommended me to the queen. So here I am, a Court surgeon, and honoured with employments like the present.”

“And you don’t like Galêsa?” I said.

“Who does?”

“His children?”

“They? They despise him! They are contemptible boors — contemptible boors!”

“How is it that they are so unlike the rest of the Court?”

“Ah!” the surgeon laughed with conscious ignorance, “there is a strain on old brutality in the city, which gets less and less, it is true, but which shows itself here and there… what could you expect of the people brought up by Galêsa?”


In the morning I was early awakened by the streams of gold pouring in through the open lattice. Less agreeable visitors were the Provost of the imperial palace and a couple of clerks, who made an exhaustive (and exhausting) interrogation, with regard to events of the previous evening.

“Why did you not discover the conspiracy before to the royal household?” inquired the Provost sedately.

If she had said “to the queen,” it would have been a difficult question to answer. As it was, I had the response ready.

“It was impossible to be sure of them; for a stranger like myself, at any rate!”

The thin face of the Provost coloured visibly.

“Galêsa,” I pursued, “was a member of the household, I may remind you. So was Opanthë.”

The Provost coughed.

“Strictly speaking, Galêsa hardly is. I ought to say that messengers have been sent to the house where you are staying, to explain what took place last night. It is by the queen’s order. Is there anyone else you would like to have told?”

“No one, I think,” I said. “You will see that the queen has my thanks, will you? And may I send a message to Ilex?”

“I will take a suitable occasion of expressing your sentiments to her majesty,” said the Provost formally. “And I think it would be best if you did not attempt to communicate with your friends at present.”

“Will you be good enough to tell her then, or see that she is told — Ilex, I mean — that I am sincerely sorry if I have been the occasion… have caused her any unpleasantness.”

“There is no objection to a verbal message,” assented the Provost, rising with slow dignity and moving towards the door. “I will see that it is transmitted. Though I cannot promise to do so immediately; as you see, my duties this morning are arduous and protracted.”

She took her leave, together with her clerks, the last of whom scattered a profusion of parchments from her arms. It was a little while before they were gathered up, during which the Provost eyed the scene disapprovingly. I felt a good deal more comfortable when they were gone and the last gold of the scribe’s muslin skirts had disappeared round the door corner.

My meals were brought me by two pages, who assured me that my presence would not be needed after the next day. In the afternoon, as I was half lying on a couch of soft rugs and wondering how events would shape themselves, I saw something move at the door. It startled me, it looked so much as if the hangings were walking. The movement ceased — began again. The curtain seemed to grow; and then I saw that a fine, long-haired cat was the cause of the phenomenon. Exactly the same colour as the draperies, it advanced into the room, purring, and not too sure of its ground. With its large translucent eyes fixed on me in the manner of its race, neither confiding nor apprehensive, it presented itself as a welcome relief to the monotony of waiting. Duly encouraged, it brought its furry self to my side.

I was not very fond of these animals, and I could hardly account for the pleasure it was to me to scratch its soft coat, and to watch its clumps of paws pounce on the end of my toes. Then I suddenly recollected. It was just such another that Jeanie Mackrell used to have in Edinburgh, long ago. For half an hour I was in Scotland again. How often I had gone home with Jeanie after classes, and found a kind of home for myself there! And now she was fifteen years married; an invisible wall was between us, on the other side of which she looked down on me, from a pedestal of matronly dignity.

My thoughts instinctively turned to the hours when I made my way back to my own abode in the evening. Those mysterious light evenings of late, cold spring! When one has been sitting by warm fires in brightly-lit rooms, and, under the spell of winter habits, has vaguely fancied that darkness set in long ago — but one passes out, and it is dim, but not dark; and there is a pale green light in the northwest, against which the low factory chimneys stand out distinct and awful — not terrible, for in the light there is summer implicit, and the wayfarer knows that it will swell in the leaf buds, and in the hearts of living things, until the earth smiles back to the sun.

It was ridiculous that Jeanie should patronise me! Could I not laugh quietly at it? — Solemn, good-natured, commonplace, Jeanie! Indeed, I could not. There seemed something wrong about it. I had no notion of patronising her, because she was hopelessly incapable of passing an examination. Why should she treat me as a kind of responsible baby, because she was “Mrs. Skinner?” And then my hurt arm shot venomous quivers along its fibres — though it was only a scratch I had, there and there began to trouble me restless disquietude, of the resource and inventiveness of the conspirators. I grew more and more uneasy.

What if they could put a good face on the matter! Had the queen examined the wine cups before anyone in on the secret could have tampered with them? Could Opanthë find any plausible reason for locking me in her room, — which Etela could prove? What proceedings would be taken the next day? Might not all that had happened be turned against, myself — myself and Cydonia?

I put my wrist round the furry neck of the cat and meditated anxiously. Was there any message I could send to anyone, that could assist in clearing up matters? Would it do to ask for an interview with the queen? — What might not Galêsa be telling her at the moment? What was being done? Gradually I lost consciousness; and only awakened when my careful attendant came to renew the dressing. The verdict was a great deal more favourable on this occasion; and my inquires as to the time the treatment would last received a satisfactory response. The good, chattering doctor rambled on at length, relating a series of more or less believable cures; and at last left me fairly comfortable.

Another figure was on the threshold;—clad in absolute white, with the royal sphinx in silver, and bearing an ivory and silver sceptre. A very young figure, which looked straight forward, avoiding my eyes with the self-consciousness of youth. Evidently a royal herald.

“I acquaint you,” it said in a monotonous voice, “that tomorrow morning you will be charged, before the queen, with High Treason.”

Then the worst had happened!

“Stay a moment,” I said. “At whose instance?”

This seemed to be a common inquiry, for the answer was immediate. “At that of the Most Excellent, the Grand Steward and of the Very Honourable the lady Opanthë, one of the queen’s high attendants.”

“And on what grounds, then?” I pursued, finding the vision thus communicative.

She dropped somewhat into the colloquial style, replying: “That your ladyship will find out in the morning.”

“Am I to meet an accusation without knowing its terms? Well, I don’t know your ways. What may the penalty be?”

“Ten years in the dungeons and —”


“And to be nine times beaten at the Trophy of Victory.”

Decidedly a pleasant prospect!


RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | & many others.