In which the P.M. goes to meet the Queen and it’s not pretty.
Previously: Her Ladyship, our heroine, reported the incident with Mata Hari to the British Ambassador in Istanbul, then went shopping in the bazaar and ran into her ex-boy friend. When they parted, he was still her ex. It was then she decided to take a cruise to Egypt. Little does Lady P.P. know, the House of Lords is threatening to take away her title and lands, even though her Daddykins paid up the wazoo for them.
It was a lovely spring afternoon in England, but, in the affairs of men, winter was on its way. Wars and rumors of wars. Droughts, floods, depressions. The Great Wall of China was cracking. The Chinese blamed the Japanese and readied for war over the matter.
The pyramids of Egypt were crumbling. The Sphinx had sneezed and her nose fell off. In India, the Sikhs were after the Moslems who were after the Hindus who were after the Sikhs. The Boers in the south of Africa were up in arms. Cecil Rhodes was stealing their diamonds. The Zulus were mad because the Boers were claiming their diamonds. The French were hanging Dreyfus out to dry. The London dockworkers were striking.
And Gibraltar appeared to be sinking. The waves from the Krakatoa explosion finally reached the Mediterranean. This was some twelve years after the volcano had blown its top in the Indian Ocean. According to H. G. Wells, the planet was being overrun by Martians. Martians indeed. If anyone was doing the overrunning, it was the Venusians.
The British Empire’s arms stretched around the globe and it appeared they were growing tired. How much longer could the British maintain their control over the affairs of mankind. As the song says, “We’ve got trouble right here in River City.”
The Prime Minister stepped into his carriage at Number 10. He began the ride over to Buckingham Palace for his weekly audience with the Queen. The sun shone upon his worried face as he passed the Changing of the Guard and Whitehall. He always liked the view out his window, driving through St. James Park. He loved the pelicans, the lake and the scarlet geraniums. He especially loved the trees: the Plane, the Black Mulberry, the Scarlet Oak. All this loveliness, yet on this particular day it could not change his mood.
Queen Victoria, Her Imperial Majesty, Empress of India, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Egypt and Lots-of-Other-Places was agitated. And her agitation was agitated. She paced the room in her long shroud of a black dress, her mourning gown. Not a curve, not a bosom, not an ankle showing. Only a drape draped over Her Majesty’s anatomy.
“I am distressed, deeply distressed,” she mumbled. When Her Majesty mumbled, everybody in the Palace understood that the Queen was to be left alone.
“Madam is distressed,” the Queen’s Privy Purse told the Prime Minister as the P.M. made his way down the long corridor from the entrance of the Palace to the lift.
“Madam is distressed,” the Queen’s Lift Operator said as the operator pressed the lever to take the P.M. to the Queen’s Floor.
“Madam is distressed,” the Queen’s Physician said as the good doctor took out the Queen’s toilet from the night before for inspection.
The Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting went to speak but the Prime Minister interrupted. “I know. Her Majesty is distressed. My God, I can hear the mumbling. The whole of the Empire can hear the mumbling.”
At his insistence, the Lady-in-Waiting opened the door to the Queen’s Audience Chamber and pushed him inside. He felt like a lamb being led to the slaughter, all this talk about the Queen distressing over God-knows-what. “Patience, man,” he whispered to himself. “After all, she is Her Majesty.”
He walked into a large dark room. The curtains were drawn shut, hadn’t been opened since the night her beloved Bertie died.
The Prime Minister softly closed the door, then stood where prime ministers stood for their weekly audience. Melbourne, Peel, Russell, Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone had all stood there. At the edge of the room. He waited to be beckoned by Her Majesty to do her bidding. Every muscle in his body urged him to leave. The meetings with the Old Lady never went well. But today’s briefing was going to be more unpleasant than usual. He could feel it in his bones.
The rather large Queen, her body filling her half of the room with her majestic majesticness, stopped her pacing. She sat down in the rather large chair below the rather-large portrait of her beloved Bertie. She looked the Prime Minister’s way, hemmed and hawed several times, then beckoned him to come sit on the footstool like the dog he was.
He lowered himself before Her Majestic figure and knelt on the footstool. He never was sure whether he should bark or pant and beg for a bone. Today he did neither. He waited for Her Majesty to speak. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes stretched into an hour, then an hour and a half with barely an ahem along the way. Finally…
“Well?” Her Majesty demanded.
“Yes, Your Majesty?” he said.
Well, what do you have to say?”
“Say, Your Majesty?”
“Don’t appear an imbecile.” The large figure stared down at the dog of a Prime Minister at her feet.
“An imbecile, Your Majesty?” The dog tried to wag his tail to please his master.
“Yes, or would you prefer I call you what my Beloved Bertie called an imbecile?”
“And what would that be, Ma’am?”
“A dummkopf. Are you a dummkopf, Prime Minister?”
“If you say so, Your Majesty.”
“And if I say not, Prime Minister?” Her distress had abated. She was now enjoying this Game she conducted with her Prime Ministers. The one exception had been Benjamin Disraeli. She missed him. He had been such a great spot of tea. An enjoyable tête-à-tête always passed between the two as they had high tea together. He knew how to serve a queen. The rest was a joke and deserved her royal scorn. So scorn was what she gave them. “And if I don’t say so, Prime Minister?”
“As you say, Your Majesty.”
“But I didn’t say.” She was tiring of the Game.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The Prime Minister’s knees were getting tired. They were beginning to buckle.
“Why were you not going to tell me, Prime Minister?”
Instead of saying what he felt, “What the hell are you talking about,” the Prime Minister continued to play his part. As all the prime ministers before had. And all her prime ministers-to-come would. “I apologize, Your Majesty. You know I wouldn’t have secrets from Your Majesty, but I am getting old. Things slip my mind easily these days.”
“I can see that, Prime Minister. But things of importance you always reveal to me, do you not?”
“I do indeed, Your Majesty.”
“Then why this time did you not tell me? I had to learn it from the Prince of Wales. You know how hate getting news from Little Bertie. Do you think that is right?”
“I can only beg Your Majesty’s pardon for being so reticent. I did not wish to disturb Your Majesty’s dignity on trivial matters.”
“Do you consider the removal of a peerage a trivial matter?”
“No, Your Majesty. I do not.”
“Of course, you do, Prime Minister. After all, you are only a commoner commonly born.”
“’Tis true, Your Majesty, sadly ‘tis true. I am commonly born. But that does not mean I do not care. All matters of governance throughout Your Majesty’s reign concern me. Any concern of Your Majesty is a concern of my government.” My God, my knees hurt. How much longer must I endure this torture?
“Prime Minister, you must speak to Lords and rectify the situation.”
“I will, Your Majesty. But in my burdens of governance I haven’t been following the business of Lords lately. I have been concerned with other matters.”
The face of Queen Victoria, Her Imperial Majesty, Empress of India, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Egypt and Lots-of-Other-Places turned white. She was angry. She stood up.
“Prime Minister, this audience is ended.”
“But, Your Majesty.” His face too had turned white. Fear gripped every bone in his body. If he did not please Her Majesty and continue the audience, his career might well be in jeopardy. And he knew it. “I am so sorry, Your Majesty.”
“This audience is over, Prime Minister.”
The queen turned and left the room, walking into her private chambers off to the side of the Audience Chamber.
The Prime Minister was stunned. What matter had he ignored? My God, what had Lords gone and done? What act of complete idiocy had they moved on? Whatever they had done, there would be consequences. And this very afternoon.
Behind the Prime Minister still kneeling on his toad stool in his doggie position came a sound. He turned and saw the maids dusting. Soon he would be dusted out of office if he didn’t act. He could not allow things to fall into a freefall with the lords or his government would fall. He had to take charge. He must rectify the situation. But first he must find out what the situation was.
He rose and stalked out of the Chamber, his feet marching to the tune of the swishing of the dusting. Past the door with the big knocker on it and down the empty hallway and to the lift he plodded, his body stooped. He had aged ten years in the hours since he entered the Queen’s Audience Chamber.
The lift on its way down kept repeating, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”
As he made his way back to Number 10, the Prime Minister’s carriage wheels kept repeating, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”
Next Week: Ship Ahoy