A young lady seems to have helped him; so I fear Narcisse has broken more than one of the commandments in this final escapade. The truly great have ever been subject to these momentary aberrations, and Narcisse being now in the hands of justice--so called--our dinner must needs stand over, though not, I hope, for long. Meantime the only consolation I can perceive is the chance of a cup of tea with you this afternoon.
Sir John Oglethorpe had been her husband's oldest and best friend. He and the Marchesa had first met in Sardinia, where they had both of them gone in pursuit of woodcock, and since the Marchesa had been a widow, she and Sir John had met either in Rome or in London every year. The dinner so tragically manque had been arranged to assemble a number of Anglo-Italian friends; and, as Sir John was as perfect as a host as Narcisse was as a cook, the disappointment was a heavy one. She threw aside the letter with a gesture of vexation, and opened the next.
"Sweetest Marchesa," it began, "how can I tell you my grief at having to postpone our dinner for Friday. My wretched cook (I gave her seventy-five pounds a year), whom I have long suspected of intemperate habits, was hopelessly inebriated last night, and had to be conveyed out of the house by my husband and a dear, devoted friend who happened to be dining with us, and deposited in a four- wheeler. May I look in tomorrow afternoon and pour out my grief to you? Yours cordially,
"Pamela St. Aubyn Fothergill."
When the Marchesa had opened four more letters, one from Lady Considine, one from Mrs. Sinclair, one from Miss Macdonnell, and one from Mrs. Wilding, and found that all these ladies were obliged to postpone their dinners on account of the misdeeds of their cooks, she felt that the laws of average were all adrift. Surely the three remaining letters must contain news of a character to counterbalance what had already been revealed, but the event showed that, on this particular morning, Fortune was in a mood to strike hard. Colonel Trestrail, who gave in his chambers carefully devised banquets, compounded by a Bengali who was undoubtedly something of a genius, wrote to say that this personage had left at a day's notice, in order to embrace Christianity and marry a lady's-maid who had just come into a legacy of a thousand pounds under the will of her late mistress. Another correspondent, Mrs. Gradinger, wrote that her German cook had announced that the dignity of womanhood was, in her opinion, slighted by the obligation to prepare food for others in exchange for mere pecuniary compensation. Only on condition of the grant of perfect social equality would she consent to stay, and Mrs. Gradinger, though she held advanced opinions, was hardly advanced far enough to accept this suggestion. Last of all, Mr. Sebastian van der Roet was desolate to announce that his cook, a Japanese, whose dishes were, in his employer's estimation, absolute inspirations, had decamped and taken with him everything of value he could lay hold of; and more than desolate, that he was forced to postpone the pleasure of welcoming the Marchesa di Sant' Andrea at his table.
When she had finished reading this last note, the Marchesa gathered the whole mass of her morning's correspondence together, and uttering a few Italian words which need not be translated, rolled it into a ball and hurled the same to the farthest corner of the room. "How is it," she ejaculated, "that these English, who dominate the world abroad, cannot get their food properly cooked at home? I suppose it is because they, in their lofty way, look upon cookery as a non-essential, and consequently fall victims to gout and dyspepsia, or into the clutches of some international brigandaccio, who declares he is a cordon bleu. One hears now and again pleasant remarks about the worn-out Latin races, but I know of one Latin race which can do better than this in cookery." And having thus delivered herself, the Marchesa lay back on the pillows and reviewed the situation.