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Long Live the King

Tea In The Schoolroom
Tea at the Palace, until the old King had taken to his bed, had been the one cheerful hour
of the day. The entire suite gathered in one of the salons, and remained standing until the
King's entrance. After that, formality ceased. Groups formed, footmen in plush with
white wigs passed trays of cakes and sandwiches and tiny gilt cups of exquisite tea. The
Court, so to speak, removed its white gloves, and was noisy and informal. True, at dinner
again ceremony and etiquette would reign. The march into the dining-hall between rows
of bowing servants, the set conversation, led by the King, the long and tedious courses,
the careful watch for precedence that was dinner at the Palace.
But now all that was changed. The King did not leave his apartment. Annunciata
occasionally took tea with the suite, but glad for an excuse, left the Court to dine without
her. Sometimes for a half-hour she lent her royal if somewhat indifferently attired
presence to the salon afterward, where for thirty minutes or so she moved from group to
group, exchanging a few more or less gracious words. But such times were rare. The
Archduchess, according to Court gossip, had "slumped."
To Hedwig the change had been a relief. The entourage, with its gossip, its small talk, its
liaisons, excited in her only indifference and occasional loathing. Not that her short life
had been without its affairs. She was too lovely for that. But they had touched her only
faintly.
On the day of the Chancellor's visit to her mother she went to tea in the schoolroom. She
came in glowing from a walk, with the jacket of her dark velvet suit thrown open, and a
bunch of lilies-of-the-valley tucked in her belt.
Tea had already come, and Captain Larisch, holding his cup, was standing by the table.
The Crown Prince, who was allowed only one cup, was having a second of hot water and
milk, equal parts, and sweetened.
Hedwig slipped out of her jacket and drew off her gloves. She had hardly glanced at
Nikky, although she knew quite well every motion he had made since she entered. "I am
famished!" she said, and proceeded to eat very little and barely touch the tea. "Please
don't go, Miss Braithwaite. And now, how is everything?"
Followed a long half-hour, in which the Crown Prince talked mostly of the Land of
Desire and the American boy. Miss Braithwaite, much indulged by long years of service,
crocheted, and Nikky Larisch, from the embrasure of a window, watched the little group.
In reality he watched Hedwig, all his humble, boyish heart in his eyes.
After a time Hedwig slipped the lilies out of her belt and placed them in a glass of water.
"They are thirsty, poor things," she said to Otto. Only - and here was a strange thing, if
she were really sorry for them - one of the stalks fell to the floor, and she did not trouble
 
 
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