Clovis sat in the hottest zone but two of a Turkish bath, alternately inert in statuesque contemplation and rapidly manoeuvring a fountainpen over the pages of a note-book.
Dont interrupt me with your childish prattle, he observed to Bertie van Tahn, who had slung himself languidly into a neighbouring chair and looked conversationally inclined; Im writing deathless verse.
Bertie looked interested.
I say, what a boon you would be to portrait painters if you really got to be notorious as a poetry writer. If they couldnt get your likeness hung in the Academy as Clovis Sangrail, Esq., at work on his latest poem, they could slip you in as a Study of the Nude or Orpheus descending into Jermyn Street. They always complain that modern dress handicaps them, whereas a towel and a fountain-pen
It was Mrs Packletides suggestion that I should write this thing, said Clovis, ignoring the bypaths to fame that Bertie van Tahn was pointing out to him. You see, Loona Bimberton had a Coronation Ode accepted by the New Infancy, a paper that has been started with the idea of making the New Age seem elder and hidebound. So clever of you, dear Loona, the Packletide remarked when she had read it; of course, any one could write a Coronation Ode, but no one else would have thought of doing it. Loona protested that these things were extremely difficult to do, and gave us to understand that they were more or less the province of a gifted few. Now the Packletide has been rather decent to me in many ways, a sort of financial ambulance, you know, that carries you off the field when youre hard hit, which is a frequent occurrence with me, and Ive no use whatever for Loona Bimberton, so I chipped in and said I could turn out that sort of stuff by the square yard if I gave my mind to it. Loona said I couldnt, and we got bets on, and between you and me I think the moneys fairly safe. Of course, one of the conditions of the wager is that the thing has to be published in something or other, local newspapers barred; but Mrs Packletide has endeared herself by many little acts of thoughtfulness to the editor of the Smoky Chimney, so if I can hammer out anything at all approaching the level of the usual Ode output we ought to be all right. So far Im getting along so comfortably that I begin to be afraid that I must be one of the gifted few.
Its rather late in the day for a Coronation Ode, isnt it? said Bertie.
Of course, said Clovis; this is going to be a Durbar Recessional, the sort of thing that you can keep by you for all time if you want to.
Now I understand your choice of a place to write it in, said Bertie van Tahn, with the air of one who has suddenly unravelled a hitherto obscure problem; you want to get the local temperature.
I came here to get freedom from the inane interruptions of the mentally deficient, said Clovis, but it seems I asked too much of fate.
Bertie van Tahn prepared to use his towel as a weapon of precision, but reflecting that he had a good deal of unprotected coast-line himself, and that Clovis was equipped with a fountainpen as well as a towel, he relapsed pacifically into the depths of his chair.
May one hear extracts from the immortal work? he asked. I promise that nothing that I hear now shall prejudice me against borrowing a copy of the Smoky Chimney at the right moment.
Its rather like casting pearls into a trough, remarked Clovis pleasantly, but I dont mind reading you bits of it. It begins with a general dispersal of the Durbar participants:
The stale pale elephants of Cutch Behar
Roll like great galleons on a tideless sea
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