‘This is too awful,’ said Sophie; ‘a strike of servants at a moment like this, with the Duke of Syria staying in the house. Something must be done immediately. Quick, finish my hair and I’ll go and see what I can do to bring them round.’

‘I can’t finish your hair, madame,’ said Richardson quietly, but with immense decision. ‘I belong to the union and I can’t do another half-minute’s work till the strike is settled. I’m sorry to be disobliging.’

‘But this is inhuman!’ exclaimed Sophie tragically; ‘I’ve always been a model mistress and I’ve refused to employ any but union servants, and this is the result. I can’t finish my hair myself; I don’t know how to. What am I to do? It’s wicked!’

‘Wicked is the word,’ said Richardson; ‘I’m a good Conservative, and I’ve no patience with this Socialist foolery, asking your pardon. It’s tyranny, that’s what it is, all along the line, but I’ve my living to make, same as other people, and I’ve got to belong to the union. I couldn’t touch another hairpin without a strike permit, not if you was to double my wages.’

The door burst open and Catherine Malsom raged into the room.

‘Here’s a nice affair,’ she screamed, ‘a strike of household servants without a moment’s warning, and I’m left like this! I can’t appear in public in this condition.’

After a very hasty scrutiny Sophie assured her that she could not.

‘Have they all struck?’ she asked her maid.

‘Not the kitchen staff,’ said Richardson, ‘they belong to a different union.

‘Dinner at least will be assured,’ said Sophie, ‘that is something to be thankful for.’

‘Dinner!’ snorted Catherine, ‘what on earth is the good of dinner when none of us will be able to appear at it? Look at your hair—and look at me! or rather, don’t.’

‘I know it’s difficult to manage without a maid; can’t your husband be any help to you?’ asked Sophie despairingly.

‘Henry? He’s in worse case than any of us. His man is the only person who really understands that ridiculous new-fangled Turkish bath that he insists on taking with him everywhere.’

‘Surely he could do without a Turkish bath for one evening,’ said Sophie; ‘I can’t appear without hair, but a Turkish bath is a luxury.’

‘My good woman,’ said Catherine, speaking with a fearful intensity, ‘Henry was in the bath when the strike started. In it, do you understand? He’s there now.’

‘Can’t he get out?’

‘He doesn’t know how to. Every time he pulls the lever marked “release” he only releases hot steam. There are two kinds of steam in the bath, “bearable” and “scarcely bearable”; he has released them both. By this time I’m probably a widow.’

‘I simply can’t send away Gaspare,’ wailed Sophie; ‘I should never be able to secure another omelette specialist.’

‘Any difficulty that I may experience in securing another husband is of course a trifle beneath any one’s consideration,’ said Catherine bitterly.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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