LADY CARLEON went to bed that night not in her lovely high-ceilinged bedroom overlooking the gardens, but in a small stateroom of an international airliner. She could have had more spacious accommodations by taking the zeppelin, but she considered that the case should be concluded quickly, and the Araminta—the ship she was now on—would be in Vintesse by morning.
She sat up in bed reviewing some correspondence on her ordinator and chatting idly to her blonde sister, Lady Susan, who was giggling over some nonsensical episode that had happened at Leontine Place that morning.
“I don’t know how you can buzz about on these aeros,” said Susan. “Aren’t they fearfully uncomfortable?”
Lady Carleon looked about the tiny room. It was very neat and orderly, not luxurious, certainly, but Lady Carleon rather admired the way everything necessary was compacted into a small space with a spare but pleasing Art-Neo aesthetic. She found it charming, but she knew that her sister, who had rarely spent a night away from Leontine and was passionately attached to all her ‘pretties’, would probably have considered such sparse accommodations barbarous.
The stewardess came in with the night-time drink Lady Carleon had ordered.
“I hope it is to your liking, my lady,” she said with deep reverence.
“Perfectly delightful,” said Lady Carleon. She admired the girl’s neat uniform. She savored the drink. Life was so full of delightful things if one knew how to appreciate each thing at its own level. She felt a little sorry for Susan, which was silly. Susan was happy enough. Each to her own and all that.
She closed the ordie and lay down, planning to go over the case in her mind, but her head had hardly touched the pillow before she was fast asleep.
MORNING IN Vintesse. Cooler than Maybridge, though still very warm and summery. People were brisker and brighter here. Tradition sat on them like a light, fluttering cape rather than a full-length velvet cloak. That was rather good, thought Lady Carleon. She made a note of it in her little commonplace book. She might well use it in her Annual Opus.
“Lady Carleon?” shouted a brunette loudly from the seat of a white Sepharilla convertible that had just pulled up. She got out and shouted again at the top of her voice: “Lady Carlee-on!” The lack of ceremony would have seemed shocking even in Chelverton.
Lady Carleon walked to the car and threw her little overnight bag into the back seat. The driver made reverence in a rather jaunty manner and handed Lady Carleon a card and a small ink-pad. She printed the card with the seal-ring on her finger and wiped the ring with the little alcohol-saturated cloth that the driver had taken out of its sachet for her.
“Travel in safety, my lady,” said the driver, making reverence again in speeded-up-kinnie time, and left her with the car. Lady Carleon watched her trotting back to her depot, or wherever she was going, long-legged, short-skirted, swinging her outsize string of beads. She supposed one must get used to Vintesse manners if one lived here long enough.
Lady Carleon slipped into the driver’s seat. She adored Sepharillas, but could never quite decide whether she liked them best in red or white. She had a red one, so she always hired a white one when she was traveling.
It was a long journey, lightened considerably by the music of the Dinky-Doos and other Vintesse musicians on the car’s wireless. She could have tuned it to her own music-module, but she generally preferred to listen to the local wireless when she was traveling. It helped one to get the feel of the place.
A little before lunchtime she came to the town of Claremont, a busy commercial center in mid-Vintesse. By sheer luck, as it seemed, she came quickly upon a house bearing a sign saying:
It was a tall, gaunt building in a row of old houses. She parked the car and walked up the stone steps to the front door. It seemed at first a little like a cheap hotel. There was a reception desk and Lady Carleon approached it.
She made a little reverence and asked the girl, “May I see Lady Maybridge?”
The girl giggled and reverenced. “I don’t think you’ll find her here, miss. I can ask. You can wait in the Common Room if you like.”
The Common Room was surprisingly airy and well appointed. Jinky music was playing on the gramophone and a number of girls were chattering, some eating sandwiches, evidently having dropped in for lunchtime from their places of work.
“Hello,” said one of the girls. “You new here?” She made a tiny reverence with her head only. Lady Carleon mused that the famous Vintesse Bob did not only refer to hair.
“This is my first time here,” said Lady Carleon.
“Are you going to join the college?”
“Actually I have a college already.”
“I shouldn’t want to encourage you to be disloyal, but really, Nimwë Hall is by far the best college in Claremont. We have such marvelous times here, and it is getting bigger practically by the day.”
“Oh, absotively! I love it so much I even pop back for lunch. Lots of the girls do. They do serve proper lunch, but I just come in here for a sandiepoo and a chat. Save the proper meal for dinner, I say. Dinner is the event here. You know, you’ll learn so much here and do so many things. I’d drop the other college, truly I should!”
“I really think I must be loyal,” said Lady Carleon, “though it does sound very tempting.”
shouted several of the girls spontaneously.
The receptionist came in. “Lady Maybridge is at the main House, miss, but I doubt if she will see you without an appointment.”
“I thought this was the main House,” said Lady Carleon.
“No, miss. This is the Founding House, the one first established by Lady Maybridge. The college has opened several Houses since then, all over town. The main one is Rose House—that big place just outside town on the Hazeldene road.”
“Could you give me directions? I am new in town.”
“Well, I can, miss, but I really don’t think you’ll get to see the Mistress without an appointment.”
“I’ll just tootle over and see,” said Lady Carleon. “No harm in that, what-what?”