life was as satisfactory as the sky was blue, the young marquis of whitethane thought absently as he sipped his coffee on the small terrace outside jacques' cafe. and the sky above was very blue.
the marquis - actually the son of a duke, with the courtesy title of marquis - was the very portrait and embodiment of an englishman. nothing could disturb his tranquility when he did not wish it disturbed. and he almost never wished it disturbed. of a naturally indolent, though easy disposition, he enjoyed, and sought, the company of those who liked to talk, and who would spare him the burden of speaking much himself.
he also enjoyed the company of those who could tell a story, and never concerned himself as to whether the stories were "true" or not. to exercise your mind to decide whether a story was "true" - what a bother! and how was one to decide in any case?
toquette's assertion to the policeman that she was from "the sovereign kingdom of asmodea", of which the young man had never heard - although he considered himself a dab hand at world traveling - had piqued his curiosity to the extent of offering her his worthy company, which is how it came about that they were now sitting across from each other outside the cafe, sipping jacques' excellent coffee.
"so, mademoiselle, do you have skies as blue as this in the sovereign kingdom of asmodea?"
"but, monsieur, i am no longer in the sovereign kingdom of asmodea. i am sitting here with you on a sidewalk in paris."
"to be sure." the young man smiled with his impenetrable imperturbability. he had already noted this quality of literal-mindedness in his companion, on their walk over from the street where he had encountered her, in front of m. hobart's establishment .
"when i was in asmodea the sun never shone for more than a few hours a day and it rained all the time, " toquette continued. "it has probably not changed all that much since i left."
"it must be mountain country."
"very much so. there is always an excellent view of the sky and clouds."
"and did mademoiselle leave the kingdom to get a better view of the sun?"
"monsieur is pleased to be droll. i left because the kingdom of asmodea, after thousands of years of existence, finally succumbed to the implacable forces of the new mechanized society which is engulfing the earth, and threatens to overwhelm heaven and hell themselves."
the young marquis was delighted by this response, delivered in a french even worse than his own, though with not quite so barbarous an accent. he put down his cup, and closing his eyes, leaned back and pressed his fingertips together in the best english style.
"i can picture it. the ancient castle, the sun glistening off the battlements - i mean, the rain glistening on the battlements - the royal guard, sabers raised to the gray sky, the steeds rearing, ready for one last gallant charge against the black-uniformed hussars of the empire, while the princess - the last representative of a royal line stretching back to the time of cyrus, or at least cleopatra - looks on with her blue eyes raised heavenward."
toquette took a sip of her coffee. "not exactly."
"no?" the marquis smiled encouragingly. "then how exactly?"
"a frock-coated gentleman from the ministry of the interior of the kingdom of hungary arrived in a carriage one morning and announced that the king no longer recognized the sovereignty of asmodea."
"i see. and what was the immediate consequence of this decisive diplomatic intervention?"
"that the post office closed and the nearest post office in crisana assumed the responsibility of delivering the mail."
"and what was the king of asmodea's s reaction to this?"
"the gentleman from the ministry of the interior bought several rounds of drinks for the king and his boon companions at the inn. and the king got up the next morning, perhaps a little later than usual, and went to his blacksmith shop to attend to his business."
"how very heroic. so no one was in any way inconvenienced?"
"only the postmistress, who lost her job."
"ah. and what happened to the poor postmistress?"
"you see her sitting before you."
the marquis was almost nonplussed by this answer. "so, there was nothing to keep you in the former kingdom of asmodea?"
"there was nothing to keep anybody in the former kingdom of asmodea."
"so you went down to the railroad station and took the train to paris?"
"railroad station? the railroad has not yet arrived in asmodea. no, i got a ride to cluj-napoca in the carriage of the minister of the interior."
"cluj-napoca? i must confess i have never been to that thriving metropolis."
"the minister was continuing to stamboul, so i left him at cluj-napoca and decided to try my luck further west."
"it was generous of him to take you as far as he did."
she looked him in the eye. "generosity had nothing to do with it."
"oh?" the marquis answered politely.
"he accommodated me, and i accommodated him."
"to be sure."
"accommodation, monsieur, is what separates us from the beasts, from creatures such as lions and tigers who must be confined in zoos."
"that is very well said."
reader, do not imagine that the young man was so ignorant as to be unaware of toquette's occupation - even if policeman jacques and madame coralie had not called his particular attention to it. however, with his anglo-saxon horror of the unscrubbed, he had no more intention of employing her in her professional capacity than he did of traversing the streets on his hands and knees. but he found her amusing, and preferred that she not leave him.
"would mademoiselle like another coffee?"
"why not? thank you very much."
"it is excellent, is it not?"
"it is all right. i am used to the turkish method. but it will do."
m borin, meanwhile, two tables over, had been listening to their conversation with some bemusement, though horrified at what they were doing to his beloved native tongue. the turkish method! he was not at all sure as to what the young woman was referring.
the turkish method! the young man wondered if, after all, she actually was from some distant land and not just having him on.
"would mademoiselle like a pastry, or a croissant?"
"if you will. monsieur is too kind."
the marquis signalled to jacques, who nodded and glided over to their table.