Next to arrive was Gladstone with newspapers under his arm.
"Hello," he said cheerfully, spotting Hugh and Camellia as he came in. "If I knew you'd be here I'd have asked what you wanted. Lord and Lady Thorncombe isn't it?"
"Hamilton, " I think, said Camellia, miserably.
"Well, Lady Hamilton," he said, looking over a pair of half-moon spectacles, "next time I go out, I'll ask what you want. Probably after lunch to fetch the Evening Standard."
"We were talking about the washing," said Queen Victoria.
"Are you?" said Gladstone, manoeuvring a chair round to face into the circle. "They don't like us doing this, he said. "We're supposed to sit in rows so we don't trip over each other's feet."
"Ghandi does it on purpose," said Duke Ellington.
"Except to me," said Professor Blake. "I ran over her toes once. Now she keeps them clear."
“Washing," said Gladstone. "Most of the maids think ‘If the suit fits - wear it'."
“All clothes are equal” said Queen Victoria. Every time she spoke she turned her needles backwards so they hovered just in front of her ample chest. "But some are more equal than others." Camellia was mesmerised. Couldn't listen properly for wondering if Queen Victoria had ever speared herself on her knitting. "Especially knickers. They seem to be little Socialists. They go around in clusters and can't be separated. You’ve either got none, or you’ve got a drawer-full.”
“And another thing” said Ivy heavily. “Going back to what we were talking about . . . . . Not everyone's chosen their name. See Ghandi?" She pointed at a crinkly old lady sitting in a half doze on the other side of the room. She’s just plain mad. She really does think she's Ghandi. See her sandals?”
They all peered round.
“At least she's not religious," said Professor Blake.
“I'm C. of E.,” said Hugh defensively, surprising himself.
Everyone laughed, including the Professor.
“He doesn't mean that!” said Ivy, "Most of us are. Sort of. Except me. Just watch out if anyone say's they're Jesus. Those, you must avoid. It's the wrong kind of mad. But Ghandi's harmless. I'm going back to bed, it's been a long morning." She stood and flexed her shoulders. "I mean, no-one in the C. of E. would say they're Jesus however old they get, would they? You won't claim you're God, will you?"
“Of course not!” said Hugh, mildly affronted.
"There you are! No-one claims to be Jesus just because they're old. Funny that." And she marched off through the door to go back upstairs."
Gandhi opened her eyes. "Mrs Bendicks thinks she's mad." (She was meaning Ivy.) Her voice was thin and crackly and they had to strain their ears to hear her. "And you, Mr Gladstone. She thinks everyone's mad."
“Quite, quite,” Gladstone agreed indulgently. “But some choose madness, others have it thrust . . . . .”
"I'm not sure I want . . . ," said Camellia, feeling faint and leaning back so she could rest her head.
"Do it!" said Gladstone in a commanding but kindly voice. "Do you have family?"
"Yes," said Camellia, "a daughter and two grand-daughters, that's why . . . ,"
"Then keep your real self for them. You don't have to be Lady Thorncombe if you don't want to. Chose something else. Priscilla, you look like a Priscilla, how about that?"
"I don't!" said Camellia, sitting up straight again.
"Leave her be," said Lewis.
"He's right though," Queen Victoria said, leaning forward and nearly spearing herself again. "Come on Lewis, you know he is."
"Louis!" said Lewis.
"Louis, Louis," parroted Ghandi. "He's Louis, Louis. Got your trumpet Louis?" Then she closed her eyes.
"It's confusing," said Lewis. "Because I was Lewis as in 'Alice' when I came - but when the Duke arrived, I thought it would be more fun to be Louis. So I changed. He's more classical, of course but . . . ."
"Really?" asked Camellia. "I didn't get up properly this morning. I'll just go and . . . ."
Then she stopped. Why had she been about to tell this group of strangers that she needed to wash?
"I'm Camellia," she said. "I'm no-body but Camellia."
"Quite right," said Hugh. "I'll follow you up in a minute."
"Louis Armstrong," called Lewis as she moved away.
"Oh!" Camellia looked back and smiled. But she wasn't listening. She was wondering what Hugh might do.
For the Next Post - Forty-Five
For the Post Before This - Forty-Three