The Diversions of a Princess/Maisie Price

from the Idler magazine, Vol. 24 1903-04, pp. 513–515.

V.—Maisie Price

" SHE is making my whole life miserable!" said Anne, and she buried her face in the punt cushions, and wept profusely into them.

"It is a perfectly heavenly day, and the punt is in the prettiest, shadiest spot on the river. For goodness sake, sit up, and stop making a sillybilly silly of yourself!" said Wisdom.

"The beauty of the weather only mocks me," said Anne, sobbing some more.

"I wonder your pride lets you cry like that!" said Wisdom.

"I haven't any pride!" said Anne, and took a melancholy pleasure in the frank admission. "I'm much too miserable!"

"Those cushions are stuffy and warm, not to say unpleasantly damp," said Wisdom. "You might as well be comfortably miserable; for there's no one here to witness this pathetic outburst!"

"Nothing could make me less miserable," said Anne, sitting up, however, and arranging the cushions more becomingly. "You can reason as much as you like, but you cannot controvert the fact that Maisie Price has taken Arthur James and the canoe, and left me all by myself!"

"But Maisie asked you to go with them," said Wisdom.

"Yes, Maisie did!" said Anne; "after Arthur had invited her to come in his old canoe with him! That was where the humiliation came! Think I was going to accept her patronage! Not much!"

"Come, come, it might be worse," said Wisdom. "It seems to be Maisie's success, rather than the loss of Arthur that's disturbing you!"

"I was very fond of Arthur," said Anne, with an irritated little wriggle. "I am sure I was fond of him. He is so clean and polite and useful in a punt. I don't say that he's wildly exciting!"

"Good gracious, no! I shouldn't think you did!" said Wisdom. "Poor darling Arthur hasn't an idea in his head that he didn't find in a newspaper."

"'A poor thing but mine own,'" quoted Anne, leaning her head back against a china-blue cushion, and feeling wistful, but effective. "I did think him mine!" and Anne sighed and looked across the shimmering waters, and slightly frowned as a launch puffed by, in a way which Anne rightly considered unfeeling.

"The most annoying thing of all is to think I have wasted so much cleverness and charmingness on an atom like that, to be thrown to one side when Maisie Price arrives," said Anne, sending a withering scowl after the noisy and generally distracting launch.

"Maisie Price is a very attractive girl," said Wisdom, coolly. "There's no doubt about it, American girls have something that is fascinatingly chic and self-contained about them."

"I'm not denying her attractiveness," said Anne. "I'm complaining of it!"

"Still, as she's going to stay with you for at least a week, you'd have more to complain of if you found her boring or repellant," said Wisdom. "You'll have to see a good deal of her!"

"Not if Arthur's available," said Anne, trying to sneer.

"That is a foolish remark to make to yourself," said Wisdom, "because you know perfectly well that Maisie has never lifted a finger towards annexing Arthur. She accepts his homage as a matter of course, but she doesn't concern herself at all about it, and if you had accepted her invitation to join them this morning——"

"Hoo! I see myself!" cried Anne.

"She would have enjoyed your society precisely as good-humouredly and appreciatively as she is now enjoying the society of Arthur," said Wisdom, who rarely desisted from speaking through Anne's wickedest fits of temper. "It's entirely your own fault that you are sitting here by yourself, disenjoying yourself so very greatly."

"I'm sensitive," said Anne, trying hard to retain her feeling of ill-usage, "and proud. And I'm not going to forgive her like this, when she's taken Arthur away from me."

"Anne, my dear," said Wisdom, "there are several useful hints to be acquired from this reflection, if you will allow yourself to listen to me."

"Oh, go on," said Anne rather grumpily, but she folded her hands on her knee, and gave up her previous occupation of pulling a leaf to pieces. "Go on with your old lessons," said Anne; "not that it's any use, for I never remember them when they would be useful. However, go on!"

"I will," said Wisdom, who never despaired of making a permanent impression on Anne, some day. "The first lesson is, that a girl should never admit a man's allegiance even to herself, much less to her friends, and, least of all, to the man. Hang chains on a slave, and, though he may not be strong enough to break them, he'll be conscious of them."

"Some people glory in their chains," said Anne with a slight toss of her head.

"When they're new," said Wisdom. "But my hints are for you, not for slaves. And the moral deduction from the first lesson is that if you do not appear conscious of a person's devotion, you cannot appear humiliated when it is taken away from you."

"I must seem unconscious," said Anne. "Oh, well, that's easy enough!"

"The affectation of unconsciousness will not be of much use to you," said Wisdom. "Don't be ready to assume you're at all important to a man because he seems pleased with your society. The attentions men pay to women are due far less to their attractiveness than to circumstance. For instance, while you were the most charming girl at hand, Arthur——"

"I never thought for one moment that Arthur was seriously in love," said Anne, with slightly flushed cheeks. "I should not have been half so happy and amused if he had been. You know I hate men to be seriously in love, they are so silly."

"Then what on earth have you been crying your eyes out for?" said Wisdom.

"I hate Maisie Price none the less, because I don't care twopence about Arthur," said Anne, viciously.

"And so you are not only going to make yourself unhappy all the time Maisie is staying with you, but you purpose giving that insignificant shrimp of an Arthur the pleasure of seeing you sulking because he has transferred his devotion to another shrine," said Wisdom. "As to what Maisie will think, to see you behaving like this over a—an atom of mankind, whom she regards merely as a piece of river furniture——"

"Why, I've been a perfect idiot!" said Anne, sitting bolt upright, thoroughly shocked and arrested. "Good heavens! what shall I do to show her I don't care?"

"Make friends with her, of course," said Wisdom. "You'll really find her infinitely more amusing than poor Arthur."

"I should hope she'll find me more amusing than poor Arthur!" said Anne, trying the effect of a green cushion behind her hair, and wondering whether blue or green was most becoming.

"If you like, you can have it your own way," said Wisdom. "I shouldn't be surprised if she wouldn't teach you that perfectly ravishing way in which she does her hair, and she might give you the address of her dressmaker, with a little tact and persuasion. And even when you hated her, you couldn't help laughing at the quaint things she says. So now you are going to be friends with her ...?"

"Am I?" said Anne, hesitating just a little.

"Well, what point is there in being anything else?" said Wisdom. "What do you gain? Nothing—not even Arthur! Sulkiness never attracts, my dear. Besides which, you are most distinctly and definitely attracted towards Maisie, aren't you?"

"There's the canoe coming round the bend!" said Anne.

"Hail them," said Wisdom. "Then you can all go home together."

"They won't think I'm trying to join on, will they?" said Anne. "If that little ass of an Arthur thought I minded his absence to-day——"

"Tell them the truth, then," said Wisdom. "Say how much you've been regretting you hadn't come with them all the day, and wind up with a moral remark to the effect that your regret is a fitting punishment for your laziness."

"Laziness?" said Anne.

"Which prevented you from accepting Maisie's invitation, of course!" said Wisdom.

"Do you think they'll swallow that?" said Anne. "Maisie's a bright girl!"

"She's also a polite one," said Wisdom. "Besides the only infallible way of deceiving people is to tell them the truth, and deduce the moral that suits your purpose."

"Thanks!" said Anne, and pushed into the stream.

"Don't overdo it," said Wisdom.

"I am holding on to you as tightly as tight!" said Anne. "You are a good friend, and you've completely cheered me up. In fact, I feel the beginning of a genuine personal affection for Maisie!"

"Hullo!" cried Maisie. "So here you are! We have been wishing you'd come with us!"

"Not half so much as I have," said Anne.

And Wisdom smiled approvingly.