Chapter 4 – To light the touch paper
Walking to the Queen's office Joe passed by Charlotte's desk. He stopped to greet her and received a smile and a hug in return, accompanied by her apologies for not having been able to see him on his arrival. She checked her watch. ´She'll be waiting for you. I'm so happy you're back Joe.´
Joe thanked her and knocked on the Queen's door. He swallowed nervously before entering. The driver who had picked him up from hospital had had a silver badge on his jacket with a small crown and below that the letters RC entwined. It wasn't until then that Joe had realised who had written him the puzzling letter. With the name he remembered his feelings for her. Rather than forgetting the woman who ruled his dreams he would have opted for having broken four limps.
There she was: his Queen. Rising from behind her desk even more speedily than Charlotte had done. Joe drank in her appearance. Bright eyes, flowing skirt. She walked toward him and cupped his cheek.
´I'm so glad you're safely back home Joseph,´ she said in an intimate whisper, ´When I first heard about the accident... Joseph! What is it?´
Joe wiped away his tears with his hand, backing away from his employer who wanted to do the same.
´A concussion can cause people to be -´ he sniffed.
He nodded, casting her a quick glance. She looked at him with concern.
´I read all about the symptoms,´ she softly said. To brighten his mood she added: ´And I will not hold it against you.´
Despite himself Joe grinned.
´It could have been far worse Joseph,´ she said, looking serious again.
´Ill weeds grow apace,´ Joe replied.
´Don't say that. Shall we sit down?´
Joe, who was already a little tired and also worried that he was wasting too much of his Queen's precious time, followed her to a sofa nonetheless. After they'd seated themselves he remarked that he hoped to start working as soon as possible.
´That is for the doctor to decide Joseph,´ she said while pouring him coffee. ´Speaking of which: I wish I had been able to visit you in hospital.´
When Joseph remained silent she added: ´You know that don't you?´
Joe didn't understand why his employer even mentioned it. Of course she couldn't have visited him: her schedule was loaded. Accepting the cup she offered him, he merely nodded. The Queen, thinking he was upset with her, started listing the many appointments and obligations she'd had. When Joe replied he didn't look at her for fear that his eyes would reveal that he hadn't even remembered her: ´I know how busy you are. I had not expected you to come and see me ma'am.´
His formal reply might have spoken of anger, but his expression belied that. The Queen wanted to question him about them, but she was very aware of the cameras in her office and she cursed herself for not having asked Joseph to come to her suite. Joe, sensing that the Queen's thoughts were elsewhere, quickly drank his coffee.
After a knock on the door Charlotte entered to say that Mr Delgana requested to have a moment of Her Majesty's time.
´In a minute Charlotte,´ the Queen said, sounding slightly annoyed. The secretary nodded and retreated. When the Queen looked at Joseph again, he'd already risen.
´Joseph please sit down. He will have to wait.´
´I will not impose on your time any longer Your Majesty. Thank you for seeing me.'
The Queen rose also. ´Joseph, are you really all right?´
´I admit being a little tired. And frankly I don't know who Mr Delgana is, but other than that I'm fine ma'am.´
Joseph inclined his head. Before he could walk away the Queen touched his good arm. Staring intently at him, as passionately as she would allow herself on this location, she said: 'He's my spokesman Joseph. A tie-loving man in his late thirties?´ What she wanted to communicate was We are a couple. Remember El chalet! Joseph gave the words she'd spoken a thought and shook his head.
´It will come Joseph. It will come.´
The Queen stared at the advertisement her spokesman had handed her. It consisted of a becoming photo of herself and the words 'Is she still a widow? Find out in tomorrow's Tittle Tattle – extra edition!' She asked her employee whether he'd discovered anything and Mr Delgana used fine phrases to say that the contents of Tittle Tattle was a well kept secret.
´An extra edition...´ Her Majesty thoughtfully said, ´I don't like it at all.´
´I learned that the regular issue will be published the day after tomorrow,´ Mr Delgana offered, while wiping his hands on his pants.
´So they want to hit the jackpot twice.´
´The second issue will no doubt say that you are still a widow ma'am.´
The Queen shook her head, nearly giving her spokesman a heart attack. ´Seriously Mr Delgana, they wouldn't go through all the costs of printing an extra issue only to fool their readers with such a trick.´
Once her spokesman had left, the Queen crumpled up the advertisement. She anticipated some nasty days ahead, but right now she was more concerned about Joseph. When Charlotte, on returning from the hospital, had mentioned that he hadn't recognised her, the Queen had reminded her aid of the effects of a concussion. Charlotte had nodded without conviction and because the Queen had felt for her she'd said that had she walked in to Joseph's hospital room, he probably wouldn't have recognised her either. Charlotte had shaken her head, saying that Joe would never forget his Queen.
´A concussion can cause just that Charlotte,´ she had said, though she hadn't believed it herself. Joseph wouldn't forget her any more than she could wipe him from her memory. Such a romantic notion! She felt humbled and down knowing that all it took to change a relationship was a blow to the head.
´I need to discuss that with Her Majesty,´ Prime Minister Motaz said with a sigh as he gestured toward the thin Tittle Tattle that was part of his wife's breakfast.
´What's there to discuss? It's a gossip!´
´Ay, but Parliament will question her.´
Mrs Motaz put some marmalade on her toast.
´So why don't you leave her in peace?´
´Wish that I could.´
´There isn't a session today any way,´ Mrs Motaz reminded her husband.
´There will be one tomorrow. And by then that magazine will have revealed whom she married.´
´Really Sebastian, you don't believe it do you?´
Mrs Motaz put down her knife. ´I would be awfully romantic if she had got married,´ she mused, ´In a way that is. But really, this is our Queen we are talking about.´
With his oatmeal porridge needing to cool off, the Prime Minister reminded his wife that the Queen had added colour to her wardrobe.
´Ha!´ Sheila said, putting down her toast, ´That's what Tittle Tattle says too. But what is she supposed to do? Dress in black for the rest of her life?´
´No no, of course not,´ her husband replied and without thinking he started eating and burned his tongue.
´You shouldn't worry. Remember – Are you all right?´
Mr Motaz gulped down a glass of water and nodded.
´Really sweetheart, that porridge is steaming hot. Now what was I – Oh yes: remember the Luna affair?´
Mr Motaz made a throatily sound.
´She handled that with one arm tied behind her back. She'll do the same today. And tomorrow.´
The Prime Minister replied that he had every confidence that Her Majesty would set things right. Still, the Luna affair had taught him two things: the first was that the subject of the Queen and a man caused nation wide excitement. The second was that his prim Queen was in fact a desirable woman. The combination would surely cause trouble once again.
After her husband had left to go to work, Sheila Motaz re-read the widow article. It was made up like a real article, neither having screaming capitals nor meaningful italics and the disguise made Sheila shake her head and firmly tell herself that it was simply ridiculous. Yes, Tittle Tattle was right in saying that women in love take great care for their appearance, but Her Majesty never looked less than elegant. Yes, Tittle Tattle was right in saying that in the past months the Queen seemed more happy, but His Majesty had died some years ago now and his widow had felt his loss more than anyone. It should please her people that she'd found cause to smile again. Clothes, a happy appearance: all fake 'proof' presented by a magazine wanting to make money. Mrs Motaz stared at a photo of her fair Queen. She wondered who would be named as Her Majesty's secret husband. Lord Jalva? The brother of the English King? Or perhaps -she blushed to even recall his name- General Coligny from the Luna pictures?
In the royal Castle Tittle Tattles had popped up as if someone had been growing them. The Queen's staff naturally only purchased gossip magazines for information about actors and singers, the way men buy Penthouse for the interviews. But just as the picture of a half naked woman appeals to a serious reader, an article about Queen Clarisse's marital state will enthral her loyal servants.
Tittle Tattle had angered them but at the same time they wondered who the Queen could have married. The fact that Mr Delgana was reported to be edgy and that Miss Kutaway hadn't been present for morning tea in the staff kitchen seemed to prove that there was something to conceal. In fact the Queen's aid, making an educated guess as to what would be going on downstairs, had kept to her office to avoid being questioned. She quietly listened to the radio. After the news (in which not a word was said about the subject of her interest) it was time for entertainment:
´This is radio 4U's Lucien's Fiddlesticks, with Lucien Dubois. It's Wednesday and I wanna talk about the economical situation in Nigeria... haha just kidding people. I can't resist the talk of town now can I? Is our lovely Queen Clarisse still a widow? That's what everyone wants to know. With me is the man who might reveal all: Claude Valmont from Tittle Tattle.´
Charlotte glanced at her watch. It would take a good eighty minutes for Her Majesty to return from opening an elementary school. She turned on the volume.
´But first: 'The look of love' folks.´
After the song Mr Dubois and Mr Valmont came to agree that people whose spouses have deceased may very well fall in love again.
´Lucien, have you ever noticed that the appearance of someone in love changes?´
´I think I did: you mean that his or her smile gets brighter?´
´Yes! Their eyes glance, women wear more feminine clothes...´
´Indeed! I had this neighbour who wore nothing but baggy outfits after his wife died. But then he fell in love and suddenly he started wearing suits! Great.´
´And he brightened up didn't he?´
´Absolutely. And it's not unusual!´
´Right,´ Charlotte mumbled, when Tom Jones started to sing, ´And that is supposed to prove that she got married?´
She wondered why Valmont and Dubois were still chatting about widows and widowers in general. After the musical intermission a professor of constitutional law joined the show and Charlotte came to realise that they were laying a foundation.
´Professor Perez, you wrote a book about the love life of our kings and queens and-´
´Actually Mr Dubois, I wrote a thesis about wedlock in the Renaldi family.´
´OK. Now is there something the royal marriages have in common over the centuries?´
´Most marriages were marriages of convenience.´
´No love matches at all?'
´Well, you see, there's a lot at stake when a king marries. Politics have always been considered to be more important than love.´
´I guess that the most important thing about a royal marriage is producing legal offspring, right Professor?´
´Well yes I -´
´But once there was an heir and a couple of spares, couldn't a king remarry for love?´
´As I said, there's a lot at stake when a king marries. No matter how many children he has, Parliament always needs to approve.´
´I definitely want to hear more about that, but first we'll get some Sinatra. And folks: if you wanna say something about the subject, give me a call!´
Charlotte was having lunch with Joe in his sitting room. She was eager to trigger his memory and she was happy to learn that her friend sometimes only needed a few words to recall things. When she once again checked her watch Joe urged that if she had an appointment, she shouldn't feel obliged to stay with him, much as he liked her company.
´Her Majesty will return from an outdoor appointment in twenty minutes,´ Charlotte explained, ´I hope all went well.´
´Why?´ Joe asked, alarmed, ´Was there a threat?´
´No no no. I just hope that the press isn't going to harass her. There was an article in a gossip magazine saying that she is no longer a widow.´
´Que? Is it true?´
Charlotte nervously laughed. ´You'd say that between the two of us we'd know. We're with her all the time.´
´We aren't now.´
Charlotte shook her head. ´She isn't married,´ she told Joe's back for he had walked to a window to stare outside. ´She wouldn't do that without consulting the Prime Minister, now would she? And her sons as well.´
Charlotte didn't voice her belief that the Queen would surely have told her too. ´Of course, the people think she might have married,´ she said, ´On the radio they named one after the other bachelor who could be her husband.´
Joe feared he might cry again and rather than doing that, he turned angry.
´Damn!´ he said, hitting the window-frame.´She can't have found herself a husband!´
Not wanting Charlotte to think that he was jealous he turned to face her: ´She's a king's widow! Parliament will sooner lock her in a convent than allow her to marry!´
´Her Majesty told me that the school had a good atmosphere and that the children had been kind,´ Charlotte told Viscountess Margoli who had been on duty as a lady-in-waiting that morning.
The Viscountess sighed. ´I admire her composure. On the way back she merely commented that little pitchers have long ears.´
Charlotte gave the noblewoman an encouraging look.
´I was glad there weren't any journalists around when Her Majesty talked to the pupils,´ the noblewoman whispered in reply, ´This child said that his mother had said that she hoped the Queen hadn't married some gigolo. And he asked Her Majesty what a gigolo was! I felt like hitting that stupid boy, but she smiled and said that she wasn't married. And then that brat said so there won't be a party Queen? Well Miss Kutaway, for the next couple of days it won't be party time at all!´