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Byzantine Omelette
by [?]

SOPHIE CHATTEL-MONKHEIM was a Socialist by conviction and a Chattel-Monkheim by marriage. The particular member of that wealthy family whom she had married was rich, even as his relatives counted riches. Sophie had very advanced and decided views as to the distribution of money: it was a pleasing and fortunate circumstance that she also had the money. When she inveighed eloquently against the evils of capitalism at drawing-room meetings and Fabian conferences she was conscious of a comfortable feeling that the system, with all its inequalities and iniquities, would probably last her time. It is one of the consolations of middle-aged reformers that the good they inculcate must live after them if it is to live at all.

On a certain spring evening, somewhere towards the dinner-hour, Sophie sat tranquilly between her mirror and her maid, undergoing the process of having her hair built into an elaborate reflection of the prevailing fashion. She was hedged round with a great peace, the peace of one who has attained a desired end with much effort and perseverance, and who has found it still eminently desirable in its attainment. The Duke of Syria had consented to come beneath her roof as a guest, was even now installed beneath her roof, and would shortly be sitting at her dining-table. As a good Socialist, Sophie disapproved of social distinctions, and derided the idea of a princely caste, but if there were to be these artificial gradations of rank and dignity she was pleased and anxious to have an exalted specimen of an exalted order included in her house-party. She was broad-minded enough to love the sinner while hating the sin – not that she entertained any warm feeling of personal affection for the Duke of Syria, who was a comparative stranger, but still, as Duke of Syria, he was very, very welcome beneath her roof. She could not have explained why, but no one was likely to ask her for an explanation, and most hostesses envied her.

“You must surpass yourself to-night, Richardson,” she said complacently to her maid; “I must be looking my very best. We must all surpass ourselves.”

The maid said nothing, but from the concentrated look in her eyes and the deft play of her fingers it was evident that she was beset with the ambition to surpass herself.

A knock came at the door, a quiet but peremptory knock, as of some one who would not be denied.

“Go and see who it is,” said Sophie; “it may be something about the wine.”

Richardson held a hurried conference with an invisible messenger at the door; when she returned there was noticeable a curious listlessness in place of her hitherto alert manner.

“What is it?” asked Sophie.

“The household servants have ‘downed tools,’ madame,” said Richardson.

“Downed tools!” exclaimed Sophie; “do you mean to say they’ve gone on strike?”

“Yes, madame,” said Richardson, adding the information: “It’s Gaspare that the trouble is about.”

“Gaspare?” said Sophie wanderingly; “the emergency chef! The omelette specialist!”

“Yes, madame. Before he became an omelette specialist he was a valet, and he was one of the strike- breakers in the great strike at Lord Grimford’s two years ago. As soon as the household staff here learned that you had engaged him they resolved to `down tools’ as a protest. They haven’t got any grievance against you personally, but they demand that Gaspare should be immediately dismissed.”

“But,” protested Sophie, “he is the only man in England who understands how to make a Byzantine omelette. I engaged him specially for the Duke of Syria’s visit, and it would be impossible to replace him at short notice. I should have to send to Paris, and the Duke loves Byzantine omelettes. It was the one thing we talked about coming from the station.”

“He was one of the strike-breakers at Lord Grimford’s,” reiterated Richardson.