Wednesday, January 17, 2007

They met Basil in St. Louis...

This, my friends, is how it happened...I waited, with baited breath as it were, in the Terminal for the arrival of Mrs. P and The Card's Wife. I knew what they looked like from photos I had seen at the post office, but was concerned that they would not recognize me, never having seen me before. But, to my surprise they traipsed out of the security cordon and walked right up to me. Well, Mayfair kisses all around and we dropped into the VIP Lounge in order that the ladies might fix their faces or some such thing. While sitting in the lounge and discussing our day, I asked them how they had recognized me. Well, they said, in America, if you see a man wearing a Chesterfield, fawn kid gloves and holding a rolled umbrella, he is either an actor in a British costume drama or Basil Seal. "Humph" was my only reply to that. They were both fascinated by the idea of arriving flights in St. Louis, they told me that in Detroit, where they live, there are only departing flights, never arriving. I told them that yes, there are some places that people actually want to get to. They were both looking quite well, with Card's Wife wearing a blouse, pants and jacket in black and white from Ralph Lauren Black Label, shoes by Jimmy Choo and bag by Prada. Mrs. P, in order to prove her Yankee bonafides, was wearing a skirt and raspberry jumper ensemble from Talbots, shoes by Ferragamo and Chanel bag. Very nice. Of course I wasted no time in informing Mrs. P that the largest and highest volume Talbots store was in St. Louis. She was aghast, telling me that she assumed that the women in St. Louis shopped at Farm and Fleet, except for the Countess, of course. "Humph" was my only reply to that.

We then went out to the car, and after moving the ladies around to the other side, we climbed in. On the way to our first stop the ladies and I chatted about this and that. Mrs. P wanted to know why the steering wheel was on the wrong side, Card's wife said that I wasn't really that ugly for a bald man, Mrs. P thought I was to tall to be English and why was I so thin, was it cancer?, Card's Wife said that she had never before heard an Anglo-Midwestern accent before, Mrs. P wanted to know why the Countess would have ever married me in the first place, Card's Wife wanted to know why my car was so old and Mrs. P wanted to talk about my unhealthy regard for Louise Brooks. Luckily we arrived at our first stop.

We alighted at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, or colloquially, the New Cathedral. I had arranged a tour for the ladies with an old school chum of mine, now a Roman Catholic priest, (let's just call him Father Chip) and he met us outside. I had brought two mantillas that I borrowed from the Countess for the ladies, but to my delight they had brought their own. Father Chip explained that the Arch Bishop had been suddenly called away to handle an exorcism, but did send his regrets. Father Chip led us on a tour of this beautiful Cathedral, which is actually the largest collection of mosaics in North America, and aside from lingering a bit near the poor box, the ladies were on their best behaviour. Of course I put this down to the presence of God, and do thank him heartily.

Waving goodbye to Father Chip and moving the ladies around to the other side, we climbed aboard the motor car and headed for our next stop, The Basilica of St. Louis, King of France. On the way Mrs. P told me that she thought Father Chip a very nice man, Card's Wife thought that my head was very shiny and that she could see herself, Mrs. P noticed that there was an absence of gunfire in St. Louis as opposed to back home, Card's Wife wanted to know if I was really married or just making that up, Mrs. P noted that most of the cars in St. Louis were not on fire as opposed to back home. On the way I pointed out to the ladies the New Busch Stadium, where last year the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals had beaten, like the proverbial red headed step-child, the Detroit Tigers. "Humph" was all they had to say about that. Mrs. P said that she still could not figure out this Louise Brooks thing. Thankfully we arrived at our second stop.

Located on the historic riverfront of St. Louis, the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France or, colloquially, the Old Cathedral, was consecrated in 1834. It was the first Cathedral built west of the Mississippi River. The church is especially noted for its neo-classical marble alters, a painting given by Louis XVIII of France of a vision of Saint Louis, and an accurate copy of the painting of the Crucifixion by the artist Diego Velazquez. Mantillas in place, the ladies enjoyed the tour of the church and the museum. Outside they were intrigued by a large stainless steel arch down by the river. Asking me what it was, I told them that of course, it was the headquarters of the American Croquet Association. They both thought the buildings design very clever. Time to go.

Moving the ladies to the other side of the car, we drove off waving to the American Croquet Association headquarters. We were now pressed for time, so headed straight for the club and our luncheon. Upon arrival, we moved to the bar and I treated the ladies to a Black Velvet each. They must have been thirsty, for these disappeared faster than blank paper at Stephen King's house. With that we moved to the dining room where I had reserved a corner table, one at which I could sit with my back to the room. As I noted before, I had requested a special menu for the ladies, and as we proceeded from dish to dish we popped the bubbly in celebration and talked of many things. We talked of Waugh and Saki, of Austen, Wodehouse and Beerbohm, of friends in New York, The New Criterion and hotels in Chicago. Mrs. P admired my Society of the Colonial Wars cuff links and we talked of family and shared photographs. Such nice ladies. After our second bottle, I noticed a slight flush upon the cheek of the Card's Wife, and when she waved and snapped her fingers at the wait-staff shouting "hey Garrson" at the top of her lungs, my suspicions were confirmed. Mrs. P excused herself and when she did not return to our table I went in search of her. I finally tracked her down in the card room engaged in what seemed to be a high stakes game of Bridge with some of the members. The cigar in her mouth was not lit, but you may be sure, I was shocked none the less. After she had collected her winnings, I was able to escort Mrs. P from the room. I had to then convince her that my club did not in fact have a karaoke bar, and she finally believed me. We arrived back at our table, woke the Card's Wife and continued our happy meal. They say all good things must come to an end, and it was time to go.

Now back in the car, after of course moving the ladies, etc., we were obliged to head back to the aerodrome and catch the ladies flight for home. On the way Mrs. P said that she liked the car, the club and she had enjoyed her trip, ditto the Card's Wife. The Card's Wife wanted to know why my teeth were straight if I had been born in England, and Mrs. P began hatching plans for future excursions to New York City and any other point on the globe she could think of, the Card's Wife said that she really didn't mind my bald head, she thought I was nice anyway, Mrs. P wanted to know why I carried an umbrella when it wasn't raining. Look here we are at the aerodrome.

I escorted the ladies to their terminal and Mayfair kisses all around, promises to do it again soon, etc. As they were leaving Mrs. P suddenly stopped and came back, she said that I really hadn't told her anything about Louise Brooks. I thought for a moment and finally said that it was actually all a joke, we just talked about Louise Brooks because we knew we could get a rise out of you and the Card's Wife. She asked me who had come up with this idea, and I said well, that it had been Mr. P and The Card, they thought that it would be funny. They did, did they (Mrs. P said) then she and The Card's Wife ran off down the terminal for their flight out. I walked back out to the car thinking what delightful ladies they both were and what fun it was to have them visit me here in St. Louis. I smiled then, and thought that I wouldn't want to be Mr. P and The Card right about now...One does not read Psmith for nothing...