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A King’s Funeral
December 1954 | Volume 6, Issue 1
Among those present at the dinner were various representatives of the royal family of France, all of whom came up and were more than polite, partly on the strength of my having met the daughter of the Come de Paris, the wife of an Italian duke, at Naples—a really charming woman, who had hunted in Africa, and got our Ambassador to bring me out to tea—and partly on the strength of the Come de Paris’ presence with the Army of the Potomac. I think the consideration they were shown at the funeral was one of the reasons why Pichon was irritated. He is a queer looking creature at best, but on this particular evening anger made him look like a gargoyle. His clothes were stiff with gold lace and he wore sashes and orders, for I was the only man present in ordinary evening dress. He had all along held me as his natural companion and ally, because we represented the two republics, and were the only people present who were not royalties. Before dinner he got me aside and asked me in French, as he did not speak English, what colored coat my coachman had worn that evening. I told him I did not know; whereupon he answered that his coachman had a black coat. I nodded and said Yes, I thought mine had a black coat also. He responded with much violence that this was an outrage, a slight upon the two great republics, as all the Royalties’ coachmen wore red coats, and that he would at once make a protest on behalf of us both. I told him to hold on, that he must not make any protest on my behalf, that I did not care what kind of coat my coachman wore, and would lie perfectly willing to see him wear a green coal with yellow splashes—“ un paletot vert avec des taches jaunes ,” being my effort at idiomatic rendering of the idea, for I speak French, I am sorry to say, as it were a non-Aryan tongue, without tense or gender, although with agglutinative vividness and fluency. My incautious incursion into levity in a foreign tongue met appropriate punishment, for I spent the next fifteen minutes in eradicating from Pichon’s mind the belief that I was demanding these colors as my livery. However I think it had the effect of diverting him from his own woe, and nothing more happened that evening.
But next morning when at eight o’clock, in evening dress, I turned up at the palace to go to Windsor, I found Pichon Availing for me more angry than ever. He was to go in the same carriage with me, and walking hastily up, and his voice shaking, he pointed out the very gorgeous-looking carriage in which we were to go and said that it was an outrage, that all the royalties had glass toadies and we did nut. As I had never heart! of a glass coach excepting in connection with Cinderella, I was less impressed by the omission than he was; and he continued that “ces Chinois” were put ahead of us. To this I answered that any people dressed as gorgeously as “ces Chinois” ought to go ahead of us; but he responded that it was not a laughing matter. Then he added that “ce Perse” had been put in with us, pointing out a Persian prince of the blood royal, a deprecatory, inoffensive-looking Levantine of Parisian education, who was obviously ill at ease, but whom Pichon insisted upon regarding as somebody who wanted to be offensive. At this moment our coach drove up, and Pichon bounced into it. I supposed he had gotten in to take the right-hand rear seat; as to which I was totally indifferent, for my experience at the White House had given me a horror of squabbles over precedence, and the one thing upon which I had insisted with our Ambassadors was that I should sit or walk or stand whenever any of my hosts wished me to. But Pichon was scrupulous in giving me precedence, although I have no idea whether I was entitled to it or not. He sat on the left rear seat himself, stretched his arm across the right seat and motioned me to get in so that “ce Perse” should not himself take the place of honor! Accordingly I got in, and the unfortunate Persian followed, looking about as unaggressive as a rabbit in a cage with two boa constrictors.