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DO you remember that lovely thing that Fred Astaire sang in “Swing Time”—“The Way You Look To-night”? You must know it. Its heyday is over now, of course, long since swamped by other and more recent “hits”; but not so long ago the very dogs were barking it in the streets. And there aren’t so very many dogs on the Rock of Gibraltar. Even the barrel-organ in Town Range that, for about twelve hours a day, and every day for ten years, has been grinding out “La Cucaracha”—which, by the way, does not mean “grasshopper”, but “wood-louse”, and can also refer to a certain kind of light brown snuff— even that asthmatic relic of pre-Wurlitzer days has now included it in its repertoire.

I never hear that simple, haunting melody but it brings back to me memories of the night when the fog came swirling in from off the sea and crept foot by foot up the Rock as far as Moorish Castle, and beyond, blotting out all human habitation, blotting out humanity itself, turning men to guessed-at shapes with blanketed foot-falls, turning the Rock to a grey mystery under the street lights, and a clammy, black, menacing nothingness where they ended. I never hear it now but I think of the night when Michael Fairlie lost his way in the maze of ramps and lanes and alleys in the neighbourhood of Moorish Castle, when we found the three hanging hidalgos and stumbled against and lost that strange nun who walked in the heart of the mystery, like some evil Sister of Satan, dogging our footsteps for two dreadful nights and one terrible day. And I never hear it but it conjures up a vivid picture of the girl we met that night; a girl, slim and dainty, with a cloud of dark hair, a pair of amazingly lovely grey eyes, a sweet, warm mouth, and a creamy, magnolia-like skin; a girl like a flower. The girl that Michael found, and, finding, fell in love—love at first sight, complete, overwhelming and devastating—found, lost, mourned, and found again.

That song could have been written about her for Michael to sing to her—Michael swears it was, though he is, thank God, no crooner. But then, he was in love, still is, and so far as I can see is always likely to be. And a man in love is a mess.

Now, speaking of love, I’ve read books wherein authors have discoursed on that inevitable and eternal mystery, and in a number of cases they have likened it to a plant or blossom; and in the case of women I think, though I don’t pretend to know much about it, it is a good simile. For with woman love seems to grow slowly from small beginnings, to unfold and then to bloom, until finally the fully-opened blossom envelopes, perfumes, and matures her.

With men, however, and here I am on firmer ground, it is different. Love doesn’t mature a man; it shatters him. It leaps at him out of the dark like an explosion. The fuse may be long, stretching over a period of years, or it may be short to the point of being instantaneous. A girl who is being proposed to by a young man with whom she has grown up frequently, I believe, says to herself: “Well, goodness knows, I’ve been in love with him long enough. I wonder the chump didn’t see it!” But the young man doesn’t say anything like that. Not at first he doesn’t. He says to his immortal soul, suddenly and out of an apparently clear sky: “Dammit! I’m in love with her!” And straightway becomes inefficient to the point of imbecility. Afterwards he may say, and frequently does say: “Dammit! I’ve always been in love with her—what an ass I am!”

The second, of course, is a self-evident truth, but in the first that young man deceiveth himself. He hasn’t always been in love with her. He hardly knew she existed, save as a boyhood pal. It is merely the shattering effect of the explosion.

Then there is the other extreme. A chance introduction, the glimpse of a face in a crowd, the accidental touching of hands. Cupid can be inordinately deliberate in fitting the arrow to the bow, but there are also times when he is incredibly swift on the draw. Always with the man there is that sort of silent explosion. It is always the woman who demands “time to think about it;” the man usually being quite incapable of thought.

And it seems to me that there are differences not only in the circumstances but also in the fact. The blossom contains the woman, seldom to be rent from her save by the man himself. But it does not contain the man. In the early stages, proud, excited and possessive, he wears love as a flower in his buttonhole; but as time passes he is apt to take it for granted that when he changes his suit, the flower is automatically transferred instead of being left, temporarily, in the wardrobe, as I am afraid frequently happens. And then, sooner or later, there comes a day when, comatose with domesticity, he takes it out and tucks it away in his tobacco pouch. And, strangely enough, the woman seems happy and content to see it there.

But I’ve noticed this: that the man who falls in love at first sight—which does not necessarily mean falling in love for the first time—is the man who suffers the most violent explosion, and he wears the flower in his but-tonhole for a long, long time. Mind you, I’m speaking of love, the recognition of a spiritual counterpart of one’s secret dreams and ideals. I’m not speaking of infatuation—though I admit it’s pretty difficult sometimes for the outsider to distinguish between the two. Perhaps for the insider also . . .

And having got that out of my system I shall now get on with the story of Michael and his Princess. Yes, she was a Princess all right; the first I’d ever met, the only one I’m ever likely to meet. True, my father being what he is, the Garrison Adjutant on the Rock—which is to say the Governor’s maid-of-all-work—I had met various Personages and Blue-bloods who had said “How do you do?” smiled charmingly but vaguely, and passed on.

But until the night of the Great Fog—which astonished Gibraltarians so much that they held indignation meetings about it for a week afterwards—I had never met a real Princess. It was, however, some little time before we learnt she was a real Princess, and then I wasn’t particularly surprised. She was so lovely and dainty and delicate that she might have stepped straight out of a fairy tale. She carried the stamp of breeding. She needed no Principality to make her a Princess.


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