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An Insincere Society

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“Your servant, my dear Countess,” an eighty-something year old goat said, and Twain noted with a mix of approval and disappointment that Bertha kept the look of distaste at the fellow's slobbering all over her hand off her face until he had moved well away. (Good manners were a capital invention, no doubt, but the evening so far had proved somewhat boring and the fellow hadn't been that important anyway, regardless of his own opinion on the mater.)

“If only any of them actually meant it, we should have our disarmament in no time at all.” She sighed, sinking down in what even Twain would have had to admit was quite a comfortable chair.

“Nonsense, m'dear,” he said, searching his pockets for his cigar case while quietly cursing the great number of fellows who had completely neglected to offer him a good smoke this past evening, some of them while complimenting his latest book, even. “If they were all your servants, doubtlessly they'd fight one another to settle which of them was the more devoted one.”

She blushed a little, which was unusual enough to make him forget his cigar case for a few moments. “Really, Mark.”

“It's a man thing,” he said, leaning back complacently now that an opportunity to discourse to a genuinely interested audience had presented itself. “We are none of us immune to it. Why, only the other day, I even overheard our dear Tesla commenting on what a lovely dress it was you were wearing.”

Her blush deepened, which confirmed his theory on women being decidedly odd creatures (even the ones who were quite sensible most of the time). “Did he, really?”

“My dear, have you ever known me to lie to you?” A rhetorical question, obviously; she was entirely too sharp for him to ever contemplate such a thing. Half-truths and the occasional veiled insinuation, followed by an outraged denial if caught out: that was the way to go about it.

“Well, what did he say, exactly?”

“Modesty forbids me to go into details,” Twain said. “I dare say you made quite a rare conquest there though, Bertha m'dear. Quite a rare conquest indeed.”

(What Tesla had said was, in fact, that he fancied he might be able to build a tolerably convincing receiver dish for signals of one kind or another out of 'that contraption'. But then, Tesla was a hopelessly unromantic soul.)