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A Royal Quartet, or, Making the Crime Fit the Punishment

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The various ambassadors, attachés and associated assistants had been dismissed. Tea had been served, consumed, and cleared away. Yum-Yum hid a delicate yawn behind her exquisite hand, and reflected - insofar as she was given to reflection, which was not far, unless it were a reflection of herself - that, now the stuffy formal aspect of the state visit was over and done with, the more delicate informal aspect could hardly be more tedious than what had already passed.

A less confident princess might have thought that the Queen of Barataria was looking down her nose at her, but Yum-Yum was well aware of her own artless beauty and personal charms, and considered they more than made up for any perceived deficiency in birth. (For what was she but a child of nature, and what was nature but the oldest-established family in the world?) Besides, Queen Casilda's aristocratic nose was distinctly off-centre, and she had no business to be looking down such a nose as that.

Yum-Yum expected to get on rather better with King Luiz, who, she understood, had been brought up as a menial underling, and was in any case much better placed to appreciate her feminine attractiveness. It was not, of course, becoming for a princess to speak before she was spoken to, not that she ever let protocol dictate to her unless it suited her to do so. In this case, it did. Yum-Yum was unspeakably bored - too bored to speak, in fact - and she found that an artless glance from behind her fan served more than adequately.

Her princely husband, on the other hand, appeared to be getting on famously with Queen Casilda; having discovered that they shared the unhappy experience of having been pressed, when younger, to espouse persons in whom they had no romantic interest whatsoever, they were recounting tales of the lengths they had gone to in order to escape their respective fates.

'My poor Luiz!' the queen exclaimed. 'I was so cruel to him.' She turned to her husband. 'Was I not, my duck?'

The King of Barataria smiled fondly and kissed her hand. 'You were, my popsy-wopse.'

'But yet you were able to bring yourself to submit to the contract into which you had been entered without your consent, and marry a complete stranger?' Nanki-Poo shook his head in what would have been disbelief, had such a position not been highly disrespectful to his guests. Privately, Yum-Yum thought, the queen could not possibly have been as much in love with her Luiz as Nanki-Poo had been with her, Yum-Yum. Nanki-Poo had been so much in love with her that he had run away rather than risk marrying Katisha.

'I fled the court,' he was saying. 'I joined an orchestra, in the guise of a second trombone.'

'A second trombone?' King Luiz repeated, with an air of incredulous, but distinctly gratified, amusement.

'A second trombone.' The Crown Prince of Japan nodded gravely, as befitted his august station.

'But what fun! I used to be something of a musician myself, you know.'

Yum-Yum broke her silence for the first time to say, 'Oh, Nanki-Poo was no musician,' just as the queen burst into a peal of derisive laughter.

'Beloved boy,' the Queen of Barataria said as soon as she had recovered herself, 'you would bang away incessantly on a drum, thus - ' she beat her fingertips on the edge of a table in a dull roll - 'past all art and all patience! It was not musicianship - it was torture!'

'Just because I never possessed the ability of tootling like a cornet-à-piston...' the king grumbled.

'I did,' Yum-Yum put in, smiling beatifically. 'It was considered to be an essential accomplishment at the ladies' seminary I attended.'

Queen Casilda turned to her. 'But I trust that you were provided with the actual instrument upon which to produce the tootling? My dear papa - who, I may say, was always so very demanding of poor Luiz - was rather given to expecting him to produce bricks without straw, so to speak.'

'Oh, indeed, but it was the property of the school, and since I left the tender care of that establishment I have never had the opportunity to purchase myself a new one.' Although Yum-Yum made it her business never to regret anything, she did feel that perhaps she had been a little lax in not following this early flowering of talent through.

'My father has a cornet-à-piston in the - ah - cellar,' Nanki-Poo said. 'He has quite a collection of musical instruments, in fact. He finds them useful in the punishment of miscreant musicians who pay insufficient attention to the dynamic markings in the more exciting symphonies of Beethoven.'

'Really?' Yum-Yum said, delighted. 'Can we go and find them?'

'Well...' Nanki-Poo hesitated, no doubt wondering whether the contents of the Mikado's dungeons were suitable viewing for foreign dignitaries. Yum-Yum had heard that the queen had been as good as raised by the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, so she had no such fears herself. After a few moments, Nanki-Poo also appeared to be struck by this consideration. He rose, bowed to the king, the queen, and his wife, and led the way through the twisting corridors of the palace.

* * *

The chamber was papered with sheets from old scores and littered with dismembered music stands - the latter blotched with suspicious red-brown stains. Nanki-Poo remembered with a shudder the injuries that he had seen inflicted accidentally with a music stand in his orchestra years, and thought what an inspired instrument of torture it would be. Humorous, his father would call it.

Meanwhile, Yum-Yum had pounced on a likely-looking instrument case and was unclipping the catches as fast as her dainty fingerettes would go. 'Why, here it is!' she exclaimed. 'Your trombone!'

'My second trombone, at that,' Nanki-Poo said. He lifted it out of its case and fitted the two parts together.

The King of Barataria was standing spellbound before a collection of four drums of different sizes. 'In my wildest dreams,' he breathed, 'I never saw such a paradise of percussion as this.'

Nanki-Poo bowed to him. 'Your majesty - please consider them as being at your disposal.'

The King picked up a pair of drumsticks that had been dropped carelessly on the floor. Tentatively, he beat out a hesitant 'rataplan' on the smallest drum. Encouraged by the apparent success of this exercise, he repeated it with more vigour on the next smallest vessel, then, louder still, on the third. An expression of unmodified rapture spread across his countenance. The largest drum stood on its side on the floor, a position that rendered any attempt to beat upon it with drumsticks undignified. The King kicked it gently with the tip of his well-polished left boot. He appeared to find the resulting boom most gratifying. 'I say,' he remarked.

The Queen, in turn, had spotted the double bass that lurked in the corner, and was now happily engaged in tuning it. Nanki-Poo reflected that this royal couple would cost a good deal less to entertain than the last. He was, of course, above such pecuniary considerations, but he had found himself obliged to distribute some quite substantial insults in recent weeks, and the coffers were not as full as he would have liked.

'Do you play, your majesty?' he enquired.

She thrummed the strings. 'When I was younger I took lessons from the Duchess of Dunstable; my parents, alas, were obliged to sell my double bass before I was able to do anything more than pizzicato. The creditors were most insistent.' She plucked her way up a scale and down the other side.

Yum-Yum put the cornet-à-piston to her lips and played a simple Japanese melody with an artless beauty. The visiting monarchs listened most attentively.

Nanki-Poo picked up his trombone and repeated the same tune. Again the Baratarians listened politely. Yum-Yum listened too, but with less of the respect due to a crown prince of Japan.

'Do you see?' she demanded. 'He is hardly a musician.'

'I don't know,' the queen mused. Nanki-Poo bowed to her.

'With the greatest respect, your highness,' King Luiz said, 'there's definitely something about it.'

'What it needs,' proclaimed Queen Casilda, 'is some bass. Might I enjoin you to play it again?'

Nanki-Poo, finding himself appreciated at last, was nothing loth. He played the tune again, this time adding a few flourishes of his own invention, and the queen put in some appropriate bass notes.

'It needs a Beat,' the king decreed. 'Play it again, both of you.' He threw the drumsticks up in the air with a Baratarian flick of his wrist, caught them again, and indicated that they should begin to play. For his own part, he marked the beat with a series of rhythmic thumps, crashes and wallops on the collection of drums.

'Well, I've never heard any music like that,' Yum-Yum declared, but she was smiling despite herself.

'Join in,' Nanki-Poo invited her, with a royal gesture of command. She tittered a little, played the tune, twice, once exactly as she had played it the first time, and then once again, this time embellishing it with even more flourishes than Nanki-Poo had thought of.

The others joined in, a riot of drums and brass and bass and beat and a streak of sumptuous melody. And they played it again. And again. At some point in the recital a simple Spanish melody was substituted for the simple Japanese melody, but it disturbed them not a jot. Then Luiz left off playing the drums and sang an old Baratarian song of great passion and power. Then he sang it again, and put some 'sha-boop-a-dop' into it.

They played it again. Eight repeats, three key changes, and an improvisation later, they were all red-cheeked and breathless, but none of them had any desire to retire to the royal reception.

'Is it music?' Luiz - for somewhere all titles and styles had been dropped - wondered.

'No,' Yum-Yum insisted.

'A different kind of music, perhaps,' Casilda said. 'Anyway, I think it's quite fascinating.'

'We should give it a name,' Luiz said, and added, gallantly, 'Name it after these two ladies, perhaps. Yum-Yum-Casilda music.'

Casilda laughed. 'Isn't that a little long-winded? It would be more convenient to shorten it to Yum-Cas. Yaz music.'

Nanki-Poo frowned. 'I feel that it's not quite there yet, but no doubt the proper name will come to us. Still, my friends, there is something that causes me some little disquiet.'

Yum-Yum looked up. 'Indeed? What is that, my love?'

'My father's punishment for those who pay insufficient attention to the notes on the page is unspeakable torture, probably involving boiling valve oil. What on earth do you think he's going to do if this' - he gestured at his fellow Yaz musicians - 'catches on?'

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