The Reflections of Ambrosine
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Keren Vergon, William Flis and PG
The Reflections of Ambrosine
A Novel by
In thanking the readers who were kind enough to appreciate my "Visits
of Elizabeth," I take this opportunity of saying that I did not write
the two other books which appeared anonymously. The titles of those
works were so worded that they gave the public the impression that I
was their author. I have never written any book but the "Visits of
Elizabeth." Everything that I write will be signed with my name,
I have wondered sometimes if there are not perhaps some disadvantages
in having really blue blood in one's veins, like grandmamma and me.
For instance, if we were ordinary, common people our teeth would
chatter naturally with cold when we have to go to bed without fires in
our rooms in December; but we pretend we like sleeping in "well-aired
rooms"--at least I have to. Grandmamma simply says we are obliged to
make these small economies, and to grumble would be to lose a trick
"Rebel if you can improve matters," she often tells me, "but otherwise
accept them with calmness."
We have had to accept a good many things with calmness since papa made
that tiresome speculation in South America. Before that we had a nice
apartment in Paris and as many fires as we wished. However, in spite
of the comfort, grandmamma hated papa's "making" money. It was not the
career of a gentleman, she said, and when the smash came and one heard
no more of papa, I have an idea she was almost relieved.
We came first over to England, and, after long wanderings backward and
forward, took this little furnished place at the corner of Ledstone
Park. It is just a cottage--once a keeper's, I believe--and we have
only Hephzibah and a wretched servant-girl to wait on us. Hephzibah
was my nurse in America before we ever went to Paris, and she is as
ugly as a card-board face on Guy Fawkes day, and as good as gold.
Grandmamma has had a worrying life. She was brought up at the court of
Charles X.--can one believe it, all those years ago!--her family up
to that having lived in Ireland since the great Revolution. Indeed,
her mother was Irish, and I think grandmamma still speaks French with
an accent. (I hope she will never know I said that.) Her name was
Mademoiselle de Calincourt, the daughter of the Marquis de Calincourt,
whose family had owned Calincourt since the time of Charlemagne
or something before that. So it was annoying for them to have had
their heads chopped off and to be obliged to live in Dublin on
nothing a year. The grandmother of grandmamma, Ambrosine Eustasie
de Calincourt, after whom I am called, was a famous character. She
was so good-looking that Robespierre offered to let her retain her
head if she would give him a kiss, but she preferred to drive to the
guillotine in the cart with her friends, only she took a rose to keep
off the smell of the common people, and, they say, ran up the steps
smiling. Grandmamma has her miniature, and it is, she says, exactly
I have heard that grandmamma's marriage with grandpapa--an
Englishman--was considered at the time to be a very suitable affair.
He had also ancestors since before Edward the Confessor. However,
unfortunately, a few years after their marriage (grandmamma was
really _un peu passee_ when that took place) grandpapa made a
_betise_--something political or diplomatic, but I have never heard
exactly what; anyway, it obliged them to leave hurriedly and go to
America. Grandmamma never speaks of her life there or of grandpapa,
so I suppose he died, because when I first remember things we were
crossing to France in a big ship--just papa, grandmamma, and I. My
mother died when I was born. She was an American of one of the first
original families in Virginia; that is all I know of her. We have
never had a great many friends--even when we lived in Paris--because,
you see, as a rule people don't live so long as grandmamma, and the
other maids of honor of the court of Charles X. were all buried years
ago. Grandmamma was eighty-eight last July! No one would think it to
look at her. She is not deaf or blind or any of those annoying things,
and she sits bolt-upright in her chair, and her face is not very
wrinkled--more like fine, old, white kid. Her hair is arranged with
such a _chic_; it is white, but she always has it a little powdered as
well, and she wears such becoming caps, rather like the pictures of
Madame du Deffand. They are always of real lace--I know, for I have
to mend them. Some of her dresses are a trifle shabby, but they look
splendid when she puts them on, and her eyes are the eyes of a hawk,
the proudest eyes I have ever seen. Her third and little fingers are
bent with rheumatism, but she still polishes her nails and covers the
rest of her hands with mittens. You can't exactly love grandmamma, but
you feel you respect her dreadfully, and it is a great honor when she
I was twelve when we left Paris, and I am nineteen now. We have lived
on and off in England ever since, part of the time in London--that was
dull! All those streets and faces, and no one to speak to, and the mud
and the fogs!
During those years we have only twice had glimpses of papa--the
shortest visits, with long talks alone with grandmamma and generally
leaving by the early train.
He seems to me to be rather American, papa, and very coarse to be
the son of grandmamma; but I must say I have always had a sneaking
affection for him. He never takes much notice of me--a pat on the head
when I was a child, and since an awkward kiss, as if he was afraid of
breaking a bit of china. I feel somehow that he does not share all
of grandmamma's views; he seems, in fact, like a person belonging to
quite another world than ours. If it was not that he has the same nose
and chin as grandmamma, one would say she had bought him somewhere,
and that he could not be her own son.
Hephzibah says he is good-natured, so perhaps that is why he made a
_betise_ in South America. One ought never to be called good-natured,
grandmamma says--as well write one's self down a noodle at once. While
we were in Paris we hardly ever saw papa either; he was always out
West in America, or at Rio, or other odd places. All we knew of him
was, there was plenty of money to grandmamma's account in the bank.
Grandmamma has given me most of my education herself since we came to
England, and she has been especially particular about deportment. I
have never been allowed to lean back in my chair or loll on a sofa,
and she has taught me how to go in and out of a room and how to
enter a carriage. We had not a carriage, so we had to arrange with
footstools for the steps and a chair on top of a box for the seat.
That used to make me laugh!--but I had to do it--into myself. As for
walking, I can carry any sized bundle on my head, and grandmamma says
she has nothing further to teach me in that respect, and that I have
mastered the fact that a gentlewoman should give the impression that
the ground is hardly good enough to tread on. She has also made me go
through all kinds of exercises to insure suppleness, and to move
from the hips. And the day she told me she was pleased I shall never
There are three things, she says, a woman ought to look--straight as
a dart, supple as a snake, and proud as a tiger-lily.
Besides deportment I seem to have learned a lot of stuff that I am
sure no English girls have to bother about, I probably am unacquainted
with half the useful, interesting things they know.
We brought with us a beautifully bound set of French classics, and
we read Voltaire one day, and La Bruyere the next, and Pascal, and
Fontenelle, and Moliere, and Fenelon, and the sermons of Bossuet,
and since I have been seventeen the _Maximes_ of La Rochefoucauld.
Grandmamma dislikes Jean Jacques; she says he helped the Revolution,
and she is all for the _ancien regime_. But in all these books she
makes me skip what I am sure are the nice parts, and there are whole
volumes of Voltaire that I may not even look into. For herself
grandmamma has numbers of modern books and papers. She says she must
understand the times. Besides all these things I have had English
governesses who have done what they could to drum a smattering of
everything into my head, but we never were able to afford very good
ones after we left Paris.
There is one thing I can do better than the English girls--I am
English myself, of course, on account of grandpapa--only I mean the
ones who have lived here always--and that is, embroider fine cambric.
I do all our underlinen, and it is quite as nice as that in the shops
in the Rue de la Paix. Grandmamma says a lady, however poor, should
wear fine linen, even if she has only one new dress a year--she calls
the stuff worn by people here "sail-cloth"! So I stitch and stitch,
summer and winter.
I do wonder and wonder at things sometimes: what it would be like to
be rich, for instance, and to have brothers and sisters and friends;
and what it would be like to have a lover _a l'anglaise_. Grandmamma
would think that dreadfully improper until after one was married, but
I believe it would be rather nice, and perhaps one could marry him,
too. However, there is not much chance of my getting one, or a husband
either, as I have no _dot_.
We have an old friend, the Marquis de Rochermont, who pays us
periodical visits. I believe long ago he was grandmamma's lover. They
have such beautiful manners together, and their conversation is so
interesting, one can fancy one's self back in that dainty world of
the engravings of Moreau le Jeune and Freudenberg which we have. They
are as gay and witty as if they were both young and his feet were not
lumpy with gout and her hands crooked with rheumatism. They discuss
morals and religion, and, above all, philosophy, and I have learned
a great deal by listening. And for morals, it seems one may do what
one pleases as long as one behaves like a lady. And for religion, the
first thing is to conform to the country one lives in and to conduct
one's self with decency. As for Philosophy (I put a great big "P" to
that, for it appears to be the chief)--Philosophy seems to settle
everything in life, and enables one to take the ups and downs of fate,
the good and the bad, with a smiling face. I mean to study it always,
but I dare say it will be easier when I am older.
On the days when Monsieur de Rochermont comes grandmamma wears the
lavender silk for dinner and the best Alencon cap, and Hephzibah stays
so long dressing her that I often have to help the servant to lay
the table for dinner. The Marquis never arrives until the afternoon,
and leaves within a couple of days. He brings an old valet called
Theodore, and they have bandboxes and small valises, and I
believe--only I must not say it aloud--that the bandboxes contain his
wigs. The one for dinner is curled and scented, and the travelling one
is much more ordinary. I am sent to bed early on those evenings.
Each time the Marquis brings a present of game or fine fruit for
grandmamma and a box of bonbons for me. I don't like sweets much, but
the boxes are charming. These visits happen twice a year, in June and
December, wherever we happen to be.
The only young men in this part of the world are the curate and two
hobbledehoys, the sons of a person who lives in the place beyond
Ledstone, and they are common and uninteresting and _parvenu_. All
these people came to call as soon as we arrived, and parsons and old
maids by the dozen, but grandmamma's exquisite politeness upsets them.
I suppose they feel that she considers they are not made of the same
flesh and blood as she is, so we never get intimate with anybody
whatever places we are in.
Hephzibah has a lover. You can get one in that class no matter how
ugly you are, it seems, and he is generally years and years younger
than you are. Hephzibah's is the man who comes round with the grocer's
cart for orders, and he is young enough to be her son. I have
seen them talking when I have been getting the irons hot to iron
grandmamma's best lace. Hephzibah's face, which is a grayish yellow
generally, gets a pale beet-root up to her ears, and she looks so coy.
But I dare say it feels lovely to her to stand there at the back door
and know some one is interested in what she does and says.
Ledstone Park is owned by some people of the name of Gurrage--does not
it sound a fat word! They are a mother and son, but they have been
at Bournemouth ever since we came, six months ago. It is a frightful
place, and although it is miles in the country it looks like a
suburban villa; the outside is all stucco, and nasty, common-looking
pots and bad statues ornament the drive. They pulled down the smaller
original Jacobean house that was there when they bought the place, we
have heard. They are coming home soon, so perhaps we shall see them,
but I can't think Gurrage could be the name of really nice people.
The parson, of the church came to call at once, but grandmamma nearly
made him spoil his hat, he fidgeted with it so, and he hardly dared to
ask for more than one subscription--she is so beautifully polite, and
she often is laughing in her sleeve. She says so few people can see
the comic side of things and that it is a great gift and chases away
foolish _migraines_. I think she has a grand scheme in her head for
me, and that is what we are saving up every penny for.
Grandpapa's people lived in the next county to this, in a place
called Dane Mount. He was a younger son and in the diplomatic service
before he made his _betise_, but if he was alive now he would be over
a hundred years old, so during that time the family has naturally
branched off a good deal, and we can't be said to be very nearly
related to them. The place was not entailed, and went with the female
line into the Thornhirst family, who live there now. They are rather
new baronets, created by George II. However, I believe grandmamma's
scheme is for us to become acquainted with them, and for me to marry
whichever of them is the right age. The present baronet's name is Sir
Antony; it is a pretty name, I think. How this is to come about I do
not know, and of course I dare not question grandmamma.
How I wish it was summer again! I hate these damp, cold days, and the
east winds, and the darkness. I wish I might stay in bed until eleven,
as grandmamma does. We have our chocolate at seven, which Hephzibah
brings up, and then when I am dressed I practise for an hour; after
that there are the finishing touches to be put to our sitting-room,
and the best Sevres and the miniatures to be dusted. Grandmamma would
not trust any one to do it but me, but by ten I can get out for a
It used to be dreadfully tiresome until we came here, because I was
never allowed to go out without Hephzibah, and she was so busy we
never got a chance in the morning, but since we came here I have
had such a pleasure. A dear, clever collie for a friend--we got him
from the lost dogs' home, and no one can know the joy he is to me.
Grandmamma considers him a kind of chaperon, and I am allowed to go
alone for quite long walks now, and when we are out of sight and no
one is looking we run, and it is such fun. Yesterday there was an
excitement--the hunt passed! It is the first time I have seen one
close. That must be delightful to rush along on horseback! I could
feel my heart beating just looking at them, and my dear Roy barked all
the time, and if I had not held his collar I am sure he would have
joined the other dogs to go and catch the fox. Some of the men in
their red coats looked so handsome, and there was one all covered with
mud; he must have had a tumble. His stirrup-leather gave way just
as he got up to the mound where Roy and I were standing, and he was
obliged to get off his horse and settle it. I am sure by his face
he was swearing to himself at being delayed. His fall had evidently
broken some strap and he was fumbling in his pocket for a knife to
I always wear a little gold chatelaine that belonged to Ambrosine
Eustasie de Calincourt and is marked with her coronet and initials;
it has a tiny knife among the other things hanging from it. The muddy
hunter could not find one; he searched in every pocket. At last he
turned to me and said: "Do you happen to have a knife by chance?" and
then when he saw I was a girl he took off his hat. It was gray with
clay, and so was half of his face, it looked so comic I could not help
smiling as I caught his one eye; the other was rather swollen. The
one that was visible was a grayish-greeny-blue eye with a black edge.
I quickly gave him my knife and he laughed as he took it. "Yes, I do
look a guy, don't I?" he said, and we both laughed again. Even through
the mud one could see he was a gentleman. He fixed his stirrup so
quickly and neatly, but it broke the blade of my little gold knife.
He apologized profusely, and said he must have it mended, and where
should he send it? but at that moment there was the sound of the hunt
coming across a field near again. He had no time for more manners, but
jumped on his horse and was off in a few seconds--and alas! my knife
went with him! And just as I was turning to go home I picked up the
broken blade, which was lying in the road. I hope grandmamma won't
notice it and ask about it. As I said before, there are disadvantages
in being well born--one cannot tell lies like servants.
The Gurrage family have arrived. We saw carts and a carriage going to
meet them at the station. Their liveries are prune and scarlet, and
look so inharmonious, and they seem to have crests and coats of arms
on every possible thing. Young Mr. Gurrage is our landlord--but I
think I said that before.
On Sunday in church the party entered the Ledstone family pew. An
oldish woman with a huddled figure--how unlike grandmamma!--looking
about the class of a housekeeper; a girl of my age, with red hair and
white eye-lashes and a buff hat on; and a young man, dark, thick,
common-looking. He seemed kind to his mother, though, and arranged
a cushion for her. Their pew is at right angles to the one I sit
in, so I have a full view of them all the time. He has box-pleated
teeth--which seem quite unnecessary when dentists are so good now. No
one would have missed at least four of them if they had been pulled
out when he was a boy. His eyes are wishy-washy in spite of being
brown, and he looks as if he did not have enough sleep. They were all
three self-conscious and conscious of other people. Grandmamma says
in a public place, unless the exigencies of politeness require one to
come into personal contact with people, one ought never to be aware
that there is anything but tables and chairs about. I have not once in
my life seen her even glance around, and yet nothing escapes her hawk
eye. Coming out they passed me on the path to the church gate, and
Mrs. Gurrage stopped, and said:
"Good-mornin', me dear; you must be our new tenant at the cottage."
Her voice is the voice of quite a common person and has the broad
accent of some county--I don't know which.
I was so astonished at being called "me dear" by a stranger that for
half a second I almost forgot grandmamma's maxim of "let nothing in
life put you out of countenance." However, I did manage to say:
"Yes, I am Miss Athelstan."
Then the young man said, "I hope you find everything to your liking
there, and that my agent has made things comfortable."
"We are quite pleased with the cottage," I said.
"Well, don't stand on ceremony," the old woman continued. "Come up
and see us at The Hall whenever you like, me dear, and I'll be round
callin' on your grandma one of these days soon, but don't let that
stop her if she likes to look in at me first."
I thought of grandmamma "looking in" on this person, and I could
have laughed aloud; however, I managed to say, politely, that my
grandmother was an aged lady and somewhat rheumatic, and as we had not
a carriage I hoped Mrs. Gurrage would excuse her paying her respects
"Rheumatic, is she? Well, I have the very thing for the j'ints. My
still-room maid makes it under my own directions. I'll bring some when
I call. Good-day to you, me dear," and they bustled on into the arms
of the parson's family and other people who were waiting to give them
a gushing welcome at the gate.
Grandmamma laughed so when I told her about them!
Two days afterwards Mrs. Gurrage and Miss Hoad (the red-haired girl is
the niece) came to call.
Grandmamma was seated as usual in the old Louis XV. _bergere_, which
is one of our household gods. It does not go with the other furniture
in the room, which is a "drawing-room suite" of black and gold,
upholstered with magenta, but we have covered that up as well as we
can with pieces of old brocade from grandmamma's stored treasures.
After the first greetings were over and Mrs. Gurrage had seated
herself in the other arm-chair, her knees pointing north and south,
she began about the rheumatism stuff for the "j'ints."
"I can see by yer hands ye're a great sufferer," she said.
"Alas! madam, one of the penalties of old age," grandmamma replied,
in her fine, thin voice.
Then Mrs. Gurrage explained just how the mixture was to be rubbed in,
and all about it. During this I had been trying to talk to Miss Hoad,
but she was so ill at ease and so taken up with looking round the
room that we soon lapsed into silence. Presently I heard Mrs. Gurrage
say--she also had been busy examining the room:
"Well, you have been good tenants, coverin' up the suite, but you've
no call to do it. You wouldn't be likely to soil it much, and I always
say when you let a house furnished, you can't expect it to continue
without wear and tear; so don't, please, bother to cover it with those
old things. Lor' bless me, it takes me back to see it! It was my first
suite after I married Mr. Gurrage, and we had a pretty place on Balham
Hill. We put it here because Augustus did not want anything the least
shabby up at The Hall, and I take it kind of you to have cared for it
Grandmamma's face never changed; not the least twinkle came into her
eye--she is wonderful. I could hardly keep from gurgling with laughter
and was obliged to make quite an irritating rattle with the teaspoons.
Grandmamma frowned at that.
By the end of the visit we had been invited to view all the glories of
The Hall. (The place is called Ledstone Park; The Hall, apparently,
is Mrs. Gurrage's pet name for the house itself.) We would not find
anything old or shabby there, she assured us.
When they had gone grandmamma said to me, in a voice that always
causes my knees to shake, "Why did you not make a _reverence_ to Mrs.
Gurrage, may I ask?"
"Oh, grandmamma," I said, "courtesy to that person! She would not
have understood in the least, and would only have thought it was the
village 'bob' to a superior."
"My child,"--grandmamma's voice can be terrible in its fine
distinctness--"my teaching has been of little avail if you have not
understood the point, that one has _not_ good manners for the effect
they produce--but for what is due to one's self. This person--who, I
admit, should have entered by the back door and stayed in the kitchen
with Hephzibah--happened to be our guest and is a woman of years--and
yet, because she displeased your senses you failed to remember that
you yourself are a gentlewoman. What she thought or thinks is of not
the smallest importance in the world, but let me ask you in future to
remember, at least, that you are my granddaughter."
A big lump came in my throat.
_I hate the Gurrages!_
The next day one of the old maids--a Miss Burton--arrived just as
we were having tea. She was full of excitement at the return of the
owners of Ledstone, and gave us a quantity of information about them
in spite of grandmamma's aloofness from all gossip. It appears, even
in the country in England, Mrs. Gurrage is considered quite an oddity,
but every one knows and accepts her, because she is so charitable and
gives hundreds to any scheme the great ladies start.
She was the daughter of a small publican in one of the southern
counties, Miss Burton said, and married Mr. Gurrage, then a commercial
traveller in carpets. (How does one travel in carpets?) Anyway,
whatever that is, he rose and became a partner, and finally amassed a
huge fortune, and when they were both quite old they got "Augustus."
He was "a puny, delicate boy," to quote Miss Burton again, and was not
sent to school--only to Cambridge later on. Perhaps that is what gives
him that look of his things fitting wrong, and his skin being puffy
and flabby, as if he had never been knocked about by other boys.
My friend of the knife, even with his coating of mud, looked quite
Oh! I wonder if I shall ever know any people of one's own sort that
one has not to be polite to against the grain because one happens to
be one's self a lady. Perhaps there are numbers of nice people in this
neighborhood, but they naturally don't trouble about us in our tiny
cottage, and so we see practically nobody.
Just as Miss Burton was leaving Mr. Gurrage rode up. He tried to open
the gate with the end of his whip, but he could not, and would have
had to dismount only Miss Burton rushed forward to open it for him.
Then he got down and held the bridle over his arm and walked up the
"Send some one to hold my horse," he said to Hephzibah, who answered
his ring at the door. I could hear, as the window was a little open
and he has a loud voice.
"There is no one to send, sir," said Hephzibah, who, I am sure, felt
annoyed. Two laborers happened to be passing in the road, and he
got one of them to hold his horse, and so came in at last. He _is_
unattractive when you see him in a room; he seemed blustering and yet
ill at ease. But he did not thank us for keeping the suite clean! He
was awfully friendly, and asked us to make use of his garden, and, in
fact, anything we wanted. I hardly spoke at all.
"You _have_ made a snug little crib of it," he said, in such a
patronizing voice--how I dislike sentences like that; I don't know
whether or no they are slang (grandmamma says I use slang myself
sometimes!), but "a snug little crib" does not please me. He took off
his glove when I gave him some tea, and he has thick, common hands,
and he fidgeted and bounced up if I moved to take grandmamma her cup,
and said each time, "Allow me," and that is another sentence I do not
like. In fact, I think he is a horrid young man, and I wish he was not
our landlord. He actually squeezed my hand when he said good-bye. I
had no intention of doing more than to make a bow, but he thrust his
hand out so that I could not help it.
"_You'll_ find your way up to Ledstone, anyway, won't you?" he said,
with a sort of affectionate look.
Grandmamma found him insupportable, she told me when he was gone. She
even preferred the mother.
The following week I was sent up to The Hall with Roy and grandmamma's
card to return the visit. They were at home, unfortunately, and I had
to leave my dear companion lying on the steps to wait for me. Such a
fearful house! An enormous stained-glass window in the hall, the shape
of a church window, only not with saints and angels in it; more like
the pattern of a kaleidoscope that one peeps into with one eye, and
then bunches of roses and silly daisies in some of the panes, which,
I am sure, are unsuitable to a stained-glass window. There were
ugly negro figures from Venice, holding plates, in the passage, and
stuffed bears for lamps, and such a look of newness about everything!
I was taken along to Mrs. Gurrage's "budwar," as she called it. That
was a room to remember! It had a "suite" in it like the one at the
cottage, only with Louis XV. legs and Louis XVI. backs, and a general
expression of distortion, and all of the newest gilt-and-crimson
satin brocade. And under a glass case in the corner was the top of a
wedding-cake and a bunch of orange blossoms.
I was kept waiting about ten minutes, and then Mrs. Gurrage bustled
in, fastening her cuff. I can't put down all she said, but it was
one continual praise of "Gussie" and his wealth and the jewels he
had given her, and how disappointed he would be not to see me. Miss
Hoad poured out the tea and giggled twice. I think she must be what
Hephzibah calls "wanting." At last I got away. Roy barked with
pleasure as we started homeward.
We had not gone a hundred yards before we met Mr. Gurrage coming up
the drive. He insisted upon turning back and walking with me. He said
it was "beastly hard luck"--he has horrid phrases--his being out when
I came, and would I please not to walk so fast, as we should so soon
arrive at the cottage, and he wanted to talk to me. I simply pranced
on after that. I do not know why people should want to talk to one
when one does not want to talk to them. I was not agreeable, but he
did all the speaking. He told me he belonged to the Yeomanry and
they were "jolly fellows" and were going to give a ball soon at
Tilchester--the county town nearest here--and that I must let his
mother take me to it. It was to be a send-off to the detachment which
had volunteered for South Africa.
A ball! Oh! I should like to go to a ball. What could it feel like, I
wonder, to have on a white tulle dress and to dance all the evening.
Would grandmamma ever let me? Oh! it made my heart beat. But suddenly
a cold dash came--I could not go with a person like Mrs. Gurrage. I
would rather stay at home than that. When we got to the gate I said
good-bye and gave him two fingers, but he was not the least daunted,
and, seizing all my hand, said:
"Now, don't send me away; I want to come in and see your grandmother."
There was nothing left for me to do, and he followed me into the house
and into the drawing-room.
Grandmamma was sitting as usual in her chair. She does not have to
fluster in, buttoning her cuff, when people call.
"Mr. Gurrage wishes to see you, grandmamma," I said, as I kissed her
hand, and then I left them to take off my hat and I did not come down
again until I heard the front door shut.
"That is a terrible young man, Ambrosine," grandmamma said, when I did
return to the drawing-room. "How could you encourage him to walk back
"Indeed, grandmamma, I did not wish him to come; he did not even ask
my leave; he just walked beside me."
"Well, well," grandmamma said, and she raised my face in her hands.
I was sitting on a low stool so as to get the last of the light for
my embroidery. She pushed the hair back from my forehead--I wear it
brushed up like Ambrosine Eustasie de Calincourt--and she looked
and looked into my eyes. If possible there was something pained and
wistful in her face. "My beautiful Ambrosine," she said, and that was
all. I felt I was blushing all over my cheeks. "Beautiful Ambrosine."
Then it must be true if grandmamma said it. I had often thought
so--perhaps--myself, but I was not sure if other people might think so
* * * * *
It is six weeks now since the Gurrages returned, and constantly, oh!
but constantly has that young man come across my path. I think I grow
to dislike him more as time goes on. He is so persistent and thick of
ideas, and he _always_ does things in the wrong place. I feel afraid
to go for my walks, as he seems to be loitering about. I sneak out
of the back door and choose the most secluded lanes, but it does not
matter; he somehow turns up. Certainly three times a week do I have to
put up with his company in one way or another. It is a perfect insult
to think of such a person as an admirer, and I annihilated Hephzibah,
who had the impertinence to suggest such a thing to me when she
was brushing my hair a few days ago. The ball is coming off, but
grandmamma has not seemed very well lately. It is nothing much, just
a bluish look round her mouth, but I fear perhaps she will not be
fit to go. When the invitation came--brought down by Mrs. Gurrage
in person--grandmamma said she never allowed me to go out without
herself, but she would be very pleased to take me. I was perfectly
thunderstruck when I heard her say it. She--grandmamma--going out at
night! It was so good of her, and when I thanked her afterwards, all
she said was, "I seldom do things without a reason, Ambrosine."
Oh, the delight in getting my dress! We hired the fly from the Crown
and Sceptre and Hephzibah drove with me into Tilchester with a list of
things to get, written out by grandmamma--these were only the small
etceteras; the dress itself is to come from Paris! I was frightened
almost at the dreadful expense, but grandmamma would hear nothing from
me. "My granddaughter does not go to her first ball arrayed like a
_provinciale_," she told me. I do not know what it is to be, she did
not consult me, but I feel all jumping with excitement when I think
of it. Only four days more before the ball, and the box from Paris is
The Gurrages are to have a large party--some cousins and friends. I
am sure they will not be interesting. They asked us to dine and go on
with them, but grandmamma said that would be too fatiguing for her,
and we are going straight from the cottage, I do not quite know what
has happened. A few days ago, after lunch, grandmamma had a kind of
fainting fit. It frightened me terribly, and the under-servant ran for
the doctor. She had revived when he came, and she sent me out of the
room at once, and saw him alone without even Hephzibah. He stayed a
very long time, and when he came down he looked at me strangely and
"Your grandmother is all right now and you can go to her. I think she
wishes to send a telegram, which I will take."
He then asked to see Hephzibah, and I ran quickly to grandmamma. She
was sitting perfectly upright as usual, and, except for the slight
bluish look round her mouth, seemed quite herself. She made me get
her the foreign telegram forms, and wrote a long telegram, thinking
between the words, but never altering one. She folded it and told me
to get some money from Hephzibah and take it to the doctor. Her eyes
looked prouder than ever, but her hand shook a little. A vague feeling
of fear came over me which has never left me since. Even when I am
excited thinking of my dress, I seem to feel some shadow in the
Yesterday grandmamma received a telegram and told me we might expect
the Marquis de Rochermont by the usual train in the evening, and at
six he arrived. He greeted me with even extra courtesy and made me
compliment. I cannot understand it all--he has never before come so
early in the year (this is May). What can it mean? Grandmamma sent
me out of the room directly, and we did not have dinner until eight
o'clock. I could hear their voices from my room, and they seemed
talking very earnestly, and not so gayly as usual.
At dinner the Marquis, for the first time, addressed his conversation
to me. He prefers to speak in English--to show what a linguist he
is, I suppose. He made me many compliments, and said how very like I
was growing to my ancestress, Ambrosine Eustasie de Calincourt, and
he told me again the old story of the guillotine. Grandmamma seemed
"Ambrosine is a true daughter of the race," she said. "I think I could
promise you that under the same circumstances she would behave in the
How proud I felt!
How changed all the world can become in one short day! Now I know why
the Marquis came, and what all the mystery was about. This morning
after breakfast grandmamma sent for me into the drawing-room. The
Marquis was standing beside the fireplace, and they both looked rather
"Sit down, my child." said grandmamma; "we have something to say to
I sat down.
"I said you were a true daughter of the race--therefore I shall expect
you to obey me without flinching."
I felt a cold shiver down my back. What could it be?
"You are aware that I had a fainting fit a short time ago," she
continued. "I have long known that my heart was affected, but I had
hoped it would have lasted long enough for me to fulfil a scheme I had
for a thoroughly suitable and happy arrangement of your destiny. It
was a plan that would have taken time, and which I had hoped to put
in the way of gradual accomplishment at this ball. However, we must
not grumble at fate--it is not to be. The doctor tells me I cannot
possibly live more than a few weeks, therefore it follows that
something must be settled immediately to secure you a future. You
are not aware, as I have not considered it necessary to inform you
hitherto of my affairs, that all we are living on is an annuity your
father bought for me, before the catastrophe to his fortunes. That,
you will understand, ceases with my life. At my death you will be
absolutely penniless, a beggar in the street. Even were you to
sell these trifles"--and she pointed to the Sevres cups and the
miniatures--"the few pounds they would bring might keep you from
starving for perhaps a month or two--after that--well, enough--that
question is impossible. I can obtain no news of your father. I have
heard nothing from or of him for two years. He may be dead--we cannot
count on him. In short, I have decided, after due consideration and
consultation with my old friend the Marquis, that you must marry
Augustus Gurrage. It is my dying wish."
My eyes fell from grandmamma's face and happened to light on the
picture of Ambrosine Eustasie de Calincourt. There she was, with the
rose in her dress, smiling at me out of the old paste frame. I was so
stunned, all I could think of was to wonder if it was the same rose
she walked up the guillotine steps with. I did not hear grandmamma
speaking; for a minute there was a buzzing in my ears.
_Marry Augustus Gurrage!_
"My child"--grandmamma's voice was rather sharper--"I am aware that
it is a _mesalliance_, a stain, a finish to our fine race, and if I
could take you on the journey I am going I would not suggest this
alternative to you; but one must have common-sense and be practical;
and as you are young and must live, and cannot beg, this is the only
certain and possible solution of the matter. The great honor you will
do him by marrying him removes all sense of obligation in receiving
the riches he will bestow on you--you yourself being without a _dot_.
Child--why don't you answer?"
I got up and walked to the window. She had said I was a true daughter
of the race. Would it be of the race to kill myself? No--there is
nothing so vulgar as to be dramatic. Grandmamma has never erred. She
would not ask this of me if there was any other way.
I came back and sat down.
"Very well, grandmamma," I said.
The blue mark round her lips seemed to fade a little and she smiled.
The Marquis came forward and kissed my hand.
"Remember--_chere enfant_," he said, "marriage is a state required
by society. It is not a pleasure, but it can--with creature
comforts--become supportable, and it opens the door to freedom _et
de tous les autres agrements de la vie pour une femme_."
He kissed and patted my hand again.
"Start with hate, passionate love, indifference, revolt, disgust--what
you will--all husbands at the end of a year inspire the same feeling,
one of complacent monotony--that is, if they are not altogether
brutes--and from the description of madame, _ce jeune_ Gurrage is at
least _un brave garcon_."
I am of a practical nature, and a thought struck me forcibly. When
could Mr. Gurrage have made the _demande_?
"How did Mr. Gurrage ask for my hand?" I ventured to question
She looked at the Marquis, and the Marquis looked back at her, and
polished his eye-glasses.
At last grandmamma spoke.
"That is not the custom here, Ambrosine, but from what I have observed
he will take the first opportunity of asking you himself."
Here was something unpleasant to look forward to! It would be bad
enough to have to go through the usual period of formal _fiancailles_
of the sort I have always been brought up to expect--but to endure
being made love to by Augustus Gurrage! That was enough to daunt the
stoutest heart. However, having agreed to obey grandmamma, I could not
argue. I only waited for directions. There was a pause, not agreeable
to any of us, and then grandmamma spoke.
"You will go to this ball, my child. You will look beautiful, and you
will dance with this young man. You will not be so stiff as you have
hitherto been, and during the evening he is sure to propose to you.
You will then accept him, and bear his outburst of affection with what
good grace you can summon up. I will save you from as much as I can,
and I promise you your engagement shall be short."
A sudden feeling of dizziness came over me. I have never been faint
in my life, but all the room swam, and I felt I must scream, "No, no!
I cannot do it!" Then my eyes fell again on grandmamma. The blue mark
had returned, but she sat bolt upright. My nerves steadied. I, too,
would be calm and of my race.
"Go for a walk now, my child," she said, "Take your dog and run; it
will be good for you."
You may believe I courtesied quickly to them and left the room without
When I got out-of-doors and the fresh May air struck my face it seemed
to revive me, and I forgot my ugly future and could think only of
grandmamma--poor grandmamma, going away out of the world, and the
summer coming, and the blue sky, and the flowers. Going away to the
great, vast beyond--and perhaps there she will meet Ambrosine Eustasie
de Calincourt, and all the other ancestors, and Jacques de Calincourt,
the famous friend of Bayard, who died for his lady's glove; and she
will tell them that I also, the last of them, will try to remember
their motto, "_Sans bruit_," and accept my fate also "without noise."
When I got back, my ball-dress had arrived. Hephzibah had unpacked
it, and it was lying on my bed--such billows of pure white!--and it
fitted! Well, it gave me pleasure, with all the uglies looming in the
future, just to try it on.
The Marquis stayed with us. He could not desert his old friend, he
said, in her frail health, when she needed some one to cheer her. I
suspect the Marquis is as poor as we are, really, and that is why
grandmamma could not leave me to him. I am glad he is staying, and now
she seems quite her old self again, and I cannot believe she is going
to die. However, whether or no, my destiny is fixed, and I shall have
to marry Augustus Gurrage.
I did not let myself think of what was to happen at the ball. When one
has made up one's mind to go through something unpleasant, there is no
use suffering in advance by anticipation. I said to myself, "I will
put the whole affair out of my head; there are yet two good days."
Chance, however, arranged otherwise. This morning, the morning of the
ball, while I was dusting the drawing-room, I went to the window,
which was wide open, to shake out my duster, and there, loitering by
the gate, was Mr. Gurrage--at nine o'clock! What could he be doing?
He jumped back as if he had seen me in my nightgown. I suppose it was
because of my apron, and the big cambric cap I always wear to keep the
dust from getting into my hair. A flash came to me--why not get it
over now? He would probably not be so affectionate in broad daylight
as at the ball. So I called out, "Good-morning!"
He came forward up the path and leaned on the window-sill, still
looking dreadfully uncomfortable, hardly daring to glance at me. Then
he said, nervously, "What are you playing with, up like that?"
"I am not playing," I said, "I am dusting the china, and I wear these
things to keep me clean."
Then I realized all this embarrassment was because he thought I should
feel uncomfortable at being caught doing house-work! Not, as one might
have imagined, because _he_ had been caught peeping into our garden.
Oh, the odd ideas of the lower classes!
I took up a Sevres cup and began to pull the silk duster gently
through the handle.
"Er--can I help you?" he said.
At that I burst out laughing. Those thick, common hands touching
grandmamma's best china!
"No, no!" I said.
He grew less self-conscious.
"By Jove! how pretty you are in that cap!"
"Yes, and you are laughing, and not snubbing a fellow so dreadfully as
you generally do."
"No--well, I came round because I couldn't sleep. I haven't been able
to sleep for three nights. I haven't seen you since Saturday, you
"No, I did not know."
My heart began to beat in a sickening fashion. He leaned close to me
over the sill. I put down the cup and took up the miniature. I thought
if I looked at Ambrosine Eustasie that would give me courage. I went
on dusting it, and I was glad to see my hands did not shake.
"Yes, you are so devilishly tantalizing--I beg your pardon, but you
don't chuck yourself at a fellow's head like the other girls."
I felt I was "chucking myself at his head"--horrible phrase--at that
very moment, but as speech is given us to conceal our thoughts, I
said, "No, indeed!"
"Ambrosine--" (Oh, how his saying my name jarred and made me creep!)
"Er--you know I am jolly fond of you. If you'll marry me you'll not
have to dust any more beastly old china, I promise you."
I have never had a tooth out--fortunately, mine are all very white
and sound--but I have always heard the agony goes on growing until
the final wrench, and then all is over. I feel I know now what the
sensation is. I could have screamed, but when he finished speaking I
felt numb. I was incapable of answering.
"I've generally been able to buy all I've wanted," he went on, "but I
never wanted a wife before." He laughed nervously. That was a straw
"Do you want to buy me?" I said, "Because, if it is only a question of
that, it perhaps could be managed."
"Oh, I say--I never meant that!" he blustered, "Oh, you know I love
you like anything, and I want you to love me."
"That is just it," I said, quite low.
I felt too mean, I could not pretend I loved him. I must tell the
truth, and then, if he would not have me--me--Ambrosine de Calincourt
Athelstan!--why, then, vulgarly dramatic or no, I should have to jump
into the river to make things easy for grandmamma.
"What is 'just it'?" he asked.
"I do not love you."
His face fell.
"I kind of thought you didn't," he faltered, the bluster gone;
"but"--cheering up--"of course you will in time, if you will only
"I don't think I ever shall," I managed to whisper; "but if you like
to marry me on that understanding, you may."
He climbed through the window and put his arms round me.
"Darling!" he said, and kissed me deliberately.
Oh, the horror of it! I shut my eyes, and in the emotion of the moment
I bent the bow on the top of the frame of Ambrosine Eustasie.
Then, dragging myself from his embrace and stuttering with rage, "How
dare you!" I gasped. "How dare you!"
He looked sulky and offended.
"You said you would marry me--what is a fellow to understand?"
"You are to understand that I will not be mauled and--and kissed
like--like Hephzibah at the back door," I said, with freezing dignity,
my head in the air.
"Hoity-toity!" (hideous expression!) "What airs you give yourself! But
you look so deuced pretty when you are angry!" I did not melt, but
stood on the defensive.
He became supplicating again.
"Ambrosine, I love you--don't be cross with me. I won't make you
angry again until you are used to me. Ambrosine, say you forgive me."
He took my hand. His hands are horrid to touch--coarse and damp. I
He looked pained at that. A dark-red flush came over all his face. He
squared his shoulders and got over the window-sill again.
"You cold statue!" he said, spitefully. "I will leave you."
"Go," was all I said, and I did not move an inch.
He stood looking at me for a few moments, then with one bound he was
in the room again and had seized me in his arms.
"No, I sha'n't!" he exclaimed. "You have promised, and I don't care
what you say or do. I will keep you to your word."
Mercifully, at that moment Hephzibah opened the door, and in the
confusion her entrance caused him, he let me go. I simply flew
from the room and up to my own; and there, I am ashamed to say,
I cried--sat on the floor and cried like a gutter-child. Oh, if
grandmamma could have seen me, how angry she would have been! I have
never been allowed to cry--a relaxation for the lower classes, she
has always told me.
My face burned. All the bottles of Lubin in grandmamma's cupboard
would not wash off the stain of that kiss, I felt. I scrubbed my face
until it was crimson, and then I heard grandmamma's voice and had to
pull myself together.
I have always said she had hawk's eyes; they see everything, even with
the blinds down in her room. When I went in she noticed my red lids
and asked the cause of them.
"Mr. Gurrage has been here and has asked me to marry him, grandmamma,"
"At this hour in the morning! What does the young man mean?"
"He saw me dusting the Sevres from the road and came in."
Grandmamma kissed me--a thing of the greatest rareness.
"My child," she said, "try and remember to accept fate without noise.
Now go and rest until breakfast, or you will not be pretty for your
The Marquis's congratulations were different when we met in the _salle
a manger_; he kissed my hand. How cool and fine his old, withered
"You will be the most beautiful _debutante_ to-night, _ma chere
enfant_," he said; "and all the _felicitations_ are for Monsieur
Gurrage. You are a noble girl--but such is life. My wife detested
me--_dans le temps_. But what will you?"
"You, at least, were a gentleman, Marquis," I said.
"There is that, to be sure," he allowed. "But my wife preferred her
dancing-master. One can never judge."
At half-past two o'clock (they must have gobbled their lunch), Mrs.
Gurrage, Augustus--yes, I must get accustomed to saying that odious
name--Augustus and Miss Hoad drove up in the barouche, and got
solemnly out and came up to the door which Hephzibah held open for
them. They solemnly entered the sitting-room where we all were, and
solemnly shook hands. There is something dreadfully ill-behaved about
me to-day. I could hardly prevent myself from screaming with laughter.
"I've heard the joyous news," Mrs. Gurrage said, "and I've come to
take you to me heart, me dear."
Upon which I was folded fondly against a mosaic brooch containing a
lock of hair of the late Mr. Gurrage.
It says a great deal for the unassailable dignity of grandmamma that
she did not share the same fate. She, however, escaped with only
"He is, indeed, to be congratulated, _votre fils_, madame," the
Marquis said, on being presented.
"And the young lady, too, me dear sir. A better husband than me boy'll
make there is not in England--though his old mother says it."
Grandmamma behaved with the stiffest decorum. She suggested that
we--the young girls--should walk in the garden, while she had some
conversation with Mrs. Gurrage and Augustus.
Miss Hoad and I left the room. Her name is Amelia. She looked like a
turkey's egg, just that yellowish white with freckles.
"I hope you will be good to Gussie," she said, as we walked demurely
along the path. "He is a dear fellow when you know him, though a bit
"Gussie's awfully spoony on you," she went on. "I said to aunt weeks
ago I knew what was up," she giggled.
I bowed again.
"I say, he'll give you a bouquet for the ball to-night; we are going
into Tilchester now to fetch it."
I could not bow a third time, so I said:
"Is not a bouquet rather in the way of dancing? I have never been to a
"Never been to a ball? My! Well I've never had a bouquet, so I can't
say. If you have any one sweet on you I suppose they send them, but I
have always been too busy with aunt to think about that."
Poor Miss Hoad!
When they had gone--kept behind grandmamma's chair, and so only
received a squeeze of the hand from my betrothed--grandmamma told
me she would be obliged to forego the pleasure of herself taking me
to the ball to-night, but the Marquis would accompany me, and Mrs.
Gurrage would chaperon me there. So, after all, I am going with
Mrs. Gurrage! Grandmamma also added that she had explained the
circumstances of her health to them, and that Augustus had suggested
that the wedding should take place with the shortest delay possible.
"I have told them your want of _dot_," she said, "and I must say for
these _bourgeois_ they seemed to find that a matter of no importance.
But they do not in the least realize the honor you are doing them.
That must be for you as a private consolation. I have stipulated,
as my time is limited, that I shall have you as much to myself as
possible during the month that must elapse before you can collect a
For that mercy, how grateful I felt to grandmamma!
It is difficult to judge of a thing when your mind is prejudiced on
any point. Balls may be delightful, but my first ball contained hours
which I can only look back upon as a nightmare.
The Marquis and I arrived not too early; Mrs. Gurrage and her bevy of
nieces and friends were already in the dressing-room. They seemed to
be plainish, buxom girls, several of the bony, _passe_ description.
They looked at me with eyes of deep interest. My dress, as I said
before, was perfection. Mrs. Gurrage wore what she told me were the
"family jewels." Her short neck and undulating chest were covered
with pearls, diamonds, sapphires, and rubies, all jumbled together,
necklace after necklace. On top of her head, in front of an imitation
lace cap, a park paling of diamonds sat up triumphantly; one almost
saw its reflection in her shining forehead below. In spite of this
splendor, my future mother-in-law had an unimportant, plebeian
appearance, and as we walked down the corridor I wished I was not so
tall, that I might hide behind her.
Augustus was waiting among the other men of their party, with an
enormous bouquet. Not one of those dainty posies with dropping sprays
one sees in the Paris shops, but a good lump of flowers, arranged like
a cauliflower, evidently the work of the Tilchester florist. How I
should like to have thrown it at his head!
He gave me his arm, and in this fashion we entered the ballroom. A
bride of the Saturday weddings in the Bois de Boulogne could not have
looked more foolish than I felt. A valse was being played; the room
was full of light and color, all the officers of the Yeomanry in their
pretty uniforms (Augustus puffed with pride in his), and a general air
of gayety and animation that would have made my pulse skip a month
ago. We passed on to the other end of the room in this ridiculous
procession. I am quite as tall as Augustus, and I felt I was towering
over him, my head was so high in the air--not with exaltation, but
with a vague sense of defiance.
There were several nice-looking people standing around when at last we
arrived on the dais. Mrs. Gurrage greeted most of them gushingly and
"My future daughter-in-law, Miss Athelstan."
It may have been fancy, but I thought I caught flashes of surprise
in their eyes. One lady--Lady Tilchester--the great magnate in the
neighborhood, spoke to me. She had gracious, beautiful manners, and
although she could not know anything about me or my history, there
seemed to be sympathy in her big, brown eyes.
"This is your first ball Mrs. Gurrage tells me," she said, kindly. "I
hope you will enjoy it. I must introduce some of my party to you. Ah,
they are dancing now; I must find them presently."
During this Augustus fidgeted. He kept touching my arm, half in an
outburst of affection and half to keep my attention from wandering
from him. He blustered politenesses to Lady Tilchester, who smiled
vacantly while she was attending to something else. Then my _fiance_
suggested that we should dance. I agreed; it would be an opportunity
to get rid of my cauliflower bouquet, which I flung viciously into a
chair, and off we started.
Augustus dances vilely. When he was not bumping me against other
_valseurs_ he was treading on my toes--a jig or a funeral-march might
have been playing instead of a valse, for all the time of it mattered
"I never dance fast, I hate it," he said, in the first pause; "don't
"No! I like it--at least, I mean, I like to do whatever the music is
doing," I answered, trying to keep my voice from showing the anger and
disgust I felt.
"Darling!" was all he muttered, as he seized me round the waist again.
"Oh! it makes me giddy," I said, which was a lie I am ashamed of. "Let
It was from Scylla to Charybdis, for I was led to one of the
sitting-out places. So stupidly ignorant was I in the ways of balls
that I did not realize that we should be practically alone, or I would
have remained glued to the ballroom. However, before I knew it we were
seated on a sofa behind a screen, in a subdued light.
"Are you never going to give me a kiss, Ambrosine?" Augustus said,
"Certainly not here," I exclaimed. "How can you be so horrid?"
"You are a little vixen."
"You may call me what you like; I do not care. But you shall not me a
public disgrace," I retorted.
"I think you are deucedly unkind to me," he said, his sulky underlip
I controlled myself, I tried to remember grandmamma's last advice
to me, to be as agreeable as possible and not come to a quarrel.
She said I must even submit to a certain amount of familiarity from
my betrothed. These were her words: "It is in the nature of men, my
child, to wish to demonstrate by outward marks of affection their
possession and appreciation of their _fiancees_, and, unfortunately,
the English customs permit such an amount of license in this direction
that I fear you must submit to a little, at least, with a good grace."
I softened my voice. "I do not mean to be unkind," I said, "but it is
all so very sudden. You must give me time to accustom myself to the
idea of having a _fiance_-you see, I have never had one before," and I
tried to laugh.
He was slightly mollified.
"Well, at least let me hold your hand," he said.
I gave him a stiff, unsympathetic set of fingers, which he proceeded
to kiss through the glove. My attention was so taken up with trying to
see if any one was coming, to avoid the disgrace of being caught thus,
that I had not even time to feel the nastiness of it.
Augustus was murmuring sentences of love all the time. It must have
sounded like this:
"Darling, what a dear little paw!"
"Oh! is not that a lady looking this way?"
"I should like to kiss your arm--"
"I am sure they can see in here by that looking-glass."
"Why won't you let me kiss just that jolly little curl on your neck?"
"I am certain some one is coming--oh!--oh!"
These "ohs" were caused by Augustus having got so beside himself that
he actually bent down and kissed my shoulder!
A sudden sense of helplessness came over me. I felt crushed, as if I
could not fight any more, as if all was ended.
"Good God! How white you are, darling! What is the matter?" I heard
his voice saying, as if in a dream. "Come, let me take you to have
I bounded up at that--I should get out of this cage. In the
refreshment-room some of the other Yeomen were standing with their
partners. The dance was over and they came up, and Augustus introduced
several of them, and, mercifully, I was soon engaged to dance for
numbers ahead. Neither their faces nor their conversation made the
slightest impression on me. These were the "jolly fellows," I suppose,
but I felt grateful to them for taking up my time, and I talked as
gayly as I could, and one or two of them danced nicely. Between each
dance there was Augustus waiting for me. But I soon found it was the
custom to stay with one's partner until the next dance began, and so
after that I hid in every possible place for the intervals, and then
took refuge with the Marquis. Presently there was a set of lancers.
Augustus rushed up to me before I could hide.
"I don't care who you are engaged to," he said, savagely, "You must
dance this with me. I have been deuced patient these last four dances,
but I won't stand being chucked like this any longer."
"I am not engaged to any one," I said, stiffly.
He tucked my hand under his arm and dragged me to where a set was
forming, but on the way Lady Tilchester beckoned us to the middle. We
took up our position at one of the sides of her set. Augustus was so
flattered at this notice that he forgot to grumble further at my long
Except ourselves, the rest of the sixteen people appeared to be all of
her party, and they looked so gay and seemed enjoying themselves; I am
afraid grandmamma would have said they romped, rather. Our _vis-a-vis_
were such a pretty girl and a very tall man, and when first he
advanced to meet us I felt I had seen him before, and by the second
figure I knew it was my friend of the knife. He is very good-looking
without the mud. Not the least expression of recognition came into
his face, but he laughed gayly at the fun of the thing. After the mad
whirl of a _chasse_, instead of a ladies' chain I have been accustomed
to, we came to an end. This dance was the first moment of the evening
I had enjoyed. All these people interested me; they seemed of another
world, a world where grandmamma and I could live happily if we might.
They made quite a noise, and they danced badly, but there was nothing
vulgar or _bourgeois_ about them. I felt like an animal who sees its
own kind again, after captivity; I wanted to break away and join them.
Augustus, on the contrary, was extremely ill at ease.
After that, one dance succeeded another--numbers of which I had
to spend with my _fiance_, but, warned by my first experience, I
always pretended a great thirst, or a desire to see the rooms, or
an obligation to return to the Marquis, and so went to no more
sitting-out places. I did not again see the tall man--he seemed to
have disappeared until a dance after supper, when we met him with Lady
"Ah! here you are," she said. "I have been wanting to find you to
introduce--" At that moment an old gentleman guffawed loudly near us,
and so I did not catch the name she said, but we bowed, and the tall
man asked me if I would dance that one with him.
Without the least hesitation I disengaged my hand from the arm of
Augustus (he likes to walk thus on every occasion), and said, "Yes."
"Oh! I say," said my _fiance_, with the savage look in his face, "you
were going to dance with me."
Then Lady Tilchester interfered--what a dear and kind soul she must
have! She said so sweetly, as if Augustus was a prince, "Won't you
accept me as a substitute, Mr. Gurrage?"
Augustus was overcome with pride, and relinquished me with the best
Now it was really bliss, dancing with this man; we swam along, swift
and smoothly. I could no longer see the walls; a maze of lights was
all my vision grasped--I felt bewildered--happy. We stopped a moment
and he bent down and smiled at me.
"You look as if you liked dancing," he said. "Poor Lady Tilchester is
being mauled by that bear in your place."
I laughed. "I love dancing."
"I seldom do this sort of thing," he continued, "but you are a
beautiful mover," and we began again.
When it was over we went and sat down in the very alcove of my first
dance with Augustus. I had no uneasiness this time!
I can't say what there was about my partner--a whimsical humor, a
slight mocking sound in his voice, which pleased me; he took nothing
seriously; everything he said was as light as a thistle-down; he
reminded me of the wit of grandmamma and the Marquis; we got on
"I seem to have seen you before," he said, at last. "Have I met you
in Paris? or am I only dreaming? because I know you so well in the
galleries at Versailles--you stepped down from those frames just to
honor us to-night, did you not?--and you will go back at cock-crow!"
"If I only could!"
He asked me if I was staying at Brackney or Henchhurst, and when I
said no, that I lived only a few miles off, he seemed so surprised.
His brown hair crimps nicely and is rather gray above the ears, but he
does not look very old, perhaps not more than thirty-five or so, and
now that one can see both his eyes, one realizes that they are rather
attractive. A grayish, greeny-blue, with black edges, and such black
eyelashes! They are as clear as clear, and I am sure he is a cat and
can see in the dark. He laughed at some of the people, even the ones
who think themselves great, and he made me feel that he and I were the
same and on a plane by ourselves, which was delightful. All this time
I did not know his name, nor he mine. As he moved I saw a gold chain
in the pocket of his white waistcoat, and just peeping out was the
hilt of my little lost knife. I said nothing--I don't know why--it
pleased me to see it there. He had been away in the smoking-room most
of the evening, he said, playing bridge.
The Marquis is teaching it to grandmamma out of a book, but I do not
care for cards--and it seemed to me such a dull way to spend a ball. I
told him so.
"I like this better," he said, quite simply, "but then at most balls
one does not meet a dainty marquise out of the eighteenth century. Let
me see, was there not a story of the great Dumas about a _demoiselle
d'honneur_ of Marie Antoinette--I don't remember her name or her
history, but she became the Comtesse de Charny. Now I shall think of
you by that name--the Comtesse de Charny. Tell me, Comtesse, does it
not shock your senses, our modern worship of that excellent, useful,
comfortable fellow, the Golden Calf?"
"I don't know anything at all about him--who is he?" I said.
"Oh, he is a Jew, or a Turk, or an African millionaire--any one with
a hundred thousand a year."
I thought of Augustus--"calf" seemed just the word for him.
"We have a beautiful example of one here to-night," he continued;
"indeed you were dancing with him--the bear who mauled Lady
Tilchester. How did you get to know such a person?"
My heart gave a bound.
"I am engaged to Mr. Gurrage," I said, in a half voice, but raising my
Oh, the surprise and--and _disgust_ in his eyes! Then, I don't know
what he saw in my face, I tried only to look calm and indifferent, but
the contempt went out of his manner, his eyes softened, and he put out
his hand and touched my fingers very gently.
"Oh, you poor little white Comtesse!" he said.
I ought to have been furious. Pity, as a rule, angers me so that it
would render me capable of being torn to pieces by lions without
flinching; but I am ashamed--oh! so ashamed--to say that tears sprang
up into my eyes--tears! Mercifully, grandmamma will never know.
"Come," I said, and we rose and walked down the corridor. There we met
Augustus, with a face like thunder. He had been looking everywhere for
me, he said. It appeared we had been sitting out for two dances.
"You promised me this one more turn," said the tall man, quite
unabashed; "they are playing a charming valse."
"She is engaged to me," growled Augustus.
"No, I am not," I said, smiling into his angry face; "I am quite my
own mistress as regards whom I dance with. I will come back when it is
finished and you shall have the next one," and I walked off with my
friend of the knife.
Whether my _fiance_ stood there and swore or not I do not know; I did
not look back. We did not speak a word until the dance was finished,
my partner and I. Then he said:
"Thank you, little lady. We have, at all events, snatched some few
good moments out of this evening. Now, I suppose, we must return to
Augustus was standing by the buffet drinking champagne when we caught
sight of him. We stepped for a moment out of his view behind some
"Good-bye," I said, "Will you tell me your name? I did not hear it--"
"My name! Oh, my name is Antony Thornhirst--why do you start?"
"I--did not start--good-bye--"
"No, you shall not go until you tell me why you started? And your
name, too; I do not know it either!"
"Ambrosine de Calincourt Athelstan."
He knitted his level eyebrows as if trying to recall something, and
absently began to pull the knife out of his pocket. Augustus was
coming towards us.
"Yes," I said, "but it is too late. Good-bye."
The look of indifference, the rather mocking smile, the _sans souci_,
which are the chief characteristics of his face, altered. I left him
* * * * *
Grandmamma was awake, propped up in bed, her hair still powdered and
her lace night-cap on, when the Marquis and I got home. I leaned over
the rail and told her all about the ball. The Marquis sat in the
arm-chair by the fire.
"And where is your promised bouquet, my child?" she asked.
"Well, you see, grandmamma, I put it in a chair after the beginning,
and Mrs. Gurrage sat on it, so I thought perhaps, as it was all
mashed, I could leave it behind."
Grandmamma laughed; she was pleased, I could see, that the evening had
gone off without a fiasco!
"I met Sir Antony Thornhirst," I said.
The blue mark appeared vividly and suddenly round grandmamma's
mouth--she shut her eyes for a moment. I rushed to her.
"Oh, dear grandmamma," I said, "what can I do?"
She drank something out of a glass beside her, and then said, in
rather a weak voice:
"You were saying you met your kinsman. And what was he like,
"Well, he was tall and very straight, and had small ears and--er--a
fairish mustache that was brushed up a little away from his lips,
and--and cat's eyes, and--brown, crimpy hair, getting a little gray."
"Yes, yes; but I mean what sort of a man?"
"Oh! a gentleman."
"But of course."
"Well, he laughed at everything and called me an eighteenth-century
"Did he know who you were?"
"No, not till the end, and then I do not think he realized that I was
a connection of his."
"It does not matter," said grandmamma, low to herself, "as it is too
"Yes, I told him it was too late."
Grandmamma's voice sharpened.
"You told him! What do you mean?" and she leaned forward a little.
"I don't quite know what I did mean--those words just slipped out."
She lay back on her pillows--poor grandmamma--as if she was exhausted.
"Child," she said, very low, "yes--never forget we have given our
word; whatever happens, any change is too late."
A look of anguish came over her face. Oh, how it hurt me to see her
"Dear grandmamma," said, "do not think I mind. I have done and will do
all you wish, and--and--as the Marquis said--it will not matter in a
The Marquis, I believe, had been dozing, but at the sound of his name
he looked up and spoke.
"_Chere amie_, you can indeed be proud of _la belle debutante_
to-night; she was by far the most beautiful at the ball--_sans
exception_! Even the adorable Lady Tilchester had not her grand air.
_Les demoiselles anglaises! Ce sont des fagotages inouis pour la plus
part_, with their movements of the wooden horse and their skins of the
goddess! As for _le fiance, il etait assez retenu, il avait pourtant
l'air maussade, mais il se consolait avec du champagne--il fera un
tres brave mari_."
The next day Augustus went to London by the early train. I fortunately
saw the dog-cart coming, and rushed to tell Hephzibah to say I was not
up if he stopped, which of course he did on his way to the station. He
left a message for me. He would be back at half-past four, would come
in to tea. The Marquis and I were to dine there in the evening, so I
am sure that would be time enough to have seen him. Grandmamma said
it was no doubt the engagement-ring he had gone to London to buy, and
that I _really must_ receive it with a good grace.
At about four o'clock, while I was reading aloud the oration of
Bossuet on the funeral of Madame d'Orleans, the tuff-tuff-tuff of a
motorcar was heard, and it drew up at our gate and out got Sir Antony
Thornhirst and Lady Tilchester.
Although I could see them with the corner of my eye, and grandmamma
could too, I should not have dared to have stopped my reading, and was
actually in the middle of a sentence when Hephzibah announced them. I
did not forget to make my _reverence_ this time, and grandmamma half
rose from her chair. Lady Tilchester has the most lovely manners. In
a few minutes we all felt perfectly happy together, and she had told
us how Sir Antony was so anxious to make grandmamma's acquaintance,
having discovered by chance that he was a connection of hers, that
she--Lady Tilchester--had slipped away from her guests and brought him
over in her new motor, and she trusted grandmamma would forgive her
unannounced descent upon us. She also said how she wished she had
heard before that we were in this neighborhood, that she might have
months ago made our acquaintance, and could perhaps have been useful
I shall always love her, her sweet voice and the beautiful diffidence
of her manner to grandmamma, as though she were receiving a great
honor by grandmamma's reception of her. So different to Mrs. Gurrage's
patronizing vulgarity! I could see grandmamma was delighted with her.
Sir Antony talked to me. He asked me if I was tired, or something
_banal_ like that; his voice was _distraite_. I answered him gayly,
and then we changed seats, and he had a conversation with grandmamma.
I do not know what they spoke about, as Lady Tilchester and I went to
the other end of the room, but his manner looked so gallant, and I
knew by grandmamma's face that she was saying the witty, sententious
things that she does to the Marquis. A faint pink flush came into her
cheeks which made her look such a very beautiful old lady.
Lady Tilchester talked to me about the garden and the ball the night
before, and at last asked me when I was going to be married.
It seemed to bring me back with a rush to earth from some enchanted
world which contained no Augustus.
"I--don't know," I faltered, and then, ashamed of my silly voice,
said, firmly, "Grandmamma has not arranged the date yet--"
"I hope you will be very happy," said Lady Tilchester, and she would
not look at me, which was kind of her.
"Thank you," I said. "Grandmamma is no longer young, and she will feel
relieved to know I have a home of my own."
"It is delightful to think we shall have you for a neighbor. Harley is
only fifteen miles from here. I wonder if Mrs. Athelstan would let you
come and stay a few days with me?"
"Oh! I should _love_ to," I said.
However, grandmamma, when the subject was broached to her presently,
"A month ago I should have accepted with much pleasure," she said,
"but circumstances and my health do not now permit me to part even for
a short time with Ambrosine."
She looked at Lady Tilchester and Lady Tilchester looked back at her,
and although nothing more was said about the matter, I am sure they
understood each other.
Sir Antony came and sat by me in the window-sill. I was wearing my
chatelaine and he noticed it.
"I am a blind idiot!" he exclaimed. "Of course you are the kind lady
who lent me the knife, which I broke, and then stole in a brutal way."
"I saw you did not recognize me the other night."
"I could only see out of one eye, you know, that day in the lane--that
must be my excuse."
I said nothing.
"I am not going to give back the knife."
"Then it is real stealing--and it spoils my chatelaine," I said,
holding up the empty chain.
"I will give you another in its place, but I must keep this one."
"That is silly--why?"
"It is very agreeable to do silly things sometimes--for instance, I
What he would have liked I never knew, for at that moment we both
caught sight of Augustus getting out of his station brougham at our
"Here comes your bear," said Sir Antony, but he did not attempt to
stir from his seat. We could see Augustus walk up the path and turn
the handle of the front door without ringing. In this impertinence I
am glad to say he was checked, as Hephzibah had fortunately let the
bolt slip after showing in Lady Tilchester. He rang an angry peal.
When Augustus finally got into the room his face was purple. He had
hardly self-control enough to greet Lady Tilchester with his usual
obsequiousness. She talked charmingly to him for a few moments, and
then got up to go.
Meanwhile Sir Antony had been conversing with me quite as if no
_fiance_ had entered the room.
"You know we are cousins," he said.
"Very distant ones."
"Why on earth did you not let me know when first you came to this
"Grandmamma has never told me why she left you uninformed of our
arrival," I laughed. "How could we have known it would interest you?'"
"But you--don't you ever do anything of your own accord?"
"I would like to sometimes."
"It is monstrous to have kept you shut up here and then to--"
Augustus crossed the room.
"Ambrosine," he interrupted, rudely, "I shall come and fetch you this
evening for dinner, as you are too busy now to speak to me."
"Very well," I said.
Sir Antony rose, and we made a general good-bye.
There was something disturbed in his face--as if he had not said what
he meant to. A sickening anger and disgust with fate made my hand
To-morrow is my wedding-day--the 10th of June. There is my dress
spread over the sofa, looking like a ghost in the dim light--I have
only one candle on the dressing-table. It is pouring rain and there
are rumbles of thunder in the distance. Well, let it pour and hail
and rage, and do what it pleases--I don't care! Just now a flash came
nearer and seemed to catch the huge diamonds in my engagement-ring,
which hangs loose on my finger now. I flung it into the little china
tray, where strings of pearls and a fender tiara are already reposing
ready for to-morrow. I shall blaze with jewels, and Augustus will be
able to tell the guests how much they all cost.
This month of my _fiancailles_ has been nothing agreeable to recall.
Indeed, I should not have been able to go through with it only the
blue mark has so often appeared round grandmamma's mouth, especially
when Augustus and I have had trifling differences of opinion.
Long years ago, one summer we spent at Versailles when I was a child,
I remember an incident.
I was sitting reading aloud to grandmamma in the garden when from the
trees above there fell upon my neck, which was bare, a fat, hairy
caterpillar. I recollect I gave a gurgling, nasty scream, and dropped
Grandmamma was very angry. She explained to me that such noises were
extremely vulgar, and that if my flesh was so little under control
that this should turn me sick, the sooner I got over such fancies the
She made me pick the creature up and let it crawl over my arm. At
first I nearly felt mad with horror, but gradually custom deadened the
sensation, and although it remained disagreeable, I could contemplate
it without emotion.
This memory has often proved useful to me during this last month.
To-day, even, I was able to sit upon the sofa and allow Augustus to
kiss me for quite ten minutes, without having to rush up and take
sal-volatile, as I had to in the beginning.
I have been through various trying ordeals. The tenants have
presented us with silver trays and other things, and we have listened
to speeches, and bowed sweetly, and numbers of hitherto distant
acquaintances have showered presents upon us. My future mother-in-law
has loaded me with advice, chiefly of a purely domestic kind, most of
it a guide as to how I had better please Augustus.
It appears he likes thick toast in preference to thin, and thick
soups; also that a habit he has of taking Welsh rarebit and stout for
a late supper when he sits up alone is not good for his digestion and
is to be discouraged. She hopes I will see that he wears his second
thinnest Jaeger vests in Paris, not _the_ thinnest--which ought to be
kept for August warmth--as once before when there he caught a bad
catarrh of the chest through this imprudence.
Lady Tilchester is coming down from London in a special train on
purpose to grace our bridal ceremony. She has sent me the prettiest
brooch and such a nice letter.
I hope she will be a consolation in the future. For me life must be a
thing of waking in the morning, and eating and drinking, and taking
exercise, and going to bed again, and deadening all emotions, or
else I feel sure I shall get a dreadful disease I once read about
in an American paper Hephzibah takes in. It is called "spontaneous
combustion," and it said in the paper that a man caught it from having
got into a compressed state of heat and rage for weeks, and it made
him burst up at last into flames like an exploding shell.
Well, at all events, I have kept my word, and grandmamma is content
Miss Hoad--I shall have to call her Amelia now--is enchanted with the
whole entertainment. She is to be the only bridesmaid, and has chosen
the dress herself. It is coffee lace with a mustard-yellow sash. It
mill match her complexion. And Augustus is presenting her with a
huge bouquet, no doubt of the cauliflower shape, like my famous one,
besides a diamond-and-ruby watch.
I wonder if Sir Antony will be at the wedding--he was asked.
The Marquis de Rochermont will give me away--grandmamma is too feeble
now to stand. The ceremony is to be in the village church here, and
the choir, composed of village youths unacquainted with a note of
music, is to meet us at the lich-gate and precede us up the aisle,
singing an encouraging wedding-hymn, while school-children spread
forced white roses, provided by the Tilchester rose-growers.
Augustus explained that patronizing local resources like this will all
come in useful when he stands for Parliament later on.
Grandmamma stipulated that there should be no wedding feast, her
health and our small house being sufficient excuse. It is a great
disappointment to Mrs. Gurrage, I am sure, but we go away to Paris
as soon as I can change my dress after the church ceremony.
Think of it! This time to-morrow my name will be Gurrage! And Augustus
will have the right to--Merciful God! stop my heart from beating
in this sickening fashion, and let me remember the motto of my
Oh, grandmamma, if I could go on your journey with you! The first jump
out into the dark might be fearful, but afterwards it would be quiet
and still, and there would be no caterpillars!
That was a beautiful flash of lightning! The storm is coming
nearer. Sparks flew from my diamond fender on the dressing-table.
Well--well--I--I wish I had seen Sir Antony again. Just now he sent
me a present. It is a knife for my chatelaine, the hilt studded with
diamonds, and there is a note which says that there is still time to
cut the Gordian knot.
What does it mean? I feel cold, as if I could not understand things
The Marquis gave me some _conseils de mariage_ this afternoon.
"Remain placid," he said, "_fermez les yeux et pensez a autrui--apres
vous aurez les agrements_."
Grandmamma has not even kissed me. Her eyes resemble a hawk's still,
but have the look of a tortured tiger as well sometimes. She has grown
terribly feeble, and has twice had fainting-fits like the one that
changed my destiny. I believe she is remaining alive simply by
strength of will and that she will die when all is over.
She has given me the greatest treasure of her life, the miniature of
Ambrosine Eustasie. I have it here by my side for my very own.
Yes, Ambrosine Eustasie, for me to-morrow there is also the
guillotine; and perhaps I, too, could walk up the steps smiling if
I were allowed a rose to keep off the smell of the common people;
Augustus's mother uses patchouli.
No one can possibly imagine the unpleasantness of a honey-moon until
they have tried it. It is no wonder one is told nothing at all
about it. Even to keep my word and obey grandmamma I could never
have undertaken it if I had had an idea what it would be like.
Really, girls' dreams are the silliest things in the world. I can't
help staring at all the married people I see about. "You--poor
wretches!--have gone through this," I say to myself; and then I wonder
and wonder that they can smile and look gay. I long to ask them when
the calmness and indifference set in; how long I shall have to wait
before I can really profit by grandmamma's lesson of the caterpillar.
It was useful for the _fiancailles_, but it has not comforted me much
since my wedding.
In old-fashioned books, when the heroine comes to anything exciting,
or when the situation is too difficult for the author to describe,
there is always a row of stars. It seems to mean a jump, a break to be
filled up as each person pleases. I feel I must leave this part of my
life marked with this row of stars.
It is two weeks now since I wrote my name Ambrosine de Calincourt
Athelstan for the last time, two weeks since I walked down the
rose-strewn guillotine steps on Augustus's arm, two weeks since
he--Ah, no! I will never look back at that. Let these hideous two
weeks sink into the abyss of oblivion!
It hardly seems possible that in fifteen days one could so completely
alter one's views and notions of life. I cannot look at anything with
the same eyes. It is all very well for people to talk philosophy, but
it is difficult to be philosophical when one's every sense is being
continually _froisse_. I feel sometimes that I could commit murder,
and I do not know when I shall be able to take the Marquis's advice to
remain placid and shut my eyes and try to get what good out of life I
Augustus as a husband is extremely unpleasant. I hate the way his
hair is brushed--there always seems to be a lock sticking up in the
back; I hate the way he ties his ties; I hate everything he says and
does. I keep saying to myself when I hear him coming, "remember the
caterpillar, caterpillar, caterpillar." And once in the beginning,
when I was screwing up my eyes not to see, he got quite close before I
knew and he heard me saying it aloud.
He bounced away, thinking I meant there was one crawling on him, and
then he got quite cross.
"There are no caterpillars here, Ambrosine. How silly you are!" he
He revels in being at once recognized as a bridegroom. He has
dreadfully familiar ways and catches hold of my arm in public, making
us both perfectly ridiculous. He has insisted upon buying me numbers
of gorgeous garments for my outer covering, but when I ventured to
order some very fine other things he grumbled at the cost.
"I don't mind your getting clothes that will show the money I've put
into them," he explained, "but I'm bothered if I'll encourage useless
extravagance in this way."
At the play he never understands more than a few words, but is always
asking me to explain what it means when there is anything interesting,
so I miss most of it myself from having to talk, and some of the
French plays are really very funny, I find, and have opened my eyes
a great deal, and I--even I--could laugh if I were left in peace to
listen a little.
Augustus is furiously angry, too, when the Frenchmen look at me. I
never thought I could even notice the gaze of strangers, but I am
ashamed to say that last night it quite pleased me.
We were dining at Paillard's, and two really nice-looking Frenchmen
had the next table. They looked at me, and Augustus glared at them and
fussed the waiters more than usual, and wanted to hurry me as much
as possible to get away; so I asked for other dishes and peaches and
nectarines and things out of season. At last, when I had dawdled quite
an extra half-hour, it came to an end, and the usual sums on the
margin of the bill began--Augustus adds up every item to see no sou
has been overcharged. At this point I looked up and caught one of
the Frenchmen's eye. Of course I glanced away at once, but there was
such a gleam of fun in his that I nearly smiled. Then, suddenly the
recollection came upon me that this creature, this thing sitting
opposite me, belonged to me. I have his name, he is my husband. I must
not laugh with others at his odious ways. After that I was glad to
I am worried about grandmamma. She has not written; there only came a
small note from the Marquis. I am sure she must be very ill, if not
already dead. I cannot grieve; I almost feel as if I wished it so.
Augustus as a grandson-in-law would sting her fine senses unbearably.
He blusters continually, and his airs of proprietorship _envers moi_
would irritate her; besides, she would always have the idea that she
is cheating me by remaining alive, that, after all, my marriage was
not a necessity if she is still there to keep me. Oh, dear grandmamma!
if I could save you a moment's sorrow you know I would. When I said
good-bye to her she held me close and kissed me. "Ambrosine," she
said, "I shall have started upon my journey before you come back;
you must not grieve or be sad. My last advice to you, my child, is
to remember life is full of compensations, as you will find. Try to
see the bright and gay side of things, and, above all, do not be
She was always cheerful, grandmamma, but if I could just see her again
to tell her I will, indeed I will, try to follow her advice! Hush!
here is Augustus; I hear his clumsy footsteps. He has a telegram.
Alas! alas! My fears are true--grandmamma died this morning. Oh! I
cannot write, the tears make everything a mist.
* * * * *
It is late July and I am at Ledstone as its nominal mistress--I say
nominal, for Augustus's mother reigns, as she always did.
The sorrow of grandmamma's death, the feeling that nothing can matter
in the world now, has kept me from caring or asserting myself in any
way. I feel numb. I seem to be a person listening from some gallery
when they all speak around me, and that the Ambrosine who answers
placidly is an automaton who moves by clockwork.
Shall I ever wake again? I sit night after night in my mother-in-law's
"budwar," the crimson-satin chairs staring at me, the wedding-cake
ornament with its silver leaves glittering in the electric light; I
sit there listening vaguely to her admonitions and endless prattle
of Augustus's perfections. I have now heard every incident of his
childhood: what ailments he had, what medicines suited him best, when
he cut all those superfluous teeth of his.
One little trait appears to have been considered a sign of great
astuteness and infantine perception. His fond parents--the late Mr.
Gurrage was alive then--gave him a new threepenny bit each week to
give to a barrel-organ man who played before the house at Bournemouth.
Augustus at the age of two invariably changed it on the stairs with
the butler for two pennies and two halfpennies, keeping one penny
halfpenny for himself.
"Me dear"--my mother-in-law always completes this story with this
sentence--"Mr. Gurrage said to me, 'Mark my word, Mary Jane, the boy
will get on!'"
In the class of my _belle famille_, mourning is fortunately a matter
of such importance that the wearing of crepe for grandmamma has been
allowed to be sufficient reason for abandoning the wedding rejoicings.
Dear grandmamma! it would please you to know your death had done me
even this service. I am encouraged to grieve, especially in public.
Mrs. Gurrage herself put on black, and her face beamed all over with
enjoyable tears the first Sunday we rustled into the family pew stiff
with crepe and hangings of woe. They gave grandmamma what Miss Hoad--I
mean Amelia--called a "proper funeral."
And so all is done--even the Marquis has gone back to France, and only
Roy is left.
There is something in his brown eyes of sympathy which I cannot bear;
the lump keeps coming in my throat. Kind dog, you are my friend.
Back to Full Books