The Reflections of Ambrosine
Part 2 out of 5
Next week Lady Tilchester will have returned to Harley, and soon
Augustus and I are to go and pay a three days' visit there.
Once what joy this thought would have caused me--I was going to say
when I was young!--I shall be twenty next October, but I feel as if
I must be at least fifty years old.
Augustus is not a gay companion. He has a sulky temper; he is often
offended with me for no reason, and then a day or so afterwards will
be horribly affectionate, and give me a present to make up for it. I
can never get accustomed to his calling me Ambrosine--it always jars,
as if one suddenly heard a shopman taking this liberty. It is equally
unpleasant as "little woman" or "dearie," both of which besprinkle all
his sentences. He has not a mind that makes it possible to have any
conversation with him. He told me to-day that I was the stupidest cold
statue of a woman he had ever met, and then he shook me until I felt
giddy, and kissed me until I could not see. After a scene of this kind
I feel too limp to move. I creep out into the garden and hide with Roy
in a clump of laurel bushes, where there is a neglected sun-dial that
was once the centre of the old garden, and left there when the new
shrubbery was planted; there is about six feet bare space around it,
and no one ever comes there, so I am safe.
Sometimes from my hiding-place I hear Augustus calling me, but I never
answer, and yesterday I caught sight of him through the bushes biting
his nails with annoyance; he could not think where I had disappeared
to. It comforted me to sit there and make faces at him like a
I have never had the courage to go back to the cottage. It is just as
it was, with all grandmamma's dear old things in it, waiting for me to
decide where I will have them put. Hephzibah has married her grocer's
man, and lives there as caretaker.
I suppose some day I shall have to go down and settle things, but I
feel as if it would be desecration to bring the Sevres and miniatures
and the Louis XV. _bergere_ here to hobnob with the new productions
from Tottenham Court Road.
Augustus is having some rooms arranged for me, so that I, too, shall
have a "budwar" for myself. He has not consulted my taste; it is all
to be a surprise. And an army of workmen are still in the house, and
I have caught glimpses of brilliant, new, gilt chairs and terra-cotta
and buffish brocade (I loathe those colors) being carried up.
"Then I'll be able to have you more to myself in the evening," said
Augustus. "The drawing-rooms are too big and the mater's budwar is too
small, and you hate my den, so I hope this will please you."
I said "Thank you," without enthusiasm. I would prefer the company
of my mother-in-law or Amelia to being more alone with Augustus. The
crimson-satin chairs are so uncomfortable that now he leaves us almost
directly after dinner to lounge in his "den," and I have to go there
and say good-night to him. The place smells of stale smoke, some
particularly strong, common tobacco he will have in a pipe. He gets
into a soiled, old, blue smoking-coat, and sits there reading the
comic papers, huddled in a deep arm-chair, a whiskey-and-soda mixed
ready by his side. He is generally half-asleep when I get there. I do
not stay five minutes if I can help it; it is not agreeable, the smell
There are so few books in the house. The first instalment of my
handsome "allowance" will soon be paid me, and then I will have books
of my own. I shall feel like a servant receiving the first month's
wages in a new place--a miserable beginner of a servant who has never
been "out" before. I feel I have earned them, though--earned them with
Just this last month numbers of people have been to call on me. They
left only cards at first, because of my "sad loss," but we often are
at home now when they come.
My mother-in-law's visiting-list is a large one, and comprises the
whole of the "villa" people from Tilchester as well as the county
families. With the former she is deliciously patronizingly friendly;
they are all "me dears," and they talk about their servants and
ailments and babies, mixed with the doings of Lady Tilchester--they
always speak of her as the "Marchioness of Tilchester." They are at
home when we return the visits sometimes, too, and this kind of thing
happens: our gorgeous prune-and-scarlet footman condescendingly walks
up their paths and thumps loudly at their well-cleaned brass knocker,
and presses their electric bell. A jaunty lump of a parlor-maid in
a fluster at the sight of so much grandeur says "At home" (some of
them have "days"), and we are ushered into a narrow hall and so to a
drawing-room. They seem always to be papered with buff-and-mustard
papers and to have "pongee" sofa-cushions with frills. There is often
tennis going on on the neat lawn beyond, and we see visions of large,
pink-faced girls and callow youths taking exercise. The hostess gushes
at us: "Dear Mrs. Gurrage, so good of you to come--and this is Mrs.
Gussie?" (Yes, I am called Mrs. Gussie, Oh! grandmamma, do you hear?)
We sit down.
I have no intention of freezing people, but they are hideously ill
at ease with me, and say all kinds of foolishnesses from sheer
The worst happened last week, when one particularly motherly, blooming
solicitor's wife, after recounting to us in full detail the arrival of
her first grandchild, hoped Mrs. Gurrage would soon be in her happy
Merciful Providence, I pray--that--never!
The county people are not so often at home, but when they are it is
hardly more interesting. There do not seem to be many attractive
people among them. They are stiff, and it is my mother-in-law who is
sometimes ill at ease, though she gushes and blusters as usual. The
conversation here is of societies, the Girls' Friendly Society, the
Cottage Hospital, the movements of the Church, the continuance of the
war, the fear the rest of the Tilchester Yeomanry will volunteer;
and now and then the hostess warms up, if there is a question of a
subscription, to her own pet hobby. Their houses are for the most part
tasteless, too; they seem to live in a respectable _borne_ world of
daily duties and sleep. Of the three really big houses within driving
distance, one is shut up, one is inhabited for a month or two in the
autumn, and the third is let to a successful oil merchant to whom
Augustus and my mother-in-law have a great objection, but I can see no
difference between oil and carpets. I have seen the man, and he is a
weazly looking little rat who drives good horses.
I wonder what has become of my kinsman, Antony Thornhirst. He came
with Lady Tilchester to the wedding. I saw his strange eyes looking at
me as I walked down the aisle on Augustus's arm. His face was the only
one I realized in the crowd. We did not speak; indeed, he never was
near me afterwards until I got into the carriage. I wonder if he will
be at Harley--I wonder!
Augustus wishes me to be "very smart" for this visit; he tells me I
am to take all my best clothes and "cut the others out." It really
grieves him that my garments should be black. He suggested to his
mother that she had better lend me some of the "family jewels" to
augment my own large store, but fortunately Mrs. Gurrage is of a
tenacious disposition and likes to keep her own belongings to herself,
so I shall be spared the experience of the park-paling tiara sitting
upon my brow. Such things being unsuitable to be worn at dinner I fear
would have little influence upon Augustus; I am trembling even now at
what I may be forced to glitter in.
We are to drive over to Harley late in the afternoon.
In spite of Augustus--in spite of everything--I suddenly feel as if I
had become alive again here at Harley!
The whole place pleases me. It is an old Georgian house, with long
wings stretching right and left, and from a large salon in the centre
the other reception-rooms open.
Lady Tilchester is so kind, and makes one feel perfectly at home. A
number of people were assembled upon the croquet lawn and in the great
tent playing bridge when we arrived, and as no one seems to introduce
any one it has taken me two whole days to find out people's names.
Some of them, indeed, I have not grasped yet! It does seem a strange
custom. Either it is because every one in this set is supposed to be
acquainted with the other, and strangers are things that do not count,
or that meeting under one roof constitutes an introduction. I have not
yet found out which it is.
Anyway, it makes things dull at first. Augustus found it "deuced
unpleasant," he told me, as, instead of remaining quiet until he knew
his ground, he proceeded to commit a series of _betises_.
The first afternoon I subsided into a low chair, and a gruff-looking
man handed me some tea, and patted and talked to a bob-tailed
sheep-dog that was near.
I don't know if he expected me to answer for the dog, and so make
a conversation. He was disappointed, however, if so, as I remained
silent. Presently I discovered he was our host.
Lady Tilchester was busy being gushed at by Augustus. A little woman
with light hair came and sat down at the other side of me. She looks
like a young, fluffy chicken, and has a lisp and an infantile voice,
and wears numbers of trinkets, and her name, "Babykins," spelled in a
brooch of diamonds. I should not like to be called "Babykins," and I
wonder why one should want strangers to read one's name printed upon
Everything of hers is marked with that. Chain bracelets with
"Babykins" in sapphires and diamonds. On her handkerchief, which she
plays with, "Babykins" again stares at you. Even the corner of her
chemise, which shows through her transparent blouse, has "Babykins"
embroidered on it. It is no wonder even the young men never call her
You have the first impression that you are talking to a child,
but afterwards you are surprised to find what a lot of grown-up,
scandalous things she has said.
She was very agreeable to me, and gave me to understand she was so
interested to make my acquaintance, as Lady Tilchester had told her so
much about me.
"You come from Yorkshire, don't you?" she said; "and your husband has
that wonderful breed of black pigs, hasn't he?"
"No," I said, "we live only sixteen miles off."
"Oh, of course! How stupid of me! You are quite another person, I
see," and she laughed. "But the pig farmers are coming, and I am so
anxious to meet them, as I have a perfect mania for piglets myself. I
want to start a new sort, and I hoped you could tell me about them."
"I am so sorry," I said. "I wish I could help you, but I do not
believe--except casually in the village--that I have ever seen a pig;
they must be delightful companions."
"Yes, indeed! I have large families of the fat white ones, and really
the babies are most engaging, and the very image of my step-children.
I always tell my husband it seems like eating Alice or Laura when he
insists upon having suckling-pig for luncheon. I suppose one would
not mind eating one's step-children, though--would one? What do you
Her great, blue eyes looked at me pathetically.
I tried to consider seriously the problem of the consumption of
possible step-children; it was too difficult for me.
"I quite hoped to make it pay," she continued--"keeping prize pigs, I
mean; we are so frightfully poor. But I am away so much I fear it does
not do very well. You play bridge, of course?"
This did not seem to have much to do with the pigs.
"No, I do not play."
"You don't play bridge? How on earth do you get through the day?"
"I really do not know."
"Oh, you must learn at once. I can give you the address of a woman in
London who goes out for five pounds an afternoon and who would teach
you in three or four lessons. It does seem funny, your not playing."
I said "Yes."
She did not appear to want many answers from me after this, but
prattled on about people and the world in general, and before half an
hour was over I was left with the impression that society is chiefly
composed of people living upon an agreeable and amusing ground
somewhere at the borderland of the divorce court.
"So tiresome of the husbands!" she concluded. "Before the war
they used to be the most docile creatures; as long as they got a
percentage, and the wives did not worry at their own little affairs,
all went smoothly. Now, since going out there and fighting, they have
come back giving themselves great airs, and talking about wounded
honor, and ridiculous things of that sort that one reads of in early
Victorian books. One does not know where it will end."
She yawned a little after this, and Lord Tilchester shuffled up and
sat down in the corner of the sofa near her. He has the manner of an
"You are taking away every one's character, as usual, I suppose,
Babykins," he chuckled. "What will Mrs. Gurrage think of it all, I
Lady Tilchester interrupted further conversation by carrying me off
to see the garden. She is the most fascinating personality I have yet
met. There is something like the sun's rays about her--you feel warmed
and comforted when she is near. She looks so great and noble, and
above all common things, one cannot help wondering why she married
Lord Tilchester, who is quite ordinary. When she talks, every one
listens. Her voice is like golden bells, and she never says stupid
things that mean nothing. We had half an hour in the glorious garden,
and she made me feel that life was a fair thing, and that even I
should find bits to smile over. How great to have a nature like this,
that one's very presence does good to other human beings!
"There are a lot of tiresome people here, I am afraid," she said, at
last; "but I wanted you to come to the first party we had after our
return, so you must try and not be bored. You shall sit next Mr. Budge
to-night; he will be obliged to take in Lady Lambourne, but I will put
you on the other side. He will amuse you; he is the cleverest man I
"Mr. Budge is a politician, is he not?" I asked. "I think I have heard
"That is delightful," she laughed, "Poor Mr. Budge! He--and, indeed,
many of us in England--fancies there is no other name to be heard. He
has a fault, though. He writes sentimental poetry which is complete
rubbish, and he prides himself upon it far more than upon his splendid
powers of oratory or wonderful organization capacities."
"What a strange side for a great man to have!" I said. "Sentimental
poetry--it seems so childish, does it not?"
"We all have our weaknesses, I suppose," and she smiled. "We should be
very dull if we left nothing for our friends to criticise."
"_Si nous n'avions point de defauts nous ne prendrions pas tant de
plaisir a en remarquer dans les autres!_" I quoted.
After a while we went back to the house.
Augustus and I got down at half-past eight for dinner, as grandmamma
had always told me that punctuality is a part of politeness, but only
one or two men were standing by the huge wood-fire that burns all the
time in the open fireplace in the salon where we assembled.
We did not know any of their names, and I suppose they did not know
ours. We stared at one another, and they went on talking again, all
about the war. Augustus joined in. He is dreadfully uneasy in case the
rest of the Tilchester Yeomanry may volunteer at last to go out, and
was anxious to hear their views of the possibility. I sat down upon a
fat-pillowed sofa, one of those nice kind that puff out again slowly
when you get up, and make you feel at rest any way you sit.
A short man with a funny face came and sat beside me.
"What a wonderful lady, to be so punctual!" he said. "You evidently
don't know the house. We shall be lucky if we get dinner at nine
"Why did you come down, then," I asked, "since you are acquainted with
"On the off chance, and because a bad habit of youth sticks to me, and
I can't help being on time."
"I am finding it absurd to have acquired habits in youth; they are all
being upset," I said.
He had such a cheery face, in spite of being so ugly, it seemed quite
easy to talk to him. We chatted lightly until some one called out:
"Billy, do ring and ask if we can have a biscuit and a glass of
sherry, to keep us up until we get dinner."
At that moment--it was nearly nine--more people strolled in, two women
with their husbands, and several odd pairs--the last among the single
people quite the loveliest creature I have ever seen. She does not
know how to walk, her lips were almost magenta with some stuff on
them, but her eyes flashed round at every one, and there seemed to be
a flutter among the men by the fireplace.
Augustus dropped his jaw with admiration. She had on a bright purple
dress and numbers of jewels. I feel sure he was saying to himself that
she was a "stunner." She did not look at all vulgar, however, only
wicked and attractive and delightful.
"Darling Letitia," she pleaded, to a stiff-looking old woman sitting
bolt-upright under a lamp, "don't glare at me so. I am not the last
to-night; there are still Babykins and Margaret and several others to
"Oh, Lord, how hungry I am!" announced Mr. Budge, in a loud voice. I
recognized him now from his picture being so often in the papers.
Then, from a door at the other end, in tripped Babykins, and close
behind her Lord Tilchester, and, last of all, when the clock had
struck nine-fifteen, and even the funny-faced man next me had
exhausted all his conversation, the door at the north end of the salon
opened, and serenely, like a lovely ship, our beautiful hostess sailed
"So sorry to be a little late," she said, calmly. "Tilchester, as you
have, of course, told every one whom they are to take in, we may as
Lord Tilchester had been sitting in the window-seat with Babykins, and
had completely forgotten this duty, I suppose. He got up guiltily and
fumbled for a paper in his pocket.
"Oh, don't let us wait for that," said Mr. Budge, gruffly. "Come, Lady
Tilchester, I shall take you and lead the way," and he gave her his
She laughed and took it.
"Very well," she said.
Every one scrambled for the people they wanted or knew best; and so
it happened that I found myself standing staring at a pale young man
with weak blue eyes and a wonderfully well-tied tie, the last of the
He held out his arm nervously, and we finally got to the dining-room
and found two seats.
It was not until dinner was almost over that I found out he was the
Duke of Myrlshire, and ought to have taken in Lady Tilchester.
Augustus had placed himself next the purple lady, and his face grew
a gray mauve with excitement at her gracious glances.
My ducal partner was unattractive. He had a squeaky voice and a
nervous manner, but said some _entreprenant_ things in a way which
made me understand he is accustomed to be listened to with patience,
not to say pleasure.
He told me he was grateful to Mr. Budge for his move, as he had been
admiring me since the moment we arrived, and had determined, directly
the _melee_ began, to secure me if possible.
"Er--you don't look like an Englishwoman," he said, "and it is a nice
change. My eye is wearied with them; their outlines are all exactly
He further informed me that Paris was the only place to live in, and
that the English as a nation were crude in their vices.
"They make such a noise about everything here," he added. "One cannot
do a thing that it is not put the wrong way up in the halfpenny
"The penalty of greatness," I said, laughing. "They don't worry at
all, for instance, about what I am doing."
"Then they show extremely bad taste," he said, with a look of frank
Before the women swept in a body from the room, I understood that his
object in life would henceforth be to make me sensible of his great
worth and charm. All these masterful, forward sentiments sounded so
comic, expressing themselves in his squeaky voice, I could not help
smiling. He became radiant. He did not guess in the least what amused
Although the salon is immense, the ten or twelve women all crowded
around the fireplace. It was a damp, chilly evening.
They all seemed to know one another very well, and called each other
by their Christian names, so until Babykins again gave me some
information I did not realize who people were.
The purple lady is Lady Grenellen; her husband is at the war. She is
most attractive. She sat on a big sofa and smoked cigarettes rapidly
in a little amber holder. She must have got through at least three or
four of them before the men came in.
Lady Tilchester and two other women were deep in South-African news,
the rest talked about books and their clothes, but Babykins and
Letitia exchanged views upon the scandal of the time.
"In my day," Letitia said, "it sometimes happened that men made love
and ran away with a woman because they found they liked her better
than anything else in the world. It was a great sin, but their passion
was mixed with respect, and the elopement constituted the wedding
ceremony. Now you remain on at home until you are found out, and then
the husband takes a gratuity and the matter is hushed up, and probably
the lover passes on to your best friend, an added feather in his cap."
"Dear Lady Lambourne, how severe you are!" chirped Babykins.
"And you really should not use that little word 'you.' Of course,
you don't mean any of us, but it sounds unkind and might be
misunderstood--especially," she added, in a whisper to me, "as that
is the exact case of Cordelia Grenellen."
Letitia (Lady Lambourne) has a distinct voice and decided opinions.
She continued, as though no interruption had taken place:
"If the matter was only for love, too, I should still have nothing
to say; but it is so often for a string of pearls, or some new
"But, surely, it is more logical to have that reason than no reason at
all, like the case of your poor cousin. I understood that was sheer
foolishness, and Lord Edam did not even pretend to care for her."
Lady Lambourne looked daggers and remained speechless. "What
scandalous things you are all saying," laughed Lady Grenellen from her
sofa. "Letitia, you are sitting there and being epigrammatic, just
like the people in those unreal society plays they had last year. We
are all perfectly contented and happy if you would let us alone."
"One cannot but deplore the change," said Lady Lambourne.
"Personally, I am delighted with everything as it is," cooed Babykins.
"Life must be much pleasanter now than in your day, dear Lady
Lambourne; such a fuss and pretending, and such hypocrites you must
all have been--as, of course, human nature was the same then, and
since the beginning of time. We have always eaten and drank too rich
food and wine in our class and have not had enough to do, so we can't
help being as we are, can we?"
"Babykins, you silly darling, as if what we eat makes any difference!"
said Lady Grenellen, puffing her cigarette-smoke into cloudy rings in
the neatest way.
"Of course it does, Cordelia! Food makes all the difference, you know.
I have kept those white pigs for four years and I know all about it."
Babykins has the most pathetic blue eyes, and her childish voice is
arresting. Lady Grenellen went into a fit of laughter.
"You are perfectly mad about those horrid pigs!" she told her.
Lady Lambourne interrupted again, in a dignified voice. "Human nature
was _not_ the same in my day--as you call it--Mrs. Parton-Mills" (thus
she discovered to me Babykins' name). "We lived much more simply, and
enjoyed our pleasures and did our duties, and stayed at home more."
"And I expect you were frightfully bored, Letitia, darling," said Lady
Grenellen, "and that is why you never stay at home now."
It seemed to me quite wonderful how they could be so disrespectful to
this elderly lady, but she did not seem at all offended.
"You are incorrigible, Cordelia," was all she said, and she laughed.
"You had no bridge, and it must have been exactly like it still is
when I stay with Edward's relations in Scotland," Babykins continued.
"As we arrive there I feel 'goose-flesh' on my arms, with the
stiffness and decorum of everything. We chat about the weather at tea,
and no one ever says a word they really think; and we play idiotic,
childish games of cards for love in the evening; and it is all feeble
and wearisome, and the guests are always looking at the clock."
Lady Tilchester came and joined us; it seemed a breath of fresh
sunlight illuminating the scene.
"You appear all to be talking scandal," she said.
Imperceptibly the conversation changed, and we were discussing the war
news when the double doors of the dining-room opened.
Augustus looked very flushed in the face and unattractive as he came
towards us, but Lady Grenellen moved her skirts and made room for him
on her sofa. She smiled at him divinely, and was perfectly lovely to
him--as friendly and caressing as if he were an equal. It perfectly
astonished me. I could not talk and joke familiarly that with Augustus
any more than if he were one of the footmen. And she is a viscountess,
and must at least know what a gentleman is.
Half the party moved off to play bridge in one of the drawing-rooms;
the rest arranged themselves comfortably, two and two. Lady Tilchester
and Mr. Budge wandered into the music-room, and I, who had not
stirred, found myself almost alone by the fireplace with the Duke.
He proceeded to say a number of things to me that astonished me
greatly. I should not have understood them all had I not been to those
plays in Paris.
I suppose he was beginning to make love to me--if this is what is
called making love. His personality is not attractive, so it did not
touch me at all, and I am only able to look upon men now through eyes
which see coarse brutes. Perhaps they may be really nice, some of
them, but as I look at them one after another, the thought always
comes, how revolting could they appear in the eyes of their wives?
This is not nice of me, and I am sure grandmamma would reprove me for
Next day, Sunday, some of us went to church. Augustus insisted upon my
going. He thought it would be a good opportunity of showing I was in
Lady Tilchester's company, although what it could have mattered to the
Harley villagers I do not know.
He himself stayed behind with Lady Grenellen, he said, to take her for
a walk in the woods.
After lunch every one seemed to play bridge but Lady Tilchester and I
and her politician and the weak-eyed Duke. We climbed the hill to the
ruins of the old castle and there sat until tea-time.
"Isn't it a bore for me I shall have to marry an heiress?" the Duke
said, pathetically. "Marriage is the most tiresome ennui at any time,
but to be forced through sheer beggary to take some ugly woman you
don't like and don't want is cruel hard luck, is it not?"
"Yes," I said, feelingly.
He was melted by the sympathy in my voice.
"You are a delicious woman; you seem to understand one directly.
People have got into the way of thinking it is no hardship to have to
do these things for the sake of one's title, but I can see you are
"Yes, indeed!" I said.
"Cordelia Grenellen is arranging it for me. I have not seen her yet--I
mean the heiress."
"If I were a man I think I should keep my freedom and--and--work," I
He looked at me, perfectly astonished.
"But what can I do?" he asked. "Only go into the city, and that is
quite played out now. I have no head for business, and it would seem
to me to be rather mean just to trade upon my name to get unsuspecting
people to take shares in concerns; whereas if I marry an heiress it is
a square game--I at least give her some return for her money."
"There is a great deal in what you say," I agreed.
"I told Cordelia--she is a cousin of mine, you know--I told her I
would not have a very ugly one, and I should prefer that she should be
a good, healthy brewer's daughter. Our family is over-well bred. You
see, if you are going to sacrifice yourself to keep up your name,
you may as well choose some one that will be of some ultimate use to
it. Now we want a strain of thick red blood in our veins; ours is a
great deal too blue. We are becoming reedy shaped, and more or less
He said all this quite gravely. He had evidently studied the
subject, and as I looked at him I felt he was perfectly right. If he
represented the type of his race, it had certainly grown effete.
"I won't have an American," he continued. "They are intellectual
companions before marriage, and they are generally so agreeable you
don't notice how nervous and restless they are really, but I would not
contemplate one as a wife. I must have a solid English cow-woman."
He stretched himself by my side and began pulling a bit of grass to
pieces. His hands look transparent, and he has the most beautifully
shaped filbert nails; his ears, on the contrary, are not perfect, but
stick out like a monkey's.
"You see, I should always live my own life," he went on, lazily. "I
worship the beautiful. The pagans' highest expression of beauty which
moved the world was in sculpture--cold and pure marble of divine form.
That awakened their emotions; one reads they had a number of emotions.
The Renaissance people, to take a medium time, expressed themselves by
painting glorious colors on flat canvas; they also had emotions. Those
two arts now are more or less dead. At any rate, they have ceased to
influence masses of people. Our great expression is music. We are
moved by music. It gives us emotions _en bloc_--all of us--some by
the tune of 'Tommy Atkins,' and others by Wagner. Well, all these
three--sculpture, painting, and music--give me pleasure, but I should
not want my cow duchess to understand any of them. I should want her
to have numbers of chubby children and to fulfil her social duties,
and never have to go into a rest-cure, or have a longing for
I said a few "yeses" and "reallys" during this long speech, and he
continued, like a mill grinding coffee:
"It don't do to over-breed. You are bound to turn out some _toques_
if not altogether idiotic, and then my sense of beauty is outraged by
the freaks that happen in our shapes--you should see my two sisters,
the plainest women in England. Now you give me joy to look at. You are
quite beautiful, you know. I never saw any one with a nose as straight
and finely cut as yours. Why do you keep putting your parasol so that
I cannot see it?"
"One uses a parasol to keep off the sun, which is hot. Would you wish
me to get a sunstroke to oblige you?" And I put down my parasol still
"You are selfish!" in an aggrieved voice.
"And not the least ashamed of it!"
"Not the least."
He moved his position deliberately so that he came to my other side,
where the sun was not.
"I learned a certain amount of manoeuvring in South Africa, where I
went for a month or two," he said. "I hope this side of your face will
be as pretty. People always have a better and a worse side."
I laughed. It was too hot to circumvent him again, and his looking at
me could not hurt me.
"This is even prettier," he said, presently. "Where did you hide
yourself, that we none of us ever saw you before you married?"
"I lived rather near here for a little while."
"Now you look sad again. I never watched any one's face so much. Yours
is not like other people's; you look like a cameo, you know."
"Tell me about the people here," I said. "They are all strangers to
"But I would much rather talk about you."
"That does not interest me; you said I was selfish, so you do what I
"What can I tell you of them? They are like all companies--dull and
amusing, mixed. They are a fair specimen of most people one meets in
the _monde ou l'on s'amuse_. My cousin Lady Grenellen is perhaps the
most interesting among them, as she had the most histories."
"Yes; her career has been one of riding for a series of falls, and
escaping even a peck."
"She is very lovely."
"Oh yes, Cordelia is good-looking enough," he said, as though there
was considerably more to add.
I did not continue the subject further. We talked of books, the war,
and various other things, and by-and-by our hostess called to us from
the higher level of the old drawbridge where she was sitting.
"We must be descending for some tea," she said, and started on with
When we got back, Augustus was swinging Lady Grenellen in a lovely
Louis XV. _balancoire_, fixed up between two elm-trees; she put one
foot out, and looked so lovely and radiant!
Augustus had the expression of one of those negro pages Thackeray drew
in _The Virginians_--a mixture of pride and self-complacency--a he
held the red silk ropes.
Tea was so merry! No one was witty like grandmamma and the Marquis,
but every one was in a good temper and it was gay.
The party was rather more punctual at dinner on Sunday night, and Lady
Tilchester had arranged, as she meant to the night before, that I
should sit next her politician. Mr. Budge and Mrs. Gurrage--the names
went well together!
I do not know anything about politics, but he is what I suppose must
be a Radical, as he preaches home rule for Ireland, and equal rights
for all mankind, and an apologetic tone to other nations, and a
general dividing up of all one's _biens_. But they say he has a
splendid house in Grosvenor Square, and a flat in Paris, and never
asks any but the smartest titled people to his big pheasant shoot in
He was delightful at dinner, anyway, and made me laugh. His voice is
clear, with just the faintest touch of Irish in it. And he sparred
with Lady Tilchester across me.
She is the greatest _grande dame_ one could meet, and a Tory to the
backbone in politics, but her manner to the servants is not nearly so
haughty as Mr. Budge's.
I do not like his hands; I cannot say why; they are neither big nor
ill-shapen, but there is something fat and feminine about the fingers.
I dare say, underneath, he could be like Augustus.
Lady Tilchester is devoted to him, and he has the greatest admiration
and respect for her. Their conversation is most interesting.
Some of the other men are very nice, and several of them almost come
up to grandmamma's criterion of the perfect male--that he should "look
like a man and behave like a gentleman."
The women are very smartly dressed all the time, but they do not show
a great sense of the fitness of things. Only Lady Grenellen and Lady
Tilchester are always adorable and attractive in anything and in any
I believe they do not love one another very much, although they are
quite friendly; one somehow can see it in their eyes.
The Tilchester boy, who is thirteen, has just gone to Eton, but will
soon be home for the holidays; the little girl is at the sea. So I
have not seen either of them.
The whole house here is so beautifully done; there is no fuss, and
everything is exactly where one wants to find it. I shall be sorry
when we leave.
Just as we had begun luncheon to-day, Sir Antony Thornhirst came in,
and, after a casual greeting to every one, sat down near me.
He seems quite at home here, and as if he were accustomed to turning
up unannounced in this way.
I felt such a queer, quick beating in my heart. I suppose because
among all these strangers he was some one I knew before.
"So you decided not to cut the Gordian knot," he said, presently, as
if we were continuing the discussion of some argument we had had a
He bridged in an instant the great gulf since my wedding. This _sang
froid_ stupefied me. I found nothing to say.
"Do you know, I have heard since that to give any one a knife cuts
friendship, and brings bad luck and separation, and numbers of
dreadful things. So you and I are now declared enemies, I suppose.
Shall we go and throw the little ill-omen in the lake after lunch?"
"No; I will not part with my knife; I find it very useful," I said,
in a _bete_ way.
"Antony," called out Lord Tilchester, "you have arrived in the nick of
time to save Babykins from turning into a hospital nurse. She thinks
the costume becoming, and threatens to leave us for the wounded
heroes. Cannot you restrain her?"
"How?" asked Sir Antony, helping himself to some chicken curry.
"Really excellent curry your chef makes, Tilchester."
"Don't tell him about it, Reggie," lisped Mrs. Parton-Mills. "The
unfeeling creature is only thinking of his food."
"You seem to have all the qualities for an ideal convalescent nurse,"
said Sir Antony, with an air of detaching himself with difficulty from
the contemplation of the curry.
"And those qualities are--?" asked Lord Tilchester.
"Principally stimulating," and he selected a special chutney from the
various kinds a footman was handing.
"What do you mean?" demanded Babykins, pouting.
"Exactly what you do," and he looked at her, smiling in a way I should
have said was insolent had it been I who was concerned.
"But I want to go and help the poor dear fellows, and to cheer them
and make their time pleasanter."
"I said you would be an ideal convalescent nurse. But what would
become of the pigs?"
"Oh, Edward could look after them. I think too little attention has
been paid to the poor boys who are getting well. I could read to them
and write their letters home for them," and she looked pathetically
"Hubble-bubble, toil and trouble," quoted Sir Antony.
"Who for?" laughed Lord Tilchester, in his rough, gruff way.
"The recipients of the letters, who would certainly receive them in
the wrong envelopes," said Sir Antony. "I think, Tilchester, you had
better persuade Babykins to stay in England, for the sake of the peace
of many respectable and innocent families."
"How wicked you are to me," flashed Babykins.
"Just what you deserve," chuckled Lord Tilchester.
"What tiresome nonsense these people talk," said Sir Antony, calmly,
to me. "You and I were in the middle of an interesting problem
discussion, were we not? And now I have lost the thread."
"It does not in the least matter," I said.
The Duke, who was on the other side of me, did not care to be left
out, and persistently talked to me for the rest of lunch.
Sir Antony consumed his with the appreciation of a connoisseur. It
appeared to be the only thing which interested him.
Babykins, from the other side, did her utmost to engage him in a war
of wits, but he remained calm, with the air of a placid lion.
When we got outside in the great tent he came up to me.
"I am going to take you for a walk," he said--"a nice, cool walk in
the woods. Will you get your parasol?"
The Duke was at that moment fetching it for me from the hall table,
where I had left it.
"I do not know what we shall do to-day," I said, "I believe I am going
to play croquet."
"Oh no, you are not. It is much too hot, and you must see the woods.
They are historical, and--Here, take this parasol and let us start."
This last hurriedly, as the Duke was seen returning with mine.
I cannot say why I allowed myself to be dragged off like this. My
natural impulse has always been to do the opposite thing when ordered
by any one but grandmamma. But here I found myself walking meekly
beside my kinsman down a yew-bordered path, holding a mauve silk
parasol over my head which did not belong to me.
We did not speak until we got quite to the end, where there is a
quaint fountain, the centre of four _allees_ of clipped yews.
My heart still continued to beat in a quick, tiresome manner.
"You look changed, Comtesse," Sir Antony said. "Your little face is
pale. Do you remember the night we danced together? It was round and
rosy then. Is it a hundred years ago?"
There is a something in his voice which is alluring. The mocking sound
goes out of it now and then, and when it does one feels as if one must
listen. Oh, but listen with both one's ears!
"Yes, it is a hundred years ago," I said.
"I was so sorry to hear of your grandmother's death," he continued. "I
wanted to tell you how I felt for you, but I was away in Norway, and
have only just returned. Did you think I was unkind?"
"No, I never thought at all. Grandmamma was glad to die. I knew she
could not live, but it came suddenly at the end."
"What a splendid personality! How I wish I had seen more of her! I
generally manage to seize the occasion, but fate kept you and her
beyond my reach. Why did we not all meet this time last year?"
"Oh, do not talk of that!" I cried. I felt I could not bear to
hear any more. "I am trying to forget, and to find life full of
compensations. Grandmamma and the Marquis promised me that I should."
He looked at me, stopped in the path, and bent down to a level with my
face. His eyes seemed as if they could see right through my mind then,
as on another occasion in our lives.
"Dear little white Comtesse!" he said. Almost the same words.
An emotion that is new to me happened. It was as if my heart beat in
"We are dawdling by this fountain," I said. "Where are the woods?"
After that we were gay. He told me of many things. I seemed to see a
clear picture of the world as he talked--a light and pleasant world,
where no one was so foolish as to care for anything seriously.
One felt a donkey, to worry or grieve when the sun shone and the birds
How I enjoyed myself!
"Has Babykins chirped at you yet?" he asked, presently. "She is very
dangerous when she chirps."
"I do not like her," I said.
"Oh, you will presently. We all love Babykins. She acts as a sort of
moral mosquito in a big party. She flies around stinging every one,
and then we compare our bites and tear and scratch the irritated
places together. You will meet her everywhere--she is the only person
Tilchester takes a serious interest in."
"Are you staying here," I asked, "or did you only drive over?"
"I sent for my servant to bring my things, and I shall stay now I find
you. You always seem to forget we are cousins, and that people ought
to take an interest in their relations!"
"Tell me about your house--Dane Mount it is called, is it not?" I
asked, presently. We had been silent for a moment, walking down a
shady path, great pine-trees on each side.
"No, I won't tell you about it; you must come over there some day and
stop with me for a night or so. You ought to see the home of your
ancestors, you know. Promise me you will when I come back from
We had gone deep into the wood by now. It was quite dusky. The thick
trees met overhead, and only an occasional sunbeam penetrated through.
I felt stupid. The words did not come so easily as when I am with the
"How silent you are, Comtesse!"
"Is it not time to go back?" I said, stupidly.
"No, not nearly time. I want you to tell me all about yourself--where
you lived, and all that happened until you flashed into my life at
the Tilchester ball. See, we will sit down on this log of wood and be
We sat down.
"Now begin, Comtesse: 'Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I
"Do you really want to hear the family history?" I asked.
I told him an outline of things and how grandmamma and I had lived
at the cottage, and of all her wise sayings, and about the Marquis
and Roy and Hephzibah, and the simple things of my long-ago past.
It seemed as if I was speaking of some other person, so changed has
all my outlook on life and things become since I went to Paris with
"And now we come to the day we met in the lane," he said. "You were
not even engaged then, were you?"
"Oh no! Grandmamma had never had a fainting-fit; she would have found
the idea too dreadful at that time." I stopped suddenly, realizing
what I had said. I could not tell him how and why I had married
Augustus; he must think what he pleased.
He evidently thought a good deal, by the look in his eyes. I wish--I
wish when he looks it did not make my heart beat so; it is foolish and
"What a fool I was not to come with the automobile the night before
your wedding and carry you off to Gretna Green," he said, in a voice
that might have been mocking or serious, I could not tell which.
"Tell me, Comtesse, if I had tapped at your window, would you have
looked out and come with me?"
"There was a bad thunder-storm, if I recollect. We should have got
wet," I laughed, in a hollow way. He could not know how he was hurting
me; he should not see, at all events.
"You would have been very dear to take to Gretna Green," he continued.
"I should have loved to watch your wise, sweet eyes changing all
expressions as morning dawned and you found yourself away from them
all--away from Augustus."
I did not answer. I drew hieroglyphics with the point of the mauve
parasol in the soft moss beneath our feet.
"Why don't you speak, Comtesse?"
"There is nothing to say--I am married--and you did not tap at the
window--and let us go back to the house."
The last evening at Harley is one of the things I shall not want to
recall. Augustus got drunk--yes, it is almost too dreadful to write
even. I had not realized up to this that gentlemen (of course I do not
mean that word literally, as applied to Augustus, but I mean people
with money and a respectable position)--I never realized that they got
drunk. I thought it was only common men in the street.
It struck me he was making a great noise at dinner, but as he was
sitting on the same side of the table as I was I could not see. When
the men joined us afterwards it came upon me as a thunder-clap. His
face was a deep heliotrope, and he walked unsteadily--not really
lurching about, but rather as if the furniture was in the way.
One or two of the men seemed very much amused, especially when he went
and pushed himself into the sofa where Lady Grenellen was sitting and
threw his arm along the back behind her head. I felt frozen. I could
not have risen from my chair for a few moments. She, however, did not
seem to mind at all; she merely laughed continuously behind her fan,
the men helping her to ridicule Augustus.
For me it was an hour of deep humiliation. It required all my
self-control to go on talking to Babykins as if nothing had happened.
The Duke came over and joined us. He drew a low chair and sat down so
that I could not see the hilarious sofa-party.
I have not the least idea what he said or what any of us said. The
guffaws of laughter in Augustus's thick voice was all I was conscious
Sir Antony Thornhirst, who had stopped to speak to Lady Tilchester
by the billiard-room door, now came over to us. He stood by me for a
moment, then crossed to Lady Grenellen.
"They are wanting you to play bridge in the blue drawing-room," he
She rose quite reluctantly, still overcome with mirth. Augustus tried
to get up, too, but stumbled back into the sofa.
Then, with infinite tact, my kinsman attracted his attention, said
some thrilling thing about the war, and, as Lady Grenellen moved off
and Augustus made another ineffectual attempt to rise and follow her,
Sir Antony sat down in her vacant place and for half an hour conversed
with my husband. Oh, I force myself to write the words "my husband."
It is to keep the hideous fact in remembrance, otherwise I might let
myself express aloud the loathing and contempt I feel for him.
Sir Antony had never before taken the least notice of him beyond the
most casual politeness, and now, from the scraps of conversation that
my preternaturally sharpened ears could catch, he seemed to be trying
his best to interest and retain Augustus beside him. Gradually the
whole company dispersed into the different drawing-rooms as usual, and
I followed the rest to look at the bridge.
As I was passing the sofa, where the two men were sitting, Augustus
seized hold of my dress.
"Don't look so damned haughty, little woman," he hiccoughed. "Er--I'm
all right--give me a kiss--"
"As I was going to tell you," interrupted Sir Antony, "I heard for a
fact that the rest of the Tilchester Yeomanry that have escaped so
long are going to volunteer to go out, after all."
Augustus dropped my dress. His face got paler. This information seemed
to sober him for an instant, and in that blessed interval I got away
and into the blue drawing-room. Lady Tilchester was not playing
bridge, and she sat down in the window-seat beside me. It was a lovely
night, and the windows were wide open.
She is the most delightful companion. I am beginning to know her a
little and to realize how much there is to know.
To-night she was more than usually fascinating. It seemed as if
she wished to make me forget everything but the pleasure in our
conversation. She has a vast knowledge of books, and has even read all
the French classics that grandmamma loved. We talked of many things,
and, among them, gardens. She told me that I must make a new garden
at Ledstone, and I would find it an immense interest; and she spoke
so kindly of Mrs. Gurrage, and said how charitable she was and
good-hearted, and then delicately, and as if it had no bearing upon
the Gurrage case, hinted that in these days money was the only thing
needed to make an agreeable society for one's self, and that in the
future I must have plenty of amusement.
Insensibly my heart became lightened.
She talked to me of grandmamma, too, and drew me into telling her
things about our past. She was interested in grandmamma's strange
bringing-up of me, so different, she said, to the English girls of the
"And is it that, I wonder, which has turned you into almost as great a
cynic as Antony Thornhirst? He is the greatest I know."
"But can one be a cynic if one has so kind a heart?" I asked.
She looked at me quickly with a strange look.
"How have you discovered that so soon? Most people would not credit
him with having any heart at all," she said. "You know with all his
immense prestige and popularity people are a little afraid of him. I
think one would sum up the impression of Antony as a man who never in
all his life has been, or will be, called 'Tony.'"
Her voice was retrospecting.
"You have known him very long?" I questioned.
"Ever since I married, fourteen years ago. I remember I saw him
first at my wedding. He and Tilchester had, of course, been old
friends, always living so near each other. We are exactly the same
age--thirty-four, both of us. Growing old, you see!" She laughed
softly, then she continued:
"Antony was never like other men exactly. He is original, and
extraordinarily well read--only casually one would never guess it. He
wastes his life rather, though. I wish he would go into Parliament. He
has a habit of rushing off on long travels. Some years ago he went off
suddenly and was away for ages and ages--about five years, I think.
Then he stayed at Dane Mount for a while, and then, when the war first
began, he went out there, and has only been home a year."
"He never speaks of himself nor what he does, I notice."
"No; that is just his charm. I should like you to see Dane Mount. It
is far nicer than this, and he has wonderful taste. It is the most
comfortable house I know. He has delightful parties there when the
"It would interest me to see it, because grandpapa came from there," I
"Of course, you are cousins, in a way. You don't know how interested
Antony was in you that night after the Tilchester Yeomanry ball. He
came and sat in my sitting-room and talked to me about you, and then
it was he put two and two together and discovered you were related. I
had heard that evening about your grandmother and you living at the
cottage, and was able to give him some information. I don't think he
realized when you met that you were connected, did he?"
"No, not at all."
"A friend of mine and I were sitting by the fire, having said
good-night to the rest of the party--do you remember what a cold May
night it was? Antony came in and joined us. We all had admired you
so. I recollect this is one of the things he said: 'I met an
eighteenth-century marquise to-night.'"
"Yes, he called me that."
"He is so very hard to please. The ordinary women, like Babykins
and Cordelia Grenellen, don't understand his subtle wit. They are
generally in love with him, though. Cordelia was madly _eprise_ last
autumn; but he is as indifferent as possible, and does not trouble
himself about any of them. He is reported to have said once that it
had taken him five years to degrade himself sufficiently to be able
to enjoy the society of modern women. He is a wonderful cynic!"
"The Duke gave me to understand that no man of the world was ever
without some affair," I said.
"Well, I suppose it is true more or less, but Antony is always the
person who holds the cheek, hardly even complacently--generally with
perfect indifference. I have never known him, for years, put himself
out an inch for any woman."
I don't know why, but this conversation interested me deeply.
Just then some one came and joined us at the window, and Lady
Tilchester had to rise and talk with her other guests; but before she
moved off she put her hand on my arm and said, as if she had only then
"Oh, the housekeeper let me know just now that some soot had fallen in
your chimney. I do hope you won't mind sleeping in a tiny bedroom off
mine, just for to-night. We were so afraid the smell would keep you
awake. Your maid has moved your things."
Dear and kind lady! I will never forget your goodness to me nor cease
to love you.
* * * * *
It was pouring rain as we drove home next day.
Augustus and I only met as we were ready to get into the carriage. I
had breakfasted in my room.
His face was the color of putty, and he had that look in his eyes
which, I remember, long ago I used to say appeared as if he had not
had enough sleep. His expression was sulky and morose, and I was
thankful when at last we started.
The guests were catching all sorts of trains. There were casual
good-byes. Lady Tilchester was not down, and no one occupied
themselves much with any one.
Lady Grenellen left just before us. She did not take the least notice
of me, but she talked in a caressing way to Augustus, and I heard him
"Now, you won't forget! It is a bargain!" in the most _empresse_
voice, as he pulled his head out of the carriage-window.
For the first mile or two of our journey neither of us spoke. Augustus
lit a cigarette and smoked in a nervous way, and kept opening and
shutting the window.
Then he swore at me. I will not say the words he used, but the
sentence ended with a demand why I sat there looking like a "stuck
I told him quietly that if he spoke to me like that I would not reply
He got very angry and said he would have none of that nonsense; that
I seemed to forget that I was his wife, and that he could do as he
pleased with me.
"No, you cannot," I said. "I will not be spoken to like that."
"You'll be spoken to just as I jolly well please," was his refined
reply. "Sitting there like a white wax doll, and giving yourself the
airs of a duchess!"
I did not answer.
"A deaf and dumb doll, too," he said, with an oath.
He then asked where I had been all night, and what I had meant by
daring to stay away from him.
I remained perfectly silent, which, I fear, was infinitely provoking,
but I could not stoop to bandy words with him.
He began to bluster, and loaded me with every coarse abuse and a
tremendous justification of himself and his behavior of the night
before. I had not mentioned the subject or accused him of anything,
but he assured me he had not been the least drunk and that my
haughtiness was enough to drive any man mad.
When at least ten minutes of this torrent had spent itself a little, I
said the whole subject was so disagreeable to me and discreditable to
him that he had better not talk of it and I would try and forget it.
Grandmamma often told me how her grandfather, the husband of Ambrosine
Eustasie, had refused to fight with a man of low birth who had
insulted him, but had sent one of his valets to throw the creature
into the street, because in those days a gentleman only crossed swords
with his equals. I now understood his feelings. I could not quarrel
with Augustus, the whole situation was so impossible.
I tried to tell myself that it did not in the least matter what he
said and did. Then, as he continued abusing me, I repeated a bit of
Beranger to myself, and so grew unconscious, at last, of the words
he was saying.
Silence came eventually, and then, after a while, in quite a humble
voice, Augustus said:
"I say, little woman--er--you won't tell the mater--er--will you?"
Something touched me in his face--his common, unpleasant face. The
bluster was gone and there was a piteousness in it. I felt a slight
lump in my throat.
"Oh no; do not fear," I said.
Then he called me an angel and kissed me many times, and that was the
worst of all.
Oh! When the year is up, will the "monotonous complacency" have set
The days are flying by. October has almost come, and the damp and the
falling leaves. It will soon be time for Mrs. Gurrage to depart for
Augustus is in a continual ferment, as the report that the rest of
the Tilchester Yeomanry are going to volunteer for active service has
cropped up frequently, and, while he likes the uniform and what he
considers the prestige of belonging to such a corps, he has no ardor
for using his weapons against the Boers.
I have tried very hard to take an interest in the matter, but the
numbness has returned. The oppression of the surroundings at Ledstone
cramps my spirit.
We have had several "parties"--batches of Gurrage relations--one or
two really awful people. And some days ago I was bidden to write and
invite the guests for the first big partridge drive.
"The mater will be gone to Bournemouth," Augustus said, "and you'll
have to stand on your own legs."
Matrimony has not cured him of his habit of using horrid phrases.
He has often been very rude to me lately, and has taken to going more
frequently to town for the day, and stays away for a night or two
These seem to me as holidays, and I have never thought of asking him
where he has been, although he comes back with an apologetic air of a
guilty school-boy which ought to excite my jealousy, I feel sure.
During these absences his mother looks uneasy and has once or twice
asked me if I know where he is.
My books have come--quantities of books!--and I spend hours in my
boudoir, never lifting my eyes from the pages to be distracted by the
glaring, mustard-brocade walls around me.
Mrs. Gurrage treats me with respect. There is a gradual but complete
change in her manner to me, from what cause I do not know. I am
invariably polite to her and consider all her wishes, and she often
tells me she is very proud of me; but all trace of the familiarity she
exercised towards me in the beginning has disappeared.
I am sorry for her, as she is deeply anxious, also, about this
question of the Yeomanry going to the war.
Augustus is still her idol.
Perhaps I am wicked to be so indifferent to them all. Perhaps it is
not enough just to submit and to have gentle manners. I ought to
display interest; but I cannot--oh, I cannot.
It is the very small things that jar upon me--their sordid views upon
no matter what question--the importance they attach to trifles.
Sometimes in the afternoons, after tea, Amelia reads the _Family
Herald_ to Mrs. Gurrage.
"A comfort it was to me in my young days, my dear," she often tells
The delinquencies of the house-maids are discussed at dinner, the
smallest piece of gossip in Tilchester society.
I cannot, try as I will, remember the people's different names, or
whom Miss Jones is engaged to, or whom Miss Brown. Quantities of these
people come out to tea, and those afternoons are difficult to bear. I
feel very tired when evening comes, after having had to sit there and
hear them talk. Their very phraseology is as of a different world.
Augustus has not been drunk since the night at Harley, but often I
think his eyes look as if he had had too much to drink, and it is on
these occasions he is rude to me.
I believe in his heart he is very fond of me still, but his habit of
bullying and blustering often conceals it.
He continually accuses me of being a cold statue, and regrets that
he has married a lump of ice. And when I ask him in what way I could
please him better, he says I must love him.
"I told you before we were married that I never should, but I would
be civil to you," I said to him at last, exasperated beyond all
endurance. "You agreed to the bargain, and I do my best to keep it.
I never disobey you or cross you in a single thing. What have you to
"Everything!" he said, in a fury, thumping the table so hard that
a little Dresden-china figure fell down and broke into pieces on
the parquet floor. "Everything! Your great eyes are always sad. You
never take the least interest in anything about any of us. You are
docile--yes; and obedient--yes; and when I hold you in my arms I might
be holding a stuffed doll for all the response you make. And when I
kiss you, you shudder!"
He walked up and down the room excitedly.
"Oh, we have all noticed it!" he continued. "You are polite, and
quiet, and--and--damned cold! Does Amelia ever let herself go before
you? Never! The mater herself feels it. You are as different to any of
us as if you came from Mars!"
"But you knew that always. You used to tell me that was what you
liked about me," I said, wearily. "I cannot change my nature any more
than--than Amelia can hers."
"Why not, pray?"
"Have you never thought," I said, driven at last to defend myself,
"that there may be a side in the question for me also? I feel it as
badly as you do--your all being different to me."
He stopped in his angry walk and looked at me. This idea was one of
complete newness to him.
"Well, you'd better get out of it and change, for we sha'n't," he
said, at last. "You owe everything to me. You would have been in the
gutter now if I had not had the generosity to marry you."
I did not answer, but I suppose my eyes spoke, for he came close up to
me and shook his fist in my face.
"I'll break that proud spirit of yours--see if I don't!" he
roared--"daring to look at me like that! What good are you to me, I
should like to know? You do not have a child, and, of all things, I
want an heir!"
A low growl came from the hearth-rug, where Roy had been lying, and
the dear dog rose and came to my side. I was afraid he would fly at
Augustus, shaking his fist as if he was going to strike me. I put my
hand on Roy's soft, black head and held his collar.
In a moment Augustus turned round and rushed to the door.
"I'll have that dog poisoned," he said, as he fled from the room.
I took up a volume of La Rochefoucauld, which was lying on the table
near--grandmamma's copy--and I chanced to open it at this maxim:
"_On n'est jamais si heureux ni si malheureux qu'on s'imagine._"
About happiness I do not know, but for the rest--well, I must tell
myself that to feel miserable is only foolish imagination, when I have
a fire, and food, and a diamond necklace, and three yards of pearls,
and a carriage with prune-and-scarlet servants, and a boudoir with
mustard-silk walls, and--and numbers of other things.
Roy put his nose into my hand.
"Why did we not go on the long journey with grandmamma?" I said
to him. And then I remembered that it is ridiculous to be morbid
and dramatic, and so I rang for my maid--a dour Scotchwoman whom
I like--and told her to bring my out-door things here to the
boudoir-fire. And soon Roy and I were a mile from the house.
Lady Tilchester has been in Scotland almost ever since we spent our
four days at Harley. When she comes back I shall ask her if she will
come over here. She may help me to awake.
I am sure if any one could read what I have written, they would say
that poor Augustus had a great deal to put up with in having a wife
like me. Probably, from his point of view, I am thoroughly tiresome
and irritating. I do not exonerate myself.
* * * * *
After a brisk walk I felt better, and by lunch-time was able to come
back to the house and behave as usual. Augustus, I found, had gone to
Mrs. Gurrage was uneasy. She dropped her h's once or twice, a sure
sign, with her, of perturbation and excitement.
When the servants had left the room she said to Amelia:
"Quite time you were off with that basket for Mary Higginson."
And Amelia took the hint meekly and got up from her seat, leaving a
"Shut the door now, and don't stand loitering there!" my mother-in-law
Amelia is a poor relation, and has often to put up with unfinished
"Look here, my dear," Mrs. Gurrage said, when she felt sure we were
alone, "I don't like it--and that's flat!"
"What do you not like?" I said, respectfully.
"Gussie's goings-on! If you tried to coax him more he would not be
forever rushin' up to London to see that viscountess of his. I wonder
you don't show no spark of jealousy. Law! I'd have scratched her eyes
out had she interfered between me and Mr. Gurrage as she is doing
between you two, even if she was a duchess!"
"I do not understand," I said.
"Well, you must have your eyes glued shut," Mrs. Gurrage continued,
emphatically. "That Lady Grenellen, I mean. A nice viscountess she is,
lookin' after other people's husbands! Why, you can't never have even
glanced at the letters Gussie's got from her!"
"Oh, but _of course_ not!"
"Well, I have. My suspicions began to be aroused directly after you
got back from Harley. I caught sight of a coronet on the envelope"
(Mrs. Gurrage pronounces it "envellup"), "and I said to myself,
there's something queer in that, Gussie never sayin' a word--he as
would be so proud of a letter with a crown on it."
"Yes," I said. I felt sorry for her, she was so agitated. All the
veneer knowledge of grammar had left her, and she spoke with a broad,
"The next one that came--and never a word from him made me sure--so,
I thought to myself, I'll make certain, and I opened the bag myself
with my key for a few mornings--I came down early before him on
purpose--and soon I sees another gold crown and great, sprawly
writin'. The kettle was singing. It took me no time to get the gum
unstuck, and--well there! My dear, you never did! I blush to think of
it. The hussy! She was thankin' him for a diamond bracelet. Now I know
my son Gussie well enough to know he did not give her that bracelet
for nothing. Then she said as how he might come on Tuesday to see her,
as she would be passin' through London and would be at her town-house
for the day."
"But please don't tell me--it--oh, one ought never to read other
people's letters!" I exclaimed.
Mrs. Gurrage flushed scarlet.
"There! That's just you--your high and mighty sentiments! And why,
pray, shouldn't a mother watch over her son, even if his wife has not
the spirit to?"
I did not answer.
"There! It's been so from the first. I thought you'd have been proud
and glad to marry my Gussie--you, as poor as a rat! I don't set
no store by our wealth--the Lord's doin', and Mr. Gurrage takin'
advantage of the opportunities, his partener dyin' youngish--but I
liked the idea of your bein' high-born, and I was frightened about
Gussie's lookin' at that girl at the Ledstone Arms. And you seemed
good and quiet and well-brought-up. And Gussie just doted on you. You
ought to have jumped at him, but you and your grandma were that proud!
All the time you were engaged you were as haughty as if you were
honorin' _him_, instead of his honorin' you! Since you've been my
daughter-in-law, I have no cause to complain of you, only it's the
feelin', and your settin' quiet and far away, when a flesh-and-blood
woman would have clawed that viscountess's hair! Gussie'd never have
been after her if you'd show'd a little more affection. You're not a
bad-lookin' woman yourself if you wasn't so white."
"Do let us understand each other," I said. "I told your son from the
first that I did not care for him. My grandmother was old and dying.
We had no relations to depend upon. I should have been left, as
Augustus was unchivalrous enough to tell me this morning, 'in the
gutter.' These reasons seemed strong enough to my grandmother to make
her deem it expedient that I should marry some one. There was no time
to choose--I had never dreamed in my life of disobeying her. She told
me to marry Augustus. This situation was fully explained to him, and
he understood and kept us to the bargain. I have endeavored in every
way to fulfil my side, but in it I never contemplated a supervision
of his letters."
"Oh, indeed! And why couldn't you love him, pray? A finer young man
doesn't live for miles round," Mrs. Gurrage said, with great offence.
The other questions seemed in abeyance for the moment.
"We cannot force our likes and dislikes," I said.
"Well, you are married now, and part and parcel of him, and a wife's
duty is to keep her own husband from hussies--viscountesses or no they
can call themselves."
"What do you wish me to do?"
"Why, tax him with it when he comes home to-night. Let him see you
know and won't stand it. It's all your fault for not lovin' him, and
your duty now's to keep him in the path of virtue."
"May I say you informed me of his behavior? Because how otherwise
could I account for my knowledge? He would know I should never have
thought of opening or looking at his letters myself."
Mrs. Gurrage was not the least ashamed of having done this, to me,
most dishonorable thing. She could not see the matter from my point
I remember grandmamma once told me that servants and people of the
lower classes always think it is their right to read any one's letters
they come across, so I suppose my mother-in-law cannot help her
standard of honor being different to ours.
"You mustn't make mischief between my boy and me," she said. "You must
invent something--think of some other way."
"But I cannot tell a lie about it. I shall say you have received
disquieting information; I will not say how. Otherwise, I will not
speak to him at all about it."
Mrs. Gurrage burst into tears.
"There--it's breakin' my heart!" she sobbed, "and you don't care a
"Of course I care," I said, feebly.
* * * * *
Oh, grandmamma! For once you must have been wrong, and it would have
been better for me to have worked in the gutter! I wonder if you felt
that at the end. But we had given our word. Augustus held us to it,
and no Calincourt had ever broken his word.
By the afternoon post came a letter from Sir Antony Thornhirst. He had
returned from Scotland, he said, and hoped we would soon pay him our
It was a short note, dry and to the point, with nothing in it
unnecessary in the way of words. I do not know why I read it over
several times. His writing gave me comfort. I felt as if there was
some one human who would understand things.
* * * * *
When I was dressing for dinner, Augustus returned. He shuffled into
the room without knocking, while McGreggor was brushing my hair.
He seemed to have forgotten the scene of the morning, and was in a
most amiable mood. He had brought me a new muff chain, in wonderfully
good taste; he could never have chosen it himself. It is so difficult
to thank people for things when you would like to throw them in the
fire rather than receive them.
However, I did my best.
McGreggor felt it her duty to leave the room. Would this be a good
opportunity to get over what I had promised my mother-in-law to say
to Augustus? Oh, it was an ugly moment.
I told him, as simply as I could, that his mother was worried about
him, fearing he had contracted a dangerous friendship with Lady
Grenellen, and that I hoped he would make her mind at ease upon the
He came over to me and seized my wrists. There was an air of conscious
pride in his face. He was not displeased that this gallantry could be
attributed to him.
"It's all your fault if I do look at any one else," he blustered;
"and, anyway, a man of the world must have a little amusement, with
such a dull, stuck-up wife at home as I have got. Cordelia is a darned
sight higher rank than you are, and yet she does not give herself your
"Oh, do not think it matters to me," I said, as calmly as I could,
"only it worries your mother, who spoke to me about it."
"If I thought you cared it would be different," Augustus said,
delighted to grasp at this excuse.
"No, it would be just the same, only in that case it would grieve me,
and I should suffer, whereas now--" I left the sentence unfinished, I
do not know why.
"Now you don't care what I do or whether I am dead or alive--that is
what you mean, I see," he said, dropping my wrists and walking towards
"Augustus!" I called to him, and he came back. "Listen. You swore at
me this morning. You were very rude to me, and you spend the day in
London with another woman, and return bringing me a present. I have
done my best not to resent these insults, but I warn you I will not
stand any more."
He became cringing.
"Who's been telling the mater these stories about me?" he asked.
"There's not a word of truth in them. It is a queer thing if a man
may not speak to a woman without people making mischief about it!"
"That is between you and your mother. All I would like to know is
that you will not swear at me in future and will treat me with more
I felt I could not continue the subject of his "friendship" with Lady
Grenellen. The whole matter seemed so low.
"Well, you are a brick, after all, not to kick up a row," Augustus
said. "So let us kiss and be friends again, and I am sorry if I was
nasty this morning. There! little woman, you need not be jealous," and
he patted my hand, and then began twisting the long waves of my hair
in and out of his thick fingers.
"What is a fellow to do when a woman falls in love with him?" he
continued, with self-conscious complacency. "He can't be a bear to
her, even though he is married, eh?"
"No, it is only to his wife he can be the bear," I said.
Of course, I ought to have been very jealous and angry, I am sure, but
I could not feel the least emotion. I only longed to wrench my hair
out of his hands, and to tell him that he might speak to and make love
to whom he pleased so long as he left me alone and in peace.
He then became more affectionate, telling me I was the most beautiful
woman he had ever seen, and that I had "stunning hair" and various
other charms, and if only I would not be a lump of ice he would never
I could not say, as I felt, "But that is the one thing I should like
you to do," so I said nothing, and, as soon as I could get near the
bell unperceived, rang for McGreggor again, and put an end to the
Next morning at breakfast Augustus said: "As Farrington has
refused for the 15th, you had better write and ask that fellow
Thornhirst--your cousin. They tell me he is a capital shot, and I
want my birds killed this year."
The year before, apparently, the party had been composed of
indifferent marksmen, and the head keeper had spoken rather
sarcastically upon the subject.
Augustus, when not bullying them, stands in great awe of his servants.
"I am afraid, with only this short notice, there is little chance of
Sir Antony being disengaged," I remarked.
I somehow felt as if I did not want him to come to Ledstone. He would
be so ridiculously out of place here.
"A keen shot would throw over any invitation he had had previously
for such a chance as my two best days," Augustus replied, pompously,
helping himself to a second kidney and smearing it with mustard. "You
just write this morning, and ask him to wire reply."
"Very well," I said, reluctantly. He would certainly be engaged though
I need not fear, "I had a note from yesterday, saying he had returned
from Scotland, and asking us to go over soon and pay our promised
visit to dine and sleep."
"There! I'll bet he was fishing for an invitation to this shoot,"
said Augustus, triumphantly. And, not content with the mustard he had
already plastered the kidney with, he shook pepper over it, heaping it
up upon his knife first and agitating that implement with his fork to
make the pepper fall evenly. I do not know why these details of the
way he eats should irritate me so.
"Now, mind you catch the early post," he continued, "and tell him who
the party are."
At fifteen minutes to eleven I found myself still staring irresolutely
at the sheet of note-paper lying before me on the writing-table in my
boudoir. It had the date written, and "Dear Sir Antony." The rest was
The little, brand-new Dresden clock on the mantel-piece chimed the
three-quarters. The post leaves at eleven. I took up the pen and
dashed at it.
"Eight guns are going to shoot partridges here on the 15th of October,
and Augustus will be very pleased if you will make the ninth,"
I wrote. Could anything be more _bete_? "Please wire reply, and
believe me, yours sincerely--" I hesitated again. Must I sign myself
"Ambrosine de Calincourt Gurrage"? The strangest reluctance came over
It has always been a disagreeable moment when I have had to write
"Gurrage," but never so disagreeable as now.
"A. de C.G.," I began. No, initials would not do--"urrage," I added,
and the distance between the "G" and the "u" showed, I am afraid, that
there was something unnatural about my signature.
"No one would accept such a stupid invitation as that," I said to
myself, hopefully, as I folded the sheet and put it in the envelope.
But by ten o'clock next day a telegram was handed to me:
Very pleased to come on 15th. Many thanks.--ANTONY THORNHIRST.
So he will see the stuffed bears, and the negro figures, and the
Tottenham Court Road Louis XV. drawing-rooms, after all, whether I
wish it or no!
_Whether I wish it or no!_
Augustus was delighted--not so much at the acceptance of this guest,
but his own wonderful prehension.
"There! I told you he'd jump at it," he said.
* * * * *
For several days after this a good deal of my time was taken up by
my mother-in-law's advice and directions as to how I should rule the
house during her absence at Bournemouth, where she would be until she
returned to spend Christmas with us.
It was a great wrench, one could see, to Mrs. Gurrage to relinquish
even for this short two months her rule at Ledstone. But she was in so
good a temper with me for what she considered I had done in bringing
Augustus back "to the path of duty" (we have heard no more of Lady
Grenellen) that she bestowed upon me her sceptre with a good grace.
At last the day came when Amelia, carrying the parrot, followed her
into the brougham.
Augustus had preceded them to the station, and with infinite fuss of
maids and footman, and stray card-board boxes, and final directions,
the whole party disappeared down the drive, and I was left standing
on the red-granite steps.
A sudden sense of exaltation came over me.
I was alone for the first time since my wedding!
It would be evening before Augustus could return from seeing them
off in London.
There was almost one whole day. What should I do? Where should I go?
Roy even barked with pleasure.
As I turned back into the house, the butler informed me
Hephzibah--Mrs. Prodgers--was waiting to see me.
Dear old nurse! She comes up rarely. She is radiantly happy with her
grocer's man, and I think it grieves her to see me.
To-day it was to tell me that she had an accident with one of the
Sevres cups, a chip having appeared in the handle.
She almost cried over it.
"Oh! If madam could know!" she said; then, "I dearly wish you would
come back just to see how I have kept things," she added.
"Oh, Hephzibah, I will some day, but do not ask me yet! I--I should
so miss grandmamma."
"You--you're happy, Miss Ambrosine?" she faltered, timidly. "Madam
always knew best, you know. But I had a dream last night of your
father, and he shook his fist at us--right there."
"Papa!" I felt startled. Our settled conviction had been so long that
he was dead. "You dreamed of papa? Oh! Hephzibah, if he should still
be alive!" I cried.
"There, there," she said, uneasily. "It is too late, anyway, my deary,
but he'll understand that we could none of us stand against madam--if
he should come back, ever. He--he--won't blame us."
I did not ask her what he should blame us for--her, poor soul! for
having been unable to keep me with her, free; me for having submitted
to the mutilation of my own life. Would papa blame us for this?
Kind, awkward, abrupt papa!
Hephzibah glanced round the room. It is the first time she had been
in my boudoir since it was finished.
"Why won't you have up some of your things?" she said, at last. "It
don't look like you, this grand place."
"No, it is not very like me, is it? But you see everything is changed,
and they would not do mixed, the old and the new. I am a new person."
I sighed. "See--this book is the only thing I brought with me, besides
the miniature of my great-great-grandmother," and I took up La
"It don't feel like home," said Hephzibah, and then she suddenly burst
"Oh, my deary!" she sobbed, "And you so beautiful, and pale, and
proud, and never saying a word, and they are none of them fit to black
"Oh, hush, hush, Hephzibah!" I said.
My voice calmed her. She looked round as though afraid that grandmamma
would come in and scold her for crying.
"There! I am an old fool!" she whimpered. "But it is being so happy
myself and knowing what real love is that makes me cry."
This picture of my dear old nurse as the heroine of a real love story
was so pathetically comic that a lump, half tears, half laughter, rose
in my own throat.
"I _am_ so glad you are happy, Hephzibah," I said, unsteadily. "And of
course I am happy, too. Come--I will show you the beautiful chain Mr.
Gurrage gave me lately, and a set of new rings, a ruby, a sapphire, a
diamond, each stone as big as a peanut."
Hephzibah had not lived with grandmamma for years without acquiring a
certain tact. She spoke no more of things that could emotion us, and
soon we parted, smiling grimly at each other.
But the sense of exaltation was gone.
I could fly a little, like a bird round a large aviary. The bars were
It was odious weather, the afternoon of the 15th. Our eight guns had
arrived in time for tea, some with wives, some without--one with a
playful, giddy daughter. Men predominated.
There were some two or three decent people from the county round. The
remainder, commercial connections, friends of the past.
One terrible woman, with parted, plastered hair and an aggressive
voice and rustling silks, dominated the conversation. She is the wife
of the brother of the late Mr. Gurrage's partner who "died youngish."
This couple come apparently every year to the best partridge drive.
"Dodd" is their name.
Mrs. Dodd was extremely ill at ease among the other ladies, but was
determined to let them know that she considered herself their superior
in every way.
At the moment when she was recounting, in a strident voice, the
shortcomings of one of her local neighbors, the butler announced:
"Sir Antony Thornhirst."
Our ninth gun had arrived.
"So good of you to ask me," he said, as he shook hands, and his voice
sounded like smooth velvet after the others. And for a minute there
was a singing in my ears.
"Jolly glad to see you," Augustus blustered. "What beastly weather!
You motored over, I suppose?"
Sir Antony sat down by me.
I remembered the ways he would be accustomed to and did not introduce
him to any one.
He had exchanged casual "How do you do's" with the neighbors he knew.
I poured him out some tea.
"I don't drink it," he said, "but give me some, and sugar, and cream,
and anything that will take time to put in."
"It is very long since we met at Harley, and I began to think you were
going to forget me again, Comtesse!"
"Is that why you came here?"
"Yes--and because they tell me your keeper can show at least a hundred
and fifty brace of partridges each day!"
"Augustus was right, then."
"He said you would come because of the number of the birds. I--I--felt
sure you would be engaged."
"Your note was not cordial nor cousinly, and I was engaged, but the
attraction of the game, as Mr. Gurrage says, decided me."
His smile had never looked so mocking nor his eyes so kind.
"Might I trouble you for a second cup, please, Mrs. Gussie?" the
female Dodd interrupted, loudly, from half across the room, "Mr.
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