I tasted Peche Melba to-day, for the first time. It made me wish for you. But it didn't seem to go at all with gray serge and a cotton blouse. I ought to have been a Gorgeous Being, with silk linings.
How am I to support the shopping ordeal? Supposing Mrs. Norton chooses me things (oh horror!). They're sure to be hideous, but they may be costly. As it says in an English society paper which Madame de Maluet takes: "What should A. do?"
If only Telepathy were a going concern, you would answer that Hard Case for
Your poor, puzzled
"A.," alias "E."
P. S. Nothing more heard or seen of the White Girl's Burden, Richard of that ilk. I was afraid of his turning up at the Grand Hotel in Paris, or even at the station to "see us off," but he didn't. He has disappeared into space, and is welcome to the whole of it. I should nearly have forgotten him, if I didn't wonder sometimes what his mysterious profession is.
SIR LIONEL PENDRAGON TO COLONEL P. R. O'HAGAN, AT DROITA, EAST BENGAL
Ritz Hotel, London, July 8th
My Dear Pat: You were right, I was wrong. It is good to be in England again. Your prophecy has come true. The dead past has pretty well buried its dead. A few dry bones show under the surface here and there. I let them lie. Is thy servant a dog, that he should dig up buried bones!
As you know, I was ass enough to dread arriving in Paris. I dreaded it throughout the whole voyage. When I got to Marseilles, I found a wire from Emily, saying she would meet me in Paris. Ass again! I had an idea she was putting herself to that trouble with the kindly wish to "stand by," and take my thoughts off old days. But I might have known better, knowing that good, practical little soul. She had quite another object. Came to break the news of a fire at Graylees; but it seems not to have done any serious damage, except to have wiped out a few modern frills. They can easily be tacked on again. I'm glad it was no worse, for I love Graylees. I might have turned out a less decent sort of chap than I am if it hadn't been for the prospect of inheriting it sooner or later. One has to live up to certain things, and Graylees was an incentive.
You asked me to tell you if Emily had changed. Well, she has. It's eighteen years since you saw her; fifteen since I did. I must tell you honestly, you'd have no sentimental regrets if you could see her now. You will remember, if you're not too gallant, that she was three years older than you; the three seem to have stretched to a dozen. Luckily, you didn't let Norton's snatching Emily from under your nose prey upon cheek or heart. Nothing is damaged. You are sound and whole, and that is why your friendship has been such a boon to me. You have saved me from tilting against many windmills.
I suppose you'll think I'm "preambling" now, to put off the evil moment of telling you about Ellaline de Nesville's girl. But no. For once you're mistaken in me. After all, it isn't an evil moment. I'm surprised at myself, doubly surprised at the girl; and both surprises are agreeable ones.
I don't ask you if you remember Ellaline; for nobody who ever saw her could forget her; at least, so it seems to me, after all these years, and all the changes in myself. As I am now, hers is the last type with which I should fall in love, provided I were fool enough to lose my head for anyone. Yet I can't wonder at the adoration I gave her. She was exactly the sort of girl to call out a boy's love, and she had all mine, poor foolish wretch that I was. There's nothing more pathetic, I think, at this distance, than a boy's passionate purity in his first love—unless it's his disillusionment; for disillusion does no nature good. It would have done mine great harm if I hadn't had a friend like you to groan and grumble to.
You understand how I've always felt about this child she wished me to care for. I was certain that Ellaline Number 2 would grow up as like Ellaline Number 1 as this summer's rose is like last summer's, which bloomed on the same bush.
At four years old the little thing undoubtedly had a dollish resemblance to her mother. I thought I remembered that she had the first Ellaline's great dark eyes, full of incipient coquetry, and curly black lashes, which the little flirt already knew how to use, by instinct. The same sort of mouth, too, which to look at makes a boy believe in a personal Cupid, and a man in a personal devil. I had a dim recollection of chestnut-brown hair, falling around a tiny face shaped like Ellaline's; "heart-shape" we used to call it, Emily and I, when we were both under our little French cousin's thumb, in the oldest days of all, before even Emily began to find her out.
I wonder if a child sheds its first hair, like its first teeth? I've never given much thought to infantine phenomena of any kind; still, I'm inclined to believe now that there must be such cases. Of course, we know a type of blond, nee brunette; for instance, Mrs. Senter, young Burden's fascinating aunt, whom we suspected of having turned blond in a single night (by the way, whom should I run across in Paris but Dicky, grown up more or less since he chaperoned his female belongings in the Far East). But I'm not talking of the Mrs. Senters of the world; I'm talking of Ellaline's unexpected daughter. She has changed almost incredibly between the ages of four and nineteen.
Before I knew Emily intended meeting me in Paris, I wrote the school-ma'am asking that my ward might be sent, well chaperoned, to the Gare de Lyon. It was bad enough to have to face a modern young female, adorned with all the latest improvements and parlour tricks. It would have been worse to face several dozens of these creatures in their lair; therefore, I funked collecting my ward at Versailles. I was to know her by a rose pinned on her frock in case she'd altered past recognition. It was well, as things turned out, that I'd made the suggestion, otherwise the girl would have had to go back to Versailles, like an unclaimed parcel; and that would have been bad, as she had no chaperon. Something had happened to the lady, or to the lady's relatives. I almost forget what, now.
Instead of the dainty little Tanagra figure in smart French frills, which I expected, there was a tall, beautiful young person, with the bearing of an Atalanta, and the clothes of a Quakeress. She tacked my name on to the wrong man, or I should have let her go, in spite of the rose, so different was she from what I expected. And you'll be amused to hear that her idea of Lionel Pendragon was embodied by old "Hannibal" Jones, who got into my train at Marseilles. He's taken to parting his name in the middle now, and is General Wellington-Jones. She ought to have known my age approximately, or could have learned it if she cared to bother; but I suppose to nineteen, forty might as well be sixty. That's a thing to remember, if one feels the sap pulsing in one's branches, just to remind one that after all it's not spring, but autumn. And at the present moment, by the way, I'm not sure that I shan't need this kind of taking down a peg, for I am feeling so young that I think I must be growing old. I have begun to value what's left me of youth; to take it out and look at it in all lights, like a fruit which must be gloated over before it decays—and that's a fatal sign, eh? I have the most extraordinary interest in life, which I attribute to the new motor-car which will be finished and ready to use in a few days; also to the thought that Graylees is my own.
But I'm wandering away from the girl.
She is as unlike Ellaline de Nesville as one beautifully bound first volume of a human document can be from another equally attractive. "First volume of a human document" isn't inexpressive of a young girl, is it? Heaven knows what this one may be by the time the second and third volumes are ready for publication; but at present one turns over the leaves with pleased surprise. There's something original and charming in each new page.
Her first hair must have been shed, for the present lot—and there is a lot!—is of a bright, yellowy brown; looks like a child's hair, somehow. There are little rings and kinks about it which I take to have been put there by the curling-tongs of nature, though I may be mistaken. And I suppose I must have deceived myself about the child's eyes, for they are not black, but of a grayish hazel, which can look brown or violet at night. She is a tall young thing, slim and straight as a sapling, with frank, honest manners, which are singularly engaging. I look at her in amazement and interest, and find her looking at me with an expression which I am not able to make out. I hardly dare let myself go in liking her, for fear of disappointment. She seems too good to be true, too good to last. I keep wondering what ancestress of Ellaline de Nesville's, or Fred Lethbridge's, is gazing out of those azure windows which are this girl's eyes. If Fred's soul, or Ellaline's, peeps from behind the clear, bright panes, it contrives to keep itself well hidden—so far. But I expect anything.
I had no notion until now that a young woman could be a delightful "pal" for a man, especially a man of my age. Perhaps this is my ignorance of the sex (for I admit I locked up the book of Woman, and never opened it again, since the chapter of Ellaline), or it may be that girls have changed since the "brave days when we were twenty-one." At that remote epoch, as far as I can discover by blowing off the dust from faded souvenirs, one either made love to girls, or one didn't. They were there to dance with and flirt with, and go on the river with, not to talk politics to, or exchange opinions of the universe. They—the prettiest ones—would have thought that valuable time was being wasted in such discussions. Yet here is this girl, not twenty, a child fresh from school—a French school, at that—radiant with the power of her youth, her beauty, her femininity; yet she seems actually interested in problems of life unconnected with love affairs. She appears to like talking sense, and she has humour, far more subtle than the mere, kittenish sense of fun which belongs to her years—or lack of them. I dreaded the responsibility of her, but I dreaded much more being bored by her, flirted with by her. I'm hanged if I could have stood that from the kind of girl I was prepared to see; but as I said, I've found a "pal"—if I dared believe in her. Instead of avoiding my ward's society, and shoving it on to Emily, as I intended, I excuse myself to myself for contriving pretexts to bask in it.
To-day, for instance, what do you think I did? A shopping expedition was in question. Emily, who never had much taste in dress, and now clothes herself as if in punishment for sin, seems to know when other women are badly turned out. She thinks it right that young girls should be simply dressed, but considers that in the case of Ellaline simplicity has been carried too far. You see, she doesn't know what you and I know about that wretched fellow Lethbridge's end, and she believes his daughter has plenty of money, or will have, on coming of age. Naturally, I don't undeceive her. Emily is a good soul, but over-conscientious in questions of money, and if she knew the truth she might be inclined to hold the purse-strings tight. She might even be tempted to hint something distressing to this poor girl, if the child vexed her by any thoughtless little extravagance; whereas I wouldn't for a good deal have Ellaline's daughter guess she owes anything to me.
Emily offered to choose frocks for Miss Lethbridge; whereupon that young lady cast such a comical glance of despair at me—a glance which I think was involuntary—that it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. I saw so well what was in her mind! And if you will believe me, O'Hagan, I volunteered to go with them.
Having committed myself, I had all the sensations of a fly caught on a sheet of "Tanglefoot," or a prisoner of war chained to a Roman chariot; but in the end I enjoyed myself hugely. Nothing better has happened to me since I used to be taken to look at the toyshops the day before Christmas. No, not even my first pantomime could beat this as an experience!
Emily's economical soul clamoured for Oxford Street. I stood out for Bond, and got my way. (You will grin here. You say I always do get my way.) My idea was to make of myself a kind of Last Resort, or Court of Appeal. I meant to let Emily advise, but to sweep her aside if she perpetrated atrocities. The first shop, however, went to my head. It was one of those where you walk into a kind of drawing-room with figurines, or whatever you call them—slender, headless ladies in model dresses—grouped about, and other equally slender, but long-headed ladies in black satin trains, showing off their dummy sisters.
It was the figurines that intoxicated me. I saw Ellaline's head—in imagination—coming out at the top of all the prettiest dresses. They were wonderfully simple, too, the most attractive ones; seemed just the thing for a young girl. Emily walked past them as if they were vulgar acquaintances trying to catch her eye at a duchess's ball, but they trapped me. There was a white thing for the street, that looked as if it had been made for Ellaline, and a blue fluff, cut low in the neck, exactly the right colour to show up her hair. Then there was a film of pink, with wreaths of little rosebuds dotted about—made me think of spring. (I told you I'd lost my head, didn't I?)
I stopped my ward, pointed out these things to her, and asked her if she liked them. She said she did, but they would be horribly expensive. She wouldn't think of buying such dreams. With that, up swam one of the satin ladies (whose back view was precisely like that of a wet, black codfish with a long tail; I believe she was "Directoire"); and hovering near on a sea of pale-green carpet she volunteered the information that these "little frocks" were "poems," singularly suited to the style of—I expected her to say my "daughter." Instead of which, however, she finished her sentence with a "madam" that brought a blush to my weather-beaten face. I was the only one concerned who did blush, however, I assure you! The girl smiled into my eyes, with a mischievous twinkle, and minded not at all. A former generation would have simpered, but this young person hasn't a simper in her.
I said "Nonsense," she could well afford the dresses. She argued, and Emily returned to help her form up a hollow square. They were both against me, but I insisted, and the codfish was a powerful ally.
"Would they fit you?" I asked the girl.
"Yes, they would fit me, I dare say. But——"
That settled it.
"We'll take them," said I. And after that, being beside myself, I reconnoitred the place, pointing my stick at other things which took my fancy. The codfish backed me up at every step, and other codfishes swam the green sea, with hats doubtless brought from unseen coral caves. Most of them were enormous hats, but remarkably attractive, in one way or another, with large drooping brims that dripped roses or frothed with ostrich plumes. I made Ellaline take off a small, round butter plate she had on, which was ugly in itself, though somehow it looked like a saint's halo on her; and murmuring compliments on "madam's" hair, the siren codfishes tried on one hat after another. I bought all, without asking the prices, because each one was more becoming to the girl than its predecessor, and not to have all, would have been like deliberately destroying so many original Gainsboroughs or Sir Joshuas.
The child's hair, by the way, is extraordinarily vital. It spouts up in two thick, bright billows over her white forehead, like the beginning of a strong fountain—a very agreeable foundation for a hat.
Seeing that I had gone mad, the wily codfishes took advantage of my state, and flourished things before my eyes, at which Emily instantly forbade me to look. It is true that they were objects not often seen by bachelor man, except in shop windows and on the advertising pages of women's magazines; but silk petticoats and cobwebby lace frills have no Gorgon qualities, and I was not turned to stone by the sight of them. I even found courage to ask of the company at large if they were the sort of thing that young ladies ought to have in their wardrobes. The answer was emphatically in the affirmative.
"Have you already got all you want of them, or could you make use of more?" I inquired of my ward.
"I shouldn't know myself in such miracles," said she, with a kind of gasp, her eyes very bright, and her cheeks pinker than they had been when she was suspected of bridehood. She was still suspected of it; indeed, I think that in the minds of the black satin codfishes circumstantial evidence had tinkered suspicion into certainty. But Ellaline was deaf to the "madam." They might have turned her from wife into widow without her noticing. She was burning with the desire to possess those embroidered cobwebs and those frilled petticoats. I don't know why she should have been more excited about garments which few, if any, save herself, would see after she'd put them on, than she was about those on which cats and kings might gaze; but so it was. I should like to ask an expert if this is the case with all females, or if it is exceptional.
"Send the lot with the hats and dresses," said I. And when she widened her eyes and gasped, I assured her that I knew her income better than she did. Anything she cared to have in the way of pretty clothes she could afford.
Strange to say, even then she didn't seem comfortable. She opened her lips as if to speak; shut them hastily at the first word, swallowed it with difficulty, sighed, and looked anxious. I should rather have liked to know what was in her mind.
We ended up by the purchase of costumes suitable to the automobile, both for Emily and Ellaline. I think women ought to be as "well found" for motoring, as for yachting, don't you? And I am looking forward to the trip I intend to take. It will be interesting to study the impressions made upon this young girl by England, land of history and beauty——
... this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea— ... this England.
You will laugh at me, perhaps, for my long "harping" on my ward; but anyhow, don't misunderstand. It's not because she is pretty and engaging (one would say that of a kitten), but because of the startling contrast between the real girl and the girl of my imagination. I can't help thinking about her a good deal for this reason, and what I think of I have generally talked of or written of fully to you, my best and oldest friend. It's a habit nearly a quarter of a century old, and I don't mean to break it now, particularly as you have made rather a point of my continuing it on my return "home" after all these years.
London has got hold of me. I am fascinated by it. Either it has improved as it has grown, or I am in a mood to be pleased with anything English. Do you remember dear old Ennis's Rooms, which you and I used to think the height of luxury and gaiety? I've promised myself to go there again, and I mean to take Ellaline and Emily to supper after the theatre to-night. I think I shall keep this letter open to tell you how the old place impresses me.
Midnight and a half.
I've had a shock. Ennis's is dead as a doornail. We entered, after the theatre, and galvanized the Rooms into a kind of dreadful life. They "don't serve many suppers now, sir," it seems. "It's mostly luncheons and dinners."
The waiters resented us as intruders. We were the only ones, too, which made it worse, as all their rancour was visited on us; but we hadn't been for many minutes at our old favourite table (the one thing unchanged), trying to keep up a spurious gaiety, when another party of two ventured in.
They were young Dick Burden and his aunt, Mrs. Senter.
Now, you mayn't see it, but this was rather odd. It wouldn't have been odd in the past, to meet your most intimate friend from round the corner, and the Shah of Persia, at Ennis's. But evidently the "people who amuse themselves" don't come now. It's not "the thing." Why, therefore, should this couple choose Ennis's for supper? They haven't been out of England for fifteen years, like me. If Mrs. Senter occasionally spends Saturday to Monday in India, or visits the Sphinx when the Sphinx is in season, she always returns to London when "everybody is in town," and there does as everybody does.
I immediately suspected that Burden had brought her with an object: that object, to gain an introduction to Ellaline. The suspicion may seem far-fetched; but you wouldn't pronounce it so if you could have seen the young man's face, in the railway station at Paris, the other day. I had that privilege; and I observed at the time his wish to know my ward, without feeling a responsive one to gratify it. I don't know why I didn't feel it, but I didn't, though the desire was both pardonable and natural in the young fellow. He has a determined jaw; therefore perhaps it's equally natural that, when disappointed, he should persist—even follow, and adopt strong measures (in other words, an aunt) to obtain his object. You see, Ellaline is an extremely pretty girl, and I'm not alone in thinking so.
My idea is that, having found us in the newspapers, staying at the Ritz, the boy must have somehow informed himself as to our movements, awaiting his opportunity—or his aunt. I bought my theatre tickets in the hotel. He may have got his information from there; and the rest was easy—as far as Ennis's. I'm afraid the rest was, too, because Mrs. Senter selected the table nearest ours, and after we had exchanged greetings proposed that we join parties. The tables were placed together, and introductions all round were a matter of course. Young England expects that every aunt will do her duty!
They still give you very good food at Ennis's, but it's rather like eating "funeral baked meats."
Mrs. Senter is exactly what she was some years ago. Perhaps it would be ungallant to recall to your memory just how many years ago. She is, if anything, younger. I believe there's a maxim, "Once a duchess, always a duchess." I think women of to-day have another: "Once thirty, always thirty"; or, "Once thirty, always twenty-nine." But, joking apart, she is a very agreeable and rather witty woman, sympathetic too, apparently, though I believe you used to think, when she was out smiting hearts at our Back o' Beyond, that in nature she somewhat resembled a certain animal worshipped by the Egyptians and feared by mice. She seems very fond of her nephew Dick, with whom she says she goes about a good deal. "We chaperon each other," she expressed it. She pities me for my fire at Graylees, but envies me my motoring trip.
We shall be off in a few days, now, I hope, as soon as Ellaline has been shown a few "features" of London. I went to see the car to-day, and she is a beauty. I shall try her for the first time to-morrow.
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Ritz Hotel, London, July 9th
One and Only Compleat Mother: Things have happened. I felt them coming in my bones—not my funny-bones this time. For the things may turn out to be not at all funny.
Mr. Richard Burden has been introduced to the alleged Miss Lethbridge. I wonder if he can know she is merely "the alleged"? He is certainly changed, somehow, both in his manner, and in his way of looking at one. I thought in Paris he hadn't at all a bad face, though rather impudent—and besides, even Man is a fellow being! But last night, for a minute, he really had an incredibly wicked expression; or else he was suppressing a sneeze. I couldn't be quite sure which—as you said about Aubrey Beardsley's weird black-and-white women.
It was at a restaurant—a piteous restaurant, where the waiters looked like enchanted waiters in the Palace of the Sleeping Beauty. He—Mr. Dicky Burden—came in, with an aunt. Such an aunt! I could never be at home with her as an aunt if I were a grown-up man, though she might make a bewitching cousin. She's quite beautiful, dear, and graceful; but I don't like her at all. I think Sir Lionel does, though. They knew each other in Bengal, and she kept saying to him in a cooing voice, "Do you remember?"
You can see she's too clever to be always clever, because that bores people; but she says witty, sharp things which sound as if they came out of plays, or books, and you think back to see whether she deliberately led up to them. For instance, she asked Sir Lionel, apropos of woman's suffrage, whether, on the whole, he preferred a man's woman, or a woman's woman?
"What's the difference?" he wanted to know.
"All the difference between a Gibson girl and an Ibsen girl," said she. I wonder if she'd heard that, or made it up? Anyhow, when Sir Lionel threw back his head and laughed, in an attractive way he has, which shows a dent in his chin, I wished I'd said it. But the more she flashed out bright things, the more of a lump I was. I do think the one unpardonable sin is dulness, and I felt guilty of it. She simply vampired me. Sucked my wits dry. And, do you know, I'm afraid she's going on the motor trip with us?
Sir Lionel doesn't dream of such a thing, but she does. And she's the sort of person whose dreams, if they're about men, come true. Of course, I don't know her well enough to hate her, but I feel it coming on.
In books, all villainesses who're worth their salt have little, sharp teeth and pointed nails. Mrs. Senter's teeth and nails are just like other women's, only better. Book villainesses' hair is either red or blue-black. Hers is pale gold, though her eyes are brown, and very soft when they turn toward Sir Lionel. Nevertheless, though I'm not cattish, except when absolutely necessary, I know she's a pig, never happy unless she has the centre of the stage, whether it's her part or not—wanting everyone to feel the curtain rises when she comes on, and falls when she goes off. She looks twenty-eight, so I suppose she's thirty-five; but really she's most graceful. Standing up for Sir Lionel to take off her cloak, her trailing gray satin dress twisted about her feet, as some charming, slender trees stand with their bark spreading out round them on the ground, and folding in lovely lines like drapery.
She managed to draw Mrs. Norton into conversation with her and Sir Lionel, and to let Dick talk to me, so they must have arranged beforehand what they would do. At first, when he had got his wish and been introduced, he spoke of ordinary things, but presently he asked if I remembered his saying that he wished to go into a certain profession. I answered "Yes," before I stopped to think, which I'm afraid flattered him, and then he wanted me to guess what the profession was. When I wouldn't, he said it was that of a detective. "If I succeed, my mother will give up her objections," he explained. "And I think I shall succeed." It was when he said this, that he looked so wicked—or else as if he wanted to sneeze—as I told you. What can he mean? And what has he found out? Or is it only my bad conscience? Oh, dear, I should like to give it a thorough spring cleaning, as one does in Lent! I'm afraid that's what is needed. I've had plenty of blacks on it since Ellaline made me consent to her plan, and I began to carry it out. But now I have more. I have lots of dresses and hats on it, too—lovely ones. And petticoats, and such things, etc., etc. Did Dragons of old insist on their fairy princess-prisoners having exquisite clothes, and say "hang the expense"? This Dragon has done so with his Princess, and I had to take the things, because, you see, I have engaged to play the part, and this apparently is his rich conception of it. He says that I—Ellaline—can afford to have everything that's nice; so what can I do? The worst of it is, much of my new finery is so delicate, it will be defraiche by the time the real Ellaline can have it, even if it would fit or suit her, which it won't. But probably the man was ashamed to be seen with a ward in gray serge and a sailor hat, so I couldn't very well violate his feelings. Perhaps if I'd refused to do what he wanted, all his hidden Dragon-ness would have rushed to the surface; but as I was quite meek, he behaved more like an angel than a dragon.
It really was fun buying the things, in a fascinating shop where the assistants were all more refined than duchesses, and so slender-waisted they seemed to be held together only by their spines and a ladylike ligament or two. But if Providence didn't wish women to lace, why weren't our ribs made to go all the way down? The way we were created, it's an incentive to pinch waists. It seems meant, doesn't it?
I was a dream to look at when we went to supper at that restaurant; which was one comfort. Mrs. Senter's things were no nicer than mine, and she was so interested in what I wore. Only she was a good deal more interested in Sir Lionel.
"Everywhere I go, people are talking of you," she said. "You have given them exciting things to talk about."
"Really, I wasn't aware of it," returned the poor Dragon, as apologetically as if she'd waked him up to say he'd been snoring.
Since I wrote you, I've heard more things about his past from Mrs. Norton, who is as proud of her brother, after a fashion, as a cat of its mouse, and always wanting to show him off, in just the same way. (We all have our "mouse," haven't we? I'm yours. Just now, the new hats are mine.) She has told me a splendid story about a thing he did in Bengal: saved twelve people's lives in a house that was on fire in the middle of the night—the kind of house which blazes like a haystack. And, according to her, he thinks no more of rescuing drowning persons who jump off ships in seas swarming with sharks than we think of fishing a fly out of our bath. Now, is it possible for a man like that to be treacherous to women, and to accept bribes for being guardian to their children? I do wish I knew what to make of it all—and of him.
He has taken the funny little Bengalese valet, who has been, and is to be, his chauffeur, to try the new car this morning. He meant to have gone before this to look at his partly burnt castle in Warwickshire, but he says London has captivated him, and he can't tear himself away; that he will go in a day or two, when he has trotted Mrs. Norton and me about to see a few more sights. Of course, we could quite well see the sights by ourselves. Mrs. Norton has seen them all, anyhow, and only revisits them for my sake; while as for me, you and I "did" London thrillingly together in the last two months of our glory. But Sir Lionel has an interesting way of telling things, and he is as enthusiastic as a boy over his England. Not that he gushes; but one knows, somehow, what he is feeling. I can't imagine his ever being tired, but he is very considerate of us—seems to think women are frail as glass. I suppose women are a sex by themselves, but we aren't as different as all that.
Once in a while he threw a sideways glare at Dick Burden, when D. B. was talking with a confidential air to me. I know from Ellaline and Mrs. Norton that Sir Lionel dislikes women; but all the same I believe he thinks we ought to be kept indoors unless veiled, and never allowed to talk to men, except our relatives.
Mrs. Norton is so funny, without knowing it. She asked her brother as gravely as possible at breakfast this morning: "Had you a harem in Bengal, dear?"
"Good heavens, no!" he answered, turning red. "What put such a ghastly idea into your head?"
"Oh, I only thought perhaps it was the thing, and you were obliged to, or be talked about," she explained, calmly.
He went on to tell her that it was not at all necessary to have harems, and she was quite surprised. You would think that she'd have taken pains to find out every detail of her brother's life in a country where he was one of the head men, wouldn't you? But she hardly feels that any country except her own is worth serious inquiries. She has the impression that "heathen" are all alike, and mostly naked, but not as embarrassing to meet as if they were white.
Good-bye, dearest. I'm afraid I write very disconnected letters. But I feel "disconnected" myself, somehow, like a telephone that's been "cut off."
Your loving and well-dressed
P. S. It's to-morrow, for I forgot to post this, there were so many things "doing." Please forgive me. The car's splendid, and I am to christen her. We're going to have a kind of ceremony like a launching, and I have to think of a name for her, and throw wine on her bonnet. Sir Lionel is longing to get off on the tour, he says; and as he's to leave town for Warwickshire to-morrow, turning me over temporarily to the tender mercies of the good—(his sister)—I almost hope that after all Mrs. Senter mayn't have time to "sweedle" him into taking her with us, as I know she hopes to do.
We, by the way, are not to see his place until the burnt bit is mended. We're to avoid Warwickshire in starting out, go away up North as far as the Roman Wall, visit Bamborough Castle, where he thinks friends of his, who own it, will actually invite us to lunch, or something (it seems like a dream), and then stop in Warwickshire at the end of the tour, when all the dilapidations have been made good. The Dragon naturally expects me, not only to finish the trip, but to take up my residence at Graylees until next spring, when his plan is that his ward shall be presented. Oh, mice and men, and dragons, how aft your plans gang agley! Of course, mine depend altogether upon Ellaline. I hold myself ready for marching orders from her. But I must confess to you that, whether right or wrong, I don't look forward to the weeks of my duties as understudy with the same feelings I had when I was engaged to perform them.
Little did Sir Lionel guess what was in my mind this morning, when I asked if one could see most of England in a few weeks when motoring! But I may have to take my flight from the car, so to speak, unless Ellaline be detained for some reason. I'm expecting a letter from her any day now, and there may be definite news.
Good-bye, again, dearest.
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Royal Hotel, Chichester, July 17th
Brightest and Best: La Donna e automobile. I am "la donna"; and the most inward Me-ness of my Me e automobile.
Some people—Mrs. Norton, for instance—might say: "What on earth does the silly thing mean?" But you always know what I mean. You and I were born knowing quite a lot of nice little things like that, weren't we? Things we picked up during our various incarnations; things new souls haven't had time to collect, poor dears.
My automobiliness is the reason I've only sent you snippy "how-do-you-do and good-bye" notes, interspersed with telegrams, for the last few days, just thanking you for wise advice, and saying "Glad-you're-well; so-am-I."
You will guess from my very handwriting that I'm feeling more at home in life than I did when I wrote you last. And I can't help being pleased that Ellaline's adored one won't be able to leave his manoeuvres, to make her his own, till a fortnight or so later than she expected. That is, I can't help being glad, as the doctor thinks you ought to stop at Champel-les-Bains till after the first week of September, and we couldn't be together, even if I were back in Paris. You swear you didn't hypnotize him to say that? I would enjoy more peace of mind, while careering through England in Apollo, if I were certain.
Oh, that reminds me, I forgot to tell you what fun it was christening Apollo. I quite enjoyed it, and felt immensely important. Don't you think "Apollo" an appropriate name for such a magnificent car as I've described to you? The Sun God—Driver of the Chariot of the Sun? Sir Lionel likes it; but he says he isn't sure "The Cloud" wouldn't be a more appropriate name, because the car costs such a lot that "she" has a silver lining. I began by calling her "it," but he won't let me do that. He doesn't much mind my being amateurish, but he hates me to be disrespectful.
I am so dazzled by the motor and enchanted with the sport of motoring—as well as seeing things even more lovely than I hoped for—that I'm not worrying over Dick Burden and his mysterious hints about himself as a detective. Besides, when he and his aunt came to tea (you'll remember I told you in a scrap of a note that it was the day Sir Lionel went to Warwickshire, and how vexed Mrs. Senter was to find him gone), Mr. Dick made himself quite pleasant. He wasn't impertinent, or too admiring, or anything which a well-brought-up young Englishman ought not to be. Indeed, I thought by his manner that he wanted tacitly to apologize for his bad behaviour when we first met; so probably, when I fancied he looked wicked that night at Ennis's Rooms, it was because he wanted to sneeze. You have taught me to give everybody, except young men, the benefit of the doubt; but I don't see why one shouldn't give it to young men, too. I think they're rather easier to forgive, somehow, than women. Is that why they're dangerous? But D. B. could never be dangerous to me, in the sense of falling in love.
His aunt certainly wishes to throw us together; I suppose on account of Ellaline's money. She doesn't like girls, I'm sure, but would always be ready, on principle, to give first aid to heiresses. It is something to be thankful for that she hasn't grafted herself on to our party, as I feared she might; and though they're both going to stop at some country house near Southsea, and they "hope we may meet," I dare say I shan't be bothered by them again while I'm in England. I don't intend to worry. La donna e automobile!
I haven't properly described our start, or told you about the things I've seen en route, and I promised to tell you everything; so I'll go back to the beginning of the trip.
There was Apollo, throbbing with joy of life in front of the hotel door, at nine o'clock of a perfect English morning. There were statuesque, Ritzy footmen, gazing admiringly at the big golden-yellow car (that was one of the reasons I thought she should be named after the Sun God, she is so golden). There was Charu Chunder Bose, alias Young Nick, who would think it a sin against all his gods to dress as a chauffeur, and who continues to garb himself as a self-respecting Bengali—Young Nick, with his sleepy eyes, and his Buddha-when-young smile, about as appropriate on a motor-car as a baby crocodile. There was Sir Lionel waiting to tuck us in. There were we two females in neat gray motor dust-cloaks, on which the Dragon insisted; Mrs. Norton in a toque, which she wore as if it were a remote and dreaded contingency; your Audrie in a duck of an early Victorian bonnet, in which she liked herself better than in anything else she ever had on before. There, too, was our luggage, made to fit the car, and looking like the very last word of up-to-dateness—if you know what that look is.
Of course, it wasn't the first time I'd been out in the car, for I think I told you, the day Apollo was christened I had a spin; but it rained, and we went only through the Park. That was nothing. This morning we were bidding good-bye to London, and our pulses were beating high for the Tour. Young Nick drove on the christening day, but this time Sir Lionel took the driver's seat, with the brown idol beside him; and I saw instantly, by the very way he laid his hand on the steering-wheel, with a kind of caress—as a horse-lover pats a beloved mare's neck—that he and the golden car were in perfect sympathy.
We were starting early, because Sir Lionel had planned a good many things for us to see before dark; but early as it was, Piccadilly and Knightsbridge were seething with traffic. Motor-'buses like mad hippopotamuses; taxi-cabs like fierce young lions; huge carts like elephants; and other vehicles of all sorts to make up a confused medley of wild animals escaped from the Zoo. It looked appalling to mingle with, but our own private Dragon drove so skilfully, yet so carefully, that I never bit my heart once. Always the car seemed sentient, steering its way like a long, thin pike; then when the chance came, flashing ahead, dauntless and sure.
We went by a great domed palace—Harrod's Stores—and then over Putney Bridge, passing Swinburne's house, whose outside is as deceiving as an oyster-shell that hides a pearl; through Epsom, Charles the Second's "Brighton" (which I've been reading about in a volume of Pepys Sir Lionel has given me), to Leatherhead, along the Dorking Road, slowing up for a glimpse of Juniper Hall, glowing red as a smouldering bonfire behind a dark latticed screen of splendid Lebanon cedars. I dare say it's a good deal changed since dear little Fanny Burney's day, for the house looks quite modern; but then neither buildings nor the people who live in them show their age early in England.
Close under Box Hill we glided; and Sir Lionel pointed out a little path leading up on the left to George Meredith's cottage. Just a small house of gray stone it is (for I would get out and walk up part way to see it from far off, not to intrude or spy); and there that great genius shines out, a clear, white light for the world, like a beacon or a star.
Evidently Surrey air suits geniuses. Do you remember reading about Keats, that he wrote a lot of "Endymion" at Burford Bridge? It was only a little after ten o'clock when we passed the quaint-looking hotel there, but already at least a dozen motors were drawn up before it. I wanted to go in and ask if they show the room Lord Nelson used; but we had too many things to see.
Of course, I am always wishing for you, but I began to wish the hardest just as we came into this green, brackeny, fairyland of Surrey. It's the kind of country you love best; although I must say it was never planned for motors. Winding through those green tunnels which are the Surrey lanes, I felt as if, in some quaint dream, I were motoring on a tight-rope, expecting another car to want to pass me on the same rope—which naturally it couldn't!
It would have been much worse, though, if Young Nick had been driving. That little, smooth brown face of his looks as if its idol-simper hid no human emotions, and I believe if people and animals were perfectly flat, like paper dolls, so that they would do no harm to his car, he wouldn't mind how many he drove over. Luckily, however, they aren't flat, and the only thing earthly he adores, after his master, is his motor; so he is nice and cautious for its sake. But the Dragon thinks of everyone, and says there's no pleasure for him in motoring if he leaves a trail of distress or even annoyance along the road as he passes. He slows down at corners; he goes carefully round them; he almost walks Apollo in places where creatures of any kind may start out unexpectedly; and he blows our pleasant musical horn as if by instinct, never forgetting, as I'm sure I should do.
As we twisted and turned through the Surrey lanes, between Dorking and Shere, little children in red cloaks and tams appeared from behind hedges, looking like blowing poppies as they ran. And blue-eyed, gold-brown haired girls in cottage doorways, under hanging bowers of roses, were as decorative as Old Chelsea china girls. The red tiles of their roofs, as I turned back for one more glimpse, would already be half hidden in waves of green, but would just show up like beds of scarlet geraniums buried in leaves.
Shere was almost too beautiful to be real, with its rows of Elizabethan cottages whose windows twinkled at us with their diamond-shaped, diamond-bright panes, sparkling under their low, thatch-eyebrows, from between black oak beams. The Tudor chimneys were as graceful as the smoke wreaths that lazily spiraled above them, and the whole effect was—was—well, inexpressibly Birket Foster. I used to think he idealized; but then, I'd never seen anything of England but London, and didn't know how all English trees, cottages, and even clouds, are trained to group themselves to suit artists of different schools.
I kept wishing that you'd made me study architecture and botany, instead of languages and music. In justice to oneself, one ought, when travelling in England, to have at least a bowing acquaintance with every sort of architecture, and all families of flowers, to say nothing of trees, so that one might exclaim, as snobs do of royalties and celebrities: "Oh, she was the great granddaughter of So-and-So." "He married Lady This-and-That." Also, I find I need much more knowledge of literature than I have. This country is divided off into a kind of glorious chessboard, each square being sacred to some immortal author, playwright, or poet. The artists press them close, without overcrowding; and history lies underneath—history for every square inch.
"Twelve coffin deep," I quoted Kipling to myself, as my mind panted along Roman roads, and the Pilgrim's Way.
"Why, was there a cemetery there?" asked Mrs. Norton, looking mildly interested.
She, by the way, doesn't much care for ruins. She says they're so untidy.
You and I travelled till our money threatened to give out in the noble cause of sight-seeing, but I never realized history quite so potently even in Italy as I do in England. Yet that's not strange, when you think how tiny England is, compared with other countries, and how things have gone on happening there every minute since the Phoenicians found it a snug little island. Its chapters of history have to be packed like sardines, beginning down, down, far deeper than Kipling's "twelve coffins."
One Surrey village telleth another, just to slip through in a motor-car, though none could ever be tiresome in the telling; but if one stopped to hear the real story of each one, how different they would all be! There would be grand chapters of fighting, and mysterious chapters of smuggling—oh, but long ones about smuggling, since most of the manors and half the old cottages have "smugglers' rooms," where the lace and spirits used to be hidden, in their secret journey from Portsmouth to London. It's difficult to believe in these thrilling chapters now, in the rich, placid county, where the only mystery floats in the veil of blue mist that twists like a gauze scarf around the tree trunks in the woods, and the only black spots are the dark downs in the distance, with the sky pale gold behind them.
You would love motoring, not only for what you do see, but for what you nearly see, and long to see, but can't—just as Dad used to say "Thank God for all the blessings I've never had!" Why, every road you don't go down looks fantastically alluring, just twice as alluring as the one you are in. You grudge missing anything, and fear, greedily, that there may be better villages with more history beyond the line of your route. It's no consolation when Mrs. Norton says, "Well, you can't see everything!" You want to see everything. And you wish you had eyes all the way round your head. It would be inconvenient for hair and hats, but you could manage somehow.
We had to go through Petworth, a most feudal-looking old place, reeking of history since the Confessor, and mentioned in the Domesday Book (I do so respect towns or houses mentioned in the Domesday Book!), and if it had been the right day we could have seen Lord Leconsfield's collection of pictures, some of the best in England; but it was the wrong day, so we sailed on out of Surrey into Sussex, and arrived at Bignor.
All I knew about Bignor was that I must expect something amazing there. Sir Lionel asked me not to read about it in the books of which we have a travelling library in the car—one at least for each county we shall visit. He said he "wanted Bignor to be a surprise" for me; and it is odd the way one finds oneself obeying that man! Not that one's afraid of him, but—well, I don't know why exactly, but one just does it. We didn't stop in the village, though there was the quaintest grocery shop there you can imagine, perfectly mediaeval; and in the churchyard yew trees grand enough to make bows for half the archers of England—if there were any in these days. We went on to quite a modern-looking farmhouse, and Sir Lionel said, "I am going to ask Mrs. Tupper if she will give us a little lunch. If she says 'yes,' it's sure to be good."
"I don't know any Tuppers, Lionel," objected Mrs. Norton. "Who are they?"
"Relatives of Martin Tupper, if that name recalls anything to your mind," said he.
Mrs. Norton had a vague idea that she had been more or less brought up on extracts from Martin Tupper, and seemed to associate him with Sundays, when, as a child, she hadn't been allowed to play. But that didn't explain how Lionel happened to know connections of his in a Sussex farmhouse. Besides, he couldn't possibly have seen them for more than fifteen years.
"That is true, and I only saw them once, even then," he admitted. "But Mrs. Tupper had been here for a good many years, engaged in the most delightful work, which you will hear about by and by; and I'm sure she is here still, and will be for many more years to come, because I don't want to imagine the place without her."
Mrs. Norton said no more, and her brother knocked on the door of the farmhouse, which stood hospitably open. In a minute, a dear old white-haired lady appeared, and instantly her face lighted up.
"Why, if it isn't Mr. Pendragon—I mean Sir Lionel—come back to see us again!" said she.
Sir Lionel grew red with pleasure, at being remembered by her, for apparently he hadn't at all expected it. He seems to forget that he is a celebrity, and generally doesn't like being reminded of the fact, but he was pleased that Mrs. Tupper had read about him in the papers from time to time, and had never forgotten his face.
She said she would be delighted to provide us with lunch, if we didn't mind a simple one; and then she would have gone on to say something which would have given the "surprise" away, if Sir Lionel hadn't stopped her.
We had delicious country things to eat, with real Surrey cream and apple dumplings. They did taste good after the elaborate French cooking in London, by way of contrast! Then, when we had finished, Sir Lionel said, "Now, Mrs. Tupper, can you take us for a stroll round the farm?"
That didn't sound exciting, did it? We walked out, and it seemed a very nice farm, but nothing remarkable. As we wandered toward some sheds, in a field of mangolds, Sir Lionel made us look up at a big hill, and said, "There was a Roman camp there. If you'd stood where you stand now, on a quiet night in those times, you could have heard the clanking of armour or the soldiers quarrelling over their dice. Here Roman Stane Street ran, and chariots used to stop to bring the latest news from Rome to the owner of the villa."
"Was there a villa?" asked Mrs. Norton, who thinks it polite to ask her brother questions, whether she is interested or not.
"Let's take a look into this shed," said he, by way of answer. And, there, protected by that rough roof, was a great stretch of splendid mosaic pavement. It was done in circular compartments of ornamentation, and in one was a beautiful head of Ganymede—in another, Winter. Alas, I shouldn't have known what they were if I hadn't been told, but I would have known that they were rare and wonderful.
This was the "surprise." This was the secret of Bignor; but it wasn't nearly all. There were lovely broken pillars, and lots more pavements, acres of mosaic, it seemed; for the villa had been large and important, and must have been built by a rich man with cultivated taste. He knew how to make exile endurable, did that Roman gentleman! Standing in his dining-hall, I could imagine him and his fair lady-wife sitting at breakfast, looking out from between white, glittering pillars at the Sussex downs, grander than those of Surrey, reminding me of great, brave shoulders raised to protect England. Now we knew what Mrs. Tupper's "delightful work" was! For forty-nine years she has cleaned the mosaic pavement of the vanished Roman villa, all of which were discovered by the grandfather of the present owner of the farm. Never once has she tired of looking at the mosaics, because, as she explained to us, "one doesn't tire of what is beautiful." There speaks true appreciation, doesn't it? Only a born lover of the beautiful could have said that so simply.
There was an Italian, a man from Venice, repairing the mosaic. He could hardly speak a word of English, and beamed with a sudden smile when I asked him some question in his native tongue. We talked awhile, and I translated several things he said to Sir Lionel and his sister. I'm ashamed to confess, dear, that I was pleased to show off my poor little accomplishment, and proud because I knew one thing which our famous man didn't. Wasn't that low of me?
"Well, you weren't disappointed in my surprise, I think?" said Sir Lionel, when we were starting away at last.
I just gave him one look. It really wasn't necessary to answer.
As we flashed on, through country always exquisite, and over perfect roads, I could think of nothing but Bignor, until suddenly, after passing through a long aisle of great beeches, like an avenue in a private park, a tremendous bulk of stone looming at me made me jump, and cry out, "Oh!"
Sir Lionel turned his head long enough for half a smile. "Arundel Castle," he said.
It's lucky for me that Mrs. Norton doesn't know much about any part of England except her own home, and the homes of her particular friends, or else she would always be explaining things to me, and I should hate that. It would be like having purple hot-house grapes handed out to one impaled on the prongs of a plated silver fork. I should have wanted to slap her, if she had told me I was looking at Arundel Castle, but I was grateful to her brother for the information. This was a wickedness in me; but if you knew how I felt, having started out from the Ritz expecting a quiet day's run through one or two of the garden counties of England, to come like this, bang into the midst of Roman villas, and under the shadow of a tenth-century castle-keep, maybe you'd excuse my morals for being upset.
You can't have centuries roll away, like a mere cloud of dust raised by your motor, and be perfectly normal, can you? I tried to seem calm, because I hate to be gushing and school-girlish (for Ellaline's sake, I suppose, as it can't make any difference what her Dragon thinks of me), but I'm pretty sure he saw that I was rather "out of myself" over all his surprises.
He stopped the motor, and we sat for a long time gazing up at the towers beyond the green and silver beeches—a pile of battlemented stone, looking like the Middle Ages carved in granite, yet more habitable to-day than ever before.
We had lunched early, and had plenty of time, so we walked through the park, which made me feel that England must be rather big, after all, to have room for thousands of such parks—even much larger ones—and all its great cities—and miles and miles of farms and common land, and mere "country."
When we lived in New York, you and Dad and I, we used to joke about the way we should feel in England if we should ever go to visit Dad's ancestral Devonshire. We used to pretend that, after being accustomed to the vast distances of America, we should be afraid of tumbling off the edge of England; but so far I find that I don't dread that imminent peril. Just now England seems so vast that my only fear is I mayn't have time to reach the Roman Wall.
The Duke's midges bit us a good deal, in the park, so we didn't linger, but went back to Apollo, where Young Nick's remarkable appearance had attracted a crowd of boys and girls from Arundel town. They stood in the road gaping at him, with that steady, unblinking stare English children and French grown-ups have, while the brown image sat motionless in the car, as scornfully oblivious of his critics as if he'd been the idol he looked.
Poor Sir Lionel hates the attention his extraordinary little chauffeur excites, for, in spite of his long expatriation, he loathes being conspicuous in any way as heartily as other Englishmen do. But (Mrs. Norton has told me) he saved Young Nick from being murdered by someone who was a "family enemy." Since then—it was when Nick was scarcely more than a child—the brown image has worshipped the Dragon, and refused to be separated from him. When Sir Lionel proposed providing for him well, and leaving him behind, Nick made no complaints, but began industriously to starve himself to death. So, of course, he had to be brought to England, and his master just makes the best of him, costume, features, broomstick legs, and all.
We had tea in a picture of Turner's: for Littlehampton, with its tidal river, its harbour and pier, its fishing boats and shining sails, its windmill, its goldy-brown sands, and its banked violet clouds, was a genuine Turner. Of course, he wouldn't have painted the Beach Hotel, in spite of its nice balconies, but we were glad it was there, and it didn't spoil the picture.
By that time, it was nearly half-past five, but we had hours of daylight before us, so we stopped for a look at Climping Church (don't you love the "ing" that shows a place has kept its Saxon name?) with its splendid Norman doorway and queer, long windows, shaped like open pods of peas beautifully ornamented round their edges. Thank goodness, there was nothing "perp" about it! I get so tired of "perp" things in guide books.
Slinden we glanced at, too, a most idyllic village, garrisoned with the noblest beeches I ever saw. Hilaire Belloc, whose "Path to Rome" we liked so much, stayed at Slinden, writing delightful things about Sussex. I mean to get and read all I can, because, even in the glimpse I've had, I can see that Sussex has a character, as well as a charm, individually its own. The Downs give it, and make you feel that a true man of Sussex would be frank, warm-hearted, simple and brave, with old-fashioned ways which, with a pleasant obstinacy, he would be loath to change. I heard Mrs. Tupper quote two or three quaint proverbs which were new to me, but Sir Lionel said they were old, almost, as the Sussex downs, and as racy of the soil. I always associated Brighton with Sussex, which made it seem a sophisticated county: but you see, true Sussex—the Downs—stands all independent and sturdy, between the pleasure-places by the sea and the snug Weald.
The faces we passed didn't look like faces descended from smugglers, they seemed so kind and good; but then, of course, smuggling was quite a respectable industry in Sussex, where the secretive formation of the coast clearly showed that Providence had meant it to epict. I love the Sussex downs, I like the Sussex faces, and I admire the Sussex church spires—tall and pointed, covered with lichened shingles.
We stopped at Boxgrove, too, a church adored by architects; and as we went our way to Goodwood the sea was a torn sheet of silver seen behind great downs which the afternoon sun was gilding. Oh, the Lebanon cedars and the views of Goodwood! If I were there for the races, I think not even the finest horses, the most beautiful women, and the prettiest frocks in England could hold my eyes long from that view. I can shut my eyes now—the day after—and see those Lebanon cedars black against an opal sky. Another picture I can see, too, is Bosham Church, standing up tall and pure as a gray nun singing an Ave Maria beside the clear water. It comes back to me from my studies of English history that Vespasian had a villa there, and that Harold sailed from Bosham. Do you know, he's in the act of doing it on the Bayeux tapestry? Once, the Danes stole the Bosham church bells, and the dear things still ring at the bottom of the sea, because the robber ship was wrecked, and went down with the chime, in mid channel. I like that story. It matches the picture and the tapestry.
Our day stopped at Chichester, and my letter must stop, too, for all this I tell you of was only yesterday. We arrived last evening, and now it's nearly midnight of the next day. I began to write just after dinner, sitting in my dear old-fashioned room, and if I don't soon say good-night I shan't get much beauty sleep. To-morrow morning, at half-past nine, we're going on; but before we start I'll scribble a Chichester postscript. So you see, I must be up bright and early, especially as I mean to fly out for one more glimpse of the cathedral—though I spent most of this afternoon in it.
I wonder if you are sparing a few minutes to-night to dream of
P. S.—Eight-twenty in the morning, and I've been up for two hours.
You'd like Chichester immensely. I don't say "love," for it hasn't engaged my affections, somehow; but I do love the beautiful jewel of a market cross, and some of the tombs in the cathedral. The cross is quite a baby compared with lots of others, it seems, being only just born at the time Henry VIII. was cutting off pretty ladies' heads when he had tired of their hearts. Several tombs are so lovely, you almost want to be dead, and have one as like as possible; but, though part of the cathedral is satisfyingly old (eleventh century), its new spire reminds one of a badly chosen hat, and the whole building somehow looks cold and dull, like a person with a magnificent profile who never says anything illuminating.
As for Chichester itself, except the market cross, the only thing that has touched my heart was St. Mary's Hospital, surely the quaintest old almshouse on earth. The town has rather a self-conceited air to me, and unless one were wise, one mightn't realize without being informed that it's immemorably old. Of course, though, if one were wise, one would know the Romans had had a hand in the making or re-making of it, because of the geometric, regular way in which it's built. Sir Lionel Pendragon told me that. He seems to remember all he ever learned, whereas ever so many little bundles are already knocking about in dusty corners of my brain, with their labels lost.
There couldn't be a more thrilling road than the road along which we came to Chichester, and by which we will leave it in a few minutes now. Think of Roman Stane Street, and listen for the rumble of ghostly chariot wheels! Then—if you've not come this way for Goodwood races—you can throw your mind a little further ahead to the days of the crusaders and the pilgrims; and to kings' processions glittering with gold and glossy with velvets; to armies on their way to fight; and further ahead, to coaches plying along the Portsmouth road. I wonder how many people in the hundreds of motors that flash back and forth each day do think of it all? I pity those who don't, because they lose a thought that might embroider their world with rich colours.
P.P.S.—I met Sir Lionel, accidentally, of course, in the cathedral this morning, where he, too, was saying good-bye to the most fascinating of the old tombs. And wasn't it odd, we had the same favourites? They looked even nicer and queerer than yesterday, with no Mrs. Norton to spatter inappropriate remarks about.
We walked back to the hotel together, and he asked me, just as we were coming in, whether my allowance was enough, or would I like to have more?
I had burst out that it was heaps, before I stopped to realize that he was asking that question really of Ellaline, not of me. Perhaps I ought to have temporized, and said I would make up my mind in a few days—meanwhile writing to her. I suppose she must be quite an heiress; but he can't be as mercenary as she thinks, or he wouldn't have made such a suggestion.
I'm called! The motor's ready. I'll post this from the hotel.
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Southsea, July 19th
Dearest: This address isn't part of our plan of campaign. We'd meant to pass through, after pausing on the way just long enough to see Portsmouth Harbour, and Dickens's birthplace; but we've stopped here on my account, and now I wish we hadn't. I'll tell you why, in a minute; but if I don't mention a few other things first, they'll be crowded out, and I shall forget them.
After we'd seen the birthplace, and were seeing the harbour, Sir Lionel asked if I'd care to go on board a man-o'-war. Of course, my answer was "Yes"; and he said there was an old friend of his whom he would like to see, Captain Starlin, of the Thunderer, so he'd ask for an invitation.
He scribbled things in pencil on a visiting-card, and sent it on board the big gray monster, by a nice low-necked sailor. Of course, the invitation which came back was most cordial, and even Mrs. Norton appeared pleased with the idea of going over the ship. We were received by the Captain himself—rather a young-looking man, whose complexion seemed to have slipped down, like Sir Lionel's, both their foreheads being quite white, and the rest of their faces tanned brown. He took us everywhere, showing us interesting things, and presently said that, not only must we dine with him that evening, but must stay to a dance that was to be given on board afterward.
"Oh, many thanks, but we're only motoring through, and go on this afternoon," began Sir Lionel. Then he stopped short, and looked at me. "Would you like to dance?" he asked.
"She hasn't anything to wear, if she would," Mrs. Norton answered for me. "You were so strict about luggage, we've only two evening dresses apiece, plain things for hotel dinners, nothing at all suitable to a dance."
"Didn't you buy her anything good enough for dances that day in Bond Street?" snapped the Dragon.
"You bought her several things almost too good for dances, at her age," retaliated the Dragon's sister, but only in a gentle coo. "They're left at the Ritz, awaiting instructions to go on to Graylees, with most of our things, and will probably be all beggars' creases before she has a chance to wear them."
"She shall have a chance to wear any or all of them to-night, if she wants to dance," said Sir Lionel.
"Of course she wants to dance," chimed in Captain Starlin. "Did you ever see a young lady who didn't want to dance, especially on a man-o'-war?"
"Do you want to?" repeated the Dragon.
Between them I was quite dashed, and murmured something non-committal about its being very nice, if it had been convenient, but——
"There is no 'but,'" said Ellaline's guardian. "That settles it. We stop the night in Southsea, where there's no doubt a good hotel; and I will send someone immediately to the Ritz for your boxes, Emily—and yours." He never calls me by name if he can help it.
Emily was inclined to object that it would be foolish to send, and we didn't want all our things anyway, till her brother gave her a look—not cross, but—well, just one of his looks that make you do things, or stop doing them, whichever he pleases; and she didn't say any more.
I can't help rather liking his masterful ways, though they're old-fashioned now that we're all supposed to think we need votes more than frocks; but this time it really would have been ungrateful of me to disapprove, as the whole fuss was being made for me. And I was dying to go to the dance!
We went quickly back to the motor, spun into Southsea, and before the female contingent knew exactly what was happening to it, rooms were engaged for the night, and a "responsible person" despatched by the first train to town, with a letter demanding certain articles of our luggage.
I was quite excited about the evening, but outwardly was "more than usual calm," as we wandered here and there, after luncheon, seeing Southsea—which must, by the way, be a most convenient place for girls, as they can choose between Navy and Army, or play with both if they are pretty enough. Just as we were going to have a run out to Hayling Island in the car, whom should we meet in the street, close to our hotel, but Mrs. Senter and Dick Burden.
She was looking very fetching and young, almost like a girl, certainly as unlike an aunt as possible. And, mother, I know it wasn't an accident. I don't mean about her being an aunt, of course, but being in Southsea and meeting us.
The day she called, in London, when Sir Lionel was in Warwickshire, I heard her asking Mrs. Norton questions about our route; and when dear Emily mentioned Winchester, she said, "Oh, won't you be passing through Southsea?"
Mrs. Norton answered in her vague little way that she was sure she didn't know. Then Mrs. Senter went on to say that she and Dick were invited to stay at a house near Southsea, and she thought they would probably accept. Perhaps, if they did, we might meet. But, as I wrote you, I thought it more likely we wouldn't, unless Sir Lionel should seem keen when he heard; and he didn't. He apparently took no interest whatever when his sister repeated the conversation to him next day.
Well, I'm sure Mrs. Senter made up her mind to accept her friend's invitation (even if she didn't ask for one) the minute she found out that we were likely soon to pass Southsea. She must have known we would be sure to stop for a look round Portsmouth and the neighbourhood, and thought the chance worth taking. If she hadn't, she would have stopped in London till the end of the season, no doubt, for she's the kind of person who lives for Society, and only cares for the country when it's the fashion to be in it.
I wouldn't be a bit surprised if she'd been patrolling the streets of Portsmouth and Southsea for a day or two, in the hope of running across us sooner or later. Or, as Dick Burden fancies himself in the part of a detective, perhaps he hit upon some surer way of getting at us.
Those two, aunt and nephew, play into each other's hands beautifully. Mamma, it seems, is visiting in Scotland at the moment, so they hunt in couples. How long "Aunt Gwen" has been a widow the saints may know; I don't—but anyway she has begun to "take notice," as people say about bright little babies. She has looked up Sir Lionel in Debrett, and marked him with a red cross for her own, I believe. Such impudence! A woman like that, to dare think of trying to grab a man of his position and record! She ought to know how unsuitable she would be for him.
As for Dick, of course he wants to flirt with me; but wait—wait till you hear the latest developments.
Sir Lionel seemed neither pleased nor displeased at the meeting, but he could not have suspected it was more than an accident, for he remarked that it was odd we should run up against each other like this!
Mrs. Senter said yes, indeed, it was, she was never more surprised in her life, though really it would have been odd, when one came to think of it, if we hadn't met, since she and Dick were stopping with friends on Hayling Island, and were constantly in Southsea.
"Do let me write a note to my friend Captain Starlin, and get you all invitations to the Thunderer dance to-night," she tacked on to the tail of her explanation.
"He's an old friend of mine, too," said Sir Lionel, "and we've not only invitations already, but have accepted them, and sent for my sister's and Miss Lethbridge's clothes."
Her face fell a little for an instant when she heard we'd sent for clothes, as probably Emily and I would have suited her better in our worst things; but she brightened up and said how pleased she was, because she and Dick were both going, and now they would really look forward to the dance; Dick had been bored with the idea before.
Well, the boxes came in good time, and the Bond Street darlings weren't crushed in the least, because I had put them to bed so nicely with sheets and pillows of tissue paper. I decided to wear a pink chiffon, with tiny button roses laid like a dainty frame all round the low neck and where the sleeves ought to have been but weren't. The chiffon's embroidered with roses to match. Can you imagine me in such a dream? I can't. But it suits me, rather. I wore pink shoes and stockings and gloves, all of the same shade, and poor Emily in gray silk, with her hair done in an aggressively virtuous way, looked like a cross between an Anglican nun and a tourist economizing luggage. Yet she wouldn't have been shocked if her brother'd had a harem in Bengal, because it was "good form." But of course, as she says, one is obliged to excuse things in men.
It was very amusing having dinner in the Captain's room, which was large and quite charming, with curtains and frilly silk cushions, and heaps of framed, signed photographs, and books, almost as if a woman had arranged it. But he told us one felt the motion there, more than anywhere else, in a storm; which must be some consolation to the "middies" who have to work for years before they can ever hope for such luxurious quarters.
Mrs. Senter and Dick weren't at dinner, which was one comfort. Besides ourselves, there were only the Captain's married sister, who had come from town for the dance, and her husband. The husband's an earl—Lord Knaresbrook; rather old; but Lady Knaresbrook is young, frightfully pretty, and knows it. She flirted fascinatingly at dinner with Sir Lionel; not as Mrs. Senter flirts, flickering her eyelashes, saying smart things as if to amuse him alone, and hang everyone else!—but just looking at him, with gorgeous, starry eyes; asking a question now and then, and listening with all her soul. I'm not sure it isn't an equally effective way, especially when done in a diamond tiara by a countess under twenty-five. I should quite have enjoyed watching it if Sir Lionel had been a stranger, but knowing him somehow made me feel 'pon honour not to look, and rather restless. I do believe that, compared with some of these men, who've been at the other end of the world for years doing important political things, Samson with his hair all cropped off was adamant to Lovely Woman!
Naturally, I had to have something to look at, and I couldn't look at Lord Knaresbrook because the shape of his nose worried me; and anyhow he wanted to talk to Emily about people they both knew. Such exciting bits as this floated to my ears: "Ah, yes, he was the great-grandson of Lord This. She married the Duke of That's second cousin." So I looked a good deal at Captain Starlin, and he looked at me and not at very much else, which was quite easy, the most important lady being his own sister, who took the place of hostess; so Mrs. Norton was on his right and I on his left. As he was our host, and evidently wanted to flirt a little, I thought it my duty to gratify his wish, and played up to him. That was quite right, wasn't it? I'm sure you'll say yes, as you are a Parisienne, and have brought me up to do unto others as I would be done by. But several times I happened to catch Sir Lionel's eyes, and they had a gloomy glint in them; not angry, but as if he'd discovered a screw loose in me. I felt as uncomfortable as you do with a smudge on your nose, which you see in shop-window mirrors when you've forgotten your handkerchief; but it was too late to change my behaviour suddenly, so I went on as I had begun.
We mere females didn't leave the men at the table, perhaps because there wasn't any place where it would have been proper for us to wander unmanned. We sat for hours, and Lady Knaresbrook smoked, and wanted us to smoke, though of course she must have known that no woman with her hair done like Emily's would. Emily looked shocked, but just pressed in her lips, and didn't disapprove out aloud, as she might if Lady Knaresbrook had been plain "Mrs." But afterward she told me she was now ready to believe "all they say" about Diana Knaresbrook. Just because she smoked! Mrs. Norton could find immorality in a hard-boiled egg if she looked for it.
At last we went above, or whatever you call it on a ship, and everything had been made beautiful with flags and bunting; but nothing was as beautiful as those sailor men themselves, especially the middies. I felt like their mother (I hope that's not unmaidenly?) and should have loved to smooth their hair and pat them on the cheek—of which, by the way, they had plenty!
A good many were introduced to me; and Dick brought his aunt very early, because, he said, he didn't want to find all my dances gone. You can believe I hadn't saved any for him! But as a matter of fact, I had kept back two, thinking Sir Lionel might ask me; for after his many kindnesses I shouldn't have liked to seem not to want to dance with him, you see. When he didn't ask at first, I supposed it might be because he wasn't a dancing man (horrid expression!—sounds like a trained bear); but presently I saw him waltzing with Lady Knaresbrook; and he danced beautifully, as if he'd done nothing else all those years in Bengal. Then I said to myself: "He's vexed with me because he thinks I behaved badly at dinner, and perhaps I did." And I almost hoped he would suggest sitting out a dance, so that we could talk.
But then Dick came; and when he found I had two dances he wanted them both. "There are things I must tell you," he said. And mother, it's easy to see that the creature has some talent as a detective, because he guessed at once why I'd been saving those dances.
"It's no good keeping anything up your sleeve for Pendragon," said he, in his perky way, as if he were on an equality with the ex-Lieutenant-Governor of East Bengal. "He won't ask you to dance. He thinks you're a little girl, and is leaving you to little boys, like me, which is quite right. The only woman he's ever taken any interest in for the last fifteen years is Aunt Gwen. And you can't say he doesn't show good taste."
I couldn't, especially as Mrs. Senter was looking like the heroine of a novel which you'd be sure to forbid my reading; so I gave him the dances, partly for that reason and partly because I was cowardly enough to want to hear what he had to tell. Just at the moment he couldn't say more, though, because a sweet brown lamb of a middy came and whirled me away. So it went on for half the evening, until it was nearly time for Dick Burden's first dance, and I was sitting down to breathe (after a furious galop, which didn't go at all well with a Directoire dress), beside Mrs. Norton, who had the air of thinking a ballroom a sort of pound for lost souls.
Up came Sir Lionel as if to speak to her, and—I don't know what made me do it—I said, "I saved a dance for you, but you never asked me for it, so I gave it to someone else."
His face got red. Perhaps he thought I was lecturing him for being rude.
"Did you give it to Starlin?" he asked, bluntly.
"No. I've had mine with Captain Starlin. To Mr. Burden," said I.
"Do you want to dance it with him?"
"Not at all."
"Chuck him, then, and dance it with me. I should like to talk to you."
"That's what he said."
"Do you want to hear what he's got to say?"
(Well, you know, dear, I had wanted to; but suddenly I felt as if Dick didn't matter more than a fly, nor did any one else except the person I was talking to. You do feel like that with these quiet, masterful sort of people, whether you care for them or not. It's just a kind of momentary hypnotism; or, at least, that's the definition I've been giving myself.)
"I don't want to hear what he's got to say," my hypnotized Me answered, in the queer, abrupt way in which we had begun snapping out little short sentences to each other. "I'm sure he couldn't say anything really interesting."
"Don't you like Dick Burden?"
"Then the dance is mine. Which is it?"
"The next. Here he comes now. I see the top of his head, over the shoulder of that youth with the collar of a curate and the face of a convict."
The Dragon smiled benevolently at my wicked description of a comparatively inoffensive person, and whisked me off.
"Are you offended with me?" I asked, as we waltzed a weird but heavenly Hungarian waltz (made in Germany).
"Why do you ask that?" he wanted to know.
"Because you looked offended at dinner. What had I done? Eaten something with the wrong fork?"
"You had done nothing I oughtn't to have been prepared to see you do."
"What ought you to be prepared to see me do?"
"It doesn't matter now."
"It does. If you don't tell me, I shall scream 'Murder' at the top of my lungs, and then you'll have to speak."
"I certainly wouldn't. I'd bundle you home at once."
"I haven't got any home."
"My home is yours, till you marry."
"Or you do."
"Don't talk nonsense." (He was probably going to say "Tommy-rot" but considered such striking words unfit for the ear of a debutante. This was my debut, I suppose? My very first ball.)
"Then tell me what you were unprepared for in me."
"I was prepared for it at first, before I saw you. But——"
"Well, if you will have it, for your flirting."
Suddenly I felt impish, and said, innocently, that I supposed it was what girls came on board men-o'-war to do, so I had only done my best to please. By this time we'd stopped dancing, and were sitting down. I'd forgotten Dick Burden.
"It all depends upon the point of view," he answered, with rather a disgusted air.
"My point of view is," said I, gravely, "that soldiers as well as sailors should approve of flirting, because flirtation is a warlike act; a short incursion into the enemy's country, with the full intention of getting back untouched."
"Ah, but what of the enemy?" suggested the Dragon.
"He can always take care of himself on such incursions."
"So that's the theory? And at nineteen you have enlisted in that army?"
"The great army of flirts."
I couldn't keep it up any longer, for I had really started in to explain, not to joke. And you know, dear, that flirting as a profession wouldn't be in my line at all.
"Do I look like a flirt?" I asked.
"No. You don't," said he. "And I was beginning to hope——"
"Please go on hoping, then," I said. "Because I didn't want to behave badly. If I did, it was because I don't quite know the game yet. And I wanted to tell you that I didn't really mean to be silly and schoolgirlish, and disgrace you and Mrs. Norton."
Then it was his turn to apologize, and he did it thoroughly. He said that I hadn't been silly, and so far from disgracing him, he was proud of me—"proud of his ward." It was only that I seemed so much more womanly and companionable than he'd expected, that he couldn't bear to see in me, or think he saw, any likeness whatever to inferior types of woman. Whereupon I had the impertinence to ask why he'd expected me to be inferior; but the only explanation I could get him to make was that he didn't know much about girls. Which he had remarked before.
We'd sat out two dances before we—I mean I—knew it; and nobody had dared to come near us, because a middy can't very well snatch a partner out of a celebrity's pocket. And Dick, too, though he seems to have the courage of most of his convictions, drew the line at that. But suddenly I did remember. I smiled at a hovering laddie with the most smoothly polished hair you ever saw, just like a black helmet; and when the laddie had swung me away in the Merry Widow waltz Sir Lionel went back to Mrs. Senter. Rather an appropriate air for her to dance to, I thought. I do pray I'm not getting kitten-catty? Anyhow, I'm not in my second kittenhood!
You will be wondering by this time why I'm sorry we stayed at Southsea, when it was all for me, and I seem to have been having the "time of my life." But I'm coming to the part you want to know about.
I thought perhaps Dick Burden would be vexed at my going off with Sir Lionel, under his nose, just as he was ready to say "my dance." However, he walked up to me as if nothing had happened, when it was time for the second, so I didn't apologize. I thought it best to let sleeping partners lie.
We danced a little, but Dick, who is one-and-twenty, doesn't waltz half as well as Sir Lionel, who is forty; and he saw that I thought so. Presently he asked if I'd rather sit out the rest, and I answered, yes; so he said he would tell me the things he had to say. He found a quiet place, which must have looked as if deliberately selected for a desperate flirtation; and then he didn't do much beating about the bush. He just told me that he knew everything. He'd partly "detected" it, and partly found out by chance; but of course he made the most of the detecting bit.
Don't be frightened and get a palpitation at the news, dearest; it isn't worth it. There's going to be no flare-up. Of course, if I were the heroine of a really nice melodrama, in such a scene as Dick and I went through, I should have been accompanied by slow music, with lime-light every time I turned my head, which would have heartened me up very much; while Dick would have had villain music—plink, plink, plunk! But I did as well as I could without an accompaniment, and I think, on the whole, managed the business very well.
You see, I had to think of Ellaline. I dared not let her out of my mind for a single instant, for if I should fail her now, at the crucial time, it would be my fault if her love story burst and went up the spout. If I'd stopped thinking of her, and saying in my mind while Dick talked, "I must save Ellaline, no matter what happens to me!" I should certainly have boxed his ears and told him to go to limbo.
He began by telling me that he'd met a friend of mine, a Miss Bennett—Kathy Bennett. Oh, mother, just for a minute my heart beat under my pretty frock like a bird caught in a child's hand! You remember my writing you what a friendship Ellaline and Kathy struck up, before Kathy left school to go back to England, and how she sent Ellaline cuttings from the London Radical papers about Sir Lionel Pendragon in Bengal? I do think it's almost ungentlemanly of so many coincidences to happen in connection with what I'm trying to do for Ellaline. But Kathy's such a lump, it's too great a compliment to call her a coincidence. Anyhow, Dick met her in town, at a tea party (a "bun worry," he called it) where he went with his dear Aunt Gwen; and when Kathy mentioned being at school at Madame de Maluet's, he asked if she knew Miss Lethbridge. She said of course she did, and she thought Ellaline was a "very naughty little thing" not to write or come and see her. She had read in the papers about the arrival of Sir Lionel with his sister and ward, you see.