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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Green Carnation - Chapter II
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The Green Carnation - Chapter II Post by :monstercovers Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Hichens Date :April 2012 Read :2725

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The Green Carnation - Chapter II

CHAPTER II

"Jim won't be back till very late, I expect," said Mrs. Windsor to her cousin, as they passed through the hall that night about twelve o'clock, after their return from the opera. "I am tired, and cannot go to my parties. Come to my room, Emily, and we will drink some Bovril, and have a talk. I love drinking Bovril in secret. It seems like a vice. And then it is wholesome, and vices always do something to one--make one's nose red, or bring out wrinkles, or spots, or some horror. Two cups of Bovril, Henderson," she added to the butler, in a parenthesis. "Take off your cloak, Emily, and lie down on this sofa. What a pity we can't have a fire. That is the chief charm of the English summer. It nearly always necessitates fires. But to-night it is really warm."

Lady Locke took off her cloak quietly, and laid it down on a chair. She looked fresh and healthy, but rather emotional. She had not been to "Faust" for such a long time, that to-night she had been deeply moved, despite the intercepting chatter of her companions. Mr. Amarinth's epigrams had been especially voluble during the garden scene.

"It has been a delightful evening," she said.

"Do you think so? I thought you would like Lord Reggie."

"I meant the music."

"The music! Oh! I see. Yes, 'Faust' is always nice; a little threadbare though, now. Old operas are like old bonnets, I always think. They ought to be remodelled, retrimmed from time to time. If we could keep Gounod's melodies now, and get them reharmonised by Saint-Saens or Bruneau, it would be charming."

"I think it is a mercy something stands still nowadays," said Lady Locke, lying down easily on the sofa, and leaning her dark head against the cushions. "If all the old-fashioned operas and pictures and books were swept away, like the old-fashioned people, we should have no landmarks at all. London is not the same London it was ten years ago."

Mrs. Windsor lifted her eyebrows.

"The same London! I should hope not. Why, Aubrey Beardsley and Mr. Amarinth had not been invented then, and 'The Second Mrs. Tanqueray' had never been written, and women hardly ever smoked, and----"

"And men did not wear green carnations," Lady Locke said.

Mrs. Windsor turned towards her cousin, and lifted her darkened eyebrows to her fair fringe.

"Emily, what do you mean? Ah! here is our Bovril! I feel so delightfully vicious when I drink it, so unconventional! You speak as if you disliked our times."

"I hardly know them yet. I have been a country cousin for ten years, you see. I am quite colonial."

"Poor dear child. How horrid. I suppose you have hardly seen chiffon. It must have been like death. But do you really object to the green carnation?"

"That depends. Is it a badge?"

"How do you mean?"

"I only saw about a dozen in the Opera House to-night, and all the men who wore them looked the same. They had the same walk, or rather waggle, the same coyly conscious expression, the same wavy motion of the head. When they spoke to each other, they called each other by Christian names. Is it a badge of some club or some society, and is Mr. Amarinth their high priest? They all spoke to him, and seemed to revolve round him like satellites around the sun."

"My dear Emily, it is not a badge at all. They wear it merely to be original."

"And can they only be original in a buttonhole way? Poor fellows."

"You don't understand. They like to draw attention to themselves."

"By their dress? I thought that was the prerogative of women."

"Really, Emily, you _are colonial. Men may have women's minds, just as women may have the minds of men."

"I hope not."

"Dear yes. It is quite common nowadays."

"And has Lord Reginald Hastings got a woman's mind?"

"My dear, he has a very beautiful mind. He is poetic, imaginative, and perfectly fearless."

"That's better."

"He dares do anything. He is not afraid of Society, or of what the clergy and such unfashionable and limited people say. For instance, if he wished to commit what copy-books call a sin, he would commit it, even if Society stood aghast at him. That is what I call having real moral courage."

Lady Locke sipped her Bovril methodically.

"I see," she said rather drily; "he is not afraid to be wicked."

"Not in the least; and how many of us can say as much? Mr. Amarinth is quite right. He declares that goodness is merely another name for cowardice, and that we all have a certain disease of tendencies that inclines us to certain things labelled sins. If we check our tendencies, we drive the disease inwards; but if we sin, we throw it off. Suppressed measles are far more dangerous than measles that come out."

"I see; we are to aim at inducing a violent rash that all the world may stare at."

Her cousin glanced at her for a moment with a tinge of uneasy inquiry. She was not very sharp, although she was very receptive of modern philosophy.

"Well," she said, a little doubtfully, "not quite that, I suppose."

"We are to sin on the house-top and in the street, instead of in the privacy of a room with the door locked. But what will the London County Council say?"

"Oh, they have nothing to do with our class. They only concern themselves with acrobats, and respectable elderly women who are fired from cannons. That is so right. Respectable elderly women do so much harm. Mr. Amarinth said to-night--in the garden scene, if you remember--that prolonged purity wrinkled the mind as much as prolonged impurity wrinkled the face. Nature forces us to choose whether we will spoil our faces with our sins, or our minds with our virtues. How true."

"And how original. This Bovril is very comforting, Betty; as reviving as--an epigram."

"Yes, my cook understands it. That must be so sweet for the Bovril--to be understood! Do you like Lord Reggie?"

"He has a beautiful face. How old is he? Twenty?"

"Oh no, nearly twenty-five. Three years younger than you are. That is all."

"He looks astonishingly young."

"Yes. He says that his sins keep him fresh. A sinner with a young lamb's heart among the full grown flocks of saints, you know. Such a quaint idea, so original."

"I want you to tell me which is original, Mr. Amarinth or Lord Reggie?"

"Oh! they both are."

"No, they are too much alike. When we meet with the Tweedledum and Tweedledee in mind, one of them is always a copy, an echo of the other."

"Do you think so? Well, of course Mr. Amarinth has been original longer than Lord Reggie, because he is nearly twenty years older."

"Then Lord Reggie is the echo. What a pity he is not merely vocal."

"What do you mean, dear?"

"Oh! nothing. And who started the fashion of the green carnation?"

"That was Mr. Amarinth's idea. He calls it the arsenic flower of an exquisite life. He wore it, in the first instance, because it blended so well with the colour of absinthe. Lord Reggie and he are great friends. They are quite inseparable."

"Yes."

"They are both coming down to stay with me in Surrey next week, and I want you to come too. I always spend a week in the country in June, a week of perfect rusticity. It is like a dear little desert in the oasis, you know. We do nothing, and we eat a great deal. Nobody calls upon us, and we call upon no one. We go to a country church on Sunday once, just for the novelty of it; and this year Mr. Amarinth and Lord Reggie are going to have a school treat. Last year they got up a mothers' meeting instead, and Mr. Amarinth read his last essay on 'The Wickedness of Virtue' aloud to the mothers. They so enjoyed it. One of them said to me afterwards, 'I never knew what religion really was before, ma'am.' They are so deliciously simple, you know. I call my stay in the desert 'the Surrey week.' It is such fun. You will come, won't you?"

Lady Locke was laughing almost against her will.

"Is Jim to be there?" she asked, putting the china bowl, that had held her Bovril, down upon the tiny table, covered with absurd silver knickknacks, at her side.

"Dear no. Jim stays in town, and has his annual rowdy-dowdy week. He looks forward to it immensely. Will you come?"

"If I may bring Tommy? I don't like to part from him. I am an old-fashioned mother, and quite fond of my boy."

"But that's not old-fashioned. It is our girls we dislike. We always take the boys everywhere. You must not mind close quarters. We live in a sort of big cottage that I have built near Leith Hill. We walk up the hill nearly every day after lunch. Tommy can play about with the curate's little boys. They all wear spectacles; but I believe they are quite nice-minded, so that will be all right, as you are so particular."

"And do green carnations bloom on the cottage walls?"

"My dear Emily, green carnations never bloom on walls at all. Of course they are dyed. That is why they are original. Mr. Amarinth says Nature will soon begin to imitate them, as she always imitates everything, being naturally uninventive. However, she has not started this summer yet."

"That is lazy of her."

"Yes. Well, good-night, dear. I am so glad you will come. Breakfast in your room at any time you like of course. Will you have tea or hock and seltzer?"

"Tea, please."

They kissed.

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