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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Green Carnation - Chapter IV
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The Green Carnation - Chapter IV Post by :nancy Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Hichens Date :April 2012 Read :2075

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The Green Carnation - Chapter IV

CHAPTER IV

During the few days that elapsed before the advent of the Surrey week, Lady Locke saw a great deal of Lord Reggie, and became a good deal troubled in her mind about him. He was strangely different from all the men and boys whom she had ever known, almost monstrously different, and yet he attracted her. There was something so young about him, and so sensitive, despite the apparent indifference to the opinion of the world, of which he spoke so often, and with such unguarded emphasis. Sometimes she tried to think that he was masquerading, and that a travesty of evil really concealed sound principles, possibly even evangelical tendencies, or a bias towards religious mania. But she was quickly undeceived. Lord Reggie was really as black as he painted himself, or Society told many lies concerning him. Of course Lady Locke heard nothing definite about him. Women seldom do hear much that is definite about men unrelated to them; but all the world agreed in saying that he was a scamp, that he was one of the wildest young men in London, and that he was ruining his career with both hands. Lady Locke hardly knew why she should mind, and yet she did mind. She found herself thinking often of him, and in a queer sort of motherly way that the slight difference in their ages did not certainly justify. After all, he was nearly twenty-five and she was only twenty-eight, but then he looked twenty, and she felt--well, a considerable age. She had married at seventeen. She had travelled, had seen something of rough life, had been in an important position officially owing to her dead husband's military rank. Then, too, she had suffered a bereavement, had seen a strong man, who had been her strong man, die in her arms. Life had given to her more of its realities than of its shams; and it is the realities that mark the passage of the years, and number for us the throbs in the great heart of time. Lady Locke knew that she felt much older than Lord Reggie would feel when he was twenty-eight, if he went on living at least as he was living now.

"Has he a mother?" she asked her cousin, Betty Windsor, one day as they were driving slowly down the long line of staring faces that filled the Park at five o'clock on warm afternoons in summer.

Mrs. Windsor, who was almost lost in the passion of the gazer, and who was bowing about twice a minute to passing acquaintances, or to friends rigid upon tiny green chairs, gave a quarter of her mind violently to her companion, and answered hurriedly--

"Two, dear, practically."

"Two!"

"Yes. His own mother divorced his father, and the latter has married again. The second Marchioness of Hedfield wrote to Lord Reggie the other day, and said she was prepared to be a second mother to him. So you see he has two. So nice for the dear boy."

"Do you think so? But his own mother--what is she like?"

"I don't know her. Nobody does. She never comes to town or stays in country houses. But I believe she is very tall, and very religious--if you notice, it is generally short, squat people who are atheists--and she lives at Canterbury, where she does a great deal of good among the rich. They say she actually converted one of the canons to a belief in the Thirty-Nine Articles after he had preached against them, and miracles, in the Cathedral. And canons are very difficult to convert, I am told."

"Then she is a good woman. And is Lord Reggie fond of her?"

"Oh yes, very. He spent a week with her last year, and I think he intends to spend another this year. She is very pleased about it. He and Mr. Amarinth are going down for the hop-picking."

"What a strange idea!"

"Yes, deliciously original. They say that hop-picking is quite Arcadian. Mr. Amarinth is having a little pipe made for him at Chappell's or somewhere, and he is going to sit under a tree and play old tunes by Scarlatti to the hop-pickers while they are at work. He says that more good can be done in that sort of way, than by all the missionaries who were ever eaten by savages. I don't believe much in missionaries."

"Do you believe in Mr. Amarinth?"

"Certainly. He is so witty. He gives one thoughts too, and that saves one such a lot of trouble. People who keep looking about in their own minds for thoughts are always so stupid. Mr. Amarinth gives you enough thoughts in an hour to last you for a couple of days."

"I doubt if they are worth very much. I suppose he gives Lord Reggie all his thoughts?"

"Yes, I dare say. He supplies half London, I believe. There is always some one of that kind going about. And as to his epigrams, they are in every one's mouth."

"That must make them rather monotonous," said Lady Locke, as the horses' heads were turned homewards, and they rolled smoothly towards Belgrave Square.

In the drawing-room they found a very thin, short-sighted looking woman sitting quietly, apparently engaged in examining the pictures and ornaments through a double eyeglass with a slender tortoise shell stalk, which she held in her hand. She had a curious face, with a long rather Jewish nose, and a thin-lipped mouth, a face wrinkled about the small eyes, above which was pasted a thick fringe of light brown hair covered with a visible "invisible" net.

"Madame Valtesi!" exclaimed Mrs. Windsor. "You have come in person to give me your answer about my week? That is charming. Are you coming out into the desert with us? Let me introduce my cousin, Lady Locke--Madame Valtesi."

The thin lady bowed peeringly. She seemed very blind indeed. Then she said, in a voice perhaps twenty years older than her middle-aged face, "How do you do? Yes, I will play the hermit with pleasure. I came to say so. You go down next Tuesday, or is it Wednesday?"

"On Wednesday. We shall be a charming little party, and so witty. Lord Reginald Hastings and Mr. Amarinth are both coming, and Mr. Tyler. My cousin and I complete the sextet. Oh! I had forgotten Tommy. But he does not count, not as a wit, I mean. He is my cousin's little boy. He is to play about with the curate's children. That will be so elevating for him."

"Delightful," said Madame Valtesi, with a face of stone. "No tea, thank you. I only stopped to tell you. I have three parties this afternoon. Good-bye. To-morrow morning I am going to get my trousseau for the desert, a shady garden hat, and gloves with gauntlets, and a walking-cane."

She gave a little croaking laugh with a cleverly taken girlish note at the end of it, and walked very slowly and quietly out of the room.

"I am so glad she can come," said Mrs. Windsor. "She makes our rustic party complete."

"We shall certainly be very rustic," said Lady Locke, with a smile, as she leaned back in her chair and took a cup of tea.

"Yes, deliciously so. Madame Valtesi goes everywhere. She is one of the most entertaining people in London. Nobody knows who she is. I have heard that she is a Russian spy, and that her husband was a courier, or a chef, or perhaps both. She has got some marvellous diamond earrings that were given to her by a Grand Duke, and she has lots of money. She runs a theatre, because she likes a certain actor, and she pays Mr. Amarinth's younger brother to go about with her and converse. He is very fat, and very uncouth, but he talks well. Madame Valtesi has a great deal of influence."

"In what department of life?"

"Oh--er--in every department, I believe. I really think my week will be a success this year. Last year it was rather a failure. I took down Professor Smith, and he had a fit. So inconsiderate of him. In the country, too, where it is so difficult to get a doctor. We had in the veterinary surgeon in a hurry, but all he could say was 'Fire him!' and as I was not very intimate with the Professor, I hardly liked to do that. He has such a very violent temper. This year we shall have a good deal of music. Lord Reggie and Mr. Amarinth both play, and they are arranging a little programme. All old music, you know. They hate Wagner and the moderns. They prefer the ancient church music, Mozart and Haydn and Paganini, or is it Palestrina? I never can remember--and that sort of thing, so refining. Mr. Amarinth says that nothing has been done in music for the last hundred years. Personally, I prefer the Intermezzo out of 'Cavalleria' to anything I ever heard, but of course I am wrong. You have finished? Then I think I shall go and lie down before dressing for dinner. It is so hot. A breath of country air will be delicious."

"Yes, I confess I am looking forward with interest to the Surrey week," said Lady Locke, still smiling.

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