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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Green Carnation - Chapter IX
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The Green Carnation - Chapter IX Post by :colynbh Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Hichens Date :April 2012 Read :998

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The Green Carnation - Chapter IX

CHAPTER IX

"Mother," said Tommy with exceeding great frankness, "I love Lord Reggie."

"My dear boy," Lady Locke said, "what a sudden affection! Why, to-day is only Friday, and you never met him until Wednesday. That is quick work."

"It's very easy," answered Tommy. "It doesn't take any time. Why should it?"

"Well, we generally get to like people very much gradually. We find out what they are by degrees, and consider whether they are worth caring for."

"I don't," said Tommy. "Directly he came to play at ball with me I loved him. Why shouldn't I?"

"Tommy, you are very direct," his mother cried, laughing. "Now you have finished breakfast, run out into the garden. I heard Mr. Smith's boys just now. I expect they are in the paddock."

"Athanasius doesn't play cricket badly," Tommy remarked meditatively, "only he caught a ball once on his spectacles. Lord Reggie would never have done that."

"Lord Reggie doesn't wear spectacles," said his mother.

Tommy looked at her seriously for a minute, as if he were taking in the relevance of this contention. Then he said--

"No, he's not such a bunger," and dashed off towards the paddock.

"Where does he get those words?" thought Lady Locke to herself, preparing to go to her own breakfast.

She found Lord Reggie alone in the room reading his letters. He was dressed in loose white flannel, and in the buttonhole of his thin jacket a big green carnation was stuck. It looked perfectly fresh.

"How do you manage to keep that flower alive so long?" asked Lady Locke, as they sat down opposite to one another. For there was no formality at this meal, and people began just when they felt inclined.

"I don't understand," Reggie answered, looking at her across his mushrooms.

"Why, you have worn it for two days already."

"This? No. Esme and I have some sent down every morning from a florist's in Covent Garden."

"Really! Is it worth while?"

"I think that sort of thing is the only sort of thing that is worth while. Most people are utterly wrong, they worship what they call great things. I worship little details. This flower is a detail. I worship it."

"Do you regard it as an emblem, then?"

"No. I hate emblems. The very word makes one think of mourning rings, and everlasting flowers, and urns, and mementoes of all sorts. Why are people so afraid of forgetting? There is nothing more beautiful than to forget, except, perhaps, to be forgotten. I wear this flower because its colour is exquisite. I have no other reason."

"But its colour is not natural."

"Not yet. Nature has not followed art so far. She always requires time. Esme invented this flower two months ago. Only a few people wear it, those who are followers of the higher philosophy."

"The higher philosophy! What is that?"

"The philosophy to be afraid of nothing, to dare to live as one wishes to live, not as the middle-classes wish one to live; to have the courage of one's desires, instead of only the cowardice of other people's."

"Mr. Amarinth is the high priest of this philosophy, I suppose?"

"Esme is the bravest man I know," said Reggie, taking some marmalade. "I think sometimes that he sins even more perfectly than I do. He is so varied. And he escapes those absurd things, consequences. His sin always finds him out. He is never at home to it by any chance. Why do you look at me so strangely?"

"Do I look at you strangely?" she asked, with a sudden curious nervousness. "Perhaps it is because you are so strange, so unlike the men whom I have been accustomed to. Your aims are different from theirs."

"That is impossible, Lady Locke."

"Impossible! Why?"

"Because I have no aims; I have only emotions. If we live for aims we blunt our emotions. If we live for aims, we live for one minute, for one day, for one year, instead of for every minute, every day, every year. The moods of one's life are life's beauties. To yield to all one's moods is to really live."

Mrs. Windsor's voice was heard outside at this moment, and Lady Locke put her napkin down upon the cloth and got up. In performing this action she left her hand on the table for an instant. Lord Reggie touched it with his. She immediately drew her hand away, and her face reddened slightly. But she said nothing, and went quietly out of the room.

Mrs. Windsor was outside speaking to one of the tall footmen. When she saw her cousin she jingled her keys languidly and smiled.

"Good morning, darling," she said. "I am arranging about the choir practice to-night. We are going to entertain all the dear little choir boys to supper afterwards, and they will sing catches, and so on, so delicious by moonlight. Mr. Amarinth has invented a new catch for them. And on Monday the schoolchildren are coming to tea on the lawn, and games. Mr. Amarinth says that charity always begins abroad, but one couldn't have a school treat in Belgrave Square, could one? It would be quite sacrilege, or bad form, which is worse. We must try and invent some new games. You and Lord Reggie must put your heads together."

"Thank you, Betty," Lady Locke said, moving rather hastily on toward the garden. Mrs. Windsor looked after her with the sudden sly suspicion of a stupid woman who fancies she is being discerning and clever.

"Something has happened," she thought. "Can Reggie have said anything already?"

She walked into the breakfast-room, where she found Lord Reggie alone.

He was holding up a table-spoon filled with marmalade to catch the light from a stray sunbeam that filtered in through the drawn blinds, and wore a rapt look, a "caught up" look, as Mrs. Windsor would have expressed it.

"Good morning," he said softly. "Is not this marmalade Godlike? This marvellous, clear, amber glow, amber with a touch of red in it, almost makes me believe in an after life. Surely, surely marmalade can never die!"

"I must have been mistaken," Mrs. Windsor thought, as she expressed her sense of the eternity of jams in general in suitable language.

Meanwhile Lady Locke had gone into the garden. The weather was quite perfect. England seemed to have made a special effort, and to have determined to show what she could do in the way of a summer. The sky had been well swept of clouds, and shimmered in the heat almost as if it had been varnished. The garden was revelling in the growing luxury of warmth. It never looked parched; Mrs. Windsor's gardeners were too agile with the hose for that. The hundreds of roses were letting out their perfume shyly, as pretty children let out their secrets. The carnations nodded to one another against the stone wall that was clothed with Espalier pear trees. The great cedar tree spread its arms out to catch the soft warm breeze in its embrace. Over the tree-tops the swallows were circling with their little characteristic air of discreet and graceful frivolity. Tennyson would doubtless have addressed them. Lady Locke did not even notice them. She was thinking, and too deeply to sit down.

She was in that strange condition of mind that is called being angry with one's self. A miniature civil war was raging within her, in which two mental voices abused one another, and asked one another the most strangely impertinent and inappropriate questions.

One said, "What on earth are you about?"

The other, "You have no right to ask. Mind your own business."

"You are letting yourself go in a way that is humiliating."

"Indeed, I am doing nothing of the kind."

"Why did you blush, then, when he merely touched your hand? He is simply a thoughtless, foolish boy."

"I shan't talk to you any more."

But still the urgent conversation went on within. Lady Locke was, in fact, very angry with herself, and considerably surprised at her own girlishness. For that was what she called it, for want of a better name. She was half disgusted at finding herself so young. Had life done nothing more for her than this? Was she still liable to become an easy prey to emotions that were undignified and inappropriate? It seemed as if her heart were clouded while her mind remained clear, for she saw Lord Reggie quite as he was, and yet she began to like him quite absurdly. Why she was attracted by him she could not conceive. Was it the swing of a Nature's pendulum? She had loved a hard, brusque man, and had found a certain satisfaction in his blunt and not too considerate affection; now she found something interesting in a nature that seemed boyish to softness, that was no doubt full of absurdity, that was, so people said, and he himself boasted, given over to vice, to the tasting of emotions that is unfortunately so dangerous, often so inhuman in its humanity. Perhaps it was really Lord Reggie's personal beauty or prettiness that attracted her, for, say what one will, a pretty boy steps easily into the good graces of even a strong-natured woman. Perhaps it was his fleeting air of weakness combined with daring that drew her to him. She could not tell. She only knew, as she walked among the shy roses, that the casual touch of his hand--a hand, too, that was very like a girl's--had communicated to her quite a startlingly strong emotion. Alas! the motherly feeling seemed to have had its little day, and to have been swept off the stage on which her mental drama was being acted. It had played a principal part, but now an understudy appeared, more full-blooded, stronger, wilder. Lady Locke was very angry with herself among the roses that morning.

She knew she was a fool, but she knew also that she had no intention of making a fool of herself. She had too much character, too much observation, both of others and of herself, to do that.

Madame Valtesi joined her presently, leaning on her cane and fanning herself rather languidly.

"Nature has gone into quite a vulgar extreme to-day," she said. "It is distinctly too hot for propriety. One wants to sit about in one's skeleton. I wonder what Mr. Amarinth's skeleton would be like--not quite nice, I fancy. I have had bad news by the post."

"Indeed! I am sorry."

"My dearest enemy has written to say that she is going to marry again. I did not wish her so much ill as that. It is really curious. If some people have been chastised with whips, they pine after scorpions. Women have such an unwholesome craving to experience the keenest edge of pain, that I believe many of them would cut themselves with knives, like the priests of Baal, if they could not get a husband to perform the operation for them."

"You speak rather bitterly of your sex."

"Do I? A nineteenth-century cynic minus vitriol would be like a goose minus sage and onions. I prefer to be a goose with those alleviations of the goose nature. My enemy married for money the first time, now she is going in for celebrity. The chief drawback to celebrity is that it is generally dressed in mourning; a kind of half mourning when it is notoriety only, and absolute weeds when it is fame. Why should cleverness and crape go together? People are so frightfully solemn when they have made a name, that it is like doing a term of hard labour to be with them for five minutes. Stupidity gives you a ticket-of-leave, and sheer foolish ignorance is complete emancipation, without even police supervision."

"I suppose it is always difficult not to take oneself seriously."

"I do not find it so. My mental proceedings generally strike me as the best joke I know, a sort of Moore and Burgess' performance, with corner men always asking riddles that nobody can ever answer. Mr. Amarinth is taking himself seriously this morning. He is composing a catch for the choir-boys to sing to-night after supper. It is to be parody, or, as he calls it, an elevation of 'Three blind mice,' and is to be about youth and life. It ought to be amusing."

"Mr. Amarinth is generally amusing."

"Yes, he has got hold of a good recipe for making the world laugh and think him clever. The only mistake he makes is, that he sometimes serves up only the recipe, and omits the dish that ought to be the result of it altogether. One cannot dine off a recipe, however good and ingenious it may be. It is like reading a guide-book at home instead of travelling. Dear me, it is too hot! I shall go and lie down and read Oscar Wilde's 'Decay of Lying.' That always sends me to sleep. It is like himself, all artfulness and no art."

She strolled languidly away, still fanning herself.

Esme Amarinth and Lord Reggie were busy at the piano, inventing and composing the elevation of "Three blind mice."

Lady Locke could hear an odd little primitive sort of tune, and then their voices singing, one after the other, some words. She could only catch a few.

"Rose--white--youth,
Rose--white--youth,
Rose--white--youth,"

sang Lord Reggie's clear, but rather thin voice. Then Amarinth broke in with a deeper note, and words were lost.

Lady Locke listened for a moment. Then she suddenly turned and went out of the garden. She made her way to the paddock, and spent the rest of the morning in playing cricket with her boy and the curate's children. She caught three people out, made twenty-five runs, and began to feel quite healthy-minded and cheerful again.

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