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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Green Carnation - Chapter V
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The Green Carnation - Chapter V Post by :uld4u Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Hichens Date :April 2012 Read :2715

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The Green Carnation - Chapter V

CHAPTER V

Mrs. Windsor's cottage in Surrey stood on the outskirts of a perfectly charming village called Chenecote, a village just like those so often described in novels of the day. The homes of the poor people were model homes, with lattice windows, and modern improvements. The church was very small, but very trim. The windows were filled with stained glass, designed by Burne-Jones and executed by Morris, and there was a lovely little organ built by Willis, with a _vox humana stop in it, that was like the most pathetic sheep that ever bleated to its lamb. The church and the red tiled schoolhouse stood upon a delightful green common, covered with gorse bushes. There were trees all over the place, and the birds always sang in them. Roses bloomed in the neat little cottage gardens, and cheery, rosy children played happily about in the light sandy roads. Nothing, in fact, was wanting to make up a pretty picture of complete and English rusticity.

But Mrs. Windsor's cottage was the most charming picture of all. It was really a rambling thatched bungalow, with wide verandas trellised with dog roses, and a demure cosy garden full of velvet lawns and yew hedges cut into monstrous shapes. A tiny drive led up to the wide porch, and a neat green gate guarded the drive from the country road, beyond which there stood a regular George Morland village pond, a pond with muddy water, and fat geese, and ducks standing on their heads, and great sleek cart-horses pausing knee-deep to drink, with velvety distended nostrils, and, in fact, all the proper pond accessories. A little way up the road stood the curate's neat red house, and beyond that the village post-office and grocery store. Further away still were the substantial rectory, the model cottages, the common, the church, and schoolhouse. Behind the bungalow, which was called "The Retreat," there was a farmyard in which hens laid eggs for the bungalow breakfast table, and black Berkshire pigs slowly ripened and matured in the bright June sunshine. A stone sun-dial stood upon one of the velvet lawns, engraved with the legend "Tempus fugit," and various creaking basket and beehive chairs stood about, while no tennis net was permitted to desecrate the appearance of complete repose that the green garden presented to the tired town eye.

Mrs. Windsor declared that her guests must be content to rough it during the Surrey week; but as she took down with her from London a French chef and a couple of tall footmen, a carriage and pair, a governess cart, a fat white pony, a coachman and various housemaids, the guests regarded that dismal prospect with a fair amount of equanimity, and were assailed by none of those fears that appal the wanderer who arrives at a country inn or at a small lodging by the seaside. It may be pleasant to have roughed it, but it is always tiresome to be plunged in a frightful present instead of living gloriously upon a frightful past. If Mrs. Windsor's guests were deprived of the latter triumph, they at least were saved from the endurance of the former purgatory, and being for the most part entirely unheroic, they were not ill content. Rusticity in the rough they would decidedly not have approved of; rusticity in the smooth they liked very well. Mrs. Windsor was wise in her generation. She was distinctly not a clever woman, but she distinctly knew her world. The two tall footmen were the motto of her social life. She and Lady Locke, and the latter's little boy Tommy, came down from London by train in the morning of the Wednesday on which the Surrey week was to begin. The rest of the party was to assemble in the afternoon in time for tea. Tommy was in a state of almost painful excitement, as the train ran very slowly indeed through the pleasant country towards Dorking. He was a plump little boy, with rosy cheeks, big brown eyes, and a very round head, covered with exceedingly short brown hair. His age was nine, and he wore dark blue knickerbockers and a loose, bulgy sort of white shirt, trimmed with blue, and ornamented with a wide and flapping collar. His black stockings covered frisky legs, and his mind at present was mainly occupied with surmises as to the curate's little boys, with whom Mrs. Windsor had promised that he should play. He was a sharp child, interrogative in mind, and extremely loquacious. Mrs. Windsor found him rather trying. But then she was not accustomed to children, possessing, as she often boasted, none of her own.

"What are their names?" said Tommy, bounding suddenly from the window and squatting down before Mrs. Windsor, with his elbows on his blue serge knees, his firm white chin resting on his upturned palms, and his brown eyes fixed steadily upon her carefully arranged face, which always puzzled him very much; it was so unlike his mother's. "What are their names? Are any of them called Tommy?"

"I don't think so," she replied. "One of them is called Athanasius, I believe. I forget about the others."

"Why is he called Athanasius?"

"After the great Athanasius, I suppose."

"And who was the great Athanasius?"

"Oh--the well--well, he wrote a creed, Tommy; but you couldn't understand about that yet. You are too young."

"I don't think you know who the great Athanasius was much, Cousin Betty," said the boy, scrutinising her very closely, and trying to discover why her hair was so very light and her eyebrows were so very dark. "And you say they all wear spectacles. Can't they see without?"

Mrs. Windsor looked rather distractedly towards Lady Locke, who was reading a military article in the _Pall Mall Magazine with deep attention.

"They can see a little without, I suppose, but not very much."

"Then are they blind?"

"No, only short-sighted. And then their father is a clergyman, you know, and clergymen generally wear spectacles. So perhaps they inherit it."

"What! the spectacles?"

"No, the--I mean they may require to wear spectacles because their father did before them. It is often so. But you are too young to understand heredity."

"I _can understand things, Cousin Betty," said the boy rather severely.

"That's right. Well now, go and look out of the window. Look, there is a mill with the wheel turning, and a pond with a boat on it. What a dear little boat!"

Tommy went, obediently, but a little disdainfully, and Mrs. Windsor sank back in her seat feeling quite worn out. She could cope better with the wits of a wit than with the wits of a child. She began to wish that Tommy was not going to make a part of the Surrey week. If he did not take a fancy to the curate's children after all, he would be thrown upon her hands. The prospect was rather terrible. However, she determined not to dwell upon it. It was no use to meet a possible trouble half way. She closed her eyes, and wondered vaguely who the great Athanasius had really been till the train slowed down--it seemed to have been slowing down steadily all the way from Waterloo--and they drew up beside the platform at Dorking. Then Tommy was packed with his mother's maid into the governess cart with the fat white pony, which enchanted him to madness, and Lady Locke and Mrs. Windsor were driven away in the landau towards "The Retreat."

The day was radiantly fine, and very hot. The hedgerows were rather dusty, and the air was dim with a delicious haze that threw an atmosphere of enchantment round even the most commonplace objects. Dorking looked, as it always does, solid, serene, and cheerful, the beau-ideal of a prosperous country town, well-fed, well-groomed, well-favoured. Some of the shopkeepers were standing at their doors in their shirt-sleeves taking the air. The errand-boys whistled boisterously as they went about their business, and the butcher carts dashed hither and thither with their usual spanking irresponsibility. Lady Locke looked about her with supreme contentment. She loved the English flavour of the place. It came upon her with all the charm of old time recollections. Ten years had elapsed since she had strolled about an English village, or driven through an English country town. Her eyes suddenly filled with tears, and yet she was not unhappy. It was, on the contrary, the subtlety of her happiness that made her heart throb, and brought a choky feeling into her throat. Her tears were the idle ones, that are the sweetest tears of all.

Mrs. Windsor was not subtly happy. She never was. Sometimes she was irresponsibly cheerful, and generally she was lively, especially when there were any men about; but though she read much minor poetry, and knew all the minor poets, she was not poetic, and she honestly thought that John Gray's "Silver Points" were far finer literature than Wordsworth's "Ode to Immortality," or Rossetti's "Blessed Damosel." She liked sugar and water, especially when the sugar was very sweet, and the water very cloudy. As they drove through the High Street, she exclaimed--

"Look, Emily, there goes George Meredith into the post-office. How like he is to Watts' portrait of him! I never can get him to come near me, although I have read all his books. Mr. Amarinth says that he is going to bring out a new edition of them, 'done into English' by himself. It is such a good idea, and would help the readers so much. I believe he could make a lot of money by it, but it would be very difficult to do, I suppose. However, Mr. Amarinth is so clever that he might manage it. We shall soon be there now. Just look at Tommy! I do believe they are letting him drive."

Loud shouts of boyish triumph from in front in fact announced this divine consummation of happiness, and Tommy's face, wreathed in excited smiles, was turned round towards them, to attract their attention to his deeds of prowess. The fat white pony, evidently under the horrified impression that the son of Nimshi had suddenly mounted behind him, broke into a laborious and sprawling gallop, and, amid clouds of dust, the governess cart vanished down the hill, Lady Locke's maid striking attitudes of terror, and the smart groom shaking his slim and belted sides with laughter.

Lady Locke winked her tears away, and smiled.

"He is in the seventh heaven," she said.

"I only hope he won't be in the road directly," rejoined her cousin. "Ah! here is the village at last."

That afternoon, at four o'clock, a telegram arrived. It was from Mr. Tyler, and stated that he had caught the influenza, and could not come. Mrs. Windsor was much annoyed.

"Oh dear, I do hope my week is not going all wrong again this year!" she exclaimed plaintively. "I cannot fill his place now. Everybody is so full of engagements at this time of the year. We shall be a man short."

"Never mind, Betty," said her cousin. "Tommy is quite a man in his own eyes, and I rather like being a little neglected sometimes. It is restful."

"Do you think so? Well, perhaps you are right. Men are not always soothing. Let us go out into the garden. The others ought to be here directly, unless they have got the influenza too. I am thankful Mr. Tyler did not have it here. It would be worse than a fit. A fit only lasts for a few minutes after all, and then it is not catching, which is such a consolation. Really, when one comes to think of it, a fit is one of the best things one can have, if one is to have anything. We are going to take tea here under the cedar tree."

Lady Locke opened her well-formed rather ample mouth, and drew in a deep breath of country air. She had no sort of feeling about the absence of Mr. Tyler, whom she had never seen. The country, and the warmth, and the summer were quite enough for her. Still, she looked forward to studying Lord Reggie with an eagerness that she hardly acknowledged even to herself. She hoped vaguely that he would be different in the country, that he would put on a country mind with his country clothes, that his brain would work more naturally under a straw hat, and that in canvas shoes he might find a certain amount of salvation. At any rate, he would look delightfully cool and young on the velvet lawn under the great cedar. That was certain. And his whimsicalities were generally amusing, and sometimes original. As to Mr. Amarinth, she could not imagine him in the country at all. He smacked essentially of cities. What he would do in this _galere she knew not. She leaned back in her basket-chair and enjoyed herself quietly. The green peace, after London, was absolutely delicious. She could hear a hen clucking intermittently from the farmyard hard by, the twitter of birds from the yew-trees, the chirping voices of Tommy and the curate's little boys, who had been formally introduced to each other, and had retired to play in a paddock that was part of the rector's glebe. The rector himself was away on a holiday, and the curate was doing all the work for the time. Big golden bees buzzed slowly and pertinaciously in and out of the sweet flowers in the formal rose garden, chaunting a note that was like the diapason of some distant organ. Mrs. Windsor's pug, "Bung," lay on his fat side in the sun with half-closed eyes, snoring loudly to indicate the fact that he seriously meditated dropping into a doze. All the air was full of mingled magical scents, hanging on the tiny breeze that stole softly about among the leaves and flowers. There was a clink of china and silver in the cottage, for the tall footmen were preparing to bring out the tea. How pleasant it all was! Lady Locke felt half inclined to snore with her eyes opened, like Bung. It seemed such a singularly appropriate tribute to the influence of place and weather. However, she restrained herself, and merely folded her hands in her lap and fell into a waking dream.

She was roused by the scrunch of carriage wheels on the gravel drive.

"There they are!" said Mrs. Windsor, springing from her chair with vivacious alacrity. "The train has been punctual for once in its life. How shocked the directors would be if they knew it, but, of course, it will be kept from them. Ah! Madame Valtesi, so glad to see you! How do, Lord Reggie? How do, Mr. Amarinth? So you all came together! This is such a mercy, as I have only one carriage down here except the cart, which doesn't count. I told you we should have to rough it, didn't I? That is part of the attraction of the week. Simplicity in all things, you know, especially carriages. Mr. Tyler can't come. Isn't it shocking? Influenza. London is so full of microbes. Do microbes go to parties, Mr. Amarinth? because Mr. Tyler lives entirely at parties. He must have caught it in Society. Will you have tea before you go to your rooms? Yes, do. Here it comes. We are going to have country strawberries and penny buns made in the village, and quite hot! So rustic and wholesome! After all, it is nice to eat something wholesome just once in a while, isn't it?"

Her guests settled into the arm-chairs, and Bung, who had risen in some pardonable fury, lay down again and prepared to resume his interrupted meditations.

Madame Valtesi was already attired in her trousseau. She had travelled down from London in a shady straw hat trimmed with pink roses. A white veil swept loosely round her face; she carried in her hand an attenuated mottled cane, with an elaborate silver top. A black fan hung from her waist by a thin silver chain, and, as usual, she was peering through her eyeglasses at her surroundings. Mr. Amarinth and Lord Reggie were dressed very much alike in loosely fitting very light suits, with high turn-down collars, all round collars that somehow suggested babyhood and innocence, and loosely knotted ties. They wore straw hats, suede gloves, and brown boots, and in their buttonholes large green carnations bloomed savagely. They looked very cool, very much at their ease, and very well inclined for tea. Reggie's face was rather white, and the look in his blue eyes suggested that London was getting altogether the better of him.

"Wholesome things almost always disagree with me," said Madame Valtesi, in her croaky voice, "unless I eat them at the wrong time. Now, a hot bun before breakfast in the morning, or in bed at night, might suit me admirably; but if I ate one now, I should feel miserable. Your strawberries look most original, quite the real thing. Do not be angry with me for discarding the buns. If I ate one, I should really infallibly lose my temper."

"How curious," said Mr. Amarinth, taking a bun delicately between his plump white fingers. "My temper and my heart are the only two things I never lose! Everything else vanishes. I think the art of losing things is a very subtle art. So few people can lose anything really beautifully. Anybody can find a thing. That is so simple. A crossing sweeper can discover a sixpence lying in the road. It is the crossing sweeper who loses a sixpence who shows real originality."

"I wish I could find a few sixpences," said Madame Valtesi slowly, and sipping her tea with her usual air of stony gravity. "Times are so very bad. Do you know, Mr. Amarinth, I am almost afraid I shall have to put down my carriage, or your brother. I cannot keep them both up, and pay my dressmaker's bill too. I told him so yesterday. He was very much cut up."

"Poor Teddy! Have his conversational powers gone off? I never see him. The world is so very large, isn't it?"

"No, he still talks rather well." Then she added, turning to Lady Locke, "You know I always give him five shillings an hour, in generous moments ten, to take me about and talk to me. He is a superb _raconteur_. I shall miss him very much."

"The profession of a conversationalist is so delightful," said Mrs. Windsor, "I wonder more people don't follow it. You are too generous, Esme; you took it up out of pure love of the thing."

"The true artist will always be an amateur," said Lord Reggie, dreamily, and gazing towards Lady Locke with abstracted blue eyes, "just as the true martyr will always live for his faith. Esme is like the thrush. He always tells us his epigrams twice over, lest we should fail to capture their first fine careful rapture. Repetition is one of the secrets of success nowadays. Esme was the first conversationalist in England to discover that fact, and so he won his present unrivalled position, and has known how to keep it."

"Conversational powers are sometimes very distressing," said Madame Valtesi. "Last winter I was having my house in Cromwell Road painted and papered. I went to live at a hotel, but the men were so slow, that at last I took possession again, hoping to turn them out. It was a most fatal step. They liked me so much, and found me so entertaining, that they have never gone away. They are still painting, and I suppose always will be. Whenever I say anything witty they scream with laughter, and I believe that my name has become a household word in Whitechapel or Wapping, or wherever the British workman lives? What am I to do?"

"Read them Jerome K. Jerome's last comic book," said Amarinth, "and they will go at once. I find his works most useful. I always begin to quote from them when I wish to rid myself of a bore."

"But surely he is a very entertaining writer," said Lady Locke.

"My dear lady, if you read him you will find that he is the reverse of Beerbohm Tree as Hamlet. Tree's Hamlet was funny without being vulgar. Jerome's writings are vulgar without being funny. His books are like Academy pictures. They are all deserving of a place on the line."

"I think he means well," said Mrs. Windsor, taking some strawberries.

"I am afraid so," Amarinth answered. "People who mean well always do badly. They are like the ladies who wear clothes that don't fit them in order to show their piety. Good intentions are invariably ungrammatical."

"Good intentions have been the ruin of the world," said Reggie fervently. "The only people who have achieved anything have been those who have had no intentions at all. I have no intentions."

"You will at least never be involved in an action for breach of promise if you always state that fact," said Lady Locke, laughing.

"To be intentional is to be middle class," remarked Amarinth. "Herkomer has become intentional, and so he has taken to painting the directors of railway companies. The great picture of this year's exhibition is intentional. The great picture of the year always is. It presents to us a pretty milkmaid milking her cow. A gallant, riding by, has dismounted, and is kissing the milkmaid."

Madame Valtesi blinked at him for a moment in silence. Then she said with an air of indescribable virtue--

"What a bad example for the cow!"

"Ah! I never thought of that!" cried Mrs. Windsor.

"One seldom does think how easily proper cows--and people--are put to confusion. That is why they so often flee from the plays of London to those of Paris. They can be confused there without their relations knowing it."

"Why are old men who have seen the world always so proper?" asked Lord Reggie. "The other day I was staying with an old general at Malta, and he took Catulle Mendez' charming and delicate romance, 'Mephistophela,' out of my bedroom and burnt it. Yet his language on parade was really quite artistically blasphemous. I think it is fatal to one's personality to see the world at all."

"Then I must be quite hopeless," said Lady Locke, "for I have spent eight years in the Straits Settlements."

"Dear me!" murmured Madame Valtesi. "Where is that? It sounds like one of the places where that geographical little Henry Arthur Jones sends the heroes of his plays to expiate their virtues."

"It is quite a mistake to imagine that the author or the artist should stuff his beautiful, empty mind with knowledge, with impressions, with facts of any kind," said Amarinth. "I have written a great novel upon Iceland, full of colour, of passion, of the most subtle impurity, yet I could not point you out Iceland upon the map. I do not know where it is, or what it is. I only know that it has a beautiful name, and that I have written a beautiful thing about it. This age is an age of identification, in which our god is the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and our devil the fairy tale that teaches nothing. We go to the British Museum for culture, and to Archdeacon Farrar for guidance. And then we think that we are advancing. We might as well return to the myths of Darwin, or to the delicious fantasies of John Stuart Mill. They at least were entertaining, and no one attempted to believe in them."

"We always return to our first hates," said Lord Reggie, rather languidly.

"Do have some more tea, Madame Valtesi," pleaded Mrs. Windsor.

"No, thank you. I never take more than one cup on principle--the principle being that the first cup is the best, like the last word. I want to take a stroll round the rose garden, if I may. Mr. Amarinth, will you come with me?"

She added in an undertone to him, as they walked slowly away together--

"I always hate to see people drinking when I have finished. It makes me feel like a barmaid."

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The Green Carnation - Chapter VI The Green Carnation - Chapter VI

The Green Carnation - Chapter VI
CHAPTER VILady Locke and Lord Reggie were left alone together for the time. Mrs. Windsor had gone into the cottage to write a note, asking the curate of Chenecote to dine the next day. She always asked the curate to dine during the Surrey week. She thought it made things so deliciously rustic. Lord Reggie was still looking very tired, and eating a great many strawberries. He did both mechanically, and as if he didn't know he was doing them. As Lady Locke glanced at him, she felt that he certainly fulfilled her expectations, so far as being cool and young
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CHAPTER IVDuring 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
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