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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 12
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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 12 Post by :MarkoJevtic Category :Long Stories Author :Elinor Glyn Date :May 2012 Read :2725

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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 12

BOOK II CHAPTER XII

The scene was picturesque and pretty as I looked at it from the gallery that crosses the hall.

Tea was laid out on a large, low table, with plates and jam and cakes and muffins--a nice, comfortable, substantial meal. A fire of whole logs burned in the colossal, open chimney. The huge, heavily shaded lamps concentrated all the light beneath them, viewed from above.

And like a group of summer-flowers the women, in their light and fluffy tea-gowns, added the touch of grace to the heavy darkness of the old stone walls. I paused a while and watched them.

Lady Grenellen, gorgeous as a sultana, seemed to have collected all the cushions to enhance her comfort as she lay back in a low, deep sofa. Augustus sat beside her. From here one could not see his ugliness, and the dark claret color of his smoking-suit rather set off her gown. She had the most alluring expression upon her face, which just caught the light. His attitude was humble. The storm, for the present, was over between them.

Two other women, the heiress, Babykins, and Lord Tilchester, and several young men sat round the table like children eating their bread-and-jam.

The Duke and Miss Martina B. Cadwallader were examining the armor. Some one was playing the piano softly. Merry laughter floated upward. I doubt if any other country could produce such a scene. It would have pleased grandmamma.

"Why, by the stars and stripes, there is a ghost in the gallery!" exclaimed Miss Corrisande K. Trumpet, pointing to me. The faint glimmer of my white velvet tea-gown must have caught her eyes as I moved away.

"No, I am not a ghost," I called, "and I am coming down to eat hot muffins." So I crossed and descended the turret stairs.

Lady Tilchester had not appeared yet.

I sat down at the table next "Billy." It was all so gay and friendly no one could feel depressed.

Viewed close, Miss Trumpet was, for her age, too splendidly attired. She looked prettier in her simple travelling-dress. But her spirits and her repartee left nothing to be desired. She kept us all amused, and, whether Lady Grenellen would eventually permit it or no, Lord Luffton seemed immensely _epris with her now.

There was only one other girl at the table, Lady Agatha de Champion, and her slouching, stooping figure and fuzzled hair did not show to advantage beside the heiress's upright, rounded shape and well-brushed waves.

"Where have you been all the afternoon?" demanded the Duke, reproachfully, over my shoulder. "I searched everywhere down-stairs, and finally sent to your room, but your maid knew nothing of you."

"I have been sitting with Lady Tilchester in her sitting-room," I said, smiling.

"Here comes Margaret. She shall answer to me for kidnapping my guests like this." And he went forward to meet her.

"Do not scold me," said Lady Tilchester, as she returned with him. "I think Mrs. Gurrage will tell you we have spent a very pleasant afternoon."

"Indeed, yes," I said.

"And I mean to spend a pleasant evening," he whispered, low, to me. "As soon as you have eaten that horrid muffin I shall carry you off to see my pictures."

I looked at Lady Tilchester. What would she wish me to do?

"Impress upon him the necessity of being charming to the heiress. You were quite right. He has a serious rival," she whispered, and we walked off.

The Duke can be agreeable in his unattractive, lackadaisical way. He is so full of information, not of the statistical kind like Miss Trumpet, but the result of immense cultivation.

"What do you think of my heiress?" he said, at last, as we paused beneath a Tintoretto. I said everything suitable and encouraging I could think of.

"I am quite pleased with her," he allowed, "but I fear she will not be content with the role I had planned out for my Duchess. She is too individual. I feel it is I who would subside and attend to the nurseries and the spring cleaning. However, I mean to go through with it, although I am in a hideous position, because, you know, I am falling very deeply in love with you."

"How inconvenient for you!"' I said, smiling. "But please do not let that interfere with your prospects. You must attend to the subject of pleasing the heiress, as I see great signs of Lord Luffton cutting the ground from under your feet."

He stared at me incredulously.

"Luffy!" he said, aghast. "Oh, but Cordelia would take care of that. He is her friend."

"Oh, how you amuse me, all of you," I said, laughing, "with your loves and your jealousies and your little arrangements! Every one two and two; every one with a 'friend.'"

"Anyway, we are not wearyingly faithful."

"No; but to a stranger you ought to issue a kind of guide-book--'Trespassers will be prosecuted' here, 'A change would be welcomed' there, etc."

"'Pon my word new editions would have to come out every three months, then. In the space of a year you would find a general shuffle had taken place."

"Shall you let your Duchess have a 'friend'?" I asked.

He mused a little.

"Could I have found my cow brewer's daughter, she would have been too virtuously middle class to have thought of such a thing. And if I take this American--well, the Americans are so new a nation they have still a moral sense. So I think I am pretty safe."

"Old nations are deficient in this quality, then?"

"Yes. Artificial things are more worn out, and they get back nearer to nature."

"But you would object to a 'friend'?"

"Considerably, until the succession was firmly secured. After that, I suppose, my Duchess might please herself. She probably would, too, without consulting me. You don't see the whole of your neighbors eating cake and remain content with your own monotonous bread-and-butter."

This appeared to be very true. He continued in a meditative way:

"Because a few what we call civilized nations have set up a standard of morality for themselves, that does not change the ways of human nature. What we call morality has no existence in the natural world."

"Why should the respectable middle-class brewer's daughter have so strong a sense of it, then?" I asked.

"Because propriety is their god from one generation to another. You can almost overcome nature with a god sometimes. Babykins has a theory that the food we eat makes a difference in the ways of our class, but I don't believe that. It is because we hunt and shoot and live lives of inclination, not compulsion, like the middle classes, and so we get back nearer to nature."

"You are a sophist, I fear," I said, smiling. "See, here is Miss Martina B. Cadwallader advancing upon us. Stern virtue is on every line of her face, anyway!"

"Pardon me, Dook," she said, "but the guide to Myrlton I purchased at the station gave me to understand I should find a second portrait of Queen Elizabeth in this gallery. I cannot see it. Would you be good enough to indicate the picture to me?"

"Oh, that was a duplicate," said the Duke, resignedly. "I sold it at Christie's last year. It brought me in ten thousand pounds--more than it was worth. I lived in comfort upon it for quite six months."

"You don't say!" said Martina B. Cadwallader.

Before the party said good-night, the meanest observer could have told that things were going at sixes and sevens, no one doing exactly what was expected of them.

Signs of disturbance showed as early as the few minutes before dinner.

Lord Luffton was openly seeking the society of the heiress, with no regard to the blandishments of Lady Grenellen. But by half-past eleven the clouds had spread all round.

Augustus, perhaps, looked the most upset. He had spent an evening on thorns of jealousy. First, snubbed sharply by the fair Cordelia; then, having to witness her ineffectual attempts to detach Lord Luffton from Miss Trumpet.

The Duke, while devoting himself to me, could not quite conceal his annoyance at the turn affairs were taking.

Miss Martina B. Cadwallader was plainly irritated with her niece for not attending to the business they had come for. Babykins was exerting her mosquito propensities and stinging every one all round. In fact, only the few casual guests, who did not count one way or another, seemed calm and undisturbed.

"It is really provoking," Lady Tilchester said to me. "What on earth did they ask Luffy here for? He is noted for this sort of thing, and, of course, posing as a war hero adds an extra lustre to his charms."

The only two people supremely unconscious of delinquencies were the causes of all the trouble--Lord Luffton and Miss Trumpet.

They had gone off to look at the pictures in the long gallery, and at twenty minutes to twelve were nowhere to be seen.

Lady Glenellen's eyes flashed ominously.

"Let us go to bed," she said. "Betty, why don't you have the lights turned out?"

Fortunately the aunt did not hear this remark. As her face showed, she was quite capable of a sharp reply to anything, and though, no doubt, annoyed with the niece, would certainly defend her.

"We had better go and look for them," said the Duke.

"Perhaps they have fallen down the oubliette," suggested Babykins.

"You don't tell me there is danger?" demanded Miss Martina B. Cadwallader, anxiously, "On this trip I am answerable to her poppa for Corrisande's safety."

We started, more or less in a body, towards the gallery, Lady Tilchester, with her usual tact, stopping to point out any notable picture or tapestry to the aunt on the way, so that the search should not look too pointed.

In the farthest corner, perched on a high window-seat--that must have required a knowledge of vaulting to reach--sat the guilty pair, dangling their feet. Anything more engaging than Miss Trumpet looked could not be imagined. The tiniest pink satin slippers peeped out of billows of exquisite _dessous_. Her little face seemed a mass of dimpling smiles. Not a trace of embarrassment appeared in her manner.

"I say, Duke," she called, "you have got a sweet place here. We have been watching for the monk to pass, but he has not come yet."

The Duke stepped forward to help her down.

"Don't you trouble," she said. "Why, we had a gymnasium at the convent. I can jump."

Lady Grenellen now appeared upon the scene. She looked like an angry cat. I turned, with Lady Tilchester, and left the rest of the party. What happened I do not know, but when they joined us all in the hall again the heiress was with the Duke, Lord Luffton walked alone, while Augustus, once more beaming, was close to Lady Grenellen's side. So it is an ill wind that blows no one any good.

Next day, after a delightful shooting-lunch and a brisk walk back, the heiress came to my room and talked to me.

She had apparently taken a great fancy to me, and we had had several conversations.

"I don't know why, but you give me the impression that you are a stranger, too, like Aunt Martina and me," she said. "You don't look at all like the rest of the Englishwomen. Why, your back is not nearly so long. I could almost take you for an American, you are so _chic_."

I laughed.

"Even Lady Tilchester, who is by far the nicest and grandest of them, does not look such an aristocrat as you do."

(Miss Trumpet pronounces it _arrist_-tocrat.)

"I assure you, I am a very ordinary person," I said. "But you are right, I am a stranger, too."

"Now I am glad to hear that," said Miss Trumpet, beginning to polish her nails with my polisher, which was lying on the dressing-table. "Because then I can talk to you. You know I have come here to sample the Duke. Poppa is so set on the idea of my being a duchess. But it seems to me, if you are going to buy a husband, you might as well buy the one you like best. Don't you think so?"

"I entirely agree with you," I said, feelingly. "You would probably be happier with the one you prefer, even if he were only a humble baron." And I smiled at her slyly.

"Now that is just what I wanted to ask you about. But if I took Lord Luffton, instead of the Duke, should I have to walk a long way behind at the Coronation next year?"

"I am afraid you would," I said.

She looked puzzled and undecided.

"That is worrying me," she said. "As for the men themselves--well, we don't think so much of them over in America as you do here. It is no wonder Englishmen are so full of assurance, the way they are treated. You would never find an American woman showing a man she was madly jealous of him, like Lady Grenellen did last night. Why, we keep them in their places across the Atlantic."

"So I have heard," I said.

"I have been accustomed to be run after all my life," she continued, "so it does not amount to anything, a man making love to me. But he is beautiful, isn't he?--Lord Luffton, I mean."

"Yes, though he has the reputation of great fickleness. The Duke would probably make a better husband," I said.

I felt I owed it to Lady Tilchester to do something towards advancing the cause.

"Oh, as for that, a man always makes a good enough husband if you have the control of the dollars, and poppa would see to that," said Miss Trumpet.

This seemed so true I had nothing to say.

"Now, I will tell you," she continued, examining her nails, which shone as bright as glass. "I have got a kind of soft feeling for that Baron, but I would like to be an English duchess. Now, which would you take, if you were me?"

"Oh, I could not possibly advise you," I said. "You must weigh the advantages, and your level head will be sure to choose for the best."

"The position of an English duchess is splendid, though, isn't it? An Italian duke came over last fall, and poppa thought of him for about a day. But there is the bother of a foreign language, and all their silly ways to learn, so I told poppa I would have an English one or marry an American. It does seem a pity I can't have both the Baron and the Duke!" and she laughed with girlish mirth.

I thought of my conversation the night before, and wondered.

* * * * *

That evening the Duke, also, made me confidences.

He was immensely taken with Miss Trumpet, he allowed, and could almost look upon the matter as a pleasure instead of a duty now.

"If you had shown the slightest sign that you would ever care for me, I should not have thought of her, though," he said. "You will be sorry, one day, that you are as cold as ice."

"Why should a person be accused of having no musical sense because one particular tune does not cause one rhapsodies?" I asked. "The one idea of a man seems to be, if a woman does not adore him personally, it is because she is as cold as ice. Surely that is illogical."

He looked at me very straightly for a moment.

"I believe you do care for some one," he said. "I shall watch and see."

"Very well," I laughed.

None of the people I have met since my marriage have seemed to think it possible that I should care for Augustus, or that my wedding-ring should be the slightest bar to my feelings or their advances.

"You are a dangerously attractive woman, you know--one's idea of what a lady ought to look like. And you move with a grace one never sees now. And your eyes--your eyes are the eyes of the Sphinx. I fancy, if I could make you care, I would forget all the world. I am glad you are going to-morrow."

"I understood you to say you were greatly attracted by Miss Trumpet," I said, demurely.

And so the evening passed.

"I think it is going all right," Lady Tilchester said to me as we walked up-stairs together. "They are making arrangements to meet in London, and Luffy has not been asked to join the theatre-party."

"No. He is going to lunch and to take them to skate," I said.

"Oh, the clever girl!" and she laughed. "But I expect she will decide to be a duchess, in the end."

"If you could tell her anything especially splendid about her position at the Coronation next year, should she accept the Duke, I am sure it would have an effect."

"Cordelia is behaving like a fool about it. She asked them here, and made all the arrangements, and now is absolutely uncivil to them."

"How flattered Lord Luffton ought to be!" I laughed.

"Yes, if it were any one else; but Cordelia has too many fancies. How glad one should be that one has other interests in life! Really, when I look round at most of my friends, I feel thankful. Perhaps, otherwise, I should have been as they are."

Augustus had greatly profited by Lord Luffton's defection. Whether it was to make the latter jealous, I do not know, but Lady Grenellen had been remarkably gracious to him all the evening.

I learned, casually, that she was to be the fourth at Dane Mount.

"We shall be such a little party," she said. "Only myself and you and your husband. I asked Antony to take me in, as it is on the road to Headbrook, where I go the next day, I thought he was having a large party, though."

I wished she was not going; there seemed something degrading about the arrangement.

I had not let myself think of this visit. And now it would be the day but one after to-morrow!

A strange restlessness and excitement took possession of me. I could not sleep.

It was a raw, foggy morning when we all left Myrlton. The Duke accompanied us to London, and we were a merry party in the train, in spite of eight of us playing bridge.

Augustus told me he had business in town, and would stay the night and over Sunday, arriving at Dane Mount by the four-o'clock train on Monday.

"If you leave home at three, in the motor," he said, "we shall get there exactly at the same time."

And so I returned to Ledstone alone.

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BOOK II CHAPTER XIAugustus was not able to leave his room for four or five days after this. I left him almost entirely to himself, only going to see him once a day, to hear if he required anything. At the end of the time his penitence was complete, and he promised me to change his ways for the future. He was horribly affectionate to me, but peace was restored. I cannot say that I felt any happier, but it seemed a lull and calm after a storm. I tried to be more gentle and sympathetic to him and to take
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