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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 2
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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 2 Post by :punter Category :Long Stories Author :Elinor Glyn Date :May 2012 Read :3216

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

BOOK II CHAPTER II

In spite of Augustus--in spite of everything--I suddenly feel as if I had become alive again here at Harley!

The whole place pleases me. It is an old Georgian house, with long wings stretching right and left, and from a large salon in the centre the other reception-rooms open.

Lady Tilchester is so kind, and makes one feel perfectly at home. A number of people were assembled upon the croquet lawn and in the great tent playing bridge when we arrived, and as no one seems to introduce any one it has taken me two whole days to find out people's names. Some of them, indeed, I have not grasped yet! It does seem a strange custom. Either it is because every one in this set is supposed to be acquainted with the other, and strangers are things that do not count, or that meeting under one roof constitutes an introduction. I have not yet found out which it is.

Anyway, it makes things dull at first. Augustus found it "deuced unpleasant," he told me, as, instead of remaining quiet until he knew his ground, he proceeded to commit a series of _betises_.

The first afternoon I subsided into a low chair, and a gruff-looking man handed me some tea, and patted and talked to a bob-tailed sheep-dog that was near.

I don't know if he expected me to answer for the dog, and so make a conversation. He was disappointed, however, if so, as I remained silent. Presently I discovered he was our host.

Lady Tilchester was busy being gushed at by Augustus. A little woman with light hair came and sat down at the other side of me. She looks like a young, fluffy chicken, and has a lisp and an infantile voice, and wears numbers of trinkets, and her name, "Babykins," spelled in a brooch of diamonds. I should not like to be called "Babykins," and I wonder why one should want strangers to read one's name printed upon one's chest.

Everything of hers is marked with that. Chain bracelets with "Babykins" in sapphires and diamonds. On her handkerchief, which she plays with, "Babykins" again stares at you. Even the corner of her chemise, which shows through her transparent blouse, has "Babykins" embroidered on it. It is no wonder even the young men never call her anything else.

You have the first impression that you are talking to a child, but afterwards you are surprised to find what a lot of grown-up, scandalous things she has said.

She was very agreeable to me, and gave me to understand she was so interested to make my acquaintance, as Lady Tilchester had told her so much about me.

"You come from Yorkshire, don't you?" she said; "and your husband has that wonderful breed of black pigs, hasn't he?"

"No," I said, "we live only sixteen miles off."

"Oh, of course! How stupid of me! You are quite another person, I see," and she laughed. "But the pig farmers are coming, and I am so anxious to meet them, as I have a perfect mania for piglets myself. I want to start a new sort, and I hoped you could tell me about them."

"I am so sorry," I said. "I wish I could help you, but I do not believe--except casually in the village--that I have ever seen a pig; they must be delightful companions."

"Yes, indeed! I have large families of the fat white ones, and really the babies are most engaging, and the very image of my step-children. I always tell my husband it seems like eating Alice or Laura when he insists upon having suckling-pig for luncheon. I suppose one would not mind eating one's step-children, though--would one? What do you think?"

Her great, blue eyes looked at me pathetically.

I tried to consider seriously the problem of the consumption of possible step-children; it was too difficult for me.

"I quite hoped to make it pay," she continued--"keeping prize pigs, I mean; we are so frightfully poor. But I am away so much I fear it does not do very well. You play bridge, of course?"

This did not seem to have much to do with the pigs.

"No, I do not play."

"You don't play bridge? How on earth do you get through the day?"

"I really do not know."

"Oh, you must learn at once. I can give you the address of a woman in London who goes out for five pounds an afternoon and who would teach you in three or four lessons. It does seem funny, your not playing."

I said "Yes."

She did not appear to want many answers from me after this, but prattled on about people and the world in general, and before half an hour was over I was left with the impression that society is chiefly composed of people living upon an agreeable and amusing ground somewhere at the borderland of the divorce court.

"So tiresome of the husbands!" she concluded. "Before the war they used to be the most docile creatures; as long as they got a percentage, and the wives did not worry at their own little affairs, all went smoothly. Now, since going out there and fighting, they have come back giving themselves great airs, and talking about wounded honor, and ridiculous things of that sort that one reads of in early Victorian books. One does not know where it will end."

She yawned a little after this, and Lord Tilchester shuffled up and sat down in the corner of the sofa near her. He has the manner of an awkward school-boy.

"You are taking away every one's character, as usual, I suppose, Babykins," he chuckled. "What will Mrs. Gurrage think of it all, I wonder?"

Lady Tilchester interrupted further conversation by carrying me off to see the garden. She is the most fascinating personality I have yet met. There is something like the sun's rays about her--you feel warmed and comforted when she is near. She looks so great and noble, and above all common things, one cannot help wondering why she married Lord Tilchester, who is quite ordinary. When she talks, every one listens. Her voice is like golden bells, and she never says stupid things that mean nothing. We had half an hour in the glorious garden, and she made me feel that life was a fair thing, and that even I should find bits to smile over. How great to have a nature like this, that one's very presence does good to other human beings!

"There are a lot of tiresome people here, I am afraid," she said, at last; "but I wanted you to come to the first party we had after our return, so you must try and not be bored. You shall sit next Mr. Budge to-night; he will be obliged to take in Lady Lambourne, but I will put you on the other side. He will amuse you; he is the cleverest man I know."

"Mr. Budge is a politician, is he not?" I asked. "I think I have heard his name."

"That is delightful," she laughed, "Poor Mr. Budge! He--and, indeed, many of us in England--fancies there is no other name to be heard. He has a fault, though. He writes sentimental poetry which is complete rubbish, and he prides himself upon it far more than upon his splendid powers of oratory or wonderful organization capacities."

"What a strange side for a great man to have!" I said. "Sentimental poetry--it seems so childish, does it not?"

"We all have our weaknesses, I suppose," and she smiled. "We should be very dull if we left nothing for our friends to criticise."

"_Si nous n'avions point de defauts nous ne prendrions pas tant de plaisir a en remarquer dans les autres!_" I quoted.

After a while we went back to the house.

Augustus and I got down at half-past eight for dinner, as grandmamma had always told me that punctuality is a part of politeness, but only one or two men were standing by the huge wood-fire that burns all the time in the open fireplace in the salon where we assembled.

We did not know any of their names, and I suppose they did not know ours. We stared at one another, and they went on talking again, all about the war. Augustus joined in. He is dreadfully uneasy in case the rest of the Tilchester Yeomanry may volunteer at last to go out, and was anxious to hear their views of the possibility. I sat down upon a fat-pillowed sofa, one of those nice kind that puff out again slowly when you get up, and make you feel at rest any way you sit.

A short man with a funny face came and sat beside me.

"What a wonderful lady, to be so punctual!" he said. "You evidently don't know the house. We shall be lucky if we get dinner at nine o'clock."

"Why did you come down, then," I asked, "since you are acquainted with the ways?"

"On the off chance, and because a bad habit of youth sticks to me, and I can't help being on time."

"I am finding it absurd to have acquired habits in youth; they are all being upset," I said.

He had such a cheery face, in spite of being so ugly, it seemed quite easy to talk to him. We chatted lightly until some one called out: "Billy, do ring and ask if we can have a biscuit and a glass of sherry, to keep us up until we get dinner."

At that moment--it was nearly nine--more people strolled in, two women with their husbands, and several odd pairs--the last among the single people quite the loveliest creature I have ever seen. She does not know how to walk, her lips were almost magenta with some stuff on them, but her eyes flashed round at every one, and there seemed to be a flutter among the men by the fireplace.

Augustus dropped his jaw with admiration. She had on a bright purple dress and numbers of jewels. I feel sure he was saying to himself that she was a "stunner." She did not look at all vulgar, however, only wicked and attractive and delightful.

"Darling Letitia," she pleaded, to a stiff-looking old woman sitting bolt-upright under a lamp, "don't glare at me so. I am not the last to-night; there are still Babykins and Margaret and several others to come."

"Oh, Lord, how hungry I am!" announced Mr. Budge, in a loud voice. I recognized him now from his picture being so often in the papers.

Then, from a door at the other end, in tripped Babykins, and close behind her Lord Tilchester, and, last of all, when the clock had struck nine-fifteen, and even the funny-faced man next me had exhausted all his conversation, the door at the north end of the salon opened, and serenely, like a lovely ship, our beautiful hostess sailed towards us.

"So sorry to be a little late," she said, calmly. "Tilchester, as you have, of course, told every one whom they are to take in, we may as well start."

Lord Tilchester had been sitting in the window-seat with Babykins, and had completely forgotten this duty, I suppose. He got up guiltily and fumbled for a paper in his pocket.

"Oh, don't let us wait for that," said Mr. Budge, gruffly. "Come, Lady Tilchester, I shall take you and lead the way," and he gave her his arm.

She laughed and took it.

"Very well," she said.

Every one scrambled for the people they wanted or knew best; and so it happened that I found myself standing staring at a pale young man with weak blue eyes and a wonderfully well-tied tie, the last of the company.

He held out his arm nervously, and we finally got to the dining-room and found two seats.

It was not until dinner was almost over that I found out he was the Duke of Myrlshire, and ought to have taken in Lady Tilchester.

Augustus had placed himself next the purple lady, and his face grew a gray mauve with excitement at her gracious glances.

My ducal partner was unattractive. He had a squeaky voice and a nervous manner, but said some _entreprenant things in a way which made me understand he is accustomed to be listened to with patience, not to say pleasure.

He told me he was grateful to Mr. Budge for his move, as he had been admiring me since the moment we arrived, and had determined, directly the _melee began, to secure me if possible.

"Er--you don't look like an Englishwoman," he said, "and it is a nice change. My eye is wearied with them; their outlines are all exactly alike."

He further informed me that Paris was the only place to live in, and that the English as a nation were crude in their vices.

"They make such a noise about everything here," he added. "One cannot do a thing that it is not put the wrong way up in the halfpenny papers."

"The penalty of greatness," I said, laughing. "They don't worry at all, for instance, about what I am doing."

"Then they show extremely bad taste," he said, with a look of frank admiration.

Before the women swept in a body from the room, I understood that his object in life would henceforth be to make me sensible of his great worth and charm. All these masterful, forward sentiments sounded so comic, expressing themselves in his squeaky voice, I could not help smiling. He became radiant. He did not guess in the least what amused me.

Although the salon is immense, the ten or twelve women all crowded around the fireplace. It was a damp, chilly evening.

They all seemed to know one another very well, and called each other by their Christian names, so until Babykins again gave me some information I did not realize who people were.

The purple lady is Lady Grenellen; her husband is at the war. She is most attractive. She sat on a big sofa and smoked cigarettes rapidly in a little amber holder. She must have got through at least three or four of them before the men came in.

Lady Tilchester and two other women were deep in South-African news, the rest talked about books and their clothes, but Babykins and Letitia exchanged views upon the scandal of the time.

"In my day," Letitia said, "it sometimes happened that men made love and ran away with a woman because they found they liked her better than anything else in the world. It was a great sin, but their passion was mixed with respect, and the elopement constituted the wedding ceremony. Now you remain on at home until you are found out, and then the husband takes a gratuity and the matter is hushed up, and probably the lover passes on to your best friend, an added feather in his cap."

"Dear Lady Lambourne, how severe you are!" chirped Babykins. "And you really should not use that little word 'you.' Of course, you don't mean any of us, but it sounds unkind and might be misunderstood--especially," she added, in a whisper to me, "as that is the exact case of Cordelia Grenellen."

Letitia (Lady Lambourne) has a distinct voice and decided opinions. She continued, as though no interruption had taken place:

"If the matter was only for love, too, I should still have nothing to say; but it is so often for a string of pearls, or some new carriage-horses."

"But, surely, it is more logical to have that reason than no reason at all, like the case of your poor cousin. I understood that was sheer foolishness, and Lord Edam did not even pretend to care for her."

Lady Lambourne looked daggers and remained speechless. "What scandalous things you are all saying," laughed Lady Grenellen from her sofa. "Letitia, you are sitting there and being epigrammatic, just like the people in those unreal society plays they had last year. We are all perfectly contented and happy if you would let us alone."

"One cannot but deplore the change," said Lady Lambourne.

"Personally, I am delighted with everything as it is," cooed Babykins. "Life must be much pleasanter now than in your day, dear Lady Lambourne; such a fuss and pretending, and such hypocrites you must all have been--as, of course, human nature was the same then, and since the beginning of time. We have always eaten and drank too rich food and wine in our class and have not had enough to do, so we can't help being as we are, can we?"

"Babykins, you silly darling, as if what we eat makes any difference!" said Lady Grenellen, puffing her cigarette-smoke into cloudy rings in the neatest way.

"Of course it does, Cordelia! Food makes all the difference, you know. I have kept those white pigs for four years and I know all about it."

Babykins has the most pathetic blue eyes, and her childish voice is arresting. Lady Grenellen went into a fit of laughter.

"You are perfectly mad about those horrid pigs!" she told her.

Lady Lambourne interrupted again, in a dignified voice. "Human nature was _not the same in my day--as you call it--Mrs. Parton-Mills" (thus she discovered to me Babykins' name). "We lived much more simply, and enjoyed our pleasures and did our duties, and stayed at home more."

"And I expect you were frightfully bored, Letitia, darling," said Lady Grenellen, "and that is why you never stay at home now."

It seemed to me quite wonderful how they could be so disrespectful to this elderly lady, but she did not seem at all offended.

"You are incorrigible, Cordelia," was all she said, and she laughed.

"You had no bridge, and it must have been exactly like it still is when I stay with Edward's relations in Scotland," Babykins continued. "As we arrive there I feel 'goose-flesh' on my arms, with the stiffness and decorum of everything. We chat about the weather at tea, and no one ever says a word they really think; and we play idiotic, childish games of cards for love in the evening; and it is all feeble and wearisome, and the guests are always looking at the clock."

Lady Tilchester came and joined us; it seemed a breath of fresh sunlight illuminating the scene.

"You appear all to be talking scandal," she said.

Imperceptibly the conversation changed, and we were discussing the war news when the double doors of the dining-room opened.

Augustus looked very flushed in the face and unattractive as he came towards us, but Lady Grenellen moved her skirts and made room for him on her sofa. She smiled at him divinely, and was perfectly lovely to him--as friendly and caressing as if he were an equal. It perfectly astonished me. I could not talk and joke familiarly that with Augustus any more than if he were one of the footmen. And she is a viscountess, and must at least know what a gentleman is.

Half the party moved off to play bridge in one of the drawing-rooms; the rest arranged themselves comfortably, two and two. Lady Tilchester and Mr. Budge wandered into the music-room, and I, who had not stirred, found myself almost alone by the fireplace with the Duke.

He proceeded to say a number of things to me that astonished me greatly. I should not have understood them all had I not been to those plays in Paris.

I suppose he was beginning to make love to me--if this is what is called making love. His personality is not attractive, so it did not touch me at all, and I am only able to look upon men now through eyes which see coarse brutes. Perhaps they may be really nice, some of them, but as I look at them one after another, the thought always comes, how revolting could they appear in the eyes of their wives? This is not nice of me, and I am sure grandmamma would reprove me for it.

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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 3 The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 3

The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 3
BOOK II CHAPTER IIINext day, Sunday, some of us went to church. Augustus insisted upon my going. He thought it would be a good opportunity of showing I was in Lady Tilchester's company, although what it could have mattered to the Harley villagers I do not know. He himself stayed behind with Lady Grenellen, he said, to take her for a walk in the woods. After lunch every one seemed to play bridge but Lady Tilchester and I and her politician and the weak-eyed Duke. We climbed the hill to the ruins of the old castle and there sat until tea-time.
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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 1 The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 1

The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 1
BOOK II CHAPTER INo one can possibly imagine the unpleasantness of a honey-moon until they have tried it. It is no wonder one is told nothing at all about it. Even to keep my word and obey grandmamma I could never have undertaken it if I had had an idea what it would be like. Really, girls' dreams are the silliest things in the world. I can't help staring at all the married people I see about. "You--poor wretches!--have gone through this," I say to myself; and then I wonder and wonder that they can smile and look gay. I long
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