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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 3
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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 3 Post by :punter Category :Long Stories Author :Elinor Glyn Date :May 2012 Read :2865

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

BOOK II CHAPTER III

Next 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.

"Isn't it a bore for me I shall have to marry an heiress?" the Duke said, pathetically. "Marriage is the most tiresome ennui at any time, but to be forced through sheer beggary to take some ugly woman you don't like and don't want is cruel hard luck, is it not?"

"Yes," I said, feelingly.

He was melted by the sympathy in my voice.

"You are a delicious woman; you seem to understand one directly. People have got into the way of thinking it is no hardship to have to do these things for the sake of one's title, but I can see you are sympathetic."

"Yes, indeed!" I said.

"Cordelia Grenellen is arranging it for me. I have not seen her yet--I mean the heiress."

"If I were a man I think I should keep my freedom and--and--work," I faltered.

He looked at me, perfectly astonished.

"But what can I do?" he asked. "Only go into the city, and that is quite played out now. I have no head for business, and it would seem to me to be rather mean just to trade upon my name to get unsuspecting people to take shares in concerns; whereas if I marry an heiress it is a square game--I at least give her some return for her money."

"There is a great deal in what you say," I agreed.

"I told Cordelia--she is a cousin of mine, you know--I told her I would not have a very ugly one, and I should prefer that she should be a good, healthy brewer's daughter. Our family is over-well bred. You see, if you are going to sacrifice yourself to keep up your name, you may as well choose some one that will be of some ultimate use to it. Now we want a strain of thick red blood in our veins; ours is a great deal too blue. We are becoming reedy shaped, and more or less idiotic."

He said all this quite gravely. He had evidently studied the subject, and as I looked at him I felt he was perfectly right. If he represented the type of his race, it had certainly grown effete.

"I won't have an American," he continued. "They are intellectual companions before marriage, and they are generally so agreeable you don't notice how nervous and restless they are really, but I would not contemplate one as a wife. I must have a solid English cow-woman."

He stretched himself by my side and began pulling a bit of grass to pieces. His hands look transparent, and he has the most beautifully shaped filbert nails; his ears, on the contrary, are not perfect, but stick out like a monkey's.

"You see, I should always live my own life," he went on, lazily. "I worship the beautiful. The pagans' highest expression of beauty which moved the world was in sculpture--cold and pure marble of divine form. That awakened their emotions; one reads they had a number of emotions. The Renaissance people, to take a medium time, expressed themselves by painting glorious colors on flat canvas; they also had emotions. Those two arts now are more or less dead. At any rate, they have ceased to influence masses of people. Our great expression is music. We are moved by music. It gives us emotions _en bloc_--all of us--some by the tune of 'Tommy Atkins,' and others by Wagner. Well, all these three--sculpture, painting, and music--give me pleasure, but I should not want my cow duchess to understand any of them. I should want her to have numbers of chubby children and to fulfil her social duties, and never have to go into a rest-cure, or have a longing for sympathy."

I said a few "yeses" and "reallys" during this long speech, and he continued, like a mill grinding coffee:

"It don't do to over-breed. You are bound to turn out some _toques if not altogether idiotic, and then my sense of beauty is outraged by the freaks that happen in our shapes--you should see my two sisters, the plainest women in England. Now you give me joy to look at. You are quite beautiful, you know. I never saw any one with a nose as straight and finely cut as yours. Why do you keep putting your parasol so that I cannot see it?"

"One uses a parasol to keep off the sun, which is hot. Would you wish me to get a sunstroke to oblige you?" And I put down my parasol still lower.

"You are selfish!" in an aggrieved voice.

"Of course."

"And not the least ashamed of it!"

"Not the least."

He moved his position deliberately so that he came to my other side, where the sun was not.

"I learned a certain amount of manoeuvring in South Africa, where I went for a month or two," he said. "I hope this side of your face will be as pretty. People always have a better and a worse side."

I laughed. It was too hot to circumvent him again, and his looking at me could not hurt me.

"This is even prettier," he said, presently. "Where did you hide yourself, that we none of us ever saw you before you married?"

"I lived rather near here for a little while."

"Now you look sad again. I never watched any one's face so much. Yours is not like other people's; you look like a cameo, you know."

"Tell me about the people here," I said. "They are all strangers to me."

"But I would much rather talk about you."

"That does not interest me; you said I was selfish, so you do what I wish."

"What can I tell you of them? They are like all companies--dull and amusing, mixed. They are a fair specimen of most people one meets in the _monde ou l'on s'amuse_. My cousin Lady Grenellen is perhaps the most interesting among them, as she had the most histories."

"Histories?"

"Yes; her career has been one of riding for a series of falls, and escaping even a peck."

"She is very lovely."

"Oh yes, Cordelia is good-looking enough," he said, as though there was considerably more to add.

I did not continue the subject further. We talked of books, the war, and various other things, and by-and-by our hostess called to us from the higher level of the old drawbridge where she was sitting.

"We must be descending for some tea," she said, and started on with her politician.

When we got back, Augustus was swinging Lady Grenellen in a lovely Louis XV. _balancoire_, fixed up between two elm-trees; she put one foot out, and looked so lovely and radiant!

Augustus had the expression of one of those negro pages Thackeray drew in _The Virginians_--a mixture of pride and self-complacency--a he held the red silk ropes.

Tea was so merry! No one was witty like grandmamma and the Marquis, but every one was in a good temper and it was gay.

The party was rather more punctual at dinner on Sunday night, and Lady Tilchester had arranged, as she meant to the night before, that I should sit next her politician. Mr. Budge and Mrs. Gurrage--the names went well together!

I do not know anything about politics, but he is what I suppose must be a Radical, as he preaches home rule for Ireland, and equal rights for all mankind, and an apologetic tone to other nations, and a general dividing up of all one's _biens_. But they say he has a splendid house in Grosvenor Square, and a flat in Paris, and never asks any but the smartest titled people to his big pheasant shoot in Suffolk.

He was delightful at dinner, anyway, and made me laugh. His voice is clear, with just the faintest touch of Irish in it. And he sparred with Lady Tilchester across me.

She is the greatest _grande dame one could meet, and a Tory to the backbone in politics, but her manner to the servants is not nearly so haughty as Mr. Budge's.

I do not like his hands; I cannot say why; they are neither big nor ill-shapen, but there is something fat and feminine about the fingers. I dare say, underneath, he could be like Augustus.

Lady Tilchester is devoted to him, and he has the greatest admiration and respect for her. Their conversation is most interesting.

Some of the other men are very nice, and several of them almost come up to grandmamma's criterion of the perfect male--that he should "look like a man and behave like a gentleman."

The women are very smartly dressed all the time, but they do not show a great sense of the fitness of things. Only Lady Grenellen and Lady Tilchester are always adorable and attractive in anything and in any way.

I believe they do not love one another very much, although they are quite friendly; one somehow can see it in their eyes.

The Tilchester boy, who is thirteen, has just gone to Eton, but will soon be home for the holidays; the little girl is at the sea. So I have not seen either of them.

The whole house here is so beautifully done; there is no fuss, and everything is exactly where one wants to find it. I shall be sorry when we leave.

Just as we had begun luncheon to-day, Sir Antony Thornhirst came in, and, after a casual greeting to every one, sat down near me.

He seems quite at home here, and as if he were accustomed to turning up unannounced in this way.

I felt such a queer, quick beating in my heart. I suppose because among all these strangers he was some one I knew before.

"So you decided not to cut the Gordian knot," he said, presently, as if we were continuing the discussion of some argument we had had a moment before.

He bridged in an instant the great gulf since my wedding. This _sang froid stupefied me. I found nothing to say.

He continued:

"Do you know, I have heard since that to give any one a knife cuts friendship, and brings bad luck and separation, and numbers of dreadful things. So you and I are now declared enemies, I suppose. Shall we go and throw the little ill-omen in the lake after lunch?"

"No; I will not part with my knife; I find it very useful," I said, in a _bete way.

"Antony," called out Lord Tilchester, "you have arrived in the nick of time to save Babykins from turning into a hospital nurse. She thinks the costume becoming, and threatens to leave us for the wounded heroes. Cannot you restrain her?"

"How?" asked Sir Antony, helping himself to some chicken curry. "Really excellent curry your chef makes, Tilchester."

"Don't tell him about it, Reggie," lisped Mrs. Parton-Mills. "The unfeeling creature is only thinking of his food."

"You seem to have all the qualities for an ideal convalescent nurse," said Sir Antony, with an air of detaching himself with difficulty from the contemplation of the curry.

"And those qualities are--?" asked Lord Tilchester.

"Principally stimulating," and he selected a special chutney from the various kinds a footman was handing.

"What do you mean?" demanded Babykins, pouting.

"Exactly what you do," and he looked at her, smiling in a way I should have said was insolent had it been I who was concerned.

"But I want to go and help the poor dear fellows, and to cheer them and make their time pleasanter."

"I said you would be an ideal convalescent nurse. But what would become of the pigs?"

"Oh, Edward could look after them. I think too little attention has been paid to the poor boys who are getting well. I could read to them and write their letters home for them," and she looked pathetically sympathetic.

"Hubble-bubble, toil and trouble," quoted Sir Antony.

"Who for?" laughed Lord Tilchester, in his rough, gruff way.

"The recipients of the letters, who would certainly receive them in the wrong envelopes," said Sir Antony. "I think, Tilchester, you had better persuade Babykins to stay in England, for the sake of the peace of many respectable and innocent families."

"How wicked you are to me," flashed Babykins.

"Just what you deserve," chuckled Lord Tilchester.

"What tiresome nonsense these people talk," said Sir Antony, calmly, to me. "You and I were in the middle of an interesting problem discussion, were we not? And now I have lost the thread."

"It does not in the least matter," I said.

The Duke, who was on the other side of me, did not care to be left out, and persistently talked to me for the rest of lunch.

Sir Antony consumed his with the appreciation of a connoisseur. It appeared to be the only thing which interested him.

Babykins, from the other side, did her utmost to engage him in a war of wits, but he remained calm, with the air of a placid lion.

When we got outside in the great tent he came up to me.

"I am going to take you for a walk," he said--"a nice, cool walk in the woods. Will you get your parasol?"

The Duke was at that moment fetching it for me from the hall table, where I had left it.

"I do not know what we shall do to-day," I said, "I believe I am going to play croquet."

"Oh no, you are not. It is much too hot, and you must see the woods. They are historical, and--Here, take this parasol and let us start." This last hurriedly, as the Duke was seen returning with mine.

I cannot say why I allowed myself to be dragged off like this. My natural impulse has always been to do the opposite thing when ordered by any one but grandmamma. But here I found myself walking meekly beside my kinsman down a yew-bordered path, holding a mauve silk parasol over my head which did not belong to me.

We did not speak until we got quite to the end, where there is a quaint fountain, the centre of four _allees of clipped yews.

My heart still continued to beat in a quick, tiresome manner.

"You look changed, Comtesse," Sir Antony said. "Your little face is pale. Do you remember the night we danced together? It was round and rosy then. Is it a hundred years ago?"

There is a something in his voice which is alluring. The mocking sound goes out of it now and then, and when it does one feels as if one must listen. Oh, but listen with both one's ears!

"Yes, it is a hundred years ago," I said.

"I was so sorry to hear of your grandmother's death," he continued. "I wanted to tell you how I felt for you, but I was away in Norway, and have only just returned. Did you think I was unkind?"

"No, I never thought at all. Grandmamma was glad to die. I knew she could not live, but it came suddenly at the end."

"What a splendid personality! How I wish I had seen more of her! I generally manage to seize the occasion, but fate kept you and her beyond my reach. Why did we not all meet this time last year?"

"Oh, do not talk of that!" I cried. I felt I could not bear to hear any more. "I am trying to forget, and to find life full of compensations. Grandmamma and the Marquis promised me that I should."

He looked at me, stopped in the path, and bent down to a level with my face. His eyes seemed as if they could see right through my mind then, as on another occasion in our lives.

"Dear little white Comtesse!" he said. Almost the same words.

An emotion that is new to me happened. It was as if my heart beat in my throat.

"We are dawdling by this fountain," I said. "Where are the woods?"

After that we were gay. He told me of many things. I seemed to see a clear picture of the world as he talked--a light and pleasant world, where no one was so foolish as to care for anything seriously.

One felt a donkey, to worry or grieve when the sun shone and the birds sang!

How I enjoyed myself!

"Has Babykins chirped at you yet?" he asked, presently. "She is very dangerous when she chirps."

"I do not like her," I said.

"Oh, you will presently. We all love Babykins. She acts as a sort of moral mosquito in a big party. She flies around stinging every one, and then we compare our bites and tear and scratch the irritated places together. You will meet her everywhere--she is the only person Tilchester takes a serious interest in."

"Are you staying here," I asked, "or did you only drive over?"

"I sent for my servant to bring my things, and I shall stay now I find you. You always seem to forget we are cousins, and that people ought to take an interest in their relations!"

"Tell me about your house--Dane Mount it is called, is it not?" I asked, presently. We had been silent for a moment, walking down a shady path, great pine-trees on each side.

"No, I won't tell you about it; you must come over there some day and stop with me for a night or so. You ought to see the home of your ancestors, you know. Promise me you will when I come back from Scotland!"

We had gone deep into the wood by now. It was quite dusky. The thick trees met overhead, and only an occasional sunbeam penetrated through.

I felt stupid. The words did not come so easily as when I am with the Duke.

"How silent you are, Comtesse!"

"Is it not time to go back?" I said, stupidly.

"No, not nearly time. I want you to tell me all about yourself--where you lived, and all that happened until you flashed into my life at the Tilchester ball. See, we will sit down on this log of wood and be quite comfortable."

We sat down.

"Now begin, Comtesse: 'Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I came from--where?'"

"Do you really want to hear the family history?" I asked.

"Yes."

I told him an outline of things and how grandmamma and I had lived at the cottage, and of all her wise sayings, and about the Marquis and Roy and Hephzibah, and the simple things of my long-ago past. It seemed as if I was speaking of some other person, so changed has all my outlook on life and things become since I went to Paris with Augustus.

"And now we come to the day we met in the lane," he said. "You were not even engaged then, were you?"

"Oh no! Grandmamma had never had a fainting-fit; she would have found the idea too dreadful at that time." I stopped suddenly, realizing what I had said. I could not tell him how and why I had married Augustus; he must think what he pleased.

He evidently thought a good deal, by the look in his eyes. I wish--I wish when he looks it did not make my heart beat so; it is foolish and uncomfortable.

"What a fool I was not to come with the automobile the night before your wedding and carry you off to Gretna Green," he said, in a voice that might have been mocking or serious, I could not tell which.

"Tell me, Comtesse, if I had tapped at your window, would you have looked out and come with me?"

"There was a bad thunder-storm, if I recollect. We should have got wet," I laughed, in a hollow way. He could not know how he was hurting me; he should not see, at all events.

"You would have been very dear to take to Gretna Green," he continued. "I should have loved to watch your wise, sweet eyes changing all expressions as morning dawned and you found yourself away from them all--away from Augustus."

I did not answer. I drew hieroglyphics with the point of the mauve parasol in the soft moss beneath our feet.

"Why don't you speak, Comtesse?"

"There is nothing to say--I am married--and you did not tap at the window--and let us go back to the house."

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BOOK II CHAPTER IVThe last evening at Harley is one of the things I shall not want to recall. Augustus got drunk--yes, it is almost too dreadful to write even. I had not realized up to this that gentlemen (of course I do not mean that word literally, as applied to Augustus, but I mean people with money and a respectable position)--I never realized that they got drunk. I thought it was only common men in the street. It struck me he was making a great noise at dinner, but as he was sitting on the same side of the table
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BOOK II CHAPTER IIIn 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
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