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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 9
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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 9 Post by :MarkoJevtic Category :Long Stories Author :Elinor Glyn Date :May 2012 Read :3219

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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 9

BOOK II CHAPTER IX

It poured rain again before the sportsmen returned, and they were more or less wet and cross. Antony went straight to his room to change, and so did the two other decent men. But the commercial friends stayed as they were, muddy boots and all, and were grouped round the fire, smelling of wet, hot tweed, when Mrs. Dodd sailed into the room.

"Wullie," she said, sternly, "you've no more sense than a child, and if it was not for me you'd have been in your coffin these five years. Go up-stairs this minute and change your boots." And off she sent him, but not without a parting shot from Miss Springle.

"Mind you put on a blue velvet smoking-suit, Mr. Dodd, dear. I do love gentlemen in smoking-suits," she said, giggling.

Tea was a terrible function. Oh, the difference to the merry tea at Harley!

Lady Wakely, sleepily knitting and addressing an occasional observation to her neighbor; the rest of the women silent as the grave, except Miss Springle and Mrs. Dodd, who sparred together like two cats.

The men could talk of nothing but the war news which had come by the afternoon post.

There was a gloom over the whole party. How on earth was I to escape from the oppression? They were not people of the world, who would be accustomed to each person doing what they pleased. They expected to be entertained all the time. To get away from them for a moment I would be obliged to invent some elaborate excuse.

Antony had not appeared upon the scene, or Augustus, either.

At last--at last Lady Wakely put her knitting in a bag and made a move towards the door.

"I shall rest now," she said, in her fat, kind voice, and I accompanied her from the room, leaving the rest of my guests to take care of themselves. I felt I should throw the cups at their heads if I stayed any longer.

There, in the hall, was Antony, quietly reading the papers. His dark-blue and black silk smoking-suit was extraordinarily becoming. He looked like a person from another planet after the people I had left in the drawing-room.

He rose as we passed him.

"Some very interesting South African news," he said, addressing me, and while I stopped to answer him Lady Wakely went up the stairs alone.

"The draughts are dreadful here again, Comtesse," he said, plaintively.

"Why did you not go into the library, then," I said, "or the billiard-room, or one of the drawing-rooms?"

"I thought perhaps you might pass this way and would give me your advice as to which room to choose."

I laughed. "The library, then, I suggest," and I started as if to go up the stairs.

"Comtesse! You would not leave me all alone, would you? You have not told me half enough about our ancestors yet."

"Oh, I am tired of the ancestors!" and I mounted one step and looked back.

"I thought perhaps you would help me to tie up my wrist."

I came down instantly. If he were pretending, I would punish him later.

"Come," I said, and led the way to the library, where we found the fire had gone out.

How ashamed I felt of the servants! This must never happen again.

"Not here; it is cold and horrid." And he followed me on into my mother-in-law's boudoir. There were no lights and no fire.

My wrath rose.

"It must be your mustard sitting-room, after all," said Antony. So up the stairs we went. Here, at all events, the fire blazed, and the room glowed with brilliancy.

Roy was lying on the rug and seemed enchanted to see us.

"Is it really hurting you?" I said, hurriedly.

"No, not hurting--only a stupid little scratch." And he undid his shirt-cuff and turned up his sleeve.

"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Oh, I am so sorry!"

One of the shots had grazed the skin and made a nasty cut, which was plastered up with sticking-plaster and clumsily tied with a handkerchief.

"My servant is not a genius at this sort of thing. Will you do it better, Comtesse?"

I bound the handkerchief as neatly as I could, and, for some unexplained reason, as once before at Harley, my heart beat in my throat. I could feel his eyes watching me, although my head was bent.

I did not look up until the arm was finished. His shirt was of the finest fine. There was some subtle scent about his coat that pleased me. A faint perfume, as of very good cigars--nothing sweet and effeminate, like a woman. It intensely appealed to me. I felt--I felt--oh, I do not know at all what my feelings meant. I tried to think of grandmamma, and how she would have told me to behave when I was nervous. I had never been so nervous in my life before.

"You--you will not shoot to-morrow?" I faltered.

"Of course I shall. You must not trouble about this at all, Comtesse. It is the merest scratch, and was a pure accident. He is an excellent fellow, Mr.--er--Dodd is his name, is it not? Only pity is he did not shoot his wife, poor fellow!"

Again, as on a former occasion, the admirable _sang-froid of my kinsman carried things smoothly along. I felt quite calmed when I looked up at him.

"We won't try sitting on that sofa to-night," I laughed. "This is a fairly comfortable arm-chair. You are an invalid. You must sit in it. See, I shall sit here," and I drew a low seat of a dreadfully distorted Louis XV. and early Victorian mixed style that the upholsterer, when bringing the things, had described to me as a "sweet, pretty lady's-chair."

Antony sat down. The light from the lily electric branches made the gray in his hair shine silver. He looked tired and not so mocking as usual.

"I have settled with your husband when you are to come to Dane Mount. He says the 4th of November will suit him."

"We shall drive over, I suppose?"

"Yes."

After that we neither of us spoke for a few moments.

"Did you read La Rochefoucauld last night?" I asked, presently.

"No."

"Well, why did you ask for it, then?"

"I had a very good reason."

One could never describe the expression of Antony's face. If one goes on saying "mocking," or "cynical," or "ironical," or "quizzical," it gives no impression of what it is. It is a mixture of all four, and yet laughing, and--and--tender, and _insouciant_, and gay. He is himself, and there could never be any one like him. One feels as if all common things must vanish and shrivel up before his style of wit.

One could think of him as finishing his game of chess calmly while the officers of the Terror waited to conduct him to the guillotine. He is exactly--oh, but exactly!--grandmamma's idea of a gentleman. I wish she had seen more of him.

There is nothing _poseur or dramatic about him. He is quite simple, although he laughs at things all the time. I seem to have learned more of the world, and the tone of everything, just talking to him, than from all the books I have read lately. What would it be like if he were interested in anything intensely, if something moved him deeply, if he really cared?

As I sat there I thought of many things. An atmosphere of home had suddenly come into the room. I could almost believe I could hear grandmamma's voice.

"What are you thinking of so seriously, Comtesse?" he asked, lazily.

"I was wondering--"

"Well?"

"I was wondering if anything really mattered in life; if one could grow old and remain numb all the time; if things are real; if--oh, does anything matter? Tell me, you who know."

"Not many things. Later, you will regret some things you have not done--very few you have."

"I have been reading metaphysics lately, and, it seems, one could reason one's self into believing nothing is real. One of my books said the ancient Cynic philosophers doubted for the sake of investigation and the moderns investigate for the sake of doubting. What does it all mean?"

He began stroking Roy's ears. He had put his dear black-and-tan head on Antony's knee.

"It means a great many words. Do not trouble your wise head about it. The world is a pleasant enough place if you can pay your bills and have a fair digestion--eh, Roy? Bones are good things, aren't they, old fellow?"

"You, at all events, are never serious," and I laughed.

"I will tell you about that when you come to Dane Mount."

"I wish you could have got Lady Tilchester to go, then. I do like her so much. She has been very kind to me. It would give me pleasure to see her."

"She is a delightful woman."

"She told me how long she had known you--since her wedding-day, I think she said--and, oh, lots of things about you. She seemed--"

He moved his arm suddenly.

"I don't think you tied this handkerchief tight enough, Comtesse," he said, again turning up his cuff.

I rose and looked at the bandage.

"Why, yes. It is just the same as it was. But I will do it again if you wish."

This time it did not take me so long, but that ridiculous beating began again in my heart.

"It must have a double knot to keep it right," said Antony.

My fingers seemed clumsy. We were standing so close together there was a something--an electricity--which made my hands tremble. Oh, this was folly! I _must not let myself feel so. I finished the knot at last, and then said, stupidly:

"I have an idea I should return to my worthy guests down-stairs,'"

Antony smiled.

"They are quite happy without you," he said, "Vain little Comtesse, to think your presence is necessary to every one!"

"I dare say. But--I must go to them."

"No, you must not. Sit down in your low chair and forget all about them. No good hostess fusses after her guests. People like to be left to themselves."

I sat down meekly.

"I never can understand," said Antony, presently, "why your grandmother did not let me know when first you came to the cottage. She was fully aware of the relationship between us, even if I was not."

"Grandmamma was a very proud woman. We were so very poor. And then, there was grandpapa's _betise_, which, I fancy, had quite separated them from his family."

"What made her come to Ledstone at all, I wonder?"

I felt my cheeks getting pink, and bent down to look into the fire.

"She wanted to live in England, so that I might become English by growing up there, and--and it was cheap. We had been in London before that, and back in Paris, and down at Brighton, and a lot of dull places. I remember she saw the advertisement in the paper one morning and took the cottage immediately."

"You had heard that we were relations?" he asked.

"Yes, vaguely. But I did not know how many of you there were, only that the present holder of the title was a Sir Antony."

"It was a strange coincidence neither of us should have caught the other's name at the ball that night."

"Yes."

"Afterwards, when we talked you over at Harley, every one had got information about you, it seemed. They were all so awfully interested in you. You looked such an extraordinary contrast to the rest of the company."

"Well, I am glad of that."

He smiled.

"It was when I heard that your grandmother was a Frenchwoman I grasped everything. I remembered there was some story in the family about a younger son marrying a beautiful Parisienne. But it seemed to me it must be too far back to be possible. And then Lady Tilchester told me she was a very old woman. So we came over next day."

"I wish you had seen more of grandmamma," I said. "You would have got on together. She used to say wonderful things sometimes."

"I thought her the most lovely old lady I had ever seen."

"Her maxims would fill a book as big as La Rochefoucauld."

"What a pity you did not write them down!"

"The Marquis and she had the _religion du beau_. They worshipped everything that was beautiful and suitable and refined. They never did anything for effect, only because the action was due to themselves and was a good action." I paused.

"Go on, Comtesse," said Antony. "I like to hear it all."

"They really believed in _noblesse oblige_. Neither of them would have stooped from their position--oh, not a little inch."

"It is a thing we have quite forgotten in England. It was inconvenient, and most of us are not rich enough to indulge in it."

"But must one be rich to behave as of one's race?" I asked, astonished.

"Yes--or remain in the background, a good deal bored. To obtain the wherewithal to enjoy this rather expensive world, people stoop considerably nowadays."

"And you don't think it dreadful?"

"I am not a Crusader. Times have changed. One can keep one's own ideas and let others do as they please."

"Grandmamma had a maxim like that. She said it was _bourgeois to be shocked and astonished at things. She believed in the difference of classes. No one could have persuaded her that the common people are made of the same flesh and blood as we are."

"Tell me some more."

"This was her idea of things generally: first of all, to have the greatest self-respect; to stoop to no meanness; to desecrate the body or mind in no way; to conquer and overcome all foolish emotions; to be unselfish, to be gay, to be courageous; to bear physical and moral pain without any outward show; to forever have in front of one that a straight and beautiful carriage must be the reflection of a straight and beautiful mind; to take pleasure in simple things, and to be contented with what one has got if it is impossible to obtain better--in short, never to run one's head against a stone wall or a feather-bed, but if a good thing is to be gained by patience, or perseverance, or concentration, to obtain it."

"I am learning. Continue," said Antony, but there was no mock in his eyes. Only he smiled a little.

"They both had a fine contempt of death and a manner of _grand seigneur and a perfect philosophy. They had the refinement of sentiment of the _ancien regime_, only they were much less coarse. And in the _ancien regime one worshipped the King and the constitution of France, whereas grandmamma and the Marquis worshipped only _le beau in everything, which is higher than an individual."

"How well you tell it! I shall have to reorganize my religion."

"You are laughing at me!"

"No, I am not. I am deeply interested. Go on," and he leaned back in the straight-backed arm-chair.

"'Never stay in the mud,' was another of grandmamma's maxims. 'It happens that the best of us may fall there in life, but no one need stay there,' she used to say. Even the common people could rise out of it if they a fine enough spirit. But we were the examples, and one must never give a bad example. For instance, the common people might cry when they were hurt. They were only lower creatures and under the protection of the others. They could roar, if it pleased them, as they were the model of no one. But we could not cry, to encourage this foolishness."

"And so you lived and learned all that, dear little Comtesse! No wonder your eyes are so wise."

"I remember once I became impatient with some new stitches in my embroidery that would not go right, and I flung the piece down and stamped on it and tore it. Grandmamma said nothing, but she deliberately undid a ball of silk and tangled it dreadfully, and then gave it to me to straighten out. It was not to irritate me, she said. But patience and discipline were necessary to enable one to get through life with decency and pleasure, and while I untangled the silk I should have time to reflect upon how comically ridiculous I had been to throw down and trample upon an inanimate thing that only my personal stupidity had caused to annoy me."

Antony looked at me a long time. He sighed a short, quick sigh, and then said, gayly:

"You must certainly write a book for the training of the young. But what did your grandmother say of such things as strong passions--the mad love of one person for another, for instance? Could they be ruled by maxims?"

"She did not discuss those things with me. But she did say that in life, now and then, there came a _coup de foudre_, which sometimes was its glory and sometimes not; that this was nature, and there was no use going absolutely contrary to nature; but that a disciplined person was less likely to commit a _betise_, or to mistake a passing light for the _coup de foudre_, than one who was accustomed to give way to every emotion, as a trained soldier is better able to stand fire than the raw recruit from the fields."

"And yet the trained soldier goes under sometimes."

"In that case, she said, there were only two courses--either to finish the matter and go out altogether, or to get up again and fight better next time."

Antony looked down at me. He shaded his eyes with his hand, and it seemed as if he were observing something in my very soul. Then he said, with a whimsical smile, "Comtesse, tell me. And did she consider there were any great sins?"

"Oh yes. To break one's word, or in any way degrade one's race. But she said sins were not so much sins in themselves as in their _facon de faire_. One must remain a gentlewoman--or man--always, even in moments of the greatest _tourbillons_. 'We are all of flesh and blood,' she said, 'but in the same situation the _fille de chambre conducts herself differently to the _femme de qualite_.' What a serious impression I am giving you of grandmamma, though! She was a gay person, full of pleasant thoughts."

"She permitted pleasures, then?"

"But, of course, all pleasures that did not really injure other people. She said priests and custom and convention had robbed the world of much joy."

"She was quite right."

"She liked people to have fine perceptions. To be able to 'see with the eye-lashes' was one of her expressions, and, I assure you, nothing escaped her. It was very fatiguing to be long in the company of people who passed their lives morally eating suet-pudding, she said. Avoid stodge, she told me, and, above all, I was to avoid that sentimental, mawkish, dismal point of view that dramatically wrote up, over everything, 'Duty,' with a huge D. It happened that there were duties to be done in life, but they must be accomplished quietly, or gayly, as the case might be. 'Do not shut the mouth with a snap, and, having done so, turn the corners down,' she said. 'These habits will not procure friends for you.' And so I learned to take things gayly."

We were both silent for some time after this. Then Antony exerted himself to amuse me. We talked as lightly as the skimming of swallows, flying from one subject to another. We were as happy as laughing children. The time passed. It seemed but a few minutes when the clock struck eight.

"You will make me late for dinner!" I exclaimed. "But you reminded me of grandmamma and the Marquis and made me talk."

"May I come again to-night--to return La Rochefoucauld?" he asked, with his droll smile.

"I do not know. We shall see." And I ran into my room, leaving him standing beside the fire.

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BOOK II CHAPTER VIIIOn the morrow it had cleared up and flashes of blue sky were appearing. Augustus and Mr. McCormack had both had too much to drink the night before, at dinner, and were looking, and no doubt feeling, mixed and ill-tempered. The morning was long after the shooters had gone. It seemed as if one o'clock, when we were to start for the lunch, would never come. Miss Springle had some passages-at-arms with Mrs. Dodd. They had all been down to breakfast but Lady Wakely and another woman, who were accustomed to the ways of the world. I had
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