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The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter IX Post by :aliza Category :Long Stories Author :Saki Date :May 2011 Read :3550

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The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter IX

In the warmth of a late June morning the long shaded stretch of
raked earth, gravel-walk and rhododendron bush that is known
affectionately as the Row was alive with the monotonous movement
and alert stagnation appropriate to the time and place. The
seekers after health, the seekers after notoriety and recognition,
and the lovers of good exercise were all well represented on the
galloping ground; the gravel-walk and chairs and long seats held a
population whose varied instincts and motives would have baffled a
social catalogue-maker. The children, handled or in perambulators,
might be excused from instinct or motive; they were brought.

Pleasingly conspicuous among a bunch of indifferent riders pacing
along by the rails where the onlookers were thickest was Courtenay
Youghal, on his handsome plum-roan gelding Anne de Joyeuse. That
delicately stepping animal had taken a prize at Islington and
nearly taken the life of a stable-boy of whom he disapproved, but
his strongest claims to distinction were his good looks and his
high opinion of himself. Youghal evidently believed in thorough
accord between horse and rider.

"Please stop and talk to me," said a quiet beckoning voice from the
other side of the rails, and Youghal drew rein and greeted Lady
Veula Croot. Lady Veula had married into a family of commercial
solidity and enterprising political nonentity. She had a devoted
husband, some blonde teachable children, and a look of unutterable
weariness in her eyes. To see her standing at the top of an
expensively horticultured staircase receiving her husband's guests
was rather like watching an animal performing on a music-hall

One always tells oneself that the animal likes it, and one always
knows that it doesn't.

"Lady Veula is an ardent Free Trader, isn't she?" someone once
remarked to Lady Caroline.

"I wonder," said Lady Caroline, in her gently questioning voice; "a
woman whose dresses are made in Paris and whose marriage has been
made in Heaven might be equally biassed for and against free

Lady Veula looked at Youghal and his mount with slow critical
appraisement, and there was a note of blended raillery and
wistfulness in her voice.

"You two dear things, I should love to stroke you both, but I'm not
sure how Joyeuse would take it. So I'll stroke you down verbally
instead. I admired your attack on Sir Edward immensely, though of
course I don't agree with a word of it. Your description of him
building a hedge round the German cuckoo and hoping he was
isolating it was rather sweet. Seriously though, I regard him as
one of the pillars of the Administration."

"So do I," said Youghal; "the misfortune is that he is merely
propping up a canvas roof. It's just his regrettable solidity and
integrity that makes him so expensively dangerous. The average
Briton arrives at the same judgment about Roan's handling of
foreign affairs as Omar does of the Supreme Being in his dealings
with the world: He's a good fellow and 'twill all be well.'"

Lady Veula laughed lightly. "My Party is in power so I may
exercise the privilege of being optimistic. Who is that who bowed
to you?" she continued, as a dark young man with an inclination to
stoutness passed by them on foot; "I've seen him about a good deal
lately. He's been to one or two of my dances."

"Andrei Drakoloff," said Youghal; "he's just produced a play that
has had a big success in Moscow and is certain to be extremely
popular all over Russia. In the first three acts the heroine is
supposed to be dying of consumption; in the last act they find she
is really dying of cancer."

"Are the Russians really such a gloomy people?"

"Gloom-loving but not in the least gloomy. They merely take their
sadness pleasurably, just as we are accused of taking our pleasures
sadly. Have you noticed that dreadful Klopstock youth has been
pounding past us at shortening intervals. He'll come up and talk
if he half catches your eye."

"I only just know him. Isn't he at an agricultural college or
something of the sort?"

"Yes, studying to be a gentleman farmer, he told me. I didn't ask
if both subjects were compulsory."

"You're really rather dreadful," said Lady Veula, trying to look as
if she thought so; "remember, we are all equal in the sight of

For a preacher of wholesome truths her voice rather lacked

"If I and Ernest Klopstock are really equal in the sight of
Heaven," said Youghal, with intense complacency, "I should
recommend Heaven to consult an eye specialist."

There was a heavy spattering of loose earth, and a squelching of
saddle-leather, as the Klopstock youth lumbered up to the rails and
delivered himself of loud, cheerful greetings. Joyeuse laid his
ears well back as the ungainly bay cob and his appropriately
matched rider drew up beside him; his verdict was reflected and
endorsed by the cold stare of Youghal's eyes.

"I've been having a nailing fine time," recounted the newcomer with
clamorous enthusiasm; "I was over in Paris last month and had lots
of strawberries there, then I had a lot more in London, and now
I've been having a late crop of them in Herefordshire, so I've had
quite a lot this year." And he laughed as one who had deserved
well and received well of Fate.

"The charm of that story," said Youghal, "is that it can be told in
any drawing-room." And with a sweep of his wide-brimmed hat to
Lady Veula he turned the impatient Joyeuse into the moving stream
of horse and horsemen.

"That woman reminds me of some verse I've read and liked," thought
Youghal, as Joyeuse sprang into a light showy canter that gave full
recognition to the existence of observant human beings along the
side walk. "Ah, I have it."

And he quoted almost aloud, as one does in the exhilaration of a

"How much I loved that way you had
Of smiling most, when very sad,
A smile which carried tender hints
Of sun and spring,
And yet, more than all other thing,
Of weariness beyond all words."

And having satisfactorily fitted Lady Veula on to a quotation he
dismissed her from his mind. With the constancy of her sex she
thought about him, his good looks and his youth and his railing
tongue, till late in the afternoon.

While Youghal was putting Joyeuse through his paces under the elm
trees of the Row a little drama in which he was directly interested
was being played out not many hundred yards away. Elaine and Comus
were indulging themselves in two pennyworths of Park chair, drawn
aside just a little from the serried rows of sitters who were set
out like bedded plants over an acre or so of turf. Comus was, for
the moment, in a mood of pugnacious gaiety, disbursing a fund of
pointed criticism and unsparing anecdote concerning those of the
promenaders or loungers whom he knew personally or by sight.
Elaine was rather quieter than usual, and the grave serenity of the
Leonardo da Vinci portrait seemed intensified in her face this
morning. In his leisurely courtship Comus had relied almost
exclusively on his physical attraction and the fitful drollery of
his wit and high spirits, and these graces had gone far to make him
seem a very desirable and rather lovable thing in Elaine's eyes.
But he had left out of account the disfavour which he constantly
risked and sometimes incurred from his frank and undisguised
indifference to other people's interests and wishes, including, at
times, Elaine's. And the more that she felt that she liked him the
more she was irritated by his lack of consideration for her.
Without expecting that her every wish should become a law to him
she would at least have liked it to reach the formality of a Second
Reading. Another important factor he had also left out of his
reckoning, namely the presence on the scene of another suitor, who
also had youth and wit to recommend him, and who certainly did not
lack physical attractions. Comus, marching carelessly through
unknown country to effect what seemed already an assured victory,
made the mistake of disregarding the existence of an unbeaten army
on his flank.

To-day Elaine felt that, without having actually quarrelled, she
and Comus had drifted a little bit out of sympathy with one
another. The fault she knew was scarcely hers, in fact from the
most good-natured point of view it could hardly be denied that it
was almost entirely his. The incident of the silver dish had
lacked even the attraction of novelty; it had been one of a series,
all bearing a strong connecting likeness. There had been small
unrepaid loans which Elaine would not have grudged in themselves,
though the application for them brought a certain qualm of
distaste; with the perversity which seemed inseparable from his
doings, Comus had always flung away a portion of his borrowings in
some ostentatious piece of glaring and utterly profitless
extravagance, which outraged all the canons of her upbringing
without bringing him an atom of understandable satisfaction. Under
these repeated discouragements it was not surprising that some
small part of her affection should have slipped away, but she had
come to the Park that morning with an unconfessed expectation of
being gently wooed back to the mood of gracious forgetfulness that
she was only too eager to assume. It was almost worth while being
angry with Comus for the sake of experiencing the pleasure of being
coaxed into friendliness again with the charm which he knew so well
how to exert. It was delicious here under the trees on this
perfect June morning, and Elaine had the blessed assurance that
most of the women within range were envying her the companionship
of the handsome merry-hearted youth who sat by her side. With
special complacence she contemplated her cousin Suzette, who was
self-consciously but not very elatedly basking in the attentions of
her fiance, an earnest-looking young man who was superintendent of
a People's something-or-other on the south side of the river, and
whose clothes Comus had described as having been made in Southwark
rather than in anger.

Most of the pleasures in life must be paid for, and the chair-
ticket vendor in due time made his appearance in quest of pennies.

Comus paid him from out of a varied assortment of coins and then
balanced the remainder in the palm of his hand. Elaine felt a
sudden foreknowledge of something disagreeable about to happen and
a red spot deepened in her cheeks.

"Four shillings and fivepence and a half-penny," said Comus,
reflectively. "It's a ridiculous sum to last me for the next three
days, and I owe a card debt of over two pounds."

"Yes?" commented Elaine dryly and with an apparent lack of interest
in his exchequer statement. Surely, she was thinking hurriedly to
herself, he could not be foolish enough to broach the matter of
another loan.

"The card debt is rather a nuisance," pursued Comus, with
fatalistic persistency.

"You won seven pounds last week, didn't you?" asked Elaine; "don't
you put by any of your winnings to balance losses?"

"The four shillings and the fivepence and the half-penny represent
the rearguard of the seven pounds," said Comus; "the rest have
fallen by the way. If I can pay the two pounds to-day I daresay I
shall win something more to go on with; I'm holding rather good
cards just now. But if I can't pay it of course I shan't show up
at the club. So you see the fix I am in."

Elaine took no notice of this indirect application. The Appeal
Court was assembling in haste to consider new evidence, and this
time there was the rapidity of sudden determination about its

The conversation strayed away from the fateful topic for a few
moments and then Comus brought it deliberately back to the danger

"It would be awfully nice if you would let me have a fiver for a
few days, Elaine," he said quickly; "if you don't I really don't
know what I shall do."

"If you are really bothered about your card debt I will send you
the two pounds by messenger boy early this afternoon." She spoke
quietly and with great decision. "And I shall not be at the
Connor's dance to-night," she continued; "it's too hot for dancing.
I'm going home now; please don't bother to accompany me, I
particularly wish to go alone."

Comus saw that he had overstepped the mark of her good nature.
Wisely he made no immediate attempt to force himself back into her
good graces. He would wait till her indignation had cooled.

His tactics would have been excellent if he had not forgotten that
unbeaten army on his flank.

Elaine de Frey had known very clearly what qualities she had wanted
in Comus, and she had known, against all efforts at self-deception,
that he fell far short of those qualities. She had been willing to
lower her standard of moral requirements in proportion as she was
fond of the boy, but there was a point beyond which she would not
go. He had hurt her pride besides alarming her sense of caution.

Suzette, on whom she felt a thoroughly justified tendency to look
down, had at any rate an attentive and considerate lover. Elaine
walked towards the Park gates feeling that in one essential Suzette
possessed something that had been denied to her, and at the gates
she met Joyeuse and his spruce young rider preparing to turn

"Get rid of Joyeuse and come and take me out to lunch somewhere,"
demanded Elaine.

"How jolly," said Youghal. "Let's go to the Corridor Restaurant.
The head waiter there is an old Viennese friend of mine and looks
after me beautifully. I've never been there with a lady before,
and he's sure to ask me afterwards, in his fatherly way, if we're

The lunch was a success in every way. There was just enough
orchestral effort to immerse the conversation without drowning it,
and Youghal was an attentive and inspired host. Through an open
doorway Elaine could see the cafe reading-room, with its imposing
array of Neue Freie Presse, Berliner Tageblatt, and other exotic
newspapers hanging on the wall. She looked across at the young man
seated opposite her, who gave one the impression of having centred
the most serious efforts of his brain on his toilet and his food,
and recalled some of the flattering remarks that the press had
bestowed on his recent speeches.

"Doesn't it make you conceited, Courtenay," she asked, "to look at
all those foreign newspapers hanging there and know that most of
them have got paragraphs and articles about your Persian speech?"

Youghal laughed.

"There's always a chastening corrective in the thought that some of
them may have printed your portrait. When once you've seen your
features hurriedly reproduced in the Matin, for instance, you feel
you would like to be a veiled Turkish woman for the rest of your

And Youghal gazed long and lovingly at his reflection in the
nearest mirror, as an antidote against possible incitements to
humility in the portrait gallery of fame.

Elaine felt a certain soothed satisfaction in the fact that this
young man, whose knowledge of the Middle East was an embarrassment
to Ministers at question time and in debate, was showing himself
equally well-informed on the subject of her culinary likes and
dislikes. If Suzette could have been forced to attend as a witness
at a neighbouring table she would have felt even happier.

"Did the head waiter ask if we were engaged?" asked Elaine, when
Courtenay had settled the bill, and she had finished collecting her
sunshade and gloves and other impedimenta from the hands of
obsequious attendants.

"Yes," said Youghal, "and he seemed quite crestfallen when I had to
say 'no.'"

"It would be horrid to disappoint him when he's looked after us so
charmingly," said Elaine; "tell him that we are."

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The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter X The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter X

The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter X
The Rutland Galleries were crowded, especially in the neighbourhoodof the tea-buffet, by a fashionable throng of art-patrons which hadgathered to inspect Mervyn Quentock's collection of Societyportraits. Quentock was a young artist whose abilities were justreceiving due recognition from the critics; that the recognitionwas not overdue he owed largely to his perception of the fact thatif one hides one's talent under a bushel one must be careful topoint out to everyone the exact bushel under which it is hidden.There are two manners of receiving recognition: one is to bediscovered so long after one's death that one's grandchildren haveto write to

The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter VIII The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter VIII

The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter VIII
It was a fresh rain-repentant afternoon, following a morning thathad been sultry and torrentially wet by turns; the sort ofafternoon that impels people to talk graciously of the rain ashaving done a lot of good, its chief merit in their eyes probablyhaving been its recognition of the art of moderation. Also it wasan afternoon that invited bodily activity after the convalescentlanguor of the earlier part of the day. Elaine had instinctivelyfound her way into her riding-habit and sent an order down to thestables--a blessed oasis that still smelt sweetly of horse and hayand cleanliness in a world that reeked