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“But where do I begin?” she pondered. “In the year 1820? . . . It must have been about then that my greatgrandfather was a boy. I’m not young myself “— no, but she was very well set up and handsome —“and he was a very old man when I was a child — when he told me the story. A very handsome old man, with a shock of white hair, and blue eyes. He must have been a beautiful boy. But queer. . . . That was only natural,” she explained, “seeing how they lived. The name was Comber. They’d come down in the world. They’d been gentlefolk; they’d owned land up in Yorkshire. But when he was a boy only the tower was left. The house was nothing but a little farmhouse, standing in the middle of fields. We saw it ten years ago and went over it. We had to leave the car and walk across the fields. There isn’t any road to the house. It stands all alone, the grass grows right up to the gate . . . there were chickens pecking about, running in and out of the rooms. All gone to rack and ruin. I remember a stone fell from the tower suddenly.” She paused. “There they lived,” she went on, “the old man, the woman and the boy. She wasn’t his wife, or the boy’s mother. She was just a farm hand, a girl the old man had taken to live with him when his wife died. Another reason perhaps why nobody visited them — why the whole place was gone to rack and ruin. But I remember a coat of arms over the door; and books, old books, gone mouldy. He taught himself all he knew from books. He read and read, he told me, old books, books with maps hanging out from the pages. He dragged them up to the top of the tower — the rope’s still there and the broken steps. There’s a chair still in the window with the bottom fallen out; and the window swinging open, and the panes broken, and a view for miles and miles across the moors.”
The next day each Quiquendonian had a kind of recollection of what had occurred the evening before. One missed his hat, lost in the hubbub; another a coat-flap, torn in the brawl; one her delicately fashioned shoe, another her best mantle. Memory returned to these worthy people, and with it a certain shame for their unjustifiable agitation. It seemed to them an orgy in which they were the unconscious heroes and heroines. They did not speak of it; they did not wish to think of it. But the most astounded personage in the town was Van Tricasse the burgomaster.
"Ah, she wishes to board in the Corporation. Well, there is a place at Mrs. Crawford's. I think she has a spare room. Her house is on Elm Street, third block."
However, it is certain that Lord Peter, even in his lucid intervals, was very lewdly given in his common conversation, extreme wilful and positive, and would at any time rather argue to the death than allow himself to be once in an error. Besides, he had an abominable faculty of telling huge palpable lies upon all occasions, and swearing not only to the truth, but cursing the whole company to hell if they pretended to make the least scruple of believing him. One time he swore he had a cow at home which gave as much milk at a meal as would fill three thousand churches, and what was yet more extraordinary, would never turn sour. Another time he was telling of an old sign-post 44 that belonged to his father, with nails and timber enough on it to build sixteen large men-of-war. Talking one day of Chinese waggons, which were made so light as to sail over mountains, “Z—-nds,” said Peter, “where’s the wonder of that? By G—-, I saw a large house of lime and stone travel over sea and land (granting that it stopped sometimes to bait) above two thousand German leagues.” 45 And that which was the good of it, he would swear desperately all the while that he never told a lie in his life, and at every word: “By G—— gentlemen, I tell you nothing but the truth, and the d —-l broil them eternally that will not believe me.”
“I have time, then!” I exclaimed, and rushed away.
She shed him and burst through the open gates.
Mrs. Westgate practised the same serenity. “Awful.”
1.It is to be gathered from all sorts of sources that the great Exhibition at Wembley did not go so prosperously as might be desired. I wonder why. I believe the reasons are composite. In the first place, I suspect that the Exhibition was much too big; the Great Exhibition of 1851 went into the Crystal Palace. Then it was too technical. I think I have heard that six acres — the area of Trafalgar Square — were devoted to engineering exhibits. Perfectly enchanting — to engineers. But how I should loathe seeing six acres of wheels going round. And, lastly, there is the matter of “closing hours.” It is said that the first remark of the late Lord Tennyson on entering the Exhibition of 1851 was “Can one get a decent bottle of Bass here?” It is deplorable, no doubt; but to the average male mind Exhibitions and the modern closing hours are incompatible.
2. Lord Marshmoreton clung to his can of whale-oil solution with theclutch of a drowning man. None knew better than he that theseinterviews, especially when Caroline was present to lend the weightof her dominating personality, always ended in the same way.>
“The noble Douglas,” she said, “shall not pass without a prize from the field which he has so nobly won. This rich string of brilliants, which my ancestor won from the Sultan of Trebisond, itself a prize of battle, will be honoured by sustaining, under the Douglas’s armour, a lock of hair of the fortunate lady whom the victorious lord has adopted for his guide in. chivalry; and if the Douglas, till he shall adorn it with that lock, will permit the honoured lock of hair which it now bears to retain its station, she on whose head it grew will hold it as a signal that poor Augusta de Berkely is pardoned for having gaged any mortal man in strife with the Knight of Douglas.”
True religion, I allow, has no such pernicious consequences: but we must treat of religion, as it has commonly been found in the world; nor have I any thing to do with that speculative tenet of Theism, which, as it is a species of philosophy, must partake of the beneficial influence of that principle, and at the same time must lie under a like inconvenience, of being always confined to very few persons.
Lord Dannisburgh’s name, as one of the admirers of Mrs. Warwick, was dropped once or twice by Sir Lukin. He had dined with the Warwicks, and met the eminent member of the Cabinet at their table. There is no harm in admiration, especially on the part of one of a crowd observing a star. No harm can be imputed when the husband of a beautiful woman accepts an appointment from the potent Minister admiring her. So Lady Dunstane thought, for she was sure of Diana to her inmost soul. But she soon perceived in Sir Lukin that the old Dog-world was preparing to yelp on a scent. He of his nature belonged to the hunting pack, and with a cordial feeling for the quarry, he was quite with his world in expecting to see her run, and readiness to join the chase. No great scandal had occurred for several months. The world was in want of it; and he, too, with a very cordial feeling for the quarry, piously hoping she would escape, already had his nose to ground, collecting testimony in the track of her. He said little to his wife, but his world was getting so noisy that he could not help half pursing his lips, as with the soft whistle of an innuendo at the heels of it. Redworth was in America, engaged in carving up that hemisphere. She had no source of information but her husband’s chance gossip; and London was death to her; and Diana, writing faithfully twice a week, kept silence as to Lord Dannisburgh, except in naming him among her guests. She wrote this, which might have a secret personal signification: ‘We women are the verbs passive of the alliance; we have to learn, and if we take to activity, with the best intentions, we conjugate a frightful disturbance. We are to run on lines, like the steam-trains, or we come to no station, dash to fragments. I have the misfortune to know I was born an active. I take my chance.’
By far the shortest route to Washington, both as to distance and time, is by land; but I much wished to see the celebrated Chesapeak bay, and it was therefore decided that we should take our passage in the steam-boat. It is indeed a beautiful little voyage, and well worth the time it costs; but as to the beauty of the bay, it must, I think, be felt only by sailors. It is, I doubt not, a fine shelter for ships, from the storms of the Atlantic, but its very vastness prevents its striking the eye as beautiful: it is, in fact, only a fine sea view. But the entrance from it into the Potomac river is very noble, and is one of the points at which one feels conscious of the gigantic proportions of the country, without having recourse to a graduated pencil-case.
She gave him careful directions. It was a beach a mile farther along the coast from Palmyra. There was a side road and a thatched hut. He couldn't miss it. The beach was sort of better than Palmyra's. The skin-diving was more fun. And of course there weren't so many people. It belonged to some Swedish millionaire who had gone away. When could he get there? Half an hour would be all right. They would have more time. On the reef, that is.
Of all the beautiful hummingbirds' nests I saw in California, three are particularly noteworthy because of their positions. One cup was set down on what looked like an inverted saucer, in the form of a dark green oak leaf wound with cobweb. That was in the oak beside the ranch-house. Another one was on a branch of eucalyptus, set between two leaves like the knot in a bow of stiff ribbon. To my great satisfaction, the photographer was able to induce the bird to have a sitting while she brooded her eggs. The third nest I imagined belonged to the bird who took up her floor because Billy and I looked at her. If she were, her fate was certainly hard, for her eggs were taken by some one, boy or beast. Her nest was most skillfully supported. It was fastened like the seat of a swing between two twigs no larger than knitting-needles, at the end of a long drooping branch. It was a unique pleasure to see the tiny bird sit in her swing and be blown by the wind. Sometimes she went circling about as though riding in a merry-go-round; and at others the wind blew so hard her round boat rose and fell like a little ship at sea.