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CHAPTER XI

Lady Casterley was that inconvenient thing--an early riser. No woman
in the kingdom was a better judge of a dew carpet. Nature had in her
time displayed before her thousands of those pretty fabrics, where
all the stars of the past night, dropped to the dark earth, were
waiting to glide up to heaven again on the rays of the sun. At
Ravensham she walked regularly in her gardens between half-past seven
and eight, and when she paid a visit, was careful to subordinate
whatever might be the local custom to this habit.

When therefore her maid Randle came to Barbara's maid at seven
o'clock, and said: "My old lady wants Lady Babs to get up," there was
no particular pain in the breast of Barbara's maid, who was doing up
her corsets. She merely answered "I'll see to it. Lady Babs won't
be too pleased!" And ten minutes later she entered that white-walled
room which smelled of pinks-a temple of drowsy sweetness, where the
summer light was vaguely stealing through flowered chintz curtains.

Barbara was sleeping with her cheek on her hand, and her tawny hair,
gathered back, streaming over the pillow. Her lips were parted; and
the maid thought: "I'd like to have hair and a mouth like that!" She
could not help smiling to herself with pleasure; Lady Babs looked so
pretty--prettier asleep even than awake! And at sight of that
beautiful creature, sleeping and smiling in her sleep, the earthy,
hothouse fumes steeping the mind of one perpetually serving in an
atmosphere unsuited to her natural growth, dispersed. Beauty, with
its queer touching power of freeing the spirit from all barriers and
thoughts of self, sweetened the maid's eyes, and kept her standing,
holding her breath. For Barbara asleep was a symbol of that Golden
Age in which she so desperately believed. She opened her eyes, and
seeing the maid, said:

"Is it eight o'clock, Stacey?"

"No, but Lady Casterley wants you to walk with her."

"Oh! bother! I was having such a dream!"

"Yes; you were smiling."

"I was dreaming that I could fly."

"Fancy!"

"I could see everything spread out below me, as close as I see you; I
was hovering like a buzzard hawk. I felt that I could come down
exactly where I wanted. It was fascinating. I had perfect power,
Stacey."

And throwing her neck back, she closed her eyes again. The sunlight
streamed in on her between the half-drawn curtains.

The queerest impulse to put out a hand and stroke that full white
throat shot through the maid's mind.

"These flying machines are stupid," murmured Barbara; "the pleasure's
in one's body---wings!"

"I can see Lady Casterley in the garden."

Barbara sprang out of bed. Close by the statue of Diana Lady
Casterley was standing, gazing down at some flowers, a tiny, grey
figure. Barbara sighed. With her, in her dream, had been another
buzzard hawk, and she was filled with a sort of surprise, and queer
pleasure that ran down her in little shivers while she bathed and
dressed.

In her haste she took no hat; and still busy with the fastening of
her linen frock, hurried down the stairs and Georgian corridor,
towards the garden. At the end of it she almost ran into the arms of
Courtier.

Awakening early this morning, he had begun first thinking of Audrey
Noel, threatened by scandal; then of his yesterday's companion, that
glorious young creature, whose image had so gripped and taken
possession of him. In the pleasure of this memory he had steeped
himself. She was youth itself! That perfect thing, a young girl
without callowness.

And his words, when she nearly ran into him, were: "The Winged
Victory!"

Barbara's answer was equally symbolic: "A buzzard hawk! Do you know,
I dreamed we were flying, Mr. Courtier."

Courtier gravely answered

"If the gods give me that dream----"

>From the garden door Barbara turned her head, smiled, and passed
through.

Lady Casterley, in the company of little Ann, who had perceived that
it was novel to be in the garden at this hour, had been scrutinizing
some newly founded colonies of a flower with which she was not
familiar. On seeing her granddaughter approach, she said at once:

"What is this thing?"

"Nemesia."

"Never heard of it."

"It's rather the fashion, Granny."

"Nemesia?" repeated Lady Casterley. "What has Nemesis to do with
flowers? I have no patience with gardeners, and these idiotic names.
Where is your hat? I like that duck's egg colour in your frock.
There's a button undone." And reaching up her little spidery hand,
wonderfully steady considering its age, she buttoned the top button
but one of Barbara's bodice.

"You look very blooming, my dear," she said. "How far is it to this
woman's cottage? We'll go there now."

"She wouldn't be up."

Lady Casterley's eyes gleamed maliciously.

"You tell me she's so nice," she said. "No nice unencumbered woman
lies in bed after half-past seven. Which is the very shortest way?
No, Ann, we can't take you."

Little Ann, after regarding her great-grandmother rather too
intently, replied:

"Well, I can't come, you see, because I've got to go."

"Very well," said Lady Casterley," then trot along."

Little Ann, tightening her lips, walked to the next colony of
Nemesia, and bent over the colonists with concentration, showing
clearly that she had found something more interesting than had yet
been encountered.

"Ha!" said Lady Casterley, and led on at her brisk pace towards the
avenue.

All the way down the drive she discoursed on woodcraft, glancing
sharply at the trees. Forestry--she said-like building, and all
other pursuits which required, faith and patient industry, was a lost
art in this second-hand age. She had made Barbara's grandfather
practise it, so that at Catton (her country place) and even at
Ravensham, the trees were worth looking at. Here, at Monkland, they
were monstrously neglected. To have the finest Italian cypress in
the country, for example, and not take more care of it, was a
downright scandal!

Barbara listened, smiling lazily. Granny was so amusing in her
energy and precision, and her turns of speech, so deliberately
homespun, as if she--than whom none could better use a stiff and
polished phrase, or the refinements of the French language--were
determined to take what liberties she liked. To the girl, haunted
still by the feeling that she could fly, almost drunk on the
sweetness of the air that summer morning, it seemed funny that anyone
should be like that. Then for a second she saw her grandmother's
face in repose, off guard, grim with anxious purpose, as if
questioning its hold on life; and in one of those flashes of
intuition which come to women--even when young and conquering like
Barbara--she felt suddenly sorry, as though she had caught sight of
the pale spectre never yet seen by her. "Poor old dear," she
thought; "what a pity to be old!"

But they had entered the footpath crossing three long meadows which
climbed up towards Mrs. Noel's. It was so golden-sweet here amongst
the million tiny saffron cups frosted with lingering dewshine; there
was such flying glory in the limes and ash-trees; so delicate a scent
from the late whins and may-flower; and, on every tree a greybird
calling to be sorry was not possible!

In the far corner of the first field a chestnut mare was standing,
with ears pricked at some distant sound whose charm she alone
perceived. On viewing the intruders, she laid those ears back, and a
little vicious star gleamed out at the corner of her eye. They
passed her and entered the second field. Half way across, Barbara
said quietly:

"Granny, that's a bull!"

It was indeed an enormous bull, who had been standing behind a clump
of bushes. He was moving slowly towards them, still distant about
two hundred yards; a great red beast, with the huge development of
neck and front which makes the bull, of all living creatures, the
symbol of brute force.

Lady Casterley envisaged him severely.

"I dislike bulls," she said; "I think I must walk backward."

"You can't; it's too uphill."

"I am not going to turn back," said Lady Casterley. "The bull ought
not to be here. Whose fault is it? I shall speak to someone. Stand
still and look at him. We must prevent his coming nearer."

They stood still and looked at the bull, who continued to approach.

"It doesn't stop him," said Lady Casterley. "We must take no notice.
Give me your arm, my dear; my legs feel rather funny."

Barbara put her arm round the little figure. They walked on.

"I have not been used to bulls lately," said Lady Casterley. The
bull came nearer.

"Granny," said Barbara, "you must go quietly on to the stile. When
you're over I'll come too."

"Certainly not," said Lady Casterley, "we will go together. Take no
notice of him; I have great faith in that."

"Granny darling, you must do as I say, please; I remember this bull,
he is one of ours."

At those rather ominous words Lady Casterley gave her a sharp glance.

"I shall not go," she said. "My legs feel quite strong now. We can
run, if necessary."

"So can the bull," said Barbara.

"I'm not going to leave you," muttered Lady Casterley. "If he turns
vicious I shall talk to him. He won't touch me. You can run faster
than I; so that's settled."

"Don't be absurd, dear," answered Barbara; "I am not afraid of
bulls."

Lady Casterley flashed a look at her which had a gleam of amusement.

"I can feel you," she said; "you're just as trembly as I am."

The bull was now distant some eighty yards, and they were still quite
a hundred from the stile.

"Granny," said Barbara, "if you don't go on as I tell you, I shall
just leave you, and go and meet him! You mustn't be obstinate!"

Lady Casterley's answer was to grip her granddaughter round the
waist; the nervous force of that thin arm was surprising.

"You will do nothing of the sort," she said. "I refuse to have
anything more to do with this bull; I shall simply pay no attention."

The bull now began very slowly ambling towards them.

"Take no notice," said Lady Casterley, who was walking faster than
she had ever walked before.

"The ground is level now," said Barbara; "can you run?"

"I think so," gasped Lady Casterley; and suddenly she found herself
half-lifted from the ground, and, as it were, flying towards the
stile. She heard a noise behind; then Barbara's voice:

"We must stop. He's on us. Get behind me."

She felt herself caught and pinioned by two arms that seemed set on
the wrong way. Instinct, and a general softness told her that she
was back to back with her granddaughter.

"Let me go!" she gasped; "let me go!"

And suddenly she felt herself being propelled by that softness
forward towards the stile.

"Shoo!" she said; "shoo!"

"Granny," Barbara's voice came, calm and breathless, "don't! You
only excite him! Are we near the stile?"

"Ten yards," panted Lady Casterley. .

"Look out, then!" There was a sort of warm flurry round her, a rush,
a heave, a scramble; she was beyond the stile. The bull and Barbara,
a yard or two apart, were just the other side. Lady Casterley raised
her handkerchief and fluttered it. The bull looked up; Barbara, all
legs and arms, came slipping down beside her.

Without wasting a moment Lady Casterley leaned forward and addressed
the bull:

"You awful brute!" she said; "I will have you well flogged."

Gently pawing the ground, the bull snuffled.

"Are you any the worse, child?"

"Not a scrap," said Barbara's serene, still breathless voice.

Lady Casterley put up her hands, and took the girl's face between
them.

"What legs you have!" she said. "Give me a kiss!"

Having received a hot, rather quivering kiss, she walked on, holding
somewhat firmly to Barbara's arm.

"As for that bull," she murmured, "the brute--to attack women!"

Barbara looked down at her.

"Granny," she said, "are you sure you're not shaken?"

Lady Casterley, whose lips were quivering, pressed them together very
hard.

"Not a b-b-bit."

"Don't you think," said Barbara, "that we had better go back, at
once--the other way?"

"Certainly not. There are no more bulls, I suppose, between us and
this woman?"

"But are you fit to see her?"

Lady Casterley passed her handkerchief over her lips, to remove their
quivering.

"Perfectly," she answered.

"Then, dear," said Barbara, "stand still a minute, while I dust you
behind."

This having been accomplished, they proceeded in the direction of
Mrs. Noel's cottage.

At sight of it, Lady Casterley said:

"I shall put my foot down. It's out of the question for a man of
Miltoun's prospects. I look forward to seeing him Prime Minister
some day." Hearing Barbara's voice murmuring above her, she paused:
"What's that you say?"

"I said: What is the use of our being what we are, if we can't love
whom we like?"

"Love!" said Lady Casterley; "I was talking of marriage."

"I am glad you admit the distinction, Granny dear."

"You are pleased to be sarcastic," said Lady Casterley. "Listen to
me! It's the greatest nonsense to suppose that people in our caste
are free to do as they please. The sooner you realize that, the
better, Babs. I am talking to you seriously. The preservation of
our position as a class depends on our observing certain decencies.
What do you imagine would happen to the Royal Family if they were
allowed to marry as they liked? All this marrying with Gaiety girls,
and American money, and people with pasts, and writers, and so forth,
is most damaging. There's far too much of it, and it ought to be
stopped. It may be tolerated for a few cranks, or silly young men,
and these new women, but for Eustace "Lady Casterley paused again,
and her fingers pinched Barbara's arm, "or for you--there's only one
sort of marriage possible. As for Eustace, I shall speak to this
good lady, and see that he doesn't get entangled further."

Absorbed in the intensity of her purpose, she did not observe a
peculiar little smile playing round Barbara's lips.

"You had better speak to Nature, too, Granny!"

Lady Casterley stopped short, and looked up in her granddaughter's
face.

"Now what do you mean by that?" she said "Tell me!"

But noticing that Barbara's lips had closed tightly, she gave her arm
a hard--if unintentional-pinch, and walked on.




The Patrician by John Galsworthy
Category:
Contemporary

General Fiction
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