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Almayer's Folly

Chapter 6
The lady patroness of Michaelis, the ticket-of-leave apostle of humanitarian
hopes, was one of the most influential and distinguished connections of the
Assistant Commissioner's wife, whom she called Annie, and treated still rather as
a not very wise and utterly inexperienced young girl. But she had consented to
accept him on a friendly footing, which was by no means the case with all of his
wife's influential connections. Married young and splendidly at some remote
epoch of the past, she had had for a time a close view of great affairs and even
of some great men. She herself was a great lady. Old now in the number of her
years, she had that sort of exceptional temperament which defies time with
scornful disregard, as if it were a rather vulgar convention submitted to by the
mass of inferior mankind. Many other conventions easier to set aside, alas! failed
to obtain her recognition, also on temperamental grounds - either because they
bored her, or else because they stood in the way of her scorns and sympathies.
Admiration was a sentiment unknown to her (it was one of the secret griefs of her
most noble husband against her) - first, as always more or less tainted with
mediocrity, and next as being in a way an admission of inferiority. And both were
frankly inconceivable to her nature. To be fearlessly outspoken in her opinions
came easily to her, since she judged solely from the standpoint of her social
position. She was equally untrammelled in her actions; and as her tactfulness
proceeded from genuine humanity, her bodily vigour remained remarkable and
her superiority was serene and cordial, three generations had admired her
infinitely, and the last she was likely to see had pronounced her a wonderful
woman. Meantime intelligent, with a sort of lofty simplicity, and curious at heart,
but not like many women merely of social gossip, she amused her age by
attracting within her ken through the power of her great, almost historical, social
prestige everything that rose above the dead level of mankind, lawfully or
unlawfully, by position, wit, audacity, fortune or misfortune. Royal Highnesses,
artists, men of science, young statesmen, and charlatans of all ages and
conditions, who, unsubstantial and light, bobbing up like corks, show best the
direction of the surface currents, had been welcomed in that house, listened to,
penetrated, understood, appraised, for her own edification. In her own words, she
liked to watch what the world was coming to. And as she had a practical mind her
judgment of men and things, though based on special prejudices, was seldom
totally wrong, and almost never wrong-headed. Her drawing-room was probably
the only place in the wide world where an Assistant Commissioner of Police
could meet a convict liberated on a ticket-of-leave on other than professional and
official ground. Who had brought Michaelis there one afternoon the Assistant
Commissioner did not remember very well. He had a notion it must have been a
certain Member of Parliament of illustrious parentage and unconventional
sympathies, which were the standing joke of the comic papers. The notabilities
and even the simple notorieties of the day brought each other freely to that
temple of an old woman's not ignoble curiosity. You never could guess whom you