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Jacob's Room

CHAPTER SEVEN
About this time a firm of merchants having dealings with the East put on the market little
paper flowers which opened on touching water. As it was the custom also to use finger-
bowls at the end of dinner, the new discovery was found of excellent service. In these
sheltered lakes the little coloured flowers swam and slid; surmounted smooth slippery
waves, and sometimes foundered and lay like pebbles on the glass floor. Their fortunes
were watched by eyes intent and lovely. It is surely a great discovery that leads to the
union of hearts and foundation of homes. The paper flowers did no less.
It must not be thought, though, that they ousted the flowers of nature. Roses, lilies,
carnations in particular, looked over the rims of vases and surveyed the bright lives and
swift dooms of their artificial relations. Mr. Stuart Ormond made this very observation;
and charming it was thought; and Kitty Craster married him on the strength of it six
months later. But real flowers can never be dispensed with. If they could, human life
would be a different affair altogether. For flowers fade; chrysanthemums are the worst;
perfect over night; yellow and jaded next morning--not fit to be seen. On the whole,
though the price is sinful, carnations pay best;--it's a question, however, whether it's
wise to have them wired. Some shops advise it. Certainly it's the only way to keep them
at a dance; but whether it is necessary at dinner parties, unless the rooms are very hot,
remains in dispute. Old Mrs. Temple used to recommend an ivy leaf--just one--dropped
into the bowl. She said it kept the water pure for days and days. But there is some
reason to think that old Mrs. Temple was mistaken.
The little cards, however, with names engraved on them, are a more serious problem
than the flowers. More horses' legs have been worn out, more coachmen's lives
consumed, more hours of sound afternoon time vainly lavished than served to win us
the battle of Waterloo, and pay for it into the bargain. The little demons are the source of
as many reprieves, calamities, and anxieties as the battle itself. Sometimes Mrs.
Bonham has just gone out; at others she is at home. But, even if the cards should be
superseded, which seems unlikely, there are unruly powers blowing life into storms,
disordering sedulous mornings, and uprooting the stability of the afternoon--
dressmakers, that is to say, and confectioners' shops. Six yards of silk will cover one
body; but if you have to devise six hundred shapes for it, and twice as many colours?--
in the middle of which there is the urgent question of the pudding with tufts of green
cream and battlements of almond paste. It has not arrived.
The flamingo hours fluttered softly through the sky. But regularly they dipped their wings
in pitch black; Notting Hill, for instance, or the purlieus of Clerkenwell. No wonder that
Italian remained a hidden art, and the piano always played the same sonata. In order to
buy one pair of elastic stockings for Mrs. Page, widow, aged sixty-three, in receipt of
five shillings out-door relief, and help from her only son employed in Messrs. Mackie's
dye-works, suffering in winter with his chest, letters must be written, columns filled up in
the same round, simple hand that wrote in Mr. Letts's diary how the weather was fine,
 
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