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Jacob's Room

CHAPTER NINE
The Countess of Rocksbier sat at the head of the table alone with Jacob. Fed upon
champagne and spices for at least two centuries (four, if you count the female line), the
Countess Lucy looked well fed. A discriminating nose she had for scents, prolonged, as
if in quest of them; her underlip protruded a narrow red shelf; her eyes were small, with
sandy tufts for eyebrows, and her jowl was heavy. Behind her (the window looked on
Grosvenor Square) stood Moll Pratt on the pavement, offering violets for sale; and Mrs.
Hilda Thomas, lifting her skirts, preparing to cross the road. One was from Walworth;
the other from Putney. Both wore black stockings, but Mrs. Thomas was coiled in furs.
The comparison was much in Lady Rocksbier's favour. Moll had more humour, but was
violent; stupid too. Hilda Thomas was mealy-mouthed, all her silver frames aslant; egg-
cups in the drawing-room; and the windows shrouded. Lady Rocksbier, whatever the
deficiencies of her profile, had been a great rider to hounds. She used her knife with
authority, tore her chicken bones, asking Jacob's pardon, with her own hands.
"Who is that driving by?" she asked Boxall, the butler.
"Lady Firtlemere's carriage, my lady," which reminded her to send a card to ask after his
lordship's health. A rude old lady, Jacob thought. The wine was excellent. She called
herself "an old woman"--"so kind to lunch with an old woman"--which flattered him. She
talked of Joseph Chamberlain, whom she had known. She said that Jacob must come
and meet-- one of our celebrities. And the Lady Alice came in with three dogs on a
leash, and Jackie, who ran to kiss his grandmother, while Boxall brought in a telegram,
and Jacob was given a good cigar.
A few moments before a horse jumps it slows, sidles, gathers itself together, goes up
like a monster wave, and pitches down on the further side. Hedges and sky swoop in a
semicircle. Then as if your own body ran into the horse's body and it was your own
forelegs grown with his that sprang, rushing through the air you go, the ground resilient,
bodies a mass of muscles, yet you have command too, upright stillness, eyes
accurately judging. Then the curves cease, changing to downright hammer strokes,
which jar; and you draw up with a jolt; sitting back a little, sparkling, tingling, glazed with
ice over pounding arteries, gasping: "Ah! ho! Hah!" the steam going up from the horses
as they jostle together at the cross-roads, where the signpost is, and the woman in the
apron stands and stares at the doorway. The man raises himself from the cabbages to
stare too.
So Jacob galloped over the fields of Essex, flopped in the mud, lost the hunt, and rode
by himself eating sandwiches, looking over the hedges, noticing the colours as if new
scraped, cursing his luck.
He had tea at the Inn; and there they all were, slapping, stamping, saying, "After you,"
clipped, curt, jocose, red as the wattles of turkeys, using free speech until Mrs.
 
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