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The Unbearable Bassington

Chapter III
On the evening of a certain November day, two years after the events heretofore
chronicled, Francesca Bassington steered her way through the crowd that filled the rooms
of her friend Serena Golackly, bestowing nods of vague recognition as she went, but with
eyes that were obviously intent on focussing one particular figure. Parliament had pulled
its energies together for an Autumn Session, and both political Parties were fairly well
represented in the throng. Serena had a harmless way of inviting a number of more or
less public men and women to her house, and hoping that if you left them together long
enough they would constitute a salon. In pursuance of the same instinct she planted the
flower borders at her week-end cottage retreat in Surrey with a large mixture of bulbs,
and called the result a Dutch garden. Unfortunately, though you may bring brilliant
talkers into your home, you cannot always make them talk brilliantly, or even talk at all;
what is worse you cannot restrict the output of those starling-voiced dullards who seem to
have, on all subjects, so much to say that was well worth leaving unsaid. One group that
Francesca passed was discussing a Spanish painter, who was forty-three, and had painted
thousands of square yards of canvas in his time, but of whom no one in London had heard
till a few months ago; now the starling-voices seemed determined that one should hear of
very little else. Three women knew how his name was pronounced, another always felt
that she must go into a forest and pray whenever she saw his pictures, another had
noticed that there were always pomegranates in his later compositions, and a man with an
indefensible collar knew what the pomegranates “meant.” “What I think so splendid
about him,” said a stout lady in a loud challenging voice, “is the way he defies all the
conventions of art while retaining all that the conventions stand for.” “Ah, but have you
noticed - ” put in the man with the atrocious collar, and Francesca pushed desperately on,
wondering dimly as she went, what people found so unsupportable in the affliction of
deafness. Her progress was impeded for a moment by a couple engaged in earnest and
voluble discussion of some smouldering question of the day; a thin spectacled young man
with the receding forehead that so often denotes advanced opinions, was talking to a
spectacled young woman with a similar type of forehead, and exceedingly untidy hair. It
was her ambition in life to be taken for a Russian girl-student, and she had spent weeks of
patient research in trying to find out exactly where you put the tea-leaves in a samovar.
She had once been introduced to a young Jewess from Odessa, who had died of
pneumonia the following week; the experience, slight as it was, constituted the spectacled
young lady an authority on all things Russian in the eyes of her immediate set.
“Talk is helpful, talk is needful,” the young man was saying, “but what we have got to do
is to lift the subject out of the furrow of indisciplined talk and place it on the threshing-
floor of practical discussion.”
The young woman took advantage of the rhetorical full-stop to dash in with the remark
which was already marshalled on the tip of her tongue.
“In emancipating the serfs of poverty we must be careful to avoid the mistakes which
Russian bureaucracy stumbled into when liberating the serfs of the soil.”