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The Unbearable Bassington

Chapter V
On a conveniently secluded bench facing the Northern Pheasantry in the Zoological
Society’s Gardens, Regent’s Park, Courtenay Youghal sat immersed in mature flirtation
with a lady, who, though certainly young in fact and appearance, was some four or five
years his senior. When he was a schoolboy of sixteen, Molly McQuade had personally
conducted him to the Zoo and stood him dinner afterwards at Kettner’s, and whenever the
two of them happened to be in town on the anniversary of that bygone festivity they
religiously repeated the programme in its entirety. Even the menu of the dinner was
adhered to as nearly as possible; the original selection of food and wine that schoolboy
exuberance, tempered by schoolboy shyness, had pitched on those many years ago,
confronted Youghal on those occasions, as a drowning man’s past life is said to rise up
and parade itself in his last moments of consciousness.
The flirtation which was thus perennially restored to its old-time footing owed its
longevity more to the enterprising solicitude of Miss McQuade than to any conscious
sentimental effort on the part of Youghal himself. Molly McQuade was known to her
neighbours in a minor hunting shire as a hard-riding conventionally unconventional type
of young woman, who came naturally into the classification, “a good sort.” She was just
sufficiently good-looking, sufficiently reticent about her own illnesses, when she had any,
and sufficiently appreciative of her neighbours’ gardens, children and hunters to be
generally popular. Most men liked her, and the percentage of women who disliked her
was not inconveniently high. One of these days, it was assumed, she would marry a
brewer or a Master of Otter Hounds, and, after a brief interval, be known to the world as
the mother of a boy or two at Malvern or some similar seat of learning. The romantic
side of her nature was altogether unguessed by the countryside.
Her romances were mostly in serial form and suffered perhaps in fervour from their
disconnected course what they gained in length of days. Her affectionate interest in the
several young men who figured in her affairs of the heart was perfectly honest, and she
certainly made no attempt either to conceal their separate existences, or to play them off
one against the other. Neither could it be said that she was a husband hunter; she had
made up her mind what sort of man she was likely to marry, and her forecast did not
differ very widely from that formed by her local acquaintances. If her married life were
eventually to turn out a failure, at least she looked forward to it with very moderate
expectations. Her love affairs she put on a very different footing and apparently they
were the all-absorbing element in her life. She possessed the happily constituted
temperament which enables a man or woman to be a “pluralist,” and to observe the sage
precaution of not putting all one’s eggs into one basket. Her demands were not exacting;
she required of her affinity that he should be young, good-looking, and at least,
moderately amusing; she would have preferred him to be invariably faithful, but, with her
own example before her, she was prepared for the probability, bordering on certainty, that
he would be nothing of the sort. The philosophy of the “Garden of Kama” was the
compass by which she steered her barque and thus far, if she had encountered some
storms and buffeting, she had at least escaped being either shipwrecked or becalmed.