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The Unbearable Bassington

Chapter VIII
It was a fresh rain-repentant afternoon, following a morning that had been sultry and
torrentially wet by turns; the sort of afternoon that impels people to talk graciously of the
rain as having done a lot of good, its chief merit in their eyes probably having been its
recognition of the art of moderation. Also it was an afternoon that invited bodily activity
after the convalescent languor of the earlier part of the day. Elaine had instinctively
found her way into her riding-habit and sent an order down to the stables - a blessed oasis
that still smelt sweetly of horse and hay and cleanliness in a world that reeked of petrol,
and now she set her mare at a smart pace through a succession of long-stretching country
lanes. She was due some time that afternoon at a garden-party, but she rode with
determination in an opposite direction. In the first place neither Comus or Courtenay
would be at the party, which fact seemed to remove any valid reason that could be
thought of for inviting her attendance thereat; in the second place about a hundred human
beings would be gathered there, and human gatherings were not her most crying need at
the present moment. Since her last encounter with her wooers, under the cedars in her
own garden, Elaine realised that she was either very happy or cruelly unhappy, she could
not quite determine which. She seemed to have what she most wanted in the world lying
at her feet, and she was dreadfully uncertain in her more reflective moments whether she
really wanted to stretch out her hand and take it. It was all very like some situation in an
Arabian Nights tale or a story of Pagan Hellas, and consequently the more puzzling and
disconcerting to a girl brought up on the methodical lines of Victorian Christianity. Her
appeal court was in permanent session these last few days, but it gave no decisions, at
least none that she would listen to. And the ride on her fast light-stepping little mare,
alone and unattended, through the fresh-smelling leafy lanes into unexplored country,
seemed just what she wanted at the moment. The mare made some small delicate
pretence of being roadshy, not the staring dolt-like kind of nervousness that shows itself
in an irritating hanging-back as each conspicuous wayside object presents itself, but the
nerve-flutter of an imaginative animal that merely results in a quick whisk of the head
and a swifter bound forward. She might have paraphrased the mental attitude of the
immortalised Peter Bell into
A
basket
underneath
a
tree
A
yellow
tiger
is
to
me,
If it is nothing more.
The more really alarming episodes of the road, the hoot and whir of a passing motor-car
or the loud vibrating hum of a wayside threshing-machine, were treated with indifference.
On turning a corner out of a narrow coppice-bordered lane into a wider road that sloped
steadily upward in a long stretch of hill Elaine saw, coming toward her at no great
distance, a string of yellow-painted vans, drawn for the most part by skewbald or
speckled horses. A certain rakish air about these oncoming road-craft proclaimed them
 
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