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The Unbearable Bassington

Chapter XII
A door closed and Francesca Bassington sat alone in her well-beloved drawing-room.
The visitor who had been enjoying the hospitality of her afternoon-tea table had just
taken his departure. The tête-à-tête had not been a pleasant one, at any rate as far as
Francesca was concerned, but at least it had brought her the information for which she
had been seeking. Her rôle of looker-on from a tactful distance had necessarily left her
much in the dark concerning the progress of the all-important wooing, but during the last
few hours she had, on slender though significant evidence, exchanged her complacent
expectancy for a conviction that something had gone wrong. She had spent the previous
evening at her brother’s house, and had naturally seen nothing of Comus in that
uncongenial quarter; neither had he put in an appearance at the breakfast table the
following morning. She had met him in the hall at eleven o’clock, and he had hurried
past her, merely imparting the information that he would not be in till dinner that
evening. He spoke in his sulkiest tone, and his face wore a look of defeat, thinly masked
by an air of defiance; it was not the defiance of a man who is losing, but of one who has
already lost.
Francesca’s conviction that things had gone wrong between Comus and Elaine de Frey
grew in strength as the day wore on. She lunched at a friend’s house, but it was not a
quarter where special social information of any importance was likely to come early to
hand. Instead of the news she was hankering for, she had to listen to trivial gossip and
speculation on the flirtations and “cases” and “affairs” of a string of acquaintances whose
matrimonial projects interested her about as much as the nesting arrangements of the
wildfowl in St. James’s Park.
“Of course,” said her hostess, with the duly impressive emphasis of a privileged
chronicler, “we’ve always regarded Claire as the marrying one of the family, so when
Emily came to us and said, ‘I’ve got some news for you,’ we all said, ‘Claire’s engaged!’
‘Oh, no,’ said Emily, ‘it’s not Claire this time, it’s me.’ So then we had to guess who the
lucky man was. ‘It can’t be Captain Parminter,’ we all said, ‘because he’s always been
sweet on Joan.’ And then Emily said - ”
The recording voice reeled off the catalogue of inane remarks with a comfortable purring
complacency that held out no hope of an early abandoning of the topic. Francesca sat
and wondered why the innocent acceptance of a cutlet and a glass of indifferent claret
should lay one open to such unsparing punishment.
A stroll homeward through the Park after lunch brought no further enlightenment on the
subject that was uppermost in her mind; what was worse, it brought her, without
possibility of escape, within hailing distance of Merla Blathington, who fastened on to
her with the enthusiasm of a lonely tsetse fly encountering an outpost of civilisation.
“Just think,” she buzzed inconsequently, “my sister in Cambridgeshire has hatched out
thirty-three White Orpington chickens in her incubator!”
 
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