The Elusive Pimpernel HTML version
IV : The Richmond Gala
It was perhaps the most brilliant September ever known in England, where the last days
of dying summer are nearly always golden and beautiful.
Strange that in this country, where that same season is so peculiarly radiant with a glory
all its own, there should be no special expression in the language with which to
accurately name it.
So we needs must call it "fin d'ete": the ending of the summer; not the absolute end, nor
yet the ultimate departure, but the tender lingering of a friend obliged to leave us anon,
yet who fain would steal a day here and there, a week or so in which to stay with us: who
would make that last pathetic farewell of his endure a little while longer still, and brings
forth in gorgeous array for our final gaze all that he has which is most luxuriant, most
desirable, most worthy of regret.
And in this year of grace 1793, departing summer had lavished the treasures of her palette
upon woodland and river banks; had tinged the once crude green of larch and elm with a
tender hue of gold, had brushed the oaks with tones of warm russet, and put patches of
sienna and crimson on the beech.
In the gardens the roses were still in bloom, not the delicate blush or lemon ones of June,
nor yet the pale Banksias and climbers, but the full-blooded red roses of late summer, and
deep-coloured apricot ones, with crinkled outside leaves faintly kissed by the frosty dew.
In sheltered spots the purple clematis still lingered, whilst the dahlias, brilliant of hue,
seemed overbearing in their gorgeous insolence, flaunting their crudely colored petals
against sober backgrounds of mellow leaves, or the dull, mossy tones of ancient,
The Gala had always been held about the end of September. The weather, on the
riverside, was most dependable then, and there was always sufficient sunshine as an
excuse for bringing out Madam's last new muslin gown, or her pale-coloured quilted
petticoat. Then the ground was dry and hard, good alike for walking and for setting up
tents and booths. And of these there was of a truth a most goodly array this year:
mountebanks and jugglers from every corner of the world, so it seemed, for there was a
man with a face as black as my lord's tricorne, and another with such flat yellow cheeks
as made one think of batter pudding, and spring aconite, of eggs and other very yellow
There was a tent wherein dogs--all sorts of dogs, big, little, black, white or tan--did things
which no Christian with respect for his own backbone would have dared to perform, and
another where a weird- faced old man made bean-stalks and walking sticks, coins of the
realm and lace kerchiefs vanish into thin air.