The Unbearable Bassington HTML version

Chapter I
Francesca Bassington sat in the drawing-room of her house in Blue Street, W., regaling
herself and her estimable brother Henry with China tea and small cress sandwiches. The
meal was of that elegant proportion which, while ministering sympathetically to the
desires of the moment, is happily reminiscent of a satisfactory luncheon and blessedly
expectant of an elaborate dinner to come.
In her younger days Francesca had been known as the beautiful Miss Greech; at forty,
although much of the original beauty remained, she was just dear Francesca Bassington.
No one would have dreamed of calling her sweet, but a good many people who scarcely
knew her were punctilious about putting in the “dear.”
Her enemies, in their honester moments, would have admitted that she was svelte and
knew how to dress, but they would have agreed with her friends in asserting that she had
no soul. When one’s friends and enemies agree on any particular point they are usually
wrong. Francesca herself, if pressed in an unguarded moment to describe her soul, would
probably have described her drawing-room. Not that she would have considered that the
one had stamped the impress of its character on the other, so that close scrutiny might
reveal its outstanding features, and even suggest its hidden places, but because she might
have dimly recognised that her drawing-room was her soul.
Francesca was one of those women towards whom Fate appears to have the best
intentions and never to carry them into practice. With the advantages put at her disposal
she might have been expected to command a more than average share of feminine
happiness. So many of the things that make for fretfulness, disappointment and
discouragement in a woman’s life were removed from her path that she might well have
been considered the fortunate Miss Greech, or later, lucky Francesca Bassington. And
she was not of the perverse band of those who make a rock-garden of their souls by
dragging into them all the stoney griefs and unclaimed troubles they can find lying
around them. Francesca loved the smooth ways and pleasant places of life; she liked not
merely to look on the bright side of things but to live there and stay there. And the fact
that things had, at one time and another, gone badly with her and cheated her of some of
her early illusions made her cling the closer to such good fortune as remained to her now
that she seemed to have reached a calmer period of her life. To undiscriminating friends
she appeared in the guise of a rather selfish woman, but it was merely the selfishness of
one who had seen the happy and unhappy sides of life and wished to enjoy to the utmost
what was left to her of the former. The vicissitudes of fortune had not soured her, but
they had perhaps narrowed her in the sense of making her concentrate much of her
sympathies on things that immediately pleased and amused her, or that recalled and
perpetuated the pleasing and successful incidents of other days. And it was her drawing-
room in particular that enshrined the memorials or tokens of past and present happiness.