The Unbearable Bassington HTML version

Chapter VI
Elaine de Frey sat at ease - at bodily ease - at any rate - in a low wicker chair placed
under the shade of a group of cedars in the heart of a stately spacious garden that had
almost made up its mind to be a park. The shallow stone basin of an old fountain, on
whose wide ledge a leaden-moulded otter for ever preyed on a leaden salmon, filled a
conspicuous place in the immediate foreground. Around its rim ran an inscription in
Latin, warning mortal man that time flows as swiftly as water and exhorting him to make
the most of his hours; after which piece of Jacobean moralising it set itself shamelessly to
beguile all who might pass that way into an abandonment of contemplative repose. On
all sides of it a stretch of smooth turf spread away, broken up here and there by groups of
dwarfish chestnut and mulberry trees, whose leaves and branches cast a laced pattern of
shade beneath them. On one side the lawn sloped gently down to a small lake, whereon
floated a quartette of swans, their movements suggestive of a certain mournful
listlessness, as though a weary dignity of caste held them back from the joyous bustling
life of the lesser waterfowl. Elaine liked to imagine that they re-embodied the souls of
unhappy boys who had been forced by family interests to become high ecclesiastical
dignitaries and had grown prematurely Right Reverend. A low stone balustrade fenced
part of the shore of the lake, making a miniature terrace above its level, and here roses
grew in a rich multitude. Other rose bushes, carefully pruned and tended, formed little
oases of colour and perfume amid the restful green of the sward, and in the distance the
eye caught the variegated blaze of a many-hued hedge of rhododendron. With these
favoured exceptions flowers were hard to find in this well-ordered garden; the misguided
tyranny of staring geranium beds and beflowered archways leading to nowhere, so dear to
the suburban gardener, found no expression here. Magnificent Amherst pheasants, whose
plumage challenged and almost shamed the peacock on his own ground, stepped to and
fro over the emerald turf with the assured self-conscious pride of reigning sultans. It was
a garden where summer seemed a part-proprietor rather than a hurried visitor.
By the side of Elaine’s chair under the shadow of the cedars a wicker table was set out
with the paraphernalia of afternoon tea. On some cushions at her feet reclined Courtenay
Youghal, smoothly preened and youthfully elegant, the personification of decorative
repose; equally decorative, but with the showy restlessness of a dragonfly, Comus
disported his flannelled person over a considerable span of the available foreground.
The intimacy existing between the two young men had suffered no immediate dislocation
from the circumstance that they were tacitly paying court to the same lady. It was an
intimacy founded not in the least on friendship or community of tastes and ideas, but
owed its existence to the fact that each was amused and interested by the other. Youghal
found Comus, for the time being at any rate, just as amusing and interesting as a rival for
Elaine’s favour as he had been in the rôle of scapegrace boy-about-Town; Comus for his
part did not wish to lose touch with Youghal, who among other attractions possessed the
recommendation of being under the ban of Comus’s mother. She disapproved, it is true,
of a great many of her son’s friends and associates, but this particular one was a special
and persistent source of irritation to her from the fact that he figured prominently and