The Unbearable Bassington HTML version

Chapter XI
After the momentous lunch at the Corridor Restaurant Elaine had returned to Manchester
Square (where she was staying with one of her numerous aunts) in a frame of mind that
embraced a tangle of competing emotions. In the first place she was conscious of a
dominant feeling of relief; in a moment of impetuosity, not wholly uninfluenced by
pique, she had settled the problem which hours of hard thinking and serious heart-
searching had brought no nearer to solution, and, although she felt just a little inclined to
be scared at the headlong manner of her final decision, she had now very little doubt in
her own mind that the decision had been the right one. In fact the wonder seemed rather
that she should have been so long in doubt as to which of her wooers really enjoyed her
honest approval. She had been in love, these many weeks past with an imaginary Comus,
but now that she had definitely walked out of her dreamland she saw that nearly all the
qualities that had appealed to her on his behalf had been absent from, or only fitfully
present in, the character of the real Comus. And now that she had installed Youghal in
the first place of her affections he had rapidly acquired in her eyes some of the qualities
which ranked highest in her estimation. Like the proverbial buyer she had the happy
feminine tendency of magnifying the worth of her possession as soon as she had acquired
it. And Courtenay Youghal gave Elaine some justification for her sense of having chosen
wisely. Above all other things, selfish and cynical though he might appear at times, he
was unfailingly courteous and considerate towards her. That was a circumstance which
would always have carried weight with her in judging any man; in this case its value was
enormously heightened by contrast with the behaviour of her other wooer. And Youghal
had in her eyes the advantage which the glamour of combat, even the combat of words
and wire-pulling, throws over the fighter. He stood well in the forefront of a battle which
however carefully stage-managed, however honeycombed with personal insincerities and
overlaid with calculated mock-heroics, really meant something, really counted for good
or wrong in the nation’s development and the world’s history. Shrewd parliamentary
observers might have warned her that Youghal would never stand much higher in the
political world than he did at present, as a brilliant Opposition freelance, leading lively
and rather meaningless forays against the dull and rather purposeless foreign policy of a
Government that was scarcely either to be blamed for or congratulated on its handling of
foreign affairs. The young politician had not the strength of character or convictions that
keeps a man naturally in the forefront of affairs and gives his counsels a sterling value,
and on the other hand his insincerity was not deep enough to allow him to pose
artificially and successfully as a leader of men and shaper of movements. For the
moment, however, his place in public life was sufficiently marked out to give him a
secure footing in that world where people are counted individually and not in herds. The
woman whom he would make his wife would have the chance, too, if she had the will
and the skill, to become an individual who counted.
There was balm to Elaine in this reflection, yet it did not wholly suffice to drive out the
feeling of pique which Comus had called into being by his slighting view of her as a
convenient cash supply in moments of emergency. She found a certain satisfaction in
scrupulously observing her promise, made earlier on that eventful day, and sent off a