The Unbearable Bassington HTML version

Chapter XVII
The bleak rawness of a grey December day held sway over St. James’s Park, that
sanctuary of lawn and tree and pool, into which the bourgeois innovator has rushed
ambitiously time and again, to find that he must take the patent leather from off his feet,
for the ground on which he stands is hallowed ground.
In the lonely hour of early afternoon, when the workers had gone back to their work, and
the loiterers were scarcely yet gathered again, Francesca Bassington made her way
restlessly along the stretches of gravelled walk that bordered the ornamental water. The
overmastering unhappiness that filled her heart and stifled her thinking powers found
answering echo in her surroundings. There is a sorrow that lingers in old parks and
gardens that the busy streets have no leisure to keep by them; the dead must bury their
dead in Whitehall or the Place de la Concorde, but there are quieter spots where they may
still keep tryst with the living and intrude the memory of their bygone selves on
generations that have almost forgotten them. Even in tourist-trampled Versailles the
desolation of a tragedy that cannot die haunts the terraces and fountains like a bloodstain
that will not wash out; in the Saxon Garden at Warsaw there broods the memory of long-
dead things, coeval with the stately trees that shade its walks, and with the carp that swim
to-day in its ponds as they doubtless swam there when “Lieber Augustin” was a living
person and not as yet an immortal couplet. And St. James’s Park, with its lawns and
walks and waterfowl, harbours still its associations with a bygone order of men and
women, whose happiness and sadness are woven into its history, dim and grey as they
were once bright and glowing, like the faded pattern worked into the fabric of an old
tapestry. It was here that Francesca had made her way when the intolerable inaction of
waiting had driven her forth from her home. She was waiting for that worst news of all,
the news which does not kill hope, because there has been none to kill, but merely ends
suspense. An early message had said that Comus was ill, which might have meant much
or little; then there had come that morning a cablegram which only meant one thing; in a
few hours she would get a final message, of which this was the preparatory forerunner.
She already knew as much as that awaited message would tell her. She knew that she
would never see Comus again, and she knew now that she loved him beyond all things
that the world could hold for her. It was no sudden rush of pity or compunction that
clouded her judgment or gilded her recollection of him; she saw him as he was, the
beautiful, wayward, laughing boy, with his naughtiness, his exasperating selfishness, his
insurmountable folly and perverseness, his cruelty that spared not even himself, and as he
was, as he always had been, she knew that he was the one thing that the Fates had willed
that she should love. She did not stop to accuse or excuse herself for having sent him
forth to what was to prove his death. It was, doubtless, right and reasonable that he
should have gone out there, as hundreds of other men went out, in pursuit of careers; the
terrible thing was that he would never come back. The old cruel hopelessness that had
always chequered her pride and pleasure in his good looks and high spirits and fitfully
charming ways had dealt her a last crushing blow; he was dying somewhere thousands of
miles away without hope of recovery, without a word of love to comfort him, and without