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   Chapter 27 AUNT WILLIAM'S DAY

The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 11913

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


It was a chilly spring afternoon and Aunt William was seated by the fire doing wool-work, for she disapproved of the idle habits of the present day and thought that a lady should always have her fingers employed in some way; not, of course, either with cards or cigarettes. She was getting on steadily with the foot-stool she was making; a neat design of a fox's head with a background of green leaves. In the course of her life Aunt William had done many, many miles of wool-work. It was neither embroidery nor tapestry; it was made on canvas with what is known for some mysterious reason as Berlin wool; and was so simple that it used to be called the Idiot Stitch; but the curious elaboration of the design and sort of dignified middle-Victorian futility about it cast a glamour over the whole, and dispelled any association of idiocy from the complete work. A banner screen was now in front of the fire, which Aunt William had worked during a winter at St. Leonards, and which represented enormous squashed roses like purple cauliflowers, with a red-brown background-a shade called, in her youth, Bismarck brown, and for which she always retained a certain weakness.

It was her day, and on Aunt William's day she invariably wore a shot-silk dress, shot with green and violet; the bodice trimmed with bugles, the skirt plain and flowing. Aunt William did not have that straight-fronted look that is such a consolation to our modern women who are getting on in years, but went in decidedly at the waist, her figure being like a neat pincushion. Her voice was deep, her mind of a somewhat manly and decided order, so that the touches of feminine timidity or sentiment taught her in early youth sat oddly enough on her now. In reality she hated wool-work, but did it partly from tradition and partly from a contrary disposition; because other people didn't like it, and even because she didn't like it herself.

Her first visitor was a very old and dear friend of hers whom she particularly disliked and disapproved of, Lady Virginia Harper. Lady Virginia was a very tall, thin, faded blonde, still full of shadowy vitality, who wore a flaxen transformation so obviously artificial that not the most censorious person by the utmost stretch of malice could assume it was meant to deceive the public. With equal candour she wore a magnificent set of teeth, and a touch of rouge on each cheek-bone. To Aunt William's extreme annoyance Lady Virginia was dressed to-day in a strange medley of the artistic style combined oddly with a rather wild attempt at Parisian smartness. That is to say, in her cloak and furs she looked almost like an outside coloured plate on the cover of Paris Fashions; while when she threw it open one could see that she wore a limp crêpe de chine Empire gown of an undecided mauve, with a waist under the arms and puffed sleeves. On her head was a very smart bright blue flower toque, put on entirely wrong, with a loose blue veil hanging at the back. Had anything been required to decide the question of her looking grotesque, I should mention that she wore long mauve suède gloves. That settled it. A gold bag dangled from her left wrist, and she carried a little fan of carved ivory. She looked, naturally,-or unnaturally-slightly absurd, but had great distinction and no sort of affectation, while an expression that alternated between amiable enthusiasm and absent-minded depression characterised her shadowy indefinite features.

Aunt William received her with self-control, and she immediately asked for tea.

"Certainly. It is half-past three, and I regard five as tea-time. But as you wish, dear Virginia." Aunt William pulled the bell with manly vigour and ill-tempered hospitality.

"Have you heard that divine new infant harpist? He's perfectly exquisite-a genius. But the person I've come to talk to you about, Mary, is the new singer, Delestin. He's perfectly heavenly! And so good-looking! I've taken him up-quite-and I want you to be kind about him, dear Mary."

"I'll take two tickets for his concert," said Aunt William harshly. "But I won't go to the concert and I won't come and hear him sing."

"Now that's so like you, Mary! He isn't giving a concert, and I want you to hear him sing. He's too charming. Such a gentle soft creature, and so highly-strung. The other day after he had sung at my house-it was something of Richard Strauss's, certainly a very enervating song, I must own that-he simply fainted at the piano, and had to be taken away. So, if you give a party, do have him, dear Mary! You will, won't you?"

"Most certainly not! A protégé of yours who faints at the piano wouldn't be at all suitable for one of my Evenings, thank you, Virginia."

Lady Virginia did not answer. She evidently had not heard. She never listened and never thought of one subject for more than two seconds at a time. She used a long-handled lorgnette, but usually dropped it before it had reached her eye.

"Oh! and there's something else I wanted to speak to you about. A sweet girl, a friend of mine (poor thing!), has lost her parents. They were generals or clergymen or something, and she's obliged to do something, so she's going in for hats. So sensible and brave of her! She's taken the sweetest little shop just out of Bond Street. Do, dear, go and get some toques there, for my sake. Won't you?"

"Some toques?" repeated Aunt William. "I don't know what you mean. Hats are not things you order by the half-dozen. I have my winter's bonnet, my spring bonnet which I have got already, a sun-hat for travelling in the summer, and so forth."

"I got a beautiful picture-hat from her," said Lady Virginia dreamily. "An enormous black one, with Nattier blue roses in front and white feathers at the back-- only five guineas. But then she makes special prices for me, of course."

"No doubt she does," said Aunt William.

"Of course I can't wear it, my dear," continued Virginia. "I hate to a

ttract attention so, and I look too showy in a picture-hat with my fair hair. But it was a kindness to the girl. Poor girl!"

Aunt William was boiling over.

"Of course you can't wear it. Do you imagine you can wear the hat you've got on now, Virginia?"

"What this? It's only a little flower toque."

"At our age," said Aunt William, "only little flower toques, as you call them, should be left to younger people. Oh how much nicer you would look, Virginia, in a black or brown silk dress, and a close bonnet with strings, say with a chrysanthemum or two, and a few bugles if you like. It would be so much more suitable."

"What is a close bonnet?" asked Lady Virginia, trying to concentrate her thoughts and not in the least offended.

The arrival of Savile at this moment created a diversion. His air of inscrutability and self-restraint was neither more nor less marked than usual; but, to the acute observer, it would have been evident that he was crammed with suppressed and exciting information.

"You remember my nephew, Virginia? My brother James's only son, you know." Aunt William spoke proudly, as if his being an only son were some remarkable merit of his own.

"Not at all," murmured Savile indistinctly.

"Oh, is he really? What a darling! I adore children," said Lady Virginia, benevolently smiling at him. "And so tall for his age, too!"

"You don't know his age," snapped Aunt William.

"No, I don't; but I can see he's tall-a very fine child. What do you learn at school, darling?"

"Oh, nothing much," said Savile, with patience.

Lady Virginia laughed inconsequently.

"What a clever boy he is! Children are so wonderful nowadays! When Delestin was only six he played all Chopin's Valses and Liszt's Rhapsodies by heart. Of course that's some time ago now, but it shows what boys can do."

"By Jove!" said Savile.

"Who's your great friend at school, dear?"

"Oh-I suppose Sweeny's my greatest pal. He's in the eleven," added Savile explanatorily.

"Oh, yes! I daresay-a very nice boy too. He has a marvellous likeness to you, Mary dear," Lady Virginia said, using the long-handled glass, "especially about the-well-the ears-and forehead. Are you musical, my dear?"

"I like some of it," said Savile, with a sigh.

"You're like James, too," said Lady Virginia, "and I think I see a look of his mother, Mary."

"You never saw her, and you know it," said Aunt William, who always tried in vain to pin Virginia down to facts.

"Yes, but that was merely by chance," said Lady Virginia, getting into her cloak. "Then I shall expect you, Mary, to come and hear Delestin play? Oh, no, I forgot-you said you couldn't. I'm so sorry; but I must fly.... I've a thousand things to do. You know my busy life! I'm the President of the Young Girls' Typewriting Society, and I have to go and see about it. How we poor women ever get through the season with all the work we do is more than I can ever understand."

Aunt William became much more cordial at the prospect of her friend's departure, and when Virginia had at last fluttered out, after dropping the gold bag and the ivory fan twice, Savile said-

"Do you expect many more visitors like that to-day, Aunt William?"

"None like that."

"Well, while you're alone I've got some news to tell you. Sylvia would have come herself, but she's engaged-this afternoon."

"Not engaged to be married, I suppose!" said Aunt William, with a sort of triumphal archness.

"Yes, you've hit it in once. At least, up to a certain point. It'll be all right. But the Governor's a bit nasty-and the fact is, we want you to come and see him, and sort of talk him over, you know."

"Savile! Do you mean it? How charming!... But who's the young man-and what's the objection?"

Savile thought a moment, and remembered her tinge of snobbishness. "He's Sir Bryce Woodville's nephew. Chap who died. I mean, the uncle died. It's Woodville, you know!"

"Your father's secretary?"

"Yes, and a rattling good chap, too. Sylvia's liked him for ages, and he didn't like to come up to the scratch because he was hard up. Now something's turned up. Old Ridokanaki's written him a letter-wants him to go into his bank. He'll have three thousand a year. It's only habit with the Governor to pretend to mind. But a few words with you will settle it. I'll tell you more about it later on."

"I am amazed at the news, Savile. He's a very fine young man, but--"

"He's all right, Aunt William."

"But I thought the Greek gentleman with the unpronounceable name was madly in love with Sylvia himself? I've often talked it over with your father. He and I took opposite views."

"So he was, but he's got some one else now. It's simply got to come off. Now will you come and see us?"

"Certainly. When?"

"As soon as possible. I wish you'd come now."

"But this is my Day, Savile! How can I go out on my Day?"

"Of course you can. You'll have heaps of other days, but none like this-for Sylvia."

Aunt William hesitated, then her intense romantic curiosity got the upper hand.

"Savile, I'll come back with you now! Do you think James will listen to reason? He never agrees with me. And I don't know yet what to think myself."

"Of course he will. You're a brick, Aunt William. I'll tell you more about it in the cab. It's as right as rain for Sylvia, or you may be pretty certain I shouldn't have allowed it," said Savile.

To get Aunt William to go out on her Day, a thing she had not done for thirty years, was so great a triumph that he had little fear of not getting her to be on the right side. He knew she always made a point of disagreeing with his father on every subject under heaven, so he rubbed in Sir James's opposition, and gradually worked on her sentimental side until she was almost tearfully enthusiastic.

"How shall I behave? Go right in and tell your father he must consent?-or what?"

"Play for safety," said Savile.

* * *

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