The Freaks of Mayfair by E.F. Benson

The Freaks of Mayfair (1916) takes aim at high society in his satire portraying this collection of “compleat snobs.” Illustrated by George Plank, and dedicated to “Frank Eyes and Kindly Ears.”

Chapter One – The Compleat Snobs

THERE IS NO MORE JOYOUS COUPLE in all Mayfair than Sir Louis Marigold, Bart., M.P., and Lady Mary Marigold, and whether they are at Marigold Park, Bucks, or at Homburg, or in their spacious residence in Berkeley Square, their lives form one unbroken round of pomp and successful achievement. She was the daughter of an obscure Irish Earl, and when she married her husband was still hard at work building up the business of Marigold & Sons. Those were strenuous days, and the profession of money-getting made it necessary for him to indulge his snobbishness only as a hobby. But she, like the good wife she has always been to him, took care of his hobby, as of a stamp-collection, and constantly enriched it with specimens of her own acquisition, being a snob of purest ray serene herself. She is the undoubted descendant of Arrahmedear, king of Donegal, in which salubrious county her brother, the present Earl, is steadily drinking himself to death in the intervals of farming his fifty-acre estate. When he has succeeded in completely poisoning himself with whisky, she will become Countess of Ballamuck herself, since the title descends, in{14} default of male heirs, in the female line, and there will be what I hope it is not irreverent to call high old times in Berkeley Square and Marigold Park.

When first they married her husband always playfully called her ‘The Princess’ (being the lineal descendant of that remarkable monarch King Arrahmedear), and what began in play soon sobered into a habit. But when she is a real contemporary peeress, it is probable that he will drop the appellation derived from legendary kings, and call her Countess. There will be no hint of badinage about that: Countess she will be, and the papers will be full of little paragraphs about the movements of Sir Louis Marigold, Bart., M.P., and the Countess of Ballamuck…. There is just the faintest suggestion of Ouida-ism and impropriety which gives such announcements a peculiar relish.

Now there is no snob so profound as the well-born snob, especially in the female line. She (in this case Lady Mary Marigold) knows about it from the inside, and is aware of all it means to be the daughter of earls, not to mention kings. Her husband therefore, having been born of an obscure commercial family, was not originally so gifted as his wife, but by industry and study{15} he has now practically caught her up, and they run together in an amicable rose-coloured dead-heat. Like all the finer endowments, as that of poetry, pure snobbishness is born not acquired, and lowly as was his birth, the fairy-godmother who visited his infant cradle brought this golden gift with her, and with the same instinct for what is worth having that has always distinguished him, he did not squander or dissipate her bounty, but hoarded and polished and perfected it. When he was quite a little boy he used to dream about marquises, and, if a feverish cold added a touch of daring to his slumbers, about kings and queens; now with the reward that waits upon childhood’s aspirations, it has all come true. Already his son (the first-born of the future countess) has married the Lady Something Something, daughter of a marquis, and there are great hopes about a widowed Bishop for his daughter.

It might seem that this episcopal anchorage was but a poor fulfilment of the prayers of her papa, but any who think that can form no adequate impression of the completeness of Sir Louis’s snobbishness. For the real snob is he who worships success and distinction whether that success is hall-marked with coronets, wealth,{16} or gaiters. To achieve success in the eyes of the world is to him the greatest of human accomplishments, and to be acquainted, or better still, connected with those who have done so, and best of all to be identified with them, constitutes the joy of life. Sir Louis has a profound admiration for his wife, his son, his son’s wife, but he perhaps reserves his levels of highest complacency for himself, and with all his busy loving glances at the dazzling objects round him, he never really diverts his gaze from his own career. It is for his own success in life that he reserves his most sincere respect.

While his wife and he are thus in every sense perfect snobs, as far as perfection can be attained in this tentative world, they, like all other professors in great branches of knowledge, specialize in one particular department, and theirs is Birth. It is, of course, a great joy to Lady Mary Marigold to see the wife of a Cabinet Minister, of an African explorer, of an ambassador pass out of her dining-room at the conclusion of dinner, while she stands by the door and, shaking an admonitory finger at her husband till her bracelets rattle, says, ‘Now, Sir Baronet, don’t be too long’; it is a joy also to him to move to the other end of the table{17} between the ambassador and the Cabinet Minister and say, ‘My lady won’t grudge your Excellency time to drink another glass of port and have a small cigar’; but most of all they love the hour when these manœuvres are enacted with members of the aristocracy, or, as has happened several times in this last year or two (for they are really among the tree-tops), with those for whom, to the exclusion of themselves and other guests, finger-bowls are provided. On these occasions, that is when Royalty is present, a sort of seizure is liable to come upon them, and for a minute or two one or other sinks back in his chair in a dazed condition consequent upon so much happiness. A foretaste of the bliss of Nirvana is theirs, and Sir Louis’s eyes have been known to fill with happy, happy tears on seeing a Prince show my lady how to eat a cherry backwards, stalk first.

In the early days of their marriage, when, as Mr. Marigold, he came back tired with his day’s work to his modest dwelling in Oakley Street, Birth was his hobby, and instead of relaxing his tired brain over the perusal of trashy novels or the playing of fruitless games of patience, like so many who have no sense of the value of time, he and she would sit tranquilly, one on each side of{18} the fireplace, with a reading-lamp conveniently placed between them, and dive into the sunlit waters of the Peerage. One happy Christmas Day they found that the present of each to the other was a copy of this beautiful book, and after this delicious coincidence, they kept the pleasant custom up, and always presented each other with Peerages at Christmas, so that now they have both of them a complete set for the last twenty-three years. Their son, Oswald Owen Vivian Lancelot, was true to parental tradition and tendency, and rapturous was the day when, at the age of fourteen, after hours of careful work, he gave his mother on her birthday the gift he had been secretly preparing for her, namely the roll of his own ancestry, neatly illuminated. It was somewhat lop-sided, for very few Marigolds had been discoverable, but away, away back went the other line of the descent through Earls and coronets innumerable till it reached the original and unique King Arrahmedear of Donegal, above whose glorious name he had illuminated a royal crown. It was entirely Oswald Owen Vivian Lancelot’s own idea, and when he became engaged to the daughter of a marquis, his mother felt that she had known it would happen for years.{19}

Owing probably to the large number of Jews and journalists and brewers and pawnbrokers who have been ennobled during the long Liberal tenure of office, this particular brand of snobbishness has rather fallen into neglect, and many of the brightest snobs of Mayfair consider the cult of the mere peerage a somewhat Victorian pursuit. But the more earnest practitioners, like Lady Mary and Sir Louis Marigold, remain unaffected by such shallowness. They argue that the conferring of a peerage is still a symbol of success, and, loyalist to the core, consider that those who are good enough for the King are good enough for them. Besides, they have found by experience that they actually do feel greater raptures in the presence of Royalty than in that of subjects of the realm, and among subjects of the realm they like dukes better than marquises, marquises than earls, earls than viscounts. It is not implied that the pleasurableness of their internal sensations would indicate to them the rank of a total stranger whose name they were ignorant of, but knowing his name and his rank, they find that their delight in converse with him increases according to his precedence. Many pleasures are wholly matters of the imagination, and this may be one, but the hal{20}lucination is in this case, as in that of other nervous disorders, quite complete. And when a year or two ago Lady Mary was dangerously ill with appendicitis, her husband sensibly assuaged the deep and genuine anxiety he felt for her, by going through, day after day, the cards of the eminent people who had called to make enquiries. A prince (a very eminent one) was so condescending as to call twice, once on a Monday and once on the following Thursday. To this day Sir Louis cannot but believe that the better news the doctor gave him about my lady on that happy afternoon, was somehow connected with the magic of the repeated visit.

It has been mentioned that Sir Louis is in the habit of calling his wife ‘Princess’; it has also been hinted that she alludes to him as ‘Sir Baronet.’ There is a touch of badinage, of playfulness in both these titles, but below the playfulness is a substratum of seriousness. For she is descended from kings so ancient that nobody knows anything about them, and he is a real Baronet, and since his title in ordinary use is that of a mere knight, she and others of their intimates are accustomed to call him Sir Baronet, in order to mark the difference between him and such people as provincial mayors or eminent{21} actors and musicians. It must be supposed, too, that he is far from discouraging this, since he has printed on his cards, ‘Sir Louis Marigold, Bart., M.P.,’ in full. It may be unusual, but then there are, unfortunately, not many Baronets who take a proper pride in the honours with which their Sovereign has decorated them or their ancestors. Marquises and earls put the degree of their nobility on their cards instead of just calling themselves ‘Lord,’ and surely a Baronet cannot go wrong in following so august an example. But there is another custom of his to which perhaps exception may be taken, for it is his habit when entertaining a luncheon-party at which mere commoners are present (this is not a frequent occurrence) to step jauntily along in his proper precedence to the dining-room, leaving the less exalted persons to follow. He does it in a careless, unconscious manner, and this manner is by no means put on: he walks in front of lowlier commoners instinctively: he does not think about it: his legs just take him. It is perhaps scarcely necessary to add that instinct is not so strong with him as to go in before any lady, even if she were his own washerwoman, for the obligations of chivalry outweigh with him even those of nobility. It has always been so with the{22} true aristocrat, and it is so with him. Perhaps if a Suffragette were present he might go on ahead, for he considers that all women who hold any views but his on that subject have unsexed themselves. In his more indulgent moments he alludes to them as ‘deluded wretches.’

His politics are of course Tory. A Tory Prime Minister honoured himself by recommending the King to honour Sir Louis, and much time and a good deal of money spent in the Tory cause make it quite likely that a further honour will some time he conferred upon him when (and if) his party ever gets back into power. It is significant, anyhow, that he has made several visits lately to the Heralds’ College, where the shape of Viscounts’ coronets seemed to interest him a good deal, for since the motto of his business life, which has proved so successful, was ‘Prepare well in advance,’ it is likely that it will apply in such matters as these as well, and it may safely be assumed that on that happy day his spoons and forks will be found to be already engraved with the honour conferred on him. To be sure, should this happen before Lady Mary’s brother finally succumbs to the insidious bottle, she will find herself a step lower than her previous rank had been, by becoming a Viscountess{23} instead of remaining an Earl’s daughter. But, on the other hand, this will be but a temporary eclipse, for it cannot be so very long before she comes from under her cloud again on the demise of the dipsomaniac, and shines forth as an independent Countess. The whole affair, moreover, has been talked out so constantly by them that they are sure to have come to a wise decision based on the true principles of snobbishness.

Snobbishness is no superficial thing with them, or indeed with anybody; it springs from fountains as deep as those of character or religion. Now that between them they have got the Peerage practically by heart, its study, though they often read over favourite passages together, no longer takes them much time or conscious thought, it merely permeates them like Christianity or the moral qualities. It tinges all they do, and they do a great many very kind and considerate and generous things. Sir Baronet is the most liberal giver; no appeal made for a deserving and charitable object ever came to him in vain, but deep in his heart all the time that he is signing his munificent cheque, the thankful cries of the poor folk he has succoured sound in his ears, as they murmur, ‘Thank you, Sir Baronet!’ ‘Bless you, Sir Baronet!’ Lady{24} Mary is equally open-handed, especially when children and dumb animals are concerned, and she declares she can almost hear the thumping of the dogs’ tails as they strive to say, ‘Thank you, my lady!’ ‘Bless your ladyship’s kind heart.’

Occasionally, out of mere exuberance, Sir Baronet sounds an insincere note. He wrote once to Oswald bidding him bring his wife to dinner in these terms: ‘Bring my lady along to dinner on Tuesday week, my boy. No party, just ourselves, and I think the Princess told me the French Ambassador and the Duchess of Middlesex were to take their cutlets with us.’ … But all the time his pen was so trembling with gratification that for the moment Oswald thought his father must have a fit of shivering, till the truer explanation dawned on him, and he realized that the usually neat and careful handwriting was blurred with joy. But perhaps this little insincerity is but the mark of the most complete snob of all, who affects to make light of the attainments towards which his holiest and highest aspirations have been ever directed. Anyhow, one would be sorry to think that Sir Baronet was sincere over this, for it would imply that he was getting used to Ambassadors and Dukes, that he was becoming blasé with a surfeit of aris{25}tocracy. That would be too tragic a fate for so thoroughly amiable an ass.

There is nothing more stimulating in this drab world than to look at those who intensely enjoy the prosperity which surrounds them, and to see Sir Baronet stepping along Piccadilly with his springy walk, and his ruddy face ready to be wreathed in smiles as he takes off his hat to some social star, is sufficient to reconcile the cynic and the disappointed, if they have any touch of humanity left in them, to a world where some people have such a wonderfully pleasant time. Perhaps if cynics were a little simpler, a little more alive to the possible joys of existence, they would share some of those raptures themselves. A princely fortune is no necessity to the snob: it is possible to taste his joys on a modest competence. But character and thoroughness are needful: he must read his Peerage till the glamour grows about the pages, and must value aright the little paragraphs in newspapers which record the doings of the mighty. Unless men are born with this gift, it is true they will not enter the highest circle of the Paradiso, but they should at least be able to leave the Inferno far below them. And as a matter of fact, most people have a touch (just a touch) of the snob innate in them,{26} if they will only take the pains to look for it. They may not have the peerage-mind, but probably there is some sort of worldly success before which they are willing to truckle. It is worth a little trouble, in view of the spiritual reward, for the snob always has an aim in life: he never drifts along a purposeless existence.

The chronicler is tempted to linger a little over these happy and prosperous persons, and forecast the further glories that inevitably await them. At present a certain number of the Vere de Veres turn up their patrician noses when Marigolds are mentioned, which is exceedingly foolish of them, considering that it is out of Marigolds that the very best Vere de Veres have been made. The Marigolds will win eminence and renown by their industry, their riches, and their colossal respectability. That was how the Vere de Veres became the cream of the country, and instead of calling the Marigolds ‘those tradesmen,’ they would be wiser to hail them as cousins who will buttress up some of their own tottering lines (if their sons and daughters can only manage to marry into the Marigolds) by reinforcing them with their own vigorous blood, their wealth, and not least, their respectability. In the next generation Oswald Owen Vivian Lancelot will be{27} Earl of Ballamuck and Viscount Marigold, and his children, of whom he has only eleven at present, will be Members of Parliament, and hard-working soldiers and diplomatists, with peeresses for sisters. When a few more years have rolled, the Vere de Veres will have to respect them, for they will be Vere de Veres, good, strong, honest Vere de Veres, the pick of the bunch, for with their healthy bodies, active brains, and, above all, their untarnished respectability, they are precisely the folk on whom honours pour down in spate. And what is the use of affecting to despise a family that in a hundred years will number bishops and ambassadors and generals among its collaterals, and will certainly have a family banner in St. George’s chapel?

Chapter Two – Aunt George

AUNT GEORGIE’S CHRISTIAN NAME as bestowed by godparents with silver mugs at baptism was not Georgiana but simply George. He was in fact an infant of the male sex according to physical equipment, but it became perfectly obvious even when he was quite a little boy that he was quite a little girl. He played with dolls rather than lead soldiers, and cried when he was promoted to knickerbockers. These peculiarities, sad in one so young, caused his parents to send him to a boys’ school at the early age of nine, where they hoped he might learn to take a truer view of himself. But this wider experience of life seemed but to confirm him in his delusions, for when he quarrelled with other young gentlemen, he did not hit them in the face with his fist, but slapped them with the open hand and pulled their hair. It was observed also that when he ran (which he did not like doing) he ran from the knees instead of striding from the hips. He did little, however, either in the way of running or of quarrelling, for he was of a sedentary and sentimental disposition, and formed a violent attachment to another young lady, on whom Nature had bestowed the frame{32} of a male, and they gave each other pieces of their hair, which were duly returned to their real owners when they had tiffs, with inexorable notes similar to those by which people break off engagements. These estrangements were followed by rather oily reconciliations, in which they vowed eternal friendship again, treated each other to chocolates and more hair, and would probably have kissed each other if they had dared. Their unnatural sentiments were complicated by a streak of odious piety, and they were happiest when, encased in short surplices, they sang treble together in the school choir out of one hymn-book.

Public-school life checked the outward manifestation of girlhood, but Georgie’s essential nature continued to develop in secret. Publicly he became more or less a male boy, but this was not because he was really growing into a male boy, but because through ridicule, contempt, and example he found it more convenient to behave like one. He did not like boys’ games, but being tall and strong and well-made, and being forced to take part in them, he played them with considerable success. But he hated roughness and cold weather and mud, and his infant piety developed into a sort of sentimental rapture with{33} stained-glass windows and ecclesiastical rites and church music. His public school was one where Confession to the Chaplain was, though not insisted on, encouraged, and Georgie conceived a sort of passion for this athletic young priest, and poured out to him week by week a farrago of pale and bloodless peccadilloes, and thought how wonderful he was. Eventually the embarrassed clergyman, who was of an ingenious turn of mind, but despaired of ever teaching Georgie manliness, invented a perfectly new penance for him, and forbade him to come to confession, unless he had really something desperate to say, more frequently than once every three weeks. Otherwise, apart from those religious flirtations, Georgie appeared to be growing up in an ordinary human manner. But, if anyone had been skilful enough to dissect him down to the marrow of his soul, he would have found that Georgie was not passing from boyhood into manhood, but from girlhood into womanhood.

He went up to Oxford, and there, under the sentimental influence of the city of spires, the last trace of his manhood left him. His father, who, by one of Nature’s inimitable conjuring tricks, was a bluff old squire, rather too fond of port now, just as he had been rather too fond of{34} the first line of the Gaiety Chorus in his youth, longed for Georgie to sow some wild oats, to get drunk or gated, to get entangled with a girl, to do anything to show that virility, though sadly latent, existed in him. But Georgie continued to disappoint those unedifying wishes: he preferred barley-water to port, and was always working in his room by ten in the evening, so that he would not have known whether he was gated or not, and he took no interest in any choruses apart from chapel choirs, and never got entangled with anybody. Instead he became a Roman Catholic, and a mixture of port, passion, and apoplexy carried off his father before he had time to alter his will.

Georgie stepped into his father’s shoes, and continued his own blameless career. He had an income of some three thousand a year, and a small place in Sussex, and at the conclusion of his Oxford days, turned over the place in Sussex to his step-mother and his three plain sisters, reserving there a couple of rooms for himself, and took a small neat house in Curzon Street. He was both generous and careful about money, made his sisters ample allowances, and proceeded to spend the rest of his income thoughtfully and methodically. He had an excellent{35} taste in furniture and decorations, though an essentially feminine one, and the house in Curzon Street became a comfortable and charming little nest, with Chippendale furniture in the drawing-room and bottles of pink bath-salts with glass spoons in the bath-room. He had a private den of his own (though anything less like a den was never seen), with a looking-glass over the fire-place into which he stuck invitation-cards, a Chesterfield sofa, on the arm of which there often reposed a piece of embroidery, a writing-table with all sorts of dainty contrivances, such as a smelling-bottle, and a little piece of soft sponge in a dish, over the damp surface of which he drew postage-stamps instead of licking them with his tongue, and by degrees he got together a collection of carved jade, which was displayed in a vitrine (vulgarly, a glass case) lined with velvet and lit inside by electric light. He had a brougham motor-car, driven by a handsome young chauffeur, whom, if he took the wrong turning, he called a ‘naughty boy’ through the tube, and was personally attended by a very smart young parlour-maid, for though he did not care for girls in any proper manly way, he liked, when he was sleepy in the morning, to hear the rustle of skirts. His cook, whom he saw every{36} day after breakfast in his den, was an artiste, and he had a good cellar of light wines. After lunch and dinner he always made coffee himself, in Turkish fashion, for his guests, and passed round with it odd, syrupy liqueurs. His bedroom was merely a woman’s bedroom, with a blue quilt on the bed, a long cheval-glass on the floor, silver-backed brushes on the toilet-table and no razors, for a neighbouring barber came to shave him every morning. In cold weather, when his mauve silk pyjamas were hung out to warm in front of the fire, the parlour-maid inserted into his bed a hot-water bottle, jacketed in the same tone of blue as his quilt. On that Georgie put his soft pink feet, and always went to sleep immediately.

Here he lived a kind and blameless life, but the life of a sprightly widow of forty, who is rich and childless, and does not intend to marry again. In the morning, after seeing his cook, he wrote a few letters (he did not use the telephone much because it tickled his ear, and he disliked talking into a little box where other people had talked and breathed) and these he generally sealed with a signet belonging to his step-mother’s grandmother, which had a coronet on it. He was a little snobbish in this regard, in a Victorian old-fashioned way, for though his step-mother was no sort of relation to him he took over her relations as cousins, and hunted up the most remote connections of hers, for adoption, in the Peerage. His letters being finished he took his soft hat and sat at his club for half an hour reading the papers. Generally he walked out to lunch, and was called for by his car about a quarter to three. Sometimes he had a little shopping to do, and if not, went for a drive, sitting very upright, much on the look-out for acquaintances, and returned home for tea. After tea he sat on his sofa working at his embroidery, had a hot bath, and except when, about twice a week, he had a few people to dine with him, went out to dinner. He did not play bridge but patience and the piano, both of which he manipulated with a good deal of skill. When he entertained at his own house, his guests were chiefly young men with rather waggly walks and little jerky movements of their hands, and old ladies with whom he was always a great success, for he understood them so well. He called them all, young men and old ladies alike, ‘my dear,’ and they had great gossips together, and they often said Georgie was very wicked, which was a lie.

He had considerable musical taste, as well as{38} proficiency on the piano, and very soon his life became a busy one in the sense, at any rate, that he had very little time for his embroidery. He built out a big room at the back of his house, and gave tinkling little modern musical parties, at which he introduced masses of young geniuses to the notice of his friends. Also he took to practising his piano with some seriousness, and would often forgo his walk to the club and his perusal of the morning papers in order to work at his music, and sat at his instrument for two hours together, with his rings and his handkerchief on the candle-brackets. His taste was modern, and he liked the kind of piece about which you are not sure if it is over or not, or what has happened. He paid quantities of country-house visits to the homes of his old-lady friends and his step-mother’s cousins, where he would sit in the library reading and writing his letters till half-past twelve, and take a little stroll with a brown cape on his arm till lunchtime. He sketched too, and produced rather messy water-colours of churches and beech-trees, and made crayon-portraits of his hostess or her boys, which he always sent her with his letter of thanks for a most pleasant visit, neatly framed. His portraits of elderly ladies had a certain re{39}semblance to each other, being based on a formula of a lace cap, a row of pearls, and a thoughtful expression. He had a similar formula for young men, of which the chief ingredients were a cricket-shirt and no coat or Adam’s apple, long eyelashes, and a girlish mouth. He was not good at eyes, so his sitters were always looking down. After lunch at these most pleasant visits he went out for a drive in a motor to see some neighbouring point of interest or to call on some adopted cousin whom he had discovered to live somewhere about. He rested in his own room after these fatigues and excitements for an hour before dinner, with his feet up and a dressing-gown on, and afterwards would work on a crayon-sketch, play the piano, or make himself agreeable to anybody who was in need of gentle conversation. Often he would settle down thus in a friend’s house for a fortnight at a time, in which case he brought his embroidery and his car with him, and was most useful in taking other guests out for drives, or bringing home members of a shooting-party. Occasionally, for no reason, he roused violent antagonism in the breasts of rude brainless men, and after he had left the smoking-room in the evening, one would sometimes say to another, ‘Good God! What is it?{40}’

Georgie lived in this whirl of pleasant pursuits for some ten years. The only disagreeable incident that occurred during this time was that his attractive chauffeur married his attractive parlour-maid, and for a little, surrounded by hateful substitutes, he was quite miserable. But he wooed the selfish pair back again by taking a garage with a flat above it, where they could keep house, raising Bowles’s wages, and getting in another parlour-maid when the curse of Eve was on Mrs. Bowles, and when he was now about thirty-five, Georgie definitely developed auntishness. As seen above, there were already many symptoms of it, but now the disease laid firm and incurable hold on him.

His auntishness was of the proverbial maiden-aunt variety, and was touched with a certain acid and cattish quality that now began to tinge his hitherto good-natured gossipy ways. As usually happens, he tended to detect in his friends and acquaintances the defects which he laboured under himself, and found that Cousin Betty was getting so ill-natured, and Cousin John had spoken most sarcastically and unkindly to him. His habits became engrained, and when he went out to dinner, as he continued to do, he took with him a pair of goloshes in a brown paper{41} parcel, if he meant to walk home, in case the crossings might be muddy. He was faithful enough to his old friends, the waggly-walking young men of his youth, and such of his old ladies who survived, and still went out with them on sketching-parties when they stayed together in the country, but otherwise he sought new friends among young men and young women, to whom he behaved in a rather disconcerting manner, sometimes, especially on sunny mornings, treating them like contemporaries, and wishing to enter into their ‘fun,’ sometimes petting them, as if they were children, and sometimes, as if they were naughty children, getting cross with them. He wanted in fact to be a girl still, and yet receive the deference due to a middle-aged woman, which is the clou to maiden-auntishness. He had little fits of belated and senile naughtiness, and would take a young man to the Gaiety, and encourage him to point out which of the girls seemed to him most attractive, and then scold him for his selfishness if he did not appear eager to come back home with him, and sit for an hour over the fire until Georgie felt inclined to go to bed. Or, having become a sort of recognised chaperone in London, he would take a girl-cousin (step-mothe{42}r’s side) to a ball, and be vexed with her because she had not had enough dancing by one o’clock. It must not be supposed that it was his habit to appear in so odious a light, but it sometimes happened. To do him justice, he was repentant for his ill-humour next day, and would arrange a little treat for a boy and a girl together, driving them down in his car to the Mid-Surrey golf-club, where they had a game, while he sat and sketched the blue-bells in Kew Gardens.

By this time his step-mother was dead (Georgie did a lovely crayon of her after death), and two out of his three plain sisters had married. The other used often to stay with him in London, and often he would bring quite a large party of young people down to the house in Sussex, where they had great romps. Georgie was quite at his best when entertaining in his own house, and he liked nothing better every now and then than a pillow-fight in the passage, when, emitting shrill screams of dismay and rapture, and clad in a discreet dressing-gown over his mauve silk pyjamas, he laughed himself speechless at the ‘fun,’ and bore the breakage of the glass of his water-colour pictures with the utmost good-humour. But when he had had enough himself, he expected that everybody else{43} should have had enough too, therein disclosing the fell features of Aunt Georgie.

Georgie did not, as the greyer seas of the forties and fifties began to engulf him, fall into the errors of grizzly kittens, but took quite kindly to spectacles when he wanted to read the paper or write his letters, and made no secret of his annual visit to Harrogate, to purge himself of the gouty tendencies which he had inherited from his father. He did not, of course, announce the fact that he had had a fresh supply of teeth, or that he had instructed his dentist to give a studied irregularity to them, and it is possible that he used a little hair-dye on his moustache which he clipped in the new fashion, leaving only two small tufts of hair like tails below his nostrils, but he quite dropped pillow-fights, though keeping up his music and his embroidery, and more than keeping up the increasing ill-nature of his tittle-tattle. He made great pets of his chauffeur’s children, who in their artless way sometimes called him ‘Daddy’ or ‘Grandpa.’ He did not quite like either of these appellations, and their mother was instructed to impress on their infant minds that he was ‘Mister Uncle Georgie.’ But ‘Miss Auntie Georgie’ would have been far more appropriate{44}.

It is perhaps needless to add that he has never married and never will. Soon the second set of girl-friends whom he chose when he first developed auntishness will be middle-aged women, and as, since then, he has made quantities of new young friends, his table will never be destitute of slightly effeminate young men and old ladies. Those are the sections of humanity with whom he feels most at home, because he has most in common with them. He makes a fresh will about once every five years, leaving a good deal of his property to the reigning favourites, who are probably cousins (of his step-mother’s). But most of them are cut out at the next revision, because they have shown themselves ‘tarsome,’ or in some way inconsiderate. But probably it will be a long time before anybody reaps the benefit of these provisions, for apart from his gout, which is kept in check by his visits to Harrogate, Georgie is a very healthy old lady. He lives a most wholesome life with his little walks and drives, and never, never has he committed any excesses of any sort. These very ageing things, the passions, have never vexed him, and he will no doubt outlive most of those who from time to time have been beneficiaries under his will.

After all he has done less harm than most{45} people in the world, for no one ever heeded his gossip, and even if he has not done much good or made other people much happier, he has always been quite good and happy himself, for such malice as he impotently indulged in he much enjoyed, and he hurt nobody by it.

It would be a very cruel thing to think of sending poor Georgie to Hell; but it must be confessed that, if he went to Heaven, he would make a very odd sort of angel.

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