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- This Freedom - 10/61 -
upon a slave, and when she had gone swishing out if Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, could tell all the sixty and five of her tallness, her deftness and her slight, very slight, insolence of manner----
Oh, if there could be this and these and a fine red carpet, how exactly and how fittingly would Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, step upon the scene!
"Dear thing!" That was Rosalie's portrait and thought of her in long after years. Dear thing! The drawing-room of her crowded triumphs is now the shabby drawing-room of a second-rate boarding house; the jolly horse bus she used so commandingly to stop in the Holland Park Avenue and so regally to enter (whip-waving driver, cap-touching conductor) long has given place to a thundering motor saloon that stops wheresoever it listeth and wherein Aunt Belles and old-clothes women fight to hang by a strap.
Dear thing! Her ownership of five and sixty guests is exchanged for ownership of not more than seven and fifty inches of cold earth in Brompton Cemetery. She is passed and Uncle Pyke, Colonel Pyke Pounce, R.E., is grunted past to lay himself beside her. They are passed. Up-reared upon her and upon him is a stupendous granite chunk (in a way not unlike Uncle Pyke on his hearthrug) erected by their sorrowing daughter. She is passed; she came into Rosalie's life and Rosalie crossed her life and she never forgave Rosalie.
Dear thing! Lie lightly on her, stones!
She came to the rectory "to talk it over and see what can be done" for a week's visit, and she stepped out of the cab, all the family assembled to greet her, a new and most surprising figure such as Rosalie had never seen before. She was dressed in startling fashions of a most wonderful richness, and she had immense plumes in her hat that nodded when she moved and trembled when she stood still, and she was herself either always nodding with glittering animation or straightening her back and quivering as if straining at a leash and just about to burst it and go off. She was like Rosalie's mother and yet not a bit like her. She was older and yet terribly brisker and stronger. Those were the days when frosted Christmas cards were of the artistic marvels of the age, and Aunt Belle beside Rosalie's mother somehow made Rosalie think of a frosted card beside one of the plain cards. When Rosalie's mother was in a room you often might not know she was there; but when Aunt Belle was in a room there seemed to be no one there except Aunt Belle. She began to talk, in a voice as high as the house, while she was still descending from the cab on her arrival, and the only time Rosalie ever saw her not talking was during service in Church on Sunday, when she was alternately glittering or whispering or else bending down so extraordinarily low that Rosalie thought she was going to lie prone upon the floor.
Dear thing! She was so kind to Rosalie and so kind to them all, and yet----And yet they all, except Rosalie who was too small (then) to appreciate the resented quality in Aunt Belle's kindness, and Rosalie's mother who was too gentle to resent anything, and yet they all, save Rosalie and her mother, loathed and abominated Aunt Belle. It was her way of doing things. She gave kind gifts, but it was the way she gave them. She admired everything and everybody in the rectory, but it was the way she admired. She said most kind and affectionate things, but it was her way of saying them.
"Why, how very nice indeed!" That was her insistent comment upon everything in the rectory. But the tone was, "How very nice indeed--for you."
That was the trouble. That was what made Harold (who at twenty-six was getting very like his father) hurl about a thousand miles over the garden wall the three apples Aunt Belle gave him as his share of the "very best apples from the Army and Navy Stores" which she brought down with other "goodies" for "the dear children"; and made, him grit his teeth after she had been in the house two days and cry, "Dash her! Poor relations; that's how she treats us! I'm dashed if I'm a poor relation. I'm earning three pound ten a week at the Bank and I bet that appalling old Uncle Pyke didn't get it or anything like it at my age!"
Dear thing! "She meant it kindly." That was the sweet apologetic excuse with which Rosalie's mother followed the track of the storms Aunt Belle aroused and with which she sought to abate them. "She means it kindly. She means it kindly, dear."
It should be Aunt Belle's epitaph. It ought to be graven upon that granite chunk in Brompton Cemetery. "She meant it kindly!"
Issuing from the cab, Aunt Belle began by kissing Rosalie's mother in a most astonishing series of kisses that whizzed from cheek to cheek so that it was a miracle to Rosalie that the two noses did not collide and her dear mother's be knocked right off; and then most enthusiastically kissed all the family, applying to each the phrase with which she began on Harold "Well, well, so this is Harold!" (As if it were the most astounding and unexpected thing in the world that it was Harold.) "So this is Harold! Why, what a great big clever fellow, and what a comfort to your dear mother, I am sure!" And then gazed rapturously upon the house and said to Rosalie's mother and to them all, "Well, well, what a very, very nice house, to be sure!"
She meant it kindly. Her manner of talking about herself and about her possessions was not that of bragging or of conscious superiority; it was, to the whole rectory family, and to all poorer than herself wherever she met them, that of one entertaining a party of children--of a kind lady telling stories to a group of round-eyed infants. When she first had tea on the afternoon of her arrival, she gazed upon the silver teapot as it was carried in and exclaimed, "Well, well, what a very, very handsome teapot! And hot-water jug to match! How very, very nice! Now how ever do you think I keep my water hot at tea? I have a very nice service all in silver gilt! It looks just like gold! And there's a kettle to match with a spirit flame under it. The maid brings in the kettle boiling and we just light the spirit with a match and there it is gently boiling all the time!"
Dusk drew in and the lamps were lit. "Lamps!" ecstatically exclaimed Aunt Belle! "How nice! And Hilda keeps the lamps clean, does she? What a dear, helpful girl and how very, very bright and nice they are! Now what do you think? In my house, everywhere, even in the kitchen, we've got this new electric light! Your kind uncle Pyke had it put in for me. Installed, as they call it. Now, just fancy, all you have is a little brass knob by each door, and you just touch a little switch, and there's your light! No matches, no trouble, just click! and there you are. Of course it was very expensive, but your Uncle Pyke insisted upon my having it. He always will insist upon my having everything of the best."
Dear thing! The echo of her ceaseless tongue brings her exactly to life again--glittering, chattering, pluming, presenting, praising--her servants! her house! her parties! her friends! her daughter! her husband!--Oh, yes, a red carpet! a red carpet for Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, to come into the story, and so (at the end of her visit) into Rosalie's life like this:
"And Rosalie is going away to school! To a boarding school in London where there will be ever so many very nice playmates of her own age, and such romps, and such good wholesome food, and such nice, kind, clever mistresses! Why, what a lucky, lucky girl! There, Rosalie, what do you think of that? You are my godchild, and I and your kind uncle Pyke are going to send you to school and pay for your education because of course we are well off and can afford it and your dear mother and father can't. There! Now isn't that delightful? Come and give me a nice kiss then. The dear child!"
Tremendous moment! Supernal upheaval! First and greatest upheaval of the chain of upheavals! Rosalie was to go away to school!
That was at the rectory breakfast table on the last morning of the visit, and that was Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, coming into Rosalie's life. "Come and give me a kiss then"; that was kind, kind Aunt Belle, inviting acknowledgment of her kindness and the kindness of Uncle Pyke (with a cheque) and the kindness of Cousin Laetitia (with a box of beautiful cast-off clothes that would do beautifully for Rosalie's school outfit). "The dear child!" That was Aunt Belle's acknowledgment of Rosalie's most dutiful and most affectionate and most delighted kiss. (Most amazed and excited and rather fearful Rosalie! Going to school! Going away to a boarding school in London!)
"The dear child!" Such a warm and loving kiss from Rosalie! And time was to prove it the kiss of Judas! Yes, in a few years, "I've done everything for you!" Aunt Belle was to cry. "Everything! And this is the return I get!"
Next, in its turn, and exactly a fortnight before the beginning of the term at which Rosalie was to join the boarding school in London, came the letter from Uncle Tom in India, and with it the beginning of the second upheaval in the chain of upheavals.
All of this upheaval was very bewildering to Rosalie. She never understood it properly. At the beginning it had nothing at all to do with Anna, and yet Anna from the very first reading of Uncle Tom's letter--All that Rosalie understood of it was this.
First the letter came. Tremendous excitement! Father in wild excitement, Flora and Hilda in frantic excitement, everyone in highest excitement. Father read the letter aloud at breakfast to Rosalie's mother and to the girls. Such a splendid letter, said father. Really, Tom was a splendid fellow, said father. He had wronged Tom. He had thought Tom selfish in his wealthy indifference. By Jove, Tom wasn't. "By Jove, the way Tom wrote almost brought tears to your eyes. Listen to this. Listen, mother. Listen, you girls."
Uncle Tom, said the letter, would by all means, old man, have one of the girls. He'd no idea that things were so bad with you. Poor old man! Why didn't you tell us before? He was sending home a small draft to Field and Company, his bankers, to help towards the girl's outfit and her passage money. "'Which girl shall you send?' you ask. Well, it's no good asking us, old man. You must decide that
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