“She permitted pleasures, then?”
“But, of course, all pleasures that did not really injure other people. She said priests and custom and convention had robbed the world of much joy.”
“She was quite right.”
“She liked people to have fine perceptions. To be able to ’see with the eye-lashes’ was one of her expressions, and, I assure you, nothing escaped her. It was very fatiguing to be long in the company of people who passed their lives morally eating suet-pudding, she said. Avoid stodge, she told me, and, above all, I was to avoid that sentimental, mawkish, dismal point of view that dramatically wrote up, over everything, ‘Duty,’ with a huge D. It happened that there were duties to be done in life, but they must be accomplished quietly, or gayly, as the case might be. ’Do not shut the mouth with a snap, and, having done so, turn the corners down,’ she said. ’These habits will not procure friends for you.’ And so I learned to take things gayly.”
We were both silent for some time after this. Then Antony exerted himself to amuse me. We talked as lightly as the skimming of swallows, flying from one subject to another. We were as happy as laughing children. The time passed. It seemed but a few minutes when the clock struck eight.
“You will make me late for dinner!” I exclaimed. “But you reminded me of grandmamma and the Marquis and made me talk.”
“May I come again to-night—to return La Rochefoucauld?” he asked, with his droll smile.
“I do not know. We shall see.” And I ran into my room, leaving him standing beside the fire.
When I got into my bedroom the door was open into Augustus’s room beyond. He had not come up to dress. Indeed, when I was quite ready to go down to dinner he had not yet appeared.
Half-past eight sounded.
I descended the stairs quickly and went along the passage towards his “den.” There I met his valet.
“Mr. Gurrage is asleep, ma’am,” he said, “and does not seem inclined to wake, ma’am,” and he held the door open for me to pass into the room.
Augustus was lying in his big chair, before the fire, his face crimson, his mouth wide open, and snoring and breathing very heavily. He was still in his shooting-things.
An indescribable smell of scorching tweed and spirit pervaded the room.
By his side was an almost finished glass of whiskey. The bottle stood on the tray and another bottle lay, broken, on the floor.
Atkinson began clearing up this debris.
“Augustus!” I called, but he did not awake. “Augustus, it is time for dinner!”
“If you please, ma’am,” said the valet, coughing respectfully, “if I might say so, you had better let Mr. Gurrage sleep, ma’am. I’ll see after him. He is—very angry when he is like this and woke suddenly, ma’am.”