It is not that the hereditary system injures directly; its crime lies in what it engenders—the pestilence of snobbery, which poisons nearly all who come into contact with it, titled and untitled, frocked and unfrocked, washed and unwashed. The very servants create a comic-opera set of rules for their below-stairs life, and the man who has butlered for a lord, even if the latter be the greatest fool of his day, looks with scorn upon the valet of some lesser fellow who, perchance, is forced to make a living by his brains.
The house at Roselawn was large, and, with its ivy-covered exterior, presented a spectacle of considerable beauty. The front was in the form of a ‘hollow square,’ creating an imposing courtyard, and giving the windows of the library and the drawing-room ample opportunity for sunshine. From these windows there was a charming vista of well-kept lawns, margined with gardens possessed of a hundred tones of exquisite colour. At the back of the house the windows looked out on receding meadows that melted into the solidarity of woods.
The drawing-room (Lady Durwent tried to designate it ‘the music-room,’ but the older name persisted) had all the conglomeration of contents which is at once the charm and the drawback of English country homes. Furniture of various periods indulged in mute and elegant warfare. Scattered in graceful disorder about the room were relics procured by an ancestor who had been to Japan; there was a Spanish bowl gathered by Lord Dudley Durwent; there was an Italian tapestry, an Indian tomahawk, a Chinese sword that had beheaded real Chinamen, all procured by Lord Dingwall Durwent in the eighteenth century. There was a massive Louis Seize table and a frail Louis Quinze chair; a slice of Chippendale here, and a bit of Sheraton there; portraits of ancestors who fought at Quebec, Waterloo, Sebastopol, and a very military-looking gentleman on a terrific horse, who had done all his fighting in Pall Mall clubs. There were ‘oils’ purchased by Durwents who liked to patronise the arts, and ‘waters’ by Durwents who didn’t like oils.
And year after year, generation after generation, the ancient drawing-room received its additional impedimenta without so much as a creak of protest.
In the impressive seclusion of Roselawn, therefore, the house-party began to gather. They were an admirably assorted group of people who never objected to being bored, providing it was accomplished in an atmosphere of good breeding. The soothing balm of the Roselawn meadows offered its potency of healing to fatigued minds or weary bodies, but, like the fragrance of the unseen flower, it was wasted on the desert air. Lady Durwent’s guests had not been using either their brains or their bodies to a point where honest fatigue would seek healing in the perfume of clover. If a hundred gamins from Whitechapel’s crowded misery had been brought from London and let loose in summer’s sweet-scented prodigality, the incense of fields and flowers might have brought sparkle to young eyes dull with the wretchedness of poverty, and colour to pale, unnourished cheeks. But Lord and Lady Durwent, denying themselves the luxury of such a treat, asked people who lived in the country to come and enjoy the country.