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A CATHEDRAL COURTSHIP (5)

2006-09-08 20:01

    SHE

    GLOUCESTER, June  The Spread Eagle. I met him at Wells, and again at Bath. We are always being ridiculous, and he is always rescuing us. Aunt Celia never really sees him, and thus never recognizes him when he appears again, always as the flower of chivalry and guardian of ladies in distress. I will never again travel abroad without a man, even if I have to hire one from a Feeble-Minded Asylum. We work like galley slaves, aunt Celia and I, finding out about trains and things. Neither of us can understand Bradshaw, and I can't even grapple with the lesser intricacies of the A B C railway guide. The trains, so far as I can see, always arrive before they go out, and I can never tell whether to read up the page or down. It is certainly very queer that the stupidest man that breathes, one that barely escapes idiocy, can disentangle a railway guide, when the brightest woman fails. Even the Boots at the inn in Wells took my book, and, rubbing his frightfully dirty finger down the row of puzzling figures, found the place in a minute, and said, "There ye are, miss." It is very humiliating. All the time I have left from the study of routes and hotels I spend on guide-books. Now I'm sure that if any one of the men I know were here, he could tell me all that is necessary as we walk along the streets. I don't say it in a frivolous or sentimental spirit in the least, but I do affirm that there is hardly any juncture in life where one isn't better off for having a man about. I should never dare divulge this to aunt Celia, for she doesn't think men very nice. She excludes them from conversation as if they were indelicate subjects.

    But, to go on, we were standing at the door of Ye Olde Bell and Horns, at Bath, waiting for the fly which we had ordered to take us to the station, when who should drive up in a four-wheeler but the flower of chivalry. Aunt Celia was saying very audibly, "We shall certainly miss the train if the man doesn't come at once."

    "Pray take this fly," said the flower of chivalry. "I am not leaving till the next train."

    Aunt Celia got in without a murmur; I sneaked in after her. I don't think she looked at him, though she did vouchsafe the remark that he seemed to be a civil sort of person.

    At Bristol, I was walking about by myself, and I espied a sign, "Martha Huggins, Licensed Victualer." It was a nice, tidy little shop, with a fire on the hearth and flowers in the window, and, as it was raining smartly, I thought no one would catch me if I stepped inside to chat with Martha. I fancied it would be so delightful and Dickensy to talk quietly with a licensed victualer by the name of Martha Huggins.

    Just after I had settled myself, the flower of chivalry came in and ordered ale. I was disconcerted at being found in a dramshop alone, for I thought, after the bag episode, he might fancy us a family of inebriates. But he didn't evince the slightest astonishment; he merely lifted his hat, and walked out after he had finished his ale. He certainly has the loveliest manners!

    And so it goes on, and we never get any further. I like his politeness and his evident feeling that I can't be flirted and talked with like a forward boarding-school miss, but I must say I don't think much of his ingenuity. Of course one can't have all the virtues, but, if I were he, I would part with my distinguished air, my charming ease, in fact almost anything, if I could have in exchange a few grains of common sense, just enough to guide me in the practical affairs of life.

    I wonder what he is? He might be an artist, but he doesn't seem quite like an artist; or a dilettante, but he doesn't seem in the least like a dilettante. Or he might be an architect; I think that is the most probable guess of all. Perhaps he is only "going to be" one of these things, for he can't be more than twenty-five or twenty-six. Still he looks as if he were something already; that is, he has a kind of self-reliance in his mien,——not self-assertion, nor self-esteem, but belief in self, as if he were able, and knew that he was able, to conquer circumstances.

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