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A CATHEDRAL COURTSHIP (1)

2006-09-08 20:00

    SHE

    WINCHESTER, May ,  The Royal Garden Inn.

    We are doing the English cathedral towns, aunt Celia and I. Aunt Celia has an intense desire to improve my mind. Papa told her, when we were leaving Cedarhurst, that he wouldn't for the world have it too much improved, and aunt Celia remarked that, so far as she could judge, there was no immediate danger; with which exchange of hostilities they parted.

    We are traveling under the yoke of an iron itinerary, warranted neither to bend nor break. It was made out by a young High Church curate in New York, and if it had been blessed by all the bishops and popes it could not be more sacred to aunt Celia. She is awfully High Church, and I believe she thinks this tour of the cathedrals will give me a taste for ritual and bring me into the true fold. I have been hearing dear old Dr. Kyle a great deal lately, and aunt Celia says that he is the most dangerous Unitarian she knows, because he has leanings towards Christianity.

    Long ago, in her youth, she was engaged to a young architect. He, with his triangles and T-squares and things, succeeded in making an imaginary scale-drawing of her heart (up to that time a virgin forest, an unmapped territory), which enabled him to enter in and set up a pedestal there, on which he has remained ever since. He has been only a memory for many years, to be sure, for he died at the age of twenty-six, before he had had time to build anything but a livery stable and a country hotel. This is fortunate, on the whole, because aunt Celia thinks he was destined to establish American architecture on a higher plane,——rid it of its base, time- serving, imitative instincts, and waft it to a height where, in the course of centuries, we should have been revered and followed by all the nations of the earth. I went to see the livery stable, after one of these Miriam-like flights of prophecy on the might-have-been. It isn't fair to judge a man's promise by one performance, and that one a livery stable, so I shall say nothing.

    This sentiment about architecture and this fondness for the very toppingest High Church ritual cause aunt Celia to look on the English cathedrals with solemnity and reverential awe. She has given me a fat notebook, with "Katharine Schuyler" stamped in gold letters on the Russia leather cover, and a lock and key to protect its feminine confidences. I am not at all the sort of girl who makes notes, and I have told her so; but she says that I must at least record my passing impressions, if they are ever so trivial and commonplace.

    I wanted to go directly from Southampton to London with the Abbotts, our ship friends, who left us yesterday. Roderick Abbott and I had had a charming time on board ship (more charming than aunt Celia knows, because she was very ill, and her natural powers of chaperoning were severely impaired), and the prospect of seeing London sights together was not unpleasing; but Roderick Abbott is not in aunt Celia's itinerary, which reads: "Winchester, Salisbury, Wells, Bath, Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford, London, Ely, Lincoln, York, Durham."

    Aunt Celia is one of those persons who are born to command, and when they are thrown in contact with those who are born to be commanded all goes as merry as a marriage bell; otherwise not.

    So here we are at Winchester; and I don't mind all the Roderick Abbotts in the universe, now that I have seen the Royal Garden Inn, its pretty coffee-room opening into the old-fashioned garden, with its borders of clove pinks, its aviaries, and its blossoming horse- chestnuts, great towering masses of pink bloom!

    Aunt Celia has driven to St. Cross Hospital with Mrs. Benedict, an estimable lady tourist whom she "picked up" en route from Southampton. I am tired, and stayed at home. I cannot write letters, because aunt Celia has the guide-books, so I sit by the window in indolent content, watching the dear little school laddies, with their short jackets and wide white collars; they all look so jolly, and rosy, and clean, and kissable! I should like to kiss the chambermaid, too! She has a pink print dress; no bangs, thank goodness (it's curious our servants can't leave that deformity to the upper classes), but shining brown hair, plump figure, soft voice, and a most engaging way of saying, "Yes, miss? Anythink more, miss?" I long to ask her to sit down comfortably and be English, while I study her as a type, but of course I mustn't. Sometimes I wish I could retire from the world for a season and do what I like, "surrounded by the general comfort of being thought mad."

    An elegant, irreproachable, high-minded model of dignity and reserve has just knocked and inquired what we will have for dinner. It is very embarrassing to give orders to a person who looks like a judge of the Supreme Court, but I said languidly, "What would you suggest?"

    "How would you like a clear soup, a good spring soup, to begin with, miss?"

    "Very much."

    "And a bit of turbot next, miss?"

    "Yes, turbot, by all means," I said, my mouth watering at the word.

    "And what for a roast, miss? Would you enjoy a young duckling, miss?"

    "Just the thing; and for dessert"——I couldn't think what we ought to have for dessert in England, but the high-minded model coughed apologetically and said, "I was thinking you might like gooseberry tart and cream for a sweet, miss."

    Oh that I could have vented my New World enthusiasm in a shriek of delight as I heard those intoxicating words, heretofore met only in English novels!

    "Ye-es," I said hesitatingly, though I was palpitating with joy, "I fancy we should like gooseberry tart (here a bright idea entered my mind) and perhaps in case my aunt doesn't care for the gooseberry tart, you might bring a lemon squash, please."

    Now I had never met a lemon squash personally, but I had often heard of it, and wished to show my familiarity with British culinary art.

    "One lemon squash, miss?"

    "Oh, as to that, it doesn't matter," I said haughtily; "bring a sufficient number for two persons."

    * * *

    Aunt Celia came home in the highest feather. She had twice been taken for an Englishwoman. She said she thought that lemon squash was a drink; I thought it was a pie; but we shall find out at dinner, for, as I said, I ordered a sufficient number for two persons.

    At four o'clock we attended even-song at the cathedral. I shall not say what I felt when the white-surpliced boy choir entered, winding down those vaulted aisles, or when I heard for the first time that intoned service, with all its "witchcraft of harmonic sound." I sat quite by myself in a high carved-oak seat, and the hour was passed in a trance of serene delight. I do not have many opinions, it is true, but papa says I am always strong on sentiments; nevertheless, I shall not attempt to tell even what I feel in these new and beautiful experiences, for it has been better told a thousand times.

    There were a great many people at service, and a large number of Americans among them, I should think, though we saw no familiar faces. There was one particularly nice young man, who looked like a Bostonian. He sat opposite me. He didn't stare,——he was too well bred; but when I looked the other way, he looked at me. Of course I could feel his eyes,-anybody can, at least any girl can; but I attended to every word of the service, and was as good as an angel. When the procession had filed out and the last strain of the great organ had rumbled into silence, we went on a tour through the cathedral, a heterogeneous band, headed by a conscientious old verger who did his best to enlighten us, and succeeded in virtually spoiling my pleasure.

    After we had finished (think of "finishing" a cathedral in an hour or two!), aunt Celia and I, with one or two others, wandered through the beautiful close, looking at the exterior from every possible point, and coming at last to a certain ruined arch which is very famous. It did not strike me as being remarkable. I could make any number of them with a pattern, without the least effort. But at any rate, when told by the verger to gaze upon the beauties of this wonderful relic and tremble, we were obliged to gaze also upon the beauties of the aforesaid nice young man, who was sketching it. As we turned to go away, aunt Celia dropped her bag. It is one of those detestable, all-absorbing, all-devouring, thoroughly respectable, but never proud Boston bags, made of black cloth with leather trimmings, "C. Van T." embroidered on the side, and the top drawn up with stout cords which pass over the Boston wrist or arm. As for me, I loathe them, and would not for worlds be seen carrying one, though I do slip a great many necessaries into aunt Celia's.

    I hastened to pick up the horrid thing, for fear the nice young man would feel obliged to do it for me; but, in my indecorous haste, I caught hold of the wrong end and emptied the entire contents on the stone flagging. Aunt Celia didn't notice; she had turned with the verger, lest she should miss a single word of his inspired testimony. So we scrambled up the articles together, the nice young man and I; and oh, I hope I may never look upon his face again

    There were prayer-books and guide-books, a bottle of soda mint tablets, a spool of dental floss, a Bath bun, a bit of gray frizz that aunt Celia pins into her steamer cap, a spectacle case, a brandy flask, and a bonbon box, which broke and scattered cloves and cardamom seeds. (I hope he guessed aunt Celia is a dyspeptic, and not intemperate!) All this was hopelessly vulgar, but I wouldn't have minded anything if there had not been a Duchess novel. Of course he thought that it belonged to me. He couldn't have known aunt Celia was carrying it for that accidental Mrs. Benedict, with whom she went to St. Cross Hospital.

    After scooping the cardamom seeds out of the cracks in the stone flagging, he handed me the tattered, disreputable-looking copy of "A Modern Circe" with a bow that wouldn't have disgraced a Chesterfield, and then went back to his easel, while I fled after aunt Celia and her verger.

    Memoranda: The Winchester Cathedral has the longest nave. The inside is more superb than the outside. Izaak Walton and Jane Austen are buried there.

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