The Dolly Dialogues/Chapter 12

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XII.

AN UNCOUNTED HOUR.

We were standing, Lady Mickleham and I, at a door which led from the morning-room to the terrace at The Towers. I was on a visit to that historic pile (by Vanbrugh—out of the money accumulated by the third Earl—Paymaster to the Forces—temp. Queen Anne). The morning-room is a large room. Archie was somewhere in it. Lady Mickleham held a jar containing pâté de foie gras; from time to time she dug a piece out with a fork and flung the morsel to a big retriever which was sitting on the terrace. The morning was fine, but cloudy. Lady Mickleham wore blue. The dog swallowed the pâté with greediness.

'It's so bad for him,' sighed she; 'but the dear likes it so much.'

'How human the creatures are!' said I.

'Do you know,' pursued Lady Mickleham, 'that the Dowager says I'm extravagant. She thinks dogs ought not to be fed on pâté de foie gras.'

'Your extravagance,' I observed, 'is probably due to your having been brought up on a moderate income. I have felt the effect myself.'

'Of course,' said Dolly, 'we are hit by the agricultural depression.'

'The Carters also,' I murmured, 'are landed gentry.'

'After all, I don't see much point in economy, do you, Mr. Carter?'

'Economy,' I remarked, putting my hands in my pockets, 'is going without something you do want in case you should, some day, want something which you probably won't want.'

'Isn't that clever?' asked Dolly in an apprehensive tone.

'Oh, dear no,' I answered reassuringly. 'Anybody can do that—if they care to try, you know.'

Dolly tossed a piece of pâté to the retriever.

'I have made a discovery lately,' I observed.

'What are you two talking about?' called Archie.

'You're not meant to hear,' said Dolly, without turning round.

'Yet, if it's a discovery, he ought to hear it.'

'He's made a good many lately,' said Dolly.

She dug out the last bit of pâté, flung it to the dog, and handed the empty pot to me.

'Don't be so allegorical,' I implored. 'Besides, it's really not just to Archie. No doubt the dog is a nice one, but——'

'How foolish you are this morning! What's the discovery?'

'An entirely surprising one.'

'Oh, but let me hear! It's nothing about Archie, is it?'

'No. I've told you all Archie's sins.'

'Nor Mrs. Hilary? I wish it was Mrs. Hilary!'

'Shall we walk on the terrace?' I suggested.

'Oh, yes, let's,' said Dolly, stepping out, and putting on a broad-brimmed low-crowned hat, which she caught up from a chair hard by. 'It isn't Mrs. Hilary?' she added, sitting down on a garden seat.

'No,' said I, leaning on a sun-dial which stood by the seat.

'Well, what is it?'

'It is simple,' said I, 'and serious. It is not, therefore, like you. Lady Mickleham.'

'It's like Mrs. Hilary,' said Dolly.

'No; because it isn't pleasant. By the way, are you jealous of Mrs. Hilary?'

Dolly said nothing at all. She took off her hat, roughened her hair a little, and assumed an effective pose. Still, it is a fact (for what it is worth) that she doesn't care much about Mrs. Hilary.

'The discovery,' I continued, 'is that I'm growing middle-aged.'

'You are middle-aged,' said Dolly, spearing her hat with its long pin.

I was, very naturally, nettled at this.

'So will you be soon,' I retorted.

'Not soon,' said Dolly.

'Some day,' I insisted.

After a pause of about half a minute Dolly said, 'I suppose so.'

'You will become,' I pursued, idly drawing patterns with my finger on the sun-dial, 'wrinkled, rough, fat—and, perhaps, good.'

'You're very disagreeable to-day,' said Dolly.

She rose and stood by me.

'What do the mottoes mean?' she asked.

There were two: I will not say they contradicted one another, but they looked at life from different points of view.

'Pereunt et imputantur,' I read.

'Well, what's that, Mr. Carter?'

'A trite, but offensive, assertion,' said I, lighting a cigarette.

'But what does it mean?' she asked, a pucker on her forehead.

'What does it matter?' said I. 'Let's try the other.'

'The other is longer.'

'And better. Horas non numero nisi serenas.'

'And what's that?'

I translated literally. Dolly clapped her hands, and her face gleamed with smiles.

'I like that one!' she cried.

'Stop!' said I imperatively. 'You'll set it moving!'

'It's very sensible,' said she.

'More freely rendered, it means "I live only when you——"'

'By Jove!' remarked Archie, coming up behind us, pipe in mouth, 'there was a lot of rain last night. I've just measured it in the gauge.'

'Some people measure everything,' said I, with a displeased air. 'It is a detestable habit.'

'Archie, what does Pereunt et imputantur mean?'

'Eh? Oh, I see. Well, I say, Carter!—Oh, well, you know, I suppose it means you've got to pay for your fun, doesn't it?'

'Oh, is that all? I was afraid it was something horrid. Why did you frighten me, Mr. Carter?'

'I think it is rather horrid,' said I.

'Why, it isn't even true,' said Dolly scornfully.

Now when I heard this ancient and respectable legend thus cavalierly challenged, I fell to studying it again, and presently exclaimed,—

'Yes, you're right! If it said that, it wouldn't be true; but Archie translated wrong.'

'Well, you have a shot,' suggested Archie.

'The oysters are eaten and put down in the bill,' said I. 'And you will observe, Archie, that it does not say in whose bill.'

'Ah!' said Dolly.

'Well, somebody's got to pay,' persisted Archie.

'Oh, yes, somebody,' laughed Dolly.

'Well, I don't know,' said Archie. 'I suppose the chap that has the fun——'

'It's not always a chap,' observed Dolly.

'Well, then, the individual,' amended Archie, 'I suppose he'd have to pay.'

'It doesn't say so,' I remarked mildly. 'And according to my small experience——'

'I'm quite sure your meaning is right, Mr. Carter,' said Dolly, in an authoritative tone.

'As for the other motto, Archie,' said I, 'it merely means that a woman considers all hours wasted which she does not spend in the society of her husband.'

'Oh, come, you don't gammon me,' said Archie. 'It means that the sun don't shine unless it's fine, you know.'

Archie delivered this remarkable discovery in a tone of great self-satisfaction.

'Oh, your dear old thing!' said Dolly.

'Well, it does, you know,' said he.

There was a pause. Archie kissed his wife (I am not complaining; he has, of course, a perfect right to kiss his wife) and strolled away towards the hot-houses.

I lit another cigarette. Then Dolly, pointing to the stem of the dial, cried,—

'Why, here's another inscription—oh, and in English!'

She was right. There was another—carelessly scratched on the old battered column—nearly effaced, for the characters had been but lightly marked; and yet not, as I conceived from the tenor of the words, very old.

'What is it?' asked Dolly, peering over my shoulder, as I bent down to read the letters, and shading her eyes with her hand. (Why didn't she put on her hat? We touch the Incomprehensible.)

'It is,' said I, 'a singularly poor, shallow, feeble, and undesirable little verse.'

'Read it out,' said Dolly.

So I read it. The silly fellow had written:


Life is Love, the poets tell us
In the little books they sell us;
But pray, ma'am—what's of Life the use,
If Life be Love? For Love's the Deuce.


Dolly began to laugh gently, digging the pin again into her hat.

'I wonder,' said she, 'whether they used to come and sit by this old dial just as we did this morning!'

'I shouldn't be at all surprised,' said I. 'And another point occurs to me, Lady Mickleham.'

'Oh, does it? What's that, Mr. Carter?'

'Do you think that anybody measured the rain-gauge?'

Dolly looked at me very gravely.

'I'm so sorry when you do that,' said she pathetically.

I smiled.

'I really am,' said Dolly. 'But you don't mean it, do you?'

'Certainly not,' said I.

Dolly smiled.

'No more than he did!' said I, pointing to the sun-dial.

And then we both smiled.

'Will this hour count, Mr. Carter?' asked Dolly, as she turned away.

'That would be rather strict,' said I.