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“Which they haven't got.”
“Which they haven't got—or they'd be the finest sort of people in the world.”
“That something?” she inquired.
“I don't know. I've been puzzling my wits to know. They've done all sorts of things—”
“That's Lord Wrassleton,” she interrupted, “whose leg was broken—you remember?—at Spion Kop.”
“It's healed very well. I like the gold lace and the white glove resting, with quite a nice awkwardness, on the sword. When I was a little boy I wanted to wear clothes like that. And the stars! He's got the V. C. Most of these people here have at any rate shown pluck, you know—brought something off.”
“Not quite enough,” she suggested.
“I think that's it,” I said. “Not quite enough—not quite hard enough,” I added.
She laughed and looked at me. “You'd like to make us,” she said.
“I don't think you'll go on if you don't get hard.”
“We shan't be so pleasant if we do.”
“Well, there my puzzled wits come in again. I don't see why an aristocracy shouldn't be rather hard trained, and yet kindly. I'm not convinced that the resources of education are exhausted. I want to better this, because it already looks so good.”
“How are we to do it?” asked Mrs. Redmondson.
“Oh, there you have me! I've been spending my time lately in trying to answer that! It makes me quarrel with”—I held up my fingers and ticked the items off—“the public schools, the private tutors, the army exams, the Universities, the Church, the general attitude of the country towards science and literature—”
“We all do,” said Mrs. Redmondson. “We can't begin again at the beginning,” she added.
“Couldn't one,” I nodded at the assembly in general, start a movement?
“There's the Confederates,” she said, with a faint smile that masked a gleam of curiosity.... “You want,” she said, “to say to the aristocracy, 'Be aristocrats. NOBLESSE OBLIGE.' Do you remember what happened to the monarch who was told to 'Be a King'?”
“Well,” I said, “I want an aristocracy.”
“This,” she said, smiling, “is the pick of them. The backwoodsmen are off the stage. These are the brilliant ones—the smart and the blues.... They cost a lot of money, you know.”
So far Mrs. Redmondson, but the picture remained full of things not stated in our speech. They were on the whole handsome people, charitable minded, happy, and easy. They led spacious lives, and there was something free and fearless about their bearing that I liked extremely. The women particularly were wide-reading, fine-thinking. Mrs. Redmondson talked as fully and widely and boldly as a man, and with those flashes of intuition, those startling, sudden delicacies of perception few men display. I liked, too, the relations that held between women and men, their general tolerance, their antagonism to the harsh jealousies that are the essence of the middle-class order....
After all, if one's aim resolved itself into the development of a type and culture of men, why shouldn't one begin at this end?
It is very easy indeed to generalise about a class or human beings, but much harder to produce a sample. Was old Lady Forthundred, for instance, fairly a sample? I remember her as a smiling, magnificent presence, a towering accumulation of figure and wonderful shimmering blue silk and black lace and black hair, and small fine features and chins and chins and chins, disposed in a big cane chair with wraps and cushions upon the great terrace of Champneys. Her eye was blue and hard, and her accent and intonation were exactly what you would expect from a rather commonplace dressmaker pretending to be aristocratic. I was, I am afraid, posing a little as the intelligent but respectful inquirer from below investigating the great world, and she was certainly posing as my informant. She affected a cynical coarseness. She developed a theory on the governance of England, beautifully frank and simple. “Give 'um all a peerage when they get twenty thousand a year,” she maintained. “That's my remedy.”
In my new role of theoretical aristocrat I felt a little abashed.
“Twenty thousand,” she repeated with conviction.
It occurred to me that I was in the presence of the aristocratic theory currently working as distinguished from my as yet unformulated intentions.
“You'll get a lot of loafers and scamps among 'um,” said Lady Forthundred. “You get loafers and scamps everywhere, but you'll get a lot of men who'll work hard to keep things together, and that's what we're all after, isn't ut?
“It's not an ideal arrangement.”
“Tell me anything better,” said Lady Forthundred.
On the whole, and because she refused emphatically to believe in education, Lady Forthundred scored.
We had been discussing Cossington's recent peerage, for Cossington, my old schoolfellow at City Merchants', and my victor in the affair of the magazine, had clambered to an amazing wealth up a piled heap of energetically pushed penny and halfpenny magazines, and a group of daily newspapers. I had expected to find the great lady hostile to the new-comer, but she accepted him, she gloried in him.
“We're a peerage,” she said, “but none of us have ever had any nonsense about nobility.”
She turned and smiled down on me. “We English,” she said, “are a practical people. We assimilate 'um.”
“Then, I suppose, they don't give trouble?”
“Then they don't give trouble.”
“They learn to shoot?”
“And all that,” said Lady Forthundred. “Yes. And things go on. Sometimes better than others, but they go on—somehow. It depends very much on the sort of butler who pokes 'um about.”
I suggested that it might be possible to get a secure twenty thousand a year by at least detrimental methods—socially speaking.
“We must take the bad and the good of 'um,” said Lady Forthundred, courageously....
Now, was she a sample? It happened she talked. What was there in the brains of the multitude of her first, second, third, fourth, and fifth cousins, who didn't talk, who shone tall, and bearing themselves finely, against a background of deft, attentive maids and valets, on every spacious social scene? How did things look to them?