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The Blotting Book   By: (1867-1940)

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The Blotting Book

By E. F. BENSON

1908

CHAPTER I

Mrs. Assheton's house in Sussex Square, Brighton, was appointed with that finish of smooth stateliness which robs stateliness of its formality, and conceals the amount of trouble and personal attention which has, originally in any case, been spent on the production of the smoothness. Everything moved with the regularity of the solar system, and, superior to that wild rush of heavy bodies through infinite ether, there was never the slightest fear of comets streaking their unconjectured way across the sky, or meteorites falling on unsuspicious picnicers. In Mrs. Assheton's house, supreme over climatic conditions, nobody ever felt that rooms were either too hot or too cold, a pleasantly fresh yet comfortably warm atmosphere pervaded the place, meals were always punctual and her admirable Scotch cook never served up a dish which, whether plain or ornate, was not, in its way, perfectly prepared. A couple of deft and noiseless parlour maids attended to and anticipated the wants of her guests, from the moment they entered her hospitable doors till when, on their leaving them, their coats were held for them in the most convenient possible manner for the easy insertion of the human arm, and the tails of their dinner coats cunningly and unerringly tweaked from behind. In every way in fact the house was an example of perfect comfort; the softest carpets overlaid the floors, or, where the polished wood was left bare, the parquetry shone with a moonlike radiance; the newest and most entertaining books (ready cut) stood on the well ordered shelves in the sitting room to beguile the leisure of the studiously minded; the billiard table was always speckless of dust, no tip was ever missing from any cue, and the cigarette boxes and match stands were always kept replenished. In the dining room the silver was resplendent, until the moment when before dessert the cloth was withdrawn, and showed a rosewood table that might have served for a mirror to Narcissus.

Mrs. Assheton, until her only surviving son Morris had come to live with her some three months ago on the completion of his four years at Cambridge, had been alone, but even when she was alone this ceremony of drawing the cloth and putting on the dessert and wine had never been omitted, though since she never took either, it might seem to be a wasted piece of routine on the part of the two noiseless parlourmaids. But she did not in the least consider it so, for just as she always dressed for dinner herself with the same care and finish, whether she was going to dine alone or whether, as tonight, a guest or two was dining with her, as an offering, so to speak, on the altar of her own self respect, so also she required self respect and the formality that indicated it on the part of those who ministered at her table, and enjoyed such excellent wages. This pretty old fashioned custom had always been the rule in her own home, and her husband had always had it practised during his life. And since then his death had occurred some twenty years ago nothing that she knew of had happened to make it less proper or desirable. Kind of heart and warm of soul though she was, she saw no reason for letting these excellent qualities cover any slackness or breach of observance in the social form of life to which she had been accustomed. There was no cause, because one was kind and wise, to eat with badly cleaned silver, unless the parlour maid whose office it was to clean it was unwell. In such a case, if the extra work entailed by her illness would throw too much on the shoulders of the other servants, Mrs. Assheton would willingly clean the silver herself, rather than that it should appear dull and tarnished. Her formalism, such as it was, was perfectly simple and sincere. She would, without any very poignant regret or sense of martyrdom, had her very comfortable income been cut down to a tenth of what it was, have gone to live in a four roomed cottage with one servant... Continue reading book >>




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