ELIZABETH VISITS AMERICA
"Three Weeks," "The Visits of Elizabeth," "The Reflections of Ambrosine," "The Vicissitudes of Evangeline," "Beyond the Rocks," "The damsel and the Sage"
Heaviland Manor Tonnerre Cannes Lusitania Plaza Hotel, New York Speistville Plaza Hotel, New York Latour Court, Long Island Plaza Hotel, New York Ringwood, Philadelphia Plaza Hotel, New York Niagara Chicago Going West San Francisco On the Private Car Osages City Camp of Moonbeams On the Private Car Again Osages City Again
Elizabeth Visits America
After a few years of really perfect domestic bliss Elizabeth and her "Harry" had a rather serious quarrel, which ended in Lord Valmond's going off to shoot big game in the wilds of Africa, leaving Elizabeth, who (in the absence of her mother and her favourite cousin, Octavia, abroad) had taken refuge with her great aunt Maria at Heaviland Manor, in an obstinate and disconsolate frame of mind.
Lord Valmond was two days out on his voyage when Elizabeth wrote to her parent:
Dearest Mamma,—I hope you are taking every possible care of Hurstbridge and Ermyntrude and seeing that the sweet angels do not eat pounds of chocolate between meals. If I had known how Harry was going to behave to me over such a simple thing as the Vicomte's letter, I could never have let you take the children with you to Arcachon for these next months—I am feeling so lonely.
I came to great aunt Maria's because on Saturday night when Harry refused to say he was sorry, it seemed the only dignified thing to do. I never thought of course that he would rush off to Africa like this, and although I feel I was perfectly right and should act in the very same way again—still—well, there is no use talking about it, dearest Mamma—and please don't write me a sermon on wifely duty and submission—because it will only make me worse.
I don't know what I shall do next or where I shall go—I mean to take the first chance of having some fun I can get. If he could go off in a huff—but I won't speak of him even—I am going to forget I am married and have a good time like everyone else does. Naturally, I haven't told a soul but you about it all—our quarrel I mean—and Aunt Maria thinks I am a poor ill-used darling to have a husband who wants to shoot lions, but Uncle John said it is quite natural, and Aunt Maria heard that and said, "Tut tut," at once.
There is a tremendous excitement here! Can you imagine it, Mamma? They have actually got an automobile! It came this morning, and if it had been a flying machine it could not have been considered more wonderful. It is Uncle John's fiftieth wedding present to Aunt Maria!—and they are going in it on the same tour they took on their wedding journey! Aunt Maria, as you know, has never been abroad since. We all went into the stable yard to see it. The face of the coachman! (You remember him?—always the same one.) It was a mixture of contempt and defiance. They did suggest having him taught a chauffeur's duties, but the man who came from the place they bought the car wisely suggested it might, at his age, be dangerous, and Aunt Maria also feared it would be bad for his sore throat—it is still sore!—so they have abandoned this idea.
They start on Monday—the anniversary of their wedding—and they have asked me to go with them, and I really think I shall.
The most marvellous preparations are being made. One would think it was a journey to the South Pole. Aunt Maria spends hours each day in writing and rewriting lists of things she must have with her, and then Uncle John protests that only the smallest amount of luggage can be taken. So she consults with Janet Mackintosh, her maid, and then she turns to me and in a loud whisper says that of course she has to be patient with poor Janet as she is a newcomer and does not yet know her ways! She has been with her five years now, ever since her last Methuselah died, so one would have thought that long enough to learn, wouldn't one, Mamma?
The automobile is most remarkable, as it has a rumble on the back, because, as Aunt Maria explained, her maid and Uncle John's valet went in the rumble of the carriage on their wedding journey, and it is the proper place for servants, so she insisted upon the motor being arranged in the same way. Janet and the valet will have a suffocatingly dusty drive—enveloped in complete coverings of leather. Agnes is to sit beside the chauffeur and we three inside. I suppose everyone will scream with laughter as we career through the towns, but what matter! I shall go down to Cannes with them and join Octavia there if I find it too boring, and Harry cannot have a word to say to my travelling with my own relations. I feel like crying, dearest Mamma, so I won't write any more now.
Your affectionate daughter, ELIZABETH.
HOTEL DE LA POULE D'OR, TONNERRE. (Somewhere on the way to Dijon.)
Dearest Mamma,—We have got this far! Never have you imagined such an affair as our trip is. Coming across the Channel was bad enough. Aunt Maria sniffed chloroform and remained semi-conscious until we got to Boulogne, because she said one never could trust the sea, although it looked smooth enough from the pier; on her honeymoon she recollected just the same deceitful appearance and they took five hours and she was very sick and decided not to chance it again! Uncle John had to hold one of her hands and I the bottle, but we got there safely in the usual time and not a ripple on the water! The motor had been sent on, and after sleeping at Boulogne we started. The little gamins shouted, "Quel drole de char triomphant! Bon voyage, Mesdames," and Aunt Maria smiled and bowed as pleased as possible, not having heard a word.
Uncle John was as gay and attentive as I suppose he was on the journey—this is how they speak of it—and made one or two quite risque jokes down the ear trumpet, and Aunt Maria blushed and looked so coy. Apparently she had had hysterics at Folkestone originally—did you have them when you married, Mamma? I never thought of such a thing when Harry and I—but I did not mean to speak of him again. Aunt Maria wears the same shaped bonnet now as she did then, and strangely enough it is exactly like my new lovely chinchilla motor one Caroline sent for me to travel in. We have the car open all the time and in the noise Aunt Maria hears much better, so one has only to speak in an ordinary voice down the trumpet.
Everything went all right until this morning; we left Versailles at dawn—how they were ever ready I don't know, considering the tremendous lot of wraps and pillows and footwarmers and heaven knows what they have;—besides Uncle John saying all the time it is their second honeymoon. However, we got off, and as we have been on the road two days, even Janet, who is naturally as meek as a mouse, is beginning to "turn" at her seat in the rumble; because, it having rained and there being no dust, she and Uncle John's valet are covered with mud instead, each time we arrive at a place, and have to be scraped off before they can even enter a hotel.
Agnes would simply have had a fit of blue rage if one had put her there;—as it is she is having an affair with the chauffeur. There must be an epidemic in the air now for women of forty to play with boys, as they get it even in her class. What was I saying, Oh! yes—Well, the first trouble began with a burst tyre, and we all had to get out while the new one was being put on; and as we were standing near, another car came up from the opposite direction, and would have passed us, only I suppose Aunt Maria looked so unusual the occupants stopped—occupant, I meant—it was an American—and asked if it—he, I mean, could be of any assistance. Uncle John, who thinks it right to gain information whenever he can from travellers, said, No, not materially, but he would be obliged to know if the country we were coming to was smooth or not. Then we knew it was an American! In those big coats one can't tell the nation at first, but directly he said: "It's like a base-ball ground—and I should say you'd find any machine could do it—" we guessed at once. He was so nice looking, Mamma—rather ugly, but good looking all the same; you know what I mean. His nose was crooked but his jaw was so square, and he had such jolly brown eyes—and they twinkled at one, and he was very, very tall. "We hope to get to Dijon tonight," Uncle John said. "Can you tell us, sir, if we shall have any difficulty?" The American did not bother to raise his hat or any fuss, but just got out of his car and told the facts to Uncle John; and then he turned to the chauffeur, who was fumbling with the tyre—it was something complicated, not only just the bursting—and in a minute or two he was down in the mud giving such practical advice. And you never heard such slang! But I believe men like that sort of thing, as the chauffeur was not a bit offended at being interfered with.
When they had finished grovelling, he got in again, and Uncle John insisted upon exchanging cards with the stranger. He got out his from some pocket, but the American had not one. "By the living jingo," he said, "I've no bit of pasteboard handy—but my name is Horatio Thomas Nelson Renour—and you'll find me any day at the Nelson Building, Osages City, Nevada. This is my first visit to Europe." Perhaps I am not repeating exactly the right American, Mamma, but it was something like that. But I wish you could have seen him, I know you would have liked him as I did. Wait till I tell you what he did afterwards, then you will, anyway. "Anyway" is American—you see I have picked it up already!
We waved a kind of grateful goodbye and went our different ways, and beyond its raining most of the time we had a quick journey; but at last we felt in the dusk we were off the right road. Like all chauffeurs ours had whizzed past every notice of the direction—so carefully printed up as they are in France, too. From the way they behave one would think chauffeurs believe themselves to possess a sixth sense and can feel in some occult manner the right turns, as they never bother to look at sign posts, or condescend to ask the way like ordinary mortals. Ours did not so much as stop even when the lane got into a mere track, until, with the weight of Uncle John, Aunt Maria and me in the back seat, and the extra stones in the rumble, as he made a sensational backing turn into a fieldish looking place, (it was dark twilight) our hind wheels sunk in up to their axles,—and the poor machinery groaned in its endeavours to extricate us! We had to get out in the gloom and mud, and Aunt Maria looked almost pathetic in her elastic side "prunella" boots, edged with fur, white silk stockings and red quilted silk petticoat held up very high. But she was so good tempered over it all! She said when one had been married happily for fifty years, and was having one's honeymoon all over again—(she had forgotten the hysterics)—one ought not to grumble at trifles.
Meanwhile the hind wheels of the car sank deeper and deeper. I believe we should never have got out, and it would have been there still, if we had not heard a scream from a siren, and our American friend tore up again! It was pitch dark by now, and the valet, the chauffeur, and Uncle John were shoving and straining, and nothing was happening. Why he was returning this way, right out of the main road, he did not explain, but he jumped out and in a minute took command of the situation. He said, "If we had taken a waggon over the desert, we'd know how to fix up this in a shake." He sent his chauffeur back to the nearest village for some boards and a shovel, and then dug out to firm ground and got the boards under, all so neatly and quickly, and no one thought of disobeying him! And we were soon all packed into the car again none the worse. Then he said he also found he was obliged to go back and would show us the way as far as we liked. Uncle John was so grateful, and we started.
Tonnerre was all as far as we could get to-night, and about six o'clock we arrived at this hotel I am writing from.
Mr. Horatio Thomas Nelson Renour was a few yards in front of us. "Say, Lord Wordon," he said to Uncle John, "I guess this is no kind of a place your ladies have been accustomed to, but it's probably pretty decent in spite of appearances. I know these sort of little shanties, and they aren't half as bad as they look."
He took as much pains to shout down Aunt Maria's trumpet as Harry used in the beginning when he wanted to please me, and when we got upstairs she said she had no idea Americans were such "superior persons." "One of Nature's gentlemen, my dear, which are the only sort of true gentlemen you will find."
Such a hotel, Mamma! And Uncle John and Aunt Maria had to have the only big bedroom on the first floor, and Mr. Renour and I were given two little ones communicating on the back part. They thought of course we were of the same party, and married.
"Madame" could have the inner one, they explained, and "Monsieur" the outer! Aunt Maria, who thought, I suppose, they said Agnes, not "Monsieur," smiled pleasantly and agreed—that would be "tout a fait bien." Of course if Horatio Thomas Nelson Renour had been a Frenchman, or even heaps of Englishmen we know, he would have been delighted; instead of which he got perfectly crimson all over his bronzed face and explained in fearful French to the landlady he could not sleep except on a top floor. Wasn't it nice of him, Mamma?
Dinner was at seven o'clock in the table d'hote, and about eight commercial travellers were already seated when we got down. We had glass racks to put our forks and knives on, and that wrung out kind of table linen, not ironed, but all beautifully clean; and wonderfully good food.
Uncle John made one end of our party and Mr. Renour the other, with Aunt Maria and me in the middle, and the commercial travellers, who all tucked in their table napkins under their chins, beyond. The American was so amusing:—it was his language, not exactly what he said. I shall get into it soon and tell you some of the sentences, but at first it is too difficult. Presently he said he did not understand about English titles; he supposed I had one, but he was not "kinder used to them," so did I mind his calling me Lady Elizabeth, as he heard Aunt Maria calling me Elizabeth, and he felt sure "Miss" wouldn't be all right, but would "Lady" be near enough? I said, quite, I was so enchanted, Mamma, to be taken for a young girl, after having been married nearly seven years and being twenty-four last month! I would not undeceive him for the world, and as we shall never see him again it won't matter. Think, too, how cross Harry—but I won't speak of him!
Aunt Maria had an amiable smile on all the time. Can you imagine them dining in a public room in an English hotel! The idea would horrify her, but she says no one should make fusses travelling, and I believe she would look just as pleased if we were shipwrecked on a desert island.
There was no salon to sit in after dinner, and the moon came out, so Mr. Renour suggested we ought to see the church, which is one of the things marked in the guide book. Uncle John said he would light his cigar and come with us, while Aunt Maria went to bed, but when we got outside the dear old fellow seemed tired and was quite glad to return when I suggested it; so the American and I went on alone. I must say, Mamma, it is lovely being married, when one comes to think of it, being able to stroll out like this with a young man all alone;—and I have never had the chance before, with Harry always so jealous, and forever at my heels. I shall make hay while the sun shines! He was so nice. He told me all about himself—he is a very rich mine owner—out West in America, and began as a poor boy without any education, who went out first as a cow-boy on a ranch and then took to mining and got a stroke of luck, and now owns the half of the great Osage Mine. And he is only twenty-nine. "I kinder felt I ought to see Europe," he said, "never having been further East than Chicago; so I came over at Christmas time and have been around in this machine ever since." He calls his automobile, an immense 90 h.p. Charon, his "machine!" He said all this so simply, as if it were quite natural to tell a stranger his life story, and he is perfectly direct—only you have to speak to him with the meaning you intend in the words. Metaphor is not the least use: he answers literally.
The church was shut, and as we had no excuse to stay out longer we strolled back. He was intensely respectful, and he ended up by saying he found me just the nicest girl he had seen "this side." I was so pleased. I hope he will come on the rest of the way with us; we start at dawn. So good night, dearest Mamma.
Your affectionate daughter, ELIZABETH.
CANNES. HOTEL DU PARC.
Dearest Mamma,—You will be surprised to hear my plans! Octavia came over from Monte Carlo directly we arrived, and in less than ten minutes had got most of the story of Harry's and my quarrel out of me. I never meant to tell her anything, but she is such a dear. She said at once that she should take care of me, as she could not have me running about alone. And I really can't stand any more of the honeymoon pair—and sitting three in the back seat. So prepare yourself for a great surprise, Mamma! I am going to America with Tom and Octavia! They sail in the Lusitania next Saturday and we are flying back to England tonight. I shan't have any clothes but I don't care; I shall not worry over that. We are going to see New York and then go right out to California, where Tom is going on to Mexico to kill tarpons or shoot turtles or whatever they do there.
The rest of our journey after Tonnerre was simple. At each place Mr. Renour was just in front of us, and showed us the way, and we grew quite to feel he was one of our party. Uncle John is devoted to him—and Aunt Maria, too. She says considering he speaks a foreign language—he does almost!—it is wonderful how he makes her hear!
Avignon interested me. It looks so wally and fortified, but I am greatly disappointed, the romantic story of Petrarque and his Laure is all nonsense. I find Laure had eleven children in about fifteen years, the guide said, and Petrarque continued making sonnets to her, never minding that a bit. Now do you believe it, Mamma? A man to stay in love for twenty years with a woman who kept on having eleven children all the image of the husband as good as gold! I don't! Petrarque was probably some tiresome prig like all poets, and thought her a suitable peg to hang his verses on.
Mr. Renour and I are so friendly. He is not with us now because he had to go to Monte Carlo, so he does not yet know I am going to America. He still thinks I am not married—and do you know, Mamma, I believe he is falling in love with me—and I feel rather mean—but I expect we shan't see him before we start, so it will not so much matter. This morning quantities of flowers came up to my room with his card, and just written underneath, "got to meet a man at Monte Carlo, shan't be gone long." I am leaving him a note thanking him and saying we are off to his country. I have signed it, "Elizabeth Valmond" of course, so that may illuminate him—but I still feel rather mean.
We are only to be away two months and I think the change will do me good, and I know you will take every care of Hurstbridge and Ermyntrude. I hate not having time to run over to see you and them, but Octavia says it can't possibly be done, and I am not to be silly; that two months is nothing, and I shall be back again at the original time you were to bring them to England—so I suppose she is right. I shall send Harry a cable to meet him at Zanzibar. He can't stop me then because we shall be on the sea, and if he is furious I shall be doubly pleased.
Aunt Maria and Uncle John have been so kind, but I can see are relieved Octavia is going to take me. They have grown more sentimental. At each place we come to they recollect some tender passage of their former trip. It seems Aunt Maria's hysterics ended at Folkstone. Octavia says she means really to see America and not only go to the houses of the smart people one knows when they are in England, because she is sure there are lots of other kinds quite as interesting and more original. We are to stay in New York and then go West. I shall not have a moment to write until I am on the ship, and trust I shall not be seasick.
Fondest love to my two angels and yourself,
Your affectionate daughter, ELIZABETH.
LUSITANIA. Fourth day out.
Dearest Mamma,—It is perfectly delightful being at sea—in this ship—because you don't really know you are on the hateful element. We have a charming suite with two real windows and beds, and even Agnes has not grumbled. There are lots of American on board, and really these travelling ones are quite as bad as the awful English people one meets on the Continent, only instead of having stick out teeth and elephants' feet, their general shapes are odd. It appears as if in the beginning Peter, or someone, called up to the Creator that so many thousands of arms and legs and bodies and heads were wanted to make this new nation, and so the requisite amount were pitched down and then joined up without anyone's worrying to get them en suite. Thus A seems to have received B's head with C's arms, his own body and D's legs—and so on; not the least thought shown in their construction. They seem rough-hewn—with foreheads too prominent or noses too big, or too square shoulders or too deep set eyes, nearly always too something—and the women the same; whereas the children (there are only a few of them fortunately) are really impossible. There is one family of the fattest boys you ever saw—simply like the pictures of the fat boy of Peckham, and a little girl of six called Matilda. Matilda is certainly over thirty in her conversation—she told me she was sick of ocean travelling—her eighth voyage; and she was sick of the Continent, too—you get no good candy there and her Momma did nothing but shop. She has the voice of a young peacock and the repartee of a Dublin car driver—absolutely "all there." They are fairly rich "store keepers" from Buffalo. The mother has nerves, the father dyspepsia and the nurse is seasick, so Matilda is quite her own mistress, and rushes over the entire ship conversing with everyone. She is most amusing for a short time, if it were not pathetic. She plays off one fat boy (cousins they are of hers) against the other, and one steward against another for biscuits and figs—with the most consummate skill. It is no wonder if this quality can be perfected so young by Americans that they can snatch all our best young men from us when they grow up.
I don't know how it is the most unattractive creatures of every nation seem to be the ones who travel. There is a family of English who have the next table to us, for instance; they make us blush for our country. The two young men are the most impossible bounders one could meet, and I am sure their names must be Percy and Ernest! When there was a dance last night they smoked pipes in the faces of their partners between the valses, and altogether were unspeakably aggressive. No American in the world would behave like that to women. I really think the English middle classes are the most odious—except, perhaps, the Germans—of any people on earth. And as these are the ones other nations see most of, no wonder they hate us.
Octavia is so entertained at everything. We have not spoken to anyone except one family who sit near us on the deck, and they have asked us to stay with them at their country place on the New Jersey shore. But—Oh! I forgot to tell you, Mamma, Mr. Renour is on board. Is it not a strange coincidence? He seemed very surprised to see us, and for a moment it was quite awkward when I introduced him to Octavia—because she, not being deaf like Aunt Maria, I knew would hear him calling me Lady Elizabeth and think it odd, and he would be certain to discover from her that I am married. So the best thing to do seemed to be to take a walk with him at once on the top deck and explain matters—this was just before dinner in the twilight.
He told me it was unkind to have given him the slip as we did, and that he had had "quite a worry" to "come up with" us—but if I imagined he was going to let me get out of range again I was mistaken! You can't think, Mamma, how difficult it was to screw up my courage to tell him I was married—he has such nice brown eyes;—and although his language is more remarkable than anything you ever heard, he is not the least little bit common. At last I blurted it out straight and explained and asked him to forgive me. He looked away at the sea for quite five minutes and his jaw was square as a box. Then he turned round and held out his hand. "Say," he said, "I expect you didn't mean to play a low down trick on me but it has hit pretty straight anyway. We'll shake hands and I reckon I'll keep out of your track for a day or so till I size up things and put them on the new elevation." And then he went away, saying, "Good evening, Lady Valmond." I could have cried, Mamma, I felt so small and paltry. He is a great big splendid creature and I wish I had not been so silly as to pretend in the beginning. Octavia thinks him delightful. He never appeared for two days—then he came up as if nothing had happened; only he looks at my hat or my chin or my feet now and never into my eyes as before, and he calls me Lady Valmond every other minute—and that is irritating. We shall get in to-morrow and this will be posted at Sandy Hook, so good-night, dearest Mamma.
Your affectionate daughter, ELIZABETH.
PLAZA HOTEL, NEW YORK
PLAZA HOTEL, NEW YORK.
Dearest Mamma,—We are here now, so this is where to address your letters. We went to another hotel first but we could not stand the impudence of the servants, and having to shout down the telephone for everything instead of ringing a bell—and here it is much nicer and one is humanly waited on.
America is too quaint. Crowds of reporters came on board to interview us! We never dreamed that they would bother just private people, but it was because of the titles, I suppose. Tom was furious but Octavia was delighted. She said she wanted to see all the American customs and if talking to reporters was one of them, she wanted that, too. So she was sweetly gracious and never told them a word of truth.
They were perfectly polite, but they asked direct questions, how we liked America (we had not landed!), how long we were going to stay, what was our object in coming there, what we thought of the American divorce, etc., etc. All but two were the same type: very prominent foreheads, deep set eyes, white faces, origin South of France or Corsican mixed with Jew to look at, with the astounding American acuteness added, and all had the expression of a good terrier after a rat—the most intense concentration.
When we actually landed female ones attacked us, but Octavia who, as you know, doesn't really care for women, was not nearly so nice to them, and their articles in the papers about us are virulent!
"Lady Chevenix is a homely looking person with henna-assisted hair and the true British haughty manner," they put! They were not so disagreeable about me, but not flattering. Then they snap-shotted us, and Octavia really does look rather odd, as her nose got out of focus, I suppose, and appears like Mr. Punch's; underneath is written, "An English Peeress and Society Beauty." We laughed so!
New York Harbour is a wonderful sight, but you have read all about it often. The streets by it are awful, badly paved and hideous architecture, immense tall houses here and there, gaunt and staring like giants who have seen Medusa's head and been turned into stone. Farther up town the buildings are all much the same, so their huge height does not show so greatly as with a few lower ones in between.
Every creature in the street has got a purposeful determined air, and even the horses, many of them without blinkers, have it, too, I wonder if we shall catch it before we leave. Nobody appears English—I mean of origin, even if their name is Smith or Brown; every other nation, with the strong stamp of "American" dominating whatever country they originally hailed from, but not English. They have all the appearance of rushing to some special place, not just taking a walk to nowhere.
You would have to come here to understand the insolence of the servants in most places. We naturally ordered tea (down the telephone) when we arrived, and presently a waiter brought a teapot and two cups and nothing else; and when we remonstrated he picked his teeth and grinned and said, "If you don't ask for what you want you won't get it. You said tea, and you've got tea, you never mentioned sugar and milk." Then he bounced off, and when the lift boy whistled as he brought me up, and the Irish chambermaid began to chat to Octavia, she said she could not bear it any longer, and Tom must go out and find another hotel. So late last night we got here, which is charming; perhaps the attendants are paid extra for manners. But even here they call Octavia "Lady Chevenix" and me "Lady Valmond" every minute—never just "My Lady" like at home, and I am sure they would rather die than say "Your Ladyship!"
Mr. Renour had to leave us; we were so sorry, but he got a telegram as we landed, saying the superintendent of his mine had been shot and there was "trouble" out there, so he had to fly off at once. However, we have promised to go and stay with him presently and he is going to show us all the mining camps.
To-day we have rested, and quantities of the people one knows in London sent us flowers, and they are the best I have ever seen—roses so enormous they look like peonies, and on colossal stalks—in fact, everything is twice the size of at home.
We are going to dine at Sherry's to-night with a party. It is the fashionable restaurant, and I will finish when I come back.
Everything is so amusing! and we have had a delightful evening. It is more like Paris than England, because one wears a hat at dinner, which I always think looks so much better in a restaurant. The party was about eighteen, and I sat next the host. American men; as far as I have yet seen, are of quite another sex to English or French—I mean you feel more as if you were out with kind Aunts or Grandmothers or benevolent Uncles than just men. They don't try to make the least love to you or say things with two meanings, and they are perfectly brotherly and serious, unless they are telling anecdotes with American humour—and that is not subtle. It is something that makes you laugh the moment you hear it, you have not to think a scrap. When they are not practically English, like the ones we see in London every season, they wear such funny clothes—often velvet collars on their coats! and the shoulders padded out so that every man is perfectly square; but everything looks extraordinarily well sewn and ironed and everybody is clean shaven; and Octavia says it takes at least two hundred years of gently bred ancestors to look like a gentleman clean shaven in evening dress, so perhaps that is why lots of them have the appearance of actors. Tom, with his ugly face and his long lean limbs, seemed as some other species of animal, or a Derby winner let loose among a pen of prize hackneys and cobs. Many of them are splendid of their kind, but it is perfectly absurd to pretend they look thoroughbred. One would not expect it of animals, with their mixed ancestry, so why of human beings.
Octavia says they would be insulted to hear me saying that, but I am sure they are far too sensible and logical; for if you were a mixture of cart horse, hunter, thoroughbred, Shetland and cob, you might have the good qualities of all and be a magnificent splendid creature, but you could not expect to look like one of the direct descendants of the Godolphin Arabian, could you, Mamma?
I don't mind that part in the least, but I would rather they had a more outdoor expression. As I looked round the room numbers of their faces seemed pasty, and their shapes thick through, and soft, as if they would bruise easily if one touched them, and lived a good deal in the dark. Also they don't have "flowers and honey" on their hair, so it does not shine and keep tidy, and it is not brushed smartly; and after our lovely guardsmen they look a little ungroomed about the head. This, of course, is only my first impression, after seeing the fashionable restaurant one evening. I may be quite wrong, generally speaking.
The women are so exquisitely dressed that it is difficult to form an opinion. They have whatever is the latest fashion, perfectly made; all their hair is done exactly alike in the way it is worn in Paris. Their figures have the last "look" and their jewels are simply divine. With all this beyond criticism, it is very difficult to say whether they are beautiful or not, naturally; the general effect is so perfect. They, as far as grooming and superlative "turnedoutness" is concerned (I had to make a new word), are the counterpart of our guardsmen.
The food was exquisite and we had terrapin and canvas back ducks; and they are both the best things you ever tasted, only when you cut the duck you have to look the other way, and take the first bite with your eyes shut, because it has only run through the kitchen. And one would prefer to have the terrapin alone in one's room, because of the bones—a greater test in nice eating than the bunch of grapes which were given to the young diplomat in the story book.
But to begin with, I have not told you of the cocktail! I had to have one. You are handed it before anything else, while you are waiting for the soup, and it tastes like ipecacuanha wine mixed with brandy and something bitter and a touch of orange; but you have not swallowed it five minutes when you feel you have not a care in the world and nothing matters. You can't think, Mamma, how insidious and delightful—but of course I could not possibly have drunk anything after it, and I was so surprised to see everyone else swallowing champagne all through dinner; so I suppose it is a thing one gets accustomed to.
Now I am very sleepy, so good-night, dear Mamma.
Kisses to my angels.
Your affectionate daughter, ELIZABETH.
SPLEISTVILLE, Up the Hudson.
Dearest Mamma,—A whole week since we landed! and we are terribly amused ("terribly" is American for "much"); and do you know that describes almost everything in comparison to at home. Everything is "colossalised"—events, fortunes, accidents, climate, conversation, ambitions—everything is in the extreme—all en-gros, not en-detail. They can't even have a tram run off a line, which in England or France might kill one or two people, without its making a holocaust of half a street full. Even in their hospitality they are twice the size of other nations, simply too kind and generous for words. They have loaded us with invitations; we have been out morning, noon and night.
The thing which surprises me is they should still employ animals of normal size; one would expect to see elephants and mammoths drawing the hansoms and carts!
Now we are staying in a country palace with the family we met on the boat, whom the Americans we know in England would not speak to; in fact, I am sure they are rather hurt at our coming here; but Octavia says she prefers to see something we do not see in England. The Van Verdens, and Courtfields and Latours are almost like us, only they are richer and have better French furniture. So she says she wants to see the others, the American Americans we don't meet at home. If people are nice in themselves how can it matter who they are or if "fashionable" or not. The whole thing is nonsense and if you belong to a country where the longest tradition is sixteen hundred and something, and your ancestor got there then through being a middle class puritan, or a ne'er-do-weel shipped off to colonise a savage land, it is too absurd to boast about ancestry or worry in the least over such things. The facts to be proud of are the splendid, vivid, vital, successful creatures they are now, no matter what their origin; but just like Hurstbridge and Ermyntrude in the nursery, the one thing they can't have they think immensely of. Nearly everyone tells you here, their great-great-grandfather came over in the Mayflower. (How absurd of the Cunard line to be proud of the Mauretania! The Mayflower, of course, must have been twice the size.) I wonder if in Virginia they would inform us theirs were the original cavaliers. I don't expect so, because cavaliers always were gentlemen, and puritans of any century only of the middle classes. Fancy if we had to announce to strangers that Tom's ancestor carried the standard at Agincourt and Octavia's and mine came over with the Conqueror!
Even in a week Tom has got so wearied about the Mayflower that yesterday at lunch when some new people came, and one woman began again, he said his father had collected rags and bones, and his great-great-grandfather was hung for sheep stealing! The woman nearly had a fit, and I heard her reproaching our hostess afterwards, as she said she had been invited to meet an English Earl! And the poor hostess looked so unhappy and came and asked me in such a worried voice if it were really true; so I told her I thought not exactly, but that the late Earl had a wonderful collection of Persian carpets and ivories which Tom might be alluding to. Even this did not comfort her, I could see she was still troubled over the sheep stealing, and the only thing I could think of to explain that was about the eighth Earl, don't you remember, Mamma? who was beheaded for the Old Pretender.
But the exquisite part of it all is the lady Tom told the story to was interviewed directly she got home, I suppose, for this morning in most of the papers there are headlines six inches tall:
ENGLISH PEER NO CATCH
FATHER RAG AND BONE MERCHANT
Tom is so enchanted he is going to have them framed for the smoking room at Chevenix. But our hostess is too unhappy and burns to get him to deny it publicly. "My dear lady," Tom said, "would you have me deny I've got a green nose?" She looked so puzzled, "Oh, Lord Chevenix," she said, "why, of course you have not. A little sunburnt, perhaps—but green!" Think of it, Mamma! Octavia and I nearly collapsed, and she is such a nice woman, too, and not really a fool; bright and cheery and sensible; but I am afraid out here they don't yet quite understand Tom, or Octavia either, for the matter of that.
There is a lovely place in New York called the Riverside Drive, charming houses looking straight out on the Hudson. But if you live in that part none of the Four Hundred or Two Hundred and Fifty, or whatever it is, would visit you, hardly. These people we are staying with now have a mansion there but are soon going to move. The daughter, Natalie, told me to-day, that after this her Poppa would also take a house at Newport, because now they would have no difficulty in getting into the swim!
We came here for the Sunday and it was raining when we arrived—after an odious train journey. Tom's valet and both the maids are perfectly at sea as yet, and while burning with rage over the lack of, and indifference of, the porters, are too scornfully haughty to adapt themselves to circumstances; so they still bring unnecessary hand luggage and argue with the conductor. We made a mistake in the train and there was no Pullman, so that means there is only one class. It really is so quaint. Mamma, having to travel as if it were third. It amused me immensely, two people on a seat on either side and an aisle through the middle down which the ticket collector walks, and for most of the journey a child raced backwards and forwards, jumping with sticky hands clinging to the sides of each seat while it sucked candy. The mother screeched, "Say, Willie, if you don't quit that game, I'll tell your pa when we get home!" However, Willie shouted, "You bet," and paid not the least attention!
Nearly everywhere where you have to come in contact with people in an obviously inferior or menial position, manners don't exist. They seem to think they can demonstrate their equality, if not superiority, by being as rude as possible. Of course if they were really the ladies and gentlemen they are trying to prove they are, they would be courteous and gentle. The attitude is, "I'm as good as you, indeed better!" Either you are a gentleman or woman, aren't you, Mamma? and you do not have to demonstrate it, everyone can see it; or you are not, and no amount of your own assertion that you are will make anyone believe you. So, of what use to be rude, or clamour, or boast? Doesn't it make you laugh, Mamma? Though it surprises me here because as a people they are certainly more intelligent than any other people on earth, and one would have thought they would have seen how futile and funny that side of them is.
The talk of equality is just as much nonsense in America as in every other place under the sun. How can people be called equal when the Browns won't know the Smiths! And the Van Brounckers won't know either, and Fifth Avenue does not bow to the West Side, and everyone is striving to "go one better" than his neighbour.
Station is as strictly defined as in England, where the village grocer's daughter at Valmond no longer could speak to a school friend, a little general servant who came to fetch treacle at the shop, when Pappa Grocer bought a piano! So you see, Mamma, it is in human nature, whether you are English or American, if you haven't a sense of humour. I suppose you have to be up where we are for it all to seem nonsense and not to matter; and, who knows? If there were another grade beyond us we might be just the same, too; but it is trash to talk of equality. Even a Socialist leader thinks himself above the crowd—and is, too, though I should imagine that the American middle and lower classes would assert they have no equal but God—if they don't actually look down on Him.
How I am rambling on, and I wanted to tell you heaps of things! I shall never get them all into this letter.
When we arrived at this palace it was, as I say, raining, but that did not prevent the marble steps from being decorated with three footmen at equal distances to usher us into the care of a cabinet minister-looking butler, and then through a porphyry hall hung with priceless tapestry and some shockingly glaring imitation Elizabethan oak chairs—to the library, where our hostess awaited us in a magnificent decollete tea gown, and at least forty thousand pounds' worth of pearls. Natalie had the sweetest of frocks possible and was quite simple and nice, and there is not the least difference in her to the daughters of any of our "smart" friends.
The library was a library because they told us so, but there were not any books there, only groups of impossible furniture covered with magnificent brocade, and the finest flowers one ever saw, most perfectly put in huge vases by a really clever gardener; no subtle arrangement of colours, but every blossom the largest there could be in nature. The tea seemed to get mostly poured out by the servants, and the table was covered with a cloth so encrusted with Venetian lace one's cup was unsteady on it. That is one of the most remarkable points here—I mean America—as far as I have seen. The table cloths at every meal are masses of lace, and every sort of wonderful implement in the way of different gold forks and knives for every dish lie by your plate; and such exquisite glass; and some even have old polished tables like Aunt Maria, but instead of the simple slips they have mats and centrepieces and squares of magnificent lace. Only the very highest cream of the inner elect have plain table cloths and a little silver like we do at home. And it is always a "party"—everyone is conscious they are there, and they either assume bad manners or good ones, but nobody is sans gene. Octavia says it takes as long to be that as to look like a gentleman clean shaven in evening dress. The rooms are awfully hot, steam heated up to about 75, and it makes your head swim after a while. There is only the son and a married daughter and husband in the house besides ourselves and two young men. We should call them bank clerks at home, and that is, I suppose, what they are here; only it is all different. Every man works just like our middle classes; it is not the least unaristocratic to be a lawyer or a doctor or a wholesale store-keeper, or any profession you can name, so long as it makes you rich. A man who does nothing is not considered to "amount to anything," and he generally doesn't, either! And I suppose it must be the climate, because directly they get immensely rich, so that the sons need not work, when it gets to the third generation, they often are invalids or weaklings, or have some funny vice or mania, and lots of them die of drink; which shows it is intended in some climates for men to work. Octavia says it takes centuries of wielding battle-axes and commanding vassals to give the consciousness of superiority which enables people to be idle without being vicious; but Tom says it is because they don't hunt and shoot, and go to the bench, and attend to their estates and county business; so instead they have to go crazy over fast motoring or flying machines, or any fad which is uppermost, not having any traditions of how their forefathers passed their time.
Last night there was a dinner party and some such clever men came. They were great financiers or business men or heads of Trusts. That means you have a splendid opportunity to speculate, only if anything goes wrong you have to chance all your other associates on the trust turning against you and saying it was all your fault, and then you generally have to commit suicide; but while you are head you can become frightfully rich and respected. I sat between two of the most successful of different things, and they talked all the time. They don't want to hear what you have to say, only to tell you about themselves and their ideas, so it is most interesting. They are not the least cultivated in literature or art or anything decorative, but full of ideas upon the future evolution of schemes and things; really intensely clever, some of them. Only the odd part of it is they don't seem to speculate upon what the marvellous conglomeration of false proportions, unbalance and luxury are going to bring their nation to, if they are not careful.
Mr. Spleist (that is our host's name) is so kind! He spoils his wife and Natalie more even than Harry spoils Ermyntrude; and the son-in-law is just the same to his wife. American husbands fetch and carry and come to heel like trained spaniels, and it is perfectly lovely; everything is so simple. If you happen to get bored with your husband, or he has a cold in his head, or anything that gets on your nerves, or you suddenly fancy some other man, you have not got all the bother and subterfuge of taking him for a lover and chancing a scandal like in England. You simply get your husband to let you divorce him, and make him give you heaps of money, and you keep the children if you happen to want them; or—there is generally only one—you agree to give that up for an extra million if he fancies it; and then you go off and marry your young man when he is free; because all American men are married, and he will have had to get his wife to divorce him. But when it is all "through," then it is comfortable and tidy, only the families get mixed after a while, and people have to be awfully careful not to ask them out to dinner together. One little girl at a dancing class is reported to have said to another: "What do you think of your new Papa? I think he is a mean cuss. He gave me no candy when he was mine."
Octavia says, from a morality standard, she does not see there is the least difference to our lovers in England and France, but I do, because here they have the comforting sense of the law finding it all right. The only tiresome part of it is, it must quite take away the zest of forbidden fruit that European nations get out of such affairs.
Our bedrooms are marvels. Mine is immense, with two suites of impossible rococo Louis XV. furniture in it; the richest curtains with heaps of arranged draperies and fringe, grand writing table things, a few embroidered cushions; but no new books, or comfy sofas, or look of cosy anywhere. The bathrooms to each room are superb; miles beyond one's ideas of them in general at home. Tom says he can't sleep because the embroidered monograms on the pillows and things scratch his cheek, and the lace frills tickle his nose, while he catches his toes in the Venetian insertion in the sheets. The linen itself is the finest you ever saw, Mamma, and would be too exquisite plain. Now one knows where all those marvellously over-worked things in the Paris shops go to, and all the wonderful gold incrusted Carlsbad glass. You meet it here in every house.
The gardens are absurd, as compared with ours in England, but they have far better glass houses and forcing processes and perfection of each plant; because you see even the gardener would feel his had to be just one better than the people's next door. They are far prouder of these imported things than their divine natural trees, or the perfectly glorious view over the Hudson, and insisted upon us examining all that, while Mr. Spleist told us how much it all cost and would not let us linger to get the lovely picture of the river and the opposite shore; until Octavia said we had a few greenhouses at home and some fairly fine gardens, but nowhere had we so noble a river or so vast a view, and he seemed to be quite hurt at all that, because he had not bought them, I suppose! And yet, Mamma, I cannot tell you what kind, nice people the Spleists really are; only the strange quality of boast and application of personal material gain is most extraordinary.
The outside of the house is brownish red sandstone, and is a wonderful mixture of all styles.
There is no room in it where there is any look of what we call "home," and not one shabby thing. Mrs. Spleist has a "boudoir"—and it is a boudoir! It is as if you went into the best shop and said, "I want a boudoir;" just as you would, "I want a hat," and paid for it and brought it home with you. Natalie has a sitting-room, and it is just the same. They are not quite far enough up yet on the social ladder to have every corner of the establishment done by Duveen, and the result is truly appalling.
The food is wonderful, extraordinarily good; but although the footmen are English they don't wait anything like as well as if they had remained at home; and Octavia's old maid, Wilbor, told her the hurly burly downstairs is beyond description; snatching their meals anywhere, with no time or etiquette or housekeeper's room; all, everyone for himself, and the devil take the hindmost. And the absolutely disrespectful way they speak of their master and mistress—machines to make money out of, they seem to think—perfectly astonished Wilbor, who highly disapproves of it all. Agnes, having a French woman's eye to the main chance, says, "N'importe, ici on gagne beaucoup d'argent!" So probably she will leave me before we return.
What volumes I have written, dearest Mamma!
Best love from your,
Affectionate daughter, ELIZABETH.
PLAZA HOTEL, NEW YORK
PLAZA HOTEL, NEW YORK, Friday.
Dearest Mamma,—Octavia and I feel we are growing quite "rattled." (Do forgive me for using such a word, but it is American and describes us.) The telephone rings from the moment we wake until we go out, and reporters wait to pounce upon us if we leave our rooms. We are entertained at countless feasts, and to-morrow we are going down town to lunch at a city restaurant, after seeing the Stock Exchange, so I will tell you of that presently. We can't do or say a thing that a totally different and garbled version of it does not appear in the papers, often with pictures; and yesterday, while Octavia was out with me, she was made to have given an interview upon whether or no Mr. Roosevelt should propose a law to enforce American wives to each have at least six children! It is printed that she asked how many husbands they were allowed, and the reporter lady who writes the interview expresses herself as quite shocked; but Octavia said, when she read it this morning, that she thought whoever was speaking for her asked a very sensible question. What do you think, Mamma? Octavia is enchanted with all these things, and is keeping a large scrap book. But the one we like best was in the Sunday's paper, when there was a full sheet with dark hints as to our private lives by "One Who Knows."
All the history of the little dancer Ottalie Cheveny was tacked on to Octavia's past! The name sounding something the same is quite enough reason for its being Octavia's story here! Tom is having this one put with his collection for the smoking-room, because he says when Octavia "fluffs" (that, I think, means "ruffles") him, he will be able to look up at it and think of "what might have been!"
I am said to be here while a divorce is being arranged by my family because Harry has gone off to India with a fair haired widow!!! Think, Mamma, of his rage when I send him a copy. Isn't it lovely?
We are enjoying ourselves more than I can say, and they are perfect dears, most of the people who entertain us;—so gay and merry and kind;—and we are growing quite accustomed to the voices and the odd grammar and phrasing. At first you get a singing in your head from the noise of a room full of people speaking. They simply scream, and it makes a peculiar echo, as if the walls were metal. Everyone talks at once, and no one ever listens to anything the person near them says.
A ladies' lunch is like this: Octavia and I arrive at a gorgeous mansion, and are ushered into a marvellous Louis XV. morning room, with wonderful tapestry furniture and beautiful pictures arranged rather like a museum. There is never a look of the mistress of the house having settled anything herself, or chosen a pillow because the colours in a certain sofa required it; or, in fact, there is never the expression of any individuality of ownership; anyone could have just such another house if he or she were rich enough to give carte blanche to the best antique art shop; but the things all being really good and beautiful do not jar like the mixture at the Spleists did. Often whole rooms have been brought out, just as they were, from foreign palaces, panelling, pictures and all, and it gives such a quaint sense of unreality to feel the old atmosphere in this young, vigorous country. The hostess's bedroom and boudoir and bath room are often shown to us, and they are all masterpieces of decoration and luxury; and I can't think how they can keep on feeling as good as gold in them! Perfectly lovely luxurious surroundings always make me long for Harry to play with, or some other nice young man—did not they you, Mamma, when you were young and felt things?
About twenty other women are probably there besides us, all dressed in the most expensive magnificent afternoon frocks; and they all have lovely Cartier jewelled watches, and those beautiful black ribbon and diamond chains round their necks, like Harry gave me last birthday. No one wears old fashioned or ugly jewels, all are in exquisite taste, while the pearls at one lunch would have paid for a kingdom.
When everyone has been presented to us, being the strangers, luncheon is announced, and we go into a magnificent dining-room, sometimes with the blinds so much drawn that we have to have electric lights. The footmen are in full dress, with silk stockings, and one or two places they had them powdered, and that did make Octavia smile. I don't think one ought to have powder unless it has been the custom of the family for generations, do you, Mamma? Well, then, beside each person's plate, beyond the countless food implements lying on the lace-encrusted cloth, are lovely bunches of orchids, or whatever is the most rare and difficult to get; and cocktails have sometimes been handed in the salon before, and sometimes are handed in the dining-room, but at the ladies' lunches in very small glasses.
With such heaps of divorces, in a very large party you can't help having some what Mrs. Van Brounker-Courtfield (a perfect old darling of nearly eighty whom we lunched with on Wednesday) calls "court relations," together; by that meaning, supposing Mrs. A. has divorced Mr. A., and re-married Mr. B., who has been divorced by Mrs. B., who has re-married Mr. C., who happened to be a widower with grown up married daughters—then the daughters and the present Mrs. B., late Mrs. A., would be "court relations," and might meet at lunch. Mr. A. himself and his present wife would also be the late Mrs. B.'s and present Mrs. C.'s court relations. Do you understand, Mamma? It is the sort of ones connected with the case whom it would be unpleasant to speak about it to, but not the actual principals. And when I asked Mrs. Van Brounker-Courtfield why she called them "court relations" she said because the divorce court was their common ground of connection, and it was a very good reason, and quite as true as calling people blood relations in London or Paris! And that pleased Octavia very much, because she said it was the first subtle thing she had heard in New York. But I must get on with the lunch.
You begin your clam broth (such an "exquit" soup, as Ermyntrude would call it), and the lady next you says she has been "just crazy" to meet you, and heaps of nice things that make you pleased with yourself and ready to enjoy your food. You are just going to say something civil in return, and get a few words out, when your neighbour interrupts you with more nice things, and stacks of questions, and remarks about herself, all rather disconnected, and before you can speak again, the lady beyond, or even across the table, has interpolated with a sentence beginning always like this, "Now let me tell you something;" and long before she can get to the end of that, the person at her side has interrupted her. And so it goes on. It sounds as if I were telling you of another Mad Hatter's tea party, Mamma, but it is not at all; and it is wonderful how much sense you can get out of it, and what amusing and clever bright things they say, though at the end you feel a little confused; and what with the smell of the innumerable flowers and the steam heated rooms, and the cigarettes, I can't think how they have wits enough left to play bridge all the afternoon, as they do, with never a young man to wake them up. Of course it is amusing for Octavia and me to see all this, as we are merely visitors, but fancy, Mamma! doing it as a part of one's life! Dressing up and making oneself splendid and attractive to meet only women!
They are not the least interested in politics or the pursuits of their husbands or brothers, and hardly any of them have the duties we have to do, like opening bazaars and giving away prizes and being heads of all sorts of organisations, nor do they have quantities of tenants' welfare to look after, or be responsible for anything. Of course they must pass the time somehow, and they all have secretaries who take every sort of ordinary trouble of notes and letters and things off their shoulders, so they ought to be awfully happy, oughtn't they? But they often have nerves or some imaginary disease or fad, and are frightfully restless, and Octavia says it is because in the natural development of the female of any country, numbers of these are really at the stage when they should be doing manual labour, according to their ancestry, and so having nothing to occupy them and living in every dreamed-of luxury, they get nerves instead. But I think it is because they never have nice young men to play with, everyone being busy working down town in the day time. We are told that even when the husbands do come home before dinner they are too tired to talk much, and as I said before nearly all the men, married or single, make you feel as good as gold, so it is no wonder such numbers of beautiful Americans come to Europe. I am quite sure if we had to lead their life we would turn into the most awful creatures. It is greatly to their credit they remain so nice.
When you can get one or two alone to have a connected conversation they are perfectly charming, and often very cultivated, and nearly always knowing about music; but sometimes, supposing one is discussing a phaze of the Renaissance, say, they will suddenly speak of something as belonging to it of quite another period, and you feel perfectly nonplussed, it seems so remarkable with the clever things they have just said they can make such mistakes. Perhaps it's that they do not study any one subject very deeply.
One thing is noticeable and nice. The conversations everywhere are all absolutely "jeune fille"; never anything the least "risque," though it is often amusing.
Among the "smart set" (do forgive this awful term, Mamma, but I mean by that the ones who are "in the swim" and whose society is the goal of the other's desire: I don't know what else to call them) they don't often tell you about the Mayflower and their ancestors; though on Wednesday a frightfully rich person who has only lately been admitted into this inner circle because her daughters have both married foreign Princes, said to me, she loved the English, and was indeed English herself and some distant connection of our King, being descended from Queen Elizabeth!!! It was rather unfortunate her having pitched upon our Virgin Queen, wasn't it, Mamma!? But perhaps as she had rather an Italian look it was the affair of the Venetian attache, and when I suggested that to her, she gazed at me blankly and said, "Why, no, there never has been any side-tracking in our family; we've always been virtuous and always shall be."
Now that you know, generally, what a luncheon is, I must tell you of the particular one at Mrs. Van Brounker-Courtfield's. She is the dearest old lady you ever met, Mamma—witty and quaint and downright, with an immense chic—grey hair brushed up into the most elaborate coiffure, jet black eyes with the wickedest twinkle in them, and a strong cleft in a double chin. She is rather stout but has Paris clothes and perfect jewels. She is not a bit like English old ladies, sticking to their hideous early Victorian settings for their diamonds; hers are the very latest, and although she is seventy-eight, she crosses the ocean twice a year to have her frocks fitted, and see what is going on.
She was of a real old Southern family, before the war, very rich and aristocratic. She, of course, never mentions the Mayflower or the cavaliers, but you can read all about her ancestors in any history of America. She has such a strong sense of humour and the fitness of things, that she has adapted herself to the present, instead of remaining aloof and going to the wall as she told me so many of her friends and relations did.
We met at Mrs. Latour's (you know Valerie Latour, Lady Holloway's sister; when she is in England she often stays with us at Valmond). She took to Octavia and me at once, and we to her, and on Wednesday we lunched with her, and when Queen Elizabeth's descendant, Mrs. Clerehart, said what I told you, she caught my eye, and you never saw such a look of fun in a human eye, and we became great friends at once. She says one must take New York as it is, and one will find it a most amusing place. She never hesitates to say what she thinks anywhere, and lots of people hate her, and most of them are afraid of her, but all find it an honour when she will receive them.
"My dear," she said, "in my young days there were gentle people and common people, but now there is no distinction in society, only one of dollars and cents, and whether you get into the right swim or not. I receive all sorts, and some of the last risen are quite the nicest, and amuse me more than my own old friends!"
She says the young men in New York are mostly awful, according to her ideas, and nearly all drink too many cocktails, and that is what makes them so unreserved when they get to their clubs, so the women can't have them for lovers because they talk about it. She does not think it is because American women are so cold or so good that they are so virtuous, but because the men don't tempt them at all. Also she says it's being such a young nation they are still dreadfully provincial. But there are other and good qualities from being young, Mamma; it makes them have the kindest hearts, and be more generous and hospitable, so I think I like it as well as our old ones.
Mrs. Van Brounker-Courtfield said she had asked a sprinkling of all sorts to meet us, and it was then she explained about the court relations, because she found she had Mrs. Clem Busfield with the sister-in-law of Clem Busfield's new wife, and that inadvertently her secretary, who arranged the table, had put them side by side.
She sat in the middle, at the end of the table, with Octavia and me at her right and left, and it was beyond Octavia these two sat. She explained it all to me in so distinct a voice I was afraid they would hear, but she added that Julia Busfield was really a lady and would pull through all right!
"My dear," she said, "it is in these situations sometimes the parvenues show the yellow streak, these and being touchy. They don't always come up to the scratch, otherwise there is no difference in them, and that is the glory of our country."
Then she told me that is the way she judges their advance, according to their touchiness. They can't stand any chaff, she said, and if a stranger dares to make any criticism of Americans to them, they are up in arms at once and tear them to pieces! "Now, you in old countries, are amused or supremely indifferent if foreigners laugh at you," she said, "as we are in the South, but our parvenues in the East haven't got to that plane yet, and resent the slightest show of criticism or raillerie. You see they are not quite sure of themselves." Isn't that quaint of them, Mamma?
Then she asked me to look round the table and to tell her if I had ever seen a better looking set of women, and of course I had not; they were really charming and so exquisitely dressed, and the apparently most aristocratic of all she told me was the daughter of a Western miner and an English housemaid! And she even had a soft, sweet voice. I talked to her afterwards. Is it not too wonderful to think of what such parentage would make English people look! It must be climate and that splendid go ahead vitality—whatever it is, I do admire it. And as Mrs. Van Brounker-Courtfield seemed so human and not touchy I asked her why a number of the New York men did not appear to have caught the same appearance of wonderful refinement and breeding, and she said because the sort of life a man leads makes him look what he does far more than blood, and that the few that lived the life of English gentlemen looked like them, just as the rest who live the life of our city clerks look like them, minus our City clerks' Saturday interest in sport, and plus the cocktail. And this must be true, Mamma, because Mr. Renour, who was what all these people would call a rough Westerner, and would probably not speak to (until he became a trillionaire of course) was a nature's gentleman and looked out-door and hard; and if he had been dressed by Mr. Davis, and his hair cut by Mr. Charles, would have been as good looking as anyone in the world.
These "reasons why" do interest me so much, and I am always collecting them. But I must get back to what happened at lunch. I heard it from Octavia afterwards, who made a fearful betise.
We had met the new Mrs. Busfield the day before but had not been told a word of the story, so Octavia being vaguely aware that there were two brothers Busfield, thought this one, who for the sake of non-confusion I must speak of as "Julia," was the other brother's wife, and to be amiable told her how charming she thought "Arma" (the new wife) was, and how awfully devoted the husband seemed, and were they not very proud to have such a perfect beauty in the family!
"Julia" got crimson and coughed, and then the lady from the other side joined in telling Octavia that "Arma" was her sister-in-law, but no relation to this Mrs. Busfield! Octavia, of course, turned the conversation and spoke to the hostess, but she said the two beside her, in spite of not being on speaking terms chatted feverishly to each other for the rest of lunch to avoid pauses, in case, Octavia supposes, she should ask any more difficult questions. So you see, Mamma, even a person with as fine perceptions as Octavia can make awkward betises here. It is like steering among the Thousand Islands and hidden rocks and currents.
Mrs. Van B.-C.'s (the name is really too long to go on writing) house is perfectly awful. She told us so before we could even formulate the thought ourselves! It was done up about fourteen years ago, she said, when it was one of the first houses as high up on Fifth Avenue, and was the time of the most appalling taste in decoration. Every sort of gilding and dreadful Louis XV., and gorged cupids sitting on cannon ball clouds, with here and there a good picture and bit of china, and crimson brocade edged with plush for curtains!
She told us she did not mean to change it. It is comfortable, she said, and lots of her new people really admire it in their hearts! And it will last her time, and when her granddaughter comes into it it will no doubt be "down town" and turned into a shop, things move so fast.
After lunch we all came up to this fearful salon, and then we saw what a perfect hostess she is, moving from group to group and saying exactly the right thing in her crisp, old voice—there is nothing sleepy and Southern about her. At last she sat down by me and she told me such an exquisite story, showing the feeling after the war and the real aristocrats the Southerners were. Two old aunts of hers were left absolutely destitute, having been great heiresses, and to support themselves took in sewing, making dresses for their friends. Their overseer became immediately rich, and a year or so afterwards gave a grand ball for his daughter. The day before the ball an old and not bright friend called, and found Miss Barbara sewing a white satin frock and the tears dropping from her eyes. She pressed her hand in sympathy, and said she felt as badly as she did to see her making when she ought to be wearing, the frock; but Miss Barbara sat up straight and said, "It is not that; I like the work, but what do you think! Timothy Murran (the overseer) has had the impudence to send us an invitation!" Isn't this a dear story, Mamma, and should not we have loved and honoured those old ladies?
But Mrs. Van B.-C. says the modern people in New York would not in the least understand this subtle pride, and would only think them old fools, and she added—"which they probably were!"
She says we are not to judge of American men by most of those we have seen in New York as yet; that there are a section of elderly, refined and cultivated gentlemen, no longer interested in trade now, who were contemporaries of her daughter (the beautiful Duchesse de Ville Tranche, who died so tragically). She wants us to meet them.
But Octavia and I both told her we liked those we had seen very much indeed; they were so kind, only not naughty like Englishmen. And she had such a look in her eye as she said, "That is just it, my dear, and it makes all the difference."
You see, Mamma, I am not telling you of any of the people we know in England, because as I said before they are just like us, and not interesting in consequence. Octavia and I feel we want to see quite others, and next week perhaps we start for the West.
Heavens! The mail is going. I must stop!
Fondest love to my angels,
Your affectionate daughter, ELIZABETH
LATOUR COURT, LONG ISLAND
LATOUR COURT, LONG ISLAND, Saturday.
Dearest Mamma,—We are here for Sunday, but first I must tell you of the day "down town." We went with one of the interesting business men we have met lately, and we seemed to motor for miles along Fifth Avenue until one would think one was dreaming; all the houses seemed to be from fifteen to twenty-five stories high, and so the air rushes down the gorges the streets are, like a tornado, even if it is not a particularly windy day. It is a mercy American women have such lovely feet and nice shapes, because when they cross to a place called the Flat Iron Building the gusts do what they please with their garments. I am quite sure if the Roues' Club in Piccadilly could get itself removed to a house just here, those wicked old men would spend their days glued to the windows. Well, we passed Washington Square, which has a look of Russell or Bedford Squares, part of it, and beyond that I can't remember the names of the streets; it all was so crowded and intent and wonderful,—people racing and chasing after wealth, I suppose.
Finally we got to Wall Street and the Stock Exchange. And Wall Street is quite a little narrow, ordinary street, almost as mean as our Threadneedle or Lombard Streets! The Stock Exchange is the most beautiful building! I don't suppose you have ever been in one, Mamma, and I certainly shall never want to see another. Imagine a colossal room as high as a church, with a Greek roof and a gallery at one end, and down below countless human beings—men at highest tension dealing with stocks and shares, in a noise of hell which in groups here and there rose to a scream of exaltation or a roar of disappointment. How anyone could keep nerves or hearing sense, after a week of it, one cannot imagine. No wonder American men have nervous prostration, and are so often a little deaf. The floor was strewn with bits of paper, that they had used to make calculations on, and they had a lovely kind of game of snowballing with it now and then—I suppose to vary the monotony of shouting and screaming. The young ones would pelt each other. It must have been a nice change.—Then there were a lot of partitions with glass panels at the end of the room, and into these they kept rushing like rabbits into their holes, to send telegrams about the prices, I suppose. And all the while in a balcony half way up one of the great blank empty walls, a dear old white bearded gentleman sat and gazed in a benevolent way at the shrieking crowd below.
They told us he was there to keep order! But no one appeared to care a pin for his presence, and as he did not seem to mind, either, what row they made, we rather wondered what the occasions could be when he would exert his authority! Presently he went away to lunch, and as no one else took his place, they were able to make as much noise as they liked, though it did not seem any greater than before.
Can you imagine, Mamma, spending days in a place like that? No wonder when they get up town they don't want to talk. But Mrs. Van Brounker-Courtfield says everyone is too restless to stay quietly at home in the evenings, and when they have pulled themselves together with a cocktail they have to dress and go out to dine at some restaurant or with friends, and then the theatre. At first one thinks they are simply angels to their wives, working all day long down town like that—they seem a race of predestined husbands. If one wanted a husband who spent his entire day away from one and was too tired when he came in to talk of anything but a few sentences on Wall Street affairs, one would certainly choose a rich American, because he would load one with money and jewels, and absolutely obey one when he was at home, and let one spend most of the time in Europe. But Mrs. Van Brounker-Courtfield says all that is only a sop to Cerberus, to keep the wives from grumbling at not being made love to like women of other nations are; that all men are hunters, and while ours in England chase foxes and are thrilled with politics the New Yorkers hunt dollars, and it is the same thing. Wall Street is their adored mistress, and the wives are just their family. As you were married such ages ago I don't know if you quite understand what I mean about men, Mamma, and the effect they have on one. There are creatures who,—the moment they come into the room you know they are there. You know it isn't a woman. It is not an intellectual or soul feeling, but it is rather lovely, all the same, and although I am furious with Harry and intend to be horrid to him, I must say he has this power stronger than anyone I have ever met; when he is close to me I have a kind of creep of pleasure, and when he kisses those little curls at the back of my neck I feel thrills all down my back. Do you know what I mean, Mamma? I have divided men up into two lots. Those one could go to Australia alone with, and those one couldn't, and it does not matter in the least their age or looks or station or anything, it is just whether or no they have got this quality. Well, as far as I have seen, Valerie Latour's husband and one or two others are the only men who have it here in New York, although lots are very good looking and intelligent, and all are kind; but there is a didactic way of talking, a complete absence of subtlety or romance.—And even those it would be perfectly safe to go with; because they would not dream of making love to one, but they have the igniting quality in themselves. Some of the elder men over forty are really attractive and intensely clever, but as everyone is married, one would always have the bore of the wives' frowns if one played with them. How I do wander from what I was telling you!
Tom came with us to the Stock Exchange. We have to leave him at home when we go to the women's lunches, but he spends the time with Valerie Latour, and in the late afternoons he goes to the Clubs with the husbands, and he says they are awfully good fellows and many brilliantly amusing, and full of common sense; but at some of the clubs they have not got any unwritten laws as to manners, so now and then when they get rather drunk, they are astonishingly rude to one another. It is not considered a great disgrace for a young man to get tipsy here; the slang for it is to get "full." There are two grades, "fresh" and "full." When you are "fresh" you are just breezy and what we would call "above yourself;" but when you are "full," you can't speak plain, and are sometimes unsteady on your feet, so it is very unpleasant. You can be "fresh," too, without having drunk anything, if you have an uppish nature. Octavia and I were perfectly astonished the first time we heard it spoken of. A rather nice looking boy who was at dinner had apparently been "full" the night before, and the women on both sides of him chaffed him and scolded him as if it were a joke. I am glad it is still considered a disgrace in England, because when it does occur it is kept out of sight.
After the Stock Exchange we went to see the workings of one of the great journals. That was too wonderful, Mamma, everything happening in a vast room on one floor; compositing, typewriting, printing, and sorting. It is astonishing the tremendous power of concentrating the will to be able to think in that flurry and noise;—hundreds of clean-shaven young men in shirt-sleeves smoking cigars or cigarettes and doing their various duties. The types interested us so; physiognomy counts for nothing, apparently,—faces that might have been the first Napoleon or Tennyson or even Shakespeare,—doing the simple manual part of lifting the blocks of metal and attending to the machinery, older men, these;—and the Editor, who naturally must have been very clever, had a round moon face, tiny baby nose, two marbles stuffed in for eyes and the look of a boyish simpleton.
Tom was so enchanted because at the sporting editor's desk there were a party of prize fighters, the "world's light weight"—whatever that means, a half "coloured gentleman," that is what niggers are called—with such white teeth and wiry and slight; and two large bull dogs of men who were heavyweights. I felt obliged to ask them if they minded at all having their noses smashed in and black eyes, and if they felt nervous ever, and the little coloured gentleman grinned and said he only felt nervous over the money of the thing! He was not anxious about the art or fame! He just wanted to win. Is not that an extraordinary point of view, Mamma—To win? It is the national motto, it seems; how, does not matter so much; and that is what makes them so splendidly successful, and that is what the other nations who play games with them don't understand. They, poor old-fashioned things, are taking an interest in the sport part, and so scattering their forces, while the Americans are concentrating on the winning. And it is this quality which of course will make them the rulers of the world in time.
All the people were so courteous to us, and naturally Tom was more interested in this than any of the things we have yet seen. One reporter who showed us round had a whimsical sense of humour (not "American humour," that, as I told you before, is different) and we really enjoyed ourselves, and before we were out of the building they presented us with copies of the paper with accounts of our visit in the usual colossalised style. Was not that quick work, Mamma?
The things they put in the papers here are really terrible, and must be awfully exciting for the little boys and girls who read them going to school; every paltry scandal in enormous headlines, and the most intimate details of people's lives exposed and exaggerated, while the divorces and suicides fill every page. But if there is anything good happening, like sailors behaving well at sea and saving lives, or any fine but unsensational thing, it only gets a small notice. The poor reporters can't help it; they are dismissed unless they worry people for interviews and write "catchy" articles about them, so, of course, they can't stick to the truth; and as the people who read like to hear something spicy, they are obliged to give it all a lurid turn. The female ones are sometimes spiteful; I expect because women often can't help being so about everything. These wonderfully sensational papers have only developed in the last ten years, we are told, so they have not had time to see the effect it is going to have upon the coming generation.
The better people don't pay the least attention to anything that is printed, but of course ordinary people in any country would.
We lunched in the most fashionable restaurant down town, but I never can describe to you, Mamma, the noise and flurry and rush of it. As if countless men screaming at the top of their voices and every plate being rattled by scurrying waiters, were not enough, there was the loudest band as well! Unless you simply yelled you could not make your neighbour hear. I suppose it is listening to the other din at the Stock Exchange all the morning;—they would feel lonely if they had quiet to eat in.
Our party was augmented by a celebrated judge, and some other lawyers. We had been told he was most learned and a wonderful wit, and someone we should see as a representative American; half the people said he was a "crook," and the other half that he was the "only straight" judge; and when I asked what a "crook" was, our host told me the word explained itself, but that you would be called a crook by all the trusts if you gave judgment against them, just as, if you let them off, you would be the only honest judge. So whatever you were called did not amount to anything! The Judge was much younger than our judges, and had a moustache, and looked just like ordinary people, and not a bit dignified.
As he has to deliver long speeches when he is judging, one would have thought he might have liked a little rest and light conversation when he came out to lunch, especially as every man likes to talk to Octavia and me; but not a bit of it, he continued to lay down the law in a didactic way so that no one else could speak. He did not even pretend to be interested in us. What he said was all quite clever and splendidly put, but having to show politeness and listen with one's fork suspended in the air, lets the food get cold, and as it was excellent, all sorts of lovely American dishes, at last I just attended to that, and did not hear some of his speeches.
The band suddenly stopped and Octavia's voice saying, "Indeed" (all she could get in) rang out like the man on the Lusitania shouting orders down the megaphone; and when we got outside we all felt deaf and had sore throats.
The intense relief to come here out of all noise or hustle, to Valerie Latour's for Sunday! But I am so tired now I will finish this to-morrow.
Your affectionate daughter, ELIZABETH.
LATOUR COURT, LONG ISLAND,
DEAREST MAMMA,—I am resting, so I can put another letter in with the one I wrote last night. We came here, as I said, after the down town luncheon, and it is so quaint going over on the ferry; we just sat in the motor we have hired while we are in New York, and it rolled on to a broad place on a huge flat steamer, with all the rest of the traffic, and the boat quietly steamed across the water, and when it touched the other side we drove off again. And presently as one gets past the station it looks like going into the wilds, but along the edges of the roads are small villas made of boards with shingle roofs; here the clerks (they pronounce it just as it is spelt) and small business people live, their little bits of land a few feet round each house not railed or hedged off, but simply mown grass marking them from public property.
Most of them are spruce and painted, and they can be moved if necessary. We met one coming down the road, the lace curtains in the windows and a cat looking out and brushing its whiskers. The house was set on rollers and being pulled along. Isn't it a splendid idea, Mamma? Fancy if I could have the east wing of Valmond, that was added in eighteen hundred, cut off and just trotted round to the north courtyard, where it would not show so much, how nice that would be; but everything is so dreadfully stable and solid with us, and here everything is transitory and can come and go in a night. All the country we came through looks the wilds, uncultivated, almost as if bears could live in the woods. Farms have been there, but now the land is too valuable and is only sold for building purposes. But the effect of wild is intense and makes the contrast of the over-cultivated avenue borders greater. Once inside the gates, the winding avenue begins, covered like all the avenues we have seen with fine granite gravel. But even in the wildest wild it is lit with electric light, and here and there a neat villa. This is typical of America, the contrivances of the brain of man forced upon primitive nature.
The house is simply charming; outside a beautiful colonial style, so suitable to the splendid trees and general look of the land, and inside all panelled, and everything in the most perfect taste, and not too grand. But it surprises me that Valerie, who has been so much in England, should still have the same want of the personal note in her house. Everything is beyond criticism, so perfect and suitable, but not in a single room, even her own sitting room, is there that strong sense of her as I think we all have in our rooms at home. I am sure, Mamma, you would know even the great state drawing-rooms at Chevenix were Octavia's, and there is not a corner of Valmond or Hurstbridge or even the town house, that I do not decide upon the arranging of. But here I don't think they would be bothered; and they only stay in their houses for so short a period, rushing from New York to Newport and the country to Europe, so none of the places feel like home. That is the only possible thing which spoils this one,—otherwise it is perfection. But then you see they could start fair by building it themselves; they had not to inherit a huge castle from their forefathers, with difficult drains to combat and an insufficient water supply, to say nothing of the trail of the serpent of fearful early Victorian taste over even the best things of the eighteenth century. The horrors that now live in the housemaids' bed rooms which I collected from the royal suite at Valmond!
It was a perfect joy to get here into peace, and we were allowed to rest quietly until dinner, and Valerie came and talked to me while I lay on the sofa. She said her husband was "crazy" about me, and she thought it would do him a great deal of good for me to play with him a little, and that she was crazy about Tom; so I said if she could find someone for Octavia it seemed a nice little chasse croisee and we ought all to be very happy together. Then she said she had someone coming down by a later train who ought to be just Octavia's affair, and who in the world do you think it is, Mamma? The Vicomte! Gaston de la Tremors!!!!