The Rosary

Contents:
Author: Florence L. Barclay

Chapter I

ENTER THE DUCHESS.

The peaceful stillness of an English summer afternoon brooded over the park and gardens at Overdene. A hush of moving sunlight and lengthening shadows lay upon the lawn, and a promise of refreshing coolness made the shade of the great cedar tree a place to be desired.

The old stone house, solid, substantial, and unadorned, suggested unlimited spaciousness and comfort within; and was redeemed from positive ugliness without, by the fine ivy, magnolia trees, and wistaria, of many years’ growth, climbing its plain face, and now covering it with a mantle of soft green, large white blooms, and a cascade of purple blossom.

A terrace ran the full length of the house, bounded at one end by a large conservatory, at the other by an aviary. Wide stone steps, at intervals, led down from the terrace on to the soft springy turf of the lawn. Beyond—the wide park; clumps of old trees, haunted by shy brown deer; and, through the trees, fitful gleams of the river, a narrow silver ribbon, winding gracefully in and out between long grass, buttercups, and cow-daisies.

The sun-dial pointed to four o’clock.

The birds were having their hour of silence. Not a trill sounded from among the softly moving leaves, not a chirp, not a twitter. The stillness seemed almost oppressive. The one brilliant spot of colour in the landscape was a large scarlet macaw, asleep on his stand under the cedar.

At last came the sound of an opening door. A quaint old figure stepped out on to the terrace, walked its entire length to the night, and disappeared into the rose-garden. The Duchess of Meldrum had gone to cut her roses.

She wore an ancient straw hat, of the early-Victorian shape known as "mushroom," tied with black ribbons beneath her portly chin; a loose brown holland coat; a very short tweed skirt, and Engadine "gouties." She had on some very old gauntlet gloves, and carried a wooden basket and a huge pair of scissors.

A wag had once remarked that if you met her Grace of Meldrum returning from gardening or feeding her poultry, and were in a charitable frame of mind, you would very likely give her sixpence. But, after you had thus drawn her attention to yourself and she looked at you, Sir Walter Raleigh’s cloak would not be in it! Your one possible course would be to collapse into the mud, and let the ducal "gouties" trample on you. This the duchess would do with gusto; then accept your apologies with good nature; and keep your sixpence, to show when she told the story.

The duchess lived alone; that is to say, she had no desire for the perpetual companionship of any of her own kith and kin, nor for the constant smiles and flattery of a paid companion. Her pale daughter, whom she had systematically snubbed, had married; her handsome son, whom she had adored and spoiled, had prematurely died, before the death, a few years since, of Thomas, fifth Duke of Meldrum. He had come to a sudden and, as the duchess often remarked, very suitable end; for, on his sixty-second birthday, clad in all the splendours of his hunting scarlet, top hat, and buff corduroy breeches, the mare he was mercilessly putting at an impossible fence suddenly refused, and Thomas, Duke of Meldrum, shot into a field of turnips; pitched upon his head, and spoke no more.

This sudden cessation of his noisy and fiery life meant a complete transformation in the entourage of the duchess. Hitherto she had had to tolerate the boon companions, congenial to himself, with whom he chose to fill the house; or to invite those of her own friends to whom she could explain Thomas, and who suffered Thomas gladly, out of friendship for her, and enjoyment of lovely Overdene. But even then the duchess had no pleasure in her parties; for, quaint rough diamond though she herself might appear, the bluest of blue blood ran in her veins; and, though her manner had the off-hand abruptness and disregard of other people’s feelings not unfrequently found in old ladies of high rank, she was at heart a true gentlewoman, and could always be trusted to say and do the right thing in moments of importance: The late duke’s language had been sulphurous and his manners Georgian; and when he had been laid in the unwonted quiet of his ancestral vault—"so unlike him, poor dear," as the duchess remarked, "that it is quite a comfort to know he is not really there"—her Grace looked around her, and began to realise the beauties and possibilities of Overdene.

At first she contented herself with gardening, making an aviary, and surrounding herself with all sorts of queer birds and beasts; upon whom she lavished the affection which, of late years, had known no human outlet.

But after a while her natural inclination to hospitality, her humorous enjoyment of other people’s foibles, and a quaint delight in parading her own, led to constant succession of house-parties at Overdene, which soon became known as a Liberty Hall of varied delights where you always met the people you most wanted to meet, found every facility for enjoying your favourite pastime, were fed and housed in perfect style, and spent some of the most ideal days of your summer, or cheery days of your winter, never dull, never bored, free to come and go as you pleased, and everything seasoned everybody with the delightful "sauce piquante" of never being quite sure what the duchess would do or say next.

She mentally arranged her parties under three heads—"freak parties," "mere people parties," and "best parties." A "best party" was in progress on the lovely June day when the duchess, having enjoyed an unusually long siesta, donned what she called her "garden togs" and sallied forth to cut roses.

As she tramped along the terrace and passed through the little iron gate leading to the rose-garden, Tommy, the scarlet macaw, opened one eye and watched her; gave a loud kiss as she reached the gate and disappeared from view, then laughed to himself and went to sleep again.

Of all the many pets, Tommy was prime favourite. He represented the duchess’s one concession to morbid sentiment. After the demise of the duke she had found it so depressing to be invariably addressed with suave deference by every male voice she heard. If the butler could have snorted, or the rector have rapped out an uncomplimentary adjective, the duchess would have felt cheered. As it was, a fixed and settled melancholy lay upon her spirit until she saw in a dealer’s list an advertisement of a prize macaw, warranted a grand talker, with a vocabulary of over five hundred words.

The duchess went immediately to town, paid a visit to the dealer, heard a few of the macaw’s words and the tone in which he said them, bought him on the spot, and took him down to Overdene. The first evening he sat crossly on the perch of his grand new stand, declining to say a single one of his five hundred words, though the duchess spent her evening in the hall, sitting in every possible place; first close to him; then, away in a distant corner; in an arm-chair placed behind a screen; reading, with her back turned, feigning not to notice him; facing him with concentrated attention. Tommy merely clicked his tongue at her every time she emerged from a hiding-place; or, if the rather worried butler or nervous underfootman passed hurriedly through the hall, sent showers of kisses after them, and then went into fits of ventriloquial laughter. The duchess, in despair, even tried reminding him in a whisper of the remarks he had made in the shop; but Tommy only winked at her and put his claw over his beak. Still, she enjoyed his flushed and scarlet appearance, and retired to rest hopeful and in no wise regretting her bargain.

The next morning it became instantly evident to the house-maid who swept the hall, the footman who sorted the letters, and the butler who sounded the breakfast gong, that a good night’s rest had restored to Tommy the full use of his vocabulary. And when the duchess came sailing down the stairs, ten minutes after the gong had sounded, and Tommy, flapping his wings angrily, shrieked at her: "Now then, old girl! Come on!" she went to breakfast in a more cheerful mood than she had known for months past.

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Chicago: Florence L. Barclay, "Chapter I," The Rosary, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Rosary Original Sources, accessed November 25, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=AEYI6T4RY3BLKZA.

MLA: Barclay, Florence L. "Chapter I." The Rosary, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Rosary, Original Sources. 25 Nov. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=AEYI6T4RY3BLKZA.

Harvard: Barclay, FL, 'Chapter I' in The Rosary, trans. . cited in , The Rosary. Original Sources, retrieved 25 November 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=AEYI6T4RY3BLKZA.