Saturday, 26 May 2007

In search of a little silk tea dress (again)

Bill is not a happy man. He returned from his walk this morning thoroughly disgruntled, and on my inquiring why the black looks, exploded in wrath, telling me that “ The damned man has taken to walking the dog with her now! So I’ve had to change my route - and poor old Monty has been quite down in the mouth about missing his usual wild plunge in pursuit of Luca!”

I understood that he was referring to Frances Fanshawe and her wayward dog Luca; and that the ‘damned man’ in question must be David Porteous, who has apparently extended his range of influence at the manor house by taking on the disciplining of the dog as well. This was unwelcome news to me – especially since my own, still rather woebegone dog, Florence, has formed an unaccountable attachment to Luca, and will be bereft at being denied his company on the common. I would prefer to hear that David Porteous was loosening rather than tightening his grip at the manor house besides – though the fact that there has been to date no engagement announcement does give me grounds for hope.

Mrs Baines is not so sanguine about it, and has phoned me several times to express her dismay. She thinks that Frances ought to have waited a little, before plunging in at the deep end like that. “So foolish of her!” she says. “But then you see, she has never had a chance to be a girl, and now she’s behaving just like any love-struck teenager.” Roland takes a very dim view of it all too, apparently. Roland goes still further indeed: expressing the view that not only must they now suspend their party of welcome for Mr Porteous indefinitely, but ought probably to cut themselves off from his society altogether. At least until they see in which direction events now proceed.

Pamela has other, more propitious things on her mind at present, mind you. She has had the extreme happiness of receiving a card of invitation from Lady Macauley to attend her garden party on bank holiday Monday. It's the very first time she has been included in such an event, and she is all of a flutter to know what she ought to wear, and whether it might include a hat? This put me in a very difficult position as a matter of fact – recalling, as I did, something that Lady Macauley herself had said, when the subject of Mrs Baines and Roland happened to come up. It was around the time when Pamela was still proposing to hold a welcome party for Mr Porteous, and Rose had been deputed to try to persuade the Macauleys to attend.

“Do remind me who she is” was Lady Macauley’s response to an appeal by Rose. “I daresay I ought to know that before I turn her down. Is she by chance the large lady with the hats, and the very much smaller husband……?”

Rose replied, I seem to remember, that Pamela was certainly large, and Roland rather small – but she didn’t remember any occasion at which she had worn a hat. Or none, at least, which Lady Macauley herself had also attended.

“Oh well, the hat is an illusion I daresay” Lady Macauley replied. “ There are women with whom one somehow feels its presence, even when the object itself is missing. There was something that Jack used to say - that you should never trust a woman whose hats seem larger than her husband, since she’s likely to be a dominatrix.”

With this recollection lurking in the back of my mind, I scarcely knew how to advise Pamela on the hat question. Though I did promise to approach Lady Macauley myself on the subject, and let her know the answer in plenty of time. To date, the occasion to do so has not arisen. I have had an old friend staying with me at the gatehouse for several days, and my pre-occupations, when they have not been with her, have been in trying to decide what to wear to the Macauley garden party myself.

Bill tells me not to agonise about it so. But then, the only question, for him, is whether he ought to wear a tie or not. And since this is usually simply enough solved by arriving with a tie, and slipping it in one’s pocket if it turns out to be inappropriate, I hardly see how he is in a position to judge. I on the other hand, have been in and out of John Lewis again, looking for little silk tea dresses…….