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The Celebrity at Home

The Celebrity at Home







Tempe, a valley in Thessaly, between Mount Olympus at the north, and
Ossa at the south, through which the river Peneus flows into the
Ægean. - _Lemprière._



They say that a child's childhood is the happiest time of its life!

Mine isn't.

For it is nice to do as you like even if it isn't good for you. It is
nice to overeat yourself even though it does make you ill afterwards. It
is a positive pleasure to go out and do something that catches you a
cold, if you want to, and to leave off your winter clothes a month too
soon. Children hate feeling "stuffy" - no grown-up person understands
that feeling that makes you wriggle and twist till you get sent to bed.
It is nice to go to bed when you are sleepy, and no sooner, not to be
despatched any time that grown-up people are tired of you and take the
quickest way to get rid of a nuisance. Taken all round, the very nicest
thing in the world is your own way and plenty of it, and you never get
that properly, it seems to me, until you are too old to enjoy it, or too
cross to admit that you do!

I suspect that the word "rice-pudding" will be written on my heart, as
Calais was on Bloody Mary's, when I am dead.

I have got that blue shade about the eyes that they say early-dying
children have, and I may die young. So I am going to write down
everything, just as it happens, in my life, because when I grow up, I
mean to be an author, like my father before me, and teach in song, or in
prose, what I have learned in suffering. Doing this will get me
insensibly into the habit of composition. George - my father - we always
call him by his Christian name by request - offered to look it over for
me, but I do not think that I shall avail myself of his kindness. I want
to be quite honest, and set down everything, in malice, as grown-up
people do, and then your book is sure to be amusing. I shall say the
worst - I mean the truth - about everybody, including myself. That is what
makes a book saleable. People don't like to be put off with short
commons in scandal, and chuck the book into the fire at once as I have
seen George do, when the writer is too discreet. My book will not be
discreet, but crisp, and gossippy. Even Ariadne must not read it,
however much of my hair and its leaves she pulls out, for she will claw
me in her rage, of course. Grammar and spelling will not be made a
specialty of, because what you gain in propriety you lose in originality
and _verve_. I do adore _verve_!

George's own style is said to be the perfection of nervousness and
vervousness. He is a genius, he admits it. I am proud, but not glad, for
it cuts both ways, and it is hardly likely that there will be two
following after each other so soon in the same family. Though one never
knows? Mozart's father was a musical man. George says that to be
daughter to such a person is a liberal education; it seems about all the
education I am likely to get! George teaches me Greek and Latin, when he
has time. He won't touch Ariadne, for she isn't worth it. He says I am
apt. Dear me, one may as well make lessons a pleasure, instead of a
scene! Ariadne cried the first time at Perspective, when George, after a
long explanation that puzzled her, asked her in that particular, sniffy,
dried-up tone teachers put on, - "Did she see?" And when he asked me, I
didn't see either, but I said I did, to prevent unpleasantness.

I do not know why I am called Tempe. Short for temper, the new cook
says, but when I asked George, he laughed, and bid me and the cook
beware of obvious derivations. It appears that there is a pretty place
somewhere in Greece called the Vale of Tempe, and that I am named after
that, surely a mistake. My father calls me a devil - plain devil when he
is cross, little devil when he is pleased. I take it as a compliment,
for look at my sister Ariadne, she is as good as gold, and what does she
get by it? She does not contradict or ask questions or bother anybody,
but reads poetry and does her hair different ways all day long. She
never says a sharp word - can't! George says she is bound to get left,
like the first Ariadne was. She is long and pale and thin, and white
like a snowdrop, except for her reddish hair. The pert hepatica is my
favourite flower. It comes straight out of the ground, like me, without
any fuss or preparation in the way of leaves and trimmings.

I know that I am not ugly. I know it by the art of deduction. We none of
us are, or we should not have been allowed to survive. George would
never have condescended to own ugly children. We should have been
exposed when we were babies on Primrose Hill, which is, I suppose, the
tantamount of Mount Täygetus, as the ancient Greeks did their ugly
babies. We aren't allowed to read Lemprière. I do. What brutes those
Greeks were, and did not even know one colour from the other, so George

I am right in saying we are all tolerable. The annoying thing is that
the new cook, who knows what she is talking about, says that children
"go in and out so," and even Aunt Gerty says that "fancy children never
last," and after all this, I feel that the pretty ones can never count
on keeping up to their own standard.

I cannot tell you if our looks come from our father, or our mother?
George is small, with a very brown skin. He says he descends "from the
little dark, persistent races" that come down from the mountains and
take the other savages' sheep and cows. He has good eyes. They dance and
flash. His hair is black, brushed back from his forehead like a
Frenchman, and very nice white teeth. He has a mouth like a Jesuit, I
have heard Aunt Gerty say. He never sits very still. He is about
thirty-seven, but he does not like us chattering about his age.

Mother looks awfully young for hers - thirty-six; and she would look
prettier if she didn't burn her eyes out over the fire making dishes for
George, and prick her fingers darning his socks till he doesn't find out
they are darned, or else he wouldn't wear them again, and spoil her
figure stooping, sewing and ironing. George won't have a sewing machine
in the house. Her head is a very good shape, and she does her hair plain
over the top to show it. George made her. Sometimes when he isn't there,
she does it as she used before she was married, all waved and floating,
more like Aunt Gerty, who is an actress, and dresses her head sunning
over with curls like Maud. George has never caught Mother like that, or
he would be very angry. He considers that she has the bump of
domesticity highly developed (though even when her hair is done plain I
never can see it?), and that is why she enjoys being wife, mother, and
upper housemaid all in one.

We only keep two out here at Isleworth, though my brother Ben is very
useful as handy boy about the place, blacking our boots and browning
George's, and cleaning the windows and stopping them from rattling at
nights - a thing that George can't stand when he is here. When he isn't
we just let them rave, and it is a perfect concert, for this is a very
old Georgian house. Mother makes everything, sheets, window-curtains,
and our frocks and her own. She makes them all by the same pattern,
quite straight like sacks. George likes to see us dressed simply, and of
course it saves dressmakers' bills, or board of women working in the
house, who simply eat you out of it in no time. We did have one once to
try, and when she wasn't lapping up cocoa to keep the cold out, she was
sucking her thimble to fill up the vacuum. We are dressed strictly
utilitarian, and wear our hair short like Ben, and when it gets long
mother puts a pudding basin on our heads and snips away all that shows.
At last Ariadne cried herself into leave to let hers grow.

The new cook says that if we weren't dressed so queer, Ariadne and me,
we should make some nice friends, but that is just what George doesn't
want. He likes us to be self-contained, and says that there is no one
about here that he would care to have us associate with. Our doorstep
will never wear down with people coming in, for except Aunt Gerty, and
Mr. Aix, the oldest friend of the family, not a soul ever crosses the

I am forgetting the house-agent's little girl, round the corner into
Corinth Road. She comes here to tea with us sometimes. She is exactly
between Ariadne and me in age, so we share her as a friend equally. We
got to know her through our cat Robert the Devil choosing to go and stay
in Corinth Road once. At the end of a week her people had the bright
thought of looking at the name and address on his collar, and sent him
back by Jessie, who then made friends with us. George said, when he was
told of it, that the Hitchings are so much lower in the social scale
than we are, that it perhaps does not matter our seeing a little of each
other. She is better dressed than us, in spite of her low social scale.
She has got a real osprey in her hat, and a mink stole to wear to
church, that is so long it keeps getting its ends in the mud. She
doesn't like our George, though we like hers. George came out of his
study once and passed through the dining-room, where Jessie was having
tea with us.

"Isn't he a _cure_?" said she, with her mouth full of his

We told her that our George was no more of a cure than hers, which shut
her up; and was quite safe, as neither Ariadne nor I know what a "cure"
is. She isn't really a bad sort of girl. We teach her poetry, and
mythology, and she teaches us dancing and religion. She has a governess
all to herself every morning, and goes to church regularly. She once
said that her mamma called us poor, neglected children, and pitied us.
We hit her for her mother, and there was an end of that. We love each
other dearly now, and have promised to be bridesmaids to each other, and
godmothers to each other's children. I am going to have ten.

Ariadne went to her birthday party at Christmas, and did a very silly
thing, that Mother advised her not to tell George about. Every one at
home agreed that poor Ariadne had been dreadfully rude, but I can't see
it? I adore sincerity. When Mr. Hitchings asked her what she would like
out of the bran-pie when it was opened, same as they asked all the
other children, Ariadne only said quite modestly, "A new papa, please!"

Their faces frightened her so, that she tried to improve it away, and
explain she meant that she should like an every-day papa, like Mr.
Hitchings, not only a Sunday one, like George. I know of course what she
meant, a papa that one sees only from Saturdays to Mondays, and not
always then, is only half a papa.

Ariadne's real name is Ariadne Florentina, after one of George's
friends' books. She has nice hair. It is reddish and yet soft, but it
won't curl by itself, which is a great grief and sorrow to her. But at
any rate, her eyelashes are awfully long and dark, and she likes to put
the bed-clothes right over her head and listen to her eyelashes
scrabbling about on the sheet quite loud. She has big eyes like nursery
saucers. The new cook calls them loving eyes. On the whole, Ariadne is
pretty, she would think she was even if she wasn't, so it is a good
thing she is. She considers herself wasted, for she is over eighteen
now, and she has never been to a party or worn a low neck in her life.
We have neither of us ever seen a low neck, but we know what it is from
books, and from them also we learn that eighteen is the age when it
takes less stuff to cover you. The new cook says that all her young
ladies at her last place came out when they were only seventeen. What is
outness? I asked George once, and he said it was a device of the
Philistines. I then told him that the new cook said that Ariadne would
never be married and off his hands unless he gave her her chance like
other young ladies, and he said something about a girl called Beatrice
who was out and married and dead before she was nine. Her surname was
Porter, if I recollect. The new cook said "Hout!" and that Beatrice
Porter was all her eye and just an excuse for selfishness!

Anyhow it is Ariadne's affair, and she doesn't seem to care much, except
when the new cook fills her head with ideas of revolt. She walks about
the green garden reading novels, and waiting for the Prince, for she has
a nice nature. I myself should just turn down the collar of my dress,
put on a wreath and go out and find a Prince, or know the reason why!

We keep no gardener, only Ben. Ben is short for Benvenuto Cellini,
another of George's friends. He is thirteen, old enough to go to school,
only George hasn't yet been able to make up his mind where to send him.
It is a good thing Ben has plenty of work to do, for he is very cross,
and talks sometimes of running away to sea, only that he has the North
border to dig, or Cat Corner to clear.

That is the corner George calls The Pleasaunce - it is we who call it Cat
Corner. Not only dead cats come there, but brickbats and tin kettles
with just one little hole in them, and brown-paper parcels that we open
with a poker. I hope there will be a dead baby in one some day, to
reward us. The trees are so dirty that we don't like to touch them, and
the birds that scurry about in the bushes would be yellow, like
canaries, Sarah says, only for the dirt of London. I hardly believe it,
I should like to catch one and wash it. In the opposite corner George
has built a grotto, and we have to keep it dusted, and he sits there and
writes and smokes. The next garden is the garden of a mad-house. The
doctor keeps a donkey and a pony. Once a table-knife came flying over
the wall to us. George's nerves were so thoroughly upset that he could
not bear anything but Ouida and Miss Braddon read aloud to him all the
rest of the day. Mother happens to like those authors and another
Italian lady's books that we are forbidden to mention in this house. She
never reads George's own works; she says she has promised to be a good
wife to him, but that that wasn't in the bond. She knows them too well,
having heard them all in the rough. Behind the scenes in a novel is as
dull as behind the scenes in a theatre, you never know what the play is
about. Aunt Gerty says that all George's things are rank, and quite
undramatic, and George says he is glad to hear it, for he doesn't like
Aunt Gerty.

The other persons in the house are George's cats. There are three. The
grey cat, the only one who has kittens, I call Lady Castlewood, out of
_Esmond_ by Thackeray. George sometimes says "that little cat of a Lady
Castlewood" - it occurred to me that "that little Lady Castlewood of a
cat" just suits ours, for she is a jealous beast, a cantankerous beast,
and goes Nap with her claws all over your face in no time! She hates her
children once they are grown up, and is merely on bowing terms with
them, or you might call it licking terms - for she doesn't mind giving
them a wash and a brush-up whenever they come her way. Robert the Devil
was the one that stayed away a week. He is very big and mild; he can lie
down and wrap himself in his fur till he looks all over alike, and you
couldn't find any particular part of him, no more than if he were a kind
of soft hedgehog. George talks to them and tells them things about

"I am sure they are welcome to his confidence!" that is what the new
cook said. She likes them better than she likes him. She is quite kind
to cats, though she gives them a hoist with her foot sometimes, when
they get in her way. They are valuable, you see. I wish I was, for then
people care what you eat and give you medecines, which I love. It isn't
often you are disappointed in a new bottle of medecine, except when
there's gentian in it.


You don't get a very good class of servant down this way, my mother
says, but then she is so particular. She is the kind of mistress who
knows how to do everything better herself, and that kind never gets good
servants; it seems to paralyze the poor girls, and make them limp and
without an idea in their heads, or what they choose to call their heads,
which I strongly suspect is their stomachs. You can punish or reward a
servant best through its stomach, and don't give them beer, or
beer-money either! Beer makes them cross or cheeky, depending, I
suppose, on the make of the beer. Mother never gives it. They buy it, I
know, but I never tell. It would be as much as my place (in the kitchen)
is worth, and I value my right of free entry.

Mother is terribly down on dust too. She has a book about germ culture,
and sees germs in everything. It doesn't make her any happier. But as
for dusting, so far as I can see, what they call dusting is only a plan
for raising the dirt and taking it to some other place. It gets into our
mouths in the end. I do pity Matter that is always getting into the
wrong place, chivied here and there, with no resting-place for the sole
of the foot. For whenever Mother sees dust anywhere, or suspects it, she
makes a cross with her finger in it, and the servants are supposed to
see the cross and feel ashamed. Though I don't believe any servant was
ever ashamed in her life. 'Tisn't in their natures. They just grin and
bear with it - with the dust, and the scolding too.

"It's 'er little way," I heard Sarah say once, not a bit unkindly or
disagreeably, though, after Mother had come down on her about something.
But once I caught the very same girl shaking her fist at George's back
and calling him "an old beast!"

"Sarah," I said, "whom are you addressing?"

"The doctor's donkey, miss," she said, as quick as lightning, pointing
to it grazing in the doctor's garden next door. People were always
overloading that donkey, and shaking their fists at it.

I must get to the new cook. The last one gave Mother notice, and I never
could find out why, because she was fond of Mother and could stand the

"Oh, I like _you_, ma'am," I heard her say, just as if she disliked some
one else. Mother took no notice, but left the kitchen, and Cook took a
currant off her elbow and pulled down her sleeves, and mumbled to Sarah,
"It isn't right, and I for one ain't going to help countenance it.
A-visiting his family now and then between jobs, just like a burglar - or
some-think worse!"

What is worse than a burglar? I was passing the scullery window, and
Sarah had just thrown a lot of boiling water into a basin in front of
them both, so that it made a mist and she didn't see me. I knew, though,
she was saying something rude, for when Sarah told her she "shouldn't
reely," she muttered something more about a "neglected angel!" I did
think at first she meant me, or perhaps the doctor's donkey as usual,
but then the words didn't fit either of us? I asked her straight if she
did mean the donkey, just for fun, and she said the poor beast was
minding his own business and I had better do the same.

She left us next month, crying worse than I ever did in my life for
really serious things. Mother patted her on the back as she went out at
the back door, and she kept saying, "A poor girl's only got her
character, mum, and she is bound to think of it - " and Mother said,
"Yes, yes, you did quite right!" and seemed just to want her out of the
house and a little peace and quiet and will of her own. The very moment
Sarah's back was turned, she set to work and turned everything into the
middle of the room and left it there while she and Cook swept round into
every corner. Ariadne and I rather enjoyed clearing our bed of the
towel-horse before we could lie down in it, and having dinner off the
corner of the kitchen-table because the dining-room one was lying on its
back like a horse kicking.

Of course George wasn't allowed home all this time. Mother wrote to him
where he was staying at the Duke of Frocester's for the shooting
(George shooting! My eye! - and the keeper's legs!) and said he had
better not come home till we were straight again. I was in no hurry to
be straight again. It was like Heaven. When I was a child I always built
my brick houses crooked, and Ariadne called me Queen Unstraight, and
that made me cry. But she liked this too. We made all the beds, and
didn't bother to tuck them in. It isn't necessary to do so when we turn
head over heels in the bed-clothes onto the floor every night three
times to make us dizzy and sleepy. We washed up everything with a nice
lather of three things mixed that occurred to me, Hudson's, Monkey Soap,
and Bath Eucryl. In the end there wasn't a speck of dirt, or pattern
either, left on the plates. It looked much cleaner. Why should one eat
one's meat off a fat Chinese dragon or have bees all round the edge of
one's soup plate ready to fall in? It is a dirty idea. We basted the
joints turn and turn about, and our own pinafores. They couldn't scold
us for not keeping clean, any more than they can pigs when they put them
in a sty. We asked no questions or bothered Mother at all, but we
black-leaded the steps and bath-bricked the grates, and washed down the
walls with soda-water. The wallpaper peeled off here and there, but that
shows it was shabby and ready for death.

Mother said afterwards that she couldn't see any improvement anywhere,
but anyhow we enjoyed ourselves and that is everything. We spent money
on it, for we bought _décalcomanie_ pictures, and did bouquets all over
the mantelpieces, but Mother insisted we should peel all these off again
before George came back. He couldn't come back till we got that cook,
for George is most absurdly particular about our servants. Sarah has got
used to him, and there seems to be no idea of her going. She has to
valet him, for he is always beautifully dressed. She has to take the
greatest care of her own appearance, and get her nails manicured and her
hair waved when he is at home. That is about all for her. But the cook
he calls the keeper of his conscience, that is to say, his digestion.
His digestion is as jumpy as he is. Sometimes it wants everything quite
plain, and he will eat nothing but our rice-puddings and cold shapes of
tapioca, etc.; at another time he calls it "apparition," and says the
very name of it makes him shiver. I am used to cold shapes, alas! He
sometimes brings things down from town himself - caviare and "patty de
foy." Children are not supposed to like that sort of thing, but we do,
and George gives them us; he is not mean in trifles. Sometimes it is
pheasants and partridges, that he has shot himself on ducal acres. They
are shot very badly, not tidily, with the shot all in one place as it
ought to be: Mr. Aix explained this to me. They are not to be cooked
till they are ready, and when they are they are a little too ready for
Mother and us, so Papa and Mr. Aix have to eat it all. George belongs to
the sect of the Epicureans; I heard him tell the cook so, also that he
is the reincarnation of a gentleman called Villon.

For a month Mother "sat in" for cooks, and all sorts of fat and lean
women came and went. Our establishment didn't seem attractive. George
bespoke a fat one, by letter, but Mother inclined to lean. These women
sat on the best chairs and prodded the pattern of the carpets with their
dusty umbrellas, and asked tons of questions, - far more than she asked
them, it seemed to me, and this one that we have at last got was the
coolest of all, but in rather a nice way. She was tall and thin, with a
long nose with a dip in it just before the tip, which was particularly
broad. Ariadne said afterwards that a nose like that seemed to need a
bustle. She said she was a north-country woman, and that is about all
she did tell us about herself, except her name, Elizabeth Cawthorne.

She sat and asked questions. When she came to the usual "And if you
please, ma'am, how many is there in family?" Mother answered, "Myself
and my son and my two daughters, - and my sister - she is
professional - and is here for long visits - that is all."

"Then I take it you are a widow, ma'am?"

Mother, getting very red, explained that George is very little at home,
so that in one way he didn't count, but in another way he did, for he is
very particular and has to be cooked for specially. Being an author, he
has got a very delicate appetite.

"A proud stomach, I understand ye. Well, I shall hope to give him

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