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The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James. first page
by: 3wk

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Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more
agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as
afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you
partake of the tea or not--some people of course never do,--the
situation is in itself delightful. Those that I have in mind in
beginning to unfold this simple history offered an admirable
setting to an innocent pastime. The implements of the little
feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an old English
country-house, in what I should call the perfect middle of a
splendid summer afternoon. Part of the afternoon had waned, but
much of it was left, and what was left was of the finest and
rarest quality. Real dusk would not arrive for many hours; but
the flood of summer light had begun to ebb, the air had grown
mellow, the shadows were long upon the smooth, dense turf. They
lengthened slowly, however, and the scene expressed that sense of
leisure still to come which is perhaps the chief source of one's
enjoyment of such a scene at such an hour. From five o'clock to
eight is on certain occasions a little eternity; but on such an
occasion as this the interval could be only an eternity of
pleasure. The persons concerned in it were taking their pleasure
quietly, and they were not of the sex which is supposed to
furnish the regular votaries of the ceremony I have mentioned.
The shadows on the perfect lawn were straight and angular; they
were the shadows of an old man sitting in a deep wicker-chair
near the low table on which the tea had been served, and of two
younger men strolling to and fro, in desultory talk, in front of
him. The old man had his cup in his hand; it was an unusually
large cup, of a different pattern from the rest of the set and
painted in brilliant colours. He disposed of its contents with
much circumspection, holding it for a long time close to his
chin, with his face turned to the house. His companions had
either finished their tea or were indifferent to their privilege;
they smoked cigarettes as they continued to stroll. One of them,
from time to time, as he passed, looked with a certain attention
at the elder man, who, unconscious of observation, rested his
eyes upon the rich red front of his dwelling. The house that rose
beyond the lawn was a structure to repay such consideration and
was the most characteristic object in the peculiarly English
picture I have attempted to sketch.
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