Published 5th March 1924
Approx. 2,400 words
(First read 25/12/1994)
Mr Jocelyn Carew is a bit of a rara avis in EFB's output: a social-climbing man, kind of a cross between Lucia Lucas and Georgie Pillson. Benson neatly sums him up in one sentence (and in a joke which I'm pretty sure he used more than once):
It had been said of him that his age varied in inverse proportion to the number of countesses present.Brilliant. Anyway, Mr C arrives in 'the country' (in fact only Richmond ... or somewhere like that) for a house party while the rest of the mob are out at Henley, having been asked to entertain the Duchess of Whitby, who he's never met, until their return. Wandering about the garden he comes upon an elderly lady he takes to be the said Duchess: "In addition to being a duchess, she had everything a duchess ought to have ~ height, distinction, charm of manner, and above all, this delightful friendliness." The two embark on a lengthy and rather hot game of croquet, which is briefly interrupted by 'a rather shabby-looking little lady. Mr Carew quickly settled that she did not matter.' I don't need to say any more, do I? The story is available in Fine Feathers and Other Stories (1994) and is a hoot.
If (comme on dit) you enjoyed this story, you're sure to like The Sister of the Baroness (1910) by Katherine Mansfield.