Captain Ken, being a bicycling man, is forever in pursuit of some new place in which to try his skills, be it the screes of a mountain slope or the dense undergrowth of a distant forest and he now returns from the United States with a renewed disdain for the familiar well-trodden paths of custom.
He snorts at the notion that a family can, day after day, have harnessed the same horses to the same carriage for the same drive around the same park, and that so much wearisome labour and expense should have been put towards a pastime with so little pleasure in it.
I took his ridicule with me to my room, and then found myself reading the very chapter in Diana’ Cooper’s autobiography The Rainbow comes and goes wherein she describes her childhood at Belvoir Castle. Thus can I present to you the few sentences that I would have read to him, had I only been aware of them at the time:
‘The groom of the chambers, thus summoned, would ask what orders for the stables. Some days the answer was “Perfection round at a quarter before three, if you please.”’ [Perfection was the name of her grandfather’s horse] ‘… The days when my grandfather did not ride were not so free for us. A lengthy discussion would be carried out between him, some aunts and the groom of the chambers as to whether it was to be the landau, the victoria or the barouche that should be used for the drive. I never understood what the issue was – the size of the vehicle, the state of the roads or the condition of the horses. Anyhow the decision was made and the children were dressed for the drive. I remember genuinely hating it, I don’t know why. It was not more boring than the pram and the walks holding Nanny’s hand, never for one second being allowed to relinquish it. Perhaps it was because I, for one, always felt sick and dreaded the smell of the blue leather padding and the hot horses, and sitting backward, sometimes on the vast landau seat, sometimes on the minute stool of the victoria. We would drive for an hour and a half through country roads of very little interest. There was no town within eight miles and scarcely any neighbours to leave cards upon. So round and round the muddy lanes of the estate we splashed, with an immense apoplectic coachman on the box and an alert footman in a fawn boxcloth liveried coat, check-lined and almost to the ground, who sprang up and down to open the too many gates.’
The Captain might have said that this was all very well but written when the 18th century that has so led our conversation this year was long gone. I might then have replied that the Dukes of Rutland of the day were profoundly old-fashioned and sensible of their past. They prided themselves on the antiquity of their lineage. They lived as they imagined the barons of the time of King John had lived, and that is how they lived still in the days of the 4th Duke.
Meanwhile, with regard to a recent communication (note 292), please observe that the footman was wearing the fawn boxcloth.