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37. CHAPTER XXXVII: THE SIGNORA NERONI, THE COUNTESS DE COURCY, AND MRS PROUDIE MEET EACH OTHER AT ULLATHORNE (continued)
It is, we believe, common with young men of five and twenty to look on their seniors--on men of, say, double their own age--as so many stocks and stones--stocks and stones, that is, in regard to feminine beauty. There never was a greater mistake. Women, indeed, generally know better; but on this subject men of one age are thoroughly ignorant of what is the very nature of mankind of other ages. No experience of what goes on in the world, no reading of history, no observation of life, has any effect in teaching the truth. Men of fifty don't dance mazurkas, being generally too fat and wheezy; nor do they sit for the hour together on river banks at their mistresses' feet, being somewhat afraid of rheumatism. But for real true love, love at first sight, love to devotion, love that robs a man of his sleep, love that 'will gaze an eagle blind,' love that 'will hear the lowest sound when the suspicious tread of theft is stopped,' love that is 'like a Hercules still climbing trees in the Hesperides,'--we believe this best age is from forty-five to seventy; up to that, men are generally given to mere flirting.
At the present moment Mr Thorne, aetat. fifty, was over head and ears in love at first sight with the Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, nata Stanhope.
Nevertheless he was sufficiently master of himself to offer his arm with all propriety to Lady De Courcy, and the countess graciously permitted herself to be led to the tent.
Such had been Miss Thorne's orders, as she had succeeded in inducing the bishop to lead old Lady Knowle to the top of the dining-room. One of the baronets was sent off in quest of Mrs Proudie, and found that lady on the lawn not in the best of humours. Mr Thorne and the countess had left her too abruptly; she had in vain looked about for an attendant chaplain, or even a stray curate; they were all drawing long bows with the young ladies at the bottom of the lawn, or finding places for their graceful co-toxophilites in some snug corner of the tent. In such position Mrs Proudie had been wont in earlier days to fall back upon Mr Slope; but now she could never fall back upon him again. She gave her head one shake as she thought of her lone position, and that shake was as good as a week deducted from Mr Slope's longer sojourn in Barchester. Sir Harkaway Gorse, however, relieved her present misery, though his doing so by no means mitigated the sinning chaplain's doom.
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