Butterflies. It had something to do with butterflies. If there was no rain, the monarchs might be here, dancing over the rose bushes. The rose blooms are tightly furled, waiting for more auspicious times, and the monarchs seek their nectar elsewhere. In the conservatory a forest of ferns turns what little sunlight enters an eerie, ethereal green, and a lone orchid is in bloom. It is flowering out of spite, I think, for it is not a particularly attractive bloom and it has no scent, but as it has no competition, we are forced to admire it. Last week the girls made butterflies out of tissue paper and hung them throughout the conservatory, suspended above the ferns, and before the paper could wilt from the humidity, we brought in lanterns and had a midnight dinner among the ferns. The boys believed they were Dr Livingstone in deepest, darkest Africa, and the girls believed they were in one of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, princesses transported to the fairy realm, and I felt trapped in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, constantly checking over my shoulder for speaking snakes and little lost boys, half-wild. We had orange ices and declared it a success, but now the tissue butterflies are drooping and there are no real ones yet to replace them.
Somewhere in the house we have an old army cannon. I am unsure why or where it came from, but it is quite old, quite heavy, quite unsightly, and has been here for as long as anyone can remember. This afternoon the boys have spoken of taking it to the roof, or, more likely, the terrace (unless it is already in the attics, it is too heavy to transport upstairs), and I believe they mean to fire it. It has probably not been set match to since the troubles around Cromwell, and whether it will fire as desired or explode itself and all of us, I would not know. There is gunpowder they have found, that isn’t too damp, and they have been studying the Encyclopedia for days, to get the mechanics right. They were unhappy with this practical detour, but have persevered in their studies. If it were not raining, I am sure the cannon would be safe under a layer of dust, but we will play marches and make banners of quite wild heraldry and defend this our castle against whatever form our enemy takes. It will not be good for the shrubberies, nor, probably, the statuary.
On the piano, now, someone has started practicing marches, but they are doing so with a quite impractical syncopation. Our troops seem likely to move in formation to the Charleston, rather than Sousa. When was the last time there were so many of us gathered together? With the rains we have become a Noah’s Ark, or, if we were of a sinister cast, a bad murder-mystery-whodunnit where the guilty party cannot escape. Nothing so dark; the greatest damage is to the wallpaper in the upstairs hallway and perhaps that sentimental goddess in the garden. I would not mourn her defeat by cannon-fire, but that is perhaps unfair.
Before she was delivered, there was a delightful statue of Pan, playing the pipe, but when Uncle married, his new wife declared Pan scandalous and unChristian, and his new mother-in-law bought the goddess as a wedding present. Usually we drape her in a feather boa and leave a pack of cigarettes in her plaintive, upturned palm, but both those improvements are missing, due to the rain. I can see her, cowlike and petulant, from my window. Perhaps tomorrow, if it is at all drier, we can search the closer outbuildings for Pan, for he can’t have been far removed. When Uncle and his bride return from the coast, we can none of us remember the exchange taking place.
None of us expected him to marry, not at this late date. He was always described as having suffered a great disappointment, but his sailing was impeccable and his pantomimes funnier than everyone else’s, and he never seemed remotely out of sorts. After all this time, to latch onto quite that type of woman, all breathy gasps and fading blonde curls, but he will hear nothing against her. I do not think they plan to live here at the house, or I very much hope not, as I hope Uncle deems it undignified at his age to be fathering infants. We were able to expel his mother-in-law the week after the wedding, thankfully before the rains began: as she had brought boxes and boxes with her, we feared an encroaching would-be matriarch.
It must have been the use of the portrait gallery as a shooting hall that finally did it, although the girls were whispering fiercely among themselves, and may have been tampering with her cosmetics. She was a naturally florid woman, so it might have been difficult to tell, and I asked no questions. Had she stayed another few days, I had worked out a method of introducing extra drops of minor improvements to her meals, hoping to encourage her to take a water-cure some place rather far away. It is a shame about shooting in the gallery, as some of the portraits were quite respectable, and one of them may or may not have been a Gainsborough, but when the weather clears, we’ll wrap them up and send them to Town for repairs. I wish I had known earlier of their plans, because there’s one particularly dour woman that I’ve often felt had a diabolic squint, and this would have been an opportunity to have a one-sided duel with her. However, my little pistol has an unfortunate pull to the left, so I probably would have only achieved a glancing blow, at best.
The piano has switched to Strauss, which seems quite out of place for eleven o’clock, and if it continues much longer, I will have to rise and insist upon Chopin, at least before four o’clock. The player has skill if not discernment, but I am not certain who among us it might be. The girls have just entered the room. They will allow me a moment more before drawing my attention to the new kitten or a particularly funny illustration or asking if horses can be made to rhyme with curses in a sestina. Or perhaps we will move on from sestina to sonnet, and no sonnet can feature either a horse nor a curse, so perhaps it will be an attempt to match alligator with water, even though one would have to be quite Cockney for that to succeed. Somewhere in the library is an old dictionary of rhyming slang, probably from great-grandfather’s day, but if we can find it, then the girls can write Cockney poetry this week. For now I will find the silks to make our banners, if the cannon has been found and moved into position, and I will make sure it is aiming in the general direction of the goddess. Perhaps the girls will find the rest of the pieces of the suit of armor that went missing the other evening. If there is to be cannon-fire, the person to light the fuse should have whatever protection can be managed, or should at least look properly heroic.
The Strauss has stopped, which is a relief, and the girls rushed from the room before interrupting me, which can only be to descend upon the player. There is no one here whom they would run to so eagerly, and yet I do not see how any visitor should have arrived in this weather. If it is a guest, however, I must see to lunch, and hope that a room has been readied, and wonder if it will be enough of a diversion to postpone the firing of the cannon. The clock just chimed, and the rain continues to fall, and whatever fleeting thought that I sat down to try to catch, it is gone. The rains continue; it is time for lunch.