Penelope's English Experiences

Chapter VI. The English Park Lover.

The English Park Lover, loving his love on a green bench in Kensington Gardens or Regent's Park, or indeed in any spot where there is a green bench, so long as it is within full view of the passer-by,—this English public lover, male or female, is a most interesting study, for we have not his exact counterpart in America. He is thoroughly respectable, I should think, my urban Colin. He does not have the air of a gay deceiver roving from flower to flower, stealing honey as he goes; he looks, on the contrary, as if it were his intention to lead Phoebe to the altar on the next bank holiday; there is a dead calm in his actions which bespeaks no other course. If Colin were a Don Juan, surely he would be a trifle more ardent, for there is no tropical fervour in his matter-of-fact caresses. He does not embrace Phoebe in the park, apparently, because he adores her to madness; because her smile is like fire in his veins, melting down all his defences; because the intoxication of her nearness is irresistible; because, in fine, he cannot wait until he finds a more secluded spot: nay, verily, he embraces her because—tell me, infatuated fruiterers, poulterers, soldiers, haberdashers (limited), what is your reason? For it does not appear to the casual eye. Stormy weather does not vex the calm of the Park Lover, for 'the rains of Marly do not wet' when one is in love. By a clever manipulation of four arms and four hands they can manage an umbrella and enfold each other at the same time, though a feminine macintosh is well known to be ill adapted to the purpose, and a continuous drizzle would dampen almost any other lover in the universe.

The park embrace, as nearly as I can analyse it, seems to be one part instinct, one part duty, one part custom, and one part reflex action. I have purposely omitted pleasure (which, in the analysis of the ordinary embrace, reduces all the other ingredients to an almost invisible faction), because I fail to find it; but I am willing to believe that in some rudimentary form it does exist, because man attends to no purely unpleasant matter with such praiseworthy assiduity. Anything more fixedly stolid than the Park Lover when he passes his arm round his chosen one and takes her crimson hand in his, I have never seen; unless, indeed, it be the fixed stolidity of the chosen one herself. I had not at first the assurance even to glance at them as I passed by, blushing myself to the roots of my hair, though the offenders themselves never changed colour. Many a time have I walked out of my way or lowered my parasol, for fear of invading their Sunday Eden; but a spirit of inquiry awoke in me at last, and I began to make psychological investigations, with a view to finding out at what point embarrassment would appear in the Park Lover. I experimented (it was a most arduous and unpleasant task) with upwards of two hundred couples, and it is interesting to record that self-consciousness was not apparent in a single instance. It was not merely that they failed to resent my stopping in the path directly opposite them, or my glaring most offensively at them, nor that they even allowed me to sit upon their green bench and witness their chaste salutes, but it was that they did fail to perceive me at all! There is a kind of superb finish and completeness about their indifference to the public gaze which removes it from ordinary immodesty, and gives it a certain scientific value.

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