George Manville Fenn.

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Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England




A Fluttered Dovecote
By George Manville Fenn
Illustrations by Gordon Browne
Published by D. Appleton and Company, New York.
This edition dated 1890.
A Fluttered Dovecote, by George Manville Fenn.

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A FLUTTERED DOVECOTE, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.


CHAPTER ONE.

MEMORY THE FIRST - MAMMA MAKES A DISCOVERY.

Oh, dear!

You will excuse me for a moment? I must take another sheet of paper - I,
Laura Bozerne, virgin and martyr, of Chester Square, Belgravia - for that
last sheet was all spotted with tears, and when I applied my
handkerchief, and then the blotting-paper, the glaze was gone and the
ink ran.

_Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute_, the French say, but it is not
true. However, I have made up my mind to write this history of my
sufferings, so to begin.

Though what the world would call young - eighteen - I feel so old - ah! so
old - and my life would fill volumes - thick volumes - with thrilling
incidents; but a natural repugnance to publicity forces me to confine
myself to the adventures of one single year, whose eventful hours were
numbered, whose days were one chaos of excitement or rack of suspense.
How are the scenes brought vividly before my mind's eye as I turn over
the leaves of my poor blotted diary, and recognise a tear blister here,
and recall the blistering; a smear there; or find the writing illegible
from having been hastily closed when wet, on account of the prying
advance of some myrmidon of tyranny when the blotting-paper was not at
hand. Faces too familiar rise before me, to smile or frown, as my
associations with them were grave or gay. Now I shudder - now I thrill
with pleasure; now it is a frown that contracts my brow, now a smile
curls my lip; while the tears, "Oh, ye tears!" - by the way, it is
irrelevant, but I have the notes of a poem on tears, a subject not yet
hackneyed, while it seems to me to be a theme that flows well - "tears,
fears, leers, jeers," and so on.

Oh! if I had only possessed yellow hair and violet eyes, and
determination, what I might have been! If I had only entered this great
world as one of those delicious heroines, so masculine, so superior,
that our authors vividly paint - although they might be engravings, they
are so much alike. If I had but stood with flashing eyes a Lady Audley,
a Mrs Armitage, the heroine of "Falkner Lyle," or any other of those
charming creatures, I could have been happy in defying the whips and
stings, and all that sort of thing; but now, alas! alack! - ah, what do I
say? - my heart is torn, wrecked, crushed. Hope is dead and buried;
while love - ah, me!

But I will not anticipate. I pen these lines solely to put forth my
claims for the sympathy of my sex, which will, I am sure, with one
heart, throb and bleed for my sorrows. That my readers may never need a
similar expression of sympathy is the fond wish of a wrecked heart.

Yes, I am eighteen, and dwelling in a wilderness - Chester Square is
where papa's residence (town residence) is situated. But it is a
wilderness to me. The flowers coaxed by the gardener to grow in the
square garden seem tame in colour and inodorous; the gate gives me a
shudder as I pass through, when it grits with the dust in its hinges,
and always loudly; while mischievous boys are constantly inserting small
pebbles in the dusty lock to break the wards of the key. It is a
wilderness to me; and though this heart may become crusted with
bitterness, and too much hardened and callous, yet never, ah! never,
will it be what it was a year ago. I am writing this with a bitter
smile upon my lips, which I cannot convey to paper; but I have chosen
the hardest and scratchiest pen I could find, I am using red ink, and
there are again blurs and spots upon the paper where tears have removed
the glaze - for I always like very highly glazed note.

I did think of writing this diary in my own life's current, but my
reason told me that it would only be seen by the blackened and brutal
printers; and therefore, as I said before, I am using red ink, and
sitting writing by the front drawing-room window, where it is so much
lighter, where the different passing vehicles can be seen, and the noise
of those horrid men saying "Ciss, ciss," in the mews at the back cannot
be heard.

Ah! but one year ago, and I was happy! I recall it as if but yesterday.
We were sitting at breakfast, and I remember thinking what a pity it
was to be obliged to sit down, and crease and take the stiffening out of
the clean muslin I wore, one that really seemed almost perfection as I
came downstairs, when suddenly mamma - who was reading that horrid
provincial paper - stopped papa just as he raised a spoonful of egg to
his lips, and made him start so that he dropped a portion upon his
beard.

"Excelsior!" exclaimed mamma. "Which is?" said papa, making the
table-cloth all yellow.

"Only listen," said mamma, and she commenced reading an atrocious
advertisement, while I was so astonished at the unwonted vivacity
displayed, that I left off skimming the last number of _The World_, and
listened as well while she read the following dreadful notice: -

"The Cedars, Allsham. - Educational Establishment for a limited number of
young ladies" - (limited to all she could get). "Lady principal, Mrs
Fortesquieu de Blount" - (an old wretch); "French, Monsieur de Tiraille;
German, Fraulein Liebeskinden; Italian, Signor Pazzoletto; singing,
Fraulein Liebeskinden, R.A.M., and Signor Pazzoletto, R.A.M." (the
result of whose efforts was to make us poor victims sing in diphthongs
or the union of vowels - Latin and Teutonic); "pianoforte, Fraulein
Liebeskinden; dancing and deportment, Monsieur de Kittville; English,
Mrs Fortesquieu de Blount, assisted by fully qualified teachers. This
establishment combines the highest educational phases with the comforts
of a home," - (Now is it not as wicked to write stories as to say them?
Of course it is; and as, according to the paper, their circulation was
three thousand a week, and there are fifty-two weeks in a year, that
wicked old tabby in that one case told just one hundred and six thousand
fibs in the twelvemonth; while if I were to analyse the whole
advertisement, _comme ca_, the amount would be horrible) - "Mrs
Fortesquieu de Blount having made it her study to eliminate every
failing point in the older systems of instructions and scholastic
internal management, has formed the present institution upon a basis of
the most firm, satisfactory, and lasting character." (Would you think
it possible that mammas who pride themselves upon their keenness would
be led away and believe such nonsense?) "The staff of assistants has
been most carefully selected - the highest testimonials having in every
case been considered of little avail, unless accompanied by tangible
proof of long and arduous experience."

Such stuff! And then there was ever so much more - and there was quite a
quarrel once about paying for the advertisement, it came to so much -
about forks and spoons and towels, and advantages of situation in a
sanitary point of view, and beauty of scenery, and references to
bishops, priests, and deacons, deans and canons, two M.D.s and a Sir
Somebody Something, Bart. I won't mention his name, for I'm sure he
must be quite sufficiently ashamed of it by this time, almost as much so
as those high and mighty peers who have been cured of their ailments for
so many years by the quack medicines. But there, mamma read it all
through, every bit, mumbling dreadfully, as she always has ever since
she had those new teeth with the patent base.

"Well, but there isn't anything about excelsior," said papa.

"No, of course not," said mamma. "I meant that it was the very thing
for Laura. Finishing, you know."

"Well, it does sound pretty good," said papa. "I don't care so long as
it isn't Newnham or Girton, and wanting to ride astride horses."

"My dear!" said mamma.

"Well, that's what they're all aiming at now," cried papa. "We shall
have you on horseback in Rotten Row next."

"My love!"

"I should do a bit of Banting first," continued papa, with one of those
sneers against mamma's _embonpoint_ which do make her so angry.

And then, after a great deal of talking and arguing, in which of course
mamma must have it all her own way, and me not consulted a bit, they
settled that mamma was to write to Allsham, and then if the letter in
reply proved satisfactory, she was to go down at once and see the place.
If she liked it, I was to spend a year there for a finishing course of
education; for they would not call it - as I spitefully told papa they
ought to - they would not call it sending me back to school; and it was
too bad, after promising that the two years I passed in the convent at
Guisnes should be the last.

Yes: too bad. I could not help it if my grammar was what papa called,
in his slangy way, "horribly slack." I never did like that horrid
parsing, and I'm sure it comes fast enough with reading. Soeur Celine
never found fault with my French grammatical construction when I wrote
letters to her, and I wrote one that very day; for it did seem such a
horrid shame to treat me in so childish a way.

And while I was writing - or rather, while I was sitting at the window,
thinking of what to say, and biting the end of my pen - who should come
by but the new curate, Mr Saint Purre, of Saint Sympathetica's, and
when he saw how mournful I looked, he raised his hat with such a sad
smile, and passed on.

By the way, what an improvement it is, the adoption of the beard in the
church. Mr Saint Purre's is one of the most beautiful black, glossy,
silky beards ever seen; and I'm sure I thought so then, when I was
writing about going back to school - a horrible, hateful place! How I
bit my lips and shook my head! I could have cried with vexation, but I
would not let a soul see it; for there are some things to which I could
not stoop. In fact, after the first unavailing remonstrance, if it had
been to send me to school for life, I would not have said another word.

For only think of what mamma said, and she must have told papa what she
thought. Such dreadful ideas.

"You are becoming too fond of going to church, Laura," she said with a
meaning look. "I'm afraid we did wrong in letting you go to the
sisters."

"Absurd, mamma!" I cried. "No one can be too religious."

"Oh, yes, my dear, they can," said mamma, "when they begin to worship
idols."

"What do you mean, mamma?" I cried, blushing, for there was a curious
meaning in her tone.

"Never mind, my dear," she said, tightening her lips. "Your papa quite
agreed with me that you wanted a change."

"But I don't, mamma," I pleaded.

"Oh yes you do, my dear," she continued, "you are getting wasted and
wan, and too fond of morning services. What do you think papa said?"

"I don't know, mamma."

"He said, `That would cure it.'"

She pronounced the last word as if it was spelt "ate," and I felt the
blood rush to my cheeks, feeling speechless for a time, but I recovered
soon after, as I told myself that most likely mamma had no
_arriere-pensee_.

If it had been a ball, or a party, or fete, the time would have gone on
drag, drag, dawdle, dawdle, for long enough. But because I was going
back to school it must rush along like an express train. First, there
were the answers back to mamma's letters, written upon such stiff thick
paper that it broke all along the folds; scented, and with a twisty,
twirly monogram-thing done in blue upon paper and envelope; while the
writing - supposed to be Mrs de Blount's, though it was not, for I soon
found that out, and that it was written, like all the particular
letters, by Miss Furness - was of the finest and most delicate, so fine
that it seemed as if it was never meant to be read, but only to be
looked at, like a great many more ornamental things we see every day
done up in the disguise of something useful.

Well, there were the letters answered, mamma had been, and declared to
papa that she was perfectly satisfied, for everything was as it should
be, and nothing seemed _outre_ - that being a favourite word of mamma's,
and one out of the six French expressions she remembers, while it
tumbles into all sorts of places in conversation where it has no
business.

I did tell her, though, it seemed _outre_ to send me back to one of
those terrible child prisons, crushing down my young elastic soul in so
cruel a way; but she only smiled, and said that it was all for my good.

Then came the day all in a hurry; and I'm sure, if it was possible, that
day had come out of its turn, and pushed and elbowed its way into the
front on purpose to make me miserable.

But there it was, whether or no; and I'd been packing my boxes - first a
dress, then a tear, then another dress, and then another tear, and so
on, until they were full - John said too full, and that I must take
something out or they would not lock. But there was not a single thing
that I could possibly have done without, so Mary and Eliza both had to
come and stand upon the lid, and then it would not go quite close, when
mamma came fussing in to say how late it was, and she stood on it as
well; so that there were three of them, like the Graces upon a square
pedestal. But we managed to lock it then; and John was cording it with
some new cord, only he left that one, because mamma said perhaps they
had all better stand on the other box, in case it would not lock; while
when they were busy about number two, if number one did not go off
"bang," like a great wooden shell, and burst the lock off, when we had
to be content with a strap.

Nobody minded my tears - not a bit; and there was the cab at the door at
last, and the boxes lumbered down into the hall, and then bumped up, as
if they wanted to break them, on to the roof of the cab; and mamma all
the while in a regular knot trying to understand "Bradshaw" and the
table of the Allsham and Funnleton Railway. Papa had gone to the City,
and said good-bye directly after breakfast; and when mamma and I went
out, the first thing mamma must do was to take out her little china
tablets and pencil, and put down the cabman's number; if the odious, low
wretch did not actually wink at me - such insolence.

When we reached the station, if my blood did not quite boil when mamma
would stop and haggle with the horrible tobaccoey wretch about sixpence
of the fare, till there was quite a little crowd, when the money was
paid, and the tears brought into my eyes by being told that the expenses
of my education necessitated such parsimony; and that, too, at a time
when I did not wish for a single fraction of a penny to go down to that
dreadful woman at Allsham. But that was always the way; and some people
are only too glad to make excuses and lay their meannesses upon some one
else. Of course, I am quite aware that it is very shocking to speak of
mamma in this manner; but then some allowance must be made for my
wretched feelings, and besides, I don't mean any harm.


CHAPTER TWO.

MEMORY THE SECOND - THE CEDARS, ALLSHAM.

I sincerely hope the readers of all this do not expect to find any plot
or exciting mystery; because, if they do, they will be most terribly
disappointed, since I am not leading them into the realms of fiction.
No lady is going to be poisoned; there is no mysterious murder; neither
bigamy, trigamy, nor quadrigamy; in fact, not a single gamy in the book,
though once bordering upon that happy state. Somebody does not turn out
to be somebody else, and anybody is not kept out of his rightful
property by a false heir, any more than a dreadfully good man's wife
runs away from him with a very wicked _roue_, gets injured in a railway
accident, and then comes back to be governess to her own children, while
her husband does not know her again.

Oh, no! there is no excitement of that kind, nothing but a twelvemonth's
romance of real life; the spreading of the clouds of sorrow where all
was sunshine; the descent of a bitter blight, to eat into and canker a
young rose-bud. But there, I won't be poetical, for I am not making an
album.

I was too much out of humour, and too low-spirited, to be much amused
with the country during my journey down; while as to reading the sort of
circular thing about the Cedars and the plan of operations during the
coming session, now about to commence, I could not get through the first
paragraph; for every time I looked up, there was a dreadful
foreign-looking man with his eyes fixed upon me, though he pretended to
be reading one of those Windsor-soap-coloured paper-covered
_Chemin-de-Fer_ novels, by Daudet, that one buys on the French railways.

Of course we should not have been subjected to that annoyance - shall I
call it so? - only mamma must throw the expenses of my education at my
head, and more; and say it was necessary we should travel second-class,
though I'm sure papa would have been terribly angry had he known.

I had my tatting with me, and took it out when I laid the circular
aside; but it was always the same - look up when I would, there were his
sharp, dark, French-looking eyes fixed upon me; while I declare if it
did not seem that in working my pattern I was forming a little
cotton-lace framework to so many bright, dark eyes, which kept on
peering out at me, till the porter shouted out "'sham, All - sham," where
the stranger also descended and watched us into the station fly.

Mamma said that if we came down second-class, we would go up to the
Cedars in a decent form; and we did, certainly, in one of the nastiest,
stably-smelling, dusty, jangling old flys I was ever in. The window
would not stop up on the dusty side, while on the other it would not let
down; and I told mamma we might just as well have brought the trunks
with us, and not left them for the station people to send, for all the
difference it would have made. But mamma knew best, of course, and it
was no use for me to speak.

But I wish to be just; and I must say that the Cedars was a very pretty
place to look at, just outside Allsham town; though of course its
prettiness was only for an advertisement, and not to supply home comfort
to the poor little prisoners within. We entered by a pair of large iron
gates, where upon the pillars on either side were owls, with
outstretched wings - put there, of course, to remind parents of the
goddess Minerva; but we all used to say that they were likenesses of
Mrs Blount and the Fraulein. There was a broad gravel sweep up to the
portico, while in front was a beautiful velvet lawn with a couple of
cedar trees, whose graceful branches swept the grass.

"Mrs and Miss Bozerne," said mamma to the footman, a nasty tall, thin,
straggley young man, with red hair that would not brush smooth, and a
freckly face, a horrible caricature of our John, in a drab coat and
scarlet plushes, and such thin legs that I could not help a smile. But
he was terribly thin altogether, and looked as if he had been a page-boy
watered till he grew out of knowledge, and too fast; and he clung to the
door in such a helpless way, when he let us in, that he seemed afraid to
leave it again, lest he should fall.

"This way, ladies," he said, with a laugh-and-water sort of a smile; and
he led us across a handsome hall, where there were four statues and a
great celestial globe hanging from the ceiling - only the globe hanging;
though I'm sure it would have been a charity and a release for some
young people if a few of the muses had shared the fate of the globe - at
all events, that four. First and foremost of all was Clio. I wish she
had been hung upon a date tree!

"This way, ladies," said the tall creature, saving himself once more
from tippling over by seizing the drawing-room door-handle, and then, as
he turned and swung by it, sending the blood tingling into my cheeks by
announcing -

"Mrs and Miss Bosom."

Any one with a heart beating beneath her own can fancy our feelings. Of
course I am aware that some unfeeling, ribald men - I do not include
thee, oh, Achille! - would have turned the wretch's blunder into a
subject for jest; but thanks to the goddess of _Bonheur_, there was none
of the race present, and Mrs Fortesquieu de Blount came mincing
forward, smiling most benignly in her pet turban.

A dreadful old creature - I shall never forget her! Always dressed in
black satin, a skin parting front, false teeth, and a thick gold chain
hung over her shoulders; while the shocking old thing always thrust
everything artificial that she wore right under your eyes, so that you
could not fail to see how deceptive she was.

She was soon deep in conversation with mamma; while I looked wearily
round the room, which was full to overflowing with all sorts of fancy
work, so that you could not stir an inch without being hooked, or
caught, or upsetting something. There were antimacassars,
sofa-cushions, fire-screens, bead-mats, wool-mats, crochet-mats,
coverings for the sofa, piano, and chimney-piece, candle-screens,
curtains, ottomans, pen wipers - things enough, in short, to have set up
a fancy fair. And, of course, I knew well enough what they all meant -
presents from pupils who had been foolish enough to spend their money in
buying the materials, and then working them up to ornament the old
tabby's drawing-room.

Well, I don't care. It's the truth; she was a horrible old tabby, with
nothing genuine or true about her, or I would not speak so
disrespectfully. She did not care a bit for her pupils, more than to
value them according to how much they brought her in per annum, so that
the drawing-room boarders - there were no parlour boarders there, nothing
so common - stood first in her estimation.

I felt so vexed that first day, sitting in the drawing-room, I could
have pulled off the old thing's turban; and I'm sure that if I had the
false front would have come with it. There she was, pointing out the
different crayon-drawings upon the wall; and mamma, who cannot tell a
decent sketch from a bad one, lifting up her hand and pretending to be
in ecstasies.

Do you mean to tell me that they did not both know how they were
deceiving one another? Stuff! Of course they did, and they both liked
it. Mamma praised Mrs Blount, and Mrs Blount praised mamma and her
"sweet child"; and I declare it was just like what the dreadful American
man said in his horrid, low, clever book - that was so funny, and yet one
felt ashamed at having laughed - where he writes to the newspaper editor
to puff his show, and promises to return the favour by having all his
printing done at his office; and papa read it so funnily, and called it
"reciprocity of allaying the irritation of the dorsal region," which we
said was much more refined than Mr Artemus Ward's way of putting it.

I was quite ashamed of mamma, that I was, for it did seem so little;
and, oh! how out of patience I was! But there, that part of the
interview came to an end, and a good thing too; for I knew well enough a
great deal of it was to show off before me, for of course Mrs Blount
had shown mamma the drawings and things before.

So then we were taken over the place, and introduced to the teachers and
the pupils who had returned, and there really did seem to be some nice
girls; but as for the teachers - of all the old, yellow, spectacled
things I ever did see, they were the worst; while as for the German
Fraulein, I don't know what to say bad enough to describe her, for I
never before did see any one so hooked-nosed and parroty.

Then we went upstairs to see the dormitories - there were no bedrooms -
and afterwards returned to the drawing-room, where the lady principal
kissed me on both cheeks and said I was most welcome to her
establishment, and I declare I thought she meant to bite me, for her
dreadful teeth went _snap_, though perhaps, like mamma's, they were not
well under control.

Then mamma had some sherry, and declared that she was more enchanted
with the place than she had been at her last visit; and she hoped I
should be very happy and very good, and make great progress in my
studies. When Mrs Blount said she was quite certain that I should
gratify my parents' wishes in every respect, and be a great credit to
the establishment; and I knew she was wondering all the time how many
silk dresses and how many bonnets I had brought, for everything about
the place was show, show always, and I soon found out how the
plainly-dressed girls were snubbed and kept in the background. As for


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