Copyright
Owen Seaman.

Borrowed plumes online

. (page 2 of 9)
Online LibraryOwen SeamanBorrowed plumes → online text (page 2 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


which not even your wife is allowed the
entree. We may be married lovers, but we
can never, never, be friends ! '

" ' Do not ask me to sate your curiosity,'
said the gentleman. ' It would run into
another six-shilling volume.' "

^ ^ >st ;(:

Lady Tarara - Gloriana - Mesopotamia -
Variete de Pimpernel was v/earing a
sherry-coloured dress with canary facings,
which enhanced the distinction, while it
mitigated the obtrusiveness, of the Hittite
streak in her complexion. Reserved yet
expansive, sincere yet tortuous, cold yet
inflammable, self-absorbed yet centrifugal,
capable of devoutness yet also capable de
tout, she was a mystery to most and a con-
tradiction to all. Certainly she was too
complex for Bien-entendue Fitz-Blouse,
whose ingenuous nature was content to
oscillate uneasily between a single pair of
emotions — the faint memory of her first
husband, and the fainter hope of securing
Robert Porridge for her second. The two



" John Oliver Hobbes " 23

women had little in common beside their
womanhood (shared by the sex) and their
desire for Robert (shared by a considerable
section of it).

* * * *

" I think Mr. Browning is so true about
soul and sense," said Bien-entendue.
" Women, especially, seem to be half
spiritual and half sensible."

" Half sensible ? " said Lady Tarara-etc,
bitterly. " I find them altogether stupid."

" I knew you must be badly in love,
dear," said Bien-entendue, with quick intui-
tion. " Who is it ? Mine's Robert Por-
ridge."

She spoke with a simple candour that
invited confidence.

Lady Tarara-etc.'s steel belt, studded with
black pearls, snapped abruptly and flew
across the boudoir ; but she gave no other
sign of the internal shock that she had sus-
tained.

" And mine," she replied, as she collected
the fragments with perfect aplomb, " mine
is — Lord Flotsam." She was a gifted



24 Borrowed Plumes

woman. The lie had a superb air of
probabiHty.

" Have you tried playing Patience, dear?"
said Bien-entendue, very gently. " The
* Demon ' is so good for the nerves. I often
say to myself," she added, with a woman's
tact for easy digression, " that life is indeed
a school for saints. I do so dislike schools
for saints. They sound like convents, and
seem so FrencJi. Poor dear Alfred was
very English, you know."

" There ought only to be boys' schools for
saints," said Tarara-etc. ; " and yet," with a
sudden fury, " I could be as pious as a Ves-
tal if a man's love was to be got by it. Ah !
Bah ! "

" I should think Lord Flotsam must be a
very beautiful character," said Bien-enten-
due, innocently.

^ ^ ^ ^

To Robert it was a matter of heart-
searching that his sense of Alidget's near-
ness varied inversely with her physical prox-
imity. Thus when she was a hundred miles
away, he would inadvertently order dinner
for two ; but when he actually kissed her, as



*'John Oliver Hobbes " 25

on the exceptional occasion of their be-
trothal, it seemed that she was ahnost round
the corner of the next street. This gave a
certain remoteness to his embrace, which
still was recorded on the sensitive tablets
of his conscience as a desecration. A little
more of this strain and his taste for humom*
would have been permanently impaired.

Flotsam, indeed, was uneasy about the
marriage. To him the undivided devotion
of his select circle was a thing too sacred to
be lightly disturbed. To a friend who once
reminded him that it is more blessed to give
than to receive, he replied that in the case
of true friendship he was prepared to waive
the higher privilege. Yet it was not only
for himself that he was concerned. True,
he would miss Robert at piquet ; but what
was piquet compared with his friend's high-
est happiness, if such a marriage could con-
summate it ? But could it ? Wives, accord-
ing to his creed, were ordained by Provi-
dence (an Institution which Flotsam had
always supported as a matter of political
conviction) to serve as the conventional'
decoration of a man's career ; a mere favour



26 Borrowed Plumes

(on the man's part) attached to his serious
fighting panoply. Robert's more lofty con-
ception of their purpose filled his friend with
a despondent awe, which lent to his appear-
ance as " best man " a very natural and
becoming dignity.



The two men took up their ground, each
with his pistol leaning up against the other's
forehead. But here it is best to follow
Robert's own description, addressed, the day
after, to his patron, Lord Isle of Rum : —
" ' Is it to be a I'outrance? ' I asked. ' A
I'outrance,' he replied, with a slight intona-
tion of contempt, as if my French had been
at fault ; as if, in fact, I had given a false
rendering of some notice-board at an exhibi-
tion directing people ' To the Egress.' Yet
you, my Lord, have not devoted the best of
your manhood to mediaeval research without
attaining to know that his inclusion of the
definite article has the sanction of all the
highest authorities on the duello. It was a
subtle triumph of culture that I had
achieved, after which it seemed a relative



"John Oliver Hobbes " 27

grossness to blow his head off. You will
guess that it killed him.

" I admit that in my more sentient
moments I suffer regrets. One may argue
that it was not a lingering death ; yet to kill
a man, by whatever process, is an act that
must ever remain irretrievable. Nor are my
regrets adequately silenced by the reflection
that his brain was his weakest point. Do
not think me callous. Sarcasm is the relief
of a mind too acutely alive to the pitifulness
of mortality. Naturally, I am moving on.
If your gout permits, address me, Hotel de
la Resignation, Roma."

'K 'F* 'i^ 'T*

The following passage is taken from an
interview with Mr. Disraeli, published at a
later period : — '* Yes ; after the duel he
applied for the Chiltern Hundreds. I for-
warded them, with reluctance, to his Italian
address. C'etait tin homme d'nn bien beau
passe, as Heine wrote of De Musset. His
was a nature that throve on obstacles, and
would have found the garden of the Hes-
perides intolerable with the dragon away.
These scruples were respected by the lady



28 Borrowed Plumes

who was free to become his wife. A weaker
woman might have taken the veil : she re-
tired into histrionics ; and, as I understand,
still enjoys a very passable repute. To spec-
ulate here on the familiar doctrine of gen-
eral cussedness would be a laborious super-
fluity. I will content myself — as one who
has ever obeyed the guidance of his own
instincts — with an occasional apophthegm
which I cull from my repertoire: —

"A fool is szvept away by his impulses: a
wise man parleys witJi them: only a god can
afford to follozu them blindly."



[A Serious JJ'^ooiiig.]

" And where shall we go for our summer
elopement this year, dearest ? " said Jocelyn,
as they stood locked in each other's arms.
" Would Nuremberg suit you ? "

" What route do you propose ? " asked
Rosabel, suddenly practical, and extricating
herself from his grasp.

" I suggest the Hook of Holland and the
Rhine to IMayence. Have you any preju-
dices in the matter ? "



*' John Oliver Hobbes" 29

" How do you get to the Hook of Hol-
land ? "

" By the Great Eastern, from Liverpool
Street to Harwich. But why this unwo-
manly reg-ard for detail ? I hardly know
you, Rosabel, in this new attitude.".

" Is Liverpool Street the only starting-
point for Harwich ? " She insisted with a
strange perseverance.

" Rosabel, Rosabel, you have changed
surprisingly since our last elopement. Is it
the influence of 3'our second marriage ?
You never talked like this before. You were
never importunate about termini. Can you
have lost your old confidence in me ? "

" Never, never ! But we must be frank
with one another, and face the truth. We
shall have many embarrassments to contend
with in our coming irregular career ; let us
not anticipate them ; let us at least hold
together, you and I. Is Liverpool Street
the only starting-point for Harwich ? "

" Yes, a thousand times yes. And now
kindly explain."

A sigh of satisfaction escaped from Ro-
sabel. " Dearest," she said, " between those



30 Borrowed Plumes

who love no explanation should be needed.
But I too will be frank with you. I have
not lived this long, weary time apart from
you without growing older and knowing
more of the world. Never again, with my
eyes open, will I elope with anyone on a
system with alternative routes, such as the
Chatham and South-Eastern. Have you al-
ready forgotten the fiasco of our first
elopement ? How it fell through, as it were,
between two stools — namely, Victoria and
Charing Cross ? And my first husband
lying dead at the time, and I ignorant of
that fait accompli ? It is by these little
accidents — an unforeseen change of ter-
minus at the last moment, for instance —
that the entire destinies of two lives may
ho. permanently bifurcated. But for those
alternative routes we might have reached
Marseilles together, read of my first hus-
band's death in the papers, got married at
the consulate, and been an honest man and
woman ever afterwards."

" ' Honest,' Rosabel ? What is this new
talk of technical virtue, based on signatures
before witnesses ? Do you, after all, regret



"John Oliver Hobbes " 31

the step we are once more taking in defiance
of social tradition ? Ce n'est que le premier
pas qui coiite. This is the second of the
kind."

" No, my love, I am not drawing back.
But a second elopement, even with the same
man, can never be quite the same thing.
The first prompt, instinctive glow is irrevo-
cably gone. One becomes rational, almost
worldly in one's unworldliness. But my
mind is fixed; I shall not fail you. To-
night, then, at Liverpool Street, for the
Hook." (She smiled a little pathetically at
this unpremeditated pleasantry.) "You will
get the tickets — single tickets, of course. I
must go home for my Church Service and
hand-mirror, and to leave a p.p.c. on my
second husband. Remember! Liverpool
Street."



III.

MISS ELLEN THORNEYCROFT
FOWLER.

[A Double Thread.']

" Nothing in a woman, my dear Ethel-
frida, betrays such lack of social savoir fake
as the habit of telling- fibs," said Lady Wol-
verhampton. " No sensible man ever be-
lieves that a woman means what she says;
and that makes it so much safer to tell the
truth. That's how I married Wolverhamp-
ton. I told him I had never cared for any
man, and he at once became jealous — as I
meant he should. If a woman ever becomes
a bishop-elect it will be quite useless for her
to say, ' Non volo cpiscopare.' "

" By your ladyship's leave, is it not ' Nolo
episcopari ' ? " said Lord Bathbrick.
32



Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler 33

"If you were not a man, Bathbrick,"
replied Lady Wolverhampton, " you would
know that knowledge of the Classics is such
bad form in a woman ; almost like working
for your living. But, talking of the sexes, I
wonder, Ethel frida, that you have never
married any one. It seems such an over-
sight ; the sort of thing that is inexcusable
in a well-bred girl."

The heiress turned a cynical eye upon her
visitor. " It would be worth while to be a
beggar-maid," she said, " if one could make
sure of being taken in to dinner by Cophe-
tua. As it is, I am modest enough to believe
that my money is the only reason for my
popularity."

" And a very good reason too, my dear,"
said Lady Wolverhampton, " if you must
have one ; though there is nothing so
unreasonable as a good reason. No man
ever yet married a woman for herself, seeing
that he could have no possible means of
knowing what her actual self was like. They
marry us for our hair, or our faces, or the
virtues they think we have, or the money of
which they are quite certain. And none of
3



34 Borrowed Plumes

these, not even our hair, is an essential part
of our permanent selves."

" But I thought, dear lady," interrupted
Lord Bathbrick, " that you always said your
husband married you for yourself."

" There you are wrong, Bathbrick. It
was / who married him. I got quite a
respect for him through never noticing him
when he was there, or being able to remem-
ber what he was like when he was away. An
excellent test of good style. Your well-bred
person should have no manners; none, at
least, perceptible to the eye. Just as when
you ask a man what sort of gow^n a woman
was wearing at a ball, it has always escaped
his notice, unless it was either overdone or
underdone. And that reminds me that I
could never see either sense or grammar in
the saying, Manners makctJi man. Man is
born that way, he isn't made,"

" I can't imagine, my dear Adeline," said
Ethelfrida, with her slight nasal drawl,
" how you contrive to say all those clever
things on the spur of the moment. How do
you do it ? I'm always trying."

" Don't be satirical, my dear," said Lady



Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler 35

Wolverhampton ; " it is bad manners, and
doesn't suit your child-like cast of counte-
nance. The thing is so simple that it is
naturally inexplicable. I just jot down these
little jeux d'esprit as I work them out in
bed, or at church, or when Wolverhampton
is talking to me ; and then I run through
them before paying calls or receiving people.
No impromptu ever has a true air of spon-
taneity unless it has been ' made at leisure.' "'

" A most original paradox, my lady," said
Lord Bathbrick.

" I wish, Bathbrick, you would not keep
on throwing my title in my teeth," said
Lady Wolverhampton. " Such things are
taken for granted and never mentioned
among well-bred people. They ought to
resemble the abstract noun in the definition
of the small board-school girl : ' An abstract
noun is a thing that every one knows of but
nobody talks about — like Mary's leg.' As
for paradoxes, I begin to fear their mode is
passed ; the latest piquancy is only to be
found in truisms. Nowadays, if you say in
the good old-fashioned manner, ' Charity is
the one unpardonable sin,' nobody pretends



36 Borrowed Plumes

not to understand you ; whereas if you say,
* There is nothing so essentially feminine as
a woman,' people suspect a hidden meaning
and try to conceal their uncomfortableness."

" But how do you manage," asked Ethel-
frida, " to run off all these epigrams in the
course of a conversation withe ut any appa-
rent solution of logical continuity ? "

" Tact, my dear, tact. To absorb the
conversation yourself is a sign of ill-breed-
ing ; nice people reach the same result by
ignoring interruptior ; or, what is better
still, and corresponds to the sleight-of-hand
by which a card is forced, you compel the
others involuntarily to lead up to your next
remark. This is easy enough in books
where the author has it all his own way ;
but in real life it requires tact, as I just now
observed."

" But suppose you found yourself con-
versing with somebody possessed of equal
tact ? " asked Ethelfrida, with that slight
air of ennui which is characteristic of spoilt
women of the world.

" I never do," said Lady Wolverhamp-
ton. " It would be too tiresome sitting there



Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler 37

like a Christy Minstrel with a black face
saying funny things in your turn."

" Yes," said Lord Bathbrick, " and begin-
ning every time with ' That reminds me of
a story.' "

" I know : and it never really docs remind
them. What they mean is, ' Your stupid
interruption nearly put my next good story
out of my head. It was about, &c.' "

" I wonder," said Ethelfrida, with a touch
of bitterness at the thin end of her tongue,
" that you have never written a book. It
would be so very clever."

" My dear," said Lady Wolverhampton,
" I can't afford to do it. It would be like
killing the goose that lays the nuggets.
Besides, it might have a vulgar success ; and
that would be so tiresome. And then I could
never manage the plot. You see, well-bred
people hardly ever have plots in their lives.
The very word always makes me think of a
kitchen garden in a pauper's allotment. I
once had an idea about a girl like yourself,
blest with all the good things of life, includ-
ing a pretty face and a long tongue, with
which she lashed every lover whom she sus-



38 Borrowed Plumes

pected of wanting her money. But at last
the real Dan Cupid, as she called him, came
her way. He was quite a nice boy, and
sound on vaccination and that sort of thing,
but he fought shy of her money and her long
tongue. She had never been in love before,
and she was much too clever to understand
how so easy a thing is done. So she thought
she would get a testimonial of his honesty,
as if he were applying for a place as butler."

" Or cook ? " suggested Lord Bathbrick.

" Or cook, as you say. But don't inter-
rupt me, Bathbrick. Well, she gave out
that she had a destitute twin sister, hope-
lessly estranged, and no better than she
should be. This twin was the speaking
image of her, only dressed dowdily, and with
her hair done just anyhow. And the nice
boy met the penniless girl and fell in love
with her. Twin Xo. i had only got to
frumple her hair, put on a misfit and shorten
her tongue, and she was transformed, as by
magic, into twin Xo. 2 ; and the nice boy
would never have found out that there was
only one of them, if she had not confessed.
And then he was sick to death at the trick



Ellen Thorney croft Fowler 39

and said she was no gentlewoman. You
know how touchy men are on these ridicu-'
lously trivial points of honour."

"Yes, I know," said Ethelfrida; "whereas
you, dear, would consider that you had been
untrue to your feminine instincts if any man
suspected you of having scruples."

Lady Wolverhampton took a short breath
abstractedly.

" Well," she continued, " the girl apolo-
gised ; which, of course, no womanly girl
would ever do; with the result that he ran
away and went on with being a soldier some-
where in India. Oh, of course she got him
back all right in the last chapter ; but the
whole thing was too absurd for words. Not
that that matters much with the public : they
forgive an improbably stupid plot, if only
the dialogue is impossibly clever; which mine
was. But, as I said, I found I could not
afford to publish all my best epigrams, with
openings to match. And that reminds me
that I must be off, as I have some people to
dinner, and there is a new phrase-book to
run through. Good-bye, my dear ; so many
thanks for your charming conversation.
Come along, Bathbrick."



4© Borrowed Plumes

[The Farringdons.]

" I'm sure Eton will win," said Lady
Kidderminster, oracularly. " Look at their
colours ; it's a strugg'le between the powers
of light and the powers of darkness, like
the war in China."

" They can't exactly zvin," said Lord
Gosling ; " you see, it's a tie already."

" You were always so practical and pro-
saic. Gosling. But if it's a tie why aren't
they satisfied to stop, instead of running
about in the sun and making everybody feel
so hot, and noisy ? "

" Ties are made to be broken," said Lord
Tommy. " And yet half the people here
want this tie not to be broken. It's rather
like the different parties in a Divorce
Court."

" Unless there is no defence," said Lady
Kidderminster.

" But there's a very good defence going
on at the wickets," said Lord Tommy.

" Or else collusion," continued her lady-
ship, " as when Kidderminster proposed to
me. I wish they wouldn't shout so : it



Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler 41

makes you forget the things you were going
to say. Oh, Harrow's won, have they ? I
knew they would ! "

^ ^ ^ ^

" You were very reserved at Lord's the
other day, Mr. Ouarquar," said Deborah.
" Were you out of dream-sympathy with the
rushing world of frivolity ? "

" I suppose your fine friends are very
brilliant and scintillating, Miss Alders-
gate?" replied Quarquar, bitterly; "but I
found their conversation lacking in intensity
of purpose. My soul seemed to stretch out
to you across a wilderness of fatuities."

He spoke with that indefinable charm
which so often imposes upon the amateur
female artist.

" You must not judge them too harshly,"
said Deborah. " Genius like yours should
be generous to the foibles of others less
gifted. It was not their fault that they
were born to the purple."

" I glory," said Ouarquar, " in the fact
that I am essentially middle-class without
being too obviously vulgar. After all, these
blue-blooded worldlings only tolerate you.



42 Borrowed Plumes

They would never invite you to share their
future, as I at this moment invite you."

" I admit," rephed Deborah, " that I find
you sympathetic. I respect your artistic
talent, particularly in the matter of colour-
schemes and backgrounds; and I have the
true woman's desire to improve you. But
can I, on this account, be accurately de-
scribed as entertaining a passionate love for
you?"

" Assuredly," replied Quarquar.

"Then I will take till Michaelmas to
think it over," said Deborah. " But it upsets
all my previous calculations to feel so unde-
cided. Everything seems to conspire in your
favour ; you paint, you are earnest, you need
improving, and you are unmarried; yet — if
you don't much mind — I will take the rest
of the current quarter to think it over."



IV.

AN ENGLISHWOMAN'S
LOVE-LETTERS.

My Dear Aunt,— I am about to send
you a heavy hatch of love-letters. Do not
he shocked. I recognise that zvc are within
the prohibited degrees. They are only
female-love-letters made out of my head.
You will understand that I have disguised
my sex; reversing, out of deference to mod-
ern feeling, the process of George Eliot and
others. I was naturally tempted to call my
work " The Love-Letters of Elisabeth,"
that name being now almost de rigueur in
the trade; but I have been content to say
" An Englishwoman has done this thing."
You might he good enough to get them pub-
lished for me, and affix a preface (in a dif-
ferent style from that of the letters) saying,
(i) that they were originally sacred and
meant for the eyes of One Only ; (2) that
43



44 Borrowed Plumes

the author is dead; (3) that exceptional
circumstances have arisen, &c.; and (4)
anything else that may occur to yon as likely
to intrigue the public. I o;ii sending them to
you because you are the only woman that I
know at all zi'cll whose handwriting is at
once feminine and legible. This is necessary
for imposing on a publisher's innocence. I
shall trust you to amend anything that
strikes you as too unladylike; and, in the
hope that you ziill kindly remit profits to me
at the old address, I sign myself,

Your ever anonymous,

Nephew.

•if. if. -^ -if.

Brightest and Best, — This is the first
of a long- and steady series of love-letters
that are to come from my swelling heart.
Need I say that they are not for publica-
tion? No eye but yours, not even your
butler's, must ever see them. I have a trunk
full of letters of responsive love, written
daily during the weary six months of our
blossoming friendship. Each was ready
stamped at the time, in case your proposal
arrived before the bag went out. And now,



Love-Letters 45

at last, at last, I have hooked you. Dear fish !
and you are man enough to imagine the
victory yours ! See, I give my sex away,
and am too glad to blush! I never blush
now. Till to-morrow.

Your Compleat Angler.
jK * * *

Most Thoroughly Beloved, — Had you
an egg for breakfast ? I had. I take a new
and absorbing interest in myself, now that I
am part of you! As a child I have been
radiantly happy over mud pies. I must
believe now that somewhere your dear hands
were contemporaneously busy with the same
luscious compound. Otherwise the joy I
then had is inexplicable. I was to tell you
of a wasp on my window-sill, and a new
dress, also with a sting in its tail, into whose
making I have put all my love for you, and
how I saw a rabbit, during the transit of
Venus, sucking dandelions on the lawn ; but
I am so fearful that you will look for
mysteries between the lines, and despair of

following me. Your ever amorous.

* * * *

Own, — Shall we give each other names



46 Borrowed Plumes

from the stars, that we may wink together
when apart? Yes? Then I will be Virgo,
and you shall be the Great Bear that hugs
me. It is my birthday, and you did not
know ! Somehow, I could not tell you : so
strange a thing is a really nice woman's
reserve.



Most Patient, — The post has this
moment gone with my letter, finished just in
time. So I sit down to begin another. I
could go on writing without a break except
for meals ; but pity is at the heart of my love.


2 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryOwen SeamanBorrowed plumes → online text (page 2 of 9)