Copyright
Owen Seaman.

Borrowed plumes online

. (page 5 of 9)
Online LibraryOwen SeamanBorrowed plumes → online text (page 5 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


estranging river.

" I admit the analogy to be imperfect,"
replied Peter.

" By the way," she said, " I hope that the
chalet answers fairly to the terms of my
advertisement; that you don't think the
photographs were cooked." Again, the slight
depression of the azure-veined left lid. Then,
with a valedictory bow and in the easiest
7



98 Borrowed Plumes

possible manner — " Please let me know if
the drains go wrong. Good evening."

" An adorable creature," he reflected, as
the crisp-edged vision of whiteness vanished
up the lawns. " What a nerve, what intui-
tion, what femininity! "



" Will the High-born have yet another
beer?" It was the Swiss maid, waisted like
a young cedar, stolidly flamboyant in her
local finery.

" Gretchen," answered Peter abstractedly
in English, " to cite the words of our late
immortal laureate, on whom we have already
touched allusively, ' the truth, that flies the
flowing can, will haunt the vacant cup.' At
present I shrink from truth ; I would soar
on the pinions of Daedalean presumption.
You do not chance to keep any hashish on
the premises? "

" Bitte, mcin Herr?"

" Ja ivohl, noch cin Glas Bier. And,
Gretchen," he continued in the vernacular,
" tell me who lives opposite."



Mr. Henry Harland 99

" The noblest Sir does not know ? It is
Her Serene Widowhood, the Herzogin von
Basel-Basel."

"Her Widowhood!" murmured Peter,
greatly relieved.

" Her Serene Widowhood," Gretchen cor-
rected.

" Implying a superiority to the need of
consolation?" asked Peter.

" Bittef "

" Yes, yes, more beer, Gretchen ; do not
hesitate to bring me more beer."



Ten days later Peter sat in the garden
trying vainly to make copy out of his
despair. Behind him swept the Rhine in a
swirling rush of molten lead, gathering
speed, compressing its flanks, for the nar-
rows below the village. An agitated dachs-
hund was tracking water-vermin with
plaintive whines.

" Is the dog attached to you ? " The voice
was female, but of a fine distinction, of a
rich, ripe, contralto resonance, transilient
across the roar of the river.



loo Borrowed Plumes

Peter started to his feet. His heart was
still volatile; but this time he was more
prepared, composed, alert. " In the absence
of other diversions, he consents to be aware
of my propinquity," he replied. " But for
the moment he is preying upon his fellow-
brute."

" An illustration of the universal law of
Nature? " she asked, with an air of serious
detachment. But there was a something, an
I-really-hardly-know-what of badinage in
her smile.

" So careful of the type, so careless of the
single life," replied Peter. Loverlike, he
was eager to improve the occasion, to expand
himself in the profundities of dogma.

" Have you observed," he continued,
" that in this incessant war of pursuer and
pursued, the nobler the nature of the animal
the greater the modification he undergoes by
his ignoble employ? The rat himself pursues
a yet inferior class of vermin, and in the
process becomes but negligibly deformed.
The dachshund, on the other hand, degener-
ates into a mere abortion, a caricature of a
dog. Is not here a premonitory warning for



Mr. Henry Harland loi

the highest form of Nature — I refer to
Humanity? "

" Oh," she said, " you are much, much too
clever for me. But I am nothing if not a
child of Nature; so I shall harden my heart
and go on ' still achieving, still pursuing.'
Some people like being pursued, is it not
so? " And on the word she had withdrawn
before Peter's density could compose a perti-
nent retort.

" What a nerve," he mused, " what intui-
tion, what Weihlichkeit! "



The first touch of autumn was on the
valley, as Peter crossed the castle-lawns to
take his last leave of the Herzogin. Her
creed he might have contrived to adopt, but
there was no getting over this eternal offence
of her title and her wealth. The lady was
above him and away. It was the old tale of
Queen Kate of Cornaro and the page-boy,
that " pined for the grace of her so far above
his power of doing good to."

As for the view, its general features were



I02 Borrowed Plumes

practically unchanged. Beyond the feathery
slopes of the castle-grounds the great forest
uplands of Baden stretched, ridge above
ridge of pine, larch, oak, northwards to the
bastioned heights, &c.

A schoolboy memory of the IMuse beat
importunate upon his brain. " Positively,"
he thought, " what with the river, the lawns,
the pines, and the best of substitutes for top-
most Gargarus " {repeat, as above, down to
the zi'ords, "cataract after cataract")

But he had only got as far as the second

" cataract," when " You find the view

a touch too chromographic ? "

Peter started and bowed to a gracious
phantom of whiteness, crisp-cut, clean-
edged, on a rustic seat. His heart was
beating just anywhere between his boots and
his Homburg hat. Oh, but with good
excuse, for Peter was in love, but very very
much in love.

" You find it somewhat arranged, crude,
obvious? " she asked.

" On the contrary I had pronounced it a
Tennysonian harmony."

" Ah, yes," she said, " you allude to



Mr. Henry Harland 103

(Enone. An admirable classic." Her man-
ner, as if inured to dialectic, might have
confessed her a Girtonian. But there was a
something, &c.

" I admit the analogy to be imperfect,"
replied Peter.

" Your dog is still attached to you? " She
pointed with quick spontaneity to the
agitated dachshund pursuing imaginary
game in the shrubbery.

" In the absence of other diversions, yes.
But for the moment he preys upon his
fellow-brute."

" An illustration of the universal law of
Nature? No, please," she added, as Peter
was in act to take up his cue ; " I cannot bear
any more of it. Let us try a new conversa-
tion. What are you carrying there ? "

*' I am restoring to the Bishop his latch-
key. He dropped it," said Peter, sheepishly.

" Not again! " she said; " how unoriginal
of him ! By-the-by, is your new novel fin-
ished?"

"My new novel!" he cried, aghast.
" Who told you that I write novels? "

" But you must have known that I knew.



I04 Borrowed Plumes

No author ever hid his profession under a
bushel for a week together. And, being an
author on a holiday, you would never think
of missing such a chance of copy. What are
you going to call this account of your latest
experiences? "

"I am calling it The Bishop's LatcJikey,''
said Peter, without conviction. " It sounds
so alluring. That's why I keep carrying the
thing about. I have to drag it into the
picture somehow."

" I think, out of courtesy, you might gi\'e
up that title, and call the book after me. I
must be more important than the latch-key.
But I'm afraid the Indiscretion of the
Duchess has been used already." There was
a something in her manner — could it have
been the very least little depression of the
azure-veined left lid? — that suddenly em-
boldened Peter. For the time being she lent
him her eyes, to see things by as she saw
them.

" Certainly," he replied; " I will drop my
title and take your name instead, on the
understanding that you, for your part "

" That I, for my part, drop my title and



Mr. Henry Harland 105

take your name instead ? " she asked, with a
very pleasant frankness.

" Precisely," he said.

''Oh, very well," said she.



IX.

MR. MAURICE HEWLETT.

Now to the lieges of his Suzerain Lady
came challenge of tourney from Oom of the
Doppers, Lord of Outrevalles. And Rouge-
garde the trobador smote on his tambour and
made a Chanson des Pauvres Diables Dis-
traictz. And the lists were straightly set in
Val de Long-Tomps. And the hollow plain
was ribbed with naked rocks, grey kopjes
crowning all. And from the borders of Our
Lady of the Snows, and from Isles of the
Southern Cross, flew winged proffers of
vassal service, and the cry of knighthood
calling to saddle and spur. And it was really
rather curious. For My Lord Red-Tape, out
of his great knowledge of warlike matters,
made retort courteous, saying, " Oy deus !
what should we with horse? Send us foot ! "

But by force of whelming numbers and a

stubborn hardihood begot of British beef,
1 06



Mr. Maurice Hewlett 107

they overbore no few of the chivalry of
Oom; and some they made captive before
ever they could mount and invite the hills to
cover them. Thereupon a remnant of Eng-
land's knighthood, composite of the heavy
sort and such as go in housings of blue (for
a sprinkling of actual horsemen had joined
issue with the foe in the melee), made their
ways homeward. And Le Sieur Bobs de
Kandahar, holding that the tourney was
accomplished, himself took ship whence he
came. At this the heathen, emerging from
their parole or other sanctuary, rallied for
the onset; and they swept the lists like an
Egypt's plague of locusts. And about the
time of the seventeenth moon (shaped sickle-
wise for sign of a bloody aftermath) the new
Lord Red-Tape (for the former had been
lifted nigher the throne as one that had the
French speech most nimble on his tongue)
woke from a drugged sleep on a cry of
danger, calling " To horse ! A crown a day,

and d n the expense! " So, the traverse

being a windy matter at this season, there
was mounting in red haste against the
second anniversary of the tourney.



io8 Borrowed Plumes

But about this time Sir Howard, Lord
Duke of the North-folk, that hitherto had
been disposed to cloistral habitudes, sat
mightily in the public eye. For being Chief
Butler of England (by grace of birth) and
also Comptroller of Letter-bags (by grace of
sheer desert) he was minded to yield up this
last dignity, the better to expedite him for
battle against the heathen ; of so galliard a
stock of chivalers was his tree compact. So
in harness of the wan leopard's hue he sailed
south by east. And under a blistering noon,
very noxious to parched maws, he pricking
against the enemy (that had no heart to wait
his advent), and crying " Ha! Maltravers !
Sauve Arundel! " his palfrey avoided from
under him. But being recovered of this hurt,
he made dedication of his knightly spurs to
Saint Michael of Table Bay, and so home
without more ado.

And now you shall hear how he must
needs make his peace with Monsignor the
Pope, that had looked askance on this
crusade and withheld blessing from my Lord
Duke's emprise. So in palmer's sable he
made haste to Rome with a great following



Mr. Maurice Hewlett 109

of pelegiins, and there he gat himself mis-
liked as one that was loud to have His
Holiness restored to temporal thrones; and
brought the Ouirinal about his ears; and so
home again, protesting fair intent.

And as soon as he had done off his
pilgrim's weeds he must go accoutred
cap-a-pie in his panoply of Earl Marshal
(likewise by grace of birth) for proclaiming
of the new King. And not a blazoned
herald of them all that could move without
his nod. And it was matter for mere marvel
how one mortal could be so innumerably
gifted. But thereafter he gat him much new
lore of antic precedence against the King's
crowning.

* * * *

Now so it was that the chivalry of Eng-
land, they alone, took shame of being seen
abroad in fighting-gear, whether as being- too
proud to air the ensigns of their pride, or for
modesty, lest in so salient a flame the hearts
of ladies errant might be as night-moths
scorched against their will — I may conjec-
ture, not determine. But Le Sieur Bobs de
Kandahar sent word that he would have his



iio Borrowed Plumes

knighthood eschew mufti (an unchristian
word, filched, as you should know, from
unblooded law-givers of Byzant) and come
before him in armour point-devise. And
this w^as but as a tucket to prelude the shock
of battle. For my Lord Bobs had laid his
baton in rest against the Empery of Red
Tape. And it was no madrigal business ; but
a task such as had Duke Hercles of pleasant
renow'n when he laid his besom about the
middens of the old Man of the Stables
( Vetus de Stabulis) .

=H >l< ^ H<

But scarce it wanted a se'nnight to the
eve of Monsire Valentine when the arriere-
ban outfiew for summons to a serry of
knights at the High Court of Parliament.
And of those that sent it forth Sir Belchamp
Portedrapeau was one; he that was named
Fore-and-Aft by his own; for that he sat
with portions of him overlapping the fence,
this way and that way.

" Saint Lloyd-George for Little Eng-
land ! " came answer from the Welsh
Marshes.

And " Dame! " cried Jehan of Montrose,



Mr. Maurice Hewlett 1 1 1

that, save under great provoking, used but
sparsely the language of piety ; " and must
I quit my inkhorn for yon chattering parrot-
house? "

" Stone of Rufus ! " cried Sir Vernon de
Chastel-la-Forest, surnamed Le Pompous
for a touch of the mammoth in his motion ; a
born trampler of men ; " Stone of Rufus ! "
says he, " but I scent budget-work afoot ! "
And so snorted joyfully.

" Great Glamis ! " said the Thane of Fife
(E. Division), " I am the Empire's, let her
make what wars she will. That first; then
give me Holy Church to harry ! "

"King's man!" cried Sir Cop-la-Poule ;
" and sib with you there, both ways! "

But " By the Mace! " said La Bouchere of
the Cordonniers, " there should be noses
broke among the faithful. 'Tis like to be a
most amazing pretty medley."



Now, as the city waxed monstrous fruit-
ful, but the highways abode as they were,
save for yawning breaches in the floor
thereof very unseasonable, you will collect



1 1 2 Borrowed Plumes

that the press of passengers, horse and foot,
grew Hke to a hustle of pilchards pell-mell in
a Brittany drag-net. And the town-watch
gave admonishment, crying " Passavant !
passavant ! " or " Halte-la ! " as the case
demanded. And the driver of the all-folks-
wain would turn to his rearguard and "Lord
Mayor ha' mercy," he would say, "'tis a
mazy faring!" And, "Ay, mate, a bit
thick!" his fellow; and so would troll a
snatch of Adhcesi pavimento.

But for relief of the pent roads there was
devised a hollow mine-way, such as coneys
affect ; and engines, fitted thereto, to draw
men through the midriff of earth, betwixt
its crust and fiery omphalode. And it was
named Le Tube a Deux Deniers; for, fared
they never so far, serf or margrave, differ-
ence of price or person was there none. But
against the Company of Adventurers that
wrought the same was plaint made of flack-
ing walls, and a volleying of roof-beams, and
basements rent as with a mangonel. And
" Tush ! " says the Company. But, " Oy,
sires! " cried the dwellers overhead, " let the
chose be ' jiigee ! ' " And so haled them



Mr. Maurice Hewlett 1 1 3

before the Shire-reeve's Court, for mulct
and amercement.

* * * *

Now at the very sable of fog-tide you
must understand that they play Moralities on
the dun banks of Thames. And of such are
the moving histories of Sir Richard de Whit-
tingtoune, La Belle Dormeuse, Damosel
Rouge-Cape, The Forest Infants, Mistress
Cendrillon (called Cinderella of the Fur
Slipper, though certain lack-lores would
have her shod not in vair, which is to say
fur, but verre, namely glass), Jacques Mort-
au-Geant and Aladdin of the Lamp Merveil-
lous (out of Araby). Follows a sample or
so in this kind : —

(i) Whether it was the red wine, or the
splitting of crackers, or else her cinder-hot
beauty, I know not, that set the Prince's
heart on sudden fire. Certes, he caught her
to his knee in the eyes of all the gaping
meinie.

" Vair-slipper," he cried, " your little foot
is on my neck; your slave am I already.
Make me your Prince! "

" Lord, say not that," said Mistress Cen-



114 Borrowed Plumes

drillon. Ashen were her cheeks against the
blue flame of her hair. Twice round her
brows it went, and the pigtail's ending slept
between her breasts. " Lord," says she, " it
can never be. The humming-bird may not
mate with the titmouse."

" By my halidom," he cried, " but it shall
be so, ma mye."

" Lord ! " she murmured, " the hour is
close on middle night ; let me away ! "

She slipped like green water from his
rocky arms. " Nay, popinjay," he cried, " it
is the hour of Philomel. Stay with me till
she withdraw before the early throstle."

For all answer, light as a beam of Dian
she slid down the bannisters and so past the
drowsy cloak-room sentinels. Midnight
carillon, pealing from a hundred belfries,
snapped the wand of faerie. Into the sheer
starlight flitted the shadow of a homing
wench, clad in most pitiful poor gear. My
Lord Prince, hot in pursuit, stood rooted to
earth, chanting a forlorn stave of Le Trcsor
des Humbles. Against the nap of his sap-
phire vest he held a Slipper of Vair chance-
dropped in the princely purlieus.



Mr. Maurice Hewlett 115

(ii) Young Spring was waking in the
high woods. Now was the pairing-time of
amorous fowls in burgeoned brakes. Earth
turned in her sleep with a throb of surging
sap. Lush hyacinths spread a gossamer
web to veil her bridals. Hand in hand, as
became orphans of one ravaged house, the
Forest Infants paced under boon boughs.

" Parbleu," said Fulk, that was right heir
of this goodly demesne, " but I have an
aching maw ! "

" And I," said his sister Alys, " I also
could do with a devilled ortolan."

" 'Tis a dog of an uncle ! " said Fulk, with
a round oath that your Gascon trooper might
repeat, not I.

" And the aunt a vile ferret," replied Alys,
and wept for mere emptiness.

'"'' Mort de ma mere," cried Fulk, "'tis ill
work ambling thus. Let us lie close in the
quick undergrowth, and woo dreams of
potted lobster, first having shriven our dusty
souls."

And so they found them after a many
days, stark, each in the other's gripe. And



1 1 6 Borrowed Plumes

their pall was wrought of the dead leaves of
yesteryear. The robins had done it. The
red of their breasts was, I take it, the pas-
sionate heart's blood that showed through.



X.

MR. GEORGE MEREDITH.

In the vestibule of Adolescence, the Boy
tands at plastic pause, clay-soft to the im-
»osed Idea. This is the Propagandist's
LOur ; then, or never, the Vegetarian has his
hance.

* * * *

A woman more nosingly fastidious of
ssentials, you might waste a season of
^^hurch Parades and never come up with,
i^et she married her husband for his gift of
ligesting Welsh Rabbit.

5j^ ^ ^ >|C

Her versatile nature swung in a dazzling
irbit of aptitudes. Intrepid horsewoman,
^ath an edged wit for dialectics, she could
Iso sit the downy of postprandial arm-
hairs with a firmness to wonder at, smiling
, focussed attention on bovine inanity.

* * * *

117



1 1 8 Borrowed Plumes

Present, you could swear to her for a
glowingly constant ; absent, she wrote " Will
wire," and telegraphed " Will w^rite " — to
the chilling of assurance.

* ;i: Hs *

A next-weeker for procrastination, there
was ^acus in his eye for the delays of
others. Chatham-and-Dover w^ith himself,
he was Time-and-Tide for the rest.

Poetry and the affiliated indiscretions had
always been \dewed by the Family with pro-
found distrust. To the Head, not incurious
of the Burgeoning Period, this graft of
Romance on a stem already shooting
Rhythmics had hinted at a deranged hered-
ity. A botany specialist, hastil}'' summoned
from Leipzig, checked the development at
nick of the vernal.

JjC ^ 5(C 3|C

Bachelor by habit and a graceful seat by
force of application, he had the manner of
riding straight after hounds or women; but
tempered by an instinct for country and a
taste for the durable. He would choose the
open gate at the fallow's corner, in contempt



Mr. George Meredith 1 1 9

of incredulous eye-lifts thrown over shrug
of shoulders leaning back for the rise, rather
than risk his stable's best blood over a low
hedge, flushing young Spring, with heavy
drop at fourteen stone on macadam flints,
shrieking menace of a wrung fetlock for the
ten miles home. In the other kind of chase
he had cried off on suspicion that the lady's
mother had died fat.

* * * *

" No Veuve like the Old Veuve," he cried
across the opal iridescence, bubbles wink-
ingly discursive at brim ; and was resiliently
instant to retrieve the solecism, like the con-
noisseur he was of Bacchus and the femi-
nine. Was not this indeed the fair widow's
first excursus into Epicuria since her
husband's lapse to the underworld?

" Onions is off," the waiter interposed,
with sharp recall by Phaethon-descent from
ether to earth. She blushed a tempered rubi-
cund. Should he retrospect for its meaning
to the Veuve-solecism ? Or did " onions "
stand with her for an artificial excitative of
the lachrymal, proper in tolerated widow-
hood tending to consolable ? Opposing argu-



I 20 Borrowed Plumes

merits paced out their duello distance divisive
of his dear mind; "New widows are the
best " confronted by " The time of tears and
convention is over." After all, was there so
great difference? Let them embrace broth-
erly over boxed pistols to satisfaction of
honour.



[Of Lord Mayor's Day.] — Should not
some poet capturingly perpetuate for us this
scene, repullulant — a hardy annual — from
the impenetrable of sublimity? Londinen-
sian, surely, this progress of Montanus and
his choir, tardy with turtle-lined abdomen;
these civic fathers alighting at the Courts of
Law, tribute of Commerce to claims of
Justice; symbolic nymphs painted to braver
than life, conscious of limbs posed at relaxed
tension on chariots arrested in preposterous
mid-career ; gaudy within limits of the inex-
pensive; Gog-Magog, with historic retinue
varicoloured to admiration, conducting
tavern interludes at a remove; the whole
better conceivable in France.



Mr. George Meredith i 2 1

[Lines on the publication of Bismarck's
Love Letters; after The Nuptials of Attila.]

This is he of the iron throat,
Bold at beer of Lager blend,
Stout to swallow, and never wince,
Twenty quarts or so on end ;

My Bismarck, O my Bismarck.
He whose voice, a thunder peal.
Rang across the squadrons' thud,
Chirrup of stirrup, clank of steel.
Sabre on sabre, shock of lance,
Uhlan's lance on cuirass-plate ;
Voice of the trumpet-blast of Fate
Smiting the flanks of Seine in flood.
Flood of the blood of the flower of France.

My Bismarck, O my Bismarck.

Strange to think he lived at home
In a human sort of way ;
Never, with his lips afoam,
Felled the harmless patient cat ;
Never actually sat
In a fit of brutal play
On his heir-apparent's head ;
Never even pulled his ear ;

My Bismarck, O my Bismarck.
Never brained the servant who
Made for him his daily bed ;



122 Borrowed Plumes

Dealt in no domestic crime
Such as bigamy ; merely wed
One wife only at a time !
Can it be we judged amiss
Of the Great in Peace and War
As regards his private sphere ?
Erred, in fact, in looking for
Stronger hero's stuff than this,

My Bismarck, O my Bismarck ?

T* 3)C 3jC 3jC

It is the same France, implacably woman
to the eyes of her, dowered for farce-play
with the eternal mutable. Yesterday con-
sptiitive to the nauseous at mention of Drey-
fus redivive ; swooping in guise of massed
Amazons of the line, javelins low at thigh-
rest, on solitary appealing for only Truth
and Justice with what of voice remained
from Devil-Isle torture. To-day uproarious
in fantastic serenade of Liberty under bal-
cony of discredited tyrant heavy with spoil
of the unenfranchised, mildly ruminant on
Ignorance butchered, he away, to make his
Dutchman's holiday.

* ^ ^ ^

See him there, this Rosebery, supine in



Mr. George Meredith 123

phantasy of exile on bed of Neapolitan
violets, preferred for emollience; Baiae-
windows open on the infinite of blue dim-
ming to lift of Sorrento, Ischia hull-down in
the Occidental; emergent at call of interest-
ing occasion, rectorial or the like; triple
bronze to resist allurement of Liberal
matrons vocal for return of injured hero; a
Coriolanus de luxe. See him, Lord Orinont
of the civil, consoling the Misunderstood he
counts himself to be with disquisitions on the
Giant in Action, a " last phase " ; reflective,
not without pathos, of a personal penulti-
mate, prematurely imminent, with Theban
Sphinx for riddling exemplar,

^ H^ 5|; ^

[On Mr. Punch's cartoon of Cronje and the
Shade of Napoleon at St. Helena.]
Admire how the Tyrannical in current
adumbration of Sambourne-pen stands at
insular remove posed authentic ; takes sullen
salute of co-exile cognisant in vagueness of
the over-again of Imperial Fact, A picture
of contrastables confluent to similar; here
your Dutch, exsurgent from Cincinnatus-
plough, inexpert of externals transmarine



1 24 Borrowed Plumes

and other, territorial within Hmits of the


1 2 3 5 7 8 9

Online LibraryOwen SeamanBorrowed plumes → online text (page 5 of 9)