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A Fluttered Dovecote

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  A Fluttered DovecoteBy George Manville FennIllustrations by Gordon BrownePublished by D. Appleton and Company, New York.This edition dated 1890.A Fluttered Dovecote, by George Manville Fenn.


  ________________________________________________________________________A FLUTTERED DOVECOTE, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.



  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 thatlast sheet was all spotted with tears, and when I applied myhandkerchief, and then the blotting-paper, the glaze was gone and theink ran.

  _Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute_, the French say, but it is nottrue. However, I have made up my mind to write this history of mysufferings, so to begin.

  Though what the world would call young--eighteen--I feel so old--ah! soold--and my life would fill volumes--thick volumes--with thrillingincidents; but a natural repugnance to publicity forces me to confinemyself to the adventures of one single year, whose eventful hours werenumbered, 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 overthe leaves of my poor blotted diary, and recognise a tear blister here,and recall the blistering; a smear there; or find the writing illegiblefrom having been hastily closed when wet, on account of the pryingadvance of some myrmidon of tyranny when the blotting-paper was not athand. Faces too familiar rise before me, to smile or frown, as myassociations with them were grave or gay. Now I shudder--now I thrillwith pleasure; now it is a frown that contracts my brow, now a smilecurls my lip; while the tears, "Oh, ye tears!"--by the way, it isirrelevant, but I have the notes of a poem on tears, a subject not yethackneyed, 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, anddetermination, what I might have been! If I had only entered this greatworld as one of those delicious heroines, so masculine, so superior,that our authors vividly paint--although they might be engravings, theyare 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 thosecharming creatures, I could have been happy in defying the whips andstings, and all that sort of thing; but now, alas! alack!--ah, what do Isay?--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 myclaims for the sympathy of my sex, which will, I am sure, with oneheart, throb and bleed for my sorrows. That my readers may never need asimilar expression of sympathy is the fond wish of a wrecked heart.

  Yes, I am eighteen, and dwelling in a wilderness--Chester Square iswhere papa's residence (town residence) is situated. But it is awilderness to me. The flowers coaxed by the gardener to grow in thesquare garden seem tame in colour and inodorous; the gate gives me ashudder as I pass through, when it grits with the dust in its hinges,and always loudly; while mischievous boys are constantly inserting smallpebbles in the dusty lock to break the wards of the key. It is awilderness to me; and though this heart may become crusted withbitterness, 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 bittersmile upon my lips, which I cannot convey to paper; but I have chosenthe hardest and scratchiest pen I could find, I am using red ink, andthere are again blurs and spots upon the paper where tears have removedthe glaze--for I always like very highly glazed note.

  I did think of writing this diary in my own life's current, but myreason told me that it would only be seen by the blackened and brutalprinters; and therefore, as I said before, I am using red ink, andsitting writing by the front drawing-room window, where it is so muchlighter, where the different passing vehicles can be seen, and the noiseof those horrid men saying "Ciss, ciss," in the mews at the back cannotbe 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 itwas to be obliged to sit down, and crease and take the stiffening out ofthe clean muslin I wore, one that really seemed almost perfection as Icame downstairs, when suddenly mamma--who was reading that horridprovincial paper--stopped papa just as he raised a spoonful of egg tohis lips, and made him start so that he dropped a portion upon hisbeard.

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

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

  "The Cedars, Allsham.--Educational Establishment for a limited number ofyoung ladies"--(limited to all she could get). "Lady principal, MrsFortesquieu 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." (theresult of whose efforts was to make us poor victims sing in diphthongsor the union of vowels--Latin and Teutonic); "pianoforte, FrauleinLiebeskinden; dancing and deportment, Monsieur de Kittville; English,Mrs Fortesquieu de Blount, assisted by fully qualified teachers. Thisestablishment combines the highest educational phases with the comfortsof 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 wasthree thousand a week, and there are fifty-two weeks in a year, thatwicked old tabby in that one case told just one hundred and six thousandfibs in the twelvemonth; while if I were to analyse the wholeadvertisement, _comme ca_, the amount would be horrible)--"MrsFortesquieu de Blount having made it her study to eliminate everyfailing point in the older systems of instructions and scholasticinternal management, has formed the present institution upon a basis ofthe most firm, satisfactory, and lasting character." (Would you thinkit possible that mammas who pride themselves upon their keenness wouldbe led away and believe such nonsense?) "The staff of assistants hasbeen most carefully selected--the highest testimonials having in everycase been considered of little avail, unless accompanied by tangibleproof of long and arduous experience."

  Such stuff! And then there was ever so much more--and there was quite aquarrel once about paying for the advertisement, it came to so much--about forks and spoons and towels, and advantages of situation in asanitary point of view, and beauty of scenery, and references tobishops, priests, and deacons, deans and canons, two M.D.s and a SirSomebody Something, Bart. I won't mention his name, for I'm sure hemust be quite sufficiently ashamed of it by this time, almost as much soas those high and mighty peers who have been cured of their ailments forso many years by the quack medicines. But there, mamma read it allthrough, every bit, mumbling dreadfully, as she always has ever sinceshe 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 thingfor Laura. Finishing, you know."

  "Well, it does sound pretty good," said papa. "I don't care so long asit 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 shallhave you on horseback in Rotten Row next."

  "My love!"

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

  And then, after a great de
al of talking and arguing, in which of coursemamma must have it all her own way, and me not consulted a bit, theysettled that mamma was to write to Allsham, and then if the letter inreply 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 ofeducation; for they would not call it--as I spitefully told papa theyought to--they would not call it sending me back to school; and it wastoo bad, after promising that the two years I passed in the convent atGuisnes 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 horridparsing, and I'm sure it comes fast enough with reading. Soeur Celinenever found fault with my French grammatical construction when I wroteletters to her, and I wrote one that