“Who and what is Mr. Brope?” demanded the aunt of Clovis
Mrs. Riversedge, who had been snipping off the heads of
defunct roses, and thinking of nothing in particular, sprang
hurriedly to mental attention. She was one of those
old-fashioned hostesses who consider that one ought to know
something about one’s guests, and that the something ought
to be to their credit.
“I believe he comes from Leighton Buzzard,” she observed
by way of preliminary explanation.
“In these days of rapid and convenient travel,” said
Clovis, who was dispersing a colony of green-fly with
visitations of cigarette smoke, “to come from Leighton
Buzzard does not necessarily denote any great strength of
character. It might only mean mere restlessness. Now if he
had left it under a cloud, or as a protest against the
incurable and heartless frivolity of its inhabitants, that
would tell us something about the man and his mission in
“What does he do?” pursued Mrs. Troyle magisterially.
“He edits the Cathedral Monthly,” said her hostess,
“and he’s enormously learned about memorial brasses and
transepts and the influence of Byzantine worship on modern
liturgy, and all those sort of things. Perhaps he is just a
little bit heavy and immersed in one range of subjects, but
it takes all sorts to make a good house-party, you know.
You don’t find him too dull, do you?”
“Dulness I could overlook,” said the aunt of Clovis:
“what I cannot forgive is his making love to my maid.”
“My dear Mrs. Troyle,” gasped the hostess, “what an
extraordinary idea! I assure you Mr. Brope would not dream
of doing such a thing.”
“His dreams are a matter of indifference to me; for all I
care his slumbers may be one long indiscretion of unsuitable
erotic advances, in which the entire servants’ hall may be
involved. But in his waking hours he shall not make love to
my maid. It’s no use arguing about it, I’m firm on the
“But you must be mistaken,” persisted Mrs. Riversedge;
“Mr. Brope would be the last person to do such a thing.”
“He is the first person to do such a thing, as far as my
information goes, and if I have any voice in the matter he
certainly shall be the last. Of course, I am not referring
to respectably-intentioned lovers.”
“I simply cannot think that a man who writes so
charmingly and informingly about transepts and Byzantine
influences would behave in such an unprincipled manner,”
said Mrs. Riversedge; “what evidence have you that he’s
doing anything of the sort? I don’t want to doubt your word,
of course, but we mustn’t be too ready to condemn him
unheard, must we?”
“Whether we condemn him or not, he has certainly not been
unheard. He has the room next to my dressing-room, and on
two occasions, when I dare say he thought I was absent, I
have plainly heard him announcing through the wall, `I love
you, Florrie.’ Those partition walls upstairs are very thin;
one can almost hear a watch ticking in the next room.”
“Is your maid called Florence?”
“Her name is Florinda.”
“What an extraordinary name to give a maid!”
“I did not give it to her; she arrived in my service
“What I mean is,” said Mrs. Riversedge, “that when I
get maids with unsuitable names I call them Jane; they soon
get used to it.”
“An excellent plan,” said the aunt of Clovis coldly;
“unfortunately I have got used to being called Jane myself.
It happens to be my name.”
She cut short Mrs. Riversedge’s flood of apologies by
“The question is not whether I’m to call my maid
Florinda, but whether Mr. Brope is to be permitted to call
her Florrie. I am strongly of opinion that he shall not.”
“He may have been repeating the words of some song,”
said Mrs. Riversedge hopefully; “there are lots of those
sorts of silly refrains with girls’ names,” she continued,
turning to Clovis as a possible authority on the subject.
“ `You mustn’t call me Mary—‘ “
“I shouldn’t think of doing so,” Clovis assured her;
“in the first place, I’ve always understood that your name
was Henrietta; and then I hardly know you well enough to
take such a liberty.”
“I mean there’s a song with that refrain,” hurriedly
explained Mrs. Riversedge, “and there’s `Rhoda, Rhoda kept
a pagoda,’ and `Maisie is a daisy,’ and heaps of others.
Certainly it doesn’t sound like Mr. Brope to be singing
such songs, but I think we ought to give him the benefit of
“I had already done so,” said Mrs. Troyle, “until
further evidence came my way.
She shut her lips with the resolute finality of one who
enjoys the blessed certainty of being implored to open them
“Further evidence!” exclaimed her hostess; “do tell
“As I was coming upstairs after breakfast Mr. Brope was
just passing my room. In the most natural way in the world
a piece of paper dropped out of a packet that he held in his
hand and fluttered to the ground just at my door. I was
going to call out to him `You’ve dropped something,’ and
then for some reason I held back and didn’t show myself till
he was safely in his room. You see it occurred to me that I
was very seldom in my room just at that hour, and that
Florinda was almost always there tidying up things about
that time. So I picked up that innocent-looking piece of
Mrs. Troyle paused again, with the self-applauding air of
one who has detected an asp lurking in an apple-charlotte.
Mrs. Riversedge snipped vigorously at the nearest rose
bush, incidentally decapitating a Viscountess Folkestone
that was just coming into bloom.
“What was on the paper?” she asked.
“Just the words in pencil, `I love you, Florrie,’ and
then underneath, crossed out with a faint line, but
perfectly plain to read, `Meet me in the garden by the yew.’
“There is a yew tree at the bottom of the garden,”
admitted Mrs. Riversedge.
“At any rate he appears to be truthful,” commented
“To think that a scandal of this sort should be going on
under my roof!” said Mrs. Riversedge indignantly.
“I wonder why it is that scandal seems so much worse
under a roof,” observed Clovis; “I’ve always regarded it
as a proof of the superior delicacy of the cat tribe that it
conducts most of its scandals above the slates.”
“Now I come to think of it,” resumed Mrs. Riversedge,
“there are things about Mr. Brope that I’ve never been able
to account for. His income, for instance: he only gets two
hundred a year as editor of the Cathedral Monthly, and I
know that his people are quite poor, and he hasn’t any
private means. Yet he manages to afford a flat somewhere in
Westminster, and he goes abroad to Bruges and those sorts of
places every year, and always dresses well, and gives quite
nice luncheon-parties in the season. You can’t do all that
on two hundred a year, can you?”
“Does he write for any other papers?” queried Mrs.
“No, you see he specializes so entirely on liturgy and
ecclesiastical architecture that his field is rather
restricted. He once tried the Sporting and Dramatic with
an article on church edifices in famous fox-hunting centres,
but it wasn’t considered of sufficient general interest to
be accepted. No, I don’t see how he can support himself in
his present style merely by what be writes.”
“Perhaps he sells spurious transepts to American
enthusiasts,” suggested Clovis.
“How could you sell a transept?” said Mrs. Riversedge;
“such a thing would be impossible.”
“Whatever he may do to eke out his income,” interrupted
Mrs. Troyle, “he is certainly not going to fill in his
leisure moments by making love to my maid.”
“Of course not,” agreed her hostess; “that must be put
a stop to at once. But I don’t quite know what we ought to
“You might put a barbed wire entanglement round the yew
tree as a precautionary measure,” said Clovis.
“I don’t think that the disagreeable situation that has
arisen is improved by flippancy,” said Mrs. Riversedge; “a
good maid is a treasure—”
“I am sure I don’t know what I should do without
Florinda,” admitted Mrs. Troyle; “she understands my hair.
I’ve long ago given up trying to do anything with it myself.
I regard one’s hair as I regard husbands: as long as one is
seen together in public one’s private divergences don’t
matter. Surely that was the luncheon gong.”
Septimus Brope and Clovis had the smoking-room to
themselves after lunch. The former seemed restless and
preoccupied, the latter quietly observant.
“What is a lorry?” asked Septimus suddenly; “I don’t
mean the thing on wheels, of course I know what that is, but
isn’t there a bird with a name like that, the larger form of
“I fancy it’s a lory, with one `r,’ “ said Clovis
lazily, “in which case it’s no good to you.”
Septimus Brope stared in some astonishment.
“How do you mean, no good to me?” he asked, with more
than a trace of uneasiness in his voice.
“Won’t rhyme with Florrie,” explained Clovis briefly.
Septimus sat upright in his chair, with unmistakable alarm
on his face.
“How did you find out? I mean how did you know I was
trying to get a rhyme to Florrie?” he asked sharply.
“I didn’t know,” said Clovis, “I only guessed. When
you wanted to turn the prosaic lorry of commerce into a
feathered poem flitting through the verdure of a tropical
forest, I knew you must be working up a sonnet, and Florrie
was the only female name that suggested itself as rhyming
Septimus still looked uneasy.
“I believe you know more,” be said.
Clovis laughed quietly, but said nothing.
“How much do you know?” Septimus asked desperately.
“The yew tree in the garden,” said Clovis.
“There! I felt certain I’d dropped it somewhere. But you
must have guessed something before. Look here, you have
surprised my secret. You won’t give me away, will you? It
is nothing to be ashamed of, but it wouldn’t do for the
editor of the Cathedral Monthly to go in openly for that
sort of thing, would it?”
“Well, I suppose not,” admitted Clovis.
“You see,” continued Septimus, “I get quite a decent
lot of money out of it. I could never live in the style I
do on what I get as editor of the Cathedral Monthly.”
Clovis was even more startled than Septimus had been
earlier in the conversation, but he was better skilled in
“Do you mean to say you get money out of—Florrie?” he
“Not out of Florrie, as yet,” said Septimus; “in fact,
I don’t mind saying that I’m having a good deal of trouble
over Florrie. But there are a lot of others.”
Clovis’s cigarette went out.
“This is very interesting,” he said slowly. And then,
with Septimus Brope’s next words, illumination dawned on
“There are heaps of others; for instance:
“ `Cora with the lips of coral,
You and I will never quarrel.’
That was one of my earliest successes, and it still brings
me in royalties. And then there is—`Esmeralda, when I
first beheld her,’ and `Fair Teresa, how I love to please
her,’ both of those have been fairly popular. And there is
one rather dreadful one,” continued Septimus, flushing deep
carmine, “which has brought me in more money than any of
“ `Lively little Lucie
With her naughty nez retrousee’.
Of course, I loathe the whole lot of them; in fact, I’m
rapidly becoming something of a woman-hater under their
influence, but I can’t afford to disregard the financial
aspect of the matter. And at the same time you can
understand that my position as an authority on
ecclesiastical architecture and liturgical subjects would be
weakened, if not altogether ruined, if it once got about
that I was the author of `Cora with the lips of coral’ and
all the rest of them.”
Clovis had recovered sufficiently to ask in a sympathetic,
if rather unsteady, voice what was the special trouble with
“I can’t get her into lyric shape, try as I will,” said
Septimus mournfully. “You see, one has to work in a lot of
sentimental, sugary compliment with a catchy rhyme, and a
certain amount of personal biography or prophecy. They’ve
all of them got to have a long string of past successes
recorded about them, or else you’ve got to foretell blissful
things about them and yourself in the future. For instance,
“ `Dainty little girlie Mavis,
She is such a rara avis.
All the money I can save is
All to be for Mavis mine.’
It goes to a sickening namby-pamby waltz tune, and for
months nothing else was sung and hummed in Blackpool and
other popular centres.”
This time Clovis’s self-control broke down badly.
“Please excuse me,” he gurgled, “but I can’t help it
when I remember the awful solemnity of that article of yours
that you so kindly read us last night, on the Coptic Church
in its relation to early Christian worship.”
“You see how it would be,” he said; “as soon as people
knew me to be the author of that miserable sentimental
twaddle, all respect for the serious labours of my life
would be gone. I dare say I know more about memorial
brasses than any one living, in fact I hope one day to
publish a monograph on the subject, but I should be pointed
out everywhere as the man whose ditties were in the mouths
of nigger minstrels along the entire coast-line of our
Island home. Can you wonder that I positively hate Florrie
all the time that I’m trying to grind out sugar-coated
rhapsodies about her?”
“Why not give free play to your emotions, and be brutally
abusive? An uncomplimentary refrain would have an instant
success as a novelty if you were sufficiently outspoken.”
“I’ve never thought of that,” said Septimus, “and I’m
afraid I couldn’t break away from the habit of fulsome
adulation and suddenly change my style.”
“You needn’t change your style in the least,” said
Clovis; “merely reverse the sentiment and keep to the inane
phraseology of the thing. If you’ll do the body of the song
I’ll knock off the refrain, which is the thing that
principally matters, I believe. I shall charge half-shares
in the royalties, and throw in my silence as to your guilty
secret. In the eyes of the world you shall still be the man
who has devoted his life to the study of transepts and
Byzantine ritual; only sometimes, in the long winter
evenings, when the wind howls drearily down the chimney and
the rain beats against the windows, I shall think of you as
the author of `Cora with the lips of coral.’ Of course, if
in sheer gratitude at my silence you like to take me for a
much-needed holiday to the Adriatic or somewhere equally
interesting, paying all expenses, I shouldn’t dream of
Later in the afternoon Clovis found his aunt and Mrs.
Riversedge indulging in gentle exercise in the Jacobean
“I’ve spoken to Mr. Brope about F.,” he announced.
“How splendid of you! What did he say?” came in a quick
chorus from the two ladies.
“He was quite frank and straightforward with me when he
saw that I knew his secret,” said Clovis, “and it seems
that his intentions were quite serious, if slightly
unsuitable. I tried to show him the impracticability of the
course that he was following. He said he wanted to be
understood, and he seemed to think that Florinda would excel
in that requirement, but I pointed out that there were
probably dozens of delicately nurtured, pure-hearted young
English girls who would be capable of understanding him,
while Florinda was the only person in the world who
understood my aunt’s hair. That rather weighed with him,
for he’s not really a selfish animal, if you take him in the
right way, and when I appealed to the memory of his happy
childish days, spent amid the daisied fields of Leighton
Buzzard (I suppose daisies do grow there), he was obviously
affected. Anyhow, he gave me his word that he would put
Florinda absolutely out of his mind, and he has agreed to go
for a short trip abroad as the best distraction for his
thoughts. I am going with him as far as Ragusa. If my aunt
should wish to give me a really nice scarf-pin (to be chosen
by myself), as a small recognition of the very considerable
service I had done her, I shouldn’t dream of refusing. I’m
not one of those who think that because one is abroad one
can go about dressed anyhow.”
A few weeks later in Blackpool and places where they sing,
the following refrain held undisputed sway:
“How you bore me, Florrie,
With those eyes of vacant blue;
You’ll be very sorry, Florrie,
If I marry you.
Though I’m easy-goin’, Florrie,
This I swear is true,
I’ll throw you down a quarry, Florrie,
If I marry you.”