The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33
Archimago said that it was luncheon-time with some high friends of his in . . . Square, and we should go there. As we turned a corner, I was nearly upset by a baker and his basket. It annoyed me considerably; and, after expostulating with the man for doing the mischief after he had done it, I looked for my Companion, and lo!—Archimago Sanguinosa, beautifully dressed, and laughing vociferously at my misadventure.
We were shortly in one of the most gorgeous parlours of the Square, and tete-a-tete with the two young Misses Gossipatwill to correspond. I recognized in them a pair of sisters, who by no means had shone in the saloon in which we were entertained a few evenings ago. But, 'twas all the same : they thought they had; and then the room they were in———ah! that was convincing.
The light came mild through Venetian blinds, the foot trod silently on Kidderminster carpet, the body reposed on thickly cushioned chairs, and the eye—nowhere. The adornment of the walls had been done by the Ornamental Decorator, the furnishing of the room by the Upholsterer, and the ladies by the Milliners,—all without the intervention of any mental effort, on the part of the denizens of this superb abode. But on the page 60 mantle-piece, of handsome marble, upon small side-tables, and upon various parts of the ladies' persons, were miscellaneous ornaments in great profusion—multifarious, heterogeneous, but dazzling, very much indeed, I should have said, by gas-light. I learnt that these various ornaments, from equestrian bronzes and marble statuettes to inkstands and earrings, were not valued, nor appreciated individually, but the aggregate formed what was called taste.
"Really you were charming the other night," said the eldest young lady to Sanguinosa. "What spirits you have to be sure."
"And so witty and good-natured: you moved more than one lady," said the youngest young lady.
Archimago laughed so loud, that we saw through the fissures of the blind that a party of ladies passing in a carriage heard him, looked up, and whispered together. It was an unmistakable laugh, and the ladies evidently said, "That agreeable Archimago is with the odious Misses Gossipatwill. What a fool he is; but all laughers are fools." And the two young ladies in the room looked at each other, and evidently thought, "Oh, how we have piqued those peacocks, the Misses Elphingham and Browningham." And Sanguinosa rolled his eyes on the young ladies, so that each felt as though he were going to propose marriage, and that it depended on less than the toss of a halfpenny who would get him. In this blissful belief, the dear sisters felt somewhat of hatred towards each other accordingly.
They were very desirous of showing their acquirements, were these sweet girls, and they spoke a great page 61 deal of what they considered the last new thing. Many things had risen and sunk in the gulf of fashion during the past week, and now a novel floated on its waters.
"Oh, it is a dear hook," said the eldest young lady. "So poetically written; with such sentiment. There is only one low idea in it, where a baronet marries a governess. You know that's not possible, my dear Mr. Archimago. But it is more than made up by the dirty ways the girl has; and then, to be shut out from all genteel society, as she is in the last chapters, is a dreadful and fitting punishment; and then, the baronet is at liberty to marry again without any family."
"De-lightful, de-lightful," roared Archimago.
Captain Mars had ascended the steps, to pay a visit to the ladies; but he heard the unquestionable laugh, stopped a second, and walked slowly away pensive, and sucking the end of his cane. The ladies were not displeased. One of them expected him for a husband; he had been dilatory in his tactics, and this false alarm might hasten matters.
"And what is the moral of this agreeable book?" asked the Gay Spirit. "For you know every novel now has its particular moral—invented, though it may be, after finis is written."
"Of course, dear sister, you forgot that," cried the youngest young lady.
"It is hard to get at, but that makes it all the better," replied the eldest young lady. "I like novels with morals above everything else. It is so nice, after you have laid down the book, to think what the writer would inculcate by it. I tell papa that the amusement is as good as, and very like, his chess pro- page 62 blems: and it would not be disingenious at all if the author, after placing the characters in position in the last chapter, were to say, 'Reader to play and solve the problem in three moves.' Oh, this one is very, very deep. Then it has so many secrets, that you don't know which is the secret; and you have to puzzle yourself so delightfully to find out if there is any secret at all. Oh, you should read it, and tell us what you think is the secret?"
"But I should like to judge whether our tastes agree," said Archimago. "Have you got the book, that I may see its style?"
"Why, I'm sorry we have not," answered the eldest. "For, you see, we are in a Revolving Library; and, when a book comes to us, it goes away too, and once round it is out of circulation. But I will show you the style I admire—indeed, everybody admires. I have read the passage in this book this morning."
"The lady has gone out from the Hall one lovely morning upon a beautiful velocipede. She was induced by the vivacity of her own thoughts to try the turnpike road, which ran past the Hall at the distance of one hundred yards. Before she was aware, her lovely page 63 limbs had impelled the revolving wheels of the light and elegant machine, nearly a quarter of a mile distant from the Hall. Unobserved by her fair vision, a cloud had risen behind her, and she was only aware of its malevolent presence by the sudden obscurity of the light.
Words cannot describe her terror, when a few drops of rain began to descend; as she had put on, for the first time, only an hour before, a new morning dress, and a handsome hat, trimmed with tinted but expensive ribbons, a bow in front with roses overlying. She quickly brought the velocipede round, and immediately a shower fell, which turned the lately pleasant, soft, silent titillating dust into a quagmire, varying in depth according to the in-equalities of the road.
With quadrupled endeavours, the nobly-descended Philhelmina, made the willing velocipede push ahead right royally at first, scattering the mud in murky clouds upon each side, as easily as a man-of-war would part the foam. Further and still further, along the road and into the ruts, and slower and still slower, progressed the velocipede. It labored and struggled as if loth to give up the contest, but finally stopped when within fifty yards of the gate leading to the Hall.
The fair engineer now sought to back the fairy locomotive; but the powerful engine was within the grasp of a giant, in whose hands its strength was but that of a child."
The lady looked up, and beheld Archimago in breathless ecstacy and astonishment. He did not disappoint her, but cried :—page 64
"And how did she escape?"
"She spoilt her dress and hat," cried the fair reader, "but a gentleman rescued her from her perilous position, returned to the Hall with her, and married her exactly—yes, exactly seventeen months and a week that very day."
"Very interesting. I admire your taste," said Archimago, looking at the surrounding multitudinous ornaments also. "But I am anxious to hear what is the moral of the Secret Story."
"Why, you could never guess," said the youngest Miss Gossipatwill, the eldest being exhausted. "It is quite new. Don't go mad; and, if you do, keep out of the way of those who can afford to patronise private lunatic asylums. It shows ingenuity and genius, does it not?"
"Indeed it does," replied Archimago.
"Do you think, Mr. Archimago, that the story is true? I've read it, but it seems strange that such things should happen. And to me it appears great immorality to write what is false. It destroys a good deal of interest, too. Oh, that people would not waste their time in doing so."
Sanguinosa replied with some pretty remark, which pleased Mrs. Gossipatwill very much, and she at once page 65 began a voluminous account of what she had heard people say, and what she suspected in matters chiefly relating to the characters of those she called her friends. If she had not shown such a nicety for truth in her remarks upon novels, I would have suspected that much she said was not correct. But no one, I thought, could be scrupulous of fiction in writing, and yet practise it in speech.
I was subsequently told, by my Genius, that Mrs. Gossipatwill was one of the ladies of his cabinet, who, with a little modesty, might have commanded the respect of the whole of her acquaintance for her grey hairs; but with artificial locks, teeth, and bloom she lost that, besides every chance of a second husband, although she was a widow.
Our interesting conversation with the mamma being finished, we left the ladies, having partaken of a glass of wine and a biscuit. As we went out, Archimago cemented an intimacy with the footman, who withdrew us into a small back parlour, where a delicious cold collation was spread, with ale and a dozen different wines. It was the butler's peculiar sanctum, and we enjoyed its mysteries before leaving.