Misplaced Affections


Guy Boothby

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Misplaced Affections

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles to-day,

To-morrow will be dying.

“Then be not coy, but use your time;

And while ye may, go marry:

For having lost but once your prime,

You may for ever tarry.”

R. Herrick.

The point I wish to illustrate is, that it is not safe, at any time, to play with such an inflammable passion as Love, even though it be to oblige one’s nearest and dearest friend. Once upon a time pretty Mrs. Belverton used to laugh at me for warning her, but she is compelled to admit the truth of my argument now.

It was Mrs. Belverton, you will remember, who originated the famous Under Fifty Riding Club, whose initials, U.F.R.C., over two crossed hunting-crops and a double snaffle, were construed, by irreverent folk, to mean Unlimited Flirtation Religiously Conserved. The Club is now defunct, but its influence will be traceable in several families for many years to come.

The following events, you must know, occurred the summer before William Belverton received the honour of knighthood, and while he was renting Acacia Lodge at the corner of the Mountain Road, the house below Tom Guilfoy’s, and nearly opposite the residence of the Kangaroo Girl of blessed memory.

It was by extending her sympathies as guide, philosopher, and friend to all unhappy love affairs that Mrs. Belverton made herself famous in our Australian world; and many and extraordinary were the scrapes this little amusement dragged her into. Could her drawing-room curtains have spoken, they would have been able to throw light upon many matters of vital interest, but matters of such a delicate nature as to absolutely prohibit their publication here.

The Otway-Belton couple, for instance, owe their present happiness to her assistance at a critical juncture in their family history; while the Lovelaces, man and wife, would to-day be separated by the whole length and breadth of our earth, but for her tact during a certain desperate five minutes in the Greenaways’ verandah. So on, in numberless cases, to the end of the chapter.

You must know that for three months during the particular year of which I am writing, we had with us a young globe-trotter, who rejoiced in the name of Poltwhistle. I can’t tell you any more about him, save that he was a big Cornishman, rawboned, and vulgarly rich. His people should have been more considerate; they should have kept him quietly at home counting his money-bags, instead of allowing him to prowl about God’s earth upsetting other people’s carefully thought-out arrangements.

The trouble all commenced with his meeting pretty little dimpled Jessie Halroyd at a Government House tennis-party and convincing himself, after less than half an hour’s disjointed conversation, that she was quite the nicest girl he had ever encountered. He met her again next day at the Chief Justice’s dinner-party. Then by dint of thinking continually in the same strain, he fell to imagining himself in love. But as she had long since given her affections to Lawrence Collivar, of the Treasury, and had not experience enough to conduct two affairs at one and the same time, his behaviour struck us all as entirely ridiculous.

Having called on Mrs. Halroyd the Monday following, where he was fed and made much of, he set to work thenceforward to pester the daughter with his attentions. It was another example of the Lancaster trouble, of which I’ve told you elsewhere, only with the positions turned wrong-side uppermost.

For nearly a month this persecution was steadily and systematically carried on, until people, who had nothing at all to do with it, began to talk, and the girl herself was at her wits’ end to find a loophole of escape. I must tell you at this point, that, even before the Cornishman’s coming, her own selection had been barely tolerated by the Home Authorities; now, in the glare of Poltwhistle’s thousands, it was discountenanced altogether. But Jessie thought she loved Collivar, and she used to grind her pretty little teeth with rage when Poltwhistle came into the room, and say she was not going to give up Lawrence, whatever happened. Then she suddenly remembered Mrs. Belverton, and with desperate courage went down, told her all, and implored her aid.

Now it so happened that Mrs. Belverton had nothing to do just then, and stood in need of excitement. Moreover, Collivar was her own special and particular protégé. In fact, it was neither more nor less than her influence that had given him his rapid advancement in the Public Service, and through this influence his love for little Jessie Halroyd. She was educating him, she said, to make an ideal husband, and she was certainly not going to allow a rawboned New Arrival to upset her plans.

At the end of the interview, taking the girl’s hand in hers, she said comfortingly —

“Go home, my dear, and try to enjoy yourself; snub Mr. Poltwhistle whenever you see him, and leave the rest to me!”

When she was alone, this excellent woman settled herself down in her cushions, and devoted half an hour to careful contemplation.

She understood that with a man whose skull went up to nothing at the back of his head, like Poltwhistle’s, ordinary measures would be worse than useless, so she decided upon a scheme that embodied an honour which even kings and princes might have envied.

That same night she was booked to dine with Arthur and Guinevere, of whom I have also told you, on the Mountain Road, and Providence (which is more mixed up in these little matters than most people imagine) placed on her left hand none other than the Cornishman himself.

Having heard a great deal of the famous Mrs. Belverton and her sharp sayings, he was prepared to be more than a little afraid of her. She observed this and utilised it to the best advantages.

Neglecting every one else, even her own lawful partner, who, I may tell you, was a globe-trotter of no small importance, she made herself infinitely charming to the angular gawk beside her, and to such good purpose that, before Belverton began, according to custom, to brag about his port, he was in a whirlwind of enchantment, and had forgotten his original admiration for good and all.

Next day as he was riding down to tennis at the Halroyds’, he met Mrs. Belverton outside the library. Looking at him through the lace of a pretty red parasol, and with the most innocent of faces, she asked his advice as to the sort of literature she should peruse. Of course that necessitated sending home his horse and overhauling the bookshelves — with any woman a dangerous proceeding, but with Mrs. Belverton an act of more than suicidal folly. A child might have foreseen the result. Before they had reached shelf B he had completely lost his head, and when they left the library, he disregarded his tennis appointment and begged to be allowed to carry home her books for her.

She kept him with her until all chance of tennis was over, then having filled him with pound cake, tea, and improving conversation, sent him away, vowing that he had at last met perfection in womankind.

Her scheme was succeeding admirably, for Poltwhistle from that hour forsook his former flame altogether. Mrs. Halroyd wondered; but her daughter professed delight, and seeing this, Collivar prosecuted his wooing with renewed ardour.

But Mrs. Belverton, with all her cleverness, had made one miscalculation, and the effect was more than usually disastrous. She had forgotten the fact that Jessie Halroyd was, in spite of her heart trouble, little more than a child. And the upshot of this was that when that young lady saw Poltwhistle no longer worshipped at her shrine, but was inclining towards another woman, prettier and more accomplished than herself, she allowed her school-girl’s vanity to be hurt.

Within a week of her visit to Acacia Lodge, she had developed an idea that, all things considered, Poltwhistle was by no means bad looking, and certainly everybody knew that he was rich. Within a fortnight, Collivar having offended her, she was sure that she liked him quite as much as most men; and in less than three weeks (so strangely perverse is woman) she had snubbed Collivar, and was hating Mrs. Belverton with all her heart and soul for enticing the Cornishman’s attentions away from herself.

Then it became Collivar’s turn to seek assistance; and at this juncture, as the situation looked like getting beyond even her, Mrs. Belverton lost her temper and said some very bitter things about everybody concerned, herself included.

However, to sit down and allow herself to be beaten formed no part of that lady’s nature; so carefully reviewing the case, she realized that the only possible way out of the difficulty was a reversal of her former tactics. To this end she dropped Poltwhistle and took up Collivar, hoping thereby to turn the jealous girl’s thoughts back into their original channel.

The Hillites stared and said to each other:—

“Dear, dear! What a shocking flirt that Mrs. Belverton is, to be sure! First it was that nice Mr. Poltwhistle, and now it’s young Collivar, of the Treasury. Her conduct is really too outrageous!”

One muggy Saturday afternoon, towards the end of the hot weather, the Under Fifty Riding Club met opposite the library to ride to The Summit for tea and strawberries. There was a good attendance of members, and Mrs. Belverton, Miss Halroyd, Poltwhistle, and Collivar were among the number.

Every one paired off in the orthodox fashion, and as Collivar annexed Mrs. Belverton, Poltwhistle was obliged to content himself with Miss Halroyd. He was not too polite in consequence.

Before they reached the summit of the mount, thick clouds had gathered in the sky, and heavy thunder was rumbling along the hills. The Club members ate their strawberries, flirted about the grounds, and started for home just as dusk was falling.

The same pairing was adopted on the return journey, and Poltwhistle, from his place in the rear, watched the other couple with jealous, hungry eyes.

It was a tempestuous evening. Heavy thunder rolled continuously, and when, nearly half-way home, the clouds burst and the rain poured down, there was a general rush for shelter. Mrs. Belverton, to her dismay, found herself, in the half darkness, sitting on her horse, beneath a big gum-tree, with both Collivar and Poltwhistle for her companions.

The latter, whose manners were about on a par with his modesty, had left Miss Halroyd on the road to seek shelter for herself.

With a hurricane of rage in her heart, the poor girl, now, according to her lights, thoroughly in love, saw the reason of his conduct and followed him, reaching the other side of the tree unperceived. It was so dark you could hardly distinguish your hand before your face, and the rain was simply pouring down.

Sometimes, when she is in a communicative mood, Mrs. Belverton can be persuaded to tell the story of that half-hour under the gum-tree, and she catalogues it as the funniest thirty minutes she has ever experienced. But though she laughs about it now, I fancy she did not enjoy it so much at the time.

From each hinting that the other should retire, both men fell to justifying their presence there, and finished by whispering into the lady’s ears, between the thunder-claps, protestations of their undying love and devotion.

Then, while the thunder was crashing, the lightning flashing, the rain soaking them through and through, and Mrs. Belverton was wondering how it was all to end, Jessie Halroyd rode round the tree.

They all stared, you may be sure, and because Mrs. Belverton had adventured the whole miserable business for her sake, she naturally hissed —

“False friend, false friend, I hate you! Oh, Mrs. Belverton, how I hate you — I could kill you!”

A flash of lightning showed her face. It was all white and quivering, like a badly made blanc-mange pudding. There was a pause till somebody said very innocently, and I am told it was the funniest part of the whole affair —

“My dear child, you’re getting wet through; do bring your horse into shelter!”

But before the sentence was finished the girl had turned her horse’s head and was galloping down the streaming road at break-neck speed.

Then Mrs. Belverton gathered her wits together and set to work to undeceive her two admirers. All things considered, the operation must have been a curious one. When it was accomplished she rode home alone, meditating, I presume, on the futilities of this mundane existence.

The sad conclusion we, the Hillites, have come to, is that both Poltwhistle and Collivar hate their would-be benefactress most cordially for endeavouring to promote their happiness, and abominate each other still more for interfering and spoiling sport. While Miss Halroyd, who goes home next mail-day, hates all three with an undying hatred, and of course cannot be made to understand that her own folly alone is responsible for everything that happened. Personally, I should be more interested to know what easy-going William Belverton thinks about it all.

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eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005