An Idyll in Millinery
By Ménie Muriel Dowie
THE actual reason why Liphook was there does not matter :
he was there, and he was there for the second time within
a fortnight, and on each occasion, as it happened, he was the only
man in the place—the only man-customer in the place. A pale,
shaven young Jew passed sometimes about the rooms, in the
Liphook could not stand still ; the earliest sign of mental
excitement, this ; if he paused for a moment in front of one of
the two console tables and glanced into the big mirror, it was
only to turn the next second and make a step or two this way
or that upon the spacious-sized, vicious-patterned Axminster
carpet. His eye wandered, but not without a mark of resolution
in its wandering—resolution not to wander persistently in one
direction. First the partings in the curtains which ran before
the windows seemed to attract him, and he glanced into the gay
grove of millinery that blossomed before the hungry eyes of
female passers-by in the street. Sometimes he looked through
the archways that led upon each hand to further salons in which
little groups of women, customers and saleswomen, were collected.
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 25
Sometimes his eye rested upon the seven or eight unemployed
shop-ladies who stood behind the curtains, like spiders, and looked
with an almost malevolent contemptuousness upon the street
starers who came not in to buy, but lingered long, and seemed to
con the details of attractive models. More than once, a group
in either of the rooms fascinated him for full a minute. One
particularly, because its component parts declared themselves so
quickly to his apprehension.
A young woman, with fringe carefully ordered to complete
formlessness and fuzz, who now sat upon a chair and now rose
to regard herself in a glass as she poised a confection of the toque
breed upon her head. With her, a friend, older, of identical
type, but less serious mien, whose face pringled into vivacious
comment upon each venture ; comment which of course Liphook
could not overhear. With them both, an elder lady, to whom
the shopwoman, a person of clever dégagé manner and primrose
hair, principally addressed herself; appealingly, confirmatively,.
rapturously, critically—according to her ideas upon the hat in
question. In and out of their neighbourhood moved a middle-
aged woman of French appearance, short-necked, square-
shouldered, high-busted, with a keen face of chamois leather
colour and a head to which the black hair seemed to have been
permanently glued—Madame Félise herself. When she threw
a word into the momentous discussion the eyes of the party
turned respectfully upon her ; each woman hearkened. Even
Liphook divined that the girl was buying her trousseau millinery ;
the older sister, or married friend, advising in crisp, humorous
fashion, the elder lady controlling, deciding, voicing the great
essential laws of order, obligation and convention ; the shop-
woman playing the pipes, the dulcimer, the sackbut, the tabor or
the viol—Madame Félise the while commanding with invisible
26 An Idyll in Millinery
bâton her intangible orchestra ; directing distantly, but with
ineludable authority, the very players upon the stage. At this
moment She turned to him and his attention necessarily left the
group. How did he find this ? Did he care for the immense
breadth in front ? Every one in Paris was doing it. Wasn’t he
on the whole a little bit sick of hydrangeas—every one, positively
every one, had hydrangeas just now, and hydrangeas the size
of cauliflowers. He made replies; he assumed a quiet interest,
not too strong to be in character ; he steered her away from the
Parisian breadth in front, away from the hydrangeas, into a con-
sideration of something that rose very originally at the back and
had a ruche of watercresses to lie upon the hair, and three
dahlias, and four distinct colours of tulle in aniline shades, one over
the other, and an osprey, and a bird of Paradise, and a few paste
ornaments; and a convincing degree of chicin its abandoned
hideousness. Then he took a turn down the room towards the
“It looks so fearfully married to have that tinsel
you know !” the elder sister or youthful matron was saying. “I
mean, it suggests dull calls, doesn’t it ? Dull people always have
tinsel crowns, haven’t you noticed ? I don’t want to influence
you, but as I said before, I liked you in the Paris model.”
Every hat over which you conspicuously hover at Félise’s,
becomes, on the instant, a Paris model.
“So smart, Madam,” cut in the shop-lady. “And you can’t
have anything newer than that rustic brim in shot straw with
just the little knot of gardenias at the side. Oh I do think it
suits you !”
Liphook turned away. After all, he didn’t want to hear what
these poor, silly, feeble people were saying ; he wanted to
look. . . .
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 27
“But Jim always likes me so much in pale blue, that I think
—” began the girl.
“Why not have just a little tiny knot of forget-me nots with
the gardenia. Oh, I’m shaw you’d like it.”
Thus flowed the oily current of the shop-lady, reaching his ear
as Liphook returned down the room. He could look again in the
only direction that won his eyes and his thoughts ; five minutes
had been killed ; there was time left him yet, for She had just
been seized with the idea that something with a little more brim
was really her style. After all, She craved no more than to be
loose at Félise’s, amid the Spring models lit by a palely ardent
town sun, and Harold’s cheque-book looming in the comfortable
shadow of his pocket.
At the back of each gilt and mirrored saloon was placed a
work-table—in the manner of all hat-shops—surrounded by chairs
in which, mostly with their backs to the shops sat the girls who
were making up millinery ; their ages anywhere from sixteen to
twenty-one. Seldom did the construction of a masterpiece appear
to concern them ; but they were spangling things ; deftly turning
loops into bows, curling feathers, binding ospreys into close sheaves;
their heads all bent over their work, their neat aprons tied with
tape bows at the back, their dull hair half flowing and half coiled—
the inimitable manner of the London work girl—their pale faces
dimly perceived as they turned and whispered not too noisily: the
whole thing recalling the soft, quietly murmurous groups of
pigeons in the streets gathered about the scatterings of a cab-
horse’s nose-bag. Sometimes shop-girls with elaborately distorted
hair came up and gave them disdainful-seeming orders ; but the
flock of sober little pigeons murmured and pecked at its work and
ruffled no plumage of tan-colour or slate. And one of them,
different from the others—how Liphook’s eyes, in the brief looks
28 An Idyll in Millinery
he allowed himself, ate up the details of her guise. Dressed in
something—dark-blue, it might have been—that fitted with a
difference over her plump little figure; a fine and wide lawn collar
spread over breast and shoulders ; a smooth head, with no tags and
ends upon the pale, yellow-tinted brow ; a head as sleek and as
sweetly-coloured as the coat of the cupboard-mouse ; a face so
softly indented by its features, so fleckless, so mat in its flat tones,
so mignon in its delicate lack of prettiness as to be irresistible.
Lips, a dull greyish-pink, but tenderly curved at the pouting bow
and faithfully compressed at the dusk-downy corners—terribly
conscientious little lips that seemed as if never could they be kissed
to lighter humour. Eyes, with pale ash-coloured fringes, neither
long nor greatly curved, but so shy-shaped as ever eyes were ; eyes
that could only be imagined by Liphook, and he was sometimes
of mind that they were that vaporous Autumn blue ; and at other
times that they were liquid, brook-coloured hazel.
But this was the maddest obsession that was riding him ! A
London workgirl in a West-end hat shop, a girl whose voice he had
never heard, near whom he had never, could never, come. And
Heaven forbid he should come near her; what did he want with
her ? Before Heaven, and all these hats and mirrors, Viscount
Liphook could have sworn he wanted nothing of her. Yet he loved
her completely, desperately, exclusively. What name was there for
this feeling other than the name of love ? Soiled with all ignoble
use, this name of love ; though to do him justice, Liphook was not
greatly to blame in that matter. He was but little acquainted
with the word ; he left it out of his affaires de cœur, and very
properly, for it did not enter into them. Still, his feeling for this
girl, his craving for the sound of her voice, his eye fascinated by
her smallest movement, his yearning for the sense of her nearer
presence—novel, inexplicable as this all was, might it not be love?
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 29
He stood there ; quiet, inexpressive of face, in jealous hope of—
what next ? And then She claimed his attention—in a whisper
which brought her head with its mahogany hair, and her face with
its ground-rice surface, close to his ear. She said :
“You don’t mind five, eh? It’s a model—and—don’t you
think it becomes me ? I do think this mushroom-coloured velvet
and just the three green orchids divine—and it’s really very
He assented, careful to look critically at the hat—a clever mass
of evilly-imagined, ill-assorted absurdities. He had looked too
long at that work-table, at that figure, at that face—he dropped
into a chair—let his stick fall between his knees and cast his eyes
to the mirror-empanelled ceiling ; there the heads, and feet of the
passers-by were seething grotesquely in a fashion that recalled the
Inferno of an old engraving.
Well, it would be time to look again soon—ah ! she had risen ;
thank goodness, not a tall woman—(She was five foot nine)—
small, and indolent of outline.
“I’ll take it to the French milliner now, Madam, and she’ll pin
a pink rose in for you to see !”
It was a shop-woman speaking to some customer, who with a
hat in her hand, approached the work-table.
“If you please, Mam’zelle Mélanie,” she began, in a voice
meant to impress the customer, ” would you pin in a rose for
Madam to try ? Madam thinks the pansy rather old-looking—”
&c., &c., &c.”
The French milliner ; French, then ! And what a dear
innocent, young, crusty little face ! what delicious surliness : the
little brown bear that she was, growling and grumbling to do a
favour. Well, bless that woman—and the pansy that looked old—
he knew her name ; enough to recognise her by, enough to address
30 An Idyll in Millinery
a note to her—and it should be a note ! A note that would bring
out a star in each grey eye—they were grey—after all. (The
grey of a lingering, promising, but unbestowing twilight.)
Reflecting, but unobservant, his glance left her face and focussed
the pale, fair, young Jew, who was seated, in frock coat and hat,
gloating over a pocket-book that had scraps of coloured silk
and velvet pinned in it. He recalled his wandering senses.
” How much ? Eight ten?”
” Well, I’ve taken a little black thing as well ; it happens to be
very reasonable. There, you don’t mind ?” Mrs. Percival always
went upon the principle of appearing to be careful of other
people’s money ; she found she got more of it that way.
“My dear !—as long as you are pleased ! ” It was weeks
since this tone had been possible to him. He scribbled a cheque
and they got away.
” I know I’ve been an awful time, old boy,” said the mahogany-
haired one, with rough good humour—the good humour of a vain
woman whose vanity has been fed. “Are you coming ?”
“Er—no ; in fact, I’m going out of town, I shan’t see you for
a bit—Oh, I wasn’t very badly bored, thanks.”
She made no comment on his reply to her question ; her coarsely
pretty face hardly showed lines of relief, for it was not a mobile
face ; but she was pleased.
“Glad you didn’t fret. I’d never dreamt you’d be so good
about shopping. Yes, I’ll take a cab. There is a call for 12.30,
and I see it is nearly one now.”
He put her into a nice-looking hansom, lifted his hat and
watched her drive away. Then he turned and looked into the
gaudy windows. His feelings were his own somehow, now that
She had left him. He smiled ; love warmed in him. Was the
old pansy gone and the pink rose in its place ? Had she pricked
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 31
those creamy yellow fingers in the doing of it ? No, she was
too deft. Tired, flaccid little fingers ! Was he never to think
of anything or anyone again, except Mam’zelle Mélanie ?
Now the mahogany-haired lady was not an actress : she was
nothing so common as an actress ; she belonged to a mysterious
class, but little understood, even if clearly realised, by the public. It
was not because she could not that she did not act ; she had never
tried to, there had been no question of capability—but she con-
sented to appear at a famous West-end burlesque theatre, to
oblige the manager who was a personal friend of long-standing.
She “went on” in the ball-room scene of a hoary but ever-
popular “musical comedy,” because there was—not a part—but
a pretty gown to be filled, and because she was surprisingly
handsome, and of very fine figure, and filled that gown amazingly
well. The two guineas a week that came her way at “Treasury”
went a certain distance in gloves and cab-fares, and the neces-
saries of life she had a different means of supplying. Let her
position be understood : she was a very respectable person : there
are degrees in respectability as in other things ; there was no fear
of vulgar unpleasantnesses with her and her admirers—if she had
them. Mr. John Holditch, the popular manager of several
theatres had a real regard for her ; in private she called him
“Jock, old boy,” and he called her “Mill”—because he recollected
her début; but the public knew her as Miss Mildred Metcalf, and
her lady comrades in the dressing-room as Mrs. Percival, and it
was generally admitted by all concerned that she was equally
satisfactory under any of these styles. Oh, it will have been
32 An Idyll in Millinery
noticed and need not be insisted on, that Liphook called her
“my dear,” and if it be not pushing the thing too far, I may add
that her mother spoke of her as “our Florrie.”
Liphook was a rich man whose occupation, when he was in
town, was the dividing of days between the club, his rooms in
Half Moon Street, his mother’s house in Belgrave Square, and
Mrs. Percival’s abode in Manfield Gardens, Kensington. The
only respect in which he differed from a thousand men of his
class was, that he had visited the hat shop of Madame Félise, in
the company of Mrs. Percival, and had conceived a genuine
passion for a little French milliner who sewed spangles on to
snippets of nothingness at a table in the back of the shop.
The note had been written, had been answered. This answer,
in fine, sloping, uneducated French handwriting, upon thin,
lined, pink paper of the foreign character, had given Liphook a
ridiculous amount of pleasure. The club waiters, his mother’s
butler, his man in Half Moon Street, these unimportant people
chiefly noted the uncontrollable bubbles of happiness that floated
to the surface of his impassive English face during the days that
followed the arrival of that answer. He didn’t think anything in
particular about it ; few men so open to the attractions of women
as this incident proves him, think anything in particular at all,
least of all, at so early a stage. He was not—for the sake of his
judges it must be urged—meaning badly any more than he was
definitely meaning well. He wasn’t meaning at all. He cannot
be blamed, either. The world is responsible for this sense of
irresponsibility in men of the world—who are the world’s sole
making. Herein he was true to type ; in so far as he did not think
what the girl meant by her answer, type was supported by
individual character. Liphook was not clever, and did not think
much or with any success, on any subject. And if he had he
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 33
wouldn’t have hit the real reason ; only experience would have
told him that a French workgirl, from a love of pleasure and the
national measure of shrewd practicality combined, never refuses
the chance of a nice outing. She does not, like her English
sister, drag her virtue into the question at all.
Never in his life, so it chanced, had Liphook gone forth to an
interview in such a frame of mind as on the day he was to meet
Mélanie outside the Argyll Baths in Great Marlboro’ Street at
ten minutes past seven. Apart from the intoxicating perfume
that London seemed to breathe for him, and the gold motes that
danced in the dull air, there was the unmistakable resistant pres-
sure of the pavement against his feet (thus it seemed) which is
seldom experienced twice in a lifetime ; in the lifetime of such a
man as Liphook, usually never. The Argyll Baths, Great
Marlboro’ Street : what a curious place for the child to have
chosen, and she would be standing there, pretending to look into
a shop window. Oh, of course, there were no shop windows to
speak of in Great Marlboro’ Street. (He had paced its whole
length several times since the arrival of the pink glazed note).
What would she say ? What would she look like ? Her eyes,
drooped or raised frankly to his, for instance ? That she would
not greet him with bold, meaning smile and common phrase he
knew—he felt. Dreaming and speculating, but wearing the
calm leisured air of a gentleman walking from one point to
another, he approached and—yes ! there she was ! A scoop-
shaped hat rose above the cream-yellow brow ; a big dotted veil
was loosely—was wonderfully—bound about it ; a little black
cape covered the demure lawn collar; quite French bottines peeped
below the dark-blue skirt. But—she was not alone, a man was
with her. A man whom, even at some distance, he could discern
to be unwelcome and unexpected, the pale fair young Jew
34 An Idyll in Millinery
in dapper frock-coat and extravagantly curved over-shiny hat.
Loathsome-looking reptile he was, too, so thought Liphook as he
turned abruptly with savage scrape of his veering foot upon the
pavement, up Argyll Street. Perhaps she was getting rid of him;
it was only nine minutes past seven, anyhow ; perhaps he would
be gone in a moment. Odious beast ! In love with her, no
doubt ; how came it he had the wit to recognise her indescribable
charm ? (Liphook never paused to wonder how himself had
recognised it, though this was, in the circumstances, even more
remarkable). Anyway, judging by that look he remembered, she
would not be unequal to rebuffing unwelcome attention.
Liphook walked as far as Hengler’s Circus and read the bills ;
the place was in occupation, it being early in March. He studied
the bill from top to bottom, then he turned slowly and retraced
his steps to the corner. Joy ! she was there and alone. His pace
quickened, his heart rose ; his face, a handsome face, was strung to
lines of pride, of passionate anticipation.
He had greeted her ; he had heard her voice ; so soft—dear
Heaven ! so soft—in reply ; they had turned and were walking
towards Soho, and he knew no word of what had passed.
“We will have a cab ; you will give me the pleasure of dining
with me. I have arranged it. Allow me.” Perhaps these were
the first coherent words that he said. Then they drove along and
he said inevitable, valueless things in quick order, conscious of the
lovely interludes when her smooth tones, now wood-sweet, now
with a harp-like thrilling timbre in them, again with the viol—or
was it the lute-note?—a sharp dulcidity that made answer in him as
certainly as the tuning-fork compels its octave from the rosewood
board. The folds of the blue gown fell beside him ; the French
pointed feet, miraculously short-toed, rested on the atrocious straw
mat of the wretched hansom his blindness had brought him ; the
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 35
scoop-hat knocked the wicked reeking lamp in the centre of the
cab ; the dotted veil, tied as only a French hand can tie a veil,
made more delectable the creams and twine-shades of the monoto-
nous-coloured kitten face. They drove, they arrived somewhere,
they dined, and then of all things, they went into a church, which
being open and permitting organ music to exude from its smut-
blackened walls, seemed less like London than any place they
might have sought.
And it happened to be a Catholic Church, and he—yes, he
actually followed the pretty ways of her, near the grease-smeared
pecten shell with its holy water, that stuck from a pillar : some
Church oyster not uprooted from its ancient bed. And they sat
on prie-dieus, in the dim incense-savoured gloom ; little un-
aspiring lights seemed to be burning in dim places beyond ; and
sometimes there were voices, and sometimes these ceased again
and music filled the dream-swept world in which Liphook was
wrapped and veiled away. And they talked—at least she talked,
low murmurous recital about herself and her life, and every detail
sunk and expanded wondrously in the hot-bed of Liphook’s abnor-
mally affected mind. The evening passed to night, and people
stepped about, and doors closed with a hollow warning sound that
hinted at the end of lovely things, and they went out and he
left her at a door which was the back entrance to Madame
Félise’s establishment ; but he had rolled back a grey lisle-thread
glove, and gathered an inexpressibly precious memory from the
touch of that small hand that posed roses instead of pansies all the
And of course he was to see her again. He had heard all
about her. How a year since she had been fetched from Paris at
the instance of Goldenmuth. Goldenmuth was the fair young
Jewish man in the frock-coat and supremely curved hat. He was
The Yellow Book—Vol. X. C
36 An Idyll in Millinery
a “relative” of Madame Félise, and travelled for her, in a certain
sense, in Paris. He had seen Mélanie in an obscure corner of the
Petit St. Thomas when paying an airy visit to a lady in charge of
some department there. An idea had occurred to him ; in three
days he arrived and made a proposition. He had conceived the
plan of transplanting this ideally French work-flower to the
London shop, and his plan had been a success. Her simple,
shrewd, much-defined little character clung to Mélanie in London,
as in Paris ; she had clever fingers, but beyond all, her appearance
which Goldenmuth had the art to appreciate, soft but marked and
unassailable by influence, told infinitely at that unobtrusive but
Half mouse, half dove ; never to be vulgarised, never to be
Mélanie had a family, worthy épicier of Nantes, her
her mother, his invaluable book-keeper. Her sister Hortense,
cashier at the Restaurant des Trois Epées ; her sister Albertine,
in the millinery like herself. Every detail delighted Liphook,
every word of her rapid incorrect London English sank into his
mind ; in the extraordinarily narrow circumscribed life that
Liphook had lived—that all the Liphooks of the world usually
do live—a little, naïvely-simple description of some quite different
life is apt to sound surprisingly interesting, and if it comes from
the lips of your Mélanie, why . . . . .
But previous to the glazed pink note, if Liphook had crystal-
lised any floating ideas he might have had as to the nature
of the intimacy he expected, they would have tallied in no
particular with the reality. In his first letter had been certain
warmly-worded sentences ; at their first interview when he had
interred two kisses below the lisle-thread glove, he had incohe-
rently murmured something lover-like. It had been too dark to
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 37
see Mélanie’s face at the moment ; but when since, more than
once, he had attempted similar avowals she had put her head on
one side, raised her face, crinkled up the corners of the grey eyes,
and twisted quite alarmingly the lilac-pink lips. So there wasn’t
much said about love or any such thing. After all, he could see
her three or four times a week ; on Sunday they often spent the
whole day together ; he could listen to her prattle ; he was a
silent fellow himself, having never learnt to talk and having
nothing to talk about ; he could, in hansoms and quiet places,
tuck her hand within his arm and beam affectionately into her
face, and they grew always closer and closer to each other ; as
camarades, still only as camarades. She never spoke of Goldenmuth
except incidentally, and then very briefly ; and Liphook, who had
since seen the man with her in the street on two occasions, felt
very unanxious to introduce the subject ; after all he knew more
than he wanted to about it, he said to himself. It was obvious
enough. He had bought her two hats at Félise’s ; he had begged
to do as much, and she had advised him which he should purchase,
and on evenings together she had looked ravishing beneath them.
He knew many secrets of the hat trade ; he knew and delightedly
laughed over half a hundred fictions Mélanie exploded ; he was in
a fair way to become a man-milliner ; even Goldenmuth could not
have talked more trippingly of the concomitants of capotes.
One Sunday, when the sunniest of days had tempted them
down the river, he came suddenly into the private room where
they were to lunch and found her coquetting with her veil in
front of a big ugly mirror ; a mad sort of impulse took him, he
gripped her arms to her side, nipped her easily off the floor, bent
his head round the prickly fence of hat-brim and kissed her several
times ; she laughed with the low, fluent gurgle of water pushing
through a narrow passage. She said nothing, she only laughed.
38 An Idyll in Millinery
Somehow, it disorganised Liphook.
“Do you love me ? Do you love me ?” he asked rapidly, even
roughly, in the only voice he could command, and he shook her a
She put her head on one side and made that same sweet
crinkled-up kind of moue moquante, then she spread her palms out
and shook them and laughed and ran away round the table.
“Est-ce que je sais, moi ?” she cried in French. Liphook didn’t
speak. Oh, he understood her all right, but he was getting him-
self a little in hand first. A man like Liphook has none of the
art of life ; he can’t do figure-skating among his emotions like
your nervous, artistic-minded, intellectually trained man. After
that one outburst and the puzzlement that succeeded it, he was
silent, until he remarked upon the waiter’s slowness in bringing up
luncheon. But he had one thing quite clear in his thick English
head, through which the blood was still whizzing and singing.
He wanted to kiss her again badly ; he was going to kiss her
again at the first opportunity.
But, of course, when he wasn’t with her his mind varied in its
reflections. For instance, he had come home one night from
dining at Aldershot—a farewell dinner to his Colonel it was—
and he had actually caught himself saying : “I must get out of
it,” meaning his affair with Mélanie. That was pretty early on,
when it had still seemed, particularly after being in the society
of worldly-wise friends who rarely, if ever, did anything foolish,
much less emotional, that he was making an ass of himself, or
was likely to if he didn’t “get out of it.” Now the thing had
assumed a different aspect. He could not give her up ; under no
circumstances could he contemplate giving her up ; well then,
why give her up ? She was only a little thing in a hat shop, she
would do very much better—yes, but, somehow he had a certain
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 39
feeling about her, he couldn’t—well, in point of fact, he loved
her ; hang it, he respected her ; he’d sooner be kicked out of his
Club than say one word to her that he’d mind a fellow saying to
Thus the Liphook of March, ’95, argued with the Liphook of
the past two and thirty years !
Liphook’s position was awkward—all the other Liphooks in the
world have said it was beastly awkward, supposing they could have
been made to understand it. To many another kind of man this
little love story might not have been inappropriate ; occurring in
the case of Liphook it was nothing less than melancholy. Not that
he felt melancholy about it, no indeed ; just sometimes, when he
happened to think how it was all going to end, he had rather a
bad moment, but thanks to his nature and training he did not
Meantime, he had sent a diamond heart to Mrs. Percival ; there
was more sentiment about a heart than a horse-shoe ; women
looked at that kind of thing, and she would feel that he wasn’t
cooling off ; so it had been a heart. That secured him several more
weeks of freedom at any rate, and he wouldn’t have the trouble of
putting notes in the fire. For on receiving the diamond heart
Mrs. Percival behaved like a python after swallowing an antelope ;
she was torpid in satiety, and no sign came from her.
But one morning Liphook got home to Half Moon Street after
his Turkish bath, and heard that a gentleman was waiting to see
“At least, hardly a gentleman, my lord ; I didn’t put him in
the library,” explained the intuitive Sims.
40 An Idyll in Millinery
Some one from his tailor’s with so-called “new” patterns, no
doubt ; well—
He walked straight into the room, never thinking, and he saw
Goldenmuth. The man had an offensive orchid in his buttonhole.
To say that Liphook was surprised is nothing ; he was astounded,
and too angry to call up any expression whatever to his face ; he
was rigid with rage. What in hell had Sims let the fellow in for ?
However, this was the last of Sims ; Sims would go.
The oily little brute, with his odious hat in his hand, was speak-
ing ; was saying something about being fortunate in finding his
“Be good enough to tell me your business with me,” said
Liphook, with undisguised savagery. Though he had asked him
to speak, he thought that when her name was mentioned he would
have to choke him. His rival—by gad, this little Jew beggar
was Liphook’s rival. Goldenmuth hitched his sallow neck, as
leathery as a turtle’s, in his high, burnished collar, and took his
pocket-book from his breast pocket—which meant that he was
nervous, and forgot that he was not calling upon a “wholesale
buyer,” to whom he would presently show a pattern. He pressed
the book in both hands, and swayed forward on his toes—swayed
into hurried speech.
“Being interested in a young lady whom your lordship has
honoured with your attentions lately, I called to ‘ave a little
talk.” The man had an indescribable accent, a detestable fluency,
a smile which nearly warranted you in poisoning him, a manner
—! There was silence. Liphook waited ; the snap with
which he bit off four tough orange-coloured hairs from his mous-
tache, sounded to him like the stroke of a hammer in the street.
Then an idea struck him. He put a question :
“What has it got to do with you ?”
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 41
“I am interested—”
“So am I. But I fail to see why you should mix yourself up
with my affairs.”
“Madame Félise feels—”
“What’s she got to do with it?” Liphook tossed out his
remarks with the nakedest brutality.
“The lady is in her employment and—”
“Look here ; say what you’ve got to say, or go,” burst from
Liphook, with the rough bark of passion. He had his hands be-
hind his back ; he was holding one with the other in the fear that
they might get away from him, as it were. His face was still im-
mobile, but the crooks of two veins between the temples and the
eye corners stood up upon the skin ; his impassive blue eyes
harboured sullen hatred. He saw the whole thing. That old
woman had sent her dirty messenger to corner him, to “ask his
intentions,” to get him to give himself away, to make some pro-
mise. It was a kind of blackmail they had in view. The very
idea of such creatures about Mélanie would have made him sick at
another time ; now he felt only disgust, and the rising obstinacy
about committing himself at the unsavory instance of Goldenmuth.
After all, they couldn’t take Mélanie from him ; she was free, she
could go into another shop ; he could marry . . . . Stop—
“Mademoiselle Mélanie is admitted to be most attractive—
others have observed it—”
“You mean you have,” sneered Liphook ; in the most un-
gentlemanly manner, it must be allowed.
“I must bring to the notice of your lordship,” said the Jew,
with the deference of a man who knows he is getting his point,
“that so young as Mademoiselle is, and so innocent, she is not
fitted to understand business questions ; and her parents being at
42 An Idyll in Millinery
a distance it falls to Madame Félise and myself to see that—
excuse me, my lord, but we know what London is !—that her
youth is not misled.”
“Who’s misleading her youth ?” Liphook burst out ; and his
schoolboy language detracted nothing from the energy with which
he spoke. “You can take my word here and now that she is in
every respect as innocent as I found her. And now,” with a
sudden reining in of his voice, “we have had enough of this talk.
If you are the lady’s guardians you may reassure yourselves : I am
no more to her than a friend : I have not sought to be any more.”
Liphook moved in conclusion of the interview.
“Your lordship is very obliging ; but I must point out that a
young and ardent girl is likely, in the warmth of her affection, to
be precipitate—that we would protect her from herself.”
“About this I have nothing to say, and will hear nothing,”
exclaimed Liphook, hurriedly.
Goldenmuth used the national gesture ; he bent his right
elbow, turned his right hand palm upwards and shook it softly to
“Perhaps even I have noticed it. I am not insensible !”
Liphook had never heard a famous passage—he neither read nor
looked at Shakespeare, so this remark merely incensed him.
“But,” went on the Jew, “since she came to England—for I
brought her—I have made myself her protector—”
“You’re a liar !” said Liphook, who was a very literal person.
“Oh, my lord !—I mean in the sense of being kind to her and
looking after her, with Madame Félise’s entire approval ; so
when I noticed the marked attentions of a gentleman like your
“You’re jealous,” put in Liphook, again quite inexcusably.
But it would be impossible to over-estimate his contempt for this
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 43
man. Belonging to the uneducated section of the upper class he
was a man of the toughest prejudices on some points. One of
these was that all Jews were mean, scurvy devils at bottom and
that no kind of consideration need be shown them. Avoid them
as you would a serpent ; when you meet them, crush them as you
would a serpent. He’d never put it into words ; but that is
actually what poor Liphook thought, or at any rate it was the
dim idea on which he acted.
“Your lordship is making a mistake,” said Goldenmuth with a
flush. “I am not here in my own interest ; I am here to act on
behalf of the young lady.” Had the heavens fallen ? In her
interest ? Then Mélanie ? Never ! As if a Thing like this
could speak the truth !
“Who sent you ?” Liphook always went to the point.
“Madame Félise and I talked it over and agreed that I should
make it convenient to call. We have both a great regard for
Mademoiselle ; we feel a responsibility—a responsibility to her
What was all this about ? Liphook was too bewildered to
“Naturally, we should like to see Mademoiselle in a position,
an assured position for which she is every way suited.”
So it was as he thought. They wanted to rush a proposal.
Must he chaffer with them at all ?
“I can tell you that if I had anything to propose I should
write it to the lady herself,” he said.
“We are not anxious to come between you. I may say I have
enquired—my interest in Mademoiselle has led me to enquire—
and Madame Félise and I think it would be in every way a
suitable connection for her. Your lordship must feel that we
regard her as no common girl ; she deserves to be lancéein the
44 An Idyll in Millinery
right manner ; a settlement—an establishment—some indication
that the connection will be fairly permanent, or if not, that
“Is that what you are driving at, you dog, you?”
Liphook, illuminated at length and boiling with passion. “So
you want to sell her to me and take your blasted commission ?
Get out of my house !” He grew suddenly quiet ; it was an
ominous change. “Get out, this instant, before—
Goldenmuth was gone, the street door banged.
“God ! God !” breathed Liphook with his hand to his wet
brow, “what a hellish business !”
* * * * *
It was nine o’clock when Liphook came in that night. He
did not know where he had been, he believed he had had
something in the nature of dinner, but he could not have said
exactly where he had had it.
Sims handed him a note.
He recognised a friend’s hand and read the four lines it
“When did Captain Throgmorton come, then ?”
“Came in about three to ‘alf past, my lord ; he asked me if
your lordship had any engagement to-night, and said he would
wait at the Club till quarter past eight and that he should dine at
the Blue Posts after that.”
“I see; well,” he reflected a moment, “Sims, pack my
hunting things, have everything at St. Pancras in time for the ten
o’clock express, and,” he reflected again, ” Sims, I want you to
take a note—no, never mind. That’ll do.”
“V’ry good, my lord.”
Yes, he’d go. Jack Throgmorton was the most companionable
man in the world—he was so silent. Liphook and he had been
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 45
at Sandhurst together, they had joined the same regiment. Lip-
hook had sent in his papers rather than stand the fag of India ;
Throgmorton had “taken his twelve hundred” rather than stand
the fag of anywhere. He was a big heavy fellow with a marked
difficulty in breathing, also there was fifteen stone of him. His
round eyes, like “bulls’-eyes,” the village children’s best-loved
goodies, stuck out of a face rased to an even red resentment.
He had the hounds somewhere in Bedfordshire. His friends liked
him enormously, so did his enemies. To say that he was stupid
does not touch the fringe of a description of him. He had never
had a thought of his own, nor an idea ; all the same, in any Club
quarrel, or in regard to a point of procedure, his was an opinion
other men would willingly stand by. At this moment in his
life, a blind instinct taught Liphook to seek such society ; no one
could be said to sum up more completely—perhaps because so
unconsciously—the outlook of Liphook’s world, which of late he
had positively begun to forget. The thing was bred into
Throgmorton by sheer, persistent sticking to the strain, and it came
out of him again mechanically, automatically, distilled through
his dim brain a triple essence. The kind of man clever people
have found it quite useless to run down, for it has been proved
again and again that if he can only be propped up in the right
place at the right moment, you’ll never find his equal inthat
place. Altogether, a handsome share in “the secret of England’s
greatness” belongs to him. The two men met on the platform
beside a pile of kit-bags and suit cases, all with Viscount Liphook’s
name upon them in careful uniformity. Sims might have had
the administration of an empire’s affairs upon his mind, whereas
he was merely chaperoning more boots and shirts than any one
man has a right to possess.
“You didn’t come last night,” said Captain Throgmorton, as
46 An Idyll in Millinery
though he had only just realised the fact. He prefaced the re-
mark by his favourite ejaculation which was “Harr-rr”— he pre-
faced every remark with “Harr-rr”—on a cold day it was not
uninspiriting if accompanied by a sharp stroke of the palms ; in
April it was felt to be somewhat out of season. But Captain
Throgmorton merely used it as a means of getting his breath and
his voice under way. “Pity,” he went on, without noticing
Liphook’s silence ; “good bone.” This summed up the dinner
with its famous marrow-bones, at the Blue Posts.
They got in. Each opened a Morning Post. Over the top
this fascinating sheet they flung friendly brevities from time to
“Shan’t have more than a couple more days to rattle ’em
about,” Captain Throgmorton remarked, after half an hour’s
silence, and a glance at the flying hedges.
Liphook began to come back into his world. After all it was
a comfortable world. Yet had an angel for a time transfigured it,
ah dear ! how soft that angel’s wings, if he might be folded within
them . . . . old world, dear, bad old world, you might roll by.
They were coming home from hunting next day. Each man
bent ungainly in his saddle ; their cords were splashed ; the going
had been heavy, and once it had been hot as well, but only for a
while. Then they had hung about a lot, and though they found
three times, they hadn’t killed. Liphook was weary. When
Throgmorton stuck his crop under his thigh, hung his reins on
it, and lit a cigar, Liphook was looking up at the sky, where
dolorous clouds of solid purple splotched a background of orange,
flame-colour and rose. Throgmorton’s peppermint eye rolled
slowly round when it left his cigar-tip ; he knew that when a
man—that is, a man of Liphook’s sort is found staring at a thing
like the sunset there is a screw loose somewhere.
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 47
“Wha’ is it, Harold ?” he said, on one side of his cigar.
Liphook made frank answer.
“What’s she done then?”
“Oh, Lord, it isn’t her.”
“‘Nother ?” said Jack, without any show of surprise, and got
his answer again.
“What sort ?” This was very difficult, but Liphook shut his
eyes and flew it.
“How old ?”
“Twenty,” said Liphook, and felt a rapture rising.
“Jack, man,” he exclaimed, under the influence or the flame
and rose, no doubt, “what if I were to marry ?”
Throgmorton was not, as has been indicated, a person of fine
fibre. “Do, and be done with ’em,” said he. And after all, as
far as it went, it was sound enough advice.
“I mean marry her,” Liphook explained, and the explanation
cost him a considerable expenditure of pluck.
An emotional man would have fallen off his horse—if the horse
would have let him. Jack’s horse never would have let him.
Jack said nothing for a moment ; his eye merely seemed to swell ;
then he put another question :
“Earl know about it ?”
“By George, I should say not!”
That meant that the point would be resolved in the curiously
composed brain of Captain Throgmorton, and by common con-
sent not another word was said on the matter.
48 An Idyll in Millinery
Two days had gone by. Liphook’s comfortable sense of having
acted wisely in coming out of town to think the thing over still
supported him, ridiculous though it seems. For of course he was
no more able to think anything over than a Hottentot. Think-
ing is not a natural process at all ; savage men never knew of it,
and many people think it quite as dangerous as it is unnatural. It
has become fashionable to learn thinking, and some forms of
education undertake to teach it ; but Liphook had never gone
through those forms of education. After all, to understand Lip-
hook, one must admit that he approximated quite as nearly to the
savage as to the civilised and thinking man, if not more nearly.
His appetites and his habits were mainly savage, and had he lived
in savage times he would not have been touched by a kind of love
for which he was never intended, and his trouble would not have
existed. However, he was as he was, and he was thinking things
over ; that is, he was waiting and listening for the most forceful of
his instincts to make itself heard, and he had crept like a dumb
unreasoning animal into the burrow of his kind, making one last
effort to be of them. At the end of the week his loudest instinct
was setting up a roar ; there could be no mistaking it. He loved
her. He could not part from her ; he must get back to her ; he
must make her his and carry her off.
“Sorry to be leaving you, Jack,” he said one morning at the
end of the week. They were standing looking out of the hall door
together and it was raining. “But I find I must go up this
Throgmorton rolled a glance at him, then armed him into the
library and shut the door.
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 49
“What are you going to do ?”
There was a silence. They stood there, the closest feeling of
friendship between them, not saying a word.
“My dear Harold,” said Throgmorton at length, with much
visible and more invisible effort ; he put a hand heavily on
Liphook’s shoulder and blew hard in his mute emotion. Then he
put his other hand on Liphook’s other shoulder. Liphook kept
his eyes down ; he was richly conscious of all Jack was mutely
saying ; he felt the weight of every unspoken argument ; the
moment was a long one, but for both these slow-moving minds a
very crowded moment.
“Come to the Big Horn Mountains with me,” Throgmorton
remarked suddenly, “—and—har-rr write to her from
He was proud of this suggestion ; he knew the value of a really
remote point to write from. It was always one of the first things
to give your mind to, the choice of a geographically well-nigh
inaccessible point to write from. First you found it, then you
went to it, and when you got there, by Jove, you didn’t need to
write at all. Liphook smiled in impartial recognition of his
friend’s wisdom, but shook his head.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ve thought it all over”—he genuinely
believed he had—”and I’m going to marry her. Jack, old man, I
love her like the very devil !”
In spite of the grotesqueness of the phrase, the spirit in it was
Throgmorton’s hands came slowly off his friend’s shoulders.
He walked to the window, took out a very big handkerchief and
dried his head. He seemed to look out at the dull rain battering
on the gravel and digging yellow holes.
50 An Idyll in Millinery
“I’ll drive you to meet the 11.15,” he said at last and went out
of the room.
Liphook put up his arms and drew a deep breath ; it had been
a stiff engagement. He felt tired. But no, not tired. Roll by,
O bad old world—he has chosen the angel’s wing !
Not one word had passed about Goldenmuth, Madame Félise,
or the astounding interview ; a man like Liphook can always hold
his tongue ; one of his greatest virtues. Besides, why should he
ever think or breathe the names of those wretches again ? Jack
Throgmorton, in his splendid ignorance, would have been unable
to throw light upon the real motive of these simple, practical
French people. Liphook to his dying day would believe they had
given proof of hideous iniquity, while in reality they were actuated
by a very general belief of the bourgeoise, that to be “established,”
with settlements, as the mistress of a viscount, is quite as good as
becoming the wife of a grocer. They had been, perhaps, wicked,
but innocently wicked ; for they acted according to their belief,
in the girl’s best interest. Unfortunately they had had an im-
practicable Anglais to deal with and had had to submit to insult ;
in their first encounter, they had been worsted by British brute
With a constant dull seething of impulses that quite possessed
him, he got through the time that had to elapse before he could
hear from her in reply to his short letter. He had done with
thinking. A chance meeting with his father on the sunny side
of Pall Mall one morning did not even disquiet him. His every
faculty, every fibre was in thrall to his great passion. The rest
of life seemed minute, unimportant, fatuous, a mass of trivial
There were two things in the world, and two only. There
was Mélanie, and there was love. Ah, yes, and there was time !
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 51
Why did she not answer ?
A note from the bonnet-shop, re-enclosing his own, offered an
explanation that entered like a frozen knife-blade into Liphook’s
heart. She had left. She was gone. Gone altogether, for good.
Absurd ! Did they suppose they could—oh, a higher price
was what they wanted. He’d go; by God he’d give it. Was he
not going to marry her ? He hurried to the hat-shop ; he dropped
into the chair he had occupied when last in the shop, let his stick
fall between his knees and stared before him into the mirrored
walls. All the same tangled scene of passing people, customers,
shop-women and brilliant millinery was reflected in them ; only
the bright hats islanded and steady among this ugly fluctuation.
Pools of fretful life, these circular mirrors ; garish, discomfiting
to gaze at ; stirred surely by no angel unless the reflection of the
mouse-maiden should ever cross their surfaces.
Fifteen minutes later he was standing gazing at the horrid clock
and ornaments in ormolu that stood on the mantel-piece of the red
velvet salon where he waited for Madame Félise.
She came. Her bow was admirable.
“I wrote to Mademoiselle, and my letter has been returned.
The note says she has gone.” Liphook’s schoolboy bluntness
came out most when he was angry. “Where has she gone ?
And why ?”
“Aha ! Little Mademoiselle ! Yes, indeed, she has left us
and how sorry we are ! Chère petite! But what could we do ?
We would have kept her, but her parents—” A shrug and a
smile punctuated the sentence.
“What about her parents ?”
“They had arranged for her an alliance—what would you
have ?—we had to let her go. And the rezponsibility—after
The Yellow Book—Vol. X. D
52 An Idyll in Millinery
“What sort of an alliance ?” The dog-like note was in his voice
“But—an alliance ! I believe very good ; a charpentier—a
charcutier, I forget—but bien solide!”
“Do you mean you have sold her to some French—
“Ah, my lord ! how can you speak such things ? Her parents
are most rezpectable, she has always been most rezpectable—
naturally we had more than once felt anxious here in
“I wish to marry her,” said Liphook curtly, and he said it
still, though he believed her to have been thrust upon a less
reputable road. It was his last, his greatest triumph over his
world. It fitted him nobly for the shelter of the angel’s wing.
He had learned the worst—and—
“I wish to marry her,” said Liphook.
“Hélas !—but she is married !” shrieked Madame Félise in a
mock agony of regret, but with surprise twinkling in her little
“Married !” shouted Liphook. “Impossible !”
“Ask Mr. Goldenmuth, he was at the wedding.” Madame
laughed ; the true explanation of my lord’s remarkable statement
had just struck her. It was a ruse; an English ruse. She
laughed very much, and it sounded and looked most unpleasant.
“His lordship was—a little unfriendly—a
reserved—not to tell us, not even to tell Mademoiselle herself
that he desired to marry her,” she said with villainous archness.
Liphook strode to the door. Yes, why, why had he not ?
“I will find her ; I know where her relatives live.” If it is a
lie— I’ll make you sorry—”
Fi donc, what a word ! The ceremony at the Mairiewas
on Thursday last.”
By Ménie Muriel Dowie 53
They were going downstairs and had to pass through the
showrooms—quite near—ah, quite near—the table where the
little grey and brown pigeons sat clustered, where the one ring-
dove had sat too.
“It is sometimes the fate of a lover who thinks too long,”
Madame was saying, with an air of much philosophy. “But see
now, if my lord would care to send a little souvenir”—Madame
reached hastily to a model on a stand—”comme cadeau de noce here
is something quite exquis!” She kissed the tips of her brown
fingers—inimitably, it must be allowed. “So simple, so young,
so innocent—I could pose a little noeud of myosotis. Coming from
my lord, it would be so delicate !”
Liphook was in a shop. There were people about. He was a
lover, he was a fool, he was a gentleman.
“Er—thank you—not to-day,” he said ; the air of the world
he had repudiated came back to him. And a man like Liphook
doesn’t let you see when he is hit. That is the beauty of him.
He knew it was true, but he would go to Paris ; yes, though he
knew it was true. He would not, could not see her. But he
He stood a moment in the sun outside the shop, its windows
like gardens behind him ; its shop-ladies like evil-eyed reptiles in
these gardens. The carpets, the mirrors on the wall, the tables
at the back—and it was here he had first seen the tip and heard
the flutter of an angel’s wing !
“Lord Liphook,” said a voice, “what an age . . . .”
He turned and lifted his hat.
His world had claimed him.
Dowie, Ménie Muriel. “An Idyll in Millinery.” The Yellow Book, vol. 10, July 1896, pp. 24-53. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV10_dowie_idyll/