The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope

‘Who and what is Mr Brope?’ demanded the aunt of Clovis suddenly.

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 life.’

‘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?’

‘Dullness I could overlook,’ said the aunt of Clovis: ‘what I can not 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 point.’

‘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 already christened.’

‘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.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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