MY FLIRTATION ENDS
WIFE OF THE FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER
THINGS did not always go so smoothly.
One night after a ball. Peter suggested I should walk away with him and try an American trotter which he had been lent by a friend. As it was a glorious night, I thought it would be fun, so we walked down Grosvenor Street into Park Lane and there stood the buggy under a lamp. American trotters always appear to be mis-shapen ; they are exactly like colored prints and have never attracted me.
After we had placed ourselves firmly in the ricketty buggy, Peter said to the man :
“Let him go, please.”
And go he did, with a curious .rapid, swaying waddle. We turned into the Edgware Road towards Acton at a great pace. There was no traffic in front of us, but Peter was a bad driver and after a little time said his arms ached and he thought the damned horse ought to be made to stop.
“I’m told the only way to stop them is to hit them?” he said. At this I took the whip out of the socket and threw it into the road.
This maddened Peter; he shoved the reins into my hands and told me he would jump out. I let the reins hang in festoons and we went much slower;
Peter did not jump out but suggested we should go back for the whip, so I caught firm hold of the trotter and off we -went. After that we did not utter one word about the whip or anything else; the horse slacked and in perfect silence we turned home.
The boy had been told to wait at the corner of Grosvenor Square. I drove better than anyone, as I often said to Peter, but that night taxed all my powers, and, when we pulled up at the corner of the square I ached in every limb. Peter was angry.
Margot: “Shall I give you your overcoat?”
Peter: “Don’t be childish; how can you walk to your door in your ball-dress?”
Margot: “Thanks very much for thinking of me, but I expect most sensible people are in bed by now’.
Take your coat—thank you very much, all the same, for thinking of me!”
Walking the Streets in Her Ball-Dress
I TOOK his coat off and placed it carefully and firmly on his arm: we turned away from each other and I walked home alone. When I got to our frontdoor my father opened it and, seeing me in my balldress, was beside himself with rage. He asked me if I would kindly explain what I was doing at two in the morning walking in the streets in my ball-dress. I told him exactly what had happened and warned him never to buy an American trotter. He told me that my reputation was ruined, and that his was also, and that my behaviour would kill my mother; I put my arms round his neck and told him I hadn’t enjoyed myself at all, that I was only too glad to be safe home and promised I would never do it again. By this time my mother had come out of her bed-room and was leaning over the staircase in her dressing-gown:
“Don’t agitate yourself, Charlie,” she said. “You’ve done a very wrong action, Margot! No one knows how impressionable your father is; you ought to have more consideration. Pray tell Mr. Flower that we do not approve of him at all!”
Margot: “You are perfectly right, dear mamma, that is exactly what I said to him, in fact we had a high old row. Luckily no one saw us. Let’s go to bed, I’m dog tired.”
■ Peter was extremely inconsequent about money; he told me one day in great sorrow that his only chance of economizing was to sell his horses and go to India to shoot big game, incidentally escaping his rapacious creditors.
I was very unhappy when Peter went to India, but to please my people I told them I would say good-bye and not write to him for a year, a promise which was faithfully kept.
While he was away, a young man of rank and fortune fell in love with me. He never proposed, he only declared himself. I liked him particularly, but his attentions sat lightly on me; this rather nettled him and he told me he was sure I must be in love with somebody else. I said it did not follow, and that if he were wise he would stop talk about love and go and buy himself some good horses. We were staying at Cholmondeley Castle, hunting in Cheshire. My beloved hostess, Winifred Cholmondeley* —then Lady Rocksavage—and my host Rock had put me and my horses up for several weeks before my departure for Leicestershire.
My noble friend took my advice and went to London. He promised he would lend me two of the best that money could buy, to take to Melton, where he proposed shortly to follow me.
At Tattersall’s there were several studs of well-known horses being sold, Jock Trotter’s, Sir William Eden’s,
•The Marchioness of Cholmondeley.
and others. Among the latter was a famous hunter which had once belonged to Peter Flower. My friend determined that he would buy it for me. Someone said to him: “I don’t advise you to buy that horse as you won't be able to ride him!”
This of course is the only certain way by which you can sell any horse. Another man said :
“I don’t agree with you, the horse is all right; when it belonged to Flower I saw Miss Margot going like a bird
My Friend: “Did Miss Tennant ride Flower’s horses?” Man: “Why, my dear fellow’, where have you lived?”
A Really Quixotic Act
SOME months after I had ridden Jack Madden and my own horses over High Leicestershire, my friend came to me and asked me to swear on my Bible oath I would not give him away over a secret which he wanted to tell me. I swore.
My Friend: “Your friend Peter Flower was going to be put in the bankruptcy-court, and turned'out of every club in London; I went to Sam Lewis and paid his debt, but I don’t want him to know, and he never need unless you tell him. ...”
Margot: "What does he owe? And who does he owe it to?”
My Friend: “He owes ten thousand pounds, but I’m not at liberty to tell you whom it’s to. He’s a very good fellow, but has waited already longer than most of us would for Flower to pay him; and I think he did the right thing.” Margot: “Is Peter Flower a friend of yours?”
My Friend: “I’ve never spoken to him in my life, but he’s the man you are in love with and that is enough for
When the year was up and Peter—for all I knew —was still in India, I had quite made up my mind that, come what might, I would never under any circumstances renew relations with him.
That winter I was staying with the Mannerses as usual, and being late for a near meet, I cut across country. Larking is always a stupid thing to do; horses that have never put a foot wrong generally refuse the smallest fence and rather than upset them at the beginning >f the day you
end by going through the gate, which ; had better have done at. first.
I had the finest timber jumper in Leicestershire, a mare called Molly Bawn. and, seeing the people at the meet looking at me as I approached. 1 could not resist, out of pure swagger, jumping an enormous gate. I said to myself how disgusted Peter would have been at my vulgarity. I turned round and saw a man behind me jumping the fence at the side of my gate and there was Peter Flower. He was in tearing spirits and told me with eagerness how lie never intended to get into debt again as the most wonderful thing had happened to him that had ever happened to anyone.
“I’m under a lucky star, Margie! By Heavens I am. And the joy of seeing you is so great that 1 won’t even allude to the gate, or Molly Bawn, or you. or anything ugly—let us enjoy ourselves! and don’t scold. Are you glad to see me? Let me look at you! Which do you love best, Molly Bawn or me? Don’t answer, but listen.”
My heart beat as he told me how' his debts had been paid by Sam Lewis—the money-lender—through an unknown! benefactor, that he had begged Lewis to tell him who it was, but that he h'ad refused, having taken his oath not to. I then said a remarkably stupid thing:
“You’ll have to pay him back, Peter.”
Peter: “Oh, indeed! Then perhaps you can tell me who it is?”
Margot: “How can I?”
Peter: “Do you know who it is?”
Margot: “I do not.”
I felt the cock ought to have erow’ed, but I said nothing, and Peter was so busy greeting his friends that I prayed he had not observed my guilty face.
Meeting Peter and the Prince
SOME days after this there was a race-meeting at Leicester. Lord Lonsdale took a special and the Mannerses, Peter and I all went to the races. When I walked into the paddock, I saw my friend talking to the Prince of Wales. We joined them, and the Prince suggested that we should go and see Mrs. Langtry’s horse, as it was a great rogue and difficult to mount.
When we arrived the crowd made way, and I found my friend next to me, and on his other side Peter Flower and the Prince. The Langtry horse bad his eyes bandaged, and one of his forelegs was being held up by a stable-boy. When the jockey was up and the bandage removed, it jumped into the air and gave an extended and violent buck. I was standing so near that I felt the draught of its kick on my hair. At this my friend gave a slight scream and putting his arm round me pulled me back towards him. A miss is as good as a mile. I thanked him for his protection and chatted cheerfully with the Prince of Wales.
There is nothing so tiring as racing, and we all sat in perfect silence going home in the special.
Neither at dinner nor after had I an opportunity of speaking to Peter, but I observed a singularly impassive expression on his face. The next day—being Sunday -after church I asked him to go round my stables: he refused, so I went alone. After dinner I tried to talk to him, but he would not answer and I felt distressed. He did not look angry but he appeared profoundly sad. He told Hoppy Manners he was not going to hunt that week as he had to be in London. My heart sank. We went to our bedrooms early and Peter remained downstairs reading. As he never read in winter I knew there was something seriously wrong so I went down in my tea-gown to see him. We were alone. He never looked up. .
Margot: “Peter, you’ve not spoken to me since t.h,. races. What has happened?”
Peter: “I would rather you left me.”
Margot: (sitting on the sofa‘beside himL “Won't you speak to me?”
Peter (putting down his book and looking at me steadily “I'd rather not speak toa liar!”
Margot (getting up suddenly): “How dare you say such a thing to me!”
Peter: “You lied to me.”
Peter: “You know perfectly well! And you are tr lovt; ' Will you deny it?”
“Is it this that worries you?” said I. “What would yen say if I told you I was not
Peter: “I would say you were lying again.”
Margot : “Have 1 ever lied to you.’
Peter: “How can I tell!” (shrugging his shoulders'. “You have lied twice, so I presume since I’ve been away you've got into the habit of it.”
Continnrd on page 42
My Flirtation Ends
Continued from page 9
Peter: “A man doesn’t scream and put his arm round a woman, as D— did at the races to-day, unless he is in love. Will you tell me who paid my debt, please?” Margot: “No, I won’t.”
Peter: “Was it D—?”
Margot: “I shan’t tell you. I’m not Sam Lewis; and, since I’m such a liar, is it worth while asking me these stupid questions?”
Peter: “Ah, Margot, this is the worst blow of my life! I can see you are deceiving me. I know who paid now.” Margot: “Then why ask me? . . ” Peter: “When I went to India I had never spoken to D— in my life. Why should he have paid? You had much better tell me the simple truth—you’re going to marry him.”
Margot: “Since I’ve got into the way of lying you might spare yourself and me these vulgar questions.”
Peter (seizing my hands in anguish): “Say you aren’t going to marry him. . . .
Tell me, tell me it’s not true.”
Margot: “He has never asked me to.”
Marrying Your Superior
AFTER this the question of matri■ mony was bound to come up between us. The first time it was talked of I was filled with anxiety. It seemed to put a finish on the radiance of our friendship, and, worse than that, it brought me up against my father, who—although he delighted in Peter—had often said to me: “You will never marry Flower, you must marry your superior.”
Peter himself in an unexpressed and subconscious way had become aware of the situation. One evening riding home he said to me:
“Margy, do you see that?”
He pointed to the spire of the Melton church.
Peter: “That is what you are in my life.
I am not worth the button on your boot!” To which I replied:
“I would not say that, but I cannot find goodness for two.”
I was profoundly unhappy. To live for ever with a man who was incapable of loving anyone but himself and me, who was without any kind of moral ambition, chronically indifferent to politics, and religion, was a nightmare, and caused me sleepless nights.
I said to him:
“I will marry you if you get some seriouoccupation, Peter, but I won’t marry an idle man; you think of nothing but your self and me.”
Peter: “What in the name of goodnes.would you have me think of? Geography?”
Margot: “You know exactly what I mean—your power lies in love-making bu: not in loving; you don’t love any one bu' yourself.”
At this Peter moved away as if I hact struck him and said in a low, tense voice
“I am glad I did not say that. I would not care to have said such a cat-cruel thing I pity the man who marries you! He wfll think—as I did—that you are impulsively, throbbingly warm, and kind, and gentle and he will find he has married a governess and a prig; and a woman whose fire—of which she boasts so much—blasts his soul.’
I listened to a Peter I had never hear-: before. His face frightened me. It ii. dicated suffering. I put my head against his and said:
“How can I make an honest man of you my dearest?”
I was getting quite clever about people The Mrs. Bo episode had taught me a lot
A short time after our conversation 1 observed a dark, good-looking woman— whom I knew—pursuing Peter at every ball and party. He told me wheq 1 teased him that she failed to arrest hiattention, and that for the first time in my life I flattered him by my jealousy. I per sisted—and said I did not know if it wa.jealousy but that I was convinced she wa* a bad friend for him.
Peter: “I’ve always noticed you thini. things bad when they don’t suit you Why should I give up my life to you" What do you give me in return? I’m the laughing-stock of London! But if it i.any satisfaction to you I shall tell you 1 don’t care for the black lady, as you cal: her, and I never see her except at parties.'
I knew Peter as well as a cat knows il.way in the dark, but I felt the truth of hie remark; what did I give him?
The lady often asked me to go and settier, but I shrank from it.
One day I told Peter I would meet him at the Sloane Collection in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. To my surprise he said he had engaged himself to see his sister, who had been ill; he pointed out with a laugt, that mv governessing was taking root ar,.t added :
T will give it up if you can spend the w hole afternoon with me.”
I told him I would not have him give up «oing to see his sister for the world.
Finding myself at a loose end I thought 1 would pay a visit to the black lady, as it was unworthy of me to have such a prejudice against someone I did not know. It was a hot London day; pale colors, thin stuffs, naked throats, and large hats were strewn about the parks and streets.
The Lady in the Black Night-Gown
THE lady’s bell was answered by a hall-boy and, hearing the piano, I told him he need not announce me. When 1 opened the door, I saw Peter and the (ark lady sharing the same seat in front -»f the open piano. She wore a black oatin sleeveless night-gown cut low, and kept on by a coral ribbon round her waist; and had stuck a white rose in her rather iishevelled Carmen hair. I stood still, otartled by her beauty and stunned by Peter’s face.
She got up charmed to see me and impressed her joy at the amazing luck which had brought me there that very afternoon, as she had a wonderful Spaniard coming to play to her at tea and she had often been told by Peter how musical I was, etc., etc. She hoped I was not ahoeked by her appearance but she had just come from a studio and it was too hot to get into decent clothes. She was perfectly at her ease, and more than welcoming; before I could answer she rallied Peter and said she pleaded guilty of having lured him away from the path of duty that afternoon and ended by saying with a «light twinkle:
“From what I’m told, Miss Margot, you would never have done anything so wicked—”
I felt ice in my blood and said:
“You needn’t believe that! I’ve lured him away from the path of duty for the last eight years, haven’t I, Peter?”
I looked about for a means of escape but it took me some little time to find it.
I said good-bye to them and left the house. When I was in my bedroom, I locked the door, flung myself on my bed, and was blinded by tears:
“Why should I give up my life to you?” Why indeed—and yet after eight years this seemed a terrible ending.
“What did you give in return?”
What indeed! What claim had I to «is fidelity? I thought I was giving gold for silver, but the dark lady would have called it copper for gold. Was she prepared to give everything for nothing? Why should I call it nothing?What|did t know of Peter’s love for her? She had taught him to lie—he must love her very much to do that: he had never lied to me «efore.
I went to the opera that night with my father and mother. Peter came into our •JOX in a state of intense misery: I could lardly look at him and yet I had no sort if right to mind. He put his hand out ander the programme towards mine, and f took it. I heard him uttering something about God never having made such a aweetheart. At that moment the programme girl put a note into my hand and asked me to give her an answer. I read it: “If you want to do a very kind thing come and see me after the opera to-night. Don’t say no.”
It was from the black lady: I showed it to Peter and he said "Go!” I asked him what she wanted me for, and he said she was terribly unhappy.
Margot: “Oh, Peter, what have you ■tone?”
Peter: “I know. . . it’s quite true; but I 've broken it off for ever with her.”
Nothing he could have said then would nave lightened my heart. I scribbled, Yes,” on the same paper and gave it to rhe girl.
When I said good-night to my mother I told her where I was going. Peter was waiting downstairs and took me in a hanjom to the lady’s house, saying he would wait for me round the corner.
It was past midnight and I felt overuoweringly tired. My beautiful black rival opened the front door to me and I followed her silently up to her bedroom. She took off my opera-cloak and we sat town facing each other. The room was large and dark but for a row of candles on the mantelpiece, and two high churchlights each side of a silver pier-glass. There was a table near my chair with odds and ends on it and a general smell or
scent of flowers. I looked at her in her blue satin négligée and saw that she had been ciying.
“It is kind of you to have come,” she said, “and I daresay you know why I wanted to see you to-night.”
Margot: “No, I don’t: I haven’t the least idea!”
The lady (looking rather embarrassed, but after a moment’s pause): “I want you to tell me about yourself.”
Does Peter Love Them Both?
T FELT this to be wrong; she had sent 1 for me to tell her about Peter Flower and not myself. Why should I tell her about either of us? I had never spoken of my love-affairs excepting to my mother and my three great friends, Con Manners, Frances Horner, and Etty Desborough— and people had ceased to speak to me about them; why should I sit up with a stranger and discuss myself at this time of night? I said there was nothing to tell. She answered me by saying she had met so many people who cared for me that she felt she almost knew me.
Margot: “In that case, why talk about it?”
The Lady: “But some people care for both of us.”
Margot (rather coldly): "I daresay.” The Lady: “Don’t be hard. I want to know if you love Peter Flower. Do you intend to marry him?”
The question had come then, this terrible question which my mother had never asked, and which I had always evaded!
Margot: “You mean, am I engaged to be married?”
The Lady: “I mean what I say: are you going to marry Peter?”
Margot: “I have never told him I would.” The Lady: “Remember my life is bound up in your answer. . . ”
Her words seemed to burn, and I felt a kind of pity. She was leaning forward with her eyes fastened on mine and her hands clasped between her knees:
“If you don’t love him enough to marry him, why don’t you leave him alone? Why do you keep him bound to you? Why don’t you set him free?”
Margot: “He is free to love whom he likes^ I don’t keep him but I won’t share
The Lady: “You don’t love him, but you want to keep him: that is pure selfishness and vanity.”
Margot: “Not at all. I would give him up to-morrow and have told him so a thousand times if he would marry, but he is not in a position to marry anyone.” The Lady: “How can you say such a thing! His debts have just been paid by God knows who—some woman I suppose! —and you are rich yourself. What is there to hinder you from marrying him?” Margot: “That was not what I was thinking about. I don’t believe you would understand even if I were to explain it to
The Lady: “If you were in love you could not be so critical and censorious.” Margot: “Oh, yes, I could! You don’t know me.”
The Lady: “I love him in a way you would never understand. There is nothing in the world I would not do for him. No pain I would not suffer, and no sacrifice I would not make.”
Margot: “What could you do for him that would help him?”
The Lady: “I would leave my husband and my children and go right away with
I felt as if she had stabbed me:
“Leave your children!—and your husband!” I said. “But how can ruining
them and yourself help Peter? I don’t believe he would ever do anything so vile.” The Lady: “You think he loves you too much to run away with me?"
Margot: “Perhaps I hope he cares too much for me.”
The Lady: (not listening and getting up excitedly): “What do you know about love! I have had a hundred lovers, but Peter Flower is the only man I have ever cared for; and my life is at an end if you will not give him up.”
“I Shall Kill Myself If.....”
MARGOT: “There is no question of my giving him up, he is free, I tell you.” The Lady: “I tell you he is not!_ He doesn't consider himself free, he said as much to me this afternoon when he wanted to break it all off.”
Margot: "What do you wish me to do?” The Lady: “Tell Peter you don’t love •him in the right way, that you don’t intend to marry him, and then leave him
Margot: “Do you mean I am to leave him to you7 Do you love in the right
The Lady: “Don’t ask stupid questions. I shall kill myself if he gives me up.”
I felt there was nothing more to be said, so I told her that I would go abroad with my sister Lucy to Italy—which I had been going to do—and that when I returned in two months Peter would either have broken with her or taken her away with him. I would not interpose myself between them; but I added that all my influence over him for eight years had been directed into trying to make him the right sort of man to marry, and that all hers would of necessity lie in the opposite direction and that it was a tragedy for the three of us. Not knowing quite how to say good-bye I began to finger my cloak. She said:
“One moment. . . Sit down, will you? Are you very good, as Peter always tells me you are? It’s too dark — wait a moment, I can’t see your eyes. . . ”
She got up and taking two candles off the chimney-piece placed them on the table by my side slightly in front of my face and knelt down on the ground. I looked at her strained, wonderful, wild eyes, and said, putting out my hands towards her:
“Nonsense, I am not the least good! Get up, I feel sorry for you when I see you
The Lady: “FOT God’s sake, don’t pity me!”
I felt no qualms on leaving the dark lady as to her elopement or her suicide, but I had a shock in regard to Peter’s character and felt a revulsion of feeling. I thought of him coldly. . . his lack of purpose, aesthetic sensibility, and moral indignation; his paralysing indifference to what was intellectual, and rigid intractability over all that was serious had cut a deep division between us; and I determined at whatever cost to say good-bye to
A few days before going to Italy Lord Dufferin* came to tea with me. He said: “Margot, you should marry in spite of being in love, never because of it.”
When I returned to England Peter had left his lady.
With passion-lit eyes and throbbing hearts we said good-bye to each other and he went to South Africa.
The obvious relief of my friends at our parting suffocated me as I clung to the shelter of a stranger.
•Father of the present Marquis of Dufferin.