Something a little different, an edited version of a story written for Leeds Writers Group...
Tobias Flutterbutt’s Muse
My name is Tobias Flutterbutt, descendent of the Yorkshire Flutterbutts and no relation, I hasten to add, of those Lancastrian scallywags that cast shame on what is otherwise a good and honourable name. I am an amanuensis by trade, scribe and confidant to the illustrious Eleanor DeMontfort. On the morning of which I speak Milady was resplendent in pearls and divine velveteen gown in anticipation of the arrival of an old friend, the famously reclusive Duke of Winfordshire. I have never been one for gossip, however if rumour is to be believed, Milady and the Duke were once more than just friends. The fondness with which she spoke of sharing her formative years with the one she affectionately named ‘Dukie’ did little to scotch the rumours, and she implied on several occasions that if not for their disapproving parents they would no doubt have lived as husband and wife.
I was busy opening Milady’s letters when she called to me; ‘Tobias, dearest, come along’.
With my usual expeditiousness I scurried to her side, where I was disheartened to see an unbecoming frown on Milady’s face.
‘We have a terrible situation. Dukie is due within the hour and I have run out of rouge. My usual winsome glow is, I confess, aided by a wonderful product I have shipped over from Paris, however given the lack of time could you please hurry to the Apothecary to pick up something to protect the dear Duke from my unsightly pallor?’
As a loyal employee I agreed immediately to attend to Milady’s demands. I personally was very keen for her to engage in an ‘affaire de coeur’; although not one for gossip I heard the Duke inhabits a palatial countryside property which would be a definite improvement on the ramshackle house that I currently call ‘mon maison’.
I was strolling towards the village to purchase the rouge when I first saw her. As a small community it is always an occasion when outsiders enter our fold, and dressed most peculiarly in gentleman’s breeches and hunting jacket that in spite of their masculine appearance somehow made her look only more pulchritudinous, she was certainly not local. As I dashed past I tried to avoid eye contact with the intriguing stranger; I had Milady’s demands to attend to and no time for idle conversation. When I reached the Apothecary however I could not help but turn to take one last glance at her, a vision of delight standing nonchalantly with a thin cigarette between full lips.
The Apothecary was bustling with ladies collecting assorted potions and lotions intended to gift them with eternal youth. If I were not such an honourable man then I would tell you that for many it is far too late to escape the savage hands of time - a trowel or a paperbag may be the only way to mask their true age. As I waited to collect Milady’s blush, my mind could not help but wander back to the stranger I had just encounted; although we had not exchanged a word she had ignited a veritable mardi gras in my heart. As I left the shop I decided that much as my duty to Milady was important, I could not deny myself the opportunity to acquaint myself with the mysterious outsider – I longed to be the cigarette between her lips, and pictured myself as Apollo and she as my muse, the inspiration who would allow me to fulfil my true poetic vocation.
I moved with haste back to where I had seen her but alas she was gone, the only indication of her ever having been there a discarded cigarette, a souvenir which I still carry to this day. I must have passed hours stalking the village for her as the sun had been low in the east when I started my search and was now journeying west. To be truthful I had completed forgotten the original purpose of my trip in spite of having clasped the dainty pot for the duration. Eventually I had to concede defeat and return, tail between legs, to Milady. Although she was a romantic soul herself I did not know how she would react to my disloyalty; she had been desperate to make the best impression on the Duke and I had failed in my duty to help. As I entered the house however I breathed a sigh of relief as I heard joyous laughter coming from the dining room; it sounded as if all were going well in spite of the lack of maquillage.
Although not one to pry, I was eager to finally catch sight of the man who sent Milady’s heart a-flutter, so trying not to interrupt the revelry, I peered around the door. My silent intention however was not fulfilled as the unexpected vision before me provoked me to drop the pot of powder, smashing it and sending a cloud of magenta all over the room. Sat next to Milady and with a hand affectionately stroking her thigh was the ‘Duke’ and I suddenly discovered why he was so notoriously reclusive – Dukie was not a Duke at all, but a Duchess!
‘Hello Tobias’ said Milady calmly. ‘Whatever took so long? Anyhow, meet my darling Dukie.’
In that instant I saw that she who had been my muse for all of two hours had been serving the same purpose to Lady Eleanor since childhood. Rouge or no rouge, I could see that ‘Dukie’ was clearly besotted with Milady from the way that her facial expression perfectly mirrored my own. The very next day Milady and Dukie set off together on a voyage to a Greek island – Lisbos, I think they call it -where, they informed me, no one would bat an eyelid at a lady in breeches. Lady Eleanor left me in charge of the house whilst they are away, though whether they will ever return I do not know.
Why, you may ask, as a man who despises gossip, have I chosen to publish this article to the world? I write, dear reader, not to titillate but to immortalise the memory of my muse. There is no stronger emotion than unrequited love and no greater inspiration than emotion, and I believe that the mark she made on my heart will keep me in poetry for the rest of my days.