"The Transfiguration of Major Pruyne-Forbisher
It was while a small party was taking tea with Lady Augusta Portmanteau-Scribvelsbi at her Eaton Place residence that the unthinkable occured. Granted her residence was at the less fashionable end of Eaton Place but that hardly ameliorated the astonishment and indeed, lent force to the ensuing gossip. Comments such as "well, what can you expect at that end of Eaton Place, after all" were not unheard.
The general astonishment felt through out London - or at least, that part of London that mattered socially, was all the more intense in that the cause of it all was no less than Major the Hon. Archibald Pilkington Plantagent Pruyne-Forbisher, DSO, CMG, hero of the Khyber Pass Wars and single handed conqueror of the legendarily fierce Uzbekistan tribe in Afghanistan who named him "Lion of The Barren Place of No Spring Water" in homage to his fighting prowess.
The occurrence was all the more shocking in that it came with no warning. One moment, the party was sipping tea and politely discussing the London Season when a Miss Hortensia Plaque-Protruberance made an ill considered reference to the novels of Baroness Orczy, even though Miss Hortensia was a third cousin of the Duke of Dourshire and a better sense of lady-like conversation could have been expected of her. Perhaps no one should have been surprised. Miss Hortensia had a reputation for being "sincere", largely fostered by her neglect of dressing properly. Still, novels, especially such adventurous ones as those of the Baroness, are hardly fitting topics for young ladies of breeding and the reference caused a sudden pause in the conversation.
It was during this pause that a curious glazed look came over Major Pruyne-Forbisher's eyes. He half arose from his chair, sending his tea cup crashing to the floor (it was Crown Derby china and the loss was keenly felt by the hostess) and, in a somewhat strident voice, said "I have READ The Scarlet Pimpernel. While alone in the Afghan mountains, having had nothing but rats and snakes to dine upon for weeks, half out of my mind, not having heard an English voice for months, I did READ The Laughing Cavalier. Were those books not my succor - my salvation - my sole and tenous grip on sanity? Is not Baroness Orczy my very savior? I say SHE IS! I RENOUNCE the petty shams of convention! I see through the meaningless mumbo-jumbo of the Church of England! Where, oh where were the prebendaries and archdeacons, the processionals and the feast days when I needed them? Ha! A witticism indeed. There were no feasts in the hill country. No bishop guided food to my hand. It was BARONESS ORCZY who tempted rats within range of my pistol! It was HER SPIRIT that made my hand quick to strangle snakes! Yea, I say unto you, the indomitable spirit of her heroic novels saved my life and I WORSHIP HER!" Threatening gestures with his riding crop convinced the other guests to not enter into any defense of the Church of England at this point.
Of course, nothing - absolutely nothing so effectively revokes one's place in British society as passionate advocacy of religion (unless it be a tendency to vote Labor). One is expected to take religion much as one takes tea: calmly, quietly and at the correct time of the day. Hence, this outburst alone would have significantly decreased the major's dinner invitations, once word got around. Regretfully, it didn't stop there. Eschewing the whispered but firm advice of both his valet and his tailor, the major felt an over-powering urge to alter his wardrobe in such a way as to express his devotion to Baroness Orczy - especially as regards large hats.
While always willing to make allowance for religious pecularities, a broadness of mind evolved by having spent many years on duty in the hinterlands of Bengal, the major's commanding officer, General Whitely Balluster-Baloone, drew the line at officers wearing tea gowns and picture hats, particularly with ostrich plumes. The general was fond of ostriches and disinclined to endorse their decimation for the frivolous purpose of ornament. Indeed, as ill-luck would have it, he was a listed patron of the Royal Society for The Preservation Of Large Feathered Friends. Inevitably, this brought him to confrontation with the major. It can not be said to have ended well. What began as a standard "dressing down" by the general turned into several hours of intense religious testimony by the major, the upshot of which was the general's now well-known conversion to the worship of Baroness Orczy and his immedate issuance of orders that the entire 47th Regiment of Grenadiers should wear garden party hats, with plumes, when in dress uniform. As a concession, the major allowed that the plumes need not be ostrich in origin. At the major's suggestion, whipping to be carried out by the Sergeant at Arms was the penalty for infraction to the hat rule.
While the cause of raised eyebrows in the War Office, the hat order by itself was not seen as sufficient reason to "take a hand in the matter". However, the subsequent tea gown order, by any reasonable standard, did cross a line. The general was offered the choice of retirement or posting to Zambiziland. He chose the later, where, assisted by a liberal application of his whip, he eventually converted a large number of tribesmen to the Orczy cult and ultimately vanished into the jungle to become their head shaman and chief theologian - a position in which he was greatly facilitated by never having actually read any of the Baronesses novels. This allowed him maximum scope in dictating the theology.
The major was not so easily dealt with. Being the second son of the Earl of Whitby it was hardly possible to simply banish him to the empire's nether regions. He was retired on half pay and thereafter was a frequent fixture at fashionable London balls and soirees _ which he attended in his ever more lavish choice of gowns without the formality of an invitation. British society dealt with the situation in classic and time-honored fashion: they decided to simply not notice"
Tobias Grace - 2016
Tobias Grace is the acclaimed author, among many more wonderfully witty, tongue-in-cheek novels, of "Into the Aether" stefanparis.deviantart.com/art…
I've had the privilege to illustrate a few years ago and today, I'm very grateful he put his talent and time at use to so brilliantly bring to life one of my pictures. Thank you so much, Toby.