The Intrusions of Peggyскачать книгу бесплатно
LIFE IS RECOMMENDED
The changeful April morning that she watched from the window of her flat looking over the river began a day of significance in the career of Trix Trevalla – of feminine significance, almost milliner's perhaps, but of significance all the same. She had put off her widow's weeds, and for the first time these three years back was dressed in a soft shade of blue; the harmony of her eyes and the gleams of her brown hair welcomed the colour with the cordiality of an old friendship happily renewed. Mrs. Trevalla's maid had been all in a flutter over the momentous transformation; in her mistress it bred a quietly retrospective mood. As she lay in an armchair watching the water and the clouds, she turned back on the course of her life, remembering many things. The beginning of a new era brought the old before her eyes in a protesting flash of vividness. She abandoned herself to recollections – an insidious form of dissipating the mind, which goes well with a relaxed ease of the body.
Not that Mrs. Trevalla's recollections were calculated to promote a sense of luxury, unless indeed they were to act as a provocative contrast.
There was childhood, spent in a whirling succession of lodging-houses. They had little individuality and retained hardly any separate identity; each had consisted of two rooms with folding doors between, and somewhere, at the back or on the floor above, a cupboard for her to sleep in. There was the first baby, her brother, who died when she was six; he had been a helpless, clinging child, incapable of living without far more sympathy and encouragement than he had ever got. Luckily she had been of hardier stuff. There was her mother, a bridling, blushing, weak-kneed woman (Trix's memory was candid); kind save when her nerves were bad, and when they were, unkind in a weak and desultory fashion that did not deserve the name of cruelty. Trix had always felt less anger than contempt for her half-hysterical outbursts, and bore no malice on their account. This pale visitor soon faded – as indeed Mrs. Trevalla herself had – into non-existence, and a different picture took its place. Here was the Reverend Algernon, her father, explaining that he found himself unsuited to pastoral work and indisposed to adopt any other active calling, that inadequate means were a misfortune, not a fault, that a man must follow his temperament, and that he asked only to be allowed to go his own way – he did not add to pay it – in peace and quiet. His utterances came back with the old distinction of manner and the distant politeness with which Mr. Trevalla bore himself towards all disagreeable incidents of life – under which head there was much reason to surmise that he ranked his daughter.
Was he unjust in that? Trix was puzzled. She recalled a sturdy, stubborn, rather self-assertive child. The freshness of delicacy is rubbed off, the appeal of shyness silenced, by a hand-to-mouth existence, by a habit of regarding the leavings of the first-floor lodger in the light of windfalls, by constant flittings unmarked by the discharge of obligations incurred in the abandoned locality, by a practical outlawry from the class to which we should in the ordinary course belong.
Trix decided that she must have been an unattractive girl, rather hard, too much awake to the ways of the world, readily retorting its chilliness towards her. All this was natural enough, since neither death nor poverty nor lack of love was strange to her. Natural, yes; pleasant, no, Trix concluded, and with that she extended a degree of pardon to Mr. Trevalla. He had something to say for himself. With a smile she recalled what he always did say for himself, if anyone seemed to challenge the spotlessness of his character. On such painful occasions he would mention that he was, and had been for twenty years, a teetotaler. There were reasons in the Trevalla family history which made the fact remarkable; in its owner's eyes the virtue was so striking and enormous that it had exhausted the moral possibilities of his being, condemned other excellencies to atrophy, and left him, in the flower-show of graces, the self-complacent exhibitor of a single bloom.
Yet he had become a party to the great conspiracy; it was no less, however much motives of love, and hopes ever sanguine, might excuse it in one of the parties to it – not the Reverend Algernon. They had all been involved in it – her father, old Lady Trevalla (her husband had been a soldier and K.C.B.), Vesey Trevalla himself. Vesey loved Trix, Lady Trevalla loved Vesey in a mother's conscienceless way; the mother persuaded herself that the experiment would work, the son would not stop to ask the question. The Reverend Algernon presumably persuaded himself too – and money was very scarce. So Trix was bidden to notice – when those days at Bournemouth came back to mind, her brows contracted into a frown as though from a quick spasm of pain – how Vesey loved her, what a good steady fellow he was, how safely she might trust herself to him. Why, he was a teetotaler too! 'Yes, though his gay friends do laugh at him!' exclaimed Lady Trevalla admiringly. They were actually staying at a Temperance Hotel! The stress laid on these facts did not seem strange to an ignorant girl of seventeen, accustomed to Mr. Trevalla's solitary but eloquent virtue. Rather weary of the trait, she pouted a little over it, and then forgot it as a matter of small moment one way or the other. So the conspiracy throve, and ended in the good marriage with the well-to-do cousin, in being Mrs. Trevalla of Trevalla Haven, married to a big, handsome, ruddy fellow who loved her. The wedding-day stood out in memory; clearest of all now was what had been no more than a faint and elusive but ever-present sense that for some reason the guests, Vesey's neighbours, looked on her with pity – the men who pressed her hand and the women who kissed her cheek. And at the last old Lady Trevalla had burst suddenly into unrestrained sobbing. Why? Vesey looked very uncomfortable, and even the Reverend Algernon was rather upset. However, consciences do no harm if they do not get the upper hand till the work is done; Trix was already Vesey's wife.
He was something of a man, this Vesey Trevalla; he was large-built in mind, equitable, kind, shrewd, of a clear vision. To the end he was a good friend and a worthy companion in his hours of reason. Trix's thoughts of him were free from bitterness. Her early life had given her a tolerance that stood her in stead, a touch of callousness which enabled her to endure. As a child she had shrugged thin shoulders under her shabby frock; she shrugged her shoulders at the tragedy now; her heart did not break, but hardened a little more. She made some ineffectual efforts to reclaim him; their hopelessness was absurdly plain; after a few months Vesey laughed at them, she almost laughed herself. She settled down into the impossible life, reproaching nobody. When her husband was sober, she never referred to what had happened when he was drunk; if he threw a plate at her then, she dodged the plate: she seemed in a sense to have been dodging plates and suchlike missiles all her life. Sometimes he had suspicions of himself, and conjured up recollections of what he had done. 'Oh, what does last night matter?' she would ask in a friendly if rather contemptuous tone. Once she lifted the veil for a moment. He found her standing by the body of her baby; it had died while he was unfit to be told, or at any rate unable to understand.
'So the poor little chap's gone,' he said softly, laying his hand on her shoulder.
'Yes, Vesey, he's gone, thank God!' she said, looking him full in the eyes.
He turned away without a word, and went out with a heavy tread. Trix felt that she had been cruel, but she did not apologise, and Vesey showed no grudge.
The odd thing about the four years her married life lasted was that they now seemed so short. Even before old Lady Trevalla's death (which happened a year after the wedding) Trix had accommodated herself to her position. From that time all was monotony – the kind of monotony which might well kill, but, failing that, left little to mark out one day from another. She did not remember even that she had been acutely miserable either for her husband or for herself; rather she had come to disbelieve in acute feelings. She had grown deadened to sorrow as to joy, and to love, the great parent of both; the hardening process of her youth had been carried further. When Vesey caught a chill and crumpled up under it as sodden men do, and died with a thankfulness he did not conceal, she was unmoved. She was not grateful for the deliverance, nor yet grieved for the loss of a friend. She shrugged her shoulders again, asking what the world was going to do with her next.
Mr. Trevalla took a view more hopeful than his daughter's, concluding that there was cause for feeling considerable satisfaction both on moral and on worldly grounds. From the higher standpoint Trix (under his guidance) had made a noble although unsuccessful effort, and had shown the fortitude to be expected from his daughter; while Vesey, poor fellow, had been well looked after to the end, and was now beyond the reach of temptation. From the lower – Mr. Trevalla glanced for a moment round the cosy apartment he now occupied at Brighton, where he was beginning to get a nice little library round him – yes, from the lower, while it was regrettable that the estate had passed to a distant cousin, Trix was left with twenty thousand pounds (in free cash, for Vesey had refused to make a settlement, since he did not know what money he would want – that is, how long he would last) and an ascertained social position. She was only twenty-two when left a widow, and better-looking than she had ever been in her life. On the whole, were the four years misspent? Had anybody very much to grumble at? Certainly nobody had any reason to reproach himself. And he wondered why Trix had not sent for him to console her in her affliction. He was glad she had not, but he thought that the invitation would have been natural and becoming.
'But I never pretended to understand women,' he murmured, with his gentle smile.
Women would have declared that they did not understand him either, using the phrase with a bitter intention foreign to the Reverend Algernon's lips and temper. His good points were so purely intellectual – lucidity of thought, temperance of opinion, tolerance, humour, appreciation of things which deserved it. These gifts would, with women, have pleaded their rarity in vain against the more ordinary endowments of willingness to work and a capacity for thinking, even occasionally, about other people. Men liked him – so long as they had no business relations with him. But women are moralists, from the best to the worst of them. If he had lived, Trix would probably have scorned to avail herself of his counsels. Yet they might well have been useful to her in after days; he was a good taster of men. As it was, he died soon after Vesey, having caught a chill and refused to drink hot grog. That was his doctor's explanation. Mr. Trevalla's dying smile accused the man of cloaking his own ignorance by such an excuse; he prized his virtue too much to charge it with his death. He was sorry to leave his rooms at Brighton; other very strong feeling about his departure he had none. Certainly his daughter did not come between him and his preparations for hereafter, nor the thought of her solitude distract his fleeting soul.
In the general result life seemed ended for Trix Trevalla at twenty-two, and, pending release from it in the ordinary course, she contemplated an impatient and provisional existence in Continental pensions– establishments where a young and pretty woman could not be suspected of wishing to reap any advantage from prettiness or youth. Hundreds of estimable ladies guarantee this security, and thereby obtain a genteel and sufficient company round their modest and inexpensive tables. It was what Trix asked for, and for two years she got it. During this period she sometimes regretted Vesey Trevalla, and sometimes asked whether vacancy were not worse than misery, or on what grounds limbo was to be preferred to hell. She could not make up her mind on this question – nor is it proposed to settle it here. Probably most people have tried both on their own account.
One evening she arrived at Paris rather late, and the isolation ward (metaphors will not be denied sometimes) to which she had been recommended was found to be full. Somewhat apprehensive, she was driven to an hotel of respectability, and, rushing to catch the flying coat-tails of table d'h?te, found herself seated beside a man who was apparently not much above thirty. This unwonted propinquity set her doing what she had not done for years in public, though she had never altogether abandoned the practice as a private solace: as she drank her cold soup, she laughed. Her neighbour, a shabby man with a rather shaggy beard, turned benevolently inquiring eyes on her. A moment's glance made him start a little and say, 'Surely it's Mrs. Trevalla?'
'That's my name,' answered Trix, wondering greatly, but thanking heaven for a soul who knew her. In the pensions they never knew who you were, but were always trying to find out, and generally succeeded the day after you went away.
'That's very curious,' he went on. 'I daresay you'll be surprised, but your photograph stands on my bedroom mantel-piece. I knew you directly from it. It was sent to me.'
'When was it sent you?' she asked.
'At the time of your marriage.' He grew grave as he spoke.
'You were his friend?'
'I called myself so.' Conversation was busy round them, yet he lowered his voice to add, 'I don't know now whether I had any right.'
'I gave up very soon.'
Trix's eyes shot a quick glance at him and she frowned a little.
'Well, I ought to have been more than a friend, and so did I,' she said.
'It would have been utterly useless, of course. Reason recognises that, but then conscience isn't always reasonable.'
She agreed with a nod as she galloped through her fish, eager to overtake the menu.
'Besides, I have – ' He hesitated a moment, smiling apologetically and playing nervously with a knife. 'I have a propensity myself, and that makes me judge him more easily – and myself not so lightly.'
She looked at his pint of ordinaire with eyebrows raised.
'Oh, no, quite another,' he assured her, smiling. 'But it's enough to teach me what propensities are.'
'What is it? Tell me.' She caught eagerly at the strange luxury of intimate talk.
'Never! But, as I say, I've learnt from it. Are you alone here, Mrs. Trevalla?'
'Here and everywhere,' said Trix, with a sigh and a smile.
'Come for a stroll after dinner. I'm an old friend of Vesey's, you know.' The last remark was evidently thrown in as a concession to rules not held in much honour by the speaker. Trix said that she would come; the outing seemed a treat to her after the pensions.
They drank beer together on the boulevards; he heard her story, and he said many things to her, waving (as the evening wore on) a pipe to and fro from his mouth to the length of his arm. It was entirely owing to the things which he said that evening on the boulevards that she sat now in the flat over the river, her mourning doffed, her guaranteed pensions forsaken, London before her, an unknown alluring sea.
'What you want,' he told her, with smiling vehemence, 'is a revenge. Hitherto you've done nothing; you've only had things done to you. You've made nothing; you've only been made into things yourself. Life has played with you; go and play with it.'
Trix listened, sitting very still, with eager eyes. There was a life, then – a life still open to her; the door was not shut, nor her story of necessity ended.
'I daresay you'll scorch your fingers; for the fire burns. But it's better to die of heat than of cold. And if trouble comes, call at 6A Danes Inn.'
'Where in the world is Danes Inn?' she asked, laughing.
'Between New and Clement's, of course.' He looked at her in momentary surprise, and then laughed. 'Oh, well, not above a mile from civilisation – and a shilling cab from aristocracy. I happen to lodge there.'
She looked at him curiously. He was shabby yet rather distinguished, shaggy but clean. He advised life, and he lived in Danes Inn, where an instinct told her that life would not be a very maddening or riotous thing.
'Come, you must live again, Mrs. Trevalla,' he urged.
'Do you live, as you call it?' she asked, half in mockery, half in a genuine curiosity.
A shade of doubt, perhaps of distress, spread over his face. He knocked out his pipe deliberately before answering.
'Well, hardly, perhaps.' Then he added eagerly, 'I work, though.'
'Does that do instead?' To Trix's new-born mood the substitute seemed a poor one.
'Yes – if you have a propensity.'
What was his tone? Sad or humorous, serious or mocking? It sounded all.
'Oh, work's your propensity, is it?' she cried gaily and scornfully, as she rose to her feet. 'I don't think it's mine, you know.'
He made no reply, but turned away to pay for the beer. It was a trifling circumstance, but she noticed that at first he put down three sous for the waiter, and then returned to the table in order to make the tip six. He looked as if he had done his duty when he had made it six.
They walked back to the hotel together and shook hands in the hall.
'6A Danes Inn?' she asked merrily.
'6A Danes Inn, Mrs. Trevalla. Is it possible that my advice is working?'
'It's working very hard indeed – as hard as you work. But Danes Inn is only a refuge, isn't it?'
'It's not fit for much more, I fear.'
'I shall remember it. And now, as a formality – and perhaps as a concession to the postman – who are you?'
'My name is Airey Newton.'
'I never heard Vesey mention you.'
'No, I expect not. But I knew him very well. I'm not an impostor, Mrs. Trevalla.'
'Why didn't he mention you?' asked Trix. Vesey had been, on the whole, a communicative man.
He hesitated a moment before he answered.
'Well, I wrote to him on the subject of his marriage,' he confessed at last.
She needed no more.
'I see,' she said, with an understanding nod. 'Well, that was – honest of you. Good night, Mr. Newton.'
This meeting – all their conversation – was fresh and speaking in her brain as she sat looking over the river in her recovered gown of blue. But for the meeting, but for the shabby man and what he had said, there would have been no blue gown, she would not have been in London nor in the flat. He had brought her there, to do something, to make something, to play with life as life had played with her, to have a revenge, to die, if die she must, of heat rather than of cold.
Well, she would follow his advice – would accept and fulfil it amply. 'At the worst there are the pensions again – and there's Danes Inn!'
She laughed at that idea, but her laugh was rather hard, her mouth a little grim, her eyes mischievous. These were the marks youth and the four years had left. Besides, she cared for not a soul on earth.
COMING NEAR THE FIRE
At the age of forty (a point now passed by some half-dozen years) Mrs. Bonfill had become motherly. The change was sudden, complete, and eminently wise. It was accomplished during a summer's retirement; she disappeared a queen regnant, she reappeared a dowager – all by her own act, for none had yet ventured to call her pass?e. But she was a big woman, and she recognised facts. She had her reward. She gained power instead of losing it; she had always loved power, and had the shrewdness to discern that there was more than one form of it. The obvious form she had never, as a young and handsome woman, misused or over-used; she had no temptations that way, or, as her friend Lady Blixworth preferred to put it, 'In that respect dearest Sarah was always bourgeoise to the core.' The new form she now attained – influence – was more to her taste. She liked to shape people's lives; if they were submissive and obedient she would make their fortunes. She needed some natural capacities in her prot?g?s, of course; but, since she chose cleverly, these were seldom lacking. Mrs. Bonfill did the rest. She could open doors that obeyed no common key; she could smooth difficulties; she had in two or three cases blotted out a past, and once had reformed a gambler. But she liked best to make marriages and Ministers. Her own daughter, of course, she married immediately – that was nothing. She had married Nellie Towler to Sir James Quinby-Lee – the betting had been ten to one against it – and Lady Mildred Haughton to Frank Cleveland – flat in the face of both the families. As for Ministers, she stood well with Lord Farringham, was an old friend of Lord Glentorly, and, to put it unkindly, had Constantine Blair fairly in her pocket. It does not do to exaggerate drawing-room influence, but when Beaufort Chance became a Whip, and young Lord Mervyn was appointed Glentorly's Under-Secretary at the War Office, and everybody knew that they were Mrs. Bonfill's last and prime favourites – well, the coincidence was remarkable. And never a breath of scandal with it all! It was no small achievement for a woman born in, bred at, and married from an unpretentious villa at Streatham. La carri?re ouverte– but perhaps that is doing some injustice to Mr. Bonfill. After all, he and the big house in Grosvenor Square had made everything possible. Mrs. Bonfill loved her husband, and she never tried to make him a Minister; it was a well-balanced mind, save for that foible of power. He was very proud of her, though he rather wondered why she took so much trouble about other people's affairs. He owned a brewery, and was Chairman of a railway company.скачать книгу бесплатно