Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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'I don't often get a chance of talking to you, Mr. Chance.'

Probably every man likes a reception conceived in this spirit; how fastidious he may be as to the outward and visible form which clothes the spirit depends partly on his nature, probably more on his mood; nobody is always particular, just as nobody is always wise. The dog is fond and uncritical – let us pat the faithful animal. Chance was much more responsive in his manner to Connie than he had ever been before; Connie mounted to heights of delight as she ministered whisky-and-soda. He let her frisk about him and lick his hand, and he conceived, by travelling through a series of contrasts, a high opinion of canine fidelity and admiration. Something he had read somewhere about the relative advantage of reigning in hell also came into his mind, and was dismissed again with a smile as he puffed and sipped.

'Seen anything of Mrs. Trevalla lately?' asked Connie Fricker.

'Not for a week or two,' he answered carelessly.

'Neither have we.' She added, after a pause, and with a laugh that did not sound very genuine, 'Mamma thinks she's dropping us.'

'Does Mrs. Trevalla count much one way or the other?' he asked.

But Connie had her wits about her, and saw no reason why she should pretend to be a fool.

'I know more about it than you think, Mr. Chance,' she assured him with a toss of her head, a glint of rather large white teeth, and a motion of her full but (as improved) not ungraceful figure.

'You do, by Jove, do you?' asked Beaufort, half in mockery, half in an admiration she suddenly wrung from him.

'Girls are supposed not to see anything, aren't they?'

'Oh, I dare say you see a thing or two, Miss Connie!'

His tone left nothing to be desired in her eyes; she did not know that he had not courted Trix Trevalla like that, that even his brutality towards her had lacked the easy contempt of his present manner. Why give people other than what they want, better than they desire? The frank approval of his look left Connie unreservedly pleased and not a little triumphant. He had been stand-offish before; well, mamma had never given her a 'show' – that was the word which her thoughts employed. When she got one, it was not in Connie to waste it. She leant her elbow on the mantel-piece, holding her cigarette in her hand, one foot on the fender. The figure suffered nothing from this pose.

'I don't know whether you've heard that I'm going to cut politics? – at least office, I mean. I shall stay in the House, for a bit anyhow.'

Connie did not hear the whispers of high circles; she received the news in unfeigned surprise.

'There's no money in it,' Beaufort pursued, knowing how to make her appreciate his decision. 'I want more time for business.'

'You'd better come in with papa,' she suggested half-jokingly.

'There are worse ideas than that,' he said approvingly.

'I don't know anything about money, except that I like to have a lot.' Her strong, hearty laughter pealed out in the candid confession.

'I expect you do; lots of frocks, eh, and jewels, and so on?'

'You may as well do the thing as well as you can, mayn't you?'

Chance finished his tumbler, threw away his cigarette, got up, and stood by her on the hearthrug.

She did not shrink from his approach, but maintained her ground with a jaunty impudence.

'And then you have plenty of fun?' he asked.

'Oh, of sorts,' admitted Connie Fricker. 'Mamma's a bit down on me; she thinks I ought to be so awfully proper. I don't know why. I'm sure the swells aren't.' Connie forgot that there are parallels to the case of the Emperor being above grammar.

'Well, you needn't tell her everything, need you?'

'There's no harm done by telling her – I take care of that; it's when she finds out!' laughed Connie.

'You can take care of that too, can't you?'

'Well, I try,' she declared, flashing her eyes full on him.

Beaufort Chance gave a laugh, bent swiftly, and kissed her.

'Take care you don't tell her that,' he said.

'Oh!' exclaimed Connie, darting away. She turned and looked squarely at him, flushed but smiling. 'Well, you've got – ' she began. But the sentence never ended. She broke off with a wary, frightened 'Hush!' and a jerk of her hand towards the door.

Mrs. Fricker came sailing in, ample and exceedingly cordial, full of apologies, hoping that 'little Connie' had not bored the visitor. Beaufort assured her to the contrary, little Connie telegraphing her understanding of the humour of the situation over her mother's shoulders, and laying a finger on her lips. Certainly Connie, whatever she had been about to accuse him of, showed no resentment now; she was quite ready to enter into a conspiracy of silence.

In a different way, but hardly less effectually, Mrs. Fricker soothed Beaufort Chance's spirit. She too helped to restore him to a good conceit of himself; she too took the lower place; it was all very pleasant after the Bonfill interview and the hard terms that his colleagues and Liffey offered him. He responded liberally, half in a genuine if not exalted gratitude, half in the shrewd consciousness that a man cannot stand too well with the women of the family.

'And how's Mrs. Trevalla?' Evidently Trix occupied no small place in the thoughts of the household; evidently, also, Fricker had not thought it well to divulge the whole truth about her treachery.

'I haven't seen her lately,' he said again.

'They talk a lot about her and Lord Mervyn,' said Mrs. Fricker, not without a sharp glance at Beaufort.

He betrayed nothing. 'Gossip, I daresay, but who knows? Mrs. Trevalla's an ambitious woman.'

'I see nothing in her,' said Connie scornfully.

'Happily all tastes don't agree, Miss Fricker.'

Connie smiled in mysterious triumph.

Presently he was told that Fricker awaited him in the study, and he went down to join him. Fricker was not a hard man out of hours or towards his friends; he listened to Beaufort's story with sympathy and with a good deal of heartfelt abuse of what he called the 'damned hypocrisy' of Beaufort's colleagues and of Mrs. Bonfill. He did not accuse Mr. Liffey of this failing; he had enough breadth of mind to recognise that with Mr. Liffey it was all a matter of business.

'Well, you sha'n't come to any harm through me,' he promised. 'I'll take it on myself. My shoulders are broad. I've made ten thousand or so, and every time I do that Liffey's welcome to an article. I don't like it, you know, any more than I like the price of my champagne; but when I want a thing I pay for it.'

'I've paid devilish high and got very little. Curse that woman, Fricker!'

'Oh, we'll look after little Mrs. Trevalla. Will you leave her to me? Look, I've written her this letter.' He handed Beaufort Chance a copy of it, and explained how matters were to be managed. He laughed very much over his scheme. Beaufort gave it no more explicit welcome than a grim smile and an ugly look in his eyes; but they meant emphatic approval.

'That's particularly neat about Glowing Stars,' mused Fricker in great self-complacency. 'She doesn't know anything about the trifling liability! Oh, I gave her every means of knowing – sent her full details. She never read 'em, and told me she had! She's a thorough woman. Well, I shall let her get out of Dramoffskys rather badly, but not too hopelessly badly. Then she'll feel virtuous – but not quite so virtuous as to sell Glowing Stars. She'll think she can get even on them.'

'You really are the deuce, Fricker.'

'Business, my boy. Once let 'em think they can play with you, and it's all up. Besides, it'll please my womankind, when they hear what she's done, to see her taken down a peg.' He paused and grew serious. 'So you're out of work, eh? But you're an M.P. still. That's got some value, even nowadays.'

'I shouldn't mind a job – not this instant, though.'

'No, no! That would be a little indiscreet. But presently?'

They had some business talk and parted with the utmost cordiality.

'I'll let myself out,' said Beaufort. He took one of Fricker's excellent cigars, lit it, put on his hat, and strolled out.

As he walked through the hall he heard a cough from half-way up the stairs. Turning round, he saw Connie Fricker; her finger was on her lips; she pointed warily upwards towards the drawing-room door, showed her teeth in a knowing smile, and blew him a kiss. He took off his hat with one hand, while the other did double duty in holding his cigar and returning the salute. She ran off with a stifled laugh.

Beaufort was smiling to himself as he walked down the street. The visit had made him feel better. Both sentimentally and from a material point of view it had been consoling. Let his colleagues be self-righteous, Liffey a scoundrel, Mrs. Bonfill a prudish woman who was growing old, still he was not done with yet. There were people who valued him. There were prospects which, if realised, might force others to revise their opinions of him. Trix Trevalla, for instance – he fairly chuckled at the thought of Glowing Stars. Then he remembered Mervyn, and his face grew black again. It will be seen that misfortune had not chastened him into an absolute righteousness.

As for the kiss that he had given Connie Fricker, he thought very little about it. He knew just how it had happened, how with that sort of girl that sort of thing did happen. The fine eyes, not shy, the challenging look, the suggestion of the jaunty attitude – they were quite enough. Nor did he suppose that Connie thought very much about the occurrence either. She was evidently pleased, liked the compliment, appreciated what she would call 'the lark,' and enjoyed not least the sense of hoodwinking Mrs. Fricker. Certainly he had done no harm with Connie; nor did he pretend that, so far as the thing went, he had not liked it well enough.

He was right about all the feelings that he assigned to Connie Fricker. But his analysis was not quite exhaustive. While all the lighter shades of emotion which he attributed to her were in fact hers, there was in her mind also an idea which showed the business blood in her. Connie was of opinion that, to any girl of good sense, having been kissed was an asset, and might be one of great value. This idea is not refined, but no more are many on which laws, customs, and human intercourse are based. It was then somewhat doubtful whether Connie would be content to let the matter rest and to rank his tribute merely as a pastime or a compliment.

CHAPTER X
CONCERNING A CERTAIN CHINA VASE

At this point Trix Trevalla's fortunes impose on us a timid advance into the highest regions, where she herself trod with an unaccustomed foot. Her reception was on the whole gratifying. The Barmouths could not indeed be entirely pleased when their only son proposed to make a match so far from brilliant; but after all the Trevallas were gentlefolk, and (a more important point) the Barmouths had such a reverence for Mervyn that he might have imitated the rashness of King Cophetua without encountering serious opposition. His parents felt that he ennobled what he touched, and were willing to consider Trix as ennobled accordingly. They were very exclusive people, excluding among other things, as it sometimes seemed, a good deal of what chanced to be entertaining and amusing. It does not, however, do to quarrel with anybody's ideal of life; it is simpler not to share it.

Roguish nature had created Lord Barmouth very short, stout, and remarkably unimposing; he made these disadvantages vanish by a manner of high dignity not surpassed even by his tall and majestic wife. They had a very big house in Kent, within easy reach of London, and gave Saturday-to-Monday parties, where you might meet the people you had met in London during the week. There was a large hall with marble pillars round it, excellently adapted for lying in state, rather chilly perhaps if it were considered as a family hearth; Lord Barmouth was fond of walking his guests up and down this hall, and telling them what was going to happen to the country – at least, what would, if it were not for Mortimer.

'On the whole I'd sooner go to the dogs and not have Mortimer,' Lady Blixworth had declared after one of these promenades.

The Glentorlys, Lady Blixworth and Audrey Pollington, three or four men – Constantine Blair among them – Mrs. Bonfill, Trix herself, and Mervyn, all came down in a bunch on Saturday evening – a few days after Trix had promised to marry Mervyn, but before any formal announcement had been made. The talk ran much on Beaufort Chance: he was pitied and condemned; he was also congratulated on his resignation – that was the proper thing to do. When this was said, glances turned to Mrs. Bonfill. She was discreet, but did not discourage the tacit assumption that she had been somehow concerned, and somehow deserved credit.

'It is vital – vital – to make an example in such cases,' said Barmouth at dinner. He had a notion that the force of an idea was increased by reiterating the words which expressed it.

'We naturally feel great relief,' said Mervyn. (By 'We' he meant the Ministry.)

'It's straining a point to let him stay in the House,' declared Glentorly.

'The seat's shaky,' murmured Constantine Blair. Mervyn's eye accused him of saying the wrong thing.

Trix, from conscience or good-nature, began to feel sorry for Beaufort Chance.

'Resist the beginnings – the beginnings,' said Lord Barmouth. 'The habit of speculation is invading all classes.'

'Public men, at least, must make a stand,' Mervyn declared.

The corners of Lady Blixworth's mouth were drooping in despair. 'What I go through for that girl Audrey!' she was thinking, for she had refused a most pleasant little dinner– and theatre party in town. She was not in a good temper with Trix Trevalla, but all the same she shot her a glance of understanding and sympathy.

'Now persons like this Fricker are pests – pests,' pursued Barmouth.

'Oh, Mr. Fricker's really a very good-natured man,' protested Trix, who was on her host's left hand.

'You know him, Mrs. Trevalla?' Lord Barmouth did not conceal his surprise.

'Oh, yes!'

'Mrs. Trevalla knows him just slightly, father,' said Mervyn.

Lord Barmouth attained a frigid amiability as he said with a smile: 'Used to know him, perhaps you'll say now?'

'That's better, Trix, isn't it?' smiled Mrs. Bonfill.

Lady Blixworth's satirical smile met Trix across the table. Trix felt mean when she did no more than laugh weakly in response to Barmouth's imperious suggestion. She understood what Lady Blixworth meant.

'If we cut everybody who's disreputable,' observed that lady sweetly, 'we can all live in small houses and save up for the Death Duties.'

'You're joking, Viola!' Lady Barmouth complained; she was almost sure of it.

'For my part, if Mr. Fricker will put me on to a good thing – isn't that the phrase, Mortimer? – I shall be very grateful and ask him to dinner – no, lunch; he can come to that without Mrs. Fricker. Why, you used to stand up for them, Sarah!'

'Things are different now,' said Mrs. Bonfill, with a touch of severity.

'Mrs. Bonfill means that circumstances have changed – changed completely,' Lord Barmouth explained.

'I thought she must mean that,' murmured Lady Blixworth, gratefully.

'You can't touch pitch without being defiled – defiled,' remarked Lord Barmouth, with an unpleasantly direct look at Trix. Everybody nodded with a convinced air.

'That's right, Barmouth,' said Sir Stapleton Stapleton-Staines, a gentleman with a good estate in that part of the country. 'In my opinion that's right.'

That being settled, Lady Barmouth rose.

Next morning, after church (everybody went except Lady Blixworth, who had announced on going to bed that she would have a headache until lunch), Mervyn took Trix for a walk round the place. It was then, for the first time, her fright wearing off, that the truth of the position flashed on her in all its brilliance. She was no mere Saturday-to-Monday visitor; she had come to see what was to be her home; she was to be mistress of it all some day. Mervyn's words, and his manner still more, asserted this and reminded her of it every moment: the long stately fa?ade of the house, the elaborate gardens, the stretches of immemorial turf, all the spacious luxury of the pleasure-grounds, every fountain, every statue, he pointed out, if not exactly for her approval, yet as if she had a right to an account of them, and was to be congratulated on their excellence. 'I have a great deal to give – look at it all. I give it all to you!' Some such words summarise roughly Mervyn's tone and demeanour. Trix grew eager and excited as the fumes of greatness mounted to her head; she hugged the anticipation of her splendour. What a victory it was! Think of the lodging-houses, the four years with Vesey Trevalla, the pensions, think even of the flat – the flat and the debts – and then look round on this! Was not this the revenge indeed?

And the price? She had learnt enough of the world now to be getting into the way of expecting a price. But it seemed very light here. She liked Mervyn, and not much more than that degree of feeling seemed to be expected of her. He was fond of kissing her hand in a rather formal fashion; when he kissed her cheek there was a hint of something that she decided to call avuncular. No display of passion was asked from her. All she had to do was to be a particularly good girl; in view of the manner of the whole family towards her, she could not resist that way of putting it. So long as she was a good girl they would be very kind to her. 'But we can't have pranks – pranks,' she seemed to hear her future father-in-law declaring. Against pranks they would be very firm. Like speculation, like the Frickers, pranks might invade every class of society, but they would find no countenance from the house of Barmouth.

Well, pranks are a small part of life, after all. One may like to think of a few as possible, but they are surely of no great moment. Trix thoroughly understood the gently congratulatory manner which the company assumed towards her. Audrey Pollington was wistfully and almost openly envious; she sat between two fountains, looking at the house and announcing that she would ask no more than to sit there always. Mrs. Bonfill, who could never be in a big house without seeming to own it, showed Trix all over this one, and kissed her twice during the process. Lord Barmouth himself walked her round and round the hall after lunch, and told her a family reminiscence for each several pillar that they passed. Only in Lady Blixworth's eyes did Trix find an expression that might be malice, or, on the other hand, conceivably might be pity. A remark she made to Trix as they sat together in the garden favoured the latter view, although, of course, the position of affairs tended to support the former.

'I suppose you haven't had enough of it yet to feel anything of the kind,' she said, 'but, for my part, sometimes I feel as if I should like to get drunk, run out into the road in my petticoat, and scream!'

'I don't think Lord Barmouth would let you come back again,' laughed Trix.

'I suppose Sarah's trained you too well. Look at Sarah! It wasn't forced on her; she needn't have had it! She would have it, and she loves it.'

'There's a great deal to love in it,' said Trix, looking round her.

'Everything, my dear, except one single fandango! Now I love a fandango. So I go about looking as if I'd never heard of one.' She turned to Trix. 'I shouldn't wonder if you loved a fandango too?'

'I haven't had many,' said Trix, it must be owned with regret.

'No, and you won't now,' remarked Lady Blixworth.

There was no use in keeping up the fiction of a secret.

'I shall have to be very good indeed,' smiled Trix.

'Oh, it's just splendid for you, of course!' The natural woman and the trained one were at issue in Lady Blixworth's heart. 'And I daresay one might love Mortimer. Don't be hurt – I'm only speculating.'

'He's everything that's good, and distinguished, and kind.'

Lady Blixworth looked round cautiously, smiled at Trix, and remarked with the utmost apparent irrelevance, 'Fol-de-rol!'

Then they both laughed.

'Hush! here comes Sarah! Don't look thoughtful, or she'll kiss you. Kisses are a remedy for thought sometimes, but not Sarah's.'

Trix did not regard the absence of pranks and fandangoes as an inseparable accident of high degree – there facts might have confuted her – but it certainly seemed the most striking characteristic of the particular exalted family to which she was to belong. The guests left on Monday; Trix remained for the week, alone with her prospective relations. Mervyn ran up to his office two or three times, but he was not wanted in the House, and was most of the time at Barslett, as the place was called. Everything was arranged; the engagement was to be announced immediately; Trix was in the house on the footing of a daughter. For some reason or another she was treated – she could not deny it – rather like a prodigal daughter; even her lover evidently thought that she had a good deal to learn and quite as much to forget. All the three were industrious people, all wanted her to understand their work, all performed it with an unconcealed sense of merit. Lord Barmouth was a churchman and a farmer; Lady Barmouth was a politician and a housekeeper; Mervyn, besides going to be Prime Minister, was meditating a Life of Burke. 'One never need be idle in the country,' Barmouth used to say. To Trix's mind he went far to rob the country of its main attraction. She felt that she would have bartered a little splendour against a little more liveliness. Was this to repent of her bargain? No, in truth! She was always giving thanks that she had done so magnificently, got out of all her troubles, sailed prosperously into a haven so ample and so sure. Yet Lady Blixworth's untutored impulse recurred to her now and then, and met with a welcoming smile of sympathy. Airey Newton and Peggy Ryle came into her mind too, on occasion; their images were dismissed with a passing sigh.



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