Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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What annoyed her most was that she found her courage failing. The high spirit that had defied Beaufort Chance, braved Fricker, and treated almost on equal terms with Mrs. Bonfill, seemed cowed by the portentous order, decorum, usefulness, industry, and piety that now encircled her in a ring-fence of virtue. Day by day she became more afraid of this august couple and their even more august son, her lover and chosen husband. She had said that she must be a good girl in fun at first, as a burlesque on their bearing towards her. Really truth threatened to overtake the burlesque and make it rather fall short of than exaggerate or caricature her feelings. She would never dare to rebel, to disregard, or to question. She would be good – and she would be good because she would be afraid to be anything else. Of course the world would know nothing of that – it would see only the splendour – but she would know it always. Under the fine robes there would be golden chains about her feet. If her ideal of life had demanded freedom besides everything else, it was like to share the fate of most ideals.

'Oh, if I had the courage to defy them! Perhaps I shall when I'm married!'

No, she feared that she never would – not thoroughly, nor without a quaking heart at least. Not because they were particularly wise or clever, or even supernaturally good. Rather because they were so established, so buttressed by habit, so entrenched by the tradition of their state. Defiance would seem rebellion and sacrilege in one. Trix had no difficulty in imagining any one of the three ordering her to bed; and (oh, worst humiliation!) she knew that in such a case she would go, and go in frightened tears. Such an absurd state of mind as this was intolerably vexatious.

'When you were a boy, were you afraid of your father and mother?' she asked Mervyn once.

'Afraid!' He laughed. 'I never remember having the least difference with either of them.'

That was it; nobody ever would have any differences in that family.

'I'm rather afraid of them,' she confessed. When he smiled again she added, 'And of you too.'

'How silly!' he said gently. It was, however, tolerably plain that he was neither surprised nor displeased. He took the fear to which she owned as a natural tribute to the superiority of the family, a playful feminine way which she chose to express her admiration and respect. He kissed her affectionately – as if she had been very good. No doubt, if there were bed when necessary, there would, on suitable occasions, be sugar-plums too. To Trix Trevalla, erstwhile rebel, gaoler, wanderer, free-lance, the whole thing seemed curiously like a second childhood, very different from her first, and destined to continue through her life.

'It'll make a slave or a liar of me, I know,' she thought. But she thought also that, if she spoke to Lady Blixworth in that vein, she would be asked on what grounds she expected to escape the common lot. It would probably make her both a liar and a slave, Lady Blixworth would say with her languid smile; but then the compensations! Even Lady Blixworth's wild impulse was admittedly only occasional, whereas she had a standing reputation for refinement and elegance.

An example of what was going to happen all her life occurred on the last day of her visit, the last day, too, before the world was to hail her as the future Lady Mervyn.

She was sitting by Mervyn, reading a book while he wrote. The post came in, and there was a letter for her. While he attacked his pile, she began on her one. It was from Fricker. A quick glance assured her that Mervyn's attention was fully occupied.

Mr. Fricker's letter opened very cordially and ran to a considerable length. It was concerned with Dramoffskys, and told her that he had sold her holding, considering that step on the whole the wisest thing in her interest. Owing, however, to a great variety of unforeseen events – more rumours, new complications, further anxiety as to what the Tsar meant to do – he regretted to inform her that he had for once miscalculated the course of the market. Dramoffskys had fallen rather severely; he would not take the responsibility of saying whether or when they would be likely to rise to the price at which she had bought – much less go higher. They would be worse before they were better – long before – was the conclusion at which he arrived with regret. So that in fine, and omitting many expressions of sorrow, it came to this: out of her five thousand pounds he was in a position to hand back only a sum of 2,301l. 5s. 11d., which amount he had had the pleasure of paying to her account at her bank. 'I will advise you subsequently as to Glowing Stars,' he ended, but Trix had no thoughts to spare for Glowing Stars.

The blow was very severe. She had counted on a big profit, she was faced with a heavy loss. She did not suspect Fricker's good faith, but was aghast at her own bad luck.

'How horrible!' she exclaimed aloud, letting the letter fall in her lap. Even for a moment more she forgot that she was sitting by Mervyn.

'What's the matter, dear?' he asked, turning round. 'No bad news in your letter, I hope?'

'No, nothing serious, nothing serious,' she stammered, making a hasty clutch at the two big type-written sheets of paper.

'Are you sure? Tell me about it. You must tell me all your troubles.' He stretched out his hand and pressed hers. She crumpled up the letter.

'It's nothing, really nothing, Mortimer.'

'Do you cry out "How horrible!" about nothing?' His smile was playful; such a course of conduct would be plainly unreasonable. 'Whom is it from?' he asked.

'It's from my servant, to tell me she's broken a china vase I'm very fond of,' said Trix in a smooth voice, quite fluently, her eyes fixed on Mervyn in innocent grief and consternation.

Fortunately he was not an observant man. He had noticed neither the typewriting nor Trix's initial confusion. He patted her hand, then drew it to him and kissed it, saying with a laugh: —

'I'm glad it's no worse. You looked so frightened.' Then he turned back to his letters.

Presently Trix escaped into the garden in a tempest of rage at herself. She was thinking no more of the treacherous conduct of Dramoffskys, but of herself.

'That's what I shall always do!' she exclaimed to the trim lawns and the sparkling fountains, to the stately fa?ade that was some day to salute her as its mistress. 'How easily I did it, how naturally!' She came to a pause. 'I'll go in and tell him.' She took a step or two towards the house, but stopped again. 'No, I can't now.' She turned away, saying aloud, 'I daren't!'

The thought flashed into her mind that he would be very easy to deceive. It brought no comfort. And if he ever found out! She must end all connection with Fricker, anyhow. She could not have such an inevitable source of lies about her as that business meant.

'How easily I did it!' she reflected to herself again in a sort of horror.

Mervyn told the story at dinner, rallying Trix on her exaggerated consternation over the news. Lady Barmouth took up the cudgels for her, maintaining a housewife's view of the importance and preciousness of household possessions. Lord Barmouth suggested that perhaps the vase was an heirloom, and asked Trix how she became possessed of it, what was it like, what ware, what colour, what size, and so forth. Thence they passed, under Lady Barmouth's guidance, to the character of the servant, to her previous record in the matter of breakages, comparing her incidentally in this and other respects with a succession of servants who had been at Barslett. Steadily and unfalteringly, really with great resource and dexterity, Trix equipped both servant and vase with elaborate histories and descriptions, and agreed with the suggestion that the vase might perhaps be mended, and that the servant must be at least seriously warned as to what would happen in the event of such a thing ever occurring again. The topic with its ramifications lasted pretty well through the meal, Trix imagining all the time every sort of unlikely catastrophe which might possibly result in her dressing-case falling into the hands of the family and Mr. Fricker's letter being discovered therein.

Well, there was nothing for it; she must be good. If she would not go on lying, she must obey. There was some of the old hardness about her eyes and her lips as she came to this conclusion. She was not, after all, accustomed to having everything just as she liked. That had been only a dream, inspired by Airey Newton's words at Paris; when put to the test of experience, it had not borne the strain. She was to belong to the Barmouths, to be admitted to that great family; she would pay her dues.

She was very sweet to Mervyn that evening; there was a new submission in her manner, a strong flavour of the dutiful wife. From afar Lord Barmouth marked it with complacency and called his wife's attention to it.

'Yes, and I liked her for thinking so much about her vase, poor child,' said Lady Barmouth.

'In my opinion she will be a success – a success,' said he. 'After all, we might have been sure that Mortimer would make a suitable choice.'

'Yes, and Sarah Bonfill thoroughly approves.'

Lord Barmouth's expression implied that Mrs. Bonfill's approval might be satisfactory, but could not be considered essential. In such matters the family was a sufficient law unto itself.

The next day Trix went up to town. At the station Mervyn gave her a copy of the 'Times' containing the announcement that a marriage had been arranged between them. His manner left nothing to be desired – by any reasonable person at least; and he promised to come and see her on his way to the House next day. Trix steamed off with the 'Times' in her hand, and the hum of congratulation already sounding in her expectant ears.

She lay back in the railway carriage, feeling tired but content – too tired, perhaps, to ask whence came her content. The hum of congratulation, of course, had something to do with it. Had escaping from Barslett something to do with it too? Lazily she gave up the problem, threw the 'Times' aside, and went to sleep.

When the train was nearing London, she awoke with a start. She had been having visions again; they had come while she slept – strange mixtures of the gay restaurant and of dingy Danes Inn; a room where Airey Newton smoked his pipe, where the only sound was of Peggy Ryle's heart-whole laughter; a dream of irresponsibility and freedom. She laughed at herself as she awoke, caught up the paper again, and re-read that important announcement. There lay reality; have done with figments! And what a magnificent reality it was! She stepped out on to the platform at Charing Cross with conscious dignity.

At the flat it rained telegrams; from everybody they came – from the Bonfills, the Glentorlys – yes, and the Farringhams; from crowds of less-known people. There was one from Viola Blixworth, and there was one from Peggy Ryle. She accorded this last the recognition of a little sigh. Then she went to dress for a dinner party. Her entry into the drawing-room that evening would be the first-fruits of her triumph. She thought no more about the china vase.

CHAPTER XI
THE MIXTURE AS BEFORE

For years a man may go on not perceiving nor understanding what he is doing with his life, failing to see not merely whither it is tending under his guidance, but even the various points at which from time to time it arrives. Miles Childwick had recommended a frame of mind affected with, or even devoted to, this blindness when he argued against the Fallacy of Broad Views; perhaps, like some other things that do not as a rule work well, it would work well enough if it could be maintained with absolute consistency. But a breakdown is hard to avoid. Something happens to the man, or, just as often, to another whom he knows and has watched as he has not watched his own doings; in the light of it he discerns hidden things about himself. He may find that he has given fame the go-by, or power, or the attainment of great place; he may groan over the discovery, or he may say Vile damnum and go back to his unobtrusive industry or his leisurely study. He may discover that he is not useful, and be struck with remorse, or, on the other hand, inspired to a sceptical defiance of the obligation; he may see that nobody is likely ever to think much of him or to care much about him, and smile at their rightness or their wrongness as his opinion leads him, and be annoyed or resigned as his temperament dictates. Or he may awake to a sense of some loss at once vaguer and larger than any of those hitherto suggested, a loss not of any particular thing, however desirable, out of life, but a loss of life itself; he has abdicated legitimate pretensions, drawn back his boundaries, thrown away part of his inheritance, denied to his being some of the development to which it was inherently able to attain. A man who arrives at this conclusion must be of a very unusual temper if he does not suffer disquietude and discontent. It is easy to maintain that any given object of ambition, or even that any chosen excellence, is not indispensable; it needs more resolution to say that it is immaterial and no ground for regret that a man has been less of a man, a narrower creature, than it lay in his power to be; that he has stopped when he might have gone forward, and fallen into the habit of saying 'no' when he ought to have cultivated the practice of saying 'yes.' It is difficult for him to vindicate to himself his refusal of the fulness of life according as the measure of his ability would have realised it for him. It is nothing to say that he has had as much as, or more than, A, B, or C. He agrees scornfully. Has he taken as much as he himself could have claimed by the right of his nature and faculties? That seems the primeval obligation, Nature's great command, to be obeyed in ten thousand different ways, but always to be obeyed.

'Do you live?' Trix Trevalla had once asked Airey Newton. He had answered, 'Hardly.' Yet, when he said that, consciousness of the truth had been very dim and faint in him, just nascent perhaps, but unable to assert itself against things stronger in his soul. If it had grown from that time onward, the growth had been unmarked and almost imperceptible. He had his great delight, his preoccupation and propensity; that had still seemed enough. His renewed meeting with Trix, especially that talk of theirs after his dinner party, had forwarded matters another stage. The news of her engagement to Mervyn seemed the cue on which voices long silenced in him spoke aloud – not, indeed, in unreserved praise of Trix, a line permissible neither to his conception of the case nor to truth itself, but in an assertion that she was at least trying for what he had let slip, was reaching out her hands to the limit of life, was trying what the world could do for her. And, as he understood, she dated this effort back to his advice. In the irony of that thought he found the concrete instance needed to give unity, force, and clearness to the vague murmurs of his spirit.

His mood bred no action; what stood between? First, a sense that he was too late; the feeling that Trix had awakened centred on her; she was to him part, an essential part, of the full life as it rose before his eyes; and, in fact, she was nothing to him. He would have liked to be content with that answer. But there was another; the red book and the safe still stood in the corner of his room. A divination of the true deity is but a small step towards robbing the old idol of his time-consecrated power. Airey Newton was left crying 'Impossible!' in answer to his own demand for the stir of life which Trix Trevalla embodied for him. Trix herself had wistfully given the same answer when Peggy Ryle made her long for the joy of it.

A week after the news which had such a peculiar significance for one man as well as its obvious social importance to many people, Peggy Ryle dropped in at Danes Inn and ate bread-and-butter in a complimentary sort of way. She also wanted another fifty pounds from her hoard, but she meant to lead up to this gently, as she had observed that Airey disapproved of her extravagance, and handed out her money to her with reluctance.

'Well, Airey, I suppose you haven't heard anything that's happening?' she said.

'Probably not,' he agreed with a grim smile. 'You're in the thick of it all?'

'For the present,' Peggy replied cautiously. 'I'm considered an heiress, and they ask me everywhere. Mrs. Bonfill has offered to take me out! I'm great, Airey. And I've gone to lots of places with Mrs. Trevalla.'

'She's great too?'

'Oh, yes, much greater. A new loaf to-day?'

'I thought you were about due. Want some more money?'

'How nice of you to suggest it!' cried Peggy in relieved gratitude. 'Just fifty, please – to pay for a frock, a supper, a box, and incidental expenses.'

'I think you'd better fit yourself up with a rich match, like Mrs. Trevalla. You'll be in the workhouse in three months.'

'I've been there before. Lots of friends always there, Airey!' Her nod and smile included him in the number with an affectionate recognition. 'And I don't know that Mrs. Trevalla is to be envied so particularly. I daresay it's very nice to be married in a cathedral, but it's not as inviting to be married to one – and it's what Lord Mervyn reminds me of.' She paused and then added, 'Trix isn't in love with him, of course.'

Undoubtedly Airey Newton was glad to hear that, though with no joy which can rank above a dog-in-the-manger's. However, he made no comment on it.

'And who's in love with you?' he asked.

'Two or three men, Airey,' replied Peggy composedly – 'besides Miles, I mean.' Miles's affection was composed, but public. 'Miles renewed his offer on hearing that I had come into money. He said that the circumstance freed his action from any offensive appearance of benevolence.'

'And you said no?'

'I never say no to Miles. I never can do anything but laugh. It would be just perfect if he didn't mean it.' In spite of her sympathy Peggy laughed again. 'I wish you were rich and were going to marry Trix Trevalla,' she resumed. 'She's very fond of you, you know, Airey.'

'Stuff!' growled Airey unceremoniously.

'Well, of course!' sighed Peggy, glancing round the room.

A man may say 'Stuff!' and yet not be over-pleased to have it greeted with 'Of course!' Airey grumbled something into his pipe; Peggy smiled without hearing it.

'Well, I mean she'd never marry anybody who wasn't well-off,' she explained. 'She couldn't, you see; she's very extravagant. I'm sure she spends more than she's got. But that doesn't matter now.'

'And perhaps you needn't be very severe on it,' Airey suggested.

'You gave an enormous dinner,' Peggy retorted triumphantly.

Airey began to walk about the room, giving an occasional and impatient tug at his beard.

'What's the matter?' asked Peggy, noting these signs of disturbance.

'Nothing,' said Airey, fretfully. 'You needn't talk as if I was a pauper,' he broke out the next moment.

Here was something strange indeed. Never before had he resented any implied reference to his poverty; nay, he had rather seemed to welcome it; and in their little circle everybody took the thing as a matter of course. But Airey stood there looking resentful or at least ashamed, and greatly hurt anyhow. Peggy was terribly upset. She jumped up and ran to him, holding out her hands.

'How could I?' she cried. 'I had no idea – Dear Airey, do forgive me! I never thought of hurting your feelings! How can you think that I or any of us mind a scrap whether you're rich or poor?' There were tears in her eyes, and she would not be refused a grasp of his hands. 'You thought I took it all – all you give me – and then sneered at you!' gasped Peggy.

'I'm comfortably off,' said Airey stiffly and obstinately.

'Yes, yes; of course you are. I'll never say anything of the sort again, Airey.' She let go his hands with a reluctant slowness; she missed the hearty forgiveness for which she had begged. He puzzled her now.

'I have money for everything I need. I don't pose as being poor.'

'Oh, you mustn't take it like that,' she groaned, feeling fit to cry in real earnest, conceiving him to be terribly wounded, sure now that he had squandered his resources on the dinner because among them they had made him ashamed of being poor. She could not herself understand being ashamed of poverty, but she had an idea that many people were – especially men perhaps, to whom it properly belonged to labour, and to labour successfully.

'I sha'n't go until you forgive me,' she insisted. 'It'll spoil everything for me if you don't, Airey.'

'There's nothing to forgive,' he rejoined gloomily, as he dropped into a chair by the little table and rested his elbow on the red-leather book. 'I don't want to sail under false pretences, that's all.' His tones were measured and still hard. Peggy felt herself in disgrace; she drifted back to the window and forlornly poured out another cup of tea.



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