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.