The Intrusions of Peggy
скачать книгу бесплатно
The impulse had been on Airey to tell her everything, to abandon to her his great secret, to let her know the truth as Tommy Trent knew it, to make her understand, by bitter mockery of himself, what that truth had done to him. But at the last he had not power to conquer the old habit of secrecy, or to face the change that a disclosure must bring. He unlocked his safe indeed, but it was only to take out five ten-pound notes; her money was all in notes, she liked the crackle of them. That done, he shut the door with a swing, clanking the heavy bolts home with a vicious twist of the handle.
'It sounds as if it meant to keep whatever it gets, doesn't it?' asked Peggy, with a laugh still rather nervous. She took the notes. 'Thanks, Airey. I love money.' She crackled the notes against her cheek.
Airey's laugh, almost hearty, certainly scornful, showed that he was recovering his temper. 'Your love displays itself in getting rid of the beloved object as quickly as possible,' he remarked.
'That's what it's for,' smiled Peggy, happy at the re-establishment of friendly relations.
Peggy paid two or three other visits that day. At Mrs. Bonfill's she found Glentorly and Constantine Blair. She was admitted, but nobody took much notice of her. They were deep in political talk: things were not going very well; the country was not relying on Lord Glentorly in quite the proper spirit. Clouds were on everybody's brow. Peggy departed, and betook herself to Lady Blixworth's. The atmosphere here too was heavy and lamentable. Audrey seemed resentful and forlorn, her aunt acid and sharp; disappointment brooded over the premises.
'How people worry!' Peggy reflected, as she got back into her hansom and told the man to drive to Trix Trevalla's; if not at Danes Inn, if not in the houses of the great, there at least in Trix's flat she ought to find gaiety and triumph. The fact that people worried was oppressing Peggy to-day. Alas, Trix Trevalla was with Lord Mervyn! Gathering this fact from a discreet servant, Peggy fled back into her hansom with the sense of having escaped a great peril. She had met Lord Mervyn at Mrs. Bonfill's.
Whither now? Why, to Tommy Trent's, of course. The hansom (which was piling up a very good fare) whisked her off to Tommy's chambers at the corner of a street looking over St. James's Square. She left the cab at the door and went in. Here, anyhow, she was in great hopes of escaping the atmosphere of worry.
Tommy was a prosperous man, enjoying a very good practice as a solicitor in the City; his business was of a high class and yet decidedly lucrative. Peggy liked his rooms with their quiet luxury and their hint of artistic taste carefully unemphasised. She threw herself into a large armchair and waited for Tommy to appear. There was a small room where he sometimes worked an hour or so after he came home in the evenings, and there she supposed him to be; it was shut off by an interior door from the room where she sat, and opened on the passage by another which she had passed on her way in.The servant had told her that Mr. Trent was engaged for the moment, but would soon be free. Peggy hoped that it would turn out that he was free for the evening too; a little dinner would be restful, and she had no engagement that she considered it necessary to keep.
There was a murmur of voices through the door. Peggy recognised Tommy's; it sounded familiar and soothing as she read a paper to while away the time; the other voice was strange to her. Presently there was the noise of chairs being pushed back, as though the interview were coming to a close. Tommy spoke again in a louder voice.
'Mr. Newton doesn't want his name mentioned.'
'We should have liked the support of Mr. Airey Newton's name.'
'He won't hear of that, but he believes in his process thoroughly – '
'I wonder if I ought to be hearing this!' thought Peggy, amused and rather interested at stumbling on her friends, so to speak, in their business hours and their business affairs.
Tommy Trent's voice went on: —
'And will take a fifth share in the syndicate – 5,000l.'
'Is he prepared to put that down immediately?' The question sounded sceptical.
'Oh, yes, twice as much; to-morrow, if necessary. But no mention of his name, please. That's all settled then? Well, good-bye, Mr. Ferguson. Glad the thing looks so good. Hope your wife's well. Good-bye.'
The passage door was opened and shut. Peggy heard Tommy come back from it, whistling in a soft and contented manner. The passage door opened again, and the servant's voice was audible.
'Miss Ryle there? I'll go in directly,' said Tommy.
The paper had fallen from Peggy's hands. Five thousand pounds! Twice as much to-morrow, if necessary! Airey Newton! No other Newton, but Airey, Airey! The stranger had actually said 'Airey!' Her thoughts flew back to her talk with Airey – and, further back, to how Tommy Trent had made him give a dinner. And on that account she had quarrelled with Tommy! Everything fitted in now. The puzzle which had bewildered her in Danes Inn that very afternoon was solved. Perceiving the solution with merciless clearness, Peggy Ryle felt that she must cry. It was such hypocrisy, such meanness, nay, such treachery. 'I don't want to sail under false colours,' he had said, and used that seemingly honest speech and others like it to make his wretched secret more secure. Now the safe took its true place in the picture; a pretty bad place it was; she doubted not that the red book was in the unholy business too. And the bread-and-butter! Peggy must be pardoned her bitterness of spirit. To think of the unstinted gratitude, the tender sentiment, which she had lavished on that bread-and-butter! She had thought of it as of St. Martin's cloak or any other classical case of self-sacrificing charity. And – worse, if possible – she had eaten the dinner too, a dinner that came from a grudging hand. She had fled to Tommy Trent's to escape worry. Worse than worry was here. With rather more justification than young folks always possess, she felt herself in the presence of a tragedy; that there was any comedy about also was more likely to strike a looker-on from outside.
'Sorry to have kept you waiting, Peggy,' said Tommy cheerfully, coming in from the other room. 'I had a man on business, and Wilson didn't tell me you were here.'
Peggy rose to her feet; a tear trickled down her cheek.
'Hullo! What's the matter? Are you in trouble?'
'I overheard you through the door.'
'Just at the end you raised your voice.'
'And you listened?' Tommy was rather reproachful, but it did not yet seem to strike him what had happened.
'I heard what you said about Airey Newton.'
Tommy gave a low whistle; a look of perplexity, not unmixed with amusement, spread over his face.
'The deuce you did!' he remarked slowly.
'That's what's the matter: that's why I'm nearly crying.'
'I don't see it in that light, but I'm sorry you heard. It's a secret that Airey – '
'A secret! Yes, I should think it was. Are you anything that I don't know of? I mean a burglar, or a swindler, or anything of that kind?'
'You do know that I'm a solicitor?' Tommy wanted to relieve the strain of the conversation.
'I meant to stay with you, and perhaps to take you out to dinner – '
'Well, why won't you? I haven't done anything – except forget that it's not wise to talk too loudly about my clients' business.'
'I'm just going to Danes Inn to see Airey Newton.'
'Oh!' Tommy nodded gravely. 'You think of doing that?'
'It's what I'm going to do directly. I've a hansom at the door.'
'I'm sure you've a hansom at the door,' agreed Tommy. 'Sit down one minute, please,' he added. 'I want you to do something for me.'
'Be quick, then,' commanded Peggy, sitting down, but obviously under protest. 'And you have done something too,' she went on. 'You've connived at it. You've backed him up. You've helped to deceive us all. You've listened to me while I praised him. You've praised him yourself.'
'I told you he could afford to give the dinner.'
'Yes – as he told me to-day that he wasn't a pauper! He made me think I'd hurt his feelings. I felt wretched. I begged him to forgive me. Oh, but it's not that! Tommy, it's the wretched meanness of it all! He was just one of the six or seven people in the world; and now – !'
Tommy was smoking, and had fallen into meditative silence.
He did not lack understanding of her feelings – anything she felt was always vivid to him – and on his own account he was no stranger to the thoughts that Airey Newton's propensity bred.
'How much money has he got?' she asked abruptly.
'I mustn't tell you.'
'More than what you said to that man?'
'A lot more?'
Tommy spread out his hands and shrugged his shoulders. She knew all that mattered; it was merely etiquette that forbade an exact statement of figures; the essential harm was done.
'Well, you said you wanted something of me, Tommy.'
'I do. I want your word of honour that you'll never let Airey Newton know that you've found out anything about this.' He put his cigarette back into his mouth and smiled amicably at Peggy.
'I'm going straight to him to tell him I know it all. After that I sha'n't go any more.'
'Peggy, he's very fond of you. He'll hate your knowing, more than anybody else's in the world almost.'
'I shall tell him you're not to blame, of course.'
'I wasn't thinking of that. He's been very kind to you. There was always bread-and-butter!'
This particular appeal miscarried; a subtlety of resentment centred on the bread-and-butter.
'I hate to think of it,' said Peggy brusquely. 'Do you really mean I'm to say nothing?'
'I mean much more. You're still to be his friend, still to go and see him, still to eat bread-and-butter. And, Peggy, you're still to love him – to love him as I do.'
Peggy looked across at him, and looked with new eyes. He had been the dear friend of many sunny hours; but now he wore a look and spoke in tones that the sunny hours had not called forth.
'I stand by him, whatever happens, and I want you to stand by him too.'
'If it came to the point, you'd stand by him and let me go?' she asked with a sudden quick understanding of his meaning.
'Yes,' said Tommy simply. He did not tell her there would be any sacrifice in what she suggested.
'I don't believe I can do it,' moaned Peggy.
'Yes, you can. Be just the same to him, only – only rather nicer, you know. There's only one chance for him, you see.'
'Is there any chance?' she asked dolefully. Her eyes met his. 'Yes, perhaps I know what you mean,' said she.
They were silent a moment. Then he came over to her and took her hand. 'Word of honour, Peggy,' he said, 'to let neither Airey himself nor any of the rest know? You must connive, as I did.'
She turned her eyes up to his in their clouded brightness. 'I promise, word of honour, Tommy,' said she.
He nodded in a friendly way and strolled off to the writing-table. She wandered to the window and looked out on the spacious, solid old square. The summer evening was bright and clear, but Peggy was sad that there were things in the world hard to endure. Yet there were other things too; down in her heart was a deep joy because to-day, although she had lost a dear illusion, she had found a new treasure-house.
'I'm thinking some things about you, Tommy, you know,' she said without turning round. There was a little catch in her voice.
'That's all right. Just let me write a letter, and we'll go and dine.'
She stood still till he rose and turned to see her head outlined against the window. For a moment he regarded it in silence, thinking of the grace she carried with her, how she seemed unable to live with meanness, and how for love's sake she would face it now, and, if it might be, heal it by being one of those who loved. He came softly behind her, but she turned to meet him.
'I suppose we must all cry sometimes, Tommy. Do say it makes the joy better!'
'They always tell you that!' He laughed gently.
'I came here to laugh with you, but now – '
'Laughter's the second course to-day,' said Tommy Trent.
It came then. He saw it suddenly born in her eyes and marked its assault on the lines of her lips. She struggled conscientiously, thinking, no doubt, that it was a shame to laugh. Tommy waited eagerly for the victory of mirth, or even that it might, in a general rout, save its guns and ammunition, and be ready to come into action another day. He had his hope. Peggy's low rich laugh came, against her will, but not to be denied.
'At any rate I show him the better way! I drew another fifty pounds to-day. And he hates it – oh, he hates it, Tommy!'
He laughed too, saying, 'Let's go out and play.'
As they went downstairs she thrust her hand through his arm and kept patting him gently. Then she looked up, and swiftly down again, and laughed a little and patted him again.
'I've half a mind to sing,' said she.
The afternoon had been a bottle of the old mixture – laughter and tears.