Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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The great fa?ade of the house was dark, save for two windows. Behind one Mervyn worked steadily at his papers. Behind the other lights flared in the room that had belonged to Trix – flared on the disorder of her dinner-gown flung aside, her bag half-packed and thus abandoned, Fricker's letter torn across and lying in the middle of the floor.

Barmouth must be pardoned his bewilderment. The whole affair was so singularly out of harmony with the Barmouth feelings and the Barmouth ways.

CHAPTER XIV
A HOUSE OF REFUGE

Peggy Ryle was alone in lodgings in Harriet Street, near Covent Garden. Elfreda Flood had gone on tour, having obtained a part rich in possibilities, at a salary sufficient for necessities. Under conditions which lacked both these attractions Horace Harnack had joined the same company; so that, according to Miles Childwick, the worst was expected. Considering the paucity of amusement and the multitude of churches in provincial cities, what else could be looked for from artistic and impressionable minds? At this time Miles was affecting a tone about marriage which gave Mrs. John Maturin valuable hints for her new pessimistic novel.

The lodgings wavered between being downright honest lodgings and setting up to be a flat – this latter on the strength of being shut off from the rest of the mansion (the word found authority in the 'To let' notices outside) by a red-baize door with a bolt that did not act. This frail barrier passed, you came to Elfreda's room first, then, across the passage, to the sitting-room, then to Peggy's on the right again. There were cupboards where cooking was done and the charwoman abode by day, and where you could throw away what you did not want or thought your partner could not; mistakes sometimes occurred and had to be atoned for by the surrender of articles vitally indispensable to the erring party.

Needless to say, the lodgings were just now the scene of boundless hospitality; it would have been sumptuous also but for the charwoman's immutable and not altogether unfounded belief that Peggy was ruining herself. The charwoman always forgot the luxuries; as the guests never believed in them, no harm was done. Peggy flitted in and out to change her frock, seldom settling down in her home till twelve or one o'clock at night. She was in a state of rare contentment, an accretion to the gaiety that was hers by nature. Somehow perplexities had disappeared; they used to be rather rife, for she had a vivid imagination, apt to pick out the attractions of any prospect or any individual, capable of presenting its owner as enjoying exceeding happiness with any person and in any station of life, and thus of producing impulses which had occasionally resulted in the perplexities which were now – somehow – a matter of the past. The change of mood dated from the day when Peggy had made her discovery about Airey Newton and given her word of honour to Tommy Trent; it was nursed in the deepest secrecy, its sole overt effect being to enable Peggy to receive any amount of attention with frank and entirely unperturbed gratitude.

If she were misunderstood – But there must really be an end of the idea that we are bound to regulate our conduct by the brains of the stupidest man in the room. 'And they have the fun of it,' Peggy used to reflect, in much charity with herself and all men.

That night, in Lady Blixworth's conservatory, she had refused the hand of Mr. Stapleton-Staines (son of that Sir Stapleton who had an estate bordering on Barslett, and had agreed with Lord Barmouth that you could not touch pitch without being defiled), and she drove home with hardly a regret at having thrown away the prospect of being a county gentlewoman. She was no more than wondering gently if there were any attractions at all about the life. She had also the feeling of a good evening's work, not disturbed in the least degree by the expression of Lady Blixworth's face when she and Mr. Staines parted at the door of the conservatory, and Mr. Staines took scowling leave of his hostess. She lay back in her cab, smiling at the world.

On her doorstep sat two gentlemen in opera hats and long brown coats. They were yawning enormously, and had long ceased any effort at conversation. They had the street to themselves save for a draggled-looking woman who wandered aimlessly about on the other side of the road, a policeman who seemed to have his eye on the woman and on them alternately, and a wagon laden with vegetables that ground its way along to the market. Peggy's hansom drove up. The two men jumped joyfully to their feet and assumed expressions of intense disgust; the policeman found something new to watch; the draggled woman turned her head towards the house and stood looking on.

'Punctual as usual!' said Miles Childwick encouragingly. 'Eleven to the moment!'

The clock of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, struck 12.30.

'Here's the key,' said Peggy helpfully. 'Have you half a crown, Tommy?'

'I have a florin, and it's three-quarters of a mile.'

Peggy looked defiant for a minute; then she gave a funny little laugh. 'All right,' said she.

They went in. The policeman yawned and resumed his stroll; the woman, after a moment's hesitation, walked slowly round the corner and down towards the Strand.

Arrived upstairs, Peggy darted at the table; a telegram lay there. She tore it open.

'They've done it!' she cried exultantly.

'What church?' asked Childwick resignedly.

'I mean they're engaged.'

'When?' inquired Tommy, who was busy with soda-water.

'6.45,' answered Peggy, consulting the stamp on the telegram.

'They might have waited till the hour struck,' remarked Childwick in a disgusted tone.

'Isn't it splendid?' insisted Peggy.

'You say something proper, Tommy, old boy,' Childwick was ostentatiously overcome.

'Is it a – an enthusiastic telegram?' asked Tommy, after a drink.

'No. She only says they're the happiest people in the world.'

'If it's no worse than that, we can sit down to supper.' Mr. Childwick proceeded to do so immediately.

'I ordered lobsters,' said Peggy, as she threw her cloak away and appeared resplendent in her best white frock.

'The mutton's here all right,' Childwick assured her. 'And there's a good bit left.'

'What that pair propose to live on – ' began Tommy, as he cut the loaf.

'The diet is entirely within the discretion of the Relieving Officer,' interrupted Childwick.

'I'm so glad she's done it while I've got some money left. Shall I give her a bracelet or a necklace, or – could I give her a tiara, Tommy?'

'A tiara or two, I should say,' smiled Tommy.

'It's awfully hot!' Peggy rose, pulled up the blind, and flung the window open. 'Let's drink their health. Hurrah!'

Their shouts made the policeman smile, and caused the woman, who, having gone down round the west corner, had come up again and turned into the street from the east, to look up to the lights in the window; then she leant against the railings opposite and watched the lights. The policeman, after a moment's consideration, began to walk towards her very slowly, obviously desiring it to be understood that he was not thereby committed to any definite action; he would approach a crowd on the pavement, having some invisible centre of disturbance or interest, with the same strictly provisional air.

'And how was our friend Lady Blixworth?' asked Tommy.

'She looked tired, and said she'd been taking Audrey Pollington about. She's the most treacherous accomplice I know.'

'She's like Miles here. Nothing's sacred if a good gibe's possible.'

'Nothing ought to be sacred at which a good gibe – a good one – is possible,' Childwick maintained.

'Oh, I only meant something smart,' explained Tommy contemptuously.

'Then don't deviate into careless compliment. It causes unnecessary conversation, and the mutton is far from bad, though not far from being finished.'

'If only the lobsters – ' began Peggy plaintively.

'I do not believe in the lobsters,' said Childwick firmly.

'Then she asked me after Trix Trevalla – Why, there's a knock!'

It was true. The policeman had at last approached the woman with a step that spoke of a formed decision. To his surprise she suddenly exclaimed in an impatient voice, 'Oh, well, if they're going to stay all night, I can't wait,' and crossed the road. He followed her to the doorstep.

'This isn't where you live,' he said, as though kindness suggested the information.

'No, it isn't,' she agreed.

'Come now, where do you live?'

'I don't know,' she answered, seeming puzzled and tired. 'My flat's let, you see.'

'Oh, is it?' Sarcasm became predominant in the policeman's voice. 'Taken it for the Maharajeer of Kopang, have they?' A prince bearing that title was a visitor to London at this time, and was creating considerable interest.

'Nonsense!' said she with asperity, and she knocked, adding, 'I know the lady who lives up there.'

'There's a woman on the doorstep – and a policeman!' cried Peggy to her companions; she had run to the window and put her head out.

'Now, Tommy, which has come for you and which for me?' asked Childwick.

'Stay where you are,' said Peggy. 'I'll go down and see.'

In spite of Tommy's protests – Childwick made none – she insisted on going alone. The fact is that she had two or three friends who were habitually in very low water; it was just possible that this might be one who was stranded altogether.

The men waited; they heard voices below, they heard the hall-door shut, there were steps on the stairs, the red-baize door swung on its hinges.

'She's brought her up,' said Childwick. 'Where are our hats, Tommy?'

'Wait a bit, we may be wanted,' suggested Tommy.

'That's why I proposed to go,' murmured Childwick.

'Rot, old fellow,' was Tommy's reception of this affected discretion. He went to the window and craned his neck out. 'The policeman's gone,' he announced with some relief. 'That's all right anyhow!'

'All right? Our only protection gone! Mark you, Tommy, we're in luck if we don't have our pictures in a philanthropic publication over this.'

'Where have they gone? Into one of the bedrooms, I suppose.'

The door opened and Peggy ran in. Her eyes were wide with astonishment; excitement was evident in her manner; there was a stain of mud on the skirt of her best white frock.

'The whisky!' she gasped, clutched it, and fled out again.

'Now we know the worst,' said Miles, turning his empty glass upside down.

'Don't be a fool, Miles,' suggested Tommy, a little impatiently.

'I'll stop as soon as there's anything else to do,' retorted Miles tranquilly.

Peggy reappeared with the whisky. She set it down on the table and spoke to them.

'I want you both to go now and to say nothing.'

They glanced at one another and turned to their coats. In unbroken silence they put them on, took their hats, and held out their hands to Peggy. She began to laugh; there were tears in her eyes.

'You may say good-night,' she told them.

'Good-night, Peggy.'

'Good-night, Peggy.'

'Good-night – and I should like to kiss you both,' said Peggy Ryle. 'You're not to say anybody came, you know.'

They nodded, and went into the passage.

'I shall come and see you soon,' Peggy told Tommy Trent, as she shut the baize door behind them. Then she turned into Elfreda's room. 'Come and have some supper now,' she said.

Trix Trevalla caught her by the hands and kissed her. 'You look so pretty and so happy, dear,' she sighed; 'and I'm such a guy!'

The term hardly described her pale strained face, feverishly bright eyes, and the tangle of brown hair which hung in disorderly masses round her brow. She had thrown off her wet jacket and skirt, and put on a tea-gown of Elfreda Flood's; her feet were in the same lady's second-best slippers. Peggy led her into the sitting-room and made her eat.

'I didn't tell them who you were. And anyhow they wouldn't say anything,' she assured the wanderer.

'Well, who am I?' asked Trix. 'I hardly know. I know who I was before dinner, but who am I now?'

'Tell me about it.'

'I can't. I ran away. I think I knocked Lord Barmouth down. Then I ran to the station – I knew there was a train. Just by chance I put on the skirt that had my purse in it, or – No, I'd never have gone back. And I got to London. I went to my flat. At the door I remembered it was let. Then – then, Peggy, I went to Danes Inn.' She looked up at Peggy with a puzzled glance, as though asking why she had gone to Danes Inn. 'But he was out – at least there was no answer – and the porter had followed me and was waiting at the foot of the stairs. So I came down. I told him I was Airey Newton's sister, but he didn't believe me.' She broke into a weak laugh. 'So I came here, and waited till you came. But those men were here, so I waited till – till I couldn't wait any longer.' She lay back exhausted in her chair. 'May I stay to-night?' she asked.

'It's so lucky Elfreda's away. There's a whole room for you!' said Peggy. She got a low chair and sat down by Trix. But Trix sprang suddenly to her feet in a new spasm of nervous excitement that made her weariness forgotten. Peggy watched her, a little afraid, half-sorry that she had not bidden Tommy Trent to wait outside the baize door.

'Oh, that time at Barslett!' cried Trix Trevalla, flinging out her hands. 'The torture of it! And I told them all lies, nothing but lies! They were turning me into one great lie. I told lies to the man I was going to marry – this very night I told him a lie. And I didn't dare to confess. So I ran away. I ran for my life – literally for my life, I think.'

This sort of thing was quite new to Peggy, as new to her as to the Barmouths, though in a different way.

'Weren't they kind to you?' she asked wonderingly. It was strange that this was the woman who had made the great triumph, whom all the other women were envying.

Trix took no notice of her simple question.

'I'm beaten,' she said. 'It's all too hard for me. I thought I could do it – I can't!' She turned on Peggy almost fiercely. 'I've myself to thank for it. There's hardly anybody I haven't treated badly; there's been nobody I really cared about. Beaufort Chance, Mrs. Bonfill, the Frickers – yes, Mortimer too – they were all to do something for me. Look what they've done! Look where I am now!'

She threw herself into a chair, and sat there silent for a minute. Peggy rose quietly, shut the window, and drew the curtains.

'They all believed in me in their way,' Trix went on, more quietly, more drearily. 'They thought I should do my part of the bargain, that I should play fair. The bargains weren't a good sort, and I didn't even play fair. So here I am!'

Her desolation struck Peggy to the heart, but it seemed too vast for any demonstration of affection or efforts at consolation; Trix would not want to be kissed while she was dissecting her own soul.

'That's what Fricker meant by the letter he wrote me. He's a swindler. So was I. He didn't swindle me till I swindled him. I lied to him just as I lied to Mortimer – just in the same way.'

'Do go to bed, dear. You'll be able to tell me better to-morrow.'

'I know now,' Trix went on, holding her head between her hands, 'I know now why I went to Danes Inn. I remember now. It came into my head in the train – as I stared at an old man who thought I was mad. It was because he made me think I could do all that, and treat people and the world like that.'

'Airey did?'

'Perhaps he didn't mean to, but it sounded like that to me. I had had such a life of it; nobody had ever given me a chance. He seemed to tell me to have my chance, to take my turn. So I did. I didn't care about any of them. I was having my turn, that's all. It's very horrible, very horrible. And after it all here I am! But that's why I went to Danes Inn.' She broke off and burst into a feeble laugh. 'You should have seen Lord Barmouth, with his shawl and his lantern and his spud! I believe I knocked him down.' She sprang up again and listened to the clock that struck two. 'I wonder what Mortimer is doing!' She stood stock-still, a terror on her face. 'Will they come after me?'

'They won't think of coming here,' Peggy assured her soothingly.

'It's all over now, you know, absolutely,' said Trix. 'But I daren't face them. I daren't see any of them. I should like never to see anything of them again. They're things to forget. Oh, my life seems to have been nothing but things to forget! And to-night I remember them all, so clearly, every bit of them. I wanted something different, and it's turned out just the same.' She came quickly up to Peggy and implored her, 'Will you hide me here for a little while?'

'As long as you like. Nobody will come here.' The contrast between the gay, confident, high-couraged Trix Trevalla she had known and this broken creature seemed terrible to Peggy.

'I came here because – ' A sort of puzzle fell upon her again.

'Of course you did. We're friends,' said Peggy, and now she kissed her. All that Trix was saying might be dark and strange, but her coming was natural enough in Peggy's eyes.

'Yes, that's why I came,' cried Trix, eagerly snatching at the word. 'Because we're friends! You're friends, you and all of you. You're not trying to get anything, you'd give anything – you, and Mr. Trent, and Airey Newton.'

Airey's name gave Peggy a little pang. She said nothing, but her smile was sad.

'And at Barslett I thought of you all – most of you yourself. Somehow you seemed to me the only pleasant thing there was in the world; and I was so far – so far away from you.' She lowered her voice suddenly to a cautious whisper. 'I must tell you something, but promise me to repeat it to nobody. Promise me!'

'Of course I promise,' said Peggy readily.

'I think I'm ruined,' whispered Trix. 'I think Fricker has ruined me. That's what I didn't dare tell Mortimer. I had a letter from Fricker, but I've lost it, I think, or left it somewhere. Or did I tear it up? As far as I could understand it, it looked as if he'd ruined me. When I've paid all I have to pay I think I shall have hardly any money at all, Peggy. You promise not to tell?'

Peggy was more in her element now; her smile grew much brighter.

'Yes, I promise, and you needn't bother about that. It doesn't matter a bit. And, besides, I've got lots of money. Airey's got a heap of money of mine.'

'Airey Newton?' She stood silent a moment, frowning, as though she were thinking of him or of what his name brought into her mind. But in the end she only said again, 'Yes, I think I must be ruined too.'

It was evident that Peggy could comfort her on that score hardly more than with regard to the troubles that were strange and mysterious. Indeed Peggy was almost at her limit of endurance.

'If you're miserable any longer, and don't go quietly to bed, I think I shall begin to cry and never stop,' she declared in serious warning.

'Have I said a great deal?' asked Trix wearily. 'I'm sorry; I had to say it to someone. It was burning me up inside, you know.'

'You will come to bed?' Peggy entreated.

'Yes, I'll come to bed. I've got nothing, you know. I must have left everything there.'

This problem again was familiar; Peggy assured her that there would be no trouble. A rather hysterical smile came on Trix's lips.

'They'll find all my things in the morning,' she said. 'And Lord Barmouth will tell them how I knocked him down! And Mrs. Bonfill! And Lady Barmouth!'

'It would be rather fun to be there,' suggested Peggy, readily advancing to the brink of mirth.

'And Mortimer!'

Peggy looked at her curiously and risked the question: —

'Did you care at all for him?'

'I can't care for anybody – anybody,' moaned Trix despairingly. She stretched out her arms. 'Can you teach me, Peggy?'

'You poor old dear, come to bed,' said Peggy.

Peggy herself was not much for bed that night. After she had seen Trix between the sheets, and dropping off to sleep in exhaustion, she put on a dressing-gown and came back to her favourite chair. Here she sat herself Turk-wise, and abandoned the remaining hour of darkness to reflection and cigarettes. She was to become, it seemed, a spectator of odd things, a repository of secrets; she was to behold strange scenes in the world's comedy. It was by no seeking of hers; she had but gone about enjoying herself, and all this came to her; she did but give of her abundance of happiness, and they brought to her trouble in exchange. Was that too the way of the world? Peggy did not complain. No consciousness marred her beneficence; she never supposed that she was doing or could do good. And it was all interesting. She pictured Barslett in its consternation, and a delighted triumph rose in her; she would fight Barslett, if need be, for Trix Trevalla. For the present it was enough to laugh at abandoned Barslett, and she paid it that tribute heartily.

Yes, there were her secrets, both guarded by pledges of honour! Trix was ruined, and Airey Newton was – what he must be declared to be. The thought of the two made connection in her mind. Trix had given her the link that held them together; if what Trix had told were true, Airey Newton had much to say to this night's episode, to all that had happened at Barslett and before, to the ruin and despair.



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