Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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'All that sounds rather absurd,' murmured Peggy critically, 'but I'm beginning to think that that's no reason against things being true.'

Because things all round were rather absurd – Elfreda and Horace Harnack there at Norwich, Airey Newton hugging gold, Barslett aghast, Mortimer Mervyn forsaken, brilliant Trix beaten, battered, ruined, a fugitive seeking a house of refuge – and seeking it with her. Was there no thread to this labyrinth? Peggy might have the clue in her heart; she had it not in her head.

Dawn peeped through the curtains, and she tore the hanging folds away that she might greet its coming and welcome the beauty of it. As she stood looking, her old confident faith that joy cometh in the morning rose in her. Presently she turned away with a merry laugh, and, shrugging her shoulders at Nature's grandmotherly ways, at last drove herself to bed at hard on five o'clock. There was no sound from Trix Trevalla's room when she listened on the way.

Her night was short; eight o'clock found her in the market, buying flowers, flowers, flowers; the room was to be a garden for Trix to-day, and money flew thousand-winged from Peggy's purse. She had just dealt forth her last half-sovereign when she turned to find Tommy Trent at her elbow; he too was laden with roses.

'Oh!' exclaimed Peggy, rather startled, and blushing a little, looking down, too, at her unceremonious morning attire.

'Ah!' said Tommy, pointing at her flowers and shaking his head.

'Well, you've got some too.'

'I was going to leave them for you – just in acknowledgment of the lobsters. What have you bought those for?'

'They're for her,' said Peggy. 'I shall like to have yours for myself.'

'Nobody ever needed them less, but I'll bring them round,' said he.

They walked together to her door. Then Tommy said: —

'Well, you can tell me?'

'I can tell you part of it – not all,' said Peggy.

'Who is she, then?'

'Nobody else is to know.' She whispered to him: 'Trix Trevalla!'

Tommy considered a moment. Then he remarked: —

'You'll probably find that you've got to send for me.'

Peggy raised her brows and looked at him derisively. He returned her gaze placidly, with a pleasant smile. Peggy laughed gently.

'If Mrs. Trevalla is so foolish, I don't mind,' she said.

Tommy strolled off very happy. 'The thing moves, I think,' he mused as he went his way. For the more love she had for others, the more and the better might she some day give to him. It is a treasure that grows by spending: such was his reflection, and it seems but fair to record it, since so many instances of a different trend of thought have been exhibited.

CHAPTER XV
NOT EVERYBODY'S FOOTBALL

Lord Barmouth was incapable of speaking of it – incapable. He said so, and honestly believed himself. Indeed it is possible that under less practised hands he would have revealed nothing. Lady Blixworth, cordially agreeing that the less said the better, extracted a tolerably full account of the whole affair.

'She did, she actually did,' he assured her, as though trying to overcome an inevitable incredulity.

'I was standing in the middle of the path, and she' – he paused, seeking a word – something to convey the monstrous fact.

'Shoved you off it?' suggested Lady Blixworth, in no difficulty for the necessary word.

'She pushed me violently aside. I all but fell!'

'Then she scuttled off?'

This time he accepted the description. 'Exactly what she did – exactly. I can describe it in no other way. She must have been mad!'

'What can have driven her mad at Barslett?' asked his friend innocently.

'Nothing. We were kindness itself. Her troubles were not due to her visit to us. We made her absolutely one of the family.'

'You tried, you mean,' she suggested.

'Precisely. We tried – with what success you see. It is heart-breaking – heart – '

'And what did Mortimer say?'

'I didn't tell him till the next morning. I can't dwell on the scene. He ran to her room himself; I followed. It was in gross disorder.'

'No!'

'I assure you, yes. There was no letter, no word for him. Presently his mother prevailed on him to withdraw.'

'It must have been a shock.'

'I prefer to leave it undescribed. Nobody could attempt to comfort him but our good Sarah Bonfill.'

'Ah, dearest Sarah has a wonderful way!'

'As the day wore on, she induced him to discuss the Trans-Euphratic Railway scheme, in which he is greatly interested. He will be a long while recovering.'

Repressing her inclination to seize an obvious opening for a flippant question, Lady Blixworth gazed sympathetically at the afflicted father.

'And your poor wife?' she asked in gentle tones.

'A collapse – nothing less than a collapse, Viola. The deception that Mrs. Trevalla practised – well, I won't say a word. I had come to like her, and it is too painful – too painful. But there is no doubt that she wilfully deceived us on at least two occasions. The first we forgave freely and frankly; we treated it as if it had never been. The second time was on that evening itself; she misrepresented the result of certain business matters in which she had engaged – '

'And ran away to avoid being found out?' guessed Lady Blixworth.

'I think – I may say, I hope – that she was for the time not responsible for her actions.'

'Where is she now?'

'I have no information. We don't desire to know. We have done with her.'

'Does Mortimer feel like that too?'

'Don't do him the injustice – the injustice, Viola – of supposing anything else. He knows what is due to himself. Fortunately the acute position of public affairs is a distraction.'

'Do tell him to come here. We shall be so glad to see him, Audrey and I. She admires him so much, you know; and I – well, I've known him since he was a boy. Does Sarah know nothing more about Trix's reasons for behaving in such a fashion?'

'In Sarah's opinion Mrs. Trevalla has ruined herself by speculation.'

Lady Blixworth was startled from artifice by the rapture of finding her suspicions justified.

'Fricker!' she exclaimed triumphantly.

'There is every reason to believe so – every reason.' There was at least one very good one – namely, that Mrs. Bonfill had pieced together Mr. Fricker's letter, read it, and communicated the contents to Lady Barmouth. Lord Barmouth saw no need to be explicit on this point; he had refused to read the letter himself, or to let Mrs. Bonfill speak to him about it. It is, however, difficult for a man not to listen to his wife.

'Well, you never were enthusiastic about the match, were you?'

'She wasn't quite one of us, but I had come to like her.' He paused, and then, after a struggle, broke out candidly, 'I feel sorry for her, Viola.'

'It does you credit,' said Lady Blixworth, and she really thought it did.

'In a sense she is to be pitied. It is inevitable that a man like Mortimer should require much from the woman who is to be his wife. It is inevitable. She couldn't reach his standard.'

'Nor yours.'

'Our standard for him is very high, very high.' He sighed. 'But I'm sorry for her.'

'What does Sarah say?'

Lord Barmouth looked a little puzzled. He leant forward and observed confidentially, 'It seems to me, Viola, that women of high principle occasionally develop a certain severity of judgment – I call it a severity.'

'So do I,' nodded Lady Blixworth heartily.

Barmouth passed rapidly from the dangers of such criticism.

'It is probably essential in the interests of society,' he added, with a return of dignity.

'Oh, probably,' she conceded, with a carelessness appropriate to the subject. 'Do you think there's another man?'

'I beg your pardon, Viola?' He was obviously astonished, and inclined to be offended.

'Any man she liked or had liked, you know?'

'She was engaged to my son.'

That certainly sounded final, but Lady Blixworth was not abashed.

'An engagement is just what brings the idea of the other man back sometimes,' she observed.

'We have no reason to suspect it in this case. I will not suspect it without definite grounds. In spite of everything let us be just.'

Lady Blixworth agreed to be just, with a rather weary air. 'Do give my best love to dear Lady Barmouth, and do send Mortimer to see me,' she implored her distressed visitor, when he took his leave.

The coast was clear. If she knew anything of the heart of man – as she conceived she did – the juncture of affairs was not unfavourable; ill-used lovers may sometimes be induced to seek softer distractions than Trans-Euphratic or other railways. She telegraphed to Audrey Pollington to cut short a visit which she was paying in the country. At any rate Audrey would not have ruined herself nor run away. In a spirit not over-complimentary either to Audrey or to Barslett, Lady Blixworth decided that they would just suit one another.

'The marriage arranged, &c., will not take place.' When a lady disappears by night, and sends no communication save a telegram, giving no address and asking that her luggage may be consigned to Charing Cross station, 'to be called for,' it is surely justifiable to insert that curt intimation of happiness frustrated or ruin escaped; the doubt in which light to look at it must be excused, since it represents faithfully the state of Mervyn's mind. He still remembered Trix as he had thought her, still had visions of her as what he had meant her to become; with the actual Trix of fact he was naturally in a fury of outraged self-esteem.

'I would have forgiven her,' he told Mrs. Bonfill, not realising at all that this ceremony, or process, was the very thing which Trix had been unable to face. 'In a little while we might have forgotten it, if she had shown proper feeling.'

'She's the greatest disappointment I ever had in my life,' declared Mrs. Bonfill. 'Not excepting even Beaufort Chance! I needn't say that I wash my hands of her, Mortimer.' Mrs. Bonfill was very sore; people would take advantage of Trix's escapade to question the social infallibility of her sponsor.

'We have no alternative,' he agreed gloomily.

'You mustn't think any more about her; you have your career.'

'I hate the gossip,' he broke out fretfully.

'If you say nothing, it will die away. For the moment it is unavoidable – you are so conspicuous.'

'I shall fulfil all my engagements as if nothing had happened.'

'Much the best way,' she agreed, recognising a stolid courage in him which commanded some admiration. He was facing what he hated most in the world – ridicule; he was forced to realise one of the things that a man least likes to realise – that he has failed to manage a woman whom he has undertaken to manage. No eccentricities of sin or folly in her, no repeated failures to find anything amiss in himself, can take away the sting.

'I can't blame myself,' he said more than once to Mrs. Bonfill; but the conviction of his blamelessness yielded no comfort.

She understood his feeling, and argued against it; but it remained with him still, in spite of all she could say. He had always been satisfied with himself; he was very ill-satisfied now. Some malicious spirit in himself seemed to join in the chorus of ill-natured laughter from outside which his pride and sensitiveness conjured to his ears. Beaufort Chance had walked the streets once in fear of the whispers of passers-by saying that he had been proved a rogue. Mervyn walked them, and sat in his place in the House, imagining that the whispers said that he had been made a fool. But he faced all. Barslett bred courage, if not brilliancy; he faced even Beaufort Chance, who sat below the gangway, and screwed round on him a vicious smile the first time he appeared after the announcement.

On the whole he behaved well, but he had not even that glimmer of pity for Trix which had shone through his father's horrified pompousness. The movements of her mind remained an utter blank to him; why she had lied, an unsolved mystery. Amidst all his humiliation and his anger, he thanked heaven that such a woman would never now be mistress of Barslett; the affair constituted a terrible warning against experiments in marriage. If the question arose again – and in view of Barslett it must – he would follow the beaten track. In the bottom of his heart – though he confessed it to nobody, no, not to his parents nor to Mrs. Bonfill – he had something of the feeling of an ordinarily sober and strait-laced young man who has been beguiled into 'making a night of it' with rowdy companions, and in the morning hours undergoes the consequences of his unwonted outbreak: his head aches, he is exposed to irreverent comment, he is heartily determined to forswear such courses. Mervyn did not dream of seeking Trix, or of offering an amnesty. To his mind there was no alternative; he washed his hands of her, like Mrs. Bonfill.

Society took its cue from these authoritative examples, and was rather in a hurry to declare its attitude. It shows in such cases something of the timidity and prudery of people who are themselves not entirely proof against criticism, and are consequently much afraid of the noscitur a sociis test being applied to them. Even in moral matters it displays this readiness to take alarm, this anxiety to vindicate itself; much more so, of course, in the case of conduct which it terms, with vague but unmeasured reprobation, 'impossible.' Trix's behaviour had been 'impossible' in the highest degree, and there could be but one sentence. Yet, though society was eager to dissociate itself from such proceedings, it was not eager to stop talking about them; its curiosity and its desire to learn the whole truth were insatiable. Trix was banned; her particular friends became very popular. Lady Blixworth held lev?es of women who wanted to know. Peggy Ryle's appearances were greeted with enthusiasm. Where was Mrs. Trevalla? How was Mrs. Trevalla? Who (this was an after-thought, coming very late in the day, but demanded by the facts of the case) was Mrs. Trevalla after all? And, of course, the truth had yet to be told? Society held the cheerful conviction that it by no means knew the worst.

Any knowledge Lady Blixworth had, she professed to be at the disposal of her callers; she chose to give it in a form most calculated to puzzle and least likely to satisfy. 'There was a difference, but not amounting to a quarrel.' 'So far as we know, she has not left London.' 'She was certainly alone when she started from Barslett.' Utterances like these wasted the time of the inquirers and beguiled Lady Blixworth's. 'I'm going to stay with them soon,' she would add, 'but probably anything I may hear will be in confidence.' Such a remark as that was actively annoying. 'Oh, Audrey goes with me, yes,' might be a starting-point for conjecture as to the future, but threw no light on the elusive past. More than one lady was heard to declare that she considered Lady Blixworth an exasperating woman.

Peggy's serene silence served as well as these ingenious speeches. With an audacious truthfulness, which only her popularity with men made it safe to employ, she told the affronted world that she knew everything, but could say nothing. An assertion usually considered to be but a transparent and impudent mask of ignorance compelled unwilling belief when it came from her lips; but surely she could not persist in such an attitude? It cut at the roots of social intercourse. Peggy was incessantly abused and incessantly invited. She had frocks now to respond to every call, and at every call she came. She went even to houses which she had shown no anxiety to frequent before, and which seemed to offer the reward neither of pleasure nor of prestige for going.

'That child is up to something,' opined Lady Blixworth, after a week or two of this; and one day, at her own house, she kept Peggy back and took her firmly by the shoulders.

'What is it you want?' she asked squarely. 'Why have you been going to the Moresby-Jenkinses' and the Eli-Simpkinsons', and places of that sort?'

Peggy looked at her with a shrewd kindness, weighing the advantages of still more candour.

'I want to meet Mr. Fricker,' she confessed at last.

'That means you're in communication with Trix?' An inspiration came upon her. 'Heavens, I believe she's living with you!'

'Yes, she is. She said I might tell you if I liked, though she doesn't want it generally known. But can you help me to meet Mr. Fricker?'

'Are you Trix's ambassador?'

'No, no. She knows nothing about it. She'd be furious.'

Lady Blixworth released her manual hold of her prisoner and sat down, but she kept a detaining eye on her.

'Are you going to throw yourself at Fricker's feet, and ask him to give Trix's money back?'

'Do you know about – ?'

'Yes, Lord Barmouth told me; and very much I've enjoyed keeping it to myself. I can feel for Trix; but if you want a lesson, my dear, it's this – the world isn't everybody's football. You won't do any good by clasping Fricker's knees, however pretty you may look.'

'Haven't the least intention of it,' said Peggy coolly. 'I shall go purely on a business footing.' She paused a minute. 'Trix sent you her love, and would like to see you in a little while.'

'I'll write to her from Barslett.' Lady Blixworth smiled reflectively.

'And about Mr. Fricker?'

'It's a business matter – ask him for an appointment.'

'I never thought of that,' said Peggy, ignoring the irony. 'That's the simplest thing, isn't it?'

'Really I believe, the way you'll do it, it'll be the best. And you might try the knees, perhaps, after all. He's got a heart, I suppose, and an ugly wife, I know. So he must be accessible.'

'You're quite wrong in that idea,' persisted Peggy.

'Of course you could get a card for something where he'd be easily enough, but – '

'The appointment for me! Thanks so much, Lady Blixworth. Without your advice I should have been afraid.'

'Give Trix my love, and tell her I think she deserves it all.'

'You don't know what a state she's in,' urged Peggy reproachfully.

'A thoroughly unscrupulous woman – and, bad as times are, I'd have given a hundred pounds to see her shove Lord Barmouth out of the way and skedaddle down that road.'

'You'd be nice to her, but everybody else is horrid.'

'She deserves it all,' was Lady Blixworth's inexorable verdict.

Peggy looked at her with meditative eyes.

'Her obvious duty was to marry him, and please herself afterwards,' Lady Blixworth explained. 'We must have our rules kept, Peggy, else where should we be? And because we were all furious with him for marrying her, we're all the more furious with her now for throwing him over. Nothing is more offensive than to see other people despise what you'd give your eyes to have.'

'She didn't despise it. She's very unhappy at not having it.'

'At not having it for nothing, I suppose? I've no patience with her.'

'Yes, you have – and lots of understanding. And you're rather fond of her too. Well, I shall go and see Mr. Fricker.'

Peggy's doubts as to how far Lady Blixworth revealed her own views about Trix Trevalla may be shared, but it cannot be questioned that she expressed those of the world, which does not like being made a football of unless by the very great or (perhaps) the very rich. The verdict came in the same tones from all quarters. Lord Glentorly gave it to Mrs. Bonfill when he said, 'She was a pirate craft; it's a good thing she's at the bottom of the sea.' Sir Stapleton Stapleton-Staines ventured to suggest it to Lord Barmouth himself by quoting, with delicate reticence, half of that proverb of which he had before approved. Fricker did not put it into words, but he listened smiling while his wife and daughter put it into a great many – which were very forcible and did not lack the directness of popular speech. All the people whom Trix had sought, in one way or another, to use for her own purposes pointed to her fall as a proof, first, of her wickedness, and, secondly, of their own superiority to any such menial function. In face of such an obvious moral it seems enough to remain approvingly silent; to elaborate it is but to weaken the force of its simple majesty.

And the sinner herself? She sat in Airey Newton's room in Danes Inn and owned that the world was right. She was no more the draggled hysterical woman who had sought refuge with Peggy Ryle. Her boxes had been called for at Charing Cross; her nerves were better under control. She was chaffing Airey Newton, telling him what a failure her sally into society had proved, declaring that on the strength of his advice at Paris she held him responsible for it all.

'You gave me a most selfish gospel,' she laughed. 'I acted on it, and here I am, back on your hands, Mr. Newton.'

He was puzzled by her, for he could not help guessing that her fall had been severe. Perfect as her self-control now was, the struggle had left its mark on her face; her gay manner did not hide the serious truth which lay behind.

'Oh, it's no use beating about the bush,' she declared, laughing. 'I've played my game, and I've lost it. What are you going to do with me?'

'Well, I suppose life isn't altogether at an end?' he suggested.

'We'll hope not,' smiled Trix; but her voice was not hopeful.



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