Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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'You were engaged, and you're not. It seems to amount to that.'

'That's putting it very baldly. A little bit more, perhaps.'

How much more she did not tell him. She said nothing of Fricker, nothing of ruin; and no rumours had reached Danes Inn. He saw that her vanity was wounded, he guessed that perhaps her affections might be; but he treated her still as the well-off fashionable woman who for a whim came to visit his poor lodgings, just as she still treated him as the poverty-stricken man who might advise others well or ill, but anyhow made little enough out of the world for himself.

'Well, you seem quite happy without these vanities,' she said. 'Why shouldn't I be?' She leant back and seemed to look at him with a grateful sense of peace and quiet. 'And you don't abuse me! You must know I've been very bad, but you greet me like a friend.'

'Your badness is nothing to me, if you have been bad.'

'Is that indifference – or fidelity?' she asked, lightly still, but with a rather anxious expression in her eyes.

For a moment he was silent, staring out of his big window into the big window opposite. In the end he did not answer her question, but put one in his turn: —

'So you hold me responsible?'

There must have been something more than raillery in her original charge, for when he put his question gravely she answered it in a like way.

'You touched some impulse in me that hadn't been touched before. Of course you didn't mean to do it. You didn't know the sort of person you were talking to. But I thought over what you said, and it chimed in with something in me. So I went and – and had my fling.'

'Ah!' he murmured vaguely, but he turned now and looked at her.

She had meant to give him no confidence, but he drew it from her.

'I've been very unhappy,' she confessed. 'I was very unhappy a good deal of the time, even when I was prosperous. And I've – I've told a lot of lies.'

The blunt statement wrung a passing smile from him.

'And if I'd gone on I must have told many more.'

'My responsibility is evidently heavy.' He paused, and then added, 'There are a good many things that make one lie.'

'Not in Danes Inn?' She laughed a little.

'Yes, even in Danes Inn,' said he, frowning.

'I don't think so, and I'm glad to be here,' she said. 'And some day, when I've more courage, I'll make a full confession and ask you to be friends still. I often thought about you and Peggy and the rest.'

He had begun to smoke, and did not look at her again till the long silence that followed her last words caught his attention. When he turned, she sat looking straight in front of her; he saw that her eyes were full of tears. He put down his pipe and came slowly over to her.

'It's been a bit worse than you've told me, Mrs. Trevalla?' he suggested.

'Yes, a little bit,' she owned. 'And – and I'm not cured yet. I still want to go back. There, I tell you that! I haven't told even Peggy.

I've told her all my sins, but I've not told her that I'm impenitent. I should like to try again. What else is there for me to try for? You have your work; what have I? I can't get my thoughts away from it all.'

She regarded him with a piteous appeal as she confessed that she was not yet chastened.

'You can go back and have another shot,' he said slowly.

Trix would not tell him why that was impossible.

'I'm afraid the door's shut in my face,' was as definite as she could bring herself to be.

'Well, we shall have the benefit, perhaps.'

'If I told you all about it, I don't think you'd want me here.'

'If we all knew all about one another, should we ever pay visits?'

'Never, I suppose. Or face it out and live together always! But, seriously, I should be afraid to tell you.'

'Don't idealise me.'

The words were curt, the tone hard; there was no appearance of joking about him. There was a dreary disheartened sadness on his face, as of a man who struggled always and struggled in vain, who was suffering some defeat that shamed him. He had come near to her; she reached out her hand and touched his.

'Don't look like that,' she begged. 'I don't know why it is, and you make me more unhappy.'

He turned a sudden glance on her; their eyes met full for an instant; then both turned away. But the look that passed between them had held something new; it made a difference to them; it seemed in some sort to change the feeling of the dingy room. Their eyes had spoken of a possibility which had suddenly come into the minds of both and had surprised the chance of expression before they could hinder it. Henceforward it must at least be common ground with them that the unhappiness of each was a matter of deep concern to the other. But both crushed down the impulse and the longing to which that knowledge seemed naturally to give birth. Trix was not penitent; Airey's battle still ended in defeat. Their pretence was against them. She was of the rich. How could he bear to change his life for hers? She looked round the dingy room. Was this the existence to which she must come, a woman ruined, and content with these four walls? They were not boy and girl, that the mere thought of love could in a moment sweep all obstacles away. Each felt chains whereof the other knew nothing. It was not hope that filled them, but rather the forlorn sense of loss – that for them, as they were, such a thing could not be; and they were ashamed to own that the idea of it had been interchanged between them.

Trix ended the constrained silence that had followed on the speech of eyes.

'Well, we must take the world as we find it,' she said with a little sigh. 'At least I've tried to make it what I wanted, and, as you see, without success.' She rose to go, but rose reluctantly.

'Is it ourselves or the world?' he asked.

'We're the world, I suppose, like other people, aren't we? I don't feel too good to belong to it!'

'If we're a bit of it, we ought to have more to say to it,' he suggested, smiling again.

Trix shook her head.

'It's too big,' she objected sorrowfully. 'Big and hard, and, I believe, most horribly just.'

Airey stroked his beard in meditation over this.

'I'm inclined to think it is rather just. But I'll be hanged if there's an iota of generosity about it!' said he.

She held out her hand in farewell, and could not help meeting his eyes once again; those deep-set, tired, kindly eyes had a new attraction for her since her wanderings and adventures; they had the strong appeal of offering and of asking help all in the same look. She could not prevent herself from saying: —

'May I come again?'

'You must come,' said Airey Newton in a low voice.

He was left resolved that she of all the world should never know his secret. She went back saying that of all the world he at least should never learn how sore a fool she had been. Because of that glance between them these purposes were immutable in their minds.

CHAPTER XVI
MORAL LESSONS

Mrs. Bonfill sore at the damage to her infallibility; Barmouth still feeling that rude and sacrilegious thrust at ennobled ribs; Lady Barmouth unable to look her neighbours in the face; Mervyn fearing the whispers and the titters; Lady Blixworth again wearily donning her armour, betaking herself to Barslett, goading Audrey Pollington into making herself attractive; the Glentorlys and a score more of exalted families feeling that they had been sadly 'let in,' treacherously beguiled into petting and patronising an impossible person; Airey Newton oppressed with scorn of himself, yet bound in his chains; Peggy persuaded that something must be done, and shaken out of her usual happiness by the difficulty of doing it – all these people, and no doubt more besides, proved that if the world is not a football for every wanton toe, neither is it an immovable unimpressionable mass, on which individual effort and the vagaries of this man or that make absolutely no impression. Trix's raid had met with defeat, but it had left its effect on many lives, its marks in many quarters. A sense of this joined with the recognition of her own present wretched state to create in Trix the feelings with which she regarded her past proceedings and their outcome. So many people must have grudges against her; if she was not penitent she was frightened; her instinct was to hide, however much she might still hanker after the glories of conspicuous station. Of Airey's disturbance and of Peggy's fretting, indeed, she had only a vague inkling; the world she had left was the vivid thing to her; it seemed to ring with her iniquities as her guilty ears listened from the seclusion of Harriet Street, Covent Garden. She knew it called her impossible; she could not have resented Lord Glentorly's 'pirate craft.'

Not even on Mervyn himself had she been so great an influence as on Beaufort Chance, and, great as the influence was, Beaufort greatly, though not unnaturally, exaggerated it. He set down to her account all the guilt of those practices for which he had suffered and of which Fricker was in reality the chief inspirer; at any rate, if she had not counselled them, she had impelled him to them and had then turned round and refused him the reward for whose sake he had sinned. If he ranked now rather with Fricker than with Mervyn or Constantine Blair, or the men of that sort who had been his colleagues and his equals, the heaviest of the blame rested on Trix. If the meshes of the Fricker net enveloped him more closely day by day, hers was the fault. Countenanced by an element of truth, carried the whole way by resentment, by jealousy, and by the impulse to acquit himself at another's expense, he would have rejoiced to make Trix his scapegoat and to lay on her the burden of his sins. Though she could not bear his punishment, he welcomed her as his partner in misfortune. He longed to see her in her humiliation, and sought a way. When he asked himself what he meant to say to her he could not answer; his impulse was to see her in the dust.

The Frickers often talked of Trix – Fricker with the quiet smile of a man who has done what he had to do and done it well; Mrs. Fricker with heavy self-complacent malevolence; Connie with a lighter yet still malicious raillery. An instinct in Chance made him take small part in these discussions and display some indifference towards them; but soon he gleaned what he wanted from them. Fricker had found out where Trix was; he had received a brief note from her, asking to be informed of the full extent of her speculative liabilities. He described with amusement the lucid explanation which he had sent.

'When she's paid that, and her other debts – which must be pretty heavy – there won't be much left, I fancy,' he reflected.

'Where is she?' asked Connie, in passing curiosity.

'I forget. Oh, here's the letter. Thirty-four Harriet Street, Covent Garden. Hardly sounds princely, does it, Connie?'

They all laughed, and Beaufort Chance with them. But he hoarded up the address in his memory. The next moment, by an impulse to conceal his thoughts, he stole an affectionate glance at Connie and received her sly return of it. He knew that, whatever feeling took him to Trix Trevalla's, his visit would not win approval from Connie Fricker.

On the following morning Mr. Fricker saw that address at the top of another note, whose author introduced herself as a great friend of Mrs. Trevalla. Smiling with increased amusement, he gave her what she asked – an appointment for the following afternoon. It would be Saturday, and Fricker bade her come to his house, not to his office. He had heard Connie speak of her with some envy, and saw no reason why the two girls should not become acquainted. The object of the visit was, he supposed, to make an appeal on Trix Trevalla's behalf. Experience taught him that women attached an extraordinary efficacy to a personal interview – extraordinary, that is, where the other party to the interview was not a fool. His anticipation of the meeting did not differ much from Lady Blixworth's satirical suggestion of its course.

When Peggy came at the appointed hour (she was so far human, Mr. Fricker's suspicions so far justified, that she had taken much pains with her toilet) she was ushered into the drawing-room, not the study, and was met by Connie with profuse apologies. A gentleman had called on papa most unexpectedly; papa had to see the gentleman because the gentleman was leaving for Constantinople the next day. It was something about the Trans-Euphratic Railway, or something tiresome. Would Miss Ryle mind waiting half an hour and having a cup of tea? Mamma would be so sorry to miss her, but it was Lady Rattledowney's day, and Lady Rattledowney was lost without mamma. Did Miss Ryle know the Rattledowneys? Such dear people the Rattledowneys were! They were also, it may be observed, extremely impecunious.

Thus vivaciously inaugurated, the conversation prospered. Peggy, sorely afraid of giggling, studied her companion with an amusement sternly repressed, and an interest the greater for being coupled with unhesitating condemnation. Connie ranged over the upper half of the Fricker acquaintance; she had been warned to avoid mention of Trix Trevalla, but she made haste to discover any other common friends: there were the Eli-Simpkinsons and the Moresby-Jenkinses, of course; a few more also whom Peggy knew. Mrs. Bonfill figured on Connie's list, though not, she admitted, of their intimate circle. ('She has so much to do, poor Mrs. Bonfill, one can never find her!' regretted Connie.) Over Lady Blixworth, whose name Peggy introduced, she rather shied.

'Mamma doesn't think her very good form,' she said primly.

Rushing for any remark to avert the threatened laugh, Peggy made boldly for Beaufort Chance.

'Oh, yes, he's a very particular friend of ours. We think him delightful. So clever too! He's always in and out of the house, Miss Ryle.' She blushed a little, and met Peggy's look with a conscious smile.

Peggy smiled too, and followed the next direction taken by Miss Connie's handsome eyes.

'I see you've got his photograph on the table.'

'Yes. Mamma lets me have that for my particular table.'

Evidently Peggy was to understand that her companion had a property in Beaufort Chance; whether the intimation was for Peggy's own benefit or for transmission to another was not clear. It was possibly no more than an ebullition of vanity – but Peggy did not believe that.

'We ride together in the morning sometimes, and that always makes people such friends. No stiffness, you know.'

Peggy, wondering when and where any stiffness would intrude into Connie's friendship, agreed that riding was an admirable path to intimacy.

'And then he's so much connected in business with papa; that naturally brings him here a lot.'

'I don't suppose he minds,' suggested Peggy, playing the game.

'He says he doesn't,' laughed Connie, poking out her foot and regarding it with coy intensity, as she had seen ladies do on the stage when the topic of their affections happened to be touched upon.

Understanding the accepted significance, if not the inherent propriety, of the attitude, Peggy ventured on a nod which intimated her appreciation of the position.

'Oh, it's all nonsense anyhow, isn't it, Miss Ryle? What I say is, it's just a bit of fun.' In this declaration Connie did less than justice to herself. It was that, but it was something much more.

Peggy was vastly amused, and saw no reason to be more delicate or reticent than the lady principally concerned.

'May we congratulate you yet?'

'Gracious, no, Miss Ryle! How you do get on!'

At this Peggy saw fair excuse for laughter, and made up her arrears heartily. Connie was not at all displeased. Peggy 'got on' further, chaffing Connie on her conquest and professing all proper admiration for the victim.

'Mind you don't say anything to mamma,' Connie cautioned her. 'It's all a dead secret.'

'I'm very good at secrets,' Peggy assured her.

'He gave me this,' murmured Connie, displaying a bangle.

'How perfectly sweet!' cried Peggy.

'It is rather nice, isn't it? I love diamonds and pearls. Don't you, Miss Ryle? Lady Rattledowney admired it very much.'

'Did you tell her where it came from?'

'No – and mamma thinks I bought it!'

Peggy had arrived at the conclusion that this guilelessness was overdone; she adopted, without serious doubt, the theory of transmission. Nothing was to be repeated to mamma, but as much as she chose might find its way to Trix Trevalla. The information was meant to add a drop of bitterness to that sinner's cup. Peggy was willing to take it on this understanding – and to deal with it as might chance to be convenient.

'I hope you haven't found me very dull, Miss Ryle?'

'No!' cried Peggy, with obvious sincerity. Connie had been several things which Peggy subsequently detailed, but she had not been tiresome.

The interview with Mr. Fricker was in a different key, the only likeness being that the transmission theory still seemed applicable, and indeed inevitable here and there. The giggles and the coyness were gone, and with them the calculated guilelessness; the vulgarity was almost gone. Fricker was not a gentleman, but, thanks to his quietness and freedom from affectation, it was often possible to forget the fact. He had a dry humour, she soon found, and it was stirred by the contrast between his visitor's utter ignorance of business and her resolutely business-like manner. It was evident that she did not intend to clasp his knees.

'I see you've taken my measure, Miss Ryle,' he remarked. 'Mrs. Trevalla has shown you my letter, you tell me, and you have come to make me a proposition?'

'It seems from the letter that they can go on making her pay money?'

'Precisely – at stated intervals and of definite amounts. Three several amounts of one thousand pounds at intervals of not less than two months – the first being due immediately, and the others sure to come later.'

'Yes, I think I understand that.'

'I endeavour to express myself clearly, Miss Ryle.'

Peggy ignored a profane gleam of amusement in his eye.

'I suppose it's no good talking about how she came to buy such curious shares,' began Peggy.

'I think you'll have gathered from Mrs. Trevalla that such a discussion would not be fruitful,' interposed Fricker.

'Have you got to pay too?'

'That question is, pardon me, worse than fruitless; it's irrelevant.'

'She can't pay that money and what she owes besides unless she has time given her. And, even if she has, she'll worry herself to death, waiting and watching for the – for the – '

'Calls,' he suggested. 'That's the legal term.'

'Oh, yes. The calls.'

'I am not the company; I am not her creditors. I can't give Mrs. Trevalla time.'

'You wouldn't if you could!' Peggy blazed out.

'Irrelevant again,' he murmured, gently shaking his head.

'I didn't come here to beg,' Peggy explained. 'But I've a sort of idea that, if you had the shares instead of Trix, you could get out of it cheaper somehow. I mean, you could make some arrangement with the company, or get rid of the shares, or something. Anyhow I believe you could manage to pay less than she'll have to.'

'It's possible you're flattering me there.'

'You'd try?'

'You may, I think, give me the credit of supposing I should try,' said Fricker, smiling again.

'She'll have to pay, or – or try to pay – '

'She'll be liable to pay – '

'Yes, liable to pay three thousand pounds altogether?' He nodded. 'What are the shares worth?'

'Three thousand pounds less than nothing, Miss Ryle.'

His terrible coolness appalled Peggy. She could not resist a glance of horror, but she held herself in hand.

'Then, if you took them, the most you'd lose would be three thousand pounds, and you'd have a very good chance of losing less?'

'I don't know about a good chance. Some chance, shall we say?' He was more than tolerant; he was interested in Peggy's development of her idea.

Peggy leant her elbows on the writing-table between them.

'I want her to be rid of the whole thing – to think it never happened. I want you to take those shares from her: tell her that they've become of value, or that you made a mistake, or anything you like of that sort, and that you'll relieve her of them. If you did that, how much money should you want?'

'You wish this done out of kindness? To take a weight off Mrs. Trevalla's mind?'

'Yes, to take a weight off her mind. It's funny, but she frets more over having bungled her money affairs and having been made – having been silly, you know – than over anything else. She's very proud, you see.'

Fricker's smile broadened. 'I can quite believe she's proud,' he remarked.

'Of course she knows nothing about my being here. It's my own idea. You see what I want, don't you?'

'As a business transaction, I confess I don't quite see it. If you appeal to my good-nature, and ask me to make sacrifices for Mrs. Trevalla – '

'No. I don't expect you to lose by it.'

Fricker saw the look that she could not keep out of her eyes. He smiled fixedly at her.

'But I thought that, if you could satisfy them – or get off somehow – for – well, one thousand pounds or – or at most one thousand five hundred pounds' (Peggy was very agitated over her amounts), 'that – that I and some other friends could manage that, and then – why, we'd tell her it was all right!' A hint of triumph broke through her nervousness as she declared her scheme. 'I can't be absolutely sure of the money except my own, but I believe I could get it.' She worked up to a climax. 'I can give you five hundred pounds now – in notes, if you like,' she said, producing a little leather bag of a purse.



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