The Intrusions of Peggy
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Trix Trevalla had been no more than a month in London when she had the great good fortune to be taken up by Mrs. Bonfill. It was not everybody's luck. Mrs. Bonfill was particular; she refused hundreds, some for her own reasons, some because of the things Viola Blixworth might say. The Frickers, for example, failed in their assault on Mrs. Bonfill – or had up to now. Yet Mrs. Bonfill herself would have been good-natured to the Frickers.
'I can't expose myself to Viola by taking up the Frickers,' she explained to her husband, who had been not indisposed, for business reasons, to do Fricker a good turn. For Lady Blixworth, with no other qualities very striking to a casual observer, and with an appearance that the term 'elegant' did ample justice to, possessed a knack of describing people whom she did not like in a way that they did not like – a gift which made her respected and, on the whole, popular.
'The woman's like a bolster grown fat; the daughter's like a sausage filled unevenly; and the man – well, I wouldn't have him to a political party!'
Thus had Lady Blixworth dealt with the Frickers, and even Mrs. Bonfill quailed.
It was very different with Trix Trevalla. Pretty, presentable, pleasant, even witty in an unsubtle sort of fashion, she made an immediate success. She was understood to be well-off too; the flat was not a cheap one; she began to entertain a good deal in a quiet way; she drove a remarkably neat brougham. These things are not done for nothing – nor even on the interest of twenty thousand pounds. Yet Trix did them, and nobody asked any questions except Mrs. Bonfill, and she was assured that Trix was living well within her means. May not 'means' denote capital as well as income? The distinction was in itself rather obscure to Trix, and, Vesey Trevalla having made no settlement, there was nothing to drive it home. Lastly, Trix was most prettily docile and submissive to Mrs. Bonfill – grateful, attentive, and obedient. She earned a reward. Any woman with half an eye could see what that reward should be.
But for once Mrs. Bonfill vacillated. After knowing Trix a fortnight she destined her for Beaufort Chance, who had a fair income, ambition at least equal to his talents, and a chance of the House of Lords some day. Before she had known Trix a month – so engaging and docile was Trix – Mrs. Bonfill began to wonder whether Beaufort Chance were good enough. Certainly Trix was making a very great success. What then? Should it be Mervyn, Mrs. Bonfill's prime card, her chosen disciple? A man destined, as she believed, to go very high – starting pretty high anyhow, and starts in the handicap are not to be disregarded. Mrs. Bonfill doubted seriously whether, in that mental book she kept, she could not transfer Trix to Mervyn. If Trix went on behaving well – But the truth is that Mrs. Bonfill herself was captured by Trix. Yet Trix feared Mrs. Bonfill, even while she liked and to some extent managed her. After favouring Chance, Mrs.Bonfill began to put forward Mervyn. Whether Trix's management had anything to do with this result it is hard to say.
Practical statesmen are not generally blamed for such changes of purpose. They may hold out hopes of, say, a reduction of taxation to one class or interest, and ultimately award the boon to another. Nobody is very severe on them. But it comes rather hard on the disappointed interest, which, in revenge, may show what teeth it has.
Trix and Mervyn were waltzing together at Mrs. Bonfill's dance. Lady Blixworth sat on a sofa with Beaufort Chance and looked on – at the dance and at her companion.
'She's rather remarkable,' she was saying in her idle languid voice. 'She was meant to be vulgar, I'm sure, but she contrives to avoid it. I rather admire her.'
'A dangerous shade of feeling to excite in you, it seems,' he remarked sourly.
The lady imparted an artificial alarm to her countenance.
'I'm so sorry if I said anything wrong; but, oh, surely, there's no truth in the report that you're – ?' A motion of her fan towards Trix ended the sentence.
'Not the least,' he answered gruffly.
Sympathy succeeded alarm. With people not too clever Lady Blixworth allowed herself a liberal display of sympathy. It may have been all right to make Beaufort a Whip (though that question arose afterwards in an acute form), but he was no genius in a drawing-room.
'Dear Sarah talks so at random sometimes,' she drawled. 'Well-meant, I know, Beaufort; but it does put people in awkward positions, doesn't it?'
He was a conceited man, and a pink-and-white one. He flushed visibly and angrily.
'What has Mrs. Bonfill been saying about me?'
'Oh, nothing much; it's just her way. And you mustn't resent it – you owe so much to her.' Lady Blixworth was enjoying herself; she had a natural delight in mischief, especially when she could direct it against her beloved and dreaded Sarah with fair security.
'What did she say?'
'Say! Nothing, you foolish man! She diffused an impression.'
'That I – ?'
'That you liked Mrs. Trevalla! She was wrong, I suppose. Voil? tout, and, above all, don't look hot and furious; the room's stifling as it is.'
Beaufort Chance was furious. We forgive much ill-treatment so it is secret, we accept many benefits on the same understanding. To parade the benefit and to let the injustice leak out are the things that make us smart. Lady Blixworth had by dexterous implication accused Mrs. Bonfill of both offences. Beaufort had not the self-control to seem less angry than he was. 'Surely,' thought Lady Blixworth, watching him, 'he's too stupid even for politics!'
'You may take it from me,' he said pompously, 'that I have, and have had, no more than the most ordinary acquaintance with Mrs. Trevalla.'
She nodded her head in satisfied assent. 'No, he's just stupid enough,' she concluded, smiling and yawning behind her fan. She had no compunctions – she had told nearly half the truth. Mrs. Bonfill never gossiped about her Ministers – it would have been fatal – but she was sometimes rather expansive on the subject of her marriages; she was tempted to collect opinions on them; she had, no doubt, (before she began to vacillate) collected two or three opinions about Beaufort Chance and Trix Trevalla.
Trix's brain was whirling far quicker than her body turned in the easy swing of the waltz. It had been whirling this month back, ever since the prospect began to open, the triumphs to dawn, ambition to grow, a sense of her attraction and power to come home to her. The pensions were gone; she had plunged into life. She was delighted and dazzled. Herself, her time, her feelings, and her money, she flung into the stream with a lavish recklessness. Yet behind the gay intoxication of the transformed woman she was conscious still of the old self, the wide-awake, rather hard girl, that product of the lodging-houses and the four years with Vesey Trevalla. Amid the excitement, the success, the folly, the old voice spoke, cautioning, advising, never allowing her to forget that there was a purpose and an end in it all, a career to make and to make speedily. Her eyes might wander to every alluring object; they returned to the main chance. Wherefore Mrs. Bonfill had no serious uneasiness about dear Trix; when the time came she would be sensible; people fare, she reflected, none the worse for being a bit hard at the core.
'I like sitting here,' said Trix to Mervyn after the dance, 'and seeing everybody one's read about or seen pictures of. Of course I don't really belong to it, but it makes me feel as if I did.'
'You'd like to?' he asked.
'Well, I suppose so,' she laughed as her eyes rambled over the room again.
Lord Mervyn was conscious of his responsibilities. He had a future; he was often told so in public and in private, though it is fair to add that he would have believed it unsolicited. That future, together with the man who was to have it, he took seriously. And, though of rank unimpeachable, he was not quite rich enough for that future; it could be done on what he had, but it could be done better with some more. Evidently Mrs. Bonfill had been captured by Trix; as a rule she would not have neglected the consideration that his future could be done better with some more. He had not forgotten it; so he did not immediately offer to make Trix really belong to the brilliant world she saw. She was very attractive, and well-off, as he understood, but she was not, from a material point of view, by any means what he had a right to claim. Besides, she was a widow, and he would have preferred that not to be the case.
'Prime Ministers and things walking about like flies!' sighed Trix, venting satisfaction in a pardonable exaggeration. It was true, however, that Lord Farringham had looked in for half an hour, talked to Mrs. Bonfill for ten minutes, and made a tour round, displaying a lofty cordiality which admirably concealed his desire to be elsewhere.
'You'll soon get used to it all,' Mervyn assured her with a rather superior air. 'It's a bore, but it has to be done. The social side can't be neglected, you see.'
'If I neglected anything, it would be the other, I think.'
He smiled tolerantly and quite believed her. Trix was most butterfly-like to-night; there was no hardness in her laugh, not a hint of grimness in her smile. 'You would never think,' Mrs. Bonfill used to whisper, 'what the poor child has been through.'
Beaufort Chance passed by, casting a scowling glance at them.
'I haven't seen you dancing with Chance – or perhaps you sat out? He's not much of a performer.'
'I gave him a dance, but I forgot.'
'Which dance, Mrs. Trevalla?' Her glance had prompted the question.
'Ours,' said Trix. 'You came so late – I had none left.'
'I very seldom dance, but you tempted me.' He was not underrating his compliment. For a moment Trix was sorely inclined to snub him; but policy forbade. When he left her, to seek Lady Blixworth, she felt rather relieved.
Beaufort Chance had watched his opportunity, and came by again with an accidental air. She called to him and was all graciousness and apologies; she had every wish to keep the second string in working order. Beaufort had not sat there ten minutes before he was in his haste accusing Lady Blixworth of false insinuations – unless, indeed, Trix were an innocent instrument in Mrs. Bonfill's hands. Trix was looking the part very well.
'I wish you'd do me a great kindness,' he said presently. 'Come to dinner some day.'
'Oh, that's a very tolerable form of benevolence. Of course I will.'
'Wait a bit. I mean – to meet the Frickers.'
'Oh!' Meeting the Frickers seemed hardly an inducement.
But Beaufort Chance explained. On the one side Fricker was a very useful man to stand well with; he could put you into things – and take you out at the right time. Trix nodded sagely, though she knew nothing about such matters. On the other hand – Beaufort grew both diplomatic and confidential in manner – Fricker had little ambition outside his business, but Mrs. and Miss Fricker had enough and to spare – ambitions social for themselves, and, subsidiary thereunto, political for Fricker.
'Viola Blixworth has frightened Mrs. Bonfill,' he complained. 'Lady Glentorly talks about drawing the line, and all the rest of them are just as bad. Now if you'd come – '
'Me? What good should I do? The Frickers won't care about me.'
'Oh, yes, they will!' He did not lack adroitness in baiting the hook for her. 'They know you can do anything with Mrs. Bonfill; they know you're going to be very much in it. You won't be afraid of Viola Blixworth in a month or two! I shall please Fricker – you'll please the women. Now do come.'
Trix's vanity was flattered. Was she already a woman of influence? Beaufort Chance had the other lure ready too.
'And I daresay you don't mind hearing of a good thing if it comes in your way?' he suggested carelessly. 'People with money to spare find Fricker worth knowing, and he's absolutely square.'
'Do you mean he'd make money for me?' asked Trix, trying to keep any note of eagerness out of her voice.
'He'd show you how to make it for yourself, anyhow.'
Trix sat in meditative silence for a few moments. Presently she turned to him with a bright friendly smile.
'Oh, never mind all that! I'll come for your sake – to please you,' she said.
Beaufort Chance was not quite sure that he believed her this time, but he looked as if he did – which serves just as well in social relations. He named a day, and Trix gaily accepted the appointment. There were few adventures, not many new things, that she was not ready for just now. The love of the world had laid hold of her.
And here at Mrs. Bonfill's she seemed to be in the world up to her eyes. People had come on from big parties as the evening waned, and the last hour dotted the ball-room with celebrities. Politicians in crowds, leaders of fashion, an actress or two, an Indian prince, a great explorer – they made groups which seemed to express the many-sidedness of London, to be the thousand tributaries that swell the great stream of its society. There was a little unusual stir to-night. A foreign complication had arisen, or was supposed to have arisen. People were asking what the Tsar was going to do; and, when one considers the reputation for secrecy enjoyed by Russian diplomacy, quite a surprising number of them seemed to know, and told one another with an authority only matched by the discrepancy between their versions. When they saw a man who possibly might know – Lord Glentorly – they crowded round him eagerly, regardless of the implied aspersion on their own knowledge. Glentorly had been sitting in a corner with Mrs. Bonfill, and she shared in his glory, perhaps in his private knowledge. But both Glentorly and Mrs. Bonfill professed to know no more than there was in the papers, and insinuated that they did not believe that. Everybody at once declared that they had never believed that, and had said so at dinner, and the very wise added that it was evidently inspired by the Stock Exchange. A remark to this effect had just fallen on Trix's ears when a second observation from behind reached her.
'Not one of them knows a thing about it,' said a calm, cool, youthful voice.
'I can't think why they want to,' came as an answer in rich pleasant tones.
Trix glanced round and saw a smart, trim young man, and by his side a girl with beautiful hair. She had only a glimpse of them, for in an instant they disentangled themselves from the gossipers and joined the few couples who were keeping it up to the last dance.
It will be seen that Beaufort Chance had not given up the game; Lady Blixworth's pin-pricks had done the work which they were probably intended to do: they had incited him to defy Mrs. Bonfill, to try to win off his own bat. She might discard him in favour of Mervyn, but he would fight for himself. The dinner to which he bade Trix would at once assert and favour intimacy; if he could put her under an obligation it would be all to the good; flattering her vanity was already a valuable expedient. That stupidity of his, which struck Viola Blixworth with such a sense of its density, lay not in misunderstanding or misvaluing the common motives of humanity, but in considering that all humanity was common: he did not allow for the shades, the variations, the degrees. Nor did he appreciate in the least the mood that governed or the temper that swayed Trix Trevalla. He thought that she preferred him as a man, Mervyn as a match. Both of them were, in fact, at this time no more than figures in the great ballet at which she now looked on, in which she meant soon to mix.
Mrs. Bonfill caught Trix as she went to her carriage – that smart brougham was in waiting – and patted her cheek more materno.
'I saw you were enjoying yourself, child,' she said. 'What was all that Beaufort had to say to you?'
'Oh, just nonsense,' answered Trix lightly.
Mrs. Bonfill smiled amiably.
'He's not considered to talk nonsense generally,' she said; 'but perhaps there was someone you wanted to talk to more! You won't say anything, I see, but – Mortimer stayed late! He's coming to luncheon to-morrow. Won't you come too?'
'I shall be delighted,' said Trix. Her eyes were sparkling. She had possessed wit enough to see the vacillation of Mrs. Bonfill. Did this mean that it was ended? The invitation to lunch looked like it. Mrs. Bonfill believed in lunch for such purposes. In view of the invitation to lunch, Trix said nothing about the invitation to dinner.
As she was driven from Grosvenor Square to the flat by the river, she was marvellously content – enjoying still, not thinking, wondering, not feeling, making in her soul material and sport of others, herself seeming not subject to design or accident. The change was great to her; the ordinary mood of youth that has known only good fortune seemed to her the most wonderful of transformations, almost incredible. She exulted in it and gloated over the brightness of her days. What of others? Well, what of the players in the pantomime? Do they not play for us? What more do we ask of or about them? Trix was not in the least inclined to be busy with more fortunes than her own. For this was the thing – this was what she had desired.
How had she come to desire it so urgently and to take it with such recklessness? The words of the shabby man on the boulevards came back to her. 'Life has played with you; go and play with it. You may scorch your fingers; for the fire burns. But it's better to die of heat than of cold.'
'Yes, better of heat than of cold,' laughed Trix Trevalla triumphantly, and she added, 'If there's anything wrong, why, he's responsible!' She was amused both at the idea of anything being wrong and at the notion of holding the quiet shabby man responsible. There could be no link between his life and the world she had lived in that night. Yet, if he held these views about the way to treat life, why did he not live? He had said he hardly lived, he only worked. Trix was in an amused puzzle about the shabby man as she got into bed; he actually put the party and its great ballet out of her head.