Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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'No, I'm going to study that book.' He pointed to it with a shrug.

'What's inside?'

'I don't know what I shall find inside,' he told her.

'Good news or bad? The old story or a new one? I can't tell.'

'You don't mean to tell me – that's clear anyhow,' laughed Trix. 'Impertinent questions politely evaded! I take the hint. Good-bye. And, Mr. Newton – a glimmer of hope!'

'Yes, a glimmer,' he said, passing his hand over his brow rather wearily.

'Well, I must leave you to the secrets of the red book,' she ended.

He came to the top of the stairs with her. Half-way down she turned and kissed her hand to him. Her step was a thousand times more buoyant; her smiles came as though native-born again and no longer timid strangers. Such was the work that a glimmer of hope could do.

To subtract instead of adding, to divide instead of multiplying, to lessen after increase, to draw out instead of paying in – these operations, whether with regard to a man's fame, or his power, or his substance, or even the scope of his tastes and the joy of his recreations, are precisely those which philosophy assumes to teach us to perform gracefully and with no exaggerated pangs. The man himself remains, says popular philosophy; and the pulpit sometimes seconds the remark, adding thereunto illustrative texts. Consolations conceived in this vein are probably useful, even though they may conceal a fallacy or succeed by some pious fraud on the truth. It is a narrow view of a man which excludes what he holds, what he has done and made. If he must lose his grasp on that, part of his true self goes with it. The better teachers inculcate not throwing away but exchange, renunciation here for the sake of acquisition there, a narrowing of borders on one side that there may be strength to conquer fairer fields on the other. Could Airey Newton, who had so often turned in impatience or deafness from the first gospel, perceive the truth of the second? He was left to fight for that – left between the red book and the memory of Trix Trevalla.

But Trix went home on feet lighter than had borne her for many a day. To her nature hope was ever fact, or even better – richer, wider, more brightly coloured. Airey had given her hope. She swung back the baize door of Peggy's flat with a cheerful vigour, and called aloud: —

'Peggy, where are you? I've something to tell you, Peggy.'

For once Peggy was there. 'I'm changing my frock,' she cried from her room in a voice that sounded needlessly prohibitory.

'I want to tell you something,' called Trix. 'I've been to Airey Newton's – '

Peggy's door flew open; she appeared gownless; her brush was in her hand, and her hair streamed down her back.

'Oh, your hair!' exclaimed Trix – as she always did when she saw it thus displayed.

Peggy's scared face showed no appreciation of the impulsive compliment.

'You've been to Airey's, and you've something to tell me?' she said, scanning Trix with unconcealed anxiety.

But Trix did not appear to be in an accusing mood; she had no charge of broken faith to launch, or of confidence betrayed.

'I told him how I stood – that I was pretty well ruined,' she explained, 'and he was so kind about it.

And what do you think?' She paused for effect. Peggy had recourse to diplomacy; she flung her masses of hair to and fro, passing the brush over them in quick dexterous strokes as they went.

'Well?' she asked, with more indifference than was even polite, much less plausible.

But Trix noticed nothing; she was too full of the news.

'He told me there was a glimmer of hope for Glowing Stars!'

'He said that?'

Peggy's voice now did full justice to the importance of the tidings.

'Yes, hope for Glowing Stars. Peggy, if it should come out right!'

'If it should!' gasped Peggy. 'What did you say he said?'

'That there was hope for Glowing Stars – that I oughtn't to – '

'No, you told me another word; you said he used another word.'

'Oh, yes, he was very particular about it,' smiled Trix. 'And, of course, I mustn't exaggerate. He said there was a glimmer of hope.'

'Ah!' said Peggy. 'I'll come into the other room directly, dear.'

She went back to the looking-glass and proceeded with the task of brushing her hair. Her face underwent changes which that operation (however artistically performed and consistently successful in its effect) hardly warranted. She frowned, she smiled, she grew pensive, she became gloomy, she nodded, she shook her head. Once she shivered as though in apprehension. Once she danced a step, and then stopped herself with an emphatic and angry stamp.

'A glimmer of hope!' she murmured at last. 'And poor dear old Airey's left there in Danes Inn, fighting it out alone!' She joined her hands behind her head, burying them in the thickness of her hair. 'Oh, Airey dear, be good,' she whispered; 'do be good!'

She was so wrapped up in this invocation or entreaty that she quite lost sight of the fact that she herself was relieved of one part of her burden. Trix could not charge her with treachery now. But then it had never been Trix's accusation that she feared the most.

CHAPTER XX
PURELY BUSINESS

They did not know what they had been summoned for, and they were rather discontented.

'Just in the middle of a business man's business day!' ejaculated Arty Kane.

'Just as I'm generally sat down comfortably to lunch!' Miles Childwick grumbled.

'Just when I'm settling down to work after breakfast!' moaned Arty.

They were waiting in the sitting-room at Harriet Street. It was 2.15 in the afternoon. A hansom stood in the street; they had chartered it, according to orders received.

'What does she want us for?' asked Arty.

'A wanton display of dominion, in all likelihood,' suggested Miles gloomily.

'I'm not under her dominion,' objected Arty, who was for the moment devoted to a girl in the country.

'I've always maintained that you were no true poet,' said Miles disagreeably.

Peggy burst in on them – a Peggy raised, as it seemed, to some huge power of even the normal Peggy. She carried a lean little leather bag.

'Is the cab there?' she cried.

'All things in their order. We are here,' Miles reminded her with dignity.

'We've no time to lose,' Peggy announced. 'We've two places to go to, and we've got to be back here by a certain time – and I hope we shall bring somebody with us.'

'In the hansom?' asked Arty resignedly.

'In two hansoms – at least you know what I mean,' said Peggy.

'Isn't she a picture, Arty? Dear me, I beg your pardon, Miss Ryle. I didn't observe your presence. What happens to have painted you red to-day?'

'I'm in a terrible fright about – about something, all the same. Now come along. One of you is to get on one side of me and the other on the other; and you're to guard me. Do you see?'

'Orders, Arty!'

They ranged themselves as they were commanded, and escorted Peggy downstairs.

'Doesn't the hansom present a difficulty?' asked Arty.

'No. I sit in the middle, leaning back; you sit on each side, leaning forward.'

'Reversing the proper order of things, Miles – '

'In order to intercept the dagger of the assassin, Arty. And where to, General?'

'The London and County Bank, Trafalgar Square,' said Peggy, with an irrepressible gurgle.

'By the memory of my mother, I swear it was no forgery! 'Twas but an unaccustomed pen,' murmured Miles.

'I am equal to giving the order,' declared Arty proudly; he gave it with a flourish.

'How soon are we to have a look-in, Peggy?'

'Hush! She's killed another uncle!'

When the world smiled Peggy Ryle laughed aloud. It smiled to-day.

'See me as far as the door of the bank and wait outside,' she commanded, when she recovered articulate gravity.

Their external gloom deepened; they were enjoying themselves, immensely. Peggy's orders were precisely executed.

'Present it with a firm countenance,' Miles advised, as she left them at the entrance. 'Confidence, but no bravado!'

'It is no longer a capital offence,' said Arty encouragingly. 'You won't be hanged in silk knee-breeches, like Mr. Fauntleroy.'

Peggy marched into the bank. She opened the lean little bag, and took forth a slip of paper. This she handed to a remarkably tall and prim young man behind the counter. He spoilt his own effect by wearing spectacles, but accuracy is essential in a bank.

He looked at the amount on the cheque; then he looked at Peggy. The combined effect seemed staggering. He took off his spectacles, wiped them, and replaced them with an air of meaning to see clearly this time. He turned the cheque over. 'Margaret Ryle' met him in bold and decided characters. Tradition came to his rescue.

'How will you take it?' he asked.

Peggy burst out joyously: 'It's really all right, then?'

The prim clerk almost jumped. 'I – I presume so,' he stammered, and fled precipitately from the first counter to the third.

Peggy waited in some anxiety; old prepossessions were strong on her. After all, to write a cheque is one thing, to have it honoured depends on a variety of circumstances.

'Quite correct,' said the clerk, returning. He was puzzled; he hazarded a suggestion: 'Do you – er – wish to open – ?'

'Notes, please,' said Peggy.

He opened a drawer with many compartments.

'Hundreds!' cried Peggy suddenly. She explained afterwards that she had wanted as much 'crackle' as the little bag would hold.

The clerk licked his forefinger. 'One – two – three – four – '

'Why should he ever stop?' thought Peggy, looking on with the sensation a millionaire might have if he could keep his freshness.

'Thank you very much,' she beamed, with a gratitude almost obtrusive, as she put the notes in the bag. She was aware that it is not correct to look surprised when your friends' cheques are honoured, but she was not quite able to hold the feeling in repression.

Her bodyguard flung away half-consumed cigarettes and resigned themselves to their duties. A glance at the little bag showed that it had grown quite fat.

'Be very, very careful of me now,' ordered Peggy, as she stepped warily towards the hansom.

'There are seventy thousand thieves known to the police,' said Arty.

'Which gives one an idea of the mass of undiscovered crime in London,' added Miles. 'Now where to, mon G?n?ral?'

'346 Cadogan Square,' Peggy told them. 'Oh, how I wish I could have a cigarette!'

Both sympathetically offered to have one for her.

'The smoke will embarrass the assassin's aim,' Miles opined sagely.

Arty broke out in a sudden discovery.

'You're going to Fricker's!' he cried.

'I have an appointment with Mr. Fricker,' said Peggy, with pretended carelessness.

'At last, Arty, I shall see the mansions of the gilt.'

'No, you'll wait outside,' Peggy informed him, with a cruelty spoilt by bubbling mirth.

'Is that where we're to pick up the other passenger?' asked Arty.

'You talk as if everything was so very easy!' said Peggy rather indignantly.

'Being anywhere near a bank always has that effect on me,' he apologised.

'Now, one on each side – and be careful,' Peggy implored as the cab stopped in Cadogan Square. 'If anything happened now – !' Her tongue and her imagination failed.

'If you've got any money, you'll leave it there,' Miles prophesied, pointing at the Fricker door.

'Shall I?' cried Peggy in joyous defiance, as she sprang from the cab.

'Mayn't we even sit in the hall?' wailed Arty.

'Wait outside,' she commanded, with friendly curtness.

The door closed on her, the butler and footman showing her in with an air of satisfied expectancy.

'Who's to pay the cab?' exclaimed Arty, smitten with a sudden apprehension.

'Don't you remember being reviewed under the heading of "The Young Ravens"?' asked Miles, a little unkindly, but with a tranquil trust in the future.

That answer might not have satisfied the cabman. It closed the question for Arty Kane. They linked arms and walked up and down the square, discussing Shakespeare's habit of indulging in soliloquy. 'Which is bad art, but good business,' Miles pronounced. Of course Arty differed.

'The study, if you please, miss,' said the butler to Peggy Ryle. She followed him across the fawn-coloured mat which had once proved itself to possess such detective qualities.

Rooms change their aspects as much as faces; he who looks brings to each his own interpretation, and sees himself as much as that on which he gazes. The study was very different now to Peggy from what it had seemed on her previous entry. Very possibly Daniel experienced much the same variety of estimate touching the Lions' Den before he went in and after he came out.

Fricker appeared. He had lunched abstemiously, as was his wont, but daintily, as was Mrs. Fricker's business. He expected amusement; neither his heart nor his digestion was likely to be disturbed. An appeal for pity from Peggy Ryle's lips seemed to promise the maximum of enjoyment combined with the minimum of disturbance to business.

'So you've come back, Miss Ryle?' He gave her his lean, dry, strong hand.

'I told you I might,' she nodded, as she sat down in her old seat, opposite to his arm-chair.

'You've got the money?' His tone was one of easy pleasant mockery.

'It's no use trying to – to beat you down, I suppose?' asked Peggy, with an expression of exaggerated woe.

But he was too sharp for her. He did not fall into her artless trap. He was lighting his cigar, but he broke off the operation (it was not often that he had been known to do that), and leant across the table towards her.

'My God, child, have you got the money?' he asked her in a sort of excitement.

'Yes, yes, yes!' she broke out. Had not that fact been bottled up in her for hours? His question cut the wire. A metaphor derived from champagne is in no sort inappropriate.

'You've got it? Where have you got it from?'

'Your principle is not to ask that, Mr. Fricker.'

'He must be very fond of you.'

'You're utterly wrong – and rather vulgar,' said Peggy Ryle.

'On the table with it!' laughed Fricker.

She threw the little bag across the table. 'Oh, and have you a cigarette, Mr. Fricker?' she implored.

Fricker gave a short laugh, and pushed a silver box across to her. She leant back in an extraordinary perfection of pleasure.

'There are a lot of these notes,' he said. 'Are cheques out of fashion, Miss Ryle?'

'You're so suspicious,' she retorted. Apart from difficulties about a banking account, she would not have missed handling the notes for worlds.

He counted them carefully. 'Correct!' he pronounced.

'And here's your letter!' she cried, producing it from her pocket; the action was a veritable coup de th??tre.

'Oh, I remember my letter,' he said with a smile – and a brow knit in vexation. Then he looked across the table at her. 'I'd have betted ten to one against it,' he remarked.

'You underrate the odds,' Peggy told him in a triumph that really invited Nemesis. 'I'd have betted a thousand to one when I left your house.'

'You're a wonderful girl,' said Fricker. 'How the devil did you do it?'

She grew sober for a moment. 'I'm ashamed of how I did it.' Then she burst out again victoriously: 'But I'd do it again, Mr. Fricker!'

'You have all the elements of greatness,' said he, with a gravity that was affected and yet did not seem entirely pretence. 'You've got three thousand five hundred pounds out of somebody – '

'I've got four thousand,' interrupted Peggy.

'But five hundred was – '

'That's not there! That's kept for me. That's the most splendid part of it all!' In that indeed seemed to her to lie the finest proof of victory. The rest might have been shame; that her five hundred lay intact meant change of heart. She had not pressed her five hundred on Airey Newton. There are times when everything should be taken, as there are when all should be given; her instinct had told her that.

Fricker smiled again; his deft fingers parted the notes into two uneven heaps. The fingers seemed to work of their own accord and to have eyes of their own, for his eyes did not leave Peggy Ryle's face.

'Is the man in love with you?' He could not help returning to that explanation.

'Not a farthing, if he had been!' cried Peggy.

'Then he's an old man, or a fool.'

'Why can't I be angry with you?' she cried in an amused despair. 'Are – are greed and – nonsense the only things you know?'

'Are you finding new words for love?' he asked with a sneer.

Peggy laughed. 'That's really not bad,' she admitted candidly. Under the circumstances she did not grudge Fricker a verbal victory. The poor man was badly beaten; let him have his gibe!

He had made his two heaps of notes – a larger and a smaller; his hand wavered undecidedly over them.

'I can trust you to do what you said you would?' she asked suddenly.

'No less – and no more. That's an essential part of my policy,' he assured her.

'And Mrs. Trevalla is free of Glowing Stars? And you'll tell her what you promised?'

'I'll take them over, with the liability. Yes, and I'll tell her.'

He spoke rather absently; his mind seemed to be on something else. When he spoke again, there was an odd – perhaps an unprecedented – embarrassment in his manner.

'I see my way to doing something with Glowing Stars. Money must go into it – the calls must be paid – but I think some of the money might come out again.' He looked at Peggy; he saw her gloriously triumphant eyes, her cheeks flushed with the intoxication of achievement. The impulse was on him to exalt her more. 'I should have done very well if I'd bargained with you for three thousand.'

'It would have seemed almost as impossible. And you wouldn't! You wanted more than market value for your pound of flesh!'

He pushed the smaller of the two heaps that he had made across to her with a swift motion of his hand; the hand trembled a little, but his voice was hard and dry.

'Take back the extra thousand and call it square, Miss Ryle,' said he.

Peggy laid down her cigarette and stared at the heap of notes he pushed across to her.

'What?' she exclaimed in the despair of blank astonishment; she could not grasp the idea.

'Take those back. I shall do very well with these.'

He took up his cigar again, and this time he lit it. To Peggy the room seemed to go round.

'Why do you do that?' she demanded.

'On my word, I don't know. Your infernal pluck, I think,' he said in a puzzled tone.

'I won't have it. It was a bargain.'

'It's not your money, you may remember.'

Peggy had forgotten that.

'It might be a pleasant surprise to – to your friend,' he went on. 'And, if you'll let me do it, it will, Miss Ryle, be rather a pleasant change to me.'

'Why do you do it?' she asked again.

He made her an odd answer – very odd, to come from him. 'Because of the look in your eyes, my dear.'

His tone was free from all offence now; he spoke as a father might. If his words surprised her to wonder, he had no better understanding of hers.

'You too, you too!' she whispered, and the eyes which had moved him grew misty.

'Come, don't refuse me,' he said. 'Take it back to your friend. He'll find a use for it.'

He seemed to touch a spring in her, to give her a cue.

'Yes, yes!' she assented eagerly. 'Perhaps there would be a use for it. Do you give it me? Freely, freely?'

'Freely,' answered Fricker. 'And all you want shall be said to Mrs. Trevalla.'

Peggy opened her bag and began to put the notes in; but she looked still at Fricker.

'Did you ever think of anything like this?' she asked in a new burst of confidence.

'No, I didn't,' he answered, with a brusque laugh.

'You like doing it?'

'Well, was there any compulsion, Miss Ryle?'

'I shall take it,' she said, 'and I thank you very much.'

'I should have been distressed if you hadn't taken it,' said he.

Peggy knew that he spoke truth, strange as the truth might be. She had an impulse to laugh, an impulse to cry. Fricker's quiet face quelled both in her.

'And that finishes our business, I suppose?' he asked.

'It's understood that you don't worry Trix any more?'

'Henceforward Mrs. Trevalla ceases to exist for me.' He was really quite in the same tale with Mrs. Bonfill and society at large.

His declaration seemed to amuse Peggy. 'Oh, well, that's putting it rather strongly, perhaps,' she murmured.

'Not a bit!' retorted Fricker, with his confident contemptuousness.

'You can never tell how you may run up against people,' remarked Peggy with a mature sagacity.

He leant back, looking at her. 'I've learnt to think that your observations have a meaning, Miss Ryle.'

'Yes,' Peggy confessed. 'But I don't exactly know – ' She frowned a moment, and then smiled with the brightness of a new idea. 'Where's your daughter, Mr. Fricker?'

'Connie's in her room.' He did not add that, by way of keeping vivid the memory of moral lessons, he had sent her there on Peggy's arrival.

'Do you think she'd give me a cup of tea?'

It was rather early for tea. 'Well, I daresay she would,' smiled Fricker. 'I shall hear what's up afterwards?'

'Yes, I'm sure you will,' promised Peggy.

He sent her under escort to the drawing-room, and directed that Connie should be told to join her. Then he returned to his study and began the letter which he had to write to Trix Trevalla. He fulfilled his obligation loyally, although he had no pity for Trix, and was sorely tempted to give her a dig or two. He resisted this temptation when he remembered that to do what he said he would was an essential part of his policy, and that, if he failed in it, Peggy Ryle would come again and want to know the meaning of it; at which thought he raised his brows and smiled in an amused puzzle. So he told Trix that Glowing Stars gave promise of a new development, and, though he could not offer her any price for her shares, he would take them off her hands for a nominal consideration, and hold her free from the liability. 'Thus,' he ended, 'closing all accounts between us.'



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