The Intrusions of Peggyскачать книгу бесплатно
'She was a fool, and my wife was a fool, and I suppose I was a fool too,' he mused. A broader view came to his comfort. 'A man's got to be a bit of a fool in some things if he wants to live comfortably at home,' he reflected. He could not expect the weaker sex (such undoubtedly would have been his description) to rise to the pure heights where he dwelt, where success in business was its own reward and the victorious play of brains triumph enough. 'But anyhow we backed the wrong horse in Trix Trevalla,' he had to acknowledge finally.
Before he had sealed the letter, Connie burst into the room. Fricker prepared to say something severe – these unlicensed intrusions were a sore offence. But the sight of his daughter stopped him. She was dressed in the height of smartness; she had her hat on and was buttoning her gloves; her cheeks were red, and excitement shone in her eyes. On the whole it looked as though she were clearing the decks for action.
'I'm going back to tea with Miss Ryle,' she announced.
He rose, and stood with his back to the fireplace.
'Well, she's a very nice friend for you to have, Connie.' There was a flavour of mockery in his tone.
'You know as well as I do that there's no question of that. But Mrs. Trevalla's living with her now.'
'I thought your mother and you had agreed to drop Mrs. Trevalla?'
Connie was not in the mood to notice or to trouble about his subtly malicious sarcasms.
'I asked Beaufort Chance to come here to-day,' she went on, 'and he told me he had to be in the City all the afternoon.'
'Aren't these things in your mother's department, Connie?'
'No, in yours. I want you to back me up. He's going to tea at four o'clock at Miss Ryle's – to meet Mrs. Trevalla.'
'Miss Ryle told you that? And she wants you to go with her?'
'Yes. You see what it means?'
'Why, Connie, you're looking quite dangerous.'
'I'm going with her,' Connie announced, finishing off the last glove-button viciously. 'At least I am if you'll back me up.'
'How?' he asked. He was amused at her in this mood, and rather admired her too.
'Well, first, you must see me through with mamma, if – if anything comes out about what's been happening. You know Beaufort wouldn't stick at giving me away if he wanted to get even with me.'
'You're probably right as to that,' agreed Fricker, licking his cigar.
'So you must tell mamma that it had your approval, and not let her be nasty to me. You can manage that, if you like, you know.'
'I daresay, I daresay. Is there any other diversion for your idle old father?'
'Yes. You must back me up with Beaufort. I believe he's dangling after Mrs. Trevalla again.' Connie's eyes flashed with threatenings of wrath.
'On the quiet?'
Connie nodded emphatically.
'Hardly the square thing,' said Fricker, smiling in an abused patience.
'Are you going to stand it? He's made fierce love to me.'
'Yes, I know something about that, Connie.
And you're fond of him, eh?'
'Yes, I am,' she declared defiantly. 'And I won't let that woman take him away from me.'
'What makes you think she'd have him?'
'Oh, she'd have him! But I don't mean her to get the chance.'
Fricker liked spirit of all sorts; if he had approved of Peggy's, he approved of his daughter's too. Moreover his great principle was at stake once more, and must be vindicated again; he must insist on fair play. If what Connie attributed to Beaufort Chance were true, it was by no means fair play. His mind briefly reviewed how he stood towards Beaufort; the answer was that Beaufort hung on him, and could not stand alone. He had the gift of seeing just how people were situated; he saw it better than they did themselves, thanks to his rapid intuition and comprehensive grasp of business affairs. He had set Beaufort Chance on horseback – financial horseback; if he willed, he could pull him down again; at the least he could make his seat most uncomfortable and precarious.
'We should be able to manage him between us, should we, after the event as well as before?'
'You help me to manage him before – I'll manage him myself afterwards,' said Connie.
'Good girl! Say what you like. I'll back you up. Bring him to me, if need be.'
Connie darted at him and kissed him. 'Don't say anything before Miss Ryle,' she whispered. 'It's just that I'm going out to tea.'
When they reached the hall, where Peggy was waiting in triumphant composure, Connie Fricker lived up to the spirit of this caution by discarding entirely her aggressive plainness of speech and her combative air. She minced with excessive gentility as she told Miss Ryle that she was ready to go with her; then she flew off to get a gold-headed parasol. Peggy sat and smiled at Mr. Fricker.
'She's going to have tea with you?' asked Fricker.
'Isn't it kind of her?' beamed Peggy.
Fricker respected diplomacy. 'The kindness is on your side,' he replied politely; but his smile told Peggy all the truth. She gave a laugh of amusement mingled with impatient anticipation.
Connie came running back. 'You'll tell mamma where I've gone, won't you?' she asked, her eyes reminding her father of one-half of his duty. 'Oh, and possibly Mr. Chance will be here at dinner.' She managed to recall the other half.
Fricker nodded; Peggy rose with an admirable unconsciousness.
'Hold your bag tight, Miss Ryle,' Fricker advised, with a gleam in his eye as he shook hands.
'That's all right. I'm well looked after,' said Peggy, as the servant opened the door.
Two hansoms were waiting; in each sat a young man smoking a cigarette. At the sight of Peggy they leapt out; at the sight of the gorgeous young woman who accompanied Peggy they exchanged one swift glance and threw away the cigarettes. Introductions were made, Fricker standing and looking on, the butler peering over Fricker's shoulder.
'What time is it?' inquired Peggy.
'Quarter to four,' said Arty Kane.
'Oh, we must be quick, or – or tea'll be cold!' She turned to Miles Childwick. 'Will you go with Miss Fricker, Miles? Arty, take me. Come along. Good-bye, Mr. Fricker.'
She kissed her hand to Fricker and jumped in; Arty followed. Miles, with a queer look of fright on his face, lifted his hat and indicated the remaining hansom.
'It's rather unconventional, isn't it?' giggled Connie, gathering her skirts carefully away from the wheel.
'Allow me,' begged Miles in a sepulchrally grave tone.
He saw her in without damage, raised his hat again to Fricker, got in, and sat down well on the other side of the cab. He was of opinion that Peggy had let him in shamefully.
'I hope it's a quiet horse, or I shall scream,' said Connie.
'I hope it is,' agreed Miles most heartily. What his part would be if she screamed he dared not think; he said afterwards that the colours of her garments did quite enough screaming on their own account.
Fricker watched them drive off and then returned to his study thoughtfully. But he was not engrossed in problems of finance, in the possibilities of Glowing Stars and of minimising the claims they would make. He was not even thinking of the odd way things had turned out in regard to Trix Trevalla, nor of how he had pledged himself to deal with Beaufort Chance. The only overt outcome of his meditations was the remark, addressed once again to his study walls: —
'I'm not sure that Connie isn't a bit too lively in her dress.'
The various influences which produced this illuminating doubt it would be tedious to consider. And the doubt had no practical result. He did not venture so much as to mention it to Connie or to Mrs. Fricker.
THE WHIP ON THE PEG
Of that drive with Connie Fricker Miles Childwick had, in the after-time, many tales to tell. Truth might claim the inspiration, an artistic intellect perfected them. 'She said things to which no gentleman should listen in a hansom cab, but the things she said were nothing to the things she looked as if she was going to say. In a hansom! No screen between you and a scrutinising public, Mrs. John!' That was the first stage. In the second he had invented for poor Connie all the sayings which he declared her expression to suggest. Whatever the exact facts, while he forgave Peggy Ryle everything else, he did not cease to harbour malice on account of that ride. Connie thought him nice, but rather slow. His must be the blame, since it is agreed that in such cases the man should adapt himself.
The work of the bodyguard was done; it was disbanded with a gracious invitation to supper. Peggy flew up the stairs ahead of her guest. There was a great question to be solved.
'The gentleman has come, miss,' said the charwoman.
'And Mrs. Trevalla?'
'I told him Mrs. Trevalla would be in directly.'
'And where is she?'
'She's still in her room, I think, miss.'
Peggy turned triumphant eyes on her companion. 'Now then, Miss Fricker!' said she. 'That's the door! I shall go and keep Trix quiet. That's the door!' She pointed encouragingly, if rather imperiously, to the sitting-room.
'I'm not afraid,' laughed Connie, putting her hat straight and giving a rattle to her bangles. But there was a ring of agitation in her voice, and in her heart she half-regretted the dismissal of the bodyguard. Still, she had pluck.
She swept in with the sustaining consciousness of a highly dramatic entrance. To come in well is often half the battle.
'You here! The devil!' exclaimed Beaufort Chance.
'Mr. Chance! Well, I declare!' said Connie. 'And alone too!' She looked round suspiciously, as though Trix might perhaps be under the table. 'Well, I suppose Miss Ryle won't be long taking off her things.'
Beaufort already suspected a plot, but, his first surprise over, he would not plead guilty to being an object that invited one.
'I got away earlier than I expected,' he told her, 'and looked in here on my way to Cadogan Square. There was no chance of finding you at home so early.'
'And there was a chance of finding Mrs. Trevalla?' She sat down opposite him, showing her teeth in a mocking smile. His confusion and the weakness of his plea set her courage firmly on its feet.
'I don't know whether there was or not. She's not here, you see.'
'Oh, I'll amuse you till she comes!'
'I sha'n't wait for her long.'
'I sha'n't stay long either. You can drive me back home, can't you?'
He was pitifully caught, and had not the adroitness to hide his sense of it. Perhaps he had been cruelly used. When he had written to Trix, saying he meant to come again and asking for a date, it was hardly fair of Peggy, performing the office of amanuensis for Trix, to say that Mrs. Trevalla saw few visitors, but that this particular day (on which Peggy was to visit Fricker) would be the best chance of seeing her. Such language might be non-committal; it was undoubtedly misleading. He had found in it a sign that Trix was yielding, coming to a sensible frame of mind, recognising what seemed to him so obvious – the power he had over her and her attraction towards him. In his heart he believed that he held both these women, Trix and Connie, in his hand, and could do as he liked with them; thus he would cajole and conciliate Connie (he thought kisses would not lose their efficacy, nor that despotic air either) while he made Trix his own – for towards her lay his stronger inclination. To secure her would be his victory over all the sneerers, over Mervyn, and – the greatest came last – over herself. But, however clever we are, there is a point at which things may fall out too perversely. If Connie came by chance, this acme of bad luck was reached; if by design, then he had miscalculated somewhere.
'You're not greeting me very enthusiastically,' remarked Connie. 'You don't sit stock-still and say you won't stay long when I come to you in the drawing-room at home!'
'Nonsense! That girl may be in here any minute.'
'Well, and mamma might come in any minute at home – which would be much worse. After all, what would she matter? You're not ashamed of me, I suppose?'
Assumption is a valuable device in argument; Connie was using it skilfully. She assumed that she was first in his thoughts, and did not charge him with preferring another; let him explain that – if he dared.
'Nonsense!' he repeated fretfully. 'But I can't play the fool now. I've come to see Mrs. Trevalla on business. 'Isn't there another room?'
'No; and I thought papa did all the business there was with Mrs. Trevalla.'
He had sat down near the table; she came and perched herself on it. Intimidation must probably be the main weapon, but she was alive to the importance of reinforcing it.
'He thinks he does,' she went on significantly.
'Oh, it's a small matter. It won't do him any harm. And I'm a free agent, I suppose?'
'You're free enough anyhow, pretty often,' Connie admitted.
'You've never objected,' he snarled, his temper getting out of hand.
'Well, no. I knew I had to do with a gentleman.'
Kisses might be out of place, even dangerous in view of a possible interruption; but there was the despotic air. Now seemed the minute for it.
'Don't you talk nonsense, child,' he said. 'If I've treated you kindly, it doesn't entitle you to take that tone. And get off that table.'
'I'm very comfortable here,' remarked Connie.
'It doesn't look respectable.'
'What, not with you and me? There's nobody here, is there?'
'Stop playing the fool,' he commanded brusquely. 'What's the matter with you to-day?'
'I'm in ripping spirits to-day, Beaufort. Can't you guess why?'
'I don't believe you came here to see Peggy Ryle at all,' he broke out.
'Never mind why I came here.'
'Have you got an idea that you've done something clever?'
'Never mind. I've awfully good news, Beaufort.'
'They may be listening at the door.' His uneasiness was pitiful.
'It wouldn't matter. Everybody'll know soon,' said Connie consolingly.
'What the deuce are you talking about?' he growled.
She bent forward towards him with a striking, if rather overdone, air of joyous confusion.
'I've spoken to papa, Beaufort,' she whispered.
Startled out of pretence, he sprang to his feet with an oath. His look was very ugly, he glared threateningly. Connie braced her courage and did not quail.
'I know I ought to have asked you,' she admitted with a smile that belied her professed penitence, 'but I caught him in such a beautiful humour that I had to take advantage of it. So I told him everything. I just confessed everything, Beaufort! Of course he scolded me – it hasn't been quite right, has it? – but he was very kind. He said that, since we were engaged, he'd forgive me and make mamma forgive me too.' She paused before her climax. 'I think that he's really simply awfully pleased.'
'You've told your father that you're engaged to me? You know it's a damned lie.'
Connie's eyes gleamed dangerously, but she kept admirably cool.
'Well, I told him that you'd said you loved me, and that you always kissed me when we were alone, and called me your little Connie, and so on, you know. And papa said that he presumed from all that that we were engaged.'
'Well?' he muttered savagely.
'And I said that of course I presumed so too.'
It was spoken with the innocence of the dove, but it put Beaufort Chance in a very awkward position; the reference is not to his sensibilities but to his tactics. Connie's dexterity forced him to a broad alternative – submission or open war. She deprived him of any half-way house, any compromise by which cajolery and kisses would serve in place of a promise and an obligation. She did not leave the matter there; she jumped down from the table and put her arm on his shoulder – indeed, half-way round his neck. 'You must have meant me to; and it made me so happy to – to feel that I was yours, Beaufort.'
To this pass his shifty dealings had brought him, even as in public affairs they had forbidden him a career, and in business had condemned him to a sort of outlawry, although an outlawry tempered by riches. He was in an extremity; his chance of Trix was at stake, his dominion over Connie herself was challenged. He saw the broad alternative, and he chose open war.
'It's all a very pretty trick of yours, my dear,' he sneered throwing her arm off him none too gently; 'but a man doesn't marry every girl he kisses, especially not when she's so ready to be kissed as some people we know. You can explain it to your father any way you like, but you're not going to bluff me.'
'I see why you came here now,' said Connie coolly. 'You came to make love to Trix Trevalla. Well, you can't, that's all.'
'That's for Mrs. Trevalla to say, not for you.'
'I don't expect Mrs. Trevalla'll show up at all,' remarked Connie, leaning against the table again.
'That's the little plan, is it?' He gave a jerk of his head. 'By Jove, I see! That hussy of a Ryle girl's in it!'
'I don't know who's in it; you seem rather out of it,' smiled Connie.
'I am, am I? We'll see. So Mrs. Trevalla won't show, won't she? That's hardly final, is it? She's on the premises, I rather fancy.'
'Going to force your way into her bedroom? Oh, Beaufort!'
'You'd be mightily shocked, wouldn't you?' He moved towards the door; his purpose was only half-formed, but he wished her to think it was absolute.
'I don't mind; but I'm sure papa and mamma would. I don't think they'd like you for a son-in-law after that.'
'Then we should all be pleased.'
'Or perhaps for a partner either.'
He turned round sharply, and came back a step or two towards her.
'What do you mean by that?' he asked slowly.
'I don't suppose papa would care to have anything to do with a man who trifled with his daughter's affections.' Connie stuck loyally to the old phrases.
He was full in front of her now and looking hard at her.
'You little devil! I believe you've squared him,' said he.
Connie, well on the table again, put her arms akimbo, stuck her legs out in front of her straight from the knee, and laughed in his face.
'If you're going into Mrs. Trevalla's room, you might ask her if, from her experience, she thinks it wise to quarrel with papa.'
'I'm not a woman and a fool.'
'Oh, you know your own business best, Beaufort!'
It was sorely against the grain, but he shirked his open war; he tried coaxing.
'Come, be reasonable, Connie. You're a sensible girl. I mean all that's square, but – '
'I mean that if you wait here after I've gone, or go now and see Trix Trevalla, I'll never speak to you again. And papa – Well, as I say, you know your own business best about that.'
Her cool certainty, her concentration on one purpose, gave her all the advantage over him with his divided counsels, his inconsistent desires, his efforts to hedge. Again she pinned him to a choice.
'What do you want?' he asked curtly.
'I want you to take me home to Cadogan Square.' That was hard and business-like, and bore for him all the significance that she meant to put into it. Then her voice grew lower and her large eyes turned on him with a different expression. 'We can have a really friendly talk about it there.' She meant to beat him, but she was highly content to soften the submission by all means in her power. She would not hesitate about begging his forgiveness, provided the spoils of victory were hers – in the fashion of some turbulent vassal after defying his feeble overlord.
Beaufort read it all well enough. He saw that she liked him and was ready to be pleasant: his dream of mastery vanished from before his eyes. He might have broken Trix Trevalla's proud but sensitive spirit; Miss Connie's pliant pride and unpliant purposes were quite different things to deal with. He knew that in effect, whatever the forms were, he submitted if he took her to Cadogan Square. Henceforward his lot was with the Frickers – and not as their master either.
The truth came home to him with cutting bitterness. He had been able to say to himself that he might use Fricker, but that he was very different from Fricker; that he flirted with Connie, but that his wife would have to be very different from her. He had to give up, too, all thought of Trix Trevalla. Or he must face the alternative and be at war with Fricker. Had he the courage? Had he the strength? He stood looking gloomily at Connie.
'You're a fool, Beaufort,' she told him plainly, with a glittering smile. 'I'm sure you seemed fond enough of me. Why shouldn't we be very jolly? You think I'm nasty now, but I'm not generally, am I?' She coaxed him with the look that she would have said was her most 'fetching.' To do her justice, a more expressive word for the particular variety of glance is hard to find.
At this moment Peggy Ryle came out of Trix's room (where she had beguiled the time in idle conversation), shut the door carefully behind her, crossed the passage, and entered the sitting-room. The time Connie had estimated as sufficient for the interview had elapsed.
'Oh, Mr. Chance, I'm sorry! Trix has such a headache that she can't come in. She has tried, but standing up or moving – ' Peggy threw out her hands in an expressive gesture. 'That's what kept me,' she added apologetically to Connie. 'I hope you've amused one another all this time?'
The plot was plain now; the bulk of Beaufort's resentment turned on Peggy. What was the use of that? Peggy had no fear of him. She was radiantly invulnerable.скачать книгу бесплатно