The Intrusions of Peggy
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'Now what's the meaning of that?' asked Tommy, smoothing his hat and setting out again without so much as sitting down for a pipe after he got back from the City. 'Has Peggy been up to mischief again?' He frowned; he had not forgiven Peggy. It is not safe to discourage a standard which puts the keeping of promises very high and counts any argument which tends the other way in a particular case as dangerous casuistry. Tommy's temperament was dead against casuistry; perhaps, to be candid, his especial gifts of intellect constituted no temptation to the art.
Trix received him with chilling haughtiness. Evidently something was wrong. And the wrong thing was to be visited on the first chance-comer – just like a woman, thought Tommy, hasty in his inference and doubtless unjust in his psychology. In a few moments he found that he was considered by no means a chance-comer in this affair; nor had he been sent for merely as an adviser. Before Trix really opened the case at all, he had discovered that in some inexplicable way he was a culprit; the tones in which she bade him sit down were enough to show any intelligent man as much.
Trix might be high and mighty, but the assumption of this manner hid a very sore heart. If what she was now told were true, the last and greatest burden had not been taken away, and still she was shamed. But this inner mind could not be guessed from her demeanour.
'We've been good friends, Mr. Trent,' she began, 'and I have to thank you for much kindness – '
'Not at all. That's all right, really, Mrs. Trevalla.'
'But I'm forced to ask you,' she continued with overriding imperturbability, 'by what right you concern yourself in my affairs?'
Tommy had a temper, and rather a quick one. He had been a good deal vexed lately too. In his heart he thought that rather too much fuss had been occasioned by and about Mrs. Trevalla; this was, perhaps, one of the limitations of sympathy to which lovers are somewhat subject.
'I don't,' he answered rather curtly.
'Oh, I suppose you're in the plot to deceive me!' she flashed out.
If he were, it was very indirectly, and purely as a business man. He had been asked whether the law could reach Fricker, and had been obliged to answer that it could not. He had been told subsequently to raise money on certain securities. That was his whole connection with the matter.
'But don't you think you were taking a liberty – an enormous liberty? You'll say it was kindness. Well, I don't dispute your motive, but it was presumption too.' Trix's disappointment was lashing her into a revenging fury. 'What right had you to turn me into a beggar, to make me take your money, to think I'd live on your charity?' She flung the question at him with a splendid scorn.
Tommy wrinkled his brow in hopeless perplexity.
'On my honour, I don't know what you're talking about,' he declared.'My charity? I've never offered you charity, Mrs. Trevalla.'
'You brazen it out?' she cried.
'I don't know about brazening,' said Tommy with a wry smile. 'I say it's all nonsense, if that's what you mean. Somebody's been – ' He pulled himself up on the edge of an expression not befitting the seriousness of the occasion. 'Somebody's been telling you a cock-and-bull story.'
'What other explanation is there?'
'I might possibly discover one if you'd begin at the beginning,' suggested Tommy with hostile blandness.
'I will begin at the beginning, as you call it,' said Trix, with a contempt for his terminology that seemed hardly warranted. She took a letter from her pocket. 'This is from Mr. Beaufort Chance.'
'That fellow!' ejaculated Tommy.
'Yes, that fellow, Mr. Trent. Mr. Fricker's friend, his partner. Listen to this.' She sought a passage a little way down the first page. 'Not so clever as you think!' she read. 'Glowing Stars were as pure a fraud as ever you thought them. But any story's good enough for you, and you believed Fricker took them back. So he did – for a matter of three thousand pounds. And he could have had four if he liked. That's what your cleverness is worth.' Trix's voice faltered. She got it under control and went on with flushed cheeks, the letter shaking in her hand. 'Who paid the money? Ask Peggy Ryle. Has Peggy Ryle got thousands to throw about? Which of your charming new friends has? Ask Miss Peggy who'd give four thousand for her smiles! If she doesn't know, I should think you might inquire of Tommy Trent.' Trix stopped. 'There's some more about – about me, but it doesn't matter,' she ended.
Tommy Trent pulled his moustache. Here was a very awkward situation. 'Beaufort Chance's last kick was a nasty one. Why couldn't Fricker have held his tongue, instead of indulging his partner with such entertaining confidences?
'Well, what have you to say to that?' His puzzled face and obvious confusion seemed to give her the answer. With something like a sob she cried, 'Ah, you daren't deny it!'
It was difficult for Tommy. It seemed simple indeed to deny that he had given Peggy any money; he might strain his conscience and declare that he knew nothing of any money being given. What would happen? Of a certainty Peggy Ryle could not dispose of thousands. He foresaw how Trix would track out the truth by her persistent and indignant questions. The truth would implicate his friend Airey Newton, and he himself would stand guilty of just such a crime as that for which he held Peggy so much to blame. His thoughts of Beaufort Chance were deep and dark.
'I can't explain it,' he stammered at length. 'All I know is – '
'I want the truth! Can I never have the truth?' cried Trix. 'Even a letter like that I'm glad of, if it tells me the truth. And I thought – ' The bitterness of being deluded was heavy on her again. She attacked Tommy fiercely. 'On your honour do you know nothing about it? On your honour did Peggy pay Mr. Fricker money? On your honour did you give it her?'
The single word 'Woman!' would have summed up Tommy's most intimate feelings. It was, however, too brief for diplomacy, or for a man who wished to keep possession of the floor and exclude further attacks from an opponent in an overpowering superiority.
'What I've always noticed,' he began in a deliberate tone, 'about women is that if they write you the sort of note that looks as if you were the only friend they had on earth, or the only fellow whose advice would save 'em from ruin, and you come on that understanding – well, as soon as they get you there, they proceed to drop on you like a thousand of bricks.'
The simile was superficially inappropriate to Trix's trim tense figure; it had a deeper truth, though.
'If you'd answer my questions – ' she began in an ominous and deceptive calm.
'Which of them?' cried Tommy in mad exasperation.
'Take them in any order you please,' she conceded graciously.
Tommy's back was against the wall; he fought desperately for his own honour, desperately for his friends' secrets. One of the friends had betrayed his. She was a girl. Cadit qu?stio.
'If I had supposed that this was going to be a business interview – '
'And about your business, it seems, though I thought it was mine! Am I living on your charity?'
'No!' he thundered out, greeting the simple question and the possible denial. 'I've never paid a shilling for you.' His tone implied that he was content, moreover, to leave that state of affairs as it was.
'Then on whose?' asked Trix. Her voice became pathetic; her attitude was imploring now. She blamed herself for this, thinking it lost her all command. How profoundly wrong she was Tommy's increased distress witnessed very plainly.
'I say, now, let's discuss it calmly. Now just suppose – just take the hypothesis – '
Trix turned from him with a quick jerk of her head. The baize door outside had swung to and fro. Tommy heard it too; his eye brightened; there was no intruder whom he would not have welcomed, from the tax-collector to the bull of Bashan; he would have preferred the latter as being presumably the more violent.
'There, somebody's coming! I told you it was no place to discuss things of this kind, Mrs. Trevalla.'
'Of all cowardly creatures, men are – ' began Trix.
A low, gently crooned song reached them from the passage. The words were not very distinct – Peggy sang to please herself, not to inform the world – but the air was soothing and the tones tender. Yet neither of them seemed moved to artistic enjoyment.
'Peggy, by Jove!' whispered Tommy in a fearful voice.
'Now we can have the truth,' said Trix. She spoke almost like a virago; but when she sat at the table, her chin between her hands, she turned on Tommy such a pitiful, harassed face that he could have cried with her.
In came Peggy; she had been to one or two places since Danes Inn, but the glory and gaiety of her visit there hung about her still. She entered gallantly. Then she saw Tommy – and Tommy only at first.
'Oh!' she exclaimed. 'Are you waiting for me?'
Her joy fled; that was strange, since it was Tommy. But there he sat, and sat frowning. It was the day of reckoning!
'I've – I've been meaning to come and see you,' Peggy went on hastily, 'and – and explain.'
'I must ask you to explain to me first, Peggy.'
This from a most forbidding, majestic Trix, hitherto unperceived. She had summoned her forces again; the pleading pitifulness was gone from her face. Tommy reproached himself for a sneak and a coward, but for the life of him he could not help thinking, 'Now they can fight it out together!'
At first Peggy was relieved; a t?te-?-t?te was avoided. She did not dream that her secret was found out. Who would have thought of Fricker's taste for a good story or of that last kick of malice in Beaufort Chance?
'Oh, there you are too, Trix! So glad to find you. I've only run in for just a minute to change my frock before I go out to dinner with the – '
'It's only a quarter to seven. I want to ask you a question first.'
Trix's chilliness was again most pronounced and unmistakable. Peggy glanced at Tommy; a sullen and wilfully uninforming shrug of the shoulders was all that she got. Peggy had enjoyed the day very much; she was young enough to expect the evening to be like it; she protested vigorously against this sort of atmosphere.
'What's the matter with you both?' she cried.
Trix came straight to the point this time. She would have doubted Beaufort if he had brought gifts in his hand; she did not doubt him when he came with a knife.
'Whose money did you give Mr. Fricker to buy me off?' she asked. She held out her letter to Peggy.
Without a word, beyond a word, Peggy took it and read. Yes, there it was. No honour among thieves! None between her and Fricker! Stay, he had said he would not tell Trix; he had never said or written that he would not tell his partner Beaufort Chance. The letter of the bond! And he had professed to disapprove of Shylock! All that she had ever said about his honourable dealing, all that handsome testimonial of hers, Peggy took back on the spot. Thus did the whole of the beautiful scheme go awry!
'Trix dearest – ' she began.
'My question, please,' said Trix Trevalla. But she had not the control to stop there. 'All of you, all of you!' she broke out passionately. 'Even you, Peggy! Have I no friend left – nobody who'll treat me openly, not play with me as if I were a child, and a silly child? What can I believe? Oh, it's too hard for me!' Again her face sank between her hands; again was the awakening very bitter to her.
They sat silent. Both were loyal; both felt as though they were found out in iniquity.
'You did it?' asked Trix in a dull voice, looking across at Peggy.
There was no way out of that. But where was the exultation of the achievement, where the glory?
'Forgive me, dear; forgive me,' Peggy murmured, almost with a sob.
'Your own money?'
'Mine!' echoed Peggy, between a sob and a laugh now.
'Whose?' Trix asked. There was no answer. She turned on Tommy. 'Whose?' she demanded again.
They would not answer. It was peine forte et dure; they were crushed, but they made no answer. Trix rose from her chair. Her manner was tragic, and no pretence went to give that impression.
'I – I'm not equal to it,' she declared. 'It drives me mad. But I have one friend still. I'll go to him. He'll find out the truth for me and tell it me. He'll make you take back your money and give me back my shares.'
Irresistibly the man of business found voice in Tommy Trent. An appeal to instinct beats everything.
'Do you really suppose,' he asked, 'that old Fricker will disgorge three thousand pounds?'
'That's it!' cried Trix. 'Look what that makes of me! And I thought – '
'The money's past praying for now, anyhow,' said Tommy, in a sort of gloomy satisfaction. There is, as often observed, a comfort in knowing the worst.
'I'll go to him,' said Trix. 'I can trust him. He wouldn't betray me behind my back. He'll tell me the truth as – as I told it to him. Yes, I'll go to Mr. Newton.'
It was odd, but neither of them had anticipated the name. It struck on them with all the unexpectedness of farce. On a moment's reflection it had the proper inevitability of tragedy. Tommy was blankly aghast; he could make nothing of it. In all its mingled effect, the poignancy of its emotion, the ludicrousness of its coincidences, the situation was more than Peggy Ryle could bear. She fell to laughing feebly – laughing though miserable at heart.
'Yes, I'll go to Airey Newton. He won't laugh at me, and he'll let me have the truth.' She turned on them again. 'I've treated some people badly; I've never treated you badly,' she cried. 'Why should you play tricks on me? Why should you laugh? And I was ready to turn from all the world to you! But now – yes, I'll go to Airey Newton.'
Fortune had not done yet; she had another effect in store. Yet she used no far-fetched materials – only a man's desire to see the woman whom he had come to love. There was nothing extraordinary about this. The wonder would have been had he taken an hour longer in coming.
Peggy heard the step on the stairs; the others heard it a second later. Again Tommy brightened up in the hope of a respite – ah, let it be a stranger, someone outside all secrets, whose presence would drive them underground! Trix's denunciations were stayed. Did she know the step? Peggy knew it. 'You'll go to her soon?' 'This very night, my dear.' The snatch of talk came back to her in blazing vividness.
The baize door swung to and fro. 'All right, Mrs. Welling; I'll knock,' came in well-known tones.
'Why, it is Mr. Newton!' cried Trix, turning a glance of satisfied anger on her pair of miserable culprits.
Tommy was paralysed. Peggy rose and retreated into a corner of the room. A chair was in her way; she caught hold of it and held it in front of her, seeming to make it a barricade. She was very upset still, but traitorous laughter played about the corners of her mouth – it reconnoitred, seeking to make its position good. Aggressive satisfaction breathed from Trix Trevalla as she waited for the opening of the door.
Airey put his head inside.
'Mrs. Welling told me I should find you,' he began; for Trix's was the first figure that he saw.
'You find us all, old fellow,' interrupted Tommy Trent, with malicious and bitter jocularity.
At this information Airey's face did not glow with pleasure. Friends are friends, but sometimes their appropriate place is elsewhere. He carried it off well though, exclaiming:
'What, you? And Peggy too?'
Trix had no idea of allowing wandering or diversions.
'I was just coming round to Danes Inn, Mr. Newton,' she said, in a voice resolute but trembling.
'To Danes Inn?' The listeners detected a thrill of pleasure in his voice.
'Yes, to see you. I want your help. I want you to tell me something. Peggy here – ' she pointed a scornful finger at Peggy entrenched in the corner behind her chair, and looking as though she thought that personal violence was not out of the possible range of events – 'Peggy here has been kind – what she calls kind, I suppose – to me. She's been to Mr. Fricker and paid him a lot of money to get me out of Glowing Stars – to persuade him to let me out of them. You told me there was some hope of them. You were wrong. There was none. But Peggy went and bought me out. Mr. Chance has written and told me so.'
Airey had never got further than the threshold. He stood there listening.
Trix went on, in a level hard voice: 'He thinks Mr. Trent found the money. It was three thousand pounds – it might have been four. I don't know why Mr. Fricker only took three when he might have had four.'
For an instant Airey glanced at Peggy's face.
'But whether it was three or four, it couldn't have been Peggy's own money. I've asked Peggy whose it was. I've asked Mr. Trent whether it was his. I can't get any answer out of either of them. They both seem to think there's no need to answer me. They both seem to think that I've been such a – such a – Oh, what shall I do?' She dropped suddenly into a chair and hid her face in her hands.
At last Airey Newton advanced slowly towards her.
'Come, come, Mrs. Trevalla,' he began.
Trix raised her face to his. 'So, as I had no other friend – no other friend I could trust – and they wouldn't help me, I was coming to you. You won't forsake me? You'll tell me the truth?' Her voice rose strong again for a minute. 'This is terribly hard to bear,' she said, 'because I'd come to think it was all right, and that I hadn't been a wretched dupe. And now I have! And my own dear friends have done it too! First my enemies, then my friends!'
Tommy Trent cleared his throat, and looked shamefully indifferent; but for no apparent reason he stood up. Peggy sallied suddenly from her entrenchments, ran to Trix, and fell on her knees beside her.
'Trix, dear Trix!' she murmured.
'Yes, I daresay you loved me, but it's too hard, Peggy.' Trix's voice was hard and unforgiving still.
Was the position desperate? So far as Fortune's caprice went, so it seemed. Among the three the secret was gone beyond recall. Not falsehood the most thorough nor pretence the most artistic could save it. The fine scheme of keeping Trix in the dark now and telling her at some future moment – some future moment of idyllic peace – was hopelessly gone. Now in the stress of the thing, in the face of the turmoil of her spirit, she must be told. It was from this that Tommy Trent had shrunk – from this no less than from the injury to his plighted word. At the idea of this Peggy had cowered even more than from any superstitious awe of the same obligation binding her.
But Airey Newton did not appear frightened nor at a loss. His air was gentle but quite decided, his manner quiet but confident. A calm happiness seemed to be about him. There was subtle amusement in his glance at his two friends; the same thing was not absent from his eyes when they turned to Trix, although it was dominated by something tenderer. Above all, he seemed to know what to do.
Tommy watched him with surprised admiration. The gladdest of smiles broke out suddenly on Peggy's face. She darted from Trix to him and stood by him, saying just 'Airey!'
He took her hand for a moment and patted it. 'It's all right,' said he.
Trix's drooping head was raised again; her eyes too were on him now.
'All right?' she echoed in wondering tones.
'Yes, we can put all this straight directly. But – '
There was the first hint of embarrassment in his manner.
'But what?' asked Trix.
He had no chance to answer her. 'Yes, yes!' burst from Peggy in triumphant understanding. She ran across to Tommy and caught him by the arm. 'There's only my room, but that must do for once,' she cried.
'What? What do you mean?' he inquired.
'Peggy's right,' said Airey, smiling. There was no doubt that he felt equal to the situation. He seemed a new man to Peggy, and her heart grew warm; even Tommy looked at him with altered eyes.
'The fact is, Tommy,' said Airey easily, 'I think I can explain this better to Mrs. Trevalla if you leave us alone.'
Trix's head was raised; her eyes leapt to meet his. She did not yet understand – her idea of him was too deep-rooted. It was trust that her eyes spoke, not understanding.
'Leave us alone,' said Airey Newton.
Peggy beckoned to Tommy, and herself made towards the door. As she passed Airey, he smiled at her. 'All right!' he whispered again.
Then Peggy knew. She ran into the passage and thence to her room. Tommy followed, amazed and rather rueful.
'We must wait here. You may smoke,' said she kindly; but she added eagerly, 'and so will I.'
'But, I say, Peggy – '
'Wasn't it just splendid that he should come then?'
'Capital for us! But he did it, you know!' Tommy's tone was awestruck.
'Why, of course he did it, Tommy.'
'Then, in my opinion, he's in for a precious nasty quarter of an hour.'
Peggy plumped down on the bed, and her laugh rang out in mellow gentleness again.
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