Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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'Doesn't it strike you that she might forgive him what she wouldn't forgive us?' she asked.

'By Jove! Because she's in love with him?'

'Oh, I suppose that's not a reason for forgiveness with everybody,' murmured Peggy, smoking hard.

CHAPTER XXIV
TO THE SOUL SHOP

With the departure of the other two, Trix's tempestuousness finally left her; it had worn itself out – and her. She sat very quiet, watching Airey Newton with a look that was saved from forlorn despair only by a sort of appeal; it witnessed to a hope which smouldered still, and might burn again if he would fan it. A sense of great physical fatigue was on her; she lay back in a collapse of energy, her head resting against the chair, her hands relaxed and idle on the arms of it.

'What a pity we can't leave it just where it is!' said Airey with a compassionate smile. 'Because we can't really put it all straight to-night; that'll take ever so much longer.' He sighed, and smiled at her. He came and laid his hand on one of hers. 'If I've got a life worth living, it's through you,' he told her. 'You were very angry with Tommy Trent, who had nothing to do with it. You were very, very angry with poor Peggy. Well, she was partly responsible; I don't forget that. But in the end it's a thing between you and me. We haven't seen so very much of one another – not if you count by time at least; but ever since that night at Paris there seems to have been something uniting us. Things that happened to you affected me, and – well, anyhow, you used to feel you had to come and tell me about them.'

He caressed her hand gently, and then walked away to the window.

'Yes, I used to feel that,' said Trix softly. 'I came and told you even – even bad things.'

'You chose your man well,' he went on. 'Better than you knew. If you had known, it wouldn't have been fair to choose a confessor so much worse than yourself. But you didn't know. I believe you thought quite highly of me!' There was no bitterness about him, rather a tone of exultation, almost of amusement. He took hold of a chair, brought it nearer to her, and rested his knee on it. 'There was a man who loved a woman and knew that she was ruined. There was no doubt about it. A friend told him; the woman herself told him. The friend said: "You can help." The woman he loved said, "Nobody can help." He could help, but even still he wouldn't. The friend said, "You can give her back life and her care about living." She said, "I have no joy now in living" – her eyes said that to him. Come, guess what his answer was! Can you guess? No, by heaven, nobody in the world could guess! He answered, "Yes, perhaps, but it would cost too much."'

For an instant she glanced at his face; she found him smiling still.

'That's what he said,' Airey pursued, in a tone of cheerful sarcasm. 'The fellow said it would cost too much. Prudent man, wasn't he? Careful and circumspect, setting a capital example to the thriftless folk we see all about us.

It was suggested to him – oh, very delicately! – that it was hardly the occasion to count pennies. Then he got as far as asking that the thing should be reduced to figures. The figures appalled him!' A dry chuckle made her look again; she smiled faintly, in sympathy, not in understanding.

'Remarkable fellow, wasn't he? And the best of it was that the woman he loved was so cut up about being ruined and not having made a success of it altogether that she thought it very condescending and noble of him to show any concern about her or to trouble to give her advice. Now this man was always most ready to give advice; all his friends relied on him for that. As far as advice went, he was one of the most generous men in England. Well, there she lay – in the dust, as somebody put it to him. But, as I say, when it came to figures, the cost of raising her was enormous. Are you feeling an admiration for this hero? Don't you think that the worst, the foolishest woman on earth would have been a bit too good for him? This little trouble of his about figures he had once described as a propensity.'

She leant forward suddenly and looked hard at him. He saw her breath come more quickly.

Airey pulled his beard and continued, smiling still: 'That was the position. Then a girl came to him, a very dangerous girl in my opinion, one who goes about sowing love all over the place in an indiscriminate and hazardous fashion – she carries it about her everywhere, from her shoes to the waves of her hair. She came to him and said, "Well, you're a pretty fellow, aren't you? I've got twopence that I'm going to give. We want tenpence. Out with eightpence, please," said she. "Why so?" he asked, with his hand tight on the eightpence. "She's got ruined just on purpose to give you the chance," said she. That was rather a new point of view to him – but she said it no less.'

'Tell it me plainly,' Trix implored.

'I'm telling it quite plainly,' Airey insisted. 'At last he forked out the tenpence – and sat down and groaned and cried. Lord, how he cried over that tenpence! Till one day the girl came back again and – '

'I thought she only asked for eightpence?' put in Trix, with a swift glance.

'Did I say that? Oh, well, that's not material. She came back, and laid twopence on the table, and said eightpence had been enough. He was just going to grab the twopence and put it back in his pocket again, when she said, "Wouldn't it be nice to spend it?" "Spend it? What on?" he cried. "A new soul," said she, in that wholesale reckless way of hers. "If you get a new soul, she may like you. You can't suppose she'd like you with the one you've got?" She could be candid at times, that girl – oh, all in a very delicate way! So they went out together in a hansom cab, and drove to the soul shop and bought one. There's a ready-made soul shop, if you know where to find it. It's dearer than the others, but they don't keep you waiting, and you can leave the worn-out article behind you.'

'Well?'

'He liked the feel of the new soul, and began to thank the girl for it. And she said, "Don't thank me. I didn't do it." So he thanked her just a little – but the rest of his thanks he kept.'

There was a long silence. Trix gazed before her with wide-open eyes. Airey tilted his chair gently to and fro.

'You paid the money for me?' she asked at last in a dull voice.

'I gave it and Peggy took it. We did it between us.'

'Was it all yours or any of hers?'

'It was all mine. In the end I had that decency about me.' He went on with a touch of eagerness: 'But it wasn't giving the money; any churl must have done that. It's that now – to-day – I rejoice in it. I thank God the money's gone. And when some came back I wouldn't have it. Ah, there was the last tug – it was so easy to take it back! But no, we went out and – wasted it!' He gave a low, delighted laugh. 'By Jove, how we wasted it!' he repeated with a relish.

'Of all people in the world I never thought of you.'

'What I called my life was half-spent in making it impossible that you should.'

'Where did you get the money from?'

The last touch of his old shame, the last remnant of his old secret triumph, showed in his face.

'I had five or six times as much – there in the safe at Danes Inn. It lay there accumulating, accumulating, accumulating. That was my delight.'

'You were rich?'

'I had made a good income for five or six years. You know what I spent. Will you give a name to what was my propensity?' For an instant he was bitter. The mood passed; he laughed again.

'You must have been very miserable?' she concluded.

'Worse than that. I was rather happy. Happy, but afraid. A week ago I should have fled to the ends of the earth sooner than tell you. I couldn't have borne to be found out.'

'I know, I know,' she cried, in quick understanding. 'I felt that at – ' She stopped in embarrassment. Airey's nod saved her the rest.

'But now I can talk of it. I don't mind now. I'm free.' He broke into open laughter. 'I've spent a thousand pounds to-day. It sounds too deliciously impossible.'

She gave a passing smile; she had not seen the thing done, and hardly appreciated it. Her mind flew back to herself again.

'And you bought Mr. Fricker off? You ransomed me?'

'You were angry with Tommy, you were angry with Peggy' – he turned his chair round suddenly and rested his hands on the back of it – 'are you angry with me?'

She made a gesture of petulant protest. 'It leaves me a helpless fool again,' she murmured.

'It was the price of my liberty more than of yours. I had a right – a right – to pay it. Won't you come to the soul shop too? I've been there now; I can show you the way. There was my life – and yours. What was I to do?'

'You meant to deceive me?'

'Yes.' He paused an instant. 'Unless there ever came a time when you would like to be undeceived – when it might seem better to have been helped than not to have needed help. Well, Beaufort Chance upset that scheme. Here we are, face to face with the truth. We've not been that before. How we made pretence with one another!' He shook his head in half-humorous reprobation. She saw with wonder how little unhappy he was about it all, how it all seemed to him a bygone thing, a strange dream which might retain its meaning and its interest, but ceased to have living importance the moment dawning day put it to flight.

'You told me you weren't cured,' he went on. 'That you still wanted the old life, the old ambition – that my advice still appealed to you. That fatal advice of mine! It did half the mischief. Don't you see my right to pay the money in that again? Still, I tell you, I didn't pay it for you; I paid it for myself.'

'I can give you no return for it.'

'I ask none. The return I have got I've told you. I am free.' He loved the thought; again it brought a smile to his lips. 'There's no question of a return from you to me.'

'Yes, but I shall owe you everything,' she cried. 'The very means of living decently!' Her pride was in arms again as the truth came back to her.

'Then sell all you have and repay me the money,' he suggested. 'Say I'm Fricker. There'll be nobody to buy me off, as Peggy and I bought Fricker off.'

'What?' she exclaimed, startled into betraying her surprise.

'Pay it back,' he cried gaily. 'Pay it all back. I'll take it. I'm not afraid of money now. It might come rolling into Danes Inn – in barrels! Like beer-casks! And a couple of draymen hard on the rope! I shouldn't so much as turn round. I shouldn't count the barrels – I should go on counting the sparrows on the roof. I've not the least objection to be repaid.'

She fell into silence. Airey began strolling about the room again; he smoked a cigarette while she sat without speaking, with her brows knit and her hands now clenching the arms of her chair. Suddenly she broke out in a new protest.

'Oh, that's not it, that's not it! Paying the money back wouldn't cure it. As far as that goes, I could have paid Fricker myself. It's the failure. It's the failure and the shame. Nothing can cure that.'

'Think of my failure, think of my shame! Worse than yours! You only set about living a little bit in the wrong way. I never set about living at all! I shut out at least a half of life. I refused it. Isn't that the great refusal?'

'You had your work. You worked well?'

'Yes, I did do that. Well, shall we give that half? I had half a life then.'

'And what had I?'

'At least that. More, I think, in spite of everything.'

'And you can forget the failure and the shame?'

'I can almost laugh at them.'

She held out her hands to him, crying again for help:

'How? How?'

A low sound of singing came through the door. Peggy beguiled the vigil with a song. Airey held up his hand for silence. Trix listened; the tears gathered in her eyes.

'Does that say nothing to you?' he asked as the song died away. 'Does that give you no hint of our mistake? No clue to where the rest of life lies? Life isn't taking in only, it's giving out too. And it's not giving out only work, or deeds, or things we've made. It's giving ourselves out too – freely, freely!'

'Giving ourselves out?'

'Yes, to other people. Giving ourselves in comradeship, in understanding, in joy, in love. Oh, good Lord, fancy not having found that out before! What a roundabout road to find it! Hedges and briars and bleeding shins!' He laughed gently. 'But she knows it,' he said, pointing to the door. 'She goes on the royal road to it – straight on the King's highway. She goes blindfold too, which is a funny thing. She couldn't even tell you where she was going.'

Another snatch of song came. It was sentimental in character, but it ended abruptly in uncontrolled gurgles of a mirth free from all such weakness.

'Yes, she gets there, dainty, trim, serene!'

He shook his head, smiling with an infinite affection. Trix Trevalla leant her head on her hand and regarded him with searching eyes.

'Yes, that's true of her,' she said, 'that's true. You've found out the meaning of it.'

'Everything's so plain to find out to-day.'

'Then surely you must be in love with her?' Her eyes were grave and curious still. 'How can you help it? She mayn't love you, but that makes no difference. How can you help loving her?'

'Does it make no difference? I don't know.' He came across to Trix. 'We've travelled the bad road together, you and I,' he said softly. 'I may have seen her far off – against the sky – and steered a course by hers. The course isn't everything. But for your arm I should have fallen by the way. And – should you never have fallen if you'd been quite alone? Or did you fall and need to be picked up again?'

He took both her hands and she let them lie in his; but she still looked at him in fear and doubt, unable to rise to his serenity, unable to put the past behind her as he did. The spectres rose and seemed to bar the path, crying to her that she had no right to tread it.

'I've grown so hard, I've been so hard. Can I forget what I've been and what I've done? Sha'n't I always hear them accusing me? Can I trust myself not to want to go back again? It seems to me that I've lost the power of doing what you say.'

'Never,' said Airey confidently. 'Never!' His smile broke out again. 'Well, certainly not your side of thirty,' he amended, trying to make her laugh.

'Oh, ask Mrs. Bonfill, or Lord Mervyn, or Beaufort Chance of me!'

'They'd all tell me the truth of what they know, I don't doubt it.'

'And you know it too!' she cried, in a sort of shrinking wonder.

'To be sure I know it,' he agreed cheerfully. 'Wasn't I walking beside you all the way?'

'Tell me,' she said. 'If you'd really been a very poor man, as we all believed you were, would you ever have thought it wise or possible to marry a woman like me?'

She had an eye for a searching question. Airey perceived that.

'Most pertinent, if I were poor! But now you see I'm not. I'm well off – and I'm a prodigal.'

'Ah, you know the truth, you never would!'

'I can't know the truth. I shall find it out only if you marry me now.'

'Suppose I said yes? I said yes to Mortimer Mervyn!'

'And you ran away because – '

'Because I told him – '

'Let me put it in my way, please,' interrupted Airey, suavely but decisively. 'Because you weren't a perfect individual, and he was a difficult person to explain that to. Isn't that about it?'

Trix made a woeful gesture; that was rather less than it, she thought.

'And what did he do? Did he come after you? Did he say, "The woman I love is in trouble; she's ruined; she's so ashamed that she couldn't tell the truth even to me. Even from me she has fled, because she has become unbearable to herself and is terrified of me"? Did he say that? And did he put his traps in a bag, and take a special train, and come after you?'

Trix's lips curved in an irrepressible smile at this picture of a line of conduct imputed, even hypothetically, to the Under-Secretary for War. 'He didn't do exactly that,' she murmured.

'Not he! He said, "She's come a cropper – that's her look-out. But people who come croppers won't do for me. No croppers in the Barmouth family! We don't like them; we aren't accustomed to them in the Barmouth family. I've my career," he said. "That's more to me than she is."' Airey paused a moment and held up an emphatic finger. 'In point of fact, that miserable man, Mervyn, behaved exactly as I should have done a fortnight ago. Substitute his prejudices and his career for my safe and my money, and he and I would be exactly the same – I mean, a fortnight ago. If ever a man lost a woman by his own act, Mervyn is the man!'

'So if I say yes to you, and run away – ?'

'The earth isn't big enough to hide you, nor the railway fares big enough to stop me.'

'And Beaufort Chance?' she murmured, trying him again.

'Men who buy love get the sort of love that's for sale,' he answered in brief contempt.

She smiled as, leaning forward, she put her last question.

'And Mr. Fricker?' said she.

Airey gave a tug at his beard and a puzzled whimsical glance at her.

'Do you press me as to that?'

'Yes, of course I do. What about Mr. Fricker?'

'Well, from all I can learn, it does appear to me that you behaved in a damned shabby way to Fricker. I've not a word to say for you there, not one.'

The answer was so unexpected, so true, so honest, that Trix's laughter rang out in genuine merriment for the first time for many days.

'And when old Fricker saw his chance, I don't wonder that he gave you a nasty dig. It was pure business with Fricker – and you went back on him all along the line!'

She looked at him with eyes still newly mirthful. He had dismissed Beaufort Chance and Mervyn contemptuously enough; one had sought to barter where no barter should be; the other had lost his prize because he did not know how to value it. But when Airey spoke of Fricker's wrongs, there was real and convinced indignation in his voice; in Fricker's interest he did not spare the woman he loved.

'How funny!' she said. 'I've never felt very guilty about Mr. Fricker.'

'You ought to. That was worst of all, in my opinion,' he insisted.

'Well, I was afraid you'd quite acquitted me! Should you be always throwing Mr. Fricker in my face?'

'On occasions probably. I can't resist a good argumentative point. You've got the safe and the red book, you know.'

'I'd sooner die than remind you of them.'

'Nonsense! I sha'n't care in the least,' said Airey.

'Then what will be the good of them to me?' He laughed. But she grew serious, saying, 'I shall care about Mr. Fricker, though.'

'Then don't ask me what I think again.'

He laughed, took a turn the length of the room, and came quickly and suddenly back to her.

'Well, is the unforgivable forgiven?' he asked, standing opposite to her.

'The unforgivable? What do you mean?' she said, with a little start of surprise. He had struck sharply across her current of thought.

'What you couldn't have forgiven Tommy, or Peggy, or anybody? What you couldn't possibly forgive me? You know.' His smile mocked her. 'My having sent the money to Fricker.'

'Oh, I'd forgotten all about it!'

'Things forgotten are things forgiven – and the other way round too. Forgiving, but not forgetting – don't you recognise the twang of hard-hearted righteousness?' He came up to her. 'It was very unforgivable – and you forgot it! Haven't you stumbled on the right principle, Trix?'

She did not rise to any philosophic or general principle. She followed her feeling and gave it expression – or a hint of expression, her eyes being left to fill in the context.

'Somehow it's not so bad, coming from you,' she said.

In an instant he was sitting by her. 'Now I'll tell you what we did this afternoon.'

'You and Peggy Ryle? I'm jealous of Peggy Ryle!'

'A sound instinct, in this case misapplied,' commented Airey. 'Now just you listen.'

The sound of song had ceased. Were all sounds equally able to penetrate doors and cross passages, quite another would have struck on Trix's ears. Peggy was yawning vigorously – while Tommy was trying to find patience in a cigar.

'Where had you been going to dine?' asked Peggy, referring to the meal as a bright but bygone possibility.

'I had been going to have a chop at the club,' murmured Tommy sadly.

'That doesn't help me much,' observed Peggy. 'And I suppose you're going to begin about that wretched promise again? I'm tired to death, but I'll sing again if you do.'

'I've expressed my sentiments. I don't want to rub it in.'

'If Airey hadn't come, you'd have done just the same yourself.'

'No, I shouldn't, Peggy.'

'What would you have done, then?'

'I should have bolted – and dined. And I rather wish I had. I tell you what; if I were you, I'd have one comfortable chair in this room.' He was perched on a straight-backed affair with spindly legs – a base imitation of what (from the sitter's point of view) was always an unfortunate ideal.

'I'd bolt with you – for the sake of dinner,' moaned Peggy. 'What are they doing all this time, Tommy?'

Tommy shrugged his shoulders in undisguised contempt. 'Couldn't we go and dine?' he suggested, with a gleam of hope.

'I want to dine very, very much,' avowed Peggy; 'but I'm too excited.' She looked straight at him, pointed towards the door, and declared, 'I'm going in.'



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