Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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'You'd better knock something over first.'

'No, I'm going straight in. If it's all right, it won't matter, and we can all go out to dinner together. If they're being silly, I shall stop them. I'm going in, Tommy!'

Tommy rose from the spindle-shanked counterfeit with a determined air.

'You'll do nothing of the kind. It isn't fair play,' he said.

'It's not you that's going in, is it?' asked Peggy, as though that disposed of his claim to interfere. 'And you needn't tell me I'm dishonourable any more. It's dull. I'm going.'

In fact she had got to the handle of the door. She had grasped it when Tommy came and took hold of her arm.

'No, you don't!' he said.

For an instant Peggy thought that she would take offense. Tommy's rigidity of moral principle, within the limits of his vision, proved, however, too much for her. She still held the handle, but she leant against the door, laughing as she looked up in his face.

'Let go, Tommy! In short, unhand me!'

'Will you go, if I do?'

'That's what I want you to do it for,' Peggy explained, with a rapid and pronounced gravity.

Her eyes sparkled at him, her lips were mischievous, the waves of her hair seemed dowered with new grace. Perhaps there was something, too, in the general atmosphere of the flat that night. Anyhow the thought of vindicating moral principles and the code of honour lost the first place in Tommy's thoughts. Yet he did not let go of his prisoner.

With the change in his thoughts Ц did it betray itself on his face?†Ц came a change in Peggy also. She was still gaily defiant, but she looked rather on the defensive too. A touch of timidity mingled with the challenge which her eyes still directed at him.

'It's not the least good lecturing you,' he declared.

'I don't know how you ever came to think you knew how to do it.'

'Peggy, am I never to get any forwarder?'

'Not much, I hope,' answered Peggy, with a stifled laugh.

He looked at her steadily for a minute.

'You like me,' he said. 'If you hadn't liked me, I should have been kicked out by now.'

'I call that taking a very unfair advantage,' murmured Peggy.

'Because you're not the sort of girl to let a man Ц '

'Then why don't you let go of my arm?'

This was glaringly illogical. It seized Tommy's premise and twisted it to an absolutely opposite conclusion. But Tommy was bewildered by the mental gymnastics Ц or by something else that dazzled him. He released her arm and stepped back almost ceremoniously. Peggy lifted her arm and seemed to study it for a second.

'That's nice of you,' she said. 'But' Ц her laugh rang out Ц 'I'm going all the same!'

In an instant she had darted through the door. Tommy made as though he would follow, but paused on the threshold and pulled the door close again. Perhaps she could carry it off; he could not. He walked slowly back to the spindle-shanked chair and sat down again.

Tommy's head was rather in a whirl, but his heart beat gaily. 'By Jove Ц yes!' he thought to himself. 'Give her time, and it's yes!'

Peggy, unrepentant, strode across the passage and stopped outside the sitting-room. Human nature would not stand it. She must listen or go in. She did not hesitate: in she went.

Airey was standing by the window; she saw but hardly noticed him. In the middle of the room was Trix Trevalla. But what a Trix! Peggy stood motionless a minute at the sight of her. Her quick eye took in the ring on Trix's finger, the sparkle of the diamonds on her wrist, the softer lustre of the pearls about her neck. The plain gown she wore showed them off bravely, and she seemed as though she were hung with jewels. Peggy recognised the jewels; the small boxes she knew also, and marked where they lay on the table. All that was the work of an instant. Her eyes returned to Trix and rose above the pearls to Trix's face. The hardness and the haggardness, the weariness and shame, all suspicion and all reserve, were gone from it. The face was younger, softer; it seemed rounder and more girlish. The eyes glowed with a veiled brightness.

Peggy stood there on the threshold, looking.

At last Airey spoke to her; for Trix, though she met her eyes, said nothing and did not move from her place.

'Peggy,' he said, 'she's been with me. She's been where we went this afternoon. You know the way; you showed it to me.'

Now Trix Trevalla came towards her, a little blindly and unsteadily as it seemed. She held out both hands, and Peggy went forward a step to meet them.

'Yes, I've been. I think I've been to Ц to the soul shop, Peggy.' She threw herself in the girl's arms.

'Is it Ц is it all right?' gasped Peggy.

'It's going to be,' said Airey Newton.

She put Trix at arm's length and gazed at her. 'They look beautiful, and you look beautiful. I wonder if you've ever looked like that before!'

'It's all gone,' said Trix, passing her hand across her eyes. 'All gone, I think, Peggy.'

'Oh, I can't stay here!' cried Peggy in dismay. For her eyes too grew dim; and now she could no more have sung than yawned. She caught Trix to her, kissed her, and ran from the room.

'I beg your pardon; you were quite right, sir,' she said to Tommy. 'I never ought to have gone in.'

'But, I say, what's happened, Peggy?' Of another's sin it seems no such great crime to take advantage.

'Everything,' said Peggy, with a comprehensive wave of her arms. 'Everything, Tommy!'

'They've fixed it up?' he asked eagerly.

'If you don't feel disgraced by putting it like that Ц they have,' said Peggy, breaking into glad laughter again.

He rose and came near to her.

'And what are we going to do?' he inquired.

Peggy regarded him with eyes professedly judicial, though mischief and mockery lurked in them.

'As I don't think it's the least use waiting for them, I suggest that we go and have some dinner,' she said.

'That's not a bad idea,' agreed Tommy.

He turned quietly, took up his hat and stick, and went out into the passage; Peggy stayed a minute to put on a hat and jacket. She came out to join him then, treading softly and with her linger on her lips. Tommy nodded understanding, took hold of the handle of the baize door, and made way for her to pass. His air was decorous and friendly. Peggy looked at him, immeasurable amusement nestling in her eyes. As she passed, she flung one arm lightly about his neck and kissed him.

'Just to celebrate the event!' she whispered.

Tommy followed her downstairs with heart aglow.

CHAPTER XXV
RECONCILIATION

Barslett: Sept. 13.

My dearest Sarah,†Ц I know how much you value my letters. I know more Ц how valuable my letters are to you. Only by letter (as I've mentioned before) can I come near telling you the truth. In your presence, no! For aren't you, your dear old stately self, in the end, a Ц (so glad there are hundreds of miles between us!) Ц a splendid semi-mendacity?

I have just answered Trix's brief note. Here I wrote just as I should have spoken: 'I'm sure you'll be so happy, dear,' above my breath; 'why, in Heaven's name, does she do it?' under the same. Trix was curt. She marries 'Airey Newton, the well-known inventor'! Little Peggy was rather more communicative; but Peggy is an enthusiast, and (politics apart) I see no use for the quality. 'The well-known inventor'! I never heard of the man. ?a n'emp?che pas, by all means. Shall we say 'Like to like'? Trix was rather a well-known inventor in her day and season Ц which is the one from which we are all precariously recovering. (How's the marital liver?) I wonder if we've got to say 'Like to like' in any other way, Sarah? You are no philosopher. You abound in general rules, but haven't a shred of principle. I will instruct you in my old way. But first I must tell you that Audrey is positively improving. She coquetted the other night! The floor creaked, as it seemed to me, but it bore well; and she did it. The Trans-Euphratic is, as you are aware, active even in the dead season. I fancy the Trans-Euphratic helps Audrey. There are similarities, most especially in a certain slowness in getting under way. The Trans-Euphratic is going to get there. An American engineer who came down to Barslett the other day, and said he had always dreamed of such a place (he was sallow and thin), told me so. Audrey's going to get there too. Now isn't she? Don't say it's labour wasted!

I digress. Listen, then: Ч

Lord B.: Do you Ц er Ц know a Mr. Airey Newton Ц Newton, Viola?

Myself: Very slightly. Oh, you're thinking of Ц ?

Lord B.: I saw it in the daily paper. (He means the 'Times' Ц he doesn't know of any others.)

Myself (hedging): Curious, isn't it?

Lord B.: It will possibly prove very suitable Ц possibly. As we grow old we learn to accept things, Viola.

Myself (looking young): I suppose we do, Lord B.

Lord B.: For my own part, I hope she will be happy.

Myself (murmuring): You're always so generous!

Lord B. (clearing his throat): I am happy to think that Mortimer has recovered his balance Ц balance, Viola.

Myself: He'd be nothing without it, would he, Lord B.? (This needed careful delivery, but it went all right.)

Lord B. (appreciative): You're perfectly correct, Viola. (Pause.) Should you be writing to Mrs. Trevalla, express my sincere wishes for her happiness.

Now, considering that Trix knocked him down, isn't he an old dear of a gentleman?

But Mortimer? A gentleman too, my dear Ц except that a man shouldn't be too thankful at being rid of a woman! He showed signs once of having been shaken up. They have vanished! This is partly the prospect of the Cabinet, partly the family, a little bit Audrey, and mainly ЧMe! I have deliberately fostered his worst respectabilities and ministered to his profoundest conceits. As a woman? I scorn the imputation. As a friend? I wouldn't take the trouble. As an aunt? I plead guilty. I had my purposes to serve. Incidentally I have obliterated Trix Trevalla. If he talks of her at all, it is as a converted statesman does of the time when he belonged to the opposite party (as most of them have). He vindicates himself, but is bound to admit that he needs vindication. He says he couldn't have done otherwise, but tells you with a shrug that you're not to take that too seriously.

Mortimer: We were fundamentally unsuited.

Myself (tactfully): She was. (What did I mean? Sheer, base flattery, Sarah!)

Mortimer: She had not our (waving arm) Ц our instincts.

Myself: I think I always told you so. [!!!]

Mortimer: I daresay. I would listen to nothing. I was very impetuous. (Bless him, Sarah!)

Myself: Well, it's hardly the time Ц (Do wise people ever finish sentences, Sarah?)

Mortimer: It is a curious chapter. Closed, closed! By the way, do you know anything of this Airey Newton?

Myself: A distinguished inventor, I believe, Mortimer.

Mortimer: So the papers say. (He 'glances at' them all.) What sort of man is he?

Myself: Oh, I suppose she likes him. Bohemian, you know.

Mortimer: Ah, yes, Bohemian! (A reverie.) Bo-hem-i-an! Exactly!

Myself: Is that Audrey in her habit?

Mortimer: Yes, yes, of course. Bohemian, is he? Yes! Well, I mustn't keep her waiting.

That is how I behave. 'O lim?d soul that, struggling to be free' Ц gets other people more and more engaged! Tennyson, Sarah. And when they're quite engaged, whether it's in or out of the season, I'm going to Monte Carlo Ц for the same reason that the gentleman in the story travelled third, you know.

Oh, I must tell you one more thing. Running up to town the other day to get my hair Ц I beg your pardon, Sarah! Running up to town the other day on business connected with the family estates (a mortgage on my life-interest in the settled funds Ц no matter), who should shake me by the hand but Miss Connie Fricker! Where had I met Miss Connie Fricker? Once Ц once only. And where, Sarah? Everywhere, unless I had withstood you to the face! And I don't know why I did, because she's rather amusing. In fact, at your house, dearest. Long ago, I admit. She has come on much in appearance, and she's going to marry Beaufort Chance. I know she is, because she says it Ц a weak reason in the case of most girls, but not in hers. Quod vult, valde vult. (A motto in one branch of our family, meaning 'She won't be happy till she gets it.') I am vaguely sorry for our Beaufort of days gone by. These occurrences, Sarah, prejudice one in favour of morality. She has gleaming teeth and dazzling eyes (reverse the adjectives, if you like), and she has also Ц may I say it?†Ц she has also Ц a bust! She says darling Beaufort is positively silly about her. My impression is that darling Beaufort is handling a large contract. (Metaphor, Sarah, not slang. Same thing though, generally.) That man wanted a slave; he has got Ц well, I shall call on them after marriage. I spoke to her of Trix Trevalla. 'I thought she'd quite gone under,' says Connie. 'Under where?' would have been my retort; but I'm weakly, and I thought perhaps she'd slap me. It's as pure a case of buying and selling as was ever done, I suppose; and if the Frickers gave hard cash I think they've got the worst of the bargain.

What's the moral, Sarah? Not that it's any good asking you. One might as well philosophise to an Established Church (of which, somehow, you always remind me very much). 'Open your mouth and shut your eyes' Ц that's out of date. Our eyes are open, but we open our mouths all the wider. That's superficial! In the end, each to his own, Sarah. I don't mean that as you'd mean it, O Priestess of Precedence. But through perilous ways Ц and through the Barslett shrubberies by night, knocking down his lordship and half a dozen things besides Ц perhaps she has reached a fine, a fine Ц Perhaps! I hope so, for she had a wit and a soul, Sarah; and Ц and I'll call on them after marriage. And if that little compound of love and mischief named Peggy Ryle doesn't find twenty men to worship her and one who won't mind it, men are not what they were and women have lost their prerogative. Which God forbid! But, as my lord here would say, 'The change appears to me Ц humbly appears to me Ц to be looming Ц looming, Viola.'

Fol-de-rol, Sarah! Scotland as misty and slaughterous as ever? You might be a little bit nice to Mrs. Airey Newton. You liked her, and she liked you. Yes, I know you! Pretences are vain! Sarah, you have a heart! J'accuse!

Yours,
V. B.

As on a previous occasion, Mrs. Bonfill ejaculated 'Tut!' But she added, 'I'm sure I wish no harm to poor Trix Trevalla.'

It is satisfactory to be able to add that society at large shared this point of view. It is exceedingly charitable towards people who are definitely and finally out of the running. Those in the race run all; they become much more popular when it is understood that they do not compete for a prize. There was a revulsion of feeling in Trix's favour when the word went round that she was irredeemably ruined and was going to throw herself away on a certain Airey Newton.

'Who is he?' asked Lady Glentorly, bewildered but ready to be benevolent.

'Excuse me, my dear, I'm really busy with the paper.'

If Trix's object had been to rehabilitate herself socially, she could have taken no more politic step than that of contracting an utterly insignificant marriage. 'Well, we needn't see anything of him,' said quite a number of people. It is always a comfort to be able to write off the obligations that other folks' marriages may seem to entail.

Mr. Fricker had one word to say.

'Avoid her virtues and imitate her faults, and you'll get on very well with your husband, Connie.'

'Oh, I don't want to hear anything more about her,' cried Connie defiantly.

His pensive smile came to Fricker's lips.

'These little fits of restiveness Ц I don't mean in you Ц are nothing, Connie? You said you could manage him.'

'So I can Ц if you won't say things when he's there.'

'I'm to blame,' said Fricker gravely. 'But I'm fond of you, Connie.'

She broke out violently, 'Yes, but you wish I'd been rather different!'

'Live and let live, Connie. When's the wedding-day?'

She came to him and kissed him. Her vexation did not endure. Her next confidence amused him.

'After all, I've only got to say "Trix," and he's as quiet as a lamb,' she whispered, with her glittering laugh.

It is hopelessly symptomatic of social obscurity to be dining in London in September Ц and that as a matter of course, and not by way of a snatch of food between two railway stations. Yet at the date borne at the top of Lady Blixworth's notepaper something more than a dinner, almost a banquet, celebrated in town an event which had taken place some hundreds of miles away. Lady Blixworth had blessed the interval between herself and her dearest Sarah, opining that it made for candour, not to say for philosophy. Something of the same notion seemed to move in Miles Childwick's brain.

'In electing to be married in the wilds of Wales,' he remarked as he lit his cigarette, 'our friends the Newtons have shown a consideration not only for our wardrobes Ц a point with which, I admit, I was preoccupied Ц but also for our feelings. Yet we, by subscribing a shilling each towards a wire, deliberately threw away the main advantage of the telegraphic system. We could have expressed our aspirations for sixpence; as it is, we were led into something perilously like discussion. Finally, at Mrs. John's urgent request, and in order not to have sixpence left on our hands, we committed ourselves to the audacious statement that we had foreseen it from the first.'

'So I did Ц since Airey's dinner,' declared Mrs. John stoutly.

'A delusion of your trade, Mrs. John. For my part I hope I have something better to do than go about foreseeing people's marriages.'

'Something different, old fellow,' Arty suggested, with an air of being anxious to guard the niceties of the language.

'I wonder if I could write a story about her,' mused Mrs. John, unusually talkative.

'I have so often told Mrs. John in print Ц anonymously, of course, because of our friendship Ц that she can't write a story about anything, that I sha'n't discuss the particular case. As a general principle, I object to books about failures. Manson, do you take an interest in humble tragedies?'

'Only in a brief marked two and one,' said Manson Smith.

'Exactly! Or in a par at seven-and-six.'

'Or perhaps in a little set of verses Ц thrown off,' murmured Arty Kane.

'Who's talking about tragedies?' called Peggy from the other end. 'Elfreda and Horace are splendidly happy. So will Trix and Airey be.'

'And Ц I am sorry to mention it,' smiled Tommy Trent, 'but the latter couple will also be uncommonly well off.'

'The only touch of poetry the thing ever had, gone out of it!' grumbled Arty resentfully.

'Listen to the voice of the Philistine!' advised Miles, pointing at Tommy. 'For the humiliating reason that he's generally right.'

'No!' ejaculated Mrs. John firmly.

'That is, we shall all come to think him right. Time will corrupt us. We shall sink into marriage, merit, middle age, and, conceivably, money. In a few years we sha'n't be able to make out for the lives of us what the dickens the young fools do want.'

'Is this a s?ance?' demanded Arty Kane indignantly. 'If the veil of the future is going to be lifted, I'm off home.'

'Fancy bothering about what we shall be in ten years!' cried Peggy scornfully, 'when such a lot of fine things are sure to happen in between! Besides, I don't believe that anything of the sort need happen at all.'

The idea rather scandalised Mrs. John. It seemed to cut at the root of a scientific view of life Ц a thing that she flattered herself might with due diligence be discovered in her published, and was certainly to be developed in her projected, works.

'Experience, dear Peggy Ц ' she began, with a gently authoritative air.

Miles laid a firm hand on her wrist and poured her out some more champagne; this action might be construed as an apology for his interruption. At any rate he offered no other: after all, Mrs. John was accustomed to that.

'Experience, dear Peggy Ц to adopt the form of expression used by my honourable friend, which commends itself to all sections of the House Ц (you mustn't laugh when you're complimented, Peggy!) experience, dear Peggy, enjoys two significations Ц first, the things that happen; secondly, what you or I may be pleased to think they mean. I have no remedy ready on the spot for the first; the cure for the second is very simple, as many great men have pointed out.'

'What is it?' asked Mrs. John rebelliously.

'Don't think so, Mrs. John.'

'What, reconstruct all your theories Ц ?'

'Now did I say anything of the kind?' he demanded despairingly.

Peggy leant forward with eager eyes.

'Stop!' interposed Arty Kane imperiously. 'I will not be told any more that the world is full of happiness. It's nothing to me one way or the other if it is, and there's an end of it.'

Peggy leant back again, smiling at Tommy Trent.

'Any other point of view would be ungracious to our friends to-night,' said Tommy with a laugh. It appeared rather as though it would be unsuited to his own mood also.

'One thing at least we may be sure of,' said Miles, summing up the discussion with a friendly smile. 'We shall none of us do, or be, or feel, at all approximately what we think we shall. You may say what you like, but there's plenty of excitement in it. Unless you're dull yourself, there's no dulness in it.'



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