The Intrusions of Peggy
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'No, there's no dulness in it,' said Peggy Ryle. 'That is the one thing to be said.'
Would Lady Blixworth have echoed that from Barslett? She would have denied it vigorously in words; but could anything be dull so long as one had brains to see the dulness – and a Sarah Bonfill to describe it to?
Peggy walked off home with Tommy. Nobody questioned, or seemed inclined to question, that arrangement now. Even Miles Childwick looked on with a smile, faintly regretful perhaps, yet considerably amused. He linked his arm in Arty Kane's and the two walked along the Strand, discussing the permutations of human feeling. There seems no need to follow their disquisition on such a well-worn subject. It is enough to catch a fragment from Miles. 'The essence being reciprocity – ' was all a news-vendor got for his offer of the late edition.
'It's far too fine to drive,' Peggy declared, picking her way round a small puddle or two, left by a goodly summer shower. 'Have you plenty of time?'
'Time enough to walk with you.'
She put her arm in his. 'So that's all over!' she said regretfully. 'At least, I don't see how Trix is going to do anything else that's at all sensational.'
'I should think she doesn't want to,' said Tommy soberly.
'No, but – ' She turned her laughing face to him. 'When is something else going to begin, Tommy? I'm all ready for adventures. I've spent all my money – '
'You've spent – ?'
'Now don't pretend to be surprised – it's all gone in frocks, and presents, and things. But – Why, you never asked me where I got my necklace!'
'If you wore the Koh-i-Noor should I ask you where you got it?'
'Airey sent it to me to-day. I refused it from him before, but to-day I'm going to keep it. Because of what it means to him, you know.' She pushed her cloak a little aside and fingered the pearls. 'Yes, the money's all gone,' she went on, rather pleased apparently; 'and there's no more from poor dear uncle, and – and Airey Newton won't live in Danes Inn any longer!'
Tommy was silent; he was not silent altogether without an effort, but silent he was. She pressed his arm for a moment.
'Will you be promoted to Airey Newton's place?' she asked.
'But why only tea?' said Tommy.
She waited a little before she answered.
'What should you say,' she asked at last, 'if I ever changed?' She did not tell him from what: in words she had never told him, and in words he had never asked.
'I should wait for you to change back again,' said he. Was he the man that in Lady Blixworth's opinion the situation needed?
Peggy was eager in her explanation, but she seemed a little puzzled too.
'I know how much it is to ask,' she said, 'and there's no bond, no promise from you. But somehow it seems to me that I must see some more. Oh, there it all is, Tommy – waiting, waiting! Trix has made me feel that more and more. Was she all wrong? I don't know. Airey was there in the end, you see.And now there are all sorts of things behind her, making – making a background to it. I don't want all she's had; but, Tommy, I want some more.'
He heard her with a sober smile; if there were a touch of sadness in it, there was understanding too. They had come to her door in Harriet Street, and she stopped on the threshold.
'I sha'n't starve. You'll be there at tea-time,' said she with an appealing smile.
His man's feeling was against her. It was, perhaps, too much to ask of him that he should sympathise fully with her idea; he saw its meaning, but its meaning could not be his ideal. He would have taken her now at once, when, as his thoughts put it, the bloom was fresh and she had rubbed so little against the world. The instinct in her and the longings which bore her the other way were strange to him.
She knew it; the timidity of her beseeching eyes told that she asked a great thing – a thing that must be taken on faith, and must try his faith. Yet she could not but ask. The life of to-day was not yet done. Coming now, the life of to-morrow would come too soon. Very anxiously she watched his struggle, perhaps with an undefined yet not uncertain apprehension that its issue would answer the question whether he were in truth the man to whom she must come back, whether they two would in the end make terms and live as one. What her heart asked was, Could freedom and love be reconciled? Else, which must go to the wall? She feared that she might be forced to answer that question. Or would he spare it her?
Another moment wore away. His brows were knit into a frown; he did not look at her. Her eyes were on his, full of contending feelings – of trust and love for him, of hope for herself, it may be of a little shame that she must put him to such a trial. At last he turned to her and met her gaze with a friendly cheerful smile.
'Go out into the world and have your fling, Peggy. Take your heart and mine with you; but try to bring them both back to me.'
She caught his hand in hers, delighted that she could go, enraptured that his face told her that he trusted her to go.
'Yes,' she whispered, 'I shall come back with both, because, Tommy, you have such great, great faith in me. I shall come back. But' – her voice rose again in untrammelled gaiety – 'But go I must for a little while. There's so much to see!'
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