The Intrusions of Peggy
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Having this opinion, and a lively wish to ingratiate himself with Trix, he allowed her to share in some of the benefits which his own information and Fricker's manipulation of the markets brought to their partnership. Trix, conscious of money slipping away, very ready to put it back, reckless and ignorant, was only too happy in the opportunity. She seemed also very grateful, and Beaufort was encouraged to persevere. For a little while his kindness to Trix escaped Fricker's notice, but not for long. As soon as Fricker discovered it, his attitude was perfectly clear and, to himself, no more than reasonable.
'You've every motive for standing well with Mrs. Trevalla, I know, my dear fellow,' said he, licking his big cigar and placing his well-groomed hat on Beaufort's table. 'But what motive have I? Everybody we let in means one more to share the – the profit – perhaps, one might add, to increase the risk. Now why should I let Mrs. Trevalla in? Any more than, for instance, I should let – shall we say – Mrs. Bonfill in?' Fricker did not like Mrs. Bonfill since she had quailed before Viola Blixworth.
'Oh, if you take it like that!' muttered Beaufort crossly.
'I don't take it any way. I put the case. It would be different if Mrs. Trevalla were a friend of mine or of my family.'
That was pretty plain for Fricker. As a rule Mrs. Fricker put the things plainly to him, and he transmitted them considerably disguised and carefully wrapped in his dry humour. On this occasion he allowed his hint to be fairly obvious; he knew Beaufort intimately by now.
Beaufort looked at him, feeling rather uncomfortable.
'Friends do one another good turns; I don't go about doing them to anybody I meet, just for fun,' continued Fricker.
Beaufort nodded a slow assent.
'Of course we don't bargain with a lady,' smiled Fricker, thoughtfully flicking off his ash. 'But, on the other hand, ladies are very quick to understand. Eh, Beaufort? I daresay you could convey – ?' He stuck the cigar back into his mouth.
This was the conversation that led to the little dinner-party hereinbefore recorded; Fricker had gone to it not doubting that Trix Trevalla understood; Mrs. Fricker did not doubt it either when Trix had been so civil in the drawing-room. Trix herself had thought she ought to be civil, as has been seen; it may, however, be doubted whether Beaufort Chance had made her understand quite how much a matter of business the whole thing was. She did not realise that she, now or about to be a social power, was to do what Lady Blixworth would not and Mrs. Bonfill dared not – was to push the Frickers, to make their cause hers, to open doors for them, and in return was to be told when to put money in this stock or that, and when to take it out again. She was told when to do these things, and did them. The money rolled in, and she was wonderfully pleased. If it would go on rolling in like this, its rolling out again (as it did) was of no consequence; her one pressing difficulty seemed in a fair way to be removed.Something she did for the Frickers; she got them some minor invitations, and asked them to meet some minor folk, and thought herself very kind. Now and then they seemed to hint at more, just as now and then Beaufort Chance's attentions became inconveniently urgent. On such occasions Trix laughed and joked and evaded, and for the moment wriggled out of any pledge. As regards the seemliness of the position, her state of mind was very much Beaufort's own; she saw no harm in it, but she did not talk about it; some people were stupid, others malicious. It was, after all, a private concern. So she said nothing to anybody – not even to Mrs. Bonfill. There was little sign of Airey Newton's 'second woman' in her treatment of this matter; the first held undivided sway.
If what the Tsar meant to do and the kindred problems occupied Fricker in one way, they made no less claim on Mervyn's time in another. He was very busy in his office and in the House; he had to help Lord Glentorly to persuade the nation to rely on him. Still he made some opportunities for meeting Trix Trevalla; she was always very ready to meet him when Beaufort Chance and Fricker were not to the fore. He was a man of methodical mind, which he made up slowly. He took things in their order, and gave them their proper proportion of time. He was making his career. It could hardly be doubted that he was also paying attentions, and it was probable that he meant to pay his addresses, to Trix Trevalla. But his progress was leisurely; the disadvantages attaching to her perhaps made him slower, even though in the end he would disregard them. In Trix's eyes he was one or two things worse than leisurely. He was very confident and rather condescending. On this point she did speak to Mrs. Bonfill, expressing some impatience. Mrs. Bonfill was sympathetic as always, but also, as always, wise.
'Well, and if he is, my dear?' Her smile appealed to Trix to admit that everything which she had been objecting to and rebelling against was no more than what any woman of the world would expect and allow for.
Trix's expression was still mutinous. Mrs. Bonfill proceeded with judicial weightiness.
'Now look at Audrey Pollington – you know that big niece of Viola's? Do you suppose that, if Mortimer paid her attentions, she'd complain of him for being condescending? She'd just thank her stars, and take what she could get.' (These very frank expressions are recorded with an apology.)
'I'm not Audrey Pollington,' muttered Trix, using a weak though common argument.
There are moments when youth is the better for a judicious dose of truth.
'My dear,' remarked Mrs. Bonfill, 'most people would say that what Audrey Pollington didn't mind, you needn't.' Miss Pollington was grand-daughter to a duke (female line), and had a pretty little fortune of her own. Mrs. Bonfill could not be held wrong for seeking to temper her young friend's arrogance.
'It's not my idea of making love, that's all,' said Trix obstinately.
'We live and learn.' Mrs. Bonfill implied that Trix had much to learn. 'Don't lose your head, child,' she added warningly. 'You've made plenty of people envious. Don't give them any chance.' She paused before she asked, 'Do you see much of Beaufort now?'
'A certain amount.' Trix did not wish to be drawn on this point.
'We keep friends,' smiled Trix.
'Yes, that's right. I wouldn't see too much of him, though.'
'Till my lord has made up his mind?'
'Silly!' That one word seemed to Mrs. Bonfill sufficient answer. She had, however, more confidence in Trix than the one word implied. Young women must be allowed their moods, but most of them acted sensibly in the end; that was Mrs. Bonfill's experience.
Trix came and kissed her affectionately; she was fond of Mrs. Bonfill and really grateful to her; it is possible, besides, that she had twinges of conscience; her conversations with Mrs. Bonfill were marked by a good deal of reserve. It was all very well to say that the matters reserved did not concern Mrs. Bonfill, but even Trix in her most independent mood could not feel quite convinced of this. She knew – though she tried not to think of it – that she was playing a double game; in one side of it Mrs. Bonfill was with her and she accepted that lady's help; the other side was sedulously hidden. It was not playing fair. Trix might set her teeth sometimes and declare she would do it, unfair though it was; or more often she would banish thought altogether by a plunge into amusement; but the thought and the consciousness were there. Well, she was not treating anybody half as badly as most people had treated her. She hardened her heart and went forward on her dangerous path, confident that she could keep clear of pitfalls. Only – yes, it was all rather a fight; once or twice she thought of Danes Inn with a half-serious yearning for its quiet and repose.
Some of what Mrs. Bonfill did not see Lady Blixworth did – distantly, of course, and mainly by putting an observed two together with some other observed but superficially unrelated two – a task eminently congenial to her mind. Natural inclination was quickened by family duty. 'I wish,' Lady Blixworth said, 'that Sarah would have undertaken dear Audrey; but since she won't, I must do the best I can for her myself.' It was largely with a view to doing the best she could for Audrey that Lady Blixworth kept her eye on Trix Trevalla – a thing of which Trix was quite unconscious. Lady Blixworth's motives command respect, and it must be admitted that Miss Pollington did not render her relative's dutiful assistance superfluous. She was a tall, handsome girl, rather inert, not very ready in conversation. Lady Blixworth, who was never absurd even in praise, pitched on the epithet 'statuesque' as peculiarly suitable. Society acquiesced. 'How statuesque Miss Pollington is!' became the thing to say to one's neighbour or partner. Lady Blixworth herself said it with a smile sometimes; most people, content as ever to accept what is given to them, were grave enough.
Audrey herself was extremely pleased with the epithet, so delighted, indeed, that her aunt thought it necessary to administer a caution.
'When people praise you or your appearance for a certain quality, Audrey dear,' she observed sweetly, 'it generally means that you've got that quality in a marked degree.'
'Yes, of course, Aunt Viola,' said Audrey, rather surprised, but quite understanding.
'And so,' pursued Aunt Viola in yet more gentle tones, 'it isn't necessary for you to cultivate it consciously.' She stroked Audrey's hand with much affection. 'Because they tell you you're statuesque, for instance, don't try to go about looking like the Venus of Milo in a pair of stays.'
'I'm sure I don't, Auntie,' cried poor Audrey, blushing piteously. She was conscious of having posed a little bit as Mr. Guise, the eminent sculptor, passed by.
'On the contrary, it does no harm to remember that one has a tendency in a certain direction; then one is careful to keep a watch on oneself and not overdo it. I don't want you to skip about, my dear, but you know what I mean.'
Audrey nodded rather ruefully. What is the good of being statuesque if you may not live up to it?
'You aren't hurt with me, darling?' cooed Aunt Viola.
Audrey declared she was not hurt, but she felt rather bewildered.
With the coming of June, affairs of the heart and affairs of the purse became lamentably and unpoetically confounded in Trix Trevalla's life and thoughts. Mrs. Bonfill was hinting prodigiously about Audrey Pollington; Lady Blixworth was working creditably hard, and danger undoubtedly threatened from that quarter. Trix must exert herself if Mervyn were not to slip through the meshes. On the other hand, the problems were rather acute. Lord Farringham had been decidedly pessimistic in a speech in the House of Lords, Fricker was hinting at a great coup, Beaufort Chance was reminding her in a disagreeably pressing fashion of how much he had done for her and of how much he still could do. Trix had tried one or two little gambles on her own account and met with serious disaster; current expenses rose rather than fell. In the midst of all her gaiety Trix grew a little careworn and irritable; a line or two showed on her face; critics said that Mrs. Trevalla was doing too much, and must be more careful of her looks. Mrs. Bonfill began to be vaguely uncomfortable about her favourite. But still Trix held on her way, her courage commanding more admiration than any other quality she manifested at this time. Indeed she had moments of clear sight about herself, but her shibboleth of 'revenge' still sufficed to stiffen, if not to comfort, her.
Some said that Lord Farringham's pessimistic speech was meant only for home consumption, the objects being to induce the country to spend money freely and also to feel that it was no moment for seeking to change the Crown's responsible advisers. Others said that it was intended solely for abroad, either as a warning or, more probably, as an excuse to enable a foreign nation to retire with good grace from an untenable position. A minority considered that the Prime Minister had perhaps said what he thought. On the whole there was considerable uneasiness.
'What does it all mean, Mr. Fricker?' asked Trix, when that gentleman called on her, cool, alert, and apparently in very good spirits.
'It means that fools are making things smooth for wise men, as usual,' he answered, and looked at her with a keen glance.
'If you will only make them plain to one fool!' she suggested with a laugh.
'I presume you aren't interested in international politics as such?'
'Not a bit,' said Trix heartily.
'But if there's any little venture going – ' He smiled as he tempted her, knowing that she would yield.
'You've been very kind to me,' murmured Trix.
'It's a big thing this time – and a good thing. You've heard Beaufort mention the Dramoffsky Concessions, I daresay?'
'He'd only mention them casually, of course,' Fricker continued with a passing smile. 'Well, if there's trouble, or serious apprehension of it, the Dramoffsky Concessions would be blown sky-high – because it's all English capital and labour, and for a long time anyhow the whole thing would be brought to a standstill, and the machinery all go to the deuce, and so on.'
Again Trix nodded wisely.
'Whereas, if everything's all right, the Concessions are pretty well all right too. Have you noticed that they've been falling a good deal lately? No, I suppose not. Most papers don't quote them.'
'I haven't looked for them. I've had my eye on the Glowing Star.' Trix was anxious to give an impression of being business-like in one matter anyhow.
'Oh, that's good for a few hundreds, but don't you worry about it. I'll look after that for you. As I say, if there's serious apprehension, Dramoffskys go down. Well, there will be – more serious than there is now. And after that – '
'War?' asked Trix in some excitement.
'We imagine not. I'd say we know, only one never really knows anything. No, there will be a revival of confidence. And then Dramoffskys – well, you see what follows. Now it's a little risky – not very – and it's a big thing if it comes off, and what I'm telling you is worth a considerable sum as a marketable commodity. Are you inclined to come in?'
To Trix there could be but one answer. Coming in with Mr. Fricker had always meant coming out better for the process. She thanked him enthusiastically.
'All right. Lodge five thousand at your bankers' as soon as you can, and let me have it.'
'Five thousand!' Trix gasped a little. She had not done the thing on such a scale as this before.
'It's always seemed to me waste of time to fish for herrings with a rod and line,' observed Fricker; 'but just as you like, of course.'
'Does Beaufort think well of it?'
'Do you generally find us differing?' Fricker smiled ironically.
'I'll go in,' said Trix. 'I shall make a lot, sha'n't I?'
'I think so. Hold your tongue, and stay in till I tell you to come out. You can rely on me.'
Nothing more passed between them then. Trix was left to consider the plunge that she had made. Could it possibly go wrong? If it did – she reckoned up her position. If it went wrong – if the five thousand or the bulk of it were lost, what was left to her? After payment of all liabilities, she would have about ten thousand pounds. That she had determined to keep intact. On the interest of that – at last the distinction was beginning to thrust itself on her mind with a new and odious sharpness – she would have to live. To live – not to have that flat, or those gowns, or that brougham, or this position; not to have anything that she wanted and loved, but just to live. Pensions again! It would come to going back to pensions.
No, would it? There was another resource. Trix, rather anxious, a little fretful and uneasy, was sanguine and resolute still. She wrote to Beaufort Chance, telling him what she had done, thanking him, bidding him thank Fricker, expressing the amplest gratitude to both gentlemen. Then she sat down and invited Mervyn to come and see her; he had not been for some days, and, busy as he was, Trix thought it was time to see him, and to blot out, for a season at least, all idea of Audrey Pollington. She reckoned that an interview with her, properly managed, would put Audrey and her ally out of action for some little while to come.
Mervyn obeyed her summons, but not in a very cheerful mood. Trix's efforts to pump him about the problems and the complications were signally unsuccessful. He snubbed her, giving her to understand that he was amazed at being asked such questions. What, then, was Beaufort Chance doing, she asked in her heart. She passed rapidly from the dangerous ground, declaring with a pout that she thought he might have told her some gossip, to equip her for her next dinner party. He responded to her lighter mood with hardly more cordiality. Evidently there was something wrong with him, something which prevented her spell from working on him as it was wont. Trix was dismayed. Was her power gone? It could not be that statuesque Miss Pollington had triumphed, or was even imminently dangerous.
At last Mervyn broke out with what he had to say. He looked, she thought, like a husband (not like Vesey Trevalla, but like the abstract conception), and a rather imperious one, as he took his stand on her hearthrug and frowned down at her.
'You might know – no, you do know – the best people in London,' he said, 'and yet I hear of your going about with the Frickers! I should think Fricker's a rogue, and I know he's a cad. And the women!' Aristocratic scorn embittered his tongue.
'Whom have you heard it from?'
'Lots of people. Among others, Viola Blixworth.'
'Oh, Lady Blixworth! Of course you'd hear it from her!
'It doesn't matter who tells me, if it's true.'
That was an annoying line to take. It was easy to show Lady Blixworth's motive, but it was impossible to deny the accuracy of what she said. A hundred safe witnesses would have confounded Trix had she denied.
'What in the world do you do it for?' he asked angrily and impatiently. 'What can Fricker do for you? Don't you see how you lower yourself? They'll be saying he's bought you next!'
Trix did not start, but a spot of colour came on her cheeks; her eyes were hard and wary as they watched Mervyn covertly. He came towards her, and, with a sudden softening of manner, laid his hand on hers.
'Drop them,' he urged. 'Don't have anything more to do with such a lot.'
Trix looked up at him; there were doubt and distress in her eyes. He was affectionate now, but also very firm.
'For my sake, drop them,' he said. 'You know people can't come where they may meet the Frickers.'
Trix was never slow of understanding; she saw very well what Mervyn meant. His words might be smooth, his manner might be kind, and, if she wished it at the moment, ready to grow more than kind. With all this he was asking, nay, he was demanding, that she should drop the Frickers. How difficult the path had suddenly grown; how hard it was to work her complicated plan!
'A good many people know them. There's Mr. Chance – ' she began timidly.
'Beaufort Chance! Yes, better if he didn't!' His lips, grimly closing again, were a strong condemnation of his colleague.
'They're kind people, really.'
'They're entirely beneath you – and beneath your friends.'
There was no mistaking the position. Mervyn was delivering an ultimatum. It was little use to say that he had no right because he had made her no offer. He had the power, which, it is to be feared, is generally more the question. And at what a moment the ultimatum came! Must Trix relinquish that golden dream of the Dramoffsky Concessions, and give up those hundreds – welcome if few – from the Glowing Star? Or was she to defy Mervyn and cast in her lot with the Frickers – and with Beaufort Chance?
'Promise me,' he said softly, with as near an approach to a lover's entreaty as his grave and condescending manner allowed. 'I never thought you'd make any difficulty. Do you really hesitate between doing what pleases me and what pleases Chance or the Frickers?'
Trix would have dearly liked to cry 'Yes, yes, yes!' Such a reply would, she considered, have been wholesome for Mortimer Mervyn, and it would have been most gratifying to herself. She dared not give it; it would mean far too much.
'I can't be actually rude,' she pleaded. 'I must do it gradually. But since you ask me, I will break with them as much and as soon as I can.'
'That's all I ask of you,' said Mervyn. He bent and kissed her hand with a reassuring air of homage and devotion. But evidently homage and devotion must be paid for. They bore a resemblance to financial assistance in that respect. Trix was becoming disagreeably conscious that people expected to be paid, in one way or another, for most things that they gave. Chance and Fricker wanted payment. Mervyn claimed it too. And to pay both as they asked seemed now impossible.
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