Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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Somehow life appeared to have an objection to being played with, the world to be rather unmalleable as material, the revenge not to be the simple and triumphant progress that it had looked.

Trix Trevalla, under pressure of circumstances, got thus far on the way towards a judgment of herself and a knowledge of the world; the two things are closely interdependent.

CHAPTER VI
CHILDREN OF SHADOW

'A Politician! I'd as soon be a policeman,' remarked Miles Childwick, with delicate scorn. 'I don't dispute the necessity of either – I never dispute the necessity of things – but it would not occur to me to become either.'

'You're not tall enough for a policeman, anyhow,' said Elfreda Flood.

'Not if it became necessary to take you in charge, I admit' (Elfreda used to be called 'queenly' and had played Hippolyta), 'but your remark is impertinent in every sense of the term. Politicians and policemen are essentially the same.'

Everybody looked at the clock. They were waiting for supper at the Magnifique; it was Tommy Trent's party, and the early comers sat in a group in the luxurious outer room.

'From what I know of policemen in the witness-box, I incline to agree,' said Manson Smith.

'The salaries, however, are different,' yawned Tommy, without removing his eyes from the clock.

'I'm most infernally hungry,' announced Arty Kane, a robust-looking youth, somewhat famous as a tragic poet. 'Myra Lacrimans' was perhaps his best-known work.

Mrs. John Maturin smiled; she was not great at repartee outside her writings. 'It is late,' she observed.

'But while policemen,' pursued Miles Childwick, sublimely careless of interruption, 'while policemen make things endurable by a decent neglect of their duties (or how do we get home at night?), politicians are constantly raising the income tax. I speak with no personal bitterness, since to me it happens to be a small matter, but I observe a laceration of the feelings of my wealthy friends.'

'He'd go on all night, whether we listened or not,' said Horace Harnack, half in despair, half in admiration. 'I suppose it wouldn't do to have a song, Tommy?'

His suggestion met with no attention, for at the moment Tommy sprang to his feet, exclaiming, 'Here's Peggy at last!'

The big glass doors were swung open and Peggy came in. The five men advanced to meet her; Mrs. John Maturin smiled in a rather pitying way at Elfreda, but Elfreda took this rush quite as a matter of course and looked at the clock again.

'Is Airey here?' asked Peggy.

'Not yet,' replied Tommy. 'I hope he's coming, though.'

'He said something about being afraid he might be kept,' said Peggy; then she drew Tommy aside and whispered, 'Had to get his coat mended, you know.'

Tommy nodded cautiously.

'And she hasn't come either?' Peggy went on.

'No; and whoever she is, I hate her,' remarked Arty Kane. 'But who is she? We're all here.' He waved his arm round the assembly.

'Going to introduce you to society to-night, Arty,' his host promised.

'Mrs. Trevalla's coming.'

'Duchesses I know, and countesses I know,' said Childwick; 'but who – '

'Oh, nobody expected you to know,' interrupted Peggy. She came up to Elfreda and made a rapid scrutiny. 'New frock?'

Elfreda nodded with an assumption of indifference.

'How lucky!' said Peggy, who was evidently rather excited. 'You're always smart,' she assured Mrs. John Maturin.

Mrs. John smiled.

Timidly and with unfamiliar step Airey Newton entered the gorgeous apartment. Relief was dominant on his face when he saw the group of friends, and he made a hasty dart towards them, giving on the way a nervous glance at his shoes, which showed two or three spots of mud – the pavements were wet outside. He hastened to hide himself behind Elfreda Flood, and, thus sheltered, surveyed the scene.

'I was just saying, Airey, that politicians – '

Arty Kane stopped further progress by the hasty suggestion of a glass of sherry, and the two went off together to the side room, where supper was laid, leaving the rest again regarding the clock – except Peggy, who had put a half-crown in her glove, or her purse, or her pocket, and could not find it, and declared that she could not get home unless she did; she created no sympathy and (were such degrees possible) less surprise, when at last she distinctly recollected having left it on the piano.

'Whose half-crown on whose piano?' asked Manson Smith with a forensic frown.

When the sherry-bibbers returned with the surreptitious air usual in such cases, the group had undergone a marked change; it was clustered round a very brilliant person in a gown of resplendent blue, with a flash of jewels about her, a hint of perfume, a generally dazzling effect. Miles Childwick came up to Manson Smith.

'This,' said Childwick, 'we must presume to be Mrs. Trevalla. Let me be introduced, Manson, before my eyes are blinded by the blaze.'

'Is she a new flame of Tommy's?' asked Manson in a whisper.

The question showed great ignorance; but Manson was comparatively an outsider, and Miles Childwick let it pass with a scornful smile.

'What a pity we're not supping in the public room!' said Peggy.

'We might trot Mrs. Trevalla through first, in procession, you know,' suggested Tommy. 'It's awfully good of you to come. I hardly dared ask you,' he added to Trix.

'I was just as afraid, but Miss Ryle encouraged me. I met her two or three nights ago at Mrs. Bonfill's.'

They went in to supper. Trix was placed between Tommy and Airey Newton, Peggy was at the other end, supported by Childwick and Arty Kane. The rest disposed themselves, if not according to taste, yet with apparent harmony; there was, however, a momentary hesitation about sitting by Mrs. John. 'Mrs. John means just one glass more champagne than is good for one,' Childwick had once said, and the remark was felt to be just.

'No, politicians are essentially concerned with the things that perish,' resumed Miles Childwick; he addressed Peggy – Mrs. John was on his other side.

'Everything perishes,' observed Arty Kane, putting down his empty soup-cup with a refreshed and cheerful air.

'Do learn the use of language. I said "essentially concerned." Now we are essentially concerned with – '

Trix Trevalla heard the conversation in fragments. She did not observe that Peggy took much part in it, but every now and then she laughed in a rich gurgle, as though things and people in general were very amusing. Whenever she did this, all the young men looked at her and smiled, or themselves laughed too, and Peggy laughed more and, perhaps, blushed a little. Trix turned to Tommy and whispered, 'I like her.'

'Rather!' said Tommy. 'Here, waiter, bring some ice.'

Most of the conversation was far less formidable than Miles Childwick's. It was for the most part frank and very keen discussion of a number of things and persons entirely, or almost entirely, unfamiliar to Trix Trevalla. On the other hand, not one of the problems with which she, as a citizen and as a woman, had been so occupied was mentioned, and the people who filled her sky did not seem to have risen above the horizon here. Somebody did mention Russia once, and Horace Harnack expressed a desire to have 'a slap' at that great nation; but politics were evidently an alien plant, and soon died out of the conversation. The last play or the last novel, the most recent success on the stage, the newest paradox of criticism, were the topics when gossip was ousted for a few moments from its habitual and evidently welcome sway. People's gossip, however, shows their tastes and habits better than anything else, and in this case Trix was not too dull to learn from it; it reproduced another atmosphere and told her that there was another world than hers. She turned suddenly to Airey Newton.

'We talk of living in London, but it's a most inadequate description. There must be ten Londons to live in!'

'Quite – without counting the slums.'

'We ought to say London A, or London B, or London C. Social districts, like the postal ones; only far more of them. I suppose some people can live in more than one?'

'Yes, a few; and a good many people pay visits.'

'Are you Bohemian?' she asked, indicating the company with a little movement of her hand.

'Look at them!' he answered. 'They are smart and spotless. I'm the only one who looks the part in the least. And, behold, I am frugal, temperate, a hard worker, and a scientific man!'

'There are believed to be Bohemians still in Kensington and Chelsea,' observed Tommy Trent. 'They will think anything you please, but they won't dine out without their husbands.'

'If that's the criterion, we can manage it nearer than Chelsea,' said Trix. 'This side of Park Lane, I think.'

'You've got to have the thinking too, though,' smiled Airey.

Miles Childwick had apparently been listening; he raised his voice a little and remarked: 'The divorce between the theoretical bases of immorality – '

'Falsely so called,' murmured Hanson Smith.

'And its practical development is one of the most – '

It was no use; Peggy gurgled helplessly, and hid her face in her napkin. Childwick scowled for an instant, then leant back in his chair, smiling pathetically.

'She is the living negation of serious thought,' he complained, regarding her affectionately.

Peggy, emerging, darted him a glance as she returned to her chicken.

'When I published "Myra Lacrimans" – ' began Arty Kane.

In an instant everybody was silent. They leant forward towards him with a grave and eager attention, signing to one another to keep still. Tommy whispered: 'Don't move for a moment, waiter!'

'Oh, confound you all!' exclaimed poor Arty Kane, as he joined in the general outburst of laughter.

Trix found herself swelling it light-heartedly.

'We've found by experience that that's the only way to stop him,' Tommy explained, as with a gesture he released the grinning waiter. 'He'll talk about "Myra" through any conversation, but absolute silence makes him shy. Peggy found it out. It's most valuable. Isn't it, Mrs. John?'

'Most valuable,' agreed Mrs. John. She had made no other contribution to the conversation for some time.

'All the same,' Childwick resumed, in a more conversational tone, but with unabated perseverance, 'what I was going to say is true. In nine cases out of ten the people who are – ' He paused a moment.

'Irregular,' suggested Manson Smith.

'Thank you, Manson. The people who are irregular think they ought to be regular, and the people who are regular have established their right to be irregular. There's a reason for it, of course – '

'It seems rather more interesting without one,' remarked Elfreda Flood.

'No reason, I think?' asked Horace Harnack, gathering the suffrages of the table.

'Certainly not,' agreed the table as a whole.

'To give reasons is a slur on our intellects and a waste of our time,' pronounced Manson Smith.

'It's such a terribly long while since I heard anybody talk nonsense on purpose,' Trix said to Airey, with a sigh of enjoyment.

'They do it all the time; and, yes, it's rather refreshing.'

'Does Mr. Childwick mind?'

'Mind?' interposed Tommy. 'Gracious, no! He's playing the game too; he knows all about it. He won't let on that he does, of course, but he does all the same.'

'The reason is,' said Childwick, speaking with lightning speed, 'that the intellect merely disestablishes morality, while the emotions disregard it. Thank you for having heard me with such patience, ladies and gentlemen.' He finished his champagne with a triumphant air.

'You beat us that time,' said Peggy, with a smile of congratulation.

Elfreda Flood addressed Harnack, apparently resuming an interrupted conversation.

'If I wear green I look horrid, and if she wears blue she looks horrid, and if we don't wear either green or blue, the scene looks horrid. I'm sure I don't know what to do.'

'It'll end in your having to wear green,' prophesied Harnack.

'I suppose it will,' Elfreda moaned disconsolately. 'She always gets her way.'

'I happen to know he reviewed it,' declared Arty Kane with some warmth, 'because he spelt "dreamed" with a "t." He always does. And he'd dined with me only two nights before!'

'Where?' asked Manson Smith.

'At my own rooms.'

'Then he certainly wrote it. I've dined with you there myself.'

Trix had fallen into silence, and Airey Newton seemed content not to disturb her. The snatches of varied talk fell on her ears, each with its implication of a different interest and a different life, all foreign to her. The very frivolity, the sort of schoolboy and chaffy friendliness of everybody's tone, was new in her experience, when it was united, as here it seemed to be, with a liveliness of wits and a nimble play of thought. The effect, so far as she could sum it up, was of carelessness combined with interest, independence without indifference, an alertness of mind which laughter softened. These people, she thought, were all poor (she did not include Tommy Trent, who was more of her own world), they were none of them well known, they did not particularly care to be, they aspired to no great position. No doubt they had to fight for themselves sometimes – witness Elfreda and her battle of the colours – but they fought as little as they could, and laughed while they fought, if fight they must. But they all thought and felt; they had emotions and brains. She knew, looking at Mrs. John's delicate fine face, that she too had brains, though she did not talk.

'I don't say,' began Childwick once more, 'that when Mrs. John puts us in a book, as she does once a year, she fails to do justice to our conversation, but she lamentably neglects and misrepresents her own.'

Trix had been momentarily uneasy, but Mrs. John was smiling merrily.

'I miss her pregnant assents, her brief but weighty disagreements, the rich background of silence which she imparts to the entertainment.'

Yes, Mrs. John had brains too, and evidently Miles Childwick and the rest knew it.

'When Arty wrote a sonnet on Mrs. John,' remarked Manson Smith, 'he made it only twelve lines long. The outside world jeered, declaring that such a thing was unusual, if not ignorant. But we of the elect traced the spiritual significance.'

'Are you enjoying yourself, Airey?' called Peggy Ryle.

He nodded to her cordially.

'What a comfort!' sighed Peggy. She looked round the table, laughed, and cried 'Hurrah!' for no obvious reason.

Trix whispered to Airey, 'She nearly makes me cry when she does that.'

'You can feel it?' he asked in a quick low question, looking at her curiously.

'Oh, yes, I don't know why,' she answered, glancing again at the girl whose mirth and exultation stirred her to so strange a mood.

Her eyes turned back to Airey Newton, and found a strong attraction in his face too. The strength and kindness of it, coming home to her with a keener realisation, were refined by the ever-present shadow of sorrow or self-discontent. This hint of melancholy persisted even while he took his share in the gaiety of the evening; he was cheerful, but he had not the exuberance of most of them; he was far from bubbling over in sheer joyousness like Peggy; he could not achieve even the unruffled and pain-proof placidity of Tommy Trent. Like herself then – in spite of a superficial remoteness from her, and an obviously nearer kinship with the company in life and circumstances – he was in spirit something of a stranger there. In the end he, like herself, must look on at the fun rather than share in it wholeheartedly. There was a background for her and him, rather dark and sombre; for the rest there seemed to be none; their joy blazed unshadowed. Whatever she had or had not attained in her attack on the world, however well her critical and doubtful fortunes might in the end turn out, she had not come near to reaching this; indeed it had never yet been set before her eyes as a thing within human reach. But how naturally it belonged to Peggy and her friends! There are children of the sunlight and children of the shadow. Was it possible to pass from one to the other, to change your origin and name? It seemed to her that, if she had not been born in the shadow, it had fallen on her full soon and heavily, and had stayed very long. Had her life now, her new life with all its brilliance, quite driven it away? All the day it had been dark and heavy on her; not even now was it wholly banished.

When the party broke up – it was not an early hour – Peggy came over to Airey Newton. Trix did not understand the conversation.

'I got your letter, but I'm not coming,' she said. 'I told you I wouldn't come, and I won't.' She was very reproachful, and seemed to consider that she had been insulted somehow.

'Oh, I say now, Peggy!' urged Tommy Trent, looking very miserable.

'It's your fault, and you know it,' she told him severely.

'Well, everybody else is coming,' declared Tommy. Airey said nothing, but nodded assent in a manner half-rueful, half-triumphant.

'It's shameful,' Peggy persisted.

There was a moment's pause. Trix, feeling like an eavesdropper, looked the other way, but she could not avoid hearing.

'But I've had a windfall, Peggy,' said Airey Newton. 'On my honour, I have.'

'Yes, on my honour, he has,' urged Tommy earnestly. 'A good thumping one, isn't it, Airey?'

'One of my things has been a success, you know.'

'Oh, he hits 'em in the eye sometimes, Peggy.'

'Are you two men telling anything like the truth?'

'The absolute truth.'

'Bible truth!' declared Tommy Trent.

'Well, then, I'll come; but I don't think it makes what Tommy did any better.'

'Who cares, if you'll come?' asked Tommy.

Suddenly Airey stepped forward to Trix Trevalla. His manner was full of hesitation – he was, in fact, awkward; but then he was performing a most unusual function. Peggy and Tommy Trent stood watching him, now and then exchanging a word.

'He's going to ask her,' whispered Peggy.

'Hanged if he isn't!' Tommy whispered back.

'Then he must have had it!'

'I told you so,' replied Tommy in an extraordinarily triumphant, imperfectly lowered voice.

Yes, Airey Newton was asking Trix to join his dinner-party.

'It's – it's not much in my line,' he was heard explaining, 'but Trent's promised to look after everything for me. It's a small affair, of course, and – and just a small dinner.'

'Is it?' whispered Tommy with a wink, but Peggy did not hear this time.

'If you'd come – '

'Of course I will,' said Trix. 'Write and tell me the day, and I shall be delighted.' She did not see why he should hesitate quite so much, but a glance at Peggy and Tommy showed her that something very unusual had happened.

'It'll be the first dinner-party he's ever given,' whispered Peggy excitedly, and she added to Tommy, 'Are you going to order it, Tommy?'

'I've asked him to,' interposed Airey, still with an odd mixture of pride and apprehension.

Peggy looked at Tommy suspiciously.

'If you don't behave well about it, I shall get up and go away,' was her final remark.

Trix's brougham was at the door – she found it necessary now to hire one for night-work, her own horse and man finding enough to do in the daytime – and after a moment's hesitation she offered to drive Airey Newton home, declaring that she would enjoy so much of a digression from her way. He had been looking on rather vaguely while the others were dividing themselves into hansom-cab parties, and she received the impression that he meant, when everybody was paired, to walk off quietly by himself. Peggy overheard her invitation and said with a sort of relief: —

'That'll do splendidly, Airey.'

Airey agreed, but it seemed with more embarrassment than pleasure.

But Trix was pleased to prolong, even by so little, the atmosphere and associations of the evening, to be able to talk about it a little more, to question him while she questioned herself also indirectly. She put him through a catechism about the members of the party, delighted to elicit anything that confirmed her notion of their independence, their carelessness, and their comradeship. He answered what she asked, but in a rather absent melancholy fashion; a pall seemed to have fallen on his spirits again. She turned to him, attracted, not repelled, by his relapse into sadness.

'We're not equal to it, you and I,' she said with a laugh. 'We don't live there; we can only pay a visit, as you said.'

He nodded, leaning back against the well-padded cushions with an air of finding unwonted ease. He looked tired and worn.

'Why? We work too hard, I suppose. Yes, I work too, in my way.'

'It's not work exactly,' he said. 'They work too, you know.'

'What is it then?' She bent forward to look at his face, pale in the light of the small carriage lamp.

'It's the Devil,' he told her. Their eyes met in a long gaze. Trix smiled appealingly. She had to go back to her difficult life – to Mervyn, to the Chance and Fricker entanglement. She felt alone and afraid.

'The Devil, is it? Have I raised him?' she asked. 'Well, you taught me how. If I – if I come to grief, you must help me.'

'You don't know in the least the sort of man you're talking to,' he declared, almost roughly.

'I know you're a good friend.'



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