Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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'I am not,' said Airey Newton.

Again their eyes met, their hearts were like to open and tell secrets that daylight hours would hold safely hidden. But it is not far – save in the judgment of fashion – from the Magnifique to Danes Inn, and the horse moved at a good trot. They came to a stand before the gates.

'I don't take your word for that,' she declared, giving him her hand. 'I sha'n't believe it without a test,' she went on in a lighter tone. 'And at any rate I sha'n't fail at your dinner-party.'

'No, don't fail at my party – my only party.' His smile was very bitter, as he relinquished her hand and opened the door of the brougham. But she detained him a moment; she was still reluctant to lose him, to be left alone, to be driven back to her flat and to her life.

'We're nice people! We have a splendid evening, and we end it up in the depths of woe! At least – you're in them too, aren't you?' She glanced past him up the gloomy passage, and gave a little shudder. 'How could you be anything else, living here?' she cried in accents of pity.

'You don't live here, yet you don't seem much better,' he retorted. 'You are beautiful and beautifully turned out – gorgeous! And your brougham is most comfortable. Yet you don't seem much better.'

Trix was put on her defence; she awoke suddenly to the fact that she had been very near to a mood dangerously confidential.

'I've a few worries,' she laughed, 'but I have my pleasures too.'

'And I've my pleasures,' said Airey. 'And I suppose we both find them in the end the best. Good-night.'

Each had put out a hand towards the veil that was between them; to each had come an impulse to pluck it away. But courage failed, and it hung there still. Both went back to their pleasures. In the ears of both Peggy Ryle's whole-hearted laughter, her soft merry 'Hurrah!' that no obvious cause called forth, echoed with the mockery of an unattainable delight. You need clear soul-space for a laugh like that.

CHAPTER VII
A DANGEROUS GAME

There were whispers about Beaufort Chance, and nods and winks such as a man in his position had better have given no occasion for; men told one another things in confidence at the club; they were quite sure of them, but at the same time very anxious not to be vouched as authority. For there seemed no proof. The list of shareholders of the Dramoffsky Concessions did not display his name; it did display, as owners of blocks of shares, now larger, now smaller, a number of names unknown to fame, social or financial; even Fricker's interest was modest according to the list, and Beaufort Chance's seemed absolutely nothing. Yet still the whispers grew.

Beaufort knew it by the subtle sense that will tell men who depend on what people say of them what people are saying. He divined it with a politician's sensitiveness to opinion. He saw a touch of embarrassment where he was accustomed to meet frankness, he discerned constraint in quarters where everything had been cordiality.

He perceived the riskiness of the game he played. He urged Fricker to secrecy and to speed; they must not be seen together so much, and the matter must be put through quickly; these were his two requirements. He was in something of a terror; his manner grew nervous and his face careworn. He knew that he could look for little mercy if he were discovered; he had outraged the code. But he held on his way. His own money was in the venture; if it were lost he was crippled in the race on which he had entered. Trix Trevalla's money was in it too; he wanted Trix Trevalla and he wanted her rich. He was so hard-driven by anxiety that he no longer scrupled to put these things plainly to himself. His available capital had not sufficed for a big stroke; hers and his, if he could consider them as united, and if the big stroke succeeded, meant a decent fortune; it was a fine scheme to get her to make him rich while at the same time he earned her gratitude. He depended on Fricker to manage this; he was, by himself, rather a helpless man in such affairs. Mrs. Bonfill had never expected that he would rise to the top, even while she was helping him to rise as high as he could.

Fricker was not inclined to hurry himself, and he played with the plea for secrecy in a way that showed a consciousness of power over his associate. He had been in one or two scandals, and to be in another would have interfered with his plans – or at least with Mrs. Fricker's. Yet there is much difference between a man who does not want any more scandals and him who, for the sake of a great prize risking one, would be ruined if his venture miscarried. Fricker's shrewd equable face displayed none of the trouble which made Chance's heavy and careworn.

But there was hurry in Fricker's family, though not in Fricker. The season was half-gone, little progress had been made, effect from Trix Trevalla's patronage or favour was conspicuously lacking. Mrs. Fricker did not hesitate to impute double-dealing to Trix, to declare that she meant to give nothing and to take all she could. Fricker had a soul somewhat above these small matters, but he observed honour with his wife – for his oath's sake and a quiet life's. Moreover, be the affair what it would, suggest to him that he was being 'bested' in it, and he became dangerous.

A word is necessary about the position of Dramoffskys. They had collapsed badly on Lord Farringham's pessimistic speech. Presently they began to revive on the strength of 'inside buying'; yet their rise was slow and languid, the Stock Exchange was distrustful, the public would not come in. There was a nice little profit ('Not a scoop at present,' observed Fricker) for those who had bought at the lowest figure, but more rumours would stop the rise and might send quotations tumbling again. It was all-important to know, or to be informed by somebody who did, just how long to hold on, just when to come out. Dramoffskys, in fine, needed a great deal of watching; the operator in them required the earliest, best, and most confidential information that he could get. Fricker was the operator. Beaufort Chance had his sphere. Trix, it will be noticed, was inclined to behave purely as a sleeping partner, which was all very well as regarded Dramoffskys themselves, but very far from well as it touched her relations towards her fellows in the game.

Trix was praying for speed and secrecy as urgently as Beaufort Chance himself; for secrecy from Mrs. Bonfill, from Mervyn, from all her eminent friends; for speed that the enterprise might be prosperously accomplished, the money made, and she be free again. No more ventures for her, if once she were free, she declared. If once she were – free! There she would pause and insist with herself that she had given Beaufort Chance no reason to expect more than the friendship which was all that he had openly claimed, nor the Frickers any right to look for greater countenance or aid than her own acquaintance and hospitality ensured them. Had she ever promised to marry Chance, or to take the Frickers to Mrs. Bonfill's or the Glentorly's? She defied them to prove any such thing – and looked forward with terror to telling them so.

At this point Mr. Liffey made entry on the scene with an article in 'The Sentinel.' Mr. Liffey had a terribly keen nose for misdeeds of all sorts and for secrets most inconvenient if disclosed. He was entirely merciless and inexhaustibly good-natured. He never abused anybody; he dealt with facts, leaving each person to judge those facts by his own moral standard. He had no moral standard of his own, or said so; but he had every idea of making 'The Sentinel' a paying property. He came out now with an article whose heading seemed to harm nobody – since people with certain names must by now be hardened to having their patronymics employed in a representative capacity. 'Who are Brown, Jones, and Robinson?' was the title of the article in 'The Sentinel.' As the reader proceeded – and there were many readers – he found no more about these names, and gathered that Mr. Liffey employed them (with a touch of contempt, maybe) to indicate those gentlemen who, themselves unknown to fame, figured so largely in the share list of Dramoffskys. With a persistence worthy of some better end than that of making fellow-creatures uncomfortable, or of protecting a public that can hardly be said to deserve it, Mr. Liffey tracked these unoffending gentlemen to the honourable, though modest, suburban homes in which they dwelt, had the want of delicacy to disclose their avocations and the amount of their salaries, touched jestingly on the probable claims of their large families (he had their children by name!), and ended by observing, with an innocent surprise, that their holdings in Dramoffskys showed them to possess either resources of which his staff had not been able to inform him, or, on the other hand, a commercial enterprise which deserved higher remuneration than they appeared to be enjoying. He then suggested that present shareholders and intending investors in Dramoffskys might find the facts stated in his article of some interest, and avowed his intention of pursuing his researches into this apparent mystery. He ended by remarking, 'Of course, should it turn out that these gentlemen, against whom I have not a word to say, hold their shares in a fiduciary capacity, I have no more to say – no more about them, at least.' And he promised, with cheerful obligingness, to deal further with this point in his next number.

Within an hour of the appearance of this article Beaufort Chance entered Fricker's study in great perturbation. He found that gentleman calm and composed.

'How much does Liffey know?' asked Chance, almost trembling.

Fricker shrugged his shoulders. 'It doesn't much matter.'

'If he knows that I'm in it, that I've – '

'He won't know you're in it, unless one of the fellows gives us away. Clarkson knows about you, and Tyrrwhitt – none of the rest. I think I can keep them quiet. And we'll get out now. It's not as good as I hoped, but it's pretty good, and it's time to go.' He looked up at Chance and licked his cigar. 'Now's the moment to settle matters with the widow,' he went on. 'You go and tell her what I want and what you want. I don't trust her, and I want to see; and, Beaufort, don't tell her about Dramoffskys till you find out what she means. If she's playing square, all right. If not' – he smiled pensively – 'she may find out for herself the best time for selling Dramoffskys – and Glowing Stars too.'

'Glowing Stars? She's not deep in them, is she? I know nothing about them.'

'A little private flutter – just between her and me,' Fricker assured him. 'Now there's no time to lose. Come back here and tell me what happens. Make her understand – no nonsense! No more shuffling! Be quick. I shall hold up the market a bit while our men got out, but I won't let you in for anything more.' Fricker's morals may have been somewhat to seek, but he was a fine study at critical moments.

'You don't think Liffey knows – ?' stammered Chance again.

'About those little hints of yours? I hope not. But I know, Beaufort, my boy. Do as well as you can for me with the widow.'

Beaufort Chance scowled as he poured himself out a whisky-and-soda. But he was Fricker's man and he must obey. He went out, the spectre of Mr. Liffey seeming to walk with him and to tap him on the shoulder in a genial way.

At eleven o'clock Beaufort Chance arrived at Trix Trevalla's and sent up his name. Mrs. Trevalla sent down to say that she would he glad to see him at lunch. He returned word that his business was important, and would not bear delay. In ten minutes he found himself in her presence. She wore a loose morning-gown, her hair was carefully dressed, she looked very pretty; there was an air of excitement about her; fear and triumph seemed to struggle for ascendancy in her manner. She laid a letter down on the table by her as he entered. While they talked she kept putting her hand on it and withdrawing it again, pulling the letter towards her and pushing it away, fingering it continually, while she kept a watchful eye on her companion.

'What's the hurry about?' she asked, with a languor that was not very plausible. 'Dramoffskys?'

'Dramoffskys are all right,' said he deliberately, as he sat down opposite her. 'But I want a talk with you, Trix.'

'Did we settle that you were to call me Trix?'

'I think of you as that.'

'Well, but that's much less compromising – and just as complimentary.'

'Business! business!' he smiled, giving her appearance an approving glance. 'Fricker and I have been having a talk. We're not satisfied with you, partner.' He had for the time conquered his agitation, and was able to take a tone which he hoped would persuade her, without any need of threats or of disagreeable hints.

'Am I not most amiable to Mr. Fricker, and Mrs., and Miss?' Trix's face had clouded at the first mention of Fricker.

'You women are generally hopeless in business, but I expected better things from you. Now let's come to the point. What have you done for the Frickers?'

Reluctantly brought to the point, Trix recounted with all possible amplitude what she considered she had done. Her hand was often on the letter as she spoke. At the end, with a quick glance at Beaufort, she said: —

'And really that's all I can do. They're too impossible, you know.'

He rose and stood on the hearthrug.

'That's all you can do?' he asked in a level smooth voice.

'Yes. Oh, a few more big squashes, perhaps. But it's nonsense talking of the Glentorlys or of any of Mrs. Bonfill's really nice evenings.'

'It's not nonsense. You could do it if you liked. You know Mrs. Bonfill, anyhow, would do it to please you; and I believe the Glentorlys would too.'

'Well, then, I don't like,' said Trix Trevalla.

He frowned heavily and seemed as if he were going to break out violently. But he waited a moment, and then spoke calmly again. The truth is that Fricker's interests were nothing to him. They might go, provided he could show that he had done his best for them; but doing his best must not involve sacrificing his own chances.

'So much for Fricker! I must say you've a cool way with you, Trix.'

'The way you speak annoys me very much sometimes,' remarked Trix reflectively.

'Why do you suppose he interested himself in your affairs?'

'I've done what I could.' Her lips shut obstinately. 'If I try to do more I sha'n't help the Frickers and I shall hurt myself.'

'That's candid, at all events.' He smiled a moment. 'Don't be in a hurry to say it to Fricker, though.'

'It'll be best to let the truth dawn on him gradually,' smiled Trix. 'Is that all you wanted to say? Because I'm not dressed, and I promised to be at the Glentorlys' at half-past twelve.'

'No, it's not all I've got to say.'

'Oh, well, be quick then.'

Her indifference was overdone, and Beaufort saw it. A suspicion came into his mind. 'So much for Fricker!' he had said. Did she dare to think of meting out the same cavalier treatment to him?

'I wish you'd attend to me and let that letter alone,' he said in a sudden spasm of irritation.

'As soon as you begin, I'll attend,' retorted Trix; 'but you're not saying anything. You're only saying you're going to say something.' Her manner was annoying; perhaps she would have welcomed the diversion of a little quarrel.

But Beaufort was not to be turned aside; he was bent on business. Fricker, it seemed, was disposed of. He remained. But before he could formulate a beginning to this subject, Trix broke in: —

'I want to get out of these speculations as soon as I can,' she said. 'I don't mind about not making any more money as long as I don't lose any. I'm tired of – of the suspense, and – and so on. And, oh, I won't have anything more to do with the Frickers!'

He looked at her in quick distrust.

'Your views have undergone a considerable change,' he remarked. 'You don't want to speculate? You don't mind about not making any more money?'

Trix looked down and would not meet his eyes.

'Going to live on what you've got?' he asked mockingly. 'Or is it a case of cutting down expenses and retiring to the country?'

'I don't want to discuss my affairs. I've told you what I wish.'

He took a turn across the room and came back. His voice was still calm, but the effort was obvious.

'What's happened?' he asked.

'Nothing,' said Trix.

'That's not true.'

'Nothing that concerns you, I mean.'

'Am I to be treated like Fricker? Do you want to have nothing more to do with me?'

'Nonsense! I want us to be friends, of course.'

'You seem to think you can use men just as you please. As long as they're useful you'll be pleasant – you'll promise anything – '

'I never promised anything.'

'Oh, women don't promise only in words. You'll promise anything, hold out any hopes, let anything be understood! No promises, no! You don't like actual lying, perhaps, but you'll lie all the while in your actions and your looks.'

People not themselves impeccable sometimes enunciate moral truths and let them lose little in the telling. Trix sat flushed, miserable, and degraded as Beaufort Chance exhibited her ways to her.

'You hold them off, and draw them on, and twiddle them about your finger, and get all you can out of them, and make fools of them. Then – something happens! Something that doesn't concern them! And, for all you care, they may go to the devil! They may ruin themselves for you. What of that? I daresay I've ruined myself for you. What of that?'

Trix was certainly no more than partly responsible for any trouble in which Mr. Chance's dealings might land him; but we cannot attend to our own faults in the very hour of preaching to others. Chance seemed to himself a most ill-used man; he had no doubt that but for Trix Trevalla he would have followed an undeviatingly straight path in public and private morality.

'Well, what have you got to say?' he demanded roughly, almost brutally.

'I've nothing to say while you speak like that.'

'Didn't you lead me to suppose you liked me?'

'I did like you.'

'Stuff! You know what I mean. When I helped you – when I introduced Fricker to you – was that only friendship? You knew better. And at that time I was good enough for you. I'm not good enough for you now. So I'm kicked out with Fricker! It's a precious dangerous game you play, Trix.'

'Don't call me Trix!'

'I might call you worse than that, and not do you any wrong.'

Among the temporal punishments of sin and folly there is perhaps none harder to bear than the necessity of accepting rebuke from unworthy lips, of feeling ourselves made inferior by our own acts to those towards whom we really (of this we are clear) stand in a position of natural superiority. Their fortuitous advantage is the most unpleasant result of our little slips. Trix realised the truth of these reflections as she listened to Beaufort Chance. Once again the scheme of life with which she had started in London seemed to have something very wrong with it.

'I – I'm sorry if I made you – ' she began in a stammering way.

'Don't lie. It was deliberate from beginning to end,' he interrupted.

A silence followed. Trix fingered her letter. He stood there, motionless but threatening. She was in simple bodily fear; the order not to lie seemed the precursor of a blow – just as it used to be in early days when her mother's nerves were very bad; but then Mrs. Trevalla's blows had not been severe, and habit goes for something. This recrudescence of the tone of the old life – the oldest life of all – was horrible.

Of course Beaufort Chance struck no blow; it would have been ungentlemanly in the first place; in the second it was unnecessary; thirdly, useless. Among men of his class the distinction lies, not in doing or not doing such things, but in wanting or not wanting to do them. Beaufort Chance had the desire; his bearing conveyed it to Trix. But he spoke quietly enough the next minute.

'You'll find you can't go on in this fashion,' he said. 'I don't know what your plan is now, though perhaps I can guess. You mean to start afresh, eh? Not always so easy.' His look and voice were full of a candid contempt; he spoke to her as a criminal might to his confederate who had 'rounded on' him in consideration of favours from the police.

He did not strike her, but in the end, suddenly and with a coarse laugh, he stooped down and wrenched the letter from her hand, not caring if he hurt her. She gave a little cry, but sat there without a movement save to chafe her wrenched fingers softly against the palm of the other hand. Beaufort Chance read the letter; it was very short: 'I knew you would do what I wish. Expect me to-morrow. – M.'

Trix wanted to feel horrified at his conduct – at its brutality, its licence, its absolute ignoring of all the canons of decent conduct. Look at him, as he stood there reading her letter, jeering at it in a rancorous scorn and a derision charged with hatred! She could not concentrate her indignation on her own wrong. Suddenly she saw his too – his and Fricker's. She was outraged; but the outrage persisted in having a flavour of deserved punishment. It was brutal; was it unjust? On that question she stuck fast as she looked up and saw him reading her letter. The next instant he tore it across and flung it into the grate behind him.



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