The Intrusions of Peggyскачать книгу бесплатно
'You'll do as he wishes!' he sneered. 'He knows you will! Yes, he knows you're for sale, I suppose, just as I know it, and as Fricker knows it. He can bid higher, eh? Well, I hope he'll get delivery of the goods he buys. We haven't.'
He buttoned his frock-coat and looked round for his hat.
'Well, I've got a lot to do. I must go,' he said, with a curious unconscious return to the ordinary tone and manner of society. 'Good-bye!'
'Good-bye, Mr. Chance,' said Trix, stretching out her hand towards the bell.
'I'll let myself out,' he interposed hastily.
Trix rose slowly to her feet; she was rather pale and had some trouble to keep her lips from twitching. Speak she could not; her brain would do nothing but repeat his words; it would not denounce him for them, nor impugn their truth; it would only repeat them. Whether they were just or not was a question that seemed to fall into the background; it was enough that anybody should be able to use them, and find her without a reply.
Yet when he was gone her feeling was one of great relief. The thing had been as bad as it could be, but it was done. It was over and finished. The worst had come – was known, measured, and endured. At that price she was free. She was degraded, bruised, beaten, but free. Chastened enough to perceive the truths with which Beaufort Chance had assailed her so unsparingly, she was not so changed in heart but that she still rejoiced to think that the object towards which she worked, in whose interest she had exposed herself to such a lashing, was still possible, really unprejudiced, in fact hers if she would have it. The letter was gone; but the promise of the letter lived.
Suddenly another thing occurred to her. What about Dramoffskys? What about her precious money? There she was, in the hands of these men whom she had flouted and enraged, so ignorant that she could do nothing for herself, absolutely at their mercy. What would they do? Would they wash their hands of her?
'Well, if they do – and I suppose they will – I must sell everything directly, even if I lose by it,' she thought. 'That's the only thing, and I sha'n't be quite ruined, I hope.'
Alas, how we misjudge our fellow-creatures! This trite reflection, always useful as a corrective either to cynicism or to enthusiasm, was to recur to Trix before the close of the day and to add one more to its already long list of emotions. Wash their hands of her? Concern themselves no more with her? That was not, it seemed, Mr. Fricker's intention anyhow. The evening post brought her a letter from him; she opened it with shrinking, fearing fresh denunciations, feeling herself little able to bear any more flagellation. Yet she opened it on the spot; she was unavoidably anxious about Dramoffskys.
Threats! Flagellation! Nothing of the sort. Fricker wrote in the friendliest mood; he was almost playful: —
'My dear Mrs. Trevalla, – I understand from our friend Beaufort Chance that he had an interview with you to-day.
I have nothing to do with what concerns you and him only, and no desire to meddle. But as regards myself I fear that his friendly zeal may have given you rather a mistaken impression. I am grateful for your kindness, which is, I know, limited only by your ability to serve me, and I shall think it a privilege to look after your interests as long as you leave them in my charge. I gather from Chance that you are anxious to sell your Dramoffskys at the first favourable moment. I will bear this in mind. Let me, however, take the liberty of advising you to think twice before you part with your Glowing Stars. I hear good reports, and even a moderate rise would give you a very nice little profit on the small sum which you entrusted to me for investment in G. S.'s. Of course you must use your own judgment, and I can guarantee nothing; but you will not have found my advice often wrong. I may sell some of your Dramoffskys and put the proceeds in G. S.'s.
'I am, dear Mrs. Trevalla,
'With every good wish,
'Very faithfully yours,
There was nothing wherewith to meet this letter save a fit of remorse, a very kindly note to Mr. Fricker, and a regret that it was really impossible to do much for the Frickers. These emotions and actions duly occurred; and Trix Trevalla went to bed in a more tolerable frame of mind than had at one time seemed probable.
The gentleman unknown to fame sold Dramoffskys largely that day, and at last, in spite of Mr. Fricker, the price fell and fell. Fricker, however, professed himself sanguine. He bought a few more; then he sold a few for Trix Trevalla; then he bought for her a few Glowing Stars, knowing that his friendly note would gain him a free hand in his dealings. But his smile had been rather mysterious as he booked his purchases, and also while he wrote the note; and —
'It's all right, my dear,' he said to Mrs. Fricker, in reply to certain observations which she made. 'Leave it to me, my dear, and wait a bit.'
He had not washed his hands of Trix Trevalla; and Beaufort Chance was ready to let him work his will. As a pure matter of business Mr. Fricker had found that it did not pay to be forgiving; naturally he had discarded the practice.
USURPERS ON THE THRONE
Airey Newton was dressing for dinner, for that party of his which Tommy Trent had brought about, and which was causing endless excitement in the small circle. He arrayed himself slowly and ruefully, choosing with care his least frayed shirt, glancing ever and again at a parcel of five-pound notes which lay on the table in front of him. There were more notes than the dinner would demand, however lavish in his orders Tommy might have been; Airey had determined to run no risks. He was trying hard to persuade himself that he was going to have a pleasant evening, and to enjoy dispensing to his friends a sumptuous hospitality. The task was a difficult one. He could not help thinking that those notes were not made to perish; they were created in order that they might live and breed; he hated to fritter them away. Yet he hated himself for hating it.
To this pass he had come gradually. First the money, which began to roll in as his work prospered and his reputation grew, had been precious as an evidence of success and a testimony of power. He really wanted it for nothing else; his tastes had always been simple, he had no expensive recreations; nobody (as he told Tommy Trent) had any claim on him; he was alone in the world (except for the rest of mankind, of course). He saved his money, and in that seemed to be doing the right and reasonable thing. When the change began or how it worked he could not now trace. Gradually his living had become more simple, and passed from simple to sparing; everything that threatened expense was nipped in the bud. It began to be painful to spend money, sweet only to make it, to invest it, and to watch its doings. By an effort of will he forced himself to subscribe with decent liberality to a fair number of public institutions – his bankers paid the subscriptions for him. Nor did he fail if a direct appeal was made for an urgent case; then he would give, though not cheerfully. He could not be called a miser, but he had let money get altogether out of its proper place in life. It had become to him an end, and was no longer a means; even while he worked he thought of how much the work would bring. He thought more about money than about anything else in the world; and he could not endure to waste it. By wasting it he meant making his own and other people's lives pleasanter by the use of it.
Nobody knew, save Tommy Trent. People who did business with him might conjecture that Airey Newton must be doing pretty well; but such folk were not of his life, and what they guessed signified nothing. Of his few friends none suspected, least of all Peggy Ryle, who came and ate his bread-and-butter, believing that she was demanding and receiving from a poor comrade the utmost stretch of an unreserved hospitality. He suffered to see her mistake, yet not without consolation. There was a secret triumph; he felt and hated it. That had been his feeling when he asked Tommy Trent how he could continue to be his friend. He began to live in an alternation of delight and shame, of joy in having his money, of fear lest somebody should discover that he had it. Yet he did not hate Tommy Trent, who knew. He might well have hated Tommy in his heart. This again was peculiar in his own eyes, and perhaps in fact. And his friends loved him – not without cause either; he would have given them anything except what to another would have been easiest to give; he would give them even time, for that was only money still uncoined. Coin was the great usurper.
The dinner was a splendid affair. Airey had left all the ordering to Tommy Trent, and Tommy had been imperial. There were flowers without stint on the table; there were bouquets and button-holes; there was a gorgeously emblazoned bill of fare; there were blocks of ice specially carved in fantastic forms; there were hand-painted cards with the names of the guests curiously wrought thereon. Airey furtively fingered his packet of bank-notes, but he could not help being rather pleased when Tommy patted him on the back and said that it all looked splendid. It did look splendid; Airey stroked his beard with a curious smile. He actually felt now as though he might enjoy himself.
The guests began to arrive punctually. Efforts in raiment had evidently been made. Mrs. John was in red, quite magnificent. Elfreda had a lace frock, on the subject of which she could not be reduced to silence. Miles Childwick wore a white waistcoat with pearl buttons, and tried to give the impression that wearing it was an ordinary occurrence. They were all doing their best to honour the occasion and the host. A pang shot through Airey Newton; he might have done this for them so often!
Trix came in splendour. She was very radiant, feeling sure that her troubles were at an end, and her sins forgiven in the popular and practical sense that she would suffer no more inconvenience from them. Had not Beaufort Chance raved his worst? and was not Fricker – well, at heart a gentleman? asked she with a smile. There was more. Triumph was impending; nay, it was won; it waited only to be declared. She smiled again to think that she was going to dine with these dear people on the eve of her greatness How little they knew! In this moment it is to be feared that Trix was something of a snob. She made what amends she could by feeling also that she was glad to have an evening with them before her greatness settled on her.
Peggy was late; this was nothing unusual, but the delay seemed long to Tommy Trent, who awaited with apprehension her attitude towards the lavishness of the banquet. Would she walk out again? He glanced at Airey. Airey appeared commendably easy in his mind, and was talking to Trix Trevalla with reassuring animation.
'Here she comes!' cried Horace Harnack.
'She's got a new frock too,' murmured Elfreda, regarding her own complacently, and threatening to renew the subject on the least provocation.
Peggy had a new frock. And it was black – plain black, quite unrelieved. Now she never wore black, not because it was unbecoming, but just for a fad. A new black frock must surely portend something. Peggy's manner enforced that impression. She did indeed give one scandalised cry of 'Airey!' when she saw the preparations, but evidently her mind was seriously preoccupied; she said she had been detained by business.
'Frock hadn't come home, I suppose?' suggested Miles Childwick witheringly.
'It hadn't,' Peggy admitted, 'but I had most important letters to write, too.' She paused, and then added, 'I don't suppose I ought to be here at all, but I had to come to Airey's party. My uncle in Berlin is dead.'
She said this just as they sat down. It produced almost complete silence. Trix indeed, with the habits of society, murmured condolence, while she thought that Peggy might either have stayed away or have said nothing about the uncle. Nobody else spoke; they knew that Peggy had not seen the uncle for years, and could not be supposed to be suffering violent personal grief. But they knew also the significance of the uncle; he had been a real, though distant, power to them; the cheques had come from him. Now he had died.
Their glances suggested to one another that somebody might put a question – somebody who had tact, and could wrap it up in a decorous shape. Peggy herself offered no more information, but sat down by Tommy and began on her soup.
Conversation, reviving after the shock that Peggy had administered, presently broke out again. Under cover of it Peggy turned to Tommy and asked in a carefully subdued whisper: 'How much is a mark?'
'A mark?' repeated Tommy, who was tasting the champagne critically.
'Yes. German money, you know.'
'Oh, about a shilling.'
'A shilling?' Peggy pondered. 'I thought it was a franc?'
'No, more than that. About a shilling.'
Peggy gave a sudden little laugh, and her eyes danced gleefully.
'You mustn't look like that. It's not allowed,' said Tommy firmly.
'Then twenty thousand marks – ?' whispered Peggy.
'Would be twenty thousand shillings – or twenty-five thousand francs – or in the depreciated condition of Italian silver some twenty-seven thousand lire. It would also be five thousand dollars, more cowrie shells than I can easily reckon, and, finally, it would amount to one thousand pounds sterling of this realm, or thereabouts.'
Peggy laughed again.
'I'm sorry your uncle's dead,' pursued Tommy gravely.
'Oh, so am I! He was always disagreeable, but he was kind too. I'm really sorry. Oh, but Tommy – '
The effort was thoroughly well-meant, but sorrow had not much of a chance. Peggy's sincerity was altogether too strong and natural. She was overwhelmed by the extraordinary effect of the uncle's death.
'He's left me twenty thousand marks,' she gasped out at last. 'Don't tell anybody – not yet.'
'Well done him!' said Tommy Trent. 'I knew he was a good sort – from those cheques, you know.'
'A thousand pounds!' mused Peggy Ryle. She looked down at her garment. 'So I got a frock for him, you see,' she explained. 'I wish this was my dinner,' she added. Apparently the dinner might have served as a mark of respect as well as the frock.
'Look here,' said Tommy. 'You've got to give me that money, you know.'
Peggy turned astonished and outraged eyes on him.
'I'll invest it for you, and get you forty or fifty pounds a year for it – regular – quarterly.'
'I'm going to spend it,' Peggy announced decisively. 'There are a thousand things I want to do with it. It is good of uncle!'
'No, no! You give it to me. You must learn to value money.'
'To value money! Why must I? None of us do.' She looked round the table. 'Certainly we've none of us got any.'
'It would be much better if they did value it,' said Tommy with a politico-economical air.
'You say that when you've made poor Airey give us this dinner!' she cried triumphantly.
With a wry smile Tommy Trent gave up the argument; he had no answer to that. Yet he was a little vexed. He was a normal man about money; his two greatest friends – Peggy and Airey Newton – were at the extreme in different directions. What did that signify? Well, after all, something. The attitude people hold towards money is, in one way and another, a curiously far-reaching thing, both in its expression of them and in its effect on others. Just as there was always an awkwardness between Tommy and Airey Newton because Airey would not spend as much as he ought, there was now a hint of tension, of disapproval on one side and of defiance on the other, because Peggy meant to spend all that she had. There is no safety even in having nothing; the problems you escape for yourself you raise for your friends.
Peggy, having sworn Tommy to secrecy, turned her head round, saw Arty Kane, could by no means resist the temptation, told him the news, and swore him to secrecy. He gave his word, and remarked across the table to Miles Childwick: 'Peggy's been left a thousand pounds.'
Then he turned to her, saying, 'I take it all on myself. It was really the shortest way, you know.'
Indescribable commotion followed. Everybody had a plan for spending the thousand pounds; each of them appropriated and spent it on the spot; all agreed that Peggy was the wrong person to have it, and that they were immensely glad that she had got it. Suggestions poured in on her. It may be doubted whether the deceased uncle had ever created so much excitement while he lived.
'I propose to do no work for weeks,' said Miles Childwick. 'I shall just come and dine.'
'I think of an ?dition de luxe,' murmured Arty Kane.
'I shall take nothing but leading business,' said Horace Harnack.
'We shall really have to make a great effort to avoid being maintained,' murmured Mrs. John, surprised into a remark that sounded almost as though it came from her books.
Trix Trevalla had listened to all the chatter with a renewal of her previous pleasure, enjoying it yet the more because, thanks to Fricker's gentlemanly conduct, to the worst of Beaufort Chance being over, and to her imminent triumph, her soul was at peace, and her attention not preoccupied. She, too, found herself rejoicing very heartily for Peggy's sake. She knew what pleasure Peggy would get, what a royal time lay before her.
'She'll spend it all. How will she feel when it's finished?'
The question came from Airey Newton, her neighbour. There was no touch of malice about it; it was put in a full-hearted sympathy.
'What a funny way to look at it!' exclaimed Trix, laughing.
'Funny! Why? You know she'll spend it. Oh, perhaps you don't; we do. And when it's gone – '
He shrugged his shoulders; her last state would be worse than her first, he meant to say.
Trix stopped laughing. She was touched; it was pathetic to see how the man who worked for a pittance felt a sort of pain at the idea of squandering – an unselfish pain for the girl who would choose a brief ecstasy of extravagance when she might ensure a permanent increase of comfort. She could not herself feel like that about such a trifle as a thousand pounds (all in, she was wearing about a thousand pounds, and that not in full fig), but she saw how the case must appear to Airey Newton; the windfall that had tumbled into Peggy's lap meant years of hard work and of self-respecting economy to him.
'Yes, you're right,' she said. 'But she's too young for the lesson. And I – well, I'm afraid I'm incurable. You don't set us the best example either.' She smiled again as she indicated the luxurious table.
'A very occasional extravagance,' he remarked, seeing her misapprehension quite clearly, impelled to confirm it by his unresting fear of discovery, fingering the packet of five-pound notes in his pocket.
'I wish somebody could teach me to be prudent,' smiled Trix.
'Can one be taught to be different?' he asked, rather gloomily.
'Money doesn't really make one happy,' said Trix in the tone of a disillusionised millionaire.
'I suppose not,' he agreed, but with all the scepticism of a hopeless pauper.
They both acted their parts well; each successfully imposed on the other. But pretence on this one point did not hinder a genuine sympathy nor a reciprocal attraction between them. He seemed to her the haven that she might have loved, yet had always scorned; she was to him the type of that moving, many-coloured, gay life which his allegiance to his jealous god forbade him to follow or to know. And they were united again by a sense common to them, apart from the rest of the company – the sense of dissatisfaction; it was a subtle bond ever felt between them, and made them turn to one another with smiles half-scornful, half-envious, when the merriment rose high.
'I'm glad to meet you to-night,' she said, 'because I think I can tell you that your advice – your Paris advice – has been a success.'
'You seemed rather doubtful about that when we met last.'
'Yes, I was.' She laughed a little. 'Oh, I've had some troubles, but I think I'm in smooth water now.' She hardly repressed the ring of triumph in her voice.
'Ah, then you won't come again to Danes Inn!'
There was an unmistakable regret in his tone. Trix felt it echoed in her heart. She met his glance for a moment; the contact might have lasted longer, but he, less practised in such encounters, turned hastily away. Enough had passed to tell her that if she did not come she would be missed, enough to make her feel that in not going she would lose something which she had come to think of as pleasant in life. Was there always a price to be paid? Great or small, perhaps, but a price always?
'You should come sometimes where you can be seen,' she said lightly.
'A pretty figure I should cut!' was his good-humoured, rather despairing comment.
Trix was surprised by a feeling stronger than she could have anticipated; she desired to escape from it; it seemed as though Airey Newton and his friends were laying too forcible a hold on her. They had nothing to do with the life that was to be hers; they were utterly outside that, though they might help her to laugh away an evening or amuse her with their comments on human nature and its phases. To her his friends and he were essentially a distraction; they and he must be kept in the place appropriate to distractions.скачать книгу бесплатно