Anthony Hope.

The Intrusions of Peggy



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At the other end of the table an elementary form of joke was achieving a great success. It lay in crediting Peggy with unmeasured wealth, in assigning her quarters in the most fashionable part of the town, in marrying her to the highest bigwig whose title occurred to any one of the company. She was passed from Park Lane to Grosvenor Square and assigned every rank in the peerage. Schemes of benevolence were proposed to her, having for their object the endowment of literature and art.

'You will not continue the exercise of your profession, I presume?' asked Childwick, referring to Peggy's projected lessons in the art of painting and a promise to buy her works which she had wrung from a dealer notoriously devoted to her.

'She won't know us any more,' moaned Arty Kane.

'She'll glare at us from boxes – boxes paid for,' sighed Harnack.

'I shall never lose any more frocks,' said Elfreda with affected ruefulness.

Trix smiled at all this – a trifle sadly. What was attributed in burlesque to the newly enriched Peggy was really going to be almost true of herself. Well, she had never belonged to them; she had been a visitor always.

The most terrible suggestion came from Mrs. John – rather late, of course, and as if Mrs. John had taken some pains with it.

'She'll have her hair done quite differently.'

The idea produced pandemonium.

'What of my essay?' demanded Childwick.

'What of my poem?' cried Arty Kane.

Everybody agreed that a stand must be made here. A formal pledge was demanded from Peggy. When she gave it her health was drunk with acclamation.

A lull came with the arrival of coffee. Perhaps they were exhausted. At any rate when Miles Childwick began to talk they did not stop him at once as their custom was, but let him go on for a little while. He was a thin-faced man with a rather sharp nose, prematurely bald, and bowed about the shoulders. Trix Trevalla watched him with some interest.

'If there were such a thing as being poor and unsuccessful,' he remarked with something that was almost a wink in his eye (Trix took it to deprecate interruption), 'it would probably be very unpleasant. Of course, however, it does not exist. The impression to the contrary is an instance of what I will call the Fallacy of Broad Views. We are always taking broad views of our neighbours' lives; then we call them names. Happily we very seldom need to take them of our own.' He paused, looked round the silent table, and observed gravely, 'This is very unusual.'

Only a laugh from Peggy, who would have laughed at anything, broke the stillness. He resumed: —

'You call a man poor, meaning thereby that he has little money by the year. Ladies and gentlemen, we do not feel in years, we are not hungry per annum. You call him unsuccessful because a number of years leave him much where he was in most things. It may well be a triumph!' He paused and asked, 'Shall I proceed?'

'If you have another and quite different idea,' said Arty Kane.

'Well, then, that Homogeneity of Fortune is undesirable among friends.'

'Trite and obvious,' said Manson Smith.

'It excludes the opportunity of lending fivers.'

'I shall talk no more,' said Childwick. 'If we all spoke plain English originality would become impossible.'

The end of the evening came earlier than usual. Peggy was going to a party or two. She had her hansom waiting to convey her. It had, it appeared, been waiting all through dinner. With her departure the rest melted away. Trix Trevalla, again reluctant to go, at last found herself alone with Airey Newton, Tommy having gone out to look for her carriage. The waiter brought the bill and laid it down beside Airey.

'Is it good luck or bad luck for Peggy?' she asked reflectively.

'For Peggy it is good luck; she has instincts that save her. But she'll be very poor again.' He came back to that idea persistently.

'She'll marry somebody and be rich.' A sudden thought came and made her ask Airey, 'Would you marry for money?'

He thought long, taking no notice of the bill beside him. 'No,' he said at last, 'I shouldn't care about money I hadn't made.'

'A funny reason for the orthodox conclusion!' she laughed. 'What does it matter who made it as long as you have it?'

Airey shook his head in an obstinate way. Tommy Trent, just entering the doorway, saw him lay down three or four notes; he did not look at the bill. The waiter with a smile gave him back one, saying 'Pardon, monsieur!' and pointing to the amount of the account. Tommy stood where he was, looking on still.

'Well, I must go,' said Trix, rising. 'You've given us a great deal of pleasure; I hope you've enjoyed it yourself!'

The waiter brought back the bill and the change. Airey scooped up the change carelessly, and gave back a sovereign. Tommy could not see the coin, but he saw the waiter's low and cordial bow. He was smiling broadly as he came up to Airey.

'Business done, old fellow? We must see Mrs. Trevalla into her carriage.'

'Good-bye to you both,' said Trix. 'Such an evening!' Her eyes were bright; she seemed rather moved. There was in Tommy's opinion nothing to account for any emotion, but Airey Newton was watching her with a puzzled air.

'And I shall remember that there's no such thing as being poor or unsuccessful,' she laughed. 'We must thank Mr. Childwick for that.'

'There's nothing of that sort for you anyhow, Mrs. Trevalla,' said Tommy. He offered his arm, but withdrew it again, smiling. 'I forgot the host's privileges,' he said.

He followed them downstairs, and saw Airey put Trix in her carriage.

'Good-bye,' she called wistfully, as she was driven away.

'Shall we stroll?' asked Tommy. The night was fine this time.

They walked along in silence for some little way. Then Airey said: —

'Thank you, Tommy.'

'It was no trouble,' said Tommy generously, 'and you did it really well.'

It was no use. Airey had struggled with the secret; he had determined not to tell anybody – not to think of it or to take account of it even within himself. But it would out.

'It's all right. I happened to get a little payment to-day – one that I'd quite given up hope of ever seeing.'

'How lucky, old chap!' Tommy was content to say.

It was evident that progress would be gradual. Airey was comforting himself with the idea that he had given his dinner without encroaching on his hoard.

Yet something had been done – more than Tommy knew of, more than he could fairly have taken credit for. When Airey reached Danes Inn he found it solitary, and he found it mean. His safe and his red book were not able to comfort him. No thought of change came to him; he was far from that. He did not even challenge his mode of life or quarrel with the motive that inspired it. The usurper was still on the throne in his heart, even as Trix's usurper sat still enthroned in hers. Airey got no farther than to be sorry that the motive and the mode of life necessitated certain things and excluded others. He was not so deeply affected but that he put these repinings from him with a strong hand. Yet they recurred obstinately, and pictures, long foreign to him, rose before his eyes. He had a vision of a great joy bought at an enormous price, purchased with a pang that he at once declared would be unendurable. But the vision was there, and seemed bright.

'What a comforting thing impossibility is sometimes!' His reflections took that form as he smoked his last pipe. If all things were possible, what struggles there would be! He could never be called upon to choose between the vision and the pang. That would be spared him by the blessing of impossibility.

Rare as the act was, it could hardly be the giving of a dinner which had roused these new and strange thoughts in him. The vision borrowed form and colour from the commonest mother of visions – a woman's face.

Two or three days later Peggy Ryle brought him seven hundred pounds – because he had a safe. He said the money would be all right, and, when she had gone, stowed it away in the appointed receptacle.

'I keep my own there,' he had explained with an ironical smile, and had watched Peggy's carefully grave nod with an inward groan.

CHAPTER IX
BRUISES AND BALM

Gossip in clubs and whispers from more secret circles had a way of reaching Mrs. Bonfill's ears. In the days that followed Mr. Liffey's public inquiry as to who Brown, Jones, and Robinson might be, care sat on her broad brow, and she received several important visitors. She was much troubled; it was the first time that there had been any unpleasantness with regard to one of her prot?g?s. She felt it a slur on herself, and at first there was a hostility in her manner when Lord Glentorly spoke to her solemnly and Constantine Blair came to see her in a great flutter. But she was open to reason, a woman who would listen; she listened to them. Glentorly said that only his regard for her made him anxious to manage things quietly; Blair insisted more on the desirability of preventing anything like a scandal in the interests of the Government. There were rumours of a question in the House; Mr. Liffey's next article might even now be going to press. As to the fact there was little doubt, though the details were rather obscure.

'We are willing to leave him a bridge to retreat by, but retreat he must,' said Glentorly in a metaphor appropriate to his office.

'You're the only person who can approach both Liffey and Chance himself,' Constantine Blair represented to her.

'Does it mean his seat as well as his place?' she asked.

'If it's all kept quite quiet, we think nothing need be said about his seat,' Blair told her.

There had been a difference of opinion on that question, but the less stringent moralists – or the more compassionate men – had carried their point.

'But once there's a question, or an exposure by Liffey – piff!' Blair blew Beaufort Chance to the relentless winds of heaven and the popular press.

'How did he come to be so foolish?' asked Mrs. Bonfill in useless, regretful wondering.

'You'll see Liffey? Nobody else can do anything with him, of course.'

Mrs. Bonfill was an old friend of Liffey's; before she became motherly, when Liffey was a young man, and just establishing 'The Sentinel,' he had been an admirer of hers, and, in that blameless fashion about which Lady Blixworth was so flippant, she had reciprocated his liking; he was a pleasant, witty man, and they had always stretched out friendly hands across the gulf of political difference and social divergence. Liffey might do for Mrs. Bonfill what he would not for all the Estates of the Realm put together.

'I don't know how much you know or mean to say,' she began to Liffey, after cordial greetings.

'I know most of what there is to know, and I intend to say it all,' was his reply.

'How did you find out?'

'From Brown, a gentleman who lives at Clapham, and whose other name is Clarkson. Fricker's weak spot is that he's a screw; he never lets the subordinates stand in enough. So he gets given away. I pointed that out to him over the Swallow Islands business, but he won't learn from me.' Mr. Liffey spoke like an unappreciated philanthropist. The Swallow Islands affair had been what Fricker called a 'scoop' – a very big thing; but there had been some trouble afterwards.

'Say all you like about Fricker – '

'Oh, Fricker's really neither here nor there. The public are such asses that I can't seriously injure Fricker, though I can make an article out of him. But the other – '

'Don't mention any public men,' implored Mrs. Bonfill, as though she had the fair fame of the country much at heart.

'Any public men?' There was the hint of a sneer in Liffey's voice.

'I suppose we needn't mention names. He's not a big fish, of course, but still it would be unpleasant.'

'I'm not here to make things pleasant for Farringham and his friends.'

'I speak as one of your friends – and one of his.'

'This isn't quite fair, you know,' smiled Liffey. 'With the article in type, too!'

'We've all been in such a fidget about it.'

'I know!' he nodded. 'Glentorly like a hen under a cart, and Constantine fussing in and out like a cuckoo on a clock! Thank God, I'm not a politician!'

'You're only a censor,' she smiled with amiable irony. 'I'm making a personal matter of it,' she went on with the diplomatic candour that had often proved one of her best weapons.

'And the public interest? The purity of politics? C?sar's wife?' Liffey, in his turn, allowed himself an ironical smile.

'He will resign his place – not his seat, but his place. Isn't that enough? It's the end of his chosen career.'

'Have you spoken to him?'

'No. But of course I can make him. What choice has he? Is it true there's to be a question? I heard that Alured Cummins meant to ask one.'

'Between ourselves, it's a point that I had hardly made up my mind on.'

'Ah, I knew you were behind it!'

'It would have been just simultaneous with my second article. Effective, eh?'

'Have you anything quite definite – besides the speculation, I mean?'

'Yes. One clear case of – well, of Fricker's knowing something much too soon. I've got a copy of a letter our gentleman wrote. Clarkson gave it me. It's dated the 24th, and it's addressed to Fricker.'

'Good gracious! May I tell him that?'

'I proposed to tell him myself,' smiled Liffey, 'or to let Cummins break the news.'

'If he knows that, he must consent to go.' She glanced at Liffey. 'My credit's at stake too, you see.' It cost her something to say this.

'You went bail for him, did you?' Liffey was friendly, contemptuous, and even compassionate.

'I thought well of him, and said so to George Glentorly. I ask it as a friend.'

'As a friend you must have it. But make it clear. He resigns in three days – or article, letter, and Alured Cummins!'

'I'll make it clear – and thank you,' said Mrs. Bonfill. 'I know it's a sacrifice.'

'I'd have had no mercy on him,' laughed Liffey. 'As it is, I must vamp up something dull and innocuous to get myself out of my promise to the public.'

'I think he'll be punished enough.'

'Perhaps. But look how I suffer!'

'There are sinners left, enough and to spare.'

'So many of them have charming women for their friends.'

'Oh, you don't often yield!'

'No, not often, but – you were an early subscriber to "The Sentinel."'

It would be untrue to say that the sort of negotiation on which she was now engaged was altogether unpleasant to Mrs. Bonfill. Let her not be called a busybody; but she was a born intermediary. A gratifying sense of power mingled with the natural pain. She wired to Constantine Blair, 'All well if X. is reasonable,' and sent a line asking Beaufort Chance to call.

Chance had got out of Dramoffskys prosperously. His profit was good, though not what it had been going to reach but for Liffey's article. Yet he was content; the article and the whispers had frightened him, but he hoped that he would now be safe. He meant to run no more risks, to walk no more so near the line, certainly never to cross it. A sinner who has reached this frame of mind generally persuades himself that he can and ought to escape punishment; else where is the virtue – or where, anyhow, the sweetness – that we find attributed to penitence? And surely he had been ill-used enough – thanks to Trix Trevalla!

In this mood he was all unprepared for the blow that his friend Mrs. Bonfill dealt him. He began defiantly. What Liffey threatened, what his colleagues suspected, he met by angry assertions of innocence, by insisting that a plain statement would put them all down, by indignation that she should believe such things of him, and make herself the mouthpiece of such accusations. In fine, he blustered, while she sat in sad silence, waiting to produce her last card. When she said, 'Mr. Fricker employed a man named Clarkson?' he came to a sudden stop in his striding about the room; his face turned red, he looked at her with a quick furtive air. 'Well, he's stolen a letter of yours.'

'What letter?' he burst out.

With pity Mrs. Bonfill saw how easily his cloak of unassailable innocence fell away from him.

She knew nothing of the letter save what Liffey had told her.

'It's to Mr. Fricker, and it's dated the 24th,' said she.

Was that enough? She watched his knitted brows; he was recalling the letter. He wasted no time in abusing the servant who had betrayed him; he had no preoccupation except to recollect that letter. Mrs. Bonfill drank her tea while he stood motionless in the middle of the room.

When he spoke again his voice sounded rather hollow and hoarse.

'Well, what do they want of me?' he asked.

Mrs. Bonfill knew that she saw before her a beaten man. All pleasure had gone from her now; the scene was purely painful; she had liked and helped the man. But she had her message to deliver, even as it had come to her. He must resign in three days – or article, letter, and Alured Cummins! That was the alternative she had to put before him.

'You've too many irons in the fire, Beaufort,' said she with a shake of her head and a friendly smile. 'One thing clashes with another.'

He dropped into a chair, and sat looking before him moodily.

'There'll be plenty left. You'll have your seat still; and you'll be free to give all your time to business and make a career there.'

Still he said nothing. She forced herself to go on.

'It should be done at once. We all think so. Then it'll have an entirely voluntary look.'

Still he was mute.

'It must be done in three days, Beaufort,' she half-whispered, leaning across towards him. 'In three days, or – or no arrangement can be made.' She waited a moment, then added, 'Go and write it this afternoon. And send a little paragraph round – about pressure of private business, or something, you know. Then I should take a rest somewhere, if I were you.'

He was to vanish – from official life for ever, from the haunts of men till men had done talking about him. Mrs. Bonfill's delicacy of expression was not guilty of obscuring her meaning in the least. She knew that her terms were accepted when he took his hat and bade her farewell with a dreary heavy awkwardness. On his departure she heaved a sigh of complicated feelings: satisfaction that the thing was done, sorrow that it had to be, wonder at him, surprise at her own mistake about him. She had put him in his place; she had once thought him worthy of her dearest Trix Trevalla. These latter reflections tempered her pride in the achievements of her diplomacy, and moderated to a self-depreciatory tone the reports which she proceeded to write to Mr. Liffey and to Constantine Blair.

Hard is the case of a man fallen into misfortune who can find nobody but himself to blame; small, it may be added, is his ingenuity. Beaufort Chance, while he wrote his bitter note, while he walked the streets suspicious of the glances and fearful of the whispers of those he met, had no difficulty in fixing on the real culprit, on her to whom his fall and all that had led to it were due. He lost sight of any fault of his own in a contemplation of the enormity of Trix Trevalla's. To cast her down would be sweet; it would still be an incentive to exalt himself if thereby he could make her feel more unhappy. If he still could grow rich and important although his chosen path was forbidden him, if she could become poor and despised, then he might cry quits. Behind this simple malevolence was a feeling hardly more estimable, though it derived its origin from better things; it was to him that he wanted her to come on her knees, begging his forgiveness, ready to be his slave and to take the crumbs he threw her.

These thoughts, no less than an instinctive desire to go somewhere where he would not be looked at askance, where he would still be a great man and still be admired, took him to the Frickers' later in the afternoon. A man scorned of his fellows is said to value the society of his dog; if Fricker would not have accepted the parallel, it might in Chance's mind be well applied to Fricker's daughter Connie. Lady Blixworth had once described this young lady unkindly; but improvements had been undertaken. She was much better dressed now, and her figure responded to treatment, as the doctors say. Nature had given her a fine poll of dark hair, and a pair of large black eyes, highly expressive, and never allowed to grow rusty for want of use. To her Beaufort was a great man; his manners smacked of the society which was her goal; the touch of vulgarity, from which good birth and refined breeding do not always save a man vulgar in soul, was either unperceived or, as is perhaps more likely, considered the hall-mark of 'smartness'; others than Connie Fricker might perhaps be excused for some confusion on this point. Yet beneath her ways and her notions Connie had a brain.

Nobody except Miss Fricker was at home, Beaufort was told; but he said he would wait for Mrs. Fricker, and went into the drawing-room. The Frickers lived in a fine, solid, spacious house of respectable age. Its walls remained; they had gutted the interior and had it refurnished and re-bedecked; the effect was that of a modern daub in a handsome frame. It is unkind, but hardly untrue, to say that Connie Fricker did not dispel this idea when she joined Beaufort Chance and said that some whisky-and-soda was coming; she led him into the smaller drawing-room where smoking was allowed; she said that she was so glad that mamma was out.



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