Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Emory Women Writers Resource Project

A Spirit of Mirth, an electronic edition

by Peggy Webling [Webling, Peggy]

date: 1913
source publisher: Methuen & Co., Ltd.
collection: Genre Fiction

Table of Contents

<< chapter 5 chapter 33 >>

Display page layout


WHEN Phosie opened her eyes, slowly and dreamily, the sun was slanting through the holly tree, the blackness of the garden had turned to green, and a warm breeze fanned her cheeks.

She stretched her stiffened limbs and shifted her shoulder from the weight of Little Gus. The boy awoke at the same time, rubbed his eyes, yawned, squirmed about in his clothes, and looked up at Phosie.

"'Ullo! Slep' well?" he asked, as if it were the most ordinary thing in life to pass the night sitting on the ground under a lilac bush.

It was nearly seven o'clock. The street was noisy with milk carts, while an energetic boy, delivering newspapers, was banging every gate he passed through as an accompaniment to the whistle of a popular tune with which he beguiled his morning labours.

"Oh, I'm glad it's day!" exclaimed the girl, fervently.

She cautiously rose to her feet, stooped forward and peered through the bush. The next instant she jumped back again, treading on Little Gus's toes, as the stillness of the garden was broken by the violent, excited yelping of a small Welsh terrier.

He had caught a glimpse of her, and, after the manner of puppies, proclaimed his discovery to all within hearing, Scuttling through the grass, he made a rush at the bush, barking with all his might. Phosie laughed, in spite of her alarm, and Little Gus gave vent to one of his late master's favourite oaths.

| | 44

"What's the matter with the dog? Taffy! Taffy! Come 'ere!" exclaimed a woman, whose opening of the front door had enabled the puppy to escape from the house.

She was a little woman, neatly dressed in a black gown, with a duster tied over her head and a door mat in her hands.

"Taffy! Taffy! What have you got? Is it a cat?" she said, and, putting down the mat, took a step on to the grass.

Taffy retreated a little from the bush, barking himself sideways in his unnecessary excitement, and Phosie appeared between the leaves, closely followed by Little Gus.

They all three stared at one another in blank dismay. The boy and girl knew they were discovered. The woman was too surprised at their sudden appearance to say a word. Taffy made the day hideous with piercing yelps.

"I am very sorry—we haven't done any harm—we've only been sleeping under your bush—"stammered Phosie.

"Sleeping—under—our—bush! All night? Under the lilac bush?" repeated the little woman in gasps.

"Yes, but we'll go away at once—we're very honest people—we're not thieves," answered Phosie. "Don't be angry with us! We're not burglars, truly!"

The words had a most unexpected effect on her astonished listener.

The little woman threw back her head and gave an uncouth, short squeal of laughter, almost as painful to hear as the terrier's barks.

"No, you don't look like burglars, either of you!" she exclaimed. "You poor children! You must see the master. I never heard of such a thing—sleeping under our lilac bush—good 'eavens!"

She turned towards the house. Phosie, bewildered and dazzled in the sunshine, pulled Little Gus after her.

| | 45

"Let's cut! She'll send for a cop!" he whispered.

Phosie took no notice of his words. They followed the woman into a dark, square hall, and down a steep flight of stairs into a kitchen at the back of the house, with the dog scuttling in front of them.

The kitchen was plainly, but cheerily furnished, with a row of geraniums in pots on a table by the window, and a loud-ticking cuckoo clock hanging on one side of the fireplace.

Just as they entered the room it struck seven and the mechanical bird, to their surprise, came out of his little house, said "Cuck!" and vanished, to reappear a second later with a loud "Coo!" after which he finally banged his door. Their conductress gave another of her peculiar laughs.

"It's broke," she explained, "but the master won't have it mended. He says it's the only interesting cuckoo he's ever met with living in a clock. He calls it a blithe newcomer, but I call it a gay old bird."

After a minute's hesitation, as if she doubted the prudence of leaving them alone with the spoons, she asked Phosie and her companion to step into a small back yard, where there were a couple of old chairs, and "make themselves comfortable."

They sat there for nearly an hour, closely watched by Taffy, who seemed to consider himself their keeper, and occasionally cheered by a friendly nod through the glass door from the little woman as she went about her household duties.

Little Gus passed the time in sniffing and shuffling his feet. Phosie tried to fix her mind on plans for the future.

At eight o'clock they were given a slice of bread and butter each, while a savoury smell of coffee and fried bacon from the kitchen stove made the boy positively writhe with envy.

Soon afterwards the little woman opened the door and beckoned them.

| | 46

"The master's name is Mr Revell," she said. "I've told him about you and he says you're both to go in."

Leading the way from the kitchen to the breakfast-room, also partially underground, she tapped at the door, opened it without waiting for an answer, and stood on one side for them to enter.

Phosie, with heightened colour and a choking sensation of dryness in the mouth, went into the room first, Little Gus shrinking behind her.

It was dim and sombre, for the sunshine could hardly penetrate through the trees and bushes of the garden. Phosie's first impression was of heavy furniture, quantities of pictures and ornaments, and a general effect of rich, if gloomy, colouring.

A big table, placed near the window, was half covered by a white cloth, on which the breakfast was arranged, the other half being piled with books and papers.

The man who sat at this table rose as they entered, moved by curiosity to look at them closely, for his housekeeper had given a highly-coloured description of the way they had leapt out of the lilac bush—like a couple of hunted tigers, she said, foaming at the mouth.

He was a tall man of something beyond middle age, spare in figure, with a grey, thin beard, wisps of hair brushed forward from the back of his head, a big nose, and singularly bright eyes gleaming through gold-rimmed spectacles.

He fidgeted abstractedly with the things on the table as he bent forward. His hands were long and bony, and he wore several big, old-fashioned rings.

"Now then—now then—you ought not to hide under my lilac bush! " he began nervously. " I was astonished to hear about it from my housekeeper. What do you mean by it? Who are you, little people? Where do you come from? "

Phosie, who suddenly found herself trembling, advanced to the table, steadied herself by resting one hand | | 47 on it, and returned Mr Revell's close scrutiny. She was pale and heavy-eyed; her brown, wavy hair was dishevelled; she had taken off her hat and held it in her hand; her shabby little cape was crushed and dusty.

She was a deplorable little figure, dirty and untidy, but as she looked into his face, with the irresistible appeal of youth and innocence, he was suddenly moved to pity and interest and pleasure. He pitied her physical weakness, he was unexpectedly interested in what she had to say, but the sensation of pleasure was the strongest feeling of all.

He had dreaded pathos, but there was no hint of a tear on her lashes, and her lips curved up and not down at the corners, and that is a little detail that makes all the difference in the world when a mouth begins to quiver.

Phosie was rapidly debating in her own mind the policy of telling him the truth at once, and this was the reason of the long silence before she answered his question.

"We have run away," she said at last, "but it doesn't matter, for we have no relations or anybody else to worry about us."

"Is the boy your brother?" asked Mr Revell.

"No, but I am his only friend. Let me tell you about him! May I tell you what we have done?"

"Well, well! Be quick about it!" said Mr Revell.

He dropped back into his chair, dipping the salt spoon in and out of the salt while Phosie talked. She told her tale well, and she told him the absolute truth.

Mr Revell kept his eyes fixed on her face. When she had finished and stopped, breathlessly, timidly waiting for his verdict on their flight, he looked at Gus for the first time.

"I understand your motives for running away from Airy Street," he said in a kinder tone. "But why bring the boy?"

Little Gus shuffled from one foot to the other, sniffed, and smeared his face with his cuff.

| | 48

"Why on earth bring that boy?" repeated Mr Revell, quite unmoved by Little Gus's shyness and discomfort.

He looked at him curiously, as if the boy were an interesting, but slightly unpleasant, beetle.

Phosie turned and looked at him too. The question struck home. For a minute she marvelled at her own stupidity, but the next, ashamed of the thought, she threw her arms impetuously round Little Gus and held him close.

Gus, after a second's struggle for freedom, burst into tears and clasped her round the neck, hiding his face against her shoulder.

"Pray don't let us have a scene!" said Mr Revell.

He rose, pushing back his chair noisily, rang a small bell on the breakfast-table, and began to fidget among the books and papers. The housekeeper entered.

"Have you seen a little book bound in red morocco, Mrs Bird?" he asked, helplessly. "I am sure I brought it home last night."

Mrs Bird, after glancing questioningly at the boy and girl, began to search, with more bustle, but as aimlessly as Mr Revell himself. Phosie's quick eyes caught sight of the little book bound in red morocco under his chair. She picked it up. He smiled at her gratefully.

"Mrs Bird, I want these young people to stop here today," he said, pulling on his light overcoat, which the housekeeper had brought in on her arm. "Perhaps you'll make them comfortable? It may be very injudicious, but I believe their story. I am confident that this girl has told me the truth. Truth, Mrs Bird, is occasionally as strange as fiction. Treat them, if you please, kindly, but don't let them touch anything."

He said the last words very emphatically.

"Oh, how good you are!" exclaimed Phosie, quickly putting Gus on one side and drawing close to Mr Revell. "But I think we ought to look for work and get a lodging. I—I suppose you don't want a servant, do you? I'm | | 49 very strong, and I'm sure that Gus would be able to clean windows and knives very carefully, and so could I. We'll do anything you tell us—any hard work—and indeed, indeed we're honest."

"I don't know—I don't know—perhaps Mrs Bird can make you useful," said Mr Revell. "You can sleep here to-night, if Mrs Bird can pack you in—you must settle it all with Mrs Bird. Poor child! Poor child! Now, don't talk to me—I'm late already—and it agitates me to be talked to—good-bye! Good-bye!"

He put on his hat, gathered up his gloves, the Times, and his walking-stick, and made for the door.

Phosie, too amazed at his goodness to utter any words of ordinary thanks, sprang forward as he opened it, and seized him by the hand.

"May we stop here to-night? May I work for you?" she cried.

"Yes, yes, yes, but don't worry!" said Mr Revell, irritably. "You can stop here as long as you like, if you learn to be quiet and reasonable. Do as Mrs Bird tells you—and make that boy wash his face."

With these words, accompanied by kind, abstracted backward glances through his gleaming spectacles, Mr Revell left Euphrosyne and Little Gus in possession of a home.

Although he was the least impulsive of human beings, intellectual, cool, conservative in habit and thought, it was not the first time, or the second or the third, that Henry Revell had done an unworldly, generous deed. Very few people suspected this trait in his character, and, like most men of his type, he was far too modest, and a little ashamed, to have it known.

<< chapter 5 chapter 33 >>