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

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ONE afternoon, in early autumn, Euphrosyne and Little Gus were walking together over Barnes Common.

The sun was hanging, a red ball,ow in the sky. Every tree and bush, even the dried brown grass, was touched with red-gold light. A robin perched on the bare boughs of a hawthorn; a flock of crows wept across the sky; the ever-busy sparrows hopped ad chirruped on path and sward.

There was a cold wind whipping the dead leaves over the ground and shaking the branches of the trees. Two or three little parties of children hunted vainly for blackberries among the bushes. The main roads over the Common were busy with carts and motors. A few scattered cyclists, stooping to conquer, rode gallantly against the wind in one direction, or airily coasted in the other.

Phosie was telling Little Gus the story of one of Fenimore Cooper's novels, chapter by chapter, and wholly absorbed in the plot. She imagined herself on the prairies, and saw nothing of the endless rows of London houses which surround the little patch of open land, anxiously and covetously mounting guard over it.

Gus listened like a child, taking every strange incident for granted, very rarely moved to surprise and never wearied. He had listened in this way, at second hand, to nearly all of Scott's novels and much of Dumas, Dickens and Thackeray, but Phosie pleased him best with | | 72 detective stories of secret murders and unusual crimes, for he was morbidly curious to hear of horrors, but only moved to incredulity, not unmixed with contempt, by fanciful or weird tales.

It was dark when they reached The Stroll. Phosie, ending her story as sharply as if she had literally closed the book with a bang,ran up the steps and rapped smartly at the door. Being past the hour of Mr Revell's return she knew he would expect to find her at home.

"Oh, I'm so sorry—" she began as the door opened, and then stopped. It was not Mrs Bird who stood before her, or Mr Revell, but a strange man. A look of intense amazement came into her face.

"'Ullo!" she heard Little Gus say, feebly, behind her.

"Of course you are surprised—I must apologise—Miss Moore, I think?" said the stranger, and he put out his hand, smiling broadly at her blank expression.

"Yes," said Phosie. "Who are you?"

The stranger laughed outright at the blunt question.

He was a young man, short, thick-set, clean-shaven, with noticeably white teeth and big, clear, brown eyes.

"I am Mr Revell's nephew, just arrived from the other side of the world," he replied, opening the door wider for Phosie and her companion to enter. "My uncle has been telling me about you both. I am very pleased to meet you."

Again he extended his hand, first to the girl and then to Gus. Phosie, who was very quick in the sense of touch, found it was warm and soft through her glove. It felt like a woman's hand.

He stood on one side to let her pass, and, when she was in the hall, closed the door.

She was instantly conscious of a sense of oppression. He seemed to have shut out the vital air. An indescribable feeling of weakness swept over her; it was not physical weakness, but a darkening of the spirit, alien to her nature and never experienced before.

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Phosie was astonished at herself. What was the matter? She looked helplessly at Little Gus, stumbling against the furniture in the semi-darkness, and then she looked again at the stranger.

He smiled in a most friendly, kind manner. The cloud lightened—lifted—was gone.

"Is that Euphrosyne?" said Mr Revell's voice from the breakfast-room.

She ran downstairs. Her old friend blinked at her nervously and she saw that he was agitated.

"A great surprise, my dear!" he said. "This is my brother's son—poor Jules's son—you have heard me speak of my brother Jules?"

"Yes, Mr Revell."

"Dear me! Dear me! It only seems yesterday that he went away. Poor little Ju!" he continued, polishing his spectacles over and over again. "I can hardly realise that he is a married man with a grown-up boy! He has sent me this letter, Phosie; read it, my dear. Sit down, Jules, sit down!"

The young man, who had stood by the door all this time, looking at his uncle, now turned his eyes on the girl.

He had arrived early in the afternoon, several hours before Mr Revell's return from the Museum, and heard her story, with characteristic exaggerations, from Mrs Bird. It had made him curious to see her. He had never heard of anything so ridiculous, or so delightful, as his uncle's goodness.

Phosie sat down at the table, intent on the letter from Mr Revell's brother. Her face was partly shaded by the brim of her hat, but the light of the lamp fell on her mouth and chin, and Jules Revell saw that her skin was white and clear, while her lips showed the exquisite colouring that no word can exactly describe—red is too harsh, pink is too feeble—colouring that suggests the bloom of a flower petal.

She bent close to the lamp. He could see the pretty nose—the thought passed through his mind how rarely | | 74 one sees a pretty nose—and the small, well-shaped ear. Her eyes were still in shadow. He could see where her light brown hair curled into little rings, little broken hoops, soft and caressing, little sunny waves breaking away from the darker coil on the nape of her neck.

She found it hard to believe that this letter, effusive and intimate, could have been written by a brother of Henry Revell. It was to introduce his boy, "Jules Junior" as he called him, and he actually addressed the dried-up art collector as "Dearest Harry" and "Good old Hal."

Having finished the affectionate scrawl, Phosie passed it back to Mr Revell and turned to the visitor.

"I'm sure all your people will be very pleased to see you!" she exclaimed.

Jules laughed. He was not at all sure of it himself. His uncle's greeting had been far from demonstrative.

"I hope to make myself agreeable," he said, "I am not an aggressive Canadian, Miss Moore. I really believe you would take me for an Englishman. You won't find me the typical Colonial cousin out of a novel. I never 'calculate' or 'guess.' I am not a young millionaire, but at the same time I have plenty of money for my trip. I haven't come, like a prodigal, to waste my uncle's substance or abuse his hospitality."

Phosie wondered how many times he had used the personal pronoun in a single sentence.

"Where are you stopping, Jules?" asked Mr Revell, anxiously. "We are really so crowded in this house that I'm afraid—'

"Now, say, uncle!" interrupted the young man, with the Canadian inflexion in his voice he had just disavowed, "don't you worry about that. I've got a room at Scott's Hotel, 'way over there in Bloomsbury. It's a pleasant part of the town, I am told. You'll only see me now and then."

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"I shall always be delighted, Jules," began Mr Revell, but his nephew again interrupted him.

"You're very kind, but I'm sure you lead a busy life. My dad knows all about that."

He did not repeat his father's actual words—"Your Uncle Henry is always burrowing into the earth, more like a mole than a man, after dead men's treasures."

Phosie said nothing. She saw that the visitor had disturbed her guardian's usual serenity, and wondered whether he would be invited to dinner.

There was a somewhat embarrassing silence. Mr Revell fidgeted with the books on the table. Jules glanced round the room. It gave him an inspiration.

"Is it true, uncle," he said suddenly, "that you have a collection of—of—curios? I'm intensely interested in anything antique."

Mr Revell's face brightened.

"How unlike your dear father!" he exclaimed. "I must show you my collection of English pottery. I have a collection also of old silver, but it isn't safe to keep it in a house like this. Moth and rust have no chance of corrupting my treasures since I got Euphrosyne to take care of them, but thieves might break in and steal. I'll take you over the house when we've had our dinner."

Phosie felt relieved. The guest was not to be sent away without a meal. She hurried out of the room to advise and help Mrs Bird in the preparations.

She was greatly interested in Jules Revell, having quite forgotten that strange minute of oppression when first they met. The freemasonry of youth had already set them apart from Mr Revell. She felt he was her equal, not to be studied like the old man, not to be humoured like Little Gus.

For the first time for three years she looked forward eagerly to the evening hours. There would be no chess—never was a game more unsuited to Euphrosyne's temperament—and no dictation. But quickly on the heels of | | 76 these thoughts came a pang of self-reproach. What greater pleasure could she know than serving her dear, dear guardian?

"You love playing at chess, and you love reading out loud, of course you do!" she said severely to her own reflection in the little looking-glass on her chest of drawers, but the reflection only laughed at her.

What a captivating reflection it was! But Phosie did not admire it half so much as most girls admire the wonderful beings they are so fond of studying in the glass. She would rather have resembled her friend, Lily Parlow, with her flaxen ringlets and face like an expensive wax doll.

The dinner passed off very pleasantly. Jules Revell, who treated his uncle with affectionate intimacy, told a great many stories about himself, gave them his opinion of London with such ingenuous frankness that even Mr Revell forgave his ignorance, and rarely turned those liquid, big brown eyes of his away from Phosie's face.

She saw how he stared at her, but while many girls would have been embarrassed, or even annoyed, she was only moved to curiosity.

Why did he look at her like that? She had never seen such an expression in a man's face. It puzzled her. It checked her gaiety. It was so intense, so brilliant, it asked her a perpetual question she could not understand.

After dinner, to his uncle's great satisfaction, Jules at once reminded Mr Revell of his promise to show him the collection.

Phosie ran upstairs first to light the gas, glad to get away for a minute.

She threw open a staircase window and leaned out. She was flushed and a little excited. The wind on her face was as refreshing as a dash of cold water.

Mr Revell lingered behind to speak to Mrs Bird. He wanted to thank her, in his courteous, old-fashioned way, for her special efforts with dinner.

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Jules, slipping out of the room behind him, followed the girl.

He knew he was behaving like a fool. He knew he was taking risks. She did not hear his quick step on the stairs, but suddenly found him leaning out of the window beside her, and suddenly felt his arm round her neck.

"It's a fine night, isn't it? Are you looking at the stars?" she heard his voice whisper at the same instant.

Phosie put up her hand and caught his fingers, throwing him off, not with violence, but with the decision of instinct.

He took a step back. They looked at each other blankly.

The colour slowly crept into his face.

For an instant he looked mean, and cringing, and afraid—but only for an instant—then he had seized upon her hand, raised it to his lips, and begged her pardon. Almost before she had caught the meaning of the words he was speaking gaily to Mr Revell as he came upstairs.

Phosie drew her hand through her guardian's arm and pressed close to him.

He smiled down at her absently and kindly, laying his other hand on Jules's shoulder, as they looked at his precious pottery.

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