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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MR AUGUSTUS STEWART-CROMWELL was born to be unfortunate.

His wedding present to Mr and Mrs Walter Race made Phosie's husband groan and clutch his hair. It had attracted Gus in the window of a shop in Tottenham Court Road and cost him more money than he could afford to spend. This present was a large vase of ungainly shape, with a negro boy eating a slice of melon on one side of the bowl and a kitten on the other. He was never tired of admiring the life-like pose of the kitten.

Little Gus was always nervous in the company of Walter Race, but anxious to serve him and very conscious of his superiority.

Mr Faraday, the lawyer, had succeeded in finding employment for Mr Stewart-Cromwell—Phosie impressed upon Gus, with difficulty, the necessity of using a surname—but it was done for the sole purpose of obliging Mrs Race. She had won Mr Faraday's heart, and he took Little Gus into his office.

Gus's exact position is hard to define; he was called a clerk, but his time was chiefly spent in running errands, answering the telephone, cleaning the typewriters, opening the door, reading the newspaper from end to end, and staring out of the back window of the office, which happened to command a view of a printing-house, affording him an endless source of entertainment watching the men at work.

Mr Stewart-Cromwell's salary was very small, but | | 203 he was more than satisfied, and never accepted the ten shillings a week added by Phosie without a protest.

He still continued to live in Belton Terrace, being on sufficiently good terms with the people in the house to spend several nights a week in their society, listening to the landlord's political views, amusing the baby, or quietly sitting in a corner poring over one of the children's books.

Gus was often invited to Plantagenet Court, welcomed by Phosie and good-naturedly tolerated by Walter, and when Phosie's engagement opened at the Paramount he went to the gallery nearly every night. She had no idea of this and would have been shocked at the waste of money, but Little Gus, who told her everything else, never betrayed himself.

When Hewett Addison returned to London, his new comedy finished, he found the sketch of the "Lost Fairy" in the best place in the programme at the Paramount. Miss Sapio gave him a glowing account of Phosie's success, and he hastened with his congratulations to her flat in Plantagenet Court.

He found Mrs Race alone. She was unfeignedly glad to see him, so very glad that Hewett suspected that almost any visitor would have been equally welcome. He observed that she looked weary, an expression quite new to her face, and he also observed the extravagant perfection of her dress. If it had not been Phosie he would have dubbed her a Parisienne fashion-plate.

It was spring, and the little green study was ablaze with daffodils. Hewett looked at the bells and spears of yellow and green with his usual immobility of countenance. He was moved to quote his Wordsworth, but with a slight alteration in the last line of the well-known poem:

"How oft, when on my couch I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
| | 204 And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And I jump upon those daffodils!"

He said this with such gravity that Phosie did not smile. They sat down by the fire, for it was still too chilly for an empty grate, and she gave him tea. After discussing her business affairs, which had passed out of Hewett's hands into those of an energetic agent, he relapsed into silence. There was a feeling of constraint between them.

Phosie had been alone all day, and now he was formal, cold, unfriendly. She forgot, for the minute, that Hewett Addison was very different from her husband, who never troubled to hide his moods.

"Well! What do you think of it?" she asked, bending forward with her hands clasped lightly on her knees.

Hewett, who had been staring at his feet with a fixed attention that suggested he had discovered they belonged to somebody else, jerked up his head and read her thoughts. He made a little gesture with one hand, as expressive as if he had pointed to every object in the room, including herself.

"I think it's delightful!" he exclaimed. "It's all in keeping, made to match. But, do you know, I cannot realise our absent friend. He seems out of place in the pretty picture."

"Do you mean Walter?" asked Phosie, with a smile.


Her smile changed into a laugh.

"Now, there you're wrong, Mr Addison," she protested. "Walter is far more suited to Plantagenet Court than I am. He's a thorough Londoner, and he hates to be away from the bricks and mortar. Streets, theatres, clubs—he loves and despises them all. Do you know what I think when I see Walter, day after day, living the life he chooses to live?"

"Tell me," said Hewett, gently.

| | 205

She had not changed her easy pose, leaning forward, but he saw that her hands were clenched and shook a little. This writer of comedies was a student of women, and this woman was an instinctive judge of men. There was instant and absolute confidence between them.

"He makes me think of a man who is lost in a forest of shadows, but he thinks them real," she went on. "They surround him and he can't see his way. They are shadows of pleasure, amusement, idle hours. They have blinded his eyes to the sunshine and he sees all things dimly. Other people's joy or sorrow never affect Walter—" her voice quivered a little. "Pain, suffering, poverty, he passes them all by. No! I mustn't say that. He is always generous with money."

She paused for a minute, twisting her rings round and round her fingers.

"I know you'll think I'm very sentimental in what I'm going to say, Mr Addison," she continued. "But Walter seems to me like a knight in an old legend who has been enchanted to forget the noble purposes of life. His bright sword is rusted. The wreath of his youth is fading on his brow. The world sweeps past him as he sits at the edge of the road, flicked with dust, dreaming a worthless dream."

Hewett Addison, surprised at her words, was silent for a while.

"You see what a child I am, talking about knights and enchantments," said Phosie. "You mustn't be hard on me, Mr Addison. Walter says I live in a world of my own, an imaginary, fairy-story world."

Hewett passed over this last speech in answering.

"Can't you break the spell which binds your knight, Mrs Race? I am sure you have the power if you will only exert it."

She shook her head doubtfully.

"I am afraid not. Sometimes I think that at first—"

| | 206

She stopped, pondering, before beginning another sentence.

"Perhaps I am only one of the shadows in the forest where the knight is lost; perhaps if I were more earnest, older, and better trained, I should be able to help him."

"What would you have him do?" asked Hewett, curiously. "Of course he should work, but that is only a means to an end. I think a woman more often forgets this than a man, putting aside the woman who looks upon wealth as the all-important object to be obtained. She is definite enough, to do her justice."

"I don't think I look as far as you do," said Phosie. "It seems to me that every action—a man's business, his pleasure, his interests—should be the end and aim of the passing minute."

"'Sufficient unto the day'—quite so," said Hewett. "But surely you look beyond the day and its sufficiency?'

"Oh, yes!" she answered quickly. "But I was thinking of Walter's contempt for the trifles of life, and they mean so much. He says that the more one studies the world the more one laughs at it. I agree, if he would change one word. We must laugh with the world, not at it. Perhaps that is the only difference in our outlook—and perhaps—perhaps it is all nonsense, Mr Addison."

Her sudden change of tone was a relief, for their apparently light words had covered on her side a revelation of inner distress, and on his a sympathy which read her thoughts too clearly.

"As I said before, the whole effect is delightful," said Hewett, repeating the little sweeping gesture round the room.

"Have you met Walter's relations?" asked Phosie.

"I haven't had the pleasure."

"One of the brothers and his wife dined with us | | 207 yesterday—Mr and Mrs Edmund Race. They're in the Church.

"Both of them?" asked Hewett.

"Of course not! Though Walter says she writes his sermons. He's very like Walter, but not so handsome. They made me dreadfully nervous. Edmund doesn't approve of my dancing, and Alicia said my name was pagan. Edmund agreed that it was very pagan, and he thought it suited me. I wanted them to call me Phosie, like everybody else, but they wouldn't."

"What did you talk about?" asked Hewett.

Her eyes twinkled.

"Oh, principally about the weather, and the Royal Family, and the immorality of Nonconformists in his parish. Walter can't bear Alicia. They seem to make each other cross."

"Is that your husband's only brother?"

"Oh, no, there's John, who is still angry with him for marrying me. He has it firmly fixed in his head I was a barmaid. Then there's Leo, who seems to spend his life tearing about the country killing things. Frank, the youngest, is in Canada. They lost their father years ago, but their mother only died last winter. I'm afraid they were not very fond of her."

"I hope they are all going to be brotherly and sisterly to you," said Hewett.

"I hope so," echoed Phosie, wistfully. "But you see I am rather a shock—a disgrace to their house. Walter doesn't seem anxious to introduce me to them. It is a little trying, I confess, for the son of a county family to marry the daughter of a Human Eel! You must see that for yourself, Mr Addison.'

They both burst out laughing, but before Hewett could straighten his face he saw, by her expression that she had forgotten both him and the subject of their mirth. Her eyes dilated and she stooped forward, | | 208 listening. She had caught the sound of a key in the front door before Hewett heard it.

"Ah, there's Walter!"s she exclaimed.

Addison looked curiously at his friend as he entered the room. Their greeting was mutually cordial. Race stooped to kiss Phosie and sat down in her chair.

"Will you have some tea, dear?" she asked.

He touched the tea-pot.

"My child, it's stone cold!"

"I'll ask her to make some more, Walter. I'll get it myself," and she jumped to her feet.

"No, no! That's quite unnecessary," he said irritably. "Ring the bell."

Hewett Addison began to talk about his new comedy, for when once a work was completed he liked to discuss its possibilities with his intimate friends, and Walter quickly recovered himself. Hewett had thought, when he first came in, how ill-humour spoilt his handsome face, but Phosie admired him in any mood.

The spring drifted into summer. Her engagement at the Paramount was succeeded by a much longer engagement at one of the smaller halls. Her pleasure in the work increased with practice, and she arranged to take lessons from the best teacher of stage-dancing in London. Walter gave his consent with good-natured indifference.

His brothers, the J.P. and the clergyman, were very indignant with Phosie, and even more with Phosie's husband. They said she ought to leave the stage at once. Leo refused to join in the dispute. He admired his brother's wife and always made a point of disagreeing with John and Edmund. Walter told them to mind their own business. He had been accustomed from boyhood to family feuds, which raged all the more fiercely for frequent, and even lengthy, armistices, but they made Phosie unhappy.

"At a word from you I'll leave the stage," she told her husband.

| | 209

"But I'm not going to speak it until I choose," he replied. "You're married to me, my dear, not to the bully or the parson."

The bully and the parson were the affectionate names he always bestowed upon his brothers when he happened to be quarrelling with them. His nickname for Leo was "Squire Western," but as Leo had never read Tom Jones—or anything else—he took it in good part.

Phosie had expected, in the first months of her marriage, to be enlightened on her husband's affairs. She knew the amount of his income, but had not the slightest idea how his money was invested. He was always in debt, much more heavily in debt than she had suspected, but beyond the occasional necessity of paying a pressing bill he seemed to ignore the fact.

He never touched a penny of her salary, the mere suggestion would have offended him, but he liked her to spend it all on dress, always consulting his taste. They entertained a great deal, Mr Carl Stratton being one of their most frequent guests. His influence over Walter grew with their intimacy, and even Phosie, concealing an innate dislike of the man, was obliged to confess that he was an amusing, courteous companion.

Her London engagement ended with the summer. She refused to go on tour. Hewett Addison promised her a new sketch for the Christmas season.

Life in Plantagenet Court was all unchanged and unchanging as the months passed by. Phosie had grown accustomed to it.

She was free in the early morning, for Walter rarely breakfasted before eleven, but as there was nothing to do in the flat she generally went out of doors, tramped through St James's Park, or along the Embankment, or into the city, often accompanying Little Gus, who called for her, to Mr Faraday's office.

In the afternoon she went out with her husband. An endless round of little pleasures filled the endless hours. | | 210 One day it would be an "At Home," the next a picture-gallery, the next a matinée. In the evening they dined at one or another of his favourite haunts, unless there were visitors at Plantagenet Court.

Marriage had made little difference in the careless hospitality with which Walter had always treated his friends. There were more ladies than formerly, but Race might still have been a bachelor in his freedom with the men. Dullness never barred his doors, for Euphrosyne was always gay, interested in other people's affairs, and ready to play her part in the comedy of the hour.

If Walter was bored on occasion it was not the boredom of the old days. He was no longer hopeless or cynical, but sometimes, when he looked at Phosie, he was stirred with vague self-reproach, dormant ambition, the consciousness of growth and change. She had fulfilled his hopes. He had found what he had sought, in the pursuit of mirth, no more and no less.

Satisfied and happy, he read no judgment in the fondness of his wife's eyes, but her heart had long been weary of the vacuous days.

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