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 & MRS RACE, when they had been married about a year and a half, left their flat in Plantagenet Court.

Miss Sapio had taken a bungalow on the river, and Walter, after spending a day there, was seized with the desire to possess a bungalow of his own.

"We shall be able to live at half our present rate," he said to his wife. "That will lift a great weight off my shoulders."

"Are you worried about money, dear?" asked Phosie, glad of the opening he had given her.

"Is that anything new?" he answered, staring gloomily out of the carriage window—they were in the train returning from the visit to Miss Sapio—and speaking in an injured voice.

"I wish you would explain your affairs to me, Walter, she urged.

"My dear girl, I wish I could explain them to myself," said Race. "I'm in a hopeless muddle, Phosie. Carl Stratton knows all about it. I believe he's going to make my fortune."

He laughed bitterly at himself.

"What has Mr Stratton got to do with us? "she said. "I can't understand your absolute reliance on another man, Walter. Surely your money is safe, isn't it?"

He stared out of the window again, his wife watching him anxiously. Then he turned slowly and looked at her. His brow cleared.

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"You look as fresh as when we started," he said. "How do you manage it, Phosie? Won't it be delightful to live in the country? I'm sick of London—oh, yes, I am!" seeing her look of incredulity. "I'm sick of it. I want to have a garden, and a punt, and play golf all day."

"But tell me about your money—" she began.

"Hang it all, no!" he interrupted. "I can't encourage the discussion of disagreeable topics, my dear. You have never worried me about money and I hope you're not going to begin. It's all right. We're safe, whatever happens, with your little legacy from old Revell. How much is it? About enough for my buttonholes and cigarettes! See what it is to marry a woman of property."

Phosie was too pleased at his change of mood to resent his light contempt for "old Revell's legacy."

"I love the country," she said. "But I never dared to hope it would have any attraction for you, Walter.'

"As I've often said before, you're not a judge of character, Phosie."

In less than three weeks, for Race could be very energetic when he chose, they had sub-let the flat in Plantagenet Court and moved into a small furnished house at Sterry, a village within half an hour's walk of the river.

The owners of the house were people of simple and excellent taste, and even Walter had no fault to find with the pictures and furniture.

To Phosie the change was of sheer delight. Town-bred as she was, her quick, sensitive nature at once responded to the sights and sounds of a garden. She was both patient and observant, and if there is any truth in the idea that some people are more successful with plants and flowers than others, Phosie certainly belonged to the former class.

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Little Gus, who spent every week-end at Sterry, counted them as some of the happiest days of his uneventful life. He was more silent than formerly, still retained his fondness for long words, and had grown a couple of inches between his eighteenth and nineteenth birthdays. His eyes, always weak, were more red-rimmed and watery than ever and he had taken to wearing spectacles.

Perhaps there never was a man with less idea of gardening than Little Gus, for he was a Cockney to the backbone, but with none of the Cockney's sharpness and adaptability.

He worked, like an obedient child, under Phosie's directions, a slave to the lawn-mower and imbued with an absolute passion for watering the flower-beds. Gus was hardly so successful in the matter of weeding, for he generally failed to distinguish weeds from cherished slips.

"They're all of 'em so pretty," he said.

Walter Race, lying in the hammock or lounging in a low chair, in the shade of the trees, watched Little Gus working in the garden with amused interest.

"Don't you find it awfully hot, old boy?" he asked, when Gus was summoned to the tea-table.

Gus mopped his brow and took off his blurred spectacles to polish the glasses.

"I'm very fond of horticulture," he answered.

"I think you only do it to please Phosie," said Race, smiling at his wife as she brought him his tea.

"I dunno," replied Gus. "I suppose so. I wish I could do more. If I was like you, Walter, it wouldn't matter."

"What do you mean, if you were like me?" asked Walter, idly.

Gus looked up at him from his seat on the grass with humble admiration.

"You're such a fine, agreeable feller, good-looking | | 214 and all that, you don't have to exert yourself to please Phosie. You never do, you see, but of course I'm very different. She naturally expects it from me. It's no good expecting it from you. Besides, I really like horticulture. You don't."

Walter raised his head for a second, looking sharply down at Gus, but Gus was incapable of the sarcasm he suspected. He dropped back into his former position with his hat pulled over his eyes.

"So I never exert myself to please Phosie?" he repeated softly.

It was a new thought, slightly annoying, and he very wisely tried to forget it. Was there ever such a trifle—the careless speech of a simpleton like Gus—to take possession of a man's mind and start a train of thought which refused to be banished? He was amazed at himself. Why should he be compelled, and self-compelled, that was the irony of it, to think of his wife in a new light?

The following day, while this question was still lingering in the background of his mind, Miss Sapio, with the best intentions in the world, gave poor Walter another little shock of surprise.

She had been spending the day at Sterry, accompanied by Mr Quizzical Quilter, and, as ill-luck would have it, his brother Edmund had also paid them an unexpected visit.

Phosie's eyes fairly danced with amusement when the Reverend Edmund was announced and she met her husband's despairing glance.

Was there ever a more incongruous party! She greeted her brother-in-law with an affectionate cordiality that more than compensated for Walter's coldness, introduced her other guests, and made up her mind, whatever happened, to hold the whip hand in the conversation.

Fortunately Miss Sapio was in a quiet mood, and | | 215 Phosie saw at once, although such a possibility never occurred to Walter, that Edmund Race was moved to unwilling admiration by her striking, if aggressive, beauty

Their hostess, by tactful avoidance of subjects on which they could never agree, positively made them think they liked each other.

The management of Quizzy, in white flannels with a striped orange and red sash, was a more delicate task. Walter would have snubbed him unmercifully, but Phosie was too kind-hearted. She made him sit by her at lunch, listened to his stories attentively, but contrived to interpose the skilful word, or the light jest, which prevented the others from drifting into any serious discussion.

It was Mr Edmund Race himself who caused her trouble. At first he had treated Quizzy with a distant patronage that depressed the veteran, but after tea, when they were all sitting on the lawn, he turned the conversation on the subject of the stage, for the Reverend Edmund flattered himself on being all things to all men. His wife called him a student of humanity, which sounds better than saying a man is inordinately inquisitive about other people's affairs.

"You must have had a very varied experience of theatrical life, Mr Quilter?" said the clergyman.

Mr Quilter squeezed up his face, as if it were made of india-rubber, and nodded a great number of times before replying.

"I am fifty-one years of age, sir," he replied—Quizzy was sixty-three—"and I've been in the profession ever since I could toddle. I made my first appearance as a black-beetle.'

"Good gracious, Quizzy! How disgusting!" exclaimed Miss Sapio

"That was in panto," he continued. "My poor old father was the pantaloon, my uncle was clown, my | | 216 Cousin Joe was the bobby, and my little sister Rose was columbine. All in the family, snug and comfortable. My mother put me into a pair of her stockings for tights, and I came on all by myself in the kitchen scene. Of course I couldn't do much, but I just 'threw a flip-flap' and stood on my head. It went immense. It's wonderful how the public appreciate a neat, clean little bit of old-fashioned stuff."

"Of what description—er—what do you mean by stuff?" asked the Reverend Edmund.

"A good bit o' business, you twig," explained Mr Quilter."Take standing on your head, for instance. It isn't so very difficult, not if you've been trained right, but it always goes."

"If it is in its right place," suggested Phosie. "You wouldn't recommend every actor to try standing on his head, would you?"

"Of course not, my dear," said Quizzy, taking her question very seriously. "It would never do in Shakespeare. The public don't expect to be livened up when they come to see what we used to call the legitimate. It was different in the old burlesques and in this modern musical comedy. I don't know whether you'll agree with me, sir," Quizzy went on, turning to the clergyman, "but I don't believe in serious drama. The stage isn't a pulpit. People come to the theatre to enjoy themselves. They want to see the bright side o' life. It's our business to show it 'em. God bless my soul! What are we actors made for?"

"You are certainly a merry band!" said the Reverend Edmund, with an attempt to be jovial. 'Sometimes we envy you, we serious folk. Yes, we do. But we can't all be jesters, Mr Quilter. It must be very delightful to act in a pantomime with one's relatives."

"Can you imagine us acting in a pantomime with ours?" asked Walter, drily. "Phosie would make a | | 217 captivating columbine, but I can't see you as a rattlingly funny clown, Edmund."

"My dear Walter, don't be so ridiculous! "

"Quite right, Mr Race," said Quizzical Quilter. "I can't picture your brother in our business. I'm afraid he wouldn't make a success of it. Well, we've all got our own walk in life. We can't be equally talented."

The Reverend Edmund glared at Quizzy, but Walter burst out laughing, and Miss Sapio tried not to smile. Euphrosyne saved the situation by a tactful allusion to her brother-in-law's fine elocution. She was sure Mr Quilter would appreciate it, and the fortunate arrival of Mr Carl Stratton prevented Quizzy becoming anecdotal on his own elocution.

Walter's ill-humour passed away, and he began to enjoy himself. Stratton was encouraged by his hostess to describe some of his adventures in the Far East, for he had travelled extensively and could talk well on the subject. Quizzy was flattered by her constant attention for the rest of the afternoon, and Edmund Race actually told his wife, when he returned home, that he had found his visit extremely pleasant on the whole, extremely pleasant.

Miss Sapio stopped to dinner, and it was when Walter was putting her into her hired pony carriage that she made the following remark about Euphrosyne:

"You must be very proud of your wife, Wally. I never knew anybody so tactful and well bred. Hewett Addison likes to talk to her, and he's an exceptionally clever man, we must all acknowledge that. Your brother seems fond of her, and I suppose she's a favourite with the rest of the family?"

He made some trifling reply, stood in the road until the pony-carriage disappeared, and then returned slowly to the house.

Walter had not introduced Phosie to his eldest brothers | | 218 purposely keeping them apart, and he searched for a true reason for the first time since his marriage.

Was he ashamed of her? No, a hundred times no!

Thus he answered himself as sternly as he would have answered anybody else, but at the same time his secret heart arraigned his loyalty. Why had he always told himself that she was worthy? What did he mean by that? Worthy to be his wife—his equal? Yes! But was he worthy to be her husband—her equal? Ah! that was a new thought.

It was a beautiful evening, clear and still, and reminded him of the starry night when he had loved Phosie so well. A great bed of evening primroses glowed in the moonbeams like fairy lamps. The sweet scent of nicotine hung in the air.

At the sound of his step on the gravel Phosie appeared at the open door leading into the drawing-room. She had turned out the lamp and stood waiting as he came near, the moonlight gleaming on her white dress.

"You must be very tired," said Walter.

She gave a tiny start of surprise at his solicitude.

"Only a little," she answered, stepping through the doors. "Let us walk round the garden."

They strolled along in silence, Walter smoking, with one hand in his pocket. There was a soft, warm breeze, and suddenly a nightingale began to sing.

"Listen!" said Phosie, laying her hand on his arm.

They stood still. The throbbing notes floated into the silence of the night. The leaves stirred to murmurous music. The moon swept out from a veil of clouds.

Walter Race, as the nightingale stopped singing, looked into the face upturned to his.

"'On such a night'"—he said.

Phosie threw her arms round his neck, and laid her cheek to his, with the soft caress he knew so well.

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"Tears?" said Walter. "What is the matter with my little elf? Moonbeam! Come, tell your lover. Somehow, to-night, we feel like lovers again, don't we, Phosie?"

"No—husband and wife—dearer—nearer—" she answered, brokenly.

Surprise and doubt possessed him, but only for a few seconds, then he was certain of the truth and stooped down, for her face was hidden on his breast.

"Tell me!" he said, and she whispered in his ear.

"It is true at last, Walter! Ours! A little one—yours and mine, love. Our own!"

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