- CHAPTER XXXIII AFTER MANY MONTHS
|<< chapter 32||< chapter 1|
AFTER MANY MONTHS
EUPHROSYNE turned the bulbs to the sun, Jane, standing on tiptoe on the seat of a chair beside her, looked at the little green shoots with absorbing interest.
It was a morning in spring, when the fresh breezes of a promising year find their way into city streets, straight from the awakening woods and open meadows.
There were spring flowers in the room, the first of the flaring daffodils, faint violets, and the last of the delicate snowdrops.
Belton Terrace, one of the most depressed of streets during the winter, made an annual effort to recover its good appearance in the spring. Many of the houses were painted, and it was a general custom to hang new curtains at clean windows.
Phosie had done more. Her winter's work was seen in the bright chintz covers on the chairs, the pretty lamp-shades, and the freshly-papered walls. All her four rooms were characteristic: simple, spotless, gay in colour.
Everything was changed from the day when Mr and Mrs Race returned to the Terrace from Temple Street. The landlady's furniture had gradually given place to furniture of their own, piece by piece as they could afford it, only the piano and an old-fashioned bookcase, with glass doors, being gifts.
The piano was a belated wedding present from her | | 305 uncle, Joseph Ridgeway, and the bookcase had been given to Phosie by Hewett Addison.
Phosie had first met her uncle, by accident, at the office of Messrs Faraday & Boyton. Mr Faraday said it was providential. Mr Boyton said it was jolly good luck.
Joseph Ridgeway, who had loved his sister, looked at her daughter with curious, critical eyes, and his recognition of the relationship took the peculiar form of a remark on her hands, for having devoted twenty-five years of his life to the business it might be said that Mr Ridgeway judged all things in the world by the glove calibre.
"So this is Euphrosyne?" he said, lifted her hand, looked at it, palm and back, and released her with a little smile.
"Yes, I'll have you for my niece," he continued. "You've got a hand worthy of the best Grenoble glove, size five-and-three-quarters, real Dauphiné kid."
This was a great compliment, for he was naturally a silent, reserved man, and he seemed to be more interested in Phosie's recollections of his old friend, Henry Revell, than in anything she had to tell him about herself.
Phosie was bitterly disappointed. Mr Boyton told her she simply did not understand Joe Ridgeway. She was inclined to reject this consolation, but when her uncle unexpectedly appeared at Belton Terrace the day after their meeting and stopped to three meals, she began to think Mr Boyton was right.
Her uncle had never married, and he reminded her in many ways of Mr Revell. She found herself taking care of him, studying his little eccentricities, treating him in exactly the manner she had treated her dear guardian. He was almost as unresponsive, but he continued to visit Belton Terrace, first making her a present | | 306 of his latest novelty—seamless gloves in suéde leather—and afterwards giving her a piano.
Walter's recovery was very gradual, but long before he was able to work he had made up his mind to "do something." It was very vague and unsatisfactory. He had had no training for any of the lucrative professions." Walter must enter a lucrative profession," as his brother John's favourite phrase, and something like despair seized upon him during the wearisome days of his slow recovery.
For a long time he had believed himself dependent on his brothers' generosity, and when he discovered Phosie had returned to the stage and he was living on her little salary, Walter Race passed through the most bitter-sweet hour of his life.
His desire to work, from that day, grew into a passion. It haunted him. The wildest schemes, the most ambitious projects, passed through his mind.
John Race's words, "lucrative profession," buzzed in his ears. He repeated them to his wife, to Gus, even to Joseph Ridgeway. Phosie only smiled, Gus promptly adopted them as his own, but Mr Ridgeway grew thoughtful.
"Drop the word profession," he said. "Why don't you say business?"
"That doesn't solve the problem," said Walter. "What business in the world can I go in for?"
"Mine!" said Joseph Ridgeway. "Gloves."
"Yours?" exclaimed Walter, with sudden hope and excitement in his voice.
"Why not?" asked Mr Ridgeway. "If you care to start at the bottom of the ladder you can. I'm willing to give you a chance. I want a secretary and useful man about me, and later on, if you like it, you can study the business properly in France. If you once begin you must learn it all, from the start to the finish, from 'the skin in the white,' as we say, to 'the banding and | | 307 boxing.' What do you think, Walter? Are you willing to work—work hard for your bread—like any other honest man who has run through his wife's money as well as his own?"
Phosie put out a hand to stop him. The words were cruel and made her wince, but her husband returned Mr Ridgeway's searching glance with much of his old pride.
"You shall see," was all he answered.
Phosie was thinking of that talk as she put up her spring curtains and turned the bulbs to the sun, for her uncle was invited to dinner—late dinner, accompanying her husband back from the office—it being the end of the second month of Walter's engagement.
Mr and Mrs Hewett Addison were also invited. Phosie had wondered what effect their marriage would have upon Miss Sapio and the popular playwright.
They were utterly unchanged. Flo was still exuberant, and her husband was more inscrutable than ever. They lived in her small house in Regent's Park, but Hewett still retained one of his old rooms in Plantagenet Court. The tenant who succeeded him happening to be a friend, it was easily managed. He had done some of his best work in that room, and the view it afforded over river and roofs had always inspired him.
There were only three things in the world which, the more he knew them the more he was captivated—London, his work, his wife.
The hackneyed saying, there is no accounting for tastes, explained to his friends Hewett Addison's choice of Miss Sapio, a woman who was older than he was, talkative, effusive, no longer in the heyday of her beauty, the very antithesis from himself. Few people understood that she added colour to his life, refreshed him with her vitality, and inspired his best work; her warm, impulsive nature continually counteracting the innate melancholy of his.| | 308
Phosie's little dinner-party was a great success. Jane, awakened by the sound of voices and laughter, sat up in her bed to join in the unusual festivities, and called aloud for jelly and fruit.
Gus, always her willing slave, instantly carried his own plate into her room and shared his dessert.
Gus was still on crutches, but his face, terribly injured in the fall on the roof, was slowly recovering line and colour.
Few people credited the weak-eyed cripple with the record of even a minute's heroism, for he would be insignificant and feeble-spirited to the end of the chapter, but the three whom he loved best in the world, his only friends, were proud of Little Gus. In their eyes he was the most loyal of friends, the most dear of brothers.
He lived alone, held his old place in Mr Faraday's office, and found a great solace for lonely hours in practising the concertina. He was not very musical, but there was satisfaction in struggling with his instrument, admired and encouraged by Jane.
The hour was late when the guests departed.
Phosie and her husband, left alone, drew their chairs up to the hearth and sat down to talk for a few minutes by the light of the fire.
"So ends my second month," said Walter Race, lounging in his favourite attitude, hands clasped behind his head, long legs outstretched.
"Do you still like it, dear?" asked Phosie.
He laughed, and did not answer for a second.
"Yes, I like it;" then he said slowly, "I am beginning to understand and appreciate the good qualities of my colleagues. I haven't learned much, but I see that no work is mean or despicable that one does well, even if it's only sitting on a wooden stool answering letters from wooden-headed correspondents. I'm beginning to take an interest in the art of glove-making—'doling,' | | 309 cutting, webbing, and all the rest of it. Aren't you looking forward to our little French trip, Phosie, when I mean to train myself thoroughly in gloves, so that I shall be able to distinguish the various qualities and values of the articles we handle. I'm getting on! You'll be proud of me yet."
He laughed again, with his eyes, which had grown so strangely kind and gentle, fixed on her face.
"I have always been proud of you," she said.
You were always a little flatterer!"
He lighted a cigarette and smoked a while in silence, still looking at his wife.
"How do you manage it, Phosie?" he asked, suddenly.
"How do I manage it?" she repeated, in a puzzled voice.
"Yes, the elegance—the charm—dinner-parties—the gorgeous style of our establishment in general," he replied, smiling.
"How absurd you are! Can anybody be gorgeous in Belton Terrace? I suppose I'm a born home-maker," she added thoughtfully, "I like it. I am glad to leave the stage, although people were so kind to me, and Flo Addison says I have lost a career."
She stirred the fire into a blaze. Shadows danced on the walls, and the fitful red glow shone over her face and figure as she stooped forward, shading her eyes with one hand.
"Do you remember the night when you made a fire in our room, after I had told you about the smash?" asked Walter, suddenly.
"Oh, yes. Why do you ask me?" she said.
He did not answer directly, but leaning forward, his hands clasped between his knees, he, too, looked into the fire.
The handsome severity of his face had changed since his illness. The features themselves were more clearly | | 310 cut than ever; the dark hair was still untouched with grey, but he looked much older. His expression was more changeable—quicker, but calmer at the same time—and even his voice vibrated with a new tone.
"Do you realise what you have done, Phosie?" he said at last, not answering her question but asking another.
"No. What have I done?" said Phosie, lightly.
"Everything in the world!" he answered. "It was your old friend, Mr Boyton, whose advice and help saved me from utter ruin. It was your uncle who gave me work. It was you who kept a roof over our heads by your dancing. You have never reproached me by a word or look. Think of my people! They love and admire you. You have won them by your sweet simplicity. Think of Little Gus! You have saved his soul. What would he have been without you? A mere drudge—an outcast. Think of your husband! What have you done for your husband—"
"Walter! Stop! I can't bear your praise. You mustn't speak to me like this—" she interrupted, for his voice was shaking and his eyes shone.
"I must!" he went on quickly. "I have wanted to tell you, for a long time, what is in my heart."
"Love, there is no need," she murmured.
"Think of our marriage, Phosie," he said, slowly now, choosing his words. "I only thought of myself—all myself! You amused me. You captivated me. I thought I was doing you a great honour. I was half ashamed to tell my people."
She tried to interrupt again, and he answered what she meant to say.
"I know I never put it into words, but it was the truth all the same. That was why I never took you to see John or Leo. I was actually grateful to Edmund and his wife for treating you with civility. I saw how everybody admired you—other women, Wainwright, a genius | | 311 like Hewett Addison—and I told myself it was all your pretty tricks, it was only your pretty face. I had been caught myself—lost my head over you—and I was amused to see other victims."
"Don't speak so bitterly," she said.
"I want you to see me, Phosie, as I see myself," continued her husband. "You know how we lived in Plantagenet Court? Idle, wasted days! It was never your fault. You tried to awaken some manhood in me. I think I began to understand you when we went to Sterry, but only a little. I was wilfully blind. I thought of you lightly—the old nicknames expressed it—sprite, fairy, elf, little creature who had danced into my life. Even the child made no difference."
"Ah, Walter!" she sighed, understanding, as he went on, the meaning of a strange sense of unreality which had clouded the first years of her marriage.
"I made up my mind the child would be like you. Another pretty toy to take care of," said Walter. "But you know I was wrong. I saw myself in her eyes. She seemed to be all mine. I was stirred with the mystery of Love and Life. Oh, Euphrosyne! Strange, strange how the tie of marriage, the birth of my child, and the discipline of my secret heart should all have sprung from half a dozen notes of music."
"I don't understand you, Walter."
"All from a girl's laugh—yours!"
She knelt down upon the floor and put her arms round his neck, pressing her cheek to his with the old fond caress.
"My heart!" he whispered. "On that starry night when we walked through the quiet streets together—you remember, my Phosie?—I felt as I do now, enraptured by your goodness, exalted by your love. It was a leaping flame, but I crushed it down. I darkened its pure light with passion—indifference—pride—self! self! | | 312 self! It burns again clearly in my soul, and I see you as you are."
Her only answer was to murmur his name, but he felt her happy tears on his face.
"I know myself at last," he said, and then he repeated; "I see you as you are—spirit of joy, spirit of love, spirit of light—not too late, Phosie, not too late—"
|<< chapter 32||< chapter 1|