- BOOK II THE JANNAWAY PERIOD
- CHAPTER IV
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THE Pavilion ball brought to Mrs. Peachey, in due course, all that she wished. It was certainly provocative of handwashing and, maternally speaking, she had in less than six months, washed both hers. The first thing that happened was that Blanche became engaged to Lieutenant Murray—one of the Murrays of Ross-shire, as Mrs. Peachey reminded her Brighton friends. She was so uplifted by the social nature of her girl's engagement that, for the first time, these new Brighton friends began to question her own social foundations.
He was the usual young officer of fiction—and as he is so prevalent in fiction, he probably exists to a large extent in living military circles. He was tall and blonde and strictly upright and intensely stupid, except over his profession. He was the usual good sort.
Mrs. Chope loved him; probably, if the secrets of hearts were shown, she loved him more than Blanche did. For she was inherently romantic, and he was the facsimile of a Ouida Guardsman. The way Blanche expressed herself, was to say that she was awfully fond of him, that they were very good pals, and that Charlie was always teasing and petting her. He would pull her little baby curls (she was letting her hair grow now, because the fashion for a close crop was waning), and then he would kiss her very candidly and they would both roar with good healthy laughter. It was a most cheerful wooing, and very hopeful for their future.
They were to be married in April, and in May they sailed with the Lancer regiment for India. The whole thing was satisfactory and had fallen into place so easily. Over and over again did Mrs. Peachey say to her bosom friend, "Blanche is a girl that any mother may feel proud of."
Then she would cry until the chronic rash stood thick upon her cheeks, and then she would wash her face and be dragged off to Madame Hortense, for they nearly lived at the shop in Pool Valley. Blanche's Indian outfit was being made there. Mrs. Peachey, through this time, was very proud, and she | | 93 bragged so continually that her friends laughed behind her back. But at the same time she was broken-hearted, since she could not bear the idea of losing Blanche. One day she wailed to Laura, "If only it had been Angelina."
Mrs. Chope returned ironically:
"My dear, it never is the Angelina. I'm glad I had no children, for things always turn out badly for mothers. If Mr. Mellison and I had been blessed with an only daughter, she would have married and gone abroad. But if I had given birth to half-a-dozen, they would all have squatted round me, married or unmarried, and made a Mellison settlement."
She spoke gravely, for by this time she had brought herself to believe that she really had been respectably married to Mr. Mellison; instead of having run away with him and been deserted at the end of three months, as impudent servant girls usually are. As for Chope, she dismissed him, both from conversation and thought. He shared this oblivion with other honest men: it is very often the fate of solid worth.
"Angelina," she added, "will marry right enough. Don't you trouble about that; but I'm not prepared to say that even when she does marry that you've got her off your hands for good."
Mrs. Peachey roughened and reddened:
"If Angelina marries and then does anything disgraceful she'll never darken my doors again," she said. "Her husband may look after her. I won't."
Mrs. Chope, also turning crimson, returned, with a vigorous stamp of her small foot which joggled her whole big body:
"Hang it all, mothers like you send girls upon the streets." Her own mother had treated her in this way.
There was a telling pause and a boding silence. Mrs. Peachey felt, not for the first time, that she was in most disreputable society. Mrs. Chope considered that she had imperilled her chance of a permanent asylum; and certainly she did not want to be turned out of the Peachey household, and particularly now when it was in such good swing. She was more socially assured than she ever had been.
"Oh, my dear, I am so sorry. I have shocked you," she said, very sweetly, very musically. She had a good voice. "It is the effect of those early racing stable days; jockeys | | 94 and bookmakers and all the dreadful people Mr. Mellison would make me receive at our table."
Mrs. Peachey was at once appeased, and she was too ignorant of racing life, or indeed of any life, to detect the bizarre note in her bosom friend's apologetic mode.
"As to Angelina," Mrs. Chope rippled, "she'll marry Freddy Jannaway. She'll be a peeress."
"A peeress! Angelina!" Mrs. Peachey's faded eyes threatened to start from their sockets.
"Well, his father's a lord and he's the only son. It is bound to be. You chew the idea over."
Mrs. Peachey chewed as she was bid. The more she masticated, the better she digested, so that, eventually, she quite persuaded herself that Angelina would be a peeress, and she began to treat her with queer, grudging deference. The vulgar nature was impressed and won.
Mrs. Chope was masticating also, and she, too, was very nice to Angelina, who stood to be, in due course, the most valuable friend of her life. When Angelina was the Honourable Mrs. Jannaway, Mrs. Chope proposed to be her mentor and elderly friend, and it amused her to reflect upon the fact that, whereas she had begun as the lady's maid of a General's half crazed widow, she might end as the confidante of a peeress. For Angelina would need her. About this time, she brought out of her hidden store of ancient fineries all sorts of trinkets and bits of silk with which to win the girl. And she did win, for Angelina was both baby and savage; she was always attracted by colour and twinkle, and she was completely enamoured of her own beauty. So that the months preceding Blanche's marriage were busy and harmonious months in the West Street house.
They saw a great many people; visitors were always coining and going. Lieutenant Murray brought people, not only his female relations who came down to Brighton, staying at the Grand Hotel, to be introduced to Blanche and her mother, but also young men of the regiment. He brought Freddy Jannaway, who turned out to be his particular friend. They had been at Cambridge together, and Freddy was to be his best man.
There was no particular harm in the Honourable Freddy | | 95 Jannaway. He was merely a fool, no more a fool than his friend Charlie Murray; the only difference was that one had a profession to keep him out of mischief, and the other had nothing more particular to do than to get into it. He was in debt, he flirted with barmaids and shop girls and minor actresses, he chose to make himself peculiar by his dress. He was enormously proud of having his caricature in Treacher's shop window. He confounded notoriety with fame. But these were youthful follies, and would pass. He was ugly, but that he could not help, and Mrs. Chope once said meaningly to Angelina:
"Ugly men are always the most fascinating, my dear. They are delightful. They know the way."
"I suppose they are, and no doubt they do," the girl returned. "I remember learning about John Wilkes. Miss Hopkins said that he was ugly, and had an awful squint. Yet women loved him. I read that—about them loving him—in another book by myself later on; one of Grandmamma's books. It was left in her room after she died."
Angelina, speaking, smiled in her superior way. She knew what Mrs. Chope and her mother were driving at through these spring and winter months when they were all so busy preparing for Blanche's wedding, and when Freddy Jannaway came frequently to the West Street house. When Freddy took his moment, as he would, she meant to deal with him in her own way. She supposed that she would marry him, but she would not be coerced. She must marry him; either him or some one else. He was here and he was most desirable. Yes, she supposed she was going to marry him; since to stay on with her mother and Mrs. Chope when Blanche was gone was not for a moment to be considered.
She thought it all over deliberately; a deliberation that was grisly in such a young girl. She was both bitter and wooden, and sometimes she looked back, with a lump in her throat that meant crying, if she would let herself cry, to that wise, fine time in St. Paul's Churchyard when Kitty had talked of Patrick and read about the blessed Saints. Sometimes she felt that her own saint, St. Mary of Egypt, must be feeling sad. But she was swept on. There was not one moment when you could turn aside and stay in the desert to think and to pray.| | 96
She was glad, they were all glad, when the wedding was over and Blanche had sailed. Mrs. Peachey was crushed by her loss, for if this poor, mean woman had one true ingredient in her, it was love for Blanche. So that when, a day or two later, Freddy Jannaway suggested dining out and the theatre afterwards to cheer them all up, she had not the heart to go, although she knew that she was in the most scrubbing stage of getting Angelina off her hands. She stayed at home with the dull headache which had overpowered her since Blanche went, and she allowed Laura to go alone with the young people.
Mrs. Chope, always adroit and profoundly interested, managed better than Mrs. Peachey would have done. After the performance—it was the Cloches de Corneville, with Violet Cameron playing—she was clever enough to get lost in the crowd. It was a dark night and a full house.
She had done what Jannaway wished her to do. It had occurred to him several times through the evening that he would ask her to do it; would tip her. She always seemed to him the sort of old woman who would take money and do any mortal thing if only you paid her enough. She had her head screwed on the right way. Say she wouldn't take money he could promise her something else; so gaining his point and saving her delicacy.
"It's no good hanging about for her," he said, gleefully, after an expedition along the pavement, and returning to Angelina, who stood beautiful and queenly supercilious in the vestibule. "I'll get a cab and we'll go back alone. You don't mind?"
He sniggered, impudently perhaps. He was in love with Angelina, and he meant in the cab to propose. Yet he never forgot that she had allowed him to come up and speak to her in East Street and, after marriage, if she gave herself any airs, he was the sort of husband who might remind her of it. He knew that in marrying her he was marrying beneath him, just as Murray had married beneath him, although he and his people had been too decent to imply it. His father would be most irate. But he might have done worse. He might have married a barmaid. Angelina was beautiful and looked a regular aristocrat, although her mother and the old Chope | | 97 woman were a queer enough couple certainly. After they were married he would find out from her who her father had been.
This was the lofty tenor of his thought as he got the cab, helped Angelina into it, and they drove slowly homewards. He had tipped the cabman to be slow. His life was made easy by a sliding scale of tips, and the idea was deeply in his head that you could tip anybody; if not with one thing, then with another.
Directly they were well started, lie began to make love to her in the usual way, the way he was conversant with; and it is good enough, for the way does not matter and, indeed, it is bound to be trite. The spirit that burns behind matters—and his was a smoky little lamp!
He slid his arm round her waist. She remained, if not rigid, at least unbending. But she did, not resist, and her head was turned gently aside. As she looked out through the blurred window at the lighted street her profile was most delicately fine. The young man thought thrillingly that she was like a duchess; like the conventional idea of a duchess; in life, as he knew, they fell in appearance, below the idolatrous popular standard. His father, when he saw his wife, would calm down. And he must make her his wife. He wanted her, and there was no other way—with her! He thought it out simply.
With his little arm—for he was small and weak, a poor enough physical specimen—this young man pulled the beautiful body he wanted to him.
"I love you," he said, "I'm awfully gone on you, Angelina, and you must have seen it. Look here," he gulped and paused, "will you marry me. I say, will you?"
This was Angelina's first proposal. The cab was going up North Street. Angelina looked out. Along the deserted pavement, for all the cabs had dissipated, walking with a sort of panther-tread and looking from side to side, went a woman, in a close black satin frock.
Angelina slowly turned her head. She looked at him. Contempt in that glance! Nothing more—yet.
Contempt! And a certain sophistry! He detected frank calculation.| | 98
She looked at him. The cab might have been a draper's shop and he a length of ribbon. She was considering the price, and arrogantly taking her time, as you do in a shop.
"Will I?" she echoed idly. "I wonder if I will."
She continued to regard him, and he felt vexed and perturbed. No woman had ever looked at him in this haughty way, and he resented it. Angelina made him feel a mean creature; contemptible and, far worse, comic.
"Well!" he said, not too delicately, "What do you make of me, my dear?"
The cab turned the corner and proceeded down the steepness of West Street. Angelina, not speaking any more, turning again, looked out of the window. She saw only shops and the space of the Quadrant. In those days, years before Queen Victoria's first jubilee, there was no hideous erection of a People's Clock Tower. Vulgarity lay perdu.
They were driving down the street and faster. They had passed Duke Street, presently they would pass the Skating Rink; then came South Street and her own home. She must decide now. She was thinking this out and, quite trivially, it worried her to be hustled.
Again she surveyed him. She looked barbaric to-night, and it was alien; for there was nothing flaunting about Angelina's type. She wore a red opera cloak. It was positive vermilion, richly embroidered with white; a sumptuous Eastern thing, presented, as so many things were, by firs. Chope. She had brought out from her hoard two of these cloaks; one scarlet and one pale blue. Blanche, as the blonde, had the blue one, but Angelina would have looked better in it; for blue was the colour of her unusually fine eyes.
How glittering and hard they were now; staring at this funny little Freddy Jannaway.
She said, simply, without the least feeling, for or against:
"Yes, I will marry you. I shall be very glad to. It is the best thing in the world for me."
It was an admission; yet it conveyed no sense of humility and no gratitude; rather, it was like a handful of small shot flung full in his face. And he winced.
But only for a second. In the next he realised that she was already his, to do, already, more or less as he chose with. | | 99 Also he became aware that the cab was stopping, and looking angrily out, he saw the serene white walls and elegant bowed windows of Angelina's own dwelling. If he wanted a kiss, and he did, would and must, now was the moment to snatch it.
He dragged her down, from her lofty height—for she was more tall than most girls, and sat erect—to his own level. He twitched her mouth to his. It was a caress, frank and full, that should have been beautiful, had they both been worthy and had they loved: it held the necessary roughness and desire. But there was neither reverence nor nobility for any thing under heaven in the composition of this spoiled and stunted Freddy Jannaway. As for Angelina, she proposed to sell herself.
She had proposed to sell herself, until she felt that mouth upon hers. Then Nature said—No! It was a first kiss and a new world. For a moment she was blinded by revelation, by the glare of it: and then she knew that there could be no bargaining, ever, between her and him. Something in his nature and in hers made it quite impossible. Nature said—No! This kiss had taught her, for perfect innocence has not only its own weapons, but its own unswerving tests. She could never marry him, and she remembered Master Meech in the far away Miss Hopkins days, when she was only a child.
She remained calm in her mind, commercial even, almost to the last. But her whole being vibrated, and the length of that kiss seemed longer than life. She supposed that it might have gone on for ever, and that, so, she would have remained in hell; but, the cab stopped and she saw the lighted house, which was her home and her refuge.
Her mother and Mrs. Chope stood to her as angels of deliverance.
With a wrench she dragged herself free, and with a cry that amounted nearly to a scream she opened the door, flashed across the pavement, up the steps and into the house. The front door banged behind her.
She was gone, and her little nonplussed lover sat helpless, sat breathless and subtly assaulted. He felt the prick of this! At first he thought he'd follow her, for girls were queer. He had found out that, although never before had he honourably proposed to make one his wife. But he was on his dignity | | 100 and—no—let Angelina wait. He would go to-morrow morning. She would come to her senses long before then. He fondly imagined that by to-morrow morning she would be prepared to positively apologise to him. Her mother would make her, for he knew that he was an uncommonly good match for a girl in her rank of life.
He told the cabman to drive him to his club, which was the one at the corner of Preston Street.
Angelina stumbled up to the drawing-room, treading recklessly on the skirt of her delicate frock.
Mrs. Chope and Mrs. Peachey were sitting there; the former had only just arrived, in another cab, and she still wore over her head the costly Spanish lace scarf which had belonged to Mrs. Mellison. Her foot, in a shoe with a heavily jetted toe, was stuck out, and her leg showed half way to her calf. She looked smirking and triumphant; very pleased with herself, immensely absorbed at the prospect of Angelina's engagement. She listened to those quick feet upon the stairs. What a hurry the girl was in. This was hardly like her. There was always about Mrs. Chope that air which, in those times of the 'eighties which are gone, they called "fast." It had been a manner kept in check while she lived in Cheapside as the wife of a warehouseman; she let it float out and flutter now. It was her true banner. In Cheapside, she had gone, inartistically, to the other extreme and been dolorous. She had been like the widowed Mrs. Bauble.
Mrs. Peachey was on the sofa, looking her worst. She had an unbecoming headache and her nose was swollen, because she had occupied her lonely evening by crying for Blanche.
Upon these two Angelina swooped—but oh, such a broken eagle! For the first time in her life, she was shaken and humbled; debased and afraid. She reached out for tenderness, she wanted healing. She went, by nature, to her mother, not even looking at the other woman. She fell upon her knees and broke into violent, childish weeping. The flaming opera cloak fell—as a pool—at her feet.
Mrs. Peachey was amazed, she was, in a sense, alarmed, but the dominant feeling she at once had was the malignant little petty one that it was good to see this insubordinate creature on her knees: for the coarse nature will always love to ride | | 101 rough-shod over the finer one, never realising that it cannot do it for long.
She fell upon her knees and, not hiding her face, she looked into her mother's. Such a contrast between two faces! Mrs. Chope, enjoying it all, she with her love of romance and the drama, watched them, and was in thrall to Angelina, who looked lovely even now.
Her mouth was quivering and extra scarlet; it was soft with grief and terror, it was completely changed, and so was her whole expression.
For Angelina always looked the beautiful flint, and her face in repose, perfect as it was, might alienate some and provoke in others the most sorrowful pity. You perceived that she had to be broken; broken to pieces, and all her pride taken away, before the shining spirit could show through. Had any one at this time loved her, they would have prayed for her to God, that He would grant her suffering. But no one loved her, so far, nor ever had. Not for many a year would any man pierce to the true, inner woman, the eternal part: find it, cherish it, adore and reverence; hold it as his own for ever.
Mrs. Peachey looked vindictive and very well pleased. This tall girl who was invariably impudent now that she was grown up, and who when she was a little mite had remained untouched even when beaten and sent to bed, here she was upon her knees!
"Mother!" said Angelina at last.
Mrs. Peachey turned:
"Well, Angelina! Why are you making all this fuss?"
"Mother! Be kind to me."
She let her head fall, reckless, abased, into her mother's lap.
Mechanically, Mrs. Peachey stroked the thick black hair. There was a burning red rose upon it, stuck through the thick plait that made a crown.
With Angelina's head in her lap like this she could imagine her a baby again. This impelled her to tenderness; she was the sort of mother, elementary enough, who can be tender to her babies, and indifferent or positively inimical to them when they grow big. She did not differ from a hen.
Her hand passed softly over the black hair. Angelina remained still, in a perfect luxury of sobbing. This was the only time in their lives in which the barrier fell between | | 102 mother and daughter. Mrs. Peachey presently, relentless and unswerving, set it up again—and with extra spikes!
"Don't kneel there snivelling like a baby, my dear. Tell us what has happened."
There was a silence, unbroken; as if Angelina held her breath. Then she got up, wiped her eyes, and reclaimed herself. She was defiant again and haughty; composed, almost.
"I'm sorry I made a scene," she said. "I was upset. He asked me to marry him, and I said I would, and then he kissed me. It was too much. I ran out of the cab and away from him."
She looked white. Mrs. Chope thought that presently she would faint. She said, in the sweetest way, in her voice that was always sweet:
"Sit down, darling. Poor little thing!"
To Mrs. Peachey she added, speaking aside:
"Angelina ought to have a glass of wine. It has been too much for her, as she says."
"A glass of wine! Rubbish," Mrs. Peachey laughed; such a hard laugh, yet her eyes were fixed anxiously on her daughter.
"You didn't offend him, I hope," she said.
"Offend him! I don't know, I don't care. Mamma, I won't marry him, I cannot. I didn't realise what it meant until he kissed me. You must get me out of it. You have been married and I thought you'd understand. Cold shivers went all down my back and——"
Her eyes closed, but only for a second.
"Angelina, you are a fool! All this fuss because a man proposes. I never knew anything more immodest. But you always were forward as a little girl, so I'm not surprised."
That absurd and dreadful word "forward" restored Angelina; otherwise she might have fainted. But her sense of disgust and her sense of satire came, hand holding hand, to her rescue.
"I've nothing more to say—not to you," she said pointedly and with piteous pride, "I won't marry him. I cannot. If you refuse to tell him so, then I must. No doubt he will come round to-morrow morning."| | 103
"You must and shall marry him," Mrs. Peachey had never sounded so savage. "Do you realise, you fool of a girl, that he is an Honourable!"
"An Honourable!" Angelina whimpered and giggled—she had been saved from swooning, and now was threatened with hysteria, "as if that covered everything!"
She looked from her mother to Mrs. Chope, with that broad face and common expression. She thought miserably, "I'd get more sympathy out of her or out of that old monkey Hortense, than out of my own mother."
She did not know what made her connect Hortense with Mrs. Chope. She was feeling muddled.
"If you throw that man over," pursued Mrs. Peachey, "I'll turn you out of doors."
She sounded hysterical; for this was more than any mother could be expected to bear. And she was a good mother. Such a chance of getting Angelina off her hands and Angelina sticking fast!
"I had forgotten," Angelina seemed to soliloquise; she looked at neither woman but at the jingle-jangleum lustre ornaments upon the marble mantelpiece (remnants of Mrs. Peachey's early married life and no part of the later æsthetic endeavour); "forgotten the way Kitty used to talk about Patrick and——"
"A common servant girl and her sweetheart. Just like you. Just like your horrible old Grandmamma, who made a regular friend of the creature."
Mrs. Peachey had let herself go. She was not only violent with her living daughter, but she renewed her active hate for her dead mother-in-law.
Mrs. Chope secretly smiled. Emily had never given herself away like this before; in spite of much judicious pumping she had remained loyal to the Peachey family.
"And the Saints, my own Saint, St. Mary of Egypt," Angelina went on, speaking childishly, wholly unheeding, and perhaps not even hearing, "I promised Kitty and I have vowed that I won't marry any man upon this earth unless I love him. I had forgotten about it since I grew up. We have been so busy all the time, dressing ourselves and going to parties. Directly he kissed me"—she grew white—" I | | 104 remembered. I will starve if you like, or I will go out and earn my living, but never will I marry Freddy Jannaway. You must tell him so. I refuse to see him again."
She made this speech, and while she was speaking, not looking at her mother, nor at Mrs. Chope, but staring at those glittering ornaments which she had loved when a little girl, she regained her composure and her usual defiant dignity.
When she had finished, still not looking at them, she went to the door. They heard her go upstairs, then she paused; then more stairs, and then the smart shutting and locking of her own door. They could hear all this, for it was late and the servants were in bed. The house within, the town outside, they were quiet.
She went away, putting a locked door between her and them. They made no attempt to keep her and convince her. Why they did not know.
When she paused upon the stairs, it had been to look into her sister's empty bedroom. She stood at the door, sobbing again and feeling very cold—an ague of the spirit. Blanche was married and gone away. She, now, knew all there was to know about this love between a man and a woman which was evidently the supreme thing in life, and yet which was, so far, so repugnant. She longed for Blanche. Perhaps Blanche, married, would have understood.
She remembered the way those lovers had kissed—Charlie Murray and her sister, while they were engaged; with a grin to begin and a sheepish little joyful guffaw after! Was that all it had meant to them? Was it either an uncouth jest or a positive torture; this wooing of woman and man?
She went on up to her own room, shaken to pieces. She undressed, in haste and muddle, flinging her pretty things about her anyhow. She crept into bed, finding the bed a friend and her only one. She was at once asleep. But before she slept she made something in the nature of a mute yet binding vow. She would, beyond everything else, be strenuous and be pure. That kiss in the cab had tinged all her future relationships to men.
When she and her bosom friend were left alone and Angelina was locked away, Mrs. Peachey said, with a nasty sneer—she was courageous for once, yet only for a little while:| | 105
"A nice thing you did, leaving them alone! It was too sudden and she has no modesty. I ought to have gone to the theatre myself. It was my duty as a mother. Oh, how differently Blanche behaved! Blanche takes after my family; Angelina is Peachey right through."
"Blanche!" said Mrs. Chope scornfully.
There was a world of contempt and knowledge in her voice, but Mrs. Peachey was too angry to resent this implied attack or even to notice it. She continued:
"I shall insist on her marrying him. I will keep my word. If she refuses, out of this house she goes."
"Now you listen to me, you look at me, Emily," Mrs. Chope spoke with easy mastery, for she knew that, in the end, she could do as she chose with Mrs. Peachey.
She paused. Mrs. Peachey, at the end of the pause, turned her head. She fixed her swollen, hard eyes upon her friend's face.
"It is no good your talking," she said, with the bluster of the weak-willed, "my mind is made up. The idea of her daring to refuse an Honourable; a man who one day will be a Peer and sit in the House of Lords."
"They don't all sit in the House of Lords, but that doesn't matter; it makes no difference to us, whether he does or not. If you make Angelina marry that man she'll do something desperate. I'm sure of it. She'll run away, or worse."
"She'll murder him or commit suicide one day, when her blood's up. She is equal to anything, that child, once roused. Angelina can be angel or devil when things are strong enough, but she can't be anything between. I know I am right. Do be warned. Don't attempt to force her or you will be sorry."
Mrs. Peachey was impressed. Anything like a police court crime was certain to impress her. Laura Chope had known that.
Mrs. Peachey was impressed, but all she said was:
"What nonsense you talk! How should you know anything about a mother's feelings?"
"I know a great deal about feelings; I've had them," was the terse return. "You never have. Women of your sort know nothing."
"I know enough to feel sure that all this fuss is very coarse, | | 106 and I wonder at you, I really do. Decent women don't talk about these things; they don't have feelings. You have been married twice and ought to understand."
"Angelina isn't decent and I am not." Mrs. Chope laughed, and she looked very scornfully into the narrow face.
It suited her to be friends with Emily Peachey, it had always suited her and would, but what a limited fool the woman was, and what an insult to the name of mother! That was the way with these good women. They would sell their girls in marriage blithely enough. They would cast them off relentlessly if they disposed themselves in the other way. Her own mother had been like that. Looking back at her life, from the time when she ran off with young Mr. Mellison until the time, years after, when honest, ignorant Chope made her his wife, she blamed her mother for most things. Her mother had been merciless at the critical stage. Looking at those pages of her life, turned between the exit of Mellison and the advent of Chope, she felt no shame and no remorse, for she had no conscience. She had always loved experience, and sitting here, remembering, she would have had nothing in her past altered. She even felt, sardonically regarding the unsuspecting and most virtuous Mrs. Peachey, proud of her life and satisfied; for, at least, it had been generous.
"Angelina shall not be made to marry Freddy Jannaway. I'll see him myself to-morrow," she said firmly. "It is no good opposing me, for you know I always have my way."
"Yes, you do. I am far too easy."
"You will live to be grateful to me. Angelina can do better than Freddy Jannaway; a little miserable, dissipated, round-shouldered fool. I believe myself that he's got a slight curvature; that would not matter if she liked him. But she doesn't, and a woman cannot get over these aversions."
"Nonsense! I never heard of them."
"You haven't heard of much. Leave him to me. Angelina can do better."
"Who is she to marry, I should like to know?" Mrs. Peachey wiped her eyes, and spoke with heavy satire.
She had capitulated, and was crying. Laura would get her way as she always did, but it was too bad.
"I wish that Angelina had never been born," she said. | | 107 "She will be an old maid, with her picking and choosing. And now that Charlie and Blanche have gone, there will be no more young officers coming to the house. I don't see who she is to marry."
"My dear, comfort yourself," her friend spoke indulgently, for she could afford to. "Angelina would marry wherever she was. And you forget that in a couple of weeks I shall have a nice young man in my cottage. Lady Johns has a nephew. It does seem providential that the cottage happened to be empty and that she saw my advertisement when she did. She moves in next week and for six months at least; her nephew is sure to come down and stay. Now we must be getting up to bed. It is nearly one. Don't wake poor little Angelina in the morning. Let her sleep it off."
"I shan't go near her," Mrs. Peachey felt under the sofa cushion for her pocket handkerchief. "I wash my hands of her. She is a downright bad girl. It is in her blood."
"And I will see Mr. Jannaway when he comes," said Mrs. Chope.
They turned out the gas and went softly upstairs. They kissed each other at Mrs. Chope's bedroom door—and when their doors were shut they honestly hated each other, just for once in a way. Their natures could not mix, and the thin coating of affection had worn through. To-morrow judicious Mrs. Chope would touch up the worn places and make their friendship look as good as new.
Jannaway came about noon next day, and she received him in the drawing-room. Angelina was not yet awake. Once or twice Mrs. Chope had knocked at the bedroom door and got no answer.
"One would think that girl had been drugged," she said thoughtfully.
The Honourable Freddy Jannaway was not a noble looking object in hard May sunlight and before lunch. Mrs. Chope thought, "I'm not quite sure that I'd marry you myself, you little rat, not even now." Then, remembering splendid Angelina lying asleep upstairs, she positively enjoyed the prospect of the job before her. She took the young man's hand, one of those limp ones, shook it, dropped it, and plunged into her subject without parley.| | 108
"Sit down," she said, and sat down herself; "I am sorry, Mr. Jannaway, but Angelina will not marry you. She doesn't want to see you again. She was dreadfully upset when she came in last night."
He was doubled up in a low easy chair set in the big window, with sunlight dancing all over him and brutally revealing him. He was startled out of all breeding and could only deliver himself of a silly ejaculation. She refused him! Incredible!
Mrs. Chope urbanely grinned. She was enjoying this, for she was one of the women who had been ill-treated by men.
"She can't bear the touch of you. That kiss made her feel faint," she told him with pitiless candour. "We are people of the world, Mr. Jannaway, you and I; we are not like Mrs. Peachey—and so you understand what I mean. Angelina can't abide you." She was a countrywoman born.
He looked up, blinking in the sunshine that filled the big room.
What sort of woman was this? He looked knowing and on the edge of a wink. To Mrs. Chope's indignation he did not seem sorry for his rejection. His face showed relief—for himself; and shame—at himself; and anger—with Angelina, for being so squeamish.
How dared she! Other girls had felt like that. But this was the only girl that he had proposed to marry, and, therefore, it was different. He was at one with Mrs. Peachey.
"Good Lord! "Mrs. Chope laughed in a jolly friendly sort of way; a laugh with a wink in it too. "How are you going to make a marriage of a feeling like that! Enough to make a woman's blood run cold—and a man's too."
He could only stare; stare and suck his stick. It was always in his mouth; and he was so moonfaced that you felt he had only recently discarded his thumb for it. He looked a big, ugly baby; a very sophisticated and revolting baby. Mrs. Chope, regarding him, huddled up, thought:
"You want a high chair, young man. You haven't grown up yet, for all your silly goings on."
She did despise him, and she knew his sort clean through and through. She rejoiced to give him this most condign punishment. Yet it was she who had suggested at the first that | | 109 Angelina should marry Freddy Jannaway. It had seemed a perfect plan and she had sought to profit by it. But with all her sharpness and all her worldly wisdom, she had not realised how monstrous the idea was until Angelina fell crying at her mother's knee last night. Poor little friendless Angelina! Kneeling there, dropped of all dignity, she had evoked the most tender feelings; and many were left in Mrs. Chope. She had been in the mood then and she was in the mood now, to fight to the death, had it been necessary, for the innocence and the freedom of Angelina. Intrinsically, she was a pure woman; much more pure than her bosom friend, the virtuous Mrs. Peachey.
"What?" said little Jannaway. "She backs out?"
He continued to stare, for she fascinated him. He respected this old woman, and he marvelled at her. He, as he put it, had knocked about a bit and, by Jove, she did let in the light on things. She stated them as they were and without sparing him. He wondered how she ever established herself in this decorous middle-class house as guide and mentor. They were a funny lot, and he was well rid of the affair. He had come to the house with his heart in his boots, for he regretted his proposal in the cab last night. He had been wondering if he could get decently out of it, and he ruefully knew that he had not the wit. Well! This old woman, with the knowing laugh and the neat foot, had done the trick. He looked thoughtfully at her open-work stockings.
He felt as if he had been at an auction sale recklessly bidding, and had failed, after all, to catch the auctioneer's eye at the crucial moment. Some other chap would get the goods and he was jolly glad. He wondered how Murray was feeling at marrying into this family. But he was poor and he had gone to India with the girl.
"I hope I haven't hurt your feelings. I hope you understand," said Mrs. Chope more sweetly.
Something in his ugly countenance touched her, and she was soft, to a point, where love-making of any sort, however perverted, was concerned. Did the poor little devil really care for Angelina? His next words assured her that he did not. He had only wanted to buy a rare thing.
"A man," he said, struggling up from the absurdly low | | 110 chair, and speaking with ridiculous dignity, "doesn't want to marry a girl who turns to goose flesh if he touches her. No. Thank you all the same."
He laughed. It was insulting.
"Goose flesh! That is it. I knew you'd know. Well, good morning, Mr. Jannaway. Try and forget Angelina."
"I shall manage to forget her, don't you worry," he said, turning purple. "I shall clear out of Brighton this afternoon, and be uncommonly glad to go."
He went off without any more fuss, without any formal good-bye. And, as he said to himself, walking along the seafront in the sun, he was lucky to get off so easily. He essayed to convince himself that they had tried to entrap him; the respectable Mrs. Peachey and that "rum old card" her friend.
He went out of the town that day, and the Brighton of the time missed a familiar figure. Little shop girls looked in vain for him upon the pier.
Mrs. Chope, in the bow window, was purple too. For she detected him. He was glad to be free of Angelina.
She went upstairs and again knocked at the girl's door. She began to feel anxious.
"I am getting up," said a cold voice from within. " I shall be down soon. Go away."
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