- BOOK II THE JANNAWAY PERIOD
- CHAPTER V
|<< chapter 4||< chapter 3||chapter 6 >||chapter 11 >>|
IT was fortunate for Angelina that Lady Johns took an instant fancy to her and wished her to go as much as she could to the cottage. She was accustomed to command people. Angelina went; she was only too thankful to go, for her mother, since the Jannaway affair, was in the sulks and barely noticed her. She did not care for her mother, but she shrank from a black, emotional atmosphere. Therefore she went every day to Mrs. Chope's cottage and spent hours with her new friend, Lady Johns. She went through the old garden, shut in by high walls, of her mother's large house, into the flagged back yard of the cottage. Ingenious Mrs. Chope had transformed this back yard into a paved lounge. There were walls all round and with creepers growing on them, fortunately. There was also an old fig tree. She screened the back door, put a rustic bench round the fig tree, and the thing was done.
On summer afternoons, this was a perfect summer, Angelina and her new friend Lady Johns would have their tea in this back yard. It made a pleasant place. There were tubs, painted an artistic green and filled with evergreens; the fig tree gave a family look; you could faintly hear the sound of the waves and the moving, sparkling, human life of the busy street beyond the wall.
Before very long, Lady Johns, who was lonely, began to think that she really loved this beautiful, queer girl. At first she had distrusted her, yet hardly knowing why. She was a conventional, rigorous woman, and certainly in the society of Horsham and the neighbourhood there were no girls so good-looking, and yet, only by inference, so sophisticated as this mysterious and most alluring Angelina Peachey. She appeared a perfect woman of the world, although why you could not exactly say. It was hard to believe that she was only eighteen, yet she looked, if anything, younger.
These two sat together, drank tea together, read together, went for drives and walks together. They developed knowledge and devotion. The summer wore away. Whatever | | 112 Lady Johns felt for Angelina was returned with generous interest; for the girl had a great deal to give and no one had wanted. She had stood, so to say, at the corner of the marketplace, with her hands full and outstretched for any one to help themselves.
Lady Johns had expected to be bored by Brighton. She hated the place at any time, and this was out of the season. The town was full of trippers. She had only consented to come because Antony had declared it would be good for her. No one would have induced her to do this but Antony, and he was not only a doctor, but she was docile with him. Until she came to Brighton, she had believed that he was the only person left for whom she cared. She was one of a large family. They were all dead. She had borne five children and they also died, four as infants, and one, the only daughter, at sixteen. Her husband, General Sir Arthur Johns, was also dead; while he lived, they had been happy. Blow after blow had fallen upon Lady Johns, yet nothing ignominious had ever touched her; so she was not only lofty but sweet. She was neither soured nor narrowed, yet she remained rigid. She had the defects of her many advantages, and it was difficult for her to understand any devious ways of the heart. She was well bred and correct; she exacted the same qualities from her intimates, and she was one of those who would have quite calmly, perhaps even callously, dropped her dearest friend had she offended against the accustomed moral code. Lady Johns made no allowances. She had never been called upon to make allowances.
They were all dead: her brothers and sisters, her husband, her little boy children, her only daughter, from whom she had expected so much. They were gone, and the only one of her kin remaining was Antony. He was delicate and could present no clean bill of health to the world. His mother, her sister Maria, died at thirty of consumption, and his father had a stroke of paralysis before he was forty. Lady Johns very often wondered, yet only faintly, since you did not question the ways of Providence, why her own four fine boys had died, one by one and each before he was ten years old, while Maria's wretched little specimen had obstinately lived. Antony had nearly died as a baby; he had left first Rugby and then Cam | | 113 bridge for reasons of health, and even now, although he was twenty-eight and looked robust enough, he had to take every care of himself. He was a dear, gentle old thing (his aunt thought of him in these terms), but he was not satisfactory to her pride. Although he had good brains, he did not achieve himself. Lady Johns wished for him intellectual distinction; not too marked, of course, nothing approaching to popular fame, which might have derogated from his well-born standard and brought him into contact with queer people, but enough to make him stand out from his fellows. Antony gave promise of no such thing. He was clever, yet he was also desultory and, invariably, he was limp. He was like a man climbing the greasy pole. Very often it looked as if he really would get the leg of mutton, yet, always, he slipped down at the last.
His aunt had believed, until she came across Angelina, that he was the only person in the world for whom she cared. There was only enough of her heart left over from so many graves—for him! She had nothing to give other people but polished regard: well bred, graceful enough; yet conveying nothing, costing nothing.
But now she began to suspect that her heart was still capacious enough and warm enough and young enough to welcome the living. There was a vacant space for this queer girl to fill if she chose. For you must have a woman friend, and Angelina, young as she was, seemed wise. She would understand anything you chose to confide.
Yet she neither liked nor approved of Angelina's people, and she very soon began to scheme to get her away from them. How could you socially approve of mincing Mrs. Peachey or that very loud and garrulous Mrs. Chope?
Angelina was a pearl. But—such an oyster shell!
When she went in to see Mrs. Peachey, as now and then she did, from good breeding and diplomacy, Lady Johns regarded her almost suspiciously; there were things she could not understand. She said one day, "What a positive beauty your Angelina is!"
Her eyes added quite insolently and in such clear print that even Mrs. Peachey could read—and she was no profound scholar at this optical print:| | 114
"It is almost unbelievable that you should be her mother."
Mrs. Peachey remarked, betraying timid anger, for she resented this look and she resented what, generically, she described as Lady Johns's "airs"; yet she did not wish to offend an undoubted aristocrat.
"Angelina takes after my husband's family. Yes, I suppose she is good-looking, but we have always considered Blanche, my married daughter, Mrs. Charles Murray, to be the beauty."
She took the latest photograph of Blanche from the mantelpiece and displayed it with touching pride. Lady Johns gazed unmoved upon the perky, snub features of this tawdry little blonde. Fancy naming her in the same world with Angelina!
Mrs. Peachey shot a look at her. She disliked this woman; yet she would remain civil for, again, she saw some prospect of getting Angelina off her hands. Moreover she, as a tenant farmer's daughter, had awe for the landed gentry in her very bones.
"I hope you find Mrs. Chope's cottage comfortable," she said, sitting down and beginning to pour out the tea—for this was one of the three isolated occasions on which Lady Johns stayed to tea. "It is a queer little place and must amuse you, I'm sure. It does me, for I have always been accustomed to large houses and so have you."
"Yes," Lady Johns smiled urbanely, "my house near Horsham is certainly roomy."
"Oh, it isn't in the town?"
"No. Not in the town; about a mile out."
She smiled more broadly, for it amused her to think of Leggatt Court being in the town of Horsham—Leggatt Court with its twenty-five bedrooms and sweeping park. The place was not hers. It belonged to her brother and he, being something more lean than bachelor, allowed her the use of it, or, at any rate, the use of it until his marriage. He let her live there and he kept the place up.
"My house," she said, indulging Mrs. Peachey, who was clearly curious, "belongs to my brother Gerald, and he will never turn me out unless he falls a victim to some pretty girl. He is nearly sixty, and I don't suppose that is likely. But if he did marry I should be homeless."| | 115
She laughed and looked suddenly uncomfortable. She flushed. Mrs. Peachey was also flushing—what a miserable complexion the woman had! and—how dared she think of such a thing! For Lady Johns knew exactly what Angelina's mother was thinking and the same thought came to her. They met, she and this woman, upon the platform of the feminine instinct for match-making. Each thought:
"Suppose he fell in love with Angelina!"
Mrs. Peachey was the first to speak.
"I suppose he won't be running down to see you in your little cot," she said jocosely.
"Certainly not. I can't imagine Gerald running anywhere. He is a very ponderous, dignified person indeed, and, as a matter of fact, he lives entirely abroad."
Lady Johns continued, so that she might observe the effect of this new shot upon Mrs. Peachey:
"But my nephew, Dr. Antony ffinch, is coming on Saturday, and I am hoping that he will make a long stay."
"That will be more cheerful for you, and you won't want to see so much of Angelina," Mrs. Peachey laughed in a forced way. "I suppose he has a partner to look after his practice?"
Lady Johns flushed. This was her sensitive point. Antony showed no signs of settling in his profession and attaining to eminence in it.
"He hasn't any practice. He has taken his degree of course; he is fully qualified and, indeed, is quite a brilliant man. But, so far, he has only had a locum tenens now and then."
Mrs. Peachey, in her single-word reply, sounded vague; for she was not sure what taking a locum tenens meant. She confounded it with performing an operation. They did such queer things, the doctors, nowadays.
"You see," Lady Johns continued, deigning to confidence," he has private means and there is no reason why he should set up, for the present, anyhow, as just a general practitioner. A specialist is different." She spoke scornfully of any mere family practice.
"Very different indeed;" Mrs. Peachey displayed deference and understanding. "I think," she continued, embarking | | 116 upon confidence also, "that I know something about specialists. My husband was always going to them; and you take five guineas out of your pocket every time. Fortunately we were well to do. But in his case nothing could be done. It was heart disease."
"How very sad."
"Very. And an exceedingly trying complaint I assure you. He was most touchy to live with."
Lady Johns gently stiffened. To speak against the dead was at once to offend against one of her many canons. While her husband was alive she had considered him nearly perfect, and now he was dead she allowed not one of the blessed Saints to even approach him in excellence.
She said to Antony when he came down on Saturday:
"I have some queer neighbours for you, dear. The people in the large house next door: my landlady, and her friend Mrs. Peachey and the daughter."
This she said in an off-hand way. She meant to prove him. She was designing to keep Angelina up her sleeve until the last. At the proper time she would dangle this delicate jewel. She did not want him to marry Angelina; she had not considered the idea, for or against. He was jaded and she wished to stir him. That was all. No man could remain indifferent to Angelina, and it would be better for Antony to flirt, to get his heart broken or even to marry, than for him to remain as he was, sinking into prim bachelor ways.
He lived in an old house near the church at Horsham: the part they call Normandy. It had all the dignity and precision of a Cathedral Close, and Antony was beginning to collect blue china and rare silver toys. At twenty-eight this was really laughable. She considered him a mere boy, although she called hint a "gentle old thing."
"What do I care for the large house and the landlady's daughter?" he now said, adding, "I should never suppose that you would, but judging by your letters, you've been treating the young person as an equal. I assure you, it is a mistake."
"To begin with, she is not the landlady's daughter. The landlady herself is merely a dependent. Angelina Peachey——"| | 117
"Very nice name," ejaculated Antony, "I thought so at once. It looked so nice in your letters, but then you write such a pretty hand."
He spoke with graceful indolence; flattering her, indulging her—so long as it was no trouble. He was expert with her at the careless compliment. The attitude of these two towards each other was wholly charming, and wholly unlike the usual feeling which prevails between aunt and nephew. It is a stiff relationship, but Lady Johns and Antony had long ago made it most delightfully plastic. They infused an absolute flavour of romance.
It was like Antony to pay a compliment in a voice that was half asleep. The invariable effect of Antony was to gently fatigue you. It was a nice, dozy feeling which you welcomed for a time; more, you revelled in it. Yet Lady Johns was the widow of a man who not only by profession but by nature was every inch a fighter, and she wondered if Antony's wife, should he marry, would end by rebelling against that manner. She would want to fling it off perhaps, as you fling aside bedclothes when you have had your sleep out and the morning sun shines in and the world calls you to all the labour and delight which a waking life gives. Antony was never awake. But, say he ever did marry, it would of course be to some well-bred woman who took her difficulties gracefully, without talking about them. As to her discarding them (by casting the emotional bedclothes off!) this hypothesis simply never occurred nor ever could occur to Lady Johns; she dwelt, in thought and actuality, only with women of rectitude. All others stood without the barrier.
"Well then," she said to him after her thoughtful pause, "we have been agreed from the first that Angelina Peachey as a name is delightful, but wait until you see her. Antony, she is beautiful."
"That makes no appeal to me. You see I'm not beautiful myself. I might resent her."
He spoke with a certain rueful indolence, and he expressed a truth. Antony could be jealous.
"That doesn't matter in a man, and you are not ignoble. I have always admired your profile, Antony."
"Very likely. So did I when I was young and cared | | 118 about these things. Boys care as well as girls, you know. At school I suffered tortures with my full face."
He tripped off this strong word "tortures" in his usual languid way.
"And good as my profile is—or isn't," he proceeded, "I can't present a side-view to the world. It wouldn't be square.
"We are getting your face into rather a muddle and more out of proportion than Nature intended," she returned with equal lightness, "but it is of Angelina's I wish to talk. No, I will not talk. Wait until you see her."
"Yes, I would rather wait."
He was sounding bored: not with Lady Johns, but with Angelina. His aunt could never bore him; she was a relative and he loved her. Other people very often did bore him; and this growing attitude of boredom towards the world was making the world bored with him. People did not gravitate to Antony. For his part, he was becoming fond of saying, of this, that, or the other person, "They get on my nerves."
He said it far too often. Lady Johns noticed. It was an undesirable trick; it was almost uncouth. It was elderly and intolerant; it was part of the blue china and silver collecting pose. Antony, at twenty-eight, was too absurdly young for any of these things. He was only twenty-eight, yet his attitude was a full forty.
"Wait if you like," said Lady Johns, "but do let us start clear with her. Remember that she is not the landlady's daughter; and indeed, Mrs. Chope herself is not the usual lodging-house keeper. She only runs this cottage for pinmoney and," she laughed, "it is a cheap and very obvious thing to say, dear boy—but she is getting a regular gross of pins out of me. The rent I pay is absurdly high, but the place suits me and Gravett doesn't grumble."
Gravett was her cook, an invaluable woman. She had brought three servants and, adroitly, she had packed them into the fisherman's funny cottage.
"I have digressed," she said apologetically, "I am afraid I do, and it is a very reprehensible trick. It is modern and slovenly, and I dislike that sort of thing. I am for form and elegance."| | 119
"Yes," agreed Antony, looking meditatively at his hands. "I know you are and so am I. That makes one of the many bonds between us, dear aunt."
He could actually say that cold word "aunt," expressing a gawky relationship, with a soupçon of chivalry, and he looked fondly at his hands, which were beautiful. Certainly beautiful; but frigid and, in a sense, unmanly. You could not imagine them fighting, nor doing any work—the work at a craft which was rough in itself, yet intrinsically dainty—as, say, a skilled smith's work. The very idea of Antony at anything strenuous was laughable, although he was a big shape of a man. Nor could you imagine those white and daintily moulded hands clasping a woman. They showed at their best when he was handling one of his charming silver toys, or making a cup of his palms to hold a cherished saucer of Oriental china. Metal and clay were his heart's darlings.
"We are devoted to each other, you and I," said Lady Johns, looking hard at him and critically.
She was faintly incensed by him; she felt the perverse, feminine desire for roughness in the male creature.
"But I very often feel," she continued, " the need of a woman—some one to talk to. She would be with me all the time. She would take the place"—her fine, plain face shadowed—" of Bundy. She would grow to mean what Bundy would have meant."
Bundy had been the absurd pet name of her only daughter, who died twenty-three years ago.
"I often think what Bundy would have meant to me," she said; and spoke so finely that the ridiculous name attained some brief nobility while it hung upon her lip.
"Of course, of course, I understand," returned Antony absently, and with a polite attempt to look compassionate.
But he could not, since he was cold. It was not only true that Bundy had died, at sixteen, when he was only five, and that, therefore, he could have no personal regrets for her; it remained that he took no large grasp of life and was insensible to the sublimity of a bereaved woman. He surveyed his quivering aunt with a dead eye.
"And so I have been thinking," she continued, "that I shall ask this very beautiful Angelina to take Bundy's place."| | 120
"That is a good idea if you think she would come, and if you could arrange between you what her salary would be."
"My dear boy, it would never be upon that basis."
Her voice attained severity: for really sometimes Antony did show you a peep into a commercial chamber of his mind. "I said that she was to take the place of Bundy. She would be a daughter. Now do you see?"
"I see, yes; but I wonder how it would work. Have you asked her about it, sounded her, I mean?"
"No, not yet. I'm going to,"she spoke more vigorously, for his limpness nettled her into decision.
Until this moment her idea of adopting Angelina had been vaporous: just misty, warm dreamings, but now she meant it to be the real thing. She would adopt that girl. She would speak to Mrs. Peachey this very day.
"Well, do as you like, dear;" he had been standing restlessly at the window and now lounged towards the door. "I think I'll go down the lanes and poke about and look at china."
"My dear Antony, you practically live in dirty blue china shops."
"They are quite the most interesting spot in Brighton," he told her, his face lighting. "I got a Delft inkstand there on the way from the station. I must show it you. It is in my bag. I'll go up and get it now."
"No. Not now."
"You don't care about china in the least," he said quite pathetically, "and yet you are surrounded by beautiful specimens at Leggatt Court, and you've even got some nice bits here. Those figures on the mantelpiece are Chelsea. What is she thinking of, the landlady, to leave such things about for the stray tenant to smash?"
"She is very particular about her tenants and, moreover, she is quite unlike the ordinary landlady. A most perplexing woman altogether. Quite common; no, worse than common. Forgive me Antony, but she really gives the impression of being improper. She is the sort of woman who powders her face, touches up her eyebrows, and wears a purple veil."
Antony raised his own eyebrows.
"You are sure she is only impressionistic? And is she the mother of Bundy the Second?"| | 121
His second query was tactless; more, it was heartless. Lady Johns flushed with pain.
"No, no, I told you that the mother is Mrs. Peachey, quite a different person. She is merely genteel, and she might be the keeper of a very superior wardrobe shop."
"I prefer the lady with the purple veil," said Antony—and he sounded hearty.
It was a tone that his aunt did not recognise. Very rarely did her nephew show an unfamiliar side, yet by instinct she knew that those sides were there and that they might be the strongest sides he had.
"If I do adopt Angelina," she said rather stiffly, "can I be allowed to take her away at once? Do you, professionally, insist that I should stay at Brighton much longer? I am perfectly well."
He looked at her.
"Yes, I think you are. It was just boredom; that was your malady. Leave if you like. But there is the rent. You've taken the place for ever so long."
"I could arrange about the rent. I should pay it, of course;" she gave the pretty light laugh of a woman to whom money always came quite easily and without thought. "Yes," she was becoming increasingly vigorous in her intention; it told in her voice. "I shall certainly adopt Angelina."
"It is a risk," her nephew repeated. "You know so little about her, unless you know more than you've told me."
"Of course I do. For one thing, we haven't been together an hour, and now you are rushing off to dusty crockery shops. For another thing, Angelina is the most candid darling in the world. She was engaged to be married the other day, and who do you suppose the suitor was?"
"Don't know, I'm sure."
"Why, Freddy Jannaway, of all foolish and undesirable young men," she said.
She knew Jannaway's family, in a social way, and she had heard from his sorrowful mother of his many tomfool escapades.
"That chap!" ejaculated Antony, showing some disgust and it was for the unknown Angelina Peachey, not for silly Jannaway. Already, in his mind, he humourously thought of | | 122 her as Bundy the Second. He was perhaps blunt, because he was so certainly heartless.
Lady Johns nodded.
"Yes, and she broke it off. She would not tell me why; that is, she did not tell me and I could not ask a leading question. She spoke about the affair with a vigour which I do rather deprecate in a girl. Her mother was angry, but Mrs. Chope took her part."
"Mrs. Chope seems a good sort, behind her veil," Antony said flippantly.
"She is; they very often are."
After Lady Johns had said this, she laughed in a vexed way.
"But I don't know what they are," she added hastily, "I have never come in contact with——"
"We all know lots of things by intuition. Contact is a clumsy medium of knowledge," Antony told her, and he now took definite steps towards the door.
"I am going down the lanes to look at the curio shops," he said quite firmly.
His aunt watched him go round the corner of the street.He was a magnificent, big shape of a man, with not a touch to betray his sickly heritage. He looked, with his bright blue eyes and tightly curling chestnut hair and beard, more of a sailor than a doctor; except that one is accustomed perhaps to think of sailors as something shorter than Antony ffinch. For he was six feet tall.
He was a great big fellow and she loved him dearly. Yet, now, always, she deprecated him. And she was anxious for him. His clothes seemed to hang too loosely about him, as if he were already wasting. She knew that he was not. His shoulders were hunched up and his chest hollowed. Only just a little. No one else would have noticed. She was the only one, and she knew the maladies that he might perhaps have inherited. She was anxious for Antony, and not so much for his physical structure, since delicate men always lived on for ever, as for his moral fibre. Antony was limp, clean through. His very walk showed this. Limp, cold, yet always queerly lovable. This, to Lady Johns, comprised her nephew, Antony ffinch.
When he had gone round the corner she looked at the clock | | 123 and then rang the bell for the parlourmaid who, while she was at Brighton in this reduced establishment, acted as lady's maid also.
She got herself dressed for visiting, and although she was only going next door to Mrs. Peachey's, she had rarely been more careful about her veil and her particular ornaments. Everything must be a perfect scheme, yet not too conscious. She took all this trouble, although she knew that Mrs. Peachey had no eyes to see with.
When she was ready, she went to the large house next door, and fortuitously, she found Mrs. Peachey and Mrs. Chope in the spacious drawing-room together. Angelina had gone for a walk alone. She would ramble upon the Downs for hours at a time, and it made her mother most uneasy.
"For you never know what may happen to a girl," she said vaguely, yet with a glance that implied that they all three did know and that knowledge was most horrible. It was a strange look, honestly anxious, yet imbued with a leer.
Lady Johns, who never hesitated when her mind was made, plunged into her topic at once; as she put it, "without useless parley," and as Mrs. Chope, listening bolt-eyed, put it, "making no bones about the matter."
She said, in brief, that she proposed to adopt Angelina and make a pseudo-daughter of her.
"I want it," she added, with a nervous laugh, and with her proud glance bent upon Mrs. Peachey's muddled, nervously jerking face, "to be quite a formal arrangement, if you will allow it so. Angelina," she thrilled, "is to be all mine—a daughter."
Speaking, she showed a high courage.
There were sad cadences in this lofty old room, had there been any one present with ears! For she was thinking of what Bundy might have been. She was the most faithful of mothers.
But there was nobody sensitive to cadence. Mrs. Chope and Mrs. Peachey were electrified, and they each had thoughts that were tangible enough. To both belonged the true middle-class mind: which construes every impulse into some tangible advantage. In short, what did Lady Johns intend to make out of this? Just as Mrs. Peachey had said a few | | 124 minutes back, with reference to Angelina walking alone upon the Downs, "you never know what may happen to a girl," so now she was thinking, "there are strange old women in the world, and a mother cannot be too careful." She looked at her friend, Laura Chope, whose thoughts were much of the same tinge, except that they were perhaps a shade "more aniline. For Mrs. Peachey only surmised the dubious world; Mrs. Chope had moved in it and been of it.
"Although," Lady Johns continued, in her silvery stream of a voice, "there is no reason why you and Angelina should not meet now and then, it would be only infrequently, dear Mrs. Peachey, and by particular arrangement with me. I feel it due to myself to make this perhaps harsh stipulation, for otherwise I should never feel that the dear child was wholly mine.
The primitive woman in Mrs. Peachey boiled up and nearly over!
She was dying to say, yet choosing her own words to convey it, "How can the child of my body ever be your child?"
A glance at Laura Chope's wary face restrained her. She sat biting her pale and roughened lips. Her whole exterior was harsh and mean, poor woman, yet a fine, maternal fury was raging within her.
"I am not rich," the haughty voice went smoothly on, "but I could, at my death, provide sufficiently for Angelina."
"She has nearly seventy pounds a year in her own right, or will have, when she comes of age, Lady Johns. It is from house property in Bayswater."
"Seventy pounds! Well, that is a nice little packet of pin-money, dear Mrs. Peachey. Now, what do you think of my rather daring proposition? And you must forgive me if I have hurt your feelings. Be as angry as you like, only let me have my way, for really I have fallen head over ears in love with your Angelina."
"Mrs. Peachey," said Mrs. Chope at once, and staring at Angelina's rigid mother, "is not offended I am sure. Are you, Emily dear?"
"Not in the least," was the instant nervous answer.
"But she is naturally rather taken by surprise. Will | | 125 you allow us, dear Lady Johns, until to-morrow evening to reflect?"
Mrs. Chope spoke in her best ninimy-pinimy way, pursing up her long, jolly-looking mouth. Any attempt at propriety made her more suggestively improper than ever.
Lady Johns surveyed her coldly. Was it true, that rather apt thing Antony said just now? He had said that you knew more by intuition than knowledge. Intuition just now was saying shocking things to her about warm-hearted, wellmeaning, most irregular Laura Chope.
"That is only reasonable," was her answer, made icily; and she looked arrogantly through her landlady's broad, red face to the daintily papered wall.
"I"—she stood up and addressed herself with a changed and warmer manner to Angelina's mother, who sat, stark, upon the sofa—"am quite a poetic person. I dislike, therefore, to dwell upon the prose of this matter, and so, dear Mrs. Peachey, do you, I f eel sure!"
She paused and these two women looked hard at each other.
Lady Johns betrayed a tender nervousness to attain her end. She looked rapturously maternal, and so, in her lesser way, did Mrs. Peachey. The same wonderful feeling ran through both; they who had been, what Laura Chope, watching, had never been—mothers.
They were both agitated and both were suffering, yet, never, could there be any true bond between the two. Mrs. Peachey was inherently both vixenish and suspicious, and Lady Johns, for all her fine sweetness and her generous mould of mind, had been narrowed by fortune. She had been screened. Even in her great sorrows she had, to put it in a homely way, fallen soft. Nothing harsh had ever touched her. Ugliness had hidden its dreadful face. She might have been a fine creature, given poverty and struggle, but as it was she simply showed as a beautiful and rather imperious elderly woman. It was a sheer impossibility for her to step down from her high place and mingle with the mob.
Having now given voice to her playful little speech, and finding, as she felt, no polite response in Mrs. Peachey, she advanced gracefully towards the door. When she was near it, she turned round and said:| | 126
"If you decide to let me have Angelina, send her in to dine with me to-morrow night and I shall understand. We will not again discuss this topic, which is awkward for us both. Later on, your lawyer and mine can settle details. We must, for every one's sake, have matters suitably arranged. If she comes to-morrow night—and do please let her" (the insatiable mother showed here!)—"she will meet my nephew, Antony ffinch. I think they would accord."
She stood there looking queenly, yet trembling a little, limbs, features and charming voice. Her veil of costly Chantilly (as Mrs. Chope observed), was flung back over her broad black hat. It framed her sad, keen face. She looked a queen, yet, even more, the most humble of suppliants.
Mrs. Peachey was staring at the hat and veil. She thought them singular. Very often Lady Johns, to her mind, wore singular clothes and shabby ornaments. Mrs. Peachey was conservative, and she distrusted that floating veil. It was thick and it looked rusty. When Mrs. Peachey went out, she wore a bit of spotted net that she called a "fall."
It was nothing like that intricate Chantilly.
Mrs. Chope rustled forward to open the drawing-room door and, herself, escorted the visitor downstairs. She wanted to have a private word with Lady Johns, at the last, in the hall, but the elder woman's firm mouth and jaw drove her into silence. There was something rather terrific about this aristocratic widow who wanted to adopt Angelina. Mrs. Chope, shutting the street door after Lady Johns and hurrying upstairs in her clackety-heeled slippers, inconsequently thought of her old mistress, Mrs. Mellison.
That had been an aristocrat too, and how those women did quell you! She wondered how they did it. She would have done it herself had she been able, for it was a trump card in any woman's hand, that regal manner. She was clever enough to know it for a card which she, Laura Chope, would never hold. It was dealt you at the beginning of the game; you did not win it, nor have it given at a later round.
Emily Peachey was still sitting upon the sofa, and the rims of her eyes were red.
"You think you are crying for Angelina," her friend told her abruptly, directly she clattered into the room, "but you | | 127 are not. You don't care a pin's point for her. It is Blanche you are snivelling for. Put your handkerchief away."
Mrs. Peachey put her handkerchief in her pocket at once. She would always obey if you bullied her. She looked at Laura Chope. Their eyes met in a kindred glance. She and Laura stared at each other; they pursed up their mouths, as if they were trying to whistle. They looked uncommonly knowing. You could almost imagine Mrs. Chope laying a waggish finger along her nose.
"If only Angelina had a father! "whimpered Mrs. Peachey at last.
"He wouldn't help. He would only hinder. You know that you never let him have his own way. You know, too, that he hated Angelina. You both do. I believe that I'm the only one who really cares——"
"I won't have my feelings as a mother——"
"Now don't be silly. You've been dying to get her off your hands. Here is the chance. We mustn't miss it."
"But what's that woman up to?" demanded Mrs. Peachey, discarding her feelings as a mother with eloquent promptitude.
Mrs. Chope pulled her mouth crooked. She, in a way, ogled. She understood at once all that her friend implied.
"Be quite easy," she advised; "Lady Johns isn't that sort. I could tell you, at a glance, what any woman is made of. They don't hoodwink me, I can tell you, Emily. And I am too fond of Angelina to let her run any ugly risk. You would have handed her over to that baboon, Freddy Jannaway. You didn't care."
"That was a very different thing. She would have been respectably married."
"So she will be now."
"Very likely, but only to this nephew, who is a paltry doctor. Mr. Jannaway was an Honourable," insisted Mrs. Peachey, speaking with proper awe of the one and dismissing the other as lacking not only a prefix, but even a capital F to his name.
"I tell you they are a high family;" Mrs. Chope also showed awe: airs of the servants' hall blew upon them both. "It is a wonderful chance for Angelina."
"I think it is a piece of impudence. I wonder!" Mrs. | | 128 Peachey laughed—a bitter, high-pitched tootle of a laugh, "that she didn't offer to buy my child of me."
"So she would, if she thought you wanted the money. And you would have closed with her," returned Mrs. Chope with candour. "Now I tell you what I mean to do. I'm going off to-morrow morning early to Horsham to find out all about Leggatt Court and Lady Johns and Dr. Antony ffinch. I'll skin the lot and turn them inside out. It is the easiest thing in the world. A bun and a glass of milk at the best confectioner's in the town will do the trick. Or I may go to a house agent for a list of places to let and have a chat with him. You leave it to me. If that old girl next door at my cottage could only hear me talk!" she laughed heartily. "If she supposed we didn't think her respectable!"
"Well, we don't know," said Mrs. Peachey doggedly.
"Yes, we do, but I will go to Horsham. Now mind you sit tight all day to-morrow and don't let Angelina go in to Lady Johns'."
"I can't keep her away. She takes no notice of anything I say."
Mrs. Chope looked resolute. She looked reflective.
"To-morrow," she said, in the voice of a woman who meant to be obeyed, "we shall all three leave Brighton directly after breakfast by the same train. I shall go to Horsham, you and Angelina will get out at Shoreham and spend the day there. The churches, there are two, are fine I've heard, and you can walk in the Swiss Gardens. They are as dull as ditch-water in the daytime, but you will have to put up with that."
"I would rather have them in the daytime than at night, from all I've heard," said Mrs. Peachey primly.
Mrs. Chope laughed; she had danced there many tunes and years ago.
"There is no harm in them," she retorted, "Mr. Mellison and I went once for a lark. We went to Cremorne, too."
The next night Angelina, to whom nothing had been told, went into the cottage and dined with Lady Johns and Antony.
When she departed, not going into the street at all, but slipping through the door in the wall to her mother's garden, Lady Johns said pertinently to her nephew:| | 129
It was such a crisp word. She was triumphant. Mrs. Peachey had consented and once more—for Lady Johns—there was a Bundy to adore.
"She is beautiful; very," said Antony, yet showing less rapture than he would for china.
He was a massive man, and although his face was heavily plain, he looked almost handsome to-night. Antony was always at his best in evening dress, and in stately houses or going along stately streets. He showed well, also, in a Cathedral or the cloisters of one. The note he struck was culture. Put Antony ffinch into rough clothes and set him by the yawning hearth of a cottage, and he would have appeared both lout and brute. He was of the type which never for a moment can allow itself to relax, since to relax meant revealing unpleasing truths of character.
"Yes, isn't she beautiful? And it is settled. She is to be mine."
Lady Johns spoke as he would have spoken of a rare blue vase. "But her mother and I," she added, "are saying nothing to her until to-morrow. They are coming to tea with me and the whole thing will be settled. I have already written to Gillespie, Firmin and Scott" (these were her lawyers). "We shall have a proper deed."
"You carry it through rigorously," said Antony, smiling, "and she may not pay for the drawing-up of the deed. She will marry of course, and at once I should think."
"Oh, will she?" his aunt glanced across at him sharply.
He was by the window, looking, as he always did, as if he wanted to get out and run into the intricate twistings of old lanes where the bric-à-brac shops were. She was by the hearth.
The window was closely curtained; the hearth was fireless this warm summer night. Yet the position of the two expressed their tendency: she for the home, he for constant acquisition of the rare and inanimate treasure.
"Yes," he kept on smiling, "I should think she'd marry Uncle Gerald if ever he comes home to England."
"No, Antony. I don't propose to be daughterless and homeless in one act of robbery. Although"—again she gave | | 130 her easy, pretty laugh—"it would hardly be robbery for Gerald to insist upon having his own house. But he is nearly sixty and he had a disappointment, that dreadful affair, and we won't dwell on it."
"That is all the more reason why he should fall victim to Miss Peachey—to Bundy. May I call her that?"
"You may," she barely flinched. "I am going to call her Bundy myself when we are alone."
"Old gentlemen of sixty who have been hard hit in youth," continued Antony, "are most vulnerable."
He betrayed that air of heartiness and relish which his aunt never liked, and which she could not understand in him. It was a manner which had nothing to do with blue china. And she certainly did not like him to jest about Gerald. It was bad taste, since he knew the facts.
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