- BOOK II THE JANNAWAY PERIOD
- CHAPTER VII
|<< chapter 6||< chapter 3||chapter 8 >||chapter 11 >>|
"BUT how could it have happened?" Lady Johns was asking her nephew. "Could not you have seen to things and taken proper care of her?"
She spoke sorrowfully, with agitation and certainly with rebuke. Her next words expressed this.
"You as a doctor!" she ejaculated helplessly, and the looked at him with her large, reddened eyes.
She had been copiously weeping.
"That anything should happen to Bundy!" she added in another jerky sentence.
"My dear Aunt Philippa, nothing has happened to her The child is dead, it was premature. Angelina, although sh has been very near death, is out of danger now. As to my being a doctor," Antony turned gloomily to the window staring down at the deserted, stately street, "I have practically forgotten the fact, and I wish you could. All you hopes, dear," he turned to survey her with the most tender affection, "of me as the world-famed specialist, they must have died long ago. They were premature, they were like my little child. You observe that I fail in all that I essay. A doctor!" he laughed—light enough, yet with a bitter unfathomable undercurrent. "Do you want me to have brass plate upon the door? Or a red lamp over it? Do yo want Angelina's nights broken because I am called out t bring infants, lusty and of the democracy, into the world."
"It wouldn't always be infants, nor always of the democracy," she returned, and flung in his wan face a smile a wan.
"You look tired to death, Antony."
"I am, naturally " he said, speaking curtly, and adding, with another unpleasing laugh, "when a man's wife is near death and when his first child after seven years lives just five hours he is—yes, tired."
Lady Johns looked at him, standing there, solid, yet shrunken, by the dignified window. That hollow-chested, | | 161 high-shouldered look of Antony's had increased. She tried to persuade herself that this was simply his awkward carriage. It was the way he held himself. When you had not seen a person for a couple of years, things struck you forcibly. She had been travelling with her brother Gerald in Japan, and she had been, alone, at Gerald's house in Pont Street. Antony's wire saying that Angelina was in danger had found her there, and brought her at once to Horsham. She had driven straight from the station to the house in Normandy. They were in the drawing-room, she and Antony. Angelina lay in the room overhead, and across the floor of that room feet passed softly from time to time.
She looked at Antony, who was very dear. She loved him, and was anxious for him, she was disappointed in him, and this made tenderness more tender. Antony was a person of talent; as youth and young man he had more than once promised brilliant things. He flared up, intellectually; then he flickered down. To-day, he was practically out. She did not know whether to ascribe this provoking failure in him to reasons of health, or to something more subtle. It was no manner of use to be angry with him. You could only grieve for him, and, with common sense, put a plaster on your own wounded pride. Antony would never be anything now but a trifler. He was not even a popular and charming trifler. He had no charm. In some queer way, and again you could not say, for sure, whether he did it of design or was just a helpless instance of heredity churlishness, he kept people at arm's length. He was laughed at and disliked. In all the world there were but two women who loved him. Other women were either afraid of him or irritated by him. To men lie was merely a big, effeminate boor. They could not understand his passion for blue china; and he dusted it himself.
"But what," thought this sad woman, reflecting and suffering, "was worldly success after all?" It might be the best thing possible for Antony to just live here calmly in this beautiful house with his almost too perfect Angelina. It might be his safety.
Lady Johns could never speak or feel too highly of Angelina.She had loved her as an adopted daughter; as a second and | | 162 more haughty Bundy. As her nephew's wife, she reverenced her. More than once she had softly twitted her concerning that scene and conversation by the lake in March, soon after the secret marriage.
"Do you remember how extravagantly you talked about marriage that day, my darling, and how, in a sense, you were afraid of it? But you have found that it is simple enough, and that for women to be happy is the easiest thing possible. It really takes a great deal of exertion to be tragic."
Lady Johns had expressed this in various forms, modified or amplified, through seven years of uneventful matrimony.
Angelina would look at her strangely and kiss her without answering a word.
"When the heart is full," thought Lady Johns, who never speculated concerning Angelina; "words are out of the question." And she loved the proper reticence in woman. About Bundy you never need trouble to speculate. She was clear as crystal, she was a simple element, God bless her. It was only Antony who caused you anxiety; who perplexed and cheated you. For he was morbid. Angelina glowed with sheer common sense.
Antony's marriage was perfect—yet with two drawbacks. There had been no children, and he had won over his wife to his own deplorably rationalistic attitude of mind. He prevailed on her to do as he did, and give up all church-going.
Lady Johns regretted this. She prayed about it earnestly, for she was pious. Her ideas of religion being clear cut, sh thought it likely that the insensibility of this couple to religion had mysteriously provoked the present misfortune Putting it as a woman of the masses might have done, Lads Johns firmly believed that this premature child—and after seven years—was "a judgment" on them. By this method sharp in mercy, they would be led to Faith.
"Was it baptized, the poor little thing?" she now asked. Antony returned, looking oddly tender, looking romantic.
"Yes, Angelina would have it. This was the first thing she wanted to know when everything was over. I shall always recall her faint voice. It floated from the bed. There is, I've told her so a hundred times, a sense of spells with Angelina. I sent across for one of the curates at once—it | | 163 was Helmsley, and he came. He lived—the little chap, the baby—nearly an hour afterwards. We baptized him after her father—Timothy.
"I'm thankful beyond words that you sent for Mr. Helmsley," said Lady Johns. "Dear little creature, and a boy too! You both wanted a boy. How hard it is, Antony." The loving tears welled into her eyes again.
"It is inevitable—with me," he returned.
He looked plaintive and sullen. There was also in his bright eyes, so nicely blue, a queer, strained look. She had observed it before, and it startled her. Not a new look—to her; but merely new as seen in Antony. Her brother-in-law, his father, and poor Maria's husband, had often looked like that. Her heart sank.
"I think," she said, "that when all this is over, and when Angelina is strong again, that you must travel. Horsham is a dead place for two young people."
"We are not young and I shan't leave Normandy. I can't afford it."
"We can always afford what we want, and if necessary I could help you. You will think me a revolutionary, Antony, but——"
He laughed. It was suddenly a great, happy laugh; an outdoor, healthy laugh.
She looked at his big body and clear skin. She was reassured. In a way, she rubbed her eyes. There was nothing wrong with Antony. He was sound as a bell. He merely wanted stirring up. When Angelina was about again she would speak to her seriously. Antony must be dug out of this finicky porcelain and silver life.
"But I am revolutionary—when it comes to you and your affairs," she insisted; "and I think I should really be delighted to know that this house with everything in it was burned to the ground. You would get the insurance money, and you——
"No, I shouldn't. I'm not insured."
"What! With all this valuable stuff? Your capital is in it."
"Very likely. But I don't believe in precaution. I'm | | 164 not insured, and I don't mean to be; neither my life nor my contemptible crockery."
She detected the note of rancour. He was most sensitive about his passion for collecting. The truth was, he had go into a rut. He was narrow minded.
How she longed to put her shoulder to it and get the wheel out and speed the cart off into new country!
"But, my dearest boy, it is madness," she said, and was both shocked and alarmed.
Not to be insured was almost as bad as not going to church. Her mind, so simply faithful, when it came to the accepted things, was in a perfect whirl.
"You have spent hundreds, perhaps I ought to say thousands," she said, looking at him with immense concern. "Why, you can insure against everything nowadays, and think that to a poor man it is most necessary. You are poor. I can't think how you manage. Angelina is a excellent housekeeper, of course."
"She is perfect. You and I are agreed upon that, dear Aunt. As to insurance, don't try to convince me, for, flatly, I won't. And you know that I have a nasty temper when roused. It is in the ffinch blood; that brutal, mad touch."
"Not mad, nonsense!"
"Yes, mad. I shouldn't wonder."
He sat down, toying with a charming silver ship that stood upon the slim table in the window recess. His big face, plain, yet with the fine profile, was dogged and bored. He was getting weary even of his Aunt Philippa, and, sensitively, she felt this.
"I won't worry you," she said mildly, "I only, just as a last word, my dear boy, implore you to think."
"I do more than that," he looked up rather humorously, "I go round the house at night and rake out every fire. Since Angelina has been upstairs—it was the night before last—I found that some little devil, a girl they've got in to help the other two, had left a bundle of sticks in the kitchen fender and a can of paraffin close by. She is of your view; that fire would help me. But I shot her out of the house before nine o'clock next morning."
"I'm glad you did. Temporary servants are always a | | 165 menace to any household, It is just this, Antony." Lady johns was tenacious, "there may be in the future other little children. You must begin to think of that now. A new prospect is opened up. How are they to be provided for? I think that now, when objets d'art fetch really fabulous prices, is your time to sell. You could invest the money. Why," she broke off, "there is a carriage stopping outside. Who is it? Look out of the window. I think it would have been wise to put straw down, myself. Angelina must be kept quiet."
"The very thing, the first thing, that Mrs. Peachey said when she came."
"Of course you had to send for her," Lady Johns looked annoyed nevertheless, "and I shall have to meet her later on. But I do dislike the woman. I resent her. Where is she now?"
"In bed and asleep. She was awfully good, she is a born nurse. She was up all night."
"Was she? I can hardly forgive her for getting here before me. But I was out to dinner—with the Jannaways; you know that Freddy, a perfect Simple Simon, is married? When I got back to Pont Street it was too late to start."
"It is Robert Pole outside," said Antony from the window, "Cicely Forbes is driving him in one of her spidery dog-carts. So Jannaway is married, is he? What a lot of attention Angelina already, although she isn't thirty, has attracted. And she was in love with little boys—she's told me so—before she was ten."
He looked jealous; a smouldering fire, but it might flare up.
"She was engaged to Jannaway. Lascelles wanted her and——"
"Not only Percy Lascelles, but one or two other most eligible men," said Lady Johns proudly.
"I know that. Bob Pole, for one. He's coming in, and so is Cicely. I suppose they heard that you were here. I suppose that silly Freddy has married an actress, by the way?"
"No, he hasn't, although one expected it. She is twenty years older than he, and the sedate widow of a banker. | | 166 The name escapes me. A sensible woman, who will keep him steady. Already, he is getting stout. I don't think Cicely need have come in. What a noise they seem to be making on the stairs."
She turned her stately head towards the door, prepared to receive Cicely, that very sporting young lady, in her thick boots, with the suitable air of reproach. This was a house of sickness.
Lady Johns was a stickler for perfect proportion.
She arose when the drawing-room door opened and advanced a few steps. She showed an air of hush.
"I think," she said, in reproving undertones and before any greeting, "that we had better go downstairs, all of us, to the morning-room. Angelina must have perfect quiet, and voices do carry even in these splendidly built old houses."
She smiled at Cicely, with the most delicate hint. The smile said, "Your voice, my dear, is more strident than most."
But an arrow of this sort would never pierce Cicely's hide. She was an excellent young woman for workaday purposes. She was coarse and cheerful; to-day she appeared a touch more coarsely cheerful than usual. Something had happened to Cicely. Antony was irritably wondering what it could be—he resented the intrusion of these people. Lady Johns was thinking serenely, "I suppose Robert means to marry her at last."
"All right," said Cicely, laughing, and then clapping her hand in the thick driving glove to her red mouth. "We'll go where you like."
So they all proceeded down the stairs to Angelina's morning room, on the ground floor at the back. It looked on to the square, formally disposed garden.
"We haven't, at Leggatt Court," said Lady Johns, gazing out, "box edgings to approach yours, Antony."
"A jolly good hiding-place for slugs," said Cicely. " Poor old Angelina! What a facer for her-and for you," she flung a broad, sympathetic smile full into Antony's sulky face. "How is she? Feeling rotten?"
"Out of danger now, thank you," he returned coldly.
"We were driving by," Robert Pole spoke and he looked | | 167 embarrassed, "so we thought we'd look in and ask how she was and also tell you our own bit of news."
He laughed; a nice, sheepish laugh. He stared thoughtfully at Angelina's work basket. It was open as she had left it. An end of lawn hung out. Lady Johns watched him. She knew that the sight of that basket stirred him. She understood Robert, and she had always been sorry for him. If ever a simple man had loved a coldly wayward woman, he had faithfully worshipped Angelina. And, although she was lost to him, he had remained single for seven years after her marriage.
She said, putting her assumption into words, and looking at him affectionately, "I suppose you are going to marry, Cicely?"
"That's hit the bull's eye," chuckled this young lady, answering for him. "We came to tell you, didn't we, Bob?"
She was a handsome girl, splendidly healthy, and of the build that you may call "fine" or "coarse" according to the feminine standard you set. Her thick, red lips invariably affronted Antony and, distastefully, he described her solid-looking brown eyes as "juicy." Also she had what he described as a "revolting" trick of slang. Moreover, she could hit off you and your foibles in a neat phrase; and this never endears a woman to a sensitive man.
"Yes, spliced," she was saying to Lady Johns simply; and the cheap word came from a full heart: it became a womanly utterance. It was common knowledge in Horsham society that Cicely Forbes had been in love with Robert Pole for years. She had never attempted to conceal this, and she did not now. She spoke out, to the visible embarrassment of the two men and the disdain of Lady Johns.
"I'll bet," she laughed good-humouredly, and flung at her betrothed a warm, frank glance, "that Bob has got over his hopeless love for Angelina at last. If he hadn't, he would never have proposed to me, would you, old boy? And I didn't shilly-shally, you know. He threw the handkerchief. I picked it up and wiped my nose with it. That was only yesterday."
"You are neophytes; we must expect a little exuberance," said the elder woman coolly.| | 168
"Yes, but I am shocking you all the same," she returned frankly. "I don't believe he ever would have done it, only he thought that my mare was running away with me, and he happened to be——"
"I was riding by," said Robert Pole, who was breezy too, "and there was Cicely in a shell of a cart with scarlet wheels——"
"No, canary wheels," she interrupted, screaming him down in her jolly way. "Somebody said the other day of my dog-carts that I must change the wheels, button on fresh ones, as some people do with their silk petticoats. Rather decent wasn't it? I roared. But I don't wear a petticoat."
She looked at Lady Johns and then, striding forward, frankly hugged her.
"Your face shows double disgust," she said, and nearly whimpered. She was between mirth and tears. She had wanted Bob Pole since she was a little thing, and now he had asked her to marry him. They were going to have a jolly good time together.
Lady Johns had known them both since they were children. She understood what the girl was feeling. She felt glad for her. Cicely to-day was probing as deeply into the heart of Life as she ever would.
"I hope you will be happy, my dear, both of you," she turned round to smile inclusively at Robert. "In fact, I feel sure that you will."
"And I never finished telling you," Cicely stepped back, suddenly and brusquely ashamed of her emotional outburst.
"He looked as if he meant to try and stop the mare and upset the whole boiling. So I yelled out, "Don't be an ass. My wrists are as strong as iron." And off we dashed, me and Molly, she is a little hot devil, all past your park gates and half-way to the town, Lady Johns. When she did stop there was Bob—and shall I tell her what you said, Bob?"
"I don't suppose you care to know," Pole's eye was twinkling. "It is all too unromantic for you, Lady Johns. I said that I'd be hanged if she should risk her life like that any more, and I asked her if she'd like double harness; that sort of foolery."| | 169
Antony was fiddling at the mantelpiece with one of his womanish bits of china, Lady Johns was thinking that Angelina must have suffered a great deal if Robert Pole, in his frequent proposals to her, had spoken and looked and laughed like that. It was honest enough, but it was yokelish.
She concluded that he had about enough intelligence to vary his similes. So perhaps Angelina had not suffered.
"We shall be married quite soon," he said. " Directly Julius comes home, that is. I should like old Jubs to be my best man."
Antony carefully set his pot upon the shelf.
"Is Julius coming back?" he asked. "Why?"
"Bit of a holiday," returned Pole carelessly. "The climate out there is awfully stiff, you know. No wonder they pay them such a good screw."
"I suppose that Julius is saving?" asked Lady Johns, and she asked pointedly.
She wanted to impress upon Antony the fact that other men were both politic and frugal; yes, even bachelors.
"Not a penny so far," he said. "Julius is one of those chaps to let money slip through his fingers. I don't know what he does with it. There is nothing to show. He hasn't even got china and stuff, as you have," he spoke to Antony civilly, yet with the unconscious scorn of the out door man for the collector and the student.
"But he has been out There for years," persisted Lady Johns.
"Yes, years. And then he gets a holiday and goes off and spends what he's earned, I suppose. Anyhow, he said when he wrote the other day that he hadn't saved a stiver. The only thing is, that he's got such a jolly good post that he could always in five or six years save enough to grub along with for the rest of his life. He must; he'll have to. He's a younger brother, and when the governor dies there won't be a sixpence for him. We're mortgaged, you know, right up. It's lucky for me," he grinned affectionately at his recently betrothed, "that Cicely's got tin."
"Plenty for you; nothing for Julius. Don't like him," said that young lady curtly.| | 170
"My dear!" Lady Johns was easily shocked, "of course you won't, as Robert's wife, provide for his brother Julius. And now I am going to send you both away. I only came down from town an hour ago. I must have a little rest after lunch, and at tea-time Antony thinks I might be able to see Bundy just for five minutes."
When they were gone Antony, with a gesture of shrinking, said, "What a pair! And they will people the world with other pairs."
"They are honest enough young people, my dear boy, and I feel sure they will be happy. I am very glad," she spoke with emphasis, "that Robert Pole is settling down. It hardly seemed decorous that he should remain single."
"You mean that he was one of Angelina's many victims?"
"Yes, something like that."
"And no doubt Julius will be another."
Lady Johns laughed.
"Julius! Nobody would fall in love with him. I mean," she added, "that he would fall in love with nobody. He was very ugly as a little boy. Don't you remember?"
"I remember. Thick lips, small eyes set high and close together. A dark skin, so no doubt the African sun has made him a regular negro, and so perfected him," said Antony kindly. "Good gracious!" he turned round with a queer, helpless gesture to his aunt—a childlike and lovable lifting of the brows. "How can any man make love to Cicely Forbes? She knocks you down at once; a sledge-hammer in each hand—either slang or some idiotic metaphor. Robert in the end will murder her. We shall have a bucolic tragedy. You'll see."
"Antony! Don't be so horrible."
Saying this, she actually shivered. The idea of any violating of the Decalogue by a well-born person was singularly shocking to Lady Johns.
Definite vices were for the lower, or the queer, artistic classes; never for the landed gentry. This was her ideal, but a daily reading of the newspaper frequently disturbed it!
"Cicely," she said generously, "is more unpleasantly slangy than usual to-day, just because she is so happy. Poor girl! It has really been painful to watch her very | | 171 palpable devotion to Robert. Cicely is certainly—you must forgive me also sinking to simile, dearest, and a homely one—too unlaced in her speech and her emotions. She is always to me like an excursion trip to Brighton in July: noisy blue water, boats going out, the band playing, the beach crowded, little children crying and wives nagging their husbands."
"What on earth do you know, darling, of an excursion trip to Brighton," he asked, with vague tenderness.
"What short memory!" she bantered him. "Did you not send me to Brighton for my health in the very middle of the summer, and has it not changed your life and mine? All those terrible persons, the trippers, poor things, used to stream down West Street to the sea. I believe they left London at five o'clock in the morning, or something like that. Angelina and I used to watch them from the window of Mrs. Chope's cottage. Is she still with Mrs. Peachey, Antony, that woman?"
"I suppose so," he appeared to retreat. "I have hardly spoken to Mrs. Peachey since she came into the house. Ours was not a painful, but a gauche meeting. I had to be civil, but I found nothing to say. It is an unusual position, and I dislike the unusual. I shall be glad when she goes away. All this domestic drama is distinctly boring. I want Angelina back and our settled life."
He spoke with a faint sense of grievance against Angelina.
Lady Johns noticed it, and she was not exactly angry. Men were like that. They were for your fair weather days. She recalled, digging below various strata in her memory, that, upon their honeymoon, her own blessed, perfect husband had sulked half the day because she had a nervous headache and could not ride with him. They were creatures for sunshine, these men. In any distress you needed a woman.
"What beautiful furniture she had—Mrs. Chope, I mean," said Antony, looking out at his small Dutch-like garden with its mellow, high walls of narrow bricks. " Wonder where she got it! The simple stateliness of her bits of Sheraton! I can see those chairs and tables now. There was a settee covered with a thickish blue brocade that had faded to a golden-silver. None of it looked like Mrs. Chope."| | 172
"There was certainly a mystery about her," said Lady Johns shortly—she could never bring herself to approve of voluble Mrs. Chope.
"I think I see plain sailing for Cicely and Robert," she added, turning the topic.
"You always do. When old Lady Usher married that pretty granddaughter of hers to a man of sixty-seven, you were hopeful."
"Poor little Jean!" Lady Johns spoke placidly. "She was happy enough, yet she was barely eighteen. He only lived three years you see, and of course she is happier as a widow. But a woman when she is well bred can accustom herself to anything."
"There was another old man, a parson——"
"Oh, you mean Archdeacon Usk. Yes, that was rather distressing," admitted Lady Johns. "Mary was only nineteen, and his third wife. Don't you remember how disgusted his daughters were! I think the Archdeacon showed bad taste. The daughters went off and started a shop; something elegant; ladies do, nowadays, but it always seems to me most peculiar. Mary looked cheerful enough, and when he died she married that nice curate. You know, Antony—what was his name? That handsome clergyman with the extreme views. They have a living in Dorsetshire somewhere. He will never get preferment. He is too peculiar."
"You mean Duffield. He wasn't a bad chap. But your ethics of marriage"—Antony lounged away from the window—"turn me cold. I prefer"—darkness strode across his face—"Angelina's."
Lady Johns laughed indulgently.
"Darling Bundy!" she said, "before she married she was like many girls, very high-falutin and ultra-romantic in her ideas. But she is beautifully correct now and a model wife. When I die, Antony"—she became chameleon in subject, as now and then she could—"I shall leave every penny not to you, but to your wife. Yes, Angelina shall have it. I don't trust your commercial instincts. You have shaken me very much over this insurance affair."
Antony laughed. It was grating. No mirth was in it. "You won't," he said, and quite with the manner of making | | 173 a feeble play upon words. "You won't leave the money to my wife."
He was looking wretched and ill-tempered. His aunt wondered that money could so affect Antony, since he never seemed to care for it.
"I shall," she said firmly. "If you had it, you might buy china and then not insure it. How do I know? There will not, Antony, be so much to leave, for I am a poor woman; although I look so rich to the world. I owe nearly everything to my brother's generosity——" Her face changed.
"Do you know?" she asked in a new voice, pausing and then eloquently proceeding, "how Gerald proposes to leave his money?"
"I never thought about it. To you I suppose. Or is there an heir?"
"For the estate, yes, of course. Your cousin Jack. You would not remember him. He is a soldier, in Burmah, I believe. But everything that he can will away Gerald is leaving to Lucy for her children. Isn't that noble? I could never do it if I were a man."
"Fine! No. He is a fool. Do you mean to tell me that he is leaving to his divorced wife, for her children by another man, his fortune."
Lady Johns nodded.
"It touched me when he told me," she said with a fine, quiet simplicity.
"It doesn't touch me in the least," Antony looked queerly violent. "In his place I would like to see her starve. If he is so fond of her why did he divorce her?"
"Because she loved the music man and always had. He married her at once you know, directly the decree was made absolute. I hear they are very happy, but bitterly poor. She is many years younger than Gerald. To me of course she will always be Gerald's wife. It is impossible that she should be any one else's. Her mother made the marriage and it turned out ill. She is to be pitied, I suppose."
"It wasn't one of your happy instances," sneered Antony.
His aunt saw that, for no apparent reason, he was in one of his horrid tempers.
"Ah, well!" she smiled vaguely, "one must have failures | | 174 now and then. Lucy perhaps was not of simple enough material. When a girl is simple her mother can twist her into any shape for any man: as the milliner twists a hat. It turns out quite well as a rule. But there are always fallacies and always failures in life. For example, I was reading the other day of what they called that 'absurd creation, the strong, silent man.' You find him in novels, now and then. But I have found him in life. Gerald is one. You can't live comfortably with these men, as a wife, that is, but that they are very often marvellous."
Antony allowed her to continue. He merely smiled at her. He was getting more smilingly heavy and more moody every day. She was sorry for Angelina.
While she was feeling this and while she was racking her head for solution—for the something that must be done to lift and lighten, cheer and sweeten Antony—there was a sound outside, the door opened, and Mrs. Peachy, as she herself would have put it, "looked in."
To "look in" exactly described her entry; for her deprecating head bobbed itself round the door before the rest of her.
Lady Johns turned graciously, and the dislike upon her face was swiftly kaleidoscopic. It gave way to the warm colours of a civil welcome.
"My dear Mrs. Peachey," she held out her hand, " after all these years, this is indeed a sad meeting, is it not? How do you find our dear Bun—Angelina?"
Mrs. Peachey was flushed with recent sleep; which pretty phrase only means that she was more unpleasantly rash-like than usual. She was also, by implication, aggressive, as the social inferior is. Antony, plainly disliking her and never troubling, either now or at any time, to conceal his dislike, made a gruff nose in his throat, which you may translate as clearing it, and lounged to the door.
"I shall see you both at lunch. That is in half an hour," he said curtly to his aunt, and he left her alone with Mrs. Peachey.
Mrs. Peachey looked relieved, for she wished to talk, as woman to woman, of the lying-in room. Moreover, Antony ffinch was a surly, cold-blooded beast. Lady Johns daintily shrank. She hated physical things, and she knew that people | | 175 of this kind must talk of their bodies, since they had no soul to speak of.
"I can't say that I approve of the nurse," began Mrs. Peachey in her fretful voice. "She allows Angelina to lie in a through draught—door and window open. Such things were unheard of when I had my confinements."
She appeared to seek for confidences from Lady Johns upon this topic, but her only answer was a feeble:
"It is July and very oppressive. I always find Horsham oppressive in the summer, and I can never understand why my nephew stays here all the year round."
"Now I'm with you;" Mrs. Peachey, granted an opening, looked animated and more at ease. "I never talk to servants, naturally; I know their place and my own far too well. I've been accustomed to them all my life. Still, Cook did say that her mistress hadn't had a change of air since I don't know when. That is not good for any young couple."
She concluded impressively. There were, so she wished to imply, dark possibilities to this sentence: a stationary marriage must be sinister.
"If Angelina had been for a run to the seaside, say, every year; if she had even come to stay at Brighton with us for a bit, her constitution would have been very different, Lady Johns."
"But her constitution is splendid, I assure you. Remember that you have not seen her for many years. She has changed."
"That she certainly has;" the other's voice was far from pleasant; it was, so Lady Johns was haughtily reflecting, quite insufferable. "It is really coming to something when a young wife does not give her own mother her confidence in her condition. Mr. ffinch's wire was a surprise to me. It was a shock."
"I am sorry, and I am sure that my nephew would not wish to give pain. But you must remember that I adopted Angelina years ago, and that almost since she was a child I have been her mother."
"A child! Excuse me, but she was a woman grown. She had already received attentions from one gentleman."
Lady Johns flinched. She found herself in a different | | 176 world and with alien phrasing. It was, by implication, coarse.
"It is a very unfortunate affair: about the poor baby I mean," she said hurriedly. "Did you see it?"
"Yes, I saw it, Lady Johns. A fine boy—considering, you know," Mrs. Peachey dropped her voice, "that it was premature. Now that was a thing which, had I been with my daughter, never could have happened. I should have watched her. No doubt she was reckless over exercise, gadding about here and there. She should have kept her legs up a great deal. I was always advised to do that."
"Did Angelina herself see the child?" asked Lady Johns steadily.
She sat upright, and the unfading smile upon her mouth was glassily cold. This lean, wiry woman with the nasal voice and the funnily fashionable clothes, was goading her to nervous frenzy.
"She did; and it was enough to bring tears to a stone. I wish you could have seen her."
"I wish I could have been here earlier, I do indeed," returned Lady Johns earnestly. But, as I explained to my nephew, I was at a dinner-party and came home too late to start last night."
"I was at home," Mrs. Peachey laughed—she relieved her feelings now and then by laughter than was akin to a crow. "We are home-keeping people, and it is an easy run up to Horsham from Brighton. Yes"—her narrow face worked with real feeling—" the monthly nurse put the poor little soul into her arms for a moment. She was lying on her back with all her beautiful hair spread out upon the pillow. I always took great pains with my two girls' hair when they were children. She looked down at him and then she looked across the room at me and said to me:
"'You can't see very much, mother, when you lie like this looking down.'—The woman took him away, poor lamb, and he died very soon after. That is all my poor girl knows of being a mother. Though between you and me I don't think Angelina cared much. She only seemed as if she did, because she is so nice looking."
Mrs. Peachey nevertheless wiped her eyes. So did Lady | | 177 Johns. They seemed not only to meet but to combine through this speech. They were melted if Angelina remained hard.
It was fortunate that the lunch-bell rang, or there might have been a democratic display of emotion. Lady Johns hated this. The rule of her life was to prefer to be considered shallow, trivial, cold, or anything so long as she was not dubbed emotional.
"I shall be getting back soon after lunch," said Mrs. Peachey. "Three-thirty the train was, and I mustn't miss it. A gentleman," she smirked, "meets me at the terminus."
"At Brighton? Oh yes—but must you go to-day?"
"Certainly I must!" the aggressive note was rarely absent. "Angelina doesn't want me, and even if she did she has very little claim upon me. She has not behaved as a daughter should. I must say it. What is a paltry Christmas card to a mother's heart?"
"Very little, indeed."
Lady Johns assenting, moving slowly towards the door, appeared relieved and faintly amused.
"And I am shortly intending"—Mrs. Peachey's smirk became dangerous; she again converged towards the intimate confidence—"to settle again. My first marriage with Angelina's Papa, Lady Johns, was far from happy. He was an odd man: an irritable and unhealthy man. And his mother was a regular old terror. She lived with us."
"Now with my second there will be no question of a mother-in-law, naturally. He is elderly, say sixty, a very sensible age. He is an auctioneer: one of the most prominent in the town. I have disposed of the lease of my house, and we have taken a beautiful new place at Hurstpierpoint. That is such an easy run into Brighton for business gentlemen."
"I suppose so. Will you go first, Mrs. Peachey? Mr. ffinch dislikes to be kept waiting at lunch."
"The men are all alike in that," laughed Angelina's mother.
She was becoming at ease and fluent. She appeared better tempered.
"But I am sacrificing a great deal," she continued, as they went across the flagged hall. "My first husband left my money most unfairly, and I lose a large part of my income."| | 178
"Does it revert to Angelina?"
"Oh dear no." Mrs. Peachey's brief, sharp laugh said plainly, "Don't you think so!"
"Neither of my children get a penny, but both are well provided for. I have done my duty to my two girls. The money goes to a—well, a scientific friend of Mr. Peachey's; a"—she paused; it was a positive flounder—" a coadjutor," she triumphantly concluded. "You remember that I told you he was all for chemical experiments?"
Lady Johns merely reiterated her bland, ridiculous "indeed." For she took no interest in Mrs. Peachey's husband, past or yet to be. It was merely shocking to her to admit, as she must, that this alarmingly vulgar person, this funny, ugly, little shrew, was Angelina's mother.
Mrs. Peachey remarked, looking approvingly round at panelled walls and chastely decorated ceiling:
"What a very handsome entry this is! You'd never think it from the outside."
|<< chapter 6||< chapter 3||chapter 8 >||chapter 11 >>|