- CHAPTER XV GOOD-BYE TO THE STROLL
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GOOD-BYE TO THE STROLL
WHEN Phosie looked out of her window, the morning after the storm, the world seemed to have been drenched in tears.
The leaden sky was empty, washed out; the walls of surrounding houses might all have been painted brown under cover of darkness for their look of gloom and similarity. Trees and bushes were still heavy with rain, and the long, dank grass in the garden was beaten flat.
Phosie had slept little, disturbed by ugly dreams. She had heard the housekeeper return home at about midnight.
She opened her door and listened. There was not a sound in the house. It was still very early.
Refreshed by the mere thought of cold water, she washed and dressed, wrapped herself in a shawl, spread the coverlet tidily, and began to empty the chest of drawers, putting her small stock of clothes in little neat piles upon her bed.
She also took her books out of the hanging bookshelf, and two or three framed photographs of famous pictures, Mr Revell's gifts, off the walls, dusting each one carefully. Then she cleaned her boots and put them on, putting her house shoes and bedroom slippers beside the tiny bundles of underclothes.
Her best dress was laid on the pillow of the bed, together with her glove-box, containing one new pair and two fancy handkerchiefs; her hair ribbons—Phosie loved vivid hair ribbons; the necklace Miss Sapio had | | 130 given her years ago at Airy Street; and a pretty chiffon scarf, greatly prized, which had been Lily Parlow's present on her last birthday.
Then she counted her money. Well! She had run away from Airy Street with less. This was poor consolation, but it was better than none at all. Her amount of portable property was not imposing, but while she was getting it ready to be packed in the trunk she would have to buy her expression had been bright, satisfied, animated. She did not allow herself time for reflection until her preparations were completed.
The distant sound of Mrs Bird pulling up blinds, unbolting doors and raking out the kitchen stove—Mrs Bird's household spiriting was always of a noisy, bustling order—told Phosie that she was no longer alone in the house, awake among dreamers, but that another day had begun for them all, and with the knowledge came the overwhelming recollection of why she must escape from her home of years.
This house belonged to Jules Revell, and she could accept nothing from his hand.
She could never be his friend again. She knew he would marry her, for he had implored her to marry him, but there were minutes during their extraordinary interview of the previous night which were branded on her memory.
She felt old in the thought of these minutes—shamed, humiliated—the bloom of her youth brushed off by the hand of a thief. She covered her face with her hands and burst into passionate tears, scalding, difficult tears, that choke in the throat and make the temples throb.
All her gay, happy spirit was overshadowed by the vague, instinctive horror of a woman who has trembled on the brink of—she knows not what—who has looked into depths she cannot fathom, who has been saved from unspeakable misery.| | 131
For a few minutes she wept, and even moaned aloud, without thought of self-control; then she suddenly sat erect in her chair and firmly mastered her quivering nerves.
The desire of the night before, when she had found herself alone in her room and the struggle over, came back with redoubled force. She carefully locked her door, to prevent Mrs. Bird from bursting in, and knelt down by the window with clasped hands and face upturned, but her prayer found no words, for she still sobbed, and now and again put up a finger to stop a tear running down her face. When she spoke at last it was only one broken sentence:
"I thank God—who never deserts us—"
Then she dropped her head down upon her folded arms in another burst of irrepressible emotion, her whole body shaking, and her eyes blinded with rushing tears.
A quarter of an hour later Phosie called over the banisters to Little Gus. She heard him whistling and talking to the dog.
"I want to speak to you very particularly, dear!" she said softly, when she had attracted his attention and he stood listening half-way up the stairs. "Will you come up—quietly, Gus."
He checked his whistle and obeyed. She beckoned him into her room. He stared blankly at her pale, serious face.
"Gus, I am going away from here to-day, and of course you'll go with me," said Phosie. "Don't look so troubled. I have made all the plans."
"Going away? What on earth for?" exclaimed Gus. Phosie hastily, but clearly, explained Mr Revell's will. He was much quicker at grasping the situation than she had expected.
"But Jules would let us stop on!" he urged. "He wouldn't turn us out, Phosie. He's a good feller. He'd want us to stop."| | 132
"Dear Gus!" said Phosie, "please don't ask me to give you all my reasons for going away so quickly. It isn't a foolish or a wilful desire. It is impossible for me to live here any longer. Should I say this so earnestly if I didn't mean it? You can trust me, can't you?"
"Of course I can," he replied, his eyes wandering from the empty bookshelf, which he had just noticed, to the things on the bed. "I suppose you mean it's inevitable, but what are we going to do, Phosie? How are we going to live? I'm not afraid of work, but I dunno what I can do, without learning something."
"We are going to Miss Sapio's first of all," she answered. "She has promised to get me an engagement on the stage, as soon as I can act the little sketch Mr Addison has written. I shall earn plenty of money."
"What about me?" asked Little Gus, anxiously.
The question was puzzling. Phosie shelved it.
"Oh, you'll get on all right," she said. "Now, I want you to go downstairs and put your clothes together. You had better have breakfast. Tell Mrs Bird my head aches, and ask her to bring me a cup of tea. I don't want anything to eat—well, perhaps I'd better have something—just a piece of bread and butter. If you see Jules—"
She paused in frowning thought for a few seconds, then continued:
"If you see Jules say I don't feel very bright this morning, but I shall be down soon. You need not tell him that we are going away."
Little Gus departed with a heavy step, feeling very mystified and miserable. It did not enter his head to question Phosie's wisdom in going away so suddenly, but he had been too comfortable and happy at The Stroll to think of leaving it without a pang. He wished feebly that Mr Revell were alive, or had left all his possessions to Phosie.
"If I was a millionaire," thought Little Gus, "I'd | | 133 leave her every penny when I died. No, I wouldn't wait to be dead. I'd give her every penny while I was alive. I'd give her every ha'penny!"
Somewhat cheered by the thought of his generosity, Gus managed to eat a good breakfast. It was nine o'clock before Phosie left her room. At the sound of her step Jules bounded up the stairs from the breakfast-room, meeting her in the hall. She was dressed to go out.
He began to speak as he approached, too quickly, nervously.
"Good morning, Phosie! I thought you were never coming down. Where are you off to so early? Going to market, eh? Why don't you send the Birdie?"
Phosie did not even glance at him, but she knew without turning her head how he looked—smiling, fresh-coloured, with his full lips, and liquid, brown, animal eyes. She answered in an expressionless voice, as if she were repeating a hardly-learned lesson.
"I am going to buy a trunk to pack our things—mine and Gus's. We are leaving here this morning. You need not feel any anxiety on my account. I am going to my friend, Miss Sapio."
"Going away? My dear child!" cried Jules, in amazement, and he moved nearer, laying his hand on the door. "What ridiculous ideas have you got in your little head now? You don't mean it?"
"Yes, I am going away," was all she answered.
"But I can't allow this!" said Jules, half in earnest, half in joke. "It's too absurd. Phosie darling, be reasonable! Let's talk it over. I wouldn't coerce you for the world. You know that, don't you? Come now, Phosie! Don't be unkind. Don't be hard. What a change in the little girl! What's the matter, dear?"
He stooped a little, trying to hide his surprise and anxiety, but the look he met was so determined and so appealing in its pale intensity that he drew back, and his restraining hand dropped from the door. She opened | | 134 it without a word. A rush of east wind swept into the hall, and he was alone.
Then Jules gave way to one of his rare fits of emotional passion. He flung himself into his room, swore, bit his nails, stormed up and down, up and down, like a wild beast in a cage. He had turned the key in the lock, but there was no danger of interruption from Gus or the frightened woman downstairs. They only listened to his tramp, tramp, and talked about him in whispers.
They would have been horrified to see him as he saw himself in the glass—the eyes bloodshot and swollen, the ugly purple vein looking as if it would burst between them, the usually smooth hair torn down over the forehead, the nostrils and mouth quivering. He was like a man who had been flogged, swept with impotent rage and self-pity.
No one in the world had ever seen Jules Revell in such a paroxysm. He guarded the secret of his weakness, as it was natural he should, thinking of it afterwards with surprise and shame.
When Phosie returned, an hour later, she found Mrs Bird and Gus waiting for her. They told her that Jules was in the breakfast-room, and he wanted to speak to her. There was something important he had to say.
A quick walk in the fresh air had restored the usual colour to her face and made her feel strong and vigorous. She was absolutely certain of a welcome and good advice from Miss Sapio, and the difficulty of finding rooms, which had baffled her at fifteen, only gave her a sense of amused responsibility.
How she would have enjoyed describing her plans to Mr Revell! Even Lily Parlow, after a hasty interview, confessed that the prospects were not unpleasing. At first she had been shocked at her friend's conduct. For any girl to leave a comfortable house, unless bound for Gretna Green, or its modern equivalent, a registry office, struck Miss Parlow as extremely imprudent.| | 135
Phosie finished packing, exchanged affectionate farewells with Mrs Bird, and sent Little Gus for a cab Then she obeyed Jules's summons.
He was sitting in front of the fire, but it had gone out. His hands were in his pockets, his head sunk on his breast.
"I am here. What do you want to say to me?" said Euphrosyne, standing just within the door.
He did not look round. She could hardly hear his low, surly voice.
"You needn't have run away in such a hurry this morning. I didn't tell you the truth yesterday about my uncle's will. He has left you a small annuity. You had better write to the lawyers, Faraday & Boyton. You know their address. I'm not a thief. I don't want to cheat you out of your money, even if I could."
"Why did you lie to me last night about this?" said Phosie, surprised, pleased and agitated by this news.
Jules got up and put one knee on the seat of his chair, leaning over it, looking at her.
"Why did I lie? Oh, you can guess. I wanted you to feel dependent—wretched—living on my bounty. All's fair in love!"
He continued looking at her, and she at him, in silence for a minute. Then he spoke again.
"Are you really going away?"
He turned his head on one side, avoiding her eyes, while he asked the next question.
"What is your reason? I think you ought to tell me. I promised my uncle to look after you."
He ignored her interruption, and went on in the same voice of low, sullen protest.
"My uncle talked to me on the subject. He trusted me. He was not suspicious and hard, as you are."
"That's enough!" exclaimed Phosie."I don't | | 136 want to hear you speak of Mr Revell. Is there anything else you have to say?"
"You know that I love you, Phosie! You know what I want. Darling!"
For one minute she saw the man of the night before—tender, passionate, dangerous—but he no longer had any power to move her.
She was not angry or embarrassed. She was simply aloof, unattainable, self-possessed. He read his answer in her face.
Little Gus called her from the hall, and she turned to go.
"Am I not to see you any more?" said Jules.
"Or write to you?"
He shrugged his shoulders, pondered, and waited for her to speak the last words.
"Good-bye, Jules! Try to be happy—try not to blame me—it isn't my fault—"
"Oh, if you knew how I love you, Phosie! If you knew how a man can love. But women don't know. Have it your own way. Go if you want to, but don't think you can get rid of me so easily."
That was all she could hear him say. His voice trailed into silence, and he threw himself again into his chair, staring at the dead fire.
As the cab turned out of the quiet Stroll into the busy traffic of Hammersmith Broadway, Phosie leaned out of the window and kissed her hand.
"Can you see Mrs Bird or Lily Parlow?" asked Little Gus.
"No, they have disappeared," she answered. "I am just saying good-bye to the dear old Stroll. If Mr Revell were there I couldn't have gone away, but as it is—"
She clapped her hands together and, to her com- | | 137 panion's great surprise, threw her arms round his neck, nearly choking him.
"There's a soul-satisfying hug for you, Augustus Stewart-Cromwell," she said. "It's in honour of our escape, my dear."
"I dunno what you mean," said the startled Gus. "There never was another girl like you, Phosie! When I came upstairs this morning you were quite pale and black under your eyes. You looked as if you'd seen a ghost, but now! What are you laughing about?"
"Because we're running away again, Augustus—because the sun is shining—because I'm young—I don't know—every reason in the world."
"I liked The Stroll," said Gus. "We were very jolly there, you know, Taffy and you and me. I dunno whether we shall ever be so jolly again."
"Oh, yes, we shall," cried the girl. "But we'll never forget the dear old Stroll—never, never!"
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