- CHAPTER XVII THE ILLUSIVE HOUR
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THE ILLUSIVE HOUR
EUPHROSYNE, during the two months which had elapsed since her flight from The Stroll, had had time to put her house in order.
An early application to Messrs Faraday & Boyton, Mr Revell's lawyers, had revealed the truth about her late guardian's will. He had left her a small annuity. Mr Faraday considered it very small indeed, ridiculously small, but the penniless child of a poor acrobat looked upon fifteen shillings a week as an almost princely income.
Little Gus's name did not appear in the will, for Mr Revell had only tolerated the boy for her sake. Jules Revell was his heir.
Phosie had seen Jules several times, but not spoken to him. He had followed her in the street; she had seen him walking up and down Belton Terrace late at night; he had written to her half a dozen times.
She had returned his letters unopened, and stared at him blankly, with quiet, unflinching eyes, when he had tried to stop her, ignoring his outstretched hand.
She was not afraid of him, or even angry, but she could never again take his hand in friendship. She could never again trust his word.
She had been in his power and could forgive him for the impulse which would have wrecked her life, but not for the deliberate design—as she saw it now, looking back upon their days together—to corrupt her mind with a lying tongue.
152 A SPIRIT OF MIRTHtime for searching thought, Phosie shuddered at the recollection of Jules Revell, but the quick instinct in judging the morality of men which all women possess in a greater or lesser degree, hide it and deceive themselves as they do, saved her from brooding over his conduct.
She had told him the truth. He was not good enough to mate with her. There was nothing more to be said. It was over.
When Walter Race entered the little sitting-room at the top of the house in Belton Terrace, he was greeted with the perfume of violets. A great bowl of them, a gift from Miss Sapio, stood in the centre of the table.
Dazzled for a few seconds by the flare of the gas after the dark staircase, he shaded his eyes with his hand, while Phosie, pulling off her gloves, knelt down on the hearthrug to light the fire.
"I'm so glad I laid it before I went out this morning," she said. "Now you will both reap the reward of my virtue."
She was right. In a very little while there was a fine crackling fire. Race, giving his hat and overcoat to Gus, looked smilingly round the room.
It was a small room with a low ceiling. The walls were painted light green, and the floor was stained; there were only two rugs; the four wooden chairs had been painted white, and were piled with cushions covered in green chintz; there were the books from Phosie's room in Mr Revell's house, and her framed photographs; a couple of huge golden vases—from Miss Sapio—stood on the mantelpiece, and the window was covered by a long green curtain.
An ancient sideboard, of the unsightly, cumbersome style that is called "handsome" by lodging-house keepers, was adorned with several plants in pots, and a great many sprigs of holly and mistletoe gave the room a festive appearance.
153 THE ILLUSIVE HOUR
Little Gus, with the proud consciousness of having helped to paint the walls and enamel the furniture, thought it was simply gorgeous, worthy of the golden vases; Phosie was satisfied, but Walter Race was pained by its poverty.
His first impression of pretty simplicity in the leaping firelight was forgotten in a more deliberate scrutiny of the poor little rugs, the wooden chairs, and the cheap curtains. He thought of his chambers in Plantagenet Court, Savoy, heated, furnished, decorated in the most approved modern style, and wondered what impression they would make on Phosie. He longed to try the experiment, but dreaded, at the same time, that she would lose her pretty self-possession in the surroundings of wealth and ease.
"Shall we have supper or shall we talk?" said the hostess, when Race was settled in one of the two armchairs by the fire, smoking the inevitable cigarette.
"Supper," voted Little Gus.
"I suppose we ought to call it dinner for your benefit, Mr Race," said Phosie, for the second time within half an hour reading his thoughts. "But Gus and I have our principal meal in the middle of the day, and if we called that luncheon we should be in the tragic position of never having a dinner at all."
Race did not answer. He was content to listen to her voice whatever she talked about, content to watch her lazily in silence.
He wished Little Gus at the other end of the earth He was noisy, uncouth, clumsy, in the way.
The supper was very simple, but even Race's fastidiousness was satisfied with the way it was arranged. He was no glutton, with all his faults, and he ate Phosie's bread and honey and drank cocoa with as much enjoyment as if he had been dining at his club.
154 A SPIRIT OF MIRTHin hand, leaving all the talk to Phosie and their guest.
She suddenly asked, to Race's surprise, whether he had a brother in Canada.
"Yes," he answered. "My brother Frank went out there to make his fortune some years ago. I don't think he has succeeded. We haven't heard from him for quite a long time, but he'll turn up one day—I know Frank."
"I can tell you what he has been doing," said she.
"Little witch!" exclaimed Race. "What do you mean?"
"The nephew of my old guardian, of whom I told you," continued Phosie, "is a man named Jules Revell. He had a little theatrical company in Canada, and your brother was a member of it. Jules showed me his photograph. You are very like him, are you not?"
"Yes, but Frank is bigger than I am, taller and heavier built, although he is some years younger," said Race. "You must have a wonderful memory, Miss Moore, to connect a man whom you had seen once in the street with the portrait of his brother whom you had never seen. It's simply astonishing."
"Is it?" said the girl. "Perhaps it was because I remembered your face so well. Your expression interested me. It was so bored and yet so keen. That sounds contradictory, doesn't it?"
"I think it is very true," said Race. "As a rule I am easily bored, but yet I take an interest in life. I look forward to a day when the interest will be greater than the boredom. Up to date it has been the other way about."
"Don't you enjoy your work, if you ever do any?" asked Phosie.
"I'm afraid I don't," he answered, smiling ruefully.
"Never enjoy your work?" cried Phosie.
"Never do any," said Walter.
155 THE ILLUSIVE HOUR
She was frankly surprised out of her good manners.
"Whatever do you do with yourself all day long?"
He puckered his lips, and passed her the orange he had been carefully peeling.
"I don't know! Eat and drink and sleep."
"I think you must be laughing at me," said Phosie. "You can't waste all your time. Are you—are you—a politician?"
He laughed at the gravity with which she was evidently trying to fathom his idleness.
"No," he replied, "I don't care about politics, except when I'm stopping at my brother's house in Suffolk, and then we quarrel over politics all day long. John is a violent Tory. I'm the only Liberal in the family."
"From conviction?" said Phosie, hoping to make him serious.
"More from contradiction, I'm afraid," he answered. Phosie tried another tack.
"Have you any accomplishments?"
He meditated for a second.
"I can flirt," he answered gravely.
"Do you call that an accomplishment?"
"A most difficult one."
"Then I suppose you would call falling in love a fine art?" she said with a twinkle.
"Certainly, for it means an eye for beauty, discrimination, and abandonment of self," said Race.
"Now, I think you're sincere—for once," said Phosie, still laughing.
"Of course I am. You have lighted on the one topic which absorbs me at the minute. It seems to be the only thing worth living for."
156 A SPIRIT OF MIRTHpartly real, partly assumed, but wholly wonderful and sweet to the girl.
She studied his handsome face with thoughtful, melting eyes, only seeing what was good in it, herself moved to inexplicable tenderness, lost in the bewilderment and joy of her first, last love.
It was Walter Race who broke the long, eloquent silence.
"It is very good of you to let me come here. I see you are all alone in the world—practically all alone—and I appreciate the honour you do me. I am not unworthy of your trust and confidence."
"I know that. I believe it," she said.
He could not have explained the feeling that had prompted him to say these unexpected, serious words—perhaps it was the unconscious revelation in her eyes—but Phosie understood them.
Again they were silent.
Little Gus, with the nut-crackers dangling between his fingers, stared into the fire. He was in shadow and they thought he was asleep.
"Are you going to see me dance the day after tomorrow?" said Phosie, with a sudden change of tone.
Walter Race was grateful. Another minute and he might have forgotten that it was the first time he had seen the girl. What was the matter with him? It was all too delightfully foolish. He was roughly shaken out of gazing silence into commonplace speech.
"Can you doubt it?" he reproachfully answered her question. "Of course I shall be there. May I ask for you afterwards at the stage-door?"
"I am going to supper with Miss Sapio."
"Then so am I," said Walter, promptly. "But Miss Sapio doesn't know it yet. I must make the opportunity to invite her to invite me."
He looked at his watch. The hour was even later than he dreaded.
157 THE ILLUSIVE HOUR
Phosie, glancing down, gave a start of surprise.
"Forgive me! I've stopped an unconscionable time!" he exclaimed, looking for his hat. "But it's your fault, you know."
"My fault?" she repeated, standing on tiptoe to help him on with his coat.
"Yes, you've bewitched me. From the minute I saw you dance in Miss Sapio's little drawing-room I became a new man."
"Nonsense," said Phosie, giving him her hand.
"It's the truth," said Race. "I only hope the effect will last. I'm afraid it will want renewing very soon."
"You can renew it the day after to-morrow," said Phosie.
"Much too long! "he exclaimed; then, after he had shaken hands with Gus and was standing at the door, "When? To-morrow? The morning—the afternoon?"
"No, the day after to-morrow," she repeated firmly.
"You're horribly cruel."
"You're—no, I'd better not tell you! You will think I'm exaggerating."
Phosie went to the top of the stairs, lighting him down with a candle. He found his way by the banisters, stopping again and again to look up at her. Each time she waved her hand. When he had finally disappeared she still remained in the same position, listening, till the street door closed noisily behind him.
Then she returned to the sitting-room and cleared the supper-table, humming a tune softly to herself.
Gus was still sitting by the fire. When she had made everything tidy, Phosie laid her hand on his shoulder and gave him a little shake.
"What a sleepy old boy you are!" she said gaily. "Good-night, dear. I'm going to bed."
158 A SPIRIT OF MIRTHred-rimmed eyes blinked. Her hand was still on his shoulder. He jerked his head towards the door.
"He's a fine-spoken feller," said Gus, meaning their departed guest. "He's a handsome feller. A gentleman, I suppose, born and bred? Well brought up, good fam'ly, all that sort of thing?"
"Yes," said Phosie.
"No wonder you've took to him," Gus went on. "I suppose you've took to him? You like him, Phosie?"
"Yes," she said again.
Gus returned to his old attitude, cheek on hand, looking at the fire.
"Don't sit up for me," he said. "Good-night, Phosie."
She went out of the room, still humming the gay little tune to herself, and shut the door.
"Of course she's took to him," muttered Gus. "It's very natural, but they only saw each other for the first time to-day. Only to-day! She and I—for years and years—I dunno—"
He sat alone by the dull hearth, for a long time, muttering to himself and staring into vacancy.
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