- CHAPTER XX PHOSIE IN LOVE
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PHOSIE IN LOVE
IF Walter Race thought that the course of his true love would run smooth he was disappointed, but not unpleasantly.
Phosie, under the stars, in the first enchantment of his society, was a very different Phosie on the following day.
She rose late, breakfasted with Little Gus, and met Hewett Addison by appointment after his interview with the manager of the Paramount.
When Mr Race asked for Miss Moore at No. 5 Belton Terrace, with the intention of taking her out to lunch, he was coolly informed she was not at home. Would he like to see Mr Stewart-Cromwell instead?
He had not the least desire in the world to see Little Gus, but he said it would be a great pleasure, and made his way to the top floor of the house.
The little sitting-room, with its gay chintz cushions and green painted wooden chairs, looked neat and fresh. Walter observed that the bouquet he had sent to Phosie had been carefully taken to pieces, the flowers unwired, and arranged in vases on the mantelpiece and side-board.
Mr Stewart-Cromwell, sipping a large glass of lemonade, was reading the newspaper by the fire. He greeted the visitor nervously, keeping his eyes fixed on Walter's boots, obviously ill at ease.
180 A SPIRIT OF MIRTHyou see," said Gus. "Phosie made it for me before she went out."
Race, after a puzzled second, understood that he was apologizing for the glass of lemonade.
"I believe lemon is very good for the throat," he replied.
"Yes, it makes it meller, you see," said Gus.
"Do you know when Miss Moore will return?" asked Walter.
"I dunno. She won't be very late. She'll come home to her tea. She knows I shall expect her home to her tea."
Little Gus's eyes, knowing every button and line on the boots, wandered to his visitor's waistcoat. He wondered why Mr Race, evidently the possessor of wealth, did not go in for "fancy vests," and compared his clothes unfavourably with those of Mr Quizzical Quilter.
"I shall be in this part of the world at about four o'clock," said Walter, as if he had just remembered an important engagement. "Perhaps I could see Miss Moore for a few minutes then?"
"Perhaps you'd like to leave a message," said Gus.
"Will you give her these flowers, Mr Stewart-Cromwell, and say that I hope to call?"
Gus took the bunch of carnations, concealed in white paper, awkwardly enough, but the first smile Walter had seen came into his face.
"She'll be very much obliged to you, I'm sure," he said. "She isn't used to getting flowers like these from a shop. We always buy ours in the street. Phosie gets 'em from a poor woman she knows whose husband lost his leg in a gale on the Atlantic Ocean."
"Do you mean that his leg was blown off?" asked Walter, smiling.
181 PHROSIE IN LOVEit. She's made friends with 'em, and we have the children here to tea every Saturday, and play games. Phosie says she likes 'em."
"How kind she is! How generous!" exclaimed Walter.
Gus, running his eyes up the buttons of the waistcoat, gave him a curious glance.
"You don't know much about Phosie, do you?" he asked.
"Enough to appreciate and admire her!" was the quick retort.
"Ah!" said Little Gus.
There did not seem anything else to say, so Walter, after attempting a little conversation about the performance at the Paramount and the news in the morning paper, took his departure.
He was not angry with Phosie, for she had made no promise to be at home, but her absence had given him a shock of surprise.
After determining to forget all about her until it was time to return to Belton Terrace in the afternoon, he went to see Miss Sapio, quite expecting to find Miss Moore at her house. Again he was doomed to disappointment. Miss Sapio and her chow had gone out with a gentleman in a motor, and the servant did not expect her back before dinner.
The gentleman was not Mr Hewett Addison. Miss Moore had not called. Walter Race, annoyed with himself for his curiosity, was obliged to go to his chambers and spend his time in smoking, trying to read, and wondering whether Phosie and the playwright were lunching together.
Four o'clock found him at Belton Terrace. Phosie greeted him as if the starry night was so far in the past that she only remembered it faintly by an effort.
182 A SPIRIT OF MIRTHto be serious. If she had not looked so pretty, with one of his carnations in her hair, Walter would have been in despair.
He had expected to find her subdued, shy, grateful for his admiration and responsive to his moods. Her high spirits baffled him. He was unprepared for an encounter of wits, and failed to hold his own. He even compared himself unfavourably with Gus. Gus, for all his stupidity, seemed to please Phosie better.
She had good news to tell of the Paramount. Hewett Addison hoped to book a long engagement. The arrangements were still incomplete, but she was confident of his success.
After tea they sat round the fire, but there was no repetition of the soft speeches, the long, silent glances of the first evening Walter had spent in Belton Terrace.
Phosie kept her bright eyes fixed on her needlework, and suggested, with the sweetness of duplicity, that Little Gus should read aloud.
Now, if there was one thing more than another which Walter hated it was reading aloud. He was obliged to dissemble, but Phosie suspected the truth. A desire to test his patience, coupled with an even stronger desire to tease him beyond endurance, made her persist in her plan.
Little Gus was delighted. He was in the middle of a particularly long, instructive book of adventures. Phosie gravely sketched the outline of the story to Walter, assured him that Gus could read for hours at a stretch without fatigue, and demurely devoted herself to her work.
Mr Stewart-Cromwell was a slow, conscientious reader. Words which he could not pronounce, or failed to understand, he was in the habit of spelling several times under his breath, before dismissing them with a sigh of "I dunno what that means, but never mind."
183 PHROSIE IN LOVEdropped behind. Gus's voice, always feeble, grew into a sing-song of meaningless words. Walter had only one clear idea of the story, and that was not the truth, for he considered it the dullest work ever penned.
Phosie dared not lift her eyes. Occasionally she helped Gus over a difficulty, but always in a meek, low voice unlike her own. Of course she knew that Walter was looking at her, but his ardent gaze, now and again crossed by an impatience he found it hard to suppress, only added to her mischievous enjoyment of the situation.
Her guest sighed, changed his position, took out his watch, glared at Gus; but Phosie only stitched away, apparently absorbed in the uninteresting book.
Just after Walter had decided that Gus intended to go on reading all night he closed the volume and laid it on the table.
"My voice isn't as meller as I could wish," he said. "But perhaps I can give you a bit more later on."
"Thank you!" exclaimed Walter.
"Is it really getting late?" said Phosie, dropping her work on her knee. "What is the time, Mr Race?"
He held up his watch for her to see.
'Impossible!" she cried. "How the time has flown, hasn't it? Must you really go at nine o'clock, Mr Race? Don't forget that important engagement."
Walter cursed the touch of temper which had made him invent an important engagement when Phosie had not given him as warm a welcome as he thought he deserved.
"I'll give it up," he said.
"Oh, I wouldn't allow you to do such a thing," she answered. "Gus dear, get Mr Race's coat, will you? We mustn't be so selfish as to detain him any longer."
Gus went out of the room, leaving them alone for a few seconds.
184 A SPIRIT OF MIRTH
"You provoking little witch! What do you deserve?" said Walter.
She assumed an expression of innocent surprise.
"I haven't had a word with you, not a single satisfactory word, and now you're driving me away."
"I am not responsible for your previous engagements," said Phosie.
"I have no previous engagement!" he exclaimed in despair.
"Oh, Mr Race, that can't be true. It's very kind of you to offer to stop, but I couldn't think of accepting such a sacrifice."
"Don't be so tantalizing. Be serious for a minute," he pleaded.
"No, I can't," said Phosie. "I am much too happy and pleased with myself, and you, and everybody else."
"Who would willingly be included in a universal embrace, shared by all?" said Walter. "Not I!"
"Why not wait till you are asked?" said Phosie, with a toss of her head.
Then Little Gus re-appeared with the coat, and he was obliged to go, fully determined not to call again for several weeks.
Before he reached his chambers in Plantagenet Court, however, the words "several days" were substituted for several weeks. If he was mistaken in the girl, if she were nothing more than a heartless coquette, the sooner he found it out the better.
On this account he wrote to Phosie before he slept that night, feeling that it was prudent to know the worst as quickly as possible, although he was obliged to acknowledge that if she failed him now all the pleasure and brightness, for the time being, would go out of his life.
185 PHROSIE IN LOVEhe would be there? Of course he was there, but so were Hewett Addison and half a dozen other people.
There was no opportunity for private talk, and Walter, whose notions of teasing were founded on the recollection of horse-play with his brothers, did not understand the gentle, subtle methods of Euphrosyne.
He contrived to walk home with her, grateful for the absence of Little Gus. Her mood changed. She was sweet and conciliating, but when they reached Belton Terrace he was not invited to enter the house.
"Is Mr Stewart-Cromwell going to read to you all the evening?" asked Walter, on the step.
Phosie tried not to laugh, but failed. He shook his head at her reproachfully.
"Why do you delight in torturing me, Phosie?"
"I wouldn't hurt you for the world, dear, good, unreasonable Mr Race."
"Then dine with me to-night. Do! Why not? We'll go to the Nonpareil. It's my favourite place, and I'm sure you'll like it. Will you? Don't condemn me to a long night of misery. Be kind."
"Are you really miserable without me?" asked Phosie, ingenuously.
"Utterly. Unspeakably," he replied.
"That's a great pity, for you see we can't always—"
Phosie left her sentence unfinished, blushing at the words she had nearly spoken. He caught them up.
"We can't always be together? Is that what you were going to say? Is it?"
"Oh, I don't know. I've forgotten. Let me go!" she said.
"Must I wait for you in the street? Won't you let me come in?" asked Walter.
"But I haven't made up my mind whether I will accept your invitation," said Phosie, knitting her brows thoughtfully.
"I think you will."
186 A SPIRIT OF MIRTH
"So do I. You may come in."
They dined together. The more he saw of Phosie the more she bewildered him. At times he was jubilant, when her melting eyes and gentleness seemed to respond to his love; but then again, at the very minute of triumph, she would elude his pursuit, laughing at his dismay and giving him, in a lesser degree, the impression she had given Jules Revell of her detachment, her power of standing aloof from her fellow-beings.
One afternoon, after three weeks of mingled happiness and despair, Walter Race persuaded Phosie to go for a drive with him to Richmond Park. He had made up his mind to challenge Fate. Suspense was unbearable. He was not the man to dally any longer with young love for all his dalliance with old Time.
Phosie, sitting beside him in the dogcart in her old black jacket with the red muffler round her neck, looked a very little girl indeed, flushed with the wind and evidently enjoying herself immensely.
It was a clear, frosty day. The Park, as they drove through the gates, looked bare and desolate, with its long stretches of faded grass and distant clusters of sombre trees.
Phosie put up her hand to hold her hat, for a sudden gust of wind had tried to snatch it away in passing. Turning sharply down a side road, where there was not a soul to be seen, Walter drew in his horse and turned to his companion.
They had been unusually silent all the afternoon, hardly exchanging a dozen words since driving out of Belton Terrace.
Her eyes were raised to his. The words he longed to speak changed to a commonplace question.
"Are you cold, Phosie?"
"No, not a bit."
"Let me wrap the rug more closely round you, dear. What a blustering wind!"
187 PHROSIE IN LOVE
"I love the wind."
He put his whip in the socket, twisted the reins lightly round it, and was free to help her with both hands.
"Will the horse run away?" she asked.
"Oh, no, he'd stand for an hour," said Walter. "I don't think a woollen scarf is nearly thick enough for a day like this," he added. "You ought to wear furs. When are you going to let me give you some furs?"
"Silver fox or Russian sables?" asked Phosie.
"Whatever you like."
"I think I should prefer bunny skins, they are so very fashionable in Belton Terrace."
"I'm serious, Phosie."
"So am I."
"Then give me permission to buy you some furs."
"No, thank you."
"Oh, why not?"
She played with a brown leaf that had fallen on her shoulder from the branches overhead, smiling a little secret smile of happy thought.
"Shall I tell you the reason, honestly?" with a quick side-glance.
"Well, I don't want to spoil the days we have spent together with the reality of presents," she said. "Perhaps it will strike you as absurd, but it never gives me great pleasure to receive gifts from the people I really like. Not flowers!" with a touch to the violets he had given her that morning. "I am speaking of other things. However beautiful they are, or expensive, I should only value them for the kind thought which prompted the giving, and I know I shall have your kind thoughts, whatever happens, without any presents as an assurance."
"My kind thoughts!" he repeated. "You quaint little child! My kind thoughts!"
"Well?" said Phosie.
188 A SPIRIT OF MIRTH
Walter Race, not with the rare emotion of the starry night, but with the tenderness and strength of a man whose heart is set on attainment, suddenly spoke the words he had made up his mind to speak. Irrevocable words!
Phosie listened in silence, looking at him askance, with the expression of a startled, captivated, shy creature of the woods. Her breath came quickly between her slightly parted lips. The wind blew her hair about her face, but she remained immovable, neither yielding nor shrinking away from the clasp of his arms.
"Speak to me!" he entreated. "Let me hear your voice, Phosie! No man ever loved as I love you. How beautiful you are! How perfect!"
Still she did not move. He bent closer.
"How perfect!" he said again. "Perfect eyes! Perfect lips! Angel! May I kiss you—Phosie—once—"
"Yes," said Phosie, softly.
"Do you love me? Do you love me? "he whispered.
She leaned against him with the first sigh he had ever heard her give.
"You will marry me, Phosie? You will? You will?"
Love laughs at locksmiths, and the wind laughs at love. At the very second when she answered him and he drew her hands round his neck, the branches over their heads rustled and dipped, withered leaves danced in the air, and Phosie's hat blew away.
Walter jumped out of his seat and gave chase. What a climax to his impassioned declaration! The absurdity of it did not strike him, and had he succeeded in capturing the hat at once it might have been possible to return to his seat and continue the scene as if nothing had happened.
189 PHROSIE IN LOVE
But the sportive wind gave him no such opportunity, for the hat whirled merrily along the road, now stopping for a second, now going on again, as if it were attached to an invisible string twitched by mischievous fingers.
Phosie stood up in the dogcart, holding on to the back of the seat, and greeted his wild, ineffectual clutches with shrieks of laughter.
Walter, who was beginning to feel both savage and ridiculous, looked over his shoulder and joined in, rushed at the hat again fiercely, caught it up, and waved it over his head.
Phosie sat down again panting, her hand on her side.
"Do you know what I was wishing?" she asked as he came up.
"No, you foolish darling!"
"Oh, I did wish your own hat would blow away at the same time."
"That was very wicked of you!"
He sprang into the dogcart and brushed the dust from his capture with his handkerchief.
"I shall never forgive it," he said. "It spoilt our minute of ecstasy."
"Suppose we forget all that nonsense we were talking about," suggested Phosie, as she straightened the brim.
"No! No!" said Walter. "You and I are going to be married. It's settled. It's inevitable, as our friend Gus says. It's inevitable, isn't it, dearest? Tell me it is, just the way you told me before. Do, Phosie!"
But Phosie was not to be wooed back to gravity.
Walter was happy, for the time absolutely happy, but he had to be content with her changeful moods. She insisted on telling him all her faults, a list which did credit to her powers of invention, and made him take her back to Belton Terrace in time for tea with Little Gus.
190 A SPIRIT OF MIRTH
There was no reading aloud that night, but Miss Lily Parlow had been invited to supper, and they played cards.
Walter Race, charmed with Phosie whatever she did, found it hard to believe that she had promised to marry him. She was much more affectionate to Gus, much more attentive to Lily Parlow.
She refused to read the entreaty in his eyes, and ignored the opportunities he made for the exchange of a private word or a touch of the hand.
She smiled at him, when the time came to part, as unconcernedly as if he were a mere stranger, and went out of the room with her friend, leaving Walter with Little Gus.
Gus lighted the visitors downstairs with a candle, Phosie leaning over the banisters to watch them go.
Walter had reached the bottom of the first flight when he heard her softly call his name. He turned and saw her beckoning.
"Wait for me, I shall be down in a minute," he said to Gus, and bounded up the stairs.
Phosie took a step to meet him. She put her hands on his shoulders, looking into his eyes.
All the mockery and mischief had passed out of her face.
"Dearest love!" she whispered, and drawing his head down she kissed his cheek and pressed her own against it.
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