Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

A Spirit of Mirth, an electronic edition

by Peggy Webling [Webling, Peggy]

date: 1913
source publisher: Methuen & Co., Ltd.
collection: Genre Fiction

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CHAPTER XXI
MR AND MRS WALTER RACE

THE Nonpareil was crowded. So crowded, in fact, that an original patron, seeking for a quiet corner in which to eat one of the grilled steaks famous at the little restaurant, was moved to express his contempt for modern conditions to the head waiter.

"This used to be a quiet, decent place, but now it's a perfect bear garden," he said.

The head waiter, who knew the old patron—it was Wainwright, the well-known painter—shot his trained eyes over the heads of the seated diners.

"I think I can find you a corner, sir, if you'll follow me," he said, leading the way to a little table in the shelter of an alcove.

"This will do," said Wainwright, with a glance at the other occupant of the little table.

He sat down and ordered his grilled steak. The other man was peeling an orange, and Wainwright noticed his hands were long and bony, yellow-skinned and well-manicured, as different from his own square, strong, but soft hands as the man's wiry figure and restless dark eyes were different from Wainwright's breadth, solidity and quiet expression.

It was Mr Carl Stratton, the friend of Walter Race, who faced the artist. He also had patronised the Nonpareil before the days of its great popularity, but its evolution from a quiet little eating-house to a fashionable restaurant met with his unqualified approval.

The bustle and noise; the sound of talk and laughter | | 192 which drowned the efforts of the small string band in the distance; the number of ladies at the tables; the mingled perfumes of tobacco smoke, coffee and spicy dishes—all these things appealed to him, distracted his thoughts from his own affairs.

The artist, absorbed in his own reflections, had forgotten all about him, when a well-known voice, greeting them both, suddenly broke in upon his reverie.

"Carl Stratton and Tom Wainwright!" exclaimed the voice, "How are you both?"

It was Miss Sapio, who was taking a week's holiday from the cast of Hewett Addison's popular comedy.

Both of the men rose to their feet. Miss Sapio, who seemed to regard their happening to dine at the same table as the most extraordinary coincidence that had ever taken place, made them known to each other.

"Can you gentlemen make room for me?" she asked, sweeping her trailing draperies out of the way of the passing waiters. "I'm all on my little lonesome."

It was a wonderful thing to see Miss Sapio, with her yards of train and voluminous cloak, squeeze into a chair between the table and wall, but she only laughed good-naturedly, freeing Wainwright from the floating ends of lace and chiffon which had caught him in passing.

"Isn't it warm?" said Miss Sapio, fanning herself with energy. "You know it's awfully stuffy in here, my friend," she added familiarly to the waiter.

"Where's Hewett Addison?" asked Wainwright.

"He's gone into the country to finish his new play," said Miss Sapio. "You know what an odd fellow he is. He says he can't manage a comedy unless he's thoroughly miserable, so he took himself off to a desolate little village in Cornwall. Fancy at this time of the year! It would drive me melancholy mad."

"What news of other mutual friends?" said Stratton. "Have you seen anything of the Langleys lately, or Wilfrid Keble? Poor old Billy Hackett has made | | 193 a mess of things, hasn't he? What do you think of the Gordon affair? Heard any news of Walter Race and the bride?"

"My dear man, one thing at a time!" cried Miss Sapio, and answered the last question first.

"I've had several letters from Phosie. Do you know they've come home?"

"Have they really!" exclaimed Wainwright. "I thought they were going to honeymoon for the rest of their natural lives."

"They've only been married a couple of months," protested Miss Sapio.

"But that's a very long time according to the methods of Mr and Mrs Walter Race," observed Stratton. "They do everything in a hurry. How long were they engaged? A week, was it, or less?"

"I really can't say," answered Miss Sapio. "You know what a close card Wally is, and I couldn't get any sense out of her. I never saw a girl so ridiculously in love. Silly child! Well, I hope she likes him now she's got him."

With this wish, accompanied by a little sigh, she turned her attention to her dinner.

"Has she given up the stage?" asked Stratton.

"Good gracious, no!" said Miss Sapio. "You remember that trial turn she got at the Paramount?"

"Yes, I was there."

"Well, Hughie Addison got them to book her for three weeks' engagement this month. She opens next Monday. Hughie couldn't manage anything sooner, so my young lady seized the opportunity to get married. They've been to France and Italy."

"I have never seen her," said Wainwright.

"Oh, she's a good little soul," said Miss Sapio, filling in her spare time between the courses with olives and salted almonds.

Carl Stratton, whose shifty eyes had been held for a | | 194 few minutes by the glamour of Miss Sapio's beautiful dress, suddenly looked across the room to the little stream of people entering and leaving the restaurant.

"Talk of angels!" he exclaimed, interrupting Wain-wright in the middle of a question. "Isn't that Mrs Walter Race in the fawn-coloured cloak? Yes, it is! She's with Race, of course. Doesn't look amiable, does he?"

Perhaps Tom Wainwright, the unobtrusive, quiet artist in a corner, was the only man in all that crowd who had the eyes to see the true beauty of Euphrosyne, although many heads were turned as she passed, and there was a lull in the talk at the tables near her.

Her fawn-coloured cloak hung loosely on her shoulders, fully displaying the shimmer of the white satin dress that fitted her slender figure like a glove, but ended in a long fluffy train. She was holding a bunch of roses, carelessly tied together, and a single red rose was fastened in her hair. Many of the women thought that this was old-fashioned, spoiling the effect of the Parisienne whole, but Phosie's mirror had told her a different tale. She carried her long white gloves in her hands and several rings sparkled on her fingers.

"What a pretty girl!" said one man to another.

"Look at her companion!" corrected the ladies. Mr Stratton had truly said that Walter Race looked far from amiable, but given straight features, youth and height, very few people trouble themselves over expression. He attracted as much admiring attention as his wife.

They were shown to a table far from Miss Sapio and her friends.

Phosie, pleased with the novelty of the scene, for the Nonpariel was very different from the continental hotels to which she had grown accustomed during the past two months, looked about her with happy, interested eyes.

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"I feel just as if I were at the theatre," she said, looking at Race as he took his seat opposite to her. "You're like the hero of the play, Walter, and now I must find you a heroine."

Walter studied the menu, his brow clearing, while she hunted for her heroine.

"There are several ladies who will do," she said. "What do you think of the one in grey, on our right?"

"My dear child, you wouldn't condemn me to make love to a girl with an upper lip like that, would you?"

"I didn't notice it before," said Phosie. "I think she is very pretty all the same. Well, do you approve of the brunette with the gold bands in her hair?"

He glanced at the brunette.

"That inane smile would drive me crazy, even if her teeth were perfect."

"Is it inane? I only thought she looked so happy. What of the tall girl dressed in mauve?"

"Worse and worse! "exclaimed Race. "Don't you see that she is impossible?"

"What do you mean?"

He hesitated over a definition of the tall girl's impossibility.

"She would be out of the question for a man to marry, and your hero has to marry your heroine. I mean, one couldn't introduce her to one's friends. Don't you understand? No doubt she is a very estimable young woman, pretty too, but—"

"You mean she is not your equal?" interrupted Phosie. "She is not a lady."

Race finished his soup before he answered.

"That's a very bald way of putting it," then he said, but I suppose it is correct."

Phosie crumbled her bread, looking at the smouldering, imprisoned fire of the diamond in her engagement | | 196 ring. She was pondering over the many discoveries she had made of "impossibilities"—it was one of Race's favourite words—since her marriage.

"You will have to cast yourself as the heroine after all," he said, glancing up from the wine list.

Her momentary gravity was gone. She smiled at him across the table, her eyes suddenly flooded with the light of love

All the happiness of the past two months, the new world he had shown her, flashed through her mind. He was still a wonderful stranger, a fairy knight, King Cophetua.

"Don't you like playing the part of heroine?" said Race, too lazy to change the subject.

"Am I worthy? Are you sure I, too, am not impossible?" she asked, speaking her thoughts before she could check them.

"Foolish darling!" murmured her husband.

He looked at her critically, but with evident approval, leaning back in his chair. He wished that his brothers could see her at that minute, for like many people who cannot agree with the members of their families, Walter was more anxious than he would confess to have their good opinion.

He knew what they thought of his hasty marriage, for they had had no hesitation in telling him, but he longed to show that the unspeakable folly of it—to do him justice this was not his phrase, but his brother John's—was not without its excuse.

"A penny for your thoughts," said Phosie.

"I wish you wouldn't say that," replied Walter. "It's such a stupid, commonplace expression.

"I'm sorry! Won't say it again," said Phosie, hastily. "I suppose it isn't any better to say 'What price your thoughts,' as I mustn't mention a penny."

He could not help smiling.

"That sounds like our friend, Mr Quizzical Quilter. | | 197 By the way, dear, if you happen to come across Quizzy, don't ask him to come to our place."

"No?" she queried in some surprise. 'I thought you liked him and found him amusing."

"I like him well enough, but not in my own house," said Race.

"I'll remember" said Phosie.

There were so many things she had to remember.

They were drinking their coffee before Miss Sapio, followed by Wainwright and Carl Stratton, swept down upon them.

"My dearest children!" she exclaimed, and Phosie felt instinctively that this greeting jarred upon her husband. "How delighted I am to see you. Matrimony agrees with you, Wally; you're looking gloriously fit. As for my goosie-girl—! "And she ended the sentence by kissing the bride on both cheeks.

Tom Wainwright said little after he had shaken hands warmly with them both, but Carl Stratton contrived to make Phosie very conscious of his presence. He talked about her first appearance at the Paramount, took the keenest interest in the places she had visited on her honeymoon, paid her compliments with voice and eyes, and bade her good-night at last with a reluctance which he was at no pains to conceal.

Mr and Mrs Race were going to the theatre, and parted from their friends at the door of the Nonpareil.

"I like Mr Wainwright," said Phosie, in her decisive little way, directly they were alone, "but I don't like Mr Stratton."

"Then you're not a good judge of character, my dear," replied Race. "Carl Stratton is one of the cleverest men I know."

"What is he? What does he do?" she asked.

"He's a business man, connected with a good many City Companies—you wouldn't understand about it," he answered vaguely.

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"Mr Wainwright is an artist, isn't he?"

"Yes, and very successful, but he's not a man to make money, and he's got a crowd of children to provide for. We must go to see the Wainwrights. His wife's rather a trying person, but she's really very kind and hospitable."

"All your friends are kind to me," said Phosie.

He laughed, and thought again of his brothers.

At the end of the play, which Mrs Race would have enjoyed if Mr Race had not been so bored, he helped her into her cloak with an expression as fervent as if they had been tortured, instead of amused, for two hours.

"Thank God that's over!" he said. "Shall we have supper somewhere, or go home?"

"Let us go home," she answered, eagerly.

They were living in Walter Race's chambers at the top of a high, old-fashioned house in Plantagenet Court, Savoy. The lower floors were let in offices, excepting the flat immediately below their own, which was occupied by two young men who shared, with the Races, the services of a capable housekeeper.

The entrance to the house was dimly lighted, and there were nearly a hundred stairs to climb before reaching the top floor.

Phosie ran lightly up, waiting at the door for her husband, who followed more slowly, fumbling for his latch-key. He switched on an electric light in the tiny hall and led the way into his study, where, according to instructions, the housekeeper had built up a glowing fire, which collapsed into flame and warmth when he stirred it vigorously.

Phosie slipped off her cloak and knelt down on the hearthrug to warm her hands. Race, whistling an air from the musical comedy they had just seen, hung up his coat and hat, and tore open a couple of letters waiting for him on the table.

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"Bills!" he said, tossing them on to the writing-table.

Then he lighted a cigarette and sat down by the fire, clasping his hands behind his head in perfect ease, while he looked at Phosie through half-closed eyelids.

It was a small room with green walls and a green-tiled open hearth. The furniture was old and well chosen; there were many bookshelves filled with books; peacock blue velvet curtains, embroidered in gold, were drawn across the windows; the door was hidden by a very handsome Japanese screen; the only pictures were a landscape by Wainwright of his beloved Yorkshire, a couple of Phil May's original drawings, and a beautiful etching by William Strang.

Three big bowls of lilies-of-the-valley filled the air with delicate perfume; the electric lights, shaded in green silk, looked like pale emeralds hanging on fine threads. The whole effect of the room was restful, soothing, luxurious.

"I can't believe it, Phosie," said Walter Race.

She looked a question.

"I can't believe that we are actually married, and that I've got you here all to myself. It's like a daydream floating out of the rings of smoke. Are you real, eh?"

He put out his hand lazily for hers, and she laid it against her cheek and turned her lips to kiss it.

Then she sat down at his feet, her soft dress billowing round her on the floor. The rose in her hair had dropped out of its right place, hanging down on her neck. Walter played with it while he talked.

"Are you real?" he repeated. "I'm horribly afraid you'll vanish as quickly as you came, or I shall wake up, stiff and cold, by the dead fire to discover that it was all a dream—our long honeymoon—those days at Cannes among the roses—"

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He laughed softly, and once more clasped his hands behind his head.

"I wonder why you married me? I wonder why you love me?" said Phosie, leaning against his knee.

"Look in your glass, my darling."

"That can't be the whole reason, even if it's as good a one as you imagine," she answered quickly. "There are dozens of pretty girls in the world, far prettier than I am."

"Yes—and no, Euphrosyne," said Race. "One falls in love with beauty for the sake of what it suggests and promises, although a man doesn't think of that at the time."

"Then what does my beauty, if I've got any, suggest and promise?" cried Phosie, sitting back on her heels, laughing and blushing at her own question.

He did not speak for a few seconds, then he answered in a tone of conviction with the one word:

"Mirth!"

"Is that all?" said Phosie, opening her eyes. "Did you only marry me to be amused?"

Walter burst out laughing.

"It isn't a very solemn, till-death-do-us-part kind of reason, is it, Phosie? I don't think I should have dared to tell any other woman. But you! What are you made for but laughter and delight? Elf! Thistledown!"

He suddenly threw away his end of cigarette and held out his arms. Phosie sat on the arm of his chair, and laid her cheek against his as gently as she had caressed his hand. Her touch was always light and soft.

"Why did you fall in love with me?" he asked. "That's more to the purpose. Come, tell me! When a fairy marries a mortal, I think she ought to give an astonished world the reason."

To hear him speak in the old way for already the | | 201 days of their brief engagement had slipped in to a past that was luminous and strange, filled her with exquisite pleasure.

"I love you, humbly, deeply," she murmured. "You are so good to me. I love you, Walter, more and more every day."

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