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 23 chapter 33 >>

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THE summer at Sterry was followed by a period of great prosperity for Walter Race.

A spin in the fickle wheel of Fortune whirled Mr Carl Stratton into wealth. All he touched turned, for a while, into gold. His friend, who was, figuratively speaking, hanging on to the flap of his pocket, shared the good luck.

Phosie found herself in possession of a motor and a maid. She would have liked to remain at Sterry, but her husband was anxious to get back to town.

Plantagenet Court no longer satisfied him; he found it too cramped, simple and old-fashioned.

The West End was explored and a house secured, not exactly in Park Lane, but in one of the adjacent streets. It was small, dull and expensive; a thin house with obscure, diamond-paned windows, and a huge brass knocker on a beautifully painted door. The privilege of owning such a knocker, Hewett Addison said, was doubtless considered in the rent.

The interior decorations were conventionally handsome, and Walter's choice of furniture could be described by the same adjectives.

There was a small dining-room on the ground floor, panelled in dark wood, with a highly-polished round table, olive green curtains, and high-backed, green leather-covered chairs.

The pale blue-and-white drawing-room was adorned with silk hangings and lamp shades of the same tint, | | 221 together with dainty French furniture. To quote Hewett again, it suggested Act II. of a Society comedy at the St. James's Theatre.

The largest bedroom was in a perpetual blush of rose-pink, and possessed an adjoining cupboard called a dressing-room. The two spare bedrooms were principally to be noted for an uninterrupted view from their windows of assorted tiles and smoky chimneys, affording a popular resort for the cats of the neighbourhood.

The study—most inappropriate name for any room in Temple Street, Mayfair—was so dark that it was impossible to read or write, even on a sunny day, without artificial light.

The basement was like a dungeon, with cells for the servants to sleep in. Such were the chief attractions of a house for which Mr Walter Race had the privilege of paying two hundred and fifty pounds a year.

Euphrosyne would never have taken it, but she was overruled by her husband.

"Of course this is very pretty," she confessed, looking round the blue-and-white drawing-room, "but there is so little light, and the servants' rooms are so tiny."

"Oh, that doesn't matter!" exclaimed Walter. "And as for there being no light, it's foggy everywhere to-day."

"I wish we could have had a garden, dear," she said timidly. "Or even a yard with only a plot of grass or a couple of bushes."

The house-agent's clerk smiled indulgently. He was accustomed to the irrational desires of prospective tenants.

"You are within a stone's throw of Hyde Park, madam," he said.

"But it might be a hundred miles away for all I can see of it," answered Phosie, peering through the little window-panes at the houses opposite.

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"But it isn't a hundred miles away, madam," said the clerk, gravely. "I assure you it is within a stone's throw. It would be difficult to obtain a house more pleasantly situated as regards Hyde Park. As a gentleman in our office said last week, Temple Street is positively next door to it."

"Exactly. No doubt it's a great advantage," said Walter.

"The staircase is rather narrow, isn't it?" observed Phosie, as they descended to the study. "And this room is so very gloomy."

"Of course it is, madam, without the electric light," said the clerk. "Allow me to get at the switch. There! What a difference!"

"Don't you think it's a disadvantage to be so closely walled in by other houses? " asked Phosie.

"Not at all, madam, when you are accustomed to it," said the clerk, patiently. "I assure you some of the best flats on our books are entirely dependent on artificial light. In fact many people prefer it, especially ladies. It is more soft, more easily regulated. There's a certain uncomfortable glare about sunshine. It spoils one's carpets and furniture."

"Then you think it would be well to keep sunshine out of one's house altogether?" asked Phosie, with her twinkling eyes on the sallow face of the clerk.

"I shouldn't go as far as that, madam," he replied. "But I certainly think all those kind of things—wind, sunshine and rain—properly belong to the country. We can do without them in towns."

"Of course we can!" said Walter, who had not been listening. "What I like about this house is the situation. I don't believe we could do better. It pleases me. It is just what I want."

"Then it pleases me too, Walter." she answered quickly.

"You really mean that? You will be happy here?"

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The clerk had gone out of the room for a minute. Phosie seized the opportunity to slip her hand into Walter's and give it a little squeeze.

"I am happy anywhere with you," she said.

So it was settled. They missed the fresh air and pretty garden at Sterry, and even the outlook over the river at Plantagenet Court, but all their friends congratulated them on the new house.

Phosie wished, as the long autumn days dragged on, that her husband would show half as much interest in the advent of the younger Walter—she had made up her mind it would be a son—as he did in furnishing his dark little study. He was seized with a mania for "picking up" curiosities. Too shrewd to be easily gulled, he spent his money to greater advantage than the usual amateur collector, and the limited space at his disposal held him in check. If he had purchased all his discoveries it would have been necessary for the family to camp in the road, for the house would have been too crowded to hold them.

When Walter thought of the coming child at all it was with mixed feelings of whimsical pleasure and half-awakened, not wholly welcome, responsibility.

Without regretting his hasty marriage, for his life before Phosie came into it was dull and loveless to contemplate, he had long regarded it as an unaccountable step, an inconceivable imprudence. He refused to take himself seriously, or to look upon his wife as other than a little strange girl who had opened his heart with a laugh and seized the opportunity to take possession.

A younger Walter had no place in the older Walter's imagination. He always thought of the child as a second Phosie, with its mother's eyes, her colouring, her disposition.

Well, a Phosie in miniature might be very amusing. He had always hoped for the birth of a girl and his hopes were realised.

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The little Dorothea, for so they named her, was a brown-skinned baby with big, mournful eyes, and a quantity of silky, dark hair.

Utterly unlike her mother, Walter Race looked at her for the first time with the surprise that follows the shattering of an idea. Then he smiled at his own expectations. He had thought to see the likeness to Phosie in an infant of less than three hours old! It was as absurd as the whisper of his wife that she could see the likeness to himself.

He laid the tiny, boneless hand in his palm, and the strength of his nature ebbed and flowed into gentle compassion and unknown tenderness.

This was reality—the wife, the child—and it gripped his heart.

The opening years of little Dorothea's life were spent, as Hewett Addison once observed, in the reflected splendour of Mr Carl Stratton's speculations.

She lived in Temple Street, Mayfair, and possessed everything that money could buy.

Her first impressions of the outer world were of a great green plain, with trees that looked as if they would reach the sky; endless flowers; big, alarming creatures rushing about with their mouths open, called dogs; other babies, being wheeled beside her own baby carriage, at whom she stared in wordless interest; children with huge, unmanageable hoops or balls that she could never catch; and superior beings, in stiff dresses and little bonnets, one of whom was her exclusive property and named "Nanna".

Her life within doors was very interesting. There were so many rooms and such endless stairs! What a memorable day when she first started to climb up those stairs. It was so difficult that it made her pant, but there was no reason for the unnecessary excitement of somebody who rushed into the hall shouting, "Nurse! Nurse! Come and look at baby!"

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The people who surrounded her were all more or less important, and she studied their peculiarities with grave, critical eyes long before she had mastered speech.

One of them was very big and in the habit of swinging her up in the air, but never paid any attention to such vital matters as her meals or her bath. This person had dark hair which was pleasant to clutch, and a broad shoulder to sit upon. He was far more generous with lumps of sugar and sweets than anybody else in the house.

Then there was somebody, whom they called Cook, living downstairs in a room with a roaring fire, her chief characteristics being a big red face and a dangling little toy in each ear that it was a great temptation to pull. This person's only charm lay in the fact that she captured a soft, furry animal wandering about the floor and held it in her arms to be stroked.

But of all the baby's little world she was most attached to the person who sat in the same room as the broad-shouldered man. Her face was so much softer than his, and her voice was gentle. It was good to nestle against her breast, there being no hard buttons on her dress, like there were on Nanna's, and she made a low, crooning noise which sent one to sleep.

She often knelt down on the floor to play, or rolled Dorothea over on her back, tickling her till she choked with laughter. She was never cross like Nanna, or indifferent like the man, but always smiling. It was a glorious thing to leave the security of the seat of a chair, totter a few uncertain steps, and fall into the haven of her loving arms.

All these were the first impressions of Dorothea's life. She resembled her father in every way. It pleased him, but awakened an unreasonable surprise in his mind. She was not the elf he had expected, but a very human child, looking at him wonderingly with eyes just like his own.

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"Dad" was the first word she spoke, but it was not bestowed, after the usual manner of babies, on any man whom she wished to address. If she did not see her father for a whole day, she did not speak for a whole day. It was a long time before she gave her mother any name, always greeting her with cooing, indistinct sounds of love.

There was none of Phosie's levity about her daughter. She displayed, at an early age, determination of character coupled with feminine vanity.

On one occasion, when Walter returned home unexpectedly in the middle of the morning, he heard the sound of uproarious laughter in the nursery. He threw open the door to discover his wife, Miss Sapio, and the nurse assisting the baby to make her choice from a pile of new bonnets, sent on approbation from a shop in Oxford Street.

The baby, steadying herself by the seat of a chair, was standing in front of a long mirror. A bonnet was placed on her head by the nurse. She looked at the reflection for a minute and then plucked it fiercely off and threw it on the floor. One after another was treated in the same way, to the joy of the beholders, until the appearance of swansdown and lace changed her frown into an ecstatic smile, and she turned up her face for the strings to be tied under her chin.

She was equally firm in the matter of shoes, kicking or wriggling out of any pair she did not like with little grunts of denunciation.

Her second and third words were "Bark" and "Mew," addressed to the dog and cat, and evidently to be regarded as a protest against the inanimity of "Bow-wow" and "Tiddy."

It was at the arrival of a new nurse that this thoughtful child first displayed her gift for bestowing appropriate names.

She had had one Nanna. and considered it ridiculous | | 227 to call an utterly different person by the same name. So she turned to her mother, after staring at the stranger for several minutes, with an expression of one who has solved a problem.

"Ada!" she said, pointing to the new nurse.

Protests were unavailing. It was "Ada" from that day forward, for no one could induce her to say Nanna.

On another occasion, after mature reflection, she gave the name of Maude to a tall, haughty housemaid who happened to have been christened Daisy; ordained that the cook should be known as Mrs Stout—this was more obvious than her usual attempts—and dignified the boy who cleaned the windows and knives, hitherto called Bob, by the name of Mr Roberts. She won Little Gus's heart by calling him "Mine Gussy."

It is customary to ask children their names, but for a long time Miss Dorothea Race refused to answer the question. She was making up her mind, but a day came when she had reached a decision.

"What are you called, dear?" asked a lady who was calling on her mother.

"Jane," was the prompt reply.

"No, my darling," said Phosie, laughing, "your name is Dorothea."

"Jane," repeated the child.

Phosie told this to her husband.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "That's very appropriate. One of my rich aunts is named Jane. I recollect that we had an old sampler at home, hanging in the schoolroom, that was worked by my grandmother, who was another Jane."

"But it's such a prim little name," said Phosie. "I remember Mr Revell singing the tune of one of Sims Reeves's favourite songs called 'My pretty Jane.' It suggests a crinoline and ringlets."

"I should rather say that it suggests an enigmatical character," put in Hewett Addison, who was | | 228 dining at Temple Street. "Dorothea stands for romance, or sentiment, or saintliness; names of two or three syllables generally do, but the apparently unpromising simplicity of J-a-n-e is full of possibilities. No Jane was ever like any other Jane."

"Define your own idea of a Jane," said Walter.

"My study is too elementary," replied Hewett. "Of course the first Jane one thinks about is Shelley's Jane Williams. You remember the end of the poem, 'Ariel to Miranda, with a Guitar':

"'It keeps its highest, holiest tone,
For our belovéd Jane alone.'

"Then for a couple of contrasts, could two women be more unlike each other than Jane Austen and Jane Welsh Carlyle? Let me see, we've only had one of our queens named Jane, haven't we? Jane Seymour, you know, Henry VIII.'s third wife. Lady Jane Grey was quite a different historical heroine, so was Jane Shore. Thomas Hood married a lady called Jane, didn't he? And Coventry Patmore gave life and reality to the name in his Victories of Love."

"I begin to think you're an advanced student," said Phosie. "What about Jane in fiction?"

Hewett pondered a second.

"Well, I suppose Mrs Fairfax Rochester has the first claim on our admiration. Miss Austen has given us a couple of captivating Janes—Miss Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and Miss Fairfax in Emma. Thackeray's Lady Jane Newcome is a poor little soul. I don't think Dickens has done justice to the name. Nobody can call Miss Murdstone a lovable person, but there's just a line about a nice girl named Jane at the Bath Assembly Rooms in Pickwick, and don't you remember sweet little Jane Pocket in Great Expectations?"

"Are there Janes to be found on the stage?" asked Phosie.

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"I can only think of two modern instances," said Hewett. "There's the tantalising heroine of Henry Arthur Jones's Manœuvres of Jane, and Gilbert's majestic Lady Jane in Patience. By the way, don't you recollect the name of Miss Jane Porter, who wrote a novel called The Scottish Chiefs; and, plunging still farther back into the days of our infancy, we've all heard of 'Naughty, naughty little Miss Jane.' I have a hazy idea that she spent sixpence on raspberry rock and spoilt her dinner as well as her frock. I am sure your daughter has chosen her name well. After all, Dorothea Race sounds like the heroine of a novel. Jane Race might be a woman of genius."

On the following morning her father greeted the baby as Jane. She responded cordially. Her mother called her Dorothea. She made no response at all.

So it was settled. Jane was Jane to the end of the chapter.

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