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 XXV
FRANK RACE'S STORY

PHOSIE had not forgotten Jules Revell, although she never spoke of him.

The impression of fear and abhorrence which he had made on her mind deepened with the passing of time. She deceived herself in thinking that indifference had succeeded contempt. An exaggerated hatred of this man was a flaw in the crystal clearness of her nature.

Even when she knew that his passion for herself—the passion he had sworn was undying—had passed away and he was married to another woman, the thought of him still had the power of distressing and agitating her. She realised this on the few occasions when they had seen each other in the streets. Once at a concert, when he had taken the seat just behind her, she knew without turning her head that he was there.

Jules had married his neighbour, Lily Parlow, who had grown into a pretty, pink-and-white girl, and inherited, at the death of her elderly parents, a not inconsiderable fortune. Jules was amazed at the amount, and his clandestine love-making, which had never been suspected by her doting father and mother, suddenly became serious.

They were married before the grass had had time to grow on the newly-made graves, for Lily did not believe in sentimental sorrow, and the bridegroom's fingers itched for the hoarded hundreds.

As she read and tore to pieces the wedding-cards, carefully sent by Mrs Jules Revell, Phosie Race smiled | | 231 and sighed. She had loved and admired Lily Parlow, loved her still, but the little silver arrow thrust through her name ended the friendship of their girlhood.

Time passed on. The Revells lived in the old house in The Stroll, and Euphrosyne on the other side of the great world of London.

One summer's day, when Phosie was playing with little Jane in the drawing-room, a most unexpected and welcome guest arrived at Temple Street. Of all her husband's brothers she least thought of seeing Frank, but oddly enough they had been talking about him that very day.

Jane was sitting on the floor, playing with a Noah's Ark of white wooden animals, and her mother knelt beside her, obeying instructions. The silk blinds were drawn down, and the room was pleasantly cool.

Walter Race lay on the lounge in his favourite attitude, feet crossed and hands clasped behind his head, watching them. A new pleasure in Phosie's society seemed to be slowly developing in her husband. The old careless words of endearment—elfin, fairy, moonbeam—were rarely on his lips at this time. She missed their sweetness, and an expression she often surprised in his eyes puzzled her. It was a thoughtful, questioning expression she could not fathom.

"Now, the el'phants," commanded Jane, marshalling her forces. "And those very ugly an'mals last of all."

"Why do you call Mr and Mrs Noah very ugly animals, Jane? "asked Phosie.

Before Jane could give her reason, for she always had a reason, her father spoke.

"There's the bell and thundering knock!" he exclaimed. "Hang it, Phosie! I don't want to see anybody this afternoon. I want to have tea alone with you and the kiddy."

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"Be quick and tell Parker I'm not at home," answered his wife, flushed with pleasure at this unusual desire.

He jumped to his feet and hurried out of the room, but it was too late. The door had been opened and the visitor admitted.

Walter looked over the banisters, and a man who was standing, hat in hand, in the hall below looked up at him.

The light fell full on Walter's face, and he could see the stranger almost as clearly. They eyed each other in silence for a second. Mutual recognition flashed into their eyes, but there was no effusion in their greeting, although it was nine years since they had parted. They were Englishmen, and this is all that they said:

"Is that you, Wally?" from the stranger in the hall.

"Yes. Come up, Frank!" from the man leaning over the banisters.

Phosie had heard the voices and scrambled to her feet, full of excitement and surprise.

She stared in amazement at Frank Race when he first entered the room, her husband's arm locked in his. He closely resembled Walter in height and colouring, but he was a broader, heavier man; his thick hair grew low on his forehead; a well-cut beard did not hide his massive, but firmly modelled jaw; his blue eyes were small and twinkling.

There was something of the freshness of three thousand miles of salt water about him, for he had landed the previous night, and he gave the impression of vigour, good-temper and rude health.

"Here's Frank, Phosie!" said Walter, slapping him on the back. "Dear old Frank! this is my wife."

Phosie recovered from her surprise, and the newcomer, grasping both her hands, looked down into her eager face with pleasure and admiration.

"Thank you! Thanks!" he exclaimed. "I didn't | | 233 expect such a welcome. How good it is of you, Wally! Both of you."

Phosie, with a sudden impulse, stood on tiptoe and gave him a kiss.

"I've so looked forward to seeing you, Frank," she said.

Frank was too grateful to answer, and, with characteristic bluntness, changed the subject.

"Is this your little girl, Walter? My word! She's a daisy! Will you come and speak to your Uncle Frank, honey?"

Jane, who had been an interested observer of the scene, advanced slowly, studying the big man so like her father. She permitted him to swing her up in the air, for it was a delightful, airy sensation, and when he put her down she smiled graciously.

"I shall call you Uncle Bill," said Jane.

"Why will you call me that?" asked Frank Race, passing his hand over her dark, wavy hair.

"It is a jolly name," she replied. "I think you are a jolly man."

"I almost told the servant we were not at home!"said Walter. "What would you have done, old boy?"

"Waited on the doorstep, Wally."

"Have you written to your other brothers yet?" asked Phosie.

"Not yet. I mean to give them a surprise, but of course I came to your husband first. We were always pals, Wally and I."

"Of course you will stop with us," said Walter. "I'm not going to let John or Leo take possession of you."

"What does sister Phosie say? "asked Frank.

"Sister Phosie will be only too delighted," she replied

"Us will be on'y too delighted," added Jane, who usually acted as her mother's echo.

Frank Race was given the spare room overlooking | | 234 the tiles and chimneys, where he sighed for the buoyant winds and open skies of fair Ontario. He and Phosie became great friends.

Walter, after a long period of ease, was troubled again over business affairs. His wife had relinquished any hope of his confidence; her questions at first had annoyed, and afterwards depressed, him. She was quick to adapt herself, in that as in everything else, to his wishes.

Frank, who was both shrewd and observant, failed to understand the attitude of his brother. He could not be accused of neglecting Phosie, but he treated her very much as he treated the child. She was his property, bound to amuse him, a somewhat expensive luxury perhaps, but one that certainly did him credit.

One day, when Frank Race had been their guest for about six weeks, he was alone with Phosie for the whole evening, Walter having telegraphed that he was dining with Mr Carl Stratton.

It was a chilly, wet night, although August was still young, and they abandoned the idea of going out. Frank had just returned from a week-end at his brother John's house, and he entertained Phosie with character sketches of the people he had met.

They talked and laughed, well pleased with each other's society, during dinner, but Frank became thoughtful as the hour grew later. Phosie, accustomed to her husband's changeable moods, did not worry him with senseless conversation. Her own embroidery held her attention, for she happened to be working against time to complete a birthday present for Mrs Edmund Race.

Frank smoked his pipe in silence for a long while, his heavy face set and gloomy. The idea came into Phosie's head, as she glanced at him, that he would be a terrible man roused to anger, a murderous man if he lost his self-control. For the minute he lost all resemblance, in her eyes, to her husband. He was repugnant | | 235 to her with his dark frown and big, sullen jaw, but even as the thought took shape he met her eyes and she was ashamed of it. His kind, genial expression returned and he smiled at her affectionately.

"You've been awfully good to me, Phosie," he said. "I admire you more than Alicia or John's wife, and I like you better than the whole pack of 'em put together."

"I don't think it is respectful to call your sisters-in-law a pack!" she laughed.

He did not answer. He was busy with his own thoughts.

"Phosie!" he exclaimed, and the sharpness of the tone made her drop her work and give him her whole attention. "Phosie, can you keep a secret? It seems to me you're different from most women. I don't think you chatter."

"On the contrary, Frank, I am always chattering. But I am sure I can keep a secret."

"Perhaps I shouldn't call it a secret," he went on slowly. "I should like to tell you about my life in Canada. I feel that I can trust you, my dear little sister."

Phosie laid aside her work and looked at him attentively. She had a strange sense of foreboding, a vague premonition of what he was going to tell her. He began with carefully considered words, soon forgotten in his natural bluntness.

"You know I had rather a hard time when I first went out—'tough' as they say West—for I was quite unfitted for the life I had to lead. I got into a scrape at home and they packed me off. It was in the days when people looked on Canada as a dumping ground for undesirable younger sons.

"At first I was wretched. Wretched! I shall never understand why I didn't hang myself. I hated the people and the climate and the food and the whole | | 236 darned business. You know I was only a lad of twenty.

"A man with whom I crossed gave me some work to do in his factory at Montreal, clerking, but I found it dull and only stopped with him about six months. I must have been an ungrateful little brute in those days. Then I tried my luck in Ottawa, then Toronto, then Hamilton—in fact, all the big cities in that part of Ontario have had the honour of employing my services at one time or another. I managed to earn a very fair living on the whole—"

"In what way?" interrupted Phosie.

He laughed.

"All sorts of ways, my dear. I was on the road for a time as a 'drummer,' that's a commerical traveller you know; then I had a very good job as assistant manager of a vinegar factory—I know all about vinegar, Phosie—and I've served in a dry goods store and even worked on the railway. I put in one season in a lumber camp in Quebec, and I had the time of my life ranching in Alberta. Can you picture me as a 'cow-puncher,' Phosie? I lived in the saddle, and I wish to Heaven I'd never come East again. But I returned to Ontario some years ago, almost as poor as when I first landed.

"I couldn't make up my mind what to do, so I determined to take it easy during the hot weather, for it was the beginning of July, and make my money last out till the Fall.

"I had landed up at a dull little town where I knew I could live cheaply. It was a deadly dull little town, called Cooling River, with one hotel on the main street. I boarded at this hotel, and it was there I met the inevitable woman. Woman! She didn't live to be a woman. She was just a slip of a girl. Strange little being with wonderful eyes! I can't describe her, Phosie. I never understood her. She was the hotel people's daughter—a spoilt child.

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"Her mother was a poor, worn creature, with the same delicate features and dark eyes. They were extraordinarily like each other, and it troubled me from the first, for the mother looked as if Death had got her by the wrist, dragging her away. The girl, in spite of her youth and bloom, had the same narrow chest and pale lips.

"We were always together, day after day, and I got to love her desperately—desperately! That's the word. I would have done anything in the world to make her happy. I wanted to be married at once, for her sake more than my own, to take her away from the dull little town, which she hated, to the golden West. She might have lived in California. I might have saved her."

He stopped speaking, shading his eyes from the light. Phosie drew nearer to him with the sincere sympathy that needs no words. After a few minutes he continued his story.

"I was at my wits' end to make some money. There was nothing to be done in Cooling River, and I hated the thought of leaving Mehala. Our days together were so beautiful, sometimes on the river in our canoes, sometimes in the maple woods. It was at the end of September, just when everything was turning golden for the Fall, that I saw an opportunity of making a fortune. What a fool I was!

"One evening, when Mehala and I were strolling home, we stopped to look at a small poster in the front window of a grocery store. Anything new attracts one's attention in a one-horse town like Cooling River. This poster announced a concert at the town, to be given the following week.

"Mehala clapped her hands with delight. I can see her now! Of course I promised on the spot to take her to the concert. I bought a couple of tickets and I don't think we talked of anything else.

"You know they call every kind of show a 'concert' in Canada, but there wasn't very much music about | | 238 this one. It was given by three people, an actor and his wife, who both sang, and a young fellow who was the manager."

Frank Race was not looking at Phosie as he talked, or he would have seen how intensely his story interested her. She hung on his words.

"These people arrived in Cooling River on the day of the concert," he went on. "Of course they put up at the hotel, and I sat opposite to them at dinner. We dined at the unearthly hour of half-past twelve in the morning. The actor was an old, clever-looking chap, but I guessed at once that he was in the habit of raising his elbow. His wife was a pretty little shrew who kept him in fairly good order. The manager I took to be little more than a boy, for he looked much younger than he really was, with a fine fresh colour, clear eyes, and no end of nerve."

"Do you remember his name?" asked Phosie, in a voice which trembled.

Frank Race gave an ugly laugh.

"Remember his name?Yes! It was Revell—Jules Revell—the damned scoundrel!"

The colour rushed into his listener's face, and he thought she was offended at his violent words, but she checked his apology with an impatient gesture and told him to go on.

"I made friends with this Revell at dinner. How he could talk! I've never heard his equal, and that's saying a good deal for a man who has been 'on the road' We spent the afternoon together and I helped him fix up the platform for the show.

"At supper he was introduced to Mehala and her mother and they both liked him. He was a born flatterer. The concert was quite a success, for the hall was packed, and Revell cleared over forty dollars.

"It seemed to me a very easy way of earning money, and I told him so, half in joke, when we were all sitting | | 239 together in the hotel parlour afterwards. He agreed, and asked me why I didn't go in for it. Mehala clapped her hands again—it was a pretty little trick of hers—and said I could sing and recite better than anybody she had ever heard. There was an old square piano in the room, and Revell insisted on hearing me. We'd got a stock of old music, and Mehala had learned to play my accompaniments. I sang half a dozen times, then I recited, then Mehala sang, then we tried a duet. It was a very jolly evening, and before we parted I had half promised to invest my last dollars in the Revell-Race Imperial Concert Party—Jules made up the name on the spot—on sharing terms.

"By the following morning the scheme had lost some of its glamour, but Mehala implored me not to give it up. She was sick of Cooling River and her quiet home life. Revell had bewitched her. She knew nothing of the world and firmly believed all his fairy stories.

"He stopped at our town, having a vacant week, and did everything in his power to win me over. I confess I liked him. He was full of life, and ingenuously frank and self-reliant. Our friendship grew in leaps and bounds, but I felt that I couldn't leave Mehala, and what was the alternative?

"We must be married at once and I must take her with me. Phosie! I know what you are going to say. It was foolish, inconsiderate, wrong! I had no money, and I was condemning her to the hardships and discomforts of touring the country with a second-rate show. True! But you can't be more indignant with me than I am with myself. I did it, but God knows I've been punished more than I deserve."

"I am not indignant with you, dear Frank," said Phosie, gently. "I am so sorry for you."

"We kept our plans from Mehala's parents," Frank Race continued. "It was a mean thing to do, but I knew they would never give their consent. We didn't | | 240 even tell Revell until it was over. He was intensely surprised, but I remember how he wrung my hand and wished me joy. The old man at Cooling River was very generous and they both forgave us, but I'm afraid it helped to kill the poor mother. She never saw Mehala again.

"The Imperial Concert Party was very successful, thanks to Revell, and I was very happy with my little girl. I soon found out she didn't love me as I had imagined, but she was always sweet and gentle. We made money and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Revell seemed to grow more and more attached to me, for he was always in our company, but I noticed that Mehala didn't care for him.

"Their manner to each other changed. At first they had been great friends, but she grew silent and nervous, and Revell treated her with absolute indifference. Without actual words he made me understand that my wife was antagonistic to him, and he was always hinting I had thrown myself away.

"So our life together went on for six months—six months!—and then—then—"

He broke off abruptly, rose to his feet and took a few quick turns up and down the room.

Phosie's eyes followed his movements, but her thoughts were in the past. She saw the well-remembered room in the old house at The Stroll, and Jules Revell, in a passion that had frightened her, ramming the torn photographs into the fire.

Frank Race threw himself into his chair, started to re-light his pipe, but laid it aside. It was several minutes before he spoke.

"I suppose you guess the end," he said bitterly. "You are not so blind as I was. You don't know what it is to be the husband of a woman one trusts—loves!"

Again he was silent. Her restraining hand laid on his seemed to calm him.

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"It all happened in a couple of weeks, Phosie," he said, with extraordinary simplicity. "He took her away from me—forced her—persuaded her to go—one night after the performance. I followed them, but there was no clue. I was dazed. Confounded! I think I was out of my mind. I hoped to murder him. I can't tell you about it—let it pass—you understand—"

"Yes! Yes!"

"When I found her she was alone—alone, Phosie!—penniless, heart-broken, in a wretched little room, with the plaster in great patches off the walls and ceiling. It was a beggarly hotel at a town off the railway line. She was cold—I felt her little feet—the brute to desert her, the brute! We just looked at each other and she said, 'Oh, Frank! Frank!' Nothing else. She never asked me to forgive her. There was no need. I just put out my arms and she—"

He stopped altogether. Phosie's hand gripped his, and then relaxed. She rose and walked to the other side of the room, turning her back on him. She gave him time to recover his self-control. After a few seconds he called her back.

"My wife died at Cooling River," he said quietly. "Her father never knew what had happened. She couldn't have lived, they told us, under any circumstances. The old man and I grew very near to each other in our sorrow. He's a good man. I shall go to see him, the first thing, when I get back."

"Are you going back?"

"Yes, Phosie, very soon. All this happened years ago. I've schooled myself not to think about it. Time and courage heal our wounds, but I find I must live a life of action. I can't afford to brood. My salvation lies in hard work."

Phosie was half afraid of the question that rose to her lips, but she was impelled to ask it.

"Have you seen Jules Revell since—"

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"Never!" he interrupted quickly. "But when I do—if I do—"

There was no need to complete the sentence. Phosie thought of the world of London, with its endless streets and myriad crowds. Would they ever meet?

From that night she was haunted by the shadow of a great terror. Frank Race's story had given it birth. It grew with the days—monstrous, vague, obscure.

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