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 25 chapter 33 >>

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CHAPTER XXVI
A TRIFLE, AND THE INTRODUCTION OF MR BOYTON

"PHOSIE, I want to speak to you. I have to ask a favour. It's only a trifle, but it's rather important."

Phosie looked up from the floor, where she was kneeling in front of her wardrobe, as her husband entered the room.

It was the day after Frank Race's story had been told. She was still haunted by its sad inconsequence, its lack of detail, and its revelation of the villainy of Jules Revell.

After a listless morning she was trying to occupy her mind with an inspection and re-arrangement of her clothes and trinkets, ably assisted by her daughter. She had finished her embroidery the previous night, after parting with Frank.

The bed was strewn with finery, and Jane, wearing a pink silk dressing-jacket over her pinafore and a wreath of artificial flowers on her head, was admiring herself in a long glass.

Walter sat down by the dressing-table, with masculine indifference to the prettiness surrounding him. He looked tired and pale, but as he had not returned home until midnight his wife concluded that that was the reason.

"What is it, dear?" she said, looking through a box of gloves with a thoughtful face. "Here's a pair for you to play with, Jane."

"Put 'em down," said Jane. "I'm so busy."

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"Now do pay a little attention to what I am going to say, Phosie," began Walter. "As I told you just now it's only a trifle, but it's important."

"Yes, I'm listening," said Phosie.

He fidgeted with a scent-bottle on the dressing-table, twisting the glass stopper round and round, uncertain how to present his case. He was going to talk about money, and it was a little awkward in the face of the persistence with which he had refused to confide in his wife.

He wondered how she would take it. He was in no mood for reproaches and dreaded that her good-temper would be ruffled.

Phosie had too much character to be placid at any time, but then, again, he had never seen her really angry. For all his belief in the devotion of women, he had not lived so many years in the world without discovering that they could be mean, mercenary, wantonly extravagant.

The very room in which he sat usually suggested his wife's personal daintiness, but to-day it only gave an impression of the careless spending of money. He forgot that he was always urging her to spend, and that more than half the costly trifles she prized because they were his own gifts.

"Phosie, I want to borrow your money," he said at last, making a blunt plunge into his subject.

She laid aside the pile of gloves, got to her feet, and sat down on the edge of the bed, looking at him in a puzzled manner.

"Borrow my money?" she repeated. "How do you mean, Walter? It's Mr Revell's money you're speaking of, isn't it?"

"Of course it is," he answered impatiently.

"Do you want the capital, the whole of it, love? That seems so strange, because I am accustomed to getting the interest only."

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"It isn't tied up, you know," he said quickly. "You are perfectly free to take possession of it all in a lump if you choose."

"I understand that," said Phosie. "Mr Faraday explained it to me when I went to his office the first time."

"You hardly get a pound a week, do you?"her husband continued. "Now, if I could show you a way to get a big interest on your capital—a thing that's bound to turn out well—"

"My dear boy, don't talk to me like a stockbroker!" interrupted Phosie, with a laugh. "Tell me simply what you want me to do, but remember that it is all I possess in my own right, and I consider myself responsible for Little Gus."

Walter Race chose to take this ill.

"Phosie, don't talk about your 'own right' and 'being responsible' for other people. I'm your husband, you know, and I don't think you need be afraid I shall shirk my duties."

"I'm sure you'll never desert me or your 'che-ild,'" said Phosie, laughing at his virtuously indignant tone, but instantly serious again when she saw he was really annoyed. "I wanted to ask you whether it isn't a little foolish, dear, to take one's money out of a safe investment on the mere chance of getting a dangerously high interest?"

"Good heavens, Phosie! If I'd got the money myself should I ask you?" he said, standing up and pushing his chair violently away. "But I haven't got it; I'm in a hole. I'm tied to Carl Stratton hand and foot."

"Ah!" cried Phosie.

She had always distrusted Carl Stratton. Her husband had assured her, some time back, that their business relations were about to end.

"I can't explain it all," he continued, walking up and down the room. "But I know there's a way out of the | | 246 difficulty. I swear I've got a chance to save myself, but I must have a little ready money. What do you say? Are you going to help me?"

He stopped abruptly in front of her. She looked up into his face perplexedly. How worn and ill he looked! The severity of his fine features was accentuated by dark lines under the eyes and round the puckered lips.

"Of course I will help you, Walter," said Phosie. "But I think I ought to consult Mr Faraday—"

"My dear Phosie," he interrupted pettishly, "all Faraday has to do is to obey your instructions."

"I should like to ask his advice," she went on, but again he interrupted her.

"So you consider him more trustworthy, more likely to look after your interest than I am? Perhaps you're right, but it isn't complimentary to me, is it?"

"Dear, you mistake me," said Phosie, gently. "You know I rely on you entirely. I will go to Mr Faraday to-morrow morning. I am sure it will be all right, but I wish—I do wish you had had nothing more to do with Carl Stratton, Walter."

"Oh, it's too late to talk about that," he said angrily, and went out of the room.

Phosie sat still, absently pleating a ribbon between her fingers, until Jane climbed on to the bed beside her.

"I wis' you'd speak to Biddy and Winkey, momma," she said. "They are very naughty, both of 'em."

Biddy and Winkey, the make-believe pet oyster and chicken of Phosie's childhood, had grown equally dear to Jane. Phosie had forgotten their imaginary existence for years, but the coming of her own child had revived the memories of her lonely life in Airy Street.

Jane found her mother a most interesting companion. They played together and told each other stories. Walter was not quite of their world, although they graciously permitted him to romp with them occasionally.

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Mr Faraday received Phosie, when she called at his office on the following morning, with old-fashioned courtesy. He had been one of Henry Revell's few intimate friends.

Mr Faraday was a quiet, rather pompous man, with a naturally shrewd, alert expression in spite of the too, too solid flesh of his big, clean-shaven face. He spoke deliberately, weighing his words, turning them over in his mouth as it were, as if they possessed the flavour of good wine.

Having listened to Phosie's business with interest, he came to the conclusion that she was acting very foolishly, and told her so in a well-chosen, long sentence. She did not miss the implication.

"You see, I must be guided by my husband," she said.

"I quite understand your position," agreed Mr Faraday. "But the whole business gives one the impression of uncertainty, instability, a lack of the capacity to grasp the elemental facts of finance, if you will permit me to say so, on the part of Mr Race. He appears to have placed his affairs in the hands of a friend, and it is undoubtedly by the advice of this friend that your little fortune is also to be invested—in something, somewhere."

Mr Faraday shrugged his shoulders expressively.

"I don't know whether Walter is still acting on this friend's advice," observed Phosie.

"You can take it as read, Mrs Race," answered Mr Faraday. "A friend of this description is like, if you will permit me to make use of the word, a limpet. A limpet. He sticks. I know these business friends of rich young men. I have come across any number of similar cases in the course of a long and, I hope you will pardon me for saying, singularly wide and varied experience of life. If it were not for being guilty of an absurd exaggeration I | | 248 should say that such friends begin their careers as the aforesaid limpets and invariably grow into social sharks."

Phosie looked at him helplessly.

"But I am afraid I have no alternative. I must do as my husband wishes."

"Of course it is entirely your own affair, my dear lady," said Mr Faraday. "But I think if I were to talk the matter over with Mr Race—"

"I have promised to settle it at once," said Phosie. "So I am afraid I must ask you to let me have the money as quickly as you can, Mr Faraday."

He smiled indulgently, for she spoke as if her little capital were in his waistcoat pocket. He was always indulgent to a pretty woman.

"I regret it," he said, in dismissing the subject, "and I fear that you will regret it too."

"I shall never regret pleasing Walter," she thought.

"Don't go, I beg, one moment!" exclaimed Mr Faraday, as Phosie rose, checking her with a stately wave of the hand. "I am anxious to introduce my partner to you, Mrs Race. We were talking about you only yesterday. I believe he was acquainted with some members of your family."

Phosie resumed her seat. She instantly thought of her father's family. It was hard to imagine any connection between the partner of this pompous gentleman and poor Eddy Moore, the Human Eel.

Mr Faraday touched his bell.

"Will you inform Mr Boyton that Mrs Race is here, and I shall be glad if he can spare us a few minutes," said Mr Faraday to the attendant clerk.

The clerk vanished, Mr Faraday talked about the salubrious weather for a minute or two, and then the door opened to admit Mr Boyton.

Mr Boyton was a thin, wiry, little man, the top of his sleek head hardly reaching to his partner's shoulder. | | 249 His bright eyes gleamed through gold-rimmed eyeglasses. His handshake was remarkably short and sharp.

He looked at Phosie very keenly, and deliberately took possession of her chair, which was in shadow, offering her another so that she faced the light. She was slightly embarrassed by the kind curiosity of his stare. Mr Faraday glanced from one to the other.

"Do you observe any resemblance, Boyton, to the friend of your youth?" he asked after a somewhat awkward pause.

"I do most decidedly! " answered Mr Boyton, who snapped out his words. "There's a wonderful—something, I don't know what it is—the expression of Mrs Race's face recalls the past. I think I knew your mother, Mrs Race."

"My mother!" cried Phosie.

She did not remember her mother, but she knew that her marriage with a poor acrobat had alienated the affection of her own people.

"I happened to mention, in casual conversation with Mr Boyton, that I believed your maiden name was Euphrosyne Moore," said Mr Faraday. "I really cannot recollect how the topic originated. Mr Boyton's attention was arrested by Euphrosyne as being a most uncommon Christian name—to speak more correctly, name bestowed upon a Christian. I myself had never met with another Euphrosyne, but it appeared that Mr Boyton's experience differed from mine. He had known a young lady of that name before he was articled to Freeman, Lidgate & Freeman. An excellent practice, by the way, Messrs Freeman. Lidgate & Freeman. I recollect old John Freeman—"

It is impossible to say how long Mr Faraday's soliloquy would have continued if his partner, still gazing at Phosie, had not interrupted him.

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"We lived next door to each other, your mother's people and mine," he said. "We were practically brought up together. There were nine in our family, two in our neighbour's—your mother and your Uncle Joseph."

"I never heard of my Uncle Joseph," said Phosie. "I don't even know my mother's name before she was married."

"Good Heavens!" ejaculated Mr Faraday.

"It was Ridgeway—Euphrosyne Ridgeway," answered Mr Boyton. "Your Uncle was Joseph Ridgeway. He went to live in the south of France several years before I was articled."

"Joseph Ridgeway," repeated Phosie, thoughtfully.

She had heard that name before. It sounded strangely familiar. She had a hazy remembrance of forming the words on paper. She saw them, in her mind's eye, written on an envelope—Joseph Ridgeway—

Ah! It all came back to her in a flash of thought. Joseph Ridgeway! That was the name of one of Mr Revell's regular correspondents, the "Dear Joe" of numberless letters she had written to his dictation during her life in The Stroll. She had seen "Dear Herbert," his old friend from Surrey, a short time before Mr Revell's death, but "Dear Joe " had long ago passed out of her thoughts.

"My uncle!" she cried, and briefly told them of the strange coincidence.

"Good Heavens!" said Mr Faraday for the second time.

"He is still in France, but I believe he intends to return very shortly," said Mr Boyton. "I am told by mutual friends that he means to live in England. His business has greatly enlarged during the past five years."

"Have you mentioned the business, Mr Boyton?" asked Mr Faraday.

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"He is a glove manufacturer," replied his partner. "A very successful man. His partner, Monsieur Mercier, will remain in France. Joseph Ridgeway is much older than I am. Your mother and I were more of an age. We were rather attached to each other at one time—at least, I hoped she was becoming attached to me. I was always attached to her. Well! Well! Young people are generally foolish. Your grandparents were a little too strict with Euphrosyne."

Phosie started. It was quite bewildering to suddenly realise the possession of so many new relations.

"Are my grandparents living?" she asked.

"Oh, no," replied Mr Boyton. "They are both dead."

"The common lot—regrettable, but inevitable," murmured Mr Faraday.

"Did you know my father?" asked Phosie, eagerly.

A peculiar smile wrinkled Mr Boyton's thin lips.

"I only saw your father once on the stage. He was—er—a very limber man."

"Yes," said Phosie, "he was known as the Human Eel."

"God bless my soul!" gasped Mr Faraday.

"My father was not a human freak," Phosie hastened to explain. "That was only his professional name. He was a contortionist."

"Very interesting, I am sure," murmured Mr Faraday, staring.

Phosie could not resist the temptation of adding to his knowledge of her father's work.

"You must not confuse contortion with leg-mania," she said gravely, "although they are generally studied at the same time. My father could do 'full bending' and 'posturing' with equal ease. It was as easy for him to hold his head in the small of his back as it is for most men to make a bow. Have you ever tried it, Mr Faraday?"

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"Do you mean have I tried making a bow?" he asked, with a slight bend at what his tailor called his waist.

"No, bending backwards into a hoop," said Phosie. "It's much more difficult than it looks. So is high kicking. That's considered the ladies' branch of the business, you know."

Mr Faraday was obviously shocked. Phosie spared him any further details. She repeated her original question to Mr Boyton.

"Your father and I did not meet," he answered. "I never saw your mother after she left home to go on the stage. Her marriage, you probably know, was hardly—hardly—''

"I understand," said Phosie, helping him out of a difficult sentence. "My mother's family greatly disapproved of my poor father. But we loved him, she and I. I remember him with pride. He was gentle, good, chivalrous."

"I am ready to believe it," replied Mr Boyton. "Time, my dear Mrs Race, widens one's outlook and alters one's opinions. Let me see! I met my wife six months after I heard of your mother's marriage, and Mrs Boyton and I were married within the year."

"You must meet Mrs Boyton," put in Mr Faraday to Phosie. "Charming lady! One of the most spirited controversialists with whom I have ever had the pleasure of differing. Very strong views, to be sure."

Mr Boyton gave a little sigh.

"I shall be very happy to introduce you to my wife," he assured Phosie. "I don't want to lose sight of the daughter of my old friend. Would you like to communicate with your uncle, Mr Ridgeway? We have mutual friends who are always in touch with him."

"I would rather wait until he returns to England," said Phosie. "He may not care to know me."

"If once he meets you, my dear Mrs Race, such a | | 253 supposition would be simply ridiculous," said Mr Faraday, with laboured gallantry.

Phosie answered with a smile, and rose. She apologised for wasting so much of the partners' busy morning.

"Not at all!" said Mr Boy ton, cordially. "I am delighted to meet you. It has reminded me of my boyhood. You must come to see us with your husband. Mrs Boyton will be very pleased, I'm sure."

"Permit me!" said Mr Faraday, opening the door. "Good-bye, my dear Mrs Race. I will attend to that little matter for you immediately. You may rely on me. Good morning."

Mr Boyton looked after her thoughtfully. She was very like the Euphrosyne of his youth. He sighed again, and returned slowly to his own room.

Mr Faraday sank into his easy-chair with a slightly-annoyed expression.

"The daughter of a Human Eel!" he said to himself. "What an extraordinary world this is! And she wanted me to see if I could put my head into the small of my own back! I've never been asked such a thing by a client in the whole course of my professional career."

Phosie hurried home, her mind full of the strange coincidence of Mr Revell's old correspondent proving to be her own uncle.

She was anxious to tell Walter that she had fulfilled her promise. It was a disappointment to find the house empty. Her husband had left no message. There were a couple of letters on the hall table. One was a note from Frank, saying he would not be in to luncheon. The other was an affectionate scrawl from Miss Sapio, announcing the date of the production of Hewett Addison's latest play—Phosie must keep herself free—why hadn't she popped in lately—how was darling Jane—poor dear old Quizzy had been very dicky with bronchitis, but was on the mend—what had become of Wally—love and kisses from her devoted Flo.

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Phosie went into the dining-room and summoned Jane. She felt depressed and anxious. Walter had been very moody at breakfast, and she had no idea where he had gone. She found it impossible to shake off the haunting dread of her brother-in-law meeting Jules Revell.

Then she thought of her talk with Mr Boyton, and in the sudden entrance of Jane, with a hand outstretched on either side showing she was accompanied by Biddy and Winkey, she saw herself as a little child, all unconscious of the deep, confusing shadows which we call the realities of life.

Jane resembled her father too closely to personate for long the little Euphrosyne of Airy Street. She perched on her mother's knee, in her own serious way, and began to smooth the lines of troubled thought out of her brow with the palms of her hands, accompanied by murmuring little sounds of wordless love.

Phosie was soothed by her touch, strengthened by her soft voice, but she felt, at the same time, utterly lonely. It was a feeling that had swept over her now and again in the early days of her marriage.

What had she known of the man who was her husband? They were strangers to each other! What did she know of him after eight years?

She glanced round the familiar room. The decorations, the furniture, the books, the pictures, even the flowers on the table, were chosen to suit his tastes. The colour and style of her own dress, the arrangement of her hair, were designed to win his approval. Her whole life was entirely ruled according to his measure.

An observer of husbands and wives will understand the position when it is said that Walter always spoke of "my" house, and "my" servants, and "my" plans. He had yet to learn the value of the word "our."

Phosie was soon ashamed of her momentary aloofness. This was her own home. Her own dear home.

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They sat down at the table side by side. Jane, standing up for a second on the bar of her high chair, peered into the dish. Its contents met with her highest approval, which she signified by folding her hands with a sigh of satisfaction, and fixing her eyes on her mother as she adapted her grace to the occasion:

"For what I am 'bout to receive may the Lord make me truly thank you!"

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