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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DURING the weeks that preceded the production of Hewett Addison's new play, after her interview with the lawyers, Phosie saw very little of her husband.

Although he had abandoned late breakfasts, always rising before nine, she had no opportunity of talking to him in the morning. He read the paper while he ate, and rarely spoke, leaving the conversation to his brother, Phosie and the child. He usually lunched at his club, dined four or five times a week with Carl Stratton, and was too tired or depressed at night to discuss any subject whatever.

Often and often, when his anxieties were forgotten in restless sleep, his wife would lie awake through the quiet hours, not unhappy, not afraid, but conscious of a gathering storm, wondering how he would meet it, and praying that she might be able to help him in her great love and loyalty.

Mr Revell's money—she always called it Mr Revell's money—was in Walter's hands, in spite of Mr Faraday's protests, and, having once given it up, Phosie dismissed all thoughts of it from her mind.

She was sorry to be obliged, for the time being, to reduce her weekly allowance to Little Gus, but fortunately his small salary amply supplied his simple needs. Gus hated spending money on himself. The horrible phantom of destitution was in his blood, for he had been born in want and misery, and all Phosie's affection could not set him free.

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Little Gus was always afraid; afraid of poverty, afraid of illness, afraid of accidents, afraid of strangers. For a long time he was even afraid of Jane. Feeling her power, she used it like a kind autocrat, and he became her devoted slave.

On the morning of the production of Addison's play, when they were sitting at the breakfast-table, Walter announced that he would be unable to go to the theatre at night.

"Oh, Walter, how disappointing!" exclaimed Phosie. "It is such a great event for all Mr Addison's friends. You must go."

"Quite impossible!" he answered, irritably. "I'm obliged to see Stratton, and I can't get out of it."

"What an extraordinary way Stratton does his business," observed Frank Race, who was quartering an apple for Jane. "Can't you see him in the morning instead of at night?"

"He is out of town," said Walter. "But he expects to get back late this afternoon. I'm sorry, Phosie, but it can't be helped. You and Frank must go without me and give my seat to somebody else."

"I should like Uncle Bill to stop at home with me, an' momma, an' mine Gussy, but I think I don't want daddy," said Jane, frankly.

Walter gave a laugh and rose from his chair.

"They'll all stop at home with you another day, babs," he said, and stooped to kiss her in passing.

"If you really can't go, Walter, I should like to take Gus," said Phosie, calling after him as he left the room.

"Very well, I don't care," he answered, shutting the door.

"Walter isn't well," said Frank.

"He makes me more and more anxious every day," said Phosie.

"I think daddy is on'y cross," Jane observed, eating her apple.

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"Will your friend Gus appreciate a first night?" asked Frank, doubtfully.

"Dear Little Gus! He will enjoy going out with you and me," replied Phosie.

The play was produced at one of the most popular theatres in the Strand.

When the Race party arrived the house was already filling rapidly. Most of the people in the pit were standing up, recognising, or pretending to recognise, celebrities in the stalls. Dramatic critics shook hands with one another, or more frequently exchanged the silent greeting of a raised programme or a bored smile. There were a few pretty women and a great many pretty frocks.

Miss Sapio, in a rose-red cloak over white satin, sat in Hewett Addison's box, nodding, smiling, and kissing her hand to distant friends.

Addison himself was behind the scenes. He had long outgrown the desire to pace the Embankment, ready for a fatal plunge, on the first night of a new play, but he still felt too nervous to watch, in his own words, the jury assembling before the trial began.

Mrs Race's three seats were at the end of the third row from the back of the stalls. Phosie was simply dressed in dark green, with a small wreath of leaves in her hair. Frank thought how young and pretty she looked.

Tom Wainwright, the artist, who happened to be sitting two rows behind, made a sketch on the inner side of his programme of her graceful throat and soft coil of hair.

Little Gus's faithful eyes blinked at her through his spectacles. She had long personified to him the beauty and refinement of his narrow world. He could not appreciate many things; he had no taste for Art; literature was a sealed book; music spoke to him, but it was an indistinct, groping language, in Euphrosyne he found | | 259 the inspiration and the source of his mind's slow development.

"I wish Walter were here!" said Phosie more than once as the first act proceeded.

It was a comedy, not one of Addison's most original pieces of work, but rippling over with laughter all the same. The sensitive first-night audience responded to every line, every situation. There was a feeling of relief among the author's admirers, for they felt that his reputation was safe. He had once again justified their faith.

Phosie, who had been too anxious for her friend's success to really enjoy the first act, gave herself up wholly to the pleasure of the second. It was weeks and weeks since she had laughed so much.

Frank Race, to whom the author's half-mad absurdity—Hewett wrote with dignified madness, a madness of subtle lights and shades—did not so strongly appeal, nevertheless was moved to unusual appreciation.

He glanced to Phosie's eager profile, shadowy in the darkened auditorium, and was struck with its quaint resemblance to a water-colour drawing which hung in Walter's dressing-room. It had been Wainwright's wedding present, painted after the first visit of Walter's bride to the artist's home.

"A Spirit of Mirth" was written underneath in Wainwright's hand, but Frank had always regarded it, until that night, as a fanciful study for a picture of Ariel or Puck, for it possessed the delicacy of the first in form and the mockery of the second in expression. Now he saw that it was meant for Phosie; not a portrait for all who ran to read, but an artist's conception of her happy nature.

She was unconscious of her brother-in-law's amused discovery. Nothing was farther from her mind than Wainwright's water-colour, but Frank had the feeling of a boy who has found a hidden puzzle in a picture. | | 260 When the lights went up he would lose it again, but for the minute it was clearly, sharply drawn, and the wreath of leaves added to the illusion. It was no longer Phosie beside him. It was a sprite, a wild thing of the woods flown into a theatre. It was Ariel with those wide, long-fringed lashes—no, it was Puck with those laughing, curving lips.

The idle fancy pleased him for a second, after the fashion of idle fancies, but he found he was right at the end of the act. There was little resemblance, in the garish lights, between Phosie and the picture in her husband's room.

"I'm glad they've dropped the curtain," she exclaimed, leaning back in her seat. "I couldn't have laughed much more. As Jane says, it makes 'my cheeks to hurt.'"

"What a success! Lucky fellow!" said Frank Race.

He stood up and glanced round the stalls. Half the men went out between the acts, but Frank and Little Gus remained in their seats.

Phosie asked a question about American theatres. In the middle of his answer, when the stalls were refilling, Frank stopped short. His face changed, and he forgot to end his sentence. She looked at him in surprise.

"What is it?" she asked. "What are you looking at?"

There was no answer, and he did not notice her touch on his arm.


She spoke to deaf ears. Puzzled and a little amused, Phosie seized the last second before the curtain rose to discover the cause of his unaccountable abstraction.

She stood up, followed his eyes, and saw—Jules Revell.

He was sitting at the end of the row in front of them, on the opposite side of the stalls. His eyes were bent | | 261 on his programme, and one hand was laid on his thick, dark moustache. In spite of this alteration in his appearance since last they met, for he had been clean-shaven in the old days, Phosie recognised him instantly. There was no mistaking the full, drooping eyelids; the heavy, but well-shaped nose; the thick hand, with short fingers.

He raised his head, as if he felt the attraction of their eyes, looked vaguely over the stalls, and saw them both.

Then the lights went out.

Phosie, frightened, agitated by what had passed, tried to read the expression of her brother-in-law's face. He was staring at the stage. She touched his hand. He started and bent over her.

"Frank! What is it? Whom did you see?" she whispered.

"It's nothing—nothing! Hush!" he answered in as low a tone.

She tried to recall her absorption in the play, tried to join in Gus's laughter, but it was impossible, for she guessed what was passing through the mind of the man on her other side, and felt the strain of his self-control.

She knew he was making up his mind what to do. Perhaps he was struggling to master his dormant passions of hate and revenge. This was her hope, her prayer, but she was powerless to help him.

The mimic stage, the puppets and their cunning showman, were forgotten.

"Frank!" Again she ventured to speak to him, and again he bent down, without looking at her.

"You're in trouble, dear. Stop with me—let me help you—"

"Stop with you!" he repeated and frowned. "What do you mean? Hush! We can't talk now."

What did he mean to do? Phosie asked herself the | | 262 question again and again. He must not meet Jules Revell. That was the one clear point in her troubled reasoning.

She did not doubt the power of her influence over Frank Race, if she could gain time. She knew that he was fond of her and believed in her judgment.

Her own repugnance to Jules Revell was unchanged, but she gave no thought to it. Frank did not know they had ever met. Her whispered entreaties only puzzled and annoyed him. He was too absorbed in his own affairs to notice her change of manner. She laughed no more, and the minutes dragged.

Frank Race could hardly keep still, although he forced himself to listen. Would this interminable play never end? Empty words—senseless noise—fools at play!

Directly the curtain fell and the lights flashed up he sprang to his feet.

"Gus will take you home, Phosie dear. I shall follow you later and explain—there's nothing the matter—good-bye!" he said.

She caught at his sleeve.

"Oh, Frank—a minute—"

"Later!" was all he answered, and shook her off.

Half the people in the audience were standing up. The actors were responding to applause. There was a cry of "Author!" much clapping, and a little booing from the gallery. All was noise and confusion.

Phosie looked across the stalls. She saw Jules Revell disappearing through the swing-door of an exit close to his seat. A few seconds later she caught a glimpse of Frank shouldering his way, with scant courtesy, towards another exit on his side of the theatre. Both doors opened on a vestibule leading by a flight of stairs into the entrance hall.

Jules Revell had perhaps half a minute's start. He | | 263 was the first man out of the theatre and seized upon the first cab.

Frank Race was close at his heels. A dozen eager hands pointed out the departing cab, a dozen men had seen the first gentleman get in, and a dozen whistles and calls summoned another cab for the second gentleman. Coins scattered. The hunter and his quarry had rushed out of the theatre and were gone before the remainder of the audience were fairly out of their seats.

Ten minutes later Phosie and Little Gus, unable to quicken their pace, slowly ascended the stairs into the entrance hall in the midst of a throng of people. Gus was bewildered by her haste and agitation, but followed blindly and pressed after her through the main doors of the theatre.

After a few minutes wasted in trying to secure a cab Phosie determined to walk down the Strand towards Charing Cross, hoping to meet with better success away from the crowd leaving the theatre.

The streets were very busy. They had reached the corner of Trafalgar Square before seeing an empty hansom. Every taxi was engaged.

"Gus, I want you to do something for me," she said, earnestly, before getting into the cab. "Go to our house as quickly as you can and see Walter. If he is not in, wait for him. Tell him to follow me at once. I am going to our old house in The Stroll. You can explain to Walter exactly where it is. Tell him there is nothing the matter, but he must come. When you have given the message, dear, go home yourself and sleep well. Good-night."

"Can't I do anything else, Phosie?" asked Gus, looking utterly miserable. "Shall I go with you—?"

"No! No! Do as I tell you. You can do nothing else. Good-night again. Be quick—go to Walter!"

She sprang into the cab, gave the address to the | | 264 driver, and waved her hand to Little Gus, who stood at the edge of the pavement for several minutes staring after her.

Then he remembered her words, pulled himself together, and turned his steps towards Temple Street.

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