- CHAPTER XXIX ONCE AGAIN IN THE STROLL
|<< chapter 28||< chapter 1||chapter 30 >||chapter 33 >>|
ONCE AGAIN IN THE STROLL
WHEN Euphrosyne drove away from Little Gus, in pursuit of Frank Race, it was some time before she was sufficiently calm to realise her position.
The streets were flooded with the gay streams pouring from theatre and music-hall. She saw by a clock in the Haymarket that it was half-past eleven.
The streams widened at Piccadilly Circus into a rushing river of noise, colour and confusion. Now and again, in the eddies and rapids, a figure would swim out of the troubled waters under the lee of Phosie's craft—for hansoms are the old gondolas of old London—to hold her attention for a fleeting minute.
Once it was a vision of a man and girl in an electric brougham, holding hands and looking into each other's eyes, as much alone in their happy world as if they had been drifting down a real stream in their own canoe. Once it was the expression of a woman, flashing an evil smile to answering eyes from lips of vivid red; once it was the face of a boy shouting an evening paper, insolent, cunning, old in knowledge of the streets; once it was the wondering, innocent stare of a little child, clutched in the arms of a nervous mother scuttling across the road.
Her husband was always in Phosie's mind, for she knew how much he loved his brother. It was for his, Walter's, sake she had determined to throw herself between these men. Her fear and abhorrence of Jules Revell had never been as great as it was at that minute.| | 276
As she drew nearer and nearer to The Stroll, passing one familiar landmark after another, this inward feeling increased, but outwardly she was calm and alert, and even in her dread it was characteristic of Phosie that she was not wholly oblivious of a humorous side to the situation—the boastful Jules running away, Frank chasing Jules, Phosie chasing Frank, and, in all probability, Walter chasing Phosie!
She leaned eagerly forward in the cab as they turned out of Hammersmith Broadway into the quiet, shady Stroll.
In Mr Revell's days there had been a few ineffectual gas lamps placed at far intervals at the edge of the pavement, but these had long been superseded by big arc lights down the middle of the road.
There was a bright moon, and the shadows of the still leafy plane trees flickered on the ground.
The driver slackened speed, and Phosie thrust open the little trap-door over her head, telling him where to stop.
She sprang out almost before the wheels were still, paid the fare, and ran up the well-remembered steps to the front door.
Then she paused irresolute. The upper windows of the house were dark, but there was a light in the hall. She could see this by peering through the thick pattern of glass in the panels of the door.
The driver turned his cab slowly and rattled away. The sound of the horse's hoofs were like muffled drum taps on the soft road.
Phosie was full of doubt. Perhaps she had come on a fool's errand. What if Jules had not returned? Even if she saw him, how could she explain her visit at such an hour to his house? Would Frank Race brook her interference? Would she have to tell the truth to Jules Revell's wife? What was it right to do? What was it wise to do?| | 277
She knocked at the door decisively and waited.
The street was as silent as on the night when she had slept under the lilac bush with Little Gus, years and years ago.
Again she put her face close to the thick glass panel, peering through.
Suddenly there was a sound from within—men's voices, hard and hoarse—an indistinct crash—a faint scream.
Phosie hammered on the door. A shadow flitted against the glass panel.
The door opened and she was confronted by a woman with a quantity of flaxen, dishevelled hair, and a white, haggard face. She wore an old lavender silk tea-gown with long, worn ruffles at the elbow sleeves and the collar fastened with a big safety pin, while her feet were thrust into velvet slippers, trodden down at heel, bursting out at the sides. Round her waist was a draggled sash of discoloured ribbon.
For a second she and Phosie stared at each other in silence. Then the recognition was mutual.
"Lily!" cried the one, throwing her arms round her old friend's neck.
"It's Phosie! Come in, Phosie! For God's sake, come in! My husband—!" gasped the other.
She dragged Phosie into the narrow hall and shut the door. It was hot and ill-ventilated. There was a strong smell of tobacco and cooking as they went downstairs, and a child was wailing fretfully somewhere in the distance.
Mrs Revell, once the pretty, pink-and-white Lily Parlow, led the way to the breakfast-room, clutching Phosie's fingers in her own hot, shaking hand.
Here the gas was flaring, and Phosie, as she entered, was dazzled by the sudden brightness.
A table, spread for supper, had evidently been pushed hastily against the wall, for there was a smashed glass | | 278 on the floor and a bottle of wine had been knocked over, staining the cloth red.
Frank Race, still in his overcoat, but with his white shirt front crumpled and his collar torn, was kneeling on the ground over Jules Revell, trying to stanch a flow of blood from his right temple. Revell eyes were closed, and his breath came through his lips in irregular, loud puffs. The blood was in a little pool upon the floor, and trickled from his hair, which Race had pushed back from his forehead.
Mrs Revell clung to Phosie with both hands, panting and quivering.
"He's killed him—that man's killed my husband—they came in together and quarrelled—I heard them—and they had a fight—he's killed Jules—" She left off speaking and began to sob, and then scream, pointing at Frank Race and clutching at her own breast with aimless, fierce passion, horrible to see.
Phosie gripped her hands and held them still. There was a second's struggle between them, and then the poor, frightened creature was mastered. Her voice sank into a moan. She stared at Phosie helplessly, choking back her tears. Phosie released her hands and laid her own fingers on the other woman's lips, caressingly but firmly, soothing her into silence.
"You must go for a doctor at once," she said. "Do you understand me? Don't waste an instant! You will know where to go. Leave your husband to us. He has only fainted. Don't look at him again—do as I tell you. Go!"
Lily Revell obeyed. They heard her stumbling up the stairs, opening the front door, closing it behind her, running down the street.
Phosie caught up a napkin from the table and knelt down. She and Frank Race looked at each other over the body of Jules Revell.
"I struck him and he fell against the iron fender," said Frank.| | 279
Phosie laid Jules's head flat upon the ground. She too tried to stanch the wound.
"You must go away, Frank, before his wife returns with the doctor," she said.
"No!" exclaimed Frank.
"You must!" she answered, and her voice was calm and firm. "You must think of your own safety—if he is badly hurt—what can you do here? I implore you, Frank! Hide yourself. Write me to-morrow and I will let you know what has happened. Quick! For my sake—for Walter's sake!"
As she spoke she wiped her fingers—it sickened the man who watched her to see the streaks of red on her white arms—took out her purse, opened it, and pressed the money it contained into his unwilling hands.
"Phosie! I can't!" he exclaimed. "I'm not a coward. I'll face it out."
"I implore you, Frank!" she said again, in the most earnest tones of her appealing voice. "It must be kept a secret—this horrible thing—not only for our sake but for the sake of his wife. Do you want to break her heart? Do you want to disgrace Walter?"
"I can't leave you alone," he said.
"What can you do here?" she said for the second time. "You have struck down your enemy. There was murder in your heart. God forgive you both. Oh, my brother! My brother!"
He was conquered by her intensity. Not for the first time in her life, in that same room, her moral strength was triumphant, and when she raised her head for a word of farewell Frank Race was gone.
She bent over the injured man, the man who had tried to wrong her so cruelly, with hand and eye and every sense intent upon her work. Alone with Jules Revell, doing everything that was possible in her ignorance, he was no longer repugnant to her. She forgave him in her pity, grieved for his wasted youth, and thought | | 280 of him once more with the kindness of their first friendship.
She realised that her hate had recoiled upon herself, darkening the brightness of her happy nature.
"I will hate no more," she said.
She saw that Jules was greatly changed. He had been no match for Frank Race. His youth was passing, and with it the freshness of colour and agility of movement which had been his only attraction. The thick moustache concealed the ugly mouth, but as he lay upon the floor, in all the revelation of unconsciousness, the deterioration of his face and figure was startlingly apparent, but Phosie did not think of it.
Her attention was fixed upon the street, straining her ears for the return of Lily Revell with a doctor. She was vaguely distressed the while by the distant crying of the child, wondering whether it was Lily's child, and longing to comfort it.
The familiarity of the room grew upon her. She thought of Mr Revell, of Gus, of herself. The ghosts of old days crept out of the shadows, brushed against her in the silence, took form and faded in her quickened brain.
Phosie sprang up at the sound of hurried feet on the steps outside the house, with an exclamation of intense relief. They seemed to have been alone, she and the inert figure on the floor, for an hour. In reality it was less than ten minutes.
Lily Revell ran downstairs, talking incoherently, closely followed by a neighbouring doctor. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, capable, prompt, silent. The impression he gave as he stooped over Jules was of stern strength and professional reticence.
After one swift glance at the two women it was Phosie, not the wife, whom he chose to help him. Lily sat down on the edge of a chair, rubbing her hands aimlessly over one another, ill at the sight of blood, shaking and crying.| | 281
"This was caused by a fall, I understand? He was apparently seized with sudden faintness," the doctor said to Phosie.
She knew that Jules's wife must have told this story. Lily Revell, in spite of her agitation, had spoken no word of the fight. She was governed by knowledge of the man whom she had married. Without knowing the cause of his quarrel with Frank Race she was ready to believe the worst of her husband. He deserved his punishment, but for her own sake, for the sake of her child, she must shield him from disgrace.
When Jules Revell returned to consciousness his eyes opened on Euphrosyne's face. He gave a groan of pain, and showed no surprise at her presence or remembrance of what had passed.
Then he tried to smile at her. She was looking at him so kindly. A vague feeling of remorse troubled his dazed mind. Was it years ago—or was it yesterday—that Phosie had gone out of his life? It was a pity, and he was to blame—yes, he felt sure he was to blame—
"If I've been brutal to you, forgive me, Phosie," he said weakly.
"I forgive you, Jules," she answered.
He touched her hand. His touch had always been warm, as eloquent without words as the glance of his full brown eyes, but now it was cold and feeble. For the first time in her life she felt no inward shrinking from him. His heavy eyelids drooped. He was satisfied.
Phosie looked earnestly at the doctor.
"Will he die?" she said.
The doctor allowed a smile to break through his professional manner.
"There is not the slightest danger of that," he replied.
Half an hour later, when she had helped Lily to make up a bed for her husband in the room where he had fallen, and the doctor had put him to rest, Phosie opened the door to Walter Race.| | 282
She had anxiously awaited his coming and greeted him with the long-repressed excitement of such an eventful night.
"Dearest!" she exclaimed, and then again, "Dearest!"
"What on earth is the meaning of this?" he said, as she drew him into the hall. "I didn't get home till nearly twelve o'clock, and there was Gus waiting for me with this amazing story about you and Frank. Have you gone out of your senses? What are you doing here?"
Phosie's hand dropped from his arm. He was angry, nervous, unlike himself, and went on speaking hurriedly, emphasising his words with peculiar jerky movements of both hands.
"I repeat, what are you doing here? Haven't I troubles enough without this? You don't know what's happened! I've got something to tell you. It's bad news, Phosie! It's awfully bad news. You ought to have been at home. I didn't expect this! I know who lives here—Jules Revell. He was in love with you. You told me so yourself. What have you got to do with him? Where is Frank?"
He stopped for a second, biting his under lip. She tried to speak, but he went on again, in the same voice, with the same gestures:
"I tell you I've got bad news. You don't care! I wanted you when I got home. You don't know how I wanted you! You were not there. What do you mean by it? What's this man got to do with us? If I thought you had ever cared for him—"
"Stop! You must not speak to me like this!" she interrupted with sudden passion. "You forget yourself. I refuse to listen."
He stared at her wretchedly. Her flash of anger was gone. She went very close to him and spoke softly, her arm stealing round his neck.
"I came here for the sake of your brother. Why are | | 283 you angry with me, Walter? You are so fond of Frank and I found he was in danger. I thought I could help him. I will tell you all about it—everything—when we get home. Wait for me, dear."
She ran upstairs to Lily, who was rocking her little boy in her arms, wrapped in an old flannel dressing-gown. He was a dark-haired, fretful little creature, with great liquid eyes like his father. Phosie re-made his untidy bed, opened the window, and finally crooned him to sleep, walking up and down the room.
Then she persuaded Lily to eat and drink, for she was exhausted, before they arranged the room where Jules lay.
Lily Revell, who had lost all her girlish affectation, did not thank her in many words, but she hung round her neck at parting.
"I don't know what made you come to-night, Phosie," she said. "But it doesn't matter, for I don't want to know. You understand my husband. You've lived in the house with him. There's only one way to be happy with Jules—not to care—and I'm learning my lesson. Good-night, Phosie. Good-bye. I should have died without you."
Euphrosyne found her husband pacing backwards and forwards in the dark hall.
"Shall we go home?" he asked when she appeared. "Are you ready to hear the bad news? Can you bear any more to-night, Phosie?"
"I am ready, love," she answered.
|<< chapter 28||< chapter 1||chapter 30 >||chapter 33 >>|