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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MR & MRS RACE had returned to their house in Temple Street.

On entering they had gone into the gloomy little study. Walter had switched on the electric light which hung over the writing-table. The corners of the room were in shadow. Although the curtains were closely drawn it was impossible to shut out the cold, lonely hour of the night.

Phosie, still wrapped in her cloak, was sitting in a big chair, stooping forward, silently watching her husband.

Walter Race walked backwards and forwards from the fireplace to the door, his head hanging down, his hands clenched, his handsome face like a set mask of bitterness and rage.

Phosie was quelled, for the moment frightened, by a sense of physical force. His low, hoarse voice; the swing of his big shoulders as he turned; the dark flush which had succeeded his paleness; his violence of language—everything about him made her conscious of her own weakness. For the first few minutes she was helpless, trembling, every nerve jarred; had she allowed herself to speak it would have been a prayer for a minute's peace—the wailing appeal of the woman who is swept into the buffeting currents of a man's stronger nature and feels herself at his mercy.

If Walter had had any conception of his wife's emotions he would have been amazed. He only saw that she was very pale, and her beautiful eyes, fixed on his face, were wide and glassy.

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It was not until his storm of anger was spent that she leaned back in her chair with a deep sigh and allowed her taut muscles to relax. She was afraid of him still, and suddenly thought of his brother kneeling beside Jules Revell with blood on his hands.

It is a shuddering minute when a sensitive being like Euphrosyne realises the terrible primeval passions in men.

Walter sat down beside her, taking her hand.

"Do you believe what has happened, Phosie?" he said, gradually recovering his self-control. "Do you understand? We are ruined! Ruined!"

"Yes, I understand," she answered, faintly.

"I've been with Carl Stratton all the evening," he went on. "He's in the same boat, thank God! What a fool I've been! What a damned fool! I've trusted him—relied on his judgment—one thing after another—"

"Walter! You're hurting me," she interrupted, trying to draw her hand out of his grasp.

He unlocked his fingers instantly, but they had left their mark on her wrist.

"Your money has gone too," he continued, with a short, harsh laugh; "I wonder if you take it in, Phosie. We shall have to sell up—all this house—it isn't ours any longer. I must go to my brothers, I suppose. Good Lord! How John will bully and Edmund preach. I wonder whether Frank will lend a hand? I hate asking Leo. Every penny belongs to his wife."

Phosie rubbed her wrist and did not answer. He got up and paced the floor again for several minutes.

"Well, I've got my thrashing in life, and I deserve it!" he said.

She was still silent, but her expression changed. She looked at him tenderly, sorrowfully, no longer afraid.

"If I didn't feel so wretchedly ill—" he began, and sat down once more at her side.

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"What is the matter with you, Walter?" she asked.

"I don't know," he answered. "First I burn, and then I freeze. Every bone in my body aches."

Phosie laid her hand on his forehead, but he jerked it away.

"Why did you let me have your money, Phosie?" he said. "I promised to double it, didn't I? I wish you'd taken Faraday's advice. He was a better judge of your husband than you are, my dear."

"Walter! Walter!"

She pulled herself to her feet, stooped to kiss him, and went out of the room.

He heard her running lightly downstairs to the basement. In a few minutes she returned, carrying some paper and a bundle of firewood in her arms.

"What are you going to do?" he asked.

"Light a fire in our room," said Phosie. "It is so cold and cheerless for you. My poor darling!"

He followed her slowly with dragging steps.

She was holding the door open when he reached the second floor, with one finger on her lips.

"We mustn't wake Jane," she whispered.

She had already turned on the electric light and wheeled a chair, piled with cushions, up to the hearth.

Walter was strangely subdued. He sat down in silence.

Phosie threw off her cloak, knelt on the hearthrug and quickly built up the fire which had burned out in their absence.

She had a skilful, light hand. The paper flared and faded; the wood crackled; a little spurt of flame leapt forth and frolicked in the air for a second, vanished, and came again, flickering but strong. A spiral of grey smoke puffed out and vainly tried to smother the dancing jets. A dull red glow slowly crept over the black hollow beneath the flare.

The fire was alight, reflex of the endless fires kindled | | 287 in the homes of men; spiritual symbol in its upward leap of living flame; eternal proof of the warmth of love.

Phosie, still kneeling in front of him, put her hand on Walter's knee with a gentle, fond smile.

"It will be all right, dear," she said. "You mustn't despair—we have each other—look! what a bright hearth!'


Her husband, with a low, strange cry of weakness—gratitude—remorse—bent forward, took her hands and crushed them against his lips.

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