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PAULINE INTERVENES 137

Lord Southwater came forward as Pauline entered, his
hand pontifically trifling with his watch-chain. He re-
ceived her as if she had been a deputation because that
was his manner and he would have greeted the genii
bursting from Aladdin's lamp in just the same way. But
he was aware, as he would have been then, of the un-
seemly explosiveness of the entry into his presence.

"Miss Westcott! Pray sit down," and he waited for
a justification.

Pauline was glad to sit down because her knees were
shaking under her and the carefully rehearsed speech
had departed into limbo, but the urgent possibility of
Mrs. Delamere just behind caused her to blurt out at
once

"I hear you are not giving Mr. Unwin the post. I
want to tell you that I set the story going about him. It
was all a mistake. ' '

Lord Southwater glanced at the bell but thought bet-
ter of it.

"I cannot discuss this matter. May I ask if you have
come from Mr. Unwin ? " he asked.

"No. Oh, no!" cried Pauline. "You must never,
never think that. He would be simply furious with me
if he knew!"

"Then " Lord South water's glance now rested on

Pauline's vivid face. "You are doubtless engaged to be
married to him?"

"No. Yes. That is, not exactly engaged," faltered
Pauline, suddenly realising that she had as yet no right
to defend her lover.

But she looked so charming in her embarrassment and
distress that Lord Southwater being a man after all,
though so panoplied with virtue felt softened towards
her.

"Then what is it you want of me?" he asked, and
the difference in his tone reaching Mrs. Delamere even



138 THE GOSSIP SHOP

through the keyhole, though the words did not, she mur-
mured "Artful hussy!"

"I want to know why you did not appoint Mr. Un-
win to be your architect as you meant to do?" said Pau-
line.

Lord Southwater looked away, gathering sternness from
the bust upon the mantelpiece.

"I cannot enter into any explanation," he answered
stiffly. "I have made other arrangements."

"But you promised " urged Pauline.

Lord Southwater drew himself up.

"I made no promises. I have never yet knowingly
broken my word."

"You made him believe he was sure to have the post.
It was a promise, in spirit if not in the letter," said Pau-
line, clasping her hands and gazing at him with desperate
entreaty. "You do see that, don't you? A promise is a
promise if you mean it so and the other person knows
you do. You wouldn't wriggle out of it for a little
thing."

"I did not er wriggle out of it for a little thing,"
responded Lord Southwater, returning her glance with
dignified annoyance. But that elusive quality in Pauline
which escaped so many chimed in with that something
deep hidden in Lord Southwater which made him love
to keep and beautify old churches: an austere sensuous-
ness, if it might be so called, which caused his glance
now to soften once more as he looked at the girl sitting on
the edge of the great carved settle. "I am sorry to state
that I acted as I did with an adequate reason. I can
say no more."

He had remained standing, and now moved towards
the door in token that the matter was ended, but Pauline
sat still.

"Stop!" she said, a hand unconsciously pressed on
her thudding heart. "I know why you did it. You
you heard a tale about Mr. Unwin being seen drunk in



PAULINE INTERVENES 139

his dress clothes in the morning, at the doorway of the
Ryeford Inn."

Lord Southwater looked at her sharply, then dropped
his eyelids and fingered his watch-chain. "I do not listen
to gossip."

"No, but when Mrs. Delamere told you, you were bound
to believe," said Pauline quickly.

"I never said that Mrs. Delamere " began Lord

Southwater.

"No, but it was," said Pauline.

"You can know nothing about it," said Lord South-
water, his long, pink face deepening a little in colour.

Pauline rose and stood very straight before him with
the morning light on her face.

"I do know," she said breathlessly; "I do know. Be-
cause I was the one who saw him."

"Then why . . .?" said Lord Southwater, turning an-
other shade deeper: still he was charmed in spite of him-
self by that delicate vivid face, in shape a long oval like
those of the saints in the old churches, against the dark
panelling of the wall. "You should not need to ask in
that case."

"Oh, that is just why!" cried Pauline. "I I made a
most terrible mistake, Lord Southwater. Mr. Unwin was
not drunk, he was ill. He had been sitting up for sev-
eral nights with a man a stranger at the inn called John-
son and he was worn out. He had just come away from
the death-bed when I saw him." She paused. "Oh! I
wish my tongue had been cut out! But I told my aunt
just for something to say. And I have ruined Mr. Un-
win 's life. He will never have such a chance again.
There are no more such chances to be had. And to think
it was I . . ."

"My dear young lady," interrupted Lord Southwater,
returning to the writing-table. "You must not blame
yourself in this way. I certainly did hear the story to
which you allude, but one story, whatever the source,"



140 THE GOSSIP SHOP

he spoke with meaning, " would not suffice to make me
discard a man whom I considered in every way suitable,
especially after what had passed. No, I am not acting
on that at all. Only I made the fullest inquiries and I
regret to tell you in the deepest confidence that the
result was not satisfactory. I heard from many sources
that Mr. Unwin was not such a man as I should select
for this particular post."

"But what made you begin to inquire?" said Pauline.

"Well, in the first instance, perhaps it was the incident
to which you allude," admitted Lord Southwater. "Still,
I should have taken no notice of it if further investigation
had not proved ..."

"Oh!" cried Pauline, "that's the worst of it. Nothing
can be proved either one way or the other. It is as Eva
said: gossip is like a fog . . . closing down . . . shutting
out the truth. And yet you can't forget it. I know he is
steady and honourable. I know he does not drink. I'll
tell everybody what has happened. I don't care a farthing
what people think of me."

"Come, be reasonable," said Lord Southwater, and
though the words were cool, his tone again gave pain to
Mrs. Delamere at the keyhole. "If you blazon all this
abroad you will do Mr. Unwin a great injury. He will
be branded as a drunkard and a wastrel in the eyes of all
who know him, for such defence always defeats its own
object. Let me earnestly beg of you, if you have a re-
gard for this young man, to keep absolutely silent about
the matter. That is the one service you can do him. ' '

"So I am to keep quiet and bear this all my life?"
said Pauline. "No, Lord Southwater, I can't do it. It
would kill me!"

She stared at him with blazing, dark eyes in a face as
white as death, and Lord Southwater felt uncomfort-
able. The presence of great emotions was to him like
seeing some one insufficiently clad, and yet he was moved
to awkward compassion.



PAULINE INTERVENE 141

"If you wish to serve Mr. Unwin," he repeated, "you
will say nothing. You can only do him harm. And I
hear he has already obtained another appointment," he
added.

"Yes." Pauline moistened her dry lips. "There is
often a vacancy in that place. The last man died when
he had been out six months."

"That may happen anywhere," said Lord Southwater,
and now he went again with determination towards the
door. "I am very sorry, but I can do nothing." He
opened the door.

There was a suppressed feminine "Oh!" a rustle, and
Lord Southwater 's stern: "Marian, what brings you
here?"

"The Bracegirdles . . . just arrived . . . knew you
would not wish to keep them waiting," murmured Mrs.
Delamere, nonplussed for once.

""Where is the butler?" demanded Lord Southwater.

"I came ... I thought ..." faltered Mrs. Delamere:
then she caught sight of Pauline's tear-bright eyes and
emotional look generally, and became herself again. "I
had an instinct that I was needed," she added with dig-
nity. "I am the only woman you have to help you in
the world, and my woman's instinct told me to come to
you." She paused again. "I will speak to Miss "West-
cott for you."

"Thank you," said Pauline, her voice very distinct
and steady, "but Lord Southwater has been most kind.
He has already given me the information I came to seek."

Mrs. Delamere glanced from her brother-in-law to Pau-
line, devoured with curiosity. What could have happened
in the room to make the girl look like that? And Lord
Southwater 's kind voice, rising and falling . . . w r hat did
it all mean? She smiled, flashing all her teeth upon the
pair of them, and put a hard, jewelled hand on Pauline's
arm.

"Come . . a little refreshment .



142 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"No, thank you," said Pauline. "I have Chubb wait-
ing outside the gate." But her glance of unconscious
entreaty stirred some latent chivalry in Lord South water's
nature, and he hastened to say in a tone which none in
that house dared dispute

"Marian, kindly entertain the Bracegirdles until I can
come to them." Then he turned to Pauline: "I will
see you to your carriage. ' '

So the ladies shook hands and Pauline stepped forth
with her cavalier, feeling as if she were taking part in
some high municipal function and that some one, some-
where, must be going to make a long, tedious speech be-
ginning and ending with a cough. The cough came, and
so aptly with her incoherent thoughts as to be almost
startling.

"Ahem! The geraniums are doing well this year."

"So it is no use?" said Pauline. "That is your last
word!"

Lord Southwater frowned, feeling this to be wanting
in good taste.

"I cannot discuss the subject further."

"I shall tell Mr. Unwin I have been," said Pauline.

"Then you will subject him to a great humiliation, in
addition to his natural disappointment, and that will
wound him more than what has gone before. A man never
forgets a hurt to his pride. ' ' Lord Southwater paused. ' ' I
liked Mr. Unwin, otherwise you may be sure I should not
trouble ... I am not given to argument."

"No," said Pauline, convinced at last. "I know that
the gods don't argue. Oh! I did not mean to be rude.
But if ever in your life you come to have injured some
one and can never make things right, you will perhaps
understand. ' '

"I trust I should never injure any one unjustly,"
said Lord Southwater, and it was perhaps not his fault
that he felt himself the living embodiment of justice.

"I'm not blaming you," said Pauline sadly. "I am



PAULINE INTERVENES 143

blaming myself. I meant no harm. The Wendlebury
people meant no harm either. I don't suppose one per-
son in ten thousand would actually want to do any real
hurt to another. But the best of us don't mind saying
things every day that bring sorrow and shame and even
death to our neighbours. We don't mean it, but things
happen so."

Pauline forgot Lord Southwater as she spoke, with
all his hedged-in susceptibilities; she was simply obliged
to release her pressing thoughts to anything that had
ears. But that estimable peer was again conscious of an
awkwardness in seeing the human soul insufficiently clad
... he liked bombazine and whalebone . . . and he was so
glad to see Chubb 's rotund figure between the tall, iron
gateway that he called out affably

"Morning, Chubb," and walked forward, speaking with
condescension of the weather. Then he said farewell to
Pauline, closed the cab-door with his large well-kept hands,
and saying to Chubb: "You have had a long wait, but
your horse seems a patient creature," he returned up his
own wide drive between the smooth lawns and neat flower-
beds, feeling that he had behaved exceedingly well.

Chubb shook the reins. "Gee-up!" then spoke to Pau-
line sitting behind. "My horse a patient creature . . .
and his father owned Bendigo ! ' '

Pauline nodded vaguely, leaning back in the corner of
the old cab. She felt mentally and physically spent after
her sleepless night and the mental exertion of this morn-
ing, but her nerves were in that excited state which rushes
half a dozen trains of thought at once through the mind,
where they clash together at intervals in an aching con-
fusion.

A light shower fell, and through it Wendlebury looked
very peaceful and lovely, set in the midst of the green
country. And yet Pauline saw it as a place of strife,
where every one was stabbing his neighbour secretly, with



144 THE GOSSIP SHOP

the evil-enchanted dagger which may not hurt at the time
but festers afterwards.

This view was so dreadful to her that she accepted
Chubb 's halfpenny paper with thankfulness and tried to
fix her mind on it, but there, too, she seemed to see men
running gleefully to stab their fellow-men, or rejoicing
when they espied some one else doing it ... the world
and "Wendlebury all the same . . . one stupendous gos-
sip shop. . . .

As they neared the town, Chubb suddenly grunted,
staring at Griselda's ears: "You didn't get it, then?"

"Get what?" said Pauline starting.

"The subscription or what it was you went for."

"No," said Pauline.

"Ah!" said Chubb. "I was right. I generally am.
You should ha' taken my advice and waited until Mrs.
Delamere had gone away. But you would use your own
judgment. It's when females gets to using their own judg-
ment that things all goes wrong. Gee-up ! ' ' And Griselda
flicked her tail gently, as one who should say: "Look at
me! Here you behold the perfect type evolved by being
the property of a Chubb."

The cab rumbled down the familiar street between the
iron railings with the little prim gardens behind them and
Pauline alighted at her own house.

"Chubb," she said, nervously fumbling with her purse,
"this has been rather a long round for your mare." And
she placed an extra ten shillings in his hand beyond the
fare to the old servant's cottage which had been paid by
Aunt Dickson.

"Thank you, Miss," said Chubb woodenly, showing
no emotion as a matter of principle. It is doubtful if
his self-control would have failed had he been offered ten
pounds.

"And . . . Chubb ... It might be as well not to men-
tion that we went to Lord South water's. One . . one



PAULINE INTERVENES 145

does not care for it to be known when an errand is a fail-
ure. You quite understand that."

''Oh! ay," said Chubb, softened by the tip. "Bless
your life, Miss, you aren't the only one as has asked me
to keep quiet not by a long chalk. There's more than
you think for goes on in Wendlebury."



CHAPTER XIII

THE MEETING

PAULINE went into the kitchen after the mid-day
meal. Eva was washing up the crockery and did not
expect to be interrupted.

''Kettle's on, if Missus wants a cup of tea," she said,
rather shortly.

' ' Eva ' ' Pauline hesitated. ' ' Has Mr. Unwin called ? ' '

"No. Missus would have told you if he had. What
should he come for in a morning?"

"You're quite sure he did not inquire at the door?"

' ' Bless my soul ! ' ' said Eva. ' ' D 'you think I shouldn 't
know -the difference between him and butcher's boy? I
may be getting on, as the next-door girl says, but I haven 't
lost me eyesight yet." With that she dashed down a
bowl and rattled some plates together.

Pauline turned away, making no further remark, and
Eva's irritability subsided.

"Well, Miss," she said, drying her hands, "kettle boils
now. Let me make you a good cup and go you and lie
down a bit. You look tired."

"No, thank you," said Pauline.

"There! You've taken the hig!" said Eva. "I did
speak a bit hasty but I meant nothing by it. On'y us
Martins allus was ones for being left alone after our din-
ners. We're made like that and we can't help it. Many's
the time I've seen my poor mother lock the lot on us into
the wood-shed till she'd had her bit o' nap, and if we
cried and fought, we did."

146



THE MEETING 147

She was moving about quickly while she spoke and now
handed Pauline a cup of tea.

"That'll buck you up a bit," she remarked. "You
didn't have no dinner to speak of." She dropped her
voice and drew nearer still. "Mark my words, Miss, no
man's worth pining for. Eat your meals regular and you
can stand up against what comes, as my poor Mother said
when my second young man give me the go-by. Ay ; I 've
a lot to thank her for. It's easy-come, easy-go with me
and the fellers now, and if you take my advice, Miss Pau-
line, having no mother of your own, you'll do the same.
Take a leaf outer their book," she concluded.

"They are not all the same," said Pauline, putting
down her cup.

"Miss Pauline," said Eva solemnly, "when sweet-
hearting was first invented, that remark of yours was in-
vented to go with it. To tempt you on like. There's
a-many such things in the world . . . deep, they are . . .
you want to be on the look-out." She paused and low-
ered her tone still further. "I've thought about it, being
so much by myself, and you mustn't take it for a rude
remark, Miss Pauline, when I say that sweethearting leads
to families and families keeps the world a-going. So
there has to be sweethearting. But you don't want to
take any particular feller too serious. I'm not saying a
word against Mr. Unwin, but I lay he hasn't gone with-
out his dinner to-day on your account. And if he doesn't
come to see you, there's them he does see. Ask Mrs.
Chubb!"

"You mean Miss Lambert?" said Pauline, ashamed
of herself for saying it and yet unable to refrain.

"I do, " said Eva. ' ' The smoking fortune-telling hussy,
her! Not that she mayn't be a blessing in disguise, for
there would be no sense in you marrying Unwin now he
hasn't got the job and is going to a country full of
snakes and tigers. As my poor Mother often said, 'When



148 THE GOSSIP SHOP

you're forced to have a riddance, you're lucky when you
can see it's a good riddance.' '

"I'm sure," said Pauline, feebly, from the kitchen-door,
"that Miss Lambert seems kind-hearted."

"That's what they call every scaly wag as robs his fam-
ily to treat his pals," retorted Eva. "They may write
what they like on my gravestone, but if they put that I'll
come back and haunt 'em."

All these warnings, however, fell on deaf ears, because
a woman in love is panoplied as by shining armour against
reason, entreaty or argument.

So Pauline went down the quiet street with a deter-
mination to seek her lover as he did not come to her. She
thought that his pride probably made him unwilling to
seem as if he had any claim on her in the changed circum-
stances. She was to be free to choose anew now his bril-
liant prospects had all vanished and he could only offer
the girl he loved a long, uncertain period of waiting.

But her heart beat high as she approached this moment
towards which every thought and feeling had been strain-
ing ever since she first heard the news. She had pictured
it a hundred times, and had dreamed what he would say
and she would answer in so real a fashion that it seemed
almost as if the interview had taken place. When she saw
him coming along the street an odd sense of staleness
mingled with her wild, passionate anticipation.

And he saw her with a revulsion of feeling which almost
caused him to go back and avoid her. Her pale face
and burning eyes in that little narrow street were not
more real and vivid than they had been through the long
hours of his sleepless night, yet they were so strangely
different . . . less near, less tenderly human . . . showing
overwhelmingly that delicate elusiveness which was a
feature of her soul beneath all her frankness. And just
in that moment her reserve was ready to break down for
the first time in her life with a completeness which ex-
pansive natures can never experience.



THE MEETING 149

But her knowledge that he owed his misfortune to her
gossiping tongue stiffened up those barriers again before
she reached him, leaving her awkward, stilted, constrained.

"Well met!" he said lightly, avoiding, as it were, the
very hem of her heart's garment in his desire to leave her
free.

"I hoped to see you," she said awkwardly. "I'm so
sorry about Lord Southwater!"

His quick, hurt pride winced at the touch, and yet a
moment before he had longed for her pity and sympathy
with the simplicity of a hurt child wanting its mother.
It happens so when two people love each other and one
is keeping back a secret which preoccupies the mind. All
the spoken words are enough, but the much more impor-
tant unspoken conversation becomes meaningless and jang-
led. For in love, as in all affairs of the emotion, it is the
unspoken talk that matters.

Thus these two each felt that their inner words went
unanswered, and Unwin replied with that vague feeling
of flatness and disappointment which we all know in sim-
ilar circumstances.

' ' Oh ! I don 't mind so much as all that, you know. I
have always wanted to travel and it will be a chance to
see something of the world."

"But the climate " said Pauline.

"Not so bad as it is painted," said Unwin, all his con-
stitutional hatred of being pitied surging up within him.
He would be pitied by no one now, not even Pauline. "I
think I shall like it on the whole."

"Then you won't mind leaving Wendlebury?" said
Pauline, but her own aroused pride caused her to add
hastily: "Of course not. It is no place for an active
young man."

"Well, I shall not be a cumberer of the ground much
longer," said Unwin.

"I didn't mean that, of course, only there is very little
scope," said Pauline nervously. "Only elderly ladies



150 THE GOSSIP SHOP

and doctors and parsons. You '11 be glad to get away from
walking up and down the market-place and playing bowls
at the inn."

So that was what his daily life had looked like to her!
His irritated nerves and sick heart made him say with
a smile

"Yes, it will be delightful to get away into the open."

"Be sure you take plenty of quinine with you," said
Pauline, also smiling. She would answer him in his own
tone though she died of it afterwards. "Well, I shall be
seeing you again heaps of times before you go, of course,"
she added, moving on.

"I hope so, indeed," he answered, raising his hat.

And so they parted gaily enough in the lightly falling
rain. Some leaves in a garden near blew back, and the
undersides showed white against the wind. Pauline was
to remember just how they looked so long as she remem-
bered anything, though at that moment she was not con-
scious of seeing them.

And Unwin walked on, head erect and hat cocked a
little, as if the world went extra well with him. She did
not want him. Good ! She should have every facility for.
getting rid of him as easily as possible. And nobody in
Wendlebury, or out of it, should pity him on any count.

As he passed the Pritchards' house, Miss Amelia looked
out, and her tender heart rejoiced to see him so debonair.

"See, Harriet!" she cried. "I believe he does not mind
losing the situation with Lord Southwater after all."

Miss Harriet, who had not been well for the past day
or two, glanced out and said querulously

' ' No doubt he is already planning a gay life out there.
A light nature "

"But poor Pauline "

"Pauline's well rid of him, and hell soon find conso-
lations," snapped Miss Harriet.

"You mean . . . native ladies?" said Miss Amelia,
flushing her delicate pink. "Oh, I think not."



THE MEETING 151

"Why not?"

Poor Miss Amelia searched for a ground for her helief
in Unwin, but could only grasp the rather feeble conclu-
sion: "Well, he's so fair-skinned himself . . . looks so
very clean ... a black wife. Such a painful contrast."

' ' Wife ! Get me my medicine, ' ' said Miss Harriet. ' ' And
I might fancy a little scrap of chicken for my supper."

Miss Amelia flushed again, more deeply.

"You wouldn't prefer an egg?"

"I hate eggs after breakfast. You ought to know that
by this time," said Miss Harriet. "Really, Amelia, I
have left the housekeeping to you since I was not well,
but I shall be obliged to take it in hand again myself. I
don't know what you do with the money, for you think
ten times before buying a fowl, and I always found our
allowance ample."

"But you are such a splendid manager, Harriet," said
Miss Amelia humbly, flushing until the tears came into her
eyes, and her hands trembled. "Our father always used
to say you could manage Europe if you could get at it.
I can see him now saying it, sitting in that very chair."

"Yes," said Miss Harriet, turning from the subject of
the housekeeping allowance. "He appreciated my intel-
lect as neither dear Mother nor you did but then you
were never intellectual, Amelia. I remember you as a
young girl, all sensibility and blue ribbons. It is a wonder


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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 10 of 22)