Annie Edith Foster Jameson.

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you did not marry, for men like that sort of thing, I be-
lieve."

"You ought to have married a Bishop," said Miss
Amelia. "I am sure if any Bishop had known of you
he would have come and sought you out. He would
have felt it a duty." She paused. "Harriet, if, as some
people think, we are placed in a future life where we ought
to have been here, you will be in charge of a bishop
with a large number of the younger clergy in the imme-
diate neighbourhood. Of course, there will be no marry-



152 THE GOSSIP SHOP

ing or giving in marriage. . . . However, perhaps some
other arrangement ..."

But Miss Amelia was so plainly speaking at random that
Miss Harriet stared.

"Really, Amelia," she said, "I sometimes wonder if
you are not becoming imbecile. What's the matter with
you?"

"Poor young Unwin! I felt so sorry. I have so often
seen him pass and now he is going away," flustered Miss
Amelia.

"You can spare your pity then," said Miss Harriet.
"I have no doubt he is going down to see that woman."

And indeed, as often happened, Miss Harriet was not
far out in her calculations, for a few hours later Unwin
actually did walk from the office to the Bowling Green
Inn past Delia Lambert's lodgings and slackened his foot-
steps at her door, uncertain whether to knock or not.
Then it is such trifles which influence all the crises of
life Delia looked out of the window, and that decided
him to go in. He felt a sudden, irresistible desire to
confide in this woman who understood men, and who
would not seek to know more than he wished to tell. He
could talk to her about himself, as no man of Unwin 's
type can do to another man, and he had that longing
known to most healthy, normal human beings sooner or
later, to remove the barrier set up by years of reticence.

But the mood was subconscious or he would have re-
mained outside, not trusting himself in that shabby arm-
chair by the little open window where a jar of mignonette
shaded him from the passers-by. He was quite unaware
of any danger and only felt a grateful sense of rest and
security as he lit a cigarette after passing one to Delia.
She did not rush into conversation but said a desultory
phrase or two about simple things. The voices of chil-
dren playing, the faint, clear sound of Wendlebury beck
running over stones behind the row of old cottages, a crow



THE MEETING 153

flying home above the red roofs all the sounds of the
little country town at evening floated through the open
window and mingled with the clean fragrance of the mi-
gnonette.

Unwin felt as a wounded man may do who first finds
himself safe in hospital, and for a little while forgets his
sufferings in the heavenly relief of not having to keep it
up any longer.

"Playing rounders," he said, nodding in the direction
of the voices.

"Yes. They seem jolly," said Delia.

Then they sat silent again, the blue smoke curling about
the green heads of mignonette as Delia held her cigar-
ette between her dark, slender fingers.

"You look much better," said Unwin after a time.

"Yes. I'm better than I have been for ages. The
simple life suits me, I suppose. And there 's something re-
poseful in the place . . . you can't describe. ..."

"No," said Unwin. But it was plain enough that even
the vagrant Delia was undergoing the Wendlebury change
which most people felt sooner or later. Sooner, if they
possessed imagination and a quickly responsive nature,
but later, anyway, should they remain long enough among
the straight-fronted houses beneath the little spire.

Delia was feeling this change or influence to the full as
she leaned back on the ugly sofa, but she was not actively
conscious of it, any more than of the scent of the mignon-
ette or of the mingled voices of Wendlebury at evening.

"Sometimes," she said, "I think I shall stay here for
ever ! Just getting older and older until some fine autumn
day I drop from the bough ; like Miss Amelia. ' '

He smiled.

' ' Fancy your wanting to do anything like Miss Amelia. ' '

Delia sighed idly.

"Well! it won't last, but it's nice while it does. The
wandering spirit will get hold of me again and I shall
have to move on. It's in my blood. Heaps of people



154 THE GOSSIP SHOP

are the same. The Wandering Jew was not a celibate,
I'm sure, and I do believe he spent a lot of time in Eng-
land."

Unwin removed his cigarette and sat looking at it. Delia
said nothing. At last he spoke casually

"Well, I'm off, you know. I'm going to join the wan-
derers. ' '

"West Africa? That's a long trail. Shall you like
it?"

He got up and stood by the fireplace.

"I've lost that job, you kno^v."

"Yes. Well, you've got another," said Delia.

"I don't know why Lord Southwater turned me down,
but I have had a hint that he thought me unsteady or
something of that sort."

"That's impossible," said Delia decidedly. Then she
gave a little laugh. "Chubb thinks you too fond of a
joke, but Lord Southwater couldn't be such an owl as to
deprive a good man of a post for that reason."

"No," said Unwin. "He is a just man. Well, I must
leave it. Perhaps somebody else turned up whom he
thought more suitable. Or a high church dignitary may
have pulled a string. You never can tell. A man with
a great deal of power is nearly always capricious."

Silence again, Delia offering no futile condolences, and
at last Unwin said, coming back to his chair

"I suppose you know how I wanted that job? What
it meant to me? Not for the money exactly. ..."

"Yes," said Delia.

"It was the chance of my lifetime," said Unwin. "And
I never dreamed for one second that there was any doubt
about it. I regarded the appointment as good as made.
So you would, if you had heard Lord Southwater talking
to me in Wendlebury Church, knowing him for the man
he is." He paused gloomily, staring into space. "By
Jove! I wonder if that old hag Mrs. Delamere has been
repeating any stupid Wendlebury gossip about me. ' '



THE MEETING 155

"But there's nothing for them to gossip about," said
Delia.

' ' They don 't wait for that, ' ' said Unwin.

"No, I suppose not." Delia sat looking down, pre-
occupied with something beyond Unwin 's misfortune.
Then she raised her head suddenly and her long, care-
less figure under the loose draperies grew taut. "We
laugh at gossip," she said. "We might as well laugh at
death. It was talk that drove me out into the world at
twenty and ruined my life. I was a fool and threw
myself at a man's head so openly that people knew. He
began the game and I would not realise when he was
tired. I can see myself now poor, little, desperate fool
trapping him on his way home from business. I didn't
care if the other men laughed. I would have gone through
a world of laughing devils to meet him." She broke off,
letting her hands fall with that odd, crooked smile of hers.
' ' Lord ! To think I could love like that ! And all wasted ! ' '

"You got something out of it," said Unwin.

"Did I? I wonder. Anyway, the town naturally rang
with my misdoings and my mother said I had ruined my
sisters' prospects in life. People would be frightened to'
come to the house. So I went. It seemed the only way."

"Your mother must have been very callous," said Un-
win.

"No, she was always kind, but she wag not very brave,
and gossip makes cowards of many brave women," said
Delia. "Goodness! If only we could see this minute
before us the miseries brought about by talk, I do believe
we should find it worse than that produced by drink. But
there!" She flicked her cigarette ash. "No more of
that subject. I don't know why I let myself go so. I
think it's because I have had a lot of time lately to re-
member things. After all, Wendlebury would not be
Wendlebury if people were not so vitally interested in each
other."

"I like the little town," said Unwin. "When I first



156 THE GOSSIP SHOP

joined my father, I found it dull after a big city, but
there's an atmosphere . . . you could fancy a man be-
ginning something fine here that would never pay and
doing it happily all his life. I'm pretty sure you could
recapture the love of the work for the work's sake in
Wendlebury. ' '

Delia looked at him with deep attention, studying his
charming open face as he spoke.

' ' Yes, ' ' she said. ' ' Well, why not try it ? "

"What do you mean?"

"Go to Lord Southwater and tell him about his brother.
He is a proud man, but not without feeling, any more
than any one else. Gratitude will make him do something
for you, even if you do not get the post."

' ' We talked that over before. You know I can 't do it, ' '
said Unwin. "I wouldn't break a promise to a dead man
who trusted me for fifty appointments."

"No, I suppose not," said Delia, then she sighed and
got up to light the lamp. "Poor Delamere; he brought
unhappiness to every one who was connected with him.
And yet " She smiled suddenly. "I got something out
of that too. I was a fool twice, which is unforgiveable.
But I'd rather that, than not be able to be a fool at all."

"H-hem! Will you have your blinds down?" said
the little dressmaker, peering in with real reluctance but
urged by her sense of propriety which amounted to a
passion. "People can see inside so clear with the lamp
lighted. Not that there is anything in ladies smoking
nowadays. Quite the latest, of course. But what is
only dashing in Ryeford Terrace gets peculiar in Bowling
Green Row, if you take my meaning?"

"I quite understand," said Unwin gravely.

"It's not what you do, it's what people see you do
that makes things a little unpleasant sometimes," said
the dressmaker apologetically. "I am making a cup of
cocoa for Miss Lambert; may I press you to take one
too?"



THE MEETING 157

"No, thank you," said Unwin, accepting the hint. "I
am going now. I had no idea it was so late."

So the dressmaker retired, aching with curiosity. Her
great liking for Unwin could not hide the fact that he
was paying marked attentions to two ladies. She did
not believe that Miss Pauline Westcott would have at
all approved of his sitting there smoking cigarettes at
nearly eleven o'clock at night with Miss Lambert. Be-
sides, people would talk.

But Unwin, walking down the quiet streets where drawn
blinds gleamed blank in the moonlight, was once more
impervious to the talk of Wendlebury. For a moment he
had glimpsed the possible importance of it in speaking
of Mrs. Delamere and Lord Southwater, but the realisation
was so foreign to his temperament that it did not last, and
before he had passed the corner of Ryeford Terrace the
twittering tongues of the little sleeping town were no more
to him than the hushed twittering of the sparrows in the
eaves ... a part of life here and of the familiar, uncon-
sidered day.

His thoughts circled round the woman he had just
left. The ravaged, lined face, high cheek-bones and burn-
ing eyes, the long figure in the loose clothes which yet
seemed made for her and no one else, the magnetic charm
which made all she said interesting. He was surprised that
she seemed to have been so unlucky in her love affairs,
not realising that he himself placed her on a plane far
below Pauline because she was capable of giving lavishly
with both hands, having no reserves. He was glad to take
her friendship and sympathy, but the Romance in him
followed an elusive image of Pauline flitting before him
down the grey street. Because of the passionate tender-
ness in her which could, he believed, be found by him
alone, he was ready to follow the dream to his life 's end.

He pictured himself growing old alone and thinking
of her thus beneath the startling moonlight of a foreign
land. The clock struck twelve. He stood still, wonder-



158 THE GOSSIP SHOP

ing how long it would be before lie heard the bells of
Wendlebury chiming out another June.

Then the mood passed and he walked briskly on, his
footsteps echoing in the empty streets, determined to
waste no more feeling over a girl who could be cold to
him because he was unfortunate. Pauline ought to have
shown herself kinder than ever before at that first meet-
ing after his disappointment, and she had been embar-
rassed and cold. She need not fear he was not the man
to pursue a girl against her will on the strength of a
half-given promise. There should not be the very least
difficulty, even to her delicate, sensitive perceptions, in
getting rid of him.

All of which was very contradictory indeed; but if
people could see clearly when in love there would be very
few love-stories either lived or written only a straight
march from the first thrill to the reserved compartment.



CHAPTER XIV

AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT

LORD SOUTHWATER walked in his garden at eve-
ning feeling subconsciously a brighter red in the ge-
raniums and a smoother green in the lawns because of the
departure of Mrs. Delamere after her annual visit. And,
being kindly disposed to the Universe, he thought with
pleasure of restoring that little church where Pauline
and Unwin had suffered involuntary imprisonment. Then
his thoughts strayed naturally to the architect, and he
regretted very much being unable to employ Unwin . . .
a pleasant young man . . . one who had his work at
heart. . . . Lord Southwater again felt the spark dor-
mant in himself flash out in response to that bright ar-
dour of the enthusiast which he had so plainly seen in
Unwin.

He paced slowly; there was a scent of gathered hay
in the air; the world was good, and Mrs. Delamere
for all practical purposes not in it. He began to wonder
if the reports concerning Unwin were altogether true.
Lord Southwater was a man of the world, albeit a narrow
world, and he did not place too much credence in re-
ports emanating from a little town about a high-spirited
young fellow. The Vicar obviously liked and trusted Un-
win, though he had not been able to deny that the young
man was considered a little wanting in ballast.

Still, the peaceful evening, the sight of his own hand-
some possessions, the dinner he had recently eaten, all
inclined the excellent peer to kindness, added to which he
had ezperienced a difficulty in finding another man to his

159



160 THE GOSSIP SHOP

mind. He began as the most high-principled widower
may at such an hour to think with a certain avuncular
pleasure of Pauline's face and voice and of what she had
said to him. Her charm which by no means appealed
strongly to men as a rule had almost taken his fancy
captive. He felt he should like her to be happy. Finally,
he told himself that the strict justice in which he felt such
pride made a personal investigation of the matter neces-
sary. He would go quietly and unannounced to Wendle-
bury during the ensuing week and see what he could find
out on his own account. Perhaps he might after all be
able to appoint Unwin and the whole affair would thus be
completely and satisfactorily settled.

Pauline, meanwhile, was in bed with a bilious attack,
the unfortunate and unromantic result in her case of
excess of emotion. No girl can feel a heroine even to
herself under such conditions, and when she came forth
at last, limp and sallow, her one idea was to see Unwin
at once and tell him what had been on her mind cease-
lessly during all those restless hours. She felt that, come
what might, she could not bear the suspense any longer.
For she felt sure by this time that Unwin had traced the
story of the Green Dragon doorway to her, and that he
remained away because he naturally could not forgive
her. She must try to explain that it was not quite as
bad as it seemed. No, she would not do that. She would
just throw herself on his generosity and ask him to for-
give her.

Her knees shook a little as she walked along the street,
and Aunt Dickson from the window signalled that she
would do better to stroll towards the country. But she
kept on in the direction of Unwin 's office and soon en-
countered Mary Carter, tennis racket in hand

"Coming to the club this afternoon?"

"No, to-morrow. I have been seedy," said Pauline.

Mary laughed.



AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT 161

"Well, I like Saturdays best myself. It is nice to have
a man or two there. By the way talking of men we
have Miss Walker sewing for us to-day!"

Pauline smiled abstractedly, anxious to get on.

"That sounds like a riddle. Well, see you to-morrow."

' ' Of course, if you don 't want to hear what Miss Walker
said ..."

"I do! I do! But I'm rather in a hurry. What is
it?" said Pauline.

"Only that we need none of us bother ourselves about
Unwin's misfortunes," said Mary. "There I was, feel-
ing so sorry for him, and getting mother to ask him to
dinner on Sunday, and it appears that he goes and smokes
with that fortune-telling woman nearly every night until
all hours."

There was a pause.

"Well nothing so awful in that," said Pauline, with
an effort.

"Oh, no. Miss Walker particularly insisted that she
acts chaperone in the kitchen and turns him out at
eleven," laughed Mary. "Sometimes with cocoa. You
can't as she says see anything really wrong in an inter-
view that ends in cocoa. ' ' She paused. ' ' Dear me ! How
ill you look, Pauline. You really ought not to be out by
yourself."

"I'm all right," said Pauline hastily. "I must get on
now."

"Then," said kind, commonsense Mary, "I'm coming
with you; that's all. Where are you going?"

Pauline looked down for a moment. Where was she
going? Not to throw herself impulsively upon the gener-
osity of a man who could so easily find consolation for
her absence in the society of a woman like Miss Delia
Lambert.

"To to the draper's shop," she said, naming a place
where she was certain not to see Unwin.



162 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"Kiglit-oh!" said Mary, cheerily putting off her after-
noon 's amusement.

But as luck would have it they encountered Unwin,
and the sight of him caused Pauline to flush so deeply
that she looked unusually well. In pursuance of his inten-
tion to leave her free especially if she could look like
that while he was broken-hearted he affected an over-done
jauntiness.

"Jolly weather, isn't it? I see you're off to tennis,
Miss Carter. You off too, Miss Westcott?"

"Not to-day," said Pauline, her voice sounding very
cold because only with a great effort could she control it
to speak at all.

"Oh! I expect I shall see you to-morrow then. The
ground's in fine condition.'"

"You have not played much this year so far," remarked
Mary.

"No. Must make up for lost time. Not many Sat-
urdays left now. Good-bye."

"Sorry to hear it. Good-bye," said Mary.

So they parted, and he had alluded to his departure
after all, which he had not meant to do: while Pauline
could have beaten herself for being unable to bring out
any word, good or bad, with Mary listening. She could
not even offer him the decent civility of an acquaintance
and say she was sorry to hear of his departure, because
all her strength was needed to keep the door shut on her
surging, pressing emotions. She was weak and a little
feverish still, and the effort left her so flushed and bright-
eyed that Mary said gaily

"It has done you good meeting Unwin, though you
were so distant with him. ' '

' ' Distant ? ' ' murmured Pauline vaguely, her heart thud-
ding in heavy beats against her side.

' ' Why, yes, ' ' said Mary. ' ' But it is only ' ' She did

not continue her sentence, because Pauline was not a per-
son to whom you could say everything, but she felt it quite



AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT 163

proper that a man who had played fast and loose with a
girl after the manner of Unwin with Pauline should be re-
ceived coldly.

"I suppose that Miss Lambert is rather fascinating in
her way?" she asked, after a pause.

' ' Chubb says so, ' ' said Pauline, achieving a little laugh.

"You'd hardly expect Chubb and Unwin to have the
same taste," said Mary; then putting on a woman-of-
the-world tone that went comically with her rosy, round
face, she concluded : ' ' Men seem to have a different stand-
ard. You never know what they'll fancy, but I believe
they're all alike in the end about the sort they do fancy.
It's something hidden from a woman that men see. Look
at that ugly, serpenty, red-haired Mrs. Bracegirdle . . .
and yet they say all the men fall in love with her. It's a
mystery, like lots of other things. ' '

And while the two friends walked home again, con-
templating with such wide girls' eyes the wonders of love
and life, Unwin sat in his office contemplating the same
from a man's point of view. But one great difference
was that while they wondered, he thought he knew all
about love. He decided now that he could do well enough
without that sort of thing and that it was an extra in a
man's life like keeping a motor car whatever it might
be for a woman. Still he sat in the meantime, pencil in
hand, staring at the blank paper, seeing Pauline's face
take form on the dim whiteness and her deep eyes shine
out at him in tender inquiry.

So the ceaseless round of love, scorn, indifference, long-
ing, love, went on in Unwin 's heart as it has done and will
do in every lover's through the ages, seeming little to
many who have passed it by, but always big with fate to
those who look back on their lives with understanding.

He had now dispensed even with an office boy, so his
seclusion was undisturbed. The clock ticked on through
the July afternoon a brief shower slanted across the
panes and died again a boy went past calling strawber-



164 THE GOSSIP SHOP

ries, which are late in Wendlebury life stretched out
before him like a long, dull plain. At last a timid knock
sounded on the door and he called "Come in!" but no
one entered, so he called again, and a high, female voice
answered nervously

"If you could ... I'm rather burdened ... so sorry
to trouble you. ..." Thus he knew that Miss Amelia
waited without.

As he ushered her in, striving to relieve her of her
parcels, she murmured over and over again: "So sorry
... I should never have ventured . . . only I felt in this
matter I had only you and my Creator to depend on ...
and He, naturally . . . not a thing you could ask ..."

"Sit down," said Unwin gently, finally removing the
parcels and placing them on the table. "It is such a
warm day. Rest a little before you begin to tell me."

"Rest!" said Miss Amelia, her pale eyes flooding with
tears. "That's just what I can't do, day or night." She
pressed her handkerchief to her lips and pulled herself
together. "Mr. Unwin, let us be business-like. I I par-
ticularly wish to place this matter on a business footing,

if possible. Only " and her lip began to tremble

again, "there can be no business about one side of it
never! Nothing but kindness on your part and eternal
gratitude on mine."

From the way in which this last co^nect^d sentence
came out, following the incoherent rambling beforehand,
it was evident that Miss Amelia had saved this spar
alone from the wreck of a fine address composed in the
solitude of her own bedroom.

"Anything I can do, I shall be only too glad," began
Unwin, then, to lighten the situation he added with a
smile, "so long as it is not another ghost."

"N-not exactly that," said Miss Amelia, "but still an
unpleasantness connected with house-property." She
paused and began again earnestly : ' ' Mr. Unwin, you may
have noticed that we only contributed half-a-crown to



AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT 165

the School Treat Fund this year instead of our usual
guinea?"

"No, indeed/' said Unwin. "How should I?"

"The list was published in the Parish Magazine," said
Miss Amelia; "I can't think how you failed to notice it."
She lowered her voice. "Mr. Unwin, I grieve to say that
I told a lie the first deliberate lie of my life in con-
nection with that magazine. I said to my sister that it
had been accidentally destroyed when in reality I burned
it with my own hands. And why ? ' '

"Perhaps you thought it too exciting reading for an
invalid," jested Unwin, willing to relieve the emotional
tension from which the poor lady was evidently suffering.

Miss Amelia shook her head.

"No," she said, in all good faith, "not on this occa-
sion, though I have known times when there have been
letters from the Vicar about the new heating apparatus
in the church and so on. . . . But there was nothing con-
troversial in this number." She bent forward until her
lightest whisper could be heard and glanced behind her
at the door. "It is this. We planned to contribute a
guinea as usual, and I gave half-a-crown only, retaining
the other eighteen-and-six for household expenses. But
this source of extra income is terribly limited, as you will
understand, and my sister has to have every luxury and


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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 11 of 22)