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tale about one in the Wendlebury Herald. You can't do
naught agen 'em, once you let 'em get near-hand you.
And it stan's to reason that Mr. Unwin must ha' got
nypnotised," she concluded indignantly, "or else he
wouldn't give a nice young lady like Miss Pauline the go-
by for "

"Mrs. Chubb talks a lot of nonsense," interposed Aunt
Dickson. "I wonder you have not too much sense to
listen to her, Eva."

"Well, I'm sorry for Mrs. Chubb," flashed out Eva,
defending her sex against the adventuress, as women ever
will. "She says she's all of a work inside from morning
to night and her food mud as well go down sink for all
the good it does her! I wish Miss Lambert had never
come near-hand Wendlebury!"

Pauline secretly echoed the sentiment, but Aunt Dick-



180 THE GOSSIP SHOP

son was not so sure; she felt inclined to think that the
fortune-teller had done good service to Pauline in show-
ing plainly that Unwin was not a man to be depended
on or regretted.

Unwin himself had no idea, of course, that his private
affairs were heing thus openly discussed, and the affair
of Miss Lambert had by no means been so important
as Miss Argle and Eva imagined. True, a policeman had
called at Delia's lodgings, scaring the little dressmaker
into hysterics, but there had been no question of bail,
and a fine and a promise had satisfied the authorities.
As a matter of fact Unwin 's mind was filled with other
matters, and he was very busy putting his affairs in
order before going abroad. Never having troubled him-
self about the tongues of Wendlebury, he was scarcely
likely to begin now. So he ceased to search for reasons
why the appointment had been withheld, taking the view
that such speculating was weak and futile, and getting
ready to do his best in the job which had turned up.

It could not be said that he was happy at any time
during this period, and when he gave himself time to
think he was acutely miserable with the baulked agony
of a man in the first flush of youth and strength who
has come to regard a girl as his future wife. The loss
of her, and of the lovely beckoning prospect which Lord
Southwater had held out to him, did not embitter him,
because the seeds of bitterness lie within and his nature
did not contain them. But he knew there was only one
such post in the world, and that he had nearly got it,
and had lost it. That gave a sense of frustration in his
case, somewhat to be compared with the irritating nervous
effect of frustrated love, and there can be no doubt that
this state of mind directly led to his love-troubles. If he
had been as usual he would have been happily engaged
to Pauline by this time, and not employed in making
imaginary obstacles out of his own foolish pride.

But there seem no limits to the blindness of love, as



MORE NEWS 181

Mrs. Chubb was demonstrating in her own kitchen, open-
ing and shutting her mouth like a frenzied fish, and yet
not desperate enough to "let Chubb have it," and clear
the matter up once and for all, lest he should remove his
affections from her. He was, as she deeply felt in that
bursting heart behind the decent alpaca, so dreadfully
attractive to the weaker sex. It would appear incredible
if a jealous, good woman's imagination were not capable
of things a sensational Sunday paper would boggle at
to recount what Mrs. Chubb thought when Mr. Chubb took
Delia out for a drive in his cab. And now he was saying,
just as if it were a matter of course

"Miss Lambert wants to see our procession on Feast
Day. I've telled her to stand at Market Corner. She'll
get a fine view there."

A fine view of what? Mrs. Chubb 's interior arrange-
ments, of which Eva had made mention, became so dis-
turbed that they seemed to be waltzing together, but she
only remarked after opening and shutting her mouth
twice: "How many white Bisons is going to ride this
year?"

"Me and four others. The rest '11 go on foot," replied
Chubb, with the careless dignity befitting a man whose
position in the Ancient and Worshipful Order of White
Bisons is too firmly established to need comment. "Mind
you iron my gown well this time."

Seething, Mrs. Chubb took from a drawer in the dresser
the white nightgown-like garment in which Chubb on
these occasions bestrode Griselda.

"You wouldn't," she said, in a deceptively mild voice,
"like Miss Lambert to see you with a crease in it, of
course."

"No, I shouldn't," said Chubb. Then he lighted his
pipe. "Some o' the chaps looks rare an' silly dressed up
like that!"

"Ay," said Mrs. Chubb, but she refrained from say-
ing how glorious Chubb 's appearance always was on these



182 THE GOSSIP SHOP

annual festivals, and though he did not actually notice
this, he missed something in a vague sort of way to
which he was accustomed.

1 ' Get me my other pipe, ' ' he said testily. ' ' This doesn 't
seem to draw right somehow."



CHAPTER XVI

THE WHITE BISONS

IT is a well-known fact that if a person contracts some
unusual illness or suffers some peculiar accident of
which he has never heard before, there seems immediately
to spring out of the very ground any number of similar
cases. Mrs. Jones, whom the sufferer has long known,
possesses a hidden cousin who suffers from precisely the
same affliction, while a man at the butcher's shop has en-
dured it for years past himself. And the same rule ap-
plies to affairs of the emotion and intellect, so it is no
wonder that Pauline began to find, all about her, those
whose lives had been injured by gossip.

For instance, on this very morning of blue sky and
slanting showers with a promise of sunshine a perfect
Weiidlebury day she saw from the window a dirty little
clergyman who went past with shuffling feet and bent
shoulders. His shiftless incongruity with the bright,
bustling alertness of Wendlebury on the great occasion
of the White Bisons annual celebration, led Pauline to
remark carelessly

"There's Mr. Robinson again! I don't think he ought
to wear clerical clothes at all if he goes about in that
state. Why is he not working?"

"Oh, he got into some trouble with his parishioners.
There was a lot of talk and he had to retire," said Aunt
Dickson, already seated in the window in her best black
satin awaiting chance callers from the country.

"But did he do anything wrong?" said Pauline. "I
mean, was anything actually proved?"

183



184 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"No; but there is no smoke without fire," said Aunt
Dickson. ' ' However, ' ' she added, willing to give, as usual,
the benefit of the doubt, "I dare say it was only because
he kept white mice and didn't eat meat. People would
naturally talk and when people once begin to talk ..."

Pauline made no reply, but remained at the window
looking after the shuffling figure. She saw now, not just
a dirty little retired parson, but a man with the main-
spring of life broken by the tongues of his fellow-men,
and her heart was filled with an angry pity.

"Can't we ask him in?" she said.

"I have done," said Aunt Dickson, "but he won't come.
He likes to be left alone with his pipe. I remember him
quite a good-looking young man with a high colour when
Wendlebury was his first curacy."

A sudden vision of the old clergyman as he once was
rose before Pauline's mind . . . the hopes and aspira-
tions . . . the little red town about the tall spire of the
church where he first ministered . . . the glamour of life
just opening out . . . and it had ended in this.

' ' Oh, if people were only born dumb ! ' ' she said.

"No, no," said Aunt Dickson comfortably. "Speech is
like everything else that is any use you can do good or
harm with it. Look at cotton-wool ... so soft and com-
forting . . . and yet you can use it to blow up and kill
people."

"But you do at least know when you're using it to
blow up with!' 1 retorted Pauline; and Aunt Dickson, un-
able to pursue the argument, said with perfect equanim-
ity-

" Things are like that. You have to take things as
they are."

But it is age alone or supine youth which can accept
that view, and Pauline still wanted to make things dif-
ferent.

On this occasion, however, the time for introspection
was over and the first of a long line of visitors appeared



THE WHITE BISONS 185

on the pavement outside. She was that old servant of
Aunt Dickson's to whom Pauline had carried gifts on her
way to Lord South water 's, and later, during the whole
morning, followed other old servants, with children and
mothers and sisters of old servants, down to remote col-
lateral branches. Most of them brought country offer-
ings, and the little straight-fronted house began to smell
most sweetly of old-fashioned roses and southernwood and
honey, and the delicious aroma from Eva's kitchen caused
by constant relays of fresh tea and cakes mingled with
it all, until the air about Aunt Dickson was fragrant of
nothing else in the world but kindness. She sat in her
chair by the window, ringing the tortoise bell, and order-
ing fresh delicacies from the confectioner's through the
telephone, her little dark eyes shining in her big red face,
so at the very buzzing heart and centre of Wendlebury
Feast that Pauline had to reflect some of the jollity back
again, and be warmed by it, like a person standing in the
sunshine.

Then, after a cold luncheon, came a detachment of "us
Martins" who truth to tell rather looked down on "our
Eva" because she was in service, they having risen in the
world to be lady clerks and post-office assistants and such-
like, while "our Ben" was an engineer at Leeds. But
Eva ushered them in with such joy, and was so innocently
proud of their ugly, board-school English from which all
her own vim and character had been banished, and said
so casually: "There I go our Emm laughs at my broad
talk," just to draw attention to the precise correctness
with which our Emm spoke, that it would have been a
poor heart that did not rejoice with her.

Pauline unconsciously began to take heart and think
that something pleasant might after all happen in a world
so full of fun and kindness. She went out for half an
hour after lunch to see the procession of the White Bisons
with that fountain of hope welling up in her for no real
reason at all which is the compensation of temperaments



186 THE GOSSIP SHOP

given equally to unreasoning despair; and she laughed
to see Chubb majestic on Griselda, though only the night
before she had believed she would never laugh any more.

It could not be imagined that Griselda felt comfortable,
because she was obviously not up to Chubb 's weight, but
she staggered along with the meek bombast of a very fat,
charitable lady in a very overheated room who is hearing
a laudatory speech about herself.

Griselda shared with such an one the profound con-
viction that she had got on in the world because she was
good: the droop of her neck, the very hang of her tail
proved that beyond dispute.

But on reaching the corner Chubb relaxed somewhat
of his immovable dignity and nodded to a friend in the
crowd. Pauline could not see who it was and was turn-
ing away, when she felt a clutch on her arm, a whisper
stirring the hair over her right ear.

"Did you see that!"

"Why, Mrs. Chubb! I didn't recognise you," said
Pauline.

"No wonder. Everything's upside down. Oh! what
a Feast Day! Oh! the hussy, her !"

"But what is the matter, Mrs. Chubb?" said Pauline,
beginning to be concerned. "Do tell me!"

Mrs. Chubb swallowed several times, opened and shut
her mouth and to some degree recovered herself.

"I dessay it's the 'eat, Miss," she said; "I think I'll
be going home."

"But Chubb will be coming back this way in a few
minutes if the mare doesn't sit down first," said Pauline.

"I hope she will," said Mrs. Chubb unexpectedly.

"What!" said Pauline, scarcely believing her ears.

"I mean it," said Mrs. Chubb, nodding. And she
added darkly: "If the mare sits down with him and I
stand up to him, perhaps he'll begin to see." Then she
vanished among the crowd and her mystified hearer went
home.



THE WHITE BISONS 187

Later in the afternoon, Miss Walker came to sit with
Aunt Dickson, while Pauline accompanied Mary Carter
to the entertainment at the Assembly Rooms which al-
ways closed Wendlehury Feast. It had been instituted
many years earlier by a committee of county ladies with
the praiseworthy object of keeping the feasters away from
less innocent amusements, but those feasters still roystered
in public-houses and squealed in roundabouts, and be-
came green in swing-boats, while the decorous part of the
community who would in any case be decorous enjoyed
an excellent performance for sixpence a head.

On this occasion a female Bracegirdle of the highest
county reputation was to show Wendlebury how much
leg it was possible to show while still remaining immacu-
lately virtuous, in a dance composed by herself called
"Love in the Forest."

Delia Lambert also felt the stir of life and gaiety in the
atmosphere and became restless in her little house in a
back street. So she threw on a cloak and slipped along
to the concert hall thinking she would never be noticed
which shows how little even yet she understood Wendle-
bury. But at any rate she remained unseen for a time
because the room was quite dark and the immaculate
Bracegirdle was already pawing the air and shaking a
hind leg to intimate joy in the sunrise see programmes
one penny each. This was all very well at first. A sort
of amazement at being permitted to see so much of a
Bracegirdle kept the audience enthralled and quiet. But
when, without moving far from the same spot, the dancer
went through fifteen scenes of a very similar nature, only
shaking more leg and more arm, or frowning instead of
showing her teeth, the few genuine feasters at the back
began to recover from their amazement and to grow res-
tive. And when, pursuing the limelight which declined
to pursue her, the lady dropped on the floor, where she
appeared to be contorted with agony, an inebriated voice



188 THE GOSSIP SHOP

at the back called out: "She's had sour braimberries i'
wood! Hee! Hee! There's nought gives you it worse
than sour braimberries!"

"Hush!" hissed the front benches.

"It's dancing. The lady's dancing, ye fool!" urged a
neighbour.

"Dancing!" said the man, without any animosity, but
loud enough to be heard by all. "Ca' that dancing! I
call it sillying about in 'er shift!"

Then somebody threw a bouquet, and the curtain went
down and the lights went up, while the Rural Dean, sit-
ting in front of Pauline, continued to applaud robustly
and openly, as though to show every one that he, at any
rate, saw those solid Bracegirdle limbs fully draped with
the mantle of an hereditary chastity. He looked round
at the audience as he clapped his well-kept hands, turn-
ing his blue eyes and high-coloured face here and there
and brandishing, as it were, in his own person, the pre-
cept that to the pure all things are pure. Mrs. Rural
Dean leaned back and did her duty languidly by Dr. and
Mrs. Carter, giving Mary Carter the opportunity to mur-
mur in Pauline's ear

' ' Well, of all things ! I don 't know how she ever could.
I do hope she'll catch cold in her legs. Why does she
do it? But I suppose she wanted people to see that the
rest of her was not quite so plain as her face."

"Oh, some people like it. Men do ... anything with
legs," said Pauline vaguely, catching sight of Delia Lam-
bert a few yards away.

"But why should they?" urged Mary, pursuing her
problem.

"I'm sure I don't know. There are lots of things ..."

" Oh ! " interrupted Mary, also discerning Delia. ' ' That
woman! She's just as bad in another way. How dare
she come here amongst us as bold as brass after being
taken up by a policeman and all the talk!" She broke off
abruptly. "Here's Unwin!"



THE WHITE BISONS 189

Pauline turned and saw him come through the side-door
with his gay, alert air, which was really a physical attri-
bute, his quick, wide-open eyes glancing here and there in
search of some one. At last they fell on Pauline ; but with
a sudden, overwhelming impulse of shyness she turned
away. The next second she turned round ready to bow,
but it was too late, and he was already making his way
to Delia between the rather sparsely filled benches at the
side of the room.

The whole thing Pauline's instinctive retreat, Unwin's
momentary pause between the two girls, his choice of
Delia was over like a flash; and yet it belonged to the
essential part of earthly love which must be always the
same. Pauline had been as natural as a girl flying before
her lover in the dawn of the world, and she had looked
away because she was seized in the recesses of her being
with a sudden, passionate worship for Unwin's virile
young body. This feeling was so new to her physical
love fused with her girl's love-of-the-spirit which had
been long waiting that she now sat trembling with the
surprise of it.

Then she heard through the rushing sound in her ears
the unforgetable sound of the sea of love rushing on
to the shores of life the indignant voice of Mary Carter.

"Well! I didn't think it of Unwin! He has gone and
sat down by that woman."

"I daresay he is sorry for her. He is so good-natured,"
said Pauline, trying to speak in her ordinary tone.

Mary gave a contemptuous snort.

' ' Good-natured ! He went to sit next her because he
wanted to. I know enough about men for that. Perhaps
she is interesting. She ought to be. She has had plenty
of time to learn things," said Mary, hot with indignation
on Pauline's account. "But I don't see how any one
can admire her appearance. High cheek-bones, flat nose,
dozens of little lines round her eyes, a long, loose lanky
figure. I call her downright ugly."



190 THE GOSSIP SHOP

Mrs. Chubb, enjoying her sixpenny worth at the back
of the hall, thought the same thing, and she remarked
to Eva, who sat near : ' ' Now you see ! If that isn 't nyp-
notising, what is? Unwin come in and looked round,
hesitating-like, and then went for her as straight as a die.
Just the same as folks did when that conjuring fellow
was here. If Unwin wasn't nypnotised, what was he?
Eh?"

"That must be it," assented Eva regretfully, eyeing
with sympathy Pauline's back hair. "Ay; love's a rum
thing, Mrs. Chubb."

"You're right there," sighed Mrs. Chubb. Then she
added, violently for her: "Nobody could see aught in
that great, gawky lass if they wasn't nypnotised. That
shows ! You can 't blame the men ! ' '

"I do," said Eva, ever prone to support her own sex.
"Men shouldn't go near enough to get hypnotised. They
should keep out o' the way of such-like women. There's
plenty of others knocking about. I knew a housemaid
where I lived once a great gawk with ginger hair and
yet all the fellers was after her. She got my young man
or else I might have been in a home of my own now.
And yet she didn't want to keep him."

"What's happened to your last?" asked Mrs. Chubb,
feigning interest but with a vindictive eye on Delia all
the time. "He seemed a decent sort of chap but for his
bow legs."

' ' Oh, I parted from him in June, a bit before the longest
day," responded Eva cheerfully. "It was in the course
of nature, as you may say, for he started walking out
with me in January when it was dark and he couldn't
see me very fair you know what Wendlebury street-
lamps is and as it got lighter, he got cooler. So at last,
when he'd kept me waiting at street corner twice and
never turned up I thought it was time to know where I
was. I hate beating about the bush. So I says: 'Are
we walking out or are we not?' Plain out. Just like



THE WHITE BISONS 191

that. And he says: 'Since you put it to me, Miss Mar-
tin' he talked very fine, you know; a real, good-educated
feller, I will own 'since you put it to me, Miss Martin,'
he says, 'we are not!' ' Eva paused to take breath and
give half an ear to a glee. "That was a bit of a blow,
wasn't it?"

"And what did you say?" asked Mrs. Chubb mechani-
cally, her gaze still fixed on Delia.

"I said 'What for?' But I knew all the time without
telling. I wore a tasty hat of Miss Pauline's and a veil
and a fur tie when I first got on with him, and I 'm chirpy
enough, and he thought me younger and better-looking
than what I am. But them long, light evenings end o'
May and June!" She sighed. "However, what is to be,
will be. I got to know a policeman last night out." She
paused again, then added with a vicarious triumph which
showed her sound and sweet to the core : ' ' Our Emm 's
engaged to a clerk. He wears a white shirt and striped
socks every day. She got more schooling than I did, and
she'll keep his position up all right."

But Mrs. Chubb was gazing at the programme: "The
next is the last," she remarked. "Should we slip out
after this? I hate being scrooged and Chubb will be
wanting his supper."

"As you like," said Eva, "though I don't mind a bit
of a crush myself; makes you feel you are out, if you
know what I mean."

Still, as Mrs. Chubb persisted, they slipped out through
the side door. Delia, who also disliked being crushed,
followed with Unwin.

"Good-evening, Mrs. Chubb," she said in passing.

"Where's Chubb?" said Unwin pleasantly. "You
ought to have brought him."

"Hard-working man . . . something better to do ...
trapesing about to concerts," muttered Mrs. Chubb, with
a baleful eye on Delia.



192 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"Oh! he would have enjoyed it. Sorry he didn't come,"
said Delia lightly.

So she and Unwin went on together through the little
crowd round the door, and as they paused a moment in
the street beyond they could hear an old roundabout
wheezing out a tune which dated from the Boer War
"Good-bye, Dolly Grey" the tune to which this genera-
tion first re-sung the eternal ballad of fighting men going
forth to war and the girls they leave behind them. Lights
from stalls and booths made a blaze of light beyond the
market place, there was a mingled sound of footsteps,
voices and laughter, the little town held carnival for all
the country-side in this flowery space between haytime and
harvest.

Delia drew a long breath, enjoying the cool night. The
nervous restlessness which had driven her to the concert
gave keenness to her senses now, and made her respond
to the merriment in the air. A lad and a girl went rol-
licking by, full of young life and joy in the passing hour.

"Let us go too," she said, seizing Unwin 's arm impetu-
ously. "Come on! Let's follow the fun!"

Unwin, though so in love with Pauline, responded to
the challenge of that hand on his arm and that inspiriting
voice.

Follow the fun! It was what Delia had always done,
with what tragedy in between.

As Unwin raced along the grey streets of Wendlebury
with her now, he pressed the eager, nervous hand to his
side and felt that here was a fine companion. You could
imagine her wounded, beaten, and yet stumbling up again
to follow the fun. "What a glorious companion for a wan-
derer! His thoughts broke short on that and paused a
second, startled. Where had he got to? Then his reason
maintained doggedly that she would be a good comrade
for a wanderer in life.

He looked into her face, which was nearly on a level
with his own, and saw her looking at him with a smile.



THE WHITE BISONS 193

"Want to go back?"

He pressed her hand closer.

"No . . . want to go on!'*

"Sure?"

"Quite sure, Delia."

She pulled her hand away, still smiling.

"I didn't mean that, you know. No child-stealing done
here!"

He flushed angrily for a moment, being still young
enough to feel annoyed, then he began to laugh.

"Well! that's what you'd call applying the break with
a jerk," he said; then he added in another tone, "You're
a good sort, Delia. ' '

"Oh!" she began, then changed her mind and said
at random: "Look at that fat couple going through the 1
gate. However did they achieve that? I suppose they let
their minds fatten first and then it spread outwards or
do you think it acts the other way on?"

"Depends ..." said Unwin vaguely, listening not to
her but to the long-forgotten phrase of an old nurse which
was for some reason echoing and re-echoing heavily
through the long corridors of memories. "If you can't
have what you want, Master Maurice, you must make the
best of what you've got. ..." He saw himself again
the turbulent urchin desiring always the unique and yet
did not know why the words should come back so vividly
just now. Then the crowd pressed round them and Delia
allowed him to take her arm again, and they were thrown
up, like weeds at the edge of surf, close by the round-
about.

The feast was nearly over for the year and the men


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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 13 of 22)