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and girls flung themselves for a last turn, laughing and
shouting, upon the, old-fashioned wooden horses which
went round rocking clumsily to the tune of Dolly Grey.
The air was full of love-making and laughter, rosy faces
and bright eyes formed a very procession of youth between
the naphtha glare from a sweet-stall near and the gas- jets



194 THE GOSSIP SHOP

of the roundabout ; long streamers of pink and white paper
flew out like garlands. Unwin and Delia were carried
away by this simple pageant, hung breathlessly laughing
on the edge of it, called to each other in loud, happy
voices like all the rest, taking it for granted that they,
too, must join in.

"Me for that brown horse with the rolling eye!" cried
Unwin.

"No! No! There's that grey one just like Griselda.
I must know what Chubb felt like this morning when he
bestrode Griselda," said Delia.

"Now! Now!" shouted Unwin, making a dash for a
pair of vacant steeds.

"Nearly missed them," panted Delia, seated victo-
riously amid a crowd of untiring equestrians.

Then the music brayed, the thing began to whirl
shouts, shrieks, laughter, paper streamers flying out
they were no longer spectators, but a part of all this
splendid, whirling, shouting procession of youth.

One round two rounds three rounds with the show-
man yelling that this was the last, and a final stop which
left a clear space for midnight to chime out over Wendle-
bury town.

As Unwin and Delia walked away from the round-
about he took ner arm now as a matter of course, and
they jostled along with the other home-going couples,
calling, laughing to each other, Unwin as little self-con-
scious as the farrier's lad in front of him. But Delia's
introspective spirit soon returned to its place, watching.
Again she was the one to draw away.

"Well, so long as we can get that out of a jolting coun-
try roundabout we are not really to be pitied," she said,
"whatever happens to us. We get more than our share."

"Why did you do that?" said Unwin sharply, not heed-
ing her remark.

"Do what?"



THE WHITE BISONS 195

"Take your arm away."

Delia laughed.

"Why, because we're not Siamese twins. We can't
go about always linked together."

There was a silence. Unwin felt as if somebody some-
where it was certainly not the woman by his side
waited tensely upon his reply.

"No," he said at last; "I suppose not."

They walked on again, talking but with a difference,
encountering everywhere other couples and groups of re-
turning revellers. As they knocked at the door, Delia
suddenly remembered Miss Walker.

"Goodness! I forgot all about her. She will have
been sitting up all this time, poor old thing!"

And the little dressmaker unlocked the door, saying
with severity

"S'ange time o' night. Not uthed to thuch hours,
Mith Lambert."

For one moment Unwin thought that Miss Walker,
too, had been making a night of it. Then he remembered
the false teeth.

"Good evening," he said.

"You here!" said Miss Walker. "S'cuse me!" She
whisked round and turned after a pause with her teeth in
place. "A lady living alone has to be particular. I am
not used to such doings."

"It was a concert. Surely music is all right," said
Unwin.

"Not music accompanied by wooden horses and stream-
ers of white and pink paper," said Miss Walker. "No,
Mr. Unwin, you know Wendlebury better than Miss Lam-
bert does, and you'd no right to lead her astray."
"I won't do it again," said Unwin humbly.

Miss Walker shook her head, mollified but still disap-
proving.

"Well, it isn't for myself, you know. I don't believe
any harm of either of you. But the pity is that you



196 THE GOSSIP SHOP

should want to do such queer things. Nobody could
imagine the Vicar or Mrs. Delamere wanting to ride
on a roundabout. And if they don't ..."

She left it at that and closed the door upon Unwin.



CHAPTER XVII

THE DAY AFTER

ALIGHT drizzle fell next morning and stray pieces of
paper blew forlornly about the streets. The milk-lad
"cheeked" the news-girl, not jocosely as usual but with a
sub-acid irony, and the news-girl asked Eva "if she was
going to be kep' waiting all morning because other folks
was sleeping off feast." Eva, irritated by the fact that
it was washing-day and Mrs. Chubb behind time, gave
the news-girl what is called "a dressing-down" and re-
tired to quarrel with the fire-irons, so that Aunt Dickson
and Pauline breakfasted to a salvo recognised by the
whole household as the prelude to a storm. It was alto*
gether a sort of temperamental house that Jack built, with
the jollity left out, that morning in "Wendlebury.

The White Bisons, suffering no doubt a reaction from
the high splendour of yesterday, felt in tune with the
rest of the town: while Chubb, as senior and prominent
Bison, was naturally a Bison with a very sore head. Mrs.
Chubb applied the grease of flattery with little effect, and
Griselda munched, meekly morose, in her stable. She re-
flected that she was not meant to draw a cab but to be
always walking with dignity through "Wendlebury market
place, bearing Chubb in a white nightgown.

Said Mrs. Chubb^ within the house

"Drat those apron strings! I'm late for Mrs. Dick-
son's."

"What care I for Mrs. Dickson?" retorted Chubb.
"Where's my pipe. You gone and moved my pipe. If

197



198 THE GOSSIP SHOP

on'y a man could have a place to his-self " He

paused and added bitterly: "But, no. If women was
outer the way men would be too happy. That's why it
is. Providence didn't want us to be as happy as all that
upo' this earth, or else we shouldn't be ready to leave it."

"I'm sure you'd be very uncomfortable without me,
Chubb," said Mrs. Chubb. "Who'd mend your socks?

Who'd " she broke off. "There's your pipe sticking

out of your breast-pocket all the time."

"I never put it there. I never did put it there i' my
life," said Chubb, taking it out and frowning at it.

"Who did then? Sperrits?" said Mrs. Chubb: then
she turned a sallow red and giggled with nervous defiance.
"P'raps your pipe's been nypnotised too!"

Chubb glared at her over the lighted match.

"Watcher mean?"

Mrs. Chubb that strange mixture of garrulousness and
secretiveness opened and shut her mouth twice and at
last said feebly, "Oh, nothing!"

The outer door closed upon her, and she had trailed
some ten 1 steps down the street when the flood-gates of
speech were so pressed upon by an insistent thought that
she was obliged to return, put her head through the door,
and shrill forth huskily: "If I was to die you'd be mar-
ried again in a year."

Chubb looked at her with the annoyance usually in-
spired by people who go away and come back.

' ' I dessay I should, ' ' he replied shortly. ' ' You wouldn 't
want me to cook me own dinner, would you?"

"But you'd be sorry? You'd put me a good headstone
up?" pursued Mrs. Chubb. And something in her anx-
ious gaze some hint of the desperate, ridiculous devo-
tion in her heart did penetrate through many things to
the man at the core of Chubb.

"Ay, lass," he said. "I'd tek the money we've saved
for a porch and put you up a real good 'un so I would ! ' '

"With 'dearly beloved first wife' on it?" said Mrs.



THE DAY AFTER 199

Chubb. "Then all comers 'd know the second was only a
second."

"Well," said Chubb, "I think I should wait until I
got a second, and then stick in 'First' like you do when
you miss a word outer a letter. It'd look so bad to put
it on straight away ... as if I was on the lookout for
another a bit over quick."

' ' But you '11 remember to put it in when the time comes, ' '
urged Mrs. Chubb.

"Yes," said Chubb.

"Promise faithful."

"I'm a man of my word," said Chubb. "What I say
I'll do, that I do." Then he changed his tone, subcon-
sciously sore and miserable at the mere thought of losing
her. "Laying down the law about your own tombstone
now," he grunted. "Upon my word I don't know what
you '11 be up to next. Let me get away to the stable. ' '

He hurtled out of the door and down the street, a
Bison with so sore a head now that he nearly charged
into poor Miss Amelia, who was coming round the corner
with a jelly for a sick woman which had been originally
sent to Miss Harriet, and which that exacting invalid had
termed glue and dishwater.

' ' Fine morning though dull, ' ' tinkled Miss Amelia pleas-
antly in passing; and Chubb, bursting with strange oaths,
felt that this was indeed a world in which men such as
he had to respond with some degree of civility: "Dull
morning, Miss!"

If Miss Amelia had been in her usual frame of mind
she might, being sensitive to such things, have noticed
the irritability in the air that morning. But she was,
in a way, like Una among the lions, being engrossed with
an inner joy which kept her immune from outside distur-
bances. For a letter had come by the early post saying
that the large house belonging to the sisters had found a
tenant of unimpeachable antecedents and character who
would probably remain in it for some years, and Miss



200 THE GOSSIP SHOP

Amelia was indeed praising God with the best member
she had which was certainly not her tongue as she hur-
ried through the grey streets. Her heart gave forth a
hymn of thanksgiving as simple and as real as that of
birds in the hedgerows beyond "Wendlebury, and she had
no doubt that the favourable let was a distinct answer to
many prayers said in the white bedroom once haunted
by Mary Jane. A life with a faith like Miss Amelia's is
set to such a lovely tune that it is always catching vibra-
tions from the high rooms of heaven.

All the same, she felt a little perturbed by the time
she reached Kyeford Terrace, despite a cup of tea in
prospect and a piece of pleasant news to tell. For she
had met Mary Carter on the way and had heard how Un-
win, pausing Paris-like between two girls, had publicly
tossed the apple of his open regard to Delia Lambert.

"Not that Pauline cares. As good fish in the sea ..."
Mary Carter had concluded. "Girls don't bother about
admirers as they did in your day, Miss Amelia. At least
there's a sort that does, but all the rest don't." She paused
and added with absolute truth: "I'm sure I don't. Too
busy to bother my head. So long as a man plays tennis
well, that's all I mind."

"How sensible!" Miss Amelia had responded, but she
was now approaching Aunt Dickson's house with a cer-
tain knowledge, derived she did not know whence, that the
"as good fish in the sea" principle would never apply to
Pauline. Some subtle bond of sympathy between the
highly educated modern girl trained in a London office
and the old country woman who had never gone further
than compound long division, made her know that Pauline
belonged to the women whose heart's lock only one key
will fit.

This company is a larger one than some think, and
members of it may be met all over the world, so that in
old English villages and New England towns and hotels
in Switzerland you may see charming and pretty old maids



THE DAY AFTER 201

a pretty term so mishandled on every side. You may
hear the same remark; "I wonder why she has never
married!" offered everywhere like a bouquet of roses
to some oldish, unmarried woman: and the reason is that
the man with the key either never met her, or was so busy
looking at some one else he did not see her, or he has
proved unfaithful or died; and no other can open the
door of that closed heart.

It was Pauline's misfortune to be of this company
a misfortune because the happiness of married love be-
comes dependent on a single chance so Miss Amelia, who
knew all this without being aware of her knowledge, felt
perturbed as she went up the little garden, though she
nodded to Aunt Dickson at the open window with a face
wreathed in smiles and fluted out cheerfully

"We have let our house! I had to pop in and tell
you the good news."

Instantly, it was Aunt Dickson 's house that had been
let, and Aunt Dickson 's money troubles lightened
though she never had any so eagerly did she rejoice with
Miss Amelia.

"Tea!" she cried, pressing the tortoise until the elec-
tric bell whizzed through the house and Eva came run-
ning, hands red with soap-suds, aware somehow that
something nice had happened, and that she must hasten
to carry round the Wendlebury substitute for .nectar
amid that atmosphere of Olympian festival which Aunt
Dickson seemed able to create out of nothing.

"Eva you will be glad to hear that Miss Amelia has
let her house," said that lady at once, bursting with the
good news. And there in a single sentence you had it.
Eva was so jolly responsive even on washing-day, finding
nothing a trouble, because she was so intimately a part of
it all.

"Well! Miss, that is a blessing," she said, beaming
on Miss Amelia. "But we must all have our ups an'
downs, I s'pose, and the only way is to take 'em as they



202 THE GOSSIP SHOP

come. It's no use, as my poor Mother used to say, for to-
cry at night because it isn't next morning." She paused,
lowering her voice to the confidential note. "One thing
always puzzles me, though. At least it would if I went
on puzzling, but I don't. Same as them metal rings that
you try and try and can't, until you want to chuck 'em
at somebody's head. Nobody can't puzzle you with 'em,
if you put 'em down and won't be puzzled, can they?"

"No," said Miss Amelia politely, beaming with Eva
because of her excellent qualities.

"But it does seem to me," pursued Eva, "that there's
two sets of folks in the world, them that gets hit and
bounces, and them that gets hit and stops flat. ' ' She low-
ered her voice still further. "And it would seem to me,
if I wasn't a believer, that Them Above hits the bouncey
sort more than the others for the fun o' seeing 'em
bounce for that kind always gets more knocks." She
took up a tray and went towards the door, not noting
the shocked expression on Miss Amelia's face. "All the
same, I'm glad I was born a bouncer."

"Oh, here is Pauline," said Aunt Dickson, glad to
change the subject because of the worried look on Miss
Amelia's face, which showed her to be striving, in spite
of the word of warning, to solve the theological puzzle
set by Eva. "Now, talking of puzzles always reminds
me of Mrs. Delamere : she brought me one last week. And
I want Pauline to tell you that tale about her and the
fortune-telling lady. ' '

Pauline frowned.

"I only told it to amuse you," she said quickly. "The
whole thing happened some time ago. It is not worth re-
peating. ' '

But Miss Amelia perked up, growing a little flushed
and bright-eyed.

"You don't mean to say that Mrs. Delamere had her
fortune told? Why, she must be contemplating a second
alliance." For even when absent the great lady of Wen-



THE DAY AFTER 203

dlebury demanded from simple Miss Amelia a certain
choice of language. "Who can it be? Not not the
Duke? He is a widower and I saw him speak to her at
the Castle Flower Show in June. I am sure ..."

''Stop! Oh, please stop!" cried Pauline, half laughing
and half annoyed. "I did not say that Mrs. Delamere
consulted Miss Lambert about her matrimonial prospects.
She went on quite a different errand."

"Who told you so?" said Miss Amelia, evidently cling-
ing to her own idea.

"Mrs. Chubb."

"Ah!" Miss Amelia gave a tiny sigh of relief which
said plainly, "Only Mrs. Chubb!" Then she continued:
"Mrs. Chubb could not know. She could not be there."

"But she was," boomed Aunt Dickson, enjoying the
dramatic full stop.

"It was in this way," explained Pauline, anxious to get
in the plain tale. "Mrs. Delamere called on Miss Lam-
bert asking her to do palmistry for nothing at an after-
noon party on behalf of the Working Guild, and Mrs.
Chubb chanced to be cleaning in the passage with the
door open."

"So like Mrs. Chubb," murmured Miss Amelia; "and
what did Miss Lambert do?"

"Well," said Pauline, "she refused."

"Shy, perhaps," said Miss Amelia. "And what hap-
pened then?"

"Mrs. Delamere went at once and complained to the
police authorities," said Pauline. "That was, I suppose,
the real reason Miss Lambert got into trouble."

' ' Ah ! I remember ; the time when Mr. Unwin went
to the rescue," said Miss Amelia. But noticing how the
blood rushed into Pauline's face at this bracketing of
Unwin and Delia she became anxious to make amends and
continued rather incoherently: "Of course, any gentle-
man . . . beauty in distress ... at least a graceful figure
though high cheek-bones . . . impossible to avoid coming



204 THE GOSSIP SHOP

to her assistance. . . . Nothing in it at all, no doubt."

"Mr. Unwin is very friendly with Miss Lambert, I
believe," said Pauline steadily, trying to ignore her own
burning cheeks. "He could do no less than give her any
help in his power."

"Yes . . . always so kind . . . Mary Jane. . . . But,"
she added wistfully: "I sometimes wish I had never in-
terfered with Mary Jane. I sometimes think that a ghost,
even if you only think it a ghost, is better left alone."

"But why!" demanded Aunt Dickson.

"No reason, exactly," said Miss Amelia, sighing again,
for she was feeling responsible, via Mary Jane and the
chain of incidents which followed, for Pauline's unsuc-
cessful love-affair. The two young people first drew to-
gether during that episode, and now dear Pauline, like
herself, seemed about to lose the sweetest thing in life.
She could have found it in her gentle heart to administer
rat poison to the innocent Mary Jane, could such an act
have put events back as they were before.

She rose, therefore, vaguely sensible that this mur-
derous frame of mind was not one in which to converse
with an invalid a person always by some inverted rule
supposed to be better than others with every excuse for
being worse and so sighed herself out of the room and
down the clean steps again into the street. A few yards
away she turned round to look back affectionately at
Pauline, who had just ushered her out with the gay ten-
derness which refreshes tired elderly people like the hear-
ing of clear water on a hot, dusty road but only if it
springs up from the heart, otherwise it is like the irri-
tation of water dripping from a tap out of order.

Pauline, however, possessed this natural tenderness for
old people, and their need of her in some way dispersed
that reserve which was apt to set her apart from those
nearer her own age: a reserve of which she herself re-
mained quite unconscious though she knew that she was



THE DAY AFTER 205

no good, as she sometimes regretfully said, at making
friends quickly.

But there was a true friendship between the girl on
the doorstep in her grey muslin gown and the lady step-
ping down the street between the narrow grey houses
edged with flowers beneath a grey sky a little harmony'
of things not splendid but somehow lovely.

Miss Amelia paused before her own house in passing
and hesitated, face flushed, delicate features working;
the very cat on the railing, blinking at her with one eye,
knew that she was in the throes of some desperate struggle
between "I will" and "I really can't." The cat, who
tepidly liked Miss Amelia, purred gently: "Don't, then,
don't! Keep your own corner. Take your own ease.
Why worry?"

Under this insidious influence Miss Amelia took two
steps towards her own safe, comfortable corner, then the
thought of Pauline's face when Unwin and Delia were
mentioned together stirred the "I will" into action and
she trotted hurriedly round the corner into the market
place. Several people spoke to her in passing, and she
gave such vague answers that they turned round, looking
after her, to remark that Miss Harriet's illness seemed
to have aged poor Miss Amelia.

At last she turned into the road near the Bowling
Green Inn, and, hearing from afar the familiar, raucous
"Mary Jane," she clenched her slender fist in the black
kid glove with fingers a little too large and hissed between
her lips: "You odious bird! If I could not say more
than that, I would keep quiet." Immediately the Jack-
daw obliged with "Damn your eye!" and having ended
his vocabulary relapsed into silence.

Miss Amelia shuddered slightly. This did indeed seem
a fitting prologue for the visit she was about to pay. A
faint sulphurous smell from a gas-works not far off com-
pleted the illusion. She knocked at the respectable door
of the little dressmaker with a subconscious feeling that



S0 THE GOSSIP SHOP

a gentleman in red, with horns, hoofs and tail might open
it, and when Delia appeared she was only partially reas-
sured, for a person who could hypnotise Unwin and Chubb
might also, no doubt, if she wished, exercise her nefarious
powers on the female sex.

This was not what Miss Amelia thought for she was
a decently educated maiden lady of modern times but
it was what she felt; and, fear being always more con-
cerned with feeling than conviction, her voice shook as she
quavered out nervously

"Are you at home? At least, I see ... If I might
... I wish to speak to you on a private matter of some
importance. ' '

"Come in," said Delia. "But you know I have under-
taken not to do any more fortune-telling in Wendlebury.
You would hear that I nearly got run in because of my
palmistry ? ' '

Miss Amelia's failing resolution was stiffened a little
by this casual and barefaced mention of an episode, which
any right-minded female would know to be an unspeak-
able disgrace.

"I did, indeed, hear/' she said in a tone which caused
the pleasant smile to fade from her hostess' face.

"Pray sit down," responded Delia, and so obviously
waited to know Miss Amelia's business that the poor lady
blinking her eyes and feeling like an inexperienced
diver about to dive into deep water said, breathlessly
plunging

"Wendlebury is a place where a good deal of gossip
goes on."

"Yes?" said Delia.

"I thought I thought, perhaps you did not know
this."

"As Wendlebury is in the world I could scarcely help
knowing it."

"London " Miss Amelia choked a little, desperately,



THE DAY AFTER 207

as it were, keeping her head above water. "London
such large places they don't, I believe."

"There's no greater gossip shop than the House of
Commons, I am told," said Delia, refusing to help Miss
Amelia at all.

"But not not about the same things about ladies
and gentlemen who are not engaged or married being
too friendly, for instance?" gasped Miss Amelia, going
under, head and all. But Delia felt no pity for the little
trembling lady; she was gripped by a bitter remembrance
of that early girlhood, when "talk" had driven her away
from the safe shelter of her own home into a world where
she had suffered so deeply and had found in the end only
the faults of the outcast. She looked back past Miss
Amelia, down the years, and saw the girl she was then,
with grave faults indeed, but high possibilities; she felt a
sudden impulse to punish this woman who came babbling
to her of Wendlebury gossip, trying to spoil the best and
cleanest friendship she had ever known.

"I suppose," she said at last, "that the friendship of
ladies and gentlemen as you so prettily phrase it as the
source of gossip is universal. It binds in happy com-
munion those wearing bearskins and eating blubber with
others eating rice and wearing nothing at all. An inter-
esting thought."

"Yes, indeed," murmured the distracted Miss Amelia.
"Oh, most interesting, of course . . . Child's guide to
knowledge ... I well remember wondering how the
Esquimaux could possibly ... oil always makes me so
bilious even in salad. ..." She breathed deeply, a wild
effort to get back to her purpose by tactful degrees. ' ' Now
some people never suffer from biliousness ... I should
say Mr. Unwin . . . such a clear complexion . . .
shouldn't you?"

"I have never asked him," said Delia. "I will re-
member to do so. He has no woman to look after his
health, poor fellow!"



208 THE GOSSIP SHOP

Miss Amelia clasped her hands and took the opening
provided for her.

"No single lady has any right to look after any single
gentleman's health unless they are engaged, Miss Lam-
bert. Do I understand that you and he . . .?"

"You do not," said Delia; "at least from me. But
you sent Mr. Unwin some black-currant jelly when he
had a cold without being engaged. And I am sure you
would never be guilty of an impropriety."

"That is different. I am an old woman compared with
Mr. Unwin," said Miss Amelia.

"So am I," said Delia.

"Oh, yes," agreed Miss Amelia readily; so very readily
that the irresponsible Delia gave an involuntary inward
chuckle which suddenly changed her black mood into a
mere malicious desire to torment the inquisitor.

"You have come, in fact," said Delia, "like a lady of


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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 14 of 22)