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melodrama to ask me to release Mr. Unwin from my
clutches. Is that not so?"

"Oh, no ... I did not mean ... I only feared you
might not realise ..." fluttered Miss Amelia. ' ' I thought
we might perhaps just talk things over in a friendly
way."

Delia rose and went to the mantelpiece, whence she
took a cigarette case and a box of matches.

"Well," she remarked, "I am ready to hear what
you have to say. But no self-respecting villain or vil-
lainess ever talked a situation over without a cigar or
cigarette. A pipe never seems to aid the course of in-
trigue, there is something so warmly human about it
besides which I am sure that even your interest in Miss
Westcott would never induce you to smoke a pipe."

"Miss Westcott! I never mentioned Pauline's name,"
said Miss Amelia.

"No, but she was like the old Emperor of China, all
the more potent for not being spoken of, ' ' said Delia, hold-
ing out the case. ' ' Won 't you take one ? ' '



THE DAY AFTER 209

"No, thank you," replied Miss Amelia, rising with
dignity.

"But I am afraid you can't get to know anything
from me without taking a cigarette," said Delia. "I
am very sorry, hut I cannot become confidential now
unless the person I am talking to is also smoking. A
matter of habit, of course, but there it is. Habit, as
you know, Miss Amelia, is the strongest chain that binds
the human will."

"But I can't I don't know how," said Miss Amelia,
almost whimpering.

"Then I can't, either. So we come to a deadlock,"
said Delia, with decision.

Reluctantly, tremblingly, Miss Amelia held out her
hand and took a cigarette, holding it as if it were red-hot,
and indeed the thought passed through her confused brain
that if this were not holding a candle to the devil it was
at least lighting a cigarette because of a lady too in-
timately acquainted with him. Only her love for Pauline
could have made her stammer forth as she did

"W- which end? I-Is there any difference?"

Delia almost relented then, but all the bitterness had
not yet departed and her eyes were cruel despite the
twinkle in them as she replied gravely

"Either will do, unless they are gold tipped. Got a
light?"

"Y-yes," said Miss Amelia, recalling far-off days when
she made soap blubbles and blowing diffidently through
the odious thing in a like fashion. Then she coughed,
and cried, choking: "The window! The window!"

"You're ill!" exclaimed Delia, snatching away the
cigarette. "Oh, I didn't mean to make you ill. But
you haven't had time yet, surely." And she flung up
the window.

"No, no," said Miss Amelia, faintly smiling back. "I
didn't mean open the window. I meant pull down the
blind. Mrs. Delamere is passing."



210 THE GiOSSIP SHOP

"She can't see through me," said Delia, moved to
reassure in spite of everything. "I am between you and
the window, you know."

Miss Amelia dabbed a small lawn handkerchief upon
her brow.

"Mrs. Delamere is so particular. She objects to nearly
everything. A breath and you are done for with Mrs.
Delamere."

Delia stood looking down at Miss Amelia, and a certain
hardness and cruelty which was not a part of her nature
but a deposit life had laid on it, showed in her expression.
At last she said slowly

"Then none of the Delamere army have ever erred?
No scandal has ever touched them?"

"There imay have been something very long ago,"
said Miss Amelia nervously. "But Lord Southwater and
Mrs. Delamere never mention it, of course, and we do not
either. Everybody has relations whom they wish to for-
get," added the little lady simply.

"But what if .Richard Delamere came back?" said
Delia, a perverse whim seizing her to break this ring of
silence that surrounded the dead man. "What would
they do then?"

Miss Amelia gazed up at Delia, startled by something
she could not understand.

"I I don't know," she said helplessly. "I fear they
would find it very inconvenient."

"Inconvenient!" said Delia, and for a moment she
stood staring before her, still with that odd inward gaze:
then she turned to Miss Amelia and said in a different
tone

"Well, I don't think they need be afraid of ever hear-
ing his name again. That's over."

"What is? You speak as if you had known him, Miss
Lambert," said Miss Amelia.

"Do I? Oh, that is just your fancy," said Delia; then



THE DAY AFTER 211

she added abruptly, "Well, what is it you want? Or
have we talked things over enough already?"

"I want ..." said Miss Amelia. ''Oh, dear, it sounds
so unpleasant."

"Don't say it then," responded Delia.

"Oh, but I must. It is what I came for," said Miss
Amelia. "I I want you to go away from Wendlebury
at once and never come back any more."

"Like poor Delamere."

"I really don't know why you will persist in dragging
him in," said Miss Amelia agitatedly, beginning to weep
a little. " I 'm sure I hate being unkind. ' '

"But you think that if I leave everything will go
right?" said Delia. "Mr. Unwin will return to your
Pauline and all will be happy ever after?"

"I hope so," faltered Miss Amelia. "And I am sure
you would prefer a large town where you could do as
you like and no one say anything. I am sure you would
be sorry to get Mr. Unwin talked about in return for
all his kindness."

"Then you think my friendship is injuring Mr. Un-
win?" said Delia. "Well, he leaves Wendlebury in a
fortnight himself, so that cannot matter much now."

Miss Amelia moved crestfallen towards the door, mur-
muring as she went

"I'm told ... in love affairs ... a great deal may
happen in a brief space of time."

Again Delia smiled, but on this occasion the odd ex-
pression the something between cruelty and mischief
which had made her flattish nose and high cheek-bones
and long eyes singularly resemble a cat tormenting a
mouse, now gave place to her old look of careless good-
nature.

"Let us part friends, won't you?" she said, holding
out her hand. "You know we liked each other when
you came to have your fortune told, did we not ? ' '



212 THE GOSSIP SHOP

Miss Amelia took the hand held out, though with some
reluctance.

"I am aware that this has been an unwarrantable in-
trusion, Miss Lambert," she said sadly. "But when you
care for people you do things . . . perhaps you may not
understand. ..."

"I think I understand. Good-bye, Miss Amelia," said
Miss Lambert very gently.

And in that moment the good in Delia answered the
good in Miss Amelia very plainly, just as it had done
during their first interview. One of those unspoken con-
versations in which what people are does all the talking,
began beautifully and might have led as such often do
to beautiful things happening; when Miss Amelia broke
out into articulate words, saying very distinctly

"Then you will kindly tell Miss Walker to put another
width in my green skirt."

"Green skirt!" echoed Delia.

And she saw Mrs. Delamere just across the street,
flashing every tooth in her head at the Eural Dean.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE TENNIS CLUB

EVA, opening the front door for Pauline, peered up at
the blue sky flecked with clouds and remarked: "I
nope it'll hold up. It has rained once this morning,"
thus bearing unconscious witness to the fact that it must
rain every day in Wendlebury. "You want fine weather
this afternoon, for they say that Mr. Unwin "

"I really wish " began Pauline.

"Oh, well!" said Eva, accepting the rebuke before it
came. "You'll never make me keep my mouth shut.
Us Martins was always newsy. Still, there's fors and
againsts. The world's a bad enough place as it is, Miss
Pauline, but just you think of the awful things people
would do that they don't, if only they weren't so fright-
ened of being talked about."

Pauline descended the steps without pursuing the sub-
ject further, and walked rather slowly down the street.
The sheer white linen of her tennis dress seemed to rob
her of that elusive charm which her grey gowns served to
heighten. Miss Amelia, watching her go by, was not far
wrong in saying that Pauline looked "somehow quenched."

"Somehow quenched!" retorted Miss Harriet from her
sofa. "My dear Amelia, one would never imagine from
your mode of speech that our father had allowed us a
liberal education. A daughter of William Pritchard
should speak refined English as instinctively as she uses
her pocket-handkerchief."

Miss Amelia, always responsive to suggestion, felt her

213



214 THE GOSSIP SHOP

nose-end tickle and blew her nose, saying rather sharply

"It seems a little hard that you should always go on
reminding me that you won the Grammar Prize at school,
and I did not, Harriet. I should liave thought you
might let it drop after all these years."

Then each knitted in silence, or rather Miss Amelia
fidgeted in her chair by the window and clicked an in-
termittent stitch or two, keeping one eye ever on the pave-
ment outside, until Miss Harriet remarked with justifi-
able annoyance

"Really, Amelia, if you have contracted a denizen of
the poultry yard, you would do well to retire and re-
move it at once. Your restlessness is unbearable."

"I'm sorry," said Miss Amelia. "I am only watching
for Mr. Unwin. I wish to speak to him as he passes and
he is sure to go to the tennis club this afternoon."

"What do you want with him?" said Miss Harriet.

"Oh, just to say good-bye," murmured Miss Amelia,
turning pink from forehead to chin. "I may not see
him again. Oh! here he is!" And as she hurried front
the room Miss Harriet called after her

"You may give him my best wishes. He was exceed-
ingly obliging about that ridiculous jackdaw."

But Miss Amelia had already reached the pavement
outside. Her grey hair, which had been so long light
mixed with grey, and then grey mixed with light, that
this sign of age had crept unawares upon her, was blowing
rather untidily in the breeze.

"Oh, Mr. Unwin!" she said in a low, hurried voice,
looking up and down the street like a white mouse turned
conspirator. "The jewels. . . . Here is the money . . .
gold, lest the notes be traced."

"Jewels!" said Unwin stupidly. Then he remembered
and clapped his hand to his pocket. "Bless my soul,
yes!" he exclaimed. "I have the pawn tickets here. I
meant to go round for them at lunch-time to-day."

"Could you " Miss Amelia paused. "Do you



THE TENNIS CLUB 215

think you could add to all your great kindness by bring-
ing them to our back door after dark? Our new maid
will be having her night out then."

"All right," said Unwin, and he smiled very kindly
down upon the little lady.

"You're sure you don't mind?" said Miss Amelia anx-
iously. "And please do not think it odd if you hear me
calling you the butter. It comes very late on a Friday
evening, and my sister Harriet will perhaps require some
explanation of your knock. Oh, I do dislike such untruth-
fulness, but when you once begin " And such was the

wistful seriousness of Miss Amelia's glance that Unwin
felt constrained to reply with equal seriousness: "You
did it for the best."

Then they said farewell and he pursued his way to
the tennis club, where he managed, as usual, to convey
the impression that he rode on the crest of the wave.
He was helped in this by his natural buoyancy of step,
bright eyes and cleanness of outline, but intention was
there too. The quality in his temperament, vanity or
pluck or whatever it might be, which made him so hate
to be pitied, was at this moment in danger of swamping
every other consideration. All his bright mind and will
ministered to it so willingly that he was not in the least
conscious of playing a part as he greeted the group of
people standing near the summer house.

It was already late in the afternoon and the sun seemed
to have gained colour from slanting all day across corn-
fields nearly ripe for harvest. The clear, cool golden
light, quite different from southern sunshine, and the
vivid green of the grass, and the red and white of the
pleasant English faces, made a picture that Unwin was
to keep always in that strange gallery of the mind where
no one can by effort fill a single space. Pauline stood in
the shadow of a tree; the crudeness of her white gown
had changed to every lovely tone of dappled grey and
gold. She was hatless, and her hair stood out sombrely



216 THE GOSSIP SHOP

^nid her delicate, pointed features. Her elusive charm

1 returned now, and her absolute stillness as she stood

ere throbbing with life and passion and vitality vaguely
impressed Unwin. He felt forced to look at her, and
i glanced away, and then looked again ; so long as she
remained silent, she was his. But when Mary Carter
made some laughing remark to her, which she answered,
the spell began to lose power. Then the Vicar blew a blast
upon his nose, and Unwin 's magic castle which had sprung
up so wonderfully in an instant fell down flat, not even
a trace of it was left.

"Our Vice-President!" announced the Vicar's wife, ap-
parently making the blast useful to trumpet Mrs. Dela-
mere's approach.

"Not often we see Mrs. Delamere here," said Unwin.

"There's my father!" said Mary Carter. "You see him
at a tennis club more seldom still."

"Better have it at once," murmured young Carter,
wearing the air of a Cabinet Minister at least.

"This sort of thing wants to appear easy and natural;
nothing stiff," murmured a lean man from the bank;
then he added, loudly: "Mr. Vicar, I think you prom-
ised "

' ' Ahem ! ' ' coughed the Vicar at once, not because his
throat was sore, but because in his callow curate-hood
he had been wont so to reassure himself, and it had grown
into a habit. "I am sure, my dear friends, you have not
come here to hear me talk. Plenty of that at other times,
eh?" And he paused for the tinkle of laughter which
obediently followed. "We are here to wish our young
friend good luck, and I am sure I voice the sentiments
of all present when I say that he will be greatly missed
in this tennis club. The welfare of the town itself is not
a matter to enlarge upon on such an occasion as the
present, still Mr. Unwin 's connection with architecture
brings one naturally in touch with the great question of



THE TENNIS CLUB 217

the town water supply, and I will just ask you to bear
with me for a few moments while I "

But here somebody sacrificed two cups and a saucer,
the property of the club, to the general success of the
occasion, it being a known fact that when the Vicar
asked the AVendlebury folk to bear with him for a few
moment nothing less than an earthquake would stop
him short of. half an hour, and the waiting Mrs. Delamere
already began to wear a pained, perfunctory smile. The
crash was followed by exclamations and surmises as to
how it could possibly have happened, and young Carter
hastened to say

"We will now call upon our Vice-President to perform
the office which she has so graciously undertaken to
perform."

Mrs. Delamere stepped forward, flashed her teeth bril-
liantly on every one, even including Pauline, and said
in the high, made-up voice used by many ladies in public
speaking

"I am sure it is a very great pleasure to me to be
present this afternoon. Mr. Unwin is going to a land
where young men are needed, and no doubt he will
will will Here Mrs. Delamere endeavoured to con-
sult a card concealed in her glove, but being unable to
abstract it, she continued extempore: "will do better
than he has done here. I mean a hot climate more suited
that is She regained both head and card to-

gether. "I have great pleasure in handing this cigarette
case to Mr. Unwin, and I trust that as he inhales the fra-
grant weed amid palms and prosperity he will often re-
member the Wendlebury Tennis Club."

"Hear! Hear!" said every one.

"Very neat!" said the lean man from the bank.

" It 's awfully good of you awfully, ' ' said Unwin, bear-
ing with some embarrassment a situation in which few peo-
ple shine. "I don't know how to thank you, but I shall
think about you all often enough, no fear."



218 THE GOSSIP SHOP

And, indeed, his gay assumption of regretting nothing
he left behind, which had almost deceived even himself,
seemed in danger of failing as he looked round at these
people whom he had known more or less all his life, and
saw how much real kindness and friendliness they felt
for him. Yet both to him and them it was evident
that he was going away under a cloud, though they did
their best to make it seem as if the cloud were not there.
Even the attitude of Mrs. Delamere meant nothing, really,
because she would present anything or open anything if
approached as the chief lady of Wendlebury, lest some
one else should usurp her place.

He did not look at Pauline's face, but he saw her
fingers closing tightly over her tennis racket with that
delicate sureness of touch which was so characteristic of
her. Suddenly, for no reason at all as it seemed, he
wanted violently to unclasp them and kiss them until his
lips were bruised with the pressure. Then he heard
Mary Carter's sensible, cheery voice saying

' ' What about another sett before the light all goes ? ' '

Thus was the little function brought to a natural close,
and Unwin realised what a nice girl Mary was, and vowed
to send her beads or grasses or whatever can be sent with
discretion from West Africa to a young lady with whom
one has never had any sentimental relations.

The group immediately broke up, and as the young
people walked across the grass the light was already dim
in the far corner of the field under the beech trees. Pauline
walked away, hesitated until Unwin was momentarily
alone, and then went up to him.

"May I see the cigarette case again?" she asked
abruptly.

"Of course," he said in a formal tone, taking it from
his pocket. "Such a good design, isn't it?"

"Very."

"So kind of every one," added Unwin, not knowing



THE TENNIS CLUB 219

exactly what he did say, because Pauline bent so close
to him, peering at the case in his hand.

"You really are going next week?" she said, touching
the engraved inscription.

"Yes," said Unwin. "Didn't you know?"

"I heard so. I supposed so."

The others passed on out of hearing and they were
now quite alone. A great many unspoken questions
vibrated between them. At last Pauline said in a low
voice, without looking at him

"I want to speak to you. Will you come with me
under the beech trees?"

"Yes." He hesitated. "Yes, if you really want me
to."

She nodded and they went on a little way without
speaking, both instinctively anxious to put a greater dis-
tance between themselves and the others before saying any
more.

"You'll wonder " murmured Pauline, flitting grey

in her white gown like a spirit of the mist under the
deep trees.

"Not at all," said Unwin stiffly. What game was she
playing with him now ? Did she want to whistle him back
just at the last? No fear! He was not having any.

She stopped in the deepest shadow and waited for him
to come up; her eyes burnt bright, even in that green
darkness.

"I want to tell you something," she said. "I can't let
you go without telling you. You shall not go away dis-
heartened, thinking it is something in you that lost you
the post. You are as capable and certain of success as
ever. It 's only ..." She broke off, trembling.

He pushed his head forward, staring into her face.

"What do you mean?"

"You'll hear," she said breathlessly. "I'm not going
to think, and I'm not going to care. You may even tell



220 THE GOSSIP SHOP

your Miss Lambert what I've said if you like. I
must ..."

"Pauline!" he shouted, so that those beyond looked
round. "You've never been jealous of Delia Lambert?
What an ass I was not to think of that ! But I somehow
never thought you could be jealous of a chap like me.
You seemed so above it all."

"Hush! They'll hear you," said Pauline.

"Let 'em!" he said. "If you make any fuss I shall
take you in my arms and kiss you before the whole lot.
They can see if they like. I don 't care. Oh ! Pauline

you don't know how a man feels I've waited so long

My darling! My darling!"

He drew her almost roughly into the deeper shadow
of a narrow place between a giant beech and the hedge
and, unclasping the supple fingers which were about the
tennis racket, he kissed them as he had wished to do. At
first she held herself away from him, but soon the strength
of his young passion so kindled hers that she could only lie
silent on his breast and let him kiss her as he would.
Nothing seemed real any more, but his touch and the feel
of his coat on her cheek and his lips on hers.

"So this was what you really had to tell me, eh, Pau-
line?" he whispered at last.

She started as if a cold hand had been laid on her heart,
then she felt the pressure of his arms and was reassured;
nothing could endanger their love now; she would still
tell him because she so wanted him to go on being so
splendidly sure of himself and because it was certain
that she could never be happy, married to him, with a
secret such as this between them which might come out
at any time. They would share this injury which she had
done his career as they were to share everything else in
life.

Feeling thus, she made sure that TJnwin would feel
the same, and it was with deep contrition, but no real
fear, that she answered finally



THE TENNIS CLUB 221

"No. I was going to say something quite different
. . . Maurice ..." But here their rapture in hearing
her call him by his name for the first time stopped all
further conversation for awhile, until she released herself
and pushed back her heavy chair. "Wait, dear, I can't
talk when you hold me so," she said, with that little
husky note in her sweet voice which he had always loved.
Then as he came towards her once more she said breath-
lessly, feeling instinctively that she would never have the
courage again: "Maurice, it was I who lost you the post."

"You!" he said, then he tossed the ridiculous idea
from him as one may a feather. "I don't believe it!"

"It is true," she said; and she began to feel afraid.

"How could you possibly influence Lord South water?"

He smiled, putting his arm about her again and mur-
muring in her ear: "Conceited little goose . . . thinks
she can rule the world."

But Pauline was not going to lose her chance; th^ir
life together should not be spoiled by the banal compli->
cation of an untold secret. "I saw you outside the Dragon
at Ryeford that morning Johnson died. You stood there
leaning against the doorway in your evening clothes. I
thought ..." And then it was she who tlung out her
arms and pressed him to her. "I thought you were
drunk. I told Aunt Dickson so, Maurice."

"You thought I was drunk? You believed me to be a
drunkard?" he said stupidly, staring at her.

"Yes." The word fell heavily to Pauline's own ear,
like a stone falling down into depths hitherto unguessed.

"When you laughed and talked and went out with
me, you really believed I was a drunkard."

"Not always," faltered Pauline. "Only only now and
then by a sort of accident. It was before I loved you.
Oh, it seems incredible to me now that I ever could have
thought such a thing, much less have repeated it ! But
I have suffered as well as you. I can't tell you how I



222 THE GOSSIP SHOP

have suffered." She paused, weeping. "Can you ever
forgive me?"

There followed a silence, and then he said in a toneless
voice

"Oh, yes; I forgive you all right."

"But you don't love me any more?" she said, her
desperate eyes searching his face, her fingers twining
round his unresponsive hand. Then she let his hand drop.
"Maurice! Maurice! It can't be that you won't love
me any more?"

He looked away from her at the distant tennis groups.

"I can't help it," he said heavily. "You were just
a make-up of my own imagination. The girl I thought
you were would have been too loyal and straight. ... I
thought you were above all other girls."

"It's not my fault you thought that," cried Pauline,
almost beside herself with this reaction from the intense
happiness of a few minutes ago. "I'm only like all the
rest, excepting in one thing. ... I love you more than
any one else could."

"And yet you told this tale all round "Wendlebury?"

"No. No. I only told it to Aunt Diekson. She men-
tioned it in confidence meaning only kindly by you to
Miss Argle, who no doubt repeated it to Mrs. Delamere.
I have never heard any mention of it in Wendlebury."

"Then you don't know for certain that Mrs. Delamere
told Lord South water?"

There was a pause. A last couple of players still tossed
up the balls in the evening twilight. Forty! Love!

"I do know," said Pauline. "I asked Lord South-
water myself."

"You went cap in hand for me, begging the job after


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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 15 of 22)