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you astray. That would be worse than anything," cried
the poor trembling lady.

"I won't pawn anything unless I am positively obliged,
and then I shall feel I have done right," said Pauline.

"Thank you, dear," said Miss Amelia, but she reflected



FAREWELL ! 253

with a wistful regret that the dear girl's commercial
career had blunted the delicacy of her perceptions in such
matters.

There was a pause, and all the ladies looked towards
Mrs. Delamere; but defiantly, as it were, daring her to
pronounce judgment against Miss Amelia.

She responded by soaring high above Wendlebury.

' ' Dear Miss Amelia, how quaint of you ! I really must
tell my brother-in-law, Lord Southwater, when I next stay
with him," and she flashed her teeth upon the agitated
group.

But at this the worm turned. Miss Amelia had torn up
something within herself by the roots in order to make
that confession, and she was not going to be called
"quaint" as she stood bleeding there.

"I thought your one annual visit to Lord Southwater
had already taken place," she said, trembling very much
indeed. "Perhaps next year you may have something
more interesting to talk about."

The shaft went home. Mrs. Delamere could not say
definitely that she had the run of Southwater Park all the
year round. But the honours of war remained with her
as she replied with great 1 dignity

"No. No. We always like to talk of the little happen-
ings here. I assure you that we both take the greatest
possible interest in Wendlebury."

Then she turned to Miss Argle, who was murmuring
apologies, and mopping her eyes, and behaving generally
in a manner quite unbecoming a descendant of the ruth-
less Argles of Argle Towers, and she towed that distressed
member of the aristocracy swiftly away with her down
the churchyard path.

"Come home, Amelia," commanded Miss Harriet.

But the tone in which she said it caused Mary Carter,
who was already filled with indignant sympathy, to state
with crude abruptness



254 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"She shan't go home with you unless you promise not
to bully her. So now!"

"Mary!" pleaded her mother.

"My dear!" murmured Miss Amelia, grateful but
deeply shocked.

"I don't care!" said Mary; "I can see it in her eye
she is going to bully Miss Amelia. And I won 't have it ! "

"Mary! Mary!" pleaded Mrs. Carter, trembling like
a pink-and-white blancmange under her purple gown.
"She does not mean to be disrespectful, Miss Harriet. It
is only that she is so fond of Miss Amelia."

But here Miss Amelia withdrew herself a little and
faced them all, saying surprisingly, but with intense ear-
'nestness

"Now I have had time to think, I never was so relieved
in my life. I feel as if I were just coming away from the
dentist after having a double tooth extracted ; I do indeed.
Every time Harriet looked at me, I quivered in a way I
can never describe, as if my outside remained stationary
while my internal arrangements changed places, if you
know what I mean ? ' '

"I do not," said Miss Harriet.

"But it was very kind of Mr. Unwin," maintained Miss
Amelia.

"Kind!" trumpeted Miss Harriet. "Do you think my
sister would ever have attempted such an escapade with-
out his connivance? It is well that he has sailed for a
shore where, I gather, the temptations of a gay town like
"Wendlebury are absent. I like young Unwin, but that is
my opinion." Then she turned to Miss Amelia: "Let us
go home to luncheon."

So the little group moved away through the now empty
churchyard, Miss Amelia murmuring obstinately that it
was all her own idea, and that Unwin had behaved most
nobly, and that Harriet could say what she liked. As
they passed the yew hedge near the grave of the stranger
who had died at the Dragon at Ryeford, the Vicar's wife



FAREWELL ! 255

endeavoured to clear the mental atmosphere by saying
brightly

' ' See ! Some one has been putting flowers on the stran-
ger 's grave. I wonder who it can be!"

"Perhaps the landlady of the Dragon," suggested Mrs.
Carter, to whom her husband never told his professional
secrets.

"They are ordinary market flowers," said Pauline.

And the ladies stood still again for a moment in the
sunshine, looking at the bunch of country flowers which
Delia had bought the day before with the dew still on
them, as she hurried through the little town to order
Chubb 's cab. The dew had all dried off now and they
had faded, but they still made a patch of colour and
sweetness.

"I expect it must be the landlady," repeated Mrs. Car-
ter, breaking that little silence, and they walked on again
talking together. But Pauline said nothing because she
was feeling so vividly what this stranger's death had
meant in her life. The whole scene on that morning out-
side the Dragon Inn rose before her eyes with extraordi-
nary clearness. It was almost like a vision appearing be-
tween her and the faded roses and stocks and southern-
wood on the grave, leaving them visible without destroy-
ing the delicate clearness of that morning scene . . . the
pale light on the road . . . Unwin's young figure in even-
ing dress against the doorpost.

Then Mary Carter was speaking

"Perhaps Mr. Unwin put the flowers there. He used
to visit the poor man."

"Oh, he would be too busy," said the Vicar's wife de-
cidedly.

So, still wondering, they tripped along the Sunday
streets, going one by one into the straight-fronted houses
where tables were spread with fine, beautifully mended
damask. Soon tiny joints on blue china dishes made their
appearance, followed by such sweets as canary pudding



256 THE GOSSIP SHOP

and cup custard, whose very names seemed redolent of the
rich meadows about Wendlebury.

Such a story as that of Miss Amelia and the pawn-
broker's shop, however, long outlived any vague surmises
about an unknown grave, and it finally reached the august
ears of Lord Southwater through those very Argles of
Argle Towers who had picked up TJnwin and found the
pawn ticket. For a moment that excellent peer felt
slightly worried, feeling that he had done Unwin some
little injustice. But he soon reasoned himself into the
comfortable conviction that this visit of Unwin 's to the
pawnbroker on Miss Amelia's business was neither the
first nor last. He saw that he had been right, as usual,
in condemning the young man who stepped from under
the three balls with such a jaunty, accustomed air. He
could not, without greater cause, convict himself of in-
justice.



CHAPTER XXI

WINTER-TIME

IT was "Wednesday night, and Pauline stood in the
kitchen heating some milk. Eva, returning from her
night out, hurst through the doorway with an indignant

"So that's over!"

Pauline started, the words fitting in so marvellously with
her own thoughts at that moment. For she had heen
experiencing during the past three days such a torture of
suspense every time a postman went down the street or
a telegraph hoy bicycled past, that the present certainty
of Unwin having sailed without a word or sign of fare-
well seemed almost like happiness. All who have experi-
enced intolerable suspense for any cause know that strange
happy moment when it stops, even though the next mo-
ment may plunge them into the very depths of sorrow.

' ' If it wasn 't for the looks of the thing, ' ' continued Eva
vehemently, "I would never walk out with anybody again.
Only if you don't, the other girls thinks you can't. Mark
my words, Miss Pauline, there's more girls goes out with
young men because, if they don't, they're frightened of
having it thought they can't, than anybody would ever
dream of. D'you expect / wanted to go gorming about
with a bandy-legged chap that couldn 't say ' Bo ' to a goose ?
Of course I didn't! But when I had brought myself to
it, I nat 'rally boiled with rage to come across him walk-
ing arm-in-arm with somebody else."

' ' But what a good thing you did not really care ! ' ' said
Pauline.

257



258 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"Oh, yes," replied Eva, rapidly regaining her compo-
sure. "It was only just for the minute, as you may say,
and because the girl was that little fat lump of a general
from across the street that always has holes in her stock-
ing-feet. I didn't like being cut out by her. But what is
to be, will be. Some knows how to draw the men on and
some doesn't. There's that Miss Lambert now her as
went off with Mr. Unwin she had the sort of 'Come-on-
lad' way with her that makes a man think he's doing all
the coming. It's a thing you can't get; you must be born
with it, and after all you and me has plenty else to be
thankful for, Miss Pauline."

"We do not know that Mr. Unwin and Miss Lambert
ever even met after they left "Wendlebury, " said Pauline,
ignoring the consolatory reflection.

But she had so often pictured them meeting in every
imaginable fashion, during the past three days, that her
voice carried no conviction.

"Oh, he'd be after her," said Eva. "She's one of them
like that fat general you don't know why they are, but
they are. I shall ever remember a young man that I
walked out with once when I was at home on my holi-
days. "We used to get to a place every night where there
was some gorse bushes all yellow over and smelling beau-
tiful with the dew. And he used to stop a minute a fine
set-up young feller he was and he'd say every time:
'Look at them gorse bushes! When gorse is out o' flower,
kissing 's out o' fashion.' Then he'd go on again. But
one night I let my cousin as was spending the week-end
with us walk on with him while I went to the shop for
Mother. I came up with 'em just at the corner where the
gorse bushes was. I never meant to be sly nor nothing,
but my feet made no noise on the grass, and I was behind ;
so I heard him say just as usual: 'When gorse is out o'
flower, kissing 's out o' fashion.' I must own I didn't
much like him saying it to her, too, so I stopped still a



WINTER-TIME 259

bit, waiting for him to walk on as he always did." Eva
paused, and added solemnly: "Miss Pauline, he didn't
walk on."

' ' Um, ' ' said Pauline, vaguely, going towards the door.

"He started to, but he eatched sight of her standing
still and hanging her head down the puss! Not that I
blame her," added Eva generously, "for I should, my-
self, if I 'd ha ' thought of it and known how it would act.
I liked that young feller. Well, she just hung her head
down, and twiddled her pocket-handkerchief, and said, as
if she couldn't bring it out, she was so shy: 'Gorse is i'
flower now, Mr. Peters.' His name being Peters." She
paused.

"Well?" said Pauline.

"Oh!" said Eva, clashing the kettle upon the stone.
' ' What do you think ! They was kissing each other before
I could get round the next bush, of course."

' ' He was not worth having, ' ' responded Pauline ; ' ' and
she was a minx."

"I wouldn't go for to say that," replied Eva philo-
sophically. "It's just that I wasn't one of them she was
and there you have it ! "

Pauline again took up the cup of milk and left the
kitchen, but the moment of comparative happiness was
already over. During the past three days every other
feeling had remained in abeyance as she waited, but now
that it was of no use waiting any longer, she began to
see a future which Unwin and Delia Lambert would share
together while she remained outside. Something more
than accident must have caused Delia to go to London
on the same day as Unwin, after so many weeks in Wen-
dlebury, and something more than the mere pleasure of
meeting, otherwise she would scarcely have rushed off in
that fashion never to return. There was every evidence
of a break-up of old conditions and a fresh start to-
gether. That was how Pauline felt forced to think of
them now, so that even her thoughts of Unwin were



260 THE GOSSIP SHOP

spoiled, which is the last affliction of love. It seemed to
her as she went down the passage to the sitting-room, that
she would have been happy in picturing him alone.

But the next morning, w T hen the letters came, she found
by the blankness of her disappointment that she had after
all continued to hope without knowing it, and that though
she seemed to have done with suspense it still troubled
her. As she went along the street to the fishmonger's in
order to inspect the silver and pink of the late salmon lest
Aunt Dickson should be disappointed, Pauline imagined
she was making herself think about the morning's shop-
ping, and the prospect of rain, and the soft pleasantness
of the moist air. And that same self-deceiving frame of
mind caused her to accept the ridiculous excuse that she
must turn down a certain street, and go to a certain shop,
because the old watercress man sometimes came that way
into Wendlebury and Aunt Dickson liked watercress.

Even when she entered the little shop and stood choos-
ing hairpins, she still managed to impose upon herself this
belief. But when the middle-aged spinster behind the
counter said feelingly: "Those with the notch are best.
Dear! Dear! You'll know what a loss we've had, Miss
Westcott!" she blushed at her own want of candour with
herself and owned that she had come here to catch if
possible a stray word about Unwin.

' ' Mr. Unwin lodged with you a long time, did he not ? ' '
she said, pulling a hairpin out of a packet with her eyes
fixed on the "notch." "You must miss him always so
cheerful ' '

"Miss him!" said the thin spinster, her nose-end flush-
ing with emotion until the water stood in her pale eyes.
"I give you my word, Miss Westcott, it's like it was when
our old cat died that we'd had thirteen years you lis-
tened for a mew though you knew no mew wouldn't come
and that 's how me and my poor mother that 's ill listens
for Mr. Unwin 's click of the door and him whistling on
the stairs." She wiped her eyes. "We did used to put



WINTER-TIME 261

blame on him for not being more serious, but I 've come to
think what-you-may-call jolly silliness is as good as them
Blue Pills for Bilious Beggars that Mother swears by."
Here she began to weep softly, sniffing and dabbing her
eyes, and murmuring apologetically: "Please forgive me,
Miss Westcott, but seeing you brought it all back so him
and you used to be such friends before he got in with that
Miss Lambert and with Mother upstairs and the shop to
look after, I've got a bit run down."

Pauline's heart was filled with a sort of touched laugh-
ter as she listened the sort of laughter which fills the
eyes of people not much given to crying and so these two
women, one on either side of the little battered counter,
grew nearer to one another in five minutes than seemed
at all credible, because of their common love for Unwin.
Pauline knew she loved him, but the thin spinster re-
mained quite unaware that he stood for all the romance
and glamour which she had started out to seek long ago,
in a pigtail and a "dress improver."

"Well!" said Pauline at last, gathering up a number
of hairpins in her hand. "I'll take these, please."

Immediately, these were no longer two souls in secret
fellowship glorified by love, but two bodies who wished
to obliterate the souls' indiscretions.

"And that is all to-day, you think?" said the spinster,
bustling to wrap up the hairpins. "Quite pleasant for
the time of year. Thank you. Good-day I 7 '

"Yes, quite delightful. Good-morning," replied Pau-
line, and so they parted.

But as she walked home through the pretty, narrow
streets, she was struck afresh, not by their charm but by
their narrowness. She felt a sudden over-mastering desire
to go away into the open world again, and fight for her
own living, and feel the winds of life blowing about her.
When she reached her own house with its immaculate steps
and shining knocker set in a demure row with the other
straight-fronted houses on either side, this feeling became



262 THE GOSSIP SHOP

so strong that it rushed her on past Aunt Dickson's smile
and beckoning hand at the window, until she was out on
the Ryeford Road with the scarecrow's fluttering rags
abreast of her.

Then she stood still, staring at the desolate flapping of
the ragged coat, at the stick emerging bare and hatless,
but without seeing them. Her mind was fixed upon what
must be said to Aunt Dickson.

As she paced slowly back again, the clock chimed the
hour as it had done when Delamere came back over half
the world to listen, and those chimes seemed to her, as
they had done to him, the very essence and spirit of Wen-
dlebury and all it stood for. And those very things were
what, in her present state of mind, she could not endure.
Better any sordid rush of work and struggle and ugly
noises than the exquisite little town with its delicate cur-
tain of grey rain and its ring of emerald fields.

She entered the front room so urged by this feeling,
and engrossed in her desire to get away, that she did not
plan to spare Aunt Dickson; and said without warning

"Aunt Dickson you've been so very, very good to me
but I think it is time I turned out again and began to
earn my own living."

Pauline's tone said more than her words, and the big
old woman turned round, startled, her face growing a
deep crimson.

' ' What 's made you suddenly think that ? Have. I done
anything to hurt you?"

"No, no," said Pauline. "You have never done any-
thing but shower kindnesses on me. You know that. It
is only "

"You find it too quiet?"

"Not that, exactly."

Aunt Dickson sighed, then forced herself to smile.

"Don't look so distressed, Pauline. You are young,
and it is natural you should want a change. Go, and
remember there is always a home here for you to come



WINTER-TIME 263

back to. Whatever happens, I'm always wanting you. It
doesn't make a bad background to life, to know there's
somewhere where you are always wanted."

But suspense and sleepless nights and the sorrow of
losing love had reduced Pauline to a state of mind and
body in which this kindness of Aunt Dickson's was just
more than she could bear.

"There's no one no one in the world " she fal-
tered, struggling for words, and then went hastily out,
fearing to upset the invalid by making a scene.

After she had gone, and there came the final sound of
the bedroom door closing, Aunt Dickson put down her
knitting and sat quite still for a long time, looking out
into the street. The evening news-girl passed and handed
the paper in at the window as usual, expectant of the sun-
shine which fell across her day when Aunt Dickson ex-
changed with her a jolly greeting for that was how peo-
ple came to turn their hearts to Aunt Dickson as daisies
turn their faces to the sun but to-night she was disap-
pointed, and went on her way feeling chilled as if the east
wind had suddenly begun to blow and the blue sky were
clouded over.

After a while, however, the big old woman ceased to sit
huddled in her chair, gave herself a shake and took hold
of the telephone receiver, murmuring briskly: "Pauline
is so fond of fried sole. I'll ring up and see if I can get
a nice sole for supper."

Then came the fishmonger's boy whistling to the door,
and he had twopence for cycling in such haste, and there
was a conversation with Eva, and before you could turn
round the little, silent house was full of pleasant, splutter-
ing sounds and the chink of china being put to warm,
and in the kitchen there was a savoury smell of frying,
and the clear fragrance of fresh-cut lemons.

So when Pauline descended, tired and apprehensive, she
found quite a little banquet spread, with Aunt Dickson



264 THE GOSSIP SHOP

beaming over delicate golden-brown fillets on a blue dish
surrounded by green parsley and slices of lemon the very
poetry of eating and Maids of Honour all almonds and
soft sweetness from the old shop where Unwin and Pauline
had once been served with Lovers' Kisses by the sympa-
thetic owner.

The little meal was cheerful enough because Aunt Dick-
son belonged to that odd company who find a sort of ex-
hilaration for the moment in boldly facing another blow,
while Pauline's overstrung nerves lent themselves to such
a gay response that by the end of supper Aunt Dickson
was genuinely laughing.

But when Eva came in to clear away she struck a
discordant note.

"Not much eaten, for all the laughing and talking."

She spoke in a resentful tone, clashing the plates to-
gether, and Aunt Dickson felt bound to say reprovingly

"You are sorry Miss Pauline is going, Eva?"

"No, I aren't, 'm. She needn't unless she wants to.
Us Martins was never ones for sitting down and making
a trouble of things as can be mended. We mend 'em,
or we don't bother no more about 'em."

The door banged on Eva's retreating apron strings.

"Eva seems put out. Poor girl, she is very fond of
you," apologised Aunt Dickson. Then she got out her
cards and began to play Patience by the fire while Pauline
sat doing some Russian translation at the other end of
the room.

For some time neither of them spoke. Every now and
then she glanced up to ask if the cards were going well,
and Aunt Dickson nodded cheerfully. At last the scratch
of the pen ceased and the room was very silent; only the
fall of the ashes and the creaking of Aunt Dickson 's black
silk as she moved in her chair to place the cards. The
clock struck nine, making clear, separate sounds which fell
and spread on the quiet like rings in a pool. As the final



WINTER-TIME 265

number fell, some spring seemed to be released in Pau-
line's mind.

"You have not played Patience for a year," she said.
"I wonder what has made you start again?"

But she knew quite well that Aunt Dickson was thus al-
ready arming herself for the long, dull evenings of a lonely
winter : and the sight touched her far more deeply than any
tears or complaining could have done.

"Oh!" said Aunt Dickson, "one gets a fancy for dif-
ferent things. I started jig-saw puzzles, you know." Then,
seeing Pauline's troubled face, she added: "Now, you
needn 't look like that, dear ! I am so glad to have had you.
It has been such a happy time in my life. But I won't spoil
it all by the way I let you go!" She paused. "Old peo-
ple have got to bear loneliness just as babies have to bear
helplessness. It's just part of life. You start out, such a
lot of you together, that you can 't picture ever being alone.
Then if you live long enough they all drop off, one by one.
You're left. But you go plodding on."

Pauline gazed at Aunt Dickson 's face, unable to realise
that she too would one day be feeling the same if she lived
long enough.

"How brave all old people must be!" she said at
last.

Aunt Dickson shook her head.

"You forget what's in front of you. You're getting
very near home."

Then silence again, Aunt Dickson moving the cards and
Pauline striving to fix her mind on her work. But be-
tween her and that new and enchanted country which every
fresh language opens to those who have eyes to see, there
came the big red face of Aunt Dickson with its expression
of mingled bravery and wistfulness. She rose from the
table and went and stood with her hand on Aunt Dickson 's
shoulder.

"After all, I should like to stay just until the winter is



266 THE GOSSIP SHOP

over if you will have me, ' ' she said. ' ' Winter 's a bad time
for working women."

"You want to stay?" Aunt Dickson's veined hands
trembled as they moved over the cards, but she spoke
quietly, lightly, just as Pauline had done.

' ' I 'd love to stay if you '11 have me eating my head off ! "

They both laughed, not that there was anything to laugh
at, but because both were rather inclined to cry, and neither
wished to hurt the other by a too great exhibition of feel-
ing. It came as a relief when Eva opened the door and
said: "Mrs. Chubb 's in the kitchen, 'm. She wants to
know if you can do without her next week. Her and
Chubb 's going by a cheap trip to London."

"Mrs. Chubb! Going to London!" cried Aunt Dick-
son, shuffling the cards together. "Of course I can do
without her. Ask her if she has a handbag. I can lend
her a handbag."

And immediately the prospect of the Chubbs in London
the Chubbs seeing St. Paul's the Chubbs going to the
waxworks so filled Aunt Dickson's mind with pleasant
images that she forgot everything else. She was not pre-
vented by Eva's scandalised remonstrances from offering
Mrs. Chubb the loan of her best black bonnet and mantle
for the occasion.

"I never wear them," she declared. ""Why shouldn't
Mrs. Chubb?"

"Because she'd get taken up," said Eva tartly. "I hear
Londoners aren't as sharp as us Yorkshire folks, but even
they could see she 'd got on what didn 't belong to her. ' '

' ' Let me see for myself, ' ' said Aunt Dickson. ' ' Tell Mrs.
Chubb to put them on and come in."


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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 18 of 22)