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But even she was convinced when the extinguished Mrs.
Chubb appeared with her sharp nose-end alone protruding
between the feathered mass above and the cloak below
and nothing human of her else visible. She was ushered
in by Eva who said, between little bursts of cackling laugh-
ter: "I don't mean no offence, on'y you'd make a cat



WINTER-TIME 267

laugh, Mrs. Chubb, you would indeed! Oh, dear! I never
knew as a nose-end by itself could look so savage. Do take
'em off or you'll be the death o' me!"

Eventually, of course, Mrs. Chubb took home with her
both bonnet and cloak, which were to be altered to her
dimensions, and Aunt Dickson went to bed, solacing a long,
wakeful night by dreams of the Chubbs doing the thing in
style and enjoying themselves tremendously.

After that nothing seemed to happen in the house for a
long time but daylight, and dark, and the succession of
meals. Pauline worked at her translation, and walked on
the Ryeford Road, and decorated the church for Christmas,
and then the New Year was there. But through all the
sounds and happenings of every day Pauline listened for
some word of Unwin, and she thought bitterly how soon he
seemed to be forgotten. People mentioned him now and
then, and Miss Amelia wondered tenderly what he was do-
ing on Christmas Day, poor boy, but for the rest he seemed
to have slipped out of mind. Mary Carter talked of noth-
ing but her nursing, and Mrs. Chubb 's sole topic of con-
versation was the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tus-
saud's, which had impressed itself on her memory for ever,
down to the last button on the most insignificant murderer.

Then Miss Amelia fluttered in on New Year's Day with
a letter from Unwin in her hand and the information that
he was engaged on a bar.

' ' Nothing to do with the law, I fear, my dear, ' ' she mur-
mured, leaning towards Aunt Dickson. ' ' But that is how I
put it to Mrs. Delamere just now the bar just changing
the article as I have a perfect right to do, and she must
just take it or leave it. I have no responsibility in the
matter." She sighed. "I fear, however, that, as Harriet
says, it is only too like poor Mr. Unwin to pick up unde-
sirable connections in a foreign land. It would be so just
like him, poor dear, to get a public house to build instead
of a nice, respectable bar such as I believe our barristers
eat their dinners at when they are in process of training."



268 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"Oh, I believe the public houses are quite palaces out
there, ' ' said Pauline, smiling. ' ' I expect he has a very pay-
ing job and may consider himself lucky."

But within herself she said: "So that is what I have
brought all his dreams to! I who love him better than
any one in the world." For her love had enabled her to
take the focus of another person's mind, which is a rare
thing. She saw Unwin's failure and success as it appeared
to his own soul more definitely far than he was conscious
of seeing it and she knew how he had rejoiced to be of
the great company that built Rheims Cathedral and York
Minster and all those poems in stone which are not the
outcome of one mind alone, like poems written in words,
but are so much the more dearly human and beautiful for
the unknown lives spent on them. Eough comedy in gar-
goyle and carving, a soaring loveliness like nothing else
made with hands in roof and pillar, every sort of man
might put his life poem singly there, and find it again
as a part of one tender harmony. Unwin's proper work
was to be the keeper of all that, himself so at one with
those whose work was done, that he could never make a
mistake and she had sent him out to build drinking
saloons.

It would have seemed nothing to some women, but Pau-
line knew the value of a dream, and that which she had
been the means of destroying was the dream of Unwin's
life.

Perhaps even she did not fully understand what she
had done, because only those who have secretly lived for
such a dream can know how life changes when it goes.

A little later or so it seemed, for the monotonous weeks
went by so quickly when the first crocuses were showing
in the little prim gardens and the ladies of Wendlebury
were beginning to think of the spring cleaning, Pauline
met Mrs. Carter in the street and heard another piece of
news about Unwin.

' ' The doctor had a letter yesterday so sad Mr. Unwin



WINTER-TIME 269

seems to be very ill. The sort of fever they get out there ;
nothing serious, of course," she hastened to add, because
Pauline was unable to hide the blanching of her lips. ' ' We
are all sorry. Such a nice young fellow," babbled the
kind-hearted doctor's wife, anxious to seem as if she had
not noticed. "No doubt he will soon be all right. What a
delightful day ! ' ' And so they parted, Mrs. Carter saying
to herself: "Then there was something in it after all!"

Pauline went on down the street, did her shopping, and
returned home, saying nothing about Unwin's illness to
any one. She felt she could not bear to discuss it in all its
bearings with Aunt Dickson. But before long Miss Argle
brought the tidings, and was so distressed that she forgot
to take away any cakes, though everything was conven-
iently arranged for her raiding with respectability, as
usual.

"That tiresome basket-seller no, fortune-teller I knew
it was something itinerant! I wonder if she is with him
now?"

And Pauline could only silently re-echo a question which
had been asking itself in her own mind hundreds of times
during the past few hours.

But when Miss Argle had gone, Aunt Dickson sat with
her big face puckered into those folds which were her sign
of mental disquiet, and she glanced at Pauline as if about
to speak, then changed her mind and finally exclaimed

"I wish I could remember exactly what I said to Miss
Argle!"

Pauline started and looked round from the window
where she sat sewing.

"What you said about what?"

"Why about Unwin and the Dragon at Ryeford . . .
about Unwin drinking. I can't remember. It is so long
ago now."

"Don't worry," said Pauline. "There's no use. We
'can't do anything now, you know."

Aunt Dickson sighed and resumed her knitting: then



270 THE GOSSIP SHOP

she heard the front door open, and welcomed Eva back
from an errand with the sort of pleasure which would seem
ridiculous to an outsider who could not know how large the
little, thin, long-faced, bright-eyed woman bulked in the
life of that quiet household.

"Well, Eva?" she said, eager like a child for stir and
news.

"Miss Walker can do your bodice. She was just sitting
down to her tea. She gave me a cup on with her. She
was in low spirits," said Eva, delivering her budget.

' ' Has Miss Walker heard any more from that woman
the fortune-teller, you know?" said Aunt Dickson.

"No. That's what she was feeling miserable about, I
believe. She thought such a lot of that Miss Lambert, in
spite of all. Then off the woman goes, and never a word
nor nothing. Miss Walker says she isn't going to get fond
of anybody any more. It's no good. They only give you
up or go away or something and you have to start all over
again with a fresh 'un. She's just going to keep herself
to herself and plod on and not bother with friends. ' ' Eva
rubbed her nose. "I sometimes think that's best way
meself, don't you, Miss Pauline?"

"Yes," said Pauline sombrely.

"No!" said Aunt Dickson, rousing herself. "No, Eva,
that means your heart's getting old. We must have Miss
Walker here to work, and give her hot tea-cakes. ' '

"Queer way to mend wounded affection," said Pauline.

"Rubbish! You can do it with anything from a bite
of apple when you're seven, to a kind word when you're
seventy. You only provide the medium it's God who
does the rest. ' '

"Talking of mediums," said Eva in a low tone, "that
Miss Lambert left her glass ball behind her that she used
to look into when she told fortunes, and Miss Walker didn 't
care to have it about you never know so she buried it in
the back garden and read the commandments over it. She
feels it's all safe now."



WINTER-TIME 2J1

"But if Miss Lambert ever came back?" said Pauline.

"She never will come back," said Eva. "Black people

and black ways is more suited to hei " She broke off,

pursed up her lips tightly and retired, evidently sharing
the opinion of Wendlebury that Delia was with Unwin.



CHAPTER XXII

BAD NEWS

MRS. DELAMERE and Lord Southwater walked to-
gether through Wendlebury market place, and each
time they passed a large plate-glass window the lady
glanced aside to view with complacence the impressive pic-
ture they made: for the estimable peer was that morning
at his best, newly come from an important conference where
he had represented in his own person the Churchmen of
England, and had been patted on the back by Bishops and
even Archbishops if such a term could be applied to such
approval.

It was somewhere near the fishmonger's that the august
pair met Pauline, and Mrs. Delamere, who was for passing
on with the blank graciousness of a royal salute, felt all
those former suspicions endured during that horrible half-
hour at his lordship 's keyhole return in full force when she
saw that gentleman stop short, smile in pleased recognition,
and hold out his large white hand to Pauline.

' ' How do you do ? This is a lovely day, though dull. I
think you know my sister-in-law, Mrs. Delamere?"

"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Delamere tepidly: then in an
urgent attempt to put Pauline at once in her proper place,
she added: "Miss "Westcott looks after an invalid neigh-
bour . . . invaluable services . . . excellent home . . . for-
tunate thing for both, I am sure. You no doubt remember
her face in connection with that affair of Mr. Unwin, the
architect. ' '

' ' I remember Miss Westcott without the need of any con-
necting link, ' ' said Lord Southwater, with solemn gallantry

272



BAD NEWS 273

such regretful gallantry as an elderly widower peer, who
does not intend to marry again, may feel for a charming
young woman. He wished vaguely that it were possible
to have such a young lady in the house as a sort of niece
or something, and envied Aunt Dickson; but realising the
impossibility of such a course he concluded tamely: "I
hope to send some flowers, if I may? An invalid always
likes flowers."

Mrs. Delamere flushed deeply beneath her sallow skin.
Flowers ! The old idiot must be mad ! And she hastened to
provide a distraction by saying bluntly to Pauline

"I suppose you know Mr. Unwin is dangerously ill?
He was carried on board the ship in a dangerous condition
and is not expected to reach home alive. Dr. Carter heard
this morning."

And this time the intervention was successful, for Pau-
line faltered out hastily

"So sorry! Good-morning!" and left the peer and the
lady planted before the fishmonger's marble slab.

But when she came out again into the sunny market
place, where, it being Market Day, the stalls were already
heaped with bunches of primroses, she did not know where
to go or what to do. The intolerable pricking restlessness
which is sometimes a part of sorrow drove her out along
the Ryeford Road and then back again into the crowds
of rosy-faced country people. She could not yet go back
to Aunt Dickson, telling her little tale of meeting Lord
Southwater. She had no desire to confide in kind Miss
Amelia, whom she met and passed by with a light word of
greeting. At last something within her, deep down, whis-
pered that she wanted hairpins. But the bathos of this was
apparent even to herself, and she determined impatiently
that hairpins did not matter. How could they, when noth-
ing mattered? Still she found herself nearing the little
shop, and standing near the shabby counter, and asking
the thin spinster for those with a notch in them. Then
all at once she acknowledged to herself what had driven



'"274 THE GOSSIP SHOP

her here. It was the desire to speak with somebody who
really loved Unwin the same feeling which makes us all
find a deep joy in talking to the most uninteresting person
-who has truly loved our beloved dead.

"I'm afraid we have no hairpins to-day," said the shop-
woman in a cautious voice. "Is there anything else?"

Then a high, querulous voice sounded from up above, and
the woman ran through the shop to the bottom of some
steep stairs with a hasty: "Excuse me!" and called:
""Yes! Yes!" nervously, in answer to some question un-
heard. ' ' Everything she wants ? Oh ! Yes. Black hooks.
Size six!"

Then she came back, very flushed and disturbed, to say
in a whisper : ' ' My mother worries about the business. I
daren't let her know we are out of hairpins, as she would
be so upset. But our stock has not been replenished . . .
so much support required for an invalid. . . . Mr. Unwin
no longer with us. . . ." Her voice trailed into silence,
and a big tear fell on the counter.

"Please give me six packets of hooks," said Pauline, in
a loud tone. Then she added, also in a whisper : "You've
heard how ill he is? They had to carry him on board the
steamer."

"Yes. Oh, if he should die! Miss Westcott I can't
think of him dead. If you had only seen him, always so
full of fun, in that room of ours upstairs. He left some
of his books behind. You can come and see them if you
like." She wiped her eyes. "Not that they're what you
would want to think of him reading if you knew he was
nearing his latter end. But I can 't believe we 're meant to
live every day as if it were going to be the last, for all the
hymn says, can you, Miss Westcott?"

At this moment, however, another customer came in; so
with a hasty: "You go up by yourself. First room on
the left, ' ' she turned to face again the little burden of her
day.



BAD NEWS 27$

' ' What 's that ? ' ' shrilled the old woman through an open
door.

''Lady going to look at Mr. Unwin's room," called her
daughter from below.

' ' What 's the use ? "We can 't take anybody with me like
this," grumbled the old woman.

Then Pauline entered the room and, closing the door
very gently, she stood in the middle and looked round.
The bookshelf was full of gaily-bound books ; the big chair
between the window and the fire still bore the dent made
by his head, or so it seemed to her. An old pipe lay on
the mantelshelf.

On the wall was a snapshot of him with a tennis racket
in his hand, laughing at some one near.

She put her head down in the place where his had been,
and kissed the shabby leather, all her love and sorrow and
desolation sweeping over her in a great flood.

' ' Maurice ! Maurice ! ' ' She could not live without him.
She could not live without him.

Then she heard the shopwoman's footstep on the stairs
and went to the window, pressing her forehead against
the cool pane.

"It's a nice room, isn't it?" said the anaemic spinster,
panting a little. "I keep it dusted every day, however
busy I am. I've a silly feeling that he may want it all
of a sudden and come back, though I know he never will.
But it isn't what you know . . ."

"No," said Pauline, and they rested on that. "Well,.
I must be going. Thank you for letting me come up."

"There's no need for thanks," said the woman. "The
stairs are steep ; mind how you tread. I know you were
a friend of his."

"Good-morning," said Pauline, going out. Then she
could not go so, and paused in the doorway. "You were
his friend too."

"Oh, I shouldn't call myself that. I should never have



276 THE GOSSIP SHOP

called myself that," protested the shop-woman, her nose-
end flushing pink with emotion.

Thus they parted without saying any more ; but a won-
derful unspoken conversation had taken place about the
sweetness and pain of love.

During the next two or three weeks Pauline often wished
to go back to the little shop, but she dared not some deli-
cacy of the soul caused her to feel that what she got there
was taken under false pretences, and was somehow an in-
jury to the woman who did not know how far she was
responsible for Unwin's departure.

And, indeed, the theory that hell is remorse for having
injured those we love on earth, came often into Pauline's
mind in those days; and she realised that if this be the
case, hell does not wait for us until we are dead. It starts
now.

When Miss Amelia tapped at the window, beckoning
Pauline in, and hurried to open the door, murmuring:
"Harriet's in there keep calm but I had to let you
know," she felt as if cold fingers were squeezing her very
vitals for that hell is cold.

"What is it?" she said.

Then Miss Harriet appeared in the room doorway, and
aid with precision

"You will no doubt regret to hear that young Mr. Un-
win had to be taken off the ship at Teneriffe on his journey
home. ' '

Pauline's dry lips would not let a sound pass. She
moistened them with her tongue and whispered

"Dead?"

"No! No!" cried Miss Amelia. "Oh, dear child. . . .
No! Only ill."

' ' Seriously ill. It is feared he may not recover. A bright
young life if somewhat irresponsible," and Miss Harriet
turned back into the room.

"Dear Pauline," whispered Miss Amelia, putting her



BAD NEWS ' 277

soft old hand on the girl's. "Why, your hand is like ice.
Poor child! Poor child!"

Pauline dragged her hand abruptly away.

"Don't ! I can't bear it," she said, and hurried out into
the street.

"Have an umbrella. It's raining!" called Miss Amelia
anxiously from the doorstep.

But Pauline was already half-way down the street. After
a while, when she heard Miss Amelia's door close, she
slackened speed because the iron railings and straight-
fronted houses behind the mist of grey rain see^ned to be
growing darker and floating away, and she with them. She
felt herself going going. Then with a pang of almost un-
believable agony she came back and found herself clutching
an iron railing, while the red-faced landlady of the Bowl-
ing Green Inn, grasping her arm on the other side, said
reassuringly

' ' There ! There ! It 's the spring. You wouldn 't think
it to look at me now, but I was as white as chalk before I
was married and I used to go off once a day reg'ler for a
time at the change of the year. You want iron, Miss West-
cott. Or getting married does it. On'y we can't all get
married. ' '

"I'm all right now," said Pauline, putting her hat
straight. "Thank you so much. The spring is a trying
time." And she forced a smile, though the street still
seemed dim and unsteady and the landlady rather far off.

' ' There 's a lot of sickness about, ' ' pursued the landlady.
"Always is in spring. Even our Mary Jane seems all no-
how you'll remember our jackdaw, Mary Jane? And
then there's poor Mr. Unwin taken ashore somewhere to
die, so they say. Ay ; they talk so much about spring, but

I " She broke off. "Anyway, it's a pity about Mr.

Unwin. People might say what they liked about him, but
I tell you one thing. Miss Westcott; if pulling our Mary
Jane and roasting her for him to eat would cure him, I'd
do it, and I can 't say no more than that, can I ? "



278 THE GOSSIP SHOP

Then this interview came to a close, but the Vicar, Mrs.
Carter, Mary Carter by letter from the London hospital
where she was training, Aunt Dickson, Eva, Miss Argle
every one, it seemed, who had known him, took occasion
to add to the torment which Pauline was enduring.

The topic overshadowed even the Great Bazaar which
was looming ahead, with Lord Southwater to open it and
fancy costumes for the stall-holders or, rather, fancy
heads, being powdered hair with black velvet hats, a
compromise insisted on by Miss Harriet, who declined
abruptly to make a mountebank of herself any lower down.
And when Pauline passed the open kitchen door on wash-
ing morning, she heard Mrs. Chubb say

' ' Fever ! It was no fever that young Unwin had. It was
that Miss Lambert done him in."

' ' Mrs. Chubb ! ' ' exclaimed Eva, aghast. ' ' You 've no call
to say a thing like that, even if she is a bad 'un. You
could be had up for saying a thing like that."

"I don't care," said Mrs. Chubb, with a sort of forlorn
recklessness. ' ' I know what / know, and you don 't know ! ' '

"Easy enough to say that!" remarked Eva, her eyes
a-sparkle with curiosity.

Mrs. Chubb opened and shut her mouth in her fish-like
way, hesitated, then closed her lips tightly and said:
"That's the last. "Where is them clothes-pegs?" So Eva
saw that further questioning would be of no avail and
consoled herself with the inward comment: "Silly old
owl, she doesn't know nothing. What can she know?"



CHAPTER XXIII

THE ADVENTURE OF MRS. CHUBB

IT was morning at the Chubbs ', and the fire burned badly
because the sticks were damp. Mr. Chubb growled in
his lair above, and Mrs. Chubb started, letting the brush
fall. She wore an air of guilt which would have done her
no discredit had Mr. Chubb been buried in small pieces
beneath the hearthstone.

Then the growl became fiercer became articulate.
"Where's my shaving- water 1 You can't expect the Wen-
dlebury ladies to fancy me if I haven't shaved."

Mrs. Chubb clutched a post-card from the table, thrust it
into her blouse and dashed some hot water from the kettle
into a large mug ; but she did all as if hunted . . . hunted
and yet ready to turn at bay.

"There!" she said; then she added bitterly: "No fear
of the ladies not fancying you you mud safe enough let
your beard grow."

"Well, you needn't cast that up again me," said Chubb,
eyeing himself with approval as he soaped. "It's your liv-
ing and mine to have the cab go out, isn't it?" Then he
turned sharp round. "Whatever do you keep clutching
hold of yourself in the front for? I can see you in the
glass. Have you got spasms again?"

"No," faltered Mrs. Chubb, going quite green. "It's
on'y a flea . . . them chickens next door," she added
hastily.

Then she went downstairs, locked herself in the wash-
house, and taking out the post-card again from her bosom
she stared at the legend there inscribed.

279



280 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"Meet me at five-twenty train to-morrow, Friday D.
LAMBERT. ' '

No writing on the wall could have been for Mrs. Chubb
more fraught with Fate. She saw the letters run together
the D grow toppling and tremendous and reason fled
from its throne, leaving mad, groundless, purposeless
jealousy there instead.

Chubb should not have that post-card. No matter if he
found out afterwards no matter if he killed her for it
he should not have that post-card.

She unlocked the wash-house door with hands that shook
so that she could scarcely turn the key, ran across the
kitchen and threw the offending missive on the fire back.

""What's burning?" sniffed Chubb, for owing to the
dull fire the card smouldered.

" A bit o ' paper. Nothing, ' ' said Mrs. Chubb, tightening
her lips.

Immediately after breakfast she put on her hat and went
out.

' ' What are you going for ? ' '

"Tripe," said Mrs. Chubb, knowing his objections would
thus be effectually silenced.

But she went nowhere near the tripe shop ; half running
and half walking, she covered in almost no time the dis-
tance between her own house and that of the little dress-
maker where Delia had been used to lodge, and hammered
so impatiently on the door that Miss Walker emerged red-
faced with annoyance, saying, before she could stop her-
self: "You tiresome little " Then she broke off.

"Oh, I thought it was the milk-boy again. He is in such a
hurry."

"So'm I," said Mrs. Chubb grimly, and she gave no
further greeting, but marched straight in and sat down
because her legs would not support her any longer.

" Whatever 's up?" naturally demanded Miss Walker.
"I do hope that Chubb "



THE ADVENTURE OF MRS. CHUBB 281

"It's nothing to do with Chubb," interposed his wife
and then she could have wept, thinking bitterly how she
lied: it had so everything to do with Chubb. "I " she
saw suddenly even in her jealous fury that a sane reason
must be given "I wanted to ask you to lend me a sleeve
pattern and I'm pushed for time."

"You seem to be," said Miss Walker. However, she
fetched the required pattern and gave it to Mrs. Chubb,
who remarked in a most curious tone, without thanking her
for her trouble, "You're expecting Miss Lambert to-day!"

" So I am ! ' ' cried Miss Walker, greatly surprised. ' ' But
how on earth do you know? She only wrote to me this
morning saying she wanted to come. And I might have
had twenty people lodging here for all she knew but she
was never one to think of a thing like that."

"I heard by a side-wind," replied Mrs. Chubb. She
had known ; and yet the confirmation planted a fresh blow.

"Wonderful how you do hear things in Wendlebury,"
said Miss Walker, ushering her visitor out. "Well, it's


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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 19 of 22)