Annie Edith Foster Jameson.

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After a time Unwin followed the cab into Wendlebury;
and just as he passed the Miss Pritchards' house a little
bevy of ladies stepped forth into the pleasant evening. As
the young man approached, they all turned to him, smiling
and bowing. He thought how charming Pauline West-
cott looked in that pale light, and how those ladies in


their best dresses seemed a natural part of the place and

Then he passed on, very pleased with the way in which
he had managed the affair of Chubb 's cab, but forgetting
all about Mrs. Chubb.



MRS. CHUBB was a pale, moon-faced woman with a
sharp elbow, very red hands, and an expression re-
sembling that of Griselda; she also had the same attitude
towards Chubb.

"Now," she said, handing a steaming plate of tripe and
onions to her lord; "how's that?"

He tasted it with the air of a tea-taster sampling a fresh
consignment, his wife eyeing him anxiously the while.

"Too salt!" he pronounced.

Mrs. Chubb rubbed her bony hands together triumph-

"None in," she said.

"Then," he said, turning upon her, "there ought to be.
Whoever heard of anybody cooking tripe without salt?
I knew there was something wrong."

"But it eats all right otherways?" she asked. "I tried
a bit and it was as tender as chicken."

"You women are always eating," replied Chubb. "A
curran' here, a lump o' sugar there and then saying af
meal-times you aren't hungry!"

"Oh, yes, we get plenty," said Mrs. Chubb, who cer-
tainly did not look over-fed. "Trust us for that. Now,
here's the end of cheese toasted up to f oiler. Tastier-like
than cold, isn't it?"

"Sits heavier afterwards," said Chubb. "However,
here goes!" And eating with a relish he was unable to
conceal, he continued, "My word! You may be thankful



to have a man that sits at home instead of gadding about
o' nights Lke most do."

''I am thankful, Chubb," said Mrs. Chubb fervently.
"Here's your pipe, and now I'll poke up the fire."

So hie sat down in his armchair; the clock ticked cheer-
fully; everything which could shine, shone; the purring
of the cat mingled with a gentle sound of crockery being
washed up at the sink. Mr. Chubb gradually forgave Mrs.
Chubb for not having provided him with anything to for-

"Look here," he said, holding out two sovereigns on
his palm. "What do you think to that, over and above
a day's takings, eh?"

Mrs. Chubb stared at the money for a moment without
speaking; then she said in a whisper

"Chubb, you haven't done anything wrong?"

"Did you ever know me do anything wrong?" retorted
Chubb indignantly.

"No, no, Chubby," deprecated Mrs. Chubb. "But it
aeems such a lot extra. How did you make it?"

Mr. Chubb began to heave as he had done on the cab
at the bend of the Ryeford Road, and his wife's round
eyes distended still further.

' ' Ho ! ho ! " he laughed, with rather a grinding sound
as if the laughter machine were often out of use and
needed greasing. ' ' I got it through a clever thing I said. ' '

Mrs. Chubb shook her head : there were limits even with
her, and he had reached them.

"No," she said. "You may keep secrets from me if
you like, but you won 't get me to believe a tale like that. ' '

"It's gospel truth," he said.

"Then what was it?" said Mrs. Chubb.

He stared at her, jingling the money, and then said

"I promised not to tell."

"Telling your wife's not telling," replied Mrs. Chubb.


"I never neard of such a thing. What! Husband and
wife are one. The Prayer-book says so."

"Well," said Chubb, "the cab was standing outside
Mrs. Dickson's, and it went."

"Went?" said Mrs. Chubb.

"Went," said Mr. Chubb. "No matter how; no matter
what for. ' ' Then he began to heave again and gasped out :
"I caught ho! ho! I caught it on the Eyeford Road."

Mrs. Chubb turned a little pale.

"If it wasn't you, Chubb, I should think you'd been
drinking. There's nothing clever in that as I can see."

Chubb abruptly ceased heaving and glared at his wife
with all the injured ferocity of the brilliant conversa-
tionalist snubbed in his own home.

"You wouldn't see," he said bitterly. "No man's own
wife ever does. That's at the bottom of a lot "

"But it isn't clever," interposed Mrs. Chubb, weeping.
"Nobody could say so but a fool."

"D'you call Mr. Unwin a fool?" Then he clapped his
hand before his mouth. "Oh Lord!"

"Mr. Unwin?" exclaimed Mrs. Chubb.

"Forget I mentioned Mr. Unwin," he commanded.

"But I can't," gulped Mrs. Chubb, wiping her eyes.
"You must own I do most things you tell me, Chubb, but
forgetting and remembering's like being sick. . . . There
it is. ... You can't get no control over it." She paused.
"Then Mr. Unwin gave you the money. Was it him that
took the cab, then? And whatever for?"

"I never said he did," grunted Chubb.

"Oh!" replied Mrs. Chubb, returning to her crockery
in the back kitchen.

The next day was her weekly charing morning at Mrs.
Dickson's, and she repaired thither with her round eyes
and pale moon-face as expressionless as usual, but with
an amount of seething, unsatisfied curiosity inside which
appeared likely to explode her corset laces.


'At eleven o'clock, she and Eva sat down to cocoa and

' ' Queer thing about the cab clear vanishing from before
our house yesterday," said Eva. "I hear he caught it on
the Ryeford Road so he told the ladies."

"Aye," said Mrs. Chubb, regarding her jam tart.

"Funny, though/' pursued Eva, "that Mr. Chubb
should be able to catch even your slow old mare . . . with
his figger and all. ..."

"He's a fine figger of a man," said Mrs. Chubb.

"Well," said Eva, "there's plenty of him!" Then she
began to laugh. "Oh dear! Oh dear! You never did see
anything so blank in all your life as he looked when he
went to the door and there wasn 't no cab there. ' '

Mrs. Chubb looked up quickly, holding her tart sus-
pended between her plate and mouth.

"Chubb didn't see it go?"

"No, of course not. He was having a cup of tea in
the kitchen."

"Ah!" said Mrs. Chubb. "That's it then."

Eva bent forward eagerly.

' ' That 's what ? What do you mean ? ' '

"Oh, nothing," said Mrs. Chubb, putting her cup and
plate together. "Now then, it's tl-3 top staircase nezt, I

"You think there was something mysterious about the
cab going?" said Eva.

Mrs. Chubb pursed her lips and nodded.

"I do. The mare wouldn't move of herself."

"You think somebody took it?"

She nodded again, having immense enjoyment in taking
the superior place from her friend, who usually occupied

"But who would do such a silly trick?" said Eva. "Not
but what a cousin o' mine stole a handcart for a practical
joke and got into a nice mess over it. But he was only


"I swore to Chubb I wouldn't tell," said Mrs. Chubb,
"and I won't." She took up her dustpan and brush.
"Young Mr. Unwin been here lately?" she asked in a
casual tone.

' ' Oh ! " shrieked Eva. ' ' It was never him ? But what
on earth made him do it?"

"Hush!" cried Mrs. Chubb. "I never said so. I can't
help what you think. You shouldn't think!"

' ' Us Martins was always beggars to think, ' ' Eva replied.
"That's what mother said when our Ben brought home
a pickle bottle full of tadpoles because she'd been ordered
a fish diet ; and she never spoke a truer word. ' '

"Well, you can't say I told you," replied Mrs. Chubb;
and she went upstairs with dustpan and brush, while
Eva carried the eleven o'clock tea-tray into the sitting-

Mrs. Dickson, who managed to be a rich woman by the
simple expedient of living on half her income and spend-
ing the other half on extras, turned to welcome the little
meal and hear at the same time any news that Mrs. Chubb
might have chanced to relate. She possessed an extraor-
dinary clear, simple nature, and since she could no longer
go out into the world, she made the best of all that came
into her straight-windowed sitting-room. But her obvious
pleasure in any scrap of gossip that would stir the rather
stagnant atmosphere of her life caused Eva and Pauline
too, for that matter to become undeniable newsmongers.
So it was with joy that Eva put down the tray and began
in the peculiar throaty tone used only for spicy and im-
portant items

"You mustn't breathe a word; but I believe I know
who took Chubb 's cab."

"Took it?" said Aunt Dickson.

"Yes. Ran away with it." She paused impressively.
"Mr. Unwin!"

"Ridiculous!" said Pauline. "Why on earth should
Mr. Unwin run away with Chubb 's old cab?"


"I don't know, I'm sure, unless he'd had a drop too
much," said Eva.

"Really, Eva," said Aunt Dickson sharply. "You must
not suggest a thing like that unless you know it to be

"No, 'm," said Eva, retreating, rather crestfallen.

But as the door closed on her, the ladies glanced at each

"Terrible . . . this Wendlebury gossip," ejaculated
Aunt Dickson. ' ' I know few men less likely to drink than
young Unwin, though some foolish people might misun-
derstand his lively manner."

"I don't see how they could," agreed Pauline, "except-
ing that we are all so dull here that perhaps a really jolly
person might seem drunk." With which rather acid re-
mark she left the room.

Eva also was feeling irritable because she was quite un-
used to being snubbed by her mistress, and Mrs. Chubb
was not sorry, therefore, when her day's work came to
an end.

"Good-bye," sighed the charwoman at the door, bulg-
ing bass in hand. "I dessay I shall have a real good cry
when I get home."

"What for?" said Eva unsympathetically. "You've
had a plum loaf given you, and a jar of dripping, and half
a pork pie."

"Oh, no reason," said Mrs. Chubb. "I just feel low in
my spirits, that's all. Don't you never know what it is to
want a good cry without knowing why you want it?"

"I do," said Eva. "Them's the times when I go and
curl my hair and put my beaded shoes on."

Then she banged the door on Mrs. Chubb, who trailed
slowly down the street, wondering if Chubb would like
the pork pie for his supper.



ELEVENS is a repast not known to everybody because
the proper enjoyment of it entails breakfast at eight-
thirty and a morning of busy leisure. In Aunt Dickson's
house, however, the little meal reached perfection, and it
was remarkable how many Wendlebury ladies chanced to
pass about eleven o'clock feeling suddenly inspired to
cheer Aunt Dickson up, though they themselves disap-
proved of mid-morning refreshment. But to please the in-
valid they always did violence to their own digestions in
the end, and drew near the round table where they ate
and drank with well-simulated enjoyment. Aunt Dick-
son beamed so jollily over the thick cream and fragrant
tea and little round cakes that they no doubt felt rewarded
for their unselfishness, and exerted themselves to the ut-
most. One morning, indeed, Pauline was surprised to no-
tice that three thin ladies without an appetite between
them ate thirteen cakes and drank seven cups of tea, which
shows once more what the flesh can accomplish when the
spirit is animated by conscious virtue.

That happened, however, during Pauline's first year at
Wendlebury ; now she took it all as a matter of course, like
going to bed at ten and knowing everybody by sight who
passed the window.

On this particular morning it was Miss Amelia Pritch-
ard only who tripped up the spotless white steps and was
ushered as usual into the comfortable sitting-room. But
there was something quite unusual about the manner in
which she waited for Eva to retire.



' ' I had to come ! ' ' she exclaimed hysterically as soon as
the door was closed. ' ' I couldn 't bear it any longer. Har-
riet is away for the day!" After which explosion she
buried her face in her pocket-handkerchief and wept bit-

Her friends gazed at her in great concern.

"Harriet has only gone to see your niece at Ryeford
Magna, I suppose?" suggested Aunt Dickson finally.

"Yes," sobbed Miss Amelia, "but she is so much
stronger minded than I am. I can't bear the strain
alone. ' '

"What strain?" demanded Pauline, giving Miss Ame-
lia's shoulder a gentle shake. "Do tell us what strain?"

"I don't know if I dare . . . Harriet ..." answered
the poor lady incoherently. Then she started up with an
' ' Excuse me ! ' ' peered out into the passage, closed the
door, murmured, "No, Eva appears to be upstairs," and
sat down again with the air of a white mouse at bay.
"Pauline," she continued, in a tone of eager serious-
ness, "you may perhaps have remarked that we used the
little end sewing-room for the hats and cloaks at our party
instead of taking our guests to my bedroom as usual?"

"Yes . . . now I come to think of it," said Pauline.

"Well, there was a reason. That is the secret which
Harriet will not allow me to tell."

Aunt Dickson and Pauline glanced at each other; it
seemed so incredible that the Misses Pritchard should
have any disgraceful skeleton to hide . . . and yet . . .
you never know.

"I don't like secrets," said Aunt Dickson. "Half the
misery and nine-tenths of the bother in the world is caused
by someobdy telling somebody else something in confidence
that they might just as well shout from the house-tops."

"Do you really think so?" said Miss Amelia, eagerly
swallowing advice which agreed with her own earnest 'de-

' ' Sure of it, ' ' said Aunt Dickson, who began to be very


curious indeed, and may also have been unconsciously in-
fluenced by mixed motives.

"When I tell you that I am obliged to clean my own
room and cannot have the gas repaired, though it jumps
to an extent which is perfectly awful in the present cir-
cumstances," pursued Miss Amelia, "you will know that
the matter is serious."

"But what is it?" cried Aunt Dickson, now impatient
beyond all bounds. ' ' Can 't you tell us in two words what
it is?"

"I can," said Miss Amelia, in a queer hollow tone,
leaning forward and fixing her red-rimmed eyes on Aunt
Dickson. "That is just what I can do. Our ghost!"

Aunt Dickson and Pauline started; then they cried, al-
most together

"You must be joking!"

"Do I look as if I were joking?" said Miss Amelia sim-
ply, and, gazing at her, they felt the keen justice of the

"I didn't mean to doubt your word," faltered Aunt
Dickson apologetically. "But people's imaginations run
away with them sometimes."

"So Harriet pretends to think," replied Miss Amelia.
"She is afraid of being called a nervous old maid and
so makes out, even to me, that it is the wind in the chim-
ney. " She paused, and continued solemnly: "Mrs. Dick-
son, did you ever hear a wind say Mary Jane?"

"Eh! What!" said Aunt Dickson: then she added
soothingly, for she really did begin to fear for her old
friend's reason: "Oh, I never heard of the wind saying
that, exactly . . . but poets and people . . . there used
to be a pretty song in my youth called, 'What are the wild
waves saying?' . . . much the same ..."

"Rubbish!" said Miss Amelia, agitated beyond all con-
sideration of politeness. "That's how Harriet talks. She
even imitates the wind howling to convince me, like this:


Moo oo ooh! Mary Jane!" and Miss Amelia strove to
personate a down-draught saying those words.

Aunt Dickson leaned back, the tension of her attitude
slightly relieved.

"Well it might be so," she said.

"But that is not all," pursued Miss Amelia, drawing
her chair closer. "You may think what you like about
Mary Jane, as I remarked to Harriet, but nobody on
earth can make a natural wind say ' Damn your eye ! ' '

"No," agreed Aunt Dickson, staring aghast.

"You are shocked, naturally," said Miss Amelia. "I
have reached that stage when nothing seems to matter. ' r
She lowered her voice. "But I say my prayers downstairs
in the sitting-room, inconvenient though it is, with the
maid in and out and so on. I really could not min-
gle . . ."

"Of course not," agreed Aunt Dickson hastily. "How
strange ! How dreadfully unpleasant ! Pauline. ' '

"Yes, Aunt,"

"Do see that the door really is quite closed, dear."

"But when did you first hear it?" asked Pauline, re-
turning from the inspection.

"A month ago. The very day when I told Harriet I
had a headache and could not help to do the china closet
out, though I was really quite well and only wished to
finish a crochet pattern. I sometimes wonder ..." Miss
Amelia paused on that, tentatively.

"No!" said Aunt Dickson. "The Lord would never
send a ghost for a little thing like that, I know. Too
busy. Let us put the matter aside for a moment and have
a cup of tea. I always think tea clears the intellect."

So Miss Amelia, protesting as usual, was induced to
drink two cups of hot, comforting, well-creamed tea, and
then felt so greatly refreshed that she was able to make
a suggestion.

"There is Mr. Unwin," she said. "If it should be any
sort of real wind he might be able to help us."


"Architects do know all about chimneys, of course,"
agreed Aunt Dickson hopefully. "Why not go and ask
him to look at yours while Miss Harriet is away?"

But at this proposal Miss Amelia showed signs of be-
coming hysterical once more.

"Oh, I couldn't!" she said, wringing her hands. "I
couldn't possibly. I should break down in Mr. Un win's
office and that would be simply dreadful. Only fancy if
any one else came in! What would they think?"

"Write a note, then," said Pauline.

Miss Amelia shook her head, very much distressed and
yet, beneath it all, superior.

"No, my dear. A delicate matter like this is not to
be put down in writing. My sister might hear of it and
she would never forgive me. She always says that the
devil invented paper and pens for fools to give them-
selves away with. Poor father's expression, originally.
Harriet has at times quite a masculine turn of thought."
She paused and added ingratiatingly: "I suppose Pauline
would not care to step as far as Mr. Unwin's office and put
the matter before him? It is a pleasant morning though
dull, and young people like exercise in the fresh air. ' '

"I really don't see," began Pauline, not attracted by
the prospect, when Miss Amelia broke in tragically

"How can you refuse when you know it is my last
hope* You are so clear-headed, you could explain the
matter so lucidly."

Pauline felt doubtful, but pity for poor, troubled Miss
Amelia prevailed over her reluctance, and very soon she
was walking down the High Street, jostled by market-
people and endeavouring to frame sentences which should
make Unwin see the affair in a not too ridiculous light.
'But the task was beyond her, and on being ushered into
a small private office hung with plans and engravings,
she could only state bluntly

"I have come from Miss Amelia Pritchard, who asks
you to go to her house at once, if possible."


"All right," said Unwin easily, "do sit down. So nice
to see a person here with coloured hair, you know. Most
of my few clients were left me by my father, and they
are white or grey. Makes me keep looking at mine to see
if it's turning too; age is so infectious, isn't it?"

"Very," said Pauline, perching lightly on the edge of
the great armchair. "When I think how I felt when I
was twenty ..."

"Ah, twenty!"

And they sighed together, united by the bond of their
present advanced years. Then, reluctantly, for it was
pleasant to talk of old age with Pauline, Unwin returned
to the matter in hand. "What does Miss Amelia want
this time?" he asked. "On the last occasion it was the
kitchen sink. Not that I mind . . . the Wendlebury la-
dies simply can't help mixing me up with the plumber."

"The the affair is rather difficult to explain," hesi-
tated Pauline.

"Oh! Never mind. I quite understand," said Unwin
hastily. For he thought such things happening in life
though romance naturally slurs them over that there
was something wrong with the domestic drainage system
which delicacy forbade her to mention. "I'll take a
plumber along with me."

"A plumber!" cried Pauline. "But what's the earthly
use of a plumber when it's a ghost that may be a wind
... or a wind that may be a ghost ..." She broke off
and looked anxiously at him. ' ' Oh, dear, I know it seems
awfully odd."

"No, no," said Unwin soothingly, reflecting that her
eyes were after all much too bright, and that she had
been very ill indeed with some sort of breakdown when
she first came to Wendlebury.

"At least, it sounds like a wind, but it says 'Mary
Jane,' " continued Pauline, struggling for the lucidity
commended by Miss Amelia. "It says it in a strange


sort of way, of course ; like this, Moo ooh ooh ! ' ' and
she also tried to impersonate a down-draught with a super-
natural vocabulary.

"Ah, yes. Nothing in that," said Unwin easily, but he
took up his hat. "I had an old aunt who had a wind in
her chimney that howled good-night as regular as clock-
work. And now," he concluded, holding open the door
with alacrity, "I suppose we had better be stepping

All desire to detain his guest in polite dalliance had
completely vanished. But he felt very sorry indeed for
her, and exerted himself as they walked along to pour
forth a stream of light, soothing conversation. Beyond all
things he was anxious to avoid a repetition of the windy
Mary Jane in Wendlebury High Street, and he therefore
flowed smoothly over all her replies, not allowing her to
make a single connected speech, because the simplest thing
might excite a person in her state of mind. So Pauline
finally gave up any attempt at conversation, merely glanc-
ing at him from time to time, with a rather odd expres-
sion. No man, she reflected, could possibly be a drunkard
and look as he did; there was something so especially
pleasant and alive about him. Yet the idea of drunken-
ness suggested by Eva in this connection did just occur
to her before it was dismissed..

They were both greatly relieved, therefore, when they
arrived at the house and saw Miss Amelia's anxious face
peering from the open door.

"Walk in," she said, using the voice which she kept
for the -funerals of people not nearly related. "This is
indeed kind, Mr. Unwin." Then she abruptly altered her
tone, grasped Pauline's sleeve and whispered urgently:
"You can't go. I insist upon your remaining. Don't
you know I have to accompany him into my bedroom ? ' '

Pauline, who had been about to depart, was moved by
this appeal and followed Miss Amelia up the narrow stair-
case, where the poor lady nearly broke her neck in turn-


ing round to twitter nervous remarks about the weather
so that the situation might be carried off with decorum.

Unwin, who came last, felt very large and coarse among
so much white floor-cloth and lacy cleanliness, and this im-
pression was increased when he stood in Miss Amelia's
room where the very chair seats had little white mats
upon them edged with fine needlework, and the bed was
like a flounced mid- Victorian lady prepared for a party.

"This," said Miss Amelia solemnly, "is the haunted
room. : '

"The what?" said Unwin staring. "Then you really
did send that message about er Mary Jane?"

"Of course I did," said Miss Amelia. "Has not Miss
Westcott told you all about it?"

"Oh er yes," stammered Unwin. "I didn't quite
understand. I mean ..." He walked to the fireplace,
pulling his wits together. "So you hear the noise some-
where about this spot, I gather?" he concluded profession-

"Just about there," said Miss Amelia, greatly agitated.
"Miss Westcott would no doubt describe the strange
sound : like this Moo ooh ooh ! ' '

They all peered up the chimney . . . and as if in an-
swer, came a ghostly echo, only much plainer: "Mary
Jane!" . t r

Pauline and Unwin both started, and Miss Amelia be-
gan to weep again in dismal resignation.

"It often behaves like that . . . the spirit answering
. . . making fun of us. ... Oh, Mr. Unwin, it does seem
hard that if we have to have a ghost we can't have one like
other people. I sometimes fear for my reason."

At the word reason, Unwin thought of his unfounded
suspicion concerning Pauline, and again peered up the
chimney with a slightly heightened colour.

"The sound certainly appears to come from up there, ' r
he remarked.

"Mary Jane! Damn your eye! Mary Jane!" retorted


the ghostly voice, shooting out the words in rapid suc-

Unwin straightened himself and turned round abruptly

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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 2 of 22)