Annie Edith Foster Jameson.

The gossip shop online

. (page 20 of 22)
Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 20 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

lucky I 'm not going out to-day. I can get everything nice
for her. I suppose you couldn't come in to help for a
couple of hours?"

"No. Very sorry," mumbled Mrs. Chubb, hurrying
through the door.

"Going out somewhere?"


And here Mrs. Chubb felt she was indeed speaking the
truth, though how her proposed outing was to take place
she could not imagine at present.

When, however, she reached home and found Chubb at
the lane end with the cab, she said to herself that Provi-
dence was on her side as against that hussy, and h?r course
became clear.

' ' Here, lass ! ' ' said Chubb as she knew on sight of him
that he would say "I want you to stand by the cab for
a minute while I go across to speak to Miss Argle about


the manure. She wants a load for her garden. Old mare '11
stand all right."

"Oh, I know old mare can't never do anything wrong,"
said Mrs. Chubb, very emotional and overwrought. "If
you nobbud thought as much of your wife as you do
of "

But Chubb was already turning the corner, and Mrs.
Chubb stood staring at Griselda. After all could she?
Dared she?

Then she remembered the post-card : ' ' Meet me . . . D.
LAMBERT. ' ' The intimacy of it ! The open, wicked brazen-
ness of this creature, whom every one had pictured safe
among .the heathen Africans where she so properly be-
longed. No doubt she had let the poor fellow be taken off
the ship all by himself and had come flaunting home with-
out him, smoking cigarettes all the way. She gave Chubb
cigarettes some had turned up in his pocket only the other
day he had kept them as keepsakes. A wave of insensate
jealousy swept over Mrs. Chubb as she dashed into the
house, seized Chubb 's overcoat and an old hat which hung
in the kitchen, put on the coat, crushed the hat on her head,
dashed out of the house again, and scrambled upon the box.

She wrenched her knee in getting up no matter. It
only added sting and vim to the enterprise. She shook the
reins, but the mare, noting a difference, refused to move.
Then Mrs. Chubb seized the whip, the outraged Griselda
felt cut after cut slashing across her sacred shoulders,
and the stone pavement echoed to the furious driving of
Chubb 's cab through the morning quiet of Wendlebury.
Little boys ran by the side of it the newspaper girl stood
aghast Aunt Dickson, early up and gazing from her win-
dow, said, "There's Chubb driving like mad: I wonder
what has happened?" while the jackdaw in the Bowling
Green Inn garden near the end of the town, startled by the
clatter, repeated its two phrases over and over again.

Outside the town the wind freshened blowing from the
distant wolds, and at a turn of the road Mrs. Chubb 's hat


or, rather, Mr. Chubb 's blew over the hedge and away.
But Mrs. Chubb never drew rein for a moment and con-
tinued to press on, the cab rocking from side to side, and
Griselda lop-lopping in an exhausted canter.

Once, at a cross road, she called out to a labourer : ' ' This
way to Southwater Park?" and had to pause because the
man was so intrigued by her greyish hair blowing in the
wind, and Griselda 's attitude of injured exhaustion, and
Chubb 's coat which engulfed Mrs. Chubb to the nose-end,
that he had no reply ready. At last, however, he answered
in the affirmative and the mad race started again. School
was leaving as she went shouting and whipping and urging
the now hopeless Griselda through the village of South-
water. The school-children formed an imp-like procession
behind, shouting, yelling, dancing, calling out: "She's off
her dot ! She 's driving to 'Sylum ! She 's driving to

But they fell back, staggered, when she turned into the
park gates which the passage of a motor-car had left mo-
mentarily open. The bigger boys whispered together to go
and tell the p'leece, for she must be one o' them 'ere
suffragettes come to blow up Southwater Hall. The lodge-
keeper, running out, followed the cab up the drive, garden-
ers joined the chase, and Griseld,., winning by a single
length, stood trembling in every limb before the imposing
portal just as three immaculate Bracegirdles of Bracegirdle
descended from their car.

Lord Southwater, advancing bareheaded down the steps
to greet that charming terpsichorean lady whose legs as
as all "VVendlebury knew were as charming as the rest of
her, and he stopped silent, seized with dignified amaze at
the spectacle before him.

' ' James ! " he commanded ; ' ' send that person away. ' '

Mrs. Chubb was off her box in an instant and flung
herself into the midst of the majestic group. But once
there, she could only open and shut her mouth, fish-like,
and say nothing. The onlookers viewed this phenomenon


with silent astonishment. No one in the face of that wild-
haired, wild-eyed desperation could doubt the urgency of
Mrs. Chubb 's business there.

"My good woman " began Lord South water, when

James, suddenly grown human, said explosively from be-
hind : "It's Chubb 's cab!"

' ' Chubb 's cab ! ' ' repeated Lord Southwater. ' ' Then who
is this?"

' ' I I 'm the owneress, ' ' faltered Mrs. Chubb. ' ' I wanted
to speak to your lordship. It's an urgent matter."

"It seems so," commented Mrs. Bracegirdle. "Well,
Lord Southwater, you can't refuse to speak to a sort of
female John Gilpin, can you ? I 'm sure I couldn 't. ' '

"This is preposterous," said Lord Soutnwater.

Mrs. Chubb saw her chance disappearing, and the fine
ladies and the fine servants again became as nothing to

"It's a family matter," she urged. "I'd speak up now
before these ladies on'y I'm never one for washing your
dirty linen in public."

"I am not aware " began Lord Southwater again;

and then he remembered that brother of his who was
probably dead somewhere in Australia, and stopped short;
for, after all, he had a soiled family shirt like all the rest.

' ' Oh, I '11 say it now. I don 't mind ! ' ' flung out the des-
perate Mrs. Chubb. "But have that hussy back in Wen-
dlebury Hypnotising people's husbands, and going on as
she does, I neither can nor will. Not if I'm to be hung
for it."

"Hussy!" said Mrs. Bracegirdle. "This sounds inter-
esting!" Then, as she feared nothing on earth, not even
Lord Southwater, she added archly, shaking a long, mani-
cured finger: "Another illusion gone! I always did be-
lieve in your er rectitude, Lord Southwater."

That peer's large pink face turned a deep tomato red as
he said with almost supernatural dignity

"Pray accompany me to the library, Mrs. er Chubb."


Then to his guests: "Perhaps you will kindly excuse me
. . . this poor woman ... I often have strange petitions. ' '

"Mayn't we come too?" said the incorrigible Mrs. Brace-
girdle. "The tact and judgment of another woman ..."

Lord Southwater, pretending not to hear, stalked be-
fore Mrs. Chubb across the hall.

' ' And now, ' ' he said, closing the door, ' ' I should be glad
to know your errand in as few words as possible."

"I was charing at Miss Walker's. She's a dressmaker
in "Wendlebury, " panted Mrs. Chubb, with her hand on
her heart. "She's a very nice lady, Miss Walker is."

' ' I presume you did not come here to tell me that, ' ' said
Lord Southwater.

"No that is Miss Lambert used to lodge with Miss
Walker," pursued Mrs. Chubb, with a wary eye on Lord
Southwater, ready to spring at his coat-tails and hold him
if necessary, though he fortunately did not know this.
"Miss Lambert her as told fortunes "

"Ah!" said Lord Southwater. "Has she been stealing
anything? I know those vagrants sometimes "

"Vagrant!" said Mrs. Chubb. "She had my husband
driving her out in a cab all afternoon most days in the
week. She was a friend of Mr. Unwin 's. There was noth-
ing vagrant about her."

"Then what?" began Lord Southwater.

"Your lordship," said Mrs. Chubb, "I haven't come to
you for no light matter. She nypotised your brother, Mr.
Delamere, I don't doubt, and he died. She nypnotised
Mr. Unwin, just the same, and he's dying. She part nypo-
tised my Chubb, and now she's coming back to finish him
off. And I won't have it. If I'm hung for it, I won't!"

' ' You speak of my brother, ' ' said Lord Southwater, look-
ing startled and uneasy. "What do you mean by that?
He has been long away from England."

"May be so," said Mrs. Chubb, drawing in her horns.
"I on'y know what happened. And you're a powerful
man about here. You got them other queer women turned


out o' that house in Bowling Green Terrace. I want you
to stop Miss Lambert from coming back to Wendlebury. "

"How do you know Miss Lambert was acquainted
with my brother?" said Lord South water.

"Oh! Just a chance. I happened to find out," said
Mrs. Chubb.

' ' But how ? ' ' persisted Lord Southwater, and the solemn
room, the deep, soft carpets, and his lordship's judicial air
caused poor Mrs. Chubb to falter out, against all her wiser

"I read some of Miss Lambert's letters one day when I
was doing her room. She left her keys and everything
about. She was like that. ' '

Lord Southwater nearly choked with the intolerable in-
dignity of the situation, but he felt forced to demand

"Did you gather that they were friends?"

"Yes. I must say he wrote a beautiful letter when he
was dying. You could see he was fond on her. Though
no doubt it was all nypotising. That 's why I want you to
stop her from coming back."

But though this was the point to which Mrs. Chubb 's
mind clung, Lord Southwater no longer thought of it.

"Poor Dick! Then he is really gone. Poor Dick!"
and it was a minute or two before he added with a sigh :
"Then I must see this Miss Lambert."

"See her!" cried Mrs. Chubb, jumping up and spread-
ing out her arms as if he were starting at that moment.
"Now, don't you! Don't you! You're a big man, and a
lord, but you're a man if you'll excuse me saying so
all the same. And if she can get at you, she'll nypotise
you too. She will, indeed."

"No, no," said Lord Southwater, abstractedly, opening
the door and speaking to some one outside.

"You wouldn't have thought it of Chubb," urged Mrs.
Chubb, as the door closed again, wringing her hands at
her own impotence. "To see him sitting so noble on his
box you never would think and yet "


Lord Southwater opened the door again.

"I have ordered the dog-cart round to take you back,"
he said. "Your cab will follow when the horse is suffi-
ciently rested. I must beg of you not to mention this
matter to any one until I have seen you once more. ' '

"Do you think I want to mention it, sir?" distractedly
cried Mrs. Chubb. "I've kep' it to myself all this time.
I'll go on keeping it to myself for ever, if you'll only clear
her out of "Wendlebury. "

"I hope I shall be able to arrange that," said Lord
Southwater; then he conducted Mrs. Chubb, wild-haired,
frightened to death at what she had done, and yet reck-
lessly triumphant, to the waiting dog-cart.

The smart groom eyed his charge with an injured sur-
prise which not even a hereditary training in professional
woodenness could conceal. For a long time he sat dis-
dainful, saying nothing, as the dog-cart bowled swiftly
along. At last he said: "You seem to have lost your

' ' Yes, ' ' replied Mrs. Chubb to this self-evident fact, and
left it at that.

"Your old mare was about done," he continued. "You
must have brought her along in a hurry."

"I did," said Mrs. Chubb.

' ' Urgent errand, I s 'pose ? ' '

"Yes," said Mrs. Chubb.

"Very urgent?" he pursued.

"Very," said Mrs. Chubb.

And so, having thrown aside dignity for nothing, he
resumed it again ; thus the oddly assorted pair continued
their way in silence until the sight of Chubb standing at
the cross roads made Mrs. Chubb turn very white, open
her mouth, shut it again, and gaze in speechless agony at
the groom.

"What's up?" he said.

"That's my husband," she said huskily. "Let me get
down. ' '


He pulled up and let her alight. Chubb, meanwhile,
with a sort of bellow began to run towards her.

"Seems cross your old man," said the groom. "No
wonder." Then something in Mrs. Chubb 's face appealed
to the manhood in him. "I'll stop a minute and see he
doesn't knock you about, if you like."

"Knock me about!" retorted Mrs. Chubb, throwing up
her head ; and while her teeth chattered so that she could
scarcely articulate, she added: "That's just his way of
showing he 's pleased to see me. He 's the best and kindest
and mildest man what ever lived. He woulcln 't lay a finger
on me to save himself from the gallers!"

The groom eyed the big, red-faced man coming on like
a mad bull and muttered doubtfully

"Well nothing to be gained by interfering between
husband and wife, I s'pose. "

And with that he turned round and drove slowly off,
looking round every now and then to see what was hap-

"Wha-yer-mean-by-er-er-er-er " This booming, con-
fused sound came along the white lane and over the just-
springing hedgerows.

Mrs. Chubb stood quite still because her legs would not
carry her one inch further. She met Chubb 's onslaught
with the strange quiet of utter desperation.

"The cab had to go to Southwater in a hurry you
wasn't there I took it," she said, in a perfectly toneless

"Who fetched it? Why didn't you send for me?"
shouted Chubb; but he was rather taken aback by her

"The cab had to go in a hurry I took it," repeated
Mrs. Chubb, scarcely moving her lips.

"Like that!" said Chubb, pointing at her dishevelled
head. "Oh, you're mad! You're mad! You're like your
old aunt that used to think she had a squirrel inside of her


and fed it with nuts." He paused, breathing heavily.
"You must be mad. Where's the cab now?"

"They ..." Mrs. Chubb opened and shut her mouth,
making no further sound.

"Gosh!" cried the justly exasperated Chubb; "if this
doesn't beat all! She can't even tell me where she's put
the cab!"

"They're bringing it later in the day," said Mrs.
Chubb ; and she felt a sudden joy sweep over her because
whatever happened the cab could not meet Delia by the
five o'clock train.

' ' "Well, you 've done a pretty thing ! ' ' said Chubb. ' ' Miss
Walker, the dressmaker, told me to meet Miss Lambert by
the five o'clock train, and I've had to order a cab from
the Red Lion. Queer her not letting me know. I can't
understand it. I should have thought she'd be sure to
drop me a card!"

"P'raps it was lost in the post lots of letters is," said
Mrs. Chubb, beginning to tremble again.

"Maybe," said Chubb. "Anyway, I couldn't have met
her because of your tomfoolery, so it's all for the best."

And at this Mrs. Chubb began to weep quietly, like a
person who has just come forth from some great danger and
can scarcely yet believe himself safe.

"Let's go round by the tripe shop," she sobbed, mop-
ping her eyes. "I didn't get none this morning, and I
want a bit of something extra good for your supper."

Thus did Mrs. Chubb prepare to lay her evening thank-
offering upon love's altar; and as she and Chubb emerged
from the shop together after choosing with care the most
succulent bits, Chubb said

"You may walk home by yourself the rest of the way.
I can't walk with a woman that hasn't a hat on and looks
a regular figure o' fun. I have my place to keep up in
Wendlebury. "What would any of the ladies say if they was
to meet me? I'll go by market place and you go round
back way. ' '


"Very well," said Mrs. Chubb. "It's on'y natural, so
much thought on as you are. You couldn't do silly things
like what I do if you was to try ever so.*'

"I couldn't," responded Chubb, mollified, however, by
his wife 's flattery. ' ' I allus had more gumption than most
folks. My mother used to tell me that. It would take a
clever person to deceive me. So mind never you try it on,
or it '11 be worse for you. ' '

"N-no," quavered Mrs. Chubb. Then, to her intense re-
lief, Pauline rounded the corner.

' ' Good day, ' ' began Pauline, but realising the distraught
and unusual appearance of Mrs. Chubb, she added quickly,
"I hope there has not been an accident? What is the

"Nothing; merely lost her hat," said Chubb, taking on
his shoulders the honour of the family. "Any lady might
lose her hat! Draught at a street corner. Passing wag-
gon. There it goes!" He turned upon his wife, deter-
mined that his words should be true. "That's how yours
went, isn't it?"

"Yes; there did seem a strong draught," said Mrs.
Chubb, with convincing sincerity, remembering that head-
long flight. Then some subtle desire to test Pauline's
feeling about Delia made her add, glancing up with her
foolish, vacant look: " Chubb 's a bit bothered. He thinks
Miss Lambert's card has been lost in the post. Miss Lam-
bert's coming back to Wendlebury by the five train!"

"What!" said Pauline, flushing crimson from chin to
forehead. ' ' She 's in England ? ' '

"She's coming to Wendlebury by the five train," re-
peated Mrs. Chubb.

And somehow Chubb, though he loomed large and spoke
of Miss Walker, was as though he were not there. The
real, vital sense of what passed, leapt between Mrs. Chubb
and Pauline like the flashing of some electric medium.
When it was over, they both knew that the other regarded
Delia as the enemy: for they had gone down to the deep


core of things where women are the same. Pauline, how-
ever, only said smoothly

"You will be glad to see Miss Lambert back, Mrs.
Chubb. She was such a splendid customer."

And Chubb replied for his wife

"Yes: not too many of them knocking about, Miss."

But as Pauline turned away her senses steadied from
the shock and her whole being suddenly became flooded
with light. A new thought shone out across her disturbed
soul like the tremendous ray of a lighthouse on a stormy

If Delia were coming back to "Wendlebury she could not
be with Unwin.

Mrs. Chubb, glancing at that illuminated face, lost all
her bearings. With the tripe tightly pressed to her side,
she watched Pauline's elastic gait.

Miss Lambert had made a fool of Miss Westcott 's young
man. She was coming back to Wendlebury. What in the
whole sphere of human things was there to look pleased
about in such occurrences ? Then Chubb gave her a nudge,
and said fiercely in her ear

' ' What are you stopping at ? Get home with you figger
o' fun! If you could nobbud see yourself! I can't think
how ever you come to do such a tomfool trick. ' '

And it was not just Mrs. Chubb who answered, it was a
thousand generations of Mrs. Chubbs, evading by words
aeons of Mr. Chubbs with clenched fist the last kick as it
were, of a vanishing attitude in civilised Europe.

"Chubby," she said, gazing at him in simple adoration.
"I don't know how it is as I haven't got cleverer with be-
ing with you."

"No," said Chubb; "no, nor I don't."

And upon that they parted, taking separate roads home.

As Chubb plodded along he reflected that his wife was
a poor, silly thing, and that a man like him ought to have
had a clever woman, while all the time his subconscious
self was soothed and gratified by the subtle incense which


Mrs. Chubb 's inferiority offered to his vanity. "When he
had eaten the tripe he was in a mood of god-like forgive-
ness, though he only said

"There was too much onion with that tripe!"



THE news of Delia's return circulated through Wen-
dlebury with the incredible swiftness of rumour in
an Eastern bazaar that most wonderful gossip shop in
the world which has influenced the destiny of nations
where the Power of Gossip becomes, as it were, visible,
openly taking its strange and terrible place in the scheme
of human life.

Compared with that, the gentle murmurings of the
ladies of Wendlebury seem almost ridiculous, but when
Miss Amelia came in, half -crying, to say to her sister:
"I hear poor young Unwin is dying alone out there.
If he had got that post with Lord Southwater this would
never have happened," it could be seen that even in little
English Wendlebury gossip held the powers of life and

"He might have eaten tinned lobster at home and died
of ptomaine poisoning," snapped Miss Harriet; not be-
cause she thought so, but because she was sorry herself
and that always made her irritable.

"And Miss Lambert has come back! not that I know
any real harm of her. It looks as if she never did run
away with him, and we did him such an injustice, and
the poor boy dying all alone over there," wept Miss
Amelia. "Oh dear! I'll never say anything but nice
things about people ever any more so long as I live."

"Then you will no longer be a human being, Amelia,"
said Miss Harriet, "but an unpleasant machine for the



distillation of artificial honey, and as such to be avoided
by all reasonable persons." She paused, and added ener-
getically: "Have you forgotten Mrs. Wareham, who
used to call even the pigs pretty dears, for fear she should
get out of practice? If you are going to be like that,
Amelia, you and I part company."

"But she did it to be popular, not because she thought
nice things, and that somehow shone through," said Miss
Amelia. "I'm going to think nothing but nice things."
Then she removed the handkerchief at the sound of pass-
ing wheels. "There's Lord Southwater. I wonder how
he feels, cocked up there looking as pleased as pleased
with himself and thinking everything he does is right be-
cause he does it, and Mrs. Delamere showing her teeth
like an advertisement for a ..." She broke off abruptly,
putting her hand to her lips. " Oh ! how can you keep on
saying nasty things just after talking as I did? Oh,

And she went upstairs, overwhelmed by the perplexities
of human existence.

But after a while the faded, spacious quiet of her room
began to quiet her agitation, and she wished very much
that she could do something for Unwin, who had been so
good to her, and whom her simple mind pictured alone
among heathen strangers, not realising that Teneriffe is
a great deal more advanced than "Wendlebury, and far
away from the equator. Her glance fell upon the sam-
pler worked by her mother with little busy fingers so long
ago, and she read for the ten-thousandth time the four
lines in black cross-stitch

"The loss of wealth is much,
The loss of time is more ;
The loss of faith is such
As no man can restore."


That reminded her of the only thing she could do for
Unwin; so she knelt down by the bed, though it was the
middle of the morning, and the action at that unusual
hour gave her an odd feeling, like getting dressed in the
middle of the night.

But mousey-haired, simple Miss Amelia with hsr sen-
sation of doing something cold and queer, and her mud-
dled petitions to her Maker did yet indeed possess at
that moment the greatest treasure of mankind, the loss
of which no man can restore or pay for, as those perhaps
know best who have once lost it.

Then she put on her coat and hat again, starting to
go and see Pauline. But half-way across the room she
turned back and took them off once more. Something
deep down in her heart some far echo of that spoilt love
of her youth told her she must do the harder thing and
keep away from the girl she desired so ardently to help.
She knew that Pauline's sorrow and suspense now was
of the order which can only be helped by silence.

Lord Southwater meanwhile deposited Mrs. Delamere
at her residence, and in spite of her kind desire to accom-
pany him he made it clear that he had business which he
preferred to transact alone. So the landlady of the Bowl-
ing Green Inn caught an astonished glimpse of him pro-
ceeding majestically on foot past her back premises while
she was feeding Mary Jane the jackdaw, and she nearly
ended that excellent fowl's career for ever by smothering
its second and more profane phrase with her apron.

"Can you direct me to the house of Miss Walker the
dressmaker?" said his lordship. "I am not well ac-
quainted with this part of the town."

"I'll come with you, sir," said the woman, darting
forth, intensely curious to see what Lord Southwater
could possibly want with a dressmaker. "There that
door there that queer-looking woman has just opened

For Delia, in an old blue tea-gown and with disordered


hair, had just stepped out to look for the newsboy.

"Ah! Thank you," said his lordship; and in that mo-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22

Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 20 of 22)