Annie Edith Foster Jameson.

The gossip shop online

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are you sure it's true?"

" Lord Southwater and Miss Lambert have gone to fetch
him from the boat," answered Pauline.

"Well, I don't care how he comes, or who fetches him,


so long as he comes back safe and well. Do you, Miss

"No," said Pauline, and, indeed, for the moment her
relief was so intense like the strange joy of a man who
thinks he has committed a murder and finds himself inno-
cent that she did not care about anything else.

But before even the pins were bought, she began to see
through that dazzling joy to the certainty that Unwin
and Delia were lovers. She knew as she walked out and
felt humbled by the knowledge that her love was not so
selfless and beautiful as the love of that tall, thin woman
with a red nose behind the counter. And she saw, also,
dimly, that the dull world was crowded with unsuspected
beauty : there was no real need for escape from any place
when you could find the most delicate romance in a little
draper's shop in Wendlebury.

As she re-entered the Bazaar Hall, there was a hum
of excited voices which ceased when she appeared, and
then began again, talking about something quite different.

' ' This art muslin for my stall is such a charming shade.
Where are the scissors? I do hope, Amelia, you have not
forgotten the string."

Thus the ladies of Wendlebury, until Pauline was in
the midst of them, and then the Vicar's wife said with
a sort of artificial surprise

"Oh, here you are back again! Did you get really
strong pins?"

So Pauline saw they knew everything, but were spar-
ing her feelings. And when she suggested that it was time
to return to Aunt Dickson they all said: "Oh, must
you ? ' ' regretfully, but with the air of jumping dogs about
to be unchained.

Two days later, the bazaar took place. The hall was
packed with people at a shilling a head. Palpitating
stall-holders, wearing powdered hair and black velvet hats,


stood by their wares awaiting the arrival of Lord South-
water, who was to perform the opening ceremony. The
waitresses wore the velvet hats without the powder, and
hovered near the entrance to the long tea-room, while
Mrs. Delamere could be heard screeching above the dis-
creet tumult to Mrs. Bracegirdle: "My brother-in-law
Lord Southwater is sure to be punctual; he is the Es-
sence of Punctuality."

Then the big doors were held aside on either side by
the bazaar stewards. "Here he is!" sounded through the
forest of plumed hats, like a wind in Ryeford woods her-
alding the sunrise, and Lord Southwater entered, accom-
panied by Miss Delia Lambert and Mr. Maurice Unwin.

There was one instant's silence; then a strange, rushing
sound of everybody whispering urgently and excitedly to
the next person. Pauline drew a little further behind the
group of waitresses where she could see without being seen.
And it is not too much to say that she endured then, be-
neath her pretty feathered hat, among that group of
laughing girls, the supreme agony of her life. She felt
quite certain that she was then saying ' ' Good-bye ' ' to love
in this world.

"Unwin looks thin and ill, but Miss Lambert looks
flourishing. I always thought she was plain before,"
said Mary Carter.

"Happiness is a great beautifier," said another girl.
"That Miss Lambert looks so awfully well, somehow:
in for anything."

"Now they're speaking to Miss Amelia," said Mary-
Carter. "Oh, dear! I do wish I could hear what they
are saying."

But, indeed, it was only a desultory conversation about
Unwin 's health, in which he took part absently, glancing
about him all the time in a restless fashion that made poor
Miss Amelia quite nervous.

"Poor young man, evidently shattered," murmured
Miss Amelia, as he moved away. The little lady felt drawn


to Delia in spite of herself, because they were so alike in
possessing a deep disinterestedness a rare, non-grabbing
attitude towards their fellow-men. "Are you making a
long stay in Y\ T endlebury ? " she asked politely, quite un-
aware of this bond between them.

"No," said Delia, "I'm going for a splendid holiday.
Old aunt fallen in, you know."

"Aunt fallen in?" said Miss Amelia, roused to startled

"Yes; her money, you know, which she had no power
to leave away from me, or she would have done," Delia
explained. "So I'm off to the South Sea Islands. I've
always longed to be in a place where even the fish are
scarlet and gold. Such a real change after grey Eng-

"Delightful for your honeymoon, of course cheerful
colours most appropriate," began Miss Amelia, when she
saw Lord Southwater advance to the edge of the platform.

' ' Ahem ! ' ' coughed he.

"Hush!" said everybody.

Then followed a short speech, exactly like all others
made by important persons on such occasions, but not
delivered quite in Lord Southwater 's usual style. It
might almost be imagined if such a thing were possible
of such a man in face of a Wendlebury audience that
he was nervous. And when he had finished, and every
one had clapped decorously, he did not either sit down
or go away. He stayed where he was, twirling his eye-
glass, and turning red about the forehead.

"Ahem!" he coughed again. "May I detain you for
a moment to er embrace the opportunity of congratu-
lating your fellow townsman, Mr. Unwin, on his recovery
and safe return ?" Absolute stillness fell. It was possible,
literally, to hear a hairpin drop, because Miss Amelia heard
one of her own do so, and was covered with confusion.
' ' On my own behalf, ' ' continued Lord Southwater, ' ' I am
deeply grateful to Mr. Unwin that he has, after very great


persuasion, consented to accept the post I have offered
him. I trust you will all join me in hoping that we may
spend many useful and happy years together."

"Hear! Hear!" said Mrs. Delamere in a very loud
tone, determined to show that she was in the move-
ment. "I support his lordship with all my heart." And
she so flashed her teeth upon everybody that there seemed
to be a perfect illumination in that part of the room.

Then the Wendlebury people surged round Unwin, con-
gratulating and shaking hands, very glad to be at liberty
to like him again as much as they wished, while Lord
Southwater stepped down from the platform with all
his usual pompous dignity. He had done justice to Un-
win, and could again regard himself as a just man; more
so than ever, seeing what he had done and endured in
order to remain just.

But a little later, when he wished to set the seal of public
favour on Unwin, he found that the heat had caused the
invalid to retire.

Unwin came running out of the hall, called to Chubb,
who waited for a fare, and jumped into the cab, shouting

"Drive hell for leather down the Ryeford Road. Give
Griselda her head for once. A pound, if she beats the
record ! ' '

"Sir!" said Chubb. But he immediately drove on,
feeling a deep sense of comfort that joy of the middle-
aged in finding things the same for here was Unwin,
gone to heathen parts and nearly dead, and yet come
back as flighty as ever.

But after passing Aunt Dickson's dear Aunt Dickson,
who sat jollily watching the world go by to the bazaar,
with a wave of the hand for every one Chubb turned to
make a polite remark.

"Did you " And he paused. "Gee up! Did you

off ens hear 'em play the banjo?"


"Who?" asked Unwin. "I say, do get on!"

"Why, them niggers," began Chubb.

"Stop!" cried Unwin. "No, go on till you catch Miss
Westcott up."

"Clop! Clop!" echoed Griselda's hoofs on the road
as if she were mutely marking time and begging him to
think again.

"Wo-ah!" called Chubb.

Pauline heard these sounds and glanced over her shoul-
der. She drifted a few steps towards them, then wavered,
hesitating; until that foolish shyness or reserve of hers
seized her and without sense, without reason she be-
gan to run away along the green edge of the lane. Her
footsteps made no sound on the damp grass, which pearled
her shoes with moisture. Heavy drops from overhanging
shrubs and bramble bushes fell on her dress and on her
hair. She could hear Unwin 's flying footsteps behind her,
and the heavy "Clop! Clop!" of Griselda's hoofs be-
hind, but she could neither pause nor turn. That some-
thing deep, instinctive, stronger than herself which had
made her escape from the bazaar caused her to still run

At last she was spent. Her head swam. Her breath
failed. She had to lean, panting, with wide eyes, against
a birch tree. Its silver bark gleamed softly behind her,
the little, delicate branches whispered above, dropping
more pearls of moisture upon her. She tried to move a
step, but could not. Then she closed her eyes.

"Pauline!" she heard Unwin say lightly, though his
voice sounded hot and eager. "You must have been train-
ing for the Ladies' Running Championship since I was
away. ' '

It was so different from anything she had expected
him to say that she opened her eyes and her head ceased
to swim. She put out her hand.

"How do you do, Mr. Unwin? I I hope you had a
pleasant voyage. Are you better?"


"Not yet," he said, keeping her hand. "I saw you
leave the bazaar. I guessed you would come up here."

"Did you?" she said, just glancing at him. But in
that brief glance she had seen how lined his face was
the face of a man, not a boy any longer though his
eyes were just the same.

He put his hand under her chin.

"Look me straight in the face, Pauline," he said, very

She looked, and he could see her shy spirit peering out
at him.

"Pauline!" he said.


And he could see her spirit ready to dart away into
loneliness for the rest of her life. He had to reach that
and hold it before he held her dear body in his arms.
He was ready as ever to risk the half to possess the

"Will you take me on trust? Do you want me, Pau-

It was only a moment, but his world seemed to have
been hanging in the balance for an age by the time she

' ' Oh, how I 've wanted you ! ' '

It was a little while before they began to realise that
they were still on the plain earth under an ordinary sky
that held a great deal of rain-water. And when Pauline
said: "Where's Chubb? It's starting to rain," Unwin
only kissed the wet splash on her cheek and they once
more forgot the weather.

At last, however, they were obliged to walk back to-
wards the cab.

"I think we will have it closed Miss Westcott's
dress " murmured Unwin; and even Griselda winked.

Then the cab rumbled slowly now along the familiar
road, and Chubb 's fares could see the grey rain drifting


like a curtain across the high spire and the red roofs of
"\Vendlebury. At last, round the edge of the cab a round
red face like a great sun came into their field of vision.
Chubb hung precariously from his box and they heard,
even through their blissful preoccupation, a sound like
nothing else on earth but Chubb chuckling.

"Ho! Ho!" he went, rolling in his seat. "You re-
member my joke, Mr. Unwin? The joke I made when
you stole my cab? It'll do again. Ho! Ho! It'll do
again. Caught her on the Ryeford Road!"

Griselda whinnied, throwing up her head and heels in
admiration, and no words could say more ecstatically:
"Hy Chubb!"



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