Annie Edith Foster Jameson.

The gossip shop online

. (page 6 of 22)
Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 6 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wife was perhaps too kind, and a tall daughter obviously
bored. The Wendlebury ladies grew by degrees very.


calm and dignified, even Miss Amelia rising with a little
air when the time came to walk among the flower-beds.

"My dear," she said to Pauline, "it will be pleasant to
get out into the garden, will it not? Mr. Unwin will per-
haps accompany us."

So they all scattered among the lovely beds of parrot
and May-flowering tulips bordered with purple aubretia
and palest golden polyanthus. Everything was wonder-
fully fresh and fragrant after the rain, and beyond the
hedge of lilac bushes could be seen the grey square tower
of a little church a mile and a half away; another, held
by the Rural Dean, lay on the far side of the garden.

Security, unheeded, unrealised, or it could not have
been so perfect, lay over the whole place like the beauti-
ful spring light for which no one had to be thankful.
The Wendlebury ladies in their best dresses stepped along
the carefully tended paths, holding their skirts from flow-
ery borders still sprayed with the light shower. A young
son of the house was laughing with Mary Carter near a
sun-dial which said, "I mark only happy hours." Miss
Amelia joined the Vicar, and after a little while Mrs.
Delamere came forth, flashing her teeth at the Rural Dean
who walked beside her.

A little constraint fell on Unwin and Pauline now they
were alone, because since they last met they had thought
so much of each other.

"What church is that?" said Pauline, making talk.

"Mardyke. It is a tiny church with a very beautiful
old window and a fine monument of a Delamere of the
sixteenth century. You ought to see it now you are here. ' '
He warmed to his subject. "They're wonderful, these
little churches of England. Nothing just like them in the
world, standing among the trees and flowers of the church-
yards. We shall never really know . . . unless something
takes them away from us. Won't you come now and have
a look at this one? It's better than bulbs, any day."

She paused.


"All right. I love old village churches, too. There's
something so peaceful ..."

They began to walk along together, and he took out
his watch.

"Oh! heaps of time, nearly two hours yet. "We shall
have to get the key from the village as we go through."
He laughed. "Any more ghosts, Miss Pauline?"

' ' No. Dear Miss Amelia ! ' '

So they talked together of simple things, gathering a
few late primroses under the hedge and looking at a bird 's
nest carefully, with peering faces near together, and gay
hushed voices.

There was a charm about Pauline to-day, a sort of
sexless freshness, which made this walk seem to Unwin
like going back to boyhood. And indeed she had been
singularly untouched by the usual girlish experiences
during her life in London. She worked very hard from
morning to night, and her thoughts were full of work,
and she never had much trouble with the ' ' questing beast ' '
which is supposed by some to lurk within most male em-
ployers of female labour. It may have put its nose forth
now and then the world being the world but it perhaps
sniffed Pauline's aloof virginity and retired. Any way
she remained untouched though not ignorant.

This aloofness or elusiveness also puzzled Unwin though
it did not repel him, because "Wendlebury had changed
Pauline and she was now less like a will-o'-the-wisp and
more like a steady lamp in a far window guiding some-
hody home. It was home Unwin thought of as they stood
by the cottage door while the woman looked for the key.

"It isn't here," she said. "I'll send to the carpenter's
for it. He had it mending the pulpit. My girl 11 be after
you in a minute."

But they had looked at all the tombstones grown round
with violets and forget-me-nots before a heavy-looking
girl of fifteen came towards them, remarking stolidly:


" I 've unlocked the door. I '11 wait here till you 've done. ' '
And she sat down on a flat stone in the sunshine.

The pleasant, coloured twilight falling through the East
window and through the little plain old windows set high
in the stone walls seemed solemn to Pauline after the
flowers and the blue sky. She watched Unwin with a sort
of pricking interest and curiosity as he stood looking about
the church, the light on his keen face and steady eyes. If
she had not herself seen him outside the Dragon doorway
in his tumbled dress clothes she could never have believed
him guilty: any suspicion not founded on absolute fact
must have vanished like a dream at this moment.

As it was, she felt a sudden overwhelming kindness
and pity. She must help him. She would help him.
But how?

Something deep within her answered, by believing in
him; by making him wish to retain that belief unshad-
owed; by never letting him glimpse the passing of a
shadow . . .

He was speaking to her from the old choir seats.

"Look at these; they're grotesque enough. But the
chap who carved them meant it ... it wasn't just for
money. He felt jolly the day he did that grinning face.
He liked doing it. I can just see him, can't you? Good
old chap!"

Unwin passed his hand across the wood with a queer
sort of affection and fellowship ; he seemed to be greeting
a brother across all the years. They both knew what it
was to love the work, not the end of the work only. He
had almost forgotten Pauline.

"You'd have liked to live then?" she said.

He came back to her, straightening himself.

"No, no. It's splendid being in this age; better than
it ever has been, if you like to make it so."

She understood, having also been a worker.

"If you've great luck, and are very strong, perhaps,"
she said. Then she smiled. "Anyway, you'll have both.-


the joy in work and the reward, with Lord Southwater. "

"Yes." He looked round. "This church is the very
one he will want me to start on, I expect, if I get the job.
The structure is giving in the chancel and he has prom-
ised to restore it."

"You're certain to get the post," said Pauline. "The
Vicar told Aunt Dickson how much he liked you. ' '

"Well" he walked towards the door "I can't stay
in Wendlebury as I am, that's certain. I came because
my poor old Dad wrote for me from London when he was
beginning to fail and couldn't bear to see the business
given up, not realising, somehow, that it had given him
up. He was a fine architect, but there is no scope for one
now in this neighbourhood. But even if Lord Southwater
does not appoint me, I have another string to my bow."

"What is that?" said Pauline, emerging into the little
green churchyard where the girl still sat stolidly half-
asleep on her tombstone.

"A man I knew in London when I was studying has
offered me a partnership abroad."

The waving trees, the green graves, the flowers; they
were all printed on Pauline's mind so to remain until she
forgot everything. She did not want him to go. With a
sudden, startled recognition of her own feeling, she knew
that England would never be the same with him not in
it. Yet it seemed so ridiculous that one man, almost a
stranger, could change England. She pushed the thought

"Well, there's no fear of that. You won't have to
go," she said lightly.

"I want you to see an old cross by the gate," he said,
leaving the subject. And they talked again; as they had
done in coming, of little things which did not matter and
which matched the pleasant day.

At last he took out his watch.

"I say! It is nearly time to go," he exclaimed. "But


I must show you the Delamere monument. It stands in
what is now the vestry, so I forgot."

"Fancy forgetting what we really came to see!" said
Pauline, laughing.

So they passed the girl, apparently asleep on her stone
in the sunshine, and once more entered the church. The
sixteenth-century Delamere and his wife, with sons and
daughters in a lessening row, were now hidden from the
worshippers by a cheap red cloth curtain patterned in
black, behind which cheeky choir boys donned their sur-

Pauline looked at the kneeling woman on the church

"So that's what it all comes to!"

Unwin smiled at her.

"You know it doesn't."

They seemed nearer together than had yesterday ap-
peared possible, as they walked down the aisle of the

"You've liked it?" said Unwin, his hand on the great
iron latch of the door.

"Yes," said Pauline . . . and that was all she did say.

"Will you come with me to Ryecroft Church some
afternoon?" he asked, with his hand still on the latch.
Then his tone changed and he said sharply

"By Jove! She's locked us in!"

' ' Never ! ' ' said Pauline, also tugging at the door handle.
But they forgot their dismay as their fingers touched. A*
warm thrill tingled suddenly in every nerve. They drew
apart, laughing and with flushed faces.

"No go!" said Unwin. "But the girl is sure to come
back in a minute to fetch her tip. It's that she was hang-
ing about for, of course."

"But why did she lock the door? That is what I can't
understand," said Pauline.

"Oh, she'd wake up and look into the church and think
we had sneaked off without giving her anything. This


is rather a show place in a small way and I daresay she
lias been caught like that before," said Unwin. "It
"would be while we looked at the monument in the vestry."

"What?" said Pauline. "Good gracious! Then that
means she won't come back! "We're here for the night."

' ' Nonsense ! Somebody will miss us when the char-a-
~banc goes back to Wendlebury, " said Unwin.

"But they won't know where to find us. Oh dear!
just fancy what they'll all say!"

"I can't," said Unwin.

"Anyway, we shall be found at the early service in
the morning."

"There are no early services. Only one a fortnight,"
said Unwin. There was a moment's blank silence, then.
Pauline said lightly: "How long did that starving
champion go without food? What man has done, woman
can do." But the feeble jest fell like an irreverence on
the cloistered air. Pauline suddenly realised that she
felt tired out and sat down in a pew. Unwin sat by
lier. The church grew more and more shadowy as the
spring day drew to a close.

The char-a-banc and Chubb 's cab stood on the wide,
gravelled space before the fine doorway of the Rural
Dean, who was ushering forth the Wendlebury ladies in
a splendid glow of duty done. As parson, host, father,
liusband and man-of-the-world, he had given a shining
exemplar of what could be achieved by goodness, and he
was about to be rewarded in this present by dining with
the Bracegirdles, where the entrees were beyond praise.
But it was already a little late and his wife wished to
dress, while his daughter had already retired for that pur-
pose, so he was speeding the parting guests with a sort of
jovial pomposity.

"Delighted, my dear fellow, delighted," he said to the
Vicar, while alertly aiding the Vicar's wife to enter the
char-a-banc. "Hope to see you all again when the roses


are at their best. Good-bye, Mrs. Delamere. Good-bye.
So pleased!"

"Are we all here? Where's Unwin?" said the Vicar.

"Pauline!" murmured Miss Amelia.

"Dear, dear!" exclaimed the Vicar; "what is to be
done ? ' ' And he felt acutely uncomfortable, for the Rural
Dean had twice tactfully informed him of the dinner en-

"Let us search the garden," suggested Mary Carter.
So she and the young son of the house ran about among
the waits and flower beds, to return breathless with the
news that neither Pauline nor Unwin were to be found.

"Disgraceful behaviour!" said Miss Harriet.

' ' I never cared much for that girl, ' ' said Mrs. Delamere.

"But perhaps it is not the girl's fault," said the Vicar.

"Almost always is, in these cases," snapped the Vicar's
wife. "I know at Sunday-school treats ..."

"If you compare us . . ." began Miss Harriet, very

"Oh! I don't! I don't!" said the Vicar's wife. "Only
I am so bothered. We can't possibly stay on here any
longer when we know they are dying to get rid of us."

Then Miss Amelia bent forward, rather flushed, with a
new suggestion.

"Why not ask Mrs. Delamere to ride with us and leave
Chubb 's cab behind, ready for when they do turn up ? "

The Rural Dean, who had been anxiously listening, drew
a long breath. He thought Miss Amelia a charming,
sensible woman.

"I only wish," he said, "that I could offer our car. But
we are using it this evening. Would you kindly do this,
Mrs. Delamere?" For that lady sat very straight, pre-
tending not to hear and looking very truculent.

"Let them walk," she said, wishing to show that no
cleric could dictate to a sister-in-law of Lord Southwater.

"Of course, of course," murmured the Rural Dean,
mindful of a split in the west wall of his own church that


would need looking after before long. But lie was very
much bothered and glanced at his wife, who was still being
tiredly effusive in face of all odds.

Then Miss Amelia made an unexpected move that
changed the whole situation. She got up in the char-a-
banc, stumbled between knees to the step, and announced
that if Chubb didn't stay, she would, and wild horses
should not induce her to do otherwise.

But Mrs. Delamere remained obdurate, saying in a
very grand tone to Chubb: "Pray drive on!"

Then it was Chubb who provided the sensation. All
his old scores against Mrs. Delatfnere rose to his mind and
he saw a chance of revenge with all Wendlebury and the
Rural Deanery to back him up. It was not in human
nature to forgo the opportunity. He got down from his
box and stood by Griselda's head, saying stolidly

"I brefer to stop!"

"What!" shrieked Mrs. Delamere.

"I brefer to stop," he repeated.

"Insolent creature!" cried his fare, alighting agitat-

"Thank you. So very kind of you," soothed the poor
Vicar, assisting her into the char-a-banc.

The coachman flourished his whip, the hostess and host
smiled again, splendid to the last, the Wendlebury ladies
waved a grateful farewell through which Miss Amelia
remarked in an apologetic tone to Mrs. Delamere

"I do hope you will forgive me. I had to do it on
Pauline's account. After all, it will not matter so much
what time she comes home in Chubb 's cab. One always
feels that Chubb is so trustworthy."

But the lady addressed did not reply; she wrapped
herself in the mantle of all the Delameres and remained
speechless until she arrived at her own door.

It was almost dark now in the church, and Pauline
and her companion sat in moody and fatigued silence.


They had just been trying every door and window for
the sixth time, but the little upper windows with their
stone mullions could not be passed through by any human
being over the age of two, and Un^in had decided to
discuss the advisability of breaking the old stained East

"Then you think more of an old window than you
do of me," said Pauline sharply.

"I do," said Unwin, which shows where they had ar-

"If no one comes, I shall break the old thing myself,"
said Pauline, starting up.

He caught hold of her.

"No, you won't. And I don't believe you could squeeze
through the mullions if you did."

She pulled herself away feeling nothing but annoyance,
while Unwin had a strange, passing desire to hold her
roughly . . . hurt her. It was gone in a moment, but
he experienced on the top of it a sort of shocked aston-
ishment at having known it.

"You must think of something; you must," she said,
staring angrily at him through the gloom.

He left her, and wandered round the church very gloom-
ily by himself, peering and poking everywhere without
result. But as he was passing under the tower, where it
was already dark, for the tenth time, he felt the bell rope
hit him on the face. He cursed the bell rope, though in
a sacred place, and saw stars: then he saw something else.
Illumination spread from those receding stars and he
seized the bell-rope.

Clang! Clang! Clang! immediately rang out through
the still church, and across the country fields in the twi-

"Oh!" called Pauline, running towards Unwin; "why
on earth didn't you think of that before?"

"If it comes to that . . . why didn't you?"

Then they sat down once more and waited. Nothing


happened. He rang again, and this time there soon came
a clattering of feet outside, the sound of people calling,
the turn of the key in the door. They emerged, blinking,
from the pitch darkness into the spring night outside.
And there stood Chubb, solid upon a moving background
of village people bearing sticks and lanterns.

"Cab's waiting," he said.

"Well!" gasped Pauline. The two released persons
gazed at each other. A long man surged forth from the
crowd armed with a hay rake.

"We thought something had happened . . . robbers
. . . fire ... we didn't know. Church-bell's never rung
at that time afore in my life."

"Nor in mine," piped an old woman from behind in a
print bonnet.

"It was your son's Agnes locked 'em in. They've
no business to let that soft lass have the key," said the
first speaker.

It was all oddly mediaeval, this scene round the old
church, with the moving lanterns and the shapeless gar-
ments too dimly seen to be very different from those
worn long ago, and the country faces and voices. An
old man with a big nose and bent rheumatic limbs like a
figure from Teniers or Ostade leered at Pauline out of
the shadows, holding his lantern high.

"A bonny lass, he! he! A bonny lass! Agnes were
none so soft. She mun lock me in wi' this yere lass any
day. He! he!"

"Chubb!" cried Pauline, clinging somehow desper-
ately in him to the solid present. "How did you come

"Miss Amelia told me to stop behind till you come.
But you didn't come. Then the chap in the parson's
stables and me, we heard the bell, and he says 'Some-
thing's up!' So I says if something's up you may be
bound Mr. Unwin's in it. So I comes along."

"But Mrs. Delamere?" said Unwin, opening the cab


door. "I say, Miss "Westcott, hadn't you better get in?"

"Mrs. Delamere," replied Chubb, "was all for leaving
you. But Miss Amelia she ups and she says, either she
stops or I does. And Mrs. Delamere says in her haughty
way like : ' Drive on ! ' So then I puts in my word. ' I
brefer to stop,' I says; and nothing wouldn't make me
say no other. 'I brefer to stop,' I says."

"Well!" chuckled the old man again, "here's a lot of
fuss about a young chap having a bit of a lark ... if
it was me going to spend the night in our old church with
a bonny lass like her, I shouldn't trouble ..."

"Get in," commanded Unwin, propelling Pauline
through the cab door.

"But I can't think how Miss Amelia dared do it,"
said she, as he followed her in after bestowing gratuities.
"Tackle Mrs. Delamere, I mean. It's like a mouse going
for a large, green-eyed cat ! ' '

Chubb, turning the door-handle, was also able to an-
swer this question.

"I heard her say I was a sort of sign everything was
all proper," he remarked. "She gave out as I shouldn't
stand any larky goings on in my cab, nor shouldn't I."

"Chaperon, in fact," said I T -.'in. "But, surely,
Chubb, she was thinking of Grisel Venus and a stock-
broker might go to the moon under Jier wing in perfect
propriety. "We all know that."

Just then Griselda gave a careless flick of her tail as
one who says, "I am good, I don't know why." Chubb got
on the box-seat, the long man waved his rake, and the
senile spark held high his lantern, cackling out, "If I had
nobbut an old shoe and a bit o' rice, he! he!"

Unwin and Pauline beamed from the side windows,
laughing, excited, though they did not realise why they
felt that odd thrill of excited pleasure.

"Good-bye! Good-bye!"

And the people, moving about between the flowery
grasses, called back: "Good-bye! Good luck!"


For they too felt as if they had just seen youth and
hope go by with a sort of wedding jollity.

Perhaps it was the association of ideas which made
Unwin take Pauline's hand in his and ask, laughing

"I say, hasn't it been a joke?"

"But poor Miss Amelia!"

"And the Vicar! Never mind, we'll go round to-mor-
row and make love to Miss Amelia. She has been an old

The "we" was perhaps a little intoxicating. He pressed
the supple fingers closer.

"Do you know, the first thing I noticed about you was
your hands . . . your pretty hands ..."

Pauline withdrew the one he was holding and moved

"Of course you'll have to go round and explain to the

After which nothing of import was said until they
reached Aunt Dickson's door, where they parted lightly
under the chaperonage of Chubb.

Aunt Dickson looked up concerned as Pauline entered
the room.

"Oh, I am so thankful you are safely back. I have had
Miss Amelia and Mrs. Delamere in. What has happened ? ' '

Pauline sat down and related her tale. It was less
vivid than usual and Aunt Dickson noticed the difference
with increasing dismay. Surely, she thought, the girl is
not falling in love with young Unwin. Aloud ? she said

" I 'd rather it had been any one else ! ' '


"Because ..." Aunt Dickson hesitated. "Well, I
don't want you to have the job of reforming^ drunkard."

"I shall not have the chance," said Pauline. "And
he is not a drunkard. The bare term in connection with
Mr. Unwin is ridiculous. It is only that he ... some-
times . ."


She looked across more wistfully than she knew, and
Aunt Dickson's "big face grew very grave and sad, with a
deep sadness and gravity such as was seldom seen in it.

"Pauline," she said, speaking with a visible effort, "I
married a man like that, thinking I was going to help
him. He threw me downstairs in one of his drunken fits
and that is why I am like this."

"Aunt Dickson! Oh! I never knew. I never knew,"
said Pauline, almost in a whisper.

"Nobody knows. He was never a notorious drunkard.
But I love you like my own daughter so I have told

Pauline slipped across the hearth and hid her face in
Aunt Dickson's lap, kissing the veined old hands. She
could not say anything. At last she lifted up her head.

"To think God lets such things happen to people like
you!" she said, brushing away fierce, hot tears.

But Aunt Dickson was always ready to give her Maker
credit for kindness and common sense.

"I don't believe the Lord had much to do with it,"
she answered. "I think it was more likely port wine
after whooping cough at fifteen and an over-indulgent
mother. But we won't speak of it any more, Pauline."
She paused. "And so Mrs. Carter wore her plum col-
our? I always think she looks well in that."

Thus the door closed again upon that locked chamber
of Aunt Dickson's heart which she had painfully forced
open for a moment out of love for Pauline, and they
talked a little of ordinary simple matters.

But no sooner was Pauline safely in her bedroom alone
with her own urging, disturbing thoughts at last, when
Eva knocked at the door.

"The Missus has sent you a glass of hot milk. I'm
to see you take it."

Pauline sighed and opened the door, and Eva entered

"Well! You do look done up," she remarked.


"I am very tired," said Pauline. "I shall go straight
to bed."

But Eva did not retire.

"Look here," she said; "you take it all too serious.
Nobody '11 think a penny the worse of you, Miss. I'm
sure I don't!"

"That's nice of you/' said Pauline, smiling.

"Not a bit of it, Miss," said Eva. "Us Martins al-
ways was oners for romanch. We don't believe in tittle-
tattling about sweethearts and spoiling a girl's game. I
shall ever remember the clout over the ear my poor
Mother gave our Bill for saying out before everybody
at tea, 'Who kissed Cock Robin?' meaning Uncle Robin
that afterwards married Aunt Susan, and now they have
two pairs of twins and an odd boy with a squint in his
left eye." She sighed. "Ay, we owe a lot to my poor

What could Pauline say in the face of that? Nothing.
She sat down and drank the hot milk, responding suit-
ably to questions about the tea, the garden, the ladies'
dresses and the attitude of Chubb.


AUNT DICKSON beamed from her window like a jolly
red sun on a wintry morning, for she had found a
new joy in life. To the tortoise bell which regulated the
life of the house she had now added a portable telephone
instrument which enabled her to keep a finger, as it were,
on the pulse of all Wendlebury Town. True, the Misses

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 6 of 22)