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Pritchard and other ladies were not "on," but it was,
splendid to hear once more the muffled voice of Binns.
the fishmonger and to order, without an intermediary,
the joint for Sunday's dinner. She stocked the larder
to overflowing that morning with an excited, rollicking
sense of being "in it" again which left her breathless and
satisfied. She experienced that satisfaction in having
shopped well which is a perverse survival of a time when
women depended- on their own exertions for the provision-
ing of the household.

So, deeply feeling she had baked and spun, though
knowing otherwise, Aunt Dickson sat back in her great
chair and watched the passers-by. Pauline leaned en-
grossed over her translating. The scented flowery silence
was accentuated by the light rush and crackle of a wood
fire which gave out cheerfulness without too much heat.
Then Cling! and Aunt Dickson 's ear was at the receiver.

"It is for you, Pauline. Mr. Unwin? Yes. So nice
having the telephone."

She gave up the receiver; and Pauline felt vividly con-
scious of the big, inert figure, sitting there in the sun-
light.

"Oh! Not at all tired, thank you. No: I'm afraid I

95



9<5 THE GOSSIP SHOP

can't . . . Very busy just now. What a lovely day!
Good-bye!"

She put back the receiver and turned to Aunt Dickson.

"He wanted me to cycle out with him to Ryeford
Magna. We'd been talking about the church there. I
said I couldn't find time."

"I'm glad, Pauline."

"Oh, but that's only me. I do so wish I could help
him."

Aunt Dickson shook her head and said nothing, while
Pauline went back to her book; for she also, looking at
that maimed woman, felt there was nothing to say. But
she found it very difficult to keep her mind on her work,
and her delicate, longish face with the pointed chin,
lovely mouth and dark eyes, had a brooding look, elu-
sive; the will-o'-the-wisp again emerging. The will-o'-the-
wisp that would light the pork-butcher's shop.

Unwin hung up the receiver and walked to the window
of his private office where he stared out for some time
at a cat on the next roof. So that was it, was it? He
might as well know before things went any further.
After all, there were moments when he disliked her;
in the church, for instance, when he was wandering about
in the dark and banging his eye with a bellrope. It was
foolish to fall in love with a girl who aggravated you so;
no foundation for a happy married life there.

Then his reflections abruptly took a fresh turn and a
beautiful light, like sudden sunshine, relieved their dull-
ness. Of course, the old woman was in the room. No
doubt Pauline had been shy and did not like to make an
appointment under the nose of Aunt Dickson.

Whistling, he sat down to his table and began to jot
down what ought to be done in the little church where
he and Pauline had been imprisoned. It would all help
when Lord Southwater went over the place with him, and
would add, no doubt, to the favourable opinion which



DELIA'S PARTY 97

that excellent peer already entertained of his abilities.
After a while, he began to chuckle as he sketched.
Chubb . . . the crowd outside . . . What a lark that all
was, to be sure! And the ride home his pencil ceased
moving 1 the ride home. But he could not recover what
he had felt in holding her slim fingers, and his one thought
was to be near her again.

In consequence of this, he went that same evening to
call upon Delia Lambert. But Pauline would have been
astonished and even pained had she known that her tele-
phone message would produce this effect. For there is
one mystery locked away from the female sex ; no girl will
ever really understand that a man's love for a woman
whom he can't see, will send him to see another whom he
does not love. Thus while Pauline avoided promiscuous
male society and remained intolerant of the new curate,
Unwin entered a confectioner's shop, purchased a box of
chocolates and made his way with a certain eagerness to
the little house near the Bowling Green Inn, telling him-
self that it was a tribute to the memory of poor Delamere.

In answer to his knock, the dressmaker-landlady opened
the door, munching, with fingers pressed upon her mouth
to support her new false teeth. ' ' .'Souse ! Good evening,
Mr. Unwin."

"Is Miss Lambert at home?" said Unwin, realising the
curiosity in the woman's eyes with a faint feeling of em-
barrassment.

' ' She is not open to professional engagements this even-
ing. I presume it is the fortune-telling?"

"N-no," said Unwin. Then he heard with relief Delia
Lambert's voice from the interior. "That you, Mr. Un-
win? Oh, come in! Do come in."

"Of course ... I was not aware . . . Any personal
friend," murmured the dressmaker, ushering Unwin into
the room.

Delia sat at the head of the table and the dressmaker



98 THE GOSSIP SHOP

had evidently just risen from a seat on her right hand.
A bunch of white lilac was surrounded by the pink and
green and silver of salmon and cucumber, by the pale gold
of delicately roasted chicken, by the heaped rose of early
strawberries, by a jar of foie gras. Unwin remembered
his last interview and felt naturally astonished, though
endeavouring to concentrate his mind upon the weather.

"Yes, delightful," said Delia staidly; then her lips
twitched and she began to laugh. "It's no good, Mr.
Unwin. You behave so perfectly, but even you are unable
to ignore such a banquet in a room twelve feet by ten.
Now, honestly, tell me what you think it all means ? And
sit down, Miss "Walker. Go ? Of course you can 't go. No
lady ever left a party in the middle ; and besides, I want
you. And Mr. Unwin is to have this chair on my left.
-Now then! What do you think of it?"

As she leaned forward he saw that her face was even
more lined than he had thought, yet in spite of high cheek
bones, blunt nose and restless eyes, it remained oddly at-
tractive.

"What do I think?" he said, smiling. "Why, that
you and Miss Walker are doing yourselves uncommonly
well."

"We're having a party," said Delia. "Miss Walker has
been so kind to me that I wanted to try and return a little,
though one can never return a kindness."

"No." Unwin too smiled at the little woman opposite.
"That's a good thing we have to keep."

"Not at all ... 'scuse . . . only mentioning the palm-
istry here and there," said Miss Walker.

"But Mr. Unwin still feels uneasy," mocked Delia.
"He is an upright, respectable citizen who has never
known the adventurous joy of buying what he can see no
means of paying for, and he fears we shall get into trouble,
Miss Walker."

"I'm sure I never owed a penny. Father's guiding
principle," murmured Miss Walker, rather annoyed.



DELIA'S PARTY 9&

"I know what happened," said Unwin soothingly.
"Miss Lambert rubbed her crystal like a person in a
fairy tale and the banquet appeared. It does taste a bit
of brimstone, doesn't it, Miss Walker?"

"Perhaps, Miss Lambert," said the dressmaker, drawing
herself up, "it would be better to inform Mr. Unwin that
you have had a legacy left you, and that these are the
er proceeds. ' '

"That's it," said Delia. "My grandfather has died
and cut me off with fifty pounds for mourning and an
insult. So I am going to have some real fun out of it,
just to spite him."

"After all, fifty pounds is a very nice sum," said the
dressmaker, a little wistfully. "It takes a lot of earning,
especially when you begin to get on in life like me."

"You getting on! You haven't a grey hair," said Delia,
with careless good-nature. "Ask the local preacher with
the bump over his right eye what he thinks?"

"Past all that," said the dressmaker, but she gave a
giggle reminiscent of her lost youth.

"Nonsense!" said Unwin gallantly. "A woman is as
old as she looks, you know."

"Well," said Miss Walker, "perhaps you are right.
"There's Mrs. Delamere now ... I was working for her
yesterday . . . how she wears! But she was a good deal
bothered about Lord Southwater."

"Why?" said Unwin rather eagerly.

"He is ill in bed with 'scuse! a bad attack of bron-
chitis."

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Unwin. But a sudden,
sense of lightness and relief made him realise that he was
glad to hear it, and that a little anxiety in regard to Lord
Southwater 's silence had gradually been creeping across
the clear horizon of the future. It was not definite enough
to be called a fear, but the possibility of fear had been
there. Now all was explained, and he could await the re-
covery of the invalid with an easy mind.



100 THE GOSSIP SHOP

So Unwin's spirits went up with a bound and the little
party became a very merry one, while the little dress-
maker began to feel that she was still a fascinating
woman, though undoubtedly mature, and that there was
something about her which might have turned the heads
of all Wendlebury, had she developed it earlier in life.
At cigarettes, however, she drew the line, retiring to over-
sew a bodice and to think of a Sunday-school treat long
ago, when a gentleman rather like Unwin had said to her :
"You resemble a fairy in that white frock." As a mat-
ter of fact the gentleman was no more like Unwin than
Miss Walker was like a fairy; it was just one of those
dreams given to women by a heavenly kindness which has
regard to their deep capacity for love, and will not let
them know themselves as they are.

When she had gone, Unwin and Delia sat down on
either side of the fire.

"Well," said Delia, putting her feet on the fender, "I
must own it is nice to feel once more that life is a lark to
somebody. ' '

"I didn't feel it when I came in," said Unwin. "The
party has cheered me up too."

"Has it?" said Delia, watching the smoke go upwards
from her cigarette. "Sometimes I feel like the man who
committed suicide because life was all buttoning and un-
buttoning. It seems sometimes all getting down-hearted
and cheering up again. But I have been ill and miser-
able."

"You're better now?"

"Yes. Oh, yes. I shall keep quiet here for a few
weeks, and then I shall be all right. The air is so lovely ;
and I mean to spend part of the fifty pounds on Chubb 's
cab, as I can't walk far."

"That will do you good," said Unwin. Then he added:
"I say, isn't it queer that I should have chanced to be
with poor Delamere at the last, and now I appear likely



DELIA'S PARTY 101

to get this appointment with Lord Southwater? How
his pride would be injured if he knew the whole story. ' '

"Well, he never will know it. We are neither of us
likely to go back on a dead man who can't speak for him-
self," said Delia. "But I am glad you are getting the
job. After what you did for one brother, it is only just
that you should derive some benefit from the other."

"Oh, I did very little. But Southwater would never
give me the post if he knew. His pride would be con-
stantly galled by seeing me," said Unwin.

"Are you afraid I shall tell?" said Delia, looking
straight at him. "I promise you I won't, if that eases
your mind."

"I'm not afraid," said Unwin.

Then they talked in low voices of the dead man, and
about eleven o 'clock Unwin departed. It was a fine, starry
night, and he strolled past Pauline's house, though it was
not on his way home. As he went by, a light shone out
from the upper storey, and he felt that stirring of the
heart which all lovers know beneath their lady's window,
which is as commonplace as the chirping of a sparrow
to its mate, and as deeply a part of our common life.

Chubb stood in his kitchen waiting for Mrs. Chubb to
bring his best hat, while Griselda flicked her tail medi-
tatively before the open door. The sound of the cabman's
heavy voice came out to her, blustering, angry, finally a
sort of bellow. But she only flicked her tail : for, friendly
or furious, he was still her Chubb.

Mrs. Chubb, within, wore an expression which denoted
the same sentiments, but there remained elsewhere about
her mental attitude an impalpable something which could
not be defined, but which was not in Griselda 's.

"You great silly!" shouted Chubb. "You can't have
eaten my best hat! And this house isn't Buckinerm Pal-
ace. Find it."

"I have looked," said Mrs. Chubb, screwing up her



102 THE GOSSIP SHOP

mouth. "I can't find it. You don't want it as bad as all
that, until Sunday comes."

"I want it now and I'll have it," retorted Chubb. "But
things has got to a pretty pass in this house me having
to find my own things myself!"

He lumbered up the stairs, but Mrs. Chubb remained
at the bottom, opening and shutting her mouth like a
fish; her face was white but desperate. It did indeed
seem to her a terrible thing that she should be driven to
allow Chubb to fetch his own best hat. In a moment he
emerged from the bedroom bearing the hat.

' ' It was under the bed all the time ! ' '

Mrs. Chubb turned away with her hand to her heart.

"What time shall you be back?"

"Oh, Miss Lambert said about a couple of hours."

"It's every day this week."

"Yes. She's a lady now. She knows how to tip and
to treat a man," said Chubb.

"I dessay, " said Mrs. Chubb, then opened her mouth,
closed it again and thought better. "I suppose some quiet
country road. That was what she told you last time,
wasn't it?"

"Yes. I think I shall take her round Narcross and
home by Ryeford. Bluebells is coming out in Narcross
woods."

He got on his box as he spoke and Mrs. Chubb ex-
changed a glance with Griselda. They knew, they knew!
The hussy!

"I dessay you tell her all about the neighbourhood,"
said Mrs. Chubb innocently. "She'll be asking you ques-
tions about things, Chubby. You're such a clever man!"

"Ay; I tell her the points of interest ... I tell her
the points of interest," said Chubb. "Gee-up!"

Griselda flicked her tail in mute sympathy as she de-
murely trotted on and Mrs. Chubb returned to the house,
where she stood for a long time quite still by the window,
listening to the sound of Griselda 's footsteps until they



DELIA'S PARTY 103

died away. A silvery silence hung over the little town,
the grey clouds being illuminated by a distant sunlight,
high up, which did not shine through them. Then a cart
rattled by and Mrs. Chubb, seemingly roused to some des-
perate activity, put on her jacket and hat and fled through
by-ways to the Ryecroft Road. She was unaccustomed to
pedestrian exercise and began to pant by the time she
emerged upon the green fields, but that did not deter her
for more than the few moments required to gather strength
and speed on again.

At last she heard the familiar clop ! clop ! of Griselda
in the distance and instantly slipped behind a hedge. The
field chanced to be that in which the scarecrow waved
warning arms, and Mrs. Chubb was so excited that she
thought it was the farmer ordering her away, but she
called back desperately over her shoulder: "You may
shout and wave until you bust yourself, but I ivttl see
what's going on."

She crouched down as the cab came nearer her view
was interrupted by the twigs. She cautiously peered
above the hedge, saw Delia in the cab, and instantly dis-
appeared again.

' ' Chubb ! ' ' called Delia excitedly from the road. ' ' Stop !
Stop! A tramp has just fallen down behind that hedge!"

Mrs. Chubb heard in a whirlwind of fury and apprehen-
sion. A tramp ! But if Chubb found her there, what would
he do to her? He would never forgive her in this world.

Her thoughts ran round and round like rats in a trap,
as she crouched in the ditch among dead leaves that rat-
tled. Dead leaves . . . dead leaves . . . babes in the
wood. . . . An inspiration came to her.

Delia ran across the road to look over the hedge, and
Chubb followed more slowly. Mrs. Chubb, through a chink
in her heap of leaves, saw their heads close together as
they peered over, and she ground her teeth in impotent
indignation. How handsome her Chubb looked! What a
splendid figure of a man. No wonder . . .



104 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"Well!" said Delia, drawing back. "This is queer. I
most certainly saw a hat. ' '

"It's been fancy," said Chubb, turning away.

Mrs. Chubb, however, was trembling to such an extent
that the sparse leaves ceased to cover her, and Delia
exclaimed again

"I am certain it is a tramp. I see an old boot!"

"Old boots is common enough," grunted Chubb, going
back to his cab.

"But it waggled," protested Delia, hurrying along the
road under the shadow of the hedge.

"Fancy, "said Chubb.

"I'm sure I saw a boot," said Delia. "You could fancy
a face, perhaps, but not a boot."

"Women can fancy anything. Get in, Mum," said
Chubb. "Gee-up!"

And Mrs. Chubb, wet through from the mud in the
ditch, exhausted after her long walk, and almost fainting
with nervous agitation, yet had a moment of relief so in-
tense that it seemed almost like beatitude as she heard the
cab roll away down the Ryeford Road.

After a few moments she got up, brushed off as much
mud as possible, and plodded by devious ways home to a
situation which, though less terrible than it might have
been, was still unparalleled in the annals of the Chubbs.
Mr. Chubb was reduced, after waiting a whole half-hour,
to the horrible necessity of getting his own tea ready.
His back, as Mrs. Chubb passed the window, expressed
something of what he felt about that. Cautiously, gently
she opened the door.

"Chubby!" she bleated.

Then he turned. Then the pent-up storm burst. He
prided himself on never laying a finger on a woman, and
nobly he kept to that resolution now. When his expres-
sions of just anger became reproduceable he was shout-
ing like some overwhelming Neptune with a piece of smok-
ing toast on his trident.



DELIA'S PARTY 105

"Out! Out a -walking! When I wanted my tea!"

' ' I 'm very sorry, Chubb, ' ' said she, sinking into a chair.

"Then what was you doing? What excuse have you to
make?"

"I haven't none," said she dully, staring at her muddy
boots. "I I wanted a bit of fresh air."

"And this," said Chubb, addressing the universe, "is
what I get for being a faithful married husband twenty
year! No wonder marrying 's going out o' fashion."

Mrs. Chubb made no reply. She could, as she exhaust-
edly reflected, manage a day's washing against anybody,
but sleuth-hunting was too much for her.

Next morning, still feeling the effects of this novel ex-
perience, she went to clean at the house where Delia Lam-
bert lodged, and, being late, encountered the little dress-
maker just starting forth with fashion 'papers and bag
upon the day's work. Often and often Mrs. Chubb had
paused on the way, determining not to come, and then
urged forward by that curiosity of jealousy which drives
cleverer people than the cabman's wife into much more
distasteful actions than cleaning out the sitting-room of
the hated rival.

"Then," said the dressmaker, "you'll do the sitting-
room while Miss Lambert is out driving this afternoon?"

Mrs. Chubb opened her mouth, closed it, swallowed,
and answered, "Yes."

"It's a real good job for Chubb," pursued the dress-
maker, conscious of having introduced a valuable custo-
mer. "Miss Lambert is generous with her money when
she has any. I've no doubt she behaves well to him."

"Neither have I," said Mrs. Chubb, screwing her lips
tight and walking into the house.



CHAPTER X

A COUNTRY WALK

A YOUNG man in Wendlebury who desires to see a
young woman has but to place himself near the little
table in the confectioner's window and the chance will
come. So the shop being a busy one and the few tables
in request, which does not allow of their continued occu-
pation by non-consumers it is simply a question whether
love or digestion first gives out. Unwin's excellent inter-
nal organs had already begun slightly to feel the strain
of cheese-cakes, bath-buns and other solid dainties com-
pounded here from recipes dating back to eighteen fifty,
when he at last espied Pauline by the counter ordering
that almond pound cake for which the shop remained
justly famous.

It was already about six o'clock, but he jumped up
from his seat and hurried round a fragrant pile of spicy,
sugary buns, exclaiming with fervour

"Do come and take pity on my loneliness. I am just
going to begin and I do so hate having tea alone."

Pauline hesitated, looking at a crisp mound of Ladies'
Fingers, but seeing Aunt Dickson's face as it was that
evening after the ride home in Chubb 's cab from Marcross
Church. Poor Aunt Dickson . . . how little any one
guessed that her life held such a tragedy. . . .

"Do come," urged Unwin.

Then Pauline looked at him intently.

And as she looked, she made up her mind to marry him
if he asked her. Her emotions so long latent and con-
trolled suddenly burst forth into a great flower of hope

106



A COUNTRY WALK 107

and desire. She felt the perfume of it surround them
both as she walked towards the table. Her love seemed
strong enough to carry both of them up into the heavens,
past all weakness and all sin. But it left her also ready
to suffer ... to suffer terribly ... to almost welcome
agony if it were helping him.

The little cake-scented shop swam in a sort of haze; it
was a wonderful moment in her life . . . unforget-
table . . .

Then the moment passed and she heard herself saying
in a high, trembling voice which she scarcely recognised

"Yes, I should like some tea."

But they both knew that tea-time had long gone past
and the shopwoman also knew it; so there was quite a
glow of young romance about the tray which she presently
set before them. She had added a little dish of melting,
delicious pink-and-white sugar biscuits called Lovers'
Kisses, such as were generally supplied only at dances and
weddings and such-like festivals, because she was all un-
consciously a poet though she was fat and tight-busted
and rosy-cheeked and had a beautiful desire to pay trib-
ute to young love.

Both Unwin and Pauline felt the charm of the narrow
little place where the rich plenty of butter and cream and
eggs from the green fields round Wendlebury had been
transformed into things delicious to eat during the past
seventy years by women who had pride and joy in their
work. It was the poetry of restaurant keeping which
these lovers sensed in nibbling Lovers' Kisses and talking
about the weather.

But after a while the kind shopwoman retired to a cor-
ner and feigned to be sorting gingerbreads into a tall glass
jar. So Unwin bent forward across the table and said
quickly

"You wouldn't come with me to Ryeford. Why not?"

"Aunt Dickson " murmured Pauline. "I don't

like to leave her too much alone."



108 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"It is a lovely church," he said. "I believe I may haT
something to do there when Marcross is finished. ' '

"But would you not rather build a church outright?"
said Pauline, speaking at random. "In the future no-
body will ever know you did anything if you only repair
and restore and beautify. You get lost!"

"That's just " he began. But he could not yet

explain to her how he felt about that; he did not even,
as it were, mention the matter to himself. But the whole
of his own work was inspired by the thought of those
brothers of his in the past who had added and beautified
and been forgotten, and yet must be gloriously remem-
bered so long as tower and steeple stand among cluster-
ing English villages.

A silence fell between them; one of those odd silences
which happen when certain words crowd round waiting
to be spoken and no others will come. A time of miser-
able, happy, odd embarrassment in which lovers usually
nimble-minded become awkward.

Then the shop-door opened and Miss Amelia hurried in,
saying breathlessly

"Miss "Westcott here? I saw her in the window a mo-
ment ago . . . expecting me . . . grieved to be so late."
And she perched on a chair by the little table. "And so,
Pauline, you have started without me? Quite right."

Pauline and Unwin looked at Miss Amelia with natural
astonishment.

"Do have a cake," said Pauline nervously.

"Thank you," said Miss Amelia, drawing Unwin 's cup
towards her and taking a bun. "Ah! quite a feast.
Lovers' Kisses. Delicious, of course ..." She broke
off and flushed all over her delicate face. "Not that I
mean ..." She stopped again. "Let us all be eating."

Pauline pitied the little lady's obvious disturbance,
though unable to imagine the cause, while Unwin nibbled
another bun, flying in the face of organs which absolutely
declined further sustenance, and remarked jauntily



A COUNTRY WALK 109

"I persuaded Miss "Westcott to join me. I hate having
tea alone."

"The more the merrier," seconded Pauline, making an
effort to appear unconcerned. "So glad you came, Miss
Amelia."


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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 7 of 22)