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PAULINE SEES A PAGEANT 123

setting the tray of cakes. "I the fact is dear Mrs. Dick-
son, I am feeling the the need of air."

"But the window is wide open," said Aunt Dickson,
staring at Miss Amelia in some perturbation. "Do you
feel ill?"

"Not at all. You mistake me. I mean country air,
on the Ryeford Road," said Miss Amelia. "And I won-
dered if Pauline would accompany me. ' '

"But it is just tea-time," said Aunt Dickson. "Surely
you don't want to miss your tea?"

Miss Amelia turned pink and white, and looked miser-
ably at Pauline.

"I have always understood that air was feeding," she
murmured. "If dear Pauline would come now I should
be so greatly obliged."

"Of course I will," said Pauline at once. "I have my
hat and coat on already."

' ' So sweet of you. Good-bye, dear Mrs. Dickson. Please
don't think it unkind ... a sudden craving for air ..."
and she murmured herself agitatedly out of the house.

Once in the street, she became a little calmer.

"Let us talk of indifferent topics," she said, straighten-
ing her veil with trembling fingers. "If we could ex-
change views about the parliamentary situation until we
reached the corner of the Ryeford Road I think it might
do me good. That and the fresh air. I always think any-
thing about Parliament so soothing . . . talk and talk and
the same thing repeated over and over again and nothing
really happening. It has the same effect on my mind now
as the 'House that Jack built' had when I was little."

So they went along, Miss Amelia talking and Pauline
listening, until they reached the green country.

"And now," said Miss Amelia, putting up her veil,
"you will doubtless wonder why I brought you here?"

"Has Miss Harriet quarrelled with the Vicar again?"
said Pauline.

Miss Amelia shook her head.



124 . THE GOSSIP SHOP

"If it were only that!" She paused. "I thought I
must tell you alone. I thought you would prefer it. It
would be such an unpleasant shock if people were there,
for you could scarcely help changing countenance. And
as you are not really engaged "

' ' Miss Amelia, ' ' pleaded Pauline, ' ' do tell me what you
mean?"

And something in the girl's tone made Miss Amelia
forget her own nervousness, so that she said with quiet
directness

"The Vicar had a letter from Lord Southwater this
morning. Mr. Unwin has not got the post. ' '

"Not got the post!" said Pauline.

"No. The Vicar went in to see Unwin. He is so
very sorry about it."

"But why has Lord Southwater changed his mind? It
was practically settled," said Pauline.

"Nobody knows. Lord Southwater just said he had
made other arrangements."

Pauline drew a long breath.

"Well, I must go back. Aunt Dickson is expecting
several people to tea and she will need me."

Miss Amelia peered up anxiously into Pauline's pale
face which told her nothing.

"You don't think me officious?"

"No, no," cried Pauline, putting her hand through
Miss Amelia's arm. "You are the kindest and best. Only
I don't want to say anything. ... I don't feel as if I
could. But I shall never, never forget your coming to
tell me."

"And money does not really matter at all in life," added
dear Miss Amelia. "So long as people are young and
care for each other ..."

A thrush sang out dear thrush Amen! A-A-men!
It was just a psalm in praise of love that the little old maid
and the bird gave forth together.



PAULINE SEES A PAGEANT 125

Pauline returned to the little house when she found
it difficult to hand cups and saucers and seem prettily
interested 'in the misdemeanours of maidservants. At
last, however, the guests went away, and the question
which had been hot upon her tongue during that endless
tea-party was spoken.

"Did you tell Mrs. Delamere about Mr. Unwin?"

"What about him?"

"His being in the Dragon doorway that morning."
She paused, "Drunk as I thought."

"I don't remember doing so," said Aunt Dickson. "No,
T feel sure I never did."

"Did you tell anybody?"

"I don't know. Perhaps, now I come to think of it,
I did mention the matter to some one, but I forget who."
She looked red, and troubled, at Pauline, searching her
memory. "'Oh, I know . . . Cakes . . . Miss Argle!
But it would be in the strictest confidence, I am sure."

"And Miss Argle no doubt told Mrs. Delamere in the
strictest confidence. Well " Pauline's throat felt dry
and her voice came huskily "Well, that story has cost
Unwin his appointment. And yet he had been up all night
with a dying man whom he got to know by chance."

"I remember a stranger dying at the Dragon," said
Aunt Dickson. "But Lord South water is a just man,
and he would never be influenced to that degree by a
piece of trivial gossip. He is used to the world and
to Mrs. Delamere also, Pauline. Besides, we do not know
that Miss Argle said anything, after all."

"Some one must find out," replied Pauline. "Then
Lord Southwater must be told the exact truth."

Aunt Dickson shook her head.

"That would only make bad, worse. If Lord South-
water knows nothing about the story and has never heard
that Unwin is reputed to be rather irresponsible, one might
do a great deal of harm. For all you know, the post may



126 THE GOSSIP SHOP

be offered to him sometime in the future. "We can't pos-
sibly know Lord Southwater's reasons."

Aunt Dickson spoke urgently, fully believing what she
said; but the motives of all people are mixed, and she
was unaware how greatly her vague prejudice against
TJnwin as a husband influenced her conclusions. In ad-
dition to this, she was old and dependent on others, and
something below reason the instinct of self-preservation
which is so strong in the very young and the very old
made her unconsciously work to keep by her side one who
so reinforced her waning vitality.

"But you surely don't think we ought to sit still and
do nothing!" said Pauline.

"We must think it over," said Aunt Dickson, flushed
and disturbed. "I don't see what we can do that will not
injure TJnwin more than help him. You see, we don't
know Lord Southwater has heard anything."

Pauline walked to the window and stood looking out
at the soft rain slanting across the houses opposite with
their iron rails and gleaming knockers.

"I know," she said; "I who have taken his chance in
life away from him."

"No no. That is talking in a foolish exaggerated way,
not at all like you, Pauline," said Aunt Dickson. "You
meant no harm."

"But harm happened," persisted Pauline. "Oh! if you
could only unsay things!"

Aunt Dickson shook her head, looking into the fire, and
back on her own life.

"Yes, we all feel that, one time or another; but not
even God Himself can call back a word that is once
said."

A silence fell, which lasted until the light began to
grow dim. Aunt Dickson was wandering down who knows
what forgotten paths in which there was no memory of
Pauline, while Pauline herself stared out of the window
at the darkening street, feeling that sense of dull unhap-



PAULINE SEES A PAGEANT 127

piness which ushers in agony of mind, as does an uneasy
torpor some physical illness.

She watched the lamplighter come forth with his little
ladder and kindle sparks of light among the shadows; it
all seemed meaningless and yet charged with fate, as trifles
do at such a time.

Then Aunt Dickson awoke from the half doze into
which she had fallen and said cheerfully

"Come, Pauline, it's no use crying over spilt milk. If
you are going always to think twenty times before you
speak once, you may as well be dumb for all the fun you '11
make in the world."

"Fun!" said Pauline, unconsciously echoing Mrs.
Chubb. "What's fun? You can be an ass and a prophet
at the same time if you are only solemn enough."

' ' Fun is the sunshine of life, ' ' said Aunt Dickson. ' ' It
makes just the same difference to a grey life as sunshine
does to a grey street."

"It has led me into saying many things to amuse you
that I ought never to have said," retorted Pauline. "I
have grown to be a gossip. I will never tell you anything
again."

But before the words were out of her mouth she re-
pented them, and the hurt look on Aunt Dickson 's big,
kindly face, caused her to add hastily, "Oh! I didn't mean
that. I simply love coming in and telling you what I
have seen. Every time I come up the steps I think this is
home, and here is somebody waiting for me."

"But you blame me all the same, Pauline?"

"I don't. There is no one to blame but myself."

"I shall not sleep a wink to-night, troubling about it,"
said Aunt Dickson.

"Nonsense!" replied Pauline, trying now to cover up
the truth. "As you say, we don't know that our story
has anything at all to do with Unwin's loss of the ap-
pointment."

Thus the tables were turned, and Pauline now became



128 THE GOSSIP SHOP

the one to soothe and reassure, because a bad night meant
a great deal in Aunt Dickson's state of health and must
be avoided at all costs. Finally, the tortoise-tail was
touched, and Aunt Dickson resumed cheerful command
of the daily round again. Eva entered to clear away the
tea-things which still stood about in the twilit room, and
when Pauline followed her into the kitchen with the cake-
stand she remarked casually

"Sorry I was late back from the butcher's, but I got
talking to Mrs. Chubb. She says Mr. Unwin hasn't got-
ten that job he was after. She worked at Vicarage to-
day and heard the news there."

"So I understand," said Pauline, beginning to put the
little yellow cakes away in round black japanned tins.

"They seem to say he has something else to go to,"
continued Eva. "But anyway, he would never hang
round waiting for help from other people. He's the
independent sort that wouldn't get much if he did. They
say the Lord helps them that help themselves, and it's
a jolly good thing He does, for the neighbours won't.
They'll give all they've got to give to somebody as sits
in a lump and cries."

"Oh, I don't think so," said Pauline.

"Don't you? Well, look about you a bit then, Miss!
And Mr. Unwin 's like us Martins in that, I bet a button.
He'd rather be picked at than pitied." She paused. "But
he's got another post. Mrs. Chubb heard them say so.
Somewhere in Africa. It'll be a change from Wendle-
bury."

Eva lifted the kettle off the fire, so there was silence
for a moment, with the red firelight shining on the
kitchen fender and on the japanned box, and the rich
fragrance of cakes made from country butter and fresh
eggs. "He's got the job because the last man died; seems
it's an unhealthy part . . . the one afore that died too,
so they said. Mr. Unwin wants a good heart to go, doesn't
he? But men doesn't think much about things like that."



PAULINE SEES A PAGEANT 129

"Did they ..." Pauline broke off and then went on
again, "did they say anything more about it?"

"No, but I dessay Mr. Unwin is a bit too flighty-like
for Lord South water," suggested Eva. "There's allus
tongues wagging; nothing you can lay hold on, you know,
but that's no help. I'd a deal rather have somebody say
I'd a wooden leg straight out than go hinting there was
something funny about me figure. I could give 'em a kick
and show 'em that I was all right. But you can't fight
nothing; it's like fighting against a fog."

"But surely the Vicar does not believe any harm of
Mr. Unwin?"

"No. He took Chubb and drove over this morning to
see Lord Southwater directly he heard, but it wasn't no
good." Eva looked kindly at Pauline. "Never mind,
Miss, you like hot weather. Or if not, there's as good fish,
in the sea as ever come out of it. Young men's all right,
but as my poor mother used to say when mine all seemed
to come to nothing somehow, 'Eva/ she says, 'some can
keep 'em and some can't; and if you can't you'd best let
'em go graceful.' ' She paused, searching in her good
heart for comfort. "I'm on'y tell you what I tell myself.
Providence meant us all to walk out, because He gave us
them kind of feelings, but He didn't mean us all to get
married, else He'd ha' provided enough men to go round."

She looked anxiously into Pauline's white face and
was relieved to see a smile.

"Well, Eva, perhaps we shall be two gay old maids
together; who knows?"

"There isn't any old maids now," said Eva. "We've
given up letting the men think we should be thankful for
the worst of 'em, and we'll soon let 'em know we'll go
without altogether unless we can have the best of 'em."
She settled her cap and gazed out defiantly at Pauline,
her own long, pale features all alight. "I'm a bachelor
girl; I am. I aren't going to let the thought of not get-
ting married down me."



130 THE GOSSIP SHOP

"It's not ..." began Pauline, then she saw the im-
possibility of saying anything about the matter to Eva.
"Well, I hope Mr. Unwin may like Africa."

"Don't you worry," said Eva. "Change that's what
men like. And it isn't any use breaking your heart be-
cause nature didn't make 'em different. There's Mr. Un-
win now, as pleasant a gentleman as ever stepped, but
he'll walk out with you of an afternoon and go and see
Miss Lambert of an evening. And who blames him? I
don't. No more than I blames a bull for bellering. You
want to blame nature."

This philosophy, however, was lost sight of by Pauline
in the shock of finding out that her most secret and sacred
feelings were known as publicly as the advertisements for
chicken-houses and hay in the Wendlebury Herald. It
seemed to her odious, shameful; she longed, as she sat
playing draughts with Aunt Dickson, to turn her back on
Wendlebury for ever. Only her warm, living sense of
gratitude, a rare quality belonging only to souls that are
fundamentally generous, enabled her to contemplate a
series of evenings such as this one.

But when she was once alone in her own room, all
other thoughts were swamped by the fear that she had
injured the man she loved. Her delicate elusiveness had
kept her free from those thrills and half joys which some
girls know as soon as they are past childhood, and now
true love came to her with all the strength and freshness
of the first time. It was like a blind man who should
first see the sun rise across the Egyptian desert near the
temple of Hathor . . . the whole wonder and glory of
dawn revealed at once.

And now, piercing through that love, came the sharp
suspicion that she had been the one to take from Unwin his
chance in life; and few men have more than one. She
tossed about in a fever of remorse and powerlessness. If
she could only take back what she had said! She must



PAULINE SEES A PAGEANT 131

take it back. There must be some way. God did not so
punish men for a chance word.

Then common-sense told her that God had nothing
to do with it. He works in a majestic order seed and
fruit cause and effect. He leaves us free.

She ceased weakly to blame God and blamed herself,
and those who do that have reached a stepping-stone.
They are no longer immersed in the. Slough of Despond,
however they may agonise.

And it was indeed agony that Pauline lived through
that night. Her fevered imagination threw terrible pic-
tures on the darkness, giant distorted shadows like those
cast by a candle on a blank wall. She saw the poor
servant-girl of whom Eva had once spoken, floating face
upwards on the green surface of the pond. She saw the
tragic company of great men who have been hounded out
of life by bitter tongues. The tales she had read of them
were imbued with a strange reality in passing through her
mind; her thoughts were fused by some action of the
nerves into pictures. It was a most dreadful pageant of
gossip that she witnessed, lying on her bed in that quiet
room. And over and over again, pushed vehemently away
but returning always like a refrain made visible, came
the picture of Unwin stretched gaunt under a burning
sky with a great bird flying towards him.

She knew well enough that if he did also die of fever,
like the previous man holding the post, it would probably
be in a tent or in his own bungalow. This vision was
only something half remembered from a picture-book seen
in childhood and now brought to the surface of her mind.
But the horror was none the less real. She saw the great
bird hovering and felt that it was she who had sent Unwin
out to die.

But with the first streak of dawn these nightmare
visions cleared away. For Pauline belonged to the mod-
ern type of woman who no longer resigns herself to en-
dure until she has tried with all her powers to make things



132 THE GOSSIP SHOP

better. And though she was overstrung and off the nor-
mal after the experience of the night, this only so far
affected her as to make a plan seem natural and feasible
which would, in the ordinary way, have seemed to her
useless if not ridiculous.

So it was in a hopeful mood that she breakfasted,
sent Eva to order Chubb 's cab and entered Aunt Dick-
son's bedroom, saying with a sort of high-strung casual-
ness

"It is a lovely morning. I will take those baby-clothes
to Mrs. Dunn to-day."

"You'll have to have Chubb," said Aunt Dickson.
"Poor Agnes, she would have been better off as my serv-
ant still than living at the world 's end on a pound a week
with five children and a husband fond of beer. But she
would have him. ' ' Aunt Dickson sighed and looked wist-
fully at Pauline. "If girls only knew when they were
well off!"

"Then the world would come to an end, Aunt Dick-
son."

"Well," said Aunt Dickson, "you ask Agnes to-day,
Pauline ; she '11 tell you whether it is not all a case of car-
rot and donkey."

"With romance for the carrot?" said Pauline lightly.

"With romance for the carrot," repeated Aunt Dick-
son heavily.



CHAPTER XII

PAULINE INTERVENES

HUBB 'S cab acted as an incentive to quiet reflection,
the even clop ! clop ! of Griselda 's hoofs which looked
as if they should have worn elastic-sided boots gradually
soothed Pauline's mind, and by the time she reached the
cottage where Aunt Dickson's gifts were to be deposited,
she was already wondering at the fears and imaginings
of the past night.

The woman came out with a child in her arms and
two others, sunburnt and golden-haired, clinging to her
skirts. Roses climbed about tihe doorway, and within
could be seen a kitchen with a red brick floor. But it
was not so much these outward things which made Pau-
line see that Aunt Dickson's old servant had been wise
to leave comfortable servitude for poverty and child-bear-
ing and hard work; it was the woman's grateful: "Mrs.
Dickson's the best mistress a girl ever had; so she is; but
you like to have a home of your own. ' '

As Pauline went back to her cab, the words followed*
her a home of your own. She saw now that it was the
very spirit of home, brooding over that little cottage, which,
made it so lovely. The same spirit has made beautiful
thousands and thousands of houses, great and small, all
up and down England. No one can see the process, but
the result shines out between green branches and behind
little flower gardens everywhere. . . . We must be very
careful that we do not scare away the Spirit of Home as
we have the fairies.

Pauline paused a moment, looking back, her pale, nar-

133



134 THE GOSSIP SHOP

row, delicate face alight, her deep eyes shining. She was
one of the lucky ones who are attuned to such beauty and
respond to it as some others respond to a strain of music ;
and her own rather homeless life had deepened her ap-
preciation of this particular scene.

"Looks as if it 'ud be damp i' winter," remarked
Chubb. And Pauline started, coming down upon realities
with a sort of bump.

"I want to go on to Lord South water 's. It is only
three miles further," she said.

Chubb mounted his box without speaking, then re-
marked over his shoulder

"It'll be no go."

"What do you mean?" said Pauline, naturally sur-
prised.

"I mean Mrs. Delamere's there. You don't get no
subscriptions out of Lord Southwater when she is. Makes
him in a bad mood. I brought Vicar back yesterday with
a flea in his ear." He paused. "You'd best go home."

"I prefer to go on, now I am so far," said Pauline.

"Very well," answered Chubb. "Don't say I didn't
warn you."

So the cab rumbled on again between the flowery hedge-
rows, but Pauline no longer felt soothed by the monot-
onous sounds and her mind began to work with feverish
energy rehearsing beforehand what she would say to Lord
Southwater. At last the tall iron gates came into sight,
and Chubb spoke once more over his shoulder

"Here I stops!"

"But I want to go to the house," objected Pauline.

"Very like. So did Vicar. But they made fun o' my
cab and my mare, them shawfers did, and I ain't going
to stan' it again," pronounced Chubb.

"There may not be any chauffeurs," said Pauline.

"There is. I seed two cars turn in. I won't have my
cab and my mare made game on by shawfers; jumped up
chaps that's allus on their dignity because they haven't



PAULINE INTERVENES 135

gotten any sattled place in the world yet." He paused,
growing purple and blowing out his cheeks. "They didn't
only make game o' my cab; they made game o' me!"

Griselda gave a comprehensive quiver which shook her
harness, and it was as though she said, in words: "How
could they be guilty of such sacrilege?" Chubb only
flickered her with the rein and said gruffly: "Whoa,
mare!" But he was touched to reiterate: "I won't go
up to the house for nobody living."

Pauline was therefore obliged to alight and make her
way on foot through the imposing portals and along the
broad, perfectly-kept drive which went direct and straight,
like Lord Southwater's earthly path, between prosperous
smooth lawns and discreetly blooming flower beds. As
she neared the house, repeating to herself with nervous
desperation the speech already prepared, she caught sight
of Mrs. Delamere also hurrying towards the house, but
careful not to look in her direction.

Instantly the truth flashed into Pauline's mind. Mrs.
Delamere had seen her arrival from some part of the park
or garden, had guessed that she w r as going to speak to
Lord Southwater about Unwin and was anxious to pre-
vent it.

There was no reason why Pauline should know this, but
she belonged to that numerous company of women who do
know things without being told, and she began to hurry
faster. Upon this Mrs. Delamere, still pretending not
to see Pauline, also increased her speed. It became a
neck-and-neck race between two ladies each anxious to pre-
serve a dignified deportment on account of the chauffeur
who waited by the steps and the butler dimly visible in
the gloom of the portico. Mrs. Delamere was long of limb
and uncommonly active, the crimson of middle age invaded
her nose, but at a walking match she was no mean oppon-
ent, and had the advantage of knowing her ground. A
swift cross-cut behind laurels brought her out well ahead
never was speed and majesty so combined in any fe-



136 THE GOSSIP SHOP

male over forty. Pauline gave up the contest and broke
into a run. She felt Mrs. Delamere hard on her track
as she panted out breathlessly to the butler

"Lord Southwater! Urgent business!"

"His lordship is expecting guests to luncheon," said
the butler ; impressed by Pauline 's hunted appearance and
desperate sincerity, as well he might be.

Pauline glanced round. Mrs. Delamere was rounding
the last geranium bed.

"Oh!" cried Pauline, clasping those expressive hands,
"please show me in at once. It is a church matter. His
lordship will be willing to see me, I know."

The butler also glanced at the advancing figure on the
drive and some faint understanding of the situation came
to him. He knew, at least, that Mrs. Delamere did not
wish Pauline to see his master, and he hated Mrs. Dela-
mere, in spite of her ingratiating politeness, because she
had once accused him behind his back of stealing the port.
It gave him a thrill of pleasurable emotion to say suavely :
"Walk this way, Madam," and usher Pauline into Lord
South water's study just in the nick of time.

"I know that lady," panted Mrs. Delamere in the hall.
"She is my guest. Fetch her out. There has been a mis-
take."

"Very sorry, Madam," said the butler smoothly. "His
lordship will no dcubt bring the lady to you directly."

"Then I will fetch her out myself!" said Mrs. Dela-
mere.

But she knew, and the butler also knew, that to enter
Lord South water's study uninvited was a deed beyond
Mrs. Delamere 's temerity. She had tried it once or twice
in earlier days and had learned her lesson.

"Yes, Madam," said the butler, retiring to repeat the
story elsewhere.

Mrs. Delamere stood for a moment or two frowning at
the great mahogany door-panels, then she moved nearer,
bent down and applied her ear to the keyhole.


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Online LibraryAnnie Edith Foster JamesonThe gossip shop → online text (page 9 of 22)