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one. She refused eleven men, and when she was going to be married she made
me embroider the monograms of all of them on the skirt of her
wedding-dress. She made me, and I had to do it. I sat up all night the
night before the wedding to finish them."

"And what did the bridegroom say about it?"

"The bridegroom didn't say anything about it because he didn't know. Nobody
knew except Arabella and me. She just wanted to feel that the monograms
were on her dress, that was all."

"How strange!"

"Yes, it was. But this is a vehy strange part of the world."

"And what happened afterwards?"

"Bella died when she had her first baby, and the baby died as well. And the
father's dead now, too."

"What a horrid story, Winnie!" Audrey murmured. And after a pause: "I like
your sister."

"She was vehy uncommon. But I liked her too. I don't know why, but I did.
She could make the best marmalade I ever tasted in my born days."

"I could make the best marmalade you ever tasted in your born days," said
Audrey, sinking neatly to the floor and crossing her legs, "but they won't
let me."

"Won't let you! But I thought you did all sorts of things in the house."

"No, Winnie. I only do one thing. I do as I'm told - and not always even
that. Now, if I wanted to make the best marmalade you ever tasted in your
born days, first of all there would be a fearful row about the oranges.
Secondly, father would tell mother she must tell me exactly what I was to
do. He would also tell cook. Thirdly and lastly, dear friends, he would
come into the kitchen himself. It wouldn't be my marmalade at all. I should
only be a marmalade-making machine. They never let me have any
responsibility - no, not even when mother's operation was on - and I'm never
officially free. The kitchen-maid has far more responsibility than I have.
And she has an evening off and an afternoon off. She can write a letter
without everybody asking her who she's writing to. She's only seventeen.
She has the morning postman for a young man now, and probably one or two
others that I don't know of. And she has money and she buys her own
clothes. She's a very naughty, wicked girl, and I wish I was in her place.
She scorns me, naturally. Who wouldn't?"

Miss Ingate said not a word. She merely sat with her hands in the lap of
her spotted pale-blue dress, faintly and sadly smiling.

Audrey burst out:

"Miss Ingate, what can I do? I must do something. What can I do?"

Miss Ingate shook her head, and put her lips tightly together, while
mechanically smoothing the sides of her grey coat.

"I don't know," she said. "It beats me."

"Then _I'll_ tell you what I can do!" answered Audrey firmly, wriggling
somewhat nearer to her along the floor. "And what I shall do."

"What?"

"Will you promise to keep it a secret?"

Miss Ingate nodded, smiling and showing her teeth. Her broad polished
forehead positively shone with kindly eagerness.

"Will you swear?"

Miss Ingate hesitated, and then nodded again.

"Then put your hand on my head and say, 'I swear.'"

Miss Ingate obeyed.

"I shall leave this house," said Audrey in a low voice.

"You won't, Audrey!"

"I'll eat my hand off if I've not left this house by to-morrow, anyway."

"To-morrow!" Miss Ingate nearly screamed. "Now, Audrey, do reflect. Think
what you are!"

Audrey bounded to her feet.

"That's what father's always saying," she exploded angrily. "He's always
telling me to examine myself. The fact is, I know too much about myself. I
know exactly the kind of girl it is who's going to leave this house.
Exactly!"

"Audrey, you frighten me. Where are you going to?"

"London."

"Oh! That's all right then. I am relieved. I thought perhaps you waited to
come to _my_ house. You won't get to London, because you haven't any
money."

"Oh, yes, I have. I've got a hundred pounds."

"Where?"

"Remember, you've sworn.... Here!" she cried suddenly, and drawing her hand
from behind her back she most sensationally displayed a crushed roll of
bank-notes.

"And who did you get those from?"

"I didn't get them from anybody. I got them out of father's safe. They're
his reserve. He keeps them right at the back of the left-hand drawer, and
he's so sure they're there that he never looks for them. He thinks he's a
perfect model, but really he's careless. There's a duplicate key to the
safe, you know, and he leaves it with a lot of other keys loose in his
desk. I expect he thought nobody would ever dream of guessing it was a key
of the safe. I know he never looked at this roll, because I've been opening
the safe every day for weeks past, and the roll was always the same. In
fact, it was dusty. Then to-day I decided to take it, and here you are! He
finished himself off yesterday, so far as I'm concerned, with the business
about the punt."

"But do you know you're a thief, Audrey?" breathed Miss Ingate, extremely
embarrassed, and for once somewhat staggered by the vagaries of human
nature.

"You seem to forget, Miss Ingate," said Audrey solemnly, "that Cousin
Caroline left me a legacy of two hundred pounds last year, and that I've
never seen a penny of it. Father absolutely declined to let me have the
tiniest bit of it. Well, I've taken half. He can keep the other half for
his trouble."

Miss Ingate's mouth stood open, and her eyes seemed startled.

"But you can't go to London alone. You wouldn't know what to do."

"Yes, I should. I've arranged everything. I shall wear my best clothes.
When I arrive at Liverpool Street I shall take a taxi. I've got three
addresses of boarding-houses out of the _Daily Telegraph_, and they're all
in Bloomsbury, W.C. I shall have lessons in shorthand and typewriting at
Pitman's School, and then I shall get a situation. My name will be
Vavasour."

"But you'll be caught."

"I shan't. I shall book to Ipswich first and begin again from there. Girls
like me aren't so easy to catch as all that."

"You're vehy cunning."

"I get that from mother. She's most frightfully cunning with father."

"Audrey," said Miss Ingate with a strange grin, "I don't know how I can sit
here and listen to you. You'll ruin me with your father, because if you go
I'm sure I shall never be able to keep from him that I knew all about it."

"Then you shouldn't have sworn," retorted Audrey. "But I'm glad you did
swear, because I had to tell somebody, and there was nobody but you."

Miss Ingate might possibly have contrived to employ some of that sagacity
in which she took a secret pride upon a very critical and urgent situation,
had not Mrs. Moze, with a white handkerchief wrapped round her forehead,
at that moment come into the room. Immediately the study was full of
neuralgia and eau-de-Cologne.

When Mrs. Moze and Miss Ingate at length recovered from the tenderness of
meeting each other after a separation of ten days or more, Audrey had
vanished like an illusion. She was not afraid of her mother; and she could
trust Miss Ingate, though Miss Ingate and Mrs. Moze were dangerously
intimate; but she was too self-conscious to remain in the presence of her
fellow-creatures; and in spite of her faith in Miss Ingate she thought of
the spinster as of a vase filled now with a fatal liquor which by any
accident might spill and spread ruin - so that she could scarcely bear to
look upon Miss Ingate.

At the back of the house a young Pomeranian dog, which had recently solaced
Miss Ingate in the loss of a Pekingese done to death by a spinster's
too-nourishing love, was prancing on his four springs round the chained
yard-dog, his friend and patron. In a series of marvellous short bounds, he
followed Audrey with yapping eagerness down the slope of the garden; and
the yard-dog, aware that none but the omnipotent deity, Mr. Moze, sole
source of good and evil, had the right to loose him, turned round once and
laid himself flat and long on the ground, sighing.

The garden, after developing into an orchard and deteriorating into a
scraggy plantation, ended in a low wall that was at about the level of the
sea-wall and separated from it by a water-course and a strip of very green
meadow. Audrey glanced instinctively back at the house to see if anybody
was watching her.

Flank Hall, which for a hundred years had been called "the new hall," was a
seemly Georgian residence, warm in colour, with some quaint woodwork; and
like most such buildings in Essex, it made a very happy marriage with the
landscape. Its dormers and fine chimneys glowed amid the dark bare trees,
and they alone would have captivated a Londoner possessing those precious
attributes, fortunately ever spreading among the enlightened
middle-classes, a motor-car, a cultured taste in architecture, and a desire
to enter the squirearchy. Audrey loathed the house. For her it was the last
depth of sordidness and the commonplace. She could imagine positively
nothing less romantic. She thought of the ground floor on chill March
mornings with no fires anywhere save a red gleam in the dining-room, and
herself wandering about in it idle, at a loss for a diversion, an ambition,
an effort, a real task; and she thought of the upper floor, a mainly
unoccupied wilderness of iron bedsteads and yellow chests of drawers and
chipped earthenware and islands of carpets, and her mother plaintively and
weariedly arguing with some servant over a slop-pail in a corner. The
images of the interior, indelibly printed in her soul, desolated her.

Mozewater she loved, and every souvenir of it was exquisite - red barges
beating miraculously up the shallow puddles to Moze Quay, equinoctial
spring-tides when the estuary was a tremendous ocean covered with foam and
the sea-wall felt the light lash of spray, thunderstorms in autumn
gathering over the yellow melancholy of deathlike sunsets, wild birds
crying across miles of uncovered mud at early morning and duck-hunters
crouching in punts behind a waving screen of delicate grasses to wing them,
and the mysterious shapes of steamers and warships in the offing beyond the
Sand.... The sail of the receding yacht gleamed now against the Sand, and
its flashing broke her heart; for it was the flashing of freedom. She
thought of the yachtsman; he was very courteous and deferential; a mild
creature; he had behaved to her as to a woman.... Oh! To be the petted and
capricious wife of such a man, to nod commands, to enslave with a smile, to
want a thing and instantly to have it, to be consulted and to decide, to
spend with large gestures, to be charitable, to be adored by those whom you
had saved from disaster, to increase happiness wherever you went ... and to
be free!....

The little dog jumped up at her because he was tired of being ignored, and
she caught him and kissed him again and again passionately, and he wriggled
with ecstasy and licked her ears with all the love in him. And in kissing
him she kissed grave and affectionate husbands, she kissed the lovely
scenery of the Sound, and she kissed the magnificent ideal of emancipation.
But the dog had soon had enough of her arms; he broke free, sprang,
alighted, and rolled over, and arose sniffing, with earth on his black
muzzle....

He looked up at her inquiringly.... Strange, short-frocked blue figure
looking down at him! She had a bulging forehead; her brown eyes were
tunnelled underneath it. But what living eyes, what ardent eyes, that
blazed up and sank like a fire! What delicate and exact mirrors of the
secret traffic between her soul and the soul of the world! She had full
cheeks, and a large mouth ripe red, inviting and provocative. In the midst,
an absurd small unprominent nose that meant nothing! Her complexion was
divine, surpassing all similes. To caress that smooth downy cheek (if you
looked close you could see the infinitesimal down against the light like an
aura on the edge of the silhouette), even to let the gaze dwell on it, what
an enchantment!... She considered herself piquant and comely, and she was
not deceived. She had long hands.

The wind from afar on her cheek reminded her poignantly that she was a
prisoner. She could not go to the clustered village on the left, nor into
the saltings on the right, nor even on to the sea-wall where the new rushes
and grasses were showing. All the estuary was barred, and the winding road
that mounted the slope towards Colchester. Her revolt against injustice
was savage. Hatred of her father surged up in her like glittering lava. She
had long since ceased to try to comprehend him. She despised herself
because she was unreasonably afraid of him, ridiculously mute before him.
She could not understand how anybody could be friendly with him - for was he
not notorious? Yet everywhere he was greeted with respect and smiles, and
he would chat at length with all manner of people on a note of mild and
smooth cordiality. He and Miss Ingate would enjoy together the most
enormous talks. She was, however, aware that Miss Ingate's opinion of him
was not very different from her own. Each time she saw her father and Miss
Ingate in communion she would say in her heart to Miss Ingate: "You are
disloyal to me." ...

Was it possible that she had confided to Miss Ingate her fearful secret?
The conversation appeared to her unreal now. She went over her plan. In the
afternoon her father was always out, and to-morrow afternoon her mother
would be out too. She would have a few things in a light bag that she could
carry - her mother's bag! She would put on her best clothes and a veil from
her mother's wardrobe. She would take the 4.5 p.m. train. The stationmaster
would be at his tea then. Only the booking-clerk and the porter would see
her, and neither would dare to make an observation. She would ask for a
return ticket to Ipswich; that would allay suspicion, and at Ipswich she
would book again. She had cut out the addresses of the boarding-houses.
She would have to buy things in London. She knew of two shops - Harrod's and
Shoolbred's; she had seen their catalogues. And the very next morning after
arrival she would go to Pitman's School. She would change the first of the
£5 notes at the station and ask for plenty of silver. She glanced at the
unlimited wealth still crushed in her hand, and then she carefully dropped
the fortune down the neck of her frock.... Stealing? She repulsed the idea
with violent disdain. What she had accomplished against her father was not
a crime, but a vengeance.... She would never be found in London. It was
impossible. Her plan seemed to her to be perfect in each detail, except
one. She was not the right sort of girl to execute it. She was very shy.
She suspected that no other girl could really be as shy as she was. She
recalled dreadful rare moments with her mother in strange drawing-rooms.
Still, she would execute the plan even if she died of fright. A force
within her would compel her to execute it. This force did not make for
happiness; on the contrary, it uncomfortably scared her; but it was
irresistible.

Something on the brow of the road from Colchester attracted her attention.
It was a handcart, pushed by a labourer and by Police Inspector Keeble,
whom she liked. Following the handcart over the brow came a loose
procession of villagers, which included no children, because the children
were in school. Except on a Sunday Audrey had never before seen a
procession of villagers, and these villagers must have been collected out
of the fields, for the procession was going in the direction of, and not
away from, the village. The handcart was covered with a tarpaulin.... She
knew what had happened; she knew infallibly. Skirting the boundary of the
grounds, she reached the main entrance to Flank Hall thirty seconds before
the handcart. The little dog, delighted in a new adventure, yapped
ecstatically at her heels, and then bounded onwards to meet the Inspector
and the handcart.

"Run and tell yer mother, Miss Moze," Inspector Keeble called out in a
carrying whisper. "There's been an accident. He ditched the car near
Ardleigh cross-roads, trying to avoid some fowls."

Mr. Moze, hurrying too fast to meet the Bishop of Colchester, had met a
greater than the Bishop.

Audrey glanced an instant with a sick qualm at the outlines of the shape
beneath the tarpaulin, and ran.

In the dining-room, over the speck of fire, Mrs. Moze and Miss Ingate were
locked in a deep intimate gossip.

"Mother!" cried Audrey, and then sank like a sack.

"Why! The little thing's fainted!" Miss Ingate exclaimed in a voice
suddenly hoarse.



CHAPTER III

THE LEGACY


Audrey and Miss Ingate were in the late Mathew Moze's study, fascinated - as
much unconsciously as consciously - by the thing which since its owner's
death had grown every hour more mysterious and more formidable - the safe.
It was a fine afternoon. The secondary but still grandiose enigma of the
affair, Mr. Cowl, could be heard walking methodically on the gravel in the
garden. Mr. Cowl was the secretary of the National Reformation Society.

Suddenly the irregular sound of crunching receded.

"He's gone somewhere else," said Audrey.

"I'm so relieved," said Miss Ingate. "I hope he's gone a long way off."

"Are you?" murmured Audrey, with an air of surprised superiority.

But in secret Audrey felt just as relieved as Miss Ingate, despite the fact
that, her mother being prostrate, she was the mistress of the situation,
and could have ordered Mr. Cowl to leave, with the certainty of being
obeyed. She was astonished at her illogical sensations, and she had been
frequently so astonished in the previous four days.

For example, she was free; she knew that she could impose herself on her
mother; never again would she be the slave of an unreasoning tyrant; yet
she was gloomy and without hope. She had hated the unreasoning tyrant; yet
she felt very sorry for him because he was dead. And though she felt very
sorry for him, she detested hearing the panegyrics upon him of the village,
and particularly of those persons with whom he had quarrelled; she actually
stopped Miss Ingate in the midst of an enumeration of his good
qualities - his charm, his smile, his courtesy, his integrity, et cetera;
she could not bear it. She thought that no child had ever had such a
strange attitude to a deceased parent as hers to Mr. Moze. She had
anticipated the inquest with an awful dread; it proved to be a trifle, and
a ridiculous trifle. In the long weekly letter which she wrote to her
adored school-friend Ethel at Manningtree she had actually likened the
coroner to a pecking fowl! Was it possible that a daughter could write in
such a strain about the inquest on her father's body?

The funeral had seemed a function by itself, with some guidance from the
undertaker and still more from Mr. Cowl. Villagers and district
acquaintances had been many at the ceremony, but relatives rare. Mr. Moze's
four younger brothers were all in the Colonies; Mrs. Moze had apparently no
connections. Madame Piriac, daughter of Mr. Moze's first wife by that
lady's first husband, had telegraphed sympathies from Paris. A cousin or so
had come in person from Woodbridge for the day.

It was from the demeanour of these cousins, grave men twice her age or
more, that Audrey had first divined her new importance in the world. Their
deference indicated that in their opinion the future mistress of Flank Hall
was not Mrs. Moze, but Audrey. Audrey admitted that they were right. Yet
she took no pleasure in issuing commands. She spoke firmly, but she said to
herself: "There is no backbone to this firmness, and I am a fraud." She had
always yearned for responsibility, yet now that it was in her hand she
trembled, and she would have dropped it and run away from it as from a
bomb, had she not been too cowardly to show her cowardice.

The instance of Aguilar, the head-gardener and mechanic, well illustrated
her pusillanimity. She loathed Aguilar; her mother loathed him; the
servants loathed him. He had said at the inquest that the car was in
perfect order, but that Mr. Moze was too excitable to be a good driver.
His evidence was true, but the jury did not care for his manner. Nor did
the village. He had only two good qualities - honesty and efficiency; and
these by their rarity excited jealousy rather than admiration. Audrey
strongly desired to throw the gardener-mechanic upon the world; it
nauseated her to see his disobliging face about the garden. But he remained
scathless, to refuse demanded vegetables, to annoy the kitchen, to
pronounce the motor-car utterly valueless, and to complain of his own
liver. Audrey had legs; she had a tongue; she could articulate. Neither
wish nor power was lacking in her to give Aguilar the supreme experience of
his career. And yet she did not walk up to him and say: "Aguilar, please
take a week's notice." Why? The question puzzled her and lowered her
opinion of herself.

She was similarly absurd in the paramount matter of the safe. The safe
could not be opened. The village, having been thrilled by four stirring
days of the most precious and rare fever, had suffered much after the
funeral from a severe reaction of dullness. It would have suffered much
more had the fact not escaped that the safe could not be opened. In the
deep depression of the day following the funeral the village could still
say to itself: "Romance and excitement are not yet over, for the key of the
Moze safe is lost, and the will is in the safe!"

The village did not know that there were two keys to the safe and that they
were both lost. Nobody knew that except Audrey and Miss Ingate and Mr.
Cowl. The official key was lost because Mr. Moze's key-ring was lost. The
theory was that it had been jerked out of his pocket in the accident.
Persistent search for it had been unsuccessful. As for the unofficial or
duplicate key, Audrey could not remember where she had put it after her
burglary, the conclusion of which had been disturbed by Miss Ingate. At one
moment she was quite sure that she had left the key in the safe, but at
another moment she was equally sure that she was holding the key in her
right hand (the bank-notes being in her left) when Miss Ingate entered the
room; at still another moment she was almost convinced that before Miss
Ingate's arrival she had run to the desk and slipped the key back into its
drawer. In any case the second key was irretrievable. She discussed the
dilemma very fully with Miss Ingate, who had obligingly come to stay in the
house. They examined every aspect of the affair, except Audrey's guiltiness
of theft, which both of them tacitly ignored. In the end they decided that
it might be wiser not to conceal Audrey's knowledge of the existence of a
second key; and they told Mr. Cowl, because he happened to be at hand. In
so doing they were ill-advised, because Mr. Cowl at once acted in a
characteristic and inconvenient fashion which they ought to have foreseen.

On the day before the funeral Mr. Cowl had telegraphed from some place in
Devonshire that he should represent the National Reformation Society at the
funeral, and asked for a bed, on the pretext that he could not get from
Devonshire to Moze in time for the funeral if he postponed his departure
until the next morning. The telegram was quite costly. He arrived for
dinner, a fat man about thirty-eight, with chestnut hair, a low, alluring
voice, and a small handbag for luggage. Miss Ingate thought him very
interesting, and he was. He said little about the National Reformation
Society, but a great deal about the late Mr. Moze, of whom he appeared to
be an intimate friend; presumably the friendship had developed at meetings
of the Society. After dinner he strolled nonchalantly to the sideboard and
opened a box of the deceased's cigars, and suggested that, as he was well
acquainted with the brand, having often enjoyed the hospitality of Mr.
Moze's cigar-case, he should smoke a cigar now to the memory of the
departed. Miss Ingate then began to feel alarmed. He smoked four cigars to
the memory of the departed, and on retiring ventured to take four more for
consumption during the night, as he seldom slept.

In the morning he went into the bathroom at eight o'clock and remained
there till noon, reading and smoking in continually renewed hot water. He
descended blandly, begged Miss Moze not to trouble about his breakfast, and
gently assumed a certain control of the funeral. After the funeral he
announced that he should leave on the morrow; but the mystery of the safe
held him to the house. When he heard of the existence of the second key he
organised and took command of a complete search of the study, and in the
course of the search he inspected every document in the study. He said he



Online LibraryArnold BennettThe Lion's Share → online text (page 2 of 27)