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Why did Audrey seize the candle and walk straight out of the bedroom,
leaving darkness behind her? Was it because the acuteness of her feelings
drove her out, or was it because she knew instinctively that her mother's
decision would prove to be immovable? Perhaps both.

She dropped back into her own bed with a soundless sigh of exhaustion. She
did not blow out the candle, but lay staring at it. Her dream was
annihilated. She foresaw an interminable, weary and futile future in and
about Moze, and her mother always indisposed, always fretful, and curiously
obstinate in weakness. But Audrey, despite her tragic disillusion, was less
desolated than made solemn. In the most disturbing way she knew herself to
be the daughter of her father and her mother; and she comprehended that her
destiny could not be broken off suddenly from theirs. She was touched
because her mother deemed her father a very wise man, whereas she, Audrey,
knew that he was nothing of the sort. She felt sorry for both of them. She
pitied her father, and she was a mother to her mother. Their relations
together, and the mystic posthumous spell of her father over her mother,
impressed her profoundly.... And she was proud of herself for having
demonstrated her courage by preventing the solicitor from running away, and
extraordinarily ashamed of her sentimental and brazen behaviour to the
solicitor afterwards. These various thoughts mitigated her despair as she
gazed at the sinking candle. Nevertheless her dream was annihilated.



CHAPTER VI

THE YOUNG WIDOW


It was early October. Audrey stood at the garden door of Flank Hall.

The estuary, in all the colours of unsettled, mild, bright weather, lay at
her feet beneath a high arch of changing blue and white. The capricious
wind moved in her hair, moved in the rich grasses of the sea-wall, bent at
a curtseying angle the red-sailed barges, put caps on the waves in the
middle distance, and drew out into long horizontal scarves the smoke of
faint steamers in the offing.

Audrey was dressed in black, but her raiment had obviously not been
fashioned in the village, nor even at Colchester, nor yet at Ipswich, that
great and stylish city. She looked older; she certainly had acquired
something of an air of knowledge, assurance, domination, sauciness and
challenge, which qualities were all partly illustrated in her large,
audacious hat. The spirit which the late Mr. Moze had so successfully
suppressed was at length coming to the surface for all beholders to see,
and the process of evolution begun at the moment when Audrey had bounced up
and prevented an authoritative solicitor from leaving the study was already
advanced. Nevertheless, at frequent intervals Audrey's eyes changed, and
she seemed for an instant to be a very naive, very ingenuous and wistful
little thing - and this though she had reached the age of twenty. Perhaps
she was feeling sorry for the girl she used to be.

And no doubt she was also thinking of her mother, who had died within eight
hours of their nocturnal interview. The death of Mrs. Moze surprised
everyone, except possibly Mrs. Moze. As an unsuspected result of the
operation upon her, an embolism had been wandering in her veins; it reached
the brain, and she expired, to the great loss of the National Reformation
Society. Such was the brief and simple history. When Audrey stood by the
body, she had felt that if it could have saved her mother she would have
enriched the National Reformation Society with all she possessed.

Gradually the sense of freedom had grown paramount in her, and she had
undertaken the enterprise of completely subduing Mr. Foulger to her own
ends.

The back hall was carpetless and pictureless, and the furniture in it was
draped in grey-white. Every room in the abode was in the same state, and,
since all the windows were shuttered, every room lay moribund in a ghostly
twilight. Only the clocks remained alive, probably thinking themselves
immortal. The breakfast things were washed up and stored away. The last two
servants had already gone. Behind Audrey, forming a hilly background, were
trunks and boxes, a large bunch of flowers encased in paper, and a case of
umbrellas and parasols; the whole strikingly new, and every single item
except the flowers labelled "Paris via Charing Cross and Calais."

Audrey opened her black Russian satchel, and the purse within it. Therein
were a little compartment full of English gold, another full of French
gold, another full of multicoloured French bank-notes; and loose in the
satchel was a blue book of credit-notes, each for five hundred francs, or
twenty pounds - a thick book! And she would not have minded much if she had
lost the whole satchel - it would be so easy to replace the satchel with
all its contents.

Then a small brougham came very deliberately up the drive. It was the
vehicle in which Miss Ingate went her ways; in accordance with Miss
Ingate's immemorial command, it travelled at a walking pace up all the
hills to save the horse, and at a walking pace down all hills lest the
horse should stumble and Miss Ingate be destroyed. It was now followed by
a luggage-cart on which was a large trunk.

At the same moment Aguilar, the gardener, appeared from somewhere - he who
had been robbed of a legacy of ten pounds, but who by his ruthless and
incontestable integrity had secured the job of caretaker of Flank Hall.

The drivers touched their hats to Audrey and jumped down, and Miss Ingate,
with a blue veil tied like a handkerchief round her bonnet and chin - sign
that she was a traveller - emerged from the brougham, sardonically smiling
at her own and everybody's expense, and too excited to be able to give
greetings. The three men started to move the trunks, and the two women
whispered together in the back-hall.

"Audrey," demanded Miss Ingate, with a start, "what are those rings on your
finger?"

Audrey replied:

"One's a wedding ring and the other's a mourning ring. I bought them
yesterday at Colchester.... Hsh!" She stilled further exclamations from
Miss Ingate until the men were out of the hall.

"Look here! Quick!" she whispered, hastily unlocking a large hat-case that
was left. And Miss Ingate looked and saw a block toque, entirely unsuitable
for a young girl, and a widow's veil.

"I look bewitching in them," said Audrey, relocking the case.

"But, my child, what does it mean?"

"It means that I'm not silly enough to go to Paris as a girl. I've had more
than enough of being a girl. I'm determined to arrive in Paris as a young
widow. It will be much better in every way, and far easier for you. In
fact, you'll have no chaperoning to do at all. I shall be the chaperon. Now
don't say you won't go, because you will."

"You ought to have told me before."

"No, I oughtn't. Nothing could have been more foolish."

"But who are you the widow of?"

"Hurrah!" cried Audrey. "You are a sport, Winnie! I'll tell you all the
interesting details in the train."

In another minute Aguilar, gloomy and unbending, had received the keys of
Flank Hall, and the procession crunched down the drive on its way to the
station.



CHAPTER VII

THE CIGARETTE GIRL


Audrey did not deem that she had begun truly to live until the next
morning, when they left London, after having passed a night in the Charing
Cross Hotel. During several visits to London in the course of the summer
Audrey had learnt something about the valuelessness of money in a
metropolis chiefly inhabited by people who were positively embarrassed by
their riches. She knew, for example, that money being very plentiful and
stylish hats very rare, large quantities of money had to be given for
infinitesimal quantities of hats. The big and glittering shops were full of
people whose pockets bulged with money which they were obviously anxious to
part with in order to obtain goods, while the proud shop-assistants, secure
in the knowledge that money was naught and goods were everything, did their
utmost, by hauteur and steely negatives, to render any transaction
possible. It was the result of a mysterious "Law of Exchange." She was
aware of this. She had lost her childhood's naive illusions about the
sovereignty of money.

Nevertheless she received one or two shocks on the journey, which was
planned upon the most luxurious scale that the imagination of Messrs.
Thomas Cook & Son could conceive. There was four pounds and ninepence to
pay for excess luggage at Charing Cross. Half a year earlier four pounds
would have bought all the luggage she could have got together. She very
nearly said to the clerk at the window: "Don't you mean shillings?" But in
spite of nervousness, blushings, and all manner of sensitive reactions to
new experiences, her natural sang-froid and instinctive knowledge of the
world saved her from such a terrible lapse, and she put down a bank-note
without the slightest hint that she was wondering whether it would not be
more advantageous to throw the luggage away.

The boat was crowded, and the sea and wind full of menace. Fighting their
way along the deck after laden porters, Audrey and Miss Ingate
simultaneously espied the private cabin list hung in a conspicuous spot.
They perused it as eagerly as if it had been the account of a _cause
célèbre._ Among the list were two English lords, an Honourable Mrs., a
baroness with a Hungarian name, several Teutonic names, and Mrs. Moncreiff.

Audrey blushed deeply at the sign of Mrs. Moncreiff, for she was Mrs.
Moncreiff. Behind the veil, and with the touch of white in her toque, she
might have been any age up to twenty-eight or so. It would have been
impossible to say that she was a young girl, that she was not versed in the
world, that she had not the whole catechism of men at her finger-ends. All
who glanced at her glanced again - with sympathy and curiosity; and the
second glance pricked Audrey's conscience, making her feel like a thief.
But her moods were capricious. At one moment she was a thief, a clumsy
fraud, an ignorant ninny, and a suitable prey for the secret police; and at
the next she was very clever, self-confident, equal to the situation, and
enjoying the situation more than she had ever enjoyed anything, and
determined to prolong the situation indefinitely.

The cabin was very spacious, yet not more so than was proper, considering
that the rent of it came to about sixpence a minute. There was room, even
after all the packages were stowed, for both of them to lie down. But
instead of lying down they eagerly inspected the little abode. They found a
lavatory basin with hot and cold water taps, but no hot water and no cold
water, no soap and no towels. And they found a crystal water-bottle, but it
was empty. Then a steward came and asked them if they wanted anything, and
because they were miserable poltroons they smiled and said "No." They were
secretly convinced that all the other private cabins, inhabited by titled
persons and by financiers, were superior to their cabin, and that the
captain of the steamer had fobbed them off with an imitation of a real
cabin.

Then it was that Miss Ingate, who since Charing Cross had been a little
excited by a glimpsed newspaper contents-bill indicating suffragette riots
that morning, perceived, through the open door of the cabin, a most
beautiful and most elegant girl, attired impeccably in that ritualistic
garb of travel which the truly cosmopolitan wear on combined rail-and-ocean
journeys and on no other occasions. It was at once apparent that the
celestial creature had put on that special hat, that special veil, that
special cloak, and those special gloves because she was deeply aware of
what was correct, and that she would not put them on again until destiny
took her again across the sea, and that if destiny never did take her again
across the sea never again would she show herself in the vestments, whose
correctness was only equalled by their expensiveness.

The young woman, however, took no thought of her impressive clothes. She
was existing upon quite another plane. Miss Ingate, preoccupied by the
wrongs and perils of her sex, and momentarily softened out of her sardonic
irony, suspected that they might be in the presence of a victim of
oppression or neglect. The victim lay Half-prone upon the hard wooden seat
against the ship's rail. Her dark eyes opened piteously at times, and her
exquisite profile, surmounted by the priceless hat all askew, made a
silhouette now against the sea and now against the distant white cliffs of
Albion, according to the fearful heaving of the ship. Spray occasionally
dashed over her. She heeded it not. A few feet farther off she would have
been sheltered by a weather-awning, but, clinging fiercely to the rail, she
would not move.

Then a sharp squall of rain broke, but she entirely ignored the rain.

The next moment Miss Ingate and Audrey, rushing forth, had gently seized
her and drawn her into their cabin. They might have succoured other martyrs
to the modern passion for moving about, for there were many; but they chose
this particular martyr because she was so wondrously dressed, and also
perhaps a little because she was so young. As she lay on the cabin sofa she
looked still younger; she looked a child. Yet when Miss Ingate removed her
gloves in order to rub those chill, fragile, and miraculously manicured
hands, a wedding ring was revealed. The wedding ring rendered her intensely
romantic in the eyes of Audrey and Miss Ingate, who both thought, in
private:

"She must be the wife of one of those lords!"

Every detail of her raiment, as she was put at her ease, showed her to be
clothed in precisely the manner which Audrey and Miss Ingate thought
peeresses always were clothed. Hence, being English, they mingled respect
with their solacing pity. Nevertheless, their respect was tempered by a
peculiar pride, for both of them, in taking lemonade on the Pullman, had
taken therewith a certain preventive or remedy which made them loftily
indifferent to the heaving of ships and the eccentricities of the sea. The
specific had done all that was claimed for it - which was a great deal - so
much so that they felt themselves superwomen among a cargo of flaccid and
feeble sub-females. And they grew charmingly conceited.

"Am I in my cabin?" murmured the martyr, about a quarter of an hour after
Miss Ingate, having obtained soda water, had administered to her a dose of
the miraculous specific.

Her delicious cheeks were now a delicate crimson. But they had been of a
delicate crimson throughout.

"No," said Audrey. "You're in ours. Which is yours?"

"It's on the other side of the ship, then. I came out for a little air. But
I couldn't get back. I'd just as lief have died as shift from that seat out
there by the railings."

Something in the accent, something in those fine English words "lief" and
"shift," destroyed in the minds of Audrey and Miss Ingate the agreeable
notion that they had a peeress on their hands.

"Is your husband on board?" asked Audrey.

"He just is," was the answer. "He's in our cabin."

"Shall I fetch him?" Miss Ingate suggested. The corners of her lips had
begun to fall once more.

"Will you?" said the young woman. "It's Lord Southminster. I'm Lady
Southminster."

The two saviours were thrilled. Each felt that she had misinterpreted the
accent, and that probably peeresses did habitually use such words as "lief"
and "shift." The corners of Miss Ingate's lips rose to their proper
position.

"I'll look for the number on the cabin list," said she hastily, and went
forth with trembling to summon the peer.

As Audrey, alone in the cabin with Lady Southminster, bent curiously over
the prostrate form, Lady Southminster exclaimed with an air of childlike
admiration:

"You're real ladies, you are!"

And Audrey felt old and experienced. She decided that Lady Southminster
could not be more than seventeen, and it seemed to be about half a century
since Audrey was seventeen.

"He can't come," announced Miss Ingate breathlessly, returning to the
cabin, and supporting herself against the door as the solid teak sank under
her feet. "Oh yes! He's there all right. It was Number 12. I've seen him. I
told him, but I don't think he heard me - to understand, that is. If you ask
me, he couldn't come if forty wives sent for him."

"Oh, couldn't he!" observed Lady Southminster, sitting up. "Couldn't he!"

When the boat was within ten minutes of France, the remedy had had such an
effect upon her that she could walk about. Accompanied by Audrey she
managed to work her way round the cabin-deck to No. 12. It was empty, save
for hand-luggage! The two girls searched, as well as they could, the whole
crowded ship for Lord Southminster, and found him not. Lady Southminster
neither fainted nor wept. She merely said:

"Oh! All right! If that's it....!"

Hand-luggage was being collected. But Lady Southminster would not collect
hers, nor allow it to be collected. She agreed with Miss Ingate and Audrey
that her husband must ultimately reappear either on the quay or in the
train. While they were all standing huddled together in the throng waiting
for the gangway to put ashore, she said in a low casual tone, ˆ propos of
nothing:

"I only married him the day before yesterday. I don't know whether you
know, but I used to make cigarettes in Constantinopoulos's window in
Piccadilly. I don't see why I should be ashamed of it, d'you?"

"Certainly not," said Miss Ingate. "But it _is_ rather romantic, isn't it,
Audrey?"

Despite the terrific interest of the adventure of the cigarette girl,
disappointment began immediately after landing. This France, of which
Audrey had heard so much and dreamed so much, was a very ramshackle and
untidy and one-horse affair. The custom-house was rather like a battlefield
without any rules of warfare; the scene in the refreshment-room was rather
like a sack after a battle; the station was a desert with odd files of
people here and there; the platforms were ridiculous, and you wanted a pair
of steps to get up into the train. Whatever romance there might be in
France had been brought by Audrey in her secret heart and by Lady
Southminster.

Audrey had come to France, and she was going to Paris, solely because of a
vision which had been created in her by the letters and by the photographs
of Madame Piriac. Although Madame Piriac and she had absolutely no tie of
blood, Madame Piriac being the daughter by a first husband of the French
widow who became the first Mrs. Moze - and speedily died, Audrey persisted
privately in regarding Madame Piriac as a kind of elder sister. She felt a
very considerable esteem for Madame Piriac, upon whom she had never set
eyes, and Madame Piriac had certainly given her the impression that France
was to England what paradise is to purgatory. Further, Audrey had fallen in
love with Madame Piriac's portraits, whose elegance was superb. And yet,
too, Audrey was jealous of Madame Piriac, and especially so since the
attainment of freedom and wealth. Madame Piriac had most warmly invited
her, after the death of Mrs. Moze, to pay a long visit to Paris as a guest
in her home. Audrey had declined - from jealousy. She would not go to Madame
Piriac's as a raw girl, overdone with money, who could only speak one
language and who knew nothing at all of this our planet. She would go, if
she went, as a young woman of the world who could hold her own in any
drawing-room, be it Madame Piriac's or another. Hence Miss Ingate had
obtained the address of a Paris boarding-house, and one or two preliminary
introductions from political friends in London.

Well, France was not equal to its reputation; and Miss Ingate's sardonic
smile seemed to be saying: "So this is your France!"

However, the excitement of escorting the youngest English peeress to Paris
sufficed for Audrey, even if it did not suffice for Miss Ingate with her
middle-aged apprehensions. They knew that Lady Southminster was the
youngest English peeress because she had told them so. At the very moment
when they were dispatching a telegram for her to an address in London, she
had popped out the remark: "Do you know I'm the youngest peeress in
England?" And truth shone in her candid and simple smile. They had not
found the peer, neither on the ship, nor on the quay, nor in the station.
And the peeress would not wait. She was indeed obviously frightened at the
idea of remaining in Calais alone, even till the next express. She said
that her husband's "man" would meet the train in Paris. She ate plenteously
with Audrey and Miss Ingate in the refreshment-room, and she would not
leave them nor allow them to leave her. The easiest course was to let her
have her way, and she had it.

By dint of Miss Ingate's unscrupulous tricks with small baggage they
contrived to keep a whole compartment to themselves. As soon as the train
started the peeress began to cry. Then, wiping her heavenly silly eyes, and
upbraiding herself, she related to her protectresses the glory of a new
manicure set. Unfortunately she could not show them the set, as it had been
left in the cabin. She was actually in possession of nothing portable
except her clothes, some English magazines bought at Calais, and a handbag
which contained much money and many bonbons.

"He's done it on purpose," she said to Audrey as soon as Miss Ingate went
off to take tea in the tea-car. "I'm sure he's done it on purpose. He's
hidden himself, and he'll turn up when he thinks he's beaten me. D'you know
why I wouldn't bring that luggage away out of the cabin? Because we had a
quarrel about it, at the station, and he said things to me. In fact we
weren't speaking. And we weren't speaking last night either. The radiator
of his - our - car leaked, and we had to come home from the Coliseum in a
motor-bus. He couldn't get a taxi. It wasn't his fault, but a friend of
mine told me the day before I was married that a lady always ought to be
angry when her husband can't get a taxi after the theatre - she says it does
'em good. So first I told him he mustn't leave me to look for one. Then I
said I'd wait where I was, and then I said we'd walk on, and then I said we
must take a motor-bus. It was that that finished him. He said: 'Did I
expect him to invent a taxi when there wasn't one?' And he swore. So of
course I sulked. You must, you know. And my shoes were too thin and I felt
chilly. But only a fortnight before I was making cigarettes in the window
of Constantinopoulos's. Funny, isn't it? Otherwise he's behaved splendid.
Still, what I do say is a man's no right to be ill when he's taking you to
Paris on your honeymoon. I knew he was going to be ill when I left him in
the cabin, but he stuck me out he wasn't. A man that's so bad he can't come
to his wife when _she's_ bad isn't a man - that's what I say. Don't you
think so? You know all about that sort of thing, I lay."

Audrey said briefly that she did think so, glad that the peeress's intense
and excusable interest in herself kept her from being curious about others.

"Marriage ain't all chocolate-creams," said the peeress after a pause.
"Have one?" And she opened her bag very hospitably.

Then she turned to her magazines. And no sooner had she glanced at the
cover of the second one than she gave a squeal, and, fetching deep breaths,
passed the periodical to Audrey. At the top of the cover was printed in
large letters the title of a story by a famous author of short tales. It
ran:

"MAN OVERBOARD."

Henceforward a suspicion that had lain concealed in the undergrowth of the
hearts of the two girls stalked boldly about in full daylight.

"He's done it, and he's done it to spite me!" murmured Lady Southminster
tearfully.

"Oh no!" Audrey protested. "Even if he had fallen overboard he'd have been
seen and the captain would have stopped the boat."

"Where do you come from?" Lady Southminster retorted with disdain. "That's
an _omen_, that is" - pointing to the words on the cover of the magazine.
"What else could it be? I ask you."

When Miss Ingate returned the child was fast asleep. Miss Ingate was paler
than usual. Having convinced herself that the sleeper did genuinely sleep,
she breathed to Audrey:

"He's in the next compartment! ... He must have hidden himself till nearly
the last minute on the boat and then got into the train while we were
sending off that telegram."

Audrey blenched.

"Shall you wake her?"

"Wake her, and have a scene - with us here? No, I shan't. He's a fool."

"How d'you know?" asked Audrey.

"Well, he must have been a fool to marry her."

"Well," whispered Audrey. "If I'd been a man I'd have married that face



Online LibraryArnold BennettThe Lion's Share → online text (page 4 of 27)