THE LION'S SHARE
First Published 1916.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
NOVELS— A MAN FROM THE NORTH ANNA OF THE FIVE TOWNS LEONORA A GREAT MAN SACRED AND PROFANE LOVE WHOM GOD HATH JOINED BURIED ALIVE THE OLD WIVES' TALE THE GLIMPSE HELEN WITH THE HIGH HAND CLAYHANGER HILDA LESSWAYS THESE TWAIN THE CARD THE REGENT THE PRICE OF LOVE
FANTASIAS— THE GRAND BABYLON HOTEL THE GATES OF WRATH TERESA OF WATLING STREET THE LOOT OF CITIES HUGO THE GHOST THE CITY OF PLEASURE
SHORT STORIES— TALES OF THE FIVE TOWNS THE GRIM SMILE OF THE FIVE TOWNS THE MATADOR OF THE FIVE TOWNS
BELLES-LETTRES— JOURNALISM FOR WOMEN FAME AND FICTION HOW TO BECOME AN AUTHOR THE TRUTH ABOUT AN AUTHOR THE REASONABLE LIFE HOW TO LIVE ON TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY THE HUMAN MACHINE LITERARY TASTE FRIENDSHIP AND HAPPINESS THOSE UNITED STATES MARRIAGE LIBERTY
DRAMA— POLITE FARCES CUPID AND COMMONSENSE WHAT THE PUBLIC WANTS THE HONEYMOON THE GREAT ADVENTURE MILESTONES (in collaboration with Edward Knoblauch)
* * * * *
(In collaboration with Eden Phillpotts) THE SINEWS OF WAR: A Romance THE STATUE: A Romance
1. MISS INGATE, AND THE YACHT 2. THE THIEF'S PLAN WRECKED 3. THE LEGACY 4. MR. FOULGER 5. THE DEAD HAND 6. THE YOUNG WIDOW 7. THE CIGARETTE GIRL 8. EXPLOITATION OF WIDOWHOOD 9. LIFE IN PARIS 10. FANCY DRESS 11. A POLITICAL REFUGEE 12. WIDOWHOOD IN THE STUDIO 13. THE SWOON 14. MISS INGATE POINTS OUT THE DOOR 15. THE RIGHT BANK 16. ROBES 17. SOIREE 18. A DECISION 19. THE BOUDOIR 20. PAGET GARDENS 21. JANE 22. THE DETECTIVE 23. THE BLUE CITY 24. THE SPATTS 25. THE MUTE 26. NOCTURNE 27. IN THE GARDEN 28. ENCOUNTER 29. FLIGHT 30. ARIADNE 31. THE NOSTRUM 32. BY THE BINNACLE 33. AGUILAR'S DOUBLE LIFE 34. THE TANK-ROOM 35. THE THIRD SORT OF WOMAN 36. IN THE DINGHY 37. AFLOAT 38. IN THE UNIVERSE 39. THE IMMINENT DRIVE 40. GENIUS AT BAY 41. FINANCIAL NEWS 42. INTERVAL 43. ENTR'ACTE 44. END OF THE CONCERT 45. STRANGE RESULT OF A QUARREL 46. AN EPILOGUE
MISS INGATE, AND THE YACHT
Audrey had just closed the safe in her father's study when she was startled by a slight noise. She turned like a defensive animal to face danger. It had indeed occurred to her that she was rather like an animal in captivity, and she found a bitter pleasure in the idea, though it was not at all original.
"And Flank Hall is my Zoo!" she had said. (Not that she had ever seen the Zoological Gardens or visited London.)
She was lithe; she moved with charm. Her short, plain blue serge walking-frock disclosed the form of her limbs and left them free, and it made her look younger even than she was. Its simplicity suited her gestures and took grace from them. But she wore the old thing without the least interest in it—almost unconsciously. She had none of the preoccupations caused by the paraphernalia of existence. She scarcely knew what it was to own. She was aware only of her body and her soul. Beyond these her possessions were so few, so mean, so unimportant, that she might have carried them to the grave and into heaven without protest from the authorities earthly or celestial.
The slight noise was due to the door of the study, which great age had distorted and bereft of sense, and, in fact, almost unhinged. It unlatched itself, paused, and then calmly but firmly swung wide open. When it could swing no farther it shook, vibrating into repose.
Audrey condemned the door for a senile lunatic, and herself for a poltroon. She became defiant of peril, until the sound of a step on the stair beyond the door threw her back into alarm. But when the figure of Miss Ingate appeared in the doorway she was definitely reassured, to the point of disdain. All her facial expression said: "It's only Miss Ingate."
And yet Miss Ingate was not a negligible woman. Her untidy hair was greying; she was stout, she was fifty, she was plain, she had not elegance; her accent and turns of speech were noticeably those of Essex. But she had a magnificent pale forehead; the eyes beneath it sparkled with energy, inquisitiveness, and sagacity; and the mouth beneath the eyes showed by its sardonic dropping corners that she had come to a settled, cheerful conclusion about human nature, and that the conclusion was not flattering. Miss Ingate was a Guardian of the Poor, and the Local Representative of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. She had studied intimately the needy and the rich and the middling. She was charitable without illusions; and, while adhering to every social convention, she did so with a toleration pleasantly contemptuous; in her heart she had no mercy for snobs of any kind, though, unfortunately, she was at times absurdly intimidated by them—at other times she was not.
To the west, within a radius of twelve miles, she knew everybody and everybody knew her; to the east her fame was bounded only by the regardless sea. She and her ancestors had lived in the village of Moze as long as even Mr. Mathew Moze and his ancestors. In the village, and to the village, she was Miss Ingate, a natural phenomenon, like the lie of the land and the river Moze. Her opinions offended nobody, not Mr. Moze himself—she was Miss Ingate. She was laughed at, beloved and respected. Her sagacity had one flaw, and the flaw sprang from her sincere conviction that human nature in that corner of Essex, which she understood so profoundly, and where she was so perfectly at home, was different from, and more fondly foolish than, human nature in any other part of the world. She could not believe that distant populations could be at once so pathetically and so naughtily human as the population in and around Moze.
If Audrey disdained Miss Ingate, it was only because Miss Ingate was neither young nor fair nor the proprietress of some man, and because people made out that she was peculiar. In some respects Audrey looked upon Miss Ingate as a life-belt, as the speck of light at the end of a tunnel, as the enigmatic smile which glimmers always in the frown of destiny.
"Well?" cried Miss Ingate in her rather shrill voice, grinning sardonically, with the corners of her lips still lower than usual in anticipatory sarcasm. It was as if she had said: "You cannot surprise me by any narrative of imbecility or turpitude or bathos. All the same, I am dying to hear the latest eccentricity of this village."
"Well?" parried Audrey, holding one hand behind her.
They did not shake hands. People who call at ten o'clock in the morning cannot expect to have their hands shaken. Miss Ingate certainly expected nothing of the sort. She had the freedom of Flank Hall, as of scores of other houses, at all times of day. Servants opened front doors for her with a careless smile, and having shut front doors they left her loose, like a familiar cat, to find what she wanted. They seldom "showed" her into any room, nor did they dream of acting before her the unconvincing comedy of going to "see" whether masters or mistresses were out or in.
"Where's your mother?" asked Miss Ingate idly, quite sure that interesting divulgations would come, and quite content to wait for them. She had been out of the village for over a week.
"Mother's taking her acetyl salicylic," Audrey answered, coming to the door of the study.
This meant merely that Mrs. Moze had a customary attack of the neuralgia for which the district is justly renowned among strangers.
"Oh!" murmured Miss Ingate callously. Mrs. Moze, though she had lived in the district for twenty-five years, did not belong to it. If she chose to keep on having neuralgia, that was her affair, but in justice to natives and to the district she ought not to make too much of it, and she ought to admit that it might well be due to her weakness after her operation. Miss Ingate considered the climate to be the finest in England; which it was, on the condition that you were proof against neuralgia.
"Father's gone to Colchester in the car to see the Bishop," Audrey coldly added.
"If I'd known he was going to Colchester I should have asked him for a lift," said Miss Ingate, with determination.
"Oh, yes! He'd have taken you!" said Audrey, reserved. "I suppose you had fine times in London!"
"Oh! It was vehy exciting! It was vehy exciting!" Miss Ingate agreed loudly.
"Father wouldn't let me read about it in the paper," said Audrey, still reserved. "He never will, you know. But I did!"
"Oh! But you didn't read about me playing the barrel organ all the way down Regent Street, because that wasn't in any of the papers."
"You didn't!" Audrey protested, with a sudden dark smile.
"Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Yes, I did. And vehy tiring it was. Vehy tiring indeed. It's quite an art to turn a barrel organ. If you don't keep going perfectly even it makes the tune jerky. Oh! I know a bit about barrel organs now. They smashed it all to pieces. Oh yes! All to pieces. I spoke to the police. I said, 'Aren't you going to protect these ladies' property?' But they didn't lift a finger."
"And weren't you arrested?"
"Me!" shrieked Miss Ingate. "Me arrested!" Then more quietly, in an assured tone, "Oh no! I wasn't arrested. You see, as soon as the row began I just walked away from the organ and became one of the crowd. I'm all for them, but I wasn't going to be arrested."
Miss Ingate's sparkling eyes seemed to say: "Sylvia Pankhurst can be arrested if she likes, and so can Mrs. Despard and Annie Kenney and Jane Foley, or any of them. But the policeman that is clever enough to catch Miss Ingate of Moze does not exist. And the gumption of Miss Ingate of Moze surpasses the united gumption of all the other feminists in England."
"Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!" repeated Miss Ingate with mingled complacency, glee, passion, and sardonic tolerance of the whole panorama of worldly existence. "The police were awful, shocking. But I was not arrested."
"Well, I was—this morning," said Audrey in a low and poignant voice.
Miss Ingate was startled out of her mood of the detached ironic spectator.
"What?" she frowned.
They heard a servant moving about at the foot of the stairs, and a capped head could be seen through the interstices of the white Chinese balustrade. The study was the only immediate refuge; Miss Ingate advanced right into it, and Audrey pushed the door to.
"Father's given me a month's C.B."
Miss Ingate, gazing at the girl's face, saw in its quiet and yet savage desperation the possibility that after all she might indeed be surprised by the vagaries of human nature in the village. And her glance became sympathetic, even tender, as well as apprehensive.
"'C.B.'? What do you mean—'C.B.'?"
"Don't you know what C.B. means?" exclaimed Audrey with scornful superiority over the old spinster. "Confined to barracks. Father says I'm not to go beyond the grounds for a month. And to-day's the second of April!"
"Yes, he does. He's given me a week, you know, before. Now it's a month."
Miss Ingate looked round at the shabby study, with its guns, cigar-boxes, prints, books neither old nor new, japanned boxes of documents, and general litter scattered over the voluted walnut furniture. Her own house was old-fashioned, and she realised it was old-fashioned; but when she came into Flank Hall, and particularly into Mr. Moze's study, she felt as if she was stepping backwards into history—and this in spite of the fact that nothing in the place was really ancient, save the ceilings and the woodwork round the windows. It was Mr. Moze's habit of mind that dominated and transmogrified the whole interior, giving it the quality of a mausoleum. The suffragette procession in which Miss Ingate had musically and discreetly taken part seemed to her as she stood in Mr. Moze's changeless lair to be a phantasm. Then she looked at the young captive animal and perceived that two centuries may coincide on the same carpet and that time is merely a convention.
"What you been doing?" she questioned, with delicacy.
"I took a strange man by the hand," said Audrey, choosing her words queerly, as she sometimes did, to produce a dramatic effect.
"Yes. Eight o'clock."
"What? Is there a strange man in the village?"
"You don't mean to say you haven't seen the yacht!"
"Yacht?" Miss Ingate showed some excitement.
"Come and look, Winnie," said Audrey, who occasionally thought fit to address Miss Ingate in the manner of the elder generation. She drew Miss Ingate to the window.
Between the brown curtains Mozewater, the broad, shallow estuary of the Moze, was spread out glittering in the sunshine which could not get into the chilly room. The tide was nearly at full, and the estuary looked like a mighty harbour for great ships; but in six hours it would be reduced to a narrow stream winding through mud flats of marvellous ochres, greens, and pinks. In the hazy distance a fitful white flash showed where ocean waves were breaking on a sand-bank. And in the foreground, against a disused Hard that was a couple of hundred yards lower down than the village Hard, a large white yacht was moored, probably the largest yacht that had ever threaded that ticklish navigation. She was a shallow-draft barge-yacht, rigged like a Thames barge, and her whiteness and the glint of her brass, and the flicker of her ensign at the stern were dazzling. Blue figures ran busily about on her, and a white-and-blue person in a peaked cap stood importantly at the wheel.
"She was on the mud last night," said Audrey eagerly, "opposite the Flank buoy, and she came up this morning at half-flood. I think they made fast at Lousey Hard, because they couldn't get any farther without waiting. They have a motor, and it must be their first trip this season. I was on the dyke. I wasn't even looking at them, but they called me, so I had to go. They only wanted to know if Lousey Hard was private. Of course I told them it wasn't. It was a very middle-aged man spoke to me. He must be the owner. As soon as they were tied up he wanted to jump ashore. It was rather awkward, and I just held out my hand to help him. Father saw me from here. I might have known he would."
"Why! It's going off!" exclaimed Miss Ingate.
The yacht swung slowly round, held by her stern to the Hard. Then the last hawser was cast off, and she floated away on the first of the ebb; and as she moved, her main-sail, unbrailed, spread itself out and became a vast pinion. Like a dream of happiness she lessened and faded, and Lousey Hard was as lonely and forlorn as ever.
"But didn't you explain to your father?" Miss Ingate demanded of Audrey.
"Of course I did. But he wouldn't listen. He never does. I might just as well have explained to the hall-clock. He raged. I think he enjoys losing his temper. He said I oughtn't to have been there at all, and it was just like me, and he couldn't understand it in a daughter of his, and it would be a great shock to my poor mother, and he'd talked enough—he should now proceed to action. All the usual things. He actually asked me who 'the man' was."
"And who was it?"
"How can I tell? For goodness' sake don't go imitating father, Winnie! ... Rather a dull man, I should say. Rather like father, only not so old. He had a beautiful necktie; I think it must have been made out of a strip of Joseph's coat."
Miss Ingate giggled at a high pitch, and Audrey responsively smiled.
"Oh dear! Oh dear!" murmured Miss Ingate when her giggling was exhausted. "How queer it is that a girl like you can't keep your father in a good temper!"
"Father hates me to say funny things. If I say anything funny he turns as black as ink—and he takes care to keep gloomy all the rest of the day, too. He never laughs. Mother laughs now and then, but I never heard father laugh. Oh yes, I did. He laughed when the cat fell out of the bathroom window on to the lawn-roller. He went quite red in the face with laughing.... I say, Miss Ingate, do you think father's mad?"
"I shouldn't think he's what you call mad," replied Miss Ingate judicially, with admirable sang-froid. "I've known so many peculiar people in my time. And you must remember, Audrey, this is a peculiar part of the world."
"Well, I believe he's mad, anyway. I believe he's got men on the brain, especially young men. He's growing worse. Yesterday he told me I musn't have the punt out on Mozewater this season unless he's with me. Fancy skiffing about with father! He says I'm too old for that now. So there you are. The older I get the less I'm allowed to do. I can't go a walk, unless it's an errand. The pedal is off my bike, and father is much too cunning to have it repaired. I can't boat. I'm never given any money. He grumbles frightfully if I want any clothes, so I never want any. That's my latest dodge. I've read every book in the house except the silly liturgical and legal things he's always having from the London Library—and I've read even some of those. He won't buy any new music. Golf! Ye gods, Winnie, you should hear him talk about ladies and golf!"
"I have," said Miss Ingate. "But it doesn't ruffle me, because I don't play."
"But he plays with girls, and young girls, too, all the same. He's been caught in the act. Ethel told me. He little thinks I know. He'd let me play if he could be the only man on the course. He's mad about me and men. He never looks at me without thinking of all the boys in the district."
"But he's really very fond of you, Audrey."
"Yes, I know," said Audrey. "He ought to keep me in the china cupboard."
"Well, it's a great problem."
"He's invented a beautiful new trick for keeping me in when he's out. I have to copy his beastly Society letters for him."
"I see he's got a new box," observed Miss Ingate, glancing into the open cupboard in which stood the safe. On the top of the safe were two japanned boxes, each lettered in white: "The National Reformation Society." The uppermost box was freshly unpacked and shone with all the intact pride of virginity.
"You should read some of the letters. You really should, Winnie," said Audrey. "All the bigwigs of the Society love writing to each other. I bet you father will get a typewriting machine this year, and make me learn it. The chairman has a typewriter, and father means to be the next chairman. You'll see.... Oh! What's that? Listen!"
A faint distant throbbing could be heard.
"It's the motor! He's coming back for something. Fly out of here, Winnie, fly!"
Audrey felt sick at the thought that if her father had returned only a few minutes earlier he might have trapped her at the safe itself. She still kept one hand behind her.
Miss Ingate, who with all her qualities was rather easily flustered, ran out of the dangerous room in Audrey's wake. They met Mr. Mathew Moze at the half-landing of the stairs.
He was a man of average size, somewhat past sixty years. He had plump cheeks, tinged with red; his hair, moustache and short, full beard, were quite grey. He wore a thick wide-spreading ulster, and between his coat and waistcoat a leather vest, and on his head a grey cap. Put him in the Strand in town clothes, and he might have been taken for a clerk, a civil servant, a club secretary, a retired military officer, a poet, an undertaker—for anything except the last of a long line of immovable squires who could not possibly conceive what it was not to be the owner of land. His face was preoccupied and overcast, but as soon as he realised that Miss Ingate was on the stairs it instantly brightened into a warm and rather wistful smile.
"Good morning, Miss Ingate," he greeted her with deferential cordiality. "I'm so glad to see you back."
"Good morning, good morning, Mr. Moze," responded Miss Ingate. "Vehy nice of you. Vehy nice of you."
Nobody would have guessed from their demeanour that they differed on every subject except their loyalty to that particular corner of Essex, that he regarded her and her political associates as deadly microbes in the national organism, and that she regarded him as a nincompoop crossed with a tyrant. Each of them had a magic glass to see in the other nothing but a local Effendi and familiar guardian angel of Moze. Moreover, Mr. Moze's public smile and public manner were irresistible—until he lost his temper. He might have had friends by the score, had it not been for his deep constitutional reserve—due partly to diffidence and partly to an immense hidden conceit. Mr. Moze's existence was actuated, though he knew it not, by the conviction that the historic traditions of England were committed to his keeping. Hence the conceit, which was that of a soul secretly self-dedicated.
Audrey, outraged by the hateful hypocrisy of persons over fifty, and terribly constrained and alarmed, turned vaguely back up the stairs. Miss Ingate, not quite knowing what she did, with an equal vagueness followed her.
"Come in. Do come in," urged Mr. Moze at the door of the study.
Audrey, who remained on the landing, heard her elders talk smoothly of grave Mozian things, while Mr. Moze unlocked the new tin box above the safe.
"I'd forgotten a most important paper," said he, as he relocked the box. "I have an appointment with the Bishop of Colchester at ten-forty-five, and I fear I may be late. Will you excuse me, Miss Ingate?"
She excused him.
Departing, he put the paper into his pocket with a careful and loving gesture that well symbolised his passionate affection for the Society of which he was already the vice-chairman. He had been a member of the National Reformation Society for eleven years. Despite the promise of its name, this wealthy association of idealists had no care for reforms in a sadly imperfect England. Its aim was anti-Romanist. The Reformation which it had in mind was Luther's, and it wished, by fighting an alleged insidious revival of Roman Catholicism, to make sure that so far as England was concerned Luther had not preached in vain.
Mr. Moze's connection with the Society had originated in a quarrel between himself and a Catholic priest from Ipswich who had instituted a boys' summer camp on the banks of Mozewater near the village of Moze. Until that quarrel, the exceeding noxiousness of the Papal doctrine had not clearly presented itself to Mr. Moze. In such strange ways may an ideal come to birth. As Mr. Moze, preoccupied and gloomy once more, steered himself rapidly out of Moze towards the episcopal presence, the image of the imperturbable and Jesuitical priest took shape in his mind, refreshing his determination to be even with Rome at any cost.
THE THIEF'S PLAN WRECKED
"The fact is," said Audrey, "father has another woman in the house now."
Mr. Moze had left Miss Ingate in the study and Audrey had cautiously rejoined her there.
"Another woman in the house!" repeated Miss Ingate, sitting down in happy expectation. "What on earth do you mean? Who on earth do you mean?"
"I mean me."
"You aren't a woman, Audrey."
"I'm just as much of a woman as you are. All father's behaviour proves it."
"But your father treats you as a child."
"No, he doesn't. He treats me as a woman. If he thought I was a child he wouldn't have anything to worry about. I'm over nineteen."
"You don't look it."
"Of course I don't. But I could if I liked. I simply won't look it because I don't care to be made ridiculous. I should start to look my age at once if father stopped treating me like a child."
"But you've just said he treats you as a woman!"
"You don't understand, Winnie," said the girl sharply. "Unless you're pretending. Now you've never told me anything about yourself, and I've always told you lots about myself. You belong to an old-fashioned family. How were you treated when you were my age?"
"In what way?"
"You know what way," said Audrey, gazing at her.
"Well, my dear. Things seemed to come very naturally, somehow."
"Were you ever engaged?"
"Me? Oh, no!" answered Miss Ingate with tranquillity. "I'm vehy interested in them. Oh, vehy! Oh, vehy! And I like talking to them. But anything more than that gets on my nerves. My eldest sister was the one. Oh! She was the 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."
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"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 L5 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.
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 knew that the deceased had left a legacy to the Society, and he should not feel justified in quitting Moze until the will was found.
Now in these circumstances Audrey ought certainly to have telegraphed to her father's solicitor at Chelmsford at once. In the alternative she ought to have hired a safe-opening expert or a burglar from Colchester. She had accomplished neither of these downright things. With absolute power, she had done nothing but postpone. She wondered at herself, for up to her father's death she had been a great critic of absolute power.
* * * * *
The heavy policemanish step of Mr. Cowl was heard on the landing.
"He's coming down on us!" exclaimed Miss Ingate, partly afraid, and partly ironic at her own fear. "I'm sure he's coming down on us. Audrey, I liked that man at first, but now I tremble before him. And I'm sure his moustache is dyed. Can't you ask him to leave?"
"Is his moustache dyed, Winnie? Oh, what fun!"
Miss Ingate's apprehension was justified. There was a knock at the study door, discreet, insistent, menacing, and it was Mr. Cowl's knock. He entered, smiling gravely and yet, as it were, teasingly. His easy bigness, florid and sinister, made a disturbing contrast with the artless and pure simplicity of Audrey in her new black robe, and even with Miss Ingate's pallid maturity, which, after all, was passably innocent and ingenuous. Mr. Cowl resembled a great beast good-humouredly lolloping into the cage in which two rabbits had been placed for his diversion and hunger.
Pulling a key from the pocket of his vast waistcoat, he said in his quiet voice, so seductive and ominous:
"Is this the key of the safe?"
He offered it delicately to Audrey.
It was the key of the safe.
"Did they find it in the ditch?" Audrey demanded, blushing, for she knew that the key had not been found in the ditch; she knew by a certain indentation on it that it was the duplicate key which she herself had mislaid.
"No," said Mr. Cowl. "I found it myself, and not in the ditch. I remembered you had said that you had changed at the dressmaker's in the village and had left there an old frock."
"Did I?" murmured Audrey, with a deeper blush.
Mr. Cowl nodded.
"I had the happy idea that you might have had the key and left it in the pocket of the frock. So I trotted down to the dressmaker's and asked for the frock, in your name, and lo! the result!"
He pointed to the key lying in Audrey's long hand.
"But how should I have had the key, Mr. Cowl? Why should I have had the key?" Audrey burst out like a simpleton.
"That, Miss Moze," said he, with a peculiar grin and in an equally peculiar tone, "is a matter about which obviously you are better informed than I am. Shall we try the key?"
With a smooth undeniable gesture he took the key again from Audrey, and bent his huge form to open the safe. As he did so Miss Ingate made a sarcastic and yet affrighted face at Audrey, and Audrey tried to send a signal in reply, but failed, owing to imperfect self-control. However, she managed to say to Mr. Cowl's curved back:
"You couldn't have found the key in the pocket of my old frock, Mr. Cowl."
"And why?" he inquired benevolently, raising and turning his chestnut head. Even in that exciting instant Audrey could debate within herself whether or not his superb moustache was dyed.
"Because it has no pocket."
"So I discovered," said Mr. Cowl, after a little pause. "I merely stated that I had the happy idea—for it proved to be a happy idea—that you might have left the key in the pocket. I discovered it, as a fact, in a slit of the lining of the belt.... Conceivably you had slipped it in there—in a hurry." He put strange implications into the last three words. "Yes, it is the authentic key," he concluded, as the door of the safe swung heavily and silently open.
Audrey, for the first time, felt rather like a thief as she beheld the familiar interior of the safe which a few days earlier she had so successfully rifled. "Is it possible," she thought, "that I really took bank-notes out of that safe, and that they are at this very moment in my bedroom between the leaves of 'Pictures of Palestine'?"
Mr. Cowl was cautiously fumbling among the serried row of documents which, their edges towards the front, filled the steel shelf above the drawers. Audrey had never experienced any curiosity concerning the documents. Lucre alone had interested the base creature. No documents would have helped her to freedom. But now she thought apprehensively: "My fate may be among those documents." She was quite prepared to learn that her father had done something silly in his will.
"This resembles a testament," said Mr. Cowl, smiling to himself, and pulling out a foolscap scrip, folded and endorsed. "Yes. Dated last year."
He unfolded the document; a letter slipped from the interior of it; he placed the letter on the small occasional table next to the desk, and offered the will to Audrey with precisely the same gesture as he had offered the key.
Audrey tried to decipher the will, and completely failed.
"Will you read it, Miss Ingate?" she muttered.
"I can't! I can't!" answered Miss Ingate in excitement. "I'm sure I can't. I never could read wills. They're so funny, somehow. And I haven't got my spectacles." She flushed slightly.
"May I venture to tell you what it contains?" Mr. Cowl suggested. "There can be no indiscretion on my part, as all wills after probate are public property and can be inspected by any Tom, Dick or Harry for a fee of one shilling."
He took the document and gazed at it intently, turning over a page and turning back, for an extraordinarily long time.
Audrey said to herself again and again, with exasperated impatience: "He knows now, and I don't know. He knows now, and I don't know. He knows now, and I don't know."
At length Mr. Cowl spoke:
"It is a perfectly simple will. The testator leaves the whole of his property to Mrs. Moze for life, and afterwards to you, Miss Moze. There are only two legacies. Ten pounds to James Aguilar, gardener. And the testator's shares in the Zacatecas Oil Development Corporation to the National Reformation Society. I may say that the testator had expressed to me his intention of leaving these shares to the Society. We should have preferred money, free of legacy duty, but the late Mr. Moze had a reason for everything he did. I must now bid you good-bye, ladies," he went on strangely, with no pause. "Miss Moze, will you convey my sympathetic respects to your mother and my thanks for her most kind hospitality? My grateful sympathies to yourself. Good-bye, Miss Ingate.... Er, Miss Ingate, why do you look at me in that peculiar way?"
"Well, Mr. Cowl, you're a very peculiar man. May I ask whether you were born in this part of the country?"
"At Clacton, Miss Ingate," answered Mr. Cowl imperturbably.
"I knew it," said Miss Ingate, and the corners of her lips went sardonically down.
"Please don't trouble to come downstairs," said Mr. Cowl. "My bag is packed. I have tipped the parlourmaid, and there is just time to catch the train."
He departed, leaving the two women speechless.
After a moment, Miss Ingate said dryly:
"He was so very peculiar I knew he must belong to these parts."
"How did he know I left my blue frock at Miss Pannell's?" cried Audrey. "I never told him."
"He must have been eavesdropping!" cried Miss Ingate. "He never found the key in your frock. He must have found it here somewhere; I feel sure it must have dropped by the safe, and I lay anything he had opened the safe before and read the will before. I could tell from the way he looked."
"And why should he suppose that I'd the key?" Audrey put in.
"Eavesdropping! I'm convinced that man knows too much." Audrey reddened once more. "I believe he thought you'd be capable of burning the will. That's why he made you handle it in his presence and mine."
"Well, Winnie," said Audrey, "I think you might have told him all that while he was here, instead of letting him go off so triumphant."
"I did begin to," said Miss Ingate with a snigger. "But you wouldn't back me up, you little coward."
"I shall never be a coward again!" Audrey said violently.
They read the will together. They had no difficulty at all in comprehending it now that they were alone.
"I do think it's a horrid shame Aguilar should have that ten pounds," said Audrey. "But otherwise I don't care. You can't guess how relieved I am, Winnie. I imagined the most dreadful things. I don't know what I imagined. But now we shall have all the property and everything, just as much as ever there was, and only me and mother to spend it." Audrey danced an embryonic jig. "Won't I keep mother in order! Winnie, I shall make her go with me to Paris. I've always wanted to know that Madame Piriac—she does write such funny English in her letters."
"What's that you're saying?" murmured Miss Ingate, who had picked up the letter which Mr. Cowl had laid on the small table.
"I say I shall make mother go to Paris with me."
"You won't," said Miss Ingate. "Because she won't go. I know your mother better than you do.... Oh! Audrey!"
Audrey saw Miss Ingate's face turn scarlet from the roots of her hair to her chin.
Miss Ingate had dropped the letter. Audrey snatched it.
"My dear Moze," the letter ran. "I send you herewith a report of the meeting of the Great Mexican Oil Company at New York. You will see that they duly authorised the contract by which the Zacatecas Oil Corporation transfers our property to them in exchange for shares at the rate of four Great Mexican shares for one Zacatecas share. As each of the Development Syndicate shares represents ten of the Corporation shares, and as on my recommendation you put L4,500 into the Syndicate, you will therefore own 180,000 Great Mexican shares. They are at present above par. Mark my words, they will be worth from seven to ten dollars apiece in a year's time. I think you now owe me a good turn, eh?"
The letter was signed with a name unknown to either of them, and it was dated from Coleman Street, E.C.
Half an hour later the woman and the girl, still in the study and severely damaged by the culminating events of Mr. Cowl's visit, were almost prostrated by the entirely unexpected announcement of the arrival of Mr. Foulger. Mr. Foulger was the late Mr. Moze's solicitor from Chelmsford. Audrey's first thought was: "Has heaven telegraphed to him on my behalf?" But her next was that all the solicitors in the world would now be useless in the horrible calamity that had befallen.
It is to be noted that Audrey was no worse off than before the discovery of the astounding value of the Zacatecas shares. The Moze property, inherited through generations and consisting mainly in farms and tithe-rents, was not in the slightest degree impaired. On the contrary, the steady progress of agriculture in Essex indicated that its yield must improve with years. Nevertheless Audrey felt as though she and her mother were ruined, and as though the National Reformation Society had been guilty of a fearful crime against a widow and an orphan. The lovely vision of immeasurable wealth had flashed and scintillated for a month in front of her dazzled eyes—and then blackness, nothingness, the dark void! She knew that she would never be happy again.
And she thought, scornfully, "How could father have been so preoccupied and so gloomy, with all those riches?" She could not conceive anybody as rich as her father secretly was not being day and night in a condition of pure delight at the whole spectacle of existence. Her opinion of Mathew Moze fell lower than ever, and fell finally.
The parlourmaid, in a negligence of attire indicating that no man was left alive in the house, waited at the door of the study to learn whether or not Miss Moze was in.
"You'll have to see him," said Miss Ingate firmly. "It'll be all right. I've known him all my life. He's a very nice man."
After the parlourmaid had gone, and while Audrey was upbraiding her for not confessing earlier her acquaintance with Mr. Foulger, Miss Ingate added:
"Only his wife has a wooden leg."
Then Mr. Foulger entered. He was a shortish man of about fifty, with a paunch, but not otherwise fat; dressed like a sportsman. He trod very lightly. The expression on his ruddy face was amiable but extremely alert, hardening at intervals into decision or caution. He saw before him a nervous, frowning girl in inelegant black, and Miss Ingate with a curious look in her eyes and a sardonic and timid twitching of her lips. For an instant he was discountenanced; but he at once recovered, accomplishing a bright salute.
"Here you are at last, Mr. Foulger!" Miss Ingate responded. "But you're too late."
These mysterious words, and the speechlessness of Audrey, upset him again.
"I was away in Somersetshire for a little fishing," he said, after he had deplored the death of Mr. Moze, the illness of Mrs. Moze, and the bereavement of Miss Moze, and had congratulated Miss Moze on the protective friendship of his old friend, Miss Ingate. "I was away for a little fishing, and I only heard the sad news when I got back home at noon to-day. I came over at once." He cleared his throat and looked first at Audrey and then at Miss Ingate. He felt that he ought to be addressing Audrey, but somehow he could not help addressing Miss Ingate instead. His grey legs were spread abroad as he sat very erect on a chair, and between them his dependent paunch found a comfortable space for itself.
"You must have been getting anxious about the will. I have brought it with me," he said. He drew a white document from the breast-pocket of his cutaway coat, and he perched a pair of eyeglasses carelessly on his nose. "It was executed before your birth, Miss Moze. But a will keeps like wine. The whole of the property of every description is left to Mrs. Moze, and she is sole executrix. If she should predecease the testator, then everything is left to his child or children. Not perhaps a very businesslike will—a will likely to lead to unforeseen complications, but the sort of will that a man in the first flush of marriage often does make, and there is no stopping him. Your father had almost every quality, but he was not businesslike—if I may say so with respect. However, I confess that for the present I see no difficulties. Of course the death duties will have to be paid, but your father always kept a considerable amount of money at call. When I say 'considerable,' I mean several thousands. That was a point on which he and I had many discussions."
Mr. Foulger glanced around with satisfaction. Already the prospect of legal business and costs had brought about a change in his official demeanour of an adviser truly bereaved by the death of a client. He saw the young girl, gazing fiercely at the carpet, suddenly begin to weep. This phenomenon, to which he was not unaccustomed, did not by itself disturb him; but the face of Miss Ingate gave him strange apprehensions, which reached a climax when Miss Ingate, obviously not at all at ease, muttered:
"There is a later will, Mr. Foulger. It was made last year."
"I see," he breathed, scarcely above a whisper.
He thought he did see. He thought he understood why he had been kept waiting, why Mrs. Moze pretended to be ill, why the girl had frowned, why the naively calm Miss Ingate was in such a state of nerves. The explanation was that he was not wanted. The explanation was that Mr. Moze had changed his solicitor. His face hardened, for he and his uncle between them had "acted" for the Moze family for over seventy years.
He rose from the chair.
"Then I need not trouble you any longer," he said in a firm tone, and turned with real dignity to leave.
He was exceedingly astonished when with one swift movement Audrey rose, and flashed like a missile to the door, and stood with her back to it. The fact was that Audrey had just remembered her vow never again to be afraid of anybody. When Miss Ingate with extraordinary agility also jumped up and approached him, he apprehended, recalling rumours of Miss Ingate's advanced feminism, that the fate of an anti-suffragette Cabinet Minister might be awaiting him, and he prepared his defence.
"You mustn't go," said Miss Ingate.
"You are my solicitor, whatever mother may say, and you mustn't go," added Audrey in a soft voice.
The man was entranced. It occurred to him that he would have a tale to tell and to re-tell at his club for years, about "a certain fair client who shall be nameless."
The next minute he had heard a somewhat romantic, if not hysterical, version of the facts of the case, and he was perusing the original documents. By chance he read first the letter about the Zacatecas shares. That Mathew Moze had made a will without his aid was a shock; that Mathew Moze had invested money without his advice was another shock quite as severe. But he knew the status of the Great Mexican Oil Company, and his countenance lighted as he realised the rich immensity of the business of proving the will and devolving the estate; his costs would run to the most agreeable figures. As soon as he glanced at the testament which Mr. Cowl had found, he muttered, with satisfaction and disdain:
"H'm! He made this himself."
And he gazed at it compassionately, as a cabinetmaker might gaze at a piece of amateur fretwork.
Standing, he read it slowly and with extreme care. And when he had finished he casually remarked, in the classic legal phrase:
"It isn't worth the paper it's written on."
Then he sat down again, and his neat paunch resumed its niche between his legs. He knew that he had made a tremendous effect.
"But—but——" Miss Ingate began.
"Not worth the paper it's written on," he repeated. "There is only one witness, and there ought to be two, and even the one witness is a bad one—Aguilar, because he profits under the will. He would have to give up his legacy before his attestation could count, and even then it would be no good alone. Mr. Moze has not even expressly revoked the old will. If there hadn't been a previous will, and if Aguilar was a thoroughly reliable man, and if the family had wished to uphold the new will, I dare say the Court might have pronounced for it. But under the circumstances it hasn't the ghost of a chance."
"But won't the National Reformation Society make trouble?" demanded Miss Ingate faintly.
"Let 'em try!" said Mr. Foulger, who wished that the National Reformation Society would indeed try.
Even as he articulated the words, he was aware of Audrey coming towards him from the direction of the door; he was aware of her black frock and of her white face, with its bulging forehead and its deliciously insignificant nose. She held out her hand.
"You are a dear!" she whispered.
Her lips seemed to aim uncertainly for his face. Did they just touch, with exquisite contact, his bristly chin, or was it a divine illusion? ... She blushed in a very marked manner. He blinked, and his happy blinking seemed to say: "Only wills drawn by me are genuine.... Didn't I tell you Mr. Moze was not a man of business?"
Audrey ran to Miss Ingate.
Mr. Foulger, suddenly ashamed, and determined to be a lawyer, said sharply:
"Has Mrs. Moze made a will?"
"Mother made a will? Oh no!"
"Then she should make one at once, in your favour, of course. No time should be lost."
"But Mrs. Moze is ill in bed," protested Miss Ingate.
"All the more reason why she should make a will. It may save endless trouble. And it is her duty. I shall suggest that I be the executor and trustee, of course with the usual power to charge costs." His face was hard again. "You will thank me later on, Miss Moze," he added.
"Do you mean now?" shrilled Miss Ingate.
"I do," said he. "If you will give me some paper, we might go to her at once. You can be one of the witnesses. I could be a witness, but as I am to act under the will for a consideration somebody else would be preferable."
"I should suggest Aguilar," answered Miss Ingate, the corners of her lips dropping.
Miss Ingate went first, to prepare Mrs. Moze.
When Audrey was alone in the study—she had not even offered to accompany her elders to the bedroom—she made a long sound: "Ooo!" Then she gave a leap and stood still, staring out of the window at the estuary. She tried to force her mood to the colour of her dress, but the sense of propriety was insufficient for the task. The magnificence of all the world was unfolding itself to her soul. Events had hitherto so dizzyingly beaten down upon her head that she had scarcely been conscious of feeling. Now she luxuriously felt. "I am at last born," she thought. "Miracles have happened.... It's incredible.... I can do what I like with mother.... But if I don't take care I shall die of relief this very moment!"
THE DEAD HAND
Audrey was wakened up that night, just after she had gone to sleep, by a touch on the cheek. Her mother, palely indistinct in the darkness, was standing by the bedside. She wore a white wrap over her night attire, and the customary white bandage from which emanated a faint odour of eau-de-Cologne, was around her forehead.
"Audrey, darling, I must speak to you."
Instantly Audrey became the wise directress of her poor foolish mother's existence.
"Mother," she said, with firm kindness, "please do go back to bed at once. This sort of thing is simply frightful for your neuralgia. I'll come to you in one moment."
And Mrs. Moze meekly obeyed; she had gone even before Audrey had had time to light her candle. Audrey was very content in thus being able to control her mother and order everything for the best. She guessed that the old lady had got some idea into her head about the property, or about her own will, or about the solicitor, or about a tombstone, and that it was worrying her. She and Miss Ingate (who had now returned home) had had a very extensive palaver, in low voices that never ceased, after the triumphant departure of Mr. Foulger. Audrey had cautiously protested; she was afraid her mother would be fatigued, and she saw no reason why her mother should be acquainted with all the details of a complex matter; but the gossiping habit of a quarter of a century was too powerful for Audrey.
In the large parental bedroom the only light was Audrey's candle. Mrs. Moze was lying on the right half of the great bed, where she had always lain. She might have lain luxuriously in the middle, with vast spaces at either hand, but again habit was too powerful.
The girl, all in white, held the candle higher, and the shadows everywhere shrunk in unison. Mrs. Moze blinked.
"Put the candle on the night-table," said Mrs. Moze curtly.
Audrey did so. The bedroom, for her, was full of the souvenirs of parental authority. Her first recollections were those of awe in regard to the bedroom. And when she thought that on that bed she had been born, she had a very queer sensation.
"I've decided," said Mrs. Moze, lying on her back, and looking up at the ceiling, "I've decided that your father's wishes must be obeyed."
"What about, mother?"
"About those shares going to the National Reformation Society. He meant them to go, and they must go to the Society. I've thought it well over and I've quite decided. I didn't tell Miss Ingate, as it doesn't concern her. But I felt I must tell you at once."
"Mother!" cried Audrey. "Have you taken leave of your senses?" She shivered; the room was very cold, and as she shivered her image in the mirror of the wardrobe shivered, and also her shadow that climbed up the wall and bent at right-angles at the cornice till it reached the middle of the ceiling.
Mrs. Moze replied obstinately:
"I've not taken leave of my senses, and I'll thank you to remember that I'm your mother. I have always carried out your father's wishes, and at my time of life I can't alter. Your father was a very wise man. We shall be as well off as we always were. Better, because I can save, and I shall save. We have no complaint to make; I should have no excuse for disobeying your father. Everything is mine to do as I wish with it, and I shall give the shares to the Society. What the shares are worth can't affect my duty. Besides, perhaps they aren't worth anything. I always understood that things like that were always jumping up and down, and generally worthless in the end.... That's all I wanted to tell you."
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.
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?"
"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.
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 celebre. 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.