9. Heart Sick And Weary With The Journey's Fret
"You must not go to-day," declares Eleanor emphatically, addressing her parents. "I want to take you to Mrs. Mounteagle's party this afternoon. I am sure she won't mind, we are such great friends, and two more will make no difference in a tea and coffee, four-to-seven squash."
"Is it a real grand party?" asks Mrs. Grebby.
"Oh, yes; no end of people have been invited, and Giddy's affairs are always so chic--that meaning stylish, smart--all sorts of grand dresses and bonnets."
Mrs. Grebby gasps in wonderment. "I will lend you two jewelled pins for your head gear, Ma--one of turquoise and another in the shape of an olive--that Philip bought abroad, and declares is only paste."
"Well, we shall be swells," says Mr. Grebby, grinning, "and my word, what a lot we'll have to talk about when we gets 'ome."
"There," says Eleanor, shutting down an envelope and ringing for Sarah, "I have written the note to Giddy."
She whistles Rover through the window, who is scratching up the lawn, with splendid energy.
He bounds in and leaps on the sofa. Eleanor proceeds to scratch his back comfortingly with a little ivory hand on the end of a long horn stick. Then she calls for a comb, which Sarah produces, and fluffs at his coarse hair, which is stiff, wiry, and grey.
"Mrs. Mounteagle has called to see you," says a voice in the doorway, when Rover's toilet (which has occupied a full half-hour) is eventually completed.
"Oh! show her in."
"But," with a glance at Mr. and Mrs. Grebby, "if you please, ma'am, she asked to speak to you alone."
Eleanor closes the folding doors between her boudoir and the library.
"You stay here, darlings," she says in a soft, cooing voice, "and I will see Giddy in the next room. Come on, Rover--down, old boy--your wet paws have done damage enough to my gown for one morning."
Still whistling, Eleanor saunters into Giddy's presence, her eyes as radiant as stars, her lips parted in joyous greeting.
"You dear thing," she cries, "to come and see me, when you must be so busy, pinning bits of drapery over your doors, and heaping flowers into enormous vases. Can I come in and help? I am splendid at decorations, you know," remembering Giddy's cynical remarks on her artistic efforts, and laughing merrily.
"No, dear, all is prepared," speaking in funeral tones. "But----"
Giddy's eyes shift uneasily. Then she speaks straight out: "I can't have your people! My dear child, it would be madness--positive madness, both to yourself and to me. There, there, don't look so blank; one would think I had suggested murdering good Mrs. Grebby and her dear fat husband. Can't you see it, Eleanor? You have a good position in Richmond, and you want to take it and fling it into the river, as it were. You want to flaunt your parentage at my party before everyone."
"Yes," says Eleanor firmly; "I am not ashamed of them, it is not in me to be ashamed. What is wrong with them?"
Giddy's mouth curves, her little foot taps impatiently on the floor at Eleanor's defiant attitude.
"You must see, or are you utterly blind--utterly imbecile? Now, child, take my warning--shunt the old people at once--trundle them off the London junction--send them puffing back in a slow train to the country--tell them never to enter Lyndhurst again--keep them out of Richmond. It was terrible yesterday--a scene I shall never forget. Lady MacDonald was so sweet over it, though I could see she was petrified."
"I don't understand you," mutters Eleanor, pale and trembling. "If you have come here to insult me----"
"Tut, tut! Don't be silly. But I am bitterly disappointed in you. I have taken so much pains over your social education. But you are like a girl in iron stays, the moment you remove the support (which is my guiding hand) you go flop! Now don't turn rusty, or cry," as tears of passion well into Eleanor's eyes. "I want you at my party--I want youth and beauty, for I have a reputation for producing lovely women, good-looking men, and distractingly sweet girls. Carol has promised to come early; now, for one, you would not like him to see your relations."
"Yes, I should," she replies. "He would not mind, he is a gentleman!"
"I cannot have them, anyhow," declares Giddy firmly. "You may be offended, for I have spoken plainly----"
"A great deal too plainly," retorts Eleanor fiercely. "You have not spared my feelings. You think yourself very grand, but my parents would not have hurt anyone as you have hurt me to-day! You sneer at them--hold them up to ridicule--while they are worth all the dressed-up Lady MacDonalds you toady to!"
Her voice has risen shrilly; she forgets the folding doors.
"Enough!" says Giddy, tossing her head. "I suffered at your hands yesterday. Pray spare me the effort of argument. Remember I have to entertain, and must reserve my strength. Besides, it is so vulgar to quarrel."
Eleanor walks haughtily to the door and flings it open.
"If I talk any more I shall stifle," she cries.
Giddy gives a low laugh.
"You will agree with me when you get over your temper," she declares, passing out.
Eleanor sinks on her knees, and buries her head on Rover's shaggy coat. She is alone, and the faint sound of buried sobs throbs upon the silence of the room.
The dog licks her hand and whines. Slowly the folding doors push open, and the old couple stand upon the threshold.
Mr. Grebby's round face is pale, Mrs. Grebby's cheeks wet with fast falling tears.
"Oh! dearie, dearie," she cries, folding Eleanor in her arms. "We ought not to 'ave come, we didn't know. But she was right, dearie, and we will go away, and you shall have your party and your friends. Oh! we was wrong, all wrong."
"Don't talk like that," moans Eleanor, realising they have overheard. "She is a wicked snob--a--a--"
"There, dearie, be calm, don't fret."
"I will never forgive her," Eleanor stammers. "I love you and I hate Giddy."
She kisses Mrs. Grebby's damp cheeks, talking between her sobs. "It was not true, not one word of it, she just said it all to be disagreeable. She likes me to be miserable; I don't believe she ever had any parents of her own--I mean, not what you call parents. Some say she was born in a workhouse, a caravan, or an East-end doss. Though how she managed to be what she is they can't explain. I thought she was nice, mammy. I called her my friend. I tried to be like her," shuddering at the recollection. "Oh! don't go away," taking them each by the hand.
"Thank you, my girl, thank you," murmurs Mr. Grebby, "but Ma and I are better at Copthorne. We are not fit for Society; some day you will come back to the old 'ome and see us, won't you? and we'll all be happy again together."
Eleanor and Mrs. Grebby dry their tears, while Mr. Grebby pats them both on the back cheerily. Rover fawns round, barking and wagging his tail.
Philip, who is staying late from town this morning in honour of his guests, enters the room. "What is the matter?" he asks, looking at Eleanor's wistful face.
"I am not going to Mrs. Mounteagle's party," she says.
"Well, never mind. You can send your frock round," he cries jokingly, "and ask her to put it on a chair with a label: 'This is what Mrs. Roche would have worn had she been here.'"
But his chaff was received in silence. Then he notices for the first time the red rims round her eyes.
"Why, little woman, you have been crying!"
"Yes," murmurs Eleanor, "I have quarrelled with Giddy."
Then between them the three explain as best they can what has happened.
Philip is deeply interested.
"It was all our mistake," whimpers Mrs. Grebby. "We are that sorry; we wouldn't 'ave come. We really didn't guess what an upset it would make--parting friends, and bringing trouble on our darling."
"Do not regret it," says Mr. Roche, taking her hand. "Such friends are not worth having, and Eleanor is well rid of them."
Secretly he blesses the Grebbys for their timely appearance, and resolves to write to Erminie and inform her of the fact.
"We are goin' back this morning," continues Mrs. Grebby. "Harriet expects us, and is reserving a front room in her lodging house. There, dearie," as Eleanor protests, "don't take on; we'd best go."
"Yes, Ma's right, my girl; Ma's always right," adds Mr. Grebby, with an admiring glance at his wife.
There are more tears before the final parting, when Eleanor watches them drive away with her husband, who has promised to escort them to town, and put them safely in a cab.
"Mind you see they go comfortably to Cousin Harriet's," she says before he leaves. "No wandering about seeking omnibuses, carrying bags, and leading Rover."
They wave farewell. Giddy sees them from her window driving down the terrace.
"My words have carried good weight," she thinks. "Eleanor has shunted those objectionable bumpkins after all."
When they were gone Eleanor puts on her hat and cloak, and sallies forth in the chill wintry air.
She enters the telegraph office, and addresses a form to Carol Quinton:
"Don't go to G.'s party this afternoon. Come to Lyndhurst instead.--E."
Then she walks back up the hill, a strange thrill of exhilaration rushing over her.
"Good-looking men at her parties," she says to herself. "Carol has promised to come early, has he? We shall see."
The house seems dull and depressing without the old people or Rover. Philip is sure to stay late in the City, having spent most of the morning at home, and since she has no engagement. Thus Eleanor eases her conscience and waits expectantly for Carol.
Her drawing-room with its bright log fire looks cosy in the extreme as Mr. Quinton enters it that afternoon.
Eleanor is curled up on the sofa, a little bundle of sad silk drapery. Her eyes are wistful, her tea-gown is black. The dim light reveals not the slight soupçon of powder paling her features. She barely rises to greet him, only moving to a sitting posture, her feet still tucked under her, holding out a trembling hand. As the door closes he grasps the pink fingers and presses them to his lips.
"Don't," a reproachful glance from under her long fringed lashes, "that is not kind."
"But they are such tempting fingers," he whispers apologetically.
"Come, draw up that chair and sit beside me like a doctor, only I want you to heal my sorrows. I have got such a horrid wound here," pressing her heart. "But first of all, was I wrong to telegraph? Are you angry, Mr. Quinton?"
"It was delightful of you," he murmurs, looking down on her with all his eyes. "Dear Mrs. Roche, I thank you from my soul. Only let me be your confidant--your friend!"
"Have you been to Giddy's?" she asks eagerly.
"No, what do you take me for? Was I not commanded to come here instead?"
"Giddy is no longer my friend; she has treated me abominably--snubbed and insulted me in my own house, simply because I wanted to bring my parents to her stupid party. They are the dearest old people from the country, not gifted with her false Society airs. I was only a farmer's daughter, you know. She taunted me with meeting you at her house and being ashamed of my parents. Bah! it sickens me."
She flung her head back with an air of offended dignity, her eyes flashing at the remembrance of Giddy's stinging phrases.
"The impudent little fiend!" mutters Quinton through his teeth. "How dare she?"
"Oh, she dares very well. I am in mortal terror of her tongue. We are utterly at the mercy of our friends; these people call themselves friends, though they deal us the bitterest cuts, the cruellest contumely."
"How dare she?" he repeats again, a fierce expression clouding his brow. "To attack a poor little thing like you, and for such a reason----"
"It is very hard--it made me cry," nodding her head and gazing earnestly upon him.
"How bewitching she looks in the slim black robe," he thinks. It clings round her elegant figure, and contrasts with her fair hair and delicate colouring.
"What can I do to comfort you?" he says, drawing nearer.
"Stay away from Giddy--take my part. Stand up for me when you hear her or Lady MacDonald laughing over Mrs. Roche's relatives."
"They would never dream of taking your name in vain while I was there to defend it!" he cries. "Don't you know I would do anything in the world for you? Can't you see how I would willingly be your slave? Will you accept me as such? Use me as you will! When in trouble, call me; I shall be always ready. No woman has ever exercised the influence over me that you have done. I would give my whole life to serve you for a moment--to tie the lace of your shoe--to sit at your feet--and adore----"
His lavish devotion pleases Eleanor. A flush of pleasure peeps through the white skin, her eyes droop, her breathing quickens.
"I think my life will be better, brighter, nobler, for the knowledge of such unselfish friendship. I can be but a poor friend to you, I am neither influential nor particularly attractive. Only a very simple little woman living very much in herself."
"Mr. Roche is a good deal away, isn't he?"
"Yes, especially in the day time. I am very lonely sometimes. But how dark it is growing. Shall I ring for a light?"
"No," with an imploring gesture, "this is the hour to dream, and to see more clearly into other natures, to reveal secrets that cannot be left unknown for ever."
He grasps her hands, and kneeling beside her buries his head in the folds of her long black sleeves.
"Oh! love--my love!" he gasps.