The Paying Guest by George Gissing
Not half an hour after Cobb's departure Louise returned. Emmeline was surprised to see her back so soon; they met near the railway station as Mrs. Mumford was on her way to a shop in High Street.
'Isn't it good of me! If I had stayed longer I should have gone home to quarrel with Cissy; but I struggled against the temptation. Going to the grocer's? Oh, do let me go with you, and see how you do that kind of thing. I never gave an order at the grocer's in my life-- no, indeed I never did. Mother and Cissy have always looked after that. And I want to learn about housekeeping; you promised to teach me.'
Emmeline made no mention of Mr. Cobb's call until they reached the house.
'He came here!' Louise exclaimed, reddening. 'What impudence! I shall at once write and tell him that his behaviour is outrageous. Am I to be hunted like this?'
Her wrath seemed genuine enough; but she was vehemently eager to learn all that had passed. Emmeline made a truthful report.
'You're quite sure that was all? Oh, his impertinence! Well, and now that you've seen him, don't you understand how--how impossible it is?'
'I shall say nothing more about it, Louise. It isn't my business to--'
The girl's face threatened a tempest. As Emmeline was moving away, she rudely obstructed her.
'I insist on you telling me what you think. It was abominable of him to come when I wasn't at home; and I don't think you ought to have seen him. You've no right to keep your thoughts to yourself!'
Mrs. Mumford was offended, and showed it.
'I have a perfect right, and I shall do so. Please don't let us quarrel. You may be fond of it, but I am not.'
Louise went from the room and remained invisible till just before dinner, when she came down with a grave and rather haughty countenance. To Mumford's remarks she replied with curt formality; he, prepared for this state of things, began conversing cheerfully with his wife, and Miss Derrick kept silence. After dinner, she passed out into the garden.
'It won't do,' said Mumford. 'The house is upset. I'm afraid we shall have to get rid of her.'
'If she can't behave herself, I'm afraid we must. It's my fault. I ought to have known that it would never do.'
At half-past ten, Louise was still sitting out of doors in the dark. Emmeline, wishing to lock up for the night, went to summon her troublesome guest.
'Hadn't you better come in?'
'Yes. But I think you are very unkind, Mrs. Mumford.'
'Miss Derrick, I really can't do anything but leave you alone when you are in such an unpleasant hum our.'
'But that's just what you _oughtn't_ to do. When I'm left alone I sulk, and that's bad for all of us. If you would just get angry and give me what I deserve, it would be all over very soon.'
'You are always talking about "nice" people. Nice people don't have scenes of that kind.'
'No, I suppose not. And I'm very sorry, and if you'll let me beg your pardon--. There, and we might have made it up hours ago. I won't ask you to tell me what you think of Mr. Cobb. I've written him the kind of letter his impudence deserves.'
'Very well. We won't talk of it any more. And if you _could_ be a little quieter in your manners, Louise--'
'I will, I promise I will I Let me say good-night to Mr. Mumford.'
For a day or two there was halcyon weather. On Saturday afternoon Louise hired a carriage and took her friends for a drive into the country; at her special request the child accompanied them. Nothing could have been more delightful. She had quite made up her mind to have a house, some day, at Sutton. She hoped the Mumfords would "always" live there, that they might perpetually enjoy each other's society. What were the rents? she inquired. Well, to begin with, she would be content with one of the smaller houses; a modest, semidetached little place, like those at the far end of Cedar Road. They were perfectly respectable--were they not? How this change in her station was to come about Louise offered no hint, and did not seem to think of the matter.
Then restlessness again came upon her. One day she all but declared her disappointment that the Mumfords saw so few people. Emmeline, repeating this to her husband, avowed a certain compunction.
'I almost feel that I deliberately misled her. You know, Clarence, in our first conversation I mentioned the Kirby Simpsons and Mrs. Hollings, and I feel sure she remembers. It wouldn't be nice to be taking her money on false pretences, would it?'
'Oh, don't trouble. It's quite certain she has someone in mind whom she means to marry before long.'
'I can't help thinking that. But I don't know who it can be. She had a letter this morning in a man's writing, and didn't speak of it. It wasn't Mr. Cobb.'
Louise, next day, put a point-blank question.
'Didn't you say that you knew some people at West Kensington?'
'Oh, yes,' answered Emmeline, carelessly. 'The Kirby Simpsons. They're away from home.'
'I'm sorry for that. Isn't there anyone else we could go and see, or ask over here?'
'I think it very likely Mr. Bilton will come down in a few days.'
Louise received Mr. Bilton's name with moderate interest. But she dropped the subject, and seemed to reconcile herself to domestic pleasures.
It was on the evening of this day that Emmeline received a letter which gave her much annoyance. Her sister, Mrs. Grove, wrote thus:
'How news does get about! And what ridiculous forms it takes! Here is Mrs. Powell writing to me from Birmingham, and she says she has heard that you have taken in the daughter of some wealthy _parvenu_, for a consideration, to train her in the ways of decent society! Just the kind of thing Mrs. Powell would delight in talking about-- she is so very malicious. Where she got her information I can't imagine. She doesn't give the slightest hint. "They tell me"--I copy her words--"that the girl is all but a savage, and does and says the most awful things. I quite admire Mrs. Mumford's courage. I've heard of people doing this kind of thing, and I always wondered how they got on with their friends." Of course I have written to contradict this rubbish. But it's very annoying, I'm sure.'
Mumford was angry. The source of these fables must be either Bilton or Dunnill, yet he had not thought either of them the kind of men to make mischief. Who else knew anything of the affair? Searching her memory, Emmeline recalled a person unknown to her, a married lady, who had dropped in at Mrs. Grove's when she and Louise were there.
'I didn't like her--a supercilious sort of person. And she talked a great deal of her acquaintance with important people. It's far more likely to have come from her than from either of those men. I shall write and tell Molly so.'
They began to feel uncomfortable, and seriously thought of getting rid of the burden so imprudently undertaken. Louise, the next day, wanted to take Emmeline to town, and showed dissatisfaction when she had to go unaccompanied. She stayed till late in the evening, and came back with a gay account of her calls upon two or three old friends--the girls of whom she had spoken to Mrs. Mumford. One of them, Miss Featherstone, she had taken to dine with her at a restaurant, and afterwards they had spent an hour or two at Miss Featherstone's lodgings.
'I didn't go near Tulse Hill, and if you knew how I am wondering what is going on there! Not a line from anyone. I shall write to mother to-morrow.'
Emmeline produced a letter which had arrived for Miss Derrick.
'Why didn't you give it me before?' Louise exclaimed, impatiently.
'My dear, you had so much to tell me. I waited for the first pause.'
'That isn't from home,' said the girl, after a glance at the envelope. 'It's nothing.'
After saying good-night, she called to Emmeline from her bedroom door. Entering the room, Mrs. Mumford saw the open letter in Louise's hand, and read in her face a desire of confession.
'I want to tell you something. Don't be in a hurry; just a few minutes. This letter is from Mr. Bowling. Yes, and I've had one from him before, and I was obliged to answer it.'
'Do you mean they are love-letters?'
'Yes, I'm afraid they are. And it's so stupid, and I'm so vexed. I don't want to have anything to do with him, as I told you long ago.' Louise often used expressions which to a stranger would have implied that her intimacy with Mrs. Mumford was of years' standing. 'He wrote for the first time last week. Such a silly letter! I wish you would read it. Well, he said that it was all over between him and Cissy, and that he cared only for me, and always had, and always would--you know how men write. He said he considered himself quite free. Cissy had refused him, and wasn't that enough? Now that I was away from home, he could write to me, and wouldn't I let him see me? Of course I wrote that I didn't _want_ to see him, and I thought he was behaving very badly--though I don't really think so, because it's all that idiot Cissy's fault. Didn't I do quite right?'
'I think so.'
'Very well. And now he's writing again, you see; oh, such a lot of rubbish! I can hear him saying it all through his nose. Do tell me what I ought to do next.'
'You must either pay no attention to the letter, or reply so that he can't possibly misunderstand you.'
'Call him names, you mean?'
'My dear Louise!'
'But that's the only way with such men. I suppose you never were bothered with them. I think I'd better not write at all.'
Emmeline approved this course, and soon left Miss Derrick to her reflections.
The next day Louise carried out her resolve to write for information regarding the progress of things at Coburg Lodge. She had not long to wait for a reply, and it was of so startling a nature that she ran at once to Mrs. Mumford, whom she found in the nursery.
'Do please come down. Here's something I must tell you about. What do you think mother says? I've to go back home again at once.'
'What's the reason?' Emmeline inquired, knowing not whether to be glad or sorry.
'I'll read it to you:--"Dear Lou," she says, "you've made a great deal of trouble, and I hope you're satisfied. Things are all upside down, and I've never seen dada"--that's Mr. Higgins, of course-- "I've never seen dada in such a bad temper, not since first I knew him. Mr. B."--that's Mr. Bowling, you know--"has told him plain that he doesn't think any more of Cissy, and that nothing mustn't be expected of him."--Oh what sweet letters mother does write!--"That was when dada went and asked him about his intentions, as he couldn't help doing, because Cissy is fretting so. It's all over, and of course you're the cause of it; and, though I can't blame you as much as the others do, I think you _are_ to blame. And Cissy said she must go to the seaside to get over it, and she went off yesterday to Margate to your Aunt Annie's boarding-house, and there she says she shall stay as long as she doesn't feel quite well, and dada has to pay two guineas a week for her. So he says at once, 'Now Loo 'll have to come back. I'm not going to pay for the both of them boarding out,' he says. And he means it. He has told me to write to you at once, and you're to come as soon as you can, and he won't be responsible to Mrs. Mumford for more than another week's payment."--There! But I shan't go, for all that. The idea! I left home just to please them, and now I'm to go back just when it suits their convenience. Certainly not.'
'But what will you do, Louise,' asked Mrs. Mumford, 'if Mr. Higgins is quite determined?'
'Do? Oh! I shall settle it easy enough. I shall write at once to the old man and tell him I'm getting on so nicely in every way that I couldn't dream of leaving you. It's all nonsense, you'll see.'
Emmeline and her husband held a council that night, and resolved that, whatever the issue of Louise's appeal to her stepfather, this was a very good opportunity for getting rid of their guest. They would wait till Louise made known the upshot of her negotiations. It seemed probable that Mr. Higgins would spare them the unpleasantness of telling Miss Derrick she must leave. If not, that disagreeable necessity must be faced.
'I had rather cut down expenses all round,' said Emmeline, 'than have our home upset in this way. It isn't like home at all. Louise is a whirlwind, and the longer she stays, the worse it'll be.'
'Yes, it won't do at all,' Mumford assented. 'By the bye, I met Bilton to-day, and he asked after Miss Derrick. I didn't like his look or his tone at all. I feel quite sure there's a joke going round at our expense. Confound it!'
'Never mind. It'll be over in a day or two, and it'll be a lesson to you, Clarence, won't it?'
'I quite admit that the idea was mine,' her husband replied, rather irritably. 'But it wasn't I who accepted the girl as a suitable person.'
'And certainly it wasn't _me_!' rejoined Emmeline. 'You will please to remember that I said again and again--'
'Oh, hang it, Emmy! We made a blunder, both of us, and don't let us make it worse by wrangling about it. There you are; people of that class bring infection into the house. If she stayed here a twelvemonth, we should have got to throwing things at each other.'
The answer to Louise's letter of remonstrance came in the form of Mrs. Higgins herself Shortly before luncheon that lady drove up to "Runnymede" in a cab, and her daughter, who had just returned from a walk, was startled to hear of the arrival.
'You've got to come home with me, Lou,' Mrs. Higgins began, as she wiped her perspiring face. 'I've promised to have you back by this afternoon. Dada's right down angry; you wouldn't know him. He blames everything on to you, and you'd better just come home quiet.'
'I shall do nothing of the kind,' answered Louise, her temper rising.
Mrs. Higgins glared at her and began to rail; the voice was painfully audible to Emmeline, who just then passed through the hall. Miss Derrick gave as good as she received; a battle raged for some minutes, differing from many a former conflict only in the moderation of pitch and vocabulary due to their being in a stranger's house.
'Then you won't come?' cried the mother at length. 'I've had my journey for nothing, have I? Then just go and fetch Mrs. What's-her-name. She must hear what I've got to say.'
'Mrs. Mumford isn't at home,' answered Louise, with bold mendacity. 'And a very good thing too. I should be sorry for her to see you in the state you're in.'
'I'm in no more of a state than you are, Louise! And just you listen to this. Not one farthing more will you have from 'ome--not one farthing! And you may think yourself lucky if you still '_ave_ a 'ome. For all I know, you'll have to earn your own living, and I'd like to hear how you mean to do it. As soon as I get back I shall write to Mrs. What's-her-name and tell her that nothing will be paid for you after the week that's due and the week that's for notice. Now just take heed of what you're doing, Lou. It may have more serious results than you think for.'
'I've thought all I'm going to think,' replied the girl. 'I shall stay here as long as I like, and be indebted neither to you nor to stepfather.'
Mrs. Mumford breathed a sigh of thankfulness that she was not called upon to take part in this scene. It was bad enough that the servant engaged in laying lunch could hear distinctly Mrs. Higgins's coarse and violent onslaught. When the front door at length closed she rejoiced, but with trembling; for the words that fell upon her ear from the hall announced too plainly that Louise was determined to stay.