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tensions; but he certainly had an appetite for money, and nothing but money, that knew no bounds.
This, more or less, was the family circle or environment which now beset Vignolles, home from all his wanderings and seemingly at rest and settled down for good within the borders of his native land. He had, of course, his other interests, for he had joined numerous societies-The Officers' Association, Comrades of the Great War, and similar institutions, where he felt that he and his money might be of use. I never saw his name put forward or stuck out in the newspapers,-I think he avoided that as he would a plague, -but in his way he was deep enough in these things, attending committees and shelling out and talking little, though making rather a strong point of common sense. One way and another I heard a good deal about all these affairs. He would discuss them with me, and, of course, as an old "comrade" myself, I took some interest as well. He seemed, however, now to have made his life and settled down to it, what with the children, his home, and a variety of valuable things outside of it. It might all go on smoothly; or, on the other hand, it might be only a new beginning leading to some adventure more turgid and more marked than any that had gone before.
I do not know precisely why all those people came to me. I dare say it was because I stood outside their troubles and was not particularly involved in them; but first one came and then another, till I knew exactly what every body felt and thought and conjectured about everybody else. And of course I listened, though I don't believe that
I ever took sides. It seemed to do them good to have it out with somebody, and I being handy and not belonging to any special camp, all of them had it out with me. This is what modern civilization comes to, I suppose crowds of people living elbow to elbow, and the more they see of one another, the more they dislike one another and pick one another to pieces. The women are the worst offenders, having leisure and, therefore, plenty of time to brood. Well, I've no doubt they have their grievances. There was Mrs. Carey-Holt, for instance, Vignolles's only sister. She had a lot to say for herself, and I admit that I listened very politely to all she had to say.
As a close friend of their brother and their uncle, Mrs. Carey-Holt and all the Carey-Holts had accepted me. I had been asked to dine, I had played "auction," I had met various gracious members of their "set." I believe that I could have reëstablished myself socially in this new circle had I felt so disposed, and that Carey-Holt voted me "a good fellow." They lived in a big, sprawling house in a good suburb, where the young Carey-Holts took some kind of festive lead, being full of parties and theaters and dances and other interesting matters which filled the house with other young people and led to a deal of discursive talk. Mrs. Carey-Holt seemed to like it, and her husband's chief function was to pay up. I can't say that I took any of these people very seriously till my hostess fairly cornered me one Saturday afternoon. I owed her a call, I remember, and she had said that she was always at home on Saturday afternoons.
Everybody else was out, apparently,
and we had her own little boudoir to ourselves; for, "You see, I am treating you quite as an old friend," she said, waving me to a chair; and then I inquired after the others, and was told that they were at their Badminton club and that Mr. Carey-Holt was playing golf.
She felt her way, so to speak, before she came to her main point that afternoon, and when she reached the right moment she said genially:
"Don't you think Fred is making rather a fool of himself over those Tyrrells?" as though her brother were some kind of naughty child who must be protected and remonstrated with, and as though, perhaps, she intended the latter job for me in case of need.
"In what way?" I responded, all innocence and seeking information. "In every way," said she.
"I like Mrs. Tyrrell," I put in blandly.
"But would a woman with any selfrespect place herself in that position?" "It's a perfectly innocent position, I assure you," I began.
"Yes, we know all about that; but is it done?" she asked abruptly.
"Since the war," I ventured, "a good many things are done that would not have been done before the war."
"But he might have got some decent woman, even a lady-a single woman. There are lots of them about."
"She'd have fallen in love with him, a sentimental spinster. They're the very Dickens," I protested, laughing.
Mrs. Carey-Holt laughed, too; yet for all that she stuck quite grimly to her point.
"But Mrs. Tyrrell, with those two children, is far more dangerous," she resumed; "and there's a girl of eigh
teen. Fred seems to have adopted the whole family."
"Well, why not?" I asked lightly. "They 're in a way a comrade of his, they 've been hit pretty hard; and what's a pension nowadays, with everything costing double? And the old Tyrrells have got only a fixed income that won't stretch. It's rather lucky they fell in with Fred Vignolles."
I had put it fairly bluntly toward the end. I did n't see that she had much to complain of, with that big house of hers and plenty of servants, and her own money and Carey-Holt's to pay the bills.
"But if Fred had wanted to do something with his money," she persisted, "there 's his own niece and nephew, is n't there? I don't believe in going outside one's own family," she added, "and no more do you."
So that was her point? She was jealous of the Tyrrells, and she wanted Vignolles's money to go to her own brood and not to get frittered away outside.
It was a situation, I suppose, one might have foreseen; yet for all that, I really could n't help blurting out the truth and letting her have it straight.
"When Fred was hard up," I said, "he must have saved you all a lot of trouble."
She laughed at that. She was really pretty decent over it, and she never seemed to bear me any grudge for my candor.
"Of course you 're fond of him," she said, "and like him to have his own way in things; and, then, you 're a selfish old bachelor. But when one's married, one does think of one's own children. It's only natural, is n't it?"
She turned the subject after that, but she had made it pretty clear to me
that Vignolles and his peculiar schemes hardly met with her approval, and that, indeed, Mrs. Tyrrell, and especially the two Tyrrell children, she regarded as obstacles that stood unfairly and unexpectedly in the way of her own far more deserving girl and boy. And that I imagined was the view taken by all the Carey-Holt family, by young Francis and by Miss Jane, and by the stock-broker himself no less emphatically. But as it was a matter that, to my unbiased mind, concerned my friend and my friend only, I felt that it was certainly not within my province to interfere.
I have already said that I liked Mrs. Tyrrell, whose parents called her "Angela," by the way, a name that admirably suited her, as I ventured to think when I first caught it. There was, quite unaffectedly, something angelic about that charming lady, whose age I guessed at a year or two under forty, and whose face and figure were still very much that of a young woman. And she was capable, too, and firm where needed. She ran the house successfully, was clever with the servants, and was not at all obtrusive or inclined to act the "boss." In her place many a good woman might have yielded.
Vignolles, though probably quite unaware and just his natural self, was equally tactful. He looked on, so to speak, rather than played the master in that house and its appurtenances. He had his own den, his own quarters, his own everything. When at home, he would most often invite himself to luncheon with the children and their mother; but at breakfast and at dinner he was alone unless they had people
down from London-the older Tyrrells, Berta Tyrrell, the Carey-Holts, or myself, for instance. Outside this small circle, he usually entertained at one or another of his clubs. All this suited Mrs. Tyrrell, and to Vignolles it gave something that, not without reason, he might regard as hard-won anchorage.
My week-ends were very frequently spent amid these surroundings. liked that Georgian house, so close to London and yet so distant, with its bright gardens and shrubberies, its green meadows, and its avenue of trees. It was not a very big place as places go; but, still, it had a completeness, a variety, which showed that the people who had lived here and were now dispersed had loved it and spent a few of their generations upon its making.
Mrs. Tyrrell loved it, too, and she said so quite openly.
"It's often hard to believe in all our luck," she remarked to me one Sunday morning as we strolled out of doors. "It's more like a thing one dreams of than a thing that has happened."
"But Vignolles is like that, exactly like that," I answered, smiling. "Have n't you noticed he always does the things that other people only do in fancy?"
She and I were intimate enough by then to talk with a certain freedom of our host.
"You 've known Mr. Vignolles longer than I have," she replied; "and of course I only know this one thing."
"There are lots of others," I said. "He seems to have lived mainly to be the exception that proves the rule. You've heard of it?"
"I have only too often!" She laughed, and then added: "Mrs.
Carey-Holt, that sister of his, does n't like me. She does n't like any of us. I suppose it's natural."
"She 'll get over it. She does pretty well as she pleases herself, so why should n't Vignolles?"
"The children are happy here; that's the main thing," she resumed. "I had often wondered, before this, what was to become of them. You see, we were so very hard up! Everybody decent is hard up nowadays, or almost everybody." She laughed again as she corrected herself. "Of course I 've no wish to be personal."
"What a charming woman!" I thought. "What a very charming woman!"
But all I said aloud was:
"Vignolles made his money only by a fluke," and then I went on to tell her something of his past life and how the miracle of his present affluence had come about.
"It 's strange, is n't it?" she said, when I had ended. "And it might have turned out just the other way.'
"He 's keen on doing what he calls 'some good with it'," I replied; "that's rather fine of him. I believe old Fred
could live on bread and cheese and a cheap cigarette; he has n't much use for money himself." It seemed to me that I had grown a trifle lyrical and rather enthusiastic about our friend.
"He's been most good to the children," she answered, smiling, and I think a little amused at me. "And even to Berta," she continued; "takes her out and buys her hats and frocks till she gets quite annoyed with him. I often wonder what Arthur would say if he could come back and see us."
She was speaking of the soldier who had been her husband, the father of the three that Vignolles was concerned with; for even the independent Berta, I now learned, was not outside the urgency he felt to give.
"He 'd be rather relieved, I should fancy, if I'm any judge," I ventured. "Yes, I dare say," she answered dubiously; "but perhaps he 'd feel it was n't quite "
"Well, quite the thing for a Tyrrell. And of course Mr. Vignolles, though he 's an angel and all that, he is n't quite no, I should n't have said that, should I?" And she looked at me so frankly with her clear, blue eyes that I could only smile and think how pretty she was, standing there with the sunlight filling her hair and making it more golden than ever, and her pure complexion, and her beautiful, round figure. And it flashed upon me, as I watched her, that the Arthur who had been her husband had never awakened this woman, had never loved her as
she might have been loved, and that that was why she was so like a child to-day despite her own three children and her forty years, or whatever it was.
And of all this she was quite unaware of her own power as of her own weakness. I admit that at the moment I felt a stress to sail in myself and try what I could make of her. It might have been a passing insurgency or even a passing mood, for one doesn't often do these things, now, does one? And just then the children rushed out on us. They had been to the village church with Vignolles, and were come back all zeal and mischief, like two colts liberated and free to kick up their heels. And he, good chap, was happy -as happy as I had ever known him; and looking it, too, as his eyes rested on that delightful place, all green and sunlit, and the two children, and Mrs. Tyrrell and me, standing there, both rather happy as well.
It was a scene, a thing, that he had created, much as an artist creates-a something out of a nothing. And just like that he must have felt, that he had made it and all its implicit happiness; and this, no doubt, was why in his own face I caught a gleam of something that was deeper than satisfaction. With his money he had been able to give the five of us this very perfect moment. Yes, it was indeed a matter to feel deeply and to be more than glad about, just as a painter glows after he has made a beautiful thing, or a writer who has finished a new story.
(The end of the first part of "The Profiteer")