He had pinned his faith to the sleeve of his party, and as he owed all the reputation he possessed (apart from that of wealth) to that party, he determined that he owed it all to his own talents, and that he was the prop and mainstay of the ultra-Conservatives. This conclusion was curious, but natural, for men invariably value themselves at the apparent valuation of their private friends, and the world in general is apt to take men at the price they set upon themselves.
The Embassy at Krummelhoff was not a rich one, and as Saville Chatteris occupied the place of ambassador, and used to write lengthy reports of brilliant no-meaning, and, with the assistance of an unpaid attaché, would issue a stray passport or two to a stray Briton, he was looked up to by the English residents. When his father died, Saville was only forty-two, and from being the oracle of a stupid German town, stepped at once into six thousand a-year and one of the prettiest estates in England.
I say six thousand a-year, for old Chatteris of the Wastepaper Office was an economical fellow, and though a poor fifteen hundred a-year and an infinity of mortgages was all that his spendthrift uncle had left him, he had succeeded in his long and prudent life in paying off and paying in to such an extent that when Masters Frederick and Cyril, aged thirteen and ten respectively, were forwarded by the Ostend boat, like two parcels of merchandise, and reached Matcham at seven p.m. on a cold winter’s evening, they voted the Ducal Schloss a dog-kennel compared with their grandfather’s house. Saville Chatteris came home, a widower, to find his two sons grown to young men, and his grand-niece, Miss Kate Ffrench, a very charming young woman. His sister, Lady Loughborough (widow of Viscount Loughborough, whose only excuse for living so long was that he left his “dearly beloved wife Sybilla” a jointure of one thousand a-year), came down to keep house for him, and the ball of fortune rolled merrily.
Mr. Saville Chatteris, however, had one thorn in his side—his son Cyril. Separated from his children for seven years, and being naturally cold blooded, he did not give himself much trouble to conciliate their affections. Indeed it would appear that Kate Ffrench was more to him than his own sons. He liked to pet her, and to be petted by her, and would sit for hours to hear her play or sing to him. With Fred and Cyril, however, the case was different. They were willing to please at first, but their father was too haughty to condescend to more than affability. He had no sympathy with young England or its ways, and would frown at Fred’s slang, and laugh at Cyril’s dogmas, until the young men looked upon him simply as a machine constructed for the purpose of signing cheques and giving dinners. Of the two, the father preferred Fred. He had a languid impertinence about him that delighted the old man, and being, in his own inane way, a favourite with the women, the ex-diplomat saw, or thought he saw, a reflection of a youthful self in his eldest son. Fred insisted upon going into the army, and after some expostulation, a cornetcy in the —th was bought, and Mr. Saville’s mirrored youth shone in all the brilliancy of gold lace and bullion.
Cyril never was liked by his father. The boy had always been of a studious turn, and when Fred was galloping after the hounds on his rough pony, or rabbit shooting with the keepers, Cyril would be curled up in the library, reading poetry, or telling monstrous fairy tales to the open-eyed little Kate.
Kate and Cyril were great friends. Perhaps the girl, with her warm heart, her strong imagination, and her artistic tastes, was the only person in the house who thoroughly understood the effeminate-looking boy who was called “molly-coddle” by his brother, and treated with contempt by all the servants.
Not that Cyril would permit insolence. Far from it. He was as vain as two women and one actress, and would show symptoms of violent passion if he thought he had been ridiculed. On these occasions he was positively dangerous, and a large white scar upon the pad-groom’s forehead attests, to this day, the good-will of the blow given by the scissors-armed hand of “Miss Cyril” to little Dick, the stable helper.
Eliminate all social polish and natural refinement from the boy’s character, and at twelve years of age he was as unpleasant a cub as you could meet anywhere. Cross him, he hated you; laugh at him, he hated you; offend his vanity in the slightest degree, and he hated you. Bow down to the Lilliputian aristocrat, and he despised you; be friendly with him, and he made use of your kindness with utterly selfish disregard of your convenience. His first tutor left Matcham because his life was rendered unbearable by the fiendish insolence of his youngest pupil, who picked out the sore places in the poor fellow’s heart with the ingenuity of a moral Tortillard. He was expelled from his first school for stealing books from one of the other boys, and stupendously lying about it afterwards. He was constantly being flogged at Eton for insolence and idleness, and, to crown all, his own folly caused him to leave Oxford three days before the examination, which ought to have placed his name among the first ten on the list. He was selfish, weak, vain, and unprincipled; but he was clever enough, and though his talents were of a superficial order, they were strongly marked. Had he been brought up with more care, perhaps he might have escaped many a misfortune; but his vanity made him obstinate, and his unhappy mental constitution always urged him to be obstinate on the wrong side. But these faults were invisible on first acquaintance. Cyril Chatteris at nineteen was a good-looking, effeminate, impudent, and apparently clever boy. He had a happy knack of appropriating others’ conceptions, and would bring them out clothed in his own words, with such appositeness and ease that strangers mistook his plagiarisms for genius. He was given somewhat to poetasting; and plunging, of course, into the depths of the spasmodic and sensual school, wrote verses which almost made him blush as he read them. Kate and he used to ramble about together, and talk an immense amount of nonsense about all sorts of matters.
Kate—like most young girls of strong imaginations and sound principles—was given to religious enthusiasms, and would weep over Cyril’s delinquencies and exhort him to repentance.
The boy liked this. It was so pleasant to be considered a Corsair, or a Cæsar Borgia, and to be petted and kissed into goodness again, and he would purposely say “wicked things” to make Kate’s violet eyes fill with tears, and to know that he had pained the thing that loved him best in the world. By the way, it is curious that there should be pleasure in paining one we love. It was said once that no delight can be perfect without sorrow, and that we must
|Pluck red pleasure from the teeth of pain|
to taste the full flavour of the wine of life. Cyril must have had this feeling, for it is certain that at one time of his life he loved his cousin, and he lifted the cup of bitterness to her lips with a steady hand and smiling mouth. It was fortunate for these two fools that they were too young to know their folly. The poetical tendencies are dangerous things to cultivate. As it was, I fear that when Cyril went to Oxford, he took his cousin’s heart with him.
Old Saville imagined that Fred was the one favoured by his niece. For Kate was given to riding, and dancing, and flirting, and had the reputation around Matcham of being rather “fast.” She was a strong, healthy girl, with a natural inclination to exercise her limbs and breathe pure air.
“Fred is just the man for her,” thought Saville, who, nevertheless, hardly liked the notion of so poor a bride for his son. “She always talks to Fred, and never says much to the other one.”
But the old dandy was wrong. Kate had just arrived at that stage of womanhood when concealment is more pleasant than confession, and she only knew that she loved Cyril Chatteris because she was always uneasy in his presence. When he was away she used to wander about Matcham and dream of Sir Bevidere, Sir Launcelot, and other heroes of maiden dreams, half unconscious that they all had white hands and grey eyes, and like Cyril, were rather wicked than otherwise.
Matcham was a place well suited for such musings. The country around it was very beautiful. In autumn, when the trees were turning yellow, and the leaves silently dropping to earth, and rotting in the dark rich soil; when after a storm that shook the boughs and shrilled over the fallow lands—when the last footsteps of the rain had departed with a cool pattering sound, and from grove and coppice went up a fragrance like music—it was an exquisite pleasure to stroll down the village; and passing the pool by the church where the ducks were splashing—passing the blacksmith’s with its glowing furnace (like a picture by Rembrandt), nodding to the homeward-bound cart—its occupants, a yokel and a rosy-faced child, shaking off the drops of the shower which had reached them under the grey awning—to turn down by the stile and into the wood borders. Matcham woods are renowned throughout the country, but I always think that they are best seen after rain—when the mighty purple black cloud, the last in the train of the departing storm, slowly melts down to grey—when the silver beech trunks no longer glisten under the rainy lights that find their way through the jagged gashes and gaps in the veil above—when the sun, sinking through golden mists behind the wooded hill, suddenly asserts his power, and with fierce stabs of crimson rends the flimsy storm-veil asunder, and flooding with weltering flushes of green and gold the space above the black tree tops, slowly sinks behind them. When at last the cloud melts away, the mighty heart of fire that welled forth such glorious light, stills, and above in the fathomless æther, above the sea of molten clouds, above the silver strand of light, above the fleecy grey tresses that the wild wind has blown all about the sky, in a delicate space of apple-green æther shines the Evening Star.
The nameless influences of these things affected Kate, and as she wandered dreamily in the glades and lanes of Matcham, she began to invest the figure of her absent lover with many graces that did not in good truth belong to it, and to nourish her passion until it grew almost beyond her control. Love fed upon autumn tints, glowing skies, sweet perfumes, and delicate airs, is apt to thrive, and thus it happened that during Cyril’s first term at Oxford Miss Kate Ffrench found out one afternoon, while walking in the hazel copse, that she loved him very dearly, and had been counting the hours to the time of his return with something more than friendly interest.
And Cyril himself? Well, he hardly knew his own mind, he certainly had a contemptuous affection for his cousin, because she always admitted him to be right, and looked up to him as a superior being. But he was not much disturbed by any violence of passion, and went about his usual ways unconcernedly.
Between you and me, reader, he was not half good enough for her; but women have always had a happy knack of falling in love with people who are just exactly unsuited for them, and of persistently ignoring the existence of the heaven-sent mate who, according to the story-books, is wandering and waiting somewhere.
About this time, too, Mr. Cyril began to feel his feet strike something firmer than the shifting sand of youthful dreams, and to think that he had found his mètier at last. Being up at London one winter he met his schoolfellow, Rupert Dacre (who used to fag him at Eton), and Mr. Rupert Dacre introduced him to some very queer society indeed. Among the many people he met at that period was Blister of the Morning Mercury, at that time a liberal journal. As old Chatteris was ultra-conservative to the backbone, naturally his son was exactly the opposite, and being somewhat excited at dinner one night, made such a brilliant and lucid defence of the Radical party (the ideas, of course, being rechauffés from some obscure author) that Mr. Blister shifted in his chair and asked his neighbour “who that young fellow was?”
The neighbour was young also, and not having left college long, was well posted up in all matters of the kind.
“Oh, that’s Chatteris of Christ’s. Rather a good man, they say. He is a quiet fellow, but devilish clever;” and the censor morum helped himself to claret.
“Ha! Christchurch man is he? Any relation to old Chatteris of the Foreign Office?”
“Oh!” and Blister moved his chair further down the table.
Some time after this incident, the great struggle over the Franchise-reform bill began. The Morning Mercury began to be spoken of. It was unusually brilliant. A series of articles on the Franchise attracted attention. The writer was unknown. “They have got some new man,” growled the Conservative editor of the Conservative Evening Herald. “New blood! His facts are all right, and his style is smart, but there is nothing new in what he says.”
The “new man” was Cyril Chatteris. He was wonderfully proud of his new found powers, and despatched letter upon letter from Oxford, all of which appeared in the columns of the Mercury. He came down to Matcham, and still the writing went on. The Morning Mercury became quite a thorn in the side of the Government. Not that they cared for fine writing, style, or logic, but because little items of private news, little hints as to Government policy, or to the state of Government patronage, would creep out every now and then, with insidious pertinacity. Mr. Saville Chatteris, who, as became him, took a great interest in politics, was pleasantly annoyed about it, and grumbled in a wellbred manner at breakfast, at the audacity of the people. Saville Chatteris, indeed, went the length of embodying his views in his next letter to the Earl of Foozleton, the Prime Minister, an old friend of his.
This was done just at the time when Cyril was on the top wave of article-writing, and eager and panting for the shore of fame. Foozleton, though Prime Minister, being somewhat too prone to chatter, replied to his old friend’s letter by another, which set forth in unmistakeable terms the policy of the Government. This letter was received the day before Cyril returned to Christchurch; and as that young gentleman went into the library for the purpose of requesting the paternal machine to produce a cheque of somewhat larger amount than usual, he saw the letter of the minister on the table.
I have said that Cyril was utterly unprincipled, and in his present political frame of mind, the well-known blotch, that was presumed by courtesy to be Foozleton’s signature, was enough to send a thrill through his heart. It happened that Mr. Saville Chatteris was out, and that the room was empty.
Under these circumstances, his son walked deliberately to the writing-table, and with many starts and twitchings at supposed openings of the door, read the minister’s letter through from beginning to end. The day after, he went back to Oxford to take his degree.
The well-informed neighbour of the editor of the Morning Mercury was not wrong when he said that Cyril Chatteris was one of the first men of his year—that is, socially. Chatteris was the idol of a certain set. He neither rode nor boated. The cricket-ground and the racket-court knew him not; and he never played practical jokes. But he was supposed by his friends to be able to do all these things, and to be quiet, because blasé. It is strange what heroes young men make of each other; and to hear the conversation of some thirty men at Christchurch, you would think that the college contained a man who was three Admirable Crichtons rolled into one. It was said that the quiet-looking effeminate youth could box, row, and fence with Caunt, the Claspers, or Angelo; that he wrote essays like Macaulay, poems like Tennyson, vers de societé like Praed, could play billiards like R——, and was a better classic than the dean. While the absolute truth was, that he could do a very little of all these things, but had wit enough to leave off in time. He had built his reputation on the sand, and was careful that no sidewind of absolute proof should blow upon it.
In the meantime the political crisis was approaching. The Government was promising concessions; the Liberals were agitating, and the people’s cry was all against the bill. But the Government declared itself sure of success. The reckless extension of franchise must be put a stop to, and if the bill was once passed, their promised concessions might be thought of. The leading journals attempted to soothe the masses. Such concessions as were promised by the Ministry were all that could be expected or required. The people must yield. In vain did Blethers, the newly-risen “Man of the people,” call mob meetings in every town in England; in vain did the Liberal journals call upon the “people” to rise and defend their rights; in vain was Hyde Park crammed with the orators of the “League;” it was evident that the Government was too strong.
Things were at this pass, when on the day appointed for the reading of the obnoxious measure, a brilliant article appeared in the Morning Mercury, which, while blinking the question of expediency, stated in the plainest terms that the Ministry was pledged to pass the measure or resign, that the promised concessions would never be made, gave an authoritative sketch of the future policy of the Foozleton Cabinet, and printed quotations from an alleged “written document in our possession” which utterly denied all hope of compromise, and challenged the Government to disprove its assertions. The effect was electrical. The paper sold nearly a double issue; Foozleton went down to the house as in a confused dream. He could not reply to the questions asked. His own party whispered that the blackest treachery had been used somewhere. The Opposition rushed open mouthed at the “noble lord,” and in a trice his moral character was torn to shreds. The bill was not even read, and at nine o’clock next morning Foozleton was en route for Castle Slattery, County Donegal, and all England rang with the news of the resignation of the Ministry.
Blister was in ecstacies, and wrote a letter to Cyril, couched in the most complimentary terms; for, of course, you have guessed that it was the ingenious scoundrelism of that talented young man that had upset the Ministry. But Foozleton himself was not so pleased. His hopes of political life were over for ever. He thought for a long time as to how the writer could have obtained his information (he put out of the question the letter to Saville Chatteris; the two men had been friends from boyhood); and, after much cogitation, wrote to the best informed man in London, Mr. Rupert Dacre:
DEAR DACRE,—How is town? Country very dull. I suppose the news of the breakdown has put S—— and M—— in spirits. It is to be regretted for many reasons. I was thinking of making some changes in your department, which will now, perhaps, be indefinitely deferred. I see the Chron. did what it could for us, which was not much. I suppose I thank you for it. I cannot understand how the Mercury gets its information. Have you any notion who writes for it?
Rupert Dacre, Esq., F. O.
“Who writes for it?” repeated Mr. Rupert Dacre, as he folded up the minister’s letter carefully. “I suppose you mean who wrote the article that put you out of place?”
That afternoon Dacre went to the office of the Mercury.
“Ah! Blister, how are you, old fellow? I am going to have a few friends to dinner, on Friday, at my place. Will you come?”
“With all the pleasure in the world, my dear boy!” returned Blister, who knew exactly why he was asked. “But I am up to the eyes in work just now. Close upon six, you know. Letters!”
“So I see,” said Rupert, casting a glance at the envelopes that littered the floor. He saw one with the Oxford postmark, and the well-known “C. C.” in the corner (Cyril had a weakness for initialing his letters). “Ah! does Master Cyril write for you?” asked he, carelessly picking up the envelope.
Blister made some nonchalant answer, and the matter dropped.
Three days afterwards the Earl of Foozleton got his reply:
MY DEAR LORD,—Thanks for your kind note. Town is slower than ever. There is some talk of M—— being in the new Cabinet. I sincerely hope not. It is reported also that R—— will not take office after the esclandre last year at Brighton. He is afraid of the papers. By the way, that reminds me of your question about the Mercury.
I fancy the “new hand” is a man at Christchurch, named Chatteris, a son of Saville Chatteris, who, I think, corresponds with you. He is a clever young fellow, I understand, but not very prudent. Have you read Bamforth’s “Thibet?” Capital book; town all talking of it.
R. H. the Earl of Foozleton.
“D—— ‘Thibet!’” exclaimed the ex-prime minister. “Saville would never have done such a confoundedly shabby thing, surely. I’ll write and ask him.”
The letter, couched in the most delicate terms, was written and sent.
“I give up an old friend’s letter to a confounded Radical paper!” exclaimed Saville Chatteris. “He cannot be in his senses. Yet it looks strange, I admit. He has more sense than to write to anybody but me in the strain he did, and at such a time. Could anybody have seen the letter? I left it in the library, I remember, but no one was there but Cyril. He has no interest in doing such a thing. I have heard that the boy scribbles too. But still! Kate, have you ever heard that Cyril wrote anything?”
“How do you mean, uncle?”
“That he wrote for the papers.”
Now Cyril, in the exuberance of his vanity, had told his cousin of his triumphant entry into literature.
“I believe he has written something in a London paper,” said Kate, blushing.
“The Morning Mercury.”
All his good breeding could scarcely repress the angry exclamation that rose to the lips of the indignant Mr. Chatteris.
“The infernal young scoundrel! I’ll—I’ll”
And he rose from the breakfast table hurriedly, to the intense alarm of Kate, who was ignorant what criminals Radicals were in the eyes of her respected uncle.
Cyril was on thorns about his degree. Despite the plaudits and flattery of his friends, he well knew that it was more than probable that he should be ignominiously “spun,” or come out at the very bottom of the list of heroes. He meditated illness, sudden breakdown from overwork, or an accident, which would give him time to repent and coach up for next term.
“I will take my name off the books,” said he, “rather than be ‘plucked.’”
But what could he do? Go to the bar, or take up journalism as a profession? Blister was complimentary enough. He was in this undecided frame of mind, when an indignant letter from his father cut the Gordian knot. The high-minded old gentleman was cut to the heart at learning that a son of his should have stooped to such dishonour. To write for a Radical paper was bad enough; but to read his father’s letters, and basely to make use of information therein contained, was infamous. And he expressed his opinion in no measured terms.
Cyril felt the disgrace deeply. He did not care one jot for the ethics of the business; but the being found out was intolerable.
“I wonder who told him? If the story is known, I shall be socially ruined,” thought he.
After twelve hours’ calm reflection, however, and a still more complimentary letter from Blister, he came to the conclusion that his father could only have guessed at his delinquency.
“Hang it! I’ll cut this place, and go in for writing,” said he; and forthwith took his name off the books, to the amazement of all Oxford, and went down to Matcham.
He was not prepared, though, for his reception. His father was furious at the sudden termination of his son’s career, and informed him that if he chose to write for Radical journals, he should not do it in his house, upbraided him with his dishonourable conduct, and finally told him that he was heir to two hundred pounds a year left him by his mother—that that sum should be paid quarterly into Coutts’s for him—and that he might take himself off as soon as he pleased.
Cyril, in his overweening vanity, saw nothing but fame before him, and with a cold parting from Kate, went up to London, entered himself for the bar, and establishing himself in Dym-street, became a recognised member of the Mercury staff.
He had been five months in his new abode when the events took place which I have recorded in the first chapter of this history.
It may seem strange, perhaps, that a man of his tastes should be so smitten by the charms of a girl like Caroline; but Cyril Chatteris was weak in character, vain to excess, and prone to succumb to the accidents of the present.
He did not care to face his old friends. Christchurch in general believed that some dark mystery had enveloped his sudden departure; and all sorts of stories were afloat, in which debts, duns, horses, play, and women, variously figured. So Cyril Chatteris, at twenty-two, found himself an accredited citizen of Bohemia, and engaged to be married to his landlady’s daughter.