Mr. Chatteris sat at one end of it in silence. Even the ceremony of “dressing” had been dispensed with. Miss Kate Ffrench, in her deep mourning-dress, looked like Dante’s Beatrice, while the two young men scarcely spoke, save in whispers. There was therefore ample time for Mr. Cyril to think over his friend’s advice. What course should he pursue? He thought confusedly during the subdued clinking of glass and tapping of china, upon all the courses that Dacre had suggested, yet found himself constantly recurring to one sentence—“Come back and marry your cousin, after the fashion of three-volume novels.” He stole a glance at Kate. She never looked more lovely. Her grief had taken some of the colour from her cheek, but it had given to her face a delicate purity of outline that was wanting to it before; and her grey eyes had grown darker and deeper, and shone with limpid light. Compared to that other picture in Cyril’s heart, she was as a queen to a peasant girl. Carry was pretty and coquettish, but Kate, with her superb figure, her delicate hands, her glorious eyes, and her sweet grace of intellect and breeding, was as much beyond her, as a pure, solitary, shining star is beyond a penny catherine-wheel, fizzing with pertinacious twirlings upon a door-lintel.
As Cyril rose to open the door for her, he met her gaze and turned away, while an involuntary pang went through his heart, as he thought of the deed that had banished him from her presence for ever.
The master of the house rose immediately after dinner, and Dacre followed him; while Cyril sat moodily drinking, and picturing all sorts of shapes and scenes in the glowing fire. “I will write to Carry,” thought he, “and tell her not to expect me home for a day or two. Poor little thing, she must be anxious;” and he rose to look for pens and paper. “My father’s in the library, I cannot go there,” thought he; and then remembering that in a little den opening off the hall, and once dignified by the name of Mr. Fred’s study, but which was now a simple storeroom for guns, dog-whips, fishing-rods, and such like gear, he should find what he sought, he opened the door. As he lit and turned up the reading-lamp on the little table, he heard a sob, and, looking up, saw his cousin. She had flung herself into an armchair, and was weeping bitterly.
She rose as if to leave the room, but he put his arms round her and led her back. “What is it, Kate?” said he.
After a moment, the sobs ceased, and Kate, putting his arms away, stood before him, with one hand resting on the edge of the writing table, and said, simply,
“Cyril, I am very unhappy.”
“Unhappy! Why, dearest?”
“I don’t mean about poor Fred, though I” (she nearly broke down here) “I loved him very dearly; but about you. You are very much changed, Cyril.”
“Yes. What have you been doing? Why did you quarrel with uncle? and what has kept you so long in London?”
“Three questions at once, Katy!” returned he, with an attempt at a laugh, that was belied by his hangdog face. “I have had no quarrel.”
“You have quarrelled, because aunt told me so. What was it about?”
“About a foolish thing I did at college, Kate, dear.”
“Oh! I thought it was about your writing for the papers.”
Cyril’s face was out of the lamplight, but he turned crimson.
“Katy, you are a little fool to make so much of nothing. What are my misdeeds to you?”
“Oh! Cyril, you know that—that” (she grew confused), “that we have been friends since we were children.”
“More than friends, darling,” said Cyril, overcome by the love in her clear eyes.
And he kissed her on the forehead.
She drew closer to him; and, out of the depth of her innocent and but half-comprehended love, laid her head on his shoulder.
“My darling!” she murmured, “you have some trouble; I know you have. Will you not tell it to me? We are as brother and sister now.”
The pressure of her arms; her sweet breath stirring his hair; her loving voice, full of comfort; her delicate intonation, and that exquisite halo of modesty which, even though she was lying on his heart, fenced her round, and put her leagues from him, thrilled the unhappy boy through, as, with sudden knowledge, his heart called out to him, “Here is a woman— beautiful, true, and pure—who loves you, and you have lost her.”
For an instant he stood overpowered. He seemed to see his own soul, and to know how he had deceived himself. The knowledge of his own folly struck him like a gigantic wave, and left him speechless. Then he snatched the woman he had lost closer to him, and covered her eyes and lips, with passionate, burning kisses; then thrusting her from him, with a bitter cry, he fell into a chair, and clutched at his hair with despairing hands.
“Cyril, my boy, are you here? Oh! a thousand pardons?”
It was Rupert Dacre; and, as he stood in the lighted doorway looking in upon the pair, a sneer came into his face.
“She has refused him,” thought he.
Cyril sprang up angrily, and, without a word or a look at his cousin, followed Dacre out.
“What is it?”
“Your father wants to see you in the library, my dear boy.”
The silky accents jarred upon the young man’s ears. How came this stranger to be a messenger between father and son? He turned round, as if to ask the question; but Rupert’s hand was upon the lock, and Rupert’s smiling eyes upon his face. His heart failed him, the door swung noiselessly on its hinges, and the two entered the library together.
Mr. Saville Chatteris was seated in state at his writing table; and, with a lofty motion of his white, though wrinkled, hand, seemed to suggest an audience. His son, however, full of resentful feelings, which had arisen, he scarcely knew how, walked slowly to the table, and waited for his sentence. It was the same table whereon he had read the letter which had made and marred him; and looking up, he saw Dacre, who was leaning negligently against the fireplace, looking down with an amused air, as though he was a spectator at an agreeable comedy, and was waiting for the curtain to draw up.
“I wish to say a few words to you, sir,” began the old man.
Rupert Dacre sat down. The comedy had begun.
“You are now my—my heir,” said Mr. Saville Chatteris. “I never expected, when you left me, to see your face again; but—but matters have turned out differently.”
(“Very pretty euphuism,” thought the spectator, mentally applauding).
“You are now in a different position in life to that which you occupied a few days ago. I need not recapitulate the cause of your temporary absence from home.”
(“Quite like a despatch! Bravo!” said the spectator’s eyes).
“I trust that you have learnt some useful lessons while you have been living on your own resources; and, for my part, I am willing to forget the disgraceful action of which you have been guilty.”
Cyril winced and coloured, but did not move. The spectator rubbed his leg gently, and seemed to murmur. “Capitally put, but severe, very severe!”
“I am willing to make you a suitable allowance, until—my—until I—until you succeed to this property—”(Applause from the spectator)—“and shall put no restrictions upon your liberty, that is to say, if you consent to my requirements in other matters.”
Cyril bowed. This was better than he expected.
“I have been consulting your friend, Mr. Dacre, who sees more of the young men of the day than I do,” continued Mr. Saville Chatteris, with a graceful wave towards the deprecating Rupert, “concerning your wishes, and he is of opinion that you would prefer a London life.”
Cyril made a motion of assent.
“I confess that I should prefer that you lived here, but as I have before explained to you, my only wish is to put you in a proper position with the world, as Mr. Chatteris of Matcham, regardless of any feelings I may have towards you as my son.”
(“A very delicate distinction!” was the mental interjection of the spectator.)
“You will therefore go up to London with your friend Dacre, who has promised me to look after you, and in whose discretion and friendship I place implicit trust.”
“You do me great honour, sir,” says the spectator—aloud this time.
“I shall allow you eight hundred pounds a year”—(Cyril brightened up)—“which, with your own property, will be enough for you to live upon. But if I do this, you must oblige me by giving up your radical newspapers, and mixing only in the society of gentlemen. Will you promise this?”
(Telemachus glanced at Mentor, and Mentor’s eyes said “Yes!” as plainly as eyes could speak.)
“Yes, I promise that, sir.”
“Well, I will rely upon your word; but mind this, if you break it, you shall never come here again, until you come as owner.” (The old man’s brow flushed as he spoke, but he grew calmer when he saw his son’s composed face.) “And now, Cyril, before you go, I wish to speak to you on a private matter.”
The spectator, as if the play were over, rose, and bowing with easy grace, left the room.
“I had hoped that your cousin Kate” (Cyril started) “would have been the wife of my—of your poor brother” (and the father uttered the words slowly, as though they were bonds to bind him closer to his surviving son); “but that is all over now. Indeed, perhaps I was wrong, and she did not love him as I thought she did. I am not rich, Cyril, but the dearest wish of my heart is to provide for my niece’s child. I have settled some money of my own upon her, and I believe that I have induced my sister to do the same, but I should not like to see her lose her home. She may marry” (here he glanced at Cyril); “but should she not, I would wish you to promise me that she will always find a home here.”
“I promise, sir,” and Cyril’s hand grasped his father’s for the first time since the quarrel.
Saville Chatteris gazed into his son’s face, as though he sought for something there.
“You will be marrying one of these days yourself, Cyril,” said he, half timidly.
Cyril bit his lips. He thought of the Mantonian domestic circle, and then of Kate. The prize was offered to him, and yet he could not grasp it. He turned dizzy for an instant and could not speak.
“Ah, well, time enough to think of that,” said Saville Chatteris, dropping his son’s hand with a sigh.
Cyril set his teeth, and tried to smile, but the utter hopelessness of his misery came upon him, and he could not.
“Good night, sir. I will attend to your instructions, and start for London to-morrow;” and he went out from his father’s presence as miserable a wretch as could be found in the three kingdoms.
Mr. Rupert Dacre was in the smoking-room, solacing himself with brandy and soda water, and as he lounged with elevated feet, he seemed to be contemplating the past comedy through the smoke;—indeed, there was an expression of discontent on his face, as though he wished he had waited for the afterpiece.
Kate was in her room, wondering, hoping, doubting, and fearing. Did he love her? He did. Yet no! He left her without a word; but then, of course, Mr. Dacre came. But those kisses! and she blushed in the darkness as she remembered them. Those were not the kisses of a brother. “Oh, Cyril, my darling, my darling, I love you!” How sweet it sounded!
—And Cyril’s wife was on her knees in a house in Dym-street, praying for her absent husband.