“How do you do, Mr. Dacre!”
“Going up to town, Bob?”
It was a peculiarity of the young Australian’s that he was the sort of man that one involuntarily addresses by his Christian name. There are some men who are specially constituted to be called by diminutives, and this was one of them. He was so brown, honest, frank, and impetuous, that the chances were just fifty to one that you slapped him on the back after twenty minutes acquaintance, and call him “Bob” ever afterwards.
“Yes,” says Bob, “I want to order some things.”
“Then we’ll all go together. This is Mr. Cyril Chatteris, of Matcham.”
After the usual bowing ceremony had been gone through, Bob Calverly took a prolonged side look at Cyril. This was the man, then, whom Dacre had hinted that Kate loved. Bob saw nothing loveable in him. The clear cut features, and the delicate hands were no charms in the Australian’s eyes; and he looked in vain for a certain frankness of eye, and fearlessness of aspect, that he was wont to find in men whom he called “friends.”
Cyril, however, was remarkably agreeable, and, having preserved a decent melancholy for some fifty miles, began to brighten up; and, when the trio got out at Swindleton for incidental refreshments, the talk was fast and furious.
Bob was enraptured at the barrack life at Kirkminster; and his Australian impression of the British army not being the best in the world, he was proportionately inclined to praise the Bonhommie, good fellowship and gentlemanly bearing of the majority of the men in the —th.
“The best fellows I ever met in my life!” said he, with enthusiasm.
“Yes,” returned Dacre. “There is no medium in the service. A man is either A1 at Lloyd’s, or ‘snob,’ stock, lock, and barrel.”
“Well, I’ve known men who were neither,” put in Cyril.
“Possible, but not probable. Are you sure that you really knew them? A dinner at the ‘Rag’ or a luncheon at Richmond doesn’t make you know a man you know.” Cyril reddened, Mentor was arrogating too much to himself.
“The ‘British soldier,’ as you call him, has a fine time of it,” put in Bob, who detected the sting in Dacre’s reply, and was anxious to change the conversation. “He seems to me to live like a fighting cock, with books, gymnasiums, and all sorts of things.”
“Yes,” returns the sententious Rupert, shifting his railway rug more comfortably over his legs. “He lives far too well. The Government makes a great mistake in pampering up her food for powder. I believe in the old régime, when the British soldier had his life made such a curse to him that he fought, like a fiend to get rid of it.”
Bob stared aghast, and Rupert having watched the effect produced by his nonsense upon the unsophisticated one, lit a cigar and smoked in calm defiance of the by-laws.
“What strange things you say, Rupert,” laughs Cyril, “you’ll make Mr. Calverly believe that English government officials are the hardest-hearted fellows in Europe.”
“Or the softest headed.”
Bob laughed cheerily. “Chaff away, you fellows, don’t mind me. I’ve stood plenty of chaff in my life.”
“How long have you left Australia?” says Cyril.
“Oh, about twelve months. Wish I was back there again.”
“Wish you were back?”
“Yes, I’d rather be riding a good horse after stock over the plains, than dawdling about London drawing-rooms.”
“All you Australian fellows are always talking about ‘riding after stock.’ I remember that fellow, Darling Downs, who used to give those big feeds in Kensington Gore—he was always talking about stock, and stations, and wild cattle, and bushfires, and riding one hundred miles a day for six weeks.”
“Ah, that sort of thing is very easy to talk,” says Bob, “but could he ride?”
“Oh, yes, he could ride fast enough,” says Dacre, “the ugliest seat, and the lightest hand of any man I knew.”
“That’s a different thing to sitting a buckjumper.”
“Pooh, I’ll find you a boy out of any hunting stables in England that will sit the worst buckjumper ever foaled,” says Cyril.
And they went off into a discussion upon the difference between bucking and plunging, and English and Colonial saddles, and post-and-rail fences, and grass country, and hunting in the shires, and all the Australian horse-talk that arises between English riding men and sojourners from that land of freedom. By and bye the conversation turned upon other topics, and after a brief description of Bourke-street and a horse bazaar, Bob waxed eloquent, and entertained them for an hour with an account of a certain cattle muster on the Warrego, in which he and a stockman named Dick took a prominent part. Just as he came to the part where an old bull who, having lagged behind, (the custom of old bulls,) was about to charge Dick’s horse, who had put his foot in a crab hole, and Dick sprang up, all dusty from earth, and with a tremendous crack of his stock-whip, challenged his antagonist to “come on,” the train ran into London Bridge station, and the journey was at an end.
“Where do you put up, Bob?” says Dacre.
“You must come and see me, old fellow; 37 Brook-street is my humble roof.”
“I tell you what, come up next Wednesday at eight o’clock, and I’ll have a few fellows to meet you.”
“I think Ponsonby and Hetherington will be up from Kirkminster on Thursday.”
“Then I’ll leave a note for them at the ‘Rag,’ and we’ll fix it for Friday.”
“All right, old fellow.”
And the Australian departed in a hansom for Limmer’s.
“You had better come with me,” says Dacre to Cyril. “We will dine together and talk over matters.”
“Thanks, but I want to go up to my old lodgings to-night.”
“Oh, to-morrow will do for that.”
“Yes, I know—but—No, I think I must go to-night.”
“By the way, where are your lodgings? You were so close, when you were under the paternal cloud, that I never could find out where you lived.”
“I! oh, nonsense. I lived in—in—in South Audley-street,” says Cyril at a venture, and the moment he had said it he regretted that he had not spoken the truth. What did it matter?
“Oh, indeed! Well then, if you won’t come, good-bye till Friday. Go down to the Mercury office, Fleet-street, cabby!”
As Cyril went home, he thought of many things. Of his new prospects, of his pledge concerning the Radical newspapers, of Carry and Mrs. Manton—then he thought of Kate. They had parted without an explanation. She had been taken by surprise at his sudden departure, and though her wistful eyes had seemed to ask for some reference to those few moments in the study, he had given none.
“What am I to tell her?” thought he, “and what am I to say to Carry?”
He had not made up his mind upon either point, when the cab drew up at his wife’s house, and he was “at home” once more.
“Good gracious! if it isn’t Mr. Cyril!” cried Maria Jane.
Mrs. Manton bustled out. “Oh, so you’ve come back at last! Upon my word this is nice goings on. A fortnight away from your wife, and not so much as a letter.”
He put her aside, and went into the parlour.
“Where is she?”
“Where is she? Much you care, I expect. Why, gone down to the Mercury office to ask after you, Mr. Cyril Chatteris.”
“To the Mercury office! She might have waited until I wrote.”
“Waited, oh yes! How did we know you were ever coming back again? Wait indeed!”
Even as she spoke there was a hurried tread in the passage. Carry had seen the cab draw up at the house, and leaving the arm of a tall thin man in rusty black who had escorted her home, ran up the steps, pushing past the portmanteau-laden cabby, burst open the door and flung herself into her husband’s arms.
“Cyril, Cyril, my darling! you have come back again.”
“Yes, and a nice time he’s been about it,” ejaculates the angry mother.
“Oh, Cyril, I have heard all about it at the office. I am so sorry.”
“All about what?”
“About your brother’s death.”
Who could have told her? How did she know? and how much? He grew pale from anger and fear.
“Your brother’s death!” exclaims Mrs. Manton, who seemed to recognise the fact of Cyril’s black clothes for the first time. “Why, that Lieutenant Chatteris that the newspaper spoke about wasn’t your brother, was he? Carry and me saw the account of the steeplechase in the Tizer, but we never thought as how it was your brother.”
The decisive moment had come at last. He must confess or deny, now or never. Carry had half withdrawn herself from his arms, and was looking up into his face in blank amazement. He nerved himself for a bold stroke. Catching his wife in his arms, he drew himself up and pointed to the door.
“Will you have the goodness to leave me alone with my wife, Madam.”
Mrs. Manton stared, but the shock of the discovery had shaken her nerves. She had believed Cyril to be “well off,” but Mr. Chatteris, the brother of a lieutenant of dragoons, and the son of a wealthy landed proprietor, was a very different person to the son-in-law she had expected. She cast one wrathful amazed look upon the flashing eyes and outstretched finger of her daughter’s husband, and then with a vicious toss of her cap- ribbons, slammed the door upon her retreating figure, and the pair were alone together.
“Sit down, my darling,” says Cyril, after a moment’s pause, “I want to tell you something.”
As Bland was coming down the stairs of the dingy office in Fleet-street the day after his conversation with Binns, he was struck by the somewhat unusual appearance of a pretty woman in the freshest of autumn walking toilets, gazing disconsolately at the numerous doors, stairs, and windows of that uncomfortable pile of buildings.
“Can I assist you in any way, madam,” asked he with a bow.
“Oh yes, sir; if you would be so good as to tell me where I can find Mr. Chatteris?”
Mr. Chatteris! Bland took another look at the timid figure. Could this be the “Carry” he had heard so much about.
“Have I the pleasure of speaking to Mrs. Chatteris?”
“Yes,” with such a blush that it almost made Bland blush too.
“I am afraid that he is not here,” said he, “I will ask though.”
It was a curious question to put, but the tall gentleman looked so kind and good that Carry ventured to put it.
“Do you know where he is, sir?”
“No, my dear; but I will ask if anybody knows.”
“He got a telegram from the office a fortnight ago, and he has not come back since.”
This statement tallied strangely with Binns’s story, and the shabby reporter shook his head sorrowfully.
“Wait here one moment, Mrs. Chatteris, and I will go and ask about it.”
A hansom cab had just driven up to the door, and Mr. Rupert Dacre alighting therefrom, had caught the last sentence. Mrs. Chatteris! Did he hear aright?
Bland had seen the private secretary of Lord Nantwich before, and had seen him with Cyril too.
“Excuse me, Mr. Dacre, but a lady is here asking for Mr. Chatteris. Do you know where he is?”
“He came up to town with me this morning. He was obliged to go down into the country to attend his brother’s funeral.”
Carry heard, and her suspicions of the past week seemed cruel.
“Thank you, sir,” said she to Bland, “I will go home.”
“Will you allow me to walk with you, madam?” says Bland.
She looked up into the kindly haggard face and saw nothing but courtesy and pity there.
“I shall be very glad if you will,” said she.
Mr. Rupert Dacre pausing on the stair head, saw the pair go away together.
“Why that is the little girl I saw Cyril speak to once before! Mrs. Chatteris—’um? a nom de convenance I suppose. He can’t have married her, surely. What a sly young dog it is. I must find out about ‘Mrs. Chatteris.’”