He hardly knew, though, how to tell it. It is not a pleasant task—that of telling the woman you have married that you are ashamed of her family, if not of herself, and many a better man than Cyril Chatteris would have felt his eloquence fail him at such a juncture.
He made a bold push for it, however. He had plunged into the flood, and must sink or swim. His heart half failed him when he looked at his wife’s frightened eyes, where the lovelight had not died—yet.
“Carry, I have done a very foolish thing.”
“I should have written to my father before I married you.”
The little woman pouted. It did seem hard that his first sentence to her should be one of regret.
“Is he angry with you, dear?”
“He knows nothing.”
“Oh, Cyril, have you not told him?”
A vague terror possessed her as she asked the question. A marriage was not a thing to be concealed.
“Listen to me, darling. The telegram that called me from you”—he kissed her, Judas-like, at the memory—“contained news of my brother’s accident. He was killed in a steeplechase, and I only reached home to see him buried. The house was in confusion, and my father was overcome with grief. What could I do?”
She had not yet arrived at the distrustful stage. In love, one believes everything. Yet the vague terror was there still.
“But you will tell him, Cyril?”
“Of course. It will be the happiest moment of my life”—how barren the hackneyed sentiment sounded!—“when I can take you home with me. But, for a time, it is best that things rest as they are.”
She turned her face to his, and kissed him.
“As you please, dear.”
“You see, Carry,” he stammered, “that—that I am entirely dependent on my father, and that, if I should give him cause to quarrel with me, I might be left penniless. So—so our marriage should be—at least it is best for the present—and—and” (he rushed at the mental fence)—“we shall not love each other the less, shall we?”
What need for me to write the answer? It was the strongest argument he had used yet, and was effectual, of course.
“What am I to tell my mother?” she asked, after a pause.
He scarcely knew what to answer.
“Tell her nothing,” said he.
“Well, what would you tell her—that I shall be a beggar if my father hears that I have married her daughter? The reason is a good one, I admit!” and he laughed bitterly.
“But she must know.”
“Well, tell her that I am not the brother of the Lieutenant Chatteris you spoke of.”
“But that would be a lie!”
He looked down upon her crimsoned face. She would not lie for him yet. The scruple struck him as so feeble a one that he laughed involuntarily.
“You little goose, did you think I meant it? Tell her what you please, my darling. I do not suppose that she can harm us.”
Her lissome fingers, white and slender enough, played with the button of his coat nervously.
“You know, she thought—she hoped—that you were well off, and that she could give up keeping lodgings, and come and live with us.”
Cyril grew hot with shame and anger. Did she hope so indeed! Her hopes would be frustrated then. And yet it was natural enough. He married the girl openly, and the mother, of course, had a claim on him. But the matter might be “arranged.” He had heard of such “arrangements.” He had laughed, with others of his class, at the burdens that other men bore. He had often given his opinion upon the restraint of marriage, and the possibility of some pleasant “arrangement” by which one could taste the sweet without the bitter. At college he had been considered rather a “man of the world”—a cool, calculating, easymannered materialist, who snapped social ties like withes; and it was his pride to be considered so. But now the real, living, actual mother-in-law was before him, large and irrepressible. How could he deal with her? His wife, too! He loved her certainly, but it was a love that made him think for a moment that, had she not been his wife, he could have loved her more. Could the matter be “arranged?” He might take her away from the mother, and bury her in some cottage, some villa d’oro, where birds, flowers, trees, and sunshine should make up for the loss of name and place. Yet, when he looked at her, he shuddered at his own thoughts. Love’s torch was burning still, and he could not hint at a simulated dishonour.
“If it was not for the mother, we could go and live quietly somewhere,” he thought. Surely in time he might get rid of her. At present it was simply impossible.
He rose with a sigh.
“Of course she will live with us, my darling. We must ask her, though, to put up with poverty, for I am not rich, you know.”
Carry laughed. She measured wealth by watch chains, and rings, and shining boots, and coats by Poole.
“You are rich enough for me, Cyril. We will live as happy as—as—”
“As the Prince and Princess in the fairy tales! But I am an enchanted Prince, you know, condemned to seem like a monster in my darling’s eyes, because I cannot proclaim her Princess!”
She laid her head on his breast. The action touched him, it was so tenderly confident.
“God bless you, my darling! I will try and make you happy.”
And, for the moment, he believed he meant it.
So the household went on as usual. Mrs. Manton, indignant at the assumption of her authority, did not appear until breakfast the next morning; and, when she did appear, acted “la grande dame” with an affectation of distant politeness, that made Carry blush and Cyril laugh.
He was in better humour now. Having got over the first difficulty—the telling his wife—he was prepared to do battle with the mother-in-law. Moreover, in the halcyon days of marriage, one is apt to look at the world through rose-tinted glass, and to trust to Fortune for a settlement of unpleasant matters. He informed Mrs. Manton that he should take no steps at present with regard to “moving.”
“I must look out for a house somewhere,” said he; “and, in the meantime, Carry and I had better stop here.”
The Burden bowed haughtily.
“Look here, Mrs. Manton,” said he, “don’t be annoyed at what I said last night. I had just returned from a long journey, and was fatigued and angry.”
The lady tossed her head.
“Very well, Mr. Chatteris. If you apologises, that’s enough. Though I must say that, to turn a Lady out of her own Apartments, wasn’t considered manners when I was a gal!”
“My dear madam, I never intended any disrespect”—how the word stuck in his throat!—“but, you see, that—in fact—that I was tired, and perhaps wrong and hasty.”
“Quite enough, sir! And may I ask where you and my daughter intend to reside?”
Cyril was getting warm again.
“Reside! why, here, of course! unless you prefer us to go elsewhere.”
How he hoped that she would say “Yes!”
“Prefer! My preferences are not to be consulted. I only look to my child’s comfort and happiness. Oh, Mr. Cyril, you’ll make her a good husband, won’t you. She’s all that’s left to me now!”
The red face grew redder, and the eyes seemed about to overflow. How hideously like her daughter the mother looked.
“I will do my best, of course. But do be reasonable; you know I am not rich, and must make the best of things for a little time. I have only a small allowance from my father, and depend in a great measure upon my own exertions. The fact is, that my father is given to prejudices, and if he knew that I had married a pers—a lady in your daughter’s position, he would be very much annoyed, and would probably cut off my allowance altogether.”
“But you’re the eldest son now?”
“That does not do me any good. The prop—the est—the moneys I may have are entirely dependent on my father’s will. If he quarrels with me I shall get nothing.”
This was the best thing he could have said. Madam Manton was a woman of the world, and she saw, or thought she saw, the position of things at a glance.
Cyril was the son of a rich old gentleman, who would “cut him off” with a shilling if he disobeyed or displeased him. In time he would succeed to property, and then his wife and mother-in-law would partake of his luxury. But in the meantime the marriage must be “kept dark.” She could watch over her daughter well enough. No fear that any denial of marriage should take place while she kept watch and ward. Cyril, too, must be humoured. If he was tried beyond his power of endurance, he might tell his father, and so blight his own and his wife’s hopes for ever. She took her cue at once.
“My poor boy! well, you shall not suffer from me. You have married my Carry out of love, and you shan’t suffer for it. No! not if I works my fingers to the bone!”
The sentiment was excellent, but, as Cyril inwardly remarked, the grammar was execrable.
“There is no need to do that. I can work for her as well as you can. The only thing I wish is, that you will keep the fact of our marriage as quiet as possible.”
“Rely on me, my dear boy, rely on me.”
Carry, fearful of the result of the interview, had been weeping silently in another chamber. She heard the parlour door open, and ran to meet her mother.
“What did he say, mother?”
“Say! What should he say? Ugh, you little fool! Dry your eyes, and go and talk to him.”