“I say, Dacre, have you heard about the Cardinal?” cries Miniver. “They say that Ryle’s got him.”
“Don’t believe it.”
“Heard so this afternoon. They say that Lundyfoot is smashed; lost a pot, you know.”
“Ah! And so Ryle’s got his horse, has he? Well, he’s a great clumsy brute.”
“Magnificent shoulders!” says old Martingale, a great “make and shape” man. “If they run him straight he might do something.”
“Lay you fifty to four!” cries Miniver, instantly.
“Well, thank you, no. I don’t bet.”
Miniver muttered something about “backing opinions,” and “surly old boys.”
“Barnestaple, I’ll gi-give you a g-game!”
“Let us plunge into the quiet pool,” says Barnestaple.
“All r-right. I own I’m rather g-good at p-p-pool. Half-crown lives. I own, I fuf-fwankly own, I f-feel in f-f-form to-night.”
“Cyril,” says Dacre, “I want to speak to you.”
Cyril was very sulky, and looked so.
“What do you want to speak to me about?”
“Come out of this place, and I’ll tell you. Whom do you think I saw tonight?”
Cyril flushed. He guessed pretty closely.
“How should I know?”
“Why, the young lady who is at present Mrs. Chatteris.”
“Where did you see her?”
“At her mother’s.”
At her mother’s! How did Dacre know her mother? and what did he do there? Cyril’s heart beat quickly.
“I don’t understand you,” said he.
“The simplest thing in the world. I went down to Dym-street to take tea with an old friend of mine, and met your charming little friend.”
I have said that the unhappy hero of this story was not a brave man, but he never felt nearer courage than now. His first impulse was to seize his smiling enemy by the throat.
“Listen to me, Cyril. I want to know who and what this woman is? I have taken the trouble to make myself acquainted with her family. It is not remarkable for blood or breeding.”
“What business have you to interfere in my affairs?”
“My dear fellow, I am in loco parentis. I am your ‘guide, philosopher, and friend,’ you know.”
“That will do. I hate that sort of nonsense. I want to know what you mean.”
“Well, I mean to write and tell your father all about this little affair.”
“Tell him, then, if you like,” says Cyril, driven to bay. “The woman is nothing to me.”
“Now, don’t repudiate the mystic tie. She says that she is your wife.”
“She lies, then! She is nothing of the kind.”
Dacre looked admiringly at the young man, and then said, patronisingly,
“Indeed! Ah! I did not give you credit for so much firmness of purpose. My dear Cyril, you need not trouble yourself to tell lies to me, because I know all about it. You married the girl just after you came back from Matcham.”
It was bold play, but it lost him the game.
Cyril breathed freely. He did not really know, then; he only surmised.
“My dear Dacre, what stuff you talk. Do you want to make a penny novel out of this miserable affair? I have got into a scrape with the girl, I admit, but you don’t think that I would be such a fool as to marry her, do you?”
Dacre was beaten. With all his astuteness, he had not read the “cub’s” character rightly.
“Well, perhaps I am wrong, old fellow, but I really was afraid that you had been committing some folly of the kind. Young men, you know, often do foolish things. Well, she is a pretty little thing enough; but you must really, ‘forswear sack’ now, you know. What would papa say?”
Cyril’s fingers itched to grasp the collar of his tormentor. That any man should dare to speak thus to him! He quivered with rage at the insult. He had admitted to himself long ago that he did not love his wife, but he felt the shame of his position keenly enough. It must be borne, however. “I can’t give her up,” said he, at length. “So it’s no use talking.”
“Well, I can’t—that is enough.”
“Won’t the lady go?”
Cyril blushed. He had an ambition to be considered a roué, and who had ever heard of a roué who could not get rid of his Burden when he wished it?
“I don’t want her to go yet,” said he, and laughed.
“I wish you would let me see this Pearl of Price. I will pay you a call some day. Now, good night. I am glad, my dear boy, that you have not made a fool of yourself.”
Not made a fool of himself! That was just exactly what he had done. To marry the girl was bad enough, but to find out that he did not love her was worse.
The fact was that she wearied him. She was too loving, too easily moulded, too slavish to please. In the first days of their acquaintance, when she loved him less, she pleased him more. Now, a word was law to her, and he was tired of being always obeyed. His warped and selfish nature could not appreciate the beauty of a woman’s love. Had his wife been passionate, jealous, coquettish, he would have worshipped her; but this conquest was too easy to tickle his vanity. If a woman crawled to his feet, he would accept her homage with calm gratification, but he would not love her. Did he fancy that he loved a woman, and find that she laughed at him, he would rave about her, and sigh for her. The curse of satiety had overtaken him early, and only forbidden fruit could please.
He had quarrelled with Carry that day. She had besought him to make their marriage public, or at least, to take her away from London. He refused, of course, and she had cried and implored, and sobbed, until some cursed sense of the ludicrous affected him, and he laughed at her. She said nothing, but dried her eyes at once. Strangely enough, that little action awakened in him some germ of the old tenderness; he tried to caress her, but she withdrew from his arms. This gave him a new sensation. The slave rebelled. He would exercise his pleasurable power, and make her kneel again. But she would not kneel. He was annoyed and angry, and his vanity was wounded. He would give her a lesson. So he went down to the “Pegasus”.
When she heard the door shut she cried, and then waited for him to return, in order that she might fall on his heart and be forgiven. But he did not return, and her ardour began to cool. He was cold to her, and he did not love her, and she had given up everything for him, and this was not fair; it was not to be borne. The minutes flew, and the house was lonely, and the piano out of tune, and the music old. There was a party next door, and she could hear the soft strains of dance music. Other girls were happy, and she was left alone in shame and misery. Why did she leave her mother? She would go back again, and then Cyril would be sorry and come and fetch her. She wrote a little note and tore it up. He would know where to find her.
When Cyril came home and found his house left unto him desolate, he was furious. He said to himself that he did not care, and that his wife would come back again; but still he was startled into something very like jealousy. Did Carry dare to love anything or anybody better than himself! He had wearied, he thought, of her soft curved lips, and languid eyes, and curling tresses; he was tired of tender sighs and warm kisses and murmured love-words; but the thought that another man might possess all this was gall and wormwood. Yet he would not go and seek her. He would not be tamed by a trick like that. Cyril thought he understood women, and imagined that it was a bad plan to submit. If he had judged them by a real instead of an imaginary standard, he would have seen that to submit is often to conquer.
“She will come back again in the morning,” he said.
But he was wrong.
When the guests had departed from the Mantonian roof, Carry had a long “talk” with her mother.
“He doesn’t love me, mother dear. I know he doesn’t, and I don’t like living as I do. It is not right.”
The widow was at first inclined to endorse the proposition, but visions of parental fury, and commensurate cuttings off of imaginary estates, rose before her.
She did not rate Master Cyril’s diplomatic talents high enough.
“He loves my gal, I know he does, and it’s only a bit of a tiff I suspect,” was her inward comment. So she soothed her daughter, and told her that Cyril was like all other men, and “wanted a little outing now and then, you know.”
“But he will leave me alone all day, mother, and then never speak to me scarcely.”
“Business is business, my dear,” was the widow’s sage reply; “and you mustn’t expect your husband to be allus danglin’ at your heels. Lor! I wouldn’t take any notice of his tempers, not if it was ever so!”
By which ambiguous giving out she endeavoured to cheer the drooping spirits of the Fairy Prince’s bride.
“As to the marriage, my dear, that’s all right. Don’t you fret about that.”
So Carry was fain to drop off to sleep, sobbingly, with an inward conviction that she was right, and that her mother did not take the proper view of the case. But when in the sanctuary of her own chamber, Mrs. Manton’s thoughts assumed a different aspect.
“It can’t be that he’s a-trying to play the gal false! You’d better take care, Mister Chatteris, for all your leftenants and Matcham Parks. My gal’s an honest woman’s daughter, and she shan’t lose her good name through any trickery of yours, I can tell you. I’ll jist inquire about you, Mr. Cyril Chatteris. I’ll jist ask Mr. Dacre about you. He’s a gentleman, he is, and he won’t see a poor gal wronged, I know.”
So the birds were flying into Rupert Dacre’s snare quite charmingly.
That gentleman himself was not aware of this, and was beset with doubts and fears. He did not know whether he should believe Cyril or not. The boy spoke so readily and lied so calmly, that even the astute Rupert was deceived. “He can’t have married her; and if he has, why then, it’s all plain sailing,” was his muttered commentary as he laid his head on the pillow.
Next morning, however, he found a letter at the Office, requesting him to go to Dym-street, and signed in a scratchy hand-writing, “Anastasia Manton.”
“So I’m to be mediator in the quarrel, eh? Well, I shall find out the rights of the case at all events.”
Carry was feverish with excitement, and looked betwitching.
“My daughter, Mrs. Chatteris,” says the Manton.
Rupert bowed low, and Carry blushed. She had seen the aristocratic Rupert before.
After a little chat about the weather, and the town, and Shakspeare and the musical glasses, the widow intimated that she desired a private audience, and Carry withdrew.
“Excuse me, my dear madam, but I cannot help congratulating my friend Chatteris upon his choice. I never saw a more lovely creature than your daughter.”
This was, perhaps, a little too strong for the French Ambassador’s, but it suited Mrs. Manton’s more vulgar palate. She bridled with delight, and forthwith recounted the whole story of the marriage.
Dacre was almost surprised. He had not expected so much deceit in so young a man. He kept his outward composure, however, and assured the widow that such matches were far from uncommon, and that rich parents, as a rule, were hard-hearted and prone to violence.
Mrs. M., whose knowledge of fashionable life had been gained at the Surrey Theatre, smiled assent, but requested Mr. Dacre’s advice.
Mr. Dacre pursed up his lips, and, endeavouring to blend Lord Chesterfield with Dr. Watts, began.
“Ah, my dear madam, you task my poor powers somewhat severely. I have the pleasure of knowing Mr. Chatteris’s family intimately, and his father is proud—very proud. Should he suddenly hear of his son’s marriage, he would probably do some injustice, of which he would afterwards repent. There can be no doubt that your daughter would grace any sphere, but you see that old people have antipathies and prejudices, and Lady Loughborough especially is quite of the vieille roche.”
This was the first time that the widow had heard of Lady Loughborough, but she nodded as though Debrett was at her fingers’ ends.
“Now, my advice is, that you proceed exactly as you have done. To let my friend Cyril think that you distrust him would be to beget a certain estrangement; while to encourage the natural but foolish suspicions of your charming daughter would be cruel. If you will allow me, my dear madam, to undertake the office of mediator, so to speak, between these young people, I think that I can set matters right. I think that the best thing I can do will be to take Mrs. Chatteris home this very afternoon. Young men are often proud, and serious family quarrels have arisen in consequence of a foolish display of pride. I will gradually break the news to Mr. Saville, and hope that my influence with his son will produce some good effect. You may rely on me to give you every intelligence of your daughter, and I beg that you will always consider me as your friend.”
The widow was fairly swamped. She consented, of course, with pride and pleasure; and Carry was instructed to put on her bonnet and go back with Mr. Dacre.
The poor child half demurred; but the gentleman had been so polite and kind, that she almost forgot her former dislike, and was argued into submission.
The pair started, Dacre remarking that, as the “day was so charming, we can walk, if Mrs. Chatteris does not mind.”
So they walked; and as Dacre looked down upon the trim figure of Cyril’s wife, he began to envy him his good fortune.
“My friend Chatteris is a happy man,” said he.
“I fear, however, that he does not appreciate the treasure he has gained.”
This was going too far. Carry would not hear her Idol scoffed at.
“Sir!”—with a look as much like an insulted Princess as she could achieve.
“Oh, my dear child” (another start), “your good mother has told me all about your domestic circle. I know that Master Cyril has not been as kind as he should have been.”
“You have no right to say so,” said Carry.
“Pooh!—don’t get angry with me, my dear child. I am old enough to be your father.”
Carry laughed, despite her anger. His assumption of vast age was amusing.
“You don’t look so,” said she.
“Perhaps not. But my experience,—ah well—” and Dacre finished with a sigh that might have been heaved by the Corsair himself.
Carry looked up at him with a little awe. Here was one of the Penny Journal heroes at last. Here was a man with but “one virtue and a thousand crimes,”—a haughty, handsome, devil-may-care aristocrat. Would the wolf eat her? The suspense was rather pleasant.
The wolf spoke again, but in very soft tones.
“My dear Mrs. Chatteris, you must forgive me if I appear rude, because I am entrusted with a very delicate mission.”
“I have undertaken to make Cyril’s peace with his father.”
“Oh, Mr. Dacre!”
“Of course, Cyril does not know of this, and you must not tell him. You promise?”
Carry had all that delicious delusion about community of thoughts, and absence of concealment, which belongs to newly-wedded wives, and she said,
“I hardly know. I ought not to keep anything from my husband.”
She expected him to argue or to plead: but he was too deeply read in womankind to be taken in by so shallow an artifice.
“You are quite right,” he said; “quite right. A wife should have no secrets from her husband. So we will drop the subject.”
This was hardly fair. Carry pouted and blushed, and looked askance.
“You little silly woman, you are dying to know all about it.”
The language might be too free, but the accent was tenderly protective, and she could not take offence.
“Oh, no, I am not.”
“Promise, then, and I will tell you.”
She laughed again.
“Ah! well, on second thoughts, I had better not tell you, because you are sure to let it out.”
“Oh dear no! When I say a thing I mean it.”
“Delightful! I have found a woman who ‘says a thing and means it.’”
“Mr. Dacre, you are very absurd.”
“I am, I know; but you make me so.”
“Yes. Before I saw you—”
Ah! was the wolf going to bite? It was very wrong, Carry admitted; but she half hoped so.
“I did not believe in such a thing as a constant woman.”
“And do you now?”
He looked down upon her with a curious glance.
“I don’t know,” said he, slowly.
She blushed, and was silent.
They had reached civilization now, and Dacre’s hat was in the air each second.
“Lady Windermere! Ah! there’s Jack Walton again. How do, Pakenham? That’s Lord Croftonbury. No, the man with the white hat; and Leamington and Fitz.”
“You seem to know everybody.”
“Everybody worth knowing,” said Dacre, who had been improvising names for the last five minutes. “But you are getting tired. Let me put you into this cab. I will come up to-morrow and see you. Now tell Cyril to be a good boy, and not to quarrel any more. Goodbye.”
He made his exit in the nick of time. He did not want to be seen walking with so noticeable an unknown as Carry, and he had said quite as much as he dared. On the whole, he was well satisfied with his morning’s work, and strolled down to his club with a light heart and a good appetite.
As for Carry, she was quite astonished when the cab stopped at the well-known stuccoed villa, and started when she realised the fact that her thoughts had not been of her husband but of her husband’s friend.