The truth was, that, not having formed any clear opinions about anything, he was obliged to confine himself to smart generalities, and smart generalities began to be difficult to discover. He was haunted, too, by a vision of the pure grey eyes and slender figure of his cousin.
He met Bob Calverly the night after that young man had succeeded in purchasing the “Cardinal,” and Bob Calverly had asked him why he didn’t go down to Matcham. “You might go and have a look at the Hall, you know,” said Bob; “it is getting emptied now, I expect. Come down.”
He scarcely liked to leave his wife again, but the temptation was strong. “Are you going down?” he asked.
“No,” said Bob, wincing. “No—I’ve got some business in town. The fact is, that I’ve bought a horse that I want to pull off at Chester with, and I must stay here for a bit to see how he gets on.”
“A horse! What horse?” asked Cyril, lazily.
Cyril started. “You don’t expect to win with him, do you?”
“I hope so,” said Bob, cheerily.
“Well, he ruined poor Lundyfoot.”
“I know all about that, but I fancy him a little myself. Would you like to come out and have a look at him?”
Cyril, always alive to the chance of making money, consented, and the two went out next day together.
The Cardinal was brought out and galloped, and inspected, and put through a severe course of leg-feeling and rib-punching.
“He’s too heavy for my taste,” said Cyril, who had a weakness for “weeds.” “Where did you get him?”
“From a man called Docketer.”
“Oh!” and Cyril mentally resolved to “put on the pot” against the Australian’s “fancy” without delay.
He did not tell Bob so, however, but contented himself with observing that “horseflesh was always dangerous to meddle with, and that, for his part, he didn’t care about the turf.”
“No, I know you are an intellectual fellow, and all that,” said Bob, a little contemptuously, and the matter dropped.
When Cyril got home he was still thinking about Matcham, and interrupted his wife’s playing after dinner by saying,
“Carry dear, I’ve been thinking that I ought to go down to see my father.” Carry turned round quickly.
“You are always going away, Cyril,” she pouted; and then seeing the ominous cloud begin to gather on her husband’s brow, she added, “but if you must go, of course, I can’t help it.”
“Of course you can’t, so don’t argue—there’s a good girl. I shan’t be long away; but they will begin to suspect that something is wrong if I don’t go near them.”
“Ah! Cyril, I wish you would tell your father about our marriage.” Cyril rose angrily.
“I can’t,” he said. “I have told you so before, and it is useless to harp upon the subject. You have no consideration for my position. I shall go down to-morrow for a week.”
Carry turned round again to the piano, and dashed off a bravura. As she sang, she could feel something rising and falling on her bosom—something that rustled faintly. When the door was shut upon her husband, her fingers wandered mechanically over the keys, and a bright flush rose in her cheeks. At last she stopped playing altogether, and by and bye she took the something from her breast. It was a little note, written in a bold, clear hand, and the seal was yet unbroken.
“I meant to give him this to-night,” she said, “but I won’t now.” And she opened it. It was very short, and couched in the most ordinary terms:
MY DEAR MRS. CHATTERIS,—I propose to do myself the honour of calling upon you to-morrow afternoon, as I have a message from Mrs. Manton. With kind regards to Cyril,|
I am, very faithfully yours,
“To-morrow afternoon, and He will be away. I ought not to see him, yet he says he has a message from mamma. How kind he is, to take so much trouble about me!”
So she did not tell her husband, and the note was torn up.
The next day was a weary one. Cyril had departed early in the morning, and Carry was left alone. She wandered about the house and tried to sing, and tried to read, and looked out of the window, and walked up and down the little garden, and finally determined to go out. But by the time she had arrived at this determination it was late in the afternoon; and, as she still lingered, she heard the wheels of Dacre’s cab, and the next moment Dacre himself entered the drawing-room.
Rupert had come, determined on conquest. He had set his heart upon the “little woman” of whom he had spoken so disparagingly; and he was not the man to let a chance escape. The unsuspicious Bob had told him that it was probable that Cyril would go down to Loamshire, and Dacre had chosen his opportunity well.
Carry received him coldly enough, but all her self-command could not prevent a blush when he took her hand.
“How is Cyril?” was his first inquiry.
“My husband has gone down to his father’s,” said she.
Rupert hugged himself at the thought, but he simply said,
“I am sorry, for I wanted to see him.”
“Why, you see that I am in constant correspondence with Mr. Saville Chatteris, and I fear that, unless Master Cyril takes care, he will get into a scrape.”
Carry bit her lips.
“Can you help him?”
“Yes; but he is so self-willed and headstrong. You must have found that out.”
“Did you not say that you have a message from my mother?”
“Oh! merely an inquiry about you. She is anxious, you know.”
Carry was silent. Her married life had taken some of the bloom off the peach of romance, and she was wise enough to know that Mr. Dacre would not come down to see her because her mother had been inquiring after her.
“Is that all?”
“No; the fact is, my dear Mrs. Chatteris, I came down because I wanted to see you.”
“To see me?”
“Yes. Did you show my letter to Cyril?”
“I did not.”
Dacre could scarcely suppress a smile.
“I am glad of that. He might not have liked my visiting you.”
“Why should he not?”
“Because he is ashamed of his marriage.”
And she rose hastily.
“Listen to me, my dear madam, for one moment. I am older than you are, and you will not, I trust, be offended at what I am going to say. I have known your husband from a boy, and I am sorry to say that I have not found him as candid with me as I could wish. I have seen you with him several times, and when I asked him who you were he did not tell me the truth.”
“He denied that you were his wife.”
The blow was cruelly dealt, and it took effect. Poor little Carry burst into tears. Dacre was by her side in an instant. Her hand was in his, and before she could prevent him he pressed it to his lips.
“Pardon me for giving you pain, but I must tell you the truth at all hazards.”
“What do you mean, sir?”
She was summing up all her recollection of novelistic lore to aid her in this strait.
“Rise, sir!” she cried, in a tone that was meant to be tragic, but which was only absurd.
Dacre did not stir.
“You silly girl! Do you think that I would tell you this if I did not know it? Ah! believe me, the telling pains me—as much as the hearing does you.”
“Mr. Dacre, you have no right to speak like this to me. If Cyril were here you would not dare—”
“But he is not here. Do you know where he has gone? To see his cousin.”
“His cousin, Miss Ffrench. They are engaged to be married—people say.”
This was too much. Her tears redoubled. She buried her face in her hands.
He stood and watched her with an evil smile on his face.
“You may not believe it, but it is true.”
“I do not believe it,” said she, between her sobs.
“Then I have done. I have told you, because I promised that I would tell you.”
She did not even raise her face to look at him. Her heart was full of emotions that she dared not analyse. All her fears came thronging to her heart and knocked for entrance. Her quiet, almost secret marriage; her seclusion; her husband’s strange indifference; his refusal to acknowledge her as his wife; his change of name; all these things came up before her, and she trembled.
“But he dare not leave his wife for another woman,” she said, at last, in so low a tone that the ears of the attentive listener almost failed to catch the words.
“A man who is in love dare do anything.”
“Oh! Mr. Dacre, this is not true—say it is not, and I will forgive your intrusion here. I will forget the words you have dared to speak; only say it is not true.”
He was pitiless.
“It is true. He does not love you, and he has deceived you.”
“No, he has not deceived me. He is my husband, even though he does not love me.”
Dacre saw that he must change his tactics.
“You give too much meaning to my words,” he said. “I did not say that he was not your husband. Come, be calm. This infatuation may be only a passing folly, and he is not perhaps as guilty as I feared. You must forgive me for speaking to you as I have done. It was for your good, believe me. You are young and inexperienced. I am neither. I would be your friend if you will let me. Will you?”
Poor little Carry! she was in a trap. Her own instinct told her that she should check this sort of conversation; but she was unhappy, and the low tones were so sweet and—well, she was not well principled, and she was a woman.
Dacre took her hand in his.
“Good bye,” he said. “I will come and see you sometimes, and I will find out more about this unhappy business. Perhaps we may save him yet.”
“I think that the bird is netted,” said he to himself, as he stopped to light a cigar out of eyeshot of the little villa. “I was afraid that I had frightened her at first. I suppose she is his wife. If so, I have got the young gentleman in my power. Dear me, what fools boys are, to be sure!”
With which sage reflection he was so delighted that he gazed complacently into the sky, and, in consequence, ran against a young man who was hastening in the opposite direction.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Dacre!”
It was Binns. He, in his turn, had a surprise; for, as he turned the corner he saw a girlish figure standing at the window of one of the cottages, and he recognised his lost love.