Saville Chatteris was unusually cheerful and condescending.
“Ah, Cyril, good morning! Pray be seated. Kate, my dear, you look quite enchanting this morning.”
This was gall and wormwood. Could she have told him? Impossible. Cyril said nothing, but sipped his coffee, and crumbled his toast in moody silence. Kate gave him his coffee-cup, and blushed as her hand met his; whereat, old Saville, who was not without his own experiences, smiled paternally, and Cyril winced. He was in for it now—sink or swim.
The fact was this. Kate had gone straight to her bedroom and indulged in what young ladies term “a good cry,” by which she relieved her nervous system and soaked two pocket-handkerchiefs. Collins, her maid, an astute and wary damsel, had long suspected the existence of something more than cousinly affection between the two young people, and had watched the growing love affair with all the interest that nine-and-thirty takes in sweet-and-twenty.
Kate pleaded headache; Collins recommended eau de cologne, and, during its administration, took occasion to ask when Mr. Cyril was going to leave. Kate shut her eyes at that, because she felt that she was blushing—much as an ostrich puts its head into a hole to hide from its pursuers. Collins smiled grimly, and went on talking relentlessly.
Kate lost her temper.
“You tire me, Collins; don’t chatter so much! There, that will do; you can go!”
Whereupon Collins went straight to Lady Loughborough, who was reading a French novel in bed, and told her that she believed that “Mister Cyril had spoken to Miss Kate.”
“Spoken, woman! What do you mean?”
“I mean, yer ladyship, that I believe he’s proposed to her. The pore young lady’s put out about something or other; and when I mentioned Mister Cyril’s name accidental, she turned cooloor de rose.”
“You’re a fool, Collins; leave the room!” said the uncompromising old lady.
But as soon as the door was shut the French novel went down on the bed, and Lady Loughborough rang the bell twice. That meant, “send up Justine.”
Justine was a yellow-faced animal from Brussels, and was called “Ma’amselle.” She and Collins were at daggers drawn.
“Tell Miss Ffrench to come here.”
So poor Kate, who was sitting on the edge of her bed, dreaming with her eyes open, had to put on dressing-gown and slippers and patter down the corridor to her aunt’s chamber.
“Sit down, my dear,” said Lady Loughborough. “Justine, put some coal on the fire, and bring up my negus.”
“What is it, aunt?”
“Has Cyril asked you to marry him?”
“I—I—oh, aunt—well, he said—yes, he has asked me.”
“And what did you say?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Oh! you accepted him then? Well, I’m very glad to hear it, my dear, though the news quite startled me. Give me some water, my love. Not that tumbler, you little fool; that’s my teeth! Thank you.”
And the dowager, who had been termed by Rupert Dacre “a magnificent ruin,” clattered her rings against the glass, and pretended to drink.
“Now, you can go,” said she, when obedient Kate had smoothed the pillows; “and I shall speak to your uncle the first thing in the morning.”
That was all; no love, nor kisses, nor tender words. Sybilla, Dowager Viscountess of Loughborough, regarded marriage as a mere affair of barter, and was glad that her niece had sold herself at a good price.
“It will be an excellent thing,” she soliloquised. “Cyril will be kept out of mischief, and settle down; and Kate will have a home.—A little more sugar in the negus, Justine; you never make it sweet enough.”
As she sipped her negus, she was so elated at the prospect of a speedy settlement of family embarrassments that she determined to write a note to Saville informing him of the fact, which she did.
“Let Mr. Chatteris have this the first thing to-morrow morning,” said she, and then she read herself quietly to sleep with La vie privée, and dreamt that she was sixteen and dressing for her first ball.
Saville Chatteris was delighted, but he was also astonished. He had given up all hopes of a marriage between his son and his niece, and the intelligence startled him. Of course, the servants’-hall knew every particular, and Justine, as the confidante of Lady Loughborough, lied for at least three-quarters of an hour with astounding volubility.
“Cyril, I want to see you a moment,” says his father, when Kate had risen to go—“Come into the library.”
Cyril went, with his heart sinking into his boots, and all unconscious of the grinning faces of John and William, who inter-changed smiles across the coffee-service.
“So, Cyril, you want to marry Kate, do you?”
“Yes, sir!” says Cyril.
“Ah. Well, my boy, I am very glad to hear it—very glad. It is just what I wished. It will keep you steady, and, I hope, make you a better man.”
Cyril changed his foot.
“You know that I have always taken a very great interest in poor Laura’s child”—he was dropping into his ordinary manner again—“and, as I told you on the occasion of our last interview, it has been the dearest wish of my heart to see her happily married. I did think at one time that she preferred poor Fred—but I was wrong, it seems”—The old man stopped suddenly—“Are you sure that this is not a passing infatuation—one of those follies which young men sometimes commit? I never suspected anything of the kind before.”
“I have loved my cousin a long time,” says Cyril, “but I did not like to speak to her. The fact was, sir, that, after my—after I left Oxford, I was ashamed of myself, and, in fact”—
“I understand, my boy,” cries the father; his affection blinding his diplomatic eyes. “You wanted to atone for the past. Well, well, we’ll say no more about it. I did not hear very good accounts of you from London, I must confess; but I suppose you were uneasy and anxious. Never mind. There, go and see Kate”—and, as he pushed his son gently out of the room, something very like a tear fell on to the old diplomat’s waistcoat.
Cyril was quite overcome. He was not wholly bad, and this sudden display of undeserved affection was too much for him.
“What a villain I am!” was the first thought—“what a mess I’ve got into!” was the second—and selfishness carried the day. “I can manage somehow!” he cried mentally, as he walked down the passage. “Who knows what might happen?” and his half-formed thought of the previous night rose up grimly before him.
Kate was in the sunniest drawing-room in the house, pretending to read, and when her cousin came in, she rose to meet him.
“My aunt found it out last night, Cyril,” said she.
“So I suppose,” said he, and kissed her. There was a pause. “We shall have to wait a little,” he said at length. “I must make arrangements for giving up my rooms in town. I suppose I shall have to live down here.”
“No—you need not.”
“My father wishes it, I believe.”
“I think not,” said Kate. “He was talking about you the other night, and seemed to think that you ought to do something—”
“Go into parliament, I think he meant.”
Cyril opened his eyes. Here was a chance he had not reckoned upon. Here was a vista of political fame opening before him.
“Go in parliament? I never thought of that. For Kirkminster I suppose?”
“Yes. I think he meant Kirkminster.”
“But the Radicals are too strong.”
“He seemed to think not.”
“Well, perhaps it might be managed. How would you like to be the wife of a member of Parliament, Katy?”
“You ought to do something, you know, Cyril; and uncle does not like the newspapers.”
“No, I know he doesn’t. I am tired of them too. Journalism is very unsatisfactory, Kate.”
“But you might be a great author,” said Kate, who, woman-like, was willing to believe her lover all that was brilliant and clever.
Cyril laughed; his vanity was gratified at the presumption.
“I am sure you have talent enough. I should like you to be a great author!”
“Should you, darling? Well, I may be, one of these days.”
“I am sure you will, if you will only work.”
And they went off into a discussion upon authors, and novels, and literature.
Cyril forgot his troubles, and thought only of the woman at his side. She understood him. She was not like Carry, who always praised every book that her husband liked, merely because he did like it. With this woman his wife, he thought he might do something really great. He might settle down, and read, and work, and talk over plans and projects. She could sympathise with him, for she was clever and well read; not like the silly girl he had left behind him. How he cursed himself for his hasty marriage! So the day passed, and Kate was happy. Yet even over her there seemed to hang some cloud as though thunder was in the air, and the present calm was but the lull before the storm.
Lady Loughborough appeared in the course of the afternoon, and was pleased to be gracious.
“I am very glad to hear of your engagement, Cyril,” said she. “I am sure Kate will make you a good wife, and you will give up these horrid papers, and live like a gentleman. Society has claims upon you, Cyril, and you cannot ignore them.” With which she pressed a kiss upon her niece’s brow (the teeth being in their proper place) and composed herself upon a sofa with her grandest air.