“I’ve seen her again, to-day,” he cried. Bland knew whom he meant. “Where?”
“In St. John’s Wood. She was standing at the window of a house there, when I passed this afternoon. Oh, Bland, I’m in love with her yet!”
Bland looked up at the boy sadly.
“This is nonsense; you must forget her now.”
“I can’t, I can’t;” and he groaned.
Bland was silent.
“What am I to do, Bland?” cries poor Binns.
“It is no use to advise you, you won’t take advice.”
“Yes, I will. I have been working hard for months now; but the first time I saw her, all the old time came back again.”
“What about this political business?”
“I met Dacre this afternoon just at the gate. I think he had been to call there.”
Bland started. He had heard enough of Mr. Dacre to know that he was not the man to call upon a lady living in seclusion in St. John’s Wood without some ulterior purpose in view.
“Did you speak to him?” he asked.
“No; I just passed him. He was lighting his cigar.”
“At the gate?”
“Yes; he had just come out. He is a friend of Mr. Chatteris, you know.”
“I don’t like it,” said Bland, shaking his head, mournfully. “I don’t like it.”
“Rupert Dacre visiting at that house.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that he is not the man to be intimate with a young girl like that.”
“She is pure as an angel,” cries Binns.
“I hope so. But I have heard some queer stories about Mr. Dacre; he is not the ‘model man’ he appears to be.”
“What have you heard?”
“Never mind. I hear many things which may or may not be true.”
“You think then that Dacre is—is—making love to Caroline?”
“Heaven forbid that I should say so, but it is quite probable.”
“If I thought so, I would kill him,” cries Binns, infuriate; and he rose and paced the room.
“Nonsense! Kill him! My dear Robert, you are too impulsive. Mr. Dacre is but an ordinary type of his class.”
“He is an aristocrat, and I hate him!”
“Don’t be foolish. Aristocrats, as you call them, are very good fellows. I knew many of them once. I daresay Mr. Dacre thinks he is not doing much harm.”
“Much harm! To seduce another man’s wife?”
“Perhaps he does not think that she is his wife?”
“But he must know it. Why, all the world knows it!”
“The world is a large place. Your world is not Mr. Dacre’s world. It is easy to keep these things secret.”
“But Cyril was married in open day at the church in Dym street.”
“Exactly; but all London does not go to the church in Dym street. Who were present at the marriage?”
“I don’t know; Mrs. Manton, I suppose.”
“And then Mr. Chatteris went away, and when he returned he removed his wife to St. John’s Wood. He is away now.”
“Down at his father’s house in Loamshire.”
“How did you hear it?”
“I heard Blister say so; he is an intimate friend of his.”
“The editor of the Mercury?”
“Yes. I am afraid that the poor girl has been deceived.”
“Deceived! Impossible! He could not have deceived her.”
“She lives with him under another name, at all events. He gave a letter to the messenger to post the other day, directed to Mrs. Carter, Laburnum Villas, St. John’s Wood. Is not that the house?”
Binns began to groan. He had heard and read of profligacy, but he had never seriously contemplated the fact of a man marrying a young girl, and deliberately endeavouring to falsify the marriage when he grew tired of her.
“He cannot be such a villain,” he cried at last. “Oh, Carry, Carry, my love, my darling, they have deceived you! He does not care for you—he is a villain—a villain—a villain,” and so on. You see he was much moved, this poetical young booby; and his sentiments found voice in invective.
“I will go to her at once, and find out about this matter. She shall not be injured. By heaven, if they try that, I’ll—I’ll—”
“Sit down, for goodness sake,” cries poor Bland. “There, there, I am sorry I spoke. I may be wrong—I must be wrong.”
Binns writhed away from the friendly hand.
“No, you are right. I believe you are right. That accounts for it all—for the secresy and the mystery there has been about her. You remember the night that we were at Mrs. Manton’s? That villain was there then. That was when he first spoke to me about politics. Curse his politics! Curse him, and everyone!—her, too! No, no—not her. She is a victim—a martyr!” and then he groaned again, and dug his fists into his eyes and blubbered.
Bland got up and lit his meerschaum,—that huge meerschaum, that had been his solace during many a weary night and day. The poor fellow’s tender heart was sore, and as he sat and puffed, and the wreaths of smoke curled around his head, he thought of his own wife—that tender little blossom that had given herself so trustingly to the grim, gaunt, enthusiastic young man who wanted to be “an author,” and who had, after much sorrow and toil, only succeeded in wrecking her frail little bark as well as his own among the cruel rocks and relentless billows of London life. “God help her, poor child!” he sighed.
Binns started up.
“Can we do nothing? Don’t sit there like a block of stone, when, perhaps—Oh, Bland, you don’t care for me, or you would help me!”
Bland turned sorrowful eyes upon him.
“Don’t say that, my dear boy,” he said. “You know I do care for you. But we can do nothing now.”
“Why did you not tell me at first?”
“I did not know of it until yesterday—at least I only suspected. I only suspect now.”
“We had better tell her mother.”
“I thought of that; but the result would only be, that the poor child would be taken somewhere else.”
“Then write to his father and tell him that his son is married.”
“That might do, but—No, I think that the best thing is to wait and watch. She is a good girl, I believe——”
“I know she is.”
“—And, perhaps, after all, Dacre is really a friend of her’s. I think that the best plan will be, to give Mrs. Manton an inkling that Dacre is too frequently at the house, and for us to watch him. Cannot you renew your acquaintance with her?”
“Oh, I can’t see her again! Bland, I can’t—I daren’t.”
“You must! Come, be a man! Do not let this hopeless passion unfit you for a man’s work. Besides,” says Bland, a touch of gentle sarcasm in his tone, “you are young—you will forget her—”
“Never,” cries Binns—“Never! I have tried, and failed. I shall always love her.”
“You love her now because you can’t get her—because she is unhappy and in sorrow; but you will see other women you will like better, by and by.”
“Don’t talk like that, Bland! I can’t bear it! I know I’m ugly and ill-bred, and only half educated, but I know what love means. I can neither write nor read, nor sleep because of her. It is only when I have work to do that must be done, that I can forget her. I did forget her for a little time, but when I saw her again I was as bad as ever. Oh, Bland, it’s terrible! If I take up a book and see her name in it, I tremble. If I hear her spoken of, I blush. I am a fool, I know, but I can’t help it—boohoo—I—I—can’t h-help it!”
“It is all very well to say ‘forget her!’ I am a ‘cad’ I know, but I’ve got feelings. She’s too good for me, and she’s too good for him. Oh, why was I born?”
Bland could not but smile, but his face was in the shadow. Binns went on—
“Look here!—if she’d married me, I’d have made her happy. I’d have worked for her and loved her, and cherished her, and been an honest and true husband to her. But she wouldn’t! No, she was taken in by that ‘curled and oiled Assyrian bull,’ that scented mass of millinery; and she’s thrown herself away, and made my life miserable. I’ll go away to Australia, or somewhere. I can’t live in the same country with her. Oh, Carry, Carry!” Bland, whose capricious fancy was tickled at the notion of Cyril being like a curled and oiled bull of any breed, Assyrian or otherwise, was smiling, but the last sentence was uttered in so dismal a tone, that his heart smote him for his selfishness.
“Robert—my dear Robert—do not go on like this. You make me miserable.”
Binns sprang up again.
“All right, my dear fellow—all right. I will forget her! I’ll work and write and talk. I’ll go to this Dacre, and see what he can do for me. I’ll watch him, and her, and all of them. I’ll save her; and then, when she knows how much I love her, I’ll go away, and she shall never see me more.”
Then he began to sing.
“Shall I, wasting in despair, die, because a woman’s fair? If she be not fair for me, what care I—?”
But he broke down.
“Oh! my God, what shall I do? This is killing me!”
And he rushed off into his room.
Bland took up the meerschaum again with a sigh.
“Poor young fellow, he’s going through the fire! He does love the girl, I believe, but he’s very young. He’ll ‘get over it,’ as men say. Ah! well, this is a weary world; ‘out of joint,’ as Hamlet says. She is not half good enough for him, and yet he is dying for her. He sobs and sighs and makes his life miserable, and she is probably trying on a new bonnet, or fitting a new bracelet. Yet I don’t know. Perhaps I am wrong, and the poor child is really unhappy. I am sure Dacre is at some villany, and she is romantic and silly. That comes of educating girls above their stations, or, rather, of not educating them enough. Half measures are always bad. That was the mistake I made—neither author nor plagiarist. I was hopeful and young once, like him; but I failed. My own fault, I suppose, ‘like little wanton boys that swim on bladders.’ Heigho! I married young—married for love—and my darling died. Better so, perhaps! I am old, and grey, and careworn, but the grass on her grave is always green. Life is very wearisome! A mistake? I don’t know; I begin to doubt everything sometimes. Faith—faith—you can move mountains! Ah! it is a sad farce to most of us; tears and laughter mixed—dead-sea fruit. I don’t know; there is something noble in living, in working—something not wholly vulgar in dying with the consciousness that one has done even such work as God has given me to do. What will be the end of it all, I wonder? Dust and ashes? Shall I be put between four boards and annihilated for ever—turned into phosphates and guano—or shall I get my sins pardoned, and see her again with her pure eyes, an angel in heaven? All is dark—dark and dreary; ‘infants crying for the light, and with no language but a cry.’” He looked round the room. “This cannot be the end of it—a coffin in one corner, and the blinds down for a day; then phosphates! Lord help us all!”
And then the poor old bewildered man knelt down and prayed; and, in the middle of his prayers, the landlady knocked at the door to tell him that she wouldn’t have the gas burnt at that rate, and that if he wanted to sit up late he must buy candles for himself.
The sublime and the ridiculous side by side.
He went into Binns’s room. The boy was asleep—not poetically, but with his mouth open. The little table in the corner was loaded with papers. Poetry.
Bland turned the heap over.
That glorious vision that old Homer had,|
What time the sound of battle came to him
Over the wind-swept plains of Troy.
“Hum! plagiarism! Tennyson. What’s this?”
TO LONGFELLOW’S HYPERION.
Oh! dreamy book, read long ago
“Of course! We have all heard that idea before. Here is something about the sea.”
In the long stillness of the moonless nights,|
When with a ghastly glimmer,
Shuddering break the Northern lights.
And the blue ice doth shimmer
With a treacherous, ghostly gleam,
And the sheeted icebergs floating along—
“What is a ‘sheeted iceberg?’”
I wait for thee, my love,
“To rhyme with ‘sky,’ I suppose? Of course!”
“Who’s she, I wonder?”
O’er hill and valley the sun has set, Beatrice;|
But in yonder garden where last we met
The tender twilight sadly lingers yet, Beatrice!
The roses wax faint with their own perfume.
“Do they?—Ah! he’s been reading Tom Moore, I see.”
Should worldly cares or griefs my heart be fretting,|
Then turn thy dewy lips to mine.
With each delirious kiss a grief forgetting,
I’ll drown my cares in Love and Wine!
“Love and Wine! Poor fellow! More blank verse!”
The blushes shuddered o’er her face as fast|
As shadowed clouds upon a hill at noon.
“That’s nonsense! What’s this?”
A mighty Presence, with unwinking eyes,|
That looks on an eternity of stars.
“Not so bad that! Here’s some prose! ‘The Glory of Labour: an Essay on Working Men’s Associations.’ The ink hardly black yet.”
He shaded the candle with his hand, and turned and looked at the sleeper.
“You’ve got some stuff in you, I believe, my poor boy; but it is hard work getting it out—isn’t it? In the meantime, we must see how we can help this poor little girl. If I hear anything more about Mr. Dacre, I shall see Chatteris myself.”
And he went to bed shaking his grizzled head sorrowfully.