He had reached the “Pegasus” by this time, where he played two games of billiards with Figleaf, won both of them, and then dined complacently. Randon, who sat at the same table, said that “he bub-bub-believed that ththat young f-f-fellow Chatteris was going up for K-K-K-Kirkminster.”
“I have some idea of going up with him,” says Dacre quietly.
“I’m sorry for you, I own, I fuf-fuf-fwankly own that I am s-s-sincerely s-s-sorry f-for you.”
“Why so?” asked Figleaf. “I think Dacre’s just the man.”
“N-n-not at all. D-D-D-acre’s a very good secretary, and Fuf-fuf-foreign Office clerk, I’ve no doubt, but we want men with l-l-l-lul-liberal minds in the House.”
“My mind is positively oppressed with liberality,” says Dacre laughing.
“No, no—Y-you are t-tut-too aristocratic.”
“You ought to go into the House yourself, Randon,” grunted old Grosmith, who could not repress the sneer.
“W-well—I ought—I own, I f-f-fwankly own I ought—I am a liberal m-m-minded m-man. In adv-v-vance of my age. I own it. F-f-fwankly own it. But then I am lazy, t-t-terribly lazy. T-t-too imaginative. T-t-t-too f-fine a m-mum-mind. My s-sympathies are with N-nature, sir. Bub-bub-bub-bub-Boundless Nature, sir! I own—I f-fwankly own, that I have a p-p-passion for the Bub-bub-beautiful and the Tut-tut-tutter-true!”
“The thing is a sort of secret just at present,” said Dacre, who wished it known. “So you need not mention it, you know!” They all promised, and the expectant M.P. mumbled an olive with the pleasant consciousness that the story of his political advancement would be all over town in twenty-four hours.
“I wonder if Nantwich will really form a ministry?” said Figleaf.
“I am afraid not,” said Dacre. “I hope so, of course.”
It was eight o’clock.
“Let us go and see that singing-woman—what’s her name?” says Grosmith.
“I have got an engagement,” said Dacre.
“I’ll c-c-come!” stammered Randon. “I own—I f-fwankly own—I lul-like the a-b-b-bub-bandon—the—”
“Very nice,” says Dacre, “I dare say—but injurious. Seeing that sort of thing is like drinking absinthe.”
“You’d better come too, Millington,” said Grosmith.
“Sir,” said Lord Millington, who had been driven from his Naples villa, by a heartless husband, and dragged to London as co-respondent in a divorce suit—“I never go to theatres.”
“Ah!” said Grosmith, “my morality is not so old-fashioned as your lordship’s!”
Figleaf laughed—he was only a routurier—and thereby made Millington his deadly enemy for life.
Having thus sown the good seed of report abroad, Dacre turned his steps towards St. John’s Wood.
“I expect that there has been a ‘scene’ after I left,” said he, as he got fairly settled in the cab.
So there had been, but not of the kind that he imagined.
Carry awoke in the morning, hot, flushed, and heavy. She did not exactly realise what had taken place at first. There was a weight on her brain, and a strange taste in her mouth. She felt stupid and heavy, and, with an impatient movement of her head, as the light fell upon her eyes, turned round to sleep again. On the instant, however, the remembrance of the events of the previous night flashed across her, and the shock awakened her at once. She looked round bewilderedly. Had Cyril or Rupert (she thought of him as Rupert now) quarrelled? She had dismissed her maid and listened at the stair head for any sound of angry words, but she had heard none; and then, unable to bear the suspense, she had taken the laudanum to make her sleep. She must have taken too much, for her head ached and her eyes were hot and heavy. Where was Cyril? Her first impulse was to ring and inquire, but she checked herself. He might have gone, and then she would have betrayed herself to the household. No, she must appear unmoved, and unapprehensive. So she dressed, and went down stairs.
It was twelve o’clock. Cyril was lying on the sofa reading. The door was half-opened, and she did not disturb him. She paused to look. His face was white, and drawn, and there were red flushes under his eyes. He was reading intently. There was something in the bent brows, the compressed mouth, and the firm set muscles of the cheeks, that frightened her. The expression of his face seemed to be a shadow of that hideous look which had stricken the breath and sense out of her the night before.
He started up, and, with a strong effort, spoke a welcome.
He put the book behind him with one hand, and held out the other to her. “Cyril, my darling, you are not angry with me, are you? Mr. Dacre was here quite by accident.”
“He explained it all to me after you went away.”
She breathed freely again.
“Then you are not angry, dear?”
“Angry! no. You may see Mr. Dacre as often as you like. He is a very old friend of mine.” He turned away as he spoke, to conceal a crimson flush that would rise in his white face. “In fact, I shall ask him here frequently. You must be lonely when I am away.”
Carry felt a terrible thrill of mingled shame and dread. Guiltless though she might be of any actual wrong, she yet knew well enough why her husband’s old friend came to visit her. Her woman’s instinct had told her long ago that Dacre loved her. She had played with his passion—she thought—played with it to soothe her own wounded feelings and slighted love. Secure in her matronly virtue, she had amused herself by allowing an enamoured aristocrat to believe that she could be induced to break her wifely vows and forget her own honour. That was what she wished to think, but in the bottom of her silly soul, she knew that she had gone too far, and that another step would precipitate her into the abyss.
She had really loved her husband once, and it was his indifference that had piqued her into wrong-doing. If he would love her again, she would confess all, and forget her momentary folly. Last night, when he had burst in upon her and her lover, she had been nearly rejoicing at the discovery, for she thought that it had brought her errant husband to her feet again. She could have borne all accusations of perfidy; she was prepared for any paroxysm of jealous rage; but this indifferent reception frightened her. One of two things—Cyril either knew his friend’s infamy, and cared for his wife so little that he passed that knowledge over in silence; or he did not know it, and was deceived and hoodwinked.
“He knew it when he came in,” thought Carry. “I saw it in his eyes,” and she shuddered. But the thought was too horrible to be entertained. Dacre had “explained” so skilfully that he was deceived. A pang of shame pierced the woman’s heart—shame for her husband. He was her husband, her once idol and hero, the first man she had ever loved, and she felt that his degradation would be an insult to herself. Her god had fallen to earth, and the wreaths of love and honour were fast crumbling into dust, but she yet clung to the pedestal, and as yet had erected no fresh image there. She felt that she had a part in the honour of the young man—who, whatever he might be now, had loved her once—and though she felt glad at her escape, she felt that the shame that had fallen upon him had fallen upon her also. Had he seemed suspicious, her fear might have led her to soothe him by lies—as it had an instant since. Had she seen him hot from an altercation with Dacre, and burning with furious rage of jealousy, she might have confessed all and loved him once more. But he was indifferent.
“He must have known,” she thought again; and then the horrible baseness of his conduct if he did know, made her turn sick with disgust and shame. To deceive a husband was a sort of triumph: to be sold by him was an infamy. She caught his hand.
“Cyril, I want to speak to you.”
Cyril, with averted face, laughed. “Go on,” he said, between his shut teeth.
“Cyril—listen to me. I have been silly—foolish. I have seen Mr. Dacre too often. I have received him here, alone. I—”
Her husband turned round, and his hand closed upon her’s convulsively. His face was white as paper, and his eyes dilated. She knew what he could not ask, and fell on her knees.
“I am innocent, Cyril, before God!” she said.
He looked at her, and knew that she spoke the truth. Then same a revulsion of feeling.
“Don’t act,” he said. “Of course, you’re innocent!” but his voice was husky and thick.
She bowed her head upon his hand.
“Cyril, do not ask that man here—I am afraid of him!” The voice was very low and soft, but he heard it, and shuddered.
“You didn’t think I was jealous?” said he, with dry lips. “I know Dacre too well to be jealous.”
She raised herself. Her passion had given her perceptive power, and she detected the false ring in the dastard’s voice, and the lie smote her like a blow.
“Cyril, why do you treat me like this? You are killing me. I always loved you. You loved me once,—Who has stolen your love away from me? I know I was beneath you in rank, but you married me of your own free will, and promised to protect me. You are ashamed of me, perhaps. You knew what and who I was.”
He laughed again.
“Curse you—yes—I did know it.”
The blood rushed into her face.
“I see what it is—you hate me. You wish me dead, that you may marry your cousin.”
His first impulse—beast like—was to strike her to the earth; but civilisation came to his aid, and he stopped. How did she know? Dacre told her nothing; she only guessed. She thought, perhaps, that he was in love; she did not dream of marriage. The suddenness of the shock, and the urgency of the case, gave him the power to dissemble.
“You mean Kate Ffrench, I suppose? Pooh! Why, we were children together. Look here, Carry, your infernal jealousy and folly will make me hate you. You cannot see a man but you think he must be in love with you. You little idiot, do you think that Dacre has got nothing better to do than make love to you? Go and eat your breakfast, and dry your eyes. Dacre shall come here as often as he likes: he is a very good fellow, and my friend.”
And as he spoke the last words, he turned away, and left her.
She sat stupidly, poor little woman. All the love was crushed out of her, and in its place was a dull pain of slighted vanity and self-respect. She dried her eyes by and bye, and ate something in a tasteless, indifferent way; and then went about her little household cares with a hard, fixed look in her eyes, that made the new housemaid say that she “allus thought missus had a temper of her own, and now she knowed it.”
Cyril went into his little study, locked the door, and flung himself into a chair. He sat still for an hour; then two large tears welled up and rolled on to his cheeks. They were the first drops of the storm. He flung himself full length on the floor and wept, biting his coat sleeve, with quivering jaws, to prevent himself screaming aloud. He was prostrated with jealousy, fear and despair. He sprang up and walked about, and then flung himself down again.
“Oh, that I was dead! Kate—Kate, I cannot give you up; you are my life, my soul! I am the most miserable animal on earth. I must get rid of her; I will. I daren’t kill her! Murder! My God, I never could do that! She shall go. ‘Take her off my hands,’ he said! Yes; that is the way. Oh! damn him, the villain! I hate him—hate him—hate him!”
Binns was amply revenged.