“Who is elected?” he asked of a man in an oilskin cap who stood next him.
“Dacre, dom him!” said the man. “I’d a rather had t’ young squire than him; but them coves all came up and voted in a body. Bribed, I’ll swear! Yah!”
And he relieved his feelings by a yell.
Dacre had got in, then, after all, and against such overwhelming odds! And Cyril was beaten; would now be driving back to Matcham, and he could not get speech with him.
The clock over the Town-hall pointed to five. Nine o’clock, she said. Then Dacre must go up by the six o’clock train. He only had an hour.
Backwards, desperate, he plunged. He was against the tide now. Men cursed him and threatened him. He was borne on by sudden shiftings of the crowd, and had to struggle all the way back again. He was down once, and nearly trampled, but some burly fellow caught him by the hand, and dragged him to air again with an oath.
There was a little island, as it were, of open space at one spot, where a woman had fainted, and where, by dint of shouldering, a little air had been got for her, and this gave him a great start. He kept his eyes steadily fixed upon the sign of the White Hart, that swung above the crowd in the High-street. It was at the White Hart that he should find Cyril, if he had not gone straight home.
More pushing, more cursing, more shouting and hooting—started by those around the Town-hall, and taken up by the others without knowing why—more expostulations, and shrieks, and groans, and a consciousness through it all that Mr. Rupert Dacre, with a flower in his button-hole, was bowing, and laying his kid glove on his coat, and neatly turning his paragraphs, and pointing his witticisms, and that the six o’clock train would go in three-quarters of an hour.
A desperate struggle at last; the White Hart nearer and nearer: then a wild shout, and sudden movement of the mass, and a confused gabble. Mr. Rupert Dacre had taken his paragraphs, and his witticisms, and his flower, and his kid gloves, into the Town-hall again, and the six o’clock train went in half an hour.
Another man on the balcony—Mr. Ebenezer Crofts, in a black coat and a yellow rosette, greeted with terrific cheering and waving of dirty caps. Then a savage roar for silence, and then a murmurous interval as before, broken by the same yells, and hoots, and cheers, and hisses. Out of the crowd at last—torn, dusty, hot, and hatless—sorely bruised and shaken, but out of it. On the steps of the White Hart, with the Chatteris carriage still standing there, and the six o’clock train going in twenty minutes.
Waiters in the Chatteris interest were in the hall; waiters in the Chatteris interest were in the passage; waiters in the Chatteris interest were upon the stairs.
“Who’d a thought it?” “Mr. Dacre, too!” “Dear me!” and so on, through which murmuring Binns pushed his way.
“Now, then, young man, where a’ you a’ shoving to?” asks an indignant waiter in the Chatteris interest who guarded the Chatteris door. “I beg yer pardon, Mr. Binns; I didn’t recognise yer,” he adds immediately, for Binns’ “master” was now a man to be treated with respect. “Lor’ why, where have yer bin to? Yer coat’s torn to ribbons.”
“I want to see Mr. Cyril Chatteris at once,” cries Binns. “Where is he?”
“He’s in there,” says the waiter, pointing to the door where Binns had paused in the morning. “They’re all there.”
Without stopping to consider what might be included in the “all,” Binns hastily thrust a crumpled card into the man’s hand.
“Take him that, and tell him I must see him at once!”
The waiter stared, and then opened the door.
Cyril Chatteris was there, and so was his father, and Kate, and Lady Loughborough. It would seem that Kate, growing anxious, but nothing doubting of ultimate triumph, had half teased, half begged the Ruin to come with her into Kirkminster, and await with congratulations the successful candidate.
When the state carriage drove up, James, the state coachman, discovered the face of John, the pad-groom, among the idlers on the steps, and learnt that “Miss Kate and the old ’un had brought the broom up.” Saville, furious and indignant, and Cyril, savage and silent, had found the two prepared with congratulations.
“Well, my dear Saville,” says Lady Loughborough, “we have come up to congratulate Cyril, you see!”
“Cyril, dear Cyril!” cried Kate, with sparkling eyes, “I could not stop at home, but—”
And then she paused.
Cyril flung himself into a chair.
“You might just as well have stopped,” he said. “I’m beaten.”
“Beaten! Who has got in then?”
“Dacre,” says Saville shortly.
“Well, he is an admirable young man!” said the dowager spitefully, mindful of her rebuke anent the question of Harry Fairfax a few days before.
“There has been foul play somewhere,” says Cyril, nervously rising. “Why the odds were all in my favour!”
“I suppose we did not take all the precautions we might have done,” says Saville, dignified even in defeat. “I suppose that Dacre acted fairly enough. He was compelled to stand.”
“It’s Huskinson’s fault!” says Cyril. “He must have known.”
“Mr. Huskinson knew the wish of the Government, I suppose,” returned Saville, who looked upon the parliamentary agent much in the same light as he did upon his butler. “After all, Dacre was Nantwich’s secretary, you know; but if he meant to give him the borough, he might have said so.”
“Mr. Dacre could not have been so treacherous, surely,” says innocent Kate.
Cyril laughed a harsh, grating laugh.
“Oh, yes, he could!”
“I do not think that he did expect it,” said the father. “He would have told me, I think, if he had. You must be mistaken about him, Cyril.”
Cyril laughed again.
“Oh, I don’t care,” he said, with a look through the fast darkening window into the street below. “I always told you that I should be beaten. I don’t want to have anything to do with them. I’m glad I didn’t wait to speak; it will show them that I don’t care.”
“I do not think it will,” said Saville, gravely. “But that is not of much moment now.”
Kate had stolen over through the fast gathering gloom, and had put her hand on Cyril’s arm caressingly. He took it and kissed the little glove. What did he care about Kirkminster as long as Kate loved him!
“Never mind, my darling!” she whispered. “You cannot help being beaten, and you fought honourably, you know.”
“Of course,” says Cyril.
“You would not—could not do otherwise, I know,” said she.
The door opened. “What is it?” says Saville. “A card—Mr. who? What does he want?”
“Mr. Binns, sir,” says the waiter, “wants to see Mr. Cyril, sir.” Cyril’s heart gave a sudden leap, and he felt a presentiment of coming evil. What did the boy want again with him, and at such a time? He would not see him. “It’s nothing of any consequence,” he said, in answer to his father’s inquiring tone. “Tell him I can’t—”
But Binns, with a terrible consciousness that the six o’clock train was going in a quarter of an hour, had caught the first word, and was in the room.
“It is of consequence—great consequence. Mr. Chatteris, will you let me speak?”
Cyril, seeing in his face now on what subject he wished to speak, and knowing that Kate was there at his side, within reach of his hand, would have stopped him, would have taken him into another room, would have bought his silence somehow, but the attack had been too sudden, and it had overpowered him. Moreover, all in the room were eager to hear, and there was not time to invent an excuse. His whitening lips had begun to frame some faltering sentence about private business, when Saville, all unconscious, broke in,
“Go on, sir! What have you to say?”
Binns turned from one to the other. This was the father then. Lady Loughborough he did not know; but there was the girl he had met in the lane—his cousin. As he looked, he saw her steal out her hand in tender alarm, and clasp it on the one which rested upon Cyril’s arm. He guessed it all then. The memory of his own love gave him power to read the story written in that gesture. This was the woman for whom Carry had been deserted. He would not spare now. He turned upon Cyril with a fierce suddenness that made Kate draw closer.
“Go back to your wife,” he said, “if you wish to keep her your wife!”
Kate gave a cry, and then clung to her lover. Cyril did not move—he had expected this. As soon as he saw the look the other flung at him, he knew that the revelation must come, so he determined to face it with a sort of desperate courage, as he had faced the same revelation before.
“You are mad!” he said. “My wife!”
“Yes, your wife, Caroline Manton, whom you married in Dymstreet before your brother died, and who lives with you at St. John’s Wood as Mrs. Carter.”
Saville Chatteris had bent forward in horror at the word wife, but his brow cleared a little at the explanation, “Lives with him at St. John’s Wood.” He thought he understood the nature of the connection.
“What is this nonsense, Cyril?” he said.
Kate had got back away from him a little now, and was standing listening with white face and parted lips.
He waved a deprecating hand. “Nothing,” he said. “An indiscretion—a temporary—you understand.”
“You lie!” cries Binns. “You are married to her! You know it!”
The old deadly glitter came into Cyril’s eyes. He was driven to bay, was he? Well, they had best not provoke him too far.
“Take care what you say, sir,” he said, “or I shall have you put down stairs. I have had reason to chastise you for your impertinence once before. I shall do it again, perhaps.”
“Really, Cyril, what is all this?” said Lady Loughborough, rising in great trepidation. “Who is this person?”
Binns, ragged, torn, dusty, and furious, turned round and faced his new adversary.
“I have come here to save a poor girl from dishonour!” he cried. “I have come to save that man’s wife from infamy! Ha, does that make you wince!” as Cyril strode forward. “Your wife is going to elope with Rupert Dacre tonight at nine o’clock, unless you go home and save her.”
“Cyril, this is not true? This woman he speaks of is not your wife?” The words were Kate’s.
“My wife! No, dearest, not my wife!” Saville Chatteris had risen. “I will explain it all to you, sir, to-morrow.” (He must gain time; to-morrow, perhaps, his wife would be far away, and at that thought a strange jealousy struck him.)
The tone and words made Binns shudder. Though Cyril had neglected his wife, had denied her even, he had never doubted but that he loved her. Now, like a flash of lightning, this hideous indifference had lighted up the whole black gulf of Cyril’s heart, and he saw that he had plotted his wife’s dishonour.
“Are you a beast,” he cried, “with no touch of sympathy or pity? Can you plot your own wife’s shame, and leave her to her fate without remorse?”
Saville Chatteris, standing strangely erect by the table, said, in a high, clear voice,
“How do you know this, Mr.—Mr.—Binns?”
Kate looked across at her uncle with fear in her eyes.
Binns dashed his hand into his breast, and held out the fatal letter.
“There,” he cried, “do you know that writing? Do you know that writing?”
The sight of the letter made Cyril turn sick. He snatched it, and staggered to the window. Kate gave a cry.
Mr. Rupert Dacre,|
“You will not forget? Nine o’clock. I shall be waiting—alone.|
At the sight of this tangible proof that his infamy had been successful, that he had alienated his wife’s love from him for ever, and that he was dishonoured and disgraced, the miserable boy experienced an awful revulsion of feeling. He stared at the letter in a stupid despair, and said nothing.
“Do you know it?” says Binns, again. “Do you know it?”
It seemed that the whole room waited for his answer. He slowly raised his head, and, crumpling the paper in his hand, said,
“Where did you get this?”
“I found it,” said Binns, “last night! Quick, you must go—at once—you will be too late. He goes at six—six, do you hear? six!”
“You will be too late, Cyril,” repeated the old man, still erect and motionless. “You will be too late. Do you hear?”
Cyril dashed the paper to the floor as though he would annihilate it, and then his haggard eyes wandered from one to the other despairingly. His sin had found him out at last. Had found him out through the instrumentality of the very boy whom he had despised, and ridiculed, and insulted. He had lost the game. Even with all advantages in his favour, he was beaten at last. All was known now, and he would be scorned and detested. His own infamy and cowardice had brought him to this pass; his own treacherous plots had betrayed him. He saw at once that there was no hope. The story of this unknown, torn, dusty, impassioned boy, hastily told, unexplained as it was, bore about it the stamp of truth, and his own momentary pang of jealous weakness had confirmed that story in his father’s eyes. He knew his father’s prejudices, and his father’s pride. He knew his father’s hatred and detestation of all that was dishonourable and base. To have disgraced his family by marrying beneath him was bad enough; but to deny that marriage, to engage himself to his cousin, and, in order to consummate that engagement, deliberately plot and assist at the seduction of his own wife, was infamous, unpardonable, horrible.
His father slowly raised his thin, white hand, and silently, and with averted face, pointed to the door. Cyril moved towards it, and then, in sudden abandonment of desperation, turned back.
“Kate!” he said in a broken voice, “Kate! Forgive me!”
Lady Loughborough—woman still through paint and powder—had caught the girl in her arms, and from that shelter Kate looked back at him. Her face was colourless, but tearless. Her eyes bright and dilated. At the sound of his voice she turned her lustrous, scornful glance full upon him. All the tenderness had gone out of it now. The unhappy wretch, quivering with shame and rage and fear, read in those pure orbs no sign of love, no touch of pity.
“Go!” she said, with a sort of shudder. “Go!”
He moved towards her, and would have caught her hand, but for the light in those terrible eyes. “Kate! It was for your sake!”
She flushed crimson. “For my sake! You did this infamous thing for my sake! and you dare to tell me so! oh—oh—oh,” and she hid her face, sobbing for the shame of it.
Cyril sprang back in desperate rage of despair.
“So you all look black at me, do you? You all despise me and hate me! Curse you! and curse her! and him, and all! Ha, ha! You prate to me about honour and love and duty. Why, I have given them all, all, I tell you, for that girl there,” he pointed to the sobbing Kate, “and she despises me! I have been a villain—a coward—a liar; I know it. It was for her sake I did it, and she hates me—spurns me. That is punishment enough, isn’t it?” He stopped a moment to wipe his parched and bleeding lips with his handkerchief. “You think I havn’t suffered. Suffered! Ask Rupert Dacre; he can tell you. Rupert Dacre, the man of the world, the clever, pleasant, agreeable, good-hearted Rupert Dacre.” (It is impossible to convey on paper an idea of the wolfish sneer with which he said it.) “The man of taste and experience, the man that was selected by my dear father there to look after me, and take care of me, and advise me; the man who has beaten me at all points; the man who has defeated me here, and has gone away to take my wife from me. She is my wife!” He hurled the words in a paroxysm of revengeful fury at the silent Kate. “She is my wife, and he knew it, and proposed to me that ‘he should take her off my hands;’ that was his phrase. Do you hear me? I let him do it, and when she appealed to me for help against her own heart and his villany, I laughed at her. And I did this for your sake—for your sake—for your sake.”
Binns, listening appalled at this outpouring of beastlike passion, wiped the sweat from his forehead. “O, my God!” he said, in that slow, distinct whisper, which is heavier with anguish than the shrillest scream.
“Will you go, sir!” said Saville Chatteris, in his clear high voice.
Cyril cowered before the bitter contempt expressed by the motion of the outstretched hand.
“Let me pass, you young fool!” he snarled at Binns. “You have done a good day’s work! A nice bit of revenge for your beggarly friends to brag of! Do you know what I mean to do?” He stopped and hissed out the words, “I am going to London to find this Rupert Dacre, and when I find him I shall kill him!”
A hideous pause, during which his glittering eyes flashed hate and rage and despair at them all in one wide sweep, and then the door was burst open and he was gone.
There was silence for a moment, broken only by the sobs of Kate, and then the old man lowered his hand stiffly, and turned to Binns.
“I do not remember your name, sir,” he said, “but I will tell you something. Do not be proud, sir. I was proud, and I had two sons. One died, sir, and the other has disgraced me.”
“Saville!” cries his sister, alarmed. “What is it? Are you ill?”
The waiter in the Chatteris interest who had been lurking outside the door, and had been nearly knocked head over heels by Cyril’s sudden exit, heard a heavy fall in the Chatteris special private apartment, and came in. The old man was lying on the floor senseless.
As they were taking him away, Binns, silent and terrified at the ruin which he had wrought, was following, when his eye fell on the crushed and flattened envelope that lay on the floor. The sight of it revived all his own misery. He stooped and picked it up. The action was so full of grief and pity, that Kate stopped.
“You knew her then?” she said.
“Knew her?” cries poor Binns, with an agony that made him almost sublime, “I LOVED her!”
The door was closed; they were too much occupied with the sick man to notice him, and he sat there until it grew dark, with the paper before him, patting and smoothing it, and crying over it.
“You were not to blame, my dear,” he said. “You were not to blame.”