“Hallo, Bob! How are you? Come to dinner? That’s right! I saw Ponsonby in town to-day, and should not be surprised if he dropped in. Nobody at the clubs—London as dull as ditch water. I’ve a great mind to go away; only Nantwich is in such a state of anxiety about the Government that I scarcely like to ask him.—Harris, take some hot water to my dressing room, and let us have dinner in half-an-hour.—And how have you been, old fellow? Have a glass of sherry before feeding time?”
Bob said he would. He drank a good many “sherries” before dinner now. “By Jove, my boy, what have you been doing? Your hand shakes awfully.”
“It’s nothing. I was out late last night.”
“You are always out late now. You must take care, my dear boy! Why, you’re looking quite ill!”
“Don’t mind my looks!” cries Bob, a little pettishly. “Go and dress, old fellow,” and then he buried himself in his magazine.
As Dacre shut the door, he heard the clink of glasses, and when he came back, the decanter was half empty.
He said nothing, however, and was more affable at dinner than usual. “There is something on the fellow’s mind,” he said, “and I’ll have it out of him before the evening’s over.”
Half way through the first cigar he spoke.
“Why so silent, O Robert that I love? Prithee, why so pale, fond lover? prithee, why so pale?”
“I’m not pale.”
“Then is your state the more gracious. I thought you were. Come, Bob, what is the matter?”
“I’m a fool!” said Bob, bitterly.
“Your case is not singular; most men are.”
“Oh, don’t chaff, Dacre; I’m not in the humour for it.”
“You wear your rue with a difference. Other men have been in love besides you.”
Bob blushed. “I suppose they have.”
“And got over it, as you will.”
“No, I never will!”
“Dissipation will soon cure you.”
“I’ve tried it.”
“Yes—that was better!”
“The only cure. Double-sixes are better than double-harness, and the Queen of Beauty pales before the Queen of Trumps. I’d rather hold four by honours than kiss the prettiest woman in Christendom!”
“It doesn’t last though.”
“No; the play. One forgets for a time only to remember more bitterly.”
“Quite poetical! ‘I dream of thee, sweet Madoline!’ Eat pork chops for supper, and then you won’t.”
“You don’t understand me, Dacre.”
“Don’t I? Oh, yes I do. You feel a silent sorrow here—don’t you? An uneasy sensation about the fourth button of the waist-coat—a tendency to be miserable—a restlessness, like the white bears at the Zoo! Poor Robert! Have another cigar? Vive l’amour! cigars and cognac! I prefer the cigars—and cognac.”
“That is French sentiment.”
“Like the cognac! Perhaps it is! I hate your British brands!”
Bob lit another Cabana. “I wish you’d be serious, Dacre.”
“Serious! My dear boy, the great end and aim of my life is to avoid being serious. I make Harris read the police reports to me while I dress, to avoid thinking.”
“The police reports?”
“Yes; they always make me laugh. Fancy a poor devil being sentenced to three years hard labour for stealing a pair of breeches, while Justice goes in the evening to see a sensation drama, where the plot is stolen from one author, the dialogue from another, and the ‘situations’ from a third; the whole being ‘vamped up’ by some unhappy young man who never gets paid because the manager turns insolvent!”
“That is nonsense, Dacre.”
Dacre laughed. “Of course it is; I wanted to say something smart, that is all. Fungaris vice cotis. You are my hone—I sharpen my wit upon you. Don’t you think, now, Bob, that I am a very clever fellow?”
Bob smiled. “I wish you’d show me a way out of my scrape.”
“What is it?”
“Well, just this. I’ve lost money at play; I’m in love, and I’m in debt.”
“Is that all? You’ve been in that state for some time.”
“Well, no; it is not all. The fact is, that that horse of mine—I’ve been backing him heavily, Dacre.”
“So people say.”
“And if he loses I shall be ruined.”
“No you won’t. Men are never ruined at three and twenty.”
“I’ve got more than seven thousand pounds on him.”
Dacre did start this time.
“Seven thousand! What on earth have you been thinking of?”
“It is a great deal of money; and it makes me anxious.”
“My dear boy, it’s madness!”
“I believe in the horse, you know.”
“Well, but—” Dacre was about to give vent to his own private opinion concerning Lord Lundyfoot’s favourite, and then recollecting that he himself had been instrumental in the purchase, changed his tone. “Of course he’s a good horse—better than people think—but it is such a risk!”
“Nothing venture nothing win!” cries Bob, laughing a little discordantly.
“Can’t you hedge?”
“Of course; but I won’t. Not a shilling! Look here, Dacre. I’m getting reckless. I’ll stay here until the summer, and then I’ll go back to Australia. I had thought about it before, and I’ve made up my mind now. I’m in love with that girl, and I must forget her. Dissipation won’t do; this life is killing me; a man must be of some good in the world. I’ll go back to Australia and try if the bush will cure me.
“Either cure or kill you. Why, you’ve got nothing to do up there!” says Dacre, who did not like to lose so profitable a friend.
“There’s always work there. I can go up to new country.”
‘I will wed some savage woman! She shall rear my dusky race!’
“Is that the programme? Don’t be an ass, Bob. You haven’t lost the girl yet.”
“Yes I have; she’s in love with Chatteris.”
“I told you before, my dear boy, that she will never marry him.”
“Family reasons. If you are a sensible man, you will go down to Loamshire now, and see her again.”
“Well, no harm in that. Is he not the ‘young hopeful’ of the house of Chatteris—the returned prodigal, for whom the fatted calf was killed? Of course he’s there!”
“I say, Dacre,” says Bob, raising himself on his elbow, “what was the matter with Cyril Chatteris? There was some story about his leaving Oxford.”
“Oh, some youthful peccadillo, I suppose. I never thoroughly understood the rights of the case myself. Some fellows said it was a woman, others a dun, others a college scrape. Quien sabe?”
“I heard something about a family difficulty. You know I never liked the fellow much. He’s not my style.”
Dacre surveyed the prostrate form of his friend.
“No—I don’t suppose he is. Cyril Chatteris is a Quietist.”
“A Quietist. A man who adopts the nil admirari motto, and models himself upon Alcibiades. You’ve heard of him, I suppose?”
“The Greek fellow who broke statues?” says Bob, whose recollections of classic lore were somewhat hazy.
“Precisely—and did some other things worth mention. A Grecian Lord Wharton; the George Villiers of the Acropolis. Not a bad fellow in his way—but foolish. That Persian business was a mistake. He should have been the private secretary of Pharnabazus. Instead of which he got himself shot. The worst use they could put him to.”
“I don’t understand you.”
Dacre laughed. “Well, revenons á notre mouton—to return to Cyril. He copies the Greek fellow who broke the statues; that is, as far as he can. It is a weakness of young men of the day. They want to know everything, without the trouble of learning it, to have done everything without the trouble of doing it, and to be at twenty-five what other men were content to think of at fifty. Alcibiades was not democratic enough. He outraged prejudices—a fatal mistake—and his imitators possess all his faults, without any of his virtues. ‘Earnestness’ is the popular cant now, and the dolce far niente business doesn’t go down. Cyril Chatteris will go to the bad one of these days.”
“I hope not.”
“Good boy! So do I, of course. Is he not my familiar friend? But he will. He has got no ballast; and boats without ballast are not safe craft to sail in. Make your mind easy about him.”
“I don’t wish him any harm; but I—I—”
“You are in love with Miss Ffrench.”
“Well, anything I can do for you, you know, I will do.”
“I know you will, old fellow,” cries Bob, grasping the white hand which Dacre extended to him. “Let us drop the subject. Come down to-morrow with me, and see the ‘Cardinal.’ I daresay we shall ‘pull off’ yet.”
“Hope you will, my boy; but don’t be too rash. It’s long odds against you, remember.”
“Yes, in both cases.”
“What is the motto? ‘Advance Australia,’ isn’t it? Don’t be down-hearted. Come up here in the morning, and we’ll go down and see the horse. Good night!”
“Poor Bob!” said Dacre, as he flung himself back in his chair when his friend had departed. “If he only knew as much as I do about Cyril Chatteris and his belongings! I wonder if it would be worth while telling him? I think not. Upon my word I’ve a great mind to run a ‘dark horse,’ and marry Miss Kate myself.”