Bland advised him to go and see Carry again, but the poor fellow was afraid.
“I daren’t,” he said; and perhaps he was wise.
“Love in absence” is a pretty song, but the sentiment is not always applicable, and Binns thought that the sight of his love would only feed the flame that consumed him. Nevertheless, in his spare moments, he walked round about St. John’s Wood with great pertinacity. He leant against lampposts and gazed up at windows; he prowled about gardens—Romeo fashion—and quoted poetry to the moon with desperate energy. Yet, notwithstanding all this apparent absurdity, he was practical enough. He had determined upon his course of action. He would watch and wait, and if he thought that his suspicions were well founded, he would tell Mrs. Manton of her daughter’s danger. As yet he could fix upon no special incident as a pretext for such a proceeding.
Dacre was frequently at the house, it was true, but he came in the afternoons, and left at five or six o’clock. Carry went out for walks, but always returned before dusk. Binns began to think that he had been too hasty in his conclusions.
The fact was that the cautious Rupert was too wise to force the game. Cyril was away, and he had the field to himself. There was no hurry. Besides, the bird was timid, and trembled at the net.
“It would never do to frighten her,” thought Dacre. “I nearly made that mistake once before. I must gain her confidence, then make her a little afraid of me; praise Cyril for qualities he does not possess, and which I will affect; soothe her vanity, flatter her; and then, when she does not know which way to turn, play my grand stroke—Miss Kate Ffrench.”
The afternoon of the return from Thames Ditton he went to the house. Carry was at home, expectant. She had “dressed” for him, and was gracefully posed upon a sofa when he entered. A fortnight back, she would have risen, and perhaps blushed a little. She did neither now.
“I have been waiting for you,” she said.
“I was detained by business or I should have been here sooner.”
And then he began to tell all the scandal he could remember or invent. It was a theory with Rupert that women like tyranny, and in his assignations, it was usually the lady who arrived first. With the class of women with whom he was a favourite, this method of treatment was highly successful; so he naturally enough fell into the error of supposing that the “spaniel and walnut-tree” proverb applied to the sex generally. This by the way. However, in this particular case, his theory held good, and Carry thought how powerful her attractions must be to tear from his affairs of State such a magnate as Mr. Rupert Dacre.
She was rejoiced at his arrival. The life she led was very dreary, so dreary that at times she became low-spirited and hysterical, and would frighten the two maids by violent fits of passion and tears. She was fast losing all her illusions, and, instead of happy wedded life, a barren waste of loveless satiety spread out before her. She was innocent and experienced, ignorant and wise together. For her there existed two worlds; one sordid, base, composed of turned dresses, cleaned gloves, and mean schemes and cares; the other, brilliant, dazzling, set with diamonds, and glittering with gold—a world lit by wax candles, that shed their soft glow upon fair women and noble men—a world rustling with silks and instinct with perfumes—the world of “society.”
With the first she was too familiar; of the second she was too ignorant. She stood upon the debateable ground, midway between Philistia and Bohemia. She knew nothing of quiet happiness. Her memory served but to show her the dingy lodging-house, the enforced music lessons, the hateful round of petty deceit and penny hypocrisy. Her marriage seemed to have opened heaven to her, but in a very little time the glowing, perfumed torch lit by love, went out in unsavoury smoulderings and smokings; her imagination then came to her rescue—or destruction. This was not Life; her early dreams could not end like this; there must be something wrong with the matrimonial machinery. Poets and romancers spoke of another world to that in which she found herself: they told her of a land where all was fair, and love was immortal, where there were no jealousies, no bickerings, no heart-burnings, no deceptions. Alas!
A shore like that, my dear,|
Lies where no man will steer,
No maiden land.
Cyril—the Fairy Prince who was to have worked such wonders—had proved to be selfish and conceited. Instead of a lover who would cherish, protect, and advise her, she found a husband cold, satirical, vain, and heartless. A husband who was ashamed of his wife. There was the sting. She could have forgiven harsh usage, and violence of anger; but the evident coldness with which her husband treated her cut her to the heart.
In this mood Rupert Dacre, rich, courteous, kind, well-bred and, above all, well informed as to her little story, was acceptable. She could talk to him, and be advised by him. He was a charming companion, and a useful friend; moreover, there was just enough danger about the intimacy to make it exciting. Carry felt the same pleasure as that experienced by the little gamins, who run along bridge-parapets—there is a chance of falling off.
But she meant no harm. Unfortunately, it does not always take two people to make a liaison—harmless or otherwise. Some wit said, that “When people fall in love, one loves, the other is loved.” If the lover happens to be astute, and in earnest, as was the case with Dacre, the loved usually gives way to superior strength, and yields. Dacre opened the ball.
“I wrote to your husband to-day.”
“Not that I had much to say, but I want to find out when he is coming back. It is strange that he has not written.”
“I have received one letter from him. He says that his father would be annoyed if he returned suddenly.”
Dacre did not speak, but his silence was more significant than words.
Carry blushed, and then her fingers tapped the table impatiently.
Dacre got up and crossed to the fireplace.
“And you only received one letter?”
“Only one; but he has been busy, I daresay, and—”
“Yes, I expect he has had his time well occupied.”
Carry’s fingers beat faster. Her colour went and came.
It was out of pity for her—pity for the neglected wife! All her little soul was up in arms at once.
“Tell me about this Miss Ffrench,” said she.
“There is little to tell. She is a ‘cousin.’ She was brought up with him, and I fancy that his father always expected that they would marry.”
“Is she pretty?”
“Yes, more than pretty—beautiful.”
Carry sat down again, and her eyes filled with slowly-welling tears.
“Oh, it is impossible!” she said at last, in a low voice. “He cannot be so dishonourable, so cowardly.”
“It is not my place to accuse him. I would not have spoken at all, but for your sake.”
“You did it all in kindness, I know,” she sobbed.
Dacre smiled, and then crossed the room to where she sat.
“Don’t cry!” he said. “My suspicions are foolish: but you asked me, and I could not help telling you.”
But, in exact proportion to his defence of her husband, so did her anger increase. Dacre knew this. Had he attacked the absent Cyril openly, the wife would have refused to listen to a syllable. He was too well versed in woman-nature to make that error.
At last she pretended to be convinced, and he soothed her in quite a parental manner. This was the sort of game that was played between them each day; and Carry felt that she was losing at it.
Having calmed her, he began to flatter. Having shown her how brutal the husband was, he wished to let her see how kind the lover could be.
“I wish you would sing for me,” he said. “That last song of yours is ringing in my ears yet. Come, you must not give way to this feeling of loneliness; you will lose all your spirits. Your eyes are not so bright today.”
Carry laughed and looked full at him. She had fine eyes, and she knew it.
“What song shall I sing?”
And he picked out a German ballad about a noble heart pining in hopeless love for some unapproachable princess. She sang, and he affected to let his thoughts wander, and turned over the leaf with an apologetic start, as though he too longed for an unattainable woman. He acted very well, and she could not mistake his meaning.
“Thanks would be mockery,” he said, as she rose from the piano. “I am sorry I asked you to sing.”
It was her turn to affect to misunderstand.
“Do you like this better?”
And she dashed off a brilliant piece of Offenbach’s champagne-madness.
Dacre watched her with interest. She looked very charming, there could be no doubt about it, and she played well and artistically. He began to lose his head a little.
“Brava!” he cried, when the reckless melody came to an end in a final crash, which made the glass drops in the tiny candelabra ring again. “Brava! you play magnificently.”
“I like Offenbach.”
“His music is like yourself—sparkling, delicate, brilliant. Have you ever seen any of his operas?”
“No; I have not been to a theatre for a long time.”
“Ah! there is no opera now unfortunately. This is the dull season.”
“Yes, it is very dull.”
“You find it so, I am sure. Ah!”
And he started, as if a bright thought had suddenly struck him.
“There is a new burlesque to-night at the Isthmian. Quantox, the manager, is an old friend of mine, and always has a box at my disposal. Will you come?”
“Alone! Oh, Mr. Dacre, it would look so strange!”
Dacre laughed merrily.
“Strange! Not at all. No one will see you; no one would know you if they did see you. If you put up your hood we can go in quite quietly. Come, it will do you good.”
She hesitated. She would like to go. Her life was dull—very dull. There could not be much harm. A private box, too!
“Could not we take mamma?”
Dacre inwardly shuddered. The idea of Mrs. Manton in a private box at the Isthmian with the aristocratic Rupert Dacre!
“I am afraid that my ticket only admits two” (palpable lie to anyone but Carry). “I will give it to your mother if you like; but then it will look strange, two ladies going alone. Oh, come with me! There is no occasion to be afraid. I will come for you at seven o’clock. Full toilette, mind! We will criticise the new piece together.”