Long Odds

Chapter XIV

A Retreat Before Heavy Guns

Marcus Clarke

THE FEELINGS of Mr. Cyril Chatteris, upon awaking on the morning after his conversation with Rupert Dacre, were by no means amiable. In the first place, his head ached, and his tongue felt more like an old file partially covered with fur than an ordinary organ of speech; in the second, his mind was nearly as uneasy as his head. Young as he was, there was quite enough of astuteness in Cyril to go very far towards supplying the want of actual knowledge of the world, and he could not disguise from himself that Dacre was not the sort of man to rest contented with the information he had given him on the subject of the “little thing” who “called herself Mrs. Chatteris.”

What if Dacre had believed his statement, and regarded his affair with Carry merely as one of those “convenient connections” that club life in men and milliner’s bills in women have rendered so common? Fair as was Dacre’s reputation in the world, Cyril knew well enough that his creed regarding women was even as that of others, and that he was not likely to be balked in a chase by any scruples of conscience regarding poaching. All this was extremely annoying, and in his heart Cyril cursed the feeling of loving anxiety for his safety that had sent his wife to the Mercury office.

“Silly little thing,” he thought, looking at her as she stood fastening up her hair with lissome fingers, “just as if she couldn’t have waited patiently for a day or two longer, instead of exposing herself to all sorts of remarks, and me to all sorts of questions. Master Rupert won’t rest quiet with what I told him, that is certain, and if he should find out the truth—why then—— ”

Then what?

“He’ll squeeze me!” was his first thought; “just the man to do it.” And then another thought flashed across his mind—a thought that, with all his callous indifference to others’ suffering, sent the blood with a hot rush to his forehead, and set his teeth firmly between lips tightly compressed. A thought connected with Dacre’s other words; a thought connected with his young wife, who had so trustingly yielded to his wish for secresy, and who now—the troublesome brown hair neatly coiled round her pretty head—turned and faced him. Just as pretty and fascinating as ever, but with a very perceptible tinge of petulant disappointment on her features. The eyes looked sad, too, and the long-eyelashes rested on a cheek more flushed than usual.

Cyril had felt rather angry with her a few moments before, but it was not easy to be angry long with a face and figure like the one before him. She might have been “silly” certainly, in going to the office, but quite as certainly she looked uncommonly pretty now, especially to a newly made husband, with a slightly sore head, and a strong desire for petting and soda water.

“Ah Carry!” he said, lifting his head and resting on his elbow, “I’m afraid I came home rather late last night; but it wasn’t my fault. One never can get away from these semi-literary dinners at anything approaching to decent hours.”

“Early in the morning, you mean, Cyril,” replied Carry, the flush deepening on her cheek. “I sat up for you, oh, ever so long!—and then— then I——”

The soft eyes filled with tears, and she stopped.

Cyril Chatteris was by no means very tender-hearted, and, like many of his stamp, rather liked to see women weep over his delinquencies. But now the signs of grief annoyed him, and he said pettishly,

“Are you going to begin Caudle lectures already, Carry? Isn’t it rather too soon for that sort of thing?”

“I don’t want to lecture you at all; but I think that before we have been married a week, for you to stay out till daylight is very, very unkind, indeed—cruel, very cru— ——”

The tears welled up again. Tears, adverbs, and adjectives, the whole armoury of female anger brought to bear on a man with an increasing headache, and a decided inclination to bad temper. It was rather too much. Cyril felt inclined to give in, if only for the sake of peace. But the petty pride that was one of his chief characteristics forbade him. Besides, it was a great deal too soon for this sort of lecture, and Carry should find it so. So he dropped his head back on the pillow, and turning carelessly round, closed his eyes.

Carry stood by the bed-side a moment in silence, looking down on her young husband. She was waiting for another word, and a kind one she hoped, but she waited in vain. Cyril only muttered something about headache and sleepy, and kept his eyes closed. He looked very handsome, as he lay thus, even with the angry look on his face. Women are always sympathetic, too, when headaches are concerned, and the love-light was still burning in Carry’s heart, even as her husband had seen it in her eyes a short time before. Perhaps, after all, Cyril couldn’t help stopping out. He was very young still, and she knew he had so many bachelor friends. Wouldn’t it be better to say something kind to him, especially when he felt ill, poor fellow. She didn’t want to quarrel so soon—she would make it up.

Very lightly she placed her soft little hand—the hand that Mrs. Manton, prudent woman, had never suffered to do any work—upon the feverish head, and ran her fingers through the clustering hair.

But Cyril only moved impatiently, and appeared to think the pretty hand rather in the way.

“Does your head ache very much, Cyril?” asked Carry timidly. She was afraid she had gone a little too far. What if the Fairy Prince were to turn tyrant on her hands, for want of a little kindness at first?

“Awfully!” replied Cyril, without opening his eyes, “and your lecturing doesn’t improve it.”

“Shall I bring you up some tea, dear?” asked Carry, whose knowledge of the treatment of post-supper cures was limited.

“Now, Carry, this is really too bad!” said Cyril, determined to win the battle. “First you make my head ache by scolding me, and then you tease me about tea. I want quiet—that is all—and that you don’t seem disposed to let me enjoy.”

Fast into poor Carry’s eyes came the hot tears. She had scolded so little, and Cyril was so cross.

“If you loved me as you have said you do,” went on Cyril, feeling that his victory was nearly won, “you wouldn’t commence lecturing me when you must have seen I was ill. But I suppose you’re like the rest of your sex in the matter of loving. It’s very deep affection, indeed, so long as one pleases you, but it’s wondeful how it alters if a check comes.”

“Oh! Cyril, Cyril!” sobbed poor Carry, utterly unable to hold out any longer, and the tears rising hotter than ever. “How can you speak so to me, when you know I love you more than I can tell; when I have consented to everything you have asked of me. I know you must stop out late sometimes; and if I have been cross, won’t you forgive me, Cyril——”

Sobs again, his hand tenderly clasped in hers, and her soft kisses on his fevered forehead.

“Victor!” muttered Cyril, and, taking up the rôle of a high-minded conqueror, he generously forgave her.

No more scolding from her at any rate, he thought, as Carry ran down stairs, wiping her eyes, and trying to check her sobs, to look for the sodawater, that her young husband had told her was the best treatment for a nervous headache.

Lounging into the small drawing-room late in the afternoon, Cyril felt that he had asserted his rights, and that Carry at least was pliant enough for his purposes.

“I can twist her round my finger!” he said to himself, looking carelessly in the glass, “and that’s some consolation.”

Consolation wanted a week after marriage! A bad prospect indeed, for the girl such a man had married.

But clever Cyril had reckoned without his host. Mrs. Manton was not Carry, and if the truth be told, rather disliked the son-in-law, who had turned her so coolly out of the rooms. “A proud, stuck-up puppy!” she had mentally called him, with a contemporary resolve to pay him back as soon as possible.

“Nice behaviour, indeed,” the widow had said to Carry, when sitting up for Cyril the night before. “First he marries you, and then he wants you to keep it secret, and then, hafter a few days, he stops out to hall hours. I should just like to have seen your father trying it on with me!” It was not very difficult to guess at the consequences to the dear departed had he tried any such experiment, but Carry only silently wished that mamma wouldn’t drop her “h’s,” and said aloud that she hoped she wouldn’t speak to Cyril.

“Oh! but I will!” said Mrs. Manton, warming up. “I’ll teach him you’re not to be played with. Displease his father, indeed; let ’im look out he don’t displease me by his goings on.”

And with this remark, and advice to Carry to go to bed and not make a fool of herself, Mrs. Manton had gone off herself.

Determined for the fight, however, was the landlady, who had never allowed a lodger, even a “first floor,” to get the better of her, and before Chatteris had been in the drawing-room five minutes, in she marched, her face flushed, her front plastered more rigidly down than ever, and wearing a cap so fearfully and wonderfully made in the way of lace and ribbons, that Cyril shuddered.

“Good morning, Mrs. Manton,” he said, giving the fire a vigorous poke, and not succeeding in looking so unconcerned as he wished. “A cold morning, isn’t it?”

“Hafternoon, you mean, Mr. Chatteris!” said the lady of the cap, with a sort of gulp, prophetic of a coming storm. “I ’ope your hearly rising won’t ’urt you, sir?”

No answer from Chatteris, who was now beginning to feel his feet, and Mrs. Manton went on.

“If you think its hacting honerable, Mr. Chatteris, to marry a young girl as would be a treasure to a king, to hask ’er to conceal her marriage for fear of your father’s hanger, and then to treat her as you did last night—hi don’t!”

“Your sentiments do you credit, no doubt, Mrs. Manton,” said Cyril, in his easiest manner, and carelessly filling his pipe as he spoke, “but permit me to ask whether you have considered your right to interfere?”

Mrs. Manton was dumbfoundered. The “parlours” was not so soft, after all. But he wasn’t going to beat her in that way.

“’Ave I a right!” she burst out. “You ask me if I ’ave a right? I’ve the right of a mother, who ’as nursed and brought up the poor girl you are treating so basely. Yes, basely! that’s the word, Mr. Cyril Chatteris, and make the best of it! Gentleman, indeed!”

Another gulp, and a drawing in of the breath for a fresh start.

But Cyril had had enough. Bitterly, oh! how bitterly he felt that he had been the “fool” he had denied himself to be. But he would be so no longer. He had married the daughter, not the mother, and he would assert his position. His face flushed angrily as he listened; and, acting on a sudden impulse, he sprang to his feet.

Before Mrs. Manton had regained her breath, he had walked to the door, and flung it open, to find himself face to face with Carry, who was standing outside the door, the tears still on her face.

“You are come in time, Carry,” he said, gently leading her into the room; “in time to hear what I am going to say to your mother.”

“Mrs. Manton,” he went on, “I beg you once for all to understand that I have married your daughter, but not you. You have no right to meddle in our affairs at all; and as I don’t choose to have a repetition of this, I shall leave the house at once, and take Carry with me. Carry, I shall be back very soon; have everything ready by the time I return.”

He had descended the stairs and was out in the street before Mrs. Manton’s cap ribbons had done trembling.

In less than an hour he was back, and while Mrs. Manton looked on helplessly, the boxes Carry had packed were placed on a cab, and Cyril stood in the passage waiting for his wife.

Hot-tempered, vulgar as she was, Mrs. Manton really loved her daughter, and she felt very much inclined to give in.

“Where is he going to take you to, Carry?” she asked, as Carry flung her arms round her neck, and sobbed on the breast of the mother who had so carefully tended her.

“I don’t know, he won’t tell me.”

“Then it’s a burning shame,” the cap-ribbons trembled more than ever now, “and I won’t stand it.”

So she went out to where Chatteris stood in the passage.

“Is this true, Mr. Chatteris; won’t you tell me where you’re going to take my Carry?”

“Certainly not!” replied Cyril, coolly.

“Then hunderstand, sir, that I won’t allow it, not if you was twenty Chatterises.”

“Very good,” said Cyril again, “Carry can remain if she chooses, I will not.”

“Oh, mother!” sobbed the poor girl, “Cyril is my husband. I must go with him.”

“Off course you must,” said the angry landlady, “and leave your mother, see her hinsulted, too, by that puppy. Hi’m ashamed of you, Carry; and has for ’im, I’ll see what ’is father will say to it. I suppose a letter will reach Mr. Chatteris at Matcham has well as hanywhere helse.”

Up in Cyril’s soul arose the evil savage spirit that worldly tact had kept down in his conversation with Dacre. He turned on Mrs. Manton so quickly and fiercely, and with such a look, that she shrunk back into her room.

“Write to my father!” he said—“write to him only one line, and see what comes of it! You are a woman of some experience, Mrs. Manton, and must have seen a great many similar marriages to mine. Do you think I’ve been a fool in this matter? Come, Carry!”

The next moment he had handed his wife into the cab, and, looking at the dark expression of the face she loved, Carry did not dare to say a word.

“Do you think I am a fool?” The same words he had said to Rupert Dacre, but by Mrs. Manton they were not so quietly taken. A vague, sickening fear of some harm to her daughter kept her seated, silent and thoughtful, before the fire, long after the cab had driven away.

In the course of the evening Mr. Rupert Dacre knocked at the door, and asked carelessly if Mr. Chatteris was in.

A stout female, with shaking cap-ribbons and a red face, informed him shortly that Mr. Chatteris had left, and having a natural antipathy to stout women, cap-ribbons, and red faces, Mr. Rupert Dacre walked away without asking a single question.

But before he had reached the end of the street he fell into such a fit of musing as he had not yielded to for some time. “There’s more in that ‘little thing’ mystery than I thought. Surely the fellow can’t have made a fool of himself after all?”

Long Odds - Contents    |     Chapter XV - Monetary

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