Long Odds

Chapter XVII

Shows the Cloven Foot

Marcus Clarke

“SHALL you be home to dinner this evening, Cyril?”

Mr. Cyril Chatteris, formerly of Dym-street, and now of Acacia-road, St. John’s Wood, had dined out four nights running, and Carry was getting a little angry about it. Surely he might be a little more with her, considering what a lonely life she led. But, as her mother had often told her, men had no consideration, and Cyril appeared to possess that manly qualification to a greater extent than his pretty wife fancied.

“Will you be home to dinner this evening, Cyril?” she repeated.

Repeated it to a man who was lounging carelessly back in an arm-chair, reading a periodical with an intensity that, to a wife not married a month, was provoking. He looked up to answer, however, in a manner quite as unsatisfactory as the scene it conveyed.

“Can’t say, really; but don’t wait for me!”

Poor Carry had got used to this answer now, and so made no reply, but went away into her little drawing-room, and began, with an uncomfortable sensation about her throat, to try what consolation might be got out of a pet canary.

But though a canary is pretty enough, and perhaps interesting enough in the abstract, there is not much that is consoling in the feeding of it to a woman who begins to doubt whether she has chosen wisely. The white fingers were duly pecked at as the sugar was administered; the canary did his best in the way of a song, but still the canary wasn’t her husband, and Carry felt very lonely indeed. Perhaps, if she were to play, Cyril might come in and talk to her as he used to do. So she sat down at the piano—her mother had been so proud of her playing, and so had Cyril professed to be in the days of their short courtship—and, with rather unsteady fingers, began a waltz, played it for a few minutes with no result, changed it to a gallop, then tried a waltz again, and at last commenced a song, in the middle of which, Cyril put his head in at the door, and, carelessly saying “good-bye,” went back into the passage, through the garden, and out into the road.

Carry shut the piano, watched her husband as he walked slowly up the road, tried to play with the canary again, and ended by throwing herself into an arm-chair, and crying bitterly.

Poor child! Only one month married, and crying bitterly. Naturally affectionate, her separation from her mother had intensified her feelings for her husband, and she loved him very dearly indeed. But love can be tried too far sometimes; and to be neglected one month after marriage may fairly be called a trial.

And neglected, and to some extent disillusioned, Carry had certainly been. Just as no man is a hero to his valet de chambre, so a good many men are by no means heroes to their wives. Cyril Chatteris was eminently one of these. The first illusion once gone, he was not a man likely to establish another. Gentlemanly by training, and refined by instinct, his utter selfishness still stood in the way of that perfect good breeding founded on a consideration for the feelings of others.

He did not beat Carry, nor was he ever harsh to her. But he was very often indifferent, occasionally almost rudely so, and he decidedly neglected her. No woman likes to be left alone from eleven in the morning of one day till four or five in the morning of the next; and with Carry this had become a common occurrence. For the first fortnight or so after their settlement in St. John’s Wood, Cyril had been all that the girl could desire. He had bought her nice dresses, charming jewellery, a “dear little cottage piano;” and their tiny house was as prettily furnished a dovecote as two birds would care to coo in. Carry would play and sing in the evening, or Cyril would read to her. In the day they would go for long walks or drives into the country, and all went merrily.

But this soon changed, and the most cruel part of it was that the poor girl, with the quick tact of her sex, saw the reason for it—her husband had married beneath him. He felt it, and she could not deny it. In all that was good, and pure, and kindly, the humbly-born woman was as superior to the cold, selfish man who had marred her life by marrying her, even more than he had marred his own—as light is to darkness. But, intellectually, and in those indescribable little belongings that breeding alone can teach, the inferiority was on the other side; and the poor loving heart felt and groaned under the burden that had grown out of a fancied paradise of love. When Cyril, in one of his confiding moods, would talk of that world of mind and intellect, to her an unknown land, the poor little listener, trying hard—oh, so hard!—to appreciate what she knew to be utterly beyond her, saw, too clearly, that her husband gradually grew less and less animated, and at last with a smile of half contemptuous pity, called her “a dear little goose,” and took up a book.

And so there came neglect on one side, pouting and a slight tendency to scold on the other; more neglect—more scolding—reconciliation, followed by more neglect; and then, not scolding, but a sorrowful sense of injured affection, deepening into a feeling that Cyril, with all his intellectual superiority, could neither understand nor appreciate. His wife still loved him very dearly, but his neglect had brought about a habit of reflection, and the wife was beginning to see that, after all, fairy Princes might turn into tyrants, and that her own position was not quite so enchanting as she had imagined. To see, too, that it was rather an anomalous position. In the first days of their marriage, Carry had imagined that Cyril would, when the honeymoon was over, bring some of his friends to see her. Not that she cared about seeing any but him; but the girl had her full share of womanly vanity, and it was only natural that she should like her husband’s friends to see how fortunate he had been in his choice. But the honeymoon passed over, and no one came near them. Of his family she had only spoken once to him; and before the dark look that came into his face as she did so, she had sunk into a silence on that subject not since broken. She had no female friends either. Cyril had almost savagely forbidden any correspondence with her mother, and he had expressly told her not to make any acquaintances in the neighbourhood.

At first she had thought this hard; but there was something about her near neighbours that soon made her shrink involuntarily from any attempt to know them.

There were other things, too, that puzzled her about Cyril. He often came home, not tipsy exactly, but under the influence of wine; and then he was neither agreeable nor good-tempered. Once or twice, two, he did not come home for two days, and then Carry passed her time in alternate attacks of trembling fear, jealousy, anger, and bitter tears. And still no friends came to see them; she dared not, for fear of offending the husband she still loved, write to her mother, and female adviser she had none. The pretty fairy bower that had looked so charming in the distance was, in short, a bower of her own fancy. The fairy Prince who had ridden off with her was too like the false knight who only loved so long as it pleased him, and then, selecting a fresh favourite, galloped carelessly away. Like many others, Carry Manton, or, as she was called in the neighbourhood, Mrs. Carter—that being the name in which Cyril had taken the house—had made a sad, sad mistake, and was finding it out only too soon.

Of Cyril Chatteris—Mr. Carter, of St. John’s Wood—it can only be said that he was, certainly as he deserved to be, very uneasy in his mind. He had reconciled his wife to the change of name and retirement, by strongly drawn representations of the fearful consequences of his father’s anger, and the frightened girl, unsupported by her mother, had readily yielded to his wishes. But for all that he lived in a covert dread of a discovery. Some of his friends might see Carry, and the affair might leak out. So he engaged bachelor lodgings in the Albany, and occasionally slept there, taking every care only to go out to St. John’s Wood in the most unpretending manner, and, whenever he could, after dusk.

He went out, however, with Carry, as little as he could, and soon became so exacting and disagreeable in this respect that the girl scarcely ever stirred abroad; and then she drooped, and the fresh check began to look slightly pale and wan, and Cyril became more nervous than ever. Was this fear of discovery never to end? Should he take her abroad, or what should he do? Day by day the worry, the strain on his mind, grew more and more heavy; and at last, finding that his balance at his banker’s would bear the expense, he determined to take Carry abroad.

This determination made, he came home one evening in a decidedly better humour, and told Carry—in words and tones so like those she had once listened to, that they made her cheek glow and her heart flutter—that he was going to take her on the Continent.

Poor Carry, worn out with loneliness and pining, was delighted at the chance of a change; and as, leaning on Cyril’s arm, she walked round and round the garden, the fairy Prince seemed to have come back to the bower he had so long deserted.

“How you shiver, darling!” said Cyril, as they stood by the garden gate. “Let me get you a shawl.”

He had not spoken or acted so considerately for days now; and as she stood by the gate waiting for him, Carry felt that all her old happiness was returning.

The sound of horses’ feet was heard on the road. She looked up mechanically. Two gentlemen rode slowly by; one she recognised as the gentleman who had once trod on her dress, and followed her. He fixed his eyes on her with the old meaning look; and, as before, she coloured and turned away.

It might have been thought that Mrs. Manton would have wept and bewailed herself at her daughter’s departure; on the contrary, she was somewhat elated after the first few days. Women, especially women in the nineteenth century, are apt to regard the present as all in all; and the worldly widow comforted herself with the reflection that her dear Carry—that delicate little bait with which she had angled so successfully—was safely married to a young man who, though “no fool,” was easily to be moulded to the will of the conquering wife.

She was not a poetical old lady, this Dym-street lodging-house keeper; so, though fond and proud of her daughter, she did not neglect her household duties, in order to weep with picturesque grief in the back parlour, but set her face resolutely to the task of finding out the history and prospects of her son-in-law. This was not so easy a matter. Cyril’s friends were not her friends, nor his people her people; she could not extract information in the course of a morning call, but, failing access to that modern estrappado, she had another method—an evening tea.

Mrs. Manton projected a tea party. She would ask Binns and Bland. She doubted if Bland would come, but Binns she could count on. That poor youth had been undergoing tortures which seemed to him terrible. Despite Bland’s consolations, which did not in the least console, he could not tear the image of his love from his plebeian heart. In vain he wrote, read, and wrapt up sugar. In vain did he think of Chatterton (who perished in his prime), of Shelley, of Byron. In vain did he attend working men’s meetings, and speak there with such rude eloquence as nature and the “Enfield Speaker” permitted him. In vain was he made secretary to a branch of a Working Man’s Association, (object, “the Bloated Aristocrat.”) In vain did he assume cynicism and write poetry. Carry’s ghost haunted him; her dark eyes dazzled his waking sight, her slight form flitted through his nightly visions, her white hands plucked back his soaring soul, and would not let it soar. So Binns grovelled. He confessed that he grovelled. Confessed it with much heart sickness and gnashing of teeth. The sun of his passion melted the wax of his Icarian wings, and he tumbled to prosaic earth. If you can imagine the feelings of a poet who cannot write poetry, you can realise Binns’ condition. He agonised to write, but his agonics were in vain; he tossed and tumbled on his narrow bed, and vowed that he would make the world recognise the name of Binns—alas! the world went on its worldly way, and Binns wrapped up his sugar in silence.

When he received Mrs. Manton’s invitation, you may be sure that he was delighted. He should hear about his Love again; he should be able to scowl and affect indifference, and to nourish his Passion. Binns revelled in capital letters, and never thought save in heroics. He would go to the party and be miserable to his heart’s content he inwardly vowed. Perhaps, by some wild chance, the Beloved might be there, and then—O, bliss!—he could look the other way all the evening. Self-torment is a luxury to lovers. I have known young men dress themselves with feverish delight to go to a ball, in order that they might persistently dance with other damsels than the Adored; indeed, one young friend of mine who, making three guineas a week and spending ten, goes through life under the happy delusion that he is earning his bread by literature, has walked five miles in the rain in order that he might pass through the room where his love was placed for sale, and pretend not to see her. Binns was an adept at self-torment, and promised himself much pleasure from the contemplation of his woe.

When he arrived, however, he was somewhat unpleasantly astonished at seeing a “swell” lounging on one of Mrs. Manton’s uncomfortable ottomans. He turned to Bland, who was preparing—good genial soul—to beam gratitude upon his hostess, and was not reassured by the puzzled expression which suddenly overspread that gentleman’s face.

“It’s Dacre! What can he want here?”

“I know him,” whispered Binns eagerly, as he pulled off his coat in the passage; “he’s a friend of His, Mr. Bland, and he came down to the shop one day to ask after him.”

Mr. Rupert Dacre was in great force evidently. He was faultlessly dressed in the quietest of purple and fine linen. His social stop was on, and he was discoursing eloquent music.

“He had just dropped in by the request of his friend Chatteris, to enquire about a portmanteau. No portmanteau here? Oh! ha, ha! Mistake of his poor friend—young married men, you know, do forget these things. Well, never mind,” (taking out watch). “He had plenty of time; was engaged to look in at the French Ambassador’s in the course of the evening, and—what?

“Stop to tea! My dear madam! Delighted—but urgent business; unhappy private secretaries to ministers, you know—Well, really now, if you persist, my dear madam.”

Mrs. Manton was radiant. The very man for her purpose She was thirsting for news of her son-in-law, and here was a messenger dropped immediately at her feet. Moreover, the vista of good society was opening before her. This bearded gentleman was evidently some one. His conversation showed it; and she trembled with ecstacy as she heard him accept her invitation to “tea with us.” I think, however, that the fact of the matter was, that the astute Rupert had started from home that evening with the express purpose of stopping to tea, and that the otherwise wily widow had fallen into his snare.

Binns scowled at him; but even Binns, the radical and poet, was not proof against the consummate ease and genial smiles of the “bloated aristocrat.” “Smiles and small talk are our stock-in-trade, and we have the cads on the hip there, my boy,” would Dacre say. “They may think as much as they like, but they can’t talk, you know.” As to Bland, Dacre overwhelmed him in a moment. “My dear Mr. Bland, we have met before in public but never in private—permit me to shake hands with you. I assure you that your name has been known to me longer than you imagine. Ah! Mrs. Manton, dabblers in literature like myself are forced to acknowledge—but I won’t flatter, my dear sir.”

Bland stammered something. He never liked the too genial friend of his chief, and detected the false ring in his complimentary metal, but what could he say?

“Mr. Dacre, Mr. Binns—Mr. Binns, Mr. Dacre,” exclaimed the widow, in that double-jointed fashion of introduction which prevails among ladies of her stamp and education.

“Mr. Binns! Dear me, how strange. I am meeting all the lions to-night. Pray, my dear madam, is this the Mr. Binns whose speech concerning ‘Manhood Suffrage’ created such sensation?”

Binns was astonished.

“Oh, we know everything, my dear sir,” says Dacre airily. “I had particulars of the speech the next morning. You are dangerous fellows, you young democrats—dangerous fellows. Wheales was speaking of you the other day.”

Binns flushed with joy. To be called a “dangerous fellow” by such an accomplished dandy as the man before him was pleasant to the senses, but to be told that the great Wheales, the inspired Wheales, the reformed and reforming Wheales, had spoken of him, was bliss almost too great to bear, and for an instant the name of Binns seemed to be inscribed on the blazing scroll of fame, concerning which Bland had discoursed so eloquently.

The shabby reporter had retired to a corner of the room, and, after rumpling his hair wildly with his knuckly hands, had subsided into a discussion upon crochet and Balfe’s music, with Miss Perkin, a red-nosed young lady, who was considered “very genteel” in private circles. Two more young ladies, one frigid and severely aristocratic, named Jittlebury; and the other, plump and rosy, with dove-like eyes and stubby fingers, whose papa taught music in the classic regions of the Edgeware-road, sat together, and admired Mr. Dacre, the chubby one tittering at intervals. The tea proceeded merrily. Bland began to thaw, and talked really well. Dacre flirted outrageously with all the females; and Binns, having had his life made a burden to him by reason of buttered toast, and the necessity for “handing” the same, had almost forgotten his wrongs in listening to his enemy the “swell.”

As Dacre had said, “small talk was his stock-in-trade.” He rattled away upon all imaginable subjects, and never once winced when Mrs. Manton sucked the butter from her fingers, or Miss Jittlebury choked in attempting to drink her tea in what she considered to be an aristocratic manner. His stories of the manners and customs of the aristocracy were delightful, and the exquisite manner in which he described Lord Chalkstone’s flirtation with Lady Emily Sanssou, at once convinced the party that he was what Miss Jittlebury termed hon famheel with the British aristocracy. By-and-by, a song was suggested, and Dacre gravely led the fair Jittlebury to the cracked piano, and bent his graceful figure over her chair, while that virgin warbled the songs of the secretary’s boyhood, under the happy delusion that she was amusing him. He bore it all with the most perfect fortitude, and it was not until Miss J., assisted by Binns, informed the company that she was “going far away, far away from Porjinnette,” that Dacre crossed the room and sat down on the rickety sofa, which supported the noble form of the widow Manton.

“And when did you hear last from your daughter, Mrs. Manton?” said he.

The widow was taken aback. She did not like to say that she had never heard from her daughter since that daughter had been spirited away from her protecting arms by the infuriate son-in-law; she could not openly tell him that the very purpose for which she had asked him to stay was to discover where that daughter was living. She did not like to appear at a loss for an answer, so she took the usual refuge of a woman—she lied.

“Last Wednesday,’ says she.

Dacre, ignorant of all things, was put off his guard by this sudden reply. “Oh, indeed! Ah! I suppose she comes to see you frequently. St. John’s Wood is within easy walking distance.”

Not a muscle of the wary widow’s face relaxed as she heard the intelligence she longed for.

“Yes,” she replied; “but Mr. Chatteris is so much occupied with his literary labours that he seldom goes hout, and he don’t like his wife to travel about alone, which is nateral, more especial as she is a young thing, which never knew what it is to want a mother’s protecting harm, though of course a husband’s is very similar, if not more so.”

“Exactly,” replied Rupert. “Mr. Chatteris is very hardworked.”

“He is, indeed; what with his papers and his money matters, he haint a moment to hisself, and that’s the reason why I see so little of him. Ah! well—none but a mother knows a mother’s feelin’s,” added she, with a heavy sigh.

Dacre said, “He supposed not,” and fell to thinking. “Chatteris’s literary labours.” Then he was writing again. Moreover, the “little thing” was “Mrs. Chatteris” evidently, or, at all events her mother thought she was. Strange sort of scrape Master Cyril had got into. He smiled sweetly as he thought what a great discovery he had made; and, on the song ceasing, thanked the Jittlebury with such empressement, that Hope began to flutter in that maiden’s gentle breast, and to tell his flattering tale with whispered hints of St. George’s and “Good society.”

But the widow had not done with her guest yet.

“Shall we ’ave a game er whist? I know you play Mr. Dacre. Joolier, my love” (to the chubby one), “git out the cards! Mr. Bland, come and play a rubber.”

Dacre for the moment was overcome. The widow was irresistible, and before he could frame a decent excuse for departure, he found himself seated at a very shaky table with the widow as a partner, and “Joolier” cutting with that lady for the privilege of dealing.

The Mantonian idea of whist was somewhat opposed to that entertained by Mrs. Sarah Battle. She laughed and talked, and recovered cards, and marked points which she had no right to mark, and yet played with a certain boldness and defiance that, when joined to the prudence of Dacre, proved beyond measure successful. Bland and the unhappy chubby one, who revoked three times, and trumped poor Bland’s trick twice, were mulet in the sum of four and sixpence each, to Mrs. Manton’s great delight; Dacre behaving “quite the gentleman,” and gallantly refusing “Joolier’s” money with a bow and a compliment that made the virginal ears of the fair Jittlebury tingle with jealousy.

During the progress of the game, however, Dacre elicited that Binns had been a devoted lover of Carry’s ere Chatteris appeared, and that he was still supposed to be suffering the pangs of despised love. He also found out that the marriage had taken place quietly, and that Cyril had been obliged to go down to his brother’s funeral on the same day.

“Accounts for the young cub being so melancholy,” thought he. “I wonder what he was about in the library with that Ffrench girl. My supposition was wrong—he couldn’t have proposed to her. Hum! Affairs look complicated. If that old humbug Chatteris was to discover that his son had married this girl, he would probably cut him off with the proverbial shilling. I wonder to whom he’d leave his money. The Ffrench girl, I suppose. Ah!—he ought to have saved money, too, old Chatteris. I might do worse, upon my soul. I must confess, however, that for my part, I much prefer Mrs. Chatteris. Bad taste, perhaps, but, by Jove, the day I saw her in the garden she looked divine. If I was sure that she wasn’t married, I’d—but no, my wild days are over. I must go in for position, and all that sort of thing. What a glorious old tartar the mother is! I have stumbled on strange society. That young donkey, Binns, for example, and that prosy-headed old blockhead, Bland. Perhaps I might make some use of Master Binns. He is just the sort of cad who knows all about the working of these miserable meetings. Mr. Binns!”

Binns bent forward.

“I am going to ask you rather a rude question, but I wish you would let me have your address. Sometimes we official fellows hear of things which—you understand—”

Binns did not understand the least in the world, but visions of official fame and political intrigue rose before him, as he blushed and handed the smiling secretary a limp card, whereon was printed the address of his employing grocer.

“Mr. Bland lives with me,” he said, as if that fact cast a halo of intellect round the spot.

“Oh, indeed! Ah! very pleasant. Literary chat, eh? Two congenial minds! Then, a letter sent to this address will always find you?”


“Upon my word, I am very much obliged to you, and now I must really think of saying good night. It is half-past nine. Really, Mrs. Manton, your tea has been so excellent, and I have passed such an agreeable evening, that I had quite forgotten the French Ambassador. I shall barely have time to get home to dress. Good night, Mrs. Manton, and thanks for your very pleasant evening.”

Before he could quit the room, a ring was heard at the doorbell. “Good gracious! who can that be?” exclaims the hostess.

Maria Jane, that long suffering domestic, had opened the door, and a faint scream was heard, as though that young woman had experienced that affection known among her kind as “a start.”

“Lor, mum,” cries she, regardless of ceremony in her surprised eagerness, “it’s Miss Carry!”

Miss Carry it was beyond a doubt. Miss Carry in elegant attire, Miss Carry exquisitely gloved, and delicately booted, but Miss Carry with agitated mien and closely-drawn veil.

The assembled party could not have been more astonished if a thunderbolt had fallen in the midst. Mrs. Manton clasped her daughter to her broad bosom, in wonder-stricken affection. Bland suffered from his constitutional sympathy with persons in distress, the fair Jittlebury made preparations for fainting on the shortest notice, Joolier screamed, and poor Binns felt his heart knock at his ribs as he sank speechlessly into the nearest chair. Dacre was the only one present who preserved his equanimity.

“A flutter in the dove-cote, evidently! By Jove, how lovely she looks!”

“What is it, my precious, then?” asks the Manton. “Hush! don’t give way, dear—see all the people.”

But Carry was evidently overcome with grief, for she could do nothing but sob violently.

“Take me away, mother,” she whispered.

Dacre came to the rescue.

“You are tired, Mrs. Chatteris, I see. Mrs. Manton, you had better let your daughter lie down for a little. Her nerves have been shaken by something or other. Don’t speak, my dear madam, I beg. Good night.”

As the door closed upon the mother and daughter, escorted by the sympathising Jittlebury, the genteel Perkin, and the agitated Joolier, he resumed, in his airiest tones,

“Come, Bland, we had better go. Some little family quarrel, I suppose. My young friend Chatteris is so hot tempered. Amantium irae, you know,—amoris integratio. What a lovely night for walking! You’re sure about that address, Mr. Binns? Good night, then,” and he was gone.

But not to the French Ambassador’s. He turned down the street towards the north-west part of town, and then suddenly stopped.

“If he had been at home,” said he, “he would have stopped her coming. Now, if Master Cyril is from home at nine in the evening he would not be home before the small hours. I’ll go to the Pegasus; he’s sure to be there.”

Bland and Binns wondered much on their homeward way.

“He’s been ill-treatin’ her, the scoundrel; I know he has!” cries the ferocious Binns. “D—n him, if I thought he had, I’d murder him!”

“My dear fellow!” expostulates the gentle Bland.

“Oh! it’s all right of course. But—well, never mind, I’m a miserable beggar I know, but I wouldn’t strike a woman. It’s the act of a mean, dastardly coward! And yet this man is honoured and respected,” continued the Orator, addressing the street lamps. “He has friends, and wealth, and home. Curses on the miserable social system that binds men as slaves to the wheels of the revolving car of Juggernaut!”

Bland laughed, but very gently.

“My dear boy, you talk nonsense, and assume what may be untrue. The car of Juggernaut doesn’t revolve, and you have no proof that Mr. Chatteris has been ill-treating his wife.”

Binns growled, but made no reply.

Long Odds - Contents    |     Chapter XVIII - In which Bob Thinks About Returning to Australia

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