Upon which, hearing the altercation, both infants set up a yell of fear and rage, and Alec, the cherub of four and a half, lay on the floor and kicked and screamed until he was black in the face.
Mr. Mackintosh is too small to manage two, so one of the footmen had to come and help him to carry them up to their nursery. Oh, I would not be in his place for the world!
Malcolm is becoming so funny. I suppose he is attracted by me. He makes kind of love in a priggish way whenever he gets the chance, which is not often, as Lady Katherine contrives to send one of the girls with us on all our walks; or if we are in the drawing-room, she comes and sits down beside us herself. I am glad, as it would be a great bore to listen to a quantity of it.
How silly of her, though! She can't know as much about men as even I do; of course, it only makes him all the more eager.
It is quite an object-lesson for me. I shall be impossibly difficult myself if I meet Mr. Carruthers again, as he has no mother to play these tricks for him.
Lord Robert's answer came on Saturday afternoon. It was all done through Lady Merrenden.
He will be delighted to come and shoot on Tuesday, to-morrow. Oh, I am so glad, but I do wonder if I shall be able to make him understand not to say anything about having been at Branches while I was there. Such a simple thing, but Lady Katherine is so odd and particular.
The party is to be a large one—nine guns. I hope some will be amusing, though I rather fear.
It is quite late, nearly twelve o'clock, but I feel so wide awake I must write.
I shall begin from the beginning, when every one arrived.
They came by two trains early in the afternoon, and just at tea-time, and Lord Robert was among the last lot.
They are mostly the same sort as Lady Katherine, looking as good as gold; but one woman, Lady Verningham, Lady Katherine's niece, is different, and I liked her at once.
She has lovely clothes, and an exquisite figure, and her hat on the right way. She has charming manners, too, but one can see she is on a duty visit.
Even all this company did not altogether stop Mary Mackintosh laying down the law upon domestic—infant domestic—affairs. We all sat in the big drawing-room, and I caught Lady Verningham's eye, and we laughed together. The first eye with a meaning in it I have seen since I left Branches.
Everybody talked so agreeably, with pauses, not enjoying themselves at all, when Jean and Kirstie began about their work, and explained it, and tried to get orders, and Jessie and Maggie too, and specimens of it all had to be shown, and prices fixed. I should hate to have to beg, even for a charity.
I felt quite uncomfortable for them, but they did not mind a bit, and their victims were noble over it.
Our parson at Branches always got so red and nervous when he had to ask for anything, one could see he was quite a gentleman; but women are different, I suppose.
I longed for tea.
While they are all very kind here, there is that asphyxiating atmosphere of stiffness and decorum which affects every one who comes to Tryland. A sort of "the gold must be tried by fire and the heart must be wrung by pain" kind of suggestion about everything.
They are extraordinarily cheerful, because it is a Christian virtue, cheerfulness; not because they are brimming over with joy, or that lovely feeling of being alive and not minding much what happens, you feel so splendid, like I get on fine days.
Everything they do has a reason, or a moral, in it. This party is because pheasants have to be killed in November, and certain people have to be entertained, and their charities can be assisted through them. Oh, if I had a big house, and were rich, I would have lovely parties, with all sorts of nice people, because I wanted to give them a good time and laugh myself. Lady Verningham was talking to me just before tea, when the second train-load arrived.
I tried to be quite indifferent, but I did feel dreadfully excited when Lord Robert walked in. Oh, he looked such a beautiful creature, so smart, and straight, and lithe!
Lady Katherine was frightfully stiff with him; it would have discouraged most people, but that is the lovely part about Lord Robert, he is always absolutely sans gene!
He saw me at once, of course, and came over as straight as a die the moment he could.
"How do, Robert?" said Lady Verningham, giving him her fingers in such an attractive way. "Why are you here, and why is our Campie not? Thereby hangs some tale, I feel sure."
"Why, yes," said Lord Robert, and he held her hand. Then he looked at me with his eyebrow up. "But won't you introduce me to Miss Travers? To my great surprise she seems to have forgotten me."
I laughed, and Lady Verningham introduced us, and he sat down beside us, and every one began tea.
Lady Verningham had such a look in her eye!
"Robert, tell me about it," she said.
"I hear they have five thousand pheasants to slay," Lord Robert said, looking at her with his innocent smile.
"Robert, you are lying," she said, and she laughed. She is so pretty when she laughs; not very young, over thirty I should think, but such a charm—as different as different can be from the whole Montgomerie family.
I hardly spoke; they continued to tease one another, and Lord Robert ate most of a plate of bread-and-butter that was near.
"I am damed hungry, Lady Ver!" he said. She smiled at him; she evidently likes him very much.
"Robert! You must not use such language here!" she said.
"Oh, doesn't he say them often?—those dams!" I burst out, not thinking for a moment; then I stopped, remembering. She did seem surprised.
"So you have heard them before. I thought you had only just met casually," she said, with such a comic look of understanding, but not absolutely pleased. I stupidly got crimson. It did annoy me, because it shows so dreadfully on my skin. She leaned back in her chair and laughed.
"It is delightful to shoot five thousand pheasants, Robert," she said.
"Now, isn't it?" replied Lord Robert. He had finished the bread-and-butter.
Then he told her she was a dear, and he was glad something had suggested to Mr. Campion that he would have other views of living for this week.
"You are a joy, Robert," she said. "But you will have to behave here. None of the tricks you played at Fotherington in October, my child. Aunt Katherine would put you in a corner. Miss Travers has been here a week, and can tell you I am truthful about it."
"Indeed, yes," I said.
"But I must know how you got here!" she commanded.
Just then, fortunately, Malcolm, who had been hovering near, came up and joined us, and would talk too; but if he had been a table or a chair he could not have mattered less to Lord Robert. He is quite wonderful. He is not the least rude, only perfectly simple and direct, always getting just what he wants, with rather an appealing expression in his blue eyes. In a minute or two he and I were talking together, and Malcolm and Lady Verningham a few yards off. I felt so happy. He makes one like that, I don't know for what reason.
"Why did you look so stonily indifferent when I came up?" he asked. "I was afraid you were annoyed with me for coming."
Then I told him about Lady Katherine, and my stupidly not having mentioned meeting him at Branches.
"Oh, then I stayed with Christopher after you left, I see," he said. "Had I met you in London?"
"We won't tell any stories about it. They can think what they please."
"Very well," he laughed. "I can see I shall have to manoeuvre a good deal to talk quietly to you here, but you will stand with me, won't you, out shooting to-morrow?"
I told him I did not suppose we should be allowed to go out, except perhaps for lunch, but he said he refused to believe in such cruelty.
Then he asked me a lot of things about how I had been getting on, and what I intended to do next. He has the most charming way of making one feel that one knows him very well, he looks at one every now and then straight in the eyes, with astonishing frankness. I have never seen any person so quite without airs. I don't suppose he is ever thinking a bit the effect he is producing. Nothing has two meanings with him, like with Mr. Carruthers. If he had said I was to stay and marry him, I am sure he would have meant it, and I really believe I should have stayed.
"Do you remember our morning packing?" he said, presently, in such a caressing voice. "I was so happy; weren't you?"
I said I was.
"And Christopher was mad with us. He was like a bear with a sore head after you left, and insisted upon going up to town on Monday, just for the day. He came over here on Tuesday, didn't he?"
"No, he did not," I was obliged to say, and I felt cross about it still, I don't know why.
"He is a queer creature," said Lord Robert, "and I am glad you have not seen him. I don't want him in the way. I am a selfish brute, you know."
I said Mrs. Carruthers had always brought me up to know men were that, so such a thing would not prejudice me against him.
He laughed. "You must help me to come and sit and talk again after dinner," he said. "I can see the red-haired son means you for himself, but of course I shall not allow that."
I became uppish.
"Malcolm and I are great friends," I said, demurely. "He walks me round the golf-course in the park, and gives me advice."
"Confounded impertinence!" said Lord Robert.
"He thinks I ought not to go to Claridge's alone when I leave here, in case some one made love to me. He feels if I looked more like his sisters it would be safer. I have promised that Veronique shall stay at the other side of the door if I have visitors."
"Oh, he is afraid of that, is he? Well, I think it is very probable his fears will be realized, as I shall be in London," said Lord Robert.
"But how do you know," I began, with a questioning, serious air—"how do you know I should listen? You can't go on to deaf people, can you?"
"Are you deaf?" he asked. "I don't think so; anyway, I would try to cure your deafness." He bent close over to me, pretending to pick up a book.
Oh, I was having such a nice time!
All of a sudden I felt I was really living, the blood was jumping in my veins, and a number of provoking, agreeable things came to the tip of my tongue to say, and I said them. We were so happy.
Lord Robert is such a beautiful shape, that pleased me too; the perfect lines of things always give me a nice emotion. The other men look thick and clumsy beside him, and he does have such lovely clothes and ties.
We talked on and on. He began to show me he was deeply interested in me. His eyes, so blue and expressive, said even more than his words. I like to see him looking down; his eyelashes are absurdly long and curly, not jet black like mine and Mr. Carruthers's, but dark brown and soft and shaded, and, oh! I don't know how to say quite why they are so attractive. When one sees them half resting on his cheek it makes one feel it would be nice to put out the tip of one's finger and touch them. I never spent such a delightful afternoon. Only, alas! it was all too short.
"We will arrange to sit together after dinner," he whispered, as even before the dressing-gong had rung, Lady Katherine came and fussed about, and collected every one, and more or less drove them off to dress, saying, on the way up-stairs, to me, that I need not come down if I had rather not.
I thanked her again, but remained firm in my intention of accustoming myself to company.
Stay in my room, indeed, with Lord Robert at dinner—never!
However, when I did come down he was surrounded by Montgomeries, and pranced into the dining-room with Lady Verningham.
I had such a bore! A young Mackintosh, cousin of Mary's husband, and on the other side the parson. The one talked about botany in a hoarse whisper, with a Scotch accent, and the other gobbled his food, and made kind of pious jokes in between the mouthfuls.
I said, when I had borne it bravely up to the ices, I hated knowing what flowers were composed of, I only liked to pick them. The youth stared, and did not speak much more. For the parson, "Yes" now and then did, and like that we got through dinner.
Malcolm was opposite me, and he gaped most of the time. Even he might have been better than the botanist, but I suppose Lady Katherine felt these two would be a kind of half mourning for me. No one could have felt gay with them.
After dinner Lady Verningham took me over to a sofa with her, in a corner. The sofas here don't have pillows, as at Branches, but fortunately this one is a little apart, though not comfortable, and we could talk.
"You poor child!" she said; "you had a dull time. I was watching you. What did that Mactavish creature find to say to you?"
I told her, and that his name was Mackintosh, not Mactavish.
"Yes, I know," she said. "But I call the whole clan Mactavish; it is near enough, and it does worry Mary so, she corrects me every time. Now don't you want to get married, and be just like Mary?" There was a twinkle in her eye.
I said I had not felt wild about it yet. I wanted to go and see life first.
But she told me one couldn't see life unless one were married.
"Not even if one is an adventuress, like me?" I asked.
"An adventuress," I said. "People do seem so astonished when I say that. I have got to be one, you know, because Mrs. Carruthers never left me the money after all, and in the book I read about it, it said you were that if you had nice clothes, and—and—red hair—and things—and no home."
She rippled all over with laughter.
"You duck!" she said. "Now you and I will be friends. Only you must not play with Robert Vavasour. He belongs to me. He is one of my special and particular own pets. Is it a bargain?"
I do wish now I had the pluck then to say straight out that I rather liked Lord Robert, and would not make any bargain, but one is foolish sometimes when taken suddenly. It is then when I suppose it shows if one's head is screwed on, and mine wasn't to-night. But she looked so charming, and I felt a little proud, and perhaps ashamed to show that I am very much interested in Lord Robert, especially if he belongs to her, whatever that means; and so I said it was a bargain, and of course I had never thought of playing with him; but when I came to reflect afterwards, that is a promise, I suppose, and I sha'n't be able to look at him any more under my eyelashes. And I don't know why I feel very wide awake and tired, and rather silly, and as if I wanted to cry to-night.
However, she was awfully kind to me, and lovely, and has asked me to go and stay with her, and lots of nice things, so it is all for the best, no doubt. But when Lord Robert came in, and came over to us, it did feel hard having to get up at once and go and pretend I wanted to talk to Malcolm.
I did not dare to look up often, but sometimes, and I found Lord Robert's eyes were fixed on me with an air of reproach and entreaty, and the last time there was wrath as well.
Lady Verningham kept him with her until every one started to go to bed.
There had been music and bridge, and other boring diversions happening, but I sat still. And I don't know what Malcolm had been talking about; I had not been listening, though I kept murmuring "Yes" and "No."
He got more and more empresse, until suddenly I realized he was saying, as we rose:
"You have promised! Now remember, and I shall ask you to keep it—to-morrow."
And there was such a loving, mawkish, wobbly look in his eyes, it made me feel quite sick. The horrible part is I don't know what I have promised any more than the man in the moon. It may be something perfectly dreadful, for all I know. Well, if it is a fearful thing, like kissing him, I shall have to break my word, which I never do for any consideration whatever.
Oh, dear, oh, dear! It is not always so easy to laugh at life as I once thought. I almost wish I were settled down, and had not to be an adventuress. Some situations are so difficult. I think now I shall go to bed.
I wonder if Lord Robert—— No, what is the good of wondering; he is no longer my affair.
I shall blow out the light.
300 PARK STREET,
Saturday night, November 19th.
I do not much care to look back to the rest of my stay at Tryland. It is an unpleasant memory.
That next day after I last wrote, it poured with rain, and every one came down cross to breakfast. The whole party appeared, except Lady Verningham, and breakfast was just as stiff and boring as dinner. I happened to be seated when Lord Robert came in, and Malcolm was in the place beside me. Lord Robert hardly spoke, and looked at me once or twice with his eyebrows right up.
I did long to say it was because I had promised Lady Ver I would not play with him that I was not talking to him now like the afternoon before. I wonder if he ever guessed it. Oh, I wished then, and I have wished a hundred times since, that I had never promised at all. It seemed as if it would be wisest to avoid him, as how could I explain the change in myself? I hated the food, and Malcolm had such an air of proprietorship it annoyed me as much as I could see it annoyed Lady Katherine. I sniffed at him, and was as disagreeable as could be.
The breakfasts there don't shine, and porridge is pressed upon people by Mr. Montgomerie. "Capital stuff to begin the day—burrrr," he says.
Lord Robert could not find anything he wanted, it seemed. Every one was peevish. Lady Katherine has a way of marshalling people on every occasion; she reminds me of a hen with chickens, putting her wings down and clucking and chasing till they are all in a corner. And she is rather that shape, too, very much rounded in front. The female brood soon found themselves in the morning-room, with the door shut, and no doubt the male things fared the same with their host—anyway, we saw no more of them till we caught sight of them passing the windows in scutums and mackintoshes, a depressed company of sportsmen.
The only fortunate part was that Malcolm had found no opportunity to remind me of my promise, whatever it was, and I felt safer.
Oh, that terrible morning! Much worse than when we were alone; nearly all of them, about seven women beyond the family, began fancy-work.
One, a Lady Letitia Smith, was doing a crewel silk blotting-book that made me quite bilious to look at, and she was very short-sighted, and had such an irritating habit of asking every one to match her threads for her. They knitted ties and stockings, and crocheted waistcoats and comforters and hoods for the North Sea fishermen, and one even tatted. Just like housemaids do in their spare hours to trim Heaven knows what garment of unbleached calico.
I asked her what it was for, and she said for the children's pinafores in her "guild" work. If one doesn't call that waste of time, I wonder what is.
Mrs. Carruthers said it was much more useful to learn to sit still and not fidget than to fill the world with rubbish like this.
Mary Mackintosh dominated the conversation. She and Lady Letitia Smith, who have both small babies, revelled in nursery details, and then whispered bits for us, the young girls not to hear. We caught scraps though, and it sounded grewsome, whatever it was about. Oh, I do wonder when I get married if I shall grow like them!
I hope not.
It is no wonder married men are obliged to say gallant things to other people, if, when they get home, their wives are like that.
I tried to be agreeable to a lady who was next me. She was a Christian Scientist, and wore glasses. She endeavored to convert me, but I was abnormally thick-headed that day, and had to have things explained over and over, so she gave it up at last.
Finally, when I felt I should do something desperate, a footman came to say Lady Verningham wished to see me in her room, and I bounded up, but as I got to the door I saw them beginning to shake their heads over her.
"Sad that dear Ianthe has such irregular habits of breakfasting in her room; so bad for her," etc., etc. But, thank Heaven, I was soon outside in the hall, where her maid was waiting for me.
One would hardly have recognized that it was a Montgomerie apartment, the big room overlooking the porch, where she was located, so changed did its aspect seem. She had numbers of photographs about, and the loveliest gold toilet things, and lots of frilled garments, and flowers, and scent-bottles; and her own pillows propping her up, all blue silk, and lovely muslin embroideries; and she did look such a sweet, cosey thing among it all, her dark hair in fluffs round her face, and an angelic lace cap over it. She was smoking a cigarette, and writing numbers of letters with a gold stylograph pen. The blue silk quilt was strewn with correspondence, and newspapers, and telegraph forms. And her garment was low-necked, of course, and thin like mine. I wondered what Alexander would have thought if he could have seen her in contrast to Mary. I know which I would choose if I were a man.
"Oh, there you are!" she exclaimed, looking up, and puffing smoke clouds. "Sit on the bye-bye, snake-girl. I felt I must rescue you from the hoard of holies below, and I wanted to look at you in the daylight. Yes, you have extraordinary hair, and real eyelashes and complexion, too. You are a witch thing, I can see, and we shall all have to beware of you."
I smiled. She did not say it rudely, or I should have been uppish at once. She has a wonderful charm.
"You don't speak much, either," she continued. "I feel you are dangerous. That is why I am being so civil to you; I think it wisest. I can't stand girls as a rule." And she went into one of her ripples of laughter. "Now say you will not hurt me."
"I should not hurt any one," I said. "Unless they hurt me first, and I like you, you are so pretty."
"That is all right," she said. "Then we are comrades. I was frightened about Robert last evening, because I am so attached to him; but you were a darling after dinner, and it will be all right now. I told him you would probably marry Malcolm Montgomerie, and he was not to interfere."
"I shall do nothing of the kind!" I exclaimed, moving off the bed. "I would as soon die as spend the rest of my life here at Tryland."
"He will be fabulously rich one day, you know, and you could get round pere Montgomerie in a trice, and revolutionize the whole place. You had better think of it."
"I won't," I said, and I felt my eyes sparkle. She put up her hands as if to ward off an evil spirit, and she laughed again. "Well, you sha'n't then. Only don't flash those emeralds at me; they give me quivers all over."
"Would you like to marry Malcolm?" I asked and I sat down again. "Fancy being owned by that! Fancy seeing it every day! Fancy living with a person who never sees a joke from week's end to week's end! Oh!"
"As for that—" and she puffed smoke. "Husbands are a race apart—there are men, women, and husbands; and if they pay bills, and shoot big game in Africa, it is all one ought to ask of them; to be able to see jokes is superfluous. Mine is most inconvenient, because he generally adores me, and at best only leaves me for a three weeks' cure at Homburg, and now and then a week at Paris; but Malcolm could be sent to the Rocky Mountains, and places like that, continuously; he is quite a sportsman."
"That is not my idea of a husband," I said.
"Well, what is your idea, snake-girl?"
"Why do you call me 'snake-girl'?" I asked. "I hate snakes."
She took her cigarette out of her mouth, and looked at me for some seconds.
"Because you are so sinuous; there is not a stiff line about your movements, you are utterly wicked-looking and attractive, too, and un-English, and what in the world Aunt Katherine asked you here for with those hideous girls I can't imagine. I would not have, if my three angels were grown up, and like them—" Then she showed me the photographs of her three angels—they are pets.
But my looks seemed to bother her, for she went back to them.
"Where do you get them from? Was your mother some other nation?"
I told her how poor mamma had been rather an accident, and was nobody much. "One could not tell, you see; she might have had any quaint creature beyond the grand-parents—perhaps I am mixed with Red Indian or nigger."
She looked at me searchingly.
"No, you are not; you are Venetian. That is it—some wicked, beautiful friend of a Doge, come to life again."
"I know I am wicked," I said. "I am always told it; but I have not done anything yet, or had any fun out of it, and I do want to."
She laughed again.
"Well, you must come to London with me when I leave here on Saturday, and we will see what we can do."
This sounded so nice, and yet I had a feeling that I wanted to refuse; if there had been a tone of patronage in her voice, I would have in a minute. We sat and talked a long time, and she did tell me some interesting things. The world, she assured me, was a delightful place if one could escape bores, and had a good cook and a few friends. After a while I left her, as she suddenly thought she would come down to luncheon.
"I don't think it would be safe, at the present stage, to leave you alone with Robert," she said.
I was angry.
"I have promised not to play with him; is that not enough?" I exclaimed.
"Do you know, I believe it is, snake-girl," she said, and there was something wistful in her eyes; "but you are twenty, and I am past thirty, and—he is a man. So one can't be too careful." Then she laughed, and I left her putting a toe into a blue satin slipper and ringing for her maid.
I don't think age can matter much; she is far more attractive than any girl, and she need not pretend she is afraid of me. But the thing that struck me then, and has always struck me since, is that to have to hold a man by one's own manoeuvres could not be agreeable to one's self-respect. I would never do that under any circumstances; if he would not stay because it was the thing he wanted to do most in the world, he might go. I should say, "Je m'en fiche!"
At luncheon, for which the guns came in—no nice picnic in a lodge as at Branches—I purposely sat between two old gentlemen, and did my best to be respectful and intelligent. One was quite a nice old thing, and at the end began paying me compliments. He laughed and laughed at everything I said. Opposite me were Malcolm and Lord Robert, with Lady Ver between them. They both looked sulky. It was quite a while before she could get them gay and pleasant. I did not enjoy myself.
After it was over, Lord Robert deliberately walked up to me.
"Why are you so capricious?" he asked. "I won't be treated like this. You know very well I have only come here to see you. We are such friends—or were. Why?"
Oh, I did want to say I was friends still, and would love to talk to him. He seemed so adorably good-looking, and such a shape! And his blue eyes had the nicest flash of anger in them.
I could have kept my promise to the letter, and yet broken it in the spirit, easily enough, by letting him understand by inference; but of course one could not be so mean as that when one was going to eat her salt, so I looked out of the window and answered coldly that I was quite friendly and did not understand him, and I immediately turned to my old gentleman and walked with him into the library. In fact, I was as cool as I could be without being actually rude, but all the time there was a flat, heavy feeling round my heart. He looked so cross and reproachful, and I did not like him to think me capricious.
We did not see them again until tea—the sportsmen, I mean. But tea at Tryland is not a friendly time; it is just as stiff as other meals. Lady Ver never let Lord Robert leave her side, and immediately after tea everybody who stayed in the drawing-room played bridge, where they were planted until the dressing-bell rang.
One would have thought Lady Katherine would have disapproved of cards, but I suppose every one must have one contradiction about them, for she loves bridge, and played for the lowest stakes with the air of a "needy adventurer" as the books say.
I can't write the whole details of the rest of the visit. I was miserable, and that is the truth. Fate seemed to be against Lord Robert speaking to me, even when he tried, and I felt I must be extra cool and nasty because I—oh, well, I may as well say it—he attracts me very much. I never once looked at him from under my eyelashes, and after the next day he did not even try to have an explanation.
He glanced with wrath sometimes, especially when Malcolm hung over me, and Lady Ver said his temper was dreadful.
She was so sweet to me, it almost seemed as if she wanted to make up to me for not letting me play with Lord Robert.
(Of course, I would not allow her to see I minded that.)
And finally Friday came, and the last night.
I sat in my room from tea until dinner. I could not stand Malcolm any longer. I had fenced with him rather well up to then, but that promise of mine hung over me. I nipped him every time he attempted to explain what it was, and to this moment I don't know, but it did not prevent him from saying tiresome, loving things, mixed with priggish advice. I don't know what would have happened, only when he got really horribly affectionate, just after tea, I was so exasperated I launched this bomb.
"I don't believe a word you are saying—your real interest is Angela Grey."
He nearly had a fit, and shut up at once. So, of course, it is not a horse. I felt sure of it. Probably one of those people Mrs. Carruthers said all young men knew—their adolescent measles and chicken-pox, she called them.
All the old men talked a great deal to me, and even the other two young ones; but these last days I did not seem to have any of my usual spirits. Just as we were going to bed on Friday night Lord Robert came up to Lady Ver; she had her hand through my arm.
"I can come to the play with you on Saturday night, after all," he said. "I have wired to Campion to make a fourth, and you will get some other woman, won't you?"
"I will try," said Lady Ver, and she looked right into his eyes; then she turned to me. "I shall feel so cruel leaving you alone, Evangeline" (at once, almost, she called me Evangeline; I should never do that with strangers), "but I suppose you ought not to be seen at a play just yet."
"I like being alone," I said. "I shall go to sleep early."
Then they settled to dine all together at her house, and go on; so, knowing I should see him again, I did not even say good-bye to Lord Robert, and he left by the early train.
A number of the guests came up to London with us.
My leave-taking with Lady Katherine had been coldly cordial. I thanked her deeply for her kindness in asking me there. She did not renew the invitation; I expect she felt a person like me, who would have to look after themselves, was not a suitable companion to her altar-cloth and poker workers.
Up to now, she told Lady Ver, of course I had been most carefully brought up and taken care of by Mrs. Carruthers, although she had not approved of her views. And having done her best for me at this juncture, saving me from staying alone with Mr. Carruthers, she felt it was all she was called upon to do. She thought my position would become too unconventional for their circle in future! Lady Ver told me all this with great glee. She was sure it would amuse me, it so amused her, but it made me a teeny bit remember the story of the boys and the frogs!
Lady Ver now and then puts out a claw which scratches, while she ripples with laughter. Perhaps she does not mean it.
This house is nice, and full of pretty things, as far as I have seen. We arrived just in time to fly into our clothes for dinner. I am in a wee room four stories up, by the three angels. I was down first, and Lord Robert and Mr. Campion were in the drawing-room. Sir Charles Verningham is in Paris, by-the-way, so I have not seen him yet.
Lord Robert was stroking the hair of the eldest angel, who had not gone to bed. The loveliest thing she is, and so polite, and different to Mary Mackintosh's infants.
He introduced Mr. Campion stiffly, and returned to Mildred—the angel.
Suddenly mischief came into me, the reaction from the last dull days; so I looked straight at Mr. Campion from under my eyelashes, and it had the effect it always has on people—he became interested at once. I don't know why this does something funny to them. I remember I first noticed it in the school-room at Branches. I was doing a horrible exercise upon the participe passe, and feeling very egaree, when one of the old ambassadors came in to see mademoiselle. I looked up quickly, with my head a little down, and he said to mademoiselle, in a low voice, in German, that I had the strangest eyes he had ever seen, and that uplook under the eyelashes was the affair of the devil!
Now I knew even then the affair of the devil is something attractive, so I have never forgotten it, although I was only about fifteen at the time. I always determined I would try it when I grew up and wanted to create emotions. Except Mr. Carruthers and Lord Robert, I have never had much chance, though.
Mr. Campion sat down beside me on a sofa, and began to say at once that I ought to be going to the play with them. I spoke in my velvet voice, and said I was in too deep mourning, and he apologized so nicely, rather confused.
He is quite a decent-looking person, smart and well groomed, like Lord Robert, but not that lovely shape. We talked on for about ten minutes. I said very little, but he never took his eyes off my face. All the time I was conscious that Lord Robert was fidgeting and playing with a china cow that was on a table near, and just before the butler announced Mrs. Fairfax he dropped it on the floor and broke its tail off.
Mrs. Fairfax is not pretty; she has reddish-gold hair, with brown roots, and a very dark skin, but it is nicely done—the hair, I mean, and perhaps the skin too, as sideways you can see the pink sticking up on it. It must be rather a nuisance to have to do all that, but it is certainly better than looking like Mary Mackintosh. She doesn't balance nicely—bits of her are too long or too short. I do like to see everything in the right place—like Lord Robert's figure. Lady Ver came in just then, and we all went down to dinner. Mrs. Fairfax gushed at her a good deal. Lady Ver does not like her much—she told me in the train—but she was obliged to wire to her to come, as she could not get any one else Mr. Campion liked on so short a notice.
"The kind of woman every one knows, and who has no sort of pride," she said.
Well, even when I am really an adventuress I sha'n't be like that.
Dinner was very gay.
Lady Ver, away from her decorous relations, is most amusing. She says anything that comes into her head. Mrs. Fairfax got cross because Mr. Campion would speak to me; but as I did not particularly take to her, I did not mind, and just amused myself. As the party was so small, Lord Robert and I were obliged to talk a little, and once or twice I forgot and let myself be natural and smile at him. His eyebrows went up in that questioning, pathetic way he has, and he looked so attractive—that made me remember again, and instantly turn away. When we were coming into the hall, while Lady Ver and Mrs. Fairfax were up putting on their cloaks, Lord Robert came up close to me and whispered:
"I can't understand you. There is some reason for your treating me like this, and I will find it out. Why are you so cruel, little, wicked tiger cat?" and he pinched one of my fingers until I could have cried out.
That made me so angry.
"How dare you touch me!" I said. "It is because you know I have no one to take care of me that you presume like this."
I felt my eyes blaze at him, but there was a lump in my throat. I would not have been hurt if it had been any one else, only angry; but he had been so respectful and gentle with me at Branches, and I had liked him so much. It seemed more cruel for him to be impertinent now.
His face fell; indeed, all the fierceness went out of it, and he looked intensely miserable.
"Oh, don't say that!" he said, in a choked voice. "I—oh, that is the one thing you know is not true."
Mr. Campion, with his fur coat fastened, came up at that moment, saying gallant things, and insinuating that we must meet again, but I said good-night quietly, and came up the stairs without a word more to Lord Robert.
"Good-night, Evangeline, pet," Lady Ver said, when I met her on the drawing-room landing, coming down. "I do feel a wretch, leaving you, but to-morrow I will really try and amuse you. You look very pale, child; the journey has tried you, probably."
"Yes, I am tired," I tried to say in a natural voice, but the end word shook a little, and Lord Robert was just behind, having run up the stairs after me, so I fear he must have heard.
"Miss Travers—please—" he implored, but I walked on up the next flight, and Lady Ver put her hand on his arm and drew him down with her, and as I got up to the fourth floor I heard the front door shut.
And now they are gone and I am alone. My tiny room is comfortable, and the fire is burning brightly. I have a big arm-chair and books, and this, my journal, and all is cosey—only I feel so miserable.
I won't cry and be a silly coward.
Why, of course it is amusing to be free. And I am not grieving over Mrs. Carruthers's death—only perhaps I am lonely, and I wish I were at the theatre. No, I don't—I—Oh, the thing I do wish is that—that—no, I won't write it even.
300 PARK STREET,
Wednesday, November 23d.
Oh, how silly to want the moon! But that is evidently what is the matter with me. Here I am in a comfortable house with a kind hostess, and no immediate want of money, and yet I am restless, and sometimes unhappy.
For the four days since I arrived Lady Ver has been so kind to me, taken the greatest pains to try and amuse me and cheer me up. We have driven about in her electric brougham and shopped, and agreeable people have been to lunch each day, and I have had what I suppose is a succes. At least she says so.
I am beginning to understand things better, and it seems one must have no real feelings, just as Mrs. Carruthers always told me, if one wants to enjoy life.
On two evenings Lady Ver has been out, with numbers of regrets at leaving me behind, and I have gathered that she has seen Lord Robert, but he has not been here, I am glad to say.
I am real friends with the angels, who are delightful people, and very well brought up. Lady Ver evidently knows much better about it than Mary Mackintosh, although she does not talk in that way.
I can't think what I am going to do next. I suppose soon this kind of drifting will seem quite natural, but at present the position galls me for some reason. I hate to think people are being kind out of charity. How very foolish of me, though!
Lady Merrenden is coming to lunch to-morrow. I am interested to see her, because Lord Robert said she was such a dear. I wonder what has become of him. He has not been here—I wonder—No, I am too silly.
Lady Ver does not get up to breakfast, and I go into her room and have mine on another little tray, and we talk, and she reads me bits out of her letters.
She seems to have a number of people in love with her—that must be nice.
"It keeps Charlie always devoted," she said, "because he realizes he owns what the other men want."
She says, too, that all male creatures are fighters by nature; they don't value things they obtain easily, and which are no trouble to keep. You must always make them realize you will be off like a snipe if they relax their efforts to please you for one moment.
Of course there are heaps of humdrum ways of living, where the husband is quite fond, but it does not make his heart beat, and Lady Ver says she couldn't stay on with a man whose heart she couldn't make beat when she wanted to.
I am curious to see Sir Charles.
They play bridge a good deal in the afternoon, and it amuses me a little to talk nicely to the man who is out for the moment, and make him not want to go back to the game.
I am learning a number of things.
Mr. Carruthers came to call this afternoon. He was the last person I expected to see when I went into the drawing-room after luncheon, to wait for Lady Ver. I had my out-door things on, and a big black hat, which is rather becoming, I am glad to say.
"You here!" he exclaimed, as we shook hands.
"Yes, why not me?" I said.
He looked very self-contained and reserved, I thought, as if he had not the least intention of letting himself go to display any interest. It instantly aroused in me an intention to change all that.
"Lady Verningham kindly asked me to spend a few days with her when we left Tryland," I said, demurely.
"Oh, you are staying here! Well, I was over at Tryland the day before yesterday—an elaborate invitation from Lady Katherine to 'dine and sleep quietly,' which I only accepted as I thought I should see you."
"How good of you," I said, sweetly. "And did they not tell you I had gone with Lady Verningham?"
"Nothing of the kind. They merely announced that you had departed for London, so I supposed it was your original design of Claridge's, and I intended going round there some time to find you."
Again I said it was so good of him, and I looked down.
He did not speak for a second or two, and I remained perfectly still.
"What are your plans?" he asked, abruptly.
"I have no plans."
"But you must have—that is ridiculous—you must have made some decision as to where you are going to live!"
"No, I assure you," I said, calmly, "when I leave here on Saturday I shall just get into a cab and think of some place for it to take me to, I suppose, as we turn down Park Lane."
He moved uneasily, and I glanced at him up from under my hat. I don't know why he does not attract me now as much as he did at first. There is something so cold and cynical about his face.
"Listen, Evangeline," he said, at last. "Something must be settled for you. I cannot allow you to drift about like this. I am more or less your guardian, you know—you must feel that."
"I don't a bit," I said.
"You impossible little—witch." He came closer.
"Yes, Lady Verningham says I am a witch, and a snake, and all sorts of bad, attractive things, and I want to go somewhere where I shall be able to show these qualities. England is dull. What do you think of Paris?"
Oh, it did amuse me launching forth these remarks; they would never come into my head for any one else!
He walked across the room and back. His face was disturbed.
"You shall not go to Paris—alone. How can you even suggest such a thing?" he said.
I did not speak. He grew exasperated.
"Your father's people are all dead, you tell me, and you know nothing of your mother's relations. But who was she? What was her name? Perhaps we could discover some kith and kin for you."
"My mother was called Miss Tonkins," I said.
"Called Miss Tonkins?"
"Then it was not her name. What do you mean?"
I hated these questions.
"I suppose it was her name. I never heard she had another."
"Tonkins," he said—"Tonkins," and he looked searchingly at me with his monk-of-the-Inquisition air.
I can be so irritating, not telling people things, when I like, and it was quite a while before he elicited the facts from me, which Mrs. Carruthers had often hurled at my head in moments of anger, that poor mamma's father had been Lord de Brandreth and her mother, Heaven knows who!
"So you see," I ended with, "I haven't any relations, after all, have I?"
He sat down upon the sofa.
"Evangeline, there is nothing for it; you must marry me," he said.
I sat down opposite him.
"Oh, you are funny!" I said. "You, a clever diplomat, to know so little of women! Who in the world would accept such an offer?" and I laughed and laughed.
"What am I to do with you?" he exclaimed, angrily.
"Nothing." I laughed still, and I looked at him with my "affair-of-the-devil" look. He came over and forcibly took my hand.
"Yes, you are a witch," he said—"a witch who casts spells and destroys resolutions and judgments. I determined to forget you, and put you out of my life—you are most unsuitable to me, you know—but as soon as I see you I am filled with only one desire. I must have you for myself. I want to kiss you—to touch you. I want to prevent any other man from looking at you—do you hear me, Evangeline?"
"Yes, I hear," I said; "but it does not have any effect on me. You would be awful as a husband. Oh, I know all about them!" and I looked up. "I saw several sorts at Tryland, and Lady Verningham has told me of the rest, and I know you would be no earthly good in that role!"
He laughed, in spite of himself, but he still held my hand.
"Describe their types to me, that I may see which I should be," he said, with great seriousness.
"There is the Mackintosh kind—humble and 'titsy pootsy,' and a sort of under-nurse," I said.
"That is not my size, I fear."
"Then there is the Montgomerie—selfish and bullying, and near about money."
"But I am not Scotch."
"No—well, Lord Kestervin was English, and he fussed and worried, and looked out trains all the time."
"I will have a groom of the chambers."
"And they were all casual and indifferent to their poor wives—and boresome—and bored! And one told long stories, and one was stodgy, and one opened his wife's letters before she was down!"
"Tell me the attributes of a perfect husband, then, that I may learn them," he said.
"They have to pay all the bills——"
"Well, I could do that."
"And they have not to interfere with one's movements. And one must be able to make their hearts beat."
"Well, you could do that!" and he bent nearer to me. I drew back.
"And they have to take long journeys to the Rocky Mountains for months together, with men friends."
"Certainly not!" he exclaimed.
"There, you see!" I said; "the most important part you don't agree to. There is no use talking further."
"Yes, there is! You have not said half enough. Have they to make your heart beat, too?"
"You are hurting my hand."
He dropped it.
"Lady Ver said no husband could do that. The fact of their being one kept your heart quite quiet, and often made you yawn; but she said it was not necessary, as long as you could make theirs so that they would do all you asked."
"Then do women's hearts never beat—did she tell you?"
"Of course they beat. How simple you are for thirty years old! They beat constantly for—oh—for people who are not husbands."
"That is the result of your observations, is it? You are probably right and I am a fool."
"Some one said at lunch yesterday that a beautiful lady in Paris had her heart beating for you," I said, looking at him again.
He changed—so very little. It was not a start, or a wince even—just enough for me to know he felt what I said.
"People are too kind," he said. "But we have got no nearer the point. When will you marry me?"
"I shall marry you—never! Mr. Carruthers," I said, "unless I get into an old maid soon and no one else asks me! Then if you go on your knees I may put out the tip of my fingers, perhaps!" and I moved towards the door, making him a sweeping and polite courtesy.
He rushed after me.
"Evangeline!" he exclaimed. "I am not a violent man as a rule; indeed, I am rather cool, but you would drive any one perfectly mad. Some day some one will strangle you—witch!"
"Then I had better run away to save my neck," I said, laughing over my shoulder as I opened the door and ran up the stairs, and I peeped at him from the landing above. He had come out into the hall. "Good-bye," I called, and, without waiting to see Lady Ver, he tramped down the stairs and away.
"Evangeline, what have you been doing?" she asked, when I got into her room, where her maid was settling her veil before the glass, and trembling over it. Lady Ver is sometimes fractious with her—worse than I am with Veronique, far.
"Evangeline, you look naughtier than ever—confess at once."
"I have been as good as gold," I said.
"Then why are those two emeralds sparkling so, may one ask?"
"They are sparkling with conscious virtue," I said, demurely.
"You have quarrelled with Mr. Carruthers—go away, Welby! Stupid woman, can't you see it catches my nose!"
Welby retired meekly. (After she is cross, Lady Ver sends Welby to the theatre. Welby adores her.)
"Evangeline, how dare you! I see it all. I gathered bits from Robert. You have quarrelled with the very man you must marry!"
"What does Lord Robert know about me?" I said. That made me angry.
"Nothing; he only said Mr. Carruthers admired you at Branches."
"He is too attractive—Christopher! He is one of the 'married women's pets,' as Ada Fairfax says, and has never spoken to a girl before. You ought to be grateful we have let him look at you—minx!—instead of quarrelling, as I can see you have." She rippled with laughter, while she pretended to scold me.
"Surely I may be allowed that chastened diversion!" I said. "I can't go to theatres!"
"Tell me about it," she commanded, tapping her foot.
But early in Mrs. Carruthers's days I learned that one is wiser when one keeps one's own affairs to one's self, so I fenced a little, and laughed, and we went out to drive finally, without her being any the wiser. Going into the park, we came upon a troop of the 3d Life Guards, who had been escorting the king to open something, and there rode Lord Robert in his beautiful clothes and a floating plume. He did look so lovely, and my heart suddenly began to beat—I could feel it, and was ashamed, and it did not console me greatly to reflect that the emotion caused by a uniform is not confined to nursemaids.
Of course it must have been the uniform and the black horse—Lord Robert is nothing to me. But I hate to think that, mamma's mother having been nobody, I should have inherited these common instincts!
300 PARK STREET,
Thursday evening, November 24th.
Lady Merrenden is so nice—one of those kind faces that even a tight fringe in a net does not spoil. She is tall and graceful, past fifty perhaps, and has an expression of Lord Robert about the eyes. At luncheon she was sweet to me at once, and did not look as if she thought I must be bad just because I have red hair, like elderly ladies do generally.
I felt I wanted to be good and nice directly. She did not allude to my desolate position or say anything without tact, but she asked me to lunch as if I had been a queen and would honor her by accepting. For some reason I could see Lady Ver did not wish me to go—she made all sorts of excuses about wanting me herself—but also, for some reason, Lady Merrenden was determined I should, and finally settled it should be on Saturday, when Lady Ver is going down to Northumberland to her father's, and I am going—where? Alas! as yet I know not.
When she had gone Lady Ver said old people without dyed hair or bridge proclivities were tiresome, and she smoked three cigarettes, one after the other as fast as she could. (Welby is going to the theatre again to-night!)
I said I thought Lady Merrenden was charming. She snapped my head off for the first time, and then there was silence, but presently she began to talk, and fix herself in a most becoming way on the sofa—we were in her own sitting-room, a lovely place, all blue silk and French furniture and attractive things. She said she had a cold and must stay in-doors. She had changed immediately into a tea-gown, but I could not hear any cough.
"Charlie has just wired he comes back to-night," she announced, at length.
"How nice for you!" I sympathized; "you will be able to make his heart beat!"
"As a matter of fact, it is extremely inconvenient, and I want you to be nice to him, and amuse him, and take his attention off me, like a pet, Evangeline," she cooed; and then: "What a lovely afternoon for November! I wish I could go for a walk in the park," she said.
I felt it would be cruel to tease her further, and so announced my intention of taking exercise in that way with the angels.
"Yes, it will do you good, dear child," she said, brightly, "and I will rest here and take care of my cold."
"They have asked me to tea in the nursery," I said, "and I have accepted."
"Jewel of a snake-girl!" she laughed—she is not thick.
"Do you know the Torquilstone history?" she said, just as I was going out of the door.
I came back—why, I can't imagine, but it interested me.
"Robert's brother—half-brother, I mean—the duke, is a cripple, you know, and he is toque on one point too—their blue blood. He will never marry, but he can cut Robert off with almost the bare title if he displeases him."
"Yes," I said.
"Torquilstone's mother was one of the housemaids. The old duke married her before he was twenty-one, and she, fortunately, joined her beery ancestors a year or so afterwards; and then much later he married Robert's mother, Lady Etheldrida Fitz Walter. There is sixteen years between them—Robert and Torquilstone, I mean."
"Then what is he toque about blue blood for, with a tache like that?" I asked.
"That is just it. He thinks it is such a disgrace that even if he were not a humpback he says he would never marry to transmit this stain to the future Torquilstones—and if Robert ever marries any one without a pedigree enough to satisfy an Austrian prince, he will disown him and leave every sou to charity."
"Poor Lord Robert!" I said, but I felt my cheeks burn.
"Yes, is it not tiresome for him? So, of course, he cannot marry until his brother's death, there is almost no one in England suitable."
"It is not so bad, after all," I said; "there is always the delicious role of the 'married woman's pet,' open to him, isn't there?" and I laughed.
"Little cat!" but she wasn't angry.
"I told you I only scratched when I was scratched first," I said, as I went out of the room.
The angels had started for their walk, and Veronique had to come with me at first to find them. We were walking fast down the path beyond Stanhope Gate, seeing their blue velvet pelisses in the distance, when we met Mr. Carruthers.
He stopped and turned with me.
"Evangeline, I was so angry with you yesterday," he said. "I very nearly left London and abandoned you to your fate, but now that I have seen you again—" He paused.
"You think Paris is a long way off!" I said, innocently.
"What have they been telling you?" he said, sternly, but he was not quite comfortable.
"They have been saying it is a fine November, and the Stock Exchange is no place to play in, and if it weren't for bridge they would all commit suicide. That is what we talk of at Park Street."
"You know very well what I mean. What have they been telling you about me?"
"Nothing, except that there is a charming French lady who adores you, and whom you are devoted to—and I am so sympathetic. I like Frenchwomen, they put on their hats so nicely."
"What ridiculous gossip! I don't think Park Street is the place for you to stay. I thought you had more mind than to chatter like this."
"I suit myself to my company." I laughed, and waited for Veronique, who had stopped respectfully behind. She came up reluctantly. She disapproves of all English unconventionality, but she feels it her duty to encourage Mr. Carruthers.
"Should she run on and stop the young ladies," she suggested, pointing to the angels in front.
"Yes, do," said Mr. Carruthers, and before I could prevent her she was off.
Traitress! She was thinking of her own comfortable quarters at Branches, I know.
The sharp, fresh air got into my head. I felt gay, and without care. I said heaps of things to Mr. Carruthers, just as I had once before to Malcolm, only this was much more fun, because Mr. Carruthers isn't a red-haired Scotchman and can see things.
It seemed a day of meetings, for when we got down to the end we encountered Lord Robert walking leisurely in our direction. He looked as black as night when he caught sight of us.
"Hello, Bob!" said Mr. Carruthers, cheerfully. "Ages since I saw you. Will you come and dine to-night? I have a box for this winter opera that is on, and I am trying to persuade Miss Travers to come. She says Lady Verningham is not engaged to-night, she knows, and we might dine quietly and all go; don't you think so?"
Lord Robert said he would, but he added, "Miss Travers would never come out before—she said she was in too deep mourning." He seemed aggrieved.
"I am going to sit in the back of the box and no one will see me," I said. "And I do love music so."
"We had better let Lady Verningham know at once then," said Mr. Carruthers.
Lord Robert announced he was going there now, and would tell her.
I knew that. The blue tea-gown with the pink roses, and the lace cap, and the bad cold were not for nothing. (I wish I had not written this; it is spiteful of me, and I am not spiteful, as a rule. It must be the east wind.)
Thursday night, November 24th.
"Now that you have embarked upon this—" Lady Ver said, when I ventured into her sitting-room, hearing no voices, about six o'clock. (Mr. Carruthers had left me at the door at the end of our walk, and I had been with the angels at tea ever since.) "Now that you have embarked upon this opera, I say, you will have to dine at Willis's with us. I won't be in when Charlie arrives from Paris. A blowy day like to-day his temper is sure to be impossible."
"Very well," I said.
Of what use, after all, for an adventuress like me to have sensitive feelings.
"And I am leaving this house at a quarter to seven, I wish you to know, Evangeline, pet," she called after me, as I flew off to dress. As a rule Lady Ver takes a good hour to make herself into the attractive darling she is in the evening. She has not to do much, because she is lovely by nature, but she potters and squabbles with Welby, to divert herself, I suppose.
However, to-night, with the terror upon her of a husband fresh from a rough Channel passage going to arrive at seven o'clock, she was actually dressed and down in the hall when I got there punctually at 6.45, and in the twinkle of an eye we were rolling in the electric to Willis's. I have only been there once before, and that to lunch in Mrs. Carruthers's days with some of the ambassadors; and it does feel gay going to a restaurant at night. I felt more excited than ever in my life, and such a situation, too!
Lord Robert—fruit defendu!—and Mr. Carruthers—empresse—and to be kept in bounds!
More than enough to fill the hands of a maiden of sixteen fresh from a convent, as old Count Someroff used to say when he wanted to express a really difficult piece of work.
They were waiting for us just inside the door, and again I noticed that they were both lovely creatures, and both exceptionally distinguished looking.
Lady Ver nodded to a lot of people before we took our seats in a nice little corner. She must have an agreeable time with so many friends. She said something which sounds so true in one of our talks, and I thought of it then.
"It is wiser to marry the life you like, because after a little the man doesn't matter." She has evidently done that, but I wish it could be possible to have both—the man and the life. Well! Well!
One has to sit rather close on those sofas, and as Lord Robert was not the host, he was put by me. The other two at a right-angle to us.
I felt exquisitely gay—in spite of having an almost high black dress on and not even any violets.
It was dreadfully difficult not to speak nicely to my neighbor, his directness and simplicity are so engaging, but I did try hard to concentrate myself on Christopher and leave him alone, only—I don't know why—the sense of his being so near me made me feel, I don't quite know what. However, I hardly spoke to him—Lady Ver shall never say I did not play fair—though, insensibly, even she herself drew me into a friendly conversation, and then Lord Robert looked like a happy school-boy.
We had a delightful time.
Mr. Carruthers is a perfect host. He has all the smooth and exquisite manners of the old diplomats, without their false teeth and things. I wish I were in love with him, or even I wish something inside me would only let me feel it was my duty to marry him; but it jumps up at me every time I want to talk to myself about it, and says, "Absolutely impossible."
When it came to starting for the opera, "Mr. Carruthers will take you in his brougham, Evangeline," Lady Ver said, "and I will be protected by Robert. Come along, Robert," as he hesitated.
"Oh, I say, Lady Ver!" he said, "I would love to come with you, but won't it look rather odd for Miss Evangeline to arrive alone with Christopher? Consider his character!"
Lady Ver darted a glance of flame at him and got into the electric, while Christopher, without hesitation, handed me into his brougham. Lord Robert and I were two puppets, a part I do not like playing.
I was angry altogether. She would not have dared to have left me go like this if I had been any one who mattered. Mr. Carruthers got in, and tucked his sable rug round me. I never spoke a word for a long time, and Covent Garden is not far off, I told myself. I can't say why I had a sense of malaise.
There was a strange look in his face as a great lamp threw a light on it. "Evangeline," he said, in a voice I have not yet heard, "when are you going to finish playing with me? I am growing to love you, you know."
"I am very sorry to hear it," I said, gently. "I don't want you to. Oh, please don't!" as he took my hand. "I—I—if you only knew how I hate being touched!"
He leaned back and looked at me. There is something which goes to the head a little about being in a brougham with nice fur rugs alone with some one at night. The lights flashing in at the windows, and that faint scent of a very good cigar. I felt fearfully excited. If it had been Lord Robert, I believe—well——
He leaned over very close to me. It seemed in another moment he would kiss me, and what could I do then? I couldn't scream, or jump out in Leicester Square, could I?
"Why do you call me Evangeline?" I said, by way of putting him off. "I never said you might."
"Foolish child!—I shall call you what I please. You drive me mad. I don't know what you were born for. Do you always have this effect on people?"
"What effect?" I said, to gain time; we had got nearly into Long Acre.
"An effect that causes one to lose all discretion. I feel I would give my soul to hold you in my arms."
I told him I did not think it was at all nice or respectful of him to talk so—that I found such love revolting.
"You tell me in your sane moments I am most unsuitable to you—you try to keep away from me—and then when you get close you begin to talk this stuff! I think it is an insult!" I said, angry and disdainful. "When I arouse devotion and tenderness in some one, then I shall listen, but to you and to this—never!"
"Go on," he said. "Even in the dim light you look beautiful when cross."
"I am not cross," I answered. "Only absolutely disgusted."
By that time, thank goodness, we had got into the stream of carriages close to the opera-house. Mr. Carruthers, however, seemed hardly to notice this.
"Darling," he said, "I will try not to annoy you; but you are so fearfully provoking. I—tell you truly, no man would find it easy to keep cool with you."
"Oh, I don't know what it is, being cool, or not cool," I said, wearily. "I am tired of every one. Even as tiny a thing as Malcolm Montgomerie gets odd like this!"
He leaned back and laughed, and then said, angrily: "Impertinence! I will wring his neck!"
"Thank Heaven we have arrived!" I exclaimed, as we drove under the portico. I gave a great sigh of relief.
Really, men are very trying and tiresome, and if I shall always have to put up with these scenes through having red hair, I almost wish it were mouse-colored, like Cicely Parker's. Mrs. Carruthers often said, "You need not suppose, Evangeline, that you are going to have a quiet life with your coloring; the only thing one can hope for is that you will screw on your head."
Lady Ver and Lord Robert were already in the hall waiting for us, but the second I saw them I knew she had been saying something to Lord Robert. His face, so gay and debonnaire all through dinner, now looked set and stern, and he took not the slightest notice of me as we walked to the box—the big one next the stage on the pit tier.
Lady Ver appeared triumphant—her eyes were shining with big blacks in the middle, and such bright spots of pink in her cheeks—she looked lovely; and I can't think why, but I suddenly felt I hated her. It was horrid of me, for she was so kind, and settled me in the corner behind the curtain where I could see and not be seen, rather far back, while she and Lord Robert were quite in the front. It was "Carmen"—the opera. I had never seen it before.
Music has such an effect—every note seems to touch some emotion in me. I feel wicked, or good, or exalted, or—or—oh, some queer feeling that I don't know what it is—a kind of electric current down my back, and as if—as if I would like to love some one and have them to kiss me. Oh, it sounds perfectly dreadful what I have written, but I can't help it—that is what some music does to me, and I said always I should tell the truth here.
From the very beginning note to the end I was feeling—feeling—Oh, how I understand her—Carmen!—fruit defendu attracted her so—the beautiful, wicked, fascinating snake. I also wanted to dance, and to move like that, and I unconsciously quivered perhaps. I was cold as ice, and fearfully excited. The back of Lord Robert's beautifully set head impeded my view at times. How exquisitely groomed he is! And one could see at a glance his mother had not been a housemaid! I never have seen anything look so well bred as he does.
Lady Ver was talking to him in a cooing, low voice after the first act, and the second act, and indeed even when the third act had begun. He seemed much more empresse with her than he generally does. It—it hurt me, that and the music and the dancing, and Mr. Carruthers whispering passionate little words at intervals, even though I paid no attention to them; but altogether I, too, felt a kind of madness.
Suddenly Lord Robert turned round, and for five seconds looked at me, his lovely, expressive blue eyes swimming with wrath and reproach and—oh, how it hurt me!—contempt. Christopher was leaning over the back of my chair, quite close, in a devoted attitude.
Lord Robert did not speak, but if a look could wither I must have turned into a dead oak-leaf. It awoke some devil in me. What had I done to be annihilated so! I was playing perfectly fair—keeping my word to Lady Ver, and—oh, I felt as if it were breaking my heart.
But that look of Lord Robert's! It drove me to distraction, and every instinct to be wicked and attractive that I possess came up in me. I leaned over to Lady Ver, so that I must be close to him, and I said little things to her, never one word to him; but I moved my seat, making it certain the corner of his eye must catch sight of me, and I allowed my shoulders to undulate the faintest bit to that Spanish music. Oh, I can dance as Carmen, too! Mrs. Carruthers had me taught every time we went to Paris. She loved to see it herself.
I could hear Christopher breathing very quickly. "My God!" he whispered, "a man would go to hell for you."
Lord Robert got up abruptly and went out of the box.
Then it was as if Don Jose's dagger plunged into my heart, not Carmen's. That sounds high-flown, but I mean it—a sudden, sick, cold sensation, as if everything was numb. Lady Ver turned round pettishly to Christopher. "What on earth is the matter with Robert?" she said.
"There is a Persian proverb which asserts a devil slips in between two winds," said Christopher. "Perhaps that is what has happened in this box to-night."
Lady Ver laughed harshly, and I sat there still as death. And all the time the music and the movement on the stage went on. I am glad she is murdered in the end—glad! Only I would like to have seen the blood gush out. I am fierce—fierce—sometimes.
300 PARK STREET,
Friday morning, November 25th.
I know just the meaning of dust and ashes, for that is what I felt I had had for breakfast this morning, the day after "Carmen."
Lady Ver had given orders she was not to be disturbed, so I did not go near her, and crept down to the dining-room, quite forgetting the master of the house had arrived. There he was, a strange, tall, lean man with fair hair, and sad, cross, brown eyes, and a nose inclined to pink at the tip—a look of indigestion about him, I feel sure. He was sitting in front of a Daily Telegraph propped up on the teapot, and some cold, untasted sole on his plate.
I came forward. He looked very surprised.
"I—I'm Evangeline Travers," I announced.
He said "How d'you do?" awkwardly. One could see without a notion what that meant.
"I'm staying here," I continued. "Did you not know?"
"Then won't you have some breakfast? Beastly cold, I fear," politeness forced him to utter. "No, Ianthe never writes to me. I had not heard any news for a fortnight, and I have not seen her yet."
Manners have been drummed into me from early youth, so I said, politely, "You only arrived from Paris late last night, did you not?"
"I got in about seven o'clock, I think," he replied.
"We had to leave so early—we were going to the opera," I said.
"A Wagner that begins at unearthly hours, I suppose?" he murmured, absently.
"No, it was 'Carmen,' but we dined first with my—my—guardian, Mr. Carruthers."
We both ate for a little. The tea was greenish black—and lukewarm. No wonder he has dyspepsia.
"Are the children in, I wonder?" he hazarded, presently.
"Yes," I said. "I went to the nursery and saw them as I came down."
At that moment the three angels burst into the room, but came forward decorously and embraced their parent. They do not seem to adore him as they do Lady Ver.
"Good-morning, papa," said the eldest, and the other two repeated it in chorus. "We hope you have slept well and had a nice passage across the sea."
They evidently had been drilled outside.
Then, nature getting uppermost, they patted him patronizingly.
"Daddie, darling, have you brought us any new dolls from Paris?"
"And I want one with red hair, like Evangeline," said Yseult, the youngest.
Sir Charles seemed bored and uncomfortable; he kissed his three exquisite bits of Dresden china, so like and yet unlike himself—they have Lady Ver's complexion, but brown eyes and golden hair like his.
"Yes; ask Harbottle for the packages," he said. "I have no time to talk to you. Tell your mother I will be in for lunch," and making excuses to me for leaving so abruptly—an appointment in the City—he shuffled out of the room.
I wonder how Lady Ver makes his heart beat! I don't wonder she prefers—Lord Robert.
"Why is papa's nose so red?" said Yseult.
"Hush!" implored Mildred. "Poor papa has come off the sea."
"I don't love papa," said Corisande, the middle one. "He's cross, and sometimes he makes darling mummie cry."
"We must always love papa," chanted Mildred, in a lesson voice. "We must always love our parents, and grandmamma, and grandpapa, and aunts and cousins—amen." The "amen" slipped out unawares, and she looked confused, and corrected herself when she had said it.
"Let's find Harbottle. Harbottle is papa's valet," Corisande said, "and he is much thoughtfuller than papa. Last time he brought me a Highland boy doll, though papa had forgotten I asked for it."
They all three went out of the room, first kissing me, and courtesying sweetly when they got to the door. They are never rude or boisterous, the three angels—I love them.
Left alone, I did feel like a dead fish. The column "London Day by Day" caught my eye in the Daily Telegraph, and I idly glanced down it, not taking in the sense of the words, until "The Duke of Torquilstone has arrived at Vavasour House, St. James's, from abroad," I read.
Well, what did it matter to me—what did anything matter to me?—Lord Robert had met us in the hall again, as we were coming out of the opera; he looked very pale, and he apologized to Lady Ver for his abrupt departure. He had got a chill, he said, and had gone to have a glass of brandy, and was all right now, and would we not come to supper, and various other empresse things, looking at her with the greatest devotion. I might not have existed.
She was capricious, as she sometimes is. "No, Robert, I am going home to bed. I have got a chill, too," she said.
And the footman announcing the electric at that moment, we flew off and left them, Christopher having fastened my sable collar with an air of possession which would have irritated me beyond words at another time, but I felt cold and dead, and utterly numb.
Lady Ver did not speak a word on the way back, and kissed me frigidly as she went into her room; then she called out:
"I am tired, snake-girl; don't think I am cross. Good-night." And so I crept up to bed.
To-morrow is Saturday and my visit ends. After my lunch with Lady Merrenden, I am a wanderer on the face of the earth.
Where shall I wander to? I feel I want to go away by myself, away where I shall not see a human being who is English. I want to forget what they look like; I want to shut out of my sight their well-groomed heads; I want—oh, I do not know what I do want.
Shall I marry Mr. Carruthers? He would eat me up, and then go back to Paris to the lady he loves. But I should have the life I like—and the Carruthers's emeralds are beautiful—and I love Branches—and—and——
"Her ladyship would like to see you, miss," said a footman.
So I went up the stairs.
Lady Ver was in a darkened room, soft pink blinds right down beyond the half-drawn blue silk curtains.
"I have a fearful head, Evangeline," she said.
"Then I will smooth your hair," and I climbed up behind her and began to run over her forehead with the tips of my fingers.
"You are really a pet, snake-girl," she said, "and you can't help it."
"I can't help what?"
"Being a witch. I knew you would hurt me when I first saw you, and I tried to protect myself by being kind to you."
"Oh, dear Lady Ver!" I said, deeply moved. "I would not hurt you for the world, and indeed you misjudge me. I have kept the bargain to the very letter—and spirit."
"Yes, I know you have to the letter, at least, but why did Robert go out of the box last night?" she demanded, wearily.
"He said he had got a chill, did not he?" I replied, lamely. She clasped her hands passionately.
"A chill! You don't know Robert. He never had a chill in his life," she said. "Oh, he is the dearest, dearest being in the world. He makes me believe in good and all things honest. He isn't vicious, and isn't a prig, and he knows the world, and he lives in its ways like the rest of us, and yet he doesn't begin by thinking every woman is fair game and undermining what little self-respect she may have left to her."
"Yes," I said. I found nothing else to say.
"If I had had a husband like that I would never have yawned," she went on; "and besides, Robert is too masterful and would be too jealous to let one divert one's self with another."
"Yes," I said again, and continued to smooth her forehead.
"He has sentiment, too—he is not matter-of-fact and brutal—and oh, you should see him on a horse!—he is too, too beautiful." She stretched out her arms in a movement of weariness that was pathetic and touched me.
"You have known him a long, long time?" I said, gently.
"Perhaps five years, but only casually until this season. I was busy with some one else before. I have played with so many." Then she roused herself up. "But Robert is the only one who has never made love to me. Always dear and sweet, and treating me like a queen, as if I were too high for that, and having his own way, and not caring a pin for any one's opinion. And I have wanted him to make love to me often. But now I realize it is no use. Only, you sha'n't have him, snake-girl! I told him as we were going to the opera you were as cold as ice, and were playing with Christopher, and I am going to take him down to Northumberland with me to-morrow out of your way. He shall be my devoted friend, at any rate. You would break his heart, and I shall still hold you to your promise."
I said nothing.
"Do you hear? I say: You would break his heart. He would be only capable of loving straight to the end. The kind of love any other woman would die for—but—you—You are Carmen."
At all events, not she, nor any other woman, shall ever see what I am or am not. My heart is not for them to peck at. So I said, calmly:
"Carmen was stabbed!"
"And serve her right! Fascinating, fiendish demon!" Then she laughed, her mood changing.
"Did you see Charlie?" she said.
"We breakfasted together."
"Cheerful person, isn't he?"
"No," I said. "He looked cross and ill."
"Ill!" she said, with a shade of anxiety. "Oh, you only mean dyspeptic."
"Well, he always does when he comes from Paris. If you could go into his room and see the row of photographs on his mantelpiece, you might guess why."
"Pictures of 'Sole Dieppoise' and 'Poulet a la Victoria aux Truffes,' no doubt," I hazarded.
She doubled up with laughter. "Yes, just that," she said. "Well, he adores me in his way, and will bring me a new Cartier ring to make up for it—you will see at luncheon."
"He is a perfect husband, then."
"About the same as you will find Christopher. Only Christopher will start by being an exquisite lover. There is nothing he does not know, and Charlie has not an idea of that part. Heavens!—the dulness of my honeymoon!"
"Mrs. Carruthers said all honeymoons were only another parallel to going to the dentist or being photographed. Necessary evils to be got through for the sake of the results."
"Yes, the nice house and the jewels and the other things."
"Oh! Yes, I suppose she was right, but if one had married Robert one would have had both." She did not say both what—but oh, I knew!
"You think Mr. Carruthers will make a fair husband, then?" I asked.
"You will never really know Christopher. I have been acquainted with him for years. You will never feel he would tell you the whole truth about anything. He is an epicure, and an analyst of sensations. I don't know if he has any gods—he does not believe in them if he has; he believes in no one, and nothing, but perhaps himself. He is violently in love with you for the moment, and he wants to marry you, because he cannot obtain you on any other terms."
"You are flattering," I said, rather hurt.
"I am truthful. You will probably have a delightful time with him, and keep him devoted to you for years, because you are not in love with him; and he will take good care you do not look at any one else. I can imagine if one were in love with Christopher he would break one's heart, as he has broken poor Alicia Verney's."
"Oh, but how silly! People don't have broken hearts now; you are talking like out of a book, dear Lady Ver."
"There are a few cases of broken hearts, but they are not for book reasons—of death and tragedy, etc.—they are because we cannot have what we want, or keep what we have—" and she sighed.
We did not speak for a few minutes, then she said, quite gayly:
"You have made my head better; your touch is extraordinary; in spite of all, I like you, snake-girl. You are not found on every gooseberry-bush."
We kissed lightly, and I left her and went to my room.
Yes, the best thing I can do is to marry Christopher. I care for him so little that the lady in Paris won't matter to me, even if she is like Sir Charles's "Poulet a la Victoria aux Truffes." He is such a gentleman, he will at least be kind to me and refined and considerate—and the Carruthers emeralds are divine, and just my stones. I shall have them reset by Cartier. The lace, too, will suit me, and the sables, and I shall have the suite that Mrs. Carruthers used at Branches done up with pale, pale green, and burn all the early Victorians! And no doubt existence will be full of triumphs and pleasure.
But oh—I wish—I wish it were possible to obtain—"both!"
300 PARK STREET,
Luncheon passed off very well. Sir Charles returned from the City improved in temper, and, as Lady Ver had predicted, presented her with a Cartier jewel. It was a brooch, not a ring, but she was delighted, and purred to him.
He was a little late, and we were seated, a party of eight, when he came in. They all chaffed him about Paris, and he took it quite good-humoredly—he even seemed pleased. He has no wit, but he looks like a gentleman, and I dare say as husbands go he is suitable.
I am getting quite at home in the world, and can speak to any one. I listen, and I do not talk much, only when I want to say something that makes them think.
A very nice man sat next me to-day; he reminded me of the old generals at Branches. We had quite a war of wits, and it stimulated me.
He told me, among other things, when he discovered who I was, that he had known papa—papa was in the same Guards with him—and that he was the best-looking man of his day. Numbers of women were in love with him, he said, but he was a faithless being, and rode away.
"He probably enjoyed himself—don't you think so?—and he had the good luck to die in his zenith," I said.
"He was once engaged to Lady Merrenden, you know. She was Lady Sophia Vavasour then, and absolutely devoted to him, but Mrs. Carruthers came between them and carried him off—she was years older than he was, too, and as clever as paint."
"Poor papa seems to have been a weak creature, I fear."
"All men are weak," he said.
"And then he married and left Mrs. Carruthers, I suppose?" I asked. I wanted to hear as much as I could.
"Ye-e-s," said my old colonel. "I was best man at the wedding."
"And what was she like, my mamma?"
"She was the loveliest creature I ever saw," he said—"as lovely as you, only you are the image of your father, all but the hair—his was fair."
"No one has ever said I was lovely before. Oh, I am so glad if you think so," I said. It did please me. I have often been told I am attractive and extraordinary, and wonderful and divine, but never just lovely. He would not say any more about my parents, except that they hadn't a sou to live on, and were not very happy—Mrs. Carruthers took care of that.