10. Falser Than All Fancy Fathoms
"What are you going to do to-day?" asks Philip, kissing Eleanor before he leaves.
"I must run up to town to have my dress fitted," she replies.
"What, more new frocks?"
"Only a very simple evening rag, dear," speaking nervously. "I am rather anxious about it, because it is the first I have had since my trousseau without Giddy's supervision. She always designs them, and does the talking."
"And pockets the commission," said Philip drily. "Do not regret that lost acquaintance, little one. If Mrs. Mounteagle opened your eyes, don't you allow her to shut them again."
"You will lose your train if you stand talking."
Philip drives away down the hill, and Eleanor thinks regretfully of the pleasant times she used to spend chatting with Giddy.
Now she must go to town alone. Eleanor is quite weary of her own society by the time she arrives at Madame Faustine's in Bond Street.
She wonders if Carol received the little note she penned in such trepidation yesterday, imploring him to spare her the passionate scenes in which he indulged the previous evening. She asked him in the most pathetic terms never to cross her path in life again, because she was only a weak little woman, and ended by saying she would be at 19, Bond Street, the next morning, and hoped not to run across that horrid Mrs. Mounteagle.
As she is bowed out by an elegant maiden in black satin, a hand is laid on her arm, a sense of exhilaration possesses her, while Mr. Quinton's melodious voice whispers "Eleanor" in her ear.
"I asked you not to," she says feebly, ill concealing her pleasurable surprise.
"But you laid temptation in my way, and it was strong." he answers.
She recalls his passionate words breathed in the firelight, the words that held her paralysed, and seemed in a single syllable to divorce her from her husband.
"What are we going to do?" asks Carol.
"We; I must return to Lyndhurst and boredom. An old lady at Twickenham Park has asked me to tea this afternoon, and I have to interview a kitchen-maid at half-past two."
Her voice is a little hard, there is a ring of sarcasm and rebellion in it that is strange to Eleanor.
"Have you ever been to the Savoy?"
"Let us lunch there, it is past one," urges Carol Quinton.
He hails a hansom, though Eleanor is reluctant.
"I really can't," she whispered.
"There is no harm, dear," he replies persuasively.
The cabman is watching her; she feels confused, uncertain.
Then his influence is too strong, and Eleanor succumbs.
Where is the harm? She is a married woman, she can go if she pleases.
He helps her into the hansom, and they spin away.
"Do you remember last time we drove together?" he asks.
"Yes, from the Butterflies' Club."
"It was dark then, Eleanor."
Her eyes droop, an embarrassed flush dyes her cheek.
"I am Mrs. Roche," she stammers.
"But 'Eleanor' is such a beautiful name, so queenly. You have poisoned all my happiness since the fatal night when I first saw you."
"I would willingly give it back, every shred of shattered joy, if I could."
"You could if you would."
"By being kind, by taking me back to favour, and forgiving me."
"It looks as if I had done that already."
"But only in a hesitating, half-hearted manner."
"It is far easier for me to forgive," says Eleanor, "than for you to accept my forgiveness and not err again."
There is silence between them for some moments.
"If I could think you cared for me just a little, Eleanor, I would be a better man."
"No," she said, biting her lips, and struggling with intense emotion; "you must reform without my aid--it will be harder, and therefore nobler. I do not 'care' for you."
He sees the efforts these words are costing her.
"I don't believe that, Eleanor."
"Then in disbelieving me you put me on a par with a common liar," she says hotly.
"Oh, no," he replies with his wan smile; "it is one of 'the social lies that warp us from the living truth.'"
They are turning into the Savoy courtyard.
Eleanor alights half pleased, half frightened at her daring.
She feels very strange as she enters the huge restaurant with Carol.
It is a full day, and he points her out several celebrities as they pass to their table.
"This is the one, sir," says the waiter, "for two," removing an engaged card on Eleanor's plate.
"How was the table reserved for us?" she asks Mr. Quinton. "We seemed expected."
"I wired for it this morning," he answered tenderly. "I knew you would be in town, and I meant you to come!"
"It is very wrong of me," she sighs, and her eyes glisten as if washed by still rains under her lashes. "Do you know, I have a calendar in my room, and every morning I pull off a leaf to read the motto. I have just remembered the quotation for to-day."
"What was it?" he asks.
Eleanor bends her head over her hors d'oeuvre.
"The stately flower of female fortitude--of perfect wifehood."
"Ah!" he sighs, "Tennyson."
"Yes," says Mrs. Roche.
Her eyes glance round the room.
How many bright eyes glisten over their champagne, and merry tongues joke and laugh away the hours!
"I like to look at people and make histories of them," says Eleanor.
"That girl with the flaxen hair, next to the dark man on your right, was a ballet girl before she married Sir Frederick Thurston. Everybody prophesied that her high kick would lift her into the aristocracy when she first gained favour. Her name was Poppy Poppleton, and people think she poisoned her husband and let another woman swing for it."
"Why do you tell me these horrible things?" murmurs Eleanor. "They are not conducive to appetite."
"Forgive me, but you started by being morbid, quoting at me in fact, and you look so distractingly lovely when you are shocked."
"To tell a woman she is lovely is to criticise her openly to her face. Please do not make such a careful perusal of my expression."
"Unfortunately I am endowed with the critical faculty."
The very intonation of Quinton's voice is a caress.
His eyes seem to reveal, as they gaze on her, their power of insight and analysis. Their look is appreciation, their sympathy with her every utterance boundless.
To him she is not only a character study, but a woman to love, to worship, for a day, an hour.
To her he is an object of fascination, an accomplished man of the world, one who can make himself utterly irresistible by reason of his tenderness, chivalry, courtesy, and devotion.
A magnetic attraction rises between them. Eleanor forgets her surroundings. She only remembers him.
At last her eyes fall on the door, and remain transfixed in that direction.
Giddy Mounteagle, in a costume of wide black and white stripes and leopard's skin cloak, followed by her youthful fiancé, enters the restaurant.
"Bad luck!" exclaims Eleanor, turning to Carol; "look!"
He re-echoes her deep sigh as Giddy advances.
"I hate her seeing me here with you," Mrs. Roche declares. "She is a bad enemy, and now that we are hardly on speaking terms I dare not think what horrible stories she may not spread against me."
"Why not make it up, for the sake of our friendship, Eleanor? She could often help us to meet, you know."
"Never, after the way she treated me!" declares Mrs. Roche, drawing herself up as Mrs. Mounteagle approaches.
"Hulloa! you here?" she cries in a rather bantering, insolent tone, and raising her finely pencilled eyebrows till they are lost to view under her fringe. She pats Carol playfully on the shoulder, pretending not to notice the stiffness of Eleanor's bow.
Bertie shakes hands with Mrs. Roche, and they seat themselves at the next table.
Eleanor turns her back, and becomes deeply interested in what Carol is telling her. They talk loudly on politics for Giddy's benefit.
"How spiteful she looked," whispers Eleanor at last.
"Oh, I don't know. You see you gave her the cold shoulder a bit."
"Do you think she noticed it?"
"Rather. She is as sharp as a needle."
"I think her hat is atrocious. It makes me tremble when I remember how I relied on her taste. Those enormous black and white feathers, pinned in crazy fashion with paste brooches, are horribly vulgar."
"Do you see that red-headed man just coming in?" says Carol.
"Yes. Who is he?"
"Eccott--a tremendously wealthy man, and a great financier. I expect your husband knows him."
"Eccott--why, of course! I have often heard Philip speak of him. The name is quite familiar to me, and now I come to think of it he is living here at the Savoy. Philip often dines with him."
"And lunches?" asks Quinton hastily.
Eccott is speaking to the head waiter, and evidently looking for a friend.
Eleanor can see down the long passage. Suddenly her heart sinks; the palms of her hands grow cold.
"Philip is there!" she says under her breath.
"What will you do?" whispers Quinton.
"I--I don't know."
"Tell Giddy," he urges; "make the quarrel up now, take her into your confidence, pretend you are together."
"Place myself in her hands? Oh, Carol, it would be too humiliating!"
Involuntarily she calls him by his Christian name.
"Self-justification is so embarrassing and unsatisfactory, and some excuse must be made for our appearing here together, unless you take my advice. He has not seen you yet, there is still time."
Thus Quinton urges the unwilling Eleanor to follow his suggestion.
"But I can't," she declares, half-crying. "What will Giddy think of me? What will she say?"
"Shall I speak to her for you?"
"Oh! if you only would."
Philip is still talking outside in the passage to Mr. Eccott. Carol rises, leans over the back of Mrs. Mounteagle's chair whispering hurriedly:
"Philip Roche is here. I don't want him to see his wife with me. Take her under your wing. I will make it worth your while."
Giddy takes the cue instantly. Such compromising situations are not new to her. She is a Machiavelli in petticoats.
"Here, Bertie," she says, "slip into Eleanor's chair, and stop at that table with Mr. Quinton."
She turns, smiles benignly upon Mrs. Roche, and motions her to take the empty seat.
"There, my dear," she murmurs, as Eleanor, confused and ashamed, obeys. "Let bygones be bygones, you are with me to-day. I brought you up to town."
"No, you met me by chance at Madame Faustine's, and we came on here together. Oh! Giddy, how good you are."
"A friend in need, eh? Finish Bertie's fruit salad. Good gracious, you are drinking whiskey and soda. Pass me his glass, it won't matter for me."
Eleanor hands it over with trembling fingers.
Philip is well in the room now, and any moment may see them.
"Would it not look well to attract his attention; sign to him. He is bound to spot you in a minute. Here is the waiter, we will send him. Waiter! go and ask that tall gentleman to come here. Say two ladies wish to speak to him."
Mr. Roche advances in surprise. He is vastly annoyed to find his wife again in company with Mrs. Mounteagle.
"You did not expect to see me, Philip," she says, assuming an air of gaiety to cover her confusion.
"I discovered your wife at our mutual costumier's in Bond Street," cries Giddy. "I know she always starves herself when shopping alone in town, so persuaded her to make a good lunch with me. I have known her to exist a whole day on prawns and ices, or Bath buns with lemonade. So you owe me a debt of gratitude, Mr. Roche. We are lucky in having ran across you, and two other friends," as Philip's eyes fall on Carol Quinton and the insipid Bertie. "We are simply gobbling our food whole, as we are going to the International Fur Store. I want to try and get a muff of leopard's skin to match my cape, for which, alas! I have still to write a cheque. But we are keeping you standing, and Mr. Eccott is waiting for his guest."
"Don't be late home, Eleanor," he says, "it gets very cold and foggy, and you still have a cough."
The two women watch him move away, then their eyes meet.
"You are a brick, Giddy," gasps Mrs. Roche, squeezing her hand under the table. "What makes you so splendidly loyal to me?"
"Life is so short, dear, it is well to be kind when we can. Besides, I am very fond of you though we did quarrel. I think it will draw us closer together."
"I shall never forget what you have done for me to-day."
As the four friends leave the restaurant Carol Quinton bends over Giddy, and says sincerely:
"Bravo! and thanks a thousand times. You acted to perfection."
"Glad you think so," she replies in an undertone; "and, my friend, you can go to the fur store now, and settle my little account."
She pointed to her cloak as she spoke, and added saucily:
"The muff can stand over until the next time."
"So you have made it up with the Mounteagle woman," says Philip that evening, pulling fiercely at his moustache.
"Well, you see, it was so difficult not to, meeting at the dressmaker's. I can't describe to you how awkwardly I was placed. I have felt more uncomfortable to-day than I have done for years. She practically took me by storm, and was so kind and nice it quite touched me. I have gone back to my old opinion of her. She may be a little hot-tempered, but means well."
"It is a thousand pities. I hoped you had done with her for good. I don't like you going to the Savoy with her dressed up in that gaudy fashion. She looks quite remarkable and unladylike. Besides that fellow Quinton is always at her heels, and I have heard some strange things about him. But then he is just the style of man people like the widow affect."
"What have you heard about Mr. Quinton?"
"Oh, never mind; nothing for your ears, my dear."
"Here is the post," says Eleanor with a sigh of relief. She is glad for the introduction of letters to turn the subject.
"Only one for me," turning the envelope over. "I really dare not open it."
"Why? Who is it from?"
"That insatiable Madame Faustine. It will be the bill for my black tea-gown and the blue silk blouse that you admired so much, Philip, dear. Now you may have this letter, and pay it yourself if you are awfully good," laughing merrily. "I will give you the number of sovereigns in kisses."
She looked so pretty as she handed it to him that he tore it open leniently, but no bill fell out.
The letter ran thus:
MADAME,--I am writing to ask you a personal favour, with regard to Mrs. Mounteagle, who kindly introduced me to you. I was prevented mentioning it to you to-day by the presence of my assistant. Could you induce Mrs. Mounteagle to remit me a portion, at least, of her long-outstanding account? She has not been lately to our establishment, and I cannot get my letters answered. I thought perhaps you might use your influence, and oblige very greatly.
"A thousand devils!" cried Philip, crushing the letter in his hand.
"She lied to me--you lied to me!"