14. In Clouds Of Silence Folded Out Of Sight
While Eleanor is at Copthorne, Philip is staying in Trebovir Road with Mr. and Mrs. Lane.
"I cannot think why I have not heard from Eleanor," he says one morning to Erminie. "For three days not a word--no answer to my letters or the telegram."
"Really; it was a pity you were prevented from running down that afternoon. I expect she was disappointed."
"I am not so sure about that," thinks Philip.
"It is just possible she may have written to Lyndhurst. Did she know you were staying on with us?"
"I told her so, but perhaps she forgot, or did not take it in. I shall go there to-morrow and see."
Philip is uneasy about Eleanor. Her silence hurts him, for he still loves her passionately, in spite of their quarrels and her deceptions. All that day he thinks constantly of his wife, picturing her image at every turn, wondering how she passes her quiet days in the old farmhouse, and whether she is happy at Copthorne. He has sent her some books and papers she asked for, but they have not been acknowledged.
He is not angry, but pained at her inconsideration, and the galling thought that he no longer holds even a corner in her heart is bitterest grief to him.
His friends notice his depression in the City, and remark about it. The hours are long, and the spring sunshine seems laughing at him. He pines for the country, the fresh green, the old love--Eleanor!
That evening the Lanes take him to the theatre. The play bores him to distraction, though they say that it is good. He remembers reading some excellent notices on it in the leading papers, and planning to take Eleanor the night after she returns. He is one of a gay, light-hearted party, and goes on with them to sup at the Savoy, feeling like a spectre at the feast. They sit at the same table where he once found his wife with that smiling hypocrite, Mrs. Mounteagle, and the man he hates, loathes, fears.
These recollections render Philip but a poor companion.
Erminie, noticing his low spirits, planned the evening's entertainment to cheer him up.
She has a pretty little sister-in-law with her, who prattles merrily, and reminds Mr. Roche somewhat of Eleanor, in a tantalising manner, when she laughs and he catches her profile.
"I have never been to the celebrated Savoy before," she says. "Reggie declares it is a place where ladies go without their husbands when they want to be rakish and lively. It looks as if he were right, for I am certainly without my better half this evening. When I look at you and Nelson, and then think of Reggie and myself, I cannot imagine how it is all wives and husbands don't get on. I believe I have done a lot of harm since my wedding by advising everybody to marry, and throwing susceptible young people together in the most reckless manner."
"We have not given it a very long test," says Erminie, "but look at that startling beauty in yellow," changing the subject out of consideration for Philip.
"Oh! she is the leader of one of the fastest sets in town," Nelson vouchsafes, as Lady MacDonald, a mass of flashing diamonds and old gold brocade, enters into the restaurant.
The place sends Philip's flagging spirits down to zero, he is thankful to get home, and paces his room half that night thinking of Eleanor, and longing for the love of dear departed days.
"Perhaps when she comes back from Copthorne it will be different," he thinks. "I have been away too much in that miserable City, she has been dull, and thus fallen a prey to Mrs. Mounteagle's bad influence." He will give her more companions, keep his house full of guests, pleasant accommodating people who will not object to early breakfast, and dinner that invariably waits half-an-hour later than it should on account of his business.
He writes to Eleanor as the clock strikes two. His letter is full of promises for the future.
He paints a picture of delightful plans. They will have the house full until Easter, when he will take her abroad. She shall go wherever she pleases, and he will be her trusting, adoring slave. He will make it impossible for her not to love him.
For nearly an hour he pores over the sheet, telling Eleanor these good resolves.
"Dearest," he says in conclusion, "can't we begin our lives over again--love as we did in quiet Copthorne--before we drifted apart? I will try and be a better husband. Do come back to me soon, for I find I cannot get on without my little Eleanor. She is all the world to me."
Then he seals the envelope, and falls into a restless sleep, which is broken by haunting dreams of dimly suspected terrors.
Early in the morning Philip wakes, unrefreshed and heartsick. Still the question burns on his brain--Why has Eleanor not written?
He rises before the household is astir, and lets himself out into the mild air.
Hailing a hansom, he tells the man to drive him as quickly as possible to Richmond Terrace. Perhaps Erminie is right, and Eleanor has written to Lyndhurst after all.
Sarah starts as she sees Mr. Roche on the doorstep.
"Good-morning," he says, "are there any letters for me?"
He does not wait for the answer, but walks straight in, and takes up a pile of envelopes on the hall table.
A few circulars, a bill, and three letters addressed to Eleanor at Copthorne in his own handwriting, and forwarded back by Mrs. Grebby to Mrs. Roche at Lyndhurst.
He stares at them in mute amazement, as if in those white envelopes a horrible mystery lies unrolled.
He tears them slowly open one by one, reading what he knows so well already, the casual news, the fond farewells, penned only for Eleanor's eyes.
How is it she has never received them? How is it they have been sent back by Mrs. Grebby when Eleanor is there?
For the moment he is unnerved. Then he pulls himself together, places the letters in his pocket, picks up his stick, and turns to go.
"Are you coming home to-day, sir?" asks Sarah.
"Coming home!" The words grate on him.
"No," he replies, "I am going to Mrs. Roche, at Copthorne."
Then he dashes out of the house, and reaches Trebovir Road just as Erminie and Nelson are at breakfast.
"We could not think what had become of you," cries Mrs. Lane, running out to meet him. "Why did you go out, and where have you been?"
Then she sees how pale he is, and the questions die on her lips.
"Come in," she says gently. "I have got some hot coffee for you, and your favourite dish. What! you won't eat anything?"
"No thank you, dear, I haven't time. I only fled back to tell you I am off to Copthorne. I am a little anxious about Eleanor not having written you know. She was rather seedy and done up before she left, and those old people are bad correspondents."
"You think she is ill?"
"I fear something is wrong."
"But you must have something before you go, or you will be quite faint."
Philip is not in the mood to argue; he answers her abruptly, almost rudely, and guessing that something is wrong, she lets him go, watching him drive away with sorrowful compassionate eyes.
"I am afraid poor Phil is in some trouble again," she says to Nelson, mechanically cracking the shell of her boiled egg. "He has gone."
"Yes," shaking her head solemnly, "and without any breakfast."
"But you should not let him."
"I could not help it. He is going to see Eleanor."
"Has she been leading the poor fellow another dance? What a curse that woman is!"
"Don't talk like that! I am very fond of Eleanor, with all her faults--almost as fond as of Phil, and you know how I love him. I am not sure what it is about her, but you can't bring yourself not to care for her. It's that pretty little confiding way, I think, and those lovely wistful eyes. She is so easily led and swayed. It is a great pity."
"She will come to a bad end, depend upon it," replies Nelson, congratulating himself on the good woman who crowns his home.
Philip takes the morning train to Copthorne. Business goes to the wind. He thinks only of his wife, and the letters that have come back so strangely into his keeping.
The journey seems interminable. He flings a pile of papers unread on the opposite seat, puts a cigar between his teeth, and forgets to light it, closes his tired eyes, which only quickens and excites his overwrought imagination, till finally the train steams into the drowsy little station of Copthorne.
Philip walks at the fastest possible speed across the meadows. There is the gate on which Eleanor perched herself the night before their wedding, declaring she would
dangle her feet whether she was to be Mrs. Roche or not.
Then the green lane, where she asked him to wait till the following spring. He remembers her words distinctly. She had said them so lightly in reference to their union: "When the birds begin to sing, then I will marry you, Philip."
But he had proved himself the stronger, and carried off his prize that same month. Now the spring is here. The birds are singing--mocking, jeering. The old farmhouse is in sight--he pauses.
Oh, what a moment of suspense!
No Eleanor comes across the garden to greet him. It all looks dead--still.
He can hear Rover's feeble bark--the sound savours of decay.
Then Philip walks forward, and his shadow falls across the porch. The bell peals.
Mrs. Grebby starts at the ring, and brushes past the little farmhouse servant hurrying to the door.
"Why, it's never Mr. Roche!" she exclaims.
"Why, it's never Mr. Roche!" she exclaims.
"Yes," he replies; "I have come for Eleanor. Where is she?"
Mrs. Grebby sinks on to the seat in the porch, and stares at him open-mouthed.
"What do yer mean?" she gasps at last. "There ain't no harm come to my dearie!"
She wrings her hands despairingly.
"Has Eleanor left you?" he asks in a voice so strangely unfamiliar that he hardly knows it for his own.
"Three days ago. She went 'ome, to be sure, as bright and as bonny as could be, looking that pretty, I says to my old man 'It's well she's not travellin' alone.'"
"Who was with her?" questions Philip intently, mastering his intense emotion.
"A friend what came the day you telegraphed. He said 'e'd see her back safe and sound. I packed 'er clothes with my own hands, I did, she never touched a thing, and we drove them both behind Black Bess to the station, with Rover following at the wheel."
A low hiss breaks from Philip's lips.
"And this man," he asks fiercely, impatiently, biting his lips. "What was he like?"
"Oh! 'e was a beautiful gentleman, so well dressed and handsome, Mr., let me see, Mr. Quinton I think she called him."
Philip has heard enough, he turns away with a groan.
Mrs. Grebby watches the dark despair creep over his features in blank amazement.
"What does it mean?" she asks, detaining him with a trembling hand.
"It means," replies Philip in a choking voice, "that Eleanor has left me."
A cry escapes Mrs. Grebby, she buries her face in her apron, rocking herself to and fro, moaning pitifully.
"We, as always kep' ourselves respectable, and never knew what it was to blush for any of our stock, and she 'as lifted the family, and married a good, real gentleman like yourself, sir, to bring disgrace and ruin on 'er 'appy 'ome. Oh! my, oh! my, the poor misguided lass!"
Philip, in his own agony, finds himself comforting the weeping woman, and praying her to bear up. Then, as she dries her streaming eyes, clasping his hand with a hoarse "God bless you, Mr. Roche," he hastens away with bent head and throbbing brow back over the green grass.
No curse rises to his silent lips; he is as one who has just heard of the sudden death of his dearest upon earth. Everything seems slipping from him. There is a long stretch of blank life before his bloodshot eyes.
He waits in a state of nervous prostration on a wooden bench at Copthorne Station till the return train to town appears.
Then he staggers forward into the first empty carriage, buries his face on the cushions, and sobs.
His strong frame shakes like a reed with the violence of his grief. He is weak, too, from having fasted since the previous night, and does not attempt to control his sorrow.
The maddening thought of Eleanor and Quinton together adds gall and wormwood to the desolation in the deserted husband's heart.
"With Quinton!" He repeats the words, grinding his teeth. Quinton, the low scoundrel, the fast, fascinating man of bad reputation, the villain who has betrayed his wife, his angel, and dragged her to the lowest depths of degradation! She is beyond Philip's help now, and he knows it--beyond redemption!
The Rubicon has been crossed. Eleanor is among the lost--on the other side!
Erminie is sitting under the pale light of a yellow lamp, deep in a novel.
The heroine is wavering on the verge of an irredeemable error, and Erminie's kind heart is thoroughly in the book. She is a sympathetic reader, and her eyes moisten as they scan the pages.
She is guilty of serious skipping, and as steps are heard in the hall below, glances at the finish.
A sigh of relief escapes her.
"Oh, I am glad she didn't! I am glad she is saved!" exclaims Mrs. Lane involuntarily, rising, as she thinks, to meet Nelson, since this is his hour to return.
Instead, Philip stands before her, white as a corpse. His haggard features are accentuated by the mellow lamp light, his figure sways, tottering till he steadies himself by grasping the back of a chair.
He has not tasted food that day, and she fancies he looks shrunken, marvelling at his altered appearance.
She dares not ask him what has happened, but just gazes with wondering sympathy into his miserable eyes.
"It has come," he gasps, passing one hand over his brow.
"What?" murmurs Erminie, under her breath.
"Eleanor and Quinton--they have gone together."
His voice vibrates through the room. A gasp of horror escapes Mrs. Lane. She staggers back.
"What shall you do?" she asks.
"What will I do?" echoes Philip, his eyes flashing, and the colour rushing back in a flood to his ashen cheeks. "Find her--track her to the end of the earth. Everything in life has closed to me this day. I shall only exist for one motive--one unswerving aim. She thinks she has escaped me, but the world is small, and while Eleanor and I are both in the same hemisphere----"
He pauses, for the room swims round.
A look that Erminie can never forget crosses his face--a look of sublime love, checked by an expression of devilish rage and hatred. The two seem battling a moment for pre-eminence.
Then he draws himself up to his full height, as if fighting for breath, and falls heavily upon the floor at Erminie's feet. Nelson's voice is heard calling her without.
She rushes to the door with a wild cry:
"Help--help! Philip is DEAD!"
She rushes to the door with a wild cry.