5. The Fly That Sips Treacle Is Lost In The Sweets
"I am tired of arguing the subject," declares Philip hotly, rising from his chair and pacing the room. "If you will
disregard my wishes and go your own way, well----"
"Let me, that's all!" retorts Eleanor.
"No wonder you have hardly a single friend in Richmond, if your whole time is spent with Mrs. Mounteagle," he replied.
"I don't want other friends--I dislike them, Philip, and what is the good of pretending friendship for people you don't care a button about? There is not a woman in the place that can hold a candle to Giddy."
"Oh, it's 'Giddy' now, is it?"
"Why not? I have known her nearly three months."
"Yes; and every month has been one too many. Do you think I cannot see the harm she is doing you? We might have led a happy, contented life it she were not here to poison it. What did you think of your home--before you met her? Everything was perfect! What did you say of it after?"
"Dowdy--old-fashioned--run to seed. Look at the transformation! Isn't my drawing-room a poem? Has not 'Liberty' descended like the goddess of Beauty on our abode, and made it the envy of our neighbours? Giddy has practically built me up, Philip. I owe her my dress-maker, my tailor, my style, my hats, my----"
"Oh! spare me," he interrupts, "I have heard it so often."
"Dear old fellow, don't
be angry," coaxes Eleanor, with her old cajoling manner. "It is very hard for a poor little woman to be left alone all day, while her better half is frivoling in the City with stocks and shares, and all sorts of nice amusing things. There really is no harm in Giddy, and she is so awfully clever and entertaining."
"But I do not approve of the people you meet at her house, nor your frequent visits to town together. I don't wish my wife to be constantly seen with a woman of doubtful reputation."
"Nonsense about her reputation, it's all bosh! People are jealous of her beauty that say nasty things. She told me so herself. Besides, we only do a little shopping, and it is so dull going all by oneself."
Eleanor has crept into his arms, and is soothing his ruffled feeling with caresses.
"It is only because I love you, Eleanor," he says, with more passionately, hungering devotion than of yore. "Her companionship is not good for you, and she is always taking you away from me. That sounds selfish, doesn't it?"
"Well, I forgive you," she whispers, "if you will be less ferocious in the future. I declare, when you walk up and down--like this," imitating his stride, "and show the whites of your eyes--so
; I want to hide under the sofa, and scream."
"Oh! Eleanor, was I such a bear?"
"Much worse than a bear; he is in a cage, and cannot get out. You just stand and laugh at him, and please him with a biscuit, or tease him with a feather."
"I didn't want to quarrel before going, only you started the subject of Mrs. Mounteagle, and it is rather a red rag, you know, Eleanor, since I objected from the first."
"But I am so wickedly wilful," she sighs, peeping through her eyelashes coquettishly. She has caught the "eye-lash" trick from her next-door neighbour.
"I am sorry, dear, to have to stay in town to-night, but it is most important. You won't give up your party at Hillier's?"
"Oh! no. I shall go alone. It is only one of their deadly musical evenings, with about three second-rate professionals, and a sprinkling of local talent. The Misses Hillier play the harp and violin, with particularly red arms and bony elbows, their sister-in-law sings in a throaty contralto, and the ices run out before ten."
"Is Mrs. Mounteagle asked?"
"They don't know each other, and Giddy is so glad. It gives her nearly a fit to look at them."
"Ah! yes, I remember Mrs. Hillier telling me she had not called."
"Now you are beginning again. And just as we had made it up, too," putting her hand over Philip's mouth.
"Well, I'll say no more. At least, I shall have the satisfaction of knowing you won't be with her to-night."
"Poor Giddy!" sighs Eleanor as he leaves; "how she is misjudged!"
"Mrs. Mounteagle," announces Sarah.
"How do, dear?" cries the widow sweetly, pressing Eleanor's cheek.
Then, as the door closes: "I don't like that maid of yours, she shows one in as if one were a dressmaker or sister of mercy, and always looks at me as if my bonnet were crooked. You really ought to get a man, it gives such a much better appearance to the place."
"I do not believe Philip would have one."
"My dear, a man is the last subject I should ever think of consulting my husband on. By-the-way, Eleanor, my fiancé
has turned up again. You know he went abroad to grow, and was not to come back for six months, but three seem to have nearly killed him. He has had typhoid fever in Antwerp, and then took a trip to New York, where he got jaundice. I must introduce you next Sunday, he is going to drive down."
"You never told me his name."
"Didn't I? Bertie
"Oh!" with an expressive intonation. "Is he fond of ices?"
"Yes. How did you know?"
"They are very unwholesome, and--and you said he had been ill."
"You are going to the Hilliers' to-night," Mrs. Mounteagle says, unfolding a parcel on her lap. "You intend wearing your white silk, I believe."
"Yes. It is good enough for them."
"I should think so, the cut of the skirt is lovely, but I am not altogether satisfied with the severe bodice. I want you to wear this fichu of mine, it is a perfect gem."
She holds out a cloud of spangled gauze.
"How lovely!" cries Eleanor, flinging her arms round the widow's neck.
"You're very welcome to it."
"Philip is deserting me to-night," continues Eleanor--"business in London."
"How dull you will be going and returning to your party alone. I know!" (her face lightening up as with some magic inspiration) "I'll come and stay the night with you, dear, see you dressed, and have a real good gossip up in your room about those stupid Hilliers afterwards."
Philip's words return to Eleanor: "At least you will not be together this evening.
" Yet what can she do? Besides it will be such fun to have Giddy.
So the plan is settled, and that evening Mrs. Mounteagle arrives in a flowing tea-gown, her maid unpacking a dainty dressing-bag with gold-topped ornaments, and hanging up a dress for the morning. Giddy sits in a low arm-chair watching Eleanor's toilette.
"Sarah is doing your hair abominably!" she exclaims. "You will look a fright. Here, let me show you, my good girl," addressing the maid in the superior drawl she adopts towards menials. "Twist the coil at the top--so, like a teapot handle, and let the side pieces wave loosely over the ears. You don't want to make a guy of your mistress, do you?"
Sarah resents the interference, but between them Eleanor's coiffure is eventually arranged.
"Now you are lovely; a sight for sore eyes," declares Giddy Mounteagle. "Yet what is the good after all in being beautiful for such a dowdy set? They will only hate you for it, as they hate me, the fools! We cannot help being well favoured."
"And she calls 'erself a lady!" says Sarah, scoffingly, to Judith later on. "She's as different to our young mistress as chalk to cheese."
"I don't like leaving you alone," declares Eleanor after dinner.
"Afraid I shall steal something?" asks Giddy, laughing. "Don't fret, my dear, I shall be quite happy in this glorious bookland. Mr. Roche has a most enviable collection. I have rather a headache, and shall go to bed early and read. I never sleep before two or three in the morning; so don't ring, but just throw a stone at my window. I should love to let you in."
"Just as you please, dear. It is all the same to me."
"You need not sit up for Mrs. Roche," says Mrs. Mounteagle, when she goes to her room, "and, Sarah! bring me coffee in the morning, my nerves will not stand tea."
Flinging open her window, Giddy lets the chilly night air mingle with the fumes of her cigarette, as she lies on a sofa before the fire.
In the meanwhile the beautiful Mrs. Roche is causing quite a sensation at the Hilliers', who are not so dowdy after all. The smartest Richmond girls arrive on this occasion, yet the men crowd round Eleanor, who, elated by success, converses in a most effervescing style.
She finds herself using Giddy's expressions, stealing Giddy's ideas, remembering her droll sayings, and repeating them second-hand.
They seem to go down, and amuse Eleanor as much as her listeners. She has just told a smart story (rather too smart for the occasion), when her glance falls on a man in the doorway. He is looking straight across at her with strangely magnetic eyes. He is tall, slim, handsome. She stops speaking. The stranger awakes a new interest; she forgets the others, she wants him.
He seeks out the youngest Miss Hillier, and asks for an introduction.
"Mrs. Roche--Mr. Quinton."
Two magic words make them friends. He takes the seat of honour by her side, monopolises the conversation, and eventually disperses her admiring circle.
Eleanor is glad. She is fascinated by the profound interest he displays when she speaks of herself. Besides, from what he tells her she gathers he is a man of genius, destroyed by pessimism, given to analyse human hearts and discover their misery, to look deeply into the lives of his fellow creatures, below the platitudes and conventionalities. He is richly endowed with the divine gift of sympathy, the supreme art of discrimination, yet occasionally reveals the witty spirits of the cynic, who is cynical to please.
He sees through Eleanor's society prattle, the guileless mind, the childish innocence. He recognises that as yet she is undeveloped--he mentally reviews her. She is absurd, improbable, and therefore fascinating. She is like a book with the best chapters torn out--you long to find them, and never rest till you succeed.
Palmists or clairvoyants would prophesy a future for her, simply through looking in her eyes; but whether notoriety is to be won by downfalling or uprising were better left unstated. Eleanor, he decides, is neither highly-strung nor excitable, but outspoken, fresh, and conscious of her beauty, without conceit. He thinks he loves her at first sight, the lukewarm love arising from admiration, which a man may feel towards a married woman, without blame, but at the close of the evening he is certain of it.
"What have we been talking about all to-night?" asks Eleanor, with a puzzled frown, and a smile which counteracts it. "So much was frivolous and foolish I cannot remember."
"Yet every word is hidden in some secret cell of your brain. Oh, that the secret cells could be opened and revealed to our nearest and dearest. What countless forgotten treasures might be restored."
"Or what ill-spoken words and evil quarrels revived," adds Eleanor wisely.
"Thus speaks a guilty conscience," he retorts. "I could sum up my life on a sheet of foolscap. 'Preface; apparent folly, covering intents and purposes. A boyhood of ambition, a manhood of misfortune.'"
"Yes, since I grew to realise facts, to see men and women as they are
, not as they appear! Sometimes the bare word 'reality' fills me with such loathing for this paltry world, with its pigmy minds and soulless bodies, that I can hardly control my contempt. I pull myself together, and pray for a new set of nerves, a stronger heart, and a better flow of healthy blood to the brain."
"What a pity that nerves cannot be purchased like false teeth," says Eleanor laughing.
"Nerves are the finest satire on our human organisation, and our bodies, each a theatre of perpetual activity, the most confusing mystery of all. I believe in a dual nature existing in men and women, but the difficulties which bar our progress to perfect knowledge of each other cannot be overcome."
"Things that can't be understood are invariably irritating," sighs Eleanor.
"Some day we will think it out together," he whispers, waving her fan gently. "We shall meet again, Mrs. Roche"--speaking confidently--"for have we not a mutual friend in Mrs. Mounteagle, whom I regret is not here to-night?"
"Yes. It is strange that we should both know her."
Eleanor has risen, and is holding out her hand for the fan.
"You are not going?"
"Look at the hour! I shall be disgraced if I stay longer."
She leaves him, and bids her hostess good-night, but finds he is waiting in the hall for a last word.
"May I call your carriage?"
"I did not order it, as I only live three doors off."
"Then may I escort you?"
Eleanor glances at him confidently with her large innocent eyes.
"Yes; I mean you to."
Mr. Quinton smiles, and takes her arm as they step out into the darkness.
"I knew somebody would see me home," she says, the old, childish Eleanor breaking through the "Giddy" manner. "I thought it would be much more fun than driving this step."
"Then it was premeditated."
She laughs softly.
"I wish it were not so near," murmurs Mr. Quinton.
"Mrs. Mounteagle wanted to let me in--I believe out of simple curiosity. I am to throw stones at her window. Quite romantic, isn't it?"
"May I have a shot?" he asks. "Which is the pane of beauty's shrine?"
"There, on the left of my room," pointing upwards.
A handful of gravel flies through the air. Rattle, rattle on the glass.
Then Giddy appears in a white robe de chambre
, her dark hair falling in waves about her shoulders.
"All right, I am coming down."
A moment later she stands before them, laughing and shaking hands with Carol Quinton, two small, bare feet peeping from under her airy garb, her hair still unfettered.
"It is a delightful surprise to see you
, Carol," she cries. "I have sent all the servants to bed, Eleanor, but told them to leave out some aspic and champagne, as I know the Hilliers starve their guests. What do you say to an impromptu supper party? It would be so delightfully unconventional."
She has dragged Carol into the hall and closed the door.
"Yes, do come in," echoes Eleanor feebly, pleased and yet awed by Giddy's suggestion. She is looking somewhat blankly at those delicate pink toes, and the dark mane falling over the white gown.
"Shall I get you some shoes?" she whispers.
"No, dear; Nature is better than leather, and more négligé
She speaks in a tone that silences Eleanor, who feels she has been dense and awkward.
"Come along," says Giddy, leading the way, and lighting the silver candelabra in the dining-room. "Do make Eleanor take off that heavy fur cloak, Carol. Oh! isn't this nice?" as he fills her glass with champagne. "Was there ever a jollier little trio?" leaning back in her chair and surveying the other two complacently. "Pass me a brown sandwich; I am hungry if you are not, and the stuff inside them gives you an appetite. What do you call it?--something beginning with an 'L.'"
The nectar of the gods puts a bright sparkle into Eleanor's eyes, their lustrous beauty gleams on Giddy and Carol Quinton in luxurious contentment. She permits her guests to smoke, and tries a whiff from Mrs. Mounteagle's cigarette, finally lighting one on her own behalf.
She dislikes smoking in reality, but considers it smart to imitate the widow.
"Have you really missed hearing Kitty Bell at the 'Frivolity'?" asks Mrs. Mounteagle, giving Carol a light from her cigarette. "My dear boy, she is perfectly charming, the most piquante
little singer of the day. Why, the chorus of her last song has haunted me ever since--the tune, not the words. It went something like this, as far as I can remember:
"Poor little Flo,
How should she know?
A simple country maiden
From the wilds of Pimlico."
As Giddy Mounteagle sings the lines a latchkey turns in the hall lock, footsteps advance down the passage, the dining-room door opens, and Philip Roche stands before them!
The dining-room door opens, and Philip Roche stands before them.