7. The Shadows Rise And Fall
"I am so sorry, Giddy, darling," Eleanor writes, "but I can't possibly go to town with you this afternoon, as Philip's cousin, Miss Henderson, has just arrived to stay, and her fiancé, Nelson, is coming too. She is quite jolly, and I thought she would be horrid. Many thanks for sending on that silly little note from Mr. Quinton. Why did he address it to your house? I suppose he forgot 'Lyndhurst' though I told him the name.
"Ever your devoted,
"Dense little idiot!" sighs Giddy. "She cannot understand poor Carol's passion, and yet he kissed her in the hansom. It was like Eleanor to tell me. She always gives herself away. I pity those refreshingly young people who can never keep anything to themselves." Giddy waves up to the windows of Lyndhurst as she drives by.
"Who is that little Jezebel?" asks Erminie.
"My great friend, Mrs. Mounteagle," replies Eleanor.
"Tell her to knock off blanc de perle," responds Miss Henderson, "she would be twice as good-looking."
"I quite miss Erminie and Nelson," says Eleanor, glancing at her husband across the tea-table, with a bright smile. "They were most delightful people certainly."
It is several weeks later, and Erminie and Nelson are honeymooning in foreign climes.
"Yes, dear, and I really think we have been happier since their visit. They were so peaceful, so loving together; perhaps it was the force of good example."
"I don't think there has been one cross word for a fortnight," says Eleanor, laughing. She piles up the silken pillows on the sofa beside her.
"Come and sit here close by me, and we will have a little flirtation, like in the old days. Only you must imagine these brocade flowers are real red field poppies, and this sofa is a haycock, just at the back of Copthorne Farm. I can almost hear the lazy hum of the bees, and smell the fresh mown grass. I am not in a silk tea jacket, but my old blue cotton frock with the tear in the elbow, you remember I caught it on a nail by the gate. Isn't it fun to make believe like children? We don't often play, do we Philip? You must take my hand very gently, under the hay," pulling the cushion over her wrist. "I draw it away, you see, rather shyly, looking deliciously coy, and say: 'Oh! you mustn't, Mr. Roche.'
"Then you are horribly audacious, and kiss me straight off, you know how you used to. We are silent for a few moments, just holding each others' hands in unspeakable content, the sort of ecstacy that comes before marriage.
"We listen to the birds singing--a thrush keeps repeating my name--they generally seem to say something. I remember one at home that used to sit outside my window and chirp: 'Think of it! think of it! think of it!' till I grow quite angry, always recalling an unpleasant incident. 'I don't want to think of it!' I would declare, stamping my foot. Oh! Philip, what a good actor you are! you look frightfully in love."
"I am," he murmurs tenderly, clasping her in his arms. Eleanor laughs incredulously, and lays her head on his shoulder.
"Listen," she says, disengaging herself from his embrace. "We must not shock Sarah!"
The door is flung open.
Eleanor rises slowly, her eyes flash with strange brilliancy; she trembles slightly, flushes, pales!
Her husband sees it in a moment--the rush of colour to her cheeks, and the pallor as her hand meets Carol's.
Philip mutters something inaudible under his breath. The chilly air of winter creeps through the hayfield behind Copthorne Farm--the voices of birds are dead--it is cold, cruel January once more!
A horrible presentiment steals over him, numbing his senses--paralysing his brain. This man seems their evil genius, the red firelight playing on his tall slim figure, transforms him in Philip's eyes to a crimson Mephistopheles. Eleanor pours out a fresh cup of tea, and hands it to Mr. Quinton smilingly, as she did a moment ago to her husband.
She moves the poppy-patterned pillows for the new comer; he is beside her now on the sofa.
Philip feels left out. A jealous pang shoots through him like the stab of a knife, or the burning of iron red-hot on his flesh. Yet Eleanor, unconscious of the evil feelings she arouses, takes but little notice of her husband, and hangs upon Carol's words with eager interest, agrees with all he says, prevents him leaving twice when he rises to go, and hopes he will "look in again" soon.
"You might have asked him to stay and dine, Philip," she declares, when they are again alone. "He is so chatty and amusing. Why, what are you looking so black about?"
"I can't bear the fellow," mutters Philip. "I should like to knock him down when he looks at you out of those loathsome eyes, and talks rot enough to make one sick. The worst of it is you like him. I shudder for your taste."
"You are prejudiced," replies Eleanor hotly, "you can't bear me to have a friend that is not of your own choosing! My taste wasn't a thing to be shuddered at when I married you, was it? A selfish, egotistical----"
"Hush, Eleanor," he says, laying his hands firmly but not unkindly on her shoulders. "Don't let us quarrel, you will be sorry afterwards."
"I don't care that" (with a snap of her fingers) "whether we quarrel or not. It is better, though, to speak out than bottle it up inside. There! now you have got your reproachful look again, like the day you said I was vulgar! Let me go," wriggling herself free.
She stifles a sob, bangs through the door, and runs upstairs whistling. The refrain of the "Miller's" song is wafted down to the hall in Eleanor's clear, rich voice:
I care for nobody, no, not I
If nobody cares for me.
Philip walks slowly back to the sofa, gazes a moment at the cushions, then buries his face in their midst, grinding his teeth.