The worst of it all was this: that the young man himself had not invariably that confidence in his own affections which displayed itself so bravely and so convincingly at a psychological moment. Not that Manister was insincere, exactly. If you come to think of it, you may deceive others with perfect innocence, having once deceived yourself. And this was exactly what had happened.
There was one distinctive feature of the case: away from Christina Luttrell the poor fellow had already had his doubts of himself; in her presence those doubts were as certain to evaporate as snowflakes in the warmth of the sun.
Even as he went down Mrs. Holland’s stairs Manister was joined by certain invisible companions — the misgivings that had made their escape as Christina entered the room. They had waited for him on the landing outside the door. They led and followed him downstairs. They linked arms with him in the street. They stifled him in his hansom, which they boarded ruthlessly. In one of the silent rooms of the club to which he drove they talked to him silently, sitting on the arms of his saddle-back chair and arguing all at once. Powerless to shake them off he was forced to bear with them, to hear what they had to say, to answer them where he could.
Mingling with the importunate voices of his inner consciousness were the remembered words of the girl. She had asked him whether he had never burst out laughing as the affair presented itself in certain lights; he did so now, silently, it is true, but with exceeding bitterness. She had told him that it was not enough that he should feel willing to wait for her when they were together; and now that he had left her, though so lately, he was certainly less inclined to be patient. She had suggested that he was more fascinated than in love; and already he knew that her suggestion had given shape and utterance to a vague suspicion of his own soul. She had gone so far as to hint at the possible secret of his infatuation, and there again she had hit the mark; though apart from her talent of torture her sweet looks and charming ways had been strong wine to Manister from the first. Still her snubs had piqued his passion in the beginning of things out in Melbourne; and here in Europe she had virtually refused him three times. Modest he might be, and yet know that this were a rare experience for such as himself at the hands of such as Tiny Luttrell. On the whole, the experience was sufficiently complete as it stood; yet he could not help wishing to win; indeed, he had gone too far to draw back, and for that reason alone the idea of defeat in the end was intolerable to him. And this was the one spring of his actions which seemed to have escaped Christina’s notice; the others she had detected with an acuteness which made him wonder, for the first time, whether on her very merits she would be a comfortable person to live with, after all.
Gradually, however, these echoes of the late interview grew fainter in his ears, and its upshot came home to Manister with sensations of chagrin sharper than any he had endured in all his life before. His feelings when refused by this girl in the previous August, and under peculiarly humiliating circumstances, were enviable compared with his feelings now. Then he had deserved his humiliation — at least he was generous enough to say so — and he had taken what he called his punishment in a very manly spirit. But the desire to win had sent him on a secret mission to Cintra, on the chance of seeing her there, and his present feelings reminded him of those with which he had beaten his retreat from Portugal. For he had gone there for a final answer, and had come back without one; and today he had suffered afresh that selfsame humiliation, only in an aggravated form, and more voluntarily than ever. She had never asked him to wait; he had offered on both occasions to wait six months — nay, he had insisted on waiting. Even now, within a couple of hours after the event, he could scarcely credit his own weakness and stultification. He was by no means so weak in affairs wherein the affections played no part. He firmly believed that no other woman could have twisted him round her finger as this one had done. But here, perhaps, we have merely the everyday spectacle of a young man discerning exceptional excuses for a realized infirmity; and the point is that Manister realized his weakness this evening as he had never done before. The girl herself had made him look inward. She had suggested fascination, not love. That suggestion stuck painfully. Yet he was not sure.
Never had he felt so horribly unsure of himself; in the midst of his self-distrust there came to him, suddenly, the recollection that she distrusted him no longer, and there was actually some comfort in this thought, which is strange when you note its fellows, but due less to the contradictoriness of human nature than to the supremacy of a young man’s vanity. He stood well with her now. She believed in him at last. Propped up by these reflections, he began almost to believe in himself. At least a momentary complacency was the result.
The improvement in his spirits allowed Lord Manister to give heed to another portion of his organism which had for some time been inviting him to go into another room and dine. Now he did so, with a sharp eye for acquaintances, whom he had no desire to meet. For this reason he had driven to the club which he had joined most recently; it was not a young man’s club, so he felt fairly safe from his friends. Yet he had hardly ordered his soup, and was searching the wine list for the choice brand which the circumstances seemed to demand, when a heavy hand dropped upon his shoulder, and his glance leapt from the wine list to the last face he expected or wished to see — that of his kinsman Captain Dromard.
Captain Dromard was a cousin of the present earl, and notoriously the rolling stone of his house. Manister had seen him last in Melbourne, and ever since had borne him a grudge which he was not likely to forget. Had he dreamt that the captain (who had been last heard of in Borneo) was in London, Manister would have shunned this club in order to avoid the risk of meeting him; but it seemed that Captain Dromard had landed in England only that morning: and they dined together, of course; and Manister made the best of it. His kinsman was a big, grizzled, florid man, with an imperial, and with a comic wicked cut about him which made one laugh. But he retained an unpleasant trick of treating Manister as a mere boy: for instance, he was in time to choose the brand, and, as he said before the waiter, to prevent Manister from poisoning himself. He was, however, an entertaining person, and at his best to-night, being wont to delight in London for a day or two before realizing the infernal qualities of the climate and arranging fresh travels. But Manister was not entertained; he tried to appear so, but the captain saw through the pretense, and immediately scented a woman. There were reasons why the rolling stone was particularly good at detecting this element — which always interested him. His interest was unusual in the present instance, owing to certain reminiscences of Manister in Melbourne during his own flying visit to that port. It was during a subsequent week-end in England that Captain Dromard had alarmed the countess, with a result of which he was as yet unaware; but he did not hesitate to make inquiries now, and he began by asking Manister how he had managed to get out of the scrape in which he had left him.
“I remember no scrape,” said Manister stiffly.
“You don’t? Well, perhaps I put it too strongly,” conceded the captain. “We’ll say no more about it, my boy. Devilish pretty little thing, though; remember her well, but could never recall her name. By the bye, I’m afraid I terrified your mother over that; feared she was going to cable you home next day; was sorry I spoke.”
“So was I,” Manister said dryly, but, by an effort, not forbiddingly, so that the captain saw no harm in raising his glass.
“Well, here’s to the lady’s health, my boy, whoever she was, and wherever she may be!”
Manister smiled across his glass and drained it in silence. There was a glitter in his young eyes which made it difficult for the captain to drop the subject finally. Manister had been drinking freely, without becoming flushed, which is another sign of trouble. The captain could not help saying confidentially:
“You know, Harry, your mother was so keen for you to marry one of old Acklam’s daughters. That’s what frightened her. But it is to come off some day, isn’t it?”
“Can’t say,” said Lord Manister.
“It ought to, Harry. I like to see a young fellow with your position marry properly, and settle down. I don’t know which of the Garths it is, but I’ve always heard one of ’em was the girl you liked.”
“Suppose the girl you like won’t marry you?” Manister exclaimed, with a sudden change of manner, and in the tone of one consulting an authority.
“Well, there’s an end on’t.”
“Ah, but suppose she can’t make up her mind?”
“You might give her a month — though I wouldn’t.”
“Suppose a month is not enough for her?”
The captain stared; his bronzed forehead became barred with furrows; his eyes turned stony with indignation.
“A month not enough for her to make up her mind — about you?” he said at length incredulously. “Good God, sir, see her to the devil!”
Then Lord Manister showed his teeth. Though he had consulted the captain, he took his advice badly. He said you could not be much in love to be choked off so easily; he hinted that his kinsman had never been much in love. Captain Dromard intimated in reply that whether that was the case or not he was not without experience of a sort, and he could tell Harry that no woman under heaven was worth kneeling in the mud to, which Harry said hotly was unnecessary information. So they went elsewhere to smoke, and later on to a music hall, the subject having been left for good in the club coffee room. The following afternoon, however, Lord Manister drove through the snow with a very resolute front to show to Tiny Luttrell, who was just then passing Deal in the Ballaarat, without having given him the faintest notion yesterday that she was to sail today.
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:16