When Crosbie was making his ineffectual inquiry after Lady de Courcy’s bracelet at Lambert’s, John Eames was in the act of entering Mrs Roper’s front door in Burton Crescent.
“Oh, John, where’s Mr Cradell?” were the first words which greeted him, and they were spoken by the divine Amelia. Now, in her usual practice of life, Amelia did not interest herself much as to the whereabouts of Mr Cradell.
“Where’s Caudle?” said Eames, repeating the question.
“Upon my word, I don’t know. I walked to the office with him, but I haven’t seen him since. We don’t sit in the same room, you know.”
“John!” and then she stopped.
“What’s up now?” said John.
“John! That woman’s off and left her husband. As sure as your name’s John Eames, that foolish fellow has gone off with her.”
“What, Caudle? I don’t believe it.”
“She went out of this house at two o’clock in the afternoon, and has never been back since.” That, certainly, was only four hours from the present time, and such an absence from home in the middle of the day was but weak evidence on which to charge a married woman with the great sin of running off with a lover. This Amelia felt, and therefore she went on to explain. “He’s there upstairs in the drawing-room, the very picture of disconsolateness.”
“Who — Caudle?”
“Lupex is. He’s been drinking a little, I’m afraid; but he’s very unhappy, indeed. He had an appointment to meet his wife here at four o’clock, and when he came he found her gone. He rushed up into their room, and now he says she has broken open a box he had and taken off all his money.”
“But he never had any money.”
“He paid mother some the day before yesterday.”
“That’s just the reason he shouldn’t have any today.”
“She certainly has taken things she wouldn’t have taken if she’d merely gone out shopping or anything like that, for I’ve been up in the room and looked about. She’d three necklaces. They weren’t much account; but she must have them all on, or else have got them in her pocket.”
“Caudle has never gone off with her in that way. He may be a fool —” “Oh, he is, you know. I’ve never seen such a fool about a woman as he has been.”
“But he wouldn’t be a party to stealing a lot of trumpery trinkets, or taking her husband’s money. Indeed, I don’t think he has anything to do with it.” Then Eames thought ever the circumstances of the day, and remembered that he had certainly not seen Cradell since the morning. It was that public servant’s practice to saunter into Eames’s room in the middle of the day, and there consume bread and cheese and beer — in spite of an assertion which Johnny had once made as to crumbs of biscuit bathed in ink. But on this special day he had not done so.
“I can’t think he has been such a fool as that,” said Johnny.
“But he has,” said Amelia. “It’s dinner-time now, and where is he? Had he any money left, Johnny?”
So interrogated, Eames disclosed a secret confided to him by his friend which no other circumstances would have succeeded in dragging from his breast.
“She borrowed twelve pounds from him about a fortnight since, immediately after quarter-day. And she owed him money, too, before that.”
“Oh, what a soft!” exclaimed Amelia; “and he hasn’t paid mother a shilling for the last two months!”
“It was his money, perhaps, that Mrs Roper got from Lupex the day before yesterday. If so, it comes to the same thing as far as she is concerned, you know.”
“And what are we to do now?” said Amelia, as she went before her lover upstairs. “Oh, John, what will become of me if ever you serve me in that way? What should I do if you were to go off with another lady?”
“Lupex hasn’t gone off,” said Eames, who hardly knew what to say when the matter was brought before him with so closely personal a reference.
“But it’s the same thing,” said Amelia. “Hearts is divided. Hearts that have been joined together ought never to be divided; ought they?” And then she hung upon his arm just as they got to the drawing-room door.
“Hearts and darts are all my eye,” said Johnny. “My belief is that a man had better never marry at all. How d’you do, Mr Lupex? Is anything the matter?”
Mr Lupex was seated on a chair in the middle of the room, and was leaning with his head over the back of it. So despondent was he in his attitude that his head would have fallen off and rolled on to the floor, had it followed the course which its owner seemed to intend that it should take. His hands hung down also along the back legs of the chair, till his fingers almost touched the ground, and altogether his appearance was pendent, drooping, and woebegone. Miss Spruce was seated in one corner of the room, with her hands folded in her lap before her, and Mrs Roper was standing on the rug with a look of severe virtue on her brow — of virtue which, to judge by its appearance, was very severe. Nor was its severity intended to be exercised solely against Mrs Lupex. Mrs Roper was becoming very tired of Mr Lupex also, and would not have been unhappy if he also had run away — leaving behind him so much of his property as would have paid his bill.
Mr Lupex did not stir when first addressed by John Eames, but a certain convulsive movement was to be seen on the back of his head, indicating that this new arrival in the drawing-room had produced a fresh accession of agony. The chair, too, quivered under him, and his fingers stretched themselves nearer to the ground and shook themselves.
“Mr Lupex, we’re going to dinner immediately,” said Mrs Roper. “Mr Eames, where is your friend, Mr Cradell?
“Upon my word I don’t know,” said Eames.
“But I know,” said Lupex, jumping up and standing at his full height, while he knocked down the chair which had lately supported him.
“The traitor to domestic bliss! I know. And wherever he is, he has that false woman in his arms. Would he were here!” And as he expressed the last wish he went through a motion with his hands and arms which seemed intended to signify that if that unfortunate young man were in the company he would pull him in pieces and double him up, and pack him close, and then despatch his remains off, through infinite space, to the Prince of Darkness. “Traitor,” he exclaimed, as he finished the process. “False traitor! Foul traitor! And she too!” Then, as he thought of this softer side of the subject, he prepared himself to relapse again on to the chair. Finding it on the ground he had to pick it up. He did pick it up, and once more flung away his head over the back of it, and stretched his finger-nails almost down to the carpet.
“James,” said Mrs Roper to her son, who was now in the room, “I think you’d better stay with Mr Lupex while we are at dinner. Come, Miss Spruce, I’m very sorry that you should be annoyed by this kind of thing.”
“It don’t hurt me,” said Miss Spruce, preparing to leave the room. “I’m only an old woman.” “Annoyed!” said Lupex, raising himself again from his chair, not perhaps altogether disposed to remain upstairs while the dinner, for which it was intended that he should some day pay, was being eaten below. “Annoyed! It is a profound sorrow to me that any lady should be annoyed by my misfortunes. As regards Miss Spruce, I look upon her character with profound veneration.”
“You needn’t mind me; I’m only an old woman,” said Miss Spruce.
“But, by heavens, I do mind!” exclaimed Lupex; and hurrying forward he seized Miss Spruce by the hand. “I shall always regard age as entitled —” But the special privileges which Mr Lupex would have accorded to age were never made known to the inhabitants of Mrs Roper’s boarding-house, for the door of the room was again opened at this moment, and Mr Cradell entered.
“Here you are, old fellow, to answer for yourself,” said Eames.
Cradell, who had heard something as he came in at the front door, but had not heard that Lupex was in the drawing-room, made a slight start backwards when he saw that gentleman’s face. “Upon my word and honour,” he began — but he was able to carry his speech no further. Lupex, dropping the hand of the elderly lady whom he reverenced, was upon him in an instant, and Cradell was shaking beneath his grasp like an aspen leaf — or rather not like an aspen leaf, unless an aspen leaf when shaken is to be seen with its eyes shut, its mouth open, and its tongue hanging out.
“Come, I say,” said Eames, stepping forward to his friend’s assistance; “this won’t do at all, Mr Lupex. You’ve been drinking. You’d better wait till tomorrow morning, and speak to Cradell then.”
“Tomorrow morning, viper,” shouted Lupex, still holding his prey, but looking back at Eames over his shoulder. Who the viper was had not been clearly indicated. “When will he restore to me my wife? When will he restore to me my honour?”
“Upon — on — on — on my —” It was for the moment in vain that poor Mr Cradell endeavoured to asseverate his innocence, and to stake his honour upon his own purity as regarded Mrs Lupex. Lupex still held to his enemy’s cravat, though Eames had now got him by the arm, and so far impeded his movements as to hinder him from proceeding to any graver attack.
“Jemima, Jemima, Jemima!” shouted Mrs Roper. “Run for the police; run for the police!”. But Amelia, who had more presence of mind than her mother, stopped Jemima as she was making to one of the front windows. “Keep where you are,” said Amelia.
“They’ll come quiet in a minute or two. And Amelia no doubt was right. Calling for the police when there is a row in the house is like summoning the water-engines when the soot is on fire in the kitchen chimney. In such cases good management will allow the soot to burn itself out, without aid from the water-engines. In the present instance the police were not called in, and I am inclined to think that their presence would not have been advantageous to any of the party.
“Upon — my — honour — I know nothing about her,” were the first words which Cradell was able to articulate, when Lupex, under Eames’s persuasion, at last relaxed his hold.
Lupex turned round to Miss Spruce with a sardonic grin. “You hear his words — this enemy to domestic bliss — Ha, ha! man, tell me whither you have conveyed my wife!”
“If you were to give me the Bank of England I don’t know,” said Cradell.
“And I’m sure he does not know,” said Mrs Roper, whose suspicions against Cradell were beginning to subside. But as her suspicions subsided, her respect for him decreased. Such was the case also with Miss Spruce, and with Amelia, and with Jemima. They had all thought him to be a great fool for running away with Mrs Lupex, but now they were beginning to think him a poor creature because he had not done so. Had he committed that active folly he would have been an interesting fool. But now, if, as they all suspected, he knew no more about Mrs Lupex than they did, he would be a fool without any special interest whatever.
“Of course he doesn’t,” said Eames.
“No more than I do,” said Amelia.
“His very looks show him innocent,” said Mrs Roper.
“Indeed they do,” said Miss Spruce.
Lupex turned from one to the other as they thus defended the man whom he suspected, and shook his head at each assertion that was made. “And if he doesn’t know who does?” he asked. “Haven’t I seen it all for the last three months? Is it reasonable to suppose that a creature such as she, used to domestic comforts all her life, should have gone off in this way, at dinnertime, taking with her my property and all her jewels, and that nobody should have instigated her; nobody assisted her! Is that a story to tell to such a man as me! You may tell it to the marines!” Mr Lupex, as he made this speech, was walking about the room, and as he finished it he threw his pocket-handkerchief with violence on to the floor. “I know what to do, Mrs Roper,” he said. “I know what steps to take. I shall put the affair into the hands of my lawyers tomorrow morning.” Then he picked up his handkerchief and walked down into the dining-room.
“Of course you know nothing about it?” said Eames to his friend, having run upstairs for the purpose of saying a word to him while he washed his hands.
“What — about Maria? I don’t know where she is, if you mean that.”
“Of course I mean that. What else should I mean? And what makes you call her Maria?”
“It is wrong. I admit it’s wrong. The word will come out, you know.”
“Will come out! I’ll tell you what it is, old fellow, you’ll get yourself into a mess, and all for nothing. That fellow will have you up before the police for stealing his things —”
“But, Johnny —”
“I know all about it. Of course you have not stolen them, and of course there was nothing to steal. But if you go on calling her Maria you’ll find that he’ll have a pull on you. Men don’t call other men’s wives names for nothing.”
“Of course we’ve been friends,” said Cradell, who rather liked this view of the matter.
“Yes — you have been friends! She’s diddled you out of your money, and that’s the beginning and the end of it. And now, if you go on showing off your friendship, you’ll be done out of more money. You’re making an ass of yourself. That’s the long and the short of it.”
“And what have you made of yourself with that girl? There are worse asses than I am yet, Master Johnny.” Eames, as he had no answer ready to this counter attack, left the room and went downstairs. Cradell soon followed him, and in a few minutes they were all eating their dinner together at Mrs Roper’s hospitable table.
Immediately after dinner Lupex took himself away, and the conversation upstairs became general on the subject of the lady’s departure.
“If I was him I’d never ask a question about her, but let her go,” said Amelia.
“Yes; and then have all her bills following you, wherever you went,” said Amelia’s brother.
“I’d sooner have her bills than herself,” said Eames.
“My belief is, that she’s been an ill-used woman,” said Cradell. “If she had a husband that she could respect and have loved, and all that sort of thing, she would have been a charming woman.”
“She’s every bit as bad as he is,” said Mrs Roper.
“I can’t agree with you, Mrs Roper,” continued the lady’s champion. “Perhaps I ought to understand her position better than any one here, and —”
“Then that’s just what you ought not to do, Mr Cradell,” said Mrs Roper. And now the lady of the house spoke out her mind with much maternal dignity and with some feminine severity.
“That’s just what a young man like you has no business to know. What’s a married woman like that to you, or you to her; or what have you to do with understanding her position? When you’ve a wife of your own, if ever you do have one, you’ll find you’ll have trouble enough then without anybody else interfering with you. Not but what I believe you’re innocent as a lamb about Mrs Lupex; that is, as far as any harm goes. But you’ve got yourself into all this trouble by meddling, and was like enough to get yourself choked upstairs by that man. And who’s to wonder when you go on pretending to be in love with a woman in that way, and she old enough to be your mother? What would your mamma say if she saw you at it?”
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Cradell.
“It’s all very well your laughing, but I hate such folly. If I see a young man in love with a young woman, I respect him for it;” and then she looked at Johnny Eames. “I respect him for it — even though he may now and then do things as he shouldn’t. They most of ’em does that. But to see a young man like you, Mr Cradell, dangling after an old married woman, who doesn’t know how to behave herself; and all just because she lets him to do it — ugh! — an old broomstick with a petticoat on would do just as well! It makes me sick to see it, and that’s the truth of it. I don’t call it manly; and it ain’t manly, is it, Miss Spruce?”
“Of course I know nothing about it,” said the lady to whom the appeal was thus made. “But a young gentleman should keep himself to himself till the time comes for him to speak out — begging your pardon all the same, Mr Cradell.”
“I don’t see what a married woman should want with any one after her but her own husband,” said Amelia.
“And perhaps not always that,” said John Eames.
It was about an hour after this when the front-door bell was rung, and a scream from Jemima announced to them all that some critical moment had arrived. Amelia, jumping up, opened the door, and then the rustle of a woman’s dress was heard on the lower stairs.
“Oh, laws, ma’am, you have given us sich a turn,” said Jemima. “We all thought you was run away.”
“It’s Mrs Lupex,” said Amelia. And in two minutes more that ill-used lady was in the room.
“Well, my dears,” said she, gaily, “I hope nobody has waited dinner.”
“No; we didn’t wait dinner,” said Mrs Roper, very gravely.
“And where’s my Orson? Didn’t he dine at home? Mr Cradell, will you oblige me by taking my shawl? But perhaps you had better not. People are so censorious; ain’t they, Miss Spruce? Mr Eames shall do it; and everybody knows that that will be quite safe. Won’t it, Miss Amelia?”
“Quite, I should think,” said Amelia. And Mrs Lupex knew that she was not to look for an ally in that quarter on the present occasion. Eames got up to take the shawl, and Mrs Lupex went on.
“And didn’t Orson dine at home? Perhaps they kept him down at the theatre. But I’ve been thinking all day what fun it would be when he thought his bird was flown.”
“He did dine at home,” said Mrs Roper “and he didn’t seem to like it. There wasn’t much fun, I can assure you.”
“Ah, wasn’t there, though? I believe that man would like to have me tied to his button-hole. I came across a few friends — lady friends, Mr Cradell, though two of them had their husbands; so we made a party, and just went down to Hampton Court. So my gentleman has gone again, has he? That’s what I get for gadding about myself, isn’t it, Miss Spruce?”
Mrs Roper, as she went to bed that night, made up her mind that, whatever might be the cost and trouble of doing so, she would lose no further time in getting rid of her married guests.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01