The Frobishers/Chapter 22
On the following evening, after tea, Joan sat down to write a letter to Mrs. Beaudessart, thanking her for the Christmas hamper. At the same time she purposed intimating to her, as delicately as might be, that she was aware that her place of retreat had been discovered by means of the hamper, and that she trusted it would not be divulged. For, indeed, she could not consider the words dropped by Tom as implying anything other than that Hector Beaudessart had tracked her.
"I do not head this letter with our address, as my sister and I are still particularly desirous of being left undisturbed whilst we settle down into our new quarters and new mode of life. We are well aware of the kindness of our friends; we are sure that they are only too ready to press on us their generous and well-intentioned assistance; but we have resolved to remain independent, and the many kind offers certain to be made would only embarrass us. But pray assure everyone that we are in cosy quarters, are very well, and active."
She looked up, and saw Sibyll dressed to go out. The day was a general holiday, and Joan had remained at home. Now evening had fallen thick and dark. On that evening there was no expectation of the girls dropping in, and Joan had calculated on spending it quietly with her sister.
There was an indescribable something in Sibyll's look and manner that filled Joan with apprehension; she remained with pen poised in her hand, and her eyes fixed inquiringly on her. Sibyll manifested uneasiness. She said—
"I should like to take the key with me, so as not to disturb you, Joan, when I return. I may be late."
"Late, Sibyll! Whither are you going?"
"I shall be with Caroline Grosser. In fact, we have been given tickets for the theatre."
"Tickets for the theatre!"
Joan was too greatly astounded to do more than repeat the words.
"Yes," Sibyll explained; "it is most considerate of Mr. Mangin. He has sent me a ticket, and has given one to Caroline, and we are going together. There is to be a pantomime-'Cinderella,' I believe—and—a grand transformation scene. Life has become so intolerably formal and dull here, that one is glad of the smallest flash of brightness in it."
Joan had recovered herself.
"This is impossible, Sibyll," she said gravely. "You cannot accept a ticket from the manager. It is unseemly. You, who are so nice about remaining a lady, should know that to do so would be indecorous."
"I don't know that. I have no reason to suppose that he intends going with us."
"There should not be a doubt entertained on the matter. It places you under an obligation to a man at the head of the establishment in which you are a hand, and he one who does not bear a high character."
"That is mere slander."
"It may be so—I trust it is so. But, Sibyll, consider that our father is but recently dead."
"Oh, no one here knows that!"
"Everyone in Fennings' bank knows it. And to-day—Boxing Day—more than half the young people from Fennings' will be at the theatre. I really cannot allow you to go. In your own heart I am convinced that you feel it would not be decent to appear at the pantomime dressed in deepest mourning."
"I made sure you would growl."
"I appeal to your own good feelings. Sibyll, with the thought of our dear father taken from us not three months ago, can you engage in this pleasure?"
The girl stood crestfallen and irresolute. Then Joan said—
"My dearest, you have much to bear—I know it well; but do not act so that self-reproach may add its sting to your present distress. Give me the ticket."
"But Caroline is awaiting me at the head of the street."
"Well, give me the ticket, and I will go to her and explain why you cannot accept it."
Sibyll surrendered, but not with good grace.
Joan took an envelope and slipped the ticket into it, then put on her hat and went forth.
At the extremity of the street, under a lamp, lounging against the post, was Caroline, very smartly dressed.
"Well, you have kept me waiting," said the girl, not at the first glance noticing which of the sisters approached, "and the wind cuts through one like a razor. What! Where is Sibyll?"
"Caroline," answered Joan, "I have come instead. I have come to inform you that she cannot accompany you. As you are perhaps not aware, I may tell you that our dear father died lately, and on this account my sister is unable to go to a place of public amusement."
"But," said Caroline, "Charlie Mangin will be awfully put out. I know he intends giving us a jolly good supper afterwards at the Blue Boar."
"Indeed! Did my sister know of this as well as you?"
"No. It was to be a surprise sprung on her."
"Then I am most thankful my sister has declined to accept. Carrie! do you consider how very indiscreet it is in you to receive such a favour?"
"Oh, there is no harm."
"No harm in a jolly good supper—but, do think for a moment what will be said. How your character will suffer."
"No one will know. He is not going to the theatre with us; he has got some temperance or other silly stuff meeting going on this evening, which he must attend."
"The whole affair is bound to come out. There are eyes everywhere; in a pottery are many pitchers, and all have long ears. Your own self-respect will prevent you from rushing into so compromising an act."
"Oh, I'm not so sure of that. I like a pantomime, and I adore a good supper."
"This is thoughtlessness, Carrie, and nothing more," said Joan. "From all I hear of you, I learn that you have a good heart, and your sole fault is want of looking before you leap. You are now about to fall into a trap. Do look ahead and mark where you go. Tell me frankly, has not the notice taken of my sister by Mr. Mangin been matter of comment in the bank?"
"Well, I daresay it may have been so."
"And what would be thought of her were it known, as it assuredly would be, that she had taken a theatre ticket from him, and afterwards had supped with him at the Blue Boar?"
"Not alone—I was invited as well."
"Carrie, I am quite sure you have no evil intent. But what shame and misery it would cause me if it came out, what humiliation and agony of remorse to Sibyll! And what, think you, would be the public verdict on you as the one who led her into such a situation? Now, my dear girl, I do entreat you not to go."
"But he has ordered supper."
"You do not know it, you only suppose so. There is plenty of time for him to countermand it if he has given instructions for its preparation. Let me have your ticket, and allow me to go to his house and return it. I will say that, owing to my sister being in mourning, she cannot accept his kind offer of the ticket, and that with your good heart you have resolved on keeping her company. You shall spend the evening with us, Carrie. We will have in Polly Myatt, and enjoy a game of Old Maid, or Sheep's Head. I have goose giblets and mince pies for supper."
"Goose! where did you get goose?"
"Some friends in the country sent it. And, in addition, we have mince pies. Carrie, will not this draw you?"
"All right. I daresay I was stupid. Here is the ticket. You really will explain matters?"
"I will go immediately to Lavender Lodge."
"Mind his mother—she's awfully prim, and swallowed a poker when young."
"I shall know what to do. You go to No. 16, and Sibyll will be delighted to have your company, and do her best to entertain you; so also will I, when I return."
"I meant no harm—I really did not."
"I know it, Carrie. I cannot tell you how I esteem you for readily surrendering your pleasure to do what you know to be right."
"Oh, for the matter of that, I can go to the theatre at any time, and am not so hard up but that I can pay for my own ticket. But goose giblets, I can't get them every day, and I want to pile up good luck for the new year by eating a lot of mince pies."
"No, Carrie, you cannot deceive me thus. It is not the giblets, it is not the mince pies that induce you to give up the pantomime, but your own true, honest heart and healthy conscience."