A Safety Match/Chapter 10
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SOCIAL SUCCESS.
By nine o'clock next morning Lady Carr, becomingly arrayed, was sitting up in bed munching a hearty breakfast, and reflecting according to her habit upon yesterday's experiences and to-day's arrangements.
She had dined with her husband at the Savoy, but the meal had not been quite such a success as she had anticipated. Juggernaut had treated her with the restrained courtesy which was habitual to him; but ladies who are taken out to dinner at the Savoy, even by their husbands, usually expect something more than restrained courtesy. You must be animated on these occasions—unless of course you happen to be a newly-engaged couple, in which case the world benignantly washes its hands of you—or the evening writes itself down a failure. Juggernaut had not been animated. He had ordered a dinner which to Daphne's gratification and surprise—she had not credited him with so much observation—had consisted almost entirely of her favourite dishes. But he had not sparkled, and sparkle at the Savoy, as already intimated, is essential.
About ten o'clock he had been called away to an important division in the House, and Daphne had gone on to a party, escorted by her husband's secretary, factotum, and right-hand man, one Jim Carthew, who arrived from Grosvenor Street in answer to a telephone summons. Carthew was a new friend of Daphne's. She accumulated friends much as a honey-pot accumulates flies, but Jim Carthew counted for more than most. They had never met until five weeks ago, for Carthew had always been up north engaged on colliery business when Daphne was in London; and when Daphne was at Belton, her husband's old home near Kilchester, Carthew had been occupied by secretarial work in town. But they had known one another by name and fame ever since Daphne's marriage, and at last they had met. Daphne was not slow to understand why her husband, impatient of assistance as he usually was, had always appeared ready to heap labour and responsibility upon these youthful shoulders. Carthew was barely thirty, but he was perfectly capable of upholding and furthering his leader's interests in the great industrial north; while down south it was generally held that whenever he grew tired of devilling for Juggernaut the Party would find him a seat for the asking.
But so far Carthew seemed loth to forsake the man who had taught him all he knew. He cherished a theory, somewhat unusual in a rising man, that common decency requires of a pupil that he shall repay his master, at the end of the period of instruction, by a period of personal service.
He was a freckle-faced youth, with a frank smile of considerable latitude, and a boyish zeal for the healthy pursuits of life. He possessed brains and character, as any man must who served under Juggernaut; and like his master he was a shrewd judge of men. Of his capacity for dealing with women Daphne knew less; but she had already heard rumours—confidences exchanged over teacups and behind fans—of a certain Miss Nina Tallentyre, perhaps the acknowledged beauty of that season, at the flame of whose altar Jim Carthew was said to have singed his wings in a conspicuously reckless fashion. But all this was the merest hearsay, and Daphne was unacquainted with the lady into the bargain. Possibly it was with a view to remedying this deficiency in her circle of acquaintance that she kept Jim Carthew at her side for the space of half an hour after they reached Mrs Blankney-Pushkins' reception.
After a couple of waltzes Lady Carr expressed a desire to be fed with ices and cream buns.
Mr Carthew assented, but with less enthusiasm than before. Daphne noticed that his eye was beginning to wander.
"After that," she continued cheerfully, "we will find seats, and you shall tell me who everybody is. I am still rather a country mouse."
"I should think so!" said Carthew, reluctantly recalling his gaze from a distant corner of the refreshment-room. "I beg your pardon! You were saying—?"
"Perhaps there is some one else whom you have promised to dance with, though," continued the country mouse demurely.
Carthew, whose eye had slid stealthily round once more in the direction of a supper-party in the corner, recovered himself resolutely, and made the only reply that gallantry permitted.
"That's all right, then," said Daphne. "Tell me who those people are, having supper over there. That man with the fierce black eyes—who is he? He looks wicked."
"As a matter of fact," said Carthew, resigning himself to his fate, "he is about the most commonplace bore in the room. If he takes a girl in to dinner he talks to her about the weather with the soup, the table decorations with the fish, and suffragettes with the entrée. About pudding-time he takes the bit between his teeth and launches out into a description of the last play he saw—usually Charley's Aunt or East Lynne. When he unexpectedly encounters a friend at a sea-side watering-place, he observes that 'the world is a very small place.' At his own funeral (to which I shall send a wreath) he will sit up and thank the mourners for 'this personal tribute of affection and esteem.'"
Daphne sat regarding this exhibition of the art of conversation with some interest. She observed that Carthew's wits were wandering, and that with inherent politeness he was exercising a purely mechanical faculty to entertain her pending their return. Jim Carthew was a true Briton in that he hated revealing his deeper thoughts to the eyes of the world. But unlike the ordinary Briton who, when his feelings do get the better of him, finds himself reduced to silent and portentous gloom, he instinctively clothed his naked shrinking soul in a garment of irresponsible frivolity. The possession of this faculty is a doubtful blessing, for it deprives many a deserving sufferer of the sympathy which is his right, and which would be his could he but take the world into his confidence. But the world can never rid itself of the notion that only still waters run deep. Consequently Jim Carthew passed in the eyes of most of his friends as a kindly, light-hearted, rather soulless trifler. But Daphne was not altogether deceived. She took an instinctive interest in this young man. She interrupted his feverish monologue, and enquired:—
"Tell me, who is that girl? The tall one, with fair hair and splendid black eyes."
"What is she dressed in?" asked Carthew, surveying the throng with studied diligence.
"Flame-coloured chiffon," said Daphne.
"That is a Miss Tallentyre," replied Carthew carelessly. "Do you think she is pretty?" he added, after a slightly strained pause.
"I think she is perfectly magnificent. Do you know her?"
"Will you introduce me?" asked Daphne. "I should like to know her. See, she has just sent away her partner. Take me over and leave me with her, and then you will be free to run off and find the charmer I can see you are so anxious about."
The hapless Carthew having asserted, this time with considerably more sincerity, that he had now no further thoughts of dancing, the introduction was effected. The sequel lay this morning upon Daphne's breakfast-tray, amid a heap of invitations,—Daphne was in great request at present—in the form of a note, written upon thick blue paper, in a large and rather ostentatious feminine hand. It ran,—
Dear Lady Carr: Don't consider me a forward young person if I ask you to be an angel and come and lunch with me to-day. I know all sorts of ceremonies ought to be observed before such a climax is reached; but will you take them for granted and come? We had such a tiny talk last night, and I do so want to know you better. I have been dying to make your acquaintance ever since I first saw you.
Daphne was not the sort of girl to take it amiss that she, a married woman of twenty-three, with a husband and baby of her own, should informally be bidden to a feast by a young person previously unknown to her, who possessed neither. In any case the last sentence would have been too much for her vanity. She scribbled a note of acceptance to Miss Tallentyre's invitation, and set about her morning toilet.
Once downstairs, she paid her regulation punctilious visit to the library, where her husband was usually to be found until twelve o'clock. She inquired in her breezy fashion after the health of the Mother of Parliaments, and expressed a hope that her spouse had come home at a reasonable hour and enjoyed a proper night's rest. She next proceeded to the orders of the day.
"Are you dining out to-night, dear?" she inquired.
"Yes, for my sins! A City dinner at six-thirty."
"You'll be bad the morn!" quoted Lady Carr.
"True for you, Daphne. Are you going anywhere?"
"Well, you had better have Carthew to dine with you, and then he can take you to the theatre afterwards. Sorry I can't manage it my—for our two selves," he added, guiltily conscious of Mrs Carfrae's recent homily.
But Daphne was quite satisfied with the arrangement, which she designated top-hole.
"Now I am off shopping," she announced. "After that I am lunching with a girl I met last night; then Hurlingham, with the Peabodys. If you are going gorging at six-thirty, I probably shan't see you again to-day; so I'll say good-night now. Pleasant dreams! I am off to play with Baby before I go out. So long!"
She presented her husband with his diurnal kiss, and departed in search of Master Brian Vereker Carr, whose domain was situated in the upper regions of the house. Here for a time the beautiful and stately consort of Sir John Carr merged into the Daphne of old—Daphne, the little mother of all the world, the inventor of new and delightful games and repairer of all damages incurred therein. Her son's rubicund and puckered countenance lightened at her approach. He permitted his latest tooth to be exhibited without remonstrance; he nodded affably, even encouragingly, over his mother's impersonation of a dying pig; and paid her the supreme compliment of howling lustily on her departure.
Master Carr never interviewed his parents simultaneously. His father's visits—not quite so constrained as one might imagine, once the supercilious nurse had been removed out of earshot—usually took place in the evening, just before dinner; but father and mother never came together. Had they done so, it is possible that this narrative might have followed a different course. A common interest, especially when it possesses its father's mouth and its mother's eyes, with a repertory of solemn but attractive tricks with its arms and legs thrown in, is apt to be a very uniting thing.
Daphne duly lunched with Miss Tallentyre.
"May I call you Daphne?" the siren asked, in a voice which intimated that a request from some people is as good as a command from most. "I have taken a fancy to you; and when I do that to anybody—which isn't often—I say so. My dear, you are perfectly lovely! I wish I had your complexion. You don't put anything on it, do you?"
"Soap," said Daphne briefly. She was not of the sort which takes "fancies" readily.
Miss Tallentyre smiled lazily.
"I see you haven't got the hang of me yet," she drawled. "You are a little offended with me. Most people are at first, but they soon find that it's not really rudeness—only me!—and they come round. I don't go in for rouge either: like you, I don't need it. But I have to touch up my eyebrows. They are quite tragically sandy, and my face looks perfectly insipid if I leave them as they are." She laughed again. "Have I shocked you? You see, I believe in being frank about things—don't you? Be natural—be yourself—say what you think! That is the only true motto in life, isn't it?"
Daphne agreed cautiously. She had not yet plumbed this rather peculiar young woman. It had never occurred to her, in the whole course of her frank ingenuous existence, to ask herself whether she was herself or not. Such things were too high for her. She began to feel that she had been somewhat remiss in the matter. Miss Tallentyre appeared to have made a speciality of it.
But as shrewd Daphne was soon to discern for herself, this was only pretty Nina's way. A more confirmed poseuse never angled for the indiscriminate admiration of mankind. Nina Tallentyre was no fool. Having observed that in order to become conspicuous in this world it is an advantage to possess marked individuality, and having none of her own beyond that conferred by her face and figure, she decided to manufacture an individuality for her herself. She accordingly selected what she considered the most suitable of the rôles at her disposal, rehearsed it to her satisfaction, assumed it permanently, and played it, it must be confessed, uncommonly well. Her pose was that of the blunt and candid child of nature, and her performances ranged from unblushing flattery towards those with whom she desired to stand well to undisguised rudeness towards those whom she disliked and did not think it necessary to conciliate.
Her method prospered. Whatever wise men may think or say of us, fools usually take us at our own valuation. Consequently Miss Tallentyre never lacked a majority of admirers. She set a very high price upon her friendship, too, conferring it only as an exceptional favour; and the public, which always buys on the rise, had long since rushed in and bulled Miss Tallentyre's stock—her beauty, her wit, her transparent honesty—sky high.
The luncheon was a tête-à-tête function, the parent-birds, as Miss Tallentyre termed them, being absent upon a country visit. Afterwards Russian cigarettes and liqueur brandy were served with the coffee. Daphne declined these manly luxuries, but her hostess took both.
"Not that I like them," she explained with a plaintive little sigh, "but it looks chic; and one must be chic or die. Besides, I am doing it to annoy one of my admirers—one of those simple-minded, early Victorian, John Bullish creatures who dislike seeing a girl smoke, or drink cognac, or go to the theatre without a chaperone. Here is his latest effusion; it will make you shriek."
She picked up a letter from a little table by her side and began to read aloud.
"'Nina, dear child, I know you don't care for me any more,'—As a matter of fact I never cared for him at any time—'but I can't help still taking an interest in you, and all that. I must say this. On Tuesday night I saw you sitting at supper with two men at the Vallambrosa, without anybody else to keep you in countenance, sipping liqueur brandy and smoking. Well, don't—there's a dear! You simply don't know what cruel things people say about a girl who does that sort of thing in public. Of course I know that you are absolutely—'"
But Lady Carr was on her feet, slightly flushed.
"I think I must be going now," she said. "I had no idea it was so late. I have to meet some people at Hurlingham."
"Sorry you have to rush off," said Miss Tallentyre regretfully; "we were so cosy. Isn't this letter perfectly sweet?"
Daphne, who was glowing hotly, suddenly spoke her mind.
"If an honest man," she said, "wrote me a letter like that, I don't think I should read it aloud to total strangers, even if I was mortally offended by it. It doesn't seem to me cricket. Good-bye, and thank you so much for asking me to lunch."
"Not altogether a successful party," mused Daphne, as a taxi-cab conveyed her to Hurlingham. "What a hateful girl! And yet, at the back of all that affectation I believe there is something. I couldn't help liking her. She certainly is very lovely, and she must have been a darling before men got hold of her and spoiled her. . . . I wonder if that letter was from Jim Carthew. It sounded like his blunt blundering way of doing things. Well, he is well rid of her, anyhow. Hurrah! here is Hurlingham, and there are the Peabodys! How lovely to see the trees and grass again! And the dear ponies!"
The country-bred girl drew a long luxurious breath, and in the fulness of her heart grossly overpaid her charioteer on alighting. Then, forgetting Miss Tallentyre and her exotic atmosphere utterly and absolutely, she plunged with all the energy of her sunny soul into the sane delights and wholesome joys afforded by green trees, summer skies, and prancing polo-ponies.
Daphne concluded her day, after a joyous drive home in the cool of the evening on the box-seat of a coach, by entertaining Jim Carthew to dinner. Afterwards he was to take her to The Yeoman of the Guard, which was running through a revival at the Savoy Theatre. Daphne was by no means a blasée Londoner as yet, for much of her short married life had been spent at Belton; and the theatre was still an abiding joy to her. On the way she rattled off a list of the pieces she had seen.
"And you have never been to a Gilbert and Sullivan opera?" asked Carthew incredulously.
"All I can say is—cheers!"
"Supposing you were a benevolent person about to introduce a small boy to his first plum-pudding, you would feel as I do," replied her companion. "But wait. Here is the theatre: we are in the fourth row of stalls."
Daphne sat raptly through the first act. Once or twice her laughter rang out suddenly and spontaneously like a child's, and indulgent persons turned and smiled sympathetically upon her; but for the most part she was still and silent, revelling in Sullivan's ever-limpid music and following the scenes that passed before her with breathless attention.
When the curtain fell slowly upon the finale of the first act—the suddenly deserted stage, the bewildered Fairfax holding his fainting bride in his arms, and the black motionless figure of the executioner towering over all—Daphne drew a long and tremulous breath, and turned to her companion.
"I understand now what you meant," she said softly. "How splendid to be able to bring some one here for the first time!"
"What surprises me," said Carthew, "is that Sir John hasn't brought you here already. I know he simply loves it."
"I am usually taken to places like the Gaiety," confessed Lady Carr. "Probably Jack considers them more suited to my intellect— Hallo, here are the orchestra-men crawling out of their holes again! Good!"
Presently the curtain went up on the last act, and Jack Point introduced a selection of the Merry Jests of Hugh Ambrose, to the audible joy of the fourth row of stalls. The Assistant Tormentor and his beloved were likewise warmly received; but presently Daphne's smiles faded. Poor Jack Point's tribulations were too much for her: during the final recurrence of I Have a Song to Sing, O! tears came, and as the curtain fell she dabbed her eyes hurriedly with an inadequate handkerchief.
"Awfully sorry!" she murmured apologetically. "Luckily you are not the sort to laugh at me."
Carthew silently placed her wrap round her shoulders.
"Mr Carthew," said Daphne suddenly, "will you take me somewhere gay for supper? It wouldn't be awfully improper, would it? I can't go home feeling as sad as this."
"Come along!" said Carthew.
He escorted her to an establishment where the electric lights blazed bravely, a band blared forth a cacophonous cake-walk apparently entitled "By Request," and the brightest and best of the Jeunesse dorée of London mingled in sweet companionship with the haughty but hungry divinities of the musical comedy stage.
Carthew secured a table in a secluded corner, as far as possible from the band.
"Sorry to have given you the hump," he said, with his boyish smile. "Next week I will take you to The Mikado. No tears there! You will laugh till you cry. Rather a bull that—what?"
He persevered manfully in this strain in his endeavour to drive away impressionable Daphne's distress on Jack Point's behalf, and ultimately succeeded.
"I hope he was dead, not simply in a faint," was her final reference to the subject. Then she continued: "I shall take them all to see that lovely piece—separately. I am not sure about Nicky, though. She is just at the scoffing age just now, and I don't think I could bear it, if she——"
"Not long ago," said Carthew, "I took a girl—that sort of girl—to see The Yeomen."
Daphne regarded him covertly. She knew the girl.
"Well?" she said.
"I took her on purpose," continued Carthew—"to see how she——"
Daphne, deeply interested, nodded comprehendingly.
"I know," she said. "How did she take it?"
"She never stirred," said Carthew, "all through the last act. When the curtain fell, she sat on for a few moments without saying a word, and she never spoke all the time I was taking her home. When I said good-night to her, she—she said something to me. It was not much, but it showed me that she was the right sort after all, in spite of what people said——"
He checked himself suddenly, as if conscious that his reminiscences were becoming somewhat intimate. But Daphne nodded a serious head.
"I'm glad," she said simply. "One likes to be right about one's friends."
Carthew shot a grateful glance at her; and presently they drifted into less personal topics, mutually conscious that here, if need be, was a friend—an understanding friend.
The evening had yet one more incident in store for Daphne.
Twelve-thirty, the Ultima Thule of statutory indulgence—the hour at which London, thirty minutes more fortunate than Cinderella, must perforce fly home from scenes of revelry and get ready to shake the mats—was fast approaching; and the management of the restaurant began, by a respectful but pertinacious process of light-extinguishing, to apprise patrons of the fact.
As Daphne and Carthew passed through the rapidly emptying vestibule to their cab, five flushed young gentlemen, of the genus undergraduate-on-the-spree, suddenly converged upon the scene from the direction of the bar, locked together in a promiscuous and not altogether unprofitable embrace. They were urged from the rear by polite but inflexible menials in brass buttons.
"What ho, Daph!"
The cry emanated from the gentleman who was acting for the moment as keystone of the arch. Daphne, stepping into the cab, looked back.
"Mr Carthew," she exclaimed, "it's Ally—my brother! He must have come up from Cambridge for the day. Do go and bring him here."
She took her seat in the hansom, and Carthew went back. Presently he returned.
"I would not advise an interview," he said drily. "Your brother—well, you know the effect of London air upon an undergraduate fresh from the country! Let him come round and see you in the morning."
He gave the cabman his orders, and their equipage drove off, just as Sebastian Aloysius Vereker, the nucleus of a gyrating mass of humanity (composed of himself and party, together with two stalwart myrmidons of the Hilarity Restaurant and a stray cab-tout), toppled heavily out of the portals of that celebrated house of refreshment into the arms of an indulgent policeman.
More life—real life! reflected Daphne, as she laid her head on her pillow, tired out and utterly contented. To-day had yielded its full share. That peculiar but interesting interview with Miss Tallentyre, that glorious carnival under the blue sky at Hurlingham, and that laughter-and-tear-compelling spectacle at the Savoy—all had contributed to the total. Finally, that tête-à-tête supper with Jim Carthew—indubitably a dear—ending with the episode of Ally. A little disturbing, that last! Well, perhaps Ally was only trying to see life too, in his own way. Life! Daphne tingled as she felt her own leap in her veins. And to-morrow would bring more!
Then the sandman paid his visit, and she slept like the tired child that she was, having completed to her entire satisfaction another day of what, when you come to think of it, was nothing more or less than an utterly idle, selfish, unprofitable existence.