FASCINATION

“Snake! snake! your treacherous eyes,
Grow and deepen to marvellous skies,
Stars shine out in the rosy space,
Every star is a woman’s face,
Flushed and wreathed with amorous smiles,
Drawing my soul with magical wiles,
Vision! while I am rapt in thee,
Death is coming unknown to me.
Snake hath caught me fast in his toils,
Round me winding his shining coils,
Ah, from dreams with a start I wake,
Thou host stung me, oh cruel snake.”

Most men of strongly imaginative natures are superstitious, and
Gartney was no exception to the rule, his instinctive leanings in this
direction having been strengthened to a considerable extent by his
contact with the fatalistic dreamers of the East. He had travelled
over a goodly portion of the world without having been infected by the
habits or thoughts of the so-called civilized races but the many
months he had dwelt among the descendants of Ishmael, had inoculated
him imperceptibly with their strong belief in predestination. In fact,
his adaptability to the ways and customs of the East, seemed, to
himself, so marvellous, that he almost inclined to the theory of
transmigration, and believed he had lived before amid these lonely
deserts.

At all events, his last sojourn among them had developed his
instinctive vein of superstition in the strongest fashion, and he came
back to England fully convinced that all things were preordained by
the deity we call Fate. It was a very convenient doctrine, as it
enabled him to blame a supernatural power for his own shortcomings,
and when anything happened out of the ordinary course of events, he
said “Kismet,” like the veriest follower of Mahomet.

With this belief, it was little to be wondered at that he believed he
saw the finger of Fate intervening in the matter of his love for Lady
Errington, and argued the question in this style:

On his return to England, he had determined to abstain from seeing
Alizon so as to keep out of the way of temptation, but Fate, in the
person of Aunt Jelly, had forced him to meet her against his will in
order to see if he could bring about an understanding between the
young couple. Yielding to his passion, he had made up his mind to
gratify it, but moved by the spectacle of Guy’s misery, had gained a
victory over himself, and strove to reconcile husband and wife.

With this aim, he had taken Guy up to Town, thinking a short absence
might be beneficial, but Fate for the second time interfered, and in
the most innocent fashion in the world he (Fate’s instrument) had
delivered the young man into the power of his bitterest enemy, by
introducing him to Mrs. Veilsturm. She hated Lady Errington, and would
certainly do her best to estrange husband and wife still further, thus
the field was left open to Eustace to declare his dishonourable
passion.

Twice, therefore, had he striven to conquer his feeling, and twice
Fate had intervened, so that he now felt inclined to fight no longer.
Had he given way to his present desires, he would have left Guy to the
tender mercies of Cleopatra, and gone down to stay at Castle Grim from
whence he would have been able to go over to Errington Hall daily and
pay his court to Alizon. All feelings of honour, however, were not
absolutely dead in his breast, so he determined to await the course of
events and see if Mrs. Veilsturm would manage to subjugate Guy, in
which case he determined to interfere. He knew quite enough about Mrs.
Veilsturm, for his opinion to carry considerable weight with that
lady, and although it was not a pleasant thing to step between a
panther and its prey, yet he made up his mind to do so should occasion
arise. But if Fate intervened for the third time, and rendered his
trouble useless, Eustace felt in his own heart that further struggling
against Destiny would be beyond his strength.

At present, however, he had rather over-estimated the situation, as
Guy was by no means the abject slave of Mrs. Veilsturm he deemed him
to be. Love for Alizon, although but ill-requited, still had
possession of Guy’s whole being, and formed a safeguard against the
dangerous assaults of Cleopatra. Errington was constantly in
attendance on her, and she put forth all her arts to enmesh him in her
toils, but although three weeks had now passed, she saw that she had
not made much headway. Guy liked her for her kindly manner towards
him, admired her for her beauty, felt flattered by her preference, but
in reality was as heart-whole as when he first saw her, and had his
wife lifted her little finger, he would have flown to her side without
a moment’s hesitation.

Cleopatra was much too clever a woman not to see this, and felt rather
nettled that any man should dare to withstand her charms. Moreover,
being bent on separating Errington from his wife, she had a very
powerful reason to do her best in reducing him to a state of bondage;
therefore spared neither time nor trouble in attempting to do so.
Errington’s love for his wife, however, stood him in good stead, and
despite the temptations to which he was subjected, he did not succumb
in any way.

Major Griff was by no means pleased with this new fancy of his
friend and partner. As a rule, by dexterous management, he could make
her do what he liked, but on some occasions she broke away from
leading-strings, and did what she pleased. This present desire to
captivate Errington was due, not to a feeling of love, but to the more
powerful one of revenge, and Griff, being an astute reader of
character, saw that in her present frame of mind he could do nothing
with her.

It was a terrible trouble to the Major that things should be like
this, as during this season Rumour had once more been busy with
Cleopatra’s name, and to such a good purpose, that many doors hitherto
open were now closed against her. Society began to talk of the number
of men who had lost large sums of money at Mrs. Veilsturm’s, hinted
that the West Indian estates were a myth, and that Cleopatra was no
better than an adventuress. Society suddenly discovered that it had
been deceived, that a base woman had passed herself off as the purest
of her sex, that it had nourished a viper in its bosom; so now
Society, in righteous wrath, was prepared to denounce Mrs. Veilsturm
and Major Griff with the bitterest vindictiveness from the house-tops.
The storm had not broken yet, but could be heard muttering in the
distance, and now this foolish passion of Cleopatra so openly
displayed would accelerate the period of its bursting.

The Major, having his eyes and ears open on every possible occasion,
saw all this, and took measures to secure a safe retreat in case of an
unexpected collapse of the London campaign. America was to be the next
field of the firm’s operations, and both the Major and his fair friend
had determined to signalize their departure by a grand fancy dress
ball, to which friends and foes alike were to be invited, after which
they could depart with flying colours to New York.

This little scheme had been very nicely arranged, but unluckily this
Errington affair threatened to upset the whole business. Knowing she
had very little time at her disposal, and being determined to ruin
Guy’s life if she possibly could, Cleopatra went beyond all the bounds
of prudence, and blazoned her preference for Errington so very openly
that everyone was scandalized.

In vain the Major implored Cleopatra to be cautious and not ruin
everything by her mad folly; but, carried away by a fierce feeling of
revenge against Lady Errington, she merely laughed at his entreaties
and prosecuted her scheme of entangling Guy with redoubled ardour.
Major Griff spoke to Eustace, thinking he could stop the affair by
taking his cousin away, but Gartney, being determined to leave the
matter in the hands of Fate, simply shrugged his shoulders and said he
could do nothing. Being therefore unable to do anything, the Major
could only look on in a cold fury at Cleopatra striving to ruin
herself, Errington, and himself in a fit of mad anger.

Mrs. Veilsturm’s intimate friends were also very indignant about what
they pleased to call her infatuation, little dreaming of the real
reason of this sudden passion. It was only the Major’s influence over
Mr. Dolser that kept the affair out of the scurrilous pages of “The
Pepper Box,” but although it had not appeared in print, the whole
affair was an open secret.

Dolly Thambits, who was in love with Cleopatra, was furious at the way
in which he was neglected, but this kind of treatment only made him
all the more in love with his disdainful mistress, much to the relief
of Griff, who was afraid that the boy would escape from his toils.

In the midst of this whirl of rage, envy, and revenge, Guy, seeing no
special favour in Cleopatra’s condescension, was quite cool and
composed, being the most unconcerned person of the whole lot. Of
course, no one dared to speak to him about the real facts of the case,
and of the enmity he had provoked, so he remained in complete
ignorance, anxiously awaiting for a letter from his wife asking him to
return.

That letter never came, however, for Alizon was perfectly happy with
her baby, and missed Errington no more than if he had been a stock or
stone. She knew nothing of the perils to which her husband was
exposed, and, curiously enough, none of her London friends wrote and
told her, else she might have been for once startled from the serene
pleasures of motherhood.

According to his promise, Otterburn called upon Aunt Jelly, and was
graciously received by that strong-minded lady, who took a great fancy
to him. As yet, he had not spoken outright to Victoria, but still the
young couple understood one another, and such understanding was
approved of by Miss Corbin, who saw in Otterburn the very husband she
would have chosen for her ward. So Otterburn called on the old lady
pretty often, and brought her all the news of the town, while
Victoria, feeling completely at rest concerning her lover, listened
quietly.

All her ideas of making Otterburn propose, and then refusing him out
of revenge, had quite vanished, as she was now passionately in love
with him, and according to the position now strangely altered since
those old days at Como, it was for her to crave and for him to grant.
Otterburn, however, knew nothing of this, but wooed in all honour and
timidity, while Aunt Jelly, like a good but grim cherub, looked on in
silent approval.

It was during one of Otterburn’s visits, that by chance he let fall
something of what was going on between Mrs. Veilsturm and Guy,
whereupon the old lady, having an eye like a hawk, immediately saw
that something was going on of which she knew nothing. With this idea
she waited till Maclean departed, and then put Victoria through her
facings, with the result that she found out all about it and was
terribly wroth against her nephew.

Eustace called to see her, and she spoke to him about it, but Eustace
point-blank refused to interfere again, saying he had done his best,
but could now do no more. Aunt Jelly, therefore, being alarmed, not
only for the happiness but for the respectability of the Errington
household, wrote a note to Guy, asking him to call.

Having despatched this, she worked herself up into such a fury over
the whole affair that she took a fit, and for some time was in danger
of dying, but her indomitable spirit asserted itself, and with iron
determination she arose from her bed of sickness to see her nephew.

It was a fight between Cleopatra and Aunt Jelly for possession of Guy,
but all this time Guy had no more idea of playing his wife false, than
he had of returning Mrs. Veilsturm’s openly-displayed passion.