Page images

But, alas ! neither to-morrow, when it had become to-day, did he write or come.

When that to-day had become yesterday, Helen began to feel a little alarmed-not, indeed, about his neglect of her, which would, no doubt, prove amply accountable, but about its possible cause. He might be ill. The bravest and strongest of men might well be unable to go through such a crisis of disappointment and not suffer. Excess of work and hope, followed by excess of disappointment, had often resulted in fever of the brain. She remembered, only too well, the state of mind in which he had come to her immediately after the ruin of his hopes. And she could remember now that, when he had last been with her—though she had been scarcely conscious of it at the time—he had been like a man either in a dream or else but just half awakened from one. What if he were even slightly unwel), alone in his lodgings, and perhaps with scarcely the means of obtaining medicine or food ? But were he only slightly indisposed, most assuredly he would have written. And to think that he might be alone, penniless, and seriously, perhaps dangerously, ill !

Of course to her father she said not a word on the score of her fears, nor was he the man to notice whether Roland came or stayed, or whether she were content or whether in trouble. His former jealousy of his future son-in-law had been healed by the latter's failure, but had at the same time changed to an attitude of something like contemptuous indifference--men who fail, since they cannot scorn themselves, and must scorn somebody, scorn one another. He could not help being a little glad that Roland, as a failure, was in the same boat with himself, but he could not feel an increase of respect for his fellow passenger. He had to accept him as Helen's future husband, because hers was the stronger will, and because she felt that her marriage would be of the utmost help to him; and he preferred to think that in his son-in-law he would not find a superior on whom he would be unable to look down. He honestly wished his daughter to be happy, because otherwise he would have to give instead of receive sympathy; and the inner Helen knew this too well to allow the outer Helen to breathe a whisper, or indulge in a look, that might make him think her other. wise than the gayest of the gay. But, though thus obliged to double her anxieties by keeping them to herself, she had one advantage over her richer and happier sisters who can tell out all their troubles so freely that it is a pleasure to have them in order to tell them. There was nobody to overlook her comings in and her goings out, or to think it strange if a girl who did not always wear a bonnet should call in Courland Street to inquire after a young man.

So on the third day, instead of going out to buy flowers, she broke into the work of her needle by running out for a most needful halfhour. It was the first time, since the early days of their acquaintance had been over, that so long a time had passed without at least a word finding its way from him to her, and, with all her talent for hoping, she could not have got much good out of either herself or her needle until she could make sure that nothing was wrong.

She set out quietly enough, but covered the latter half of the distance so quickly that she was almost running, and half out of breath, by the time she reached the door. There was not much formality about entering ; one rang a bell, and as soon as the door was opened, supposing one knew on which floor one's friend or errand lay, went straight up without a word, as if the house were one's own. But it so happened that the door on this occasion was opened to Helen by the householder himself, a personage who was seldom seen without a coat and never with one: who, whenever he did become visible, left few memories of himself on the mind beyond a pair of shirt-sleeves, a bald head, and a long red nose. He was a bachelor, and it may have been that a so much prettier face than isual at the door attracted him to open in person. Or it may be that a long experience of a very peculiar class of lodgers had not deadened all curiosity concerning them in a naturally inquiring mind.

“Fanshaw, my dear? Bless my heart,” he exclaimed, “ if you're not the third that's been after Fanshaw in three days. And him here for years without so much as one! Well, I suppose it never rains but what it pours. I shall have to set up a hall porter to answer Fanshaw's bell."

“ But I can see him ? He is at home?"

" And, bless my heart, if you're not French or something in the foreign line of business too. They're all foreigners that's after Fanshaw. No, my dear ; he's not at home.”

" Ah-then he is not ill! When will he be back? Will he be out for long?"

“Ah, my dear, you make me wish I was Fanshaw. It's a good many years now—though, if it comes to that, not so many as you might think-since a pretty girl came running herself out of wind, and all because of Me. Yes; I rather think he will be out for long. Do you want to see Fanshaw very particular indeed? You do? Very well ; if he's a man of taste, and knows what's good for him, you'll see him very soon indeed. But—I'm sorry if it hurts your feelings, my dear ---but my belief is

“What?cried Helen. "Is-is anything wrong?"

“Is–Fanshaw's bolted! That's what I believe. I didn't say as much to the other Frenchmen, but I don't mind saying it to you.”

“ You mean he is gone, and you don't know where ?"

“Never mind, my dear-I don't-he settled with me. I shan't have to wait long before I get another; nor, to reckon by the face of you, will you."

What could have happened? All she was able to gather came to this—that Roland had left his lodgings without leaving any address, and yet that no accident had happened, because he had settled with his landlord up to the last moment, and had said that he would not return. She could trust him still ; but it needed imagination as well as hope to assure her that her lover's unaccountably mysterious beha viour had a good cause.

Could it be that he had found some great success, and was preparing for her a surprise? It would certainly not be like him; and, remembering the suspense in which it must leave her, would be inconsiderate and unkind. But even this, she persuaded herself, was more reasonable than that there should be anything worse than want of consideration towards Helen on the part of her lover.

If this poor best were the case, surely to-morrow would explain all,

But to-morrow had come, and had become yesterday long and long ago. I have not told of Helen's first and last visit to Courland Street as an event coming in its proper place in relation to others, but as an old story of a very far-off yesterday. It was months-in fact, an age, in seeming—since Helen's last hope that she would ever see or hear of her lover again had passed away. He, her true Roland, had absolutely left her without a word. She hardly dared to hope for his truth : for, if he had been true, he had died. Which was the worse fear, his death or his falsehood, she hardly knew-she did not dare to face the question, even. And yet one of the two answers must be true.

His corpse had not been found in the Thames; and, though the dread of this had, in a moment of supreme weakness, flashed through her mind, it had never found its way to her heart-she could not insult his memory by the idea of self-murder. And it was certain that, when he had left Courland Street, life was possible to him without her knowledge of where he was about to live, and how.

Had the Roland whom she knew been bent on leaving the world itself, he would not have set out upon the journey of journeys without bidding her good-bye. . . . Meanwhile, every day killed some new lingering hope until there was not a single leaf of hope left to kill. Pride could not help her, or comfort her. If he had gone, he had gone. But what ground had she for pride in feeling that her heart had also gone? Worthless as his love might have been, she could not take back her own. When wounded love can think of wounded pride, it is cured.

It is not good to think of Helen's days and nights while the first sharp suspense, which counted and dreaded each moment one by one, was freezing into that accustomed pain which takes no heed even of days—which, in time, fails to note even the passage of years. But it is worse still to think of her nights and days after they had become thus frozen. There was one person at any rate who contrived to draw good out of her evil. Gustave Renouf was not sorry to miss the presence of one whom he had learned to envy—at least, until failure had thrown Roland from a greater height, and therefore into a deeper depth, than he. Moreover, though his daughter was very dear to him, according to his nature, it was because she believed in him rather than because he believed in her, and because he received from her, and from her only, the admiration that he-and he only-felt that he deserved. All that she gave to her lover was so much, according to his ideas, taken away from himself. Roland's failure had been a triumph, and there was no longer even a money reason for her wishing to leave the father who so much needed her company. On the contrary, thought Gustave, the money reason was all the other way. He himself could not be expected to earn much, or even anything, considering the greatness of the future for which he was working and waiting, and, if Helen could not marry a man rich enough to keep both father and daughter, it was for the good of the world that she should stay at home to keep the cupboard full. What great ideas might not be lost for ever, what fountains of wealth might not remain undiscovered, if he were driven to plod for bread instead of being free to find in dominoes that distraction upon which Genius, for its proper expansion, depends! There is indeed a silver lining to every cloud-a truth especially manifest to those who are not themselves under its shade.

But all this did not prevent him from seeing, with the sharp eyes of jealousy, that there was a change in the character of Helen's cheerfulness in his company, and he brooded over the suspicion that, except in his company, she was not cheerful at all. Nor did all this prevent him from having a perfect right to be indignant with the man who had taken himself off so cavalierly, even though his departure was in every way desirable. That, of course, was natural enough, and the most commonplace of men, without the faintest touch of genius about him, would have felt precisely the same. But Helen's state of mind was obviously so uncomfortable—for her father—that he, in his own interest, was imperatively called upon to bring it to an end. If she could only be got to see this Roland Fanshaw in his true colours--as a charlatan, an impostor, a conceited blockhead, who had fancied he could succeed where Gustave Renouf had not yet succeeded, and who had most righteously fallen into the pit that he himself had made! She would certainly forget him then, to save herself from the shame of having to feel that she had been taken in. But unfortunately that was just the point thąt she could not be made to see. Perhaps, in order to perceive the wickedness of another man's failure in its whole extent, one must be a man. Nor could all the tact of an invalid enable him to hit upon the way to go to work with a woman's mind. In short, now that Roland had fallen from his pedestal, Gustave Renouf, though he could not mount the pedestal in his place, desired to show himself in at least one available manner, the superior—to trample into dust the image that had as yet only fallen. He would not have injured Roland in any tangible way : he merely felt towards him as hundreds of inventors, artists, students have felt towards one another since the date of the invention of Envy.

So matters went on between Gustave and his daughter until one morning his daily losses at dominoes were compensated by an interesting piece of news.

“ Helen,” he said, when he came home, a little earlier than his custom-for the news, until he could get rid of it, seemed to blister his tongue-"Helen, do you happen to remember a young man named Fanshaw : Roland, I think, was his other name?”

Perhaps, thought Helen, after her first inward start on hearing a name so long unnamed, perhaps it was delicacy on the part of her father that had led him to speak of Roland as of one who had been forgotten. Perhaps affectation of blindness may be the kindest way of dealing with a heart-break, after all. But in that case, unless he had something very real to tell, he would not have named the name at all. Was it of life or of death that he was about to speak? She might have answered something, but, whatever her word was, it was dead before it reached the air.

“Roland Fanshaw !" said Gustave, dwelling on the name as if it

« PreviousContinue »